This year's themes: black-and-white videos and costumes, songs about broken or ended relationships, and fantastically-staged cellists.
If the winner were a mystic: Sweden - Euphoria (Loreen)
If the winner were the best of the ended relationships songs: United Kingdom - Love will set you free (Engelbert Humperdinck)
Best Use of Folkloric Motifs: Iceland - Never Forget (Greta Salóme & Jónsi)
Highest-quality novelty song: Latvia - Beautiful Song (Anmary)
Most likely to be played in normal rotation on the radio: Italy - L'Amore È Femmina (Nina Zilli)
Best celebration of multiculturalism: Romania - Zaleilah (Mandinga)
Gratuitous Snow White video: Cyprus - La La Love (Ivi Adamou)
A downside of judging songs by their videos is that almost everyone else will be judging them by their stage performances. (As, indeed, I will for voting purposes!) And songs can vary drastically between video and stage.
Albania - Suus (Rona Nishliu)
A woman dressed in black standing in a box sings a powerfully sad, grief-stricken song, while children dressed in black do play-like things as if doomed to them. Impressive voice, a real downer, emotionally (whatever it was about). (Checking the translation: the death of a relationship. "I land my plane / On lightless runway of your soul")
Austria - Woki Mit Deim Popo (Trackshittaz)
Very energetic rap/pop number about shaking your booty. (I'm basically quoting. The English translation includes the line "Your booty has an opinion, yeah".) Featuring athletic neon-haired pole dancers wearing skin-tight black-and-glow-in-the-dark-neon bodysuits. (The blacklight in the video won't be available on stage in Baku). A bit catchy, but too in-your-face to really appeal to me.
Azerbaijian - When the Music Dies (Sabina Babayeva)
Solid song by a strong singer, dressed in black or white or red, and surrounded by wind and blocks of ice in which flowers have been frozen. Trying to keep alive a dead relationship. I liked it, could easily see it being a good one for singing along with, but it didn't really go much of anywhere. ("And it's cold, cold, cold / when the music dies.") Should do at least moderately well, since it's the host country's song.
Belarus - We are the Heroes (Litesound)
Gently appealing in a fairly generic way. I suspect I'll still be able to sing the refrain hours or days from now. Pop/rock sung by young men looking overheated in full motorcycle leathers, like an '80s futuristic rock band. The song's about a melange of road trip/always there for you/"we are the dreamers".
Belgium - Would You? (Iris)
First interesting set of sentiments! (Even if they are limited in total number.) It's a song about running away from man-with-whom-in-love in order to see if he will notice/follow; low expectations, but residual hope. The singer is a lone teenage girl, simply dressed, with remarkably skinny legs. Simple staging, performer and bars of lights in the dark.
Bosnia & Herzegovina- Korake Ti Znam (Maya Sar)
A beautiful vision of the industrial sublime! Black and white video, with the singer appearing, playing the piano, on an aerial trestle which is processing through a factory while soldering and blacksmithing goes on around her and it. And then she plays the piano in the open air on a steam train! The song itself is a minorly lovely, introspective piece. (From the translation: "Everything I love / Hurts me the most / I still clearly hear / Those steps when You're gone...")
Bulgaria - Love Unlimited (Sofi Marinova)
Forgettable low-key dance number which really needs an injection of energy somewhere - the backup dancers almost have it, but they're looking so rote and uninterested in what they're doing. Moments of almost-interesting hypnotic beats. The singer is going through the motions but seems somewhat detached from the sentiments. ("The song has no borders, language or colour / It doesn`t recognize the rich and the poor / Everybody`s singing all over the world about love, always sings about love. ")
Croatia - Nebo (Nina Badrić)
What an enthralling video! Lovely, rich-voiced alto soloist in a video in which vaguely angelic or supernatural muscled men barely wrapped in long-trailing sheets fall down or up in the whipping wind or against a cloudy sky. One plays the electric cello, possibly by means of the rope two others are wielding. (Checking the lyrics last: "Heaven settles every debt, someone up above sees it all,/ And these tears of mine will weigh heavily on your soul.")
