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.

Georgia’s Eurovision 2021 Entry

I marveled last year that Georgia’s Eurovision delegation listened to Tornike Kipiani’s “Take Me As I Am” and said, “Perfect.” The song is an achingly angsty masterpiece further elevated by Tornike’s powerful, emotively sincere vocal. It was bonkers and brilliant at the same time. I genuinely had no idea how people would respond to it and I also genuinely had no idea how he and co-songwriter Aleko Berdzenishvili would be able to top it.

Here’s how: rather than go over the top, they dialed it all back. Yet they still found a way to make an impression.

“You” is a gentle and meditative love song to nature. Even as it builds to a big climax, it remains peaceful and contemplative. And it ends on an unresolved note, which invites me to listen to the song again.

There is a real 1970’s vibe to it that I can’t quite put my finger on. Some parts of the orchestration have a kind of AM gold feel to them, yet it all still sounds bracingly modern. I guess what I’m saying is that “You” sounds like Marc Bolan teamed up with Elbow to record “I’m Going Home” from Rocky Horror in the style of Pink Floyd. If you see what i mean.

Even though it lacks the brashness of “Take Me As I Am,” “You” is still a bold choice as a competitive song. I again genuinely have no idea how people are going to respond to it. I can only hope that I’m not the only one who digs what Tornike is offering up.

Georgia’s Eurovision 2020 Entry

Why should all the women of Eurovision 2020 have a monopoly on awful relationships?

Tornike Kipiani won the first season of X Factor Georgia back in 2014 and earned his ticket to Rotterdam by winning Georgian Idol. He wrote “Take Me As I Am” with Aleko Berdzenishvili, who has worked with Stephane & 3G of “We Don’t Want to Put In” fame.

Holy cow, this is amazing. Tornike is a handsome guy with a twinkle in his eye and lungs of leather. But deep in his soul he has more pathos than a 16 year old boy with clinical depression who just got stood up for the prom. Stop comparing him to all those Western European and English guys, unnamed antagonist! Love him for who he is: a hot, brooding Georgian dude!

Tornike’s vocal is the metal equivalent of “And I Am Telling You” from DreamgirlsThat growl he lets out when he sings “Why don’t love me” at the end of the first chorus is as intense and breathtaking as Jennifer Holliday’s deep breath-big note. It is glorious.

Yes, “Take Me As I Am” doesn’t go anywhere. The second half of the song is pretty much the same as the first, from verse through chorus. And yes, it just peters out without any strong conclusion. Minor complaints in our mind. We love it.

The thing that amazes us the most is that Tornike won Georgian Idol, sat down with Aleko Berdzenishvili and wrote this, and when he played it for the Georgian delegation, they said, “Yes.” Because no other country but Georgia would submit as its Eurovision entry a three-minute prog metal epic that would make Jim Steinman think, “Boy, that’s a bit over the top.” Thank you, Georgia, for being you.

The Eurovision Lemurs Seal of Approval: Visionary Dream

Eurovision Lemurs Seal of ApprovalGeorgia has always been one of our favorite Eurovision participants, and our fascination with them started from day one.

They made an audacious debut at the Eurovision Song Contest with Sopho Khalvashi’s “Visionary Dream.” Their entry acted as a three-minute introduction, but in hindsight, it can also be seen as a kind of mission statement. Georgia always seems to do things a bit differently at Eurovision and they laid the marker down from the very start.

“Visionary Dream” kicks off with the sounds of acoustic instruments for some neo-traditional folk flair. When Sopho starts to sing, an undercurrent of strings adds a touch of the classical era. At the bridge, the soaring vocal and the cascading strings build up tension.

But the release of that tension comes from an unexpected place: rubbery synthesized notes that abruptly drag the song away from its folk styling and into modern electronic pop music.  The music bed under the chorus is crunchy and a bit dissonant, yet it accentuates the song’s central conceit: “Sailing through my story/Sharing my history.”

The rest of the song bounces around the traditional and the modern, a wild stew of musical notes that somehow still sound cohesive. It shouldn’t work, but it does.

Well, at least on the recorded track. Much to our dismay, but not our surprise, the live presentation ended up being a bit of an audible mess. While Sopho has the pipes to carry “Visionary Dream,” she ended up shouting more than singing. Maybe the adrenaline generated by both the song and the occasion took its toll on her performance.

Still, “Visionary Dream” did generate one of our favorite staging moments ever at Eurovision. When Sopho sings, “Clouds containing lakes/And in the haze of morning light/I feel embraced,” the camera pans back to reveal LED animation of faces blending together. It still gives us the chills over a decade later.

Visionary Dream at 2007 Final

This was Georgia introducing itself to Europe, and we think they did a great job doing so. As for Sopho, she went on to become deputy mayor of her hometown of Batumi. Keep sharing that history!

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.

