First Listen Review attempts to capture my first impressions of the year’s Eurovision entries as and when they’re released. My opinion is liable to change as certain songs grow on me or get revamped, but based on the principle that most listeners will only hear each entry once (or twice) before voting, hopefully it’ll provide some insight.

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Russia: Polina Gagarina – A Million Voices

Polina Gagarina - A Million Voices | Eurovision 2015 Russia

Polina Gagarina is a singer, songwriter, actress and model from Moscow. She was the winner of Russian TV talent contest ‘Star Search’ in 2003.

Eurovision – as we are constantly reminded – is a non-political event. A night in the year during which conflicts and tensions can be put aside as the citizens of Europe come together in celebration of the unifying power of music.

That’s the theory, anyway. In reality of course, any competition that involves a fairly arbitrary public voting system is going to be informed on some level by personal prejudices, agendas and international relations. Sometimes this manifests itself in a broadly positive manner. Conchita Wurst deservedly won the contest for a great song, a great vocal performance and a great stage show, but the significance of her success during a critical time for LGBT rights across Europe wasn’t lost on anyone – indeed, she overtly referred to it in her memorable victory speech.

‘Conchita moments’ are what make Eurovision so much more than a mere music contest. But the flip-side to these unifying moments can be seen in the reception to countries and artists who are less broadly loveable. Political statements made by performers in the past can become the focal point of intense scrutiny –  Aram MP3‘s alleged homophobic comments attracted much negative attention in 2014, and Sweden’s Måns Zelmerlöw is the subject of similar controversy this year – and even if entrants themselves have clean hands, they can be forced to answer for the actions of their government.

All of this leaves Russia with a tricky dilemma. If they wish to continue to have a relationship with the Eurovision Song Contest – and for whatever reason it seems that they do – how do they deal with the fact that a significant proportion of the viewing and voting audience views them with hostility?

A Million Voices is a defiantly non-confrontational song. The lyrics speak of healing, unity and peace – aspirations that nobody could object to. It’s worth remembering in cases like this that nobody goes into any kind of conflict believing themselves to be the bad guys. As far as Russia is concerned, everything they’re doing is simply to protect their own interests and traditions, and anything they’ve taken was already theirs by right. If you have a problem with us, this entry says without saying, the problem is with you.

To avoid reading too much political context into a Eurovision song, it’s also important to bear in mind that the Russian Eurovision team do not represent the Russian government. But it’s naive to think that the current political situation doesn’t inform their decision making in any way. To that end, I think the innocuous tone of ‘A Million Voices’ is a very conscious choice – just like the inoffensive pop of last year’s ‘Shine‘ – was last year. Inoffensiveness didn’t save the Tolmachevy Sisters from being loudly booed, but they couldn’t be accused of adding fuel to the fire – unless you count the soviet imagery of the accompanying stage show.

Essentially, what we have here is a very good song by a very good singer from a very problematic country – at least as far as the Western-facing majority is concerned. By any standard, this will be one of the standout entries this year – it’s probably the strongest traditional Euroballad in the mix, and Polina is an excellent singer who should have no trouble doing it justice. It’s rousing, instant and anthemic – all recipes for a solid result and possibly even a victory.

I don’t think that will happen this year – too many people (and jurors) simply won’t get behind an entry from Russia in the current climate. But they still have enough allies and sympathisers that there’s a significant market for this song, and it’s a convincing enough package to bring them out in force. So the most likely reaction is that once again Russia will face a hostile reception from a primarily Western audience, but defy the haters with another solid top ten, possibly even top 5 finish. To boo or not to boo? That’s between you and your conscience…