Presumably this is in part thanks to the angsty - if beautiful - 1942 winning the contest for Ukraine this year. There are lots of songs about broken relationships. There is lots of long hair being flipped about all over the place, not always pleasantly. Key changes are rarer than usual.
Best overall song (again!): Australia Isaiah, "Don't Come Easy"
Happiest song: Romania Ilinca ft. Alex Florea, "Yodel It!"
Best overall video: France Alma, "Requiem"
Best atmospheric: Belgium Blanche, "City Lights"
Most haunting: Finland Norma John, "Blackbird" (content warning: suicide)
Songs blatantly about lust: Sweden, Montenegro
Drowning women: Malta, Finland
News headlines widely report that Italy is odds-on favorite to win, but I find their song too offensively orientalising to support this year.
Albania Lindita, "World"
What fantastic jewellery! The necklaces! The belt! They're covetable. Oh, and loads of CGI SF/steampunk/ruins settings, but those were less interesting. A shouty heavy metal number. I wasn't really paying attention to the lyrics, except the repeated singing of "impossible", given steampunk airships flying over a wasteland of ruined archways. (But I can look up lyrics later: "What's this fight all for? / What's the cost of life In this world? / All I ever really waaant / Is let the love unite us all...")
Armenia Artsvik, "Fly With Me"
There are colors in this video! It is such a relief to see some color! It's a fairytale-ish setting with a powerful singer dressed in something either folkloric or pseudo-sfy and singers with red/orange-painted faces. The song doesn't stick with me, only the relief of color. ("Wanna tell a story, / About a girl with history. / Take it from my heart it’s gonna be your beat, / Take it from my soul it’s gonna be your heat.")
Australia Isaiah, "Don't Come Easy"
What an appealing song! (I write, after having listened to about ten others so far before this.) Especially with that lovely little use of silence near the beginning and the soulful harmonies and the lyrics about how falling in love again is complicated. A focused video with a limited color palette, focusing on the sweet-faced young singer. ("Been burned too many times / To love easily
Don’t mistake me / My love runs deep / But it don’t come easy / It don’t come cheap")
Austria Nathan Trent, "Running On Air"
What a nice travel video! An enterprising singer in the middle of winter in the snowy Alps by a gorgeous reflective lake climbs a mountain, assisted by various people he meets along the way. Filmed outdoors, it has color and air. It's a friendly indie pop number, the sort that is numerous some years but is vanishingly rare in this year's contest, so a breath of fresh air. ("There’ll be good times, there’ll be bad times, / But I don't care, / ’Cause I’m running on air")
Azerbaijan Dihaj, "Skeletons"
Lush electronica with interesting vocal effects in mildly unsettling settings: a mirror self with skeleton hands, an illuminated bare-branched tree, driving down empty roads. An ambiguous relationship song. ("Have my skeletons / [I can only trick you once, bad boy]") Favorite bit of the band's bio: "Music critics have called the band "experimental doom pop"".
Belarus Naviband, "Story of My Life"
Oooh, is this a novelty video? Two happy dancing people frolicking through the winter forest while warmly dressed, with lots of "hey hey hey hey"s. Without understanding the lyrics, I'd guess it was some kind of lighthearted patriotic folk number.
Having read: it's the first-ever song in Belorussian in Eurovision, and the song is about a happy, healthy, robust relationship! How refreshingly unusual, especially this year!
Belgium Blanche, "City Lights"
A relatively subtle video starring a striking piece of empty architecture being sparely illuminated, and a distinctively quiet-voiced alto with glittery eyelids. Atmospheric and appealing. I'll return to this one.
Bulgaria Kristian Kostov, "Beautiful Mess"
Lovely, minor, melancholy, baffling, in a limited grey-brown palette. Are the birds, horse, and vignettes from fairy tales or folklore? What culture is that dancer from? Why are they pulling the boat across the soundstage? When the world is falling apart, does love *really* still conquer all necessarily? ("Even in the line of fire / when everything is on the wire / Even up against the wall / our love is untouchable") And yet, it wouldn't surprise me if this is one of those songs which grows on me in the long run.
Croatia Jacques Houdek, "My Friend"
A refreshing quiltwork of anthemic pop in English and operatic singing in Italian, both by the same singer, about aiming for dreams and not giving up hope. The narrow color palette is balanced by being filmed outdoors. ("I pray you'll see the light and find your way. / La forza del destino che è in te.")
