08 April 2018
After a slow start to the national final season, 2018 has provided an interesting and varied collection, and that can mostly be attributed to the Salvador Sobral effect. With a slow meaningful song in a non-English national language winning the Eurovision Song Contest of 2017, invariably that would inspire other nations to think similarly with their 2018 songs. Thirteen songs are non-English, while there’s only a handful of uptempo “fast food” songs. Rock makes a good appearance with at least four songs, while country and opera is also represented.
I’m proud of my top 10 too, which is something I’d never consider saying normally to avoid a perception of snobbery. This year it’s worthwhile saying because there’s a great mix of styles among them, and that’s actually another endorsement of the songs that will appear in Lisbon this year. Really, I’m proud of Eurovision!
As with previous years, each song is categorised between one star and five stars, and I’ll present the actual Fab Five after each each category break. All aboard!
One Star (Poor)
43 Sweden – Benjamin Ingrosso – Dance You Off
Cheap and repetitive, and only won because it’s yet another pretty boy and the lighting effects. It’s a deplorable state for Melodifestivalen, with such pretty boys and their plastic songs winning the past four years now. Part of this last place position is a protest vote. Ordinarily would have been 40th! There hasn’t been a quality winner since Sanna Nielson in 2013, and even Swedish songwriters seemed to be abandoning it, saving their best work for the likes of Finland, Cyprus, Malta and Bulgaria. Please undo this bad!
42 Armenia – Sevak Khanagyan – Qami
Armenia are one of my least favoured countries, and again they don’t disappoint. Too whiny and boring.
41 Georgia – Iriao – For You
They left it to the end, so I place it at the end. You’d figure with the last song released it would be interesting. Maybe it is, being in Georgian. Sadly it’s also boring. Curiously, despite the song in Georgian, the title is English.
40 Ireland – Ryan O’Shaughnessy – Together
A cute boy-boy preview video doesn’t save this snoozy and quite dull and repetitive song.
05 Azerbaijan – Aisel – X My Heart
Destined to become the highest placed Eurovision song ever starting with X, it’s also a strong song in itself. Azerbaijan rarely fail to deliver for me, being sixth favourite the past two years, and now fifth for 2018. It shouldn’t be a surprise I love this song because famed Greek writer and producer Dimitris Kontopoulos is one of the composers, with his other work including Work Your Magic (Belarus 2007), Shady Lady (Ukraine 2008), Hold Me (Azerbaijan 2013), Shine and You Are The Only One (Russia 2014 & 2016) and This Is Love (Greece 2017) – all personal favourites and some are all time classics! His style of energetic and engaging dance-pop with powerful vocals is on full display here, along with the line “luna moon me up” (whatever that means) and a reference to “cannonball” – the first of two songs in the Fab Five with that. There’s a nice warm, almost silky, tone to Aisel’s vocals too, which only enhances the package. She’s the second great Aysel for Azerbaijan too, after the first in 2009. Perhaps they could create a TV police show together called Aysel & Aisel? Aisel is her stage name, no doubt to avoid confusion.
Two Stars (OK)
39 Netherlands – Waylon – Outlaw In ‘Em
Waylon, or is it Wail-On? Way too much whiny-country and too harsh on my ears for me. Waylon presented 5 options, with Back Together and The World Can Wait my favourites. All had the more nicer, subtle country vibe than Outlaw In ‘Em.
38 Monenegro – Vanja Radovanovic – Inje
Fairly standard Balkan Ballad (is that term trademarked yet?). It’s been in my bottom third all along, which isn’t as uncomfortable as it sounds.
37 Slovenia – Lea Sirk – Hvala Ne!
No thanks. While it’s a fun, quirky kind of song with a great beat, and Lea is a great performer, it’s just not my thing.
36 Denmark – Rasmussen – Higher Ground
Did organisers of Lisbon 2018 consider the All Aboard slogan might lead to a viking landing? That’s Denmark this year. Remove the viking vibe, and there’s not that much left. Although, I expect it to do well. Vikings are so lovable!
35 Hungary – AWS – Viszlat Nyar
With more singing and less screaming this would be really good. Shame! It won the public vote from 4 choices decided by the jury. None were that good and AWS was the jury’s clear last option
34 Italy – Ermal Meta & Fabrizio Moro – Non Mi Avete Fatto Niente
A minor surprise this wasn’t rejected for being too political. While the lyrics are graphic, referring to terrorist events in the likes of Paris and Barcelona (turn on the captions of the San Remo performance), it’s actually a song of resilience, with the title translating to “you haven’t done anything to me”. You’d need resilience to get through it all too. It’s poor by Italy’s standards.
