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.

Moldova’s Eurovision 2021 Entry

Let’s talk about Philipp Kirkorov for a moment. He has decided to be to Moldova what Ralph Siegel was to San Marino for a few years, only much more so. Natalia Gordienko’s song reveal of “Sugar” was in Moscow, not Chisinau, and included a long speech by Philipp about how he is now Mr. Eurovision. Then he, Natalia, and “Sugar’ co-writer Dimitris Kontopoulos showed up to Russia’s flash national final. When host Yana Churikova interviewed him, he neglected to mention Natalia even though he was sitting uncomfortably close to her.

To top it all off, Philipp performed his Eurovision song “Kolybelnaya dlya vulkana,” which finished 17th at the 1995 Song Contest, instead of letting Natalia perform “Sugar.”

He is utterly insufferable. I wish his songs weren’t so damned good.

Natalia was supposed to represent Moldova in 2020 with another Dimitris Kontopoulos/Philipp Kirkorov/Sharon Vaughn song, “Prison.” It was absolutely dire and stood a real chance of becoming the first Kirkorov song to not qualify for the Grand Prix Final.

Thankfully, a yearlong pandemic has given Team Moldova a chance to reevaluate what they are good at: generating memes.  The official video for “Sugar” features Natalia ripping the mouth off of her love interest, revealing a rainbow cake under his face. I can’t imagine they can recreate that in the staging, but I want to see them try!

Natalia successfully walks the thin tightrope of singing “Sugar” both proficiently and sensually without sounding ridiculous. Her vocal is really sexy (in fitting with the theme of the song) and really powerful (in fitting with her being an awesome singer).

Musically, “Sugar” combines the broad Prokofievian bombast of “Scream” and the bold dance-pop stylings of “Shady Lady,” with a lot of potential energy built into Sharon Vaughn’s lyrics. The whole song feels like pent-up arousal finally bursting.

Even though the video is kind of ridiculous, the song itself is really good. I would love to hate it based on a certain egotistical songwriter, but the combined charms of Natalia Gordienko and that big, bold arrangement makes it easy to adore.

Moldova’s Eurovision 2020 Entry

It’s almost as if Moldova heard this year’s Eurovision entries from Belgium, Norway, and Poland and said, “Oh, you think your relationships are messed up?”

Natalia Gordienko first represented Moldova in 2006, teaming up with Arsenium to perform “Loca.” Two years later, she received an Artist Emerit award from the government of Moldova. Her song “Prison” was co-written by Philipp Kirkorov and Dimitris Kontopoulos, longtime fixtures of our Eurovision Songwriters page. The lyrics are by Sharon Vaughn, who we wrote about in our review of this year’s Estonian entry. We should probably make her a fixture of our Eurovision Songwriters page, too.

Our first reaction to “Prison” is that it reminded us of Azerbaijan, because it sounds like a cross between “Hour of the Wolf” and “When the Music Dies.” It also has Kirkorov’s signature bounciness in both the melody and the rhythm, even though it’s a dramatic doomed love song.

Natalia needs to work on her connection to the story of “Prison” before she gets to Rotterdam. Her performance at O melodie pentru Europa 2020 felt disconnected with the lyrics. The staging leans into the song’s utter desperation, yet Natalia sings with a flat, pure vocal tone. She could be singing about a particularly overcast day as much as a bad romance. We need to feel your existential pain!

Even if she does somehow leave her heart on the floor of the Rotterdam Ahoy arena, we still can’t imagine a lot of general enthusiasm for this dire little dirge.

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.

Moldova’s Eurovision 2018 Entry

Get ready to break open a bag of DoReDos in Lisbon this year.

Eugeniu Andrianov, Marina Djundiet, and Sergiu Mita formed DoReDos in 2011. They made it to the group final on the Romanian edition of X Factor in 2016 and were one of the winners of the Russian New Wave festival in 2017. Their New Wave performance caught the attention of Philipp Kirkorov, who co-wrote “My Lucky Day” with John Ballard. Kirkorov and Ballard previously worked together on “You Are the Only One” and the Tolmachevy Sisters’ “Shine” (because at Eurovision, you have specify which “Shine” you mean).

DoReDos made two previous attempts to represent Moldova at Eurovision in 2015 and 2016. Watching their earlier performances, they have a signature sound characterized by tight three-part harmony and we could sense that they had potential if they could just find the right song. And boy is “My Lucky Day” the right song for them. It tightens up their folk-influenced style and makes it pop. This was the first fully cohesive package DoReDos has brought to O melodie pentru Europa and they were justly rewarded.

Our only quibble with the song is that it sounds like a love duet being sung by a trio. The lyrics are about love at first sight, and it feels a little odd for the three members of DoReDos to be singing them. Unless the song really is meant to be about a menage a trois. “My Lucky Day,” indeed.

Moldova’s Eurovision 2017 Entry

SunStroke Project will once again grace the Eurovision stage after winning O melodie pentru Europa 2017 with their song “Hey Mamma.”

Do we really need to do a bio of SunStroke Project? It’s the Epic Sax Guy and his buddies. Come on now!

Anyway, at Moldova’s national final, SunStroke Project’s “Hey Mamma” tied with Ethno Republic & Surorile Osoianu’s “Discover Moldova.” The former won the televote and the latter won the jury vote, and the tie was broken by the public vote. (Are you reading this, Spain?)

Now, what made SunStroke Project’s previous Eurovision attempt so glorious was its utter lack of self-awareness. It was an unexpected delight.

The problem with their latest Eurovision attempt is that they are sooooooooooooooo self-aware. You can’t force a meme, guys. It just happens. Moreover, it’s not that a great song and that sax riff gets a little annoying after awhile.

