The first semi-final at Eurovision 2012 takes place on May 22. To help you decide which country deserves your televote, I'm reviewing some of this year's most talked-about entries. Today's acts include Roman Lob--a German heartthrob singing a song composed by Jamie Cullum--and Valentina Monetta--a woman from San Marino who waxes and wanes on cyber-sex.
Albania: Rona Nishliu with "Suus":
She who shrieks does not win. But she who belts it out Rona Nishliu-style has a major chance of doing well. I was skeptical when I first heard this song and cracked more than a few jokes about dead cats (particularly in the final bars). I was thinking, "Get this woman a chai tea latte!" when I heard her belting out chaaiiiiiiiii over and over. After looking at the English translation of the lyrics, though, I now realize she's saying "qaj" which means "cry." It really drove home the point that "Suus" is a deeply emotional ballad in the style of 2007's winning song "Molitva." Given the vocals on Rona--she serves it up like Mariah Carey, y'all!--I see this going down very well in Baku. I just hope she doesn't shatter the ceiling of Baku's Crystal Hall Arena.
Prediction: Albania doesn't fare terribly well at Eurovision. But I'm confidant that the jury vote will help pull this song through the semi-finals. In the final, Rona will struggle to get the public's vote, but could finish as high as 15th place.
Germany: Roman Lob with "Standing Still:
Female singers at Eurovision frequently shriek about how a man did them wrong and left them shattered on the floor. And when they aren't doing that, they're singing about how they are stronger now that said man is out of their life. But ladies aren't the only ones who hurt when a relationship comes to an end--or the only ones who can rebuild themselves afterwards. Germany's Roman Lob demonstrates that men suffer, too, and that this pain makes for a damn good song.
With his pitch perfect vocals and that adorably vulnerable face, Roman sets a melancholy mood in the opening bars. His relationship is over and, as his girlfriend walks out the door, he debates whether he should wrap his arms around her in a last ditch effort to make it work. But as he croons in the chorus, "I'm just standing still." At this point it's unclear if he's frozen out of shock, or if he just doesn't want anything else to do with her. He clears it up in the next section when he realizes that the pain of a breakup is worth it when the relationship isn't meant to be. "What I thought would be the end/ Is just the feeling that you freed me/ Girl this ain't giving up/ It's knowing where to stop/ Knowing every thing is over."
The song's most important semantic shift takes place at 1:47 when the chorus switches from "but I'm standing still" to "'cause I'm standing still." But suggests confusion. Because suggests volition. He has the power to act, but chooses not to. For a heart-broken young man keen to start the next chapter in his life, "Standing Still" is actually moving forward.
Prediction: Along with Britain, France, Italy and Spain, Germany receives an automatic bid to the final because it contributes so much money to staging Eurovision. But Roman doesn't need the help. His song is sufficiently middle-of-the road that it will appeal to lots of people. The fact that he delivers it so well is icing on the cake. I see this making the Top 10 for sure.
Israel: Izabo with "Time":
Wiwi: I have to be honest: in the years Israel doesn't send a transsexual to Eurovision, I rarely pay attention to the country's entry. And so it was this year. I didn't actually listen to Izabo until this morning. I'm glad that I did. The video is among the kookiest we've seen this year, and it fits well with the song's offbeat, quirky sound. It melds 1950s American Oldies with alternative rock, and I find it all rather pleasant. The wordplay is clever, too, particularly the section where Izabo attempts to seduce Time, who is relentless in pushing forward, and waits for no man: "Time, time, could you be mine?/ I will feed you songs and wine/ I'll make you lazy, I'll make you late/ Wait, wait, wait." But in the end this song is like dessert at a bad all-you-can-eat buffet. If it's there I'll eat it. But if it's not, I won't really notice.
Prediction: As we learned when Dana International was booted from Eurovision last year, Israel has to work hard to make it past the semi-finals. It's not a guarantee that Izabo will make it through, and bookies have suggested that it won't. However, in a year of samey ballads, Izabo really stands out. I'm hopeful they will squeak through the semis in ninth or tenth position, and that they'll finish between 20th and 25th in the final.
San Marino: Valentina Monetta with "The Social Network":
Officials at Eurovision disqualified Valentina's original Eurovision entry "Facebook Uh, Oh, Oh." That's because it referred to the social networking site 11 times, apparently violating rules that forbid songs from having "commercial interests." So brave Valentina went back to the recording studio and replaced all references to the site with the syllables "uh" and "oh." The result is a comical meditation on Internet addiction. Its saucy lyrics include this gem of a passage: "Do you wanna be more than just a friend?/ Do you wanna play cyber-sex again?/If you wanna come to my house/ Then click me with your mouse." The fact that she says all this with a straight face has earned her 12 points from me.
Prediction: Despite having a stellar first rehearsal at Eurovision, there is no way this song will advance from the semi-final. That kind of breaks my heart.
You can read my reviews of all 42 Eurovision entries by clicking here.