Wednesday 12 May 2021

Day 5 | Second Rehearsals | First Semi-Final | 🇧🇪 🇮🇱 🇷🇴 🇦🇿 🇺🇦

This will be a rolling blog, each country in running order, so please refresh to update.

🇺🇦 | Ukraine

While Kateryna is getting tested we're getting a stand-in, all limbs crossed it's a false alarm and she's back with the band for next week!

I assume this is full playback, otherwise the stand-in singer is really good and should join the band immediately! Sadly she's not wearing the original, green wig-jacket, nor does she have Kateryna's fabulous blink-less presence, and yet I was mesmerised and utterly sold! The backdrop is truly glorious here, with colours and shapes shifting in sync with the different moods of the song, and yet somehow sticking to a theme, even if I can't pinpoint it (can 'industrial folk' be a visual theme...?), while the band do their thing in and around their little white enchanted forest.

The song is far out there, but if there's one country in Eurovision that can manage to sell something this weird to all of Europe, it sure is Ukraine. I wouldn't really say it's a winner, it may still be slightly too crazy for that, but who knows!

Applaus! 👏

🇦🇿 | Azerbaijan


Whenever the cobra isn't visible in the big golden cirle behind her, I really like the backdrop, but then it shows up again and URGH.

Other than that, this looks like a high school rendition of some Eurovision song from 10 years ago or so. Seeing as the song is emptier than my travel plan these days, I would've expected them to fill it up with great dance moves or props or stage presence, but nope. Efendi and her girls are grinding about a bit for the sake of it, but it all looks a bit half-arsed. The BAMBAMBAMBAMBAMBAM-beat towards the end doesn't deliver either - the cirle on the backdrop goes into fireball mode before ending up like an eye (?), but it all feels quite underwhelming.

🇷🇴 | Romania

Reports from the first rehearsal of this weren't great, so I was quite interested to see for myself. I grew to really like Roxen's entry last year, and this one has grown a lot on me as the season progressed too, and I think it's much thanks to her voice, which has this certain raw, sore, intimacy to it. Sadly, it sounded a bit too raw and sore during the first run-through today... Particularly one note towards the climax, when there's a nice wide shot of the stage with the see-through screen bathed in pink on the right, ojojoj...

The singing isn't necessarily a big problem throughout though, as it's quite a heartfelt and "raw" song too, so I can live with some fuckups. But the whole act feels very busy and random for no good reason at all, with Roxen being lifted and twirled and carried and at one point literally dragged along the floor (which for the first run-through created an audible clonk-clonk-clonk-clonk, but that was sadly gone for the next!). It's probably meant to represent inner struggles or something, and with some added tweaks and less baggy clothes, maybe it'd all come together as a touching interpretive dance.

Now it doesn't.

What I assumed would be Azerbaijan's first go turned out to be Roxen's third, and she's sounding better each time, slowly but steadily. Maybe if they postpone the contest to July...? Not sure if I'm just getting used to her bad notes, or are they sounding bad in a better way - the big ones at the end (that's what she said?) now kinda sounded both awful and great at the same time. Hmmmm.

🇮🇱 | Israel

Eden's done her hair to pretty much look like Senhit's, uh, thing from the other day, and she's in a white outfit adorned with what looks like more of her hair, and her boys in t-shirts to match. It all looks pretty cool and fresh, it feels a bit "younger" than most of the other entries somehow.

They're dancing about, making full use of the different bits of stage, and she's charismatic and sings it well - but she skips/cheats on some of the record-breaking screeching towards the end. Apart from that I'd say the Israelis have every reason to be pleased with this rehearsal and what they're making of the song. It's just a shame the song is still made up of about fourteen different bits that don't really go together or transition in any sensible way.

Second run through and no cheating on the screeches! Actually quite liked them now, as they were accompanied with some fun facial expressions - a nice mix of "oo, look what I can do!" and "wth, where did that come from?!". I only now noticed they rip her dress off to reveal a new one towards the end, but I really wish they didn't. It basically just looks like they used some braids of her hair and twirl about on her body in some places, and it's not very nice at all. Plus it makes me think of Atlantis 2000, so probably just as well I didn't get Benny for lunch as he'd probs come back up.

🇧🇪 | Belgium

I'm no fan of this as I find the song quite dull and the artists quite pretentious, so this rehearsal review should probably be fed through some sort of positivity filter, but since mine is at the drycleaners, you'll just have to add your own.

Positives first though: She sings excellently, and it all feels very 'proper' and professional, which already makes it stand out a bit. The set up is quite standard, with her in the middle and the musicians on separate little (look away, Yair) velvet stages around her. Everyone dressed in black and the stage is in black too, apart from some huge nostrils on the backdrop. Possibly looks a little dull, but it fits well with the song.

