National Final Season in Review 2020: Our Favorite WTF Moments, Part Two

2020 marked the 60th anniversary of Norway’s participation in the Eurovision Song Contest, so NRK decided to expand their usual one night Melodi Grand Prix extravaganza into a multi-week selection process. They gathered up 25 songs, selected five to go straight to the MGP final, then pitted the remaining songs in a series of head-to-head battles during five heats.

This would have been fine, except that it was clear from the outset that the songs in the competition were just not up to snuff. We wondered if NRK committed to the format before they put out their call for entries.

You would think that we, as a couple of camp connoisseurs, would eat up stuff like Tore Petterson’s “The Start of Something New,” Jenny Jennsen’s “Mr. Hello,” Nordic Tenors’ “In a Special Place,” or Liza Vassilieva’s “I Am Gay.” They all played like book numbers from flop Broadway musicals, and we love book numbers from flop Broadway musicals.

But instead of relishing these tacky moments, all we wondered was how the producers thought these were viable Eurovision songs. Into what era of the Song Contest would any of these numbers fit? “I Am Gay” was a particular lowlight, a calculated attempt to be provocative that was utterly joyless in its execution and pointlessly juvenile to boot.

Fortunately, there were a few numbers that gave us some kitsch we could luxuriate in. First off, there’s Alexandru’s “Pink Jacket,” in which Norway’s answer to Eric Saade sings an ode to his pink jacket. That’s it. That’s all the song is about. We need Charles Dance to do a dramatic reading of this one: “And look at how I own it/And you say it’s dope like I didn’t know it.”

“How About Mars?” is an interesting song and Anna Jæger is a charismatic performer. Unfortunately, the staging managed to be both too sparse and needlessly complex. Paired with Jæger’s raw vocal, the whole package seemed a bit scattershot. A few back-up performers on stage and less camera tricks could have helped. We liked “How About Mars” a lot, which is probably why we keep finding ourselves analyzing it.

Towering majestically over the competition was Rein Alexander. Now, “One Last Time” is not much of a song, but who cares when it is staged as if Brian Blessed is a viking fending off zombie breakdancers? We were team Ulrikke all the way, but we had strong suspicions Rein was going to take the whole thing, even if NRK didn’t rate “One Last Time” enough to put it directly through to the final.

Going back to the format of this year’s MGP, each of the five heats were made up of randomly drawn head to head matchups. The four competitors would come out and hosts Ronny Brede Aase, Kåre Magnus Bergh, and Ingrid Gjessing Linhave would draw names out of a bowl to determine which pairs were facing off. Then the winner of each matchup would face off against the other to determine who went to the final.

Viewers would vote exclusively using NRK’s app, which was nice because you got instant results. On the other hand, you had to wonder if NRK had a back-up plan in case there was some sort of technical glitch with the app. It’s Norway, one of the most technologically savvy countries in the world, so there was probably nothing to worry about.

Anyway, the app crashed during the first round of the Melodi Grand Prix final. Of course it did. The back-up plan turned out to be a pre-selected jury of 30 members of the public. This seemed reasonable: get a representative sample of Norwegians experiencing the final along with the country as whole. If MGP was staged like Eurovision, we’d expect that this jury would have watched a dress rehearsal and logged their votes then.

Instead, it turned out that they voted on the songs the day before the final without seeing any of the performances. Although this was explained in the rules before MGP started, some of the artists were unhappy that this was how their fates were determined.

We can understand why. A lot of effort goes into staging a song for a competition like this, and to have the result of the final’s initial round be determined without even taking the staging into consideration devalues much of that work. In a way, they wasted a lot of their time. The fact that their live performances aren’t available on NRK’s stagnant YouTube channel adds insult to injury.

NRK has already announced it will hold Melodi Grand Prix next year instead of just giving Ulrikke Brandstorp the opportunity she earned to perform at Eurovision. So in the end, they managed to screw over the winner of the show too. WTF.

via GIPHY

National Final Season in Review 2020: Our Favorite WTF Moments, Part One

The 2020 national final season was one of the strongest we’ve witnessed since we went down this rabbit hole. And yet it still had so many head-scratching moments that we are going to need two posts to cover it all. In part one, we go through some amazing art projects, some painful comedy routines, and an unexpected ode to a talk show host.

But all of you avid Eurovision fans know exactly where we’re going to start, right?

Italy: Bugo and Morgan – “Sincero

So let’s say you just watched Will Ferrell’s movie Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga and you say to us, “Some of this movie’s plot seems a bit far-fetched.” We would respond by offering up what happened at this year’s Sanremo Music Festival.

Bugo is a wry singer-songwriter and Morgan is a rock singer who has coached five winners of Italy’s The X Factor, including Italy’s 2013 Eurovision representative Marco Mengoni. Their song “Sincero” is a fun, synth-driven bop with a wicked sense of humor. In normal circumstances, this should have been an absolute blast live.

