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Semi-final 1 post-mortem: The View from San Francisco

by | May 12, 2016 | 2016 Home Blog, Uncategorized

Semi-final 1 post-mortem: The View from San Francisco

by | May 12, 2016 | 2016 Home Blog, Uncategorized

A little late, because real life interfered – RUDE, I know – but here I am, and I have big news: I’m not a complete idiot! I actually managed to get stuff mostly right! It’s all very exciting, but I’m sure it will change by the end of the second semi. For now, though, I will bask in the glory of my success while it lasts.

A few thoughts about the production itself first, starting with our hosts, Petra Mede and Måns Zelmerlöw. I’ve never been a Petra fan, but I will say that her professionalism is obvious and she never actually annoys me. He was more of a surprise for me, even though I knew he has experience in hosting too. Maybe it’s because I never saw him do anything in English. He had a great presence, and a lot of charm and mostly just felt very natural, which is pretty rare among Eurovision hosts.

You make me feel like a natural woman | Andres Putting (EBU)

You make me feel like a natural woman | Andres Putting (EBU)

The postcards are nice. I use the words nice a lot. It’s not groundbreaking, but I like getting a few seconds with the artist just before their performances and it was all done well. The highlight for me, being the graphic art geek that I am, was the way the names of the countries, artists and songwriters were presented, using the same idea but different variations of fonts, colors and layouts. It created a very fresh look to the broadcast.

I wish I could say the same for the stage, though. I hoped it would look better on screen than it did in photos and videos, but it really didn’t. Basically, unless you had your own thing going on in the background, you were pretty screwed. Let it be a lesson to all other delegations: be prepared. Always be prepared.

Then we had songs.

Finland started things off with a surprise. I always consider skipping rehearsals so I can still be surprised, so it’s good to know – for future consideration – that you can still be surprised even after watching ton of rehearsal videos, because I really had no idea Sandhja could be THAT bad. I never thought she’d compete for a qualification spot, but I also didn’t expect her to put herself in the running for winning the “last place in the semi” award.

Over the last few years, I spent hundreds of hours arguing about Greek qualification chances. That normally entailed someone yelling at me that Greece is crap and there’s no way they are qualifying and me explaining why it will. The roles were reversed this year and I found myself insisting this won’t make it, while others, traumatized by the past, insisted that of course it would. Because it’s Greece. I was more than a little gloating when they got to be second in the running order, because nail meet coffin, coffin meet nail, but even I was starting to lose my resolve over the last few days. Not that they did anything that made me think they could do it, but I was just letting the fear of being stuck in a “GREECE WILL ALWAYS QUALIFY” hell forever get the best of me. Thankfully, that passed as soon as I saw their performance. Between me and Greece, let’s say that when it comes to Greek entries and qualifications, only one of us has kept their 100% record, and it’s not Greece.

Goodbye oh oh oh oh | Andres Putting (EBU)

Goodbye oh oh oh oh | Andres Putting (EBU)

Speaking of still being surprised despite watching rehearsals: Moldova and its astronaut! I knew he was coming, and yet that first shot of him caught me off guard. My greatest disappointment about this now being gone from our lives is that I was left with no answers as to how he even got here. I am just going to assume he took a wrong turn when heading over to rescue Freddie Damon, finally.

Speaking of The Martian, he did quite well for himself while waiting for the rescue mission. I might be biased, given that I am a straight woman, but I’m fairly sure Freddie qualified exactly three seconds into his performance, as the camera focused on his lovely lovely face. He was so good looking that I didn’t even notice how off he was vocally until I rewatched it later. Hungary could teach some countries later on about the importance of using close ups in your performance. Having said that, the close ups were pretty much the only thing that worked well in Hungary’s camerawork. The rest of it looked like a cat sat on the keyboard in the control room.

Your heart is like a beating drum | Andres Putting (EBU)

Your heart is like a beating drum | Andres Putting (EBU)

I will not pretend to understand Nina’s fashion choices, but it seems to have worked! Croatia is back in the final! What worked even better was that for the first time I saw her selling this, which I never saw her do before. But suddenly she was charming and engaging, which I thought she didn’t have in her. I’m happy to have been wrong. Maybe she is one of those people who get it together when it counts? Had her out of my prediction before the semi, but she got right back on it as soon as she finished.

