Friday, May 17, 2019

Eurovision 2019, Final: Ascension


The final is upon us, and I'd like to invite people to consider the religious and spiritual aspects of this year's main contenders the Netherlands, Australia and Sweden (the top 3 in the market at the time of writing) – as well as Azerbaijan, Norway and Iceland for good measure. Each Eurovision performance is a three-minute theatre piece, and many recent winners and podium finishers have featured overtly sacral elements – religious associations, moments of birth and rebirth, transitions from darkness to light, and visuals that show the performer manifesting or displaying powers of mastery over natural elements. Given that even Netta last year began her song at a pulpit, vocally dismissing other "preachers", this continues to be a useful framework for parsing the feelings and associations that Eurovision performances evoke in us.

SWEDEN
With its gospel singers bathed in gold lighting, John Lundvik's performance strongly evokes a church setting – specifically an African-American Christian church. To what extent will this resonate with televoters and juries across the different cultural areas of Europe?

NORWAY
Keiino's performance is animistic and shamanistic, and each performer is represented by an animal spirit – as seen in the music video, the promotional artwork, and the LED backdrop at the end of the song. In Sami culture, joiks are meant to reflect or evoke a person, animal, or place, and can be deeply personal and spiritual in nature; historically, they were also used in rites, and formed part of the Sami's indigenous nature religion which largely died out in the 17th century. This is a song about communion with spirits of nature. The main moment of transition and incarnation is Fred's joik in the middle-eight, which calls the three performers together for the final chorus and invokes the animal spirits that appear behind them.

ICELAND
A depiction of a debauched hellscape, with (unlike Lordi) very little visible trace of humour or fun present in the performance. Across Europe's different cultural areas, will viewers feel transported by the performance, how will it make them feel, and will they enjoy or welcome it in their homes in the context of a Saturday night family-friendly entertainment spectacle?

NETHERLANDS
A ball of light representing the spirit of the person Duncan is singing about descends from the heavens to meet him, and he looks at it and sings "I don't need your game, game over / Get me off this rollercoaster". The ball ascends again and Duncan throws his arms back from the piano and sings the final chorus repeat.

Does Duncan summon the ball then send it back up, or does it descend and ascend of its own accord? My feeling is that the spirit descends of its own volition, then ascends again once he rejects it. What is the takeaway emotion here? Does Duncan truly transition into light and stop playing the losing game? Do we have a strong sense by the end of the performance that he has let go and moved on, and thereby been reborn – or not?

AZERBAIJAN
A sacred heart pulsates, Chingiz switches to a spiritual Turkic singing style similar to Jamala's in the climax of 1944, and he gathers light unto him and ascends heavenwards, arms astretched. His ascended spirit immediately dissipates, and we see that corporeal Chingiz remains where he was before, upon which he sings the final chorus repeat.

AUSTRALIA
Our princess is floating in the heavens, dressed in angelic white, complete with halo-esque crown. The performers floating behind her, in dark ghoul-like garb reminiscent of Harry Potter's Dementors, represent her depression, as has been explicitly stated. At the moment of transition, Kate transcends Earth's gravity and learns to fly freely through the colourful, star-filled celestial realm while joyfully singing "Nothing's holding me down" and beaming with relief and freedom. This transition isn't something that just happens to Kate, it's something she achieves herself – her vocal climax gradually builds in strength until she breaks herself free.

As I wrote in 2017: "In a high-tech, secular but socially atomised era where people don’t know their neighbours, screens are our tools of community, and celebrities and superheroes are our folk gods. TVs are our church, Eurovision is the pulpit, and the more cinematic and issue-attuned the contest becomes, the more I think Eurovision performances need to have a sacral quality – in the combined effect of staging, performer and song – to hit the very highest reaches of the scoreboard by giving viewers something approximating a religious experience and meaningful sense of communion. Even if you dispute this, I think we can agree that staging and connection are everything: if you don’t get those right, you can have one of the best songs in the contest and still come last (just ask Jamie-Lee)."

Enjoy the show! If you're betting, all the best.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Eurovision 2019, Semifinal 2: Run With The Twixes


Over the rehearsal period, my thoughts on SF2 didn't change as much as they did for SF1. Here they are.

