Having the Swedish producer Christer Björkman at helm producing this year’s edition may have helped the Ukrainian broadcaster NTU step up its production values to closer the unimpeachable standard set last year, but you still get a gnawing feeling they decided to copy last year’s template. For instance for this year’s semifinal, it again open with a musical number featuring the hosts. Now you might wonder if hosts Oleksandr Skichko and Volodymyr Ostapchuk could play the flute and accordion respectively, but still it leads to a treat where four big Eurovision-winning songs (“Euphoria“, “Fairytale“, “My Number One”, and “Rise Like a Phoenix“) were given a traditional Ukrainian folk treatment and made for an entertaining intro.
Another concept copied from last year was hiring a dance group for the interval. This year, we have the Ukrainian group Apache Crew, who performed a concept piece called “Children’s Courtyard”. Unlike the topical relevant pieces performed last year, this one is a tad too abstract and most viewers wouldn’t really figure out what it’s all about except for the hopscotch motif.
Verka Serduchka was back with a continuation of her previous skit, with a funny gag that made it appear the reason she decided to join Eurovision ten years ago was because her mother was frightened at the sight of the previous year’s winner, Lordi. There is also a gag with a stalker named Karlsson but that gag is not as amusing.
I got eight out of ten right, a pretty good ratio compared to previous years. Anyway the two who made it wwere in my “Bubbling Under”list. Though most fans might think this is a big surprise, in a certain way, I’m glad Norway (JOWST featuring
Garth Brooks, er, I mean Chris Gaines, er, wait, actually I mean Aleksander Walmann) made the cut as it’s a quality modern number. I was concerned only Denmark would vote for this, but there is more support for this entry than previously expected. Also interesting is that they got permission to use vocal samples, which is usually verboten in this contest. I do like to hear vocals strictly live and thought the best solution for their dilemma was to have live backup singers create the effect. But anyway, good on them that they were permitted to use those samples and I’m not that mad that they made the cut..
Continuing to polarize fans is Croatia (Jacques Houdek). I still maintain this entry is mushy treacle but well, you have to respect Jacques unique feat alternating between pop and operatic singing. I now have the gnawing feeling that since this is the only ex-Yugoslav country to make the final, its bloc-mates will be focusing their efforts towards him, so there might be 80 points headed this entry’s way in the final, which could help propel this entry into the Top Ten.
The biggest upset is obvisouly the non-qualification of Estonia (Koit Toome & Laura). I could find no fault with their performance and presentation as it’s polished and both vocalists are on-point. I think the only issue is that perhaps the audience (and juries) may find their chemistry a tad contrived–well perhaps it’s simply the very concept just didn’t connect with the audiences despite being a good presentation.
I personally would’ve preferred FYR Macedonia (Jana Burčeska) to advance over Croatia. They were able to get the live mix right that it does approximate the acclaimed recording, but perhaps the simple coquettish presentation doesn’t connect with audiences and juries that much. Anyway, it was revewaled here that it turns out Jana is like this year’s Ira Losco as it turns out she’s in the early stages of pregnancy. Well, as a consolation for not advancing, she was part of a rare moment as her boyfriend (and presumed father of the child) decided to use this occasion to propose marriage. Jana’s sweet enough to gleefully accept.
Many people deemed the most disappointing presentation for the second semifinal came from Serbia (Tijana Bogićević). Not that it’s bad, but it’s just underwhelming, even if they try to play up the sexiness with Tijana wearing a translucent white gown and that she is accompanied by a hunky shirtless male backup dancer. Still despite the sex appeal and a solid (though not stellar) vocal performance, it all just fell a tad flat
Not expected to advance but at least deserving of some props for being different are San Marino (Valentina Monetta & Jimmie Wilson) and Lithuania (Fusedmarc). A decade ago, these types of entries (retro-disco and strident art-pop) would have a better chance of advancing, but it just goes to show the generally high standards of recent Eurovision entries. The head of the San Marinense delegation has threatened after the results that they are going to withdraw from subsequent editions of this contest. Oh I wish that wouldn’t materialize. I also notice how the San Marino juries sometimes give contrary votes, and I have a feeling the beneficiary of that jury’s douze (12) points is Lithuania.
No-one can also find fault with Switzerland (Timebelle)’s performance, and this time perhaps thanks to the Roomanian diaspora this will be spared from last place. I have a feeling just like Latvia there are a significant number of Eurovision fans upset at this exclusion.
