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XTRA Debate: Reading performance from the semi running order?

Can we predict performance via the running order?

Last week, the EBU announced running order for the Eurovision 2019 semi-finals. Like almost every Eurovision fan, after listening to the songs in order you can establish which song may stand out or is dampened by its musical neighbour. However, it’s a much trickier job to work out potential performance ideas. Of course, this early on every act is tight-lipped about the visual spectacle of their respective 3 minutes. None of us can fully predict what we will see in Tel Aviv… but is that truly the case? Rather than a comparative approach on the known element of the song itself, can we read into what isn’t quite there: the performance?

Knowing the unknown?

Now, obvious disclaimer. All Eurovision events are live. There is always the opportunity for the unforeseen to occur: a bum note, staging/pyro not quite working etc. In Eurovision there are seldom occasions where, this far in advance, we can guarantee anything.

However, there is a distinction between a guarantee and a very strong guesstimate. It seems to me, there are many more ‘known’ facts we may take for granted. Assumptions can be made from the nature of the act, national conventions and type of song submitted to represent a country.

For example, we can all safely assume that some countries will all-but replicate the staging/visual package from national finals. Generally speaking, this award goes to Sweden, Norway and Denmark. A few shots may be strengthened on a bigger stage or the odd staging embellishment, but generally the performances will be similar. I think we would all be shocked if Russia’s performance consisted of just a spotlight with a monochromatic backdrop, no special effects or frills. Russia will go big this year, based solely on the Sergey as the act and team behind him.

Eurovision as Television

We also know that beyond the allocation draw to outline the semi and first/second half a country will be performing, the running order is intentional.  Once again, Christer Björkman is the contest producer. Much like Melodifestivalen, he is responsible for coming up with a viable running order (subject to approval by Jan Ola Sand!). The emphasis appears to be on creating a strong entertainment show to engage, capture and emote to the biggest audience possible.

it’s all about building a good show, you wanna start with a big energy […] it’s almost like making a musical […] you wanna build up,  get emotional, building up again like a crescendo […] it’s about creating a melody of a lot of melodies

Christer Björkman

Christer’s own words from last year’s contest appears to reaffirm his zig-zag structural approach – much like an essay jumping from point to point. The contrast, theoretically, serves to emphasise the strengths of each song through association. Genre, gender, tempo, performance style and staging turnaround are outlined as factors that contribute to deciding who performs when. A commercial break or two offers the production team some much needed breathing space, so you tend to see high-production songs before and/or after a break. Reading the running order visually, instead of musically, can provide pseudo-confirmatory information to staging secrets.

This video, from ESC Insight shows the tight turnaround the contest demands. How much can be done in 40 seconds?

Starting and closing a semi

It goes without saying that things appear to look good for Cyprus, Armenia, Azerbaijan and, surprisingly, San Marino? The former three nations have developed strong staging portfolios over the years. Cyprus have replicated the musical team from last year’s success. Arguably more importantly, the Cypriot team includes Sacha Jean Baptiste for another year. I think it is fair to say Fuego’s success was certainly assisted by meticulous choreography and performance. However, performing first seems to rule out HUGE props. Glitter, smashing objects, liquid-laden dancers so early seems a logistical nightmare.

Bookending Armenia and Azerbaijan is fascinating. They both have something to prove after failing to qualify last year. Certainly, Armenia has gone down well with the team, with Azerbaijan’s review still pending. The music video for both have striking visual concepts, some of which can certainly be translated to the stage. Again, we don’t know for sure, but all three delegations are clearly planning something big.

Ultraviolet paint and celestial projections to Tel Aviv?

San Marino is seemingly the odd one out. Many fans, myself included, expected Iceland or even Australia to close the semi. Musically, we know they are both unique with memorable (and ‘shocking’, in Iceland’s case!) but instead: Serhat. Fans usually love a returning artist, but that is largely irrelevant when it comes to a scoreboard. Could this be an indication of a big performance to end the semi with a party bang?

Back-to-back?

It seems odd given the abundance of potential running orders that COULD have been made that some songs are paired up. The Netherlands and North Macedonia, for example. Emotive ballads sung by a male and female respectively. The haunting energy of Arcade will most definitely be reflected with a clever, albeit simplistic visual package. North Macedonia, who in recent years has struggled to effectively stage a song, on face-value, seems buried. I’m unconvinced this will be the case. Tamara’s insistence of a good staging concept, while performing after Duncan indicates something more. The two knowns imply a striking difference between the two songs, to ensure both performances remain memorable to voters.

Nick

Oliver makes a lot of strong points in his case above, however there’s one where I would like to disagree with him: Cyprus.

It might seem like the opening song of the semi will not have enormous props going on to support it, as it’s on first and there won’t be that much time to get things on stage. However, let’s look back at 2017. In that year, Robin Bengtsson opened the semi for Sweden – accompanied by five treadmills and starting off stage. It was a complicated start to the show, so it’s definitely not ruled out that Cyprus are planning something big and bold. The same has to go for Norway. There were way too many people on stage in Melodi Grand Prix, so something has to change for Tel Aviv.

One can estimate where the breaks are going to be in the shows based on the running order as well. Both Iceland and Russia have been given slot #13, indicating that the breaks will be after #12 to secure all of their staging to be installed in time. As for the second break, I would presume it’s on after #6 to install Denmark’s major chair – if they use it again.

The final country I want to mention is Estonia. Being drawn in between the visually remarkable entries of Iceland and Portugal surely wouldn’t benefit a song like “Storm”. At first sight, it might be a scapegoat, a safe barrier between two songs. But I simply cannot imagine the organisers sacrificing a country like that. Instead, I feel Estonia might be bringing the goods when it comes to staging.

What do you think? Can we predict the type of performances we may see from the running order? Or is this a precarious method of overthinking known facts? Let us know in the comments or on social media @ESCXTRA!

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