However, the two apparently weren’t getting along with each other throughout the festival. Things got so bad between them that on night four, Morgan began to sing new lyrics to “Sincero” that pointedly called Bugo out on his attitude. Bugo grabbed the lyric sheets from Morgan’s synth, then walked off stage. Morgan then acted surprised that Bugo would do such a thing, which struck us as particularly insincero. He chased after Bugo, leaving the hosts to vamp while the situation was unraveling. Later in the evening, the pair were disqualified from the competition.

Sweden: Nanne Grönvall – “Carpool Karaoke

Nanne is a singer-songwriter who represented Sweden at Eurovision in 1996 as a member of One More Time. Our cringing over her 2020 Melodifestivalen track began as soon as we saw the song title. Is this really going to be about James Corden’s popular segment on The Late Late Show?

“Jag vill sjunga Carpool Karaoke/Med James Corden yeah”

Oh god.

As uncomfortable as her stunt was to watch, it still got James Corden’s attention, so who are we to scoff?

Slovenia: Klemen Slakonja’s Pratfall

Klemen Slakonja is always a bit of a wildcard when he hosts EMA, and we’ve heard some fans grumble that he sometimes upstages the contestants. That was certainly the case with his pratfall during his cover of “Arcade.” As if the stunt wasn’t jarring enough, it also led to an extended bit of uncomfortable dead air and filler to make it look like something really went wrong. He spent most of the remaining show wearing a bandage that would change places on his face every time he came back on stage. It was a running gag that just didn’t work.

Fortunately, he redeemed himself later in the show when he celebrated Slovenia’s silver anniversary at Eurovision by faithfully reconstructing all of their previous entries. That was fab.

Czech Republic: We All Poop – “All the Blood (Positive Song Actually)

Look, “All the Blood” is a pretty good song, and its official video offers an effective, if heavy-handed, case against eating meat. But we would argue that the only reason why this song was on anyone’s radar during national final season was because of the band name. Too bad The AV Club doesn’t seem to do “The Year In Band Names” anymore, because We All Poop would be a ripe candidate to make the list.

It’s now time for a brief interlude where we go through a few acts that were trying way too hard to be WTF.

  • Estonia’s Viinerid seemingly took inspiration from the Haunted Mansion’s “Grim Grinning Ghosts” when they staged “Kapa Kohi-LA.” Unfortunately, the visual gag went on so long that it muted the band’s impact on their own song when they eventually made their live appearance.
  • Over in Ukraine, Jerry Heil staged her college radio anthem “Vegan” like a nightmarish children’s show, which only played up the song’s lack of substance.
  • We are of two minds about “Playa.” On one hand, Twosome (featuring WTF veteran Banzzzai) went overboard playing up their song’s utter inanity. On the other hand, it has the lyric “I’m a Lithuanian basketball player,” and that’s kinda brilliant.

Now back to the proper WTFery.

Belarus: CHАKRАS – “La-ley-la

Belarus loves its high concept stagings, so when we saw NAPOLI recreating the Pompidou fountain early in the Belarusian national final, we thought the avant garde quotient had been fulfilled. Then came “La-ley-la,” which combined an ‘80s Eurovision song title, ‘90s Eurovision music, and every possible new age trope that could be shoved into a three minute song. None of the performers seemed to be singing the same song, although one of them found the perfect use of her ability to whinny like a horse. Did we mention there was a baby at the end? There was a baby at the end.

Lithuania: Andy Vaic – “Why Why Why

Andy Vaic doesn’t have full command of his singing voice and we felt a little squeamish listening in on his plaintive lyrics. But the whiff of amateurism made “Why Why Why” kind of charming.

Latvia: Annna – “Polyester

Kirsten Dunst is such a fan of T.J. Maxx that she had to sing about it.

Armenia: Sergey & Nikolay Arutyunov – “Ha, Take a Step

Sergey has two levels: VERY LOUD and preparing to be VERY LOUD. At first, Nikolay doesn’t have much to do during “Ha, Take a Step” except to gesture to the crowd. But when he finally gets his moment, it’s… raspy. Then it becomes fascinating to hear Sergey try to blend with Nikolay when all he wants to do is sing VERY LOUD.

Lithuania: Meandi – “Drip

Of all the songs we’ve presented here, “Drip” is the one that befuddles us the most. At first glance, it seems to be doing for ’90s R&B what “Ice Ice Baby” did for ’90s hip hop. But the goofy background video acts like a wink to confirm Meandi is just kidding around. Yet he performs “Drip” with such earnestness that we can’t tell if he’s trying to be funny when he belts out lines like, “From the EU but I’m feeling so Westside.” We’re left wondering if Meandi is just a really big fan of Bud Bundy on Married…With Children.

