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Grand Final, First Dress Rehearsal: Live blog

by | May 21, 2021 | 2021 Rehearsal Liveblogs, escgo at Eurovision, Eurovision

Grand Final, First Dress Rehearsal: Live blog

by | May 21, 2021 | 2021 Rehearsal Liveblogs, escgo at Eurovision, Eurovision

title image © Daless

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 SO, as the stand-in expresses her delight (but presumably isn’t going to try out her falsetto), the four hosts bid us farewell and it’s time for me to do the same. Thank you so much for following this marathon live blog! Turns out the show does fit into 3 hours and 40 minutes if you don’t bother calling up three-quarters of the juries. Could be an idea for tomorrow… Anyway, Felix will be here later tonight to tell you how everyone is singing at the all-important jury final, so do come back for that and obsess a little bit more with us. Cheers!

16:31 After some dramatic background music that’s almost as good as the things Felix makes for our chatroom events… FAKE SPAIN WINS! Lithuania and Norway make up the podium positions. Russia last by a mile. Fake Manizha will be fuming.

16:30 Soz, Blind Channel and Babs Pravs, it’s The Roop vs. Blas for the title!

16:29 Four-way shot of Spain, Lithuania, France and Finland! Mucho fake excitement!

16:26 San Marino do significantly better with the public than with the juries. Realistic. Sweden do significantly better with the public than with the juries. Less realistic.

16:25 Unnecessarily confusing graphics as the televote is announced. For example, the second-last country in the jury vote, i.e. the one whose televote we hear second, gets the caption “2nd of 26 countries” as it receives its vote, and so on. That… is not helpful. It implies a ranking, not a sequence. Don’t do that please!

16:18 “One, two, miss a few, 99, 100!” We’ve skipped forward to the “end” of the fake jury voting and it’s Lithuania, Finland and France in the top three positions. Makes sense they’re moving on to practicing the public vote, since that’s the crucial part of things.

16:15 Seeing all the flag lampshades in the green room reminds me that I hope they auction off all this stuff afterwards, because I really want a North Macedonia one.

16:05 Chantal and Jan take us through the first few sets of votes. The scoreboard is pretty! There’s a long pause while we’re trying to cue up Edsilia and Nikkie to interview “Barbara Pravi” and “Blind Channel”, because Finland are currently in the lead and France are second. A voiceover informs us that this is “point 147 in the running order”.

Fake voting! Blogging about this is inherently pointless and yet also a lot of fun, so I’m going to do it!

At last, a countdown! And it’s made by dancers on the stage, à la Paparizou’s “1”. That’s quite cute.

15:50 Oh god, I’d forgotten that promise/threat of new Duncan Laurence music. So, yeah, this is going to be another four-hour show. Eurovision, why do you think this is what normal viewers want? They really don’t. Though maybe I just think that because I grew up with the concept of ESC being a three-hour thing. Anyway, I need a sandwich, brb.

Final snabbis and televoting countdown! Oh, this was wrong. No televoting countdown yet. We get the rooftop interval act first. So, um, this isn’t going to be done in 3 hours 40 as scheduled, is it? Prerecorded performances of songs you all know. Well, why not. Sandra Kim changes the tense of the lyrics to talk about how she was fifteen. Cute. Someone in the press centre chat points out that, with Dutch weather being what it is, prerecords make a lot of sense. That’s a good point, though when this was framed I was genuinely hoping we’d get drone cameras zooming between individual buildings or something. The future ain’t what it used to be.

15:36 They’re keeping us on our toes with a whole load of different features here. I guess it’s to allow for advertising breaks in various territories, but it contributes to the slightly manic and fast-paced tone of the show that we’ve gotten used to from the other two nights. Still, at least this isn’t all building to an hour of Madonna. This section is about Eurovision fans. It feels like it was filmed in the assumption there’d be no audience at all, actually – it’s a bit awkward talking about how they can’t wait to have the fans back again, only to cut to the hall where there are 3,500 of them in there…

15:33 And now Edsilia is in a car with various former winners. A carefully worded introduction about how this was all filmed before coronavirus, hence all the hugs. It’s a lot of the same singers who were in the clips we saw in the semi-finals, which makes sense – Izhar, Niamh, Anne-Marie and co. presumably did all the filming at the same time early last year. Niamh and Edsilia sing along to “In Your Eyes” and have some fun with the high notes. Lovely! This is all really nice, actually – even Edsilia scaring Anne-Marie with a Lordi mask – and I love the way they’re integrating all of Rotterdam’s tall buildings into things this year. Aww, and a Ruth Jacott/Niamh Kavanagh reunion to end! Good vibes all round. I could watch this kind of thing all day. Can we just forget about tomorrow night and go and live in ESC 1993 please? I’m sure Millstreet has the hotel capacity.

