A fight to the glitter end: Your guide to Eurovision 2022

The Eurovision Song Contest is back, replete with the requisite amounts of fire and lasers and smoke and sequins. And this year, ESC producers have added still another element to the already overstuffed visual mix — water, in the form of a rippling cascade that lines the edge of the stage of the 12,350-seat PalaOlimpico in Turin, Italy.

This infinity-waterfall effect might be an attempt to evoke the world-famous fountains of Rome, or it might be just there to look cool. It’s Eurovision, so it’s probably a bit of Column A, and a whole lot of Column B.

The three hour broadcast, which in the U.S. will be streamed live on Peacock starting at 3:00 p.m. Eastern time on Saturday, May 14, originates from Italy this year because it’s the home of last year’s winner, the metal-adjacent band Måneskin, who’ll return to perform their latest single during this year’s show.

Twenty-five countries are competing in Saturday’s Grand Final. As they do every year, five of those countries — France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the U.K. — automatically scored a slot without having to compete in the semi-finals; the so-called Big Five give the most money to support the Eurovision broadcast, and privilege has its … um, privileges. The 20 other countries in the mix had to duke it out in two semi-final rounds on Tuesday and Thursday, leaving 15 competitors behind them in the glittery dust. (Check out Latvia’s doomed entry, a gleefully goofy song about veganism, organic produce, the environmental benefits of reusable grocery bags and also, not for nothing, oral sex.)

You won’t be seeing an entrant from Russia this year, for obvious reasons. They were banned early on, which is a big deal, as Russia dependably makes it through to the Grand Final and generally does quite well. Their absence shifts the usual balance of power slightly.

What To Expect

1. The song(s) remain the same

The song stylings of Eurovision historically break down into 2.5 general types:

  • Bops: Up-tempo, egregiously catchy tunes made expressly for the darkest, sweatiest, stickiest dancefloors of Ibiza. Generally involve backup dancers who haven’t had a carb since the London Olympics.
  • Ballads: Slow, emotional, achingly sincere. No dancing, no backup dancers, just the performer planting their feet and emoting their guts out in front of a light show that bathes them in (usually) the Purple Glow of Performative Melancholy.
  • Anthems: A subcategory of Ballads, you’ll know you’re watching an Anthem if it’s a stirring, bombastic, heedlessly over-the-top barn-burner about standing up, or looking up, or holding up, or not giving up — something with “up,” anyway. Dance moves, if any, are scaled way way back in favor of posing defiantly.

Eurovision 2022 is heavy on melancholy ballads and light on defiant, life-affirming anthems. I mean, makes sense: It’s just been that kind of year, you know? Take the bops where you can get them, I say. In Eurovision, as in life.

2. A U.S. host who doesn’t skate by on charm alone

In a gesture toward the concept of sheer inevitability, Peacock has Johnny Weir hosting its live Eurovision coverage and, based on his hosting of the two Semi-Finals earlier this week, he’ll be great. A pompadoured prince of patter, Weir knows and loves Eurovision enough to supply newcomers with useful context and history while tossing out in-jokes for the die-hards.

3. Ignore the framing device

The theme of Eurovision this year is “The Sound of Beauty,” because … sure. Okay. Whatever. The broadcast kicks off with a vignette in which a Geppetto-like inventor creates a little flying robot who is determined to bring to the world joy and life and peace and music and blah blah blah. Don’t worry; it won’t become a Whole Thing, it’s just a device to introduce an annual Eurovision staple — the video “postcards” that introduce each performance, which this year consists of drone footage soaring over various Italian landmarks.

4. Ignore the jury votes

The final hour of the broadcast is all about the voting, which is long, awkward and needlessly complex. I love it. It’s as if Eurovision pioneered the interminable Zoom call, years before COVID would go on to habituate the world to it.

First, the hosts ask the juries of each country to cast their votes — a succession of video calls marked by lags and glitchy connections. You will be tempted to pay heed to these votes, as the show proceeds to make a meal out of them. But rest assured, what matters is the popular vote, which comes at the very end, and will proceed to pulverize the jury rankings into dust.

Every performance previewed, alongside strong, indefensible opinions

There follows a cheat sheet to the twenty-five songs in contention this year. I’ll make some highly opinionated picks, but just know that my track record is spotty. I’m given to the bops — the simple, infectious, up-tempo dance floor hits — while the ballads, anthems and metal (well, what passes for metal on Eurovision, anyway) tend to leave me cold. I thought 2019’s winner, “Arcade” was too much of a dirge to have a shot; I thought 2021’s winner, “Zitti E Buoni” was way too unmelodic for widespread acceptance. I was incandescently wrong on both counts.

