My guide to ESC Semi Final 1

Robin Bengtsson Second Rehearsal Photo Thomas Hanses

Robin Bengtsson (Sweden) Second Rehearsal | Photo: Thomas Hanses (EBU)

Let’s start this Eurovision week with a bang, bringing out one of this year’s favourites on stage at once. Robin Bengtsson has a current ranking of third place in this year’s competition according to the bookmakers of the world, after Portugal in second and almost in tie with Bulgaria, who’s currently in fourth. Wa-a-ay ahead of all the others though is Italy, who’s already qualified for the Grand Final on Saturday being one of the Big Five.

Apart from Robin’s act we find eight other entries with Swedish connections in tonight’s Semi Final. So, don’t forget to keep your fingers crossed for Georgia, Australia, Montenegro, Azerbaijan, Greece, Poland, Cyprus and Armenia as well.

Sweden, Armenia, Portugal, Azerbaijan, Greece, Australia, Finland, Moldova, Cyprus and Belgium. These are the acts the international bookmakers as this moment predict will make it to the Grand Final on Saturday. If their predictions end up being correct remains to be seen.

In addition to tonight’s competing acts we will also be seeing footage from the directly qualified acts of Spain, Italy and United Kingdom in this Semi Final.

01 Sweden: Robin Bengtsson, I Can’t Go On
No one is surprised Robin was chosen to open the show since his I Can’t Go On is one of very few up-tempo songs this year. I Can’t Go On has long been predicted by the bookmakers to finish up in third place behind the seemingly unbeatable Italy, and Portugal who’s skyrocketed since the rehearsals started. His closest competitors for hat position is Bulgaria and Armenia who’s closing in right behind him at the moment. The song is written by, among others, Robin Stjernberg who competed for Sweden in Malmö 2013 with You.
Bookmakers’ ranking tonight: 1/18
Bookmakers’ ranking in total: 3/42

02 Georgia: Tamara Gachechiladze, Keep The Faith
The first in an endless row of ballads in this year’s competition. The act has improved immensely since Tamara’s performance in the national competition, mostly thanks to the (Swedish) Stage Designer, but I doubt it will help them qualify for the Grand Final on Saturday.
Swedish Connection: Georgia’s Stage Designer is the well-renowned Stockholm citizen Sacha Jean-Baptiste who’s been appointed to create no less than four acts in this year’s Eurovision.
Bookmakers’ ranking tonight: 13/18
Bookmakers’ ranking in total: 29/42

03 Australia: Isaiah, Don’t Come Easy
Since my amazing Eurovision adventure last year, my heart will always beat for my awesome Aussies. However, I think 17 years old Isaiah will have a hard time living up to the high expectations his predecessors have raised before him. With Guy Sebastian’s fifth place in Vienna 2015, and Dami Im’s second place in Stockholm last year, I think a lot of Aussie fans may leave Kyiv disappointed. But the song is good, the lyrics are beautiful, Isaiah’s a talented singer and Sacha’s made a good staging for him. People say the main problem is that the lyrics don’t match the young age of the performer, and maybe they’re right. I’ll keep my fingers crossed my beloved Aussie friends will make it to the top ten.
Swedish Connection: Stockholmer Sacha Jean-Baptiste is involved in the Australian act as well, as the Creative Director of Isaiah’s performance.
Bookmakers’ ranking tonight: 6/18
Bookmakers’ ranking in total: 13/42

04 Albania: Lindita, World
This is a typical Albanian entry; a song that’s just a little too inaccessible, sung by a really talented singer. They’re usually good at sticking to their native language but have chosen to translate the lyrics to English this time. It sends a strong message and the staging is beautiful, but few believe it’ll be enough to make it to the Grand Final.
I challenge you to trying to keep count of all the white outfits on stage during this year’s competition – this is number one…
Bookmakers’ ranking tonight: 16/18
Bookmakers’ ranking in total: 39/42

05 Belgium: Blanche, City Lights
Belgian Blanche and her City Lights was one of my absolute favourites when I first listen through this year’s songs. Her voice is amazing, suggestive – mystical even – and the official video was so well produced and matched her performance beautifully. Unfortunately, they seem to have managed to ruin this essence completely in the transition for the live performance on stage. I was hoping for another innovative modern act like Loïc Nottet’s from two years ago, but it ended up “blah”. I’m sure she’ll make it to the Grand Final, even though she’s been sinking in the bookmakers’ list since rehearsals started. Obviously, I’m not the only one who’s disappointed in the Belgian staging.
Bookmakers’ ranking tonight: 10/18
Bookmakers’ ranking in total: 12/42

