It’s April, and that means that the Eurovision Song Contest is nearly here. This year it’s Lisbon, Portugal, that will be our hosts and 43 countries are “All Aboard”, gagging for your douze points.
Since 2015, I’ve been doing ‘first-listen’ commentary on all the entries in the hopes that someone is spared the pain of the worst of Europe’s music.
This year, I’ll be listening to each track just once, in the order they appear on the official album. They’re presented below in the order they will perform in the semi-finals1.
As I did last year, I’m setting a strict tweet-sized limit on my thoughts. Twitter have doubled the character limit to 280 characters though, which means double the snark for 2018.
Azerbaijan — X My Heart — Aisel
This is the opening act for the first show. It sets the bar for what is to follow. And well, the bar is set pretty low, folks.
My favourite thing about this is the lyrics. Aisel is “tearing down firewalls”, like some kind of subliminal warning to update your PC’s anti-virus. Odd.
Iceland — Our Choice — Ari Ólafsson
Ari sings that “we all have a choice we can make” in this song about peace and healing. He means a choice to help others, or not.
I make a different choice: to not listen to this again if I can avoid it.
Albania — Mall — Eugent Bushpepa
Don’t be confused by the title; this isn’t an ode to capitalism. No, this song translates literally as “Yearning”.
It’s a soft rock number.
It’s reminiscent of a low-budget Bon Jovi cover. It’s reminiscent of a Bon Jovi song. And not even a good one.
Belgium — A Matter of Time — Sennek
This track feels like it belongs in a smokey bar in a back-alley of Brussels. It’s sexy. Dirty. Classy.
The Bond theme chorus and synths keep this track interesting throughout. But a description of “interesting” is about as far as it gets with this one. Ultimately, forgettable.
Czech Republic — Lie To Me — Mikolas Josef
I’m not a fan of rap in Eurovision. Sure it’s “different”, but whilst Mikolas thinks he’s pulling off some Justin Timberlake or Eminem swagger, he’s really joining the likes of Daz Sampson.
It wasn’t cool in 2004. It’s not cool now.
Lithuania — When We’re Old — Ieva Zasimauskaite
This is like a lullaby performed by a Lithuanian version of Ellie Goulding.
It doesn’t really go anywhere; there’s no crescendo, no key change, barely any ornamentation or additional instrumentation throughout.
It’s adorable, but also yawn.
Israel — Toy — Netta
Both my eyebrows raised about 3 inches up my forehead when I listened to this. It is totally bonkers — and I freaking love it.
Why is Netta clucking? Is she a chicken?
What does clucking have have to do with toys?
I have no idea, but I adore it!
Belarus — Forever — ALEKSEEV
This is terrible; I don’t think there are any redeeming features to this bland rent-a-ballad. The instrumentation is chaotic, the lyrics are an incoherent mess, and the vocals are just poor. I’m glad it didn’t go on forever; three minutes were enough.
Estonia — La Forza — Elina Nechayeva
Estonia have gone full-tilt into an operatic style for this surprising number. I have no basis on which to judge this; it’s very much out of my comfort zone.
That said, I can imagine this is going to be one hell of a spectacle to witness: Elina’s vocal range is immense.
Bulgaria — Bones — Equinox
Another year, another great track from Bulgaria; they’re clearly desperate to win.
There’s a lot going on here: punchy instrumentation and intriguing vocals, but it lacks the coolness of last year’s “Beautiful Mess” or the fun of 2016’s “If Love Was a Crime” — both high scorers.
F.Y.R. Macedonia — Lost and Found — Eye Cue
This is like someone stuck two completely different songs together. For no obvious reason, it constantly switches between Euro-pop and reggae-ska.
The result is a car-crash of styles and a jarring change of rhythm roughly every 30 seconds.
Get off the fence Eye Cue and pick a style!
Croatia — Crazy — Franka
Trumpets and spoken word: those are two things you don’t often get in a Eurovision entry, and Croatia has both!
That’s about as original as this gets, with a predictable slow-jazz-pop vibe, a set of forgettable lyrics and no memorable hook.
Austria — Nobody But You — Cesar Sampson
So this guy clearly thinks he’s Austria’s Rag and Bone Man. Parallels aside, this is excellent.
