28 March 2016
All songs rated
It’s been an interesting Eurovision national final season. It started out with all the early songs being quite good, raising our expectations for a string of classic songs to eventually arrive. Sadly they never came. It proved a remarkably even season, providing only a handful of really strong songs and, equally, very few stinkers. Depending on the person you ask, maybe there’s no stinkers at all. For me there’s a couple, and also one clear favourite.
Stockholm 2016 is also a year of the big returns. Six artists (count them, six!) previously at ESC will also be back. They are from Bosnia Herzegovina (Deen 2004), Bulgaria (Poli Genova 2011), FYR Macedonia (Kaliopi 2012), Iceland (Greta Salome 2012), Lithuania (Donny Montell 2014) and Malta (Ira Losco 2002). It’s almost a Eurovision Nostalgia Contest.
Several countries are also back, notably Bosnia Herzegovina, Bulgaria and Croatia. Of course, Australia is also back, of sorts. Back as a guest, and must go through the semi finals like regular countries. No free pass to the grand final this year. Missing from 2015 is Portugal.
As usual, songs will be categorised using the five-star system. For something new, the Fab Five will be introduced intermittently through the list, rather than all at the end. Let us begin!
One Star (Poor)
43) Greece – Argo – Utopian Land
Released with no fanfare, no publicity since, no nothing. This is the loose change you throw at a beggar on the streets just to empty your pockets. Greece will need to make it special on stage, as they are so good at doing, to make it even passable. It’s in the Pontic dialect, so don’t be surprised if you even hear Greeks saying “It’s all Greek to me”.
42) Romania – Ovidiu Anton – Moment Of Silence
Rocky Horror Show without the need for make-up. It’s about something in the nation’s past, which propelled it to win the national final. That’s great for Romania, not much for Europe, and even less for me. My mindset is based purely on aural appreciation, and there’s not much here.
5) Poland – Michal Szpak – Colour Of Your Life
It was civil war in Poland this year after Michal beat Margaret. Should I be embarrassed that I prefer Michal’s old school Eurovision ballad over Margaret’s fresh and modern Cool Me Down? Hell no! Finding affection for such songs is part of the charm and mystique of Eurovision. Even Michal’s crazy hair and Euro-centric fashion is no turn off. In fact, it endears his performance even more. His song also proved to be much better than Margaret’s too. It really is charming, just as Michal seems to be himself. He was so thrilled to win Poland’s national final so it’s great he can fulfill his dream. It’s worthwhile to check his audition on Poland’s X-Factor to note his transformation in appearance and an artist.
Two Stars (OK)
41) Ukraine – Jamala – 1944
I called this anti-music at the time and still I don’t understand its appeal. It’s some woman randomly talking and then bursting into a screaming wreck by the end. No doubt it will make the final. After reviewing all songs last night, I’ve bumped it from last place and awarded an extra star simply for Jamala’s technical ability.
40) Bosnia Herzegovina – Dalal & Deen feat Ana Rucner and Jala – Ljubav Je
BH are back and it’s edgier Balkan ballad with and odd bit of rap. It hasn’t really grown on me much over the weeks, so much will depend on the stage performance for it to excel. The preview video was appalling. Deen was the nipple flashing disco duck that represented BH at ESC in 2004. Much has changed since then.
39) San Marino – Serhat – I Didn’t Know
I was beginning to dig this until they changed it to a disco version. Where previously I wasn’t sure whether it’s a joke or a cult favourite, now it’s total joke. I swear I hear Serhat say at 34s and 1:47s “I’ve got to say I’m a merry tit”. No sh1t!
38) Sweden – Frans – If I Were Sorry
There’s nothing really wrong with this. A cute kid, a catchy song, nice and folksy. It’s just oh, so boring, and an especially egregious selection when Sweden had at least four better alternatives. Fans with strong perceptions and even stronger expectations about Sweden are in for a letdown.
37) Denmark – Lighthouse X – Soldiers Of Fine
Like 2011 and 2015, Denmark send a bland boyband over a superior solo female (this time “Australia’s own”, Anja Nissen). It’s catchy enough, albeit a bit generic.
36) France – Amir – J’ai cherche
Initially liking this, it’s become so repetitive, and dropped well down my list.
35) Malta – Ira Losco – Walk On Water
Malta change their song from something decent (Chameleon) to warbling diva drivel. Oh well. It does improve after a few listens. Be sure to check online Ira’s wonderful Eighth Wonder from ESC 2002. A really sweet song that finished second (and should have won).
34) Montenegro – Highway – The Real Thing
Not quite the Balkan ballad of the past 2 years. While I appreciate the return of several rock songs this year, there’s not enough to the chorus for this to excel.
33) Georgia – Nika Kocharov & Young Georgian Lolitaz – Midnight Gold
Just when you thought Eurovision could not surprise anymore, Georgia send Australian pub rock. Colac will be proud. This grows on you a bit, and finishes off quite nicely. It’s probably too bland for Eurovision. Note: Colac is a rugged coastal town south west of Melbourne where you can find the rawest of pub rock and plenty of sheep.
