Eurovision 2012 Rehearsals: What Have We Learned

The delegations hopefully arrive in Baku prepared, but they don’t really know what they’ve got until they see it on stage. Rehearsals are the artists’ opportunity to adjust lighting, camera angles, choreography, the audio mix, figure out if option A works better than option B, etc.  Eurovision offers the public a rare glimpse into this process.  We can make assessments of what’s working, but we must be mindful the delegations are doing the same and thus we must take what we’re seeing with a grain of salt. This is not a time to be panicking about energy levels, day-to-day variation, or even assuming that rehearsals are progressing on a linear path.

We’ve had two looks at all the entries.  Some things are still being worked out but we now are getting a pretty good sense of vocals and staging.  Wardrobe we know for about half.  So what have we learned? I’m focusing this discussion on the entries whose prospects we think have changed from the time of the national finals.

First Semi:

On the way up:

  • When I think back to Songvakeppni, I love where Iceland is going with their entry.  The English language translation enhances the song and makes it accessible to a wider audience. The mountain/northern lights backdrop is stunning and consistent with what was possibly the best video of the season.  The vocals are professional and disciplined.  With the right draw in the final, this can be Top 10.
  • Albania’s less-is-more staging is doing wonders to showcase Rona. They have also had some luck with the draw; the red color palette separates her from what has come before in the first semi. There is a possibility of her pulling a Alyosha (Ukraine 2010), but those big notes are still making me cringe.  I do worry about her wardrobe; between the gumballs in her hair in the first rehearsal and jail stripe dress and the neon accessories in the second rehearsal her choices so far have been poor.  Rona’s qualifying prospects have improved since December, but whether it’s enough remains to be seen.
  • If the Tuesday night viewership turns out to be older and female, then Belgium and/or Finland may be surprise qualifier(s). Belgium has come together during these rehearsals.  The arrangement, lead and backing vocals sound contemporary.  Their backdrop is one of the more attractive in a pretty poor year for backdrops. It’s hard to say what it will all add up to, however, because I hate this song with a white hot passion.  For Finland, every commentator in the booth will be mentioning that the song is about her mom and written by her brother. Pernilla has a cellist and a big wind-blown train which looks nice, but the staging isn’t dynamic and the song goes nowhere.
  • Israel has become my favorite goofy entry of the year, much like Moldova 2011.  I love their clock backdrop and their backup singers, but Izabo’s lack of charisma may be a liability.
  • Denmark has changed its most annoying lyric: “now I miss you like Sahara missed the rain” to “now I miss you like Sahara misses rain.”  It makes a world of difference.  Thanks for that.
  • Hungary has worked it out.  They found their energy and pitch and got a better wardrobe, all big improvements from the national final.  Compact Disco is one of the few acts using the catwalk. The laser show backdrop is old school but complements their ’80s electronica style.
  • Ireland is looking slick as expected.  In the 2nd rehearsals we got a better taste of how the water set piece is working, and I think it’s going to be effective on camera. But this is Jedward doing what Jedward does, and one wonders if they can improve on last year’s result now that the novelty has worn off.
On the way down:
  • Latvia’s vocals sound good, but the choreography looks like a group of clucking hens. This is also the 4th song in a row where the color palette is dominantly blue.  This song is simply not going to stand out.
  • I still love Romania’s song.  The vocal and their choreography are solid, but I find the backdrop and the wardrobe too monochrome for this cheery, summery song.
  • With iPads, cell phones, and cheerleader outfits, San Marino has found a way to make their crappy entry even worse. Or, depending on your point of view, they are fulfilling their promise.  We may as well update our campiest entry page right now.
  • I now believe Austria is not qualifying. The pole dancers are tacky, the light up costumes don’t work, and the strobe light/Arkanoid backdrop is too similar to Hungary and “Woki” does not hold up with what comes right before.
Other notes:
  • Greece is still a puzzle and a point of division here at EuroLemur.  Chris remains convinced that Greece is not going to qualify.  Without the benefit of seeing the camera angles, I will wager the Greeks will be smart enough to focus on Eleftheria, who is cute and sexy. I hear she is finding the camera. She sings fine but is unsupported by backing vocalists. Nevertheless, I will make this bold prediction: Greece will outperform Cyprus.
  • On Cyprus I stand firm. Ivi cannot sing.  Moreover, the visuals–dresses in neutral tones, a dais of books, and a dark backdrop with an iron-wrought fence–don’t fit the mood of the song. In Cyprus’s defense, the tune is immediate, and the choreography neutralizes Ivi’s atrocious dance ability.

