Next on my list to cover is France, and I needed a good partner for them. As it works out with all of the other big countries around France, the best partner for them is Switzerland, who won’t have a partner if I go for the most obvious pairings otherwise. Not that I had ruled them out of being part of a three from the German-speaking world, but my other options are separating Italy from San Marino or Belgium from the Netherlands and neither seems that sensible. So Switzerland, another of Eurovision’s perennial underachievers, gets to go with France. Both are long-time veterans of the contest, having been there since the start, and both have made a rather good go of it this time around.
Switzerland – Timebelle – Apollo
If you’re a Eurovision final watcher only, you may be forgiven for thinking that Switzerland doesn’t enter Eurovision all the time, like Portugal. They are a constant non-qualifier and in fact are among the most long-suffering entrants of all in recent times, having only qualified twice in the last decade, with one of those qualifiers coming in last once they finally got there. So any Swiss entry is going to have that bit of doubt about it, it’s been a long time since they did well, as long ago as 2005, when they sent the wonderful gothic rock-pop song Cool Vibes, one of my favourite Eurovision songs of all time. Because anything gothic is like catnip to me. With the exception of the song that started off their non-qualifier streak, Vampires Are Alive, most of the other late 00s entries were nothing to write home about and one can see why they haven’t done so well lately, it’s all been a little bit inessential. This has continued into the 2010s and the questionable English rock of Unbreakable, the Salvation Army’s turn at You And Me and the pop wailers Time To Shine and Last Of Our Kind have also not impressed. I liked Time To Shine but I can see what went wrong for it and they’ve spent the last few years at the bottom of the semi. The one exception is their best entry of the decade yet, the whistling anthem Hunter Of Stars, performed by an attractive and engaging guy called Sebalter, which got Switzerland back up towards the top half. Still it’s a long way from when Celine Dion was on stage. Will Timebelle fix that?
To its credit, it’s the Swiss entry that reminds me most of Cool Vibes since Cool Vibes itself, as it’s performed by a strong pop singer with an interesting voice who has moments of power in her shrill cadence. It’s quite engaging. The one downside is that it’s a bit slow and the song feels like it’s raging against its tempo to go a little bit faster. The lyrics are worth some talk as well. For me, I am a bit of a student of classics so the title instantly drew my interest, although the lyrics are a bit more generic than I would have hoped with a title of Apollo. I always associate him with the sun so much that it did pass me by he was also followed as a god of music in ancient civilisations, so that gets a pass on me, but I wish there were a few more clever references in the lyrics, then I’d probably love it more. As it is, the only reason that Apollo is in this song is because Timebelle sings his name, the other lyrics are generic ‘let’s not mess this up’ relationship lyrics. Which annoys me because it could have been something more. I want there to be a reference in there to gods and the sun and poetry and Artemis and something just a bit more clever. Still, it’s a finely sung song and will probably keep me entertained enough while Eurovision’s on although I don’t see myself listening to it much after the contest finishes.
Will it qualify? Well, this sort of pop is probably set to have very few people who dislike it and probably a lot of people who love it so I’d say if it were sent by Azerbaijan, I’d have no qualms about calling it a certain qualifier. Unfortunately, Eurovision is not quite a national meritocracy so Switzerland is at a bit more of a disadvantage. While the draws are yet to be out, the fact that Switzerland has Germany and Austria voting, who are both close neighbours and have sent similar songs recently, as well as France, as well as being in the second half of the semi, I think it’s in with a chance but I’m hesitant to call it a safe one as there’s going to be so much fighting for a moment here, a song that’s still not as standout as Switzerland need it to be may just miss out, and even if it does get through it won’t light up the scoreboard. I don’t think they will be last three years in a row however. You guys can have that.
France – Alma – Requiem
Similarly to Portugal and Spain, and Ireland and the United Kingdom, France has often done a lot better than their smaller neighbour in recent years by virtue of being one of the nations that gets an autoqualifier berth no matter what. Nevertheless, they had been on a run of poor form over the past few years, though I often really liked their entries, particularly L’enfer et moi for its rocky backing, Moustache because it was just really rather fun, N’oubliez pas opened itself up to me with the WW1 imagery, and I loved Sognu because, as you’ll probably find out sooner or later, I love almost any kind of popera that gets entered to Eurovision. Then they went and returned themselves to the top 10 with a song I didn’t really care for. Amir’s J’ai cherche was fine but it always had something missing for me and I’d like France to do better with something I really love. Because, contrary to what is expected of me as an Englishman, I don’t hate the French. I quite enjoy their company and especially their music. I love their dark, foreboding female-led pop, I count Indila’s Derniere Danse as one of my favourite pop tracks of the last few years.
So hopefully it should not surprise you to know that Alma’s Requiem is among my favourites of the year, full and gorgeous production, a title I love for its meaning to me, I loved a song called Requiem to the absolute full last year, that being the one from Tasogare Otome x Amnesia remixed a bit, and so it’s a title that’s in my good books right now. And Alma’s song really reminds me of Derniere Danse, a load of beautifully sung French competing with the atmospheric instrumental that threatens to overwhelm the singer but she manages to keep control of the unruly track and it all comes through like a beautiful maelstrom. It’s a very interesting track and among the best I’ve heard to come out of French pop, I certainly commend Alma for that. She’s going to look excellent on stage too, one of the most beautiful Eurovision performers I can remember, competing well with Lucie Jones for hottest girl of the year, and I’d say Alma even edges it (what have I gone into? Of all things, Eurovision is generally not the topic where one emphasises one’s attraction to women. We will therefore cease this line of inquiry).
And I’m happy that I don’t have to worry about the taste of Eurovision suddenly going wrong and this not being in the grand final as it is already there. Yet how it does there will still be important as I feel that this is already showing the best of French pop and so it deserves to, no, it needs to do well to ensure more entries in this style. From France and any other countries willing to try their hand at it, Austria certainly was last year and it paid off for them. I can’t see this going the whole way as it doesn’t quite have the message or presence to truly inspire a show-stopping victory but I’d like to believe this can do fairly well. To be pessimistic, I’d say around 12th, not quite getting a second top 10 in a row although capable of being in there on a good day. It could do worse, it’s reminding me a little of Edurne’s Amanecer, which I predicted would do very well because it seemed so powerful to me yet limped in at the bottom of the final. France’s own Anggun had similar problems inspiring votes although that was altogether a weaker song. I think the jury should if all goes well prop this up, I can’t see a reason for them to ignore this even if the televote doesn’t, but we’ll see. I’m all over the place with my predictions and I can’t make a solid decision.