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!

Cyprus’s Eurovision 2021 Entry

Poor TIX, a fallen angel longing for someone so far above where angels belong, when Elena Tsagrinou is right there, ready to give herself to El Diablo.

It’s hard for me to listen to “El Diablo” without thinking that Cyprus is trying once again to recapture that “Fuego” magic that propelled them to the upper stratosphere of Eurovision. But it’s like a photocopy of a photocopy, and it doesn’t work for me at all.

My disdain starts with the lyrics, which are peppered with gratuitous Spanish. Little Big satirized the use of Spanish as a generic language of seduction in “Uno” just last year. There’s also a random reference to sriracha, which I suppose you could put on your ta-taco tamale, but it’s not the hot sauce that immediately comes to mind in a ta-taco tamale situation.

Then Elena asks mamacita to tell her what to do. Who is this mamacita? Is she calling her mom mamacita? Don’t call your mom mamacita.

And you’re breaking the rules by giving it up to El Diablo because he told you’re his angel? That’s not a good rule to break. If someone called El Diablo says, “Let’s swap tacos and tamales because you’re my angel,” DO NOT GIVE UP YOUR TACO TO HIM.

It’s a catchy song, though. Elena sings the chorus four times, which helps. It also sounds like a lost Lady Gaga track, which also helps. But it never really goes anywhere. We get it, you gave it up to El Diablo. You keep saying that. Is it a cry for help? Do you and your army of children chanting “I love El Diablo” need help?

I have hope that the staging of “El Diablo” will be spectacular. Leaning into camp will at least accentuate the song’s nonsensical excesses. As it stands right now, though, I think it’s a shambles.

Cyprus’ Eurovision 2020 Entry

One of the things that we have been deprived of by the cancellation of this year’s Eurovision Song Contest is the delight (or horror) of discovering how countries would have staged their entries. We mention this now because we have absolutely now idea how Cyprus would have pulled this one off.

Sandro (a.k.a. Alessandro Ruetten) was born in Germany to Greek and American parents. He competed on the eighth season of The Voice of Germany and finished sixth while representing the United States at Russia’s New Wave Festival in 2019. He cowrote “Running” with The Voice Australia winner Alfie Arcuri, German singer-songwriter Octavian Rasinariu, German songwriter and producer Sebastian Metzner Rickards, and someone named Teo DK (not to be confused with Teo BY).

“Running” has an ambient quality that reminds us of downtempo artists like Ulrich Schnauss. It’s kind of an odd choice for a Eurovision song, because it doesn’t strike us as a performance song. It’s a mood piece with a decent hook for a chorus, which is not something that pops on a big stage.

Even though “Running” didn’t leave much of an impression on us at first, it has grown us considerably. One of our favorite songs from 2019 was Alphabeat’s “Shadows.” Here, Sandro offers up a more internalized companion piece. The lyrics are (to us, anyway) about hiding from the world when you’re filled with self-doubt. For those of us who struggle with anxiety, it’s quite an anthem. Maybe it’s a bit too introverted to be a Eurovision song, but it resonates anyway. A dose of “Running,” a dose of “Shadows,” and we won’t be afraid to move on.

Cyprus’ Eurovision 2019 Entry

We don’t usually like to brag when we look like geniuses, but we feel like we nailed our review of Cyprus’ Eurovision 2018 entry. It didn’t seem like a lot of people rated it when it first came out, but “Fuego” was quite the sensation once the rehearsals kicked off in Lisbon. Not that we necessarily would have predicted Cyprus to finish second at the Song Contest, but we just had a feeling Eleni Foureira was going to be the diva to end all divas.

Cyprus is trying to replicate last year’s magic, which is why it’s not surprising to us that their song is called “Replay.”

Tamta is a Georgian Greek singer who finished second in Super Idol, the short-lived Greek version of Pop Idol. She has gone on to be a judge on both the Greek and Georgian versions of The Voice. She also finished third in the 2007 Greek national final with the song “With Love.”

The official video for “Replay” is ridiculous, a collection of perfume ad outtakes that includes a factory that only manufactures sparks. We think it’s a collective metaphor for sex, although we’re trying to figure out what kink is symbolized by dropping a knife that turns into packing peanuts.

