WHO'S GONNA WIN EUROVISION? WE RANK THE CONTENDERS
Only one television event combines the camp, fierce, over-the-top aesthetics of RuPaul’s Drag Race, the international competitive spectacle of the Olympics, the gratuitous pyrotechnics and nationalism of the Super Bowl Halftime Show and the geopolitical discourse of Foreign Affairs. And that is the Eurovision Song Contest.
You should absolutely watch the Eurovision Song Contest finale on LOGO this Saturday, May 13 at 2pm CDT. But in case you want to give the songs a go before committing a beautiful Saturday to sitting indoors, I’ve listened to and ranked them all so you know when to refill your drinks during the finals.
We start with the six entries that will automatically advance to the final. The country that wins the previous year gets to host the next year (a prize some countries actively try to avoid because of the price tag of hosting). This year, that honor belongs to Ukraine, who skate into the finals alongside the “Big Five,” the five countries that contribute the most to the European Broadcasting Union: the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, France and Spain.
Ukraine & The Big Five
6. Lucie Jones - “Never Give Up On You” (United Kingdom):
You wouldn’t know it by their performances since 2009 (including a dead-last finish in 2010), but the United Kingdom was once a Eurovision contender. The UK has won the contest five times and given us some real gems in the process. Katrina and the Waves, Brotherhood of Man, “Ooh, Aah… Just A Little Bit” by Gina G, which featured prominently in my childhood trips to the roller rink. Not even appearances by very cool and relevant pop stars like Englebert Humperdinck and Bonnie Tyler could shake the UK out of their Eurovision slump. Maybe they’re just holding out for a hero.
Anyway, oh look, a ballad. NEXT.
5. O. Torvald - “Time” (Ukraine):
Ukraine pulled an upset victory last year with their song, Jamala’s haunting “1944,” inspired by the forced deportation of Crimean Tatars (including the singer’s great-grandmother) by Stalin during World War II, and reminding us all it’s not all colorful kitsch and “Waterloo” over here.
So how does Ukraine follow their slow-burning emotional powerhouse from 2016? With Linkin Park using SFX makeup to attach digital clock radios to their chests. You know that feeling when you go to bed early and you can’t stop looking at the clock because you know you really need to get some sleep but you can’t stop thinking about how you need to go to bed and you get trapped in that vicious cycle? That’s how watching this video feels. They do get bonus points for gratuitous pyrotechnics and sick riffs. Eurovision’s been lacking in the metal department for a good decade or so.
4. Manel Navarro - “Do It For Your Lover” (Spain):
C’mon, Jason Mraz! No, but for real though, this has all the trappings of the early aughts mellow-guitar-dude craze, including a gratuitous amount of surfing in the video and a scene that appears to have been taken inside a Hollister in 2004. I don’t see this one racking up a whole lot of douze points from the judges or the viewers, but it’s also so breezy and innocuous that you can’t really say anything too awful about it either.
3. Levina - “Perfect Life” (Germany):
2. Francesco Gabbani - “Occidentali’s Karma” (Italy):
I want to hate this song so much because the opening verse, translated, sounds like something a frustrated high school sophomore would write in a poetry class: “Get comfy in your 2 x 3 cage / Intellectuals in cafés / Internet experts / Honorary members of Selfie-Addicted Anonymous.” We know. The suburbs are stifling your creativity and also you’re getting really into Desmond Morris and thinking about becoming a philosophy major. Your parents will understand someday.
But in addition to being catchy as all get out, “Occidentali’s Karma” is greater than the sum of its parts. Gabbani employs monastic robes, references to Heraclitus and Shakespeare and a dancing gorilla to lampshade Westerners’ trivialization and appropriation of Eastern cultural and spiritual practices. The song is the heavy favorite right now according to European betting websites, and with a win, it would be the second year in a row where Eurovision voters have chosen a song with headier subject matter over the usual cheese platter.
1. Alma - “Requiem” (France):
With the melodramatic, Victor Hugo soliloquy lyrics, ballet theme and gratuitous Eiffel Tower footage in the video, France is really leaning into itself this year, and I am here for it. The songwriters also know the most important rule of pop music: combine an upbeat, danceable hook with morbid or existentially fraught lyrics, and you’ve got a winner. (In music theory circles, this is called the “Semi-Charmed Life” rule.)
