EUROVISION 2018 PREVIEW: NATIONAL FINALS FAVORITES (PART 2)

MONTENEGRO

The last time this country used a national selection format instead of internal selection was 2008.  For the new Montevizija song contest, they had six entries, five of them performed by females and one by a male.  The winner was the sole male entry.  Not that the female entries were weak, but the Salvador Sobral effect was also felt in this contest that they decided to select a traditional Balkan ballad that did so well like in the mid-to-late 2000s heyday.

“Neželjena [The Unwanted]” – Katarina Bogićević.  It’s a well-crafted native language pop ballad.  It didn’t win mainly because it’s a modern sound (wit a few ethnic elements tossed in), when it is felt that perhaps a traditional Balkan ballad fits the Salvador Sobral aesthetic.

SERBIA

After three years of internal selection, the Serbian broadcaster revived Beovizija and 17 acts competed in the finals.  There were some sourgraping amongst rivals about the winner of this selection, claiming influence-peddling and what not, but the jury and public were unanimous in their choice.  They were also unanimous with the entry that placed second…

“Pesma za tebe [Wait for you]” – Saška Janks.  This is a well-sung bluesy jazz ballad.  To be honest, I felt more emotionally connected to this song than with the winning entry, even if I don’t understand Serbian.  Was there an injustice commited against this entry?

GERMANY

It’s nice to see this country stepping up for its national selection, as this year’s five out of six entries are arguably stronger than last year’s entry, Levina‘s “Perfect Life“.  Though third placer Ryk (“You and I“) is not likely to resolve this country’s recent cellar-dweller doldrums, this moody ballad is a worthwhile listen.  The eventual winner and these three entries are near guarantees to deliver this Big Five country out of the cellar.

“I mog Di so [Perfect like this]” – voXXclub.  Yes, it ranked low with the 100-member German panel and te international jury, but it was second with the popular vote.  This is a very entertaining number, the sole one sung in German (though they uttered the two closing lines of the chorus in English, as “Come as you are / You’re perfect like this”).  It might seem on the surface as a “troll” or “Lager Lout”*4 entry, but the song has an uplifting, positive message of inclusiveness, and if you rearrange the song’s melody to acoustic piano it would actually sound great, and yes, it’s pretty catchy.  The entertaining sight of attractive, nearly hunky blokes yodel, deliver strong masculine harmonies and dance with unbridled joy in lederhosen shorts (their upper garments are casual) is a surprisingly pleasant and entertaining sight to behold.  Yes, this will never be a jury darling, but the public across Europe could’ve eaten this up.  It’s a big guilty pleasure for me.

*4 I invented this term to refer to drunk people who tend to gravitate towards such “troll” entries.

“House on Fire” – Ivy Quainoo.  The singer is the first winner of The Voice of Germany and although many deemed this ballad inferior to the material she has previously released, it’s still a solid ballad that can do respectably in Eurovision.  She placed fourth overall, faring best with popular vote at third place, but was fourth with both the international jury and 100-member German panel.

“Jonah” – Xavier Darcy.  This entry is a fusion of Mumford & Sons with 1980s British New Wave (with the British-accented enunciation delivered by Xavier).  Xavier also has strong showmanship so he can provide something a bit more memorable than what previous entries delivered.  He placed second overall, the missing factor is that he didn’t tug heartstrings the way the winner did.

NETHERLANDS

Actually, a national final was not really staged here this time, but more of Waylon presenting five possible choices to the public, and him and the Dutch broadcaster ultimately announcing what their choice of entry was.  Still, the Eurovision fandom seemed to be buzzing more about the mellower sounds of “Back Together” and “The World Can Wait” with many people speculating the latter was the chosen song as this was the title of his world tour and his album.  But Waylon decided to take a risk and chose a rollicking country rock song instead.  Would the risk pay off?

