National Final Season in Review 2018: Our Favorite Songs

When we looked back at our notes from the national final season, we heard Tim Gunn’s voice echoing through our brains: “It’s all a matter of taste.” There are a couple of songs on our list that were, shall we say, less than beloved by other Eurovision diehards. Maybe these choices will reflect poorly on us, but we don’t care because they brought us joy. That is all we can ever ask for out of pop music.

France: Nassi – “Rêves de gamin

Destination Eurovision, France’s national final competition, was the best national final of them all in 2018. Even the songs that were clunkers were better than other countries’ Eurovision entries. We could have picked most of the songs for our list.

We were familiar with Nassi before the competition from his single “La vie est belle.” If anything, “Rêves de gamin” suffered a bit from hewing  too close to the “La vie est belle” template. (Well, that and Nassi lacked confidence when performing.) We loved it anyway.

France: Malo’ – “Ciao

“Ciao” is a stomping indie anthem that was perhaps a bit too out there for a general audience. But Malo’ is a unique artist with a gentle and distinct voice that drew us in.

Hungary: Yesyes – “I Let You Run Away

In our Eurovision That Almost Was post, we focused on the song that scored the most points with the judging panel because A Dal usually doesn’t reveal the second place winner. We later saw on the ESC Hungary website that Yesyes had actually captured second place with 29% of the public vote (versus AWS’ 32%). So let’s revise our revisionist history. We’re usually fans of Ádám Szabó’s A Dal output and “I Let You Run Away” was his strongest effort to date. Of course, we’re biased towards accordion solos.

Hungary: Viktor Király – “Budapest Girl”

Yes, it is shamelessly commercial. Yes, it is relentlessly cheesy. Yes, the lyrics make us cringe. But we do not care. “Budapest Girl” made us stupidly happy.

Sweden: Samir & Viktor – “Shuffla

Samir & Viktor’s brand of bro-schlager has become a Melodifestivalen staple and it has never been better than with “Shuffla.” From its silly sepia-tinged intro to its strategic use of an epic sax guy, “Shuffla” is an almost perfect Eurotrash dance anthem.

Estonia: Indrek Ventmann – “Tempel”

“Tempel” is the type of Eesti Laul entry that turns casual national final viewers into diehard Eesti-fans. (Laulheads?) The staging sees Indrek  maintaining his peace while suffering through all the trappings of modern life, such as cell phone calls and strangers randomly scissoring up your t-shirt. The song goes on a bit at the end, but we forgive it because the whole package is fabulous.

Ukraine: Laud – “Waiting

There is something appealingly askew about “Waiting.” It has a slithering groove that sidles up on you, but the arrangement and the backing vocals are slightly off-kilter. It made us pay attention.

Ukraine: Pur:Pur – “Fire

Pur:Pur has a knack for moody, ethereal orchestrations and singer Nata Smirina has a striking fashion sense. They made it to the final of Ukraine’s national selection in 2016 with “We Do Change,” which we thought didn’t stand up to the band’s theatrical style. We liked “Fire” a lot more, yet it died in the semifinals. Go figure.

Portugal: JP Simões – “Alvoroço

There is a fine line between awesome and WTF and JP Simões doesn’t care if he veers all over it as he struts along. “Alvoroço” kicks off with unsettling blasts of strings before settling into a cool little 1970s-tinged samba. JP’s rich baritone guides us along and, when we get unsettled by a sudden, brass-driven manic breakdown, he calms us down as he brings us home. It’s like a first visit to a big city condensed into a three-minute song.

Norway: Ida Maria – “Scandilove”

If we are being honest, “Scandilove” is utterly ridiculous. The too-cheeky-by-half lyrics wink so hard Ida Maria could have strained her eyelids. But “Scandilove” is catchier than the nasty cold that befell Ida at MGP. It’s so much fun and we only wish that she had been physically strong enough to carry it to its full potential.

The 2018 Eurovision That Almost Was: Semifinal Two

Let’s take a look back at Semifinal Two and the three Big 6 countries that voted in it and picture a show without robots, neon stage props, quirky graphics, Norsemen and heavy f-in’ metal.

Russia: Internal selection. Not applicable.

Serbia: Saška Janks – “Pesma za tebe

“Pesma za tebe” is not the most ground-breaking ballad you will ever hear, but it takes the best parts of Irish folk, Balkan-style Eurovision staging, and “Unsubstantial Blues” to create an enjoyable little ballad.

Denmark: Anna Ritsmar – “Starlight

Anna Ritsmar is an adorable 17-year-old former X Factor contestant with an adorably twee Radio Disney-friendly pop song. But sadly she is not a goddamned Viking.

