The real-life Game of Thrones is Eurovision, the annual song contest that pits European countries against each other in a sonic battle. This year, Eurovision is airing live in the U.S. on Logo, allowing Americans to experience the glory and majesty of the greatest musical cheesefest on earth. [Note: Logo and MTV News are both owned by Viacom.] What makes for a good Eurovision entry? Bombast and campiness are key; extra points for a silly costume or gimmicky live performance. The joy of Eurovision is worldwide pop trends melded with regional sounds.
This year's breakout is the contender from Belarus, Ivan, whose dream is to perform naked onstage with live wolves — half the excitement around him is the danger of the wolves biting his dick off during the song.
Who else might win Eurovision this year? Not Romania — they were disqualified for unpaid debts to the European Broadcasting Union. In a totally unfair rule, the "big five" countries of France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the U.K. (and Sweden, too, this year) advance to the finals automatically. That leaves all the little guys in the EU to duke it out among themselves, so creativity really counts. There are a katrillion countries in the competition — so many that there are two rounds of semifinals. To help you win your Eurovision office pool, we've narrowed it down to our top picks to win.
SWEDEN: Frans, "If I Were Sorry"
Sweden are the all-time Eurovision heavies. Their reputation as an international pop powerhouse easily eclipses all other European countries. From the era of ABBA onward, they have owned the hookiness game; plus, this year's Eurovision is a home game in Stockholm, so you would think it's a lock. Frans won Swedish pre-selection contest Melodifestivalen 2016. It's a little down-tempo for a Eurovision entry, and, frankly, it's boring overall. This melancholy video is real post-Drakey: Call it Views From Ystad.
GREECE: Argo, "Utopian Land"
Eurovision entries are increasingly submitted in English, so bonus points to Greece's Argo (f.k.a. Europond) for daring to submit a song that is partially rapped in Greek by a shirtless dude running through a grayscale surrealscape.
SAN MARINO: Serhat, "I Didn't Know"
Ever wish that Leonard Cohen's "I'm Your Man" was an Italo disco song? Me too, so thanks for that, San Marino.
SPAIN: Barei, "Say Yay!"
This is your prototypical Eurovision entry — a nonsensical chorus with an exclamation point, a slightly overhyped BPM, and a sugar headache by the end. "Say Yay!" is controversial for being an English-language entry from Spain: The Royal Spanish Academy denounced the song as "unpresentable, senseless, and stupid" — a veritable Eurovision anthem checklist, no?
BELGIUM: Laura Tesoro, "What's the Pressure"
WHAT KIND OF PERFECT EUROPOP DISCO SORCERY IS THIS?!
GERMANY: Jamie-Lee, "Ghost"
Bonus points to Jamie-Lee for her forest creature Sailor Moon performance outfit and LED-spouting haunted trees. I like a pop gal with a guttural Siouxsie lower register.
United Kingdom: Joe and Jake, "You're Not Alone"
Until the scourge of Coldplay-ism is eliminated, the U.K. will continue to underperform. This legit sounds like a Keane song with trance pads pasted underneath.
ARMENIA: Iveta Mukuchyan, "LoveWave"
This is my favorite, and in a perfect world it would win. It has multiple moments of grandeur, a zurna solo, and it sounds like a silk cape in a wind machine.
RUSSIA: Sergey Lazarev, "You Are the Only One"
Sergey Lazarev was a member of the defunct Russian pop group Smash!!, who I imagined were the Russian Wham! — but who were apparently the male counterparts of t.A.T.u. This is appropriately bombastic for Eurovision.
AZERBAIJAN: Samra, "Miracle"
UKRAINE: Jamala, "1944"
Certainly the catchiest song about the deportation of the Crimean Tatars I've ever heard. "1944" has been controversial because Eurovision explicitly bans songs with political lyrics, and some worried that it would reopen the wounds between Russia and Ukraine over Crimea. Eurovision ruled that the song didn't break the rules, but it's probably too much of a hot potato to win.