The second half of the second semifinal is a pretty eclectic mix. There are still ballads in this group, but there are a host of more uptempo numbers featured.
SAN MARINO: “Spirit of the Night” – Valentina Monetta & Jimmie Wilson. This is Valentina’s fourth go-round in this contest, and this time she is partnered with an American singer based in Germany. It’s a boppy retro-disco number, as if German songwriter/producer Ralph Siegel dusted off a song idea he had come up with back in the late 1970s or early 1980s and with the help of a couple of other collaborators polished this off for this contest. In the hierarchy of songs Valentina had performed, this is below the standards of “Crisalide (Vola)” and “Maybe” and, well, almost anything is better than “The Social Network Song (Oh Oh – Uh – Oh Oh)“. I don’t really expect it to make the cut, but it’s nice to see Valentina back. It’s one of my favorite underdogs.
CROATIA: “My Friend” – Jacques Houdek. The song makes me envision a 1980s/1990s sentimental duet between a boy band and Andrea Bocelli (I don’t think that actually happened but that’s what the sound of this song evokes) covering the Julio Iglesias / Stevie Wonder 1988 duet “My Love”. What about the spoken word intro? I found it cringeworthy, reminding me of Christian music artist Don Moen‘s songs (that tend to be blared by some religiously-inclined jeepney and taxi drivers in our shores to this day). I think juries dislike songs dripping with sentimentality like this one, but then again, the fact that the youthful boy-band parts and the Italian opera parts are performed by the same guy may be impressive enough to make some of them toss points his way. On top of that, expect the Slavic bloc to rally behind this to make it advance, even if there are better songs out there. Now I wonder–there is an overlapping section in the song’s climax where Jacques roared into a high boyband falsetto and simultaneously there is an operatic counterpoint–I doubt Jacques could do both so wonder which part he’ll do live and which part will be relegated to one of the backup singers?
NORWAY: “Grab the Moment” – JOWST. This is a hip, modern, electronic song with terrific vocals from Alexander Walmann, who deftly handled the intricate verses and kept perfect pitch. I have to note that I doubt the EBU now allows pre-recorded vocals so I wonder which option will JOWST do with the vocal samples prominent in this song–muffle them into wordless effects (like what was done with Poli Genova‘s performance of “If Love Was A Crime“ during the contest), or have backup singers simulate the vocal samples, a la Pentatonix‘s cover of Kiiara’s “Gold”? Another thing I also observe is that as awesome a vocalist Alexander Walmann is, there is a disconnect between the way he looks and his singing. Close your eyes as he sings and you tend to envision a cute, slender, clean-shaven, youthful guy, but this guy is burly, scruffy, and a tad mature–the cowboy hat he sported in the national final did not help matters as he ended up looking like American country legend Garth Brooks (perhaps Garth could reinvent his much derided Chris Gaines persona*2 and cover this song). Someone should hire a stylist for Alexander, stat! Otherwise I’m rooting for this song to succeed, but I have a feeling it doesn’t really have much support except for Denmark (which would likely give it vingt-quatre points). I hope the juries can help buttress this entry’s chances and reward its quality.
*2 In 1999, Garth attempted to perform rock-oriented non-country songs under the Chris Gaines persona, with the intentions of this persona being featured in a film. Needless to say, it fared disappointingly.
SWITZERLAND: “Apollo” – Timebelle. This country have tough luck in Eurovision for the past two years, faring last in the semifinal on both occasions–unfairly so in the first instance in my opinion*3. Can this band break that streak? The problem is that this country is not aligned to any bloc, and support from the likes of neighbors Austria, Germany, and France (the latter two being automatic finalists entitled to vote in this round) is not consistent over the years. Still, this entry has its virtues with solid songcraft and consistently strong vocal chops from its lead singer, Miruna Mănescu. Besides hoping for some jury love and support from its neighbors, another possible aid to bolster this entry’s chances is the fact that 2/3 of the band members are of Romanian origin, so expect vingt-quatre points from Romania (since Moldova is in the first semifinal, not in this bracket) and perhaps some televotes from the Romanian diaspora.
*3 I’m still extremely upset at the shocking last place finish of Melanie Rene‘s “Time to Shine” back in 2015–the song and the performance doesn’t deserve that showing.
BELARUS: “Story of My Life” – Naviband. For this contest, this band opts to use the English language version of its original title “Historyja majho žyccia” , even if the song remains to be performed in Belarusian. There are fans who dig the earnest sunniness of this acoustic folk number, and considering that Hungary’s Boggie succeeded with a similar style (albeit a tad more somber) two years ago, prospects are bullish for this entry to advance. This entry has its undeniable charms, so it is definitely highly conceivable.
BULGARIA: “Beautiful Mess” –
Bulgarian Bieber Kristian Kostov. He’s the youngest entry in this year’s contest at a mere 17 years old, and he has the appeal and the vocal timbre that is similar to Canadian superstar Justin Bieber. He evokes Justin’s middle stage from his Believe era from 2012-2014 (prior to his acclaimed output with his 2015 Purpose album), a stage that can also be described as Justin’s “douchebag” years, what with his various misdeeds in that period. Fortunately, Kristian seems to be well-behaved so I hope he avoids going into the same trajectory as Bieber. It is noted that this guy is actually also half-Russian, so if the Russian withdrawal materializes, it is possible that the votes that could’ve gone to Russia would be channeled to this entry instead, bolstering its chances for a possible win and outranking Poli Genova‘s breakthrough last year. There was hype that they will be presenting a story onstage in Kiev, so I wonder how that will go.
LITHUANIA: “Rain of Revolution” – Fusedmarc. The lead singer reminds me of Valentina Monetta if she went punk and edgy. Many people panned the song and poked fun at the excessive use of “Yeah yeah”s throughout this entry. They are reportedly going to substitute some of the “Yeah yeah”s to “Your rain”. I don’t see how that substitution would help improve this entry’s chances.
ESTONIA: “Verona” – Koit Toome & Laura. Koit competed in this contest 19 years ago, placing 12th, while Laura saw action under the girl group Suntribe 12 years ago. Now they band together to performed this “star-crossed” duet influenced from the famous Shakespearean play Romeo & Juliet. The song has a glossy, polished sheen that makes me recall the UK quintet Steps.
ISRAEL: “I Feel Alive” – IMRI. This qualifies as a guilty pleasure in my book as this dance jam have glaringly illogical lyrics like “Breaking me to pieces… / Every piece comes from you”, and his occasionally wonky diction (like the way he pronounces the word “hourglass” as “hour-gluhss”). But the groove is too irresistible that it’s totally embedded in my head. Its catchiness reminds me of a similarly mindless dance smash, Enrique Iglesia’s “I Like It”, which was used as the theme song for the MTV reality series Jersey Shore. Hopefully, a presentation a la Nadav Guedj’s “Golden Boy” in 2015 would help ensure its advancement.
This heat is a bit tough to call as you wonder if quality will prevail or if the advancers would be based on voting blocs. I have a feeling the latter will prevail so to advance are:
SERBIA, RUSSIA, FYR MACEDONIA, ROMANIA, HUNGARY, DENMARK, BELARUS BULGARIA, ESTONIA, ISRAEL
BUBBLING UNDER: AUSTRIA, NETHERLANDS, CROATIA, NORWAY, SWITZERLAND
COMING UP: AUTOMATIC FINALISTS