Stockholm 2016

Xtra Review: Ukraine’s national final

This year sees Ukraine’s welcome return to the contest after a year out, and on Sunday we will find out who will carry the responsibility of flying the Ukrainian flag on the Eurovision stage once again. The national selection has been ongoing since the beginning of February and we are now left with six songs battling it out for the Ukrainian ticket to Stockholm. Peter has had a listen to the songs in contention and here’s what he thinks.
NuAngels – Higher
This is a bit of a departure from the Alexander Bard balls-to-the-wall schlager effort they tried with two years ago. Higher is much more contemporary, featuring the drum and bass sound that seems to have suddenly found its way to Eurovision this year. However they haven’t lost their pop sensibilities, at this is the most mainstream end of the genre possible. The whole song is incredibly hooky, and the chorus has a hint of gospel to it, making this very anthemic. It’s radio-friendly, but it’s big enough to work on the Eurovision stage in a competition setting. If the live vocals are up to scratch then I can see this coming across very well, as we already know how expert Ukraine is at staging a song. Listen here.
The Hardkiss – Helpless
As a headline name in the Ukrainian selection, the Hardkiss are going into Sunday’s final heavily fancied. I like the sound they’ve brought to the table; they categorise themselves as progressive pop, even though this sounds like it could have been a hit in the 90s. I’m hearing Annie Lennox and Massive Attack here. I love the singer’s voice and I love the production, but I don’t really think the song itself is up to much. Beyond it possibly providing a big moment in the arena (because it does get BIG), I’m not sure how much memorability it has once it is over. There’s a lot of hype around this so it could just be me, but it seems like a missed opportunity to bring something truly epic to the table. Listen here.
Jamala – 1944
This seems to be the favourite to represent Ukraine at the contest, and I would be thrilled to see it there. I was all for Ukraine to come back with the high production bombastic pop they are the Eurovision masters of, but this just grabbed me straight away. Of course it was the possible controversy over the song’s subject matter that drew me to listen in the first place, and whether it makes it to the Stockholm stage in its current form is anybody’s guess, but the emotion Jamala conveys in her vocal and performance will get the message across even if the odd lyric has to be changed. I didn’t even used to like Jamala’s voice – it is an acquired taste – but it just fits perfectly here with the leftfield production and the traditional instrumentation. The last chorus where it all explodes is the first Eurovision moment to give me tingles this season so far.

Brunettes Shoot Blondes – Every Monday
These guys seem to be quite a well established band cut from the “boy” cloth and they’ve got a decent image, but that’s about all I can find to say that’s complimentary about this. The song plods along doing nothing for 3 minutes, with a boring chorus, a mumbling vocal performance from the singer and annoying lyrics. It seems that this is complete filler in the final given the songs that are getting much more attention, but I’m surprised it has even got this far. Listen here.
Pur:Pur – We Do Change
Can’t say I’m too crazy about the song title here, but I’ll try and put that out of my head. Anyway there’s something quite hypnotic about this. It’s a very chilled trance ballad, and not like anything I’ve heard at Eurovision before. There’s no real hook, and there’s no real climax to the song; the selling point is the sound of the song as a whole, which is just sublime to these ears. However, this is one for listening to in your earphones on a relaxation playlist and really appreciating all of the sounds going on in there. It would take a spectacular live performance to recreate the appeal and to keep viewers interested, and predictably as it is now, it doesn’t manage that. It’s just a girl in a silly hat singing a dull song. Listen here.
SunSay – Love Manifest
I see this song has been doing the round for a while and there are some questions being raised about its eligibility for the contest, but at the time of going to press, it’s still in the running. Anyway I’m a bit torn about this one. In general I’m not really feeling it, although it does have its redeeming features. The funky dance production is very modern, it’s well performed and I can see it going down very well in the hall, however it falls a bit short for me in other aspects. The song itself just gets a bit boring; there’s no real variation in the melody, the chorus is weak with a poor excuse for a hook and whilst I can see why it’s favoured, in the big world of Eurovision I can see it flopping, especially when there is potential in other countries for similar but better executed songs to be chosen.
Who should represent Ukraine at Eurovision 2016?
There seem to be a few names getting a lot of attention in this relatively small selection, including SunSay and The Hardkiss, but none moreso than Jamala. Obviously her previous Eurovision near-misses and the political undertones to her song have drawn more attention to it, but the effect of her performance mustn’t be underrated. I don’t think they have a Eurovision winner in here, but I think 1944 would be a real moment and it’s by far the best choice to go all the way. There are issues with the subject matter and it could be decided that it’s a bit too on the nose, but hopefully that will just mean an alteration to the title of lyrics.
However if the song is yanked from contention, or somehow the voters don’t get behind Jamala in the numbers that it’s been seeming like they might, by clear second choice would be ‘Higher’ by NuAngels. Contemporary, catchy and still very poppy and Eurovision, I think it would be a voter-winner and certainly would be one of my favourites in the line-up.

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