32) Armenia – Iveta Mukuchyan – LoveWave
An odd one. Trying to be big and brash, it doesn’t really connect. It’s a bit whiny. One that could improve with the live Eurovision performance.
4) Norway – Agnete – Icebreaker
The disjointed connection between the verses and chorus don’t really matter for Agnete. Icebreaker is reminiscent of Norway’s song from 2013. That song was I Feed You My Love. Margaret Berger sang it. If you’re wondering why I mentioned the two artists in clearly separate sentences it’s because I’ve been threatened with death if I ever mention them in the same sentence. So there! Listening to the preview snippets of Norway’s finalists, Icebreaker didn’t really jump out. It was the national final that nailed it. It was the only “wow” moment of this year’s national final season, and I watched about 12 of them. It’s a powerful, atmospheric song, presented well and sung beautifully. You can’t ask for much more.
Three Stars (Good)
31) Finland – Sandhja – Sing It Away
Soulful and upbeat – very reminiscent of the JESC 15 winner from Malta and very un-Finland of recent times. Becomes too repetitive and too “diva head wobbly”.
30) Hungary – Freddie – Pioneer
Big sounding power rock ballad with corresponding gravelly rock voice (think Bryan Adams with emphysema). Without the great face fuzz, I probably wouldn’t notice it.
29) Netherlands – Douwe Bob – Slow Down
It’s fun. Perhaps it becomes too repetitive towards the end. Curiously, he says his name is Frisian and difficult to pronounce. Frisia is believed to be the birthplace of the English language. I can pronounce “Bob” ok. What the hell is he talking about?
28) Spain – Barei – Say Yay
Love the voice, the dancing is cute, and there’s great energy. It’s difficult to place. I might need to be drunk to really appreciate it. Finland is its closest marker, and it’s definitely better than that.
27) Latvia – Justs – Heartbeat
Written by Aminata from last year. As you’d expect, the real strength here is the funky electronic beat. Beyond that, there’s not much, and Justs doesn’t have it live like Aminata did.
26) Germany – Jamie-Lee Kriewitz – Ghost
Which country often sends quirky artists with bland, monotonous songs? Congrats if you answered Germany. Recently I’ve been beginning to like it, so maybe it will do better than previously expected.
25) Israel – Hovi Star – Made Of Stars
Is there an age inversion in Israel? Hovi looks 16, is 29. Last year Nadav looked 29, was 16. Whatever’s in their water, I want it once I retire. A cliche ballad that is nice enough and builds well. It will need a memorable presentation.
24) United Kingdom – Joe and Jake – You’re Not Alone
Take Frans from Sweden, double him, add a classic Brit-rock feel, and presto, you have the UK. This is fun, energetic song, and this should be a year the UK is not embarrassed by their result.
23) Estonia – Juri Poostman – Play
Even though I preferred four others in Eesti Laul, which excluded Mick Pedaja and I Wear Experience that other fans loved, Juri is probably the right choice. Written by Stig Rasta, who wrote and performed last year’s Estonian entry, Play is no where as good. Juri will need to rely on his suave looks and smooth voice for it to excel at Eurovision like it did at Eesti Laul. For me, Mr Estonia when it comes to Eurovision, this is Estonia’s lowest ranked entry since 2010. All others I have top 5.
22) Australia – Dami Im – Sound Of Silence
Early verses Dami sounds so good, then it’s a bit repetitive and formulaic. While it’s improved with subsequent listens, we all know Dami’s star power is on the stage, so will wait for that.
21) FYR Macedonia – Kaliopi – Dona
Back from 2012 with her distinctive voice and an equally distinctive power ballad.
20) Serbia – Sanja Vucic ZAA – Goodbye
Another power ballad from the Balkans, and well sung.
19) Switzerland – Rykka – The Last Of Our Kind
Though quite derivative, it’s catchy and it could really excel given a great live performance. Rykka is Canadian. No, don’t expect a similar result when Switzerland was last represented by a Canadian (Celine Dion in 1988)
18) Austria – Zoe – Loin D’Ici
An Austrian sing in French at Eurovision? That’s always been on the top of my list. Thanks Zoe! This is quite a catchy and adorable song, and a pretty voice. It’s a little repetitive by the end, especially on multiple listens. That is not an issue at Eurovision unless you’re going to the Jury Show, the Family Show and the Broadcast Show of her semi final, and then possibly a double-up for the grand final.
17) Ireland – Nicky Byrne – Sunlight
Very radio friendly, and probably will be one that’s best suited to hearing audio only. Despite the supposed “big name” that is Nicky Byrne, I’d never heard of him. No surprise there. He was originally in Westlife. I couldn’t tell you a song from them either. I expect he’ll still have a bunch of screaming fans at Eurovision, albeit of a different age and gender.
16) Albania – Eneda Tarifa – Fairytale
It’s lost some of the passion from the original Albanian version. That’s mostly a result of the original being a live performance and the song being much longer, as distinct to the dull preview video and the 3 minute maximum for ESC songs. It’s still really nice.
