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.

Serbia’s Eurovision 2021 Entry

When I was preparing to go to Belgrade on a business trip a number of years ago, I read a bunch of tourist guides, which all highlighted the city’s river boat night clubs. Tempted though I was to check one out, I was there for work, so I behaved myself. I only mention this because, in my mind, Hurricane is a Belgrade river boat night club personified.

At first glance, Hurricane’s 2021 entry “Loco Loco” isn’t that different from their 2020 entry “Hasta la Vista.” But everything about “Loco Loco” is just a little bit better. The beat is tighter, the vocals are bouncier, the chorus is just that much more catchy.

I mean, it is a lot cheesier. “One, two, girls, come on,” indeed. It is glittery and bit chintzy, sexy and a bit trashy, bold and a bit tacky. The hair is over-permed, the lips are over-glossed, everything is just a bit over the top.

And I’m not mad about that. Hurricane are selling overindulgence in “Loco Loco” and after a year of forced austerity, who doesn’t want to completely overdo it the first chance they get? “Loco Loco” may not be a song I play over and over again, but I will totally turn it up when it comes on.

Serbia’s Eurovision 2020 Entry

Ready for a good ol’ foot-stomping banger?

Sanja Vucic, Ksenija Knezevic, and Ivana Nikolić formed Hurricane in 2017. Two of the members have participated in Eurovision before. Ksenija was backing singer for her father Knez when he represented Montenegro in 2015, while Sanja represented Serbia in 2016. Sanja co-wrote “Hasta La Vista” with Nemanja Antonić and Kosana Stojić.

“Hasta La Vista” is a blast, but there is also something dated about it. It reminds us of the the type of song that was prevalent when we first started watching Eurovision in 2006. We also thought the vocals on the verses were a bit thin. The vocal arrangement isolates the singers when the song could use some more richness.

Once Hurricane gets to the chorus, though, it’s easy to get hooked. We always take it as a hallmark of a catchy song that we only need to hear it once and then remember the chorus just by looking at the title. “Hasta La Vista” is a bit of an earworm, which is why we kinda wish those verses were a little tighter. It could have been that much more fun.

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.

Serbia’s Eurovision 2018 Entry

Sanja Ilić i Balkanika have won Beovizija 2018 with the song “Nova deca.”

Sanja Ilić is a Serbian composer and musician with a degree in architecture. He wrote the 1982 Yugoslavian Eurovision entry “Halo Halo” for the group Aska, and he composed the music to the anthem for the Red Star Belgrade soccer team.

Ilić formed Balkanika in 1998 with the goal of using traditional Balkan musical instruments in modern pop music. The band has 11 members, so they had to be strategic in which six musicians made the Beovizija line-up. They wisely included flutist Ljubomir Dimitrijević because he is the Jerry Garcia of Serbian flutists.

We would eat an ice cream named after him.

“Nova deca” is a challenging song. It takes a full minute to really get going, then it meanders from traditional-sounding choral parts to modern Balkan ballad sections. A touch of synthetic dance beats are thrown in for good measure.

We always fear for songs that deviate from a typical song structure. We harken back to something Daniel Gould wrote on Sofabet:

Pop songs tend to follow a pattern that goes like this: intro; first verse; first chorus; second verse; second chorus; middle eight with a change of pace; and final chorus with something a bit extra.

Eurovision winners tend to follow this formula, with only a few small deviations – in 2008, Serbia’s ‘Molitva’ had an instrumental second verse, for example. I would never back a song to do well that deviated significantly from this structure…

To that end, we remember the fate of “Icebreaker,” Norway’s Eurovision 2016 entry. It had an abrupt rhythm change about which singer Agnete admitted, “It seems like either you love it, or you simply strongly dislike it.” Norway finished 13th in the second Semi, behind Ivan and his wolves.

But it’s not so different from the type of Balkan ballad that has often made its way to the Eurovision stage. Ilić and company have just tweaked the form enough to make it interesting. It will be equally interesting to see how the juries and the public respond to it.

Serbia’s Eurovision 2017 Entry

Tijana Bogićević is hoping to take Serbia deep into this year’s Eurovision competition with “In Too Deep.”

Bogićević first vied to represent her country in 2009, but her song “Pazi Šta Radiš” did not make it out of the Beovizija 2009 semifinal. At Eurovision 2011, she was a backing singer on Nina’s “Čaroban.” “In Too Deep” was written by Borislav Milanov, Sebastian Arman, and Joacim Bo Persson, who wrote this year’s Bulgarian entry “Beautiful Mess” and Bulgaria’s 2016 entry “If Love Was a Crime.”

“In Too Deep” sort of sounds like “If Love Was a Crime” crossed with Katy Perry’s “Firework.” It’s a pleasant enough pop song, but we’ve been struggling to remember it after we’ve listened to it. This year, Kristian Kostov got the songwriting team’s best work.

The Song Contest producers chose Serbia to open the second Semi, so Bogićević has a fair chance to make an impression on audiences before all the other acts. We think she has a shot of making it to the Final because there will be a a lot of chaff on display that Thursday night (and the chance for some friendly voting as well). But she is going to need every ounce of charisma and talent to make a lasting impression.

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 Gipsy.cz, 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.)

Serbia’s Eurovision 2015 Entry

Bojana Stamenov has been chosen to represent Serbia at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest with “Ceo svet je moj”:

Serbia returns to the Song Contest after a year away. Their 2013 entry “Ljubav je svuda,” was a hot, hot mess that didn’t qualify for the Final. Perhaps Serbia needed time away to reconsider its choices in life. We certainly needed time to be reminded how much we miss them when they are away.

