Road to Eurovision 2022: Week 3 – Norway, Portugal, Slovenia, Switzerland, Ukraine (semi-final 1, part 3) + Semi-final 1 top 10 picks

(image (c) Emma Egan/Shutterstock)

What is the Eurovision Song Contest?
Started way back in 1956 as a way of drawing a fractured Europe back together with the healing power of music, the Eurovision Song Contest, or Concours Eurovision de la Chanson – the contest is telecast in both English and French – is open to all active members of the European Broadcasting Union, which oversees the competition.

Each country is permitted to submit one three-minute song to the contest – a song which is selected by a variety of means, usually a winner-takes-all competition such as Sweden’s renowned Melodifestivalen – which their selected entrant performs in one of two semi-finals in the hopes of making it to the glittering grand final.

Only six countries have direct entry into the grand final:

  • The Big Four who fund most of the contest – UK, Germany, France and Spain
  • The host country (which is the winner of the previous year’s contest)
  • Italy, who didn’t take part for many years and was re-admitted in 2011 after a 14 year absence (it was one of seven countries that competed in the first event), making the Big Four the Big Five. *

    * this year it’s the Big Five with Italy also the host thanks to last year’s win in Rotterdam.

The winner is chosen by a 50/50 mix of viewer votes (you cannot vote for your own country) and a jury of music industry professionals in each country, a method which was chosen to counter the alleged skewing of votes based on political and/or cultural lines when voting was purely the preserve of viewers at home.

Past winners include, of course, ABBA in 1974 with “Waterloo” and Celine Dion who won for Switzerland in 1988 with “Ne partez pas sans moi”.Above all though, the Eurovision Song Contest is bright, over the top and deliciously camp, a celebration of music, inclusiveness and togetherness that draws annual viewing figures in the hundreds of millions.

NORWAY: “Give That Wolf a Banana” by Subwoolfer

(via Shutterstock)

THE ARTIST
Depending on who you ask – the official Eurovision bio or Wikipedia, Norway’s Subwoolfer, who seem like a one-trick lupine, are either very VERY old or sprightly young pop things, newly hatched from the musical womb.

By far, the most creative bio comes from the official Eurovision bio which posits that the band formed 4.5 billions years on the Moon before conquering the music scenes on every planet imaginable (and quite possibly some that are not) including Earth following a meeting with a prophet named Neil (yep the Armstrong one).

Performing at Eurovision, “the most important and prestigious musical event in the history of the world” is, apparently, the band’s great gift to planet Earth as “claim their musical throne” by giving us mere mortals what is purported “the greatest song in existence”.

Wikipedia, by way of contrast, is far more prosaic with the band reported to have formed in 2021 by two men who are only known by the pseudonyms Keith and Jim who dress in “black suits with white shirts with the distinct yellow wolf-head masks and yellow gloves and ties”.

So mythologised or real? I think we know which is the most compelling and fun option and which will make the biggest splash at Eurovision which is the natural place for billions-of-years-old luridly-coloured wolves.

(courtesy Eurovision.tv)

THE SONG
You could be forgiven for wondering if a band like Subwoolfer are going to have a song that’s even halfway serious.

The answer is that they do and they don’t; the lyrics are plain bonkers bananas and hilariously playful but they accompany a highly danceable piece of sophisticated pop and vocals that add some zesty pop sheen to proceedings.

So, despite thinking that the song will be one huge pointless joke – although to be fair, this is a band that’s gone to the trouble of scripting a detailed mythology so they’re not half-arsed in any way – it’s actually an enormously catchable piece of danceable pop that should make for a captivatingly fun performance on the night.

It may not win Norway the event – but hey it could; we want fun right now and this song deliver isn sharp-edged spades – but it will restore a sense of infectiously silly escapism to Eurovision which works best when acts just let go and see what happens …

PORTUGAL: “Saudade, Saudade” by MARO

(via Shutterstock)

THE ARTIST
Singer-songwriter Mariana Brito da Cruz Forjaz Secca, possessed of a beautiful but long name has, perhaps sensibly, opted for the mononymic stage moniker MARO to make things a little speedier during on-stage introductions.

A middle child who thought of becoming a vet until the lure of a musical career saw her opt to study at Berklee College of Music in Boston, followed by a move to the bright lights, big desert city sprawl of Los Angeles.

While the cats and dogs of the world might’ve missed out on some tender living care, music lovers have done quite nicely thank you with the artist producing six, count ’em , SIX self-written and self-produced albums in just her first twelve months in California.

That kind of highly-listenable, prodigious output attracted the attention of Grammy winner Jacob Collier, who invited her to be a part of his debut touring band as a featured vocalist and instrumentalist, the opening of a professional door which has seen her support the likes of Jessie J, Fatai, ¿Téo?, and Charlotte Cardin.

