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Semi-Final 1, First Dress Rehearsal: Live blog

by | May 17, 2021 | 2021 Rehearsal Liveblogs, escgo at Eurovision, Eurovision

Semi-Final 1, First Dress Rehearsal: Live blog

by | May 17, 2021 | 2021 Rehearsal Liveblogs, escgo at Eurovision, Eurovision

This liveblog is in reverse chronological order – so if you want to read about things as they happened, go to the bottom of the page and scroll up!

AND THAT COMPLETES the escgo! liveblog of the first dress rehearsal for semi-final 1. As I’ve said in the blog, I do feel like a few things have become clearer in terms of the qualifying borderline zone, but none of what happened today really matters – it’s tonight’s second dress rehearsal when things start to get serious, as that’s the show the juries will be voting on. Pull a good performance out of the bag then, and you can put yourself in the mix for qualification. Miss your big notes and you could be punished. So join Shi later on this evening as she guides you through all that and gives you her thoughts as to who’s coming across the best!

17:10 They’re using those awkward three-letter codes for the countries, it seems. And the square flags are there too. (Flags with three stripes on them, like Belgium and Romania, look particularly silly in square form but oh well.) The countries are even listed in alphabetical order by three-letter code rather than by running order. Urgh. Anyway, let’s see which six countries are the unlucky losers in this mock qualifier reveal. Ah, I’m sorry, guys – it’s bad news for Belgium, Croatia, Ireland, Russia, Slovenia and Ukraine. But Vasil will be delighted: he was the tenth and last qualifier. Golden ticket for North Macedonia!

17:06 Jon Ola Sand Martin Österdahl is here to tell us that we have a valid fake result! The new “take it away” appears to be “you’re good to go”. Maybe it’ll catch on.

Having literally seen a Dutch interval act earlier in the show, I’m starting to understand why some people described the staging of this one as like an interval. It has that “song with A Message”/”colourful staging plucked straight out a musical” vibe to it. But you know what, it’s pretty effective. That 23rd spot in the running order should work really well for this, especially with a real audience made up of real Dutch people, and there’s a real friendliness to the performance – I can’t find a better word for it – that comes straight down the barrel of the camera. Plus Jeangu is just self-assuredly awesome whatever he’s doing, really. I still don’t know if there’s enough of a wide audience for this to get anything more than an okay result, but it could be jury fodder with a fair wind.

Postcard is Scheveningen Pier. Break my postponed-holiday heart, why don’tcha? Jendrik begins strumming his ukulele then throws it in the air while we can still hear it, which is an odd first choice. Anyway, there’s so much going on in this performance that there’s no way I’m going to be able to blog it all, so let’s pick some highlights. There’s a lot more choreographed interaction between Jendrik and the middle finger than I realised, which works quite well. Less successful: the second verse, which has too many words, call-and-response bits that aren’t filmed especially well, and a general sense of deflating momentum. “It sounds like one but we are five”, Jendrik says during the tap break. Aha. The talky bit near the end is in a mixture of German and English today, but who knows what it’ll be tomorrow. Broadly speaking, I actually find this quite a decent staging – what else are you going to do with this song but make it loud and manic and in-your-face, really? – but the weakest parts of it are, well, the song. Whereas the repeated instrumental riffs with dancing (I don’t speak Music, what do you call them anyway?) come across as very strong. A mixed bag, then. “We have to go, right?” Jendrik asks at the end. Afraid so – clear the way for Jeangu!

Yes, thinking about it, surely it’s just the three that are voting in this show. Engage brain, Martin! Anyway, if you’ve seen the 30-second clip of Måneskin’s rehearsal then you’ve seen Måneskin’s performance. It’s a straightforward ballsy rock performance of a straightforward ballsy rock song, it’s one of the more authentic things on offer in this year’s contest, the band are packed with personality, but it’s not like they’re reinventing the wheel or anything. Still, it’s ESC, we come here for entertaining yet regularly-shaped wheels.

16:48 Unexpected bonus alert! We appear to be getting rehearsals by the big five and the Netherlands? Or are these just the clips from Saturday’s second rehearsals? Or is it just the three countries who are voting in this show, recording the performances that’ll be shown there? Either way, I’ll keep blogging about them!

