Slovenia’s Eurovision 2021 Entry

Is it too early to place bets on who is going to win the jury vote?

Ana Soklič was slated to represent Slovenia last year with “Voda,” a gentle, winding ballad that benefited from her powerful voice. This year, she gets her chance to go to Eurovision with a grand, powerful ballad.

Ana co-wrote this song with her “Voda” partner Bojan Simončič and Slovenian composer and arranger Žiga Pirnat, with English lyrics by Eurovision winner Charlie Mason. Bringing in Mason was a smart idea (and I don’t just say that because I think he reads this blog). He has shown a knack for writing lyrics that offer inspiration without flinching from reality. To wit:

  • “You’ll get beaten and bruised/You’ll be scarred into your core/But it’s gonna make you who you are.”
  • “Hey child/The fear will never go away/Might as well accept it now.”
  • “Can the heart that’s broken cry?”

Not your typical syrupy aphorisms.

The arrangement makes full use of the RTV Slovenia Symphony Orchestra. It also takes advantage of the rule this year that allows for pre-recorded vocals to provide Ana a full choir to back her up. My favorite part of “Amen” is the orchestration in the bridge, which has some unexpected, jazzy melodies that help build the song to a cathartic, gospel-laden finish.

At the center of it all is Ana Soklič herself, who imbues her song with grace and power. She hinted at her range on “Voda,” but “Amen” puts it on full display. She is a magnificent singer.

My big concern about “Amen” is not that Vincent Bueno named his song for Austria “Amen.” (In fact, he should be worried about Ana.) It’s that the song is musically and thematically similar to Tamara Todevska’s jury winner “Proud.” I think “Amen” is a better song, but Tamara delivered such an iconic performance at the 2019 Song Contest that I worry that Ana could suffer by comparison.

On the other hand, after all that has transpired since the last competitive Eurovision, maybe “Amen” will feel like a lovely release for a lot of the people watching at home.

Cyprus’s Eurovision 2021 Entry

Poor TIX, a fallen angel longing for someone so far above where angels belong, when Elena Tsagrinou is right there, ready to give herself to El Diablo.

It’s hard for me to listen to “El Diablo” without thinking that Cyprus is trying once again to recapture that “Fuego” magic that propelled them to the upper stratosphere of Eurovision. But it’s like a photocopy of a photocopy, and it doesn’t work for me at all.

My disdain starts with the lyrics, which are peppered with gratuitous Spanish. Little Big satirized the use of Spanish as a generic language of seduction in “Uno” just last year. There’s also a random reference to sriracha, which I suppose you could put on your ta-taco tamale, but it’s not the hot sauce that immediately comes to mind in a ta-taco tamale situation.

Then Elena asks mamacita to tell her what to do. Who is this mamacita? Is she calling her mom mamacita? Don’t call your mom mamacita.

And you’re breaking the rules by giving it up to El Diablo because he told you’re his angel? That’s not a good rule to break. If someone called El Diablo says, “Let’s swap tacos and tamales because you’re my angel,” DO NOT GIVE UP YOUR TACO TO HIM.

It’s a catchy song, though. Elena sings the chorus four times, which helps. It also sounds like a lost Lady Gaga track, which also helps. But it never really goes anywhere. We get it, you gave it up to El Diablo. You keep saying that. Is it a cry for help? Do you and your army of children chanting “I love El Diablo” need help?

I have hope that the staging of “El Diablo” will be spectacular. Leaning into camp will at least accentuate the song’s nonsensical excesses. As it stands right now, though, I think it’s a shambles.

Ireland’s Eurovision 2021 Entry

I sent my heart out to all of the artists after the cancelation of last year’s Eurovision, but no one got a bigger piece of it than Lesley Roy. I learned her personal story through her podcast Pop Kitchen, and the twist of fate that 2020 offered up felt particularly cruel to her. Even though I wasn’t a fan of “Story of My Life,” I really wanted Ireland to do the right thing and pick her again.

Not only am I happy to say that she got her second chance at the Song Contest, I am happy to say she’s coming back stronger.

“Maps” still has the Max Martin-influenced pop-rock style that “Story of My Life” offered up, but it sounds a lot smoother and organic this time out. The arrangement is anthemic and propulsive, accentuating the journey metaphor in the lyrics.

