Sunday, June 29, 2014

Eurovision Song Contest 2014: Semi-Final 1,Tuesday 6th May 2014

Finally - or should that be semi-finally (!) it's here. 

Unfortunately the opening moments of the show are marred by Mum taking about something completely non-ESC-related!

The show starts with a little recap from last year, to remind us why the contest has ended up in Denmark's magical capital city.  Emmelie eventually turned into a Lego figure, which was a nice touch.  I'm not so sure about the 'Join Us' singing selfie choir though.  Anyway this leads to Emmelie and a choir on stage singing "Only Teardrops".  Shock horror, she is not in beige!!  She must have read my previous blog post :)

Time for the presenters.  After Petra Mede being the only host last year, DR have taken the opposite approach and given us three, including good ol' Kasper Juul from Borgen, or Pilou Asbaek to give him his real name.  He is joined by Nikolaj Koppel and Lise Rønne, who is in a white dress with what looks like a big white shower scrunchie on her shoulder.  Good evening Europe!!
It's not long until I'm swearing at the telly.  BBC3 is notorious for its bog-standard coverage of the semi-finals, although I have to acknowledge that last year, Ana Matronic was actually a pretty good co-commentator with Scott Mills.  This year they've gone for a stereotypical telly dolly bird named Laura Whitmore, whose work I'm not familiar with.  Turns out I didn't miss much.  Would it be too much to ask for knowledgeable commentators? Anyway they are talking over the presenters.  Should there not be some kind of EBU ruling where ESC commentators should be forced to shut up when the presenters are talking? 
A few words about this year's postcards, in which the artists have been asked to create an inventive interpretation of their country's national flag.  As it turned out, I like this year's postcards: just as last year, they're putting the focus back on the artist rather than it just being an excuse for a tourism commercial.

Where do we go now? To the songs, to the songs...

ARMENIA: "Not Alone" - Aram MP3

In the postcard, Aram makes a brooch in the colours of the Armenian flag.  He then wears the brooch during his performance.

Mum is not down with all this digital music carry-on.  "What is an MP3?" I decline to answer as I want to focus on how the pre-contest favourite does.  As it turns out, not too badly - he sings well, the staging is good and then it all goes BOOM! with lots of flashing and pyros heralding the dubsteppy bit. 

M: It'll take more than fingerless gloves for this to win.  Those lights are far too dazzling and are giving me a migraine. 
L: He has a good voice but this song is far too repetitive. 

LATVIA: "Cake To Bake" - Aarzemnieki

The postcard is a Latvian flag made of cake.  Appropriately! Cep cep, cep cep kuku.
M: This is quite a merry wee song.
L: I really like this song and I love that line about him learning Latvian.
M (sings): "I've got a cake to bake..." I would like this to win.

There is a true moment of greatness in this performance when Raitis - the cute, cheeky-faced one with the crazy hair - says "piece of cake"!  Even if this bombs with the juries and televoters, there will always be that triumphant moment. 

ESTONIA: "Amazing" - Tanja

M: What a stupid costume. She's not a bad singer though, the way she can sing and dance at the same time.
L: The dancing really, really annoys me.
M: I think this song's s****.
L: Are you pulling my leg??? (oh ha ha) - this had better not steal a qualifying spot from a better song.

SWEDEN: "Undo" - Sanna Nielsen

It's a case of 'undo my waistband' as I reach for the nibbles and hurtle towards beached-whale proportions.  (Unlike Sanna of course, who wears that black lace dress well).
L: She leaves me cold.  As does this song. Although I like her dress.
M: All these songs are leaving me cold.
L: Now that's not fair.  I may not be a fan of this song but I have to say that the standard of the songs is pretty high this year.

ICELAND: "No Prejudice" - Pollapönk
L: P-p-p-p-p-p-p-p-p-p-p-p-p-p-p-p-p-p-pollapönk!
M: What kind of f****** song is this?
I am rather annoyed at this point that my mum is insulting the Pönk, but the song does grow on her, and by the end of it she's nodding along and tapping her feet.  She takes it all back, much to my relief.

