Sergey Lazarev, You Are the Only One
Representing Russia in Stockholm will be bookies’ favourite Sergey Lazarev, who gained fame at home as one half of hit pop duo Smash!!. Written by Greek composer Dimitris Kontopoulos together with Russian pop star Philip Kirkorov, his song You Are the Only One is classic Eurovision and bound to get you dancing, while the music video features Miss Universe Russia 2015 Vladislava Evtushenko and some stellar graphics. With such lyrics as “Thunder 'n' lightning, it's getting exciting” we’re in for a thrilling ride with Sergey come the first Eurovision semi-final.
Ukraine’s entry for Eurovision 2016 has been the subject of considerable controversy. Jamala, who is of Crimean Tatar descent, will sing 1944, which refers to the forced deportation of Crimean Tatars from Crimea in that year. The song does not touch on current tensions surrounding Crimea, but entering the singer in the contest has raised eyebrows by implication. Nevertheless, it has been judged that the lyrics do not contravene Eurovision rules, which prohibit songs with lyrics seen as having political content. Fun fact to end on a lighter note: in April the Ukrainian edition of Vogue held a competition for designers to create an outfit for Jamala to wear on stage in Stockholm. The shortlisted designs can be viewed here.
IVAN, Help You Fly
The Belarusian entry has been generating its fair share of intrigue since it was announced in March that contestant IVAN plans to surprise viewers by performing naked on stage accompanied by two wolves… we’re feeling chilly and exposed just thinking about it.
The lyrics to IVAN’s mid-tempo number, Help You Fly, were penned by Russian composer and producer Victor Drobysh, who also wrote the lyrics for the unforgettable Party For Everybody, sang by the Buranovskiye Babushki in the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest. While little can top such a musical feat as that, IVAN has high hopes and has been promoting his song around Europe. But does it stand out from the (wolf) pack? Only time will tell.
Poli Genova, If Love Was A Crime
Bulgaria’s Poli Genova is no stranger to the Eurovision stage, having both hosted the 2015 Junior Eurovision Song Contest in Sofia and represented Bulgaria at Eurovision in 2011. Poli didn’t make it past the semi-finals in 2011, but is hoping to make it to the big time this year. Her extremely catchy track If Love Was A Crime was the last of this year’s songs to be revealed, but was worth the wait for fans of that somewhat unquantifiable Eurovision je ne sais quoi: Poli is pure pop heaven, with a certain eastern touch. While the song is mostly in English, its bilingual chorus provides both a killer hook and an ode to Poli’s roots.
21-year-old Samra will represent Azerbaijan in Stockholm with Miracle, an emotional break-up story that manages to be upbeat and very catchy with a healthy dose of sass. Samra rose to fame at home after reaching the finals on Azerbaijan’s version of The Voice (having already placed in the quarter-finals in the Turkish show!), which is no surprise considering her strong vocals on this track.
Nina Kraljić, Lighthouse
Another contestant to shoot to stardom after participating in her country’s version of The Voice, Nina Kraljić is channelling something of an Ellie Goulding vibe in her entry Lighthouse. The music video tells a sci-fi fantasy story in which Nina communicates with her double in space, complete with an oh-so-realistic spaceship. The brains behind the video clip apparently intended to catch people out by not including a lighthouse in the music video … tricksy. Nina will be representing Croatia after two years of absence in Eurovision for the country.
ManuElla, Blue and Red
Slovenia makes it into our list mostly because their entry, Blue and Red, combines many of the greatest things we’ve come to expect from Eurovision. Not least among these is effective use of the wind machine and a crucial change of outfit part way through the song. ManuElla might just be Slovenia’s answer to Taylor Swift, complete with more than a touch of country and some strong microphone technique. ManuElla’s talents do not end here, however — she graduated from music school in piano and accordion, no less.
Iveta Mukuchyan, LoveWave
This year Armenia is offering something a little bit different. With its many different parts and varied mix of sounds, LoveWave does not follow the formula that we might have come to expect from the contest. While Iveta’s English lyrics may be slightly less than crystal clear, her vocal is both striking and strong and we are excited to see how the studio version of her experimental track will translate on the Eurovision stage. Back in 2012 Iveta won the title of “Sexiest Armenian”, one she would like to follow up with the Eurovision crown. Listen up for the spoken section at the beginning, reminiscent of a certain Adele song — will Armenia soon be saying Hello to Eurovision glory?
A hot favourite for the 2016 Eurovision crown is Latvia’s Justs, who will thrill us with Heartbeat at the second semi-final. At just 21, Justs is one of the younger participants in the competition this year. His song was written by former Latvian Eurovision entrant Aminata Savadogo and is definitely club-worthy, while the video is somewhat stress-inducing as we witness poor Justs locked in a cell. The young star, who has become known for his trademark leather jacket, has hitchhiked with his guitar from Latvia to Paris and back — let’s hope he’s bought a plane ticket all the way to the final this time.
Ovidiu Anton, Moment Of Silence
Last but not least, we give a shout out to Romania, who sadly will not be gracing the Eurovision stage this year. Romania were disqualified from the contest after national broadcaster TVR failed to pay debts to the European Broadcasting Union totalling more than US$16m. Ovidiu Anton had been due to represent Romania in Stockholm with the song Moment Of Silence, politely declining an offer from Moldova to perform onstage together with their representative. Take a listen to what could have been, and watch out for the sword dancer. #gonebutnotforgotten