After the absolute bearpit that is semi final 1 two days later attention will be turned to those participating in semi final 2. I think it’s fair to say that looking at the runners and riders this particular semi is much more wide open and barring a few (we’ll come to them) really qualification is up for grabs to many. So we’ll start today with the top half taking in the first nine songs of semi final 2.
On the Thursday night the show will be opened by Tijana Bogićević from Serbia with ‘In Too Deep’, sadly not a of cover Sum 41. Since skipping the 2014 Contest Serbia have maintained a solid run of qualification that I fear may be under threat this year. This is not a bad song, not at all but one feels it’s slightly too complex for it’s own good. Whilst In Too Deep is not quite as heavy-handed as “Icebreaker” from Agnete & Norway last year there are for me similarities. Every time I listen to the verse of ‘In Too Deep’ I always think to myself ‘hang on, which one is this again?’, it’s only when it gets to the chorus that I actually recognise it and can remember the song. There is too much disconnect within the song and as I say although it’s not to the same levels as Agnete I feel the same fate could befall Tijana. I think she has a wonderful voice, I really do and given a different song I’d expect her to sail through but as it stands it may struggle.
Nathan Trent will be representing hit homeland this year with ‘Running On Air’ which is pleasant and almost Disney-esque in it’s sweetness but I’m not completely convinced yet. Nathan himself had something of a lucky escape as he was originally on the long list for the German National Final before Austria gave him a good get out and internally selected him. Now I didn’t give this song the slightest chance of qualifying until the London Preview Party when I realised his personality and charm elevates ‘Running On Air’ to a higher level than it probably deserves to be. He’s managed to further endear himself to me and other Eurovision fans by covering previous artists in the past few weeks too, clever boy! The song itself really shouldn’t find it’s way into a Saturday night lineup but Nathan himself could well drag it through on his personality alone.
If Nathan from Austria benefited from his London appearance then Jana Burčeska with ‘Dance Alone’ did nothing for Macedonia’s chances with her ‘performance’ in the capital. Unlike every other singer that night and unlike what she’ll have to do on the night itself Jana just mimed along to her studio version. I was left thoroughly disappointed and felt short-changed after seeing her kooky performance that night. It was apparently due to the effects being hard to replicate live in London so there’s a legitimate reason but it was still a let down. Having seen recordings of her subsequent preview performances her live vocal still leaves me concerned and it’s a shame because in terms of the song itself, I love it! Whether you are Dancing Alone or with friends this song most definitely fills you with the urge to get up and move. It’s a well executed pop song with a chorus catchy enough that it should be easily recalled in a voting recap. But if Jana can’t nail the vocal live then she could find herself in trouble
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Things were a little different in this year’s Maltese National Selection. Having previously used a combination of jury & public vote this year they changed to a 100% televote. This decision appears to have cost them sending one of the very best songs from this year’s NF season. Janice Mangion’s Maltese language Kewkba was in equal parts powerful and delicate, possessing a haunting beauty only matched by Norma John in Finland. It would’ve been a wonderful message for Malta to have sent the only one of 16 choices in their own language. But thanks to 100% televote the mere 452 votes difference means we have the more traditional ballad, ‘Breathlessly’ from Maltese stalwart Caludia Faniello. Whilst Kewkba is obviously superior this was actually my second choice to win in Malta and I’m glad it did. It is very old fashioned but as we saw last year in particular, there is a place for some more ‘old fashioned Eurovision’. The lyrics are schmaltzy, it’s fairly formulaic but I think it stands a better chance of knicking 10th place and scraping into Saturday than most other people would give it. In this particular semi, who knows!
This is the first in among a number of songs in this semi that errs slightly towards the bamboozling side of Eurovision. Ilinca and Alex Florea brings us ‘Yodel It!’, a truly eclectic mixture of both yodeling and rap. Now I understand that his has become something of a fan favourite and will become a modern Eurovision classic of the ages, but I just don’t get it. There are so many things wrong with this, I just cannot appreciate it. Ilinca’s yodelling is obviously impressive but her actual singing voice is bloody appalling, detracting massively from my enjoyment. The bizarre thrusting dance gestures Alex uses are most unsettling, I hope they invest in a choreographer, or at least a straight jacket to keep him still. My one key ‘no-no’ for a Eurovision track is rap being blended inexplicably with other genres and Yodel It! more or less typifies exactly that. Though don’t tell anyone, after 10 whiskies at the London Party I found myself bopping along to it but running 5th in the semi I don’t think there’ll be time for 10 drams.
