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The View from San Francisco: The words are spilling out, what the heck is this about?

by | May 9, 2023 | Eurovision, Featured

The View from San Francisco: The words are spilling out, what the heck is this about?

by | May 9, 2023 | Eurovision, Featured | 2 comments

Congratulations, I have arrived! It’s been a while, and for no real reason, except one: I wasn’t in the mood for it. After 35 years (excuse me, I need to go hide in a dark corner and cry for a bit) of following the contest, I suppose that type of year was overdue. I didn’t step away entirely, though. I checked songs from various national finals throughout the season but wasn’t motivated to discuss them or watch almost any of the live shows even when there were songs I liked in the lineup. Just tell me who won and be done with it, please.

I think that for any of us who have been following long enough, the idea of feeling a little oversaturated probably isn’t surprising, even if it’s not something we’ve experienced ourselves. For me, when I found myself at that point, I decided that it’s ok. If something that we do for fun feels like a chore, there is really no point in forcing ourselves to get into it just because it’s something we’ve always done. Sometimes we need to take a step back, sometimes we need a break. Sometimes we just change.

Eurovision has changed, too. This year it finally reached a position of enough popularity and relevance for the EBU to significantly reduce the involvement of the fan press and limit the rehearsal content that is released during the first week of rehearsals. If in previous years this would have inevitably drawn me right back into it, this year I already knew it wasn’t going to be an option.

When I first started writing my View from San Francisco post series a few years ago I had a concept in mind: what can I learn from rehearsal content without access to full performances? What can I take away from the clips and photos? Do I really need to watch every second of the rehearsals to get a sufficient general idea ahead of time? I didn’t think so then. I still don’t. Guess what? This year has given me a chance to revisit that theory.

I really leaned into it this year: I’ve heard all songs, but rarely more than once or twice. I watched some of the available national final performances when they happened, but not since then. I didn’t follow the pre-parties, I didn’t have many online conversations analyzing the chances of different songs for days. I even committed the cardinal sin of not checking the betting odds even once this year. If I had any sort of an official fan membership card, it would be taken from me right about now.

You won’t believe what happened next.

I’m kidding, I’m sure you would: I watched the short rehearsal clips, I looked at photos, and I wrote plenty of words, because I’m still me. But I’m also not a monster, and I’m not going to inflict all of them on you at once, so instead this post – part song and rehearsal reviews, part my brain being a scary place to be inside of – became a preview of sorts to the first semi-final, direct finalists included. Which, for full disclosure, I wrote after the semi’s dress rehearsals, but that’s ok: I didn’t follow any of that, either. If you’re looking for a well-informed preview, this probably isn’t it.

If you’re not, though, you’re in luck! I’ve got just the thing for you.

Norway:

One of my perpetual pet peeves when talking to non-fans is treating “Eurovision” as a musical genre. It’s not. When it comes to the whole package? That’s a different story. If you let me watch Alessandra Mele’s Queen of Kings but gave me absolutely no context, I’d still think it’s one of the most Eurovision things to have ever Eurovisioned.

It’s the perfect opener for this year’s contest. It’s so unapologetically Eurovision I can practically imagine whoever was responsible for the line-up order saying that, with all the changes the competition has seen over the last years, it’s probably a good idea to remind the viewers that this is still the Eurovision they know and love.

Alessandra rehearsing Queen of Kings for Norway at the First Rehearsal of the First Semi-Final at Liverpool Arena

If I were sorry, It would be a different story
(Sarah Louise Bennett / EBU)

Alessandra loves every second of it, and frankly, so do I. A catchy song, good vocals, backing dancers, hand choreography and glow sticks. What’s not to like?

Malta:

I can’t tell you with a high degree of certainty that I have managed to listen to the full three minutes of this, but I do know that every time I heard a part of it or saw a clip I was surprised to realize – again – that this isn’t the Latvian entry.

