I Won’t Break by Julia Samoylova

Russia’s rather quietly returned to Eurovision after a withdrawal in 2017 clearly designed to gain maximum PR and embarrass their Ukrainian neighbours. I’m honestly rather surprised they’ve kept their word and given the gig to Julia Samoylova as promised, and this time they’ve given her a proper song, albeit a bland and uncontroversial one. Whilst they may be playing it down for now, expect every press conference in Lisbon to ask about last year’s event, and offer Julia and her team the opportunity to play the victim once more; this story’s not gone away yet.

Listening to her vocal performance it feels like Julia’s had a bit of coaching, but she still doesn’t sound fully confident singing in a language that’s not her own. Never wad this more apparent than at the Moscow pre-party where the song’s debut live performance was vocally a right shocker! The video is intriguing. Last year her disability felt an integral part of the package, but this year no visual depiction is given. We do, however, get the most hilarious visual of the entire year in the closing shot where Julia appears as the peak of a mountain, replete with cascading waterfall. The effect is not unlike the famous carvings of former US Presidents – her own Mount Russiamore, if you will – and it’s completely ridiculous. I’m praying they try to do something like this with the staging.

We’ve had to sit out a year of judging how the reaction to Russia will play out in the live shows. You’d hope there’d never be booing of any artist, and that one using a wheelchair would temper any negative response. It’s not really ever been established how much Julia was complicit in Russia’s stunt last year or whether she was merely a convenient pawn, but either way I don’t much fancy her chances of coming out unscathed. Will they continue a 100% qualification record since we’ve had semi-finals? Well, she’s got some natural allies to bank on, but probably not enough to see her guaranteed a slot. Now that would be big news.

My marks: 4 points

Will it qualify? I really hope it doesn’t