Sunday 28 April 2019

Eurovision 2019

Eurovision 2019

Dare to dream? It seems Europe is in the grip of a nightmare. From sombre ballads to political statements and an all-out screaming apocalypse, this is a particularly downbeat Eurovision year. It's certainly reflective of the prevailing mood of the continent.

Where many countries have gone back to their roots with a modern twist, The Netherlands offer the pick of the ballads with a contemporary song and are currently odds on favourite. But the likes of Italy and Iceland are delivering more interesting atypical Eurovision songs. Expect to see these three riding high at the top of the voting table.

In a sea of ballads, there are still some uptempo positive songs, a handful taking their cue from last year's should-have-won, Fuego. Czech Republic are funky fun, Spain bring the party and where the other Nordics disappoint, Sweden have entered a song of pure joy that's obvious Eurovision stuff.

Yet with so much bleakness this year, those positive pop songs may come off as insincere and out of touch. It's clear that this year's competition will be a serious, sometimes melancholic and very intriguing week of music.

Jonida Maliqi - Ktheju tokës

"Return to your land," sings Jonida Maliqi in this return to Albania's roots. The lyrics are more than a little fatalistic ("one day you live, the next you die / so much nostalgia, so little hope"), but the traditional melodies, thundering drums and flutes make for a dramatic entry.

Srbuk - Walking Out

X Factor Armenia runner-up Srbuk delivers dark gothic pop on Walking Out, complete with this year's most dramatic key change. She's got some big notes up her sleeve, let's hope she can deliver them live.

Kate Miller-Heidke - Zero Gravity

On paper this is winning Eurovision: opera meets dance pop, styled as a Scandi ice-maiden in a big dress. In actuality, her voice sounds like a car horn that could break glass.

PÆNDA - Limits

Austria did very well last year and are looking to do similarly with another serious entry. Limits is a vulnerable tearjerker of a ballad that may be a little too subtle, but PÆNDA's delicate voice is quietly haunting.

Chingiz - Truth

For a country with poor LGBT rights, Azerbaijan surely know how to deliver for the Eurovision audience (even if Chingiz isn't topless in the live performance). Yet right from its moody, pulsing opening this is polished synth-pop with a traditional twist, an intoxicating mix of old and new.

ZENA - Like It

ZENA has performed at Junior Eurovision on multiple occasions (coming third in 2016) so could be popular with the Eurovision crowd. Like It, though, is pretty standard 90s inflected pop that doesn't do enough to stand out.

Eliot - Wake Up

Belgium have a tendency to do either really well or not qualify at all, despite delivering some interesting, moody pop over the last few years. This year Eliot is set to continue that trend, not least because he wrote their 2017 entry. Here he delivers twinky synth pop (that's not quite Loïc Nottet) - let's hope he can qualify.

Roko - The Dream

The lyrics of this year's Croatian entry are a little on the trite side ("I dream of love," sings Roko in the soaring chorus), but there's enough cinematic flair here to make The Dream stand out.

Tamta - Replay

Let's be real: we all know Fuego should've won last year. Clearly annoyed, Cyprus have this year entered a song that is essentially a second rate rip-off. Lightning does not strike twice.

Czech Republic
Lake Malawi - Friend of a Friend

Lake Malawi have performed on BBC London as well as at Brighton's Great Escape festival in 2015. There's certainly a British flair to their indie-pop that's all funk guitars and glittering synths - a rare ray of fluffy positivity in this year's competition.

Leonora - Love Is Forever

Leonora sings in four different languages on Love Is Forever, presumably courting favour with each country. But the pizzicato strings and cutesy vocals make this irritatingly twee. Bring back last year's vikings.

Victor Crone - Storm

Hoping for some Scandi magic, Estonia have put forth a Swede for their entry. Victor competed in 2015's Melodifestivalen, but finally makes Eurovision with Storm - an uplifting country dance-pop track with a strong hook. Enjoyable, but he needs to work on his guitar miming.

Darude feat. Sebastian Rejman - Look Away

Yes that's the Darude of Sandstorm fame. But Look Away is a disappointingly bland dance track that will have you walking away for a cup of tea.

Bilal Hassani - Roi

Bilal is a major YouTube star in French-speaking territories and here delivers an emotional ballad of self-acceptance. Let's see if that fanbase pick up the phones.

Oto Nemsadze - Keep on Going

This will never make it past the semis.

S!sters - Sister

Sadly this is not a cover of the Sister Sister theme song. Instead it consists mainly of screaming "SISTER!" down a microphone.

Katerine Duska - Better Love

Katerine has a rich, raspy timbre to her voice that stands out amongst the pack. Yet although the song has a Jessie Ware / Lykke Li kinda vibe, it's just not memorable enough overall.

Joci Pápai - Az én apám

Joci brings Hungary's gypsy roots to this year's competition, all folky melodies and a whistling hook. But how the hell is he playing guitar with leather gloves on?

Hatari - Hatrið mun sigra

This is the one everyone will be talking about. Eurovision songs aren't meant to be political (though they often secretly are), but Hatari singing apocalyptic lyrics like "hate will prevail / and Europe's heart impale" isn't exactly subtle. Screaming vocals, buzzsaw synths and bondage costumes ensure it will get plenty of attention, but the slick production and key change bely a pop sensibility beneath it all. Brilliantly bonkers.

