Let me begin by saying that this has been the first time I’ve ever attended a Eurovision Preview Party and I have therefore little real life experience in keeping a cool head and not getting lost in total fanboy frenzy.
This is the reason my initial 3.000 words piece about Zoe and heading back to Austria in 2017 went straight to the trash bin, and following a good night’s sleep, I’ve since tried to come up with a more informative report.
(I’m kidding, of course. The Zoe essay, including the three poems and drawings didn’t get trashed but went straight into the folder with my other fan art right below the newly built Loin d’ici shrine obviously)
First up was Ireland’s Nicky Byrne with Sunlight. It’s not the first time that there are concerns over an Irish Eurovision act’s vocals at the pre-contest stage, but in 2013 it eventually came together for Ryan Dolan, so I’ll give Ireland the benefit of the doubt, especially since Nicky’s vocals in London – backing track assistance – were not by any means embarrassing. He’s a handsome fellow who doesn’t look nearly as washed up as his music career. And he’s definitely rocking one of the neatest leather jackets at this year’s contest, so he has that going for him I guess.
Let’s talk about the other recurring leather jacket from Latvia and the guy who seems to have sleeping with it for the last couple of months. My initial reaction to Justs performing Heartbeat in Supernova was that it looked a bit too static for selling its unique electronic beat convincingly. After having the chance to witness the performer a bit closer on and off the stage in London, I feel like I have a better understanding of him now. He is simply a very humble person whose body language will always look a little introverted. Terms like “non-threatening” and “likeable” have often been highlighted as positive factors here and seem particularly appropriate in this case. I would be very surprised if Latvia’s presentation style changed drastically in Stockholm with Justs bouncing around the stage building up to an epic stage diving finale. So let’s get that picture out of the head.
Coming on right after Latvia during the later stages of the concert was Amir from France who also received a very strong reception at the London venue. Have you ever wondered if the concept of self-fulfilling prophecy applies to Eurovision odds? It seems like Amir is fully aware of his status as one of the hot favourites with fan polls and bookmakers. I haven’t seen a more confident performance of J’ai cherche prior to the one he gave in London. He really believes in his song and it visibly elevates it.
“Remember when that awesome bilingual French song won Eurovision in 2016” is a statement I still have trouble to imagine being said in a few years time.
Another act that looked more comfortable on stage in London than in previous performances was Italy’s Francesca Michielin. The song itself might be a tad underwhelming for first time listeners so I think a really intense and confident performance that holds viewers’ attention will be particularly crucial for Italy this year. Every Italian act that hasn’t crawled around the stage has finished in the juries’ top-10 since re-entering the contest in 2011, so it seems plausible that Francesca could continue that trend if she keeps it classy.
Classy isn’t an appropriate description for what Spain are aiming for. Barei has taken every opportunity to promote her song to date, and there’s not much to add to the general debate, other than I felt as if Barei added an extra dollop of kinkiness to her performance, which if memory serves, didn’t exactly work out for Germany’s Ann-Sophie last year.
An act that seems to have suffered in the markets recently based on a variety of questionable or ill-advised creative choices is Nina Kraljic from Croatia. #TragicKraljic? Nina certainly has a distinct voice, but as soon as she appeared on the London stage the uninformed attendants might have wondered if she is one of the participating artists or just a quirky Eurovision fan with a weird fashion sense. Her lack of mainstream star appeal is something that becomes quite obvious in a small venue line up with more telegenic performers. Lighthouse is a decent tune that seems very much Eurovision-by-numbers to me. I’ve heard people in London comparing it to Ellie Goulding. Let me just say that I believe in a hypothetical universe where Ellie Goulding would release Lighthouse and her career in the music industry would be finished overnight. On a brighter note, the song certainly has its fans and there might be quite a few jurors who realise how vocally challenging that song is and reward Nina accordingly.