ARMENIA

Classy, competent, professional, and appropriately staged. I think this could be a jury magnet, but while I'm calling it as a qualifier, the televote is more in doubt than I initially realised – Armenia is without key diaspora countries France and Belgium in this semi, and also lacks usual allies Georgia, Ukraine, Greece and Bulgaria. Being drawn together with Azerbaijan (who always give Armenia 0 points, and vice versa) disadvantages it further, leaving it reliant on just the Netherlands and Russia for built-in televote support. It deserves to qualify and is an excellent show-opener, so let's home she smashes the performance and enough people who couldn't point to Armenia on a map are motivated to vote for it – because that's what it will be relying on. The fact it's the most polished number of the first seven should help it quite a bit.


IRELAND

22 ambles along aimiably enough, but the performance isn't great and the staging feels garish, messy and irrelevant. Staying in the semifinal – this is amateur hour. Stripped-back presentation lending a singer-songwriter feel could have helped this wistful song a lot.


MOLDOVA

Amateur hour continues with Moldova, with its strained vocal, desperate dandruff-art staging and lazy euroballad, cast off from a Swedish production line. Moldova has a strong brand at Eurovision and does well when it plays to its strengths – when it doesn't, it's liable to fail. Way worse than Ireland because no element of this is original, authentic or has anything to say. NQ.


SWITZERLAND

This is a professional effort by the standards of this semifinal and should easily qualify, but it's not the new Fuego (or Ricky Martin), more the new Tooji. I think this looks and feels naffer than it realises, isn't vocally as hot as it could be, and has a credibility issue. Luca as a character gets lost amidst the frenetic choreography, when the focus really should be on showcasing him as a star (like Eleni, Poli or Robin Bengtsson). Instead, it feels like a performance at a holiday camp or on children's television – and the red and black colour scheme isn't sensual or intense, merely dark, when what this needed to be was vivacious and alluring, in the vein of Livin' La Vida Loca. I've never really questioned its qualification chances but I've always felt it's gonna crash in the final, where I wouldn't touch it in the top 5/10 market – Azerbaijan for one smashes it out of the park.


LATVIA

Superficially pleasant, and nicely staged and performed, but incredibly repetitive. It feels like there's about 20 seconds of song here. Doesn't deserve to go anywhere and I don't think it will.


ROMANIA

I respect the ambition and concept here, but they don't come close to pulling it off – it's an unclear and offputting mess, vocally shaky to boot, and only finished 8th in the televote in its home country. This song does have something to say, but it has no idea how to say it coherently or what it wants you to feel. We're looking at the second NQ in a row for Romania.


DENMARK

This is nice and I think it's been overcriticised in fan circles – it's breezy, sincere and engaging, and for my money less cloying than many of Denmark's other entries over the past 20 years (like Cliche Love Song). I've always been pretty confident of its qualification chances, and the staging and performance have shaped up really nicely – it's endearing and warm, communicates its chosen vibe well, and looks great. Leonora is likeable and sweet, and carries this capably. One of the best-value qualification picks in a semi short on value.


SWEDEN

Total jury bait, sailing through, and an easy top 5/10 in the final, where it won't win because the televote will be somewhat inhibited by the fact that a lot of participating countries don't really have any affinity for gospel music.


AUSTRIA

Limits is a quiet grower, and the excellent performance and camerawork really elevate it in a way I wish more countries had managed to do this year. It's minimalist (too minimalist?), intimate and human, with a fragile yet precise vocal and a lot of emotion. Paenda comes through as a person in a way that fosters connection, and I love the narrative quality – she isn't just singing this, she's telling you a story. I think juries should respect this, and it strikes me as a great value qualification pick given that Albania seems austere and staid by comparison. (UPDATE, May 15: I think Macedonia has shaped up sufficiently well that I've switched Austria back to NQ.)


CROATIA

Absolute steaming pile of shite.


MALTA

Original, refreshing, catchy and extremely radio-friendly, this is the true Fuego heir this year – I love the quirky, edgy chorus in particular. Malta's track record in terms of staging isn't the best, but they've done a smart job here – the performance is vibrant and youthful in a way Belarus can only dream of, brims with colour, uses the LED walls and dancers in ingenious and playful ways, and is storyboarded around Michela as a character. (Now imagine if Switzerland had done this.) The vocals are a bit of an issue, which is why I've downgraded this from a potential top 3 candidate to something more likely to finish in the 4th-7th range. But it should easily get through.


