Well, Eurovision week has flown by faster than Belgium’s betting ranking dropped after the first round of rehearsals (fortunately for Blanche, they’ve crept up again). The countdown to the grand final is on, and at the last minute, Kyiv 2017 has become a bit less ‘Where in Italy are we going next year?’ and a bit more ‘Where else could we be going next year?’. But more on that later.
First, I’m going to take a quick look back at the semi finals. They may not have lived up to Stockholm’s in terms of slick production, interval entertainment value and host awesomeness (Petra, Måns, and Edward af Sillen’s genius scripting skills left three sizeable pairs of shoes to fill) but they definitely delivered on great performances from 36 countries on a sensational stage, and on qualifier shocks.
Semi Final 1: Treadmills, twirling braids and bye bye Blackbird
The best of Ukraine was on show on Tuesday night, with rapper Monatik kicking things off; Verka Serduchka playing a part (I’m always happy to see the namesake of my car, Vercar Serduchcar); and reigning champ and all-around goddess Jamala nailing performances of 1944 and Zamanyly. That was all on either side of/in-between the 18 acts competing for the first ten final tickets, of course.
This was the weaker semi final as far as my personal favourites were concerned – and I do think there were more disposable songs on offer, which made parting with them less painful. That was before I knew what was to come when our non-green-room hosts Vova (I may have misheard that nickname for the majority of the show) and Oleksandr announced the qualifiers. But before I have a good old groan of ‘WHY, GOD, WHY?!?!?’ about that, here are my top 5 performance highlights of the night.
- Sweden Yeah, like you didn’t know this was coming. As a Swedeophile who saw Robin win Melodifestivalen in the flesh, I was never going to be anything less than psyched to see him at Eurovision. I Can’t Go On was a great show opener, and Mr. Bengtsson made all the right moves. We expect perfectly polished performances from Sverige, and that’s what we got.
- Finland Norma John are another act that made barely noticeable changes to their national final performance for ESC purposes. They didn’t need to overhaul Blackbird’s presentation, because it already had all the power it needed to be stunningly heartbreaking. At least, that’s what I thought.
- Moldova I’d single out the Sunstroke Project as my absolute evening highlight. Everything about Hey Mamma on the Eurovision stage was on point – energetic, irresistible and fun without being tacky, AND it had a costume reveal. I danced my butt off to this one, and burned a lot of calories in the process. Thanks, Moldova!
- Cyprus Theft of Loïc Nottet’s backdrop aside, Cyprus made a massively positive impression on me, which is just what I was hoping for as a Gravity Kudos to Hovig for finding the point of balance (pun totally intended) between singing in tune and working one’s way through complicated choreography. You can’t say the man’s not multitalented.
- Armenia The most impressive thing about this was Artsvik’s hair, which had obviously been braided by angels who then moved along to work their magic on O’G3NE’s vocal chords. That’s a compliment, because her costume, vocals and staging were all excellent. The whole package did justice to what’s one of the most unique songs in the 2017 contest.
Other performances to note include Georgia’s – Tamara blew me away even though I’m not a big fan of Keep The Faith ; Montenegro’s, during which Slavko’s sass level was off the charts, but his spinning braid stole the show; and Iceland’s, because Svala wore Baby Spice platform sneakers and actually looked good (something I aspired to back in 1998). Sadly, none of these three countries made the cut when it came to qualifier crunch time. So who did? And more importantly, how accurate were my pre-show predictions?*
*If I’m honest with myself, I know you probably don’t care how right I was…but I do, so let me be narcissistic for a second.
I pulled Poland out of my predicted ten at the last second, but in favour of Cyprus. Finland was already on my list as a certain qualifier, so it’s safe to say that I didn’t see their DNQ – Finland’s third in a row – coming. And when I watched Norma John’s performance again, looking for reasons as to why they didn’t make it, I couldn’t see any (partly because I was weeping over the emotional lyrics and my vision was blurred). This fail to advance will go down in history as one I will NEVER be able to figure out. I figure Finland must have finished 11th or 12th, which we’ll find out soon after the final, but even that doesn’t make sense to me. So if you have the answer, I’m begging you to tell me what it is so I can get some closure!
