The 2017 Eurovision That Almost Was: Semifinal Two

Looking back on what might have been at the second Semi and comparing it to what actually happened, it’s hard to say that things didn’t ultimately work out of the best for almost all parties involved. We include Russia’s absence in that assessment.

Serbia: Internal selection. Not applicable.

Russia: Yuliya Samoylova – “Flame Is Burning

A lot of ink has been spilled discussing the ultimate fate of Russia at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest, so we’re not going to rehash it again. All we will say is we are not terribly cut up by the absence of “Flame Is Burning.” It’s the type of give-peace-a-chance song the Russian delegation defaults to when they make their mind up last minute. (See also: every song they’ve sent since 2013 that wasn’t sung by Sergey Lazarev.)

Austria: Internal selection. Not applicable.

Macedonia: Internal selection. Not applicable.

Malta: Janice Mangion – “Kewkba”

Malta came this close to doing something interesting at Eurovision this year. Janice Mangion finished second place with 4,544 votes, just 452 votes behind winner Claudia Faniello. “Kewkba” is a Disney-princess ballad and only marginally better than “Breathlessly” as a song, but it was sung in Maltese. In a year where Belarussian made its debut and a song sung in Portuguese won, that would have added to the allure of this year’s Song Contest.

Romania: MIHAI – “I Won’t Surrender

MIHAI delivered a 4th place Eurovision finish to Romania back in 2006 with “Tornerò” and has tried to make a return trip a few times since. Unfortunately, his meandering ballad was no match for the eventual winner. “Yodel It!” garnered nearly twice as many televotes as “I Won’t Surrender.”

Netherlands: Internal selection. Not applicable.

Hungary: Zävodi + Olivér Berkes – “#háttérzaj

As usual, Hungary did not reveal the final results of A Dal beyond the winner, but Zävodi and Olivér Berkes finished second in the jury vote. “#háttérzaj” is one of those forgettable blue-eyed soul numbers you hear at European jazz festivals and Eurovision national finals. Their performance was punctuated with a flaming piano, which at this point is stale. “#háttérzaj” lacked the gravitas that “Origo” brought to this year’s competition.

Denmark: Ida Una – “One”

Daenerys Targaryen hugs a light-up globe and sings about world peace. It’s a new look for her. A quick glance at the newspapers confirms that “One” did not save the world. One day a pop ballad may achieve that goal, but it seems that 2017 is just not our year. In the Dansk MGP super final, Ida managed only 26% of the televote; Anja Nissen won with 64%.

Ireland: Internal selection. Not applicable.

San Marino: Internal selection. Not applicable.

Croatia: Internal selection. Not applicable.

Norway: Ammunition – “Wrecking Crew”

Have you ever been to one of those 18-band heavy metal touring festivals, like OzzFest, and there is that one pop metal band that had a minor hit in 1988 kicking off their show at 11am on one of the side stages and you can’t help but feel a little sad because they are so far past their prime and also can’t hide how much they’ve let themselves go? Ammunition brought all of that to Norway’s MGP this year.

Switzerland: Nadya – “The Fire in the Sky

We knew Switzerland’s chances at Eurovision would be slim no matter who won, but we were team Nadya all the way this year. “The Fire in the Sky” bears an uncomfortable resemblance to “Rise Like a Phoenix,” but it was given a lift by a strong singer with an operatic background.

Belarus: Nuteki – “Take My Heart

Nuteki are staples at Belarus’ national finals, four attempts in and still trying. This year’s high concept staging–which featured lead singer Mikhail Nokarashvili in a prison cell surrounded by strobe lights and dry ice–made for a cluttered performance that was difficult on the eyes.

Bulgaria: Internal selection. Not applicable.

Lithuania: Aistė Pilvelytė – “I’m Like a Wolf

Casual Eurovision watchers probably watched Semifinal Two and wondered how a song like “Rain of Revolution” ended up representing Lithuania. Diehard Eurovision watchers knew that Lithuania wasn’t exactly flush with good options. Aistė Pilvelytė received only about 1,000 fewer televotes than Fusedmarc, but she fared poorly with the juries. Still, don’t worry about Aistė. She sang, “I keep my tears inside my soul” while reaching down for her crotch, so we think she’s got things in perspective.

Estonia: Kerli – “Spirit Animal

We are fans of Kerli. Her album Love Is Dead is terrific and “Army of Love” is a fab slice of electronic pop. Sadly, “Spirit Animal” was not a good choice when she finally tried for Eurovision. Kerli never completely delivered at Eesti Laul, and the dying giraffe noise puncturing the chorus was actively annoying. Strong jury support, perhaps a function of her celebrity, got her to the super final. The Estonian public had a different favorite. In the end, Kerli got only 30% of the super final televote, compared to Laura and Koit’s 55%.

Israel: Diana Golbi – Song internally selected.

In HaKokhav HaBa, the Israeli version of Rising Star that selected Israel’s Eurovision representative, voters selected the artist only. The Israeli delegation selected the song later. Second place finisher Diana Golbi was a former winner of Kokhav Nolad, the Israeli version of Pop Idol. The clip of “Purple Rain” we link to here highlights Diana’s smokey voice and steely stage presence. With the right song she could have done fine. In the end, Israel’s mobile phone voters decided to keep the Golden Boy era going one more year.

France: Internal Selection. Not applicable.