33 Poland – Gromee ft Lukas Meijer – Light Me Up
Poland struggling to light me up with Light Me Up. Batteries in the flashlight might need replacing. Possibly it’s the confusion between the rock image and the dance results. Definitely get some funkier hats instead of those Amish ones.
32 Czechia – Mikolas Josef – Lie To Me
Although this has grown on me, and I expect it to be Czechia’s best ever result (if Josef can present it well), it’s not quite my style of music. Perhaps if he brings the camel on stage, that might change things. Camels make everything better.
31 Finland – Saara Aalto – Monsters
Saara was handed a spot direct to Eurovision rather than allow her to suffer the indignity of yet another national final and reality TV loss, and also to boost Finland’s hopes of reaching the grand final after three successive failures. Good luck! The format of giving Saara three songs to perform hasn’t worked, even if it does work, because it was a lame “national final” of performances notable mostly for extravagant props and Saara often sheepish in all the self indulgence placed on her. Even worse, Monsters won ahead of the far more impressive Domino, and with Saara’s limited vocal ability not matching well against Monsters’ constrained vocal opportunities, it’s all a bit cheap. In contrast, Domino had moments for her to really express herself. The last monsters inspired song from Finland actually won Eurovision so perhaps that’s part of the reason Finns went for it. Saara recently announced herself as a lesbian, which proved a major shock to no one.
30 Cyprus – Eleni Foureira – Fuego
I was hoping for some uber “fast food” from Cyprus, with emphasis on the “fast”. The “food” is actually ok, so at least Eleni partially delivered. It will need a strong live performance for me to really warm to it. It seems all a bit cheap.
04 Belgium – Sennek – A Matter Of Time
The earliest artist announcement, and the approximate 6 month space between the actual song was put to great use. Belgium has become a recent tour de force, and continues that trend of Blanche’s City Lights last year and Laura Tesoro’s What’s The Pressure the year before (and some might even say Loic Nottet’s Rhythm Inside of 2015). It’s actually another Laura this year, as Laura Difficulttopronouncesurname has chosen to go by Sennek to avoid that problem – poaching it from the middle of her surname Groeseneken. A Matter Of Time is another eclectic song like City Lights, and starts like you’re sinking into a Kivik sofa from IKEA before feeling more like a boring Klippan by end. Further listens is when it begins to reveal itself as a cosy and comfortable Norsborg, which happens to be the sofa I own. Add Sennek’s distinctive voice to the mix, and she’s cute enough to display in your Kallax shelving unit, along with Molly her “cutest cat in the world” cat, making A Matter Of Time a quality entry. If you’re still unaware, Sennek works at IKEA, and that just makes A Matter Of Time all the more special!
Three Stars (Good)
29 Serbia – Sanja Ilic & Balkanika – Nova Deca
A little whiny and repetitive, otherwise is pleasant enough. There’s lots of “guchi” in this, and if the Serbo/Croat phrase “skinni moi guchi, daemi clava postla” I was taught at school is any clue, then “guchi” means pants.
28 Germany – Michael Schulte – You Let Me Walk Alone
Break out the phone flashlights, and maybe even a tissue or three, because Germany sends a bit of a tear jerker. It is pleasant and should produce a decent result for Germany, like out of the bottom 5 for once. Michael Schulte is introduced as “farter” in the national final, so an apt song title is You Let Me Walk Alone.
27 Portgual – Claudia Pascoal – O Jardim
The host country Portugal has decided for another eclectic song. Even though I much prefer this to Salvador Sobral’s winning effort Amar Pelos Dois from last year, I doubt it will get anywhere near the similar result. In fact, there’s more chance humans will have pink hair naturally one day than Portugal repeating their win.
26 United Kingdom – Surie – Storm
Surie was the most professional and had the best voice at Britain’s “You Decide”, so the Brits ultimately decided well despite two much preferred entries beforehand. The song is a bit repetitive so will rely on a good presentation to give it more punch during the final stages. A slight revamp hasn’t changed much.
