Posts Tagged ‘ eurovision song contest ’

My douze points for 2019

Finally. The return of the big, sweeping power ballad in the Eurovision canon. Also, the return of the song that is so bad that it’s entertaining. That doesn’t mean that there was nothing to complain about this year. My favorite song of the semi-final – Ester Peony’s dark electropop song ‘On A Sunday’ (Romania) – got stuck in the semi-finals and I actually think that the folkish but not quite ‘Sul Tsin Iare’ by Georgia’s Oto Nemsadze deserved to have qualified as well. In addition, the idea of “message over music” is really getting on my nerves.

However, let’s focus on the positives. There were actually a couple of good songs this year and Serhat’s ‘Say Na Na Na’ (San Marino) was welcome for multiple reasons. First of all, Serhat being Turkish, this is the closest we’re probably going to get to a Turkish Eurovision entry for a while. But more importantly, the entertainment value is significantly higher than the musical content. Just perfect. We have been needing that for years.

Spain: Miki – La Venda

Is the song order of the Eurovision Song Contest really as random as people claim? Because Miki’s ‘La Venda’ was as good a finale as possible. An energetic, upbeat, sunny pop song that fits the country it’s representing really well. In all honesty, I think Miki may have been better off aiming for this year’s summer hit rather than Eurovision, but I would be surprised if Miki did not gain a massive audience for ‘La Venda’ through his enthusiastic performance. The song is more South American in tone than Spanish, but that should not be any problem. Definitely the perfect way to get the adrenalin pumping one more time before going into the (too) extended voting break.

Concerning that very last bit of the final sentence: in deed, I can’t stand Madonna.

North Macedonia: Tamara Todevska – Proud

Usually, I am of opinion that a good singer cannot save a lesser song. Not that ‘Proud’ is bad, just a little plain, even though it has a bit of an old school Eurovision vibe, with only piano and strings backing Tamara Todevska. I just like the intensity of Todevska’s delivery. She definitely shows some serious range here, both emotionally and musically. There’s some multiple octave work going on and it’s great how Todevska moves from extremely intimate to big and powerful. One thing I find clever is that Todevska and her production team found a way to make the song’s grand message of female empowerment much more personal. Decent song, excellent performance.

Serbia: Nevena Božović – Kruna

Sure, the song is a little messy in the sense that the transitions could have been a little smoother – the pre-chorus in particular is slightly anti-climactic – but Nena Božović’ vocal performance on this is so incredible that it’s easy to ignore that. Not unlike Tamara Todevska, but ‘Kruna’ is slightly better both in terms of performance and songwriting. Bonus points to Božović for writing the song on her own, by the way. Like I said in the beginning, the big sweeping Eurovision power ballad was more prominent this year and ‘Kruna’ is the best example. Božović is a powerhouse singer and her emotional performance really sells the song. She does a lot of dance pop as well, but I think she would do well to focus on stuff where she can really stretch her vocal cords.

Albania: Jonida Maliqi – Ktheju Tokës

After having easily the best singer of the contest in the shape of Eugent Bushpepa last year, Albania once again enters the contest with a great singer and a surprisingly good song. Upon hearing it for the first time, I knew it was not going to win – too dark, too ethnic – but that is exactly why I liked it so much. Jonida Maliqi’s vocal performance deserves all the praise it can get. Some of the notes may sound a little alien to western European ears, but it’s powerful, intense and highly atmospheric. Personally, I love it when Eurovision acts use their country’s folk music as the basis for their song. Especially when it’s translated to a more contemporary environment as well as this. By the way, is this the second time in a row Albania is my top pick?

My douze points for 2018

Of course the best song or performance was not going to win. Still, after a couple of years with virtually no good songs, there were a few I quite appreciated this year. The biggest surprise for me was the amount of songs actually written by the performing artists. That truly kept this year’s edition of the Eurovision Song Contest from being the bland collection of Swedish pop productions that increasingly dominated the festival for the last few years.

