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[updated 2018/05/09 with videos and some references to Express stupidity]


Eurovision 2018 - first semi final

As the baking heat starts to break, and the ominous sounds of distant thunderstorms can be heard in the AM radio, it's time to reflect upon the fact that Eurovision 2018 is upon us. This is good and bad. Good because we can enjoy a pile of songs in varying degrees of English (this time around Albania, Armenia, and Greece are the only countries sticking with their own language), and in some cases I'm sure we can only wonder at how anybody seriously thinks the entry would qualify. And bad because it doesn't seem that long since the 2017 contest. A whole year has passed. We're all a year older. Just like that.

I am writing this in the sunny afternoon with the change-of-weather wind blowing through the open window. I am writing this on RISC OS, in Zap. My PC's 1440×900 display has been given over to a live feed from BBC Four thanks to a clever little gizmo that translates TV style video into something a computer monitor can cope with. Actually, it isn't BBC Four just yet. It is CBeebies. And I've just sat open-mouthed watching "Biggleton". Please tell me that kid's TV wasn't that inane in my day? I recall Trumpton, Button Moon, Sesame Street, Moomins... Now something even weirder is on. I'll tell you what, let's just turn the monitor off for an hour...

That's better. Anyway, as is usual I have completely ignored the social media, promotions, videos, and such of all of the entries. I prefer to see them "fresh on the night". I am aware of the Finnish entrant, Saara Aalto, for singing a couple of songs in a dozen-odd languages (and really letting rip with that one from the Disney film). I also know all of the titles and the running order as I copied the info from Wikipedia - basically in order that I can concentrate on writing a review and not upon trying to remember what the song was called or who wrote it.
That's why this semi final write-up is better looking than the usual raw text format. It's because I've prepared all the nice titles ahead of time; [edit 2018/05/09: and thanks to this preparation and having time the following day, I've been able to treat this semi-final to the full works including videos.] And, yet again, I despair at the prevalence of English.


Welcome to Portugal!

Portugal had participated forty eight times since it entered the contest in 1964. The longest time without a win, Portugal withdrew in 2016 having failed to qualify in 2015. Coming back in 2017, Salvador Sobral entered a song written by his sister Luísa Sobral. A quiet jazz waltz, it was performed with no fancy effects, no wind machine; indeed Salvador stood alone on the smaller stage surrounded by the audience. It was so utterly unlike everything else. While I was not particularly keen on the song, it certainly touched a nerve with the rest of Europe - easily winning the qualifying semi-final and trouncing everything else in the grand final - the combined 758 points setting a record. It was the first to blow away both the televoters and the juries since "Rise Like a Phoenix" (2014), and ten years exactly since a non-English song won (that was "Molitva" in 2007 - d'you feel old now?), and the first winner written in triple metre since Eimear Quinn's "The Voice" (1996). With a difference of 143 points between "Amar pelos dois" and the second place entry, it is the biggest difference this decade, and the second biggest in the history of the competition.
All of this is to say, that Portugal has brought home a very well deserved, and ridiculously overdue, winning song.


The disclaimer

This programme does contain repetitive flashing images.

Duh, you think?



Our two BBC announcers, whoever, whatever. Bloke that's done it for ages, and some newbie with a designer beard. Didn't catch their names...

Sea to red tiled white houses and streetcars. Of course, it's Lisbon in Portugal. Perhaps the westmost European capital? [checks GoogleMaps - yes!]

An impressive looking stage, heavy on the blues and reds, and four female presenters. One wearing leather, one wearing a huge red dress, one wearing a blue dress with a slit right up the leg (not unlike a Qipao), and one in a black dress.

The UK can vote this time, but yet again not by text. There are ten places available with nineteen songs to choose from.

The UK hosts talked over the announcers talking, but it was done in a mere five minutes. Now for the songs...


Watch yourself

If you have two and a quarter hours to spare, you can watch the official streamed version, in resolutions up to FullHD too. And, best of all, without the inane commentary provided by the two BBC guys, nor the "let's cut away and do something else" bits.
Alternatively, every description below contains a link to the live performance of the song so you can watch just the ones that look interesting without the filler.


1. Azerbaijan "X My Heart" (Aisel)

Seriously? X My Heart?
Is she wearing a dress or bedclothes? It's an oddly engaging performance with the staging that looks like the tips of an iceberg, and thankfully no Epic Video Wall. A nice touch to bring the four guys out midway through the...
What the hell? Is that a video effect or a practical effect visible in the stage?
A nice start, I quite like this, even with the odd lyrics (stronger than cannonballs!).


2. Iceland "Our Choice" (Ari Ólafsson)

Whoa, a total mood whiplash here for a calm male vocalist with a piano and strings. It kicks up a gear to be a very Eurovision style ballad (complete with a long screamy held note), but is it me or does it seem as if the sound is off? Where's the bass? Not a bad song, but will it be memorable? Somehow I doubt it.