15:30 Nikkie’s tutorial followed by another Nikkie-introduced section. This “sneak peak behind the scenes” is basically the usual montage of production and backstage shots set to a piece of music that we’ve had in many contests in the past, but I always rather enjoy it.

15:27 Nikkie gets her own introduction from the other three hosts. 1994 is mentioned. Chantal pronounces that year’s winner like “Rubber Rope Kids”. Nikkie’s tips today are on “how to rock the vote”. As we know by now, the connections between the tips are nebulous at best, but they’re a good excuse for a bunch of fun clips from Eurovision voting history and we’re here for that. ANGELA RIPPON KLAXON! “Has somebody bought her a bottle of champagne, is that what it is?” gets its well-deserved moment in the spotlight. Hurrah!

Second (shorter) snabbis. No green room antics this time.

15:15 “Many of us dream of getting back to a normal life.” All of us, surely? Anyway, this is all to introduce the Afrojack x Glennis Grace x Wulf x Orchestra interval act, “Music Binds Us”. The first section is on film in and around Rotterdam, including on the Erasmus Bridge. Imagine Darude’s ESC entry if it had been better, and you’re in the right ballpark. Then it’s into the hall (with augmented reality) and Glennis is singing “Titanium”, which I initially thought was incredibly random but apparently it’s an Afrojack co-write. You learn something new every day! Anyway, like most interval acts, this promises more than it delivers but that’s fine too.

First snabbis. The Greece-Switzerland-Iceland stretch works well here (yes, Greece included). The Swiss stand-ins do not eat fondue with their flags. Shame. Spain is using the falsetto section which SERIOUSLY WHY WOULD YOU. Bulgaria already works better again in direct contrast to Finland, but is it too late by now? Lithuania uses a largely instrumental section. The French clip is from the not-so-steadycam end part. Of course, all of this can change by tonight, never mind tomorrow, and probably will – e.g. Croatia used the Croatian section in the first dress rehearsal but didn’t on the night, so you know. Pinch of salt and all that.

15:08 Voting instructions. I wonder if 10-13 is so successful in the running order not just because the producers tend to put the better songs there, but because that’s where your eye instinctively lands on the screen. I noticed the Icelandic flag before anything else.

“Hello Rotterdam! Are you ready to feel some Adrenalina?” works better when you’re the opening song. At song 26, it’s more likely to make people say “we’ve been buzzing for two hours and could use a little break, actually…”. Anyway, just like last night, the song bumbles along doing its thing until Flo Rida shows up, then Senhit starts to bounce off him and it becomes a lot more fun. I thought this would be the perfect closer – and in many ways it is – but I also wonder if the Flo Rida interlude means it has some of that “interval act” vibe I was worried about with the Netherlands.

Tusse is in full-on croaky mode again here. “Voices” isn’t completely lost between the shrill attention-grabbers of Italy and San Marino like some people feared – it’s inherently strong enough for that – but it does feel like treading water a bit.

In my Skype chat with Felix earlier, I said that likening this to Finland is like saying “Russian Woman” and “Utopian Land” are the same because they both have rapping in them. It is instructive to make the comparison here, though, because what Italy bring is an authenticity that’s lacking from the Finnish entry. My only concern (at least when it comes to judging Italy’s chances of victory like the betting odds seem to want us to) is that authenticity isn’t necessarily what people watch the Eurovision Song Contest for. This is a long way of saying “this is great at what it does, but I have no idea how it’s going to do on the scoreboard”, even from this peach of a draw. Anyway, it’s a strong performance for a Friday afternoon.

Hugely looking forward to seeing this with an enthusiastic live audience. The dancing and staging choices mean it does come across a bit like an interval act, and I wonder if that’ll hurt it in the voting (if it ever had that much upside potential in the first place), but it’s just a really nice three minutes to watch and enjoy and appreciate. Even if you don’t then vote for it…

14:50 “Stay tuned for new music from Duncan Laurence!” A grateful continent goes to boil the kettle.

