Recap of 2021 Semifinal One

It feels so good to have Eurovision back! I knew I missed it, but I didn’t really realize how much of a void last year’s cancellation had left in me until I pressed play on Peacock’s live feed. At last my Mays are complete again.

2021 is such a strong year that my quibbles feel more petty than usual. Every loss is gut-wrenching, even when I totally get why an act didn’t qualify.

No non-qualification was more heartbreaking to me than Ireland’s. Lesley Roy and her team came up with a very cool concept for “Maps” that took Silvàn Areg’s “Allez Leur Dire” staging and cranked it up to 11. There was also a charming third act reveal to show how the whole thing was done. The problem was that it required so much work to pull off that Lesley’s vocal suffered. It also didn’t help that the stagehands couldn’t get it set up fast enough, forcing host Chantal Janzen to vamp after Ireland’s postcard had already aired and delaying Lesley’s performance when she was already on stage. Even if the staging for “Maps” didn’t completely work, I found myself hoping that she would get a second chance to get it right.

(Updated 5/21/2021: The delay was caused by a camera malfunction, not a delay in setting the props up. Still: disruptive.)

I don’t think I was too shocked about the other songs that missed out on the Grand Final. I had expected Croatia to make it through, but I was only mildly stunned that it didn’t. “Tick Tock” is a really good song, but Albina and her dancers were washed out by a sea of neon pink and blue lighting.

Meanwhile, Romania drowned Roxen in so much fog that it was hard to see her for a while. And even when I did catch a glimpse of her, I paid more attention to that one really hammy back-up dancer.

Slovenia and North Macedonia seemed to suffer due to their straightforward staging of big ballads. To steal a point made by Robyn Gallagher and Elaine O’Neill on Twitter, Ana Soklič and Vasil had these big, rich pre-recorded backing vocals with no onstage proxy. They both looked mighty lonely on the big Rotterdam Ahoy stage.

While Australia was hurt a bit by Montaigne not performing in person, I also think the staging was too polarizing to make an already uncompromising song easier to warm to. The special effects pushed viewers away from Montaigne instead of drawing them in, leaving her even more isolated.

Who won the night? Lithuania. The genius of Vaidotas Valiukevičius’ hand gesture dance move is it’s easy to reference whenever the cameras focus on The Roop. The entire delegation were doing it constantly last night, and Vaidotas telling co-host Edsilia Rombley that it stood for “Euro-Vision” made it even more charming. The Roop opened the show, then ensured they were memorable all night.

Cyprus and Ukraine were my other Tuesday winners. Elena Tsagrinou and her team took the “Fuego” staging and added more, well, fuego to it. Even though “El Diablo” left me cold when I first heard it, Elena gave such a warm and playful performance that I fell for her song at last.

But no singer captivated me as much as Kateryna Pavlenko from Go_A. Her intense vocals coupled with her dry, yet soulful stare made “Shum” stand out. The dais prop and the dancers were just there to accentuate her performance, and it bloody worked.

The evening was dominated by bad-ass women. Manizha brought to Rotterdam the most Russian entry ever and used it to subvert Russian norms the entire way. She ended her song with a defiant, “Are you ready for change? Because we are!” It was easy to feel like she was right.

Eden Alene is such a charismatic and purely talented singer and performer that she made the stage her playground. Even if said playground was drenched in the same color scheme as Croatia’s ill-fated entry. “Set Me Free” came alive, and that had all to do with Eden’s skills and sense of style.

Hooverphonic did two smart things in their Eurovision performance. One, they made sure Geike Arnaert was the focal point throughout. All she had to do was look soulfully into the camera to draw audiences in. Two, they did not assume they were just playing another gig, but instead had a thoughtful presentation that made “The Wrong Place” come alive.

Contrast that with “Je Me Casse.” Destiny is still in the mix for the win, but I really wish the Malta delegation just trusted in her talent and poise. She can stand there and sing a phone book and capture people’s attention, but Malta has saddled her with a staging that constantly looks like she’s being put into a box. It reminded me of the staging for Michela Pace’s “Chameleon,” which was also overly fussy. It’s the first time I’ve doubted she could repeat her Junior Eurovision success.

Still, “Je Me Casse” felt cohesive, which is more than I can say for “Mata Hari.” I realize that part of my issue is that I can’t help but think that this was the same staging Azerbaijan had planned for “Cleopatra” last year. Why else would the cobra be in the graphics? As I said in my initial review, I bet this sounds fresh to someone who is just seeing Efendi’s shtick for the first time, but the whole package felt cheap and lazy to me.

