Journey to Eurovision 2023: Ranking Semi-Final Two
The journey to 2023’s Eurovision Song Contest continues. A little more than a week ago, I brought you my ranking of semi-final one. Today I bring you my ranking of semi-final two! In a few days I’ll post my ranking of the automatic qualifers (because why should they escape a proper ranking?).
A reminder of my system:
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
Here’s how I rank Eurovision 2023 Semi-Final 2 from last to first.
15. San Marino :: Piqued Jacks :: Like an Animal
While writing these synopses, I have occasionally mentioned the difficulty of judging a song without seeing a live performance. However, this is a rare case where the opposite has occurred. At the time of writing (as I write these in bulk), no studio recording is available for “Like An Animal.” The only performance available is a live one from Una Voce Per San Marino, which feels half-baked. This is surprising because, according to Wikipedia, the band has been around since 2006 (with a recent membership change in 2019), so my best guess is the band hadn’t been well-practiced on the song. It even looks like lead singer Andrea Lazzeretti is reading from a teleprompter at some points. That would explain quite a bit, because he barely makes eye contact or engages with the crowd.
So I did some googling and found a Piqued Jacks performance at Milwaukee’s Summerfest 2022. That in itself told me there’s more to this band. I lived in Wisconsin for nearly a decade. Being an international band invited to play Summerfest is a big deal. The Summerfest performance convinced me what we’ll see in Liverpool will be far different than what we saw in San Marino. Andrea has charisma. He can command the stage and knows how to connect with the audience. The band can be ferocious and they know how to fill a stadium with sound.
Unfortunately, the lackluster Una Voce Per San Marino performance is all I have to work with, which is why my ranking for the song is low.
My semi-final 2 rank: 15 out of 16
Can it win? Not this year.
Would it play on US radio? Maybe. Depends on the studio version.
14. Slovenia :: Joker Out :: Carpe Diem
We are at the end of semi-final 2 (in alphabetical order). Woo-hoo! Our final entry is a fun pop-rock song from Slovenia. I wasn’t sure about this song until I saw a live performance (the version I’m sharing here). Joker Out has the energy to potentially break this out from the second semi-final pack and land a qualifying spot.
My semi-final 2 rank: 14 out of 16
Can it win? It’s fun, but probably not.
Would it play on US radio?I’m not sure. They have an English version, but it might not work for a US audience.
13. Greece | Victor Vernicos | What They Say
At 16 years old, Victor Vernicos is the youngest participant and songwriter in Eurovision 2023. Regardless of age, his voice is mature, and the songwriting is tight. This is another one of those “haven’t seen a live performance” situations, so he’ll have much to prove when he finally takes the stage. He must also practice his annunciation of “lost souls” because it makes more sense than “assholes make sure no one loses their way.”
My semi-final 2 rank: 13 out of 16
Can it win? Probably not.
Would it play on US radio? Possibly.
12. Albania | Albina & Failja Kelmendi | Duje
A beautiful song featuring Albina and her family. The story of the song laments about a bitterly divided family. It reflects on better days when the house was filled with love and happiness. It’s a powerful song that will tap into the segment of Eurovision fans that desire a family focus.
My semi-final 2 rank: 12 out of 16.
Can it win? This one is on my Dark Horse list. The message is correct, but if sung in Albanian (a beautiful language), it might not reach the audiences who could lift it.
Would it play on US radio? It’s in Albanian, so probably not, but I think an English version would resonate, considering how conservative politicians are using wedge issues to manipulate and divide US families.
11. Cyprus | Andrew Lambrou | Break a Broken Heart
It can often do an artist a disservice when their country doesn’t have a live national selection process or, at the very least, release a live performance of the internal selection. It’s interesting how little discussion there is around Andrew Lambrou’s “Break a Broken Heart” considering how powerful it might be live. His voice brings a depth of emotion alongside stirring melodies, and he seemingly can hit the important high notes.
However, you can see the problem because I need to use qualifiers. All we have from this song is a video featuring a voice overlaid with reverb and autotune. He can “seemingly” hit the high notes, but that’s in the studio. Can he do it live and without digital assistance? It “might be” powerful, but it’s hard to tell when we don’t see how he does on stage.
My semi-final 2 rank: 11 out of 16.
Can it win? Depends on what happens live.
Would it play on US radio? Definitely.