06 Montenegro: Slavko Kalezić, Space
I loved this song the first time I heard it, and the studio version is still great. Slavko’s charisma and humour is dazzling, and it’s no surprise his fellow contestants have playfully crowned him this year’s diva. His official video looked really promising but unfortunately the act hasn’t transitioned well to the stage. It’s such a shame Montenegro doesn’t have the budget to make this act as good as it might have been with better graphics and at least four male dancers up there on stage with him. And to be honest, he’s not that good a singer live as he was in the studio. But I love the not-so-subtle homo-erotic lyrics (if you’re a prude, you’d better not listen too closely to the words but just enjoy the funky beat). I keep my fingers crossed he’ll make it to Saturday’s Grand Final against all odds – the show could really need this upbeat disco tune amongst all the ballads.
Swedish Connection: Space is produced by the Swedish trio Stefan Örn, Jovan Radomir and Johan Kronlund who’ve all been involved in several Eurovision entries in previous years.
Bookmakers’ ranking tonight: 17/18
Bookmakers’ ranking in total: 36/42

07 Finland: Norma John, Blackbird
If any ballad should win this year it’s definitely this one. Lasse and Leena, the pianist and singer behind the duo Norma John, delivers this beautiful song so exquisitely it brings tears to my eyes every time I hear it. And, unlike some of my other early favourites, their rehearsals on the Eurovision stage in Kyiv looks really promising and sounds absolutely perfect. They’ve risen from 16th to 8th place in the bookmakers’ list just last week and will probably climb even higher during the next couple of days leading up to the Grand Final on Saturday.
Bookmakers’ ranking tonight: 7/18
Bookmakers’ ranking in total: 10/42

08 Azerbaijan: Dihaj, Skeletons
I’ve had a hard time trying to connect to this song, it just doesn’t make sense to me. And the stage performance in Kyiv will probably not make much sense for the general viewer either. Dihaj explained the metaphor of the staging in a press conference the other day and after that I admit it’s a little bit clearer to me what they’re trying to express on stage, but I’m fairly sure their message won’t come across easily. The song is quite alright though, and they’re pretty high up in the ranking, so they’ll probably make it to the Grand Final.
Swedish Connection: This is the fifth Azerbaijani entry for the Swedish lyricist Sandra Bjurman who’s most successful Eurovision song to date is the 2011 winner, Running Scared, performed by Ell & Nikki.
Bookmakers’ ranking tonight: 4/18
Bookmakers’ ranking in total: 7/42

09 Portugal: Salvador Sobral, Amar Pelos Dois
This is the most precious gem in this year’s Eurovision, so delicate it tears down all your defences and cuts right through your heart. A timeless evergreen that might as well have been the number one hit of the 30’s, sung by the incredibly talented jazz singer Salvador Sobral. Due to medical conditions he’s been absent from the first week of rehearsals but joined the Portuguese team in Kyiv in time for the Opening Ceremony on Sunday. Standing in for Salvador during last week’s rehearsals was none other than his sister Luísa, who’s also the composer and lyricist of the song. Amar Pelos Dois is the only song in the first Semi Final not sung in English.
Bookmakers’ ranking tonight: 3/18
Bookmakers’ ranking in total: 2/42

10 Greece: Demy, This is Love
A generic pop song about love that you’ve already heard a million times before. Greece are usually really good at putting an ethnical vibe to their songs for Eurovision but this entry has no Greek ethnicity in it whatsoever. It’s up-tempo though which may help them qualify, but their staging is poor (despite the half-naked male dancers) so it’s definitely not a given. Greece usually do well in this competition, and last year they missed the Grand Final for the first time, so my guess is we’ll see them on stage on Saturday, ending up somewhere close to the bottom of the scoreboard.
Swedish Connection: The lyrics are written by Swedish lyricist John Ballard who’ve written a lot of Eurovision songs over the years, among others last year’s entry from Russia, You Are The Only One.
Bookmakers’ ranking tonight: 5/18
Bookmakers’ ranking in total: 16/42

11 Poland: Kasia Moś, Flashlight
Yes, she’s talented, and her voice is so much more powerful on stage than it was in the official video where she sounded more scared and fragile. But even so, this song is just one of those million boring ballads you’ll forget as soon as it’s over. And standing still in the middle of the stage dressed in white is not the best way to make yourself memorable in this year’s competition either, we have three of those in this evening’s Semi Final alone (and more to come later in the week).
Swedish Connection: Swedish composer Rickard Bonde Truumeel has written this song together with UK based Pete Barringer and the singer Kasia.
Bookmakers’ ranking tonight: 11/18
Bookmakers’ ranking in total: 21/42

