Eurovision 2019: A Primer for Saturday Night Viewing

It’s time once again for the Eurovision Song Contest! For some reason, Madonna is going perform her new song during the show. But more importantly than that, Verka Serduchka and Conchita Wurst are back as part of an interval act!

But enough about drag icons, let’s answer your questions about this year’s competitors.

Who Are the Contenders?

Duncan Laurence of The Netherlands has led the odds ever since he released his song “Arcade.” It has a striking video that also features a lovely view of his bare tush. But the song is good too!

After the Dutch entry, the betting has been all over the place. Nine other countries have been second-favorite with the bookies over the past couple of months. The spot is currently occupied by Australia. Kate Miller-Heidke has brought a opera-inflected pop song and a spectacular staging that could overshadow The Netherlands’ more straightforward presentation.

Other countries who are in with a shot include France, who have gotten a lot of attention for their androgynous teen star Bilal Hassani. He tackles bullying and acceptance head-on in his song “Roi.”

Mahmood from Italy tells a personal story about his relationship with his father in the hip hop-infused “Soldi.” It’s our personal favorite at this year’s Song Contest.

Sweden’s John Lundvik offers up a ton of charisma with the gospel-tinged “Too Late for Love.” Fun fact: John also co-wrote this year’s United Kingdom entry “Bigger Than Us.”

Sergey Lazarev has returned to represent Russia with another high concept staging involving glass cases of emotion. He also has a song, too, but really it’s about the glass cases of emotion.

Switzerland, of all countries, has gotten a lot of attention so far for Luca Hänni’s “She Got Me,” which is essentially the bro version of last year’s sensation “Fuego.”

Then there is Iceland. There has never been an act like Hatari at Eurovision before. Even Lordi would look at the Icelandic BDSM theatrical anti-capitalist techno-punk band and say, ‘Whoa, that’s out there.” Their song “Hatrið Mun Sigra” (“Hatred Will Prevail”) is gritty, grimy, and catchy as hell. They’ve also been very critical of Israel’s handling of Gaza and the West Bank and keep talking about having a crush on Teresa May, so the possibility of them winning must be giving the European Broadcasting Union fits.

Did Spain Bring a Giant Puppet?

Yes.

Who Are the Teenaged Girls with Pop Bangers?

18-year-old Michela Pace opens the show on Saturday. She won Malta‘s version of The X Factor to book her ticket to Tel Aviv. The slinky, bouncy “Chameleon” is a fresh and fun song, and the staging plays off the title at every opportunity.

The youngest competitor is 16-year-old ZENA. She co-hosted the Junior Eurovision Song Contest when it was held in her native Belarus last year. Her song “Like It” is, well, likable!

Did Denmark Send a Figure Skater to Sing a Song About Peace and Love?

Of course they did.

WE WANT DIVAS!

That’s not a question, but we will answer you anyway. There is a lot of vocal firepower on offer this Saturday. North Macedonia shows off its new name with their first Final since 2012. The song “Proud” may be a bit old-fashioned, but Tamara Todevska brings a lot of drama and grace to it.

Greece chose Katerine Duska as their artist, and she has a gorgeous, rich vocal tone that elevates her song “Better Love.” She would probably be a dark horse contender for the title if Greece’s staging wasn’t so cluttered.

Jonida Maliqi represents Albania with a song about Albanians displaced by the war in Kosovo. It’s a dark song with a dark staging, but Jonida gives it plenty of life.

Returning artist Nevena Božović represents Serbia with the only Balkan-style ballad on offer this year. She single-handedly makes “Kruna” compelling.

Did Norway Bring the Joik-Pop?

Norway most definitely brought the joik-pop. And spirit animals.

Can You Express Your Love for Czech Republic?

You bet we can! Lake Malawi are performing “Friend of a Friend,” a spritely little slice of 80s-era sophisti-pop gussied up with modern tech tropes. They bring charm, rock-concert star power, and a fake British accent to the proceedings and we are thankful for it! How can you not adore a band who has a LinkedIn page? They may not be contenders, but they have won our hearts.

How In the Hell Did San Marino Make It to the Final?

