Eurovision 2019 – Semi Final One

It’s been a couple of years since I’ve done a (relatively) in-depth preview of the year’s Eurovision Song Contest, so I though I should damn well pull my finger out and get something written – and this is the result. 41 European nations (we include Australia as Europe now – Israel has been for decades) will be convening in Tel Aviv to sort the wheat from the chaff in this year’s shindig – the 64th of such affairs, which must mean we’re all getting older. I’ve thrown my lot in with my trusty friends YouTube and Oddschecker to bring you the 17 songs that constitute Semi Final One on 14th May. We’ll take them in the order chosen by Israeli TV station KAN, and with each song you’ll find the average betting odds from all the bookmakers who will give you the first four places on an Each Way as at 17th April. I’ll give each song a star rating out of 5. I should perhaps add that I wrote these reflections before rehearsals started, so they’re very much impressions from the videos and listening to the recordings. Olé Olé and off we go!

Cyprus – Tamta – Replay

TamtaCyprus came so close last year with Fuego, that they thought they’d have another stab with the same song. Actually, that’s unfair, there are other songs this year that sound even more like Fuego than this – yes, I’m looking at you, Switzerland. Tamta has a fetching look about her, although she clearly spends too much time in the boys’ showers. That diamante bra does look awfully uncomfortable; not that the other extraordinary costumes in the video look any better. Three minutes of mesmerising video images – oh, and there’s a song going on at the same time. She was born in Tbilisi, so she might get a few votes from Georgia as well as Greece. The song’s quite good in fact, and I’m sure it has them quaking in the nightspots of Limassol. Does she really sing “I’m sh*tting my body tonight”? Too much baklava, perhaps. Was 16-1, now drifting. ****

Montenegro – D Mol – Heaven

D molNow here are six young people immensely proud of their beautiful countryside. See them emote in the snow. Feel their hearts twang in the forests. Watch them “accidentally” form the shape of a treble clef by the sea. I lost count of the number of times each turned their head to the sun in their most forced sexiest possible manner. And when night comes, they plunder the Edinburgh Woollen Mill for some tartan scarves and sit around the camp fire. How appropriate. “I got used to feeling naked” goes the lyrics – so it’s not just Duncan Laurence, then. Who knew Little Red Riding Hood was Montenegrin? I’ve never seen anyone wearing so much make-up just to go on a walk with a horse. This feels like it comes from another age – but I can’t work out which age that would be. The Stone Age? Their effort is noted and appreciated. 250-1. **

Finland – Darude feat. Sebastian Rejman – Look Away

Darude feat. Sebastian RejmanThe creator of Sandstorm turns up unexpectedly at the Eurovision Song Contest with a song that isn’t immediate enough to create a strong impression on its first hearing, but boy does it grow on you if you give it a chance. I hope they can recreate the same stage effects in Tel Aviv, where the girl, first on, then in, the box and Sebastian act out their own mini-drama, whilst Darude’s knowingly pounding away at a keyboard. Simple and attractive, yet bleak and angst-ridden – Finland in a nutshell, really. And incredibly catchy too. “Is it in my head?” asks Sebastian; yes, it is, at around 4.15 every morning while I’m trying to go back to sleep. My favourite in this semi. 150-1. *****

Poland – Tulia – Fire of Love

TuliaHere we welcome four young ladies who assume an expression in the video that makes you think they’d never be happier than when they’re volunteering at the local morgue. At first you think you’re hearing a Polish version of I Am the Walrus, but then it goes even weirder. Tulia appear to have rounded up all the local retired folk for a compulsory three minutes of musical hell – and if they don’t get a standing ovation, the old people die. Them’s the rules. And then a double bed goes up in flames. Of course. The stuff of nightmares. By all accounts in real life they’re perfectly charming. They specialise in this weird vocal style that translates as “screaming sing”. I rest my case. 200-1. **

Slovenia – Zala Kralj & Gašper Šantl – Sebi

Zala Kralj & Gašper ŠantlAfter the forceful Poles, it’s time for the ethereal Slovenes. Zala’s voice is so laid back the words are almost coming out in reverse. She seems so uninterested to be there that she makes me uninterested to hear what she’s singing. “Just stay true to who you are and stop apologising to me” go the lyrics. I’m in no mood to argue. There is a vestige of a nice tune there, but it all just feels like too much hassle. This has all the appeal of nailing a dead rat to your front door to keep witches away. Was 50-1, now drifting slightly. *

