In just a few hours, more than 120 million viewers will tune into Eurovision, the continent-wide singing contest that has produced stars like ABBA, Celine Dione and Julio Iglesias. Before the 25 finalists start howling into wind machines, here’s your chance to get acquainted with them in the order that they’ll be performing tonight. Alternatively, you can refer to this as you watch the show. Consider it a live blog, but pre-recorded so Wiwi can actually enjoy the train wrecks on stage. Those of you outside of Europe or without access to a television can watch Eurovision via a live stream on www.eurovision.tv from 3pm EST/9pm CET.
1. Finland: Paradise Oskar with “Da Da Dam”
If you resurrected Johnny Appleseed and gave him a guitar, he might sing a ditty like this. In “Da Da Dam” Paradise Oskar (probably not his real name) tells the story of a nine-year old environmentalist: “I’m going out in the world to save our planet/ And I ain’t comin’ back until she’s saved.” The chorus suggests that those who do nothing are both idle and stupid. “I don’t wanna be/ Da da dam, da da dam/ Da da da da da da, da da dam.”
2. Bosnia and Herzegovina: Dino Merlin with “Love in Rewind”
Forty-eight year old Dino wrote Bosnia and Herzegovina’s first national anthem, and represented the country at the 1999 Eurovision Song Contest, placing sixth. In “Love in Rewind,” he sings about the joy found in family, and celebrates small victories like his children falling in love. The song’s melancholic undertones remind us death is inevitable and that we should cherish what we’ve got right now: “Oh, on the surface/ Oh, in the distance/ It’s all the same/ Oh, in the darkness/ Oh, don’t you notice/ What a different game.”
3. Denmark: A Friend in London with “New Tomorrow”
One of Denmark’s hottest alternative rock groups, A Friend in London is huge in Canada. That fact won’t help them at Eurovision, but their mainstream sound, edgy looks, and pitch-perfect vocals will. The song’s message is more than a bit saccharine: “Come on boys, come on girls/ In this crazy, crazy world/ You’re the diamonds, you’re the pearls/ Let’s make a new tomorrow, today.” At least their outfits are daring: the lead singer will appear on stage in a backless top.
4. Lithuania: Evelina Sasenko with “C’est Ma Vie”
During the first semi-final, Evelina Sasenko reached out to deaf voters by performing in sign language during the second half of the song. But that was less surprising than the fact she actually qualified for the final: despite her stunning voice, bookies thought she was in contention to finish last. “I don’t know what to tell them,” she said of all those who doubted her at a press conference held after the semi. “I just know that I’m here.” And she’s bringing a sentimental ballad: “Gray, here is the sorrow/ But just look straight for tomorrow/ When sun will shine in your face/ Don’t close your eyes.” On Saturday evening, her eyes will be wide open.
5. Hungary: Kati Wolf with “What About My Dreams?”
A 36-year old mother of two, Kati Wolf came to fame in Hungary after making the finals of X-Factor in 2010. Her song “What About My Dreams?” asks whether a woman can live in the shadow of her man, and her official music video asks if leaving him will allow her to become a disco diva. By giving self-interrogation rhythm, the song has already become a hit on Dusseldorf dance floors: “What about my life? What about my dreams? What about how I feel? What about my needs?” Good questions.
6. Ireland: Jedward with “Lipstick”
Eurovision voters frequently choose the best song, but more often than not they choose the best act. Jedward’s on-stage performance may lack sound vocals, but it includes Michael Jackson-inspired jackets dripping with sequins, 8-inch blond quiffs, and the world’s most famous pair of singing identical twins. “Basically we’re doing Eurovision because we don’t like going on holidays where people don’t recognize us,” 19-year old John Grimes told me recently. “So now we wanna conquer the whole world so people can recognize us in every single country.” As one of the bookies favorites, that mission begins now.
7. Sweden: Eric Saade with “Popular”
On a stage where contestants sweat ambition, it’s only fitting that someone would rock up singing a song called “Popular.” Eric uses his three minutes to convey his desire for pan-European stardom — and the groupies that accompany it. The lyrics suggest that fame will lead him straight to a bed of his choosing: “I will be popular, I will be popular/ I’m gonna get there, popular/ My body wants you girl, my body wants you girl/ I get you when I’m popular.” The choreography is more sophisticated than the remedial lyrics, and his posse twist and gyrate and draw attention to their crotches in a move sure to go down well with the ladies.
