Recap of 2021 Semifinal Two

We have our 26 Eurovision Song Contest finalists, and it’s hard to believe that two years of preparation have come down to this already. As with Tuesday’s results, I generally can’t fault any act that was eliminated from contention last night. No one deserved to go home early, but sometimes competing in Eurovision is a losing game.

I can’t ignore how COVID-19 reared its ugly head this week. Duncan Laurence has been denied a victory lap after contracting the coronavirus. Even more devastatingly, poor Jóhann Sigurður from Gagnamagnið tested positive on Wednesday. In solidarity with their comrade, Daði and the rest of the band decided to withdraw from performing. Footage from their second rehearsal was used instead. It’s a testament to their gumption and work effort that their performance was still amazing.

Also, leave it to Gagnamagnið to figure out how to make a circular keyboard work in ways that Ovi couldn’t.

It’s always tough for me to tell what is going to resonate with juries and televoters. For example, I can’t quite grok how a strong vocal from Albania’s Anxhela Peristeri and Pedro Tatanka from Portugal’s The Black Mamba made an impression, but a strong vocal from Austria’s Vincent Bueno didn’t. If I’m being nit-picky, Vincent’s performance was a bit too stage-theatrical, but given how effective and gut-wrenching his vocal and his staging was, it seems churlish to pick nits. I thought he deserved better.

Maybe it’s as simple as going fifth in the running order and Gjon’s Tears going second to last with an even bigger, more emotional performance. I definitely got Loreen vibes from Gjon’s Tears: a powerful vocal and some dance moves that were true to the artist while still fitting the tone of the song. I still think Switzerland is in the mix for the win.

I was expecting good things from The Black Mamba, even though I wasn’t sure if a song influenced by American Southern rock ballads was going to appeal to anyone in Europe. I was really happy to see that it did.

But I have to admit I didn’t see Anxhela’s performance coming, even though I witnessed her be a complete powerhouse during Festivali i Këngës. Albania’s staging is straightforward, with good use of lighting, fog, and graphics. It all served Anxhela’s performance quite effectively, letting her be the most compelling part of the presentation.

“Growing Up Is Getting Old” didn’t have as much of an impact on me as I thought it would. Something about a singer sitting on the stage (or the prop, in this case) always seems to mute a performance, even when it’s thematically appropriate. Fortunately, Victoria getting up and singing the final lines a cappella was enough to get me all teary-eyed.

Moving on to the bangers: Was there anything more surreal than Flo Rida appearing on stage with Senhit? He’s not the first American to compete in the Song Contest and he’s not the first world famous American to perform at Eurovision. And yet his appearance in “Adrenalina” was still a sight to behold. He only arrived this week and he fit into the production perfectly. I also loved the shots of him hanging with the Sammarinese delegation throughout the rest of the evening. I think he might be hooked on this.

I was disappointed we didn’t get reaction shots of Flo Rida after Hurricane performed, though. For some reason, I’d love to get his thoughts on “Loco Loco.” Hurricane’s energy was appropriately overwhelming. They were moving constantly, dancing from one end of the giant stage to the other. They were a blast, and it wouldn’t have been a Saturday night without them.

The only artists to match Hurricane’s intensity were Blind Channel. The Finnish band could have gone overboard trying to get the room worked up. But they were able to walk the fine line of giving a concert performance and giving a Eurovision performance without looking like they were trying too hard. Painting their middle fingers red was a nice touch.

I really enjoyed Greece’s green screen-heavy staging, although I do get the criticism I’ve heard about it. The dancers don’t completely disappear properly and the visual of Stefania walking up invisible stairs to float in the middle of the skyline is a little weird. Even though working through the staging made her a bit stiff, I was still impressed with how well Stefenia commanded attention. Her place in the Final was well deserved.

Not so with Moldova. “Sugar” is a good song, so I’m not surprised Natalia Gordienko qualified. But her performance was really breathy as she pretended to be Marilyn Monroe in front of an old Microsoft Windows screensaver. While her long note to end the song was impressive, it also came out of nowhere, was a wee bit flat, and was clearly a gimmick to get attention. It was all so calculated that it lacked any personality.

Surprisingly, the other vocal that didn’t quite work for me was from Uku Suviste. He’s been so solid every time I’ve heard him sing. For some reason, his vocal was got lost in the backing tracking. I couldn’t tell if it was a sound mix issue, nerves, or both, but the performance didn’t really come together.