Romania: Alexia & Matei – “Walking on Water

“Walking on Water” sounds like Eye Cue’s “Lost and Found” if Eye Cue had settled on one song instead of several.

Australia: Internal selection. Not applicable.

Norway: Rebecca – “Who We Are

We admit that we were Team Rebecca all the way (at least once Ida Maria was knocked out of contention). We knew Alexander Rybak was going to win, but rooting for him is like rooting for Barcelona in a Copa del Ray final.

Moldova: Vera Țurcanu – “Black Heart”

If 1990s-era made-for-pay-channel erotic thrillers starring Nick Cassavettes and Shannon Whirry were still a thing, Vera Țurcanu would have the perfect theme song for one.

San Marino: Sara de Blue – “Out of the Twilight

We’re kind of disappointed Sara de Blue did not get the nod for San Marino. She could have taken inspiration from DJ Bobo and “Hope Never Dies” and gothed the hell out of her staging. It could have been awesome.

Netherlands: Internal selection. Not applicable.

Montenegro: Katarina Bogićević – “Neželjena

Katarina’s postcard for Montevizija shows her playing beer pong. As with eventual Montenegrin representative Vanja Radovanović, Katarina seems more fun than her song would indicate.

Sweden: Felix Sandman – “Every Single Day”

Felix finished runner up to Benjamin Ingrosso in both the jury and the public votes. He was good but he wasn’t given the Melodifestivalen staging that Benjamin got. We figure Felix’ result in 2018 will set him up nicely for the producer’s bump in 2019. (We’re not saying that this is what’s going on at Melodifestivalen, but we’re not not saying that this is what’s going on at Melodifestivalen.)

Hungary: Gergely Dánielfy – “Azt mondtad

As usual, A Dal did not reveal the runner up totals, but the top vote-getter from the judging panel was “Azt mondtad.” We can see why: Dánielfy brought a lot of smoldering intensity to his performance.

Malta: Richard & Joe Micallef – “Song for Dad

Richard Edwards Micallef of Firelight’s “Coming Home” fame and his dad Joe Micallef sing a song Richard and Cyprian Cassar wrote for Joe. That is both a factual statement and a review of the song.

Latvia: Sudden Lights – “Just Fine

“Just Fine” is an interesting, atmospheric song that meanders full circle without ever going anywhere. It’s, you know…

Georgia: Internal selection. Not applicable.

Poland: Happy Prince – “Don’t Let Go

“Don’t Let Go” was the jury favorite at Krajowe Eliminacje 2018, but it didn’t capture the public’s imagination. We’re with the public on this one.

Slovenia: BQL – “Promise”

BQL returned to EMA with another Maraaya joint, this time sporting lyrics by Charlie Mason. They dominated the public vote, but got royally hosed by the jury. We won’t complain too much because we love “Hvala, ne!” Still, we hope BQL, Marjetka, Raay, and Charlie all want to work together again next year.

Ukraine: Tayanna – “Lelya

There is a fine line between good energy and manic energy and Tayanna has no idea that line exists.

France: Lisandro Cuxi – “Eva

Lisandro won France’s version of X Factor and he is an absolute star. We liked “Mercy” more than “Eva,” but we would not have been surprised if he had won Destination Eurovision. We expect him to be France’s Eurovision representative sooner rather than later.

Italy: Lo Stato Sociale – “Una vita in vacanza

Imagine a drunk Josh Widdicombe singing karaoke at a bar in Rome.

Germany: Xavier Darcy – “Jonah

What can we say about Xavier Darcy? He’s a pretty good singer and “Jonah” is a pretty good song. But his performance style is a bit affected. We were annoyed with him at first, but once we settled into his rhythm, we were along for the ride.

The 2018 Eurovision That Almost Was: Semifinal One

It’s always fun to look back at the national final season and imagine how things could have been different in Lisbon. Then again, in the case of Semifinal One, things wouldn’t have been that different: 9 of the 19 countries involved went with an internal selection.

We’re also including the three Big 6 countries that voted in Semifinal One so that we can once again whinge about the BBC.

Belarus: Gunesh – “I Won’t Cry

Are you a movie producer from the 1980s looking for a perky pop song to use in a montage scene in your romcom about mistaken identities? Jump in your time machine and set a course for Minsk! Gunesh performed wearing a trench coat dress that we hoped would lead to a spectacular costume change. Our hopes were dashed by the last high note she almost landed.

Bulgaria: Internal selection. Not applicable.

Lithuania: Jurgis Brūzga – “4love

There was something weirdly hokey about the staging of Jurgis Brūzga’s “4Love.” Apparently, he and his team decided to stage their mid-’00s dance jam like a number from a flop musical. It’s a little bit too smiley and a little bit too manic to work. Or maybe we’re just disappointed that this wasn’t the return of 4Fun.