Oh, and it seems that the trend this year is painting trees on your back: Greece had one, and Nina also showed up with one. I’m still trying to locate one, even tiny, little, actual lighthouse in her performance.

I tried. I swear. I just cannot get into the Dutch song. It sounds like something I should adore, but it mostly makes me want to sleep. Not a bad thing per se: My sleeping has been horrible as of late – thank you, Eurovision rehearsals and an evil time difference – so I will take any help I can get, but I don’t think that’s what the Netherlands was going for.

AWKWARD PAUSE
AWKWARD PAUSE
AWKWARD PAUSE

Seriously, why? I don’t know if I should nominate this for a worst gimmick award or most useless one, because it really does nothing one way or another, except being awkward. But at least if you actually fell asleep, he gives you a chance to wake up before the next song.

When I wrote the review of Armenia a few weeks ago, I wrote that it required the entire act to be perfectly on point, from vocals to striking visuals, for it to work. Well, what do you know? They went ahead and did just that, except it’s even better than what I had in mind. It’s hard for me to imagine how it comes across if you never heard the song before, but for me it was the only wow performance of the night (sorry, Malta). It also finally made me understand why the air raid bit was even there, and the Armenian delegation put in a camera direction masterclass. Not a single camera angle was left to chance or SVT’s cat.

They also taught a lesson about using technology in performances. Instead of it overpowering everything, they used it for only a few seconds, but to a great effect. The instrumental break was nothing short of breathtaking.

(Then they had to go ahead and act like idiots during the recap, but it does not take away from their artistic achievements).

I didn't NO | Andres Putting (EBU)

I didn’t NO | Andres Putting (EBU)

The budget for all that perm in the San Marinese performance was greater than the entire nation’s annual budget. I also am going to nominate the backing singers to be San Marino‘s entrants next year, and I am going to pretend that I didn’t suddenly find myself enjoying the oh oh! oh oh! bits with the hand choreography and that I don’t need any professional help.

I do want to extend my sincere apologies to cruise ships though, after comparing both this and Finland to cruise ship entertainment the other day. I’m truly very sorry. It was very mean of me.

Another recurring theme this year is their relations to children’s literature classics. Later we will have Austria taking us to Wonderland and Oz as well, but I didn’t realize that we already visited Oz before. As it turns out, Russia wanted us to meet the wizard behind the curtain.

I expected many things out of Russia, but one thing I did not expect was realizing the low-quality rehearsal videos from the hall did a better job capturing Russia than the actual camera work on the night. The hall videos had the entire act shot in a way which the LED screen fill the entire monitor. During the TV show, that rarely happened. Instead we got a lot of long shots and wide shots and all kind of shots that showed that it was just a screen, and very small at that. The impact of the illusion was gone. It still had some clever ideas, but it looked like the love child of the stagings of Work Your Magic and Shady Lady who has just been introduced to advanced technology. Sergey and his backings sang well, but he did look like he was concentrating quite a bit on getting his steps right and on Not. Falling. From. The. Damn. LED. Screen.

Camerawork, you're drunk. Go home | Anna Velikova (EBU)

Camerawork, you’re drunk. Go home | Anna Velikova (EBU)

If I thought Hungary’s camerawork was bad, then the Czech Republic came along and made me wish they had the Hungarian camerawork. At least Hungary actually figured out the basic principle of what to do when your singer is very pretty: Close ups are your friends. You want their lovely faces to be on people’s screens. A lot. Instead, the Czech camera director apparently has been reading my comments about their stage having a visual identity and wanted to make sure it got shown from every possible angle in its full glory: the more long shots the merrier!

I had Cyprus as a qualifier since the song was revealed, but I almost – almost – took them off my Q list after the performance, leaving them in only because I know this has its audience. But he was horribly off key at the beginning, and it generally did very little to capture my attention. The X-ray shots were nice, but all in all it was another country trying very hard to not do well.

We're not in Vienna anymore | Andres Putting (EBU)

We’re not in Vienna anymore | Andres Putting (EBU)

Being nervous at ESC usually doesn’t work, unless you are Zoe and then all everyone wants is to hug you and tell you it will all be alright. She did get it together after a little bit, and those moments of fragility helped her sell the innocent and sweet feel this song needs. Visually, it was colorful and so different from the rest, it definitely helped, especially considering the two entries before and after it. And it didn’t even feel four minutes long this time around! Who said Austria can’t send an entry in French?

