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.

Estonia’s Eurovision 2021 Entry

I am happy Uku Suviste gets a chance to represent Estonia at the Eurovision Song Contest given what all happened last year. But I really wish he hadn’t gotten rewarded at Eesti Laul for simply rewriting his 2020 song.

What makes “The Lucky One” so disappointing to me is that I have seen how other returning artists have pushed themselves this year. Granted, the edgier entries were from singers who were internal selections, and Uku still had a national final to win. However, I feel like public sentiment in Estonia was going to get him to Rotterdam anyway, so he could have at least challenged himself a bit musically.

Though I think the music to “The Lucky One” is bland, I really like its lyrics. Co-written with Sharon Vaughn, the words do a fantastic job of capturing that moment when someone wakes up to the reality of a souring relationship. They are both lucid and heartbreaking, and argh I wish they were connected to a better song.

Estonia’s Eurovision 2020 Entry

We were just thinking that we needed another love ballad song by a handsome fellow with scruffy facial hair.

Uku Suviste is a singer and songwriter who won the 2008 Uno Naissoo composing competition. He finished second at Eesti Laul 2019 with “Pretty Little Liar.” He has worked with Birgit Õigemeel on the album Ilus Aeg and with the Estonian Ministry of Defence on the song “Võitmatu,” which had a cameo by Justin Gatlin.

Also, he is the Snow Miser to  Freddie’s Heat Miser.

Freddie Screen Capture by Eurovision Lemurs. Uku Suviste picture from Eurovision.tv. Heat Miser and Snow Miser from Click Americana.

Uku co-wrote his song with Sharon Vaughn, who was an established songwriter in American country music before jumping into the world of Eurovision with such songs as Jedward’s “Waterline,” Sergey Lazarev’s “Scream,” and this year’s Greek entry, Stefania Liberakakis’ “SUPERG!RL.”

We are underwhelmed by “What Love Is.” It is very pretty, and the staging is very pretty. Uku is also very pretty. The whole package just rests on pretty, which doesn’t make it compelling.

Our main complaint is that the chorus is really lumpy. It’s so crammed full of notes and lyrics that it sounds more desperate than romantic. The “one-two-three-one-two-three-one-twoooo” pattern builds up lots of tension, but the release isn’t cathartic. We’re just relieved that Uku has moved onto other melodies.

Uku is a good singer and a compelling television presence. When he looks right into the camera as he sings “Til I looked into your eyes,” it’s effective rather than cheesy. There’s no doubt he will be able to do the hard sell with this package. But we’re still not buying it.

Estonia’s Eurovision 2019 Entry

If a non-Eurovision fan ever asked us which country was our favorite Song Contest participant, we would say Estonia. And they would look at the songs that have represented Estonia for the past decade and probably scratch their heads. We would need to explain to this theoretical person that even if the songs Estonia send are usually not much to write home about, Eesti Laul has always been best national final. But this year, we were muttering to ourselves, “What happened to you, man? You used to be cool.”

With that ringing endorsement out of the way, let’s talk about “Storm.”

Victor Crone is a Swedish singer who teamed up with Behrang Miri on “Det Rår Vi Inte För” at Melodifestivalen in 2015. They lost in the Andra Chansen round to Samir & Viktor’s “Groupie,” the poor things. Victor co-wrote “Storm” with Stig Rasta, an Eesti Laul mainstay who along with Elina Born represented Estonia at the 2015 Song Contest with “Goodbye to Yesterday.” He also wrote Estonia’s 2016 entry “Play.”

We will say this: “Storm” is relentlessly catchy. It took just a couple of listens before we had the melody of the chorus stuck in our heads. It helps that the chorus is repeated five times and has a pretty simple lyric to remember: “A storm like this/Can break a man like this/But when it all calms down/We’re still safe and sound.” It is a genetically-engineered ear worm.

