Croatia’s Eurovision 2020 Entry

Every year, there are a couple of songs that don’t stay in our brains. We obsessively watch old Song Contests and even then, we’ll come across entries that we completely forgot about. One year, Slovakia sent a song that only registers with us now as the song we always forget was a Eurovision entry. Can’t remember which year it was, though.

You can see where we’re going with this.

Now, Damir Kedžo is one of Croatia’s biggest stars. He’s a chart-topping, award-winning, stream-dominating pop singer. So the negative opinions of two minor Eurovision bloggers probably won’t hurt his feelings one bit. Though maybe he’ll be flattered when we say he’s like a hot version of Lee Ving.

But “Divlji Vjetre” does not resonate with us at all. At first listen, it struck us as a bland, midtempo pop song with a strange key change.

Upon repeated listens, though, we were struck by its interesting structure. Written by Ante Pecotić, “Divlji Vjetre” starts off fairly conventionally, with a lilting verse and a big chorus. But the second verse has a different vocal arrangement than the first. It brings the backing singers to the fore and gives Damir a place to vamp. After that, we get two run-throughs of the chorus. The key change between the two is sort of hidden under a big long note that Damir uses to pull us into the final part of the song. It’s fascinating.

“Divlji Vjetre” may be fun to deconstruct, but we’re still not sold on the song itself. It’s nice, but we’re not sure it’s one we’re going to think about much once we’ve moved onto the next Eurovision season.

North Macedonia’s Eurovision 2020 Entry

We have been accused in the past of being Eurovision snobs that have no appreciation of camp and of being Eurovision scows that only care about the trashier side of the Song Contest. We aren’t ashamed to be either of those things because Eurovision wouldn’t be the same if one was missing in favor of the other.

But sometimes our Song Contest duality means that we don’t give certain songs a fair shake because we wanted something else from the artist. They are just doing what they think will work in their repertoire and in the context of a music competition. And here we are judging them using a very arbitrary reason.

Which brings us to Vasil and “You.”

Vasil Garvanliev is a classically trained singer who was a soloist in the Chicago Children’s Choir when he was 12. He studied in the University of Toronto Opera School and the Royal Conservatory of Music Glenn Gould and has performed in operas around the world. But he also has a pop background, starting his performance career when he was seven. He was one of the backing singers for Tamara Todevska at last year’s Eurovision Song Contest, where she totally won the jury vote.

So we’ve got a singer here who can work in both pop and classical vocal styles. When we learned this, we had it in our heads that Vasil was going to be Jacques Houdek 2.0. We wanted that so bad.

Now, this is not a sensible expectation to have. Vasil, wisely, chose to work in his pop voice. Obviously, he was going to do that. Which makes us ask if our disappointment in “You” lies in the intrinsic quality of the song or our unrealistic idea of what it should be.

The answer probably lies in the middle. “You” is an odd song for Eurovision. It’s tango-flecked electronic dance pop that sounds intimate and sensual. Vasil’s vocal is restrained and measured, giving us glimpses of his range without going over the top. We think it would have struggled to qualify for the Grand Final because, well, it’s just not flashy enough. North Macedonia didn’t need to go the full “My Friend,” but we still wish they had been a little less subtle. Maybe that’s an unfair expectation, but there is something to be said for standing out.

Israel’s Eurovision 2020 Entry

We have been following news of which artists have agreed to come back to Eurovision next year after this year’s cancellation. We figure all of the internal selections will be asked to go again, but we feel for artists who qualified through national finals. Countries like Sweden, Estonia, and Denmark have their big selection shows, and the best this year’s winners can hope for is a chance to do it all over again next year.

So when Israel announced Eden Alene was coming back in 2021, we were relieved. HaKokhav HaBa is fun and all, but we really wanted Eden to have her chance.

Eden Alene is the Jerusalem-born daughter of Ethiopian immigrants. She won X Factor Israel in 2018. Her song “Feker Libi” was written by Doron Medalie and Idan Raichel. Doran wrote “Golden Boy,” “Made of Stars,” and the 2018 Eurovision winner “Toy.” Idan is a musician known for infusing electronica with Arabic, Ethiopian, Hebrew, and Amharic influences and lyrics.

“Feker Libi” is fun and energetic, but we didn’t get too excited about it. It comes down to the orchestration, which we found a bit hokey. We wanted something a bit edgier musically, and the music felt a bit too sunny.

Vocally, Eden has a lot to sink her teeth into and as good as she sounded, her artistic voice got lost in the staging. She seemed like she was still getting comfortable with the choreography during her HaKokhav HaBa performance, which muted her charisma a bit.

Looking ahead to next year, we hope Israel teams Eden up with the same songwriting team. Doran and Idan have a lot of potential together that we don’t think they fully tapped here. We want them to get a second chance to give us something special.

Finland’s Eurovision 2020 Entry

Finland had four female solo and group artists competing at this year’s UMK and one male artist. When we saw the line-up we said, “Watch, the one guy is going to win.”

