Saturday, 30 September 2017

Best of September

Hiya!

First of all, I have absolutely ZERO qualms about hailing this the best month of 2017 so far in terms of the sheer quantity and quality of fantastic releases. The potential issue with a high volume of excellent music coming at you all within 30~ days is that it becomes rather easy to let some of it pass you by...but not on my watch!

Make no mistake, people, you WILL be in love with Susanne Sundfør's depressing brand of Scandi -Folk by the time October comes. You WILL be enamoured by the Russian techno-pop stylings of Kedr Livanskiy as the first leaves of Autumn begin to fall. Alvvays WILL soundtrack your next Autumnal road trip. Zola Jesus and Chelsea Wolfe WILL be soundtracking your ooky-spooky Halloween festivities. Anna of the North WILL tie you over until Shura releases her next album. Carmen Villain WILL be your new favourite Norwegian-Mexican singer-songwriter. Hundred Waters’ ‘Blanket Me’ WILL move you to tears, even if you aren’t a cryer. MYRKUR WILL be your stepping stone into the world of Nordic alt-metal. Ibeyi WILL blow you away with their impressive vocalisation. 

Trust me.

Songs of the month:
St Vincent - Los Angeles
Kelly Clarkson - Love So Soft
Kelela - Frontline
Hundred Waters - Wave to Anchor
Margot Price - A Little Pain
Tove Lo - Disco Tits
George Maple - Hero
French Montana - Unforgettable (Mariah Carey Remix)
Ibeyi - Me Voy (feat. Mala Rodriguez)
Alice Boman - Dreams
MUNA - In My Way
Bjork - The Gate
SKT - No Life
NAO - Nostalgia

Charlotte Gainsbourg - Deadly Valentine

Albums of the month
- Alvvays - Antisocialites
- Anna of the North - Lovers
- Carmen Villain - Infinite Avenue
- Kedr Livanskiy - Ariadna
- Pierre Kwenders – Makanda at the End of Space, the Beginning of Time
- Susanne Sundfør - Music For People In Trouble
- The National - Sleep Well Beast
- Zola Jesus - Okovi
- Ariel Pink - Dedicated To Bobby Jameson
- Emily Haines - Choir Of The Mind
- Hundred Waters - Communicating
- MYRKUR - Maneblot
- Chelsea Wolfe - Hiss Spun
- Phoebe Bridgers - Stranger In The Alps
- Ibeyi - Ash
- The World Is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die - Always Foreign
- Torres - Three

- Wolf Alice - Visions Of A Life 

(Spotify playlist coming soon, promise.)

Thursday, 31 August 2017

Best of August

Hiya!

I know I've been neglecting this blog a lot lately, but that's mostly since I've just started another blog called Room2Think earlier this month, which you should all totally check out *wink wink*. 

This is far from an exciting update because August has been rather barren release-wise and one of my most anticipated releases (Susanne Sundfør's latest opus) got delayed by 3 weeks, which was kinda shitty. However, September looks set to be jam-packed with great stuff (musically, at least) so that's something. 

I feel it's worth noting that we saw Dua Lipa, in a shocking turn of events, snatch the number one spot despite a terrible release roll-out from her label. This is not only significant because the number one singles we've had lately have been mostly awful, but I'm also pretty sure that this is the first solo female number one single we've had in the UK since Adele's Hello back in 2015 (!!) so good for her. New Rules is also fantastic so it's triumph all around, really. Oh and here's a link to the excellent music video, just cuz.

The big standout for me was Kelela's triumphant return with LMK, possibly my song of the year so far. Oh, and the Kesha album is really solid too (trust me).

Songs
Kelela - LMK
Lizzo - Water Me
EMA - Blood and Chalk
Carmen Villain - Borders (feat. Jenny Hval)
Zola Jesus - Soak
Jessie Ware - Midnight
Lindstrøm - Shinin feat. Grace Hall
BOSCO - Cruel
Charli XCX - Boys

Albums
Briana Marela - Call It Love
EMA - Exile In The Outer Ring
Frankie Rose - Cage Tropical
Nadine Shah - Holiday Destination 
Kesha - Rainbow
Girl Ray - Earl Grey
Soccer Mommy - Collection
Everything Everything - A Fever Dream
Grizzly Bear - Painted Ruin
BOSCO - b.



