A Swede who lives in Finland and who is lost in Euroland - the wonderful world of Eurovision
There is always some matter to discuss or just a song I want to share
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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

ESC 2014: all my reviews in one place

Once again the Eurovision Song Contest is upon us - next week we will know who qualifies for the big final and ultimately who carries off the trophy as well as the honour of hosting next year's event.

In many ways, this feels like an exciting and interesting year with many good and original songs. What is perhaps lacking are the obvious contenders, but that hopefully means we will have a tight and entertaining voting sequence with a close finish.

I spent the last month reviewing all the participating songs - perhaps I already had the time to change my mind here and there - but before I start trying to foresee any results for real I'd like to collect this year's reviews in one place, just like I did last year.

Semi 1:
ArmeniaLatviaEstoniaSwedenIcelandAlbaniaRussiaAzerbaijanUkraineBelgiumMoldovaSan MarinoPortugalNetherlandsMontenegroHungary

Semi 2:
MaltaIsraelNorwayGeorgiaPolandAustriaLithuaniaFinlandIrelandBelarusFYR MacedoniaSwitzerlandGreeceSloveniaRomania

FranceGermanyItalySpainUnited KingdomDenmark

Enjoy them all, read them, agree, disagree, comment. Next week is when the action starts for real. And until then, let's spend the time waiting together.

Finalist: Denmark

The time has come - at the very end of this presentation of songs - to make myself impossible in this year's home country. Sorry to say it, but however I twist and turn this one it doesn't look good from any angle.

Basim - Cliché Love Song (Denmark 2014)

In a year full of ballads and midtempo anything as happy and clappy as this is likely to get a whole bunch of points in the end but this is really no dream winner in my book. Let me try and explain why.

Being silly is not a problem, I'm never averse to silly songs, but this cheerfulness feels fake and plastic. Basim isn't much of a singer and even less of a dancer and the whole thing is as a groovy as an old Soviet cement mixer.

Also, the stereotype lyrics really get to me. This pretty average guy sees the most beautiful girl in the world and decides he will have her, assuming she is just up for grabs, that she'll just be happy for the attention. And he only wants her for her great looks, this isn't an ode to her personality or intelligence or anything. Haven't we heard that enough times already? Really?

I just wonder what happened to Denmark? They used to be the kings of quirk at Eurovision, and this song desperately wants to be quirky, but it is just square, flat and stupidly heteronormative.

And catchy, I'll give it that.

Potential winner: On a really bad day, yes. It will perform as number 23 in a field of 26 songs and will have massive home support. I also have a sneaky feeling DR could put ballads around it in order to make it stand out more. But for now I will pretend like this isn't going to happen.

My grade: 2/5

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Finalist: United Kingdom

While I applaud the new BBC approach to Eurovision - sending someone young and driven rather than a star whose heyday came and went many moons ago - their selected song keeps confusing me. I'm smitten and underwhelmed at the same time.

Molly - Children Of The Universe (United Kingdom 2014)

First of all I'd like to point out how many good things there are in this entry. It has a mix of interesting hippie and 60's elements, it builds very nicely, it has an intriguing instrumentation and the "Power to the People"-hook is ridiculously effective.

Molly is a good performer with a strong presence and an interesting voice, slightly reminiscent of a certain Bonnie Tyler at her best.

Unfortunately, the song takes a real nosedive in a chorus that never really takes off and becomes a bit too repetitive for its own good. Not that Molly is alone in that respect, there are far too many songs this year that have elegant verses and disappointing choruses.

However, this has emerged as one of the bigger favourites of the year. Perhaps it pulls enough strings to enthuse the audience, perhaps people have longed for a UK entry worth cheering for?

Potential winner: Yes, Molly could surely collect many consistent six and seven-pointers and then attract the odd top mark as well. In a year where the voting is all over the place, that could be enough.

My grade: 3/5

Monday, April 28, 2014

Finalist: Spain

Spain has been waiting for their next victory since 1969 and I'm not really sure what kind of an earthquake is needed for them to win it again. Perhaps a Ruth Lorenzo could be just what it takes to secure a better score?

