The final sequins have been sewn on, and Europe’s aspiring pop stars are now squeezing into their tightest pants and slinkiest tops. In just a few hours, more than 120 million viewers will tune into Eurovision—and Europe’s newest star will be born.
Wiwi was going to live blog tonight’s final, but he’s realized that he’d actually like to drink an adult beverage and just enjoy the show. So instead he’s jotted down notes on all of this year’s acts, and compiled them below in the order that they’ll appear. You can use this to get acquainted with the finalists ahead of the show, or you can follow along during the show so you’ll know when to go to the bathroom (hint: Belarus and Russia provide good opportunities). It’s just like a live blog—but pre-recorded! I’ve also embedded links to each country’s semi-final performance, or their music video in the case of automatic qualifiers (Britain, France, Germany, Spain and host country Norway). Enjoy! And please let me know your thoughts on tonight’s show in the comments section below as it unfolds tonight! I’m so excited. Love, Wiwi
1. Azerbaijan: Safura with “Drip Drop”
She’s the talk of Oslo and the bookies’ favorite to take home the Eurovision crown. And her team has led the most aggressive campaign in Eurovision history, rumored (though not confirmed) to have cost the nation $1 million in marketing and production expenses. After watching her professional (if aspirational) semi-final performance, it’s pretty clear the investment paid off. Singing “Drip Drop” she explores the common theme of a woman done wrong by her man. In the song, Safura smells lipstick on her philandering boyfriend and has to ask herself if she can live through the pain. When she realizes that she can’t, her tears go “drip drop, drip drop”—and provide the catchy chorus to a potential winner. At one point she asks her love interest where he’s been. Judging from the gratuitous male dancer doing pirouettes, he was probably just at dance class. The act combines top-rate choreography—courtesy of JaQuel Knight, Beyonce’s choreographer—and powerful vocals that only occasionally suggest shrieking. There’s also plenty of theatrics. Two-and-a-half minutes into the song, she begins strutting angrily down the runway. When she reaches the end and starts flailing her limbs, you’ll want to get the girl a Valium and sign her up to match.com. No man is worth this drama.
Read Wiwi’s profile of Safura here.
2. Spain: Daniel Diges with “Algo Pequenito” (Something Tiny)
As a member of the Big 4—that’s Britain, France, Germany and Spain—Spain’s Daniel Diges gets an automatic bid to the final along with the host nation Norway. These nations—who rarely get love from Eastern European voters at Eurovision—spend the most money supporting the contest, so it’s only fair. His song “Algo Pequenito” (Something Tiny), a modern take on the waltz, discusses the importance of everyday things like caresses, kisses, apologies and flowers. Notice that Diges didn’t mention “good stylists.” It shows. He and his back-up dancers wear rather cartoonish circus costumes. Doesn’t he know that flash has more currency than cute at Eurovision? It could be some kind of thematic reference I’m not understanding. But I don’t see how a clown doing a split and gyrating relates to the lyrics: “Something tiny, oh oh oh ooooh/ Something really little, oh oh oh ooooh/ Simple things that you’re not giving me now/ I’m asking you for like crazy, if you don’t want it to end.”
3. Norway: Didrik Solli-Tangen with “My Heart Is Yours”
It’s a shame that Norway’s Didrik Solli-Tangen, a true talent, has to sing a song clearly written for a wedding singer. In “My Heart Is Yours” he croons that “Because my heart is yours/ I’ll never leave you/ Though we are far apart/ I’m by your side.” And there are moments when his “love” sounds a smidge raunchy: “My love is never gone/ I feel it rise again.” But, as you’d expect from a nation rolling in oil money, Norway has hired a top-notch stylist and choreographer. When the song reaches its greatest heights, simple choreography and mammoth, 20-foot sparks transform this into a torch song worthy of a top 10 finish.
Watch documentary footage of Didrik here.
4. Moldova: Sunstroke Project and Olia Tira with “Run Away”
This act is a hot mess—and that’s why it’s so memorable. The saxophone player keeps track of the beat by thrusting, and the violinist seriously needs to slow his roll when running down the runway and fingering his fiddle. Olia Tira, the act’s 21-year old starlet, wears a metallic tutu, sparkling silver boots and blue fur, taking space-age sheik to a new level. The lyrics—perhaps the best example of sloppy “Eurovision English”—have to be seen to be appreciated: “Let me breathe, let me live, just run away from my mind” and “We have no progressive future, I know your lying nature.” Google Translate was clearly involved in the production of this song.
Read Wiwi’s profile of Moldova’s entry here.
