Early predictions

Posted: 29/4/2006 in:

Ok, we know there’s still a few weeks to go and we’ll probably change our mind, but now Team Eurovision has had a chance to review all the semi-finalists, these, in no particular order, are the ones we think – or in some cases hope – will be joining the line-up on May 20…

BELGIUM – not our favourite song but Kate Ryan has a big following, and this kind of mainstream pop has a habit of doing well. A lot will rest on performance though – if she doesn’t do well on the night she could be in danger of going the way of Iceland’s Selma in 2005.

SWEDEN – again, not our favourite but it’s a good solid track, very Eurovision friendly and sung by a familiar face to the contest (who will likely deliver a faultless performance). It would be a big shock if this didn’t make the final.

BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA – a lovely song that’s growing on us with every listen. Likely to follow in the footsteps of Serbia and Montenegro’s similar entry from 2004.

FINLAND – not only is it a cracking tune, but Lordi have had so much pre-contest hype (even XFM’s Lauren Laverne has announced her support for them) that qualification looks very likely, as long as people aren’t put off by their scary appearance. The fact this is likely to be the performance of the night should help too.

ICELAND – one of the favourites to qualify last year, Iceland shocked a lot of people when they missed out on the 2005 final. This year, however, we reckon Silvia’s colourful performance and clever song should see them through.

RUSSIA – another one we’re liking more and more every time we hear it, and it’ll provide a nice contrast to some of the more uptempo offerings. Female members of the team, meanwhile, will have no objections to seeing Dima in the final (despite the dodgy haircut)

FYR MACEDONIA – to be honest, this is one of those ones that could go either way. But FYR Macedonia have made the final for the past two years even though they didn’t really deserve to – and since Elena’s song is much better than its predecessors, we reckon she’ll make it.

SLOVENIA – one of two mad random predictions we’re going to make this year – we love this and would absolutely love to see it in the final, and we reckon a charismatic turn from Anzej could help it stick in voters’ minds despite its early position in the running order.

ARMENIA – the odds may be stacked against them (first time in the contest, first on), but debutants have a habit of qualifying, and the song is definitely good enough. Armenia have taken their entry into Eurovision very seriously and we’re optimistic their efforts will pay off.

UKRAINE – mad random prediction number two. Tina is going to have to work hard not to have the impact of her performance blown away by Finland, but the song sounds like nothing else that’s on offer in the semi-final, and we reckon that could help. We’re keeping everything crossed for them.

Possible spoilers

Ireland – a polished ballad sung by an experienced performer, this could well cause an upset. Might be a bit too traditional for the global audience, but definitely has a shot at the top ten.

Poland – we still can’t make up our minds whether we like this one or not, and the national final performance was chaotic, but Ich Troje’s popularity could well land them a final spot.

Estonia – heavily tipped to qualify but we’re not sure, simply because of its position between the strongly fancied (and similar) Swedish song and the Bosnian song. Could go one way or the other, as far as we’re concerned.

Turkey – a definite possibility for the final simply due to the amount of Turkish support from other countries, but we still think it’s a weak song, and that could count against it.

Andorra – a very strong ballad that, with a good performance, could garner support in the same way that Israel did last year. This is their best effort yet and, as such, gives them their best chance of getting to the final for the first time.

And last, but not least…..

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Song: Congratulations Iceland
Artist: Silvia Night
And so we come to the last song in the semi-final – and if you thought the 2006 contest had enough eccentrics, what with Lordi, LT United and Bulgaria’s strange wailing transvestite, rest assured you ain’t seen nothing yet. For Iceland – one of Team Eurovision’s favourite countries, and long overdue a victory as far as we’re concerned – is another nation that seems to have its tongue wedged firmly in its cheek this year. To that end they have given us Silvia Night – who isn’t even a real person, rather the grotesque creation of actress August Eva Erlendsdottir. The star of a spoof reality TV show, Silvia sprang to small screen fame thanks to her unorthodox style of interviewing guests on the programme – and the character now labours under the misapprehension she’s one of the most famous people in the world (imagine a cross between Dennis Pennis and Chantelle from Celebrity Big Brother and you’ll get the idea). And true to form, she’s now out to conquer Eurovision – complete with a catchy little number which assures us that she’s destined to win the contest since she is clearly the best. It’s already raised a few eyebrows thanks to lyrics which include, it seems, the first ever use of fruity language in Eurovision – when she assures us ‘the vote is in, I’ll f-ing win, too bad for all the others’ – to say nothing of the point when she has a conversation with God, related entirely to her own brilliance. But in a year when the contest is full of colourful characters, just how does Silvia compare? Well, the first time we heard this it was in Icelandic so we just didn’t get it (despite being rather taken with the inevitably OTT performance), but that’s all changed since the new English translation became available. It follows the same sort of pattern as the Lithuanian entry in terms of extolling its virtues – but while Lithuania is just too blatant and obvious for its own good, Congratulations Iceland is spot-on, as much a send-up of the whole Eurovision phenemonon as it is a tribute to Silvia’s ego. Even the song itself, a kind of sub-Britney Spears pop tune, isn’t bad. By rights something this mad really shouldn’t work, but the odd thing is it does – and while we don’t think Silvia’s prophecies of victory will come true, she could find herself doing rather well.
For It: The popularity of this kind of thing in Eurovision should never be under-estimated – let’s not forget how well the likes of Guildo Horn, Stefan Raab and Alf Poier have done in recent years. And if the national final performance is anything to go by, Silvia will provide a memorable finish to the semi-final complete with outlandish costumes (we’re hoping that the blue flouncy thing from the video makes an appearance) and backing dancers whose trousers have a habit of falling off. We reckon her chances of making the final are looking good.
Against It: It might have been translated into English, but will audiences get the joke? Silvia could be in trouble if her satiric lyrics fall flat on the night, while others may be put off if the swearing stays intact. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen – the final would be a poorer place without Ms Night.

