Israel’s Eurovision 2017 Entry

Have you ever asked yourself the question, “What could have made Lidia Isac’s ‘Falling Stars‘ work?” Israel has the answer: let them show it Tel Aviv! Here’s IMRI with “I Feel Alive.”

Israel is on a good run of form right now, qualifying for the Grand Prix Final two years running with Hovi Star’s “Made of Stars” last year and Nadav Guedj’s glorious, glorious “Golden Boy” in 2015. As the video for “I Feel Alive” points out, IMRI was a back-up singer for both of those entries.

His song “I Feel Alive,” written by Dolev Ram and Penn Hazut, is loads of fun. If we have any concerns, it’s that high note that he barely makes in the recorded track. That could go off the rails live. Otherwise, we have high hopes that IMRI will keep Israel’s streak going this year.

Lithuania’s Eurovision 2017 Entry

After a long, elaborate selection process that began sometime back in 2014, Lithuania has selected its entry for the 2017 Eurovision Song Contest. Here is Fusedmarc with “Rain of Revolution.”

Singer Viktorija Ivanovskaja and multi-instrumentalist Denisas Zujevas formed Fusedmarc in 2004. Having spent some quality time watching their concert videos on YouTube, we see “Rain of Revolution” as a more commercial extension of their edgy trip-hop style. All of which makes “Rain of Revolution” sound like a ’90s jazz-soul version of “Crazy In Love.”

Fusedmarc’s hook that makes them interesting is how they incorporate visual art into their live performances. But here’s the problem: those visual elements are already standard issue at Eurovision. So if their staging isn’t going to set them apart from the other acts, then they’re left with a song that isn’t going to stand out either.

San Marino’s Eurovision 2017 Entry

Last year, San Marino hired Turkish entertainer Serhat to fly their flag in Stockholm. Serhat’s song was the promisingly unpromising “I Didn’t Know,” an awkward ballad with one of the most glorious videos ever created. Why Manfred T. Mugler did not graduate to directing a sequel to Battlefield Earth we’ll never know. Anyway, at a certain point, a disco remix of “I Didn’t Know” started circulating around the internet, and the enthusiastic reaction of online Eurovision fans caught the attention of the San Marino delegation, who apparently do not understand irony. Serhat gleefully adopted the remix as the official arrangement for his Eurovision performance, where he only missed out on qualification by 65 points.

Okay, so Serhat didn’t make the Grand Prix final. But San Marino seems to have recognized an opportunity to cater to a certain set of enthusiastic Eurovision fans. So here they are, fanwanking us off again with “Spirit of the Night.”

Valentina Monetta will be representing her country for the fourth time. She has now competed in Eurovision as many times as Lys Assia has, which actually makes us pretty happy. We’re worried that if she goes for a fifth time, Lys will try and take her out at the knees. She is teamed up with Jimmie Wilson, an American singer who starred in Hope, a German musical about Barack Obama. “Spirit of the Night” was written by Eurovision legend turned Sammarinese muse Ralph Siegel with lyrics by Jutta Staudenmayer and Steve Barnacle (and we can’t tell yet if it’s the same Steve Barnacle who is in Visage, but it might be and we hope it is).

We’re not exactly sure why San Marino wants to continue to participate in Eurovision, especially given their dispute with the EBU over how their vote in the Song Contest is tallied. (Read more at ESC Insight.) But you know what, if they still want to join in, then great, the more the merrier. They have a short bench, so Monetta can represent her home country any year she wants. Siegel will probably write songs for San Marino for as long as he still has catchy little melodies stuck in his head.

And you know what? We’re okay with that. At this point, San Marino’s Eurovision output is sort of like a box of Corn Pops. Sure it’s a bit cloying, but sometimes, on a rainy day, you just want to curl up in front of the television with a big bowl of sweet cereal and watch a Sammarinese Eurovision legend hit on a guy who played Barack Obama in a musical.

Sweden’s Eurovision 2017 Entry

Robin Bengtsson has won Melodifestivalen and will represent Sweden at Eurovision with “I Can’t Go On.”

Bengtsson finished third in Sweden’s Idol 2008 and has gone on to have top 10 hits with “Another Lover’s Gone” and “Constellation Prize,” with which he placed fifth in last year’s Melodifestivalen. “I Can’t Go On” was written by David Kreuger, Hamed “K-One” Pirouzpanah and Robin Stjernberg. Stjernberg represented Sweden with “You” at the 2013 Eurovision Song Contest. Kreuger and Pirouzpanah co-wrote “Undo” for Sanna Nielsen, as well as Alcazar’s “Blame It On the Disco.”

We have complex feelings about “I Can’t Go On.” It’s smooth and catchy, and it’s elevated by the staging, which starts off all Justin Timberlake backstage at Saturday Night Live and then gets all OK GO’s “Here It Goes Again.”

