Sexy vegetables, banana-eating wolves and Meghan Markle’s hair: who to watch at Eurovision 2022

Show caption A lupine meet-cute, before the wolf turns nasty: Norway’s Subwoolfer posing in Turin ahead of Eurovision 2022. Photograph: Yara Nardi/Reuters Music Sexy vegetables, banana-eating wolves and Meghan Markle’s hair: who to watch at Eurovision 2022 As the first semi-final is unleashed in Turin, we run down this year’s most noteworthy bangers, ethereal folk chants and protest songs about health insurance Angelica Frey Tue 10 May 2022 10.43 BST Share on Facebook

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“What is the secret of Meghan Markle’s hair?” is the opening line of this sepulchral and Kraftwerkian entry by Konstrakta. She then goes on to talk about the importance of hydration, about how under-eye circles can signal liver distress, and also marvels about the autonomous nervous system. “The artist is supposed to be healthy,” is the conclusion she reaches when the first refrain starts, which then evolves into a gospel-like exclamation: “God grant us health!” It turns out that rather than having a tabloid-worthy interest in Meghan’s beauty regime, Konstrakta’s song is actually a satirical swipe at the venal world of health insurance and the cult of beauty.

This ode to recycling, zero-waste initiatives and sustainable vegetarianism is, in true Eurovision fashion, offset by extreme lecherousness and sexual metaphors that an 11-year-old will find absolutely delightful: “I’m a beast instead of a killer / forget the hotdogs ‘cause my sausage is just bigger.” Melodies alternate between show tunes (complete with brass) and something vaguely akin to rapping – which is to say, given this is Eurovision, very vaguely akin indeed. Unfortunately, the fun police have said that Citi Zēni need to censor the final word of what is the most startling opening line in Eurovision history: “Instead of meat, I eat veggies and pussy.” The Turin stage direction and set design, then, could determine whether this song will rise like a camp masterpiece or be condemned to infamy – we hope there’s a cat involved.

Lyrics such as “the fields are blooming but her hair is grey”, and “I’ll always find my way home, even if all roads are destroyed”, mean that Ukraine’s entry has huge resonance as the war rages. Even if Eurovision bars outright political statements, this song has the subtle gravitas of another recent Ukrainian entry, Jamala’s 2016 song 1944, which detailed the massacre of Crimean Tatars – and is a far cry from cheesy peace-themed songs such as Germany’s Ein Bisschen Frieden (A Bit of Freedom, a winner by a huge margin in 1982) and Italy’s Insieme: 1992 (Together: 1992, confusingly winning in 1990). Ever since listening to Romania’s yodelling-enhanced pop-rock in 2017, I have had a soft spot for genre crossover, and Kalush Orchestra combine rap, folk, a thumping bass line and the use of flute, all dressed in folk garb but with a tongue-in-cheek twist: spot that hot pink, hand-knitted fisherman’s hat.

In 2003, DJ Bobo gave us an earworm of utmost nonsense: “What can make you move, chihuahua!” Almost 20 years later, Norwegian band Subwoolfer urge us in a similar fashion: “Before that wolf eats my grandma / give that wolf a banana!” They lay out their Red Riding Hood redux with a lupine meet-cute (“Not sure you have a name, so I will call you Keith”) before the wolf turns nasty and needs warding off with some tropical fruit. The Eurodance backing is sleek, and huge props to the costume department for the full-body leotards and wolf heads.

Italy loves a good ballad duet: where else can you so freely revel in vocal prowess, pathos and overacting? In 1989, Eurovision had a taste of it with virtuoso duo Fausto Leali and Anna Oxa singing about how each wanted to physically tie the other up to avoid having their love contaminated by the outside world; now, X Factor and Sanremo veteran Mahmood and erstwhile SoundCloud rapper Blanco update the trite “love duet” formula by singing about how, in relationships, even the best intentions lead to stumbling and falling. Strong lyrics aside, they maintain enough vocal and emotional restraint to avoid veering into parody.

Viral sensation … Achille Lauro. Photograph: Yara Nardi/Reuters

San Marino – Achille Lauro: Stripper

Achille Lauro was a rapper with fondness for Matrix-like getups before becoming an unlikely muse for Gucci’s Alessandro Michele at the end of 2019. Right before the pandemic hit, he became a viral sensation when, during Italy’s Sanremo festival, he wore a plethora of glam-rock outfits (thanks to stylist Nicolò Cerioni) and toyed with a 1970s version of androgyny. In 2022, he remains far more interesting from a visual point of view than a musical one – but that’s exactly what Eurovision needs to drown out too many anthems with too many virtuoso warblers.

