May 5, 2018 Rehearsal Recap

Today’s Semifinal Two rehearsals started on a mountain and ended inside a piano-coffin. So who thought the Song Contest was getting boring?

Here are your Eurovision words of the day:

  • Props
  • Pyro
  • Tone-deaf
  • Ach, Dracule!

Russia used the “I Won’t Break” video as inspiration for their staging. Julia Samoylova sings atop a projection mountain (take that, Estonia!) while two dancers perform in front of her. It’s a reasonable way to work with Julia’s physical limitations while still making sure she commands the stage.

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We thought “My Lucky Day” was a weird song to be sung by a trio. Moldova seems to have noticed that too and staged it like a door-slamming farce. It is glorious.

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Netherlands is up next. Waylon has included krump dancers in the staging of his rebel country rock song. From the clips we have seen, we’re not sure that this is coming off the way he intended.

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Australia is still very early in its Eurovision career. While they have come out of the gate strong musically, they still have a lot to learn about staging. Jessica Mauboy looks very lonely on stage singing and dancing by herself. “We Got Love” is crying out for her backing singers to join the party.

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Georgia is lovely. Iriao just stand there and sing and let the lights and the dry ice and the fire curtain flow around them. It’s not particularly exciting, mind you, but it is lovely.

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If Australia isn’t bringing the party, Poland certainly is. Gromee may dance like your dad after a couple of alcopops, but “Light Me Up” is goofy fun.

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Malta has an LED prop on stage that shows clips from the official video for “Taboo,” amongst other images. There is also an interpretive dancer. Christabelle risks getting lost in all of the trappings, which is a shame because she is more than capable of telling her own story.

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We don’t know how expensive pyro rigs are, but Hungary sure are making full use of their investment. Vocalist Örs Siklósi brings an intensity to his performance that matches the explosions going off around him.

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Latvia stick with the Supernova staging for “Funny Girl.” It’s a proven winner on a national final level, but we can’t help but feel that “Funny Girl” needed a little bit extra to stand out between “Viszlát Nyár” and “Dance You Off.”

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It seems like the only change Sweden have made to “Dance You Off” is giving Benjamin Ingrosso a more comfortable jacket. It’s like the Swedes read our blog!

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Montenegro are doing a standard issue Balkan ballad staging for “Inje.” You know what you’re getting with it.

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As a side note: every year there are a couple of artists who seem so delightful that we become very jealous of anyone who gets to meet them. Vanja Radovanović is one of those artists.

At first glance, Slovenia are serving up a straight-forward performance of “Hvala, ne!” Then, for reasons we don’t begin to understand, they stage a fake technical error as a way to… uh, get the crowd involved? They should have hired Jimmy Jump and the naked Ukrainian guy while they were at it.

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The day finishes off with Ukraine, who have taken Melovin’s national final staging and just added more. The riser-on-fire stunt is still there, except it’s now the entire stairway to the piano that goes up in flames. Also, Melovin starts off by rising out of his piano like a vampire. (Was DJ Bobo just too far ahead of his time?) It’s over the top, which of course means it’s perfect for Ukraine.

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May 4, 2018 Rehearsal Recap

Today’s rehearsals bridge artists from Semifinals One and Two and give the Big Five and Portugal their first crack at the main stage. We’ll keep our thoughts about the host country and the automatic qualifiers to ourselves for now, but let’s dive into today’s Semifinal action!

Here are your Eurovision words of the day:

  • Robots?!
  • Fire
  • Diva

Armenia kicked off today’s rehearsals. Sevak sounds great and brings a grounded intensity to “Qami.” It’s solid, if not exciting.

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Switzerland was up next and, like Albania, Zibbz are bringing an arena rock performance to the Song Contest. Coco is a charismatic singer who commands the stage, which carries “Stones” about as far as it can go.

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A few countries are using their official videos as the basis for their staging. We weren’t expecting that from Ireland, but Ryan O’Shaughnessy has taken the touching choreography from the “Together” and brought it part and parcel to Lisbon. We’re still not crazy about the song, but it’s been years since Ireland has devised a good staging for Eurovision, so we’ll take it.

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Semifinal One closes with Cyprus and Eleni Foureira takes over. This is her stage and everyone else is just borrowing it. Cyprus moved up in the betting markets after their first rehearsal and with good reason.

