Eurovision officially kicks off on Tuesday 6 May at 8pm UK time from Copenhagen with the first semi-final. To help you through the semis and Saturday's Grand Final, I've picked my ones to watch below...
Last year's winner Emmelie de Forrest opens the show
Denmark won the contest last year with the simply drippy "Only Teardrops". They stand a chance to do the double this year though with the sub-Bruno Mars stylings of artist Basim's "Cliché Love Song" (sample lyric: skuba duba dabda didi dai, I love you, another cliché baby). It's not great, but it's good and in a year replete with ballads, it will stand out. Like Sweden's 2012 winner Loreen, Basim (full name, Anis Basim Moujahid) is of Moroccan heritage. Given Denmark's challenging recent history of race relations with its large Muslim population, it would be a good win on many fronts.
Sweden's songstress, the preternaturally aged Sanna Nielsen, has participated in the Swedish national song contest Melodifestivalen seven times. She's committed, has a good voice and a strong ballad. The lyrics are awful though. Why the Swedes can't run their song lyrics by someone who actually speaks English before recording the song is beyond me (sample lyric: Undo my sad. Undo what hurts so bad.). Urgh. Undo my ears.
Norway sends a brooding ballad sung by an ex-army carpenter (sample lyric: I'm here to use my heart and my hands; Somehow the bruises changed my plans). Cheer up mate, for goodness' sake - it's Eurovision! It's the melodic equivalent of Munch's Scream but may prove popular.
The female power ballads
UK X Factor alumnus Ruth Lorenzo is singing "Dancing in the Rain" for Spain, a powerful ballad borrowing from the Vivian Greene epithet "Life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass, it's about learning to dance in the rain" (Norway, take note). The voice is good - if a little screechy - but it doesn't stand out as much as it wants to.
The UK's own Molly Smitten-Downes is singing a self-penned anthem entitled "Children of the Universe" The opening lyric: I've been tired of this thinking, so I've drowned it out with drinking, tastes like a bitter pill but I'll just wash it down with the taste of something sweet that some doctor gave me now sounds to me pretty much like everything that is wrong with an anti-depressant addled and alcohol-fuelled broken Britain. With the recurring refrain "Power to the People, oh eh eh", sung over and over, it's quite the political statement. The vocals, styling and performance are good though - and it's the UK's best shot in years.
Israel is my favourite - a genuinely modern pop song sung by the fierce Mei Feingold with two backing dancers with a catwalk strut that Kate and Naomi would be proud of. The performance is as strong as the song, though the middle verse and lyrics sung in Hebrew may be a misstep. Mind you, the English lyrics aren't great either with the sligtly strange chorus of, "I'm skinning you out". Still, it stands out from the crowd and will do well if it has a good place in the running order.
The stunning Conchita Wurst is representing Austria. She is a bearded drag artist (real name Tom Neuwirth) and in interviews and pre-contest publicity has come across as a composed, eloquent and intelligent performance artist. Rise Like a Phoenix is basically bearded Bassey does Bond. Nonetheless, it showcases Conchita's soaring voice well. Her lyrics urge us to seek retribution not vengeance. If she finishes in the top 10, she'll have made her point tremendously well.
With Eurovision founded to ensure peace between previously warring nations, it's only fitting that we should take a quick look at the two main political rivalries underlying the contest this year.
- Armenia vs. Azerbaijan: both favourites, both good songs. Aram MP3's "You're Not Alone" takes some time to build but when it does, unleashes a powerful electro-ballad. Azerbaijan goes old school, with the heartfelt chanson Start a Fire. Both nations are likely to boycott the other if one wins as they are still technically at war over Nagorno-Karabakh. In Eurovision terms, it is a shame as both countries consistently send good entries.
- Russia vs. Ukraine: whilst not technically at war, it will be interesting to see whether Ukraine (with the mediocre Tick Tock) can pick up sympathy votes against the Big Bear itself (sending two sweet twin girls with the mediocre Shine). Watch out for the fans in the hall waving their LGBT rainbow flags during Russia's performance. Nowhere does European Culture Wars better than Eurovision.
Ukraine's performance: a sexed-up giant hamster wheel
The rest of the favourites
The French have sent the up-beat, modern and kitsch Twin Twin (sample lyric: I have everything I could ever dream of, It's true, maybe I do have it all; But I wanna have a moustache). It's actually a subversive critique of materialism in the vein of the French economist du jour Thomas Pikkety - though that may pass most people by in lieu of the fabulous bouffant hair sported by lead singer Lorent Idir.
Greece is also going upbeat this year, with London rapper RiskyKidd teaming up with Greek duo Freaky Fortune to sing about rising up (sample lyric: Come on and rise up jump out of what keeps you down). As if to hammer the point home, the performance involves a trampoline. What could be more Eurovision than that?
Hungary is attempting the precise opposite: attempting to bring everyone down with a song about domestic (child) abuse (sample lyric: She cries cries cries, she's all alone, Daddy why why why, Leave me alone). The lyrics are powerful, but for me they don't sit well in Eurovision's world of light (i.e. camp, joyous, silly) entertainment.
The 2014 Eurovision Song Contest's dashing Danish hosts.
Tips for the Top
It's wide open this year with no clear favourite. Armenia, Hungary, Azerbaijan and Ukraine will do well for the Eastern Bloc. Israel, Spain and Greece will hold it up for Mediterranean Europe. The Nordics may make it a triple and the UK's Molly has an outside chance. Whoever the winner, it's one to watch.
The Eurovision Song Contest is on 6th, 8th and 10th May at 8pm (BST) and in the UK will be shown on BBC3 for the semi-finals and BBC1 for the Saturday Grand Final.