Rehearsal Roundup and Our Predictions: 2016 Semifinal 1

One of the great joys of Eurovision fandom is the transparency of the fortnight leading up to the Contest. We get sneak peeks into the rehearsals to see the acts coming together. Now, those sneak peeks are limited – 30 second clips from the first rehearsal, 2 minute clips from the second rehearsal, all carefully crafted to shield us from the camerawork. But, we do get a sense of costuming, lighting, choreography, and staging. This, combined with the song order, gives us the next great chance to evaluate the songs’ prospects since they were announced.

Due to time constraints this year we’re also going to use these posts to present our predictions. Earlier than usual, but sometimes life gets in the way.

So let’s catch up, shall we?

Here are our predictions for the first Semifinal:

Jen:

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

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

Finland kicks off the first Semifinal – and Sandhja’s high energy, feel-good anthem makes complete sense as an opener. She engages her backup singers in very similar ways as the music video. That is, the Finland delegation seems to have decided that unchoreographed hip-bumping will read as joyful. Our read? One step above amateur. Sandhja’s powder blue jumpsuit is unique, but it isn’t remarkable enough to make the song stand out. Sandhja’s path to qualification lies in her earworm of a song. Will it be enough though? The bookies say no. We do too.

Jen says: NQ
Chris says: NQ

Ever since their economic crisis, Greece has sent what at first listen seems like poor song choices that risk tarnishing its fine Eurovision tradition. And every year darn it if Greece doesn’t figure out a way to make it work. And so it goes this year as well. “Utopian Land” is a dirge of a song, but Greece has gone for a very Greek staging that should engage and entertain. The conventional wisdom is that the second slot is a death slot. Closer examination suggests that’s only true in the Final. The number two slot is actually not bad placement for qualifying. Remember, all that’s needed is to place in the top 10 of 18. In a weak Semi, Greece’s prospects have risen.

Jen says: Q
Chris says: Q

In “Falling Stars,” Moldova has given us old-fashioned Swedish schlager, the type of song Sweden tired of a decade ago. To spice things up, they have added an astronaut to their staging. It worked for Montenegro, right? Oh, riiight. The good news is that we get our first laugh of the evening. The bad news is that laughs don’t count in the points tally.

Jen says: NQ
Chris says: NQ

Hungary has opted for a slightly grander version of their A Dal staging. Hungary’s success rests squarely on Freddy’s broad shoulders, in how effectively he engages the camera and how he hits that first big note with his husky voice. We see no evidence that Freddy can’t carry that burden. The first good song of evening.

Jen says: Q
Chris says: Q

Next up, Croatia. Ugh, so bored. “Lighthouse” still sounds like a Cranberries B-side. Nina Kraljić just stands there rooted to her spot and waving her arms around. The only element of remote interest is her bizarre black and white cloak, which rather reminds us of Bjork’s “Homogenic” album cover. When she finally does her big dress reveal, the dress underneath… looks like the cloak but more form fitting. So that happens.

Jen says: NQ
Chris says: NQ

Where is the line with you? (Nina Kraljić photo by Andres Putting, EBU. Homogenic album cover from MusicTech.net)

Where is the line with you?

(Nina Kraljić photo by Andres Putting, EBU. Homogenic album cover from MusicTech.net)

Netherlands has gone for an intimate staging, something we might expect to see on Austin City Limits or at the Blue Bird Café in Nashville. They’ve done this successfully before, and it seems to be working again this time. Reports are that there’s approximately 10 seconds of dead space in the song, as Douwe Bob looks for the arena to sing along. This is a high variance strategy, with the potential to be really weird or really engaging. Our main concern, looking at the second rehearsal, is that Douwe Bob seems to have the dead eyes. There’s no cheekiness, smiling, or smizing going on. We think this song is going to be given a boost by the juries, but we hope that he’ll up the performance quotient when it matters.

Jen says: Q
Chris says: Q

Armenia’s prospects have skyrocketed during rehearsals. Iveta Mukuchyan is aiming to be the diva of this year’s Song Contest. Starting with wardrobe. She’s wearing a black one-piece swimsuit that shows off her amazing legs. Mark our words, the swimsuit is the new mullet dress—they’ll be all the rage next year. Iveta commands the stage and demands that you take her seriously. Vocally, she’s been killing it in rehearsals. What we initially thought was a weak Armenian entry is now looking like a Top 10 finisher on Saturday.

Jen says: Q
Chris says: Q

When San Marino first debuted “I Didn’t Know,” it was a cheesy ballad with an epic music video. (Never forget the steampunk.) After releasing a series of remixes, San Marino ultimately selected the disco remix for Eurovision. Because San Marino really has no idea what it is doing. See also: the staging, which features Serhat surrounded by five beautiful female backup singers half his age. The staging, like the arrangement, is done with a complete absence of irony. It can’t be described as retro because it’s too sincere and on the nose. It’s simply an embarrassment.