But what's with Geike's constant sideways face?? It feels like she always thinks the camera is a bit to the side of where it is, so ends up having to turn towards it in a weird way. Or does she have a good side and a bad side, and is terrified of showing the bad one (which presumably is 'the front', judging by the angles?). And while I get that the song is serious, so a big smile would be a bit freaky, she comes across more grumpy or fake-moody than actually properly into the song, and sometimes o-v-e-r-p-r-o-n-o-u-n-c-e-s some words. But maybe its deliberate to draw attention from the nostrils in the back to her mouth instead.

To summarise: It's black. It's probably qualifying. Someone will probably be happy about that.

🥪 Lunch break, I tried to see if Benny Cristo was available on Foodora, but sadly not, so had to settle for some pigeon bread à la Jordy 🥪

Day 5 | Second Rehearsals | First Semi-Final | 🇲🇰 🇮🇪 🇨🇾 🇳🇴 🇭🇷

This will be a rolling blog, each country in running order, so please refresh to update.

Through some kind of futuristic miracle, I'm able to follow rehearsals from my very own colourful home, and I will attempt to take you through the second run-through of the rest of Semi-Final 1, except Malta, as I refuse to cover boot-malfunctions. After learning what Jordy made out of the first rehearsals, and Yair's fresh eyes on the first segment of second rehearsals, let's see what my (fresh?) fish eyes will make of the rest of today's bunch.

🇭🇷 | Croatia

Albania Albina starts off by pretending to fire off some coloured (pink and blue, of course) light lines around her, similar to Samra's flames in 2016, but sadly (or probably luckily, for Albina's sake), Croatia isn't quite Azerbaijan when it comes to rehearsing these things for months to get it exactly right, so the lines appear on the background a bit below or above her hand or half a second too early or too late. So it doesn't look quite as cool as they probably hoped.

Which generally is how I'd describe this entire entry and performance, really. There's not much wrong with it per se, but when none of the ingredients are quite up to standard, we're just gonna end up with an average cake (or is it a traditional Rachel trifle with peas?), aren't we? The song isn't quite there, the colours are used by several others, the background graphics are a bit non-descript, the dancers have too much clothes, and there's no teddy bears.

The main selling point is Albina herself, but I can't see her saving this singlehandedly. I tried to come up with a comparison for this package, and the best I could come up with was Jestem - that's not great news, is it...

🇳🇴 | Norway

Patriotic hat (or headband, rather) on? Nah, I've been quite ambivalent to this entry all season, really, and nothing in this rehearsal changes that. We also all know what we're getting, since this is the exact same performance as in MGP.

He managed to tell the story behind the act and entry well in the very good music video (alternatively, thought of a nice story afterwards, that he could clonk onto to the act and entry...), but hardly anyone watching will have any clue of that of course, so this will just be a nice ballad with lots of nice keychanges, performed, for no good reason at all, by some guy dressed like a pimp and hiding behind sunglasses. I expect juries to be put off by the unfitting act, or by the nice, but extremely basic, tune (it's essentially a dansband song in that respect, isn't it?), so it's all in the hands of the televoters - will those that find the wings and stuff so Eurovision! add up with those that like the song, or will the mismatch put everyone off?

Vocally I'd say it's perfectly adequate (which may or may not be thanks to some hidden help, no clue), and visually it also works decently - the highlight for me is for the big NOOOOO in the last chorus, when the colour scheme goes from cold, dark and blue to a warmer gold with some added clouds, creating some needed development. I'd say it's a qualifier, but by no means a certain one!

🇨🇾 | Cyprus

I was a bit worried they'd over-egg this, like I felt they did with Tamta two years ago, but I'd say they've kept it relatively simple, and yet with some nice touches. I particularly like the way the dancers, red from head to toe, are mirrored on the backdrop - it somehow makes you slightly doubt if they are real, or if the ones in the mirror are real, or if any of them are real, or if none of them are real. Is Elena real? Am I real?!

One thing I think the performance is missing, is a little visual variation (particularly for the POW as the chorus kicks in!), as it pretty much looks exactly the same throughout - except when Elena decides she's some kind of bug and goes all bendy and backwards on us. When she's the right way, however, she's surprisinlgy likeable and personable, at least compared to how I expected her to be from the video, and she sounds decent too.

Oh lo and behold, just as I was asking for variation, have they introduced a key change for the last chorus? It sounds a little higher and different at least - I approve!

