Highlights from 2013

It’s funny; there was a point back in March where we were sort of in despair over this year’s Eurovision Song Contest. It didn’t feel like it was going to be a particularly memorable one. Yet by the time the last bit of Emmelie de Forest’s confetti had dropped, we knew this year was going to be one to remember. Of course, the Swedish producers having the power to construct the song order for each round helped, but it was still up to all of the delegations to stage their songs well. Generally speaking, everyone stepped up to the challenge, and there were few real duds.

Legitimately Good Song

For our consideration
Birds,” Netherlands
Kedvesem,” Hungary
Tomorrow,” Malta
Love Kills,” Belgium
Identitet,” Albania

Our picks: “Birds” & “Kedvesem.” Anyone who still complains that Eurovision is cheesy and out of touch should listen to Anouk’s “Birds” and ByeAlex’s “Kedvesem” and then shut the hell up. There are still Eurovision template songs (see, for example, this year’s winner), but both “Birds” and “Kedvesem” proved that there are rewards to anyone who avoids the template and just does their own thing. Sure it’s risky, but it’s a risk worth taking.

Biggest Misfire

For our consideration
Pred da se razdeni,” FYR Macedonia
Ljubav je svuda,” Serbia
Samo Shampioni,” Bulgaria
You and me,” Switzerland

Our pick: Look, we were never fans of  “Ljubav je svuda”. The staging at Beosong was ridiculous, but at least having the angel and the devil pulling on the heroine from both sides more or less made sense when you read the lyrics. In Malmö, they kept the good versus evil choreo, but replaced the original Halloween costumes with non-sequiter anime candy girl outfits. If you take a camp entry and fail on the camp level, you are the misfire of the year. Serbia failed to qualify for the first time since 2009.

Campiest Performance

For our consideration
Ljubav je svuda,” Serbia
It’s My Life,” Romania
Solayoh,” Belarus
Gravity,” Ukraine

Our pick: Word out of the press room was that Romania’s staging for Cezar’s “It’s My Life” was disastrous. As we said in our recap of the Final, we didn’t think it was as nutty as everyone else did. But don’t get us wrong: “It’s My Life” is bonkers. It was like the Romanian delegation was inspired by Ursula from Disney’s The Little Mermaid. But because Cezar was so confident at the helm, in the end it managed to obtain some internal consistency, completely committed to its own alternate universe. It was deeply bizarre, but utterly memorable.  In other words, it was classic Eurovision camp.

Biggest Diva Performance

For our consideration
It’s My Life,” Romania
Marry Me,” Finland
L’essenziale,” Italy
Igranka,” Montenegro
Rak Bishvilo,” Israel

Our pick: To be honest, there were a lot of entries that could be considered for this category. To narrow our list to five meant ignoring Zlata Ognevich from Ukraine, Esma from FYR Macedonia, Margaret Berger from Norway, Valentina Monetta from San Marino, Bonnie Tyler from the United Kingdom, Dina Garipova from Russia, et cetera, et cetera. It was a diva-heavy year.

But then again, there really is only one winner for Biggest Diva Performance, and that it is Cezar from Romania. With all the bizarreness going on around and underneath him, Cezar and his brilliant countertenor voice stood out above all. Literally. Glorious, we tell you. Glorious.

And if you don’t think this is glorious, we cannot be friends.

Eurovision 2013 Superlatives

The Eurovision Song Contest is over for 2013, but we like to keep its spirit going a little longer by handing out awards to all of the acts that participated in the Final. We were tempted to expand the Superlatives out to the Semis so we could give Israel the Donny Montell award for best use of a Bedazzler. But considering we were giving out awards to 26 countries and spent hours agonizing over what to give Romania, we thought it was best to stick with the finalists.

  • Best song cut from Chess: the new Eurovision anthem “We Write the Story”
  • The annual award for most successful theft of France’s thunder: the Swedish producers
  • Most expressive eyebrows: Lithuania
  • Most comprehensive representation of Earth’s four core elements: Moldova
  • Greatest paragon of restraint and subtlety: Finland
  • Worst act to inspire Spain: Dervish, Eurovision 2007
  • Best post-performance celebration: Belgium
  • Best use of a shower curtain: Birgit’s dress, Estonia
  • Best choreography you can try at home: Belarus
  • Best musical representation of the premise to the sitcom Dharma & Greg: Malta
  • Ballsiest performance: Russia
We decided to avoid the Rovers reference

We decided to avoid the Rovers reference

  • #MILFiest performance (or if you watched on BBC One, #M***iest performance): Natalie Horler of Cascada, Germany
  • Best voguing: Armenia
Strike a pose