10. Belgium | Gustaph | Because of You
When I ranked Belgium’s national selection contest, I placed Gustaph’s “Because of You” dead last. My ranking was based on his Eurosong 2023 performance which was on a small stage. It didn’t work for me. The finals happened while I was working, so I saw that Gustaph had won before I saw his final performance. I was flabbergasted. After I saw his live show on a massive stage in front of a vast audience, I got it. This song is a crowd-pleaser that celebrates being yourself. It’s also a nostalgia bomb to 90s dancefloor anthems like Gina G’s “Ohh Ahh…Just A Little Bit,” “LaBouche’s “Be My Lover,” and Amber’s “This is Your Night.” The dream of the 90s is alive in Belgium.
After I was so wrong after Belgium’s Eurosong I immediately ranked Gustaph’s “Because of You” number 10 on whichever semi-final night it would fall upon. It would not trick me again. This song might very well qualify for the finals because, although the lyrics are simple, the Eurovision audience might gobble him up.
My semi-final 2 rank: 10 out of 16.
Can it win? Not likely.
Would it play on US radio? I don’t think it would. While we’ve gone through a 90s boy band retro phase, I haven’t heard any rumblings of a return to the radio of artists trafficking in that 90s club sound. Let me know if Real McCoy’s “Another Night” starts making a comeback.
9. Denmark | Reiley | Breaking My Heart
When I first started paying attention to Eurovision I never expected to be so intimate with the song contest that I would know The Drama. There is so much Drama, and observing as an unbiased outsider without a horse in the race can be fascinating. One of The Dramas is around Denmark’s entry. There’s a contingent of Eurofans who believe Reiley is an industry plant. He’s been manufactured to be a breakout pop star, similar to what happens with k-pop. Much of it appears to have come from erroneous reporting around his age. Originally information on the Internet had his age as 20, but it turns out he’s 25. This could have happened for several reasonable reasons, but it generated many tentacles of conspiracy theories.
Drama aside, what matters is that Reiley is a talented vocalist providing strength to a well-crafted electro-pop song. While this type of song isn’t usually my cup of tea, I can’t deny that it’s an earworm. I’d slot it around four or five on my Eurovision 2023 Earworm Chart (which doesn’t exist). “If we could go back to the start/bet we’d still be falling apart…” constantly infiltrates my head.
Typically I rank down Eurovision artists who use too much autotune or vocoder in a song (see Andrew Lambrou). I’ve made an exception for Reiley. In this case, the vocoder is used as an instrument to accompany his vocals, not as a crutch to hide potential vocal weaknesses.
My semi-final 2 rank: 9 out of 16.
Can it win? I wouldn’t completely write Reiley off. Eurovision made a significant voting change this year by including non-participating countries as a single voting block. Reiley has built a sizable K-Pop and TikTok fan base. A well-organized voting campaign could have a significant impact.
Would it play on US radio? Definitely. It could even climb Billboard.
8. Iceland | Diljá | Power
Few other Eurovision Song Contest vocalists have shown they can own the entire stage while maintaining vocal control. Diljá does precisely that. She brings an intense energy to her performance, making sure she’s inclusive of the audience on all sides. Unfortunately, she seems to be getting overlooked for vocalists who remained relatively stationary during their national selection song debuts. Her vocal control while running the stage should give “Power” an edge over the competition.
My semi-final 2 rank: 8 out of 16
Can it win? Sadly, she’s being criminally overlooked.
Would it play on US radio? Yeah, this is definitely a Eurovision breakout hit.
7. Estonia | Alika | Bridges
Alika wasn’t my first choice to win Estonia’s Eesti Laul; that honor went to Bedwetters with “Monsters.” However, my personal preferences aside, I was reasonably confident she’d come out on top. It was between her and Sissi.
“Bridges” has all the elements of a winning Eurovision ballad. It’s a well-written composition built to show the dynamics of Alika’s vocals. She brings to the song expressive harmonies and raw emotions.
My semi-final 2 rank: 7 out of 16
Can it win? She’s in the dark horse files.
Would it play on US radio? Yeah, it sure could.
6. Romania | Theodor Andrei | D.G.T. (Off and On)
Lyrically, this is a sultry, Europop version of The Offspring’s “Self-Esteem” (google the translation). Musically, I hear the potential for a future James Bond opening song (this could be because I’ve been working on a rewatch of all the Daniel Craig Bond films while drafting these Eurovision synopses).
The song itself is solid, showcasing Theodor Andrei’s tremendous vocal range and charismatic stage presence. However, the staging is questionable. Nowadays, there are more creative and thoughtful ways to express the feeling of being trapped in a toxic, abusive relationship than by putting two women in lingerie – it feels like a throwback to 80s MTV. Additionally, while well-intentioned, the “make love, not war” shirt rip at the end is gratuitous and poorly placed.