Cyprus - La La Love (Ivi Adamou)
Snow White fans! You must watch this rather silly video whose lyrics do not require a Snow White story at all but whose video fantastically and wholeheartedly embraces it! With hunting dogs and over-sized pears! The singer visually reminds me of Liv Tyler. Dance-y pop number. ("Love the way you fill me up with life / Baby we can break the speed of light")
Denmark - Should've Known Better (Soluna Samay)
Heartfelt regret over an ended relationship, with weather metaphors. One of many videos which isn't even trying - it's a video of the stage performance in the contest whose win got the group to Baku. Not sure what the militaresque constume on the lead singer is about. (Chorus: "Should’ve known better now I miss u / like Sahara misses rain / Changing like the weather maybe it's true/ Maybe you're not gonna change") A little underwhelming at first, but I can see it's potential for growing on me with future performances.
Estonia - Kuula (Ott Lepland)
A nearly black-and-white video with a male power ballad. Limited range of lyrics whose production kept reminding me of last year's Italian video, only because the words kept being written on the screen and disappearing again. Very earnest. Reading the translation, it's a much more interesting set of lyrics than I expected! ("Listen to what has fallen silent / Just listen to these simple moments/ Listen – my heart has a voice") Has potential.
F.Y.R. Macedonia - Crno I Belo (Kaliopi)
Beautifully atmostpheric video which doesn't try to have a plot. Musicians silhouetted in empty rooms and hallways and shafts of light. A drummer with set at the bottom of a spiral staircase. The video/song bravely waits until nearly haflway through for confident hoarse-voiced song to break into electric guitar and drums. It doesn't even matter what it's about, although here are some lyrics from the translation: "You're the restless part of me/ You're the dreamer in my sea".
Finland - När Jag Blundar (Pernilla)
Lovely little song sung with affection and earnestness by a woman in a leafy dress, while a dancer frolicked around and curlicues graced the backdrop. (Translation excerpt: "Like a sea without water, like a lantern without light, / a life without colours, that’s not who you are.") I like it, but it's hard to see it doing very well.
France - Echo (You And I) (Anggun)
A surreal and compelling video with lots of chiseled young WWII men on an assembly line/being weighed/doing exercises/wearing gas masks and, for the sake of the song, whistling in chorus. The singer, lithe, minimally dressed in black, oversees them, or is watched on television. Despite the title, most of the song is in French. ("I hear the echo of our steps to the beat / Always march in a new direction / We're moving ahead, but what are we chasing?") Pop/dance with whistling.
Georgia - I'm a Joker (Anri Jokhadze)
Crazy, zany, high-energy all-over-the-place show biz song and video. Guy in white suit and gloves. EVIL (empty) fish bowls. Heavy black eye makeup. A male pole dancer. Party scene. Best Eurovisionesque video so far.
Germany - Standing Still (Roman Lob)
It's not flashy, it's not complicated, but it's rather appealing. Black and white video, male soloist, affectionate wist over the ending of a relationship. The first song I've felt I would voluntarily learn the lyrics to in order to sing along, rather than have them earwormed into my head. ("And I’m just standing still / As you leave me now / And I’m just standing still / When winter’s come along / And summer’s dead and gone / Is there anything left here to say?")
Greece - Aphrodisiac (Eleftheria Eleftheriou)
This is the first song I've come across this year so far about falling in lust; while it's refreshing after all those broken relationships I've been hearing about so far, it equally feels a little old fashioned by comparison. It's Greece, doing its frequent high energy, tightly coordinated dance numbers. This one features a bunch of male dancers bravely being walked over by a woman in green stilettos. ("You drive me crazy, you drive me wild / You´re so addictive, there´s no way out ")
Hungary - Sound of Our Hearts (Compact Disco)
Overt social commentary! With an engaging video and song, a rare combo on this list so far. The video parallels a miserable day in the life of a rich businessman and a homeless man in the same city. Both are jerks, but their worlds respond differently to them depending on context. No idea what they would do for a stage show (the video wouldn't translate), but as a video, I recommend it. ("This is the sound of our hearts, / If you listen.")
Iceland - Never Forget (Greta Salóme & Jónsi)
Impassioned folkloric folk-rock! Hurray! Cursed mythic relationship trapped in night and day! Desolate Icelandic snow-covered landscapes! Wild fiddle-playing in the moonlight! ("And when the golden sun arises far across the sea / The dawn will break as darkness fades forever we‘ll be free.")
