- 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.
Two days after the first Eurovision semi-final, we’re back in a big way with our thoughts on the second.
We’ll also note here that, in addition to conflict over whether or not Russia would be performing in Kiev (spoiler: It is not), there’s been some fuss over holding Eurovision in Ukraine while the country grapples with an even uglier reality.
Some in Ukraine are reportedly upset that Eurovision is distracting from a war that has killed over 10,000. Others have noted that, while the song contest is ostensibly a celebration of diversity, and while Ukraine turned a Soviet-era monument into a rainbow in preparation for the song contest, LGBTQ Ukrainians are still denied rights.
But perhaps Eurovision can bring attention to, rather than overshadowing, the facts on the ground.
If you missed our take on the first semi-final, you can read them here. Alternatively, you can just go straight to our thoughts on the second semi-final, and also those countries that automatically go to the final because Europe is nothing if not unbalanced in terms of power:
SECOND SEMI-FINAL GROUP
“Running on Air,” Performed by Nathan Trent
Emily: Austria’s answer to Ed Sheeran will be joining us in Kiev this year.
Robbie: The green-screen game is not strong in this video.
“Story of My Life,” Performed by Naviband
Emily: This, the first Belarusian Eurovision offering ever to be performed in Belarusian, will not win, but it should. Look at these two Puckish figures run through the forest! Listen to them singing out beautifully, meaningfully, joyfully! It makes you want to sing along and tap your toes because you understand the point, even if you don’t know every word. And isn’t that what Eurovision ought to be about?
Robbie: Someone transplanted the soundtrack from Pixar’s Moana movie into a folksy post-Soviet jive and I’m loving it. Also, the cinematography feat it took to shoot this music video should not go underappreciated.
“Beautiful Mess,” Performed by Kristian Kostov
Emily: If you’ve ever listened to Troye Sivan, you will know what I mean when I describe Kostov as a Bulgarian Troye Sivan. If you haven’t, well, just trust me on this one.
Robbie: Eurovision really needs to get out of its “let’s mope in a giant nondescript room with fog machines” rut.
“My Friend,” Performed by Jacques Houdek
Emily: Houdek here is a mentor—not a contestant!—on Croatia’s version of The Voice. His voice is far and away the most impressive thing about this otherwise trite number.
Robbie: Five seconds of that famous “Let It Go” song from Disney’s Frozen, five seconds of opera. Lather, rinse, repeat.
“Where I Am,” Performed by Anja
Emily: So Anja grew up in Australia and won the third season of The Voice Australia in 2014 but if having Danish parents are enough for Denmark, they’re enough for us, too. The song is not as good as her Voice-winning voice.
Robbie: Impressive singer, catchy song, but missing that quintessential Eurovision ingredient of cheesy, gaudy techno.
“Verona,” Performed by Koit Toome & Laura
Emily: “This is what happens when the highest performing male singer meets the decade’s most played radio artist and they team up with the country’s number one hit maker!” These two have both been on Eurovision before, but now they’re back together. It starts slow, but, you know what? It picks up. It does. Before the romance turns to drama, as the song says.
Robbie: The singers really want you to know the place they’re lost in is Verona.
“Origo,” Performed by Joci Papai
Emily: From the website: “Recently Joci Papai reshaped his musical style, creating an exciting and unique blend of authentic gypsy music and modern pop. This can be heard in his entry for the 62nd Eurovision Song Contest entitled Origo.” And that is indeed exactly what it sounds like.
Robbie: Clips of a kid and his teddy bear interspersed with a woman staring longingly at a vase. I have no idea what’s going on in this video. But it’s pretty catchy I guess.
“Dying to Try,” Performed by Brendan Murray
Emily: Brendan here has been in “successful boy band Hometown” since age 17. The video features him walking pensively wearing both straight and curly hair. The song is pretty enough. Many words rhyme with “try.”
Robbie: Brendan Murray wants us to know its really hard to be 17, Irish, and in love. So join Brendan on his angsty walk on the beach and learn all about it.
