ESC2016: The first semi-final. Is it a douze, or a snooze?

Are you ready to rise like a phoenix?

‘Citing!

Here we go then with the running order for the first semi-final, which you can see on BBC4 in the UK, Tuesday 10 May at 8pm…

There have been a few major pop hits over the last couple of years which have been deliciously retro. Mark Ronson’s Uptown Funk and Daft Punk’s Get Lucky were notable stellar hits. Then last year X-Factor alumna Fleur East released Sax, which itself sounded a lot like the Ronson track. I’ve said it before on this blog over the years, you will know a lot of the songs competing in Eurovision because you have heard them before. You know my principle is, “familiarity equals popularity”, and that is certainly the case once again this year. A handful of songs have a hint of something you’ve heard before – riffs, hooks, melodies – and they will have you thinking “where have I heard this before”.

01: FINLAND

Sandhja – Sing It Away

You have heard this song before! Sandhja’s song Sing It Away kicks-off the whole proceedings on the Eurovision stage this year. You might have thought that the producers might have started with a song that has a more modern style, but at least this sounds suitably retro and familiar…

… or a bit dated – I’ll let you decide!

02: GREECE

Argo – Utopian Land

This year Greece tread familiar ground, with a mix of verses sung/rapped in Greek, choruses song in English. Apparently, Greek band Argo’s song “is mainly inspired by hip hop sounds; at the same time, their music resonates with folklore (Pontian) tunes and traditional instruments such as the lyre, all elements of ancestral legacy for most of the band’s members.”  True story. Greece have an unblemished record of making it to the final, so I guess the familiar approach will ensure similar success.

03: MOLDOVA

Lidia Isac – Falling Stars

So early on in the first semi, *another* dated sounding song. Languishing to the bottom of the bookies list doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.  I’m not exactly bowled over by Moldova this year.

04: HUNGARY

Freddie – Pioneer

Next it’s the turn of Hungary to offer up some familiar sounding fodder, and rather cheesy staging. How many times in recent years have we seen these drums?!

We might be wooed by Freddie’s modelesque looks, and his gravelly vocals, but this is essentially a reworking of their entry from 2014.

05: Croatia

Nina Kralji? – Lighthouse

Well, Nina is certainly rocking her own style (easy on the eye shadow, love!). Quite a nice vocal, with a not entirely memorable melody. It’ll be interesting to see how the staging impacts on the song next week.

06: THE NETHERLANDS

Best of the bunch so far. And another strong song from The Netherlands, who have had a good run in 2013 and 2014, with great entries from Anouk and The Common Linnets. The familiar stylings and melody of this song, as well as the singalong chorus, should see it sail through to the final…

(but again – you know this song without having heard it before, right?)

07: ARMENIA

Iveta Mukuchyan – LoveWave

A bity cheeky of Iveta to mimic our very own Adele at the start of the track, whispering “Hey, it’s me”! Nevertheless this is well fancied by the bookies. I really don’t like that it sounds like an airplane talking off/landing 36 seconds in – all rather strange. Seems out of place to my ear. That said, Iveta will take her place in the battle of the divas with a strong vocal…

08: SAN MARINO

Serhat – I Didn’t Know

1978 called, and they want their song back! This is my first guilty pleasure of the night! Loving that the video isn’t for the song playing over it! All kinds of crazy going on here! You can currently get odds of 1000-1 on this. Not like San Marino are going to be the Leicester of Eurovision. Imagine if they were!

09: RUSSIA

Sergey Lazarev – You Are The Only One

1995 called, and they want their song back. Seriously, “thunder and lightning, it’s getting exciting”. That’s lyrics 101, isn’t it!

Deliciously dated, but this is a hot fave (they do keep flip-flopping at the top of the bookies list with France). A certainty to get to the final, and it will be top three for sure – might even win the whole thing. Russia are playing with the projections on stage, as in the music video, so we will get a spectacle for sure. Russia are going all out to win this year, and they have a very good chance. And in all fairness, it’s probably their turn…

10: CZECH REPUBLIC

Gabriela Gun?íková – I Stand

My advice is to play this, but don’t watch the music video (it’s distracting, and a bit of a hot mess). This feels like the first big ballad of the night, and should do well in the battle of the divas…

11: CYPRUS

Minus One – Alter Ego

Whilst their near neighbours Greece have opted to play it safe and familiar this year, Cyprus have a change of musical direction and sent an up-tempo rock number to Stockholm. Each year there is the battle of the divas, and there also tends to be a few “dad rocks” tracks to interest their eye and ear. A refreshing change from Cyprus this year, and should make it to the final…

12: AUSTRIA

ZOË – Loin d’ici

Our host country from 2015 return with a charming song (having got nul points last year). And how refreshing to hear a song sung in French – not even the French entry is sung entirely in their mother tongue this year. This is a bit of a tonic, but perhaps a little saccharin for some tastes?

