Tonight during Semi-Final 2 of Eurovision 2021, seventeen acts must become ten. Starting at 21:00 CET, we’ll see singers performing on top of rocks, an international rap superstar and a flashback to 1985.
All of the competing artists are performing live inside of Rotterdam Ahoy except for one. Iceland’s Daði og Gagnamagnið will use rehearsal footage from last week after one of their members tested positive for COVID-19. But don’t worry: their stage show is still amazing!
Now, as the artists slip into their tightest pants and warm up their wind machines, it’s time for you to grab your popcorn and adult beverages. Let’s do this!
Eurovision 2021: Semi-Final 2 Preview
1. San Marino: Senhit feat. Flo Rida– “Adrenalina”
Nothing seems impossible for Senhit. She is the personification of the Eurovision spirit and you can feel the fun she’s having. Knowing which bits and pieces she had to improve from last year, she single-handedly shocked everyone with the drop of “Adrenalina”. A slick uptempo-production with a memorable hook. Gone are the days of entries from San Marino as guilty pleasures. If you’re at all familiar with the work of Luca Tommassini, this performance is his whole aesthetic summarised into a lovely three-minute snapshot. The plethora of looks shouldn’t work together, but they do.
And of course, let’s not forget her secret weapon — the American superstar rapper Flo Rida. He’s the man behind global hits like “Low”, “Right Round” and “Whistle”. For the longest time, it was uncertain whether he would even make it to Rotterdam. And, indeed, for the first and second round of rehearsals he was otherwise engaged at a bikini model contest in the US. He brings an added sheen of star power to the entry and will surely guarantee pan-European headlines for plucky San Marino. This is a great show opener.
Memorable lyrics: “Gasoline kerosene stop drop roll, I can’t blame it on the stove”
2. Estonia: Uku Suviste – “The Lucky One”
Uku is definitely bringing a more compelling song to the contest compared with 2020. “The Lucky One” has some drama and passion fuelling it that gives listeners a reason to stay engaged. “The Lucky One” is about noticing the red flags when a relationship is turning sour. “Basically, this song uses the metaphor of love as a game of chance”, songwriter Sharon Vaughan tells wiwibloggs. “The singer and his lover start out as the lucky ones and then luck changes on them and leaves them cold. The song is about being able to read the signs… to see what is coming. They were the lucky ones.” His stage show is stormy. We see him drowning and he looks like he’s run away from a hellish black-tie event. You can tell he’s feeling the song.
Memorable lyrics: “Why’d you have to make what was unbreakable, Shakable, unsaveable”
3. Czech Republic: Benny Cristo – “Omaga”
Benny Cristo’s goal is to bring “straight-up positive energy” to Eurovision with “omaga” — a song inspired by wanting to find connection during a period of isolation. “I’m a single man in the lockdown,” he told wiwibloggs. “I just wanted to meet people. I just wanted to spend time with people. I genuinely want to have fun. That’s what the lyrics are about. It’s like, ‘you, just come over.” And he has succeeded. “Omaga” is the sheer burst of joy we all needed in 2021. Seriously, the lyric “there ain’t no apocalypse, as long as you’re here on my lips” might be one of the most flirtatious lyrics ever in Eurovision. Totally captivating, charming, and oozing with character.
Memorable lyrics: “You said you gained a few pounds, You blame the apocalypse, There ain’t no apocalypse, Long as you’re here on my lips”
4. Greece: Stefania – “Last Dance”
The 18-year-old — who is this year’s youngest contestant — has a clear perspective on “Last Dance” and its meaning. “If something ends, something new starts,” she says. “There is never an end. If you have a bad dream you can make it your own fantasy. It’s what you see in the video….I turn my dream into one of my best dreams ever.” And in that dream we see the teen star jump off a building before landing on her Pegasus. The director had her film it several times to get it just right: “Kostas said, ‘Sweetie you have to jump and you have to make it beautiful — the jump of your dreams!” Here in Rotterdam, she turns the stage into a massive green screen. We see her climb skyscrapers and dance with men whose skin is keyed out — they become dancing trousers, dancing jackets, dancing shorts. It’s only at the end that they emerge as fully-formed humans – a magical moment that draws rapturous applause.
