EUROVISION SONG CONTEST 2018 PREVIEW (1ST SEMIFINAL, 2ND HALF)

In other years, most of the entries in this second half would’ve been shoo-ins for the final.  But such is the caliber of entries this year (and how they are bracketed) that many of these gems would be shut out.

F Y R MACEDONIA:  “Lost and Found” – Eye Cue.  Some might feel that the mishmash of genres that is the key defining factor of this song might seem unwieldy on the surface, but to my ears the shift from acoustic pop to reggae to EDM-infused modern rock actually gelled well and is convincingly a unified work.  I was impressed with the vocals of Marija Ivanovska and knew even from the recording that she could deliver live (unlike last year’s singer, Jana Burceska, whose vocals were highly processed in the recording).  My only initial quibble was that on the recording, her vocals was drowned out in the chorus.  But I’m glad to hear them release live versions with her and her partner*4, Bojan Trajkovski‘s voices more prominent in the chorus and they were deserving standouts during the preview circuit.  This song is one of my Top 10 favorites in this year’s contest, so it makes me feel mad and frustrated that this is one of the likeliest that would miss the cut, because I doubt this has sufficient support in this bracket–I doubt Greece and Bulgaria would toss points their way, for instance, and I’m not sure how much points Croatia would give them.  I’m hoping mine and most fan predictions would not come true and this would advance.

*4 This act is packaged as a duo but in almost all their appearances they have a third member who plays multiple instruments, often on keyboards or drums.

Another thing I would like to note was that when I first watched the video, the first thing that came to my mind when I saw Marija was she’s a deadringer to actress-turned-pop-singer Hailee Steinfeld.  If Hailee went a more indie route than be part of a slick pop machine, she would probably be more exactly like Marija.

Hailee Steinfeld

CROATIA:  “Crazy” – Franka.  For me, this is far superior than last year’s entry, Jacques Houdek‘s schizoid pop-opera track “My Friend”.  Yet, this rhythmic ballad is considered one of the weaker links in this bloodbath of a bracket and is considered one of the least likely to advance. It’s similar to the situation now encountered by Azerbaijan this year.  It didn’t help matters that it was revealed that a Romanian song used the same groove and hence there were murmurs that this entry plagiarized that song (even the artist, Guez, is hurling accusations on social media).  But the issue was resolved when the producer of the backing track, Denis Mevlja, came forward to confess negligence, acknowledging he developed the track specifically for this song, then sold it to an online store prior to the song’s official release, which was then purchased by Guez for his song and released it ahead of “Crazy”‘s official launch.

Though the song is not plagiarized, its rhythms are derivative of another song.  The first thing I recalled when I first heard the song was Alicia Keys‘s debut hit, “Fallin’“.  But then again, Alicia Keys took that famous groove from another classic, James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s, Man’s, Man’s World”.  Should we consider this another demerit for Denis Melvja?

AUSTRIA:  “Nobody but You” – Cesár Sampson.  It dawned on me this is essentially a mash-up of last year’s entry, “Running on Air” by Nathan Trent mashed up with Australia’s “Don’t Come Easy” by Isaiah, with a gospel choir thrown in (well, because of Cesar’s skin complexion and R&B background).  They even have Cesar run in the snow in the music video!  Anyway, many Eurovision fans adore this song and even rated it as a near shoo-in.  Me, though I love the bridge and found the song solid overall, I have some reservations.  Somehow I don’t feel this song best showcases Cesar’s voice, and weirdly when I listen to the lines “Ain’t nobody but you / I can hold on to”, I get the image of a beauty queen in a ballgown, and envisioning the muscular Cesar in a ballgown is just off-putting and unbecoming.  Still, if anyone in the first semifinal falters, this is likely to take over one of the slots.