Are you hooked yet? If not, stay with us just a bit longer, as the first semifinal has sexy sax men, Dothraki wannabes and necessary Petra Mede appreciation.
the other countries (Semifinal 1)
The participating countries outside of the Big Five and the host country compete in two semifinals, which are judged in the same manner as the Main Event.
Oftentimes, the best (and most “Eurovision”) songs are buried deep in the roster of the semifinals, and some of the purest, brightest gems, sadly, do not make it past this stage. I’ve listened to the 10 advancing songs from the first semi-final so you don’t have to (and included a favorite that didn’t quite make the cut, really salty about Montenegro right now, you guys).
Did-Not-Qualify Honorable Mention:
Slavko Kalezić - “Space” (Montenegro):
Every year, I try to find one video that I can show my friends and use to justify my Eurovision obsession. This year, it’s “Space,” an intergalactic boner jam that is truly poetic in its lack of subtlety. Kalezić himself is truly the perfect ambassador for this whole spectacle, a greased-up Dothraki extra donning a maxi sarong and a braid with a mind of its own. From a remote canyon, he growls about wet dreams, spaceships blasting off and playing both Venus and Mars, flooding basements all across Europe. I can’t wait for this song to come on at the club.
I’ll stop talking now because I want the video to speak for itself, but I am so goddamn disappointed this didn’t make the final. You, the viewers, deserve better.
10. Salvador Sobral - “Amal Pelos Dois” (Portugal):
9. Hovig - “Gravity” (Cyprus):
Like “Perfect Life,” “Gravity” has already gotten clocked by Eurovision fans for sounding like another global mega-hit, in this case, Rag ‘N’ Bone Man’s “Human.” I don’t disagree. If you’ve already heard “Human,” you’ve heard a better version of this.
8. Demy - “This is Love” (Greece):
Selective coloring! Red Helvetica kinetic typography! On-screen hashtags to really drive the point home! Boy, I gotta tell you, I really enjoyed this Gap ad from 2008!
7. Kasia Moś - “Flashlight” (Poland):
There is nothing better than a final-third orchestra entrance.
6. Sunstroke Project - “Hey Mamma” (Moldova):
If Maroon 5 collaborated with Sexy Sax Man, the result would be Sunstroke Project. More sexy sax men, I say! More!
5. Isaiah - “Don’t Come Easy” (Australia):
Australia first came into the contest in 2015 for the 60th anniversary celebration like Serena ChaCha to the werk room, in that no one was really sure what it was doing there. Unlike Serena ChaCha, however, Australia has had a real shot at winning, finishing second in last year’s contest with Dami Im’s “Sound of Silence.”
Once again, Australia enters with a slick, radio-ready pop number from an X Factor Australia alum, this time, Isaiah Firebrace, who wins the Very Cool Name award.
4. Dihaj - “Skeletons” (Azerbaijan):
I want to take this moment to address another rabbit-hole aspect of the Eurovision Song Contest, and that is the YouTube comments under each video and performance. I generally advise people to never, ever read YouTube comments, but the Eurovision comments are interesting because inevitably one of two things happens: 1) everyone is very positive and enthusiastic, commenting "12 points from Italy!" or "12 points from Macedonia!" etc. OR 2) there is a serious, if not hostile, historical discussion about political tensions between the two countries. There is no middle ground. It is always one of these things.
Anyway, the song’s good and it feels current and I have serious track-jacket envy from Dihaj.
3. Artsvik - “Fly With Me” (Armenia):
One of Eurovision’s most time-honored traditions is the use of shirtless, oiled-up dudes with big, ponderous drums during the stage performances. If I had to put money on a song that would make use of this important tool, it would be this one, which accounts for maybe two-thirds of the reason it’s ranked so high.
The vocals make me want to put on a shawl, retreat to the woods and live my Pure Moods fantasy and the hairpiece in the opening shot of the video would make Yara Sofia jealous, but the choreography in the video is... a choice.
2. Blanche - “City Lights” (Belgium):
Even when it’s at its most fun and bizarre, Eurovision can have a tendency to feel dated, so when a song like “City Lights” comes along, even when it’s not the most exciting piece of music, it feels almost refreshing. “City Lights” comes from Blanche, an alumna of the Belgian version of The Voice, and it actually sounds like a normal indie-pop song that would appear on the radio in 2017.
