A Swede who lives in Finland and who is lost in Euroland - the wonderful world of Eurovision
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Friday, April 29, 2016

Final: 09 Sweden / If I Were Sorry

The single most interesting thing about the final will be to see how Europe reacts to the Swedish entry. What we know is that the response from eurovision fans in general has been lukewarm or outright negative.

What we also know is that the general public has been very favourable, that the song shot to #1 in the Swedish charts and made waves also internationally and has been heavily streamed also outside of Sweden.

It must be said that Frans - the youngest person to represent Sweden since Carola Häggkvist entered the stage in Munich back in 1983 - has that certain something that seems to break through to other audiences that the mainstream eurovision ones. That must mean something.

Starting position 9 is perhaps far from optimal but my guess is SVT will do their best to make their own entry stand out on Saturday night.

Potential winner:
Yes. I really think so. We have not had a host country winning since 1994. Maybe the time has come again.

My grade: 4/5

Frans / If I Were Sorry (Sweden 2016 preview clip)

Final: United Kingdom / You're Not Alone

To repair something as broken as the relationship between the United Kingdom and the Eurovision Song Contest is a difficult process and nothing that will be achieved overnight. This year's national final could possibly have been the first of several baby steps needed to push things in the right direction.

Out of a decent but not exactly thrilling selection, arguably the best song won. A pretty contemporary little bagatelle with a clear hook in its chorus and clearly the best UK entry for many years. The kind of entry the Irish song would like to think it is.


The song is nice but doesn't grow on you. It won't take a lot for this one to get upstaged by anything coming before or after it in the running. And the boys would have to get more intense with each other to convince the audiences of their bubbly friendship. They would need to hug and sparkle and at least look they were keen on maybe even kissing each other.

Potential winner:
In no way, no. But on a good day this could be the positive surprise that collects decent points from all over the place and ends in a 12th place. Which would be like a victory for the UK given recent struggles.

My grade: 3/5

Joe & Jake / You're Not Alone (United Kingdom 2016 preview clip)

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Final: Spain / Say Yay!

It is a good year for the Big 5. France is one of the top favourites for victory and Italy is a very strong dark horse. But what about Spain, then? Could they surprise us all as well?

It all comes down to a few important things. In the Spanish national final, Barei had to put the whole thing together herself and that added a likeable but slightly amateurish touch to the whole performance. A stronger backing group and some professional choreography could do the trick.

Could do the trick. There is also the risk that a new "professional" team will ruin things as well. The song is full of a raw, untamed energy that needs to be canalised in the right way. Worst case scenario is that the whole thing becomes too polished and... well... normal.

Potential winner:
Maybe not after all. But if they do everything right, Spain could possibly be a candidate for the lower regions of the top five.

My grade: 4/5

Barei / Say Yay! (Spain 2016 preview clip)

Final: Italy / No Degree of Separation

For the first time ever, I was following the Sanremo festival live on television this year and I clearly remember my first reaction to this song. Meh. A bit bland. Nothing really special. Then it ended in second place, got picked up for Eurovision and sort of got pressed against my face and then something happened and the whole song unfolded for me.

This is - by quite some margin - my favourite song of the whole year. There is some sort of raw emotion in a very restrained and sophisticated packaging. A refinement and perfection nobody else comes close to.

I even love the one short chorus sung in English. It allows the song to feel completely Italian and yet underlines how universal and international it feels. And I can't get enough of Francesca herself and her slightly introverted intensity.

Potential winner:
I want to say yes. A song as wonderful as this must have a chance of winning. Maybe I suspect it to be a bit too demanding to hit home on one listening, but I hope the televoting masses will be smarter than I was at first.

My grade: 5/5

Francesca Michielin / No Degree of Separation (Italy 2016 preview clip)

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Final: Germany / Ghost

It's always so hard to evaluate Germany's chances in the final. Their entries are often the kind of songs that should do well but that often lack some sort of sparkle or energy or pulse to make them come alive. Often they look like some sort or record label dream product that fails to connect with the audience.

Talent show winner Jamie-Lee is dangerously close to being just that. She has a quirky image and stands out visually and her song has been leading a long life in German charts already. And yet something is missing.

There's something lacking from her vocal delivery, especially in the verses. Only when the song climaxes close to the end is there an energy to her voice. Could she manage to get the intensity into her voice sooner?

Also, the cameras need to find her a lot quicker in Stockholm. She can't remain a distant shadow for as long as in this clip. Contact and intensity is what is lacking here.

Potential winner:
No. I don't think so. This song is designed to keep a young artist in the charts for several weeks, not to grab an audience in three minutes. Those goals aren't necessarily mutually exclusive, but Jamie-Lee would have needed something more instantly accessible to sing. At least it shouldn't be another nul-pointer in the making.

