Eurovision 2021: A Primer for Saturday Night Viewing

Eurovision is back! After last year’s Song Contest was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Rotterdam was given another chance to host the show this year. It’s already been a dramatic week so it’s hard to contain my excitement about Saturday’s big show!

If you’re an American who is just picking up the Eurovision habit, you may have some questions. And I’m here to answer them!

Who Are the Contenders?

Before rehearsals started on May 9, the betting odds were dominated by France, Malta, and Switzerland. France’s Barbara Pravi is singing “Voilà,” a classic chanson performance highlighted by her natural charisma and intensity.

Malta is represented by Destiny, who won Junior Eurovision in 2015 with the song “Not My Soul.” Her 2021 song “Je Ma Casse” shows her maturation as an artist and her flawless vocal chops.

Switzerland’s Gjon’s Tears brings a soaring, gorgeous voice and so much existentialism to “Tout l’univers” that Albert Camus would be jealous. Add some impressionist dance moves, and you get a striking and unique performance.

Since rehearsals began, however, Italy overtook everyone to become the odds leader. Måneskin are a 1970s glam-style rock band with killer chops and an exquisite fashion sense. How well a straightforward rock song will do at a pop competition remains to be seen, but this year might be Italy’s best chance to finally capture that elusive third Eurovision trophy.

Any Dark Horses?

So many dark horses!

  • Iceland’s Daði and Gagnamagnið bring DIY charm, slick harmonies, and 8-bit graphics to their geeky pop love song “10 Years.”
  • Ukraine’s Go_A is an electronica band heavily influenced by traditional folk songs. “Shum” sounds like nothing else at this year’s Song Contest, and lead singer Kateryna Pavlenko will peer into your soul with more intensity than Tilda Swinton in a one-woman play called Tilda Swinton Peers Into Your Soul.
  • The Roop from Lithuania have a fab dance single called “Discoteque” that’s accentuated by the greatest use of the Vulcan salute since Leonard Nimoy invented it.
  • Elena Tsagrinou is a Greek pop diva representing Cyprus, and she gives a fiery performance of her song “El Diablo.” Even though Cyprus’ Orthodox Church wishes she wouldn’t.
  • Victoria from Bulgaria tackles anxiety, depression, and the pandemic head on with “Growing Up Is Getting Old.” It’s a gorgeous ballad out to pluck on your heartstrings.
  • Senhit has finally figured out something that San Marino has been missing throughout its history of Eurovision participation: send a good song and you’ll get more attention than you would by just reinventing disco yet again. But add a cameo from a famous American rapper just in case.

How Has COVID-19 Affected This Year’s Song Contest?

Because of Australia’s pandemic-related travel restrictions, their representative Montaigne was unable to fly to The Netherlands for the show. She recorded a live-on-tape performance that was shown during Semifinal One, but she unfortunately did not qualify for the Final.

In an even more heartbreaking story, Jóhann Sigurður from Daði Freyr’s band Gagnamagnið tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday, prompting the group to withdraw from performing the rest of the week. Their rehearsal footage was used in Thursday’s Semifinal and will be used in the Final as well.

The reigning champion Duncan Laurence, whose “Arcade” became a worldwide hit this year thanks to TikTok, was meant to open the Grand Final. However, he contracted COVID-19 as well. If Iceland wins, I’m looking forward to Duncan handing over the title to Daði and Gagnamagnið via Zoom.

How Twee Is Germany’s Entry?

So sehr twee.

Will I, an American Who Is New to Eurovision, Recognize Anyone?

American pop hip hop star Flo Rida has teamed up with Senhit on “Adrenalina.” Before this year, famous American performers at Eurovision were interval acts, but Flo Rida is actually competing. Now’s a good time for mainstream America to jump on the San Marino bandwagon!

Meanwhile, Belgium is represented by legendary trip-hop band Hooverphonic, best known for their songs “2wicky” and “Mad About You.”

If you’re an avid YouTube fan, you’re sure to recognize cohost Nikkie “NikkieTutorials” De Jager. She’s the one who famously described her experience of appearing on The Ellen DeGeneres Show as being on “Teletubbies after dark.”

Is Eurovision Finally Getting Diverse?

It’s making progress, although the Song Contest still has a long way to go since the first, and to date, only Black singer won Eurovision twenty years ago. Six countries have been represented by Black performers this year, and five of them will participate on Saturday. Destiny from Malta, Eden Alene from Israel, Tusse from Sweden, and Senhit and Flo Rida from San Marino all qualified out of the Semifinals. Only poor Benny Cristo from Czech Republic did not make it to the Final.

Jeangu Macrooy was given the honor of representing The Netherlands as host nation. Originally from Suriname, Jeangu uses his song “Birth of a New Age” to tackle Dutch colonialism head on. It could easily be about the United Kingdom, Spain, or Portugal, and it could even be about the United States as well. But as depressing and infuriating as the weight of history can be, Jeangu’s song radiates with hope and strength.

There were also two performers of Filipino heritage at this year’s Song Contest. Sadly, neither Montaigne from Australia or Vincent Bueno from Austria made it out of the Semifinals.

Could France’s Entry Be More French?

Mais non.

Has Russia Come to Smash the Patriarchy?

Surprisingly enough, yes! Manizha is a Tajikistan-born pop singer who  campaigns for equal rights for women, refugees, and the L.G.B.T.Q.I.A.+ community in Russia. How on earth she was selected to participate in her country’s national final while Vladimir Putin is still in charge is anyone’s guess. Her performance is more about reforming Russia’s attitudes than it is about Eurovision glory, but she could have her cake and eat it too.

Could It Be… SATAN?

Norway’s song is called “Fallen Angel” and singer Tix performs it while wearing angel wings and surrounded by backing dancers dressed as demons.

Not to be outdone, Cyprus offers up “El Diablo.” While Elena Tsagrinou largely avoids evoking the devil, she does have some underworldly dancers flexing around her. This almost makes you forget that the song lyrics describe sex as putting a tamale into a taco and slathering it in sriracha.

Who Has Brought the Brass?

Malta’s “Je Ma Casse” is arranged as an electro-swing song, which means it is chock full of horn samples. However, the United Kingdom one ups their favorite island vacation destination by not only filling the orchestration for “Embers” with lots of brass instruments, but by having giant trumpets hanging above singer James Newman in the staging.

How Many Times Have You Listened to Måneskin’s “Zitti e buoni”

My conservative estimate is over 100 times. At least once a day since it won Italy’s Sanremo Music Festival, plus I play it in the car a lot while running errands. I really like it.

How Can I Watch Eurovision In the United States?

NBC has picked up the rights to show Eurovision on its Peacock network, which makes sense since they have also picked up the rights for the upcoming American Song Contest. The ultimate battle between American states will debut in 2022, and I suspect the nation will dissolve after Texas wins and the North secedes. While we wait for the end of the American era, enjoy this year’s Eurovision Song Contest at 3pm Eastern/12pm Pacific on Saturday, May 21, 2021.