- By Emily TamkinEmily Tamkin is a staff writer at Foreign Policy. She writes for FP’s The Cable, a real-time take on the news in Washington and the wider world. She has been at FP since the fall of 2016, before which she was an associate editor at New America, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington. She has a B.A. in Russian literature from Columbia University, an M.Phil. in Russian and East European studies from the University of Oxford, and studied Soviet dissidence in archival centers in Moscow, Tbilisi, and, on a Fulbright, in Bremen — all of which means that at FP, she writes when she can on Russia and Central and Eastern Europe., Robbie GramerRobbie Gramer is a staff writer at Foreign Policy. He writes for The Cable, FP’s real-time take on all things, well, foreign policy. Before he joined FP in 2016, he used to think in a tank, managing the NATO portfolio at the Atlantic Council for three years. He’s a graduate of American University’s School of International Service, where he studied international relations and European affairs. He has lived in both Washington and Brussels, though he grew up in Idaho and Oregon, so he’s a West Coaster at heart. When he’s not busy reporting, he’s probably busy starting three new books before he has finished the last one or planning a trip to a national park he hasn’t visited yet.
Eurovision is the Superbowl of Europe that few Americans have heard of. It’s wildly popular, netting some 200 million viewers a year (while the Super Bowl tops out around 170 million, by the way).
It’s also a nice to know that despite a growing political fissures and a struggling European Union, all Europeans (and Australians, for some unknown reason) can at least unite around catchy tunes, opulent music videos, and cheesy costumes.
This year wasn’t entirely free of conflict, though. The contest is held in Kiev, and Russia submitted a songstress (in a wheelchair) who in 2015 performed in Crimea, violating Ukraine’s border rules in the process. (Neither Ukraine nor the international community recognize Russia’s claim that Crimea is Russian.) Some in Russia were calling for a boycott of the contest this year even before that happened — last year’s winner, Ukraine’s Jamala — sang about Josef Stalin’s 1944 deportation of Crimean Tatars.
The short version of all of that is that Russia won’t be at Eurovision this year.
Anyway, we are nothing if not intrepid, analytical journalists, and so here are our intrepid, analytical takes on every Eurovision entry — song and video — for the first-semi final, held Tuesday. The second semi-final analysis will be up Thursday.
For now, though, there’s this:
FIRST SEMI-FINAL GROUP
“World,” Performed by Lindita
Emily: If this song were called “Eurovision,” it could not possibly be more Eurovision. A conventionally attractive woman surrounded by ruins and mist sings, “We’re so alike, yet different.” Then she moves into some futuristic city on a ship. Does she end up in the sea in a white dress? Of course. The song is not bad, exactly, but neither is it particularly good. However, Lindita is my age, sings in 10 languages, and is performing at Eurovision, so far be it from me to criticize Lindita.
Robbie: Salvador Dali meets Shakira meets bad CGI. I’m sold.
“Fly With Me,” Performed by Artsvik.
Emily: Artsvik moved back to Armenia from Russia to give us this Shakira-esque number. I’m not sure I’m quite getting the lyrics, but I’m into her ponytail.
Robbie: The costumes look like they were pulled out of a Rite-Aid Halloween costume bin but other than that I guess the song is pretty catchy.
“Don’t Come Easy,” Performed by Isaiah
Emily: If I live to be 100, I may never understand why Australia is in Eurovision. Because they’re big fans? Is that it? Because, respectfully, being a big fan of Europe does not make Australia European. But no matter. Isaiah is a 17 year old from a town of 5000. This song is like what you would get if crossed every under 20 pop star and also made him Australian. I’m sort of into it?
Robbie: Based on this and last year’s submission, I’ve learned Australians are really good at moping about lost love in giant foggy warehouses. But production value is pretty great. I can tell Australia poured a lot of money into that. And also his hair.
“Skeletons,” Performed by Dihaj
Emily: I know Baku already hosted Eurovision, and I know that that was considered problematic, given Baku’s politics, but this song is a jam. I would listen to this on the treadmill or at the gym, if that was the sort of thing I did.
Robbie: Did Azerbaijan borrow Australia’s fog machine? It worked.
“City Lights,” Performed by Blanche
Emily: This song sounds like what you’d get if Ed Sheeran and La Roux were the same person and I love that about it.
Robbie: “All alone in the danger zone // Are you ready to take my hand? // All alone in the flame of doubt // Are we going to lose it all?” I’d like to think this song was metaphor for Wallonia’s secret forbidden love of Flanders.
“Gravity,” Performed by Hovig
Emily: Hovig performed in the X Factor Greece in 2009, and for that reason I expected more from Hovig than a song that literally included the line, “I can be your hero,” as though he were Enrique Iglesias and this were 2001.
