19 May 2021
I’ve hugged my teddy bear and reconciled the fact that Croatia is out of the 2021 Eurovision Song Contest. Tick-Tock by Albina was the only disappointment among the six non-qualifiers from the first semi final in Rotterdam. After a shaky start with seemingly flat audio, weaker songs, and a short break for technical issues, the show really kicked into gear with all except one of the final nine songs impressing. Most of all, it was so good to see an actual Eurovision stage after last year’s event was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Adding to the visual feast of the slick stage design were the superlative graphics and lighting effects. I especially loved the graphical ribbon in each nation’s colours bounce through the postcard, then into the arena to splash the country’s name, and then form an umbrella of light over the stage.
With just 16 songs in this semi final, it meant that every song had a chance as long as they distinguished themselves. A few took that opportunity to really excel and make them compelling choices to progress to the grand final, while a few sufficed with the familiar hook already seen in their national finals or doing the bare basics of showing up to perform. It’s from that group I’d select either Sweden or Belgium from the qualifying nations to dump for the glory of Albina, and this was a popular sentiment among fans online with “Croatia Robbed”. Other than that, it’s difficult to argue with the top 10 that the jury and viewers selected.
Lithuania – The Roop – Discoteque – 7
Launched this year’s Eurovision Song Contest with their funky and familiar tune, especially if you’ve seen their national final performance. A few tweaks here and there improved it enough. Ultimately, it stands on its zany, quirky and infectious nature.
Slovenia – Ana Soklic – Amen – 5
Too slow to get going, and under-utilised her vocal prowess. Needed a total rearrangement so you’re captured at the start and left breathtaken at the end.
Russia – Manizha – Russian Woman – 6
Well presented, especially cruising about in the motorised dress at the start, and Manizha performed it well. Not really a fan of the song, and she can thank her charisma, the big finale and that it being Russia for qualifying.
Sweden – Tusse – Voices – 4
This is just so bland and only Tusse himself enlivens it with any interest. Even the chatter online felt Sweden unworthy of qualifying, especially ahead of the likes of Croatia.
Australia – Montaigne – Technicolour – 5
Despite the “live to tape” performance record in Sydney, this was integrated well and many people may not even realise Montaigne wasn’t in the venue until the end. This song was always a bit limited, and Montaigne couldn’t make it stand out. Curiously, she used dancers in the performance in Sydney, which was something unlikely to have been seen in Rotterdam due to the costs. Last year she was planning a completely solo performance despite the complex choreographed routine with a bunch of dancers in the national final, so you could anticipate a similar decision in 2021 and therefore something quite different had she been in Rotterdam.
Australia is out of the grand final since the start of their invitations in 2015 and lost their streak of always qualifying since 2016. I look forward to a grand final without Australia as I’ve really resented the toxicity from fans both ways towards Technicolour and Australia’s decision to perform remotely, and we’ll finally get a Eurovision final that focuses on all songs and the grand spectacle that it is, not the obsessive, insular and often nauseating focus on Australia. It’s like no other songs exist, which actually harms the stature and interest of the event.
North Macedonia – Vasil – Here I Stand – 3
Too self-indulgent, and while Vasil performed it ok, it was a sign of desperation to strap on a multi-mirrored chest plate. That’s so Melodifestivalen 2020.
Ireland – Lesley Roy – Maps – 5
Lesley needed a map to find herself out of this mess. Easily the weirdest performance of the night, and no doubt one of the weirdest ever. It looks like she constructed it for the backup home performance and figured it would suffice for Rotterdam. Vocals were sub-par in places too. In saying that, I got some perverse enjoyment out of it.
Cyprus – Elena Tsagrinou – El Diablo – 7
A solid performance of a catchy song. Nothing innovative at all, which was surprising considering their recent history.
Norway – Tix – Fallen Angel – 7
Tix mostly reprised his Melodi Grand Prix performance, albeit traded action with emotion with less active dark angels (whatever they are) and removing his sunglasses to reveal his ticks. Yes, he calls himself Tix due to suffering tourette syndrome, and adopted the name after he was bullied with the name “ticks” as a child. Some nice lighting and screen effects towards the end were another addition, which further enhanced the performance.
Croatia – Albina – Tick-Tock – 9
The start was super with the lighting effects, and the vocals were great. Then it seemed to lose its way a bit. There were some strange camera angles, notably so many pans from below stage level, with one so low stage lights were partially blocking the view. There were some online comments about cameras that stopped working during the semi final, so who knows. It certainly didn’t help. I’d quibble the choice of background screen lighting, or lack thereof. It was quite dark at times. It would have been nice to see Albina rip some bigger notes towards the end of the song too, just to leave an imprint. I’m really picking here because I struggle to find reasons why Tick-Tock didn’t qualify. Great song, great vocals, great routine and Novak Djokovic as one of her dancers (far right of screen near the end). What the hell more does a girl need to do?
Belgium – Hooverphonic – The Wrong Place – 5
They just stood and delivered. Sometimes that’s all you need to do! It was well liked online and offered a pleasant differentiation during the hectic latter half of the show. A worthy finalist in that sense.
Israel – Eden Alene – Set Me Free – 7
Made good use of the song’s revamp with a well matched stage presentation. Good vocal variety too, including that squealing bit at the end.
Romania – Roxen – Amnesia – 6
No one remembered it. It got buried by being surrounded by Israel and Azerbaijan. Probably a less dramatic and more simple routine would have sufficed. It worked for Belgium.
Azerbaijan – Efendi – Mata Hari – 8
Efendi officially blew up the stage! This was the massive transformation me. One of the weaker songs going in; probably the best performance going out. They merged well the pounding “mata hari” sections with ethnic sounds, dance and super vocals, as Mata Hari built to an awesome finale. It was like the planet was about to explode.
Ukraine – Go_A – Shum – 6
I was expected more than just standing in a fake white forest. I also expected more energy and action, which could have been a hangover from just witnessing Azerbaijan blow up the stage. Being such a distinctive song, it didn’t need to do much to stand out anyway and Ukraine now remains the only country with a 100% qualifying record to the grand final.
Malta – Destiny – Je Me Casse – 6
I hated the head microphone as it looks more like musical theatre and it encourages unnecessary arm waving and hand gestures. Surprisingly, quite an understated routine for Malta, which is good, because Destiny is the strength of the song. No where near convinced it’s the winner as the betting markets suggest.
My Top 10
North Macedonia 3
From my preview, the differences are Azerbaijan and Israel in, Ireland and Slovenia out. As for my pre-Eurovision prediction, I missed Belgium, Israel and Azerbaijan as qualifiers, selecting Australia, Croatia and Romania instead.
I’m pleased to say I predicted 9 of the 10 finalists after all songs were performed during the show. The miss was Belgium instead of Croatia.
The average score was 6, so places this as a “good” show. The better shows get 6.5 so we wait for semi final 2 for an improvement. Splitting the score between the halves shows the first half scoring 5.3 compared to 6.8 in the second half. That starkly portrays the slow start to this semi final and improvement after, which hopefully continues for the remaining shows.