Strike a pose

  • Best musical representation of the plot to an Alfred Hitchcock movie: Netherlands
  • The first annual Cezar award for the performance that left us speechless: Romania
  • Best Journey to the Heaviside Layer: United Kingdom
  • Song Luke Skywalker is most likely to sing to Obi-Wan Kenobi: Sweden (see, because the costumes make them look like they’re on Tattooine… okay, it’s a stretch)
  • Most sensitive hipster: Hungary
  • Best synthesis of Eurovision tropes (tin whistle, drums, bare feet, Azerbaijani shower, confetti, socially conscious lyrics): Denmark – no wind machine, but you don’t want to blow confetti into fireworks showers
  • Best Viking Jesus: Iceland

    Dreamy, Dreamy Thor

    Dreamy, Dreamy Thor

  • The Kseniya Simonova award for best use of a gimmick to distract you from a mediocre song: Azerbaijan
  • Song we’re most thrilled our four-year-old likes to sing at school: Greece
  • Best song cut from Wicked: Ukraine
  • Most likely to boil down a Eurovision performance to its essentials: Italy
  • Best future Bond movie theme: Norway
  • Biggest Eurogasm: Georgia
  • Andy Abraham award for entry least deserving of its fate: Ireland
  • Worst Graham Norton prediction: “There must be some nervous people in Ireland, because that could win.”
  • Most damage to his Eurovision legacy: Eric Saade #awkward
  • Most likely to get there, popular: Denmark

Recap of the 2013 Eurovision Song Contest

Jen:

  1. Azerbaijan
  2. Denmark
  3. Netherlands
  4. Italy
  5. Greece
  6. Iceland
  7. Russia
  8. Ukraine
  9. Georgia
  10. Ireland

Last Place: Spain

Chris:

  1. Netherlands
  2. Denmark
  3. Azerbaijan
  4. Italy
  5. Russia
  6. Iceland
  7. Sweden
  8. Ukraine
  9. Georgia
  10. Norway

Last Place: Spain

Europe:

  1. Denmark
  2. Azerbaijan
  3. Ukraine
  4. Norway
  5. Russia
  6. Greece
  7. Italy
  8. Malta
  9. Netherlands
  10. Hungary

Last Place: Ireland

Congratulations to Emmelie de Forest and Denmark! It’s a win we’ve of course been denying would happen for weeks now, but a win that seemed inevitable. The key to this year’s contest was finding a song that had appeal throughout Europe.  Denmark, in the end, got 281 points. They had fewer douze points than 2nd place finisher Azerbaijan, but they got points from every country except San Marino. In this way, the result is not unlike Russia 2008.  In 2008, Russia won with 272 points, another country bested them for the most douze points, and three countries that year got over 200 points. In all, Denmark’s win was convincing but not a blowout.

Though we and our guests were disappointed by the ultimate result, we thought this was a highly entertaining show. The performers brought their A-game, and we hope they are satisfied with their performances no matter what points they received. And we enjoyed Sweden’s interval acts. Indeed, it’s not often that you see one of your party menu items (in this case, Swedish meatballs with lingonberry sauce) dancing onstage.

We both picked seven of the final top 10. Both of us over-valued Georgia and Iceland, Chris over-valued Sweden, and Jen really overvalued Ireland. Even Chris thought “Only Love Survives” would finish on the left side of the leaderboard, so we were really surprised that it finished in last place. We weren’t wrong about Germany, though, which brings us some comfort. (So how’s Stefan Raab’s schedule next year?)

Ukraine was lovely and while the giant delivered a WTF moment at our party it did not prove a major distraction. Meanwhile, Norway rallied from what we thought was a mediocre performance in the semifinal. Margaret Berger was great last night and delivered an extremely respectable 4th place finish for Norway.

Malta and Hungary making it into the top 10 pleased us greatly. ByeAlex shook off the nerves he had in the Semis and was able to snag 12 points from Germany on his way to 10th place. Meanwhile, how cute is Gianluca from Malta? So cute. Malta was trending on Twitter in the U.S. after his performance. And Roberto Bellarosa’s reaction at the end of his performance of “Love Kills?” Talk about adorable. He took Belgium to 12th place, and we both want to believe his giddiness at the end got him some extra love from the voters.

Cezar from Romania has generated a lot of traffic to our site, for which we are grateful. We hope Cezar and his crew are happy with their 13th place finish, because they had to know operatic dubstep was a hard ask for most voters. We don’t know what it says about us that we didn’t think the staging of “It’s My Life” was as batshit insane as everyone seemed to think it was in rehearsals. I mean, it’s no “Carry Me In Your Dreams,” for example.

