Denmark, Malta and Ukraine

Denmark
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Soldiers of Love by Lighthouse X

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As the piano starts and a serious, well-groomed man stares intensely at the camera you get the feeling that Soldiers of Love by Lighthouse X may develop into something special. Excitement builds by the time the second and third singers start and you begin hoping for some classic boy band magic. But then, for me, confusion sets in. The song choice and hairstylist felt they were stuck in the 90s, but costume and dance moves seemed modelled on more contemporary male groups. Lighthouse X’s casual style of dressing (looking the same without being identical) and less scripted choreography left me feeling like I was watching what happens when One Direction loses another band member, develops a pseudo-social conscience and ages 10 years.

Despite this, there is nothing offensive about the song, the band or the set. And there is enough fist clenching earnestness to hold everything together. Throw in a well timed key change, some bursts of fire and some golden confetti and it all feels very Eurovision. Overall, it’s good enough to make the grand final, but not spectacular enough to stand out.

Review by Fran van den Berg

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Malta
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Walk on Water by Ira Losco

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No touch’ touching – that is, being unbelievably close to someone and acting like you are going to touch them but not actually making contact makes me feel incredibly uncomfortable. Given that, Malta’s entry Walk on Water sung by Ira Losco left me squirming in my seat. While Losco stands and delivers her catchy dance tune, a man in black emerges from the shadows to dance around her, showcasing an exemplar of no touch touching.

Is repeatedly singing “I feel like I can walk on water”, while evidently failing to do so in the official clip reflective of delusions of a Eurovision win? Definitely so, but Losco’s powerful voice, plunging neckline, sequined dress, and a dancer with rather impressive animalistic gyrations will mean that Malta will probably be swimming somewhere near the top of the Eurovision pool this year. I just wish that the dancer spent less time invading Losco’s personal space.

Review by Fran van den Berg

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Ukraine
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1944 by Jamala

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After an understandable absence from the Eurovision stage in 2015, Ukraine has returned in a big way, with Jamala singing 1944. This song details the plight of the Crimean tartars out of their lands by Joseph Stalin in 1944, near the end of World War 2. This song was seen as controversial by the Russian as it believed Ukraine to be taking a swing at them and trying to gain supporters to the current Russian-Ukrainian war. But the judges deemed it fine as Jamala made mention that it details her family’s personal history during the Crimean war.

But is it worthy of this attention? Well maybe, although Jamala does not move her body on the stage, her arm movements and her intense voice, draw in the listener to the song. Nice Middle Eastern Flavours, as well as a chorus sung in Crimean tartar, which will surely impact on the Ukrainian voters. But as to the wider European and worldwide audience, the message and presentation are lost in the lack of physical movement and there is no hook.

It will definitely attract a lot of sympathy votes, but I do not think it will be enough to reach the Top 10 on the scoreboard.

Review by Nicole O’Donnell

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Czech Republic, Croatia, Belgium and Cyrpus

Czech Republic
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I stand by Gabriela Gunčíková

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The Czech Republic easily has one of the best videos in this year’s Eurovision round. Some cool stop-go motion, LED shenanigans and in the end, Gabrielle’s head pokes out of a sea of flowers. Not just any flowers, but flowers you’d give your mum for mother’s day – pink and purple daisies!

The song is less impressive, admittedly, it is well sung, but it has the ‘out of the can’ feel to it. The lyrics don’t help either…here is a taste: I’ve worn the path – I’ve hit the wall – I’m the one who rose and fall.

Would a key change have helped – no doubt!

Review by Mariella Herberstein

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Croatia
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Lighthouse by Nina Kraljić

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Nina is the Croatian equivalent of Bjork and I like it! She is clearly an extraterrestrial, marvelling at humanity, getting rained on and looking up time on a pocket watch. And I think the relationship with her hairdresser is not the best. So what if the song sounds a bit very much like the Cranberry’s ‘Linger’? It has a key change and all is forgiven! Definitely the finales for me!

 

Review by Mariella Herberstein

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Belgium
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What’s The Pressure by Laura Tesoro

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Disco is back – booyah!!! Laura’s  ‘What’s the pressure’ splices samplers from every great danceable song into a 3 minute sequence, starting with the baseline from ‘Another one bites the dust’. But never mind the plagiarism – I think this could actually work and stand out from a rather vanilla Eurovision field this year.

There are sequin sweatshirts, torn blue jeans and excellent curls! I am predicting the finals for Laura and her gang of disco larcenists!