However, “I Can’t Go On” is not without its flaws. It is a triumph of style over substance. As such, Bengtsson needs to perform it as stylishly as possible or else it comes off as a bit smarmy and exposes the inherent mediocrity of the song.

In particular, the original lyric contained the line “when you look this fucking beautiful,” which was repeated 10 times during its first performance. (It’s so cute when Swedes swear in English.) Seemingly realizing he had a shot to win, Bengtsson changed the lyric for the Melodifestivalen final to “when you look this freaking beautiful.” It’s not an improvement by any stretch of the imagination, but the songwriters had painted themselves into a corner with a needless swear word that added nothing to the song. We’re not prudes, by the way. We just didn’t see the fucking point of the original lyric.

Bengtsson was behind in the betting odds going into the Melodifestivalen final and it always felt like he was a part of the conversation without ever being anyone’s outright favorite. In the end, he finished third in the televote and only got the full 12 points from three of the 11 international juries. However, he did get eight to 12 points from all but two of the juries. People like to focus on the douze points at Eurovision, but the key to doing well is getting those mid-to-upper range of points. The results of Melodifestivalen prove that in microcosm, which is convenient for us since Eurovision now uses the Melodifestivalen scoring system.

We’re not saying that “I Can’t Go On” is your next Eurovision winner. There are a lot of stronger songs in the Song Contest this year. But there weren’t a lot of stronger songs or better performances at Melodifestivalen this year and that was good enough for Bengtsson to book a ticket to Kyiv.

Russia’s Eurovision 2017 Entry

Updated 4/18/2017: As expected, Russia has withdrawn from this year’s Eurovision Song Contest after Ukraine’s government refused to budge on Yulia Samoylova’s travel ban. We’re kind of bummed the EBU hadn’t suggested Samoylova perform as a hologram as a possible solution.

As Americans, we’ve been thinking a lot about Russia lately. But at last, the true story has come out and we have clarity: Russia will participate at the Eurovision Song Contest in Ukraine, and they will be represented by Yulia Samoylova and “Flame Is Burning.”

Samoylova is a 28-year-old singer who was runner-up on the third season of Faktor A, the Russian version of The X Factor. She lost use of her legs when she was a child, so she will be the second Eurovision participant to perform in a wheelchair. “Flame Is Burning” is by Leonid Gutkin, who co-wrote “What If” for Dina Garipova and “A Million Voices” for Polina Gagarina. He co-wrote the song with Netta Nimrodi and Arye Burstein.

If you follow either Eurovision or world politics closely, you probably don’t need us to recap the current conflict between Russia and Ukraine. (If you do, just go back and read our recap of last year’s Song Contest. And also a newspaper.) Suffice to say, Russia faced a difficult decision this year: whoever they picked would be entering particularly hostile territory, both because the Song Contest is in Ukraine and because, Sergey Lazarev notwithstanding, Eurovision fans in the hall have been more than enthusiastic to boo the Russian entry in recent years.

Despite calls by hardliners in Russia (and apparently Philipp Kirkorov) to boycott the Song Contest this year, Russia’s Channel One decided to stand strong like a tree in the wind. Nothing’s going to move this mountain or change their direction.

Is Samoylova a good singer? Yes. Is the song any good? Sure, if you like Russia’s brand of generically inspiring Eurovision ballads. Does any of this matter? Probably not. Russia has fulfilled its obligation to the EBU to participate and is also daring the Eurovision fans to boo a woman in a wheelchair.

Have we mentioned that Russia has the chrome-plated balls?

We do feel bad for thinking about this in such cold and cynical terms, of course, but you know, we can’t help it: we are Americans.

Updated 3/28/2017: We would be remiss if we didn’t update this post to note the controversy over Ukraine’s security agency banning Samoylova over her concert appearance in Crimea. ESC Insight has a good article discussing the situation and the politics behind it.

The EBU was widely derided for its proposal of having Samoylova perform via satellite if she was unable to go to Kyiv. Not to say it’s not a dumb idea, but we thought it was weirdly brilliant: we figure Russia told the EBU, “If our performer is barred entry, why should we pay fines for pulling out after the deadline?” and the EBU was calling their bluff. Maybe that’s a little farfetched, but then again, how much farfetched stuff has come to pass in the past year?

Belgium’s Eurovision 2017 Entry

Blanche will be representing Belgium at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest with “City Lights.”

Ellie “Blanche” Delvaux (that’s Delvaux, not Devereaux) made it onto The Voice Belgique in 2016, but was eliminated in the second week of live shows. She co-wrote “City Lights” with Pierre Dumoulin, lead singer of the band Roscoe.

Blanche has a rich, sultry voice and she and Dumoulin have come up with an ethereal, pulsating pop song that showcases her vocal tone well. When “City Lights” came out, it seemed like every Eurovision fan on the internet went gaga over it. And we sat here wondering, “What’s wrong with us?”

