Eurovision 2014: The Entrants (Part 1)

I have an odd relationship with the Eurovision Song Contest (by the way, hello again – and yeah, we’re on this now). It’s the flashiest, cheesiest entertainment show humanity could dare come up with, complete with awkward presenting, weird visuals and some really strange pop music (barring the odd exception – no matter what anyone says, I will defend Alex Swings, Oscar Sings!’ “Miss Kiss Kiss Bang” to the bitter, bloody end). So you wouldn’t think it’d be the sort of thing I’d normally go for (assuming you knew me, of course).

Not creepy at all. Thanks, Denmark.

In reality, though, I actually really enjoy it. I didn’t use to when I was young, because WHERE’S THE RAWK, PEEPLEZ?!!, but now I’m older and less rage-y I just see it as a fun, unpretentious night of entertainment. I’ve long since accepted I’m never going to hear anything I’d want to hear on the night, but I’ve got my own CDs for that anyway – and what I do get to hear is a quirky mix of folk- and pop-influenced music that provides a lovely little reprieve from exam revision, deadlines and the general misery of life. It’s also nice to get a looking-in view at other European cultures and how they’re kicking about these days, something I wouldn’t normally get in my day-to-day existence (though Google Streetview makes for a nice substitute).

Now the 2014 contest is coming up soon – the final airs 10th May – and I’ve gots me this ‘ere blog, y’see, so as part of my self-imposed duties to chronicle everything silly and weird in the world of music I’ll be writing a quick run-through of every entrant trekking over to Copenhagen this year, giving a brief review of each song along with my informed(?) opinion as to whether they’ll do well on the night, or whether they’ll even get to the night at all. It’s also a handy way of familiarising yourself with this year’s contestants, provided you’re the sort of person who likes to do that (and I’m told the sort of person who does that gets, like, all the women and cash, so it’s a lifestyle worth considering).

For the sake of keeping this readable I’ll be dividing my overall run-through into four parts – the first four will be divided between the two semi-finals, while the fifth and final part will be given over to the entrants from the “Big Five” nations and Denmark, this year’s host country. If you’d like to keep informed of this year’s contest, you can head to www.eurovision.tv and get the news straight from there. As for me, I’ll be posting these every Monday up to the first semi-final on 6th May.

Right, essay over – on to the first eight participating nations. Be warned, these are not serious, academic- or even AV Club-level reviews. The opinions contained within may be dangerous and/or silly. Proceed with caution.

ALBANIAHersi Matmuja, “Zemërimi i një nate” (Eng. trans. “One Night’s Anger”)

Jeez, that’s an unusually cool song name for a Eurovision entrant. One night’s love? One night’s passion? Nah, one night’s anger, brother! Hell yeah, let’s break something! So I’m hearing this, in my wonderful head, as this brutal heavy metal song with roaring guitars and thunderous drums and harsh, guttural voc–

Ah. Yeah. Well, to be fair, there are guitars here, albeit briefly (I like the solo towards the end – it’s not very long, but at least it’s there. Kudos). It’s not what I was expecting, but the melody is quite nice (and very vaguely reminiscent in parts of Emeli Sandé’s “My Kind of Love”) and it’s sung well. I don’t know, you know – Albania’s not a nation that generally ranks very highly in this contest, but this song has that right, weird balance of bombast and lightness-of-touch that seems to go down well at Eurovision. I could see this doing quite well. Of course, I’m only one man. One intelligent, handsome, well-dressed man with, like, loads of girlfriends, honestly.

ARMENIA: Aram MP3, “Not Alone”

Yes, the artist has “MP3” in their moniker. Nothing to get worked up about here: a good deal of us use MP3s to listen to music these days. There’s no reason to be snobby about this…

Didja think I was going to say something justifying snobbery, didja? In a humorous, unexpected inversion of my previous statement, didja? Didja now? Nah, seriously, this is actually kinda nice. It’s a little melodramatic, but that’s Eurovision for you, and although the dubstep is a bit depressing to hear it does give it a nice, angry edge that puts it above the other entries. That build to the breakdown is pretty cool as well… you know, I think I like this. Six points, or something.

AZERBAIJAN: Dilara Kazimova, “Start a Fire”

Fire. Fire, fire, fire. Yes, that old lyrical chestnut is back roasting over the open… you know.  And we’re starting it as well, with our… desire, presumably? Is somebody a liar? Will they take us higher? Or throw us on the funeral pyre?

