On to the top 20 now, and things are getting much better already – but where will it end?
Gaitana – Be My Guest
#15 in the Grand Final
I hadn’t really thought too much of this before the show. It was pleasant enough and full of modern-sounding synths, with a late-90s twist to it. Not much to it, Gaitana is certainly keen for you to be her guest. So lyrically it’s a bit thin, but by God did she bring it alive on stage. She’s got a huge voice, and some shrewd choices of props really make for a dazzlingly colourful display. She even brought her own flashmob, via slightly naff computer graphics. Bright, upbeat and joyous, I loved it in the end. The big mystery was why the public seemed to hate it, but the juries loved it so much? Also, how could she hear what she was singing when that trumpet guy was right in her ear?
Željko Joksimović – Nije ljubav stvar
#3 in the Grand Final
The dark horse of the contest certainly lived up to his impressive Eurovision CV and nearly beat the Russian grannies out of a second-place finish. I knew this would do well with Eastern Europe, but for all the moaning about bloc-voting, I think it was a really good song, performed well and with a pretty epic climax. Sure it was a Balkan ballad-by-numbers, but just like Molitva, it had something about it. Performed with class and pitch-perfect vocals. That last segment with the drums really raises it up wonderfully.
Anmary – Beautiful Song
#16 in Semi-final 1
While the last two songs left the show on a high, Latvia fills the role of an early favourite that faded a little. It’s an endearingly tongue-in-cheek pop song about this song being amazing, winning the contest and launching Anmary’s huge worldwide career. We’ve had this self-aggrandising theme before, in less palatable forms certainly (hello, Lt United), but this is actually a massively catchy song, performed with warmth and fun. If anything it’s a little too catchy, so overplay got the better of this one when I wrote this countdown. Shame Europe didn’t really play along with the joke, but you can’t have everything.
Eleftheria Eleftheriou – Aphrodisiac
#17 in the Grand Final
I feel for Greece sometimes. Much like Turkey, they have been subject to a continuing hate campaign from some quarters because of their 100% track record of qualifications. This takes a qualifer spot away from some female gay icon, down on her luck, and they are an easy scapegoat for this perceived injustice. But in contrast to Turkey, I feel that Greece have always made the effort to send something varied, or at least representative of Greece. Even if this is often (but certainly not always) an ass-shaking Eurodance track, it’s at least got some winner’s instinct about it.
It’s no secret that Greece are in deep shit financially, and perhaps winning Eurovision might not be top of their agenda now, but they are undeterred from sending something typically Greek. Aphrodisiac is perhaps less strong than some of their entries, but it’s certainly catchy enough, sung well by Elifitherifia or whatever she’s called, and plate-smashingly Greek. I’m glad Cyprus stole a very rare (and narrow) victory over the Greeks this year, but I’m also pleased they are still trying.
Kaliopi – Crno i belo
#13 in the Grand Final
Now I hadn’t really had this on my radar for much of the contest’s buildup. Indeed FYR Macedonia hardly have a glittering history of amazing songs, but bless them for trying each time. Kaliopi missed out on representing her country over a decade ago when FYR Macedonia debuted but failed an untelevised pre-qualifier, but she’s back.
I’m so pleased she did so well for her country, she seemed like a great personality. She brought this song alive, not an easy thing for a Western viewer not keen on Macedonian rock music. Her voice isn’t as pure as some of the vocalists, but she’s got this great expressive tone to her voice, as well as THAT scream.
Kurt Calleja – This Is the Night
#21 in the Grand Final
I’ve always had a soft spot for Malta, and I pray that one day they will surprise us all and take the contest to Valletta, something they’ve come tantalisingly close to on several occasions in their long Eurovision history. I thought Kurt might have a good chance at doing well after this seemingly popular semi-final performance was much better than it should have been. It’s a rich, fun and upbeat track and he’s got a great voice. Seeing the post-semi press conference he just seemed so happy to have qualified where his small nation have failed so regularly in recent years. A strong Maltese entry, and I’m glad he had some success.
Tooji – Stay
#26 in the Grand Final
I wasn’t sure where to put Norway’s Tooji in my countdown. On one hand I feel it was one of the catchiest and more contemporary songs in the contest this year, and he certainly seemed to be a confident performer. But on stage I felt the vocals and staging were a little lacking. The frantic dance routine stopped his vocals operating at their full capacity, and something about the staging just felt a little cheap. I could use one of these feelings to expect pretty much any result, but as it stood he only just got through to the final by a tie-break with Bulgaria, and somewhat inevitably came last in the final. It looks worse than it was, after all, 16 countries didn’t even get that far. A missed opportunity but still a great song.
Sofi Marinova – Love Unlimited
#11 in Semi-final 2
Speaking of Bulgaria, and indeed of rather dull staging, here is Sofi. This too felt like a really contemporary dance track, playing on the popular sounds of the region, with Inna and whathisname from Romania having big hits recently. It’s got that melancholic feel to it, really works for me. Her vocals were totally brilliant, tackling a difficult song really well. It’s an impressive roster of languages too, perhaps they might have done well to have made more of that in the visuals. A weird bouncy landscape with Sofi wandering around an empty stage felt like a strange artistic choice, but the catherine wheels were pretty. I laahvve you so muuuch!
Gréta Salóme & Jónsi – Never Forget
#20 in the Grand Final
Time for another of my favourite nations, perhaps my favourite in recent years. They have also fashioned a real image in their entries, mixing icy but passionate ballads such as this and Johanna’s 2009 entry, with ultra-hi-NRG dance pop to rival Sweden in 2010 and 2008, and even space for more traditional fun in 2011. This one has a classically Nordic drama to it, in the same vein as Evanescence and Nightwish, albeit in a much more mainstream way. Making use of Iceland’s dazzling scenery in its visuals, this really was a big track. I’m sad it didn’t quite live up to its promise, even a place lower than Jonsi’s 2004 entry (though that was a less competitive time).
Mandinga – Zaleilah
#12 in the Grand Final
Picking the top 10 was very tough, and Romania pulled the short straw, despite it really growing on me post-show (oddly not even as a result of the song). The staging was fun and eyecatching as I expect from Romania, one of my favourite nations in that part of the world. Curiously in Spanish, it’s a really fun party track, complete with moonwalking bagpipe players. It has a typical fun Mediterannean feel, and a really together performance between the whole band (apart from the unlucky 7th member who had to sit it out). The female vocalist did a great job in the semis despite a broken earpiece, and I am very pleased they did well in the final.