National broadcaster RTS returned to familiar waters for its selection process. They used a format that has served them well in the past, presenting three songs co-written by one composer. This year, that composer was Vladimir Graić, who co-wrote Serbia’s Eurovision-winning entry “Molitva.” You may also recall that he teamed up with Hari Mata Hari (who represented Bosnia in 2006) to pen Slovenia’s 2012 entry “Verjamem.”

It’s as though Serbia saw Graić peddling his wares to nearby Slavic countries (“Verjamem” bore an uncomfortable resemblance to “Molitva”) and collectively let out an emphatic “Aw HELL no.”

To Serbia’s, and Graić’s, credit, the three songs that were up for consideration at the national final were all different from each other and none of them sounded like “Molitva”/”Verjamem.” (Well, 2 of 3 didn’t).

Rather, with “Ceo svet je moj,” we get something more like “Love is Blind” or “Crisalide.” One half Balkan power ballad, the other half Hera Björk disco anthem. It’s two, two, two songs in one!

Bojana is an R&B and jazz singer who finished fourth on the 2012 edition of Serbia’s version of [Your Country’s Name Here] Got Talent. She’s pretty bad-ass, especially when she has to bring “Ceo svet je moj” home at the end. That change in tempo and Bojana’s growl that accentuates it is guaranteed to get a rise out of the crowd in Vienna and the fans at home.

The staging of the song at their national final was a mess — a shoddy re-hash of Eurovision costuming gimmicks from the last 5 years — but we assume the Serbian delegation is working on that. In fact, a lot about “Ceo svet je moj” is up in the air right now, including which language it will be performed in. Bojana told the Serbian newspaper Novosti that she is recording an English version of the song called “Beauty Never Lies” with lyrics by Charlie Mason, who co-wrote “Rise Like a Phoenix.” You figure if they are bringing in one of Eurovision’s reigning champion songwriters, they are seriously considering performing in English.

However it comes together, we are expecting a confident performance from Bojana and a song that unexpectedly catches the crowd’s attention at the halfway point. In a national final season that has been a bit of a slog so far, we’re thrilled to have an honest-to-goodness fun entry.

Serbia’s Eurovision 2013 Entry

It’s dire. It is really dire. From the stupid “angel vs devil” battle theme to the over-emoted, overwrought acting the Moje 3 members engage in to the Nomi Malone-style dancing to that staccato “sing up the scale then back down the scale” chorus, “Ljubav je svuda” is horrible.

Not that the people of Serbia had much to choose from. The other female trio in Beosong 2013, SKY’s, was even worse than Moje 3. Dušan Svilar, the one male singer, had a song that was so Celine Dion-esque I’m waiting for Bild to run an exposé. Saška Janković performed a generic pop ballad and Marija Mihajlović performed a generic jazz ballad. In the grand scheme of things, Serbia could have done worse than go for high camp.

Normally, I’m a fan of camp, so I have high hopes that the organizers really go for it in Malmö. They have to look at Elnur & Samir’s performance for Azerbaijan at Eurovision 2008 and TOP IT. They need to consult with whoever staged Gaitana’s “Be My Guest” for Ukraine last year and whoever staged Svetlana Loboda’s “Be My Valentine” for Ukraine in 2009 and anyone who has ever staged an entry for Ukraine and just make this the most insane Can’t Stop the Music meets Battlefield Earth extravaganza ever put on the Eurovision stage. This could be the Valley of the Dolls of Eurovision entries. Make it happen, Serbia. Make it happen.

Serbia’s Eurovision 2012 Entry

Yesterday, Željko Joksimovic presented the song he will perform for Serbia in Baku, “Nije ljubav stvar”:

Joksimovic is of course Eurovision royalty. When then-Serbia and Montenegro debuted at the Song Contest in 2004, he came second with a song he co-wrote, “Lane Moje.” This was by far my favorite song of that year and I really would have preferred this to win over Ruslana’s “Wild Dances,” When Serbia hosted the 2008 Song Contest, Joksimovic co-hosted with Jovana Jankovic and also wrote that year’s Serbian entry, “Oro,” for Jelena Tomaševic. He also wrote the 2006 Bosnia and Herzegovina entry “Lejla” for Hari Mata Hari, a third place finish to another mad performance, this time by Lordi.

I’m actually concerned how Joksimovic would react if he finished just behind Buranovskiye Babushki or Jedward.

Anyway, the Serbian song presentation consisted of Joksimovic, Tomaševic, Hari Mata Hari, and other singers performing Joksimovic’s songs, before presenting the 2012 entry in both English (as “Synonym“) and in Serbian. esctoday.com reports that the version that will go to Baku is to be determined, but the official Eurovision website states that “Nije ljubav stvar” is the selection. I’m going to trust the official website in this case, and frankly, I’d rather the song be performed in Serbian anyway. While Joksimovic’s English is very good, he gives a better performance in his native language.

As for the song itself, it’s not as strong as some of the past songs he’s sent to the Song Contest, but it is still a pretty darned good Balkan pop ballad. The only thing that would have made me nervous would be that he is performing in the first half of the second Semi, which is turning out to be a ballad-heavy night: Portugal, Slovenia, Estonia, Croatia, and FYR Macedonia (sort of) are all ballads, while Sweden is presenting a down-tempo schlager song (that, granted, picks up a bit when it gets going) and Lithuania’s number starts off as a ballad before it turns into a disco track. I’m also presuming that Bosnia and Herzegovina’s song by Maya Sar is going to be a ballad as well. (UPDATED: Yes indeed.)

On the other hand, the only former Yugoslav republic not performing in the second Semi is Montenegro, and if the Balkan voting bloc is going to benefit anyone, it’s going to be Joksimovic. If I were a non-Balkan balladeer, I’d be very nervous right now.