16:47 Edsilia chats to Duncan and we get a little clip about how good “Arcade” is. Basically. I wish I had more to add about that section, but I don’t. You can probably use it for a drinks refill tomorrow, so that’s good to know.

16:45 A Nikkie tutorial about… not quite sure what, actually. It’s basically an excuse for lots of clips framed around the topic of “How not to win”, with Krassimir, Justine Pelmelay’s bum note, a quite harsh moment where they really linger on John Lundvik’s Disappointed Face, and so on. Except there’s also a bit about Céline Dion in there too, and I’m fairly sure she won the thing. Maybe Scott Fitzgerald has snuck his way into the production team this year and is messing with the path of recorded history.

16:39 The hosts just described Johnny Logan as the biggest ever Eurovision winner. Okay…? Anyway, the voting has closed and now we’re getting the first part of a “winners’ journey” – interviews and clips with everyone from Teach-In lady to, randomly, Eimear Quinn. The way the hosts introduce it, it’s like it’s going to be all about Johnny, but he’s just the primary focus this time. Including Harald Treutiger’s “Johnny Logan is historical” line. Yay!

16:36 The fake green room people pretending to be the delegations during the voting reprises are my favourite thing. Especially the Australian guy who’s “being” Montaigne at 2 in the morning or whatever time it is over there right now. Bless him. Oh, an empty sofa for Cyprus. I guess no one wanted to pretend to be them.

16:32 “Water” is the theme of our first interval act. Although there is the obligatory interpretive dancing to accompany it, first and foremost this is – radical concept, bear with me – an actual song. It’ll never catch on. Davina Michelle is a powerful presence and there are some notes in here that Ana Soklič would have been very happy with.

16:27 These might not be the final choices and obviously they’re not the final performances, but let’s see what the clips chosen for the voting reprise feel like when reined together. Sweden are using the sections I mentioned earlier where Tusse’s vocals are croaky and rough – they’ll need for that to be different tomorrow night. Ireland have the second chorus where Lesley felt quite comfortable; again, that’s a good thing. Israel use the whistle note section at the end, which probably is wise for memorability but less wise in terms of the fashion choices. Ukraine’s clip is from somewhere in the “high speed but not top speed” section. And Malta… well, OK, they picked a part that doesn’t show off any of the hooks of the song at all (i.e. the lead-up to the “Excuse my French” line), so I’m going to assume that’s a placeholder and will get changed. Not that you’re going to forget Destiny in a hurry anyway.

Wig choices! Destiny is wearing a bob today. Didn’t see that coming, and obviously it mightn’t stay that way either. Perhaps more relevantly: silver boots! I often type while watching the performance (how else would I manage this many words?) but I realise after two minutes that I’ve not really written anything yet, because there’s a lot to watch here – it’s packed with ideas, quick cuts, almost as many different moods as the song has hooks. And you know what? I’d started to write this off a little bit – and I’ll add the caveat that I’m still not sold on Destiny being exactly right for the song – but this is a super strong performance and it’s gelling really nicely as a whole. There’s a cartoony element to it that I think stops it from feeling entirely authentic, but Destiny looks like she’s having huge fun with it, which is absolutely the big strength she brings to the entry and it’s nice to see it shining through. Whether it’s seriously in the winner discussion on Saturday night I don’t know, but it won’t be a surprise to dig through the figures in the wee small hours after the show and learn that Malta won the semi-final, anyway.

Another short presenter break between Azerbaijan and Ukraine. That makes sense, since Go_A have a riser full of “a piano, a mini-Stonehenge and some of Lesley Roy’s cardboard repurposed into creepy trees” to get on stage and things are still smouldering after the Azeri pyro. Another lesson in not reading too much into the blogs for me here – “Shum” is staged extremely effectively but am I blown away by the staging? I am not. Kateryna owns the performance, of course, and the boys do a lot of effective bouncing in the background, and frankly you don’t need to over-stage this one because the actual song is manic enough already (Svetlana Loboda says hi!). So maybe they’re right to just make it a tightly filmed band performance with some props and halo imagery. It’ll find its audience for sure.