That’s some impressive stages on which she’s stood but could Eurovision be the biggest one yet for this artist clearly on the rise?

(courtesy Eurovision.tv (c) Joey Schultz)

THE SONG
There’s absolutely every chance of this happening with “Saudade Saudade”, penned by the artist herself (music credits are co-credited to John Banda), a lusciously luminous piece of lo-fi pop that shimmers and shines.

Suffused by buoyantly soft lyrics that still come with some emotional punch, the song, a mix of English and Portuguese, the song mourns the loss of a romantic relationship, equal parts moving acceptance and grief.

Lyrically and musically, this is a song that while it may be at the more chilled end of the spectrum, demands you sit up and take notice simply because it is so noticeably lovely, and in the very best of ways.

Listening to it, you can almost feeling the healing taking place even as the pain and loss still makes it presence felt, and it’s that poignancy and its arrestingly laidback melody, not to mention angelic vocals and harmonies that seamlessly meld words and music, that make this song and MARO’s performance one to watch and which should see Portugal get noticed for all the right reasons this year.

SLOVENIA: “Disko” by LPS

(via Shutterstock)

THE ARTIST
What, you might wonder, you inquiring mind spinning like a hamster wheel occupied by a furiously energetic rodent, does LPS stand for?

Are in we in for some Norwegian-esque titular enigma and mystery? Not quite for Slovenia’s entry for Eurovision 2022 are happy to both show their faces and tell you that their band name stands for Last Pizza Slice.

While it’s not clear yet if this KFC’s approach to band naming is going to garner them all kinds of lucrative, cheese-topped sponsorship deals, the fact is that Filip (vocal), Gašper (drums), Mark (electric guitar), Zala (bass guitar, tenor and alto saxophone), and Žiga (electric keyboards), who have been together since the heady days of 2018, are aiming to make a name for themselves beyond everyone’s favourite fast food choice.

Meeting at school at the music room of the Grammar School Celje-Center (but of course they did; have you seen how cherubically young they look?), LPS with extra anchovies or not? Unknown at this stage where they sit on the contentious issue – have already appeared at all kinds of festivals and concerts around Slovenia sporting music that is primarily disco-influenced but with some soul-pop, funk, blues, rock and jazz thrown in for good measure too.

(courtesy Eurovision.tv (c) RTV Slovenia)

THE SONG
Quirky and playful, the band nevertheless know how to invest their songs with emotional gravitas too.

While “Disko”, which doesn’t so much wear its musical influence in its title as shout it from the virtual roof of the Top 40, may feel like some retro old-school disco-meets-big-band vibrant of lounge-worthy pop, it’s actually got a painful emotional centre with the band’s official Eurovision bio revealing that the song’s “lyrics tell the sad (and true) story of the band’s vocalist Filip, who was dumped by his girlfriend… at a disco.”

Yup, devastatingly handsome lead singer Filip Vidušin, all tuxedo’d up along with the band to turn disco fun into formally danceably fun, got dumped while dancing and is still brave enough to sing about it.

That’s some artistic honesty on display there, and while the song may not be the strongest track in the semi-final, it could do rather nicely with just the right performance which must, of course, include the giant glowing disco ball in the clip.

After all, if you going to go disco, you must go all out, something it seems Disko is more than willing to do which should see Slovenia have a respectable showing at this year’s event.

SWITZERLAND: “Boys Do Cry” by Marius Bear

(via Shutterstock)

THE ARTIST
Hailing from Appenzell, east of Zürich in the mountainous beauty of Switzerland, Marius Bear decided at some point in his life not to become a zookeeper or large animals vet – the nominative determinism was surely strong with this one? – or indeed a construction machinery mechanic and instead set his sights on living life as a street musician on the cobbled streets of his home country and Germany.

Known to his parents and the Swiss tax department as Marius Hügli, the 29-year-old singer has gone to win a Swiss Music Awards (2019), all whole gaining the attention of a famous producer (shhh, we have no idea who but just enjoy the mystery will you?) who whisked him off to New York and vibrant Swiss artistic and creative arts scene that calls the city home.

Not content with US streets to go with his German and Swiss collection, Marius then moved to the Uk to study music production at the prestigious BIMM Institute in London which promises to enable “future generations to find their place within the music industry.”

While there’s no word yet on whether Marius has indeed found that place, he does a top 20-charting debut album in Switzerland, Not Loud Enough, to his credit, and now the chance to make his mark at his country’s representative at an event in a city which has some very pretty streets indeed … could another move be on the cards?

(courtesy Eurovision.tv (c) SRF)

THE SONG
Hard to know if Marius has called the removalists yet, but one thing we know for sure is that he has a moving winner with “Boys Don’t Cry”, a song that brings together a classic crooner style that almost feels Christmas cosy with emotionally incisive, beautifully-articulated mental health aware lyrics that put paid to the idea that men don’t experience any kind of sadness or distress.