Albania: Redon Makashi – “Ekziston

“Ekziston” is a lovely little ballad, but Redon’s performance lacked the fireworks Eugent Bushpepa brought to “Mall.”

Czech Republic: Debbi – “High on Love

“High On Love” reminds us a bit of “Stones,” Zibbz’ song for Switzerland. It’s a decent pop banger that takes a generic Eurovision thematic trope and gives it some zing. Ultimately, though, there’s no doubt Czech Republic made the right choice.

Belgium: Internal selection. Not applicable.

Iceland: Dagur Sigurðsson – “Í stormi”

The story of this year’s Söngvakeppnin boiled down to this: two singers selling two staid ballads that were well below their talent. We would have preferred “Í stormi” over “Our Choice,” though, because it sounds like it came from this millennium.

Azerbaijan: Internal selection. Not applicable.

Israel: Jonathan Mergui – Song internally selected.

Jonathan Mergui was the runner up to Netta on Rising Star, which was used to select Israel’s Eurovision performer. He probably would have been a solid representative of his country. And we probably would have been heading to Nicosia in 2019.

Estonia: Stig Rästa – “Home”

We are not as big fans of Stig as a lot of other Eurovision diehards seem to be, but we thought “Home” was Stig’s best contribution to Eesti Laul to date.

Switzerland: Alejandro Reyes – “Compass

“Compass” is a low-key pop number in the Puth-Mendes realm. We  preferred it to “Stones,” although we wouldn’t have expected it to go over much better in Lisbon.

Finland: Saara Aalto – “Domino

“Monsters” is a lead single off an album. “Domino” is the fifth single off that album, the one that comes out while the artist is already back in the studio working their follow-up.

Austria: Internal selection. Not applicable.

Ireland: Internal selection. Not applicable.

Armenia: Nemra – “I’m a Liar”

The Stig Rästa of Armenia performs a fluffly little retro ballad with a couple bits of non-gimmick gimmickry, including a random traditional folk bit at the end. It is goofy fun.

Cyprus: Internal selection. Not applicable.

Croatia: Internal selection. Not applicable.

Greece: Internal selection. Not applicable.

Macedonia: Internal selection. Not applicable.

United Kingdom: No 2nd place announced. Not applicable.

One of the more annoying things about BBC is that they never release the voting tallies for You Decide. We expect SuRie ran away with the competition, but we would have loved to seen how Asanda and Jaz Ellington finished.

Spain: Aitana – “Arde

“Arde” is a smoldering ballad and while Aitana sings it well, it lacked the spark that Amaia & Alfred brought to “Tu canción.”

Portugal: Catarina Miranda – “Para Sorrir Eu Não Preciso de Nada

“Para Sorrir Eu Não Preciso de Nada” reminds us of 1970s-era AM radio. It’s okay, but Catarina seemed to really struggle with it.  We can’t argue that Portugal made the wrong choice, their ultimate fate in May notwithstanding.

The State of Our 2018 Predictions

Remember in our predictions post when we said, “The journey we take during each Eurovision season is a lot more significant to us then getting 9 out of 10?” Boy, are we glad we have that attitude!

Jen:

  1. Israel
  2. France
  3. Cyprus
  4. Moldova
  5. Bulgaria
  6. Sweden
  7. Norway
  8. Australia
  9. Ukraine
  10. Ireland

Last Place: Spain

Chris:

  1. France
  2. Israel
  3. Cyprus
  4. Moldova
  5. Bulgaria
  6. Ukraine
  7. Sweden
  8. Germany
  9. Hungary
  10. Norway

Last Place: Spain

Europe:

  1. Israel
  2. Cyprus
  3. Austria
  4. Germany
  5. Italy
  6. Czech Republic
  7. Sweden
  8. Estonia
  9. Denmark
  10. Moldova

Last Place: Portugal

Jen got 4 out of 10, but picked the winner, and I picked 5 out of 10 and got Sweden right. Moral victory?

Sheesh.

So we have a few regrets. For example: we definitely regret not picking Czech Republic for a top 10 finish. We knew why Mikolas Josef gave a more reserved performance in the first Semi, yet somehow forgot that he would pull out all the stops in the Final.

Jen and I had a debate about how Norway would do. That early draw was bad, even for a Eurovision legend. And, cute staging aside, the song was not up to the caliber of the other numbers on offer. We thought to ourselves, “Hey, it’s Rybak” without reminding ourselves that Eurovision voters are not that sentimental. (See also: Charlotte Perrelli, Niamh Kavanagh, and Dana International.)