My semi-final 2 rank: 6 out of 16
Can it win? Not sure.
Would it play on US radio? No. It’s in Romanian.
5. Armenia | Brunette | Future Lover
It took a couple of listens for this song to grab me. It starts with soft Billie Eilish or Lana del Ray vibes before grabbing the listener by the throat. Once it clicks, it sticks. When she flips into Armenian at the end, it made me yearn to hear more of that language throughout the song. This song hasn’t been performed live at the moment I’m writing, so we have no idea what she’ll bring to the stage.
My semi-final 2 rank: 5 out of 16 – but I have a feeling that will change before SF2.
Can it win? Maybe? It’s a tough year, but I could see it coming close.
Would it play on US radio? Even with Armenian at the end, it could get steady play if given a chance.
4. Australia | Voyager | Promise
The second semi-final is filled with many “growers.” Songs that don’t pull me in on the first few rotations, but as I work on these rankings start to pull me in. Voyager offers us the essential arena rock song. It starts off as an electro-ballad, shifts into modern prog, and slaps us silly with a trip through the stars (a “voyage” through the stars, mehaps?). Not only does the instrumentation take us on that voyage, but so do the vocals. The range is impressive, even at one point hitting the listener with a surprise metal guttural scream. I’m glad we live in a time when the scream, derided by vocal coaches for a long time, is entering the mainstream as a song accentuator.
My semi-final 2 rank: 4 out of 16.
Can it win? Of the rock bands this one likely has the best chance.
Would it play on US radio? It could find a home at rock stations.
3. Georgia | Iru | Echo
Georgia was the final country to release a song this Eurovision season. It was quite the exclamation point. In what has already been a year full of surprises, Iru managed to drop a powerful, experimental entry on Eurofans. The weakest part of the song is the lyrics, but her strong vocals more than compensate. The bridge into that final chorus is a home run of songcraft.
My semi-final 2 rank: 3 out of 16
Can it win? If juries and voters can overlook the lyrics, yes.
Would it play on US radio? No.
2. Lithuania | Monika Linkytė | Stay
I don’t know how this song happened. Literally, because I was keeping a close eye on Eurovision song drops this year, but Lithuania’s entry somehow slipped past. I was listening to my Tidal Eurovision 2023 playlist and “Stay” came on. It was love at first listen. The song hit me in the same spot as 2022’s “Saudade, Saudade” and “De Diepte.”
I caught up with her national selection performance. It was flawless. It’s shocking that there’s so little discussion around Lithuania (but that could just be in the forums I’ve been hanging out in). I’m still new to this whole Eurovision thing, but it feels like some of the best vocalists are being overshadowed by hype. Loreen, the projected winner, is great, but is she really as strong as Monika? Maybe this happens every year?
The song itself is a theme that’s been fairly common this year. It’s about dealing with scars or trauma from the past. A plea for patience as the song’s subject learns how to cope. It echoes Aijā’s “Sudden Lights” and Mia Nicolai and Dion Cooper’s “Burning Daylight.”
That’s actually one of the things I’ve recently come to appreciate from Eurovision. Often, the songs will capture the global moment we’re experiencing. Last year, songs like Amanda Tenfjord’s “Die Together” captured living through the pandemic. This year we’re hearing songs that reflect the anxiety of reentering society after the devastating impact of the early waves of the pandemic.
My semi-final 2 rank: 2 out of 16
Can it win? Dark horse files.
Would it play on US radio? Maybe? I’m unsure if the “Čiūto tūto” would fly.
1. Austria | Teya & Selena | Who the Hell Is Edgar?
Songs like this one are why my affection for Eurovision became genuine (it was very much disingenuous when I started paying attention to it – I feel bad). It pokes fun at the serious issue of artist exploitation in the music industry. In three short poppy minutes, the song attacks the practice of ghostwriting songs, poor streaming royalties, unfair recording contracts, and the slog of touring. On top of that, it’s a damn good composition – much better than a song on this topic deserves to be. It is so good…SO GOOD… that I made it my choice to win semi-final number two.
My semi-final 2 rank: 1 out of 16.
Can it win? I don’t think it can.
Would it play on US radio? It wouldn’t get very high on Billboard, but, yeah, I think it could have a decent life as a novelty. Plus, it’s a fun bop, and the kids love fun bops.
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