My guide to ESC Semi Final 2

John Lundvik (Sweden) Second Rehearsal | Photo: Thomas Hanses (EBU)

John Lundvik (Sweden) Second Rehearsal | Photo: Thomas Hanses (EBU)

It’s Thursday and time for the Second Semi Final of ESC 2019. Being the stronger of the two Semi Finals, this evening will treat us to a whole bunch of the entries that is predicted to end up top 10 on Saturday, among them Swedish John Lundvik who’s currently ranked in 2nd place by the bookmakers.

In addition to Too Late For Love, we find five other entries with Swedish connections in the running order for tonight’s show, and that’s not counting the pre-qualified entry from the UK which will be presented tonight – a song which, by the way, is also written by John Lundvik, the artist of the Swedish entry.

Among the contestants of this Semi Final we also find the long-time predicted winner of ESC 2019. Duncan Laurence, representing The Netherlands with Arcade, has dominated the bookmakers’ rankings the whole season and is still sitting on the throne, seemingly unreachable with a predicted winning chance of 33% (with Sweden in second place at only 13%).

Armenia, Azerbaijan, Denmark, Malta, The Netherlands, North Macedonia, Norway, Russia, Sweden and Switzerland. 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 entries from Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom in this Semi Final.

(The bookmakers’ rankings by each entry below is according to the current standing by the time of the publication of this post. I may decide to make an update of these before this evening’s broadcast if something significant happens along the way. Otherwise, you can follow the current standings in real-time here >)


01 Armenia: Srbuk, Walking Out
Srbuk is one of Armenia’s biggest stars, a 24-year old soul-pop singer with her own unique artistic style, influenced by musical legends like Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson. Her career took off after placing second in X Factor Armenia in 2011 and after playing with her band for several years she entered The Voice: Ukraine last year where she reached the final and became one of the most popular contestants.
Walking Out is a powerful song, the lyrics portraying a woman who’s had enough of a bad relationship and finally breaks free, and Srbuk delivers it flawlessly. I’m missing the male dancers who featured in her official music video, but at the same time, I can see why they, with the max-six-people-on-stage-rule, prioritized a powerful group of female backup singers instead. Be prepared for some heavy pyro.
TREND ALERT: “You’re no more a king ‘cuz I was your crown”
TREND ALERT: Black outfit with silver accents
Odds’ ranking tonight: 9/18
Odds’ ranking in total: 23/34

02 Ireland: Sarah McTernan, 22
Well, isn’t this song title fitting for the second entry of the second Semi Final? 22 refers to the address of a boy Sarah’s reminiscing about whilst drinking milkshakes in a typical 50s American Diner. It’s a cute little number, filled with nostalgia and naiveté, and Sarah is precious in her red 50s dress. Can’t see this entry proceed to the Grand Final, it’ll be drowned in the competition with too many good songs performing tonight.
Odds’ ranking tonight: 18/18
Odds’ ranking in total: 30/34

03 Moldova: Anna Odobescu, Stay
Anna is a jazz singer and vocal coach representing Moldova with the first of many songs written by Swedes. The most noticeable thing about this act is the memorable sand artist Kseniya Simonova who has been performing in ESC before in 2011 when she supported the Ukraine act with her expressive art. I have a hard time interpret the rose-in-the-cage detail on stage – are they alluding to Beauty and the Beast, saying she’s wanting her beast to stay with her? Is it, in fact, a cry for help from a woman in an abusive relationship? I’m confused…
Swedish Connection: The song is written by three Swedes – Thomas Reil, Jeppe Reil and Maria Broberg – in collaboration with Greek Georgios Kalpakidis.
TREND ALERT: White and black outfits
Odds’ ranking tonight: 15/18
Odds’ ranking in total: 32/34

04 Switzerland: Luca Hänni, She Got Me
Luca’s musical career started in 2012 when the Swiss 17-year-old won Deutschland sucht den Superstar. He was the first non-German to win the show and the youngest ever winner.
This gipsy-Balkan infused Latino number isn’t something I’d ever expect coming from Switzerland, but at least listening to it I’m sold. (As I always am when it comes to music that makes me wanna dance.) She Got Me is an infectious song and an energetic act, and even though I hate the dancers’ red outfits the number is tight and a pleasure to look at thanks to Sacha Jean-Baptiste. Luca emanates a cocky confidence on stage and hopefully, this will be enough to send him to the Grand Final.
Swedish Connection: Swedish Jon and Lukas Hällgren are found among the songwriters and additionally, Swedish Sasha Jean-Baptiste is the producer of their stage performance. This is Sasha’s second entry in Tel Aviv.
TREND ALERT: Black outfit
Odds’ ranking tonight: 5/18
Odds’ ranking in total: 9/34