We also should have reminded ourselves that Ukraine picked a song by an artist who only has fan appeal. Melovin consistently did better with the public than with the juries in the past two Ukrainian national finals.

Jen’s Ireland pick was based on perceived momentum. “Together” seemed to have the buzz from the bubble and the bookies shortened its odds after it qualified for the Final. We probably should know better than to pick a song from Ireland and United Kingdom when we know the betting markets we follow are based in Ireland and United Kingdom.

So sometimes, our predictions went awry because we didn’t pay enough attention to all the information we had gathered through the national final season. But other times, we let our own personal biases seep in. For example, despite our personal distaste for pop opera,”La Forza” had shown consistent public appeal. We weren’t surprised to see Estonia finish eighth, but we could have seen the result coming if we hadn’t been holding our noses.

Similarly, we both thought France’s message ballad was going to outshine Italy’s, mostly because we liked France’s song better. We thought “Mercy” was served a spoonful of sugar, while “Non mi avete fatto niente” was served with a swig of Campari. As it turns out, the public responded to the harder hitting, more defiant entry.

Germany also benefited from spelling out its message. We thought the staging for “You Let Me Walk Alone” was very much on the nose, but there was no doubt Michael Schulte and his team did what they needed to do to tell his story. Both Italy and Germany needed to get their messages through to a broad, multilingual audience, and they were able to convey those messages loud and clear.

We’re really not sure why our Bulgaria picks went awry. There was nothing wrong with the song or the staging, per se, but at the end of the night “Bones” just didn’t stand out compared to other entries. Eurovision is a crapshoot, and sometimes good performances get left behind.

Lastly, I didn’t really care if my Hungary pick was right or not. We put a lot of work and a lot of thought into making our predictions, but sometimes, I say, “What the heck,” and just pick a song I like. “Viszlát nyár” turned out to be my quiet favorite this year, so I ran with it. OK, maybe “quiet” is not the right word…

Recap of Eurovision Song Contest 2018

Congratulations to Netta Barzilai and Israel!

Remember when Israel’s victory seemed inevitable before rehearsals began and then it didn’t because Cyprus showed up with fire and memes and stuff? Then it looked like Austria was going to romp to victory and somehow Sweden was in contention too, and then Sweden got crap points from the televote and Austria got okay votes from the televote and all of a sudden Israel’s victory looked inevitable again because Netta got more points than Eleni in the jury vote?

It’s like the past two weeks didn’t even happen!

Our overwhelming reaction to the outcome was…relief. We love that Netta challenges and helps us move our conceptions of femininity forward, not unlike the way Conchita did for gender identity. So we have to admit that it would not have sat well with us if Cyprus had won. In any other year, we probably would have been fine with it. But this year, our top two contenders shaped up to be a unique artist who defied female stereotypes and a sex kitten. This, against the backdrop of #MeToo. What a message that would have sent. Thank you, Europe, for getting it right.

Don’t get us wrong: Eleni Foureira was great and a deserved the top five finish. Also, in a year where our predictions for the Final went so awry, we can take solace in the fact that we nailed our write ups of both “Toy” and “Fuego” earlier this year.

Chris said that he had a dream on Friday night that Austria somehow won Eurovision this year. So you can imagine our amazement during the jury voting when “Nobody But You” kept racking up points. If you had told us one of Symphonix International’s songs was going to be the jury favorite, we would have thought it would have been “Bones” (which won the Marcel Bezençon Composers Award). A huge round of applause for Cesár Sampson.

The bookies ultimately had the correct odds for Germany going into the Final. Michael Schulte’s performance of “You Let Me Walk Alone” was touching and effective. Even though we thought Germany’s LED screen was a bit of a cop out, we have to admit it made the song even more memorable.

If any country should feel really hard done by this year, it should be Italy. (Although let’s be real, Spain did get screwed with the draw.) The juries ranked “Non mi avete fatto niente” 17th and the televote rated it 3rd. Would they have won if the jurors were a bit more generous? That huge disparity between the juries and the public–particularly since this isn’t the first time an Italian song has had this type of discrepancy–are driving discussions that the jury system needs to be overhauled. (Again.)

The other driver of those discussions is Sweden’s result. Sweden was second in the jury vote, but absolutely bombed with the public. They finished 23rd in the televote. 23rd! The juries ate up “Dance You Off,” but it would seem our concerns that it was struggling to connect with viewers were confirmed. This result suggests that not only is our relationship with Benjamin Ingrosso complicated, but apparently the music industry’s will be as well. He’s talented, but that’s one heck of an Achilles’ heel. For some reason, this makes me want to comfort poor Benji even more.

I am a little disturbed by my feelings towards him at this point.

