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Music

ESC check: Tops and flops

Who will make it all the way to the top? And who won't even reach the finals? Our Eurovision reporters share their gut feelings while ignoring all predictions - and without having talked to each other about it.

40 songs, two music editors and one task: Rick Fulker (expert on classical music) and pop music editor Silke Wünsch were asked to choose their personal favorites and flops. Both listened to all the songs entering the Eurovision Song Contest. Evaluation criteria: composition, voice, performance, glamor and, finally, a prediction.

Silke: Even at the ESC one can still come across some pretty good music - though it may take some time to find it. These are my top 3:

3rd place: Russia

No politics, please! And no resentment or prejudice! Russian siner Polina Gagarina is simply grand. She looks great and sings extraordinarily well. "A Million Voices" is a powerful ballad with much fanfare, bombastic strings and the message that everything will be fine as long as people all stick together. What sets this ballad apart from countless others is the joy in her singing, absent of pathos or strained emotionality. Her voice is indeed captivating and will certainly also appeal to audiences in eastern European countries participating in the contest. In this case, I will not be angry if, once again, they give each other points - as long as the effect is to catapult Polina into the Top Ten.

The Makemakes. PHOTO: APA/GEORG HOCHMUTH

Toning down the glamor factor for Austria: The Makemakes

2nd place: Austria

No contrast could be bigger: Last year, Conchita Wurst sang herself into the hearts of ESC fans with a bombastic ballad. This year, the trio The Makemakes with "I am Yours" has stepped forward entirely without airs or glitter. The singer (whose beard is fuller than Conchita's) gives a convincing, if rather unexcited, performance with a powerful blues voice. But I don't understand why the piano had to be set on fire during Austrian nationals and hope that the trio will waive such gimmicks in Vienna. In any case, the ESC audience will be delighted; soul music always goes over well, though it doesn't necessarily make it to the top. That, together with the host bonus, could well bestow "I am Yours" a place among the top 12 in the finale.

1st place: The best song is from Norway

A ballad, of things! But what a ballad! With "Monster Like Me," everything's perfect: the composition, the song structure, the dynamics, the use of mostly natural instruments. Not to mention the melody and the combination of voices: Morland & Debrah Scarlett. Both are big stars in Norway. The country stands behind this couple, and so do I, keeping my fingers crossed for them. The audience, however, may well disagree. Even so, they're likely to end up in the top ten.

Silke's "flop 3":

ESC 2015 Nina Sublatti. EPA/GEORG HOCHMUTH

Singing for Georgia: Nina Sublatti

3rd place: Georgia

Help! I'm being yelled at by a vamp! Nina Sublatti may have conquered the hearts of her Georgian compatriots with her song "Warrior," which she composed herself. But not mine. With plenty of noise and rumblings, she screams her soul out while looking pretty angry. The performance is just as nervewracking as it is glamorous. That factor always counts much with eastern European audiences: scantily clad Amazons armed with bows and arrows wildly jumping on the stage, the singer in their midst, all supported by wind machines and every kind of pyrotechnics. My forecast: mid-position in the finale.

Ralph Siegel. Photo: Joerg Carstensen/dpa pixel

The inevitable Ralph Siegel wrote San Marino's entry

2nd place: San Marino

Initial reaction: helplessness. Then: horror. The youthful duo Anita Simonchini & Michele Perniola is accompanied by discreet electronic drums and a string orchestra. With a shaky voice, Michele starts out a bit too timidly until he is finally relieved by his partner. She warbles on, frightening me off with a strange melody. Was that her intention, or is it just that she can't sing any better? I am able to tune into the refrain of "Chain of Lights" without a problem; after all, I've heard that succession of chords often enough. It comes as no surprise that the composer of this platitude is ESC veteran Ralph Siegel. Among the candles and the obligatory string orchestra, this duo will make a pretty appearance onstage. Nevertheless, we need not expect much in terms of glamor here - or points.

