Road to Tel Aviv: Songs of Semi-Final 1

In 34 days the first semi-final of the 64th Eurovision Song Contest kicks off. Time to take a (subjective) look at its contestants.

#17 Australia: Kate Miller-Heidke – ”Zero Gravity”, Overall Placement: 40/41

I really want to embrace Australia as a full member of the ESC family. I really try. But they make it so easy to get furious about their appearance that I can’t help myself but giving them the cold shoulder. The worst thing about it is that they were so close to finally having a song that I would’ve wanted for Australia for so long. Electric Fields’ ”2000 and Whatever” was that kind of song. 

But no, Aussies proved their bad taste and went for a carbon copy of last year’s dreadful entry from Estonia. Sorry for my temper tantrum. It can only get better from now on.

#16 Montenegro: D-Mol – ”Heaven”, Overall Placement: 37/41

It seems Montenegro has left Slavko’s planet Fabulust for good and attempts crash-landing with full force. This is a contrived act with an utterly dull name and even duller ballad. Actually I am surprised that Ralph Siegel isn’t part of the writer’s staff, because this could be one of his leftovers from his vault.
Because it is Montenegro I don’t see them doing well in their semi-final. But they might surprise everyone and qualify like Belarus back in 2010 with a similar kitschy song.

#15 Belarus: ZENA – ”Like It”, Overall Placement: 36/41

Listening to this I feel like taken back to the early 2000s. To singers like Mýa or Ashanti. To music I grew up with. The melody reminds me a bit of ”If I Could Go” by Angie Martinez. The pre-chorus then takes us back to the darkest realms of plastic Eurovision pop.

And if that weren’t enough cheap drum computer and flute sounds are added to the second verse. I’m not liking this at all. Thanks anyway, ZENA, for sharing what you’ve got.

#14 Estonia: Victor Crone – ”Storm”, Overall Placement: 33/41

Once upon a time there was a music show called Eesti Laul and it was the highlight of the season for many Eurovision fans, including myself. And then came a storm that blew away all my enthusiasm for it.

I know the word’s totally overused, but ”Storm” sounds generic. As if some algorithmic program produced the song and not Stig Rästa. I can’t believe the same person did ”Goodbye To Yesterday”. Well, it’s goodbye to Eesti then. 2019 marks the first year in almost a decade I haven’t seen the show’s final. Regarding the declining quality of the entries I am not sure about coming back soon.

#13 San Marino: Serhat – ”Say Na Na Na”, Overall Placement: 32/41

”Don’t forget my number!” How subtle, Serhat!

Watch out, Valentina. Disco daddy is back once again. He might threaten La Monetta’s record number of participation for the microstate.

It’s not like San Marino is really giving much effort to this year’s Eurovision. Everyone involved in the song knows that ”Say Na Na Na” won’t make an impact and that’s all so right. I admit that this is an earworm that shouldn’t be underestimated despite its unapologetic silliness. And I mean that in a good way. However I’m not a fan of this package. Sorry.

#12 Finland: Darude, Sebastian Rejman – ”Look Away”, Overall Placement: 29/41

”How can we go to sleep at night and lay there in our beds?” YLE’s question to Europe after the downfall of their queen Saara Aalto in Lissabon.

Finland’s take on a political song. There’s some truth in the lyrics. We do look away at all the things threatening our world. Or at least we pretend to care for a day and then move on with our comfortable lives. The thing is I don’t believe Sebastian a single word he’s singing. Unlike France’s and Italy’s attempts last year this is a disposable EDM song that tries to convey a message, but fails in selling it to the audience.

#11 Czech Republic: Lake Malawi – ”Friend Of A Friend”, Overall Placement: 23/41

This is a middle of the road song for me. I can see its merits. For example the synthies that resemble late 1970s and early 1980s funk and disco music. But I’m not a fan of the chorus at all or the singers’s phoney accent in the pre-chorus.

Their performance on Vidbir was very convincing though. It shows that they’re a seasoned live act and their singer’s got lots of charisma. Maybe it’s one of these songs that’ll win me over when I’ll see it performed on TV? But I don’t see why because it’s nothing special.

#10 Belgium: Eliot – ”Wake Up”, Overall Placement: 21/41

Despite its failure to proceed to the final last year Belgium sticks to its niche that has been awarded with three consecutive top 10 placements. Just like Loic Nottet and Blanche, Eliot appeared on The Voice Belgique. I was intrigued. Unfortunately the song feels like Frankenstein’s monster. The verses joined by a calm electronic beat grabbed my attention, but then there’s this lazy chorus. Pretty forgettable and the piano and drum effects in it sound very schlageresque. A missed opportunity. 

#09 Georgia: Oto Nemsadze – ”Sul tsin iare”, Overall Placement: 19/41

Unlike its neighbour Azerbaijan Georgia always shows a new facette of its music scene and what’s more important they often stay true to their cultural heritage.

Now ”Sul tsin iare” doesn’t appeal to me like ”Visionary Dream” or ”One More Day” did, but there are elements in this song that I like: most of all Oto’s voice and the strong build up which climaxes in the ”Varada” part towards the end. This isn’t a contender for high marks I’m afraid but I appreciate Georgia’s take on the contest since their debut.

#08 Cyprus: Tamta – ”Replay”, Overall Placement: 18/41 

”I’m shitting my body tonight!” Tamta’s no stranger to kinky sex games.