12 Moldova: Sunstroke Project, Hey Mamma
The small country of Moldova has a tradition of sending good humoristic acts to Eurovision (who’ll ever forget their premier entry in 2005, Bunica Bate Toba with the adorable drumming grandmother?) Sunstroke Project have represented the country once before, in 2010, when their saxophonist Sergey became a YouTube phenomenon under the nickname Epic Sax Guy. This song has a way of sticking to your brain and once you’ve started you’ll most likely keep humming it for hours, maybe even days – believe me, I’ve been there. The staging, with the backup singers dressed as brides hiding their mikes in the bouquets, is so corny, but it goes well with the song so I buy it.
Bookmakers’ ranking tonight: 8/18
Bookmakers’ ranking in total: 20/42

13 Iceland: Svala, Paper
Iceland still hasn’t managed to win Eurovision even though they’ve given us so many brilliant songs over the years. The two years they’ve come in second they’ve been beaten by other Scandinavian’s, Swedish Charlotte Nilsson (Perelli) in 1999 and Norwegian Alexander Rybak in 2009. Svala’s Paper is an OK song but I got bored even before the first listening was over. I wonder what difference it’d have made if she’d ventured a classical Eurovision key change, maybe that would’ve done the trick? In my opinion, this is just plain boring – even though she’s not hiding the fact that she’s an avid sci-fi fan, just like me.
Bookmakers’ ranking tonight: 14/18
Bookmakers’ ranking in total: 28/42

14 Czech Republic: Martina Bárta, My Turn
Martina’s My Turn is a beautifully sweet love ballad that went straight to my heart the first time I heard it. Unfortunately, her live performance on stage in Kyiv isn’t as good as the studio version and the staging is plain boring. I don’t know where she picked up that outfit and I don’t know how it’s supposed to relate to the song. And what is it with this new trend of just standing still in the middle of the stage relying on the digital artwork to do the job behind your back? I’m just imagining how different this act would’ve been with a dancing couple in the background (live, those dancers on the LED screen doesn’t count), preferably choreographed by amazing Ambra Succi who once did the choreography for Loreen’s unforgettable number Euphoria in 2012.
Bookmakers’ ranking tonight: 18/18
Bookmakers’ ranking in total: 41/42

15 Cyprus: Hovig, Gravity
Gravity sounds like a typical Eurovision song and I was expecting more dancers and stronger choreography to go with the heavy beat. Biggest problem though, is that this must be the most monotonous melody I’ve heard in ages – and he didn’t even get a key change to work with… Add to that the graphics, which seems to be copied from Russia last year – but without the cool 3D effects that was the whole point of that act. (I believe you remember Sergey Lazarev’s You Are The Only One, don’t you?) Cyprus might make it to the Grand Final, but I’m not as sure as I was last year when Minus One swept me off my feet.
Swedish Connection: If Gravity sounds familiar you’re not mistaken. After all these years, it’s hard not to recognise the work of Sweden’s very own Melodifestivalen and Eurovision guru, Thomas G:son.
Bookmakers’ ranking tonight: 9/18
Bookmakers’ ranking in total: 32/42

16 Armenia: Artsvik, Fly With Me
Armenia has a tradition of sending strong acts to Eurovision, usually a little suggestive and mystical which I like. Artsvik reminds me of Loreen and her performances on stage during the rehearsals look confident and reassuring. I have no doubt she will make it to the Grand Final and compete for a place in the top ten on Saturday.
Swedish Connection: Once again, for the third time this evening, we find Swedish Sacha Jean-Baptiste responsible for the staging, this time in the role of Creative Director for the Armenian act.
Bookmakers’ ranking tonight: 2/18
Bookmakers’ ranking in total: 5/42

17 Slovenia: Omar Naber, On My Way
Omar is a really good singer, and he does what he can to make this song rise to the skies. I don’t know what it is that makes me dislike this song so much, but maybe it’s because it sounds like a parody of a musical with all the clichés in its proper places. Maybe that’s because I’m so provoked, since I love musicals and cannot bear people making fun of the genre. The staging is really nice – and he delivers a perfect key change (you cannot have too many of those in Eurovision) – but I’m afraid it won’t be enough to get him to the Grand Final.
Bookmakers’ ranking tonight: 15/18
Bookmakers’ ranking in total: 37/42

18 Latvia: Triana Park, Line
We wrap up this evening with a psychedelic energy blast from Latvia.  It’s modern, it’s captivating and it’s… repetitive as hell. It seems like even the singer Agnese has had enough of singing the phrase Where we draw the line after two and a half minutes of the song. But they were given the desirable advantage of finishing up the show for the night and will most definitely make it to the final with Line being one of rather few upbeat songs in this year’s contest.
Bookmakers’ ranking tonight: 12/18
Bookmakers’ ranking in total: 31/42

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