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.

Greece’s Eurovision 2021 Entry

I struggled to write my review of Stefania’s “Last Dance” because I kept getting distracted by the official video. Let me see if I got this straight: she’s walking in the middle of an empty street, but still stops for the red pedestrian crossing signal. Suddenly the world starts to flood around her. She runs to higher ground, but seeing no hope, she tries to leap into the rising waters. Luckily, she is saved by Pegasus, who flies her to the top of Mount Olympus. There she sees a khaki-clad Atlas, who is not holding up the world but instead clogging Earth’s drainpipe. Her gentle touch dissolves Atlas into a beam of light, causing the drainpipe to unclog. Also, her outfit changes into a disco ball.

Then the pedestrian crossing signal turns green.

Stefania is collaborating again with her “SUPERG!RL” songwriters Dimitris Kontopoulos, Sharon Vaughn, and the songwriting team ARCADE. While I appreciate that they didn’t just rework last year’s entry for this year, I don’t think they are sending a stronger song to Rotterdam.

Musically, “Last Dance” reminds me a lot of “Holding Out for a Hero.” Not to say that it is directly aping Bonnie Tyler’s classic, just that the arrangement sounds like something from that era of ’80s pop. To make matters worse, the mix is so ornate and loud that it threatens to drown Stefania out.

Still, she does find a way to stand out. I’m particularly impressed with how well she interprets the song, because the lyrics don’t really seem to have any meaning to them. The words seem constructed to fit the rhythm of the music rather than to tell any story. Yet Stefania is able to give “Last Dance” plenty of conviction.

I am being kind of nit-picky, because I actually like the song. It just didn’t grab me from the get-go, and I’m trying to figure out why. Maybe I’m unfairly comparing it to Stefania’s 2020 entry. Maybe I’m at the stage of a compressed song release schedule where anything that doesn’t hook me immediately doesn’t stand out. No matter the reason, “Last Dance” just doesn’t work for me.

By the way, if you’ve not watched the official video for “Holding Out for a Hero” lately, do yourself a favor and savor this one.

Greece’s Eurovision 2020 Entry

We need a hero! We’re holding out for a hero til the end of the night of the Grand Prix Final! She’s got to be strong and she’s got to be Dutch and Greek and she’s got to be fresh from today’s pop charts!

(We also need to hone our skills as lyricists.)

Stefania Liberakakis is a Dutch-Greek singer who represented The Netherlands in the 2016 Junior Eurovision Song Contest as part of the group Kisses. In addition to her music career, she has acted on the Dutch series Brugklas and voice-acted in the Dutch dubs of the movies Wonder Park and Doolittle. We hope she’s also available to voice Haley Dunphy in the Dutch dub of Modern Family too.

Her song “SUPERG!RL” was composed by Dimitris Kontopoulos (who also co-wrote this year’s entry from Moldova), Sharon Vaughn (who also co-wrote this year’s entries from Moldova and Estonia), and the songwriting collective Arcade (who had nothing to do with last year’s entry from The Netherlands)

“SUPERG!RL” is a blast, chock full of infectious melodies and interesting flourishes. The orchestration is very Just Dance. Even though the popular Ubisoft video game draws from current singles on pop charts in each year, they will obviously be biased towards certain melodies and rhythms that lend themselves towards cute animated videos and easy choreography. “SUPERG!RL” fits right in and we’d love to see it on the 2021 edition.

We have high hopes for Stefania and “SUPERG!RL.” There is a lot of potential here for a fun, vibrant performance. With any luck, she and her team can pull out all the stops and give us a VMA-worthy staging that can make “SUPERG!RL” pop live. Granted, it’s been a few years since Greece has given us a truly inspired full-on Greece staging, but if there is any year to regain that form, this is that year.

Greece’s Eurovision 2019 Entry

The past five years have not been kind to Greece at Eurovision. Three entries finished towards the bottom of the table on Saturday nights, and two songs didn’t even qualify for the Grand Prix Final. Can “Better Love” deliver better results?