Finland excepted, I was happy with the results of this semi. Australia managed to make it through (possibly by the skin of our teeth) which was obviously a huge relief, and it gave me the warm fuzzies to see Moldova (who last made it to the final in 2013) and Portugal (they haven’t seen a Saturday night since 2010!) qualify.
How much pleasure, and how much pain – if any – did the semi final one blood puddle (it wasn’t a full-on bloodbath, after all) give you? How did your predictions pan out? Let me know in the comments.
Semi Final 2: A pregnancy, a marriage proposal and another early exit for Estonia
Three things happened during Thursday’s second semi final that I hadn’t expected, and none of them had anything to do with the eventual qualifiers. The first was that Vova and Oleks actually attempted to live up to Love Love Peace Peace, which was a bad idea (though I appreciate the effort and the Ukrainian feel their musical number brought to the proceedings). The second – and third – were the two Major Life Event Checklist boxes that Jana Burčeska managed to tick off in one night (as I sat on my couch in a very glamorous pair of pajamas with only a farting dog for company). As you know, she revealed her pregnancy via her video postcard, only to be proposed to about an hour later by her boyfriend in the green room. It’s lucky Macedonia DIDN’T qualify, because she might have exploded with happiness (and that’d be a lot harder to clean up than the confetti that’s apparently banned from this year’s show).
Jana’s performance didn’t do much for me, but there were plenty that did. Here are five of my second semi highlights:
- Hungary Origo is my favourite entry of the year, and Joci did everything I was hoping for on a stage much bigger than he had to work with at A Dal. Nerves didn’t affect him, the fire jets added more visual interest and the use of the satellite stage for the violinist worked like a dream. FLAWLESS.
- Denmark Umm, speaking of flawless…after Joci came blonde bombshell Anja, who may have done exactly what she did in DMGP (down to wearing the same red dress, which was a welcome change from the clown swimsuit she wore during rehearsals) but nailed every second of it. I love Where I Am too, a lot of that has to do with Anja’s powerful delivery.
- Croatia Yes, this was a personal highlight! I couldn’t help being amazed at Jacques’ ability to sing a solo duet live with ease, but the comic relief of his performance is what made it stock in my memory. The half-and-half costume, those turns from “pop” camera to “opera” camera…it was exactly what I was hoping to see (and laugh at continuously for three minutes).
- Norway This was very similar to what won JOWST the right to represent Norway, but it was SO much slicker. And after a success slump with Agnete in 2016, it was fantastic to see Norway present such a cohesive and current package. I also really like Aleksander’s hat, so that helped.
- Bulgaria Even though I’ve seen countless Junior Eurovision performers take to the stage with confidence and talent beyond their years, there’s something compelling about Kristian Kostov, who’s a little older but still the youngest artist in the adult contest this year. His voice is amazing, and his stage persona is ‘cool as a cucumber’, and packed with genuine (or well-faked) feeling.
This semi served up far more than five epic performances, and others I’d say fall into that category include Austria’s, because it was beautiful and adorable in equal measure; The Netherlands’, what with O’G3NE’s incredible sisterly harmonies; and San Marino’s. Yes, I said San Marino’s. What can I say? Valentina and Jimmie were having so much fun on stage, they almost made Spirit of the Night seem tolerable. It wasn’t a night of good spirits in the end, though, since they didn’t progress from the semi. Here’s who did (like you didn’t already know) compared to who I thought would go through.
Yet again, I had Norway in only to drop them out at the last minute, replacing them with Croatia. As I said, I’m super glad JOWST did qualify, but I feel super sorry for Estonia, who couldn’t shake off the Shock DNQ Syndrome they developed last year. But this time, I found it easier to figure out what went wrong. Verona didn’t work live in the way they’d opted to present it, and the dynamic between Laura and Koit was…well, weird. Koit’s über-dramatic facial expressions were up there with Croatia’s entire performance in the hilarity stakes, and have now become a meme, so that’s something.
I have to admit, although I do love Verona as a song, I didn’t bat an eyelid when it didn’t qualify because I was too busy doing a celebratory dance over Austria, Bulgaria, Denmark and Hungary.
Did any of the second semi’s winners get you on your feet (with excitement or shock value)?
