Albania’s Eurovision 2017 Entry

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, everyone: Eurovision is back! As usual, Albania brings us its good tidings for the season with its annual Festivali i Këngës competition. Lindita Halimi won this year’s edition with “Botë.”

Halimi was born in Kosovo and moved to the United States in 2013. She first competed at Festivali i Këngës in 2015 with “S’të fal,” finishing third. She won Albania’s Top Fest in 2009 and she also finished in the top 10 of Ethet (the Albanian version of Pop Idol) in 2007. Earlier this year, she appeared in the final season of American Idol, but did not make it to the top 24.

Her song “Botë” was written by Gerald “Big Basta” Xhari and Klodian Qafoku, both veteran songwriters who have participated in past Festivalis. Qafoku co-wrote Albania’s 2006 Eurovision Song Contest entry “Zjarr e ftohtë.”

Neither of us have been fond of the past three Albanian Eurovision entries, so we both think “Botë” is a delightful return to form. It’s as if all involved thought that “Feel the Passion” would have worked better with the arrangement for “Identitet.” “Botë” is not without its flaws: once it peaks, it gets a bit repetitive. But each additional instrumental flourish that gets thrown in propels it to a lavish finale.

The song as presented at Festivali brings a lot of grandeur, helped no doubt by the live orchestra and back-up singers. If you wanted to gather evidence that Eurovision lacks something without the live orchestra, here is your exhibit A. We’re hoping that Halimi and the Albanian delegation can replicate the drama within the constraints of the Eurovision rules.

We also hope they keep the song in Albanian. It just works.

Updated 12/26/2016: Per wiwiblogs, Halimi has tweeted that she will sing “Botë” at least partially in English. Sigh.

The 2016 Eurovision That Almost Was: The Big Six and Romania

We finish up our review at what might have been in Stockholm this year with a look at the high rollers and also Romania, which is, of course, the opposite of a high roller. But they totally would have qualified.

Italy: Stadio – “Un giorno mi dirai
Italy’s story this year is similar to Germany’s story last year: the winner of the music competition declines the offer to represent their country at Eurovision and the runner up lands the spot. Unlike Germany, Stadio did not go up on stage after winning Sanremo’s Big Artists competition and reject the offer in front of the entire country. They just quietly passed on the honor and RAI just as quietly gave Francesca Michielin the opportunity. It was probably for the best: “Un giorno mi dirai” is a decent mid-tempo rock ballad, but “No Degree of Separation” was a better fit for the Song Contest.

Sweden: Oscar Zia – “Human
We were worried that Sweden was really depressed after winning their sixth Eurovision Song Contest. Frans won Melodifestivalen with a zingy kiss off song dressed up as a gentle pop ballad and second place finisher Oscar Zia offered up a despondent plea for people to stop being such jerks to each other. No wonder Ace Wilder was telling everyone “Don’t Worry.” Anyway, Zia pipped Frans by a point to win the international jury vote, but finished third in the televote.

Germany: Alex Diehl – “Nur ein Lied”
Germany is in a bad way right now, with two last place finishes in a row. They got 11 points this year, though, which is an 11-point improvement over their 2015 result. It’s hard to say how they would have fared if Alex Diehl won Unser Lied für Stockholm instead of Jamie-Lee Kriewitz. Maybe a simple ballad by an unassuming regular Joe would have stood out more than the pop explosion that detonated at the bottom of the Eurovision table.

France: Internal selection, not applicable.

Spain: Xuso Jones – “Victorious
Xuso Jones hit the Objetivo Eurovisión stage with a grand pop song co-written by Peter Boström. It sounded like Peter heard Cascada’s “Glorious” and thought he could write a better version. Or maybe we just think all songs that end in “-orious” sound the same. Anyway, Xuso finished solidly in second place and well behind Barei, showing that nominative determinism doesn’t work with song titles.

United Kingdom: Second place not revealed.