Second Semi:

On the way up:

  • When I think about how close Glen Vella got to qualifying last year, I have to point out what a good job Malta has done to stage their song this year. It all makes sense. Kurt plays to the camera, his backing band, and the crowd. The concert scene backdrop fits with the song and gives it energy. The vocals are well-tuned, and they even put in audience-participation choreography for us. It’s all quite likable, and in a semi with many ballads, I wonder if people will respond to something that makes them happy.
  • Since their national final, Georgia is definitely on the rise but like other Georgian entries in recent memory I just wish that they’d let the lead singer do their thing.  The supporting cast distracts from what is turning out to be one of the best performances in the contest. Anri owns the stage and demands the audience’s attention. Love him or hate him, you will remember him. Georgia has a perfect qualification track record; I’m not ready to count them out just yet.
  • If, as we noted in our jury analysis post, big traditional ballads are jury wank, then Estonia is in fine shape.  It’s a simple staging with a nice backdrop. Ott builds the song and has backing singers to give it oomph.  Nothing new or innovative, but for a big ballad it’s working well.
  • Slovakia is the only hard rock song in the contest, and they’ve put together a package that should please hard rock fans. This looks like a Motley Crue concert. Max is moving well onstage and the lighting and backdrop make you forget you’re at Eurovision. Max has been a little pitchy in rehearsals, but the overall presentation is good.
  • Norway has worked. it. out. Performance value was never a worry, but vocals were.  To make the transition from MGP to live vocals, Team Norway found a cadre of dancers that can sing and developed effective choreography that allows them to do both. They’ve also got a dedicated backup singer doubling Tooji on most of the vocals. The package is fab.

On the way down:

  • Belarus is doing everything they can to screw up a good song. Tron backdrop, chain mail wardrobe, Mad Max mike stands, a dance pop mix.  It’s not adding up.
  • From the white fringe dress to the flash mob to the guys with trumpets to more guys with trumpets in the backdrop screens to the splashing water in the other backdrop, Ukraine is this year’s example of more is more.  They’ll qualify because Gaitana’s got a big voice and a big song, but this feels like a missed opportunity.
  • Bulgaria has made zero effort to stage their song. It feels like a performance for Top of the Pops rather than Eurovision. This will be a contender for last place.
  • Just when we thought Slovenia was getting better at this Eurovision thing, they go and dress 16-year-old Eva Boto in a wedding dress. Who thought that was a good idea?!?
  • Bosnia’s staging is too minimal–just Maya and a ugly black dress. Sure, the juries will like her and Bosnia has voting allies, but the song is a snoozer. Estonia is doing the same thing 3 songs earlier and doing it better.  I’ve moved it down to borderline qualifier.
  • Lithuania sounds great, but Donny has added a bedazzled blindfold and a tasteless backdrop with the cast of Chicago. Bloggers in Baku are saying that the backdrop looks ok on camera.  Guess we’ll see for ourselves on Tuesday.

Other notes:

  • Serbia and Sweden are class acts, solid as they ever were. Turkey has some clever staging with capes.
  • Macedonia has turned into a fanwank entry in recent weeks. For the staging they opted to focus on the rock elements, and Kaliopi puts on a confident performance at lead. It’s possible that many former Yugoslav countries will give them points but I question how well the Macedonian rock sound translates to the rest of Europe. Kaliopi has charmed the press corps, but the song itself is repetitive and simplistic, not an example of strong songwriting.
Big 6
From the Big 6 we have learned very little. I don’t see many of these countries’ prospects changing based on rehearsals.
  • Spain’s vocal is solid and the staging is simple, as is Germany’s.
  • Based on other recent concert performances, I believe Nina from Italy is bored to tears with her song. Nina is trying strange things in rehearsals–like engaging the crowd–in an attempt to hate her song less. I also think she’s professional enough that she’ll pull it together when it matters.
  • UK is professional and classy. In the 2nd rehearsal they tightened up the lighting and it’s working better now.
  • Azerbaijan’s dress designer read The Hunger Games and turned Sabina into “the girl on fire.” Which is weird because all she does is sing about being cold. Sabina is singing well and the package is good. I’m getting a “Oro” vibe (Serbia 2008) from her.
  • All along, France has struggled to figure out what to do with their song. In good news, Anggun did finally figure out how to sing this difficult song.   Unfortunately, she’s about to be undermined by the staging. Anggun is sporting a long train that looks good in the final moments but gets in the way during the other 2:45. The gymnastics-focused 2nd rehearsal was pretty tacky–hope they don’t go with that.