The Eurovision Song Contest 2008
The first Semi Final




And so it is to Belgrade in Serbia for the first of two semi finals...
Basically by splitting up countries that typically vote for each other they hope to have a more balanced final.

Because each country can only vote in one of the semi finals, a number of broadcasters are not bothering to show the semi that they cannot vote in. This, on my site, may be the first that some Frenchies actually see of the contest. I've checked the schedules in TéléStar (magazine) and this semi-final doesn't appear to be broadcast at all in France. (the second semi is on France4). It'll be similar in other countries.
Thing is, you can't complain that the voting is politically biased while then refusing to show the semi-final you don't have any influence in. That's just rude.


As always, the basis of this write-up is written as the contest in progressing; followed by a number of tweaks to make my hastily-jotted notes more readable! At some later stage I will probably listen to the songs again, and if I decide to flesh out a review with more information (giving nothing away, of course!) then I will add this later content in indented blocks so you know it is not "on the night" material.
I was asked by somebody if I ever tactfully 'edit' my pick of the ones I like between making my choice and publishing the review, in lieu of who actually wins. My answer to that would be "why?". I mean, this is my review and it is what I think of the entries. It may be that the songs I love don't pass into the final (in semis gone by, I could name several bad songs that passed and good songs that failed... We Are The Winners vs Comme Si, Comme Ça for an example!).
My original notes needed some reworking because, well, I now have to watch the contest, comment on the songs, think about the performances, while still finding time to actually just my notes down and grab and save 140megabytes worth of imagery to whittle down. And that's just for the first of two semi-finals. If it was possible to record the contest in full quality (like a SkyPlus sort of thing), I'd so watch and review and worry about the pictures later. But I can't, so you'll see me slowly losing my mind and then writing rubbish like this paragraph! Hehe, well, I hope you at least appreciate the nicer pictures!


The very first thing we see is our two BBC commentators. Paddy O'Connell, who has commented a number of times, and newbie Caroline Flack.

The night begins with the familiar EBU logo and music, and then it's some artsy-swirly thing with red and blue, looks like flying paint which forms into a treble clef. It all comes together to promote the theme of this year's competition - "Confluence of Sound". A confluence is a coming together. Not a word you'll hear very often.


A little throw-away is next, a group of people singing the "dum-dee-dee-dahhh" that accompanies the EBU logo...

Now we're on to the stage. It is bright, colourful, but seems to be small compared to, say, Greece's open layout. The venue was fairly large, however, though one could spot quite a number of unoccupied seats.

Some children, then dancers in colour. Totally, their clothes and skin coloured red or blue. It was like those "Blue Man" Intel® adverts from the late '90s. If you listen carefully you would make out familiar sounds coming from the brass band. "Waterloo", for example.

Now we briefly meet our hosts for the night. Željko Joksimović (left) and Jovana Jonković (right). Her dress seemed to be open until quite far up in the front, so it's a good thing she was wearing a slip.


1 Montenegro "Zauvjek Volim Te" (Loving You Forever)

Performed by Stefan Filipović, in Montenegran (Serbian).

Looking at first like Jared Leto (from a distance, you know), this opens as a loudish pop number. A decent enough way to begin the contest, but I'm not sure it'll be memorable.


2 Israel "The Fire In Your Eyes"

Performed by Boaz, in Hebrew and English.

With a song written by Dana International (remember, 1998 in Birmingham), this moody song is quite effective but he's no Shiri Maimon, that's for sure! Boaz is a 20 year old 'Pop Idol' in Israel.
Just for the sake of celestial randomness, I feel obliged to point out that this is Israel's second time being second in the order in a semi-final.


3 Estonia "Leto Svet" (Summer Lights)

Performed by Kreisiraadio, in Estonian.

Opening with three flag waving blondes, all hope vanishes when the other three turn up to introduce us to how to say vegetables in Estonian! What with this and a Turkey, is Eurovision trying to parody itself? Is this yet another comedic entry, or is it like last year's French effort where the word "misunderstood" would be a more suitable description?
Would you believe two of these blokes are former (Estonian) MPs? Can you imagine our MPs doing this? Boris, perhaps. Prescott? No way!


4 Moldova "A Century of Love"

Performed by Geta Burlacu, in English.

A lovely (if slightly mangled English) jazzy-scat song by one woman and her teddybear. The first good song of the night.


I had switched to BBC interactive (one of the BBC streams, easy to switch with a freebie-TV receiver, takes a bit longer if you have to go the red button route).

