Preview: Eurovision Song Contest 2018

It’s that time of year again! As the Eurovision Song Contest 2018 approaches, Lee Williscroft-Ferris reveals what we can expect from this year’s event.

It’s hard to believe that 12 months have passed since Portugal’s Salvador Sobral won over the juries and televoters of Europe and beyond with the very ‘un-Eurovision‘ ballad, ‘Amar Pelos Dois’. His resounding victory in Kiev in 2017 means that this year’s contest is to be held in Lisbon.

The theme for 2018 is ‘All Aboard!’, a nod to Portugal’s maritime history. The first detail of note is the presenters. Last year, Ukraine opted for an all-male team of presenters, despite their ‘Celebrate Diversity’ motif. This raised many an eyebrow and might go some way to explaining why this year, all four presenters are female. Touché.

As always, this year’s contest is a marathon rather than a sprint, with two semi-finals (the first on Tuesday 8 May, the other on Thursday 10 May), culminating in the Grand Final on Saturday 12 May, by which time 43 participating nations will have been whittled down to 26.

So, what of this year’s entries. As always, there is a heady mix of the sublime, the credible, the kitschy and the, well, downright rubbish. Here are the songs to look out for in 2018.

ISRAEL: ‘Toy’ – Netta

Israel’s entry has been making waves since it was unveiled earlier in the year and remains the odds-on favourite to win the contest. It’s an anthem to female empowerment, widely interpreted as a response to the #MeToo movement. With a defiant chorus (‘I’m not your toy, you stupid boy’), irresistible hook and an immensely charismatic, quirky performer, this is definitely one to watch.

FRANCE: ‘Mercy’ – Madame Monsieur

France has not won the Eurovision Song Contest since 1977. This year, the French public voted to send a song taking as its inspiration the story of an imaginary baby born to migrant parents out in the Mediterranean Sea. It might sound like a buzz-killer but it’s performed to perfection by the duo and has an up-to-date vibe that will have broad appeal.

BULGARIA: ‘Bones’- Equinox

After a somewhat shaky start at Eurovision since debuting in 2005, Bulgaria has recently found its stride with the amazing ‘If Love Was A Crime’ in 2016 and last year’s ‘Beautiful Mess’, which ended in second place. This year’s entry, ‘Bones’, is performed by a Bulgarian-American quintet of highly talented vocalists and is one of the standout songs in the contest. If you don’t get goosebumps, you’re dead on the inside, frankly.

CZECH REPUBLIC: ‘Lie To Me’ – Mikolas Josef

Think one part Timberlake, one part Bieber and one part Dora the Explorer and you have Mikolas Josef… kinda. The Czech Republic has only qualified once for a Eurovision final but look certain to make it to Saturday night with ‘Lie To Me’, a funky number with an ear-worm of a trumpet riff and lyrics that are unique, to say the least (‘Damn it, everybody knows she never loved for real / Honey bunny up all night, wannabe couplegoals queen’). Watch out for the backpack.

ESTONIA: ‘La Forza’ – Elina Nechayeva

Ms. Nechayeva isn’t the first to have a pop at opera at Eurovision. Most recently, Italy’s Il Volo won the televote and came third in 2015 with ‘Grande Amore’. On top of absolutely flawless vocals, ‘La Forza’ benefits from being performed in Italian, which, let’s face it, is always a plus. What’s more, the chanteuse wears a projection dress for the performance that is so elaborate, she had to seek sponsorship just to afford it. We live.

IRELAND: ‘Together’ – Ryan O’Shaughnessy

You may (not) remember Ryan O’Shaughnessy as a finalist on Britain’s Got Talent in 2012. His entry is an understated but beautiful song about struggling to terms with the end of a relationship (‘I thought we’d be together till we die / I’ll forever wonder why’). O’Shaughnessy also brings the ‘queer factor’ with two male dancers interpreting the meaning of the song on stage. It’s really very lovely indeed.

LITHUANIA: ‘When We’re Old’ – Ieva Zasimauskaitė

Staying with the quiet but powerful, Lithuania is certainly one to watch in 2018. A combination of a gentle yet emotionally potent vocal delivery and musical simplicity makes ‘When We’re Old’ an incredibly impressive entry from the only Baltic state to have never won the contest. Call us soppy but we’re all about an ode to growing old together.

MACEDONIA: ‘Lost and Found’ – Eye Cue

Let’s be honest, combining a reggae-based verse with a high-octane, guitar-tinged chorus probably shouldn’t work but in this case, it more than delivers. With a hook sure to make many other contestants jealous and a refrain guaranteed to get viewers up and dancing, it really is pure Eurovision gold. As the song goes, ‘Now there’s no way back’.

SWEDEN: ‘Dance You Off’ – Benjamin Ingrosso

You can never write off Sweden’s chances. Having won the contest in both 2012 and 2015, the Scandipop superpower is fast becoming the ‘Ireland’ of the 2010s. ‘Dance You Off’ might not have the winning potential of ‘Euphoria’ or ‘Heroes’ but it’s a great pop number underpinned by a self-assured performance and fantastic staging. A sure-fire qualifier for the final.

AUSTRALIA: ‘We Got Love’ – Jessica Mauboy

OK, we are still wondering how Australia got to be a regular participant in Eurovision but that aside, for the fourth year in a row, our Antipodean friends are sending a stonker of an entry. ‘We Got Love’ is an unashamed piece of hands-in-the-air pop perfection with a message of positivity (‘I know what you must be thinking / That we are powerless to change things / But don’t give up, ‘cos we got love’). Jessica is selling and we are definitely buying.

Honourable mentions also go to Italy, Norway, Latvia and Cyprus, all of which we have our eye on. Look out for X Factor finalist and out lesbian, Saara Aalto, representing her native Finland with ‘Monsters’.

Have a listen to our specially-compiled Spotify playlist below and let us know which of our ‘ones to watch’ you are also digging by leaving a comment.

The first semi-final of the Eurovision Song Contest 2018 will be broadcast in the UK on BBC4 at 20:00 on Tuesday 8 May, with semi-final two at the same time on Thursday 10 May. The Grand Final will be broadcast on BBC1 at 20:00 on Saturday 12 May

Follow Lee on Twitter (@calamospondylus)

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