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!

Malta’s Eurovision 2021 Entry

I wasn’t a huge fan of “All of My Love,” Malta’s 2020 Eurovision entry. It was written by a Symphonix International team seemingly flying on autopilot. While I had no doubt Destiny would sell it for more than it was worth, “All of My Love” felt like a glove she had to break in instead of one that fit her from the start.

This year, however:

Well, I couldn’t have said it any better myself.

What impresses me the most about Destiny is that, even though she’s just 18, the former Junior Eurovision winner has excellent control over her vocal. The way she delivers the “I’m too good to be true” part of the pre-chorus manages to be both charmingly flippant and technically flawless.

She delivers so much style and displays so much charisma that I can ignore what I see are flaws with “Je Me Casse.” I personally don’t care for the electro swing elements of the song. Now, I have not been kind to that genre in older posts (again, I apologize for being such a jerk, Electro Velvet), and “Je Me Casse” doesn’t exactly sway me. The choppy horn samples get on my nerves. That I think Destiny has delivered a strong entry for this year’s Song Contest has more to do with her being a proper pop star than the quality of the arrangement.

Still, I would have to be the worst kind of hater to not recognize that the strengths of “Je Me Casse” completely wipe out my own personal distaste for some stylistic choices. I am really looking forward to seeing Destiny finally making her appearing at Eurovision this May. Is she a potential winner? Given how she rocketed to the top of the odds when “Je Me Casse” came out, it seems a lot of people are willing to place their bets on her. Can’t fault them for that.

Malta’s Eurovision 2020 Entry

Destiny, she gets all my love.

Symphonix International, they get all my love.

Ira Losco and X Factor Malta, they get all my love.

(Is House of Pain’s “All My Love” too obscure a reference for a Eurovision blog?)

Destiny Chukunyere won the 2015 Junior Eurovision Song Contest for Malta and earned her spot at this year’s Grand Prix by winning X Factor Malta. She was also a backup singer for Michela Pace at last year’s Song Contest. Her song “All of My Love” is by the Symphonix International team, including 2018’s actual winner of the actual jury vote Cesár Sampson.

Destiny’s seemed destined to fulfill her destiny to be Malta’s Eurovision representative, even though she had to jump through the hoops of X Factor Malta to get there. So the cancelation of this year’s Song Contest seems particularly cruel to her.

On the other hand, we’re not big fans of “All of My Love.” There are certain melodies and rhythms that Symphonix hit on regularly, and we wish we knew more more about music theory and structure to properly put our fingers on what those tropes are. All we can say is that “All of My Love” feels like a run of the mill Symphonix song.

Mind you, we’d normally take a run of the mill Symphonix song over a run of the mill G:Son or Siegel song. But we really wanted to hear something special for Destiny and this wasn’t it. So maybe the silver lining is that she can come back with a stronger entry. A lot of countries have already announced that their representative this year will be their representative next year, even some countries that held a national final to pick their artist. Let’s hope Malta gets on that bandwagon.

Malta’s Eurovision 2019 Entry

Malta’s fortunes at Eurovision have waxed and waned in the past decade. They have been batting .500 in terms of qualification for the Grand Prix Final, but struck out the last two years. So they changed their stance and choked up on their bat and we have no idea why we’re going for a baseball metaphor here, but instead of holding a national final, they gave the ticket to Tel Aviv to the winner of the newly launched X Factor Malta.

Now they look poised to hit it out of the park. Here is Michela Pace with “Chameleon.”

While Malta is going with a previously undiscovered talent as their singer, they hired some heavy hitters to write her song. Joacim Bo Persson, Johan Alkenäs and Borislav Milanov are increasingly influential Eurovision songwriters who teamed up last year to co-write “Nobody but You” with Cesár Sampson (which we remind you won the jury vote). For “Chameleon,” they are joined by Paula Winger, who has written for Miranda Cosgrove and composed the theme song for the Disney Channel show Liv and Maddie.

Gosh almighty, do we love “Chameleon.” It is battling with “Soldi” at the top of our personal chart. There’s the jaunty little horn intro that leads into a funky, sultry R&B verse. The pre-chorus splashes us with a dash of “Fuego” mixed up with a taste of the pop bangers that Borislav and his Symphonix team have brought to Eurovision the past few years . Then the chorus ties it all together with a bouncy, coiling beat.

Michela has a rich, smoky voice and the recorded track hints at her ability to belt and run. She takes this song and makes it her own with a confidence that belies her professional experience.

Our only concern is that lack of experience. Winning X Factor Malta is an achievement, but we’ve seen other talent show winners struggle on the gigantic Eurovision stage. Maybe we’re worrying for no reason, but we want “Chameleon” in the top 10 so bad that we are thinking of the worst case scenario. Come on, Malta, you got this!

