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Rehearsals Day 7 LIVE: Second Rehearsals, Semi 2 – Croatia through Albania

Rehearsals Day 7 LIVE: Second Rehearsals, Semi 2 – Croatia through Albania

Oh, joy! It’s a half day at the press center, with 9 run throughs of the second semi and then time for some beauty sleep ahead of Euroclub’s opening night.

So how did the five countries of the morning session do today?

Croatia
It’s beautiful on screen. It really is. And he’s fantastic. And if he was in semi 1 I could have made some arguments for him qualifying. In this semi, however? Not so much. Sorry, Roko. Come back with a better song.

Malta
They have dropped the bedroom prop and now do all the projects directly on the wall. It means they need to do some work on it since they didn’t practice it as much as before, but it’s a good decision: having just the main stage backdrop behind them makes it look better on screen overall, and this is great fun.

Lithuania
Well, at least I didn’t forget to blog him now.

Russia
As expected, Russia has tightened up some shots that weren’t working before, and while they have some work to do still, the transitions in the problematic parts where shots just lasted for too long are better. It’s very dramatic but I still feel they managed to balance the usage of props and tricks well so it never feels overboard, unlike his previous attempt, and the act overall connects well the song.

Albania
I’m really mad at you, Albania. You have this ethnic track that no one else has in this semi, and this gorgeous, talented singer with such commanding presence, and you manage to do nothing with the stage to make it remotely interesting or memorable. Not that I have anything against 1991 stagings, but still. They did give up on the eagle, thankfully, and instead tried to make the stage look fuller by moving the backing singers forwards, which I like, as well as adding more dynamic shots with her. But all in all, it will be extremely hard for her in this semi.

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Five milestones in Eurovision history

The history book on the shelf is always repeating itself – but not at the Eurovision Song Contest. We take a look at five milestones in ESC history that changed the nature of the competition.

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The View from San Francisco: Another Summer Night

In the second part of her ESC 2019 review, Shi looks at the differing arcs of the returning artists, what made Duncan’s winning reprise so special – and the delegations that made things unnecessarily hard for themselves…

read more

SongHunt 2020 – The Final

It’s here! Vote now in the final round of SongHunt 2020, as our search for the most robbed song of the 2020 Eurovision season reaches its exciting conclusion!

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Rehearsals Day 6 LIVE: First Rehearsals – Israel, France, Spain, Italy, UK and Germany

Rehearsals Day 6 LIVE: First Rehearsals – Israel, France, Spain, Italy, UK and Germany

The internet is trying to murder me today, but one way or another this rolling blog and I will be here!

Israel
Also trying to murder me: our own entry. It’s actually staged quite nicely, in black and white light that very much matches the atmosphere of the videoclip, but the song is still the song and Kobi is still Kobi and I don’t think he knows how to not come across not over the top. The vocals are note perfect and he does have a special tinge. There’s some props – geometrical shapes behind him that occasionally show his black and white pictures, but in a much less cringe worthy way than video. and movement but it doesn’t feel like too much or too desperate (especially with that type of song), which I’m actually glad about – it would have been an easy route to pick considering the reaction to the song. It’s what it is and if you like that kind of thing, then this should make you happy.

And appropriately for Israel: there’s a bit of Israeli choreography as at some point the backing singers all walk forward and join him.

France
I’ll say this right away: I have no idea what to make of it. I don’t know if I like it or not. I don’t have an idea of how it will do. But I do now know that the French aren’t going for subtle this year. We start with projections on Bilal’s face before pulling out to reveal a stage with projects of quotes and words about acceptance. Bilal sports a longer blond wig so he can do a hair dance a-la Eleni Fuego, and we have a very overweight female dancer bursting into an impressive sequence of pirouettes, and an apparently deaf dancer doing a bit of a more modern take on the song. There’s a lot of nice gold decorations on the backdrop, although it does occasionally switch into Vegas casino territory, and in other times it displays giant messages like “we are kings” and “we are queens”.

It pulls you right into the discussion of whether featuring an overweight dancer and a deaf one in a song talking about acceptance means that they are not different or further labels them into that place. Some will be touched by this, some will feel uncomfortable with this – and not necessarily because they are not tolerant, just because it’s such a touchy and complicated subject that we each process and deal with differently. It is, however, going to be noticed on the night, no matter what.

THIS IS MEME

Spain
The short version: it’s all the kitchen sinks.

Long version: I don’t even know what I just watched. It starts with a complicated but still nice idea of a house where Miki’s dancers sleep with their eyes covered, and then he goes on to remove their eye covers. So far so good.

Then the rest of it happens, which includes many colorful backgrounds but with a color range of Paintbrush 20 years ago, projected icons, crazy camera angles from afar, choreography stuck into one box so you can’t even see Miki, a robot, lots of choreography that is done on such dark stage you can’t even see it. Then the colors return and it’s even worse, as they create overly ugly shapes and a kiss-cam kicks into action with the screen becoming the backdrop – and honestly, I can’t even be sure, still, that I registered all the details even after three run throughs. It’s basically the staging of Spain 2011 on steroids plus all the props and Moustache‘s color scheme.

