When writing anything, it’s generally advised to not start off with anything that will disclose time. And in giving you that completely useless fact, I can now say that on 22 April, I sat down to listen to the 37 songs making up the Eurovision Song Contest 2014 together for the first and probably last time. Up till then, I’d had a “ticker tape” system of scores where NF songs would carry the same score from their shows and internally selected songs would be scored when they were performed live. It became obvious that weird biases and discrepancies were popping up with me disagreeing so frequently with my own opinions. So, I created a new sheet in my Excel workbook, randomized the songs, and got listening. Since I, unwisely, started this project at about 22:45, I tried to keep everything short. To add a little more depth to this, I’ll separate the “real-time” commentary with some more detailed analysis. Also, pretend that the rehearsals haven’t started yet. With that said, let’s go!
Song 1: Israel
“Same Heart” – Mei Finegold
Real-Time: “The problem here is neither Finegold’s vocals, which are stellar, or the composition but rather, the absolute mess that is the lyrics. Complete with nonsensical English and a 100 percent arbitrary key change, the whole song is reduced to ridiculousness in no time flat. Not even the rather competent score is spared, as even the strongest instrumental is only as strong as the weakest lyric.”
Now: What’s most frustrating about the Israeli entry this year is that there’s so much lost potential. Mei’s totally wasted as an artist singing this song that only has one bright spot, which is the Hebrew verse. If the whole song was like that, it’d be a stronger contender here and on the final scoreboard.
Live: 7 Song: 3 Preference: 3
Song 2: Switzerland
“Hunter of Stars” – sebAlter
Real-Time: “This year’s Swiss entry has lyrics that border on being too confusing. After some scans of the official lyrics and the addition of proper punctuation (seriously Eurovision.tv, is it too much to ask for punctuation marks?), it becomes clear that the song is about one man’s futile attempts to win over his conscience and catch this “star” of a lady. While that’s an interesting idea, it doesn’t hold a candle to the brilliant and complex music, which is this year’s only fun slice of Americana. It also helps that seBalter’s live performance in Amsterdam was wonderful.”
Now: The Swiss song is the first song here that’s part of the largest group of songs this year, in that they’re all good but just lacking something, be it some production values, vocal ability, or personal appeal. And in saying that, I’ll admit that the whole thing is a very well produced package.
Live: 7 Song: 7 Preference: 6
Song 3: Slovenia
“Spet (Round and Round)” – Tinkara Kovač
Real-Time: “Based on a flute, this song’s one fatal flaw could be the ridiculously overblown backing singers, who almost ruin the latter half of the surprisingly fresh Slovene song. Musically, there’s more than one would think, as the composition is layered very well. The lyrics are competent in their broken relationship story but needlessly bilingual, which might be a common affliction this year. And while the backings are shrill, Tinkara is good on vocals and drives the song.”
Now: This is really on the edge of being something very very good. It’s just not there yet, for me. Although, maybe that’ll change when they take the Copenhagen stage.
Live: 5 Song: 6 Preference: 6
Song 4: Ireland
“Heartbeat” – Can-Linn ft. Kasey Smith
Real-Time: “The Irish contribution for Copenhagen is plagued with problems, the least of which is the lyrics. Telling a story of perseverance, they rely on clichés for most of their body. Musically, it’s rough around the edges, much like Kasey Smith’s vocals. The one thing it has going for it is its earworm qualities.”
Now: It’s hard not to forget “Heartbeat,” and I, in fact, frequently catch myself singing along to both the verse and chorus. Then when I see it all again, I’m disappointed in it. Hopefully this won’t crash too hard.
Live: 3 Song: 4 Preference: 4
Song 5: Russia
“Shine” – Tolmachevy Twins
Real-Time: “And the prize for the most nonsensical set of lyrics goes to “Shine,” which sounds like John Ballad, Gerard James Borg, and Ralph Charlie wrote down old clichés and pulled them out of a hat to write the song. That’s a shame, because Phillipp Kirkorov and Dimitris Kontopoulos actually did a pretty decent job on the music. The Twins’ husky voices play well against the light nature of the song and make it far more interesting than it should be.”
