Today saw the second half of the first heat have their initial run-throughs. We started with Serbia, where a frizzy-haired Bojana in grey sequins pleased the fans with her message of ‘Beauty Never Lies’. A staging description of her backing singers discarding their white masks, cloaks and flags for an amateurish dance-along may scare off punters as well as jurors. Televoters could see it as a welcome injection of fun.
Hungary also have a message to convey, and Boggie does it much more tastefully. A black-and-white solar system backdrop is followed by a monochrome tree of guns, that morphs into a colourful, idyllic countryside scene. There’s no problem with the vocals though I’d like Boggie to be a bit more expressive.
Uzari and Maimuna are alone on stage for Belarus, and early run-throughs saw ‘Time’ sit heavily on their shoulders. Uzari’s vocals settled down in later run-throughs and Maimuna started smiling a bit. However, the staging still felt very vanilla for a song which not only needs a concept but easily allows for one.
It was quickly overshadowed by a very strong Russian rehearsal. They’ve gone down the credible band route for the staging of ‘A Million Voices’, which makes more sense as the drummer is singled out for the line, “Your heart is beating like a drum”. The two female backing singers and two male guitarists provide good vocal support, which allows a white-clad Polina to show off her excellent range. The floor and wall graphics only enhanced the sense of polish and professionalism. The whole thing felt like an X Factor winner’s single performance.
Denmark didn’t surprise us, with a facsimile of their national final effort. I wasn’t totally convinced by the lead singer’s vocals there, but they were secure here. You would assume Danish competence would be enough in a semi-final of 16, though this is not a very western semi, which is where you expect ‘The Way You Are’ to appeal.
I wasn’t convinced by Elhaida Dani’s performances at the Amsterdam and London concerts. To be fair, she looked like she felt the same way. It started off that way today, with a ropey first run-through of ‘I’m Alive’, and the golden staging was also too busy. Everything improved with each run-through, though I think the problem remains a song that lacks hooks and is better in studio than on stage.
Romania was very polished in comparison. There wasn’t enough development in early run-throughs, with a brightly-lit backdrop of open suitcases showing clips from the official video and some of the Romanian lyrics, matched by suitcases on stage. The decision to plunge the first verse into relative darkness before revealing the backdrop was a definite improvement.
Georgia was strikingly staged, with Nina Sublatti determinedly alone, for the most part carrying ‘Warrior’ with a fierce performance. The backdrop, dry ice and her black animal-skin bird outfit create a wonderfully gothic atmosphere. For the most part it’s very convincing, although without anything going on around her, the instrumental break is the weakest link.
With all the first rehearsals for the first heat finished, Russia clearly offers the most polished and compelling package at this stage. The rest are playing catch-up. Let us know your continued thoughts below.