Semifinal 1: SHOW GUIDE for LOCALS

Hey all! I’ve just come back from the Semifinal 1 Jury Show and woweeewowowowow. It’s a DOOZY. So I’ve created the following primer to help you maximize your enjoyment of the night. (Also, it’s the next morning now because this post is LOOOOOOOONG)

Is this primer for you?

  1. If you’re planning on tuning into Eurovision tomorrow night, and are coming in cold knowing none of the songs, yes, this primer is for you.
  2. If you’re planning on tuning into Eurovision tomorrow night and don’t know what a local is, this primer is for you, and also you are a local.
  3. If you’re planning on tuning into Eurovision tomorrow night and have had your favourites ranked on Mr. Gerbear’s sorter since March, this primer is still for you, because it’s always fun to yell about Eurovision opinions with you!

SO… here is the show! Remember – British people can’t vote in this one, but that doesn’t mean you should miss it!

Tune in promptly at 9 pm CET to catch the Eurovision National Anthem, and then go finish grabbing snacks for your party. The first 10 minutes of the show are a tortured setup for the theme, where a Hot Geppetto magicks up a weird-looking drone that represents the Sound of Beauty. Yeah, I don’t get it either.

There’s then a standard Cirque du So Meh song and dance about the Sound of Beauty which fills time. I mean, the dancers are nice! The singer is good! But it’s very 1970s Eurovision interval.

We then meet our three hosts : Grammy-award winning Laura Pausini, Mika, the guy who wrote the theme song for the film Kick-Ass, and Alessandro Cattelan, or, as I like to call him, The Wrong Cattelan.

Before we get started, you may wonder about the big black arch behind the presenters.

The sun in its unlit glory

It’s supposed to be a sun. And it moves. But it moves so slowly that it’s not used in any of the competing performances, so get used to seeing it, along with the very trippy toilet paper roll screen in the centre of the fake sun. It may seem weird at first, but you’ll be used to it by song 3.

About 15 minutes into the show, we get our first song and let me say PLEASE IGNORE THE POSTCARDS. They show beautiful footage of Italy and then superimpose the artist onto it like a Godzilla come to destroy the landscape. It’s a terrifying effect that would make me afraid of both Italy and the artists if I weren’t a. already in Italy and b. able to confirm that the artists are all life-sized, and now going to rip the roof off the arena.

Although, having said that, the show opens with a STOMPER of a song – Ronela Hajati crams a whole lot into her three minutes. Eagle cry! Ponytail helicopter! Sapphic realness! Thigh balancing! Ronela does a remarkable job demonstrating why all your favourite pop stars are Albanian. (Ava Max! Bebe Rexha! Dua Lipa! That other one!) This picture shows you the type of energy they’re going for, even though they’ve changed outfits since the first rehearsal.

(c) Nathan Reinds EBU

The next song – Latvia – is my favourite, and you need to listen very, very carefully to its first line. It contains a word the band can’t say on TV, but that might make it on anyway, because the crowd absolutely screams it.

(c) Nathan Reinds, EBU

Latvia is also bringing a new epic sax guy to Eurovision (equally epic, btw).

The third song is Lithuania, which is a gorgeous, retro 70s bop in Lithuanian. It’s a vibe. The artist, Monika Liu, has apparently had to change her staging due to the sun mishaps, but the whole thing still looks absolutely gorgeous and sparkly and very Studio 54 dream sequence.

(c) Corinne Cumming, EBU

Song #4 is Switzerland, which is a guy named Marius Bear doing his best Louis Armstrong impersonation, except with all the fun leached out of it. At last night’s jury show, he seemed to have one or two malfunctions. At any rate, if you like gravelly-voiced singers pulling at your heartstrings with a tune destined for a John Lewis Christmas advert, you’ll eat this up. If not, PEE BREAK.

(c) Corinne Cumming, EBU – Note, this photo makes him look more animated than he really is. He’s very slow!

