The Best Songs From The ESC (SHORT Reviews From A Songwriter’s Perspective)

There’s a lot of talent present at this year’s ESC. I’ve taken the time to listen to all of the tracks to help you decide on which ones you might want to listen to. There’s a lot of great songwriting to be found in a lot of these songs and with each mini-review, I want to give you a little insight into why I think this song is great or why it’s not.

WATCH OUT! This list is NOT a prediction on who’s gonna win – it’s a list of reviews based on songwriting, performance and arrangement. For a list of my PREDICTIONS for the Semi Finale & Finale, click here.

10/10 Points

Screen Shot 2016-05-10 at 19.00.05

(From Hovi Star’s “Made Of Stars”. All rights belong to their respective owners)

Hovi Star – Made of Stars (Israel)
First of all: What a great song! I had goose bumps all over during those verses. Amongst all the feel good songs this year, this pop ballad truly stands out. The very sparse arrangement revolves around a fantastic vocal performance by vocalist Hovav Sekulets which is so captivating and beautiful on its own that it’s almost a letdown when the bridge propels the song to a powerful finale.
(10/10)

Dami Im – Sound of Silence (Australia)
No, it’s nothing you haven’t heard before, but some very interesting instrumentation during the verses and a great central performance by Dami Im. This is one of those songs that just works: Great melodies, great arrangements and a good bridge. The only weak spot is the prechorus, which comes across a little generic compared to the otherwise intelligently written track.
(10/10)

9/10 Points

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(From Nina Kraljic’s “Lighthouse”. All rights belong to their respective owners)

Freddie – Pioneer (Hungary)
Gábor Alfréd Fehérvári’s rough voice immediately sticks out from all the clean, pretty voices from this years submissions. Strong verses and a good production help him through one of this year’s most honest-sounding tracks. The lyrics are worth a look, so is the bridge and especially the last chorus, which fills in the noticeable blanks of the first two.
(9.5/10)

Amir – J’ai cherché (France)
Switching from French in the verses to English in the chorus, this dance song does everything right. The central performance is convincing and believable, the production couldn’t be better and the melodies stick. The arrangement of the second chorus in particular deserves being checked out.
(9.5/10)

Joe and Jake – You’re Not Alone (UK)
The British Pop duo shows some clear influences from more recent acts like Shawn Mendes and various boy bands, and they’re doing it well enough to score high points. The U2-type guitars in the second verse add a little bit of magic and the chorus is very singable. Nothing new, but a very solidly written contribution.
(9.5/10)

Poli Genova – If love was a crime (Bulgaria)
Within seconds it becomes clear that the Bulgarian singer was inspired by the more recent Justin Bieber. Vocal chops drive this calm house track, which is superbly produced. Clearly written for a younger audience, the centre performance is believable and completes this almost flawless song. Who knew Bulgaria could sound so American?
(9.5/10)

Ira Losco – Walk On Water (Malta)
One of my favorite tracks this year. While I’m not sure about the verses, which sound a little too Celine Dion for my taste, the chorus really hits home for me.
(9.5/10)

Nina Kraljic – Lighthouse (Croatia)
Another one of my favorites this year. While the voice is a little too simple and clean for my taste, the performance is very convincing and the chorus hits me right in the gut. The flute and percussion give the otherwise very american sound a well-balanced traditional twist. While I’m not a big fan of the key changes for the last chorus and the verses aren’t perfect, this is still a home run for me and I wish Croatia the best of luck this year!
(9/10)

8/10 Points

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(From Jüri Pootsmann’s “Play”. All rights belong to their respective owners)

Barei – Say Yay (Spain)
A very danceable song accompanied by an interesting voice at peak performance. Influences from TSOP give the song its very smooth edge, but unfortunately, the chorus is a little too complicated and wordy and the second verse is too long for this to be one of my favorites.
(8.5/10)

Justs – Heartbeat (Latvia):
The dark, well-produced atmosphere of heartbeat works like a charm. The powerful central performance is set against a slow, electronic background, which works well in the verses. Unfortunately, the chorus and bridge don’t quite live up to the very promising opening.
(8/10)

