An Azerbaijani goth, a breakdancing Italian gorilla and a charming Australian teenager walk into a bar… Eurovision aficionado Robyn Gallagher picks her favourite entries ahead of Sunday morning’s Grand Final.
This week the semi-finals of the Eurovision have been taking place in Kyiv, Ukraine. And this Sunday morning (New Zealand time), 26 acts will compete to see which song is the best Europe has to offer this year.
The extravagant event is the largest live music television show in the world, with an expected audience of over 200 million. It’s like the Super Bowl half-time show, an Olympic Games opening ceremony and the MTV Awards all rolled into one, except with really bad jokes from the show presenters.
So, before you watch this year’s show, here is a selection of some of the most interesting acts who’ll be rocking the stage at the International Exhibition Centre on Sunday.
???????? Isaiah – ‘Don’t Come Easy’ (Australia)
Being Eurovision superfans, Australia has managed to wangle themselves another guest invitation. This year they’re sending Isaiah Firebrace, the 17-year-old winner of the last series of The X Factor Australia. He’s performing ‘Don’t Come Easy’, written by the same Australian production team that wrote Jackie Thomas’ X Factor NZ winner’s single.
???????? Dihaj – ‘Skeletons’ (Azerbaijan)
Azerbaijan used to take Eurovision very seriously, then they won it, and now they’re a bit more relaxed and experimental. ‘Skeletons’ is dark and weird electropop with odd lyrics (“Fuss and fight won’t get you tons, bad boy!”). But Dihaj (Diana Hajiyeva) brings so much attitude that it all works. The performance features a man in a suit wearing a horse’s head standing atop a ladder, because of course it does.
???????? Naviband – ‘Story of My Life’ (Belarus)
Belarus has been competing in Eurovision since 2004, but this is the first time they’ve entered a song in Belarusian. Naviband are completely adorable, a real-life couple who also click as a folk-pop duo. ‘Story of My Life’ is an impossibly cheerful tune, with a shoutalong chorus that easily transcends the language barrier.
???????? Blanche – ‘City Lights’ (Belgium)
Three years ago Belgium flopped at Eurovision when they sent a popera singer who performed an ode to his mother. This year they’ve gone in totally the opposite direction with one of the most current sounding songs in this year’s competition. ‘City Lights’ is a melancholic piece of electropop, brought to life by Blanche’s husky cool-girl vocals.
???????? Jacques Houdek – ‘My Friend’ (Croatia)
Meet Jacques Houdek the pop star and his friend Jacques Houdek the opera singer. The song has both pop and opera parts and Jacques sings them all, something that’s not actually that easy to do. And he even wears a half-and-half costume. The performance is unrelentingly over the top and threatens to collapse under a mountain of cheese, but somehow the two Jacques make it work.
???????? Anja – ‘Where I Am’ (Denmark)
Anja Nissen may be familiar as the winner of the 2014 series of The Voice Australia, where she was mentored by will.i.am. And yes, she’s Australian — but she is the daughter of two Danish migrants and that’s how she’s come to be singing for Denmark. ‘Where I Am’ is a fairly ordinary R&B ballad, but Anja has vocal power and can emote the hell out of the cameras.
???????? Joci Pápai – ‘Origo’ (Hungary)
“Origo” is an unexpected gem. The lyrics are mostly in Hungarian, but the refrain is in Romani — a language not heard a lot at Eurovision. The song deals with the prejudices Joci faces as a Romani man in Hungary, then he throws in sudden rap break about his relationship with God and music. Rap doesn’t normally do well at Eurovision, but the mood of ‘Origo’ brings everything together and makes it work.
???????? Francesco Gabbani – ‘Occidentali’s Karma’ (Italy)
‘Occidentali’s Karma’ is an examination of Westerners’ use of Eastern religion and philosophy to combat the pressures of modern life, combined with the notion of man as “the naked ape”. Or, if you don’t speak Italian, it’s the one with the breakdancing gorilla. Francesco Gabbani has bucketloads of charisma and brings light and life to his performance. It’s understandably the bookies’ favourite to win the whole thing.
???????? Salvador Sobral – ‘Amar Pelos Dois’ (Portugal)
Portugal has been competing in Eurovision since 1964 but they’ve still never managed to win it. 2017 might be their year. In theory, their entry sounds like a disaster — a weird jazz singer performing a 1950s-style ballad with Portuguese lyrics. But it works. Salvador is adorable (#salvadorable), the song’s emotion breaks through the language barrier, and the stripped-back, old-fashioned style makes other countries’ slick productions look overdone.
???????? Ilinca ft. Alex Florea – ‘Yodel It!’ (Romania)
‘Yodel It!’ is a skilful combination of pop, rock, rap, R&B and… yodelling. Ilinca is skilled yodeller and as weird and potentially cheesy as the concept of the song sounds, she and rapper/singer Alex make it work. At one point Alex straddles a giant sequin-covered cannon and it all just makes perfect sense.
???????? Slavko Kalezić – ‘Space’ (Montenegro)
Sadly Slavko Kalezic didn’t qualify for the Grand Final. But in a way that doesn’t matter because he has left us with the visual gift that was his semi-final performance. Slavko might not have delivered the best vocal performance, but he gave everything in his performance, from his see-through shirt to the lethal weapon that was his ponytail.
The Grand Final of the Eurovision Song Contest 2017 takes places on Sunday 14 May at 7am, New Zealand time. There’s no New Zealand television broadcaster this year, but New Zealanders can still watch the official live stream on Eurovision.TV. If 7am seems a bit early to be getting up on a Sunday, Eurovision will wake you up faster than any coffee can.
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