I know most people don’t go to Eurovision for “normal” (myself included), but sometimes you need a break from pyrotechnics and yodeling and shit, and just enjoy a quietly glittery pop song, and feel good. So thank you, Blanche, for the opportunity.
1. Robin Bengtsson - “I Can’t Go On” (Sweden):
Sweden is the second-winningest country in Eurovision herstory, and their run includes two victories in the last five years (including Loreen’s “Euphoria” which is a truly perfect club jam) and the undisputed Queen of all Eurovision entries, ABBA’s “Waterloo.”
Sadly, my girl Loreen didn’t qualify this year, so instead we have Robin Bengtsson, a Swedish Idol alum riding an infectious electropop number about how how hot you are and how much he wants to take you home. The track itself hangs together well, and feels like a contender, but in the chorus, he declares you “look so freakin’ beautiful,” and while I totally get that Eurovision is a PG-rated affair, the use of “freakin’ beautiful” is just such a boner-killer.
As whatever as this song is, I ranked it super high because I kind of want Sweden to win so Petra Mede can host again. I pondered scrapping this list and just replacing it with a Petra Mede Appreciation Post. For those who are not from Sweden or are not regular Eurovision watchers, Petra Mede is a comedian and TV presenter who has hosted the contest twice. Both times, she delivered the best moments of the finals, first with an NPH-at-the-Tonys-esque number lampshading Swedish stereotypes, the second with a joyous lampooning of the contest’s cheesiest cliches, “Love Love Peace Peace,” which has been stuck in my head for the past year. She’s just the best, you guys.
the other countries (Semifinal 2)
10. Jacques Houdek - “My Friend” (Croatia):
I was fully prepared to write this off completely because it oozed schmaltz from the opening note and the music video opens with a voice-over Albert Einstein quote, and also Houdek’s history of making super homophobic statements (he publicly apologized in 2011, and people can absolutely change and work to unlearn shitty past behaviors, but based on some of the blog and YouTube comments, some Eurovision fans have not forgotten or forgiven).
But, there are a few redeeming qualities here. There is a very cute puppy in the video. The street cellist in the video’s C-plot is a total babe. And then there’s the bizarre and majestic give-and-take of the song itself, which starts with these bland “inspirational” verses sung in English before giving way to the classically-trained Houdek showing off his opera pipes.
9. Kristian Kostov - “Beautiful Mess” (Bulgaria):
Bulgaria is shaping up to be a Eurovision powerhouse, and I know I really should talk about this ballad, or whatever, but instead I’m going to talk about Bulgaria’s entry from last year, which was a jam. “If Love Was A Crime” finished fourth in last year’s competition, buoyed almost exclusively by points from the popular vote. Poli Genova was the People’s Champion. She wore a light-up suit and destroyed the stage. She should be Bulgaria’s entrant every year.
And sure, this year’s song is fine too, I guess.
8. Ilinca ft. Alex Florea - “Yodel It!” (Romania):
Every year, there’s one entry that just feels so on-the-nose Eurovision, whether it’s Chad the Bird’s Irish cousin giving a puppet kiss-off to the whole damn thing, or the endearing Russian grannies from 2012. Which brings us to Romania’s entry, which starts off so familiar, that inspirational pop-song spoken stump speech, the beat a bit like Flo Rida’s “My House,” and then… yodeling.
This? This is what would happen if the Chainsmokers were cast as the Von Trapp children in the made-for-network-TV version of The Sound of Music. This is what would happen if 30 Rock tried to parody a Eurovision song. Oh God, it’s going to win, isn’t it?
7. IMRI - “I Feel Alive” (Israel):
Imri Ziv has competed on the Israeli version of The Voice and performed as a backup singer with the country’s last two Eurovision entries, and now it’s his time in the spotlight. And in that spotlight, he’s giving you Svedka spokesmodel looks and a track that sounds like someone took “Blame” by Calvin Harris and decided it needed more bagpipes.
But let’s talk about this music video though. Imri is driving his friends to a beachside flashmob, which happens every day in Tel Aviv, according to this video. He mugs for the rearview mirror and sings along to his song. He is the only one in the car singing. Are his friends okay with this? Is this just a thing that happens every time they make an Aroma run? Like, “Oh, great, Imri’s singing to himself again and it’s making the rest of us uncomfortable but he drives us everywhere and isn’t a jerk about it, so, whatever.”