Damned patriarchy.

Aksel Kankaanranta was runner-up on The Voice of Finland in 2017, then guested on Pyhimys’ “Jättiläinen,” which was the most streamed Finnish song on Spotify in 2018. His song “Looking Back” is by the American pop band Before You Exit, Finnish songwriter Joonas Angeria, and American songwriter Whitney Phillips.

“Looking Back” is a pretty song, and particularly poignant these days. Aksel has a lovely voice, if a bit reedy, and his vocal performance is good. However, he spent a lot of time at UMK with his eyes closed and his hands wrapped around the mic stand, which didn’t help make “Looking Back” soar like it should. He mentions in his official bio that he is overcoming shyness by putting himself out there as an artist, so knowing that explains his performance. But he needed to open himself up a bit more for his song to really resonate.

That said, the visual staging at UMK did a lot to overcome his reserved stage presence. It was a touching animation that illustrated the song’s themes, and we thought it was affective. “Looking Back” may not have been the most spectacular entry on offer to Finland, but we thought it held together nicely.

Malta’s Eurovision 2020 Entry

Destiny, she gets all my love.

Symphonix International, they get all my love.

Ira Losco and X Factor Malta, they get all my love.

(Is House of Pain’s “All My Love” too obscure a reference for a Eurovision blog?)

Destiny Chukunyere won the 2015 Junior Eurovision Song Contest for Malta and earned her spot at this year’s Grand Prix by winning X Factor Malta. She was also a backup singer for Michela Pace at last year’s Song Contest. Her song “All of My Love” is by the Symphonix International team, including 2018’s actual winner of the actual jury vote Cesár Sampson.

Destiny’s seemed destined to fulfill her destiny to be Malta’s Eurovision representative, even though she had to jump through the hoops of X Factor Malta to get there. So the cancelation of this year’s Song Contest seems particularly cruel to her.

On the other hand, we’re not big fans of “All of My Love.” There are certain melodies and rhythms that Symphonix hit on regularly, and we wish we knew more more about music theory and structure to properly put our fingers on what those tropes are. All we can say is that “All of My Love” feels like a run of the mill Symphonix song.

Mind you, we’d normally take a run of the mill Symphonix song over a run of the mill G:Son or Siegel song. But we really wanted to hear something special for Destiny and this wasn’t it. So maybe the silver lining is that she can come back with a stronger entry. A lot of countries have already announced that their representative this year will be their representative next year, even some countries that held a national final to pick their artist. Let’s hope Malta gets on that bandwagon.

Serbia’s Eurovision 2020 Entry

Ready for a good ol’ foot-stomping banger?

Sanja Vucic, Ksenija Knezevic, and Ivana Nikolić formed Hurricane in 2017. Two of the members have participated in Eurovision before. Ksenija was backing singer for her father Knez when he represented Montenegro in 2015, while Sanja represented Serbia in 2016. Sanja co-wrote “Hasta La Vista” with Nemanja Antonić and Kosana Stojić.

“Hasta La Vista” is a blast, but there is also something dated about it. It reminds us of the the type of song that was prevalent when we first started watching Eurovision in 2006. We also thought the vocals on the verses were a bit thin. The vocal arrangement isolates the singers when the song could use some more richness.

Once Hurricane gets to the chorus, though, it’s easy to get hooked. We always take it as a hallmark of a catchy song that we only need to hear it once and then remember the chorus just by looking at the title. “Hasta La Vista” is a bit of an earworm, which is why we kinda wish those verses were a little tighter. It could have been that much more fun.

Cyprus’ Eurovision 2020 Entry

One of the things that we have been deprived of by the cancellation of this year’s Eurovision Song Contest is the delight (or horror) of discovering how countries would have staged their entries. We mention this now because we have absolutely now idea how Cyprus would have pulled this one off.

Sandro (a.k.a. Alessandro Ruetten) was born in Germany to Greek and American parents. He competed on the eighth season of The Voice of Germany and finished sixth while representing the United States at Russia’s New Wave Festival in 2019. He cowrote “Running” with The Voice Australia winner Alfie Arcuri, German singer-songwriter Octavian Rasinariu, German songwriter and producer Sebastian Metzner Rickards, and someone named Teo DK (not to be confused with Teo BY).

“Running” has an ambient quality that reminds us of downtempo artists like Ulrich Schnauss. It’s kind of an odd choice for a Eurovision song, because it doesn’t strike us as a performance song. It’s a mood piece with a decent hook for a chorus, which is not something that pops on a big stage.

Even though “Running” didn’t leave much of an impression on us at first, it has grown us considerably. One of our favorite songs from 2019 was Alphabeat’s “Shadows.” Here, Sandro offers up a more internalized companion piece. The lyrics are (to us, anyway) about hiding from the world when you’re filled with self-doubt. For those of us who struggle with anxiety, it’s quite an anthem. Maybe it’s a bit too introverted to be a Eurovision song, but it resonates anyway. A dose of “Running,” a dose of “Shadows,” and we won’t be afraid to move on.

