ESC 2014: 1st Semi-Final – The Songs
In a few weeks, the Eurovision Song Contest 2014 (which will be held this year in Copenhagen, Denmark) is going to start with the 1st Semi-Final on Tuesday, 6th May 2014. Before that, though, I’ll give my opinion about each and every song of this year’s ESC, starting with the songs from the 1st Semi-Final
The first country to perform is curiously the favourite to win the 2014 edition of the Eurovision Song Contest 2014: a mid-tempo ballad entry with dubstep sounds titled “Not alone”, composed and sung by Aram MP3, one of the most famous current singers of his country. Surely a good entry with a strong orchestrated instrumental in the first half, drowned up a bit with the dubstep section in the second half (not all songs blend well with the dubstep sound, this being an example) – eventhough the lyrics about solitude are great. I barely understand the hype, but I’m sure this can be a certain qualifier for the final and fight for a great placing there with a great performance (something that also blends well with the ESC fan polls in general). Will it actually win, though?
A happy-go-lucky folk entry is the main attraction for Latvia this year and will be defended by Aarzemnieki (name translated as Foreigners), formed by german born singer Joran Steinhauer (who had been in one of the Latvian ESC NF 2008 semis as a member of Axlina) and having Katrina Dimanta (violinist and vocalist), Raitis Vilumovs (drummer) and Guntis Veilands (pianist and writer of the entry in question) as members of what was initially a one-sided project for the founder. Certainly a funny song with substantially comical lyrics about trying to… well, “Cake a bake” (eventhough it’s apparently about emigration if looking deeply into the lyrics) and a certain retro-feeling that does make me think if I’ve heard a song of that kind before in ESC. Not really a favourite to even qualify for the final, but this could be a good bet for the “suprise qualifier” position. Time will tell…
After trying to go to ESC in 2002 and 2003 (both as part of Nightlight Duo), she finally gets her opportunity as a solo singer with “Amazing”. Written by herself with the collaboration of her all-time composer Timo Vendt in the music, the song speaks of an attempt to bring back the light of a relationship bound to be lost in the wilderness. Some people have compared this with ESC 2012‘s winning entry (Sweden, Loreen, “Euphoria”), but it doesn’t really come off as an attempt to emulate that same entry, eventhough it’s a very good dance entry. To some extent, it’s a favourite to qualify for the final, but it’s believed they might struggle, just like last year. Will it suceed in doing better or will it do worse than what’s expected?
Away with the catchy entries, say hello to ballads and it’s all on Sanna Nielsen (who, after 7 attempts, finally goes to ESC), with Fredrik Kempe (who had written the swedish ESC entries of 2008, 2009 and 2011, as well a co-writer of the norwegian ESC entry of 2010) among the three writers of the song called“Undo”. The title’s lyrics refer to a lonely girl waiting for someone to, well, break past the walls she had created for herself. Musically, it’s a modern ballad with arousing arrangements, probably quite inspired by Miley Cyrus‘ “Wrecking ball”. Also one of the favourites to win the ESC 2014, it could do pretty well with a great performance. Can this entry break the ESC 2010 curse for a swedish ballad?
A curious offering from Iceland this year, sung by a group whose members have tried to go to ESC before as members of past groups (Heiðar Örn Kristjánsson and Haraldur Freyr Gíslason had been part of punk rock group Botnleðja who came 2nd in the Icelandic ESC NF 2003, while Guðni Finnsson and Arnar Þór Gíslason had been part of rock group Dr. Spock, reaching a 3rd place in the Icelandic NF 2008) and that is targeted mainly to children: Pollapönk. With the title being “No prejudice”, here we have a catchy and funny punk-rock entry about tolerance between people. Quite pleasant and they have a smart way of selling a song, but the problem is that there are better songs in this year’s ESC. In a way, things do look bleak for them, but can they shock the audience with a suprise qualification to final?
Hersi Matmuja has previously tried to go to ESC at least four unsucessfull times (2007, 2011, 2012 and 2013)… until the time she finally won the Albanian ESC NF 2014 (the famed Festivali i Këngës festival). This year, Albania has gone for a quirky ballad titled “One night’s anger”. I’d say alternative as well, because it doesn’t quite sound like a normal ballad musically and vocally-wise. Also, the revamp worked pretty well on it (when originally sung in albanian at the NF, it was a bit too weird. Thankfully, they took some of its major flaws). Albania usually has some mixed results with ballads (with “Suus”, sung by Rona Nishliu in ESC 2012, being the most sucessfull one, reaching a highly honourable 5th place), so this will be their trial by fire. Will they qualify against all odds?