In the case of vocal virtuosity failing to elevate weak material are Malta (Claudia Faniello) and Ireland (Brendan Murray). Brendan’s manager, Louis Walsh, threw unnecessary shade at Italy, declaring that Brendan didn’t require any gimmick while Italy had to rely on a dancing gorilla. Well, Louis, what would you call that hot-air balloon onstage? And that doesn’t address the fact that the song is simply a horrible piece of overly sentimental crap, while Italy doesn’t actually need the gorilla but it’s a great accent to punctuate the message of its song.
Two of the qualifiers help guarantee that the Eurovision final would be eclectic. This is articularly true with the folkloric entries from Hungary (Joci Pápai) and Belarus (Naviband). Both entries are sung in their native language (with Hungary also adding Romany in its entry) and both evoke their native folkoric culture. It’s also interesting that these entries evoke contrasting moods–Hungary is rather sober as it’s about a romantic breakup (due to cultural differences as it’s a love between a Gypsy and a non-Gypsy), while Belarus was a bundle of pure, unbridled, and infectious joy.
I’m happy that Israel (IMRI) qualified. It seems all those reports of wonky notes during rehearsals are now unwarranted as IMRI delivered the notes when it counts. I’m also glad he pronounced “hourglass” more properly now (think the way a British person would pronounce it), though I think with the energy, I noticed he kinda clipped the pronunciation of words like the word “pieces” towards the end of the song, as he tended to drop the final “s”. Still, it’s a minor quibble as you simply get lost in the boppy rhythm.
Romania (Ilnica & Alex Florea) provided the most colorful staging in this year’s contest, with those toy soldiers in the intro and those glittery cannons and a lot more. Add to that the effortless chemistry of this duo (this is like the younger, rougher version of Paula Seling and Ovi) and you get an unforgettable, indelible entry. Yes the yodeling and Alex Florea’s diction could be a tad jarring, but their charm would wear down most resistance.
Heavily hyped as a ossible usurper to Italy’s expected domination besides Portugal is Bulgaria (
Russian Bieber, er I mean Kristian Kostov). But though the presentation is sleek, tasteful, and monochromatic, I didn’t get the chills that, say, Portugal had generated. Still, the possible douze points it could get from the Balkans and former Soviet states may still make this a major challenger to Francesco Gabbani‘s possible victory.
For most people, the real highlight of the second semifinal is the Netherlands (OG3NE). Those awesome harmonies give goosebumps and the womanly imagery gave hints about the true theme of this song–it’s actually addressed to their mom, who is battling cancer. It made for a stirring, connected performance, and for those who know that the song is really about, it brings misty eyes with the trio’s emotional connection and intensity. Their live performance help this transcend being a knockoff of Wilson Phillips’ “Hold On”.
This semifinal also featured a preview of three of teh automatic qualifiers. France (Alma) looks poised to equal Amir‘s showing or perhaps outrank it by a notch as the Eiffel Tower imagery does evoke the romantic motif of this song.
I found it a tad chauvinistic when green room commentator Timur Mirushnychenko interiviewed Germany (Levina) and asked her about her legs. The creepiness dissipated a bit as it turns out it is about Leviná’s formidable height (she’s a tall 6-footer). Anyway, she seemed to sound a tad rough in her preview–hope her voice smooths out during the final.
We got an explanation of the giant head backdrop for Ukraine (O. Torvald)–it’s supposed to represent humanity and all the anxieties it is encountering and how they want to rescue humanity and release it from those anxieties, “through the power of rock”. Well, we’ll see about that and check if they’ll at least outrank Gaitana’s “Be My Guest” from 2012.
With the finalists all revealed, and Estonia shockingly eliminated, here is my revised Top Ten forecast:
POLAND, ARMENIA, ITALY, PORTUGAL, AZERBAIJAN, CROATIA, ROMANIA, SWEDEN, BULGARIA, FRANCE
BUBBLING UNDER: ISRAEL, NETHERLANDS, MOLDOVA, HUNGARY, DENMARK, AUSTRALIA, UNITED KINGDOM, BELGIUM
Normally I typically get around five to six correct about the finals Top Ten in recent years. Will my track record improve this time? Let’s see how it all unfolds this Saturday.