Ruth Lorenzo - Dancing In The Rain (Spain 2014)

I think this is a lovely little song that has grown on me considerably since it won the Spanish final. It is catchy, engaging and sounds vaguely familiar - Beyoncé's Halo springs to mind - and could easily have a long and prosperous life in various european radio charts this summer.

Ruth Lorenzo has a warm presence and is likely to be liked by the viewers but she is also a major threat to her own success. If she can't keep her vocal chords under strict control she will easily become shouty and scream the song to bits, and if that happens Spain will end up way down the list again.

Potential winner: No. This package is probably a bit too nice to stand out in a line-up of 26 songs but with a good vocal delivery and some good luck, top ten could be within reach. But if Pastora Soler didn't do better than 10th, then who knows what's in store for Ruth.

My grade: 4/5

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Finalist: Italy

A rock chick with attitude aplenty and a song bordering on being aggressively straightforward has never been a winning concept at Eurovision but there must be a first time for everything.

Emma Marrone - La mia città (Italy 2014)

Ever since they came back, Italy has provided quality, sophistication and - not least important - and edge to this old contest where the most outstanding and daring entries seldom win. More often than not, a song that as many people as possible can like at least a little bit will emerge as victorious.

Emma Marrone possesses qualities that could overthrow that tradition. She has an intriguing voice that will still sound familiar for lovers of Italian music, and they are many. Her radiation has a touch of eurovision-friendly punk that won't turn off an audience that ever enjoyed a Lady Gaga-track.

The problem probably lies in the song. While it starts out with a bang and builds nicely throughout the verse, the chorus never really takes off. There is a bit of a hook but that's all there is and that is probably not quite enough.

Potential winner: No. In this very open year almost anything is possible, but I'd be very surprised to see Italy place better than 6th or so. Surprised but not displeased.

My grade: 4/5

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Finalist: Germany

Everybody loves an underdog and the German audience loved their underdogs enough to vote them all the way to Copenhagen. A brave and original choice. Not necessarily a particularly clever one.

Elaiza - Is It Right (Germany 2014)

Maybe I'm out on really thin ice here. Maybe I am really, totally wrong on this one. But I have a nagging feeling Elaiza is a domestic phenomenon that won't be all that easy to export. Very much like Roger Cicero. Very much like Texas Lightning.

It's not bad as such. The lead vocalist surely has most things going for her. The folksy soundscape in between burlesque and cabaret is intriguing. And still the song falls so flat. I just goes on and on for three minutes without feeling the slightest bit interesting at any point.

And since they're asking: that is wrong.

Potential winner: Unless I'm really really wrong and lost all my skills in this game, no.

My grade: 1/5

Friday, April 25, 2014

Finalist: France

The French music industry is the most successful participant through the history of this contest - no less than ten winning entries are Made in France - and yet it has been 37 years since the last time France won the contest. And they won't win this time around either.

Twin Twin - Moustache (France 2014)

There's nothing wrong with the song and there's nothing really wrong with the group either. This could possibly be a radio hit here and there and the video clip would also deserve a decent amount of airplay. But I have given up on France.

While French tv is renowned for classy camera work and for celebrating the visual aspect of television, French entries have gone from bad to worse in recent years. With the notable exception of Patricia Kaas, most French entries have looked more or less like the chaos theory explained in images.

Moustache sort of has chaos written all over it already in its studio version and would need a carefully groomed and cleverly produced stage performance in order to come across properly to the audience. Not going to happen. Unfortunately.

Potential winner: No. Hopefully it can pick up a few more points than France has recently, but I don't see this making it even close to top ten.

My grade: 3/5

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Semi 2: 15 Romania

Almost every year there is one song that brings out the worst sides in me. Most often a pre-favourite - loved by a loud crowd of fans - that I don't really like and that I eventually find myself wishing it will fall flat and fail. You guessed it, folks. This is the one.

