Eurovision 2021: Portugal and Finland do what Ireland forgot to – thrill the crowd

The second semi-final was all about live performance for a flesh-and-blood audience

Pedro Tatanka of Portugal’s The Black Mamba performs during the second semi-final of the 65th Eurovision Song Contest at the Ahoy convention centre in Rotterdam. Photograph:  Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP via Getty Images

Pedro Tatanka of Portugal’s The Black Mamba performs during the second semi-final of the 65th Eurovision Song Contest at the Ahoy convention centre in Rotterdam. Photograph: Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP via Getty Images

 

With Ireland already eliminated, the second Eurovision semi-final (RTÉ2, 8pm) brings with it the sense of peeping through the window on a party from which we’ve been disinvited. And so a certain melancholy hangs over the evening. Even Marty Whelan, normally chipperness on a stick, sounds more restrained than usual.

Yet there is still lots to enjoy as 17 hopefuls vie to reach Saturday’s final. In the end, the golden tickets go to Albania, Serbia, Bulgaria, Moldova, Portugal, Iceland, San Marino (with roughly the same population as Leitrim), Switzerland, Greece and Finland.

All are worthy of their place in the grand decider. And their success provides clues as to why Ireland’s elaborately-staged turn in Tuesday’s first semi-final was perhaps a misjudgment.

The thrill with Eurovision this year has been watching live performers sing to a flesh-and-blood audience. It’s been a while – and the novelty of musicians interacting with a roaring crowd is not to be underestimated. The artists feed off it – Portugal’s Pedro Tatanka, for instance, visibly breaks out in goosebumps as he croons on a mini-stage away from the rest of his band and closer to the audience. 

The audience also embraced Finland’s rap metal act and europop numbers from Bulgaria and Moldova.

Natalia Gordienko from Moldova. Photograph: AP Photo/Peter Dejong
Natalia Gordienko from Moldova. Photograph: AP Photo/Peter Dejong
Blind Channel from Finland with the song Dark Side. Photograph: EPA/Robin van Lonkhuijsen
Blind Channel from Finland with the song Dark Side. Photograph: EPA/Robin van Lonkhuijsen
Victoria from Bulgaria with the song Growing Up Is Getting Old. Photograph: EPA/Sander Koning
Victoria from Bulgaria with the song Growing Up Is Getting Old. Photograph: EPA/Sander Koning

Representing Ireland, Lesley Roy’s Maps had leaned away from that strategy. The staging of Maps – with its animated paper and maniacal whimsy – felt conceived primarily for viewers at home. And that is possibly why it failed.

It may also be the case that blistering Europop isn’t our speciality. But then, nor is it in the tool kit of Iceland. So they doubled down on what they are good at: wacky music by wacky people in wacky knitwear.

Such is the unique appeal of Daði & Gagnamagnið, one of the competition’s favourites, who charmed with 10 Years (a pre-recorded slot was aired after one of the camp tested positive for Covid).

Elsewhere, Moldova’s entry suggests Britney Spears starring in a remix of the Matrix. And a dirge by Georgia’s Tornike Kipiani feels like karaoke at the world’s most depressing hotel.

If some of the songs fall flat – Denmark’s is a dreadful A-ha pastiche – Marty Whelan does at least start to get into the swing of it. Noting all the scanty attire he quips “There must be no frocks in Rotterdam – Penneys hasn’t open there yet.”

Whelan adds a little spark to an evening that at times comes off as Eurovision by numbers. Fans will hope the competition recovers its swagger on Saturday night.

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