Just a few observations based on what I’ve seen this year. First of all: has the big sweeping Eurovision ballad gone out of fashion? There were two or three songs that sort of rubbed up against it, but not one act fully engaged. In addition, singing in your own language apparently is cool again, which always deserves bonus points in my opinion. Quite concidentally, my undisputed number one from this year was sung in its own language, but more on that later.

Before I get to that though, I would like to take some time to express the fact that my zero points should really go to the team of presenters. Daniela Ruah was decent, but especially Filomena Cautela was an eyesore. Maybe she does better in her own language, but her interviews and skits were nothing short of cringeworthy.

Enough complaining. Let’s go to the five songs I actually liked best this evening, or my six to douze points if you will. In all honesty, I prefer the last two over the others by quite a margin, but it was easier than many other recent years to put a top 5 of songs I actually like together.

Serbia: Sanja Ilić & Balkanica – Nova Deca

If you are into theatrical music, Serbia’s song should be right up your alley. In all honesty, I probably would have liked the song a lot better if it did not have the misplaced Eurodance beat that appears around the one and a half minute mark, but the passionate singing and the unconventional harmonies compensate quite a bit. And I have said it before: bonus points for singing in their own language. There is a dark undercurrent and ethnic vibe to the song that make it a worthy addition to the Eurovision canon rather than faceless pop production number two thousand. Am I the only one who finds the act a rather blatant rip-off of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ though? The tilt-up at the end made it definitive.

Italy: Ermal Meta & Fabrizio Moro – Non Mi Avete Fatto Niente

On the surface, ‘Non Mi Avete Fatto Niente’ is a rather typical Italian pop song. I can see this song appearing on Italian radio and not really standing out from the pack. Still, the Manu Chao-like song was quite a pleasant listen. The lyrics portray a certain resilience or anger that especially comes across well in the verses sung by Moro. He almost goes overboard near the end of the performance, but I actually think it fits the message of the song. The walk near the end of the performance seems like a rather desperate attempt to connect with the audience. It did appear to have worked though, because they got a surprisingly large number of televotes.

Denmark: Rasmussen – Higher Ground

Another treat for anyone who likes his music theatrical. Admittedly, the vocal performance of Jonas Rasmussen is not one of the better ones in the grand final, but his voice fits the cinematic atmosphere of ‘Higher Ground’ very well. He is a stage actor in his home country and that is quite clear, because his diction is nearly impeccable. What really sold me on the song, however, were the folky backing vocals. Even without the rather cheesy sails on the stage, these deep, theatrical backing vocals add to the Scandinavian Viking folk vibe of the song. Realistically, ‘Higher Ground’ belongs in musical theater rather than on the Eurovision stage, but it was something different enough to catch my attention.

Estonia: Elina Nechayeva – La Forza

Estonia has has a decent record of Eurovision songs recently, but none impressed me as much as Elina Nechayeva’s ‘La Forza’ did. It really is too bad that the inclusion of classical music is often treated like a bit of a novelty, because Nechayeva is nothing short of incredible. Her voice moves from the lowest regions of the mezzosoprano range to the uppermost soprano notes with unbelievable ease and the song is spine chilling, right down to its delightfully anticlimactic ending. This definitely comes closest to the sweeping Eurovision ballad of everything on offer, but because of Nechayeva’s voice, it is quite different. It should not be too surprising though. Estonia has a rich history of classical music.

Albania: Eugent Bushpepa – Mall

When I saw Eugent Bushpepa stand in with Darkology four years ago, his power and range already blew me away and tonight was no different. The guy simply has a set of pipes that many rock, pop and metal singers should envy. His song ‘Mall’ – written by Bushpepa himself and sung in his native tongue – is surprisingly accomplished for a three minute song as well. It builds from a folky start to a huge AOR chorus and Bushpepa somehow captures the intimacy of the former and the overwhelming power of the latter with equal conviction. And I’ve heard him channel his inner Rob Halford as well, so I can confirm that there’s simply no style of rock vocals that this guy can’t belt out. If it truly was about the music, the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest would have taken place in Tirana.