5. Cyprus: Jon Lily green and the Islanders with “Life Looks Better In Spring”
A surprise qualifier for the final, Cyprus’ six-person act only features two Cypriots. Lead singer Jon hails from Wales, and the others from Norway, Scotland and England. There are no gimmicks here: just good voices, accessible lyrics and performers who want to be professional singers, not pop stars. Whether that will translate into votes remains a mystery.
Cyprus or Belgium: Which Man-on-Guitar act do you prefer? Vote Now!
6. Bosnia and Herzegovina: Vukasin Brajic with “Thunder and Lightning”
Another surprise qualifier, Bosnia explores themes of co-existence and tolerance, ideas which Vukasin says can be applied to any strained relationship—romantic or geopolitical. “This is the time to melt the ice/ Off our lips and off our hearts/ Thunder and lightning, holding hands/ Let’s overcome the past.” Given the historic volatility of the Balkans, his inspiration is obvious. His staging suggests a less orthodox route to peace: women in short skirts and plenty of fog.
Vukasin Brajic covers Kylie Minogue. Compare them here.
7. Belgium: Tom Dice with “Me and My Guitar”
Tom Dice isn’t the world’s most charismatic singer—he’s shy, self-effacing and you get the sense that the most daring thing he’s ever done is walk past a Victoria’s Secret boutique. But unlike a number of this year’s finalists, he can actually sing. Really, really well. The exact rankings from the semi-finals aren’t released until after the Eurovision final, but rumor has it he finished first or second. When singing “Me and My Guitar” during the first semi-final, he had a tendency to whisper. That could be construed as interpretation or simply nerves. Shame about the wardrobe. In front of 125 million viewers, he’s going to look like a Pan-Am flight attendant moonlighting as a lounge singer.
Read Wiwi’s profile of Tom here.
8. Serbia: Milan Stankovic with “Ovo je Balkan” (This Is Balkan)
Critics say he looks like a flat-chested lesbian and worry he isn’t worthy of singing a song composed by Goran Bregovic, the most famous composer in the Balkans. But Milan Stankovic silenced all of his critics during the first Eurovision semi-final on May 25. From his pink shoes to his rhinestone-studded top to the Serbian-style street dancing, his act contained more personality than anyone’s and his vocals were nothing short of pitch-perfect. He’s singing in Bosnian, so you may not realize that he’s begging his girlfriend Ljubica to spice up their sex life—apparently that’s the Balkan way: “You’re kissing me like a chump. You have no shame. Belgrade, Belgrade, I’m cheeky. . . Belgrade, Belgrade, three times, it’s our way. Balkan, Balkan, Balkan. This is Balkan. Come on! Hop, hop hop….Your breasts, Ljubica, a deadly weapon…” We’re really loving the sonorous heeeeey that opens the song. It’s either musical indigestion or sheer brilliance.
Read Wiwi’s profile of Milan here.
9. Belarus: 3 + 2 with “Butterflies”
If you need to take a bathroom break, I suggest you do it now. Belarus’ “3 + 2” (plus a piano player) bring you “Butterflies,” a maudlin, overly sentimental song about perseverance. They repeatedly entreat the listener to “heartfully just wait for it” and promise they’ll feel just like “butterflies, flying to the sky.” What they fail to mention is that many butterflies have a life span of just a few days, at which point they die, lose their color and get eaten by random animals. Try not to fall asleep: at the two-and-a-half-minute mark the female singers pull strings that release frightening, oversized butterfly wings.
Listen to 3+2’s original Eurovision entry here.
10. Ireland: Niamh Kavanagh with “It’s For You”
Following years of disastrous Eurovision performances, Irish voters turned to one of their Eurovision legends: Niamh Kavanagh, Dublin’s biggest diva and the winner of the 1993 Eurovision Song Contest. Since she’s already owned the title, it’s unlikely voters around Europe will award her the crown again. She makes a strong case for herself anyway. Singing “It’s For You,” Niamh’s voice soars from the very beginning and only gets bigger. When the wind machine starts blowing toward the end, it’s obvious that this woman is not a singer but a force of nature. Be sure to notice her height. In reality, Niamh is not 10-feet tall: during her performance she stands on a box and her extra-long dress covers it. It’s fitting staging for a woman who towers over the competition.
11. Greece: Giorgos Alkaios and Friends with “Opa!”
Some take it as camp. I take it as homoerotic. From the very beginning of Giorgos Alkaios’ “Opa!,” group grunting, muscular back-up dancers and suggestive thrusting give the air a tinge of testosterone. Sex aside, the song’s energy will make you dance and the rewind sequence that follows the lyre performance will have you saying “ooooo.” The lyrics could be interpreted as a take on life after the Greek bailout, which will no doubt force people to tighten their purse strings: “I burn the past, my old nights, and I start from scratch even if you don’t want to. Hot tears, too many lies, I paid for what I borrowed. Opa!”
