The countdown to the final of a musical extravaganza has begun with Tuesday night seeing the first of two semi-finals to decide who will ultimately compete in the Eurovision Song Contest.
After the opening ceremony, last year’s winner Loreen performed the tune that brought her success in the Azeri capital Baku.
Loreen’s victory guarantees host country Sweden a place in the finals – along with major financial contributors to EBU (the contest’s organisers) France, Germany, Spain, Italy and the UK.
Also through to the final is Belarus entry Solayoh – with singer Alyona Lanskaya finally getting the chance to represent her country after failing to be picked on two previous occasions.
Moldova’s Aliona Moon took part last year, but as a backing singer for Pasha Parfeny who came eleventh. In Saturday’s final, she will take centre-stage.
One early favourite is Denmark’s Emmelie de Forest who could make it a third Danish victory with her song Only Teardrops.
With lyrics about peace, togetherness and hope, Dina Garipova is aiming to take the title back to Moscow.
Following Tuesday night’s semi-finals, here is the full list of 10 acts that made it through to the final:
Estonia: Birgit – Et Uus Saaks Alguse
Denmark: Emmelie de Forest – Only Teardrops
Russia: Dina Garipova – What If
Ukraine: Zlata Ognevich – Gravity
The Netherlands: Anouk – Birds
Lithuania: Andrius Pojavis – Something
Belarus: Alyona Lanskaya – Solayoh
Moldova: Aliona Moon – O Mie
Ireland: Ryan Dolan – Only Love Survives
Belgium: Roberto Bellarosa – Love Kills
Acts representing Austria, Montenegro, Croatia, Cyprus, Serbia and Slovenia were knocked out of the competition.
Here is the euronews verdict on all of the songs from the first semi-final:
Emmelie De Forest – Only Teardrops
MJ: The aptly-named « Emmelie of the Forest », walking bare foot to the sound of drums and pipes, against a backdrop of flames, and a rhythm that is so-typically Eurovision. Close your eyes and the vocal mannerisms sound remotely like the Cranberries. All that’s left to do is to cry (Only Teardrops…?) at the banality of it all. 3 points, 100-1 to win.
MD: Harsh words, Marie! She’s like a Danish Shakira’s baby pixie sister and how can you not like that? The world needs more Danish Shakira pixies and I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who would vote for this song – it has a tune and a chorus. You can hum to it. I’d lose the pipes though. 10 points, 16-1 to win.
Dina Garipova – What If
MD: ‘What If’ is what ‘Imagine’ would have been like if it had been written by Hello Kitty rather than John Lennon. It reminds me of ‘Dawson’s Creek’, which is not a good thing. There’s nothing wrong with Dina; fair play to her in fact for singing those lyrics with a straight face. And I won’t even begin to describe the video, as watching it made me sick in my mouth twice. Russia always gets votes though from its neighbours, so it might even win, the tragedy of which would be greater than the video. Nul points, 50-1 to win.
TS: The song is so cheesy and has so many strings that Switzerland migh sue Russia for patent violation of the fondue recipe. A much much more indigestible, stodgy, silly fondue. Nul points, 45-1 to win (unfortunately).
Zlata Ognevich - Gravity
TS: There is no denying that the singer is talented, but the song stays dull no matter how hard she tries. She isn’t help by the bland music. Also, the African gimmicky back vocals are a weird addition. 1 point, 30-1 to win.
MD: They’ve obviously spent a lot of money on the video, which is similar to a 3-minute version of Avatar, but this is meant to be a song contest. And this ‘song’ goes nowhere. Twice. You wait for Godot but he never arrives. When they have to perform this on stage, without so many special effects, poor Zlata will have to go out there armed with nothing but a really good voice. If she pulls this off then good luck to her. Nul points, 100-1 to win.
Anouk – Birds
MJ: An orchestra-backed melody that sounds very much like a Hollywood musical from the 50s, or a Disney song. It’s got an abundance of charm but I can’t see it winning Eurovision. 10 points, 150-1 to win.
TS: Nice warm voice, some jazzy 60s music, nice build-up, the Netherlands manages to have a pretty decent song with Anouk’s Birds. Let’s hope for her that her stage presence will make out for the lack of wow-effect the Eurovision audience is so fond of. 7 points, 35-1 to win.