Last year, Serbia had in one of the three girls that formed the trio Moje 3 a first: Nevena Božović, who had previously participated for the same country in the Junior Eurovision Song Contest 2007, became the first singer to grace both EBU singing music contests. This year, it’s Russia‘s turn, as they sent the Junior Eurovision Song Contest 2006 winners: Tolmachevy Sisters (aka. Anastasiya and Maria Tolmachovy). By now almost adults, they’ll sing a song made by ESC veterans: Philipp Kirkorov (as a singer back in 1995, “Kolibjeljnaja dlja vulkana“, 17th). As a composer back in 2007 for Belarus and 2008 for Ukraine), Dimitris Kontopoulos (As a composer back in 2009 for Greece and in 2013 for Azerbaijan), John Ballard (As a lyricist back in 2013 for Azerbaijan. Also known for trying to go to ESC as a singer in 1984), Ralph Charlie Al Fahel (As a lyricist back in 2013 for Azerbaijan) and Gerard James Borg (As a lyricist back in 2000, 2002, 2004, 2007 and 2008 for Malta), whose title is simply “Shine”. A great mid-tempo tune with some retro-cinematic feeling throughout the song with pretty good polished vocals by the twins and a good set of lyrics about a relationship facing the obstacles without ever giving up. Normally there shouldn’t be much doubts about at least qualifiying, but with the poor reception from ESC fans and some other outside issues, there could be trouble. Will they manage to overcome those obstacules and qualify for the final?
Azerbaijan has once again entered into the slow songs department and defending their colours is Dilara Kazimova (formerly a member of Unformal in the Azeri ESC NF 2008 and Milk & Kisses in the Azeri ESC NF 2010) who will sing an entry written by 3 people, one of which being Stefan Örn, already a veteran in ESC terms for the last few years (he co-wrote Azerbaijan‘s entries of 2010, 2011 and 2012): “Start a fire”. Classy ballad with a bit of underground tones coupled with ethnic touches provided by local instruments and a set of lyrics that, in a closer look, tells us miscellaneous stories with a similiar path: social issues. Normally, they are certain qualifiers for the final, but some ESC fans believe that – after seeing her in the Eurovision in Concert events – she could actually struggle to even have a top-10 in case she qualifies to the final. Will Dilara prove them wrong and give one more good placing for Azerbaijan (remembering that the worst placing they ever got was only… an 8th place back in their debut participation in 2008)?
After a ballad, it’s time for some catchy stuff – this time coming from Ukraine and from a talented female singer who had tried to go to ESC last year: Mariya Yaremchuk. Written by herself and Sandra Bjurman (quite a ESC veteran too as she co-wrote the Azerbaijan entries of 2010, 2011 and 2012. In this occasion, however, she collaborated with Mariya for some lyric changes), the song has as title “Tick-tock”. The first version left much to be desired for a song of its kind, but the revamp blossomed into a well manufactured retro-influenced pop entry much like what’s commonly heard on ESC these days. The lyrics, referring a empowering relationship throughout the song, blend very well with the melody’s nature. Ukraine is surely a favourite to guarantee a place in the final, even more after the revamp – will they confirm that favouritism?
Last year, RTBF picked the belgian entry – this year, VRT has its turn and, curiously enough, is sending a singer… from the french part of Belgium: Axel Hirsoux, who has participated in the belgian versions of famed music talent shows such as “Star Academy” and “The Voice”. One of the writers for the entry Axel is defending this year, “Mother”, has already in ESC pedigree to his curriculum: Rafael Artesero (he also co-wrote Andorra‘s entries from 2005 and 2006, as well as Spain‘s entry of 2011). An ode to all the mothers in the world, this song has as its strength the lyrics, the way it’s delivered and the emotion the singer feels for it during his performance in the NF – the arrangements could have been much better, but they aren’t bad at all for the kind of ballad that it is. There are mixed feelings about this entry according to ESC fans in general: in terms of song preference, the reactions aren’t really positive for most part – in terms of predicitions, one might believe it has a chance to do well. Will it qualify for the final despite the mixed opinions it has?
Another singer that has tried several times to go to ESC but only got the chance of doing it so this year: Cristina Scarlat (2010 (Quarter-Final), 2011 and 2013). The entry responsible for this achivement is “Wild soul”, a mid-tempo entry whose lyrics were made by Cristina‘s sister, Lidia Scarlat. I don’t think many songs usually blend well with the dubstep sound (at least, in my opinion) – this is one of the exceptions: the classic midtempo sound with the modern dubstep sound gives it a dramatic splendour. The surrealistic lyrics only ponctuates that dramatic feeling. Mixed reviews from ESC fans polls and sites make this one a total outsider to qualify for the final – will they qualify or will they fail to qualify for the final since the last time they didn’t make there (2008)?
12: SAN MARINO
Third time for Valentina Monetta (who participated in the last two years without much sucess) and once again with the same composer since she first participated in ESC back in 2012: Ralph Siegel (himself a record-holder for most participations in ESC as a composer: Germany (1976, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982 (on this occasion, he won as a composer for the only time in his life so far), 1987, 1988, 1990, 1992, 1994, 1997, 1999, 2002 and 2003 – Luxembourg: 1974 and 1985 – San Marino: 2012 and 2013 – Switzerland: 2006 and Montenegro: 2009), as well as the same lyricst from last year: Mauro Balestri. It’s not as strong as last year’s entry (“Crisalide”), but I’d say it’s still a good catchy ballad with the chorus being its most defining moment (the lyrics in general are about a couple struggling to keep their love alive). San Marino is one of the few countries in this edition who hasn’t qualified yet for the final since their first participation (the other one is Montenegro – well, if we don’t count the time when they qualified as Serbia & Montenegro back in 2005 (No Name were montengrin) and they hope to finally break that cycle. Will they finally make it this year?
