Back in the mid-2000s, Graham Soult’s detailed (and occasionally cheeky) reviews of every Eurovision entry made Soult.com Eurovision required reading during the annual Eurovision season.
After four years, however, the site came to an end in 2007 – the victim of Graham’s time being taken up by a new job, and the challenges of managing a site that had almost got too big.
Now, however, Soult is back! We’ve coaxed him gently out of Eurovision semi-retirement, so that he can review all this year’s entries exclusively for Good Evening Europe. So, beginning with Semi Final 1, let’s see what Graham makes of this year’s offering…
1. Natália Kelly – Shine (Austria)
Last year’s Trackshittaz nonsense rightly crashed and burned, so it’s not surprising that Austria has gone for a safe ballad this time – hoping, perhaps, that it will replicate Nadine Beiler’s 2011 success in winning a place in Saturday’s Final.
Don’t bank on this strategy working, however. The verses of ‘Shine’ build nicely and promise much, but the chorus ends up a bit limp and repetitive. Natália has a strong voice and striking looks, but ‘Shine’ may struggle to engage viewers from its #1 position, particularly given the stronger ballads that follow later in the show. Only a borderline qualifier, I’m afraid.
2. Birgit Õigemeel – Et Uus Saaks Alguse (Estonia)
It’s hard to dislike the Estonian song. It’s a gentle ballad, performed in Estonian (which is always welcome), and Birgit is lovely. But is being pleasant and inoffensive enough?
For me, I can’t help comparing ‘Et Uus Saaks Alguse’ unfavourably to Birgit’s Eurolaul 2008 contender, the beautiful and more immediate ‘365 Days’, which inexplicably lost out to Kreisiraadio’s noisefest ‘Leto Svet’ in the fight to represent Estonia in Belgrade.
Unfortunately, it’s difficult to imagine televoters remembering the Estonian entry once they’ve listened to another 16 songs, but the juries – who like anything dull yet worthy – might just lift it over the line. Another borderline qualifier at best.
3. Hannah – Straight Into Love (Slovenia)
Three songs in and the female soloists keep on coming, though Hannah’s energetic ‘Straight Into Love’ certainly blows the cobwebs away after the mellow Estonian song.
It begins brilliantly, with a fantastic, melodic, intriguing verse that would be at home in any number of contemporary chart entries. Yet, after building so well, the chorus – with its shouty ‘straight into looooooooooves’ – is rather lacklustre and underwhelming, and doesn’t gel with the verses.
Many readers will know that I’m an enormous fan of Slovenia, and visit the country regularly, but I don’t really see this qualifying, never mind there being scope for next year’s Eurovision to be held in beautiful Ljubljana. Oprosti 🙁
4. Klapa s Mora – Mižerja (Croatia)
Song 4, and finally some real quality with Croatia’s lovely ‘Mižerja’. Coming after three ladies, the ‘klapa’ of six male singers – comprising two tenors, two baritones and two bass – makes a real impact, and the song and the harmonies are beautiful, immediately transporting the listener to the Adriatic with its evocation of love, sea and, most importantly, wine.
Not many Eurovision entries give me goosebumps every time I listen, but ‘Mižerja’ hits the spot. A wonderful entry, which the juries will love, and a definite (and underrated) qualifier in my book.
5. Emmelie De Forest – Only Teardrops
On to Song 5, and we have the first in a string of hot favourites to win the whole thing – and Denmark certainly *is* a real contender.
Emmelie has a captivating voice and look, and ‘Only Teardrops’ is in turns catchy, dramatic and beautiful, with a delightful folky vibe. The presentation also ticks plenty of Eurovision boxes. Pretty girl in a floaty dress? Check. Cute boy with a pipe? Check. Dramatic drumming? Check. Carola’s wind machine? Check!
The only real niggles you might voice relate to the slightly weak finish – the song just kind of stops – and the fact that it may all be just a bit too safe and obvious to be a Eurovision winner. Still, that didn’t stop ‘Running Scared’… so, expect to see Denmark sailing out of the Semi Final and up Saturday’s scoreboard.
