The Eurovision Song Contest 2009
The first Semi Final




We're in Moscow, Russia. The Moscow Olympic Arena. It is larger than life, and then some.

The BBC commentary, as is usual now for the semi finals, comes via Paddy O'Connell and a huge-flower-wearing Sarah Cawood (kay-wood).

Starting with a montage of behind-the-scenes type footage, including President Putin, we dissolve to letters flying around a city. I presume the city is Moscow, but the way they've filmed it it could be any number of generic American cities as turn up in random movies. I was kind of expecting Red Square, the Kremlin, etc. Or is that too much of a cliché? ☺

This indented section is nerdy - feel free to skip it. The recording this year was done by my little PVR because I was at work during the semifinals. A full widescreen picture was recorded to a Quicktime-like version of MPEG4 (640×480 resolution - is there nothing that can record a full PAL frame? even the Neuros OSD can't!). As my computer has no internal codec for this, it was transcoded to Motion-JPEG. I watched the contest from the MP4 files using MPlayer. The pictures were then taken from the Motion-JPEG version using VirtualDub, and then rescaled to 16:9 aspect using PhotoImpact5 and saved as regular JPEG images for the purposes of this review.
Why am I telling you all of this? It's because the pictures are a slightly lower quality than I'd have liked. Ever so slightly fuzzy (CVBS input, not S-video) and some artefacts in motion and areas of similar colour - look three pictures down around the male presenter's hair, and also at the background of the Swiss entry...
A full moon. A narrated eulogy with planets and stars. You might start to get an idea of exactly how big the auditorium is. Apparently 20,000 people. Wow, that's the collective population of everything within, like, a thirty mile radius of my home! Big birds fly around, the story goes on, and on. The bird is actually quite impressive. I guess after the Greek host, and the 2008 Olympics, it is now de facto that an international televised event such as this should include something flying.
Too young girls step off of the bird, for yet more story. It would be kinda funny if these were the Tolmachevy sisters...

Six minutes later, the hosts arrive. Names as per the caption below. They are with the girls from the flying bird. Apparently there will be different hosts, so far undisclosed as to who, for the grand final. It'd be funny if Putin himself stepped up to the job.

As is expected, they shout. A lot.

Hahahaha! Oh my God, it was the Tolmachevy sisters! (go check out JESC 2006 review) They shout too.

Tonights zany hosts - she is pretty, in a Bond-girl sort of way. The blue shoulder pads are weird, but the lace not-quite-bridal outfit is actually really nice.
He is... uh... maybe three decades out of style?


Finally, time to begin the contest. With Montenegro who went first last year too.



1 Montenegro "Just Get Out Of My Life"

Performed by Andrea Demirovic.

Wow, Andrea is female! It's a happy upbeat poppy sort of track, with glittery girl and bloke-in-white frolicking suggestively. Um, wasn't the title "get out of my life"?


2 Czech Republic "Aven Romale"

Performed by

Oh... My... God...
A Freddie Mercury pretender in a superhero outfit sings... uh... well, there's always going to be the left-field entries. This is one. Actually, no, this isn't left-field. Croatia and latterly Bosnia enter those. This is just baaaaaaaaad!


3 Belgium "Copycat"

Performed by Copycat.

We're getting alsorts tonight! An Elvis clone! Vocally he is quite good (though not Elvis). Visually, the outfit is good, but his face isn't. He's more the Vinny Jones version of Elvis, don't you think?


If you are wondering about the pretty brunette with the fluffy hair that appears in between songs, it's a Russian model. A Miss World (former? current?).

Actually, the postcards between each song are pretty nifty. There's Miss World looking gorgeous with fluffy hair (as shown above). Then there's a montage like some sort of bizarre Radio 2 advert, which contains a lot of elements from the country in question. You'll need to be up on your capital cities to spot them all. Then we have Miss World with a city on her head. And finally, a word in Russian... so when Kate Bush sings about "Babushka", she's singing about grannies. Well, whatever... ☺ Anyway, it's all pretty nifty, and it is a nice gesture that the postcard relates to the country about to perform instead of short promo videos of the host country. I think the last country to promote itself was Finland with those cute little vignettes. Serbia did the studio-based thing with the entrants on "Serbia's Got Talent" (or so it seemed).


4 Belarus "Eyes That Never Lie"

Performed by Petr Elfimov.

Thirty seconds of a belting rock intro. Then Petr starts singing. He reminds me of a dweeby version of Rutger Hauer. Next!

Bloodeeee hell! Got a wide shot of the auditorium here. I've seen televised rock concerts in smaller venues than this!


5 Sweden "La Voix"

Performed by Malena Ernman.