Francesca Michielin – No Degree of Seperation (Italy)
The cool and razor sharp performance by Francesca Michielin is set to a nicely-sounding, warm backing track. What starts out in Italian and later switches to English has the power and emotional distance of a machine, which works extremely well. While it is a little too wordy, the chorus works well and I believe every second. If it weren’t for a cheesy pre-chorus this one would be higher on my list, but definitely a song I’ll listen to again and again.
(8/10)

Jamala – 1944 (Ukraine)
I must say, Susana Jamaladinova’s performance doesn’t always convince me. At times, it feels like she’s lacking the power the song needs. But then she switches to her native language and all is forgiven. A fascinating voice set to an original production, good melodies and a nice blend of the singer’s roots with american sounds.
(8/10)

Jüri Pootsmann – Play (Estonia)
An unusually cool, calm number. Good lyrics and a smooth central performance set to a relaxed production make this stylish song one of the hidden treasures in this year’s pool of submissions.
(8/10)

Iveta Mukuchyan – LoveWave (Armenia)
I wouldn’t be surprised if this one completely floors me when I see it performed live on Saturday. The production misses impact and the second verse is flawed, but that can’t hide the fact that what we have here is certainly one of the most interesting submissions this year with a powerful vocal performance in its center.
(8/10)

Rykka – The Last Of Our Kind (switzerland)
A little bit of Lana Del Rey, a couple of daring chords and some rather old-fashioned synths make Rykka’s “The Last Of Our Kind” a good listen. The central performance is good, but the production holds back and there is an unnecessary key change in the last chorus.
(8/10)

Donny Montell – I’ve Been Waiting For This Night (Lithuania)
Technically, this song does everything right: Good production, a very anthemic chorus and a good central performance. Unfortunately, I don’t believe it.
(8/10)

7/10 Points

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(From Laura Tesoro’s “What’s The Pressure”. All rights belong to their respective owners)

Samra – Miracle (Azerbaijan)
Finally, a great central performance that I believe in! Good melodies, good production, good bridge. Unfortunately, the chorus is a little boring.
(7.5/10)

Laura Tesoro – What’s The Pressure (Belgium)
This is not just a nod to “Another One Bites The Dust”, it’s at least 2nd base. There’s a whole lot of disco and a whole lotta feel good, and I believe it. Unfortunately, there’s not much else going on.
(7.5/10)

Gabriela Guncikova – I Stand (Czech Republic)
A fantastic voice set to a great production singing a good hook to a beautiful orchestration. Still: I don’t believe it.
(7.5/10)

Agnete – Icebreaker (Norway)
If you’re the busy type and you only have time to listen to one song this year, listen to “Icebreaker”. You get two songs for one. With verses that sound like they came straight from the 90s and a very modern, half-time chorus, there really is too much going on for a single song. There’s some good (albeit standard) melodies performed by vocal wonder Agnete. Unfortunately, the verses spoil what’s otherwise a great song.
(7/10)

IVAN – Help you fly (Belarus)
More weak 90s style verses, I’m afraid. A shame, because IVAN clearly is extremely talented. The verses, 4-on-the-floor pre-chorus and lyrics don’t work, but the chorus is decent and very much worth checking out.
(7/10)

ManuElla – Blue and Red (Slovenia)
A simple 4-on-the-floor Country Pop version of Katy Perry’s “Hot N Cold” with Banjos and yet another key change in the last chorus. The vocals are solid but go a little overboard with the emotions. The “Aleyeyeyyyy”s are great though.
(7/10)

Dalal & Deen feat Ana Rucner & Jala – Ljubav je (Bosnia/Herzegovina)
One of the few songs sung completely in its native language. There’s a lot of pathos here. Castles, flutes and cellos place this song in the medieval section. And I believe it. As Yoda would say, the hook is strong with this one. Unfortunately, the production gives the vocals so much power that the arrangement loses most of its impact. Oh, and there’s a rap in the bridge which comes out of nowhere.
(7/10)

Jamie-Lee Kriewitz – Ghost (Germany)
Another performance that owes a lot to Lana Del Rey. Strong verses and a strong bridge make this worth checking out. Unfortunately, the music lacks energy and the chorus gets boring rather quickly. But there are some interesting tidbits in the production (check out the percussion in the first verse).
(7/10)

