Rather than trying to scamper around and live blog all the rehearsals, we’re simply doing one post per Semifinal to wrap up the goings on. These roundup posts summarize everything we have learned since the songs qualified out of their respective countries, including the promotional live performances, the draw, and two rehearsal impressions. We’ll be doing separate posts for Semi 2 and the Big 7.
The first Semifinal is a “message” Semi. Out of the 16 acts, five songs (ARM, SRB, HUN, RUS, ROM) have a socially conscious message, and some will regard a vote for Finland as a socially conscious act (though this is actively rejected by the artist). That’s 6 out of 16, a heckuva lot of dogoodery for one evening. Several songs that might otherwise have given a pass on thematic content come off shallow against all that well-intentioned sentiment.
Moldova kicks off the Semifinal. Eduard Romanyuta is going for a live re-enactment of his music video. He’s gone the full Ukraine. Eduard still has the Kid Rock thing going on and the supporting cast is giving us Halloween sexy cop. Unlike Reno 9-1-1, however, they don’t appear to be intentionally going for humor. It’s hard to rule out qualification prospects entirely because there’s a lot of choreography with set pieces that give us levels, and Eduard has demonstrated the ability to sing with all the movement. Unfortunately, it all feels dated. First isn’t necessarily a bad Semifinal draw, but in this case we think it’s going to be detrimental. “I Want Your Love” is an upbeat opener, but people are going to be left wondering what better lies in store. Then reflecting back once all the songs have been heard, this song feels completely out of place in this Semi. So, so tacky.
Armenia’s vocals have improved since the hot mess music video, but is it enough? The arrangement is still as chaotic as it ever was. The staging seems to playing up the diaspora aspect of the concept. The lighting focuses on a nice lavender palate, but we’re not loving the grey dresses. We’re also curious how Europe will respond to a political message that is just shy of inappropriate.
Belgium has an excellent draw. “Rhythm Inside” is contemporary and feels like a breath of fresh air after Moldova’s late 90s throwback and whatever the heck Armenia is. Loïc has gone for a monochrome staging consistent with the striking minimal visuals that have been a hallmark in his videos to date. The choreography is makes great use of right angles and isolated movement. Team Belgium has been sounding and looking good in rehearsals. Love it.
Next up is Netherlands. Trijntje, we love you, but, girl, what have you done? Trijntje is giving us black-widow-casing-out-her-husband’s-funeral-for-a-boytoy realness. But first let’s start with the good news. Trijntje sounds great and she’s eliminated a lot of the unfocused movement in performance (such as we saw earlier this season at The Voice). The team has gone for a close-up camera approach, which hopefully should pay dividends with the computer augmented reality they’re allegedly planning. There has been great kerfuffle about wardrobe. Trijntje has tested two dresses – a black monstrosity with a revealing angular cut, and a black snoozer with a cowl neckline. This is an instance where we hope they opt for the boring, because the bolder choice is distracting in a negative way. The backing singers have also tested two sets of wardrobe – both awful, but the “boring” version slightly less awful than the the “bold.” Netherlands has an unflattering early draw and we fear it may struggle.
Finland is doing exactly what it needs to do and not giving us much more. PRK have opted for a dark concert staging with lots of dry ice. It wouldn’t be the first time an act qualified because it had good enough visuals and a strong back story.
Greece’s old fashioned co-dependent ballad is one of the weakest songs Greece has submitted in years. However, Greece (being Greece) has figured out a strong staging, and Maria-Helena is singing it for all it’s worth. Greece also benefits from the draw, following Finland’s simplistic punk song. Whether it’s enough to qualify remains to be seen, but consider its prospects raised.
What’s amazing is that Estonia has completely re-imagined the Eesti Laul staging, and yet it feels exactly the same. Estonia is lost on us this year, but it doesn’t matter what we think. If you like Stig and Elina, you still will. If you don’t, you won’t. That said, the songwriting is a contrast from what comes before with Greece, and we are loving Elina’s black pantsuit.
Macedonia is a mess, which is not what we want to see at this point. The whole is less than the sum of its parts. The vocals aren’t coming together, the choreography doesn’t work, and there’s a lot of distraction on stage. Of the first 8 songs, this is the only one that clearly screams non-qualifier. Fact: Blackstreet is jobbing as Daniel’s backup singers. (Literally. That’s Blackstreet. No diggity.)
Serbia. “Beauty Never Lies” has come into its own as an anthem for the outsider. We weren’t in love with the English lyrics at first, but Bojana has worked hard to own them. The staging is also fitting well with the spirit of the piece. The two come together in the climactic “Here I am” moment. It’s going to earn cheers from everyone at home. She needs to qualify.
Hungary’s hymn for peace, love, and a half-baked wish for the world to be a nicer place is still sung beautifully. The stage picture is the same as A Dal, except now there’s a lovely backdrop where a bunch of guns turns into a tree. But it’s just so vapid. The worst thing that could have happened to Hungary was to go ahead of a lot of songs that occupy the same thematic space, and unfortunately for them that’s exactly what’s happened. Hungary’s thunder is stolen by Russia, which is so much better at hollow sentiment, and by Romania, which is actually about something real. Hungary is in as much trouble as Hungary can be in, but in all likelihood she’s still through.
Belarus. “Time” is an only-at-Eurovision song. It’s not radio friendly, but it’s engaging nonetheless. After seeing the video, we were eager to see what Belarus was going to do with the staging. We were imagining an awesome hourglass set piece, stage magic, and lots of dry ice. We are sad to report that Belarus appears to be doing this on the cheap. Uzari and Maimuna are just standing up there doing their thing, with no more thought to concept, choreography, or set pieces than they gave to Eurovision in Concert a few weeks ago at a club in Amsterdam. We are most seriously displeased. A missed opportunity.
Russia has been blessed with an ideal draw. Belarus acts as a palate cleanser, and to Hungary, Russia says: “MOVE.” Everything about this is working. Polina looks and sounds great, the staging is effective, and the song has the power to make us think, “yeah, a million voices…we could make a difference!” And then we remember which country this song is from. And that tempers our enthusiasm somewhat, but only a little bit because fact remains she’s great.
Denmark, following Russia, comes off as lightweight. They’ve retained the concert staging from their national final. There’s nothing really wrong with that, but it’s hard to follow Russia. Qualification does not feel assured.
Albania. Elhaida looks and sounds pretty, and it isn’t going to be enough with the messages and vocal power that’s being thrown around in the second half of the draw. The raw material simply isn’t a standout. Albania hasn’t qualified since 2012. We have a feeling this isn’t going to be the year that gets them off the schneid. We don’t understand why she is wearing a cape.
Romania, though another message song, feels different from the others. In part because it’s fronted by a male vocalist, in part because of its specificity. They are using a similar staging as their national final, with suitcases on stage and backdrop images of a lonely child looking sadly down the Danube. So many feels. The singing is solid, the question in our minds is how clearly the staging presents the message about the social impact of Romanian parents working abroad. The answer is unlikely to impact qualification prospects, but it speaks to whether they can crack the top 10.
Georgia is going all in on Nina’s charisma. It’s going to be enough, because it’s hard to take your eyes off her. “Warrior” is a high octane song (and rather lacking in dynamics). Energy is important as the run of contestants come to a close. In that respect, last is a good draw for Georgia. However, the vocal still feels shaky.