Sometimes the orchestration feels a little too busy, and sometimes it feels a little too cheesy. It often drowns Lesley’s vocal out. The song feels strongest when the production takes a break to let her story be heard.

But overall, “Maps” is a vibrant, joyous song that needs all of that energy to drive it. And the lyric “My soul is a map/My heart is a compass/I am the road” feel both intensely personal and strikingly universal. Making your story feel like it could be anyone else’s without watering it down is difficult, and this year, Lesley has balanced it excellently. I really enjoy this song.

Also, and this is not germane to the Song Contest itself, but the video is pretty fabulous. I want to run around Ireland like that once I get a chance. (I mean, I’m heading to Vienna the first chance I get, but Ireland is near the top of my travel wish list when travel is a thing again.)

Germany’s Eurovision 2021 Entry

One of my favorite Mitch Hedberg jokes is, “I played in a death metal band. People either loved us or they hated us. Or they thought we were OK.”

I mention that because, given the comments I’ve seen about Jendrik’s “I Don’t Feel Hate,” it surprises me that I think that it’s just OK.

Listening to “I Don’t Feel Hate,” I went through a full gamut of emotions from Pollapönk to Aarzemnieki to Twin Twin to Sebalter. Apparently, it takes me back to the 2014 Song Contest. More to the point, I think that it is all over the shop.

The lyrics are funny, poignant, and charming. The arrangement is almost painful in its deliberate quirkiness. The video is silly, colorful, and hilarious. “I Don’t Feel Hate” is catchy and annoying and delightful and manic in one big Pixy Stix dreamland.

Given all that, it’s curious to me that I don’t feel as impassioned about “I Don’t Feel Hate” as everyone else seems to be. I look at the song the way I look at pineapple on pizza: people seem to have such exaggeratedly enflamed opinions on the topic, and I don’t see why.

Not to say that I am a completely placid observer of the Song Contest. I look back at some of the stuff I’ve written on this site and wonder why I was so angry about, say, “Still in Love With You.” Eurovision is just a light entertainment program, and I expressed such irrational outrage over some people who were just trying to put on a fun show.

So I think my response to Jendrik’s song has to do with the fact that I regret writing posts like that and making about half of the snarky remarks  I’ve ever tweeted during a national final. How I approach my fandom is evolving, and my need to give hot takes is fading.

I am also coming out of an era in my home country where outrage on social media over the littlest fucking thing was an endless din across all media. I thought I was numb, but maybe I am just tired of overreaction to shit that doesn’t require it.

The genius of “I Don’t Feel Hate” is that it has an important message wrapped up in a package that is meant to provoke the very reaction it is getting. Jendrik looks prepared to handle that reaction with grace and aplomb.

And even if I think the song is just OK, it did make me think about what I want to accomplish with this blog. So to that end, I have to say that I’m impressed with Germany’s effort this year.

Spain’s Eurovision 2021 Entry

The fear I have about all the artists that are coming back to the Song Contest this year is that they will be saddled with songs that aren’t as good as what they had last year.

Case in point.

I liked Blas Cantó’s 2020 effort “Universo.” I really, really don’t like “Voy a quedarme.” It starts off promisingly enough: gentle piano, Blas singing intimately. The orchestration begins to filter in and starts to swell through the first chorus and…

Then it just gets cheesy. The piano and strings do a stutter step at the 1:12 mark that makes me cringe with dread. Sure enough, the drums kick in and the piano is used more percussively. The strings get more staccato. This is building to something that I don’t want to experience. The drum fill that leads into the second chorus is such a generic pop/rock ballad cliché that I have started to tune out.

Blas brings me back in briefly when he lands the high notes, reminding me that he is a great singer with a gorgeous range. His vocal prowess is the only thing that can keep me engaged.

“Voy a quedarme” sounds like an attempt at writing a Eurovision song, and that just turns me off.

Finland’s Eurovision 2021 Entry

This past weekend, Aksel Kankaanranta became the first 2020 national final winner who was unable to secure the make-up ticket to Rotterdam. It was particularly heartbreaking after seeing how much more at ease he was on stage compared to his previous performance. Given the result, maybe he’d want to follow Blind Channel’s lead and put his middle finger up at the Finnish delegation for having a national final this year.

Blind Channel formed in 2014 and refer to their style of music as “violent pop.” They were originally a five-piece band, but they added DJ Aleksi Kaunisvesi in October 2020 after he helped them polish their demo for “Dark Side.” (He’s a song “betterer,” according to the UMK English commentators.)

