It’s that time of year again, when one lucky European city hosts an event with an annual global audience of up to 600 million, and I venture beyond my standard musical climes to a place far, far away from math-rock, modern prog and other such genres you probably haven’t heard of. That place, in 2014 at least, is Copenhagen – the event is the Eurovision Song Contest.
Predicting a winning entry has become an increasingly trying art form over the past few years, but if you happen to be involved in some kind of Eurovision sweepstake then never fear! I’ve got your back. Read on, as I present my guide to ESC2014.
Before choosing a song, however, it’s useful to be familiar with the format of the overall contest. Because, as well as looking for a song with universal European appeal, a country with generous neighbours, or even a tune you actually like yourself, one needs to consider whether a song is even going to grace the stage for Saturday evening’s final. Two semi finals, held the Tuesday and Thursday of ‘Eurovision Week’, have been made necessary by the swell of Eastern European nations taking part over the last 15 years, with 10 acts progressing from each. A total of 37 countries will compete this year, with 16 singing in semi 1, 15 in semi 2, with a further 6 granted byes into the final, either for being host nation (Denmark), or one of the European Broadcasting Union’s primary funders (Germany, UK, France, Spain, and Italy).
Got all that? Good. To review all 37 songs would be an impossibly time-consuming exercise for the both of us (a comprehensive playlist can be found here) so I’ll instead consider some choice highlights, starting with some entries that are guaranteed to be in Saturday’s final.
UNITED KINGDOM: Molly Smitten-Downes – ‘Children of the Universe’
“What’s that, you say? The UK are actually sending a credible entry, instead of some dreadful, over the hill ‘star’ of yesteryear?” Why, yes they are. Following the recent successes of Germany, Sweden, and Denmark, UK are deploying an agreeable female twenty-something who can actually sing. Backing British entries is always a high-risk strategy, but this is likely the best entry since Katrina and the Waves conquered all in 1997. A top 5 finish is far from out of the question.
ITALY: Emma Marrone – ‘La Mia Città’
Edgy guitar/synth pop has always been a staple of ESC, and this is one of 2014’s better examples (if you’re a fan of unusual eye make-up/writhing-based dance routines, then that’s a bonus too). Although likely to finish in the top half on Saturday, history’s against the Italian entry, which is sung in Italian. The only non-English winner in the last 15 years was Serbia’s ‘Molitva’, sung in the year of the nation’s independence.
SEMI FINAL 1
ARMENIA: Aram MP3 – ‘Not Alone’
History, however, is most definitely not against Aram MP3 who go into the contest as heavy favourites, with most bookies offering odds of an Armenian victory at 2-1, and the YouTube hit counter already over the 2 million mark. The song itself is agreeable enough, with a slow mournful start swelling into a powerful climax (with obligatory Eurovision dub breakdown). As the favourite though, it’s void from any credible sweepstake…
LATVIA: Aarzemnieki – ‘Cake to Bake’
This year’s obligatory ‘twee’ entry comes from Latvia’s Aarzemnieki, whose acoustic cringe-fest ‘Cake to Bake’ includes the lyrics “I’ve got a cake to bake – I’ve got no clue at all (cep, cep, cep, cep, cep kuuku), I’ve got a cake to bake – and haven’t done that before (cep, cep, cep, cep, cep kuuku)”… Back it at your peril.
ICELAND: Pollapönk – ‘No Prejudice’
There’s an irony in a song extolling the virtues of equality and tolerance being one of this year’s more divisive entries. ‘No Prejudice’ is an unabashed, sickly sweet three minute slice of pseudo-ska, and one can’t help feel that an overtly colourful video and lyrics like “Let’s do away with prejudice, don’t discriminate, tolerance is bliss,” might well be aimed at the other extremity of the European continent…
RUSSIA: Tolmachevy Sisters – ‘Shine’
Speaking of which… In a bid to show Western Europe that they’re not a nation of complete monsters, Russia have entered a pair of impossibly squeaky clean Aryan twins (winners of the 2006 junior Eurovision Song Contest – that’s right, there’s a junior Eurovision Song Contest), who deliver lyrics like “Sending out a message out above, telling all the world to show some love” with absolutely no sense of geopolitical irony. Russia normally benefits from neighbourly voting, though it’ll be interesting to see how many points are awarded from Ukraine this year…
UKRAINE: Maria Yaremchuk – ‘Tick-Tock’
… Though it will be interesting to see if Ukraine benefits from any Western sympathy. The song itself is relatively nondescript, and Pete Burns of Dead or Alive fame has a good claim to the composition credit – the lyrics might as well be ‘You spin me right round, baby right round, like a record baby…’ for all the difference it makes.
