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Eurovision 2017: Semi-Final 1 Pre-Rehearsal Preview

As ever, I have used a traffic light system to indicate my current qualification thoughts. This is based on a pre-rehearsal landscape, so things will change between now and May 9th.

In The Green:

With the running order, among other things, contracted out to Christer Björkman, it came as little surprise to see Sweden deliberately pushed out of the prime slots. There are a couple of ways of assessing this; either the song and memorable gimmick is strong enough to challenge from the opening slot, and thus Christer can justify awarding Robin a prime slot in the final, or Christer is happy to dig the EBU out of an almighty hole and doesn’t mind accepting a respectable top-5ish finish in the final. The western juries should lap this song up with it being the most radio-friendly upbeat song in the semi. However, as commenters have pointed out since the Melfest final, the televote might see Robin fall short of first. Depending how far adrift he is from first will govern how favourable a slot he’s given in the final. If other songs turn up with great staging concepts (yes Greece we’re looking at you), then a conceited, pretty guy on a treadmill won’t look so fresh.

With Belgium taking a step backwards at the pre-concerts, Australia’s pop ballad is looking more assured. It’s a tricky slot, but as we witnessed last year, Australia should work on some vocal variations to add more lift. I’m not sure Australia are here to win, but I remember saying something similar last year and Dami Im got pretty damn close in the end. There are three male ballads to look out for this year and two of them are in this semi. With Portugal favoured in the running order, I suspect Christer wants to give this feel good underdog narrative every chance to flourish. Isaiah’s Don’t Come Easy is technically good, but lacks the heart and warmth of Salvador’s Amar Pelos Dois. On the flip side, Isaiah sings in English, whereas Salvador relies on Europe to fall in love with démodé Portuguese jazz. My belief is that Portugal will attract much more jury support. The big question is will the average televoter?

Are Azerbaijan and Armenia contenders for the semi-final win? With regards to the former, it depends which Dihaj turns up. The slicked back hair Dihaj from the video would be great, but the austere, Star Trek extra look would see western Europe setting phasers to stun. Skeletons is a cracking Sia-inspired ballad which could have easily won back when Azerbaijan were serious contenders before allegedly going clean in 2014. Since then, they’ve been happy to qualify and aim for top-10. And if Azerbaijan were serious, Fokas would be on their staging team.

The good thing about Armenia’s song is that we sort of know what to expect from a staging point of view. Furthermore, Sasha Jean-Baptiste has just been confirmed as their staging designer. As a Eurovision song Fly We Me is quite left field, yet the visuals are almost hypnotic. Armenia’s song appeals to their regional base and there’s plenty for juries to appreciate from an originality and artistic perspective. And as we saw in Amsterdam, Artsvik can be relied on to deliver vocally. Until we know what the Kyiv staging looks like, it’s difficult to predict Armenia’s potential, however a semi-final top-3 finish is looking increasingly likely.

Having signed up staging maestro, Fokas Evangelinos and Eurovision pop-writing legend, Dimitris Kontopoulos, Greece were hoping to engineer the perfect package to challenge for a high finish. The Greek public didn’t play ball and selected the cheep, cliche dance track, This Is Love, which has been polished a tad since their national final. Nevertheless, there’s enough here to delight the Greek diaspora, and combined with no.1-selling singer, Demi, and a Fokas staging miracle, Greece do look a tad underrated in some markets and should be aiming for 3rd-5th in this semi.

Regional advantage, as well as having the charming fun factor should see Moldova through too. If their staging looks a bit tacky in rehearsals then qualification could be nail-bitingly close, but based on what we’ve seen to date, this has the potential to be this year’s Golden Boy. And if Russia doesn’t make it to Kyiv, we need to find our compliment of 3-4 ex-USSR nations for the top-10. There are a few other fun songs competing for the same votes, but only one comes from the ex-Soviet bloc. Both Zdob şi Zdub and Pasha Parfeny got close in 2011 and 2012.

In the mix:

At the moment, I’m struggling to call a few nations as certainties given the low quality base we’re working from this year. Even Latvia, who were gifted the pimp slot aren’t clean enough to justify their short, odds-on price for qualification. Line could look quite epic with the right staging, which might be why Christer gave Triana Park the coveted pimp slot. Both of last year’s pimp slots finished 3rd, but Malta were very clever with the juries and Belgium’s song was a happy pill. This year’s entry from Latvia is messy and lead singer, Agnese Rakovska, can appear rather aggressive. As I said in the main review article, if they can focus the staging and choreography, there is potential to be exploited. This is a greener shade of amber, though.

