Eurovision Semi-Final 2 – Review

This second review of the contest comes from my home back in Wales, having negotiated a flight, the circle of Hades that is the M25, and the Bank Holiday traffic to get back from Bratislava. I watched the Jury Show of the second semi-final on Wednesday live in Vienna. Last night I discovered that, disgracefully, Slovakian TV doesn’t screen the Eurovision, so I had to watch the event via an online livestream. There was some amusement at watching the “spontaneous” interviews between artists and Conchita Wurst being repeated verbatim from the previous night.

Lithuania – If this was any more lightweight they’d have drifted into the air and have to be pulled down from the ceiling. Inexplicably, they qualified for the final. Each to their own.

Ireland – Slow and understated may not be a way to grab audience with so many acts going for the “more is more” approach to stagecraft. Even so, singer and pianist Molly Sterling gave a beautiful performance that, sadly, didn’t qualify.

San Marino – I’ve visited San Marino and it’s a beautiful, albeit tiny place. I was a big fan of Valentina Monetta’s operatic aria Crisalide from the 2013 contest, but this year their song was absolute dreck – an insipid, manipulative we-are-one anthem, of the ilk that Russia appears to be getting away with right now. The singers were badly out of tune, to a backdrop of lights appearing across the Earth, rather like San Marino has kicked off a nuclear war. If they’d qualified it would have been a miracle, and naturally they didn’t.

Montenegro – From another tiny country, this time an absolute revelation. A delightful piece of Balkan folk music that I was convinced wouldn’t qualify, because Montenegro rarely does. I was happy to be proved wrong about that.

Malta – Amusingly, both Malta and Georgia have entered female solo performers with songs called Warrior. Georgia had far more impressive visual stage effects, but arguably Malta’s artist had the better singing voice (or, quite possibly, had the better ghost-singer somewhere off-camera). I went into a reverie about whether the two would have to fight to the death if both qualified (“TWO POWER BALLAD SINGERS ENTER! ONE POWER BALLAD SINGER LEAVES!”) but this remained hypothetical as Malta crashed out of the contest.

Norway – A bit of a dark turn for the evening, with the male half of a duet telling the female half to leave because he’s a monster. Turn this into the opening song of a concept album, and you’ve got the plot written for the next season of The Bridge. Of course it qualified. It’s Norway.

Portugal – By contrast to Norway, Portugal are an almost-guaranteed non-qualifier. In fact they hold the record for having been in the contest for the longest period (48 years) without a win. They didn’t break their run of failure this year, not least because their song was so forgettable that…well, I’ve forgotten it.

Czech Republic – This was a well-crafted but, again, largely forgettable entry from a country that returned to the contest this year. As with Portugal, the voting audiences also seemed to have forgotten them when the results were announced. I wonder if they’ll be back next year.

Israel – In the previous review I touched on the amusingly-named contest phenomenon known as “fanwank”, and this was a prime example of the genre. Unashamedly cheesy, with equally unashamedly silly lyrics. “Before you leave, let me show you Tel Aviv.” Thanks, and before you give it thought, let me show you Newport. I thought the cheese factor would prevent it qualifying, but as with Montenegro I was completely wrong. If you want Eurovision predictions you’d be better off chucking tarot cards at your TV screen than asking me.

Latvia – When I first heard this I thought it sounded like a mess. An avante-garde dance piece, crammed with far more different key changes than would be advisable. However, sung live with impressive stage lighting the song seemed to come alive. As with their Baltic cousins Lithuania and Estonia, they qualified.

Azerbaijan – I don’t normally like Azerbaijan on principle due to their dodgy history of alleged vote-buying in the contest, not to mention their appalling human rights record, which overshadowed their 2012 hosting of the show. Even so, when first hearing this epic song entitled Hour of the Wolf, I loved it. Then I saw it live at the Jury Show, saw the backing dancers and burst out laughing. The dancers were pretending to be wolves! “Sit, doggie! Heel, doggie! Do interpretive dance, doggie!” They qualified, and I’ll give my opinions on that when the cheque clears.

Iceland – Of all the countries I’ve visited, Iceland is my favourite by a margin. The scenery is beautiful and the people are a welcoming, informal bunch with a cracking sense of humour. In the contest they have a good history of interesting and/or witty acts, but this year they failed to come up with the goods. Instead they served up an identikit, radio-friendly pop anthem. Ironically, by playing it safe they sealed their own fate and were sent home.

Sweden – This is one of the bookie’s favourites, almost exclusively due to the impressive lighting effects, which have the singer interacting with stick figures against a green screen. Personally, I’m not convinced that this will be enough to win. Since they showcased the staging at Sweden’s Melodifestivalen, other acts have now also unveiled equally-impressive visuals – notably Estonia, Belgium and Georgia. But as I’ve said, my own predictions aren’t to be relied upon.

Switzerland – Mediocre, and an unsurprising non-qualifier. Next!

Cyprus – One of the few understated acts this year, though unlike Ireland they did qualify for the final. This song about a man’s regrets in a relationship isn’t one of my personal favourites, but I can see why people like it.

Slovenia – This act is one of my personal favourites, a heartfelt ode to giving emotional support in times of depression. The husband-and-wife duo wear headphones as a band trademark, which makes one wonder if they not only sing and play keyboard but also do air traffic control. There weren’t any big-budget effects, just a single dancer with a slightly bizarre air-violin routine. They got through to the final on the strength of the song rather than visuals.

Poland – I’ve commented before on how this is a vintage year for visibility of artists with disabilities in the contest. The other acts are non-qualifiers Finland (who all have learning disabilities) and the UK (whose co-singer Bianca Armstrong has cystic fibrosis). Poland’s Monika Kuszyńska was paralysed from the waist down in a car crash in 2006, and performed from her wheelchair. The song didn’t grab me when I first heard it on YouTube, but it did when performed at the Jury Show and on the night. Her performance was interspersed with poignant footage of her dancing from her pre-accident years. No doubt some people will grumble that her disability is being used as a “gimmick”. I’m sure she’d happily swap that gimmick for a fully-functioning pair of legs. This may be one that does better than expected at the final.

Overall, I thought this was the weaker of the two semi-finals. There were more songs that were forgettable, and one or two, such as San Marino, that were simply awful. Who will win? My money would be on Italy, with a soaring, powerful work of popera, performed by classically-trained tenors.

But as I’ve said before, if you want reliable predictions, I’m not your go-to guy.

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