Journey to Eurovision 2023: Ranking Semi-Final One
Who will win Eurovision Song Contest 2023? I don’t know! But I do have personal feelings about all of the performances. Below is the first of three posts ranking Eurovision 2023. This first post tackles the first semi-final, the next post will rank the second semi-final, and the third post will rank the “automatic qualifiers.”
How will this work?
I’ll post a short synopsis of each Eurovision 2023 song. Each synopsis will have three features:
- A synopsis
- How I rank the song in their semi-final
- Can it win Eurovision?
- If I think it could work on US radio
That last one is for the benefit of the alternate reality version of me who grew up to become a radio station music director. As I went deeper into Eurovision, I was flummoxed about how these songs rarely crossover the pond to US radio. Over the 67-year history of Eurovision, only 28 Eurovision-performed songs have cracked the Billboard 100. Of those, only 12 were the original song as performed by the Eurovision artist. The other 16 were covers of the Eurovision song.
Fun fact, the most recent was Armenia’s 2022 entry by Rosa Linn. “Snap” peaked at 67 on the Billboard Hot 100 and spent four weeks at number one on the Adult Alternative Airplay chart. That’s substantial for a song that placed 20 out of 25 in the Eurovision finals!
Here’s how I rank Eurovision 2023 Semi-Finals 1 from last to first.
15. Azerbaijan :: TuralTuranX :: Tell Me More
This song takes me back to late nights in my bedroom, longing for unrequited love – in 1997. I hadn’t considered that we might be so far removed from the 90s that capturing that retro sound resembles a rockabilly band in the 90s capturing the garage sound of the 70s. All elements, including the answering machine at the song’s start, are there. Hat tip to Primitive Radio Gods. It’s a sweet, tender song, but I’m afraid it’s going up against a stacked semi-final one.
Can it win? No. DOA.
Would it play on US radio? If we have a 90s retro sound resurgence.
14. Serbia :: Luke Black :: Samo Mi Se Spava
Serbia’s Eurovision entry is futuristic, bizarre, and dark. Perhaps we could categorize it as NeoSerbFuturism? The central theme of the song is about remaining asleep while the world crumbles around you. The lyrics explore the idea of video games as a means of escape or distraction, although they ultimately prove to be detached from reality. Once again, this year’s Eurovision appears to feature a recurring subtheme of coping, or failing to cope, with anxiety or trauma.
While I should, in theory, be enamored with the song’s conceptual framework, I find that it’s missing a certain something that would truly captivate the listener while still retaining its idiosyncratic essence.
Will it win? Probably not.
Could it play on US radio? I don’t think so.
13. Ireland :: Wild Youth :: We Are One
This is the song Ireland chose over Public Image Ltd. It was a safe choice in a year when many countries have selected chaos. PiL would have fit right in.
Instead, we have Wild Youth, who contribute a song about setting aside differences and finding unity. While it’s not a terrible song, it doesn’t stand out from the other Eurovision selections. The band is essentially U2, Jr. complete with a riff around the 1.21 mark that’s only a few notes off from “Where the Streets Have No Name.”
It will be difficult for Wild Youth to make it out of the first semi-final, as the odds are stacked against them. However, early Eurovision song discussions often overlook how much a live performance can shift the audience’s opinion. “We Are One” is designed for a stadium, and a strong performance could propel Wild Youth to the finals.
Can it win? Nope.
Would it play on US radio? Absolutely. They should give it a go.
12. Switzerland :: Remo Forrer :: Watergun
Switzerland has provided us with one of the most powerful male vocalists in Eurovision 2023, Remo Forrer, who performs a dramatic and intense pop ballad. As this song has not yet been performed live, it is challenging to position it in any ranking due to the lack of a performance preview. Forrer, however, benefits from the enviable placement of closing out the first semi-final.
The song’s central theme focuses on the challenges of growing up in a world where older men make pointless wars, forcing the youth to fight in their battles. However, the song has been criticized for being overly pacifist, particularly in the face of Russian aggression.
Will it win? Dark horse category.
Could it play on US radio? Possibly.
11. Netherlands :: Mia Nicolai & Dion Cooper :: Burning Daylight
“Burning Daylight” introduces one of the few duets in Eurovision 2023. The song beautifully depicts the struggle of coping with loss, grief, and not recognizing oneself after overcoming the turmoil. Ultimately, it portrays the journey of accepting oneself and moving forward.
As I rank this song at number eleven out of fifteen, I find myself struggling with its placement. The fact that I don’t see it surviving the first Eurovision semi-final speaks to the strength of the competition this year. This song would undoubtedly make it to the final night any other year. Nevertheless, it might still resonate with the older voting Eurovision audience, as its message is relatable to anyone who has overcome trauma and sees their emotional scars as a symbol of growth.
My Semi-Final 1 Rank: 11 out of 15
Can it win? I don’t think so, but it’s a well-crafted song, so it could be a dark horse.
Could it play on US radio? Absolutely. Get this song across the pond.
