Music Features

The Singles Bar: Eurovision 2013 Special (Part One)

You thought it was gone, but for one week only, The Singles Bar is back and bigger than ever!

As you may or may not know/care, the Eurovision Song Contest final is being held on 18th May in Malmö, Sweden, with semi-finals on the 14th and 16th. So what better way to introduce you to the multitude of acts performing than a special edition of The Singles Bar? We’ve listened to all thirty-nine (yep, you read right) and will be giving you the lowdown on each one over the course of four articles, before revealing the victor at the end.

A handy tip to fully enjoy the article; before listening to each track, imagine a short video advertising the main talking points of the country in question – perhaps something about its nice hills, steel industry or near-exemplary health and safety record.

NB: As this is Eurovision, scores are awarded out of twelve (or “douze”, for the full authentic experience) rather than the normal ten. Also, as Eurovision is renowned for it, we’ll be keeping a cumulative count of all the key changes along the way.

Flags and national headdress at the ready? Let’s dive in!

Albania: Adrian Lulgjaraj and Bledar SejkoIdentitet (English: Identity)

And so the long and arduous journey begins. Identitet is sung entirely in Albanian, which makes it a little difficult to fairly analyse its lyrical contents. Musically though, it’s dramatic, pop-focused goth-rock, with OTT string arrangements and some ridiculous guitar shredding before the final chorus. For no apparent reason, the first verse is sung in a creepy rasp by someone who resembles an uncle who likes to pat your thigh and say, “aren’t you growing up quickly?” (my money’s on that being Sejko), but then vocal duties for the rest of the track are, thankfully, handed over to the other one, who resembles an Eastern European, eyeliner-less Billie Joe Armstrong. Identitet is a pretty reasonable tune, though it hasn’t really got the killer ingredient to make it stand out. The video is worth a look too, where it appears Lulgjaraj, Sejko and band are playing in a disused multi-storey car park… for some reason. 7/12

Armenia: Dorians – Lonely Planet

In the UK, we regard Eurovision as kitsch and treat it with an ironic distance whilst moaning about tactical voting like some kind of swivel-eyed UKIP xenophobe. However, some other countries see it as a chance to present themselves on a greater stage and do things properly, hence you get this bizarre situation where Armenia’s entry has been co-written by TONY FLIPPING IOMMI! Research reveals that Dorians are actually a pretty big deal in their native Armenia, having won numerous awards and supported Serj Tankian. Lonely Planet is a soft-rock ballad with the occasional crunch of guitar that contains vague platitudes about peace and living in harmony, always a neat trick when attempting to get Europe to unite behind you (though it’d likely go down like a lead balloon should the UK attempt it). Like Identitet before it, there’s some decent shredding before the final chorus which is heralded by – oh yes, a key change – and soaring vocals from Gor Sujyan. Lyrically simplistic (though props to anyone who can pen a song in a language not their own) but again, not bad at all. 7/12

Key change count: 1

Austria: Natália Kelly – Shine

Despite only being born in 1994, Kelly’s got some pedigree. She’s been performing for a decade, was part of a children’s pop group signed to Universal, and won a solo contract after appearing in the Austrian version of The Voice. But enough cribbing from Wikipedia – what about the song? It’s got more of an American flavour than we’re used to from Eurovision entries (hardly surprising, given Kelly’s American heritage) but it’s a fairly insipid, say-nothing, mid-tempo ballad with chugging guitars and vaguely “inspirational” lyrics. Presumably due to a paucity of ideas, after the second chorus there’s a key change and some vocal gymnastics. It’s fair to say we’ve heard all this before but what’s most surprising is how long ago we heard it. Despite Kelly’s youth, Shine sound more like a third division Meredith Brooks rip-off, and despite her pleading, I’ve no desire to “fight the shadows in the sky” (mainly because you only get shadows on an actual surface – basic science there). 3/12

Key change count: 2

Azerbaijan: Farid Mammadov – Hold Me

Mammadov’s biography says that outside of music, he enjoys Greco-Roman wrestling and capoeira, so I’d best be careful about what I say. That does raise the interesting prospect of Hold Me being a song about grappling though. Upon listening, it appears there’s no such luck, and it’s a piano-led ballad about love and that, which sounds more like a song from a musical. Mammadov’s got a decent set of pipes on him though, and there’s an effortless ease to his performance which makes Hold Me a lot more palatable than it might be otherwise. Watching his performance (there seems to be no actual music video available), it’s hard not to notice that, extraordinary eyebrows aside, Mr. Mammadov is indeed rather dreamy. However, not dreamy enough that you don’t notice the key change at the end. 5/12