“Dark Side” is unapologetically nu metal, which isn’t the most beloved metal genre around. I’ll tell you what, though: it is ridiculously catchy. It helps that Blind Channel lead with the chorus, then repeat it four times. The huhs and the ai-yis act as the fists that cram the hook into your skull. Vocalists Joel Hokka and Niko Vilhelm are so similar in tone that it’s hard to tell them apart. Yet this works to their advantage because their intertwined vocals bolster the song’s anthemic feel.

Even though I like “Dark Side,” I’m having trouble really getting into it. The band mentioned during UMK that they wanted to see the crowd shout “huh” along with them, and for some reason that kind of rubbed me the wrong way. I’m not one of those “death to false metal” types, and I don’t really demand authenticity in my rock music. But “Dark Side” is presenting itself as authentic, and I don’t really buy it.

Still, if they do get an audience of Eurovision fans to flash their middle fingers on cue, I have to admit that would be pretty awesome.

Norway’s Eurovision 2021 Entry

I heaped a lot of scorn onto Norway’s Melodi Grand Prix format last year, so  I was a bit skeptical when they kept the same format for this year. But I have to admit that the 2021 edition of MGP was an absolute blast. I even liked the second chance show, probably because I was the only Eurovision fan who seemed to like Jorn’s “Faith Bloody Faith” and also still uses Skype.

And MGP’s overall result isn’t too shabby either.

Andreas “TIX” Haukeland is a pop star who, before “Fallen Angel,” already had 11 top five hits in the Norwegian singles charts, including the number one hits “Jeg vil ikke leve,””Kaller på deg,” and “Karantene.” He also co-wrote Ava Max’s “Sweet but Psycho” and Flo Rida’s “Game Time.” TIX’s stage name references his Tourette syndrome and he has been open about addressing mental health stigmas.

I’ll start with the demerits. “Fallen Angel” is overproduced to a fault. There are so many overdubs and so many random noises punctuating the song. The arrangement is thick and ornate and over the top. TIX’s stage picture at MGP only underlines that.

But you know what? It bloody works. Underneath all that rococo bling is an charmingly achy love song full of melancholy melodies that flow together beautifully. The lyrics to “Fallen Angel” remind me of ’80s hair metal ballads, yet TIX seems to be able to infuse them with a forlorn sincerity.

I haven’t been talking about staging in my reviews thus far, but knowing that TIX has already filmed his live-on-tape version for Scenario C/D allows me to unzip my lips a bit. As ridiculous as the angel wings are, this is Eurovision and TIX knows it. Go big or go home. The demonic backing dancers provide effective movement and striking imagery that make up for the fact that TIX stands in place the entire time.

Were there better songs at MGP? Sure, although my pick for better songs is probably not the same as yours. But no other entry offered the total package that TIX did, and his tearful reaction to winning showed how much he wanted this. I’m happy he’s a part of the Eurovision family now.

Czech Republic’s Eurovision 2021 Entry

A certain irony emerged in the lyrics to Benny Cristo’s 2020 Eurovision entry “Kemama.” In it, he reassures his mom, “They can say what they want/You should let it go.” Yet, after a negative reaction to to his revamped version, Benny publicly wondered if he had made a mistake. While I didn’t mind him putting his heart on the stove (quoting another “Kemama” lyric), I was also bummed out that he was put into a position to doubt his decision.

Given that, I wondered after last year’s Song Contest was canceled if he would accept a return chance if offered. I was absolutely thrilled when he decided to come back. Especially given how awesome “omaga” turned out.

I suppose it’s inevitable that there are going to be songs that reference the pandemic at this year’s Song Contest. (See also: The Roop.) Benny’s take is pretty delightful, both lyrically and in context of the official video:

  • “Whole world is crazy/Is it crazy to love you?”
  • “You’ve been home too long/I’ve been home too long.”
  • “You said you gained a few pounds/You blame apocalypse/There ain’t no apocalypse”

I also kind of like the lyric “I did a lot of dumb shhhh/Lot of things I wish I didn’t do,” because I kind of see it as a sly reference to his 2020 Eurovision experience.

Musically, “omaga” has layers of percussion driving the arrangement, with brassy samples propelling it forward. It’s very rich and joyful, and it shows off Benny’s style and charm. It may be a bit more slick and commercial than “Kemama,” but it also feels like a natural progression for someone I think could aspire to be an international pop star. I adore this.