10. Moldova :: Pasha Parfeni :: Soarele și Luna
One of the requirements for Eurovision songs is that they must not exceed three minutes in length. This limitation ensures that the show’s length is manageable and also tests the songwriter’s skill. However, sometimes this constraint can prove challenging for an otherwise brilliant song, as is the case with Pasha Parfeny’s “Soarele și Luna.”
Despite its abrupt ending, this song is one of my personal favorites for the 2023 competition. I enjoy Eurovision songs that offer cultural insights, and “Soarele și Luna” (translated to “The Sun and the Moon” in English) draws on Moldovan folklore to tell the story of a forest wedding blessed by the two celestial bodies.
What intrigues me about this song, and something I have not seen discussed elsewhere, is the possibility of it being a partial analogy for Moldova’s relationship with Ukraine. The third line suggests the bride is a river, specifically the Dniester (or Nistru in the song’s Romanian). This river flows through Ukraine before entering Moldova and eventually emptying into the Black Sea. The Dniester is a significant feature of regional folklore, particularly in Galicia.
Stay with me for a bigger stretch: In 1836, a book called “The Dniester Nymph” was published, containing Galician folk songs, translations of Serbian folk poetry, and a review of a book on Ukrainian wedding rituals. The book’s introduction emphasized the beauty of Ukrainian vernacular and oral literature, as well as promoting pan-Ukrainian folk culture and the Ukrainian language. As a result, the book was banned by regional censors, and the police seized most existing copies. (source: http://encyclopediaofukraine.com/ )
Does the song have anything to do with all of the above (or any of the above)? Probably not (after writing all of this, I read that the artist has said the song is about his wife), but these are the unexpected paths of discovery Eurovision songs have a way of leading me down.
Can it win? Not likely.
Would it play on US radio? No.
9. Malta :: The Busker :: Dance (Our Own Party)
When I initially wrote about this song for Malta’s national song contest, I likened it to Justin Timberlake’s “Future/Sex” era from 2006. However, after listening to it on repeat for a month, I believe it’s more reminiscent of the controversial 2013 hit “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke or Mark Ronson’s 2016 chart-topper “Uptown Funk” featuring Bruno Mars.
As I noted in my write-up of Aijā’s “Sudden Lights,” many of the songs in the 2023 Eurovision competition deal with the theme of coping with anxiety. “Dance (Our Own Party)” captures the feeling of wanting to go out and have fun but feeling overwhelmed by the presence of too many people. As the song progresses, the protagonist retreats (in a cozy sweater) to a more intimate party with close friends and familiar songs. Personally, much like Rivers Cuomo, I can always appreciate a good sweater.
Can it win? Not likely.
Would it play on US radio? Yeah, and I believe it would do fairly well.
8. Czechia :: Vesna : My Sister’s Crown
This is one of my favorite Eurovision 2023 songs, but it has a bit of a political fire underneath it. Featuring four languages (Czech, Bulgarian, English, and Ukranian), the song is intended to be a protest against gender inequality. There’s also a not-so-subtle message about standing unified against Russian aggression.
Can it win? It’s up to some tough competition in semi-final 1, so likely not.
Would it play on US radio? I wish the United States had more of an appetite for languages on radio, but sadly, it likely wouldn’t make it.
7. Latvia :: Sudden Lights :: Aijā
“Aijā” continues a common theme found in many songs of Eurovision 2023 – the portrayal of sensitive boys dealing with anxiety. The song touches upon the themes of feeling lost and needing help to overcome trauma. The accompanying video effectively conveys this message by portraying the protagonist being pushed deeper into the water by the loud voices of self-doubt. It reflects a familiar feeling experienced by many of us, where we feel like we are drowning and struggling to muster the strength to seek help and support.
Can it win? Not likely.
Would it play on US radio? I think so.
6. Israel :: Noa :: Unicorn
Have you ever dismissed a song, only to find it resurfacing in your playlist and gradually worming its way into your head? In the case of Noa Kirel’s “Unicorn,” it’s as if the song’s unicorn horn has gotten stuck in my brain. At first listen, the song may seem all over the place, like several songs mashed together, and the repetitive juxtaposition of “phenomenal” and “femininal” strikes a discordant note. But if a person can get past the forced mispronunciation of “phenomenal” so it fits with the made-up word, this song will go places.
There’s also a question of what power unicorns have. It’s brought up quite a bit in the various Eurovision forums. However, as someone who grew up watching the movie Legend, I wasn’t as bothered by the suggestion of the mystical power of unicorns. In the film, a unicorn’s horn ensures that dawn breaks and darkness does not consume the land. That must be what Noa is alluding to in her song. Right? RIGHT?!?!
Can it win? It all comes down to the live performance. We need to see her dance.
Would it play on US radio? Yeah, it could. This is a damn earworm.
