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.

San Marino’s Eurovision 2021 Entry

Last year, San Marino’s Senhit had the option of picking the song “Cleopatra” as her Eurovision entry. When she passed, Azerbaijan’s Efendi picked it up and probably would have turned it into an epic classic were it not for, you know, 2020.

Clearly, Senhit was not going to make the same mistake twice.

Now, here’s the thing about “Adrenalina.” It’s a decent, if unremarkable pop number. Flo Rida provides a serviceable pop-rap verse in it. It’s kind of a paint-by-numbers summer banger.

But… Senhit somehow got Flo Rida to drop a verse in her Eurovision song for San Marino. Does that mean Flo Rida is going to show up in Rotterdam? Does the presence of Flo Rida make San Marino a favorite to win? Will San Marino’s chances diminish if it turns out Flo Rida can’t make it and he’s replaced by a rapper named Zamma Rino?

If you follow Senhit on Twitter, you will have enjoyed her lapping up the attention her song drop has generated. It’s really nice to see San Marino raise a fuss in the fan community in a positive way rather than in an “Oh my god, Serhat is singing a disco song again” way or an “Oh my god, another dated Ralph Siegel tune” way.

On the other hand, will the fandom turn on Senhit if Flo Rida isn’t a part of the final package in May? Or does she have more tricks up her sleeve to compensate?

As I’ve been watching her “Freaky Trip to Rotterdam” series on YouTube, I have been amazed how she turned herself from a bland but solid also-ran at the 2011 Song Contest into a glamorous pop diva who turns “Alcohol Is Free” and “Cheesecake” into edgy and erotic showpieces. If she can achieve in her Eurovision staging of “Adrenalina” anything close to what she has done with her cover videos, then she could make Eleni Foureira look like a stereotypical librarian by comparison.

So I am completely torn by San Marino this year. I feel like Senhit was probably going to be a lock to make the Final, and by bringing in the splashy guest star, she overegged her pudding a bit. I’m still pretty excited to see what she’s going to do next, though.

San Marino’s and Azerbaijan’s Eurovision 2020 Entries

Every year, we write a couple of posts called The Eurovision That Almost Was. It’s our chance to revisit songs that finished second at national finals, singers who were runners-up on talent shows, and entries that for one reason or another never graced the stage at the Grand Prix.

Usually, we wait until after the Final to write up those posts to give us something to do over the summer. But this year, we have an opportunity to talk about what might have been in conjunction with what actually happened.

No, we’re not talking about a potential cancellation of the entire Contest due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We’re just talking about this year’s San Marino entry, “Freaky!”

Senhit returns to the Song Contest nine years after she first represented San Marino without that letter H in her name. Since then, San Marino has made disco its national brand. Thus, when Senhit had her flash national final to decide which song she would bring to Rotterdam, it seemed inevitable that “Freaky!” was going edge “Obssessed.”

We thought “Freaky!” was the better song anyway. Senhit delivers a lot of sass and sexiness to the recorded track, which makes fun. The trouble is, as is often the case with San Marino, the song is more dated than retro. Their hopes rely heavily on Senhit’s personality shining through.

However, many hardcore national final followers felt that they were deprived of a third choice. Senhit had recorded another track called “Cleopatra” and the general feeling was that it was so much better than “Freaky!” or “Obsessed.”

Cut to Azerbaijan, who were searching for a song for their internal selection Efendi. “Cleopatra” suited her to a T. Thus, Senhit’s pass was Efendi’s gain.

Efendi embodies “Cleopatra” so much that it’s hard to believe it wasn’t written just for her. The way she rolls her Rs when she sings “Like Cleopatrrrrra” is instantly iconic and even makes you forget the silly “Nam Myōhō Renge Kyō” bit that leads into the chorus. (We didn’t know Cleopatra was Buddhist.) Sure, this is just a revamped version of Katy Perry’s “Dark Horse,” but it bloody works.

So what was Senhit thinking by passing on it? Take a listen to her version of “Cleopatra” and you will understand. She interprets the lyrics fairly literally and her vocal lacks the playfulness she brings to “Freaky!” Efendi’s take has way more attitude. She brings a lot of cheek to “Cleopatra,” which plays into its goofier moments while still making it compelling.