Cyprus Hovig, "Gravity"
It's meant to be a positive song, but with the darkness of the stage, the costumes, the lighting, and the doom-laden beat, it comes off sounding menacing. Ominous. If they'd opted for a more colorful video, I might feel more light-hearted about this song. One of many songs with long hair flipping. Also, vaguely contradictory lyrics. On one hand "Let me be your wings when you’re flying high", on the other "let me be your gravity".
Czech Republic Martina Bárta, "My Turn"
A charming, minor, earnest song about looking after each other in life. The video (narrow dark color palette) is set on a blank soundstage with lots of minimally dressed people implying the tragedies and happinesses of life and the blank passing people by in crowds. Nicely done, but it would be a surprise if it went very far in the contest. ("In this moment let me give to you what you’ve given to me, that’s the least I can do")
Denmark Anja, "Where I Am"
So nice to have reds and golds: color! And a song about a positive relationship, to the extent that this time it's the singer who's been holding back, not the object of affection, and she's intending to do better. Filmed at a live stage performance. My mind wandered off over the course of it though. I see she's won The Voice Australia.
Estonia Koit Toome & Laura, "Verona"
I really like the premise of this song, which it does not begin to exploit sufficiently. Lovely vocals duetting about how, romantically, "we are lost in Verona". The odd bit of orientalising elsewhere this year makes me highly suspicious of the lyrics "this western type of woman; western type of man". Filmed in black and skin color.
F.Y.R. Macedonia Jana Burčeska, "Dance Alone"
A dance video which devotes time to watching dirty dishwater go down the drain. A sad older woman, on her own in her flat, does minor life things and occasionally puts on VR goggles to experience another reality (or her youth?) in which a passionate dance-based relationship involves breaking lots of glassware and she either misses it or wishes she had it in the first place. ("And all I need to keep on movin’ / Is the sound of my heartbeat")
Finland Norma John, "Blackbird"
A chilling, awful mini-film for a hauntingly sad, beautiful lament with spare orchestration. "Awful" for values of "I was't expecting a tragic tale in the midst of all of this". It's effective filmography, really. Do not watch if you are feeling vulnerable. But a lovely song. ("Now you remind me of something I'll never have / So blackbird don't sing")
France Alma, "Requiem"
Ever wanted to see tango dancers dancing at impossible landmarks on major Parisian landmarks? This is your chance! It's a fun video, filmed in an early-morning-deserted Paris. The long-haired young singer wanders through that Paris, singing an appealing, upbeat minor-key tune about how love isn't forever, seize the moment while it lasts. And an impossible pair of dancers dance along on the underside and walls of monuments. ("Des amours meurent / Des amours naissent / Les siècles passent et disparaissent")
Georgia Tamara Gachechiladze, "Keep The Faith"
This feels like a 'yay multiculturalism' from a world which does things a bit differently to my world. I think "keep the faith" may be "hold on to what you believe in", but it's an odd choice of word when the singer is explicitly meaning a niqab-wearer when she sings "Who told you to hide behind the veil?" So however good the intentions, I am uneasy. The video is a bunch of people standing around (with some singers standing around with them too), clearly intending to represent a wide diversity of people. With lyrics like "Don't let nobody turn you down / Even if the world is rough", it feels unrealistic. Sometimes, it's through no fault of their own that people are turned down.
Germany Levina, "Perfect Life"
What fantastically healthy lyrics, about the importance of making mistakes, in what feels like a classic modern Eurovision number. ("Sometimes it's wrong before it's right / That's what you call a perfect life") The video is fairly simple, of the singer - close up, further away, a variety of lighting - singing the song. A solid entry.
Greece Demy, "This is Love"
A sweet-natured dance song, singer in a red ballgown and tiara in a black-and-white opera house and irritating random lyrics splashed across the screen. Occasionally the bodies of visually diverse people are flip-booked together. It's mostly about wanting to fix a relationship, but with this baffling bit of lyric along the way (just the last line): "There’s an echo in my head / There's a story still unread / And I need you here tonight / Walk away don’t turn around".
Hungary Joci Pápai, "Origo"
Before reading translation and notes: what a creepy video. Dark, with a blindfolded woman, a woman spinning in a dark room while a man watches. A child dropping his teddy bear to play a guitar. Tears at the end. The song sounds despairing.
