The 63rd Eurovision Song Contest is already underway in Lisbon, Portugal. If you enjoy watching sequin-studded Eastern Europeans wailing incomprehensibly into headset mics over disco beats while dancing around bearded, violin-wielding men, you are in for a great week. Thirty-seven countries were entered into the mid-week semi-finals, vying for the right to join France, Germany, Spain, the UK, Italy, and Portugal in Saturday's 26-country main event. The winner of the whole thing gets to host next year's event, but that hardly matters. We are here for big choruses, small dramas, and a shameless, politically motivated public vote.
We're not going to get anything half as earnest as last year's victor, Salvador Sobral of Portugal, who won with "Amar Pelos Dois," a Tom Waits-on-Xanax-and-helium song he hoped would do away with the "fast food music" of Eurovisions past. This year, none of the bookies' pre-contest favorites are anywhere near as straightforward as Sobral. Instead we get a Fifth Element-esque pop-opera hybrid, an experimental loop composition that mentions Pokémon, and a song called "That's How You Write a Song."
I know this because I have listened to every single one of these entries. I have, of my own volition, read about each of the performers. I've even tried to parse the Eurovision website's often shaky translations to help you understand what is happening on stage. I have stared into the abyss, and the abyss just gazed blankly back at me and asked what I was doing. This list is the best response that I can muster.
The voting system at the event itself changed in 2016 after everyone got sick of the Scandinavian countries voting for each other and everyone else voting for their political allies. Here's a video that explains the voting process pretty succinctly. In short, each country now has a panel of judges who have their say on how their country will dole out points, but there's still a wonderfully cringeworthy two hours of each country announcing their favorites, and the general public still gets to vote separately (just not for their own song, obviously).
The first semi-final took place last night, and some half-decent entries have already been ruthlessly cut. The second semi-final takes place Thursday. Go find a good bar to watch the final at on Saturday. In the meantime, here is every song that made it to Lisbon this year.
Euguent Balshepha: "Mall"
Who? Euguent Balsepha works on an Albanian TV channel called Top Show, which is broadcast on Top Channel Television, and his career kicked off in 2006 when he participated in the station's music competition, Top Fest. Here's a quote from his bio on the Eurovision website: "Besides being so creative, he has quite some interests that vary from loving art to supporting human rights." Sounds legit.
What is he singing about? A distant lover, according to the translation from Albanian: "Two arms that reach out and engulf me with warmth / This yearning that burns knows no distance, no bounds in this world."
Is it any good? On songcraft alone, this is a solid-as-hell rock ballad. There are some shmaltzy acoustic guitars in the verses, Euguent has a serviceable voice, and the big ol' strings in the chorus don't hurt. I could live without the "whoah-whoahs" at the end, but I'll give Euguent the benefit of the doubt because I think I'll still be humming this chorus after I'm done with the remaining 42 songs here.
Will it win? No. Oh my goodness, no. This is precisely the sort of track that bombs at Eurovision. It's rock-oriented and nowhere near strange enough to stand out. The bookmakers have it sitting in 39th place at 300-1. It's not worth your one-dollar wager.
Sevak Khanagyan: "Qami"
Who? Sevak Khanagyan was born in 1987 and he is representing a country that gave the world Kim Kardashian, System of a Down, half of Cher, and half of this blogger. He looks like all of my cousins. He shot to fame after winning the Ukrainian version of the X Factor a couple of years ago. Since then he seems to have become something of a star in Armenia, where he's now a judge on their version of The Voice.
What is he singing about? Before I realized that the Eurovision website lists every song's lyrics, I enlisted the help of my Armenian aunts in Los Angeles who told me "it's about love and memories[...] he asks the wind to give him wings so that he can fly and find his lost memories."
Is it any good? Of course it's good! I already know that it's the greatest song here, and I'm only two songs in! It has a fucking dope guitar solo and a bunch of trap beats at the end for some reason! This rules! Hayastan! Hayastan! Hayastan!
Will it win? It got booted from the semi-final on Tuesday! Fools!
Jessica Mauboy: "We Got Love"
Who? Jessica Mauboy rose to fame after finishing as the runner up in the 2006 edition of Australian Idol. She's collaborated with Flo Rida, Jay Sean, and Pitbull. Beyoncé is a fan.
What is she singing about? Roughly what you'd imagine. Here's a snippet: "Time / Don't you think it's just a waste of time? / When we're always fighting over material, trivial things in this life / I don't understand why we don't get it right / Why do we keep going round and round?" This is precisely why I usually can't bring myself to vote for English-language songs in this competition. It's so often the most tawdry, smiley-faced, surface-level pep.
