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Eurovision 2017: Semi-final 2 May 11

Do you like white outfits? Do you love male-female duets? Do you crave male-female duets where they’re both dressed in white? Then semi-final two has been made for you!

After some upsets on Tuesday – Finland being the biggest expected qualifier knocked out – tonight it’s the second set of songs vying for places in Saturday’s final. And they are these.

Serbia
If the opening part of this song seems strangely familiar, I reckon it’s because it’s the Sugababes’ About You Now. Unfortunately, it’s not as good as that. There’s a white dress, a shirtless dancer doing a cool/weird backwards routine and a good button at the very end of the number, but it’s not enough.

Austria
Nathan Trent sports the second white outfit of the night. And too-short trousers with no socks. Seriously, people, this has to stop. Nathan is a charismatic performer which will help (as long as he doesn’t disappear completely into dry ice) but the song is bland up until the finale, which is pretty overblown.

Macedonia
Can we stop with the performers’ own faces on the video wall please? There were a couple of act in this year’s Melodifestivalen that did this and it’s weird if not downright egotistical. The song itself is fine but nothing special and destined for mid-table obscurity.

Malta
A white dress? Great idea! This is an elegant Eurovision ballad with the best singing of the show so far but, like so many Eurovision ballads before it, the song doesn’t really go anywhere – including, potentially, the final.

Romania
Yodelling and rapping, together at last in the night’s first duet. I don’t even know if this is a pastiche but it’s a hot mess. Naff choreography, nonsense lyrics and a video background drawn by a three-year-old child make it memorable even if Alex doesn’t fall off his glittery canon (not a euphemism). It’s pretty dreadful, so in many ways the entry the UK audience has been waiting for.

Netherlands
Hello to the best harmonies in the competition. The staging and backing track are minimalist, focusing rightly on the three performers, who lift what could be quite a mediocre track. A final place surely awaits.

Hungary
Missing the traditional eastern Europe folk song vibe? Fear not – Hungary deliver, although sadly not playing the kvinnaböske. There’s rapping too, and then the song kind of just stops at the end. Points added for good pyro. Points deducted for the top knot.

Denmark
This starts off middling and gets much stronger as it goes through, with some big notes adding interest. Look out for the golden shower at the end.

Ireland
Yes, there’s a hot air balloon. No, I don’t know why. Dressed in white, of course, Brendan Murray does a perfectly good job and looks and sounds about 15 so I’m not going to be mean about his song. And therefore have nothing else to say.

San Marino
On her third appearance at Eurovision, I joked that San Marino is so small that Valentina Monetta is the only singer they have. Well, she’s back again. As if to disprove my point, she’s found a friend to duet with. As if to prove my point, he’s American. I actually really dislike the harmonies they’ve chosen but the song’s fun (if you can stomach hearing the phrase “spirit of the night” 300 times in three minutes) and sounds like it has not one, not two, but three key changes!

Croatia
Get your face off the big screen! Jeez. So… Jacques is talented. He can sing high pitched pop. He can sing bassy opera. Alternating between them both? Urgh. This would be great in cabaret; at Eurovision it feels like a gimmick, and I say that as someone who liked Cezar and Malena Ernman. The song could stand on its own without the operatic parts.

Norway
For those counting, it’s another white shirt. At first glance I wasn’t expecting to like this but it’s a really good package: lyric-packed verses, fun (and controversial!) vocal samples, an unusual middle eight and a strong chorus.

Switzerland
It’s an OK ballad with an OK chorus. There’s not much else to say other than the singer’s dress is twice as tall as she is.

Belarus
It’s a duet. They’re dressed in white. Tick off your bingo squares and down your drinks. They seem to be having a lovely time, so that’s something.

Bulgaria
This is OK when it eventually gets going. Maybe it could be a One Direction b-side? Are they still a thing?

Lithuania
I like the brassy backing track. The melody, if there is one in there somewhere, not so much. This is another one that starts going off towards the end, once you’ve already written it off. Still, brass.

Estonia
Our final duet and our final singer in white (although Israel has some dancers in white still to come). It’s a long show and at this point I’m struggling to tell what they’re going for here. Is it a love song? Is it a song about regret? Is it advertising package holidays to Verona? For all that, the singers work well together and the overall effect is surprisingly endearing.

