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Eurovision 2021: Semi-final 1 May 17

So it’s been a while since we’ve done this. The 2020 Eurovision Song Contest was cancelled but this year it’s back and more than half of the artists taking part are returnees from 2020.

The quality of this year’s songs is particularly good but I’ll caveat that by saying that’s on average with a smaller standard deviation. While the overall quality is high, there are fewer songs that immediately stand out as great (or bad).

Here’s a look at who’s taking part in the first semi-final on Tuesday night. Hot takes incoming!

  1. Lithuania – The Roop were one of the 2020 favourites and they’re back this year with an even better song. They’ve managed to incorporate elements of their 2020 choreography in a way that feels like a respectful nod rather than an imitation. Discoteque may be inspired by the Covid-19 pandemic but it’s an energetic bop that deserves to give Lithuania their best ever result.
  2. Slovenia – As a way to enable delegations to keep their numbers to a minimum if they wanted, pre-recorded backing vocals are allowed at Eurovision this year. Ana Soklič, another 2020 returnee, is one of the acts taking full advantage of this, with a gospel choir ready at the push of a button. Amen isn’t a hugely strong entry and I don’t expect it to make it to the final, but if it does it will be on the back of Ana’s powerful vocals.
  3. Russia – A number of artists have taken unfair stick from commentators in their home countries this year. Manizha is a human rights advocate who was born in what is now Tajikistan. That combined with a song whose message promotes women’s liberation in Russia has annoyed the kind of nationalists who deserve to be annoyed. For that reason, I hope this does qualify – but I’m afraid the song itself is something I’d actively turn off if it came on the radio.
  4. Sweden – They’re the country so many other Eurovision entrants aspire to be and once again they’ve brought a performance polished to within an inch of its life. Teenage singer Tusse is a great performer who should have a big career ahead of him but Voices risks being almost too clinical and by the numbers to do better than their fifth placing in 2019.
  5. Australia – Coronavirus restrictions mean returning 2020 artist Montaigne hasn’t made the long journey to Rotterdam and instead will appear in a prerecorded “live-to-tape” performance. Her song, Technicolour, is a bit of a hot mess but the preview clips suggest they’ve gone with the best possible version of it. Could that save it from being Australia’s first non-qualifier?
  6. North Macedonia – Vasil is another 2020 entrant who’s returned and, like Manizha, has been subject to unwarranted negative press at home that managed to combine nationalism with more than a hint of homophobia. But after a wobble the broadcaster stood behind him and he’s able to perform his musical theatre 11 o’clock number Here I Stand on the Eurovision stage. As with fellow former Yugoslav republic Slovenia, I don’t see this making the final but if it does it will be on the back of Vasil’s vocal performance, which it feels designed to showcase.
  7. Ireland – Lesley Roy is back from 2020 too, this time with the upbeat pop track Maps. Rehearsal footage suggests this will have the most complex staging of this year’s Contest. That could be a spectacle that propels this into this final – or it could end up distracting from the song itself.
  8. Cyprus – It was the church in Cyprus that campaign against El Diablo, having taken the title just a little bit too literally. But Elena confirmed that when she sings that she is in love with the devil, it’s actually a metaphor rather than a confession of Satan worship, so I hope that’s put everyone’s minds at rest. After a misstep with their 2020 selection, Cyprus are back with another Fuego-style banger. Correct decision.
  9. Norway – This is a funny one. Fallen Angel is simple and catchy. It dominated the Melodi Grand Prix competition in Norway, beating fan favourites KEiiNO thanks to singer-songwriter TIX’s huge popularity. But it remains to be seen how well that translates to an international audience, especially with a stage persona that borders on pastiche. It will at least be memorable – although the producers have cheekily put the two angel/demon stagings back to back.
  10. Croatia – Albina won her country’s national selection to bring the second female-singer-with-4/5-dancers banger to semi-final 1. Tick-Tock is arguably the best of the four (four!) but it remains to be seen if they can all make it through or if the votes will split and let something more downbeat through at their expense.
  11. Belgium – Hooverphonic are by some way the most experienced live performers here, which isn’t just a backhanded way of saying they’re older – although they are, among a very young crowd. The Wrong Place has a distinctly different sound and a very straightforward staging. That could make it stand out and appeal to (particularly) the older part of the audience – or it could sink without a trace. NB: Only two-thirds of Hooverphonic are returning from 2020.
  12. Israel – Eden Alene returns from 2020 with another uptempo number – our third female-singer-with-4/5-dancers banger. It’s not the most memorable song which the team seem to have attempted to mitigate by adding a set of whistle notes to the climax. It’s an impressive vocal feat that Eden seems more than capable of achieving – but, personally, I think they sound horrible.
  13. Romania – It almost seems like a self-fulfilling prophesy if you call your song Amnesia but it looks like this is doomed to be forgotten. Roxen is another 2020 act back for 2021 with her low key style. Sadly I don’t see this having any of the ingredients required to take her into the final.
  14. Azerbaijan – Last year Efendi was going to bring a song called Cleopatra. This year she’s back with Mata Hari. I almost hope that the next 10 years see her bring an increasing array of songs about women from history. Unfortunately, where The Roop managed to build on their 2020 song, Efendi has knocked it off. The sound is much too similar and the lyrics even acknowledge that Mata Hari is “like Cleopatra”. The fourth and least deserving of our bangers.
  15. Ukraine – Шум (Shum) is something of a fan favourite. It’s a mashup of dance music and Ukrainian folk singing which certainly distinguishes it from its competition thanks to its unique sound. It doesn’t appeal to me but I can at least see why people like it.
  16. Malta – Ever since Destiny won the Junior Eurovision Song Contest in 2015, there has been an expectation that she would go on to represent her country in the adult version. That chance was denied her last year when the Contest was cancelled but she’s back this year and it’s with a better song. Je Me Casse was an early favourite and while the choice of staging has seen its odds lengthen it’s definitely still worth an each-way punt. It’s closing the semi-final for a reason.

Ten songs will go through to the final on Saturday. Before their disqualification, Belarus had been drawn to take part in this show too, which means six rather than seven songs will be eliminated. That eases up the pressure on the other acts but only very slightly.

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