Off the back of a year that brought us kimono-clad chicken-infused beat-boxing, a gold star banger with genuine chart potential and probably our favourite UK entrant of the decade, we’ll admit that we’re feeling ever-so-slightly underwhelmed by this year’s Eurovision offerings.
It’s true that 2018’s live final is a tough act to follow, but we have to admit there aren’t quite as many acts grabbing our attention as there were this time a year ago.
That being said, there are a few stand-outs in the competition this time around, and Eurovision being Eurovision, you should still expect a few fireworks, theatrics and twists if you’re tuning in this weekend.
Based on our own thoughts and bookies William Hill’s favourites, these are the ones to keep an eye out for on Saturday night...
Duncan Laurence - Arcade
Representing: The Netherlands
Our verdict: An interesting trend in Eurovision is the way acts tend to avoid copycat performances. If a balladeer wins one year, the next will be chock full of dance acts. Similarly, if a mournful torch song wins, you can usually guarantee there’ll be more than a few peppy toe-tappers on stage 12 months later.
True to form, this year there are a lot of men, and it’s almost wall-to-wall ballads in the final. The bookies’ favourite of these is Duncan Laurence’s Arcade, which is giving us a Lukas-Graham-meets-Sam-Smith vibe.
Could he really win it?: Well, it certainly looks that way, with Duncan the hot favourite to take home the title of Eurovision winner. Of the ballads competing in 2019, we agree that this is among the best, and it’s been a long while since a traditional pop ballad like this won the contest.
And while the balladeers in the contest are going to have to fight to stand out from the crowd, we reckon Duncan’s voice is unique enough that it will stay with people, and could even be about to give The Netherlands their first Eurovision win in more than 40 years.
John Lundvik - Too Late For Love
Our verdict: Too Late For Love is a big, big song, that somehow only gets bigger with each listen. There’s a lot of light and shade in this track, culminating in a gospel quartet entering on backing vocals (we’re probably as excited to see those ladies on the Tel Aviv stage as anyone else this year) and yes, there’s even a key change.
Sweden is known for its effortless pop wins, and we think they’ve pulled it off again with Too Late For Love, which is probably our favourite of this year’s entrants.
The bad news for the UK is that John Lundvik is also the co-writer of our song, which it’s rather similar to, but also… less good. Much as Bigger has grown on us, and we’re fans of Michael Rice himself, we’re afraid to say Sweden’s entrant does blow it out of the water somewhat.
Could he really win it?: John is listed as the bookies’ second favourite, as Netta was last year, which is a positive sign if nothing else.
Too Late For Love is definitely a change in mood compared to Toy, but it’s also a lot less dreary and crestfallen than many of the other ballads that are in the running this year, which will help it shine.
The only thing we could say is that it does verge on cheesy at times, but then again, this is Eurovision we’re talking about, so we don’t see that being a problem...
Bilal Hassani - Roi
Our verdict: After Madame Monsieur’s Mercy got people talking with its political undertones, France has taken a somewhat different approach in 2019, though they’re once again sending a song with a strong message.
Roi is, yep, another ballad, but this one is essentially a love letter to everything that makes Bilal Hassani so great.
It’s defiant, it’s self-celebratory and it’s empowering. It puts us in mind of Conchita Wurst (which is never a bad thing), but with a 2019 makeover, making it more geared towards an audience already hooked on fabulous shows with queer themes like Pose and RuPaul’s Drag Race.
Could he really win it?: In a word, yes. Bilal is already a huge star in his native France (when HuffPost spoke to Michael Rice ahead of the final he told us how awe-struck he was that Bilal had an album out and was travelling around with his own security), and it’s not difficult to see why.
Essentially, if viewers aren’t sold on the song, there’s a high chance they still could be by Bilal, who is not only very likeable, but also a great role model to any younger Eurovision viewers who might be struggling with issues like self-acceptance.
There is an argument that it might be a bit too soon after Netta for another winner as theatrical as Bilal, but Roi and Toy are so different musically and thematically that we’d like to think that wouldn’t be a problem.
Sergey Lazarev - Scream
Our verdict: So, just in case you didn’t believe us when we said that there were a lot of ballads this year... here’s another one.
