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Ah, it's that time of year again. National Final season is over and we have nothing but the on demand leftovers to entertain us until the big day next weekend. The quality of the NF shows has been really good this year, incidentally. Sweden's Melodifestivalen was slicker and funnier than anything UK Saturday night TV could throw at us, and even the low-budget sports hall charm of Latvia kept our attention. Anyway, time for my annual ramble about European music an' ting.

Missing out this year: Andorra, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Serbia, Slovakia, Turkey. Mostly financial reasons as usual, but Turkey threw a massive strop about rules and set up their own contest. It wasn't half bad, if shambolically organised. And where else could I watch Kyrgyzstani TV and see people doing throat singing in a pokey school hall, followed by the TV station closedown complete with glossy propaganda national anthem video?

Our highlights from watching the national selections:

- The opening of Melodifestivalen, which centred round a fake anti-Danish social media campaign. It all culminated in a parody performance of Emmelie de Forest's winning song, complete with people throwing her penny whistles into burning bins. Riiight.

- Estonia's Eesti Laul show had clowns doing Eurovision classics. Harrowing. They also had animations based on proverbs. More harrowing.

- Ireland's Eurosong kicked off with Louis Walsh having a fight with another mentor. As it goes to a break though, we heard Ryan Tubridy urging them to keep it going as the crowd 'loved it'. Ah, pantomime fights. Guess he needs something to do when X Factor isn't on, eh?

- The surprisingly high budget of Azerbaijan's Böyük Səhnə. It was probably all fixed though, given all that dodgy business the other year...

- Belgium's Eurosong featured former Ukrainian contestant Ruslana on the judging panel. She was an absolute darling, and soldiered on despite a lack of common language. On the final she performed some of her hits draped in a Ukrainian flag, and gave a passionate speech about how her family are still there and we should all work towards peace. She's my hero. <3

Albania Hersi: 'One Night's Anger'. It's got a very 90s sound to it, especially the chorus. It did grow on me; she has a lovely tone to her voice. Video verdict: sand and DMs don't mix.

Husband opinion: Meh.

Armenia Aram MP3: 'Not Alone'. I really like this. It starts sweet and sad, then builds to a DUBSTEP BREAKDOWN which ought not to work but it just adds lovely drama, as does his Chris Cornell-y voice. And the video's all angsty too. Perfect. One of my top 10.

Husband opinion: Woudn't be out of place in the modern pop charts.

Azerbaijan Dilara Kazimova: 'Start a Fire'. There's a lot of ballads this year again, but this is one of the better ones. A smattering of native instruments, soaring strings and lots of lighters-aloft opportunities.

Husband opinion: Drippy.

Belgium Axel Hirsoux: 'Mother'. Now, we watched the Eurosong selections for Belgium, and I have to say there were much better contenders than this guy. Bandits spring to mind, Belgium's answer to One Direction who generally couldn't be heard over screams. He's obviously very passionate as a performer, but I feel it's got too much melodrama for my liking. I predict it'll do well though.

Husband opinion: Rejected Bond theme.

Estonia Tanja: 'Amazing'. Very Euphoria, but no bad thing. My concern was that when we saw this performed on Eesti Laul, it seemed the backing singers did the grunt work because of the very twirly jumpy dance routines. I'm guessing that's all above board though...

Husband opinion: Pretty good.

Hungary András Kállay-Saunders: 'Running'. A surprisingly dark entry about child abuse. It's done an Armenia by having some random bits more upbeat and dancey, but it's something that wouldn't be out of place on UK radio despite the subject matter.

Husband opinion: So sad :(

Iceland Pollapönk: 'No Prejudice'. Now this is fun. You'll not meet a cheerier call to universal peace, love and understanding today. With a disco section. The video is supremely silly and the chorus won't leave my head. Got to be a top 10 contender.

Husband opinion: That guy looks a lot like Rufus Hound. Also, bonus points for the Batman and Scooby Doo references.