Ovi & Paula - Miracle (Romania 2014)

I liked Ovi and Paula back in 2010 and even though I didn't see their success coming quite the way it did I was really happy for them and still enjoy their song. I was not averse to them entering again. If successful acts want to come back and try to better themselves I'm all smiles as long as they have a song that is even better.

Miracle isn't that kind of song at all. It's not better than their first attempt. Honestly, it is hardly even a song.

It is just three minutes of effects stacked one on top of another. No heart, no melody line, no lyrics - just a bunch of unsorted ideas with no read thread and no point. It starts and it stops and it starts again, almost like it was hesitating. Perhaps the song itself ponders whether this was a clever move.

Especially Paula is still a brilliant singer but I have a hard time hearing this song to the end. I just want it to go away.

Qualifier: Yes. It probably can't lose. And that doesn't really make me like it more. In my book, this is the worst entry in this entire semi. If it wins, I will scream and cry and scream again.

My grade: 1/5

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Semi 2: 14 Slovenia

Slovenia almost dropped out of the contest due to financial difficulties and - most properly - a dissatisfaction with their own results. A qualification would come in handy this year to secure future participation but you don't always get what you wish for.

Tinkara Kovač - Round And Round (Slovenia 2014)

Slovenia is a country I love. Tinkara Kovač is a performer I have had a fondness for ever since the 1999 Slovenian national final where she ended in 2nd place with a great song. I would never object to a solo singer waving an instrument at the audience in a threatening and menacing way.

In other words, I really want to like this entry and I also do. It is a solid entry that is well sung and enjoyable.

But if someone as determined to like it as I am have this much trouble remembering what it sounds like once it is over - what are the hopes anyone else will remember it? Let alone vote for it?

Qualifier: No. I don't see it happening. I'd love to be wrong, as any final would be better with a flute in it.

My grade: 3/5

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Semi 2: 13 Greece

In 1983, Belgium sent in an entry where one line was repeated over and over on top of a beating rhythm and nobody understood what they were doing. Today that practise has turned into mainstream and should be a lot less risky, but Eurovision is still pretty conservative.

Freaky Fortune feat RiskyKidd - Rise Up (Greece 2014)

Personally, I am really pleased that Greece ditched that same old song they used to try their luck with. It always did well but enough is enough. Time to explore new grounds.

In fact, the Greeks just traded one beach party for another - this new one is perhaps taking place later at night and is less family friendly. It is repetitive but effective, a little bit daring, a little bit modern. And a lot less anxious about being loved than some Greek entries have been in the past ten years.

I think this is a change for the better but I'm not entirely sure Europe will fully agree.

Qualifier: Yes. This will quite easily proceed to the final where it might meet up with a bit less success than Greece has grown used to. I would not take a top ten placing for granted this time.

My grade: 3/5

Monday, April 21, 2014

Semi 2: 12 Switzerland

A young man armed with expressive eyes and a violin sounds like a recipe for success at Eurovision. But in all fairness Alexander Rybak had something this chap is lacking. Quite a few things, actually.

Sebalter - Hunter of Stars (Switzerland 2014)

If you're not paying proper attention, watching with only half an eye and half an ear, you could easily mistake this for being quite a good entry. It has many clever little ingredients that are easy to like: the violin, the whistle hook, the friendly face of the singer.

Sebalter is cute and has an OK voice but his national final performance showed he is not enough of an artist to keep a song like this together. He gives an over-excited performance with his overwhelming nervous energy spilling all over the place. An intense look is good, a frantic one is less appealing.

Maybe anyone would look that nervous if we had to perform a song like this. It's almost a good song but severely underdeveloped. Every time it almost takes off it interrupts itself and in spite of the efficient whistle hook there is nothing much to remember here.

Qualifier: No. There is no other song in this semi that has "non-qualifier" written all over it in capital letters like this one has. Not the worst one, only the least likely to qualify.

My grade: 2/5

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Semi 2: 11 FYR Macedonia

Yes yes, this is a song contest and only the songs should count and everything else should be secondary. But you try eating a delicious dish served directly on the floor and then argue presentation is of no importance.