SEMI FINAL 2
MALTA: Firelight – ‘Coming Home’
Truth be told, the majority of this year’s quality entrants are found in Semi Final 2, and Malta’s ‘Coming Home’ is one of the best (imagine Mumford & Sons raised in more tropical climes). The song is dedicated to ‘those who never came home’ – an allusion to the soldiers of WW1 a century on. And to those who complain about the Eurovision Song Contest, I’d argue that of all the ways in which Europe’s nations have interacted over the last 200 years, the ESC is one of the more preferable. A top 5 finish is a real possibility, for those fancying a shrewd bet.
NORWAY: Carl Espen – ‘Silent Storm’
Having backed Norway for the last two years (with 2013 being an altogether more successful bet than 2012), it’s certainly tempting to do so again. Carl Espen can pen a credible song, ‘Silent Storm’ is a dark, brooding piano/string-based ballad, the likes of which you’d not be ashamed to carry around on your iPod. Although I can see a top half finish (Scandinavia tends to share points amongst itself) ‘Silent Storm’ isn’t really immediate enough to pose a serious challenge to Armenia’s inevitable victory.
GEORGIA: The Shin and Mariko – ‘Three Minutes to Earth’
An early disclaimer – this is my favourite song in ESC2014. Though this is only because traditional Georgian folk music is an unlikely approximation of math-rock, what with its tempo/key signature changes and complex guitar work (it may very well be the only song ever possibly written about Felix Baumgartner). The Shin are undeniably the most most musically adept act in the contest, but rest assured, this has no chance of winning (you can currently get odds of 500-1 on such an outcome), and it’s most probably not going to be in Saturday’s final. Which is a shame.
LITHUANIA: Vilija Matačiūnaitė – ‘Attention’
Of course, it wouldn’t be Eurovision without some downright trash, and this really is the pick of the crop. The gist of ‘Attention’, as far as it’s possible to discern, is that if you want to bed young Vilija having met her at a club, then it’ll take at least two drinks and at least 10 minutes of witty conversation (please, feel free to correct me if there’s any further meaning to be derived). Still, the stuttering lyrical refrains make this one of the more memorable entries, and I’d be surprised if it didn’t make Saturday’s final.
FINLAND: Softengine – ‘Something Better’
For fans of pop-rock somewhere on the musical spectrum between early Killers and Kids in Glass Houses, Finland provide another quality scandinavian entry. In sweepstake terms, I can’t see beyond Finland’s Softengine. They achieve the holy Eurovision trinity – a credible song, a catchy chorus, and membership of a dependable voting block. Of course they’ll probably bomb out in the semis, now that I’ve staked my pound on them. Oh well.
BELARUS: Teo – ‘Cheesecake’
If you, like me, have ever wondered what would happen if Michael Bublé and Robin Thicke were to somehow conceive a son, who was to be raised by adoptive parents in Eastern Europe, and taught to express himself solely in pudding based metaphors, then you’re in luck! (That’s all I’ve got on this one – don’t worry, we’re nearly finished!)
SWITZERLAND: Sebalter – ‘Hunter of Stars’
The first ever Eurovision Song Contest was held in (and indeed won by) the Swiss in 1956, and they’ve not won it since Celine Dion’s 1988 entry ‘Ne Partez Pas Sans Moi’. I’d not expect their quarter-centry duck to be broken by Sabalter, though ‘Hunter of Stars’ is a relentlessly catchy tune. Assuming that he can replicate his ever-so-slightly demonic whistling live on the night, I’d expect Sabalter to comfortably make the final, though I’d not necessarily bet on a high finish.