LITHUANIA

I think this would have had a better chance in the dire first half of the semi rather than being between several bigger hitters in the second half. In its favour, it's competent and likeable, showcases its performer reasonably well, is a decent composition that isn't jury-unfriendly (one of the more respectable Swedish-penned entries this year), and is in a superb position in terms of voting allies – the UK, Ireland, Latvia, Russia and Sweden are all voting in this semi, as well as CIS brethren Moldova, Armenia and Azerbaijan. I still think it's probably going out on balance, but given these many assets, you might consider it a fun long-odds qualification bet.


RUSSIA

The general consensus around this one is that the staging and visual storytelling aren't quite as effective as they need to be. It's still striking though, with a brooding intensity and gorgeous vocals from Sergey and his excellent backing singers. Obviously it's qualifying, but is it too esoteric, monochrome and musical theatre to crack the top 3 on Saturday? My concern is it feels impersonal in a way that some of the other contenders don't. While Måns's stick army worked great, does having too many digital Sergeys spoil the broth (by decreasing our emotional focus on Sergey Prime)? Does he overcome his turmoil and triumph at the end? And even if the staging were more effective, is the song even good enough to win? Many say no, and I'm inclined to agree – but we shouldn't forget that You Are The Only One topped the televote despite being a style of dance-pop widely considered about a decade out of fashion (both in and out of a Eurovision context). And Scream is more jury-friendly. My personal take is that this, while very respectable, doesn't create a moment and I'd expect it to come about 6th on Saturday.


ALBANIA

I love Ktheju tokës – the composition and arrangement are sublime, and it has a strong identity and message – but I've grown concerned about the underwhelming way it's being presented on stage, and have reluctantly shifted it into my NQ pile on account of its bleak, infernal aesthetic. A song this rich and classy shouldn't look cheap. In terms of diaspora countries and regional allies, the picture is mixed – it has Macedonia, Croatia, Switzerland and Austria, but lacks Greece and Montenegro. If this entry were working better on stage, I'd have considered it a certain qualifier given Jonida's vocal capabilities. But it feels too borderline – especially sandwiched between Scream, Spirit In The Sky and Arcade. Out :(. (UPDATE: In the wake of Hungary's surprise non-qualification, we should be even more cautious of this one.)


NORWAY

There's a lack of fun novelty this year, in the same televote-attracting vein as Higher Ground, Yodel It, Beauty Never Lies, Pirates Of The Sea, Cezar, Zoe etc. – the type of high-kitsch entry that hardcore contest fans often dismiss as tacky but audiences love on the night (because this is what people tune into Eurovision for), making these songs a kind of anti-fanwank. I think Spirit In The Sky fills this niche this year, and despite my initial misgivings, I've grown to love it – it's pulsating and rousing, the vocals are fab (especially Alexandra's harmonising), it has a cultural flavour and a strong link to its country, and is loads of fun in a year short on that. Musically, it's very similar to Monsters (Finland 2018), but whereas Aalto's staging was grey, queer and militaristic, Spirit In The Sky's visual presentation is more welcoming and straightforward (if perhaps still a little too dark). It could use more interplay and solidarity between the three performers, but I have this easily going through and finishing around 8th-12th on Saturday.


NETHERLANDS

Even since Duncan Laurence got his bum out in Arcade's music video, I can't take the "how many pennies in the slot" lyric seriously anymore. This is the 2019 favourite and is trading at short odds, but a fair degree of uncertainty still surrounds its winning prospects. I like and respect it, and Laurence performs well, but the issues for me are its echoes of Blackbird (Finland 2017) – this is a dour, introspective, serious song that doesn't pull listeners in in the crucial first 30 seconds. The staging is mournful, with the blue and black lending an aquatic aspect, and the piano (which Laurence never gets up from) acts as a physical barrier, potentially inhibiting connection while it showcases his musicianship. A key question has to be whether this creates a moment and allows audiences to connect with Duncan as a character, the way they connected with Netta, Salvador, Jamala, Sergey, Måns, Conchita and co. as figures and avatars rather than just as performers. Is there a point of rebirth or transcension (akin to Jamala's tree or Conchita's wings) where Duncan overcomes his grief and the audiovisual narrative transitions from darkness to light? The Dutch delegation is right to keep things simple, but this still doesn't feel as intimate as it could have been. (While her song was very different from this one, even Netta stepped out from behind her pult and engaged with her dancers and the crowd.) Clearly qualifying, and right now, I do think it's top 3 material in the final – but my inclination is that it'll either come second or third or, if it does win, do so narrowly Jamala-style by coming second in both the jury vote and televote.