Read Wiwi’s profile of Giorgos Alkaios & Friends here.
12. The United Kingdom’s Josh Dubovie with “That Sounds Good To Me”
Last year the United Kingdom reached out to opera legend Andrew Lloyd Webber to compose their Eurovision entry. This year they turned to songwriter Pete Waterman, the man behind Kylie Minogue’s “I Should Be So Lucky.” Oh how the mighty fall. “That Sounds Good To Me” channels cliche with lyrics like “Just add the laughter/ It’s happy ever after”—and it’s sung by a wooden 19-year old best known for starring in his high school’s production of “Les Miserables.” Watch the women on the light boxes. At one point they lift white sheets of silk—the sad climax of a bland performance.
Listen to Pete Waterman dismiss front-runner Safura Alizade here.
13. Georgia: Sofia Nizhadradze with “Shine”
When Georgia’s Sofia Nizhadradze takes the stage, you might think somebody spiked all the punch in Tblisi. Sofia, a strikingly beautiful woman, stands in her prom dress while men folk play with her legs and spin on the floor. Another dancer looks like she’s just had a heart attack, but springs to life to play tag and to be thrust several feet in the air. The modern choreography seems decidedly out of place with this ballad. And Sofia’s intense facial expressions border on psychotic. But boy can this lady sing.
Were Sofia Nizharadze and Cheryl Cole separated at birth? Compare their photos here.
14. Turkey: maNga with “We Could Be The Same”
There’s nothing Turkish about Turkey’s Eurovision entry and that’s the point. As leaders in Western Europe—most notably France’s president Nicolas Sarkozy—moan that Turkey is too alien to join the E.U., maNga makes the point that Turkey’s hot young things have their eyes locked firmly on the West. “We Could Be The Same” sounds completely mainstream, the lyrics actually make sense and the performance is undeniably modern and edgy. On stage, the strobe lighting, sparks and mohawk-ed drummer will draw viewers in, but it’s the dancing robot that morphs into a tattooed babe that they’ll remember most.
Read Wiwi’s Profile of Turkey’s maNga here.
15. Albania: Juliana Pasha with “It’s All About You”
Despite the saucy moves and the suggestive lyrics, Albania’s Juliana Pasha isn’t delivering an electronic ode to a lover. She’s testifying for the lord. A devout Christian, she brings her faith to the dance floor and let’s Jesus know he’s her boo: “I am the one/ Who doesn’t know how to say no/ To you, I’m so easy….You are all I dream/ Everything that I need/ Because when you are gone/ I feel so empty.”
16. Iceland: Hera Bjork with “Je Ne Said Quoi”
Hera Bjork doesn’t exactly embody svelte, so it’s obvious from the get-go that she won’t be doing splits or turning somersaults. Instead, she relies on simple choreography—group bobbing, sassy head turns, fulsome arm waves—to let the world know she’s a diva. It works. When she reaches the chorus of her Euro-pop love song “Je Ne Sais Quoi,” you might think that Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull has erupted again. If she performs as well as she did in the first semi-final, she may prove to be the dark horse of this competition.
Who Is Your Favorite Scandinavian Eurovision entry? Vote now!
17. Ukraine: Alyosha with “Sweet People”
Eurovision voters want fab, not drab! In “Sweet People,” Alyosha rails against environmental destruction and nuclear Holocaust—topics most people want to avoid when relaxing on a Saturday evening. She also points the finger at all y’all who are harming the earth with your SUVs and bulldozers: “The message is so true. The end is really near. All these feelings take me down. It steals the things so dear. Yes, the message is so real. Don’t turn all the earth to stone. Because, because, because, this is your home.” Given Alyosha’s ripped dressed, shouting and proximity to a wind machine, you might think she’s just stumbled out of a tornado, or had a bit too much fun in rehab.
Read Wiwi’s profile of Alyosha here.
18. France: Jessy Matador with “Allez! Ola! Ole!”
When France selected Jessy Matador, a Congolese immigrant, as their Eurovision contestant, they knew he’d bring something different to the table. His unique sound blends reggae, hip-hop and zouk. By drawing on these African, American and Caribbean influences, he’s taking Eurovision outside of Europe—and it’s a refreshing departure from the ethnic folk and Euro pop that has come to dominate. His lyrics, though, stick to Eurovision form by channeling the salacious: “Dancing, squeezed tight for a salty kiss. Take me by the hand, make me weak. Lala, it will heat up, I feel the stuff up.” (By the way, he says all that en francais.) And while other acts may have better lyricists, no one can touch this man on the dance floor. Get ready to be impressed.
Read Wiwi’s profile of Jessy Matador here.