Ireland - Waterline (Jedward)
Jedward for Ireland, year #2. I like so much about this song, except for the disappointment of the last line of the refrain, which is really weak. I was singing along to the refrain before the video ended. The video was pretty token - reuse of competition video - not in sync, lots of "yay, Jedward!" random footage. But the song itself is solid, happy, upbeat, energetic and likeable.
Israel - Time (Izabo)
This act has a great deal of potential to go horribly wrong on stage. As a video, it's a band playing in a circus tent who become plagued by clowns. The song is country-rock-peppy quirk. ("Time time don't let me down / You're the man in my play ground / What you say i will obey - night and day")
Italy - L'Amore È Femmina (Nina Zilli)
It's generally a compliment to say that a Eurovision song sounds like something you'd hear on the radio today. And this totally does, at least to my underexposed ears. The singer's rich voice, blasé attitude to the disappointing vicissitudes of a relationship, and slightly sloppy, overdressed dancing make for a polished, promsing combo. ("i'll let you think twice / i don't wanna cause any pressure / but have you asked yourself why / i bought a brand new gun shot")
Latvia - Beautiful Song (Anmary)
If you didn't know English, you'd never guess this was a Eurovision novelty song entry. It's a pleasant tune, and the wholly meta lyrics are pretty amusing, actually. Charming, singable, but minor. Still, it has a lot more heart, in its way, than most of the competition so far. ("Beautiful song is on the radio, is in the tv shows and so on and on / Beautiful song that everybody hums and everybody loves".)
Lithuania - Love is Blind (Donny Montell)
Very serious, earnest singer dressed in black while wearing a black blindfold. ("I'd give you all I can to have you back again.") Improves a bit once it goes a bit more jazzy, upbeat, and unblindfolded. When he sings "Love is blind", I think what he's actually trying to communicate is that "love has made him blind".
Malta - This is the Night (Kurt Calleja)
Cheery feel-good dance song of superficial genericness. I like the synchronized dancing in the puddle in ?car park. ("This is the Night, This is the night / I will be the star / Let me into your heart / This is my life, this is my life")
Moldova - Lăutar (Pasha Parfeny)
It's a loose-limbed collage group of confident boot-stomping in white shirts and trousers with excess straps. I'm not quite sure what to make of it. ("This trumpet makes you my girl".)
Montenegro- Euro Neuro (Rambo Amadeus)
This was meant to be funny. Or possibly sarcastic. I don't know. A man with a donkey wanders Montenegro with a highly-processed funk/fusion soundtrack. The donkey eats euros, topless women are surprised, transactions in a marketplace, and lots of people saying the title of the song. ("Euro skeptik, / analfabetik, try not to be hermetic.")
Norway - Stay (Tooji)
This is clearly going to be one of the main mainstream dance entries for this year. Slick, well-produced, full of energetic intensity. ("I don’t know what I am doing tonight / But this rush it is making me stronger / I don’t know if it’s wrong or it’s right / But I know: I want you to / STAY")
Portugal - Vida Minha (Filipa Sousa)
Intense, earnest well-dressed woman with nightclub/Fado number with ballet dancers in the background. (From the translation: "If you were water, my love, you would be like pure water, / Sating the thirst of the flower of tenderness.")
Romania - Zaleilah (Mandinga)
It's a Romanian-Cuban band in a video filmed in Dubai! With a cheery writhing snugly dressed singer, bagpipes, oversized rings, an accordion, and the Burj Dubai water fountain! Easily trumps in the multi-cultural stakes, and a happy little danceable number to boot.
Russia - Party for Everybody (Buranovskiye Babushki)
This song is all about style over substance. A group of really successful "grannies" have been making a career in recent years of covers of popular songs, sung in Udmurt. This is them, dressed in their traditional folkwear, with a somewhat repetitious song ("Party for everybody! Dance!") Affection for their enterprise is likely to carry them far.
San Marino - The Social Network Song (Oh Oh – Uh - Oh Oh) (Valentina Monetta)
An over-produced video which is about Facebook but doesn't actually break copyright by using it. It's about hooking up by way of internet; I had no idea Facebook was so useful as an internet dating site. ("If you like it click and go / Now you know it is easy loggin' in / For a little more fun and cyber sin / Wanna know what the net's about / The hard part’s loggin’ out") Singer is intense, focused, and clearly very professional.