Bonus WTF moment for Americans: David Axelrod – “Horizon

No, not that David Axelrod.

In our next post, we will unpack what would have been the biggest mess of 2020 if it weren’t for everything else that happened in 2020: Norway’s Melodi Grand Prix.

National Final Season in Review 2020: Our Favorite Songs

In a year that has been as much fun as stepping on flaming dog poop while barefoot, it’s nice to listen to some terrific songs that remind us of things like Eesti Laul when it is quirky, Festivali i Këngës when it is epic, Beovizija when it is partying, and Söngvakeppnin when it is offering something that Will Ferrell wishes he had dreamt up.

Portugal: Throes + The Shine – “Movimento

Ooo, how we love “Movimento.” It has a slinky, serpentine groove that is imminently danceable. But it also has a piercing intensity that makes us feel like we’re dancing as the world falls apart. We’ve been diving into Throes + The Shine’s back catalog, and there is a lot there to love. We’re looking forward to what they do next.

Sweden: Felix Sandman – “Boys With Emotions

“Boys With Emotions” is such a cool song. It has a interesting rhythm-driven orchestration that heightens the message in the lyrics. With a title like that, we expected it to be mopey. Instead, it was full of hope. That said, Felix’s performances at Melodifestivalen were all a bit mumbly, which definitely dampened its impact.

Ukraine: KRUTЬ – “99

Vidbir was an absolute blast this year, and we probably could have picked almost any of its entries as our favorite. “99” stood out to us the most. KRUTЬ is an expert bandura player, and she really leans into the kvinnaböske staging. But we found ourselves too entranced with her ethereal song to scoff.

Estonia: Kruuv – “Leelo

Joyous and vibrant, “Leelo” revels in the glory of the Estonian language. It died in the Eesti Laul semifinals, and we’re still really bitter about that.

Iceland: Kid Isak – “Ævintýri

When our son heard “Ævintýri,” he said, “I would listen to this at 3am and just say I am vibing.” Kid Isak was a bit too green as a performer, so we’re hoping having a national final under his belt will give him some confidence.

Latvia: Miks Dukars – “I’m Falling for You

“I’m Falling for You” is a simple, gorgeous love song with a soaring chorus. Miks’ vocal is powerful and packed with emotion. We get chills every time we hear it.

Iceland: Iva – “Oculis Videre

We have no idea what “Oculis Videre” is. Was there an Icelandic remake of The Wicker Man that we missed? Did Enigma write the soundtrack? And yet we can’t get this odd, ethereal song out of our head. It’s strangely awesome. To be fair, we would have been bitter as hell if it had pipped “Think About Things” as Iceland’s Eurovision entry.

Albania: Renis Gjoka – “Loja

Judging from every Festivali i Këngës we’ve seen, Albania has a knack for orchestral rock songs. “Loja” is one of the grandest examples we’ve heard yet. It was made even better when Renis got the crowd clapping after the bridge, then took a moment to just enjoy the experience. This is everything we love about Festivali i Këngës in a four-minute package.

Serbia: Marko Marković – “Kolači

“Kolači” crosses “Ovo de Balkan” with “Alcohol is Free” and pushes it past 11. Marko’s voice is gloriously gritty, and his energetic performance made this into a party anthem. You know, if we still had parties.

The 2020 Eurovision That Almost Was That Almost Was: Semifinal Two

We’ve been thinking about alternate timelines a lot lately. Not sure why.

Anyway, we’re going to take a break from imagining a world where all humans are treated equally and motor-mouthed narcissists who lack compassion or even a basic understanding of decency are not running countries and put our daydreaming skills to use on Semifinal Two of the 2020 Eurovision Song Contest. Here’s what would have happened if we not only had a Eurovision this year, but also had a completely different set of national final winners. We’d mention the Big Three who were slated to vote in this semi, but they all had internal selections. Plus ça change.

Greece: Internal selection. Not applicable.

Estonia: Jaagup Tuisk – “Beautiful Lie”

Is it a coincidence that “Beautiful Lie” sounded so much like “Arcade,” or was Jaagup deliberately emulating the reigning champion? Either way, it’s never a good idea to resemble the previous winner of Eurovision.

Austria: Internal selection. Not applicable.

Moldova: Pasha Parfeny – “My Wine”

Pasha represented Moldova in 2012 with “Lautar.” “My Wine” takes the “Lautar” formula and makes it, well, more Moldovan. We were kind of disappointed the stage performance didn’t live up to the jubilant official video. The limit of six people on stage really dampened the party atmosphere. But, let’s be honest: even a relatively subdued wine cellar romp was better than the song that won Finala națională 2020.