“What can I say? I can’t make her stay.” Should have thought about that before using up your six perfomers, shouldn’t you, TIX? An Efendi cameo in the last chorus of this would be a heck of a power move that’s for sure. Anyway, I’m finally giving in and accepting this one, because life’s too short for denial: It’s this year’s Rasmussen/Michał Szpak, isn’t it? And actually, it’s very bloody good in this spot in the running order, a dose of accessibility after quite a lot of minor-key choruses. Uh-oh.

Cheeky producers, really. Meanwhile, I’m having a moment of epiphany with Azerbaijan. I still find it uninspired, but look what’s near it in the running order. Not Norway, I mean – I’m talking about its obvious competitors for televoter love. They’re basically all in the first half, if we include Moldova in that, and so Efendi has a clear run at viewer attention in this section of the draw. Could be worth keeping an eye on, even if it still does nothing for me.

They’re giving Chantal lots of chances to try out her filling skills here. No idea if that’s deliberate – it’s the usual spiel about the clapping app and how wonderful it is to have an audience in the arena, same as before – or if there are some issues in getting the Ukrainian stuff off stage. “Winner Barbara win tomorrow please!!!” is one verdict from the online press centre chat. We’re definitely not all just fanboys with badges, you know. Anyway, concerns have been voiced about Ukraine and France being back-to-back with two quite intense performances, but I think the slower start to France and the very different colour palettes of the entries make this unproblematic. More problematic: The last minute of the performance, the bit we saw in the show last night, with the wobbly camera filming Barbara’s nervous breakdown at close quarters. I get what it’s going for but I think it’s way too over-the-top. Still, if anyone can get away with that kind of thing, it’s the French.

A song with dynamics like this was never at risk of being swallowed up by a break, at least. If you’re not paying attention in the first minute, you definitely bloody are by the end. Also, sorry Blind Channel, but this is the most metal song in the contest. Rock on, Ukraine.

14:32 Oh, another break. A short film playing on the “Open Up” theme. Lots of bland and generic sentiments. Ah, it’s Duncan delivering them. “It’s no coincidence welcome starts with ‘we’.” Erm, it kind of is.

When your song was chosen months ago and you were song 1 in semi 1, it’s easy to feel like an afterthought. Instead, I find myself quite enjoying this in context. I’m as surprised as you are, trust me! But it’s nice to see someone come out and – excuse my French – shag the camera in a way that none of the songs before it in the running order really do, either through choice or because they’re just not as strong performers as Vaidotas. I’m not convinced the song is as strong as he is, but it’s a decent bit of fresh air at this point in proceedings.

A quick plug from the hosts for the orchestra in the interval act – Jendrik’s TikTok fanbase: “What’s an orchestra?” – and then it’s time for Victoria to be very emotional in pyjamas. Hmm. I am not convinced that the break does this one any favours, actually. It needs to be an oasis of calm in a sea of madness; instead, you’re more likely to give it a quick look and decide you can afford to take a minute or two longer to top up your snacks. What I will say is that Victoria is perhaps singing better than she did last night – no nerves, I guess?

14:20 I’ve never heard Edsilia speak this quietly! She’s whispering because she’s in the commentary box area. Oh, but then she says “woohoo!” and disturbs the Danish commentators. She calls them “Jendrik and Hendrik”. The one on the left is actually called Nicolai, but no biggie. Then it’s on to Yana in the Russian box – Edsilia tries out her Russian on her; Yana replies “yes, yes” in the manner of someone who means “erm, no”.

You know exactly what to expect from Linkiiniparku by now, and that’s what we get here. Those green room beers last night clearly did them no real damage. This and Germany aren’t so bad back-to-back, actually. Though the heavy bass of Moldova and this might make Jendrik’s song sound even more tinny in the voting reprise? We’ll see. Anyway, I’m past the point where I can really judge how Finland are going to do. Maybe they’ve tapped into something here and Europe is desperate for a nu-metal revival.

I had a theory that Jendrik sounded so out of breath on the clip we saw the other night because it was his first performance in front of a live audience and he got a bit carried away. Let’s see how he does today with no one in the hall. The “Say what?! / You did not just say that” verse remains especially lame, and… yep, he’s still gasping for breath on the wordy bit that follows. Like I’ve said so many times over the years: Why write the song like that if you can’t sing it?! But the chorus and the instrumental dance breaks are as strong as they ought to be, so at least that. What Jendrik does have in his favour is that he’s got bags of personality and a package that really stands out from the crowd. Is it completely authentic or completely inauthentic? I still can’t tell. But what I do know is you can’t cast a negative televote, so…

There’s always one song that gets “blamed” for a fan favourite failing – apparently Hooverphonic were getting some hate from angry Albina fans on Tuesday night, which, yeesh – and it’s easy to imagine Moldova having snuck into 10th place last night ahead of the likes of Austria and Denmark. Then again, the Maruv-lite drop is really bassy and ballsy compared with a lot of the lighter pop sounds this year, so there’s a USP there. Seeing Natalia rehearse now, I can understand why her rehearsals were deemed lacklustre: she doesn’t give away that smile for free, and it’ll be back tomorrow when it counts.