Romania: Ovidiu Anton – “Moment of Silence”
Poor Ovidiu Anton. He just wants to rock and to let you know that he likes to rock. But fate, or more specifically, Romania not paying its bills to the EBU, cost all of us, every one, the opportunity to bask in the glory in “Moment of Silence.” We hear Romania has their bills squared away now and we hope that rather than doing a selection show, they just give Ovidiu the chance to finally live out his rock and roll fantasy on the Eurovision stage. Assuming he’s not bitter about what happened in 2016. Maybe they should make sure he doesn’t have the guy with the sword in that initial meeting.

The 2016 Eurovision That Almost Was: Semifinal Two

Welcome to the alternate reality Semifinal Two, where goths run amok, a Norwegian pretends he’s Jamaican and Poland is the fan favorite to win Eurovision.

Latvia: Catalepsia – “Damnation

Going into Supernova 2016, the buzz among the die-hard Eurovision fans was all about Justs. Indeed, Justs’ victory in Latvia was the closest to a sure thing this season. It wasn’t entirely a runaway though. While he won the online vote, he finished second in the Latvian televote behind gothic metal band Catalepsia. We could argue Catalepsia’s song “Damnation” may have been a bit too dark for Eurovision, but then again, Ukraine did win the Song Contest this year with “1944.”

Poland: Margaret – “Cool Me Down

Going into Krajowe Eliminacje 2016, the buzz among the die-hard Eurovision fans was all about Margaret and her Rihanna-influenced earworm. However, Margaret’s low energy performance made us wonder if she had bought into her own hype and was saving herself for Sweden. Michał Szpak brought the intensity and compelling stage presence that Margaret did not and booked his ticket to Stockholm instead.

Switzerland: Bella C – “Another World

Imagine you are in a bar at a Swiss chalet after a long day on the slopes. You’re sipping schnapps and dining on fondue, and Bella C is at the lounge’s piano, singing “Another World” and covers of well-known pop standards. You know, like “Empire State of Mind,” so the Americans will drop a few Francs into the tip jar. You will probably quickly down a couple more shots before bailing out on the apres-ski and voting for Rykka to go to Eurovision instead.

Israel: Nofar Salman – “Made of Stars

Hovi Star represented Israel with “Made of Stars,” but he and the Israel delegation re-did the arrangement he used at the national final. Nofar Salman’s original, smoky interpretation was more influenced by Mediterranean pop. Frankly, we liked her version better than Hovi’s version for Israel, but we cannot deny that Hovi’s revamped version was tailor-made for Eurovision.

Belarus: NAPOLI – “My Universe

NAPOLI’s “My Universe” is a pop ballad not entirely dissimilar to cha “Gravity,” Zlata Ognevich’s 2013 entry for Ukraine. At Belarus’ national final, NAPOLI was runner up to Ivan, because once the power of the wolf is unleashed it cannot be denied. Undeterred, NAPOLI then made their way over to Poland’s national final with the same song, where they summarily finished in last place. We applaud their chutzpah, but it’s obvious that they did not go far enough. We hope they come back in 2017 and enter all of the national finals.

Serbia: Internal selection, not applicable.

Ireland: Internal selection, not applicable.

Macedonia: Internal selection, not applicable.

Lithuania: Erica Jennings – “Leading Me Home

Erica Jennings is the lead singer for the band SKAMP, which represented Lithuania at the 2001 Eurovision Song Contest with “You’ve Got Style.” Her 2016 song “Leading Me Home” is a dull, gospel-tinged show tune that seems to have a chorus and a bridge but no verse. Erica finished second with both the juries and the televoters. It’s tough to go up against Donny Montell now that he has established his Eurovision bonafides.

Australia: Internal selection, not applicable.

Slovenia: Raiven – “Črno bel

Slovenians had a choice at EMA 2016 between “Blue and Red” and “Black and White,” and we think that 3,865 of them made the wrong choice. Raiven came close to catching ManuElla, receiving 3,738 votes in the EMA super final. Her atmospheric pop song was haunting, and she certainly cut a striking look with her Morticia Addams at a Bauhaus concert realness. Also: harp solo! Unfortunately for us, Taylor Swift is more popular than Siouxie Sioux.

Bulgaria: Internal selection, not applicable.

