Easily the most prominent event celebrating European unity in all its diversity, the first semi final's opening sequence, last year's winning song performed on the outskirts of Europe, merging from one to the next, culminating in a dramatic, even touching, performance as the opening of this year's eveng in the Malmö Arena, with Loreen once more showing off her spectacular voice.
The opening sequence nicely fit this year's theme, 'We are one'.
The, event, though not as spectacular (or expensive) as last year's, at least didn't try to overly push the qualities of the host nation, the introductory videos to the songs being shorts featuring the countries' artists.
This year saw only one host, Petra Mede, a Swedish comedian, bringing the event to the masses. She did still occasionally switch from the default English to French.
And, totally absurd, Australia, where, Eurovision has been a sleeper success for years, actually got a segment during the first semi to highlight the country's love for the event.
Also, Eurovision's performers have to a large extent moved to winners of national talent shows. The biggest advantage of this being that the artists mostly actually are able to sing very well.
On the other hand, somewhat worrying, if pleasant to the eye, more and more of the performers are babes. I do have a feeling that the organizer's led something of a ban against showing off too much leg this year. A sad moment in time.
But, there also appears to be yet another trend. After several countries mocking the event with ridiculous entries, mostly during the 90s, the resurgence of Eurovision has this year resulted in an impressive lineup.
And, for the first time, voting through a smart phone app is an option. But not for me. I tried staying up for the finals, but a day of hashing didn't allow me to make it for the 3am opening, considering I was in China.
I wonder if the app has to be tied to a phone number, or how else individual voters are connected to their countries.
After a surprising parade of all participants, obviously referencing an Olympic opening ceremony, the finals skipped the conventional start of beginning with the previous year's winner.
The finals were opened by France's Amandine Bourgeous, the first of the many national Idols (or whatever the local flavor) winners. The big 5 (Germany, UK, Spain, Italy and France) don't have to qualify for the finals for contributing the bulk of the European Broadcasting Union's (EBU) expenses. An obvious advantage, but also a risk, as it also makes these countries a tad more complacent with selecting their submissions.
But, 'Hell and me' wasn't at all bad, somewhat reminiscent of 80s synthpop, Niagara, or perhaps early Eurithmics. But not nearly good enough for Europe, coming in, surprisingly, nearly at the bottom of the pile.
Though there seems to be a tendency to send more and more babes to Europvision, Lithuania didn't need one with Andrius Pojavis. This more classic rock song sung in accented English is nice, but was a tad too generic, too tame, like France being pushed to the bottom of the list.
The tiny country of Moldova succeeds almost every year in submitting something at least appreciated by the whole continent, only once out of their nine tries not making it to the finals.
This year fielding a babe with quite a fiery dress, they submitted Aliona Moon, who last year was one of the backing vocals to her country's Pasha Parfeny. The song, a dramatic ballad, is good, but didn't stand out enough to make a stab at the top spot, ending in the middle.
Last year's Finnish entry was one of the best of the field. Very emotive, but not making it to the final. This year, Finland threw in Krista Siegfrids, with really something cute, if little more, though catchy. Well. Until the last seconds of the song, when Krista's plea for marriage turned out to be one for her female lover, surprising Eurovision with a girl on girl kiss on stage, immediately prompting Turkey to refuse to play the Eurovision finals live on television, which might give an insight as to why Turkey perhaps withdrew from Eurovision this year, originally claiming disagreement with changes to the voting system which happened years ago. But, superb, repeating the kiss in the finals.
Rather surprisingly, this cutesy, and somewhat balsy, song, scored abysmally.
Spain, one of the big five, only left sad little Ireland behind them in the final tally. El Sueño de Morfeo has been around for over ten years and their blend of indie/pop/rock/celtic apparently does quite well in their home country. The song, 'With you until the end', somewhat hinting at the mix is nice, but the lead singer Raquel del Rosario's voice was not up to par with that of many of the other participants. Perhaps that, combined with being within the first group of performers, which often typically do worse than contestents scheduled later on in the show, is why Spain failed miserably.
Belgium, for a change, made it to the finals with Roberto Bellarosa, of Italian decent. The man reminded me of both Overattached Boyfriend and Chris de Burgh. If de Burgh would try his hand at anthems, the song, starting of as a ballad converting into very dancable pop could be de Burgh's own. Surprisingly pleasant, ending up in the middle for points, but deserving a place in the top 10.
Estonia's Birgit Õigemeel sang a power ballad, in Estonian, that I thought didn't really stand out too much, was too tame, but still, if barely, made it to the final, where she didn't do very well.
Where Moldova seems to know what works and what doesn't in Europe, their near-neighbours Belarus often struggle. Though, now, for a change, they did make it to the final, only for the third time since their first submission in 2004. Having a checkered history with its submissions, the country went for a bit more of convention, meaning long legged babe Alyona Lanskaya and a song that, really, more resembled a second-tier Europop song from the mid nineties while visually being a copy of last year's Greek entry, 'Aphrodisiac'; A tad cringeworthy ('we play-o to the rhythm of cha-cha'), this has been done too often. And better.