Malta’s Eurovision 2018 Entry

Christabelle will represent Malta at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest with the song “Taboo.”

Although she is just 25, Christabelle Borg is a veteran of Malta’s entertainment industry. She participated in three Junior Eurovision national finals and three previous Eurovision national finals before finally getting the nod this year. She also was the host of the Maltese TV shows Teen Trouble and Teen Traffic.

Outside of her music and television career, she has received her Master’s in Accountancy from the University of Malta. She told Malta’s The Accountant that her dissertation “The setting up of a new private school in Malta : a feasibility study” was named as Best Financial Management Dissertation by her school’s faculty.

Christabelle co-wrote “Taboo” with Johnny Sanchez, Muxu, and Eurovision stalwart Thomas G:son. Musically, the song has a bouncy Melodifestivalen sound that reminded us of Jasmine Kara’s “Gravity” quite a lot. It’s solid, if not particularly remarkable, although the chorus is catchy.

The lyrics are about Christabelle’s struggles with mental illness and she hopes to raise awareness of mental health issues in her performance. We can sort of see how she is telling her story in the MESC staging. Christabelle begins her performance trapped in a box. Her back-up dancers then appear in the box to represent (for lack of a better term) the demons in her mind. By the end of the song, she has quieted those demons down.

Of course, we see this now with benefit of learning more about the song. There’s also a chance we’re misinterpreting what’s going on, which speaks to the challenge Malta faces. There are strong staging elements here, but we think Christabelle and her team need to think about how to tell the story of “Taboo” more clearly to maximize her song’s impact.

Malta’s Eurovision 2017 Entry

Claudia Faniello has at last won Malta’s national final and heads off to Kyiv with the song “Breathlessly.”

Faniello has been a fixture at Malta’s national finals since 2006. She finished second twice, in 2008 with “Caravaggio” and in 2012 with “Pure.” She took a break from participation after the 2013 competition, returning triumphantly this year. She is the second member of her family to represent Malta at Eurovision; her brother Fabrizio Faniello participated in the 2001 and 2006 Song Contests.

“Breathlessly” was co-written by Malta songwriters and Eurovision Song Contest veterans Gerard James Borg and Philip Vella, along with Vella’s son Sean, who has scored trailers for 20th Century Fox. This is Vella’s first song at Eurovision since 2008’s “Vodka.” Borg collaborated with Philipp Kirkorov, Dimitris Kontopoulos, John Ballard, and Ralph Charlie on Russia’s 2014 entry “Shine.”

So we’re happy for Faniello to finally get her chance to represent Malta. But we think that “Breathlessly” is stale and old-fashioned. To top off our annoyance with it, “Breathlessly” just sort of… stops. It’s a bit jarring, and even the crowd at the Malta national final seemed surprised it was over. So if Malta does any tweaking before May, we’d like them to think about coming up with a proper ending to the song. Couldn’t hurt.

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, 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.)

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”

Malta’s Eurovision 2015 Entry

On November 15, 2014, Malta hosted the Junior Eurovision Song Contest at the Malta Shipbuilding. A week later, it used that same location (as well as the same footage of the Junior Eurovision interval acts) to decide its entry for the 2015 Eurovision Song Contest. The runaway winner on the night was Amber, who will represent Malta in Vienna with “Warrior”:

Amber is no stranger to the Eurovision stage. She was Kurt Calleja’s back-up singer in 2012 (where she never did quite hit her one big line).

“Warrior” was penned by Elton Zarb and Muxu, who were part of the team that wrote Malta’s Junior Eurovision-winning entry “The Start.” It’s a big ol’ pop ballad, well-suited for the Grand Prix. However, when we saw Amber perform it in Malta’s final, we felt like the song was performing her instead of her performing the song. In other words, she didn’t quite own it yet. Fortunately, she’s got plenty of time to get comfortable with “Warrior” before May. A little more confidence and maybe a tweak or two to the arrangement and Malta will be good to go.

Malta’s Eurovision 2014 Entry

Malta are following up a successful 2013 Song Contest with The Lumineers… I mean, with Firelight and “Coming Home”:

Although it finished fourth in the televote, “Coming Home” scored high with the jury. It’s a decent enough alt-country song. The problem is, there are a lot of vocal parts in the arrangement and if they’re not performed perfectly, then the whole song sounds cluttered. And frankly, here it was a hot mess. “Coming Home” has potential if Firelight simplify the arrangement a bit, but as it stands, I don’t think this will garner much attention in Copenhagen.