The first thirty seconds of this are really effective after the downbeat three minutes we’ve just had from Romania. What it doesn’t really do is evolve a great deal beyond that, at least until the double-speed drums and pyro overdose of the last thirty seconds. Efendi is bringing more personality than I might have expected, which is nice, and the whole thing is a very effectively executed version of “that” uptempo ESC ethno number. It’s just hard to find an awful lot to write about it. I suppose that’s partly a compliment – it means they’ve already got the finished product here.

A self-playing piano in the postcard! Have they decided to make ROXEN sing “Sinä päivänä kun kaikki rakastaa mua” instead? No, it’s still “Amnesia”. Shame. Anyway, to business: ROXEN has ditched the loungewear look and is now in a shabby-retro skirt with a frilly neck (and a petticoat that catches the eye whenever she’s being flung about by her dancers). She gets a bit behind the beat during both verses, which makes me wonder if she can’t hear herself properly. I’m still a bit puzzled by what the choreography is trying to tell us here, but it feels a bit less like it’s trying to actively undermine ROXEN now, so at least that. And actually, the clothing choices make her feel a bit more like “reasonably popular local singer performs her latest single” than before, so there’s a plausibility to the package that was perhaps missing before. It’s still a bit difficult on the ears though, I’m afraid. “For every shout that went unheard”, the backdrop says at the end. Efendi will be along in a moment to tell us all about shouting.

16:03 A break, and a chat with Måns, mainly about the fact that (a) Måns is there and (b) Måns is cute.

Back to the loud and brash. Except not really, because Eden has a soft edge to her that already makes this feel a hundred times more human than the robotics of Croatia. This has been the biggest positive surprise for me so far – I’m sitting here genuinely smiling at the screen. Yes, the backing routine is the usual “some Israeli gays dancing in tight formation” we’ve gotten used to since the great Israeli rebirth in 2015, but Eden gives this a totally different flavour. I could live without the dress change and whistle notes, but honestly, this comes across really nicely in this draw and the Israelis should be pleased with how this performance is coming together.

The fakeness I described in Croatia certainly does Belgium some favours – Hooverphonic are setting their stall out as “real musicians” and the distinction is notable. Geike still sings down her nose at us a bit, but there’s a hint of a smile about her in the verses that softens the dark impression of the song, and that’s nice. (She’s quite angry by the end, still, but I would be too if I was having to fight over my favourite T-shirt.) The slightly disturbing close-ups of Geike’s face on the backdrop are still there during the chorus and I’m not convinced they work, but they’re clearly what we’re getting now. Anyway, what more can I add about this really? I think it’s jury bait; it is also a bit dark and ordinary and plain, but they’re probably counting on that being their trump card in this loud and brash semi, and it may work.

Wind machine klaxon! It’s blowing right from the start of Albina’s performance, and unfortunately it blows her hair right into her face for most of the first verse, which isn’t ideal. The transition from verse to chorus here is really quite jarring on the ear – Albina’s (strong!) live vocal suddenly seems to turn into her just miming along to the backing track. It feels very fake, but I suppose she does have some careful interactions with her Roman-gladiators-meet-Starlight-Express backing hunks to concentrate on. My overall feeling by the end of the song, regrettably, is one of being a little bit bored – there’s not a huge amount of progression in the staging, it’s all in that blue and pink colour scheme, and it’s not hugely interesting. I feel like Croatia will need people to really enjoy the actual song to be properly in the qualification discussion – which, of course, they may well do.

Tix’s postcard involves a white piano, some medieval fortifications, and him already in his stage gear (without wings). All very emo and setting you up for what you’re about to see. Which is what you already know from the national final, more or less. That includes vocals that aren’t the strongest, and it feels like they’re covering up that fact less well than the Cypriots. On the plus side, I mentioned the effective lighting from behind during Slovenia and it’s very effective during the chorus of “Fallen Angel” too. As the song continues, the imperfect vocals keep poking me in the ear, but it’s important to remember that this really is just a run-through. For all we know he was still hanging out with Efendi until two minutes before coming on stage and didn’t have time to do his vocal warm-ups. “Enjoy Eurovision, you guys!” he says after the song ends. We will, thanks!