Also speaking about the gospel rush, well, that song didn’t quite take me to church and give me that spiritual high.  They should’ve learned a thing or two from this song from the film The Greatest Showman, “From Now On“.  The workshop version always gives me the gospel chills every time I view it…

GREECE:  “Oneiro Mou [My Dream]” – Yianna Terzi.  Let’s face it–most of Greece’s recent entries were either “fast-food music” or mediocre numbers or trashy crap, and with the exception of 2016, they managed to get away with making the finals.  This is the first time that we can say Greece fielded a bonafide quality entry after over a decade.  The Greek language ethno-epic number is spellbinding, and if Yianna delivers strong live vocals with the proper staging, this could be a possible usurper to all the major front-runners out there.

It’s interesting that Yianna seems to start out as a pop thrush, but then with this song, she went epic and traditional, as if she’s transformed to Jamala-lite.  Is this a permanent career shift or just a detour?

FINLAND:  “Monsters” – Saara Aalto”.  Saara’s reputation as one of the biggest stars participating in this year’s contest made her one of the initial favorites to win.  However, as Israel stepped in and overshadowed everybody, Saara’s buzz had faded a bit.  It’s still a well-crafted pop song, but ensuring Finland’s resurgence is going to be a challenge–Saara needs to be on-point live to quell any doubts among the juries.  I’m rooting for her to succeed and hope those points from the UK and Ireland (along with Estonia) would pull her through.

For those who were distracted by the slick pop sheen of the main version of this song, Saara showcased the beauty of the song within recently with her unplugged piano version with her singing the lyrics translated into 34 European languages.  Check it out below.

ARMENIA:  “Qami [Wind]” – Sevak Khanagyan.  This is a quality ballad and well, everyone marvels at Sevak’s voice.  And yes, there is the Armenian diaspora that can propel this song to the finals.  But I have a major concern about the presentation–all throughout the song, it’s always Sevak all alone with no backing vocalists in sight.  But the song’s climactic ending featured backing singers prominently in the mix, and he can generate a powerful, “Molitva“-esque moment if those backing vocalists emerge onstage to accompany him at that part of the song.  Otherwise it would fizzle.

SWITZERLAND:  “Stones” – ZiBBZ.  Oh, Switzerland–fielding worthwhile quality songs yet not getting the breaks.  This rhythmic pop-rock song is well-regarded among Eurovision fans, but I fear this might be this year’s equivalent of last year’s Triana Park from Latvia, with a fierce, in-your-face female vocalist potentially repelling the viewers.  I hope this would at least finish respectably and not be in the cellar.

IRELAND:  “Together” – Ryan O’Shaughnessy.  I like this mellow song, but I can understand the criticism that if you pit this alongside the other fierce competition in this bracket it sounds like aural wallpaper.  If this competed in the mid-1990s, it would probably be among Ireland’s champions as it evokes the mellow vibe of the 1994 champion, Paul Harrington & Charlie McGettigan’s “Rock & Roll Kids”.  I do hope they would bring those two male dancers onstage to jazz up this entry, at the very least.

CYPRUS:  “Fuego” – Eleni Foureira.  Just like Saara Aalto, Eleni has made several attempts to represent Greece in this contest, but she was always turned down by the broadcaster.  Finally, thanks to sister country Cyprus, we now get to see Eleni in this stage.  This ethno-pop song does deliver the fire, and am glad fans are now treating this as Cyprus’s strongest entry since Ivi Adamou‘s “La La Love” back in 2012.  Now, the question is can Eleni deliver the vocals to this song live?  Sure she is a veteran performer at this point, and she did release a clip of her singing a live acoustic version, but let’s hope with the full pop version her vocals would be up to it.  We can’t always rely on the near-guaranteed vingt-quartre points from Greece all the time, you know.

Some have noted Eleni’s dream came true because she was a second choice, as a demo version of the song was leaked with vocals from the 2005 champion, Helena Paparizou.  Well, whatever the reason that Helena decided not to go through with the song, Eleni is a great choice.