San Marino: “Obsessed” – 2nd place song

San Marino had a flash national final this year, in which Senhit posted two songs on her website and asked fans to pick which one should be her Eurovision entry. “Obsessed” is a decent song that seems to show what Robyn would have sounded like if she debuted in the ‘80s. It’s technically a better song than “Freaky!”, but Senhit brought so much more personality to “Freaky!” that we knew that “Obsessed” was going to be left behind before the votes were even tallied.

Czech Republic: Elis Mraz & Čis T – “Wanna Be Like”

Elis Mraz reminds us of a young Jennifer “Stifler’s Mom” Coolidge, which makes “Wanna Be Like” even more charming than it already is. Side note: her quarantine anthem “Don’t Touch Me” is hilarious.

Serbia: Naiva – “Baš, baš”

We love this so much. “Baš, baš” has got a mod, bouncy ‘60s vibe, but in a more sultry way than Serbia’s classic Eurovision romp “Caroban.” Naiva makes it soar with her rich, smoky voice, and gives the cute staging a little bit of an edge.

Poland: Albert Černý – “Lucy”

Albert Černý is the singer for Lake Malawi, which represented Czech Republic in 2019 with “Friend of a Friend.” He threw his hat into the ring for Poland’s Szansa Na Sukces Eurowizja 2020 with a Lake Malawi  single (that has an awesome official video, by the way). The producers evidently had to tweak the show’s rules on the fly so that he could participate, and we suppose we should be put off by the carpetbagging. But “Lucy” is such a great song that we were really disappointed Poland went with “Empires” instead.

Iceland: Dimma – “Almyrkvi”

Jen recuses herself of any discussion about metal songs at Eurovision (with the exceptions of Lordi and Keep of Kalessin). So it’s up to me to discuss Dimma. “Almyrkvi” sounds like two different songs that were similar enough to be fused together. The ending brings it all together effectively, but just as Dimma were getting into the groove, their three minutes were up. I can’t help but feel that “Almyrkvi” would have benefitted from being twice as long so it could have developed into a more cohesive whole.

Switzerland: Internal selection. Not applicable.

Denmark: Sander Sanchez – “Screens”

Sanders has a cool vocal tone and a dynamic range. “Screens” shows it off, but the song never really kicks into any gear. The chorus blends into the verses without any impact. It’s too bad, because Sander has so much star quality. We hope we get to see more from him in the future.

Albania: Elvana Gjata: – “Me Tana”

Oooh, that intro to “Me Tana” just gives us the chills. Then Elvana opens it up into an absolute banger. The song lacked some of the shading and levels that made “Shaj” so compelling, and the outfits for the female back-up were horrible to the point of distraction. But when Elvana and her crew break out into the dance that closes her song, we have no doubt she would have slayed in Rotterdam.

Finland: Erika Vikman – “Cicciolina”

Iceland showed the rest of Europe in 2019 that it’s better to be bold with your Eurovision choice if you want success at the Song Contest. And Erika Vikman’s “Cicciolina” is a very bold choice. The song turns the story of porn star-turned-politician Ilona Staller into an anthem for sexual liberation. Erika was the narrow winner of the public vote, so maybe the Finnish audience thought they had the next Hatari on their hands. However, the international jury spiked her, with only wiwibloggs’ William Lee Adams and Spain’s 2011 Eurovision representative Lucía Pérez giving her top marks. Too bad, because Erika seemed like the perfect person to go to Eurovision.

Armenia: ERNA – “Life Faces”

“Life Faces” is sparse, jazzy pop song that would have been better served if ERNA had performed it with a full band at a jazz festival than by herself on an empty stage. The bubbles were a nice touch, though.

Portugal: Bárbara Tinoco – “Passe-Partout”

We find “Passe-Partou” insufferably cutesy. We may be in the minority on that. Still, Bárbara is an adorable, yet subtly commanding performer. As always, it’s better to stand out when you’re competing against 17 other numbers, and regardless of our personal opinion, “Passe-Partout” would have done just that.

Georgia: Barbara Samkharadze – 2nd place singer

We kind of regret not following Pop Idol Georgia more closely because our impression from watching clips of both Barbara Samkharadze and Tornike Kipiani that it was an absolute belt fest. Barbara can blast “Jesus Christ Superstar” and smolder with “You Don’t Own Me” and charm with “ჯადოსნური კვერცხი” (“The Magic Egg”) and we are just enchanted. The X Factor winner edged the Georgia’s Got Talent winner in the end, but Georgia would have been in steady hands with either of them.

Bulgaria: Internal selection. Not applicable.

Latvia: Katrīna Dimanta – “Heart Beats”

Sometimes, we selfishly don’t want a song to win a national final because we want it all to ourselves. Take, for example, the delightful “Heart Beats.” Katrīna is casually charismatic, and can growl out big notes like a true diva. “Heart Beats” is everything we wanted “Passe-Partout” to be, with a bit of grit and a lot of attitude. Sorry, Europe, but we’re keeping this one.