Germany: Levina – “Wildfire

Germany’s complex national final ultimately saw Levina competing against herself in the super final. The choice between “Perfect Life” and “Wildfire” was like a choice between raw carrots and cooked carrots, and Germany decided to eat their carrots raw. “Perfect Life” won with over 68% of the televote.

Ukraine: Tayanna – “I Love You

If we have learned anything about Eurovision over the years, it is that Ukraine will always refuse to be represented by songs called “I Love You.” Vasyl Lazarovich was meant to represent Ukraine in 2010 with “I Love You,” but after complaints that Ukraine internally selected Lazarovich, broadcaster NTU had a do-over national final in which “I Love You” finished 7th. Tayanna’s “I Love You” fared a bit better: it won the jury vote, but it only finished third in the televote. Tayanna was tied on points with O.Torvald, but the tiebreak went to the song that did better with the public. We’d like to think that if “I Love You” had won, Ukraine would have kept the giant head.

The 2017 Eurovision That Almost Was: Semifinal One

When our post-Eurovision depression kicks in, we like to imagine what would have happened if second place finishers at national finals had gone to the Grand Prix instead of the winners. Would Sweden have had an even better result with Nano? Would Slovenia have qualified with BQL? Would Portugal still would have won with… well, sometimes the questions are easy to answer.

Today we look at the countries that competed in Semifinal One, along with the automatic finalists that voted in it: United Kingdom, Spain, and Italy. (We know the wounds are still raw in Spain, and we are sorry.)

Sweden: Nano – “Hold On

“Hold On” is one of the better examples of the “things suck, but we’re gonna make it” genre. Nano sings, “I’ve got the feeling I’m going places,” and we’re hoping that means to a future Eurovision Song Contest. He was too green as a performer at this year’s Melodifestivalen, but nevertheless he was a compelling presence.

Georgia: Nutsa Buzaladze – “White Horses Run

There is a whole alternate universe Eurovision where every song is about white horses (see also: “Wild White Horses“). This one is like watching a Michelle Visage impersonator lip sync for her life while listening to an angry pigeon fight with a squirrel.

Australia: Internal selection. Not applicable.

Albania: Genc Salihu – “Këtu

The Jarvis Cocker of Albania warbles a tuneless art tune. His glasses are pretty awesome, though.

Belgium: Internal selection. Not applicable.

Montenegro: Internal selection. Not applicable.

Finland: Zühlke – “Perfect Villain

Here is the chorus of “Perfect Villain”:

What would the X-Men do
If they came to the rescue
Would they lose their courage too
If the kryptonite was you?

Neither of us are comic book nerds, but even we know Zühlke’s mixing up her comic book publishers there. Hard to argue Finland made the wrong choice this year, results notwithstanding.

Azerbaijan: Internal selection. Not applicable.

Portugal: Viva La Diva – “Nova glória”

We are happy that “Nova glória” finished second at Festival da Canção, not because it is good (it is not), but because it gives us a chance to work through our feelings about it. This won the televote! People in Portugal responded to it! Let’s repeat that: Salvador did not win the televote! This did! We admit limited knowledge about Portuguese music, so maybe this weird ’80s pop showtune with opera singers is part of some subgenre that hasn’t broken out internationally. Thank goodness.

Greece: Demy – “When the Morning Comes Around

Demy was an internal selection, so Greece’s national final let folks pick from three potential entries. “This Is Love” was the overwhelming choice from both the international jury (89% selected) and the public televote (70% selected), but “When the Morning Comes Around” did get one top vote from the Azerbaijani juror. Who knew someone in Baku had a thing for Shania Twain deep cuts? Come to think of it, we did. Remember this?

Poland: Rafał Brzozowski – “Sky Over Europe

“Sky Over Europe” isn’t good, but man, it is great. Rafał croons this puppy with a grin and a smize and even takes time to give a shout out to his trumpeter. But the best part are the lyrics:

  • In dreams I’m gonna wear a lucky clover.
  • Can’t you see over Europe the sky is burning? Welcome to our land of milk and honey.
  • Yes we’re open, but invitations are fading.
  • The night is cold and morning isn’t coming.

We’re not exactly sure what this song is about (The refugee crisis? Joining the European Union? “Yodel It!”?), but all we can say is, “Don’t die, Europe.”

Moldova: Ethno Republic & Surorile Osoianu – “Discover Moldova

Cross “Hora din Moldova” with the Russian Babushkis and you get the perfect Chisinau tourism campaign. Just not for May when Eurovision time comes around.

Iceland: Daði Freyr Pétursson – “Is This Love?”

Semifinal One would have been a lot more fun if Daði and his crew had been able to bring their 8-bit goodness to Kyiv. They would totally be the Tri-Lambs and the Omega Mus performing in the talent show during Adams College’s homecoming Greek Games in Revenge of the Nerds.

Czech Republic: Internal selection. Not applicable.

Cyprus: Internal selection. Not applicable.

Armenia: Internal selection. Not applicable.

Slovenia: BQL – “Heart of Gold

BQL (pronounced “be cool”) is an anything but cool name for a band. But they were gifted with an interesting Maraaya song. “Heart of Gold” gets a little repetitive, but unlike what eventually won EMA, it at least sounds like it came from this millennium.

Latvia: The Ludvig – “I’m In Love With You”

Accept no alternative Ludvigs. This is The Ludvig. If you rewrote the Harry Potter books so they were not about aspiring wizards but instead about sensitive Latvian singer-songwriters, they would still be magical.

