The 2016 Eurovision That Almost Was: Semifinal Two

Welcome to the alternate reality Semifinal Two, where goths run amok, a Norwegian pretends he’s Jamaican and Poland is the fan favorite to win Eurovision.

Latvia: Catalepsia – “Damnation

Going into Supernova 2016, the buzz among the die-hard Eurovision fans was all about Justs. Indeed, Justs’ victory in Latvia was the closest to a sure thing this season. It wasn’t entirely a runaway though. While he won the online vote, he finished second in the Latvian televote behind gothic metal band Catalepsia. We could argue Catalepsia’s song “Damnation” may have been a bit too dark for Eurovision, but then again, Ukraine did win the Song Contest this year with “1944.”

Poland: Margaret – “Cool Me Down

Going into Krajowe Eliminacje 2016, the buzz among the die-hard Eurovision fans was all about Margaret and her Rihanna-influenced earworm. However, Margaret’s low energy performance made us wonder if she had bought into her own hype and was saving herself for Sweden. Michał Szpak brought the intensity and compelling stage presence that Margaret did not and booked his ticket to Stockholm instead.

Switzerland: Bella C – “Another World

Imagine you are in a bar at a Swiss chalet after a long day on the slopes. You’re sipping schnapps and dining on fondue, and Bella C is at the lounge’s piano, singing “Another World” and covers of well-known pop standards. You know, like “Empire State of Mind,” so the Americans will drop a few Francs into the tip jar. You will probably quickly down a couple more shots before bailing out on the apres-ski and vote for Rykka to go to Eurovision instead.

Israel: Nofar Salman – “Made of Stars

Hovi Star represented Israel with “Made of Stars,” but he and the Israel delegation re-did the arrangement he used at the national final. Nofar Salman’s original, smoky interpretation was more influenced by Mediterranean pop. Frankly, we liked her version better than Hovi’s version for Israel, but we cannot deny that Hovi’s revamped version was tailor-made for Eurovision.

Belarus: NAPOLI – “My Universe

NAPOLI’s “My Universe” is a pop ballad not entirely dissimilar to cha “Gravity,” Zlata Ognevich’s 2013 entry for Ukraine. At Belarus’ national final, NAPOLI was runner up to Ivan, because once the power of the wolf is unleashed it cannot be denied. Undeterred, NAPOLI then made their way over to Poland’s national final with the same song, where they summarily finished in last place. We applaud their chutzpah, but it’s obvious that they did not go far enough. We hope they come back in 2017 and enter all of the national finals.

Serbia: Internal selection, not applicable.

Ireland: Internal selection, not applicable.

Macedonia: Internal selection, not applicable.

Lithuania: Erica Jennings – “Leading Me Home

Erica Jennings is the lead singer for the band SKAMP, which represented Lithuania at the 2001 Eurovision Song Contest with “You’ve Got Style.” Her 2016 song “Leading Me Home” is a dull, gospel-tinged show tune that seems to have a chorus and a bridge but no verse. Erica finished second with both the juries and the televoters. It’s tough to go up against Donny Montell now that he has established his Eurovision bonafides.

Australia: Internal selection, not applicable.

Slovenia: Raiven – “Črno bel

Slovenians had a choice at EMA 2016 between “Blue and Red” and “Black and White,” and we think that 3,865 of them made the wrong choice. Raiven came close to catching ManuElla, receiving 3,738 votes in the EMA super final. Her atmospheric pop song was haunting, and she certainly cut a striking look with her Morticia Addams at a Bauhaus concert realness. Also: harp solo! Unfortunately for us, Taylor Swift is more popular than Siouxie Sioux.

Bulgaria: Internal selection, not applicable.

Denmark: Anja Nissen – “Never Alone

It comes as no shock that “Never Alone”–which you may recognize by its other name, “Only Teardrops 2.0”–was co-written by Eurovision winner Emmelie de Forest. That Song Contest pedigree probably helped propell Anja to the MGP super final alongside Simone Egeriis and eventual winner Lighthouse X. Thankfully, Denmark decided that one “Only Teardrops” is plenty.

Ukraine: The Hardkiss – “Helpless

Here’s a piece of Eurovision trivia: “1944” barely made it out of its national final. Going into the Ukrainian national selection, the favorite was the Hardkiss’ “Helpless,” a gothic prog ballad. Its striking staging featured singer Yulia Sanina sporting a hairstyle seemingly inspired by Dilophosaurus and festooned with tubes of light that made her look like a central processing unit in the Matrix. If we remember correctly, judges Ruslana and Andriy “Verka Serduchka” Danylko debated the Hardkiss’ performance for three hours. They then allowed the Ukrainian national final to move on to the evening’s fourth song of six. That said, they liked the song well enough to make it the jury’s top choice. Jamala’s “1944” did better with the public, so Jamala and the Hardkiss tied for first place. The tiebreaker went to the public vote, and the rest is Eurovision history.

Norway: Freddy Kalas – “Feel Da Rush”

We have described a few of the songs we’ve featured in this post as being “goth.” Freddy Kalas’ “Feel Da Rush” could be best described as the opposite of goth. It’s a Caribbean-flavored pop jam that is as authentic as Taco Bell. The sight and sound of a lily white Scandinavian bro mimicking a Caribbean accent is almost too ridiculous to be offensive. Almost. If there is ever a remake of Weekend at Bernie’s, then we have found the perfect song for its opening credits.

Georgia: Nika Kocharov & Young Georgian Lolitaz – “Sugar and Milk

Nika Kocharov & Young Georgian Lolitaz were an internal selection, but Georgia held a selection show to determine their song for Europe. “Midnight Gold” was the overwhelming preference of the Georgian public (and jury member Andy “ESCKAZ” Mikheev), but Eurovision Song Contest 2016 producer Christer Björkman gave his jury vote to “Sugar and Milk.” We’re not ones to question Christer’s taste in music, but we can’t figure out why he thought this noodly 1990s jam band filler was a good fit for the Song Contest. Not to say we don’t like it, but “Midnight Gold” was such a better entry.

Albania: Aslajdon Zaimaj – “Merrmë që sot

“Merrmë që sot” is all over the shop, bouncing from pop ballad to metal song to prog rocker like an over-enthusiastic child in a toy store. It eventually settles into a galloping groove, but by then we were checking our watches. Eneda Tarifa’s “Përrallë” won Festivali i Këngës and despite her song’s fate in Europe, we won’t argue Albania made the wrong choice.

Belgium: Tom Frantzis – “I’m Not Lost

Tom Frantzis’ “I’m Not Lost” is a Coldplay-esque pop rock anthem decked out with an “it’s the journey, not the destination” lyrical theme. It would be perfect for Belgian iPhone ads. Tom made it to Belgium’s super final, but his standard issue rock staging was no match for Laura Tesoro’s fully choreographed funk extravaganza.