Because there is something inherently wonderful about a former dentist who longs to be a disco crooner and made just enough money hosting the Turkish version of Jeopardy! to make his dreams come true.

Eurovision 2018: A Primer for Saturday Night Viewing

The Eurovision Song Contest is being held this Saturday in Lisbon’s Altice Arena. It is the first time Portugal has hosted Eurovision and their theme is “All Aboard,” a nod to their maritime history. Expect a lot of seafaring-based puns from the four hosts and cute guys in sailor outfits.

Here is what else to look for at this year’s Song Contest.

Who Are the Contenders?

The hot favorite coming into Lisbon has been Israel. Netta Barzilai created a splash with her song “Toy,” an empowering anthem that is both defiant and playful. Netta is a unique artist hampered only by the fact that the EBU wouldn’t let her use her trademark looper in her staging.

Since the rehearsal period began almost two weeks ago, the attention has shifted to Cyprus. Eleni Foureira is a Greek pop star who has gone for a seductive staging of her song “Fuego.” A viral video of her reply to a question about what her song means has added to her buzz.

Norway have brought back 2009 Song Contest winner Alexander Rybak. “That’s How You Write a Song” is aided by cute CGI graphics and his overall sense of professionalism. The man is still quite the entertainer.

Then there is France. They are represented by the duo Madame Monsieur, whose song “Mercy” tells the story of a baby of born to a refugee on a boat to Sicily. Expect the crowd in the hall to help Madame Monsieur lift their staging further.

Some dark horses to look out for: Sweden, with their usual flair for radio-friendly pop and innovative staging; Moldova, with a brilliant set piece; and Czech Republic, with an American-style pop banger.

Other countries generating excitement are Italy, who have an intense song about staying defiant in the face of terrorism; Germany, whose Michael Schulte brings an emotional Ed Sheeran-style song about the loss of his father; Australia, with an effervescent slice of pop positivity by Aussie megastar Jessica Mauboy; Austria, who have a bad draw but have been racking up iTunes downloads after their Semifinal performance; and Lithuania, whose love song would be syrupy if singer Ieva Zasimauskaitė didn’t sing it so darned well.

There has even been talk about Ireland, who have a lovely staging for Ryan O’Shaughnessy’s gentle pop ballad. Their prospects have skyrocketed in the last 24 hours due to their late draw in the running order.

In other words: no one has any idea whatsoever who is going to win.

No LED Screens? No Problem!

RTP, Portugal’s national broadcaster, did not install a giant LED screen this year. That has left the participants looking for different ways to add oomph to their staging.

On the prop front, Ukraine has the best use of a piano since Dima Bilan hid a ballerina in one back in 2006. United KingdomAustralia, and Sweden have gone the Dan Flavin route with various florescent light sculptures. Estonia has a giant projection dress. Moldova has something that needs to be seen to be appreciated, but no spoilers here. Finland seemingly has every stage prop they could get their hands on.

Some acts, including Norway, Italy, and Cyprus, are using onscreen CGI graphics to enhance their performances. Then there’s Germany, who just brought their own LED screen. Cheeky.

Who Ended Up In the Hospital?

Mikolas Joseph from Czech Republic did! The poor guy hurt himself in the very first rehearsal and ended up visiting three different hospitals to deal with his injury. He held back his choreography a bit in Semifinal One, but he hopes to go all out in the Final.

Wait, Someone Is Missing…

Azerbaijan, Romania, and Russia all missed out on the Final this year. It’s the first time any of them have missed the Final in years they’ve competed in a Semifinal. Ukraine and Australia are the only two countries left with a perfect qualification record. (According to us. Apparently, your Eurovision record-keeping may vary!)

Who’s Back In the Final?

Ireland qualified for the Final for the first time in five years, while Finland is back after a three-year absence. Estonia, Albania and Slovenia return after two years, and Lithuania and Czech Republic return after missing out last year.

Who Will Rock?

Albania have a classic rock singer with a big, big voice. Netherlands have a country rock song that wouldn’t sound out of place on American country radio. Hungary have a proper metal band who make full use of the pyro system. They are not every diehard Eurovision fans’ cup of tea.

Does Denmark Have Vikings?

