Right off the top, I would like to let you all know that when Hungary’s AWS performed “Viszlát nyár,” I wept openly because I was so happy. I’m a jaded guy in his mid-40s, and I cried like I was a moody teenager. That is all.
Now, on with our results.
This is more like it. Kieran and I got 7 out of 10 and Jen got 8 out of 10. We’re back, baby!
After all the artists had performed, we all looked at each other and the only things we knew for sure were that Norway, Moldova, and Ukraine had qualified. Norway and Moldova are both clearly gunning for the title: Alexander Rybak with his “Heroes-on-uppers” routine and Moldova with their “eat your heart out, Michael Frayn” act. Both were delightful.
Meanwhile, Ukraine’s Melovin gets to kick off Saturday’s show with his fabulous goth cabaret act. Nothing says “let’s get this party started” like a vampire rising out of a piano-coffin, right?
One of the things that really struck us was how many of the acts fed off of the energy of the crowd. For example, Australia’s Jessica Mauboy started off rough, but she used the audience to right her ship and perform like the pop star she is. It was the sign of a true professional.
Meanwhile, we saw Sweden’s Benjamin Ingrosso trapped in his light box, dancing by himself. He did his job playing to the folks at home, but he was not able to engage the audience at all. The music video-style staging made “Dance You Off” feel sterile and calculated. That said, seeing Sweden’s draw for Saturday and the post-show response, perhaps this critique says more about us and how familiar we have become with the staging.
It was a good night for the Scandinavians, with Denmark completing the trifecta. Rasmussen’s vocal was far from flawless, but the power of the staging could not be denied. Who knew adding a bit of eyeliner was the secret to make “Higher Ground” read less zombie and more Viking?
Lea Sirk’s fake technical error completely killed any momentum “Hvala, ne!” had, but we were still desperate for Slovenia to make the Final anyway. We love this song, but only Kieran was confident enough to pick it. He feels like a genius right now. Lea’s qualification was our jump off the couch moment of night.
None of us saw Serbia’s qualification coming. “Nova deca” is such a fiddly song, but it sounded a lot more contemporary than Montenegro’s conventional Balkan song.
Now, for the Netherlands. Let us be clear: we still like “Outlaw In ‘Em” as a song and we think Waylon sang it well. Our big question about his staging is: why??? There were so many other ways he could have taken this. We get that he is equating outlaw country with krump, another rebellious performing arts style, and in the process trying to make the point that the outlaw lifestyle transcends race.
However, we, as Americans, felt uncomfortable with the presentation. Here is Waylon, a white guy, on a plinth, looking down on four black guys. He points at them occasionally but never engages or interacts with them. And he never moves off that plinth. His backing vocalist is never on camera at all. There are two reasons why this bothered us. First, if you know anything about the American South, you will understand that the stage picture is insensitive to historical and ongoing issues of racial injustice. And that tension is amplified because he is singing a country song. Showing a bit of racial diversity would have made his point without the problematic optics. Then, there’s how he conducts himself onstage. Country musicians tend to be very collegial with each other. Here, Waylon’s staging choice serves one purpose – to make it clear who the star is. He is acting like he is more important than his collaborators, which is not the Nashville way. We can’t wait to see our friends’ reactions to him during our Eurovision party on Saturday.
We found ourselves rooting for Latvia’s Laura Rizzotto. She had the unenviable task of following Hungary, and she seemed to use their energy to fuel her performance. Vocally she was sharp after the halfway point, but she connected with the camera and conveyed her song’s story well. Unfortunately, as we noted in our Semifinal One recap, it appears that voters this year don’t have an appetite for acts that just stand there and sing.
As for the other non-qualifiers, Malta and San Marino suffered from bad staging: they were doomed from the start. Poland suffered from rough vocals. And our “what the hell” picks of Georgia and Romania were competent, but suffered from being boring.
Romania’s 100% qualification record is now gone, and so is Russia’s. Poor Julia Samoylova had trouble singing “I Won’t Break,” and her backing singers’ attempts to compensate drowned her out completely. However, she ended up with one of the more touching moments of the night: The package about the filming of the postcards ended with a beautiful shot of her looking at the ocean. I’m crying again, dammit.