The best overall song: Australia Dami Im "Sound of Silence"
The happiest: France Amir "J'ai cherché"
The cutest: Austria Zoë "Loin d'ici" Far from here
The one with the excessive video budget: Russia Sergey Lazarev "You Are the Only One"
Best dancing: Belgium Laura Tesoro "What's the Pressure"
Best ghosts: Iceland Greta Salóme "Hear Them Calling"
Most sweetly amusing for the right reasons: Sweden Frans "If I Were Sorry"
The first semi-final is tonight! The UK gets to vote in the second semi-final on Thursday.
Albania Eneda Tarifa "Fairytale"
I spent much of this video thinking about how the world needs more fantastical and architectural swings. Sculptors of the world should make more swings. The video doesn't cohere - random bits of clocks, stairway to somewhere celestial, forest swing, woman hiding red; the lyrics were a little too mindlessly needy for my tastes ("I'd fight for you, I'd die for you, and that's why I love you."); and the singing verged on the shouty.
Armenia Iveta Mukuchyan "LoveWave"
"It's like I've stepped out of space and time, and come alive." A lot of work went into this video, which fades in and out between a lonely-eyed man with long flowing hair and a beard (there's been none of last year's scruffle yet) and a long-haired singer and surreal lighting and what looks like microscopic, oddly lit details. On first hearing/watching, it doesn't do a lot for me.
Australia Dami Im "Sound of Silence"
A confident, well-sung anthem about being alone with an absent (or possibly ex-) partner. It grew on me over the course of the atmospheric video, in which the very elegant singer emotes while a very athletic dancer leaps around and nearby.
Austria Zoë "Loin d'ici" Far from here
An adorably sweet little happy song that goes nowhere, accompanied by a gorgeous video of an ever-changing watercolor landscape. Also, unlike France's, this one's all in French! I really like it. It makes me happy.
Azerbaijan Samra "Miracle"
A charismatic woman in a barren brick room sings about the death of a relationship. The best parts of the song are the choruses, but much of it is structured out of English clichés. I'm not wholly sure the oddest cliché was intended: "It's gonna take a mirro(r), mirro(r) miracle." I suppose the death of a relationship can be a hard blow for the narcissistic?
Belarus Ivan "Help You Fly"
A fairly straightforward rock song, whose video stars an animated wolf behind the live singer. Really? Do you think of wolves when you think of flying? At least there's an eagle (or some bird of prey) at the end. It's okay. It's not hugely interesting. And the lyrics don't quite cohere. ("It's time you released yourself / Before you can let go / I will help you learn how to fly,")
Belgium Laura Tesoro "What's the Pressure"
Happy funky big band brass dance with ACTUAL DANCING. I'd been thinking dancing was a little scarce in the videos this year, and there's a bunch of people energentically and coordinatedly dancing! The singer is a cute curly-haired redhead. And the song's not bad either.
Bosnia and Herzegovina Dalal & Deen feat. Ana Rucner and Jala "Ljubav je"
It's a fairly pedestrian, if yearningly enthusiastic, song (in Bosnian!) framing a moment where a bearded rapper suddenly appears and raps at an emotional, sexily-dressed cellist playing the bones of an electric cello. That's a fantastic moment. I spent most of the rest of the song admiring the architectural setting for the song. It must be somewhere famous, if only I knew my Bosnian architecture.
Bulgaria Poli Genova "If Love Was a Crime"
I like the song so, so much better than the video. I can see myself dancing around to this in the future, in spite of the frequent clichés in the lyrics, but the black-and-white video plot basically seeks to undermine the message of the song. Don't show me love betrayed when the song is about a solid relationship.
Croatia Nina Kraljić "Lighthouse"
Lots of excellent nature cinematography on fast-forward (leading to lightning strobe effects), accompanied by nautical metaphors. The singer has a good voice. The song was a little whiny more than the plaintive it was trying for.
Cyprus Minus One "Alter Ego"
Big, satisfying power rock with lots of gothic elements to the video. The band plays under pylons in the countryside. There's a wolf. There's a raven. A long flowing black lace dress or cape. But it's overcast daytime, near sunrise or sunset, so it's not too dark. The only song so far (I'm most of the way through, not watching in order) which inspired me to actual dancing.
Czech Republic Gabriela Gunčíková "I Stand"
Trying to move on (or not) from a lost or impossible relationship. Lots of refrain about standing, but the singer sure looks like she's lying down for the animations - VR, stop-motion - taking place around her. I like the flower and gem stop-motion sections. Could take or leave the song.
Denmark Lighthouse X "Soldiers of Love"
A pleasingly upbeat little number with some harmonies in it. The video is a stage show with lots of lights for framing. A happy trio of positive men. I wish it well. ("Take my hand / And never let go / Never let go / And let’s be soldiers of love")
Estonia Jüri Pootsmann "Play"
Bits of this video seem James Bond inspired, especially a brief snippet of bass line. It's about a man who's convinced a more uncertain person to give him a try, as sung by a richly bass-voiced man. ("we ain't got all night / to find out what is right / so let's go undecided till we know") The video is a polished stage show with a darkly-lit evening club vibe.
