2 April 2017
For a year meant to celebrate diversity, the Eurovision Song Contest of 2017 is one to celebrate homogeneity – both in music styles and evenness of the songs. With a bawling ballad winning in 2016, predictably ballads were to the fore in the early stages of the national final season before countries later in the nominating phase thought enough was enough and out popped a run of up-tempo songs. Quality mirrored that too with nothing really lighting my jets until a few sparks emerged halfway through the season. Even then, none really caused lift-off, and of the songs in the Fab Five this year, none would make the Fab Five last year. Instead, the evenness of the year is reflected by 19 songs earning four or more stars compared to 13 last year. At the bottom of the rankings, I struggled to find songs I hated. Several flirted with one star rankings through the weeks, before one finally settled there permanently.
Word! That’s a theme that emerged this year, specifically songs with one word titles: Apollo, Blackbird, Breathlessly, Flashlight, Gravity, Paper, Line, Origo, Requiem, Skeletons, Space, Time, World and Verona. While technically that’s only a few more than last year, the point of this observation is I’ve long held a theory that such one-word title songs are typically really good! That’s especially so when the word is used as a central focal point or to drive the song. Iceland’s Paper and Azerbaijan’s Skeletons are classic examples this year, as was Norway’s Icebreaker last year. Songs like Latvia’s Line that lift the word from the chorus or Hungary’s Origo and Montenegro’s Space that use it to represent the song’s theme are not. Seven earned four stars while one just missed out.
To continue the pattern from last year, I’ll introduce the Fab Five through the list.
One Star (Poor)
43 Spain – Manuel Nevarro – Do It For Your Lover
This created so much furore with Spanish fans, as the jury unusally had the casting vote over the televote in a tied situation and went for this. While it has some sort of appeal, I feel the frustration of the Spanish fans and simply can’t watch it beyond a minute or so. The televote preference Miralla would have been the far better option. After a good run of quality songs in recent years, it’s time Spain returned to forgettable. It’s not like it will be reflected in the votes anyway. Europe treat them like rubbish with their good songs, so may as well send rubbish.
5 Greece – Demy – This Is Love
One that’s taken several listens to really like, it has grown on me substantially and constantly been stuck in my head. I love the flow through the verses, climbing from short notes to long ones, the ripping instrumental sections during the chorus and the climactic one for the bridge, and obviously the key changes. Pluck! I don’t drink, so the traditional game of sculling a drink on a key change, I pluck an eyebrow hair instead. Not necessarily mine either. The head wobble choreography by Demy in the video, I find myself doing that automatically too. From a pedigreed writing team and with Greece’s generally excellent staging, this will rock the house I expect will easily make the finals.
Two Stars (OK)
42 Armenia – Artsik – Fly With Me
Despite it being a warbling mess and I hate the tone of the voice, it’s grown on my a little. Only a little.
41 Montenegro – Slavko Kalezic – Space
Cheap disco anthem, and probably too gay even for Eurovision. Don’t get too close to the wind machine, Slavko.
40 Australia – Isaiah Firebrace – Don’t Come Easy
The expectations were so high and we send this boring and dreary thing? While the voice is pleasant and is more mature than his 17 years of age suggests, and the production values are high as you’d expect from DNA (the same team behind Dami Im’s Sound Of Silence), this sort of bland boy ballad stuff is never my thing, and this one gets annoying – fast. There’s probably lingering resentment, too, that Firebrace was selected weeks in advance and SBS still persisted with the masquerade of canvassing the public’s thoughts for our selection. My loyalty don’t come cheap.
39 Hungary – Joci Papai – Origo
Credit for trying something different; it’s too whiny for me.
38 San Marino – Valentina Monetta and Jimmie Wilson – Spirit of the Night
So Valentina is back with a fourth attempt, and trying to improve her semi final success from 33% to 50%. Good luck with that. This is another cheap entry, being bland and repetitive.
37 Lithuania – Fusedmarc – Rain Of Revolution
Energetic vocals don’t quite compensate for a rather average song. In fact, better to sing it normally rather than all the “yay, yay, yay” screeching.
36 Sweden – Robin Bengtsson – I Can’t Go On
When you have international juries deciding your national final, you get this derivative, bland and, yes, cheap drivel. It’s becoming a trend too.
35 Israel – IMRI – I Feel Alive
IMRI steps out from a background singer to show he should stay as a background singer. More blandness and cheapness!