Eleni is undoubtedly a major babe, and her babeliciousness is in full effect in her music video.  The first thing that came to my mind was Miss World 2002, Azra Akın from Turkey.  Then an OMG moment happened–did I just compare Eleni to a Turk?  I hope the Greeks and Cypriots won’t get offended by this knowing the fraught history this island nation has with the Turks.  But that face and that curly hair just keeps reminding me of Azra, and I can’t help it.  Again, sorry for any Greek or Cypriot reading this…

Miss World 2002 Azra Akin (image courtesy of Miss World Organization)

With the 19 entries of the 1st semifinal accounted for, which of them would advance?  Here is my prediction:

TOP TEN:  BELGIUM, CZECH REPUBLIC, LITHUANIA, ISRAEL, BELARUS, ESTONIA, BULGARIA, GREECE, FINLAND, CYPRUS

BUBBLING UNDER:  AZERBAIJAN, ALBANIA, FYR MACEDONIA, CROATIA, AUSTRIA, ARMENIA, SWITZERLAND

COMING UP:  1ST HALF OF 2ND SEMIFINAL

EUROVISION SONG CONTEST 2018 PREVIEW (2ND SEMIFINAL, 2ND HALF)

GEORGIA:  “For You” – Ethno-Jazz Band Iriao.  I don’t know why they have to tack in the label “Ethno-Jazz Band” to their band name–is there a brand conflict with another Georgian entity?  Isn’t “Iriao” unique enough?  Anyway, the solemn male harmonies and the ethnic elements of this song garnered positive notices that this is becoming a possible spoiler choice that if enough jury support comes in it might usurp some presumed shoo-ins in this group.

POLAND:  “Light Me Up” – Gromee featuring Lukas Meijer.  This contemporary electro-dance number is probably my favorite Eurovision entry from this country.  It’s an engaging, likable track, and its instrumental hook never fails to make me do the geek shimmy.  Just like most Polish entries, this is unlikely going to win jury votes, but it will score high in the televote.

MALTA:  “Taboo” – Christabelle.  Though many would quibble with some abrupt shifts between verse, refrain, and chorus, it’s a good entry for this country, way better than that sentimental sap they sent last year.  The expected dystopian staging will likely make an impression, and this could be a possible spoiler choice for the finals.

HUNGARY:  “Viszlat nyár [Goodbye, summer]” – AWS.  There had been rock entries in this contest over the year, but none as hard as this act, as this is a post-metalcore or post-hardcore band with a very abrasive sound.  The song is about a son’s grief and reflecting his father’s words at his deathbed, with the verses featuring the father’s parting words and the chorus the son’s reaction to the loss.  The hard sound is polarizing, but there are many rallying behind this that this looks like a likely finalist.

But there is also another secret weapon to this act’s arsenal:  it turns out this band has a host of great looking guys that can  make the girls swoon.  First, let’s start with the lead singer, Õrs Siklosi.  Underneath all the primal screaming and the floppy hair obscuring his face, he has angles where he looks like a young Leonardo DiCaprio, and there are other angles where he resembles Twilight superstar Robert Pattinson.  Plus, his voice could make people recall the late Chester Benington of Linkin Park, so there might be some voters who were fans of that band voting for this act.

Leonardo di Caprio in Romeo + Juliet (1995)
Robert Pattinson

As the band joined the pre-party circuit, we then discover other charmers from this band.  For instance, the cool, deadpan bassist, Soma Schizier–besides amusing people with his laconic wit, he looks like a cross between This is Us star Milo Ventmiglia and the original movie Spider-Man, Tobey Maguire.

Soma’s lookalikes: L – Tobey Maguire and R – Milo Vent miglia

Sure, most fans would go for the plethora of boyish dreamboats in this contest (including Örs above) but for people hunkering for someone manlier, with the slim pickings this year, I will give the Eurovision Hunk award to the drummer, Aron Veress.  And he gets even more appealing the more you get to know him–with his relatively strong command of English he ends up being the band’s main spokesperson, and he has a funny, outgoing, gregarious personality that makes him even more lovable.  It’s so interesting he’s the hunkiest guy in this year’s Eurovision, when there were even hunkier choices from the A Dal final–let’s just say there was a deep bench in that national final.

