Once a year, the people of Europe put aside the important work of going completely bankrupt to focus on what’s truly important: overly-manufactured pop songs. The first semi-final took place on Tuesday; check out our look at all those acts.
So who’s moving on to Saturday’s finals? Well, the big disappointment is that the first Eurovision song ever to be performed in Swahili didn’t make the cut. I was kind of in love with Norway for sending Stella Mwangi, who sang a very un-Norwegian song about her childhood in Kenya. I’m sure next year, they will overcompensate by sending a literal band of Vikings.
Here are the other countries that have been eliminated, along with my shorthand for remembering their acts: Poland (touring company of Chicago), Albania (redhead who may or may not be an eagle), Armenia (puffy sleeves and sparks), Turkey (beefy bald rock dude), Malta (inspirational gay disco), San Marino (I still don’t believe this is a real place), Croatia (“Celebrate,” not the Kool & the Gang version), and Portugal (the protest song that brought down the government). I got to say, I’m delighted and horrified that Finland’s environmental fable about the little boy who runs away from home to lobby parliament actually got some votes. I might have to root for it to win, if only to read some sneering editorials about it in the New York Post.
Okay, we caught up? Good. Because at 3 pm EST, Thursday afternoon, 19 more countries will be competing, and you can watch it go down live. If you make it to the end of this post, you’re going to know about all of them. But just as Napoleon did before me, I’ve discovered that Europe is too much for any one man to handle. For this preview, I’ve called in reinforcements in the form of my Overthinking It Marshalls (that’s the “1” on the Stratego board, so keep your spies at home). Special thanks to Fenzel and Jordan for subjecting themselves to this.
Nadine Beiler, “The Secret Is Love”
BELINKIE: The good news is she can actually sing, and she’s not shy to show it off with her acapella opening. The bad news is that she has a Prince Valiant haircut. But the song is actually pretty good. It reminds me of the tuneful ballads they used to make in the 90s, like “Hero,” “One Fine Day,” or “I Will Always Love You.” Yes, I know that technically that last one is a Dolly Parton song from the 70s, so save your “well actually”s.
FENZEL: The tone is earthy and soulful (schnitzel soul, as it were), with a bright mid-aughts pop vibe underneath Gospel choir. And yet in the presentation the singer is wearing a slinky sparkly dress with a severely coiffed pageboy, and there is liberal use of smoke machine – the combination aims for that elusive cyberspiritual space called “Mariah Blade Runner” – and/or “Las Vegas.” The song either says “disregard petty artifice and focus on the awesome things that matter in the world,” or “disregard the petty things that matter in the world and focus on awesome artifice.” Not sure which. There’s also a lot of conflation between people reaching out their hands to one another and spreading their wings, which pulls in the same conflict between redemptive social connection and redemptive personal fantasy, because people are not birds.
It’s an athletically performed song, but it leaves me thinking the people who wrote it don’t sincerely believe they have actually found “the secret” and are using love as a temporary placeholder.
JORDAN: That’s not a Prince Valiant haircut, that’s half a Prince Valiant haircut. I don’t use this word lightly, but that haircut is tragic. That haircut has a five-act structure and demonstrates unity of action place and time. That haircut purges emotions of fear and pity in the people who see that haircut. That haircut has a climactic moment of peripeteia. You see where I’m going with this. Thomas Kyd wrote that haircut.
BELINKIE: I’m guessing that the other secret is that it’s a wig.
When I close my eyes I fall into a dream
Can’t you see this world of people live in peace
The sun is shining in my heart, rainbows in the sky
Spread your wings and fly, fly, fly high
Anastasiya Vinnikova, “I Love Belarus”
BELINKIE: When I first heard this song, I figured that Belarus had missed the part of the rulebook where Belarusians are not allowed to vote for their own country. Unless Belarus has a lot of immigrants living abroad, this seemed like an incredibly silly Eurovision entry. The video is a nationalistic neon orgy, with traditional folk dancers kicking away during a frenzied dulcimer solo. (But here’s what mystifies me: why would you come to Eurovision with a nationalistic anthem called “I Love Belarus”… written entirely in English?)
Those were all things I thought when I first heard it. And now, I have a confession to make. I cannot get this song out of my head. I am obsessed with it. I realized this is probably a sign that I am mentally ill, or that there’s a radon leak in my apartment. But it cannot be denied: I love “I Love Belarus.”
JORDAN: Hey Belarus, Boney M. called, he wants “Ra-ra-Rasputin” back.
I’m feeling great and it’s easy to be strong
When all the hearts keep on beating as one
The sky is blue and I’m writing a new song
Saying that I’m free, friendly and young
BELINKIE: Is it just me, or does this sound like a Craigslist Casual Encounters ad? It’s just me? Okay, moving on…
Witloof Bay, “With Love Baby”
JORDAN: I like two things about this one. The first is that if you try to say the name of the song after downing a liter of Trappist lambic, you end up saying the name of the group. The second is that Belgium apparently thought that acapella vocal jazz was the wave of the future. It’s certainly a bold choice, and for the first minute of the half it kind of works. You find yourself thinking “Hey, this isn’t so bad. Why do people hate on this kind of music so much?” And then the hip-hop breakdown starts, and you’re like “Oh, right, that’s fucking why.”