19. Romania: Paula Seling and Ovi with “Playing With Fire”
If the Romanian entry had to be compared to food, it would be a fondue: totally cheesy but absolutely delicious. “Playing With Fire” problematizes the idea that the more you love someone the more you want to kill them. Paula, one of Romania’s biggest stars, and Ovi, the country’s most famous singer of Norwegian descent, play on a double-sided piano and fire shoots from the stage, their hands and, at one point, the piano. Don’t miss Paula’s other-worldy opera during the bridge: she sounds like Mariah Carey on helium, and that’s enough to distract you from the back-up singers who appear to be wearing dead ostriches. It’s a solid act, with only one questionable sequence. At the 2:30 mark, Paula and Ovi leave their pianos, but the sound keeps on coming.
20. Russia: Peter Nalitch with “Lost and Forgotten”
If you are prone to depression, then please turn off the television now. Peter Nalitch’s “Lost and Forgotten” moans the loss of love. It’s so miserable you want to give all the singers some Prozac and buy them tickets back to Russia. The most bizarre sequence occurs at 1:30 when a back-up singers asks “What are you doing man?” and Peter holds out a photo of the woman he misses and asks “Why should I live without?” We have YouTube to blame: Peter came to fame in Russia by uploading (equally horrific) footage of himself singing. This act illustrates well the phenomenon of bloc voting: there’s no way it would have made it to the final without support from voters in Latvia, Estonia and other former Soviet states during the semi-final.
21. Armenia: Eva Rivas with “Apricot Stone”
She looks like Angelina Jolie and she sings like an angel—and those are just two of the reasons that Eva Rivas has emerged as a favorite since advancing from the first Eurovision semi-final. Her act is full of what-the-hell moments: the opening camera sequence focuses on her generous bosom, an 83-year old Armenian man sits on a stone playing a duduk (a traditional Armenian flute), and a one hundred-pound replica of an apricot stone sits stage center. It might seem a bit nonsensical, but the apricot is actually the symbol of Armenia, and Eva is portraying an elderly émigré who clutches the apricot pit whenever she’s lonely. Sure, the lyrics are occasionally nonsensical—“Now I have an avatar of my love to keep me warm”—but this act tells a story. By the time an actual apricot tree sprouts from the mock apricot stone, voters will have succumbed to Eva’s spell.
Read Wiwi’s profile of Eva Rivas here.
22. Germany: Lena Meyer-Landrut with “Satellite”
The moment she won the German national selection, Lena transformed into a recording phenomenon. She’s the only German artist to ever have three songs debut in the Top 5 of the singles charts, and her Eurovision Entry “Satellite” became the fastest-selling digital download in German history. In “Satellite,” she blurs the line between puppy love and psychotic obsession: I went everywhere for you/ I even did my hair for you/ I bought new underwear that’s blue/ And I wore it just the other day.” On stage, she relies on her quirkiness and kookiness—not sequins or flames—and spends most of the act hopping in one spot and jerking her arms around. If she can live up to all the buzz, she may just knock Azerbaijan’s Safura off her pedestal.
Read Wiwi’s profile of Lena here.
23. Portugal: Filipa Azevedo with “Ha Dias Assim” (There Are Days Like This)
Pretty girl, boring song, lots of purple lighting. But the lyrics are sweet: “There are days like this/ There is no need to hide/ Fear words/ Love or suffer.” Take these three minutes to stretch your legs ahead of the voting results, which drag on forever.
24. Israel: Harel Skaat with “Milim” (Words)
Given all the talk about Azerbaijan’s Safura and Germany’s Lena, it’s only appropriate that their downfall could come at the hands of a lady-killer. Israel’s Harel Skaat is arguably the sexiest male contestant in the history of Eurovision, and teenyboppers and grown women alike melt at the sight of him. Add to that his stellar vocals, and this could be your winner. His song “Milim” delves into the pain of abandonment: “You left me only words, shelter between the shadows/ Tidy books, and between the rooms/ You left me only words, wreath of locks/ Oh God, you left me only words.” His talent and depth may be his downfall: he’s just too good for Eurovision.
25. Denmark: Chanee and Tomas N’evergreen with “In A Moment Like This”
They have absolutely no chemistry, and you get the sense that she would rather hold hands with a serial killer. But Denmark’s Chanee and Tomas N’evergreen have compatible voices, she’s got a fantastic dress and they both have hair long enough to make their use of a wind machine effective. The opening sequence with two lovers on opposite sides of a translucent wall works really well, and you almost forget the saccharine lyrics: “For as long as I remember/ For as long as I’ve been blue/ Every day since we’ve been parted/ All I’ve thought about was you.” It’s a feel good song that’ll do well in the charts across Europe next week. But it won’t win: we’ve heard this all before.