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Alexander Rybak opens Semifinal Two and there really is no better performer to do. He is not doing anything you didn’t see at Norway’s national final, but he is still doing it very well. Could he win with this? Maybe. We would be annoyed, but also happy that someone is chasing after grumpy Johnny Logan’s legacy.

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Romania are one of two countries in the second Semi that are seemingly inspired by DJ Bobo. Here’s one of our Eurovision rules of thumb: don’t fill your stage with mannequins. It looks cheap. The Humans are also wearing masks on the backs of their heads, which means… something? Romania has always made the Grand Final in the years that they have competed, but we think they may struggle to keep that streak alive.

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Serbia apparently saw “Love Love Peace Peace” and didn’t realize it was satire.

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San Marino staged its first ever national final this year and decided that the only tweaks “Who We Are” needed were additional robots and signs for the robots to hold. Jessika and Jenifer Brening have different interpretations as to why the robots are on stage, which gives us the impression that San Marino didn’t really think this through.

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Denmark has simply recreated its national final staging in Lisbon. There’s nothing wrong with it. Maybe it will resonate with viewers who don’t obsessively watch all the national finals. We’ve got no complaints, but nothing else to add.

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Today there have only been hints at the madness to come in Semifinal Two. Russia starts tomorrow off by planting Julia Samoylova on top of a mountain. It only gets weirder from there. Stay tuned!

May 3, 2018 Rehearsal Recap

It’s tough to follow the rehearsals through short clips and reactions on Twitter and websites. There is very little consensus among the die-hard fans on the ground about what they are seeing. Except that Iceland isn’t going to qualify. Which means it probably will.

Here are your Eurovision words of the day:

  • Compentencies
  • Hands
  • The Continental

Azerbaijan kicks off the first Semi with “X My Heart.” They are showing remarkable restraint in their staging, only bringing some icebergs to perform on. Perhaps they were tipped off to the batshit insane staging to come later. Aisel looks and sounds fabulous.

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Next up is Iceland. By all accounts, Ari is a lovely lad, good-natured and sweet. And he is a good singer. But god, this song is as dull as dishwater.

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Albania has gone for a rock concert staging. Eugent is a fantastic singer and “Mall” has a big, arena-sized sound. Whether it is engaging enough to capture votes remains to be seen, especially when this style of Albanian rock has struggled in the past. We really hope they can pull it off.

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Sennek sounds good, but something about her styling and Belgium’s staging overall isn’t clicking with us. Beyond an interesting outfit, they’ve been unable to provide a compelling stage picture. It’s a real shame, because “A Matter of Time” has gone into heavy rotation in our household. We will be really sad, but not surprised, if this does not qualify for the Final.

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Poor Mikolas Josef injured his back during his first rehearsal and spent a couple of days in the hospital. He had been planning a very athletic performance, with backflips and other feats. Now Czech Republic have had to rethink their choreography in order to give him time to recover. He has been philosophical about the situation, saying, “Music is not about flips, it’s about many other things.” In the second rehearsal, he stood and sang while the dancers moved around him. At this point it’s unclear what kind of performance we’ll see on Tuesday.

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Ieva Zasimauskaitė from Lithuania is standing on a bridge in a fuzzy pink sweater singing a love song to her husband, who joins her on stage at the end. If it weren’t so effective, it would be really cheesy. But Ieva’s beginning to look like a qualifier.

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Israel has made a couple of odd staging choices. Netta is on stage surrounded by waving lucky cat dolls and standing at a table that is not a looper, because the backing singers are doing live renditions of the vocalizations. The singers seem to be struggling to keep up with Netta, which is a bit of a concern. Maybe we’re feeling a little snake bit when the odds leader shows up to Eurovision and the staging hasn’t gelled. Is this still a potential winner? We’re not sure, but we still think Israel is going to do just fine.

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Belarus. Belarus Belarus Belarus. Belarus.

Alekseev has given us a little art film. A gory little art film. There are roses and blood and roses and archery and a dancer and more roses. If “Forever” is half as epic on television as the rehearsal footage and the Twitter commentary suggests, we will have one for the ages.