It has everything: brass, beats, bass, brilliant vocals, and an easy riff that sticks in your head. It’s basically pretty freaking cool.
Greece — Oniro Mou — Yianna Terzi
I’m not going to lie, this is disappointing. The Greeks have a proud record in Eurovision — who can forget “My Number One”? — but you wouldn’t know it from this.
It’s boring. There’s no other way to describe it. Too many false stops, deadpan vocals; shocking.
Finland — Monsters — Saara Aalto
There’s some blatant Gaga mimicry happening in this track, right from the title. But, it doesn’t matter; it’s good.
The chorus has a memorable hook and the track shines. Saara is known to British X-Factor viewers as having a cracking voice — and this song shows it off brilliantly.
Armenia — Qami — Sevak Khanagyan
This entry translates as “Wind”. Vocalist, Sevak, sings of his desire to have wings; an Armenian Icarus, if you will.
Much like Icarus’s maiden flight, this song lifts but it then ends before a good climax; wings melting away into a morass of forgettable Eurovision tracks.
Switzerland — Stones — ZiBBZ
This song is big. It’s such a big song that I think my headphones were struggling to reproduce the whole experience.
It’s packed full of punchy vocals, big instrumentation, and great hooks in the chorus.
Ireland — Together — Ryan O’Shaughnessy
Ireland is dangerously close to having its crown as best performing country taken away from it, and this will not be enough to defend the title.
This squishy, love-sick, Ed Sheeran carbon copy is pleasant enough but, Ireland, you need to up your game.
Cyprus — Fuego — Eleni Foureira
This is one of the better Cypriot tracks from recent years. I still want to set “fuego” to it.
Look, if you’re going to do a Euro-pop bop, you don’t get to produce this and deserve to survive the semi-final to tell the story.
Norway — That’s How You Write a Song — Alexander Rybak
According to Alexander Rybak’s song, there are only two steps to write a song: believe in it, and roll with it.
Perhaps the lack of detailed instructions have led him to create this bizarre entry. It’s funky, but it feels like it belongs in Sesame Street rather than Eurovision.
Romania — Goodbye — The Humans
I thought this was going to be a rubbish ballad with no instrumentation. To my delight, one minute in I discovered more; it’s a power ballad!
Unfortunately it comes a little too late. By the time this song has built to a climax, it has to come to an abrupt and disappointing stop.
Serbia — Nova Deca — Sanja Ilić & Balkania
This is a bit weird. There’s lots of throat-singing, plenty of odd microphone effects going on, and it’s a bit hard to follow. It all comes together in a bit of an unsatisfying goulash.
San Marino — Who We Are — Jessika
For once, San Marino have produced something that doesn’t make me want to tear my own ears off! It’s a pretty standard pop-with-rap affair, and it’s alright.
It’s not the best song of the year, but at least San Marino look like they’ve actually tried this time.
Denmark — Higher Ground — Rasmussen
Is this a missing track from the 1998 Disney classic Mulan? Is Donny Osmand calling for a truce with the Huns?
This song continues the long tradition of apparent anti-war songs in Eurovision.
It’s pretty dramatic. It’s a fairly good song. It’s probably not going to end any wars.
Russia — I Won’t Break — Julia Samoylova
I always think Russia is at its strongest singing ironic ballads about peace and freedom. This year we haven’t got that; instead, we have one of Russia’s weakest songs of the decade.
It’s cookie-cutter pop-ballad at it’s blandest. There’s plenty going on - it’s just not very good.
Moldova — My Lucky Day — DoReDoS
This has lolly-pop Euro-trash written all over it. Moldova, clearly buoyed by their success with leg-tapping saxophones from last year, have produced a less good version of that for this year.
It is mad as a box of frogs, but it should get the party started.
The Netherlands — Outlaw In ‘Em — Waylon
You can always rely on The Netherlands to bring country to the Contest. This year, it’s a country rock number, and it is great!
I have nothing bad to say about this. Brilliant.
Australia — We Got Love — Jessica Mauboy
If only every country entering the Contest could pop out a slick bop like Australia seems to do so effortlessly.
I’ve got love for the syncopated rhythms and broken-down middle-eight here. I really hope they nail the staging and lighting to make this amazing.
Georgia — For You — Ethno
I don’t even know where to start with this: it’s a crime against Eurovision. It’s a crime against music!
