Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Eurovision 2015: Semi-Final 2, Thursday 21.05.2015

For the first time since 2008, if I remember correctly, I had to miss a Eurovision semi-final.  That year I was on holiday, but this year it was due to a very enjoyable evening out at a prior engagement with mum, so I had to set my Sky+ and avoid Twitter until later in the evening when we finally sat down to watch the show.  Of course I now have a new annual tradition of taking Eurovision Eve off work, so I could stay up as late as I wanted to!

Our three hostesses Arabella, Mirjam and Alice - or their stylists, to be more precise, must have read some of the negative comments online about their outfits on Tuesday night, as the ladies’ styling was much more agreeable tonight, and they certainly look more relaxed and comfortable.  As in the first semi-final, all the contestants are called to the stage and there's that flashmobbing-dancing thing going on, which I don't really understand.  Now - songs!

LITHUANIA - "This Time" -Monika Linkytė and Vaidas Baumila.

In a year of very few uptempo songs - and you'll wait a long time for them in this semi-final - it was inevitable that this would open the show.  It's a lively performance with an equally lively backdrop to match.  And of course there is "one kiss".  Not only that but there is a same-sex kiss between the two sets of dancers.  That’s the ‘demographic’ vote sorted then eh?

IRELAND - "Playing With Numbers" - Molly Sterling.

Molly, Molly, Molly.  In the middle of a forest too, for some reason.  She is still not connecting enough to the viewers, it's the second spot of death in the draw, and I always get the feeling that despite being the co-writer of the song, she's singing about playing with numbers and she didn't know what it meant.  On the plus side, it's a very mature song and performance for such a young artist and even if she doesn't qualify, this will be an unforgettable experience for her.  

SAN MARINO - "Chain of Lights” – Anita Simoncini and Michele Perniola.

In keeping with the song's title, there are lots of lights but this awful song just can't be redeemed.  It’s a chain of s***e for you and a chain of s***e for me.  If San Marino's continued participation is to be held to ransom by Ralph Siegel's songs, then the country would be as well packing up and going home.  Michele and Anita should have been given a more ‘youthful’ song than this.  Never was that ‘no’ at the start of the song so appropriate. 

MONTENEGRO: "Adio" - Knez.

After that opening ceremony, here is the man who is now known at EuropeCrazy HQ as “K-nees”.  After a couple of 'meh' songs this brings back the quality.  It's a Zeljko song and there is beautiful staging here, which looks like they're walking on water.  His performance is faultless and then we hit the dance bit. Wow, wow and wow.  

M: I don't understand what he's singing about but he is very professional.

MALTA: "Warrior" - Amber.

After Nina from Georgia won us over with her warrior performance the other night, Amber had a lot to prove.  There is very busy staging and lighting effects going on, busy to the point of ruining the song and performance. This is like 'Rise Like A Phoenix' on steroids.  I like her lace dress which reminds me of Helena Paparizou in Melodifestivalen, but I have a new fave warrior in this year’s ESC and it's not Amber.  

M: Don’t know about break through the silence, but she’s screaming through it!
L: There’s a much better song coming next.

NORWAY: "A Monster Like Me" - Mørland and Debrah Scarlett.

So there was a lot of soul-searching after the MGP final about how this was going to be staged, particularly that long instrumental section before the final chorus.  In the end it was simple and effective.  And this is bloody special.  

M: This is good, in an odd kind of way.
L: Odd is good.

PORTUGAL: "Há Um Mar Que Nos Separa” – Leonor Andrade.

One of this year's (very few) absolute no-hopers, which is really sad as I always want Portugal to be wonderful and most of the time they just let me down. There's lots of wind (machines) and attitude from the Portuguese, gothic....

M: Cheryl Cole!  That's who she looks like.

I'm not sure what this song is supposed to be.  Is it a rock song? A pop song?  If faithful travelling companion was watching this (which he isn't) he would be asking "where's the fado?".  If the Suzy shake couldn’t make the final, this has zilch chance.

CZECH REPUBLIC: "Hope Never Dies" - Marta Jandová and Václav Noid Bárta.

They're back, back, back after 5 years and was it worth it?  Their postcard features knights and a creepy big bridge - could this be a subliminal 'building bridges' reference? This was one of the songs which I haven't played too much before the contest, and I hadn't really paid any attention to their rehearsals so it was all new to me.  And my first thought is "bloody hell Vaclav, why didn't I notice you before?"  It's been a long day though, and I'm not sure how much longer my Vaclav-appreciation will last.  This is a very theatrical ballad which culminates in Marta chucking off her shoes.  And it's all too much for mum.

M: This is far too high class.  Far too high-falutin'!
L: You'll like the next song though :)

ISRAEL: "Golden Boy" - Nadav Guedj.

One of my most-anticipated songs of the night.  Lots of enthusiasm and entertainment value which should overturn Israel’s recent poor qualification record and ensure it won’t be bye bye after their 3 minutes in the semi-final.  But there’s only one talking point at EuropeCrazy HQ…

M: He's WHAT age?
L: 16 I think.
M: He's awfully old looking for 16.  I wouldn't like to see what he looks like by the time he's 21. But he's the king of fun.
L: Indeed he is!
M: And you’re never too old for fun, even if he is really an old guy.

LATVIA: "Love Injected" - Aminata Savadogo.