Sunday, 30 July 2017

Best of July

HIYA!

Another quick update! After a short bout of post-Eurovision depression, I am happy to say that I am fully caught-up with all the releases that I have been meaning to listen to over the past few months. As such, I am continuing to add to my ever-expanding bank of records and songs released this year...and how knows? I might even post another full album review at some point...

Pretty much every update to the songs playlist is a year-end-list contender, seriously, every song on the list below has stopped my in my tracks this month. June has really spoiled me; between finishing my first year of university, turning 19, starting a new job and catching up with old friends, I can say that June was a pretty good month. 

Albums 
Haim - Something To Tell You 
Japanese Breakfast - Soft Sounds From Another Planet 
Lana Del Rey - Lust For Life 
Waxahatchee - Out In The Storm 
Tyler The Creator - Flower Boy 
Dua Lipa - Dua Lipa 
Katie Von Schleicher - Shitty Hits <=early contender for album title of the year?

Songs
Empress Of - Go To Hell
Hundred Waters - Blanket Me
The Weather Station - Thirty 
Emily Haines & The Soft Skeleton - Fatal Gift
Phoebe Bridgers - Motion Sickness 
Dua Lipa - New Rules 
Lana Del Rey - Cherry 
Alvvays - Dreams Tonite
Susanne Sundfør - Mountaineers 
Loreen - Body 
Briana Marela - Feel What I Feel
Zola Jesus - Soak 
St. Vincent - New York 
Jessie Ware - Midnight




Saturday, 24 June 2017

Best of 2017 so far (mid-year recap)



Hey! It's June and you know what that means - it's time for my mid-year round-up! Despite our political system suffering a prolonged period of instability and uncertainty, at least there has been a constant stream of excellent music to get us through the mess...

As always, there have been far too many excellent albums released in the past 6 months for me to possibly name them all, so here is my top 10 (in no particular order) + plus a few special mentions:

1. Lorde - Melodrama
2. Kelly Lee Owens - Kelly Lee Owens
3. Valerie June - The Order Of Time
4. SZA - CTRL
5. Sampha - Process
6. London Grammar - Truth Is A Beautiful Thing
7. MUNA - About U
8. Fleet Foxes - Crack-Up
9. Lydia Ainsworth - Darling of the Afterglow
10. The xx - I See You

Honorable mentions

Austra - Future Politics
Perfume Genis - No Shape
The Big Moon - Love In The 4th Dimension 
Paramore - After Laughter
Julie Byrne - Not Even Happiness

Added to my ongoing songs playlist:

Susanne Sundfør - Undercover
Torres - Skim
Alvvays - In Undertow
Kali Uchis ft. Jorja Smith - Tyrant
Grizzly Bear - Three Rings
Lorde - Supercut
Waxahatchee - Never Been Wrong
Pixx - Waterslides
Kedr Livanskiy - Ariadna
TOKiMONSTA - Don't Call Me (feat. Luna)


Saturday, 13 May 2017

Eurovision 2017 - Grand final predictions

What a week it has been! After two semi finals, a bunch of press events and what felt like a million rehearsals, we have seen a pool of 42 entries reduced to 20. These 20 will join 'the big 5' (France, Spain, Germany, Italy and the UK) plus Ukraine (this year's host country) in Saturday night's final. In a year that began with Italy as the supposed guaranteed winner, we have ended up with a far more open competition than we originally thought - even as I type, the betting odds are consistently shifting and just today we saw Portugal overtake Italy as the favourite to win for the first time. Gripping stuff.

Before we look ahead to the final, let's take a moment to discuss the non-qualifiers from Thursday's semi final. As I predicted, it was a far more exciting and entertaining show than Tuesday's due to the concentration of the more upbeat and fun entries in the line-up. Unfortunately, that also meant that some great entries didn't quite make the cut...and by that I mean Estonia. Yes, Verona (one of my absolute favourites) tragically failed to qualify for the final, to my absolute disgust, I might add! We won't know the stats until after the final, but I am very much looking forward to seeing whether it was the jury, the televote or both that saw this fan favourite robbed of a spot in Saturday's show. That was the only real shocker for me, every other non-qualification came as little surprise to me and for the most-part, I was happy with the 10 that went through. 