Is it any good? No, it's derivative. It possesses all the emotional depth of a stoned 13-year-old listening to a Chainsmokers song. I do not like this song. Mauboy has a good voice though. I can see why she's famous. I just hope she never sings this song ever again.
Will it win? Probably not, but it'll do alright. Whoever stands out the most is usually in with a shot. And every year, millions of people mutter to themselves, "Why is Australia competing in this, the Eurovision Song Contest?" That keeps their song fresh in everyone's heads. I'm predicting top-10.
Cesár Sampson: "Nobody But You"
Who? Cesàr (a good-looking man, sweet Jesus) is part of Symphonix International, a group of producers composed songs for the Bulgarian Eurovision entries back in 2016 and 2017. They've also worked with John Legend and Lady Gaga.
What's he singing about? It's supposed to be a love song, but it sounds way more threatening than I think it's supposed to. "It wouldn’t be right letting you go running away from love," Cesár sings. "Ain’t nobody but you I can hold onto." Never say this out loud to another human.
Is it any good? The first four bars sound exactly like James Blake's "Limit to Your Love," but the chorus sounds like it belongs in a Duane Reade. That's a difficult line to walk, and one that nobody needs to walk in the first place.
WIll it win? Alphabetical order has kind of screwed me here. No, Cesár Sampson's "Nobody But You" will not win, because it is neither campy nor good enough to make up for how earnest it is. Made it past the semi though. Let’s move on.
Aisel: "X My Heart"
Who? Aisel isn't all that famous outside of her home country. Her bio on the Eurovision website dishes out gems like this: "Aisel in Azerbaijani means "the path that leads you to the moon" which is strongly stressed in her Eurovision entry 'X My Heart.'"
What's she singing about? Uplifting stuff! All about the moon and stars and heavens and how you should believe in yourself. The lyrics read like avant-garde Instagram poetry: "And i’ll never sto o o o op, luna moon me up / To the t o o op."
Is it any good? "X My Heart" is a Katy Perry-esque pop-club banger with some EDM production and a huge chorus. It doesn't sound Azerbaijani in any sense—like a new apartment block in the center of a gentrifying city, it's shiny and devoid of all local color. But it slaps nonetheless.
Will it win? This got booted from the semis too. Bummer.
Who? Twenty-four-year-old Nikita Alekseev was born in Kiev, but he's a pretty big deal in Belarus, and he seems to consider himself Belarusian at this point. His bio is a bit bleak: "He was mainly raised by his mother, as his father left the family before he was born. He never actually met his father, but still hopes to meet him one day."
What's he singing about? Love, apparently, is very different in Eastern Europe. "It must be something that we call love," our fresh-faced young man sings here. "It’s when you’re craving to say her name." I do not believe that this is love, but Alekseev sings it with such sincerity that I'm just going to roll with him here.
Is it any good? It's a string-drenched pop song that sounds like it's been reconstructed from every Bond theme over the past 30 years. It's fine. The video is dark and moody and it builds to him doing push-ups with drenched hair for some reason. Worth watching, but not worth listening to more than once.
Will it win? Poor ALEKSEEV's song was weird, but not weird in a Eurovision way. It fell at the semis.
Sennek: "A Matter Of Time"
Who? Laura Groeseneken is a vocal coach and a "visual merchandiser for Ikea," apparently.
What's she singing about? Breaking away from monotony, feeling lost, and maybe ushering in the End of Days. "Hold my hand and keep your eyes closed / Before it all echoes echoes and falls / I suppose it’s just a matter of time." Not entirely sure what's going on, but I'm a little uneasy.
Is it any good? Sure. More strings, more Bond-esque intonations, more choruses that threaten to hit you in the gut but never quite muster the strength to wind you. Groeseneken has a powerful voice, but she deploys it carefully, so there's that. The song washes over me like bathwater though.
Will it win? I promise we'll get to someone who might actually win this thing soon. Sennek fell away in the semi-final last night.
Who? A five-piece band formed specifically for Eurovision. Zhana Bergendorff, Vlado Mihailov, and Georgi Simeonov are all Bulgarian, and they've all been involved in their country's X Factor in recent years. Johnny Manuel is from Michigan, and he toured with N*Sync when he was a teen. If you're American, feel free to root for Bulgaria.
What are they singing about? More ruminations on what the heart wants, and more examples of Eastern Europe's disparate ways of expressing it. This time: "Love is like a black hole / Everything is dark."
Is it any good? This song is bad. This is the sort of vocal-showcase electro-pop that X Factor producers love to pump out into the world. Symphonix International were behind this one again. There should be some sort of rule against that.
Will it win? Maybe! I can't for the life of me see why, but this one has odds of around 11-1 in some places. Most people figure it will be in the top 10, but it should instead be in the trash.
