Let’s try this again. Russia will participate at the Eurovision Song Contest in Portugal, and they will be represented by Julia Samoylova and “I Won’t Break.”
Julia is a 29-year-old singer who was runner-up on the third season of Faktor A, the Russian version of The X Factor. She lost use of her legs when she was a child, so she will be the second Eurovision participant to perform in a wheelchair. “I Won’t Break” is by Leonid Gutkin, who co-wrote “What If” for Dina Garipova and “A Million Voices” for Polina Gagarina. He co-wrote the song with Netta Nimrodi and Arye Burstein, with whom he teamed up to write Russia’s Eurovision 2017 entry “Flame Is Burning.”
You probably remember what happened next, but if not: Ukraine barred Julia from participating because she had performed in Crimea after Russia annexed it. Russia pulled out of the Song Contest and Ukraine faced a fine for their actions. In the aftermath, Russia promised to send her again in 2018.
From strictly a musical point of view, the songwriters have benefited from having a whole year to come up with a song for Julia. “Flame Is Burning” was one of those songs about peace and love and understanding that we always assume are banged out last minute because Russia forgot they had to enter a song in Eurovision. “I Won’t Break” more directly relates to its singer and stands out as a more cohesive song. It’s pretty good for what it is.
Because “I Won’t Break” feels more biographical, we hope that Russia can stage it so that it tells Julia’s story. One of our big issues with “In the Name of Love,” the song Monika Kuszyńska sang for Poland in 2015, was that the attempt to give her story a more universal message watered her story down for public consumption. The video for “In the Name of Love” did the storytelling that the song and the eventual Eurovision staging lacked.
So we were a bit concerned about official video for “I Won’t Break,” which hides Julia by staying on a close-up of her face for most of the video before revealing her as the peak of a mountain. We get the metaphor that she is a rock, but the video assumes you know her story already.
Fortunately, official videos usually don’t reveal too much about how a song is going to be staged (Sergey Lazarev excepted), so we’re hopeful Julia and her team will figure out a way to make this work in Lisbon.