Bonus points: channeling Roberto Bellarosa.

Juri was even more nervous, but that was the least of his problems. One of the biggest achievements of the first semi was that Estonia, somehow, inexplicably, managed to turn sweet, lovable Juri into an axe murderer. Everything was wrong about this: the expressions, the movements, that horrible suit, the magic trick that was even worse when I could actually see it on camera. And of course, that stage. I love the song, but I knew it was gone a minute in. You can’t say I didn’t warn you, Estonia.

Coming soon to Netflix | Anna Velikova (EBU)

Coming soon to Netflix | Anna Velikova (EBU)

Which brings us to the Land of Miracles. The Land of Backing Singers. The Land of Making Personnel Changes Between Rehearsals and the Night. They took my advice, prayed to the Gods of Sound Mixing, and their prayers were answered: Samra was put as low as possible in the mix – which at times meant she wasn’t even in it, and the ghost singer in the shadows did a good job trying to match her singing to Samra’s lips. It still made for a fun drinking game: a shot every time the voice didn’t actually match what Samra was doing. The result was something that didn’t sound particularly worse than other things that made it through in the past, just in time for televoters to rescue Azerbaijan.

No one will ever know, it’s a miracle | Anna Velikova (EBU)

No one will ever know, it’s a miracle | Anna Velikova (EBU)

I see no need to waste online space talking about Montenegro. It happened, it took away three minutes of my life, it blinded me several times, it ended, and it’s never coming back.

I obviously watched Iceland too many times, because I mostly paid attention to whether Greta was synced with the backdrop or not. I still felt it was safely through by the end of the performance, and I can’t really point out anything that I think was particularly wrong. Perhaps, nothing was really wrong. I always thought this semi had more strong songs that it had qualification spots. Someone had to miss out.

Bosnia & Herzegovina made sure that I wouldn’t spend a long time being wrong. It was an incredible display of nonsensical unfriendliness. Vocally it was fine – I think, couldn’t bring myself to rewatch it and check – but that’s very little help if no one cares, and Deen: no one cares. It managed to be even less pleasant than it was in the rehearsal videos, because unfortunately they did use closeups. They should have hired the Czech director.

I finally understood what the Maltese backdrop art is! It’s the Red Sea! And Ira is opening the water so she can lead the people of Malta to lunch in Sicily! Alternatively, it’s a bridge and they are totally cheating with that walking on water thing. The vocals were good, but as a package it still made little sense and was more than a little boring. Ira’s projected faces ranged from useless to full on zombie attack Ira, the dancer danced his way to the history books of pointless stagings in Eurovision, and it basically kept going until they hit three minutes and had to stop.

I felt the songs went by pretty quickly, though, perhaps because I really like most of them, even if I wasn’t too excited about the visuals.

I tried to watch the interval twice and I still can’t tell you what happened in it. Instead I headed to YouTube to watch the full performances of France – actually very pretty and different, but really needs better vocals and not fight the camera angles, Spain – still looks like a bottom 5 performance, and Sweden – which is what it always was but he looks less annoying than I remembered.

This is all very interesting. Are we done yet? | Andres Putting (EBU)

This is all very interesting. Are we done yet? | Andres Putting (EBU)

The revelation of the finalists was a bit odd. Azerbaijan first made sense – “fans will get the most annoyed about that one, so let’s just get it out of the way”, as did Russia in second. But why was Malta last? Have they not attended rehearsals and had a clue of what would actually get the audience in the hall going? Or at home? The audience’s favorite, Austria, would have made more sense, especially as many were unsure about its chances. On the other hand, they saved me from a heart attack, because by the time both Austria and the Czech Republic were read out, I was already willing to make deals and have Greece in as long as they are in too. Desperate times, desperate measures.

Also, it was totally adorable to see SVT not being able to deal with the titles of the qualifiers in the final recap after the results, especially as we’re supposed to trust them to reveal 26 televote scores without screwing things up.

Now, it’s time to do this all over again. Bring on semi 2!

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