Who? Franka Batelić is a 25-year-old singer who grew up performing in choirs before going to Berklee School of Music. Her Wikipedia page has a "career beginnings" section and a "comeback" section, so she's already done more with her life than me.
What's she singing about? Love, obviously. This time, it makes you go crazy. Real crazy. "Crazy / Go crazy for your love / Crazy / Go crazy for your love."
Is it any good? I'm starting to wonder why more countries don't just call me when they want to submit a song to Eurovision. I watched the 2011 contest with my friend Georgios, who is Greek. I drunkenly said that, if Azerbaijan were to win, I would send a letter to the Armenian Eurovision Council (which I assume is real), offering to help them the next year. Azerbaijan won that night, but I never sent the letter, so I only have myself to blame. But I think I'd have done a decent job as Creative Director. Every time someone would have suggested something like this—more strings, more brooding, swooning pop—I'd have stepped in and said, "No, we have to make it sizzle, guys." Then I'd have taken my sizeable check and lived like a king. This song is alright.
Will it win? No, it will not. It dropped out last night. Serves them right for not consulting me.
Eleni Foureira: "Fuego"
Who? Eurovision's website insists that Greece-born singer and actress Eleni Foureira has been dubbed the "Queen of Pop." I assume that she has been dubbed so in Greece and Cyprus, where she is a chart fixture. So, in Greece, she is the βασίλισσα της ποπ μουσικής.
What's she singing about? Empowerment, briefly. She sings early on that she has "the eyes of a lioness," but nothing makes sense after that. I've listened through three times and have now decided that the line "U got me pelican / fly fly flyin’" is cool. Not enough pelican references in modern pop.
Is it any good? Foureira places herself squarely in Rihanna's territory here, borrowing a melody and thesis statement from "Diamonds." But, most importantly, we get an overcompressed stringed instrument holding down the chorus. I can't believe I had to wait until Cyprus' entry to hear some weird violin sounds.
Will it win? Hell yeah, it actually might! Fourth-favorite with 6-1 odds.
Mikolas Josef: "Lie to Me"
Who? The guy spent a year working as a model. He's got it made.
What's he singing about? Sex. He's singing about sex like a 14-year-old sings about sex. He's singing about sex like a 14-year-old who should have his internet cut off sings about sex. This makes "Blurred Lines" seem like an Adele cover. "Oh oh she a good girl at home but / Her skirt goes up like Marilyn Monroe's," he sings at first, setting us up for some of the most genuinely skin-crawling shit I've heard in a pop song. "But steady, plenty these greedies wanna eat my spaghetti." Then he really moves in: "Quit sweet talking me now baby I don't give a damn / You should've thought about me back when I was your man." This is basically a song about one man's twisted fantasies, and it's so grotesque that it’s almost hard to laugh at.
Is it any good? I would say that this song should be covered in turpentine, set ablaze, and hurled into the nearest ocean, but the Czech Republic is a landlocked nation. We'll have to take our chances in the forest.
Will it win? If this guy isn't just pelted with some Portuguese pastries on stage then marched outside and told wait in the car, I'll lose all faith in this competition and democracy more broadly. It's the sixth-favorite to win! Fuck!
Rasmussen: "Higher Ground"
Who? Jonas Flodager Rasmussen is a 33-year-old singer who does a lot of musical theatre. He also plays in a covers band called Hair Metal Heröes. And he looks like a Viking. This information will be important as we move forward.
What's he singing about? In the early-12th Century Magnus Erlendsson was the Earl of Orkney, a collection of islands of the north coast of what is now the UK but was then a Viking territory. Legend has it that the man was pious and non-violent and therefore refused to raid Anglesey when the Vikings went in to do their thing, choosing instead to hang back and sing psalms on the boat. "Higher Ground" is supposed to be tribute to Erlendsson and his non-violence: "Freeze the arrow in the air / Make your mark and leave it hanging there."
Is it any good? Do you like musicals? If so then yes, this is great. It could've been ripped straight from the Disney film about Erlendsson that Disney somehow hasn't got around to making yet. Rasmussen's voice is so inoffensive that it could mellow out a soda-addled 8-year-old. Make it a movie already.
Will it win? No dice. 80-1 odds.
Elina Nechayeva: "La Forza"
Who? Nechayeva, a 26-year-old soprano, wanted to be an astronaut growing up. She's really, really good at singing.
What is she singing about? Astronaut stuff: stars, planets, flying. It's all in Italian, and the translation gives us some gentle nonsense. "Destiny's force / Makes me fly near / To the hour of happiness," for example.