Israel
It’s another face on the big screen although at least this time it explodes. Imri Ziv closes the semi-final with an uptempo banger. Bookies might be offering odds on some of the high notes but their quality matters less in this number than in the big ballads.

Picking ten to put through the final was hard because I’m not sure I would put ten through. However, I’ll go for:
Malta
Romania (because I don’t want to deprive UK viewers of it)
Netherlands
Hungary
Denmark
San Marino (for the key changes)
Norway
Switzerland
Estonia
Israel

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Eurovision 2017: Semi-final 1 May 08

Time out is gone – the quest is on. Singers representing 42 countries have assembled in Kiev for the world’s greatest festival of music and wind machines: the Eurovision Song Contest.

The fun kicks off on Tuesday night with the first of the two semi-finals, and this is the one in which UK viewers can vote. Here are the runners are riders.

Sweden
Robin Bengtsson was the winner of SVT’s rigorous Melodifestivalen selection process so you can expect a slick performance. They wisely inserted the word “freaking” to replace a swearier lyric after its victory in the Melfest heats. The staging will particular appeal to fans of Waterloo Underground station and the Debenhams Blue Cross sale. A stronger opener.

Georgia
Fiery staging. Big sing. Reminiscent of a Bond theme. Plagiarise like a Phoenix.

Australia
Performed well but this is the weakest of their three entries so far and pretty dull to watch.

Albania
Lindita has quite the pair of lungs. There’s an OK hook in here but when the clocks from the Doctor Who title sequence appear the video wall behind her, I’ll be looking at the time.

Belgium
Blanche has a gloriously deep voice but seems incredibly uncomfortable on stage. The lyrics make me think of Kenny Loggins’s Danger Zone.

Montenegro
If you’ve been worried that Eurovision has traded in its campiness for slick professionalism, worry no longer. This is not a performance you’ll forget – and not just because Slavko uses his hair as a propeller.

Finland
It’s not just the title, “Blackbird”, that reminds me of Anouk’s brilliant “Birds” from 2013 – this is melancholic and beautiful. Unfortunately it’s also pretty forgettable.

Azerbaijan
This has quite the staging, judging from the rehearsal footage. It’s not the only time you’ll see a performer dressed as an animal in this year’s contest, but it is the only man with a horse’s head on a stepladder.

Portugal
Portugal have returned with a slow, low key, piano bar ballad with the simplest staging possible. It could be twee as hell but instead it’s incredibly endearing and, if you’re in the right mood, surprisingly moving.

Greece
A couple of dancers from Men’s Health casting performing naff choreography do little to make this more interesting.

Poland
Poland need to take their violin and their cliché love song and sit in the corner and think about what they’ve done.

Moldova
I prefer this to Sunstroke Project’s previous entry, from 2010. Both the song and the choreography are straightforward and fun, and this also marks the Eurovision return of Epic Sax Guy.

Iceland
A song about paper cuts. It’s perfectly competent but got repetitive quite quickly and there’s little interest in the staging. One of way too many performers dressed in white this year.

Czech Republic
I nearly didn’t make it to the end of this. Next.

Cyprus
This track jumped out at me when I was listening to this year’s album and I still like it. It’s upbeat and catchy with a good bridge. The choreography looks a little odd in the rehearsal videos but will probably make more sense on screen alongside video backdrops.

Armenia
Visually interesting, strong singing and a doinky backing track. It’s not to my taste but it’s not bad.

Slovenia
Omar represented Slovenia in 2005, also in Kiev. You can watch that performance on YouTube – be sure to stick with it until the creepy final moments. His song this time is, you know, fine: it’s uninventive and dated but I find myself guiltily liking it despite that. The lacklustre staging won’t help it.

Latvia
A hyperactive child appears to have been let loose on the designs for this: fluorescent coloured backdrops and a costume that’s Hello Kitty does Barbarella. At least the shiny things distract from the the song, which is run-of-the-mill Eurodance.

So that’s your 18 songs, 10 of which will be promoted to the final.