Italy
As always, impressions are a result of expectations. Having seen Italian stagings (and also not thinking this is a winner, despite being my personal #1) I mostly wanted them to not ruin it, and they didn’t. It’s tad too dark, but it has a really nice white/blue/red scheme throughout that works well for the layered backdrops. They use segments from or similar to the videoclip with silhouettes in the right places, and the bridge towards the end is particularly powerful.

The dancers help it look less empty than it would have otherwise, although it still needs a bit more work – some shots are smart in the way they interact with the art, and in others they are just sort of in the shot, although thanks to sensible fashion choices it’s not distracted. There are a couple of shots I’d give up on – especially the burning money – and I’d make some shots brighter. I’m also not a fan of text on the backdrop but they picked only a couple of key phrases and use them sparingly. Overall, still needs work, but has concept and fits the song, so they have what to work with.

United Kingdom
I’m fairly certain this staging was taken out of Britain’s Got Talent circa 2007. It’s not bad per se, just useless. He’s alone for much of the song, first in black and white, then in color – an odd choice considering his level of charisma. The backdrop goes into galaxy mode, but looks pretty low tech and the backing singers finally join to make it look slightly more amateur, standing in a circle a-la Montenegro notwithstanding. For what it’s worth, there’s nothing there that will make viewers laugh hysterically. They mostly just won’t notice it.

Germany
Germany, how about calling Spain tonight at the hotel? I heard they have a few extra props and colors they might want to get rid of. The S!sters start at each side of the (dark) stage and walk towards one another, before ending up in the middle and singing uncomfortably close to one another. There’s a giant “SORRY” on the backdrop during the second verse (apology not accepted, Germany) and a collage of sister photos at the end that goes way too quickly to leave any impact – pretty much like the rest of this performance bar the “goes too quickly” part. I adore the girls and they sing well, but these are three long minutes.

And that completes our live blogging for the day. Apologies for the technical issues that have meant our front page has been down all day. Hopefully we’ll get the gremlins out of the system again by tomorrow and the second rehearsals of the remaining contenders in semi 2!

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Five milestones in Eurovision history

The history book on the shelf is always repeating itself – but not at the Eurovision Song Contest. We take a look at five milestones in ESC history that changed the nature of the competition.

read more

The View from San Francisco: Another Summer Night

In the second part of her ESC 2019 review, Shi looks at the differing arcs of the returning artists, what made Duncan’s winning reprise so special – and the delegations that made things unnecessarily hard for themselves…

read more

SongHunt 2020 – The Final

It’s here! Vote now in the final round of SongHunt 2020, as our search for the most robbed song of the 2020 Eurovision season reaches its exciting conclusion!

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Rehearsals Day 6 LIVE: Second Rehearsals, Semi 2 – Romania through Austria

Rehearsals Day 6 LIVE: Second Rehearsals, Semi 2 – Romania through Austria

We had four more countries rehearse for the second time before the direct finalists take the stage and as you can imagine, people are slightly excited here… So as we wait for those, here are a few more thoughts:

Romania
Much like last time, although the more I watch it the more details I pick up – I was so focused on the strangeness of the stage as a whole that I didn’t really pay enough attention to the guitar player. I can’t quite decide if having him here makes the staging looks a bit more grounded in reality or breaks the atmosphere of it. Either way, it’s still very dark – not just in colors but the mood of it and the elements that are used, and she sounded fantastic. But I feel it gets a bit lost where it is.

Denmark
This will never be my cup of tea, but it does its job well, and Leonora looks more relaxed which results in a reduced number of death stares. The colors, especially in contrast to what’s before and after it, make it stand out quite a bit, and it very much looks like it’s where it needs to be to comfortably qualify.

Sweden
If I thought that the Swedes would be pleased enough with what they had so far, I was wrong. Apparently they realized everyone aren’t trying to win enough and decided to put the pressure on in the shape of a few very strategically placed backdrops and light changes that make the entire damn thing look like it has already won. The song, in my opinion, is still very much subpar, but I always said about John that he makes the song feel way better than what it is, and that’s how the performance came across – like it’s the best things you’ve seen on the night. Dangerous one, that.

Austria
I was worried that seeing this in context – last time it was performed out of sequence – and that watching it again will dilute the magic. Thankfully, that’s not the case – it’s still beautifully intimate and very special, and is staged so well that despite being right after Sweden it draws everyone’s attention in.

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Five milestones in Eurovision history

The history book on the shelf is always repeating itself – but not at the Eurovision Song Contest. We take a look at five milestones in ESC history that changed the nature of the competition.

read more

The View from San Francisco: Another Summer Night

In the second part of her ESC 2019 review, Shi looks at the differing arcs of the returning artists, what made Duncan’s winning reprise so special – and the delegations that made things unnecessarily hard for themselves…

read more

SongHunt 2020 – The Final

It’s here! Vote now in the final round of SongHunt 2020, as our search for the most robbed song of the 2020 Eurovision season reaches its exciting conclusion!

