A Swede who lives in Finland and who is lost in Euroland - the wonderful world of Eurovision
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Monday, May 17, 2021

Tobson speaks up: ESC 2021, semi 1


When is it too late to review the entries based on the previews? I had planned to do it during April but never found the time. And tomorrow we will see the first semi from Rotterdam.

So many people have already seen clips from the rehearsals and read countless impressions from what goes on when the countries rehearse. I haven't watched any footage but read people's opinions and now my idea is this.

Maybe right before the semi is a good time to take a step back and forget what has been seen and heard and just refocus on the songs? 

So, here goes. My opinion on the 16 songs in the first semi final with very little attention paid to what has gone down in Rotterdam so far.

01. LITHUANIA The Roop / Discoteque
This is the gutsiest choice of semi final opener since Sweden in 2017 - typically producers go for something with energy and quality but seldom a favourite. "Discoteque" has been very much of a favourite - and is one of the songs I enjoy the most this year - and has that hardcore 80's synthesizer vibe I thought would be a lot more in vogue this year than it eventually turned out to be. A banger, as the kids would say. Probably a bit too edgy to be a potential winner but a sure-fire finalist and The Roop have a fair chance of returning home with the best Lithuanian placing ever.
My grade: 5/5

02. SLOVENIA Ana Soklič / Amen
If it is cool and unexpected to open with a real contender, then the dullest trick in the book is to put some real shark feed at the number two spot - the spot that never won. One year I'd love to see that year's Rybak or Euphoria give the second slot, just to make competition a bit more open. This is perhaps the least likely song to pass on to the final. Overblown, pretentious and gives Ana's voice - which I enjoyed last year - a very hard and unreasonable tone. Technically there's nothing wrong with it, but if feels preachy and hard to enjoy.
My grade: 1/5

03. RUSSIA Manizha / Russian Woman
If you had asked me what kind of entry I would have expected Russia to send to Rotterdam, the answer would have been "not this, at least". A message and a tone that has stirred up a large amount of emotion back home and I just keep wondering how this song ever made it through the Russian tv self-censorship. Is there a hidden resistance movement hiding in the wings? Manizha is a brilliant stage personality and that will take her far, but ultimately this song is probably a bit too much to swallow for the average viewer/voter. Should be in the final but this year more than ever, it feels like we are in for some surprises when the finalists are revealed.
My grade: 3/5

04. SWEDEN Tusse / Voices
A certain portion of the online fandom enjoys nothing more than putting Sweden down and predict doom and gloom for the Swedish entries. I do not want to belong to that group but if you read my Melodifestivalen review, you will know how "Voices" was never a song I warmed to. Tusse is a very charming and enjoyable performer but I can't shake the feeling that Sweden might have done what Finland so often does: thinking we have really found something great only for Europe not to appreciate it at all. Or at least nowhere near as much as we do ourselves. For me, this is competent and solid but is lacking that final something to make it memorable. Now it just stands there, being competent and solid, without even once reaching out to me.
My grade: 3/5

05. AUSTRALIA Montaigne / Technicolor
Last year I grew to like "Don't Break Me" quite a lot, but only for as long as I didn't watch the pretentious and overloaded live performance. This year, I have really tried to like "Technicolor". It has so many things I want to see at the ESC: a performer doing their own thing, without adapting to the contest formula, without trying to be liked. But every time this song almost takes off, Montaigne does her all to make it more complicated than it really is and before three minutes come to an end I have totally lost interest. Like an Australian Björk in the middle of a temper tantrum. Out?
My grade: 1/5

06. NORTH MACEDONIA Vasil / Here I Stand
Last year, Vasil was among my personal favourites with the playful and sensual "You". Imagine my disappointment when he went down the same road as Slovenia and decided to go full musical ballad belter. I am sure he has poured a lot of himself into this song but it doesn't make it more interesting to listen to, unfortunately. Vasil is a great singer and someone I want to support, and I do. But this song is not the right vehicle if you wish to collect a whole lot of points at the ESC.
My grade: 1/5

07. IRELAND Lesley Roy / Maps
An energetic opening and a pretty effective verse are suddenly followed by the rest of the song where very little happens and the same things get repeated over and over again. Your typical radio song, in other words. A song that can be easily faded in or out at any time if needed. Works well on the radio but usually lacks the dynamics to attract votes. This one will need one heck of a performance to qualify.
Grade: 2/5