My grade: 2/5

Jamie-Lee / Ghost (Germany 2016 preview clip)

Final: France / J'ai cherché

When I first heard the French entry - a day or two before it was officially confirmed - I remember thinking to myself it wasn't anything like what I had expected. It sounded contemporary and fresh. Like a hit. Perhaps even like a winner.

Then I started thinking. We've been here before. I had a flashback to Baku where I was convinced Anggun would be a potential winner until what could possibly qualify as one of the worst stagings ever ruined her chances and left her with a big fat zero in the televote.

I spend my time feeling torn between the hit factor of the song and my fear that the French will mess it up big time again. And at first I had doubts whether Amir would be charming and vibrant enough to pull this off at all.

Potential winner:
Yes. In case everything falls into place regarding singing and performance and if France would be lucky enough to get a good spot in the second half of the running order... Then it could be next stop Paris indeed. But I keep the grade down a bit until I've seen the final performance.

My grade: 4/5

Amir / J'ai cherché (France 2016 preview clip)

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Semi 2: 18 Belgium / What's The Pressure?

How much luck can anyone possibly have? When the running order was set, I think the Belgian team broke the scale.

My opinion has not changed much since the Belgian final and I still find this a terribly disappointing song with a real let-down of a chorus. The only things it has going for it is a good arrangement - that makes it seem bright and energetic without really being anything close to that - and a sparkling performance by young Laura.

However, none of the negatives will matter now. Belgium will come bursting in with something that resembles tempo and attitude and close a decent but a bit too streamlined semi on a happy note.

Yes. It won't carry far in the final but on Thursday night this can't lose.

My grade: 1/5

Laura Tesoro / What's The Pressure? (Belgium 2016 preview clip)

Semi 2: 17 Albania / Fairytale

Albania is one of those countries that never seem to fail completely in this contest. Even when their song isn't my cup of tea I can usually find something appealing hidden at the bottom of the package.

This year's song is pleasant and well performed, presented in a sleek and attractive arrangement. When you single it out and listen to only this one, you will find it a very good song.

Problem is it comes in a line-up where I've already heard Armenia and Azerbaijan and Czech republic and Switzerland and Serbia and Australia and I have no idea how this will manage to sell itself to an audience at this point.

Borderline. A good song is a good song and it does have a favourable starting position. But if it qualifies it is more due to good luck than anything else.

My grade: 2/5

Eneda Tarifa / Fairytale (Albania 2016 preview clip)

Monday, April 25, 2016

Semi 2: 16 Georgia / Midnight Gold

If it didn't happen already, this is where these reviews will get weird for real. But I absolutely love what Georgia is trying to do here.

I like the special dynamic that comes with a rock group and I like the idea of Oasis waking up one day in Tbilisi, deciding that Eurovision would be the next sensible step in their career. I like the structured chaos and I like the understated madness of the clip.

And I really LOVE the final seventy seconds as it gets really intense and almost out of hand. Had the whole song had the same quality, this would be a full 5/5 in my book.

No. Unless these guys bought a big family pack of charisma after the national final and do something really goofy-in-a-good-way thing on stage. Which I hope they do. Would love to see this in the final.

My grade: 3/5

Nika Kocharov and Young Georgian Lolitaz / Midnight Gold (Georgia 2016 preview clip)

Semi 2: 15 Norway / Icebreaker

Norway has done so well in recent years, first with the edgy electro of Margaret Berger and then with two more unusual ballads. This year it seems they wished to gel these two successful genres into one song. Regardless if the styles were compatible or not.

The Big Thing about this song is of course the tempo change. Just as you think it is going to plunge headlong into a wave-your-hands-in-the-air-chorus it suddenly slows down and turns into a ballad chorus. I found that very confusing at first and don't doubt many will share that sentiment.

Now I heard it many times and the tempo change isn't confusing anymore. Problem is I still don't like it. It comes as a disappointment every time. Agnete is good and makes up for a lot of my disappointment but not all of it.

I think so, yes. In a year where many songs sound very similar, anything that the audience can hold onto to and remember you by is good. Even if it is something that annoys them.

My grade: 2/5

Agnete / Icebreaker (Norway 2016 preview clip)

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Semi 2: 14 Ukraine / 1944

It isn't entirely unusual that countries that go through difficult times decide to sing about this at Eurovision. Problem is that it is difficult territory and the rules clearly state no song may carry political messages of any kind.

Which isn't any easy rule to live by. If you sing everyone has the right to love who they want, it is a political statement if you so wish. Where do you draw the line?

Jamala sings about people who come to your house, kill everyone and say they're not guilty. Not all that easy to digest and pretty easy to identify as a political message. However, the song is explicitly about events taking place in 1944, which makes it an eligible subject. The fact that the same lyrics could be applied to today's situation is just a coincidence. (Surely.)

