ESC 2015: 1st Semi-Final – The Songs
In a few weeks, the Eurovision Song Contest 2015 (which will be held this year in Vienna, Austria) is going to start with the 1st Semi-Final on Tuesday, 19th May 2015. 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 overall opening act of this edition is a uptempo pop entry with a taste of 90’s pop music à la N-Sync, Boyzone and Backstreet Boys sung by Eduard Romanyuta (who had already tried several times to represent the country he was born, Ukraine (2009, 2011, 2012 and 2013): “I want your love”. Honestly, this screams average for me: the music isn’t really appealing, the lyrics are too simple (eventhough they fit the song) and it doesn’t help the fact that it has a negative déjà-vu feeling. Still, it’s one of the very few uptempo songs in this edition and I guess it can do well with a great performance (provided that he improves his vocals a lot and that he doesn’t deliever a messy choreography). Time will tell…
Next is “Face the shadow”, a classic slow pop-soul entry sung by a project band named Genealogy (Vahe Tilbian (from Ethiopia), Tamar Kaprelian (from USA), Stephanie Topalian (from Japan), Essaï Altounian (from France), Mary-Jane O’Doherty Basmadjian (from Australia) and Inga Arshakyan (from Armenia – and also the only artist in the group with a previous ESC participation. Together with her sister Anush, she sung “Jan jan” back in 2009). There’s no doubt that the song serves its purpose of building bridges among the armenian people living both in and out of the country with its lyrics and it has some interesting arrangements. If there’s any fault point at is the musical climax, which is quite messy and complicated at times. That said, I believe this could sail into the final – however, Armenia has failed to qualify for the final once (back in 2011). Will this be the second time they fail to achieve it?
The runner-up of The Voice Belgique, Loïc Nottet, is representing the (french part of the) country (aka. RTBF) this year and he will do it with “Rhythm inside”, a contemporary indie-pop entry. I would never think such a sound would come to ESC… but it did in a refreshing way. The inspiration (mostly kiwi (new-zealander) singer Lorde‘s indie-pop hit “Royals”) is evident on every aspect – in a way, it’s a cleverly-mastefully produced track. Eventhough a entry generally liked by the ESC fans, there’s no doubt it’s a risky choice – and it could go either way. Let’s see what will happen on that day
04: THE NETHERLANDS
One of the most famous singers in the country, Trijntje Oosterhuis will sing a mid-tempo pop-rock entry co-penned by Anouk (who participated in ESC 2013 as both a singer and a songwriter with “Birds”) titled “Walk along”. This ain’t as daring and powerful as the country’s entries from 2013 and 2014, but it’s quite instant due to its catchiness. The best of the song, though, it’s the lyrics about a woman that wants to be more than just a friend to the one she loves. No doubts Trijntje is a well-seasoned singer and she might do a pretty good vocal performance – however, here’s the question: can she give The Netherlands their 3rd consecutive ticket to the final?
A daring and risky choice from the country in question this year – punk -rock group Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät (the members: Pertti Kurikka, Kari Aalto, Sami Helle and Toni Välitalo) will rock the stage with a song that puts their artistic ways in clear evidence: “Aina mun pitää” (translation: I always have to) – the shortest song in the Eurovision Song Contest history. I applaud the country for sending a out-of-the-box entry and the group for their energy and passion in what they do (despite their medical caracteristics)… but as a song, it’s not that wonderful (even for a song of its genre. Some had done it better musically-wise: Sex Pistols, Ramones, The Clash, The Stranglers, etc…). But then again, it’s not a bad song either, mostly due to their organic delivery. It’s known that the general ESC fans opinion towards this entry isn’t favourable, but there has been songs that were tremendously hated and they still were in the final (one of those examples being LT United‘s “We are the winners” (Lithuania, 2006). Can they beat the odds by qualifiying to the final?