And final-ly…some grand final opinions and predictions
The 2017 final has turned out to be a banger, musically-speaking. There are strings of songs in the running order that’ll barely give us time to take a breath.
Israel will be an ovary-bursting opener – so much so that we might still be fanning ourselves when Poland (in the dreaded second slot) takes their turn. Moldova through Denmark is a worrying stretch for me, since it involves three of my favourite entries mixed in with the two bookies’ favourites. Belgium-Sweden-Bulgaria is an interesting run too. France isn’t as strong a closer as we’ve gotten accustomed to: from what I’ve seen and heard, Alma’s too small on the big stage, and her voice has its wobbly moments.
I’m not going to analyse the running order, because plenty of other sites have already done it with way more finesse than I would, but let’s just say it’s raised some questions, and made the competition a little less predictable.
The biggest question is one I’ll have a go at answering…
Who’s going to win?
I’ve been back and forth on this one. A month ago, I had a gut feeling that Italy was going to finish second. Then I gave in and decided Francesco had it in the bag. Now I’m totally confused and unsure what to expect when the votes come in feat. dramatic music and the kind of tension that brings on heart palpitations (if it’s anything like the Stockholm voting sequence, which nearly killed me).
Realistically, we could be looking at a Fairytale-type landslide for Italy. But the real fairytale ending would be a Portuguese win. If they can do it, it will be their first in 49 attempts (48 if you don’t count 2006’s Coisas De Nada as an attempt to win Eurovision, which TBH you probably shouldn’t).
In doubt about Salvador’s classic song and quirky performance style combining to produce a scoreboard topper? Well, in a last-minute shocker, he’s loosened Francesco Gabbani’s unwavering grip on the odds-on favourite title to become the current favourite to win – and his performance from Tuesday’s semi final has been viewed 1.5 million times, making nearest rival Blanche’s 980k view count look pretty paltry by comparison.
It’s clear Portugal has captured a lot of imaginations (and votes…DUH!) and as someone who didn’t totally get the hype until I suddenly found myself reaching for the tissues during Salvador’s semi performance, I can say that it’s not too late for the country to charm even more people with voting power.
Bulgaria has to be noted as a contender, but I don’t see Beautiful Mess as winning material. Top 3 or top 5, yes.
To throw in a few random, much less likely potential winners – how hilarious would you find it if I named the United Kingdom and Romania? Lucie Jones’ staging is literally gold standard, and she’s scored herself a great performance spot. I still think people are getting a little over-excited, and that a lower top 10 placing is more likely for the UK, but stranger things have happened. Romania would be the perfect package if they actually had something coming out of their cannons. You never know, though…the slogan of next year’s contest could be ‘Yodel It!’. Alex and Ilinca would need one hell of a televote score to make that a possibility, though.
When it comes to the crunch – meaning I’m about to stop fence-sitting – I still think Italy will win, but not by a massive margin. And if Eurovision doesn’t travel to Milan in 2018, then it’ll probably head to Lisbon. I’d be totally fine with that, having spent a half hour this morning Googling photos of the Portuguese capital and swooning at the sheer beauty of it.
But does Salvadorable outshine namaste, alé?
Predicting the top 10, and the bottom 5 😦
Without further ado, this is my best guess at the top 10 – a.k.a. the most sought-after bunch of positions. But I really have no idea what’s going to happen. What else is new?
- The Netherlands
- United Kingdom
Now let’s head down to the opposite end of the scoreboard. This is my predicted bottom 5:
- Ukraine (sorry!)
Seriously, though…douze points, fifty million dollars and a muffin basket for anyone who can nail either end of the scoreboard down before the final begins.
Speaking of which, the hours before said final are now in single digits, so I’m going to sign off and try to get a power nap in so I don’t fall asleep during the show (thank god Malta didn’t qualify, or I’d definitely be having a snooze). Whether you’re prepping for a fabulous Eurovision party or getting ready to go it alone tonight, I hope you enjoy what’s left of this year’s contest. Join me on Twitter @EurovisionByJaz if you want (which you totally should) – and if you don’t, then I’ll see you on the other side when we have the next 1944.
May the best song (according to the majority of televoters and/or jury members, obviously) win!