This time the ESC will be weird: the ups and downs in the first semi-final

The ESC will be slanted this time
The ups and downs in the first semi-final

By Volker Probst

With the first semi-final on Tuesday evening, the Eurovision Song Contest in Turin is picking up speed. 17 countries are vying for one of the ten tickets to Saturday’s final. There is already a clear favorite among them, but there are also plenty of quirky entries to choose from.

The Eurovision Song Contest (ESC) has long since ceased to be a mere jackdawk show, which is fun to watch but musically misses any zeitgeist. No, for some time now the competition has blossomed into a serious platform that can also score with quality and has produced some veritable pop stars – see Lena, Loreen or, just last year, the Italo rockers Maneskin. The competition has been pretty strong, especially in recent years.

Measured against this, the event is comparatively weak this year. What is striking: Of all things, some of the “Big Five” already seeded for the final, which usually end up in one of the lower places, are among the narrower circle of favorites this year. For example, Italy once again has good chances with the ballad “Brividi” by Mahmood & Blanco. But also the British singer-songwriter Sam Ryder with “Space Man” and Spain’s Latino popper Chanel with “SloMo” could land well in the bookmakers’ opinion.

The betting shops, on the other hand, do not have too much confidence in Germany’s contribution in advance. But maybe Malik Harris will teach everyone better. In any case, his “Rockstars” stands out positively in this year’s competitive environment. At ESC 2018, many also wrote off Michael Schulte from the start. But in the end he took a respectable fourth place with “You Let Me Walk Alone”.

Top favorite Ukraine

Before Germany and the other “Big Five” countries have to go to this year’s ESC final in Turin, everyone else has to struggle through one of the two semifinals. The first of these takes place on Tuesday evening with the performers from 17 countries – ten of them get a ticket to the final, while the ESC is over for the other seven.

The favorites this year are already in the first semi-final: Ukraine. It is undisputed that Kalush Orchestra will be back on stage with “Stefania” on Saturday. In general, a wave of solidarity is expected, which should push the contribution from the country overtaken by the Russian war of aggression far forward. Whether it is actually enough for the overall victory remains to be seen.

“For us, a win at the ESC would mean a great appreciation for Ukrainian music, its uniqueness and beauty,” said Kalush Orchestra frontman Oleh Psiuk in an interview with, because of course he doesn’t just want a possible victory on ” pity” for his country. Last year, the Ukrainian band Go_A scored points with their crazy industrial sounds in their song “Schum” at the ESC – they ended up fifth. And Kalush Orchestra’s song, which dares the balancing act between rap and folklore, is musically exceptional and courageous.


Meanwhile, among the remaining 16 participants in the first semi-final there are many averages. Mia Dimšić from Croatia with “Guilty Pleasure” as well as Rosa Linn from Armenia with “Snap” and the Greek Amanda Georgiadi Tenfjord with “Die Together” try their hand as a singer-songwriter. However, none of the songs, which also sound quite interchangeable – both among the performers and between the countries, want to stay in your ear. One looks in vain for country-specific sounds in many of the ESC songs this year.

This is undoubtedly different for the contribution from Moldova. With “Folklore Rock’n’Roll” in their song “Trenulețul” Zdob şi Zdub & Advahov Brothers will make the stage in Turin unsafe. And that’s just one of the performances that are pretty weird this year. The play “Eat Your Salad” by Citi Zēni from Latvia already borders on comedy. The Norwegians also have a culinary tip on their agenda with Subwoolfer – somewhere between Daft Punk and the Atzen – and “Give That Wolf A Banana”, while Slovenia’s LPS try their hand at a rather mediocre big band sound with “Disko”. Meanwhile, the Intelligent Music Project from Bulgaria relies on hard rock for “Intention”, which, in contrast to last year’s winners Maneskin, seems pretty dusty.

Phenomenon “Girl Groups”

Meanwhile, among the entries worth listening to is “Saudade, Saudade” by MARO from Portugal. Five years after the triumph of Salvador Sobral, the country is back to fado-style handmade music performed by a women’s quintet. Speaking of women: “Girl groups” are also a special phenomenon at this year’s ESC. For Systur from Iceland, three women pick up the guitar on the song “Með Hækkandi Sól”. With REDDI and “The Show” from Denmark, on the other hand, one could think that The Bangles have been resurrected.

Finally, it is worth listening to the contribution from the Netherlands in the first semi-final. With “De Diepte”, the formation S10 delivers a haunting indie pop song. Duncan Laurence won the 2019 trophy for the Netherlands with his song “Arcade” with sound in this category. But of course there is still a long way to go for all participants this year.

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