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Rehearsals Day 6 LIVE: Second Rehearsals, Semi 2 – Armenia through Latvia

Rehearsals Day 6 LIVE: Second Rehearsals, Semi 2 – Armenia through Latvia

What can be more fun than multitasking blogging and trying to fix technical errors? Pretty much nothing. Except sitting through a stretch of rehearsals which includes Moldova.

Armenia
They have changed some of the backdrops and added some screen effects of a breaking glass, but it makes little difference: She’s a great singer and the juries should love her, but she is essentially standing in the dark, making angry faces and yelling at the audience while not being particularly easy to understand and without much of a musical hook (and this comes from someone who likes the song). Not entirely sure what they were trying to achieve with this and why they felt there’s no need to try harder.

Also: I was asked after her first runthrough whether there were backing singers and this presentation is so empty that my memory told me there wasn’t. I was wrong, and there definitely many backing vocals coming up for the last section. It actually looks weird because the stage is so empty.

Ireland
It’s nice. It’s really really nice. I also couldn’t remember what came after Armenia by the time Latvia started, which always was the problem of this. It’s cheerful and cute and happy and it makes you smile and there’s no way to remember it despite that memorable floating shot from the ceiling. Some songs are just wrong for the competition even if there’s nothing actively bad to say about them.

Moldova
It’s still sand lady. They still have no idea what the point of the gimmick is or what the song is about. Next.

Switzerland
He sounded better today and it’s still as slick as it can be, which is actually a bit overly slick, because it actually has no character despite being visually fairly pleasing. They could have at least made it more visually pleasing if they used more colors than just the red as the dominant one – it often ends up swallowing them and also feeling a bit too violent in that context. It’s also quite hard to register anything about Luca as a performer – it’s a very cookie cutter template performance. It’s strong because it looks very professional and very current, but it lacks identity.

Latvia
Much like the first runs, Latvia’s nod to the 1999 stage (hey, they didn’t get to participate so they’re making up for lost time) is very warm and intimate, and does exactly what it should be doing. Bottom line still stands: if that’s your thing, you’ll like it, if it’s not, you’ll be bored to death. It just depends on how many people are in each group.

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Five milestones in Eurovision history

The history book on the shelf is always repeating itself – but not at the Eurovision Song Contest. We take a look at five milestones in ESC history that changed the nature of the competition.

read more

The View from San Francisco: Another Summer Night

In the second part of her ESC 2019 review, Shi looks at the differing arcs of the returning artists, what made Duncan’s winning reprise so special – and the delegations that made things unnecessarily hard for themselves…

read more

SongHunt 2020 – The Final

It’s here! Vote now in the final round of SongHunt 2020, as our search for the most robbed song of the 2020 Eurovision season reaches its exciting conclusion!

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Rehearsals Day 6 LIVE: Second Rehearsals, Semi 1 – Greece and San Marino

Rehearsals Day 6 LIVE: Second Rehearsals, Semi 1 – Greece and San Marino

Good morning from the thankfully air conditioned press center in Tel Aviv! We’re at the beginning of the longest rehearsal day, with the two remaining second rehearsals of semi 1, second rehearsals of the first 9 countries in semi 2, and the first rehearsals of all the direct finalists.

This means you can expect several posts covering the second rehearsals and a running blog for the direct finalists. You can also follow us on Twitter for comments throughout the day.

Greece

Good news first: the singing sounded great, both Katerine’s vocals and the harmonies worked perfectly this time around. And on the staging front, much of the extra excessive backdrop use have been dropped in favor of more generic elements which become the full on blooming garden flower only in the last section.

The bad news: the staging is still both overly artsy and overly kitschy and feels like a mismatch to the song. It does nothing to elevate it or even help the viewers notice the strong parts of the song. The artsy part actually makes it feel very alienating as there’s something that feels very elitist and snobbish about it. All in all: love the song to death, really dislike this staging.

San Marino
Credit to whoever worked with the Sanmarinese team for making the vocals work really well without actually having to hide Serhat’s voice. It’s all colorful and cheerful and actually quite pleasant, but it’s still so horribly outdated (and Serhat still can’t sing, clever vocal arrangement or not) that I can’t see any juries picking this out of the lot.

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Five milestones in Eurovision history

The history book on the shelf is always repeating itself – but not at the Eurovision Song Contest. We take a look at five milestones in ESC history that changed the nature of the competition.

read more

The View from San Francisco: Another Summer Night

In the second part of her ESC 2019 review, Shi looks at the differing arcs of the returning artists, what made Duncan’s winning reprise so special – and the delegations that made things unnecessarily hard for themselves…

read more

SongHunt 2020 – The Final

It’s here! Vote now in the final round of SongHunt 2020, as our search for the most robbed song of the 2020 Eurovision season reaches its exciting conclusion!

