When you spend a full week preceding the semi finals in a complete bubble of Eurovision, it’s amazing how emotionally invested you become in the songs. Tomorrow, semi-one will see ten artists qualifying to the grand final, and six being sent home – and I’m really going to be saddened to see them go. Many of the artists have been on a long journey to arrive at this point, and they’re really putting the work in to deliver exciting performances and represent their country well. It’s a little bit heartbreaking to think that for some of them, the journey will end with profound disappointment.
Still, that’s the game and having just watched the jury rehearsal for the show, I’m ready to make my final predictions. It feels especially tough to call this year because the base quality level is exceptionally high – many fans have complained about the lack of big highlights, and perhaps that’s fair, but there’s also a distinct lack of obvious filler. Under the right circumstances, anybody could make it tomorrow night.
Which is a roundabout way of saying you probably shouldn’t put any stock in the following analysis whatsoever. Seriously, I know nothing.
Moldova | Eduard Romanyuta – I Want Your Love
Otherwise known as the Ukrainian entry by proxy, this is a high-energy opener with an extremely silly stage show featuring dancing police officers in hotpants. Vocals were passable in the jury rehearsal, but shaky in places. The main problem is that Eduard is by far the least interesting element of his own performance, and it’s pretty obvious that all the onstage madness is there to mask a flimsy song rather than to elevate a great one. If enough viewers are hungry for a piece of classic Eurovision nonsense in a Solayoh sort of vein, this might sneak in, but it’s obviously going to be fairly low down a lot of jury lists. There’s also a horrible moment at the end of the performance where one of the dancers mimes shooting Eduard in the head with her fingers, accompanied by an explosion of red on the screen. It’s a nasty, crass image that leaves an unpleasant taste in my mouth, and I don’t think I’ll be alone in that assessment.
Armenia | Genealogy – Don’t Deny
I’ve had a strange journey with this song. I came into Vienna really disliking it, but found myself really impressed with the first run-through last Monday. However, while most performances at Eurovision get slicker during the rehearsal process, this one seems to have fallen apart a bit. They’re all individually good vocalists, but the sound of them singing together just isn’t gelling, and the final minute in particular is a cacophonous mess of competitive vocalising. The imagery is still very strong and they have a lot of friends in this semi, but I’m really wondering who it’s going to appeal to outside of the target audience. Is it really possible to qualify on diaspora alone?
Belgium | Loïc Nottet – Rhythm Inside
There’s a lot that could have gone wrong with this performance, and I had some reservations when I first saw it rehearsed. However, everything seems to have come together over the course of the week and this was a huge standout in the jury final. Loïc’s personality is all over the performance – from the robotic dance moves to the little Maddie Ziegler tribute he throws in near the end. His natural intensity works in the song’s favour, and he’s delivering a tremendously powerful but, crucially, controlled and melodic vocal. Easily one of the top three of the semi, and I’d be gobsmacked to see it fail to progress. This could give Belgium their best result in years.
Netherlands | Trijntje Oosterhuis – Walk Along
By contrast to Belgium, the Dutch performance feels like it never really recovered from a disastrous initial rehearsal. Trijntje is one of the best singers in this competition, and they’ve wisely ditched the hideous dress she was wearing last Monday in favour of a softer and more natural look. However, as the week has gone on, it’s become increasingly apparent that the stage concept for the song is fundamentally flawed. Everything is too dark and static, and it makes the song feel more depressing than it should be. There’s no energy here, Trijntje is out of her comfort zone and – tragically – probably out of the finals as a result. What a horrible comedown from last year, and a real waste of a great voice.
Finland | Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät – Aina mun pitää
For my money the biggest wildcard in the semi final – I’m fairly confident of a strong televote for this, but I have absolutely no idea how it’ll be received by the juries. Will they mark it down for being so far removed from what we expect of a Eurovision song, or reward it for being distinctive and a strong example of the particular genre it operates in? Given that juries are made up of individuals with diverse attitudes and backgrounds, I imagine it’ll be a little bit of both. The performance is as energetic as expected, and after an underpowered Dutch performance, it’s a real wake-up call. Ultimately, while the song is clearly going to be hugely divisive, I think enough people will enjoy the group and their story to push them into the finals. With so many entries playing it safe this year, it’d be a real shame for something as uncompromising as this not to be in the mix.
