Eurovision 2016 – Semi Final Two

So here we are again, gentle reader, with a look at the eighteen songs that will battle it out in Semi Final Two. It was going to be nineteen, but then the EBU looked in the box where Romania had said it had left 16 million Swiss Francs and the damn thing was empty! So they got booted out of the contest in a hissy fit and can now only stand on the sidelines and peer with their noses pressed up against the shop window. As before, you can also see the betting odds, courtesy of (taking all the bookmakers who will give you the first four places each way, as at 26th April) and also giving each song a star rating out of 5. Let’s do this!

Latvia – Justs – Heartbeat

JustsSemi Final Two gets underway with Justs from Latvia and a song with so synthesised an arrangement that the notes sound like farting in an electronic bathtub. I’m confused by this song – is he going for a kind of Erasure sound? Justs appeared at the London Eurovision Party and gives a confident performance and I know this song is fancied but it kind of just passes me by. I really want to like it more than I do. OK – after about half a dozen hearings, I’m just beginning to get it. But that’s not what you want from a Eurovision song. 16/1 – 25/1 (starting to drift). **

Poland – Michał Szpak – Color of Your Life

Michal SzpakSo let’s start with a rap across the knuckles for the American spelling of Colour. Don’t think that will endear you to the British voters, Mr Szpak. Michał is definitely master of his own appearance; in fact, with that Biblical look you’d think him much more likely to walk on water than Ira Losco. I didn’t like this much when I first heard it but it is growing on me now. I rather like the song’s sentiment – it appeals to someone who’s perhaps no longer in the first flush of youth. The melody is charming – but it does remind me of something else…. But then I guess there are lots of songs that go “Oh oh oh oh”. He sang at the London Eurovision Party and definitely has a strong stage presence. I expect it will qualify. 28/1 – 40/1 (coming in). *

Switzerland – Rykka – The Last of our Kind

RykkaAnother of those songs that’s part way to being good but somehow falls short. Rykka’s an attractive girl with big hair and a very irritating way of saying “movie”. But I find if I listen all the way to the end of the song it’s like swallowing a pint of sugar paste. Switzerland have sent some brilliant songs over the past ten years. This isn’t one. 150/1 – 300/1 (steady). *

Israel – Hovi Star – Made of Stars

Hovi StarContinuing the syrup, here is Hovi Star with Made of Stars and if you feel like that’s just a little too much astronomy, I’m with you. Israel tend to send two types of song: the lively, dynamic, ethnically funky stuff that everyone loves, and variations on a dirge like this one. It’s very repetitive too. When I was playing the songs to Mrs Chrisparkle this was the one where she cried out for mercy and said she could take no more. A very pleasant melody lost inside a jelly of gloop. Did I tell you it was repetitive? 66/1 – 150/1 (steady). **

Belarus – Ivan – Help You Fly

IvanStill, no matter how sugary sweet the earlier entries, at least they don’t feature a naked man surrounded by wolves. I guess they realise the song is so weak they have to distract the viewer with something. Perfecting that “just out of the shower” look, Ivan wants to help us fly, but if he’s the pilot, I think I’ve just lost my passport. A song from another era, from another planet. It’s the wolves I feel sorry for. 150/1 – 300/1 (steady). *

Serbia – Sanja Vučić ZAA – Goodbye (Shelter)

Sanja VucicSo there’s a number of things that put you off here. The song has a title with another title (in brackets) that bears no association with the first title. The singer appears to have the Serbian equivalent of MBE after her name, although that’s apparently her group. So why isn’t she Sanja Vučić and the ZAA’s? Much more reassuring. Sanja herself is an attractive girl until she overdoes the makeup so that she looks like Cleopatra on Goth night. The song is some overblown nonsense that gets nowhere but does so with chutzpah. 18/1 – 28/1 (steady). **

