Eurovision Song Contest 2016: Semi-Final Two Review

On Tuesday we saw ten countries progress from the first semi-final and last night it was the turn of the remaining entries to book their final place. Eighteen countries performed their hearts out for one of the ten golden tickets to Saturday’s final and this year the field was wide open, which led to a hugely tense results sequence. Here’s what happened:

We were immediately re-acquainted with our hosts for the evening, Petra Mede, a certified Swedish comedian, and the singer who brought the contest back to Sweden, Måns Zelmerlöw. They were looking great in matching silver outfits and the audience were going wild, especially for Mede, who did such a brilliant job as solo host in 2013.

Just when we were expecting to be thrust straight into the songs of semi-final two, we were treated to a musical theatre show that spared no expense. Titled “Story of ESC”, this was an extravaganza that was informative, comedic and fun. Featuring female dancers performing the can-can and a tribute to Riverdance, this ultimately reminded viewers of the old days of Eurovision, where the wacky and eye-catching were put above music quality. This was the second time in a row where the host broadcaster, SVT, have put on a stage show of epic proportions, that also highlighted the quality of the hosts.

After that stunning opening act, it was on to the competing songs, and here’s what I thought about them:

01) Latvia – Justs – “Heartbeat”
A good quality opener that starts off slow and builds up to the grand chorus. Fans of the contest will know that this song was written by Aminata Savadogo, who got Latvia’s best finish in a decade last year. It is very experimental with the electronic beat and even though Justs gives it everything in the vocals, going first could see it slip under the radar.

02) Poland – Michal Szpak – “Color of Your Life”
Michal has arrived on the stage looking like a member of a Queen tribute band but his vocals are completely on point, which helps seeing as the song is completely bland and lacks meaning (“what color is your life?”). A typical Eurovision ballad that is sung really well, but it honestly got slightly boring. May go through but touch and go.

03) Switzerland – Rykka – “The Last of Our Kind”
This entry starts off strange, with smoke coming from Rykka’s breasts, and at the first chorus hits car-crash territory. It seems like a very difficult song for vocals and Rykka sadly doesn’t have the range required in this Sia-like ballad, meaning it comes off flat. Has the strangest dance moves though, with Rykka bouncing as though she needs the toilet.

04) Israel – Hovi Star – “Made of Stars”
The third straight ballad in a row but Hovi decimates the previous songs with a powerful performance. It starts off slow and personal before rising to an anthemic stadium filler that reaches out to those who are oppressed. The stage show is generally good but there is a pointless dancer on a giant hula hoop. Apart from that this is the best so far.

05) Belarus – Ivan – “Help You Fly”
This is an example of how special effects can go into creepy territory. Starting out with a CGI naked Ivan howling in front of a wolf, the subsequent vocals are far from perfect and the song is probably the weakest so far.The final image we get? A creepy CGI baby, completely summing up how I feel about this mess. Shouldn’t qualify based on special effects alone.

06) Serbia – Sanja Vučić ZAA – “Goodbye (Shelter)”
One of my favourites coming into the contest and Sanja did not disappoint. The song has a powerful message of domestic violence against women and it was tastefully done through the dancer and backing vocalists. There is a strong sense of unity here and it gives me flashbacks to the 2007 winner “Molitva”. This is a definite qualifier.

07) Ireland – Nicky Byrne – “Sunlight”
Ireland have won the contest a record breaking seven times but this inoffensive slice of pop has no hope, not least due to the questionable vocals by ex-Westlife member Byrne. This is something we have seen so many times before and not even Byrne’s natural charisma and connection to the crowd can save this. Will only get through if Westlife fans vote in force.

08) Macedonia – Kaliopi – “Dona”
Kaliopi is a legend to modern Eurovision fans and she always nails the vocals, which helps in this personal Balkan ballad. This was actually the most popular with the people I watched it with last night but the song itself, despite the great vocals, seems a bit bland. With so many ballads in this semi final, this could be one of the songs to (sadly) miss out.

09) Lithuania – Donny Montell – “I’ve Been Waiting for This Night”
This is another run-of-the-mill up-tempo Eurovision song, but this blows Ireland’s similar song out of the water. It isn’t down to the vocals though, which are probably compromised by the dance moves of Montell. The raw energy that is put into the song by the singer is infectious and though the song isn’t the best, I can see this qualifying.

