Sizing Up The Competition at Eurovision ({{commentsTotal}})

As the Eurovision contest gets underway, columnist Stuart Garlick sizes up the acts you will see in the first semifinal tonight.

Armenia: Aram MP3, "Not Alone"
A power ballad about a man comforting a woman. There's a nice string section, that builds progressively, and then BLOODY HELL there's a dubstep shouty bit. That'll give a few pensioners a heart attack. Contender.

Latvia: Aarzemnieki, "Cake to Bake"
It begins a bit James Blunt, only to reveal worse rhymes and a man who seems to base his accent and cloying persona on the aforementioned man who saw his ex on the subway and thought we'd be interested. "I've got a cake to bake," says the mockney git, making this a shoo in for the next Sara Lee ad campaign.

Estonia: Tanja, "Amazing"
Tanja has been working hard at every aspect of the act, "Amazing" may be derivative, but since when has it been a crime for a good pop song to sound like others? A tune that sounds "Top 10", and world-beating choreography. Let's see, but it looks good for Estonia this year.

Sweden: Sanna Nielsen, "Undo"
I'd listened to most of the Swedish Melodifestivalen entrants, but hadn't picked this as getting to Eurovision. Nonetheless, the home of Abba and the legendary Roxette was never going to give us a bad song. This one isn't bad ... It's just that in spite of sounding polished and defiant, the chorus is not the easiest to remember, which could be costly in the latter stages.

Iceland: Pollapönk, "No Prejudice"
Remember in the British version of The Office, when Ricky Gervais` character said he'd come up with a song called "Equality Street" about treating people fairly? Well this might have been the result. The outfits are straight out of Iceland's most successful export, "Lazytown", the song is straight out of a mediocre indie songwriter`s bin. And how can you write a song about prejudice, but chicken out of even mentioning gay rights?

Albania: Hersi, "One Night's Anger"
The song is called "One Night's Anger", and yet this hostage to fortune doesn't detract from a decent tune that takes cues from The Corrs` "Runaway", fronted by a Shakira sound-a-like.

Russia: Tolmachevy Sisters, "Shine"
Not the first time in recent history that Russia has sent people abroad and asked people for their opinion, perhaps, although one wishes that what was sent could always be this anodyne. Utterly forgettable, but the girls are pretty, and that counts for something when the contest is televised.

Azerbaijan: Dilara Kazimova, "Start A Fire"
"Running Scared" was a wonderful song that deserved to win a few years back, but this doesn't start even a camp fire for me. Unlike Armenia, the Azeris haven't thrown in a cheeky bit of dubstep, and so lose points with this reporter.

Ukraine: Mariya Yaremchuk, "Tick-Tock"
Resisting the chance to send a protest song, Ukraine have gone for perhaps the even better option: a copper-bottomed pop hit with a massive disco production, a chorus you can remember just from reading the title, and every chance of winning. A true contender.

Belgium: Axel Hirsoux, "Mother"
A quivering voiced tenor with a paean to his mother. It would win the X Factor on its own in 2007, but the whole Andrew Lloyd Webber shtick feels pretty dated, especially from the country that brought us Soulwax and David Guetta.

Moldova: Cristina Scarlet, "Wild Soul"
"What am I, am I human?" asks Cristina Scarlet (no relation to the 1960s TV puppet character Captain Scarlet of British sci-fi), in possibly the song most obviously written after watching an X-Men marathon. It's an identikit dubby shouty ballad and should be treated with caution usually reserved for week-old pizza you find in the fridge.

San Marino: Valentina Monetta, "Maybe (Forse)"
Our favorite republic that we all secretly thought was part of Italy has given Eurovision a ballad that reminds me of a Timothy Dalton-era James Bond theme. A bit like the Andrus Ansip-lookalike actor, it's reliable, but not good enough in the role it's trying to play.

Portugal: Suzy, "Quero Ser Tua"
The country that had us singing along to Michel Telo`s monster hit about chasing girls two summers ago, whether we knew the language or not, has gone for heavy makeup, high camp, JLo style shimmying, and topless male bongo players. Like it or not, it'll be in the final on Saturday.

Netherlands: The Common Linnets, "Calm After the Storm"
The Common Linnets remember American country duo Lady Antebellum, and have come up with a smooth, well produced and efficient slice of emotive soft rock, that sounds more Nashville than Netherlands, and is welcome variation from the Europop. Deserves to be in the final, might do even better than that.

Montenegro: Sergej Ćetković, "Moj Svijet"
Oh brother. An Irish tin whistle treads just far enough from Céline Dion`s "My Heart Will Go On" to avoid a lawsuit, but I'm still left wondering if the mountainous Balkan nation believes it's still 1999. No, it won't do.

Hungary: András Kállay-Saunders, "Running"
Ooh, powerful minor key chords, followed by a story of a crying daughter that might or might not reference domestic violence. There is the obligatory attempt to make a downbeat song seem more exciting than it is; there is too much tinkering on the production, the drum and bass parts on the chorus seeming like turd-polishing.

Stuart Garlick is a journalist and blogger based in Tallinn. Since 2012 his blog, Charm Offensive, has offered insight into Estonian music, fashion and food.

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