Now: What should be expected of a fun and clinical pop song from two very capable and charming Russian teenagers? Quite a bit, actually. This has the potential to replicate Russia’s 2010 surprise success story with the almost complete antithesis of “Lost and Forgotten.”
Live: 8 Song: 4 Preference: 7
Song 6: The Netherlands
“Calm After the Storm” – The Common Linnets
Real-Time: “Somewhat annoyingly for The Common Linnets, it’s very hard to mix their vocals properly. Failure to do so will result in a poor performance like the one at Eurovision in Concert, when Waylon’s mic was too loud and Ilse oversung to compensate, ruining the mood of the song. And sadly, the rich country orchestration, rife with raw guitar plucks, and vivid crisp lyrics were totally forgotten. Be wary, sound engineers. This is one that’s too fine tuned to get wrong. But when it’s right, oh it’s good.”
Now: While doing the original run through, I tried to use the most “official” videos possible. And when it came to the Common Linnets, there were two videos to choose between to review: their début of the acoustic version on a Dutch TV show or their Eurovision in Concert performance. I chose the latter, which was shaky as could be but still gave them a score that was more of an average of both performances, since they’re capable of much more than that Amsterdam atrocity.
Live: 7 Song: 9 Preference: 9
Song 7: Austria
“Rise Like a Phoenix” – Conchita Wurst
Real-Time: “While Austria’s song is a classy one, albeit a bit derivative, it will totally be overshadowed by its artist come 8 May. Thankfully, Conchita is a formidable vocalist who puts just enough emotion into the performance to make it work really well. The Bond-like orchestration and self-assured, if slightly overblown, lyrics will take a back seat, sadly, to the beard.”
Now: Plenty of songs this year that are adored by fans just happen to be songs I can’t get into, for one reason or another. This is certainly one of them and if I had to pinpoint anything, I’d probably say that everything about the entire entry is too blown out of proportion for me to enjoy. The artist, the song, the performance, the social repercussions; I’m just not into supporting hype instead of songs, and I feel like that’s happening a lot with Austria this year.
Live: 7 Song: 6 Preference: 4
Song 8: Portugal
“Quero ser tua” – Suzy
Real-Time: “Pimba is a popular style of Portuguese music, which takes local beats and spices them up with African or South American influences. That’s what saves the utterly cheap “Quero ser tua” from being dead last here. It’s lyrically bizarre and musically bland. Suzy is a newcomer to pimba, and it shows in her awkward stage presence, although her backings are worse off. However, they do sing the song well, which is paramount.”
Now: A Portuguese friend of mine, Shevek, deserves a mention here for enlightening me about Pimba’s place in Portuguese pop culture. Obrigado! The entry is still pretty dire, with an unreliable singer and Ryan Dolan-rip off staging. It’s going to be strange to see this entry develop, if it develops at all.
Live: 5 Song: 2 Preference: 3
Song 9: Poland
“My Słowianie – We Are Slavic” – Donatan & Cleo
Real-Time: “This year’s biggest hit comes from Poland, where the official video for “My Słowianie” has racked up 41 million views already. Rewritten in a special Eurovision bilingual version, some of the resolution to the heavily ironic lyrics about Slavic and female identity is lost, but there’s enough left to operate sufficiently. Musically, it’s folksy and rich, with various hip-hop breakdowns punctuated by accordion and strings. Cleo is a great vocalist who’s dripping with the attitude and color needed for this song.”
Now: The only fault I can find in the new version, aside from quibbling about the English, is that the extended musical pauses between the instrumental sections and verses is a little irritating. Otherwise, it’s as fabulous as ever.
Live: 8 Song: 9 Preference: 10
Song 10: Estonia
“Amazing” – Tanja
Real-Time: “Most of this song’s lyrical trouble, it’s greatest flaw, can be attributed to the use of “amazing” as a term of endearment rather than a simple adjective. Add the appropriate punctuation and it makes sense as a plea for a lover to stay. Musically, it’s so europop it almost hurts, but it manages to make some interesting choices. Tanja’s live performance is a bit too hectic for her voice as it is, but it should (keyword: *should*) be toned down for Copenhagen.”
Now: It might be dyed-in-the-wool Europop but I love some good stuff and this is surely it. It’s a dark horse for top 10, I think. Maybe we could even see some “history repeating” (I love Dilara for making this strained reference not too strained) and jet off to Tallinn in 2015?