10) Australia – Dami Im – “Sound of Silence”
The first truly sensational performance of semi-final two and it is all down to Dami Im’s vocals, which reach crazy levels in this ballad (take note Rykka). The stage show and special effects make no sense (why is she sitting on a starry box?) but when you’ve got a voice like that, who cares! I can see this winning, not just the semi, but in the final too.

11) Slovenia – ManuElla – “Blue and Red”
This song is another which has very little hope in getting through, which is mostly down to the strange lyrics (“cause blue is blue and red is red”). ManuElla is putting a lot into this song but the vocals are uncomfortable at the high notes and the man swinging on a curved pole is needless. Country isn’t represented much in Eurovision but this song feels like a rejected Taylor Swift album track.

12) Bulgaria – Poli Genova – “If Love Was a Crime”
Bulgaria haven’t qualified to the final since 2007 but this is their best song in many years. Another entry that talks about oppression and becoming united, this could be seen as an LGBT anthem. In 2011 Poli didn’t reach the final with a good song but this has got to qualify. The part leather, part faux nude dress with light up parts needs to go though!

13) Denmark – Lighthouse X – “Soldiers of Love”
This song is one of my guilty pleasures because it is so dated yet is feelgood. Sadly I have a feeling that this won’t be appreciated by Europe and though the vocals and stage show are tightened to a tee, it feels like a rejected Take That song from the late 90s. I want this to qualify just for the cheese factor but again will be touch and go as to its qualification.

14) Ukraine – Jamala – “1944”
Ladies and gentleman, we have a winner of semi-final two. This song is the most controversial of the contest as it relates to the deportation of the Crimean Tatars during World War II. The raw emotion of this song is spine-tingling and truly moving, and the screams of Jamala are screams of pain for her ancestors. Is this too political to win though?

15) Norway – Agnete – “Icebreaker”
Agnete looks visibly nervous at the start of this but after a shaky start, really composes herself. The song is a bit jarring in a sense that it slows right down in tempo for the chorus, like an Icebreaker going through the Arctic. Norway have sent two good ballads in the past couple of years but this feels slightly too standard. She has a great voice though.

16) Georgia – Nika Kocharov & Young Georgian Lolitaz – “Midnight Gold”
This song makes me feel like I’m watching Top of the Pops in 1995 and it spares no expense on special effects and strobe lighting to create a very retro performance that is also feels like a drug trip. The song itself is not the best and lacks a decent hook and if it was just based on that it wouldn’t go through, but this is Eurovision so you never know.

17) Albania – Eneda Tarifa – “Fairytale”
Bland in every sense of the world, this song was originally performed in Albanian but the choice to move it to English was harshly received by Eurovision fans. Now it is obvious that the lyrics are truly dire (“and that’s why I love you…oh oh”). The stage show is non-existent and the only good thing is her voice. A definite non-qualifier.

18) Belgium – Laura Tesoro – “What’s the Pressure”
The last performance of the night and this is choreographed so well, props to Laura too for being able to sing and dance well at the same time. The genre here is funk, which has come back on the scene recently. The dancing may not be wholly Eurovision but this feels like a good X-Factor performance. This brings the fun factor and should qualify.

With all 18 entrants having performed, the phone lines opened and here in the UK we could vote, which was good as I wasn’t sure whether my favourite would progress. To help us, we were given a compilation of the performances, which was good since the internet failed at our Eurovision party briefly, meaning we missed a couple of entries.

After the voting lines had closed, the results were in. The countries moving forward to the Grand Final were (in no particular order):

So these are the ten songs moving to the final, joining the ten qualifiers from semi-final one, the ‘Big 5’ and host nation Sweden. Personally there are a couple of shocks in there, most notably Georgia’s style-over-substance performance and Lithuania’s bland yet high energy song. The group watching with me were disappointed that “Dona” didn’t make the cut but the real shock for me was Norway, who had a great voice and stage presentation. Of course I am also disappointed the cheese from Denmark didn’t go through, but that’s Eurovision, you win some and you lose some.

So what do you think? Did your favourite go through or were you shocked by a couple of qualifications? Comment your thoughts down below and I’ll be back to report on Saturday for the Grand Final. It’s going to be so exciting!

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