Review by Mariella Herberstein

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Cyprus
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Alter Ego by Minus One

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Look, I am trying to love Cyprus, but every year they are making it more and more difficult for me! Bearded men in black-hooded coats, howling with coyotes under high voltage electricity towers. I’d be surprised if anyone could fit more cliches into a single song:

  • Ill advised chin hair – check
  • Mysterious lady in a black dress – check
  • Cool car (Mustang) – check
  • Overly enthusiastic drummer – check
  • Non-sensical lyrics – check

Despite my misgivings, I have a sinking feeling that this one might slip through to the finales, mostly because the rest of the entries are so utterly boring….

Review by Mariella Herberstein

Switzerland and Estonia

Switzerland
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The Last Of Our Kind by Rykka

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Switzerland, after a recent string of poor Eurovision performances, has gone back to their last (1988) winning formula: a Swiss-Canadian female pop singer, belting out a ballad in a white dress. Unfortunately, finding another Céline Dion has proved evasive. This year’s entry, Rykka, singing The Last of our Kind, falls flat, both literally and figuratively.

The song is generic, and once finished is quickly forgotten. Although meeting the required key changes that define Eurovision ballads, the lack of energy or anything to ‘push the boundaries’ leaves the audience quickly forgetting the song. Overall, it left me revisiting old videos of Céline Dion in a drop-waist skirt and white power jacket and reminiscing of the glory days of Switzerland Eurovision past.

Neutrality, both in the song and Switzerland’s political position will cost The Last of our Kind a spot in the grand final.

Review by Fran van den Berg

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Estonia
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Play by Jüri Pootsmann

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Starting pensively with a heavy baseline, Estonia’s Play sung by Jüri Pootsmann promises something special. Unfortunately, sometimes even the best promises don’t deliver. A deep voice, and well cut suit are not enough to transform this song above the mundane.

The set design, with red and black silhouettes, and billowing graphics evokes a James Bond theme. However, the overall effect of three aggressive-looking spliced images of Jüri only serves to leave one feeling slightly uneasy. Despite the Bond-like graphics, musically the song does not have any of the power or intrigue that befits a Bond theme song. Throughout, the song never develops, and one is disappointingly left wondering when the Eurovision magic will emerge.

This will not be the year for Estonia, with nothing more than mid-way performance in the semi’s feeling eminent.

Review by Fran van den Berg

Australia, Slovenia and Macedonia

Australia
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Sound of Silence by Dami Im 

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Welcome back to Eurovision! I am your loyal American correspondent, Scott. First on the European agenda is the Australian entry by Korean-born Dami Im. After last year’s subliminal messaging by Guy Sebastian, Australia is in fact doing Eurovision night again and we couldn’t be more thrilled to be reverse-colonizing Europe’s borders …again. This year, Australia opts for a more ironic theme with Dami’s “Sound of Silence”.

This rousing powerful ballad is anything but silent, and Dami’s pipes are more than a match for Europe’s finest. In classic fashion she stands on her own, eschewing gimmicks and backup bands in favour of her own talent and fashion sense, although in modern Australian tradition she does bring along a piece of man-candy. Is he contact-juggling his own body? The song itself has a catchy if redundant lyrical hook, a deep beat, and a moving bridge. Needs more wind machine. I doubt it’ll win, but my hope is that it places high enough and draws enough advertising dollars that we can do tonight thrice. We may be here on this blog as neutral and objective scientists, but when it comes to Australia I will always have the journalistic objectivity of Fox News.

Review by Scott Fabricant

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Slovenia
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Blue and Red by ManuElla

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America has a proud tradition of country music, deep fried oreos, and casual racism. While 2016 has demonstrated that Europe is certainly not lacking in the latter, I do feel as though the Eurovision song contest, long dominated by bubblegum pop with a dark horse streak of Scandinavian metal and electrotrash, would really benefit from some country soul. Here to save our souls is Slovenia.

All good country music is about break ups, and this song is no exception. I think. It might actually be about finger painting in primary colours, as the singer’s faux-Tennessee accent is almost as impenetrable as Fort Knox, but her yodelling game is on point and that’s really what country music is about. Her slick-but-pointless costume change is a welcome flourish, and I appreciate how the white-to-red swap against a blue stage background pays homage to her source material (USA! USA! USA!). Ultimately she’s no Taylor Swift, but the novelty of her entry (and the high power of her wind machine) will propel her into the finals. While she’s unlikely to win, I do hope she spurs a mini Lordi Effect and we hear more banjos in Eurovision future.

Review by Scott Fabricant

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Macedonia
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Dona by Kaliopi

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What do you call a person who speaks two languages? Bilingual, of course. What do you call a person who speaks three languages? Trilingual. And a person who only speaks one language? An American! Naturally I have no idea what Kaliopi is singing about (donut donut donut…), but that in no way hampers my enjoyment of this song. After a beautiful opening sequence of Kaliopi walking through a fancy hotel blinged out in high end robes, the production budget suddenly runs dry (much like the broader Macedonian economy).