Portugal is back to ESC with lots of rhythm: sung by Suzy (real name Susana Santos, who is mainly known as the featuring singer of Anjos‘ highly known Christmas influenced song “Nesta noite branca”. By the time she was invited to go to the Portuguese ESC NF 2014 (Festival RTP da Canção), she had been living in Dubai (UAE) for several years) and written entirely by Emanuel (famed portuguese schlager (“pimba”) singer who had gone to ESC before as the composer of Portugal‘s entry in 2007), the song is called “Quero ser tua” (translated as “I want to be yours”). A summer-ish latin dance entry whose biggest attribute is the fact that it’s a cheerful song anybody could feel happy when hearing it and the fact that it’s sweetly sung by the singer in question, eventhough the lyrics about a girl who desires to be with the man she loves sound and look a bit basic (then again, that’s quite usual with songs of its kind). The odds are against this song from the moment it was announced as this year’s portuguese entry: mixed reactions from the ESC fans polls and blogs (even after the final version of the song (the one that will be heard during her live performance) was revealed just a few days ago), poor betting odds, the song being performed after the break, etc… however, it’s known that the performance in ESC will be totally different from its NF performance + it’s the only song of the kind in the semi they’re in + it shouldn’t ruled out of a possible qualificiation to the final. Therefore, here’s the question: will they pull out a “shock” moment and become the suprise qualifier of the semi?
14: THE NETHERLANDS
Like last year, The Netherlands (actually, AVRO/TROS) has chosen one of most known current acts of the last few years. Actually, two of them, as they formed the duo The Common Linnets for this occasion: Ilse deLange (who started her carrer in 1998 and had several hits on home soil throughout the years like a featuring appearance in Kane‘s “Before you let me go” in 2003 or “Miracle” in 2008) and Waylon (who started his carrer in 1997, but only started recording in 2009). The contrast is also quite apparent from last year’s entry: co-written by Ilse (together with four other people, one of which being a known american country singer (Rob Crosby), the title of the song really goes along with its slow flow: “Calm before the storm”. I’m not usually fond of country (or country-influenced) music, but this one is really good: not only it’s well produced and up to date, but there’s also a laid back notion throughout the entire song. By the way, I find the lyrics to be one of the best from this year’s ESC (poetically telling the hard story of a couple in the world they live in). Generally, the ESC fans polls are in a good sync with this entry, but it could really struggle to qualify for the final due to its musical nature. Will The Netherlands reach the final for the second time in a row since the conception of Semi-Final(s) was first introduced in 2004?
One of the biggest names in the montengrin music market, Sergej Ćetković, is finally ready to grace an ESC stage with his own composition (with singer Emina Jahović (who had tried to go to ESC for Bosnia & Herzegovina in 2002 and for Serbia in 2010 without much sucess) collaborating in the lyrics) titled “Moj svijet” (translated as “My world”). A sublime ethnic ballad with a set of romantic lyrics dedicated to the woman that’s addresed in the song – maybe the best entry Montenegro has ever sent to ESC since 2009. Montenegro is the second country from this edition that hasn’t qualified for the final as of 2014 (well, as an independent country (not counting the time when they qualified as Serbia & Montenegro back in 2005 (No Name were montengrin) and after getting so close to it last year, this could be their redemption year (despite the fact they don’t have any neighbour country to rely on with the voting) – it’s, therefore, a “make it or break it” case. Will they finally reach the stairway to the Final for the first time since they became an independent country?
The last entry from the 1st Semi-Final is also a good favourite to do pretty well, if not a win: after participating in the Hungarian ESC NF’s for the last two years (in 2012, he went as far as going to the Semi-Finals and in 2013, he qualifed for the NF‘s Final), András Kállay-Saunders finally has the chance to give his all in the Eurovision Song Contest stage with a midtempo pop entry titled “Running”, a song he co-wrote with two more people. Not really a masterpiece, but it’s still a well constructed entry with pretty thoughtful and consciously social lyrics (the latter being the best of the song, eventhough the story has a negative conotion to it, telling the story of a young girl trapped in a negative familiar atmosphere at her home). Eventhough a favourite to achieve a great placing in ESC 2014, I still don’t think Hungary is a definite qualifer as of yet. I could be wrong, though, so… my question would be: can they confirm the favouritism by qualifiying to the final and then achieving a place between 1st and 10th?
And that’s all for now. Next post will be about the 2nd Semi-Final songs… so, watch out for it