Song Reviews – Estonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina

Posted: 25/4/2006 in:

Song: Through My Window
Artist: Sandra
There was a moment back in the early part of the decade when it looked as though Estonia would be a Eurovision force to be reckoned with, thanks to their three year run of top five finishes (the most notable, of course, being their 2001 victory). Since 2003 it’s been downhill all the way, though, and they’ve been floundering in semi-final territory ever since it was introduced. This year, however, we reckon they’ve got more chance of progressing to the final than they have done previously. Despite its resemblance to ABBA (and specifically Does Your Mother Know) Through My Window, one of the first songs to be chosen for this year’s contest, is an upbeat, likeable little number which is memorable enough to attract those voters who won’t have heard any of the songs before semi-finals night. For all its plus points, however, we sense a problem. For one thing, this is performed right after Sweden, and the similarities between the two songs – both taking the Scandi-pop route – are all too obvious (and despite our reservations about Carola, we have to admit the Swedish song is better). For another, this comes right in the middle of a batch of strongly fancied songs – with Bosnia and Herzegovina and Iceland to follow – and try as we might, we just can’t picture all of the last four songs qualifying from the semi. We hope we’re wrong, because this is a nice little number (even if the choreography in the video we saw was noticeably naff) and Sandra is appealing, and we’d like to see Estonia back in the final – but right now, we’re just not sure.
For It: An uptempo, feelgood number that’s easy to like, even if it’s nothing to get too excited about.
Against It: Like it or not, Sweden will be a hard act to follow, and given this song is similar in tone it’s in danger of being swept away by the Carola juggernaut. Add to that the fact that the Bosnian song which follows is also among the favourites and Estonia could be in trouble. Once again, we’re on the fence with this one – like Poland, we reckon it could go one way or the other.

Song: Lejla
Artist: Hari Mata Hari
And so we come to the penultimate song in the semi-final – and as we’re constantly reminded by the Eurovision pundits, singing second to last is always a good place to be, whether you’re in the semi or the final (let us not forget it did wonders for Latvia in the final last year – we can only speculate what might have happened if our 2005 favourites Hungary had drawn that slot. But anyway….) To be honest, though, this year’s pentultimate semi-finalist doesn’t really need the advantage of singing second-to-last, since they seem likely to qualify anyway purely on the strength of the song. Lejla – sung by one of B&H’s most popular artists (he is known as the ‘nightingale of Sarajevo’) – was written by Zeljko Joksimovic – who guided Serbia and Montenegro to success in 2004 with the beautiful Lane Moje. Like the aforementioned, this treads similar territory – it’s a haunting, gentle ethno-ballad – and although it’s not quite as immediate as Lane Moje, it still has plenty going for it (not least Hari Mata Hari’s excellent vocals). Sandwiched between Estonia’s song and what will undoubtedly be a bizarre performance from Iceland, this should really stand out. B&H have taken the more uptempo route in recent years, so in a way this seems like a bit of a gamble for them – but it’s one that’s paid off, for this is their strongest effort for years, and not only is it a very likely finalist, but it could give them their best result yet. Let’s just wait and see whether they snag that all-important second-to-last slot in the final too – they could do a lot of damage if they do.
For It: Very different from the songs all around it in the running order, and it couldn’t have asked for a better position in the draw – plus it’s one of the better ballads in the final. Provided the performance is as good as we’re hoping, we’d be surprised if this didn’t make the final.
Against It: Might be a bit too similar to Serbia and Montenegro’s 2004 effort for comfort – and as good as this is, Lane Moje was a superior song. It might also find itself in trouble if voters have tired of ethno-pop – but somehow we don’t think that’ll happen.

Song Reviews – Portugal and Sweden

Posted: 23/4/2006 in:

