Prior to the live presentations, it was perceived that the first semifinal was the semifinal with heavy-hitting entries and the second semifinal is less competitive and would be a snoozer. Though based on the two shock boots in the first semifinal may make the presumption ring mostly true, this second semifinal turned out to be the one with more memorable moments.
Again we worship at the feet of Petra Mede and Måns Zelmerlöw, as they set the standard that future Eurovision hosts should follow. They both performed the opening number this time, a Broadway-styled song-and-dance number explaining the Eurovision Song Contest. It made me want to clamor, “Bring them both to Broadway!” Utterly funny, witty, and stunning. Måns later pulled off a couple more highlights, which I will discuss later when I talked about some of the standout performances in this contest.
I got eight out of ten correct plus one in my “Bubbling Under” list. The one that I didn’t get was Georgia (“Midnight Gold” by Nika Kocharov and Young Georgian Lolitaz). Many Eurovision fans would probably say that it’s inevitable that one crappy song will make the cut but didn’t we already have Poland (“The Color of Your Life” by “Weird Al” Yankovic, er, I mean Michal Szpak) for that? Prior to the rehearsals very few expected this will make the cut. But we have to hand it to them–yes, it was rated close to the bottom by many fans, but the band jazzed up their presentation as the producers gave it the “When Doves Cry” treatment (for the mirror-split-screen effects that you could see at the end of said video) that actually matches well with the song, plus added kaleidoscopic lighting and camera effects on that polarizing bridge. Would this mirror effect bode well for the automatic finalist that employed this screen effect for their presentation (Spain’s Barei’s “Say Yay!”)?
The one in my “Bubbling Under” list, Israel (“We Are Made of Stars” by Hovi Star), proved to be a worthy and welcome inclusion. Besides being well sung live and the stripped down arrangement giving the song much needed life and interest, there is also the presence of two spinning hoop acrobats that spiced up the presentation. A beautiful standout.
The closest thing to an upset shut-out was Norway (“Icebreaker” by Agnete). It’s strongly sung and performed, and the song is a quality entry (even if many listeners found the shifting tempos between the verse and chorus jarring), but the stage presentation is admittedly underwhelming and too similar to the presentation at her national final that this might be the factor that cost this a Top Ten finish. Knowing Agnete’s fragile mental disposition, I hope she’s strong enough that this outcome would not lead to a meltdown or a nervous breakdown, as she did her best and it’s definitely not her fault.
In the case of FYR Macedonia (“Dona” by Kaliopi), many fans have been dismissive of this entry anyway, but I thought based on her previous outing and surprising strong showing, Kaliopi would advance. Instead, she ended up joining previous finalists Deen and Greta Salome as prominent shut-outs who previously saw action in a Eurovision final. What probably hurt her in this outing was that Barbara Dex-worthy disaster of an outfit, and she tried to add a whistle-register note at the end of the song (not included in the original recording) but it was ragged sounding and hence, a botched presentation.
Now, let’s salute a couple of non-finalists with noteworthy presentations. There was Belarus (“Help You Fly” by IVAN) who delivered on the wolves and tasteful nudity, at least in screen projection form. The stage presentation was slick and eye-popping (I love the trio of holographic wolves), hence worthy of notice. The nudity and wolves aspect also led to a very funny gag as Petra commented after the performance that it was against EBU rules to have nudity and wolves live onstage, but then emerged Måns naked on a hoverboard carrying a plush toy wolf covering his nether regions, shrugging “Nah.”
Ireland (“Sunlight” by Nicky Byrne delivered a solid performance, but as solid as it is plus his reputation as a former member of superstar boyband Westlife it was not enough for this country to advance.
I’m glad the two remaining Baltic Boys Latvia (“Heartbeat” by Justs) and Lithuania (“I’ve Been Waiting for this Night” by Donny Montell) advanced, despite concerns about the general threadbare simplicity of their presentations, especially with the latter. I have serious quibbles about Donny’s hairstyle–curls are not really becoming, but then again, many of Justin Bieber’s latest looks are also unbecoming but many people still dig it (yes, I never found Justin Bieber sexy or appealing at any point of his career). It makes me feel sad Estonia’s Jüri Pootsmann was shut out.
The dubious honor of being the last placer in this bracket would most likely be Switzerland (“The Last of Our Kind” by Rykka), duplicating the unjust last-place finish in last year’s semifinal. It’s good she wore a tasteful simple dress, but the blue hair is unbecoming (despite her delegation sporting blue wigs in solidarity), and well, she still sounded flat in her singing that it’s not a pleasant listen even if the song is a well-crafted and well-produced pop ballad.
There are six commendable performances in this second semifinal, incluidng previously mentioned Israel. Belgium (“What’s the Pressure” by Laura Tesoro) was a perfect showstopper with a toe-tapping funky jam, that helps it rise from an also-ran during the early goings prior to the contest proper to a contender.
It’s only the second time ever that Bulgaria (“If Love Was A Crime” by Poli Genova) made the finals, but this is a well deserved finalist, even if the LED dress sported by Poli is a prime Barbara Dex candidate. I’m so glad she is finally vindicated after missing the cut with the wonderful “Na Inat” five years ago. I was wondering if the EBU would allow the processed vocal “I believe”s peppered throughout the recording–turns out they modified it a bit for the live performance by making it simply wordless synth sounds. Also interesting to note, Måns made a comment referencing this song’s title, noting that in some countries “love is still a crime”, and most people read it as throwing subtle shade on Russia’s homophobic policies.
Serbia (“Goodbye (Shelter)” by Sanja Vučić ZAA) delivered the first dramatic highlight of the night as it delved into the serious topic of domestic abuse. The presentation evoked the 2007 champion “Molitva” by Marija Šerifović but instead of the lesbian undertones it’s more about dignified feminine solidarity, and there is a male dancer symbolizing the dysfunctional lover in the song. It’s a beautiful, dramatic piece of art.
Australia (“Sound of Silence” by Dami Im) is actually simply staged, with a huge block that Dami looking resplendend in her elegant white gown as she sits on a tall block for most of thesong before descending and standing at the song’s end. The songcraft and her stellar vocals are the key appeal here, and they never disappoint.
For most viewers, the dramatic highlight of the night was Ukraine (“1944” by Jamala). The presentation was stylish and elegant, with dramatic lighting effects that provide an impressionistic depiction of a dark chapter in Crimean history (which her grandparents experienced), and her emotional mournful-yet-tuneful wailings stirred anyone with a beating heart. It’s undeniable her own personal experience infuses this performance and this indeed is a possible front-runner and yes, usurper to Russia’s presumptive status as front-runner.
Now that the semifinals are done, here is my revised forecast on who will make the Top Ten:
TOP FIVE: FRANCE, AUSTRALIA, RUSSIA, UKRAINE, ARMENIA
TOP TEN: ITALY, BULGARIA, SERBIA, SPAIN, LATVIA
BUBBLING UNDER: BELGIUM, CZECH REPUBLIC, NETHERLANDS, HUNGARY, ISRAEL, CYPRUS, CROATIA, MALTA, AUSTRIA
I’m looking forward to a spectacular show ahead this coming Sunday dawn in our shores. Besides all the finalists and the hosting of Måns and Petra (and the comedy bits), they are featuring an international A-list interval act with Justin Timberlake. I bet he’ll be promoting his latest single, “Can’t Stop The Feeling”, a funky jam that is being touted as “The Song of the Summer”. The results announcement will promise to be a nailbiter, so this promises to become one of the best Eurovision contests of all time.