8. Estonia: Getter Jaani with “Rockefeller Street”
The youngest contestant this year, 18-year old Getter has been a favorite with the bookies for months. Her song “Rockefeller Street” captures the magic in a young Estonian’s eyes during a trip to New York City. On stage hipsters dance around replicas of New York City skyscrapers, and they manage to perform amateur acrobatics while wearing skinny jeans. “1-2-7-3 down the Rockefeller Street/ Life is marching on, do you feel that?/ 1-2-7-3 down the Rockefeller Street/ Everything is more than surreal.” Be sure to watch her turn a handkerchief into a magic wand in the opening bars.
9. Greece: Loukas Yiorkas featuring Stereo Mike with “Watch My Dance”
Mixing Greek folk music with rap is never a good idea. Nor are nonsensical lyrics, which, according to Loukas, convey the importance of perseverance and hope. “I was born so betrayed – who am I, what I’ll be?/ What is mine in this life? Just the heaven and sea/ No, I won’t give them up, they’re my fortune, my proof/ Don’t believe what you hear ’cause the truth kills your truth.” I’m not sure what that means, but I do love the break dancing.
10. Russia: Alexey Vorobyov with “Get You”
Russia’s Alexey Vorobyov certainly doesn’t lack confidence. In “Get You” he tells an imaginary woman she makes him hot without batting an eye lid: “And you look so good on the floor/ Pull my mind in that dirty zone/If they watch, let them watch/ Not losing you tonight.” But we already knew he was a bit of an exhibitionist. He has a tendency to wear tank tops to all official Eurovision events and press conferences.
11. France: Amaury Vassili with “Sognu”
In a contest dominated by pop starlets, French opera star Amaury Vassili seems out of place. At 21 years of age, he’s the world’s youngest professional tenor, and he’s already had a double-platinum album. As he told me in a recent interview, “Sognu” recounts the pain that follows the death of a lover, and the “feeling you experience when your mind can’t focus on nothing else and when you seem to see your lost love on every corner.” Or, as in this video, on every mountaintop and from the windows of your sports car. He’s the bookies’ favorite, so don’t take a toilet break during act #11.
12. Italy: Raphael Gualazzi with “Madness of Love”
Instead, consider taking your potty break here. Italy returns to the contest after a 13-year absence with pianist and jazz crooner Raphael Gualazzi. “Here we live, with no tricks/ Day by day, night by night/ But someone hit me and I fell into your heart, my dear.” I’m not convinced voters will fall over for this one, but he deserves props for bringing jazz to Eurovision Nation.
13. Switzerland: Anna Rossinelli with “In Love for a While”
I’m never a fan of songs that connect passages with “Na nanananana, na nanananana na/Na nananana….” But Anna does it with understated elegance and charisma, and lulls you into a smile. Bookies and fans worried she wouldn’t advance to the final—Switzerland has been shut out since 2006. Apparently she doubted herself too. When the host of the show announced that she was moving on, she straddled her back up singer and planted a big one on him. So much for elegance.
14. United Kingdom: Blue with “I Can”
They’ve sold 13 million records, released 40 hit singles worldwide and collaborated with Elton John. But on Saturday, Britain’s boy band Blue will share the Eurovision stage with lesser-known acts—like the winner of Austrian X-Factor Nadine Beiler. The potential for embarrassment is obvious—and so is the chance to promote the group’s reunion after a seven-year separation. “I Can” is classic Blue: a manly torch song that could be about nothing — or about a recent break and reconciliation. In the opening bars they might as well be singing about each other and their comeback. “You were the eyes in the face of fortune/ I lost my way and I couldn’t find you/ Oh, oh no/ We’re not the first ones to be divided/ Won’t be the last to be reunited/ No/ Oh no.”
15. Moldova: Zdob si Zdub with “So Lucky”
Digital gnomes, fairy hats, a woman on a tricycle—Moldova’s “So Lucky” is a train wreck that meets a car crash that meets a whole lot of pyrotechnics. It’s also the kind of froth that makes Eurovision fans go mad, pick up their phones and vote. This group represented Moldova at the 2005 contest and placed a very respectable fifth, which remains the country’s best-ever finish.