Luckily this is no pretentious peace anthem. It's a minimalist, haunting dance track and Jamala performs it excellently. If you have doubts about the lyrical content there is no need to have any reservations about the song.

Yes, you bet. Demanding but totally appealing. And Jamala herself is just perfect.

My grade: 4/5

Jamala / 1944 (Ukraine 2016 preview clip)

Semi 2: 13 Denmark / Soldiers of Love

It's no secret. For years I thought the Danish entries were lacking most things I demand of my ESC entries. They had no scent, no stains, no passion, no emotion. Like kitchen utensils made of plastic, they were practical but not exciting. Last year in Vienna Europe finally agreed with me and Denmark was rejected in the semi.

Very much like the Irish, it seems Denmark has been largely unable to pin down the very reason their song flopped and instead decided to send in something fairly similar to see if it would possibly work this time.

The result is an almost shockingly anonymous song that manages to go on for three minutes without a single interesting thing happening in it. The guys performing it look so excited and one wonders why. Maybe they've never been to Stockholm before.

No. The Danes have had a strange ability to qualify with their non-songs in the past but I hope the spell was broken once and for all last year. And give us something with a bit of passion, please.

My grade: 1/5

Lighthouse X / Soliders of Love (Denmark 2016 preview clip)

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Semi 2: 12 Bulgaria / If Love Was A Crime

Bulgaria has had a bumpy ride through the Eurovision forest through the years. Only once did they make it to the final despite sending in many interesting entries and good singers.

One of those was Poli Genova who came heartbreakingly close to qualifying in Düsseldorf in 2011. Since then she kept cutting out a place for herself in Bulgarian showbiz as a singer but also as a personality in various tv shows. When hosting last year's Junior Eurovision from Sofia, it was almost like she was auditioning for the job of representing Bulgaria a second time around.

No surprise then as Bulgarian tv internally selected her to perform their comeback entry and this time everyone involved seem to have made their homework properly.

This is a very focused effort with a nifty pop chorus and a haunting and effective use of a single line of Bulgarian.

Yes. This is the time when Bulgaria got it right at long last. Poli feels like a fresh and vibrant pop star and the song is a hit.

My grade: 4/5

Poli Genova / If Love Was A Crime (Bulgaria 2016 preview clip)

Semi 2: Romania / Moment Of Silence

Update: On April 22 it was announced that TVR has been suspended from the EBU and the Romanian entry will not be allowed to take part in Stockholm. I have decided not to remove or alter this review but will change the running order positions accordingly.

One day Jim Steinman decided to compose a new musical - Les Miserables 2 - using all the songs of his that even MeatLoaf refused to record. To market this new project, he decided to enter the theme song to the Romanian national final for Eurovision.

I'm just joking of course, but I'm not sure how to explain this sudden outburst into this fluffy landscape of pompous rock opera. Romania were always unpredictable for sure, but this?

The singer is obviously very passionate about this song and the backing vocalists are making their movements with deep conviction. Once the song is over I forget what the melody is like but I remember very vividly what it looked like.

In a year where we have our fair share of rock of various brands this shouldn't stand a chance. But Romania is yet to fail in a semi final.

Borderline. It will probably be in since it is Romania but there should be some limits even to what exile Romanians would be ready to vote for.

My grade: 1/5

Ovidiu Anton / Moment Of Silence (Romania 2016 preview clip)

Friday, April 22, 2016

Semi 2: 11 Slovenia / Blue and Red

Slovenia is a very ambitious ESC country that puts on a big and varied national final and sometimes finds that special entry that makes them talked about and noticed. Like last year.

This year I'm afraid they will remain in the shadows of the contest instead. Their chosen song is pleasant and enjoyable, a charming little country bagatelle that never really takes off. The chorus is surprisingly flat and while the singer is charming she doesn't quite own the stage.

This is the song everyone will enjoy but nobody will vote for.

No. I wish I could see it happen but it won't.

My grade: 1/5

ManuElla / Blue and Red (Slovenia 2016 preview clip)

Semi 2: 10 Australia / Sound Of Silence

My first reaction to the Australian entry was that they had decided to win and would stop at nothing to achieve this. Like a hostile takeover. "We come in peace - resistance is futile." Sort of.

This classy ballad with echoes of Sia is so slick and elegant and perfectly performed. It sounds like a real radio hit that is just waiting to own the airwaves for years to come.

And yet - having all 43 entries on the table - I'm not so convinced about victory anymore. There is perhaps just one or a few entries too many of this kind this year. Being the best one doesn't necessarily help if the others keep stealing precious points away from you.

Yes, beyond the shadow of a doubt. This is really good songwriting and warm professionalism hand in hand. An obvious qualifier.