Katerine Duska is a Greek-Canadian singer born in Montreal but living and working in Greece. She co-wrote “Better Love” with singer-songwriter Leon of Athens and Fame Academy winner David Sneddon, who had a U.K. number one hit with “Stop Living the Lie.”

We love Katerine’s voice. It is rich and velvety and she uses her full range judiciously to propel her song. “Better Love” is a good entry made great by its singer. We also dig the sparkling, ethereal arrangement.

2019 has turned out to be a strong year for Eurovision, with songs that are either awesome or really unique. “Better Love” is probably the most straightforward potential contender on offer. That could be either an asset or a demerit, but we think it’s the former. Katerine has created a properly big Eurovision anthem and we hope she will snag a top 10 finish with it.

Greece’s Eurovision 2018 Entry

Talk to us, Greece. Here’s Yianna Terzi with “Oniro Mou.”

Yianna Terzi is the daughter of platinum-selling singer Paschalis Terzis. She has lived in the United States and worked as a talent scout for Interscope Records. She co-wrote “Oneiro mou” with Aris Kalimeris (who co-wrote “Hora Din Moldova”), Dimitris Stamatiou, and Mihalis Papathanasiou from the Greek hip-hop duo Goin’ Through. “Oneiro mou” was originally going to be one of five songs in a Greek national final, but all the other songs were disqualified. Yianna and Saara Aalto should become friends.

According to Panik Record’s YouTube page for the lyric video, “Oneiro mou” is meant to be a bittersweet, yet hopeful dialogue between Greece and its people. With that in mind, the song is suitably atmospheric and melancholic. It feels like a good fit for Eurovision, but we’re struggling to get excited about it.

We think our issue is that “Oneiro mou” doesn’t really have any levels. It starts off slow, then moderately picks up the pace to a trot, then stays at that trot to the end. It’s like a gentle walk around a large pond.

That said, this could be one of those songs that really pops with a good staging. The song’s chorus is moving and the backing vocal arrangement is sophisticated. There’s also about 25 seconds, starting at the 2:10 mark, that are without any vocals. Assuming Yianna can belt live, the vocals are in tune, and the Greek delegation can punctuate her performance with some strong moments a la “Watch My Dance,” it could really come alive. Fingers crossed.

Greece’s Eurovision 2017 Entry

Demy will be representing Greece at the Eurovision Song Contest in May with the song “This Is Love.”

Greece wants to redeem itself for failing to qualify for the Grand Prix Final for the first time, so they have brought in some heavy hitters. Demy is a top selling singer in Greece. Her first album #1 topped the Greek charts and she has won the MTV Europe Music Award for Best Greek Artist and 10 MAD Video Music Awards. Her song “This Is Love” is written by the esteemed Dimitris Kontopoulos, the songwriter behind six Eurovision songs that finished in the top 10, including “Shady Lady,” “This Is Our Night,” and “You Are the Only One.” The lyrics are by Romy Papadea and John Ballard, the latter being one of Kontopoulos’ co-writers on “Shine,” “Hold Me,” and “You Are the Only One.”

As usual, Kontopoulos has supplied a catchy number that easily gets stuck in your head. Demy is a good singer and by all accounts a dynamic live performer. The arrangement is bouncy and vibrant and has some fun flourishes to it. So it looks like mission accomplished for the Greek delegation.

So why aren’t we excited by “This Is Love?” We’re not sure. It kind of reminds us of Ira Losco’s “Walk On Water” at last year’s Song Contest. Our initial reaction was decidedly blasé, but Losco’s performance and Malta’s staging of it won us over. So maybe we need to see how Greece stages “This Is Love” for it to catch fire with us. You can usually rely on Greece to do this properly. Last year notwithstanding.

Eurovision 2016 Round-Up: Ides of March Edition

Beware the Ides of March, but beware the Eurovision Song Contest entries from San Marino more.