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Rehearsals Day 5 LIVE: Second Rehearsals, Semi 1 – Georgia through Portugal

Rehearsals Day 5 LIVE: Second Rehearsals, Semi 1 – Georgia through Portugal

We have reached the final five songs of the day! I’m trying to not think about how long it feels because tomorrow is longer.

Anyhow:

Georgia
Still as visually, vocally and emotionally strong and before. Still an extremely difficult song to sell, but like I said in the first run through, if they fail to qualify, it won’t be for the lack of trying.

Australia
Honestly? I don’t know what to make of this. On one hand, Kate is amazing and the idea to depict zero gravity in this way is cool and it generally comes together better than it did in the first run throughs. On the other hand, it does look like a gimmick fest with little substance, which is made worse when you know this song actually has a deep meaning and an important story behind it, and while I am amazed she can sing that well while flying on a stick, she’s still unable to really express any emotion – something that is made even harder by that particular style of singing. Also, because of the staging choice, a lot of camera angles are still excluded from use, and that combination of no developing story and few camera angles makes the whole thing repetitive really quickly.

Iceland
Hatari are another one that have polished a lot of things from the first run through: the visuals connect better and flow better throughout, and there are also proper backing vocals for Klemens, so it sounds better too. It’s very uncompromising in terms of styling and staging, which I respect, but in terms of chances it does keep us all within the very subjective discussion of what potential target audience this has. It does pretty much nothing to reach out to an audience that perhaps normally wouldn’t be into this kind of thing, so it comes down to how much support this kind of song has musically – and how much of that audience will find this particular fashion type appealing and won’t find the anger that is seeping through both the singing and the red staging too alienating.

Estonia
We finally got to see a full run through, and I can’t really say that the wait was worth it. The stage looks too nondescript for too long, which I suppose was a sacrifice they had to make to include the green screen, but with how sophisticated the stage is, the effect looks more silly than impressive.

Victor, while sympathetic as always, kept going painfully off-key in the part where the effect kicks in, and while I believe he is experienced enough to sort this out, it’s obvious he’s struggling. Overall, though, Estonia still brings the lovely face and the normal song in the middle of the madness that is the second half of this semi.

Portugal
There are definitely some visible improvements in this, with a considerably larger number of close up shots and better lighting on the two guys. The rest of it, though, is still problematic, because even with adopting my first suggestion of allowing us to see more of the dance throughout so we can get used to it and follow it through, the setup is still very dark and too busy – and when new audience comes to this for the first time, there’s still too much visual overload to be able to take it all in.

That’s all for today! I will come back tomorrow for a very very long day which includes the last two countries from semi 1, a bunch of semi 2 contenders and, most excitingly of all, the first rehearsals of all the direct qualifiers!

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Five milestones in Eurovision history

The history book on the shelf is always repeating itself – but not at the Eurovision Song Contest. We take a look at five milestones in ESC history that changed the nature of the competition.

read more

The View from San Francisco: Another Summer Night

In the second part of her ESC 2019 review, Shi looks at the differing arcs of the returning artists, what made Duncan’s winning reprise so special – and the delegations that made things unnecessarily hard for themselves…

read more

SongHunt 2020 – The Final

It’s here! Vote now in the final round of SongHunt 2020, as our search for the most robbed song of the 2020 Eurovision season reaches its exciting conclusion!

read more

Rehearsals Day 5 LIVE: Second Rehearsals, Semi 1 – Czech Republic through Belgium

Rehearsals Day 5 LIVE: Second Rehearsals, Semi 1 – Czech Republic through Belgium

And I’m back for the next five songs! Much like me, the press feed had a hard time getting motivated to start again after the sunny break – those sun chairs outside are equally genius and evil – but thankfully the weather is nice so the quick jog to the arena was enough for me to catch the last run of…

Czech Republic
This was exactly as it was in the first run throughs – which basically means colorful, playful and fronted by an extremely likable and charismatic lead. Nothing new to report here.

Hungary
Keeping in line with what we expect from most second run throughs, Hungary is pretty much as it always was minus one shot that we really liked, but as I said about Cyprus: if you never knew it was there, you can’t miss it. Otherwise, Joci is as impressive as always and has the uncanny ability to transmit an insane amount of emotion without ever trying too hard or overdoing it. At this point I’m going to stick to my initial “this can reach the same result range as Origo” prediction.

Belarus

Impressively enough, it’s not even the same ugly stage from the first run through, which takes even more talent! Other than that, it’s pretty pointless despite her being pretty good, especially for that age.

Serbia
Serbia is vocally perfect, but the team and crew was still struggling to properly time the on-screen swirling snow effect in the first run through. They got it right the second time around and Elsa was back in business. Then, of course, I jinxed it and the effect didn’t work correctly at some point in the third run through – but honestly, if that’s your only concern, you’re doing just fine.