France: Internal selection. Not applicable.

Spain: Internal selection. Not applicable.

United Kingdom: Internal selection. Not applicable.

The 2020 Eurovision That Almost Was That Almost Was: Semifinal One

Imagine, if you will, an alternate reality where the 2020 Eurovision Song Contest took place. Now imagine an alternate reality to that alternate reality. You see, once you have one alternative Eurovision universe, you have infinite ones. That’s Tegmark’s Mathematical Eurovision Hypothesis.

In other words, welcome to the Eurovision That Almost Was That Almost Was. Let’s look at Semifinal One and the automatic finalists who got to vote in it.

Sweden: Dotter – “Bulletproof”

Both “Bulletproof” and Melodifestivalen’s winner “Move” are examples of how performance and staging can elevate so-so songs. Dotter has a cool vocal tone and a risky upper register, and her charisma is a big part of why “Bulletproof” works live. Add to that a very cool staging that requires nothing more than some lighting and a mirrored shirt, and you have a successful Melodifestivalen entry. We were Team Mamas, but we would have been more than happy if Dotter had won.

Belarus: Yan Yarosh – “Fire”

“Fire” is a pleasant little number in the Jamie Cullum vein. There are some lovely musical moments hindered slightly by an overly enthusiastic drummer. The only real issue here is that Yan Yarosh went for a concert staging and VAL went for a performance staging, and a performance staging just stands out more.

Australia: Casey Donovan – “Proud”

As a song, this “Proud” is not that much different than the “Proud” that won the jury vote at the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest. But like Tamara Todevska before her, Casey Donovan turns this run of the mill number into an absolute anthem. We get why Australia ultimately went for Montaigne, but damn if Casey didn’t bring the house down in the Gold Coast.

North Macedonia: Internal selection. Not applicable.

Slovenia: Lina Kuduzović – “Man Like U”

So here’s a job: stand and look serious into a camera so the producers can cut to you at key moments of a song. Love it. Unfortunately, Lina’s performance at EMA was a bit stiff, and her vocal was nasal and milky. It’s such a missed opportunity, because she wrote herself a pretty good song. But the more poised performer won the day in Slovenia.

Lithuania: Moniqué – “Make Me Human”

Moniqué told a fully fleshed out story in her staging of “Make Me Human,” taking the song’s metaphorical message and turning it into a cyborg’s cry for love. It didn’t work 100% of the time, but the overall package was quite engrossing.

Ireland: Internal selection. Not applicable.

Russia: Internal selection. Not applicable.

Belgium: Internal selection. Not applicable.

Malta: Justine Shorfid – 2nd place singer

As outside observers (meaning we didn’t actually watch the show), we assumed Destiny’s win at X Factor Malta was a forgone conclusion. But she had some stiff competition with Justine Shorfid. Justine has a rich, smoky vocal tone that stands out. We thought she overemoted a bit in her performances, but that’s a minor complaint. She’s a compelling singer.

Croatia: Mia Negovetić – “When It Comes to You”

We like to evoke Radio Disney as a kind of insult towards teen-oriented sunny pop tunes, and we totally could sling that at Mia’s “When It Comes to You.” And yet, Mia is such a likeable performer that it was easy to root for her. It’s cute, and we don’t mind that’s too twee for our tastes.

Azerbaijan: Internal selection. Not applicable.

Cyprus: Internal selection. Not applicable.

Norway: Kristin Husøy – “Pray for Me”

As much of a hot mess as Melodi Grand Prix was this year (as we’ll discuss in our WTF post), at least the Gold Duel came down to two strong entries. “Pray for Me” reminded us a bit of Amandine Bourgeois’ “L’enfer et moi,” and Kristin Husøy has a smoky, raspy voice that fits her song like a glove.

Israel: Ella-Lee Lahav – 2nd place singer; “Roots” – 2nd place song

Ella-Lee Lahav is just pure pop. Look for any of her HaKokhav HaBa L’Eurovizion performances and enjoy. (“Toxic” was a particular standout to us). We have no doubt Ella-Lee would have represented Israel admirably at Eurovision. Maybe she will someday.

After winning HaKokhav HaBa L’Eurovizion, Eden Alene was given a song selection show. “Roots” was the admirable runner up, taking a fairly nondescript song about being proud of who you are and spicing it up with a spectacularly strident chorus that grabbed our attention. It’s not the most accessible song, though, so despite our reservations about “Feker Libi,” we can’t say Israel made the wrong choice.

Romania: “Storm” – 2nd place song

We are not the biggest fans of “Alcohol You,” but when we look at Roxen’s other options for Eurovision, we totally understand how that one was chosen as her song for Europe. “Storm” sounds like someone accidentally copied and pasted the chorus to Zibbz’ “Stones” in between some bland, noodly verses. The staging served “Storm” perfectly, in that it accentuated how awful the song was.