Anyway, while we understand everyone’s points about how the jury system seems unjust, to us it just feels a lot like sour grapes. Fairly or unfairly, the juries are doing what they were meant to do when the EBU moved away from the 100% televote. Besides, what else would we talk about after Eurovision is over if we didn’t have the jury results to debate? Of course, we may be biased because we rather liked the outcome of the jury vote.

We were surprised that France ultimately finished 13th, well out of contention. “Mercy” finished second in the OGAE voting behind “Toy” and consistently had short betting odds. We didn’t think of it as a fanbait song, but apparently it was.

And we were shocked Australia absolutely bombed, finishing 12th with the juries and dead last with the public. There is already some grumbling that Australia should pull out next year and focus on Eurovision Asia (if that’s still going to be a thing). We would hate to see them leave over this result, but we can understand if Australia has the impression they are not welcome at the Contest. Wait until Canada replaces them!

Lastly, we salute SuRie for her poise and professionalism after being attacked by a stage invader. She has been a delight to follow before the Contest and during the rehearsals, and she has been an absolute wonder since. We expected her to perform again, but to be honest, we can see why she didn’t feel like she needed to. She was able to make her song’s lyrics all the more powerful by drawing strength from her perseverance.

We have two takeaways from this: 1) The United Kingdom was very lucky to have had her as their representative this year, and 2) There is a clear need for the EBU to adopt more sensible and consistent security measures. This is the second year in a row that Eurovision has had a stage invader, and this time the invader went for the artist. That’s completely unacceptable. Perhaps Israel will give them some pointers about how to do security right.

Our Predictions: 2018 Grand Final

So here it is, the day of the Eurovision Song Contest 2018 Grand Final. We have lived with these songs for months and their staging for a couple of weeks. We’ve followed the discussions on the ESC Nation message boards and on Twitter, the fluctuation of the betting charts, all the charts on the Eurovision Tracker, and…

And we genuinely have no idea what’s going to happen. That’s because the one thing we can never learn from all that research is this: on the night, what song is going to resonate with the widest swath of people?

We started following the national finals and all the Eurovision news and analysis sites to help us get a good idea of which songs would do well on the night. We wanted to make better predictions.

It helped to a certain degree, but a lot of times our picks would have been just as good if we flipped a coin or drew flags out of a hat (we’ve tried both). Sometimes we don’t feel like we know more than we did back in December.

The thing is, the predictions aren’t really important anymore. We just really enjoy the process. The journey we take during each Eurovision season is a lot more significant to us then getting 9 out of 10.

On the night, all we here at Eurovision Lemurs have are our guts. As it has always been. Here’s what our guts say.

Jen:

  1. Israel
  2. France
  3. Cyprus
  4. Moldova
  5. Bulgaria
  6. Sweden
  7. Norway
  8. Australia
  9. Ukraine
  10. Ireland

Last Place: Spain

Chris:

  1. France
  2. Israel
  3. Cyprus
  4. Moldova
  5. Bulgaria
  6. Ukraine
  7. Sweden
  8. Germany
  9. Hungary
  10. Norway

Last Place: Spain

By the way, Kieran declined to do a top 10. We think the disappointment from his Semifinal results got to him. The kid’s a perfectionist!

But he did say he thinks Moldova is going to win, Israel will come second, France will come third, and Italy will finish last.

Eurovision 2018: A Primer for Saturday Night Viewing

The Eurovision Song Contest is being held this Saturday in Lisbon’s Altice Arena. It is the first time Portugal has hosted Eurovision and their theme is “All Aboard,” a nod to their maritime history. Expect a lot of seafaring-based puns from the four hosts and cute guys in sailor outfits.

Here is what else to look for at this year’s Song Contest.

Who Are the Contenders?

The hot favorite coming into Lisbon has been Israel. Netta Barzilai created a splash with her song “Toy,” an empowering anthem that is both defiant and playful. Netta is a unique artist hampered only by the fact that the EBU wouldn’t let her use her trademark looper in her staging.

Since the rehearsal period began almost two weeks ago, the attention has shifted to Cyprus. Eleni Foureira is a Greek pop star who has gone for a seductive staging of her song “Fuego.” A viral video of her reply to a question about what her song means has added to her buzz.

Norway have brought back 2009 Song Contest winner Alexander Rybak. “That’s How You Write a Song” is aided by cute CGI graphics and his overall sense of professionalism. The man is still quite the entertainer.

Then there is France. They are represented by the duo Madame Monsieur, whose song “Mercy” tells the story of a baby of born to a refugee on a boat to Sicily. Expect the crowd in the hall to help Madame Monsieur lift their staging further.

