ESC2018: the heat is on for semi-final one…

I’m doing things a bit differently when reviewing the two semi-finals this year. I found that a lot of the music videos for the songs really detract from the quality of the song. The eye gets confused so much that the ear doesn’t like what it is hearing! So what I’m posting here is rehearsal footage (and at the end you can click through to watch the music video) and links to the songs themselves.  You can hear all of the 19 songs from the first semi-final via the Spotify playlist and links below…

All countries rehearse twice during the rehearsal period, and all the sneak-peeks below are from the second rehearsal. We’ll see the full performance on Tuesday. Also, remember that the producers have determined the running-order, following the initial draw allocation earlier this year.

This semi-final is by far the better of the two, with way more than ten songs jostling to get through. I’ve got at least thirteen on my list!

  1. Azerbaijan

Azerbaijan are ten for ten in terms of qualifying for the Grand Final. Since their debut in 2008 they have been consistently strong in terms of entries, and they won back in 2011 to subsequently host in Baku in 2012. I don’t think we’ll be heading back there for 2019, but this should qualify with a decent song (if not extraordinary and deffo with shades of Loreen’s Euphoria from 2012) and some interesting staging – with what I’m sure requires rubber soled shoes…

  1. Iceland

So early on and the good ship Eurovision is heading towards an iceberg. Fresh-faced singer Ari will perform a rather dated ballad, and the draw won’t help it either. Whist Ari has a good set of lungs on him, Iceland’s disappointing run at Eurovision is likely to continue…

  1. Albania

An anthemic song – the first non-English language song of the evening. Nice melody, good vocal, but in this competitive heat, and at this point in the draw I think it’ll struggle to get to get through…

  1. Belgium

Three top ten finishes in the last three years meant that fans were looking to Belgium to build on their fourth place last year. That song was cool and contemporary. This year it’s a song of two halves. Seriously – it sounds like two songs stitched together. For me the chorus and verses are a bit of a clunky fit, and I don’t think it’ll make the cut…

  1. Czech Republic

Singer Mikolas (that’s not a typo, readers) was one of the hot faves coming into the Contest. He’s a highly likeable chap, with an irritating catchy song. What a shame that during his first rehearsal he badly injured himself during his rather acrobatic dance routine. He was hospitalised and it looks like the moves he shows in the music video probs aren’t going to happen now. The performance has been re-choreographed as a result. Never mind though, this is sailing through to the final…  (soz, another sea pun!)

  1. Lithuania

A rather solemn entry from Lithuania this year. A familiar sounding melody and vocal., but I think this is the first song of the night where my drink and snacks will be refreshed…

  1. Israel

Steady yourselves. This is THE hot favourite this year. Netta has been leading the betting odds pretty much since the national finals were completed back in March. The song is a mix of kooky-crazy with a strong empowering lyric which very much taps into the recent climate of all those hash tags (time’s up/me too). I wasn’t a fan of the chicken clucking to start with, but it’s an ear worm of a song. Better just to give into it now! We might be in Jerusalem next year…

  1. Belarus

Another familiar melody to this song – you’ve heard it before without hearing it before. An OK song, but I don’t think it will make the cut…

  1. Estonia

Our first bit of ‘Popera’ for ESC2018. Another highly rated entry, could very well see us heading back to Tallin in 2019. It’ll depend if the operatic gymnastics from singer Elina Nechayeva capture the audiences attention, as much as her frock. I’m a fan of the song – it reminds me of Sweden’s 2009 entry La Voix which was also suitably popera-tastic (although it limped into the final and kinda sank). Eagle-eyed viewers to ESC in recent years have seen this frock staging before: Cesar for Romania in 2013, and Paulina for Russia in 2015. What’s the saying – go large or go home…

  1. Bulgaria

One of my faves – this song gives me one of those ‘euro-tingles’. Love it. Nice vocals and harmonies. Suitably moody, and I know it’s a bit derivative of Rag N Bone man, but I hope this makes it through. Sure it will…

  1. FYR Macedonia

Another song suffering from an identity crisis – chorus and verses are mismatched, and ther song just stops, rather abruptly. A place in the middle of the draw won’t help the cause and I think FYROM won’t make it through…