I like to compare Cyprus’ recent efforts to 1960s and ’70s Luxembourg. Both being small countries recruiting stars from their bigger neighbour for ESC. Is that a recipe that’ll work for Cyprus this time again? I’m not Cassandra, I can’t see into the future. But ”Replay” has all the ingredients it takes for success. A danceable beat with a catchy hook and attractive singer who can deliver good vocals.

#07 Hungary: Joci Pápai – ”Az én apám”, Overall Placement: 11/41

Usually I don’t like songs that feature ”na na na” or ”la la la” in their lyrics. We’ve had too many of those in the history of the contest. Some of them coming in last place (BEL 1979), others were even crowned the winner (ESP 1968).

But Joci can get away with it. The song builds up really well. At first I missed Joci’s rapping, but ”Az én apam” is a different kind of song than ”Origo”. Still with a personal touch, but less aggresive. Now I like it more than his first effort and I hope he can land another top 10 for Hungary.

#06 Serbia: Nevena Božović – ”Kruna”, Overall Placement: 10/41

”Kruna” doesn’t get the attention it deserves. It wasn’t among my top favourites to win Beovizija, but I started to acknowledge its merits the more I listened to it. Actually I had the melody set in my mind just after its final performance. Now there have been much stronger ballads from the Balkans like ”Korake ti znam” or ”Lejla”, but this is also a gentle song performed by a capable vocalist. The two English lines are unnecessary though, but they don’t ruin the song.

#05 Greece: Katerine Duska – ”Better Love”, Overall Placement: 09/41

While Eleni Foureira seems to have found couture heaven in the dumpster, Katerine Duska has fallen head over heels for tulle. There’s a niche for everyone. ”Better Love” sounds like something Leona Lewis would’ve recorded ten years ago. If she had the voice of Jess Glynne and Madonna’s tooth gap. 

The main problem of the Greek entry is that it doesn’t give me something new, the phrases been heard before and the song’s climax is a tad disappointing. What could possibly save the song are the staging and Katerine’s unique timbre. I love the video’s aesthetics, the random shots of delicate women who are put together in a symmetric mise en scène towards the end. Hopefully they can transport it to the stage. 

#04 Iceland: Hatari – ”Hatriđ mun sigra”, Overall Placement: 08/41

”Hate…thy will be done. I can no longer hide I can no longer run.”

I love men who can make me laugh. And viewing Hatari’s interviews was one of the finest moments of Icelandic comedy since I saw Silvia Night going berzerk in Athens.

The song itself combines industrial techno with Eurovision pop and includes a proper key change in their final chorus. I have not decided yet what to think of that. Are they trying to sound more Eurovision-friendly? Are they just trying to poke fun at the song festival? Probably both. To this day Hatari still leave me bedazzled and I’ve no idea where they’ll end up in May. This I know: ”Hatriđ mun sigra” gave me goosebumps, something that couldn’t have been said for past Icelandic entries for a long time.

#03 Poland: Tulia – ”Fire of Love (Pali się)”, Overall Placement: 07/41

Music is not fireworks. Music is yeah yeah fire!

Oh dear, where do I start. The relationship I have with Poland at ESC is best described with love-hate. There are the marvellous entries from 1995 – 1997 and 2003 which was the only time I voted for my second home as I like to call Poland. 1998, 2004, 2005 and 2014 were also fine. But the rest leaves me indifferent (which probably is the worst verdict of all) or makes me vomit. The announcement for this year’s entry was very nerve-racking. First TVP pushes the date a week later than planned and then several artists publish their potential songs for Tel Aviv on YouTube, one worse than the other. I was prepared for the worst.

And then it’s Tulia. Not with the song I hoped for. But at least this time my beloved Poland got their shit together and sends some decent artists for Eurovision. There’s however a flaw and I blame TVP staff for that: The English lines. This is just phoney. Western languages don’t work well with biały śpiew (”white voice”). But I can live with that – for now. If the girls show up on stage with the clothes I saw on Polish TV they won’t win anything but the Barbara Dex Award. Mimo wszystko, powodzenia! Serce pali się dla was.

#02 Slovenia: Zala Kralj & Gašper Šantl – Sebi, Overall Placement: 02/41

A lot of people say the Slovenian entry’s lacking a change in arrangement. I disagree. There are loops, echoes, the spheric synthies joined by Gašper’s guitar and Zala’s fragile voice. Together they form one of the most original songs of 2019.

Watching the two perform feels like disturbing a couple getting intimate with each other. For three minutes the world only revolves around them. Millions of stars (and TV spectators) are their voyeurs. The only time I can think of a duo creating a similar air of intimacy were the Netherlands 2014. Like The Common Linnets Zala and Gašper are very authentic and stay true to themselves.

I hope for them to reach the final, because it would be a shame if Slovenia’s best entry ever doesn’t get to be performed on the night of the nights.

#01 Portugal: Conan Osíris – ”Telemóveis”, Overall Placement: 01/41

The moment Conan was announced the winner of 2019’s Festival do Canção I wish I were born Portuguese. All the emotions, the excitement and the joy were reaching over my screen to me and I couldn’t help myself but smiling and being happy for the Portuguese fans.

Listening to the song I knew from the very beginning that this will be contender for my higher ranks. This is a perfect blend of everything Portugal stands for: Western influences, oriental influences, fado and saudade. The latter being killed by the theme of the song: Mobile phones. Always being connected, always having them stuck to our bodies. Like Conan’s and his dancer’s accessories. Who needs saudade anymore when we can get in contact with anyone in just an instant. That’s at least how I understand the performance.

What’s left there to say: Força, Portugal!

Thanks for reading. To be continued.

2 thoughts on “Road to Tel Aviv: Songs of Semi-Final 1

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