Maybe it's the colourful presentation, or the uptempo song, but the full package has really impressed me even more than I thought it would.  It may just have done enough to qualify.

Break time now, and while the official feed's running the Eurovision Book of Records ("highest hair" - now guess who?  Certain Irish twins by any chance?) we are subjected to one of those notorious BBC3 VTs, this time a tour of Copenhagen, which I get quite excited about seeing as it is going to be our holiday destination, 9 days after the grand final. 

Then the presenters make a comment about "nice to see proud men getting along", which was a little bit of a clumsy attempt to emulate Petra Mede's joke from last year.

ALBANIA: "One Night's Anger" - Hersi Matmuja

Hersi takes the flag challenge too far as she gets the Albanian flag tattooed on her back.  This song has undergone a revamp since its FiK win but it's still too complex for the viewers/voters to get it on first listen.
M: This is not much of a song.
L: It's not a song which impresses on first listen and needed a few listens before I could remember it.  Which isn't an ideal situation when you've only got one chance in the semi-final. 
M: Guitar solo!
L: This is not qualifying.

RUSSIA: "Shine" - The Tolmachevy Sisters

Get your booing on now for the musical foot soldiers of Vladimir Putin.  Or alternatively, two cute twins on a seesaw. 
M: Why's their hair tied together?  Is it so they don't get lost?  This is familiar from somewhere. 
L: I showed you a rehearsal clip of this.
M: Oh yes, I remember it now. 
For me, their performance is just a little too forceful and sterile.  So bring on the hot Portuguese backing singer with what looks like a giant Pringle.  Hot Portuguese guy is quickly engulfed by the giant Pringle so that was that.

AZERBAIJAN: "Start a Fire" - Dilara Kazimova

EuropeCrazy HQ is now on gimmick-watch: there's a trapeze artist on stage. Presumably to distract from this non-song.
M: Another circus sideshow is it?
L: I like her dress, but that's all.
M: Why the need for the trapeze?
Again, talk of the on-stage sideshow obliterates the actual song, or non-song as the case may be.  She seems quite a charming performer though.  However after all the vote-rigging allegations which hang over that country's entries like a bad smell, it's increasingly difficult to make any neutral judgement of an Azerbaijan entry these days.  Compared to recent years though, this one's a lot more low-key - I wonder if they're deliberately trying not to get such a good result this year?

UKRAINE: "Tick-Tock" - Mariya Yaremchuk.

Gimmick-watch: we now have a guy running inside a giant hamster wheel. 
L: We're now into the silly props part of the festivities.  Bloody hamster wheel.
M: That's just so stupid, the way it distracts you from the song.
L: But it's Ukraine, and they'll get votes. 

She is stunning, as is her midnight blue dress.  By the end of the song though, it's the backing singers who are doing all the work.


BELGIUM: "Mother" - Axel Hirsoux.

The moral of the postcard is: don't send Axel to the launderette without a clear understanding of wash cycles.

L: The sentiment of the song is very nice, but....
M: He's got a good voice, but the song doesn't do him justice.  Is that woman (dancing behind Axel) going to strangle him? 
L: He does have a very good voice, but the whole package is just a bit too creepy for words. 

MOLDOVA: "Wild Soul" - Cristina Scarlat.

This one has temporarily stalled my love affair with Moldova at Eurovision. 

M: SHOUTY VOICE!! We hear you!
L: She does have a strong voice but the song is wrong and I wouldn't like this to rob a more deserving song of a place in the final just because it's Moldova. 

She rips out her hair.  As we are probably also doing by the end of this song.

SAN MARINO: "Maybe" - Valentina Monetta.

San Marino at Eurovision's like a comfy pair of slippers: another year and Valentina again.  This time she's the pearl in the shell, and I have just one question:

L: Why the hell's she singing this in English when they have the most musical of musical languages, Italian, at their disposal?
M: This isn't too bad but it's very dated. 30 years out of date.
L: "Maybe" even more than that....but there's a talky bit, a wind machine finale for the schlager fraternity and in a nice nod to 'old' Eurovision, a glimpse of the backing singers.