Czech Republic – Lake Malawi – Friend of a Friend

Lake MalawiAfter a racket and then a drab song, this is going to shine through like a beacon of light. By far the best of the Czech national selection, Lake Malawi channel their inner Depeche Mode to bring us a slightly jokey, slightly self-conscious and occasionally sleazy love confession. In these miserable times it makes a really entertaining change to listen to something so deliberately lightweight. Beautifully constructed Insta-ready video. I don’t think it has enough oomph to be there in the final furlong, but it’s hard not to smile at it. Was 100-1, now more like 66-1. ****

Hungary – Joci Pápai – Az én apám

Joci PápaiJoci Pápai returns for a second go at Eurovision glory with this introverted and moving little song about his father. Read the English translation of the lyrics and feel that lump come into your throat. Musically, it’s a little repetitive and a trifle underwhelming, and there’s something about Joci and his style that doesn’t do it for me, but I sense that’s more my problem than his. It could be that his hairstyle makes him look like he has a vacuum cleaner attachment stuck up there. Or it could be that I prefer my Eurovision music to be shallower. 200-1. ***

Belarus – ZENA – Like It

ZENATalking of shallow, here’s a song that asserts itself with the certainty that you’re gonna like it, whether you do or don’t. “I’ll share what I’ve got”, sings ZENA (why is she in capitals?) as though she’s in a marketplace touting her wares. Trouble with this song is that, despite its wretched lyrics, it’s awfully catchy, and ZENA’s awfully cute. Oh, good grief, she’s 16. Ignore that last comment. Not much else to say really. 250-1. ***

Serbia – Nevena Božović – Kruna

Nevena BožovićThe video shows Nevena to be a bit of a temptress, although those knuckledusters look a trifle disconcerting. Her self-penned Kruna is a haunting tune that builds nicely into a strong finish. It’s just the kind of song that I’d never choose to listen to. She’s awfully intense through that performance. Is it too late to suggest taking a chill pill? Was 250-1, now coming in a little. **

Belgium – Eliot – Wake Up

EliotBit of an enigma, this one. I love that background electronic theme – very Gary Numan – that kicks in right at the start and carries all the way through apart from the choruses; and Eliot is another of these intriguing young Belgians in the tradition of Loic Nottet and Blanche who have a kind of fragile under-presence that genuinely disconcerts but you can’t help pay attention to them. Wake Up has a downcast air that makes you feel mournful and the lyrics set up a mysterious challenge that the song alone can’t resolve. Shame that the filming for the video started so early that all his pals only had time to put their vests on. I like this one, and I think it will do much better than many are suggesting. Was 80-1, now drifting. ****

Georgia – Oto Nemsadze – Keep on Going

Oto NemsadzeIt was going so well too, but here’s where this semi-final begins to take a turn for the worst. Meet Oto. Oto has an air of a man down at heel. He trudges through the seafront in his seven-league boots because Oto has a quest to keep on going. But I’m afraid he’s going on his own. I don’t believe this is meant to be funny, but a quick check of the English lyrics is utterly hilarious. “Keep on going. Keep on going forward! Walk much! Seek! Find! Keep on going! They sing somewhere! Sing heartedly! Wires! They are singing! Wounds! Sing after all! Varado, varado, varada rada hee. Varado, varado, varada rada hee.” From then on, it gets puerile. 300-1. *

Australia – Kate Miller-Heidke – Zero Gravity

Kate Miller-HeidkeAfter Georgia’s representation of the Grim Reaper, here’s Australia’s version of Daffy Duck. Kate Miller-Heidke is a huge star in Australia – so what, you may ask, is she doing on top of a giant blancmange with a voice like she’s just stubbed her toe? A perfect example of what happens when someone says “let’s write a great Eurovision song” instead of “let’s write a great song”. This is precisely what Estonia did last year, but with much less class. So many excellent songs in the Australian final, then they went and chose this atrocity. Was 66-1, now more like 33-1 (bizarrely). *

Iceland – Hatari – Hatrið mun sigra

HatariAfter watching a depressed bin man and then a blancmange on speed, it’s time for Iceland, and things aren’t getting any better. Sometimes Eurovision elevates eccentricity to an art form, and I think that’s what’s happening here. Remember the vibe that surrounded Lordi in 2006, scary monsters on stage and all that jazz? I think Hatari (the Haters) are going for the same effect a decade on. In its defence, it stands out. And it will gain some votes through sheer bloody-minded mischief. But, at the end of the day, this is a repulsive mess with a lead singer whose voice sounds like an amplified fly has got caught in his throat. Zombie dance of the Icelandic dead. I know they’re nice to their mothers, but no thanks. 14-1. **

