So we know what the great and good of the Eurovision press corps thinks about all the songs. But what of the thoughts of a bona fide music journalist. A fellow as used to covering grindcore and techno punk in the darker recesses of the globe as he is covering fluffy light Europop tunes. So we asked Roy D Hacksaw, an occasional correspondent to this parish, to give his thoughts on the runners and riders of the first Eurovision semi-final to see if his thoughts differ from everyone else. And occasionally they do...
Folks who know a thing or two about these things claim that this is a dangerously front-loaded collection of songs. Conventional wisdom usually states that you stand more chance of qualifying from the semis if you bag a later draw, but many of the first half songs are definite qualification contenders, so we’re surely bound to lose a few favoured tunes along the way. But who’s it going to be?
Azerbaijan kicked the morning off with a high-concept piece of work, the singers all perched upon fairly hefty angular triangles and being blown asunder by howling wind machines. But despite wearing a tight leotard that offers dangerous camel-toe potentiality, and delivering lyric lines so deathly awful that they make you want to wander out into the street and punch a complete stranger, Aisel is so assured in her performance, and the song so laden with pop hooks that this has accidentally become a fine opening to the show. On this showing it's a serious contender to be one of the lucky ten qualifiers. They also have a flawless qualification record, so can never confidently be ruled out of anything.
Iceland’s little boy lost looks exactly that in an unbecoming white suit and some very old-fashioned staging. We fear that the only thing that could save him here is his cheeky smile and nan-luring looks.
Albania on the other hand is playing this like it’s his own stadium show. His voice is massive and effortless, and despite the song itself being a bit of a dad rock plod we can very easily see his soaring voice soaking up the jury points like some kind of musical J-Cloth. Keep an eye on this as an unexpected qualifier.
This is especial bad news for Belgium, as her Bond-ish ballad looks dreadfully flimsy after the vocal pyrotechnics that proceed her. The minimal worked well for this lot last year, but we’re still to be convinced of her nation's chances this term.
Czechia offer up some dilemmas. One of the few really current pop tunes in the whole contest, his early rehearsals suggest that he may be something of a diva. And if he continues along this somewhat petulant route he may find the technical crew caring less about how well the song is presented. Maybe we read him wrong. Maybe he’s just a confident young man who knows exactly what he wants and is determined that he’s going to get it. Or maybe he’s just an arse. We’ll be looking at his various going on very closely over the next few days, as we suspect this could be where the decent gossip may lay. But will he even get to the televised bit? As part of his on-stage japing about the boy Mikolas attempted a poorly executed forward flip and landed pretty heavily, apparently jarring his neck. Rumours abound of hospital visits and neck braces and difficulty with mobility. What a shame, eh.
Contrast that to the utterly beautiful song from Lithuania. Quiet and gentle, it wrenched the traditionally boisterous press room into utter silence. And this is rare. Tears were also seen. This may well be worth a punt as an unexpected qualifier - despite the somewhat cheesy projections of nans and babies that intermittently litter the screen.
Hot favourite Israel has asked more questions than it’s answered. The stage set up is terrific, with big walls of those waving cats you get down the Chinese takeaway, and outfit wise she’s busting the shorty kimono. But there’s something that’s not quite working on stage. For half the song she’s lumbered behind her loop station, a piece of stage furniture will make your nan wonder why she’s constantly tapping that table. And then when she’s out in the wild she totters about awkwardly while flanked by her bonkers dancers. One suspects that this may grow, but anyone who backed her early at decent odds may want to consider selling their bet. It’s an excellent song, to be sure, but is it a winner? We’re really not sure.
But you just wait until you see Belarus. It’s exactly what you demand from the Eurovision: comedy rose japes, a bonkers dancer with a bow and arrow, ludicrous blood magic and a pay-off that’ll make you spit your tea out. Twice. The best bit is that they’re playing it completely straight, and probably reckon that it’s a really good idea. You just wait!
Estonia were next up with their ponderous popera ballad. The gal is stood on a plinth in her big projection frock and sings it beautifully, but it’s so lacking in heart that I fear its high position in the betting is a little false.
Bulgaria polished off day one, and offered us five ill-matched singers in black, wandering about a bit and never entirely connecting with the camera. This ought to be pretty decent, but it left pretty much the whole press room looking at each other and shrugging. Once again, consider a cashout if you’ve got this at decent odds, because we’re not entirely sure who they’re aiming this at. I hope it does well though, because the Bulgarian delegation are lovely humans to a man and lady.
The second day began with a reedy, flimsy vocal performance, horrible costumes and a fumbling dance routine from the Macedonia mob. Their curious three-songs-in-one confection is occasionally enjoyable, but it’s so multi-fronded that it’ll be near impossible to concoct a ten second reprise for the voting portion of the show. We fear that the only place this is going is home on Wednesday.
Their proximity pals from Croatia, however, have turned things around with a simple but alluring performance. The lass herself is on her tod on the big stage, but prowls and pouts with cool aplomb. Plus, there’s a stylish talking bit in the middle that’s delivered with such glorious disinterest that you’ll struggle not to clap at the telly. We never much cared for this one in the run in, but she may just have turned things around in the qualification stakes.
Austria also have surprised many with their first run through. Sultry Cesar kicks off the song off on a massive raised plinth giving it the the full Kanye-at-Glastonbury Jesus Christ pose, then hops off for a wander about the stage, oozing easy charm while still giving it the cools. The song itself is a bland soulsome plod, but his personality alone has elevated it to some interesting levels.
Greece offers us a pretty lovely bit of folko ambience, but is too simple in its staging, and her inky blue hand makes us anxious alongside that crisp white frock she's sporting.
As feared, however, Finland are throwing the kitchen sink at this - and more. They start off with Saara strapped to a rotating disc that evokes visions of seaside knife throwers, then have her stamping about a bit with some somewhat martial looking dancers, before she climbs a curious pyramidical framework and drops off backwards like she was at some kind of middle management team building exercise. Oh, and we got our first firework curtain of the year. There’s a whole lot of stuff that could go wrong with this, and the poor lass seems to be constantly thinking about what her next move ought to be. She’s already been trapped on her rotunda, so this may not end well.
All this is in stark contrast to the poor laddie from Armenia. It’s perfectly well sung, and adequately executed, but just a bit too earnest and workmanlike and will probably struggle to qualify, lost as he is amid a cloud of madness and boom bang. What a proper shame.
Switzerland is another lost-in-pack jobbie. Looks decent, uses the space well, but doesn’t really lure anybody to do anything much, shy of wondering what the next song is like.
Lucky for them then that the next song is Ireland…
Actually, it’s OK. It starts nicely enough with the lad himself stood in front of a lamp post, followed by an unexpected lady at a piano. But she soon gets forgotten when the dancing chaps come on - and then it starts snowing. One fears that it ends up being neither one thing nor t’other, but it’s nice enough, and has no direct competitors in its ouevre, so we might just be safe.
Cyprus though - wowsers. It knows it’s shite, but it’s a whole lot more fun because of it. There’s thrusts, flames and terrific trousers, as well as some fabulous hair flicks, and a moment when it appeared that she was shooting flames out of her arse. What a perfect way to end a semi-final, and a fine ending to a pretty beige second half.
So who’s qualifying from this semi-final then? I have absolutely no idea… all of which makes this pesky thing a whole load more fun!
Stay tuned for Hacksaw's reading of the second semi in a couple of days' time.