My grade: 4/5

Dani Im / Sound Of Silence (Australia 2016 preview clip)

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Semi 2: 09 Lithuania / I've Been Waiting For This Night

I was no big fan of Donny Montell back in 2012. In my book he is little more than a Lithuanian David Lindgren - someone who is posing as a pop star while really not being one at heart. This year he has a better song but the posing is left in tact.

However, Lithuania had more luck than anyone would have the right to hope for. After an eternity of slow or mid-tempo songs, they come in with something that will remind the viewers of a temper. Some rhythm. Something you could dance to.

The song really is a pretty bleak sketch of a dance hit - it keeps going and going in the same spot without a single trace of development - but it won't matter much here. This year's Golden Boy comes from Lithuania and will get picked up just by bringing the beat back.

Yes. And it means at least one better song will be left out. Cruel world.

My grade: 1/5

Donny Montell / I've Been Waiting For This Night (Lithuania 2016 preview clip)

Semi 2: 08 FYR Macedonia / Dona

Kaliopi should represent her country at Eurovision every year. There. I said it. I love her to bits and get a bit blinded by her sheer presence.

That's where this review gets a bit complicated. Just like with her previous ESC entries I like this one but feel it is not perfect. Had it been performed by a lesser artist than Kaliopi, then I would possibly even expect this not to qualify.

And there's the big riddle. Will Kaliopi manage to spellbind Europe and make them vote for her a second time around?

Yes. I want to believe that an experienced and expressive performer can make all the difference. I want to believe this one will be in.

My grade: 3/5

Kaliopi / Dona (FYR Macedonia 2016 preview clip)

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Semi 2: 07 Ireland / Sunlight

After two consecutive years getting stuck in the semi, RTÉ had had it and scrapped their national final. Good idea. If there is one national final that should have been scrapped years ago, it is the Irish one. Or at least it would need a serious reboot.

Instead of any reboot the Irish decided to internally select Nicky Byrne, former global pop star with Westlife as well as a prominent figure in RTÉ's own broadcasting. That came in handy.

The thing that really surprises me here is that the internally selected entry sounds remarkably much like the kind of song that would have won the Irish national final anyway. And then get stuck in the semi. Why didn't they use this opportunity to find something fresh and new and exciting instead of this really dated production?

No. This one feels like a song destined to end in 12th place on a Thursday night.

My grade: 1/5

Nicky Byrne / Sunlight (Ireland 2016 preview clip)

Semi 2: 06 Serbia / Goodbye (Shelter)

The first half of the second semi is really unfortunate as so many of the songs have very similar dynamics to them and it will make it harder for anyone to stand out in their own right. In that respect, Serbia had better luck than most.

The song is still very much in line with the ones coming before it - good but not outstanding - but Sanja is the first really big female personality in this semi and is likely to get noticed by quite a few.

The only thing that really annoys me here is the title. Goodbye would be a good title. Shelter would be a good title. But those two together? Doesn't it look strange? She says goodbye to the shelter or what?

Borderline. It takes a little big more than a big personality to break through. Sanja will have to gear up in order to get remembered.

My grade: 3/5

ZAA Sanja Vučić / Goodbye (Shelter) (Serbia 2016 preview clip)

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Semi 2: 05 Belarus / Help You Fly

So there was no truth to the rumours that Ivan wanted to perform in the nude surrounded by living wolves? What a shame. This song would certainly have needed something dramatic to catch the audience's attention.

Just like Switzerland, this isn't really a bad song as such. It's just very featureless and indifferent. It just happens. It begins, it goes on, it ends. And would have needed someone far more charismatic than this young man to make it in any way distinguishable.

Where are the wolves when you need them?

No. Not good enough and surrounded by entries with somewhat similar dynamics this one won't stand a chance.

My grade: 1/5

Ivan / Help You Fly (Belarus 2016 preview clip)

Semi 2: 04 Israel / Made Of Stars

After a few years trapped out in the Eurovision semi final desert, Israel finally made it back to the Saturday night lineup last year with a song I initially felt very little for. This year saw them sticking to that same selection modus and the same composer as last year.

Hovi Star is an extravagant persona and a good singer and he has one of only two male ballads in this semi final. So the big question remains why SVT has put both these male ballads so close to each other in the running order - especially given how similar they are from a visual point of view.

Israel's entry is the more dynamic one but will they end up cancelling each other out? Coming after Poland and Switzerland, I doubt the audience is longing for another slow entry at this point.

No, unless Hovi really performs the living daylights out of it. I would want to have it in the final, but it will struggle to get there.

My grade: 3/5

Hovi Star / Made Of Stars (Israel 2016 preview clip)

Monday, April 18, 2016

Semi 2: 03 Switzerland / The Last Of Our Kind

One old myth that lived on for many years was that the entries to the ESC should, according to the rules, showcase some sort of national trait. If one song this year truly does that, it is this one.