34 Portugal – Salvador Sobral – Amar pelos dois
Similar to Hungary, while I appreciate there’s something different, and culturally sensitive, it doesn’t do much for me other than create the urge to throw Salvador an iron and a bottle of shampoo.
33 Norway – JOWST – Grab The Moment
Moments must have been few at Melodi Grand Prix for this to grab the victory. While I appreciate the groove, it’s mostly a time passer.
4 Denmark – Anja – Where I Am
Now Anja, not Anja Nissen, is Where I Am a play on Will-I-Am, Anja’s idiotic coach from The Voice that saddled her with a crap hip-hop song and then deserted her? Where she is, and where she deserves to be, is the Eurovision stage. As I said in my review, the strength of this song is it plays to Anja’s big, smooth and powerful vocals. Watch for the “Nissen Patrol” in Kyiv to cheer Anja on. Although, with Denmark and Australia in separate semi finals, Australians can be part of the Nissen Patrol and the Fire Braces (whatever they decide for themselves) if that turns you on. I’ll stick with the Nissen Patrol even for Australia’s semi.
Three Stars (Good)
32 Finland – Norma John – Blackbird
Again I wrote “Norma Jean”, damn it! That’s Marilyn Monroe’s real name, and it’s an amazingly tough habit to break. No doubt I’ll need to make further corrections. This won Finland’s national final not long after Lucie Jones won in the UK, and instantly I appreciated the much nicer voice, and a far superior song. While it doesn’t do enough to make me keen on it, it is one I expect to do well.
31 United Kingdom – Lucie Jones – Never Give Up On You
Well, well, well. After bagging the UK during Finland’s review, here is the UK in front of them. The thing is there’s been a drastic revamp in the arrangement, which has shot the UK up the list. Otherwise the mess that meandered along so badly with shrill vocals at the national final would have been last. The voice is still a concern because the revamp uses recorded vocals, which don’t sound anywhere near as harsh. Since the Fab Five is all based on final, official preview versions, the UK has been judged on that.
30 Bulgaria – Kristian Kostov – Beautiful Mess
Being Kristian is male, that will add some unique appeal among this year’s ballads. It’s very reminiscent of something that I still can’t place. It’s pleasant enough, without becoming too attached to it.
29 Poland – Kasia Mos – Flashlight
Similar to Lithuania where the vocal histrionics get in the way of the song. You notice it much less with the preview video, whereas the national final you could see Kasia was so absorbed with showing off her vocal prowess rather than delivering a solid rendition of the song.
28 Albania – Lindita – World
I deliberately left commenting about this on twitter until the final shorter and probable English version arrived. It was worth the wait, because the update is good and it’s a powerful power ballad. World!
27 Moldova – SunStroke Project – Hey, Mama!
Nothing epic about this, nor is there potential for another “epic sax guy” internet meme. Check online for their Eurovision 2010 effort, Run Away. It should be a repeat finals appearance simply because it is different, and their national final performance was cute. One of the girls looks like Jennifer Grey from Dirty Dancing.
26 Austria – Nathan Trent – Running On Air
What do you call this genre – bland guitar music? The highlight of the preview video is the beautiful vistas. Need to see the song performed live on stage to get a better appreciation. In saying that, it has grown on my over several listens. In fact, all songs I listen to at least 5 times, so this is a thoroughly considered and researched list!
25 Belarus – Naviband – Story Of My Life
One of the first releases, and the first ever entry in Belarussian (related to Russian and Ukrainian). It’s quite infectious and the duo clearly enjoy performing it.
24 Ireland – Brendan Murray – Dying To Try
There’s a classic Irish feel to this, and I feel it can reach the final. There’s a great feel to it!
23 Latvia – Triana Park – Line
An interesting electro-dance song and I can imagine this will present really well. It will need to because, despite really growing on me, it’s a bit repetitive.
22 Serbia – Tijana Bogicevic – In Too Deep
Begins promisingly and then ends without any lasting memory. A tricky one. Made all the more trickier by the Katy Perry feel when beginning the main chorus lines.
21 Georgia – Tamara Gachechiladze – Keep The Faith
Although the national final was the same day as Belarus, this was the first song I heard of the 2017 season, and I’ve always liked it. Keep The Faith is also an ironic title given the organisational woes in Kyiv. While it’s slipped down the ladder a bit, it’s still a decent and powerful entry, and a great voice.