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Estonia had some drama in the lead up to Eurovision because they needed to get a stronger projector for Elina Nechayeva’s projector dress. Because without that dress, the whole package falls apart, we guess? It’s not like we haven’t seen that effect before. Anyway, rather than rethink their staging, Estonia stuck with it and were able to raise enough money in sponsorships to pay for the production. Yay? That said, “La Forza” does stand out as different from the other songs, and Elina and her vocals are pretty. Maybe for the first time in a few years, Estonia is sitting pretty too.

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Equinox sounds good, but Bulgaria’s staging is not doing it for us. It doesn’t seem cohesive. This is a concern, since our criticism of the song is that it felt more like a performance piece than a solid song. If the performance isn’t there, than what is it?

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Macedonia’s staging looks like a hot mess, so at least it suits the song. There is a costume change in which Eye Cue’s Marija Ivanovska loses a backwards pink jacket to reveal a chain mail bustier. There is awkward dancing. It all makes us sad.

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We hadn’t rated Croatia highly in our song review, but it sounds like Franka has shown up to play. She comes out looking classy and just belts her song. It should help her stand out in a year full of high concept stagings.

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It looks like Austria is relying on some camera tricks to accentuate Cesár Sampson’s performance. He’s got a big platform to fly around on, but he still finds time to wander the stage. We’re worried he is not going to give a grounded performance in his efforts to fill the room.

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Greece’s Gianna Terzi feels lost in the diva parade tonight. Between Azerbaijan, Israel, Estonia and Croatia before and Finland and Cyprus to follow, Gianna is just there with her blue hand. We hear Greece has some camera tricks up their sleeve that they have yet to reveal. Will that miraculously make their staging engaging?

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Saara Aalto is finally at Eurovision and Finland has given her everything plus a couple of kitchen sinks to play with. However, what really matters to us is how well she sings “Monster” amidst all the chaos. And we think she sounds shrill.

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The last four songs in Semifinal One rehearse tomorrow. Despite all our caveats and reservations, this show is shaping up to be a doozy. And this isn’t even the crazy Semifinal. It’s going to be a fun year.

Things We Learned By Reading the Bios of the 2018 Eurovision Participants

When we write our song reviews, we do research to get background into the songs and the artists performing them. But the official bios on the Eurovision site are our chance to see what the artists have to say about themselves in their own words. Or their publicists’ words.  Of course, in the past many artists have lacked self-awareness or humility. Mika Newton’s bio, in which she says “she got acquainted with the such legendary producers as … Randy Jackson,” inspired us to start writing “Things We Learned by Reading the Bios” posts so we could document such unintentional hilarity.

This year, the main thing we have learned is that the artists bios are really dull. Almost every bio can be summed up thusly: the artists are all child prodigies who attended Berklee College of Music in Boston and/or Royal Academy of Music in London and got a lot of streams on Spotify and/or views on YouTube before appearing on X Factor and/or The Voice and/or Pop Idol, then doing a musical and/or winning Dancing With the Stars. Also, their songs are about how love can transform the world.

So it is with a great deal of excitement and relief that we point you to Benjamin Ingrosso’s bio. It is a tour de force. It says so much and yet so little at the same time. His bio claims he “has turned many a head with his contemporary twist of polished pop tones and soulful performance bravado.” He brags that he is “set to consistently channel a customized stamp that falls far for [sic] the stereotypical world of Swedish pop music,” then in the very next paragraph talks about writing songs for Oscar Zia and Molly Pettersson Hammar.

He goes on to say, “Having a lit spark over in Scandinavia with his breakthrough last year, his undeniable pop sensibility and genuine musicality spread like wildfire through the rest of Europe.” “As the heat intensifies towards the US,” his bio boldly claims, “Benjamin Ingrosso is the one to watch in 2018.”

Then there’s this gem, “The years ahead points to a well-oiled peak.” First of all, years point, not years points. Grammatical error. Also, years don’t actually point. That’s not something years do. Syntax error. Also, why would you oil a peak? Why does a peak need to oiled, let alone be well-oiled?

If you’re looking for something less gushy and a bit more pretentious, let’s head over to France. Madame Monsieur start their bio, “Since the dawn of time, the old saying is that two is better than one. In some cases, it rings as true to the ears as it does to the eyes.” Let us repeat: they start their bio with the phrase “Since the dawn of time.” We like Madame Monsieur, but we can’t help but roll our eyes when we read stuff like, “Jean-Karl and Emilie’s fortuitous meeting with producer Guillaume Silvestri came at the end of a cycle of doubt, as if the planets had aligned and delivered them the way forward.”