Live: 6 Song: 5 Preference: 8
Song 11: Moldova
“Wild Soul” – Cristina Scarlat
Real-Time: “These lyrics are way too angst-ridden for their own good. They make absolutely no sense and serve no purpose, other than to play off the, now misbalanced and almost bland, music. Cristina is the one thing saving this song, as her performance is spellbinding.”
Now: Some people actually really like this song, but it’s just background noise to me. There’s nothing memorable or even that good about it and even when it gets close, like at the chorus’ opening, it’s just not there.
Live: 9 Song: 2 Preference: 1
Song 12: Belgium
“Mother” – Axel Hirsoux
Real-Time: “Oh god. These lyrics, they’re just too much. It fully sinks the rest of the song, which wasn’t that stellar to begin with, into a sea of missed opportunities. Axel is a fine vocalist but the song. It’s just so nauseating, almost disturbing. A certain last place for me.”
Now: This is a difficult song for me to dislike, since I appreciate the attempt at a touching subject matter and the quite good performer and music. But oh my god, I can’t deal with the flat-out creepy lyrics. Thanks for playing, and goodbye.
Live: 8 Song: 1 Preference: 0
Song 13: Italy
“La mia città” – Emma Marrone
Real-Time: “The chorus is the weak link in this song, because whereas the verses build up some strong 80s energy, the chorus is effectively a plateau that never changes across its three appearances in the song. The lyrics are interesting and have their own attitude and energy. Emma is an unreliable vocalist when she jumps around but if that’s controlled, she’s fine.”
Now: Parts of this song are genuinely enjoyable, like the second verse, which is where the best instrumentation is found. That said, the chorus still kills the song and Emma’s unreliable vocals don’t help. Italy’s not look like its normal self this year.
Live: 4 Song: 6 Preference: 5
Song 14: Finland
“Something Better” – Softengine
Real-Time: “I didn’t need to listen to this again, but I happily did and at the same time, reaffirmed that this is my favorite this year, as well as 2014’s best song. Nothing else to see here.”
Now: See above.
Live: 8 Song: 10 Preference: 10
Song 15: Malta
“Coming Home” – Firelight
Real-Time: “Unlike other entries, there’s no weak spot about the Maltese entry. Everything is done up very well, from the lyrics to the nu-folk music and the spine-tingling live performance. The only thing that could go wrong is if they’re vocally off but there’s ample evidence that proves they’re reliable.”
Now: It seems likely that Malta could be the first country to get Eurovision right after Junior Eurovision, because the song is gaining more and more steam. I wouldn’t complain if that happened, either. Good on Malta, for being a reliable source of quality.
Live: 9 Song: 8 Preference: 8
Song 16: Georgia
“Three Minutes to Earth” – The Shin ft. Mariko
Real-Time: “Yeah, it sounds messy but that’s actually the point. The music is lush and complex, despite only being created by three instruments. Lyrically, it’s totally bonkers, but it compliments the music well, in that respect. Mariko is a dazzling singer although the members of The Shin need a bit of work. It’s certainly one of the year’s most unique entries.”
Now: “Messy” wasn’t a correct description of the song, even though it was the first thing that came to mind. It’s very very well composed and designed to be complicated and rich. It’s one of the many things that’s drawn me to the Georgian entry this year.
Live: 7 Song: 7 Preference: 7
Song 17: Latvia
“Cake to Bake” – Aarzemnieki
Real-Time: “It’s got the most soul and charm of any entry this year. That’s astoundingly good, because it’s very close to being a vocal train wreck. Musically, it’s light-hearted and adorable and the lyrics are the cutest, if most grammatically incorrect, of the year.”
Now: Everything about this entry endears itself to listener and viewer. If Europe still has a heart, it’ll send Latvia through to Saturday night with its most genuine effort since Brainstorm’s bronze-medal in 2000.
Live: 3 Song: 7 Preference: 8
Song 18: United Kingdom
“Children of the Universe” – Molly Smitten-Downes
Real-Time: “Peace ballads are exceedingly easy to screw up but Molly has done a great job in keeping her’s fresh. Contrasted against a soaring orchestral and synthy arrangement, the lyric is sharp and relatable for today. Molly’s performance is strong and this is an entry that’s finally worthy of having the Union Jack behind it (elitism not intended).”