The hunk of Eurovison 2018: Aron Veress

Admittedly, the focus of my discussion for this band was mainly about how boy-crazy I am about three of its members.  For those who want to talk about serious musical theory and  even some Hungarian politics, let me defer that to Overthinking it.

LATVIA:  “Funny Girl” – Laura Rizzotto.  Besides her strong, near flawless live vocals, I think a key factor why this won Latvia’s national final is that Laura can speak Portuguese, as even if she has an Italian surname (that sounds like a classic Italian rice dish) she is actually half-Brazilian half-Latvian.  Her entry is a sultry quality entry that many people compared to The Weeknd‘s smash hit from Fifty Shades of Grey, “Worth It“, but the rhythms of the song also reminded me of Alicia Keys‘ classic ballad, “If I Ain’t Got You“.  Because of that, I found it coincidental that not only she and Franka are noted for wearing red gowns, they are also noted for songs whose rhythms seemed influenced by Alicia Keys’ hits.  Now, if I had my way, I would want her to be made up like in her music video, where she sported clown eye makeup, but knowing what happened to Triana Park last year, that look would’ve scared or repulsed the public so she’ll probably play safe and take the pretty, sultry route, instead.

SWEDEN:  “Dance You Off” – Benjamin Ingrosso.  Justin Timberlake may have wanted to veer away from his trademark R&B sound with his latest album, Man of the Woods, but there are artists like Benjamin Ingrosso who are keeping his trademark sound alive, like this number.  Though I don’t bet on this winning and sustaining Sweden’s recent three-year cycle, it will perform strongly in the finals.  A final note–I noticed Benjamin looks like a young, circa-1995 Enrique Iglesias.

Enrique Iglesias circa 1995

MONTENEGRO:  “Inje [Frost]” – Vanja Radovanović.  This traditional Balkan ballad is not highly regarded among Eurovison fans, who tend to rank this at the bottom, but we have to take note he has been receiving positive notices in his live performances in the preview party circuit.  Moreover, there is the support of Serbia and possibly Slovenia to shore up its fortunes.  This could be a possible upset surprise.  Piquant note:  Vanja for me looks like famous hip-hop dancer Philip Chbeeb, who was prominently featured in the video for Ed Sheeran’s 2014 hit song “Don’t“.  Wonder how are Vanja’s dance skills?

SLOVENIA:  “Hvala, ne! [Thanks, no!]” – Lea Sirk.  The trap-infused drop from the pre-chorus turned off a lot of Eurovision fans and pundits, but for me, that’s actually the best part of this song.  I’m one of those who loves this polarizing trap-based EDM number as I dig its empowerment message.  This is one of my favorite songs this year, even if it looks like its prospects for advancing to the final are dimming.  I’m rooting for this entry to pull off a miracle.

UKRAINE:  “Under the Ladder” – Mélovin.  This driving, rhythmic rock song reminds me a bit of the Killers‘ 2003 hit “Mr. Brightside“.  There are many fans who quibble about Melovin’s diction, but well, remember Freddie‘s “Pioneer” two years ago?  Sometimes a driving rhythm can make people ignore diction issues.  Besides the advantage of being the show closer, the dreamy boyish appeal of Mélovin, his strong vocals and his showmanship would guarantee this entry would be a finals shoo-in, with a possible play for the Top 10.

Now that the 2nd Semifinal is all accounted for, here’s my prediction on who would advance to the final.

TOP TEN:  NORWAY, DENMARK, RUSSIA, MOLDOVA, NETHERLANDS, AUSTRALIA, POLAND, HUNGARY, SWEDEN, UKRAINE

BUBBLING UNDER:  SERBIA, MALTA, LATVIA, MONTENEGRO, SLOVENIA

COMING UP:  THE AUTOMATIC FINALISTS

EUROVISION SONG CONTEST 2018 PREVIEW (1ST SEMIFINAL, 1ST HALF)

