As always, the Eurovision Lemurs kicked off the holiday season with Festivali i Këngës. The 58th edition was a compelling event in part due to Albania’s continued recovery from the deadly earthquake on November 26. A touching dance routine during the Festivali final paid tribute to the earthquake’s victims.
Even if the mood in Albania is somber, the 2019 final was one of the more entertaining Festivalis we’ve watched. The 12 songs on offer were generally quite good, and guest performances by “Fuego” sensation Eleni Foureira and Italian pop star Giusy Ferreri kept the show moving.
At the end of the night, the jury (which included Sweden head of delegation and Song Contest producer Christer Björkman and Eurovision songwriting mainstay Dimitris Kontopoulos) gave Arilena Ara’s “Shaj” the win.
Arilena Ara won the second edition of Albania’s X Factor and followed up that win with the hit single “Aeroplan.” This was the start of her professional relationship with songwriter Darko Dimitrov, who has co-written a number of her other songs, including “Shaj.” Dimitrov also co-wrote last year’s actual winner of the actual jury vote, “Proud.”
As it stands right now, “Shaj” is a gripping ballad that earned the enthusiastic crowd response that it received. It’s full of haunting melodies that Ara can sell for all they are worth and has enough theatricality that it should practically stage itself.
My only problem with the song is that I have trouble sleeping when it gets stuck in my head. It’s not an insult to describe a song that is trying to win a music competition as an earworm. But I am concerned for my own sanity if “Shaj” is echoing around my brain from now until the next Eurovision entry is unveiled.
Georgia has always been one of our favorite Eurovision participants, and our fascination with them started from day one.
They made an audacious debut at the Eurovision Song Contest with Sopho Khalvashi’s “Visionary Dream.” Their entry acted as a three-minute introduction, but in hindsight, it can also be seen as a kind of mission statement. Georgia always seems to do things a bit differently at Eurovision and they laid the marker down from the very start.
“Visionary Dream” kicks off with the sounds of acoustic instruments for some neo-traditional folk flair. When Sopho starts to sing, an undercurrent of strings adds a touch of the classical era. At the bridge, the soaring vocal and the cascading strings build up tension.
But the release of that tension comes from an unexpected place: rubbery synthesized notes that abruptly drag the song away from its folk styling and into modern electronic pop music. The music bed under the chorus is crunchy and a bit dissonant, yet it accentuates the song’s central conceit: “Sailing through my story/Sharing my history.”
The rest of the song bounces around the traditional and the modern, a wild stew of musical notes that somehow still sound cohesive. It shouldn’t work, but it does.
Well, at least on the recorded track. Much to our dismay, but not our surprise, the live presentation ended up being a bit of an audible mess. While Sopho has the pipes to carry “Visionary Dream,” she ended up shouting more than singing. Maybe the adrenaline generated by both the song and the occasion took its toll on her performance.
Still, “Visionary Dream” did generate one of our favorite staging moments ever at Eurovision. When Sopho sings, “Clouds containing lakes/And in the haze of morning light/I feel embraced,” the camera pans back to reveal LED animation of faces blending together. It still gives us the chills over a decade later.
This was Georgia introducing itself to Europe, and we think they did a great job doing so. As for Sopho, she went on to become deputy mayor of her hometown of Batumi. Keep sharing that history!
For some reason, Ukraine has been on our minds a lot lately. Not really sure why.
But that’s okay, because Ukraine has always been one of our favorite Eurovision forces. Their songs are usually good fun or at least interesting. Their performances tend to be overstaged in an entertaining way. And failing all that, they can be counted on to bring way too much drama to their national selection process. And sometimes to other countries’ national selection processes.
All of which brings us to Ani Lorak. She was widely expected to win Ukraine’s national final in 2005 with “A Little Shot of Love.” But after weeks of semifinals, broadcaster NTU threw four wild card songs into the final at the last minute. Among the new entries was GreenJolly’s “Razom nas bahato, nas ne podolaty,” which had served as the unofficial anthem of the Orange Revolution. GreenJolly won, leaving Ani second in the table.
It may have hurt at the time, but let’s be honest, we don’t want to live in an alternate history where “A Little Shot of Love” went to Eurovision and “Shady Lady” didn’t.
What is it about “Shady Lady” that still delights us over a decade later? Let’s start with the orchestration. “Shady Lady” is propelled by synthesized strings that build and release tension throughout the song. It evokes lush disco-era orchestrations without sounding dated or pastiche.