05 Latvia: Carousel, That Night
The transition from Switzerland to Latvia is not a gentle one, but Carousel’s That Night definitely is. Listening to this song is like travelling through the night, being lulled to sleep in the most restful way. The song depicts a woman longing for her partner, wondering where he/she is. The song is a dramatic break from all the intense acts this evening and it would have been nice to bring it to Saturday’s Grand Final. Unfortunately, I don’t think it will be able to qualify.
TREND ALERT: Black/white outfits (albeit with a green hat)
Odds’ ranking tonight: 17/18
Odds’ ranking in total: 34/34

06 Romania: Ester Peony, On a Sunday
25-year-old Ester Peony is a Romanian singer and songwriter grown up in Canada who started her musical career in jazz, singing and playing both piano and classical guitar. In Tel Aviv, she gives us a dramatic act, heavy on vampire and zombie vibes, and for some reason, we’re submerged into the ocean with a little help from the LED screens.
To be honest, I’m quite provoked by these lyrics, where she’s crying for her ex to come back to her, living in misery and waiting futilely for the man who once left her. A breakup is not the end of the world, Ester. Just move on and get a life. And why is she dressed like a schoolteacher from the 1800s?
TREND ALERT: Black/white outfits
Odds’ ranking tonight: 12/18
Odds’ ranking in total: 28/34

¤¤ BREAK ¤¤

07 Denmark: Leonora, Love Is Forever
20-year-old Leonora is not only a talented singer but also a successful figure skater, three times winner of the Danish Championships and also a participant in both the Junior World Championship and the Nordic Championship.
Love Is Forever is an innocent French chançon is another voice in the choir of songs telling us to stop fighting and overcome our differences in favour of love and peace. Its staging is sweet and endearing and suits the song beautifully. I’m not sure this is the best way to deliver the message, the naiveté of both song and staging making it feel like they don’t even believe the words themselves, but why not give it a try? Any attempt at getting this important message through is worth the while.
Swedish Connection: Among the songwriters for Denmark’s entry is Swedish Melanie Wehbe.
TREND ALERT: Black/white outfits
Odds’ ranking tonight: 10/18
Odds’ ranking in total: 20/34

08 Sweden: John Lundvik, Too Late For Love
For the fifth year in a row, Sweden sends a male solo artist to ESC, this time in the form of John Lundvik, a talented singer and songwriter who brings authenticity and warmth to the Eurovision stage. In a place where acts often feel artificial and polished to perfection, John brings honesty and pure joy to the audience, although never without professionalism and competence.
Too Late For Love builds compellingly, and his four backup singers, The Mamas, brings a joyful gospel touch to the song, and as I’ve heard some international ESC fans say, John’s smile is like a hug.
Sweden is almost always highly ranked in this competition, something that often irritates fans who find us overrated, but this time I believe our entry is actually worthy of the praise. Yes, we have a good chance at winning, but the competition is fierce and there are many others who are equally deserving of a potential victory.
The act in Tel Aviv is produced by Swedish Sasha Jean-Baptiste, her third entry this year.
TREND ALERT: Black outfits with silver accents
Odds’ ranking tonight: 1/18
Odds’ ranking in total: 2/34

09 Austria: PÆNDA, Limits
After the love explosion from Sweden comes an introspective and vulnerable song written and performed by the Austrian artist PÆNDA. Limits is minimalistic and fragile, grabbing hold of your heart, and tells the story of how she pushed herself beyond all limits in her zeal and passion for music to the point of full exhaustion. She wants to deliver a message of the importance of believing in yourself in order to find your own way and when she performs it’s easy to see how much this song, and its message, means to her. Furthermore, the staging is beautiful and complements the song in a tasteful way. I love listening to it, and I really hope Austria will make it to the Grand Final this year.
TREND ALERT: Black outfit
Odds’ ranking tonight: 13/18
Odds’ ranking in total: 27/34

10 Croatia: Roko, The Dream
Now, let’s bring out some drama. This year’s Croatian entry is written by Jacques Houdek (the Croatian participant from two years ago who sang a pop-opera duet with himself if you remember?) and it’s, therefore, no big surprise this year’s song is playing in the same dramatic league. To perform it on stage in Tel Aviv is 19-year-old Roko, a talented singer who has been mentored by Jacques since 2018. As several other entries this year, Roko sings of his dream of a better world free from war and suffering.
As it’s written I find it rather pathetic – just listen to the lyrics in the chorus – and I’m still wondering why they didn’t choose to perform it in Croatian instead of English. That would have helped the song tremendously, at least in my opinion. As soon as he switches to Croatian near the end, it gets so much better. The dancers are nice to look at though… But why the wings?
TREND ALERT: White outfits (with golden wings)
Odds’ ranking tonight: 16/18
Odds’ ranking in total: 31/34

