The first half of the second semifinal is loaded with fare that could be classified as “Adult Contemporary”, with the exception of dance-pop offerings from two entries from the former Yugoslavia, and one attempt to bring yodeling to the 21st century.
SERBIA: “In Too Deep” – Tijana Bogićević. This is a lushly produced elegant pop song with drum-and-bass elements. It garnered a lot of positive buzz so it is one of those likely to advance in the finals. This is also the only entry from the former Yugoslavia to feature some ethnic instruments, albeit toned down in the mix to emphasize the song’s modernity. I also noticed that timber of Tijana’s voice resembles Katy Perry in her more earnest moments in songs like “Firework”
AUSTRIA: “Running on Air” – Nathan Trent. This is a well-sung mellow, acoustic-based breezy pop ditty, one that might recall John Mayer or Jason Mraz. It is likable and the cutesy charm of Nathan could help make this a finalist.
RUSSIA: “Flame is Burning” – Julia Samoylova. In recent years, Russia has been saddled with a “villain” image, that even if they field innocent lambs like the Tolmachevy Sisters and sing about world peace like Polina Gagarina, they are still vulnerably subject to derision by many Eurovision fans. This issue has spilled to jury sentiment, as exhibited by the low amount of points Sergey Lazarev received from the jury votes last year, even as it dominated the popular vote. I’m sure the Russian broadcaster spent significant amount of effort thinking about how they can win back the Eurovision fans’ sympathy. Their solution: field a disabled lady in a wheelchair to represent them–it’s horrible taste to boo at a disabled person, right?
I also have a more cynical observation about the strategy employed. This particular lady-in-a-whhelchair also happens to have performed in the disputed territory of Crimea, which is currently verboten by the laws of the host country, Ukraine. I think this was a deliberate decision to make the host country look bad and they can point out that Ukraine is not abiding by its slogan, “Celebrate Diversity”. As expected, the Ukrainian government issued a ban for this singer, so her participation in this contest is in jeopardy, and despite the efforts of the EBU to offer a compromise, it is likely Russia will withdraw this year. I think it’s also a win-win situation for Russia as if this lady couldn’t perform this year, they will field her for next year and that will further bolster more “sympathy” points in their corner. Based on latest developments, a chief EBU officer has condemned the Ukrainian government’s action and threatened to impose penalties toward’s Ukraine’s future Eurovision participation. I’m not that surprised what a big mess this has stirred up.
Now, what about the merits of this entry? Okay, it’s well sung, and the song is sweet and inoffensive, though not my cup of tea. Julia’s human interest story would resonate with the public, no doubt. However, there is something about her perma-smile that makes me feel a tad uncomfortable–it reminded me of public sentiment towards the Carpenters when Karen Carpenter was still alive*1. The difference is that in this song, Julia doesn’;t quite have Karen’s depth. Julia also answers the unneceasary question of what do you get when you fuse Karen Carpenter and Carly Simon into one person.
*1 At the time, music critics tend to dismiss the brother-and-sister duo for being so relentlessly perky and it took Karen’s tragic death for most of them to reconsider their regard and appreciate the music better. And they discovered there is gravitas in Karen’s singing that seemed to be hidden in plain sight and reveealed only when listening to them after her death.
I have a feeling the choice of song is actually a bit half-hearted as it definitely doesn’t showcase what Julia can do, especially if you saw her audition in Russia’s version of X-Factor covering Marija Šerifović’s Eurovision 2007-winning song “Molitva [Prayer]“. It makes for a convincing argument that Russia has really no plans to participate this year and will come up with a stronger song for this lady when she would be fielded in next year’s Eurovision. Whatever side you take in the Russia-vs-Ukraine argument, one would need to concede, “Well played, Russia.”
F Y R MACEDONIA: “Dance Alone” – Jana Burčeska. When this song was unveiled, I felt I was transported to a dance club in Miami circa 1980s-early 1990s. It had that echoey synth-laden sound that is termed Hi-NRG. This sound is characteristic of girl group acts of this era like Exposé, Sweet Sensation, Company B, and the Cover Girls. It makes me wonder something–were these acts huge in the former Yugoslavia in those days?
Many fans are digging this (including myself) and there is hype it could bring forth this country’s best finish in this contest thus far. Though I’m bullish, I am reserving my judgment until I hear this song performed live–from her Macedonian Idol videos it seemed she is capable of singing on-key in a variety of genres, but the echoey, glossy production of this tune made me concerned how well it would translate live. I’m rooting for this to succeed, though.
MALTA: “Endlessly” – Claudia Faniello. The singer had proven she can sing this song well live. The issue is the song is just too ordinary to make an impact.
ROMANIA: “Yodel It!” – Ilinca & Alex Florea. It looks like a welcome return for this country after its disqualification last year. It clearly stands out with its attempt to make yodeling modern. It so far polarized fans as some are extremely turned off while others loved it to bits–I’m in the latter camp. But like the duo of Paula Seling and Ovi (who were both jurors in this year’s national selection and chose this act to win) the female singer’s vocal abilities are impressive. With the wide Romanian diaspora around Europe (rivaling behind Poland), it will most likely garener high points with the popular vote. Now the question is if juries would be impressed enough with Ilinca’s abilities to also toss points to this act’s favor.
NETHERLANDS: “Lights and Shadows” – O’G3NE. This trio is composed of three sisters, the tall blode eldest sister and the brunette twins. Their main edge is their harmonies, and it is showcased in full with this song, composed by the girls’ father and boyfriend of one of the twin sisters (the jet-black-haired one). The way these three sisters sing and the way they look is obviously reminiscent of the trio Wilson Phillips–even the title of this entry evokes the title of their less-successful sophomore album back in 1992. It’s a song of decent quality, but will that be enough for this entry to advance to the finals?
HUNGARY: “Origo [Origin]” – Joci Pápai. This is an interesting fusion of folk music fused with modern production (with a rap at that), sung in a combination of Hungarian and Romany (a.k.a. Gypsy) languages. It’s not for everyone’s tastes, but an expectedly strong presentation featuring a female Romany dancer could boost this entry’s prospects for advancing to the final. Could it pull off a “Kevdesem“? It’s possible.
DENMARK: “Where I Am” – Anja Nissen. Anja is undeniably a strong singer, and this song is stronger than this country’s previous two offerings to this contest. Many fans are betting she can reverse the doldrums experienced by this country recently for failing to advance to the finals for the past two years. But even with its strong merits, advancing to the finals is not guaranteed. Sure it will get vingt-quatre points from its long-time best friend, Norway, but support from other countries is far from assured.
IRELAND: “Dying to Try” – Brendan Murray. He’s older than Isaiah, Blanche, Ilinca, and Bulgarian Bieber (Kristian Kostov), yet his voice and the treacly old-fashioned sentimentality of this song makes one think this is more suited for Junior Eurovision than in the big leagues. It is touted that this has the imprimatur of music impresario Louis Walsh, but I don’t think this will break the four-year doldrums this country is experiencing.
COMING UP: 2ND HALF of 2ND SEMIFINAL