In addition to Estonia, there are a few entries that I would've loved to have qualified to Saturday night. Jana Burčeska, the entrant for the [FYR] Macedonia, despite my concerns, gave us the best performance of Dance Alone she had ever given. It's not all sad news for Jana though; her song remains one of the most popular of the year among eurofans AND, as we found out live on TV, she is both engaged to be married and expecting her first child! Back to semi final 1, I believe Finland should've definitely made the final as it is one of the most elegant and classy entries to ever grace the eurovision stage. Latvia's Triana Park were also robbed of a spot in my opinion and without them the final looks a lot less colourful, especially with the amount of white, black and blue staging designs. Speaking of red staging, an entry that unexpectedly clicked with me big time during the semi final performance was Georgia's Keep The Faith, which was sung perfectly by the fabulous Tamara Gachechiladze. Had this been placed later in the running order, I believe this would've qualified instead of Poland, who's entrant Kasia Mos was also fantastic and deserved her qualification so I can't be too upset.

Now, before dissecting my predictions, here is a recap of the running order for Saturday's finale:




The top 3

Unlike last year's contest, the quality of entries this year is less strong overall, and so the top tier is a lot less crowded. It has been widely predicted that Italy, Portugal and Bulgaria are the surefire top 3, which to a great extent I agree with. The official music video for Italy's Occidentali's Karma has over 100 million views on Youtube and as I said earlier, it was viewed as the favourite to win since it was announced. However, Portugal's stunning Amar Pelos Dois has been riding a fresh wave of hype since rehearsals started and judging by reactions from the semi, this probably won both the televote and jury vote rather comfortably. Bulgaria has also been a favourite throughout the build-up to the contest, which has remained the case now that we've seen just how impressive the staging is. It is also worth noting that Bulgaria has been drawn 25th out of 26 in the finale running order, which may give it an extra push from televoters.

The televote winners

I can see Romania's Yodel It as a (deserved) televote winner, however I can also see the juries killing its chances completely and costing it a spot in the top 5. Everything about this screams 'public favourite', from the colourful and ridiculous staging to the joyful message of the song, I have no doubt that voters across the world will take to this. Similarly, Moldova's Hey Mamma is also playing for the same kind of voting demographic - casual/passing fans of the contest who only watch the final, often with drinks in hand, looking for a fun act to back in a semi-ironic way. The contemporary club-friendly production oddly gives Moldova the edge in this battle with regards to the juries, especially due to how well-staged it is. 

The jury winners

On the reverse side, Armenia's entry Fly With Me, which is my overall favourite this year, will probably be let down by the televote this year. Despite it being absolutely incredible from a performance perspective, I can see the level of technical details in the performance and the slow-burn of the song itself cost Artsvik precious votes from the public. That said, this ticks every jury box for staging, performance and vocals so hopefully it will still snatch a deserved top 10 spot despite being so early in the running order. My concern is that it was drawn fifth for the final, suggesting that it didn't rank as well as I hoped in its semi. Similarly, The Netherlands' O'G3NE delivered a spectacular vocal performance on Thursday, so I could see that being rewarded handsomely by juries if they can repeat that on Saturday.

Wildcards

This is where it gets interesting. Even though I generally hate surprises, it's always nice to have a wildcard or two on finale night to spice things up. Last year, Austria and Poland rose from the bottom of the scoreboard to cause some serious damage on the left-hand side by slaying the televote, which was made even more entertaining by the introduction of a tense new scoring system. This year, I can see the reverse; I believe that some entries may do better than expected as a result of a strong jury support. The UK's Lucie Jones has blown everyone away with the reveal of her gloriously gold and starry staging concept, which along with a strong vocal could help the UK get their best result in years (let's hope). My second wildcard pick is even more odd, because it's a former fan-favourite; Belgium's Blanche was once a possible winner, but since the rehearsals began, there were a load of people thinking this wouldn't qualify all of a sudden. Now that she has qualified and is slaying the other entries on iTunes charts across Europe, could this sneak into the top 5? With its position being so late in the running order, there is a chance.

Top 10 prediction

1. Portugal
2. Bulgaria
3. Italy
4. Belgium
5. Sweden
6. Armenia
7. The Netherlands
8. Hungary
9. Romania
10. Moldova

...I can see the UK landing between 15 and 11 for some reason...