I had bad feelings about both Tornike Kipiani’s and Samanta Tīna’s chances of qualifying for the Final even before they took to the stage. I love how uncompromising the two are as artists and I love how their songs are unique in their own ways. But they also seemed a bit too inaccessible unless you really bought into their visions.

Visions of pure 1980s revivalism also died on Thursday night when both Fyr & Flamme and Rafał were eliminated from the competition. I had warmed to Fyr & Flamme since Dansk Melodi Grand Prix, especially after watching singer Jesper Groth on Stormester, the Danish version of Taskmaster. (Yes, I got that geeky.) I had also warmed to Rafał just by seeing his goofy charm in interviews and stray bits about his enjoyment of being in Rotterdam. The stagings for both “Øve os på hinanden” and “The Ride” were fun, if a bit hokey. I’m kind of bummed that both Denmark and Poland are out.

But I think I’ll miss Benny Cristo most of all. I love “omaga,” but I think his performance betrayed some nerves. He wasn’t able to fully display his charm and charisma, and he was out of breath at the end. Once Moldova was announced as a qualifier, I knew that his time in Rotterdam was almost up. Fortunately, I have his whole back catalog to dive back into, because he’s really good. I wish everyone voting in Eurovision had seen it too.

Czech Republic’s Eurovision 2021 Entry

A certain irony emerged in the lyrics to Benny Cristo’s 2020 Eurovision entry “Kemama.” In it, he reassures his mom, “They can say what they want/You should let it go.” Yet, after a negative reaction to to his revamped version, Benny publicly wondered if he had made a mistake. While I didn’t mind him putting his heart on the stove (quoting another “Kemama” lyric), I was also bummed out that he was put into a position to doubt his decision.

Given that, I wondered after last year’s Song Contest was canceled if he would accept a return chance if offered. I was absolutely thrilled when he decided to come back. Especially given how awesome “omaga” turned out.

I suppose it’s inevitable that there are going to be songs that reference the pandemic at this year’s Song Contest. (See also: The Roop.) Benny’s take is pretty delightful, both lyrically and in context of the official video:

  • “Whole world is crazy/Is it crazy to love you?”
  • “You’ve been home too long/I’ve been home too long.”
  • “You said you gained a few pounds/You blame apocalypse/There ain’t no apocalypse”

I also kind of like the lyric “I did a lot of dumb shhhh/Lot of things I wish I didn’t do,” because I kind of see it as a sly reference to his 2020 Eurovision experience.

Musically, “omaga” has layers of percussion driving the arrangement, with brassy samples propelling it forward. It’s very rich and joyful, and it shows off Benny’s style and charm. It may be a bit more slick and commercial than “Kemama,” but it also feels like a natural progression for someone I think could aspire to be an international pop star. I adore this.

Czech Republic’s Eurovision 2020 Entry

We’re only three songs into the Eurovision season as of this writing, and this year’s Song Contest is already getting a lot more interesting. Here’s Benny Cristo with the Czech Republic entry, “Kemama.”

Ben Cristovao is an Angolan-Czech singer who competed on the first edition of the talent show Superstar. He has gone on to have five charting singles on the Czech Top 100, and reached third in 2019 with “Aleiaio.” He also competes in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and won a gold medal at the 2016 Madrid Open.

We love “Kemama.” It is bright and joyful, buoyed the sparkling synth lines that propel the song and the minimalist beats that pepper it. It’s a party song, but one with lyrics that hint at the adversity Benny faced while growing up. It’s rich, vibrant, and primed to light up summer radio.

This is only Czech Republic’s ninth entry, but no two Czech songs have been alike. They’ve sent grandiose ballads, goth show tunes, sludgy metal, sophistipop, and Roma rap. They found their best result with a sexy contemporary R&B number. Now they’re dipping into Angolan hip hop pop. Czech Republic usually isn’t looking for a good Eurovision song, they’re just looking for a song that stands out from the crowd. It’s a damned good strategy.

Czech Republic’s Eurovision 2019 Entry

Watch out, Estonia: Czech Republic is coming for your quirky indie pop crown! Mainly because they are actually sending their quirky indie pop to Eurovision!

Lake Malawi formed in 2013 and have had some low-level chart success in the Czech Republic. Their biggest single to date, “Chinese Trees,” peaked at 25 on the Czech charts in 2014. Their name was inspired by Bon Iver’s song “Calgary,” which mentions a lake, but not Malawi. (To be fair, it doesn’t mention Calgary either.) Also, they have a LinkedIn page, which we find utterly charming.