Memorable lyrics: “My heart was born in neon lights, floating in space like satellites”
5. Austria: Vincent Bueno – “Amen”
Amen” takes a little while to sink in, but once it does, there is no going back. This is a beautiful melody, which leaves you a little bit emotional, with Vincent’s gorgeous vocals as the icing on the cake. Vincent says amen, but then asks “Is this what you wanted?” He compares the end of the relationship to a funeral, talking about being dressed in black and feeling like he’d been buried. While he reluctantly accepts the end of the relationship, he’s letting his ex know that “it all feels like you didn’t even try to save us”. Vincent’s “Amen” is more a midtempo folk-pop ballad than gospel. However, near the end of the song, he is joined by a gospel-style choir. Sandwiched between two upbeat bangers, Vincent pops out with his solemnity and some very impressive lights. It’s a mesmerising song, jam-packed with soul and emotions.
Memorable lyrics: “It’s just another funeral to you”
6. Poland: Rafał – “The Ride”
Mama used to say never get in a car with a stranger, but that advice was forgotten as soon as Rafal and his swagger ride rolled up and offered a lift! “The Ride” is sleek, it’s fun, it’s hot and it’s cool, all at the same time and has just the right amount of ’80s feeling that can lighten up any party at any time. Rafal himself simply oozes elegance and confidence and makes a girl want to throw all caution out the wind. He’ll take what’s his and no one’s going to stop him. “I’m gonna take on the world tonight / Not gonna ask / Gonna take what’s mine”. And he’s going to do it all by himself. Those who join him for “The Ride” will merely “follow my tracks”. Cheekily confident or amazingly arrogant? You decide!
Memorable lyrics: “So baby hold on for the ride of your life.”
7. Moldova: Natalia Gordienko – “Sugar”
Let there be no doubt: Natalia wants that sugar! This sexy dance number uses sweet confections as a metaphor for lust and desire. “I can’t explain it but there’s something going on, a crazy energy inside of me,” Natalia says. “First a tingle, then it turned into a burn”. While most of us might visit a pharmacy for some cream, Natalia decides to sort that out in a more carnal way. She begs her lover to “come over, come over” to fulfil her desires. Her request reads like a demand: “Give me some… sugar!” All of this unfolds on a rotating platform. Wait for the high note at the end.
Memorable lyrics: “Hey lover, give me some sugar”
8. Iceland: Daði og Gagnamagnið – “10 Years”
Last week, Iceland’s Eurovision 2021 delegation went into isolation following a positive COVID-19 test. And on Wednesday a member of Daði Freyr’s on-stage band Gangamagnið tested positive for the virus. As a result, the group will compete using a backup recording from their second rehearsal earlier in the week. That performance explodes with colour — mint green is their signature — and video-game inspired graphics of the group’s six members.
The disco tune talks about how, no matter the length of a relationship, you can always find new things to fall in love with, and how a marriage can become an everlasting enjoyable experience. The staging gives space-age disco vibes with a pixellated galaxy backdrop. All of the colours — while keeping in line with the 2021 neon theme — complement each other well. Meanwhile, an army of Gagnamagnið sprites take up the entirety of the runway screen. It’s delightful. The band are equipped with new instruments, too — Árný, Jói and Stebbi are wielding pivoting crescent moon-shaped keyboards that join together for a “Miracle” Romania 2014 moment during the instrumental bridge. The show ends with a delayed pyro pillar and blast of smoke, adding some subtle (but effective) humour.