“I Feel Alive,” Performed by IMRI
Emily: Yes, Israel’s here. IMRI was already on Eurovision as a backing vocalist, both in 2016 and, more importantly, performing in the 2015 GEM that is “Golden Boy.” This song is fine, and I would not be surprised to hear it come on in the club in a smaller city in Europe, but, you know, it’s no “Golden Boy.”
Robbie: This music video belongs in a generic Zac Efron summer romcom. Also, I know it’s just been brought up before, but how is Israel in Eurovision?
“Rain of Revolution,” Performed by Fusedmarc
Emily: This was unspeakably stressful to me.
Robbie: Fusedmarc has a lot of energy and stage presence, so I’d be surprised if this one doesn’t make it to the finals. But on the other hand, I have no idea what I’m talking about.
“Breathlessly,” Claudia Faniello
Emily: “Claudia’s career is one big rollercoaster of so many beautiful and different emotions,” the Eurovision site reads. This Celine-Dion-if-Celine-Dion-were-Maltese ballad is an emotional rollercoaster, too.
Robbie: To summarize the music video: A well-dressed man throwing a tantrum in a hotel room in reverse while a Maltese Celine Dion croons in the background. I don’t think it’s a strong contender for Eurovision finals.
“Dance Alone,” Performed by Jana Burceska
Emily: Jana here was in the first and only season of Macedonian Idol back in 2011. FP fellow Ruby Mellen said that she enjoyed this song, which she found to be empowering. That’s all we’ll say about that.
Robbie: There’s an elderly woman Benjamin Button-ing before our eyes to some swanky Macedonian pop. I dig it.
“Lights and Shadows,” Performed by OG3NE
Emily: This group is composed of sisters and the “O” in their name is a reference to their mother’s blood type. I guess this is what the Dixie Chicks would sound like if they were Dutch? Or what the sisters in Hocus Pocus would have done if, instead of witches, they were inspiring choral-esque sisters?
Robbie: Agree with Emily — definitely getting a ‘Dutch Dixie Chicks meets cheesy Halloween movie set’ vibe here. I like the song though, so I’ll be rooting for the Netherlands this year. And unlike soccer, there’s no penalty shootout, so the Netherlands can’t blow it the way they always do.
“Grab the Moment,” Performed by JOWST
Emily: Just so we’re clear, JOWST is the man DJ-ing in a light up mask, not the singer. The singer is Aleksander Walmann. The song is…fine? It’s sort of like the song that the most talented group performs at your high school or undergraduate talent contest, and you’re like, “This is great!”, and then you think back on it years later and you’re like, “That was all right. Why the light up mask?”
Robbie: There’s some Norwegian Daft Punk knock-offs in the background that make the song catchier, but it’s still not my favorite. The lead singer pulls off that awkward hat surprisingly well though, so maybe that will count for something when Eurovision tallies the votes.
“Yodel It!,” Performed by Ilinca ft. Alex Florea
Emily: Ilinca here has been on X Factor, the Voice of Romania, and now Eurovision. A song composed of Romania yodeling and something resembling rap shouldn’t work, but, oh, how it works. Yodel that.
Robbie: This is definitely one of my top ten favorite Romanian yodeling rap songs of all time. Hats off to Alex Florea for being able to yodel and dance simultaneously though, that’s a real skill. I can usually only do one at a time.
“Spirit of the Night,” Performed by Valentina Monetta and Jimmie Wilson
Emily: Monetta apparently represented San Marino in Eurovision in 2012, 2013, and 2014, which raises the question, “Does San Marino have a single singer other than Valentina Monetta?” Evidently, the answer is, “Yes. Jimmie Wilson,” a singer-songwriter from Detroit, Michigan who starred as Barack Obama in the musical Hope. To be honest, I’m not sure what Jimmie Wilson’s journey has been, or how he ended up performing this song with Valentina Monetta. He has a very nice voice, put to what I will here describe as an interesting use in this disco-esque song.
