Eurovision is here? Wondering what to expect? Look no further.
Two of the Northern European countries are already through to the final: the United Kingdom, as one of the Big Five, and Sweden, last year’s winners and this year’s hosts. Sweden are one of the favourites to win; the UK will be looking for somewhere close to the top ten. I’ve given up guessing how British entries will do at Eurovision, but there’s been less negative press around Britain’s entry this year.
Iceland are represented by Greta Salóme, who was at Eurovision in 2012 when Iceland finished twentieth in the final in Baku. I’m not convinced.
Norway are represented by Agnete Johnsen, five years after she finished second in Norway’s qualifying competition Melodi Grand Prix as part of the BlackSheeps. I love it, but it has an unusual transition from verse to chorus that might be too much for people to really love from on listen.
Nicky Byrne represents Ireland, but that’s as good as it gets for them. No one in Europe will care for his past credentials, and the song is weak. I don’t see it making the final, so if you want to catch it, make sure you see the second semi-final.
Of the Baltic States, Latvia are the strongest. They open the second semi-final. The song is probably too much a grower to win, but may do very well. It’s written by Aminata, who finished sixth for Latvia last year – their best finish since 2005.
Watch out for: Latvia, Sweden
Give it a miss: Estonia, Denmark
Two Western European countries are already in the final by virtue of being in the Big Five – France and Germany. Germany has a chequered history in Eurovision, and France’s history is more on the side of glorious failure – sometimes justified, and sometimes simply unappreciated by the rest of Europe.
Germany didn’t score any points in last year’s final. Their entry this year is from the winner of their version of The Voice. I quite like it, but it’s not going down well at all with others, so it’s likely going to finish bottom of the Top Five this year.
France, by contrast, have brought an entry that’s garnered a lot of attention. It opens in French, but the chorus is in French. It’s an upbeat song, and will do much better than some of their moodier entries from recent years, or the car crash of Twin Twin in 2014 (which had a great studio track, but was disastrous on stage, turning into the worst din I have had the misfortune to hear). Some think it will win. I think there’s better, but the outer reaches of the top five might not be too far away.
Austria also failed to score last year – unfortunate given they hosted the event. I really like their entry this year, probably because it’s a half-decent, upbeat pop song, in French, with a violin in the background. It ticks a lot of pleasant boxes. Unfortunately, past experience tells me Europe will be unimpressed and Zoë won’t be asked to turn up to the final on Saturday.
Watch out for: Belgium
Give it a miss: Switzerland
This is a large section. Two more countries go direct to the final as members of the Big Five: Italy and Spain. Both are tipped to do well this year. Personally, I think Spain will ultimately struggle with a song that whilst pleasant, isn’t particularly memorable, whereas Italy should be comfortably around the top ten with a contemporary number that mixes Italian (which is always worth more points, as opposed to French which I always think is a penalty) with English. Since Italy returned to Eurovision in 2011 their record has been very good, and they should be confident of beating most of the Big Five on Saturday.
Greece have always qualified for the final since the semi-finals were introduced, despite a few questionable acts. Aphrodisiac (2012) was cute, but hardly tuneful, yet finished fourth in its semi-final. Freaky Fortune and RiskyKidd (2014) finished seventh in their semi-final with a terrible song only made slightly better by a trampoline the act bounced on during the song, giving you some vain hope they might fall off, break their neck and save you from the rest of the song. If there is any justice, this year will finally be the year they fail to qualify.
Perhaps reflecting the vast expanse of land and culture between these fair isles and the far reaches of Southern Europe, there’s a lot of entries here I wouldn’t give much light of day. Montenegro are usually the best example of this, and this year is no different. There’s also Albania, F.Y.R. Macedonia and others who you’ll not worry if you hear them only once.
The standout entry from this section, however, is Malta, which closes the first semi-final and is a sure-fire qualifier for Saturday. With Molly Pettersson-Hammer on backing vocals, it’ll be interesting to see how high this song can go in the final.
Watch out for: Italy, Malta
Give it a miss: Greece, Montenegro
Eastern Europe is a fairly small bunch of countries and a bit of an eclectic mix.
Ukraine return to Eurovision this year having pulled out in 2015 owing to the unrest in the east of the country which Vladimir Putin most definitely has nothing to do with. The song is called “1944” and is about Stalin’s treatments of Crimean Tatars. How it passes Eurovision’s political test, I’m not sure, but it’s a good song with a message that if understood, will certainly resonate with many.
Bulgaria were well-fancied in the run-up to Eurovision this year, but seem to have dramatically underwhelmed in rehearsals. That’s a shame because on track recording only, it’s one of the best songs of the year. It’s reminds me a little of Hungary’s Kati Wolf in 2011. A shame.
Watch out for: Ukraine
Give it a miss: Belarus
And so we come to the final Eurovision group: the countries which aren’t really in Europe! This includes Cyprus, which whilst in the EU and using the Euro, is officially (according the United Nations) in Western Asia. Which, conveniently for me, helps reduce the size of Southern Europe.
Russia appears in this group, and they are currently the favourites to win. Australia are fourth favourites, despite Graham Norton’s disapproval. Armenia has also had a lot of hype, including a little coverage from some leaked footage of the jury semi final. But, to be honest, none of this group really light my fire*.
Watch out for: Russia, Israel
Give it a miss: Georgia
*Congratulations if you understood that reference.