Serbia - Nije Ljubav Stvar (Željko Joksimović)
There's a full string section, an oboist, a player of an interesting wooden flute-variant, and it's all infrastructure for the singer, a many in a white suit. Heart-felt, but not attention-maintaining. (From the translation: "My love is not a thing, / That I don't know what to do with, / I wish you just the best, / This is my sinking ship. ")
Slovakia - Don't Close Your Eyes (Max Jason Mai)
Intriguing. An ultimately tuneful heavy rock piece set against the backdrop of the filming of some sort of Victorian mad-house unnerving thing, involving faceless people, swinging lights, and a very dramatic cellist. ("Look around what‘s happening abounds / And listen to the frequency of a sound / Of the beat, of a heartbeat, of your death beat ") I wonder what I'd make of it without the mysteries of the video?
Slovenia - Verjamem (Eva Boto)
I like the ballad a lot more than I like the stage performance filmed here, in which the women who sing are dressed in white and garnished like presents. The song grew on my as it went, but I'm not sure I'll remember it, even so. (From the translation: "A new day is hungry for the sun and is sincere.")
Spain - Quédate Conmigo (Stay With Me) (Pastora Soler) (Eurovision page)
Powerfully-voiced woman soloist randomly dressed with decorative feathers, singing her heart out while athletic dancers move in slow-motion through the darkness and stripes of light. Spain rarely does as well as it should with its songs that I like. I would love for this to do well, but my hopes are not high. (From the translation: "Please forgive me / If I couldn’t love you the way you deserved / My heart didn’t belong to me / Stay with me / Stay with me / When shadows fall, I’ll raise the sun")
Sweden - Euphoria (Loreen)
A fascinating entry. A Björk-inspired abstracted singer giving vagueness and a different angle on an ultimately upbeat dance number. She hides behind her hair, her clothing is loose and billowing, but the song rises into bittersweet exultation. This is almost certainly a good example of how interesting a song can become when given to the right performer. ("We sail into infinity / We're higher and higher and higher / We're reaching for divinity") [Second listening: part of its appeal is the female mystic vibe I get from it. C observes lots of other songs - not in the contest - do this sort of thing better, especially because the refrain isn't earned by a musical journey to get there.]
Switzerland - Unbreakable (Sinplus)
This might have felt inspirational if it hadn't been set in a dark dystopian office building with women in suits plugged in to the network and eventually unplugging themselves in order to run down the hallways in silhouette in high heels. Creepy. ("Swim against the stream / Following your wildest dream, your wildest dream ")
The Netherlands - You And Me ( Joan Franka)
So, on one hand, this is a sweet little folk/countryish song about falling in love when young and growing up together and apart and I like. On the other hand, because it involved playing Cowboys and Indians when young, she's wearing a large stereotypical Indian Chief headress made at a bridal shop and her backup singers/instrumentalists are dressed like cartoon squaws. Which is awkward. But it's also one of those moments where it's probably far more awkwardly culturally appropriative and old-fashioned in countries I come from than it is in the country which voted this into the competition. ("In the morning I would wake, and my heart just couldn't wait / To play in your backyard / In the evening I would go telling you I love you so / And I couldn't wait to see you again ")
Turkey - Love Me Back (Can Bonomo)
What an odd song. And an odder video: strange facial jewelry, lots of men rowing a decrepit wooden boat, spinning women with umbrellas in the courtyard of a white stone building, men searching by lantern-light. "Like me like I like you and say Na na na..." - it's basically a modern "hey nonny nonny" song with an overwrought sailing/sexual analogy.
Ukraine - Be My Guest (Gaitana)
If this isn't already in use as a song in an ad for a hotel chain, it will be soon. That's exactly what it sounds like it was written. Chirpy, upbeat, foot-tapping, whose lyrics are all about staying with me and being my guest. Video is an unnecessarily busy collage of Gaitana clips.
United Kingdom - Love will set you free (Engelbert Humperdinck)
It's a good song! I wouldn't mind at all if it won. A more-complicated song about a past relationship. Broken relationships have been a bit of a theme this year, but this is the most subtle and interesting treatment of the subject among these songs. This is the second time I've seen this video, and I was happy singing along. As a video, it's stripped down and simple - showcasing the song rather than necessarily being so exciting as a video per se.