Latvia Aarzemnieki: 'Cake To Bake'. Oh, bless this lot. In the national final they looked genuinely shocked at being picked, mainly because they seemed ever so slightly intoxicated. Maybe their cake is 'special'. That would explain the lyrics about finding Atlantis and talking to unicorns. But it just raises a giant smile in this house; it's so infectious! Straight into the top 10.

Husband opinion: So catchy.

Moldova Cristina Scarlat: 'Wild Soul'. I'm still hoping one day they'll let Epic Sax back. Until that day, we have Cristina. And to be honest, my attention waned halfway through this dirge. Nothing about this jumped out at me; it's trying too hard to be dramatic and ends up sounding like Evanescence's downbeat synthy cousin.

Husband opinion: Bit dirgey and goth.

Montenegro Sergej Cetkovic: 'Moj Svijet'. This has the requisite ethnic instrument and key change for your drinking game, and is better than Moldova's ballad. Also, I watched the video and sort of want to go climb picturesque mountains in Montenegro because they look like Scotland. It's still not the dubstep spacemen. They were ROBBED last year.

Husband opinion: Drippy. The spectacularly dangerous-looking cliffs look nice though.

Portugal Suzy: 'Quero Ser Tua'. So, we have a theory in the house that most other countries are at least a decade behind in terms of TV, music, games and the like. And I was listening to this and thinking it wouldn't be out of place soundtracking my current guilty pleasure of South American soaps like this one. And then I remembered I haven't streamed any in ages and was sad, because I'll never know what happened to Nacho. What were we talking about again? Oh, Portugal. Lose the frightening bongo player and I might like it slightly better. Will that do?

Husband opinion: Bongos!

Russia Tolmachevy Sisters: 'Shine'. Hmm. I'll try to review this in the spirit of Eurovision, attempting to ignore current political crises and the like. This entry is the first from former Junior Eurovision entrants who've graduated to the proper contest. I think it's what happens when you put the Olsen twins in a blender with Miley Cyrus then throw it through an ironic Putin filter that tells you to sing about peace and love while simultaneously beating the shit out of other countries. Well, that neutrality didn't last long. Song's not that good anyway.

Husband opinion: Bit 60s with the straight up and down dresses and lighting setup, no?

San Marino Valentina Monetta: 'Maybe'. Oh San Marino, love. Is Valentina the only singing person in the country? This is her third outing after Crisalide and the unfortunate Social Network Song which I still can't watch without cringing deeply. This time there's a tiny streak of Abba under what's mostly an unremarkable track. It's alright, but not going to get past the semis.

Husband opinion: Another failed Bond theme. This is what happens when people try to do overblown and dramatic badly.

Sweden Sanna Nielsen: 'Undo'. Now this is class. Lovely sparkling Scandinavian sadness, if you can just ignore the 'undo my sad' chorus. (There's a whole can of worms about non-native English speakers writing lyrics, but I've seen enough online punch-ups with the Eurovision fandom about it that I am politely not wading into it.) Anyway, this has to be a top 10 candidate, or I'll eat my hat.

Husband opinion: Now this is true Eurovision.

The Netherlands The Common Linnets: 'Calm After The Storm'. More than a bit of the Nashville about this track. It's grown on me a lot; I could see Bob Harris playing it on his Radio 2 country show. And it's better than that bloody 'Birds' from the other year. Possible top 10 wildcard, methinks.

Husband opinion: Big thumbs up.

Ukraine Mariya Yaremchuk: 'Tick-Tock'. Catchy, funky pop offering from the country that brought you Ruslana and, er, Verka Serduchka. I reckon it should comfortably get through into the final.

Husband opinion: Poppy.

And that's it for part 1, folks! Part 2 tomorrow, after I've pootled round town and added a billion pages to the novel ideas notebook. *ponders Eurovision spin-off book*


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