Eurovision 2018 – 1st Semi-Final

Don’t go into Eurovision unprepared, it’s not a good look. Here’s a brief overview of all contestants so you can impress your peers with minimum effort, part 1/3.

Next Tuesday (May 8), the below countries will try their best to steal our hearts in hopes of becoming the host of Eurovision 2019 (because it appears that that is the main prize). An influx of tourists of all persuasions doesn’t necessarily sound like something every country is hoping for (Russia?), but I guess seeing money makes angry people forget why they hate the gays. In all seriousness, Eurovision brings countries together that aren’t always the best of friends and spreads a message of unity and diversity that I can get behind every second of every day. There are many reasons to watch Eurovision, but whether it’s for the music, the outfits, the politics, Graham Norton’s commentary, or the prospect of drinking shots each time a dramatic key change occurs, it never fails to disappoint. I mean, some of these songs are horrible, but ain’t nothing wrong with a bit of schadenfreude in the mix, right?

The below list is in order of appearance for the first semi-final and is concluded by a top 5 of my personal faves. Part two and three of this series of posts will appear later this week, so keep an eye out!

Azerbaijan – Aisel – “X My Heart”

Azerbaijan usually does quite well regardless of the actual quality of their songs. This song is incredibly boring and emotionless. Aisel’s voice seems to be singing from a page with no idea what she’s singing about. I don’t even want to listen to the whole thing. Unfortunately this will be the opener, otherwise it would’ve been a great opportunity to have a toilet break. Maybe use this time to prepare shots for the Eurovision drinking game. Will this be the first time Azerbaijan don’t make it to the final?

Iceland – Ari Ólafsson – “Our Choice”

It’s a ballad! This clean-faced Icelandic man-child seems to be preaching an “Imagine” kind of message. With a smile on his face he sings “Too many are dying in vain”. This song is so calculated it hurts, like someone pulled out the How To Write A Ballad textbook and ticked the boxes one by one. Then there is that intense screech that will definitely be a reason to drink. I am incredibly nonplussed. 

Albania – Eugent Bushpepa – “Mall”

Yes, a song that’s not in English! I am always incredibly happy when this happens although it is usually not a recipe for success. The folksy guitars are very Goo Goo Dolls and actually this whole song is like an Albanian “Iris”. I guess one big downside is that most won’t know what the song is about (although I am sure Graham will shed some light on that). Regardless this is quite a nice song that really should make it to the final (where it won’t get many points, but still). 

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Belgium – Sennek – “A Matter Of Time”

Eurovision is much like football in that I do not support England but my home country, The Netherlands. Although we tend to poke fun at the Belgians by calling them dumb, when it comes to Eurovision Belgium is like a sister and if we can’t win, they should. This song is one that fits in the recent trend of sending a good act rather than a campy one, and it has been working in “our” favour. Eurovision is a fickle mistress, however, and so I really can’t predict whether this effort will be praised or instantly forgotten. 

Czech Republic – Mikolas Josef – “Lie to Me”

God, the trumpets. We’ve heard too many trumpets. There’s something about Marilyn (or Merlin) Monroe and Madonna, and I think this is sort of an attempt at “Shape Of You” vibes. Yet the song lacks all charm that makes it OK for Ed Sheeran to sing about objectification and instead is just kind of Robin Thicke level creepy. Did the Czech Republic get the note that this is dangerous territory? This is just a less inspired version of Jason Derulo’s “Talk Dirty” and the Czech Republic does not wear it well.

Lithuania – Ieva Zasimauskaite – “When We’re Old”

A mousy girl singing a romantic ballad. This song romanticises traditional family values and I’m not sure this will resonate with the Eurovision audience. Fall in love with a nice white boy, have an uncomplicated heterosexual relationship, get married, have kids, grow old together. They do realise gay marriage is illegal in Lithuania, right? Even when you forget about the cringe-worthiness of how out of touch this song with its audience, it’s just insanely boring. Is there no chorus at all? You know what, the song ended a few seconds ago and I already forgot about it. Bye, Ieva. 

Israel – Netta – “Toy” 

This song has strong moments but the pre-chorus, a chicken-like vocal exercise, makes it very hard to take this song seriously (which I doubt is even the point, but what is?). The chorus has the weakest of lyrics (“I’m not your toy / you stupid boy”). So why is she saying she’s not his toy but also basically calling him a chicken? And what is the “wedding bells ringing / Money man bling bling” line all about????? I am so confused.