Song #5 is Slovenia, which is a bunch of teenagers who have brought a very catchy song about being dumped at the disco. It’s in Slovenian, and guess what? The word for “disco” is “disko!”

(c) Andres Putting EBU

Now, I love Slovenia. These kids are precious cinnamon rolls that I will defend with my life. I mean, their band name is LPS, which is short for Last Pizza Slice. But the fact is, they’re a jazz band full of non-dancers, so the staging …. overcompensates for that a bit? There’s a lot of repetitive camera swooping to create a sense of movement. But stick with it! This song is a bop!

Song #6 is UKRAINE! Look, if Ukraine wins, it’s not because of the whole Ukrainian situation. It’s because they have sent a BOP. Just listen to this guy spit bars!

Shaky phone footage (c) Me

Also, their whole song is an ode to one of their mothers – Stefania – and who doesn’t love a grown man in a bucket hat celebrating his awesome mom? War or no war, this song is Eurovision gold.

Song 7 is Bulgaria, which is dad rock for dads who think that black leather jackets are the height of cool. The song has a certain melodic charm to it, but when I saw this last night, the staging consisted of a light shining directly into my eyes the entire time:

My view for the entire three minutes

Song 8 is the Netherlands by the artist S10 – pronounced STEEN – and it’s a gorgeous ballad in Dutch. Believe me, it is what we need after the dads. Also, S10 uses the lighting much better:

S10 phone home

She looks like she’s going to be abducted by aliens! Seriously, though – I need to commend S10 for putting together a show that looks great both in the arena and on television.

Song 9 is Moldova. Now, I was worried about Moldova qualifying – Zdob si Zdub have toned down their staging from previous Eurovision entries. Right now, it’s just the band on stage with a bunch of instruments. But reader, I needn’t have worried:

(c) EBU Corinne Cumming

Moldova started performing last night, and the entire arena leapt to their feet and started dancing in frenzied joy. It was one of those Eurovision moments I’ve missed the past few years, and I would have cried if I weren’t so busy shouting, “CHISINAU TO BUCHAREST”

Song 10 is Portugal, and it’s a low-key chill beach vacation vibe about saudade – an untranslatable notion of nostalgia and regret and yearning. (That’s a bad translation, okay?)

(c) Corinne Cumming EBU

The song is beautifully performed, but something seemed off about it last night in the arena. Maybe it’s the fact that everyone was still coming down off the Moldovan frenzy; maybe it’s because the performers face each other in an formation that seems to ignore the audience. I hope this translates better for television!

Song 11 is Croatia, with a guitar ditty called Guilty Pleasure. Artist Mia Dimsic has added in some Croatian lyrics here as a twist. Compared to her video, where she was backed by a girl power posse, this staging just seems … meh. Her dress doesn’t match with the vibe, the backup dancers make this seem more of a violent situation than a jealous one, and – this could just be me – the guy she’s supposedly gaga over looks like Tim Robinson.

Yes, Dan Flashes himself

Anyway, if you need a pee break, Croatia is a good time to go!

Denmark is Song 12. The pop-punk ladies of Reddi start slow but end up with a total banger that’s the complete rock opposite of Bulgaria.

It’s green! Then red! Then blue! And so much fun! Shaky camera phone is me, obviously.

It’s bright! It’s fun! It’s full of good energy! I was not hot on Denmark, but this performance changed my mind. It could qualify!

Song 13 is Austria. DJ Lumix and Pia Maria are high energy, even if their lyrics are a bit weird. “We can be CEOs”? Like, who wants to be a CEO when you’re on stage at Eurovision. 

The HALO of DJ

Anyway, the song is HALO and in case you didn’t get that, it’s performed inside a LITERAL HALO. 

Song 14 is Iceland, a beautiful bit of yee haw performed by Systur (three sisters who have their brother on drums.)