By the way, can The Ludvig and Daði Freyr Pétursson go on tour together?

Italy: Fiorella Mannoia – “Che sia benedetta

We assume that Fiorella has really lived life and also has been chainsmoking since age five. “Che sia benedetta”–which at Sanremo won the Sergio Bardotti award for best lyrics and the Lucio Dalla Press, Radio, TV and Web award–is really Italian. Like, the only way it could be more Italian is if Fiorella performed holding a glass of Cinzano and then criticized the way we make fettuccine carbonara.

Spain: Mirela – “Contigo

Mirela won the televote in this year’s Objetivo Eurovision, but finished tied on points with Manel Navarro, who won the jury vote. The tie was broken by the jury vote. Never do that. The audience at Objetivo Eurovision made their displeasure known both when the winner was announced and every day henceforth through the Eurovision Song Contest Grand Final.

United Kingdom: No 2nd place announced. Not applicable.

Eurovision 2017 Superlatives

It’s time once again for Eurovision Lemurs to bestow honors on all of this year’s Eurovision Song Contest Grand Final contestants. Everyone is a winner tonight, to the chagrin of the Spanish voting public.

  • Winner of two tickets to the gun show: Israel (Imri – “I Feel Alive“)
  • The Johanna “And then there’s a dolphin” award: Poland (Kasia Moś – “Flashlight“)
  • Best mode of transportation to a steampunk winter wonderland in the clouds: Belarus (NAVI – “Historyja majho žyccia“)
  • Most effective self-censorship: Austria (Nathan Trent – “Running On Air“)

  • Handiest jive or jiviest hands: Armenia (Artsvik – “Fly With Me)
  • Best family bonding exercise: Netherlands (OG3NE – “Light and Shadow“)
  • Best revival of the Running Man: Moldova (SunStroke Project – “Hey Mamma“)
  • Best proof that rap can work at Eurovision: Hungary (Joci Pápai – “Origo“)
  • Best fusion of human evolution and chakras: Italy (Francesco Gabbani – “Occidentali’s Karma“)
  • The Anja Nissen Award for the artist we’d most like to see return to Eurovision with a better song: Denmark (Anja Nissen – “Where I Am“)
  • Best throwback to when it was just a Song Contest: Portugal (Salvador Sobral – “Amar pelos dois“)
  • Best musical representation of the plot to Equus: Azerbaijan (DiHaj – “Skeletons“)
  • The Flygande Jacob award for two great tastes that shouldn’t taste great together but do: Croatia (Jacques Houdek – “My Friend“)
  • The Maria Yaremchuck award for best use of an exercise toy for a caged rodent: Australia (Isaiah – “Don’t Come Easy)

  • Best homage to Jedward’s “Waterline”: Greece (Demy – “This Is Love“)
  • Best audition to be a Margaritaville house band: Spain (Manel Navarro – “Do It For Your Lover“)
  • Best outfit choices for Kylo Ren and Hoban Washburne when they want to hit the club: Norway (JOWST feat. Aleksander Walmann – “Grab the Moment“)
  • Best audition for the female lead in William and Kate: The Musical!: United Kingdom (Lucie Jones – “Never Give Up On You“)
  • Most successful sobriety test: Cyprus (Hovig – “Gravity“)
  • Best portrayal of the hope, the anticipation and then the ultimate disappointment of impotence (right down to the awkward kiss at the end): Romania (Ilinca featuring Alex Florea – “Yodel It!“)
  • Best song in the 21st slot of the 2017 Eurovision Song Contest: Germany (Levina – “Perfect Life“)
  • Most innovative way to shine a spotlight on the mosh pit: Ukraine (O.Torvald – “Time“)
  • Winner of the Eurovision Staring Contest: Belgium (Blanche – “City Lights“)
  • Best tribute to OK GO by frat boys: Sweden (Robin Bengtsson – “I Can’t Go On“)

Hey girl…..

  • Best love theme to every movie adaptation of a young adult romance novel ever: Bulgaria (Kristian Kostov – “Beautiful Mess“)
  • The annual award for the most successful theft of France’s thunder: the juries, who ranked “Requiem” in 18th place.
  • Most likely to get there, popular: Portugal

Also, most innovative millinery fashion!

Highlights from 2017

At the end of each Eurovision season, we take time to ask ourselves the big questions. Questions like, in a year of legitimately good songs, which song is the legitimately goodest? And, who was so clueless that they couldn’t find a clue in a basket marked “HERE ARE THE CLUES! CLUES RIGHT HERE!”? And, how many Koit gifs can one household generate?

The answer: a lot.

Biggest Misfire

For Our Consideration

Montenegro: Slavko Kalezić – “Space”
Czech Republic: Martina Bárta – “My Turn”
Macedonia: Jana Burčeska – “Dance Alone”
Ireland: Brendan Murray – “Dying to Try”
Germany: Levina – “Perfect Life”

Our Pick: Czech Republic. We felt that Czech Republic could have qualified with “My Turn” if they had come up with a more cohesive package. The juries ranked “My Turn” seventh, but it finished dead last with the public vote. Why? It may sound shallow to say that a costume cost Martina her qualification, but that unflattering gold suit destroyed Czech Republic’s stage picture. Showing the touching official video on the backdrop only accentuated how far off the mark her costume was.