“In my room, lives a boy who could be blue,
And you might never know, oh, oh
You think he‘s cavalier, he would shed more than a crocodile tear,
If you‘d go, oh
Hearts they get broken, God only knows why.”

The best part is that Bear proves himself able to not simply sing the song but live it, injecting a deeply affecting emotionality into a song that for all its thoughtfully ruminative music and openhearted lyrics could’ve simply sounded like yet another overly-wrought ballad.

That it doesn’t, and that it captures your hear with every last vocal and lyric uttered in empathetic pain, says much about Bear’s delivery of the song he wrote with Martin Gallop, and which stands ready to conjure up a pin-drop quiet moment at this year’s contest, hopefully capturing a ton of votes in the process.

UKRAINE: “Stefania” by Kalush Orchestra

(via Shutterstock)

THE ARTIST
It’s hard to write about Ukraine at the moment without defining this amazingly rich and vibrant country purely in terms of the tragedy of war but the truth is, it has a lot going on musically, as evidenced by 2020 and 2021’s entry for the country, electro-folk band Go_A and now by Kalush Orchestra that, according to its official Eurovision bio, “is a Ukrainian hip-hop band that combines ethnic motifs with modern sounds using different folk instruments.”

Named after the western Ukrainian city of Kalush, nestled southeast of Lviv in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains, the band, which shares a member with Go_A (Ihor Didenchuk who therefore has some Eurovision experience under his belt), grew out of the 2019-formed group Kalush which is signed to American hip-hop label Def Jam Recordings which has released the band’s first two albums, Hotin and Yo-yo (Йо-йо).

Kalush decided in 2021 to invite multi-instrumentalists Tymofii Muzychuk and Vitalii Duzhyk to join the band’s core line-up giving birth to Kalush Orchestra and a syncretistic style of music which blends the musically old and new to captivatingly raucous effect.

Given the nod as Ukraine’s representatives after the winner of the country’s national selection event Vidbir, Alina Pash, withdrew due to the controversy over her past performances in Crimea, Kalush Orchestra stand ready to represent Ukraine at one of the darkest moments in their history.

(courtesy Eurovision.tv (c) Maxim Fesenko)

THE SONG
Given special permission to leave Ukraine, according to The New York Times, “despite a martial law that bars men of military age from departing”, Kalush Orchestra whose members have been active in the defence of their nation to date, are committed to making a statement with their music.

“We want to show the world community Ukrainian music, our spirit and how unbreakable we are. We really need support in this difficult time.”

While Eurovision is technically apolitical, the contest has already kicked Russia out of the 2022 event and it will be all but impossible to ignore what is happening to Ukraine the the band performs in the first semi-final.

The good news is that “Stefania” is an infectiously catchy blend of Ukrainian folk, pop and hip-hop that is going to get attention for its music as much as for the country the band is from, which means even if there is a great deal of sympathy voting, and how on earth could there not be, the band and their song will more than deserve any accolades they and it receive.

It’s a great track performed by a spirited and creatively talented band and that is what will most obvious when the band takes to the stage in Turin (although it is still possible they might perform remotely which is what was previously mooted as the performance route for the band).

EXTRA EUROVISION 2022 NEWS!

A number of showcase events are held in the lead-up to Eurovision each year, including this year the BCN Eurovision Party in Barcelona on 26 March which saw, according to leading Eurovision blog, Wiwibloggs, ten of the acts scheduled for this year’s event, including Montenegro’s Valdna, Norway’s Subwoolfer, and Lithuania’s Monika Liu, doing their very impressive thing.

MY SEMI FINAL 1 TOP 10

Picking which ten acts will go through to the top 10 is a crapshoot at the best of times with so many variables in play and subjectivity running rife. So, this selection simply reflects either what I like or what I think will do well overall and nothing more … oh, and they come in no particular order … right, housekeeping done, let’s see what made the grade …

  1. SWITZERLAND: “Boys Do Cry” by Marius Bear
  2. UKRAINE: “Stefania” by Kalush Orchestra
  3. PORTUGAL: “Saudade, Saudade” by MARO
  4. NORWAY: “Give That Wolf a Banana” by Subwoolfer
  5. ALBANIA: “Sekret” by Ronela Hajati
  6. MOLDOVA: “Trenuleţul” by Zdob şi Zdub & Advahov Brothers
  7. AUSTRIA: “Halo” by LUM!X feat. Pia Maria
  8. ICELAND: “Með Hækkandi Sól” by Systur
  9. GREECE: “Die Together” by Amanda Georgiadi Tenfjord
  10. ARMENIA: “Snap” by Rosa Linn

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