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Hungarian Metal, Israeli Pop, Dancing Robots: It Must Be Time For Eurovision

Azerbaijani singer Aisel during the red carpet ceremony of the 63rd edition of the Eurovision Song Contest in Lisbon, on May 6, 2018.
Francisco Leong
AFP/Getty Images
Azerbaijani singer Aisel during the red carpet ceremony of the 63rd edition of the Eurovision Song Contest in Lisbon, on May 6, 2018.

Fans of key changes, pyrotechnics and nonsensical lyrics are getting ready for their equivalent of the World Cup, taking place in Lisbon, Portugal this week, the first time the country has hosted the competition. The 63rd edition of the Eurovision Song Contest semi-finals start Tuesday and continue this Thursday, with the singing competition's grand finals on Saturday.

Each year, the contest is hosted by the previous year's winner, with an audience estimated to be around 180 million people worldwide. The contest helped launch the careers of Abba and Celine Dion, and is known for its idiosyncratic, over-the-top performances.

Salvador Sobral won on behalf of Portugal last year with an understated but emotional performance of his song "Amar Pelos Dois." After winning, Sobral decried what he called "fast-food music," a seeming swipe at the cheeseball pop that is Eurovision's bread-and-butter.

He told the crowd at the time that his win "could be a victory for ... people that make music that actually means something. Music is not fireworks, music is feeling. So let's try to change this and bring music back, which is really what matters."

Despite Sobral's overtures to the higher-brow and the progress to that end his win represented, it appears it could be a short-lived victory — most of this year's favorites to win fall firmly into the category of campy, classically Eurovision, pop.

This year's favorite to win — at least, according to bookies — is Israel's entry, the song "Toy" by Netta. It's a catchy dance number, buttressed with a message of female empowerment, with Netta declaring: "I'm not your toy, you stupid boy." And for reasons not entirely made clear, she and her backup dancers also lean heavily into what can only be described as a chicken dance routine.

The betting public also think Norway's Alexander Rybak (who was behind 2009's winning entry, the song "Fairytale") might win with his on-the-nose " That's How You Write A Song." It's a cheesy, upbeat tune that... well, features advice on how to write a song. Eurovision does not shy away from the meta.

There's another favorite going into the contest that breaks from the cheesy to take on a political issue. Madame Monsieur's " Mercy," France's entry, is an electro-pop tune inspired by the story of a baby named Mercy, born to a refugee on a French rescue ship in the Mediterranean.

Finland, Cyprus and the Czech Republic have also fielded strong contenders.

And it's not just pop music competing. There's opera from Estonia; country from the Netherlands; metal from Hungary. But it wouldn't be Eurovision without performances that leave you unsure of what, exactly, just happened.

San Marino, the micro-state with a population of just 33,000, has taken an early lead when it comes to inexplicable staging, with its entry featuring miniature dancing robots and a rapper from San Marino's (presumably) nascent rap scene recommending personal strength in the face of online bullying: "If they dissin' you on Twitter / Don't get sad, don't be bitter / Don't give up and be a quitter / Show em' you're better."

The finale of this year's Eurovision Song Contest airs in the United States on Logo TV Saturday, May 12, with semi-finals scheduled for May 8 and 10.

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