Last year, the first semifinal was dubbed the “Semifinal of death” with the biggest heavy-hitters concentrated in that group.  This year, the big favorites are concentrated in the second semifinal.  Not that the entries in this group are weaklings as there are some treats to behold here, like…

CYPRUS:  “Replay” – Tamta.  Essentially this country decided to follow the adage, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”  After its best-ever finish last year with Eleni Foureira‘s “Fuego“, it employed the same songwriter, and hired a Greek (though Georgian-born) superstar to perform the song.  The title says it all–albeit the rhythms have a more urban feel, the implicit message that this is a “replay” of Eleni’s hit is very much apparent.  Even if it is a “Fuego” derivative, the sleek production values and sheer infectiousness are just too undeniable that it could still make a play for the Top Five, possibly equaling or perhaps even surpassing its three previous best showings prior to “Fuego.”*1

*1 It placed fifth three times, in 1982 (Anna Vissi‘s “Mono i agapi [Only love]“), 1997 (Hara & Andreas Constantinou‘s “Mana Mou [My Motherland]“), and 2004 (Lisa Andreas‘ “Stronger Every Minute“).

For the contest, I’ve noticed that it also borrowed heavily from “Fuego” and other performances, but with a twist.  From “Fuego”, she has a quartet of gyrating backup dancers, but the twist is that this time they are all male–and one of the dancers (Lamin Holmen) was part of Robin Bengtsson‘s treadmill posse two years ago.  It also borrowed a trick from Latvia’s Marie N‘s 2002 winning performance (“I Wanna“) as there is a wardrobe change mid-song.  Though fedoras could be associated with the aforementioned performance, the black fedoras in this presentation seems to be inspired by another entry–SWITZERLAND’s music video for “You Got Me”.  Since SWITZERLAND is ditching the suits and fedora for their live presentation, they decided to take it for their act, it seems.

An extra note about Tamta:  I first heard of her when she performed a cover of “Lie to Me” in a duet alongside the original artist, Mikolas Josef, at a Greek music awards show, as a medley with her own single, “Arches kalokairiou [Early summer[“.  At that time, she was styled like early-era Lady Gaga.  For her Eurovision stint she has trimmed her hair to a sleek bob and exuded a more sophisticated, cosmopolitan vibe.  Check out that performance below.

MONTENEGRO:  “Heaven” – D Mol.  This group actually has a prior Eurovision connection, as the six members of this group are part of a performing arts academy established by Danijel Alibabić, former vocalist of Montenegrin boy band No Name, which previously represented the then-combined nation of Serbia & Montenegro in 2005 with “Zauvijek moja [Forever mine]“, which placed seventh in the final and almost competed again in 2006 with “Moja ljubavi [My love]”  when it won the national final but politics got in the way as the Montenegrin jury did not award any points to the leading Serbian contenders, leading to accusations of bias by the Serbian broadcaster who happened to be conducting the contest that year and because of the controversy, they chose to withdraw from the 2006 contest.  Montenegro seceded from Serbia that year, by the way.  Anyway, the academy establised by Daniel is named D-Moll.  When this group competed in the national final, there way this contrived musical staff backdrop but perhaps that, and residual love for No Name helped propel this group to victory in its national final, much to the chagrin of the internet fandom, which instantly placed them at the bottom of their lists.  The song as it was performed in the national final was obviously a 1990s pop ballad retread.  But they promised a revamp, and the addition of some traditional Balkan instruments indeed help jazz up tis number, but still not enough for many pundits (including myself) to upgrade its chances of advancing to the final.  Based on buzz on its simple but directionless presentation, this is definitely one of the weakest links of this year’s contest.

FINLAND: “Look Away” – Darude featuring Sebastian Rejman.  Darude is probably considered the biggest marquee name in most of Europe thanks to his 1999 international smash hit “Sandstorm“.  Since Eurovision requires a song with vocals, he collaborated with singer/actor Sebastian Rejman, and the “socially relevant” number Sebastian co-wrote became the entry to represent Finland.  I like the repetitive chorus and the message, but it seems it’s not making as strong an impact as it could have.  It’s likely he’ll suffer the same fate as Swiss artist DJ Bobo, who 12 years ago was considered the biggest marquee name when he entered the contest with “Vampires are Alive” but flopped and missed advancing to the finals.