Interestingly, Lanskaya was supposed to represent her country last year in Azerbaijan, but was disqualified by the president after it was 'discovered' voting was rigged in her favor. For this year, the song originally selected to be performed was a different one from the one staged. Only in Belorus.
Coming in at 16th place, Lanskaya did much better than I had expected.
For the small country that's Malta they've historically done very well at Eurovision, though they still have to win. Like last year submitting an extremely likable bloke, Gianluca Bezzina, who makes his living as a Doctor, part time singers being the leitmotif for Maltese submissions. His song, like a contextually logical obverse of the tearjerker Iceland submitted in 2011is a feelgood love song.
An outside contender, Malta came in at a reasonable 8th posiiton.
Russia's Dina Garipova performed a surprisingly catchy dramatic ballad which was, during the first semi final, the first song this year that I wanted to hear again after it finished. But, Garipova's voice was a tad less perfect in the finals, perhaps punished with a still reasonable 5th place.
Germany fielded Cascada with a dance anthem that was too much like Loreen's Euphoria, with Natalie Horler having not as good a voice. Even being accussed, but cleared of plagiarism, particularly the opening of the song is what propbably made too many viewers remember last year's winner, resulting in a poor score at the end of the evening.
Armenia is back on the stage this year after last year's safety concerns, Azerbaijan and Armenia still effectively being at war with each other over Nagorno-Karabakh. The band, Dorians appears competent, but their rock ballad doesn't much stand out, their scoring being in line with that. They also tried out for representing their country in 2009.
At last and finally, Holland's Anouk put the country in the finals for the first time in nine years. The song, nice, was too timid and too sad to stand a chance.
And it's surprising that Anouk, known for her rock songs and 'bad attitude', went for this opener from her latest album Sad Singalong Songs, which really says it all.
Coming in at a reasonable 9th position, Holland at least has made up for their long Eurovision losing streak. And, even better, the song *is* very pretty.
Romania decided to send a baritone dressed up in what perhaps Vlad would have enjoyed as well. Or not a baritone, as Cezar The Voice a few seconds into his song gets kicked in the balls and subsequently drops the bass and goes up in pitch. Not just one musical switch in the three alotted minutes is enough enymore, you have to have two! And Cezar did just that with his surprisingly catchy performance.
Easily the most absurd, and gay, performance in the finals, sadly only raking in enough points to make it to 13th place.
Only Montenegro in the semi finals was more absurd, but it seems that Eurovision doesn't have much love for hip hop. After last year's Austrian hip hop duo, which I thought was pretty darn good, Montenegro, after last year's, well, dubious entry, this year put forward a mix of dubstep and hip hop where Who See, dressed as astronauts, put down a spectacular performance. But. They. Did. Not. Make. It! And they even put a babe on stage!
The BBC always has an ace up its sleave for picking their Eurovision submissions. This year's Bonny Tyler is a coup but her slow, somewhat sad, ballad Believe in Me, opened a bit rocky and was too conventional to stand a chance. And I was wondering (and not the only one) whether Tyler perhaps had a few drinks before going on stage.
Stepping in Loreen's, ehm, big shoes, Sweden's Robin Stjernberg did a nice, if somewhat middle of the road pop song.
Hungary decided that last year's German submission was the perfect visual role model for their entry this year, with even the song having a similar feel to it. Strangely, Roman did it better, but Hungary's ByeAlex this year scored better, coming in 10th in the final tally. If anything, the performance in the finals was better than during the semi.
Tipped for the top spot from early on, babe Emmelie de Forest represented Denmark with a rhythmic danceble, somewhat ethnic, pop song.
The song is quite typical for what the Scandinavian countries have been doing regularly during the last few years; mixing up more conventional Western European pop with more Eastern European rhythms. Indeed, I suspect the very reason that south eastern Europe, where the same formula is often applied, and Scandinavia peform well in Eurovision these last few years.
The song is good, and perhaps even a deserved winner, but also didn't sound as much an original.
Iceland decided to send Thor. Or maybe it was a guy with an unpronouncable first name. Singing his ballad in Icelandic, it's surprising he made it to the finals, where the song didn't do very well. I think it could have worked for an opening tear jerker in a Disney musical.
The man is the lead vocalist for an Icelandic progrock band.
Azerbaijan this year put forward the pretty boy Farid Mammadov effectively singing a ballad with a slightly off-key finish. Not too special, really, which made it quite a surprise the country finished second, coming first in the second semi final. The stage show, with a guy inside a glass playing the singer's shadow, *was* nice.
The Aliyev's know the challenges in making a dicatorship look like a democracy. Perhaps...
