Songs with the best shot at winning : NPR

Switzerland’s Nemo rehearses “The Code” before the second semifinal.

Jessica Gow/TT News Agency/AFP via Getty


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Jessica Gow/TT News Agency/AFP via Getty

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Switzerland’s Nemo rehearses “The Code” before the second semifinal.

Jessica Gow/TT News Agency/AFP via Getty

Year after year, the Eurovision Song Contest delivers a dazzling, glittery spectacle of only barely contained chaos. There’s all the lights, fireworks, flags, sequins, disco balls and dance breaks, of course – but there’s also the songs themselves, which this year boast displays of (vocal) gymnastics more impressive than anything you’ll see flipping across a mat in Paris this summer.

Know this: 2024’s brace of 26 Eurovision finalists represent what is, even for this contest, a maximalist bunch. These songs go big. I’d go so far as to say that the broadcast on Saturday (starting at 3:00 p.m. ET on Peacock) is shaping up to qualify as Peak Eurovision, so prepare to bask in the glorious bombast of it all.

Musically, expect the usual mix of pop bops, baroque ballads and club bangers. Also, as always, stirring anthems about (pick one or more) standing up or holding up or looking up or not giving up. But in terms of vibe? This year’s roster teems with performers positioning themselves as quirky/witchy iconoclasts. You know the sort: bold, irrepressible individuals who reject the (checks notes) conformist RULES of (checks notes again) SOCIETY.

The welcome presence of such gleefully bonkers acts as Ireland’s Bambie Thug, Finland’s Windows95man, San Marino’s MEGARA, Slovenia’s Raiven and many others – including several performers highlighted below – makes it official: Eurovision 2024 is The Year of the Weirdo.

For those of us who’ve had to suffer through the past few years of the contest, which were overstuffed with wan, weepy young men warbling about heartbreak, I say: Bring it on, ya joyous freaks.

And, though Eurovision organizers see the event as “non-political,” it has been, as in the past, a televised concert with synth beats, glitter on the floor, and geopolitical undertones. Earlier this year, artists from Finland and Iceland called for Israel to be banned from the competition outright for its military offensive in Gaza. Israel was asked to revise the lyrics to their entry in the competition this year, when an initial song seemed to refer to Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas. Anti-war protests are planned outside the Malmo Arena on Saturday.

Here’s what you need to know before Saturday’s Grand Final.

The rules

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Finland’s Teemu Keisteri, also known as Windows95man, emerges from a denim egg while performing the song “No Rules!” during the first Eurovision semifinal in Malmo, Sweden, on Tuesday, May 7.

Jessica Gow/TT News Agency/AFP via Getty


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Jessica Gow/TT News Agency/AFP via Getty

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Finland’s Teemu Keisteri, also known as Windows95man, emerges from a denim egg while performing the song “No Rules!” during the first Eurovision semifinal in Malmo, Sweden, on Tuesday, May 7.

Jessica Gow/TT News Agency/AFP via Getty

We won’t be diving deep into the internecine details of Eurovision voting, because they’ll spend a lot of time during Saturday’s broadcast explaining everything in punishing detail (which is historically a good time to refresh your drink and/or nip to the bathroom).

But, very basically: The 37 countries participating in Eurovision this year each submitted a song to compete in two semi-finals which took place earlier this week. Of those 37, 26 are competing in Saturday’s Grand Final. Six sailed through easily: every year, the so-called “Big Five” countries – France, Spain, Germany, Italy and the U.K. – automatically qualify for the Grand Final, as they contribute the most money to the competition. Also guaranteed to advance: Whichever country won the previous year’s contest, thereby hosting the competition this year. In this case: Sweden.

This year, the 20 other countries that made it to the Grand Final were entirely determined by viewers watching at home, the so-called televote. This put an interesting spin on things, because in the past, placement in the Grand Final was determined by a 50/50 combination of the televote and the votes of an international jury of music industry professionals.

Doing away with the jury vote in the semifinals meant that performers who brought a lot of crowd-pleasing visual flair to their qualifying performances had a better shot than in years past. The international juries will be back for the Grand Final, however. How their historically conservative, wet-blanket sensibilities mesh with the voting public’s love of shiny glittery fiery extravagance is a big part of what makes Eurovision so damn compelling and unpredictable.

So, during Saturday’s Grand Final, 26 countries will perform – the 20 qualifying countries, the Big Five, and the host nation, Sweden. Each performance must adhere to the following rules:

  1. Songs must be original.
  2. Songs must be no more than three minutes in length.
  3. Lead vocals must be performed live.
  4. No live instrumentation of any kind is permitted.
  5. During a song, no more than six performers may be onstage at the same time.

Just to underscore Rule 3: Eurovision is not and has never been a lip-syncing competition. These performers are singing live, though their instrumentation and backing vocals are pre-recorded. If on Saturday you find yourself beginning to doubt that fact, particularly for countries whose performers incorporate propulsively aerobic choreography like Georgia, Cyprus and Austria, remind yourself that you’re not watching a lip-sync, you’re watching tremendous breath control.