MACEDONIA

Tamara is an impeccable vocalist, and this song rests on a potentially empowering feminist message that on paper should have reasonably broad appeal (enough for people to actually vote for it?). Yet the overall package feels disspiritingly boring and worthy, treading a fine line between classy and overwrought – Michela and Paenda come over as cooler and more relatable, while Srbuk pips this in the strong woman stakes. There's also a lack of connection to the country, and Macedonia has a notably poor staging record (this year, whether by accident or design, their staging partly resembles a less sophisticated version of Russia's effort, though the fact it's simpler works in its favour). Juries should recognize Tamara's excellent heartfelt performance, but given Macedonia's typical struggle to qualify, I feel this is a little too short right now – you might even consider it a value lay. (UPDATE, May 15: This has improved sufficiently that I feel much more confident in calling it through.)

AZERBAIJAN


This is a strong entry (and great show-closer) that's been talked up a lot over the rehearsal period, leading it to climb into the top 5 favourites. Chingiz comes through as a personality, the visuals are memorable, and the robots don't impede emotional connection (being on either side of him rather than in front of him). The presentation is charismatic and laid back rather than being overchoreographed like Russia or frenetic like Switzerland, and the song is contemporary in a way that feels effortless rather than calculated. I don't consider it a potential winner, but I do think it could crack the top 3. Obviously qualifying.

Final call, May 15:
ARMENIA
SWITZERLAND
DENMARK
SWEDEN
MALTA
RUSSIA
NORWAY
NETHERLANDS
MACEDONIA
AZERBAIJAN

Agree? Disagree? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below :)

Friday, May 10, 2019

Eurovision 2019, Semifinal 1: Zero Levity


Cowabunga, fellow ninja turtles... time for my semifinal 1 rundown.


CYPRUS


This and Iceland are the two songs in the semi where I'm happy to put my contrarian hat on. Given how well many of the other numbers in semifinal 1 have shaped up, it's a real concern at this stage in rehearsals that Cyprus still looks and sounds pretty bad. My impression is that the fanbase is viewing it through Fuego-goggles, when in fact it's a very different kettle of fish – it's nowhere near as polished and doesn't have its predecessor's strong USP. The vocals are a mess (and the backing vocals don't do enough to disguise this), the choreography is busy without creating a connection or generating iconic visual moments the way Eleni's did, and most of all, the performer is a poor match for the song (especially in that outfit). All in all, it reminds me more of Evridiki's Comme ci comme ca (Cyprus 2007) than either Fuego or any relevant contemporary pop song (like Malta's Chameleon this year). Trying to redo a successful entry from the previous year is never a good idea, because copying a formula isn't how Eurovision works. Fuego may not have been a favourite of mine, but it was fun, hooky, mainstream and zeitgeisty... Replay clones it while stripping out everything that made Fuego good, failing to make a case for its own relevance in the process. Cyprus could have sent fresh new pop. Fans like this because they see it as Fuego 2, but audiences at home don't have that connection. (Fuego's staging also invoked female solidarity and depicted Eleni manifesting and manipulating nature elements by controlling smoke and emitting fire.) Look, it's probably going to go through... but given how poorly it's turned out on stage, I totally think there's an offchance of it doing a Kate Ryan (Belgium 2006) for very similar reasons. So if you're willing to go against prevailing opinion, this is totally worth a tiny lay given that it's currently at 1/50 to qualify(!). There's a lot more voter-friendly and jury-friendly fare in the rest of the show that easily outclasses this. If it gets to the final (as it likely will), I expect its vote to collapse.


