It is May again and this means it is time for Europe’s biggest music contest; The Eurovision Song Contest. After Salvador Sobral’s convincing win last year, Lisbon in Portugal is the hosting city. The contest this year is off to an exciting start with the strong first semi final. The hosts and their prepared jokes are cringey as ever, but what would Eurovision without them!? More enjoyable probably. But what about the performances!? We knew beforehand that the results would be a bloodbath in which favourites would be voted out. This is what went down!
01. Azerbaijan – Aisel – X My Heart
The organization of the contest chose Aisel from Azerbaijan to open the contest with her uptempo pop tune ‘X My Heart’. The Azeri beauty normally performs jazz music, but the song she ended up singing on stage is Lisbon is tailormade for Eurovision. We hear a light electronic production, a catchy enough chorus, some empty lyrics and pretty decent vocal work. The mostly white staging with a simple choreography and some projections looks nice enough. Still I felt nothing watching her show and listening to the tune. The same seems to have happened to the rest of Europe as her decent, but predictable song and show was not enough to get her into the final.
02. Iceland: Ari Ólafsson – Our Choice
Iceland entered the contest as one of the bookmakers’ least likely acts to proceed to the final. When you hear Ari’s dated ballad ‘Our Choice’ it is not hard to understand why. The lyrics are painfully cliche and nothing about the melody or instrumentation is particularly outstanding. Vocally he tries his best, dressed in a eye catching white and red suit. He did not sing flawlessly, but even if he would have done so, his song would not have been enough to make it to the Saturday night.
03. Albania: Eugent Bushpepa – Mall
Albania brought some rock to the Eurovision stage. Eugent Bushpepa is an experienced performer and vocally he was one of the strongest of the night. The lower parts in the verses, the high notes towards the end, he totally killed it! His song ‘Mall’, performed completely in Albanian, was the only one in its genre in the show tonight and that must have helped him qualify for the final. Based on his performance, he thoroughly deserved it though!
04. Belgium: Sennek – A Matter of Time
After three years of excellent results in Eurovision, Belgium was one of the early favourites this year too with Sennek’s mysterious pop song ‘A Matter of Time’. There is some Bond influences, a dramatic instrumentation and an explosive chorus that did come quite late in a 3 minute song. The performance however, was not nearly as good as it should have been. Vocally it was shaky at times and it looked like Sennek was uncomfortable for most of it, figuring out which camera she had to look into. The intro with her hand covering the face, probably looked better on paper than on television. It is such a shame, because ‘A Matter of Time’ is one of my favourite songs in the competition this year, but in a semi final this strong and diverse, questionable staging will result in missing out on a spot in the final.
05. Czech Republic: Mikolas Josef – Lie To Me
After years of failure in the Eurovision Song Contest, Czech Republic finally sent a song that belongs to the favourites. Pop star Mikolas Josef did not only bring his backpack, he brought a damn catchy and contemporary tune with him too. With a slick combination of Jason Derülo and Charlie Puth and some trumpet action, he was all set for the final. His performance however, does need some improvement before Saturday night. I get that the nonchalant attitude is his schtick, but his performance (not the dancers, they are doing great) lacks energy. Only in the last minute he is really going for it. If he channels this energy for three minutes in the grand final, Czech Republic might sail into the top 10.
06. Lithuania: Ieva Zasimauskaité – When We’re Old
Before rehearsals in Lisbon started, nobody gave Lithuania a chance to qualify from this tough semi final. The Lithuanian delegation took a risk with this quiet, slow ballad. The people who immediately dismissed this song, did not take into account the power of simplicity and of course the lovely message in the lyrics in combination with an impeccable staging. Vocally she held her own and it was a cute moment of serenity in between the busy and loud acts of Czech Republic and Israel. If the draw of starting positions is in their favour, they might offer the same in the final of 26 songs. For the diversity in terms of styles in the final it is great to have Lithuania there this year!
07. Israel: Netta – Toy
From the moment Israel presented their song for Eurovision 2018, they became the big favourite with the bookmakers. Netta is a charismatic performer with an eye catching persona. The vocal looper is her trademark and that is how she kicked off her show. The two and a half minutes that follow are a whirlwind of chicken dances, Princess Leia realness and a damn catchy hook. Netta knows exactly how to play with the camera and the faces she makes are priceless. This is not a circus act for which Eurovision has been criticized in the past. This is a great, contemporary tune with a powerful message. If you ask me, she is still very much a contender for the win on Saturday night.
08. Belarus: Alekseev – Forever
Belarus brings romance to the Eurovision stage with love song ‘Forever’ and an act that revolves around a red rose. The magic trick with the dancer shooting the rose and Alekseev catching it was fun to watch, but other than that the performance was quite the uncomfortable ride. Alekseev seemed nervous (those shaking hands!) which affected his vocals quite a bit too. ‘Forever’ is a decent song with a strong build up, but with this performance it just was not strong enough to proceed to the final.
09. Estonia: Elina Nechayeva – La Forza
Estonia brings an opera and pop cross over to the Eurovision stage and Elina Nechayeva brought the house down. Her vocals are incredible and I do not know how she keeps looking so gorgeous hitting all those high notes. Some ladies just got it all! ‘La Forza’ is a powerful composition which smartly mixes pop elements with her classical vocal style. The staging with the projection dress has been done before, but not as good as Elina and her team did. The visuals move along with her movements and the progression of the song and it is gorgeous to watch. Tallinn 2019 is still very much a possibility if you ask me!