Is it any good? Nechayeva has a ludicrous voice for a start. More importantly, I am very here for opera at a pop competition, and I am amused any and all attempts to turn opera into a thing For the Kids. Pro Tools drums and occasional EDM synth booms keep interrupting the strings. It's jarring. It's perfect.
Will it win? It's the second-favorite. Nobody will forget this, and that's an advantage in itself.
Eye Cue: "Lost and Found"
Who? Bojan Trajkovski and Marija Ivanovska, one of the country's biggest pop-rock acts.
What are they singing about? This is one of those wonderful pieces of pop lyricism that doesn't actually mean anything at all. The song was written by Trajkovski alongside the famed Yugoslavian pop music producer and good name-haver Darko Dimitrov. They clearly figured that "Lost and Found" would be a good hook—not wrong—and then filled the song with vague introspection.
Is it any good? It's about as good as you'd expect from one Macedonia's most celebrated pop-rock bands. It's slick and professional, working in some reggae rhythms and club beats without ever reaching too far. It's fine.
Will it win? I think it deserved better than the semi-final exit it got, but I'm not here for justice. I'm here for the music, baby!
Saara Aalto: "Monsters"
Who? In 2016, Donald Trump was the most googled person in 88 countries around the world. In Finland, he came second to Saara Aalto. She is another product of local reality TV, but she went beyond her borders and ended up coming second on the British version of the X Factor. One in every four Finnish people tuned into watch the final. The country rides for Saara Aalto.
What's she singing about? Demons and monsters and spooky stuff and other metaphors for staring down one's past: "I ain’t gonna hold on to these monsters anymore / Now I’m gonna let in all the light, tear down the walls." It actually makes sense and coheres, which may have something to do with the fact that this was written by Aalto herself, Swedish sibling songwriters Linnea Deb and Joy Deb (5th Harmony, JoJo), and Ki Fitzgerald, the guy who departed Busted early on and left them as a trio.
Is it any good? Finland famously won this competition with the masked metal band Lordi back in 2006. I took half a day off school to go and meet them at the HMV in Central London after that. Had to turn my flip phone around to get a selfie with the lead ghoul. Anyway, this song goes. More club beats and EDM drops and some creepy, childlike chanting at the front of the mix. More Katy Perry-esque vocals too. Plus, I just found out that Ki Fitzgerald's father, Scott, represented the UK at the 1988 Eurovision Song Contest where he came second—by one point!—to a young Canadian singer called Celine Dion… who was representing Switzerland. I'm rooting for the Fitzgerald family to right some wrongs here.
Will it win? Bookies have it on the outskirts of the top-10 at 50-1. I think this will creep up a little higher though. Remember one in four Finnish people watched the X Factor final in 2016. I'm assuming all Finns abroad will vote for Aalto, and the UK's vote won't hurt.
Madame Monsieur: "Mercy"
Who? Madame Émilie Satt and Monsieur Jean-Karl Lucas. The most French-sounding band of all time.
What are they singing about? A little girl named Mercy, born to refugees aboard a boat on the Mediterranean at the height of the humanitarian crisis in 2017. It's first song here with any sort of tangible, upfront political message. "For all the children lost / To the cold, cold sea / I’ll live ten thousand years / With the name Mercy," Satt sings.
Is it any good? It's a brooding piece of electro-pop with a catchy chorus, and it all sounds as though it was written in 2018, which is remarkable in this context. It does some justice to its subject.
Will it win? France automatically qualify for the final, so no need to worry about an early upset. Fifth-favorites with the bookies at 10-1. If the voters and judges get behind the message here—and there's no reason not to—this could be a dark horse to win out.
Ethno-Jazz Band Iriao: "For You"
Who? More bands should state their genre in their name. According to their bio, their style is based on "Georgian polyphonic music and harmony, saturated with jazz and modern music elements."
What are they singing about? I've not heard many people speak in Georgian, a language that belongs in its own unique linguistic group. It sounds pretty here though. In translation, it reads more like a child's lullaby than a modern song. "The sun rises in time / To grant people warmness / And the earth keeps turning with love / Let us understand the feelings of others, share with others…"
Is it any good? Don't be distracted by the idea that these guys invented their own genre. "For You" is familiar enough, its tight harmonies hovering above languid strings, finding their place somewhere between Michael Bublè's Greatest Hits, a hymn book, and a triumphant national anthem. It's actually very hard to dislike.
Will it win? The people of Georgia will seemingly have to wait for their first-ever Eurovision victory. Their 300-1 odds suggest they'll struggle to make it out of the semi-finals.
Michael Schulte: "You Let Me Walk Alone"
Who? A curly-haired, 28-year-old singer-songwriter who started out as a YouTube sensation and then went onto tear up the German charts. Because Germany is huge, that's a big enough deal.