5. Portugal :: Mimicat :: Ai Coração
Last year Portugal sent what has continued to be one of my most listened to songs from Eurovision Song Contest 2022. MARO’s “Saudade, Saudade” was an ethereal, plaintive and enchanting song about the loss of a loved one. You can see a woman sitting in a window nook gazing out into an empty field watching for the thrall of her heart. It truly captured the essence of Portugese fado. This year, Mimicat is keeping the underlying theme but unlike MARO she isn’t inflicted with despair. No, Mimicat’s heart and mind are in the grip of madness. She is frantic, out-of-control, and sleepless.
What comes from her madness is a catchy, uptempo, cabaret-style pop tune. I have this song on my Dark Horse list. Mimicat could squeak out a victory if the Eurovision fans want to dance and are craving something different from the rockers and crooners.
Will it win? See above. Dark horse.
Could it play on US radio? I don’t think so.
4. Sweden :: Loreen :: Tattoo
And we have arrived. This is where I get banned from Eurovision for life.
Loreen is the predicted winner of Eurovision 2023. It’s how Eurovision fans expect other fans to vote. Loreen previously took home a Eurovision victory in 2012. If she wins this year she’ll be the first two-time Eurovision winner in history.
This year she’s competing with the song “Tattoo.” Loreen is one of the strongest performers at Eurovision, and her song has all of the elements that craft a perfect Eurovision pop song. It is undoubtedly one of the best Eurovision-centric songs competing in 2023. And that’s why I don’t think it’ll win (I have all of the sauces prepared to eat my shoe). The general vibes around Eurovision 2023 are that fans are clamoring for something fresh and unusual.
Will it win? The odds are forever in her favor.
Could it play on US radio? Yeah, it could.
3. Croatia :: Let 3 :: Mama ŠČ!
What if John Waters directed Dr. Strangelove and The Residents did the score with the help of Frank Zappa? That’s this song, and this song is everything I love about Eurovision. It sent me down a spiral of trying to understand the song and the band. They are the Eurovision elders this year, with the two frontmen being 59 and 62. They were founded all the way back when Yugoslavia was still a thing. That led to a tangent of understanding the former Yugoslavian relationship with the USSR and the current Croatia and Russia dynamic. I had misconceptions. Eurovision is educational!
The band has a fascinating history. Here’s one example from wikipedia: “In 2005, Let 3 released the single “Rado ide Srbin u vojnike (Pička)” (transl. ‘The Serb gladly enlists in the army (Cunt)’), a play on the Serbian patriotic song “Rado ide Srbin u vojnike”. In the song’s music video, extras dressed in Serbian and Albanian national costumes are seen masturbating. The single featured on the studio album Bombardiranje Srbije i Čačka, which parodies Balkan machismo and militarism. The band stated: “We wanted to create an album of what people here fear the most; namely peasantry… and pornography”
I want Let 3 to go as far as possible in Eurovision, because Eurovision needs madcappery.
Can it win? Probably not.
Would it play on US radio? No, but if I still had a radio show at my local University, you can be sure as hell I’d have it on rotation.
2. Finland :: Käärijä :: Cha Cha Cha
This song is a disease and it has infected me. “Cha Cha Cha” smashes together so many of the chaotic elements of Eurovision 2023. It’s an aggressive infusion of electro, metal, rap, and sweet, sad boy melodies.
That clash between metal and pop shouldn’t surprise anyone who’s seen Käärijä with his shirt off (which is everyone). He’s a massive fan of Rammstein and has a tattoo of the German band’s logo. Elements of Rammstein’s “Tattoo” and “Sehnsucht” can be heard in “Cha Cha Cha.”
Can it win? Yes. And I think it will. That’s the energy of this Eurovision.
Would it play on US radio? It’s in Finnish, so the odds are mighty, but given a chance (or an English redo), it could do quite well! It could be the next “Du Hast,” but Finnish.
1. Norway :: Alessandra :: Queen of Kings
I must confess I am biased. This is the first song, and one of only two, that I accurately predicted as the winner of a national selection contest. As such, I am fully behind Alessandra because a broken clock is right twice a day – or something.
During her live performance, Alessandra’s vocals will be crucial. If she makes it to the final (which I believe she will), she will compete against vocalists who have proven strong and consistent in performances. In her previous national selection appearances, she struggled with breath control in her vocals. I hope she’s working on it as we approach the big day. If she can bring consistency to her singing overall, her final opportunity to clinch it is to channel her inner Mariah Carey and hit her whistle note flawlessly.
There is a second reason why I fully support Alessandra, and it is due to a comment I saw on Reddit. Someone ranked their Eurovision songs and placed Alessandra low because they believed her lyrics were full of “wokisms.” Firstly, I was surprised that the tiresome US conservative doublespeak word for “I hate anything that hints at equality and makes me feel uncomfortable” had made its way to the EU. Secondly, that’s quite a stretch. While the song is fundamentally about women’s empowerment, the lyrics are all Viking folk symbolism. There isn’t a “woke” word in the text, and it would take a lot of effort to be offended by it. Honestly, using that as a reason not to like the song goes against the very spirit of Eurovision. You, my poorly informed internet instigator, are officially Eurovision Excommunicado.
Will it win? It could.
Could it play on US radio? Sure!
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