Eurovision 2005 semi-finals preview: Part Two.

12. Estonia – Let’s Get Loud – Suntribe.

Long-standing readers will remember the excitement round these parts in the Spring of 2003, when the Estonian girl-band Vanilla Ninja came tantalisingly close to representing their country with the mighty Club “Kung Fu”. It therefore gives me great pleasure to report that the song’s composer, one Sven Lõhmus, has more or less re-created the magic with his latest bunch of young protegées, the wholly delightful Suntribe. Once again, Let’s Get Loud is a riotously rockin’, deliriously uptempo, “all girls together” slumber-party of a tune – but with the added gimmick of, wait for it, formation scratching. Yes indeed! Five crazy ladies + five turntables = one crazy-happy party! And you were thinking of escaping to the pub on Thursday night?

You know how with every Eurovision, there’s a Good Bit somewhere in the middle, containing many of the strongest contenders? Well, we have just entered the Good Bit.
85 points.

13. Norway – In My Dreams – WigWam.

From formation scratching to comedy stadium metal, as the four members of WigWam – the somewhat misleadingly named Teeny, Glam, Sporty and Flash – blend the style of The Darkness with the sound of Bon Jovi/Def Leppard, to eye-popping effect. Which could have been frightful, were it not for the undeniable power of the track itself, and the sheer entertainment value of the band’s performance. Avoiding the off-putting smugness which can creep into parodies of this nature (Stefan Raab, I’m looking at you), there’s a decidedly endearing quality to the sight of this bunch of slapped-up old bifters, galumphing about in unforgivingly clingy spandex. An absolute dead cert for the finals – and the more I hear it, the more I think it could go all the way on Saturday night.
86 points.

14. Romania – Let Me Try – Luminita Anghel & Sistem.

Remember how last year’s contest was all about the Big Drumming? Well, the beat is most definitely back, as our crack team of invisible lesbian boom-thwackers is wheeled out once again, for the first of many similar excursions. Combine this with Ye Olde Hi-Energye Disco, Ye Olde Trancey Synthe Stabbes, and Ye Tyme-Honoured Key Chaynge At Ye Ende, throw in Ye Sounde Of Ye Gypsy Pan Pypes for good measure, and you have all the ingredients for success.

Sorry, sorry… HOLD the invisible lesbian drummers, as the Romanians have provided their own troupe of big yellow oil-drum bashing hunks, rather in the style of Stomp. Such spectacle! Whatever next?
75 points.

15. Hungary – Forogj világ – Nox.

A Magyar Riverdance, that’s what’s next, as treat piles upon treat. Having done spectacularly badly at Birmingham 1998, Hungary promptly stropped off in a sulk for the next few years, only to return in 2005 with a serious contender that is certain to qualify. Unfortunately, with the rules of the contest dictating that no more than six performers are allowed on stage, Nox’s extensive dance troupe has had to be drastically trimmed down – but reports suggest that the choreography is still quite something. (If the vertical bunny-hops have been axed, then I shall be most vexed.) Anyhow, the song itself claims to “build a bridge between the ancient Hungarian pentatonic scale with the world of contemporary music”, and as such, its aspirations are to be applauded. Watch out for gypsy violins, genuinely exciting syncopated clapping and tapping, and those all important Big Drums.
84 points.

16. Finland – Why – Geir Rönning.

Whew, that was exciting. Do we all need the toilet now? Yes, I think we do. Now that the Good Bit is over and done, Finland are here to kill the atmosphere stone dead with this excruciatingly dull and “meaningful” ballad. Look, when has Eurovision ever successfully done “meaningful”, at least since Nicole’s A Little Peace swept to victory in 1982? Still, if you like your candles to be burning, while “winds of faith” are blowing and tears are “falling down like rain”, then this is the one for you. Just save my place on the sofa for when I get back, will you?
20 points.

17. F.Y.R. Macedonia – Make My Day – Martin Vicic.

When the best strapline you can think of for your singer is “grandson of a famous bagpipe player”, then you know you’re up against it. However, potentially the biggest problem faced by the Macedonians is the stylistic similarity between this song’s uptempo blend of Eastern and Western influences, and a whole clutch of others which are already through to the finals. And there’s the rub. Every key element of “Make My Day” – the gypsy flutes, the Big Drums, the Big Key Change, the ethnically skirling middle section – is more successfully deployed elsewhere, leaving nothing else to remember but some strange lyrical business involving cuddly toys.
55 points.

18. Andorra – La Mirada Interior – Marian van de Wal.

Jeezus, enough with the invisible lesbian drummers already! You’ve made your point! There’s the bar! This is only Andorra’s second year in the contest, but I’m sensing that the pool of available performers may already be running short, as they’ve roped in the owner of the local guesthouse to do the honours. From Saturday night after hours singalongs in the Lounge Bar, to a major international stage and an audience of millions, Marian has certainly come a long way – and one wishes her well, of course. However, I just don’t see this getting any further.
46 points.

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Eurovision 2005 semi-finals preview: Part One.

(Note that these aren’t the same as the previews which I have written for this week’s Time Out magazine. Because that would be cheating.)

1. Austria – Y Asi – Global Kryner.

And straight away, with the very first song of this year’s contest, we strike “only at Eurovision” gold. Forget all of that “Fusion Of Eastern And Western Influences” stuff for a moment – there will be plenty of time for that later – and prepare instead to welcome a brand new musical genre: Cosmopolitan Karawanken Beat. And what’s that? Why, it’s a bold new blend of Cuban music with Alpine folk, of the oompah variety. Yes! You’ll be yodelling as you salsa with this heartwarming tale of cross-cultural love, as performed by a cheerful bunch of beer festival busker types. Check their website for Cosmopolitan Karawanken Beat re-workings of Like A Virgin, Something Stupid and Lady Marmalade, and marvel at the consistency of their trombone player (“well buff” according to strategically placed local sources), loyally parping out the same two notes over and over again.
71 points.

