Serbia’s Eurovision 2018 Entry

Sanja Ilić i Balkanika have won Beovizija 2018 with the song “Nova deca.”

Sanja Ilić is a Serbian composer and musician with a degree in architecture. He wrote the 1982 Yugoslavian Eurovision entry “Halo Halo” for the group Aska, and he composed the music to the anthem for the Red Star Belgrade soccer team.

Ilić formed Balkanika in 1998 with the goal of using traditional Balkan musical instruments in modern pop music. The band has 11 members, so they had to be strategic in which six musicians made the Beovizija line-up. They wisely included flutist Ljubomir Dimitrijević because he is the Jerry Garcia of Serbian flutists.

We would eat an ice cream named after him.

“Nova deca” is a challenging song. It takes a full minute to really get going, then it meanders from traditional-sounding choral parts to modern Balkan ballad sections. A touch of synthetic dance beats are thrown in for good measure.

We always fear for songs that deviate from a typical song structure. We harken back to something Daniel Gould wrote on Sofabet:

Pop songs tend to follow a pattern that goes like this: intro; first verse; first chorus; second verse; second chorus; middle eight with a change of pace; and final chorus with something a bit extra.

Eurovision winners tend to follow this formula, with only a few small deviations – in 2008, Serbia’s ‘Molitva’ had an instrumental second verse, for example. I would never back a song to do well that deviated significantly from this structure…

To that end, we remember the fate of “Icebreaker,” Norway’s Eurovision 2016 entry. It had an abrupt rhythm change about which singer Agnete admitted, “It seems like either you love it, or you simply strongly dislike it.” Norway finished 13th in the second Semi, behind Ivan and his wolves.

But it’s not so different from the type of Balkan ballad that has often made its way to the Eurovision stage. Ilić and company have just tweaked the form enough to make it interesting. It will be equally interesting to see how the juries and the public respond to it.