(c) Andres Putting EBU

The staging on this works really well – there’s a moment where there’s a split screen as the harmonies build and it’s beautiful. I think the audio mix has been tightened for the show, because the song filled the arena in a way I hadn’t felt before when I saw this performed live. If only one chill vibe song goes through, I think it might be this one.

Song 15 is Greece, which got a huge reaction in the arena for a song about dying young with a bad partner so as to avoid dying alone, People have tipped Amanda Tjenford (her middle name is Georgiadi, yes she is Greek) to win the jury, and I’m not quite sure. The opening of the song is not typical jury-bait, as she’s double-tracked with a synth version of her own voice that threatens to overpower the vocal. But then this moment happens:

(c) Corinne Cumming EBU

And when Amanda hits this pose and this note – well, it’s a moment. A staged moment to be sure, but still a moment.

Song 16 is Norway, and it’s the wolves! Singing a funny song about Grandmas and bananas! Arent they wacky!

(c) Andres Putting EBU

If this is the first time you’re seeing this performance, congratulations. You’re in for a fun three minutes. (And yes, the wolves are actually singing, even though it’s hard to see their mouths move.) If you’re like me, and this is the 300th time you’ve seen this performance? I’ve grown immune to the conceit of space wolves and will use this as my own personal pee break time.

The show closes with song 16 – Snap by Rosa Linn from Armenia. Now, I had this pegged as an okay song that was on the cusp of qualifying, but then I saw the staging.

Someone is using up their pandemic stockpile!

At first, I just thought it was a room covered with toilet paper, but it’s got a twist! The ending got a huge cheer from the crowd, and it’s entertaining even if you aren’t in the arena watching stagehands spin this box around.

And that’s it! All 17 contenders have performed! If you’re watching the BBC, they’ll probably go into some wacky pre-taped bit with Scott Mills and Rylan. Try to avoid that – switch to the Swedish stream or something.

Voting begins now, and only 10 of the 17 acts manage to go through. In the meantime, we get two dynamite interval acts. We will get some recaps which mean a better view of the literally green green room.

The hot recap action

The first is a tribute to Italian dance music with Benny Benassi and Sophie and the Giants. It’s fun and too short. Too short in that we barely get to hear each of the songs, and too short in that there’s no Giorgio Moroder. Couldn’t RAI get the rights to his songs?

It’s much better than this photo makes it appear

The second is a performance that has deep significance to the Italian audience. Diodato – the singer who was their entry in the 2020 cancelled Eurovision – gets his moment under the broken sun to perform his song Fai Rumore (Make Noise). For much of Italy (and many Eurofans), this song is synonymous with the pandemic. People sang it from their balconies during isolation, and Diodato did a famous lone performance of it from an empty Coliseum.

You can’t even see Diodato amidst the swaying

I was worried the producers had overegged this with all the backup dancers. The action seemed to overwhelm Diodato’s ability to sell this song from a piano (which he is very good at!) But right after this pyrotechnic curtain fell, the whole thing comes together beautifully. Stick with this Italian ballad!

(At this point, eagle eyed viewers will note that the sun has moved. It’s impressive! But not impressive enough to justify it in the first place.)

So we’ve had 17 songs and two interval acts. Is it finished? NO. It’s time to meet two of the Big 5, who get an automatic passthrough to the final.

We first meet France, who are bringing the Breton banger Fulenn. Stick around for their chaotic performance clip!

Mika’s done a costume change!

And then we get Italy, who are sending a love/hate duet called Brividi (Shivers), sung by the oh so charismatic Mahmood and Blanco. Again, we get a clip – although this one doesn’t convey the full experience of the song. (I saw it performed last night and it made me cry.)

After all that, we reach the end of the show. The 10 entries who will go through to Saturday night are announced. And I end up rejoicing for my favourites (Latvia! Slovenia! Moldova!) or crying at what’s been robbed (Latvia! Slovenia! Moldova!) At any rate, we’ll post a post-mortem tomorrow.

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