The ten I’d put through:
Sweden
Albania
Belgium
Finland
Azerbaijan
Portugal
Moldova
Iceland
Cyprus
Armenia

But I’d be feeling guilty about Slovenia while I did it.

Update: Now I’ve seen more info about Slovenia’s entrant, I no longer feel guilty about not including them. Bin him.

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Eurovision 2016: The Final May 14

My view for the Jury Final

Today’s the day! I went to yesterday’s Jury Final and I can honestly say I don’t remember a higher quality line-up. And there’s no single outstanding song, which means the results is less predictable than it has been for some time – and certainty less so than in the last couple of years.

What’s struck me too is the number of songs that have been lifted by their live performances. Latvia, Israel, Ukraine, Bulgaria and Australia, among others, have really come alive on the night. It’s also interesting to see the difference in reception between the hall – where the sound is huge – and the TV audience. So while I know what made an impression on the crowd last night, the voting audience at home, and the juries, may feel very differently.

That also means that, while I’ll refer you to my previous posts on the semi-finals to get an idea on the songs that have qualified, I’ve already changed my views on many of them. On top of those I’ve mentioned above, Georgia, Lithuania and Malta have all gone up in my estimation. Russia, on the other hand, feels trapped in its staging. For example, the projection screen Sergey is using doesn’t fill the TV – so when it’s giving him a white background, he doesn’t look like a man sprouting wings so much as a man standing in front of a PowerPoint. And he’s so engrossed in engaging with the video presentation that he sings to the audience less and feels a little disconnected.

The countries I highlighted above, on the other hand, have relatively simple staging that allows the songs – and the singing – to shine through. In the hall, at least. I suspect the juries will be attracted to that.

What then of the automatic qualifiers?

Italy
It’s a simple song well sung but in a high quality lineup, this is the first in the show I felt a little disappointed by. And I’m not convinced the late change into English helps.

Sweden
This is simple and pared down compared to the rest of the songs and that will help it to stand out. Most people seem to either love it or hate it. It certainly wasn’t my favourite of the Melodifestivalen finalists. Look out for the most ridiculous lyric: “I’d rob a bank, and a post office too.”

Germany
This is a grower, which annual readers will know I don’t consider a positive attribute in a Eurovision entry. Her Manga costume just looks silly.

France
France brought along a lovely number that mixes English and French. It has a touch of Sebastian Tellier and works well on the CD. However, Amir doesn’t seem to do too good a job with it live, so despite being one of the favourites, this could end up anywhere.

Spain
Say Yay is a fun old party number, but it’s style over substance for me – Barei has better songs, which I saw her perform in the Eurovision Village alongside this one. And I also learnt from that performance that she has “vocal support” in the wings helping with the melody.

United Kingdom
If Joe and Jake can pull it off tonight, this could do well with the phone voters. It’s one of our best songs in years and I’d love it to do well – not least to encourage the Beeb to stick with a public selection vote. But I’ve learnt the had way that we’re good at convincing ourselves that “this year we’ll make the top half of the table” or somesuch. I have no idea where we’ll come – but I have an inkling the juries will be distracted by the Big Sings and overlook this.

Here’s the full line up:

Belgium
Czech Republic
The Netherlands
Azerbaijan
Hungary
Italy
Israel
Bulgaria
Sweden
Germany
France
Poland
Australia
Cyprus
Serbia
Lithuania
Croatia
Russia
Spain
Latvia
Ukraine
Malta
Georgia
Austria
United Kingdom
Armenia

I genuinely think that in the right year, any one of those 26 songs could win. A dark horse like Armenia could benefit from going last. Ukraine’s not at all political passion could sweep them through. Israel or Australia’s big vocals could knock the other ballads out of their way. Or Russia’s video effects could steer them through. I can’t predict it.

What I do know is that we’re likely to see a new high score to knock Alexander Rybak off the top. That’s because the jury and phone votes are being reported separately this year, doubling the number of votes available.

I also know that the interval act is worth waiting for. And I don’t mean Justin Timberlake, although he’s part of it too. It’s almost like musical legitimacy has come to the Eurovision Song Contest. Who let that happen?