10. Bulgaria: Equinox – Bones
After doing exceptionally well in Eurovision for two years in a row, the Bulgarian Eurovision team formed a super group named Equinox in hopes of bringing in another great result. Making the final is only a formality with a strong song like ‘Bones’. It is contemporary, it has a memorable chorus and it stood out enough in the competition. The vocal performance was flawless and it all looked simple, but polished. Personally I did not feel this entry as much as I did others, but Bulgaria surely deserved their spot in the final!
11. FYR Macedonia: Eye Cue – Lost and Found
FYR Macedonia has mastered the art of butchering potentially great songs with awful staging in recent years and unfortunately this year was not an exception. Admittedly, Eye Cue’s ‘Lost and Found’, was a bit too all over the place in terms of genres to make an impression in three minutes, although the hooks are certainly there. Whatever was left was ruined with a messy stage show, probably the most hideous outfit of the night (including a costume change that made things even worse) and some questionable vocal work towards the end. I will still listen to ‘Lost and Found’ after the show, but with that performance there was no way they would qualify.
12. Croatia: Franka – Crazy
Croatia’s performance was the opposite of what FYR Macedonia presented in some ways. Franka stepped on stage on her own and she completely owned it. Her vocals were spot on and powerful and she looked like a star, working the camera like she stands on the Eurovision stage weekly. Unfortunately, her song ‘Crazy’ did not show off her full potential. True, it gave her room to belt away, but there is not much of a tune there. The spoken bit after the first chorus killed the vibe of the track too. The song simply was not strong enough to make it to the final, but Croatia, please bring back Franka next year with a killer tune!
13. Austria: César Sampson – Nobody But You
Austria sent César Sampson performing his gospel inspired love song ‘Nobody But You’. It is a hit worthy tune that could have been part of a Sam Smith or John Legend album and César is an excellent vocalist. Stage show wise however, I expected more from Austria this year. Sampson starts out on an elevated platform that slowly comes down and then he just walks around a little bit. The choir that backs him is hidden on stage while it is quite prominent in the song. A missed opportunity for some interaction between César and his backing vocalists if you ask me. Based on the song and vocals, he more than earned his place in the final though!
14. Greece: Gianna Terzi – Oniro Mou
The Greek delegation decided to go back to their roots in Eurovision with the folky, bombastic ballad ‘Oniro Mou’ performed by Gianna Terzi. It is a beautiful composition with a suspenseful build up. The only problem is, this kind of big, dramatic tune needs spotless vocals and that is not what Gianna served us tonight. Especially the high notes in the last chorus were flat. The staging was simple but effective (minus that painted hand), but the vocals must have been what ruined her chances.
15. Finland: Saara Aalto – Monsters
After finishing as runner up in X Factor UK, the Finnish Saara Aalto was chosen to represent her country in Eurovision with the uptempo pop dance song ‘Monsters’. Saara loves theatrics and big shows and that is exactly what she serves on the Eurovision stage. She spins around, dances her ass off, lights fireworks and struts the stage, while hitting all the big notes with those powerhouse vocals of hers. ‘Monsters’ is incredibly catchy and there is simply no arguing with a chorus like that. The bookmakers were predicting she would miss out on qualification, but my Canadian and American friends who watched the show with me, were living for every second of her performance! They even cheered after she finished her performance with the trust fall. Saara Aalto deserves her spot in the final and I hope she sails right into the top 10 there!
16. Armenia: Sevak Khanagyan – Qami
Armenia’s Sevak Khanagyan sang his dramatic ballad ‘Qami’ in his own language. He served us vocals, but that was about it. His voice is gorgeous, but the song is quite repetitive and did not translate to the screen too well. With Portugal’s winning performance last year, it was just a guy and his microphone too, but ‘Qami’ certainly does not have the same emotional power ‘Amar Pelos Dois’ had. Armenia does not miss qualification for the Eurovision final often, but in all honesty, I won’t miss this performance on Saturday night.
17. Switzerland: ZiBBZ – Stones
ZiBBZ (which stands for siblings) from Switzerland brought some straightforward pop and raw vocals to the Eurovision stage. Their song ‘Stones’ is decent, but does get repetitive pretty easily. The first time the chorus comes around, it does make an impact, but after a minute you heard it all. Singer Coco sounded great, but the endless walking around the stage or the ‘Britney and Christina in 2001’ styling did not help. Someone should have told them that addressing the audience in the venue at a televised contest usually does not come across well either. Brother and sister gave it their all, but it simply was not enough for qualification.
18. Ireland: Ryan O’Shaugnessy – Together
Ireland could be considered as the surprise of the first semi final. After four years of missing out on the final, they finally qualified again! Ryan O’Shaugnessy gives an endearing performance of his sweet little song ‘Together’. The act with the male dancers performing a routine as a gay couple, adds to the ‘cute’ factor of this performance. Vocally, there is room for improvement in some of the high notes in the chorus, but either way it will be interesting to see if this radiofriendly track will hold its own competing against 25 other tracks on Saturday. Welcome back in the competition Ireland!
19. Cyprus: Eleni Foureira – Fuego
Miss Eleni Foureira from Cyprus was not one of the favourites to win Eurovision before everyone arrived in Lisbon, but after the rehearsals started, she rose to the very first place with the bookmakers. After seeing her performance, it is easy to understand why. Miss Eleni Foureira is a star! ‘Fuego’ is a hit worthy mix of pop, dance and a little hint of native instruments in the incredibly catchy chorus and post-chorus drop. Eleni and her dancers perform the hell out of it. She is not the strongest vocalist of the contest (and the song does not require her to be) but carries the tune easily. She sure as hell is one of the strongest perfomers though! The choreography is well thought out and she is serving ‘hairography’ and then some! Of course a song called ‘Fuego’ needs some fireworks to top it all off. Ladies and gents, take notes, this is how one does Eurovision!