Robbie: “I can be your hero // I can be your fantasy // Oh, I can be the cure // Yeah, let me be your remedy” Is Hovig the missing ingredient for a Cyprus peace deal we’ve been waiting for all along?
“My Turn,” Performed by Martina Barta
Emily: This video looks like one of those Dove ads that tells us that each of our bodies is beautiful, and the song sort of sounds like a parody of a jazzy folk pop song, but I enjoyed it very much, all the same.
Robbie: “Why is that man shaving his head in a dark room full of underwear-clad strangers?” is a question I don’t often have to ask.
“Blackbird,” Performed by Norma John
Emily: Norma John is an “indie spirited pop band” formed by “two long standing friends.” The song implores a blackbird not to sing to the singer, for the blackbird sang when the lover was with her ex lover, and now it’s but a sad reminder. I was going to make fun of it but actually I got a bit emotional as I was listening/writing this.
Robbie: Splice Enya with a horror movie and you get Finland’s submission this year.
“Keep the Faith,” Performed by Tamara Gachechiladze
Emily: Tamara was going to be in Eurovision in 2009 but Georgia then withdrew from the contest, which was held in Russia that year. She is here pulling an Adele move, by which I mean that the video is just her singing on stage in an interesting dress. Also, at one point, a newspaper headline that reads, “Russian Invades Georgia” appears on screen behind her, because Eurovision is about 11 seconds away from getting political at any given moment.
Robbie: There’s no way this song isn’t about Georgia’s tortured and unrequited love for NATO.
“This Is Love,” Performed by Demy
Emily: Here we have Demy, who is also a law student. This song is very Eurovision. I mean, the video has word art.
Robbie: Definitely the catchiest and most Eurovision-y of the first semi-final group.
“Paper,” Performed by Svala
Emily: Svala “is the daughter of the legendary pop star Bo Halldorsson,” of whose existence I only learnt while writing this piece, making “legendary” an elastic term. I would like this song and video, starring Svala around ice and bright lights, if they tried, say, 15 percent less. Also, there are a lot of very mixed metaphors in this ditty.
Robbie: If Duran Duran was still making music videos in 2017, it’d look like this.
“Line,” Performed by Triana Park
Emily: Triana Park is “one of the most extravagant acts from their homeland,” whatever that means. The song is fine. The main singer’s voice is interesting, if nothing else.
Robbie: Out of all the songs that incorporate techno and amateur archery, this is one of my favorites.
“Hey Mamma,” Performed by Sunstroke Project [Slightly NSFW tag?]
Emily: I couldn’t help but compare this to that David Guetta song “Hey Mama” and also can’t shake the feeling that that’s what Sunstroke Project wanted me to do. Also, I think that he’s singing to his literal mom, who’s upset that he’s flirting with an attractive woman? Is that what’s going on here? However, Foreign Policy Intern Noah Buyon notes the Sunstroke Project also brought us “Epic Sax Guy,” which means, Buyon says, “They’re clearly tastemakers.”
Robbie: Cheap tuxedo + catchy saxophone jam. Count me in.
“Space,” Performed by Slavko Kalezić
Emily: Slavko studied at the Faculty of Dramatic Arts and no fact has ever made so much sense to me. Also, that braid!
Robbie: If you had no idea what Eurovision was before this and you only have time to watch one submission to try to understand what it’s all about, watch this one.
“Flashlight,” Performed by Kaisa Mos
Emily: This video is just a top naked Kaisa Mos with interesting images projected onto her and slowly spinning round and round for three minutes to a dramatic song, which, sure, okay, fine.
Robbie: This one has the same vibe as the intro to James Bond movies which is pretty cool, but it’s not the strongest contender out there.
“Amar Pelos Dois,” Performed by Salvador Sobral
Emily: I mean, look. He has a beautiful voice, and I enjoyed listening to this. I’m not sure this song is enough of a PERFORMANCE for Eurovision, but that was a determination made by the Portuguese people, not by me.
Robbie: This is a great song. This is not what Eurovision is about.
“On My Way,” Performed by Omar Naber
Emily: “You’ve all been very kind, but I’ve made up my mind, now I’m about to leave you all behind.” The lyrics don’t get better (the chorus is sort of pleasing to listen to, though).
Robbie: Like Portugal, the song is nice but it’s not the over-the-top, campy, catchy Eurovision style that we’ve grown to love.
“I Can’t Go On,” Performed by Robin Bengtsson
Emily: Sweden has always does great Eurovision work — and not just ABBA. Sweden won in 2012, and then again in 2015. This song, which is performed by a man who looks like the second runner up in a season of The Bachelor, will probably do really well, because that is just how the Eurovision game is played.
Robbie: Take a country that’s always a Eurovision frontrunner. Add coordinated treadmill dancing. That’s a recipe for success.
Photo credit: SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP/Getty Images