2. Lithuania – Little By Little – Laura & The Lovers.

Smooth, sleek Scandi-pop with a gleaming professional sheen, as put together by a predominantly Swedish team with telling connections to the mighty Alcazar. As for the abilities of Laura herself, I couldn’t have put it better than this quote from one of her songwriters: “The nuances in her voice are like the colours of the rainbow, sparkling with colourful tones and shades.” Blimey! Laura & The Lovers have also quickly endeared themselves to the press corps in Kiev, by handing out free condoms at their first press conference. Apparently there was something of a scrum. Which tells you a lot about the much vaunted “international party atmosphere” of rehearsal week.
80 points.

3. Portugal – Amar – 2B.

Historically one of the weakest countries in the contest (can YOU hum any of their songs from the past few years?), Portugal have made a particular effort to choose a strong song this year, ditching the usual public vote and opting instead to rely on a panel of experts. Consequently, and in stark contrast to its predecessors. Amar has a naggingly insistent and memorable chorus, if nothing else. (“Happy pretty way, happy shiny day, happy place to stay, we can hold it together!“) Oh, OK, let’s be cheap: there is nothing else. Except for an onstage back-flip, apparently. (But if you think that a mere back-flip is going to swing it, then you are sorely mistaken. The stakes are so much higher than that.)
52 points.

4. Moldova – Bunica Bate Toba – Zdob si Zdub.

Remember that squiffy sounding trumpet player from last year’s winning Ukranian entry, who appeared to be playing a different “tune” (if you could call it that) from everybody else? Well, I find myself wondering whether he has jumped over the border to neighbouring Moldova (making its Eurovision debut this year), in order to join up with this bunch of Raggle Taggle Gypsy-oh mentalists. Thrash-folk is the order of the day here, with this barely comprehensible ode to a Rockin’ Grandma who can’t stop a-bangin’ on her big bass drum. (And yes, fear not: the Rockin’ Grandma and her big bass drum WILL be appearing on stage. In a rockin’ chair, appropriately enough.)

This is also notable for what must be Eurovision’s first ever unequivocal drug reference. “Drain a bottle of wine, no need to smoke the leaves, by the end of that show you’ll blow yourself to bits.” Absolutely. Because why bother wasting time with boring old leaves, when you were all clearly OUT OF YOUR BOXES ON ACID WHEN YOU WROTE THE SONG? Love it. A real highlight.
83 points.

5. Latvia – The War is Not Over – Valters & Kaža.

After a rollicking first four songs, the pace slows right down for this gently strummed soft-rocker, performed by a couple of young men who have been playing music together since the age of two. Its closest antecedent is 2000’s winning song for the Olsen Brothers, Fly On The Wings Of Love (before it was turned into a helium-voiced Dance Anthem, that is), and the performers in question are even known in their native country as “the young Olsen Brothers”.

So, will this come as a welcome gimmick-free respite from all the back-flips and banging grannies and arriba-oompah-ing and general arsing around? Not a bit of it! Because Valters & Kaža have pledged to perform the song in sign language, so that everyone can understand its “universal message”. Which would be fine IF THE SONG ACTUALLY MEANT ANYTHING, instead of just being a sequence of random platitudes strung together to no discernible purpose. (There is also a cheap jibe to be made about the hearing-impaired being a natural constituency for Eurovision, but I shall refrain from making it.)
44 points.

6. Monaco – Tout de Moi – Lise Darly.

Having stayed away from the contest for twenty-four consecutive years, Monaco seem to be labouring under the delusion that there will still be a full orchestra in attendance on the night, just as there was in their glory days. (Five top 5 placings in eight years during the 1970s; not bad for such a tiny principality.) However, with the house orchestra having vanished for good after Birmingham 1998, Lise Darly will have instead to rely on pre-recorded playback for this admittedly stirring ballad, whose arrangement – full of pleasing rococo curls and neo-classical flourishes – will have a notably lessened impact as a result. Which is a shame, as – in musical if not in performance terms – this is the most accomplished ballad of the night.
73 points.

7. Israel – Hasheket Shenish’ar (The Silence That Remains) – Shiri Maymon.

…although this lovely effort from Israel, which may suffer by comparison in the draw, does come close to surpassing it. Indeed, Shiri’s impassioned vocal performance clearly outstrips Lise’s, with only a certain old-fashioned staidness of approach letting the song down. However, such admirable class and restraint in the ballad stakes will all be forgotten about in two songs’ time, as… well, you’ll see soon enough. But first, get the amyl out…
72 points.

8. Belarus – Love Me Tonight – Angelica Agurbash.

…as it’s Big Fat Gay Disco Anthem Time! Woo! Tops off! Podiums ahoy! Now, time was when stuff like this would be packing out the Top Five – but times have moved on, as the dismal failure of Xandee’s One Life in 2004 all too clearly demonstrated, and so I fear that Angelica will be struggling for promotion with this one.

I also suspect that 35-year old Angelica (“a woman who never hides her age”) might be a little more sensitive about such matters than her press people would have you believe. Take this quote, for instance. “The most important element of beauty is your inner world. Beauty comes from within. My face is a mirror of my soul. When bad feelings control me, I turn plain, wrinkles appear, the lines on my face become sharper. When I feel this way there’s no make-up in the world that can help me out.” Come on, Western Europe! Never mind all that trendy Make Poverty History nonsense! We need airlifts of top-grade cosmetic treatments to Belarus NOW!
67 points.

9. Netherlands – My Impossible Dream – Glennis Grace.

Lise from Monaco? Shiri from Israel? Over here please. Lovely ballads, both of you – but you may as well pack up and go home now, because here comes The Terminator. Now, with a name like Glennis Grace, you might be expecting some washed-up Dorothy Squires impersonator from what remains of the Northern club circuit. Instead, what you get is a full-on, industrial-strength, Grade A Diva Deluxe, of the Whitney Houston school, with one hell of a set of pipes on her, a precision-tooled “striving through the wind and the rain to MAKE IT ON MY OWN” belter of a song to match, Big Interpretive Arm Movements by the truckload, and a concluding Triumphant Backwards Head Fling to die for. (“Yes! I made it through to the end of the three minutes! My struggle is complete!”) She’s gonna walk this round, or I’m a Belgian.
58 points. (Because, after all that, I don’t actually care for it much.)