Chris picked Netherlands to win just because he liked it, and we could quibble about the reasons why it ended up in ninth place, but considering how long it’s been since Netherlands were even in the Final, we hope no one there is complaining about finishing in the top 10.

Jen picked Azerbaijan to win, and after Farid Mammadov’s performance, we thought there could be a chance. You could argue that he didn’t have a great song, but Azerbaijan has won with worse. He sang well and worked the camera and the staging did the rest. Of all the songs we watched tonight, his was the only one we felt had a chance to knock Denmark off its perch.

For those you that are keeping score — four entries used the fireworks curtain (AKA the Azerbaijani shower).

Eurovision has also released the points totals from the semifinals. Denmark won the first semi, and Azerbaijan won the second semi, despite early draws for both. Happily, there were no tragic 11th placers who missed the cut by only a point or two. Lithuania, seen widely as a surprise qualifier, finished 9th in the first semi (Estonia was 10th).  The overall last place finisher was Slovenia, who managed only 8 points, which, incidentally, is the same number of points Trackshittaz had last year. Ouch.

In the end, though, Denmark couldn’t be denied. We wonder how many tin whistles will be on display during the various national finals next year. So long as there are no rhyming couplets from the hosts.

Our Predictions for the Eurovision 2013 Final

Jen:

  1. Azerbaijan
  2. Denmark
  3. Netherlands
  4. Italy
  5. Greece
  6. Iceland
  7. Russia
  8. Ukraine
  9. Georgia
  10. Ireland

Last Place: Spain

Chris:

  1. Netherlands
  2. Denmark
  3. Azerbaijan
  4. Italy
  5. Russia
  6. Iceland
  7. Sweden
  8. Ukraine
  9. Georgia
  10. Norway

Last Place: Spain

First off, having just watched all of the songs in the Final in order, we have to say the SVT producers have put together a great running order for the big show. It really does flow and build. Of course, we doubt if the EBU is going to let the TV show producers have the power to determine the running order after this year because a) someone is always going to feel slighted, and b) well, imagine if Azerbaijan or Armenia won and had the power to pick where Armenia or Azerbaijan performed in the final. That would not go well.

Now, to our predictions. I dropped the routine of picking flags out of a hat for the final, since I didn’t want to risk pulling Lithuania’s flag out of a hat and looking foolish. Plus I had some definite ideas about who was going to finish top 10.

Let’s make this clear: neither Jen or I really have any idea whatsoever about who is going to win.

The story of this Eurovision seems to be “if not Denmark, then who?” I suppose we should default to Denmark, since they’ve been the bookies’ favorites from the get-go, but we both feel like they’re going to come up short.

Jen thinks Azerbaijan could pull it off, because their staging is so well done and Farid Mammadov has got charisma to spare. I think Netherlands is going to win because I like “Birds” a lot and Germany won with “Satellite.” Neither are rational reasons, but why be rational when “Something” and “It’s My Life” both made the Final?

As an irrational side note, I also irrationally believe that Iceland could win too. Don’t ask me why, don’t ask me how.

Generally, we’ve picked similar top 10 finishers, with a couple of differences: Jen thinks Greece is top five, whereas I think they’re just going to miss the top 10. And I think Norway is going to finish in the top 10 and Jen thinks Margaret Berger is going to flop. Not flop to the bottom of the table, mind you, since that spot is reserved for Spain this year.

If you’re curious about Kieran’s picks, here they are:

Recap of Eurovision Song Contest 2013 Semifinal 2

Jen:

  • Azerbaijan
  • Finland
  • Malta
  • Iceland
  • Greece
  • Israel
  • Hungary
  • Norway
  • Albania
  • Georgia
Chris and Kieran:

  • Latvia
  • Malta
  • Iceland
  • Greece
  • Israel
  • Armenia
  • Norway
  • Albania
  • Georgia
  • Romania
Europe:

  • Azerbaijan
  • Finland
  • Malta
  • Iceland
  • Greece
  • Armenia
  • Hungary
  • Norway
  • Georgia
  • Romania

Told you this was a hard one to call. It was also a hard one to watch. A lot of the acts just fell flat for us, lacking in energy and intensity. Even numbers that looked like they had some pep to them, such as “Marry Me” and “Alcohol Is Free,” had a lot of performers running around but not generating sparks. (In the case of Finland, Krista Siegfrids has been sick, so you can give her a pass, right to the final.)

I won’t say that there were any undeserving finalists, just some underwhelming ones. Margaret Berger’s performance tonight felt more like she was going through the motions. The fervency that she had in the Melodi Grand Prix was nowhere to be found, and while it wasn’t a disaster by any stretch of the imagination, it was also not getting us up out of our seats.

