In recent years we have #JoinedThem, we’ve built a bridge and last year we all came together (insert Petra’s beach towel joke here). Now it’s time to Celebrate Diversity and in the first of five parts I’ll be previewing this year’s diverse range of songs competing to win the glass microphone. Today we’re kicking things off with the first half of semi final 1. Ponytails, treadmills and a country’s best ever song…diverse, huh?
Robin Bengtsson may not have been the choice of the Swedish people but he nonetheless stands them in good stead for a decent finish in Kyiv. The burning desire of SVT to try and equal Ireland for highest number of wins is fairly evident in ‘I Can’t Go On’. Robin, the definition of the polished performer handles the OK GO impression pretty well and the slightly (very) smug tilt of the head to the camera only adds confidence to the performance. It’s another modern pop hit from the magical Melodifestivalen music machine and it should go at least top ten if not higher. I genuinely like the song but the argument it’s polished to the point of soullessness is hard to avoid. Decent placing in the running order too. Wonder how he got that then…?
This is one the fan community aren’t giving much of a chance. It would seem nobody will have it Put-in their final Saturday night line up. But if I’m honest I love it. Yes, it’s a discount Bond theme but it’s not that long since a discount Bond theme won the whole bloody thing. Now, of course it’s nowhere near as good as Rise Like a Phoenix but I have absolutely fallen for Tamara’s ‘Keep The Faith’. The slow build of this song to a huge vocal is fabulous, it’s needlessly dramatic and over the top. Admittedly her vocal can at times can be a tad screechy and although I like it I know it hasn’t got a hope in hell of qualifying in the bloodbath that is semi final 1. I’ll keep the faith even if nobody else will.
They were a guest only two years ago, a very welcome guest at that! Now that they’re firmly placed in the line up they may learn what it’s like to struggle this year. Thankfully for Isaiah and ‘Don’t Come Easy’ they’re main rivals in terms of style, Bulgaria sit in semi 2. There’s no doubt in my mind that this is likely to qualify but it would need an incredibly favourable draw to do anything on the Saturday. There’s plenty of opportunity for the so called ‘jury notes’ that his countrywoman Dami Im used so effectively last year. It could do well with the juries but struggle to pick up the public points . For me there’s not that much to the song and it will likely just get lost in the barrage of ballads.
Oh, Albania. In recent years there have been two or three countries who’s entries I just cannot get on board with. And here we have our first one. What is the point of having the massive orchestra at Festivali i Këngës and giving your songs such big sounds if by March you’re going to have to launch a disappointing revamp. To be fair Lindita’s ‘World’ is a massive step up on last year’s DISMAL effort but still lacks the real power it had live at FiK. And again we have my pet hate, the jury notes. Having seen videos of her performance live in Amsterdam the last minute is almost entirely just protracted wailing. I understand it’s technically proficient but as a listening experience it’s painful. Not getting out the semi.
Plucky little Belgium, eh? If we look past Axel Hirsoux and his downright sinister ode to his Mother in 2014 they have been on one hell of a run of form. When you take into account the split broadcasting system operated by the Belgians it’s no surprise that Blanche’s ‘City of Light’ is actually the follow up to Loic Nottet in 2015 and ‘Rhythm Inside’. This track feels radio ready, you could slot this into any chart today and this would not feel out of place. However at the London Preview Party Blanche seemed incredibly nervous and uneasy on stage. It would seem that in every live performance since, she has continued to give off that vibe. It would be a crying shame if this lost out on a place in the final due to the performance because the song itself is one of the best. Loic didn’t have what you’d call natural stage presence either and they made that work so I’ll hold on to the hope that maybe the Wallonian broadcaster can do something with her. If not we could be in for shock!
Ahem, family show anybody? Once it settles down Slavko’s Kalezić’s ‘Space’ just about gets away with it but that first verse, utter filth! The somewhat racy feel of the song is as barely disguised as Slavko’s own upper half. If you can look past that though you get a hearty slice of Montenegrin cheese that’s hard not to enjoy. It is far from the best song in the competition but Slavko is clearly an…enthusiastic performer shall we say and he sells the song (and hairstyle) incredibly well. As mentioned already semi final 1 is probably one of the toughest since the system was introduced. In a weaker year Space may have stood a chance of qualifying but this year from the top half of the draw it seems incredibly unlikely.
I remember back to the very first listen to this when UMK released all the studio versions and if I’m honest this was lost on me. I felt it just plodded along without building like I felt it should, I think I was hoping for Mørland and Debrah mk 2. Unlike the Norwegian pair of 2015 Norma John’s ‘Blackbird’ soared like it’s namesake upon seeing the song performed live. The dark and moody visuals from UMK really grabbed the attention of both voters & juries alike. On a night when favourites were suffering technical issues and vocals seemed flat or out of tune Norma John utterly nailed their performance. The vocal of Leena Tirronen was perfectly excuted and conveyed the deep, dark emotion of the song. I would be utterly devastated if this didn’t make the Saturday night. Total class.
In recent years the standard from Azerjibin has for me, started to slip. Since their win in 2011 there have been times when their 100% qualification record has looked in serious danger. After Samra’s sub-par effort last year Dihaj’s ‘Skeletons’ feels like they’re returning to their previous form. This moody, slightly synth based song is dark and brooding but whether it has enough of a hook to make it memorable at the recap may be doubtful. Concerns were raised too after her performance at the Amsterdam preview party wasn’t great. Most of these were clearly down to technical issues though which shouldn’t happen in Kyiv. This could easily qualify but it’s in that middle pack of this semi that could go 7th, could go 13th. It would be a crying shame were Samra to qualify but Dihaj not.
After a year out because…Portugal just don’t seem to bother with Sweden they’ve returned to the Contest with an utter marvel of a song. When it was announced last year that Festival da Canção were to relax their language rules it was assumed they would send a song featuring the English language, at least in part. However, ‘Amor Del Pios’ sung by Salvador Sobral entirely in Portuguese is like nothing we’ve seen at the Contest in recent times. The timeless classic nature of this song makes it stand out like a sore thumb. But an incredibly tuneful, classy sore thumb. Salvador’s health issues shouldn’t affect his performance and if anything it’ll only help strengthen their cause. Commentators across the continent will be explaining the issues surrounding his wellbeing before the song so already people will be willing him on to do well. It may even become the major story picked up by the press once the Ukraine/Russia furore dies down. If all goes to plan and they can get a decent draw it could and should come very, very close to the top spot.
So that concludes the previews for the first half of the first semi final. Come the night itself it’ll be here we’ll get a light hearted Ukrainian comedy skit or if you’re watching via the BBC Mel Giedroyc will be making Chicken Kievs and likely drooling over Robin. Check back again tomorrow when I’ll be concluding my look at semi one.