10. Iceland – If I Had Your Love – Selma.

Another abiding Eurovision tradition: The Fan Fave That Flops. Happens every year, and mostly to over-ambitious, slightly worthy numbers that score high on “impressive”, but low on “lovable”. And so it is with Selma, who came second in 1999 with a lot of people’s Favourite Eurovision Entry Ever, the admittedly mighty “All Out Of Luck”, and who is now being hailed as this year’s home-coming queen. However, all the leading positions in all the online fan polls in the world still won’t help her on the night, as If I Had Your Love is – whisper it if you dare – actually not all that good. Taking Britney’s Toxic as its starting point, this is all intricate Eastern strings, tightly orchestrated swoops and stabs, and impossibly complex stop-start polyrhythms – but for all of this sound and fury, it never quite knows what it wants to be. Just bloody well stay the same for more than five seconds, can’t you? What is this, Squarepusher?
60 points.

11. Belgium – Le Grand Soir – Nuno Resende.

I received a registered item in the post the other week. Well, not the actual item itself – come on, when does that ever happen? – but one of those dreaded little “while you were out” cards, full of supposedly helpful advice that is actually of no practical use whatsoever. There was, as usual, only one solution: an early morning drive out to the sorting office at the edge of town, through the suburban rush hour traffic, with K muttering and cursing at the wheel.

“This is SO DEPRESSING!”, he wailed. “I HATE having to drive through these bleak estates!”

We spend our lives, as you may have gathered, in something of a city centre/country cottage Luxury Bubble, from which we rarely have cause to emerge.

Twenty minutes later, we found ourselves at the depot. Five minutes after that, I was back in the car for the twenty minute drive back, tearing open the registered package.

“Come on then. What is it?”

I couldn’t speak for laughing.

“You’ll be so – SPLUTTER – glad you – SNORT – made this trip – BWAHAHAHA OMIGOD OMIGOD.”

“I shan’t be amused, you know. But you might as tell me, since we’ve COME ALL THIS WAY.”

“It’s a CD single of the – WHEEZE – Belgian entry for this year’s – GASP – Eurovision Song Contest! Shall I put it on? YES! I’m BLOODY WELL PUTTING IT ON!”

“Mike. I dare say that in other circumstances I might be capable of finding this funny. But this is not the time and this is not the… oh Jesus, it’s even worse than I thought.”

First toilet break of the night, this one. Big overblown soggy ballady thing, which gloops along at a funereal pace. But you’ll have to be quick, though – the next one’s a little cracker.
24 points.

(Many thanks for the CD anyway, Ïan. Sorry it won’t be Brussels 2006, though. Zed, have you heard this?)

Eurovision 2004 – act of closure.

Points arising from Saturday night:

  • Despite spending most of Saturday feeling Horribly Left Out, watching the contest on telly with six friends turned out to be almost as much fun as being there in person.
  • By the end of the evening, we had a few new converts to The Cause. One of them even wants to come to Kiev with me next year.
  • No, not K. Don’t be daft!
  • In fact, K bailed out early and went down the pub. No staying power.
  • He seemed quite sober when he left, as well. I repeat: no staying power.
  • Five of my predictions (see below) turned out to be accurate; fifteen were wrong, and four were “near misses”. And I have the temerity to brand myself an expert?
  • Nevertheless, I did at least predict the winner.
  • Although my own vote was cast for Sweden. Because Stockholm 2000 was the Best Fun Ever, and I fancied a reprise.
  • Sweden’s Lena Philipsson, those lyrics, and that microphone stand: she knew, didn’t she?
  • As I feared, most people in the room really did talk all the way through the German entry. It was with some relish that I pointed them towards my prediction on this matter.
  • Because – naturally! – I had already had printed copies of my predictions to hand. For the benefit of the group, you understand. Forewarned is forearmed, and all that.
  • What the blinking blazes was going on with all those votes for Serbia & Montenegro? (Literal translation of title: Oh My Fawn. Shades of Father Ted, we thought.) There were too many votes, from too many countries, for it be purely a case of “political” voting.
  • My take on the perenially thorny issue of “political” voting: it can get you so far, but no further. To get into the Top 5, you need to have attracted votes from right across the board.
  • Having said all that: why did Belgium’s One *punch* Life *punch* do so badly? We all thought it was great. Was this an anti-EU protest vote, directed at the mandarins in Brussels? It was all quite baffling; almost as baffling as Serbia coming second.
  • Actually, the Belgian chorus works even better if, instead of punching the air twice, you make two flicks of the head: first to the left, and then to the right. This works best of all if (unlike me) you have a floppy fringe.
  • Improbable hairdo of the night: France’s Jonatan Cerrada. (And let’s not even get started on the throat tattoo. Or the Interpretive Dancer on stilts.)
  • Or the Interpretive Gymnastics from Russia.
  • Lisa from Kent Cyprus blew it a bit, didn’t she? I’m putting it down to nerves; she was much better on Wednesday.
  • Not that this stopped the UK loyally awarding her 10 points, mind you. Funny, that.
  • Deen from Bosnia should have stuck with the tits-out costume from the semis; I suspect that his modesty cost him valuable points.
  • The First Annual Jemini Award for outstanding vocal performance goes to… Iceland’s Jónsi, who had us all howling in pain.
  • The Ruffus/Brainstorm Award (for songs/performances that would have stood up just as well in the “real”, non-Eurovision world) goes to… Spain’s Ramón. (Highly commended: Turkey’s Athena and Belgium’s Xandee.)
  • K and I were thrilled to bits when the “video postcard” between the UK and Polish entries showed the very same balloon that we flew in, four years ago, in Cappadocia.
  • That Russian spokesperson was a bit hoity-toity, wasn’t she?
  • Lorraine Kelly in Old Compton Street! Rah! Gay Pride!
  • Er… and didn’t the UK award maximum points to hunky Sakis “shekki-shekki-shekki” Rouvas from Greece? See previous point.
  • Did Wogan say anything funny? Because we weren’t really listening.
  • In Summer 1982, I studied in Kiev for a whole month. I can’t wait to get back there in 2005.
  • And that really is your lot for this year. Troubled Diva will now resume its normal, Eurovision-free service. Thank you for your forbearance.
  • Come on – why Serbia?

