“Thank you for the music,” sang Abba, those most celebrated of Eurovision alumni. Residents of the German city of Dusseldorf will doubtless echo that sentiment on Saturday evening as this year’s Eurovision Song Contest reaches its coda in their midst.
And what a red-letter tournament it’s been for us here in our corner of the continent, eh? We’ve seen the careers of pop stalwarts Blue and Jedward resurrected and excitingly, according to the bookies, we’re in with a pretty good chance of romping home with the gold and bringing next year’s contest to our shores (though whether the British public can cope with the excitement of both Eurovision and the Olympics in one year remains to be seen).
Like a Godzilla film, Eurovision is a means for us all to enjoy some glorious high-camp fun for an evening, but unlike a Godzilla film Eurovision is also something to have a flutter on, like a horse race where all the jockeys wear sequins. And ride on pianos. Or something.
Anyway, to assist all our tiny-pencil-toting, bookie-frequenting readers, we’ve done the hard graft for you and sat through the top 10 acts the odds-makers had their eyes on at the time of writing. Here’s our verdict on this year’s pan-European musical talent: 1. France
Artist: Amaury Vassili
The bookies’ favourite arrives in a hail of clichés in a pop video shot either by a satiric genius or a man deathly afraid of originality. The song itself is a sort of mock-operatic, bombastic affair sung in Corsican, which its selectors suggest represents “the excellence of French music”. I wasn’t convinced, but then again I’m a philistine. As for Vassili himself, he’s got a good voice and late ’90s-footballer style good looks, which won’t do him any harm. But the sight of him in the vid singing atop a cliff in a Jesus Christ pose, driving in an open-top classic car with his floppy locks flapping in the breeze or standing on a beach in a white shirt with waves lapping behind him in the vid might set those with a dislike of the familiar’s teeth on edge.
The Grimes’s entry is as devoid of artistic merit as you’d imagine but, well, what did you expect from the pair? The song itself is a relentless and surprisingly dark-sounding pop tune that, to an old warhorse like me, becomes exhausting after three minutes (like a great many things, alas). Despite some nonsensical lyrics (how many inmates embark on spending sprees when on death row, chaps?), the tune boasts a genuinely catchy chorus replete with the sort of “da-da-dums” there simply aren’t enough of in pop today. With their unique look, naive charm and big choruses - all elements that have gone over well in Europe - could Jedward have finally found their showbiz niche in Eurovision?
3. United Kingdom
Song: I Can
Unlike Take That, who all appeared to have aged epochs by the time of their comeback, the boys from Blue re-emerge as if from cryogenic suspension to belt out a tune so over-produced it’d make Trevor Horn think it excessive. I Can is an electronically underpinned ballad that combines modern sounds with classic ’90s-style boy band sensibilities. Be it national pride or possibly just the fact that the tune’s quite catchy, I was astonished to find myself rapidly coming to the conclusion that they’re a difficult bunch to dislike. Good luck, gents!
Artist: Getter Jaani
Song: Rockefeller Street
Estonian Pop Idol graduate Getter Jaani comes across as a spirited performer with a difficult job to do. A stop-start affair whose lyricist seems to have little respect for grammar or scansion, Rockefeller Street is low-rent Lady Gaga through and through. Its chorus attempts to capture the cannon-like drums of Bad Romance and its kooky, tinkly verses doubtless reflect other pop I’m far too unhip to have heard. Listen out for an inexplicable doo-wop breakdown before the final chorus. ‘1, 2, 7, 3, down the Rockefeller Street’ is the main lyrical refrain. Is it code? Like Gaga’s meat dress, we’re left wondering what it all means.
Artist: Kati Wolf
Song: What About My Dreams
Beginning with drums soaked in reverb and some serious power ballad-style emoting, Kati Wolf’s tune metamorphoses into an up-tempo piece that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on The Best Dance Album in the World 1995 in what amounts to a usurping of Nirvana’s quiet-then-loud song-writing template. Boasting a fine voice that soars high (and not in that godawful, faux-Mariah Carey way) above the music, I only feel sorry for Kati that she hasn’t got a stronger chorus to prove herself with - a fact that might let her down come the judging.
6. Bosnia & Herzegovina
Artist: Dino Merlin
Song: Love in Rewind
Despite a title that makes one imagine a Soho cinema with a mischievous projectionist, Dino Merlin’s entry is the sort of bizarre fare on which Eurovision was founded. Decades older than his competitors, Merlin seems to be quietly taking the mickey out of his own bouncing, folky, oompa-ish tune throughout his performance, grinning through his greying beard. While this is easily the least fashionable piece I’ve heard in this year’s competition, its novelty value is not to be underestimated. And anyway, he’s massive in the former Yugoslavia…
Song: Running Scared
My goodness, isn’t this wholesome? Azerbaijan’s Ell/Nikki (anglicised from Eldar and Nigar) are a pair of whiter-than-white pop performers (quite literally - check out Eldar’s Persil-ed threads in the video) who’ve got a traditionally cheesy love ballad to deliver. With earnest and entirely irony-free lyrics (“Hold me darling, I need you”), this could be the theme tune to an obscure cable TV version of Romeo and Juliet. So lacking in edge and danger, it’s a song and performance as beige as Nikki’s outfit. It’s astonishing that Eldar’s been permitted to go onstage with two days’ bumfluff on his cheeks, frankly.
Artist: A Friend in London
Song: New Tomorrow
Along with Dino Merlin, the only band in the bookies’ top ten boasting their own instruments on-stage. But alas, what looks like a hard-rocking indie band turns out to be utterly gutless. Don’t think Finnish heavy-metal horrors Lordi, who won a few years back. This bunch are more Katrina and the Waves. Bland and insipid, to my mind A Friend in London are only noteworthy for their singer’s Guile-from-Street-Fighter hairstyle that, to be fair, is magnificent…
Artist: Eric Saade
Now this is more like it! Huge tribal drums, tight choreography and a lot of forced rhyming lead to possibly the biggest chorus in this year’s competition. This is quite simply the quintessential Eurovision performance: loud, brash, professional – in a word, fabulous. Special mention has to go to Eric smashing his way out of a glass box before the least subtle key change this writer’s ever heard kicks in. Mere words aren’t quite enough to do this justice: watch the video and see for yourself. It’ll be a travesty if this doesn’t win.
Song: Taken by a Stranger
And alas, we end with a song that’s positively anti-Eurovision. Lena’s Taken by a Stranger is utterly devoid of catchy hooks or bouncingly happy sentiment, relying on a depressing premise and sparse musical accompaniment. Seriously, this track doesn’t seem to get started at all, dribbling along from dreary opening to inconsequential end. Noteworthy only for her German nationality coupled with Kate Nash’s mockney delivery, I can only assume that the Germans couldn’t be bothered with the hassle of staging the competition next year and deliberately entered something with no chance of winning.
So there we are, those are the hot tips for this year’s contest. Will you be tuning in this weekend? Which country do you think deserves to win?