Victor is a likable performer, but he suffers from serious constipated tenor syndrome when trying to reach his high notes. The Eesti Laul staging featured an awful animation section where a faux-Crone is singing in front of the audience, then the camera swirls around and he is standing on a mountain in a storm. It looked cheesy and we hope Estonia drops it. We also figure they won’t because it clearly worked at Eesti Laul.

It’s hard for us to generate a lot of enthusiasm for this song. Stig’s two previous Eurovision entries benefited from a distinct music style influenced by late 1960’s-era country-influenced pop rock. Meanwhile, “Storm” polishes Tom Petty’s “Won’t Back Down” to a Melodifestivalen sheen and tweaks it to be even more earnest.

The thing is, we probably would have written something similar if any of the other Eesti Laul finalists had won the ticket to Tel Aviv. We were underwhelmed this year. Maybe we’re just being harsh because our expectations for Estonia are usually so high.

Ah well, we’ll always have “Parmumäng.”

Estonia’s Eurovision 2018 Entry

Oh god, pop-opera.

Elina Nechayeva is a soprano who was a finalist on the ETV show Klassikatähed 2014, a competition show for young classical musicians. She co-hosted Eesti Laul in 2017.

She wrote “La Forza” with fellow Klassikatähed vet Ksenia Kuchukova, as well as Mihkel Mattisen and Timo Vendt, who both wrote Estonia’s 2013 entry “Et uus saaks alguse” for Birgit Õigemeele.

When “La Forza” debuted in its Eesti Laul semifinal, betting on it went wild enough to make Estonia the odds leader. Since then it has been hovering around the top three in the odds tables.

So we understand why pop-opera rears its annoying head every couple of years: it is generally predicted to do well. Il Volo’s “Grande Amore” (Italy, 2015) comes to mind: it was in the top three in the betting odds and ultimately landed third.  And when a country outside the Big Five sends pop-opera, they usually qualify for the Final. “La Forza” is therefore an appealing choice for a country that has failed to make it out of the Semis three out of the last four years.

But “Grande Amore” aside, this subgenre more commonly finishes mid-table on Saturday night. Think “Sognu” (France, 15th in 2011), “La Voix” (Sweden, 21st in 2009), “Cvet z juga” (Slovenia, 15th in 2007), or “Questa Notte” (Latvia, 16th in 2007). Even glorious, glorious “It’s My Life” (Romania, 2013) finished 13th.

Our bias against pop-opera may be showing, but to us “La Forza” feels more like that latter strain of mediocrity, undeserving of its projected top three status. It’s pleasant, but it lacks majesty. It is quiet and noodly and new agey. It needs to be the diva’s performance from The Fifth Element and it just isn’t.

 

Estonia’s Eurovision 2017 Entry

Koit Toome & Laura Põldvere have won Eesti Laul 2017 and will represent Estonia at the Eurovision Song Contest with “Verona.”

This year’s Estonian delegation is chockfull of Eurovision veterans. Koit Toome first represented his country in 1998 with the song “Mere Lapsed,” and later won Tantsud tähtedega, the Estonian version of Dancing With the Stars. Laura Põldvere was a member of Suntribe, which represented Estonia in 2005 with “Let’s Get Loud.” And “Verona” was written by Sven Lõhmus, the venerable Estonian songwriter behind “Let’s Get Loud,” “Rändajad” for Urban Symphony, and “Rockefeller Street” for Getter Jaani.

As you can probably guess from the title, “Verona” uses Romeo & Juliet as a metaphor for a romance gone bad, although one that doesn’t end quite as badly as the one in Romeo & Juliet, seeing as they are still singing. It’s sort of like using Sophie’s Choice as a metaphor for being unable to decide between the fish or the steak at a restaurant.

Anyway, Toome and Põldvere are solid performers and the staging for Eesti Laul emphasized theatricality. The camera angles and the editing and the visuals were all very smooth and professional and… well, cheesy. Like a camembert: mild, mainstream, slightly musty, but nonetheless tasty.