Portugal’s Eurovision 2020 Entry

Sometimes we just want to hear a song to help us relax.

Elisa Silva is a singer from Madeira who tried out for Ídolos in 2015. She studies music at Escola Superior de Música in Lisbon. Her song “Medo de sentir” was written by Marta Carvalho, a finalist on the 2016 edition of The Voice Portugal who has since had success as a songwriting while continuing her career has a singer. She joined Elisa on stage as pianist and backing vocalist during Festival da Canção.

“Medo de sentir” finished second with the public and second with the jury at Festival da Canção. However, the song that won the jury vote was spiked by the public and vice versa, which gave Elisa the win. Keiino and Tamara Todevska can speak a little bit about what it’s like to have that happen.

We liked “Medo de sentir” well enough when we first heard it in the Festival semifinals, and liked it about the same when we heard it again the final. It’s not a remarkable, “Oh yes, crank it up” song, but it’s pleasant, like a more commercial take on “O Jardim.”

It doesn’t land a deep impact on us, though. We think that’s because there is no build to a grand finale: the bridge makes it seem like Elisa is going to go big, but instead she returns to the song’s meditative pace to bring it to a gentle close. Gentle is nice, but it isn’t necessarily memorable.

Still, if you are in the mood for a contemplative song about the difficulties of learning to love again after your heart has been broken, “Medo de sentir” is a fine way to squeeze out your tears.

The Eurovision Song Contest 2020 That Almost Was

The European Broadcasting Union has announced that because of concerns about the efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19, this year’s Eurovision Song Contest has been cancelled. It’s the cherry-shaped poop pellet on top of the crap cake that is 2020.

We’re going to keep writing our song reviews, though, for three reasons:

  1. These songs still exist as their respective countries’ national selections.
  2. We still have strong opinions about almost all of them.
  3. One of the ways we can ease stress during a time of uncertainty is to do things that we love, and we love to write about Eurovision.

We’re not going to speculate on what happens next, although we assume Rotterdam will be given the chance to host again next year if they want to. We just hope that each and every one of you stay safe and stay healthy.

San Marino’s and Azerbaijan’s Eurovision 2020 Entries

Every year, we write a couple of posts called The Eurovision That Almost Was. It’s our chance to revisit songs that finished second at national finals, singers who were runners-up on talent shows, and entries that for one reason or another never graced the stage at the Grand Prix.

Usually, we wait until after the Final to write up those posts to give us something to do over the summer. But this year, we have an opportunity to talk about what might have been in conjunction with what actually happened.

No, we’re not talking about a potential cancellation of the entire Contest due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We’re just talking about this year’s San Marino entry, “Freaky!”

Senhit returns to the Song Contest nine years after she first represented San Marino without that letter H in her name. Since then, San Marino has made disco its national brand. Thus, when Senhit had her flash national final to decide which song she would bring to Rotterdam, it seemed inevitable that “Freaky!” was going edge “Obssessed.”

We thought “Freaky!” was the better song anyway. Senhit delivers a lot of sass and sexiness to the recorded track, which makes fun. The trouble is, as is often the case with San Marino, the song is more dated than retro. Their hopes rely heavily on Senhit’s personality shining through.

However, many hardcore national final followers felt that they were deprived of a third choice. Senhit had recorded another track called “Cleopatra” and the general feeling was that it was so much better than “Freaky!” or “Obsessed.”

Cut to Azerbaijan, who were searching for a song for their internal selection Efendi. “Cleopatra” suited her to a T. Thus, Senhit’s pass was Efendi’s gain.

Efendi embodies “Cleopatra” so much that it’s hard to believe it wasn’t written just for her. The way she rolls her Rs when she sings “Like Cleopatrrrrra” is instantly iconic and even makes you forget the silly “Nam Myōhō Renge Kyō” bit that leads into the chorus. (We didn’t know Cleopatra was Buddhist.) Sure, this is just a revamped version of Katy Perry’s “Dark Horse,” but it bloody works.

So what was Senhit thinking by passing on it? Take a listen to her version of “Cleopatra” and you will understand. She interprets the lyrics fairly literally and her vocal lacks the playfulness she brings to “Freaky!” Efendi’s take has way more attitude. She brings a lot of cheek to “Cleopatra,” which plays into its goofier moments while still making it compelling.

Also, Senhit’s arrangement for the song has a random Latin-influenced breakdown in the middle. It’s probably inspired by the lyric “Egyptian and Latin, the voices run through me,” but it sounds out of place. Efendi’s arrangement has a more sparse and faintly Middle Eastern breakdown that’s more in step with the overall inspiration for the song.

It’s all about what works for each performer. Efendi nails the tone of “Cleopatra.” Senhit nails the tone of “Freaky!” Ultimately, we think both San Marino and Azerbaijan made the right choices for this year’s Song Contest.