MOLDOVA

The Top Three of this national final turned out to be a battle of the male backups–two of them offered hunks and one offered high energy dancing.  This time the latter won out though little did we know there will be a drought of manly hunks this year (sure, boyish dreamboats are a-plenty for all those fangirls to swoon, but I wish there is more beefcake in this year’s mix).

“Dance in Flames” – Doinita Gherman & One Voice.  The song has a fun tropical vibe, but my goodness the costuming was so tacky.  If she won she would’ve easily won the Barbara Dex award.  Adding to the spectacle was a gold-painted bodybuilder–oh what a guilty pleasure this would’ve been if this won.  But, yes, this is too cheesy that it only ended up in third place.

“Black Heart” – Vera Turcano.  This entry is a moody, sensual rock ballad that is jazzed up with a hunky shirtless male backup dancer emoting on a standing bed.  It’s an interesting presentation, but being a big So You Think You Can Dance fan, the dance and props made me recall a famous routine in Season 4 performed by dancers Stephen “Twitch” Boss and Kherington Payne, choreographed by the famous Mia Michaels.

UKRAINE

This country’s national selection featured an all-star three-person jury, composed of 2016 winner Jamala, 2007 runner-up Andriy Danilko (out of his drag Verka Serduchka persona) and Yehven Filatov from the EDM band Onuka.  They and the Ukrainian televoters selected the six finalists well, as five of them would’ve been strong bets to fly the Ukrainian flag in Eurovision, though indeed the best entry won in this contest.  Let’s start with…

“Forest Song” – Vilna.  Many Eurovision fans felt this entry was unjustly marked down by the jurors, as Jamala and Yehven Filatov placed this entry as dead last in the finals, but least a fourth place showing in the televote helped salvage this entry and this finished fifth.  I do love this atmospheric electronic folk number, and I would’ve ranked this third or fourth instead of its actual showing.

“Waiting” – Laud.  There are people who have fond memories of Cyprus’s entry last year (“Gravity” by Hovig) and this entry served up that kind of vibe and it’s well performed.  It was fourth overall, with the jury placing this third, but was pulled down by its 5th place showing with the Ukrainian public.

“Beat of the Universe” – Kadnay.  Hunks performing a rhythmic rock number with a tap breakdown?  Sign me up!  The jury ranked this fourth, though this is Yehven’s favorite choice–it’s just that Jamala ranked this 5th and Andriy/Verka ranked this 4th.  The general public dig this, placing this 2nd and hence this finish 3rd overall.

“Lelya” – Tayanna.  This lady was owed as many observers felt an injustice was committed last year when she didn’t win the national final with her pop ballad “I Love You” as she was in an ordinal tie with O Torvald’s “Time” but unfortunately pipped as the tie was broken by popular vote ranking–such a shame the Ukrainian public seemed to have a bias towards testosterone.  Many fans felt instead of the eventual worst 24th place finish O Torvald delivered, Tayanna would’ve delivered a more respectable showing for this country.  This year, Tayanna changed things up by offering a peppy 1960s-style pop number that was sung in Ukrainian.  The jury, again, loved it as it placed first overall (with Jamala ranking this first and Andriy and Yehven ranking this their second favorite).  Again, Tayanna ended up second overall as she was again third in the televote, and this time the winner got a 2nd place ranking with the jury and was the televote winner in this edition and in last year, and hence he squeaked a deserving win.  Hopefully third time’s the charm next year, but it’s a worthy effort for this lady.

LATVIA

This country employed a slightly more complicated system in determining its winner.  Besides the jury and televote, it also factors in Spotify streams and internet votes.

“This Time” – Markus Riva.  In my opinion, the juries committed an egregious injustice as they pegged this down to 7th place out of eight finalists.  I don’t know why it was 5th in Spotify streams but it was a strong 2nd placer behind the eventual winner in both the televote and internet vote.  I think this is a strong radio-friendly polished pop song, and Markus was very smartly dressed (almost as slick as Robin Bengtsson, but he left a couple of holes unbuttoned in his shirt).  Why did the jury dislike this?  Do they deemed it too fast-food for their liking?

