Another semi final came and went, and just like that, even though it feels like only yesterday we sat through the first day of rehearsals, we now have our full final line-up. Not without putting a third of Europe through a collective heart attack first, though. Not that I am being dramatic or anything, but at some point towards the end of the songs I felt like I had no idea at all about anything, and was muttering “I don’t know what qualifiers to pick” like a crazy person.
I did end up picking 10, which were slightly different than the 10 I picked before the show. I got 9 out of 10 in both selections, to my great surprise.
The show started on a light note, as Petra and Måns broke into song and dance, explaining Eurovision to the people of the US and China who were not even watching the semis. It was entertaining enough, although it did tend to go from actively funny to – OOH RIVERDANCE – oh God, this is why I don’t tell people I am a Eurovision fan. To the credit of both Petra and Måns, I can’t imagine other hosts in recent memory being able to carry this out.
1. Latvia started the night’s proceedings, with Justs going into it like he’d never get to perform again. If I were to write a Eurovision dictionary (shhh, don’t give me any ideas) I’d put this next to Carpe Diem. Seize the stage, perform like every performance is your last. The stage was a little bleak with all the concrete and warehouse rave atmosphere going on, but it allowed Justs to be the center of attention as he was obviously feeling the heartbeat of everyone in the hall.
2. “When you feel everything is lost” was one of the first lines Michal from Poland sang to us and it was very fitting as he totally lost both the beat and the key. He got back to the correct pace quickly enough, but struggled with the key for the duration of the song, only really getting it right by the second key change at the end. I am assuming that he made it through thanks to a better jury performance, charisma, Poland’s friendly votes and tone deaf viewers.
3. I could never figure out if making Rykka’s hair look like the smoke around her was intentional or not, but I could never get most things about Switzerland this year, so just add this to the list. I have been trying to understand her body language as well, but now I think it’s just a prayer to the Gods of Sound Mixing, who seem to still be recovering after Tuesday’s effort with Azerbaijan. This song was never as bad as it was unmemorable, and not even the lovely stage and blowing through the budget with fireworks could save it.
4. The biggest achievement for Israel last night, apart from qualifying (on Israel’s birthday, no less!) was that they finally ditched their “stage it like it’s 1989” approach. It even looked like it was staged by someone who watched Eurovision in the last decade. I also found the hoop emotional dance by the two acrobats to be beautiful although I still don’t know why it’s there. Maybe so they have excuses to have the camera spend less time with Hovi? And it did manage to make it look slightly less like the standard Eurovision blue-backdrop-ballad (BBB in the Eurovision dictionary I’m not writing). Also, Hovi sang it really well, and keeping with the tradition, he also popped for a visit in the wonderful land of Oz, shouting “the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true”, which is my favorite quote out of Somewhere Over the Rainbow and made me decide that maybe I can afford liking Hovi a little bit more.
5. I normally complain when gimmicks are used to cover up the fact there’s not much of a song or singing abilities elsewhere on stage, but instead I want to use those few lines about Belarus to salute to the unsung heroes of Eurovisions, the artists who come up with fun, crazy, beautiful, bad, good, artistic, tasteful, tasteless ideas for the stage show that we are watching. Sure, they threw the entire kitchen at us and hoped something will stick, but it was also gloriously mad, spectacularly creative and packed with original and entertaining ideas. It stayed in the semi because that’s what the song and performance deserved, but it was three minutes that I am happy we got to have this year. And the holo-wolves are adorable. The baby slightly less so. And I totally want to have Ivan’s hair. He has an amazing hair.
6. I gave up on understanding Serbia, and the combination of those outfits and red lights created a different stylistic impression than what they were going for. But if I ignored thinking about that and what the song was actually about, it still looked and sounded impressive, and I really liked how the backing singers looked under the red lights. It still reminds me of several previous Eurovision entries though, and I can’t figure out which.
7. I spent a good amount of space complaining about Ireland and its misconceptions of sunlight, but watching the performance I realized it was worse than I thought: they had a dark floor with stars on it. STARS. Seriously, Ireland. It can’t be that difficult. Also difficult: finding cameras. So difficult, in fact, that once Nicky actually found one, he grabbed it and held on to it for dear life. Keep your hands up and step away from the camera, Nicky. He was also very pretty, sang it as decently as he could, and in this semi final it was far from being enough.
8. Macedonia was another song that was beyond redemption. I love Kaliopi, I do, and I appreciate her abilities, her resolve and her generally not giving a damn, but you can’t stand there with that dress, singing a song that wouldn’t have made it to the top 10 in 1995 and expect to get somewhere. And was that last note really necessary? Being a vegetarian, I normally try to avoid using words like strangled and chicken in my descriptions, but this was the only thing I could thing of. NQ qonfirmed.
9. Donny seems to have spent less time in the shower while plugging electric appliances, and both his hair and myself were grateful. He was also his rather obnoxious self, but sold his song and sang it so well, I grudgingly had to mark Lithuania as a qualifier as soon as he was done. You could tell how much I care about this song, though, that it took me 500 rehearsals, watching the semi performance twice and someone actually telling me for me to notice there was a costume change.