Ukraine: Khayat – “Call for Love”

We love Go_A’s “Solovey,” but we also love Khayat’s “Call for Love.” Khayat treads this line between being a proper pop star and a singer trying too hard to be suave, but he won us over with his ethereal vocal. “Call for Love” was an absolute blast from start to finish. Ultimately, Go_A is just a bit more unique than Khayat, which is really saying something.

Germany: Internal selection. Not applicable.

Italy: Francesco Gabbani – “Viceversa”

We love when past Eurovision stars come back, and we also love to complain when their new songs aren’t quite as special as their first entries. And so it goes with Francesco Gabbani. If “Occidentali’s Karma” is the lead single of an album, “Viceversa” is the fifth single released as the world tour is wrapping up. It’s still good, and Francesco still has boatloads of charm to go with his beautiful, raspy vocal tone. But the right song won Sanremo this year, and we bet even Francesco himself would agree.

The Netherlands: Internal selection. Not applicable.

Recap of Eurovision: Europe Shine A Light

Every now and then, we wonder if we’re a bit too cynical. Then we watch something as mawkishly sincere as Eurovision: Europe Shine A Light and we remember how we got so sardonic in the first place.

Don’t get us wrong: we understand the need to acknowledge what everyone around the world has gone through for the past few months and to salute the health care workers who are saving lives. We’d be churlish to dismiss that. But we had to laugh when ABBA’s Björn Ulvaeus said, “[Eurovision] so allows you to escape and be happy and even forget about the coronavirus for a little while.” Europe Shine A Light did nothing but remind us about the coronavirus.

We recognize that our complaints probably reflect more on us as diehard Eurovision fans than on the show itself. Maybe Europe Shine A Line was more of a fillip for a casual audience than we’re giving it credit for. But we thought the show was going to celebrate the artists who lost their chance to represent their countries at this year’s Song Contest and maybe give us a little bit of that escape that Björn alluded to. What we got instead was a cross between a wake and a telethon.

There just needed to be a lot more levity to balance out the somber earnestness. We probably laughed harder than we normally would at Daði Freyr’s goofy message to Europe, Conchita Wurst’s joke about being free from underwear, and Ulrikke’s giddiness over getting a personal message from smoking hot Tom Leeb because they were moments of lightness in an evening that desperately needed them.

Not that we didn’t appreciate the moments of beauty. We’re not that cynical! Netta’s song “Cuckoo” was an utter delight, making us once again thankful that she won. Michael Schulte and Ilsa DeLange’s version of “Eine Bisschen Frieden” was gorgeous. And that brief glimpse of Diodato singing “Fai Rumore” at the empty Arena di Verona gave us chills. Thankfully, the official Eurovision channel posted the whole performance so we could properly bawl our eyes out.

And look, “Love Shine a Light” is nowhere near our favorite Song Contest winner. But you would have to be a cold-hearted, self-centered bass player from a popular Belgian trip hop band not to get a little choked up watching almost all of this year’s Eurovision artists singing along to Katrina and the Waves’ iconic entry.

It would have been impossible to get proper closure on the 2020 Eurovision Song Contest, so maybe it was inevitable that Europe Shine a Light ended the season with a thud. Fortunately, we still have all the songs and the delightful national final performances and the glorious music videos. We can watch them in the producers’ running order, decide which ones make it to our personal final, and pretend that Iceland won. And you can do the same and pretend that your favorite won, too. The music doesn’t go away just because the Song Contest did.

 

Things We Learned By Reading the Bios of the 2020 Eurovision Participants

Given the cancellation of this year’s Song Contest, we thought we might skip our annual review of Eurovision’s official artist bios. But then we saw that Benjamin Rosenbom of Ben & Tan (Denmark) is the son of a Malagasy father. If ever there was an artist who could qualify as an official Eurovision Lemur, it has to be the son of someone from Madagascar, right? This was the clearest sign we could get that we needed to press on!

As is often the case, there were a few bios that had us chuckling and wondering if the artists really are that conceited. Otherwise, their publicists aren’t doing them any favors. To wit, Ben Dolic (Germany):

“Singing affects our bodies and our souls. A voice that we find appealing may stop the time or drive us forward; it may give us goosebumps and flood us with endorphins. Ben Dolic has such a voice. It is at once crystal clear, warm, euphoric and semi-androgynous. It is a voice unlike any other in today’s pop music.”

Maybe “Violent Things” refers to the intensity of our retching after reading that.

Montaigne (Australia) twice mentions that she is a generational talent: “The voice of a new generation in Australia” who “represents the next generation of artists who march to the beat of their own drum.” And yet she saw fit to work with the same songwriting team who wrote most of Australia’s other Eurovision songs.