When we were watching Eesti Laul and the super final ultimately came down to “Verona” and Kerli’s mad electro-pop freakout “Spirit Animal,” we absolutely knew “Verona” was going to win. “Spirit Animal” had its issues, to be sure, but even if Kerli had nailed it, Estonians usually send the safe choice to Eurovision and keep the more interesting stuff for themselves at Eesti Laul.

Eurovision 2016 Round-Up: Dita e Mësuesit Edition

It’s Teacher’s Day in Albania, and what better way to celebrate than by doing an educational post about the latest news from the Eurovision Song Contest?

Armenia: Iveta Mukuchyan – “LoveWave”

Here is a question we like to ask: what’s worse – being memorably bad or just being unmemorable? Last year’s Eurovision entry from Armenia was terrible, but this year’s entry is mediocre at best. Unless there is a staging miracle in Stockholm, we will remember “Face the Shadow” long after our memories of “LoveWave” have faded.

The Netherlands: Douwe Bob – “Slow Down”

Who would have expected that the best tribute to the late Glenn Frey comes in the form of the Netherlands’ Eurovision entry? “Slow Down” dips into a well of country-inspired mellow gold, but we don’t think it will reach the heights Netherlands achieved the last time they went down the road to Nashville.

Russia: Sergey Lazarev – “You Are the Only One”

Listening to “You Are the Only One” feels like stepping into a time machine set to 2006. If Croatia or Slovenia sent this, you’d pay it no mind, but because it’s Russia we guess we have to take it seriously. The song sounds like a brainstorming session on a corporate retreat: everyone’s throwing ideas against the wall and none of them are sticking or holding together. On the bright side, at least it’s not another pandering plea for peace, love and unicorns.

Estonia: Jüri Pootsmann – “Play”

Stig Rästa has finally found the ticket to success at Eesti Laul: mod pastiches of ’60s pop. He followed up last year’s duet with Elina Born by penning “Play” for Estonian dreamboat Jüri Pootsmann. Jüri may look like Anthony Edwards’ hot son, but he also possesses a rich baritone that infuses “Play” with smoldering soul.

Montenegro: Highway – “The Real Thing”

Oh man, in a rock heavy year, Highway reigns supreme with a sweet Soundgarden-influenced riff. If Georgia’s rock act is a bit too impenetrable, Romania’s rock act is a bit too pretentious, and Cyprus’ rock act is a bit too slick, then Montenegro’s rock act is the total package. This is Chris’ favorite song of the competition so far.

Israel: Hovi Star – “Made of Stars”

Hovi Star won Israel’s Rising Star competition, but Israel’s delegation is apparently planning to rework the song. We’re going to hold off commenting on it until the official version is ready.

Macedonia: Kaliopi – “Dona”

Kaliopi returns to Eurovision to represent Macedonia with the big ballad “Dona.” It’s a better song than her previous effort “Crno i Belo,” although it lacks a certain something to make it memorable. Still, we’re happy she’s back, if only because she’s entertaining in the press center.

Poland: Michał Szpak – “Color of Your Life”

Everyone on the internet expected Margaret to win Poland’s Eurovision selection show with “Cool Me Down.” That was before Margaret gave an indifferent performance of her Rihanna knock-off on Krajowe Eliminacje do Eurowizji 2016. That was also before Michał Szpak stared straight into our eyes and peered deep into our soul. “Color of Your Life” is a forgettable show tune, but Michał sold it to the voting public, forcing thousands of Eurovision fans to tear up their Warsaw 2017 travel plans.

Romania: Ovidiu Anton – “Moment of Silence”

Sadly, Ovidiu’s chance to rock Stockholm was taken away from him when the EBU booted Romania from the Eurovision Song Contest because of unpaid debts.

The most epic result of the weekend had to be Ovidiu Anton’s triumph at Selecţia Naţionala. Neither Ovidiu or the presenters could stress enough how much he liked to rock, and boy does he, in the most prog-heavy way possible. “Moment of Silence” is utterly ridiculous and ridiculously entertaining.

For further reading, see Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Savatage, and Tenacious D. See also: Ovidiu’s entry from 2015, which made our annual WTF post.