Eurovision 2004 preview: the finals. Part 2.

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12. Bosnia & Herzegovina – Deen – In the Disco
If one ignores Croatia (and sad to say it, but many will), we’re now in the middle of the Rump Shaker Section, with Albania & Ukraine closely followed by darling little Deen and his pert little Disco Tits. As the week has progressed, I’ve developed an enormous fondness for Deen, whom I now view as the Poster Boy for the entire contest. For those of you who didn’t read yesterday’s comments, let me introduce him further:

Bosnia & Herzegovina entrant Deen arrived at his second Press conference with his pet rabbit, “Gabbana.” If that isn’t enough, Deen told eurovision.tv, one of the Bosnian & Herzegovina Delegation has a dog called “Dolce.”

Ever the fashion victim, Deen showed off his new, exceedingly tight hot pink “Vote Me!” T-shirt. If the message wasn’t clear enough, his dancers’ pale pink T-shirts said: “Vote Deen!”

“Pink is my favourite colour!” says Deen.

Deen says he loves the music of Beyoncé Knowles, Mariah Carey, Donna Summer and Kylie Minogue. “Kylie’s so sexy,” said Deen. “She’s like me!”

Deen was asked to describe his personality. “I’m totally crazy, very happy,” Deen said, spinning on his chair.

The world is a happier place with Deen in it.
Prediction: 4 to 7.
Actual position: 9th. INCORRECT.

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13. Belgium – Xandee – 1 Life
Whoop! Whoop! Second Gay Anthem in a row! If I were DJ-ing at one of the big parties in Istanbul this week (one can dream), this would make a perfect segue, as Deen’s Moroder-isms yield to Xandee’s trance-lite synth stabs. Indeed, it is almost impossible to listen to the chorus of this song without punching the air in the gaps after “One” and “Life”.

Shall we practise that now?

One *PUNCH* life *PUNCH*, living together
In one *PUNCH* life *PUNCH* , let us be free
One *PUNCH* life *PUNCH* , you take my troubles away
Light up my dayyyyyyy….

The only trouble is: brutal, metallic gay anthems like this have a habit of floundering badly on the night itself. Unlike with Deen, there’s no redeeming warmth to win over everybody else.

The first time I play this out, it will be about one o’clock, and my dancefloor will instantly become one seething, exultant mass. The second time I play it, it will be nearly four o’clock; there will be about 15 people left, standing against the walls on their own, still forlornly trying to cop off with each other, but merely prolonging the inevitable solitary cab ride back to the hotel. The track’s throbbing energy will have frozen into a harsh, joyless echoing angularity, which…

Sorry. Where was I?
Prediction: early to mid-teens.
Actual position: a shocking, inexplicable 22nd. INCORRECT.

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14. Russia – Julia Savicheva – Believe me
As the sweat-drenched crowd settle back into their seats, the woman they’re all calling “Avril Lavigneski” strolls moodily onto the stage, ushering in The Dull Section (Apart From Greece). Feel free to talk amongst yourselves for a while.

Oh, the song? Well, it’s is a mid-paced plodder with slight soft-rawk touches, which never really goes anywhere.
Prediction: bottom five.
Actual position: 11th. INCORRECT.

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15. FYR Macedonia – Tose Proeski – Life
With Macedonia, it’s all about the scarlet ribbons. Watch closely, and you’ll soon see. Teen-goth Livejournal lyrics; a ruched cream creation which might once have graced minor Macedonian royalty; and no other points of interest whatsoever.
Prediction: 15 to 20.
Actual position: 14th. NEAR MISS.

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16. Greece – Sakis Rouvas – Shake it
OK, everyone – out of the kitchen, back to your seats, settle down and shut up – the totty’s on. Of the male and female kind, so everyone’s happy. The girls strip down to bikinis – Sakis tears his jacket off – and suddenly, there are more belly buttons than a man can shake a stick at. The “fire/desire” rhyme is merely the icing on the cake.

But – and I still feel that it’s a big but – the singing, my dears, is just all over the place. No breath control, that’s the main problem. As to whether any of Europe’s drooling millions will either notice or care – well, that’s quite another question.
Prediction: 6 to 10.
Actual position: 3rd. INCORRECT.

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17. Iceland – Jónsi – Heaven
A strapping young man with great shoulder definition and a finely chiselled face delivers another carefully wrought Fan Fave ballad which, superficial philistine that I am, leaves me completely cold. Apparently, he wants you to “blend your colours with my blue“. But won’t that just reduce everything to a nasty green/purple sludge? I can’t say I’m persuaded.
Prediction: mid-teens.
Actual position: 19th. INCORRECT.

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18. Ireland – Chris Doran – If the world stops turning
Now, as we all know, Ireland have been running scared from hosting Eurovision again for many years, following their financially crippling run of success in the 1990s. And so, yet again, they’ve shoved some well-meaning hopeful into a suit, plonked a row of indifferent backing singers behind him, squeezed everyone from his home town on a plane with unlimited supplies of booze (you should see the size of the Irish “delegation” every year), and saddled him with yet another turgid dirge which threatens to stretch three short minutes into five long hours.

(This one might be written by that guy who’s just left Westlife – you know, the one with the wife who won that I’m A Celebrity doo-dah – but that changes nothing.)

Yes, it’s a toilet break. Ireland, the emptying bladders of Europe will be serenading you tonight.
Prediction: bottom 3.
Actual position: 23rd. CORRECT.

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19. Poland – Blue Cafe – Love Song
Let’s play Consequences!
Esther Phillips met Men At Work in a tapas bar.
She said: “If I’m representing Poland, why do I have to break into Spanish halfway through?
They said: “Corazon! You forgot to sing Corazon! We’re doomed!
And the consequence was: bottom 5.
Actual position: 17th. INCORRECT.