Song: Coisas de Nadat
Artist: Nonstop
Like Finland, Portugal have a rather unfortunate track record in Eurovision – one of the longest participating countries, they’ve yet to actually win the contest, and since 2004 they’ve yet to even make it out of the semi-final. However, unlike other countries who are given to flouncing off in a huff when the results don’t go their way, Portugal have kept gallantly plugging away, remaining a constant presence in Eurovision (even if it is one that tends to show up in the lower reaches of the scoreboard). This year, however, we can’t help wondering if, following decades of disappointment, they’ve simply given up trying to make an effort. Coisas de Nadat (or Useless Things to give it its English translation) is one of the rank outsiders in the contest – one bookmakers we came across has been offering odds of 610-1 on it scoring a victory – and it’s not hard to see why. Although by rights it should be upbeat and fun – the melody reminds us a little of Bosnia’s 2005 entry Call Me – it’s messy and lacklustre, and there’s a general feeling of ennui about the whole thing, as though they’re resigned to the fact that they’ll never win Eurovision. Well, to be blunt, they won’t win if they keep on entering dull-as-ditchwater songs like this. Given that this is the year in which the likes of Finland and Iceland – other long-time entrants who have never won – have really pulled their socks up and made an effort to send decent, interesting songs (which will at least get them some attention even if they don’t do well), it’s all the more disappointing to see Portugal floundering like this.
For It: Try as we might, it’s almost impossible to come up with any plus points on this one.
Against It: Not only is the song weak, but its position in the semi-final does it no favours either – coming right after Lithuania (which will be a talking point despite being rubbish) and right before Sweden, one of the favourites to win the semi outright all but destroys its chances. In a year which has produced more than its fair share of strong songs, there’s one thing we are sure of – Portugal’s chances of qualifying are almost non-existent.

Song: Evighet (Invincible)
Artist: Carola
Eurovision viewers of a certain age should be familiar with this lady, since she already represented her home country twice before – once in 1983 when she finished 3rd with Framling, and again in 1991, when she controversially snatched victory from under the nose of France (the two tied for first place, but Sweden were awarded victory because they scored more top marks than the French did) with Captured By A Love Storm. Now she’s back, hoping to ‘do a Johnny Logan’ as it were and win the contest for a second time. Back in Sweden, Carola was the hot favourite to win the country’s national final, or Melodifestivalen – an event almost as big as the Eurovision itself – despite some stiff competition from the likes of Andreas ‘Glorious’ Johnson, 1985 participant Kikki Danielsson, and Bodies Without Organs (a band featuring Alexander Bard from camp Swedish disco favourites Army Of Lovers). So what of the song itself? Well in many ways Invincible (to give it its English title, since we gather she’ll be singing in English on the night) is classic Eurovision – upbeat, Abba-esque Scandi-pop with a chorus which quickly sticks in your head – and we have no doubt that Carola will belt it out on the night and progress to the final with ease. She’s even got a pretty decent chance of winning the entire contest. Yet for all the song’s plus points, we can’t help feeling there’s something a tiny bit dated about the whole thing – granted, we don’t dislike it, and we wouldn’t be at all unhappy if it won – but there’s a definite sense of déjà vu about this one. Good, yes, original no.
For It: Carola is a seasoned Eurovision performer who should deliver the goods on the night, and she couldn’t have asked for a better place in the draw (especially coming straight after the lamentable Portugese song) – plus it’s bound to be popular with fans of more conventional Eurovision tunes and those hearing the songs for the first time on the night (since it’s so memorable). It would be a major shock if this one didn’t qualify.
Against It: Good but nonetheless a tad old-fashioned for our liking. It’s been a while since a song as blatantly Eurovision-esque as this actually won the contest – and that could well count against the Swedes.

Song Reviews – Netherlands and Lithuania

Posted: 20/4/2006 in:

Song: Amambanda
Artist: Treble
The Netherlands may be one of the longest-standing participants in Eurovision but they haven’t had too much luck recently – they scraped through the semi-final in 2004 but made little impact on the final itself, and last year missed out on the final completely even though Glennis Grace’s big ballad My Impossible Dream had been tipped as one of the favourites to qualify. This year, they’ve gone for a slight change in direction from the relatively gentle efforts of recent years – Amambanda is an uptempo, ethnic-sounding number performed partly in a made-up language (well it worked for Belgium in 2003 so why not?) – yet the overall effect is strangely underwhelming. It’s not a bad tune – it’s pleasant and catchy enough, while the band’s drumming skills should ensure a spirited performance on the night – yet there’s something strangely unmemorable about the whole enterprise, as if a lot of effort is being put in to no avail. There are certainly far worse songs than this in the contest, but with some very stiff competition in the semi-final we can see this one being overlooked.
For It: It’s far from terrible, and there’s scope for a lively performance. And of course the made-up language gives it a bit of added novelty.
Against It: The semi-final line-up is stronger than ever this year and this just isn’t distinctive enough to stand out. It reminds us a bit of the Estonian entry from 2004, and like that we think this is likely to miss out on a place in the final.