Bloody hell!!! Do you have to take a quarter of the screen area with the brash subs? Can't you make it a little more subtle? Tone it down, shift it a further the screen, and how about a bit of transparency so that the competition shows though?

I didn't think it would be possible to make it worse than last year. I apologise. I was wrong...

On the right in a five-minute mock-up of what I think a more acceptable subtitle would look like. Then maybe I can enjoy the contest and understand the songs.


5 San Marino "Complice" (Accomplice)

Performed by Miodio, in Italian.

A serious song from somebody who looks like his role model might have been The Cure, but he didn't quite have the balls to take it all the way; and some woman in white floating around like an etereal spirit; please welcome San Marino's first entry.
San Marino is a tiny independent place lurking in Italy. It's kinda like Monaco or Vatican City.


6 Belgium "O Julissi" (no translation)

Performed by Ishtar, in a made-up language.

Not content with already having two languages to deal with, the Belgians enter (again!) a song in a made-up language. A bouncy girl in a vivid dress (think of a Campino "strawberries and cream" sweet) and... I guess I should be ashamed but I found this one pretty catchy. I like!


A quick chat with UK's Andy (as lesser channels go to break). Blah blah.


7 Azerbaijan "Day After Day"

Performed by Elnur & Samir, in English.

First question, where is Azerbaijan? Sounds like one of those made-up sort-of-Russian countries where the Bad Guys hung out in AirWolf.
Second question, what the hell was this? Screaching angels (one of which was a Philip Schofield lookalike), a Jonathan Ross lookeelikee in an overstated Andrew Lloyd Webber chair... it is like the hard rock tale of fallen angels, or something.
Horrible! But it's their first entry, they can only get better (I hope!).

In actuality, I think Azerbaijan is sort of Georgia direction, in that bit the other side of the sea where Russia and Iran (Iraq?) meet.

I have been informed that Azerbaijan is southeast of Georgia, northeast of Armenia, south of Russia, North of Iran and west of the Caspian Sea. So now we know!


In a contrast to the norm, Serbia has chosen not to promote itself in between songs. Instead we have various Serbs doing stuff in a stage (lifting weights, kissing, etc) and their clothing meets to form the flag of the country coming up. Also stuff on-screen is written in the language of the country to follow...


8 Slovenia "Vrag Naj Vzame" (To Hell With It)

Performed by Rebeka Dremelj, in Slovenian.

A power ballad of a woman trapped in a bad relationship? That's my take on this. Why? Two blokes with face-masking helmets attached to leads - a sort of bondage Power Ranger thing... A nice song this.


9 Norway "Hold On Be Strong"

Performed by Maria, in English.

Good on the Norwegians to send out a good looking and well-dressed lady to try to restore some class and decorum to the proceedings. I agree with Caroline (commentator) that it is a difficult song to place, it can be good or it can be less good depending on how you feel.


10 Poland "For Life"

Performed by Isis Gee, in English.

Another almost-stylish performer (her hair left something to be desired) and a good performance of her song. It is just a shame that I found her voice to be extremely grating. Credit to her though, she wrote and composed this song.


Another tiny pause while they explain how to vote, only we can't in this one... Suckier channels probably tried to flog their equivalent of DFS sofas.


11 Ireland "Irelande Douze Pointe"

Performed by Dustin the Turkey, in mangled English.

It's here. The awful latex turkey. The song is quite funny, but I suspect a lot of the humour will be lost amid the mismatched audio levels (the girls were not loud enough), not to mention the garbled lyrics. There was quite a bit of booing at the end. Maybe they wanted subtitles too?

Paddy brought up an interesting question - if there were six performers and a puppet (presumably with a puppeteer), surely that's seven people on-stage?


12 Andorra "Casanova"

Performed by Gisela, in English.

The Andorrans have discarded their language for English. Their girls, who are in bizarre (bordering on awful) outfits, put in a good old-fashioned song.
The '???' is because I missed the title caption - I'll rewind the tape soonish and fill in the blanks...


13 Bosnia & Herzegovina "Pokušaj" (Try)

Performed by Laka, in Bosnian.

Three words you won't be hearing from me this year is "Lane Moje Reloaded".

By now we ought to be used to some quirky things from the ex-Yugoslav countries. But this? It is like musical theatre. No, wait, scrub that. It is like musical therapy with theatrical elements.
The song itself was quite catchy (verging on being oddly captivating), but I have a horrible suspicion that I really don't want to know what the words actually mean!