Some dark horses to look out for: Sweden, with their usual flair for radio-friendly pop and innovative staging; Moldova, with a brilliant set piece; and Czech Republic, with an American-style pop banger.

Other countries generating excitement are Italy, who have an intense song about staying defiant in the face of terrorism; Germany, whose Michael Schulte brings an emotional Ed Sheeran-style song about the loss of his father; Australia, with an effervescent slice of pop positivity by Aussie megastar Jessica Mauboy; Austria, who have a bad draw but have been racking up iTunes downloads after their Semifinal performance; and Lithuania, whose love song would be syrupy if singer Ieva Zasimauskaitė didn’t sing it so darned well.

There has even been talk about Ireland, who have a lovely staging for Ryan O’Shaughnessy’s gentle pop ballad. Their prospects have skyrocketed in the last 24 hours due to their late draw in the running order.

In other words: no one has any idea whatsoever who is going to win.

No LED Screens? No Problem!

RTP, Portugal’s national broadcaster, did not install a giant LED screen this year. That has left the participants looking for different ways to add oomph to their staging.

On the prop front, Ukraine has the best use of a piano since Dima Bilan hid a ballerina in one back in 2006. United KingdomAustralia, and Sweden have gone the Dan Flavin route with various florescent light sculptures. Estonia has a giant projection dress. Moldova has something that needs to be seen to be appreciated, but no spoilers here. Finland seemingly has every stage prop they could get their hands on.

Some acts, including Norway, Italy, and Cyprus, are using onscreen CGI graphics to enhance their performances. Then there’s Germany, who just brought their own LED screen. Cheeky.

Who Ended Up In the Hospital?

Mikolas Joseph from Czech Republic did! The poor guy hurt himself in the very first rehearsal and ended up visiting three different hospitals to deal with his injury. He held back his choreography a bit in Semifinal One, but he hopes to go all out in the Final.

Wait, Someone Is Missing…

Azerbaijan, Romania, and Russia all missed out on the Final this year. It’s the first time any of them have missed the Final in years they’ve competed in a Semifinal. Ukraine and Australia are the only two countries left with a perfect qualification record. (According to us. Apparently, your Eurovision record-keeping may vary!)

Who’s Back In the Final?

Ireland qualified for the Final for the first time in five years, while Finland is back after a three-year absence. Estonia, Albania and Slovenia return after two years, and Lithuania and Czech Republic return after missing out last year.

Who Will Rock?

Albania have a classic rock singer with a big, big voice. Netherlands have a country rock song that wouldn’t sound out of place on American country radio. Hungary have a proper metal band who make full use of the pyro system. They are not every diehard Eurovision fans’ cup of tea.

Does Denmark Have Vikings?

Yes.

How Do I Watch In the United States?
The U.S., Canada, and some other Western hemisphere countries are still geoblocked from watching the show on the official Eurovision YouTube channel. Some national broadcasters, including Germany and Sweden, make their feeds available without restriction.

For those of us who pay a lot for our cable packages, Logo will be broadcasting the Song Contest with commentary from Ross Matthews and Shangela. Can Logo break the 100,000 viewer mark this year? Let’s find out. Halleloo!

UPDATED 05/11/2018: This post was updated to add Estonia to the list of countries back in the Final after two years and to get the facts straight about Austria. See comments below.

Recap of 2018 Semifinal Two

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.

Jen:

  • Norway
  • Romania
  • Denmark
  • Moldova
  • Netherlands
  • Australia
  • Poland
  • Hungary
  • Sweden
  • Ukraine
Chris:

  • Norway
  • Denmark
  • Russia
  • Moldova
  • Australia
  • Georgia
  • Poland
  • Hungary
  • Sweden
  • Ukraine
Kieran:

  • Norway
  • Denmark
  • Russia
  • Moldova
  • Australia
  • Poland
  • Latvia
  • Sweden
  • Slovenia
  • Ukraine
Europe:

  • Norway
  • Serbia
  • Denmark
  • Moldova
  • Netherlands
  • Australia
  • Hungary
  • Sweden
  • Slovenia
  • Ukraine

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.

Our Predictions: 2018 Semifinal Two

Our picks for the first Semi were difficult to make because there were so many acts that deserved to qualify. Our picks for the second Semi were difficult to make because we knew that 10 acts had to qualify.

Kieran has once again submitted picks. We strongly urged him not to pick San Marino, so if they actually make it to the Final, he is going to be really mad at us.