Memorable lyrics: “You’re so fascinating, I can’t remember the last time I was bored”
9. Serbia: Hurricane – “Loco Loco”
There’s an extreme weather warning in Rotterdam because a certain Hurricane is about to blow the roof off the Ahoy. This is the full-force Balkan banger! Hurricane provide a high-energy track that gives each of Sanja, Ivana and Ksenija the space to strut their stuff and deliver a dynamic performance on stage. Their high contrast black and white aesthetic makes a pleasing break from all the pinks and blues. As the song progresses we get splashes of red, while words like “baby” fill the screen. Soon we’re in a full-on disco, complete with LED disco ball. As Sanja shouts “come on girls”, they strut down the catwalk and finish the performance on the satellite stage amidst a load of pyro.
Memorable lyrics: “It will be wild, wild, wild, So, Come on, be loco loco”
10. Georgia: Tornike Kipiani – “You” (3.82)
Musically “You” plays among the genres of rock, pop-rock and blues-rock. It’s lyrically sparse, with the original text coming in at just 75 words. But Tornike still finds space to be sensitive and emotional in this touching love song. He compares his love interest to four natural phenomena — the sun, the wind, the ocean and a mountain. All of these can ban be both good and bad. Take the sun, for instance. It brings us light and warmth. But it can also cause drought and destructive fires. And you’ll burn if you fly too close to it or go blind if you look at it directly. Yet, despite the perils, the sun is essential for life. Love is just as multi-faceted.
The staging is simple and effective. He’s dressed in a classic white shirt and black trousers, a costume that lets his vocal talent take centre stage. The LED graphics are very calm and peaceful, showing things like clouds and a night sky. At one point Tornike sits down on a box while the song lyrics are projected onto his body. It’s not fancy projection mapping, just an artistic way of strengthening the message of the song.
Memorable lyrics: “Ocean, I wanna hear you, Mountain, I wanna feel you”
11. Albania: Anxhela Peristeri – “Karma”
Whether you speak Albanian or not, it’s pretty clear that “Karma” captures a woman in crisis. In the dramatic ballad Anxhela blames herself for her world — romantic and otherwise — falling apart. The opening verse sees her describing herself as selfish and somewhat spoiled: “Life, as if a fairy tale, had spoiled me, High in the sky like a star I lived, Laughing like crazy when you groaned, Heartless, I only loved myself.” By the time the chorus hits, she’s the star of her own tragedy and she’s left with nothing but dirty tears. “God does not forgive me, the world fell on me, I fled you, my friends fled, I have no light…tears collect in my hand, they are rusty…” The idea that our actions impact the world comes through in a glorious LED — it reacts, through storms and lightening — as Anxhela moves through her narrative.
Memorable lyrics: “God does not forgive me, The world fell on me”
12. Portugal: The Black Mamba – “Love Is on My Side”
“Love Is On My Side” was born out of a 2019 tour in the Netherlands. These performances inspired the group to write and record a yet to be released album called Another Night In Amsterdam. The LP tells the story of “all the characters” they met during this time, particularly from the city’s infamous red-light district. Their Eurovision track was also written during these sessions. Speaking to RTP after their selection, The Black Mamba explain that “this song is inspired by an old lady we met in Amsterdam a couple of years ago, when we were on tour in the Netherlands.” However, when we first meet the woman she is young and full of hope. “Left home when I was only sweet sixteen / Chasing blind love and a bunch of broken dreams”.
But things didn’t pan out as planned. “She ended up addicted to drugs and that led to prostitution”, recount the band. “I can feel it still runnin’ through my veins / Ran so fast I couldn’t even grow / Forgot where I belong / Sold my body on a dirty cold floor”. The lead singer Tatanka attempts to embody by working his higher register.
Memorable lyrics: “Don’t know how I thought I’d be a queen”
13. Bulgaria: Victoria – “Growing Up Is Getting Old”
Like any good storyteller, VICTORIA doesn’t rush her exposition. She takes her time with “Growing Up Is Getting Old” — literally opening with the heavy sound of a ticking clock. The song slowly and carefully warms up, layering nostalgia and tenderness over strings and piano. As Victoria comes to terms with the relentlessness of time, expressed through that delicate and distinct voice, her trickle of emotion becomes a flood, delivering one of the biggest musical pay-offs of the year. This song may be a slow burn, but it definitely ignites, giving us an “it” moment worthy of the win. “I’ve never understood how so much can fit in little me,” VICTORIA sings. In these three minutes, she proves that she contains multitudes.
