It's time for my annual Eurovision First Listen Party where I sit down and do an initial evaluation of this year's entries.
One invitee to the party and one attendee.
I listened to the songs in the random order on which they appeared on my iPod. This means that I only have the song and the singers' voices to judge. There's been no background research on the songs or singers either at this stage. It's like my own version of The Voice (sans swivel chair).
However, past experience has shown that costumes, choreography and staging can go a long way to elevating an average song on the night itself. Still, you have to start somewhere.
Apart from Bonnie Tyler's Believe in Me for the UK, this is the first time I've heard these songs.
- I used to think the UK entry was OK, but after listening to all the countries, I now re-grade the song as great.
- On first listen, it seems there are some pretty average / dull / forgettable songs this year (Europe's economic woes weighing everyone down?), but who knows what the Eurovision stage performances will bring. That's the magic of Eurovision.
- Key changes never die; there's plenty in this year's crop
- There's a fair few boys with high voices (but nothing beats Romania in that regard though)
- Electric guitars seem big this year giving an '80s flavour to some songs
- There seems to be a few songs making social commentary about the planet, environment or society in general. Always dangerous territory as they can come off a bit "preachy".
My top picks:
1. Sweden (Robin Stjernberg's You)
2. Belarus (Alyona Lanskaya's Solayoh)
3. Finland (Krista Siegfrids' Marry Me)
4. Ireland (Ryan Dolan's Only Love Survives)
5. Germany (Cascada's Glorious)
6. UK (Bonnie Tyler's Believe in Me)
The "strong song, but may struggle at Eurovision" Award:
The Netherlands (Anouk's Birds)
The "Only at Eurovision" Award:
Romania (Cezar's It's My Life - more specifically about 40 seconds into the song)
My thoughts on all contenders as I was listening:
Full song titles and singers found here.
A pretty little tune. Not sure what they're singing about. Sounds like the kind of song usually played over the closing credits of a 1980s film. I'm sure there's a electric keyboard and electric guitar. I got visions of Top Gun when I listened to this. The chorus of voices could come across quite well on stage.
After a slow start, the techno beat finally kicks in. Not a terribly catchy tune I'm afraid.
A song with a conscience. Appealing for humanity's sake, but sadly not overly appealing. Nice message, not such a great song. Features another electric guitar solo. "Lonely planet, who has done it? Who can save you? Who can stop it?"
A simple, acoustic guitar-backed song. Sounds like a song of yearning, but a little bit forgettable I'm afraid.
Often a wild card at Eurovision, it usually either goes for dance anthem or traditional. This year a simple piano-backed ballad. A pretty tune, but is that enough?
A strong, attractive voice. Another pretty tune - will be interesting what a live performance does with this song.
Finland's answer to Katy Perry? A really catchy song called "Marry Me". This will be fun on stage I can tell. "Oh oh a ding dong". Do my ears deceive me or is she swearing? The line "I do it for you, for you, for you" sounds like "I do it for you, I fxck you, I fxck you". Well, whatever you need to do to get Eurovision votes I guess.
Another country which either goes traditional or dancy. This year they've got a bit of both. Starts like a song straight from your local Greek taverna, but then before you know it's changed into a fast-paced ditty.
An unusual song and not bad, but as I was listening to it, it sort of lulled me into a trance a bit. Not sure that's the secret to success on the live Eurovision stage. It hums along, never demanding your attention.
Surprised how strongly you can really hear her accent coming through in this song. Becomes quite dramatic and shows off her range quite well. A break-up song with some obscure lines: "the Mayans were not so wrong, it's the end of the road, it's done, cause you were gone".
A techno dance track with thumping synth undercurrent. Quite like this one. Some of the synthesiser "bells and whistles" makes it sound familiar, but also maybe a little dated, like something from the late 1990s.
Could we back to Sweden next year? Quite possibly. I would have this song on my iPod even if it wasn't Eurovision. A really listenable and catchy contemporary song.
Sounds like it is being sung by two elderly sisters. Has an almost Indian / Hindi quality to it. Don't thing it's going to fly. And there's quite a long instrumental bit in the middle with them wailing over it.