Tijana - To The Sky (FYR Macedonia 2014)

Presentation does matter and the first preview version - a very lacklustre playback performance in a tv-studio - was such a mess that I couldn't even listen properly and thought this was a bad song that would stand no chance.

Then I listened again - with my eyes closed - and suddenly heard a good hook and a powerful chorus. All I lack is a little bit of a climax, but it still sounds like a radio hit.

So the big question remains: what will this look like on stage in Copenhagen? Will the show help lift the song or will it ruin every chance there is?

Qualifier: Yes. A song of this calibre should make it to the final. But if the performance turns into a hot mess all hope is lost.

My grade: 3/5

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Semi 2: 10 Belarus

The Big Eurovision Bake-Off continues with the cheesiest cake in the running. As always with Belarus there are just so many wrong things piled up at once in the same place, but sometimes even a collections of wrongs can turn out right.

TEO - Cheesecake (Belarus 2014)

I will be blunt. If you've read this blog before you will already know I feel a bit uneasy about certain countries taking part. Countries who don't believe in human rights or democracy and other stuff I find pretty basic. Russia. Azerbaijan. And Belarus.

The Belarusian entries are often so desperate in their aim to please and be loved that they usually sabotage their own chances of getting anywhere in this contest, but I must admit there is something about this song that I quite like. Something about the rhythm, I think. Also, it doesn't take itself all too seriously. Which is a first for Belarus.

There are also things standing in its way. There's a fair share of sexism also in this clip that they'd better not bring onto the stage, for instance. And the live performance in the national final wasn't quite a firework. And maybe it will just be too silly for the average tv viewer to digest.

Qualifier: Yes. It is one of these borderline entries that could equally well flop, but I think the sunny mood will work in its favour.

My grade: 3/5

Friday, April 18, 2014

Semi 2: 09 Ireland

It took a while but after a couple of years Swedish entries started borrowing the sound of Abba at Eurovision. Maybe enough time has passed now for Ireland to start making use of the sounds of The Corrs and B*Witched?

Can-Linn feat Kasey Smith - Heartbeat (Ireland 2014)

At first I was just confused by the billing here. Where are Can-Linn? Who are they? The only person to be seen or heard in this preview clip is Kasey Smith. Why isn't this considered a solo act? Or at least Kasey Smith feat Can-Linn?

Once I looked past that, I heard an energetic little pop number stuffed with as many Irish references as only possible. I doubt this song felt particularly Irish before the arranger was let loose, but the effect is nice if possibly slightly overloaded.

Unfortunately for the Irish, the chorus - which is the major selling point in this package - outstays its welcome rather soon and feels nagging rather than hooky. An OK song - not a bad one at all - that most will grow tired of far too soon.

Qualifier: Yes, I think so. The first impression is good enough to take it to the final, where it might meet a fate pretty similar to last year's Irish entry.

My grade: 2/5

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Semi 2: 08 Finland

Perhaps the new Finnish national final has failed to enthuse the domestic audience but it hasn't been a bad tool for finding good entries. The Finnish entry stands rather alone in its own genre this year and that can never be a bad thing.

Softengine - Something Better (Finland 2014)

Sending relatively inexperienced performers to Eurovision is always a gamble. Singing in front of an entire world is far from easy and not everyone can handle that pressure. Having said that, I want to underline how impressed I am that a bunch of young guys from Seinäjoki can just take to the stage like it was the most natural thing in the world.

Lead singer Topi Latukka is a real asset with a personable voice and for being a first single this song shows great promise for the future. In a perfect world, however, I would have preferred to let the boys grow into their new roles as pop stars and sent them off to the ESC with, say, their fifth single instead.

Qualifier: Yes. Not by a great margin, perhaps, and it probably won't carry very far in the final. But that is business as usual for Finland. Qualification is everything and that should be in the bag.

My grade: 3/5

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Semi 2: 07 Lithuania

You would not believe how hard I tried to get my head around the Lithuanian entry. I listened and listened again but can't decide whether I like it or not. This is probably not a good thing.