FENZEL: Wow, this blew my hair back. Brussapella? Antwerp Transfer? Obligatory joke about delicious waffles, Batman — the market for older, unattractive a capella groups has a new titan, and it speaks either a variant of French or a variant of Dutch when it isn’t speaking English. The Belgian Beat Box is the biggest thing to happen to Flanders since Flanders. The guy actually says “break it down, now.” This is a stunt act – Eurovision periodically pumps out strange, fun, or just plain ballsy approaches to song that won’t win, but make the night worth watching. These crooners are my pick for favorite act so far, even though their song’s lyrics don’t say anything, the group doesn’t necessarily stay on key and their beat-boxing is junior varsity at best – if you’re waiting for the second coming of Belg Markie, you’ll have to wait for it, folks.
BELINKIE: I blame Glee for this.
The… warrant!! [Ed. — Hah! If only.]
REAL SAMPLE LYRIC:
When I love you,
And you love me too,
There is nothing left for us to do
But to hug and to kiss and to tug and to bliss,
With love, baby, with love.
Dino Merlin, “Love In Rewind”
JORDAN: I had a whole bunch of snark lined up for this one — stuff about how goofy the piano player’s hand movement looks, stuff about how stupid it is to hire an aerialist if you’re not going to aim the camera at her now and again, maybe some stuff about the adventures of Dino-Merlin, triceratops advisor to King Arthur. But then the Peter Gabriel-ish section with the disembodied “Sweet girl!” “Sweet boy!” shouts came in, and I realized that I was kind of loving this song. It’s quirky enough to stand out from the pack, but not so much as to rub anyone the wrong way… I could see this one going the distance. Lyrics are kind of stupid, but so what else is new?
BELINKIE: Dino Merlin’s real name is apparently Edin Dervišhalidović. How do you pronounce an “s” wearing a hat?
One to one-hundred, multiplied by you
It all looks great, it all looks cool
healthy children go to school
my daughter’s in love, my son loves too.
Poli Genova, “Na Inat”
FENZEL: There’s an 80s New Wave vibe to some of Europe’s emerging female pop singers these days, rocking out a look I always associate with Roxette – the jazzed-out platinum blond pixie cut atop a feminine made just slightly androgynous, with a heart full of love and rage. The neo-Roxette look’s lead practitioner (other than the domestic Pink) is Flock-of-Seagulls-Inspired Robyn from Sweden, who has broken through and these days is on tour with Ke$ha. Here we see Bulgaria’s contribution to the look, Poli Genova, who is just attention-grabbing enough to distract – for a minute or two – from the fact that one of the women in this band is playing keytar. Once that minute is over, though, it’s keytar time !!!oneoneone1!!
The keytar (!!!) takes center stage when this song uses one of my favorite karaoke tricks. It works particularly well when singing Lee Greenwood’s “Proud to be an American.” In order to stand up dramatically in the middle of the song, you have to start the song sitting down. In this case, it created a bit of awkwardness – nobody gave Poli Genova a chair, and it made no sense at all for that girl to be playing the keytar (!!!) sitting down – why not just play a keyboard? But Poli Genova sat on the floor and distracted everybody from these questions with her haircut until, BOOM! Everybody just stood up! Ante is upped, folks. That. Just. Happened.
If Eurovision was strictly a keytar (!!!) contest, Bulgaria would probably win. And it is, so I like their chances.
REAL SAMPLE LYRIC (translated):
There are people like you and me
I will stay, fight in spite of everything!
Who does it depend on? Yes – on you and me!
Chrystos Mylordos, “San Aggelos S’Agapisa”
FENZEL: I love local language Eurovision songs because they broaden the idea of what Europe is and can be, and because in a world that people too often think of as homogenized by cultural imperialisms, it helps to see something like “San Aggelos S’Agapisa” compete on even footing against something like “Angel” or “Popular.” Not that it stands a chance, of course, unless the Cyprus Broadcasting Company that backs Chrystos Mylordos has quite a bit more clout than I assume it does. Still, it’s cool to see it in the running – to see the points of friction within a Europe half-aspiring to be N*Sync, half still drawing energy and art from its thousands of years of customs, local language and attitude.
I have no idea what this song is about, but judging from the video, it is about the sad sexual tension between the halves of the politically divided island of Cyprus and how they alternate sitting in dark rooms with wine glasses, running around on beaches or getting lost while searching for the Cypriot Sasquatch.
It is interesting that Chrystos’s song is presented alongside a narrativized video rather than just a live performance like so many others, especially because the video is so awful. That, and asking the continent to vote for a song in Greek that is no different from any other song ever shows the kind of balls that, to be Cypriot, one must have in no short supply.
JORDAN: I’ve heard Euro-pop ballads that took a turn for the heavy metal before, but this one really commits. Once the guitars kick in, the restrained music from the opening is gone — just… gone — and if the place where the song winds up is somewhere south of Zeppelin, it’s arguably north of Whitesnake. Oh, and I almost missed it, but hey, part of the song from 0:55-1:26! Rihanna called, she wants the hook from “Umbrella” back.
Why are you so sad?
Is the wine not to your liking?
Or do you prefer your rooms
to have walls? Too bad. Oh no,
It is a smoke machine
REAL SAMPLE LYRIC:
You crucified me, you made me bleed even when I was dying for you
My tears were flowing like blood, forgotten words.