11 Malta: Michela, Chameleon
As the winner of the first season of Maltese X Factor in 2019, 18-year-old Michela Pace won the honour of representing Malta in ESC 2019. The song is written by a team of ESC songwriter veterans, and just as usual when it comes to Maltese Eurovision entries there are Swedes involved in the mix.
The song has gotten a colourful staging, true to the vivid imagery of the song’s official music video. It’s got a nice beat and a catchy melody and Michela should have no trouble making it to Saturday’s Grand Final.
Swedish Connection: Malta usually has at least one Swedish songwriter in the team. This year they are Joacim Persson and Johan Alkenäs.
TREND ALERT: White outfits
Odds’ ranking tonight: 6/18
Odds’ ranking in total: 10/34

12 Lithuania: Jurij Veklenko, Run With The Lions
Two times backup singer for the Lithuanian team in 2013 and 2015, Jurij is no stranger to the Eurovision stage. At home, he’s known for his participation in both Lithuania’s Got Talent and The Voice of Lithuania, though mostly for his victory in another popular TV show called We Are One Blood.
There’s nothing wrong with this song really, it’s well written and he delivers it in a good way. It’s just that it’s just too mainstream and anonymous to stand out in this competition, and I think he’ll have a hard time qualifying from the Semi Finals.
TREND ALERT: “This kingdom is yours and this kingdom is mine”
TREND ALERT: Black outfit
Odds’ ranking tonight: 14/18
Odds’ ranking in total: 33/34

¤¤ BREAK ¤¤

13 Russia: Sergey Lazarev, Scream
Many ESC contestants have participated successfully in TV shows like Idol, X-Factor or The Voice, it’s certainly a good way to attain attention and fame these days. Russian Sergey Lazarev plays in another league though, being a former judge on one of one such show, The Voice: Ukraine. He’s a megastar in Russia, both as a singer and an actor, with heaps of awards and accomplishments on his resume. Maybe you recognise him from Eurovision 2016 in Stockholm when he represented Russia singing You Are The Only One while climbing a projected wall.
This year he exposes his inner demons, singing of how his threatening tears of pain and desperation aren’t quiet things but scream. As usual, the Russian production treats us with an act filled with special effects, this time in the form of mirror holograms, and their qualification is a sure thing. Personally, I think the song would have benefitted from a more traditional staging, with him standing still and the angst being interpreted by a dancer or two. I don’t know why they always keep forcing Sergey to move around so much, it restrains his singing performance unnecessarily.
TREND ALERT: Black outfit
Odds’ ranking tonight: 2/18
Odds’ ranking in total: 4/34

14 Albania: Jonida Maliqi, Ktheju tokës
A schooled violinist and guitarist, Jonida Maliqi has made a successful career as a singer in Albania, both as a solo artist and starring in various musicals. Besides this, she’s also a well-known TV presenter hosting several musical and dancing shows.
Her entry, Ktheju tokës (Return to your land) is a call for all Albanians living abroad to come home and reunite with their fellow countrymen in order to gain peace of mind and soul. If you happen to notice an eagle during her performance, it’s the eagle from the Albanian flag acting as a symbol of the home country.
TREND ALERT: Black outfit with gold accents
Odds’ ranking tonight: 11/18
Odds’ ranking in total: 24/34

15 Norway: KEiiNO, Spirit in the Sky
After several years of more or less mainstream pop, Norway chooses to dig deeper into their musical roots. This year they deliver electronic pop mixed with Nordic folk and traditional Sami joik. KEiiNO consists of songwriter Tom Hugo, singer Alexandra Rotan and rapper-joiker Fred Buljo. On paper, it sounds like a strange combination, but the fusion is highly enticing and with the addition of alluring Nordic lights and Scandinavian mountain lands it can even work well enough for qualification.
Spirit in the Sky is inspired by the Sami belief that nature gives you strength in times of trouble.
TREND ALERT: Black outfits
Odds’ ranking tonight: 8/18
Odds’ ranking in total: 16/34