Well there you have it! On Sunday morning we will have a champion and hopefully some stats to digest (my favourite part), which in itself might just warrant another post! But for now I am gonna try and enjoy the Eurovision festivities before it ends for another year...

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Eurovision 2017 - Semi final 2 predictions + semi 1 recap

So, we now have 10 confirmed entries for Saturday's final: Sweden, Australia, Belgium, Azerbaijan, Portugal, Greece, Poland, Moldova, Cyprus and Armenia - 8(1/2) of my predicted 10! I will be discussing their chances in a finale preview post which I plan to upload by Saturday morning.

Before we move to the semi final two lineup, let's take a moment to remember our fallen 8 - the first casualties of this year's contest. First up is Georgia, which despite being Tamara's strongest performance of Keep The Faith yet, was unable to overcome the graveyard slot of 2nd. I also believe that Poland's Kasia Mos absorbed her votes with a similar presentation later in the running order. Albania's Lindita, one of my favourite contestants of the year, unsurprisingly didn't capture the hearts of viewers (or the jurors, probably) with a very abstract and intense performance - which I happened to enjoy but hey. We then had the bonkers but oh-so wonderful Slavko from Montenegro, who presents the queer-est entry of the year...unfortunately the weakness of the track itself let him down. He was still the talk of the Twittersphere (along with Moldova and Portugal), so I guess that's a win in some kinda way...

As many expected, Iceland, the Czech Republic and Slovenia did not qualify despite giving some of the strongest vocal performances of the night. Conversely, we had two shock non-qualifiers in the form of Finland and Latvia, two of my personal faves and 'likely qualifiers'. It appears that many of my fellow Eurovision fans agreed with me, taking to Youtube and Twitter to express their disgust, particularly in the case of Finland. It breaks my heart because a) the final could've really done with both of them and b) they both gave stronger performances than some of those that did qualify (*cough* Australia *cough*). Regardless, most of my faves did make it and the silver lining is that they have still acquired new fans across the world and gigs in the coming years related to the contest, so everyone wins!

Now, let's look ahead to the line up for semi final 2:



Unlike semi final 1, there is far more variety - pretty much every song is totally different and special in its own way - both tonally and sonically - and thus has its own devout fanbase willing it through (yes, even Lithuania). 

The definite qualifier

Bulgaria: Kristian Kostov - Beautiful Mess

Interestingly, I can see only one clear qualifier from this semi final and it's Bulgaria. After a string of disappointing results (#JusticeforNaInat) and a break, we saw Poli Genova come through with a top 4 finish last year with the ever-fantastic If Love Was A Crime (seriously, what a song). This is a rare case of my love for the delegation exceeding that of both the artist and the song - but I like it enough to will it on. Beautiful Mess is an example of a genre I don't care for (male-sung ballads) executed impeccably. With a wealth of experience [insert patronising comment about him 'only being 17], it is no surprise that Kristian is an absolute pro, so I'm not concerned about the staging. I can see this winning the semi-final with ease, or at least the jury vote. However, at this point I'm not entirely convinced that it will beat Poli's result from last year...

Will probably also go through/these BETTER go through...

Romania: Ilinca and Alex Florea - Yodel It!

This. Has. To. Qualify. Not only is it one of the most fun entries in recent memory (let alone this year's contest), but it is also a quality song. In a year of balladry, this sticks out for all the right reasons and never fails to put a smile on my face. The fusion of pop and yodelling has always been risky in a Eurovision context...add in [admittedly shoddy] rap to the mix and you have a recipe for disaster...EXCEPT it ends up being completely genius. It helps that the wonderful Ilinca sells the hell out of this, along with Alex, who's limited abilities as a rapper somehow enhance the song further, as does their on-stage chemistry. I can easily see this as a runaway televote winner, I just hope the juries don't decide to kill it!

The Netherlands: O'G3NE - Lights and Shadows

I'm a sucker for harmonies so this one has a special place in my heart this year, especially due to the lack of vocal harmony groups that have participated in the contest over the years. A tribute to their mother in the midst of health issues; the O'G3NE sisters radiate light and positivity in a genuine way. A song that could very easily be soppy and twee ends up feeling empowering, especially when performed live. The only thing that lets this down for me (hence why it isn't a surefire qualifier for me) is the visual side of the performance; the way the girls are styled ages them unnecessarily and the staging itself adds nothing to the song and makes it appear more cheesy that it actually is. As long as their harmonies are on point, I'm sure this'll qualify regardless of the staging. 

