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Final: Eurovision expert Graham Soult reviews the 2014 contenders

Having already ploughed my way through the 31 contenders in the first and second Eurovision Semi Finals, mustering the energy to assess six more – the Big 5 and last year’s winner, Denmark – can be a strain.

However, it must be done! Can France, Germany, Italy, Spain or the UK do a Lena and bring a rare victory to one of the Contests five big beasts? Or can Denmark do an Ireland and notch up a famous victory on home turf? Let’s take a look…

Basim – Cliché Love Song (Denmark)

After winning the 2013 Eurovision with an uplifting, elegant song from Emmelie de Forest, this year’s Danish contribution does feel a bit on the cheap and flimsy side.

Cheeky and suited, Basim is hard to dislike as he shimmies around the stage telling us about his fine-lookin’ lady, all to a Bruno Mars-esque melody and sub-Craig David lyrics.

Depending on your point of view, ‘Cliché Love Song’ is either a fun, singalong ditty that doesn’t take itself too seriously, or a silly, throwaway entry that thinks it’s cleverer than it is. Personally, I’m not a fan – I’d resort to listening to Lithuania’s ‘Attention’ on repeat to escape the Danish song’s irritating perkiness – but I can see it performing well enough to give the Danes a respectable result in front of their home crowd.

Twin Twin – Moustache (France)

The thing you have to love about the French is that each year they send whatever they feel like to Eurovision – quite often something a bit off the wall, and performed, without fail, in their own language – and if anyone else out there happens to like it, that’s a bonus.

This year’s entry from trio Twin Twin, ‘Moustache’, ticks all those boxes, being utterly bizarre and very French, yet at the same time scarily catchy. The lyrics, surprisingly, also have enough substance to keep the juries entertained, as fine-looking singer Lorent – the lovechild of Marge Simpson and half of Jedward – gives us his comment on consumerism. He might have a fancy car and penthouse apartment, he opines, but a moustache is the one thing he really wants that he can’t have.

Of course, all that may well be lost on the televoters, and it’s easy to suspect that France will end up in its favoured position towards the bottom of the scoreboard. Get the right draw, though, sandwiched between a couple of earnest ballads, and the French entry could really stand out from the crowd. I like it – hopefully others will agree.

Elaiza – Is It Right! (Germany)

It’s hard to think of Germany at Eurovision without bringing to mind the name Ralph Siegel – the songwriter behind an astonishing 14 previous German entries – most recently in 2003, with ‘Let’s Get Happy’ – few of which display any kind of musical subtlety.

In more recent years, however, Germany’s greatest Eurovision success has come when it’s eschewed the schmaltz in favour of something more contemporary and authentic. 2010 winner Lena had those qualities in spades, and the female trio Elaiza bring something similar this year – a song that is simple and fresh with a delightfully folky edge. Does the song really go anywhere? Not especially, to be fair. Is it a touch repetitive? That’s hard to deny. Still, these quibbles aside, ‘Is It Right!’ should have enough charm to keep Germany off the lower reaches of the scoreboard that it inhabited last year.

Emma Marrone – La Mia Città (Italy)

Italy has been a breath of fresh air at Eurovision since it returned in 2011, sending entries that have oozed quality and been performed – at least in part – in the rich and expressive Italian language. It’s a formula that’s worked too, as the Italians have been rewarded with three successive top ten finishes.

On the face of it, Emma faces an uphill struggle to repeat that feat, given the fate that usually befalls scary rock chicks at Eurovision. ‘La Mia Città, however, is a very strong song in an electropunk vein, performed with growling relish by Emma.

I think a mid-table position may be more likely than a top ten finish, but the song has enough variation and anthemic touches to avoid it becoming a scoreboard-propping noise.

Ruth Lorenzo – Dancing In The Rain (Spain)

Having been a big fan of Ruth Lorenzo when she appeared on the UK’s X Factor in 2008, I was a tad disappointed when I first heard ‘Dancing in the Rain’ at the start of the Spanish selection process. Ruth’s ability to belt out a tune – as demonstrated by her famous X Factor version of ‘Purple Rain’ – is incredible, and I couldn’t help feeling that ‘Dancing in the Rain’ was a slightly underwhelming and low-key vehicle for her undisputed vocal talents.

Since then, happily, the song has been polished, spruced up, and generally given a bit more oomph, and there’s little doubt that Ruth will do a superlative job of selling it on the stage – hers is a useful talent that can take below-par material and make it sound better than it deserves. On the downside, ‘Dancing in the Rain’ is still somewhat repetitive – resplendent with no fewer than ten ‘dancings’ and 18 ‘rains’ – and could all end up in a shouty mess if Ruth’s on-stage histrionics aren’t kept in check as the song reaches its conclusion.

Some people have Spain earmarked as a potential winner this year, which would be nice, given that it’s 45 years since the last Spanish victory. With the best performance and staging in the world, however, I’m just not sure that the song is strong enough to go all the way.

Molly – Children Of The Universe (United Kingdom)

UK in non-embarrassing entry alert!

Recent British entries have demonstrated that it’s no good sending a big-name artist to Eurovision if (a) their song is pleasant but, ultimately, not very memorable and (b) said singer now struggles to hit the notes they were capable of back in their heyday.

After weeks of deathly silence from the BBC at the same time as all other countries were selecting their entries or revealing their plans, it was something of a relief when the Beeb revealed both an artist and a song of which we can be proud. Molly may have been virtually unknown until two months ago, but it hardly matters if all the other ingredients are right – an artist who looks and sounds like a contemporary pop star (tick); who can hold a tune live (tick); who can bring a much-needed dollop of credibility to the British Eurovision participation by writing her own song (tick); and who, unusually for a UK entry, seems to be getting lots of positive reaction from fans across the continent (tick).

‘Children of the Universe’, indeed, is really strong, mostly due to the powerful and unusual interplay between Molly’s lead vocal and her four backing singers. There are, as you’d expect, a few niggles – Molly’s enunciation of the lyrics could be clearer at times, and after such a strong build-up in the verse and bridge, the chorus, with its shades of 1994’s ‘Lonely Symphony’, doesn’t quite live up to expectations.

Overall, though, I can’t help thinking (pinching myself while I do so) that the UK entry is the automatic finalist most likely to challenge for victory – it’s no ‘Love Shine A Light’, but it’s anthemic, contemporary and memorable, and in a hard-to-call Contest that might be enough. Can someone check whether the Newcastle Arena is free next May?

Conclusion

Last year I correctly predicted the Danish victory, though being the runaway favourite – and a really strong song – meant that it wasn’t especially difficult.

This year, if you believe the bookies, the winner will be Armenia, Sweden or, heaven help us, Denmark, with Ukraine (an odd choice, as one of the country’s weakest entries to date), UK and Norway following behind.

The UK, as I’ve suggested, could be a contender – a thought that seems almost too outrageous to contemplate given our recent record – but I’m not convinced that any of the other hot favourites have enough appeal among both juries and televoters to pull off victory. More likely, I reckon, is that some other song could sneak in below the radar and ‘do an Estonia’, like in 2001 – Hungary, perhaps, or even Malta, Israel or the Netherlands. Any of those would be an excellent winner, and a first victory for Hungary or Malta would be especially welcome.

Whatever happens, it looks like being an exciting Contest this year – so thank you for reading my reviews, and enjoy the show!

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