Vilija Matačiūnaitė - Attention (Lithuania 2014)

It has grown on me, I have to give it as much. The first version I heard - a demo by another singer than Vilija - was nothing short of a disaster. Uncharming, unsexy, unmelodic.

Vilija co-wrote the song and has another understanding how to make it work. She sings it well and gives it a bouncy and energetic performance together with dancer Sarunas Kirdeikis, who already went to Eurovision with InCulto in 2010.

Together they make this song seem a lot better than it really is.

Qualifier: It very much depends. If the viewers pay more attention to the performance than the actual song, they are in with a chance. But otherwise no.

My grade: 2/5

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Semi 2: 06 Austria

This edition of the Eurovision Song Contest marks the 25th anniversary since Austria last made it to top five. A celebration could be in place and what could be more suitable than a return to form?

Conchita Wurst - Rise Like A Phoenix (Austria 2014)

Many things have been said about the Austrian participant, a great deal of which has been a bunch of sad drivel. The mere thought of a drag queen sporting a beard seems too much to deal with for many people also in the more tolerant areas of Europe. Surprising and sad.

But even the people who can't stand the combination of a beard and a dress must hear the amount of talent going on here. This is such a classy, dramatic ballad in an exquisite arrangement, paired with an impressive set of vocal chords. Standing out of the crowd is a clear advantage in the ESC and this is an entry most viewers will notice.

If you can't pay attention to the song just because of the image of the performer, then you really have a problem. Deal with it. Conchita Wurst is a silly stage name, you say? So was Dana International.

Qualifier: Yes. Conchita will storm into the final where she has the possibility of doing really well. The first top five placing in twenty-five years is not unthinkable. Neither is a victory.

My grade: 5/5

Monday, April 14, 2014

Semi 2: 05 Poland

If you pull out of Eurovision for a year or two, then you should make a grand and impressive comeback to make everyone think they missed you, regardless if they did or not. Poland did their homework properly and are really coming back with a bang.

Donatan & Cleo - We Are Slavic (Poland 2014)

Poland did just about everything right in my book. Scrap the national final that only produces unsuccessful entries and select a hit internally. If you can send a hit to the ESC - send that hit. Who cares if it fits into the eurovision formula or not? All the better if it doesn't.

This one is modern, cool and unexpected. Catchy and very different to all the other entries. Cleo is a real wonder woman who seems to have what it takes to keep this song together.

I'd like everything here if it wasn't for the sexism. You can make fun of sexist symbolism and make a point out of it, but I have no idea if that is what is being done here. I thought Trackshittaz were mocking sexist stereotypes as well until their Baku performance convinced me of the opposite. But this is good enough for me to take the chance and dare believe Donatan and Cleo know what they are doing.

Qualifier: Yes, unless it turns out to be a mess on stage. I hope for the best, as I'd really love to clap my hands to this all through the summer.

My grade: 4/5

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Semi 2: 04 Georgia

I really don't know what happened, but I - who always says it is better to be original than ordinary, better to be brave than generic - had a first listen to the very non-stereotype entry of Georgia and understood nothing. Thought it was pretty hopeless. Then I changed my mind a little bit.

The Shin & Mariko - Three Minutes To Earth (Georgia 2014)

Remember how far from impressed I was last year when Georgia took the safest of routes and commissioned an entry from winner Thomas G:son instead of writing a song of their own? I should be thrilled by the prospect of having a jazzy folkloristic yoik written by local musicians - instead I scratched my head, wondering if the version I heard possibly could have been played in reverse by mistake.

There is an abundance of tempo changes and sophisticated little musical thingies I wouldn't even know the right word for. It is clever but also confusing and easily makes an unfocused listener a bit seasick.

I went from thinking this was the worst song in the running to quite liking it. Intriguing, to say the least. But in all fairness I might like the idea and the ambition more than the actual song.