By the way, they inform us their second single “Comme une reine” “serves as a resounding warning for the self-esteem against tyranny.” Right. Maybe it makes more sense in French.

Then there’s Elina Nechayeva (Estonia). “She is a big fan of all the classic Disney Princess cartoons and has a love for Japanese Anime” because of course she does. She dreamed of being an astronaut when she was a kid and “it is this same drive that inspired ‘La Forza.'” Not sure how much drive you need to dream of being an astronaut compared to actually becoming an astronaut, but sure let’s run with it.

Not surprisingly, given her genre, Elina “enjoys the clear structure of Mozart’s music and the passion and rich soul of Tchaikovsky. This shows also the two sides of her vivid personality – playful, yet formidable.” Maybe if “La Forza” was a bit more like Mozart’s “Queen of the Night” aria and less like “Sognu” we’d be more excited. Also, don’t mess with us in a pretension battle. We’re older and we’ve got layers.

Some other fun items we unearthed:

The Humans (Romania) end their bio with this: “The Humans project is not just about entertainment, but emotion translated in music through original compositions and remarkable remakes of the most famous rock songs.” That’s a bold claim, but are any of their remakes as remarkable as Simple Minds turning “Love Will Tear Us Apart” into a dance song? We. Think. Not.

Melovin (Ukraine) came up with his name “from a combination of the holiday Halloween and the last name of the British fashion designer Alexander McQueen.” That’s a bit of a stretch, but at least we’ve learned how to pronounce his name. Also, he is passionate about “music, perfumery and chemistry.” That’s pretty awesome, actually. Hopefully this means he plans to use smellitizer technology at his concerts.

Waylon (Netherlands) says, “‘Outlaw In ‘Em’ is an ode to his own authenticity, as well as to his many heroes who dared to be different.” This is coming from someone who named himself after a more famous outlaw country singer.

Saara Aalto (Finland) “was the most and second-most Googled person in Finland in 2016 and 2017 respectively.” Yet another time she found herself in second place.

Belarus’ Eurovision 2018 Entry

At last we come to Belarus. We delayed our review of “Forever” because we can never tell if the song Belarus initially selects for Eurovision is going to be the one that will represent Belarus at Eurovision. Given all the controversy over Alekseev’s participation at this year’s Belarusian national final, it seemed like there was a good chance that “Forever” was not going to make it to Lisbon. But, as is so often the case, Belarus’ president Alexander Lukashenko weighed in so that Eurovision preparations could move forward. He’s helpful that way.

It’s been a few years since Belarus has had a chaotic national final, so we are bathing in the nostalgia.

So, without further ado (we hope), here is Alekseev with “Forever.”

So we’ll give Alekseev top marks for staging. Knowing Portugal is not using giant LED screens at Eurovision, he showed up with an LED suit. Fabulous. If only his vocal were as good.

Of course, since the national final, he’s revamped his song a bit, so here is the official video with a new arrangement.

It’s not bad, but the vocal line is still the same. You know, the vocal line that he struggled with live and can’t seem to nail even on the recorded track. So it doesn’t exactly give us confidence that his national final performance was an off night. But he’ll have the LED suit, right? That should keep the audience happy since nothing else will.

Belgium’s Eurovision 2018 Entry

It was only a matter of time before we got around to writing up Belgium’s song for Europe.

Laura “Sennek” Groeseneken is a singer and keyboardist who joined Ozark Henry’s band in 2014. She co-wrote Hooverphonic’s song “Gravity” and teamed up with Alex Callier from Hooverphonic and Maxime Tribèche to write “A Matter of Time.” She also performed “Tomorrow Never Dies” with the Brussels Philharmonic as part of the 007 In Concert series in 2012.

So maybe it’s not much of a surprise that “A Matter of Time” sounds like the theme to a James Bond film. It’s cool and sleek, with lush orchestrations.

Thematically it’s sophisticated as well. The song is a meditation about being in your head. It considers whether it is possible to return to feelings and sensations that were once real and now lost. But memory is fragmented, hard to pin down, and the time has past. Ultimately, it can’t be done.

