The Fanning Verdict: Eurovision 2021 Day Two

Today should be easy like Sunday morning, but in Eurovisionland, there’s much going on. A bigger day for us with many of the big-hitters taking to the Rotterdam stage to strut their various bits of stuff. You’ll have heard from Phil, Nick and Monty as the day progressed, now here’s my take on things.

Day 1 Report here

Cyprus

The day kicked off with a performance that knocked the spots off most everything I saw yesterday. Elena turned in a sound, considered and totally appropriate performance. There was nothing there that didn’t fit with the song (cough*Ireland*cough). She starts off writhing on the stage in what looks like a red projected square, before previously unseen devil dancers rise from the light and she launches into a tightly choreographed show. The breaks before the chorus are far more forward in the mix than on the studio version and Elena benefits hugely from the taped backing vocals. But she gave this a great performance and was in strong voice. If I had to nitpick, I’d suggest looking again at some of the camera shots as the second verse starts, but otherwise, no complaints. This is through to the final.

Norway

TIX has changed very little since his Melodi Grand Prix performance, though he has cut the dancers down to four. It’s very much a game of five podiums, with TIX staying static throughout. He’s in his angel get-up with a big flowing white cape – that’s going to pick up dust if they’re not careful – wearing a silver suit that looks like it might cause a static shock should he cross his legs, with Anne Summers style chains dangling from each wrist. The dancers are all in black, presumably they’ve tipped up dressed as his inner demons. It’s all a tad literal, and coming after Elena’s red devils, might cause some viewers to wonder if ideas are in short supply this year. The running order could surely have taken account of the double-dip devil factor. The (nasal) vocal stays strong, though the boy band effect is out in force, with a truly distracting second voice in the backing track. All in all, this came across as very safe, but again, knocked spots off anything I saw yesterday.

Croatia

Albina takes to the stage bathed in beams of blue light and wearing an outfit that’s more body stocking than support garment. There are four male dancers who join her on-and-off, dressed in space-themed incontinence suits, as the lighting switches between pink, purple and blue with projected spiral graphics. Vocally, things didn’t sound perfect, but there’s time to work on that. She seemed to hit all her marks. There’s a dodgy 1980s video effect where we get five of her at one point that could usefully go. Overall, this felt dated and dare I say, dull.

Belgium

In total contrast, we have Hooverphonic on a simple, dark stage with the band joined by a single backing vocalist complete with rattly tambourine. They’re positioned at the four corners on raised podia around Geike who is in black with knee-high boots. The vocals stay absolutely on point and the atmosphere created very much that of the bleak video. The camera work is excellent with projection of Geike’s eyes and someone’s hands in black and white. This really stood out for me, but I am biased since I adore the song. Remember how The Common Linnets rocketed from 100-1 to front-runners after rehearsals? That’s this.

Israel

Eden looked stunning (through most of the song, more of that to some) in a short silver frock with black graphic print. She’s on stage with five big lads (who were rather sweaty by the fourth run-through) and set against a graphic printed stage seen from overhead and full on with much use of the catwalk. The whole thing is choreographed to within an inch of its life, and unfortunately, that takes much of its energy, lending things the air of an updated classic Israeli Eurovision sideways step. In the first run throughs, I felt Eden was counting her way through, and every so often, our view was blocked by the dancing boys. Vocally, she struggled with the lower range notes, but the big ‘come all ye hounds’ notes were delivered on demand. Now for the part they could do without (but won’t). The backing dancers tear off her frock in true Eurovision style and that instantly reminded me I wasn’t watching a credible R&B act, but something designed for this very special show. She’s left in a black-accented body stocking (the sort that leads to cystitis) with her long hair extensions crowned by something more sculptural. This could have been so much more. I’d had this down as a sure fire qualifier, now I see it struggling. The Head of Delegation needs to have terse words with whoever staged this mess.

Romania

Roxen looks to have much work to do based on the two run-throughs I watched today. Vocally, she’s nowhere near where she needs to be – rehearsal or not. It doesn’t help that she’s picked up and chucked around by her goth cape clad backing dancers. She enters the stage in what looks like one of those comfy velour sleep suits old people buy from the back of Sunday supplements. The five dancers (who I guess are meant to represent her inner demons and doubts) are lying in the dry ice ready to pounce. There’s a fair bit of struggle between Roxen and the dancers before the whole thing starts to look like a dance school audition piece. There’s good use made of the b-stage, though you do start to feel for the girl after she’s been chased around for three minutes before defeating the baddies. The whole thing is too busy and there’s not enough Roxen. If they’d let her stay still and have the dancers do their stuff, things might have been closer to rescue.  As it is, this is my first sure-fire non-qualifier.

Azerbaijan

This is the entry that has most benefited from the rule change around pre-recorded backing vocals. She may as well lip-sync the whole song. Clad in something small, revealing and black, Efendi handled the minimal vocal duties just fine, but it’s really not a tough sing. With four other women on stage, we got a surprisingly small show with nondescript graphics and low-energy choreography. For those completing a Eurovision bingo card, there’s the five-in-a-row, multi-armed woman effect and a ring-a-roses jiggle towards the end. In the instrumental finish, there’s scope for pyro and this is where things should truly take off, but the song is over long before any energy builds. I was sure this would go through, now it feels desperately drab. Like a damp Tuesday afternoon in a Soho revue bar.

Ukraine

For the first time this year, I found myself saying ‘wow’. This is a song I had written off as a bunch of pretentious fan wank, but today everything made sense. The staging is phenomenal. The performance perfect. We start with the camera on Kateryna’s face (black latex top, long skirt and green horsehair boa, the band are in opaque wipe-clean lab coats) as a yellow sun rises and two of the band wave what look like selfie ring lights from a stage within a stage surrounded by small white trees (likely half inched from Ireland). Things continue much like this until everything explodes and the LED screens do all the heavy lifting, bursting into gold, green data overload and blue as the dancers leave their confines to perform some nonsense with sacks of corn. It’s sounding like crap as I write this, but it makes oodles of sense on screen. A unblinking Kateryna adds to the oppressive feel as the screens show figures hammering on locked windows before oversize troopers trample all beneath them. It’s intense. It’s going through.

Malta

If Go-A went from zero to hero, Destiny did quite the opposite for me. She opens atop a platform, dressed in pink and posing before a red screen with the lighting so poor, she’s hard to make out. Four more dancers (also in pink) thrust and grind against a ballet dance bar. There’s split-screen for the electro-swing part as everything turns a lurid shade of green. At one unfortunate point, projected backdrop rectangles find the dancers in Amsterdam red light windows. Destiny is in really good voice, however, and you can’t help but think the staging might ruin her chances. She did a fair bit of looking down to be sure of not stumbling from the (needlessly) high platform – but that’s only to be expected at a first run-through. And there’s an urgent need for tit tape as one of Destiny’s thigh-high boots ended the second run-through as an ankle sock. I so wanted this to win, but now, I’m not even certain it’s going through to the big show. The fun and sass of the video has gone, along with any message of empowerment. Even the cheeky (but crucial) ‘excuse my French’ line felt thrown away. There’s still time, and Malta has a habit of making big changes between first and second rehearsal. The good people of Valletta might hope one of those involves sacking the stage designer.

and finally … because mamma has to earn money. My next book is out on 4 June and is available to pre-order.

Rebuilding Alexandra Small

Image Credits: EBU / Andres Putting .

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