On Tuesday night the spectacular musical circus that is Eurovision rolled into Kiev, Ukraine, for the first of two semi-finals. Eighteen performers sung their hearts out but only ten could progress to the Grand Final on Saturday night. Here are my thoughts on last night’s show:

The night was started, not by the winning song of last year’s contest, as it tradition, but by women putting on traditional Ukrainian dress and twirling around. Whilst it is nice to see their culture, it also reminded me of Poland’s infamous 2014 performance with the butter churn (YouTube it). This pleasant and traditional opening clashed awkwardly with the next segment, a modern song with a dance break. I didn’t understand the relevance of this part; it felt more like they had swapped the opening and interval acts around.

Then we were introduced to our three hosts and with a motto like ‘Celebrate Diversity’, they had reflected this in the line-up. With three (admittedly handsome) young white males. There were the usual jokes that fell flat but they do project warmth so at least they have already done better than some hosts in the past. Thankfully this part was shorter than usual so we were straight on to the songs. Here they are:

01) Sweden – Robin Bengtsson – “I Can’t Go On”
This performance started backstage, which is a good way to stand out by last year’s hosts. It also included Robin and his backing singers on treadmills, which I fail to see the relevance of apart from…it’s Eurovision. There were a couple of bum notes and the dance movements felt mechanical rather than natural but a good opener nonetheless, reminds me of a Justin Timberlake album track.

02) Georgia – Tamara Gachechiladze – “Keep The Faith”
The first thing noticeable is that there is a lot of red on stage, everything basically. The staging though is not very inspired, with a simple red backdrop, some smoke on the floor and only Tamara visible on stage. The song has never been highly rated by me, just a two bit peace song. Her voice is the only thing here that is truly shining but it feels like she is trying to compensate for the song and staging with it.

03) Australia – Isaiah – “Don’t Come Easy”
A quick mention of the postcards preceding the songs. They are meh, period. Australia’s performance comes with a spinning lazy susan which Isaiah walks on. But no matter what they throw at the staging, this song is weaker than their previous two entries. He sung it well until he hit an unbelievably bad bum note when trying to reach the higher pitches. There is nothing here that really stands out.

04) Albania – Lindita – “World”
Copy and paste everything I have said about Georgia’s performance to this song. Instead of all red the stage is white and there are futuristic steampunk airships on the backdrop. A mish-mash of ideas and an amazing voice but doesn’t add up to much with this song.

05) Belgium – Blanche – “City Lights”
Sometimes a song comes along which works well in the studio version but isn’t meant for a live performance. This is one of those songs. The first two minutes are incredibly one note, especially since it comes with some very simple staging. In the last minute she really steps it up with the emotion; there’s something very Florence Welch about her voice. A good reaction from the crowd as well.

06) Montenegro – Slavko Kalezić – “Space”
For the first minute and a half, this song is really fun to watch. It definitely is a good contrast from the ballads of the last few entries. But then it starts to get a bit messy and this would be the point where some backing dancers would have been a good idea. The crowd are really behind this, it’s so Eurovision. However his vocals are not great and I think the juries would have destroyed his chances even before the live show.

07) Finland – Finland – Norma John – “Blackbird”
A very atmospheric and moody entry. The backdrop is absolutely beautiful, looks like water swirling all around the act. The singer has a great voice and the piano solo really fits in with the song. Some may call this boring but I feel that it has emotion and atmosphere that a lot of the ballads lack in this year’s contest. Another great reaction from the crowd at the end of the performance.

08) Azerbaijan – DiHaj – “Skeletons”
This is probably the most experimental entry Azerbaijan have ever sent. The staging is absolutely barmy, with two chalkboards and a man on a ladder with a horse’s head. The song itself isn’t bad at all; it has a Sia feel about it. Sadly DiHaj doesn’t have a good enough voice to reach the higher notes of the chorus but it’s not a bad entry at all. Azerbaijan have qualified with much worse in the past.

09) Portugal – Salvador Sobral – “Amar Pelos Dois”
When this was released many people were shocked at how good this entry was, whereas it had a lukewarm reception from me. It is definitely growing on me and I can see the warmth of Salvador really coming out. It’s good to see him at the contest after being forced to miss rehearsals due to illness. Probably the best reaction thus far in the Kiev arena and the bookies’ odds are dropping by the second for this to win.