What's he singing about? His father, who died when Michael was just 14. There's a lot of affection, but there's plenty of pain in the title, which he keeps coming back to in the chorus.
Is it any good? It's of its type. A familiar piano ballad that sounds a little like One Republic and a little like James Blunt, and a little like Ed Sheeran at his most earnest. It could easily tear up the charts in the English-speaking world. You could have this on an insurance commercial and make everyone cry.
Will it win? At 50-1, it's a longshot. It's recognizable structure and style could help it to sell a million copies, but it might not excite voters who want a little more color. England will give this a bunch of points though.
Yianna Terzi: "Oniro Mou"
Who? The daughter of multi-platinum Greek singer Paschalis Terzis, Yanna relocated to the US nine years ago to pursue her music career and work as a talent scout for Interscope Records.
What's she singing about? It's all Greek to me.
Is it any good? Excellent Eurovision fodder. Dramatic, drum heavy, sung in a language that only its country's inhabitants have a grasp on. There's some flute in there too. It works. If there were separate award for Most Eurovision-y Song, this would win.
Will it win? I figured this might get a respectable return, but nobody liked it in the semis and it's been consigned to history now. Farewell, Greece.
AWS: "Viszlát Nyár"
Who? AWS are a metal band, baby! Fuck yeah! They got together as teenagers in 2006, and they sound like a lot of the bands who dominated melodic metal back then too.
What are they singing about? Heartbreak and destruction. It's shot through with misery, but the English translation adds in an exclamation point and makes the whole thing seem passive-aggressive: "Dreams all gone, thanks for fading away!"
Is it any good? Buddy, it sure is. If you listened to Atreyu and wore ill-fitting hoodies to school when you were 16, this is your shit. They have riffs, a catchy chorus, a frontman who can scream like a trooper, and a shameless key-change at the end.
Will it win? No way. You can get 100-1 on these boys.
Ari Ólafsson: "Our Choice"
Who? Ólafsson is a classically trained 19-year-old kid who spends his time performing in musicals. I didn't need to tell you that though. You can hear it in half a bar of his vanilla vocals.
What's he singing about? "Our Choice" is all good intentions and happy-feelies. If we just made a choice to be kind all the time, everything would be perfect. It's gross. I hate it.
Is it any good? Put this shit in one of the country's many volcanoes. Send the song to prison like Iceland did to its bankers.
Will it win? It did not make it past last night's semi-finals. It may still, however, make it to Hell, where it belongs.
Ryan O'Shaughnessy: "Together"
Who? A fresh-faced former soap opera actor who's already hit number one in his homeland and broken into the top 10 in the UK.
What's he singing about? The breakdown of a marriage and the threat of infidelity. He thought they'd be together until they died. Seems unlikely now.
Is it any good? It's alright. O'Shaughnessy has a solid falsetto and the song is well-constructed, but it's really just a straightforward acoustic ballad. The headline, however, is its video, which depicts a gay couple dancing through the streets of Dublin. There were murmurs that Russia would refuse to air the song as a result. O'Shaughnessy responded on Twitter, decrying the "anti-gay propaganda regime" in Russia. Seems a cool guy.
Will it win? It won't, which is a shame. Everyone should vote for this, just to piss off homophobes.
Who? Netta Barzilai was born in Israel, moved to Nigeria for a few years, moved back to do her mandatory military service, then formed an improvisational singing ensemble. She's been really busy, and I don't have time to get into it all here.
What's she singing about? Reconnecting with her inner child, sticking it to shitheads. "I'm taking my Pikachu home / You're stupid just like your smartphone." It's mostly sung in English, but there's a lot of gibberish in there, intentionally. Personal favorite: "Pam pam pa hoo, Turram pam pa hoo." I'll take that over "poopidy-scoop."
Is it any good? It's incredible. It starts out with nonsensical shrieks and trills and chicken sounds on a loop, then slides into an irresistible, insistent pop beat. The chorus works on pure energy—"You stupid boy / I'm not your toy"—and the whole thing exudes confidence. It's the perfect Eurovision marriage of eccentricity, sugar-rush jitters, and pop songcraft.
Will it win? It's your 2-1 favorite, and it deserves every bit of it.
Ermal Meta e Fabrizio Moro: "Non Mi Avete Fatto Niente"
Who? Genuine superstars in their homeland. Meta has had two number one albums in Italy, and he won the MTV Europe Award for Best Italian Artist. Moro's had a number one single as well. They've never worked together. Italy are going all out here.
What are they singing about? Sung in Italian, it's about terrorism and war, and it's tricky. They list a handful of cities that have been through attacks in recent years—London, Nice, Cairo, Barcelona—then do their best to work through the issue. All religions are going for the same thing, they sing, and we should all try harder to understand each other before the apocalypse comes. And then: "There is no pacifist bomb." Bold for Eurovision.