14 Armenia "Qele, Qele" (Come on, come on)

Performed by Sirusho, in English/Armenian.

A pretty girl let down by a waily song that had far too many repetitions.


15 The Netherlands "Your Heart Belongs To Me"

Performed by Hind, in English.

Another good performer let down by a lacklustre song.


16 Finland "Missä Miehet Ratsastaa" (Where The Men Ride)

Performed by Teräsbetoni, in Finnish.

I'm starting to get an impression of Finland, what with all the goths turning up in the video segments of their hosting of this contest, Lordi (who won) and now this.
I would like to say it is a good old-fashioned rock number, but it suffers the same problem as many German rock groups in that the song builds and just doesn't go anywhere. Where's the emotional climax? Do we even get a guitar solo belting out powerchords? Please people, look at Aerosmith and learn...


17 Romania "Pe-O Margine De Lume" (On The Edge Of The World)

Performed by Nico & Vlad, in Romanian and Italian.

Romania merging their language with Italian (again, remember Tornero in 2006?). It was going so well until the woman with the harsh voice and the Anne Robinson dominatrix dress.


18 Russia "Believe"

Performed by Dima Bilan, in English.

Lovely song by... Dima Bilan? Why do I have déjà vù here? I'll give you a hint. Last year were the lovely scary girls representing Russian, and the year before that was a bloke with a haunted piano. That was Dima, and he came second.

Hahahahaha! LOVELY! Just when you think there are no surprises, out comes Evgenie Plushenko to ice skate on the world's tiniest ice rink! (Dima there barefoot, yikes!). In case you don't know the name, he's only the world male figure skating champion (and has held that title for a billion years). I know I recognised the violinist too, he usually played for Evgenie during some sort of gala performance (that would be the bit after he'd won gold, again, where he could send himself up a bit).


19 Greece "Secret Combination"

Performed by Kalomira, in English.

A bouncy pop song, but the lyrics are rather dubious. It reminds me of S.A.G.A.P.O. (2002). I get the feeling they're trying for another My Number One, but Kalomira hasn't got the same sort of attitude.


Get ready for voting

The hosts now better dressed, they bring out a famous Serbian tennis player to start the fifteen minutes of voting by lobbing a giant tennis ball into the audience.


Paddy then attempts to briefly explain (in a minute) the change in voting by accosting four fans (a Brit, two Irish, and a Serbian (the pretty one with the world's tiniest waistcoat and a Union flag!?!)) and juggling them around. It takes more than a minute and I bet people were more confused afterwards!
I don't want to toot my horn (too much!) but I think I summed it up perfectly well in the second sentence of this review! ☺


Our hosts then take a moment to plug the official DVD and CD; though interestingly they did not say where you can obtain these. I mean, can you order from Amazon or do you have to go through the Eurovision website? How much are they? (in euros at least)
There did appear to be something briefly on-screen (a web address?) which for some reason was blanked out. Odd!


My picks

While they recap again, I will provide you with my pick of who should progress to the final:
12 Moldova and the teddy bear
10 Russia's miniature skating (what, no Slutskaya?)
8 Belgium's total nonsense!
7 Slovenian man troubles
6 Andorra's freaky outfits
5 Norway's Six And The City
4 Armenian "kelly kelly"
3 Bosnian musical theatre therapy (and God help me!)
2 San Marino and the ghostly presence
1 Oooh, oooh, Israelite!

I'm not going to list my top three most disliked. That'll jinx them to pass into the final!


What, no interval act?

Actually, there was an interval act but the BBC cut away from it while Caroline takes us on a whirlwind tour of Serbian clubs...

...talks to some people...

...then we're back for the commentators to take us behind the scenes of Thursday's performance, some of the performers - even a group of pirates!


A preview of the auto-finalist entries

A quick visit to the not-very Green Room... where we meet a hyperactive female presenter dressed in Hello Kitty pink and a male presenter who looks like perhaps he is out on day release?

This is followed by a preview of The Big Four and Serbia, the countries who will be in the final no matter what happens on Thursday. I'll not show you any pictures, save that for Saturday's contest.
What I will say is that it looks as if France's entry (something like Jesus-meets-TeenWolf) will be misunderstood again, while Spain looks to have entered a comedy song. The real serious one looks to be Serbia.


Time for the results

A red woman brings a big envelope containing ten smaller envelopes which hold the winners...


And now, the winners, in drawn order:


Okay, fair enough...




Whoa! Whoa! Wait, whoa, seriously?!? ...awesome!
I suppose if a 'novelty act' should make it to the final, better this than Ireland Douze Pointe.