Georgia’s Eurovision 2018 Entry

Georgia will do what they want and you can’t stop them. Here’s what they’re up to this year.

Iriao have awesome eyewear, first of all. Second of all, they perform a traditional Georgian polyphonic music called krimanchuli combined with jazz elements. They were founded in 2013 by David Malazonia, who has had a long career in Georgia writing theater and film music. He wrote “For You” with Iriao vocalist Mikheil Javakhishvili and Georgian lyricist Irina Sanikidze.

“For You” is smooth jazzy with some gentle hints of electronica, some symphonic orchestrations, and the polyphonic singing that reminds us of a bit of klapa and and a bit of alpine yodeling. It’s sort of like Georgia looked at The Shin’s entry back in 2014 and thought, “The problem was it was too commercial.”

Obviously, Georgia isn’t too worried about being accessible this year and are sending a song that represents the country’s culture. That’s fine, even if it means that the result does not resemble a typical Eurovision song by any stretch of the imagination. It’s just that “For You” may be better suited as the theme song to the Georgian remake of the movie Somewhere In Time. Or better it yet, it could be the new Georgian national anthem. Not to dis the actual Georgian national anthem, but this is better.

Georgia’s Eurovision 2017 Entry

It’s a tumultuous week, what with all the war and terrorism, paranoia, needless travel bans, grandiose plans to build walls, and all sorts of other things that test our faith in humanity. So it’s nice to have Eurovision back to remind us what is good and fun on this earth and to offer us escape from the dreariness of the real world. So let’s dive in with Georgia’s entry, “Keep the Faith.”

Oh.

Tako Gachechiladze was a member of Stefane and 3G, which won Georgia’s 2009 National Final with “We Don’t Wanna Put In.” The EBU rejected the song for being too political and rather than replace it, Georgia pulled out of the Song Contest. So it’s kind of like Gachechiladze doesn’t really want to represent Georgia at Eurovision, but she can’t stop winning.

The problem we have with “Keep the Faith” is that without the strident imagery on display in the national final, it is basically “Wars for Nothing” with a “Rise Like a Phoenix” arrangement. Assuming that the EBU will ask for all references to South Ossetia be removed from the staging, all we’re left with is a bland ballad with a vague socially conscious message that lacks the teeth of the song that won Eurovision the previous year.

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”

Georgia’s Eurovision 2015 Entry

Nina Sublatti has been chosen to represent Georgia at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest with “Warrior” (no, not that Warrior,” this one):

Okay, so am I the only one who wants Georgia to include the Christmas tree in the staging?

Anyway, this “Warrior” has got an 1980s rock vibe to it, maybe if Pat Benatar had done a song for the old Footloose soundtrack. The track that was presented in Georgia was about 20 seconds too long, so they’ll need to make some nips and tucks in arrangement for it to be Eurovision ready. Frankly, that’ll be just fine, because the chorus is repeated a bit too much at the end anyway.

Per Wiwibloggs, Sublatti is a musician and model who won Georgian Idol in 2013. During her performance video, she wavers between giving us face and model-like indifference, but I think that’s understandable seeing as she is singing on a small stage by herself in a television studio. There are moments that give me hope that she will be delightful on the Eurovision stage. Those moments all involve her hard, aggressive arm gestures.

As a singer, she does the rocker chic thing fine in her lower register, but she needs to be careful on pitch when navigating the break between head and chest voice. For her to shine in Vienna, we want to see more connection with the camera and consistent assertiveness.

I am hoping that Georgia goes for some over the top staging to accentuate the warrior theme: swords, whips, chains, timpani, FIRE, the whole Svetlana Loboda. It could be brilliant.

Georgia’s Eurovision 2014 Entry

Georgia has gotten all prog on us! Here is The Shin & Mariko with “Three Minutes to Earth”:

The Shin formed in Germany in 1998 and are named after the Georgian phrase for returning home. They describe their sounds as… well, as a lot of things, if you read the bio on their website. Jazz scat, funk and fusion, flamenco… there’s a lot of going on. The Shin are joined by Georgian jazz singer Mariko Ebralidze on “Three Minutes to Earth.”

My mother was a big fan of prog rock when I was a kid. I think she had just about every Emerson Lake & Palmer and Yes album, plus a few Moody Blues and Jethro Tull albums for good measure. (Also Black Sabbath.) I grew up on prog rock, and “Three Minutes to Earth” fits right in. My first reaction to it was, “I need to hear that again.” Because that’s what you do with prog rock. You listen to it again to pick up what you missed the first time.

The problem is that Eurovision Song Contest is about songs that have an immediate impact. If you want votes, you need to get your hooks into the voting public on the first listen. “Three Minutes to Earth” does not do that. I mean, it’s got hooks. It’s got a lot of hooks. Those hooks come at you fast and furious and then the song is over before you can catch your breath. I love it, but I have a feeling I’m going to be one of the few who does.