A small presenter break between Ireland and Cyprus, presumably because of prop logistics. Elena’s first notes are… not the best, let’s say, but she gets into her stride during the first verse. I find it interesting that they’ve actually gone with quite a friendly presentation for this one. It could have been dark, but instead, it’s quite “open” – yes, there’s plenty of red, but these devils don’t feel like they’d do you too much harm. I think that probably goes well with Elena’s image and what she’s able to carry as a performer. Rather than trying to make her do much (hello Ireland), they’re letting her just find the cameras and do what she can to the best of her ability. For all there are lots of songs fighting for the female up-tempo vote in this semi, this comes across as the right song at the right time here and should do pretty well tomorrow night, whatever it then manages on Saturday.

Right then Lesley, let’s be having you. An ambitious rehearsal in need of improvement was the verdict from the second set of rehearsals. In terms of what we picked up as critical points then: A barefoot Lesley still looks nervous about hopping off the conveyor belt in the first verse. Some of the cardboard stuff still isn’t quite working timing-wise (and this time it’s the waves, which were fine last time). They seem to have got rid of the second set of flickbook-flicking, which was problematic last time – now we don’t get it at all, and Lesley connects with the camera so much better as a result. There’s a lesson in there somewhere… Honestly, I’ve lost sight a bit of whether this is a good concept or not in the first place, but what I will say is that that hung together a lot better than it did the other day. Lesley’s vocals were a bit pitchy here and there, and she still looks a bit panicked when she’s having to think about what to do next, but it’s a step forward.

14:38 Edsilia in the green room, chatting to a Roop stand-in about the “finger dance”. And then a video link-up to Australia as we expected (even if the real Montaigne is actually in bed right now). Phew, this is all very fast-paced. They’re probably quite glad there aren’t loads of fans in there to spoil their timing by cheering and things…

14:35 First ad break. Nikkie gives us some clips from fans’ home dancing videos, some excerpts from her LookLabs and the like. It’s basically one big advert for all the ancillary content. Since it’s only for the countries that aren’t showing ads, why not.

No break after song five like we sometimes get, so it’s straight into Vasil. And actually, the way this also begins with him against a black backdrop makes this feel a bit similar to the Australian staging. I never thought I’d find myself saying that! It doesn’t last, of course – the familiar gold lighting and glittery stuff that’s meant to emulate a pyro curtain quickly makes it feel more different again. Vasil is in decent voice here and finding every camera while the effects happen all around him, including the Dotter shirt moment. Even the final high note sits perfectly before he says “thank you!” and literally runs from the stage. Honestly, absolutely no complaints about what North Macedonia are getting out of their entry here – the song is what it is, but they’re dragging every last thing out of it.

Our first time to see the live-on-tape performance from Montaigne! It’s a seamless enough transition from the arena to the tape (helped by the fact that the middle of the arena is empty anyway), and there’s no special announcement from the hosts or anything, as it should be. As we’ve seen from the clip, it’s quite clear that this isn’t the Ahoy behind her, but there are loads of bright backlights and close shots that help to conceal it to some extent. Montaigne should be happy enough with this vocal take – there’s one wobble but mostly she’s really strong, though like with Tusse, things get a bit shaky after the key change. And visually it’s very appealing, the camera really likes her. Ahh – and then, at the end, we get Montaigne and her backing singers on the screen at the back of the stage saying “Thank you Europe!” and an empty stage as the camera pans over the arena, so that’s the acknowledgement that they’re not there after all. Interesting.