I could imagine Jason Mraz singing this. A pretty, light-hearted tune which tells a story of Jeremy "working in IT".
Almost heavy metal but lacking a catchy tune, just a heavy rift in the background. A departure from the norm for Switzerland. You'll probably either love or hate this one.
At the start, I kept thinking Bonny M's Rasputin. I was waiting for the guy to say "Ohhh those Russians". Otherwise a bit of a forgettable song.
Takes a while to get going and in Eurovision that's not a good thing as you've only got three minutes to impress. Once it does get going it's not a bad tune. Don't think it's a winner though.
Seems to change tempo a few times during the song. It starts simply but then quickens about a third of the way in before going back to a slower tempo. A lot of wailing going on though which may lose people.
A simple little song. Feels like I've heard this before from Israel. At the end of the day, forgettable.
A funny song with the potential to be catchy. "Here we go!". A chorus which is sung with some Eastern European rap as verses. Never quite builds to the energy it's proclaiming.
Another song with a message, but less preachy and more musical than Armenia's. Possibly not catchy enough to have any great impact.
This one has the potential to grow on me. Sounds a little clunky at the start but the chorus is sufficient to put it above some of the others. Could come across well on stage.
A welcome surprise! A really strong and melodic chorus (with some questionable rhyming) makes this song more memorable than many others. This will be a fun one a night. Can it turn the Eurovision final into "a hot night!".
I think this is the first true duet I've come across this year. The lyrics are about the joy of love, but the music is a bit pained, dramatic and drawn out. We'll see what they do on stage. I can see lots of opportunities for the wind machine.
WOOOOAAHHH! What's going on here? Cezar starts off with quite a deep voice and escalates into some sort of operatic flaseto. I had to quickly Google whether Cezar was a boy or girl (a boy it turns out). Quite a catchy tune and the potential to be the song everyone talks about. But will the song just be second fiddle to some impressive vocal gymnastics?
An OK song. It sounds like others you've heard before. Though any song coming right after Romania will have tough job on their hands.
An unusual song - power vocals in the chorus, rap-style verse. I found the changing tempo and background noises a bit overpowering.
A really strong song, but actually quite sad and depressing / moving with its lyrics and tune. Not sure that's going to help in Eurovision. Sounds like something Lana Del Rey would sing.
The violin start makes it sound like it could be the entry from Ireland. It then just plods along but is a little bit forgettable.
It's an OK song. But I don't think there's anything which really elevates this song.
This song has potential thanks to a melodic chorus, though it makes me think of a sea shanty. Not sure why.
I had high hopes for this song as I've liked Cascada's other songs. And I wasn't disappointed. A really strong contender and one of the few songs this year you can imagine actually getting traction outside of Eurovision. It will just depend whether the song's club anthem feel can be conveyed on the stage.
It has a really harsh synth intro and continues to have this heavy and dramatic undercurrent. Don't think it's going to make waves at Eurovision though.
Quite a strong contender from Azerbaijan. They've got quite a track record now of having strong entries (which resulted in them hosting the event last year!). This won't see Eurovision go back to Baku, but a good effort.
The great thing about France is you never know what they're going to put up. Will it be crazy? Club? Artistic? Soulful? This seems like a good, playing-it-straight entry. Don't think it will set the world on fire though.
I liked this one from the moment it started. It's got a good pace, he's got a nice voice and let's face it, it's not Jedward!
One of those songs which plods along. It feels like someone is just talking to me as the melody isn't anything special.
I have to admit I'm a bit biased on this on. The woman who sings this sang the dreadful Social Network Song at last year's Eurovision. But here she is back again. The song is fairly vanilla, but does show she does have a strong voice. Perhaps she's trying to redeem herself? I'm guessing she won't be wandering around the stage with a laptop this year?
This song has really grown on me. To be fair, I've heard this on the radio a lot more times than the other songs. Depending on how Bonnie delivers this in Sweden, it could be a real contender.
So bring on the Eurovision semi-finals and final in May!