3. Albania "Mall" (Eugent Bushpepa)

Bushpepa huh? Cool name.
Say hello to the first song in a native language. I don't know what they're singing about, but then do I need to? I quite like both the sound of his voice and the arrangement of the song. He, a man looking not unlike Elijah Wood can not only hit the high notes but do so solidly. I like this one too.


4. Belguim "A Matter of Time" (Sennek)

Who does she remind me of? Somebody from the sixties? Close your eyes, it sounds almost like a Bond theme. This song would be much better without the shouty chorus. I won't comment on what she's not wearing.


5. Czech Republic "Lie to Me" (Mikolas Josef)

What the heck is he wearing? Right, there's a pseudo-rap bit, and wiggly backsides. Did that backing singer just cross his arms "gangsta style"? This is a real genre mismash.


6. Lithuania "When We're Old" (Ieva Zasimauskaitė)

A woman with a breathy husky voice is sitting/lying on the stage to perform her song alone except for the music which is mostly piano. A strange pronunciation, but it's a really nice song.
Yup. That was lovely.


A moment out with the performers of DoReDos from Moldova, I guess some others are going to adverts right now.


7. Israel "Toy" (Netta)

Apparently the bookie's favourite now, or was? Okay, so what - this is a perky goth version of Björk (if your brain doesn't explode trying to imagine that)? Well, gotta hand it to them for taking the concept of Eurovision and running with it. Credit, you aren't going forget this one in a hurry. The idea of "dancing with my dolls on the motha-bucka beat" is dangerously close to slipping crap past the radar. [update 2018/05/09 - some people thought she was swearing]


8. Belarus "Forever" (Alekseev)

A bloke in emotional pain singing to the rose, a rose the travels on the camera to a woman in - you guessed it - red...who uses a bow to fire the rose into the guy's hand. Such emotional torture... Dear oh dear.


9. Estonia "La Forza" (Elina Nechayeva)

Oh, opera. Wait, hang on. Opera in Italian from an Estonian. With a dress that should win awards, and a voice that can hit and hold all the high notes, and just when we're not sure whether to be more impressed by the voice or the dress, she takes it up to eleven. Holy crap. She's now gone and taken it up to twelve. Bloody hell. Sorry to Bulgaria, but don't we all need to go lie down now?


I've only just figured out that hashtag "allaboard" is not alla board, but all aboard. Um... (there I was wondering if "alla board" was something in Portuguese)


10. Bulgaria "Bones" (Equinox)

Is that bloke on the right of the three way split Keanu Reeves? And the woman looks like something out of Blake's 7. It's an earnest performance of a song that can't hold a candle to what came before it. I'd put it down as a "Eurovision filler song".


11. (FYR) Macedonia "Lost and Found" (Eye Cue)

What isn't she wearing? And does she have it on back to front? The best bit is the bloke with the guitar trying to keep a straight face, but overall it's all a bit "meh".


12. Croatia "Crazy" (Franka)

Another dress that barely provides modesty, and a somewhat generic power ballad. After all, "roses and horses in the rain". What more do we need to picture this as a sultry love song. So, Donald Trump destroys the Iran nuclear agreement (I would say "in a pique of abject stupidity", but when's it ever been anything other than tossing all of Obama's toys out of the pram?), while at the same time Melania Trump does double duty performing for Croatia.


Now a discussion with SuRie (I think that's how it's written?). She liked Lithuania too.


13. Austria "Nobody but You" (Cesár Sampson)

Oh, a nice soulful opening. A raising platform on the stage, impressive. And with mute trumpet, clapping and the backing vocals, this straddles the line between soul and gospel. If the UK seriously turned down this song, they were dumb, this is a good song energetically performed. Well done for Austria.


14. Greece "Όνειρό μου / Oniro mou" (Yianna Terzi)

Here's the second native language song of the night. I'm not sure what the metallic blue hand is supposed to represent, but this sounds like a love song set in a dreamscape - it's a very dreamlike staging. Quite a pleasant song.


15. Finland "Monsters" (Saara Aalto)

Interesting staging, and given Saara's history, the biggest question is why has it taken so long for her to appear on this contest? A powerful voice, isn't it? The song? I'm not really convinced it does justice to her talents.


16. Armenia "Քամի / Qami" (Sevak Khanagyan)

And here's the third and final song in a native language and the fourth not in English. Standing in what seems like a tilted ring of obelisks, this man carries this song and matches the music effortlessly. The flashing lights detract from the song, but it was a good solid performance laden with conviction. No doubts this will qualify.


17. Switzerland "Stones" (ZiBBZ)

Nice hat. Hehe... "I want anybody who's ever been hurt by anyone, put your hands up", and the audience pretty much all raise their hands. Damn. Maybe it's better being a singleton. These songs imply that love is painful and confusing, and afterwards is also painful and confusing.