6. Dina Garipova – What If (Russia)
Snapping at Denmark’s heels in the Eurovision betting odds, it’s easy to see why the Russian entry is so highly thought of. Dina, who won Russia’s version of ‘The Voice’, performs a beautiful, dramatic ballad that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Delta Goodrem album. Unlike some of the other participating songs, it also has a proper strong finish with a great high note.
Nailing the English accent has sometimes proved a challenge for Eurovision contenders from the ex-USSR , with occasionally comical results. Happily, Dina’s accent is generally excellent, but the rhyming of ‘bury’ with ‘furry’ instead of ‘ferry’ needs to be stamped out before she arrives in Malmö – or she’ll be straight on the first furry home.
‘What If’ is undoubtedly a qualifier, and heading for at least a top ten finish in the Final. If televoters and juries are in the mood for a Russian Chiara this year, Dina could go all the way.
7. Zlata Ognevich – Gravity (Ukraine)
Ukraine probably wins the prize for this year’s most elaborate preview video, but it certainly isn’t a case of trying to compensate for a weak song. Though ‘Gravity’ begins as a gentle ballad, it builds into a powerful (and very hummable) anthem that gives the beautiful Zlata plenty of scope to show off her astonishing vocal range.
If there’s a criticism, it’s perhaps that the song has almost too much going on – that the writers have thrown everything into it and forgotten that it needs some structure and order to tie all the verses and choruses together. Still, that’s a minor quibble. Ukraine has a great record at Eurovision, and I’m fairly confident that it will be heading safely into this year’s Final too. Once there, well, ‘Gravity’ is probably a top tenner, but I’m not sure it warrants the third place that the bookmakers currently have it.
8. Anouk – Birds (The Netherlands)
After the colour, drama and general OTT-ness of Ukraine’s song, the Dutch entry could hardly be a bigger contrast. ‘Birds’ is stunning – performed very simply by Anouk, it’s haunting, beautiful and different, and the Netherlands will be sailing to the Final for the first time since 2004.
One certainty is that ‘Birds’, and Anouk’s unusual yet lovely voice, are not everyone’s cup of tea. For every person, like me, who’s getting in a flap about how wonderful this song is there’s another who’s calling it a boring dirge. Yet that’s good – a song that splits opinion between those who love it and those who hate it is more likely to make an impact than one that merely provokes a ‘ho-hum’ reaction in everyone.
Can it win? Possibly. My suspicion is that like last year’s opinion-dividing Albanian entry (which I adored, and voted for), ‘Birds’ will mop up jury votes and perform respectably enough among televoters to secure an excellent top five placing overall. However, 38 years after the Netherlands last ding-a-donged to victory, I’d be thrilled if Anouk was able to pull it off.
9. Who See – Igranka (Montenegro)
Every Eurovision semi-final needs a toilet break, especially after four back-to-back contenders, and Montenegro never ceases to oblige.
I can’t pretend that Montenegrin hip-hop is my speciality, but the ‘song’ – or ‘track’, at least – will certainly wake up anyone who dozed off during Anouk. It’s not my thing at all, but the powerful female vocal from Nina Žižić stops the whole thing descending into an unholy noise.
I don’t see the Montenegrin entry as an obvious qualifier, but it’s original, bold, different and current, and is one to keep an eye on. Among ballad after ballad, this could easily stand out and sneak through to Saturday.
10. Andrius Pojavis – Something (Lithuania)
Lithuania makes a habit of sending songs to Eurovision that are either underwhelming or ridiculous, and this one unfortunately falls into the former category.
Cute Andrius, with his disturbingly expressive eyebrows, is more appealing than the song, which is pleasant but plodding, and makes for a long three minutes. Ultimately, it’s a song that just doesn’t go anywhere – except, I suspect, the bottom of the Semi-Final scoreboard.
11. Alyona Lanskaya – Solayoh (Belarus)
Belarus changing its Eurovision song – or even its singer – has become a Eurovision tradition, with each of its previous three entries not being the combination of artist and song that was originally selected.
2013 fails to disappoint, so we finally get Alyona Lanskaya – who got the boot after initially being chosen last year – performing a song, ‘Solayoh’, that replaced the one viewers had actually voted for. It’s probably no bad thing, however, as the previous song, ‘Rhythm of Love’, really wasn’t very good.