Qualifier: No, unless the Georgians in exile really get their act together and vote a big black hole in that German switchboard. Too complicated, too demanding, and too little of a melody line.

My grade: 2/5

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Semi 2: 03 Norway

There is no lack of quality ballads in this year's Eurovision Song Contest. Slow, powerful, well crafted, well performed. That is a very good thing, but how many quality ballads is there room for in the final?

Carl Espen - Silent Storm (Norway 2014)

I must admit that I wasn't exactly blown away by this silent storm at first. It had the word "winner" written all over it in the Norwegian final without particularly touching me. Just like with Azerbaijan's ballad it took more than a fair share of repeated listening before this one hit home here.

In many ways, Azerbaijan and Norway are the female and male version of the same song. The slow pace, the vocal delivery, the desire to unravel your melody line without stuffing it with hooks. Both video clips also feature a large amount of papers caught in a whirlwind.

Just like Dilara, Carl Espen also delivers a great vocal performance and captures the audience, or at least the parts of the audience willing to listen.

Qualifier: Yes. Denmark did Norway no favours by placing it third in the running order, but it would be a complete shocker if this one wouldn't make it. But if it ends up too close to Azerbaijan - or another slow number - in the final, it might struggle. How many quality ballads can we handle in a final?

My grade: 3/5

Friday, April 11, 2014

Semi 2: 02 Israel

In our current mystery series "What were the Danes really thinking when sequencing the running order" we have reached the episode where Israel performs as number two in the second semi. Why place two strong, energetic songs neck to neck already in the beginning of the show? I don't get it.

Mei Finegold - Same Heart (Israel 2014)

In fact, Israel's song wouldn't have been a bad opener. Or a good way to put some more energy into the show after a couple of ballads. Every time it starts I think it will develop into a rock song before it makes a twists and turns all electronic pop on us. I like it.

It does have a few drawbacks - the lyrics are surprisingly clumsy at times - but Mei Finegold is the right performer to keep the whole thing under control and deliver with a thorny, almost aggressive, quality in her voice.

She even makes the language change pass almost unnoticed and feel most natural. I'm tempted to say the part in Hebrew suits the song even better.

Qualifier: Yes. For the first time since 2010, Israel will be in the final where they could possibly leave quite a mark, given that DR doesn't continue their odd behaviour and place Mei very close to Italy's Emma Marrone in the running order.

My grade: 4/5

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Semi 2: 01 Malta

At some point I figured it would be easy predicting the outcome of the second semi as only five songs will be left out. Then I thought again. In fact, it means that also the lower points given gets greater importance and that the interplay between these will be really hard to predict. However, I think Malta can feel pretty safe.

Firelight - Coming Home (Malta 2014)

This country-flavoured number is an energetic opener for the second semi that really kicks off in style. Organic, well-sung, likeable and with a strong handle in the chorus. Easy to retain, easy to remember when the quick recap flashes over the screen, urging you to vote.

The lead singer is easy on the eye as well as a gifted vocalist and the slight makeover since the national final has enhanced this entry further. The video clip - depicting soldiers during the First World War - could have turned into a horrific cheese-fest but is just touching and feels genuine, giving me a hint that the live performance will be put together by people gifted with good taste.

Qualifier: Yes. Then the question is how well it will stand up against the Dutch entry in the final and who'll get the better starting position of the two. But at this point there should be no concern.

My grade: 3/5

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Semi 1: 16 Hungary

Usually there are one or perhaps two countries in the contest that just radiates confidence, giving the impression they are about to win as soon as they get all the components right. Hungary is most definitely such a country at the moment. All they need now is a bullseye. Is this the one?

Kállay-Saunders - Running (Hungary 2014)

There are many things pointing in that direction. Running feels modern, edgy and interesting without scaring anyone off. It is melodic, catchy and well-sung, and Kállay-Saunders himself has an intriguing persona that will make viewers remember him.

But then again while the chorus is efficient and easily graspable, the verse seems to keep the tempo down a little too much for a little bit too long. And just like the Belgian entry, there is a problem with the lyrics.