I know I’m only three entries in here out of 37 (I think) and there’s no reason to make any rash judgements at this point, but why so many sad ballads this year? Come on, Eurovision, the world’s not all that bad. Get the champagne going, put out some appetisers, make it a party – come on! That aside, the song is nice, if a little unspectacular – mellowness doesn’t tend to work at Eurovision. She’s got a good voice, though, I’ll give her that. I don’t dislike it at all, but there’s nothing to go crazy over here either.

ESTONIA: Tanja, “Amazing”

So what have Estonia brought to the competition this year? And how obvious is it that I’m already running out of ways to precede these videos?

Finally, something a bit more upbeat. The video’s flashy and Tanja’s putting a good deal of work into her singing, but does it have the X factor (or the Eurovision equivalent – the E factor, I suppose)? I’m not so sure. See, passion and a decent light-show do drum up brownie points on the night, but you still need a strong melody and/or chorus if you want to stand out among the sizeable pack, and I’m not sure if “Amazing” has that. It’s got a good… beat, though, I guess? To be honest I’m not 100% sure what a dance beat actually sounds like. Let’s move on before I embarrass myself any further.

ICELAND: Pollapönk, “No Prejudice”

That’s… an interesting name you’ve got there, Pöllaponk. No, no, I don’t want to be culturally insensitive here. I’m sure it does mean something truly profound in Icelandic. Does it? Well, according to Google Translate it means “poll punk”… so that was massively helpful, huh?

Ah, I get it now: they’re a political band and they write… well, I wouldn’t call it a punk rock song, exactly, but it does skirt around the idea of maybe possibly sounding close to a loose approximation of what you might possibly think of as something similar to punk. There’s guitars, anyway. For the most part, though, it’s a bouncy pop song about defying prejudice and tolerating others. Musically it’s not my cup of tea or coffee or any associated hot drink, but it’s catchy and colourful with a more meaningful message than most Eurovision entries, so I wouldn’t mind seeing this do well on the night.

LATVIA: Aarzemnieki, “Cake to Bake”

Say what? Something about cake? I like cake.

You know, I was about to say this: for a song contest that covers such a musically- and culturally-diverse continent as Europe, I couldn’t point to anything on this list so far that sounds all that… y’know, European. One of the (few?) joys of watching Eurovision is hearing traditional European folk elements contrasted against, or merged with, more current pop sounds – it’s how (I like to think) “Only Teardrops” won last year. So I’m glad to hear something even as vaguely Euro-folksy as “Cake to Bake” thrown into the mix (pun intended). Admittedly the chorus is pretty annoying and the whole “white-guy-with-acoustic-guitar” image (or WGWAG, as Todd in the Shadows would call it – check him out, he’s ace) might grate on some, but it’s chirpy and pleasant and the lyrics are endearingly quirky. It’s a nice light relief after all the heavily-orchestrated ballads, anyway.

RUSSIA: Tolmachevy Sisters, “Shine”

You know, it’d be easy to make a joke about Russia here given the recent situation in Crimea, but I’m going to rise above that and review this song from an apolitical angle. Also, I couldn’t think of any good jokes.

So it’s another ballad, but it’s a tad darker than the other entries with a bit of a Gothic edge to it. The whole thing sounds just a little bit sinister, though I’m guessing that’s not what they were going for. Mind you, it actually sounds like it came from Russia, which is what I want to hear in a Russian Eurovision entry. Could it do well on the night? Possibly. The YouTube commenters don’t seem to like it very much, but then what do they ever like? It hasn’t got the most inventive melody, but it makes up for that in atmosphere. It also helps that both Tolmachevy sisters are very pretty, so it’s pleasing to the eyes and ears. What more do you want, Europe?! Honestly.

SWEDEN Sanna Nielsen, “Undo”

From the brief insight into the Eurovision appreciation micro-culture I’ve gained in the process of writing these mini-reviews (it’s a strange, strange place), I can tell you that Sanna Nielsen is tipped to do great things in Copenhagen this May. ‘Well,’ the people of Europe scoff, gathered in their tumultuous masses, ‘that’s all fine for the Eurovision appreciation micro-culture, but what does the Archbudgie think? You know, that guy with that blog? The one about the… you know? Come on! It gets, like, literally tens of views every month!’

Well, she’s got a good voice and she’s confident enough to play with the melody a little in the chorus. It’s another dark ballad, like “Shine”, but it’s a bit more experimental: the verses have this cold, haunting quality to them that I like (I like dark songs, y’see), while the chorus is an electronic explosion that’s, er, quite different. I would have preferred it to have foregone the EDM entirely, to be honest, and maybe thrown in some guitars instead – but then I am a certified idiot. It’s contemporary and it’s catchy – could do well.

Part 2 coming next Monday. The first Eurovision semi-final takes place Tuesday 6th May, with the final airing Saturday 10th May.

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