My zero points for 2017

First of all, I would like to offer my apologies for not posting any Eurovision predictions this year. Due to completely foreseen circumstances, I didn’t have the time to delve into the Song Contest as much as I usually do. On the bright side, that also means I didn’t predict quite as much wrong as I did in previous years. So even if you were betting on things and looking for useful information, my sister may actually be a better source. Now, on to the actual Eurovision Song Contest…

What the hell have I just been watching for the last couple of hours? Honestly: this year’s Eurovision Song Contest was tragically bad. The good songs weren’t good enough to be enjoyable and – maybe even more disappointingly – the bad songs weren’t bad enough to be funny. And the songs that weren’t poor were just… Bland. Or blatant attempts to rip off earlier ESC success; ‘This Is Love’ from Greece’s Demy, while decent, was a pretty obvious clone of Loreen’s ‘Euphoria’ that won the contest five years ago.

Normally, I would do a post featuring the four or five best songs with the video footage of those songs, but I feel that none of the songs of this year’s Eurovision deserve any special mention. It’s not like there wasn’t any musical quality – in fact, some of the singers were really good – but it’s been a long time since I’ve heard so much lazy songwriting in one production. And I own two AC/DC albums, go figure… In addition, I have heard enough Eurodance clichés for a lifetime growing up in the nineties.

Having said that, it’s fun to see someone who doesn’t care at all win the Contest. With a song that feels more like a traditional Eurovision song. Congratulations to Salvador Sobral and his sister Luísa, who wrote the song, are in order. Maybe that means there will not be as much Eurodance next year. I would welcome that.

My douze points for 2016

First off, congratulations to Ukraine’s Jamala for winning this year’s Eurovision Song Contest. While the song wasn’t really my taste – it had a little too much of a Björk vibe for my liking – at least it was something completely different than the large pool of homogenized Eurodance we got served this edition. Jamala’s song ‘1944’ had a dark vibe and a slightly surprising structure and although I doubt if that was of much concern to the average televoter, I do think the fact that the song stood out has worked in its favor. I can live with this more than with last year’s winner. Still, and I’ve said this many times before, Turkey and the EBC need to sort out whatever differences they have, so that Turkey can take part again. That’ll drive the average level up for sure.

Kudos to the moderators as well. And Petra Mede in particular. I think the presentation this year was a step away from the self-conscious air that it usually has, allowing for more irony and self-deprecating humor. That was a breath of fresh air. Also, separating the televoters from the jury results was an interesting development. Don’t get me wrong: the televoting section definitely needs some work done, but I have always been very interested especially how the jury votes. I still have a dream to one day write a Eurovision song and if that ever happens and I’d win the jury vote, I’d be quite pleased.

However, the improvement on the presentation side doesn’t excuse the insulting quality of the actual songs this year. As I’ve said before, quite a lot of songs sounded very similar – no doubt a result of the Swedish composition and production teams being in high demand – and I still can’t believe how so many people can fit so much repetition into three minute songs. It speaks volumes that Justin Timberlake, the interval act, was by far the highlight of the night. Having said that, I did manage to appreciate five songs – my six, sept, huit, dix and douze points, if you will – enough to list them here. I’d even like to throw in an honorable mention for Poland’s Michał Szpak; though I didn’t like his song ‘Color Of Your Life’, I thought his highly spirited performance is the best Polish singing I’ve heard since Czesław Niemen.

But I digress. Good evening Stockholm, Heerhugowaard calling. Here are the results from the alternative Dutch jury.

Bulgaria: Poli Genova – If Love Was A Crime

While I have a really nagging problem with ‘If Love Was A Crime’, I’d be lying if I said Poli Genova’s enthusiasm didn’t somehow rub off on me. Sure, the costume that lighted up has been sort of point of interest, but I really don’t care about things like that. Just the way she looked genuinely happy to be there was a much larger part of why I appreciated her performance. Her vocal approach really fits the song well. Having said that, the large amount of repetition got on my nerves, but I do appreciate the composers for not cramming the song with vocals and lyrics. Also, the addition of a Bulgarian line in the chorus is something I find charming. To be honest, I don’t recall Genova’s performance of five years ago, but I’m not complaining about her fourth place this year.