  1. Croatia

Another one of my favourites. It’ll come down to the staging. Someone tell me what the song reminds me of? Hopefully Croatia will qualify for the third year in a row. I’m sure the music industry juries will like it. I’m crazy for it. See what I did there…

  1. Austria

Look at the performance footage below. Should Cesár sack his stylist? 🙂 This song does overlap a bit with Bulgaria, but I like the soulful vocal and catchy chorus and the ‘call and response’ backing singers. Another one I think the jury vote will help…

  1. Greece

So here’s Greece doing their Ronseal thang. Looks like Greece, sounds like Greece, sung in Greek, dressed like the Greek Gods. Yes, Greece have got their Greek lightening on this year. I’m a fan. Between 2004 until 2011 Greece enjoyed top ten finishes, and won in 2005. Since 2012 it’s seen Greece qualify and finish towards the bottom of the leader board. In 2016 they failed to qualify for the only time. If Europe want to get their Greek on then this will qualify. Spain sent a similarly high-octane Spanish offering in 2015 with Edurne’s Amanecer. On that occasion it wasn’t a case of Y Viva España…

  1. Finland

If you read Saara Alto’s bio you will see that she is an alumnus of various singing shows in her native Finland, and also competed in the UK’s X-Factor  back in 2016. What’s her track record, you ask? Well, she’s always the bridesmaid and never the bride. Saara has a habit of being runner-up in all these contests – including trying to win the Finnish national final in the past. This year the Finnish broadcaster didn’t take any chances and it was Saara and Saara alone who was put forward to get the ticket for Lisbon. Luckily those canny Finns selected the best of her three songs, and surely Monsters will make the cut? With those powerhouse vocals, we know what she can do, and from the footage below, c’mon Saara!

  1. Armenia

Armenia have a good track record at Eurovision, appearing in 10 out of 11 contests. With those odds, it’s looking good. For me, it overlaps with Albanian song earlier in the draw. Interestingly, this is the first time that they have not sung in English in some part. Will the decision to sing in Albanian have an impact? Let’s see…

  1. Switzerland

Switzerland last won in 1988, when Celine Dion sung Ne Partez Pas Sans Moi. This year brother and sister combo ZiBBS and giving it some welly and not throwing stones. I’d like this to get through. It probs won’t in this competitive semi-final. The music video does it no favours! One of my faves, so lets hope I’m not the kiss of death because I love the vibe…

  1. Ireland

The first time I heard the song was the first time I saw the music video. And the soppy thing that I am, it made me have a little man cry. Love the music video – wasn’t expecting that storytelling. It doesn’t quite match the lyrics, but it doesn’t matter. It’s touchingly simple. I love the vocal and the harmonies of the song. Hopefully the refreshingly light arrangement might stand out towards the end of draw. It’s the first flourish of Ed Sheeran we’ve heard this year! C’mon Ryan – it’ll be a tough ask, but fingers crossed…

  1. Cyprus

And so it will be that the first semi-final will finish on an upbeat note! It’s one of the most contemporary sounding songs in the whole contest this year. Will deffo get to the final. If you watch the music video you will see that singer Elina is clearly channelling her inner Beyoncé (haven’t we all?!). This is the most competitive song Cyprus have had in years, with a high production value music video – although with some dubious costumes. I mean, really … (pats hair)

So, there we have it. It’s a really good semi-final. Although don’t be thinking that we’ll have that for the second one!

I’m looking forward to watching the full performances for the first time on Tuesday evening. For UK television viewers, you can see all the action on BBC Four from 8pm. I’m going to watch it via Eurovision.tv, so I don’t have to suffer Scott Mill’s talking drivel whilst commentating. That said, it’s a good addition of Rylan Clark-Neal this year – he’s done some entertaining interviews, which you can see via the BBC’s Eurovision website.

Enjoy the first semi-final, eurofans. I’ll be back with my ‘napkin of death’ during the interval, so check back to see if my predictions are correct. And remember, you select the songs you think will get through and not the ones you want.

From a very sunny Southport (as I type), adeus por agora!

(bye for now)

🙂 x