It’s difficult to compare songs. If one song has a catchy tune but insipid words, while another has profound lyrics and a boring melody, which one is better? If a great song is sung poorly or a mediocre song has some amazing arrangements, which one is better? My mood can even affect the comparison: one day I might be in the mood for something slow and gentle, another day I might want something with a solid beat so I can shake my booty. And there is sometimes a difference between what I like and what I think is a potential Eurovision winner even if I don’t like it. And some songs don’t grow on me until long after the final.

With all that in mind, here are my twelve choices for best songs competing at Eurovision 2015 on May 19, 21, and 23 in Vienna, Austria. Note these choices are based on the studio versions of the songs. I’ll probably publish another ranking based on the performances of the songs that make it to the final if there’s a significant difference.

12. Serbia / Bojana Staminov, “Beauty Never Lies”
Lyrically, the nod to self-empowerment will be popular, but the song itself is good but not great; it may just squeak through the semi-finals, if at all.
11. Sweden / Måns Zelmerlöw, “Heroes”
For years, American singer Donna Summer was plagued by accusations that she had made homophobic remarks during a concert. Both she and several of her gay associates denied she’d made them or said she’d been quoted out of context. Zelmerlöw too has been accused of the same, and both he and some of his gay associates have said he is not homophobic. Will this hurt his chances at Eurovision? The song is catchy with good energy, but Eurovision voters can be fickle about techno songs, particularly with Zelmerlöw’s unusual pronunciation.
10. Israel / Nadav Guedj, “Golden Boy”
This seems like a somewhat grim year for Eurovision songs; usually there’s a handful of “naffy” songs, but “Golden Boy” seems to be the only one. Israel has failed to qualify for the final the previous four years, and as much fun as this song is, it’s probably not strong enough to qualify, either.
09. Belgium / Loïc Nottet, “Rhythm Inside”
A very striking song reminiscent of “Royals” by Lorde but may be too dark for Eurovision tastes. Could make it past the semi-finals on Nottet’s somewhat Bieber-like image and the song’s unique sound. As for me, I’m a sucker for good modulation, and the change from A minor to A major in the stanzas is what grabs me each time I listen to it.
08. Finland / Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät, “Aina mun pitää”
This song has every reason not to make it past the semi-final—it’s too short; it’s punk; it’s not sung in English. And there have been plenty of hateful remarks made about the fact the band members have developmental disabilities. However, this song also has ever reason to be a very dark horse winner: everyone loves an underdog story, plenty of people have rallied in defense of the band, and Finland’s only victory was from another song that was definitely not typical for Eurovision: a heavy metal song in 2006.
07. Montenegro / Knez, “Adio”
Gently pleasing song with nice arrangement. I like the odd beat count in the chorus, but the fact it’s not sung in English will probably keep it out of the final.
06. Austria / The Makemakes, “I Am Yours”
A solidly written and well-performed song in a similar spirit to 2014’s Dutch entry (“Calm After The Storm”). Has the advantage of being the home team so the crowd will definitely love it. Good contender for the top ten in the final.
05. Italy / Il Volo, “Grande Amore”
This song has all the ingredients necessary to win: Il Volo has already achieved a degree of recognition, the guys are cute, they have great voices, and the stanzas surge to an epic chorus. It’s sung in Italian, but I don’t think that’s a handicap here—it just adds to the songs operatic nature. I must say, though, the music video is pretty lame.
04. Slovenia / Maraaya, “Here For You”
Part of the attraction is singer Marjetka Vovk’s unusual voice, but it may be a turnoff for the audiences. I’d lose the violin woman; she’s too distracting.
03. Latvia / Aminata, “Love Injected”
Another striking and dark entry that reminds me of both Albania’s 2012 entry (“Suus”) and Norway’s 2013 entry (“I Feed You My Love”). Not a typical Eurovision song, but I suspect its uniqueness will work in its favor and place it in the top ten at the final.
02. Armenia / Genealogy, “Face The Shadow”
This will be a very divisive song; the producers say it is about unity and tolerance and not a call for recognition of the Armenian Genocide—Armenia’s neighbors, Turkey and Azerbaijan, say otherwise. But Turkey isn’t participating in Eurovision this year and Azerbaijan would never cast a vote for an Armenian song even if it were about puppies and ice cream. Expect a few boos at Eurovision. Otherwise, a strong candidate for the top ten.
01. Hungary / Boggie, “Wars for Nothing”
This was my choice for best song at Hungary’s A Dal competition, and I’m glad to say it is also my overall favorite for Eurovision 2015. I first heard it not too long after the Charlie Hebdo massacre, and with other problems happening in the world, its gentle but anthemic call for peace is sorely needed. It’s quite the sublime song, without the flash and pizazz that often characterizes most songs at Eurovision. If it were to win, it would definitely become a timeless classic. Alas, its quiet nature may be too subtle for audiences, so as much as it pains me to say so, it may not even make it past the semi-final, though I’ve got my fingers crossed.

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