Least Self-Aware

For Our Consideration

Malta: Claudia Faniello – “Breathlessly”
San Marino: Valentina Monetta & Jimmie Wilson – “Spirit of the Night”
Lithuania: Fusedmarc – “Rain of Revolution“

Our Pick: Lithuania. If you watched Fusedmarc’s performance at Lithuania’s national final and thought that all they needed to do to elevate their performance at the Eurovision Song Contest was to make the beating heart on the video backdrop more realistic looking and to glue extra long fingernails on lead singer Viktorija Ivanovskaja’s hands, then you may want to consider applying for a job on Lithuania’s creative team next year. Though they may want to think about taking their production into a different direction.

Legitimately Good Song

For Our Consideration

Finland: Norma John – “Blackbird”
Italy: Francesco Gabbani – “Occidentali’s Karma”
Portugal: Salvador Sobral – “Amar pelos dois”
Norway: JOWST feat. Aleksander Walmann – “Grab the Moment”
Belgium: Blanche – “City Lights”
Bulgaria: Kristian Kostov – “Beautiful Mess”
France: Alma – “Requiem”

Our Pick: Italy. We have listened to “Occidentali’s Karma” a lot since it won Sanremo, and we still love it. In our hearts, it overtakes “Shady Lady” as the best ever song that did not win Eurovision. At least it carries on a fine Italian tradition: “Nel blu, dipinto di blu (Volare)” only finished third in 1958 even though it has since become an iconic song. Side note: even though we aren’t fans of it, we are including “City Lights” on our list of candidates in recognition of how many people loved it. That fourth place finish is nothing to sniff at!

Campiest Performance

For Our Consideration

Montenegro: Slavko Kalezić – “Space”
San Marino: Valentina Monetta & Jimmie Wilson – “Spirit of the Night”
Estonia: Koit Toome and Laura – “Verona”
Croatia: Jacques Houdek – “My Friend”
Romania: Ilinca featuring Alex Florea – “Yodel It!”

Our Pick: Estonia. Eurovision is unpredictable. Had you asked us who was going to win this award before the Semifinals kicked off, we would have said Croatia in a heartbeat. If you had questioned us on this, we would have gotten very stabby indeed. But count us among the Eurovision diehards who were upset “Verona” languished in the Semis. Oh, “Verona” is a wondrous slice of cheese, a decent song made memorable by some serious emoting. It is kind of like the movie Valley of the Dolls, with Laura as Barbara Parkins and Koit as Patty Duke. It is delightful and will be a cult treasure for fans like us for years to come.

Biggest Diva Performance

For Our Consideration

Azerbaijan: DiHaj – “Skeletons”
Armenia: Artsvik – “Fly With Me”
Poland: Kasia Moś – “Flashlight”
Denmark: Anja – “Where I Am”
United Kingdom: Lucie Jones – “Never Give Up On You”
France: Alma – “Requiem”

Our Pick: No one. Diva is always the hardest category for us to pick. We limited our nominees to finalists, even though there were some plum candidates that did not make it out of the Semis. And yet, it’s hard to argue that this was a diva’s year. The most successful female artists on the night were Blanche from Belgium, who does not carry herself like a diva, and Ilinca from Romania, who is a powerhouse yodeler but was overshadowed a bit by her kissy-kissy duet partner. If we determined diva by results, we would go with Alma, who just missed out on the top 10 because the juries ranked “Requiem” low. But if we’re being honest, we don’t think anyone entered the pantheon this year.

Recap of Eurovision Song Contest 2017

Holy shit, you guys, Portugal just won Eurovision!

Jen:

  1. Italy
  2. Bulgaria
  3. Portugal
  4. Belgium
  5. Romania
  6. Hungary
  7. France
  8. Greece
  9. Armenia
  10. Sweden

Last Place: Germany

Chris:

  1. Portugal
  2. Italy
  3. Bulgaria
  4. Belgium
  5. Hungary
  6. Armenia
  7. Sweden
  8. Austria
  9. France
  10. Romania

Last Place: Germany

Europe:

  1. Portugal
  2. Bulgaria
  3. Moldova
  4. Belgium
  5. Sweden
  6. Italy
  7. Romania
  8. Hungary
  9. Australia
  10. Norway

Last Place: Spain

First, Brexit. Then, the Cubs win the World Series. Then, a human Cheeto wins the U.S. presidency. Now Portugal wins Eurovision. How many more harbingers of the apocalypse can this world be asked to handle? What’s next, Ottawa winning the Stanley Cup?

We are thrilled for Portugal. They took a year off from Eurovision and then thought about what they wanted out of their participation. Rather than worrying about how they did in the competition, Portugal staged a national final that was a celebration of Portuguese music and culture. An old fashioned, but lovely song sung by a quirky, but dynamic singer captured the hearts of the jury and the public to clinch the title. Unless you are an eight-year-old kid who was emotionally invested in Italy winning, you have to be happy that a country that had never won in 48 previous attempts finally achieved Eurovision glory.

As noted, we hated our picks, but we both still ended up with 7 out of 10. Jen correctly predicted second and fourth, and Chris correctly predicted first and fourth. We’ll take it.

Italy ended up finishing sixth, a respectable finish, but probably a bit disappointing considering how long “Occidentali’s Karma” was the odds leader. But a top 10 finish is a top 10 finish, and we imagine every country in the top 10, from Bulgaria down to plucky, plucky Norway, will be happy with how they finished.