18. Ireland "Together" (Ryan O'Shaughnessy)

A nice calm Irish ballad with a bloke on a guitar and a girl at the piano. His voice is a little high pitched, but not so bad. There is a subtext going on here, with two other blokes acting out a dance routine leaving little doubt that it is their love song. I can see this doing well, except in Russia (bloody hypocrites - who did Russia enter in 2003, huh?). The best bit is that the lyrics leave it gender ambiguous, so can apply to any relationship that doesn't work out...which is far too many given some of the songs I've already heard tonight.


19. Cyprus "Fuego" (Eleni Foureira)

A title in Spanish, but a Eurovision pop number in English. Performed with aplomb, but it doesn't do anything for me. It's apparently the new favourite. Allow me to shrug in the most nonchalant manner that I can muster.


Okay, that's it. All songs have been presented. Now it's time to vote...or not...depending upon what country you are in. The UK can this time. As the recap begins, time to think how I'd rate these entries.


My picks

Honourable mentions to Greece and Finland.

  • 1. Croatia - Melania Trump.
  • 2. Belgium - The Bond theme.
  • 3. Switzerland - Don't throw stones, you might hurt somebody.
  • 4. Albania - Elijah Wood.
  • 5. Azerbaijan - The cannonballs.
  • 6. Austria - The soulful gospel number.
  • 7. Ireland - Like I said, love is painful and confusing.
  • 8. Estonia - The epic vocals or the epic dress?
  • 10. Armenia - Qami and how!
  • 12. Lithuania - I really really love this song, so gentle, so real.


Interval act

Nice, it's last year's entry performed by all number of performers from 2017 (it's nice to see some of them again), and Salvador himself. And a reminder of the never-ending string of dooze pwah awards. That was quite a sweet performance of the song.


Now the presenters talk about stuff to fill time. Then it's time for another recap, and the presenters are very specific about you will vote RIGHT NOW. Okay... only... I don't live in the UK. If I at least look at the phone, will you stop shouting at me?

Now a documentary about Portugal while the votes are counted. Which began with the unbelievable "Planet Earth, one of the best planets in the world". Huh? A caricature of David Attenborough introduces us to "Planet Portugal". Um...

Update 2018/05/09: Apparently a bunch of dumb Brits "blasted" this "offensive" mocking of Sir David Attenborough instead of 1, realising that the UK commentary has mocked everything in sight for decades and 2, realising that of all of the European figures that could have been chosen, a caricature of the British legend is what was picked to introduce the world to some things about Portugal. According to the article (if you can call it that): One viewer even threatened to switch off. Snowflakes.
[A note for my European friends - the Express is a very anti-Europe "product" (I refuse to use the word "newspaper") well known for sensationalising their stories to the point where they are often more ridiculous than the extremely right wing reader comments. Like a stupid man's version of The Daily Mail, a quick glance at a list of headlines will show all the emotive words (BLOCKED, FOREVER, ABOLISHED, BLASTED, FURY, DESTROYED, etc) written in capital letters. Need I say more?]

Now we talk to Slovenia (silver pink hair!), and an Australian journalist.

A preview of Thursday, and San Marino brings out a robot (win!), while Moldova has no sax guy (fail!)...

A preview three of the auto-qualifiers after a chat with them:

  • Portugal - a pink haired girl performs a calm song that harmonises well with the other performer, and hey, it's not in English! Will quiet win twice? Maybe not with Lithuania?
  • Spain - a pleasant sounding love song (I know what Tu canción) means. A far cry from last year, Spain is taking this seriously. I hope she wears that dress in the final (or one like it) and doesn't try to "sex it up" like some of the entrants this evening.
  • United Kingdom - after mocking the name SuRie, a presentation which looks like SuRie is going a bit Annie Lennox; but will it hold up? There are already a number of good songs from tonight. No, let's be real, there are already a number of better songs from tonight. But, okay, I can't fairly judge based on a clip of twenty-odd seconds.


The results

Mister Jon Ola Sand still looking surprised to be on camera, as if this doesn't happen every year...

So, presented in random order:

  • Austria - soulful - yes!
  • Estonia - yes!
  • Cyprus - okay... well this is the current favourite, though god only knows why
  • Lithuania - YES! YES! YES!
  • Israel - come on, this is not a surprise
  • Czech Republic - that'll be interesting
  • Bulgaria - seriously? Did I miss something?
  • Albania - Elijah makes it through
  • Finland - not a surprise
  • Ireland - oh, finally...


After the end

I find it astonishing that Armenia and Azerbaijan didn't make it through; however Austria, Estonia, Lithuania, Albania, and Ireland are in my picks that made it through. It was a remarkably tough semi-final.
I don't get the attraction of Bulgaria, but I can't say Finland and Israel are a surprise at all.
It would have been horribly wrong if Ireland didn't pass with this entry, and I'm really happy that Lithuania passed qualification. I'm now going to go find that song on YouTube...


See y'all in two days for the second semi-final.



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