ByeAlex, meanwhile, looked wicked nervous, so much so that we were a bit worried he would not make it through. But it feels like he already has a strong fanbase behind him, and I think that carried him. Hopefully, the only butterflies he has on Saturday are in his postcard video.

Both Jen and I are were really bummed that Latvia and Albania missed out. Not that we were expecting PeR to go through, but they were a terrific opener and had enthusiasm to spare. It would have been nice to see them rewarded. And Adrian Lulgjuraj &  Bledar Sejko delivered a big performance that we really thought would have blown Armenia’s Dorians out of the water. But bigger isn’t always better, is it?

Unless you’re talking about Cezar from Romania. It’s kind of funny, but I kinda wish it was a bit campier. Still, thrilled to see him in the final, because you can’t let Belarus hog all the Eurovision wackiness.

Our Predictions: 2013 Semifinal 2

Here’s part 2 of our experiment to see which of us is better at making predictions: Jen, who is making her choices based on evidence and logic, and Chris, who is picking flags out of a hat.

To make our choices, Jen viewed national final performances and rehearsal footage, followed the reactions from those on site, consulted the odds, and compiled a list of likely countries who might give each country votes based on several years worth of previous voting histories given not only to the country, but to songs of similar genre and style.

Chris and Kieran picked flags out of a hat.

Jen found the 2nd Semi much harder than the 1st. There are 17 songs, 10 will qualify. Of the 17, 5 seemed likely in, 3 seemed likely out, leaving 9 songs for the remaining 5 spots. In other words, Jen struggled to place more than half the songs and leaned on gut instinct way more than she wanted to.

Given the probability associated with a random selection, Chris should expect 6 correct picks.

Latvia: PeR – “Here We Go

Jen says: NQ.  Going first is a great thing for Latvia. However, a favorable spot in the running order is unlikely to change their fate. Enjoy now.

Chris says: Q. “I’m the man on the moon/Call me Andy Kaufman” is pretty much the best line from any song ever.

 

San Marino: Valentina Monetta – “Crisalide

Jen says: NQ. On the bubble. I’ve gone back and forth about San Marino.  The song is a fan favorite, but I’m not sure that they’ve fully made the case with their staging. It may come down to how she performs on the night. I’m saying NQ because, again, history tells us there are unlikely to be more than 5 qualifiers out of the first half.

Chris says: NQ. Plucky little San Marino. They should have performed a song about Instagram.

 

FYR Macedonia: Esma & Lozano – “Pred da se razdeni

Jen says: NQ.  Macedonia has struggled to strike the right balance between Esma and Lozano. They ran out of time.

Chris says: NQ. I kinda want to see Esma beatbox.

 

Azerbaijan: Farid Mammadov – “Hold Me

Jen says: Q.  Azerbaijan’s qualification prospects have never been in question, but their stock has shot way up during rehearsals thanks to their professionalism and attention to detail. There’s also the small matter of a showstopping production design.

Chris says: NQ. Man in the box? That is so Alice In Chains circa 1991.

 

Finland: Krista Siegfrids – “Marry Me

Jen says: Q. On the bubble. A girl-on-girl kiss here, some new bridesmaid dresses there, but not much has changed about the staging since the Finnish national final. Our initial visceral hate toward this song has softened upon multiple listenings, but since so little has changed I’ve got to ask how the Semi-final audience (and juries) will respond to it on first listen. Katy Perry has charted in plenty of countries that vote in this semi, so will they draw a favorable comparison given her energy level and cheekiness, or will they be turned off by the theme? If Finland’s neighbors weigh in favorably, and every country in which Katy Perry has charted gives her just a few points, I can get Krista to about 60 points and past the likely threshold for qualification.

Chris says: NQ. I hope I’m right about this for the sake of everyone in the green room during the Final.

 

Malta: Gianluca Bezzina – “Tomorrow

Jen says: Q. I don’t like the amount of movement he’s doing onstage, but, like the Babushki, part of his Gianluca’s charm is the complete joy he radiates just being on stage and singing for an audience. You can’t help but like this guy. The song is adorable and winning. The final image on the bench is great.

Chris says: Q. Also, like the Babushki, I see him and think, “oh my god he is so fucking CUTE HE VISITED A CHILDREN’S HOSPITAL ON HIS DAY OFF!!!”

 

Bulgaria: Elitsa Todorova and Stoyan Yankoulov – “Samo Shampioni

Jen says: NQ. On the bubble. “Samo Shampioni,” when compared to 2007’s “Water,” lacks something, but their sound is unique and they come across well on camera. What makes it difficult for me is that most of Bulgaria’s biggest supporters from 2007 are voting in this Semifinal. In the 2007 final, 5 countries gave Elitsa and Stoyan 8+ points; 4 of them are voting in this Semi. They could cross the 50 point threshold if these countries vote the same way again, but I don’t know if voters will engage with Bulgaria in the same way again.