16 The Netherlands: Duncan Laurence, Arcade
Here he is, finally, Duncan Laurence, the predicted winner of ESC 2019. Mainly a pianist and songwriter, he’s decided to enter the stage himself to perform Arcade, a song inspired by the story of someone he once loved deeply but who died at a young age. Arcade is an exquisite piece, its emotional fragility ripping your heart open, and the lyrics are truly beautiful. He delivers it on stage sitting by his piano and when he does, you can’t help feeling for him and his broken heart.
If this is a year for a ballad winning Eurovision, Arcade will most definitely be the one doing it. As said before, Duncan has been reigning the odds rankings for months, and whatever happens below him in the list he just keeps on gaining ground. It’s impossible to know these predictions will pan out in the end, but let’s just say there’s no doubt Duncan’s Arcade will qualify from tonight’s Semi Final.
If you haven’t watched the official music video yet, you really should. It’s gorgeous.
Swedish Connection: Among the songwriters we find Swedish Joel Sjöö.
TREND ALERT: Black outfit
Odds’ ranking tonight: 4/18
Odds’ ranking in total: 1/34

17 North Macedonia: Tamara Todevska, Proud
New name, same country. After a vitriolic dispute with Greece, spanning over more than two decades, we don’t need to call this country the Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia anymore. Since the two countries finally reached a compromise last year, we’re presented with the simpler and more easily pronounced North Macedonia.
Tamara another one of this year’s returning artists, having before represented F.Y.R. Macedonia in 2018. Proud is a strong power ballad, with an empowering message, dedicated to Tamara’s two children, it’s lyrics urging the listener to always be themselves and stand up proudly for who they are.
Odds’ ranking tonight: 7/18
Odds’ ranking in total: 18/34

18 Azerbaijan: Chingiz, Truth
27-year-old Chingiz Mustafayev from Azerbaijan has received the honour of closing tonight’s show, not surprisingly since Truth is a modern, up-to-date song with an infectious beat. As many other ESC contestants from eastern Europe, Chingiz has participated in The Voice: Ukraine, but his current fame is mostly due to his victory in the Azerbaijani version of Pop Idol.
In his song, Chingiz pines for an ex who broke up with him, breaking his heart at the same time. She’s moved on, but he’s still unable to do so. He knows the truth, but he doesn’t want to hear about it. The song is sleek and catchy, and with a little remix, it’d be perfect for the dance floor on a late night at the club. With him on stage in Tel Aviv, he brings two robots conducting heart surgery on Chingiz’s broken heart.
TREND ALERT: Black outfit
Odds’ ranking tonight: 3/18
Odds’ ranking in total: 6/34

¤¤ PRE-QUALIFIED FINALISTS PRESENTED TONIGHT ¤¤

Germany: S!sters, Sister
Two former child artists, now successful solo artists, are joined together to present this year’s German entry. Carlotta Truman and Laurita Kästel are both talented artists in their own right, and the song is fairly decent.
I can’t help feeling that there’s something lacking here though. They’re supposed to be seen as close friends, if not sisters, but there’s no chemistry there. It just feels like they’re thrown together for this performance, not as if their collaboration is something they’ve both wanted. And when the message is about supporting each other this issue seems quite important.
TREND ALERT: Black outfits (with gold accents)
Odds’ ranking: 29/34

Italy: Mahmood, Soldi
Since Italy returned to the show in 2011, they’ve fared really well in comparison with most of the other Big Five countries and they usually send high-quality songs. And this year is no exception. The Italian-Egyptian artist Mahmood brings us a modern pop song with delicious Middle Eastern vibes. The Italian lyrics of Soldi (Money) talks about an absent father pretending to care but lying to his family and only asking his son for money.
I usually love any song performed in Italian, and this one is no different. The lyrics are enchanting, and Mahmood delivers the message convincingly. But not only that, the music is compelling, and the beat makes my body move without my consent. I haven’t seen the whole eat on stage yet so I can’t tell whether the staging will work or not, but I really hope so.
TREND ALERT (possibly): Black/white outfits (but Mahmood changes shirt for every rehearsal so no one really knows which one he will use on Saturday)
Odds’ ranking: 7/34

United Kingdom: Michael Rice, Bigger Than Us
Even though Swedish John Lundvik is competing for a place in the Grand Final tonight, he already has a ticket to Saturday’s show reserved for him as one of the songwriters for this entry from the United Kingdom. And you can hear he’s behind this composition, this joyous gospel for once giving the UK a better shot at a decent placing than in many years.
Michael Rice is well-known in the UK after winning the BBC Entertainment show All Together Now in 2018. Noticeably, it’s said he put most of his prize money towards his mother’s restaurant. Just 21 years old, Michael takes the Eurovision stage with confidence and, together with the backup singers, he delivers a surprisingly good act.
The official music video is a cute little story I can really recommend.
TREND ALERT: Black and white outfits
Swedish Connection: The song is written by our very own John Lundvik, together with Swedish songwriters Anna-Klara Folin and Jonas Thander, and Canadian-British songwriter Laurell Barker. Among the backup singers, you may spot Swedish artist Anna Sahlene who represented Estonia in 2002.
Odds’ ranking: 22/34

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