Rehearsal Roundup: 2014 Semifinal 2

Where we continue our summary of what we’ve learned from the first and second rehearsals.  This post focuses on the 2nd Semifinal. We aren’t making any predictions just yet, but I can say now this will be a tough one to call.  Fifteen songs and ten will qualify.

Malta’s looking good. Their modern country song has been attractively staged with corn fields and selfies. It’s possibly the best use of the Copenhagen stage in the contest. In the U.S., songs like this tend to be draped with images of patriotism and uniformed soldiers. Here, the emotion associated with “coming home” is focused on the return to loved ones. All the love, none of the jingoism. I just wish they could get those choral entrances a little tighter.

Israel is this year’s fanwank. Mei has gone for a simple staging, devoid of props or elaborate visual backdrops.  The outfits of her and her two backing dancers reveal lots of leg, and there’s general strutting and fierceness. The performance loses energy with the language change to Hebrew in the second verse, but finds its feet again at the end. It’s good, but also vastly overhyped.

Just when you think Norway might have another shot at the crown, they do something like this. Instead of a silent storm inside of Carl, the Norwegian delegation has staged a literal storm outside with wind machine and (1st rehearsal only) dry ice. Worse, they’ve saddled him with makeshift formalwear, grand piano and four violinists. All that’s missing is a candelabra. It is an understatement to say that this staging is a poor fit with Carl’s image. They’ve blown it.

To use a food metaphor, in the musical potluck that is Eurovision, Georgia brought sweetbreads. I myself enjoy sweetbreads if prepared properly, but it is an acquired taste and not for everybody. Georgia’s staging builds on the “skydivers, space jump” lyric. They depict Felix Baumgartner’s jump from space, replete with parachute and a visual backdrop that suggests skyfall. Insodoing, they’ve made their musically challenging song broadly accessible. For me, it’s one of the highlights of the show.

Poland’s staging is pretty much exactly what you think it’d be if you’ve seen the music video and the live clip we linked to in our initial write-up. Cleo is sounding good, and this is the rare case where the mid-course language change is actually working for me. I am thankful that the backing dancers are dressed demurely. The serious boobage that’s going on is confined to the video backdrop, a callback to the music video.

Austria has nailed it. The song’s staging is straightforward, relying on Conchita’s charisma and the flame-ridden backdrop. The Bond theme is hitting all the right notes, Conchita is emotionally connecting with the lyrics, and that long note at the climax is dead on. Backstage reports from the 2nd rehearsal noted that the rehearsal was still working on the camera angles. Still, I believe she’s got this. Prior to the Eurovision fortnight, Conchita had been tirelessly working the international press circuit, publicizing Austria’s song and helping folks understand her act.  It’s not hard to imagine Austria seeing its best result since Alf Poier.

Lithuania, I’m sorry to say, does nothing for me. The choreography from the national final has been retained, as has Vilija’s shouting “ATTENTION” at all of us like a wannabe fishwife. New to Copenhagen are futuristic Star Wars-meets-the Fifth Element outfits with blue and black leather. Are they trying to win the Barbara Dex award? Every year Lithuania seems to be daring us not to pick them to qualify. And yet, from “C’est ma vie” to “Something,” they always manage to pull it off.

Finland has opted for a concert staging, with simple red backdrop and lots of swirling lights. To my ear, the lead singer hasn’t consistently been hitting the high note, and it looks from the rehearsal impressions like they’re struggling to find the camera. These guys are only 17-19 years old, and their inexperience may be showing. The presentation reminds me of Anonymous (Andorra 2007), a youthful rock band who had energy to burn but ultimately made no impact. Softengine, on the other hand, may benefit from the high percentage of songs that will qualify, as well as the relative weakness of its competition.

My goodness, is Ireland tiresome this year. Obviously, because it’s Ireland we must have fiddlers, bodhrans, and Irish step dancers. Obviously. And that might be fine under other circumstances, but Kasey has a coldness onstage and performer dead eyes. The presentation hasn’t come together yet, and time is running out. It’s on the qualification bubble.

Belarus has diffused the over-the-top kitsch of “Cheesecake.” For Copenhagen, Teo has transformed the number into a boy band song and improved his English diction. Rest assured, he’s still rocking the tuxedo with untied bow tie and now the full group is doing the samba moves. Belarus has experimented with two backdrops, both are fairly abstract. Judging from his social media presence, it seems to us that Team Teo is one of the hardest working and most savvy delegations in Copenhagen. He also looks like he’s having a lot of fun. Prospects have improved for what was looking like a borderline qualifier a couple of weeks ago.

For some reason, Macedonia thought it would be clever to use a black and white palette. Um, yeah, not clever. Boring. There’s a dancer that leaps around and does dancer things. Tijana looks good and sounds ok, but the whole thing seems likely to get lost in the shuffle.

It was a good rehearsal for Switzerland today. “Hunter of Stars” has always had a lot going on, with the whistling and the amateurish mugging and fiddling and drums. And all that is still here, but the good news is that the vocals sound much better than in the national final. Sebalter still does a lot of shameless mugging with the whistling in the first verse, but we’re getting Adrius Pojavis (Lithuania 2013) vibes.  When the beautiful falling stars lighting effect started I for first time got qualification vibes from this.  By the time he pulled out the fiddle, that was it. With the late draw and Germany and Austria both voting in this Semi, Switzerland may be in the hunt for a spot in the final.

Greece has also gone for a black and white scheme, which again, I don’t get. However, everything else they are doing is on the money. From what I could tell in the impressions, they’re working the cameras at every possible opportunity. They are using both catwalks, engaging the audience as well as the camera. Nickolas is sounding great as always, and Riskykidd’s rapping has improved since the national final. The trampoline reveal at the end is genius. This number is high energy, original, and a lot of fun.

Circling camera work, carousel-inspired backdrops, Slovenia has a lot of cyclical staging conceits happening in “Round and Round.” In the second rehearsal there were pitch problems. I got the sense she was trying too hard to project, pushing her notes sharp. It can be managed by just taking the intensity back about 5%, but it is something to keep an eye on since the adrenaline of a live crowd does funny things to the most experienced of performers. Tinkara is wearing an ugly blue bridesmaid dress ripped from the 1980s.

There was a vacuum in this year’s competition. No one was stepping up to grab the mantle of “more is more” staging. Never fear, Romania is there, proudly, unabashedly addressing that need. Sexy short dresses, vocal acrobatics, a doughnut piano, partner engagement, camera tricks, pyro, audience replicable hand movements…no idea is too small to be left out. It all adds up to one cluttered staging. The first rehearsal also had some ginormous images of Paula on the screen; those were removed for the second rehearsal. Pray tell, has Romania been editing?!?

4 thoughts on “Rehearsal Roundup: 2014 Semifinal 2

    • Aw man, I can’t believe I missed that! The post has now been updated to include Poland. Thanks for pointing that out, Nick!

  1. I really hate the term “fanwank”, it seems so gross. Still, I’m sure Israel will do great.

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