25 France – Madame Monsieur – Mercy
Another political song (along with Italy) with it being about a Nigerian girl named Mercy born on a refugee boat in the Mediterranean Sea. This issue is always distorted to a binary yes/no stance, not the numbers-based one that is the actual concern for those against migrant influxes. While there’s an alluring hypnotic quality to the song, the audience will probably overlook France, like they normally do. There were arguably better options in the French national final too, which were overlooked because they didn’t dip into politics of the day.
24 Ukraine – Melovin – Under The Ladder
Wasn’t Maria Sharapova on melovin? Probably the best of the six songs in Ukraine’s national final, especially in terms of chances in Lisbon, with Tayanna finishing second for two years now. Last year’s song might have won this year for her, as it was much better. Under The Ladder is addictive and energetic enough, and featured a flaming ladder in the national final performance, so definitely unlucky to be under that.
23 Iceland – Ari Olafsson – Our Choice
Somewhat a surprise winner for those that didn’t listen to the songs properly, it was actually a weak national selection and Our Choice was the right choice. Very old fashioned so could be swamped, or the audience could be lured by the message and its sensitive finish. Ari does a mean Australian accent too.
22 Albania – Eugent Bushpepa – Mali
The first song released and it still holds up well, with a really nice “anthemic” appeal to it. The cut to 3 minutes hasn’t sacrificed too much. Will need a strong, memorable performance to reach the final.
21 Croatia – Franka – Crazy
Interesting from Franka this year. It’s another that might seep in over time, and will definitely depend on a solid live presentation to progress.
20 Austria – Cesar Sampson – Nobody But You
If you often confuse Australia with Austria, fear not, you’ll be voting for a good song this year. A pleasant soulful voice and nice radio friendly type of song. Whether Cesar can translate it well to the Eurovision stage, that’s the question. It could get forgotten among the more interesting ones.
03 Switzerland – Zibbz – Stones
The second Fab Five song with “cannonball” in the lyrics, and the strongest song in the second half of semi final 1, so I’m certainly hoping Zibbz can progress. I keep saying it, and I’ll say it again, the point of the juries in Eurovision is to encourage diversity of entries, and Zibbz is another quintessential example of that. It was The Common Linnet’s second place in 2014 for the Netherlands that laid the foundation for Zibbz to consider Eurovision, and here they are with a thumping rock song. From the moment the Swiss candidates were released, Stones was immediately a favourite thanks to the rockin’ vibe and even greater rockin’ vocals, so a great relief they won. Zibbz are siblings Corinne and Stefan (or Coco and Stee as more often reference each other) Gfeller, and as soon as I learnt they were siblings I knew Zibbz evolved from that word. There’s a line “pardon me I don’t want to go back” that I often think should be “pardon me I’d like to kick ass” because it’s such a kick-ass song! Zibbz has really embraced Eurovision with their high activity and engagement with fans on social media. It’s a great attitude to have so I’m really hoping the best for them. As one of the first songs announced and still a personal favourite, that’s a further testament to the song. Stones is also my favourite Swiss song since Cool Vibes by Vanilla Ninja in 2005, and we remember how transformative that was!
Four Stars (Excellent)
19 Bulgaria – Equinox – Bones
After two strong years, and with a strong production team behind them, the much hyped and vaunted Bones hasn’t a skeleton of those two recent entries. That’s unfortunate as it is an excellent song, and should reach the final quite easily.
18 Greece – Gianna Terzi – Oneiro Mou
Greece “decided” after two songs were disqualified for not being Greek enough and the record companies of the other two wouldn’t cover costs for staging in Lisbon. So it’s Gianna Terzi with Oneiro Mou (My Dream). It’s not “fast food” music so their goes my souvlaki joke. It’s always nice to hear the Greek language as it is one of the most naturally musical, and Oneiro Mou is a good example. It’s quite understated and subtle for a Greek entry, so it remains to be seen how their typically excellent staging handles it.
17 Australia – Jessica Mauboy – We Got Love
Although quite formulaic, this is starts really great with Jessica in her grove, has a booming chorus before ultimately getting a bit repetitive. Australia are doing the major promo concerts this year, so seem to be making a big push to win. Or it could be a coincidence because Jessica was required to fly to Portugal to film her postcard. No doubt a subsidised trip, so may as well stay on for the concerts. A quality live performance will be critical, and they’ve hired Swedish production team Jean-Baptiste Group to help. They’re working with Bulgaria and Cyprus too, and worked with several countries last year, including Bulgaria, and Australia’s disastrous effort (at least to the televote), so that’s more clout in their drive to victory. More on Jessica’s selection, including the dissent still against Australia
16 Malta – Christabelle – Taboo
Christabelle has tried several times to represent Malta at Eurovision (as seemingly their artist each year does) and finally gets her chance after being the clear best option. Taboo is power cubed: song, presentation and vocals. The only niggle is expressions like “sticks and stones” in a song, as they can really stick out and become distracting. It’s not even the full expression, as she sings sticks and stones will break my soul. It’s a song about mental illness so, yes, let’s break that taboo before we all become animals.
