Shalom and welcome to Kibbutz ESCtips for the first day of Eurovision 2019 rehearsals. The halcyon days of April are well behind us as we enter the heat of Tel Aviv.
First up today was Tamta with Replay for Cyprus. The annual press centre gremlins meant that we missed the sound for all of Tamta’s run throughs. That wasn’t so important as we know she’s capable of delivering the goods live. The stage features six illuminated boxes with a monochromatic lined backdrop with pink and deep blue accents – this adds great depth to the stage. The intro features fast camera cuts and appears music-video ready. It’s straight out of the box ready like Fuego was last year. The dancers have a Robin Bengtsson slickness, yet with the addition of Tamta it has a more voteable Dum Tek Tek appeal. There is a costume change halfway through as Tamta is stripped of her PVC jacket to reveal an almost clear PVC body suit.
The Czechs rehearsed out of sequence this morning and we were finally gifted the luxury of a sound feed in the press centre. The staging is bright with the backdrop featuring lots of alternating vertical lines. There are three door-frame-like structures behind each of the band members which enables the picture editors to isolate the contents of each frame (the band members) and move them around on screen in a similar way to D-Sound from Norway’s national final. It’s extremely effective and again looks music-video ready. In the final run-through there was a shot of two seats in the arena labelled ‘kiss cam’, so it appears a couple will kiss on camera. The backing singers need to tighten up their harmonies in places and lead-singer, Albert Černý, needs to temper some of his enthusiasm – he did by the final run-through. At its messiest, Friend of a Friend has the feel of PER from 2013, which is something to bear in mind when factoring in the Czech televote.
The freshness of Cyprus and Czech Republic exposes the dark and dated nature of Darude’s Look Away. It’s a song trapped in the the early noughties and would typically be the track everyone skips on their dance mix CD. Sebastian Rejman’s vocals are particularly poor, not in an off-key sort of way, but in an uninspiring why bother voting for Finland way. Sebastian has a tendency to over-sing and by the end of the song the Look Away refrain grates. Finland are making up the numbers in this first half tussle.
Continuing the disappointment Poland were under-rehearsed and vocally suspect. Tulia start on a rotating platform wearing their customary regional garb, though with the addition of some rather strange gold headwear and red veils. The veils are swiftly removed, so their relevance is questionable. The staging features lots of long shots which doesn’t afford much connection to TV viewers. When the cameras did get close, the girls looked away as if they were too shy. The jury vote will be poor for Tulia and the televote is also likely to struggle.
After a sunny shawarma lunch, Zala & Gašper took to the stage. Sebi remains in national final form, albeit the improved starry plasma cloud backdrop which looks stunning on the TV feed. The problem for Slovenia is the lack of connection for TV viewers along with the reaching for that soundboard instrument. Purists will like this song. It is beautifully staged, but I question its wider appeal with the Czech Republic following in the actual running order where we transition from hypnotic monotony to colourful fun. On the other hand, Slovenia might benefit from a poor Poland.
Over to Montenegro now and Falling is what you might call weapons-grade shit. The cloying desperation is what lets this song down the most given the likes of 3+2 (Belarus 2010) managed to tack on some butterfly wings and qualify. Whereas Darude is stuck in the noughties, D-Mol are rooted in the 90s with their dollops of cheese and the dated Eternal ‘Stay’ pop/hip-hop beat. What’s worth considering in respect to the last place market is that Montenegro are allegedly known to deal.
Returning for his second participation at Eurovision, Joci is alone on stage against a gold sparkly backdrop. The message focusses on pride in his father and how he wants his children to share the same pride in him. As the song progresses, black and white photos of fathers appear on stage. It’s incredibly touching and the market moved quickly to solidify Hungary’s qualification chances.
Belarus have thrown loads at this performance, and as a result, it lacks a concept and definition. There are tour cases, incoherent graphics, break dancers and co2 jets all battling to form a non-existent narrative. Zena’s vocals have come on leaps and bounds since the national final, but Like It feels very much like a filler song in a quality sandwich.
Last up today was Serbia which sounds even more like a solid qualifier with its starry backdrop and swirling floor. Classy Kruna is walking the same path as Hungary’s Az én apám and both should earn respectable jury support. It’s not a market I enjoy getting involved in, and depending how North Macedonia does, 12/1 top Balkan isn’t a bad punt. North Macedonia is dutch-able at 8/1. More women have to crash into the top-10 and Serbia is potentially more vote-motivating than some of the other regional songs.
One thing to note is that the stage is technically superior to anything else before it. The LED backdrop has a truly immersive quality that appears almost 3D. The live shows will be magnificent.
We’ll be back tomorrow reporting on rehearsals for the second-half of the first semi-final.