Malta - "Coming Home" - Firelight
It would appear though that there is only a limited amount of song titles which you can use in Eurovision. It seems no time since the last "Coming Home" and here we are again.
You need levels of Olympian stamina to get through the Maltese national finals process so I just had a quick look in on the final and was very pleasantly surprised by this result. At the time I described it as Mumford and Sons meets Gary Barlow's "Let Me Go" (now if the UK had submitted that song, it would have been a runaway winner!) and all these weeks later I still think this is one of the better songs in this year's competition. Like last year's "Tomorrow" it has a natural feelgood factor. It could have done with a stronger chorus though, as that just consists of the title; as there is no obvious hook, I just wonder what section of the song they will use for the recap video? (You can tell you've been watching too much Eurovision when you listen to a song and try to imagine what section they'll use for the recap..!)
Israel - "Same Heart" - Mei Finegold
She's coming on like angry Amandine's equally angry Israeli cousin. I preferred last year's song by Moran Mazor, and if that didn't qualify then I doubt this will either, thanks to the combination of the draw-from-hell and a little too much attitude. I am not particularly fond of this song and consider it to be one of the weaker entries in this semi-final.
Norway – “Silent Storm” – Carl Espen
Minimalism is not usually my thing, and this is not the type of song I go for - it's similar in mood to that remake of "Mad World" from a few years ago, which I really couldn't stand.
This is the song which will make everyone stop what they're doing and listen for three minutes. This is chills down the backbone, raw, intense emotion. Most of all, it seems 'real' and unforced. Some fans have suggested that his appearance could be a drawback, but for me it actually enhances the song. So what if his performance might be too 'fragile' - that's the song's unique selling point.
Georgia - "Three Minutes to Earth" - The Shin and Mariko
Georgia is one of those winners-in-waiting countries, and I wouldn't object to them winning either as they've given us some pretty good entries since 2007.
This is not one of them.
Georgian TV can breathe a sigh of relief as it won't be Tbilisi 2015. Never mind three minutes to earth, it will be a three minute toilet break for me, as I'm struggling to find any redeeming features in this proggy-folk number.
Poland - "My Słowianie/We Are Slavic" - Donatan and Cleo
This song has had a lot of attention due to its large YouTube view count. I only recently listened to the song for the first time and on first listen, I felt this was 2014's answer to "Igranka", only a helluva lot more messy. It's a mash-up of hip hop and traditional styles, and yes it is very catchy with all the clapping going on, but if you've seen the video then you'll know that it's a little bit too risqué for the traditional Eurovision viewers. I wonder if they will dare to recreate that on the night? I can't see this qualifying, but on the other hand I won't really be that surprised if it does either.
Austria - "Rise Like A Phoenix" - Conchita Wurst
Prepare for the "prepare for the wurst" puns as Miss Conchita prepares to 'drag' Austria into the final. I think her image might polarise certain, more conservative sections of the ESC juries and televoting public across the continent but let's just focus on the song here. It's the great lost Bond theme, it's a big old-school Eurovision ballad which would have been a runaway winner in the 70s or 80s, say. But although it may sound dated in the context of 2014, the contest is every bit as much about the visuals/performance as it is about the vocals and the song. Happily, Conchita has nailed both of them and will provide one of this year's major jaw-dropping talking points in the media. Regardless of her final result, this is sailing to the final.
Lithuania - "Attention" - Vilija Matačiūnaitė
Sorry to keep comparing ESC entries to other songs, but that's what I do. In this case, every time I listen to this, I hear "I'm gonna make you, make you work" from "My Humps". Lithuania probably had one of the longest selection processes of any country this year, and this is what they came up with? This song is annoying beyond words, it has the worst opening section of any Eurovision entry this year, and it's like being smashed over the head with a mallet for three minutes. Despite all that, Lithuania have a reasonably good qualifying record in recent contests, so that is purely the only reason I'm tipping it to qualify, and to subsequently bomb in the final.
Finland - "Something Better" - Softengine
One of the first songs to be chosen this year, and it's nice to have a guitar band representing Finland. The lyrics are a bit profound/nonsensical (delete as appropriate), but it's a catchy chorus with 'Viva La Vida'-style oh-oh-oh refrains towards the end of the song. They are a very young band but if they give an impressive enough performance in the semi-final then I think this will be enough to qualify, helped by a reasonable draw position.