Denmark: Anja Nissen – “Never Alone

It comes as no shock that “Never Alone”–which you may recognize by its other name, “Only Teardrops 2.0”–was co-written by Eurovision winner Emmelie de Forest. That Song Contest pedigree probably helped propell Anja to the MGP super final alongside Simone Egeriis and eventual winner Lighthouse X. Thankfully, Denmark decided that one “Only Teardrops” is plenty.

Ukraine: The Hardkiss – “Helpless

Here’s a piece of Eurovision trivia: “1944” barely made it out of its national final. Going into the Ukrainian national selection, the favorite was the Hardkiss’ “Helpless,” a gothic prog ballad. Its striking staging featured singer Yulia Sanina sporting a hairstyle seemingly inspired by Dilophosaurus and festooned with tubes of light that made her look like a central processing unit in the Matrix. If we remember correctly, judges Ruslana and Andriy “Verka Serduchka” Danylko debated the Hardkiss’ performance for three hours. They then allowed the Ukrainian national final to move on to the evening’s fourth song of six. That said, they liked the song well enough to make it the jury’s top choice. Jamala’s “1944” did better with the public, so Jamala and the Hardkiss tied for first place. The tiebreaker went to the public vote, and the rest is Eurovision history.

Norway: Freddy Kalas – “Feel Da Rush”

We have described a few of the songs we’ve featured in this post as being “goth.” Freddy Kalas’ “Feel Da Rush” could be best described as the opposite of goth. It’s a Caribbean-flavored pop jam that is as authentic as Taco Bell. The sight and sound of a lily white Scandinavian bro mimicking a Caribbean accent is almost too ridiculous to be offensive. Almost. If there is ever a remake of Weekend at Bernie’s, then we have found the perfect song for its opening credits.

Georgia: Nika Kocharov & Young Georgian Lolitaz – “Sugar and Milk

Nika Kocharov & Young Georgian Lolitaz were an internal selection, but Georgia held a selection show to determine their song for Europe. “Midnight Gold” was the overwhelming preference of the Georgian public (and jury member Andy “ESCKAZ” Mikheev), but Eurovision Song Contest 2016 producer Christer Björkman gave his jury vote to “Sugar and Milk.” We’re not ones to question Christer’s taste in music, but we can’t figure out why he thought this noodly 1990s jam band filler was a good fit for the Song Contest. Not to say we don’t like it, but “Midnight Gold” was such a better entry.

Albania: Aslajdon Zaimaj – “Merrmë që sot

“Merrmë që sot” is all over the shop, bouncing from pop ballad to metal song to prog rocker like an over-enthusiastic child in a toy store. It eventually settles into a galloping groove, but by then we were checking our watches. Eneda Tarifa’s “Përrallë” won Festivali i Këngës and despite her song’s fate in Europe, we won’t argue Albania made the wrong choice.

Belgium: Tom Frantzis – “I’m Not Lost

Tom Frantzis’ “I’m Not Lost” is a Coldplay-esque pop rock anthem decked out with an “it’s the journey, not the destination” lyrical theme. It would be perfect for Belgian iPhone ads. Tom made it to Belgium’s super final, but his standard issue rock staging was no match for Laura Tesoro’s fully choreographed funk extravaganza.

The 2016 Eurovision That Almost Was: Semifinal One

To give you an idea of how intense our year has been, we just now noticed that we never did our Eurovision That Almost Was posts for 2016. Yet our scars from Söngvakeppnin are still surprisingly raw!

Finland: Saara Aalto – “No Fear

True story: we didn’t watch Finland’s UMK final live, but caught up on it later in the day. Chris spent the show talking about how every song was a potential winner. Every song except “Sing It Away.” Jen, of course, had been spoiled on the result and was chuckling madly to herself at the fact that Chris wasn’t even considering that “Sing It Away” could win. Saara Aalto’s plain ballad “No Fear” won the public vote, but only finished third with the juries, who inexplicably gave Sandhja’s jazz festival banger top marks. We’re not entirely sure Finland’s prospects would have brightened in Stockholm had they sent “No Fear” instead, but at the very least they probably would have had slicker choreography.

Greece: Internal selection, not applicable.