Chris says: NQ. If Cezar makes it though, do you think Krassimir Avramov will kick out his TV screen?

 

Iceland: Eyþór Ingi Gunnlaugsson – “Ég á Líf

Jen says: Q. On the bubble. If this contest is still about plain ol’ honest songwriting and good singing, then Iceland deserves to make it through. The presentation is straightforward but complements the song.

Chris says: Q. We are totally going to Iceland next year. This is going to happen.

 

Greece: Koza Mostra feat. Agathonas Iakovides – “Alcohol is free

Jen says: Q. The song is infectious, high energy, and a lot of fun. And I think many of us can get behind its message.

Chris says: Q. To be transparent, Kieran clearly looked into the hat to make sure he picked Greece.

 

Israel: Moran Mazor – “Rak Bishvilo

Jen says: Q. On the bubble. Stylistically, this song is not unlike previous entries from Boaz (2008) and Harel Skaat (2010). If both those qualified, then one might posit that this should too.

Chris says: Q. Have you seen the official video for “Rak Bishvilo?” It is brilliant. Brilliant.

 

Armenia: Dorians – “Lonely Planet

Jen says: NQ. On the bubble. Gor is a strong front man and I like their use of lighting in this song. It’s being presented as well as can possibly be. However, rock entries often struggle, and this one takes a long time to get going.

Chris says: Q. What most people don’t realize is that the planet in question is Neptune.

 

Hungary: ByeAlex – “Kedvesem

Jen says: Q. On the bubble. Even though it’s in Hungarian, the cadence and the lilt helps you understand what the song is about. The mood is chill, but I’ve been impressed by the intensity of support ByeAlex has managed to generate. Finally, if there are rewards for authenticity, then we should see that reflected there, because Alex is unquestionably doing this thing.

Chris says: NQ. Kieran told us, “Everyone sings loud but ByeAlex. ByeAlex doesn’t have to sing loud.”

 

Norway: Margaret Berger – “I Feed You My Love

Jen says: Q. Lots of attention has been paid to Denmark, Ukraine, Russia, and increasingly Azerbaijan, but Norway has been steady throughout rehearsals. Little has changed from the Norwegian MGP, and it remains solid as it ever was.

Chris says: Q. I for one love the Norway ride at EPCOT Center and am also not ashamed to admit that the first time I ever ate gjetost cheese was at the Norwegian restaurant there. It’s like Norway fed me its love.

 

Albania: Adrian Lulgjuraj &  Bledar Sejko – “Identiet

Jen says: Q. On the bubble. I like the song and really like that they went back to the symphonic backing track. And Bledar is known in Albania. I count at least 5 neighbor and diaspora countries in this Semi that could give them good points. However, I am underwhelmed by the staging.

Chris says: Q. I’m thinking of doing a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to go to Tirana for Festivali i Këngës.

 

Georgia: Nodi & Sophie – “Waterfall

Jen says: Q. A high quality, archetypical Eurovision entry this year from the Georgians, from the song to the staging.  Qualifications schmalifications, bring on the formalwear.

Chris says: Q. I worked with someone from Georgia at a previous job. One day she told me I needed to marry a good Georgian woman. I told her I was already married. She asked what nationality my wife was. I told her part English and part Austrian. She replied, “That’s half good.”

 

Switzerland: Takasa (nee Heilsarmee) – “You and me

Jen says: NQ. Switzerland always faced an uphill climb. By doing little more than standing in a line and singing, they’ve done themselves no favors.

Chris says: NQ. There was a brief time where Switzerland had our second favorite entry this year. This was before Christmas of last year.

 

Romania: Cezar – “It’s My Life

Jen says: NQ. On the bubble. There’s no getting around the fact that Cezar is a highly trained, outstanding singer, and despite all that’s going on in the staging, he has control and complete confidence. For the longest time I was stubbornly keeping him in the Q column knowing that this was always going to be camp, and there are plenty of countries in this semi that have historically supported Romania. But… I just can’t. From what I’ve been able to tell it’s not funny, it’s uncomfortable.

Chris says: Q. If this prediction turns out to be right, I will be happy because Cezar is going to be the life of our Eurovision party. Hell, he may be anyway.