Hungary: Freddie – Pioneer

Admittedly, my appreciation for this song is mainly directed at Freddie’s powerful, rough-edged vocal performance rather than the song itself. ‘Pioneer’ does play with dynamics quite well by having a calmer bridge between bigger verses and choruses, but I am also an outspoken hater of whistling in songs – ‘(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay’ is the only song I will make an exception for. But then there’s Freddie’s mighty roar that leads from the middle eight into the final chorus that made the hairs on my arms stand up in a very, very positive way. If I was part of his songwriting team, I would see if I could make some AOR tunes to fit his voice, because he has the potential to be Hungary’s answer to Michael Bolton or John Waite. He’d deserve it.

Georgia: Nika Kocharov & Young Georgian Lolitaz – Midnight Gold

BBC-host Graham Norton was right that the visual effects that were chosen for ‘Midnight Gold’ were embarrassing even in 1976, but the song itself is pretty good. I wasn’t surprised to see that the jury in the United Kingdom gave this song twelve points, because a large portion of the song has a distinct Oasis-like vibe. The main riff stomps along nicely, I dig the guitar sound and Nika Kocharov’s vocals fit the song really well, whilst forsaking the whiny tone that Britpop singers tend to have. Unlike the other Rock-ish track (Minus One’s ‘Alter Ego’ for Cyprus), the song didn’t get completely neutered by working on it with Thomas G:son. Not quite as good as Nina Sublatti’s ‘Warrior’ that should have won last year, but another impressive entry from Georgia.

Belgium: Laura Tesoro – What’s The Pressure

While 19-year old Laura Tesoro had the ungrateful task of kicking off the grand final, I was happy to see that the jury and to a lesser extent the televoters could appreciate the refreshing ‘What’s The Pressure’. Co-written by the amazing Selah Sue, the song has a distinct old school Disco vibe, almost Chic-ish in sound, which was a pleasant departure from the general sound of the night. If it came later, it may have disrupted the lazy Eurodance flow a little. Although I think Tesoro’s vocal performance was better during the semi-finals, I appreciate the energy with which she opened the night and the positive charisma she emitted. Also, I don’t know which musicians have played on this track, but I absolutely love the bass line that carries the song. Ten points!

Australia: Dami Im – Sound Of Silence

Explaining why a non-European country takes part would take too much time, but Dami Im’s ‘Sound Of Silence’ (no, not that song) was picked by the juries as the best song of the Contest by a landslide and I’m with them. Easily the best singer to take part this year, Im pulled me in with her powerful and spirited vocals. Im’s sober performance almost contrasted with her tremendous vocal presence, but that doesn’t hurt the entry one bit. ‘Sound Of Silence’ is well-written, if somewhat unspectacular, although I think there’s a very strong climax in the form of the song’s chorus. It may have been better if it didn’t try to blend the classic Eurovision balladry with a contemporary production, but it’s easy to forget that after Im’s chilling performance.

My Eurovision predictions for tomorrow

Somehow, my enthusiasm for this year’s Eurovision Song Contest isn’t quite as large as it was last year. This does sound as a no-brainer for a music fan whose usual preference is as far away from the three minute Pop songs from the Contest as it gets, but there’s always a couple of songs that I like and the rest has a certain entertainment value. I must admit that I haven’t been watching as attentively as I usually do, due to deadlines for Gitarist, but most of what I’ve seen was not good enough to be impressive, yet not bad enough to be hilarious. The first semi-final was of a significantly lesser quality than the second one on Thursday though.

As a result of the disappointing level of composition – or entertainment – my list of predictions will be a bit shorter than usual, but I’d still like to share a few with you and hope I’m not as wrong as I was last year.

Both non-European countries in the contest – Israel and Australia – will end up in the top 10. I think Australia’s Dami Im – a downright amazing singer – might even beat last year’s number 5 ranking.

Latvia’s Justs will finish last. Seriously, why did people even vote for the song? Second to last: Lithuania’s incredibly poor ‘I’ve Been Waiting For This Night’.

The United Kingdom will receive their highest ranking in ages. Not that Joe & Jake’s ‘You’re Not Alone’ is exceptional, but at least it’s better than anything they’ve done in the last few years.