Jen:

  • Norway
  • Romania
  • Denmark
  • Moldova
  • Netherlands
  • Australia
  • Poland
  • Hungary
  • Sweden
  • Ukraine
Chris:

  • Norway
  • Denmark
  • Russia
  • Moldova
  • Australia
  • Georgia
  • Poland
  • Hungary
  • Sweden
  • Ukraine
Kieran:

  • Norway
  • Denmark
  • Russia
  • Moldova
  • Australia
  • Poland
  • Latvia
  • Sweden
  • Slovenia
  • Ukraine

Norway: Alexander Rybak – “That’s How You Write a Song”

Jen – Q. Confidence: High.
Chris – Q. Confidence: High.
Kieran – Q.

Long live the King of Eurovision. Even if his song is pants.

Romania: The Humans – “Goodbye”

Jen – Q. Confidence: Low.
Chris – NQ. Confidence: Medium.
Kieran – NQ.

A quote from Kid Lemur: “Wait, they’re doing the mannequin challenge? That is so 2016.” Jen is picking them because… she doesn’t know why.

Serbia: Sanja Ilić and Balkanika – “Nova deca”

Jen – NQ. Confidence: Medium.
Chris – NQ. Confidence: Low.
Kieran – NQ.

While not as jarring as Macedonia’s entry, the variety of style changes in “Nova deca” may be its undoing.

San Marino: Jessika feat. Jenifer Brening – “Who We Are”

Jen – NQ. Confidence: High.
Chris – NQ. Confidence: High.
Kieran – NQ.

If San Marino had filled the stage with angry orange robots that can’t stop trolling people on Twitter, then their staging would have made a lot more sense.

Denmark: Rasmussen – “Higher Ground”

Jen – Q. Confidence: Low.
Chris – Q. Confidence: Medium.
Kieran – Q.

As bored with “Higher Ground” as we are at this point, Rasmussen does stand out in a crowd.

Russia: Julia Samoylova – “I Won’t Break”

Jen -NQ. Confidence: Low.
Chris – Q. Confidence: Medium.
Kieran – Q.

Russia has never had a problem qualifying and even if they did, we Americans figure they can hack their way out of trouble, right? Fire up them servers, boys. You got some work to do.

Moldova: DoReDos – “My Lucky Day”

Jen – Q. Confidence: High.
Chris – Q. Confidence: High.
Kieran – Q.

Moldova’s staging for “My Lucky Day” is absolutely delightful. We foresee another top five finish on Saturday might.

Netherlands: Waylon – “Outlaw In ‘Em”

Jen – Q. Confidence: Low.
Chris – NQ. Confidence: Low.
Kieran – NQ.

We like the song, but the artist singing it hasn’t exactly covered himself in glory in the past week and a half. It has become very easy for us to root against him. Not that this method acting has any bearing on the live performance, mind you. How uncomfortable the staging is on television will be another matter.

Australia: Jessica Mauboy – “We Got Love”

Jen – Q. Confidence: Low.
Chris – Q. Confidence: Low.
Kieran – Q.

We have an emerging story about gender politics at this year’s Eurovision, and it’s not just about Netta and Eleni. Jessica’s spark has been somewhat diminished in rehearsals due to fan nastiness. We hope she can find a way to a joyful and effervescent performance.

Georgia: Iriao – “For You”

Jen – NQ. Confidence: High.
Chris – Q. Confidence: Low.
Kieran – NQ.

We have no idea what anyone is going to make of “For You,” but regardless of what happens, we encourage Georgia to continue thinking outside the Eurovision box. Chris is picking them because… he doesn’t know why.

Poland: Gromee feat. Lukas Meijer – “Light Me Up”

Jen – Q. Confidence: Medium.
Chris – Q. Confidence: Low.
Kieran – Q.

It’s cheesy. It’s soooooooooo cheesy. But since when was that a problem with a Eurovision entry? On the night, with the crowd, we think this will come off okay.

Malta: Christabelle – “Taboo”

Jen – NQ. Confidence: Medium.
Chris – NQ. Confidence: Medium.
Kieran – NQ.

We’re not sure we would understand the story Malta is trying to tell had we not read about it beforehand.

Hungary: AWS – “Viszlát nyár”

Jen – Q. Confidence: Low.
Chris – Q. Confidence: Medium.
Kieran – NQ.

Chris is digging his heels in and saying this is a lock to qualify. Jen is not so sure because AWS may not be strong enough vocally. Kieran doesn’t like the song because, as mentioned, we’re not raising a rock and roll kid.

Latvia: Laura Rizzotto – “Funny Girl”

Jen – NQ. Confidence: Low.
Chris – NQ. Confidence: Medium.
Kieran – Q.

Latvia has gone all in on Laura’s ease on stage and her eye for the camera. Let’s see if that will be enough. Tuesday’s results, and Hungary’s big arena energy right before, may give them reason to worry.