Hungary: Joci Pápai - Origo

Those who saw what I had to say about Portugal's entry in my semi 1 prediction post will know how much I adore songs not sung in English, and Hungary's Origo is no exception. Much like Amar Pelos Dois however, it isn't just the linguistic factor that sets this apart from the rest; Joci's passionate delivery and the hypnotic Hungarian/~'ethnic'~ production makes it one of the most striking entries of the year. It is also striking from a visual perspective; Hungary utilise the satellite stage in the middle of the crowd by positioning a violinist there whilst Joci is joined by a traditional Hungarian dancer on the main stage. The addition of the rap verse may appear dangerous in a competitive context, but the catchiness of the chorus hook more-than redeems that for even the pop-purists watching at home. I view this as a potential contender for top 10 if all goes well and Joci can control his nerves. 

Estonia: Koit Toome and Laura - Verona

I know I've said this a number of times already but this might actually be my favourite entry of the year. It started off as a half-ironic enjoyment of this as it made its way through Eesti Laul (the Estonian selection contest, FYI), but by the time the final rolled around, it had evolved into straight-up admiration. I love just about everything about this entry and there's a long list of reasons why; the facial expressions, the lack of chemistry between Koit and Laura (be it intentional or that the rumours of them secretly hating each other is actually true), the ridiculousness of the lyrics ('this Western type of woman, Western type of man/ disappeared in Verona' being a highlight...or just the fact that it's a brilliant, feel-good track? It's simply genius. WE ARE LOST (I will certainly be lost if this misses the final)!

Borderline qualifiers

Austria: Nathan Trent - Running On Air

I'll be completely honest with you, the only reason why this is a borderline qualifier for me is because it's super basic and I am secretly hoping that some other (better) songs can edge it out. That said, I really like Nathan and he certainly sells this as best as he can. If anything, Nathan's vocals and stage presence will help this song do a lot better than it deserves to. Judging it as a package, I can see the appeal; it's accessible, it's positive, it's fun and it adds some much needed light to what will most likely be quite a heavy finale judging by the semi 1 qualifiers. The fact that it is 2nd in the running order could hurt it, but I can still see it pull through in 9th or something...

Belarus: Naviband - Historyja macho žyccia (Story Of My Life)

It's no coincidence that I put this immediately after Running On Air - I view them as direct competitors stylistically and I reckon only one of them will lap up the audience they target. That said, there is room in the final for both. For me this edges Austria out in a number of ways; it isn't in English AND boasts the honour of bringing Belarusian to the Eurovision stage for the very first time, thus introducing a new language to the contest in a year where only 8 entries contain non-English lyrics (how 'diverse'...) It is also far less twee than Running On Air, mainly because Navi ooze fun and passion in a way that is both infectious and authentic. I would really love to see this take off with the public because I fear that the jury may kill its chances.

IMRI - I Feel Alive

This is a bit of a tricky one; before witnessing the results of the first semi-final, I would've put this through immediately, but after seeing Latvia's non-qualification, I've become a lot more skeptical about the power of the closing slot. Add this with Imri's consistently shakey vocals during rehearsals and we have another potential non-qualifier on our hands. However, Imri's staging is strong and the physicality of his performance in addition to the dance-y nature of the track may well see it through to the final...after all, if a bum note couldn't kill Australia's chances (grrrr), then perhaps the same will apply for Israel?

Could scrape through...

Norway: JOWST - Grab The Moment

With Lativa's infuriating non-qualification, there is a massive gap in the grand final for a ~cool~ entry, a gap I could see JOWST filling quite nicely with this slice of Nordic electropop. Despite being a slow-burner from a sonic perspective, the modern and edgy nature of the staging looks set to pop in comparison to the dated staging of Switzerland's Timebelle, while the wackiness of Croatia's My Friend could potentially score it some extra points from televoters. However, have two major concerns with this; there is a risk of the lack of technical showmanship costing it valuable jury points, and I'm not convinced that it will stand out enough for televoters to save it from non-qualification if that is the case. 