The live vocal performance is all-important. Over the years, more than a few acts have sailed into the Grand Final favored to win, only to have a hesitant, breathless or off-key vocal in the live performance destroy their chances. Stakes. Gotta love ’em!

And as for Rule 4: Whenever a performance involves a “band” wailing away on their drums, guitars and/or saxophones, remind yourself you’re not watching them actually shred, you’re watching them mime. It’s kind of cute.

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Ireland’s Bambie Thug performs “Doomsday Blue” during the first semifinal.

Jessica Gow/TT News Agency/AFP via Getty


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Jessica Gow/TT News Agency/AFP via Getty

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Ireland’s Bambie Thug performs “Doomsday Blue” during the first semifinal.

Jessica Gow/TT News Agency/AFP via Getty

The Grand Final

Last year, for the first time, viewers in the U.S. were able to vote for their favorite Eurovision performances – though those votes got pooled with other non-participating countries around the world. This year the U.S. will again have a chance to vote in the Grand Final via the Eurovision app.

Here’s how Saturday’s Grand Final will proceed. First, the 26 countries will perform their songs. Then the audience will vote. (NOTE: Viewers in participating countries cannot vote for their own country, which at least notionally prevents the big population centers from dominating the contest.) The audience vote will be tallied. Then the jury votes will be collected over a series of glorified Zoom calls to representatives in each participating country, which will be marked by video lags and audio dropouts; this process is awkward, interminable, cringeworthy and delightful. The jury votes will be tallied, which may or may not completely supersede the televote. The winner will be announced, a trophy will be handed out, and the winner will perform the winning song again. The end.

Here are the songs with the best shot to win this year’s Eurovision Song Contest, as determined by me, a middle-aged queer American man who loves bops and hates ballads. Which is to say: This is a highly subjective list. If you want to know what the oddsmakers think, go here.

Netherlands: “Europapa” by Joost Klein


Eurovision
YouTube

This goofy, peppy, earwormy bop is classic Eurovision – and that’s even before you factor in its lyrics, which are essentially a love song to the European Union itself. Specifically, to the ability to galavant around the continent freely, cheaply and without a care in the world. (At the end, he also sneaks in a tribute to his late father, “Who told me once the world has no borders.”) Basically, this song represents the catchiest, sunniest possible way to say: Eat it, Brexiters!

Estonia: “(nendest) narkootikumidest ei tea me (kull) midagi” by 5MIINUST & Puuluup


Eurovision
YouTube

Sure it’s a bunch of burly, beardy dudes dancing a TikTok-ready folk dance, playing folk instruments and, yes, throat-singing. In other words: Eurovision Bingo! But it’s so much more than that: These performers radiate undeniable bear-daddy charisma, and the driving uptempo beat, paired with that plaintive, soaring vocal (“Oooooooooh, yea-eahhhhhhhhh”) will crawl inside your medulla oblongata and set up housekeeping. The title translates to “We (really) don’t know anything about (these) drugs,” and the Estonian lyrics read like a suspect pleading his innocence on a drug arrest: “I don’t know drugs, I know soda and cider/Couldn’t tell the difference between vitamins and speed.” “We avoid intoxicating substances, that’s something rich people do.” Uh-huh. Suuuuure.

Croatia: “Rim Tim Tagi Dim” by Baby Lasagna

YouTube

In many ways, “Rim Tim Tagi Dim” offers a sardonic counterpoint to the Netherlands’ “Europapa.” Where that song celebrates the freedom of travel within the EU, this one laments the loss of opportunity in Eastern Europe which is causing thousands of young people to leave their homes and migrate to the West. Granted, performer Baby Lasagna puts a wink on it all (“Bye mom, bye dad/Meow, cat, please meow back”), all set to an insistent, Rammsteinian marching rhythm. But he finds a way to lean into the melancholy at the same time (“There’s no going back/My presence fades to black.”) It’s that kind of narrative turducken – and, let’s be real, a killer hook – that make this at least a Top Three contender, if not the outright winner. Croatia has never won Eurovision, so that would be a big deal.

Italy: “La Noia” by Angelina Mango


Eurovision
YouTube

“La Noia” means “The boredom,” and Angelina Mango saturates her vocals with a fitting amount of over-it-all ennui even as the syncopated, percussive melody swirls and throbs and compels you out of your seat and onto the dance floor. (In this case, the dance floor is your living room.) Lyrically, the song’s about a woman who turns to dancing and partying to deal with “these wasted days.” “A crown of thorns will be the dress code for my party,” she sings, which is a deeply Italian but weirdly emo sentiment for a song so doggedly determined to set your booty shaking. Mango’s got a huge following because she’s a mesmerizing performer who never breaks a sweat, even during those passages when the tempo suddenly accelerates and the lyrics start speeding by so fast they threaten to turn the song into a five-Vespa pile-up. Keep an eye on her.