Song: We Are The Winners
Artist: LT United
Every so often, a Eurovision song comes along which is so blatantly ridiculous that you can’t decide if it’s the worst entry ever or a sheer work of genius. Pietro and The Allstars managed it in 2004 with the Swiss clunker Celebrate (and scores a big fat nul points for their troubles), and lo and behold, this year the Lithuanians have done it. Having notched up one of the most unimpressive track records in Eurovision – they debuted in 1994, scored no points and immediately disappeared again for five years, only to have very little success since (the best they’ve managed so far was 13th in 2001, and last year they came last in the semi-final), it seems that this year they’ve decided to take it a bit less seriously. Thus we’ve been treated to a song which consists of little more than LT United chanting repeatedly about how they’re the winners of Eurovision and so we must vote for them – which, if the national final is anything to go by, will be accompanied by a performance featuring silly dancing and all manner of general lunacy. And sure enough, it’s divided audiences, with some proclaiming it a satiric masterpiece and others – rather more sensibly we feel – dismissing it as a load of old claptrap which is fully deserving of the inevitable last place that it’s going to get. And what of Team Eurovision? Well, the first time we heard it we couldn’t stop laughing – and we do appreciate the fact that at least you know where you are with a song that has as blatant a title as We Are The Winners – but in hindsight, we have to admit it’s not very good really (even if it is a damned site more entertaining than the likes of Belarus and Cyprus). However, we can’t help thinking that however hard they may have tried to come up with the silliest song possible, there’s a very slim possibility that the Lithuanians’ efforts may backfire and they might find themselves doing rather well. This is, to be honest, extremely unlikely to happen. But if going down the novelty route worked for the likes of Alf Poier and Stefan Raab (after all, who really saw Austria’s success in 2003 coming?) then whose to say it won’t work in this case? Stranger things have happened.
For It: Its sheer awfulness may well work in its favour – for one thing, it’s virtually critic-proof (it’s knowingly bad so any more insults you fling at it are likely to have little effect), and novelty tracks have a habit of outperforming expectations. Highly unlikely to make the final – but you never know….
Against It: Pretty much everything else really, since this bypasses the cleverness of previous novelty entries and just winds up being silly.

Our Favourite Rumour

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Our Favourite Rumour…

While we’re not entirely surprised by this news, it seems that Lordi’s participation in Eurovision has been causing a bit of a stir back home in Finland. According to a piece in the International Herald Tribune, the scary Scandinavian five-piece have inspired a “national identity crisis”, from religious leaders warning that they may encourage Satanic worship to worried Finns fretting that Lordi may damage the country’s reputation abroad. Some have even asked president Tarja Halonen to intervene and use her powers to veto the band’s participation in the contest.

However, our favourite bit of speculation from the feature concerns the rumour that the quintet – who never remove their monster masks in public – are in fact KGB agents in disguise, who have been sent by president Vladimir Putin to destabilise Finland ahead of a Russian takeover. You can read the piece in its entirety here.

Song Reviews – Ukraine and Finland

Posted: 19/4/2006 in:

Song: Show Me Your Love
Artist: Tina Karol
Of all this year’s entries, Ukraine’s effort has to be one of the least talked about – something which came as a surprise to Team Eurovision, given the impact they’ve made on the contest in the short time they’ve been taking part. Yet, while the likes of Sweden, Belgium and Iceland have had the fans locked in furious debate, we came to the Ukranian entry knowing absolutely nothing about it – except that its performer, Tina Karol, is a pretty big star on home territory. As you can imagine from the above, the lack of buzz surrounding the song meant our expectations weren’t terribly high. All the more reason why we were so very pleasantly surprised by this one. Admittedly, Show Me Your Love is probably an acquired taste – it’s a quirky little number, which blends dance beats with accordion riffs, twanging balalaika and Tina’s distinctive, sharply accented vocals – and a combination like that isn’t going to do much for those who prefer their Eurovision entries to be a bit more, shall we say, conventional. But like Poland last year, we loved this from the first time we heard it, and it’s fast become one of our favourites in the semi-final, not only because it’s irresistible and insanely catchy, but quite simply because there’s nothing else in the contest like it this year. The question is, however – will all this be enough to convince the voting public? Well, it’s probably a bit too offbeat to score Ukraine their second victory, but we’d absolutely love to see it qualify for the final – and the more we hear it, the more we think that’s not out of the question.
For It: There’s always one surprise qualifier in the semi-final – and this is so radically different from everything else on offer that we reckon it’s got a fighting chance of making the cut. Could also benefit from neighbourly voting (not that this helped the Ukranians last year)
Against It: Its status as a genuine love-it-or-loathe-it track may not do it many favours – and we’ve yet to see how Tina tackles the English translation on the night. It sounds fine right now – but then again so did Belarus last year before it took to the semi-final stage.

Song: Hard Rock Hallelujah
Artist: Lordi
And so to one of the most talked-about songs of the semi-final, courtesy of the perpetually unlucky Finland. Much as you have to admire them for trying, the Finns just can’t keep up with their Scandinavian cousins in Eurovision terms – while all around them Sweden, Denmark and Norway clock up top ten placings and even the occasional victory, poor Finland are left trailing with one of the worst track records in Eurovision history – the best they’ve ever managed was sixth place, and that was way back in 1973. This year, however, all that could change. For Lordi are like nothing else that’s ever set foot on a Eurovision stage – one of the many heavy metal bands that seem to be endemic to that part of the world (Finland has also brought us The Rasmus, HIM and Nightwish to name but a few), they’re renowned for an image which features monster masks, outlandish costumes and videos that look like outtakes from a horror movie. But if you thought perhaps they might tone it down for Eurovision, then think again. For Hard Rock Hallelujah couldn’t be further removed from the glam rock antics of last year’s Norwegian entry (which looks positively tame and almost a novelty effort by comparison). While its lyrics may be a little – how shall we say this – bizarre (‘the day of Rockoning’, anyone?), there’s no arguing with the track itself, a positively barnstorming piece of stadium rock enlivened by growling vocals from Mr Lordi himself. Just to further add to the fun, we’re told that they never remove their masks in public and will be staying in character for the duration of their time in Athens, which could prove interesting for those poor members of the press trying to interview them. But novelty aside, this is one of our favourite entries of the year – not only is it a damned fine tune but it’s actually inspired us to check out some of Lordi’s other work (cue much Team Eurovision singing along to the likes of Would You Love A Monsterman and other gems available at www.lordi.org). The question is – will it bring Finland the success that’s eluded them for so long? Hard to say really – for like Ukraine before it, this won’t be to everybody’s taste – but one thing’s for certain, whether it hits or misses on the night, it won’t be forgotten in a hurry.
For It: It’s so radically different that it might just work in Finland’s favour, and while it’s probably a bit too left of centre to win the entire contest, we reckon it’s a very likely qualifier for the final. Could well be one of the performances of the night too.
Against It: It won’t have universal appeal, and while it’s credible enough to bring in new viewers and voters, those with more conventional Eurovision tastes may be less impressed. And let’s not even think about those viewers who might be, er, scared off by the band’s unusual taste in facewear.