As mentioned above, Blanche hasn’t really impressed for Belgium so far. The occasion looks way too big for her given reports of pre-show stage fright at the London Eurovision Party and the sick note excuse for Amsterdam. Throughout her rendition of City Lights, the poor girl looked scared stiff, gulping for air like Anna Bergendhal in 2010. Following her pre-rehearsal performances, I would argue Belgium are a redder shade of amber with only the song quality saving them at the moment. Qualification may still be up for debate, but the top-5, top-4, top-3 and outright markets look to be settled already.

If we were in the 1990s, Finland would be top-5 in the odds. Unfortunately for Norma John, Ireland and Norway have already been there, done that and won the trophy. Even so, Blackbird does possess a certain something that sees it appear on most fans’ list of underdogs. The staging at UMK, albeit limited, was rather static and dark. To ensure this Blackbird isn’t cooked for before time, the Finnish staging team needs to add more light during the choruses to work viewers’ goosebumps. It’ll be close, but with subtle improvements, Finland could easily switch off Belgium’s lights.

The studio version of Paper is great, if not rather cold.  What’s clear from the Söngvakeppnin final is that Svala needs to take a massive step forward with her staging and general appearance. The thuggish chav look has never travelled well, so it’s encouraging she’s flown off to LA to design her outfit and staging. Anyone who has watched Svala’s earlier material will know her style is rooted in 80s alternative, which could see her as an early frontrunner for the Barbara Dex award. For Iceland’s sake, I hope she’s sympathetic to the song and maximises it’s potential. If so, then Iceland’s recent non-qualification run should be over.

Since it’s release, Hovig’s Gravity has failed to pull me in, and should it appear on a playlist, I often skip past it. I think that’s the problem for Cyprus this year; the song is rather anonymous and Hovig just doesn’t quite seal the deal. And even though Hovig mimed at the Greek national final, the performance struggled to engage me. The way he emotes and gestures looks false; it’s like he struggles to genuinely connect with a song. It was the same in Armenia. Maybe the sterile TV studio failed to light his inner fire? Though as I noted in Amsterdam review, he did show some improvement at the weekend. Cyprus can count on their diaspora to help, but if their Eurovision staging appears too dark and Hovig fails to connect, Greece will drain even more support from their close ally. At the moment, Cyprus are 8th-11th.

Poland really should be red given the quality of Flashlight. Moreover, they don’t have much diaspora to call upon either, given the main bulk of their expat community can’t vote in this semi-final. Even so, with Michał Szpak scoring a top-3 finish on last year’s televote, the Polish diaspora has to be respected. Although conversely, Szpak won his national final with 35% of the vote, 10% clear of favourite, Margaret. This year Kasia Moś failed to top the televote. Qualification may be within reach, but I doubt Poland will be top-10 in Kyiv.

Down and out:

In brief now… Georgia were given slot 2 for a reason and Eurovision needs less peace ballads. Tako has great vocals, but the song writing is junk. Probably finishing 12th-15th. Albania are repeating last year’s mistakes, albeit with a slightly better song, but a less favourable running order slot. Last year their finished last with the jury and 16th overall. They need a huge step forward to make the cut.

Montenegro will be great entertainment for hardcore fans, but will ultimately struggle finish outside of the bottom 3. Likewise, the anonymous Czech song have great difficulty registering televote support. Marta has a great pair of lungs, which may see her nab a few cheeky points from the juries.

Slovenia was OK until they went batshit crazy with the rework. Now the song’s identity is lost, replaced with a weird trip-hop, musical-cum-movie score monster. From dated but mildly credible, to WTF were they thinking? All we need is Blackstreet to join Omar on stage. Having said that, Omar was strong in Amsterdam, but I’m still concerned about where Slovenia’s support is coming from. Red with a slight hint of amber.

Value betting odds will be posted in the comments section below once available.

Agree or disagree? Please share your thoughts below.

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About Gavster

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I’m a qualified designer and the official geek in the crew, dedicating most of my free time to keeping the ESCtips show on the road. My family routes allow me to support the UK, Ireland and Italy.