Is it any good? Not bad. Meta and Moro bring a natural urgency to the first verse, but it gets all folky after the first chorus, which is completely unnecessary.
Will it win? Likely to make the top 10.
Laura Rizzotto: "Funny Girl"
Who? Laura Rizzotto was born in Brazil to a Latvian father and a Brazilian mother. Her family moved to Edina, Minnesota in 2005, so there's an American connection. Rizzotto is the second person on this list who attended the Berklee School of Music. She's also got an MA from Columbia.
What's she singing about? Infidelity. I'm starting to notice that many of these entrants have a blatant disregard for structural integrity. "I tore down my walls / And I wrecked the ceiling."
Is it any good? It's a sultry R&B song that doesn't skimp on drama. There's plenty of Christina Aguilera to Rizzotto's power-howl, but she's also light enough on her feet here. It's not mind-blowing though, and I can't imagine it standing out on stage.
Will it win? No. Rizzotto's probably going to be really famous in one of her many countries though, so it's fine.
Ieva Zasimauskaitė: "When We're Old"
Who? Like almost everyone else here, Zasimauskaitė got her start on her country's version of The Voice.
What's she singing about? If ever there was blurb that could stop me wanting to listen to a song, it would be this: "The message of this song is that love can last forever, that it is the most powerful thing in this universe and that love can defeat all the fears that we may have."
Is it any good? Better than the blurb suggests. A soft-as-silk ballad. I can imagine this soundtracking a commercial for a life insurance provider.
Will it win? It got through the semi-finals. I've already forgotten this song.
Who? Christabelle Borg hosted a couple of TV shows in Malta as a teenager. She’s spent a lot of time trying to represent her country at the Eurovision Song Contest, and made through this time, on her fourth attempt.
What's she singing about? It's about coming forward speaking out about mental health and, apparently, it's sparked off a bit of a debate in Malta. That's half the battle won.
Is it any good? Instead of writing this long-ass guide, I could have just written something like 'The 10 Eurovision Songs That Katy Perry Could Have Sung.' This is good! From the video alone, Christabelle appears to be an involved performer as well.
Will it win? 300-1 odds suggest that it will not win a darned thing. Far worse songs than this will succeed, and that's a bummer. If that asshat from the Czech Republic beats this, I'll be furious.
DoReDoS: "My Lucky Day"
Who? Marina Djundiet, Eugeniu Andrianov and Sergiu Mîța, who got together in 2011. They play folk-pop. The Eurovision website helpfully gives me bios on all three of these people, and they're all equally lovely. Marina "loves nature, animals and sharing positive energy and good vibes with people." Eugeniu "loves cars, and also loves to rest in quiet places where he can relax with his thoughts." Sergiu "likes to spend time watching meaningful films." Same.
What are they singing about? I'm not sure if this is an ode to music, sex, or a lover. "Something tells me we can make some music / The rhythm is drivin’ me wild / And something tells me we ain’t gonna lose it / Keep pushin’ way into the night."
Is it any good? This is why I started writing about all these songs in the first place. There's some Eastern European off-beat club rhythms, some "hey-hey" dance chants, and proper, manufactured, early-'00s harmonies. I'll never listen to it again, but it's great.
Will it win? Tenth-favorite at 40-1, so probably not. But this is the musical manifestation of the idea that there's more to life than winning.
Vanja Radovanović: "Inja"
Who? There's almost no useful information about Radovanović. He was born in Belgrade, Serbia, on October 28, 1982. After that, everything seems to have gone eerily quiet.
What's he singing about? And so we return to the Eastern European image of love and romance. This time, "Love quivers like a tender leaf / Frozen in summer, defying belief."
Is it any good? It's all sorts of somber. The guy gets extra points for singing in Montenegrin, and he earns my respect for pulling this song into eight different directions, each one more melancholy than the last.
Will it win? No, no. It will not. Montenegro's long wait for Eurovision success will go on. 500-1 odds, 42nd-favorite, likely going out in the semis.
Alexander Rybak: "That's How You Write A Song"
Who? A Norwegian national hero, Alexander Rybak won the Eurovision Song Contest in 2009 with what was then a record points total. His debut album reached the top-20 in nine different European countries.
What's he singing about? He's singing about how to write down what he wants to sing about.
Is it any good? It's a disco-pop song with some funk bass. Rybak's voice is fine. It shouldn't surprise me that a song called "That's How You Write a Song" ends up sounding like it was written to a formula. Oh, he just started scatting. No. Bad.
Will it win? Very possibly. It would really bum me out if this beat Israel. It would bum me out if this beat most things here. Except for the Czech Republic. And Rybak already has one award. Onwards!