This year’s first semifinal is front-loaded with so many heavy-hitters–not only are four of the top five oddsmakers’ bets in this bracket, but there are more quality songs either beloved or well-regarded by the Eurovision fandom.  With only 10 available slots for the final, a whole bunch of great songs would be shut out, which is why many fans think this is the Group of Death.  Those aforementioned four oddsmakers’ choices are also in the 1st half of this bracket–talk about opening with a bang!  With such a deep bench and lots of possibilities for upsets (what with bloc voting and diaspora voting factored in), even the big favorites aren’t totally safe.  Anyway without further ado, let’s begin with…

AZERBAIJAN:  “X My Heart” – Aisel.  This country has had a perfect track record for making it in the finals, and if we base it on the merits of the song alone, it fits in the same caliber as all of those previous entries.  Normally this country relies on Swedish songwriters for their entries but this year they got a song written by Greeks, with a production touch-up by a British producer.  It’s a well-crafted, slick pop song, with echoes of Loreen‘s “Euphoria“.  Unfortunately, this is getting drowned out by such formidable contenders that there is a strong likelihood this country’s finals track record will be broken, even if this would’ve otherwise qualified in other years.  It might be possible that Greece, Cyprus and the UK (which is voting in this round) will toss some high points this way, and there might be a diaspora factor with Turkish immigrants*1, but from what I know those immigrants are concentrated in Germany, and Germany is unfortunately not voting in this round.

*1 Azeris and Turks are closely related cultures, so even if we miss Turkey in this contest, Azerbaijan serves as Turkey’s substitute.

ICELAND:  “Our Choice” – Ari Ólafsson.  If this were the 1990s or early 2000s, a sentimental world-peace ballad of this caliber would’ve ranked high.  But for this era, as noble as the sentiments of this song is, it is the weakest link and is a sure bet to be eliminated and perhaps even fare last.  It cannot even benefit from bloc voting–Norway, Sweden and Denmark are in the second semifinal, and Finland is so unrelated to this that there is very little chance they would give points for this entry.

ALBANIA:  “Mall [Yearning]” – Eugent Bushpepa.  I’m one of the few people who actually liked this song and felt bad most fans put this in the bottom of the rankings.  Yes, upon further reflection the melody is reminiscent of a mashup of Bon Jovi‘s “Bed of Roses” and the Goo-Goo Dolls‘ “Iris“, but there are some ethnic elements that makes this unique.  Of course, then there is that voice–I dare declare Eugent is the Albanian Adam Lambert as they both possess powerful pipes that they don’t hesitate to show off to everyone’s delight.  He can easily pull off a Rona Nishliu, which he happened to cover impressively once in a local TV show last year.  Going back to Adam Lambert, it’s fun to also compare their covers of Led Zeppelin‘s “Whole Lotta Love“.  Behold the epicness below…

BELGIUM:  “A Matter of Time” – Sennek.  Many fans liked the James Bond vibe of this entry, and felt it can be a possible winner, since it worked previously with Austria’s Conchita Wurst in 2014.  There are videos of Sennek belting out impressive high notes doing other songs, but on her live stints in the Eurovision pre-parties in Israel, Netherlands, and Spain, she tends to sound harshly sharp in this song, and as a consequence, from a possible champion contender, it fell down the oddsmakers’ lists and if these problems continue this could become a possible shock boot.  Sure, Blanche got away with it last year, but I’m not sure the juries and televoters would be as forgiving this time.