Out of the “Big Five”, Germany will receive the highest ranking.

Belgium’s entry ‘What’s The Pressure’, co-written by the amazing Selah Sue, will get nowhere near as many votes as the refreshing tune deserves.

My guesses for the top 5, in no particular order: Russia, Armenia, Australia, Ukraine and Azerbaijan.

Purely based on statistic probability: this year’s winning entry will be sung by a female singer.

As always, I will report on my own top 5 – if I actually manage to find five decent songs – on the day after the Contest.

More interesting things in Gitarist, part 2

When I referred to more interesting things coming up in Gitarist, one of the things I referred was the interview with Vicente Amigo in last month’s issue. This month’s issue – available in stores tomorrow – has something even more exciting. A childhood dream came true when I had the chance to interview Adrian Smith about Iron Maiden’s brand new ‘The Book Of Souls’ album. It was a very interesting conversation and the result can be read in Gitarist now. Another joy to do was the interview with JB Meijers and the lovely Ilse DeLange about Eurovision success The Common Linnets’ new album. And if that wasn’t enough, another interview of mine – with Black-Bone frontman Steef van den Boogaard, another nice guy – rounds out my contribution.

Not completely of course, because a lot of the reviews included are mine as well. But my work is not all there is. We published an exclusive interview with former Pink Floyd man David Gilmour, focusing on his gear and his brand new record ‘Rattle That Lock’, and there’s a host of gear reviews and background stories that is bound to please anyone interested in guitars. And don’t you just love the sober nature of the cover? I know I do!

All of that and more in stores tomorrow!

My douze points for 2015

So there we have it. Sweden’s song ‘Heroes’ won the Eurovision Song Contest 2015, not because it’s such a good song – the first verse sounds promising, but the chorus butchers it – not because it’s sung so well – it’s not – but because it’s been directed as a music video. It’s not often that I get to quote my sister, but she’s right: five years from now, everybody might remember the drawn figures, but I already can’t recall what the song sounds like. It makes me think of Eddie Vedder’s reluctance to do videos, because he wants people to remember the songs instead of the visuals. Israel’s entry is stuck in my mind though.

It’s funny to see that none of my predictions came entirely true. Okay, the first one was statistically likely rather than musically, but I still figured Norway would win. The song had a good climax, it just took too long before it arrived there. However, it’s likely that I judge the songs differently than the majority of the audience does, as my following list of favorites – my sept to douze points, if you will – will show you. Out of these titles, only the first one came close to the number of points it deserved.

Before I move on to my honorable mentions for this year – four instead of five this time – there’s two more things I’d like to say. First of all: thank you Eurovision, for appointing Mirjam Weichselbraun (the blonde one) as one of the moderators. Something about her eyes continued to hypnotize me. Secondly, and this one is aimed at my fellow Dutchmen: couldn’t we, at some point in the discussion about Trijntje Oosterhuis’ dress, have addressed the fact that the song was so shitty? Seriously, how do you get so much repetition into three minutes?

Without further ado: Good evening Vienna, Heerhugowaard calling. Here are the results from the alternative Dutch jury.

Estonia: Elina Born & Stig Rästa – Goodbye To Yesterday

Okay, so maybe Stig Rästa – who wrote the song – shouldn’t have sung it himself, but ‘Goodbye To Yesterday’ is a good song and 20 year old Elina Born has both the voice and the emotional gravitas to carry a song like this one. Especially here, because she was notably less nervous than during the semi-finals on Tuesday. Despite the higher tempo, the song reminded me of Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra’s brilliant ‘Summer Wine’ – I have a weak spot for their beautifully bitter duets – with a a little bit of old James Bond soundtracks thrown in for good measure. It’s got a nice driving rhythm and while the harmonies would have worked better with a better male singer, it’s a passionate and honest entry to this year’s Eurovision. Also, that has to be one of the most perfectly falling tears in television history.