30 comments

  1. My traffic lights as of now:

    –Green–
    Sweden
    Australia
    Belgium
    Portugal
    Greece
    Armenia
    Latvia

    –Amber–
    Finland
    Azerbaijan
    Poland
    Moldova
    Iceland
    Cyprus

    –Red–
    Georgia
    Albania
    Montenegro
    Czech Republic
    Slovenia

    I think you’re being way too harsh on Belgium and way too lenient on Azerbaijan. DiHaj’s performance in Amsterdam came across as very cold to me, and I can’t see how their overall package is going to be accessible enough to warrant a green. Whereas Belgium does have great potential for an attractive/more likable staging.

    • “The slicked back hair Dihaj from the video would be great, but the austere, Star Trek extra look would see western Europe setting phasers to stun.” – Lenient? 🤔

      Comparing the two, at least Dihaj has put in a decent vocal performance so far. We’re still waiting for Blanche to play her hand.

  2. i agree with some of the comment but i think there are some that are too high or too low in your raking.

    australia is rather too high. fundamentally, i don’t like them at eurovision but they do present good song. not so much here. i think it’s a bit too ‘in the numbers’ for a song and being place between two woman ballads. hides rather than highlights the song. i see a boarder line quala.

    same with Armenia. it looks too ‘eurovish’ to me. i don’t understand the song. it’s trying to bee ‘lovewave’ but it ends up going ‘boomboom’ for me.

    latvia is a quala for me. mo doubt about it.

    i think Montenegro has a chance. but it will depend of the televote if they’re with slavko.

    i think portugal might get a flash start.

  3. Looks like my fears for Belgium when the song was picked have come to pass. I do think Belgium should still get through on songetting quality alone but any chance of top 5 seemso to have evaporated and top 10 hopes appear to be fading quickly, Nina Kragjic anyone?

    In regards to your system I agreen with everything bar Moldova & Latvia. Moldova is my 4th and I absolutely adore it but it’s a little too crazy to back until rehearsals but if the Moldova it up I’d then back it, I’m confident they will make it but it’s still an amber but a very green one. Latvia apparently have something big planned so being given the pimp slot must mean that Bjorkman like what he has seen, Latvia won’t sail through but should qualify granted it will a simliar place to Justs last year.

  4. There are eight countries I’m certain will qualify:
    Sweden, Portugal, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Greece, Belgium, Australia, Latvia.

    On the borderline I have Finland and Cyprus in, with Poland and Moldova closest. Iceland are the other with an outside shot.

    It’s easy to call the no hopers in this semi:
    Albania, Slovenia, Czech Republic, Georgia.

    It’s premature to write off the song with the best initial reaction from a top 5 based on a few underwhelming lives. It’s a completely different scenario in May and there’s still time.

    • Thanks for being more positive unlike a lot of these misery-guts here, I believe that Blanche can be moulded into a more stage-ready performer, plus staging can work wonders.

  5. I’ve been of the view that Australia, since the draw, aren’t safe and I’d have them amber by your metric. They’re caught up in a big sludge of ballads, and I’d argue Lindita could potentially send Isaiah down the memory hole but I don’t want to say any more before rehearsals.

    Belgium really have a problem with Blanche and her inability to emote the song. Perhaps RTBF can work with her to get her more camera/stage ready, but as mentioned, getting stage-fright in-front of a few thousand is a big red flag for me.

    Outside of the favourites, I have Azerbaijan down as a potential late challenger, but I’d say it’s likely that Sweden and Portugal will be the two countries on everyone’s lips after the show.

  6. Sweden – Green
    Georgia – Amber
    Australia – Green
    Albania – Red
    Belgium – Green
    Montenegro – Red
    Finland – Amber
    Azerbaijan – Amber
    Portugal – Green
    Greece – Green
    Poland – Amber
    Moldova – Amber
    Iceland – Red
    Czech Republic – Red
    Cyprus – Amber
    Armenia – Green
    Slovenia – Red
    Latvia – Amber

    So I’ve got five definitely going through. I’d give two more places to Finland and Azerbaijan in that order, then probably Cyprus. Two places left, which I would probably give to Moldova and Poland. Latvia is almost certainly out for me, but the pimp slot gives it a slight chance.