CZECH REPUBLIC:  “Lie to Me” – Mikolas Josef.  Fun fact #1:  Mikolas was originally invited by the Czech broadcaster to perform the song “My Turn” last year, but he turned it down.  I think in hindsight, it’s very obvious and a good move on Mikolas part to reject it–that ballad doesn’t highlight his strengths and talents and doesn’t fit his style at all.  Fortunately this year, he got the opportunity to compete in a national selection and won it handily, with a song that is more of his style.  Oddsmakers and the Eurovision fandom (including myself) adore this funky number–sure it resembles greatly Jason Derulo‘s 2013 smash hit “Talk Dirty to Me” but there is enough melodic variation that this song is not an outright plagiarism of that hit.  Yes, the theme of a casual hookup and the barrage of double entendres may potentially be a turnoff, but this deadringer to Hollywood superstar Matt Damon exudes so much likable charm makes this jam go down easy.  The high regard for this entry was sustained as this trouper*2 always delivers the goods live.  Indeed there is heavy hype that this guy will not only join Gabriela Gunčíková in bringing forth this country to the finals, but bring forth its best finish thus far.  But nothing is written in stone, as it is well known this country doesn’t have any bloc buddies to count on, and he might receive a hit from the juries as this entertaining jam could be considered “fast-food music”.  As beloved and well-regarded this entry is, it could be a prime candidate for a shock boot.  I’m rooting for him to succeed, though and hope the juries prioritize flavor over any stringent criteria–as this number is such a delicious treat that it’s going to be a crime to eliminate it.

*2 There are stories that he fell ill in Israel and many were concerned that he might not be able to perform, but he still mustered the strength and danced and sang as if nothing was going on.

Matt Damon in “The Rainmaker” (1997)

Fun Fact #2:  Another thing many are impressed wtih Mikolas is his aptitude with English, with the intricately deft wordplay in the lyrics, and of course when he’s interviewed and his English is flawless.  The song’s lyrics also featured some pop culture metaphors that are interestingly from much older eras–Marilyn Monroe‘s iconic skirt scene from The Seven-Year Itch, that “Wop-bop-a-loo-bop” line from Little Richard‘s “Tutti-Frutti”, and as much as I don’t want to admit it, that Madonna shout-out. His English skills and his dated pop culture references may come from his family background:  his parents are English teachers.

LITHUANIA:  “When We’re Old” – Ieva Zasimauskaitė.  This is a pretty, wispy, and quiet ballad.  Many fans don’t have a high regard for this song, but this lady has been receiving immense positive buzz in her live performance.  Her deceptively fragile vocals can even work well in a trance-like remix like the one delivered by DJ Jovani, below.  Like Eugent Bushpepa, she seems poised to upset many fans’ predictions and advance to the final–I suppose the question will be, at whose expense?

ISRAEL:  “Toy” – Netta.  I’ve recently checked out Overthinking It’s Eurovision reviews on YouTube and I’m very impressed with them.  In fact, they probably saved me 1000 words that I intended to write about this entry with their video, so please check them out…

Are you back?  Well, I still have way more to say that Overthinking It has not covered.  First, that Wonder Woman reference in the refrain–I feel this a homage to fellow Israeli Gal Gadot, who has now become a superstar thanks to her role as the movie version of that iconic superhero.  But songwriter Doron Medalie noted that he was primarily inspired by the original TV Wonder Woman, Lynda Carter when he thought up of that lyric, but I still believe they wouldn’t have put in Wonder Woman in the lyrics if it weren’t for Gal Gadot’s fame.

Wonder Women: Lynda Carter (L) and Gal Gadot (R)

Although they did not acknowledge it, knowing that Netta is an Asian pop culture aficionado I think the chicken clucking sound was inspired by “Chick Chick” by Chinese pop star Wang Rong Rollin (or Rollin Wang).  The surreal, absurd video went viral four years ago, and it’s doubtful that Netta and the songwriters have not seen this on YouTube.  However, while “Chick Chick” is basically fun barnyard-goes-techno nonsense (who was the insane person who came up with that idea, anyway?), the way the clucking sounds are used in “Toy” have purpose and meaning.

The second verse features a line repeated twice that for most English listeners would presume is another set of random sounds, but it’s actually a phrase in Hebrew:  “A ni lo bubba,” which translates to “I’m not a puppet.”  For those aware of Eurovision history, two of its most memorable winners in the 1960s used puppet metaphors:  “Poupee de cire, poupee de son [Wax doll, rag doll]” by the recently departed France Gall in 1965 (representing Luxembourg) and “Puppet on a String” by Sandie Shaw in 1967 (representing the UK).  But while those songs’ protagonists are caught in situations where they are under control by someone they were in love with, the brassy protagonist in “Toy” asserts that she will not be controlled by anyone.  Speaking of brassiness, I also observed Netta’s voice evokes those great blues singers like Bessie Smith, Ruth Brown, Etta James, and others.