It has turned into a Swiss trait lately to enter this kind of entry. One that is nice and pleasant and totally inoffensive and most certainly bound to sink without a trace in the voting.

It's a bit unfair. The song surely has merits as well as a pleasant melody line but just like its performer it is ultimately too polite to leave any real impression. Nothing about it is bad but nothing is memorable either. Coming this early in the running makes it absolutely no favours.

Am I the only one hoping for Switzerland to send in some heavy metal next year? Or some punk? Or anything with a bit of edge and attitude?

No. Most certainly not.

My grade: 1/5

Rykka / The Last Of Our Kind (Switzerland 2016 preview clip)

Semi 2: 02 Poland / Colour of Your Life

Poland had the indecency of selecting the wrong song in their national final. The entry finally ending up in second place had already attracted international attention and was seen by many as potential winner in Stockholm and Poland suddenly found themselves on top of the betting. The red hot favourite lost and Poland dropped back to wherever they came from.

That's one way of telling the story. Another way is to say that a more genuine entry beat the over-hyped one that failed to live up to expectation.

This ballad is in no way a winner but it is pleasant and performed by a likeable and intriguing singer. Poland could certainly have chosen worse.

Borderline. With his very distinct look and sound, he certainly stands a better chance of being remembered than many others.

My grade: 3/5

Michał Szpak / Color Of Your Life (Poland 2016 preview clip)

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Semi 2: 01 Latvia / Heartbeat

Latvia was really down and out in Eurovision, not making it out of the semi for six consecutive years, when they suddenly got themselves together and rose again.

Maybe Latvia didn't do it. Maybe Aminata did it all for them. The remarkably talented singer and songwriter that took Latvia to sixth place in Vienna last year - and who would have ended in second place had the juries alone decided the outcome - is back this year.

This time around she left the performing responsibility to young Justs and seldom has the Latvian fate rested in safer hands. Justs feels safe and reliable, but there is also an edge to his voice and his presence. Fragile and strong at the same time. A modern minimalist pop tune with an explosive performer - that's all I want, that's all I need.

Yes. If Latvia is not in the final, then the universe is broken anyway.

My grade: 4/5

Justs / Heartbeat (Latvia 2016 preview clip)

Semi 1: 18 Malta / Walk On Water

Ira Losco did what pretty much everyone expected her to do as she threw out her national final winner "Chameleon" and replaced it with another song. She recorded an impressive number of demos and had a panel decide which one they liked best. The panel's overwhelming favourite was the Swedish-penned "Walk On Water", originally written for and by Molly Pettersson Hammar.

I have no idea what the panel heard that I don't hear. For me the new song is more than decent but in no way sensational. Another piece of mainstream pop of the kind that really is this year's big thing.

I'm almost sorry I knew it was written for Molly PH as I almost hear her voice and how the writing is done to suit her vocal technique, not Ira's. It's like Ira is making a cover version instead of turning it into anything of her own.

I keep wondering why this one got to close the semi final. Does SVT know something about a fantastic stage show or did they just want to give a friendly pat on the head to a songwriting team they wish to encourage for the future?

Yes, so I guess. Closing the semi should do the trick, but after Croatia-Armenia-Azerbaijan-Czech republic-Moldova there is nothing extraordinary or original about this one.

My grade: 2/5

Ira Losco / Walk On Water (Malta 2016 preview clip)

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Semi 1: 17 Bosnia-Herzegovina / Ljubav je

Yes, I missed Croatia very much when they were gone. But I missed Bosnia-Herzegovina even more. Since 2004 they've been good every year, even when they weren't good as such they delivered and became good before our very eyes.

What kind of entry would be the right one to attempt a comeback with, then? That questions seems to have bothered the Bosnians as well so they decided to throw every idea they had into one single song. Everything and the kitchen sink. And for the first time since forever, it feels like Bosnia let us down.

The presentation in the clip really isn't optimal. Maybe the circumstances are to blame but there is no sparkle between Deen and his duet partner. The cello player feels more like a decoration than an actual component of the actual entry and the song just goes on and on until a rapper bursts into the whole thing. Since the rap entrance brings some action into the picture, it comes more as a relief than a disturbance.

But too little, too late.

Borderline. I hate crying diaspora but had this been Slovakia I would have bet everything I have on this not qualifying. Now it could very well happen, despite an acute lack of song.

My grade: 1/5

Dalal & Deen feat. Ana Rucner and Jala / Ljubav je (Bosnia-Herzegovina 2016 preview clip)

Semi 1: 16 Iceland / Hear Them Calling

It is no secret I have been disappointed in Iceland in recent years. Knowing the kind of fierce madness they are capable of, it's been frustrating seeing them send in mainly very polite and clean-cut entries. I was hoping last year's flop in Vienna would set them off in another direction.