Recap of Eurovision Song Contest 2013 Semifinal 1

Jen:

  • Estonia
  • Denmark
  • Russia
  • Ukraine
  • Netherlands
  • Belarus
  • Moldova
  • Ireland
  • Belgium
  • Serbia
Chris and Kieran:

  • Estonia
  • Slovenia
  • Denmark
  • Russia
  • Montenegro
  • Belarus
  • Moldova
  • Ireland
  • Cyprus
  • Belgium
Europe:

  • Estonia
  • Denmark
  • Russia
  • Ukraine
  • Netherlands
  • Lithuania
  • Belarus
  • Moldova
  • Ireland
  • Belgium

Score one for using reason and logic to make your Eurovision predictions instead of drawing flags out of a hat. Jen got nine of 10 picks correct, whereas Chris and Kieran only got seven.

Frankly, at the end of the show, we really thought Jen was going to go nine of 10 because Croatia or Montenegro pipped Serbia. Did anyone see Lithuania coming?

The big story tonight in our minds is that all four former Yugoslav republics that performed tonight did not make Saturday’s Final. Watching the show, it was clear to us there was no way Slovenia and Serbia were going through: Hannah sang poorly and Moje 3… I wanted them to be campier, and they went for it, but camp still has to be fun, and this collapsed under the weight of gaudy dresses. It just didn’t work on any level.

While former Yugoslav republics went out, former Soviet republics did well. Russia was great, Estonia and Ukraine were solid, Lithuania was lucky, and Belarus was everything Serbia wasn’t. Belarus clearly has an unending supply of creativity, because this was the third different staging Alyona Lanskaya and company have given us this season. That’s two whole stagings and one whole song more than Denmark!

Speaking of Denmark, Emmelie de Forest and her co-performers were visibly moved by the support they got from the Malmö crowd. Of course, given the proximity, the crowd probably had more than its share of Danish fans ready to cheer Emmelie on.

For me, Russia, Netherlands, and Denmark are the three songs from tonight that could win the whole shebang. Anouk in particular was spectacular, and Dina Garipova generated her share of goosebumps. One of our favorite performances on the night was Roberto Bellarosa’s for Belgium. He sounded great, he gave good face to the camera, and while the back-up dancers were a bit distracting, we both felt it came out brilliant.

It’s a weird year when we’re sad Croatia and Montenegro didn’t make the final and we’re actively rooting for Netherlands and Belgium to do well, but there it is.

Our Predictions: 2013 Semifinal 1

It’s true what they say… the more you know the less you know. In that spirit, we are trying out an experiment this year. Jen is making her predictions based on evidence and logic. Chris is making his predictions by pulling flags out of a hat. Let’s see which of us does better!

There are sixteen songs in this semifinal, and ten will qualify. Jen can identify 7 qualifiers pretty easily and is pretty sure 3 are not qualifying, which leaves a difficult choice among the remaining 6 for the other spots. Chris, on the other hand, has no problem identifying which songs would qualify. Because, as mentioned, he pulled 10 flags out of a hat.

Austria: Natália Kelly – “Shine

Jen says: NQ. On the bubble. Natalia gives great face, and the song is contemporary. A personal favorite. However, Austria suffers from a lack of voting partners in this semi, and the song, while pleasant, doesn’t immediately grab the viewer. Going first, I’m not sure she’ll make a lasting impression. A lot of power is loaded in the front half of this semi, but history shows us that typically only 4-5 songs tend to qualify from the front half of the draw. At least one deserving song in the first half is probably going to get left behind — it could be Austria. I hope I’m wrong.

Chris says: NQ. I have been to the Almdudler House. You’re jealous.

 

Estonia: Birgit Õigemeel – “Et uus saaks alguse

Jen says: Q. On the bubble. Birgit is a skilled singer and good on camera. The song is a country ballad, likely to secure jury support. I estimated that Estonia might get decent points from as many as 9 countries in this semi. Problem is, the song is boring. Her dress, which is basically a shower curtain draped around her boobs, is like pregnancy fashion from someone who has never designed clothes for pregnant women before. When in doubt, the edge goes to the good singer with the ballad.

Chris says: Q. Winny Puhh, Winny Puhh, tubby little rock band all covered with fluff…

 

Slovenia: Hannah Mancini – “Straight into love

Jen says: NQ. Hannah has a problem with her tuning. While belting the refrain, Hannah’s pitch regularly goes sharp. You can hear it in the recorded track, and she hasn’t fixed it in rehearsals.  Add to it, the tutting choreography looks goofy. It all feels like they are trying too hard. Not a fan.

Chris says: Q. We really missed Klemen Slakonja this year.

 

Croatia: Klapa s Mora – “Mizerja

Jen says: NQ. On the bubble. The vocal arrangement is pleasant, and as the only male entry in the first half of the semi, they contrast with what comes before and after. However, a traditional klapa song is unlikely to draw support from Western Europe no matter how well it is performed.