Robbie: Fun fact: At about 23 square miles, the country of San Marino is about a third the size of Washington, DC. I had to add a fun fact to this because besides an awkward Barry Manilow-esque intro and repetitive generic pop drivel, there’s not much more to say about San Marino’s mediocre Eurovision entry.
“In Too Deep,” Performed by Tijana Bogićević
Emily: Tijana Bogićević was big on the Serbian club scene, a fact I read on Eurovision’s website, but probably could have guessed just by listening to this.
Robbie: This one just sounds like a generic top 40 pop song. Not sure it’s offbeat or distinguishable enough to advance in Eurovision.
“Apollo,” Performed by Timebelle
Emily: The Eurovision website describes this as a “power ballad.” It’s a bit more of a pop song/earworm than that, but it’s also a perfectly pleasant listen, so, Timebelle, if you want to try to sell this as a power ballad, you go ahead and do that.
Robbie: I mean, it’s fine I guess. I just feel like Switzerland could do better based on what I thought were great entries in years past.
THE COUNTRIES THAT ARE AUTOMATICALLY IN THE FINAL BECAUSE THAT’S JUST HOW EUROVISION WORKS
“Requiem,” Performed by Alma
Emily: An impossibly French woman sings a song in French and the video is set in Paris. The verses are more interesting than the chorus. C’est la vie, I guess.
Robbie: Coordinated dance moves on the side of a building with the Eiffel Tower in the background. Count me in.
“Perfect Life,” Performed by Levina
Emily: This reminds me a lot of other songs I’ve heard before, but I liked those songs, and I like this a lot, too. It’s just a good pop song.
Robbie: This song is just a less-catchy rip-off of David Guetta and Sia’s Titanium. Better luck next year, Germany.
“Occidentali’s Karma,” Performed by Francesco Gabbani
Emily: This Adam Sandler lookalike borrows culture in a parodic, problematic way in this video. That said, this song is the most fun entry other than Belarus and Romania, and if it came on the radio I would gladly try to sing along.
Robbie: Zany music video that makes no sense, cheesy costumes, a random guy in a Gorilla suit breakdancing (or at least trying to?). This is what Eurovision is all about. I’m proud of you Italy.
“Do It for Your Lover,” Performed by Manel Navarro
Emily: This sounds like what I imagine a Spanish-language Jason Mraz song would sound like, which I enjoy, even though the lyric “Baby, clap your hands and do it for your lover” makes me profoundly uncomfortable. However, typically, the songs that sound like Jason Mraz don’t translate well on the Eurovision stage, so — good luck, Manel. For your lover. (And try to lay off giving the audience a bras d’honneur.)
Robbie: Spain’s response to Jason Mraz is less impressive than I would have hoped.
UKRAINE, WHICH IS ONLY IN THIS GROUP BECAUSE IT’S HOSTING
“Time,” Performed by O.Torvald
Emily: I’m pretty sure this is a song against disinformation?
Robbie: O. Torvald attempts heavy metal with a giant clock on his chest. Hey, at least Ukraine didn’t put forward a generic pop song like half the other countries.
“Never Give Up On You,” Performed by Lucie Jones
Emily: I once had a conversation with two Brits who told me that the U.K. never wins in Eurovision because the rest of Europe was still punishing them for supporting the United States in the Iraq War. If such is the logic of Eurovision, then the United Kingdom should not expect to do super well in the Eurovision song contest the year it began to Brexit. Actually, this song could have been an anti-Brexit anthem. Ironic, that.
Robbie: “And I won’t let you get me down // I’ll keep gettin’ up when I hit the ground // Oh, never give up, no, never give up no, no, oh”
These lyrics stolen are stolen straight from the first draft of Donald Tusk’s heart-wrenching Brexit speech. But like Emily said, you can’t divorce politics from Eurovision, and there’s no way Brexit won’t lampoon Britain’s Eurovision title chances this year. Which is a shame, because this song is great.
Photo credit: Michael Campanella/Getty Images