POLAND:  “Fire of Love (Pali się) – Tulia.  This group is renowned for fusing their traditional “white voice” folk sound with rock elements, starting out by covering Depeche Mode‘s 1990 hit “Enjoy the Silence“.  Besides their musical style, what is also notiable about most of their live performances is that they tend to just stand still in a line without any movement whatsoever.  But this very static style doesn’t really work in a very dynamic environment like the Eurovision stage, so these girls will jazz up their presentation with small body movements, and initially they seemed to borrow the turntable used by S!sters in the German national final as for their Eurovision performance they will be standing and spinning on that turntable, but by the second rehearsal they ditched it.  It’s one of this year’s riskier entries, and one whose prospects of making the finals are not that assured at this point–there are big fans, but there are detractors too.

SLOVENIA:  “Sebi” – Zala Kralj & Gašper Šantl.  There are a lot of fans who dig the chillout groove of this entry, and I like it too–though it reminds me a lot of Ciara‘s 2004 debut hit, “Goodies” (without the Petey Pablo rap parts or the noisy theremin overlay).  Just like POLAND, their stage style is very static and Zala doesn’t even interact with the audience and just stays fixated facing her partner (in more ways than one) Gašper.  It makes for a very introverted presentation, and could be considered one risky entry for that reason–it’s rare to see such an introverted performance onstage in this grand arena, and there are fans who love it to bits, but there might be others who would find it boring.  Most fans’ prospects are bullish towards this entry, though, and okay, it’s time to make room for introverts in this contest.

CZECH REPUBLIC:  “Friend of a Friend” – Lake Malawi.  This is a very pleasant synth-pop entry, and lead singer Albert Černý‘s affected British accent has its appeal.  But its prospects for advancing divided fans–some felt its very pleasantness is not as impactful as Mikolas Josef‘s breakthrough last year, but there are vocal supporters who simply adore this pleasantness and considering they have proven to be strong live performers, are very bullish that this will advance to the finals.  My question though is–will Albert comb his hair up or keep it down.  Yes, most of the time especially in the video and in rehearsals thus far, he keeps his hair down, and to me he resembles YouTube musical superstar Kurt Hugo Schneider but when he combs his hair up, he looks like Canadian pop musician Shawn Mendes, and I tend to prefer the latter.

Which look will Albert go for? Kurt Hugo Schneider (L) or Shawn Mendes (R)

HUNGARY: Az én apám [My father]– Joci Papai.  He is an alumni, having competed two years ago with “Origo” and making Top 10.  But this time he’s bringing a very mellow ballad and there will be no Gypsy/Romani dancer accompanying him.  Sure, his vocals and emotional delivery can transcend language barriers but it’s not as impactful as his previous entry–there is a risk that he will break Hungary’s perfect finals streak that began in 2011 but still do not count the power of name recall and quality (albeit low-impact) music.

BELARUS:  “I Like It” – ZENA.  This teenage ingenue is an undeniably strong performer and I’m glad she ditched the white early-Britney get-up she sported in her national final for a printed knit shirt with white hot pants and knee-high boots–as iconic as the Britney look is, it’s very dated as it’s actually 20 years old.  There was heavy criticism when one of the songwriters of this entry made a racist comment, but ZENA skillfully distanced herself from his stance, and by merits of the polished pop song and her charisma and live performing chops, even if it is not assure she might have a chance to advance to the finals.

SERBIA:  “Kruna [Crown]” – Nevena Božović.  She competed in both Junior Eurovision and in the main Eurovision stage previously, competing in the Junior stage 12 years ago with “Piši mi [Write to me]” and as part of girl group Moje 3 with Ljubav je svuda [Love is everywhere]” six years later, a well-regarded pop number that was ruined by the garish outfits they were forced to wear that not only earned them the Barbara Dex award that year but also shut them out of the finals at a frustrating 11th place.  So Nevena is hungry for vindication, and with this quality modern update of the classic Balkan ballad and her superb passionate vocals (for me she’s the Serbian Kelly Clarkson) she might achieve it.  There are detractors who might feel the song itself is not that impactful and would shudder how the song’s theme of unconditional surrender (it’s about surrendering her “crown” for the object of her love) is opposite to the empowerment messages that most people now seem to prefer, but I’m still bullish that this will make the cut.


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