13: ESTONIA

Jüri Pootsmann – Play

A bit of a cool dude, is our Jüri. Looks like he’s come straight from the office to the stage, with the cool stylings and vocals that remind me of The Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon. Like last year, Estonia have sent an interesting song, although I’m not sure that being 13th in the running order will help…

14: AZERBAIJAN

Samra – Miracle

Azerbaijan had a really strong showing at Eurovision between 2008 and 2013, and winning in 2011. Not as popular with the juries and televoters in the last couple of years, but this feels like a return to form. Yeah, another song we have heard before, but a good up-tempo number nonetheless…

(where’s my umbrella –ella –ella…)

15: MONTENEGRO

Highway – The Real Thing

Not rocking my world, and I can’t see it making the final. If I were at home it would be time to do you know what: refresh those drinks and nibbles!

16: ICELAND

Greta Salóme – Hear Them Calling

I *love* this song. Greta competed in ESC2012 with a similarly anthemic song, but she’s ditched her duet partner, Jonsi, to go it alone in Stockholm. As I said to readers last year, some of the more effective (and popular) entries are those which are designed for the television viewers, watching at home. Sweden have kinda got this covered in recent years, with winning performances for Loreen’s Euphoria in 2012, and Måns Zelmerlöw’s Heroes in 2015. Both used close camera work and visual effects with great success (obviously). Russia and Iceland are following a similar vein this year. And I just love the choreography and visuals with which Greta interacts…

Some may say it borrows a bit too much, visually, from Loreen and Måns, but I’d say to good effect. Not often we mention the visuals being mimicked. Now, pass me my coat with the fringe, and setup my wind machine… 😀

17: BOSNIA & HERZEGOVINA

Dalal & Deen feat. Ana Rucner and Jala – Ljubav Je

We can always rely on Bosnia and other Balkan countries to submit songs that are more indigenous and less aimed at the western mainstream of pop music. They have done similar this year. Good to see Deen back in the contest. You might remember him from 2004, when he sang In The Disco.  Not very popular with the bookies, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see it go through to the final…

18: MALTA

Ira Losco – Walk on Water

A finalist, for sure…

I don’t often agree with the late Terry Wogan’s conspiracy theory on bloc voting, but back in 2002 Ira Losco was *robbed* of winning the ESC, as Eastern Europe heavily backed Latvia’s Marie N for victory. Well, Ira is back in the picture with one of the hot faves for 2016, Walk On Water. It does feel like two or three songs in one, but overall the effect is good and a top ten, even top five finish in the final might be on the cards. It would be justice for Ira is she won it this time around!

So that’s the first semi-final, my friends. And by way of a reminder, here’s a recap…

Have we heard the winner yet?  Well, next up , my overview of the second semi-final, so let’s see…

ESC2016: Arrival…

It’s a Bank Holiday Monday at the beginning of May. This usually means two things in my life: it’s the start of the assessment period and there’s marking to be done, and it’s almost time for the Eurovision Song Contest!

Significantly for all the fans, and probably of way more importance for the all the competing artists, today (Monday 2 May) marks the start of the rehearsals for this year’s contest, which is being held in Stockholm, Sweden. Cue much giddiness and tumult on social media!

The much anticipated ‘Eurovision Week’ is almost upon us, but before then the extensive rehearsals begin. It’s no accident that the spectacle of the television broadcasts are so slick and professional, the rehearsals ensure that. This year SVT, the Swedish host broadcaster, is promising something a little different, so let’s hope they deliver that. Back in 2013, when they hosted in Malmö, SVT did a great job. And the stage this year looks amazing…

A week from today (9 May) I will arrive in Stockholm and enter the ‘Eurovision bubble’ once again. As usual I will be blogging from the rehearsals, as well as the activities in the press centre and around Stockholm. It’s always a privilege to be accredited by the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) to be at the heart of the event, and I am delighted that once again I will have the opportunity to share the build-up to the television broadcasts next week. You know the drill by now: two semi-finals (10 May, 12 May) and the Grand Final (14 May). This year (for the first time) the semi-finals are on BBC4.

You may have seen the entertaining (as well as rather cliché) launch trailer for the BBC coverage this year…

Almost time for us to get our Eurovision party started. Lot’s to see and do before then!

As a warm-up to what lies ahead, last Wednesday I attended a Eurovision masterclass held by the BBC at Media City. The session included a discussion with Eurovision Digital Executive Producer, Nora Ryan. Nora looked back on the BBC’s digital highlights from the Eurovision last year, as well as looking forward to Stockholm. Did you know that ESC2015 was the most tweeted programme across the BBC platforms last year?

This was followed by a Q&A with UK entrants, Joe and Jake …

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They are really natural and at ease with all the attention. To close the event the boys took to the stage and performed their entry for Stockholm “You’re Not Alone”. If you haven’t yet heard the song, here it is…

I attended the BBC event with our very own ambassador, Carol Poole. Not that she’s desperate to geg-in on proceedings, but this is the *best-picture-ever* … 😀

2016-04-27 13.58.35 copyI had a little chat with ‘our boys’, J&J. Really nice blokes. I told them I’d ask them a question in one of their press conferences in Stockholm, and asked what they would like me to ask. Their suggestion: anything as long as it’s a bit of banter. Top blokes indeed!

As you have heard, our UK entry isn’t a national embarrassment this year. No, we won’t win, but hopefully J&J will do well enough so that they can build a career off the back of their participation. As the late Terry Wogan would say, ‘let’s cheer them on with word and gesture’.

More on the runners and riders in my next post, as we preview the first semi-final…