“Esamiba [Presence]” – MADARA.  This singer/cellist makes a haunting presence with this Latvian-language entry, giving me Judy Collins goosebumps.  It fared strongest in Spotify streams, ranking 2nd, and was a solid 3rd place in both juries and internet votes.  It was also a solid 4th with the televote, leading it to 3rd place overall.

Now, what about the entry who placed 2nd, “Just Fine” by Sudden Lights?  I don’t know why it dominated Spotify streams, but I think it’s overrated, albeit a decent rock ballad.

SLOVENIA

This year, this country made it a requirement that all entries had to be performed first in Slovenian during the semifinal rounds, and then they can have the option to perform in English during the finals.  Eurovision internet fans have a fondness for this country as it is deemed one of the underrated countries that delivered great entries hat deserved to fare better.  This year is no exception, and I love the winner, even if it polarized some fans.  The runners-up were also strong entries, too, so let’s discuss them starting with…

“Zdaj sem tu [I’m here now]” – Lara Kadis.  Lara served up ingenue innocence with this pretty, classically tinged ballad.  There were some EDM textures added to the pre-chorus and bridge which I also dig.  The juries ranked this in 2nd place behind the eventual winner, but its fourth place finish relegated this to fourth overall, pipped by…

“Ne zapusti me zdaj [Don’t leave me]” – Nuška Drašček.  This has a similar sassy electronic vibe like the eventual winner, although its beats were about a decade behind the beats of the eventual winner, and that might be why it was pegged down by the jury, ranking it fifth.  Its standing was salvaged by a strong second place finish with the televote.  She also competed in last year’s final with “Flower in the Snow” and this entry is an improvement over her entry last year.

“Promise” – BQL  Just like Nuška, this boyband duo competed last year and were the favorites to win with “Heart of Gold” but the jury love for the eventual winner that year, Omar Naber‘s insipid ballad “On My Way” pipped this duo’s Eurovision dreams.  Now, this year’s entry, as good as it is, is not as good as “Heart as Gold”, but it deservingly put up a good fight against the eventual winner.  It’s interesting that it had the same outcome last year and this year–it ranked third with the juries and handily won the popular vote, and its point gap behind the winner was 10 points.  Hopefully the third time’s the charm next year.

HUNGARY

This year’s national selection final for this country could be described in one word:  Sausagefest.  All the eight finalists are male acts and no female in sight.  I think this country is renowned for its sausages (in more ways than one, I might add), so this term seems very apt.  The jury first decide which four acts among the eight finalists they would advance to the superfinal, and in the superfinal, the general public would then decide the winner.  Have to say this year’s finalists are loaded with hunks though the winning act was the least “hunky” of this formidable group.  Without further ado, let’s salute them starting with…

“Megyfa [Sour Cherry Tree]” – Tamás Horváth.  I have a feeling if the jury allowed this entry to advance, this would’ve been the Hungary’s official Eurovision entry.  It’s an engaging pop-folk number that I like, making me recall Moldova’s Pasha Parfeny back in 2012 with Lautar“.  Despite the jury injustice, at least afterwards it became a big hit in the Hungarian charts.

“Azt mondtad [You said]” – Gergely Dánielfy.  I’m not that into this traditional folk ballad as much as the other entries in this list, but I do respect the quiet dramatics, and this was the jury darling going into the superfinal.  I think it’s overrated and would’ve preferred Tomas Horvath to advance instead of him, but well, he does have a guy-next-door hunk appeal so I can tolerate this song.