Belgium
As is usually the case for countries that were a bit behind the curve in the first run throughs, things came together a little better today. Eliot and the drummers looked a lot more at ease, which made a big difference, and the blocking of the song with sections of movements in different rhythms works well in developing a story arc. I only wish the stage colors were a little brighter and used more to highlight the different blocks.

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Five milestones in Eurovision history

The history book on the shelf is always repeating itself – but not at the Eurovision Song Contest. We take a look at five milestones in ESC history that changed the nature of the competition.

read more

The View from San Francisco: Another Summer Night

In the second part of her ESC 2019 review, Shi looks at the differing arcs of the returning artists, what made Duncan’s winning reprise so special – and the delegations that made things unnecessarily hard for themselves…

read more

SongHunt 2020 – The Final

It’s here! Vote now in the final round of SongHunt 2020, as our search for the most robbed song of the 2020 Eurovision season reaches its exciting conclusion!

read more

Rehearsals Day 5 LIVE: Second Rehearsals, Semi 1 – Cyprus through Slovenia

Rehearsals Day 5 LIVE: Second Rehearsals, Semi 1 – Cyprus through Slovenia

Good morning from a still-sleepy press center! It’s been a long day away from the press center yesterday with Memorial Day and Independence Day celebrations, but I’m back here, brave woman that I am.

We have 15 delegations rehearsing for the second time today, in 3 sessions – 5 countries each. I’ll be here after each session to tell you about all the new things we learned! We will finally get to see a complete run throughs from Cyprus and Estonia and some countries definitely need to adjust some things, so we’ll see where everyone is at the end of today. Come back at the end of each session to see what’s new and check us on Twitter for live updates!

Cyprus
Starting with one of the most anticipated rehearsals of the day, having had no audio for her first run throughs, Tamta has the misfortune of suffering both the early morning rehearsal syndrome and the “well, she’s a fairly capable singer, we don’t need to put that much effort into her backing vocal mix” effect. She has only one (hidden) backing singer who wasn’t really used in the first run through, in which Tamta was also particularly off and generally exposed. That was quickly adjusted for the second run through, with the backing vocal contributing more doubling throughout the song and a better mix preventing it from sounding too thin.

Opinions are divided on her fashion choices – I’m personally not a fan but also not too bothered, because it seems like a standard pop-performance outfit, really – but visually it looks as slick as always, even though they did change a couple of my favorite shots from the first run through (but if you didn’t see them, you won’t miss them).

Montenegro
Montenegro is pretty much exactly as it was in the first run throughs – adorable kids, good vocals, pointless staging, questionable color scheme, and cringeworthy song and at times, staging. But at least I had the added bonus of seeing this particular one in the hall as well, and apart from the stage itself being even more gorgeous in person, it also meant I got to see the kids sprint through the bridges on stage to get to their cues in time. Gotta love backstage production geekery.

Finland
By some miracle, Sebastian was actually sort-of on key for one of the run throughs, but that’s not very helpful when the rest of it doesn’t really work (not to mention the song). I spent much of the rehearsal looking at the dancer and the backdrop, essentially looking away from both credited names for the duration of the three minutes – which is not what they were going for, one would hope.

They are attempting some stage dynamics by having Sebastian run around all over the stage – he gets good mileage in, visiting the catwalk on one side and the bridge on the other – but I was having a hard time caring about him as it is, and trying to figure out where he was on screen at any given moment was too much of an effort.

They do have some nice backdrop/dancer and camerawork moments, but again: not really the point of this.

Poland
Here’s a delegation that did its homework. The veils have been upgraded to red, which actually work really nicely on screen and make a difference despite being such a small item. The camerawork for some of the problematic parts was changed to something that makes more sense and the girls are in great voice and get their cues right, making this into a spectacle different from anything else. It’s static but has a lot of character and charm thanks to the girls just being interesting as performers. And the stage for this is one of my favorites in this semi.

Slovenia
Still unable to keep my attention on this for more than a minute, even though at least they adjusted the first minute to have some more intimate effects of spotlights and close camerawork on them before going back to the galaxy backdrop. But too little ever happens in the staging of this to make this beautiful but mellow song come across as anything else than a soundtrack to a kitchen break for the viewers.

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Five milestones in Eurovision history

The history book on the shelf is always repeating itself – but not at the Eurovision Song Contest. We take a look at five milestones in ESC history that changed the nature of the competition.

read more

The View from San Francisco: Another Summer Night

In the second part of her ESC 2019 review, Shi looks at the differing arcs of the returning artists, what made Duncan’s winning reprise so special – and the delegations that made things unnecessarily hard for themselves…

read more

SongHunt 2020 – The Final

It’s here! Vote now in the final round of SongHunt 2020, as our search for the most robbed song of the 2020 Eurovision season reaches its exciting conclusion!

read more

The view from Tel Aviv: The sum and the parts

The view from Tel Aviv: The sum and the parts

One of the fun things about Eurovision in my home country is that I find myself chatting quite a bit with all the non-Eurovision fans that work at the venue who don’t know much about Eurovision but can’t help but getting swept up in the excitement of it all. So they want to know things, and being me, I talk. A lot.