Also, akward, Azerbaijan's connection with Turkey, Mammadov releasing the song in Turkish, dedicating that version to his Turkish fans, for that country's decision to not participate in this year's contest.
Greece, which probably most consistently throws in the ethnic beats, submitted 'Alcohol is free', the resulting performance coming close to Moldova's Zdob și Zdub from 2011.
Not as absurd, but at least as entertaining. They should have done better than coming in at 6th place. The combination of modern rock with classic folk, here performed by Agathonas Iakovidis works very well.
Ukraine continued with Zlata Ognevich, the three minutes allotted too short for this quite spectacular, if feeling unfinished.
The country, now participating for the 11th time, historically does well, now coming in in third place.
It also was Zlata's third time trying to represent her country, failing the first two times.
Italy almost always does quite well at Eurovision and although pretty boy Marco Mengoni's ballad is nice enough, his 7th place was a more than expected. I suppose Europeans really like Italian.
Norway's hottie with a big ass Margaret Berger normally does electropop but here branched slightly off to a mix of numetal, throwing in violins for good measure, ending up with somethihg that's catchy, dramatic and dancable. I think I liked this more than Denmark's winning entry, but Berger ended up 4th.
Georgia completes the trio of countries from the Caucasus making it to the finals. The song is too slow, but the duo reminds of Azerbaijan's entry from two years ago, which went on to win the event. So, presumably they were somewhat gambling on a proven formula.
Europe didn't go for it.
Ireland for once decided not to submit Jedward, but still stuck with a bloke, Ryan Dolan. The song and Dolan have more than a touch of Bruno Mars, resulting in some rather enjoyable powerpop, a song better than most. But, surprisingly, Dolan's last act of the evening also saw him at the bottom of the pile at the end of the night.
Where's the magic, Ireland? Is Dolan not pretty enough?
And then there were the many that didn't make it.
Babe Natália Kelly started off the first semi final for Austria, with an excellent voice, and a rather nice, but perhaps a tad too tame, too slow, song.
Slovenia's Hannah Mancini, actually an American living in the country she represents, started off in proper dubstep. Very much a dancable anthem, the public perhaps thought it too much like last year's winner, Slovenia not making it to the finals.
The ensemble Klapa s Mora, representing Croatia, put down a very commendable operatic performance. But, classical music mostly doesn't do very well at Eurovision.
Cyprus got their babe-directive somewhat mixed up, sending Despina Olymiou, close to 40, if with wells of eyes, singing a slow, if pretty, ballad.
Serbia also got the babe-directive wrong, sending no less than three babes in Moje 3. Conplimented with three backup babes, the song, actually pretty decent Europop, was perhaps too much of a comic performance, to make it to the finals.
PeR, Please Explain the Rhythm, representing Latvia, opened the second semi final and did an upbeat mix of pop and hiphop. Somewhat catchy, but also not overly exceptional, Europe was not appreciative. Not surprising, after Montenegro not making it with a much butter, but somewhat similar track during the first semi final. Not even their stage dive, nor their Star Wars reference, saved the day.
San Marino's Valentina Monetta was too classical in her performance, and italian, without even showing leg or hotness. Starting off on a false note, her performance was just too much short of dramatic, though the halfway switch from near opera to decent Europop was surprising. Perhaps San Marino, which seldom makes it to the finals, just has too few real friends.
Macedonia also put forward an odd combination of near-Turkic classical wails mixed with more regular pop. The performance was certainly interesting.
Bulgaria should have had a surefire hit on their hands, sending Elisa & Stoyan to Eurovision for the second time after their first try in 2007, where they came in 5th, Bulgaria's best performance yet. Not this time, not even making it to the final. The song is actually pretty good, but the title, only champions, in Bulgarian rendering as 'samo shampioni' sounds to at least part of Europe as 'only mushrooms', which is... distracting.
Israel can't do any good at Eurovision recently, apparently. Their submission, Moran Mazor immediately reminded me of Nana Mouskouri, though the song was a tad more Celine Dion. The song was pretty decent, if not overly outstanding, but I really suspect that Israel's arrogance to stick to their own, rather, ehm, less pleasing, language and the political lack of appreciation of the country is doing them in.
For the small country that is Albania, they do surprisingly well, this year being the fourth time since their first performance in 2004 that they *didn't* make it to the finals, even though the performance was more than competetent, though perhaps lacking recognizable vocal elements, the rock song being a tad too ethnic, even though the combination with some light folk elements make the song quite attractive.
Switzerland sent a delegation from the Salvation Army, for which the band had to change their name, as both political and religious content are banned at the show. The rock song has some resemblance to christian rock and is not bad at all. The band's name for the event, Takasa is an acronym for The Artists formerly Known As the Salvation Army. Cute. Their oldest member is an impressive 95 years old.