1st place: The worst song of all comes from Switzerland

ESC 2015: Singer Mélanie René. Photo: APA/ROBERT JAEGER -

Rock in a feather dress: Switzerland's Mélanie René

What happened here? With black-rimmed eyes, clad in a feather dress, singer Mélanie René stands in a forest, singing about her search for herself. "Time to Shine" is the title of this very weak pop ballad with rock elements. Loud drums and distorted guitar sounds are obviously intended to detract from her rather average voice, but it doesn't really work. One can expect Mélanie to wear lots of feathers and fringes on stage, which, driven by the obligatory wind machine, will be neatly blowing around her. So that at least her appearance should have some audience appeal. But one should turn off the sound. This song probably won't make it to the finals anyway.

Rick: It's fun to be on the front line at the ESC, even if I never imagined myself doing so, and even if my preditions should turn out to be totally wrong. And I would like to emphasize: Silke and I have not exchanged a single word about our judgments. My own top 3:

3rd place: Latvia

Is there something in Latvia's drinking water that boosts musicality? Not only two top classical conductors (Mariss Jansons and Andris Nelsons) come from that small Baltic country but also a promising ESC candidate. In "Love Injected," the initial soft R&B rhythms and Aminata Savadogo's somewhat thin voice generate a certain tension which is eventually released in a big chorus and strong vocals. In the video, the overall effect is boosted by the consistent red-and-black color motif. Musical evaluation: it should land somewhere in the top five. Likely ESC success (not the same thing!): ditto.

2nd place: Germany

Music is flowing through this woman! I saw the video of "Black Smoke" recorded live after Ann Sophie's surprise victory in the national round - just after the actual champion had turned down the prize. Puzzled for a moment, she quickly took control of a situation no one had anticipated beforehand. Her spontaneity and charm remind me of Lena Meyer-Landrut, who won the ESC trophy for Germany back in 2010. The song is snappy. Can it take Ann Sophie to victory? How likely is it that the prize will go twice within five years to a country represented by a young woman with dark eyes and natural charisma? Music evaluation: top ten. Likely ESC success: top twenty.

Electro Velvet

Campy duo from the UK: Electro Velvet

1st place: Great Britain

With so many ESC songs in English, what is the contribution from Great Britain itself? The song by Electro Velvet is pure fun, presented in Hollywood Roaring Twenties style. The text to "Still in Love With You" is witty and understandable. The video offers much for the eyes and not a second of boredom. And after the song is over, the refrain still reverberates in my head. Glamor is also here in abundance. Musical evaluation: top five. Likely ESC success: upper half.

And Rick's flop 3:

3rd place: Portugal

A singing beauty with pleading, doggy eyes is to be seen, and a voice with an occasional sprinkling of blues to be heard. Yet the over performance seems a bit strained; Leonor Andrade noticibly has to stretch her voice. It's refreshing to hear something in a native tongue though, and the Portuguese deserve to be lauded for their courage. For those who do not understand the text to "Há um mar que nos separa:" it's about the singer wanting to dry up the ocean that separates her from her love. Several years ago, the ever-changing ESC regulations actually stipulated that participating countries enter something in their own language. That didn't last long though. I'd like to see the rule reintroduced. Musical evaluation: the song sounds quite nice, therefore: upper quarter. Likely ESC success: not a chance, due to the Portuguese text.

2nd place: Russia / Polina Gagarina: "A Million Voices"

Polina Gagarina, Eurovision Song Contest 2015. Photo: EBU/Andreas Putting

To win, glamor isn't enough: Polina Gagarina

Pure glamor, a very beautiful blond singer and numerous images of smiling people, from children to senior citizens. The elaborately produced video is bathed in rich colors. The song's message seems to be quite general. Nothing per se wrong with that, but it almost seems like the politically isolated country is trying to demonstrate that: "Look, we're just like you." One gets the impression that the whole thing is a bit too carefully calculated. Musical evaluation: with the bland composition and Polina Gagarina's average voice: bottom half. Likely ESC success: Upper half.

1st (and worst) place: Greece

An unexciting product from the ESC assembly line, with cones of light, a confetti storm, a beautiful blonde and a song that says nothing. And nothing of "One Last Breath" remains in memory. 40,000 candidates in television casting shows in Germany alone could well compete with Maria Elena Kiriakou. How many amateurs in Europe altogether? I'd rather not know. Music evaluation: lower quarter. Likely ESC success: somewhere in the middle.

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