15 Moldova – DoReDos – My Lucky Day
A catchy ethno-dance/pop number by famed songwriters Philipp Kirkorov and John Ballard that probably hasn’t resonated through the Eurovision community as they hoped. The staging will be key to this, and Moldova typically do that well. I presume the girl is “Dos”.
14 San Marino – Jessika ft Jenifer Brening – Who We Are
So much says trainwreck about this song, particularly with the cheap song itself, cheaper rap, cheap dancing robots (actually, they were probably expensive) and Jessika’s cheap decolletage (actually, that was quite elegant). Strangely, there’s something compelling about Who We Are. Who are we anyway? A tough question, and I’m glad Jessika has provided us with this intriguing puzzle. Jessika is from Malta and a perennial trier for Eurovision, finally winning through for San Marino with their strange reality TV process that sought singers from around the world and used crowd-funding to partially decide the outcome. Perhaps it’s rooting for the underdog, or maybe the whole cheap process somehow works so well as a package. Anyway, good luck in Lisbon, and let’s see those robots on the blue carpet!
13 Norway – Alexander Rybak – That’s How You Write A Song
Is it? It’s certainly how you perform one, because it was the complete package that saw the 2009 Eurovision winner triumph at Melodi Grand Prix. While it’s no Fairytale, it’s definitely a catchy song, and by a charismatic performer. If only there wasn’t so much silliness in it, that if it were more a conventionally structured song, I’d be really on board. I hope Rybak makes the grand final too. It’s a solid accomplishment simply to win your national final as a returnee, as most fail, and he’s been a great Eurovision ambassador over the years.
12 Belarus – Alekseev – Forever
Sparkling presentation with the light suit at the national final, I sort of wish he kept it secret until Lisbon. Apparently no giant LED screens will be present this year, so he might need to rely on bringing his own portable one to replicate the performance. Looking past the bright lights and brighter smile, it’s a great song, replete with that glorious thick Eastern European English accent that sets Eurovision apart from other other competitions. A slight revamp to the song has harmed it a little. Might have been top 10 otherwise.
11 Russia – Julia Samoylova – I Won’t Break
It’s good to see Julia back after the debacle last year, and she brings another good song too. Although, I probably prefer Flame Is Burning last year (despite it ranked 12th then), I Won’t Break brings many of the same qualities – notably that Russian/TATU pop sound and crisp production. It’s niggle, at least until we hear it live, is it all sounds so artificial. Julia in heavy make-up and the vocals really fine tuned, it just doesn’t have the warmth of Flame Is Burning. An interesting change in the preview videos is there’s no sign of Julia in a wheelchair this time. It’s Julia’s face at close range until the end, when she becomes a mountain. She’s my rock!
10 Spain – Alfred & Amaia – Tu Cancion
Spain echoes their neighbours from last year and sends some “music with feeling”. In fact, there’s a whole lot of feeling going on. Probably too much feeling for a family show. It’s a pretty song and Alfred & Amaia are so cute. They actually fell in love during the Spanish selection process, so all the touchy-feely is not an act. They’re enjoying it and that really shows in the song. It will be interesting to see how Europe reacts to this one. It might have done much better last year. This year they might move on to another style.
09 Israel – Netta – Toy
Did I just hear “mother clucker” in a song? “Pikachu” as well? I’m a Mewtwo or Garchomp fan myself. They’re Pokemon for the uninitiated. First listen I was offended. Second listen I love it. Third, fourth and fifth listens I still like it. Who knows by Lisbon. There is a huge novelty value to it, and that can quickly subside. After checking the lyrics, it’s “mother bucker”, as per the chicken sounds at the start. It’s currently favourite to win Eurovision, notably due to Netta’s unique style and it’s “fast food” qualities – whether that be song style or fried chicken inspiration (I’m suddenly hungry). Such a win would be a great irony after Salvador Sobral, Portugal’s winner last year, disrespected “fast food” music during his victory speech. Besides, Portugal is known for their chicken anyway. It would be an apt winner!