Moldova: Cristina Pintilie – “Picture of Love

Cristina Pintilie’s old fashioned Eurovision ballad received a fair amount of love from Moldova’s jury: it finished in second place, ahead of eventual winner “Falling Stars.” However, “Picture of Love” ended up in a distant third place after the public mostly voted for Lidia Isac and eventual fourth placer DoReDoS. Cristina’s song is not bad and features some nice orchestral flourishes during the second verse. We like to think that had this won the national final, Moldova still would have used the astronaut in its staging.

Hungary: Gergő Oláh – “Győz a jó

Hungary had possibly its strongest A Dal competition to date, with four credible contenders making the Super Final. No runner-up was revealed after Freddie was declared the winner, but Gergő Oláh finished second in the jury vote that determined the final four. As mentioned in the Favorite Songs post, “Győz a jó” was a slinky, sexy trip-hop track that would have acquited Hungary quite nicely at the Song Contest.

Croatia: Internal selection, not applicable.

Netherlands: Internal selection, not applicable.

Armenia: Internal selection, not applicable.

San Marino: Internal selection, not applicable.

Russia: Internal selection, not applicable.

Czech Republic: Internal selection, not applicable.

Cyprus: Internal selection, not applicable.

Austria: Elly V – “I’ll Be Around (Bounce)”

Just 17, Elly V is a charismatic singer/songwriter who wowed the juries that helped determine the Wer singt für Österreich super final. “I’ll Be Around” is an intriguing dance pop anthem, but Elly V’s performance showed some raw edges that could have frayed on the big Eurovision stage. Often when we say that we haven’t heard the last of an artist on our website, you never hear from them again. However, Austria has been known to reward also-rans in subsequent years: Conchita Wurst, Trackshittaz and this year’s national final winner Zoë all made strong impressions at earlier national finals before making it to the Grand Prix. It’s possible that in Elly V we are looking at another future Austrian representative.

Estonia: Laura – “Supersonic

Laura was a member of Suntribe, which represented Estonia at the 2005 Eurovision Song Contest. She has tried to return the big show as a solo artist a few times since then. “Supersonic” was a solid effort although it didn’t do much for us at the time. Hindsight being 50/50, perhaps Laura, with her experience, would have been a better choice than the more green Jüri Pootsmann. Still, that Trackshittaz/Electro Velvet light-up outfit would have needed to go.

Azerbaijan: Internal selection, not applicable.

Montenegro: Internal selection, not applicable.

Iceland: Alda Dís Arnardóttir – “Now

As mentioned in our review, we were very bitter that “Á ný” was not even considered to represent Iceland at Eurovision this year. What the hell, Iceland? The ultimate choice at Söngvakeppnin was between “Hear Them Calling” and “Now,” and while we were no fans of the eventual winner, we preferred it to this twee ballad sung by a wannabe Disney Princess. Still, Alda had Pétur Örn Guðmundsson as a back-up singer, so it wouldn’t have been all bad if she had won. Eurovision could always use more Pétur Örn.

Bosnia & Herzegovina: Internal selection, not applicable.

Malta: Ira Losco – “Chameleon” / Brooke – “Golden”

Ira Losco won Malta’s national final with “Chameleon,” which we described at the time as “a warmed over mash-up of ‘Invincible’ and ‘Euphoria.’” Fortunately, Ira switched to “Walk On Water.” At the Maltese national selection, Brooke was the clear second place finisher with both the jury and the public. “Golden” is all about how we all can shine, so we don’t think it would have brought anything unique to this year’s Song Contest. Still, with a more interesting song Brooke could be a worthy representative for Malta some day. Hopefully we haven’t cursed her by saying that.

Eurovision 2016 Superlatives

It’s time once again for us to pay tribute to the finalists in this year’s Eurovision Song Contest the best way we know how: with bitchy quips and references to Patty Duke and obscure 1950s sci-fi films.

  • Most Successful Pastiche of Annie, Freddie Mercury & Frieda from Peanuts: Belgium
  • Best 8-Bit Stage Design: Czech Republic
  • Most Awkward 10 Seconds: Netherlands
  • Best Use of Sale Items From Sports Authority’s Going Out of Business Sale: Azerbaijan
If this was an NFL team, it'd be called the Fire.