And everywhere, everywhere, including the dance-along flashmob scene at the end, there is product placement for Tel Aviv. The oversized lounge chairs on the beach Heart Tel Aviv. The dancing teens in their tank tops Heart Tel Aviv. Between the in-your-face advertising and the attractive, beach-kissed video dudes, I’m pretty sure this isn’t a Eurovision entry at all and just a viral campaign to get you to go on Birthright.
6. Anja - “Where I Am” (Denmark):
This has all the hallmarks of a CLASSIC Eurovision entry. There are the fiery projections, the big, dramatic chorus and the EYE CONTACT. There is just so much eye contact. Like she really wants to just CONNECT with you, and emphasize that by POINTING at you sometimes, so you know she is singing at you and only you, and you’re a little bit uncomfortable but it’s fine. It’s fine.
5. JOWST - “Grab the Moment” (Norway):
Petra Mede made a joke last year during the finals about having a DJ on stage pretending to scratch will make your number feel hip and relevant. Not only does JOWST have one of those, but they appear to be wearing an unfinished Daft Punk helmet.
“Grab the Moment” does feel more of-2017 then most Eurovision acts, especially those with DJs, and if it came on the radio on my way to the lakefront or at the club, I probably wouldn’t be mad about it. I actually think this could win.
4. Nathan Trent - “Running On Air” (Austria):
The video for “Running On Air” has the best shots of the Austrian Alps since The Sound of Music, and making his way through them is plucky Nathan Trent, who, not unlike Fraulein Maria before him, felt the hills beckoning and just wanted to be a part of it.
In the video for this sunny guitar-dude number, Trent is traipsing down a mountain, and I have lots of questions. For one, the area seems awfully remote, and he seems to just have a very small backpack that looks like it probably just has, like, notebooks, weed and a couple of Clif bars in it. Is he properly equipped for this outdoor excursion? What if he got stuck up there in a freak Eurovision snowstorm? And who is the Austrian Vince Vaughn-looking dude who picks him up in the middle of nowhere? Was this planned? What’s the arrangement? I also love how Trent is just grinning and singing and at first Austrian Vince Vaughn looks perplexed and annoyed but is soon like, “I like your sunny disposition, friend!” Sure.
3. NAVI - “Historyja Majho Zyccia” (Belarus):
Right now, there’s probably a coffee shop in Minsk where this song is playing, and some armchair music critic hears it and is thinking, “Oh, God, NAVI again?!”. I bet this song is going to end up in every Belarusian movie preview for the eight months following Eurovision. There’s even the video, where the two band members are frolicking in the woods and serving American Eagle winter catalog realness. This is the “Ho Hey” of Belarus.
That all said, I actually like this one, I think? The kids in the band seem charming, Ksienija Žuk has a lovely voice and based on some cursory YouTube comment scanning, it seems like this is Belarus’s best entry in years (it’s also the first time the country has submitted a song in their native language, which is pretty cool). You know what? I hope they do well, even if I would find their American Idol equivalents insufferable.
2. Joci Pápai - “Origo” (Hungary):
EUROVISION TREND ALERT: Dramatic string intro coupled with rap interlude. (See also: Greece’s 2016 entry.) But even if the rap-and-violins trend isn’t your thing, this is one of the strongest entries in the final, and Pápai, who is of Roma descent, writes and performs with honesty and gravity about his experiences with prejudice and discrimination based on his heritage.
Anti-Roma discrimination is still a huge problem in many parts of Europe, and with this year’s Eurovision theme being “Celebrate Diversity,” this feels like an entry that could actually spark some important conversation.
1. OG3NE - “Lights and Shadows” (The Netherlands):
This feels familiar. A likable trio (featuring sisters!) with some solid harmonies singing a catchy ditty about overcoming the obstacles life has thrown at you and getting through the rough times and where have I heard this before? Oh, shit, it’s Dutch Wilson Phillips!
I love this so much and I’m not sorry. I hope they win and look forward to their stint opening for Olivia Newton-John at Market Days 2018.
WHEW. Thanks for sticking with us. Hope you’ve discovered some new jams, and you’ll tune in on Saturday for the most magical television event of your life.