Finland Sandhja "Sing It Away"
A mildly tedious dance number from a couple of decades ago. The video is odd: there are dancers with grey-and-white tiger stripes and long cowboy-style arm fringes, and some children who should go out to play, but the quiet introspective one is drawing a horse, who is also real and historically-fantasy-ish, being ridden through surf and countryside.
France Amir "J'ai cherché"
A sweet and happy tale of a young man learning ballet and a young girl learning boxing, which doubles as an Olympics promotional piece, and stars a happy singer: "You're the one who's making me strong." I am mildly disappointed that France is entering a piece in both French and English. Help keep up the non-English linguistic variety, please!
Georgia Nika Kocharov & Young Georgian Lolitaz "Midnight Gold"
It's a rare novelty number! There's a mad scientist and an android playing a play-doh-style ukelele, and lots of old movie clichés acted out, and the girl gets done in (in a silly and abstract way) halfway through. Grunge, guitars, lots of strobe effects.
Germany Jamie-Lee "Ghost"
Germany. Oh Germany. I like cosplay and I'm still not sure what to do with this. It's a woman in a turquoise satin skirt and white top with a hat with silver pompoms and bows and a sleeping panda, singing with a landscape of green laser-beam shining skeletal trees, live on stage. The refrain has more immediate appeal; the verses involve unexpectedly-deep-voiced moments - she has good range. The happiest use of "Tell me, who's scared now?" I've ever encountered. She's not taking herself seriously at least. Could someone else watch it and tell me what they think?
Greece Argo "Utopian Land"
No. A bare-chest man jogs slowly through a barren, cgi, moonlit landscape and occasionally it's video-game like with things to duck or leap over. There are a few seconds near the end of slow-motion, black-and-white dancers which were gorgeous; more of that, please. Also, I approve of lyres. The lyrics are mostly - if not entirely - positive, but the folkloric hiphop melody sounded despairing. ("We are the rise in the rising sun / join with us for a Utopian Land")
Hungary Freddie "Pioneer"
Halfway through this ridiculous video of a live stage recording, I realized I was tapping along to the moderately catchy song. It even has some interesting lyrics. ("In a world where poems sound fake".) The song is about being true to yourself. The video, on the other hand, involved a spectacularly athletic taiko drummer, eclipsed by firey light effects in the background, glow sticks, and whistling. Next time, let's just watch the drummer.
Iceland Greta Salóme "Hear Them Calling"
An interesting one! Country-inflected folk rock about ghosts or the undead or fears or whatever the "shadows" are. The shadows interact with the singer, destroyed by her or destroying, looming and passing by. The video is largely quite dark, with supersaturated over-bright moments and an excess of strobe towards the end. It's a stage show. ("See the shadows dancing / Oh, they dance for us tonight / And as I’m tossing and I’m turning / Oh, they come alive / We shiver as we step into the cold, cold night / Then we’re running, we are running now") But despite all this, it's not really a negative or scared song. It accepts.
Ireland Nicky Byrne "Sunlight"
I think I would like this foot-tapping dance song more if I heard it and weren't watching the video. The video uses half of its screen estate to show the lyrics, which means that I was analyzing the lyrics instead of enjoying any of it more broadly. Instead, I kept suspiciously eyeing the line of the refrain "Touch who you wanna". No consent is discussed, but presumably the lyrics mean "without judgement of others" rather than "consent". I'd like to think so anyways.
Israel Hovi Star "Made of Stars"
Lots of drones as proxies for stars! It kept being hilarious in the moment, but it's sweet really, and I suspect this is a song which will grow on me with repeated listening. "Dance with me like we are made of stars". It's a sweet/serious melancholy song framed with a nighttime city wander.
Italy Francesca Michielin "No Degree of Separation"
A visual musing, inspired by last year's winning song, on real life vs. virtual reality. Nicely done. The song is pleasant, but wordy, and not particularly catchy.
Latvia Justs "Heartbeat"
I like the song more than the video. The song is an introspective, despairing, foot-tapping exploration of desperation for a defunct relationship. ("I’m getting wild when I’m alone / I learned by heart – you’re not my own") It's by the same person who wrote last year's, which eventually came to be one of my very favorites from last year, so clearly I like her work. I'm writing this while listening to it again, without the distraction of the CCTV-trapped in a jail cell-lasers video.
Lithuania Donny Montell "I've Been Waiting for This Night"
"Through a thousand years, through a million tears, I've been waiting for this night." If I take video and lyrics at their word, then this immortal man has spent his undead lifetime waiting for tonight to meet the prostitute who by sunrise would claim his heart. How appropriate that YouTube cued up Ireland's "Sunlight" to play right after.
