Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Eurovision 2017 - Semi final 1 predictions

The time has come, it's officially Eurovision Week! For many of the 200 million+ people who tune into the Eurovision Song Contest each year, this is a one-day event, but in actual fact it's more of a 6-month affair. Yes, while the rest of the world has been getting on with their lives, I and a select community of die-hard fans have been following various selection contests across Europe (often through dogdy internet streams) to follow the contest from start to finish. 

Now, less than a week before the grand final, it's time to look at the 18 entries competing in the first semi final on Tuesday (9th May) and predict which 10 will qualify. For those who are less acquainted, the format is simple(ish); the vote is split 50/50, the first half is decided by national juries who award 12, 10 and 8-1 points to their top 10 entries during a non-televised rehearsal, while the other half is determined by a public vote during the live semi-final. Following so far? Good. The 10 entries with the most combined points proceed to the final with a clean slate and the remaining 8 are eliminated from the contest and do not perform in the final. 

Before I proceed, here's a handy playlist of the 18 participating songs:

OK, so without further ado, here is my rundown of the entries:

The definite qualifiers 

Sweden: Robin Bengtsson - I Can't Go On

If you're looking for a guaranteed qualifier, this is the horse to bet on; Sweden have a track record for strong finishes and have never failed to qualify to the final, where they often finish in the top 10. To describe this entry in two words, I would go for slick and safe. I followed Melodifestivalen (the fantastically-titled Swedish selection contest, which is often claimed to be a Eurovision-standard event in its own right) and this was certainly not my favourite. I personally prefer entries that take a risk, whereas this basically takes a tired Justin Timberlake-esque song and chucks it on a treadmill. That said, it kicks off the semi final with a bang and I can't see this not being a part of the running order on Saturday night - which considering that it's an uptempo will be much-appreciated.

Armenia: Artsvik - Fly With Me

This is an interesting one. Armenia are part of my Eurovision trinity of countries I support pretty much every year (after Cyprus, who we'll get to in a bit), along with Serbia and Greece. Last year, Armenia produced my favourite entry of what was possibly the strongest year ever in the form of Iveta Mukuchyan's impossibly sexy BEAST of a song 'LoveWave' (you know, the one with the holograms and the cape), so naturally I had high expectations. As the last song to be announced, the anticipation was real, to the point where the song was met with a lukewarm-negative reaction from many fans. I, however, adored this from the jump and am happy to announce is one of my top 3 overall. As one of the few entries to incorporate ethic elements, I was instantly taken in by the slow-build of the oriental-inspired production, accompanied by bold visuals and a smouldering vocal performance from Artsvik, all of which I knew would pop live. Despite being decisive initially, its rehearsals in Kiev have gone down a storm and is promising some of the most impressive staging to ever grace the Eurovision stage. Trust that I will be flying my flag with Miss Artsvik all the way to the final!

Portugal: Salvador Sobral - Amar Pelos Dois
Another definite qualifier is this absolutely stunning, swooning ballad from Portugal, marking their welcome return to the contest after a short break. Between the passion, the timelessness and the touching backstory of the song (written by his sister, who has filled in for Salvador for the initial rehearsals due to his ongoing health issues), this screams 'top 3' to me, if not a winner. While Fly With Me ticks my 'ethnic identity' box, this captures me due to the fact that it is one of the few songs not to be in English. Many people throw the whole 'but it's nice to understand them!!1!' argument around, to which I rebut with the idea that you can express far more by singing in one's native language, rather than presenting an inauthentic and shoddy translation...I won't name any names... 

Will probably go through

Finland: Norma John - Blackbird

Like Portugal, Finland have delivered a restrained, elegant and timeless song in a sea of more predicable and generic balladry. 'Blackbird, blackbird, don't sing' is one of my favourite refrains in the contest this year, providing the memorability needed to hook viewers in alongside the obvious jury praise this will receive. This more-than redeems Finland from its non-qualification last year and if all goes according to plan, I can see this sneaking into the top 10 in the final. My one concern would be this being overshadowed by Salvador, but as I see it, there is room for them both. Blackbird, sing away!

Azerbaijan: Dihaj - Skeletons

One of my instant favourites upon my first listen of the full set of entries; I'm delighted to say that this has not gotten old for me. If anything, I have grown to love Dihaj just as much as the song itself after seeing how effortlessly she oozes cool in her interviews. Azerbaijan has a strong qualification record, so I would be very surprised if they didn't qualify, especially with one of their best ever entries. Having now seen the staging, which is some of the most daring and interesting of the year, I am sure that this will sail through.

Moldova: Sunstroke Project - Hey Mamma

Although I originally dismissed this as a throwaway dance floor filler that would be sneered at by by most, this has grown on me immensely. The group commit completely to the silliness of it all, especially in the way they have ran with the 'epic sax guy' meme from their performance back in 2010. 7 years later, they have returned with what I consider to be a stronger overall package, complete with some of the best staging of the year. I can see this really taking off with the televote on Saturday night.