When I was leaving the arena yesterday I ran into one of the security guards who was really curious to know what my badge actually was and what were we doing inside here all day. He got even more animated the more he realized how many things go into what he sees on screen. And then he asked me a very good question about the way I blog: “How do you tell if someone had a good rehearsal?”

It’s something I find myself talking about a lot, because it really encompasses so many things. There’s the initial placing of expectations in context, and that’s always about the song and on a very basic level – what’s the song’s range? What do we think is a realistic maximum result of a song assuming it has a great presentation? A so-so presentation of a great song should do better than a stunning presentation of a weak song.

And then we have all the elements that make a presentation. The performer – not just the vocals, but their ability to transmit to us, viewers, what their song is about. There is the overall sound of the entry and the other people on (or off) stage, There’s the camera work, the colors and the backdrops, and let’s not forget the props! The gimmicks! The fire and the dry ice!

Potential result aside, the main question for me is always: Is that song doing everything it possibly can do? I’d even go as far as saying this is what means the most to me; there are 41 songs, not all of them can win and it’s not just about the competition for me, it’s about the songs and at least knowing they got their fair chance of being properly featured. At the end of the day, some things will work for more people and some for fewer, but as long as it was all done right, and the result is a great performance where the sum is bigger than the parts, there’s not much else I can ask for.

And then: If there are things I think could make it better, would those changes impact its chances to do as best as it could? I’d still want everyone to do their best, but I can’t completely ignore the competition aspect and the predictions, so whether songs have done enough is also an important question. Not to mention that we’re human beings and it’s hard to separate what in our reaction comes from whatever expectation we had of it.

With that in mind, let’s look at the rehearsals of the second semi-final. And one thing is absolutely clear: this is a bloodbath in the making.

Because taste is subjective, not everyone will agree with this next paragraph, but as I said: songs first. And some songs stand very little chance to do anything, no matter what. In that corner we can find Croatia, which has done a lot to at least look impressive but is also pushing the kitsch into that gray zone of too much to be taken seriously, too little to work for how outlandish it is. Moldova is generic-ballad galore, which isn’t always necessarily an automatic non-qualification, but you really need to have zero competition in that field for that to work. Add to it a gimmick-based performance that does nothing to convey what the song is about and also hides the biggest asset of the song, Anna herself with her presence and feminine self-assurance. And then there’s Lithuania – a song I forgot to blog about earlier today, forgot to rank when I tried to figure out what to make of the damn semi and almost forgot to mention when I was writing this paragraph. I suppose that it is appropriate to have an entirely unmemorable staging for an entirely unmemorable song, but out of everyone, Lithuania is the delegation that is the furthest away from doing everything they possibly can.

Next up are the songs that did pretty much what they are supposed to do, no more and no less. It’s not necessarily groundbreaking, but it’s not terrible or wrong for the song. For that group, context matters, because it being enough really depends on what you’re aiming for and what your competition is in that field.

For example, Ireland did something that worked nicely for the song – but as the song itself never really has a peak or standout moments it’s hard to do much to correct that, even though they did manage to at least create one particularly memorable visual moment. Yet, especially that early in the running order in that semi-final, the sum of the parts doesn’t feel like enough.

On that side of the equation we also have Latvia, who did a wonderfully intimate performance that does bring a lot of warmth and charm to screen and is very right for the song, but with such understated song it’s very hard to draw the attention of viewers.

Then we have songs that have a better chance of doing things in this semi and that came with a concept they already had before. That’s always tricky in its own way because we’re familiar with it, so it feels more relevant to the song, but we’ve also seen it in a different context and on a different stage. Denmark is one like that, and while I actually liked the national final performance better, at least between the two it doesn’t make a difference. The concept is cute enough for the song, but my struggle with both versions is that I’m not sure Leonora’s personality is suited for a routine that is so overly cutesy. For me, the best performances come when they are planned to suit the performer’s strengths and weaknesses, and I do feel this one forces her into being something that isn’t entirely her. Visually it’s pleasant enough, though, and it does have a corner carved out for it, but I don’t think the song is strong enough that a better presentation would have pushed it much beyond the range of its target audience.

I was a bit confused by some of the press reaction to Sweden, as not only it was a similar affair to the Melodifestivalen performance, it wasn’t exactly outstanding there either. It does, however, do the right things: it uses John’s strengths – his vocals, the positive energy and the likability – it uses a smart and simple staging with his backing singers to highlight the gospel element of the entry and distract from how outdated it is, and visually, of course, it’s the usual slick Swedish performance that looks clean and appealing on screen, with a warm color scheme which complements John’s personality. It’s not a wowing performance, though, just a very solid and safe one as it has enough to aim at both the juries and at least a good portion of the televoters.