After such a long run of non qualifications the Netherlands really has been on something of a resurgence in recent years. Barring one blip (sorry, Trijntje) they’ve been on a real hot streak since Anouk and ‘Birds’ in 2013. This year we have O’G3NE and their ‘Lights and Shadows’ and they’ve most certainly kept up this strong run. Their close 3 part harmonies are truly exceptional in both the studio version and the few live versions they’ve done too. Of course, this is a risky strategy. All it would take is for one of the sisters to go slightly wrong and their performance could fall apart. I don’t think this will happen though, they’ve performed since they were children and they’ve already nailed live performances a numbers of time. Barring any possible technical problems I can’t see the girls themselves messing it up. It’s alleged that their visuals will try to tell the story of their ill Mother rivaling Portugal for the sob story of the year tugging on the televoter’s heart-strings. But if the song and singers don’t win you round they have a two second guitar solo AND handclaps! What more do you people want?
Oh great, another song with rap in the middle. Brilliant! I mentioned in a previous article that in recent years there’s a few countries’ outputs I just don’t get and Hungary would have to be one. I didn’t mind last year’s song but really it’s not since Kati Wolf in 2011 that I’ve properly enjoyed a Hungarian entry and there’s no way that’s changing with Joci Pápai and ‘Origo’. Whilst I appreciate that Origo is technically strong and Joci has a very unique vocal it’s just not for me. I also greatly admire him for singing in his native language, I always respect any act to have the bravery of their conviction to stick to their own language when wisdom dictates English is a more pragmatic choice. Although I don’t enjoy the sound of the song I can also see that the chorus has a decent enough hook, I’ve even found myself humming it to myself around the flat on occasion. But rap, why oh why must he thrown in a random rap that kills the song stone dead for me. It’s not just a cursory few lines, it goes on for sometime like an unwanted house guest that refuses to budge. This is just isn’t for me but there was a unique sounding, native language song that I couldn’t stand last year either…and that did quite well.
Although we’ve already previewed the official Australian song here we have the unofficial Ozzie number for Denmark. Australian born Anja Nissen, the winner of the Voice of Australia is singing ‘Where I Am’, written by Australian songwriters whilst drinking Castlemaine XXXX, putting a prawn on the barbie and being a good neighbour (other stereotypes are available). It feels to me like it’s one year too late for poor Anja. Last year with ‘Never Alone’ in Dansk Melodi Grand Prix it seemed she had a song that could’ve won the whole Contest. Instead her vote was split in the super final with Simone and we ended up with that dreadful dirge from Lighthouse X. Whilst ‘Where I Am’ is not bad and Anja still drags it to a higher level than where it should be thanks to her incredible vocals it’s most certainly not a winner. In amongst the madness that is semi final 2 I’m sure this solid entry will do a job and qualify for the final. That in itself is success after the struggles the Danes have had since their win in 2013 but for Anja it still just feels too much of a missed opportunity.
Now I feel I should start this with good will. I am desperate for Ireland to do well at Eurovision. I have enjoyed a few of the recent efforts that’ve failed to make to the Saturday night, I’ve even actually voted for one or two of them. But with all the will in the world I cannot find anything good to say about this song. Brendan Murray’s Dying To Try is the wrong side of old-fashioned for me. Brendan’s unsettling feminine singing voice is utterly bizarre and one assumes when he was in Louis Walsh’s boyband he was the one that stood at the back and was basically lucky to be there (see Ireland 2016). You know you’re in trouble when the voice is struggling to hit the high notes on the studio recording, never mind when you go live. It just seems like more than any other country Ireland cannot get to grips with the modern Eurovision Song Contest and show no signs of trying to modernise. It says so much when you’re yearning for Jedward of all people to come back and rescue a nation!
Check back tomorrow when the rest of semi final 2 will be up for consideration.