Their song “Friend of a Friend” is the 1980’s sophisti-pop song you didn’t know you needed in your life. Make room between your Johnny Hates Jazz and Level 42 albums for Lake Malawi’s output. They are right in our wheelhouse of high school pop music memories.

We’re not sure why lead singer Albert Černý does the British accent before the chorus, and we’re trying to decide if we should be skeezed out by the lyrics. Nevertheless, this has all the makings of a song we are going to listen to over and over again this season. Na zdraví, Czech Republic!

Czech Republic’s Eurovision 2018 Entry

Mikolas Josef and his camel would like a dirty word with you. Here is Czech Republic’s Eurovision entry, “Lie to Me.”

Mikolas was a professional model and a busker when he was a teenager. He began releasing his singles independently in 2015. His song “Free” reached 15th on the Czech singles chart in 2016.

Last year, he was offered the chance to represent Czech Republic with the song “My Turn.” He said he turned it down because he didn’t think it was a good fit. Martina Barta ended up taking the song, finishing 13th in the first Semi.

He wrote “Lie to Me” and it is a bit derivative of Jason Derulo’s “Talk Dirty.” But we’ll give it a pass because it’s so damned catchy. The serpentine horns and the hooky chorus make it a guilty pleasure.

The lyrics, on the other hand, are… um… suggestive?

  • “I know you ‘bop-whop-a-lu bop’ on his wood bamboo”
  • “Then she got one of my friends, she got him dripping on wood”
  • “You should’ve thought about me before you fucked him at the club”
  • “But steady plenty motherfuckers wanna eat my spaghetti”
  • “Set my camel in the mood”

It’s like poetry written by a 14-year-old who just discovered boobs. That said, tacky lyrics shouldn’t be too much of a liability so long as there is a good performance and an entertaining stage show (see: Robin Bengtsson). Mikolas performed at Ukraine’s first semifinal and he projects a quiet confidence and laid back charm.

He certainly seems ambitious, so we’re looking forward to see what kind of package he will put together for Eurovision. Unfortunately, he will have to leave his camel at home thanks to the EBU’s restrictions on live animals at the Song Contest. He can probably bring his own spaghetti, though.

Czech Republic’s Eurovision 2017 Entry

It is Martina Bárta’s turn to represent Czech Republic at the Eurovision Song Contest with “My Turn.”

Bárta is a jazz singer and French horn player based in Berlin. She attended the Berlin University of the Arts and in 2010 she won the role of Lady Marianne in a musical version of Robin Hood on the TV show Robin Hood cesta ke slávě, a reality competition to cast a musical. “My Turn” was written by London-based singer and songwriter Kyler Niko along with the songwriting collective DWB.

“My Turn” is a sweet little ballad in the Sara Bareilles vein. To date, the song has flown under the radar and has been largely dismissed by the fans and the betting markets. We attribute that to the rather underwhelming recorded track. Not so fast, we say. The official video adds an emotional weight that we hope the Czech delegation can incorporate into the staging. We have liked Bárta as a performer from the videos we’ve seen of her, so we think “My Turn” has the potential to be a dark horse to qualify.

Eurovision 2016 Round-Up: Hungarian-Polish Friendship Day Edition

At long last all of the Eurovision songs have been revealed, although the final versions are still trickling out. (Seriously, San Marino? Seriously?) Still, we know enough about each entry to make pithy and catty comments about them all.

Croatia: Nina Kraljić – “Lighthouse”

Croatia returns to Eurovision with Nina Kraljić, who won The Voice of Croatia. Both good things. “Lighthouse” sounds like a deep track from a later Cranberries album. Not a good thing.

Azerbaijan: Samra – “Miracle”

Azerbaijan takes Eurovision very seriously. Every swing they take is a swing for the fences. This year, they’re planning to take Stockholm by storm with a song (penned by a Swedish team) that could have made the Melodifestivalen final. We’re not sure it would have won the Melodifestivalen final, though, but maybe Azerbaijan can throw a magician onstage to supplement Samra’s performance.