That Tamta looks like Sharon Tate as Jennifer North in Valley of the Dolls as another level to the video, because it looks like she’s performing in the French art films Jennifer starts acting in when she needs to raise money for Tony after he’s hospitalized for his mysterious illness.

Too deep a pull?

Anyway, you’re probably wondering what we think of the song. We like it! It is maybe trying a bit too hard to be “Fuego” 2.0, but it’s catchy. Our son refers to it as “Bing-Bong-de-Bing-Bong-de-Bay,” which captures the melody of the chorus quite well.

Eurovision’s producers have picked “Replay” to kick off the First Semi, which we think makes perfect sense. It’s the only proper banger in the first half of the draw. Cyprus is likely going to try hard to recapture lightning in a bottle, so the staging is either going to be ridiculously awesome or memorably ridiculous. Hope they have the spark generator primed and ready.

Cyprus’ Eurovision 2018 Entry

Cyprus made an internal selection this year because with Eleni Foureira there is no need for a competition (and because for years Greece has been unwilling to send her). Here’s “Fuego,” Cyprus’ song for Europe.

Eleni Foureira got her start as a member of the Greek girl group Mystique. She branched out as a solo artist in 2010 and since then has had seven top 10 singles in Greece, including the chart-topping duet with J Balvin “Tranquila.” Eleni’s ancestry has often been a point of media speculation – is she Brazilian? Is she Mexican? Is she Greek? In 2014, she revealed that she hid the fact that she was born in Albania because record labels wouldn’t have signed her based on her ethnicity.

As a performer, Eleni is part of a fine tradition of long-haired divas with legs for days, a tradition that includes Nicole Scherzinger, Queen Iveta, and Zuul. In a semifinal filled with aspiring divas, Eleni has the potential to reign supreme.

“Fuego” was written by a songwriting team lead by Alexander Papaconstantinou, who wrote “Yassou Maria” for Greece, “Always” for Azerbaijan, and “La La Love” for Cyprus. He’s joined by Anderz Wrethov, who co-wrote “Always,” and Viktor Svensson, who co-wrote “La La Love.” Anderz and Viktor teamed up for 2016’s Eurofan pre-selection favorite “Cool Me Down.”

For us, the tragedy of “Fuego” is that EBU restrictions on product placements will deny us choreography using Fyffes-branded pineapples. Mmm, fire-roasted pineapples…

Cyprus’ Eurovision 2017 Entry

Hovig is representing Cyprus at Eurovision with the song “Gravity.”

Hovig is an Armenian-Cypriot singer who first came into the public eye in 2009 when he appeared on the Greek version of The X Factor. He participated in the 2010 and 2015 Cyprus national finals before becoming his country’s internal pick this year. “Gravity” was written by Thomas G:Son, because every Eurovision must have at least one G:Son entry.

Judging from his past live performances, Hovig is a solid if not dynamic vocalist, but he has enough swagger and charisma to garner attention. Fortunately for him, G:Son has provided him a song that can put that swagger on display. “Gravity” is commercial and familiar, but is enhanced by some interesting production choices, like that buzzing synth, which gives it some life.

We like the song, but we hope it will be further lifted by the staging. The official video seems to be hinting at where Cyprus will take “Gravity” in Kyiv. If they follow through, it’ll be a good time. Here’s hoping.

Eurovision 2016 Round-Up: St. Lucia’s Independence Day Edition

All of the Eurovision Song Contest entries decided in the past couple of days have the ring of familiarity to them. Two artists make their return to the Grand Prix, and two others have tried to represent their respective nations in years past. Let’s try and relive some magic.

Bosnia & Herzegovina: Dalal & Deen featuring Ana Rucner and Jala – “Ljubav Je”

Bosnia & Herzegovina returns to Eurovision with an all-star cast of performers, including Song Contest veteran Deen. “Ljubav Je” is a standard Balkan ballad with a hip hop twist, thanks to Jala. We love how they staged the song presentation: it looked like Dalal and Deen were singing about the Romeo & Juliet-like love story between Jala and Ana Rucner. Will strings melt a hip hopper’s heart? Will rhymes be the hammer to ring the chimes of the cellist’s soul? Tune into SVT in May to find out.

