Thursday, 1 May 2014

Popheaval goes Eurovision: Semi-Final 2

I hope you've checked out my comments on the first semi-final already (and if you haven't, do it here). So now that that's done, heeeere's Semi-Final 2!

1. Firelight - Coming Home (Malta)

The second semi-final will be kicked off with Malta's happy-go-lucky country pop number "Coming Home". The heartwarming music video depicts a kind-hearted soldier on the battlefield praying for peace and an end to the mindlessness that is war so that he could just go back home. The nice message doesn't save the feel-good song from being mediocre at best, though. It's not bad, but it doesn't stand out either.

2. Mei Finegold - Same Heart (Israel)

This year, Israel will be represented by the scantily clad, katana-wielding (??) Mei Finegold who's going to be "skinning you out", whatever that means. I'm not overly impressed: the song isn't quite as powerful as it promises to be and falls flat, sounding like your average 'angry' 'empowering' Eurovision tune and nothing more. She does have arguably good pipes but the tone of her voice sounds slightly stuffy and unpleasantly heavy, dragging the song down as a result. Could you believe that she's no older than 31 when listening only? I don't think this song is necessarily the most suitable one for her vocal style. Also, I dislike the way she tries to stuff too many words in one line so that she has to rush through some of the lyrics, such as "I'm not an animal in captivity" or the titular line "We don't beat for the same heart". Meh.

3. Carl Espen - Silent Storm (Norway)

Yet another hyped-up entry I can't grasp. It's a beautifully written song and there's a nice build-up to the final chorus, I do get that, and the fragility of his voice is meant to bring tenderness and intimacy into his vocals. However, having seen some live clips of his live rendition of the song, I can't help feeling that he tries too hard to appear 'shy' and 'emotional' with his soft and quiet singing. His live vocals sound alarmingly insecure and unreliable. Perhaps that's exactly the intention, or maybe he's just constantly hungover. I won't be the judge of that.

4. The Shin and Mariko - Three Minutes to Earth (Georgia)

Um, what. If you're into yodelling and eccentric ethno-folk, here's a treat for you. Others might be left speechless and not in the positive meaning of the word. "Three Minutes to Earth" is certainly one of the (if not the) most, erm, original entries this year. That being said, I do love the progressiveness of this peculiar little tune - I love my music with a little twist - and the chorus is actually great as it is. However, it's hardly the instant three-minute earworm it should be in order to find success in the contest. On the other hand, how great is it that not all entries are just boring bland dance-pop tracks or corny power ballads? 

5. Donatan & Cleo - My Słowianie (Poland)

Now here's another clip that's guaranteed to leave you wordless. One of the more humorous entries, the handclap-driven "My Słowianie" oozes with sex appeal and judging by the music video, will be a contender for the raunchiest performance this year. Songs that praise their own countries or ethnic groups (whether comical or not) don't tend to do that well in the ESC due to their exclusive nature but I reckon we'll see Poland in the Grand Final nevertheless and I'm sure the Slavic anthem will have hordes of people "shaking what their mamas gave them".

6. Conchita Wurst - Rise Like A Phoenix (Austria)

Phew, Conchita Wurst will be one of the most polarising figures in the world of Eurovision in years. The bearded lady of Austria - actually a drag persona created by Thomas Neuwith - will definitely be dividing opinions with her looks, challenging ideas of gender portrayal not at all unlike 1998 winner Dana International. The song "Rise Like A Phoenix" could pass for an excellent Bond theme that never was and is a classically theatrical ESC power ballad that would've been a big hit in the '70s contests for sure! It is one of the better songs this year but the singer won't unfortunately be getting a lot of votes from the more conservative Eastern European. Which is a shame, Wurst has quite the voice.

7. Vilija Matačiūnaitė - Attention (Lithuania)

The tutu-sporting Matačiūnaitė (what an orthographic nightmare of a name) represents her country with one of the heaviest electronic numbers this year. Unfortunately, there's not much else to the song outside of its powerhouse chorus, and even there its the backing singers' vocals who seize the attention. The "I'm gonna make you, make you fall / Down do-do-down down on your knees" thing is, along with Israel's song, among the most irritating vocal parts this year and the choreography is a bit silly, too. And what's with the tutu when there's nothing ballet-related in the performance? Ugh. This breakdown-having Black Swan might skip its way to the finals but that's about it as far as I'm concerned.

8. Softengine - Something Better (Finland)

Yaaay Finland! During the Finnish national selection UMK I wasn't rooting for them but in hindsight, I must admit they were probably the best possible choice for this year's contest. (Although Hukka ja Mama would've been amazing as well - there's not too many non-English entries in the contest.) "Something Better" is a typically rock-oriented entry (as you'd expect from Finland) and considering there's hardly an abundance of rock songs this year, has a good chance of standing out. The anthemic Killers-meets-Coldplay number is easily accessible, infectious indie rock and is a stylish effort overall. There's catchy hooks and even that obligatory sing-along "Woah-wo-wo-woaaah" part so all the elements are there.