Macedonia Kaliopi "Dona" (Дона)
A grand, positive, inspirational piece with strings, filmed in an empty opera house, which might have done more for me if I were not at the tail end of listening to a whole lot of Eurovision entries. It would repay relistening. The singer has the voice to carry the piece.
Malta Ira Losco "Walk on Water"
This one doesn't do much for me. I spent more time wondering about the casting choice of contortionist? partner? are they going to lock him in a water box and he has to escape within three minutes for the stage show? Where was that filmed it looks really interesting and old? Having looked them up, they're the Salt Pans on the north coast, thought to have been in use at least since Roman times.
Moldova Lidia Isac "Falling Stars"
Bored now. Dear singer: please try harder to express emotions, especially when singing about big ones. Dear producer: it's a dancey kind of piece. Could there be some dancing, please?
Montenegro Highway "The Real Thing"
Heavy rock, flashy lights, an energetic female dancer flipping her hair around, and played backwards for unflipping hair. Not really all that interesting. ("Feeling I'm the real thing, yeah.")
Netherlands Douwe Bob "Slow Down"
Classic rock with a country feel, friends hanging out at the pub. "Slow down, brother, slow down if you can't go on." And it's SHORT! The video is 2:43. Not bad. Not great. Could grow on me.
Norway Agnete "Icebreaker"
I like this one! I like it for its tempo change at the refrain, for a woman saying she'll do the rescuing in this relationship, for the woman singing in endless snow or ice, and for some of its lyrics. ("Like a northern light / You’re dancing over every border line / Passing every sign / Between reality and fiction ") It's a big, yearning pop ballad.
Poland Michał Szpak "Color of Your Life"
A big yearning torch-song (everyone sway!) whose video is informed by modern medieval aesthetics. Long wavy-haired male singer, lonely old tower, the ruins of an old church, leafless trees, snow-capped mountains in the distance. On first listen, I was trying to place where I'd heard that chord progression/tune before. (It hasn't come to me yet.) There's a risk this one will end up earworming me. ("Fame and gold are nothing – you can be sure / When there is no love in your heart")
Russia Sergey Lazarev "You Are the Only One"
This is an impressive, well-done video. The song's not bad (a driving song of yearning love), but it's not as good as the video is. A whirlwind VR tour of dangerous places, a falling ceiling, fire-breathers with a key change. Apparently it's a favorite to win.
San Marino Serhat "I Didn't Know"
Once I got beyond the sultry nightclub vibe, the different style of song was mildly refreshing, especially the smokey-voiced singer. It's not contemporary pop. That doesn't mean I'm convinced I actually like it though. My greatest hope for this song is that it will produce some excellent dancing on stage in competition.
Serbia Sanja Vučić ZAA "Goodbye (Shelter)"
I want her dress. It's gorgeous. An off-the-shoulder band of chain-mail over floor-length metallic silver cloth. The rest of it isn't quite as beautiful: this is an impassioned song about escaping from an emotionally-abusive relationship. The singer overacts and is excessively made-up. ("It's Cleopatra", I thought on first sight. But her orangey-red lipstick is clashing with her blue eyeshadow.) But she has power and range, vocally.
Slovenia ManuElla "Blue and Red"
Bluegrass-inflected pop with some interesting lyrics and a slightly random - if highly-polished - video of the singer doing stuff around outdoor filming things: caravan, lights, sundappled dark barn. "You feel blue and I feel better." My first impression is that it's a bit of mixed bag, but there's potential to grow on me.
Spain Barei "Say Yay!"
I was expecting this song to be ironic, based on the title, but it absolutely isn't. It's a love-life song straight from the '80s.
Sweden Frans "If I Were Sorry"
A likeable, somewhat intellectual, exploration of young romance. ("For you it's just another dance.") Some of the better lyric-writing in Eurovision this year. A young man has a weekend escape of silliness with a girl at his high school (I assume), and then "If I were sorry, I would give you all the glory". It's sweetly amusing, in a nominally serious way.
Switzerland Rykka "The Last of Our Kind"
The singer's weirdly thin voice ruins this song for me. The science fictional lyrics appeal. ("Standing tall at the end of the story,
Watching worlds collide") The tune is entirely adequate. I'd like to hear it sung by someone up for expressing its anthemic aspects.
Ukraine Jamala "1944"
"Everyone dies", sings the performer, clad in white formalwear, and almost keening towards the end, with huge, controlled vocal range. I was put off at first, but it's an increasingly enthralling song. The video is just of the singer performing it live on stage. I'm not quiet sure what to make of it, but it seems powerful.
United Kingdom Joe & Jake "You're Not Alone"
Put it this way. I'd forgotten I'd already listened to this song a couple of months ago when it was chosen. The video doesn't appear to have that much work put into it, which makes me think the producers have given up on even trying to win this year. It's a song about dancing (with very little dancing in it) and either supportive secrecy/relationships or else a very controlling relationship. It's pleasantly anodyne.