Croatia’s Eurovision 2021 Entry

Before I talk about Albina, who won Dora this year, I want to reflect on last year’s winner, Damir Kedžo. National broadcaster HRT decided to keep the national final format and invited him to participate, but he declined the offer. Given the way things went in Lithuania, I wonder if the result would have been different had he made another go.

On the other hand, if he had denied us the opportunity to hear “Tick-Tock” in May, I would have been pretty disappointed.

Albina Grčić finished 3rd in the third season of The Voice Hrvatska. Before that, she competed on X Factor Adria, but dropped out the show when the producers wanted her to be a part of a girl group. She had a Top 20 hit on the Croatian charts last year with “Imuna na strah.”

“Tick-Tock” was written by Branimir Mihaljević, Max Cinnamon, and Tihana Buklijaš Bakić. Tihana is a songwriter and a voice over artist. Branimir competed in 1998’s edition of Dora with “Daj da.” He also cowrote Franka Batelić’s “Crazy” for Eurovision 2018 and Feminem’s “Lako je sve” for Eurovision 2010. And Max competed at Destination Eurovision in 2018 with “Ailleurs.”

I liked “Tick-Tock” almost immediately. It starts off with a gentle, almost meandering intro, which gave me certain expectations as to what was to come. Then that lush, disco-flecked orchestration dropped down to just bass and drum for the chorus. Ooo! It was a twist I wasn’t expecting, and I was hooked.

Upon repeated listens, I started to pick up an interesting structure to the song. What sounds like an initial verse turns out to be merely the intro and what sounds like a pre-chorus or a bridge turns out to be the verse. There is also a swank bridge section that gets reprised at the end.

“Tick-Tock” may be structurally intricate, but it’s not melodically complex, which makes it accessible. It also gives Albina room to move and space to belt as needed. It is a well-constructed performance piece, and I think it is a lot of fun.

Lithuania’s Eurovision 2021 Entry

I was really annoyed that Lithuania didn’t immediately invite The Roop back to Eurovision after last year’s Song Contest was cancelled. Alongside Iceland’s Daði og Gagnamagnið and Russia’s Little Big, The Roop was one of the biggest buzz acts during the 2020 national final season, and I thought that they deserved more than just an automatic place in the Pabandom iš naujo! final.

I guess everyone in Lithuania thought so too, because The Roop absolutely crushed their competition. They received 74,512 televotes, more than six times the votes for the other five acts in the final combined. Oh yes, we all want you to go to Rotterdam!

Singer Vaidotas Valiukevičius, percussionist Robertas Baranauskas, and guitarist Mantas Banišauskas formed The Roop in 2014. They had two Lithuanian top 100 albums and one previous national final appearance to their name when they competed in last year’s Pabandom iš naujo! On Fire” was an immediate hit, topping the Lithuanian singles charts and boosting Lithuania to the top of the betting odds for a spell.

It is very difficult to regenerate that level of hype, but I’ll be darned if they haven’t done their absolute best. They are back at the top of the betting odds as of this writing (albeit without a lot of set competition this early in the season), and it’s easy to see why.

“Discoteque” is ridiculously catchy: I had the chorus in my head all day after my first listen, and I had only listened to it once. I wasn’t mad.

The lyrics “Discoteque” seem to be about both having self-confidence and embracing life in the face of a pandemic that has kept us confined in our homes. What better way to relieve tension than dancing like a lunatic around the living room?

Bringing back dancers Miglė Praniauskaitė & Marijanas Staniulėnas is not only a nice thing to do (from a 2020-was-cancelled perspective), but a stroke of genius. Vaidotas has upped the ante on his dance moves, and Miglė and Marijanas help carry the live performance even further.

Is it all basically the same thing The Roop did last year? Sure, to a certain extent. It will probably be new to a lot of people who only tune into Eurovision once a year, but it may bore folks who remember last year’s entry. I think it is fresh enough that any similarities to their previous effort aren’t detrimental, though.

What I like the most about “Discoteque” is that Vaidotas is dancing along that fine line between not taking himself too seriously and taking himself way too seriously without ever falling. He is loose-limbed, personable, and entertaining, and his whole performance is like a little wink to everyone. The message is clear: fun is serious business. I’m a big fan of that.