16. Germany: Lena with “Taken By a Stranger”
Last year’s winner Lena has made the bold choice of returning to the competition to defend her title. But as she should know, the public is more likely to be taken by a stranger than by a previous winner hungry for a repeat. Her back-up dancers, who also appear in this music video, appear to be wearing outfits made of balloons. Will that be enough to make this act fly?
17. Romania: Hotel FM with “Change”
David Bryan, the group’s lead singer, is actually British. His English-language proficiency will serve him well on stage, as many of the other acts appear to have written their lyrics using Google Translate. “The title of our songs says it all,” he told me in a recent interview. “We are always hearing that we have our whole life in front of us and then we wake up to see that we accomplished nothing during our lives. So, our message to Europe is: stop dreaming of it, take a step that’s gonna make a difference and change your world.”
18. Austria: Nadine Beiler with “The Secret is Love”
Her dress is short enough to make you blush, but her voice is so powerful you won’t notice. Every time she opens her mouth, a thousand Mariah Careys seem to pour out of her mouth. And while she packs an audible punch, the song doesn’t. The secret, dear Nadine, is a better melody.
19. Azerbaijan: Ell and Nikki with “Running Scared”
“Running Scared” is pure schmaltz — the cornerstone of any good Eurovision ballad. It tells the story of a man and woman frightened by their mutual obsession. Because the moments they share are so perfect and their love so tender, the simple act of breathing could make it all fall apart. How unfortunate that the lyrics require them to run, which often results in panting: “I’m running, I’m scared tonight/ I’m running, I’m scared of life/ I’m running, I’m scared of breathing/ ‘Cause I adore you.” The digitally remastered video sounds great. Sadly, the live performance is fraught with pitch problems, and the chemistry between man-boy El and man-eater Nikki isn’t convincing.
20. Slovenia: Maja Keuc with “No One”
A power ballad to the extreme, Maja will win points for her voice—and her knee-high leather boots. The LED screen during her performance features sinister looking flowers with thorns, which fit well with her dark melody. The basic message is that the man who left her will be miserable forever: “No one will ever hold you tight/ No one will ever love you like,” she sings. “No one will ever treat you right/ You’re the one who’s never satisfied/ There is no one like I … like I am.”
21. Iceland: Sjonni’s Friends with “Coming Home”
Iceland’s “Coming Home” packs an emotional punch—and not just because of its moving lyrics and simple melody. Back in January, during the country’s national selection contest, contestant Sjonni Brink unexpectedly died in his sleep. But his family and friends decided that his song should still compete, so his rivals came together, performed it in the national final and won. “We hoped the song would touch people’s hearts,” Sjonni’s widow said at the press conference after the second semi-final. The lyrics, written before his death, are eerie in their resonance: “Cause I can’t wait for tomorrow/ To say the things I wanna say/ Your smile will always lead my way/ I can’t wait, I’m coming soon/I just wanna see your face again.”
22. Spain: Lucia Perez with “Que me quiten lo bailao”
Following that downer, Spain’s Lucia Perez takes to the stage with the upbeat dance number “They Can’t Take the Fun Away from Me.” It’s sound is undeniably Spanish: you may want to sign up for flamenco lessons afterwards. Her smile is infectious, even if the lyrics are a bit simple: “Now I’m over the moon/ I have everything I hadn’t before/ I have you and all that you give me/ Ouo uo uo ouo uo uo/ who can take the fun I’ve had away from me?”
23. Ukraine: Mika Newton with “Angel”
When your country boasts the world’s most famous sand, you might as well exploit her. Kseniya Simonova, the performer who has earned millions of views on YouTube for winning Ukraine’s Got Talent, provides the visual accompaniment to Mika’s song “Angel.” This act will do well. But are viewers voting for the music, or the visuals?
24. Serbia: Nina with “Caroban”
Twenty-one year old Nina is studying to become a pharmacist. So during the live broadcast of the first Eurovision semi-final, the host asked her if she had prescribed herself tranquilizers to cope with her nerves. After watching her live performance, you may think she’s taken something else. The psychedelic colors of the spiraling LED screen and Nina’s unrivaled energy leave viewers in a trance-like state.
25. Georgia: Eldrine with “One More Day”
Georgia’s lead singer has said that her performance captures Georgian culture. Given the dark nature of her act, Georgia must be located somewhere east of Hell. It’s a frightening performance full of strobe lights, collapsing buildings, and, most frightening of all, Georgian rap.