Birgit Õigemeel - Et Uus Saaks Alguse
TS: One of the great things about Eurovision is that you hear songs in languages that otherwise seem very far away. But the lyrical sonority of Estonian, the singer’s clear eyes and dimples are not going to make up for this otherwise nondescript song. 2 points, 60-1 to win.
MD: I quite like this one. Probably because my Dad used to play a lot of Rita Coolidge and there’s a bit of Rita about Birgit. Nothing fancy, just a pretty girl in a pretty dress with a soft voice. This song actually makes me want to learn Estonian. Does Birgit teach? 10 points, 8-1 to win.
Andrius Pojavis – Something
MD: Andrius Pojavis is clearly someone who loves the camera and he can do very strange things with his eyebrows. I was too focussed on him to even hear the music until an epic ‘YEAH’ bang in the middle of the video woke me up. After that it just felt I was watching karaoke. 1 point (for the eyebrow dancing), 100-1 to win.
TS: Yeeahhhh, those eyebrows are truly something else indeed. The song, on the other hand, is just like every other Eurovision sub-par songs that will be forgotten as soon as Andrius gets off stage. 1 point, 100-1 to win.
Alyona Lanskaya – Solayoh
TS: Generic euro dance peppered with Eastern and Latino gimmicks, like a cheap Shakira knockoff. The music video breaks grounds in costume kitsch, though, with latex hoodie, male dancers in leather harness, and three-finger gloves. 1 point, 60-1 to win.
MJ: Thomas said it all really: pseudo latino euro dance, stealing gimmicks from the likes of Shakira (for example there are lots of silly little terms like ‘chacha’, ‘haha’, ‘chokechoke’) and fantastic video with costumes you’ve never seen in your wildest dreams/nightmares: open dress on black bra, leather chest straps, leather calf straps, shiny and baggy latex hoodie. And, and…a very cheap-looking choreography that you could easily learn in your ‘modern jazz’ dance class… 3 points for trying, 70-1 to win.
Aliona Moon - O Mie
TS: Despite the cheesy strings in the background, this song is almost bearable for an Eurovision solo performance. It is not the most original on its kind, but the vocal talent of the singer should wow the public in Malmö. 5 points, 25-1 to win.
MJ: Definitely not my cup of tea but a somewhat interesting (if a little complicated) melody sung in an intriguing language that you just don’t hear very often. That said, I was a bit too distracted by the video, being reminded first of the French singer Mylène Farmer, then the old TV show The Prisoner (?!) you know the part where she gets chased by a giant balloon? Anyway, then it becomes some kind of detergent advert with a load of coloured scarves floating in the air (“Eurovision protects the colour of your laundry”). Unlike Thomas, I think the melody is too sad to win Eurovision. Anyhow, dear Aliona, I’ll be seeing you. 4 points, 60-1 to win.
Ryan Dolan - Only Love Survives
TS: This song is such a succession of clichés and Euro dance gimmicks that it feels like an evil scientist came up with the perfect mathematic formula for the typical Eurovision dance hit. It won’t prevent the many remixes of the song to provide a summer soundtrack for European vacationers from the Black Sea to the Canaries Island. 5 points, 50-1 to win.
MD: Evil scientist? The video is full of people making heart shapes and generally spreading love, so if it was an evil scientist, he sucks at being evil. Uplifting house, uplifting message, and it’s late spring. Just what this continent needs right now dammit. 10 points. 8-1 to win.
Roberto Bellarosa – Love Kills
MD: Where the Irish song was happy, this one leaves you wondering if Roberto and his dancers even got paid. They just look so sulky. And whereas the Irish song was called ‘Only Love Survives’, this one is called ‘Love Kills’. If both are true then Love is one cruel, unscrupulous customer that murders its way to world domination. And what’s with the trend this year of short, aborted dub-step sequences? This song is quite ‘catchy’ though; it came unannounced and uninvited back into my head hours after hearing it. But it has put me in a bad mood. Nul points. 80-1 to win.
TS: A song as smooth and overproduced as Roberto’s haircut. And just as unoriginal and unexciting. 3 points. 50-1 to win.