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Eurovision 2016: Semi-final 2 May 12

In the distance, the Globe, home of Eurovision 2016

If you thought semi-final 1 had a lot of male soloists, just wait. Is it an unimaginative response to Måns? I realise there are always lots of female solo artists… and I might be imagining the whole thing.

Anyway… the second final of 2016’s Eurovision Song Contest is wide open. There are plenty of worthy entries but no clear leaders – nothing I absolutely love and nothing I hate.

Latvia
And here’s our first solo man: Justs. A gentle start segues into a strong chorus.

Poland
Micheł has a proper pair of lungs. There’s a lovely contrast between the verses and chorus. One of the best songs Poland have sent. Obviously I’m ignoring the American spelling of “color” which the staging rather runs in.

Switzerland
A few nice moments but bland overall with a weak middle eight and a deadening key change.

Israel
Solo man number 3 is the Penguin from Gotham with the forgettable ballad Made of Stars. Longtime readers will know my annual frustration with Eurovision entries that take two of their three minutes to come alive. This is one of those.

Belarus
Solo man 4. With wolves and nudity. It’s amazing what one can do with video effects these days. Hiding beneath these is an OK song with a traditional Eurovision Eastern European rock touch to it.

Serbia
This has a good chorus. It also pulls off the schlager key change that Switzerland stood on.

Ireland
Nicky Byrne from Westlife’s first solo single represents Eurovision’s most successful country. It’s *fine*, especially if you’re a fan of the rhyming dictionary. The energy drop between “sun” and “light” offends me somehow. Another song that could live or die in the performance.

FYR Macedonia
Kaliopi represented her country in the pre-qualifying round in 1996, when Macedonia failed to make its first appearance on the contest. She reached the final in 2012 and is back with a song called Dona that will prompt predictable kebab jokes. It’s pleasant and she’s a stronger performer – but you’ll be sick of the title by the end.

Lithuania
Donny Love Is Blind Montell is back without a blindfold and with worse hair and complete the clean sweep of solo male artists for the Baltic countries. It’s not a million miles from Latvia’s entry – which I marginally prefer. Will there be room for both?

Australia
They’re here again – but this time they have to make it through the semis like everyone else. I get the impression Dami Im’s staging may be simple and relatively static, which could actually help her stand out. It’s a less fun song than last year’s but it’s a big stompy ballad that should serve them well.

Slovenia
I don’t know is Blue and Red is political or about interior design but it’s up tempo and deserves to take Slovenia to their third final in a row. And I don’t care if key changes are supposed to be death – if Russia can have one, everyone can.

Bulgaria
Poli Genova is yet another returning artist: she didn’t get past the semis in 2011. If Love Was A Crime is another upbeat number that’s worthy of a place.

Denmark
It pains me to say it but this boy band effort from Denmark is naff. It’s glassily done and the lads are doing a perfectly cromulent job but it’s factory line pop. It’ll go through but it shouldn’t.

Ukraine
This one is political. Sorry, historical. The lyrics recount Crimeans being murdered in 1944 and the music dovetails well with the words.

Norway
Is there a name for that syncopated synthy rhythm that screams European dance music? Because we need a shorthand. It was there for Iceland (RIP) and it’s back to support Norway. There’s some messing with time signatures but otherwise this is sub-Euphoria stuff.

Georgia
I saw these guys do a short set at the Eurovision Village on Tuesday and was suitably impressed. They’re very 90s indie band – very much my oeuvre – and this song is no different. It’s got a nice Chemical Brothers style mid section too. One for fans of alt rock guitar music – so not much hope at Eurovision, sadly.

Albania
Plodding. I’m 17 songs in and I don’t
have much more to say. Sorry, Albania.

Belgium
What’s The Pressure is, like a few of the songs in this semi-final, a Reasonable Pop Song. That has it competing with Slovenia, Bulgaria and Serbia for me.

The songs I’d like to see qualify:
Poland
Georgia
Slovenia
Latvia
Australia
FYR Macedonia
Lithuania
Belarus
Ukraine
Bulgaria
…and I wouldn’t be surprised if half of them don’t.

Close:
Serbia
Switzerland
Norway
Ireland
Belgium

Nope:
Israel
Denmark
Albania
…and they’re all fairly close too. I’m clearly in a positive mood.

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