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20. United Kingdom – James Fox – Hold on to our love
James Fox is, quite clearly, a thoroughly decent and personable fellow. Hold on to our love is, quite clearly, a vast improvement on last year’s Cry Baby fiasco. Bryan Adams is, quite clearly, a continuing major influence on aspiring young musicians the world over. And I am, quite clearly, smiling through gritted teeth.
Prediction: for once, let’s be specific. 14th.
Actual position: 16th. NEAR MISS.

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21. Cyprus – Lisa Andreas – Stronger every minute
In a strange twist of fate, the official UK entry is followed by a song written by a British composer, and performed by a 16-year old schoolgirl called Lisa, who lives in… Kent, actually. So, Cypriot in what way, precisely?

Let’s look it up. Lisa “lived in Cyprus for two and a half years as a small child“, and she “returns to Cyprus regularly to visit relatives“. So that’s OK, then.

OK for us Brits, that is. For I confidently predict that we will be queuing up to claim kinship before the night is through, as “our” Lisa sails effortlessly into the top three with a first-class performance. Streisand-esque, I think you’ll find. “With a maturity that belies her years”, they’ll all be saying.
Prediction: 2nd or 3rd.
Actual position: 5th. INCORRECT.

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22. Turkey – Athena – For real
Blimey, who let those rough-arsed ska-punks in here? An absolutely belting brassy opening – worthy of 2-Tone in its glory days – unfortunately gives way to a song which doesn’t quite live up to its early promise, topped off with a Bad Manners-style chant of a chorus which sounds suspiciously like “I wanna bring you off“. The home crowd are gonna go mental to this one.
Prediction: 4th to 8th.
Actual position: 4th. CORRECT.

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23. Romania – Sanda Ladosi – I admit
There’s something – well – a bit constructed about Sanda, isn’t there? Oh, but this contest is bringing out a side of me which I try so hard to suppress. You thought I was nice, didn’t you?

Although this might not be one of the more memorable songs, at least it has the virtue of paying a nod to contemporary trends in modern pop: R&B staccato strums here, Britney-style string skirlings there. Its late place in the draw will doubtless win it a good few extra points, provided that anyone can remember it after Turkey’s ska and the majestic brilliance which is to follow…
Prediction: 11th to 15th.
Actual position: 18th. INCORRECT.

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24. Sweden – Lena Philipsson – It hurts
At last! At last! The 36th song in this year’s event, and – counting the semis – the 46th performance, and we’re finishing with a good ‘un. Like Belgium’s One *PUNCH* Life *PUNCH*before it, It Hurts has Big Fat Gay Anthem written all over it – but where Xandee coldly rattles, Lena warmly embraces, with a singalong chorus that will have the queens beaming broadly from ear to ear.

As others have mentioned, this year’s Swedish song does appear to be a thinly disguised ode to an*l sex – especially in the chorus and second verse. I doubt whether this will exactly harm its chances. Lena, already a massive star in her own country, is promising to do all manner of suggestively charged things with her microphone stand, which she has brought over specially. I am also reliably told that she is… well… can we say “sex on a stick” here?

Ever since I first heard this, I’ve had it down as the winner. As far as I can see, its only serious rival is Ukraine’s Ruslana, with her Wild Dances. But when have I ever been right? (That would be 1998, then. Dana International. Bit of a no-brainer, that one.)
Prediction: definite top 3, possible winner.
Actual position: 6th. INCORRECT.

And that, patient reader, concludes this year’s previews. I earnestly hope they assist you in your viewing pleasure tomorrow night. Next week, we’ll be back to normal. Until then, Happy Eurovision!

Eurovision 2004 preview: the finals. Part 1.

(Preview videos can be seen here – then click on “Multimedia Lounge”.)

Er… you don’t think I’m in danger of doing this subject to death, do you?
Actually, perhaps it’s better that you don’t answer that.
On we plough!

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1. Spain – Ramón – Para llenarme de ti
You’ll need to get settled down fairly promptly this year, because the opening song is a sizzling Latino cracker; it’s well constructed, keeps its pace, and never runs out of ideas. Ramón is an undeniably comely young man, who has been getting certain people I know worked up into a right old lather. He also has the honour of being the first of this year’s contestants to intone the sacred words “mi corazon“, which come second only to “fire/desire” in the ESC lyrical pantheon. As the brass blares, and the invisible lesbian drummers swing into action at about the one and a half minute mark, you know that you’ve made the right decision in staying at home tonight.
Prediction: Top 10.
Actual position: 10th. CORRECT.

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2. Austria – Tie Break – Du bist
At which point, you may suddenly find yourself questioning that decision. On first hearing Du bist, I pegged it as the sort of leaden, dead-eyed ballad that is doled out to finalists in reality TV pop shows. Having said that, this would have struggled to make the grade on the Michelle McManus album. Hell, even Rik Waller would probably have turned his nose up at it. So hey, guess what? It turns out that this three-piece boy band were all finalists in the Austrian version of Pop Idol. Now, there’s a thing. Atrocious. Not even their spirited last-ditch attempt to corner the gay market can save them.
Prediction: Bottom 3.
Actual position: 21st. NEAR MISS.

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3. Norway – Knut Anders Sørum – High
Despite my pronouncement that Eurovision and soft-rawk make uneasy bedfellows, it has to be conceded that Kurt makes a much better stab at it than those unfortunate Latvian semi-finalists. A passable Bryan Adams facsimile, solidly delivered, which soars where it needs to soar, and basically makes all the right moves in all the right places. If you like that sort of thing.
Prediction: mid-teens.
Actual position: 24th (last). INCORRECT.