And here’s our verdict on the song’s that fell at the first hurdle:
Natália Kelly – Shine
MD: 19-year-old Natália has got plenty of energy and a good indie singing voice but is let down a little by the song, which is fairly pedestrian and gets a bit repetitive. I think the word ‘shine’ is used about six hundred times. Not my cup of tea but no worse than some of the stuff out there, I suppose. Staple Eurovision fare. 2 personal taste points (out of a maximum 12), I would offer odds of 40-1 to win.
TS: Yup, it’s a decently produced pop-rock song, albeit a repetitive one. Natália seems like a fun girl to be around and the song is catchy enough to play on heavy rotation on commercial radios throughout Europe during the summer. But it is definitely not quirky enough to win. 5 points, 25-1 to win.
Klapa s Mora - Mižerja
TS: Bold move from Croatia, which skips on the Eurovision glitter with a vocal band singing ‘klapa’, traditional Croatian music that’s on the UNESCO cultural heritage list. Pretty but a bit obscure. Nul points, 500-1 to win.
MD: Thanks for the heads up, Thomas. I now know to stay away from klapa concerts. When the camera pans to the crowd in the video, there are people who seem to be paying more attention to their phones than to the band. That kind of says it all for me. Nul points, 200-1 to win.
Hannah – Straight Into Love
MD: I’m fairly certain I’ve heard this song before. At a previous Eurovision Song Contest maybe. Or in hundreds of nightclubs. Which means that either Slovenia have ripped off an existing tune (unlikely) or this is just textbook Eurovision disco fodder (likely). I’m fairly sure I’ll hear this again on holiday somewhere over the summer but I can’t really see myself getting too excited about it. 3 points, 33-1 to win.
TS: Hanna Straight to Love: Yes, it is all been heard before, and better. But the dubstep element is used more appropriately than other entries (granted, that was not very hard). As a Eurodance song, it does the job. Her voice is a bit reminiscent of the House divas of the early 90s. 3 points, 45-1 to win.
Who See – Igranka
MD: What with the hip-hop and the dubstep, this is a little darker than what we expect from Eurovision, but a change is always welcome. I’m not sure it will be to everyone’s tastes though even if I applaud ‘Who See’ for the following lyric: “Beat Goes crazy in my head, burn down bag, give me a drink/Grill, garlic, parsley and fish, give me all so I can overeat.” Due to cultural differences I have no idea what that means but I like it. 8 points, 66-1 to win.
TS: “Who See” manage to reproduce the current mainstream techno/rap/dubstep mixture so accurately that this song, if it were in English, would probably be a Top 40 hit for a couple of weeks. Sadly for them, it comes from Montenegro. 5 points, 40-1 to win.
Despina Olympiou – An Me Thimáse
MD: The song title translates as “If You Remember Me”. I won’t. Cyprus will need more than its usual 12 points from Greece to make the final with this song, and I can’t see it happening. Nul point, 200-1 to win.
MJ: Oh geez, I can’t think of much to say about this song. This is so flat, I can’t even make light of it. The clip is tasteless, what with the religious icon dress and the ‘oh-no-stop-chasing-me-in-the-forest-in-the-night’ scene. 0 points 150-1 to win.
Moje 3 - Ljubav je svuda
TS: A decent pop tune, scantily-clad young aspiring pop stars etc. the type of which Eurovision churns out by the dozen. Unfortunately for the Serbian trio, it shouldn’t leave its mark in the contest’s history. 3 points, 45-1 to win.
MD: Are Moje 3 the kind of women who men love to look at and other women don’t really like (without ever having actually met them)? If they are, Moje 3 might struggle to take Serbia to the final. I only mention the women thing because I have completely forgotten everything about the song. Nul points, 200-1 to win.
Who the hell are we to judge?
The euronews jury is made up of three music-loving but unfortunately not music-playing journalists, who reserve the right to be honest while trying to remain respectful to the performers: Mark Davis (normally found listening to Pearl Jam, Jake Bugg, the Stone Roses), Thomas Seymat (Alt-J, Franck Ocean, Daft Punk) and Marie Jamet (Marvin Gaye, Pulp, Clinic).