Highlights from 2021

As part of my efforts to stave off post-Eurovision depression, I’m taking a look back at the three Eurovision shows last week and casting a critical eye on everything I saw. That said, just having a Song Contest was a welcome return to normalcy, so that is the biggest highlight of all.

Seal of Approval

Under Consideration

The Netherlands: Jeangu Macrooy – “Birth of a New Age
Lithuania: The Roop – “Discoteque
Bulgaria: Victoria – “Growing Up Is Getting Old
Czech Republic: Benny Cristo – “omaga
Italy: Måneskin – “Zitti e buoni

My Pick: Italy

Honestly, narrowing this list down to just five songs was difficult. “Technicolour,” “10 Years,” “Adrenalina,” “Je Me Casse,” “Maps,” “Voilà,” and “Russian Woman” all could have made the cut. But I have a definite favorite entry this year.

Eurovision Lemurs Seal of Approval“Zitti e buoni” is a raucous rock classic. It wears its ‘70s glam influences on its sleeves, but re-contextualizes those influences in a way that makes them sound fresh. Måneskin builds the song up well. “Zitti e buoni” starts with Thomas Raggi’s crunchy guitar riff and some subtle percussion from Ethan Torchio. The band gradually adds Victoria De Angelis’s bass line and more percussion before they unleash the song’s potential energy with the chorus. Damiano David spits out rapid fire lyrics in the second verse, propelling the song like a car driving too fast down a highway. There are breaks in the action with Victoria’s bass solo and with Ethan’s brief drum solo, both of which serve to get the crowd screaming and to rebuild the song’s electricity. After that last break, “Zitti e buoni” hurtles to a cathartic conclusion. It’s a well-constructed song that breaks all of the rules of what is a successful Eurovision entry while still being a tight, three minute pop song.

I’ve had “Zitti e buoni” for breakfast pretty much every day since Sanremo ended and I’m going to continue to have it for breakfast knowing that it won Eurovision.

Biggest Misfire

Under Consideration

Romania: Roxen – “Amnesia
Ireland: Lesley Roy – “Maps
Latvia: Samanta Tīna – “The Moon Is Rising
Czech Republic: Benny Cristo – “omaga
Australia: Montaigne – “Technicolour

My Pick: Latvia

It seems particularly mean to name the biggest misfire this year because I don’t think any of these songs are pantheon-worthy. You can’t fault Lesley Roy for her staging ambition and you can’t fault Samanta Tīna and Montaigne for their musical ambitions. You can’t fault Roxen for trying to do a representational staging to illuminate her song’s message. And you can’t fault Benny Cristo for trying to bring a party atmosphere to his joyous post-COVID banger.

I only picked Latvia as my choice because “The Moon Is Rising” finished with the least points out of both Semifinals. It’s a cruel fate for someone who has wanted to perform in Eurovision for so long, and I can’t help but wonder if the staging played some part in that result. Instead of being surrounded by dancers the way she was in her official video, she had backing singers off to the side à la her staging last year’s “Still Breathing.” That changed the energy of the song, leaving poor Samanta flailing when she should have been empowered.

Least Self-Aware

Naw, everyone at the Song Contest this year was pretty self-aware. Plus, everyone, even Hooverphonic, seemed determined to enjoy their experience in Rotterdam. This year’s Eurovision lived up to the idea that it’s Europe’s biggest party, and all the participants seemed to add to that atmosphere.

Campiest Performance

Under Consideration

Germany: Jendrik – “I Don’t Feel Hate
Azerbaijan: Efendi – “Mata Hari
Denmark: Fyr & Flamme – “Øve os på hinanden
Poland: Rafał – “The Ride
Moldova: Natalia Gordienko – “Sugar

My Pick: Germany

Jendrik strummed a bedazzled ukulele while accompanied by a dancer named Sophia who wore a giant hand costume. It may have been deliberately kitschy, but I can’t help but applaud the effort. Plus Sophia stayed in character the entire time. Considering she signed up to be a middle finger but ended up having to be a peace sign for her two weeks in Rotterdam, I admire her commitment to her job.

Biggest Diva Performance

Under Consideration

Israel: Eden Alene – “Set Me Free
Russia: Manizha – “Russian Woman
Malta: Destiny – “Je me casse
Serbia: Hurricane – “Loco Loco
France: Barbara Pravi – “Voilà

My Pick: France

The first line of “Voilà” is “écoutez moi,” and how can you not pay attention when Barbara Pravi sings? Her song is both unapologetically old fashioned and strikingly modern. The staging was beautiful and intense. And through it all Barbara sells it with just the right amount of aggression and pathos. She expresses the emotion of “Voilà” with such abandon that it’s easy to get swept up in her performance. She rightfully captured France’s best result in 30 years.