Roxen (Romania) says her “musical aura is like a spell that creates a whole new world.” That world requires tan pasties, though.

Meanwhile, Hooverphonic’s (Belgium) bio is so full of itself, it almost makes us reevaluate our fandom. “[‘Release Me’] is a sweeping, majestic ballad that only Hooverphonic seems to be able to craft time and time again.” Although John Barry was good at that, too.

If you’ve ever wondered who the brain behind the band is, look no further: “Never one to place all of his eggs in one basket, frontman Alex Callier has always strived to deliver quality songs, sung by the best singers in the business.” The bio casually mentions that “guitarist Raymond Geerts has been the steady foundation of the band,” but really it’s all about Alex.

Hooverphonic ends their bio with, “They’re looking for stars and – rest assured – they will find them.” What does that even mean? Maybe it’s a reference to how they discovered lead singer Luka Cruysberghs, who won The Voice of Flanders while on Alex’s team.

But Luka is not the only winner of TV talent shows on the 2020 Eurovision roster. Alicja Szemplińska (Poland) won The Voice of Poland only a few months before she was chosen to represent her home country. Arilena Ara (Albania), Eden Alene (Israel), Destiny (Malta), and Tornike Kipiani (Georgia) all won their countries’ editions of The X Factor. Vincent Bueno (Austria) won Musical! The Show, and indeed was starring in a musical at the time the COVID-19 quarantine went into effect in Austria.

Want award winners? Blas Cantó (Spain) won an MTV European Music Award for Best Spanish Artist. James Newman (United Kingdom) won a Brit as a songwriter on Rudimental and Ella Eyre’s “Waiting All Night.” Little Big (Russia) “are prizewinners of lots of international award shows, like the Berlin Music Awards, Global Film Festival Awards, Het Gala van de Gouden K’s and others.” And Uku Suviste (Estonia) was named by Kroonika magazine as “Estonia’s Sexiest Man.”

Purrrrrrr

Natalia Gordienko (Moldova) reveals that she won “the gold medal in the Voice Category” at the World Championships of Performing Arts, which sounds like part of the plot to a direct-to-video Pitch Perfect movie.

Of course, no awards banquet would be complete without this from Athena Manoukian (Armenia): “Her first experience in the music industry was in 2007 when she won first prize at an international talent contest.” Yeah, there’s no need to be more specific!

Of course winning stuff is one thing, but getting a good education is important too. Uku attended the Berklee College of Music, where he “[made] the Dean’s List every semester.” Elisa (Portugal) is currently a student at the Music Academy of Lisbon. And Samanta Tīna (Latvia) “wrote her graduating paper based on an analysis of the national selections for the Eurovision Song Contest in Latvia and Lithuania.”

We love the artists who talk about their struggles getting to Eurovision, which makes this year’s cancellation particularly cruel. Samanta makes sure to mention she tried to represent Latvia six times and Lithuania twice. Blas notes that he competed in Spain’s national selections for the 2004 Junior Eurovision Song Contest and for the 2011 Eurovision Song Contest. Efendi (Azerbaijan) writes, “After 4 attempts to become Azerbaijan’s representative at the Eurovision Song Contest, the 5th attempt was victorious.” Of course, she was an internal selection, but she won the hell out of that internal selection!

At least Blas and Efendi have already confirmed they’re coming back next year. We beg of Latvia: skip Supernova next year and just send Samanta!

Ultimately, though, what we really look for when poring over these bios are distillations of each artists’ musical philosophy. Sandro’s (Cyprus) credo is “that music must be authentic, truthful and reach peoples’ hearts.” Vasil’s (North Macedonia) “motto in life is simple – wherever words fail – Vasil sings.” It’s the same way we manage our visits to Costco.

The Roop’s (Lithuania) lead singer Vaidotas Valiukevičius says of “On Fire,” “With this song, I wish to send my listeners confidence and good vibes. We are all capable of being who we want when we want, and age is not important.” As Eurovision bloggers in their late 40s, we can’t agree more!

Daði Freyr (Iceland) writes, “Music and family are the most important things in the world to Daði Freyr. It’s what drives him forward, what inspires him, and what keeps him rooted in Iceland and the close-knit communities he has always adored.” He adds:

“The song is designed to be seen by the world, all part of his complex masterplan, coupled with the stunning live performances and the viral video … Humble focused on the music, Daði Freyr ends the song as he begins – surrounded by his family, reaching out to Europe.”

Of all of the bios, this is the one we are most convinced was written by the artist himself.

On that note, let’s end with Lesley Roy (Ireland). We quote directly:

“Lesley said that working with theatre-makers and club creators ThisIsPopBaby on this year’s Irish entry ‘changes the game as far as Ireland and the European song competition goes – ThisIsPopBaby are injecting a fresh, fun vision that encapsulates a modern Ireland.’”