To be sure, the verse foregoes the orchestral filigree for a bass-heavy grinding rhythm punctuated by beeps that Lorak and her back-up dancers used to full effect at the Song Contest.
But it’s really all about the strings for us. Our favorite moment in “Shady Lady” comes when the beat drops after the bridge and Lorak sings “Shady. Lady. Are you. Ready.” Those strings zoom back in to kick the song back into full gear. That still makes us tingly.
Lorak fully embodies and inhabits the lyrics. Even though she didn’t write them (Eurovision stalwart Karen Kavaleryan did), she makes them her own. “Baby, don’t call me baby” is one of our favorite Eurovision lyrics.
“Shady Lady” finished second at the 2008 Song Contest, behind Dima Bilan’s “Believe.” We have frequently said on this blog that it’s the best song that never won Eurovision. Even though we’ll posit from time to time that another song has replaced it, we always seem to come back to our original position.
(Though we are ready to say “Soldi” has claimed that title at last. Don’t tell Ani.)
We recently had the honor to be a part of ESC Insight’s excellent Eurovision Castaway series! Join us and Ellie Chalkley as we offer eight songs that we want to take with us onto Île de Bezençon and Ellie grills us to defend our choices. Did you know we have more to say about Donny Montell? WE DO and you can hear it here.
So far in this series, we have celebrated an Italian song and a song with a great bassline. Today we celebrate an Italian song with a great bassline. What can we say: we have a type.
Actually, we’re generally not gushing fans of Italy’s Eurovision output. It just so happens that two of our absolute favorites are Italian. But enough with random defensiveness. Let’s blast this banger!
“Soldi” grabbed a hold on our ears pretty much from the first time we heard it at Sanremo and it wouldn’t let go. It stood out to us because it just sounded different than a lot of the other songs vying for the crown.
To be sure, Mahmood’s vocal melody isn’t that unique compared to the other male vocals on offer at Sanremo. “Soldi” was one of many songs that featured variations the sing-songy, densely packed verses that we associate with Italian pop.
What set it apart was its immediacy. “Soldi” is driven by a recurring mandolin riff and by vocal punctuation that accents the main melody. It also derives its punch from Mahmood’s performance. He sings his autobiographical lyrics with both an air of defiance and a sigh of resignation that draws us in.
He then builds and builds the bridge both lyrically and orchestrally and we brace ourselves for some sort of big release of tension. But instead of resolving, “Soldi” just DROPS into the chorus. There is unresolved emotion in the lyrics and the chorus’ orchestration captures it. The simple, but rich bassline further emphasizes that feeling. This is how Mahmood tells his story to a general audience without speaking their respective languages.
Mahmood brought a smoldering intensity to his performance at Eurovision. Yet one of our favorite moments of the entire Song Contest in 2019 is the beaming smile he breaks into when he’s done. We felt the same way then and feel the same way now.
While it took us until 2017 to devise the Eurovision Lemurs Seal of Approval, we really came up with the spirit of idea in 2016. That was the year Bulgaria returned to the Eurovision Song Contest after a couple of years off with a new game plan: send awesome songs.
That may sound like an obvious plan, but it’s a unique formula that some former Song Contest forces struggle to adhere to these days.
“If Love Was a Crime” was a song that was immediately awesome. It hooked us right from the start with its brief introductory interlude that used a haunting electronically-generated voice to grab our attention. It then kicks off properly with a finger snap-laden beat that propels Poli’s vocal over the piano’s melody.
Then that bassline kicks in. Oh, yes, very nice! It’s rich and pulsating, and it is the roaring engine that drives “If Love Was a Crime” along. When we’ve got this cranked, the bassline still has the power to give us chills.
Although the bridge is not much to write home about, it is at least orchestrated in a way to build anticipation for the chorus. You can hear rising synthetic strings right before Poli sings, “They will never break us down,” and you are primed for that chorus to explode.
The switch to Bulgarian is seamless and the lyrics (translated as “oh, give me love”) serves to emphasize the message of the English lyrics. The ornate vocal tracks of the chorus give “If Love Was a Crime” its anthemic quality.
If we were to quibble, it would be in regards to how it was staged at the 2016 Song Contest. Poli’s costume was ridiculous and while the choreography was cute, the Bulgarian delegation could have her backing singers come out earlier to do it along with her. We felt like saving the singers for the last 30 seconds blunted the song’s impact.
Of course, we are talking about a song that finished fourth at the Grand Prix final, so are we to quibble?
