The competition will be fierce at the world's biggest music contest this Saturday, when 42 countries court European fans for their votes. Viewers will hear everything from ballads to dance pop and off-the-wall numbers.
Once there seemed to be a recipe for success at the Eurovision Song Contest, a magic formula for appealing musically to all generations on the European continent and beyond. Strikingly, that no longer seems to be the case. There are trends among the 42 entries this year, of course, but also a few marked breakaways. Simple, unadorned songs that are just plain good - without relying on extravagant musical gimmickry - are few and far between.
Pianos and a whole lotta emotion
The hymnal or dramatic Eurovision ballad is far from obsolete. At least ten different songs, mainly from eastern European countries, go all out when it comes to musical compositions that bank on emotional drama and excessive pathos. The yearning ballad and its sub-form, the power ballad, live on. Add to that all of the songs that start off schmaltzy and ultimately pick up speed, then we're at nearly half of all the competition entries.
Azerbaijan, last year's winner and this year's host, is sending one such ballad into the musical ring. Sabina Babayeva - a tried-and-true singer in musicals - covers virtually all vocal registers and is accompanied here by large orchestra for her contribution "When the Music Dies."
A dance number to sing along to has also become a Eurovision standard. Sometimes it's funky, like with Georgia's contribution, "I'm a Joker." Sometimes it's a retro-disco number, such as Lithuania's entry, which clearly resembles Gloria Gaynor's classic "I Will Survive." And then there's the island-party, sing-along song with mass appeal from Cyprus, whose title can be understood by anyone in the world: "La La Love."
Bulgaria's "Love Unlimited" house sound, on the other hand, takes a much different approach. With her propelling beat, Sofi Marinova could be played in techno clubs around the globe.
They're old and need the money
Boring pop duos, innocently cheerful Lenas and fear-instilling Finnish Heavy Metal bands are a thing of the past. Eurovision's future lies in the flair of village life. Russia's Buranovskiye Babushki are eight older women - grannies, actually - who are anything but glamorous, and oblivious to fame. With their song "Party for Everybody," sung partly in English and partly in the Udmurt language, the female octet aims to earn money for a church in their home village. That's odd enough in itself to grab the spotlight, but when it comes right down to it, the song is simply a whole lot of fun.
Here Russian folklore meets disco beat, and balalaikas accompany the singalong English refrain. This kind of fun could end up being more appealing than the numerous, oh-so-serious love ballads. If Russian disco didn't already exist, this would be more than enough reason to create it.
Great Britain is also sending an older gentleman into the ring: Engelbert Humperdinck, who celebrated his greatest music success in the 1960s. His song, however, is more of the sad love variety.
Inspired by a strip club
Austria dispatched the duo Trackshittaz to the ESC this year - two hip-hoppers who are currently breaking all records in the Alpine republic. Tough beats and irreverent lyrics make their song one of the most extreme in the competition: "Woki mit deim Popo" ("Shake Your Bottom") was supposedly inspired by a visit to a strip club. The two Austrians call their music "tractor gangsta party rap," and it includes Alpine elements such as the accordion. The duo, however, did not make it through the first semi-final on May 22.
Rambo of the Balkans
Rambo Amadeus has been one of Montenegro's more offbeat artists since 1989. With ironic lyrics set to music somewhere between jazz and pop, he writes anything but harmonious love songs. His Eurovision contribution offers everything that could repel a mainstream audience: warped rhythms, jazz chords, Oriental strings and no refrain to sing along to.
Instead, the man - who in his video travels the country with a donkey - uses rap to extol openness, understanding, nudism and bike-riding. It's a very unconventional interpretation of the Eurovision idea. The music contest, after all, was first initiated to break down borders and foster understanding across Europe. As if punished for his unconventional approach, Rambo Amadeus didn't pass the first semi-final.
Harder sounds have had their own shot at victory since the Finnish band Lordi placed first in 2006 with their song "Hardrock Hallelujah." Turkey and Russia have also been successful with rock in the competition.
But if you want loud, then listen to "Don't close your eyes" by Max Jason Mai. The man from Slovakia lets loose with pure heavy metal - and is sure to shock older Eurovision viewers.
Return of the Sulker
Eurovision veteran Ralph Siegel has participated in Eurovision 19 times with his compositions. In 1982 his song "Ein bißchen Frieden," performed by Nicole and co-written with Bernd Meinunger, grabbed the first win ever for Germany. Asked about Lena's Eurovision success two years ago, Siegel huffed that Germany hadn't actually won, as Lena's song had been written by a Danish-American songwriter duo.
Siegel hasn't competed with his songs for Germany for years now, but there are other countries after all. This time, it's the tiny nation of San Marino, represented by Valentina Monetta. For her, Siegel penned a deliberately youthful little song that pokes fun at social networks. The original title was "The Facebook Song," but with brand names taboo at the Eurovision Song Contest, it was renamed the "Social Network Song." Whatever the name, it didn't get Monetta through the first semi-final.
And then there's...
Roman Lob. He doesn't grab much attention at first. But the German participant has a few things going for him - for one, he's good-looking. For another, he presents a solid song which he performs wonderfully. If the European audience simply wants good music without all the bells and whistles, then Roman Lob has a chance at making it to the top.
Author: Matthias Klaus / als
Editor: Rick Fulker