Music Features

The Singles Bar: Eurovision 2014 Special (Part One)

May 2014 sees the 59th edition of the Eurovision Song Contest, the annual jamboree where all the countries of the continent come together to showcase the best and brightest in pop music. Or, at least, that’s the theory, but anyone familiar with the competition will know that’s not usually how it plays out.

Last year’s winners (Denmark) and the five founding countries of Eurovision (France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom) receive a free pass into the grand final on Saturday 10th May. All other competing nations must first make it through one of two semi-finals, to be held on Tuesday 6th May and Thursday 8th May. In true Singles Bar style, we’ve got the low-down on every single entrant, so read on to see what’s what for the first eight countries in Semi-Final 1.

NB: Eurovision votes are cast out of twelve, rather than a more traditional ten, hence the scoring system.

Armenia: Aram MP3 – Not Alone

Despite having a name like a pro-Napster campaigner from the turn of the Century, Aram MP3 is an Armenian media personality who, according to the Eurovision website, is “famous for the ability to sing songs of a wide vocal diapason” (no, me neither). Not Alone is a mid-tempo piano ballad with a surfeit of strings which threaten to swamp the song entirely. Bizarrely, for much of the video, Mr MP3 is in a darkened room where the walls have small circles cut out so the light can pour in, an environment not entirely dissimilar to that from Korn’s Freak On A Leash video. Around two-thirds of the way through Not Alone, which has to that point had no percussion at all, there’s a misguided attempt at a dubstep beat, and even a hint of gloomwobble. Perhaps Eurovision 2014 will suffer the same fate as last year, with its over-reliance on perceived cultural modernity. 5/12

Latvia: Aarzemnieki – Cake To Bake

As far as I can work out, the unpronounceable Aarzemnieki are German (“aarzemnieki” is Latvian for “foreigners”) and they came to prominence in their adopted homeland after writing a farewell song to the lat, the former unit of currency in Latvia. A title like Cake To Bake sets off all kinds of alarm bells though – is it going to be some horrifically twee, hang-out-the-bunting ode to the Victoria sponge strummed on ukuleles? Well, it begins with acoustic guitar and the line, “I melted the ice of the polar caps from the Raiders of the Lost Ark”, sung by a man who appears to be half-wolf, and it gets more and more unbearably smug from that point on. By the time we’re at the chorus, you realise we’re dealing with the Eurovision version of Mumford & Sons, who, according to the lyrics, have achieved some incredible historical feats, but are now about to go and bake a cake. If the forced jollity and lines about a unicorn moonwalking on the Milky Way don’t make you want to punch a wall, you’re a better person than I am. 1/12

Estonia: Tanja – Amazing

I can’t help but feel that Russian-born vocalist Tanja is attempting to curry favour with us by naming her entry after The Singles Bar’s favourite adjective. While Amazing isn’t particularly, er… amazing, it’s a competent Eurodance track which goes fully epic in the chorus, and ticks every Eurovision lyric cliché to boot. It’s an alright song, though it does sound like the kind of thing Kylie Minogue would instantly reject were it presented to her, but it’s not particularly memorable or distinctive, and in a competition of so many entries, Tanja needs something a bit stronger than this if she wants to score the serious points. 6/12

Sweden: Sanna Nielsen – Undo

Presumably this is a song about the music journalist’s third favourite keyboard shortcut (after ‘Copy’ and ‘Paste’, obviously). Incredibly, this is Nielsen’s seventh attempt to represent her country at Eurovision, but the first time she’s made it through the national selection process and into the competition proper. The lyrics reveal Undo to be about reversing the actions that led to heartbreak rather than removing a particularly ill-judged joke from some copy. It’s one of the favourites to win the Eurovision title, and it’s certainly got all the ingredients (not in a cake baking sense, Aarzemnieki) that make songs do well at the annual jamboree – reflective lyrics, delicate opening, grand-standing chorus, powerful vocals and, oh yes, our first key change of the run-down, signposted as clear as a 30mph board on a sunny day. It’s sort of what Eurovision is all about, really. 7/12

Key change count: 1

Iceland: Pollapönk – No Prejudice

Looking at the Eurovision website, one of the writers of this song is John Grant. It can’t be that John Grant, can it? More worryingly is Pollapönk’s desire to write songs that “children and adults alike would enjoy and be able to sing along to” – this kind of thing rarely turns out well. I’m quickly forced to eat my words though, as No Prejudice is a pop-punk blast with a catchy chorus, a charmingly DIY video and a positive message about equality (“Let’s do away with prejudice / Don’t discriminate; tolerance is bliss.”). It’s brilliantly daft – important lessons aside – and gleefully evokes the anarchic spirit of many classic children’s television shows. If you don’t like this song, you don’t like fun and, when you think it can’t get any better, it segues into a disco-themed section two minutes in. We’re only five minutes in, but it’s going to take something pretty spectacular to beat Pollapönk. 11/12

Albania: Hersi – One Night’s Anger

Perhaps 2014 is the year where artists who have tried to enter multiple times finally get into Eurovision. After Sanna Nielsen’s seventh time lucky, this is Hersi’s Eurovision debut at the fifth time of asking. Despite its title, One Night’s Anger doesn’t start off like a very angry song, in fact, it sounds more like Jack Johnson. Hersi’s got the kind of voice that overpowers the song’s delicate production; it’s not too dissimilar to Anastacia’s, in fact. One Night’s Anger can’t seem to decide whether it wants to be a delicate, pretty song or a Starship-like power ballad. Also, the video, which includes Hersi fighting against a hooded figure playing electric guitar in a graffiti-strewn underpass, looks about as professional as a GCSE media studies project. A slightly confusing, mixed-up track, that doesn’t really cover any of the bases that it’s going for. Let’s face it though, anything was going to be a disappointment after Pollapönk. 4/12

Russia: Tolmachevy Sisters – Shine

Anastasia and Maria Tolmacheva have clearly got form, having won the Junior Eurovision Content in 2006 at the age of just nine. Shine is a gothic-tinged ballad with a big, lung-busting chorus that will be like catnip to Eurovision devotees. The video, where the twins wear the same outfit is actually borderline creepy, purely because of just how identical they are. You can imagine a follow-up video where the girls go around provincial UK towns, slaughtering innocent online music journalists as they sleep through the medium of forgettable pop songs featuring a key change. Oh, had I not mentioned the key change? Just when Shine seems completely out of bluster, it gets cranked up another notch. 4/12

Key change count: 2

Azerbaijan: Dilara Kazimova – Start A Fire

Last year’s Eurovision Singles Bar was characterised by the fact that nearly all the participants seemed to have previously been contestants on their native country’s version of The Voice, so it’s a surprise we’ve had to wait so long for such a performer this time round. Dilara Kazimova is currently starring in the Ukrainian version of the show, where she’s being mentored by lead singer of one of the most successful post-Soviet rock groups, Svyatoslav Vakarchuk *quizzical sideways glance to camera*. Whilst Start A Fire may be yet another piano-led ballad, it oozes class and sophistication in the way most of the other entrants don’t, largely because of Kazimova’s assured and jazz-influenced delivery. Also, when Eurovision songs try to incorporate traditional instruments it often comes across as forced, but the uncertain undulations of the balaban (it’s like a Middle Eastern oboe, you uncultured oaf) truly add something to the fragility of this song. It still lays on the emotion a bit thick – those enormous cymbal splashes don’t seem necessary – but it’s a very strong track nonetheless. 9/12

That’s the first eight songs out of the way, and it’s been a very strong start. Can anyone usurp the Icelandic blast of Pollapönk? Find out in Part Two here.