It didn't. The Icelandic final was pretty much business-as-usual and the winner is like a hyper version of their 2012 entry minus the duet partner and adding some visual inspiration from Loreen as well as from Måns.

This sounds very negative and in fact I like it more than I expected to. The instrumental bits are haunting and the chorus is effective. Even the visual effects feel more innovative than they really are.

And yet there is something missing for me. This song feels more like something that has been assembled from existing pieces - a kind of musical piece of IKEA furniture - rather than a labour of love.

Borderline. But with the exception of last year, Iceland has a remarkable way of landing just north of the relegation line.

My grade: 2/5

Gréta Salóme / Hear Them Calling (Iceland 2016 preview clip)

Friday, April 15, 2016

Semi 1: 15 Montenegro / The Real Thing

People who think they know me well would be surprised to learn how much I can enjoy pretty heavy, noisy and chaotic music in order to clean my ears from my regular pop diet. Therefore there are so many things that make me happy about the Montenegrin entry.

It is really nicely produced in a nifty soundscape between pop and rock that I really appreciate. I like the fact that they go into Eurovision with no greater need or desire to be loved by the masses.

The only thing I'm sad about is that the actual song isn't better than it is. There are so many moments when I think it is about to go headlong into something massive - that intro is so promising - only for the whole thing to collapse like a soufflé. The chorus (or lack thereof) is this year's real tragedy. What a shame.

No. Had the song been better I would have crossed my fingers as hard as I could but I really don't see it happening.

My grade: 1/5

Highway / The Real Thing (Montenegro 2016 preview clip)

Semi 1: 14 Azerbaijan / Miracle

As per usual Azerbaijan selected a local talent and then got international songwriters to set the singer in question up with an appealing package. This method used to work so well for Azerbaijan but the last two years left a few question marks.

In 2014, "Start A Fire" turned out to be Azerbaijan's worst showing to date. Last year "Hour of the Wolf" only managed a tenth place in its semi final.

Instead of coming back with a vengeance they offer us a pleasant but in no way unforgettable pop number, reminiscent of many others heard and seen in this contest in recent years.

Most of all it reminds me of Azerbaijan's own "Hold Me", which came together with a stage number to die for. In order to make this work, Samra needs to perform her little heart out in Stockholm.

Borderline. There are many songs in this same style and this team really have to nail every detail to convince the audience. Could go either way but this is probably in.

My grade: 2/5

Samra / Miracle (Azerbaijan 2016 preview clip)

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Semi 1: 13 Estonia / Play

When I make my predictions I try not to be influenced by anything else than my own instinct, taste and backbone reactions. Especially I try not to pay attention to what "everybody" says. Easier said than done, but I try to.

Sometimes it is extra hard. In my book Jüri Pootsmann should be bang in the final with his classy and slightly Bond-esque "Play", penned by last year's Estonian representative Stig Rästa. For me, Jüri is cool beyond words with a slightly dangerous edge, like he had a volcano hidden in his chest, ready to erupt at any given moment.

It's just that too many people seem not to see what I see or hear what I hear. Could it be "Play" is not as easily accessible as I thought it would be?

Yes. I decided that I'm probably right and those other people are wrong. Jüri must be in the final and that's just it.

My grade: 4/5

Jüri Pootsmann / Play (Estonia 2016 preview clip)

Semi 1: 12 Austria / Loin d'ici

I get the feeling that Austrians are reluctant to good ideas the first time they see them. They rejected Conchita Wurst the first time around and opted for a song that ended last in its semi instead. Last year they rejected Zoë and opted for a song that scored nul points in the final.

(They also rejected Trackshittaz the first time around but as that fact ruins my point I am going to ignore it for now.)

Maybe Zoë is not a new sensation on any kind of Conchita-scale but what I first considered to be a heart-warming personal favourite bound to stay in the semi has grown into a bit of a dark horse. Different, appealing and refreshing. Singing in French is also a nice touch.

Hopefully. Possibly a bit too simple to break through to a televoting audience but Zoë would certainly deserve a spot in the final.

My grade: 4/5

Zoë / Loin d'ici (Austria 2016 preview clip)

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Semi 1: 11 Cyprus / Alter Ego

Before making a living for himself in the schlager factory, Thomas G:son was a devoted rock musician and toured with his own band Masquerade. This year he has returned closer to his roots and brings a rock flavour to both Cyprus and Georgia.

Minus One seems to be very much your typical rock band of the kind you'd find in every corner of the world, no better or worse than any other.

But the magical touch of G:son is working. The song may be pretty standard but possesses temper and a certain roughness that will make it stand out in this otherwise pretty nicely produced lineup.