Blas’s dogs feature heavily in the postcard. I bet he thinks they have personalities and everything. We get the a cappella start to the performance that they’ve decided to go with – not sure why, it kind of punctures any momentum before the song even has any – and then it’s Blas and a lot of dry ice and an eclipse scene for the first verse and chorus. I’d forgotten how much of a beat the second verse has – it’s practically danceable. Gjon would be busting all kinds of moves to this. Instead, Blas mainly focuses on his singing, to the extent that he doesn’t find many cameras. The falsetto is iffy (maybe because he didn’t say “here we go!” this time?) and then the song is over quite quickly and… well, okay. Unlike the most recent Spanish entry, this feels like it’s fishing for jury votes rather than televotes, and maybe it’ll get them.

Even if this wasn’t in the extended group of favourites to win tomorrow, you can easily imagine it being placed between Switzerland and Spain just to give the stage hands a bit of time to deal with removing Gjon’s Escher structure and installing Blas’s mahoosive moon. Anyway, you’ve seen this performance before so you know what it’s all about. Huge credit to how they’re integrating this performance into the show fairly seamlessly (and fingers crossed it’s the only one they have to do it for).

A minor mea culpa here: I was writing this off as a top five candidate based on that weird rehearsal clip we were fed, but based on last night’s performance, I can see why the juries in particular would be very keen on this. There are still some styling and staging choices that don’t make a lot of sense to my mind, but if I can praise Lesley Roy for at least trying something different even if it failed, I can certainly praise this for doing the same but executing it successfully. There’s not a great deal of competition in this section of the market, whatever section that is exactly – strangely dressed art-pop? – and it wouldn’t surprise me to see Switzerland end up in exactly the same kind of “4th place without anyone really noticing them during the voting” territory as in Tel Aviv.

Stefania is in average voice here, but it’s not the worst idea to treat this as a bonus technical rehearsal. We saw last night that she still looks like she’s having to think quite hard about what she’s doing at every step – either that or she’s just trying not to fall off quite a narrow step, which: understandable. I’m not super convinced about his this comes across in the running order, but it has at least seen off some of its nearer competitors in terms of decade references (Poland!) and colour scheme (Croatia!), so it stands out a bit more for that. The green screen stuff remains a bit less than the sum of its parts, however.

You have seen before how look his trumpets. (Still not a euphemism.) I’m a little surprised they didn’t put this on first, since it’s an obvious party anthem but also generic as all hell, which feels ideal for that slot. I’m paying full attention to the three minutes of this for the first time and the cheesy interactions between James and the dancers in the second verse are… a choice. But there are some nice moments too – a “light up the room” shot where James gestures at the crowd behind him, for example – that shows some thought has gone into this. “What you sayin’ Rotterdam? Love you!” is how James salutes the non-existent audience. He sang pretty well for the most part here, actually, but when he occasionally veers off the tune it’s really noticeable. Still, it’s a friendly performance and… might not be completely doomed?

13:45 A Nikkie section about which social media users were deemed the most… inspiring in some way? It’s an excuse for some more clips of Instagram people, fine, we’ll pretend we care. Oh yay, and then we get a message from Valentina, the French winner of JESC 2020! And some recent winners telling us where they keep their trophies. (Not a euphemism.)

All credit to the Hurricane girls – I thought the first two minutes of their performance last night was still in semi-borderline territory, but by the time they strutted out to the satellite stage like they owned the place, I realised they were sailing through. I’m not sure what the endgame is for them here – not least since we’re already feeling a bit girlpopped-out and it’s only song 8 – but you can’t fault their entertainment value.

The Black Mamba qualified within the first ten seconds of their performance last night, let’s be honest. But how are they going to fare in a more competitive environment? My instinct is that this comes a little bit too early to really make an impact – even with all the female pop in the first quarter of the running order, you’re not quite ready for that “aww, thank heavens, this is nice” effect they had in the semi-final, and fans of “proper” music have just had their Hooverphonic dose. This could easily still be total jury fodder though, before getting a more modest public vote. Whatever happens, if the winners’ press conference last night is anything to go by, they’ll have a lot to say about it!

