With Eurovision less than three weeks away, performers from Sweden to Ukraine are busy glueing on their sequins and perfecting their dance moves. 42 countries will compete, but only one can win. To help you decide which country deserves your televote, I'll be giving you the low down on some of this year's most talked-about entries, along with predictions on how they will fare at the contest in Baku. Today's line-up includes the Buranovskiye Babushki, Russia's singing sextet of grannies, and France's Anggun, one of her country's biggest pop acts.
France: Anggun with "Echo (You and I)":
Crazy people tend to be more interesting - and the same holds true for music. The opening bars of Anggun's "Echo (You and I)" give off a schizophrenic vibe, moving from R&B to rock to trance to pop all in a matter of seconds. But Anggun finally settles on a mid-tempo dance number with Oriental influences. And I totally approve.
Although its sound is decidedly modern, the song's message is as old as time: How do we cope with the end of a relationship? The lyrics suggest that the song's central character is having trouble moving on. "We get lost, we hope/ Somewhere we go astray/But one day beyond this we'll meet/ In my dreams, in my dreams/ In my heart, in my mind/ I see you and I, I see you and I." Some may criticize the use of English in the simple chorus. But it mirrors the theme of love echoing through time, and, in this case, through language, too. On avance, mais on court après quoi? Anggun asks, which means something like, "We move on, but what are we running after?" It's a good question for all of us.
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Prediction: I'd like to see this song finish in the Top 10, but France has only managed that twice in the past decade. But if Anggun's stage act is as glossy as her music video, I think she has a fighting chance.
Georgia: Anri Jokhadze with "I'm A Joker":
The Georgian entry says he is a joker, but there are plenty of things he is not. He is not, for instance, a good singer. Nor is he the charismatic performer it would take to make this appalling song bearable. Its lyrics are easily the worst of Eurovision 2012 and feature lines such as: "Hands up, booty up! And do the dance, honey/ Hands up, booty up! And do the dance, honey/ Show me some love!"
Prediction: This song will not advance from the semi-finals. Expect it to finish near the bottom of its semi, in 17th or 18th place.
The Netherlands: Joan Franka with "You and Me":
I have no doubt that many Eurovision fans will mock the staging and the headdress and the folksy sound of Joan Franka's "You and Me." But if you listen to the thoughtful lyrics of Joan's song, you'll realize that unlike the vast majority of Eurovision artists she is actually telling a story.
"You and Me" touches on love and loss, the innocence of childhood and the cruelty of growing up. The opening bars describe the close relationship five-year old Joan shares with a neighbor, and the wonder with which they approach the world--and each other. "You looked just like an angel/ You looked up and saw the skies/ Saw the birds and wondered why/ They can fly away so high." In subsequent passages they "grow up all in love," but unfortunately that love "couldn't handle time." By the end of the song Joan still sees her old friend walking by, and her heart yearns to understand what went wrong. She doesn't specify how much time has passed, so she could now be looking back as a teenager--or as an elderly woman who regrets living her life without him. Regardless, the pain resonates. Joan's voice carries it beautifully. As for the staging, the headdress isn't meant to mock Native Americans. It's part of a costume she wore as a child, when she was still young enough to love without reserve.
Prediction: The Netherlands has not advanced to the finals in seven years, but Joan is their strongest entry in a long, long time. If the jury respects her voice as much as I do, their votes could overcome the deficit she will face with the public. I'm hoping she will advance from her semi-final, and then finish around 20th in the grand final.
Russia: The Buranovskiye Babushki with "Party for Everybody":
I love a good Susan Boyle moment--and the Buranovskiye Babushki gave me six of them during the Russian final. Re-watching the YouTube video, I can't help but melt when I see the pure joy on the babushki's faces as they dance (very slowly) and repeat "boom, boom" with smiles as wide as Siberia. The smug, almost scornful looks of the jury make the granny's victory even sweeter. They stared their detractors in the face, and shoved them aside with their walking sticks.
The song itself isn't spectacular. I'm not going to be playing it at my daughter's wedding. But I might just turn it up during the after party! Eurovision has never been about the best song. It's about the best act. And this one comes with attitude, spunk, spirit, and the belief that you can keep on moving no matter what your age.
Prediction: Mother Russia will, as always, draw support from the former Soviet Republics. The question is whether the professional jury, which determines half of the overall score, will be so enthusiastic. This song will either make the Top Five, or finish somewhere near the bottom.