After a string of uptempo entries (and also a midtempo entry in between), Greece has finally returned to the slow-tempo zone. All courtesy of The Voice of Greece‘s Season 1 winner, Maria Elena Kyriakou and to her classy power ballad entry “One last breath” (a entry she co-composed). A pretty emotional ballad with retro motives (a bit 007-esque, just like Conchita Wurst‘s “Rise like a pheonix” (Austria, 2014), a set of poetic lyrics about love desperation and a strong voice. There’s a but, though: Greece has sent better songs on its genre than this one. The country in question hasn’t ever been out of the final since the year the semi-final concept was introduced – curiously enough, the ESC fans‘ response to the song is quite poor. Can this be the song that will make them stay in the semi for the first time?
The country is offering us this year a contemporary late 60’s/early 70’s retro indie-soul entry whose title is as somber as the lyrics – “Goodbye to yesterday”. Singing the entry is a duet composed of upcoming singer Elina Born and veteran singer-songwriter Stig Rästa (the latter has already tried to go to ESC several times: 2003, 2004 (as part of Slobodan River), 2008, 2009 (as part of Traffic), 2011 (as part of Outloudz), 2012 and 2013 (as part of Traffic. And, of course, he’s the author-composer of the entry in question). There’s no doubt that it’s my big favourite for this year’s edition. I’m usually a sucker for retro-influenced entries… and this is no exception – it has that late 60’s/early 70’s dreamy musical aura that coincidentally fits the contemporary-sounding dark mood of the song extremely well. There’s also the impassive and heartbreaking lyrics which are, for me, the best of the year. No doubt it’s a big favourite for the ESC fans in general, but we still have to see what will the jury and televoting think of this…
The first winner of X Factor Adria, Daniel Kajmakoski, is giving his all on his debut ESC participation with the slow-tempo entry “Autumn leaves”. Honestly, I liked the uptempo version more than the version that it’s going to be heard on ESC. Still, the chorus is the strongest point of the song – one that blends the classic anthemic and the contemporary sounds into a single unity, provided by a peaceful set of lyrics. Eventhough it has a moderate response from ESC fans, it’s still unsure whether this can do well or not. I’d say everything will come down to the overall performance…
The other ex-Yu country in this semi is ready to snatch some weaves as Bojana Stamenov (4th in the serbian version of “Got Talent”) is ready to pour her soul away for “Beauty never lies”, a empowering pop entry whose music was made by Vladimir Graić (2007, Serbia, “Molitva”, sung by Marija Šerifović and 2012, Slovenia, “Verjamem”, sung by Eva Boto) and Leontina Vukomanović (lyricist for 2004, Serbia & Montenegro, “Lane moje”, sung by Željko Joksimović), with the lyrics being penned by Charlie Mason (the same responsible for the lyrics of the winning entry of ESC 2014: Austria, Conchita Wurst, “Rise like a pheonix”). A pretty good entry with the right proportion between the two distinctive tempos included in the track. The jewel of the crown, though, is Bojana herself: her fiercely vocal prowses livens up a song that wouldn’t have sounded as good with a weaker voice – it just makes you believe in her while she’s delievering those empowering lyrics with so much pride and confidence. Since they first participated as an independent country in 2007, Serbia has had their ups… and also their downs. Will they have a “up” moment this year? Or will they go “down” again?
Boglárka Csemer – artistically called Boggie – is representing her country this year with a peaceful song: “Wars for nothing”. Whenever I hear this song, I get some vibes from another ESC entry (Friderika Bayer, “Kinek mondjam el vétkeimet?”, Hungary, 1994): it’s simple, it’s minimalistc… but it’s also a heartfelt plea for peace and understanding within the mankind. All in all, a pretty well arranged entry. One thing is sure: this type of entries tend to have mixed results – they either do well or they either do bad. Will this be a sucess case (continuing the consecutive streak of qualifications for the final)… or a flop case (breaking that streak for the first time since 2009)?