Speaking of typical Eurovision songs that seem to have very little relevance outside of the contest, you could make the case that Austria’s Zoe is fishing in the same pool as Croatia. Zoe once again went into innocent cutie mode and it comes across as fake and overdone to me, but that is highly subjective and perhaps even irrelevant. Actually, it might sound a bit controversial, but in terms of charming stage persona for televoters to instantly fall in love with, Austria rather than Croatia looks like the healthier prospect out of the two in semi 1. The big question mark surrounding Austria must be how juries will react to the magic mushroom inspired Princess Peach staging witnessed during the national final, as it very much underlines the clichéd nature of the song.
As could have been predicted, the majority of people in London weren’t nearly as enthusiastic for Frans from Sweden. In fact, right before his performance the hosts informed the audience that the upcoming performer loves the city and has a special relationship with the UK, having lived there for some time of his life, which seemed like a clear attempt to prevent the inebriated members of the audience from booing. Considering the hostile environment Frans should get a pass for a slightly defensive rendition of If I were sorry. I still find it very puzzling how a song with such strong domestic commercial success receives so little love from the Eurovision fan community. [ed. because they’re obsessed with rainbows, butterflies and OGAE-friendly schlager]
I was looking forward to seeing Albania’s Eneda Tarifa with hopes of her getting nearer to qualification territory. Helped by a late draw, it would make the semi 2 qualifier market more interesting for opposing some of the shorter priced entries less favourable draws. Vocals were very strong for Fairytale, but her expressions are still off-putting at times, and unfortunately, the revamp of the song offers very little to work with.
Michal Szpak once again delivered a very confident performance of Color of Your Life. This entry has an impressive list of supporters out there and I think I understand the case being made for it. He won his national final against two big names and the song offers strong emotional impact. On the other hand, I can’t overlook the impression I get is that of an extroverted, camp singer who is essentially giving out a life lesson. But Poland’s fate at the contest will ultimately lie in the hands of juries who have a history of being pretty harsh with old-fashioned ballads.
The rockier segments of the show were provided by Cyprus, Montenegro and Romania.
You have to respect Cyprus‘ Minus One for the professional production G:Son provided and their position in fan polls, which is based on a well-produced video clip. I’m afraid, however, that the whole entry comes across rather flat when live, which prevents me from considering it a sure qualifier at this point. The boys from Montenegro looked very charismatic and I realised in London that I hadn’t listened to The Real Thing much so far. I still find it a very difficult song and seems ta little out of place at Eurovision. Romania’s Ovidiu Anton displayed his secure vocal technique and the warm reception in London indicated that there’s an audience for this kind of operatic rock song. It is up to the Romanian delegation to come up with staging that allows him to really leave a mark in Stockholm.
Kaliopi from Macedonia was also well received and even gave an encore performance. It’s fair to say she really enjoys the overall Eurovision experience. Personally, I can’t decide what would be needed to make me enjoy Dona a little more. A bottle of single malt? A pack of antidepressants? Probably a combination of the two. Nevertheless, her vocals had the usual raspy quality.
Bulgaria’s Poli Genova brings a well-structured hook-laden song to the contest and the London audience seemed way more supportive of it than her 2011 song. She also joined Amir on stage when he was on for a little song exchange, which the crowd lapped up. I really can’t decide where I stand on Bulgaria’s chances after seeing her in London, but the concerns that were raised after her Riga appearance are pretty much a thing of the past.
Iceland’s Greta Salome and Malta’s Ira Losco were the two other returning artists who delivered competent and professional performances, especially in comparison to the more inexperienced acts. I couldn’t possibly add anything else that hasn’t already been mentioned before.
The UK’s Joe and Jake closed the show with a charming performance of You’re not alone. It’s not a standout song by any means, but I don’t think the British have any reason to feel embarrassed this year.
Overall I had a really good time in London and might be coming back for next year’s event. You could even find me dancing to a little bit of Kizunguzungu during the after-show party. I apologise for not going into greater detail about what exactly happened there, I haven’t entirely figured it out myself.