We almost had Molly Sanden. Instead we have Sweden's peroxide-friendly answer to Lesley Garret (ps: don't bother emailing to complain about that, I'm a Kath Jenkins person myself).

I always think that the transition between pop and opera is a rather uneasy one, though tonight Malena pulls it off. She's talented, good looking, uses a billion watts with the stage on full illumination, weird dress, weirder masks later on... it's the first song of the night that I think ought to pass into the final.

If, however, your concept of opera is fat woman screeching, then the only thing you'll get from this is... being full-bodied is not a pre-requisite.

See what I mean about full illumination - that must have been eye-melding to watch live. I bet for those parts the audience would have looked like the cast of Blues Brothers... who'd have thought you'd need shades, in Moscow, indoors!?


6 Armenia "Jan Jan"

Performed by Inga & Anush.

A synchronised Arabesque dance routine to a mix of eastern influence and dance floor. I just can't shake the feeling that these are the witches from some Grimm fairy tale...


A chat with Jade Ewen, the British hopeful. Probably covering an advert break. I bet the proper ESC transmission had something vastly more interesting, even if it was just the two hosts snogging...


7 Andorra "La Teva Decisió / Get A Life"

Performed by Susanne Georgi.

We track along three-and-a-half babes before homing in on Geri Halliwell. That said, it's a pleasant song, easy on the eyes, actually it runs the risk of being catchy! The only downside? They didn't exactly set the stage on fire. Girls with guitars (or not in some cases). And? What, not even a firework?
I quite like this one, but it probably won't pass the semi-final by virtue of being Andorra. Have they ever actually made it beyond the semi?

I'll tell you what - Spain was allocated to be able to vote in this semi-final and they decided they couldn't be bothered. Bang goes any reliably decent result that might have been awarded to Andorra.

BTW, our Geri-alike is actually Danish and was in the 2007 Melodi Grand Prix.

The best bit about watching non-live? I can back up the MP4 and listen to it again. I like this one, and it isn't just cute girls (they do help... hey, I'm 35 and single, what d'you expect?). It's the fact that you can sing along to it (well, the bits in English, otherwise hum or something). It's a participational song. I mean, if you are going to really enjoy the event, why not get involved a little? So make this my current #1 (actually, that's not saying a lot really).


8 Switzerland "The Heighest Heights"

Performed by Lovebugs.

Bon Jovi with a dash of The Red Hot Chili Peppers thrown in. Thing is, it isn't a terribly interesting song. They really should have aimed for the U2 vibe, auditorium that size...
At least, par contre, they're Swiss and not an import.


9 Turkey "Düm Tek Tek"

Performed by Hadise.

It's Rebecca Gayheart for Turkey! Well, okay, not quite. But there'd be little mistaking this for, say, the Norwegian entry.
I wasn't overly impressed, it isn't really a type of music that I like. However it was well performed and actually got a bit saucy at the end there. I'd be surprised if it didn't qualify - the cliché of the belly-dance is always popular...

The annual bitchfest is homing in on this one as Hadise is Belgian-born to Turkish immigrant parents. Should she represent Belgium or Turkey? Given we've had Estonians for Switzerland and Canadians for Switzerland and very probably Martians for Switzerland as well, I'm not entirely certain it really matters that much. At least Hadise has kept the Turkish cliché and is on to a fairly-winning formula. I say fairly for this is no Sertab (2003), we aren't looking at a winner. But it will qualify and it ought to do fairly well.


10 Israel "There Must Be Another Way"

Performed by Noa & Mira Awad.

A "Jewish" and an "Arab-Israeli" singing "There Must Be Another Way". Gee, do you suppose there is a message in here? A bit of the Cranberries "Zombie" vibe, perhaps?
I put the origins in quotes as that is how Paddy described them. Actually the Jewish one (Noa) is Israeli, so it is rather likely that she will be Jewish. As for Mira Awad, I'm informed that she is Iranian-Bulgarian.

Problem is, while I'm sure many people want peace and the majority of us don't want to see the pain and suffering making lead news items day after day, those in charge are megalomanic idiots and if they should ever see sense then there's always going to be a loner with designs on being a megalomanic twit just waiting to blow something up and derail the whole thing.
That said, I think it says something that this isn't a one off call for peace from Israel's people, this is what, the third this decade? I just hope those in power on both sides of the Gaza Strip (etc) are listening. For the Israelis have taken a piece of Palestine and set up home there. Right or wrong, it happened. It's like Northern Ireland. The way forward is to deal with what is now, not with what was once upon a time.
This song is performed in Israeli and Arabic.

