Conchita Wurst of Austria, the Common Linnets of the Netherlands, and Sanna Nielsen of Sweden went 1-2-3 at this year’s Eurovision. Besides the quality of their songs, each nailed another important aspect of doing well: The staging. All three kept it simple, intimate and personal. In honour of their glory, let’s review the contestants who got their staging right—and those who got it oh-so-wrong.
The Netherlands: The Common Linnets – Calm after the Storm
There is no better example of how an act can lift a song than the Common Linnets. When they announced their song on the Dutch talk show: ‘De wereld draait door’, a lot of Dutchies scratched their heads and sighed in disappointment. “Calm after the Storm” was way too calm for a lot of people, and folks complained about the lack of chemistry (and Waylon’s hat). But boy did they have a surprise in store. Europe’s collective jaw dropped during the semi-final. The lack of chemistry turned into a rendez-vouz for two and even Waylon’s hat became a guilty pleasure — Howdy! Ilse and Waylon brought the only colour in this black and white act, and the fact that they only sang towards each other added another layer of intimacy. They used the least camera angles, but they used them the most effectively.
Austria: Conchita Wurst – Rise like a Phoenix
Conchita melted our hearts with her message of tolerance, even if almost no one thought she had a chance to win because of the way she looked. “Rise like a Phoenix” was just so elegant. The displays of fire were perfectly timed. All Conchita did was stand still and sing, but even without the dancing and the glitz she somehow managed to bring the drama. She faked people out by not showing her face for the first 40 seconds, and her hour-glass figure made some forget that they had just seen a bearded lady in the postcard beforehand. Clever!
Russia: Tolmachevy Twins – Shine
Twins with intertwined hair on a see-saw—it’s about as random as it can get at Eurovision! However, the act made perfect use of the artists and the way they looked. The balancing act on the see-saw suggested ying and yang, and the hair being bundled up together symbolized unity. The only thing that reminded us we were at a frothy song contest was when sexy Portuguese national final runner-up Rui Andrade had his five seconds of fame by making the sun of out paper! That’s hot.
Spain: Ruth Lorenzo – Dancing in the Rain
Spain tried its best to bring Eurovision back to Madrid, with British eX-Factor contestant Ruth Lorenzo literally “Dancing in the Rain”. The background featured LED rain drops making a splash on the LED floor. Ruth even stuck her head in a sink beforehand to make it look more realistic. It was simple, clever and beautiful. Bringing Spain back into the top 10 really makes up for their abysmal finish last year.
San Marino: Valentina Monetta – Maybe (forse)
On her third attempt, Valentina finally dragged San Marino out of the semi-finals! She appeared to be a pearl in a shell, surrounded by waves made out of smoke and an LED ocean that changed colors throughout the song. She even dragged out legendary composer Ralph Siegel to play the piano! Would “Maybe” have made it without the “Shell of Venus” act? Maybe not. The song was criticized for being old fashioned, a bit boring and not jazzy enough for Valentina, who is actually a jazz artist. In the end, the staging gave this lift—and left us all wanting more.
Not everyone approached their staging with such clarity and good sense. Here are five acts that left people confused, laughing, or saying WTF? These artists suffered the most as a result of their stage direction…
Georgia: The Shin and Mariko – Three minutes to Earth
What am I watching, why is there a guy with a parachute playing the drums, and why is Shakira dressed in 70’s clothing? So many questions, no good answers. Georgia came with folkish jazz. When they released their video clip, I already had the sense that they’d whip out a can of crazy in Copenhagen. But at least The Shin and Mariko stayed true to their vision. This is a train wreck from the heart.
Belgium: Axel Hirsoux – Mother
The song bordered on creepy and so did the mama dancing in the background. It made even less sense than the go-go dancers from Belgium last year, who rubbed their private business in a rather public way. Axel has fantastic vocals, but sadly the dancer distracted from the emotion and power of this song. She should have just come out at the end. That way Axel could overwhelm people with his strong voice and surprise them with the sudden embrace of his “mother” towards the end as a nice touch.
Azerbaijan: Dilara Kazimova – Start a Fire
“Start a Fire” continues the Azeri streak of ballads. Like always, Azerbaijan sent a musical masterpiece to Eurovision, but for the first time since their debut, they sent the wrong person to sing it. I could hardly understand a single word of what Dilara was singing and the fact that she was smiling and laughing during such a sad, emotional song makes me think she didn’t understand either. And then you had this trapeze artist hanging several meters high. That didn’t help anyone. In fact, that sucked the power out of the song, or at least what remained of it. It felt like a mess, sadly. It was a disappointment after the brilliant act from Farid last year.
Israel: Mei Feingold – Same Heart
A powerful song with unwanted innuendos that had a 50% chance of making it to the final. The act, however, wasn’t big enough to fill the stage. The camera kept zooming in and out and around Mei, making the stage look very big and very impersonal. The fact that she only had two backing dancers and such a bright backdrop did not help either. Had they used different camera angles and a darker backdrop, this would probably have made it.
Ireland: Can Linn – Heartbeat
The best example of how an act can ruin a song. There were so many distractions. Men in kilts, golden Aztec backdrops, background singers overshadowing the lead. Two words: hot mess. Bigger does not always mean better, so turn down that sparkle. There is nothing wrong with having six people on stage, but this lacked the glue to hold them together.
Photo: Eurovision.tv (EBU)