Yes, given that the band is charismatic enough on stage. In the preview clip I get the feeling the director is trying to hide the band away a bit.

My grade: 3/5

Minus One / Alter Ego (Cyprus 2016 preview clip)

Semi 1: 10 Czech republic / I Stand

Not even with the very best of intentions could anyone truthfully call the Czech republic's eurovision run a successful one. Out of all 43 participants in Stockholm, Czech republic is the only country never to have made it to the final.

This year they had the misfortune to place themselves in the most competitive group of all: the female mid-tempo radio-friendly belter. There is an abundance of songs like these. Not all of them will make it to the final, regardless of how good they are. They will eat each other, so to speak.

I have still decided to keep my hopes up. This is one of the very best female ballads of the year and given Gabriela's extensive performing experience maybe this could turn electric enough to convince Europe.

Borderline. It really needs power and conviction but it is not impossible. Hope never dies, as I heard the Czechs say before.

My grade: 4/5

Gabriela Gunčíková / I Stand (Czech republic 2016 preview clip)

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Semi 1: 09 Russia / You Are The Only One

In case you hadn't noticed, it looks like Russian television is pretty eager to win this old competition again. Possibly to show who's the boss. Possibly to show everyone they can actually host the thing.

I will totally ignore any political dimension here and just conclude that Russia could very well pull it off this time. Sergey is a smashing pop star and he's been fixed up with just the kind of song fans and the grand public all expect and demand at the ESC.

Is it a bit too expected, though? My major objection here is that is sounds like a winner in 2008. Did time move on, away from this style? My second biggest concern is that they overload the performance with far too much distracting hocus pocus instead of focusing on the strong chorus. Until I see what they come up with I keep my grade down a bit.

Yes. Totally yes. All my objections concern whether Russia will have a shot at winning or not. Qualifying is a walk in the park. The most obvious qualifier of the year.

My grade: 4/5

Sergey Lazarev / You Are The Only One (Russia 2016 preview clip)

Semi 1: 08 San Marino / I Didn't Know

Where do I begin? For years I've been writing that San Marino should knock off their co-operation with Ralph Siegel since it only makes them look ridiculous.

The Sammarinese were however keen on showing the world they can look ridiculous also on their own and rumour has it their internal selection had precious little to do with music but only with who was ready to put money on the table. Eurovision Bidding Contest. Reading between the lines of Serhat's biography lets you understand he has wanted to be a successful performing artist for many years and here came the big opportunity.

I actually sort of liked the original version where Serhat was crooning his way through what could have been a late 1970's B-side by some classy French singer. Dalida could probably have made something interesting out of it. The weird video alone, presenting Serhat as some Bond villain in seclusion - possibly singing a love song directed to himself - was worthy of some sort of reward.

The new disco version is possibly more user-friendly but only manages to underline how endearingly rubbish the whole thing is.

Not impossible. For the first time since 2012 there is a "Turkish" entry to vote for. And with the right performance the audience might get all confused and reward San Marino for its entertainment value. Part of me is hoping for that to happen.

My grade: 1/5

Serhat / I Didn't Know (San Marino 2016 preview clip)

Monday, April 11, 2016

Semi 1: 07 Armenia / Love Wave

Ever since their debut ten years ago in Athens, Armenia has been an interesting country at the ESC, never afraid to push boundaries or send in music slightly at odds with the typical eurovision style.

Their big tour de force of being different must of course be the fantastic "Not Alone" who rightly ended in fourth place, equalling Armenia's best showing to date. This year's entry is in some ways a distant cousin to "Not Alone".

What I really love here is the production. That looming, foreboding eruptive sound before the first chorus that reminds me of the giant glissando in "A Day In The Life" by the Beatles. The ethnic touches that come in and blend in so well with everything else by the end. Iveta herself.

Sadly I am yet to connect with the actual song. That's a bit of a problem.

Yes. This will surely appeal to enough people. Could "Face The Shadow" qualify, this certainly will.

My grade: 2/5

Iveta Mukuchyan / LoveWave (Armenia 2016 preview clip)

Semi 1: 06 Netherlands / Slow Down

The Dutch really do love a bit of country-flavoured pop, don't they? There has been so much slide guitar pouring out of that place lately you'd start wondering if Nashville is really located somewhere close to Hilversum.

Douwe Bob has the advantage of standing out sound-wise in this semi. Just like Finland, completely different production values have coloured this recording and it feels refreshing among all the wannabe radio hits.

The lad is likeable and the song has a vibe of its own, but the whole thing would have benefited from some sort of development. As it is, it just goes on and on without much of a climax anywhere.

Yes. Borderline, but yes. I think this is original enough to get noticed by quite a few viewers and jurors alike.