Also, Senhit’s arrangement for the song has a random Latin-influenced breakdown in the middle. It’s probably inspired by the lyric “Egyptian and Latin, the voices run through me,” but it sounds out of place. Efendi’s arrangement has a more sparse and faintly Middle Eastern breakdown that’s more in step with the overall inspiration for the song.

It’s all about what works for each performer. Efendi nails the tone of “Cleopatra.” Senhit nails the tone of “Freaky!” Ultimately, we think both San Marino and Azerbaijan made the right choices for this year’s Song Contest.

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.

San Marino’s Eurovision 2018 Entry

Jessika and Jenifer Brening are here to tell you who they are. (Spoiler: They are San Marino’s Eurovision act this year.)

Jessika Muscat is a Maltese singer who has been a staple at Malta’s national finals over the past decade or so. Her best finish in 2016 when she placed  seventh with the Philip Vella and Gerard James Borg song “The Flame.”

She is paired up with German singer Jenifer Brening, who finished fourth on the German talent show The Winner Is in 2012. Jenifer replaced San Marinese rapper Lorenzo “Irol” Salvatori, who dropped out because “Who We Are” was “too poppy” for him.

Irol still retains a songwriting credit on “Who We Are,” but it seems like half of Europe has a songwriting credit on ” ]Who We Are.” The big name for Eurovision fans is Zöe Straub, Austria’s representative at the 2016 Song Contest and one of the judges for San Marino’s 1in360 national final competition this year. She is joined by her dad, singer-songwriter Christof Straub, who co-wrote her Eurovision entry “Loin d’ici.” Rounding out the credits are the aforementioned Jenifer Brening; Matthias Strasser, who has contributed songs to past Maltese national finals; and Stefan Moessle, part of the Secret Sounds music production team that has contributed music to the TV show Dance Moms.

“Who We Are” sounds the songwriting crew heard “Heroes” and thought that it needed some girl power, so they inserted Mel B’s rap in “Wannabe.” At face value, this should work, but it really falls short in practice.

That’s because “Who We Are” in its 1in360 form was rough. Jessika’s performance was a bit too stiff and a bit too smiley. She’s an experienced performer, but she looked like a fresh-faced amateur. The whole package needs to be polished up quite a bit to work on the big stage in Lisbon.

Despite our qualms, we are happy to see San Marino jumping into the current era of Eurovision after splashing around in Ralph Siegel’s antiquated style for so long. And if Zöe wants to usurp Uncle Ralph as San Marino’s songwriter-in-residence, you won’t hear us complain. We look forward to what she and Valentina Monetta cook up next year.

San Marino’s Eurovision 2017 Entry

Last year, San Marino hired Turkish entertainer Serhat to fly their flag in Stockholm. Serhat’s song was the promisingly unpromising “I Didn’t Know,” an awkward ballad with one of the most glorious videos ever created. Why Manfred T. Mugler did not graduate to directing a sequel to Battlefield Earth we’ll never know. Anyway, at a certain point, a disco remix of “I Didn’t Know” started circulating around the internet, and the enthusiastic reaction of online Eurovision fans caught the attention of the San Marino delegation, who apparently do not understand irony. Serhat gleefully adopted the remix as the official arrangement for his Eurovision performance, where he only missed out on qualification by 65 points.

Okay, so Serhat didn’t make the Grand Prix final. But San Marino seems to have recognized an opportunity to cater to a certain set of enthusiastic Eurovision fans. So here they are, fanwanking us off again with “Spirit of the Night.”

Valentina Monetta will be representing her country for the fourth time. She has now competed in Eurovision as many times as Lys Assia has, which actually makes us pretty happy. We’re worried that if she goes for a fifth time, Lys will try and take her out at the knees. She is teamed up with Jimmie Wilson, an American singer who starred in Hope, a German musical about Barack Obama. “Spirit of the Night” was written by Eurovision legend turned Sammarinese muse Ralph Siegel with lyrics by Jutta Staudenmayer and Steve Barnacle (and we can’t tell yet if it’s the same Steve Barnacle who is in Visage, but it might be and we hope it is).

We’re not exactly sure why San Marino wants to continue to participate in Eurovision, especially given their dispute with the EBU over how their vote in the Song Contest is tallied. (Read more at ESC Insight.) But you know what, if they still want to join in, then great, the more the merrier. They have a short bench, so Monetta can represent her home country any year she wants. Siegel will probably write songs for San Marino for as long as he still has catchy little melodies stuck in his head.