Song Reviews – Russia and Turkey

Posted: 17/4/2006 in:

Song: Never Let You Go
Artist: Dima Bilan
Up until now, Russia were one of only a small number of countries who had yet to encounter the semi-final, having had a decent run of results in recent years (the best being with Tatu’s much-hyped but ultimately disappointing performance in 2003). Last year, however, their luck ran out and as such they’re facing the semis for the first time. But what have they come up with this year? Well, as far as Team Eurovision is concerned Russia is one of the most consistently interesting new countries in Eurovision (they’re usually worth watching even when they miss the mark), and it’s surely only a matter of time before they score a victory – so naturally we had very high hopes for this year’s effort. And we haven’t been disappointed. With all the wackiness that seems to be punctuating this year’s contest – whether it’s Finland’s metal mayhem, Lithuania’s self-promotional nonsense or Iceland’s satirically inspired effort – it’s all too easy to overlook some of the more straightforward entries. And as such, we had to listen to Dima Bilan’s mid-paced rock ballad several times before we realised just how good it is. OK, so perhaps it’s not the most exciting song in a contest which is certainly full of excitement – but this is a slick, very contemporary tune with a memorable chorus, and there’s something very appealing about Dima too (although that mullet haircut has got to go). We’re still not convinced by the video, which features a veritable chorus of tutu-ed ballet dancers and some rather over-enthusiastic dancing which seems a tad out of place given the leisurely pace of the song – but we have no doubts that this will sound very effective on the Eurovision stage and should score a lot of votes. Barring any last-minute upsets (a terrible performance on the night, for example, and we’re sure that won’t happen), expect this one to breeze through to the final.
For It: A decent song which wouldn’t sound out of place in the charts, this is one of those entries which has universal appeal.
Against It: In theory, its place slap bang in the middle of the running order should help its chances, but the fact it’s right in the middle of a string of good, potential qualifiers (Macedonia and Poland on one side, Ukraine and Finland on the other), might mean it gets a bit lost in the pack.

Song: Superstar
Artist: Sibil Tuzun
Oh dear. Turkey are another country making their debut in the semi-finals this year after a run of great results (Sertab’s winner in 2003, Athena’s bouncy ska tune in 2004), and given how much fun they’ve been to watch in recent years we naturally had high expectations for this year’s effort. Unlike the Russians, however, the Turks have left us a tad underwhelmed on this occasion. They’ve certainly spared no expense in bringing us their entry – at least if the video is anything to go by – but beneath the glitz and visual flashiness that’s on offer here the song itself is very little to write home about. We wanted to like this, we really did, but after repeated listens we just can’t get excited about it. For Superstar is little more than a mish-mash of styles – a dose of Jamiroquai here, a dollop of Madonna’s Vogue there, all mixed up with a bit of ethnic drumming – which when thrown together just don’t work. Sibil Tuzun does her best to give the whole thing a bit of spark – complete with sexy spoken bits and lots of posing and posturing in the video – but the whole thing ultimately feels like a triumph of style over real substance. As you might imagine – for this is a country who’ve done consistently well in Eurovision in recent years – Superstar is being heavily tipped for a place in the final, but we’re going to stick our collective necks out here and say that of all the favourites to make the final this is the one that’s most likely to miss out. Given just how much of an effort Turkey have made to deliver consistently decent tunes in recent years, this has to rank as one of 2006’s biggest disappointments.
For It: It’s commercial enough, and a decent visually flashy performance may help its cause. Plus let’s not forget the large Turkish population living in Europe who’ll be able to vote for it.
Against It: There’s no disguising the fact that the song just isn’t that good, and as with Russia, it’s right in the middle of a run of strong potential finalists. Bearing all that in mind, it’s going to have to rely on a great performance even more so than some of its rivals.