Sarah McTernan - 22

Nope, not a cover of the Taylor Swift classic (22 is a house number here, not an age). Vocally reminiscent of Amy Winehouse, this is a soulful ballad that's sweet if a little vanilla.

Kobi Marimi - Home

Let's just say Israel won't be winning two years in a row.

Mahmood - Soldi

Egyptian-Italian Alessandro Mahmoud has already courted controversy with Soldi. Chosen to represent Italy at this year's Sanremo competition, he's described the song as "Morocco pop", and sings an interlude in Arabic, at odds with Salvini and his right-wing government. Who said Eurovision wasn't political? Beneath all that though is a song that sounds like nothing we've had at Eurovision: a cool and clever R&B infused track with Middle Eastern flavour exploring estranged fathers and familial divides. It's suave and sophisticated and perfect for an Israeli competition in 2019. Can we please make this win?

Carousel - That Night

This stripped back lilting ballad is pleasant enough but it just doesn't go anywhere. Another tea break.

Jurij Veklenko - Run With The Lions

This spacey electronic ballad has potential and the falsetto vocals are lovely. But the chorus doesn't quite have the intended punch - those clipped drums are weak.

Michela - Chameleon

Another Fuego wannabe here. The chorus is enjoyably weird but it's basic overall.

Anna Odobescu - Stay

A typical emotional power ballad that's ultimately forgettable.

D mol - Heaven

Performed by a group of six singers, Heaven mixes traditional instrumentation with modern pop. The vocals are impressive, but the song is just on the edge of saccharine.

North Macedonia
Tamara Todevska - Proud

Formerly F.Y.R Macedonia, the country doesn't have a good track record at Eurovision. But perhaps that's set to change with the new name. Proud is an intense ballad with a feminist message and a big belting voice.

KEiiNO - Spirit in the Sky

Norway frequently have success with gothic techno. The eccentric KEiiNO here mix dark electronica with Nordic folk, treading a fine line between cool and amusing. It's certainly memorable.

Tulia - Fire of Love (Pali się)

Bringing back memories of butter churning with their traditional dress, Tulia are a far feistier proposition. Their fiery folk-rock has a love it or hate it appeal that could split voters.

Conan Osiris - Telemóveis

Portugal's 2017 win was hailed as a win for "authentic" music. Conan certainly takes himself seriously, with a track heavily influenced by Egyptian culture. It's experimental and far removed from anything else in the competition, as weirdly compelling as it is an interesting composition. And that backing dancer is SERVING.

Ester Peony - On a Sunday

The lyrics to On a Sunday is pretty depressing - a breakup song of loneliness, nightmares and the unfairness of life. Yet Ester gives a sultry performance, perhaps to lure back her missing lover. It certainly works.

Sergey Lazarev - Scream

Russia's golden boy returns after narrowly missing out on a win back in 2016. This time he's swapped pulsing synths for downbeat orchestral strings that lacks the same winning energy. Yet if the theatrical video is anything to go by, we're in for some extraordinary staging.

San Marino
Serhat - Say Na Na Na

San Marino are sending over your embarrassing uncle singing karaoke over some funky disco. It's definitely entertaining.

Nevena Božović - Kruna

Another previous Junior Eurovision entrant, Nevena sings a beautiful ballad here that builds from a gentle acoustic opening to a soaring rock chorus with a little Slavic twist. But in a sea of ballads, does this do enough?

Zala Kralj & Gašper Šantl - Sebi

Sombre synths and clipped beats make for a Slovenian entry of bleak ennui. It's an intriguing song but unlikely to win over voters.

Miki - La Venda

You can always count on Spain to bring the party. Ska rhythms and blaring trumpets bring some much needed sunshine to this year's competition. There's Spanish guitar, "la vida loca", enough energy to have you jumping in your seat, and a cute singer fronting it all. When much of Europe is in seeming despair, I'll have whatever Spain are having.

John Lundvik - Too Late For Love

John Lundvik's song is perhaps the most obvious Eurovision winner this year, though that's to be expected from a country with one of the best track records. Bold melodies, gospel backing, and vibrant production ensure this is a sheer joy to listen to. It's ironically perhaps too Eurovision to win the competition, but it's a brilliant little pop song. He also wrote our entry, but clearly kept the best for himself.

Luca Hänni - She Got Me

From a country with one of the best track records, to one with one of the worst (at least in the last couple of decades). Luca won Germany's Pop Idol equivalent and on She Got Me does a passable Justin Timberlake impression. It's all worth it for that filthy bass though.

The Netherlands
Duncan Laurence - Arcade

Currently the odds on favourite, and not just because he's naked in the video. Sorrowful and moving lyrics (the repeated "loving you is a losing game"), a tender vocal and carefully balanced production make this the best of the ballads (and there's stiff competition). Expect this to win the jury vote, but other songs are perhaps more likely to capture the voting public.

United Kingdom
Michael Rice - Bigger Than Us

The Lamest Showman.