Chris says: NQ. Zagreb is quite possibly the coolest name for a city ever. Although Bloemfontein is right up there.

 

Denmark: Emmelie de Forest – “Only Teardrops

Jen says: Q. The front runner will sail through. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, and the Danes haven’t tried to fix a thing. The staging is largely unchanged from the Danish MGP.

Chris says: Q. Don’t tell Sweden, but we’re serving our guests Danish aquavit at our Eurovision party.

 

Russia: Dina Garipova – “What if

Jen says: Q. Native English speakers may be put off by the lyrics and the cheesy sentiment, but that’s not a barrier for a lot of other countries who will respond to the song’s sweeping melody and Dina’s strong vocal ability.

Chris says: Q. The thing about Russia is it’s very big.

 

Ukraine: Zlata Ognevich – “Gravity

Jen says: Q.  Zlata is gorgeous and a solid singer, and the song is a good vehicle for her. Ukraine has camped it up with the Big Friendly Giant carrying her in at the opening. Whether it ultimately helps or hurts remains to be seen, but it won’t be a liability at this stage.

Chris says: NQ. Good ol’ Ukraine, givin’ ’em the old razzle dazzle.

 

Netherlands: Anouk – “Birds

Jen says: Q. No gimmicks here. Netherlands’ song is not easy, but it is immediate without pandering to the audience. A big contrast with Ukraine, which may work in its favor.  I also believe that juries will recognize, and reward, the quality of this song.

Chris says: NQ. Can I start a rumor that this song is about Tippi Hedren’s relationship with Alfred Hitchcock?

 

Montenegro: Who See – “Igranka

Jen says: NQ. On the bubble. With over-the-top astronaut outfits and flawless vocals, Montenegro’s prospects have greatly improved during rehearsal week. Hip hop has historically disappointed at Eurovision, but it only takes one to buck the trend. It’ll get points from its Balkan neighbors and maybe even some cheese-loving Brits, but not sure there will be enough jury support to see it through.

Chris says: Q. “Igranka” is the first Eurovision entry to contain a recipe, if The Diggilo Thrush has translated “Gradele, česan, petrusin, riba, danu svega da se pokidam” correctly.

 

Lithuania: Andrius Pojavis – “Something

Jen says: NQ. Said it before, will say it again. Andrius is a charisma black hole.  He’s not going qualify simply because he sounds like The Killers.

Chris says: NQ. Lithuania is the Italy of the Baltics.

 

Belarus: Alyona Lanskaya – “Solayoh

Jen says: Q. On the bubble. Alyona’s prospects have fallen during rehearsal week, and I haven’t identified a lot of countries that are likely to give Belarus the big points, but I don’t know… I think she’s might get it done. The huge disco ball and choreography is akin to what Emmy (Armenia 2011) did when she failed to qualify. But in 2011, Emmy suffered from massive pitch problems due to a wonky audio, and even with the technical issues she only missed the cut by 1 point. There’s no reason to think that Alyona will have Emmy’s pitch issues, and the upside down cha-cha clap is truly inspired.  And again, with history telling us that 5-6 songs from the 2nd half will probably qualify, a weaker song from the second half will probably make it in.

Chris says: Q. I was disappointed to learn that Minsk, Pinsk, Dzerzhinsk, and Verkhnjadzvinsk are the only cities in Belarus that end in -insk.

 

Moldova: Aliona Moon – “O mie

Jen says: Q. I had her in the Q column before the rehearsals began. Since the national finals, Moldova has elevated the performance value (literally), removed the horrific English lyrics, and Aliona’s vocals have improved.

Chris says: Q. Can Pasha Parfeny be the Stefan Raab of Moldova please?

 

Ireland: Ryan Dolan – “Only Love Survives

Jen says: Q. Ireland has proved to be a divisive entry among the fans. I maintain the song is radio-friendly, and vocally Ryan is solid. Ireland will probably attract more support from fans than juries.  The staging seems busy, but I don’t see that as a liability for his qualification prospects.

Chris says: Q. This is totally going to be the year we get into the Rose of Tralee Festival.

 

Cyprus: Despina Olympiou – “An me thimase

Jen says: NQ. When we go back to watch previous contests, there’s always one song in the semis that we forget was there, even though we ‘ve seen the old shows dozens of times now. In years to come, when we go back and re-watch this contest, Cyprus will be that song.

Chris says: Q. Contrary to popular belief in the United States, the national anthem of Cyprus is not “Hits From the Bong.”