Child abuse is a difficult matter to handle in a pop song. There is a thin line between being compassionate and being calculating. I think this one lands on the right side of the border but not everyone will agree. And then it doesn't matter much how honest the lyrics really are.

Then again - this is a very open year with no obvious winner in sight. With a bit of luck, a good starting position in final and enough vocal energy to overcome the slower parts of the build-up, then Hungary could go very far.

Qualifier: Without a doubt, yes.

My grade: 4/5

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Semi 1: 15 Montenegro

Ten years ago, Željko Joksimović introduced the Bombastic Balkan Ballad in Eurovision, consequently making life much harder for anyone attempting the same style to make a lasting impression. The entry of Montenegro is the only one to give it a shot this year, and despite being no Lane Moje it does quite a good job.

Sergej Ćetković - Moj Svijet (Montenegro 2014)

My first impression of this entry was that is was pretty but a bit too lacking in dynamics for its own good. Frankly, the extremely beautiful video clip stayed in my mind longer than the actual song.

But then it started growing on me. It won't get anywhere close to victory, but Sergej is a big star who can probably load his performance with just the right amount of passion and pathos needed to make the audience overlook the slight lack of hooks.

The ending is a bit abrupt and makes it feel like the song ends before it really takes off, but its placement at the end of the first semi final really works to its advantage.

Qualifier: Yes, I really think this is the time for Montenegro to make it to the final for the first time.

My grade: 3/5

Monday, April 7, 2014

Semi 1: 14 Netherlands

After many years of mainly rather indifferent entries, how likely is it that thunder will strike two years in a row and the Dutch entry will feel like a contender? I have no idea how likely it really is, all I know is that it happened.

The Common Linnets - Calm After The Storm (Netherlands 2014)

Last year - when Anouk ended the seemingly eternal walk through the desert the Dutch had endured in this contest - it felt like Birds wasn't just a great song. It felt like it was an important song that managed to incorporate a style and a delicacy that has been rare at Eurovision, proving it could live and thrive there.

The Dutch stay on that very track also this year with a song that could seem like it was almost designed to crash and burn: slow and thoughtful in a competition where glitter and grand gestures usually work better. No song with a country-western-flavour ever did well before.

But Ilse and Waylon are not just anybody. They deliver, full of restrained intensity, letting their song unfold into a beautiful little flower. Showing - again - that there is room for any kind of music at the ESC as long as it is done in style.

Qualifier: Yes. It must. Or I lose faith in the european audience forever.

My grade: 4/5

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Semi 1: 13 Portugal

You can't hold it against people that they vote for a genre they like and understand. Swedish audiences will heat up for schlager while many Portuguese will love a good pimba. Or any pimba at hand.

Suzy - Quero ser tua (Portugal 2014)

For people not familiar with pimba, this entry could seem a bit cheap at first. That isn't really a problem, as it is part of the genre. Cheap and fun, and this is fun enough. Suzy is a likeable performer, who could perhaps be mistaken for Kati Wolf's Portuguese sister.

The bigger problem is the general execution of the song. The wobbly backing vocals. The dreadful off-beat drumming that can be heard over the backing track. These are things that need to be fixed.

Portugal managed to make slick entries out of national final disasters before - Flor-de-Lis comes to mind - but the question is if it will be enough. Does this song have enough bite to make it to the final?

Qualifier: No, most probably not. This will be the kind of song that is pleasant for as long as it goes on but that few will feel passionately enough about to vote for.

My grade: 2/5

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Semi 1: 12 San Marino

Valentina Monetta is making her way into the Eurovision history books as the fourth act ever to participate in three consecutive years. In this exclusive group she will also stand out as the only one not to win on any of these occasions.

Valentina Monetta - Maybe (San Marino 2014)

It isn't bad, the Sammarinese entry. It's a laidback and very pleasantly produced little number, affected by the fact it sounds more like an album track more than a single. More precisely, it sounds like an album track by a German quality schlager act in the early 1980's.