However, it has been largely overlooked by the international community so far and hasn't received much attention beforehand which is a clear minus. If they nail the live rendition, though, Softengine could be the dark horse this year. However, as Finland doesn't usually garner widespread support outside of Northern Europe, I'm afraid they won't probably do as well as they'd deserve. I'm sure they'll still qualify (being a Finn myself I'm aware I'm inevitably biased but it'd be a terrible injustice if they don't). That being said, it might not be spectacular enough for proper success. But we'll see.

9. Can-Linn feat. Kasey Smith - Heartbeat (Ireland)

This entry is unmistakably Irish with all the Celtic vibes and all but I personally think it's kind of trying to ride on the coattails of the previous winner, Emmelie De Forest's "Only Teardrops". The chorus and the folky elements are too similar to ignore, a bit like when the last year's German entry "Glorious" tried to be the next "Euphoria". The song has however received moderate attention beforehand so it might surprise. "Heartbeat" will hence be most likely to qualify for the final. But is it going to win the whole thing like many predict it to? Nope.

10. Teo - Cheesecake (Belarus)

And speaking of riding on something's coattails, there's one thing that can be taken for granted when it comes to the Eurovision: there'll always be songs that try to emulate a recent trend or a hit song. This time, Belarus is represented by the poor man's Robin Thicke - not that Thicke himself would be that phenomenal to start with. And considering the huge backlash that followed his sleazy hit song "Blurred Lines" (that was considered sexist, degrading to women, rapey even) it's a bit of a risky choice to opt for a Thicke-look-alike. Also, what is it with the cake-related songs this year? Despite all that, the laid-back song will still probably find some success in the contest, there is some catchiness to it.

11. Tijana - To The Sky (F.Y.R. Macedonia)

Get ready for more look-alikes: (F.Y.R.) Macedonia's representative bears a striking similarity to Finland's 2002 contestant Laura Voutilainen, the two even share some dance moves! Here it's obviously coincidental, though. Anyway, where were we. Ah yes, the song has a good chorus, but other than that, it's pretty much your mediocre ESC dance-pop song which is a shame. And the fist pumping is preeetty awkward so please lose it. If she necessarily wants to dance, she could do with some better moves. Apparently there'll be a backup dancer though so hopefully he/she will do the dancing. Now, if only the rest of the song wouldn't drag the entry down, it could actually rise to the sky.

12. Sebalter - Hunter of Stars (Switzerland)

Switzerland's upbeat folk-pop number "Hunter of Stars" will definitely stand out among this year's songs and has that special universal appeal to it and I'm predicting it to do even surprisingly well in contest. However, the singer's mannerisms during the performance are extremely annoying to look at and they drive me crazy. His pronunciation also leaves a lot to be desired so I'm having very mixed feelings regarding this particular song. Nevertheless, I'm sure it'll draw a lot of voter support throughout Europe.

13. Freaky Fortune feat. Risky Kidd - Rise Up (Greece)

Don't be fooled by the dramatic intro - the New Orleans-styled funeral march accompanied by military drums soon turns into a generic club banger, albeit not into a very good one. In my hometown there's this dreadful club, let us call it "The Dumpster", where all the people who've recently turned 18 go to in order to have 'crazy nights out' and hook up with random people. They play this extremely generic and bland 'club music' and whenever I hear songs like this one I feel like I've already heard it in that horrendous club. Thus, my friends and I call this type of music the "Dumpster music". So it's not a compliment.

It's rarely a very good sign if you feel like you've already heard a song years ago and it's definitely not a positive thing in here - this is just your typical 'repetitive EDM with a silly brass hook' song like we've all heard far too many times before. But since it's Greece and since it'll still probably make many club-goers rise up and get down, it will make its way to the Grand Final. Well, at least they for once went for a non-traditional Greek song...

14. Tinkara Kovač - Round And Round (Slovenia)

This year, Slovenia is represented by the flute-playing Kovač and her song "Round And Round". It's a nice pop song with some theatricality but it doesn't really go anywhere. Unfortunately so, it would have a lot of potential for a proper build-up and climax. Just a little bit more drama, just a little bit more passion and then we'd be talking. But nope. 

On a side note, the choruses of this and the Israeli entry remind me of each other which is a funny coincidence. Or maybe it's just me.

15. Paula Seling & Ovi - Miracle (Romania)

Okay, let's do a little game. Imagine your average Eurovision duet. Visualise it. Now, Romania's this year's entry is even lamer than that. I have a hard time coming up with pretty much anything positive to say. The intro is somewhat promising but then comes the throbbing Eurodance chorus that sounds almost amazingly tacky and dated that I almost get a headache just listening to it. Their voices don't blend together at all and they're not believable together, either. I do know they also entered the contest in 2010 (with an actually passable song "Playing With Fire") but the appalling "Miracle" fails completely to stand up to its name. Seling's vocal delivery during the bridge is impressive but other than that, the song falls flat. So very flat.


It's much harder to say who's qualifying and who's not with this Semi-Final but let's give it a go anyway.

Sure to qualify:

1. Norway
2. Greece
3. Switerland (Malta's song will be pitted against it and probably lose)

Will probably qualify:

4. Israel
5. Poland
6. Austria
7. Finland
8. Ireland

Might qualify:
Two out of the following three:
9. Belarus
10. Lithuania / Romania (likely to be fighting for the same voters)

As usual, feel free to comment!

Top image via DR.

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