All this, and yet it’s catchy in a way that sneaks up on you. You’re sitting at your desk in the office and all of a sudden “Echoes echoes and goes” just pops in your head and you stop and think about it for awhile and your coworkers stop by and ask what you’re up to and you tell them, “I am just thinking about Belgium’s Eurovision entry” and they just shake their heads sadly because you say stuff like that a lot at work.

Australia’s Eurovision 2018 Entry

Australia continues sending its most bankable stars to Eurovision with radio-friendly pop hits. This year, Jessica Mauboy takes her turn.

Jessica Mauboy rose to fame from the Australian Idols franchise way back in 2006. Three platinum studio albums and literally dozens of radio singles later, she is one of Australia’s biggest, most recognizable recording artists.

“We Got Love” is uplifting homage to–you guessed it–love, even when it’s hard. And with “We Got Love,” Australia demonstrates (again) how well it understands the Eurovision space.  Although Jessica normally has a more R&B sound, her song for Europe has many time-honored Eurovision traits on display: big vocal, upbeat tempo, strong drum beat, choral breakdown. It’s shamelessly pop, shamelessly radio-friendly, and very, very accessible.

Though playing it safe is often the riskiest thing a country can do, in this case we are not worried. In her Semifinal, Jessica benefits by her draw in what can only be described as an eclectic line-up. In that context, “We Got Love” is a reassuring turn.

Portugal’s Eurovision 2018 Entry

Portugal won Eurovision last year and we’re still pinching ourselves. Who has the unenviable task of defending their title? Here’s Cláudia Pascoal with “O Jardim.”

Cláudia Pascoal is 23, but has a wealth of experience in television talent shows. She’s been on Ídolos twice, Factor X, and The Voice Portugal. “O Jardim” was written by Isaura, who finished eighth on Operação Triunfo. She selected Cláudia to perform her song and serves as the backing singer.

“O Jardim” is a song for Isaura’s late grandmother, who passed away in 2017. But it’s not so much a mournful song as a contemplative one. It’s pretty, but also understated, atmospheric almost to a fault. Because the song focuses on creating a mood, rather than a journey, it ends where it begins without having taken us anywhere.

But it is the perfect song to listen to at two in the morning while curled up on the couch after being woken up by downpour.

Armenia’s Eurovision 2018 Entry

Hey, look a guy with a beard singing in his native language at Eurovision!

Sevak Khanagyan won X-Factor Ukraine in 2016, one year after competing on The Voice of Russia. The Russian-Armenian singer became a coach on The Voice of Armenia last year. He co-wrote “Qami” with Viktorya Maloyan and former Voice of Armenia contestant Anna Danielyan.

When we watched Depi Evratesil, “Qami” stood out. Weeks later, when we were watching the official video, we were left a bit cold. It was hard to tell why at first, until we went back to Sevak’s live performance. At the national final, Sevak builds his song and delivers big, powerful notes to bring it home. Meanwhile, the studio track washes over Sevak’s power notes with backing singers and orchestrations. The final mix blunts his ability to sell the song.

Still, Sevak has proven himself to be a dynamic performer. Even though the recorded track doesn’t do much for us, we’re pretty sure he will acquit himself nicely in Lisbon.

Ukraine’s Eurovision 2018 Entry

Kylo Ren has a favorite to win Eurovision this year!

Melovin won the sixth season of X Factor Ukraine. He was the public’s choice to defend Ukraine’s Eurovision title last year with his song “Wonder,” but despite finishing first in the televote, he was spiked by the jury (that included Jamala and Andriy “Verka Serduchka”Danylko), which gave O.Torvald the win.

Of course, there usually is no glory in representing your country the year after it wins, as The Makemakes can attest. Speaking of pianos on fire, we like how Melovin subverted that trope by playing piano on a flaming riser at Vidbir.

Anyway, Melovin definitely has a look. The goth Jedi costume and the one colored contact lens certainly captures attention. Given his styling, we were expecting him to perform some emo rock, but “Under the Ladder” is more of a Slavic top 40 pop song. It’s surprisingly accessible, with a catchy hook and a propulsive beat that makes it as memorable as its singer. Lovelorn teenage girls dressed in black are going to swoon.