Cyprus: Minus One – “Alter Ego”

Minus One are an internal selection. They vied for the chance to represent Cyprus last year and their song was one of our favorites from the national final season even if it was called “Shine.” They teamed up with the prolific Thomas G:Son to shred the hell out of their entry. It’s rocking good stuff and we’re looking forward their performance in Stockholm.

Iceland: Greta Salóme – “Hear Them Calling”

It seems that Greta Salóme took notice of all that fancy stuff Måns Zelmerlöw did at the Song Contest last year and did her own goth take on it. It’s alright, we guess, but the Lemur household is of the opinion that if Iceland was going to send a Greta song, they should have picked “Á ný,” which she wrote for Elísabet Ormslev. We’re not disappointed, Iceland, just mad.

Ukraine: Jamala – “1944”

Because this is Ukraine, we’re not entirely confident saying that Jamala is representing her country in Stockholm with “1944.” (Heck, she may not be entirely confident either, given her past experience with the Ukraine national selection process.) This is a song about Jamala’s great-grandmother, who was deported with other Crimean Tatars to Central Asia by Joseph Stalin in 1944. Andriy “Verka Serduchka” Danylko noted during Ukraine’s Lord of the Rings-length national final there is concern that it could be seen as political – certain parallels with contemporary times and all that. It’s probably just Ukraine being oversensitive and we are sure that the Russians will not complain one bit. Not one iota. Nope. Anyway, it’s a very effective song, and we could see it doing very well at the Song Contest this year.

Cyprus’ Eurovision 2015 Entry

Giannis Karagiannis won an very entertaining Eurovision Song Project finale and will represent Cyprus in Vienna with “One Thing I Should Have Done”:

“One Thing I Should Have Done” is a gentle, catchy folk-pop ballad. Giannis has a lovely voice, and delivered a cool, measured performance. When he sings a cappella towards the end of the song, I had goosebumps.

Guest judge Bruno Berberes told Giannis that his song and performance reminded him of Tom Dice’s “Me and My Guitar” about five seconds after Jen said it. So long as the Cypriot delegation doesn’t decide to add dancers or any other unnecessary accouterments to the staging and just let the guy sing, Cyprus should do just fine at this year’s Song Contest.

Cyprus’ Eurovision 2013 Entry

Cyprus will be represented by Despina Olympiou and the song “An me thimase” this year. Basically, it’s what Spain sent last year.

This is a ridiculously safe choice from Cyprus. I am no fan of dated ballads anyway, but “An me thimase” smells particularly musty to me. It’s so predictable, I can already foresee how it’s going to do at Eurovision: high scores from the juries and no support from the public.

Of course, strong jury support got Pastora Soler and “Quédate Conmigo” a top 10 finish, but I think “An me thimase” will be very lucky to do that well. Definite bathroom break song.

Cyprus’ Eurovision 2012 Entry

Cyprus had previously announced that Ivi Adamou would represent them, so tonight all that was left was to decide which of 3 songs she would “perform” (and I use the term loosely).  The consensus winner from jury and televote was “La La Love.”

Quite a catchy little dance song, innit?  Upbeat, not a lot of tough to understand lyrics, lots of cross-cultural appeal and all that.  I can imagine it doing quite well in Euroclub with the fans.   And 18-year old Ivi is lovely to look at and knows how to work a camera.  In truth she could pass for Idina Menzel’s better looking daughter.

Of course Glee has already stolen that thunder…

Between now and Baku, however, Cypriot organizers will need work with Ivi on her performance and think carefully about how to showcase her.  Ivi lip-synched the national final (a choice that often proves worrysome–as if she may not have the chops to carry off a live performance), and she had some–shall we say awkward–dance moves to go with.

Time will tell how the song itself wears.  There’s not much to it and I’m already starting to suspect the relentless “la la lalala lala la la lalala lala la la” will grate on me after multiple hearings.  That, however, is only a hard core fan’s concern.  At first listen, “La La Love” is catchy and Ivi is cute.  But it’s all for naught if she dances like a truck.