Yes.

How Do I Watch In the United States?
The U.S., Canada, and some other Western hemisphere countries are still geoblocked from watching the show on the official Eurovision YouTube channel. Some national broadcasters, including Germany and Sweden, make their feeds available without restriction.

For those of us who pay a lot for our cable packages, Logo will be broadcasting the Song Contest with commentary from Ross Matthews and Shangela. Can Logo break the 100,000 viewer mark this year? Let’s find out. Halleloo!

UPDATED 05/11/2018: This post was updated to add Estonia to the list of countries back in the Final after two years and to get the facts straight about Austria. See comments below.

Eurovision 2017: A Primer for Saturday Night Viewing

The Eurovision Song Contest is being held this Saturday in Kyiv, Ukraine. Their theme is “Celebrate Diversity,” which is somewhat ironic considering the geoblocking in the U.S., Canada, and Brazil, and the three white male hosts.

No matter. Here’s our guide of the big Eurovision story lines this year, and who to watch for in the contest.

Russia’s Withdrawal
The lead up to the contest has had plenty of political controversy. Ukrainian officials alleged that Russia’s selected entrant, Yulia Samoylova, had illegally traveled to Crimea in 2015 after Russia’s annexation. In response, Ukraine issued a 3-year travel ban against Samoylova. It was widely speculated that Russia was fully aware of the conflict that would result from her selection, and Russia’s choice of Samoylova (who uses a wheelchair due to a childhood medical condition that robbed her of her ability to walk) was a cynical, deliberate attempt to provoke Ukraine. The EBU ultimately weighed in, saying that while it encouraged the participation of all countries, it respected the local laws of the host country. Russia subsequently announced it was withdrawing from the contest this year. Yulia Samoylova, incidentally, performed again in Crimea on May 9, the day of the first Eurovision Semifinal.

Russia’s absence from the contest this year has opened up a potential power vacuum. Russia can generally be relied upon to get votes from many former Soviet bloc countries because of the large number of ethnic Russians there and shared pop culture. One thing we will be watching for on Saturday is how those points are distributed. Do other Eastern European counties (e.g., Armenia, Ukraine, Belarus) benefit? Or, will the those votes simply be distributed to the songs each country likes the best?

Who’s in the Mix to Win?
All eyes are on Italy. Almost immediately after winning Italy’s prestigious Sanremo festival, Francesco Gabbani’s “Occidentalis Karma” became the odds leader, and he has stayed there ever since. As of the time of writing, the official video has amassed over 110 million views on Youtube (10 times more than anyone else in the competition). The question wasn’t whether Italy would win, but by how much.

And then, Tuesday’s Semifinal included a preview clip of Italy, part of a standard effort to showcase 3 of the Big 6 who have automatic entries into the Final. The full live Eurovision performance is available to watch on YouTube. Gabbani’s performance was unfocused and sloppy, leaving some to wonder if the frontrunner is going to choke. Though the horserace has gotten more interesting this week, he remains the favorite.

If not Italy, then who?
Portugal, that’s who. Yeah, that’s right, Portugal. The country with the longest Eurovision drought in history, who in 48 previous appearances has never won, is in with a shot this year. “Amar pelos dois” is a gentle cabaret ballad that sounds like a recent discovery from the Great American Songbook. But Salvatore Sobral’s unique stage presence completely draws you in. Look for a lot of jury love here, as well as a potential groundswell of public support for the underdog.

Bulgaria is also in the conversation. “Beautiful Mess” is a modern pop ballad with an attractive staging that features on-screen animation. Though only 17 years old, singer Kristian Kostov is a mature, poised performer, and he delivered a very strong performance in Semifinal 2. Unlike the other two contenders, which are going 9th and 11th, respectively, Bulgaria drew the second half of the final and is slated to go 25th out of 26 songs.

Other countries in the mix to place very well on the night are Sweden, which has a prime second half draw and a clever staging involving treadmills; Armenia, with a fab song, a fab staging, and a fab diva; Hungary, with a Roma-inspired pop song; and Belgium, who struggled in rehearsals but has a song with undeniable commercial appeal.