Now: This is my pick to win mainly on default because it ticks all the boxes for a modern winner. Saying that, I’d love to be surprised this year and I think we will be, but I won’t be surprised if everyone converges on Cardiff next year for the 60th show.
Live: 8 Song: 8 Preference: 9
Song 19: Spain
“Dancing in the Rain” – Ruth Lorenzo
Real-Time: “More unnecessary bilingualism, although now we get the most diva performance of the year to go with it. Things would’ve been okay even with an English chorus but that new verse is just wrong. Musically, it’s safe but with some added rhythm. Ruth goes totally overboard, although it’s almost a spectacle in itself. This’ll be an interesting one to watch.”
Now: Honestly, Ruth can’t be faulted for being fake; she’s really pouring her entire heart and soul into her performance. However, her song doesn’t call for it, and with lyrics as shallow as “come on and let the rhythm drop,” it’s hard to see why she’s so invested in the song without knowing her backstory.
Live: 6 Song: 5 Preference: 6
Song 20: Macedonia
“To The Sky” – Tijana Dapčević
Real-Time: “With the most confusing live performance so far, Tijana delivers her song well but not without a good number of slip ups. It’s lyrically devoid of content while the music, if addictive and fun, is tinny.”
Now: Expanding on the “tinny” music, it’s got a decent structure and idea behind it, it’s just so poorly executed. And it’s not only a musical problem; the lyrics are ridiculous. However, the most important thing is the overall atmosphere, and that gets me every time.
Live: 5 Song: 2 Preference: 8
Song 21: France
“Moustache” – Twin Twin
Real-Time: “The most dire vocals of the year are combined with one of the catchiest and most current entries to create France’s entry. It mocks greed lyrically while the music uses a guitar-electro combination that’s been insanely popular since Avicii’s “Wake Me Up!” took over the world last year. And when they’re not hopping around like drugged-up bunnies, Twin Twin are able to adequately deliver the song vocally.”
Now: This entry tears me lyrically, since I’m happy that people are willing to (and able to find) the meanings of lyrics and think about songs a bit differently. Then again, this isn’t a very clever example and I don’t know how many people will set out to find hidden meanings behind seemingly silly lyrics. I hope they are.
Live: 2 Song: 7 Preference: 8
Song 22: Germany
“Is It Right?” – Elaiza
Real-Time: “Elżbieta Steinmetz is 2014’s premier vocalist, bar none. She adds a ridiculous amount of character to her song, which is already singular on its own but it becomes a total force after that. The lyrics and music work in playful unison and the whole package is sealed with the year’s best vocal performance.”
Now: There’s not been a song quite like this in Eurovision probably ever, so it’s hard to make a statement on Germany’s chances at success. Taking into account the popularity of pop crossovers and charismatic performers, Elaiza should do better than Cascada.
Live: 10 Song: 7 Preference: 7
Song 23: Sweden
“Undo” – Sanna Nielsen
Real-Time: “While Russia has the most ridiculous lyrics overall, Sweden wins the award for most ridiculous single lyric with the absolutely grating “Undo my sad.” Other than that, the lyrics are pretty generic and so is the music, but it’s very catchy and competent. Sanna’s performance is very strong, which helps her immensely.”
Now: This is too safe to do anything but will now probably finish in the top 10. And then looking at what Sweden left behind in Melodifestivalen this year, it’s hard to not wish that the “safe” Sweden is punished for its actions.
Live: 8 Song: 5 Preference: 8
Song 24: Ukraine
“Tick-Tock!” – Mariya Yaremchuk
Real-Time: “Going through no fewer than three versions, Ukraine’s sending the visual and vocal stunner that is Mariya. The performance oozes with energy and sexiness, while the song has a sound all its own. The weak link is the lyrics, but they’re not too bad in comparison to others this year. This is a strong one.”
Now: Along with Estonia, this is the surprise of the year in the making. It’s hard to think that this is the song that once contained the line “We belong to each other/Like a sister to a brother.” Good on the Ukrainian team for making it work.