Croatia: Jacques Houdek - My Friend

Remember what I said about gaps? Well, Slavko's non-qualification left a huge gap in the final for a 'totally-bonkers-but-so-bonkers-it-kinda-works' entry. I'm gonna catch a lot of hate for saying this but I quite like this entry - it never fails to stop me in my tracks. I view myself as a Eurovision fan that appreciates entries that take risks, and there are plenty of risks here; the level of skill required to go from pop to opera and back-and-forth like Jacques does it incredibly demanding, the staging is revolting, Jacques will be off-putting for many televoters and the song is incredibly cheesy (yes, even for Eurovision). However, with risks comes a vital benefit - memorability and the generation of momentum, which may well push this through - to the disgust of many, I'm sure. Of course, this could also fall flat on its face - in which event I'll look a bit stupid...

The rest...

PLOT TWIST: I genuinely don't believe that there are any entries in this semi final that don't have a genuine shot of qualification (well, minus San Marino, bless them). Serbia has a strong qualification record and a lot of respect among Eurovision fans (myself included, #Molitva4Life), however, the bland staging and its place in the running order could cost it dearly. I like both the song and Tijana herself, so I'd be happy to have this in the final. The same very much goes for [the former Yugoslavic Republic of] Macedonia's entry, the studio version of which happens to be one of my favourites in recent memory. Unfortunately, this is a song perfectly tailored for a great music video; although the strength of the video has helped it become a fan favourite, it has made Dance Alone all-the-more difficult to stage. As I suspected, the Macedonian delegation are presenting an inferior product to the music video, and as a result I can see this missing out on a spot in the final. I hope I'm wrong though...

Then we get to our remaining power ballads: Malta's Breathlessly, Denmark's Where I Am and Switzerland's Apollo. All three are fine entries, and I could realistically see one (and only one) sneak into the final. The issue is that many viewers will have already seen semi final 1 and thus would know that the last thing we need in the final are MORE power ballads...which puts these three in a tricky position. That said, all three of these women can serve a vocal like their lives depended on it, which could edge them into the final if either the juries or the voters take to their vocal performances. I would personally give Denmark the edge, but don't underestimate Claudia! Then we have Fusedmarc's Rain Of Revolution, which pretty much every commentator has ruled out entirely, but I have a sneaking suspicion that this will get closer to qualifying than people think...

Perhaps the most uncertain entry of all is Brendan Murray's Dying To Try for Ireland, which could really go either way; it will either take off completely and qualify with a strong jury vote or it could fall flat on its face like Nicky Byrne (deservedly) did last year...

Summary - my top 10 qualifiers

1. Bulgaria
2. Romania 
3. The Netherlands
4. Hungary
5. Estonia
6. Austria
7. Belarus
8. Israel
9. Norway
10. Croatia 

Wildcard: Replace 7-10 with Denmark, Switzerland or Malta. I'm still rooting for my girl Jana tho!!

More so than Tuesday, I'm preparing myself to be massively incorrect and anticipating some shock qualifiers, for better or worse. I've always preferred this line-up due to the variety and fun within it, and as a result I could see some top 10 contenders from this semi take off in the grand final. [Rupaul voice] I can't wait to see how this turns out...

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Eurovision 2017 - Semi final 1 predictions

The time has come, it's officially Eurovision Week! For many of the 200 million+ people who tune into the Eurovision Song Contest each year, this is a one-day event, but in actual fact it's more of a 6-month affair. Yes, while the rest of the world has been getting on with their lives, I and a select community of die-hard fans have been following various selection contests across Europe (often through dogdy internet streams) to follow the contest from start to finish. 

Now, less than a week before the grand final, it's time to look at the 18 entries competing in the first semi final on Tuesday (9th May) and predict which 10 will qualify. For those who are less acquainted, the format is simple(ish); the vote is split 50/50, the first half is decided by national juries who award 12, 10 and 8-1 points to their top 10 entries during a non-televised rehearsal, while the other half is determined by a public vote during the live semi-final. Following so far? Good. The 10 entries with the most combined points proceed to the final with a clean slate and the remaining 8 are eliminated from the contest and do not perform in the final. 