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Estonia’s Eurovision 2015 Entry

At long last, Stig Rästa has made it to Eurovision, representing Estonia alongside Elina Born with “Goodbye to Yesterday”:

ESC Insider and ESC Insight’s Samantha Ross estimates that “Goodbye to Yesterday” is Stig’s ninth attempt to represent Estonia either as a performer or a songwriter. He wrote “Enough” for Elina in 2013 and came painfully close to winning Eesti Laul in 2011 with Outloudz’ “I Wanna Meet Bob Dylan.” We’ve never been particular fans of his, but we’re always happy when someone who has been at it for a long time and clearly wants the chance to represent their country at Eurovision finally gets their shot.

“Goodbye to Yesterday” has the retro surfer-noir sound that made Chris Isaak famous. As a duet, it evokes Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra or Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan. The staging at Eesti Laul, with the black and white filter and the undone costumes, accentuate that retro feel.

It’s alright, I guess, but once the verse is finished, Elina and Stig just sing the chorus over and over again for over a minute. If you like the chorus, then I suppose that’s great, but it’s not to our personal tastes. Moreover, Stig especially seemed to struggle singing “Goodbye to Yesterday” live, mumbling through the lyrics when using his lower register. He will need to work on that before May if he and Elina want to make it to the Grand Prix final in Vienna.

Estonia’s Eurovision 2014 Entry

We love Eesti Laul. It’s a lot of fun, it usually has a lot of great music and a lot of eccentric performers, and above any of the other national finals we watch, it has a sense of humor on display. A sense of humor we don’t fully get because we don’t speak Estonian, but still, there is comedy there, and we appreciate it.

But the past few years it has become clear that while Estonia likes its eccentricity during Eesti Laul, it also would rather leave those quirky acts in Estonia and send more conventional songs to Eurovision. Since Malcolm Lincoln got knocked out of Eurovision 2010 in the Semis, Estonia has been represented by two ballads and a pop tune.

And so it continues this year. Estonia could have put its freak flag on display, but instead it went for schlager. Here’s “Amazing” by Tanja:

Apparently, Tanja and her crew saw the staging Georgia did for Sopho Nizharadze’s “Shine” and thought, “What that number needs is more choreography.” It’s ridiculous how much movement Tanja does during her performance, and how it doesn’t seem to impact her vocal performance. After watching the show live in Tallinn, ESC Insight‘s Ewan Spence tweeted, “…they’re going to need to hide that backing singer a little better in Copenhagen.” On TV, we didn’t really notice anything amiss thanks to the camera angles, but we have to admit that it’s incredibly hard choreography to hit and still be able to sing live.

However, it’s the marriage of choreography and song that makes this entry stand out. If Estonia were to tone down the choreography, I don’t know how much of an impression “Amazing” would leave on me. Right now, I’m thinking, “Let the poor woman sing,” but if Tanja did just sing, would I even remember her song at the end of the night? I’m not sure I would.

Estonia’s Eurovision 2013 Entry

Estonia has picked Birgit Õigemeel to go to Malmö with “Et uus sacks alguse,” another safe ballad in a Eurovision season that has seen more than a few of them (see Russia and Cyprus, for example). It came down to Õigemeel and Grete Paia in the end, with “Et uus saaks alguse” getting 51% of the vote in the Super Final.

There was a very good chance that Estonia could send the absolutely bat shit insane Winny Puhh to ESC with their song “Meiecundimees uks korsakov laks eile Lätti.” It was bonkers in the semis, but Winny Puhh really upped their game for the Eesti Laul final:

As for “Et uus sacks alguse,” it’s nice. It’s a pleasant, almost country ballad. Õigemeel gave a good performance, much better than Paia and other competitors on the night. It’s fine, but right now it lacks a spark to make it interesting. Of course, Ott Lepland added a lot of firepower to “Kuula” at Baku and a sixth place. But I don’t see “Et uus saaks alguse” being the type of song that lends itself to theatrics the way “Kuula” did. It will most likely make the Final, but it may struggle to make a mark.