It’s now time to check on the automatic finalists. Will any of them have a chance of winning it all?
FRANCE: “Roi [King]” – Bilal Hassani. Despite keeping a masculine name and the song title is a “masculine” noun*1, everything about Bilal is non-gender binary, and this song is an empowerment anthem about embracing who you are. The bilingual song (sung in both French and English) is co-written by the previous French Eurovision representative, Madame Monsieur (“Mercy“). While “Mercy” was highly regarded and initially considered a front-runner that then faded during the final, the initial fan buzz on this entry was a tad muted, with many predicting it will finish mid-board or a tad lower. But when the staging was revealed, with the inclusion of a plus-sized ballerina and an Asian deaf dancer, this song’s prospects rose, that many are believing it can make a play for the Top 10. I have to say, the presentation is highly laudable and enhances the song’s message–this is arguably the best staging France has made in at least two decades. Let’s see how high this will fare this Saturday.
*1 Romance languages like French, Italian, and Spanish require their nouns to have gender.
GERMANY: “Sister” – S!sters. After cracking the Top Five last year with Michael Schulte‘s “You Let Me Walk Alone“, this country is hoping to sustain a strong showing with this entry. Despite having a pocket of supporters, for most people it looks like this entry will bring Germany back to the bottom of the pack. For starters, there are people who cast suspicion on how this act made the cut late into the national final’s selection process–with an act composed of two erstwhile soloists who seemed to be paired together by the broadcaster, and how the system seems set up to ensure their win. Then, though the song has a laudable female empowerment message, most fans don’t feel they are offering anything fresh or compelling with this entry. Finally, the staging is not that encouraging as it doesn’t make a standout impression.
ISRAEL: “Home” – Kobi Marimi. Kobi can be considered the Israeli equivalent to Josh Groban, as his singing style veers towards classical/operatic. The song has a haunting intro that for me evokes those Jewish hymns and made me recall the Holocaust. I think that was the intention, as a defense for those detractors clamoring for a boycott to this contest for the Israeli government’s treatment of Palestinians–it’s like a reminder that Jews who now rule this country had a long history of being oppressed. For that, there are people who felt an emotional connection to this song. Me, well, I can’t get past the treacly sentimental melody on the rest of the song. Plus, the chorus has a sticking point for me–it sounds so similar to SWEDEN’s entry this year, albeit disguised as a downbeat ballad. Every time I hear it, I couldn’t help but sing “Too Late for Love” on top of it. So, even if officially John Lundvik is credited as songwriter for two Eurovision entries this year, in my reckoning he’s in a tie with Laurell Barker with three as I think John is owed songwriting credit for the chorus.
ITALY: “Soldi [Money]” – Mahmood. Mahmood is half-Egyptian, half-Sicilian, so one might worry how he might be received the by Israelis, as even if there is a peace pact between Israel and Egypt for over 40 years, the sentiment of the regular people from those two countries e reportedly adversarial. Well, if you learn about his background, he’s not that connected to the Arab side of his heritage, and that is reflected on this song. His Egyptian father is a distant figure to him as he and his mother divorced when Mahmood was a kid and had moved on to at least three more marriages since then. So, there’s nothing for Israelis to worry about and he’s welcomed with open arms. And the song? A sophisticated hip-hop inflected groove-tastic number with the catchiest handclap hook around. And the lyrics narrating the story I just talked about made me recall another foreign-language “missing-father” classic, “Papaoutai” by Belgian artist Stromae. For me this song is at the same caliber as that classic.
SPAIN: “La venda (The blindfold)” – Miki Nuñez. This upbeat brassy number grows on me on further listens, just like my regard for the singer. At first listen, I would think this would finish close to the bottom of the pack, but as the weeks go on, I was won over by the bright jumpy energy Miki brings to this song that I think this could even make a play to the left side of the scoreboard. The bright colorful staging with the big robot gimmick will most likely bring Spain out of the sub-20 doldrums it has been finishing for the past five years.
UNITED KINGDOM: “Bigger Than Us” – Michael Rice. Originally, Swedish singer/songwriter John Lundvik was planning to enter this song for this year’s Melodifestivalen, but it was rejected so he decided to share the song with the UK’s BBC, which took it and made it one of their three songs that they made the public vote on, with two artists each offering their version of those songs. Ultimately this gospel-tinged number got the right to carry the Union Jack to this contest. Initially, I would place this in the bottom of the finals pack, but Michael’s strong vocals win you over, the way Lucie Jones eventually wore down resistance two years ago with “Never Give Up On You” and finished at a respectable 15th place. I’m hopeful this will at least finish mid-table, but the staging might drag it down as it’s not really remarkable. Sure, he has Eurovision alum Sahlene*4 as one of his backup singers, but she and the other backup singers are not like John Lundvik’s “Mammas”.
*4 She is a Swede who competed for Estonia in 2002 with “Runaway“. It placed in a tie for third.
With all entries accounted for, here’s who I think will make the Top Ten in the finals.
TOP TEN: CYPRUS, AUSTRALIA, ICELAND, GREECE, SWITZERLAND, SWEDEN, RUSSIA, NETHERLANDS, AZERBAIJAN, ITALY
BUBBLING UNDER: SLOVENIA, CZECH REPUBLIC, ARMENIA, MALTA, ALBANIA, NORWAY, FRANCE, SPAIN
Now, what I predict will do well does not always jibe with my personal choices, so here’s my list of Top 10 favorites.
1) NETHERLANDS 2) PORTUGAL 3) ICELAND 4) ITALY 5) SWITZERLAND 6) NORWAY 7) AUSTRALIA 8) SWEDEN 9) AZERBAIJAN 10) ESTONIA
BUBBLING UNDER: MALTA, ARMENIA, ALBANIA, RUSSIA, CYPRUS, GREECE, ROMANIA, FINLAND, SERBIA, CZECH REPUBLIC
Let’s see how everything unfolds. How high will risk-takers like AUSTRALIA and ICELAND would fare? And how high will RUSSIA fare? And can the likes of ITALY, SWITZERLAND, and AZERBAIJAN (along with the previously mentioned countries) have what it takes to stop NETHERLANDS’ juggernaut to victory? Good luck to all the entries.