I love that Destiny’s postcard includes plenty of footage of her winning JESC. That’ll always be her career highlight for me, whatever happens tomorrow! In a measure of just how low-key this rehearsal is, Destiny has basically just walked in off the street – no make-up, no wigs, not even the boots. Certain sections of the fandom are very keen to tell us we’re not allowed to have opinions on how people look and dress, but what I will say is there often seems to be a direct correlation between how little fuss there is going on around Destiny and how well she comes across on camera. She’s great here, in other words. And while there’s a lot of talk about how this position in the running order might have killed her chances of victory, this does feel like it grabs your attention, especially after the more niche Russian entry.

Manizha feels like she’s a little on autopilot here, and that makes sense – as well as being a rehearsal that doesn’t actually matter, there are a few artists who clearly really fed off the energy of playing before a real-life audience for the first time in way too long (I actually thought James Newman’s words about that during last night’s show were quite sweet), and she’s one of them. She kicked ass on Tuesday, she’ll kick ass again tomorrow, and a gentle prod to the butt with the tip of her boot is enough for today.

No one ever says “oh yay, I got fourth in the final running order!”, but when the first few bars of “The Wrong Place” kick in, it feels like a real tonal shift from the poppier sounds you’ve just been served for the past ten minutes and I think it works. Maybe this’ll still be forgotten by televoters by the end of the night, but there’s a slice of the audience that wants this kind of thing – professionally delivered “real” music (I use the phrase very carefully) – and it’s not such a bad idea to give it to them early.

My argument for Israel qualifying was all about Eden’s likeability, and then she kinda forgot to smile for two and a half minutes on Tuesday night. Oops. I can only assume that was nerves, because she’s positively beaming her way through this and it lifts the song so much! I hope her nerves don’t kick in again tomorrow night and she gets to deliver this to its maximum potential. Maybe she was worried about the crowd reaction too, and now she knows they’re friendly, she’ll be more chilled. Either way, the strong start to this final continues. Or are we finally at that point of the season where I’ve persuaded myself that everything is good?

Anxhela is in good voice for this time of the morning afternoon, though I understand she never really gave a bad rehearsal this whole fortnight. For all it’s a bit harsh that Albania got “buried” in this running order slot again, it actually works well in juxtaposition to Cyprus and will probably get exactly the audience it was always going to get. The backdrop still makes it looks like she’s emitting a series of colourful farts, though.

We cut to a slightly panicked Chantal for a bit of filler after the postcard already. Good to get practice, I suppose. Anyway, once everything is in place, we get the familiar shaky first notes of “El Diablo” and we’re underway! Other than being relentlessly generic, this is not a bad opener at all, though we can expect “Bad Romance” to be trending on social media again at this point tomorrow night.

13:11 A glorious use of fake applause as the voting procedure is explained. Let’s hope that won’t be necessary tomorrow. Or ever again!

13:08 The flag parade looks like it’s going to be relatively quick and efficient then turns out not to be, thanks to a singing diversion. But hey, if this was Vienna 2015 (or Lausanne 1989) we’d still be in the first frames of the introductory video, so, small mercies. Tons of AR in use here. And Bananarama fans will be delighted to encounter “Venus” in the aforementioned singing diversion, as unexpected as that may seem. (I know it’s a Dutch song originally, but any excuse to mention Bananarama.)

Good morning everybody! Well, good afternoon really, I suppose – but it still feels like the morning after the night before, and I expect most of the performers will feel the same. That’s one of the reasons the first dress rehearsal of the grand final isn’t necessarily hugely informative – when half of the field still has a hangover (literal or metaphorical) and there’s no audience in the hall, there’s no real need to bring your ‘A’ game, and it’s important not to read too much into what we see here.

That being said, there’s still an awful lot we can find out today. While there’s not a lot more I can tell you about the individual performances – these days, even the automatic finalists’ rehearsals are available in full by now – we do have a freshly minted running order to experience for the full time. Clips are all well and good, but you need the full three minutes of each song to judge exactly where the real highs and lows of the running order will be. What clusters of songs will grab the viewers’ attention, and when do things start to drag?

The other thing to report on here is, of course, the show element: the interval acts and the voting presentation. We don’t know if we’ll get to see a full test run of the latter in this show, but we should certainly get some indication about how things are being presented and how well the hosts handle that side of things.

So, you know what I’m going to say next: Keep refreshing this liveblog and join me on a Friday afternoon journey of discovery!

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