Sorry Aminata, and Latvia, because I love your country and I love Latvia being in ESC every year, but I'm never going to like this non-song in a million years.  Although it is very well-staged, and Aminata is recalling Diana Ross' "Chain Reaction" with that frock, the song still fails to connect with either of us.  She is very good at what she does though, and it's all very mystical.  It should get marks for originality, I will say that.  But at the end of the day Latvia 2015 was all really about Rigas Bebrs, wasn't it?  

M: This isn't a song at all.  I thought this was called the Eurovision Song Contest?
L: I don't like this song, never have done. 

AZERBAIJAN: "Hour of the Wolf" - Elnur Huseynov.

It's a shame really that when I think of Aserjeban (apart from thinking of Lynda Woodruff) I think of sim cards for all (allegedly of course) and the songs are inevitably overshadowed by, um, external factors.  This year we have Elnur, who is very able to deliver this type of anthemic and dramatic ballad, and then they go and spoil it all with theatrical bunkum.  Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the hell that is 'contemporary dance'.  Was this really needed?  I was quite captivated by this song but that was quickly overshadowed by an overwhelming thought "NOT F*****G CONTEMPORARY DANCE, NO NO NO NO NO!!" and that tells you all you need to know.  Have you not learned from the hell that was Robin Stjernberg's staging 2 years ago?

M: The dancing, if you can call it that, is wasting this song.
L: Indeed.

ICELAND: "Unbroken" - Maria Olafs.

Now here comes the unexpected car crash moment of semi final 2.  Maria leaves her 'steps' across the stage, and the northern lights staging is quite exquisite.  But the beautiful staging can't save this, because she then starts "singing" and we very quickly discover that there are no redeeming features about this manic pixie rubbish.  She probably doesn't deserve the class line-up of backing singers which include Hera Bjork and the guy who came runner-up in Songvakeppnin,Friðrik Dór....I wonder if he could have done better?  But of course they should really have sent "Feathers", shouldn't they?   

And now for viewers in the UK, on BBC Four, we have a VT about this year's UK entrants Electro Velvet.   Break time over, and time for a little country you may have heard of, called Sweden!

SWEDEN: "Heroes" - Måns Zelmerlöw. 

So the question was finally answered – the scene-stealing cartoon guy has been redesigned with a balloon replacing his umbrella.  “Heroes” is a lively song - and boy do we need one of those! - performed in a slick and professional manner which you expect from Måns by now.  Sometimes it comes across as maybe a little too clinical and sanitised, although there is no doubting its international hit potential.  Tonight's performance is maybe not the best ever performance I've heard of the song, but it succeeds.  The backing vocals work too, thus calming pre-contest questions about whether they would be able to recreate the taped Melfest backing vocals. A confident performance....just don't get too confident though! 

It’s been a long night and by now Mum has fallen asleep and missed Måns.  I make sure she sees the clip of the song later though, so she doesn't miss out!

SWITZERLAND: "Time to Shine" - Melanie Rene.

Right all you Allo Allo fans, let's get the "ooooooh Rrrrrrrreneeeeee" thing out of the way now. Done? Good.  Melanie is very good too, and makes the best of the song she's got.  The staging is effective, there are backing drummers and trees and a costume change and I love the use of "mucking around" in the chorus, but the biggest problem I have with this is that (a) it's not Sebalter, (b) it's not Sebalter, and (c) it's not Sebalter.  She is very talented though and is probably better than the song; and on this performance she deserves to qualify.  But at whose expense? 

CYPRUS: "One Thing I Should Have Done" - John Karayiannis. 

It’s time for John! He is so loveable isn't he.  You just want to give him a great big hug.  This is staged very simply but effectively, beginning in black and white and John in a solo spotlight. This deserves great things. 

At this stage I am mulling over my pre-show predictions and wondering how many I'll get right. Wondering if Switzerland should qualify in place of Iceland.  Or anyone else for that matter, because Iceland certainly don't deserve to qualify on that performance.

SLOVENIA: "Here For You" - Maraaya.  

Aah here come lovely Maraaya and their trademark headphones.  I will be down down low if this doesn't qualify, as it's one of my top 5 favourites of this year's contest (along with Italy, Sweden, Norway and Estonia).  Yet this is missing something in the echoey sound mix as Marjetka's vocals are disappearing at times - I hope this doesn't ruin their qualification chances.

POLAND: "In The Name of Love" – Monika Kuszyńska.

There is a nice pastel pink and green backdrop here, which is a rather drastic change from some of the “busy” backdrops we’ve seen over the 2 semi-finals. The song lacks the ‘killer touch’ but she is very charming and I think the draw placing combined with the back-story should guarantee qualification.

After the voting recaps there’s a little VT about ESC’s famous voting moments including the legendary “I don’t have it!”.  There’s also interviews with some of the finalists including the UK’s Electro Velvet.  I’m still not convinced by Alex’s body language – he still appears reluctant and confused and I still don’t know how to take him.

Fast forward to the results.  Who's going to the final?


and the last country to qualify is...

I'm very happy to say that I predicted 9 out of 10 qualifiers correctly tonight, I got Iceland wrong and hadn’t predicted Latvia to make the final.  Oh well, 9 out of 10 ain’t bad!

Next stop, the final.  For the first time ever, there are 27 countries competing in the final so it's a) going to be tougher than ever, and b) gonna be a long night on Saturday.....

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