Before I proceed, here's a handy playlist of the 18 participating songs:



OK, so without further ado, here is my rundown of the entries:

The definite qualifiers 

Sweden: Robin Bengtsson - I Can't Go On

If you're looking for a guaranteed qualifier, this is the horse to bet on; Sweden have a track record for strong finishes and have never failed to qualify to the final, where they often finish in the top 10. To describe this entry in two words, I would go for slick and safe. I followed Melodifestivalen (the fantastically-titled Swedish selection contest, which is often claimed to be a Eurovision-standard event in its own right) and this was certainly not my favourite. I personally prefer entries that take a risk, whereas this basically takes a tired Justin Timberlake-esque song and chucks it on a treadmill. That said, it kicks off the semi final with a bang and I can't see this not being a part of the running order on Saturday night - which considering that it's an uptempo will be much-appreciated.

Armenia: Artsvik - Fly With Me

This is an interesting one. Armenia are part of my Eurovision trinity of countries I support pretty much every year (after Cyprus, who we'll get to in a bit), along with Serbia and Greece. Last year, Armenia produced my favourite entry of what was possibly the strongest year ever in the form of Iveta Mukuchyan's impossibly sexy BEAST of a song 'LoveWave' (you know, the one with the holograms and the cape), so naturally I had high expectations. As the last song to be announced, the anticipation was real, to the point where the song was met with a lukewarm-negative reaction from many fans. I, however, adored this from the jump and am happy to announce is one of my top 3 overall. As one of the few entries to incorporate ethic elements, I was instantly taken in by the slow-build of the oriental-inspired production, accompanied by bold visuals and a smouldering vocal performance from Artsvik, all of which I knew would pop live. Despite being decisive initially, its rehearsals in Kiev have gone down a storm and is promising some of the most impressive staging to ever grace the Eurovision stage. Trust that I will be flying my flag with Miss Artsvik all the way to the final!

Portugal: Salvador Sobral - Amar Pelos Dois
Another definite qualifier is this absolutely stunning, swooning ballad from Portugal, marking their welcome return to the contest after a short break. Between the passion, the timelessness and the touching backstory of the song (written by his sister, who has filled in for Salvador for the initial rehearsals due to his ongoing health issues), this screams 'top 3' to me, if not a winner. While Fly With Me ticks my 'ethnic identity' box, this captures me due to the fact that it is one of the few songs not to be in English. Many people throw the whole 'but it's nice to understand them!!1!' argument around, to which I rebut with the idea that you can express far more by singing in one's native language, rather than presenting an inauthentic and shoddy translation...I won't name any names... 

Will probably go through

Finland: Norma John - Blackbird

Like Portugal, Finland have delivered a restrained, elegant and timeless song in a sea of more predicable and generic balladry. 'Blackbird, blackbird, don't sing' is one of my favourite refrains in the contest this year, providing the memorability needed to hook viewers in alongside the obvious jury praise this will receive. This more-than redeems Finland from its non-qualification last year and if all goes according to plan, I can see this sneaking into the top 10 in the final. My one concern would be this being overshadowed by Salvador, but as I see it, there is room for them both. Blackbird, sing away!

Azerbaijan: Dihaj - Skeletons

One of my instant favourites upon my first listen of the full set of entries; I'm delighted to say that this has not gotten old for me. If anything, I have grown to love Dihaj just as much as the song itself after seeing how effortlessly she oozes cool in her interviews. Azerbaijan has a strong qualification record, so I would be very surprised if they didn't qualify, especially with one of their best ever entries. Having now seen the staging, which is some of the most daring and interesting of the year, I am sure that this will sail through.

Moldova: Sunstroke Project - Hey Mamma

Although I originally dismissed this as a throwaway dance floor filler that would be sneered at by by most, this has grown on me immensely. The group commit completely to the silliness of it all, especially in the way they have ran with the 'epic sax guy' meme from their performance back in 2010. 7 years later, they have returned with what I consider to be a stronger overall package, complete with some of the best staging of the year. I can see this really taking off with the televote on Saturday night.

Latvia: Triana Park - Line

This is one of my favourite songs in the contest; it's fun, it's dynamic, it's colourful and it's something completely different from the other 43 entries. It appears that the producers have the same level of faith in this as I do, after all they placed it last in the running order after Slovenia, one of the most dated Eurovision entries of recent years. Add the most charismatic front woman of the contest this year and some bright, bold and dazzling staging and you have a fantastic package that a lot of people will want to support. As long as Agnese doesn't cross the line (*ba dum tiss*) into aggression with her performance style, I can see this snatching a well-deserved spot in the final. 