Czech Republic: Gabriela Gunčíková – “I Stand”

Look, it wasn’t going to take much for a song to be the best Czech Eurovision entry ever. But “I Stand” is not just a big leap ahead for the country that brought us Gipsy.cz, it also stands out over a lot of the other ballads we’re going to hear in Sweden this May. If you’ve looked up Gabriela Gunčíková’s performances on YouTube, you’ll have noticed she has more of a rock vibe than a pop ballad vibe (she was a performer in Trans-Siberian Orchestra). So our big question is whether or not she can make “I Stand” sound true to herself. But we still think she has a good shot at clinching the Czech Republic’s first spot in the Final.

Malta: Ira Losco – “Walk On Water”

Ira Losco won Malta’s national selection show with “Chameleon,” but she replaced it with “Walk on Water.” Yay, another Swedish pop song that would have struggled to win Melodifestivalen!

Australia: Dami Im – “Sound of Silence”

Australia were invited to participate in Eurovision last year as a special one-off to mark the 60th anniversary of the Song Contest. They were invited to participate this year to… I don’t know, help promote the Asiavision Song Contest? We don’t mind Australia getting the return invitation because they are following up their confident debut with a proper contender. “Sound of Silence” is one of the strongest entries we’ve heard this year and it may only be Europe’s bewilderment over Australia’s continued presence at Eurovision that keeps it from winning.

Serbia: ZAA Sanja Vučić – “Goodbye (Shelter)”

Earlier in this post, we were going to make a comment about how Samra from Azerbaijan was overselling her song in the video for “Miracle.” But her overemphasized facial expressions are positively dead-eyed compared to the spastically hammy performance Sanja Vučić gave in her song presentation show for Serbia. It’s too bad, because the powerful message of “Goodbye (Shelter)” does not need to bathed in histrionics.

Bulgaria: Poli Genova – “If Love Was a Crime”

We were happy when Poli Genova was announced as Bulgaria’s Eurovision artist this year. “Na Inat” was one of the better non-qualifying entries in recent memory. Bulgaria took their sweet time releasing this year’s Eurovision entry “If Love Was a Crime,” but their delightful Twitter account built up to the song reveal nicely so it was worth the wait. Poli has changed her edgy rocker chick vibe from 2011 for a softer look and poppier sound. The last few songs Bulgaria entered before they took their break were in Bulgarian, and we think switching to English for this contemporary pop song (albeit with a little Bulgarian thrown into the chorus) has a lot of crossover potential and should lead Poli to the Final.

Italy: Francesca Michielin – “No Degree of Separation”

Francesca Michielin was runner up at this year’s Sanremo Music Festival, but she got the nod when winners Stadio declined the invite to Stockholm. In principle, we don’t have a problem with “No Degree of Separation,” but it sounds way too old for her. Nevertheless, Italy is maintaining its general good run of form since their return to the Song Contest. (We say general good run because there was also Emma.)

Czech Republic’s Eurovision 2015 Entry

The Czech Republic returns to Eurovision after a six-year absence with “Hope Never Dies” by Marta Jandová and Václav Noid Bárta:

Thought Norway’s “A Monster Like Me” was way too chipper? Have a listen to this:

Wait for me, don’t cross the sea of pain/Wait for me, I’m lost, I’ve gone astray

Ravens calling my name, their wings so dark

There is no light to pray for/cold and dim are the skies

Call the song “Nevermore” and you could build a musical about Edgar Allen Poe around it.

It’s not surprising that Václav, who wrote the music to “Hope Never Dies,” has a musical theater background. He has been in Aida and Jesus Christ Superstar and recently played Lurch in The Addams Family.

Marta has also done musical theater, but is primarily known as a rock singer in the Czech Republic and in Germany. She is a veteran of two Bundesvision Song Contests, Stefan Raab’s German riff on Eurovision. She teamed up with the band Oomph! to win Bundesvision 2007 with “Träumst du?” She also performed with the Finnish band Apocalyptica at Bundesvision 2005.

I don’t particularly care for the song. Given Marta’s metal background, it should have gone for a Gothic prog metal arrangement than for the overwrought ballad arrangement here. But I have hope that the Czechs will go fully theatrical in their staging: capes and candles and black lipstick and skintight outfits accentuating Marta and Václav’s impossible curves. (I mean, look at his arms. LOOK AT THEM! TRY TO LOOK AWAY!) Goodness knows they need something to stand out.

Over the three years the Czech Republic has entered the Song Contest, they have scored a total of 10 points. Nine of those points were from one act. Will this song break into double digit points? Well, you know what they say: hope never dies!