While Tix’s performance and staging of “Fallen Angel” are solid, he also got a subtle boost when the producers got cheeky and had him follow “El Diablo.” Tix looked like a sullen fallen angel lamenting the fact that the love of his life was in love with El Diablo instead. Cyprus drew the first half of the Final and Norway drew the second, so the producers could still put them together again at the halfway point of the show. For storytelling purposes.

I did briefly wonder if Sweden was going to miss out on the final. “Voices” is so trite, and it was made even more shallow by following “Russian Women.” But I will give Tusse and the Swedish delegation a lot of credit: The staging made “Voices” look more deep than the generic lyrics would suggest. And even though his vocal wasn’t perfect, Tusse is such a powerful presence that it’s easy to see why he qualified.

In the end, Tuesday wasn’t really a night of surprises. Along with a lot of good performances, we got a solidly entertaining show with a good opener from reigning champion Duncan Laurence, a cool interval act, and mostly unobtrusive hosting from the quartet of emcees. It was all about getting us back into the swing of things, and it succeeded. Not bad for the Semifinal that I thought was the less interesting of the two. Bring on Thursday!

Belgium’s Eurovision 2021 Entry

I used to be a reasonably enthusiastic Hooverphonic fan. Not a hardcore fan, but I would definitely turn the volume up whenever one of their songs would play when my iPod was set to shuffle.

Then I read their official bio on the Eurovision site last year. Ugh.

Now, I try to separate the artist from their music as much as possible, unless they are outright criminals. If I let prickly personalities get in the way of the enjoyment of my music, I’d have to delete half of my music collection.

But Alex Callier trying to defend why Hooverphonic didn’t participate in the recording of “Love Shine a Light” for Eurovision: Europe Shine a Light set such a sour taste in my mouth that all of the miracle berries in the world probably wouldn’t kindle any interest in his band’s 2021 Eurovision contribution.

Then Hooverphonic dropped last year’s lead singer Luka Cruysberghs for Geike Arnaert, singer of their biggest hit “Mad About You.” I don’t know the circumstances behind the change, but my attitude towards the band now makes me assume that the move was a cold, calculated one.

If I try to be objective, I can say that Geike does a great job expressing the ennui that the lyrics are conveying. The arrangement is suitably lush in that John Berry style that Hooverphonic have made their signature sound.

On the flip side, there aren’t a huge variety of notes in the melodies, which makes the song constricted like it’s wearing a corset that’s on too tight. The backing vocals on the chorus sound weirdly whiney. It’s an okay addition to Hooverphonic’s oeuvre, and it’s a decent way to welcome Geike back into the fold.

As much as I would love to be able to review each song objectively, though, I also feel it’s important to address everything that influences my critiques. Therefore, given all that I’ve said, I don’t really like “The Wrong Place” because I refuse to give it a fair shake.

Belgium’s Eurovision 2020 Entry

Belgium would like to remind you that they are still the European Capital of Cool.

Hooverphonic is an influential trip-hop pop band who have had three number one albums in Belgium and international success with their songs “2wicky” and “Mad About You.” Bassist Alex Callier and guitarist Raymond Geerts formed the band in 1995. Lead vocalist Luka Cruysberghs joined in 2018 after she won The Voice of Flanders with Alex has her coach.

Alex co-wrote Senneck’s “A Matter of Time,” which represented Belgium at the 2018 Song Contest. For “Release Me,” he teamed up with Luca Chiaravalli, who produced and arranged “Occidentali’s Karma.”

We have mixed feelings about “Release Me” as a Eurovision entry. On the one hand, we love that Hooverphonic did not compromise themselves to write a Eurovision song. It’s as if they were putting the finishing touches on “Release Me” when the call to represent Belgium in Rotterdam came in, and they said, “Well timed, Belgium!” Their song has a swank neo-retro vibe that fits right into their Cruysberghs-era catalog perfectly.

On the other hand, it is a such a downer. Luka pours so much raw sadness into her vocal that we can hear the exact moment her heart breaks. Not exactly the kind of song that lifts the mood at the Eurovision.

Moreover, “Release Me” doesn’t really offer any musical release to its dour mood. The final part of the chorus gets repeated without any swells in the orchestration, which robs Luka of a chance to build it to a big ending. We’re waiting for a moment to get goosebumps, and it never arrives.

We’re looking forward to see how Belgium stages this. They have an opportunity to use the staging to give us a catharsis that the recorded track doesn’t quite have. How they create that Eurovision moment may be the key to their success this year.

Reviews of the Rest of Eurovision 2019

Eurovision rehearsals are about to begin and we weren’t able to complete full reviews of all of this year’s entries in time. So let’s take a deep breath and cover all the rest in one go!