After reading: "an exciting and unique blend of authentic gypsy music and modern pop". The lyrics are very personal: dealing with prejudices against his bodily associations, taking up the guitar as a lifelong weapon at the age of four, his God showing him the way, and the tears are for the pain of the journey, echoing the lyrics rather than a specific relationship as you'd think from just the video.
Iceland Svala, "Paper"
There's a lot of angst in this year's contest entries. This one is about a painful relationship which makes the singer feel like the titular paper. Striking cheek bones and makeup, dressed for a club under her warm red parka, and filmed in an industrial white-tanked and -walled setting with some bonus laser lights. She has a powerful voice to support her yearning dance anthem. ("Drawing every bit of my truth / color me in with your blue")
Ireland Brendan Murray, "Dying to Try"
A healthy song about relationship difficulties, for a changed! It may have been filmed in the grey of winter, but just having so much of it outdoors made it feel more colorful. A charmingly earnest song which I liked more as it went along, with a thoughtful young man singing with depth. ("Cos no one can promise / That love will ever learn how to fly") Featuring a rare key change! I wish the song well.
Israel IMRI, "I Feel Alive"
It's an advertisement for Tel Aviv's beaches! A daytime party-on-the-beach dance video about a broken, if invigorating, relationship. Reading the lyrics, I honestly can't tell if this relationship has any potential or not. There's no good short bit to quote which makes sense of this conflict, so the lyrics are here.
Italy Francesco Gabbani, "Occidentali's Karma"
I would like this song so much more if I didn't understand the lyrics. It's a pleasant, slightly upbeat pseudo-thinky pop piece, and very post-modern. "Westerner's Karma" takes liberally from from Buddhist meditation language, not least in the traditional Japanese room setting, and adds in a random dash of evolution and apes. (For an Italian pop song, "Namaste, allez" is really branching out in lyrics and language.) It is so very culturally appropriative. How on earth did it occur to anyone to write this song? Please, please skip the dancing ape for the stage show. Please. This song is, apparently, a favorite to win.
Latvia Triana Park, "Line"
A straightforward dance/electronica song with a moderately interesting video, give or take the early overuse of strobe and Westerners dressed up as people from Japan for a little while. Very nice use of afterimages and other image manipulation. Initially in black-and-white, it develops a modicum of color.
Lithuania Fusedmarc, "Rain Of Revolution"
Shouty funk electronica with way too much visual static in the background. Live performance, bright red dress. It felt like I'm the wrong person for this song. ("Figuring out meaning of love / Breaking the rational views and narrow limits")
Malta Claudia Faniello, "Breathlessly"
*Another* drowning woman? Except this time the story's in reverse, the fight undone, the champagne bubbling back into the bottle, and ending with a kiss when the relationship was still good. But what kind of happy ending is that? The song's an anthemic ballad, a lament, sung by a powerful solo woman, for a broken relationship. ("There’s an echo in my head / There's a story still unread")
Moldova Sunstroke Project, "Hey Mamma"
It's meant to be funny, which is probably why I don't really like it. I mean, I DO like the premise of the song itself, i.e. singing to a protective mother about how it's okay her daughter is in a relationship with the singer. But the video keeps doing a bait-and-switch as to which woman in the family is being seduced. A return of Sunstroke Project to Eurovision, complete with saxophone and violins.
Montenegro Slavko Kalezić, "Space"
Classic disco number with a bare-chested singer with really, really long hair in a braid being tossed around a lot, sometimes rather creepily. The most sfnal lyrics thus far, most of which are overtly lust-related analogies, slightly more subtle (barely) in this example: "Show me your superpowers / I'm Venus and Mars of the hour / I'll protect you if you come my way / Let's soar through the Milky Way".
Norway JOWST, "Grab The Moment"
This song is not to my taste. Tuneful rap electronica, featuring a guitarist with a weird LED-lit mask and refrain that goes "I’m gonna kill, kill, kill, kill that voice in my head, / I don’t care if I’m falling, / I’m gonna grab the moment."