For all that, ‘Solayoh’ isn’t a whole lot better, offering the usual Belarusian combo of unintelligible ‘English’ lyrics and topless male dancers. It’s all a bit desperate, perhaps, and I fear it may backfire. Whatever the gimmicks, I suspect ‘Solayoh’ may not quite be strong enough to place inside the Semi Final top ten.
12. Aliona Moon – O Mie (Moldova)
Composed by last year’s Moldovan entrant, the cheeky yet dashing Pasha Parfeny, ‘O Mie’ is really rather lovely, especially as – very unusually – Moldova’s Eurovision entry will be performed entirely in Romanian. Still, after Pasha’s famous observation last year that “you haven’t seen before how looks the trumpet”, it’s undoubtedly a wise move.
Though Aliona’s live vocals at the Moldovan final were a little on the shrill side, ‘O Mie’ is certainly one of the most memorable ballads this year. Moldova has only missed the Eurovision Final once in eight attempts, and I’d be somewhat surprised if Aliona failed to make it through this time.
13. Ryan Dolan – Only Love Survives (Ireland)
Ireland made the right choice from its 2013 selection by opting to send Ryan Dolan with the most contemporary sounding Irish Eurovision entry in a long time.
The preview video gives handsome Ryan plenty of opportunity to show off his muscly arms, but the song is pretty darn good too – a soaring dance anthem with a simple message of love, which will surely resonate across the continent.
Get rid of the dreadful backing singers who ruined the live performance in the Irish selection show, and put Ryan in a vest, and this is sailing into the Final.
Oh, and did I forget to mention that Ryan’s very good looking?
14. Despina Olympiou – An Me Thimáse (Cyprus)
It’s always a fine line between beautiful and forgettable, and ‘An Me Thimáse’, Cyprus’s pretty but slight ballad, risks falling into the latter category.
Like Estonia’s song, there’s nothing at all wrong with it, and Despina does a great job, but it does risk getting lost among all the showier entries. Cyprus, at least, has a better position in the running order than Estonia, while the preview video – featuring lots of cleavage shots – perhaps hints at the strategy that will be employed to increase the song’s impact in Malmö.
15. Roberto Bellarosa – Love Kills (Belgium)
Looking at the Eurovision betting, you could be forgiven for assuming that Belgium is completely out of the running, given that the odds of ‘Love Kills’ winning the Contest are as long as 250-1.
It’s a complete puzzle to me, however, because the song’s really good – it’s fresh and strong, with a killer anthemic chorus. Roberto, meanwhile, is both a good singer and easy on the eye, though he has a permanently sad expression in the preview video that makes him look like he needs a hug. Still, I suppose you would look sad if you were singing a song called ‘Love Kills’…
For me, this entry is way underrated, and is a realistic contender to qualify – which is more than most Belgian Eurovision efforts have managed in recent years.
16. Moje 3 – Ljubav Je Svuda (Serbia)
Having missed only one Final since 2007, Serbia can never be underestimated at Eurovision, and this year’s entry ticks many of the boxes again: three attractive female singers; an entry that stands out as the only girl group in Semi Final 1; and a prime position performing last on the evening.
For all that, ‘Ljubav Je Svuda’ is probably one of Serbia’s weaker efforts to date, and there’s something about it that doesn’t quite hang together. Maybe it’s the random outfits that the girls wear in the preview video, the dizzying strutting around the stage, or simply the fact that the chorus and verses sound like they’re spliced together from two different songs. It’s probably still a qualifier, just, but don’t be surprised if it does a Feminnem and falls short.
The smaller number of countries taking part in Eurovision this year – 39 compared to the all-time peak of 43 – means that only six contenders from Semi Final 1 will miss out on qualifying. So, who do I reckon is going to make the cut… and who’ll be disappointed?
The first job is to list the entries that I predict will definitely make it, which are (in approximate order of certainty):
Then we need to get rid of the ones that probably won’t make it (least likely qualifiers first):
That leaves seven songs jostling for five places, which is a tough call. However, I’m going to suggest that the remainder of the top ten might look like this:
Meaning that the last two countries to miss out would be:
Do you agree? Let us know! Meanwhile, I’d better get on with reviewing the songs from Semi Final 2… Now, where did I put that bottle of Croatian red?