Estonia – Victor Crone – Storm

Victor CroneFor a brief respite from GBH of the earhole, here’s that nice Victor Crone to prove that not only SuRie can go down a storm. It’s a jolly, positive little number, with a very simple (too simple?) and predictable (too predictable?) chorus that’s very nice but in the final analysis might just be a little… bland? Country showbiz. 150-1. ***

Portugal – Conan Osiris – Telemóveis

Conan OsirisIf you thought you’d already seen the worst this semi-final can offer, think again. Here’s Conan, too ridiculous even to be a Barbarian. Dressed like the dying swan but with added facial bling, the music – I choose the word ill-advisedly – plinky-plonks and twangs its way through a sea of pretentious nonsense. Occasionally his mate decides to shake his feathery thing, but all this is good for is contempt. If you’re interested, not that you should be, the lyrics are about killing cellphones. Don’t tell me it’s a satirical comment on today’s social media society; it’s utter sh*te. Not merely the worst song in the contest, but among the five worst songs the contest has ever produced. They’ve really made a little go a very short way. Was 33-1, now, sensibly, drifting. *

Greece – Katerine Duska – Better Love

Katerine DuskaThis is a great example of the kind of song that really ought to be better. Another video that suffers from pretentiousness (although there’s a vast difference between this and say, the Portuguese or Icelandic entries), the song borrows quite a lot from Leona Lewis’ Bleeding Love, and Katerine’s voice has a twisted, muscular nature that doesn’t do it for me. Over-stylised and overblown; but not as offensively awful as some. Was 22-1, now drifting slightly. **

San Marino – Serhat – Say Na Na Na

SerhatAnd to round the evening off, it’s a welcome back to Serhat with a more uplifting song than his previous attempt in 2016. Say Na Na Na really ought to be a Ralph Siegel song, because it’s light, trite and a delight. The song really benefits from the entertaining video, but how are they going to recreate all those dancers on a stage for six? If they do this well, this could sail into the final. But, equally, it could fall flat on its arse. That’s the magic of Eurovision. I hated this at first – and maybe the rest of Europe will too. 250-1. ****

So that’s the line up for Semi Final One. Seven songs won’t qualify; according to the bookmakers they will be Georgia, San Marino, Serbia, Belarus, Hungary, Poland and Montenegro. I think that maybe Belarus will make it at the expense of Finland (sadly) and if Serhat owns it, then San Marino might stay in and Australia won’t make the final for the first time. Although they really shouldn’t, I think Iceland and Portugal will somehow get through to the finals, which ought to make us all question our societal sanity. Semi Final One is on BBC4 on Tuesday 14th May at 8pm, and I’ll be back shortly with a preview of Semi Final Two. See you soon!

6 thoughts on “Eurovision 2019 – Semi Final One

  1. What a post you’ve put up here! I’ve followed the contest since I watched in 1959 when Le Royaume-Uni first entered, and can still vividly recall it. (Actually not quite true as there were a few years in late 1970s-80s when I thought it was just naff and embarrassing so I gave up). Well it’s certainly naff – but also great daft,and crazy fun. I’ve followed it avidly again for about the last 30 years – and despairing practically annually at the low standard of our entry or the eventual winner (or both), the latter more often than not leaving me completely mystified as to just why it came out on top – last year’s Israeli winner for example. I’ll have a lot more to say about the subject, if not here then on my own blog (I always do one following the final). Meantime I have to go through the songs you’ve loaded both this time and for the next heat as I’ve heard none of them yet -only the U.K.’s which yet again I thought not the best of the meagre selection we were allowed to vote on. But thanks for the ‘prod’. .

      • You are actually the very first person I’ve ‘known’ who is also a fan – or at least ‘confessed’; to being one. I’ve never had the good fortune to attending any (yet?) .Nearby Brighton, unsurprisingly, has the biggest British fan base with parties and other shenanigans, During the course of this year’s fest, i.e. next week, you and I must ‘compare notes’.

      • Definitely! Well, there are quite a lot of us fans out there, I can’t offhand remember whether it’s the British, or the German fan club that is the largest in the world…. it’s one of us anyway. For the last twelve years I’ve been a regular correspondent on a European radio show (one of a team of five from UK and Ireland) called Radio International, so I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing a number of Eurovision entrants. I must say the Eurovision fan world is a very inclusive and welcoming place!

  2. Just played all these without looking at your commentaries. Will go through them again after I’ve been through Part 2 + the ‘Big 5’, and only then look at what you’ve said.
    I usually rate Euro entries between 1 and 5. On this showing it’s been par for the course – one I’ve rated with a 5, one 4 but ten 1s. Being of old-fashioned tastes I look for a TUNE with a beat under it – so you might guess my top one so far.
    I’ll do the rest probably on Sat.

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