Malta's The Busker in rehearsal

All the signs are there, let’s go organic
(Corinne Cumming / EBU)

Serbia:

It’s clear that the people behind this entry watched Konstrakta’s surprising success last year and learned the right lesson from it: when in doubt, go for three minutes of “What did I just see?”. In a year when juries no longer vote in the semi-finals, this conclusion might not be as off the mark as it would be in any previous year.

Latvia:

I am sure I heard Latvia’s entry before. Can I recall anything about it? Not really. Even after watching the rehearsal clip. I remember lamps. So beautiful.

Beautiful? Is it a beautiful song?

I have no idea. I can’t remember.

Portugal:

I actually watched that final! Which doesn’t really say much about my level of excitement about the Portuguese songs. It was more that I was running out of national finals to not watch with the excuse of “never mind, there are some more national finals next weekend”.

In true Festival da Canção fashion, it’s a song and performance that made complete sense as winners there, but that exist in their own bubble of an alternate universe when the year is not 2023.

Mimicat still graces us all with her delightful presence, and in an unprecedented act of bravery, the artistic director of the delegation has ditched the sofa, avoided the temptation of replacing it with an even worse prop and – get that, you might need to sit down for this one – picked a monochromatic color scheme. Not exactly groundbreaking but extremely effective.

Also effective: performing between Latvia and Ireland.

Ireland:

You know what would’ve been really nice? If I could actually choose which entries my brain will refuse to remember every year. I’d be totally fine with not remembering this one.

You would have thought that having “Together We Are One” failing so spectacularly would deter future artists from sending similar song titles, but no. Instead, they decided to think like rational human beings and deduced that that unfortunate case of a 2006 song is not a bad omen in any way, shape or form.

Ireland rehearsals

Il pleut de l’or
(Sarah Louise Bennett / EBU)

Unfortunately for Ireland, they can’t even compete for the questionable achievement of improving on Israel’s 23rd place and 4 points in the final, because that would require making it to the final. Spoiler alert: It’s not going to happen.

Croatia:

I tried to find some words for this one. I did. Yet, the only thing my brain manages to come up with is thinking about that time, a few weeks back, when an Israeli Eurovision fan friend of mine visited me in San Francisco and we ran into someone who must be a former member of Let3, because I really have no better explanation for his fashion choices. Not even “it’s San Francisco”, which is a generally acceptable answer for pretty much any question one might ask within the city limits.

It exists. Televote exists. Make of that what you will; I’m staying out of this one.

Switzerland:

The Swiss delegation has stuck to its recent trend of sending male soloists – after all, they qualified three times in three years. If it’s not broken, don’t fix it, right?

For this fourth entry, it seems the Swiss decided to use all three for inspiration. It’s almost like they went down the list in reverse chronological order to make a wishlist and forgot to stop on time: “An emotional male ballad? Check. A recognizable voice color? Yes, absolutely. A haunting orchestration with a cinematic feel? We’re all over that. Luca Hänni’s choreography? Got it.”

Switzerland rehearsals

Every way that I can, I’ll cry, I’ll die
(Sarah Louise Bennett / EBU)

Israel:

Over the years we’ve heard stories about delegations that really don’t want to win. I usually tend to scoff at that. It might be the sports fan in me, because I can’t fathom going into a competition – any competition – with a conscious intention to not win.

But then I thought about Israel this year, and I couldn’t see a scenario in which the broadcasting powers that be want to win. Israel hosted Eurovision only 4 years ago, and I’m fairly certain everyone involved is fine with not doing that again for another decade or two – and that is even without mentioning the uncertainty about the future of Israel’s national broadcaster.

Then, they chose Noa Kirel as a representative – not exactly the action of a delegation that would really prefer not winning, is it? So when Unicorn was released, I had no choice but concluding that Doron Medalie is a genius: he managed to (co-)write a song that was strong enough to allow Noa to come across like the superstar that she is for the purposes of international exposure, but also complicated enough to not pose a real threat.

There is only one problem: Noa and her team clearly didn’t get the memo, and they staged hell out of this entry, to the point of it somehow still being in the mix. Oops.