🇮🇪 | Ireland

I've been quite interested to see this, as the descriptions from the first rehearsal sounded potentially interesting if they get it right, plus I've liked the song a lot all along. The whole "set-up" is there for the first half of the song, with various paper "scenes" right in front of the cameras so she's walking around in a supposed paper landscape and every now and then interacting with it in various ways - picking up a piece of paper from right by the camera, extending a hand towards us (and someone else's coming towards hers?!). It looks quite cute, and certainly different from the rest, but I'm not sure she's comfortable enough with it all to make it work - she seems a little stressed, and the singing is... hmm. It's not really bad, but just a bit shouty here and there, disturbing the flow of the song a bit.

For the second half she "escapes" all the scenery, and walks out to the satellite stage, with the backdrop suddenly bathing in warm orange as if she's in Lion King, while the entire set-up is still very visible around and behind her. I can understand the choice of showing it all, but it makes it look a bit messy. Her singing and general appearance is much better in the second half, which makes sense as she's probably far more relaxed and at ease.

The main verdict I'm left with is why?

🇲🇰 | North Macedonia

Starts off in darkness with just Vasil's face and some little, growing light shining from his chest - it almost feels like one of those special powers you'd see in a 90s timetravel TV show for tweens. His special power keeps growing (cue Michael Scott) until it explodes, and eventually he reveals his Dotter-like shirt. Did they miss that bit where they're meant to project lights at the Dotter-shirt to make it all reflecty, though...? He seems to mainly just stand there with a proud "Look what I can do!"-attitude, but then isn't doing... anything.

The song is obviously an overblown piece of nothingness, but considering North Macedonia's staging history (or HANG ON, North Macedonia actually got it right 100 % of times, is it FYR Macedonia that's been the problem?!), I'd say this is actually about as good as could be expected for it. The colour scheme (just darkness with orange) makes it a bit different from all the pink and purple, and he's not acting quite as ridiculously over the top as he did in the video. I'd throw in five visible backing singers in a corner to make it feel a bit more proper though.

Question: What is that word he's singing in one of the first few lines?? Crack? GREK? Craic...? Is Ireland his favourite...?

Day 5 | Second Rehearsals | First Semi-Final | 🇱🇹 🇸🇮 🇷🇺 🇸🇪 🇦🇺

This will be a rolling blog, each country in running order, so please refresh to update.

Good morning from the remote press centre! While Jordy is on a photography mission, the rest of the team will fill in with what's happening on screen. So here they are with some fresh eyes.

🇦🇺 | Australia

I guess we won't be seeing anything today, not before the first dress rehearsal (and possibly not even then?). Sild will take over for the next few rehearsals.

🇸🇪 | Sweden

If symmetry is your thing, this is the staging for you. Everyone is positioned in a straight line, and the backdrop is a very centred vertical centre line in the centre. If you took half of the screen and mirrored it onto the other, it would look just the same (except that Tusse would be holding two microphones).

This is really quite effective, especially after the overly busy first three stagings - and while Tusse is far from great vocally, he does have the personality to make up for it. I didn't like it in MF, partly due to a disturbingly horrifying velvet suit - but they took care of that, his new suit looks much better on screen (and even gets a close-up to show us the shiny bits). Thumbs up.

I had to look twice to see if the projected extra backing singers in the last chorus aren't actually there behind the real ones. And I'm still not quite sure, but leaning towards not real. That's how good the backscreen is.

🇷🇺 | Russia

This is a very very busy staging - everywhere you look, there's a highly detailed dress or something happening on the screen - a message, a sophisticated old Russian-style animation, or a modern Russian woman (I think I even spotted a transitioning woman, very cool). My favourite is the horses, think of some kind of animated version of this:

The best thing about this is Manizha herself and her facial expressions, although I can't help thinking it's sometimes a bit overdone and gives me Laka vibes. No, something is different in the last runthrough (other than the flame Pyro during the 'prayer' part) - this is super energetic and I'm loving it

🇸🇮 | Slovenia

To be honest, it was kind of hard to pay attention to Ana (despite the screaming) with all that's going on in the background - a dramatic space film (scary galaxy zooming into Earth) which turns into a National Geographic feature with various climatic landscapes. The one part that did connect with the song was in the explosive bit of the last chorus, with a supernova going right under Ana's feet.

We already know she can belt out, even so early in the day (which: well done), it's always been a question of how many juries are actually into this voice and song. Personally I cringed at the 'sing it!' to the non-present choir.

🇱🇹 | Lithuania

I can see why the producers put this on first, this is a very clever way to reveal the stage, which fully shows itself in the chorus. The routine is mostly familiar, although I think they've added a penguin-style jumping towards the end... was it there before?

Vaidotas is as charismatic as ever, at first pretending that he's confused by where he is and looking for the cameras, later "gaining" confidence. Holding back vocally in the first runthrough but singing just fine in the second, I guess they know that this could be their backup performance? 

The LED floor looks like a still image of the background, something like this:

Overall a solid entry, but (perhaps ironically) really feels like it will need an audience roar to stand out.