Finland: Darude feat. Sebastian Rejman – “Look Away

Darude had a global smash hit 19 years ago with “Sandstorm.” Now he’s representing Finland at Eurovision. We mock the United Kingdom when they do stuff like that and we see no reason to spare Finland our snark. Especially when the U.K. nostalgia acts send better songs.

Belarus: Zena – “Like It

Zena offers up a slightly generic, but still quite enjoyable pop song. We… well, you know… like it. Not sure if it’s going to do well for Belarus, but with the right staging, or at least the right Belorussian staging, maybe it could surprise us.

Serbia: Nevena Božović – “Kruna

Nevena is a veteran of Moje 3, the Barbara Dex Award-winning act from 2013. She’s back with a bland ballad, but she made it soar at Beovizija 2019. We expect more vocal fireworks in Tel Aviv. And better costumes.

Belgium: Eliot Vassamillet – “Wake Up

“Wake Up” reminds us of “City Lights.” We didn’t like “City Lights,” but it seemed like everyone else did. We like “Wake Up,” but it seems like no one else does. Go figure.

Georgia: Oto Nemsadze – “Sul Tsin Iare

Oto brought a wide-eyed intensity to his performance of “Sul Tsin Iare.” It worked for the judges and the people of Georgia, but we can’t say it’s going to work for the rest of Europe.

San Marino: Serhat – “Say Na Na Na

San Marino has sent disco songs for three of its last four entries because this one time, die hard Eurovision fans convinced them that’s what we want. Maybe we should tell them that we like other genres too.

Armenia: Srbuk – “Walking Out

Srbuk looks a lot like my mom did when she was 18 and I’m struggling to get past that.

Ireland: Sarah McTernan – “22

We are not particular fans of Meghan Trainor’s oeuvre, so anything that resembles her output is not going to rank high with us. But at least it’s not another earnest ballad.

Moldova: Anna Odobescu – “Stay

Moldova is following up successive classic Eurovision contributions with a song that we will probably forget about shortly after the Song Contest is over. Sigh, it’s hard to generate memes every year.

Austria: Pænda – “Limits

“Limits” is a great song to listen to at 3 A.M. when it’s gently, but audibly raining outside and you’re feeling a little sad and need a good cry. That’s usually not the atmosphere Eurovision provides, which may hurt Austria’s chances.

Lithuania: Jurijus – “Run with the Lions

Jurijus is this dreamy guy singing an anthemic song about believing in yourself and dreaming big. It’s a pleasant three minutes made better by Jurijus’ inherent likability.

North Macedonia: Tamara Todevska – “Proud

“Proud” is an old fashioned ballad about empowering girls to believe in themselves and dream big. It’s a lovely three minutes made better by Tamara’s vocal star quality.

Israel: Kobi Marimi – “Home

Israel is happy to have won Eurovision and is also not interested in winning again this year.

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.

Belgium’s Eurovision 2017 Entry

Blanche will be representing Belgium at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest with “City Lights.”

Ellie “Blanche” Delvaux (that’s Delvaux, not Devereaux) made it onto The Voice Belgique in 2016, but was eliminated in the second week of live shows. She co-wrote “City Lights” with Pierre Dumoulin, lead singer of the band Roscoe.

Blanche has a rich, sultry voice and she and Dumoulin have come up with an ethereal, pulsating pop song that showcases her vocal tone well. When “City Lights” came out, it seemed like every Eurovision fan on the internet went gaga over it. And we sat here wondering, “What’s wrong with us?”

We think is “City Lights” repetitive. It’s the same melody over and over again with occasional slight variation and a brief octave change. And there is an overall lack of warmth to the song. There’s cool and there’s cold and Blanche and “City Lights” are positively icy. Maybe if we were driving around Brussels at two in the morning, it would resonate with us, but right now, we’re just hoping that the staging in Kyiv will help us understand what we’re missing.

Eurovision 2016 Round-Up: President’s Day Edition

These are busy times in the Lemurs household, making it difficult for us to write about the National Finals results on a regular basis. Rather than skip out on the Eurovision season altogether, we decided to do a round-up of what has happened around Europe up until now.

The most interesting (if not exciting) thing so far is what happened in Italy. This year’s Sanremo winners, Stadio, turned down the invitation to represent Italy in May’s Grand Prix. The day after Sanremo ended, Italian broadcaster Rai announced that they gave the ticket to Stockholm to runner up Francesca Michielin. It was not quite as dramatic as Germany’s schlagerfiasco last year, but trust the Italians to be better prepared than the Germans to handle this kind of situation.