If this was an NFL team, it’d be called the Fire.
(Samra screenshot by Eurovision Lemurs)

  • The Sigh, So Dreamy Oh You Were Singing Something Award: Hungary
  • Best Array of Lawn Ornaments: Italy
  • The Sparkle, Neely, Sparkle Award for Sparkle: Israel
  • Best Innovation In Traffic Cop Uniform Technology: Bulgaria
  • The Frans Award for Not Caring But Really Caring: Sweden
  • Best Reason to Give Stefan Raab Millions of Euros to Run Your National Selection: Germany
  • Most Successful Theft of Austria’s Thunder: France
  • Best Tasting Schmaltz: Poland
  • Best Musical Representation of What It Would Be Like to Be the Last Person to Own a Telephone: Australia
  • Best Lupine Consolation Prize: Cyprus
  • Most Creative Use of Bobby Pins: Serbia
What's a Grown Woman Doing with a Bobby Pin?

What’s a grown woman doing with a bobby pin?
(Sanja Vučić screenshot by Eurovision Lemurs)

  • Most Donny Performance: Lithuania
  • The 3+2 Award for Best Use of Costuming to Distract You From a Mediocre Song: Croatia
  • Most In Need of a Balloon Boy, As It Turns Out: Russia
  • Most Gasp-Worthy Death Drop: Spain
  • Second Best Eurovision Entry Ever Written By Aminata: Latvia
  • Best Song That’s Not About the War That’s About the War That’s Not About the War: Ukraine
  • Best Homage to The Brain That Wouldn’t Die: Malta
The Losco That Wouldn't Die

The Losco That Wouldn’t Die
(The Brain That Wouldn’t Die screenshot by Shock Till You Drop.
Ira Losco screenshot by Eurovision Lemurs)

  • Best Depiction of a Bad LSD Trip: Georgia
  • Best Depiction of a Good LSD Trip: Austria
  • Best Theme to a Bromantic Comedy: United Kingdom
  • Winner of Eurovision’s Swimsuit Competition: Armenia
  • Most Likely to Get There, Popular: Ukraine
She is the winner of Eurovision! She is! She is!

She is the winner of Eurovision! She is! She is!
(Samra screenshot by Eurovision Lemurs)

Highlights from 2016

It’s that time of the Eurovision cycle when we assess what we’ve heard at Eurovision this year and ask ourselves, “Does Ivan enter the pantheon of camp classics?” And we reply to ourselves, “Oh hell yes.”

Biggest Misfire

For Our Consideration

Greece: Argo – “Utopian Land
Estonia: Jüri Pootsmann – “Play
Switzerland: Rykka – “The Last of Our Kind
Ireland: Nicky Byrne – “Sunlight

Our Pick: Estonia. In any other year, the first Greek act to miss the Final would be a shoo-in for biggest misfire. But this year, Estonia took everything that was great about Jüri Pootsmann at Eesti Laul and ditched it in favor of a lame-ass Vegas motif. That left poor Jüri with a third-rate magic trick and a come hither look that was on the wrong side of hither. Then there was that one hand gesture that he did over and over and over again. And again. And again. “Play” was hilariously, mesmerizingly awful and it finished dead last.

Least Self-Aware

For Our Consideration

San Marino: Serhat – “I Didn’t Know
Belarus: Ivan – “Help You Fly
Lithuania: Donny Montell – “I’ve Been Waiting for This Night
Ireland: Nicky Byrne – “Sunlight

Our Pick: It takes a vast lack of self-awareness to think that a disco song would work in a 21st century music competition. Or that you can stage a song called “Sunlight” with a concept that evoked Mars at night. Or that it is a good idea to include a hologram of yourself naked with wolves. But all y’all are not Donny Montell. Donny gives and gives. He is like a puppy dog trying to impress you. And goddamn it he does. He finished ninth. Ninth, people. You are only encouraging him, and we are all the better for it. Also, his song was pretty darned good this year. We can’t say the same for his hairdo. Donny finally claims the title that eluded him in 2012.