Scream is a very sombre song, starting out as piano-led until things get a bit more atmospheric on the chorus, when the strings come in, and Sergey hits some pretty impressive high notes. We’re going to be honest, though, by this point in the proceedings, we do have a bit of ballad fatigue, which unfortunately is making Scream a harder sell for us than some of our competitors.
Could he really win it?: In recent years, Russia has become known for its production numbers, and if they can pull that off again at the 2019 final, it might help Scream shine a bit more compared to its competitors. On its own, though, we could imagine it getting a little lost in the pack.
For the last two finals, Russia has also been absent (pulling out in 2017, and failing to qualify the following year), so we’re intrigued to see how they go down with voters upon their return.
Chingiz - Truth
Our verdict: Listen, it’s another ballad. We know.
Fortunately, Truth does stand out, though that’s mainly because it’s noticeably a lot cooler-sounding than the songs often associated with the Eurovision Song Contest, with a decidedly more dark and moody vibe, helped by the catchy repetition of “shut up about it” in the chorus.
It’s still only more likely to have you bopping gently in your armchair than actually on your feet twirling around the living room, but we still think it grabs your attention.
Could he really win it?: Hmmm… it’s got pretty good odds, but we’d say a lot of its success will depend on the actual performance on the night, and the production around it.
We do love the mermaid aesthetic of the music video, but Chingiz doesn’t honestly come across as the most natural and at-ease performer in the clip, so we’ll have to wait and see whether he can match competitors like Bilal in the charisma stakes.
Mahmood - Soldi
Our verdict: Sound the alarms, release the balloons, fire off the confetti cannons and start up the conga line – it’s not a ballad!
True, it’s still a relatively low-tempo number with R&B influences sung almost entirely in Italian, but it’s still a refreshing change, even if the lyrics are still on the sorrowful side.
Obviously, on first listen, there’s not much we can tell you about Soldi (apart from when Mahmood name-checks Jackie Chan, obviously), but a quick visit to our pal Google Translate reveals it’s actually a quite painful story about a father whose main interest is his bank balance, the name of the song also being the Italian word for money.
Like Truth before it, Soldi is also a lot more cool and contemporary-sounding than your typical Eurovision song, which again is much appreciated.
Could he really win it?: We don’t see why not. The bookies have Mahmood fairly near the top of their list of favourites, and given he’s one of only a handful of acts not submitting a ballad, we don’t anticipate any problems standing out on the night.
Kate Miller-Heidke - Zero Gravity
Our verdict: Australia made their Eurovision debut as a one-off in 2015, but impressed viewers so much they’ve since become a staple of the competition. But while their previous offerings have always been safe pop tunes, 2019 feels like Australia’s real arrival at Eurovision, with this Björk-meets-Sia 90s dance throwback, which builds up to an operatic soprano section on the chorus, while an aerial dancer bounces around her.
It’s creative and obviously distinctive, but while we’re grateful the Aussies have given us something other than a straightforward ballad, we have to say that Zero Gravity is... not for us.
Could she really win it?: Both Kate’s vocals and the performer on stage with her are undeniably impressive, and Zero Gravity will undeniably be one of the biggest talking points of this year’s live show, but quite how it will go down with those Eurovision jurors remains to be seen.
Hatari - Hatrið Mun Sigra
Our verdict: This song is an absolute racket, showcasing a mix of distorted shouts with heavy industrial club beats, which we’d normally turn off after a few seconds, but feel surprisingly refreshing after the ballad barrage that much of the competition has given us.
The song also has a less-than-uplifting message, with the chorus translating roughly to: “Hate will prevail, every joy derail, just treacherous illusion, fraud, futility..”
Could they really win it?: No, probably not, but that doesn’t mean they’re not going to be ones to watch. And given they’ve already called out Eurovision for hosting the event in Israel, amid calls from many for a boycott of the event, we wouldn’t be surprised if they had a surprise or two up their sleeve on the night.
The Eurovision Song Contest final will air on BBC One on Saturday May 18 at 8pm on BBC One, live from Tel Aviv.