 

Belgium: Roberto Bellarosa – “Love kills

Jen says: Q. On the bubble. In many ways, this song for me is in the same boat as Austria.  A likable radio-friendly song in the adult contemporary genre, competant vocals, another personal favorite, but the country has historically few voting allies and I have doubts about the “so what” factor. I think Belgium has the edge because of the late draw, and, I hate to say it, because he’s a guy in a female-heavy semi.

Chris says: Q. A former co-worker of mine once spent the night at a train station in Bruges.

 

Serbia: Moje 3 – “Ljubav je svuda

Jen says: Q. Pure trash, and the Serbian organizers have managed to make it worse by putting the 3 gals in ridiculous layered dresses with heart cutouts. But the song is annoyingly catchy, they have the pimp slot, and four Balkan countries are voting in this semi. Odds are they’ll make it in.

Chris says: NQ. Not only do people in Belgrade speak English really well, they’d also prefer that you don’t try to speak Serbian. Well, they prefer that don’t try to speak Serbian, anyway.

A Modest Proposal

A strange, unique Eurovision feature is the “fan journalist.” Press passes are provided to selected bloggers and mega-fans, allowing them access to the media room, the artists, and the rehearsals. Whether sanctioned or not, rehearsal footage regularly finds it way to YouTube ahead of the contest. This year, at the request of the artists, Malmo organizers limited press access during the 1st technical rehearsals. The press could attend, but no photos and no unauthorized video. In making this change, Malmo organizers made a small step to distance fan journalists from the rehearsals, but in practice nothing much changed. Photos leaked and fan journalists provided running commentary during the rehearsals.

Not naming names, but we were appalled by some of the feedback coming out of the “press” during the early rehearsals.  “<Country> had a bad first run thru during their first rehearsal!!! NOT QUALIFYING” -or- “<Country> was ahead of the beat in the recorded track!  QUALIFICATION IS IN QUESTION!!!  Turns out his earpiece wasn’t working! They fixed it later! WILL HE QUALIFY?!?!” (Ok, I’m paraphrasing and exaggerating, but only slightly.) This type of reaction is both poorly-considered and unfair to the artist. It isn’t unique to this year, either.

I’m at risk of overgeneralizing. I know of many Eurovision fan journalists who try hard to avoid jumping to such conclusions. But not all, not enough. And therein lies the rub, because as long as Eurovision organizers give press passes to fans, Eurovision organizers will never be able to filter out the fans that offer respectful assessments from the ones that don’t.

Speaking from a selfish perspective, we like being able to watch the rehearsals. We enjoy watching the acts come to life because we’re fans and we’re eager to see what they’re planning.  We like being flies on the wall and we are interested in the creative process, but we don’t need to watch the rehearsals. We don’t really benefit from watching the rehearsals.

It’s unusual that fans are allowed this much access, and it’s unusual for a reason. Rehearsals are for the artists. Even as late as tech rehearsal, artists need to be allowed the freedom to experiment, to try things out, and to fail. Now, any act that is still seriously experimenting in tech probably has bigger issues, but that’s their problem to have, not ours to see.

As fans, we are not entitled to see rehearsals.

By opening the rehearsals to fans with press passes, the Eurovision organizers put pressure on the artists to perform at a high level even during tech rehearsals, lest the artists open themselves up to unfair, unnecessary criticism from overeager observers who quickly jump to conclusions.

I for one am in awe of the excellent attitude the performers have toward the Eurovision rehearsal process. Generally, it is the artist’s prerogative whether to let outsiders view their process, and permission, when granted, is limited to those who have been carefully vetted. But at Eurovision, the artists have no such control. Rather, by agreeing to represent their country, these artists have tacitly granted permission to let random outsiders observe and judge them before the contest. From what I’ve been able to tell, the artists tend to handle the fan scrutiny with good humor. You rarely hear a negative word out of them on the subject, though a complaint about the process would be completely justified.

There is a journalistic reason to allow press access to some rehearsals. Early access allows journalists to identify the major elements of the country’s act, ultimately to help the audience understand any interesting or remarkable features. What these observers, can–and should–be gleaning from rehearsals is insights into the major choices in the staging: How many performers on stage? What kind of choreography is there? Any major props? Any changes to the arrangement since the official album? Dang, it is, like, totally over the top?  But here’s a hard truth: to report on these elements, the press doesn’t need access to any more than one set of rehearsals.

In banning photos and video from the first rehearsals this year, the organizers didn’t go far enough. Interviews, press conferences, by all means keep those open to the fan journalists. But Eurovision organizers should close rehearsals and adopt a full embargo on first tech, and I would shed no tears if they embargoed second tech as well. The artists deserve it.