Greece | Maria Elena Kyriakou – One Last Breath
This is an attractively staged, beautifully sung entry by a country with a perfect qualification record – there should be absolutely nothing to worry about here. I do have reservations though. It’s one of three vocally showy power-ballads by women in this semi final, it’s the first one up, and it’s the weakest of the three. We’ve seen many times in the past how being competent but upstaged can be a lot more devastating than being dreadful but distinctive. Based on their history and the fact that it really is excellently sung, I think this probably will cross the finish line – but there’s a real risk that Russia and Albania could eat up all the votes from fans of this genre, leaving Greece with only scraps.
Estonia | Elina Born & Stig Rästa – Goodbye to Yesterday
Musically, Goodbye to Yesterday is one of the clear standouts of this semi final – and of the entire competition, and they’re justifiably among the pre-contest favourites. The jury rehearsal brought everything that was needed – smouldering chemistry, solid vocals and a stage show that really tells a story. This could very well in the semi final, and I’d be very surprised to see it outside the top ten on Saturday.
Macedonia | Daniel Kajmakoski – Autumn Leaves
Another musical standout of the semi – although one that relatively few people are excited about. I think they’ve done a really good job at toning down a stage show that looked very messy and over-choreographed at first. The vocals are solid, the backdrop looks good – there’s not much to complain about here, and although many of my fellow journalists have already written them off, at this point I really think Macedonia are going to be back in the finals. They deserve to be, anyway.
Serbia | Bojana Stamenov – Beauty Never Lies
The Semi-finals are a much more fan-driven affair than the main show on Saturday night, and Serbia’s performance looks like it’s been tailor made to appeal to the Eurovision hardcore. Like Hera Björk before her, I anticipate Bojana scoring a great result here followed by a fairly heavy comedown in the grand final – but we don’t have to worry about that just yet. This is Eurovision in a bottle, and if you’re not grinning from ear to ear by the end of the performance, you’re watching the wrong competition.
Hungary | Boggie – Wars For Nothing
If Bojana whips the Eurovision crowd into the frenzy I’m expecting, Hungary’s extremely serious protest ballad is in danger of feeling like a major buzzkill coming straight after it. There’s definitely a market for songs like Wars For Nothing in the contest, but the more I hear this particular song the more I feel that it’s too underpowered to really engage the audience. I feel lectured to when I hear this song, and that’s not a sensation that makes me want to pick up the phone and vote.
Belarus | Uzari & Maimuna – Time
This is an entry that has really failed to deliver for me. There’s a really strong energy to this song, but a bland and imagination-free stage show really squanders it. There’s no visual hook here whatsoever, aside from the fact that poor Maimuna is really obviously not playing her Violin – which makes the performance look phoney as well as boring. A huge missed opportunity.
Russia | Polina Gagarina – A Million Voices
Whatever issues you might have with Russia and their decision to send this particular song to Eurovision, it’s impossible to deny that Polina Gagarina is an absolutely phenomenal vocalist. She’s knocking this song out of the park every time, and the beautiful stage show helps to make this feel like a real event performance. Probably not this year’s winner, but a real contender for the top 5, and in no danger whatsoever here.
Denmark | Anti Social Media – The Way You Are
I have to put my personal feelings aside for this one, as I really dislike this song. However, there’s no denying that it’s very well performed and seems destined to be a real crowd pleaser on the night. It’s the last really fun song in the running order, and it has a convincing sense of spontaneity that many of the other songs in this semi final lack. This is Denmark on cruise control, and it’s likely to give them a smooth ride to the finals.
Albania | Elhaida Dani – I’m Alive
This is the third of the big vocal ballads of the evening, and there was a point during the afternoon rehearsal when I thought it might be the one to be edged out. Elhaida Dani saved her A-game for the jury rehearsal though, delivering a vocal performance that easily compensated for the rather boring visual presentation of the song. Not 100% safe, but in a very strong position to take Albania back to the finals for the first time since 2012.
Romania | Voltaj – De la capăt (All Over Again)
Like Armenia, this is an entry with a very specific target audience. Also like Armenia, it isn’t quite working well enough on the stage to convince me that there’s any appeal beyond that audience. Having a full band onstage has eaten into stage space that might have been better served by some backing vocalists. At the moment, the lead singer feels rather underpowered. The message of the song is conveyed pretty well, but it makes for a fairly depressing three minutes that I’m unsure many viewers will pick up the phone to hear again. Romania have always qualified in the past, but they’ve usually submitted much more crowd-pleasing entries than this.
Georgia | Nina Sublatti – Warrior
An intense and energetic closer with a really striking backdrop, this is a smouldering way to finish the semi final. Nina had some vocal problems today due to illness, but did what she needed to do when it counted. One of the most commanding performers in the semi final, this makes a big impact and should do very well indeed.