“What’s the secret of Meghan Markle’s hair?” is the opening line of this Graves and Powerhouse entry by Konstrakta. She then talks about the importance of staying hydrated, how dark circles can signal liver problems, and also wonders about the autonomic nervous system. “The artist shall be healthy,” is her conclusion as the first chorus kicks in, which then devolves into a gospel exclamation, “God grant us health!” It turns out that Konstrakta’s song, rather than a tabloid-worthy interest in Meghan’s beauty regime is actually a satirical dig at the venal world of health insurance and the beauty cult.
In true Eurovision fashion, this ode to recycling, zero-waste initiatives and sustainable vegetarianism is balanced with extreme horniness and sexual metaphors that will absolutely delight an 11-year-old: “I’m a beast instead of a killer / Forget the hot dogs because my sausage is just bigger.” Melodies alternate between show tunes (complete with brass) and something vaguely reminiscent of rapping – that is, given that this is Eurovision, very vaguely similar indeed. Unfortunately, the fun police have said that Citi Zēni must censor the last word of the most surprising opening line in Eurovision history: “Instead of meat, I eat vegetables and pussy.” So the stage direction and set design of Torino could decide whether this song like a Camp masterpiece rises or is condemned to shame – we hope a cat is involved.
Texts such as “The fields are blooming, but their hair is gray” and “I will always find my way home, even if all the roads are destroyed” mean that Ukraine’s accession resonates amidst the raging war. Though Eurovision bans outright political statements, this song has the subtle seriousness of another recent Ukrainian entry, 2016’s Jamala’s Song 1944, which details the massacre of Crimean Tatars – and is a far cry from cheesy peace songs like Germany’s Ein Bisschen Frieden (A Bit of Freedom, a winner by a wide margin in 1982) and Italy’s Insieme: 1992 (Together: 1992, confusingly winning in 1990). I’ve had a penchant for genre crossover since hearing Romania’s yodeling-enhanced pop-rock in 2017, and the Kalush Orchestra combines rap, folk, a booming bassline and flute use, all dressed in folklore but with a tongue-in-cheek twist: Discover the pink hand-knit fisherman’s hat.
In 2003, DJ Bobo gave us a catchy tune of nonsense: “What can make you move, chihuahua!” Almost 20 years later, Norwegian band Subwoolfer urges us in a similar way: “Before that wolf eats my grandma / give that wolf a banana!” They set out their Red Riding Hood Redux with a sweet lupine meet (“I’m not sure you have a name, so I’ll call you Keith”) before the wolf turns nasty and has to fend off with some tropical fruit. The Eurodance back is elegant and a huge prop for the costume department for the full body leotards and wolf heads.
Italy loves a good ballad duet: where else can you enjoy vocal violence, pathos and exaggeration so freely? In 1989 Eurovision got a taste of it when the virtuoso duo Fausto Leali and Anna Oxa sang about how each wanted to physically tie the other to avoid their love being contaminated by the outside world; Now X Factor and Sanremo veteran Mahmood and former SoundCloud rapper Blanco update the hackneyed “love duet” formula by singing about how in relationships, even the best intentions lead to stumbles and falls. Strong lyrics aside, they maintain enough vocal and emotional restraint to avoid drifting into parody.
Achille Lauro was a rapper with a penchant for Matrix-esque outfits before becoming an unlikely muse for Gucci’s Alessandro Michele in late 2019. Just before the outbreak of the pandemic, he became a viral sensation when he wore a plethora of glam-rock outfits (thanks to stylist Nicolò Cerioni) during Italy’s Sanremo festival and played with a 1970s version of androgyny. In 2022, too, it remains visually far more interesting than musically – but that’s exactly what Eurovision needs to drown out too many anthems with too many virtuoso warbles.
Sigga, Beta & Elín are a sisterly trio with an established reputation in their country’s indie pop and indie folk scene. The lyrics convey the exhilaration of the sense of renewal evoked by the rising sun on a dark winter’s night, a prelude to spring – and while “it’s always darkest before dawn” is a trite and meteorologically inaccurate expression, it’s in this kitsch pretty nice context. The voices sound almost mystical and the melody is soothing. In fact, it’s so ethereal and cute that there’s actually something sinister about it, in a Midsommar kind of way, that keeps this entry from being a slumberfest lullaby.