San Marino: Serhat – “I Didn’t Know”

For those of us who first came to Eurovision for the campiness, the past decade has been relatively slim pickings. Sure, you sometimes get a countertenor on a plinth or an Albanian Gumby impersonator, but most countries are increasingly taking this seriously. Fortunately, San Marino and Serhat have teamed up to offer us a slice of old school hokum that has transported us to a magical land where that strap-on monocle is an actual thing that people actually wear. We want to vacation in Manfred T. Mugler’s artistic vision. With any luck, the staging of this least self-aware miracle will live up to the amazing video. San Marino, don’t fuck this up.

UPDATED 03/21/2016: They fucked this up. Since we posted this review, San Marino decided to use the disco remix of “I Didn’t Know” as their Eurovision entry. Sadly, the original video has been scrubbed from the Eurovision YouTube playlist. Why do you got to stick it to the Manfred, San Marino?

Continue reading “Eurovision 2016 Round-Up: Ides of March Edition”

Greece’s Eurovision 2015 Entry

Maria-Elena Kyriakou will represent Greece in Vienna this year with “One Last Breath”:

Maria-Elena is a Greek-Cypriot singer who won the first season of The Voice of Greece last year. She co-wrote the music to her Eurosong 2015-winning song. However, someone else wrote the horrible, desperately co-dependent lyrics:

You killed me and I’m done, without a gun

I’m begging you, take me wherever you have gone/Come back and save me, don’t want to be alone

I’m begging you, take me out of this fiery hell

Of course, Maria-Elena is heaving and gasping so much as she sings “One Last Breath” that I don’t believe she has just the one last breath. Way to betray the character of your song, Maria-Elena!

The music is suitably melodramatic. The big swell of strings, the back-up vocals ripped from Carmina Burana, and the accelerated tempo as the song climaxes gives the effect of increased desperation, which fits the lyrical theme of the song. That being said, I find the whole package an absolute slog to listen to.

But it’s hard to make a prognosis at this point. Usually Greece pulls it together in the end, even when they send something seemingly unpromising. Here’s hoping they have some magic up their sleeves for this one.

Greece’s Eurovision 2014 Entry

Greece is betting a Freaky Fortune on “Rise Up” as its Eurovision entry this year (see what we did there, you Riskykidds?):

As you might expect, Greece has done this properly with a poppy dance track with dashes of traditional Greek music sampled throughout. It’s far from perfect: Riskykidd is not the most dynamic rapper in the business, though he’s no Professor Stereo Mike either. Also, the lyrics can be summed up thusly: “Come on and rise up.”

But why quibble about a lack of depth in a good old bouncing dance anthem? “Rise Up” is catchy and fun, and we’re really looking forward to see how Greece stages this in Copenhagen. Yay, fun things!

Greece’s Eurovision 2013 Entry

Yay, a properly Greek Eurovision entry from Greece!

Koza Mostra and Agathonas Iakovides have been chosen to represent Greece with “Alcohol is free.” It’s a delightful little ska-influenced pseudo-traditional number that livened up a selection show that desperately needed a pulse. As always with Greece, count on the stage production to heighten this for the big show. It might be a little too insular to capture a huge number of votes, but no matter what, this promises to bring a lot of fun to Malmö.

By the way, that second half of the second Semi is shaping up to be a doozy. You’ve got “Alcohol is free,” “I Feed You My Love” from Norway, “You and me” from Switzerland, “Identiet” from Albania, the return of Armenia, Georgia’s latest Sopho, and whatever delights Israel and Romania conjure up. And Hungary. With a first half that’s not too shabby (yet), I’m definitely looking forward to May 16 now.

Before getting to the contestants, Greece’s selection show had four former Eurovision winners (Ruslana, Alexander Rybak, Marija Šerifović, and Dima Bilan) duet with Greek pop stars on their Eurovision-winning numbers. Generally, it went well. Except for “Believe”

The man is in his own private hell. He is soooooooo done with that song.