Wow! Lovely barrel-crab from a louma.† I'll tell you what, the technical aspects of this broadcast are pretty impressive. For those who think that the Russians can just about manage to make a working tin opener, they're putting out the sort of material we'd expect if America was hosting the contest. It's all larger than life and subtely mindblowing. [oh, and about the tin opener comment, Mir might have been an old heap of .... but it outlived Skylab so nerr!]

† - that means a shot that spins around the performer more than once, from a camera mounted on a crane.


Another really quick visit to the Green Room (that isn't) after we've had the hosts making a joke (and finding out that Natalia doesn't drive (and look, she's changed her outfit!)). If these are inserts for ad breaks, they're short ones. Makes you wonder why they bother.


11 Bulgaria "Illusion"

Performed by Krassimir Avramov.

A bloke dressed like Robin Hood screeches and wails, while Elvira shouts from time to time. Vocally, it is quite unpleasant. Go on, tell me this is some form of the Kehlkopfgesang!
The staging, the routine, was all much better - even a guy on stilts ankle-spinning a girl on stilts. Not sure what that had to do with anything, but it was impressive nonetheless. Watch this one with the sound off.


12 Iceland "Is it true?"

Performed by Yohanna.

Lots of cheering from the audience as the song starts. Is this a favourite to win, or were all the Icelandic fans seated near the front?
A total change of mood here for a lovely song. Paddy O'Connell said that this benefitted from "being a song, at a song contest". I think he's exactly right. It has the lyrics, it has the music that fits, it has the performance, it has my number one placement... Beautiful, perfect.


13 FYR Macedonia "Neshto Shto Ke Ostane"

Performed by Next Time.

A rock entry with the cliché leather, frizzy hair that's perhaps longer than the previous performer, and power chords...
...opens badly - twin brothers and they manage not to song entirely in sync. It's a really difficult thing to do, but having heard "The Twins" of the British national selection programme do it week after week for more than the one line.
It's a noisy one, for sure. Credit to them for performing it in their own language. He lies on the floor. Wailing guitar solo. The more I listen, the more I like it, despite being a pretty naff entry all things considered. Why? Because I have this niggling feeling that it is a rather sophisticated taking-the-mickey out of the whole 'rock' ethos. It's really funny.


14 Romania "The Balkan Girls"

Performed by Elena.

I quite like this one. Don't know why exactly. I guess it is fun and frolicky, but it may take a few listenings before I can make sense of the words (it's in English, sort of).

I think I'm sniffing a rat in the Balkan diaspora - when has Romania been a Balken country? You might get away with saying the absolute teeniest southernmost bit is a stone's throw from the Balkans, but Romania itself?


15 Finland "Lose Control"

Performed by Waldo's People.

Where's Waldo?
Sorry. Couldn't resist. ☺ Once upon a time the big deal in Eurovision was skirts being ripped off. That's become so passé that thinking about it, I don't recall any costume changes so far tonight. Say it ain't so! About a decade later the Icelandic entry merged PVC and fishnet tights in a rather unforgettable way. You won't be able to top that without breaking broadcast decency laws in half a dozen countries.
More recently, Finland won. With rocking monsters. This is the legacy Finland has to live up to. It isn't some cute Irish girl with a good voice, or a winning song from a pair seated at a piano, acts that could perhaps be repeated (remember those days when Ireland won, like, always?). It was latex-clad rockers. What's 'up' from that? As far as gimmicks go, I suspect that is the high bar and will remain so. Doubly so when you remember it won.

This year? Nul pwah. The music is soft rock meets techno, he raps with something of a lack of inflection, and he is wearing a baseball cap back to front. The girls perform their hearts out, but... come on, name me one rap number that has done well in the song contest? It's one of the genres that just doesn't work.

Oh... It's apparently about homeless people. Not that you'd get that from the lyrics. It isn't a "Runaway Train" where the message is pretty obvious, it's too generic and non-specific.


Paddy does some backstage stuff, and when meeting the hosts, Andrey says "I hope your commentator is not going to make mean jokes about us". You see the damage that Sir-Flippin-Terry has done? I hope Graham Norton will be more polite and tactful. Okay, okay, that's a lot to hope, I know. But I think it will take a lot to beat how downright rude Tel was last year, saying about the party feeling in the Green Room (quote) it looks like the kind of party I wouldn't go to if I was on my death bed (unquote) is unforgivable, and that's only the stuff I noted down!


16 Portugal "Todas As Ruas Do Amor"

Performed by Flor-De-Lis.

Is that the Portuguese rendering of fleur de lys? Portugal, you have to root for them, for they have been in the contest something like 42 times and have never won. Is that a record?