France: “Mon Amour” by Slimane


Eurovision
YouTube

Slimane invests this straight-down-the-middle ballad with a searching, plaintive, torch-song quality that’s more quintessentially French than a beret slathered with Camembert and stuffed in a baguette. If you go by the lyrics, the guy’s kind of a pill: Urging his lover to return to Paris, promising things will be different, demanding to know if they love him, and at one point asking the most hilariously red-flaggiest of all questions, “What do we do about my pain?” But Slimane emotes all over the stage, and his insinuating vocals slide you right past the ick of it all. He’s not a flashy performer, so the televoters might not pick up what he’s putting down, but the jury is sure to give the technical skill on display here the love it deserves.

Ireland: “Doomsday Blue” by Bambie Thug


Eurovision
YouTube

“Doomsday Blue” is an example of my favorite Eurovision phenomenon – the underdog glow-up. When Bambie Thug’s queer, witchy mix of metal and melody won them the right to compete for Ireland, there were plenty of rolled eyes, clucked tongues and shrugged shoulders. “Too weird,” they said. “Too dark,” they said. But somewhere on their way to Sweden they upped their game and have arrived at an even weirder and darker stage performance that’s, well, spellbinding. The spell in question is a hex, to be sure – the singer deftly switches between summoning black magic to torment an ex-lover (“Avada Kedavra/I speak to destroy”) and murmuring a light, sweet tune of resignation and acceptance (“I guess you’d rather have a star than the moon/I guess I always underestimate you”). Bambie Thug’s performance in the first semifinal electrified the crowd, and it tells a story: They dance with a demon and, in so doing, gain the ability to subdue it, and defeat it. I predict the voters at home will eat this all the way up, while the jury voters will find themselves some pearls to clutch.

Spain: “ZORRA” by Nebulossa


Eurovision
YouTube

Strictly speaking, zorra means a female fox, but as commonly deployed, it’s a coarse term for a, um, free-spirited woman, or at least a woman you don’t like. You know how Old Hollywood movies used to bust out the word “vixen” – a female fox – to describe the kind of woman played by Joan Crawford and Bette Davis? It’s like that, only ruder. In this song, Nebulossa does solid work not only reclaiming the word, but luxuriating in it. Translated from the Spanish: “I know I’m not who you want me to be (zorra, zorra) /I get it, it’s driving you up the wall (zorra, zorra)/But this is just my nature (zorra, zorra)/Can’t be bothered to change for you.” Preach. In the run-up to semi-finals her vocals have proven, to put it kindly, a bit uneven, so this could go either way. The caked-up male backup dancers in thigh boots, butt-floss thongs and corsets should help smooth things over. (Confession: This song doesn’t have much of a path to winning; I just like it, and the aforementioned dancers, a tremendous lot.)

Ukraine: “Teresa & Maria” by alyona alyona and Jerry Heil


Eurovision
YouTube

Pop singer Jerry Heil and rapper alyona alyona come together for this song that urges faith and perseverance by invoking both Mother Theresa and the Virgin Mary. The risk when blending two such discrete musical approaches is that each will lose its singular character once combined, but that’s not the case here. The two performers remain distinct, and they create a kind of two-sided musical conversation – a song that comments on itself. Ukraine always comes into the competition with a certain amount of international goodwill, but they also consistently stage their entries in ways that make indelible visual impressions on the home audience. Don’t underestimate Ukraine, in Eurovision and in life.

Austria: “We Will Rave” by Kaleen


Eurovision
YouTube

Several countries submitted club bangers with extended dance breaks this year. (See also: Georgia, Cyprus, Luxembourg, Malta.) But Austria’s “We Will Rave” is the best of the sweaty, sexy bunch, in no small part because it’s not content to serve you up just a dance break. You’re not even through the first verse before the song outfits you with its own remix. No more long weeks waiting around for some DJ on Ibiza to do that heavy lifting for you – the club mix is already here, factory installed for your convenience! Also: a fake-out ending followed by a breakbeat finish? Are you kidding? Yes, it’s dated – it’s giving “Night at the Roxbury” – but it’s also, not for nothing, catchy as hell. Why this song has a shot: Kaleen’s a known and beloved Eurovision presence – a dazzling dancer who’s fully capable of turning it all the way out in the live performance. Why that shot will probably go awry: Even if the home viewers eat this up, Eurovision’s international juries have not been kind to dance music, as they are made up of music industry snobs – the very fuddiest of duddies – who wouldn’t know a stone cold groove if it bit them squarely on their stone cold groove things.

Switzerland: “The Code” by Nemo


Eurovision
YouTube

Eurovision oddsmakers (yes, that’s a thing) say this song is one of the clear favorites to win the contest this year, which makes sense, as it’s the perfect distillation of ESC 2024’s whole heedlessly maximalist vibe. It’s got a bit of opera, a bit of (light!) rap, some drum-and-bass EDM – it’s, you know, a lot. Toss in the lyrics about performer Nemo realizing their non-binary status (“Somewhere between the 0’s and 1’s/That’s where I found my kingdom come”) and it’s gonna be tough to beat. Any song crammed with this many different styles can come off like something assembled in a lab, but Nemo brings us along with them, fluidly and effortlessly sailing through each transition. If they can pull it off live, this one’s got all the earmarks of a showstopper – and a winner.

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