Live: 8 Song: 6 Preference: 6
Song 25: Denmark
“Cliché Love Song” – Basim
Real-Time: “The Danish Bruno Mars will be flying (or dropping) the flag for the host country with one of the catchiest songs of the year. The lyrics and music are highly simplistic but oh so fun and Basim is an incredibly charismatic performer. It’s ready for the big show now.”
Now: Everything about this song screams hit, even if it’s pretty derivative. I feel like I’m saying it a lot, but this one could take everyone by surprise too.
Live: 7 Song: 7 Preference: 9
Song 26: Montenegro
“Moj svijet” – Sergej Ćetković
Real-Time: “Balkan Ballads are back! Well, not quite but Sergej is certainly trying to make this a thing. It’s as lush and charming as one would expect and Sergej is an absolute treat, vocally. Montenegro should finally make it out of the semis.”
Now: Something should be said about the song itself, which has some fabulous orchestration and charming, if slightly cliché, lyrics. Sergej and the entire Montenegrin delegation should be very proud of their efforts this year.
Live: 8 Song: 7 Preference: 5
Song 27: Norway
“Silent Storm” – Carl Espen
Real-Time: “It’s all about what could’ve and should’ve been with this entry. The song itself is fine, lyrically, but needs more musical balance; the piano at the beginning is way too shrill and the latter half sounds dated. But poor Carl Espen. He’s trying so hard to make us believe that he’s connected with the song, and it just hasn’t happened. And then it all falls apart.”
Now: Here’s another song that has connection problems, although it feels like everything about this song is a problem. Everything here feels like a mess.
Live: 5 Song: 4 Preference: 2
Song 28: Greece
“Rise Up” – Freaky Fortune ft. Riskykidd
Real-Time: “A club song was never going to be an introspective masterpiece or something, so Greece’s entry is excused from having no decent lyrical content whatsoever. However, it is an ethnic-flavored floor filler with some shaky, if passable, vocals from Freaky Fortune and especially Riskykidd.”
Now: Everybody jump! What a fun song this is. Kudos to Greece, for finally eschewing ethno-pop in favor of modern and current party songs.
Live: 5 Song: 8 Preference: 8
Song 29: San Marino
“Maybe (Forse)” – Valentina Monetta
Real-Time: “The song that everyone will forget is from San Marino this year, who are represented, yet again, by Valentina Monetta. Musically, it’s very pompous and dated and it makes no lyrical sense. Monetta herself brings the only positive with her strong vocals, but even that isn’t enough to save this song.”
Now: This and Moldova will duke it out for dirge of the year. Nothing about this screams “relevant” and it’ll be yet another disappointment for the Sammarinese.
Live: 7 Song: 2 Preference: 3
Song 30: Lithuania
“Attention” – Vilija Matačiūnaitė
Real-Time: “Lithuania’s black hole of a national final spat out this song, which is on its own in style this year. The lyrics are moody and intense, if a bit grammatically challenged, while the music is layered and complex. Vilija brings the attitude into the performance, with her strong vocal performance.”
Now: Call me crazy, but I wouldn’t be surprised to hear a song like this on a random Spotify playlist. It’s incredibly modern and could be a big hit. Hopefully it’ll live up to those lofty aspirations.
Live: 8 Song: 8 Preference: 10
Song 31: Hungary
“Running” – András Kállay-Saunders
Real-Time: “Enthusiasts of dark songs and subject matter can back Hungary’s song about dealing with child abuse. It’s lyrically haunting and the music helps to create a very uneasy feeling when listening to it. András Kállay-Saunders sounds like he’ll falter at any moment, and he occasionally does, but there’s an evident connection with what he’s singing, which makes his mistakes a little less important.”
Now: If the UK truly is cursed, Budapest will be on everyone’s travel plans for 2015. And considering the amazing quality of A Dal since 2012, the Hungarians would make amazing hosts, getting the contest because of an amazing song.
Live: 5 Song: 9 Preference: 9
Song 32: Iceland
“No Prejudice” – Pollapönk
Real-Time: “Kiddie punk with a message of tolerance is the schtick here. Unlike many lyric translations, this one is smooth and natural, complimenting the music well. Speaking of, it’s musically all over the place, but it works in some unorthodox way. Pollapönk aren’t that great live, and with only one performance to go off of, that doesn’t bode well for their chances in Copenhagen.”