My grade: 3/5

Douwe Bob / Slow Down (Netherlands 2016 preview clip)

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Semi 1: 05 Croatia / Lighthouse

I'm so happy to have Croatia back in the contest! I hope they will remember how much they enjoyed competing back in the day and stick around forever this time. Not entirely sure that is the scenario we are going to see played out, unfortunately.

They picked a really nice vocalist and a really nice little song that compliment each other well. I like it every time I hear it. And every time it ends I forget it really quickly too.

In this line-up, bursting full with pleasant songs engineered to suit the airwaves, competition between songs of this brand will be fierce. And I seriously doubt being nice is good enough to keep you in.

No. Maybe there won't be much of a margin, but I fear Nina will end on the wrong side of the relegation line. Let's hope Croatia hangs in there regardless of this.

My grade: 2/5

Nina Kraljić / Lighthouse (Croatia 2016 preview clip)

Semi 1: 04 Hungary / Pioneer

My first reaction to "Pioneer" was pretty much this: when will my dear, beloved Hungary stop falling for all these pointless "message"-songs and just hammer out something like Kati Wolf or Bye Alex again?

Then the whole thing started growing on me. I like the staging. I like the fake whistling. And I do like Freddie quite a bit. Not just because he is stunningly handsome - he is, but that's beside the point - but because he has some sort of vibrant quality in addition to an interesting voice that helps the whole thing come to life.

"What About My Dreams" it is not. But it should certainly be good enough.

Yes. Freddie and his boys will sail into the final but should not bet all their money and their houses on a top placing there.

My grade: 3/5

Freddie / Pioneer (Hungary 2016 preview clip)

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Semi 1: 03 Moldova / Falling Stars

Moldova may be one of the financially poorest countries in Europe but in Eurovision they have done so well anyway with original and innovative entries. For a small country, the Moldovans have poured out more than their fair share of quality through the years.

Unfortunately it seems they lost some of their confidence lately. Last year they missed out on the final for the second year running and just like in Vienna they will rely on foreign songwriters again in Stockholm.

Lidia Isac is a good singer who does what she should but she hasn't been given an awful lot to work with. This song feels more like a songwriting exercise than anything else. No passion, no energy. Not a trace of anything similar to a beating heart. Indifferent.

No. Had it had a more favourable spot in the running order and Europe would crave anything schlager-esque - no matter how pale - then it could have had a tiny chance. But no.

My grade: 1/5

Lidia Isac / Falling Stars (Moldova 2016 preview clip)

Semi 1: 02 Greece / Utopian Land

One day sooner or later everyone is going to fail. Since the introduction of semi finals in 2004, Greece has not missed a single final. A fantastic achievement for a country that had never placed better than 5th prior to 2001.

Lately things have not been going as swimmingly. The Greek entries made it to the finals but failed to impress there and I got the feeling it was maybe just a matter of time until the Greeks would get stuck in the semi. Maybe the day has come.

While there are many things to like here - the rap part is likeable and the ethnic elements feel classy - the chorus is a big fat Greek letdown and the package just isn't working like it should.

No. Unless this comes wrapped in the most sensational stage show we've seen, this is unlikely to do well. Would even Cyprus warm to this one?

My grade: 1/5

Argo / Utopian Land (Greece 2016 preview clip)

Friday, April 8, 2016

Semi 1: 01 Finland / Sing It Away

It's always good to be number one. If you can't be first when the votes are in, you can at least be first in the running order. It's an honour to get to kick the whole contest off.

Despite all the negativity that surrounded Finland in fan circuits - partially caused by people's favourites not winning the national final - I still think Sandhja and her Akkabellat backing group could make a bit of an impression. Some more polished camera work and some good energy could possibly go quite a long way.

It is difficult to be the first song out but in my mind at least it will take quite a while before any song comes along in this semi that is obviously superior to Finland. The song also has a different style compared to must in this year's line-up. All hope is not lost.

Borderline. I find Sandhja's entry positive and uplifting and more original than the ocean of radio-friendly mid-tempo coming up this year. With a bit of luck, she's in.

My grade: 4/5

Sandhja / Sing It Away (Finland 2016 preview clip)

ESC 2016 - we have a running order

It took a while - at least a great deal longer than expected and longer than initially promised - but today we finally had the running order for the 2016 semi finals. There were a few surprises indeed but in general I think we can expect well-paced shows come May.

This delay made sure I can't stick to my usual formula of reviewing one song per day as a run-up to the contest as there are not enough days left.

Instead I will review two songs per day (but today there will just be one). The reviews will be shorter and snappier (maybe better?) but will still include my predictions on whether or not a song will qualify.

These reviews of course reflect my own opinions and you are all free to give your own in a comment or two. Join the fun!