This performance is organic in more ways than one. Yes, she sings on a rock that seems to float on water before stars, and she reaches out to touch falling sand. But beyond that she looks at a picture of her father, who was recently diagnosed with motor neurone disease.
Memorable lyrics: “Playing Tetris with my feelings”
14. Finland: Blind Channel – “Dark Side”
The men of Blind Channel are purveyors of “violent pop”. It’s essentially a sub-genre of heavy metal music with elements of pop. And the band have made it their own. “Dark Side” won the Finnish selection in a resounding fashion. And it’s not hard to see why the Finns were swept up by this seemingly anarchic anthem. The group’s request for viewers to put their middle fingers up isn’t disrespectful. It’s actually an empowering call to stand up and be counted, even when systems or clicks try to exclude you. Musically this may nod to Linkin Park, but this isn’t in any way derivative. Blind Channel have their own frequency and chemistry — they perform with panache and fire, nailing their spins and headbangs without ever veering into the outré. Musically this comes with one of the best hooks of the year — and one sung in perfect harmony despite the deliberately rough sound.
Memorable lyrics: “Put your middle fingers up, Take a shot, throw it up and don’t stop.”
15. Latvia: Samanta Tīna – “The Moon Is Rising”
If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. This is definitely the mantra that Samanta Tīna lives by. Before winning the ticket to Eurovision in 2020, she previously tried to get to the contest nine times, trying her luck in both Latvia and Lithuania. And then, when she finally did get the chance to go, the contest was cancelled. Thankfully, the Latvian broadcaster asked her back for 2021. “The Moon Is Rising” is an unusual beast. It goes from left to right, then back up and down with several inversions on the way. It starts almost a capella, then introduces a Diplo-like “Bitch I’m Madonna” drill-beat only to climax in a K-pop chorus. In keeping with the song’s message of empowerment, Samanta’s has staging fit for a queen — filled with golds, greens and lots of regal imagery and symbolism.
Memorable lyrics: “The queen of the night is coming, The blood moon is rising”
16. Switzerland: Gjon’s Tears – “Tout l’univers”
The singer’s real name is Gjon Muharremaj. However, he performs under the moniker Gjon’s Tears. His Tears, like Marina’s Diamonds or Christine’s Queens, are metaphorical. “Tout l’univers” has been one of the bookies’ favourites all season. And rightly so. It creates so many moments of stillness and emotion as Gjon takes us on his journey. Having French lyrics might seem like a weak point, but this is a case where the melody of the song guides our emotions. Dressed in an outfit resembling a flamenco dancer, he performs inside a large white frame as fog billows atmospherically around him. He does some light choreography. As the song reaches its climax, everything becomes much more frantic – the lights, his movements. The frame also separates into three distinct parts. It ends with an explosive cinematic flair, exuding class.
Memorable lyrics: “How can we heal our exploding hearts”
17. Denmark: Fyr & Flamme – “Øve os på hinanden”
No, you do not need to adjust your TV sets. You’ve not gone back in time to 1985! Fyr & Flamme — a duo consisting of Jesper Groth and Laurits Emanuel — close the show out with the schlager-tastic “Øve os på hinanden”. Translating as “Let’s Practice On Each Other”, it’s a cheeky ode which on the surface is all about a first teenage dance. But this is an innuendo-filled number and many are reading other meanings into the lyrics. In keeping with several of the acts before it, the staging is once again filled with bright neon pinks and blues. The package might be dated, but they do it with panache and buckets of charisma. It’s impossible not to smile.
Memorable lyrics: “No one knows how it’s done, So let’s practice on each other, Soon we’re two adults, You’re the woman, I’m the man”