BENDY POLES, PORTUGUESE DEATH DROPS AND NOT-SO-PERFECT STORMS | My take on Tel Aviv’s first semi-final

 

Just like that, Eurovision 2019’s semi final numero uno is done and dusted and we have our first ten finalists for the year. As always, the show came and went faster than I thought possible, which wasn’t the worst thing since I was keen to get back to bed after a late night and the unfortunate 3am wake-up. The things we do for Eurovision when the time zone isn’t in our favour…

Anyway, I’m guessing you didn’t drop by to hear me complain about something that I actually don’t mind doing because EUROVISION. So instead, I’ll dive straight in to reviewing the semi from start to finish. Splash!

 

First, a few asides about the less attention-grabbing stuff that happened:

Show pros The opening vignette feat. mini Netta (cute) and the Toy reprise from grown-up Netta that followed; the dancetastic postcards (Georgia’s may have been my fave); the overall look of the stage and the lushness of the LEDs. 

Show NOs The hosts (there’s no Anke/Filomena type among the four) and their banter (pretty cringey); some residual dodgy camerawork; a couple of qualifiers I’ll name and shame later.

If only they sounded as good as they looked.

 

Now, let’s talk about the all-important bits and pieces: the performances and the results!

 

 

The performances: From not-so-good to great

I was going to run through the 17 in performance order, but then I thought ‘Why not offend as many people as possible by dragging their favourites and complimenting their most disliked entries excessively?’. Just kidding. But this is my personal scale of SF1 acts from ‘fail’ to ‘nailed it’.

Montenegro Poor D mol. They did what they could with Heaven, and if I was reviewing a high school talent comp or an episode of Glee, they’d rank higher. But it’s the biggest song contest on the planet we’re talking about, and this performance was not up to par. Questionable costumes, messy vocal moments and a song that could have been rejected by S Club 7 circa 2001 = not what it takes to make a Eurovision finalist.

Finland Icon status alone also isn’t enough to guarantee qualification, as Darude discovered last night. Look Away wasn’t statement enough to stand out in a field of 17, even though the superstar DJ and Sebastian managed to deliver a three minutes much, much better than those we saw at UMK. Finland just wasn’t meant to make it to Saturday night this year. Blame it on Sebastian’s mind-boggling jeans if it makes you feel better, Darude.

San Marino I’m going to do exactly what Serhat’s been telling me and say na na na to this massive slice of cheese. With I Didn’t Know being the Creepiest Song Ever™, it was no mean feat for him to outdo the ick factor from 2016 – but he did it. This performance was a step up from San Marino’s last year, but the whole thing gave off ‘desperate wedding singer hired out of guilt because he’s related to the bride and really needs the work’ vibes.

Belgium Eliot is a precious cinnamon roll and gave Wake Up an admirable go for someone so young and relatively inexperienced. He was just missing the very fight that he was singing about. Maybe it was nerves, not that he was visibly vibrating with the shakes á la Alekseev or anything. Another handicap was the song itself, which as we all know never really takes off. It couldn’t keep my attention away from Twitter and on my TV screen, I’m afraid.

Estonia I wanted this to be the same combo of charming and slick that saw Storm…well, storm to victory in Eesti Laul (thanks to the televote). But it was very rough around the edges – not quite a hot mess, but edging into that territory. The camera loves Victor and so do I, but he was barely hitting his high notes, something he acknowledged after the show. The green-screen weather is still one heck of an eye-catching gimmick though. Better luck on Saturday.

Georgia I’d heard there was some fierce staging afoot for Georgia, and I was not disappointed. The backdrops added a heap of intensity and atmosphere to the song, and I must say that Oto’s outfit was a huge upgrade from the hand-me-down disaster he was sporting on Georgian Idol. He sang well and connected with the camera like a pro, but as I suspected, what happened on stage wasn’t enough to make Keep On Going top 10 material.

Cyprus Was Tamta’s Replay a solid opener for the semi? Kind of. I was underwhelmed by Cyprus in general, with Tamta putting on a performance worthy of that time Mariah Carey could barely be arsed to get through one televised song and put about 37% enthusiasm into it. Also, the wet-hair-don’t-care/beyond thigh-high boots/crystallised leotard look was all kinds of wrong from where I was sitting. Maybe not Barbara Dex bad, but in that neighbourhood. The song itself saved this.

Slovenia I was worried about how Zala and Gašper’s closed-off intimacy would work on a much bigger stage than that of EMA. Truth be told, I didn’t think it did. The galactical backdrop was beautiful though, and I love Sebi so unconditionally that I’m willing to convince myself that the lack of down-camera connection was different rather than dysfunctional for Eurovision. The highlight has to be Zala’s vocals, which were as hypnotic and otherworldly as ever last night.

Poland Here’s a classic case of a song I’m not a fan of impressing me when performed live. All my traumatic memories of Lukas Meijer’s 2018 vocal car crash faded away, as Tulia treated us to a studio-perfect rendition of Pali Şie feat. a striking twist on traditional Polish costumes. They weren’t the most engaging artists and their singing style would have turned people off no doubt, but they were aurally flawless and my ears will be eternally thankful.

Hungary I’M NOT GOING TO CRY, I’M NOT GOING TO CRY, I’M NOT GOING TO CRY. I won’t mention why I’m holding back tears yet, like you don’t know. Wonderful, wonderful Joci gave me everything I wanted from Az Én Apám, sinister floating man-faces and misplaced fire curtain aside. This song hits me right in the heart and with Joci’s signature performance style (emotional, authentic and quietly powerful) that was always going to be the way when I saw it in this semi.

