What does it say about me that two of my favorite Eurovision songs are two of the bleakest ones to ever appear in the Song Contest?
“Birds” and “Blackbird” are similar in that they both capture the heartbreak at the end of a relationship and they both are lushly orchestrated. But while “Birds” is more extroverted and melodramatic, “Blackbird” is more introverted and sullen. It is all painful longing.
Even though “Blackbird” makes “Gloomy Sunday” sound like a Vengaboys romp, I was still shocked when it didn’t qualify for the Grand Final 2017. I am usually good at whipping up possible explanations for why a certain song did not qualify out of a Semifinal. The singer wasn’t strong enough, the song wasn’t strong enough, the staging disaster was a disaster, and so forth. To this day, the only guess I have as to why Norma Jean’s “Blackbird” didn’t qualify is that it was just way too sad.
Despite that, I find a lot to adore about it. The arrangement is sumptuous and ambient. The synthesizer melodies lend an ethereal quality, yet also provide a solid ground to build upon. Lasse Pirrainen’s arpeggiated piano solo feels like icy rain on the face, and the swelling strings at the end of his solo feel like the chill you get when you walk inside soaking wet.
Leena Tirronen’s vocal gives me goosebumps every time I hear “Blackbird.” Her vocal tone is as smooth as the orchestrations. She imbues her song with a lingering ache, yet she is also able to make it soar. It’s emotional while still feeling restrained, which just adds to the feeling of sorrow.
One of the things that draws me to particular songs is the feeling of catharsis that I get when I listen to them. Even though “Blackbird” is lyrically downbeat, it envelopes me like a hug at the end of a rough day. Sometimes I can relate to the emotions being expressed, and when the song is over, I feel a sense of relief that I worked through those emotions. And sometimes I just want to hear an exquisite, lilting song and feel it tug on my heartstrings. Norma John’s song gives me that experience time and again.