This song, on the Mumfords/Lumineers axis of log cabin stremalongs, is the musical equivalent of too many marshmallows from a campfire. Judging by the rehearsals, Rosa Linn sets her song in a bedroom with an all-white bed, duvet, armchair and walls adorned with white post-it notes, and it is, in fact, the whitest song imaginable can imagine.
Fiddle, accordion and oompah make Moldova’s foot-stomping performance the ultimate crowd pleaser. I firmly believe in the importance of some clearly folksy tunes in any Eurovision lineup, and Eurovision veterans Zdob și Zdub (6th place 2005, 12th place 2011) deliver the goods by singing about a trenuleţul – a small train that runs from Chișinău to Bucharest. The lyrics are surprisingly wholesome as they talk about the similarities and friendship between Moldova and Romania: “Both in this country and in that country we dance that Hora, it is bliss!”
Pure 80s dad rock with echoes of Meat Loaf and hints of Blondie’s One Way or Another. People might call it dated and out of place; it could become one of this year’s most hated posts. But leather skirt and pyro are a permanent part of Eurovision and of course it was with this approach that Måneskin won last year’s competition, admittedly with a lot more pomp and sexiness.
Avicii meets Ennio Morricone (those whistles!) in this seemingly upbeat country smash with a soulful verse and an anthemic chorus – preaching the importance of standing tall, not losing your pride and holding on to the promise of the future – sung from Stefan into a versatile baritone. He’s no Johnny Cash, but he sings it absolutely convincingly. Offering a spaghetti western homage at a Eurovision hosted in Italy feels fitting, and the Reddit nerds of Eurovision are calling it the dark horse of the year.
Dressed like Kate Bush in Wuthering Heights, Norwegian-Greek singer Amanda Georgiadi Tenfjord bears an uncanny resemblance to Lorde. As sophisticated as the arrangement and melody may be, the same cannot be said of the lyrics, which tend towards grandiose statements: “If we die together now, we’ll always have each other.” The bridge has a tempo change with a sophisticated acoustic crescendo – but she too loses her mysticism when Tenfjord begs her former lover, “take my heart, rip it out / bring it to the other side”. Cynicism aside, this song has great karaoke potential.
A Hi-NRG banger we didn’t know we wanted, but one that we desperately need amidst this year’s ballad glut. Mixing eurodisco and bubblegum-pop at breakneck tempos reminiscent of hardstyle, it’s adorably ’90s nostalgic – combating a much less desirable class of throwbacks, namely the ’00s Snow Patrol-esque ballads that once thrived on Grey’s Anatomy appeared with sad inevitability. This song will indeed stand out and is already a fan favorite despite its borderline nonsensical lyrics, although said fans also have concerns about whether the live version will live up to the studio original.
Historically, Sweden has been a dominant force at Eurovision and Cornelia Jakobs is expected to do very well: she is currently the bookmakers’ third favorite after Ukraine and – yes, believe it – Great Britain. “Hold Me Closer” combines gritty vocals (think Taylor Swift at her saddest form) with relatable lyrics and an airtight production that’s a little reminiscent of the waves from Lady Gaga’s “Shallow.” Overall, it’s a decent assembly line act that I feel is too benign to make a lasting impression, especially when it goes against the aforementioned promotion of oral sex, health insurance, etc.
While the average millennial in lockdown was trying to master the art of sourdough, learn a new language, or get halfway through a Joe Wicks workout, veteran session gamer Sam Ryder earned 12 million TikTok followers by posting viral covers published on which his penetrating vocal register attracted the attention of Justin Bieber and others. His song “Space Man” has big astronaut boots to fill, instilling ethereal vibes from Elton John’s “Rocket Man”, the Beatles’ “Across the Universe” and REM’s “Man on the Moon” – but its shrill choruses really get you between the eyes. Will a social media-friendly post help break a long winning streak? It’s hard to say how much anti-Brexit sentiment has shaken the UK and how much it’s due to a horrible set of songs – but Space Man is the best in many years.