We think is “City Lights” repetitive. It’s the same melody over and over again with occasional slight variation and a brief octave change. And there is an overall lack of warmth to the song. There’s cool and there’s cold and Blanche and “City Lights” are positively icy. Maybe if we were driving around Brussels at two in the morning, it would resonate with us, but right now, we’re just hoping that the staging in Kyiv will help us understand what we’re missing.

Montenegro’s Eurovision 2017 Entry

If Jacques Houdek could be this year’s Cezar, then Slavko Kalezić could be this year’s Scooch.

Slavko Kalezić competed on the first series of X Factor Adria, where he was mentored by none other than Željko Joksimović. But “Space” is about as far away from one of Joksimović’s classic Balkan ballads as cocaine is from Nutella.

The video for “Space” looks like a cross between a RuPaul’s Drag Race performance challenge and a Kids In the Hall sketch. In other words, Slavko is not going to spread for no roses.

At the Euroclub, though, all bets are off.

Australia’s Eurovision 2017 Entry

Australia has tapped Isaiah to vie for Eurovision glory with “Don’t Come Easy.”

Isaiah Firebrace won the 2016 season of The X Factor Australia. His debut single “It’s Gotta Be You” peaked at 26 on the Australian charts, but interestingly, it went gold in Sweden. We’ve seen him compared him Sam Smith and to be sure, “Don’t Come Easy” was co-written by Michael Angelo, who worked with Smith on In The Lonely Hour. The other songwriters are Anthony Egizii and David Musumeci from DNA Music, who have penned songs for Guy Sebastian, Samantha Jade, and Geri Halliwell.

“Don’t Come Easy” is a pleasant power ballad with a slick production that gives it a commercial sheen. We liked it, but it didn’t land a visceral punch with us the way Australia’s previous entry did.

The fate of this song lies with Isaiah’s charisma. He’s an appealing singer with a rich tone who also looks like a cross between Raphael Nadal and Alexander Rybak, which is a bonus. Judging from his X Factor performances, we trust he can sell “Don’t Come Easy” to a wide swath of Eurovision voters. And if there are any doubters left, he should be able to seduce them with the power of his mesmerizing eyebrows.

Greece’s Eurovision 2017 Entry

Demy will be representing Greece at the Eurovision Song Contest in May with the song “This Is Love.”

Greece wants to redeem itself for failing to qualify for the Grand Prix Final for the first time, so they have brought in some heavy hitters. Demy is a top selling singer in Greece. Her first album #1 topped the Greek charts and she has won the MTV Europe Music Award for Best Greek Artist and 10 MAD Video Music Awards. Her song “This Is Love” is written by the esteemed Dimitris Kontopoulos, the songwriter behind six Eurovision songs that finished in the top 10, including “Shady Lady,” “This Is Our Night,” and “You Are the Only One.” The lyrics are by Romy Papadea and John Ballard, the latter being one of Kontopoulos’ co-writers on “Shine,” “Hold Me,” and “You Are the Only One.”

As usual, Kontopoulos has supplied a catchy number that easily gets stuck in your head. Demy is a good singer and by all accounts a dynamic live performer. The arrangement is bouncy and vibrant and has some fun flourishes to it. So it looks like mission accomplished for the Greek delegation.

So why aren’t we excited by “This Is Love?” We’re not sure. It kind of reminds us of Ira Losco’s “Walk On Water” at last year’s Song Contest. Our initial reaction was decidedly blasé, but Losco’s performance and Malta’s staging of it won us over. So maybe we need to see how Greece stages “This Is Love” for it to catch fire with us. You can usually rely on Greece to do this properly. Last year notwithstanding.

Portugal’s Eurovision 2017 Entry

Portugal returns to the Eurovision Song Contest after a year’s break with an absolute corker. Here’s Salvador Sobral with “Amar pelos dois.”

Sobral was the seventh-place contestant on the third season of Ídolos, Portugal’s version of Pop Idol. His song “Amar pelos dois” was written by his sister Luísa Sobral, who had finished third in the first season of Ídolos.

This song is cabaret. Usually we say that as criticism, but this time we mean it in the best possible way. It’s sweeping yet gentle, modern yet timeless. Indeed, “Amar pelos dois” reminds us of a newly discovered ballad from Rodgers and Hart (our favorite songwriters from the Great American Songbook era). Apologies if that seems U.S. centric: does Portugal have a similar jazz vocal history that is song is tapping into? Helping it feel contemporary is Sobral’s quirky, awkward stage presence. He draws you in. Listen to that crowd reaction in the hall at Festival da Canção 2017. They were feeling it too.

If we have a concern, it’s that “Amar pelos dois” is drawn into the first half of the first Semi. But we are not that worried. This song is jury bait, and if Sobral does in Kyiv what he did in Portugal, we think he will create a breakout Eurovision moment along the lines of Raphael Gualazzi. If we were betting lemurs, we would put money on a top 10 finish.