  7. Sweden – Green
    Georgia – Red
    Australia – Green
    Albania – Red
    Belgium – Green
    Montenegro – Red
    Finland – Amber
    Azerbaijan – Green
    Portugal – Green
    Greece – Green
    Poland – Amber
    Moldova – Green
    Iceland – Red
    Czech Republic – Red
    Cyprus – Amber
    Armenia – Green
    Slovenia – Red
    Latvia – Green

    Nine greens for me…..and the last one is a toss up between Finland, Cyprus and Poland. Wavered a bit on Belgium due to the early showings, but the song has a lot of popular support already. If she does get through, it will not be in the top six positions I fear and if the act is not sharpened up, she could be well mid to lower division in the final I feel. Which is a pity, as it has real potential. Cannot see anything to challenge Italy at this stage unless Kristian sings out of his skin, flawlessly and Bulgaria launch a Common Linnets style production offensive with their staging team.

  8. Gav, from what you say I get that you think Greece could do better with another of the songs they had to pick from?
    I think they did the right choice, the other 2 songs were painfully dull and would be harder to stage. I am waiting to see the first rehearsals so I can back Greece for a top 10 finish, hopefully they will stay underrated in the market

    • Not at all, but I think Kontopoulos wanted When the Morning Comes Around. But the voting made it clear the Greek diaspora responded better the This Is Love. No wrong decisions, they just didn’t play ball.

      • The juries almost unanimously chose This Is Love as well, to the extent where it looked a bit fishy to me.

      • I have it on good authority that Greece were forced by Eurogroup to select the cheapest song as a part of austerity measures. Kisses from Brussels #ThisIsLove

  9. Thank you for the preview article.

    Here’s how I predict the semi1 at the moment:

    Sweden – Amber
    Georgia – Amber
    Australia – Amber
    Albania – Amber
    Belgium – Amber
    Montenegro – Red
    Finland – Amber
    Azerbaijan – Amber
    Portugal – Green
    Greece – Green
    Poland – Amber
    Moldova – Amber
    Iceland – Amber
    Czech Republic – Red (might switch this during rehearsals to amber though)
    Cyprus – Amber
    Armenia – Green
    Slovenia – Red
    Latvia – Green

    I initially had Sweden as a Red but the general confidence in him has persuaded me to move him up to Amber category.

  10. Sweden – Green
    Georgia – Red
    Australia- Amber
    Albania – Red
    Belgium – Amber
    Montenegro – Red
    Finland – Amber
    Azerbaijan – Green
    Portugal – Green (will be the last announced)
    Greece – Green
    Poland – Amber (only because of diaspora)
    Moldova – Amber
    Iceland – Red
    Czech Rep – Red
    Cyprus – Red
    Armenia – Green
    Slovenia – Red
    Latvia – Green

    Think Australia, Belgium and diaspora Poland will probably make it and very close for final position between Finland and Moldova. I would love both to make it and the Polish mess to miss out, but after Sczpak’s racket making top 10 last year the diaspora has to be respected. Whatever, some good songs will miss out

  11. =====
    GREEN:
    =====
    Sweden: Robin Bengtsson – “I Can’t Go On”
    Australia: Isaiah – “Don’t Come Easy”
    Finland: Norma John – “Blackbird”
    Portugal: Salvador Sobral – “Amar Pelos Dois”
    Poland: Kasia Moś – “Flashlight”
    Iceland: Svala – “Paper”
    Armenia: Artsvik – “Fly with Me”

    ===
    RED:
    ===
    Albania: Lindita – “World”
    Montenegro: Slavko Kalezić – “Space”
    Greece: Demy – “This Is Love” [In Last year Greece took 16th place. Greek Diaspora does not exist]
    Czech Republic: Martina Bárta – “My Turn”
    Slovenia: Omar Naber – “On My Way”
    Georgia: Tamara Gachechiladze – “Keep the Faith”

    ======
    YELLOW:
    ======
    Belgium: Blanche – “City Lights”
    Azerbaijan: Dihaj – “Skeletons”
    Moldova: SunStroke Project – “Hey, Mamma!”
    Latvia: Triana Park – “Line”
    Cyprus: Hovig – “Gravity”

    • About the greek song and diaspora, what you say is just wrong. Last year’s song was not diaspora-trigging at all, it was performed from Pontiac-Russian-Greeks and the song was made out of pontiac elements, Pontiacs are a very small part of the greek enthicity. In 2014 and 2015 Greece sent very western type of songs with 0% ethnic elements. Last time a greek entry was indeed diaspora trigging was 2013 and we know how that went.