Eneda Tarifa – Fairytale (Albania)
There seems to be a lot of hate on the web based on the fact that this song sounds much nicer in Albanian (which I can’t attest to, because I’ve only heard it in English). I wonder if the Albanian version is better produced as well, because that’s my main quibble with this one. What otherwise could’ve been a James Bond theme song (there’s even chromatic harmony in the pre-chorus) with great melodies and a good central performance now comes over a little weak.
(7/10)

Minus One – Alter Ego (Cyprus)
Anthemic Rock is the name of the game. “Alter Ego” sounds a little pieced together with a weak bridge and post-chorus, and the chorus is awfully wordy. But there’s still some good fun to be had with the vocal performance and the fact that a Rock track made it to the ESC.
(7/10)

6/10 Points

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(From Sergey Lazarev’s “You Are The Only One”. All rights belong to their respective owners)

Nika Kocharov & Young Georgian Lolitaz – Midnight Gold (Georgia)
You know, I really like this one. Unfortunately, from a commercial standpoint, there’s just not enough going on in this Jawbox inspired grunge song. The voice is cool, but the lack of a chorus will make this a tough sale for a big audience and the boring bridge makes it all too clear that the harmonic backbone of this song is very, very thin.
(6.5/10)

Sandhja – Sing It Away (Finland)
The intro first made me think this was gonna be a ballad, but it turns out this is one of the groovier tracks this year. The verses are a little bland and the bridge is problematic but the funky chorus works and the central performance is noteworthy.
(6.5/10)

Sergey Lazarev – You Are The Only One (Russia)
Ever wonder what it would sound like if you mixed Disney Musicals with Dance music? Well, look no further, “You Are the Only One” has it all. The melodies and lyrics are cheesy and there’s a mandatory key change for the last chorus. The music video is very cool though.(6/10)

Serhat – I Didn’t Know (San Marino)
The second song with references to TSOP on this list. It’s well done, but the ESC is probably not the right audience for this. The arrangement is great, but I don’t quite believe the central performance, which doesn’t quite groove as much as it should.
(6/10)

Michal Szpak – Color Of Your Life (Poland)
A very good central performance and the music video has some nice shots of a castle and the singer’s curly hair. Unfortunately, the lyrics and production are cheesy.
(6/10)

Zoë – loin D’Ici (Austria)
Sung entirely in French, this cutesy daisy house song sounds a little too heavy for it’s central performance.
(6/10)

5/10 Points

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(From Lidia Isac’s “Falling Stars”. All rights belong to their respective owners)

Kaliopi – Dona (F.Y.R. Macedonia)
Kaliopi Bukle sings in her native language and I believe her. Unfortunately, her almost classical performance uses a lot of vibrato which makes “Dona” sound like the cheesy 80s I never really liked.
(5.5/10)

Lidia Isac – Falling Stars (Maldova)
A simple, good melody and a very silly spaceman dancing on an acre: That’s what I remember from the video of Falling Stars. The production is not up to par and the beat and artificial performance feel out of place and time.
(5/10)

Greta Salóme – Hear Them Calling (Iceland)
Greta’s name has all the right letters to describe her performance. Unfortunately, the song is overloaded and the chorus is a little silly.
(5/10)

ZAA Sanja Vucic – Goodbye (Shelter) (Serbia)
Another great voice, another key change in the last chorus. There’s some bad melody writing in the pre-chorus (avoid notes on “I played a fool”). Essentially this is a good song, but the biggest problem of “Goodbye” is that I don’t believe the central performance, with the vocals building too fast for the music.
(5/10)

Lighthouse X – Soldiers of Love (Denmark)
It’s well-written, it’s clean, there’s an easily singable falsetto hook performed by able singers and yet… it seems like I’ve heard it all before and there’s not enough edges here to keep me interested.(5/10)

Frans – If I Were Sorry (Sweden)
Some good lyrics and the verses work well, but the hook line repeats one too many times and ultimately, the song is too simple for its own good.
(5/10)

4/10 Points

Screen Shot 2016-05-10 at 19.10.42

(From Argo’s “Utopian Land”. All rights belong to their respective owners)