“Budapest Girl” – Viktor Király.  Another song, another hunk.  This time it’s an English-language acoustic-laced-soul-pop number with its native cred being the reference to Hungary’s capital city and the tribute to the girls of that city.  It’s a pleasant listen and it was second with the jury.  But it looks like the Hungarian public, with the available four choices to vote on, opt for something harder…

“I Let You Run Away” – yesyes.  Many fans were buzzing this electro-rock ballad as a possible winner in a close fight with “Meggyfa” and “Budapest Girl”.  It was a close third with the jury entering into the superfinal, and I have a feeling it was second with the televote, hampered simply because the public probably wanted something in their native language and a bit harder-edged, hence the final results.

ARMENIA

This year, this country decided to hold a full-fledged national final deciding both singer and song.  Though the eventual winner was well-regarded and fans approve of the choice, the ones the international fans (including myself) dig seems to not always match what the Armenian jury and public chose.  For starters…

“Poison (Ari Ari)” – Tamar Kaprelian.  Fans were shocked when this ethno-pop entry was eliminated in the semifinal, falling short by one notch to qualify to the finals.  Many fans felt there was a missed opportunity as this number is the international fans’ second favorite behind the eventual winner.

“Puerto Rico” – Kamil Show.  This entry seems to be aiming for Verka Serduchka-style notoriety, as it’s a fun techno ditty fronted by an outrageous drag queen.  It might seem to be a troll song, but surprisingly there is skill and strong songcraft in this number.  First, the Spanish seems very much on-point and so were the female backing vocalists.  Sure, some might find offense with the backup dancers wearing exaggerated padding to perpetuate the stereotype that Puerto Rican women have big booties, but overall it’s actually fun and would be one of those refreshing “troll” acts if it was the winner.  It got 2nd place in the popular vote, but it was clearly not a jury darling as it placed 9th out of ten with them, relegating this entry to fourth overall.

This act also intrigued me so much that I wanted to check the man behind the drag queen.  The man is Arsen Grigoryan (though there is an older, more traditional artist sharing his name) and his oeuvre before assuming the Kamil persona is a flamboyant theatrical pop/rock artist.  Check out a sample of his work below:

What about the entries that ranked second and third in the national final?  “I’m a Liar” by band Nemra is upbeat but it feels dated.  The ballad “Waiting for the Sun” by Amaliya Margaryan has interesting staging and a blindfold gimmick, but it’s not really that interesting otherwise.

ROMANIA

The format of the national selection in this country is that the semifinalists are whittled down by the jury, and for the finals it’s solely determined by popular vote.  If you ask me I think the Romanian public chose the wrong champion to represent them as their finals streak looks to be in jeopardy.  I will discuss this more in my song preview for that entry, of course, but for now. let me cite the ones that were in the Top Four, as any of them would’ve guaranteed the streak to be sustained…

“Auzi cum bate [You hear how it knocks]” – Jukebox featuring Bella Santiago.  I’m shocked that there was a Filipina competing here.  And yes, she’s the clear standout in this rock ballad.  I was rooting for this to win because not only can Romania use its own diaspora, but they could’ve tapped a fresh new audience voting in its favor as there is a significant Filipino diaspora across Europe too, and they could be a popular force (and yes, could also drum up interest in this contest in our shores).  But as it is, it only managed to rank fourth with the Romanian public.

“Bună de iubit (Royalty)” – Feli.  This is a fun tropical-styled ditty.  The Romanian title translates to “Good boyfriend”, and she performed it entirely in Romanian during the semifinal, and for the final she opted for a primarily English version.  There was heavy press with the fact that the day before she had to perform in the semifinal her father passed away and there was a threat that she would withdraw as a result.  But she chose to be a trouper and performed this happy song amidst her personal turmoil, which earned the respect of everyone and made this one of the possible winners.

“Walking on Water” – Alexia & Matei.  This charming youthful pair may not be that pitch-perfect live, but the song is a rhythmic peppy pop treat.  The pair have that Amaia-and-Alfred chemisry and with that they ended up 2nd place.  Though I preferred the other two entries above, I wouldn’t have minded if this was selected as the winner.  Such a missed opportunity…