Key change count: 3

Belarus: Alyona LanskayaSolayoh

It seems there’s more than a touch of controversy surrounding the Belorussian entry. Lanskaya was initially chosen to represent Belarus in last year’s Eurovision, but was later disqualified after it was discovered the voting had been rigged. After winning this year’s selection process fair and square, she dropped the victorious song in favour of another, which hardly seems like cricket. That said, it looks to have been a wise choice, as Solayoh is a catchy, hook-filled blast of Europop that sounds like a cross between Holly Valance’s Kiss Kiss and Bamboléo by The Gipsy Kings. Fluffy and inconsequential, yes, but good fun, and would probably sound about five times as good on a Mediterranean beach (and yes, I’m fully aware Belarus has no coastline). Lanskaya also looks to win the award for most obviously telegraphed key change, as the song seems to spend about twenty seconds building up to the inevitable. 8/12

Key change count: 4

Belgium: Roberto Bellarosa – Love Kills

He may only be eighteen, but Roberto Bellarosa is another one with pedigree in his homeland, having won the Walloon version of The Voice (there are two versions of the show in Belgium) and enjoyed two Top 5 singles since (including a version of Jealous Guy). It’s an interesting diversion into music because, as his bio suggests, “his childhood was ruled by the number of football goals scored by the men in the family”, which sounds like no way to instil a system of discipline. For the first minute, Love Kills is the kind of bore-ballad you associate with talent show winners, but then it suggests it’s going to go into hi-NRG chaos. It doesn’t quite do that, but there are plenty of synths and it gains a fair bit of bite. Then we’ve the trendy, quasi-dubstep breakdown and it seems Roberto Bellarosa is Belgium’s answer to Justin Bieber in more ways than one. It’s rousing in the way these things often are, but it sounds like an opportunity has been missed to turn Love Kills into a real club banger. 6/12

Bulgaria: Elitsa Todorova and Stoyan YankulovСамо шампиони (English: Only Champions)

Todorova and Yankulov have previous – they represented Bulgaria at the 2007 contest and achieved the country’s highest placing to date. On Само шампиони, they’ve gone for the tried and tested Eurovision trope of combining poppers o’ clock trance with national folk music. This is why we’re treated to the bonkers spectacle of lots and lots of drums, some none-more-dubstep wubwubwubs, and a man playing what looks like a vacuum cleaner bag with a descant recorder stuck in the end. Does it work? No, of course it doesn’t – are you crazy? Yet there’s something infectious about how mad the whole thing is which gives it a sort of awkward charm. If we’re going to criticise legitimately, the melody of the chorus contains too much minor key to match the triumphant nature of the song and the perma-grinning video, but it’s nice to know that on our annual visit to Eurovision land, you can always be assured of finding something like this. 8/12

Croatia: Klapa S Mora – Mižerja (English: Misery)

All you need to know about this is contained on the Eurovision website: “Klapa singing is a traditional Croatian form of vocal music originating from Dalmatia, in southern Croatia. In December 2012, UNESCO inscribed klapa singing on its list of world intangible heritage of Europe. This year Croatia has formed a special klapa for the Eurovision Song Contest made up of singers who are young, but rich in experience.” Sounds, amazing, right? Well, yes, until you realise that klapa singing is extraordinarily dull. It’s a form of a cappella gospel music, so while Mižerja contains beautiful moments of harmony, there’s still little to get excited about, and the attempt to appropriate a traditional medium for mass consumption with the addition of a drum machine seems a little crass. They’ll almost certainly be the most technically gifted vocalists in the competition though. 4/12

Cyprus: Despina Olympiou - Aν με θυμάσαι (English: If You Remember Me)

Olympiou has been a professional performer for over two decades now, and has been releasing albums in Cyprus and Greece throughout the 21st Century. με θυμάσαι begins with unadorned vocals before gentle, acoustic guitar enters, accompanying shots of Olympiou looking pensively into a lake. However, that’s about as exciting as the track gets, because it just kind of limps along doing nothing in particular until – obviously – the key change which doesn’t generate any kind of drama or excitement because it doesn’t feel fully earned. με θυμάσαι has a slight demo feel to it, by which I mean it seems like it’s still lacking two or three elements before it can be considered a standalone track in its own right. Mind you, there’s hardly a surfeit of cash in Cyprus right now, so perhaps keeping this song as simple as possible is some kind of government-backed austerity measure. 2/12

Key change count: 5

Denmark: Emmelie De Forest – Only Teardrops

Brilliantly, when introducing herself in the Danish competition to find this year’s Eurovision entry, De Forest claimed that her great-great-grandmother was Queen Victoria. It’s quite an interesting promotional hook, though the claim has had to be dropped after it appears that, despite some royal lineage, De Forest can’t quite back it up. Only Teardrops begins with a tin whistle solo, which is enough to make you want to gnaw your own arm off in protest, but it builds to a rousing chorus, replete with military tattoo dreams and decent melodies. Then that pillock comes in with a tin whistle again – seriously, what is his problem? Towards the end, it focuses more on vocal power than anything else, and the song suffers for it, but it appears that’s just a consequence of the Simon Cowell-ruled world that we live in. Apart from the bits where Only Teardrops sounds like a penniless Irish busker, it’s certainly listenable though, like one or two other songs on this list, there’s clear room for improvement. 6/12

That’s the first ten out of the way. Be sure to check out Part 2.