Legitimately Good Song

For Our Consideration

Australia: Dami Im – “Sound of Silence
Bulgaria: Poli Genova – “If Love Was a Crime
Georgia: Nika Kocharov & Young Georgian Lolitas – “Midnight Gold
France: Amir – “J’ai cherché
United Kingdom: Joe & Jake – “You’re Not Alone

Our Pick: “If Love Was a Crime.” It was tough for us to narrow the list of candidates down this year, but there was no doubt which song was our favorite. “If Love Was a Crime” was love at first listen, and it is destined to be in our heavy rotation for a long time. Special shout-out to Bulgaria, who has had such a rough go of it at Eurovision, for returning to the Song Contest with a classic.

Campiest Performance

For Our Consideration

Moldova: Lidia Isac’s astronaut – “Falling Stars
San Marino: Serhat – “I Didn’t Know
Estonia: Jüri Pootsmann – “Play
Belarus: Ivan – “Help You Fly
Croatia: Nina Kraljić – “Lighthouse

Our Pick: Belarus. Chris attempted to argue that Estonia pipped Belarus in the camp category because Jüri’s hand gestures got more and more hilarious as his performance went on. But Jen rightfully reminded Chris that Belarus kicked off its performance with a hologram of a naked Ivan telling a wolf he would help it learn how to fly. Chris withdrew his argument. Did we mention there was a baby at the end? There was a baby at the end. If you truly need more convincing, listen to the audience reaction when Stephen Colbert showed a clip of “Help You Fly” on The Late Late Show.

Biggest Diva Performance

For Our Consideration

Armenia: Iveta Mukuchyan – “LoveWave
Malta: Ira Losco – “Walk On Water
Ukraine: Jamala – “1944
Macedonia: Kalliopi – “Dona
Israel: Hovi Star – “Made of Stars

Our Pick: Sure, Jamala won, but she won with a good song. Iveta Mukuchyan elevated an unlistenable mess to essential viewing through raw sex appeal and outstanding production design. Plus she found time to make a brash political statement to boot!

Recap of Eurovision Song Contest 2016

Well, that was interesting.

We think that as well as this year’s wildly entertaining Eurovision Song Contest went, the result may present EBU with more than a few headaches.

First, the EBU can no longer pretend that the Song Contest is apolitical. Its ham-fisted attempt to institute a restrictive flag policy backfired, and they ultimately scaled it back. Armenia and Azerbaijan’s strained relations were again on display in the first Eurovision Semifinal after the recent military actions over Nagorno-Karabakh. And Sweden as the host country made political points throughout the two Semifinals and the Final, most poignantly with The Gray People interval act.

Oh, and then there was this year’s winner. “1944” is a good song to be sure, and Jamala presented it with rich emotion. But it is the weight of the back story that propels it. While, yes, on the surface, this song is about Jamala’s grandmother during World War II, the parallels to the current conflict over Crimea are not at all subtle.

This year’s results, too, made it abundantly clear that the EBU is still struggling to find the right balance between jury and public vote in determining the outcome. Lest we forget, the jury vote was introduced in an effort to offset neighborly or political voting. The new Melodifestivalen-style voting presentation certainly made things more exciting at the end, but it also exposes that the national juries wield too much power. Even though the rules were changed this year to give more weight to the public vote, this is the second year in a row where the winner of the public vote finished third because of the juries. When the juries have such power to nullify their selections, it’s hard to sound credible when telling the people of Europe how much their votes count. Clearly, there is more work to be done.

All of which brings us to Russia. They won the televote but only placed fifth among the juries. Moreover, they lost to a song about Crimea. We can’t imagine that either of these things will sit well there. To be honest, we could see Russia sitting out next year’s Song Contest. (As has apparently already been suggested.) But beyond withdrawing in protest, the big question for Russia is this: Do they really want to send one of their performers into hostile territory? Not just a hostile crowd that could boo them, but a whole country that is quite hostile towards them. Then again, Russia has shown that they have chrome-plated balls and a complete disregard for what anyone says about them, so perhaps they’ll stick it out. Maybe they will be able to pick someone with broad appeal in Ukraine. You know, like Sergey Lazarev.