We are unexpectedly transported to the magical land of 1980’s green screen as Kalopi is projected with all the choppy finesse of a high schooler with Photoshop into a gorgeous theatre that she probably doesn’t have the talent to get into the old-fashioned way. She does keep singing after this point, a suitably 80’s ballad with suitably 80’s bangs, but frankly I’m too bored by her and distracted by the CGI to pay attention. Honestly I think she missed her true calling; if/when she fails at Eurovision, she should try her hand at being a surfer, as her wetsuit pleather pants and surfs-up dance routines would really make waves on the Australian market. Just don’t come by boat.

Review by Scott Fabricant

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Spain and Italy

Spain
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Say Yay! by 
Barei

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Hip, trendy, upbeat, and in English. It is a shame Barei chose an entry in a language other than Spanish. Very disappointing. It has already caused quite a stir in Spain, and I must say, I agree. While the tune is catchy, and Barei’s image is edgy and cool, I feel the idea behind all the glitz is to distract the audience from the lyrics.

Not unlike many other young pop stars, she comes off as trendy but with little substance, the “fairy floss” of the music scene as it were. I’m not sure if it is because English is not her native language but the song does little to convey any deeper meaning other than to “sing with her lalalala”. I suppose some songs don’t have to be about much more, and it’s enough that they make you feel happy and are easy to sing. Perhaps that will be enough to get her over the threshold? The idea behind performing a song in English was for it to be appealing to a wider audience. Maybe the gamble will pay off.

Review by Giselle Muchette

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Italy
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No Degree Of Separation by Francesca Michielin

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Francesca Michielin presents “Nessun grado di separazione”, “No degree of separation”. It is a lovely melody, reminiscent of Laura Paucini. The song is about a girl who lives in a drawer or a small box, isolated, protecting her heart and holding herself distant from life and one day finds the courage to leave her small, confined and safe space to experience the outside world, real life. With no degree of separation between her and the reality that surrounds her.

The video is somewhat too literal in its interpretation, with Francesca singing from within a neon “box”, but her vocals overcome the slight lack of originality of the visual concept. The music starts off soft and slightly romantic and builds up to a chorus conveying strength and courage. The message conveyed can be familiar to many people in different situations. Anyone can identify with the concept of feeling constrained and finding the courage to explore, to love, to take a risk. I feel Italy is a strong contender for the top prize this year.

Review by Giselle Muchette

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Azerbaijan, Germany and Russia

Azerbaijan
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Miracle by Samra 

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The chorus line of this song ‘Gonna take a miracle’ seems to betray a lack of confidence in Azerbaijan’s ability to take home the Eurovision crown. Why so skittish Azerbaijan? Alongside a growling synth track underlying some sick beats Samra brings the goods with her powerful voice, finely sculpted eyebrows and a delightful slathering of sass. In other words, don’t fuck with Samra.

Azerbaijan’s Eurovision dreams could not be in more capable hands. She seems like the kind of woman who can run in heels and manage a fledging online start-up company to fiscal stability. And if there isn’t a place for her in the Eurovision hall of fame, perhaps there’s one in local government or middle management.

Review by James O’Hanlon

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Germany
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Ghost by Jamie-Lee

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After the young, black-haired, pixie-faced 2014 Eurovision champion Lena failed to bring home the goods again in 2015, Germany has decided to shake things up by sending another young, black-haired, pixie-faced songstress, this time wearing a fascinator. The Eurovision powerhouse that is Germany is likely to do well this year, but will the fascinator and eclectic accoutrements carry Jamie-Lee to victory? Probably not.

In my opinion Jamie-Lee simply doesn’t take quirky fashion far enough. It’s as if she was heading to a cosplay convention but didn’t have time put together a decent costume.

Which brings me to my prediction for Eurovision 2017- ‘Furries’ are about to hit the scene in a big way. Whole bands of them! Imagine the Spice Girls, but instead of band members dressing as brit-culture-stereotypes we get purple wolves and fluorescent yellow fennec foxes. Mark my words, 2017 will be the year the Furries hit Eurovision.

Review by James O’Hanlon

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Russia
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You are the Only One by Servey Lazarev

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If you have a LAN party coming up then Sergey Lazarev’s ‘You are the Only One’ could be the soundtrack to which you frag your nearest and dearest. Russia seem to have taken a retro angle by bringing us a song that sounds eerily like the soundtrack to a 1990’s video game.