If those puppet-themed songs weren’t persuasive arguments that this song is on track to win this contest, you must also observe that this year is 2018, and Israel won in 1978 and 1998, which might indicate that if one believes in destiny, Israel is following a 20-year winning cycle*3.  There is a common thread among the winners (and this potential winner) within that cycle–all three entries offer something groundbreaking within their respective times.  “A-Ba-Ni-Bi” by Izhar Cohen and the Alphabeta in 1978 introduced disco fever to Eurovision, then “Diva” by Dana International was legendary because of Dana’s transgender status and it proved electronic-based dance music can win this contest.  The innovative, quirky sounds found in “Toy” are in the same ilk as these two legendary numbers.

*3 Yes, the 1979 win for “Hallelujah” (not to be confused with Leonard Cohen‘s 1983 classic) by Gali Atari and Milk & Honey doesn’t follow the pattern but consider that a bonus for Israel.

Yes, I can continue to wax rhapsodic and talk about Netta’s innovative way with arrangements and how that reminds me of my favorite group Pentatonix, but I would need to move on and discuss this in another time.  Sure, despite being the big favorite there is no guarantee this will win–remember what happened to “Occidentali’s Karma” last year?  There is always that disadvantage that Israel lacks bloc mates to support it, and the possibility her innovative sounds and in-your-face attitude could be read as too abrasive for the juries, but I have a feeling Netta has the star power to overcome all those objections.  I’ll just leave with this final thought for now:  the genius of this song is how it makes contradictory ideas work together–the song may deal with the serious subject of harassment but it was done with a deftly light touch that it sounds fun even while effectively sending the message across; the unusual clucking sounds may be catnip for those “Lager Louts” looking for a troll entry, yet serious fans also embrace this the way they love a more conventional song; and though this doesn’t sound like anything you heard before in Eurovision, it actually embodies what Eurovision is all about.

BELARUS:  “Forever” – Alekseev.  In its national final incarnation, this sounds like something Russia’s Dima Bilan would’ve performed, and this would do well 10 years ago.  I think Alekseev’s team noticed that and they retooled the song a bit further, this time making it more stripped down in the early parts of the song and Alekseev sounding even more vulnerable.  I actually like the retooled version, and it does boost this entry’s chances of making the finals.  But then, of course there are the swooning fan girls to factor in.

ESTONIA: “La forza [The force]” – Elina Nechayeva.  Like Netta, I’ll defer to Overthinking It to discuss the bulk of what I wanted to say about this entry.

What I’ll add is about the recent dress drama, as the Estonian broadcaster is not willing to foot the bill for the projection dress, and it took last-minute help from a pool of sponsors to ensure the projection dress made it to Lisbon.  Sure, she can still deliver on the singing, but that projection dress was what makes the entire presentation pop and is almost essential.  Thank goodness the upgraded dress will make it to Lisbon.  There is also a preview of the images that will be projected on that dress, and it seems for Eurovision, they are doing a four seasons theme instead of the galactic motif during her national final.

BULGARIA:  “Bones” – Equinox.  This country was the second to last to reveal their entry, and though it was originally hyped by the oddsmakers as the front-runner, the disclosure of the song, act and lyric video initially underwhelmed and this entry fell down the odds a bit.  The song was a bit moody, and the act looks like it was assembled at the last minute.  But then this atmospheric song grows on you, and their convincingly strong live performances in the preview party circuit (they toured London, Tel Aviv, and Amsterdam) made them front-runners again and possible usurpers to Netta’s favored status.  And just like Netta, the way this group was formed last-minute reminded me of how Pentatonix came together the day before the audition deadline.  In press interviews, their fun family dynamic also reminds me of Pentatonix, even if I don’t expect this group to remain a going concern beyond Eurovision.

COMING UP:  1ST SEMIFINAL, 2ND HALF.