It’s always a bit odd for me to reflect on a live broadcast when it’s still very much the same day for me and I didn’t even get to sleep on it, but with the curse of the timezones, by the time I wake up it will already be “thinking about semi 2 o’clock”. Therefore, a collection of some slightly undercooked thoughts it is. Great marketing strategy, I know – but as I think it’s somewhat fair to say that the Italian production as a whole so far is also a bit undercooked, at least I’m in a good company, or not alone in my misery. I suppose it depends if I’m in a “glass half full” mood or not.
Production values aside – and I definitely need more time to think about that (and see what else is in store for us) – there are definitely other things I can talk about (because who am I kidding: I can always talk about something if I decide to).
We bid 7 entries farewell in the first semi final, and if you read any of my previous posts you know I’m not really sorry to see some of them go, but the other three definitely gave me some things to think about, which are as relevant to them not qualifying as much as they are to the songs that did.
Croatia – lyrics aside – fell into a familiar Eurovision staging trap of doing things basically just because they felt like they needed to do something. So, they had dancers, some choreography and a special dress. But what they didn’t have is any idea why they were doing any of it, and without that, it can be very hard to convince people that they need to pay attention to the performance, and not go to the kitchen halfway through it to grab food from the oven because they totally forgot the song was still on despite wearing Bluetooth headphones. Not that I know of any specific San Francisco woman who happened to have done so, of course.
If I ever counted the various words that I use to describe performances with – and I won’t, because that’s just crazy talk, but let’s pretend – I’m sure one of the more popular words would be “relatable”, and for a good reason. The ability to relate to the performer and the performance is exactly the difference between caring about it enough to watch it all the way through, even when the song isn’t really for you, and completely losing interest 20 seconds in. There are many ways to make viewers to care about you, but there are just as many ways to make viewers not take notice or even actively dislike you. If Croatia fell into the former category, Albania fell into the latter.
There are a lot of things that can be forgiven when joined by some redeeming qualities, but Albania – who had the ingredients to make something good out of what they had – ended up missing the mark on so many things. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with having a routine that is relatively unoriginal – sometimes all you need for an uptempo number is a choreography that works, and there’s no need to win creativity awards – this suffered from another common Eurovision staging trap of not knowing when to stop. In this case, the amount of clichés and throwbacks in the choreography basically stopped when they hit their 180 seconds.
On top of that, it attempted to be sexy and fierce, but once again overshot the target, veering into vulgar and trying way too hard territory. That rarely provides a pleasant viewing experience. There are definitely artists who can absolutely own the hell out of any over-the-top routine that you will throw at them, but Ronela – who spent her rehearsal week being anxious and upset – isn’t one of them. Instead she looked exactly like she felt: angry and uncomfortable. And when you look like you don’t even want to be there, the viewers will believe you. Thank u, next.
Then, of course, there is Austria, which failed in a different category of Eurovision song and staging: the good old electronic music track and a DJ on stage. It’s so hard to get it right – unless you’re Norway and manage to camouflage the DJ booth with yellow dancing wolves, bananas with a catchy tune and a catchy choreography to match.
I was so afraid of something horribly tacky – Albania says hello – that I was relieved to have a fairly simple staging for Austria. However, beyond the fact that obviously very little was actually happening on screen for three minutes, it was former Olympic figure skater Johnny Weir – serving as a commentator for the USA broadcast on NBC’s streaming platform – who said something almost as an afterthought that really made me pause and think. Allow me to paraphrase it a bit, but he basically said, sounding perplexed, that LUM!X and Pia Maria stood inside their circle and separated themselves from the audience. Not only did they not have a narrative to carry the performance, they put a literal barrier between themselves and the audience – both at the venue and at home.
They were not the only ones hiding behind such a barrier, it should be said, but it definitely worked better for Armenia than it did for them. The irony of this, of course, is that Armenia didn’t even need it and instead just overcomplicated something that could have been much simpler and more environmentally friendly. Because you know what no one needs? The stage prop version of the 2000s dress change.
I’ve never been a fan of stagings that completely ignore the stage and instead just use any sort of structure the delegation brought from home to begin with, but it’s one thing to at least just do it for the TV audience, and a completely different thing when you spend the majority of your time on stage hidden even from the people in the audience, especially when the big reveal wasn’t amazingly revealing. Of course, when you have a good song and performer there’s really only so much you could do to destroy it, and that staging wasn’t bad to that extreme – it was just entirely unnecessary, as demonstrated by what is possibly a record number of very simply staged semi-final qualifiers.
Lithuania, Switzerland, Netherlands, Portugal, and Iceland all just stood there and – get that – sang. Each one brought something else into the mix – a voice, a harmony, a sense of nostalgia or something loved and familiar from the past, a smile, a sparkling personality, fragility, some tears, of sadness, of joy, even a bit of disbelief.
It was hard to predict that all five would make it through, because it’s a lot of mellow songs for one semi-final, but for all the technology, gimmicks and and grand productions in the world, there’s perhaps nothing greater than the entire range of human emotion on display.
Even Greece, with its Boulevard of Broken Chairs, managed to not lose sight of that and had the chairs, the lights, and the videos behind Amanda and on the floor serve their purpose: be the backdrop to her story, and what a mesmerizing story that was.
Connecting to the audience in the hall and at home through emotions isn’t reserved just for the small, introspective songs, though. Ukraine, of course, never planned for their song to be viewed through the prism of what their country is now going through, but you know what they say about plans. The reality being what it is grounded the entry within a deep emotional context that added a whole new layer to the song.
And Moldova? Moldova, to the shock and amazement of everyone, myself included, actually ended up being the best possible example of how sometimes very little can go very far. Out of all delegations – perhaps even in the entire line up of this year’s Eurovision and not just the semi-final – it’s quite clear that very little budget, if any at all, went into this. Every year it becomes less and less common to see delegations leave major pieces of their staging to the production team of the host broadcaster, but this performance was definitely one of those: default LED backgrounds, default camerawork (and you can bet on the performance using one of the tricks the stage has to offer exactly because they have so few options to show those tricks off).
Between the questionable sense of styling and the few musical instruments they brought on stage, there was really nothing to write home about when it came to the visuals of this entry. But – and forgive me for one last cliché as I wrap up today’s post – there are some things money can’t buy. So for three of the most visually distracting minutes of the evening, this group of middle-aged men and consummate professionals gave us simple, unadulterated joy.