Ireland – Nicky Byrne – Sunlight

Nicky ByrneWhoever produced the video made the fatal error of displaying the lyrics – that way there is no hiding place from the fact that they are mindlessly trite. That said, surely only Sergey Lazarev has similar live-performance-in-front-of-a-huge-crowd experience as our Nicky, and he’s going to be a really safe pair of lungs on the night. Actually I like this song very much. It’s upbeat, well-meaning, stays just on the entertaining side of bland, and has the nice touch that the melody goes up at the end of the chorus. He appeared briefly at the London Eurovision Party before he had to get the flight back to Ireland, but sure gave a great performance. Underrate this at your peril. 50/1 – 150/1 (steady). ****

FYR Macedonia – Kalliopi – Dona

KaliopiEveryone else has already done all the doner doner doner kebab jokes, so I won’t add to your burden. Kalliopi is, as we know from her 2012 Eurovision appearance, a really gifted singer with a powerful personality and strong stage presence. Crno I belo is a fantastic song which has stood the test of time with fortitude. Dona, on the other hand, seems lame and dated even before it’s started. Shame because she’s capable of so much more. 150/1 – 350/1 (steady). **

Lithuania – Donny Montell – I’ve Been Waiting for this Night

Donny MontellThe second of two repeat offenders on the run, it’s welcome back to Donny Montell and this time he’s left the blindfold off. As soon as I’d heard this song a few months ago I guessed instantly that it would win the Lithuanian selection show, as it’s a very easy-going, likeable tune sung by an easy-going, likeable guy. This is one of those Eurovision songs that would fit in well as a show tune. That’s not always a good thing. It’s ok to listen to a few times, but you wouldn’t want to overdo it. 80/1 – 150/1 (steady). ***

Australia – Dami Im – The Sound of Silence

Dami ImAustralia in the semis for the first time and they’ve brought in another big gun with X-factor winner, and South Korean export, Dami Im. This sound of silence has nothing to do with Simon and Garfunkel – although there may be some slight borrowings in the lyrics – and for certain Paul and Art definitely never did FaceTime. This has a strong, haunting atmosphere and relentless rhythm that really packs a punch. The chorus is repetitive, and doesn’t say much – but that somehow adds to its slightly eerie instability. Great stuff. 10/1 – 12/1 (steady). *****

Slovenia – ManuElla – Blue and Red

ManuEllaA rather racy and pacey song, the message of which is “blue is blue and red is red and you’re depressed that I wouldn’t be what you wanted me to be but I’m alright, so that’s alright then.” I’m not sure ManuElla should start volunteering at the Samaritans. She looks kinda cute in one of Sergeant Pepper’s old cast-offs. It’s okay; it’s what Mrs C would call “relentless” and she doesn’t mean that as a compliment. 150/1 – 400/1 (drifting). ***

Romania – Ovidiu Anton – Moment of Silence

Ovidiu AntonThis is where Romania would have been – but now they’re not. Actually it’s a song that I didn’t rate at all until I heard it performed live at the London Eurovision Party. Ovidiu’s a formidable chap who loves to rock and he delivers a really powerful vocal to this anthemic ballad which feels like it should be the theme to a Lord of the Rings-type fantasy. It’s a little overblown and a little over-the-top – but then again, it is Eurovision, isn’t it? Surprisingly entertaining. But, above all, not participating. ∞/1. ***

Bulgaria – Poli Genova – If Love Was a Crime

Poli GenovaThis is what you’ve been privately wondering all the time: “дай ми любовта”. That’s what she’s singing in the bit you don’t understand. It means “give me love” according to Google Translate. I thought she was singing either the sex-in-the-bath invitation of “ooh, bring me loofah” or the more mysterious whodunit suggestion of “who nicked me loofah”. Rather sad to discover neither is true. Poli teamed up with the Chipmunks for the introduction – nice of her to give work to some aged singing rodents. “If love was a crime, then we would be criminals…. They will never break us down… Our love ain’t got no pride… Together we’re untouchable…” In post-Conchita eastern Europe, this is more than just a love song, methinks. Great performer too, as I can testify from the London Eurovision Party. 18/1 – 25/1 (coming in). ****