Song Reviews – FYR Macedonia and Poland

Posted: 14/4/2006 in:

Song: Ninananja
Artist: Elena Risteska
It could be argued that nobody has benefitted from the introduction of the semi-final more than the Macedonians have – so far they have a 100% record of qualifying for the final from the semi, even though they have yet to field a song which truly deserves that all-important spot. Tose Proeski made more of an impact in 2004 for his beribboned backdrop than his song while Martin Vucic’s ethnic disco tune Make My Day was overshadowed somewhat by his pink jacket last year. True to form, just as FYR Macedonia seem to slip through to the final with no problems, they seem to slip back into the semi just as easily. This year, however, they’ve actually come up with a song which is worthy of the final – and even though we’re not convinced that it’s going to be the one to bring the contest to Skopje for the first time, it’s certainly a big improvement on previous years. While Ninananja (this year’s contender for the silliest title, it has to be said) feels a tad derivative of last year’s Greek winner, and owes more than a debt to J-Lo, it’s a catchy and ultra-contemporary little number which uses ethnopop to enhance the song rather than allowing it to dominate completely. OK, so it’s not without its cringe-making moments (the lyrics for example – what does ‘if you want to Ninananja with me’ mean exactly??) but if you can overlook that the result is probably one of the best entries ever from the Eurovision nation with the prettiest flag – and one which might finally qualify on its own merits rather than relying on the kindness of neighbours.
For It: It’s not bad at all – modern, sexy and a lot better than we’ve come to expect from the Macedonians. Like the Slovenians, it seems they’ve made a real effort this year. And its position slap-bang in the middle of the running order could give it a boost too.
Against It: Not the most original of entries – especially given the ethnopop glut of recent years – and we’re still waiting to see if Elena can cut it live. It’s a very likely qualifier anyway simple because of FYR Macedonia’s habit of making it through – but since nothing in this contest is certain they should beware of complacency.

Song: Follow My Heart
Artist: Ich Troje
Remember this lot? If you don’t you probably weren’t paying enough attention to the 2003 contest, because the lead singer’s bright scarlet locks and weird throaty voice (the sort most people might end up with after suffering from a chesty cough) were permanently etched on Team Eurovision’s collective memory after that contest – the fact they managed to finish a very creditable 7th with the dirge-like ballad No Borders also left them lingering in our minds. Anyway, whether you remember them or not they’re back for another go this year – with the scarlet-headed, throaty-voiced one present and correct once more. Now, our biggest Eurovision disappointment in 2005 was the fact that Polish entrants Ivan and Delfin missed out on a place in the final by just four points with their insane gypsy-themed effort Czarna Dciewczyna – so part of us would love to see them do well this year, just to make up for missing out last year. The problem is, we’re not sure what to make of their 2006 effort – for while there’s definitely a good song hidden somewhere here, Follow My Heart feels like a bit of a mish-mash – lots of different musical styles all thrown together in a big heap – and we just can’t decide whether we like it or not. It’s all held together by a rap from German performer The Real McCoy – which is interspersed between the song itself – but there’s something very shambolic about the whole thing. The chorus is actually quite catchy but the rap sits uneasily alongside it – and by the time it all finally pulls together and hits its stride the song is practically over, leaving us wanting. For us this is one of those ones that could go one way or the other – we like it a lot more than we did when we first heard it, and certainly think it’s got the potential to do rather well, depending on performance – but similarly, its offbeat nature may do it no favours on the night. And of course if it does make it through, we certainly don’t want to see it being performed anywhere near the UK entry.
For It: It’s certainly different, and if the band keep the original format of the national final performance – in which they perform most of the song in Polish before lapsing into English for the final chorus – they could be on to a good thing.
Against It: This is going to be one of those songs that people either love or hate – which isn’t necessarily a good thing. Also, being squashed in between likely qualifiers FYR Macedonia and Russia isn’t necessarily the best place to be. We’re staying on the fence with this one since we really can’t decide which way it’s going to go.

Song reviews - Cyprus and Monaco

Posted: 10/4/2006 in:

Song: Why Angels Cry
Artist: Annette Artani
Cyprus are another one of those countries that are still awaiting that elusive first victory, and having stumbled badly with the catchy but unremarkable Ela Ela last year they’re back in semi-final territory this year. And opinion is certainly divided on the effort they’ve come up with for 2006. Annette, a Greek-American who’s toured with Britney Spears, has impressed some with her big power ballad, with many thinking that Cyprus could see a repeat of their 2004 success with Lisa Andreas. Team Eurovision, however, isn’t one of them. Because as far as we’re concerned, this is one of the most turgid, dated songs in the entire contest – one which, bizarrely enough, sounds like two tunes awkwardly stapled together, since halfway through it changes tack and attempts to add a touch of rock guitar into proceedings (something which makes it sound even worse than ever). Annette certainly tries to give it her best, but her vocals are more overwrought than emotional, and we wouldn’t be remotely surprised if she ended up screeching this rather than singing it on the night. The result feels like a bad American Idol audition more than anything else – Annette clearly fancies herself as some kind of Eurovision answer to Mariah Carey, but she ends up sounding more like Jim Carrey. Don’t get us wrong – we’re all for ballads in Eurovision, and it would be no bad thing if one won this year, but Cyprus seem to have forgotten the fundamental rule of Eurovision balladry that they nailed in 2004 – less is more. While other slower numbers in the contest, such as Ireland, succeed in this respect, Cyprus totally misses the mark.
For It: We don’t really have anything for it, to be honest, but it does have its fans and they may help it sneak a place in the final. There are songs we’re less keen on which we think will make the final nonetheless, but this isn’t one of them.
Against It: Everything about it is wretchedly old-fashioned and over-the-top where something simple would have worked so much better. At least they’ll get 12 points from Greece but they may not be so popular elsewhere.