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4. France – Jonatan Cerrada – A chaque pas
Like Norway before him, the French song is all about healing your wounds, stepping forwards into a bright new tomorrow, the redemptive power of love, et cetera et cetera, and so we remain on similar emotional territory for a while longer. Like so many French singers before him, Jonatan (winner of the first French Pop Idol; is a pattern forming already?) is once again given an elegant, stately, timeless French ballad to perform. And as always, it is destined to languish in mid-table; admired by the “bring back the orchestra” fan brigade, ignored by the rest of Europe. Nevertheless, there’s a lot to like here.
Prediction: early teens.
Actual position: 15th. NEAR MISS.

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5. Serbia & Montenegro – Željko Joksimoviæ – Lane moje
Ah, the old pan pipes. Just thought I’d get that in before Wogan does. Because you know he will. The first song from the semi-finals to qualify – and, for me, quite a surprise to see it get through. This also means that it’s the third time I’ve had to write about it this week – and, frankly, I’m running out of inspiration. This was well sung on Wednesday night, and should finish respectably.
Prediction: just inside the top 10.
Actual position: 2nd. INCORRECT.

Now, here’s a thing. Of the opening five songs, no less than four are sung in their native language, with only Norway settling for English instead. Whereas from this point on, all of the remaining songs are sung in English, with only a brief snatch of Ukrainian in Wild Dances, and – bizarrely – a brief snatch of Spanish in the Polish entry. Apparently, this is the highest percentage of English language songs to date. I think we’re in danger of losing something rather precious here; don’t you?

So, as the Indigenous Authenticity Section draws to a close, we move into the Oh How Sweet Section, with a run of fresh-faced little ditties that, depending on your pre-disposition, will either charm your socks off or curdle your blood.

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6. Malta – Julie & Ludwig – On again…off again
In an unusually male-dominated contest, the Maltese entry marks the first female lead vocal of the night – although there is still quite a way to go before our first female soloist. Cheesy operatics are the order of the day, as a shuffling 125bpm beat almost makes you want to start wiggling your hips. But not just yet. Watch out for that extraordinary middle section, as Julie takes over the operatic role – and watch also for a rather smarmy peck on the shoulder at the end.
Prediction: just inside the top 10.
Actual position: 12th. INCORRECT.

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7. Netherlands – Re-union – Without you
Acoustic strumming, old-tyme Frank Ifield/Karl Denver yodelling, but unlike the semis, this is a poor place in the draw for the rather raddled looking Dutch duo, who will struggle to be remembered by the end of the night.
Prediction: mid-teens.
Actual position: 20th. INCORRECT.

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8. Germany – Max – Can’t wait until tonight
After three semi-final qualifiers in a row, we come once again to a new song, and one which divides opinion. Some will love it; some will loathe it; some will talk all the way through it and go“which was the German one again?” at regular intervals during the voting. Me, I love it: a genuinely soulful ballad, with something of the early Café Bleu era Style Council about it. Max isn’t exactly the prettiest of tonight’s contestants, I grant you – but remember, it’s a song contest, right? (It is axiomatic that every third or fourth posting to every Eurovision fan forum will haughtily remind you of this fact, palpably false as it is.) Minus five points for singing “my lady” with apparent sincerity, though.
Prediction: a very tough call indeed, but I’ll say just outside the top 10.
Actual position: 8th. INCORRECT.

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9. Albania – Anjeza Shahini – The image of you
After just one new song, we now have another run of three qualifying semi-finalists. I recently heard the original four and half minute version of this song, and cannot believe how much it has been improved since then. They’ve edited it down, speeded it up, added a gospelly backing, and turned a ropey old screecher into a miniature classic, which progresses from soft ballad to out-and-out belter in not much more than a minute. My big worry here is Anjeza’s vocal performance, which was dangerously ragged on Wednesday night. However, it’s the first song since the opener that will get the crowd on their feet, and as such will make a nice warm-up for the next act.
Prediction: 5 to 10.
Actual position: 7th. CORRECT.

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10. Ukraine – Ruslana – Wild Dances
Enough with the winsome sweetness; let’s ramp it up several hundred notches, with leather, whips and Big Big Drumming that would test even the toughest of lesbian drumming troupes. As for Ruslana herself: who says that Eurovision has no appeal for heterosexual males? Lads, she’s gorgeous! Possibly the most Total Performance of the night. If the rumour mill in Istanbul is to be believed, this was the runaway winner on Wednesday, and quite rightly so.
Prediction: definite Top 3, possible winner.
Actual position: 1st. CORRECT.

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11. Croatia – Ivan Mikulic – You are the only one
For many of us, this was the biggest shock result of the semi-finals. Those of you drinking pints might be advised to use these three minutes wisely. (The rest of you should try and hold on for another seven songs.) Undeniably well sung, and I’m certainly not averse to a bit of butch Balkan belting, but this resolutely fails to do it for me.
Prediction: 15 to 20.
Actual position: 13th. INCORRECT.

Eurovision 2004 preview: the semi-finals, 2nd half.

12. Lithuania – What happened to your love – Linas & Simona
I can’t help but feel that this is trying too hard to be too many things at once, as the straightforward old-fashioned pop of the song itself is mixed up with all manner of Latin brass flourishes, oh-so-modern “scratching” effects (it’ll never catch on), r&b-style vocal trills (which just don’t sound right when mixed with Baltic accents), and clattering percussion (clattering percussion breakdowns are now rivalling “operatic” vocal styles as this year’s Big Thing). The overall result is rather fiddly and confused, like an over-ambitious piece of “fusion cuisine” in a mid-market brasserie with ideas above its station. 47 points.

13. Albania – The image of you – Anjeza Shahini
Now, this is more like it. Bearing all the signs of having been assembled by skilful, experienced professionals who have done this sort of thing a good few times before, The image of you builds most effectively – from its gentle ballad-style intro through to its genuinely uplifting chorus, complete with gospel-style choral backing. Just as you think that the chorus might be in danger of outstaying its welcome (how exactly are they going to fill the last minute?), the song shifts into what you assume must be its mid-section breakdown. The mood drops and builds back up; the gospel element becomes more pronounced; the choir become more animated; the already high-pitched Anjeza lets rip with the really high notes; and then – now, this is the clever bit – having saved all the best bits till last, the song ends there and then, without need of a final chorus. To do well in Eurovision, you’ve got to wow us in the last minute, and this is where the Albanians truly succeed. 77 points.

