Editorials & OpinionStockholm 2016

Xtra Review: Belarus 2016 national finalists

On January 22, as was confirmed last week, Belarus will hold a national final to decide their entry for Eurovision 2016. At least that’s the intention. As often as not, the chosen song gets ditched, switched or changed beyond all recognition. Credit where it’s due though, in the last couple of years, Belarus have stuck to their guns, so let’s just assume that the song that wins this national final (decided solely by televoting) will be the song that goes on to take part in Eurovision, and therefore will be one of these ten.

Peter has had a listen to the selection and offered his thoughts on who could return the country to the final, or maybe even better…

Alexey Gross – Flame
Fairly strong start to proceedings with this ballad. For the first minute or so it doesn’t really know what it wants to be, and I’m not sure about the melody in the verses, but the chorus is strong, and all the ingredients of an anthemic entry are here in all their cliched glory, including a key-change and gospel choir. It has potential. Listen here.
Sasha Zakharik – Glory Night
A song borrowing from another era here, from the girl groups of the 60s. There’s a bit of a mismatch here though, as the music seems to fall into “cheesy pastiche” territory, but Sasha gives a much more laid back performance that doesn’t really go. They need to decide whether they’re going to play it cool, or go over the top with it, because at the moment it’s trying to do both. Listen here.
Valeriya Sadovskaya – Not Alone
I’m going to have to try and hear past the dreadful out of tune backing vocalists on the poorly recorded audition video I’m listening to for this one, but it does sound like there’s potential there. It’s a sort of dubstep ballad, and if they give this one proper production and Valeriya is up to the task vocally (something that isn’t a given based on this one video) then it could be very effective. I think they can lose the ethnic dance break shoehorned into the middle though. Listen here.
Radiovolna – Radio Wave
I think this and ‘Running To The Sun’ both sound slightly like Maroon 5 songs, but this one captures the sound much more. It’s funk, with some disco elements, and the throwback sound is very on trend for right now. I can see this getting some votes, and it’s among the most polished of the contenders but I do wish the chorus had a bit more going for it as it’s slightly lacking at the moment. Listen here.

The Em – Turn Around
The Em are a boyband that look like they should probably have another couple of members. Turn Around is a fairly ordinary boyband ballad that could have existed at any time over the last 25 years. The chorus is strong, but when it first comes in it sounds like it’s from a completely different song to the rest of it. Listen here.
Navi – Gyeta Zyamlya (This Land)
This is the song sung in Belarusian in the line-up. Obviously the televoting public of Belarus have the final say, but the powers that be did express a desire to finally send a song in the national language next year, so watch this one. Anyway this is a fairly inoffensive male-female duet. Middle of the road with a catchy chorus, but some slightly shaky vocals from the singers. It’s hard to see Europe getting too excited about this one. Listen here.
Aleksander Ivanov – How To Fly
Fairly bog-standard rock mid-tempo here sung by a fairly bog standard rocker in the form of Aleksander Ivanov. The melody is quite accessible, yet I can’t really remember it when the song finishes. The only thing that’s actively bad in here is the dodgy high note before the final chorus, but other than that it’s just fairly bland throughout. Listen here.
Anastasiya Malashkevich – Pray For Love
Oh what a noise! This is a soulful uptempo pop song, but it’s a bit of a racket. Anastasiya has a rather harsh voice which is not suited to three whole minutes of exposure, the chorus is repetitive and the song just loses all form towards the end. Hopefully this won’t go any further. Listen here.

Kirill Yermakov – Running To The Sun
Finally a song that sounds ready for the Eurovision stage. This is a well-produced song that sounds a bit like Maroon 5 at their poppiest and most radio-friendly. It has a good chorus, a strong hook and it sounds like it could come across well on the big stage. It’s not a Eurovision winner by any means but if they make a bit more effort with the staging than they did with ‘Time’ then it will definitely be a start. Listen here.
Napoli – My Universe

Another strong one here. The first verse sounds like a ballad that would have played over the closing credits of a movie in the 90s, but it soon gets a dramatic injection of Eurovision at the chorus and becomes a natural successor to Zlata’s ‘Gravity’ (Ukraine 2013). Napoli are a group technically but it’s really a solo effort with the lead singer doing all of the heavy-lifting. It’s not the most cutting edge song in the running, but it could do well at the contest if the production is given a bit more life to it. Listen here.

So who should Belarus choose?
There are a few songs in this selection that could be competitive at Eurovision, but most of them come with the condition that they’re polished up. While Belarus are usually fairly reliable for improving their songs, there’s nothing to say that they’ll be revamped in a way that will work for them (just look at Litesound in 2012).
There are two very radio-friendly songs in the form of ‘Running To The Sun’ and ‘Radio Wave’ although the former will need something to make it stand out live and into more of a “competition” song and the latter is just missing something in the music when it comes to the memorability factor.
‘Not Alone’ has definite potential, although I can see it being a bit of a mess. That being said, it’s certainly contemporary with a strong melody, and if it is worked on in the right way, then it could do well. The same goes for ‘My Universe’ which could be epic in the way that ‘Gravity’ was for Ukraine but without ripping it off. I think it’s the one I’m personally rooting for, but it’s a close-run thing and around half of these songs could see Belarus into the final if they make the effort.
Of course this is all with the assumption that these ten songs are the ten songs in contention. BTRC have been a bit ambiguous when referring to the final ten “artists” in contention, and if the plan is to go back to the drawing board when a winner is chosen, then who knows what any of them are capable of when hooked up with other songwriters and given the chance to go with any song they please?

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