MONTENEGRO


Yeah, no. This is awful, like Six4One's If We All Give A Little (Switzerland 2006) but much worse. There's no coordination between the singers, who come over like a bunch of competition winners who've been randomly selected to represent their country (which is essentially what they are), and it has nothing to say. Would be a good toilet break song if it were later in the running order.


FINLAND


Everyone has been dismissive of this entry's chances, including myself, due to the lack of youth appeal (this being an EDM song performed by two guys in their 40s) and the contrast between what was expected of Darude (a hardcore trance banger) and what we got (watered-down EDM). But while it's not especially compelling, it's very clearly the best performed song of the first three, with both artists coming over well on stage. It looks and sounds good, should have wide appeal (this is much more Jowst than Gromee) and feels like the first credible moment of the evening. So I'm not prepared to write it off completely, even if I think it's more likely to fail than succeed merely on account of its forgettability. As the odds of it qualifying are so high, it may be worth a small stake due to the quality of the performance and the fact it exists in a fan-bubble blind spot (kind of the anti-Cyprus in that regard).


POLAND


This is one of my personal faves, but unfortunately, I've very gradually come around to the idea of it probably not qualifying. Not just because of the issues with the staging and performance, which isn't connecting in the way it needs to, and juries' established bias against entries with folk elements, but also because I think it's a hard sell to Polish diaspora televoters. It's neither straight folk (like Hungary) nor the pop/rock that Poland usually sends, but a kind of folk subversion with a tone that's hard to parse – I'm not sure what this entry wants me to feel and what emotion it's conveying, even to Polish speakers. Yes, their album went platinum in Poland... but that only translates to 30,000 copies. If Poles do support this, it could scrape through despite a lack of jury attention – if Poles don't click with it, it'll bomb out. I like it but I'm edging towards the latter – especially because Poland lacks so many of its diaspora countries and allies, with Britain, Ireland, Lithuania, Germany, Austria, Norway, Sweden and Denmark all voting in the other semi (and no Ukraine either).


SLOVENIA


This isn't up my personal street, and is so shoegaze it's barely there, but I'm with the consensus that it's probably through. It has a unique atmosphere and dreamlike quality, even if the performers' inexperience shows. The fact they sing to each other and never engage with the camera is more of a weakness than a strength. But the chorus is strong and it's a memorable moment, in no small part due to the contrast between the listless, disaffected song and the performers' youth, which captures a certain zeitgeist many of us can relate to. I think juries will pay it more attention than televoters, but it should be through. You might consider this a value qualification pick.


CZECH REPUBLIC


This is shaping up to be really fun in an engagingly carefree, unpolished way that you don't get often in Eurovision – it's colorful, welcoming and conveys more personality and connection than most songs in this semi. The slightly amateurish feel even aids it, and yet it's not jury-unfriendly either, and is very youth-friendly too. Through.


HUNGARY


I love this, Joci is masterful (even if he didn't really need to go barefoot) and it looks and sounds sumptuous. There's so much realness and connection here, the staging could hardly be better, and you don't need to understand a word of Hungarian to feel the emotions being conveyed. I think this is a real contender for top 3 in the semi.


BELARUS


I enjoy this song a lot and Zena is great, but unfortunately I don't think it's working on stage. The performance is overly busy and there's no focal point – Zena needs to be much more in the spotlight here – and as is often the case, Belarus feels divorced from current trends in popular music and fashion (not just western trends, but even contemporary Russian trends), such that this seems likely to pass audiences by. Again, it's not clear what the number wants us to feel, what its overriding emotion or takeaway message is. The lyrics too are awkward and often unclear – I'd much prefer this in Russian, and it even sounds like it was written in Russian first (will a Russian version come out after the contest?) and translated into English for the contest. Even with its unconvincing references to phones and hashtags (which make the song feel like it was written by someone a lot older than its target audience), it should have been staged to showcase Zena as a fun, relatable personality and highly capable performer, with minimal dancers and a lot of close-ups (much like If Love Was A Crime). But with a cluttered performance that distracts from her so much – disparate elements thrown together in the hope that something works – I feel that's missing here. Out.