A lovely little side story to this year’s competition: Moldova’s Sunstroke Project finished 22nd in 2010, but generated the Epic Sax Guy meme. This year, they finished third and while we don’t expect Sergey Stepanov is going recapture that Epic Sax Guy glory, delivering Moldova’s best result ever has got to feel good.

We were really disappointed that Austria got nul points from the public vote. WHAT THE HELL, EUROPE? You seriously believed that Spain was worth five more points than Austria? Do better.

On the other hand, we were only a point off of being correct about last place. Germany was dreadful, but at least it wasn’t actively annoying the way Spain was. We may not have picked Spain to finish last, but we are deeply satisfied it did.

For those countries who want to blame geopolitical bias or whatever on their poor results, we want to underscore something we said after 2014. If Austria and now Portugal can win, literally any country can win. It just takes lightning in a bottle. We don’t know how you capture it or even know that you have captured it, but don’t ever think you can’t.

Our Predictions: 2017 Grand Final

God we hate our picks. We have no idea whatsoever what’s going to happen this year at the Eurovision Song Contest. No idea. We hate our picks, but we don’t know how else to select them.

Jen:

  1. Italy
  2. Bulgaria
  3. Portugal
  4. Belgium
  5. Romania
  6. Hungary
  7. France
  8. Greece
  9. Armenia
  10. Sweden

Last Place: Germany

Chris:

  1. Portugal
  2. Italy
  3. Bulgaria
  4. Belgium
  5. Hungary
  6. Armenia
  7. Sweden
  8. Austria
  9. France
  10. Romania

Last Place: Germany

Italy has been such a favorite for so long that, going into the rehearsal period, we would have thought that anyone said that someone else was going to win was just being deliberately contrarian. And yet, now that we’re on the cusp of the Grand Final and we see that Italy is performing ninth, before Portugal and before Bulgaria, we can’t shake the feeling that the favorite is going to fall short.

Are we putting too much stock in the rehearsal videos of the Big 5? Francesco Gabbani’s manic energy was a bit off-putting to us, but that is not necessarily the performance he is going to give in the Final. He’s going to turn on the charm when it really matters, right?

Watching all of the performance videos in running order, we noticed two things. One, Salvador Sobral shines bright. He’s between solid if shallow Denmark and solid if strange Azerbaijan and he stands out among the strong competition around him. Two, Kristian Kostov shines bright. He is second to last to perform and gets a favorable lead in from Belgium and Sweden. “City Lights” and “I Can’t Go On” build up to “Beautiful Mess” in a way that just elevates it. Francesco has got serious competition.

Chris is now convinced “Amar elos Dois” is going to take it. Jen is not sure and, in the face of uncertainty, she does not see enough reason to pick against “Occidentali’s Karma.” Maybe “Beautiful Mess” could take the crown, but it feels to us like a second placer. Regardless of what happens, we will be happy if any of these three songs win.

We both picked Belgium to finish fourth. Chris is doing his usual thing where he decides that a song won’t make it out of the Semifinals and then when it does, he picks it for the top 10. This year, Jen is joining him in the madness.

We feel good about our top three or four picks, but after that, the doubt and the dread and the self-loathing kick in. Is Romania really a top 10 song? Are we picking France because her staging wasn’t nearly as bad as we originally thought? Why is Jen picking Greece? Why is Chris picking Austria? Why did we not pick Norway? Oh god, we should have picked Norway.

Do we really think the United Kingdom is going to finish out of the top 10? A lot of people seem excited about “Never Give Up On You.” It is going the plum 18th spot and the staging is beautiful. But Lucie Jones gets a little “crazy ex-girlfriend who fakes her pregnancy” at the end of the song. (Versus DiHaj, who is more “crazy ex-girlfriend who keys your car.”)

Then we get to the bottom of the table and the only other thing we’re sure of is that Germany is going to finish last. The backdrop video and Levina’s costume are meant to be silver, but it all looks so gray. The only way it could have been less appealing is if the color scheme was taupe. At least Spain has surfboards. And a really awful surfer dude. Should we pick Spain to finish last? It’s so bad… No. We’re going to stick to our guns.

God, we hate our picks.

Eurovision 2017: A Primer for Saturday Night Viewing

The Eurovision Song Contest is being held this Saturday in Kyiv, Ukraine. Their theme is “Celebrate Diversity,” which is somewhat ironic considering the geoblocking in the U.S., Canada, and Brazil, and the three white male hosts.

No matter. Here’s our guide of the big Eurovision story lines this year, and who to watch for in the contest.

Russia’s Withdrawal
The lead up to the contest has had plenty of political controversy. Ukrainian officials alleged that Russia’s selected entrant, Yulia Samoylova, had illegally traveled to Crimea in 2015 after Russia’s annexation. In response, Ukraine issued a 3-year travel ban against Samoylova. It was widely speculated that Russia was fully aware of the conflict that would result from her selection, and Russia’s choice of Samoylova (who uses a wheelchair due to a childhood medical condition that robbed her of her ability to walk) was a cynical, deliberate attempt to provoke Ukraine. The EBU ultimately weighed in, saying that while it encouraged the participation of all countries, it respected the local laws of the host country. Russia subsequently announced it was withdrawing from the contest this year. Yulia Samoylova, incidentally, performed again in Crimea on May 9, the day of the first Eurovision Semifinal.