Uzari gets finally the chance to represent his country, Belarus, in ESC after backing a backing singer for Anastasiya Vinnikova in 2011 and after a few tries on his own back in 2012 and 2013 (+ he also co-wrote the belarussian jESC 2014 entry, “Sokal”, sung and made by Nadezhda Misyakova). Together with violinist Maimuna, he will sing the catchy uptempo pop entry “Time”. It was just OK when it first appeared, but the highly-polished revamp certainly made its wonders by giving more life to the song (and to its passionate “running against time before it’s too late”-like lyrics) than it had before – I also love Maimuna‘s violin playing throughout the song. The only negative thing is that there are much better songs this year than this one – in a weaker year, it could be easily be on my top-20. For the time being, Belarus is in a good roll with two consecutive final qualficiations in the last two years. Can the duo in question do a hat-trick this year?
One of the most known russian female singers has been chosen to represent the country in question: Polina Gagarina will sing a mid-tempo entry titled “A million voices”. I admit it’s quite a “paint-by-numbers” mid-tempo ballad that we can usually hear on ESC these days (+ from the songs I’ve heard of her, this doesn’t sound like it’s on her comfort zone) – that doesn’t mean it’s a bad song. On the contrary, it’s a lovely peace entry backed with a well-crafted production and a profusely appealing voice. Russia is also one of the very few countries that has a 100% final qualification record since 2004, the year the semi-final concept was first introduced – and going by the good response the ESC fans have concerning this one, I guess that might not yet be broken… or will it be broken? Like William Shakespeare once wrote in “Hamlet”, “To be or not to be, that is the question…”
Time for some retro rock entry with Anti Social Media (members: Philip Thornhill, Nikolaj Tøth, David Vang and Emil Vissing) as they’ll sing “The way you are”. I have to say this ticks all my buttons – that cheerful and fuzzy mid 70’s‘ musical feeling (much to the likes of Bay City Rollers), those funny sing-along lyrics, that cool feeling in the vocals… – there’s enough reasons for me to love such a song, me thinks. A pity that it’s one of the songs that aren’t loved by ESC fans in general, but Denmark has also had a share of songs whose opinions weren’t the best and still qualified for the final (ex.: Simon Matthew, “All night long”, 2008). Can they qualify for the final with a retro-influenced rock entry?
She has won a season from the italian edition of “The Voice” and now she’s ready to reach the ESC stardom – talking about Elhaida Dani, of course. Despite winning the NF with “Diell”, the composer of that entry didn’t give permission to let it go to ESC (probably unhappy with the revamping ideas), therefore, she’ll sing a different song from different songwriters: “I’m alive”, a arousing mid-tempo entry. It’s undoubtely the most contemporary entry they ever sent… in fact, it’s a pretty good one (eventhough it’s not one of the best songs in this ESC edition) – it just builds and builds until it gets to a impactful climax, magically acentuated by its survival-like lyrics. It’s been 3 years since they last time they qualified for the final (Rona Nishliu, “Suus”, 2012). Will Elhaida break the country’s non-qualification stigma this year?
This year, Romania is going a bit more risky than usual – all courtesy of seasoned rock group Voltaj and to their anthemic entry “De la capăt (All over again)”. A quite nice anthemic entry from start to finish with a lavish set of inspirational lyrics well made and defended by the group in question – just a pity it isn’t as powerful and highly emotional as it should be, at least for me. Like Greece and Russia, Romania has a 100% final qualification record since the first time the semi-final concept was implemented – can Voltaj continue that tradition?
And the semi ends with a bang: singer-songwriter Nina Sublatti is going to “oximate” us with the dark pop entry “Warrior” (the revamp’s producer was none other than Thomas G:son, a ESC composing veteran). I believe the song gained so much with G:son‘s presence: the revamp made it much stronger than it was before – . As for the lyrics… well, despite being empowering, the less said about them in terms of the few ortographic errors it has, the better (on a positive note: at least, we have a word that should be included in the official english dictionaries: “oximated“). Georgia has, without a doubt, a great draw – the only thing left is an equally great performance. Can she put the country in the final for the first time since 2013?
And that’s all for now. Next post will be about the 2nd Semi-Final songs… so, watch out for it