SERBIA


While I personally always long for Serbia to send some of its more exciting domestic pop music instead of defaulting to an emotive, ESC-friendly Balkan ballad, there's no arguing that this looks and sounds absolutely stellar. Nevena is magnificent and is performing the hell out of it, and like Hungary, the luminant staging is absolutely first-rate, generating an atmosphere of life and love. Very accomplished overall, and sailing through - no brodolom here.


BELGIUM



This is a toughie, and feels like the most borderline number. If it wasn't followed by Estonia a few songs later, which beats it on several fronts in similar territory despite being a weaker song(!), I'd probably call it through. But the staging isn't really working and there's something ineffectual in both the performance, Eliot's perceived personality, and the way the song just directionlessly peters out by repeating its half-hearted, plaintive chorus over and over. It's also not especially vocally driven... plus you know what we used to say about red and black on the X Factor. There's no way I could confidently call this through, and I don't think it deserves to go through either – if it does, it'll be because of the weak staging of other entries (Portugal) and the fact Poland and Georgia have hardly any voting allies despite their superior efforts. RTBF normally has a much better success record (Blanche, Loic Nottet, Roberto Bellarosa) than VRT (Sennek, Laura Tesoro, Axel Hirsoux, Iris... none of whom qualified apart from Laura) but this doesn't feel like it's hitting the mark at present. Could this be RTBF's first non-qualifier since Witloof Bay? Or will it scrape through, then do poorly on Saturday? I'm leaning towards the latter, but from a betting perspective, I wouldn't touch this.


GEORGIA


I'm one of those weird people who actually like this song, but then I liked Probka in 2009 too (and not just because Intars Busulis is a legend). The backing vocals and staging to this are masterful – rousing and compelling without being oppressive or foreboding – and I've heard several people propose it as a surprise qualifier. Unfortunately, like Poland, it's separated from many of its natural voting allies – Russia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Lithuania, Latvia and Moldova are all in the other semi, while Ukraine is at home – so between this and the inaccessibility of the song, it's gonna have a much harder time qualifying than it would have done otherwise. Worth a small stake at long odds if you're so inclined.


AUSTRALIA


OK, the song is ridiculous – a poorly structured mess of vocal showboating (the verse in particular is atrocious, and the song as a whole barely holds together) – but that didn't put viewers off voting for this song's 2013 near-namesake by Zlata Ognevich, or La Forza for that matter. With its new staging, this looks and sounds memorable and captivating, succeeds both as a spectacle and in terms of emotional connection, and creates a moment. There's also a slight sense of fun and tongue in cheek to it, which is increasingly evident in Kate's on-stage personality and the literal lightness of the performance – after SBS's multiple internal selections of credible, radio-friendly fare designed to present the country in a certain light internationally, this is Australia finally getting the chance to reach into the big box of Eurovision cliches and send the kitschy entry that its devoted Eurovision lovers secretly crave. Through – but it's gonna be Marmite in the final (where Australia often struggles in the televote)...


ICELAND


I'm happy to go against the grain on Iceland - for me, this is like a combination of Woki mit deim Popo and Aina mun pitää, both of which had a lot of buzz and were treated as de-facto qualifiers by many pundits, the latter even discussed as a potential winner and top 10 candidate. The performance of Hatrid mun sigra is both aggressive and sexual, and that's never a good combination in ESC. Aside from being discordant, frightening, non-family-friendly, poorly sung, busily staged without a strong focal point or connection, and in a language that no voting country speaks, it just doesn't make a case for its own relevance and seems niche in terms of the audience it appeals to. There's none of the fun of Lordi, the passion of Viszlat Nyar or the sardonic cool of Midnight Gold here, just a juvenile display of supposed sexual decadence set to growling and high-pitched whining - this isn't the kind of thing that flies in eastern Europe. If this is going to qualify, it will be on spectacle (though Australia's spectacle offers much more vocal and visual beauty and emotional connection), but if you're happy to be as contrarian as I am here, NQ is worth a punt given how long the odds are. Obviously I'm biased due to my own antipathy to it, but it's always good to go against bubble-think and have value calls. The market and pundits almost never get 10/10 right.