Russia’s absence from the contest this year has opened up a potential power vacuum. Russia can generally be relied upon to get votes from many former Soviet bloc countries because of the large number of ethnic Russians there and shared pop culture. One thing we will be watching for on Saturday is how those points are distributed. Do other Eastern European counties (e.g., Armenia, Ukraine, Belarus) benefit? Or, will the those votes simply be distributed to the songs each country likes the best?

Who’s in the Mix to Win?
All eyes are on Italy. Almost immediately after winning Italy’s prestigious Sanremo festival, Francesco Gabbani’s “Occidentalis Karma” became the odds leader, and he has stayed there ever since. As of the time of writing, the official video has amassed over 110 million views on Youtube (10 times more than anyone else in the competition). The question wasn’t whether Italy would win, but by how much.

And then, Tuesday’s Semifinal included a preview clip of Italy, part of a standard effort to showcase 3 of the Big 6 who have automatic entries into the Final. The full live Eurovision performance is available to watch on YouTube. Gabbani’s performance was unfocused and sloppy, leaving some to wonder if the frontrunner is going to choke. Though the horserace has gotten more interesting this week, he remains the favorite.

If not Italy, then who?
Portugal, that’s who. Yeah, that’s right, Portugal. The country with the longest Eurovision drought in history, who in 48 previous appearances has never won, is in with a shot this year. “Amar pelos dois” is a gentle cabaret ballad that sounds like a recent discovery from the Great American Songbook. But Salvatore Sobral’s unique stage presence completely draws you in. Look for a lot of jury love here, as well as a potential groundswell of public support for the underdog.

Bulgaria is also in the conversation. “Beautiful Mess” is a modern pop ballad with an attractive staging that features on-screen animation. Though only 17 years old, singer Kristian Kostov is a mature, poised performer, and he delivered a very strong performance in Semifinal 2. Unlike the other two contenders, which are going 9th and 11th, respectively, Bulgaria drew the second half of the final and is slated to go 25th out of 26 songs.

Other countries in the mix to place very well on the night are Sweden, which has a prime second half draw and a clever staging involving treadmills; Armenia, with a fab song, a fab staging, and a fab diva; Hungary, with a Roma-inspired pop song; and Belgium, who struggled in rehearsals but has a song with undeniable commercial appeal.

What about the cheese?
Oh, there’s cheese. 2017 is a vintage year for cheese. Sunstroke Project from Moldova is back this year. They initially rose to fame at Eurovision 2010, when Epic Sax Guy became a global meme. The members of Sunstroke Project are eager to recapture their moment in the sun, and yet, they’re also relaxed and clearly enjoying their experience this time around. “Hey Mamma” is wildly fun and, yes, gives us more epic sax.

Romania’s song is called “Yodel It!” As you might expect, there is yodeling. As you might not expect, there are glitter cannons.

The Master of Rennet, however, is Jacques Houdek from Croatia. “My Friend” is 2017’s answer to Cezar’s “It’s My Life.” Only more so. Prepare yourself.

And in case you think it is all going to be camera tricks, fire curtains, and giant images of the artist on video projection, rest assured we still get some stage props. Keep an eye out for Austria’s moon, Ukraine’s big head, and U.K.’s mirrored fan. As if you could miss them.

How to Watch in the United States
For those of us with access to extensive cable packages, Logo will be broadcasting the Contest with commentary from Michele Visage and Ross Matthews. Though the announcement came late, Logo has been publicizing it over the last two weeks. Let’s see if more than 52,000 Americans tune in this year!

Those of us in North America without access to Logo have been stymied by geoblocking thanks to the deal the EBU signed with Viacom. At least the good people of Sweden and Germany are there to help us out. If you run into problems at Eurovision.tv, try catching the broadcast at svt.se or eurovision.de.

Updated 5/12/2017: Since we posted this primer, Portugal has overtaken Italy as the odds leader. Looks like a lot of people are putting money down on Salvador. It looks like game on!

Recap of 2017 Semifinal 2

Forget what happened on Tuesday. We’re freaking geniuses! 9 out of 10, baby!

Jen:

  • Austria
  • Romania
  • Netherlands
  • Hungary
  • Denmark
  • Croatia
  • Belarus
  • Bulgaria
  • Estonia
  • Israel
Chris:

  • Austria
  • Romania
  • Netherlands
  • Hungary
  • Denmark
  • Croatia
  • Belarus
  • Bulgaria
  • Estonia
  • Israel
Europe:

  • Bulgaria
  • Belarus
  • Croatia
  • Hungary
  • Denmark
  • Israel
  • Romania
  • Norway
  • Netherlands
  • Austria

So let’s get something out there right off the bat. When we were debating which songs could potentially miss out on the Final, we never thought it was going to be Estonia. Particularly after Koit became a legend with his epic Blue Steel. It was amazing, and we have to admit we are sad we lost our “Verona.”

But we are absolutely chuffed to bits that Norway qualified. We were worried that following Croatia was going to suck the life out of their performance. In fact, the opposite happened: JOWST and Aleksander came off as modern and professional.