Given all of that, the EBU must be thanking their lucky stars that Australia didn’t win. We’ve never complained about Australia’s participation, but we also think that an Australia win would have made for an uncomfortable year of preparation. We wonder if the creation of an Asia-Pacific Song Contest marks the end of Australia’s participation. Then next year, the United States can take their place! (Just kidding)

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Our Predictions: 2016 Grand Final

So now it comes down to this: 26 songs competing to be your Song for Europe in 2016. Here our predictions:

Jen:

  1. Russia
  2. Australia
  3. Ukraine
  4. Latvia
  5. Armenia
  6. Austria
  7. Sweden
  8. Bulgaria
  9. Netherlands
  10. Georgia

Last place: Germany

Chris:

  1. Russia
  2. Ukraine
  3. Australia
  4. Sweden
  5. Bulgaria
  6. Latvia
  7. Armenia
  8. Netherlands
  9. Serbia
  10. Georgia

Last place: Spain

Fairly similar picks, as it turns out, with Jen picking Austria for a top 10 finish and Chris opting instead for Serbia. As for last place, Chris thinks Spain is an absolute mess, but Jen thinks Germany’s song will be long forgotten by the time the voting window opens.

At the top of the table, we both think it is Russia’s to lose. We know that there has been a lot of anti-Russia sentiment in the hall during the past couple of Song Contests, but Russia did not finish second last year based on neighborly voting alone. We don’t think there is enough anti-Russia feeling in Western Europe to keep “You Are the Only One,” a classic schlager number staged within an inch of its life, from winning the whole shebang.

Who are Russia’s closest competitors? If the Eurovision Song Contest is becoming more political, then Ukraine could pull off the win. The thing is, does “1944” sound like a song voters are going want to hear over and over again? The subject matter doesn’t exactly scream “Europe’s having a party” and we think that could hurt its chances.

Australia has a stronger song than Russia, but that staging drags it down. While watching the second Semi, our son asked, “Is she going to sit on that box for the entire song?” If a 7-year-old who sincerely thought Belarus’ staging was awesome can spot the flaw in your staging, then you’ve got problems.

UPDATED 14 May 2016: Jen adds that she doesn’t see Australia having any support from Eastern Europe. “Sound of Silence” is charting in Russia but doesn’t seem to have any traction elsewhere. This lack of support may be Australia’s undoing.

We would have thought Armenia was a dark horse to win, but we think being picked to perform last hurts its chances. To be honest, we were surprised that “LoveWave” is what the producers think is a good way to close the show, so we’re wondering if this is part of the sanction being levied on Armenia for waving the Nagorno Karabakh flag during the first Semi.

There are a lot of good songs and/or good performances in the Final. We would not be surprised if we get a repeat of the 2011 or the 2014 Song Contests, where a song off of most people’s radar takes the crown. But we’d be crazy not to predict Russia to take the title.

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Recap of 2016 Semifinal 2

Oh Donny, forgive us for doubting you!

Jen:

  • Latvia
  • Israel
  • Belarus
  • Serbia
  • Australia
  • Bulgaria
  • Ukraine
  • Norway
  • Georgia
  • Belgium
Chris:

  • Latvia
  • Poland
  • Israel
  • Serbia
  • Australia
  • Bulgaria
  • Ukraine
  • Norway
  • Georgia
  • Belgium
Europe:

  • Latvia
  • Poland
  • Israel
  • Serbia
  • Lithuania
  • Australia
  • Bulgaria
  • Ukraine
  • Georgia
  • Belgium

Jen once again got 8 out of 10, but Chris rebounds from Tuesday to get 9 out of 10. Basically, it came down to this: Poland’s Michał Szpak practices mass hypnosis and forces you to vote for him with the power of his eyes alone. (Because it certainly wasn’t with that pitchy vocal.)

It was business as usual for Israel, Serbia, Australia, and Ukraine. We could nitpick here and there (Serbia’s harsh styling, Australia’s glam box), but we saw four confident performers nail their cues. Ukraine’s staging is gorgeous and it’s easy to imagine that Jamala will be giving Sergey Lazarev a run for his money on Saturday.