Right next to the already-familiar entries, we have the category of the ones we didn’t see before but that did more or less what we expected. It didn’t require much knowledge to figure out that even with a more subdued song, Russia won’t ever arrive at a Eurovision without a considerable amount of props and an elaborate staging, and this one was no different, even if we’ve got so used to their excessive use of gimmicks that the more sparse usage of them almost felt underwhelming. While they still have things that don’t quite work – mostly some angles and a few shots that are too long which breaks the flow of the performance – they are also Russia, after all, and I trust that if I could see these issues they also noticed them when reviewing the performance and will address them accordingly.

Romania adapted their videoclip to the screen. While we didn’t know for sure that this would be their direction for the performance, the choices of elements there seemed like such a deviation from the national final performance that I always felt it was a deliberate part of a concept they had in mind. It works reasonably well, except I’m not entirely sure how connected it feels to the song and whether maybe that fact,, in addition to the staging just being a little weird and spooky, will get in the way.

If Romania had its own character, Switzerland is exactly the opposite. The performance is good and the staging is very effective, cool and modern, but it’s also very generic and clinical. Take the track out and put a different uptempo song on it? It would make no difference. More than that, take Luca out and put a different singer in? It would make no difference either. It doesn’t have much identity and Luca doesn’t really get the chance to display his personality. That’s exactly what has worked several times for Sweden, though, and this entry looks exactly like a Swedish entry that finishes seventh.

We’re now heading over to the underachievers. The ones who really could do better but have chosen not to.

The Armenian delegation said in their press conference yesterday that the staging is very much inspired by the video. It’s true to a certain point – with the coloring and overall atmosphere – but they lost some of the elements that worked really well in the video, like the dancing, and it mostly relies on the fact she is a wonderful vocalist. Which, fortunately, she is. The song is interesting but feels more like a jury song rather than something that can musically appeal to viewers right away, and making it so bleak and so empty doesn’t really help noticing it. More than that, it really doesn’t do enough to show off the different parts of that song. There are so many changes and transitions in the music, but anything that happens on stage at that time is very minor and so much of the song gets lost.

Albania might have never been as high up in my expectations as Armenia, but they have an interesting song that’s pretty much in a field of its own this year, and an impressive performer with a very commanding presence. While I gather that the idea of the staging is showing Jonida off, the entire package is just so uninspired – staging modulation change aside – that the song sounds exactly like the soundtrack music I always found it to be. Something that is nice to hear in the background while doing other things, but there is nothing on the screen – her face included – that captures attention in any way. The color scheme is drab and rarely ever changes, the camera work is as basic as it gets, and because she just stands alone in front of a mic stand, there’s no movement to work with either. It ends up being very long three minutes for something that could have been a lot more noticeable if the staging made any attempt to convey either the atmosphere of the song or what it’s about.

Norway is one of those countries that arrived to Eurovision with a half-baked idea. It almost feels like they were just doing a checklist of all kind of things they wanted in their performance and then they just gave them to the production in a random order (we love random order lists at Eurovision). It almost looks like one of those X Factor performances – they walk around and sing while looking into different cameras while there are pretty things happening on the screen and on stage, but it doesn’t really connect to one another and feel like it’s all a part of the same performance.

And of course, we have the Netherlands, who apparently forgot to pay their electricity bill, making poor Duncan sit in the darkness. I keep talking to people about this one and what they were thinking and I keep hearing that very familiar “it’s a first rehearsal” line. I’m very well aware it is a first rehearsal, but even within this context, I do find being in that state on your first run a bit worrying. It does have a pretty stage, and I can understand the general idea of trying to make Duncan look a bit lost in that world of his. But when the people in charge of directing that song, a very emotional and moody contender, opt to go for the combination of not showing the singer for almost a third of the song right at the opening, then filling the rest of the song with a variety of very long shots with very very few changes in the backdrop and lightning, and only randomly getting a glimpse of Duncan here and there, I currently have a problem trusting their judgment or their ability to fix this. At least turn on the lights first!

Last, but not least, we have the group that exceeded expectations. This one varies the most in terms of their staging successes translating to actual score board success, but hard work should be rewarded.

Like I wrote yesterday, Austria is the perfect example of getting everything out of your entry. There’s nothing more I can think of I would have asked them to do, or wanted them to do. When I was discussing it with a friend yesterday, we found ourselves talking about details like adding some slight fade effects on some shots – and if you are in shape for that kind of a minor detail to be the only thing that comes to mind, you’re doing well. If we’re talking about getting all the elements right, this one does it. But of course the song in this case was always a harder sell. It has its lovers but it has enough people who hear it and don’t really get it. The performance definitely helps massively in being able to get into it and pay attention to it, but it’s a type of song that the breadth of its appeal is extremely difficult to call.

Malta managing to do a complex and busy presentation without overdoing it is still a shock to me. I was also really appreciative of how much they tried to make sure this works for Michela and her age and character. She’s a bit on the awkward side, and going for something humorous and joyful allows her to enjoy herself and be a teenager instead of trying to become whatever is that they think a current pop star looks like. The staging doesn’t only work for that song, it also so unique for it it could never work for anything else, and as such it really stands out in the line up.