Yuck, my kitten could rock harder than that with nothing more than an acoustic banjo!


For this not to have passed would have been a travesty.


Fair enough, I could see this getting through.


Oh, now you're just taking the ****...


Armenia were in this semi? Oh yeah, pretty girl wailing.


Mmmm, and Moldova is...?


Fair enough.

The voters and winners are supposed to be dispersed to try to get away from the supposed Eastern influence. But if it wasn't for Norway and Finland, this lot would all be from the east.
Of course, how does one define "East"? We must not forget that a big chunk of the West (Spain, Germany, France, and the UK) are auto-qualifiers!


The abrupt end

The hosts call the winners to the stage, but we cut to our two presenters and suddenly the EBU logo and symbol whizz onto the screen.
We're one minute over ten o'clock, time for EastEnders (a repeat, originally shown on BBC One at 19h30 UK time; and will probably be regurgitated again into Sunday's omnibus edition; I'm still hoping for some sort of act of terrorism to blow Albert Square to oblivion; and by some total mathematical oddity the exact moment The Queen Vic explodes, miles away The Rovers Return collapses into its own event horizon (but quietly as ITV's budget is smaller so they can't blow wad on special effects)).
With that dirge out of the way, they can make some decent programming. I mean, what is it with Brits and depressing-as-hell soaps? If life sucks you can seek solace in television - Pushing Daisies if you like it colourful and gooey, The Sopranos if you want it with attitude, Lost if you want it to go over your head, Scrubs if you want to take it easy, or Family Guy if you want to poke fun at it all. None of these are inclined to make you feel more depressed than you already are. And I doubt any of these did a big hyped promotion for one half-hour argument as some mouthy character 'returned'.
And how come so many programmes are repeated yet Casualty never is?



This is dead easy. Nothing deep, nothing complicated. Eight words...

No Moldova? No Belgium? Finland and Azerbaijan instead?!?


Given that Finland is in the final, I thought I might as well analyse in more detail what is so bad about this song. You want rock? Fine. You want it cheesy ('cos it is Eurovision)? Fine. I have a song that fits the bill perfectly - "The Final Countdown" by Europe (!). Cheesy classic rock.
If you don't know the song, go look for a copy. If you do, we'll continue... [and if you have it in your vinyl collection, give it a spin and relive some old memories]

The proper version of the song runs in at five-odd minutes. But this isn't a problem. A few minutes diddling around with an audio editor allowed me to trim some of the "it's the final countdoooooowwwwwn" repeats at the end. Then the instrumental in the middle has been trimmed. Finally the minute-and-a-half introduction has been hacked to within an inch of its life. The result? A three-minute power ballad. I can't put an MP3 here for obvious reasons.

Like most rock songs, TFC opens well. The long intro works quite well for the song, but it wouldn't be useful within Eurovision's time limitation. We then progress to the vocal which is high pitched without being all Justin Hawkins about it. The song itself is mysterious - is he mourning a lost love, a lost civilisation, a lost planet? Or has he just lost the plot? When the chorus kicks in, we're back to a repeat of the opening riff. I think it is some sort of brass instrument, but it's the kind of song that makes you want to jump up and play air guitar (best if you're on your own for this...). Just when you think the chorus is the main climax of the song, we're into the instrumental break and they crank those knobs up to 11... Guitars chucking out power chords overlaid on the thematic riff. It could be said that the song loses direction a bit at the end, but I think this is the emotional release to let you down more gently. This isn't like a sugar high that is followed by the sugar crash.

Yup, it is extremely cheesy, but it is a near-perfect rock song, living up to most (if not all) of the clichés.
Now compare Missä Miehet Ratsastaa...


Predictions of an eventual winner (aka REALLY sticking my neck out)...

I have not seen nor heard any of the countries in the second semi-final, so this is subject to much revision, however:

Will this be second time lucky for Dima? I think Russia is in with a chance here. I also have good hopes for the UK entry. I think, if his performance is outstanding, he'll be at the good end of the scoreboard. A winner? I'm not sure, but fingers crossed. Sadly it seems as if Spain and France are destined to linger at the bottom of the table. France's odd offering, are they aiming for the revered "null pwah"?
I would like to say that Serbia is going to be the dark horse, but I have a horrible suspicion that it will actually be Bosnia & Herzegovina.


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Copyright © 2008 Rick Murray
Images copyright © 2008 EBU-UER
Broadcast in widescreen by BBC Three.