I’m not going to lie, this is a Eurovision 2021 day I’ve not looked forward to. It’s the part of the show laden with misfires and some songs I scored lowest in the recent OnEurope Countdown reviews. I’ve equipped myself with a double espresso and a bag of sweet and salty popcorn. Hopefully, the ketamine won’t kick in until Latvia.
Although many have written cruel words about ‘You’, this is a song I genuinely like. It bears a hint of Lou Reed and serves as an utter contrast to most of what’s going on around here. On stage today, this proved to be a powerful delivery, turning a few heads and cajoling those who wrote it off in the Press Centre to reevaluate whether Georgia might just make the final cut. It’s rather a dark staging and Tornike Kipiani hasn’t travelled down the (tired) Sponsored by Swarovski route, instead, looking to have hotfooted it to the stage from a branch of Gap in dark jeans and a regular fit white shirt. There are many close-ups to start as he stands in a single column of light. Now and again there are unfortunate shots from below – something any gay man worth his weight in Hide and Heal will advise against. A box gets wheeled on stage as the backdrop bursts into rich, dark shades of blue and Tornike takes a seat, one leg cocked, allowing lyrics to be projected onto his frame. When the big end arrives, the words are on the backdrop, usefully translated into Georgian. The sole deviation in colour comes now with salvos of orange light suggesting passage from night into a new day. Vocally, he’s magnificent, easily outshining some of the thinner, multi-tracked, generic voices on parade this year. There was a second run-through beamed to the Press Centre where he played around and warbled some parts, hummed others, sang deliberately off key and ad-libbed, finishing with a stony faced ‘do-be-do-bi-doo’. The boy might even have a sense of humour, after all. It scandalised the more stoney-faced journos. I still love this song and expect it’s one of the few Eurovision 2021 songs I might wish to have on a playlist. I want it to go through. It might not.
Another Sacha Jean-Baptiste Group production finds Anxhela Peristeri alone on stage. It’s ominous, and she’s picked out as the backdrop erupts with a shower of crimson smoke. From there on in, the LEDs get used to spectacular effect with blue smoke, columns of light and rings of fire. Anxhela stays alone throughout and delivers one of the strongest vocals this year, full of passion and drive. Outfit wise, it’s another fairly brief bling-based tassel affair, that (for once) works, rather than suggesting itself as a prime contender for the Barbara Dex Award. The Eurovision wind machine is back, along with a spot of classic over-the shoulder smoulder singing. For me, the stage looked empty, but this was far more effective than other solo stage performances (Estonia, for example). If only the song were stronger. It’s solid and competent.
The Black Mamba are here with a song I just can’t bring myself to like, but their performance was faultless. They’ve opted for the slightly cliched black and white opener, but with a nice transition to dark blue and then full colour. The backdrop features an outline of orchestral strings. The story of the song is told brilliantly, with the face of a woman who came to the city looking for work and ended up walking the streets – something the LED version literally then does in a side-screen projection as Pedro makes his way towards the satellite stage – where in the only misfire of the performance, he mimes the cringe-worthy guitar solo. It’s still a bit pub band hit the big time, but a classy performance, none the less. Again … if only the song were stronger. My mot du jour appears to be competent, when I’d like it to be exciting.
Victoria finds herself atop a rugged outcrop enveloped by the seas with merely a photograph of her father. The backdrop is bleak and scattered with stars and there’s dry ice a-plenty. She’s dressed in something blue and baggy – I’d suggest she loses the sneakers; there just aren’t enough barefoot contessas this year. Efficient use is made of close-ups throughout, establishing a rare sense of intimacy that will help ‘Growing up is getting old’ to stand out. As the song reaches its crescendo, she gets to her feet and stars tumble (as does sand) and rays of light burst through. Her vocals are on point throughout, and she connects easily with the camera. The final two lines delivered into the darkness are especially compelling. It’s one of those standing ovation moments for me. It ought to win. It likely won’t.
With her father recently diagnosed, Victoria hopes to raise awareness of ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord.
I’m going to declare I was mistaken about the line-up today. Perhaps because my expectations were rock bottom, I’ve found myself blown away by the variety on offer. It’s as if this is where the producers have been hiding the actual musicians. Oh hang on, did I speak too soon …
It’s very much a rock song with rock song staging. Flashing lights and jerky camera direction. So much so, that it’s hard to get a grip on what’s going on or connect with the performers in any way. Every now and then something works, but before you can settle into it, we’re away to another angle, a different shade of blue, red or white and another close up or long shot. There’s absolutely nothing wrong in terms of their performance and if the song happens to be your bag, you’ll get all of this. It’s the first rehearsal I dropped out of before the second go. I can’t see it making the final, but mostly because there’s at least ten better shows on offer in this semifinal.
If anybody was likely to bring bonkers to Rotterdam (apart from Senhit), then Samanta Tina must surely own the t-shirt. And yet, today’s performance lacked the necessary bells and whistles. The opening is grand. A darkened stage with a lone shaft of light, Samanta’s blonde bob, and she turns around as the lights rise revealing three backing singers, also in green with colour-coordinated sneeze shields. Farrow & Ball Bancha being the (fresh after all the silver and pink) teinte du jour. The background animation looks to be some sort of collapsing anemone effect, with golden hands rising throughout the refrain. Vocally, it was affected and her enunciation dodgy, with me hearing ‘I’m a woman, I’m a drooler’ more than once. Whilst nothing could gloss over the deficiencies of the song, Samanta’s otherwise static performance didn’t create the level of show expected (or demanded). I guess we might have our last place for this semifinal.
I expected a mop-topped boyish figure perched at a keyboard with the universe projected. I got neither. Gjon spent his three minutes on what looks like the Channel 4 logo with a ripple effect playing out behind. There were lots of jolting camera angles that need to be spruced up. They disengaged me from what was going on – which sounded to be someone who hit every single note of his song. There’s some self-conscious (interpretive dance) flapping of the arms here and there that could surely go, and his outfit doesn’t flatter (men of diminutive size should avoid a high-wasted trouser, or certainly French-tuck their tunic). But the song does stand out, and thankfully there’s no connection to the (awful) promotional video. Switzerland is still very much in the running – yet I wonder if it’s been staged just one teeny bit too deliberately for mass appeal? The key wow factor to this song was Gjon’s vulnerability, but that’s gone, replaced by someone who looked ill at ease. And somebody needs to tell him not to stand with his toes pointed inwards, he’ll have back trouble in later life.
Fyr Og Flamme have changed little (not even their clothes) from the Danish MGP, but why mess with what worked back then? This is the song made for the pinks and blues and Tron-like grids used by other acts to a slighter effect, and for once, the broad camera shots work with the act rather than against, setting up a party like atmosphere to end the show. The act is pretty much what you might expect. Strong vocals. Mugging at the camera. Awkward dance steps, though there’s a bit of running to the satellite stage towards the end. That didn’t really work on this first rehearsal. Jesper and Laurits are having fun, and that comes across perfectly. It finishes the semifinal wonderfully, and coming after a fairly eclectic bunch of songs, cheers everyone up. I still see this as a once-only affair.
By the way, I done a book …
Image Credits: Rijnmond.