02 Romania – The Humans – Goodbye
The only song that I instantly loved this year, and it still holds its status. Power rock with big soaring vocals is actually my kind of music (if you haven’t guessed by now), and Goodbye fits perfectly. It’s an odd song in the sense it spends much of it’s time being quite slow, before ripping into life for two sections. I sense the original form might be up to 5 minutes long, because at 3 minutes it doesn’t fit any conventional song structure, and it ends abruptly. In fact, that abrupt end is the only niggle, and it’s only now, after many listens, I’m becoming used to it. Ideally lead singer Cristina Caramarcu needs to telegraph the ending, either building to a big note crescendo or even dropping to a subtle one for that final “Goodbye”. That would also leave a better legacy for viewers. Romania is in the weaker semi final 2 so I hold hopes they will qualify despite little love from the general Eurovision community. Most actually wouldn’t like this type of music, and it’s about viewers and the jury anyway. It’s also a second year in the Fab Five for Romania after Yodel It was third last year. Romania certainly do know how to bring interesting songs.
Five Stars (Outstanding)
08 Lithuania – Ieva Zasimauskaite – When You’re Old
Writing this post as the songs appear alphabetically in their semi final, Lithuania is the last in the first half of SF1 and you could quite easily see all 10 progressing to the final. It could the strongest half of any semi final ever! When You’re Old is a delightful and potentially mesmerising song, especially from the national final performance where it’s Ieva alone. The preview video, while emphasising the song’s message, is a distraction. It’s a song to listen to intimately and be swept away.
07 FYR Macedonia – Eye Cue – Lost And Found
The most interesting song this year, it seems to be three songs in one, combining a reggae/pop vibe, ballad and dance, has lovely clean vocals, and it’s been slowly growing on me more and more. In fact, it’s still growing! If it were a bit more structurally tighter I might have latched onto it much earlier. That kick-ass chorus certainly hooks you immediately; it’s the rest that takes a while, and when it finally does, you begin to become enamoured by the complete package. For 3 straight days it was stuck in my head, and it could possibly rank higher given more time. Marija is bit of a mega babe too.
06 Latvia – Laura Rizzotto – Funny Girl
A jazzy, sassy number, and that’s just her national final dress. Great song and smokin’ vocals, and plenty of feeling. Only just missed my top 5. Laura was born in Brazil of Brazilian and Latvian origin, and grew up mostly in the USA. She certainly makes for an exotic mix!
01 Estonia – Elina Nechayeva – La Forza
Growing up in an opera household thanks to my mother being such an aficionado, my main childhood memories are the regular Sunday morning record-playing torture sessions of opera singers trying to out-scream each other. Of course, Elina doesn’t do the crescendo screeching through the registers that was so particularly annoying, even if she might be capable of it. Here it’s a conventional song, sung majestically, with the most impressive quality of all being her absolute peerless control. When not screaming their lungs out, opera singers can sound flat and lose projection, yet there’s none of that from Elina. She’s mesmerising. To top it off, the national final presentation was spectacular, not going overboard with the projections on her giant dress in order to magnify the dramatic effect and therefore enhance the song. Bravo!
Estonia’s win in the Fab Five is their first despite three previous top 5 places – second in both 2017 and 2014, and third in 2015. That doesn’t quite make them the most successful country ever as Slovenia has two wins, in 2015 and 2016, while no one else has more than one win. Other recent winners are Belgium in 2017 and Russia in 2014.
Eight songs with 5 stars this year compared to two last year (I might have been harsh on one or two in hindsight) and six on average. Eleven songs with 4 stars this year compared to 19 last in year and 13 in 2016. Four songs with 1 star (about average) compared to 1 last year. As a region, the Baltics are the clear winners with all 3 of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia in the top 10.
Now, how do the rankings change if my national final injustices were the actual entries? ManuElla would boost Slovenia to third from 37th, Rebecca would boost Norway to 8th or 9th from 13th, and either of Eva or Debbi would boost Czechia to about 8th or 9th from 32nd. Carlsen from Denmark would be 9th (up from 36th), Sara de Blue from San Marino would be about 10th (up from 14th) and Natia Todua would boost Germany 10 spots to 18th.
Just because it’s such a great interview, and Elina shows great delight in her win, and describes her song so beautifully that it could be a microcosm for Eurovision itself, here she is again after her Eesti Laul victory.