Another break, and this time we have an interview with Conchita Wurst.  Imma get me a knitted beard.  On the live feed there's more archive clips including none other than EPIC SAX GUY!  This time the 'book of records' focuses on the "most silver" and a chance to see the winner of that category, Verka Serduchka, in the audience. 

PORTUGAL: "Quero Ser Tua" - Suzy

In her postcard, Suzy uses body paint to recreate the Portuguese flag.
WAWAWEWAWE.  And wow, what a dress!  This is completely unashamed Eurovision in old money.  It's an energetic party song which should have stirred everyone out of the relative tedium of the last few entries. But is it too 'old' Eurovision? 

NETHERLANDS: "Calm After The Storm" - The Common Linnets

Ilse de Lange and Waylon, aka the Common Linnets, manage to turn the 'quietest' song of the contest (in its audio version anyway) into something very effective thanks to the inventive camera work with the white lines on the road, and the camera circling around both artists. 

L: It's what I believe they call 'new country'?  I'm still not feeling the chemistry between them, but this is working out better than I thought it would. 
M: I think this could qualify.  It's not any worse than the rest of them and it is very different.

The song may be a little too low-key and lacks the big finale, but with all these gimmicks tonight - trapeze artists, hamster wheels, silly dancing - then we've already had the storm, so it is easier to appreciate the calm. 

MONTENEGRO: "Moj Svijet" - Sergej Cetkovic.

So apparently Sergej thinks Molly will win.  I wouldn't call that a certainty, but one thing I am sure about is that this will hoover up all the Balkan ballad votes from countries who would normally throw their votes Serbia's way. 

We're back on gimmick-watch: there's a figure skater on stage. I'm really annoyed about the presentation of this song, as it does not need all the stupid gimmicks - Sergej is a reliable singer with a very good voice, and he gives an effortless performance of this song.

M: He has a good voice.
L: Bloody skater.  He doesn't need a bloody skater, the song doesn't need a bloody skater.  (you can tell I'm really annoyed by the skater at this point).
Backing singers join him for the finale, which has the most sudden ending of a song in ESC history.  Put that in your Eurovision book of records!

HUNGARY: "Running" - Andras Kallay-Saunders.

Andras makes his flag with Rubik cubes (a nice Hungarian touch).
The evening started and ended with two of the big pre-contest favourites.  "Running" is a very good, contemporary song which you could play to a non-fan and they'd never guess it was a Eurovision song.  However....the staging of the song makes me feel uncomfortable.  I know it reflects the subject matter, but I could really have done without the interpretative domestic violence dance going on in the background.  

L: And he's off...
M: It's alright, but nothing special.

There's a bit of a vocal wobble towards the end but I can't see it doing his chances any harm.  

So, after all the songs were performed, here were my 10 predicted qualifiers for the final:

It's another uninspiring dance number for the first interval act.  Sorry DR, but I'm underwhelmed by this. 

There will soon be results, but first - let Lise and Jon Ola take a selfie...!

After Lise and Jon Ola's selfie - yes, nowhere is safe from the current craze, not even Eurovision hosts and head honchos - it's squeaky bum time as we're on the edge of our seats awaiting the announcement of the finalists...

Russia (booing from the audience)
San Marino - aww Valentina! At last!  I didn't have this as a finalist but 'maybe' everyone finally thought that after all those attempts she deserved a place in the final.

So I got 9 out of 10 correct, but sadly there was no place in the Grand Final for Latvia's Aarzemnieki, evicted from the Great Eurovision Bake-Off.  Apart from San Marino, the finalists are a mix of the satisfactory (Iceland, Hungary, Montenegro, Armenia, Netherlands) and the unsurprising (everyone else) and I think we're going to get a very good and diverse final this year: hoping that the right songs make it out of semi-final 2 of course!!

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