15) Belgium – Laura Tesoro – What’s The Pressure
A nice funky/jazz vibe here, and Laura is so adorable. It gets a bit repetitive by the end, and the song went through a revamp in arrangement. I didn’t notice much difference other than the intermittent zipper sound heard during the latter half of each chorus is more noticeable, and more annoying. This was also among the initial batch of good early songs released that gave great hope for the remainder of the season.
14) Belarus – Ivan – Help You Fly
Another of the early songs! Coincidentally they are all here in a block of four. Malta might have made it 5 had they not changed their song. Help You Fly is enjoyable and will depend on a strong staging to excel. Great hair! Is it Eye-van or Ee-vun?
3) Russia – Sergey Lazarev – You Are The Only One
It looks like Russia wants to atone for just falling short last year, and have sent a stunning up-tempo pop song. Some of the writing team, notably Dimitris Kontopoulos, were involved with Shine two years ago and Azerbaijan’s Hold Me in 2013, and you really note the structural similarities. It’s a proven formula, dragging you on an epic rollercoaster ride, and with Russia always providing a strong presentation, expect it to be popular throughout Europe.
Four Stars (Excellent)
13) Moldova – Lidia Isac – Falling Stars
Energetic and catchy pop with enough key changes to confuse a locksmith. While it doesn’t stray much from the derivative Eurovision formula, if the result is good, then who cares.
12) Lithuania – Donny Montell – I’ve Been Waiting For This Night
No blindfold like in 2014 with Love Is Blind; maybe I’ll wear one as a tribute. A well polished song, and Donny’s so good live.
11) Cyprus – Minus One – Alter Ego
Plus Four for Minus One. Great to have melodic rock back at ESC. This one really pumps and let’s hope the energy can be replicated on stage.
10) Czech Republic – Gabriela Guncikova – I Stand
Quite a beautiful ballad, and a lovely voice. Surely it’s time the Czechs made their first ever final.
9) Bulgaria – Poli Genova – If Love Was A Crime
If love was a crime, we’d all be criminals. I can’t fault that logic. The last song to be released and it was well worth the wait. It takes a few listens to really get into it, which might harm it on the ESC stage. Poli will really need to bring it live so that rather than Poli Genova being known as the Bulgarian Madonna, Madonna will become known as the American Poli Genova.
8) Croatia – Ninja Kraljic – Lighthouse
One of the more interesting songs this year. An evocative and quite beautiful song. The preview video offers nothing other that coastal vistas, so I can’t wait to see it live.
7) Iceland – Greta Salome – Hear Them Calling
There would always be attempted copycat performances using interactive background graphics like Sweden’s winner last year, and Iceland is the most blatant attempt. It’s not a direct copycat, adding its own innovative sequences to supplement a song already good in its own right, rather than there to carry an average song.
2) Italy – Francesca Michielin – No Degree Of Separation
When showing my family a bunch of the earlier Eurovision songs, Italy was the only one that everyone remained quiet and didn’t fidget through the video. It also had a similar effect on me, captivating me with its beautiful music and flow, and the usual flourishes that only the Italian language can offer. Francesca also has that slight strain in her voice that I adore, which further enhances the package. Some English has been added since the initial release and the title changed from Nessun Grado Di Separazione. While the English does knock you out of its alluring embrace, it’s not a detriment to the song, and helps understand its message. Anti-English snobs, of which I include myself, will maintain it’s still unnecessary.
Five Stars (Outstanding)
6) Azerbaijan – Samra – Miracle
This was the late run to nab a top 5 spot, falling just short, and is the only five-star song outside the Fab Five. It missed out because Samra is so sexy in the preview video, with her lascivious pouting and leering, that I had to allow for any hormones potentially affecting my judgement. Samra emerged from the “Got Talent” shows in Turkey and Azerbaijan, and clearly she does have talent. Her voice is amazing and the song is great.
1) Slovenia – ManuElla – Blue And Red
I hate country music! So why do I love Blue And Red so much? First of all, it’s more country/pop than pure country. Second, ManuElla does not have that annoying whiny country accent that particularly irks me about country music. In its place is a rich, somewhat smoky tone, that makes for an almost mesmerising connection with the song.
Then there’s the song itself. I often hear that country music is about telling a story, and for the first time ever, I not only hear it, I feel it. This is no doubt helped by ManuElla herself, as she expresses the song like a real, lived experience. Blue And Red really is one captivating journey from start to end, and I especially love the long “allay” sections leading into the chorus. The final really energetic one, when I see ManuElla dancing in celebration, I get goosebumps all the time. Everything is so perfect about Blue And Red. It’s a masterpiece!
Blue And Red’s success means Slovenia is number 1 for the second successive year – following from Maraaya with Here For You in 2015. Similar to last year, it wasn’t even close, and both songs followed a similar trajectory into my heart. Slovenia’s national final this year was on “Super Saturday” and I commented in the post that morning that while I had Norway winning the day, my feeling was that Slovenia would take over. By that evening, I was spellbound.