Argo – Utopian Land (greece)
World Music, meet Coolio. An interesting marriage of styles and the melody is ok, but from all the songs, it’s the only one whose lyric-less storytelling is flawed.
(4.5/10)

Douwe Bob – Slow Down (Netherlands)
Straight-forward Singer-Songwriter song with a touch of Country. It’s well-written but also unremarkable, even though it’s definitely a change from the usual anthemic pop sound of the ESC.
(4/10)

Nicky Byrne – Sunlight (Ireland)
A very clean, agreeable song. A good central performance is accompanied by an unimaginative production. It’s done well but ultimately not interesting enough to peak my attention.
(4/10)

3/10 Points

Highway – The Real thing (Montenegro)
Alternative Rock meets Dub Step. I like both, but unfortunately not this song. The “Feel it, I’m the real thing” bit is great, but the rest of the song has poor melodies and jumps around between styles too much.
(3.5/10)

QUESTIONS (Comment below!)

  1. Which songs are your favorites and why?
  2. Who do you think will win and why?

Songwriting Coach & Composer

With recommendations from industry heavyweights Erwin Steijlen (Pink, Shakira), Conrad Pope (John William’s orchestrator), Jeff Rona (God of War III, Traffic) and Rene Merkelbach (Within Temptation), Friedemann started his songwriting/producing school Holistic Songwriting in November 2015.

He has since written a book The Addiction Formula, a 7 Day Audio Program on songwriting and video courses on Hook/Melody-Writing and Drum-Writing.

Written by Friedemann Findeisen

Songwriting Coach & Composer

With recommendations from industry heavyweights Erwin Steijlen (Pink, Shakira), Conrad Pope (John William’s orchestrator), Jeff Rona (God of War III, Traffic) and Rene Merkelbach (Within Temptation), Friedemann started his songwriting/producing school Holistic Songwriting in November 2015.

He has since written a book The Addiction Formula, a 7 Day Audio Program on songwriting and video courses on Hook/Melody-Writing and Drum-Writing.

This article has 6 comments

  1. Les Reply

    Hi Friedmann.

    I’ve went through each song you reviewed, and even though I don’t enjoy any of the Eurovision songs from a stylistic and mood sense, I completely agree with your scores.

    Going down your list, I was finding myself losing interest, drifting off and getting bored in each song quicker and quicker. I can listen to the tracks nearly full length your scored highly and switch off in under 20 seconds of the tracks you scored super low.

    What’s amazing is I know now why I’m losing interest from the knowledge I’m gaining within your Holistic Songwriting book and drum course.

    Great work!

  2. Joel Johansson Reply

    Interesting analysis!

    Rating the songs is indeed a very different task from guessing the result. I agree that the Australian contribution is a good composition, and a highly possible winner. At the same time, isn’t the style getting old now? There is also the factor X involved (artist vibe), plus the public openness for “novelty” or at least change (if it’s a good change).

    No offence taken, but I think you’ve underestimated Sweden 😉

    • Friedemann Findeisen Reply

      Hey Joel!
      This is just a list of what I think about the Songwriting. It’s not an estimation as to who will win. I’m making that list today 🙂
      And you might very well be right about “If I Was Sorry” – there seems to be a lot of love for it on the Internet from what I can tell.
      But then again, I think it’s a little too sweet and not anthemic enough to really floor people when it’s performed live this Saturday.
      Thanks for your comment 🙂

  3. stephen podesta Reply

    Thankyou for your review, totally agree with your assessment being from Australia we love the song because it is totally different than what is on offer, every other song seems to be almost the same. so what is it about Russia that it is the bookies favorite, don’t understand and France did you see there rehearsal, thought his vocals very weak, liked the song originally on the official video, but his performances leave a lot to be desired.?

    • Friedemann Findeisen Reply

      Hey Stephen!
      Thanks for your comment 🙂 Yeah, I really dig “The Sound Of Silence” (even though I disagree that all other songs sound the same). I don’t get Russia either, but it’s got a crazy amount of views on Youtube and a lot of people seem to like it. Just checked out the rehearsals of “J’ai Cherché” and you’re right, it doesn’t really work live. But maybe he can make up for that in spectacle on the big night. 😉

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