Armenia: “Snap,” by Rosa Linn

Category: Ballad.

I’m always surprised by how strong a showing the genre of American Country Music makes in Eurovision each year, but this sweet, simple ditty is serving serious Kacey Musgraves. Might not be enough going on here for it to break out from a crowded, and much showier, pack, though. The staging is elaborate, but still low-key by Eurovision standards, involving a set plastered with Post-It Notes. So she’s serving Kacey, yes — but Romy and Michele as well.

Australia: “Not The Same,” by Sheldon Riley

Category: Anthem.

Classic “I withstood it all” Eurovision anthem of defiance, about being an autistic gay kid and having to hide all of his pain away. Now here he is, belting it out all over the PalaOlimpico stage while rocking a highly structured gown and a tiara dripping with crystals. I admire his journey. His song, not so much.

Azerbaijan: “Fade To Black,” by Nadir Rustamli

Category: Ballad.

Not sure how this snoozefest made it through. Maybe it’s the staging? Lots of people out there harboring fond memories of some things they got up to on (or under) their high school bleachers, is my guess.

Belgium: “Miss You,” by Jérémie Makiese

Category: Ballad.

Makiese is a professional soccer player who’s delivering a sultry, soulful Bond theme. I’m serious: Close your eyes and it’s easy to imagine lots of floating Walther PPKs and bullets and problematically suggestive female silhouettes. In terms of performance, it’s all about his voice. Oh, he’ll throw in a hip shake here or there, but his backup dancers are doing the heavy lifting; he’s like a “New Rules”-era Dua Lipa in denim.

Czech Republic: “Lights Off,” by We Are Domi

Category: Bop.

Okay here you go. For my money, the flat-out grooviest performance of the evening. Basic electro-pop? Sure. But these guys understand the assignment, and no matter what happens, this song will have a life beyond the PalaOlimpico stage this summer. See above, in re: Dancefloors on Ibiza.

Estonia: “Hope,” by STEFAN

Category: Ballad.

This song is trying to marry dark, Gothic Country vibes to cheery pop uplift, and the result is confusing. There’s a disconnect I can’t get past. It’s like Kidz Bop Johnny Cash. Like if The Handsome Family had joined Up With People. I don’t hate it, but I don’t understand it.

Finland: “Jezebel,” by The Rasmus

Category: Bop.

This very much isn’t for me, but they do know exactly who they are, which is notable. The Rasmus has been together for three decades, and here the band is deliberately playing with the whole creepy Stephen’s King IT thing. The lead singer’s voice was all over the place in the Semi-Finals, but they made it through anyway; never underestimate Eurovision’s need for some leather-panted rocker representation.

France: “Fulenn,” by Alvan & Ahez

Category: Bop.

This entry is a big deal, for a few reasons. One, France tends to see Eurovision as a chance to double down on its consummate Frenchiness on the world stage. Last year’s entry, for example, features an Edith Piaf-esque chanteuse in a leather bustier warbling a torch song that was called, not to put too fine a point on it, “Voila.” Two, they’re also one of the sizable handful of countries that take pride in having their Eurovision song in their national language, not English.

This year’s entry is in Breton, the regional language of Brittany. So, for the first time in Eurovision history, the competition does not include a song in French. Fulenn means “spark,” and this trippy, catchy, spooky number is full of imagery of flames and souls and dark forest rites. (Last year’s Cyprus entry, “El Diablo,” came under fire from pearl-clutching Christian groups for flirting with occult imagery, but “Fulenn”‘s lyrics go harder.) This is giving me Le Witch, or wait, no — Le Crucible: “Zoot alors! I saw Mlle. Proctor dancing wis ze devil!”

Germany: “Rockstars,” by Malik Harris

Category: Anthem.

Put it this way: This performance will remind you that bieber is German word. An anthem, yes, but a distinctly un-Eurovision one, in that it’s a defiant declaration of … anxiety, depression and lacerating self-consciousness. An anthem, in other words, for the TikTok generation.

That said, any time a song out of Germany includes lyrics like “I sit and miss and reminisce about innocent old days/When I was afraid of nobody” and “Aren’t we all set in a place/Where we look back at better days” and “We used to be the rockstars”…. I mean, it just pays to stay alert, you know? Keep your head on a swivel? Check your six, mind the exits? If you’ve got any friends in the Sudetenland, maybe text them? See if they’re doing okay?

Greece: “Die Together,” by Amanda Georgiadi Tenfjord

Category: Anthem.