North Macedonia’s starting point was slightly easier than the rest: just don’t mess it up. They didn’t. The only real misstep in this is a usage of an unnecessary gimmick but it never really distracts from the song and also disappears early enough that the viewer has enough time to absorb everything else. Tamara is a director’s dream and the camera loves every second it spends on her face, and they have structured the performance in a way in which it progresses and tells a story, with the viewers hitting the emotional peak at exactly the right time to have the impact of the entry stay with them.

And there’s Azerbaijan. I probably wouldn’t go as far as calling it a winner and sending you to place a bet on it, but the press centre reaction wasn’t just because we needed a new favorite after being disappointed by the Netherlands a few minutes earlier. It was because for once Azerbaijan managed to both go big and be entirely bonkers, but also just make it work. The robots setting up Iron Man’s heart or whatever it is they are doing at the beginning could easily be an overkill right from the get-go, but instead they just make sure to set the atmosphere to how they want you to hear the song – electric, mysterious and current. The ethnic touches Chingiz added to the song achieve two important things: they add a different sound to the track, making this essentially western pop track both look and sound different, and they also give him the opportunity to show off his personality and his emotions in a way the rest of the song can’t. His bit of ethnic singing is a sending chills down your spine sort of moment, and the staging capitalizes on that by using the biggest trick at the height of that segment. I’m all for learning lessons, and apparently their lesson from last year was that if they continue using those mainstream modern pop songs, playing it safe makes it too easy to pass it over. Why fit in when you can stand out?

I will return on Thursday, with whatever insights the second round of rehearsals will bring along. Stay tuned!

All images from eurovision.tv

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Rehearsals Day 4 LIVE: Norway, The Netherlands, North Macedonia and Azerbaijan

Rehearsals Day 4 LIVE: Norway, The Netherlands, North Macedonia and Azerbaijan

We’re back for part two of the Tuesday rehearsals before tomorrow’s day off for Memorial Day.

Norway
Norway has a collection of nice moments – they use the catwalks, make some interesting usage of spotlights and shots from above, and have some wonderful backdrops as well as being the first to actually turn the LED columns in the back to the side to reveal the back lights. But they never really manage to connect it to a coherent and complete arc so the entire thing feels very undeveloped and very empty. I was hoping that the last run with the dry ice and pyros will improve things, but it looked like adding it for the sake of having it without much purpose. The vocals were actually ok (although in some runs more than others) and they are still adorable, but it all feels really disconnected.

The last part of the song has some of the best stage visuals so far, but it actually upstages the song and Keiino instead of helping. There are a lot of things they can work with from what they’ve done, but they’re far off the mark now and have a lot of work to do.

Netherlands
In a day when both Malta and North Macedonia (which I am watching while typing this) got their staging right, there are only so many miracles that can happen. Therefore, trust the Dutch to make life as difficult for themselves as possible.

A few ideas for the Dutchies:

It’s ok to do something other than just having dark blue backdrop throughout. Also, when you use effects, can you use them at points that make sense? More importantly: seeing your singer is crucial, especially for such an emotional song. 41 seconds of dark stage before you see Duncan’s face for the first time? That’s not good. Having only a few close-ups of him throughout and a ton of long shots? Also not great, because it’s pretty much impossible to get into the song or form any emotional connection with it or Duncan.

One more thing: you have a great peak moment in the song. USE IT. It needs to be an explosion and it’s more like the sound of a coin drop.

I don’t necessarily have a problem with the concept, but it needs to be massively deconstructed for it to get anywhere near what it could and should be. In this current form it’s not a winner, not even by a long shot.

North Macedonia
The bad news first: They’re using the same gimmick as Sergey, with the mirrors and many Tamaras with her back turned to us. Also, that green dress is not the best choice of fashion.

The good news: everything else. The gimmick is not even that necessary and shows up for a short while – they might as well just drop it. Tamara sounded amazing in every run through, commanded the stage and emoted like no other. They also used long shots in a way that makes sense – when you have to see something you can only see properly from away, like, say, big faces in black and white that show up in the right moment to create an emotional impact. Well done, North Macedonia, you managed to not screw this one up.

Azerbaijan
Why would you do this to me, Azerbaijan? I don’t have the vocabulary for this. But whatever names your props and effects have, they were very cool and also very Avengers, with Chingiz going full Iron Man on us. The entire thing retained the weird but effective atmosphere from the video, even if the actual effects were pretty different. Chingiz is excellent vocally and there are some really smart tricks throughout that keep working in the next run throughs as well – I just ended up wanting to watch it again.

The ethnic bridge is the highlight of the song, with the combination of one extra cool gimmick and Chingiz pulling a stunning long note with ethnic decorations every time. Giving us goosebumps in this kind of song isn’t easy but he manages it. Overall: strong and unique in the line-up.

All photos from eurovision.tv

 

Visit our Eurovision Chat!

Join the Chat!

Visit our Eurovision Chat!

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