Borderline qualifiers 

Greece: Demy - This Is Love

Greece in the 00s was a country that just got Eurovision, sending quality ethnic bops year after year, producing classics such as Kalomira's My Secret Combination and 2005's winner, My Number One by Helena Paparizou. More recently, they have lost their way it seems, to the point where they broke their perfect qualification record last year with the Greco-rap fusion piece 'Utopian Land' by Argo (a guilty pleasure of mine). I was hoping Greece would return to form this year, whether or not they have is still up for debate. Initially I found This Is Love generic and faceless, but overtime I have grown to enjoy it more with repeated listens and I can now admit to liking the verses and the bridge. That said, Demy is far stronger than the song, to the point where I feel like she deserves a lot better. The strong staging restores some hope, but even then I'm not sure if the song is memorable enough to call it a surefire qualifier...in fact I wouldn't be too surprised if this just missed out on a spot in the final. 

Australia: Isaiah - Don't Come Easy

This began the process in my bottom 5 entries of the year; when I first heard it, my initial thought was that it sounded like a Sam Smith song. Over time, my dislike has moved to indifference due to the strength of Isaiah as a vocalist and the attempt at bringing it to life via the staging. Unfortunately, I can still see this struggling when competing against far stronger ballads, in particular Bulgaria, a stronger and more popular young solo male ballad. As this is only Australia's 3rd entry ever, I could see the novelty carrying it into the final, but beyond that I can't see this making an impact. 

The danger zone?

Belgium: Blanche - City Lights

This is where things get tricky. Every year, there is an entry that the Eurovision blogs 'fanwank' over, this year it was City Lights. I can totally see why, it is easily the most modern song of the contest, and one which is most likely to have crossover credibility. The hype was so great that this surged to top 4 in the odds at one point. However, things came a little undone when Blanche started performing at some of the pre-parties and revealed herself to be a rather nervous performer. Pair this with some dubious staging and bizarre styling, you have a fan favourite in distress. Naturally, it started to slide in the odds and people began to call this a possible non-qualifier. Personally, I see a lot of potential in Blanche as a performer and the voters to really take to this, so I could still see it qualifying. 

The borderlines/maybes

Although I prefer the second semi-final as a whole, there are still a number of remaining entries that I would happily swap out for Australia. Representing Iceland, Svala gave me one of my favourite studio tracks in the form of Paper, one of the most underrated tracks of the year. Unfortunately, the simplicity of the staging combined with the lack of buzz surrounding it makes me unsure of whether it can snatch a spot in the final. Svala will have to rely on a number of the less-experienced performers screwing up their performances in order to go through. Georgia, Albania and Poland are another three entries that I'd happily see in the final, however, because all 3 are in the same category of female power ballads, I fear they will cancel each other out. Although, a strong performance combined with a solid diaspora vote could see Kasia Mos through, which I would be ok with. Then we come to Cyprus, which as much as I'd love to see in the final (because, you know, representation and all that) the song lacks the punch that it needs to help it stand out. The staging looks promising though, so maybe Hovig can surprise us? 

No way

Then, at the bottom of the pile for me sit Slovenia, the Czech Republic and Montenegro. As stated before, Slovenia's On My Way is perhaps the most dated and dreary song of the past two years, and even a solid performance from Omar Naber can't save it. Even though I actually like My Turn, it is the most at risk of getting lost in the shuffle due to its subtlety. Couple this with the Czech Republic's lack of diaspora and the general lack of interest for this song and you have a classic non-qualifier situation. Last but not least, we have Montenegro, which is the most likely to fall completely on its face because the staging is an absolute mess. I happen to love Slavko, but whether the voting public will is an entirely different story. Unfortunately, his exuberance is the last of his worries; the song itself is tacky and cheap, which will fail to win it any jury points, nor enough public support to boost it up to the level of fan favourites like Sweden, with which it shares a similar genre. 

Summary - my top 10 qualifiers

1. Portugal
2. Armenia 
3. Finland
4. Sweden
5. Moldova
6. Azerbaijan
7. Latvia
8. Belgium
9. Greece
10. Australia

Wildcard: Replace Australia with Georgia or Poland. 

So there you have it folks! Time will tell whether my predictions will be correct, and in the meantime I will attempt to do another one of these posts for the next semi final as well as a write-up ahead of the grand final on Saturday!