God morgon från Stockholm! Or good evening etc. and welcome to the first day of rehearsals.
The benefit of coming to Sweden this year – rather than Italy – is that the wifi works, rehearsals start on time and the press centre monitors spring into life from the off… for now at least.
Christer Björkman intended Sandhja’s Sing It Away to be the lively show opener, but the dull purple/gold staging lacks the visual impact Finland needed to stand out in this semi-final. By the third rehearsal the camera angles framed the interplay between Sandhja and her five backing singers, though it’s still a rather lacklustre package. Sandhja takes to the satellite stage during the bridge before shimmying back to the main stage for the climax. This looks awkward in an empty arena and does show some of Sandjha’s more unflattering angles, as this tweet suggests:
— Popbitch (@popbitch) May 2, 2016
Greece’s rehearsal didn’t really happen for us due to a lack of sound. Visually they look destined for the slot-2 nuking owing to the same dull gold staging as Finland. Argo have dropped a band member in favour of a more telegenic dancer who interacts well with the rapper. The rapper looks an unwilling passenger in this partnership, but it does elevate Greece, albeit from an extremely low base.
It was the same story for Moldova, though the sound did return for the final run through. Lidia Isac stands alone against a blue/white fragmented backdrop. Surprisingly, she was interacting well with the cameras, more so than Sandhja, but she retains that amateur, karaoke-singer look. After the first chorus, Lidia is joined on stage by a cosmonaut – not even Britain’s own PR-hungry astronaut, Tim Peake, would volunteer for this gig. It all looks rather pointless for the 10-seconds or so before he removes the helmet and takes up his role as sole dancer. What is he waiting for? confirmation that the O2 levels had stabilised? Non-qualifier.
Hungary remains in national final guise with deep red staging, three backing singers and a drummer, who doesn’t actually make contact with the drum. Freddie looks and sounds sharp, but stays rooted to his centre-stage perch for the entire 3-minutes of Pioneer – he did wander during the final run through. As a song it’s directionless, and it seems as if the staging mirrors this vulnerability. With other telegenic males to follow from Netherlands, Russia, Cyprus and Estonia, Freddie can’t rely on Europe’s middle-aged women to vote him through.
The Contest is over: Croatia are winning this thing. That is this year’s Barbara Dex award, of course. Nina starts the song draped in what looks like a sheet of decorative bubblewrap with an alienesque collar as if she were going on a first date with Ming the Merciless. This intergalactic-chic is ripped away during the first chorus revealing Nina’s normal attire. We’re told the main dress will be white and feathery. Even worse for Croatia, Nina’s normally reliable vocal deserted her and the four backing singers sounded off-key in parts too. At this rate, Lighthouse is in danger of becoming this year’s Horehronie.
After four low key songs, it was down to Douwe Bob to raise the bar with Slow Down. The stage floor features a large clock face and they’ve lengthened the tick-tock intro of the song. The backdrop is a bland beige, which I guess suits the song, but I have to admit to wanting more from the Netherlands. Douwe takes to the satellite stage for the close where the music cuts for about 10 seconds – my guess is that the audience will be prompted to sing along. I suspect Slow Down will come to life at the next rehearsal.
If we were in Amsterdam, one would think they’d just entered the red light district. Iveta opens with the spoken “Hello it’s me…”, the camera switches suggestively between face and body showing her fishnet-clad thighs with a red pulsating light above. The apocalyptic opening isn’t as explosive as the song demands: during the final run through, fire jets were deployed to accentuate this passage, but it’s miles apart from the ‘going nuclear’ effect we all anticipated. If you think about it, the rest of the song lacks the same level of impact, so to miss such a clear open goal for staging is a glaring error on Armenia’s part. The budget was blown on a holo-gauze effect, where blurry versions of Iveta writhe behind her like some ghostly drug fuelled hallucination. It’s impressive, but does it really add to the package? I don’t think so and have been laying the win and top-5 markets.
I was looking forward to Serhat’s I Didn’t Know, but was left disappointed by the dark, blue and red backdrop. Like Armenia, San Marino have exploited the holo-gauze technology to project another line of dancers to the rear of the stage – this took a while to get right, but the final run through looked sharper. It’s obviously not qualifying, but whether it finishes last or not is debatable.
Last up and most anticipated was Sergey Lazarev for Russia, and if their staging proved one thing, it’s that Fokas can’t think outside of the box. Like Iceland, Fokas has cloned the Måns-style projection concept minus the simplicity and emotional connection. Rather than Måns’ flat projection screen, Russia’s has various disguised platforms that allows Sergey to climb and jump around the CGI imagery. Sergey fell from one of the platforms during the first performance, so it’ll be interesting to see how he deals with the pressure of a live audience. The imagery has no relevance to the lyrics and the whole package is overblown and typical of Russian extravagance. There is no journey, no wow climax and is instead a series of flashy, over complicated graphics. We haven’t seen the winner today.
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