ESTONIA


This song may be too repetitive (and the chorus too similar to that of Robyn's Time Machine) for my taste, but in the context of this semifinal I think it's sailing through and is a good value qualification pick, probably the best value in the semi. The song is catchy and affirming, the presentation dynamic and cohesive, and most of all, Victor has great charisma and the entry strongly showcases him as a personality, something that Belgium fails to do by comparison – the focus is very much on Victor as a character. What's crucial here is how the likeable Victor interacts with the "storm" – there's no sense of him being overcome by it or lost in it, instead, he's the one you rely on in the storm to get you through; the light in the darkness. His vocal strains to breaking point as he sings "can break a man like this", but the melody then returns to the root chord (resolving the musical tension) on the lyric "safe and sound". I think it's cleverer than it looks. SF1's secret star.


PORTUGAL


Oh, Telemoveis. I think the studio version of this is the best song in the contest – it didn't become a huge viral success all the way back in January for nothing – but one of the downsides of selecting an experimental amateur musician who makes his songs at home on his laptop and isn't a very experienced singer or performer is that, in the absence of overriding counsel from the delegation, you can end up with a messy performance like this, one that's inappropriate to what is an intimate, introspective and mournful song. A Euphoria-style staging – with a strong focus on Conan, and the dancer only appearing in the final 40 seconds – could have really worked for this sensual composition. As it stands, the three minutes are chaotic and amateurish. Conan is a capable vocalist when he focuses, as the acoustic version of this song proves, and at least in rehearsals so far, he's been singing the tune correctly, instead of the poor improvised versions we saw in the national final. But the face furniture is distracting and inhibits connection, the colour scheme isn't working, and the avant-garde, almost shambolic performance is alienating (even for lovers of the song) when what it needs to do is engender intimacy. All of that said, I have to believe in the power of this song – its musical merit led it to become a huge phenomenon in Portugal and among the contest fanbase before we ever even saw a performance – and the on-stage antics have a certain mesmerising quality, as if Conan and his dancer are acting out some mysterious long-forgotten ritual, perhaps two partners performing a primal funeral rite in lamentation of how smartphones have impaired humans' (and particularly gay men's) basic ability to relate to each other. I'm calling it as a qualifier (shock horror!) more out of principle than conviction, because the song absolutely deserves it, but it's not really value. Let's face it, Portugal has fucked up an open goal here – 3 months ago the buzz was "Porto 2020", and now it'll be lucky to scrape through. If someone could please confiscate Conan's plastic beard before he goes on stage, that'd be great thanks.


GREECE


While vocally this is a mixed bag at best (the high parts are good, but some of the lower notes are pretty rough), the song is one of the most contemporary and broadly-targeted in the contest, with a strong Jess Glynne feel. This wouldn't be out of place on any commercial radio station or TV advert soundtrack – it's exactly the kind of uplifting song they choreograph character moments to on reality TV shows. Why's the staging so busy then? It almost seems like the fact so much is going on around Katerina is impairing her vocal performance and ability to relate to the camera. This is another country that should have gone with less is more – instead, it looks like the sanitary towel advert from hell, complete with a guest appearance by Rover from The Prisoner. Through, though, because it's decent enough overall.


SAN MARINO


Serhat is not a singer. He can't sing. Period. Added to which, this entry is staged much worse than his 2016 effort, which actually shaped up pretty nicely. I like a retro disco number as much as the next person, and I do enjoy this song, but it ain't going anywhere - in fact, it's embarrassing to watch. This seems likely to fall well short of the 12th place that Serhat reached in the 2016 semi.

Final call, May 13:
CYPRUS
FINLAND
SLOVENIA
CZECH REPUBLIC
HUNGARY
SERBIA
AUSTRALIA
ESTONIA
PORTUGAL
GREECE

Agree? Disagree? Let me know your thoughts and impressions in the comments below. :)

Monday, January 7, 2019

Eurovision 2019 discussion thread (Sofabet community)


Hi folks. I created this thread so that Sofabet users have somewhere to discuss Eurovision 2019. Feel free to post your thoughts and speculations on the various national selections and any entries that catch your eye. I'll contribute as best I can, but I won't be providing any formal coverage as I don't gamble and am not going to Eurovision – this thread is intended to be a way to keep the Sofabet community and its fantastic discussions going. Over to you! :)