The 2021 Eurovision That Almost Was

My annual look into the parallel Eurovision universe is a lot easier this year because the alternate timeline doesn’t look that different from the actual one. Only 12 countries held national finals to determine their artist and song, and only three returning performers had a song selection show.

Moreover, Bulgaria’s Victoria didn’t so much have a competition to choose her song as she had a chill rooftop concert in Sofia before casually revealing which song was her Eurovision entry. It was fun and all, but it also meant Bulgaria made an internal selection.

So that leaves just 14 songs for me to play with as I construct 2021’s Eurovision That Almost Was Tweaked Slightly.

Lithuania: Gebrasy – “Where’d You Wanna Go”

“Where’d You Wanna Go” starts off as a really striking song, and Gebrasy sings it with a spellbinding intensity. Then a staccato drum beat kicks in during the second verse, and the spell is broken. For a minute I could lament this one getting lost in the national finals, but I really just want Gebrasy to come back with a tighter song in a year without a Lithuanian national treasure competing.

Russia: #2Mashi – “Bitter Words”

Manizha won Russia’s national final with 39.7% of the televote while #2Mashi snagged 35.7%.  The duo’s “Bitter Words” sounds like a song that would have finished mid-table in the 2006 Song Contest. I really like it, and it has a strange way of seeping into my consciousness at odd moments when I’m editing spreadsheets. But it just doesn’t pop the way “Russian Woman” does.

Sweden: Eric Saade – “Every Minute”

Eric Saade returned to Melodifestivalen with a more mature song musically, but a pretty immature song lyrically. He may not sing high school-level dis songs anymore, but he’s merely graduated to frat-boy lust songs. I didn’t understand his wardrobe choice, either, unless he knows something about the sex appeal of cricket players that isn’t common knowledge on this side of the Atlantic. Still, “Every Minute” did have a really cool staging, featuring Eric dancing with a shadow. That was sweet.

Norway: KEiiNO – “Monument”

There was a lot of excitement in the Eurovision fan community about KEiiNO returning to Melodi Grand Prix this year, and I think most people expected them to romp through to Rotterdam. I wouldn’t have been surprised if they had, but I wasn’t particularly impressed. “Monument” struck me as being a vaguely smug song about their own self-importance. I honestly wish they had held on to “Black Leather” for Eurovision season, if only for the staging possibilities.

Croatia: Nina Kraljić – “Rijeka”

Nina Kraljić represented Croatia at the 2016 Song Contest with “Lighthouse,” and she won! The Barbara Dex award, I mean. She seemed to be gunning for a repeat win with her Dora 2021 outfit. Her song “Rijeka” was a sludgy mess that sloshed together a staid ballad orchestration and melodramatic opera vocals. Nina also somehow found a way to be hammy without changing her facial expressions.

Italy: Francesca Michielin & Fedez – “Chiamami per nome”

Like Nina Kraljić, Francesca Michielin is another 2016 Eurovision Song Contest participant who vied for a return trip this year. She teamed up with rapper Fedez for “Chiamami per nome,” and while the recorded version of the song is strong, the live version never really clicked live. Fedez’ solo vocals featured modulation effects that were a bit too jarring for the tone of the song. That they finished second during a really tight Sanremo festival is impressive, but I also would have been really disappointed if they had won instead of Måneskin or third-place finisher Ermal Meta.

Israel: Eden Alene “La La Love”

“La La Love” is a lot of fun, although I think how you handle the lyric “Love is my disease/I don’t need no medication/I want it to infect my generation” depends on how you’ve maintained your sense of humor during the pandemic. Mine was always a bit morbid, so I loved it.

Estonia: Sissi – “Time”

Sissi is the daughter of Eurovision winner Dave Benton, and she is a star in the making. “Time” is okay: it was hampered by a standard issue gospel-influenced backing vocal and a suffocating audio mix, but it was enhanced by a groovy Procol Harum-esque organ riff and Sissi’s talent. She sings “Time” with skill, joy, and conviction, so I really hope she gets a chance to represent Estonia at Eurovision someday soon.

Albania: Sardi Strugaj – “Kam me t’ba me kajt”

I am trying to figure out the story behind the staging for “Kam me t’ba me kajt” because I don’t think Sardi Strugaj intended it to look like a woman was trapped in a cage being forced to listen to his song. The piercing guitar riff sounded like the voice in the back of my head saying “meh” over and over again.

Portugal: Carolina Deslandes – “Por um Triz”

As fond as I am of The Black Mamba, I was Team Carolina Deslandes all the way during Festival da Canção. “Por um Triz” is a ravishing song and Carolina had such style and grace that I was mesmerized each time I saw her perform.

Finland: Teflon Bros x Pandora – “I Love You”

Teflon Bros x Pandora brought a deliciously trashy, zanily silly masterpiece to UMK. “I Love You” reveled in its simplicity and its campy staging. It’s a dumb song written by clever people and those are always a party and a half.

Denmark: Jean Michel – “Beautiful”

Jean Michel is a likable singer, but his Dansk Melodi Grand Prix entry didn’t do him many favors. The orchestration for “Beautiful” has way too much going on, making it sound very cluttered. The lyrics are very “we can change the world with this simple song.” And the staging suits the song, in that it was as on the nose as one could package a tune with such generic lyrics. It’s all very pleasant, but not particularly interesting.

France: Juliette Moraine – “Pourvu Qu’on M’Aime”

“Pourvu Qu’on M’Aime” is a straightforward and effective chanson number that was beautifully sung by Juliette Moraine. As nice as it is, “Pourvu Qu’on M’Aime” also had a concert staging instead of a performance staging. It’s easy to see why “Voilà” left this in the dust.

Spain: Blas Cantó – Memoria

Oof, the two songs Blas had on offer this year were the equivalent of high school cafeteria lunch options. Do I want the bland Salisbury steak or the undercooked chicken nuggets? At least “Voy a quedarme” is redeemed by its heartbreaking, achingly beautiful official video. “Memoria” is like a ballad that was accidentally arranged as an upbeat pop song. It’s strident and a bit annoying. Yet I still really like Blas’ vocal. He’s so good and these songs are… so not.