Greece: Maria Elena Kyriakou – One Last Breath

For the second time in three years, Greece surprises me very pleasantly with their Eurovision entry. But where ‘Alcohol Is Free’ was just plain fun two years ago, ‘One Last Breath’ is a classic Eurovision power ballad that I don’t only think deserved to earn much more votes, I actually also more or less expected it to. Maria Elena Kyriakou has an amazing set of pipes and while there are some  parallels to be drawn to Celine Dion, she doesn’t have the irritating “breathy” way of singing the latter has. In fact, Kyriakou has a little more power and a very subtle raw edge sneaking in a few times. I absolutely love the last minute or so of the song. In an ideal world, where songs don’t have a three minute limit, this song would have been longer and taken more time to build toward that fantastic climax.

Spain: Edurne – Amanecer

Seriously, where the hell did this come from? For years now, Spain has submitted decent, but forgettable Pop songs. This is something completely different though. First of all, “little roja riding hood” blew me away with her powerhouse voice and her passionate performance. Secondly, I have a degree of admiration for artists that still use their native tongue, despite the fact that it’s no longer required. But the atmosphere here is the real game winner – besides Edurne’s amazing voice of course. The orchestral arrangement leaves absolutely nothing to be desired and the way the strings blend with the piano is fantastic. The electronic percussion is sparse, but the drama it adds to the way the tension in the song is built-up is indispensible. This is something to envy as a composer, one of which here – interesting to the Metal fans here – is Masquerade guitarist Thomas G:son.

Georgia: Nina Sublatti – Warrior

During the semi-finals on Tuesday, ‘Warrior’ struck me as “quite good”. The more I listened to it, the more I started falling in love with the subdued aggression and dark, defiant character of the song and the strong voice of that strangely beautiful young lady. A true grower apparently, because the level of the competition on Tuesday was truly cringe-worthy. The song sounds a little like a crossbreed between Destiny’s Child’s ‘Survivor’ and the Jim Steinman-produced work by The Sisters Of Mercy. Bonus points for Sublatti for writing and co-producing (with, again, Thomas G:son) the song herself. Still, that wouldn’t mean anything if the actual song – a female empowerment anthem – and her vocal performance weren’t so mind-blowingly marvellous. It does, however, make me curious about an entire album of her material. My prediction that this would be Georgia’s highest charting Eurovision song has – astonishingly – not come true, but here’s what should have happened: twelve points go to Georgia and see you in Tblisi next year.

My Eurovision predictions for tomorrow

Another year, another Eurovision. For those of you who don’t live in Europe or Australia: the Eurovision Song Contest is an annual, widely broadcasted festival to which countries submit three minute Pop songs to compete with each other. There are results of varying degrees of quality, hilarity and entertainment value.
Those of you who have visited my weblog for longer than two years know that my full report will follow the day after the actual Contest, but based on what I have seen in the semi-finals and the video clips, I can share the following predictions with you.

This year’s Contest will be won by a male-female singing duo. My guess would be Norway’s Mørland and Debrah Scarlett, but I’m hoping for Estonia’s Elina Born & Stig Rästa. Czech Republic’s Marta Jandová and Václav Noid Bárta – by far the best male singer of this year – were favorites as well, but they were sadly voted out.

Nina Sublatti’s ‘Warrior’ – a Destiny’s Child-like female empowerment anthem – will give Georgia their highest ranking ever. More specifically, that would mean somewhere between positions 1 and 8.

Wheelchair bound singer Monika Kuszyńska from Poland will gather a lot of sympathy votes with her ‘In The Name Of Love’. Whoever directed that performance did so brilliantly, showing images of when Kuszyńska was still able to walk. That doesn’t in any way attack her song, which is actually quite a decent power ballad.

None of the so called “Big Five” will end up in the top 10. Italy’s ‘Grande Amore’ will be the highest ranking track out of the five.

Australia’s Guy Sebastian will receive much more sympathy votes than he deserves with his middle of the road Pop song ‘Tonight Again’ simply because this is the first time they are actually taking part.

Not much of a prediction, rather a “post-diction”: whoever voted Portugal’s Leonor Andrade and her ‘Há Um Mar Que Nos Separa’ out is an idiot.