The melody is lovely, the staging simple but effective — Tenfjord holds center stage in a silvery high-necked gown. She’s surrounded by broken chairs, like a bride wandering through the wreckage of her wedding ceremony. (I like to think she went full Dark Phoenix on it all.) Her voice is defiant and compelling, and when she nails an important high note at the bridge, the crowd goes nuts. Gotta say, though: The lyrics — in which she suggests she and her partner end it all, so they can be together forever — are the creepiest and most unsettling in this year’s competition, which let’s remember, also includes songs about werewolves gobbling up grannies and bloody witches’ sabbaths.

Iceland: “Með hækkandi sól,” by Systur

Category: Ballad.

These three sisters lay down a bed of chill, unremarkable country-pop, featuring some nice harmonies. The staging is simple to a fault — simplistic, even. As a result, they’ll likely get swamped. Only an insolent churl would experience their laid-back, nigh-somnolent vibe and dub them Lost My Wilson Phillips To Live. And I? Am no churl.

Italy: “Brividi,” by Mahmood & BLANCO

Category: Ballad.

A marked departure from last year’s hardish-edged Italy entry, this soulful duet between two attractive young men — including Mahmood, who came in second in Eurovision in 2019 — is a love song that’s also a hate song. The lyrics swoop from the confusing (riding a crystal … *checks notes* … bicycle?) to the visceral (spitting poison on each other), but the net effect is a searching, mournful track that has them asking each other: Why are we like this? Why can’t we be better together?

Also a high degree of difficulty, vocally, especially at “brividi, brividi, brividi.” Brividi means “shivering,” and whenever they’ve performed this song in the run-up to Saturday, they’ve been giving the audience chills, so: Truth in advertising! It’s rare for a host country to win Eurovision in back-to-back years, but they’ve got a solid shot.

Lithuania: “Sentimentai,” by Monika Liu

Category: Ballad, with Bop rising.

Liu’s whole vibe is a cross between French chanteuse and ’70s variety show musical guest star (ask your parents). All she does is shake her hips in a beaded gown while multicolored lens-flared spotlights flash behind her, but she’s a magnetic presence, and doesn’t need to do much more. That helmet of hair? Which will remind some of Dorothy Hamill, and others of Super Mario‘s Toad? Verges on overkill.

Moldova: “Trenuleţul,” by Zdob şi Zdub & Advahov Brothers

Category: Bop.

I mean, they said it:Hey ho! Let’s go! Folklore and Rock ‘n Roll!” What, are you gonna argue with that? With the sheer, implacable power of a well-tempered accordion? Yeah, I thought not. Now, yes, okay: Zdob si Zdub has competed in Eurovision three decades in a row, and fine, yes, okay: There is an element of your dad throwing on a pair of Ray-Bans and getting up at your cousin’s wedding to lead everyone in the Chicken Dance, but you can’t deny the joy they’re radiating, here. So don’t even try.

Netherlands: “De Diepte,” by S10

Category: Ballad.

The hook of this song transcends language: It’s literally “OOOOh-oooh, AHHHH-ahhhhh-ahhh-ahh,” but it’ll worm its way into your medulla oblongata and set up housekeeping there anyway. Staging couldn’t be simpler, and the lack of pyrotechnics means it might disappear into a competitive, noisy field — but never underestimate the power of a haunting, emotional vibe.

Norway: “Give That Wolf A Banana,” by Subwoolfer

Category: What, are you kidding? Bop! Total bop! The bop of bops! The bop to end all bops! Geez!

When people ask why I love Eurovision, I don’t give them the predictable “It launched the international careers of ABBA, Julio Iglesias, Olivia Newton-John and Celine Dion!” jazz. I don’t talk about the spirit of international cooperation, or the power of music to bring us together. No, I point to something like this, in which two dudes in masks deliver an absolute booty-shaker about the potential of potassium to save the lives of the elderly. From wolves. Everything about it — the hand gestures, the dance moves, the deft lyrical deployment of the name Keith — is knowing, self-aware, and accepting. Making fun of the thing, even as you are knocking that very same thing out of the damn park? That’s the singular magic of Eurovision. American Song Contest could never. Could. NEVER.

Poland: “River,” by Ochman

Category: Ballad, with Bop rising.

Massachusetts-born Ochman is bringing his opera training to this soaring ode to um, throwing oneself into the river. How … operatic. It’s not the maudlin wallow it could be though — it’s saved by the staging, in which he’s surrounded by a cavorting bunch of … river spirits, maybe? Water-logged witches? Algae sirens? Your guess is as good as mine, but anyway: They look cool, and that’ll help.

Portugal: “Saudade, Saudade,” by MARO

Category: Ballad.