Latvia: Triana Park - Line

This is one of my favourite songs in the contest; it's fun, it's dynamic, it's colourful and it's something completely different from the other 43 entries. It appears that the producers have the same level of faith in this as I do, after all they placed it last in the running order after Slovenia, one of the most dated Eurovision entries of recent years. Add the most charismatic front woman of the contest this year and some bright, bold and dazzling staging and you have a fantastic package that a lot of people will want to support. As long as Agnese doesn't cross the line (*ba dum tiss*) into aggression with her performance style, I can see this snatching a well-deserved spot in the final. 

Borderline qualifiers 

Greece: Demy - This Is Love

Greece in the 00s was a country that just got Eurovision, sending quality ethnic bops year after year, producing classics such as Kalomira's My Secret Combination and 2005's winner, My Number One by Helena Paparizou. More recently, they have lost their way it seems, to the point where they broke their perfect qualification record last year with the Greco-rap fusion piece 'Utopian Land' by Argo (a guilty pleasure of mine). I was hoping Greece would return to form this year, whether or not they have is still up for debate. Initially I found This Is Love generic and faceless, but overtime I have grown to enjoy it more with repeated listens and I can now admit to liking the verses and the bridge. That said, Demy is far stronger than the song, to the point where I feel like she deserves a lot better. The strong staging restores some hope, but even then I'm not sure if the song is memorable enough to call it a surefire qualifier...in fact I wouldn't be too surprised if this just missed out on a spot in the final. 

Australia: Isaiah - Don't Come Easy

This began the process in my bottom 5 entries of the year; when I first heard it, my initial thought was that it sounded like a Sam Smith song. Over time, my dislike has moved to indifference due to the strength of Isaiah as a vocalist and the attempt at bringing it to life via the staging. Unfortunately, I can still see this struggling when competing against far stronger ballads, in particular Bulgaria, a stronger and more popular young solo male ballad. As this is only Australia's 3rd entry ever, I could see the novelty carrying it into the final, but beyond that I can't see this making an impact. 

The danger zone?

Belgium: Blanche - City Lights

This is where things get tricky. Every year, there is an entry that the Eurovision blogs 'fanwank' over, this year it was City Lights. I can totally see why, it is easily the most modern song of the contest, and one which is most likely to have crossover credibility. The hype was so great that this surged to top 4 in the odds at one point. However, things came a little undone when Blanche started performing at some of the pre-parties and revealed herself to be a rather nervous performer. Pair this with some dubious staging and bizarre styling, you have a fan favourite in distress. Naturally, it started to slide in the odds and people began to call this a possible non-qualifier. Personally, I see a lot of potential in Blanche as a performer and the voters to really take to this, so I could still see it qualifying. 

The borderlines/maybes

Although I prefer the second semi-final as a whole, there are still a number of remaining entries that I would happily swap out for Australia. Representing Iceland, Svala gave me one of my favourite studio tracks in the form of Paper, one of the most underrated tracks of the year. Unfortunately, the simplicity of the staging combined with the lack of buzz surrounding it makes me unsure of whether it can snatch a spot in the final. Svala will have to rely on a number of the less-experienced performers screwing up their performances in order to go through. Georgia, Albania and Poland are another three entries that I'd happily see in the final, however, because all 3 are in the same category of female power ballads, I fear they will cancel each other out. Although, a strong performance combined with a solid diaspora vote could see Kasia Mos through, which I would be ok with. Then we come to Cyprus, which as much as I'd love to see in the final (because, you know, representation and all that) the song lacks the punch that it needs to help it stand out. The staging looks promising though, so maybe Hovig can surprise us? 

No way

Then, at the bottom of the pile for me sit Slovenia, the Czech Republic and Montenegro. As stated before, Slovenia's On My Way is perhaps the most dated and dreary song of the past two years, and even a solid performance from Omar Naber can't save it. Even though I actually like My Turn, it is the most at risk of getting lost in the shuffle due to its subtlety. Couple this with the Czech Republic's lack of diaspora and the general lack of interest for this song and you have a classic non-qualifier situation. Last but not least, we have Montenegro, which is the most likely to fall completely on its face because the staging is an absolute mess. I happen to love Slavko, but whether the voting public will is an entirely different story. Unfortunately, his exuberance is the last of his worries; the song itself is tacky and cheap, which will fail to win it any jury points, nor enough public support to boost it up to the level of fan favourites like Sweden, with which it shares a similar genre. 

Summary - my top 10 qualifiers

1. Portugal
2. Armenia 
3. Finland
4. Sweden
5. Moldova
6. Azerbaijan
7. Latvia
8. Belgium
9. Greece
10. Australia

Wildcard: Replace Australia with Georgia or Poland. 

So there you have it folks! Time will tell whether my predictions will be correct, and in the meantime I will attempt to do another one of these posts for the next semi final as well as a write-up ahead of the grand final on Saturday!

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