10) Greece – Demy – “This Is Love”
Another fun entry comes courtesy of Greece and after last year’s disaster, it’s good to see them back with a credible song. There were questions of whether she could hit the high note but cleverly dropped the pitch a bit for it so she could reach it. She is joined by two topless guys who look like they are having fun splashing around in something from a garden centre. Will be played at the clubs in the months after this contest.

11) Poland – Kasia Moś – “Flashlight”
Another female ballad with simple staging. Kasia definitely has power and attitude in her voice and this helps keep the intensity up. The backdrop was a constant issue for me here, it seemed to switch between classy imagery, reminiscent of Yohanna’s staging for Iceland in 2009, to cheesy, with the doves and the word “FREEDOM” a bit on the nose for me. But again, Poland have qualified with much worse before.

12) Moldova – Sunstroke Project – “Hey, Mamma!”
A variation of this song could have easily been heard in a mainstream club a couple of summers back. The saxophone solo was especially successful and it’s good to see Epic Sax Guy back in Eurovision. But then the fun and intensity falls towards the end, it is slightly one note and needed extra oomph in the last chorus or something to keep it going. But their energy is great and really stands out from this ballad heavy semi-final. Another great reaction from the crowd in Kiev.

13) Iceland – Svala – “Paper”
What is going on with Iceland? For many years they were a constant fixture in the Grand Final but this looks doomed to be their third successive non-qualification. Svala is alone on stage and is doing her best to give attitude. The song doesn’t work live though, it feels like the tempo is ill-suited to the contest, especially following such a high-energy act as Moldova. I am also really not a fan of that cape-open chest-platform boots combo.

14) Czech Republic – Martina Bárta – “My Turn”
Last year the Czech Republic qualified for the first time ever but this seems a step back from that. Once again the singer is alone on stage and I’m not sure that works with the jazz influences behind the song. Maybe a live band would have been better. The outfit choice is a strange one once again as she is wearing what looks to be a sci-fi convention costume made from gold foil.

15) Cyprus – Hovig – “Gravity”
Another bugbear of mine here; why are all the male artists wearing nice shoes and no socks? With all of that aside, this is one of the more modern songs of this semi-final and combines that with some experimental dancing. This corresponds with the backdrop and the images on the LED floor so feels like a complete package. My one criticism is that it feels like it peaks too soon and the last chorus falls a bit flat as a result.

16) Armenia – Artsvik – “Fly With Me”
The second year in a row that Armenia have sent an experimental song and whilst this doesn’t work as well as “LoveWave”, it is still a job well done. It brings a distinctly eastern flavour to the contest but still feels modern and current. The staging and camera work is doing all of the work with this entry, the song itself isn’t that brilliant but everything else is rather inspired.

17) Slovenia – Omar Naber – “On My Way”
2017’s inferior answer to Michal Szpak. This song is rooted in musical theatre, which isn’t in itself a bad thing, if the song was decent. It feels like something that was left on the cutting room floor by a theatre due to time constraints. Omar’s voice is shining here but that is probably the only thing that is. At least he is wearing socks with his sparkling suit.

18) Latvia – Triana Park – “Line”
On to the final song in the semi-final and it is a very modern affair with a hint of 80s neon for the costumes and staging. The singer certainly brings energy into her performance in the musical interlude but the song feels very repetitive and doesn’t really go anywhere. The last time a song performing last didn’t qualify was back in 2013 with Moje 3 for Serbia and this is a bit forgettable to be honest.

That was all 18 performances and then we moved on to the voting part of the song. After the lines had closed last year’s winner Jamala came back on stage to perform a slower but still powerful version of “1944”. She then performed her new single, which was accompanied in the backdrop by some terrifying figures that looked like the plant cousins of the robots in Five Nights at Freddy’s.

The results were then in. The countries moving on to the Grand Final were (in no particular order):
Moldova
Azerbaijan
Greece
Sweden
Portugal
Poland
Armenia
Australia
Cyprus
Belgium

These are the ten songs going through to the final. Personally I’m shocked that Finland didn’t make it through, I felt that the performance was right up there. I’d have probably swapped it with someone like Australia. Other than that I think everyone else deserves their place in the Grand Final.

So what do you think? Did your favourite go through or were you shocked by anyone who qualified to the final? Comment your thoughts below and I’ll be back for my report on semi-final two of Eurovision 2017.

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