Always risky, but my guesses for the top 5, in no particular order: Norway, Greece, Russia, Sweden and Latvia. That doesn’t necessarily mean I agree with that, though Maria Elena Kyriakou’s ‘One Last Breath’ (Greece) is Eurovision gold.

Serbia’s Bojana Stamenov will finish just outside the top 5, even though it doesn’t quite deserve that spot. Let’s just say the mediocre song does have some elements a majority of the Eurovision crowd can relate to.

I am very curious to see how much of this will actually turn out to be true.

Just to round things off, I’d like to share with you what we’re missing out on now that Portugal is out of the race. Leonor Andrade’s voice mixes the power and passion of the Portuguese Fado tradition with more conventional Pop melodies and her performances has some sort of beautiful anger boiling beneath the surface. The song sounds a little like Journey minus the guitar histrionics. The modulation in the last chorus is a little cheap, but apart from that, it’s a shame this didn’t make it to the finals.

My douze points for 2014

About half of the eleven Eurovision predictions I did earlier today came true. That didn’t diminish any of the joy, however. This year, there is a winner who more than deserves it, my entire country is happy because it came in second – the greatest Eurovision success in a long, long time – and Graham Norton’s commentaries on the BBC were thoroughly enjoyable. Between his sarcastic remarks, there were even some words of sincere admiration for the Dutch entry. Personally, I think the Netherlands sent a better delegation last year, but I have a weak spot for Ilse de Lange with her cute smile and sympathetic charisma.

The fact that this year’s entry from the Netherlands was less satisfying for me than last year’s is more or less in line with the level of the entire Eurovision Song Contest. There were more good songs and the vocal efforts were much, much better on average in 2013. Nevertheless, this year’s winner was nothing short of fantastic and I’ve seen some enjoyable acts. Some of them more intentionally than others, as always.

So like last year, I will share with you – my dear readers – my own top 5 of the festival. Or my six, sept, huit, dix et douze points if you will. It was slightly more difficult to gather five acts that I actually really liked this year, but they exist and these entries all deserve my honorable mentions.

Russia: Tolmachevy Sisters – ‘Shine’

Judging from the enormous amount of booing the audience emitted for the 17 year-old twin sisters representing Russia, I may be getting a lot of crap for mentioning this song, but I’m looking at this from a musical angle, not a political one. In fact, looking at this politically may give the lyrics an ironic aftertaste, but the fact is that ‘Shine’ a strongly written Pop song with bombastic strings backing a big, hooky chorus. That’s just the way I like it. The voices of the Tolmachevy Sisters work very well together and their vocal symbiosis lifts the chorus to its larger than life status, although I suspect there are some extra backing vocals on the backing track. The sister who does the higher part every alternate line does an amazing job. In the semi-finals, this was the first song to leave something of an impression on me and although a few songs surpassed them, this song definitely has some lasting value after the contest. And let’s be honest: these girls are just adorable.

Switzerland: Sebalter – ‘Hunter Of Stars’

With me being an outspoken hater of whistling in recorded songs, this may come as something of a surprise to those who know me, but Sebalter’s song was a delightful breath of fresh air in this year’s contest for me. Not the best vocal effort, but ‘Hunter Of Stars’ is a lightweight, upbeat Pop song without having the annoying electronic Europop bombast of majority of this year’s entries. Sebalter’s backing band contained a badass banjo player and the singer himself proves why he should be taken seriously as a musician by playing an awesome violin solo which could have been a guitar solo on any neoclassical Metal song. Once again, Switzerland surprises with a song that is free of pretense, but not without its musical value, just like Anna Rossinelli’s fantastic ‘In Love For A While’ three years ago, which sadly finished last at the time.

Slovenia: Tinkara Kovač – ‘Round And Round’

A lot of criticism has been projected onto Tinkara Kovač for consistently holding her flute during the performance of her song ‘Round And Round’. Being more interested in the music than the actual performances, I couldn’t care less. In fact, I think Kovač performed one of the most consistently amazing Pop songs in this year’s contest. Slovene and English mix remarkably well and Kovač strong alto fits the song perfectly. I think the song is extremely well written as it works towards several emotional climaxes with such ease that you’d almost forget that the song is relatively complex with all the subtle changes in the accompanying parts. Also, ‘Round And Round’ has been bugging the hell out of my father and me because the song’s chorus strongly reminds us of another song and we can’t figure out which one. Those of you who have suggestions are cordially invited to leave them in the comments section.