Gromee feat. Lukas Meijer: "Light Me Up"
Who? Gromee is a Krakow-born DJ who supported Mariah Carey when she rolled through town. Meijer is the lead singer in No Sleep For Lucy, a Swedish band who choose to describe themselves as "Arena Rock."
What are they singing about? The title's a giveaway. He's bored, and he wants someone else to make things seem exciting. I recommend taking up swimming.
Is it any good? It's an "Arena Rock" vocalist from Sweden collaborating with a Polish EDM producer. It's genetically engineered to make you feel good. That doesn't make it good by any means, but it makes it hard not to bop along to, even if you hate yourself while it happens.
Will it win? Other arenas may love Meija, but not this one.
Cláudia Pascoal: "O Jardim"
Who? Pascoal, like so many others, rose to prominence via her nation's answers to American Idol and The Voice.
What's she singing about? It's about the writer's grandmother, who died last year. Translated from the Portuguese: "If in heaven you’re happy too / Take me, I’ll take care / Always, around you."
Is it any good? It feels like forever ago that I mentioned Salvador Sobral, last year's winner. After his monologue against "fast food music," Portugal was always likely to pick something this serious. They could have done a lot worse. "O Jardim" is languid and gentle, and I like it just fine.
Will it win? It won't. But it certainly won't embarrass the host nation either, and that's good enough.
The Humans: "Goodbye"
Who? I can't believe that these folks thought they were the first people to call their band The Humans. I just spent 20 seconds googling it, and found these guys from Santa Cruz. Their debut album, Happy Hour, seems weird and fun.
What are they singing about? They're asking the listener to look more clearly at mental health issues and depression. It's performed in English, and it all sounds a little accusatory. "Why don’t you see the beauty that surrounds you everywhere / Why can’t you feel the joy in all the small things people share."
Is it any good? Not really. Big power ballad., Cello is a good instrument, but that's basically cheating.
Will it win? No.
Julia Samoylova: "I Won't Break"
Who? Samoylova is pretty well known in Russia after doing well on the X Factor and then performing at the opening ceremony of the 2016 Paralympic Games in Sochi. She lost the use of her legs as a kid. She was banned from entering Ukraine after crossing into Crimea in 2015, so she had to withdraw from performing last year in Kiev.
What's she singing about? It's about perseverance: "I won't break / I won’t break." Maybe has a more political meaning, given everything that's happening. Maybe I'm just being cynical.
Is it any good? I want to make it clear that I'm not getting fatigued because this was a bad idea. On the contrary, this was an excellent idea, and I should be given some sort of medal for even thinking of it. But if I have to hear one more dramatic, sustained piano chord, I'm scrapping it all and leaving you all to guess what the last few countries sound like.
Will it win? No. The more interesting question is whether or not Ireland will beat them. It's the drama within the drama that I live for.
Jessika featuring Jenifer Brening: "Who We Are"
Who? Jessika Muscat is not from San Marino, an autonomous enclave within Italy that stands as the world's first sovereign state. Muskat from Malta, and she's tried repeatedly to represent her home country, to no avail. (The rules around who can represent which country are lax at Eurovision.) Given Christabelle's similar struggle, I'm starting to wonder how Malta have managed to maintain such a competitive Eurovision qualification process. Jenifer Brening is from Germany. I know that San Marino is small, but surely they could have put someone from their enclave up, at least to mime piano or something.
What are they singing about? Resilience, standing up to bullies, getting to people who were mean to you.
Is it any good? It's extremely cheesy. The chorus is Europop. Brening raps the second verse, then continues to sort of ad-lib beneath Muscat's verse. I do not know what more to tell you than that.
Will it win? It is the least likely to win of all the songs. It probably won't make it to Saturday's grand final.
Sanja Ilić & Balkanika: "Nova Deca"
Who? A pop-rock band who use old Balkan instruments.
What are they singing about? "New Children / The world is ours, you just keep on dreaming / Look at the Sun / Happiness is achievable, grab it / It starts today, for us." That is the full translation of all the lyrics. That is the full song. Done.
Is it any good? It's far more morose and grandiose than those lyrics suggest. Glacially paced and imposing. Works its way up into an uplifting chorus, then does what so many of these songs do and works in some computer-generated club beats.
Will it win? It most certainly will not.
Lea Sirk: "Hvala, ne!"
Who? Sirk has already performed at Eurovision twice, as a backing singer. She clearly wrote her own bio on the Eurovision website. It reads like a third-person resumé. Here's my favorite part: "Lea finished her secondary school early, with flying colors, while studying the concert flute."