Want to picture her? Okay, squish Kelly Osbourne and Katy Perry into the same body, then make her as cute as Maneki Neko. Traditional music, perky performance, it's all a bit Wizard of Oz. I'm not convinced it's a winner, I'm not sure the band is experienced enough, but you can't get the Portuguese down (even after last year's lacklustre result) and they all seem happy and perky... I would be really shocked if it failed to find a place in the final. Again, it's a song. That's what it is about. Goodness, don't tell me in 2009 we're going to start to get back to the basics of what the ESC was originally all about?

Moray described this as "first ever ESC song to have accordions and charm in the same three minutes". Need I say more?


17 Malta "What If We"

Performed by Chiara.

Recognise her? She's Malta's biggest export, and must surely hold some sort of record for the most entries in the song contest.

One hell of a performer. One hell of a power ballad. It's a small shame that it quickly becomes repetitive, but never mind, if Malta doesn't pull it off this year, we all know Chiara will be back. I think her personal mission must be to win Eurovision!


18 Bosnia (& Herzegovina) "Bistra Voda"

Performed by Regina.

A country known for kooky entries...
Boy, they don't disappoint. It is... it is... it's like toy soldiers that come to life. This'll surely pass to the final, and then I can watch with captioning on to figure out what the song is about. I've a feeling there's some significance to that red flag. ☺



Voting commences / my picks

With both of the hosts redressed, it is time to start voting.

Okay, so here are my picks:

  1. Iceland (song sung blue)
  2. Portugal (the traditional sort)
  3. Andorra (Geri Halliwell)
  4. Sweden (operatic)
  5. Malta (Chiara, again)
  6. Romania (balkan girls)
  7. Switzerland (Bon Jovi wannabes)
  8. FYR Macedonia (rocky-mickey-take)
  9. Bosnia (artistic oddity)
  10. Israel (peace or pieces?)


After a recap of the songs, Russia reminds us how happening a place it is. ESC, UEFA, Miss World, Ice Hockey World Championships... I guess it's been a good year for the Russians.


More flirting by the hosts. Another recap. As I write this it is half three in the morning on night two, so obviously I'm fast forwarding all of this. I'll watch it, I dunno, I might block out an afternoon some lazy June day in 2011. ☺


The interval, or not...

Blah blah blah... Jade Ewen. Sung her song all over Europe. Makes a point of "and I even performed on Poland's version of Strictly Come Dancing"! Q&As with Sarah.

I wonder what everybody else is watching as we do this little time out. Why-oh-why is the BBC wasting our time yacking to Jade? There was a half-hour 'special' on earlier in the evening, and it isn't as if we can vote for our own entry! Yes, we're all very proud to have a song worthy of points from somewhere other than Ireland and Malta, but really, why don't we instead pop a bottle of champers for the demise of Wogan. And about half a decade too late, but I guess better late than never.


Now for a little preview of what's to come. Greece and Norway. Hot tipped to win. Svetlana for the Ukraine keeping up with all you might think about Ukrainian girls from previous performances.

We return to the contest for the end of tATu's interval performance. I could recognise them from the singing style, but I'm not sure I'd have guessed right away from looking at them. Paddy says "she's put on weight!", yeah, which one? Both, by the looks of things.

Andrey is so hitting on Natalia. God, why don't you just propose and get it over with.

Of the pre-quals: France is, French. Russia's pop song. German swinger. Leona Lewis. And Spain represented by Annie Lennox?


Stressed looking presenter in the Green Room calls to Andrey and Natasha! Natasha? Who's that then?


The results

Svante says the results are in.

Okay, here we go. It's virtual envelopes, not real ones. Maybe they didn't trust these two with actual on-set props? ☺

Well, I like Andorra.



To be honest, with the exception of Finland, there isn't anything surprising about the results. With another semi to go, I feel it is going to be a split contest. On one side we have the diva pair - Malta vs Sweden. On the other, the song pair - Iceland vs Portugal. Of course, semi 2 could shake this all up. I don't think there is too many problems to worry about regarding the auto-qualifiers. I think the UK will do well this year, but it's not a winner.

In the time it has taken me to write this, I am thinking seriously about whether or not to swap my top two entries. I'll need to listen to both again, but if I could give the award at this exact moment in time, it'd go to Portugal, while maybe half an hour ago it would have gone to Iceland. The thing is, there's no joint winner possibility and both are equally good in my opinion. So if you don't mind I'll award them both '11' points. ☺


Continue on to the second Semi Final

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Copyright © 2009 Rick Murray
Images copyright © 2009 EBU-UER
Broadcast in widescreen by BBC Three.