Poland Kasia Moś, "Flashlight"
The creepy discomfort of watching bleak landscapes projected on the singer's naked torso has made me reconceptualize the tension in bits of Catherynne Valente's Radiance. It's a "not sure if this love is right or wrong but I'm going to make it work" song, full of tension and a rich scoring of strings. ("Like two animals on the run / Not afraid to fly into the sun / Invisible we don’t leave a trace / We’re shadows in love we were ghosts")
Portugal Salvador Sobral, "Amar Pelos Dois"
A soothing old fashioned night club number with violins, sung by a relaxed singer with idiosyncratic body language and a real affection for his song. The song's about optimism in giving a relationship a second try. Filmed at a live performance with lots of whirling around camerawork.
Romania Ilinca ft. Alex Florea, "Yodel It!"
I love this! It makes me so happy! And I never expected that a song involving yodelling might not be a novelty song. This is a joyous rap/rock/yodelling number to delight and please. One singer is on a random concrete column high above a city. Another joins him on another column through the power of enthusiasm. Others eventually rise up into the air the same way, although whether through joy or by logging on to the singers' website is unclear.
San Marino Valentina Monetta and Jimmie Wilson, "Spirit of the Night"
A conversational duet with a whole lot of key changes are what distinguishes this entry. Happy clubbing people looking for each other and the singers finally getting to dance together. ("Him: You’ve got me feeling right - and I can see the future is bright / Her: I’ll take your blues away")
Serbia Tijana Bogićević, "In Too Deep"
Ever wanted to know what bobble fringes look like underwater? This is your chance to find out! A song about being in over one's head in a broken relationship, starring spinning around in a hoop trapeze, floating underwater, and dancing with gauzy laundry-like sheets, all in a limited color palette with the odd small patch of color. The song's a perfectly decent pop piece. ("Won’t somebody save me tonight / Feels like I’ve been sentenced to life / I’m falling so deep / I’m in too deep")
Slovenia Omar Naber, "On My Way"
The song itself is refreshing, the first male power anthem I've heard in this contest so far, about solo strength and going forward alone. (The lyrics on their own sound kinda suicidal though: "You've all been very kind, but I made up my mind. / Now I'm about to leave you all behind. / I'm feeling so alone. I'm turning down my tone. / Before the rise of sun I will be gone.".) Now if only they hadn't filmed the video in black and white, with the weirdness of a man dressed in Tudor robes doing twitchy hand-arm dancing. (There's a real name for this. It shows up in hip-hop and street and I'm not doing the dancing style justice at all, because it read more effectively when the dancer was later dressed in a style which made his arms visible.)
Spain Manel Navarro, "Do It For Your Lover"
A sweet, forgettable travel video with guitar and singing, with lots of lovely coastline, waves, surfing, appealing icy cocktails, and gratuitous butt shots of the one female surfer.
Sweden Robin Bengtsson, "I Can't Go On"
A funky song about lust with highly repetitive lyrics. Filmed at a stage performance in suits, no ties. Highlights: treadmills, half the dancers present as gender ambiguous.("I just can’t go on no more / When you look this freakin´ beautiful")
Switzerland Timebelle, "Apollo"
Happy dancing older people! A striking, yet mostly elegant, glittery dress! An extraordinarily dusty piano which is then played! Not a bad song, but not a major one either. ("No I will never let you go / Give it time and we will grow / Ain't no fun in easy / I follow you Apollo")
The Netherlands OG3NE, "Lights and Shadows"
A hopeful three-part harmony pop number filmed in the dark, dark gloom of a barely-backlit forest at night. Lovely, breathy voices, but now that I've read more of their story, I know the song's a tribute to their mother who's dying of something incurable. It's mourning, it's a tribute, it's encouragement and dreaming in the face of certain loss. ("But you are so much more to me / than the one who carries all the burden / I can only hope, once you fly, you’ll be free")
Ukraine O.Torvald, "Time"
Well that was stressful! While playing this wistful heavy metal number, the singers bear digital countdown clocks erupting disturbingly from their flesh, red digits ticking down the time to... what? I could barely pay attention to the music. The lyrics have a similar balance between edgy and yearning (with a pinch of the anodyne): "Just listen / Take a look around / Stop missing / The things you haven't found". I feel like this song could grow on me if I listened without the imperiousness of the clocks.
United Kingdom Lucie Jones, "Never Give Up On You"
A video in which the singer appears in a bunch of different outfits and hairdos and largely black-and-white lighting. The lyrics are largely earnest clichés. It's about sticking with one's loved one in spite of turmoil in the relationship/world/something. But the yearning refrain did, melodically, grow on me over the course of the video. It's fine. I hope the stage show is better.