Moldova:

No Eurovision is ever truly complete without an old-school ethno entry courtesy of literally almost any country Eastern of Italy, and having Moldova delivering one of those isn’t really a surprise.

What the return of Pasha Parfeni lacks in cleverness and the simple sophistication of his 2012 entry, it more than makes up for in three minutes of “what did I just see”. When in doubt, remember?

Moldova rehearsals

The blood moon is rising
(Chloe Hashemi / EBU)

Sweden:

Is there any better trolling job this season than the people who saw the complete and utter fan panic of Loreen’s Snowflakegate and Saade’s Glassnotbreakinggate, and still decided it was a good idea to let Loreen return to Eurovision adorning sharp objects instead of normal gel nail polish like everyone else, just so she can perform inside a giant sandwich press machine? I don’t think so.

The song is alright, I suppose. It’s about as original as Euphoria but less catchy, which incidentally also makes it less annoying. I’m not entirely sure why we need a Eurovision winner to compete again with the same song and performance, but I also didn’t understand why we needed Euphoria to exist, so I’m quite possibly not the right target audience for this. You do you, Loreen. I can respect that.

Azerbaijan:

Me: Azerbaijan, could you pretty please send – for once – an entry that is entirely made in Azerbaijan?

Also me: No, not like that!

You know what they say about good intentions. The road to harmless and forgettable Eurovision entries is paved with them. Just ask Ireland.

Czechia:

Tonight, Vesna will have the historic honor of tying the Czech record for consecutive qualifications to the Eurovision final. That record is just two, but you have to start somewhere. The next step might be an actual national final, which is very decidedly not whatever that thing they did this year which they called a national final.

Czechia rehearsals

Dancing with my dolls on the motha-bucka beat
(Sarah Louise Bennett / EBU)

It is, however, pretty cool seeing them not sticking to any particular formula, especially when the end result is a wonderful song with a captivating performance that should really stand out in this lineup. Who could have guessed that a predominantly pastel pink staging could work so well?

Netherlands:

If you showed me the muted footage of the Dutch rehearsal, I would have guessed it was a Danish entry. But a song that starts with “I don’t find joy?” Denmark would never.

You know what, Netherlands? It’s ok, I get it. I don’t find joy in watching this, either. Where’s Marie Kondo when you need her?

Finland:

Cha Cha Cha is probably the most fun entry in this year’s “what did I just see” category. Nothing about it makes sense – not the marriage of musical styles, not the song structure, and most definitely not that styling which is not meant for the faint of heart and eyesight.

Finland rehearsals

Lock me in, lock me out
lock me sideways
(Sarah Louise Bennett / EBU)

But you know what it does do, Marie? It sparks joy. It sparks so much joy.

Somewhere between the madness of Finland and the results of the first semi we will also get to see the a bit more of half of the direct finalists.

France:

What I really appreciate about the song and the presentation is how subtly French it is. It is really just about the little touches here and there, enough to get the viewers a gentle, general idea of feelings that invoke a sense of Frenchness, but nothing too obvious that basically stands in front of you and screams at you (in French), “Look at me! I’m French!”

It’s so subtle I really almost couldn’t tell.

France rehearsals

Allez! Ola! Olé!
(Sarah Louise Bennett / EBU)

Germany:

I spent about ten minutes just looking at the rehearsal photos and the only thing I can tell is that this is what happens when the lovechild of Lordi and DJ Bobo gets drunk and raids Dana International’s closet.

Italy:

Did… they just borrow Marco’s 2013 staging, change the color from blue to gray and replace his stylist?

And with that, I will leave you to count down the minutes until the show. Maybe by the end of it I will finally remember how the Latvian song goes. Find out in my semi post-mortem tomorrow!

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2 Comments

  1. Lederhosen (Thomas)

    Spot on! Thanks for continuing the “View from SF” series, always a welcome read!

  2. Yamo

    LOLed at Azerbaijan, Netherlands and Germany. Great stuff.

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