This is chill, unforced, and subtle — not words commonly associated with Eurovision. But there’s a huskiness to Maro’s voice that adds layers just when the song cries out for them, and her dexterous phrasing nudges the harmonies along, allowing them to complicate in interesting ways with each verse. Saudade means “longing,” and: yeah. Does what it says on the package.

Romania: “Llámame,” by WRS

Category: Bop.

Sure, Eurovision’s throwing a lot of bummer material at us this year. But it’s not just soporific ballads about ending it all — there’s also joy, in a pure, unrefined form. Take this number, for example. This is old-school Eurovision, which is not a complicated formula: Just a brace of attractive people in skimpy outfits nailing the dance moves while grinning from ear to ear and unleashing a catchy hook. Probably not enough to take them all the way, but a refreshing break from the gloom.

Serbia: “In Corpore Sano,” by Konstrakta

Category: Bop.

This entry ruffled some royal feathers by name-checking Meghan Markle, but the actual reference is pretty harmless: (Translated from the Serbian: “What is the secret to Meghan Markle’s healthy hair/What could it be/I think it’s all about deep hydration”).

It’s a song about the difference between bodily hygiene and mental hygiene, see. Which is why Konstrakta spends it staring down the barrel of the camera, obsessively washing her hands in a basin while, behind her, backup-dancer priests intone Latin verses.

Note: If this performance occurs late in Saturday’s broadcast, and you’ve spent the afternoon indulging, you’d be forgiven for briefly thinking you’re viewing the orientation video on employee hygiene they make you watch in the break room before your first shift at Whataburger. Starring Zooey Deschanel.

Spain: “SloMo,” by Chanel

Category: Bop.

She’s out here breaking hips and breaking hearts, as the lyrics say. You can’t deny it. This song was originally written for Jennifer Lopez. You can’t deny that, either. But Chanel makes it her own, thanks to tight dance moves, amazing breath control, and *checks lyrics*, her “booty hypnotic.”

Sweden: “Hold Me Closer,” by Cornelia Jakobs

Category: Ballad.

A deceptively simple presentation of a gorgeous song that builds and builds. Jakobs doesn’t rush it, she lets her husky voice bring the audience along, unleashing the high notes at precisely the moment she knows they’ll do maximum damage. As always, the Swedes know what they hell they’re doing at Eurovision.

Switzerland: “Boys Do Cry,” by Marius Bear

Category: Ballad.

Ooooof. Look, two things can be true at the same time. 1. Toxic masculinity should be called out at every opportunity, as it is in this song. 2. This song belongs to that most hallowed, most deeply appreciated, of Eurovision traditions: The pee break. The drink refill. The leg stretch.

Ukraine: “Stefania,” by Kalush Orchestra

Category: Bop.

As you might imagine, Ukraine is heavily, heavily favored to win it all this year — one aggregate ranking of oddsmakers give them a 57% shot, which is unprecedentedly high. But they’re not content to sit back and surf the wave of international goodwill they’re riding — they’re still out here putting in the work. The song incorporates traditional folk melodies, costumes and instruments alongside vigorous rap breaks. Plus, it’s at once about the mothers of Ukraine — and Ukraine as the mother of its people. So. I mean. Vote against them, I dare you.

Yes, Eurovision is frivolous. It’s spectacle. It’s fabulousness for the sake of fabulousness, and it has nothing to do with the real world. But seeing Kalush Orchestra perform on that stage in Turin, amid all the glitter and glamour and silly, silly songs about the intersection of wolves and bananas — it can’t help but send a signal of pride and defiance. Don’t bet against Ukraine. In Eurovision, as in life.

United Kingdom: “SPACE MAN,” by Sam Ryder

Category: Ballad.

The U.K. is always gonna have a rough go, in Eurovision. They’re still smarting from last year’s ignominious finish — scoring the dreaded “nul points” — plus they’re one of the Big Five, which stacks the odds against them even further. Add Brexit to the mix, and you see their position.

Sam Ryder’s soaring voice might help them claw their way out of the nul points gutter, though. The oddsmakers like it, anyway. Me, I don’t see it. First of all, if you’re gonna sing a song about being a spaceman, you’ve got some loooong shadows to crawl out from under first: Your Eltons John. Your Davids Bowie. Your Peters Schilling.

Again: His voice is incredible, but when he’s been performing this song in the run-up to the Grand Final, his stagework … well, it needs work. It’s a bit on the nose: When he sings the word “space,” he points above his head. When he sings “I’d speak to satellites,” he makes a little talking puppet with his hand … and points above his head. When he sings the word “thinking,” he points to his head. Such punishing literalism! But what do you expect: Once you start letting straight white men participate in Eurovision, you get what you get.

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