      • But in 2013, 2014 and 2015 Greece sent no bad songs. In 2013 the song of Greece was very cheerful. I think this is the only reason they went to the finals.

  12. Rumoured info about Greece:
    Demy is sitting in a swing in the center of the stage and around her a romance between 2 people is being unfolded ( they fall in love, dance, and then get apart from powerful wind coming from wind machines but they get together again in the end ). He says its incredibly moving and well-directed & executed.
    He adds that Fokas’s initial idea was different and included butterflies but it was rejected by Kiev due to technical difficulties.
    Nothing has been officially confirmed though.

  13. As subject to change as anyone else’s:

    Green:
    Sweden
    Australia
    Belgium
    Finland
    Azerbaijan <— Only because it's Azerbaijan. Amber otherwise.
    Portugal
    Greece
    Armenia
    Latvia

    Amber:
    Georgia
    Albania
    Poland <— Only because it's Poland. Red otherwise.
    Moldova <— Depends if the Epic Sax Guy return generates enough interest.
    Iceland <— Most likely to improve IMO.
    Cyprus

    Red:
    Montenegro
    Czech Rep <— As much as I like it…
    Slovenia

  14. Unlike semi 2 this is a much easier call, and the usual case of a bunch of safe songs and a few running in contention.

    Green:
    Sweden – will probably win the semi, wouldn’t bet against it
    Greece – very competent, is the best EDM song this year too by a mile, has a bit of development to it
    Portugal – I think it’s dull but juries and hype/nostalgia will help it into an uncertain final
    Armenia – regionally appealing, and I bet there’s a cool stage show for this too, slow burner though
    Azerbaijan – folks have much doubt here but I think she sings w/ the camera in mind, and well. Staging…
    Australia – a microstate would be amber but I think juries and Australia’s enthusiasm will help itself
    Belgium – same broadcaster of Roberto and Loic so competent staging expected, song is strong too
    Finland – stands out enough and gentle, appealing middle eight.

    Amber:
    Latvia – well drawn and will stand out, but is the song good enough
    Poland – her vocals really don’t match the studio edit and this loses much drama in the meantime
    Iceland – decent scandi synth entry and will look great but the rap bit is jarring
    Moldova – man, so repetitve, the sax is the weak point here instead of the memetastic strong point
    Albania – like Georgia, good vocals become a shout-athon

    Red:
    Georgia – there’s something bland about this, if they go with depressing visuals it will kill it in shmaltz
    Montenegro – just too tacky and jury anathema, short of going to the stars in an actual rocket, doomed
    Czech Rep
    Cyprus
    Slovenia – the last 3 are dull as ditch water and don’t stand a chance

  15. My fears regarding Belgium seem to become reality :-(. This live performance of ‘City Lights’, sang by Blanche, just doesn’t do it for me: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yqLZvWPDHgM
    It’s a simple choreography, slightly reminiscent of Belgium 2013, with only two extra backings/dancers. But this makes a dynamic song look lacklustre, because the choreography literally destroys all that dynamic.
    And then there’s Blanche. If she keeps standing still like that, if she continues performing like this, like if she doesn’t care, then this song needs the mercy of jurors to go through the final. It can probably squeeze into the final. But based on this any chance of winning…or for that sake a spot in the TOP 10….are gone.

    • You could tell she’s got the charisma of a patato from the first party she attended so no surprise here
      Belgium will qualify on the song alone but I think top 3 is almost impossible now

    • I dont know what the market was waiting for to push this out a long way.This is one of the best songs of the year,but it needs a world class vocalist to be able to keep on key at that sort of pitch level.Blanche isnt even below average.Now i dont blame her for this,the delegation and writers should know how hard a song like this is to get right.Blanche cant inject any emotion into the song,because if she does she will come off key badly.My strongest area in this game is female vocalists,and i knew this was a car crash waiting to happen.The only way they can save things is get backing singers off camera who can actually sing in that pitch to try to inject some life.The staging needs to be just her and contemporary,not dated like the video.Il buy back at some point so i can sleep at night,but other layers will probably gladly let their big reds run on this.

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