I have to admit I’m not convinced by the additions to Tusse’s outfit. He looks a bit like Samanta Tina has styled him. Anyway, some of the issues with the lighting the other day have been rectified, I’m pleased to say – things feel much more harmonious to these eyes, even if I only saw the brief clip on the official channel. Tusse is mostly in decent voice here (I know that’s been one of the concerns around him), but some of the bigger notes towards the middle eight aren’t great and things get a bit ragged after the key change. Basically, every one of the “can you hear them!” lines sounds rough, and that’s a bit problematic given it’s most of the last minute of the song. But you’re probably sold on whether to vote for it or not by then anyway, so…

This time there’s pizza in the postcard. I had salad for lunch. That was a mistake. Anyway: By contrast to Slovenia, the actual live backing vocals in Russia stand out right from the start, which is interesting. Manizha messes up her words and has a bit of a giggle, but she has so much personality it feels like she could get away with that on the night without any issues. The huge dress and fun interactions with the backings do help to offset the structural issues with “Russian Woman” a little, but it still feels like it takes a long time to really hit its stride. Those interactions remain great throughout, though – this feels like a gang of kick-ass friends having fun and you really want to hang out with them all. I’m not blown away by the staging (the perils of reading too many rehearsal blogs!) and it’s all a bit haphazard and random in places, but that gives it a lot of personality too, which should count for something.

The postcard is set in some sand dunes. I’ve had to cancel a Dutch beach and cycling break twice now because of the pandemic, so I’m feeling very triggered. The lights projecting upward from behind Ana during the first verse of this are, well, glorious. By contrast, the lights that fly around her during the first chorus feel a little busy, perhaps? Second verse and chorus, we see the globe at night behind her, then she proceeds out to the catwalk after shouting “COME ON NOW!”. There’s even a Michael Jackson-esque “OW!” in there. I assume that’s just for today. Anyway, you’ll notice I’m not saying much about Ana’s vocals, and that’s because she’s nailing it even in this first dress rehearsal. The only disturbing thing remains the lack of any backing vocalists to match the huge choir we’re hearing on tape. But if that’s not a problem for viewers and, especially, jurors then this could be right in the qualification discussion.

Clever postcards that look like they’ll integrate the artists “virtually” into their boxes around the Netherlands. Perhaps appropriately, the first one is set in front of Rotterdam’s iconic central station. The Roop begin their performance, and you already know that Vaidotas owns that camera right from the start, don’t you? Well, he does. Several shots during the verses of Vaidotas and the two dancers, including during lines about dancing alone, which seems a bit odd (though I suppose they’re not dancing together…). “Discoteque” is exactly the strong opener the organisers will have been delighted to have available to them, in all its quirky glory. There are some bunny-hops in the last chorus that are silly but also really cute. Overall impression: Obviously sailing through to the final, but then that’s no surprise!

15:08 The list of countries is shown, and as you’ve seen in some of the leaks, the flags are square. Switzerland says “where have you been all these years?”. The hosts also mention the “clapping” that fans can do in the app to support their favourites. We’ll see how that translates to fake applause, though presumably not until the real show.

15:06 The North Macedonian lampshade in the arena green room is extremely visible in the foreground as our hosts talk. It’s very pretty. I think I want one.

15:04 Duncan Laurence kicks us off with a performance of “Feel Something” (and a slightly austere haircut). Lots of red and augmented reality boxes. Then an introduction to everyone who’s involved in the show: the “audience” at home on screens, the make-up artists, dancers, pyro… and finally, our four hosts!

15:01 Despite some talk of delays due to queues at the testing stations, we’re actually starting more or less on time! “Eurovision is back” are first words we hear in the arena. How sweet they sound.

INTRODUCTION: Hi everybody, and welcome to one of the most exciting moments of the Eurovision year! It’s time for the first full run-through of one of the big shows – the first dress rehearsal of semi-final 1 of ESC 2021, which is when we’ll get to see the songs back-to-back in the running order for the first time and get a feel for how they work together.

Almost more importantly, we’ll be getting a first insight into some of the production elements too. How are the hosts? How is their script? Where are the breaks in the running order? What are the postcards like? How about the interval acts? Can we expect any live link-ups with Australia to chat with Montaigne, even as the risk of additional absences seems to be receding again? All of these questions and more should be answered in the next couple of hours!

Because I’ve been keeping myself away from the rehearsals so far (with the exception of blogging North Macedonia and Ireland the other day), I’m coming to this with fresh eyes and ears, so it’ll be interesting to see what my more-or-less first impressions are today and whether that differs from the fan press who’ve been in the online press centre for the last week and more. So keep refreshing this post and we’ll see how it all turns out!


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