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.
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…
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