Italy: Emma – ‘La Mia Città’

One of the very few songs to be sung in the native language of the performer and the only decent Rock song – no, Finland’s horrible, horrible song doesn’t count – was delivered to us quite surprisingly by Italy. Emma Marrone has a great, powerful voice and the musical backing is somewhat typical Italian Poprock, albeit with a greater deal of force than you’d expect based on what can be heard on their mainstream radio. Emma proves herself as a strong performer and I am definitely tempted to check out one of her albums after what she did here. The dual vocal harmonies gave me goosebumps and have sort of an Alice In Chains vibe in their darkness. This is probably the most impressed I have ever been by Italy in the Eurovision Song Contest and that’s not just because Emma’s a good looking lady. She’s a Rock monster in the guise of a goddess.

Austria: Conchita Wurst – ‘Rise Like A Phoenix’

As I’ve said before: Austria’s “lady with a beard” – technically, I’d say Conchita’s a guy in a dress – is the only one who would have deserved to win the contest this year. Of course, a lot of media coverage was on the unlikely combination of the beard and the dress, but Conchita had both the best song and the best voice of this year. ‘Rise Like A Phoenix’ sort of reminded me of Shirley Bassey’s ‘Diamonds Are Forever’ in its structure and orchestral backings and the vocal delivery is powerful, heartfelt and just downright impressive. The song actually nearly brought me to tears. Despite the relatively sober presentation, the camera captured Conchita’s emotional gestures perfectly, but even without that, it’s just a relief to see that the jury and audiences have decided the best man or woman should win this year. ‘Rise Like A Phoenix’ is by far the best song of the 2014 Eurovision Song Contest and Conchita Wurst owns the best voice. Congratulations!

My Eurovision predictions for tonight

The non-European viewers of this weblog may not be interested in this, but then again, I know some American people who are into the Eurovision Song Contest as well. Much to the annoyance of my mother and my Metal friends alike, I’m always looking forward to the contest. My full report will be posted tomorrow, but based on what I have seen in the semi-finals, I have made some predictions and I have some other conclusions I’d like to share with you as well.

Since the general level of the compositions and – even moreso – the vocal performances this year was thoroughly disappointing for yours truly, I think the scores of the top countries will be higher than the previous years.

Russia will receive less points than their Tolmachevy Sisters’ song rightfully deserves based on the political situation in Ukraine. They can definitely forget about their douze points – or really any for that matter – from said country for sure.

By the same logic, Ukraine will receive more points with their incredibly middle of the road Pop song ‘Tick-Tock’ than Marina Yaremchuk deserves.

Norway’s Carl Espen will end up in the top 10, because his introspective ‘Silent Storm’ will do better with the traditional Eurovision crowd than most of the bookmakers expect.

My own country of The Netherlands will end up on a higher position than last year, despite the fact that last year’s song was much better. I was impressed by the work of Belgian director Hans Pannecoucke, whose registration perfectly captured Ilse DeLange’s game winning smile on exactly the right moment.

Of the pre-qualified contestants, Italy’s Emma Marone will claim the highest position. If only because her ‘La Mia Città’ is the only good song of the six.

Austria’s Conchita Wurst will end up in the top 5. Not only based on the remarkable act, but also because he/she (I don’t know what Conchita prefers) is by far the best singer I have heard so far. The song is Eurovision gold.

Azerbaijan will continue their streak of high positions with Dilara Kazimova’s ‘Start A Fire’.

San Marino will finish last. Their place as finalist is the only “prize” Valentina Monetta will receive for her persistence, with this being her third participation.

In good Eurovision tradition, I won’t agree with the top 5.

Watching the ESC on the BBC instead of on the Dutch public network will be a good decision. Graham Norton will be much better for my blood pressure than Jan Smit and Cornald Maas.

We will see how much of this will come true in a couple of hours!