Ireland - "Heartbeat" - Can-Linn feat Kasey Smith
Kasey is probably one of the prettiest female contestants this year, however it will take more than good looks to convince the juries and televoters to get this one to the final. Ireland's Eurosong final achieved notoriety for all the wrong reasons this year ("you are an odious little man!"), which overshadowed the eventual winning song. Which probably speaks volumes, as "Heartbeat" really isn't much to write home about. It's very clearly influenced by "Only Teardrops", which immediately destroys any of the song's credibility, and there's a bit of Irish dancing going on in the background. And that's about it really.
Belarus - "Cheesecake" - Teo
I watched my first ever Belarus national final live on the internet this year and dare I say it, I really enjoyed it - and even though the parade of interval acts felt longer than the actual song contest, it was a good show. I wasn't too excited about the song to start with, but it's grown on me over the last few months to the point that I can't get it out of my mind, no matter how much I try to. Teo's tongue is firmly in cheek (I hope), the lyrics are just plain daft, but it's going to be one of those songs in the semi final which will bring some light relief and that'll translate into televotes, although it will probably bomb with the juries.
FYR Macedonia - "To The Sky" - Tijana
Macedonian Pink. This song is just a little bit too mediocre, never mind 'to the sky', it doesn't really go anywhere for me. I would have preferred Lozano to come back this year with something more spectacular than this, and preferably sung in the native language. She does have a distinctive image with the wacky spectacles, but that won't be enough to get this one through.
Switzerland - "Hunter of Stars" - Sebalter
So you are probably wondering at this point why I haven't just published one but three pictures of Sebastiano Paù-Lessi aka Sebalter. Or maybe not. For Seb (can we call him Seb?) is, for me, the major eye candy of this year's contest. "Hunter of Stars" is a catchy folky whistle-fest with incomprehensible nonsensical lyrics. And I bloody well love it. I think a lot more people will love him, and the song, too - you don't usually find the words 'Switzerland' and 'finalist' in the same sentence, but this year could prove a welcome exception.
Greece - "Rise Up" - Freaky Fortune featuring RiskyKidd
Winner of "A Mad Show" but will Europe go mad for this one? Absolutely! It's modern, it's dancey, and it's got a reasonably hot young Greek man singing it. What's not to like? It's even down with the kids with a bit of rapping by Rizzlekidd, sorry RiskyKidd, and the musical feel is like a Greek take on We No Speak Americano or 'when I go bom bom bom'. Amongst all the ballads, this will provide some light relief. Add that to Greece's perennial ESC popularity and at least a top 10 finish in the final is a certainty. I can't get this tune out of my head now.
On the down side, there's maybe too much repetition of the title. I can imagine my mum watching the final and quipping "Is this song called Rise Up by any chance"? In fact, I'd put money on that.
Slovenia - "Spet/Round and Round" - Tinkara Kovač
I always feel sorry for Slovenia at Eurovision, as they never seem to do very well, (although on the other hand I have never really liked any of their entries apart from "Stop" and "Mr Nobody") and don't seem to have 'guaranteed'/diaspora votes. I wasn't particularly excited about "Straight Into Love" last year although it did grow on me over the summer. Hannah Mancini also co-wrote this year's song, which is a quite nice mid-paced blend of folk and pop. I would agree with some other fans who have noted the similarity in the tone and style of the song to "Parachute" by Cheryl Cole, but I prefer this song to that one. It's nice, but lacks that certain special something to get it to the final.
Romania – “Miracle” – Paula Seling and Ovi
After 2010’s excellent “Playing With Fire” cemented the love for P and O in ESC fan world, many of us will have been delighted with the news that they were coming back this year. High expectations, and disappointment to follow. I would put this one up there (or down there?) with Cascada’s entry last year – the most generic form of contemporary EDM dance-pop but in the end, lacking in substance. I didn’t like the visual presentation of this at the national final : the visual effects were a bit too ‘meh’ for me and Ovi and Paula's vocals were just too strident and shouty. Tone it down will you! They will need to come up with something very special in Copenhagen, but this is qualifying regardless.
So at the end of semi-final 2 here are my predictions to qualify to the final: Malta, Norway, Austria, Lithuania, Finland, Ireland, Belarus, Switzerland, Greece, Romania.
Coming soon, my final part of the preview, looking at the Big 5 + 1.