Despite our doubts about the costume and the staging, Bulgaria was pretty great. Poli Genova gave an exuberant and infectious performance and suddenly we feel like she has a shot… oh wait, she’s slated to perform 8th on Saturday? Damn, never mind.

It’s interesting that Nika Kocharov & Young Georgian Lolitas had a similar idea to Cyprus’ Minus One to plot out the camerawork as if they were shooting a music video. However, the execution could not be more different. “Midnight Gold” was trippy, but it also had an intense energy to it that was impossible to look away from.

Although we picked Belgium to go through, we both thought she came off a bit Junior Eurovision. “What’s the Pressure” was cute, but after a night of some serious bad-ass performances, it couldn’t help but feel lightweight. Laura Tesoro kicks off the show on Saturday and that’s probably the best thing for her.

There’s not much to say about the songs that did not qualify, save for two. In her bio on the Eurovision website, Norway’s Agnete said, “The transition between the verse and chorus has a tempo change that many listeners are responding to. It seems like either you love it, or you simply strongly dislike it.” Sadly for her, more people ended up in the “strongly dislike” camp.

And lastly, pity poor Ivan from Belarus. He delivered so much more than we expected from watching his rehearsals. Specifically some crazy wide eyes to accentuate his crazy broad  performance. Ultimately, it was probably a little too bat-shit insane to get votes these days in Eurovision, but it’s nice to remember the days when Eurovision was just a camp contest.

Recap of 2016 Semifinal 1

Jen:

  • Greece
  • Hungary
  • Netherlands
  • Armenia
  • Czech Republic
  • Russia
  • Cyprus
  • Austria
  • Iceland
  • Malta
Chris:

  • Greece
  • Hungary
  • Netherlands
  • Armenia
  • Russia
  • Cyprus
  • Austria
  • Estonia
  • Iceland
  • Malta
Europe:

  • Hungary
  • Croatia
  • Netherlands
  • Armenia
  • Russia
  • Czech Republic
  • Cyprus
  • Austria
  • Azerbaijan
  • Malta

As usual, Jen got 8 out of 10 on her predictions and Chris got 7 out of 10. To be fair, who knew just how badly Estonia was going to misfire? Every facial tic, every vocal aside, every c’mon hand gesture (14 total…we counted) added up to a disastrous performance for Jüri Pootsmann that would normally secure the title of camp classic in any year where Ivan is not dancing with wolves.

Generally speaking, there weren’t a lot of surprises. Russia, Hungary, Netherlands, Malta, and Armenia all performed up to expectations. Sergey Lazarev solidified his status as the favorite, but Iveta Mukuchyan was the real revelation of the first Semi. As flashy as the camerawork and the special effects were, the whole package was about her, and she made every moment count.

The real tragedies on the night were Iceland and Bosnia & Herzegovina. We hadn’t been impressed with “Ljubav Je” in rehearsals, but on the night we thought the whole package came together quite well. And as good as the staging was for “Hear Them Calling,” perhaps the song just wasn’t good enough for it to crack the top 10.

As we mentioned in our rehearsal roundup, Montenegro was going for a concert performance and Cyprus was going for a Contest performance. Even knowing that, we couldn’t have predicted just how well Cyprus were going to come off. Francois Micheletto is a striking and charismatic singer and the whole package was orchestrated effectively.

Austria, Azerbaijan, and Croatia should be thanking their lucky stars. ZOË was visibly nervous and seemed to get through her performance on muscle memory, although her vocals were still pretty strong. Samra, meanwhile, was pretty good for 2 of her song’s 3 minutes, before going off the rails a bit at the end. And Croatia managed to use costuming to create a memorable visual, if nothing else.

We were surprised by how flat and ponderous Greece’s performance was. It was sort of like watching Steven Gerrard plodding around the field during his last season with Liverpool. You hate seeing the once great become also rans.

Lastly, a huge round of applause for Czech Republic for finally qualifying for the Grand Prix Final! We were worried that the staging for “I Stand” would hurt their chances; too many long shots, a distracting, primitive backdrop, and not enough close ups on Gabriela Gunčíková for our money. But she sounded great and the song deserved its spot on Saturday night.