20 France – Alma – Requiem
Instantly addictive and appealing, then gets a bit repetitive. Much like last year’s entry! It could have been one of the better performing French songs – had it stayed 100% French. There should be a requiem after the choruses were changed to English, which badly breaks the flow of the song and lessens its overall appeal. If you want to include English, tack it on at the end.
3 Romania – Ilinca ft. Alex Florea – Yodel It!
Initially this seemed weird and was one of the weaker songs. The first yodel you hear, it’s an immediate turn off. After several listens I began to like it, and now I love it. It’s such a fun and quintessential Eurovision style of song, it blends two music styles so well, and has an interesting message about dreams and aspirations, and yodelling is an expression of that. Add to that Ilinca is so damn cute. She seems really in her element and having so much fun, and that rubs off on the viewer. This will be an interesting watch in Kyiv. It’s the sort of song that could do really well, potentially win. The jury will be the key vote. Sometimes they vote for novelty entries, like the Russian grannies in 2013 and the idiotic Jedward. You just don’t know. Not that this is a novelty entry. It’s an excellent one, and deserves respect!
Four Stars (Excellent)
19 Cyprus – Hovig – Gravity
By noted Swedish writer Thomas G:son, his failure with several entries in Melodifestivalen 2017 is well compensated with the Cypriot entry. How’s his Greek going? This a really engaging and thumping entry. A good live performance will be crucial.
18 Slovenia – Omar Naber – On My Way
An alumni of Kyiv 2005, Omar said he’s been saving this song for 12 or 13 years (or 10 years depending on the interview), which almost predates his 2005 song. Anyway, his point is that it is old and it’s taken him this long to believe he could sing something this big. So why not whip it out when Eurovision is back in Kyiv! While it doesn’t stray past the standard big ballad formula and has a very Johnny Logan feel to it, the moments it does have are moments that are done really well. The audience will remember this and it was the wise choice from EMA 2017.
17 Croatia – Jacques Houdek – My Friend
I’ll make a wild prediction and say Croatia wins Eurovision 2017. Winning Eurovision songs these days generally needs some sort of X factor, and this has that potential with the presentation. It’s one man, two voices, so how will he do it? Probably try to present the illusion of it being two people before revealing it as one at the end. Add to that, the song is so infectious and memorable, and is probably the most anticipated song to see performed.
16 Italy – Francesco Gabbani – Occidentali’s Karma
One of the really interesting and curious entries, and worth reading the English translation of the lyrics to understand the song’s central message. Even without that, it has a catchy and energetic vibe and is among the fan favourites. The final version is 30 seconds shorter to fit within the 3-minute limit, which has hurt it slightly. Those seeing it for the first time won’t notice any difference.
15 FYR Macedonia – Jana Burceska – Dance Alone
Ironic title because you won’t be dancing alone. The second best up-tempo song this year.
14 Switzerland – Timebelle – Apollo
One of the early releases, and an early personal favourite, it’s held its position quite well. While not breaking any rules for a ballad, it executes really well, vocals are nice, and I’m somewhat smitten with vocalist Miruna Manescu, too.
13 Malta – Claudio Fanillo – Breathlessly
Another of the early releases, and led my Fab Five for several weeks. It’s a beautiful ballad and sung well. Whether it can make the final, who knows. Eurovision fans are not giving it much sympathy; not that they generally do with ballads.
12 Russia – Julia Samoylova – Flame Is Burning
This sounds so much like TATU! A nice gesture by Russia to send wheelchair-bound Julia and give her such a lovely song. Whether Russia makes the stage, that’s another story. The three-way feud between Ukraine, Russia and the EBU is a major embarrassment for Eurovision, and that a leaked letter showing the EBU asking the Ukrainian Prime Minister to directly intervene only for the EBU to receive a public rebuff is an indictment against the EBU for letting it get this far. The problem in this war is all sides have valid cases so hope for reconciliation looks forlorn. Ukraine will stick fast on banning Julia, Russia will stick fast on no compromises like broadcasting Julia from a studio in Russia, and the EBU will stick fast that Ukraine’s hardline enforcement of their border rules is unreasonable and not within the spirit of the contest. It’s sad because music and politics should be separate, and this would have been a good year to stop the moral degradation of the contest in recent years with the audience booing Russian artists by allowing Julia to perform and for Ukraine to be proud of it. Julia is not a token selection either, having finished second on Russia’s X Factor of 2013, performed at the Sochi Paralympics, and been a popular suggestion in previous years.