And you know what? We’re okay with that. At this point, San Marino’s Eurovision output is sort of like a box of Corn Pops. Sure it’s a bit cloying, but sometimes, on a rainy day, you just want to curl up in front of the television with a big bowl of sweet cereal and watch a Sammarinese Eurovision legend hit on a guy who played Barack Obama in a musical.

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”

San Marino’s Eurovision 2015 Entry

San Marino has given Valentina Monetta a well-deserved break and chosen Anita Simoncini and Michele Perniola to wave the Sammarinese flag in Vienna with “Chain of Lights”:

Both Anita Simoncini and Michele Perniola are veterans of Junior Eurovision. Michele represented San Marino at Junior Eurovision 2013, and Anita followed the next year as a member of The Peppermints (alongside Michele’s sister Raffaella).

As has been the case the previous three years, San Marino’s entry was written by Eurovision legend Ralph Siegel. “Chain of Lights” reunites Ralph with lyricist Bernd Meinunger (writing here as John O’Flynn). They co-wrote the Eurovision-winning “Ein bißchen Frieden” and the camp classics “Dschinghis Khan” and “Papa Pingouin.”

Their latest effort is a strange song. “Chain of Lights” sports some pretty melodies and some nice touches in the arrangement. I like the staccato strings and the pinging piano during the first verse. But it also has a lot of musical flourishes and slight key changes that knock it off-kilter. It doesn’t completely work as a cohesive song, but I can’t say it’s not interesting.

“Chain of Lights” is not interesting lyrically, though. It is yet another 2015 entry about how we all should just get along and live in peace (see also: Russia). It’s similar to the songwriters’ 2006 song for Switzerland “If We All Give a Little.” There’s even (intentionally? unintentionally?) a musical reference to it at the two-minute mark.

But, it’s less schlocky than “Wars for Nothing,” so that’s something.

STRAY OBSERVATIONS: Did the official video of this three-minute song really need to have a minute and a half credit roll at the end of it?

San Marino’s Eurovision 2014 Entry

Valentina Monetta is back to represent San Marino for the third year in a row. This year, she will be singing “Maybe (Forse)”:

Like last year’s San Marino entry “Crisalide,” “Maybe” was composed by Eurovision legend Ralph Siegel with lyrics by Mauro Balestri. Like “Crisalide,” “Maybe” starts off as a quiet piano-driven ballad. Like “Crisalide,” “Maybe” builds up to a disco beat decorated with synthesized strings. “Maybe” is a lot like “Crisalide.”

That said, I like “Maybe” more than “Crisalide.” It’s a pleasant song, if a bit dull. Siegel still has a knack for a lovely melody. Monetta is now a well-seasoned Eurovision performer, so I’m confident she is going to deliver on the night.

Is it enough to secure San Marino its first appearance in the Final? I have a feeling the answer is no, because it’s facing some stiff competition in that first Semi (and also “Cake to Bake”). But I can’t help but root for Monetta, who has invested so much into Eurovision. I hope she gets rewarded for it… Maybe?

San Marino’s Eurovision 2013 Entry

Remember “The Social Network Song Oh Oh-Uh-Oh Oh,” San Marino’s Eurovision 2012 entry? The one Eurovision legend Ralph Siegel composed and poor Valentina Monetta had to sing? You know, the one that was supposed to be called “Facebook Uh, Oh, Uh?”

Sure you do!

Well, San Marino and Siegel decided that Monetta was such a trooper for stepping in to perform “The Social Network Song Oh Oh-Uh-Oh Oh” that they decided to give her another chance to grace the Eurovision stage, only this time with a song that isn’t completely embarrassing! Here is “Crisalide.”

I mean, it’s fine. It’s completely old-fashioned, but it gives Monetta a serious song that suits her voice and her style of music much better. After chugging along as a ballad for most of the song, “Crisalide” suddenly changes tempos and becomes a disco song to make it… interesting, I guess? Worked for Donny Montell last year.

So, what’s worse, being memorably bad or not being memorable at all? I still despise “The Social Network Song Oh Oh-Uh-Oh Oh,” but it’s one of those songs that goes down in the annals of Eurovision history. The only notable thing about “Crisalide” is the history of the people involved in it, and that’s not enough to make it memorable.