08. CYPRUS Elena Tsagrinou / El Diablo
Every time the chorus kicks in I get that wow-feeling, thinking this is really a good pop song. And then that feeling always evaporates again. Apart from the slick Lady Gaga-esque chorus, this is the typical clichéd idea Swedish songwriters have of what latino songs sound like and we've had an abundance of them in Melodifestivalen through the years (this very year we had a variation on these elements performed by Alvaro Estrella) and I struggle to see why Cyprus of all countries should be represented by this. Also I find it a bit sad that Cyprus - a country that fostered so many fantastic singers - have not been represented by any local talent for several years already.
Grade: 2/5

09. NORWAY Tix / Fallen Angel
One of the hardest entries to evaluate this year. On one hand side there is the song which is an usually good take on the light pop / boyband genre that always has its fans. On the other hand there is all the styling choices going on in this entry - not just the justified sunglasses - that could easily distract anyone's attention away from the actual song. I wish there would be more focus on the strong chorus but I want to believe we will see this one in the final.
Grade: 3/5

10. CROATIA Albina / Tick Tock
If we assume "Babes With Bangers" is a genre then we have four of those songs in this first semi: Azerbaijan, Cyprus, Malta and this. That could mean they will fight it out for the same votes and split the points between each other, causing one or several of them to fail. It seems fairly plausible that similar entries will cancel each other out. If so, I hope Europe will warm to Croatia and hear how it possesses quite a few quirks and personality traits and how it is very much its own thing. Albina is a terrific pop star and this is a terrific pop song. Should be bang in the final in a perfect world.
Grade: 4/5

11. BELGIUM Hooverphonic / The Wrong Place
The Belgians are not happy and I like them fine like that. This moody piece makes my mind drift off towards "I Wish I Could Fly" by Roxette in a very good way. Great vocal delivery and a tense atmosphere. The only thing I could still wish for would have been a little bit of climax, still. It took a few listens too many to find the handle of the song and that could cost you in an ESC semi.
Grade: 3/5

12. ISRAEL Eden Alene / Set Me Free
You could say this is the first time of the year where I will have to eat my words. When "Set Me Free" was released I thought it was a good production but with very little of a song going on. I always found myself bored before the first minute was over. One successful revamp and the addition of the highest notes ever sung at the ESC was all it took, and Eden is a really good performer at that. Having said all of that, it still remains a borderline qualifier that will need luck and goodwill to make it into the final cut.
Grade: 3/5

13. ROMANIA Roxen / Amnesia
I can't really tell what made Romania trip over the edge and suddenly no longer be a safe qualifier year after year. This is very likeable song with a message and a delivery that feels appropriate and genuine. A bit of a gamble to send a song that relies so much on the audience paying attention but I'm glad that Romania gambles. Would probably get eaten alive by Bulgaria if the two meet in the final, but I cross my fingers and toes for that to happen.
Grade: 3/5

14. AZERBAIJAN Efendi / Mata Hari
There is a certain type of song that only exists at Eurovision, always tailormade and designed for the contest with very little chance of a life outside of the competition. I often enjoy that kind of song when it is done well and staged with the right sort of conviction. Azerbaijan's "Cleopatra" last year was pretty much that and felt amusing and uplifting. This year the same team gives us exactly the same song but without any of the attack needed. This is microwaved leftovers and everybody involved knows it. 
Grade: 1/5

15. UKRAINE Go_A / Shum
Folk music on a flute meets a rave party at the edge of the apocalypse and somehow these two things merge seemlessly and just works beautifully together. Seriously, people. How do they do it in Ukraine? How can they so often offer entries that are so bold and original and challenge the whole Eurovision formula? If the EBU people are living in fear right now they absolutely should be: if the stars line up the right way, this could be a possible winner. Either way a 100% sure qualifier and it puzzled me throughout the season how anyone ever doubted that.
Grade: 5/5

16. MALTA Destiny / Je me casse
Ever since Destiny won Junior Eurovision, there has been talk that she could become the first one ever to win Junior as well as The Big One. That dream is within reach and wouldn't it be fantastic if Malta finally got to win? Having said that, this is still more of a good mood rather than a fully functioning song. Having a groove instead of an old-fashioned chorus is effective but risky and this entry relies very much on the charm and personality of Destiny. That's not a problem in the semi but the question is how far it will carry in the final.
Grade: 4/5

How I predict? Let's get back to that tomorrow. ESC 2021 feels wide open and picking the ten correct finalists out of this bunch seems close to impossible. But the overall quality is good and I foresee an entertaining show. Regardless of the outcome.

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