Belarus Cyprus better be grateful that Belarus drew a different final half, because ZENA – at age sixteen – somehow managed to out-Tamta Tamta. Her vocals were so-so at times, but when the staging is so fun, the choreography is killer and the performer’s personality is bigger than us (heh) who really cares? Not me. I enjoyed everything about this, and hoped it might have done enough to qualify once ZENA had done her Spice Girl kick at the end. Spoiler alert: it did!

Greece This was not the perfect package I was praying for, but I may just be feeling extra critical today after the semi did not turn out how I’d hoped. Thumbs down to the condom-shaped prop and overly-busy staging; thumbs up to the feminine florals and colour palette, and of course to Katerine’s drop-dead gorgeous vocals. Was this the semi winner? Not quite, IMO. But Greece put the kind of effort into Better Love’s presentation that they should have put into Oniro Mou.

Serbia Speaking of gorgeous vocals…Nevena unsurprisingly nailed every single one of Kruna’s notes, big, small and in-between. Her voice is amazing, she is stunning and the whirlpool graphics gave the performance more life and emphasised how high-def this year’s LED screens are (unless they just seem to be super high-quality in the wake of no LEDs in Lisbon). Our girl has sure come a long way, especially in the fashion department, since 2013.

Iceland If you were able to push through the feeling of having all your senses assaulted by Hatari, then you would have loved this as much as I did. It was the national final performance tweaked and refined, with better vocals from Matthias and Klemens, and that was all these guys needed to bring to Tel Aviv. I couldn’t help laughing at the contrast between Iceland in last year’s first semi and Iceland this time around. This is proof that it pays to be adventurous (unless you’re Portugal).

Czech Republic It was party time from the second Lake Malawi’s Albert said ‘Can you hear it?’ and flashed his exceedingly pearly whites right at me. That’s what it felt like, anyway. I have no complaints about this fun, colourful (in a Belgian sort of way) and confident performance. Great camera effects and crystal-clear money notes too. This was like a rejuvenating vitamin B shot, which we all needed after sitting through a block of anti-party songs.

Portugal Before I even talk about last night’s results, I feel compelled to say that PORTUGAL WAS ROBBED. I could have watched Conan and his death-dropping sidekick do their thing all evening, and I really felt like it was on the right side of weird – the lack of cutlery glued to Conan’s face probably helped. Excellent colour scheme, lighting and vocals and an overall feeling of artiness that wasn’t too arty…WTF went wrong? This was dope!

Australia Yes, my favourite performance of the night was from my own country. Bloody oath, mate. You can call it bias, but Kate had me feeling prouder than I’ve ever felt before – and very nervous – as she swung to and fro five metres in the air, living out the ultimate fairy princess fantasy while delivering on-point operatic vocals. Zero Gravity has undergone a glow-up and a half since Australia Decides, and it’s now in contention for a great result this weekend *happy-cries in Australian*.

 

 

That was all of the performances, which as I said flew by in what felt like five minutes. I have a few awards to hand out to the star performers and standout visuals of the night:

Best vocals Poland

Best staging Australia

Best costume Australia

Best personality Belarus

Best overall performance Australia

Sorry/not sorry for the Aussie overload. What can I say? I’m feeling phenomenally patriotic. Let me know which performances were your personal favourites (and least favourites…go on, spill some tea!) in the comments.

 

 

The results: A lot of predictability plus a few surprises

After the recaps, previews of Israel, Spain and France, more awkward host banter and an inexplicable Bruno Mars cover by Dana International (I would pay to NOT have to hear that again), it was time for us to get some answers. Just who would make it out of this less competitive but still curiously unpredictable semi? In announcement order – which is totally random and not at all engineered to make us sweat – it was Greece, Belarus, Serbia, Cyprus, Estonia, the Czech Republic, Australia, Iceland, San Marino and Slovenia. Belgium, Finland, Georgia, Hungary, Montenegro, Poland and Portugal were sent packing.

Let’s get the bad news out of the way first: no Hungary, and no Portugal. Those were the two eventual DNQ countries that I’d been desperate to see in the final, Hungary in particular. I can understand why Joci’s performance might have been too uneventful for some, but the fact that he’s Hungary’s only non-qualifier since 2009 – after giving them such a great result in 2017 – breaks my  heart. I adore him, and Az Én Apám will be sorely missed by me on Saturday night. Portugal, on the other hand, proved too bizarre to make the cut and that makes me mad. Especially when San Marino managed to qualify, which has none of Portugal’s creativity, originality and artistic merit. I try to take the results as they come, but that is a hard pill to swallow.

On the plus side, Australia and the Czech Republic went through – and I’m thinking we may have won this semi. It’s got to be between Kate and Hatari, with Katerine hovering on the edge. Estonia’s qualification had me sighing with relief, and I’m hoping Victor can brush up his vocals for the final and prove he belongs there (it’s all very Isaiah at this point). Belarus and Slovenia were my happy shocks of the night, though ZENA’s reaction was the kind I like to see. Zala and Gašper looked like they’d been given a voucher for a free Subway sandwich or something, not a ticket to the final of the world’s most-watched song contest.

In terms of my predictions – which you’ll be able to find all week on my Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @EurovisionByJaz – I managed to embarrass myself yet again by predicting 7/10 before the show…and 6/10 after I’d seen the performances. Here’s hoping I can redeem myself when it comes to SF2. How did you do?

 

 

That’s a wrap on my semi final one review, guys. If there’s anything you want to say about what went down last night, slide into my DMs comment box and get it off your chest. Were you happy with the results? What were your personal highs and lows? Do you think we saw the 2019 winner in this semi? Like John Lundvik, I wanna know.

I’ll see you on the other side of the second semi, for another post-show discussion. In the meantime, enjoy your Eurovision week as it continues, and as we get one step closer to crowning our next contest champion!

 

 

 

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