The 61st edition of the Eurovision Song Contest officially began last night with the first semi-final deciding the first ten acts that qualified for Saturday’s Grand Finale. As usual the Eurovision stage was filled with extravaganza, LED screens, 3D images, holograms, and the unmissable wind machine.
Overall, the first semi-final was undeniably a very entertaining show. SVT, the Swedish and host broadcaster, gave a twist to the live event by introducing comedy sketches similar to those found in British television productions.
I particularly loved the new way of displaying the participant’s number; the countries’ name were displayed in huge 90s videogames-like letters with the song’s information embedded into a banner featuring the colours of the country’s flag.
The ten qualifiers were (in random order): Azerbaijan, Russia, the Netherlands, Hungary, Croatia, Austria, Armenia, Czech Republic, Cyprus, and Malta.
The shocking non-qualifier was, sadly, Iceland. Azerbaijan with a dated and middle-of-the-road performance being, undoubtedly, the surprising finalist. For that matter, I have decided to rank the performances from worst to best:
18. San Marino — “I Didn’t Know” by Serhat
For what a TV show concerns, this was just a filler participant; that song where you could have a bathroom break and grab more booze. There was nothing special to it and was easily forgettable.
17. Finland — “Sing It Away” by Sandhja
A promising opening number that simply could not make it. Unfortunately Sandhja’s vocals failed and she couldn’t reach the lower notes.
16. Moldova — “Falling Stars” by Lidia Isaac
Lidia might have failed to qualify but she sure was one of the most beautiful woman to have set foot on the Eurovision stage. Sadly her performance was plain and flat. And the astronaut should not have taken his helmet and disappear.
15. Azerbaijan — “Miracle” by Samra
Definitely the most unworthy qualifier was Azerbaijan. Specially because it is hard to explain why; they don’t have a big diaspora and Samra did not have the best vocals either. The staging was dated and a rip-off to their own 2011 winning song.
14. Malta — “Walk on Water” by Ira Losco
Another qualifier that did not deserve its spot was Malta. The reason is that they have a dance number suitable for an energetic performance, yet all it was what Ira mid-stage with a dancer floating around her.
13. Bosnia & Herzegovina — “Ljubav je” by Dalal & Deen ft. Ana Rucner & Jala
I said it before and I’d repeat it now: The rapper ruined this song. Dalal and Deen had so much chemistry on stage and they seemed to be building their own love story while out of the blue Jala breaks into and ruins everything.
12. Hungary — “Pioneer” by Freddie
Freddie does have a good voice (and that is why I didn’t rank him dead last), the problem with both his song and staging is that they are rip-offs of Armenia’s 2014 entrant and the Imagine Dragons.
11. Montenegro — “The Real Thing” by Highway
I have the feeling that had the Highway guys performed, entirely or at least the chorus, in their native language the song would had sounded much better. The staging and the performance were very clever with the camera working dynamically with the band and the dancing goth girl.
10. Iceland — “Hear Them Calling” by Greta Salóme
“Hear Them Calling” was my favourite song —in terms of lyrics— at this year’s contest. And though the performance looked impressive during the pre-shows, the fact that it was performed after Russia might had been one of the reasons it failed to qualify. However, Greta also felt a bit lost in the bigger Globen Arena. However she recovered after the instrumental solo.
9. The Netherlands — “Slow Down” by Douwe Bob
Douwe Bob qualified because he was cute enough to work with the camera, stop the performance and say “I love you too”. Overall, the staging felt like a regular country number at the Grammy Awards. The song however is cheesy and the repetitive chorus eventually gets annoying. However, good TV entertainment.
8. Greece — “Utopian Land” by Argo
The on-stage performance definitely gave a twist to this song. It was an odd case where the singers sounded better live than recorded. The dancing and the rising sun was what made you want join Argo to their uptopian land.
7. Croatia — “Lighthouse” by Nina Kraljic
Nina, unlike Argo, did not sound as good live as she does on record. The performance was definitely a seven out of a ten. They should have focused on visuals a la Ukraine 2011 instead it was Nina and her humongous feathery dress.
6. Cyprus — “Alter Ego” by Minus One
An energetic and visually stimulating performance, and the best thing about it were those negative reversal cuts in-between verses that gave the eerie feeling to a song with a cheesy chorus.
5. Estonia — “Play” by Jüri Postmann
The public’s shocker non-qualifier was Iceland but I personally believe Estonia gave one of the best performances of the night. Juri stood mid-stage creepily and seductively enough to join him into his card game. I believe that this song was probably disqualified through televoting for being too arty.
4. Austria — “Loin d’ici” by ZOE
Before watching this, play with a psychedelic. “Loin d’ici” is like a trippy intro to Alice In Wonderland interpreted by that college chick you met during your exchange in Europe. If you didn’t get it, I’ll put in one word: Surreal.
3. Armenia — “LoveWave” by Iveta Mukuchyan
I still can’t understand what Iveta sings in the chorus but I have to give her and the members of the Armenian delegation credit (and SVT) for putting up such a fantastic on-stage production. It was literally a music video shot live music video featuring close-ups of the singer and her own holograms.
2. Russia — “You Are the Only One” by Sergey Lazarev
Hands down, Russia’s performance was absolutely incredible. It drew elements from previous Eurovision performances such as last year’s winning entry and Ukraine’s “Shady Lady”, as well as some similarities to Iceland this year. But that was the problem about it, despite of the goose bumps visuals, the song is inarguable cheesy.
1. Czech Republic — “I Stand” by Gabirela Guncíková
Gabriela provided not only the Czech Repubic’s first final entry but also the most powerful vocal performance of the night. And though she did not play with the LED screens, the staging was inherently related to the concept of the song as Gabriela stands all alone in the centre of the vast and kaleidoscopic stage.
- The Czech Republic qualified for the first time since their debut in 2008.
- Russia and Azerbaijan maintain their 100% qualifying record, having advanced from every semi-final they had participated in. In contrast, Bosnia & Herzegovina and Greece failed to qualify for a final for the first time.
- Hungary qualified for the sixth year in a w. Cyprus qualified for the second consecutive year. Austria (pre-qualified last year) will also compete in the final.
- The last time the Netherlands and Malta qualified was in 2014.
- Croatia will be in the final for the first time since 2009 (except last year when they didn’t participate).
- Despite the vast majority of the songs were in English, one out of the three non-English songs (Austria) managed to qualify.
- Only one of the qualifiers (Cyprus) was a band.
- There were five qualifiers from both the first and the second half of the show.