As expected, the second semifinal of the Eurovision Song Contest was a very competitive affair–some otherwise worthwhile entries would miss the cut because there are stronger entries on deck. In some ways the ones that made it to the finals are those that were expected to make it–I got eight out of ten right and two of those I missed were in my bubbling under list.
Still there was a shocker in my reckoning: I regarded Iceland’s Maria Olafs as one of the possible front-runners in this year’s contest. Then, when I learned that her delegation decided to eliminate the two backup contemporary dancers that we saw in her national final and music video to make way for more backup singers, I felt that perhaps her expected Top Ten finals showing would be in jeopardy, but it will still be a finals shoo-in. And then her performance came and it turns out she has more problems–her poofy dress is distracting and most importantly her pitch turned out to be wobbly. So from potential front-runner, this turned into the biggest disappointment in this year’s contest.
Now, let’s talk about worthy performances that fell short of the final cut. Switzerland’s Melanie Rene had a wardrobe change, backup drummers and billowing wind machine to jazz up her presentation, but albeit she gave a worthy effort, it wasn’t enough for her to make the final cut.
Garnering glowing notices from many Eurovision fans I know even if the presentation was simple was Czech Republic’s Marta Jandová & Václav Noid Bárta. I hope despite not making it again, the Czech broadcaster would not be discouraged and would heed the title of the song “Hope Never Dies” and continue to participate in this contest with the hopes of finally making the finals soon.
Now let’s go to the finalists. I didn’t pay that much attention to the visual presentation of Montenegro’s Knez during rehearsals and originally believed that Switzerland would edge this out as a result. But despite the backup singers/dancers being obscured by shadows, the moody atmospheric lighting and the water imagery on the floor makes for a flashier-than-expected impact that flatteringly accompanies the quality of the song and the singing.
What can I say about Cyprus’ John Karayiannis? Even if I find the highly melodic ballad a snoozer and would’ve preferred him to perform the dance remix, no one can deny his geeky puppy-dog charm.
Speaking of puppy dogs (and sunshines and rainbows), how adorably cute are Lithuania’s Monika Linkytė & Vaidas Baumila? Everything about their performance is so bright and sunny and colorful, you can’t help but feel happy after watching them. Plus their kiss gimmick (where they pause for two seconds for a kiss after singing the line “One kiss”) was amped up further by having the backup singers (two male and two female) do same-sex kissing. Yes, love is universal, even if there are some unenlightened folks who would vehemently disagree. This entry is winning me over more and more every time I watch them.
The Baltic region will be fully represented in the finals, as Estonia in the first semifinal, the aforementioned Lithuania, and Latvia’s Aminata all made it. Being bathed in red-tinted spotlights helped make Aminata’s white dreamy confection of a ballgown become appealingly cotton-candy pink, and the visual backdrop effects helped give her simple performance that needed extra oomph. Of course, all these are solidly anchored with her on-point and on-pitch vocals.
Another region that will be fully represented in the finals is the Caucasus region. Georgia and Armenia advanced in the first semifinal, and now they are joined by Azerbaijan’s Elnur Huseynov. The presentation is highly theatrical with two contemporary dancers moving like feral wolves with a lunar eclipse as a backdrop. But unlike in his first go-round seven years ago, Elnur did not join in the theatrics and was dressed very simply–it’s a very good less-is-more approach. It is cementing its status as one of the front-runners.
I wished Norway’s Mørland and most especially Debrah Scarlett were clad in their elegant music video wardrobe, but the dreamy white outfits they sported were a lovely sight, too. I’m still not that crazy about Debrah’s unruly frizz, but it does make sense (and well, it does make for a pre-Raphaelite look). This is also another entry that secured its status as a favorite to win.
I’m definitely pleased as punch that Slovenia’s husband-and-wife duo Maraaya made the cut. The presentation is a tad simple with the exception of the dancer doing air violin movements, but there is still that chance that this cool, hip, retro-pop number will bring forth this country’s best-ever finish in the Eurovision final.
I’m also very glad Israel’s Nadav Guedj finally broke his country’s four-year drought and made it through. There are many Eurovision observers and pundits who love this entry to bits and the high energy presentation is a much-needed jolt to the mostly staid proceedings. I still hate the chorus, but now I realize it does make sense with the rest of the song. Also a fun observation–it’s amusing how meta the song gets in the end as it references the three-minute prescribed time limit that all entries must follow–“Okay, we gotta go / Three minutes / Bye-bye.” went the last lines of the song. The presentation also amusingly ends with a shot of Nadav and his backup crew in an overhead selfie.
Finally, as expected Sweden’s Måns Zelmerlöw delivered a stellar performance–yes it’s almost an exact replica of his Melodifestivalen presentation with the exception of the stick figure cartoon dressed more like Tweedledee and Tweedledum, and flying with a balloon instead of an umbrella due to potential copyright issues with a multimedia performance art piece. Still clearly a front-runner, but will it win?
With Iceland out of the running, I’ll have to make adjusted in my finals “fearful” forecast, as follows:
TOP TEN: SLOVENIA, NORWAY, SWEDEN, AUSTRALIA, GERMANY, SPAIN, GEORGIA, AZERBAIJAN, RUSSIA, ITALY
BUBBLING UNDER: ISRAEL, ESTONIA, LITHUANIA, SERBIA, BELGIUM, AUSTRIA, LATVIA, ROMANIA, ALBANIA
Though I was betting on Sweden to win its sixth Eurovision title, I’m fretful that its long-held front-runner status, over-familiarity with the presentation, and those pesky plagiarism rumors may knock it off its lofty perch. With the final running order now known and with Sweden performing in the first half and its biggest rival Italy performing last (and featured in the second half are other heavy hitters like Russia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan), it would be an interesting showdown how the final outcome would turn out to be.