10. I gather from responses of others that Australia was fabulous, but it seems like I am the wrong target audience for that kind of performance. While I enjoy the song in studio, it looked to me like an X Factor staging – and not an incredible one at that, which also proved that technology doesn’t always make things better. For all of how much I heard about the futuristic presentation of her song, I thought that artistically it all looked very underwhelming. Vocally, I liked her voice for about two minutes, but then she had to go and start yelling at me abd it wasn’t that pretty anymore. I also have a personal issue with singers whose facial expression never changes during the song, and she made me feel nothing and gave me no reason to believe any word she was singing. Despite this being a very good song with a very competent performer, this is probably my personal biggest let down of the semis.
11. In case you want to know how much that last minute of Australia made me suffer, Slovenia is your answer, because for a little bit it actually felt like a blessed relief. But worry not, it didn’t take long before I went back to my regular state when hearing Slovenia – forgetting it was even on – which was exactly when the flying pole dancer arrived. Apparently Slovenia has found the formula to figuring out when people zone out of songs. This can be worth a lot of money and give them budget for better stagings in the future.
12. Bulgaria. What can I say? I still can’t forgive all the choices they’ve made and I definitely cannot forgive that dress. But they have two very good things going for them: the song, and Poli. She does exactly what I told Jamie-Lee to do: if you’re going to look that ridiculous, own it. Convince us that it’s exactly what you should be doing. And that she does so well. It’s always dangerous to have a singer alone on stage for an uptempo number, but much of the stage is dark, and the camera angles are good, so she never seems as lonely as she could have looked on stage. She also managed to be synced with the digital dancers, which worked well enough, and the white lights – both as a backdrop and the ones that turned on during the break – were very effective. It would have been even more effective, though, if her backing singers joined her earlier. It makes so much sense when they do that you really wonder why they weren’t there for the entire three minute party.
13. Denmark looked poised to make my nightmare into a reality, doing what Danes do best: extremely competent blandness. I was particularly worried when both my sister and my cousin actually voted for this – I obviously failed in life – and I thought the vocals were great and that I wanted to punch them a lot less than I normally do. They’ll have to settle for that achievement.
14. Oh, Jamala. A masterclass in the art of emoting. She does look possessed at times, but if you are not going to look possessed at that kind of song, when will you? The vocals are stunning, if you appreciate that kind of singing, and the presentation looked better on screen – I especially loved the blue light columns. Ukraine got a huge response from the audience even before the Jamala was done and deservedly so.
15. Norway next, and it again brings up the question of why did SVT decide to put that one back to back with Ukraine? Agnete is a good singer, but it’s a bit unfair to put any female singer who is supposed to be belting her vocals right next to it.
15. Norway also suffered from their decision to avoid giving their staging any actual identity beyond the icy obvious. If you are going to pick a song with that kind of structure, make sure it is reflected in the staging. Be proud of it being different. Instead, nothing happened in it at all, and it was lost between what came before and after it.
I will miss the jokes though. Thank you, Norway, you have amused me greatly this season!
16. We had a good laugh when we saw the last three countries in the running order. Well, the joke is on us, because Georgia was freaking awesome. The madness of the camera work was the equivalent of what Belarus was to holograms, but this one came with such competent, credible artists that you couldn’t not buy into it. And what’s not to buy? Who can resist good old 80s camerawork? It even had a kaleidoscope! It was crazy and quirky with some super quick cuts, but it was directed and edited so well that it left me impressed and not sea sick like two other totally random rock tracks that we had this year which I will not mention.
17. Albania was what Albania always was. Three minutes of a non song performed by a real professional who makes you appreciate her vocals but still not like her very much. There was a bit of a gold overkill here, between the dress, the floor and her hair, but it was also a good breather between Georgia and the final number of the night.
18. Belgium wrapped it up in style, also laughing at our faces. You were saying WHAT about me being the last song NOW? Say what you will about the song, but Laura is everything you can want from a teen star, and the audience loved and supported Hermione Granger in her new professional endeavors.
I again used the interval to catch up on the three direct finalists. Jamie-Lee of Germany sounded strong but looked like a manga store exploded on stage. Italy didn’t work as well as I had hoped as the stage ends up being on the wrong side of childish, despite Francesca being her wonderful self vocally. Also, as much as i am into emoting, there’s a time and place for everything, Francesca, and this is not it. Put your hands down and no one will get hurt. The United Kingdom was really good, which in perspective is a bigger miracle than Azerbaijan. The boys have great energy, sound great and sell it well. Wherever they end up, this is the best the UK done in a long time.
The qualifiers announcement here was much more fun than semi 1 with a range of emotional reactions and mental episodes. Dami Im trying to get up and not managing to stay up over and over was a particular highlight, as was the crazed delight of Serbia and the joy of Bulgaria. Hovi Star was three seconds away from a total meltdown, Donny was so happy I couldn’t even be properly annoyed with it qualifying, Nika of Georgia was all WAIT WHAT JUST HAPPENED, and the land of Roberto Bellarosa made sure to have him with us in spirit as they went from incredibly nervous to extremely overexcited and jumping on the sofas. Petra and Måns, to answer your question: THIS IS EUROVISION.
It was a pretty intense and nerve wrecking semi final overall, which is perfectly fine with me and much better than the alternative. Even the camerawork was not drunk last night and it seems like someone locked SVT’s cat outside of the control room. I’m a bit disappointed about losing Norway, but I understand it, and it seems to be a good year for some of the underdogs so far, and who doesn’t like a good underdog?
Back later for a final preview, as soon as I get enough of a clue.