What's she singing about? I haven't a clue. "Don't believe in everything that they offer you / Think loudly and hope / That the secret of everything is in it, don't sell your soul to everybody / This is so passé." What?
Is it any good? It's something, for sure. She raps the whole thing in Slovenian over a minimal beat, and it threatens to break into another big Katy Perry chorus, but drops back into her bars instead. It's better than Taylor Swift's "Look What You Made Me Do."
Will it win? Nope. Have we dealt with all of the favorites? I can't say that I know. We'll just have to find out.
Amaia y Alfred: "Tu Canción"
Who? Amaia Romero and Alfred Garcia are a couple, and they got here by winning the excellently titled Spanish TV show Operación Triunfo.
What are they singing about? It would be weird if it wasn't a love song. Spanish idioms have a way of losing all semblance of seriousness when they're translated to English. I'm a particular fan of "Eres el arte que endulza la piel" which translates to: "You are the art that sweetens the skin."
Is it any good? I'm breaking a promise I made when I wrote about Russia. We're back with sustained, emotional piano chords. This should soundtrack a million weddings in Spain over the next couple years. Amaia's got a lovely voice. It's sickly sweet, but I find myself falling for it. I think it's Stockholm Syndrome at this point.
Will it win? You know what? Fuck it. Sure. Why not.
Benjamin Ingrosso: "Dance You Off"
Who? At this point I cannot outdo Ingrosso's PR person, who contributes this: "Be it behind the keys, behind the scenes or on every TV screen nationwide, Sweden’s Benjamin Ingrosso has turned many a head with his contemporary twist of polished pop tones and soulful performance bravado."
What's he singing about? Ingrosso is trying to forget his ex, but he's finding it tricky. I don't think the title is as much of a Prince homage as I was hoping. He seems to want to out-dance her, thus driving her away from the dancefloor. Revenge takes many a form.
Is it any good? It's got a really good bassline, and Ingrosso sings it all in a whispery, humid falsetto. It sounds like a Justin Bieber B-side, and this guy doesn't seem to be afraid of that.
Will it win? It's got 20-1 odds, and it's as good as anything else in that upper-mid-table mix. Another one that's more likely to make a dent in the real-life charts than at Eurovision.
Who? ZiBBZ are the brother-sister duo of Corinne and Stefan Gfeller. They've been making indie-pop songs for a decade.
What are they singing about? Another anti-bullying song, and the best of the three: "We're the liars in the face of facts / A different weapon but the same attack."
Is it any good? This is the catchiest song here, lively and buzzy and held up by Corinne's raspy (if familiar) vocal attack. I'd listen to this one again. I am adding it to a pretty short playlist.
Will it win? Another of last night's semi-final casualties. It'll probably go to number 4 in Germany or something though.
Waylon: "Outlaw In 'Em"
Who? My new hero, that's who. Willem Bijkerk started off singing on the Dutch kids' TV show Telekids in the mid-'90s, but he always loved country music. He was signed by EMI in 1997 and went to Nashville to record a record that never saw the light of day. He played with his idol, Waylon Jennings, who died in 2002, after which Bijkerk returned to his home country. He's represented his country at Eurovision once already, in 2014.
What's he singing about? Country stuff! "Everybody’s got a little outlaw in ‘em / Chrome piece hidin’ in their blacked out denim / Heartbeat beatin’ to rock ‘n’ roll rhythm yeah / Everybody’s got a couple scarred up knuckles." I am flying to Amsterdam the moment that Eurovision is finished to find this guy and write 4,000 words about his life, and none of my editors can stop me.
Is it any good? It slays. It's a proper country rock 'n' roll jam, and Waylon sings it like he's from the Deep South. The harmonies are tight and there's a bunch of riffs and there's a Rhodes piano and why have I only just heard of this guy?
Will it win? It won my heart, and that's all that matters.
MELOVIN: "Under The Ladder"
Who? It's really hard to concentrate with Waylon's song still stuck in my head. Kostyantyn Mykolayovych Bocharov is 21. As far as I can tell, he knows little of country music or its greatness.
What's he singing about? Never backing down despite failing one too many times. Eurovision loves perseverance; perseverance loves Eurovision.
Is it any good? It's fine. Is it Waylon? It is not.
Will it win? Will you?
Who? Susanna Marie Cork is a classically trained singer who is doomed here because she's representing the United Kingdom. They always find a way to balls this up. It's not SuRie's fault. I feel for her.
What's she singing about? "I still have faith / I still believe in chasing rainbows." Dear, sweet SuRie. So doomed.
Is it any good? Okay, I'm finally quitting now. Half because this is the last song and half because I've finally had my fill of sustained piano chords. It doesn't matter anyway. Doomed doomed doomed.
Will it win? Doomed.
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