14. Cyprus – Stronger every minute – Lisa Andreas
After God knows how many uptempo numbers in a row, this stately, timeless orchestral ballad – of the sort that gets all the “bring back the orchestra” diehards of a certain age squealing with glee – is well placed in the draw, offering a refreshing change of mood. Some lovely touches in the orchestration serve to lift the song above the pedestrian, and Lisa carries the tune ably enough – despite an oddly squeaky voice that might have benefited from a bit of “bottom”, as it were. The whole thing threatens to splutter to an early halt at around the two minute mark, with a rather conclusive sounding “please stay” mid-section, before gathering its skirts up again and making a spirited dash for the finishing line. Not really My Kind Of Thing, but I doff my cap respectfully to its craft. 64 points.

15. FYR Macedonia – Life – Tose Proeski
In a word: overwrought. Despite some skirling Eastern strings on the chorus, (and if this moves Wogan to trot out his “whiff of the souk” quip ONE MORE TIME, I’ll… I’ll… I’ll… well, I don’t know WHAT I’ll do, but it WON’T BE PRETTY) and an awful lot of sweaty heaving and straining on the part of Mr. Proeski (I’m seeing throbbing veins on temples here), it doesn’t really add up to an awful lot at the end of the day, does it? Meanwhile, the tortuously self-analytical lyrics (“roaming through my old emotions, I find new feelings of misery“) could have been lifted straight from a particularly angst-ridden teen-goth Livejournal entry. 42 points.

16. Slovenia – Stay forever – Platin
Plod, plod, plod. You know, it’s at times like these that my whole commitment to Eurovision is called into question. Yeesh, is that the time? Have we really got six more songs to go? Still? The best I can say for Stay Forever is that it makes an ideal toilet break. Don’t all rush at once! 5 points.

17. Estonia – Tii – Neiokõsõ
Now, this is where we sort the sheep from the goats. If your acquaintance with the ESC is strictly limited to giggling with your mates in front of the telly once a year, then you’ll find plenty to scorn in Estonia’s throaty, choric, minor-key “ethnic” offering (and hark, is that the sweet sound of yodelling which I hear once again?). If, however, you have demonstrated a long-term commitment towards the contest, spread over many years of diligent, thankless effort, then the likes of Tii will cause you no difficulties. If you liked Finland’s Aava from 6 years ago, or maybe the Belgian runner-up from last year, then this will probably be right up your street. Why, even as I type, I can see the flaxen-haired maidens running through the pine forests in their diaphanous muslin frocks. (Which is possibly the main problem with this entry: it sounds less like a song, and more like an interval act.) 62 points.

18. Croatia – You are the only one – Ivan Mikulic
Cripes, the booze is really pouring through me tonight, haha. Can’t imagine what’s the matter with me. Er, shall I uncork another bottle on my way back? No, it’s no problem at all – leave it to me. I SAID LEAVE IT TO ME. In a word: piss-poor. 8 points.

19. Denmark – Shame on you – Tomas Thordarson
OK, let’s run through the check list.
Clattering thwackity-thwack percussion? Check.
Discreet touches of flamenco guitar, to capture that Mediterranean vote? Check.
Key change? All present and correct, SAH.
Operatic yodelling? Sorry, we ran out of funding for operatic yodelling, but we’ve made up for it by rhyming “FYE-ya” and “diz-EYE-ya” in the chorus; would that be an acceptable substitute?
Oh, it would, it would! Denmark, I kiss you! 55 points.

20. Serbia & Montenegro – Lane moje – Zeljko Joksimovic
Sorry, but what is it with all the clattering percussion this year? Has everybody been forced to listen to the Pet Shop Boys’ Se A Vida E before putting pen to paper, or what?

(Which gives rise to another thought: the days of the in-house orchestra may be long gone, but couldn’t we all have a whip-round and hire those lesbian drummers instead? Because, with this year’s selection, they’d have a field day. What were they called? She-boom, wasn’t it? Yes – them. Get them on a plane to Istanbul this instant.)

Anyway, the clattering percussion on Lane moje is of the more muted kind, complementing rather than smothering the mood – which is all chest-beating Balkan butchness, pan-pipes of the forest, skirling gypsy violins, the works. I’ve developed a real soft spot for this sort of stuff over the years, and this is a fine addition to the canon. 67 points.

21. Bosnia-Herzegovina – In the disco – Deen
The riff from Hot Stuff meets the bassline from The Chase, as Deen indulges in a veritable homage to Giorgio Moroder. Listening to his vocal performance, words like “fey” and “lisping” spring inexorably into mind and lodge themselves there, no matter how hard I try to dismiss them as the residue of some long-buried internalised homophobia. (But come on, she’s GOT to be in The Gays, right? I’ve seen the photos.) So, can we – dare we? – expect another Paul Oskar moment here? (Iceland, 1997, leather kecks, couch, S&M girlies, fond of stroking himself.) A nice try at over-the-top campery, but – like Paul Oskar’s offering, in fact – there’s a certain thinness at the heart of In The Disco which ultimately works against it. And, really, Donna Summer should sue. 63 points.Nearly there, kids!

22. Netherlands – Without you – Re-union
A-ha! Like Rollo & King at Copenhagen in 2001, Re-union come out of nowhere with a simple, good-natured breath of fresh air, which compares most favourably with all the laboured twittering/tubthumping/thwackity-thwacking of the last few songs. Easy guitar strumming, a touch of piano, pleasant harmonies and a memorable soaring falsetto in the chorus are all that are needed to make this a dead cert for qualification. The fire/desire rhyme (this year’s third, and counting) is merely the icing on the cake. In a word: breezy. 70 points.

Mike’s Semi-Final Top 5:
1. Belarus: My Galileo (or, as the artists themselves pronounce it: Magga Lee Lay Low) (93)
2. Ukraine: Wild dances (89)
3. Albania: The image of you (77)
4. Finland: Takes 2 to tango (75)
5. Netherlands: Without you (70)

Eurovision 2004 preview: the semi-finals, 1st half.