 Filling you with equal parts enthusiasm and the soulless shame that comes with enjoying any pop-song, ‘You are the Only One’ is a solid effort with one major drawback – Sergey simply doesn’t take his shirt off enough. With all the money and time that has apparently been invested into chest waxing and sit-ups this seems like a lost opportunity. Does Russia want to win Eurovision or not??? As my grandfather always used to say, the sun got nowhere to shine till you get them guns out son!

Review by James O’Hanlon

Armenia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Belarus

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LoveWave by Iveta Mukuchyan

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Iveta is overcome by a LoveWave, the source of which is a dashingly handsome and hairy Ewin Mcgregor. Emotions have taken hold, and all Iveta can do is screech: uhhhhuhhhuuhhhhuuuhhh. The wailing is artfully amplified by the Armenian Duduk – an ancient, yet annoying reed instrument.  On the plus side, Iveta is sporting a blow wave, the like of which I have not seen since Farrah Fawcett. Also, Iveta has very well shaped eyebrows!

Review by Mariella Herberstein

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Bosnia & Herzegovina
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Ljubav Je by Dalal & Deen feat. Ana Rucner and Jala

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It’s been twelve long years since Deen graced the Eurovision stage with his oh-so-subtle pelvic thrusting, rhinestone-clad, mouth-gaping ‘In the Disco‘, replete with its concerning message about body image.

It may be best to think of ‘Ljubav Je’ as an opportunistic longitudinal study on the effects of aging on the human body. Dependent variables of interest could include hair quantity, hair location, voice pitch and surface area to volume ratio. The next measurement is due in 2028.

Not even France is entirely en français this year, so take this opportunity to drink for a song in a native language.

Review by Ingrid Errington

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Belarus
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Help you fly by IVAN

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Belarus has sent the love child of Ron Weasley and Kylo-Ren to Eurovision. This could be interesting, but sadly is not. IVAN extrudes a whiny metal ballad that could have been ripped off the back catalog of Scorpion  (remember ‘wind of change’?). While the screen display behind IVAN offers moments of distraction, the viewer is left wondering why he wants to help wolves fly?

Rumours have it that IVAN is planning to perform naked with real wolves – nothing less if he wants a chance to get into the finals.

Review by Mariella Herberstein

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Iceland, Austria and Finland

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Hear Them Calling by Greta Salóme

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As a final year PhD student, this song was a surprise because it’s remarkably accurate in its description of my past couple of weeks. Hearing whispers in the hallways even though nobody else is left working so late in my lab in the basement, stumbling outside to find it now cold and dark after a 13 hour day without windows. Then running to make my train because it’s the off-peak timetable and the next service isn’t for 20 minutes…

Perhaps it’s all those solvents; perhaps the ghosts of postgrads past.

Greta represented Iceland a few years ago paired with Jonsi, who seemed quite good but has now apparently moved onto other things. Rather like that super keen, sparkly-eyed undergrad volunteer that was helping out around the lab back in 2014, now I think of it…

Review by Ingrid Errington

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Loin d’ici by ZOË

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This dreamy eyed young forest fairy delivers a delicate, happy ditty about being ‘far from here’. The song and Zoe surely mean no harm and I have certainly sat through much worse from Austria (remember the bearded hipsters with the piano on fire from last year?). Austria will probably slip into the finales without anyone even noticing. I do hope the stage show will improve on the CGI toadstools in the background.

Review by Mariella Herberstein

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Finland
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Sing It Away by Sandhja

This poppy number from Finland is pure Eurovision gold and has my votes!!! Sandhja promises to sing away all your worries and troubles, and I for one, believe her. With her girl posse, she hangs out on playgrounds, wears sparkly sneakers and tells you that ‘there is no need to be carrying a frown’. Who cares that the music video featuring a masked rider on a horse and someone boiling water for a cup of tea, makes no sense at all….just ‘sing it away’!

Review by Mariella Herberstein

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Hej Stockholm!

Dear friends and lovers of tasteful music!

For the 6th time, we find ourselves in Sweden, who once again has taken home the desired Eurovision trophy thanks to a convincing win by young Måns Zelmerlöw last year. If I concentrate really hard, I can even hum the melody! Check out last year’s reviews here!

What can we expect from Eurovision 2016? I for one predict a low budget show – surely funding Eurovision 6 times is ripping a hole, the size of Småland, into Sweden’s government budget. However, if any country can carry off a global music festival on an IKEA budget, it is Sweden!

So don’t fret…over the coming weeks, we will be by your side,  reviewing all 2016 entries in preparation of the Eurovision semis and final!

Your Club Douze Points

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