Belarus – Alekseev – “Forever”

There is a nice Slavic touch to this song that is always popular in Eurovision. Alekseev has a rebel/Byronic hero vibe that is very (sober-ish) Pete Doherty sexy, and I could just look at his face and forget all about this meh song and let him cradle me in his weak but sensual arms. Just look at him put a flame to his tongue. Sorry, I’m getting carried away, but I think that’s the technique here. If they do one of those dramatic stage showers I’m sure we’ll all be gagging for it and hand him a crown and sceptre while whispering “hush, my sweet baby, it will all be ok”. 

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Estonia – Elina Nechayeva – “La Forza”

For some reason this song is in Italian which I’m sure has something to do with the opera vibes going on here. Here’s the thing: Nechayeva is absolutely stunning. This means she’ll be forgiven for at least some vocal imperfections. There’s always at least one dramatic opera moment with a huge dress on a platform. I honestly don’t know how often this shtick can be copied before people realise it’s plain boring unless performed by a woman with a beard or an eccentric vampire man (I will never forget you, Cezar). This song is peppered with drinking cues, though, so get ready to pass out. 

Bulgaria – Equinox – “Bones”

It’s immediately clear this song comes from the Balkan. It’s dark, has a strong melody, a dragging rhythm. It’s also the first group we’re seeing this Eurovision, so that should make them a bit more memorable. As soon as the harmonising starts, this song becomes even stronger. It’s quite dramatic, and there are some lovely vocalisations that again honour the group’s roots. I’m not mad. 

Macedonia – Eye Cue – “Lost and Found”

I already hate them for that group name. And this song is stupid. There are no redeeming qualities and I will not spend any more time on this BS. 

Croatia – Franka – “Crazy”

This song is not a hit. It sounds like an album filler track. For an annual contest this is not up to scratch. They definitely tried with the parlando singing and the slight variation in the bridge, but there is very little meat on this bone. We’ve hit a bit of a Eurovision dry spell, and I think we’re ready to be swept of our feet again. 

Austria – Cesar Sampson – “Nobody But You”

Sampson has a deep and beautiful voice which is a welcome change after what could be called a ensemble of meh. It’s also always lovely to see someone who’s not white. As far as diversity goes Eurovision has been so focussed on inclusion in terms of gender and sexuality, that race unfortunately has not really been a point of focus. I don’t know if the subtle gospel aspects of this song are the best way to be more racially inclusive, but this song is not bad at all and with this charming and sweet-voiced artist this might just be enough to earn Austria a spot in the final. 

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Greece – Yianna Terzi – “Oniro Mou”

“Oniro Mou” is haunting and compelling. Sung in Greek and clearly grounded in traditional music, this is the kind of interpretation that Eurovision needs. Although it lacks variation as the song progresses, the general atmosphere is so intriguing that I don’t mind all that much. I doubt that this will be done justice during a live rendition, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed. 

Finland – Saara Aalto – “Monsters”

This is very Eurovision. There is a strong build-up, and a full use of Aalto’s vocal range. There are violins, there is a dance beat. The message is also very classic. Overcoming your fear, coming out the other end a stronger person. It’s a signature Eurovision theme that is bound to leave a mark. Is it a winner? It depends on how unique this entry is this year. I would be very underwhelmed if it did win. 

Armenia – Sevak Khanagyan – “Qami” 

An Armenian ballad. The first verse implied that drama might ensue. Drama does ensue but not the kind I was expecting. Is this a pre-chorus? It appears not. However a beat joins verse two (classic). A gradual build up toward an uber dramatic climax, perhaps? Yup, there we go. It’s not that a predictable song can’t win you Eurovision, it’s just so disappointing when it happens. 

Switzerland – ZiBBZ – “Stones”

I’m expecting this to be maybe a bit urban based on the caps in that group name. No wait, it’s rock? A bit of a poppy version of Band of Skulls / The Kills? I’ve not heard a song like this yet, so any other “Eurovision Rock” song will be less interesting because we’ve already heard this one. It’s reason enough to get them to the final, and it’s not half bad so who knows where this one will go. 

Ireland – Ryan O’Shaughnessy – “Together”

I am already scared that there will be Celtic violins in this one. The video is set in Temple Bar and I just can’t. But wait, there’s a positive twist: a lovely romantic choreography with two guys! You go, Ireland, you go. I really hope they do this on stage because that should definitely see Ireland into the final. It makes this kind of generic UK-style ballad a lot more charming and genuine and that is not something you see a lot during Eurovision. 

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Cyprus – Eleni Foureira – Fuego 

Very poppy, this song could be in the radio. That bubbling beat, that anthem-like pre-chorus, that build-up, that drop! OK, this song is awesome. The electronic latin vibe is so 2018. I am impressed. I think this is the ideal song to end the first semi-final and I would be surprised if this didn’t end up in the top five. 

Faves (in alphabetical order): Austria, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Switzerland.

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