As expected, Bulgaria solidified its standing as one of the odds leaders with a confident staging and effective animation. Kristian looked in command the entire way. Right now the conversations are about either Italy or possibly Portugal winning, but with those two drawn in the first half and Bulgaria drawn in the second and performing 25th out of 26, you figure Bulgaria may just top its fourth place finish of last year. Unless going that late hurts their chances. There are lot of songs to get through before “Beautiful Mess” goes on.

Hungary also had a great night. Joci performed with the most confidence we’ve seen out of him, and the staging took what he had at A Dal and elevated it. We think a top 10 finish could be in the cards.

We were a bit underwhelmed by Romania and Croatia. There was a weird lack of energy in Ilinca and Alex’s performance that dragged “Yodel It!” down a bit. It’s hard to explain, but all that madness on stage came off as a bit dull when it should have felt invigorating. Plus the glitter cannons didn’t do anything, which was just odd.

As for Croatia, we wonder if we built up in our minds the camp potential for “My Friend” to a level it could never reach. Camp usually needs to lack self-awareness to really be camp, and Jacques and his buddies seemed to be in on the joke. And yet, it was still bonkers enough that it was still campy. We call this the Scooch corollary of camp.

Belarus and Israel overcame slightly dodgy vocals, while Denmark and Netherlands overcame slightly dodgy songs with some strong vocals. We don’t see any of these songs troubling the top of the leaderboard, but they are all deserved finalists.

Lastly, let’s raise a glass to Innsbruck’s own Nathan Trent. We jumped out of our chairs when the hosts finally announced he made it through. In “Running on Air,” he sings, “I ain’t gonna stop til I make that final score.” As our son (age 8) pointed out, it made sense they announced Nathan last because he was the final score. The kid has a point.

Our Predictions: 2017 Semifinal 2

It’s not often that we both have the same qualification picks. Even though we often appear to be of the same mind, you don’t know how much we agonized separately to narrow this potentially epic Semifinal down to just 10. We then agonized together because looking through historical voting data is no fun by yourself.

Jen:

  • Austria
  • Romania
  • Netherlands
  • Hungary
  • Denmark
  • Croatia
  • Belarus
  • Bulgaria
  • Estonia
  • Israel
Chris:

  • Austria
  • Romania
  • Netherlands
  • Hungary
  • Denmark
  • Croatia
  • Belarus
  • Bulgaria
  • Estonia
  • Israel

Serbia: Tijana Bogićević – “In Too Deep”

Jen – NQ. Confidence: Medium.
Chris – NQ. Confidence: Medium.

As Serbia worked on its staging this week, we realized that “In Too Deep” is saddled with a poor vocal arrangement, which makes the song sound muddy and hurts the overall impression. We have a feeling this is going to play as a bit of throat-clearing before the show kicks off in earnest with Austria.

Austria: Nathan Trent – “Running On Air”

Jen – Q. Confidence: Medium.
Chris – Q. Confidence: Medium.

A decent song elevated by a charming performer and a fun staging. To think we were worried. Nathan’s gonna swim like a champion.

Macedonia: Jana Burčeska – “Dance Alone”

Jen – NQ. Confidence: Medium.
Chris – NQ. Confidence: Medium.

We love this song, but we hate the way Macedonia staged it. Shi from escgo! sums the problem up nicely. With any luck, this will go through instead of Netherlands, but we’re not holding our breath.

Malta: Claudia Faniello – “Breathlessly”

Jen – NQ. Confidence: Low.
Chris – NQ. Confidence: Medium.

Look, a lot of artists at Eurovision this year have plastered their mugs all over the video backdrop. But does anyone look more conceited than Claudia when doing it?

Romania: Ilinca featuring Alex Florea – “Yodel It!”

Jen – Q. Confidence: Low.
Chris – Q. Confidence: Low.

We expect this to qualify, but something has been bothering us about the staging for “Yodel It!” Romania’s key selling point is Ilinca and her yodeling. Yet in the camera clips we’ve seen, they cut away from her when she is yodeling. Granted, Alex is the more charismatic of the two singers, but the song is called “Yodel It!” It’s like Romania is missing the point of its own song.

Netherlands: OG3NE – “Light and Shadow”

Jen – Q. Confidence: Low.
Chris – Q. Confidence: Low.

If the results of the first Semi are any indication, there isn’t a lot of patience for dated crap like this. Still, it’s hard to pick against it when the Vol sisters are singing well.

Hungary: Joci Pápai – “Origo”

Jen – Q. Confidence: High.
Chris – Q. Confidence: High.

We’ve been listening to the ESC Insight podcast, and on Sunday’s episodeMonty Moncrieff and Ewan Spence discussed how the staging for “Origo” tells a Romeo and Juliet story. And gosh darn it if Joci and dancer Alexandra aren’t telling that story better than the song in this Semi actually inspired by Romeo and Juliet.

Denmark: Anja – “Where I Am”

Jen – Q. Confidence: Medium.
Chris – Q. Confidence: Low.

Anja is a singer to be reckoned with. Even if the song isn’t the best, she is gonna drag it to the Final through sheer force of will.

Ireland: Brendan Murray – “Dying to Try”

Jen – NQ. Confidence: Medium.
Chris – NQ. Confidence: High.

Stop watching “Dying to Try” if you experience the following: nausea, stomach pain, suicidal thoughts, or ringing in your ears. Call your doctor immediately. Do not watch “Dying to Try” if you are pregnant, planning to become pregnant, have been pregnant before, have never been pregnant, or have boy parts.