What about the cheese?
Oh, there’s cheese. 2017 is a vintage year for cheese. Sunstroke Project from Moldova is back this year. They initially rose to fame at Eurovision 2010, when Epic Sax Guy became a global meme. The members of Sunstroke Project are eager to recapture their moment in the sun, and yet, they’re also relaxed and clearly enjoying their experience this time around. “Hey Mamma” is wildly fun and, yes, gives us more epic sax.

Romania’s song is called “Yodel It!” As you might expect, there is yodeling. As you might not expect, there are glitter cannons.

The Master of Rennet, however, is Jacques Houdek from Croatia. “My Friend” is 2017’s answer to Cezar’s “It’s My Life.” Only more so. Prepare yourself.

And in case you think it is all going to be camera tricks, fire curtains, and giant images of the artist on video projection, rest assured we still get some stage props. Keep an eye out for Austria’s moon, Ukraine’s big head, and U.K.’s mirrored fan. As if you could miss them.

How to Watch in the United States
For those of us with access to extensive cable packages, Logo will be broadcasting the Contest with commentary from Michele Visage and Ross Matthews. Though the announcement came late, Logo has been publicizing it over the last two weeks. Let’s see if more than 52,000 Americans tune in this year!

Those of us in North America without access to Logo have been stymied by geoblocking thanks to the deal the EBU signed with Viacom. At least the good people of Sweden and Germany are there to help us out. If you run into problems at Eurovision.tv, try catching the broadcast at svt.se or eurovision.de.

Updated 5/12/2017: Since we posted this primer, Portugal has overtaken Italy as the odds leader. Looks like a lot of people are putting money down on Salvador. It looks like game on!

Eurovision 2015: A Primer for Saturday Night Viewing

We are hosting our annual Eurovision party this weekend! For our guests and for anyone else engaging with the Contest in time for the Grand Final, here are our notes to get up to speed on this year’s competition.

Vienna is hosting Eurovision on the heels of Conchita Wurst’s victory last year. Conchita is our green room host this year and frankly, we’re wondering why she isn’t hosting the whole damned thing. Expect some delightful bon mots from the world’s reigning drag superstar.

The big story coming into this year’s Eurovision is that in honor of the Song Contest’s 60th anniversary, Australia has been given a one-time chance to participate. Australia took their opportunity seriously and picked one of their biggest pop stars, Guy Sebastian, as their representative. His song for Europe, “Tonight Again,” is cheeky fun and has kept Australia one of the odds leaders even after the novelty of their participation wore off.

The bookies’ (and our) top tip to win the 2015 Eurovision Song Contest is Måns Zelmerlöw of Sweden. His song “Heroes” is a David Guetta/Avicii-influenced pop song. It goes into the Song Contest with momentum thanks to a groundbreaking animated staging that wowed fans and juries alike during the Swedish national final. Seriously, it’s really cool.

Sweden’s closest rival appears to be Italy. They are represented by Il Volo, a youthful pop-opera trio who are more known internationally than in their home country. Their song “Grande Amore” is strongly aligned with their brand and seems custom fit for their next PBS pledge drive special.

Rounding out the other favorites, Russia has sent “A Million Voices,” a well-executed example of their standard plea for peace, love and understanding. Singer Polina Gagarina has been so good thus far that she was hardly booed after she sang in the Semis.

Meanwhile, Estonia has sent an atmospheric retro number evocative of Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra’s duets. We’re not big fans of the song, but we have to say it is helped greatly by a gorgeous, heartbreaking staging.

We’ve always said that as more countries enter Eurovision, the harder it is for anyone to get the dreaded nul point at the end of the evening. The United Kingdom has decided to challenge that theory this year. Their song is in the genre of electro swing, which the UK delegation heard was popular with the kids.