Sweden: Benjamin Ingrosso – “Dance You Off”

Jen – Q. Confidence: High.
Chris – Q. Confidence: High.
Kieran – Q.

The only thing certain in life are death, taxes, and Sweden qualifying for the Final with “Dance You Off.” Unless, or even if, his lighting rig fails.

Montenegro: Vanja Radovanović – “Inje”

Jen – NQ. Confidence: Low.
Chris – NQ. Confidence: Low.
Kieran – NQ.

It’s probably a bad idea to bet against a Montenegrin ballad, since they have had a lot of success with them. We’re doing it anyway.

Slovenia: Lea Sirk – “Hvala, ne!”

Jen – NQ. Confidence: Low.
Chris – NQ. Confidence: Medium.
Kieran – Q.

We love this song. However, we follow people on Twitter who also love this song and are weeping openly about the staging. Kieran doesn’t care because he can still dance to it.

Ukraine: Melovin – “Under the Ladder”

Jen – Q. Confidence: High.
Chris – Q. Confidence: High.
Kieran – Q.

Vampires in Lisbon, come alive!

Recap of 2018 Semifinal One

Eurovision is, amongst other things, a family bonding experience. So it seems fitting that we all went 6 for 10 in our picks for tonight.

Jen:

  • Azerbaijan
  • Czech Republic
  • Israel
  • Estonia
  • Bulgaria
  • Croatia
  • Greece
  • Finland
  • Armenia
  • Cyprus
Chris:

  • Azerbaijan
  • Czech Republic
  • Israel
  • Estonia
  • Bulgaria
  • Croatia
  • Greece
  • Finland
  • Armenia
  • Cyprus
Kieran:

  • Azerbaijan
  • Czech Republic
  • Israel
  • Estonia
  • Bulgaria
  • Croatia
  • Armenia
  • Switzerland
  • Ireland
  • Cyprus
Europe:

    • Albania
    • Czechia
    • Lithuania
    • Israel
    • Estonia
    • Bulgaria
    • Austria
    • Finland
    • Ireland
    • Cyprus
Photo by: Andres Putting (Eurovision.tv)

Jen and I made the same picks and we both agreed we’re getting worse at this. Then we comforted ourselves by re-reading last year’s Semifinal Two recap. For his part, Kieran lamented how bad he did, especially because he thought he was going to nail this. Welcome to the world of pretending you know anything about the Eurovision Song Contest!

We knew this Semifinal was going to be a bit of a bloodbath based on the sheer quality of the songs on offer. As we said in our preview, we could make the case for just about every act here tonight. Even so, we still found ourselves surprised by the results.

Azerbaijan’s perfect record since joining Eurovision in 2008 is now broken. Greece has missed the Final two out of the last three years. Armenia missed out on its first Final since 2011. Belgium missed out on its first Final in three years. All of the artists representing these countries were deserving finalists, but at the end of the night, nine acts needed to go home.

One of the ones that broke our hearts tonight was Croatia. We thought Franka sang well tonight, and we are sad to see that her performance didn’t land with the audience. It was a rough night for acts that just stood there and sang well. Armenia, Croatia, and Iceland were knocked out, and we wonder if voters are looking for something different than what won last year.

We could argue that Estonia did the same thing and succeeded, but the projection dress gimmick probably carried Estonia as much as Elina did.  She remains a bit iffy in her lower register, though.

We weren’t sure about Lithuania. Ieva sang well, but she also just sat there  for more than half the song. However, her emotional break as her husband approached her left us with a lovely, genuine closing image.

Kieran hit the nail on the head with Ireland. He thought the performance really came alive when the dancers appeared, and we agreed. He was less pleased about Albania, because apparently we’re not raising a rock and roll kid. No such complaints from us, as we think it’s about time Albanian rock was represented in the Final.

As usual, we jumped out of our chairs when Austria qualified. We were not confident “Nobody But You” was coming together, but we are more than happy to be wrong.

We thought Israel and Czech Republic were a bit rough, but we are hopeful that the Semifinal will have helped them get the kinks out. We really enjoyed Bulgaria’s performance, although we need to forgive a couple of bum notes here and there.

Finland’s Saara Aalto is one of those artists who is just made for Eurovision. She was fantastic and we’re thrilled that someone who has wanted this for so long gets to make the most out of her time here.

Cyprus took over as the odds leader after yesterday’s jury rehearsal, and we could see why. The staging for “Fuego” was brilliant, particularly as Eleni Foureira was always the center of the action (and lit slightly brighter than her backing dancers). Kieran thinks Cyprus could win and we can’t argue with him.

But tune in on Thursday when a specter of Eurovision past takes the stage. This ain’t over yet.