Jen says: NQ
Chris says NQ

Following San Marino is the best thing that could have happened to Russia. Our complaint is that “You Are the Only One” is an outdated pop song, but it looks incredibly modern compared to “I Didn’t Know.” Sergey Lazarev is a confident performer—the most professional in this Semi—and is always in command despite the complexity of the staging. Russia has opted for a high-tech staging seemingly inspired by Mäns Zelmerlöw, Conchita Wurst, Ani Lorak, and Koldun. There is a fabulous visual moment when he climbs the projection screen that is sure to be used in every recap segment (unless he falls). Russia continues to lead the outrights betting market. Whether they can pull off the win remains to be seen, but they are making a strong case.

Jen says: Q
Chris says: Q

There are a lot of people in Eurofandom rooting for Czech Republic to finally make the Eurovision Song Contest Grand Final. But the Czechs aren’t making it easy on themselves. Gabriela Gunčíková is wearing a dowdy dress and singing a ballad, neither of which feel particularly true to someone who has established herself as a rock singer. Still, it’s a better ballad than the one we saw earlier from Croatia, so Jen thinks she pulls it off. Chris is less convinced.

Jen says: Q
Chris says: NQ

Cyprus should have no problem qualifying. Minus One has the most commercial rock song of the three competing at Eurovision. We liked “Alter Ego” at first, but the more we listen to it, the more it sounds a lot like The Killers’ “Somebody Told Me.” More pertinent to their Eurovision chances, lead singer Francois Micheletto does look a bit ridiculous doing that wolf howl. For those of us who don’t want to wait until Semi 2 for the lupine fun.

Jen says: Q
Chris says: Q

Austria’s “Loin d’ici” is a bright, joyful entry. Austria has stuck with the staging from its National Final, which worked well then and, in our opinion, works well now. Austria is considered on the qualification bubble, but we think the song stands out as something different and will be helped by its placement between a dark rock song and a dour pop pastiche.

Jen says: Q
Chris says: Q

Estonia has decided to get all Rat Pack in 1960s Vegas on us. At least if this music career thing doesn’t pan out for Jüri Pootsmann, he has a back-up plan as a blackjack dealer. We are concerned that boredom has set in for Jüri, given some of the face he was pulling in rehearsal. Jen thinks this falls short, but Chris thinks that it will be just good enough to qualify.

Jen says: NQ
Chris says: Q

Remember how awesome Armenia was earlier? Azerbaijan is the complete opposite of that. Azerbaijan is the Selena Gomez to Armenia’s Taylor Dayne. (Okay, we’re being unfair to Selena Gomez there.) And the costuming is a disaster. Azerbaijan has never missed a Grand Final, but there is a first for everything. Will it qualify? It’s gonna take miracle. A mira-mira-miracle.

Jen says: NQ
Chris says: NQ

Compare Montenegro’s Highway to Cyprus’ Minus One to get a sense of how to do a rock song at Eurovision. Minus One has an eye for staging and performance. Highway is just getting up there and doing its thing. You can’t treat Eurovision as just another gig (The 3JS Corollary). As much as it pains Chris to say it, this act is flying home on Wednesday.

Jen says: NQ
Chris says: NQ

Greta Salóme hasn’t changed her staging from Iceland’s national final, which is fine, although a little unfortunate considering Russia is doing the same kind of staging. We have been down on this song, but we have to admit that Greta is an adept, professional performer, and she carries this a long way, especially in a fairly weak Semi. By no means a strong song, we think Iceland squeaks though.

Jen says: Q
Chris says: Q

Boy, is Bosnia and Herzegovina a hot mess. The barbed wire metaphor is so on the nose, the costumes are so Road Warrior, the performers are so disconnected with each other. And frankly it’s not even Balkan enough to be a proper Balkan ballad. Like Greece, you bet against Bosnia and Herzegovina at your peril, but we really can’t see this going through.

Jen says: NQ
Chris says: NQ

Ira Losco’s song for Malta hasn’t exactly grown on us. “Walk On Water” reminds Chris of 1990s-era Pet Shop Boys, Jen says early 2000s Texas—either way, this is hardly fresh or groundbreaking pop music. We do not believe this deserves to be high in the bookies’ estimations (sixth in the odds as of this writing), but a Eurovision veteran with a decent enough song should have no problem qualifying.

Jen says: Q
Chris says: Q

One thought on “Rehearsal Roundup and Our Predictions: 2016 Semifinal 1

  1. Finally this year I’m watching ESC from home, and I’ve spent lots of time watching rehearsals and assessing the contestants’ chances. I have to disagree with you that this is a weak semi, since a couple of pretty decent songs will not make the final. Anyway, my prediction: Hungary, Netherlands, Armenia, Russia, Czech Republic, Cyprus, Austria, Estonia, Iceland, Malta.

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