This year – to the ecstatic delight of some, and the horrified disbelief of others – Eurovision graduates into a two-day event, with a semi-final on Wednesday May 12 and a final on Saturday May 15. In the semi-final, 22 songs will compete for 10 places in the final, where they will join 14 songs from last year’s most successful countries (plus the four countries which always stump up the most dosh generously provide a large proportion of the funding for the event, thus guaranteeing themselves a place).

With no less than 36 (woo!) songs taking part in this year, I am splitting my preview into three sections – starting with the first 11 songs in next Wednesday’s semi-final. This will be shown live on BBC3, complete with tele-voting, but without the drama of the scoreboard; the ten qualifying songs will simply be announced at the end of the contest, in no particular order.

1. Finland – Takes 2 to tango – Jari Sillanpää
Tonight on Stars In Their Eyes: Michael Ball is… Marc Almond! Singing tango! With just the merest hint of Mamma Mia! Ludicrous but oddly likeable, like all the best Eurovision is supposed to be. Bonus points for the key-change. 75 points.

2. Belarus – My Galileo – Aleksandra & Konstantin
Utterly, utterly demented – and yet, quite, quite brilliant – this comes on like a kind of Eurodisco barndance, with folksy “ethnic” touches, a flute player who appears to be listening to a completely different song altogether, and – best of all! – yodelling. Oh joy! With quite the most eccentric vocal performance of this, or indeed of any other Eurovision, this could either sweep the board or flop completely. One of my personal favourites. 93 points.

3. Switzerland – Celebrate – Piero Esteriore & the MusicStars
Achieving the rare distinction of running out of ideas within the first 15 seconds, not even two (count ’em!) key changes can save this truly pitiful attempt at clap-along jollity. Look, even could have written a better song than this. Seriously. So simplistic that it makes Jemini’s Cry Baby look like Stairway To Heaven by comparison. 7 points.

4. Latvia – Dziesma par laimi – Fomins & Kleins
The normally dependable Latvia have served up a right clunker this year, with a stridently yowling mid-paced rocker that will appeal to almost no-one. No flow, darlings. Deeply unattractive. 12 points.

5. Israel – Le’ha’amin – David D’or
Ooh, is that what they call a counter-tenor? I’m that ignorant. “Operatic” seems to be one of this year’s big Eurovision trends, and our David certainly has an impressive set of chops, soaring away above his cheesy James Last-style backing singers into ever higher flights of fancy. Unfortunately, we’re firmly in “peace anthem” territory here – possibly my least favourite Eurovision category of all – but a suitably sincere performance may yet win the day, and banish memories of all that “light a candle” nonsense from a couple of years back. Bonus points for the key-change. Are you spotting a pattern yet? 54 points.

6. Andorra – Jugarem a estimar-nos – Marta Roure
Spirited melodic pop which tries hard (and I have to say that I love the way that Marta rolls her Rs), but ends up sounding merely strained and unmemorable. Destined to be lost in the rush. 23 points.

7. Portugal – Foi Magia – Sofia
Do you remember when they wheeled Margaret Thatcher out during the 1997 leadership election for the Conservative party? “Hague. Hague. William Hague. I like William Hague. That’s Hague. Shall I spell it for you?” Well, a similar tactic is deployed here by Portugal, who doggedly repeat the song’s title (pronounced “foy ma-ZHEE-ya”) all the way through their allotted three minutes. “Foi Magia. That’s Foi Magia. Vote for Foi Magia. Remember that name now: it’s Foi Magia. And here’s another quick reminder: Foi Magia. Would you like me to write it down for you?31 points. (Parting thought: why does Portugal NEVER submit any fado?)

8. Malta – On again…off again – Julie & Ludwig
So, like, what is it with all this operatic stuff this year? Who deemed this was hip? Did I miss a meeting? Malta have historically specialised in a kind of fresh-faced naivety that straddles the line between “charming” and “twee”, and this is no exception: pretty melodic pop, with a groovy dinner-dance backbeat and some frankly hilarious vocalising from our lovely, smiling duo. The middle section – where our Julie completely goes off on one with some smashing operatic arpeggios – is destined to be featured in “ironic” video-clip montages for the rest of recorded time. Luvvit! 65 points (including bonus points for the key-change).

9. Monaco – Notre planète – Maryon
Suffering from being the fourth song in a row with the same shuffling Eurodisco backbeat, this is also not helped by Maryon’s rather insipid vocal delivery; when given a chance to show off with some freestyle soaring in the middle section, she blows it badly, merely warbling away ineffectually until the key change (bonus points!) kicks in. However, the song is partially redeemed by some rather lovely pizzicato counterpoint flourishes, which distract one’s attention quite effectively from the essential slightness of the song itself. 50 points.

10. Greece – Shake it – Sakis Rouvas
Ooh, Sakis, you’re such a Romeo; you can pluck my bouzouki any time! With an unabashed cheesiness that is more over-ripe Roquefort than understated Feta, Shake It undoes all of its hard work with a moronic, repetitive turkey of a chorus – after which, not even a rousing percussion breakdown can save it. (And where, pray, is the key change after the percussion breakdown? If ever a tune was crying out for a key change, then this was it. Haven’t you read the rules?) However, I am awarding extra special bonus points for being the first of this year’s entries to rhyme “fire” (FYE-ya!) with “desire” (diz-EYE-ya!). 51 points.

11. Ukraine – Wild dances – Ruslana
Yes! Yes! Yes! This is why we love Eurovision so much. Vying with its neighbours in Belarus in the Totally F***ing Bonkers stakes, this is an almost impossibly exciting piece of rousing Cossack dervishry, fronted by a belter of a singer who comes on like Shakira on uppers. I can see her now, twirling her fringed gypsy skirt in the glow of the campfire, as all around her do that cross-armed squatting dance that plays such havoc with the joints. Total entertainment! 89 points, including a bonus for the impressively inept trumpet player (we had one like him in the school band).