San Marino: Valentina Monetta & Jimmie Wilson – “Spirit of the Night”

Jen – NQ. Confidence: Medium.
Chris – NQ. Confidence: Medium.

We like that San Marino decided to give “Spirit of the Night” a disco club atmosphere. If we were in a disco club it would be fun. Here, it just looks like an unfocused mess.

Croatia: Jacques Houdek – “My Friend”

Jen – Q. Confidence: Low.
Chris – Q. Confidence: Medium.

Do you even realize how hard it is to switch from pop voice to opera voice like that? Yes, the song is insane and the staging is even more insane, but like Cesar before him, Jacques rises above it all.

Norway: JOWST feat. Aleksander Walmann – “Grab the Moment”

Jen – NQ. Confidence: Low.
Chris – NQ. Confidence: Low.

“Grab the Moment” is a cool song and we hope that voters watching tonight agree. But we’re afraid it’s going to get lost in the shuffle.

Switzerland: Timebelle – “Apollo”

Jen – NQ. Confidence: High.
Chris – NQ. Confidence: High.

The Barbara Dex Award competition is going to be fierce this year, but at least Switzerland is in with a chance to win something in Kyiv.

Belarus: NAVI – “Historyja majho žyccia”

Jen – Q. Confidence: Medium.
Chris – Q. Confidence: Medium.

Belarus should sail right through the Final, so long as they don’t crash into the Forbidden Desert.

Bulgaria: Kristian Kostov – “Beautiful Mess”

Jen – Q. Confidence: High.
Chris – Q. Confidence: High.

Kristian is the youngest competitor at this year’s Eurovision, but he is one of the most mature performers. He will qualify with ease.

Lithuania: Fusedmarc – “Rain of Revolution”

Jen – NQ. Confidence: High.
Chris – NQ. Confidence: High.

This is the week where we envy the folks in the press room, but we also recognize that to pay for that privilege, they are forced to listen to songs like “Rain of Revolution” again and again. Their ordeal will be over soon.

Estonia: Koit Toome and Laura – “Verona”

Jen – Q. Confidence: Medium.
Chris – Q. Confidence: Low.

Falstaff wishes he ate that much ham.

Israel: IMRI – “I Feel Alive”

Jen – Q. Confidence: Low.
Chris – Q. Confidence: Low.

The song and the staging are fun, IMRI is eye candy and has drawn a good slot, and… well, the vocal may be a bit dodgy. No matter: the plusses outweigh the negatives.

Recap of 2017 Semifinal 1

Jen:

  • Sweden
  • Georgia
  • Finland
  • Azerbaijan
  • Portugal
  • Greece
  • Moldova
  • Cyprus
  • Armenia
  • Slovenia
Chris:

  • Sweden
  • Georgia
  • Finland
  • Azerbaijan
  • Portugal
  • Greece
  • Moldova
  • Poland
  • Cyprus
  • Armenia
Europe:

  • Moldova
  • Azerbaijan
  • Greece
  • Sweden
  • Portugal
  • Poland
  • Armenia
  • Australia
  • Cyprus
  • Belgium

Chris got 8 out of 10 and Jen got 7 out of 10. Jen in particular is annoyed with her result, but she is happy that juries are no longer forcing through songs like “On My Way.”

What have we learned? First off, Portugal feels like a legit contender to win. The gentle, controlled performance of “Amar Pelos Dois” stood above all the other songs tonight. We include the clips of Spain, United Kingdom, and even Italy that were shown in the interval. Francesco Gabbani needs to dial back his energy a bit so that it looks infectious and not manic.

Sweden does not seem like a contender to us. Robin Bengtsson seemed to be performing on autopilot and we’re wondering when he is going to turn on the jets and really perform. The immediacy he had back in that third heat of Melodifestivalen has slowly disappeared. It’s still good, but it could be so much better. Maybe he’ll find it in the Final.

Of course, Portugal and Italy are both drawn into the first half of the show and Sweden is drawn into the second. There are only three slots left to fill in the second half of the show, so if there is another contender coming through Semifinal 2 (say, Bulgaria), they are likely to get drawn in the first half as well. This could turn out to be very interesting indeed.

Are we ready to admit we are wrong about Belgium? It looks like YouTube views and digital sales of “City Lights” went up after Blanche’s performance. Obviously, the song has something that people besides us get. So much for our smugness!

We were very surprised Australia and Greece made the Final. Neither Isaiah or Demy (or her back-up singers) really delivered in our book, and there were a lot of bum notes being thrown around in both performances. We are really looking forward to see the split between the jury and the public votes. Did juries help put them through?

The biggest disappointment on the night for us was Finland not qualifying. We thought “Blackbird” was ravishing. At least we can understand how Belgium went through. How this did not is a mystery to us.

Otherwise, there were no big surprises. We absolutely adored Azerbaijan and Armenia. Armenia in particular seems cruising for a top 10 finish this year. What does it say about us that we thought Azerbaijan’s performance was straightforward? Cyprus and Poland were solid, if not spectacular. All were deserved qualifications.

Then, we come to Moldova. Sunstroke Project are drawn into the first half and we are guessing that they will be chosen to open the show. In a way, we hope they aren’t because they would be the perfect palate cleanser between, say, “Flashlight” and “Skeletons.” But we can see the producers looking at “Hey Mamma” and saying to themselves, “Let’s get this party started right.”