Song: La Coco-Dance
Artist: Severine Ferrer
Now here’s a refreshing change of pace – both in contest terms, following two ballads, and for Monaco, who’ve delivered rather more low-key songs than this since their return to the contest in 2004. They’ve deliberately gone out of their way to deliver something a bit more upbeat and fun last year after crashing and burning in 2005 with the rather dour, less-than-successful Tout de Moi – and the Tahiti-inspired La Coco-Dance certainly fits that description. On the surface, it sounds almost scarily like one of those 1980s style summer Europop hits that used to always plague the top 40 around July – the kind that would have drunken holidaymakers dancing away on the beaches in Benidorm (and on the piers at Radio One Roadshows) – one Team Eurovision member even suggested Agadoo, which frankly just doesn’t bear thinking about. However, after a few listens Team Eurovision rather likes it – sure, there’s something rather twee and silly about it all, but it’s very cute indeed (as is Severine, who sings it). That said, it’s perhaps a bit too lightweight to take on the major players in this year’s contest – there are a lot of strong songs this year meaning that competition to make the final cut is even bigger than ever – and this is one of those nice-but-ineffectual tunes which might just get buried in the rush. We certainly like it and we’d love to see it do well, something which certainly can’t be ruled out (given it’s an uptempo number coming after two slower songs) – but we’re not getting our hopes up.
For It: It sounds like nothing else on offer this year, which might just work in its favour, and Severine is very appealing – plus there’s scope for a fun stage show – completely with men in grass skirts – which may help it stick in voters’ minds.
Against It: Monaco is a little fish in a very big Eurovision pond and is going to have to turn in a spectacular stage show to get noticed. We’re not totally ruling out their chances – we reckon it’s an outside bet for the final, and there are songs with less chance of making it – but they certainly have their work cut out for them.

Song Reviews – Belgium and Ireland

Posted: 6/4/2006 in:

Song: Je T’Adore
Artist: Kate Ryan
And so to one of this year’s favourites, which is hotly tipped not only to win the semi-final but also to potentially bring the contest back to Brussels for the first time since 1987. Since finishing narrowly missing out on victory in 2003, Belgium have had a bit of a rough ride – Xandee’s 2004 effort 1 Life was strongly fancied but floundered on the night, while they failed to make it out of the semi-finals last year. But it’s not surprising their hopes are high this year. Kate Ryan comes to the contest with a bunch of hit singles and a lot of fans, and Je T’Adore fits the Eurovision mould perfectly – it’s a good, solid pop song complete with a bouncy catchy chorus that you’ll be singing after just a couple of listens and plenty of potential for flashy onstage antics – while the video, featuring Kate frolicking on a beach in a bikini (we assume this was shot by the English Channel in October) adds to the happy, sunny feel. So why does Team Eurovision feel ever so slightly underwhelmed by the whole thing? Well, don’t get us wrong – we like the track, and we’d be perfectly happy to see it do well – yet we can’t help feeling there’s something a bit manufactured about it, as if it had been squeezed out of a machine labelled ‘perfect Eurovision song formula’. In other words, it ticks all the correct boxes, but just lacks the little bit of sparkle that makes it truly special. It may well gain that little something extra and come alive on the night – but we’ll reserve judgment until we’ve seen that for ourselves.
For It: Commercial, very catchy and instantly memorable – giving it an advantage with those viewers who’ll be hearing and seeing the songs for the first time on the night of the contest.
Against It: As we said, it seems to be a bit lacking in real soul – and while it has the potential to do very well indeed, we also think it’s one of those ones that could flop spectacularly if the performance isn’t up to scratch (remember what happened to Iceland last year?). Fingers crossed Kate can deliver the goods – otherwise we could have another Xandee on our hands.

Song: Every Song Is A Cry For Love
Artist: Brian Kennedy
Before Team Eurovision casts its verdict on Ireland’s effort, a quick bit of trivia – this is, we’re told, the 1000th Eurovision Song Contest entry, and we can’t help thinking it’s appropriate that Ireland should have this honour, given that they’ve won the contest more times than any other country. However, that last victory – Eimarr Quinn’s The Voice in 1996 – is beginning to look like a distant memory now, so what chance do they have of triumphing again this year? Well, their track certainly comes with decent credentials – Brian Kennedy is a huge star in Ireland and is known to UK audiences too, having sung at George Best’s funeral and scored a top five hit with his version of Josh Groban’s You Raise Me Up. However, his Eurovision effort has divided audiences, with some hailing it as the country’s big contest comeback, others – somewhat wittily, saying it’s not so much a ‘cry for love’ as a ‘cry for help’ (if only we had thought of that one….!) Based on advance word, our expectations weren’t that high – so we have to say we were pleasantly surprised by this one. While Every Song…isn’t really our cup of tea – it’s all a bit too Boyzone-esque for that – it’s a very effective little ballad, which sticks to sparse, simple instrumentation and allows Brian’s vocals to shine through (and compared to the overwrought Cypriot song which follows it’s very nice indeed). Ballads have fallen out of favour at Eurovision in recent years, but the success of Chiara, Shiri Maymon and, to a certain extent, Latvia’s Walters and Kazha last year (which this reminds us of) proved that if you are going to field a ballad, less is more. And this certainly fits that criteria, reminding us of the songs that Ireland used to do so well with back in their glory days. Assuming it qualifies for the final – which to be honest, isn’t a sure thing at this stage – we can’t help thinking this could do rather well.
For It: We know already that Brian can sing, and we’re sure he’ll do it justice on the night – which for a song of this nature can make the difference between qualifying for the final or failing to make it out of the semis. Could well win the granny vote.
Against It: A bit on the old-fashioned side, which might do it no favours since it’s on straight after Belgium’s bright, ultra-modern pop song. It’s got far more chance of making it through than some of the songs – but it’s by no means a definite qualifier.