Now: The entire song is too clunky to be much of a player in Copenhagen, which is pretty disappointing, since these guys are bringing some of the best energy and meaning to the contest.
Live: 2 Song: 5 Preference: 7
Song 33: Belarus
“Cheesecake” – TEO
Real-Time: “This got too serious. The fun organic element from the national final is gone and in its place is this more complex and sanitized orchestration with the same insane lyrics about being a “cheesecake” in the eyes of his lover. TEO has put in a good effort to tone down his accent and pitch, and his live performance is now passable.”
Now: Even a sub-standard piece of cheesecake is a more satisfying experience than this song. Still, Belarus deserves some credit for sending the song that actually won their national final.
Live: 5 Song: 3 Preference: 3
Song 34: Romania
“Miracle” – Paula Seling & Ovi
Real-Time: “If it wasn’t insane enough for them to shout at each other over a eurotrash beat, they also shouted at holograms of each other at one point. That has nothing to do with the song, but it seemed worth mentioning. Otherwise, it’s exactly what it says on the tin; easy, disposable, dated europop sung by two people who scream all the way through. It’s lyrically empty and dated musically. Paula and Ovi both need to reign everything in, but the former especially. That high note hurts.”
Now: The harsh music and pointless lyrics make it hard to enjoy this song, and while it’s effective for hopping around in a happy mood, it fails at doing anything else.
Live: 4 Song: 1 Preference: 4
Song 35: Armenia
“Not Alone” – Aram MP3
Real-Time: “There’s an abundance of songs that are musically rich this year. This is not one of them. When it transitions to dub step, it should be full and noisy but it’s just weak. The lyrics are nothing special and almost trite; it’s the kind of thing you’d expect to see in an art school magazine (I say this having found something very much like this in an art school magazine) that’s lauded for no other reason than being deliberately unclear. Aram is a solid vocalist and he brings a lot of life to the song.”
Now: This is still incredibly overrated by fans and bookies alike. Armenia won’t be bothering the top three this year, probably not even top five. No one need prepare for Azerbaijan’s withdrawal next year.
Live: 8 Song: 2 Preference: 2
Song 36: Azerbaijan
“Start a Fire” – Dilara Kazimova
Real-Time: “Unlucky Dilara is one of the few artists to have a diction problem and, singing an English-language ballad, her’s is the most noticeable. Her Amsterdam performance was somewhat shaky and, with a song like “Start a Fire,” she has to be on point all the time. As for the song, the music is sophisticated and gorgeous, while the lyrics are a poignant vignette about life’s changes during war. Azerbaijan’s sending its riskiest song yet, and it could really go either way.”
Now: I still love the lyrics of this song, so I hope that Dilara is able to fix her problems before Copenhagen. If she does, this’ll probably be Azerbaijan’s first worthy top 10finish since Sabina Babayeva.
Live: 6 Song: 8 Preference: 6
Song 37: Albania
“One Night’s Anger” – Hersi
Real-Time: “It’s ironic how the alphabetically first Albania is last here. Never mind, since Hersi’s on our hands! The song suffered quite a bit when it was revamped, as the lyrics are a bit convoluted in places and the music isn’t balanced well anymore. In saying that, the message of the song is clearer and Hersi is still a magnificent vocalist. She colors the song with all the appropriate pathos and it shines as a result.”
Now: The original version of this song would probably have been in my top 10 but, alas, that version has stayed in Tirana and the updated “new-age” version of the song is in Copenhagen. Hersi deserves to qualify but it seems that fate has other ideas.
Live: 9 Song: 4 Preference: 5
And done! This year, I’ve made a video to provide a ranking.
However, if you’re not in a position to watch a video at the moment, here’s a table showing each song’s rank.
So yeah, I think that 2014 is a strong and diverse year that will hopefully blow 2013 out of the water. I honestly despised the Swedish “We art grander and holier than thou, Eurovision peasants” approach from last year and hopefully the Danes will be different. That seems to be the case so far, thankfully. This is also just a better batch of songs, which always helps. Anyway, here’s to Copenhagen!