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)

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CookyMonzta
CookyMonzta
5 years ago

@Huh: Tijana’s stage setup was never dark long enough for the audience to embrace it. The screens behind her flashed like those of a nightclub throughout the performance. It wasn’t even close to the darkness of the Dutch duo’s stage setup.

Richard
Richard
5 years ago

You should put Montenegro in Best Staging this year… So magical and beautiful !
I can’t figure out how Israel didn’t go through the final.. Her perfomance is better than Belarus’ Cheesecake
Macedonia is one of the worst stagging this year

Grifit
Grifit
5 years ago

I disagree on Israel’s presentation, I was not impressed by the song at first, but when I watched the live performance I wanted her to get into the final. And you missed Montenegro’s presentation!! I thought that was beautiful, and he used the floor at its full potential, he used the full six but in a very good way, and he was flawless. BUT!! I totally agree on the best performance, The Common Linnets were so brilliant, whoever is responsible of the presentation he/she got to reduce a big arena full of people to a personal and emotional moment, just… Read more »

Huh
Huh
5 years ago

For me, not every staging that is dark has a potential for a singer to have a high ranking or be a crowd favorite. Look at Tijana’s. In the beginning and at some parts before her performance ended, the staging was very dark. And yet, she did not advance to the grand finals.

CookyMonzta
CookyMonzta
5 years ago

The big winners of this year’s contest were the loners and the dark-arena performers: On stage, alone: (1) Conchita Wurst, (3) Sanna Nielsen, (4) Aram MP3, (10) Ruth Lorenzo. If you are capable of commanding the stage alone (like Loreen did), you don’t need an entourage, and should avoid the temptation of a stage or theatrical performance with more than one unless you can do it right and do it convincingly, like (5) András Kállay-Saunders did. In the dark: (2) The Common Linnets, (3) Sanna Nielsen, (8) Carl Espen. With the exception of the spotlights on the performer, the stage,… Read more »

Judith
Judith
5 years ago

It’s funny how Conchita fills this huge stage alone, and other entries with 3-6 people did not.

SpirK
SpirK
5 years ago

I actually really enjoyed Israel’s performance. It was one of my favourite songs but I actually really liked how it was presented also. I will never understand what happened to this song. To add some, FYROM didn’t have anything special happening to the stage. Tijana kept saying for months that she hates ballads and that she wants to have a party in ESC and when she came on stage, she moved almost less than a ballad singer. She just waved her hand in circles singing ”Where do we go now? To the sky you and I beautiful.” and she didn’t… Read more »

Oostenrijk
Oostenrijk
5 years ago

In recent years, Eurovision rewarded those who kept the staging simple and decent. The LED floor of course was a trap for many. But some acts used it decently, like the Common Linnets or Ruth Lorenzo. Conchita Wurst was smart enough to pick only one of the three LED options: wall, cube or floor and she chose the wall to display her fiery wings and kept all eyes on her. She was the centre of attention and nothing else. On the other hand, Mei Finegold exhausted the technical possibilities completely, so her performance wasn’t that well received. And her angry… Read more »

Tobias
Tobias
5 years ago

I think the stage was just too much this year. The LED floor AND backdrop hurt a lot of acts. They were distracting. Austria did a good job by “covering” the floor with lots of fog, keeping the attention on Conchita and the perfectly timed backdrop.

Oostenrijk
Oostenrijk
5 years ago

I genuinely believe that the Georgian entry was pure art, eccentric though, but still art. What ruined their chances were not the bad odds from the get-go, but the stage – there was too much going on on that stage, and on the backdrop as well. And every performer was seeking the spotlight with some random action, no one was decently placed in the background. As for Ireland, they totally ruined. Like last year they overdid everything in their performance, but this year it even looked worse and absolutely meaningless. The performance in the Irish selection was very cool and… Read more »

davve
davve
5 years ago

The irish act and the Israeli acts are the two “stage fails” of 2014 for me…. Ireland had too much going on, on stage.. dancers, backings singer, etc etc… and a very strange aztec colour on stage, and kasey had on a long dress.. if they had kept this performance more clean and intimate I think kasey would have made it to the final both from jury and televotes. Israel had the opposit problem.. the singer,, and two background dancers… all dressed in black. with a light stage so everything appeared to be so big..and then these three “small people”… Read more »

Calvin
Calvin
5 years ago

I don’t know what people had against the Irish staging; I thought that the attractive backup dancers were a nice reminder that they know who watches Eurovision 😉

Duff
Duff
5 years ago

Mei’s dancers should have been “fighting” each other as part of their dance instead of mirroring each other.