But you know what? It is fun. It is a lot of fun, and goodness knows there is always room for a little more fun at Eurovision. We just love Sergei Yalovitsky’s vocal tone. Saxophonist Sergey Stepanov gets all the glory, but Yalovitsky is the unsung hero of SunStroke Project. (We think a lot about these things.)

So even if “Hey Mamma” is no “Run Away,” it has done us good and will do us good and we say god bless it.

Eurovision 2016 Round-Up: Leap Year Edition

It’s a good thing it’s Leap Year, because we need an extra day to process all of the songs chosen for Eurovision this weekend!

Finland: Sandhja – “Sing It Away”

Donald Trump is going to be the Republican Party candidate for President and Sandhja’s European jazz festival closer is going to represent Finland at Eurovision and I do not understand the world anymore.

Hungary: Freddie – “Pioneer”

We are Eurovision hipsters, so A Dal is of course our favorite national selection competition these days. There were eight songs in the A Dal final, and we felt that the four super finalists would ably represent Hungary in Stockholm. Coming out of the semis, we thought Freddie would not only finish top 5 at Eurovision, but even take the crown. His performance in the final was a bit rougher, so we’re not quite ready to proclaim him the champion yet. But his husky voice and rugged good looks may make him very popular in Sweden.

Continue reading “Eurovision 2016 Round-Up: Leap Year Edition”

Moldova’s Eurovision 2015 Entry

Moldova has selected Eduard Romanyuta with “I Want Your Love”:

Eduard Romanyuta is a Ukrainian singer who has performed mostly in Ukraine and neighboring Eastern European countries. He competed in Ukrainian national selection shows from 2011-2013, finishing as high as 3rd in 2013. With Ukraine sitting out this year, Moldova presented an opportunity for Romanyuta to raise his profile.

The song has been a controversial choice for Moldova.  Romanyuta speaks no Romanian, and during the Moldovan selection he spoke with the hosts in English. After winning, he switched to Russian, which did not sit well with many Moldovan fans. Beyond Romanyuta’s national indifference, many close observers (including Eurovision veteran and fellow competitor Pasha Parfeny) accused Team Romanyuta of buying the vote. Moldova has never had a reputation for holding a democratic selection process, but this year the accusations of corruption and general shenanigans reached a fever pitch. The seams were showing, it seems.

Taking the song and artist on their own merits, “I Want Your Love” is unoriginal, derivative of early 2000s pop. The verse is verbatim Liberty X’s “Just a Little,” and the music production is Britney Spears circa “Oops I Did it Again.” In an half-hearted attempt to make it feel more contemporary, the chorus uses a melody similar to Jason Derulo’s “Talk Dirty.” Romanyuta’s boyish tenor is well-suited to the pop dance genre and he’s a good enough live singer, but the Moldovan staging included a lot of dancing that drew his pitch off, so that’s a worry. Romanyuta’s image is Kid Rock, which, given the genre, is kind of weird.

Leonard Cohen it ain’t, but I can’t help but like it. “I Want Your Love” is a song I want to sing and dance along to. It’s unintentionally cheesy, and it makes me laugh, a guilty pleasure that I’ll be enjoying for many years to come.

Moldova’s Eurovision 2014 Entry

Cristina Scarlat’s “Wild Soul” is this year’s Eurovision Song Contest entry from Moldova:

This is Scarlat’s third attempt to represent Moldova at Eurovision. She came in third last year and 11th in 2011. She has also been a vocal coach for Moldovan Junior Eurovision acts. “Wild Soul” was composed by Corneliu Bucataru and Ivan Akulov with lyrics by Lidia Scarlat, who is not only Cristina’s niece but also the current lead singer of Cuibul, this year’s interval act at the Moldovan national final.

Lyrically, “Wild Soul” is made up of angst-ridden teenage poetry: “What am I/I’m a human/What am I/An emotion/Time and space can lie to us while we sleep.” “The world can play a joke on each of us any time.” “Mercy/I have no feelings of mercy.” Gack. At least the dull, repetitive melodies and plodding arrangement support those lyrics well. It’s all a bit of a dirge.

Scarlat brings some gravitas, and she sells the whole package pretty well. However, the staging from the Moldovan national final did her no favors. The costumes, the choreography, that bendy mirror thing… everything but the remote control drones needs to go. “Wild Soul” is a song that demands a diva turn, and all that other stuff around Scarlat are just annoyances. But it’s a smart bet that Moldova will figure this out and put in the work to stage it more effectively. Pity she can’t lose the song too.

STRAY OBSERVATIONS: Poor Boris Covali. This is the second year in a row he’s won the televote, only to be spiked by the jury. Maybe he shouldn’t have switched songs?

Moldova’s Eurovision 2013 Entry

Moldova has decided, and it’s Aliona Moon with “A Million.”

Hurrah, another power ballad. And a repetitive one at that.

Because it’s Moldova there were several visual gimmicks at the national final which were so over the top that one can only presume they will persist until Sweden. Aliona copies Sabina Babayeva’s light up dress, which itself was copying the “girl on fire” dress in The Hunger Games. Last year’s Moldovan entrant Pasha Parfeny (who wrote the music to “A Million”) makes an appearance on piano. And the staging has its share of Indian-diety-with-multiple-arms choreography, as well as a backdrop with planets, stars, and fire (the triple crown).

Forgive us if we can’t get our enthusiasm up. Moon’s soprano voice is thin and her English pronunciation questionable. The lyrics, which manage to reference both the Mayan apocalypse and Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus, are dismal.

Still, it is better than “Loca” (Moldova 2006).

UPDATED 18 MARCH 2013: Clearly the Moldovan delegation reads our blog. It was announced today that Moon will be performing Moldova’s Eurovision entry in Romanian. The song is now called “O mie.”