Save yourself the three minutes this took me to listen to and do something more productive. Make a cup of tea, or something.
Poland — Light Me Up — Gromee
I imagine this is the kind of music Calvin Harris would make if he was in a boy band in the 1990s. It’s kind of soulless, with synths.
It doesn’t matter that this is a bit naff, of course: the diaspora will come through.
Malta — Taboo — Christabelle
I’m not sure what exactly the taboo is that Christabelle is so concerned about breaking. I’m not sure I want to know.
Whatever it is, it’s apparently an excuse for an electronic break-down in the middle-eight and a mid-tempo dance-affair in the choruses.
Hungary — Vislát Nyár — AWS
As you might expect, I was not a ‘goth’. I’m therefore lost by “Goodbye Summer”.
It starts intense and it stays intense. It’s peddle-to-the-metal intense. There’s screaming, if you like that sort of thing.
I’m confused by the whole thing. Someone play some Kylie so I can reorient.
Latvia — Funny Girl — Laura Rizzotto
There’s a theme of moody, jazz-type pieces this year. This is another, and it’s equally as middle-of-the-road as the others.
The vocals are competent, but they don’t excite. The instrumentation would be interesting, if it hadn’t already been done to death. Bland.
Sweden — Dance You Off — Benjamin Ingrosso
If this track were represented as a Venn diagram of what I like about Eurovision songs, then this would be at the intersection of “good hook”, “great beat”, and “solid vocals”.
Incidentally, this intersection is also called “brilliant Scandi-pop song”.
Montenegro — Inje — Vanja Radovanovic
We’ve had “Fire” from Cyprus, now we have “Frost” from Montenegro. This is, as I have come to expect, awful.
The song moves at a near glacial pace, doing nothing to excite the ears. Definitely a chance for you to empty your bladder.
Slovenia — Hvala, Ne! — Lea Sirk
This songs title translates as “No thanks!”, and that roughly sums up my thoughts about this drop-the-bass thumper.
It’s not that it’s bad, it’s just that it’s dull. Nothing unique, nothing new, nothing to reel you in.
Ukraine — Under the Ladder — MÉLOVIN
Being under a ladder is usually considered to be bad luck. We’ll have to wait and see how lucky MÉLOVIN is, but my hunch is that this catchy, but predictable dance number is a few rungs short of a useful tool.
France — Mercy — Madame Monsieur
You never know quite what you’re going to get from France. One thing I can normally rely on though, is that I won’t like it: and this is true again in 2018.
Mercy isn’t as dreary as the usual French choices, but it’s still a snooze-inducing bore.
Germany — You Let Me Walk Alone — Michael Schulte
Having gone wild over the last few years, Germany has taken a peculiar decision and descended into schmaltzy ballads. It’s nice, it’s even pleasing, but it’s a bit naff.
No one wants sentimental cruft in their Eurovision: they want vacuous platitudes and “Love Love Peace Peace”.
Italy — Non Mi Avete Fatto Niente — Ermal Meta & Fabrizio Moro
My only conclusion from this is that Italy is having a mid-life crisis. Last year’s nonsense lyrics (with dancing-gorilla) was quirky; twice in a row makes it look like you’ve lost the plot.
This is bad and sounds like two drunks shouting down a microphone at karaoke.
Portugal — O Jardim — Cláudia Pascoal
Having successfully lulled most of Europe into a trap with their winning song last year, Portugal have doubled down on boring ballads this year.
I never saw the appeal in last year’s winner. I, no doubt, won’t understand why people will like this either; but I think it’s shit.
Spain — Tu Canción — Amalia Romero & Alfred Garcia
“Your Song” is a double treat: a ballad and a duet. This song is neither as memorable nor as emotionally resonant as its namesake, but it’s nice.
The vocals are far too light on this track, failing to power through to a decent crescendo. The result fails to melt my icy heart.
United Kingdom — Storm — SuRie
Last year, our entry had class. This year, we’ve decided to lean in on kitsch instead.
Based on the national selection, SuRie’s vocals are likely to get swallowed in the track and the arena. Honestly, our best hope of ever hosting again is for Australia to win and take pity on us.
Of course, Portugal — as last year’s winner — along with France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom — as the biggest financial contributors — automatically qualify for the final and are presented in alphabetical order at the end. ↩