Denmark – Lighthouse X – Soldiers of Love

Lighthouse XTypical boyband sound but perhaps not quite so typical boyband members and lyrics. Whilst the description of the group on is as pompous as it gets, they clearly are three separate artistes, combined together to make socially responsible music (whatever that is). When asked if they have a superstition before going on stage, they answer: “We gather together, look at each other, deeply in the eyes, as we agree to have fun and to sing from the heart.” OK. The song is all about “what’s the reason that we keep on hiding… take my hand and never let go…we’ll be soldiers of love”. Lyrically Bulgaria and Denmark are bookends on the same shelf. Musically, it never quite soars, but it’s pleasing enough. 80/1 – 150/1 (steady). ***

Ukraine – Jamala – 1944

JamalaSo when your non-Eurovision-watching friend says to you that Eurovision is all frothy light-hearted bubblegum, you can turn their attention to this year’s Ukrainian song which is all about acts of war and genocide; specifically, about the deportation of the Crimean Tatars in 1944 and particularly about Jamala’s great-grandmother, who lost her daughter while being deported to Central Asia. There’s no doubt that it’s a moving song; nor is there any doubt that Jamala is an extraordinary singer. I’m just not sure it’s that rewarding a listen. Is it shallow of me to prefer Le Papa Pingouin? And does she really mean to say arseholes? Twice? 16/1 – 22/1 (starting to drift). ***

Norway – Agnete – Icebreaker

AgneteNow here’s a funny old thing. You’ve heard that concept of having two or three tunes spliced together in one song, and how it always works? Think again. Agnete warms us up with an enjoyably upbeat verse and gets you in the mood for a schlagertastic chorus – and then everything stops as tune #2 kicks in like a hangover. What on earth were they thinking? Mrs C almost choked on her prosecco. Once you’ve had that feeling of let-down, you never regain the original upbeat atmosphere. I don’t think this will qualify. 66/1 – 125/1 (drifting). **

Georgia – Nika Kocharov and Young Georgian Lolitaz – Midnight Gold

NIka KocharovNika Kocharov and Young Georgian Lolitaz. What a totally splendid name for a band. Unfortunately, after that, everything goes downhill. No, to be fair, the video is rather fun, with Nika as a mad professor and the group on Play-Doh instruments. Yet another example of a song that almost makes it, because it has a subtle moody vibe and decent guitar work but it just doesn’t gel together. Very non-Eurovision. 150/1 – 500/1 (steady). **

Albania – Eneda Tarifa – Fairytale

Eneda TarifaI know you’d been wondering what had happened to Youddiph’s massive dress after the 1994 contest. Well it’s turned up in Eneda’s dressing-up box and she sports it quite tastefully for headgear. That’s not the only thing that’s unoriginal about this entry. They’ve taken Rybak’s title, Antique’s concept and Aminata’s “oh-oh”s. Three minutes of moody gloom. It does nothing for me at all. 100/1 – 500/1 (steady). *

Belgium – Laura Tesoro – What’s The Pressure

Laura TesoroCheeky little Laura is only 19 and looks like a bundle of fun so why has she saddled herself with a song straight out of the 1980s? I bet she’s got loads of better numbers up her sleeve. It sounds so dated; after last year’s Belgian entry this is a massive step backwards. The lyrics also don’t make much sense. The tune is bright and breezy but never quite hits a pay-off moment. It goes so far, then pulls itself back. A musical interpretation of Catholic birth control. 80/1 – 150/1 (steady). **

And that completes Semi Final Two. Which eight songs do you think are for the jettisoning? Albania, Belarus, Georgia, Switzerland, Belgium, FYR Macedonia, Israel and Serbia is my guess. Remember to watch the second semi-final on BBC 4 at 8pm on Thursday 12th May – this time viewers in the UK can vote. Ten songs will go forward from both semis to the Grand Final on 23rd May along with six others – the Big Five and last year’s Sweden. See you tomorrow for that final countdown – and there are some good ones still to look forward to!

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