It sounds like the kind of song that would need a spectacularly magnificent firework of a performer in order to come alive on stage. Valentina Monetta is - frankly - not that kind of performer. She has an OK voice but lacks that certain nerve and presence to make a song break through the tv screens.

Qualifier: No. It doesn't look promising at least. With a great portion of luck and small but consistent points from most countries, this could possibly make it into a tenth place or so. Maybe.

My grade: 2/5

Friday, April 4, 2014

Semi 1: 11 Moldova

I almost always sort of like Moldova. They have a sense of creativity, innovation and televisual talent that really appeals to me. I'm just afraid they will have to pull out every hidden trick in their secret box to make this song fully work.

Cristina Scarlat - Wild Soul (Moldova 2014)

Let me state at once that there is nothing bad about this entry. Cristina Scarlat is a powerful performer with lots of attitude and the vocals to back that kind of attitude up. The song is a semi rock number of a kind Moldova entered successfully in the past.

Problem is that it never takes off. Nothing happens. It keeps going and going without ever coming across any sort of climax. That is not a good thing.

In all fairness, Moldova pulled this off in the past. They managed to take songs that were perhaps lacking both this and that and somehow added shine and finesse enough to make it to the final. Maybe I will have to eat my words come May.

Qualifier: No. In a semi final with too many slow numbers for its own good, this will struggle to make an impact.

My grade: 2/5

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Semi 1: 10 Belgium

I'm really glad that people are fond of their mothers. I really think you should. I really love my mother too, you know. I am, however, less than thrilled when people feel the need to express their motherly love in song. It easily becomes a little bit too much.

Axel Hirsoux - Mother (Belgium 2014)

It would perhaps be easy to crack jokes about Axel himself, but that would be a cheap shot. I think Axel has a great voice, even if I would prefer him to turn the volume down a bit. More interpretation, less vocal excess. But he's not the problem.

The problem is the violently pompous nature of the song paired with a set of lyrics that could be specifically written for Norman Bates. These words don't feel heartfelt, they just feel awkward. Even a bit disturbing.

More is more, Krista Siegfrids said last year. But there must be a limit to anything, and this song is the musical equivalent of drowning in mayonnaise.

Qualifier: Yes. People with poor taste are everywhere. They vote too.

My grade: 1/5

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Semi 1: 09 Ukraine

Given Ukraine's track record of changing their entries following dramatic political changes, it is a bit of a surprise to see the winner of the national final held back in December to still stand. Even if it has gone through a most radical facelift since.

Maria Yaremchuk - Tick Tock (Ukraine 2014)

Who can blame the Ukranians if they had other things to tend to instead of masterminding their ESC participation? Their country has been shaken by the biggest political turbulence since independence was declared, something that must make this song contest look pretty insignificant in comparison.

Somebody has been paying some attention however, since the selected entry has gone through a renovation of the bigger kind. A bit like tearing the old house down and build something completely new in the same place.

It works - the new arrangement is slick and effective and Maria's new look and approach gives the whole thing a fresh and energetic feel. Just too bad that it is the same - rather weak - song that has just been polished.

Qualifier: Yes, easily. But once in the final, the audience could possibly start seeing through the elegant surface and realise there is not a great deal to be found beneath.

My grade: 3/5

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Semi 1: 08 Azerbaijan

I'll just say it quickly to have it over and done with: I'd be much happier if Azerbaijan at least once would dare rely on their own songwriters instead of buying foreign stuff. Having said that, this is the best song they bought in years.

Dilara Kazimova - Start A Fire (Azerbaijan 2014)

This is an unusual entry, soft and jazzy, soaked in duduk. Could easily have turned into a complete snoozefest in the wrong hands, but Dilara could possibly be one of the most interesting performers Azerbaijan has sent to Eurovision so far.

She keeps it sensual and intimate and appealing for three minutes in this video clip. If she manages the same trick live on stage, she could be the one that collects many of the available ballad points.

Qualifier: Beyond the shadow of a doubt, yes. Unfortunately not only due to musical merit.

My grade: 3/5