Sigga, Beta & Elín are a sisterly trio with an established reputation in their country’s indie-pop and indie-folk scenes. The lyrics express the elation at the sense of renewal brought by the rising sun in a dark winter night, a prelude to spring – and while “it’s always darkest before the dawn” is a trite and meteorologically inaccurate trope, it’s quite nice in this corny context. The voices sound almost mystical and the melody is soothing. Indeed, it is so ethereal and twee that there’s actually something sinister, in a Midsommar way, about it, sparing this entry from being a snoozefest lullaby.

This song, on the Mumfords/Lumineers axis of log-cabin strumalongs, is the musical equivalent of eating too many marshmallows from a campfire. Judging by rehearsals, Rosa Linn is staging her song in a bedroom with an all-white bed, comforter, armchair, plus walls decked in white Post-it notes, and indeed, it is about the whitest song imaginable.

Fiddle, accordion and oompah make Moldova’s foot-thumping entry the ultimate crowd pleaser. I am a firm believer in the importance of some distinctly folk tunes in any Eurovision lineup, and Eurovision veterans Zdob și Zdub (sixth place in 2005, 12th place in 2011) deliver the goods by singing about a trenuleţul – a little train that goes from Chișinău to Bucharest. The lyrics are surprisingly wholesome, as they talk about the similarities and friendship between Moldova and Romania: “Both in this land and in that land we dance the hora, it’s a bliss!”

Pure 80s dad rock with echoes of Meat Loaf and hints of Blondie’s One Way or Another. People might call it outdated and out of place; it could be one of this year’s most hated entries. Yet leather-clad rocking and pyro is an eternal part of Eurovision, and of course Måneskin won the contest last year with this approach, admittedly with a great deal more pomp and sexuality.

Avicii meets Ennio Morricone (those whistles!) in this seemingly upbeat country romp, with a soulful verse and anthemic chorus – they preach the importance of standing tall, not losing one’s pride and holding on to the promise of the future – sung by Stefan in a versatile baritone. He is no Johnny Cash, but he manages to sing it in an entirely convincing manner. Offering a tribute to spaghetti westerns at a Eurovision hosted in Italy feels apt, and Eurovision’s Reddit nerds are calling this the dark horse of the year.

Prone to grandiose statements … Amanda Georgiadi Tenfjord. Photograph: Yara Nardi/Reuters

Dressed like Kate Bush in Wuthering Heights, and bearing an uncanny resemblance to Lorde, Norwegian-Greek singer Amanda Georgiadi Tenfjord delivers an electro-tinged, Imogen-Heap-flavored ballad dealing with the aftermath of a relationship. As refined as the arrangement and the melody might be, the same cannot be said for the lyrics, which are prone to grandiose statements: “If we die together now, we will always have each other.” The bridge has a change of pace with a refined acoustic crescendo – but it too loses its mystique, with Tenfjord begging her former lover to “take my heart, rip it out / bring it to the other side”. Cynicism aside, this song does have great karaoke potential.

A Hi-NRG banger we did not know we wanted, but that, amid that overabundance of ballads this year, we sorely need. Mixing Eurodisco and bubblegum pop at a breakneck pace that harks towards hardstyle, it is endearingly 90s-nostalgic – and thus fighting a much less desirable class of throwback, namely the 00s Snow Patrol-type ballads that once appeared on Grey’s Anatomy with dreary inevitability. This song will actually stand out and, despite lyrics that border on the nonsensical, it’s already a fan favourite, though said fans also worry about whether the live version will stand up to its studio original.

Historically, Sweden has been a dominating force in Eurovision, and Cornelia Jakobs is expected to do very well: she is currently bookies’ third favourite after Ukraine and – yes, believe it – the UK. Hold Me Closer combines gritty vocals (think Taylor Swift at her saddest) with relatable lyrics and airtight production, somewhat reminiscent of the swells of Lady Gaga’s Shallow. Overall, it is a neat assembly-line number that I think is too anodyne to make a lasting impression, especially when up against the aforementioned championing of oral sex, health insurance etc.

United Kingdom – Sam Ryder: Space Man

While the average millennial in lockdown was trying to master the art of sourdough, pick up a new language or half-ass a Joe Wicks workout, veteran session player Sam Ryder earned 12m TikTok followers by posting viral covers where his piercing vocal register caught the attention of Justin Bieber and others. His song, Space Man, has big astronaut boots to fill, filching celestial vibes from Elton John’s Rocket Man, the Beatles’ Across the Universe and REM’s Man on the Moon – but his strident chorus notes really hit you between the eyes. Will having a social-media-friendly entry help break a long streak of failure? It’s hard to say how much anti-Brexit sentiment has scuppered the UK and how much it’s because of a series of terrible songs – but Space Man is the best for many years.