Song Reviews – Belarus and Albania

Posted: 3/4/2006 in:

Song: Mama
Artist: Polina Smolova
Here at Team Eurovision, we can’t help feeling a bit sorry for Belarus. While other 2004 debutants, including Albania and Serbia and Montenegro, have already made their mark on the contest, they’ve been stuck squarely in semi-final territory. To be honest, they really should have made it through last year – Angelica Agurbash’s Love Me Tonight was a thumping bit of Eurodisco and one of our favourite semi-finalists to boot – yet it was let down on the night by a somewhat sub-standard performance (perhaps if she’d sung in her native tongue instead of attempting a poor version of English things might have been a different story). And sadly, we think it’s going to be the same story this year. Mama is already down as one of this year’s rank outsiders – and while occasionally those underdogs have a habit of surprising everybody (think Moldova last year for example), we’re pretty convinced that’s not going to happen in this case. Because Mama, sung by what seems to be Belarus’s answer to Rachel Stevens, is little more than a horrible screeching racket, one in which poor Polina’s vocals are so overshadowed by over-zealous guitars and backing track that we can’t even tell what language she’s singing in half the time (we think it’s English but we’re not sure). She and her dancers certainly put a lot of energy into the performance – with lots of frantic dancing both in the national final and the preview video – but ultimately it’s all a big waste of time. Which leaves us wondering whether Belarus, after two years of disappointing results, just couldn’t be bothered to field a decent song this year. Let’s hope not – it would be a shame if, after such a short Eurovision career, they had already given up trying. As it is, with some very strong songs in the semi this year, it would be a big shock if this progressed any further.
For It: Er, we’re being hard pressed to think of something. It’s short. Er, that’s it.
Against It: Don’t get us started.

Song: Zjarr E Ftohte (Fire and Cold)
Artist: Luiz Ejili
And so to another country making their third Eurovision appearance this year – although Albania have had rather more luck than Belarus, having scored a top ten finish on their very first attempt with Anjeza Shahini’s Image Of You (still one of Team Eurovision’s favourite entries of the decade so far).They’re back in the semi-final this year, however, following Ledina Celo’s disappointing result in Kiev – but will they be staying there this year? Well, there’s plenty to like about this song which, as usual, was one of the first to be chosen for this year’s contest – it’s a pleasant enough slice of ethnopop, sung by an appealing lad (although we have to admit that the hat Luiz is wearing in some publicity shots makes him look a bit like a garden gnome). And kudos to him for choosing to sing in his native language rather than switching to English – for this is the kind of song that would probably lose something in translation and sounds far better in Albanian. Yet, like Tomorrow I Go, it lacks the little extra something that really makes it stand out. A few years ago this might have sounded radical and different but these days ethnopop tracks are two a penny in Eurovision, and this one just doesn’t have the necessary spark. Given a strong performance, it might have an outside chance of qualifying – and let’s face it, anything is bound to sound good after Belarus – but with the double whammy of Belgium’s hotly-tipped entry and Ireland’s strong ballad to follow, it’s likely to be lost in the pack.
For It: The fact it’s being sung in the original Albanian gives it plenty of authenticity, and there’s scope for a colourful stage show if the backing band appear on the night, complete with their regional costumes.
Against It: It’s nice but not outstanding. We’ve heard this kind of thing on a Eurovision stage so many times in recent years, and we’ll be honest – it’s been done better.

April Fools!

Posted: 2/4/2006 in:

As per usual, April 1 brought with it the usual rash of April Fool gags from our fellow Eurovision sites. The ever-reliable ESC Today, led the pack with the news that next year’s line-up would be decided from five ‘pool’ semi-finals, consisting of ten countries each, which in turn would allow 55 nations to take part in Eurovision 2007. On reflection, it’s actually not a bad idea (if there were 55 members of the EBU that did want to take part), but it’s still completely untrue (although they didn’t reveal the joke before many users were fooled and wrote in to express their discontent).

Meanwhile, Irish site All Kinds Of Everything attempted to convince us that Isle Of Man were joining this year’s line-up with the track This Is The Song by Bumpsidezy. The song on the site claiming to be the Isle Of Man’s effort was in fact from the Monty Python musical Spamalot – but to be honest the cheesy picture of the so-called duo – featuring the male half in a really dodgy cardigan – was enough of a giveaway as far as we’re concerned.

Our favourite, however, came from DotEurovision, who reported on Lordigate. The story, adapted from a Finnish tabloid, claimed that the video for Lordi’s Hard Rock Hallelujah had been banned from Cypriot TV as it was “unsuitable for family viewing”. The site has now been forced to confess that the whole thing was a big hoax – but of all the April Fools gags, we can’t help thinking this was the most plausible.