(Wait, did I just say that?)

Francesca has not confirmed what song she will be performing at Eurovision (although presumably she would go with her Sanremo entry “Nessun Grado Di Separazione”), but plenty of other countries have their entries locked up:

Continue reading “Eurovision 2016 Round-Up: President’s Day Edition”

Belgium’s Eurovision 2015 Entry

Loïc Nottet will represent Belgium at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest with “Rhythm Inside.”

18-year old Loïc Nottet has a standout boyish tenor with the right amount of attitude, and we find it not at all surprising that he managed to turn chairs on The Voice Belgique in 2014. He was the runner-up that year, and it would seem his performance at Eurovision is meant to be a launch pad for bigger things.

“Rhythm Inside” reminds us quite a bit of Lorde’s “Royals” — in the austerity of the arrangement, the strategic use of snaps, and youthful ennui.

And you know what? We don’t care.

 

We don’t care because it’s awesome. The tune is catchy, and it’s got more manboy going on than Eric Saade could have ever dreamed of. It’s one of our favorite songs this season.

Judging from this videos for “Rhythm Inside” and his cover of Sia’s “Chandelier,” Loïc has got opinions in how to present himself artistically. He can handle choreography, and he knows how to smize for the camera.

Looking at some of his past performances on The Voice Belgique, Loïc could get pitchy when trying to sell the big notes. On the other had, he matured quickly over the course of the series. Recent live clips suggest that he’ll be able to pull off the vocal, though we do have concerns about how much stank face he will give us. We also take heart, because the last time a performer from The Voice Belgique without a lot of experience represented Belgium, the results were pretty good.

Belgium’s Eurovision 2014 Entry

Tonight Belgium gave us the last national final of the 2014 Eurovision season.  Buoyed by a groundswell of public support (57% of the televote), Axel Hirsoux trounced his competition with “Mother”:

Eurovision has a rich history of songs about mom – recent examples include Pernilla Karlsson’s “När Jag Blundar” (Finland 2012) and Anastasiya Prykhodko’s “Mamo” (Russia 2009). It makes sense to target mom as subject matter, because, you know, we all can relate. This year’s dedication feels like an English-language adaptation of an 11-o’clock number from an Italian melodrama. Its appreciation of mom is heartfelt but comes across a bit strong for those of us that tend to be more restrained in expressions of love toward our family members. In fact, watching Hirsoux’s performance during Belgian Eurosong reminded us of “Senza Mamma” from Godfather, Part II.

Hirsoux was joined onstage by noted Belgian choreographer Isabelle Beernaert, dancing the role of Mother. We haven’t seen this kind of celebrity turn since Evgeni Plushenko joined Dima Bilan onstage for “Believe.” The overall effect was quite compelling, as the presentation showcased Axel’s camera presence with artistry that underscored the song’s feelings of longing and sadness. We hope (and suspect) that Belgium will export this Eurosong staging wholesale to Copenhagen.

STRAY OBSERVATIONS: We love Isabelle. In the post-Eurovision doldrums of 2011 we stumbled onto The Ultimate Dance Battle. We were familiar with Dan Karaty’s work through the American version of So You Think You Can Dance, and we were fascinated to learn that he’s subsequently established a career for himself in the Netherlands. We greatly enjoyed TUDB’s format and the exposure to the deep pool of working choreographers and dancers in Flanders and the Netherlands.

Belgium’s Eurovision 2013 Entry

Belgium picked its song today for Roberto Bellarosa, its previously announced 2013 Eurovision performer, choosing “Love kills” to represent it in Malmö. Note to the Belgium delegation: lose the key change. Otherwise, “Love kills” is a perfectly serviceable and amiable adult contemporary pop song. It has a melodic hook we remember, so that’s a plus.

Roberto, winner of The Voice Belgique earlier this year, is a good singer and a good-looking guy. It’s hard to gauge how good a performer he is because he performed on a small, crowded stage before a small crowd. He didn’t seem confident in the song yet, particularly after the totally needless key change which, we can’t stress enough, the Belgium delegation really needs to lose.

His most successful commercial showing to date was his cover of One Republic’s “Apologize,” which reached #3 in the Belgian charts last April. We found it instructive to take a listen. He sings it just fine. Our concern is that he brought nothing new to the song, nothing that takes us from “well, that was pleasant” to “wow, he’s something special.” “Love kills” is a new song, but he similarly brings to it a sense of pleasantness. Can he take to someplace special?

Roberto and his team have literally months to prepare “Love kills” for the big stage, and we hope he’ll do well.

UPDATED 13 MARCH 2013: THEY LOST THE KEY CHANGE.