11 Iceland – Svala – Paper
Cool song! I wasn’t wrapped with the rendition at the national final. Since then, it’s really grown on me with the preview video, has been constantly stuck in my head, and is the my second favourite from the Nordic region this year.
10 Netherlands – OG3NE – Lights And Shadows
Pronounced Oh-Gene, the three sisters (two are twins), were in Junior Eurovision of 2008 and then re-emerged several years later winning The Voice. Feedback has been a bit nasty of claims of being a Wilson Phillips copy. It’s ridiculous because you can find similarities in any song. The difference here is it’s more recognisable because the style is rarely heard. So credit to them for trying to be different. Vocals are nice, harmonies are even nicer, and theme of it is about their ill mother. Much will depend on the presentation for this to do well. Often the Dutch fail in this area.
9 Germany – Levina – Perfect Life
No one does bland better than Germany, and this is super bland, as in super good bland, not super bad bland. I really like it. There’s something about Levina’s voice and it’s so listenable. It won’t do much on the scoreboard, which is standard for Germany.
8 Ukraine – O.Torvald – Time
With the exception of Verka (?) in 2008, it’s the first male act since Kyiv last hosted, in 2005. In any other year, Tayanna with I Love You probably would have won Ukraine’s national final if 2017 were not so heavy with ballads. It’s for the better too, as O.Torvald presents a rockin’ great rock song and adds to the diversity.
7 Czechia – Martina Barta – My Turn
Yes, it’s Czechia, not Czech Republic, and has been so for nearly a year and is now recognised by the United Nations as the official short name. My Turn is the best ballad this year, which unfortunately won’t be immediately recognised after being one of the later releases and fans already ballad weary. A beautiful voice (and accent!) and a distinctive character separates this from the rest. It’s best to listen to the audio only to really appreciate it, and will need an intimate and introspective presentation to do well. Here’s hoping.
6 Azerbaijan – Dihaj – Skeletons
This took many listens to really appreciate, and after listening on headphones I was almost tempted to bump into the next category and third overall. Almost! Dark and moody, brilliant production values, solid vocals, and how the hell did a Datsun 120Y get to Azerbaijan? Check the preview video. It’s weird. Soviet republics surely would have been restricted to local products in the 70s, not Japanese imports. It’s an interesting song, has constantly been stuck in my head, and seems to want to be even better than it currently is. It’s ripe for a stellar ESC performance so maybe the complete intoxication happens there. Bad boys.
Five Stars (Outstanding)
There’s only two songs that earned five stars, and obviously they fill the first two spots in the Fab Five. Here they are…
2 Estonia – Koit Toome & Laura – Verona
From the moment last December I first heard Verona, I immediately loved it. If Lenna Kuurmaa or Ariadne couldn’t win Eesti Laul, I wanted Koit & Laura to win. It was with much satisfaction that they triumphed over the anointed one, Kerli. It’s been several attempts for Laura to return to Eurovision after appearing with Suntribe in 2005, also in Kyiv, while Koit Toome is a fellow ESC alumni after competing in 1998.
Veronia is a beautiful and infectious song, with a superb melody and production values, and no surprise it comes from the successful Estonian writer, Sven Lohmus. He wrote Let’s Get Loud for Suntribe in 2005, along with Urban Symphony’s entry in 2009, Getter Jaani in 2011, and has had several second places in Eesti Laul. Rounding it off are the wonderfully harmonious voices. Laura has almost an electronic tone to her voice that so perfectly suits this style of music, while Koit compliments with his ultra smoothness. The presentation is great too, so it’s really a matter of performing it well on the day for this to do well in Kyiv. At least a top 5 hope if people have any sense.
1 Belgium – Blanche – City Lights
Every year there is a “momentum” song – a song that grabs your attention to some degree and then grows and grows on you before eventually latching onto your conscience and refusing to leave. This year that’s City Lights. The only difference here is that momentum has been quite slow – over weeks – compared to several days, or even the same day, of other songs. So captivating about City Lights is that Blanche sings most of it in a wonderful rich low tone, which augments its already moody persona and hypnotic electronic pulse.
Presenting it will be critical if we want to see Blanche in the final (which we do!). The drama of the song is felt, not seen, so the objective will be to use subtle lighting and imagery to tease that drama out for the audience to more readily feel without the song being over-powered. The transitions into the second verse, in and out of the bridge, and then the ending, are the crucial moments, and I expect to see the performance end in darkness.