Other story lines:

  • Romania‘s entry Voltaj is performing the song “De la capăt” (“All Over Again”), which highlights the plight of Eastern European children who are left behind when their parents go to Western Europe for work.
  • Monika Kuszyńska of Poland was the singer for the band Varius Manx when she was paralyzed in a car accident. Her song “In the Name of Love” tries to tow the line between being autobiographical and universal.
  • Armenia caused a bit of a ruckus with their song “Face the Shadow.” It was originally called “Don’t Deny” and is a not-too-veiled statement about the Armenian Genocide. They changed the title before the Song Contest to avoid political backlash.
  • Latvia and Belgium are vying for the title “Song That’s Too Cool for Eurovision.”
  • The most interesting pre-selection story this year came out of Germany. Ann Sophie finished second in the German national selection show, but the winner Andreas Kümmert declined to represent Germany on live television immediately after he won.
  • Be prepared for a lot of ballads, particularly in the second half. Also, be on the lookout for trees and warrior princesses.

Eurovision 2014: A Primer for Saturday Night Viewing

Every year we host a Eurovision viewing party with a dedicated group of friends, and we got a request for a Cliff Notes summary about this year’s Contest to get everyone prepared to watch the Grand Final.

The 2014 Eurovision Song Contest is shaping up to be a wide-open competition. Going into tomorrow’s Final, there really isn’t a clear front runner. Armenia spent most of the weeks leading into the Contest as the bookies’ odds leader, and Aram Mp3’s “You’re Not Alone” is still a strong contender. There are two knocks on his chances: One, the song has an unconventional structure that is entirely dependent on how well Aram sells it, and he didn’t quite land it in the first Semifinal. Two, he will be performing 7th on the night, and it is a hard ask to win a 26-song Grand Prix from early in the running order.

The other odds leader coming into this week is Sweden. They are being represented by Sanna Nielsen and the ballad “Undo.” This outing was Sanna’s 7th attempt to represent her country at the Eurovision Song Contest. The song has been a fan favorite in polls leading up to this year’s shows, and her strong performance in the Semis indicates that Sweden is heading toward another good finish. However, Sanna also received an earlier draw, and it’s unclear whether her calculated ballad will resonate with a broader audience.

Both The Netherlands and Hungary are coming off of strong performances in the Semifinals. The Netherlands are represented by the Common Linnets, a country duo performing the Nashville-ready ballad “Calm After the Storm.” It rose up iTunes charts after their performance on Tuesday, and thus far it’s the only entry to have made a dent on the international pop charts. The Netherlands comes into Saturday with an ideal draw and a lot of momentum.

Hungary, meanwhile, offer Hungarian-American singer András Kállay-Saunders, whose “Running” deals with child abuse. It has darker subject matter than your usual Eurovision entry, but the staging is harrowing without being overwhelming. Hungary have done an excellent job of getting the point across.

The wildcard contenders this year are Austria and The United Kingdom. The UK entered this year with a newfound commitment to the contest, and Molly’s “Children of the Universe” is easily the best entry they’ve had for years. Molly is closing the show, and while performing last may not necessarily be an advantage, she may be able to land the UK in the top 10 for the first time since 2009.

Then there is Austria’s Conchita Wurst, who is singing a Shirley Bassey-influenced faux Bond theme called “Rise Like a Phoenix.” Conchita is a drag artist whose gimmick is that she sports a meticulously manicured beard while in drag. She was clearly the fan favorite in the hall during the second Semifinal: when the hosts were revealing the 10 finalists, a loud chat of “AUS-TRI-A! AUS-TRI-A!” broke out.

Other story lines:

  • We didn’t even mention Basim from Denmark or Ruth Lorenzo from Spain as contenders. It really feels like a tight contest this year!
  • Poland returned to Eurovision this year after an extended absence. Donatan and Cleo’s saucy “My Slowianie” is a massive hit in Poland and it delivered Poland its first appearance in the Final since 2008.
  • It’s been a good year for the underdog. Montenegro qualified for the first time with a big Balkan ballad, Sergej Ćetković’s “Moj Svijet.” Meanwhile, San Marino finally made it to the Grand Prix round on its fifth try, represented for the third year in a row by Valentina Monetta.
  • There has been a lot of interest in how Russia was going to do in this year’s Contest, given its role in the current situation in Ukraine. They are being represented by past Junior Eurovision winners the Tolmachevy Twins, and while the crowd gave them a good reception when they performed, Russia was roundly booed when they were announced as finalists. We’ll see how much of the real world bleeds into the voting on Saturday.