There is no way you can convince us that she actually said that, unless you also offer evidence that her day job is as a publicist.

Switzerland’s Eurovision 2020 Entry

And so we finish our review of the national final season with Switzerland. Now, we had a lot of favorite entries this year. Daði og Gagnamagnið is still our favorite and The Roop is still our second favorite. But we have to say that the worst part about the cancellation of this year’s Song Contest is that we all were robbed of the opportunity to hear Gjon’s Tears perform “Répondez-moi” on the big stage. Because dammit, this would have been wonderful.

A Swiss singer whose family comes from Albania and Kosovo, Gjon Muharremaj named himself Gjon’s Tears after a moment when his grandfather cried while hearing him sing “Can’t Help Falling In Love.” At 12, Gjon finished third in Albania’s Got Talent and later competed on Switzerland’s Got Talent and The Voice France. He co-wrote “Répondez-moi” with Xavier Michel, Alizé Oswald, and Jeroen Swinnen.

”Répondez-moi” is an intense song. It packs Albert Camus levels of existentialism into a tight three minutes, and you don’t even need to understand French to get the message. The haunting chorus generates more chills than skinny-dipping in an Alpine lake in January.

Gjon’s Tears is charismatic as all get out, with that special knack for peering into your soul. His range is stunning, and his upper register is particularly piercing. Those high notes may dangerous roads to travel on, but when we listened to the sparse and powerful acoustic version, we felt assured that he can deliver the goods each and every time.

Thankfully, Gjon’s Tears will be coming back next year. We really hope that he finds away to top “Répondez-moi,” because if he does, it is going to be brilliant.

Bulgaria’s Eurovision 2020 Entry

One of the big Eurovision storylines in the past five years has been the sudden emergence of Bulgaria as a Song Contest superpower. Sure, they skipped a year to save costs, but their last three entries have showed their intent to be a fixture at the top of the leaderboard. And 2020 probably would have been no different.

Victoria Georgieva competed on season four of X Factor Bulgaria, then had a Top 20 hit in Bulgaria with “Nezavarshen Roman.” She co-wrote “Tears Getting Sober” with Borislav Milanov of Symphonix International, The Voice Kids Germany winner Lukas Oskar Janisch, and Cornelia Wiebols from the Swedish band KNASH.

So this is another song about a bad breakup. We’ve gotten that from BelgiumNorway, Poland, Moldova, Georgia, Romania, and did we miss anyone? But there is something weirdly joyous about the lyrics to “Tears Getting Sober.” Look at the lines “My pain will soon be over/Oh, how the tables turn/Tears are getting sober/I’ve got some space to grow.” The lyrics are not wallowing in the sorrow or not grasping at codependence. They are just embracing the feeling that what’s done is done and it’s time to move on.
Musically, the song is very gentle and understated. It’s entirely orchestral, with very little pop vocabulary present. It even finishes with a quirky little Disney happy ending. There is a quiet audacity to “Tears Getting Sober” that we admire. This may not have been a Eurovision winner, but it shows that Bulgaria is daring to stand out. That always bodes well for a country’s chances to do well.
We’ll have Victoria again next year, and we’ll probably have Borislav working with her again. We’re already excited to hear what they give us next. Maybe next year, they’ll come up with a winner.

Croatia’s Eurovision 2020 Entry

Every year, there are a couple of songs that don’t stay in our brains. We obsessively watch old Song Contests and even then, we’ll come across entries that we completely forgot about. One year, Slovakia sent a song that only registers with us now as the song we always forget was a Eurovision entry. Can’t remember which year it was, though.

You can see where we’re going with this.

Now, Damir Kedžo is one of Croatia’s biggest stars. He’s a chart-topping, award-winning, stream-dominating pop singer. So the negative opinions of two minor Eurovision bloggers probably won’t hurt his feelings one bit. Though maybe he’ll be flattered when we say he’s like a hot version of Lee Ving.

But “Divlji Vjetre” does not resonate with us at all. At first listen, it struck us as a bland, midtempo pop song with a strange key change.

Upon repeated listens, though, we were struck by its interesting structure. Written by Ante Pecotić, “Divlji Vjetre” starts off fairly conventionally, with a lilting verse and a big chorus. But the second verse has a different vocal arrangement than the first. It brings the backing singers to the fore and gives Damir a place to vamp. After that, we get two run-throughs of the chorus. The key change between the two is sort of hidden under a big long note that Damir uses to pull us into the final part of the song. It’s fascinating.

“Divlji Vjetre” may be fun to deconstruct, but we’re still not sold on the song itself. It’s nice, but we’re not sure it’s one we’re going to think about much once we’ve moved onto the next Eurovision season.