Not enough people celebrate the 13th anniversary of anything. It’s the lace anniversary, you know.
Tempted though we are to dress our site up in frilly lingerie, we are going to mark our website’s 13th anniversary with a series introducing you to the songs that we have awarded the Eurovision Lemurs Seal of Approval. It’s our chance to finally revamp our old Legitimately Good Songs page and to figure out what it is about our favorite Eurovision songs that tickle our aortas the way they do.
Our main criteria for stamping a song with our Seal of Approval is that it has to be one that the entire Lemurs household agrees is awesome. We realize that we’re giving veto power to an 11-year-old, but these are the hazards when you raise a kid on Eurovision.
First up, let’s talk about the song that sparked this whole idea in the first place: Francesco Gabbani’s “Occidentali’s Karma.”
We were three of the many Eurovision fans who latched onto “Occidentali’s Karma” after its first performance at Sanremo 2017. Initial attention was of course paid to the dancer in the gorilla suit. But underlying the silly stage picture and the accompanying goofy dance was a song satirizing both the need for humans to feel like we have a higher purpose and our tendency to appropriate other cultures to feel like we have achieved that purpose.
Despite the seemingly cynical subject matter, “Occidentali’s Karma” radiates joy. It may be poking fun at an annoying side of human nature, but it does so with a playful elbow to the ribs and a pat on the back. The staccato plunking at the start sets the tone for the subject matter, but the effervescent chorus gives “Occidentali’s Karma” a grand scope and a ridiculously catchy hook.
Although it was the odds leader almost as soon as Francesco won Sanremo, it ultimately finished six at Eurovision. Why did it falter? Well, there is no better case for bringing back the live orchestra than “Occidentali’s Karma.” Compare the Eurovision performance with the Sanremo performance. They aren’t that different from each other. But having the Sanremo orchestra interact with the song brought an additional level of energy and playfulness for Francesco to feast upon. Even though the hot crowd in Kyiv gave him a big “alé” on cue, Francesco spent most of his time at the Song Contest trying to generate his own energy. This led to a more frenetic, less confident performance.
Fortunately, we don’t have to rely on the Grand Prix performance (or even the awkward edited version on the official Eurovision album) to achieve maximum enjoyment. We bought the single the second it became available, and we still listen to it on a regular basis.
Let’s face it: summertime may be nice for a lot of reasons, but it is the utter doldrums for Eurovision fans. Sure, you can wait with bated breath over the next twist in the search for a host city. Or, if you’re lucky, the EBU will announce which U.S. broadcaster has snatched up the American rights to the Song Contest in the latest vain attempt to make Eurovision a mainstream thing in the States. Otherwise, all we can do is compile wishlists of acts that we would love to see at Eurovision and endlessly replay performances from the most recent year gone by.
That’s why we have rummaged through our notes and revisited the songs from the national finals that we highlighted with enthusiastic asterisks. Do the songs that struck us as hidden gems in March still shine brightly in the July sun? Or were they just fool’s gold that only glittered in a national final that was covered in the mud of mediocrity?
As it turns out, we’ve already covered a few of our favorite songs elsewhere on the site, so we’ll just link to our original posts:
“2000 and Whatever” is our absolute favorite song this year, but running second is Silvàn Areg’s “Allez Leur Dire.” He and co-writer Doutson originally called their song “Le Petit Nicolas” after the children’s book series, but the copyright owners of the books didn’t appreciate the shout-out. Between the Destination Eurovision semifinal and final, Silvàn changed the song title to “Allez Leur Dire.” But he kept the delightful, and delightfully low-tech, staging inspired by the books. The result is probably the most unapologetically French song you will hear this year.
Swedish singer Mohombi had a platinum hit in Europe with his 2010 single “Bumpy Ride.” He entered Melodifestivalen this year with the charming pop confection “Hello.” The song and the staging weren’t particularly ground-breaking, but the total package was a lot of fun. “Hello” will likely be one of those songs that randomly pops up in our heads years from now.
The first thing we noticed when Leea Nanos began her performance at Australia Decides was that she was an inexperienced stage performer. That was to be expected as she is just sixteen. But the next thing we noticed was that her song “Set Me Free” was really good. Give her some more time in front of a big live audience and show her how to smize and she could be great.
We admit that we didn’t expect much of Ivan Kurtić when he hit the stage at Beovizija 2019. He may look like a bouncer at a Belgrade river club, but he is a heckuva singer. “Bela” reminded us of our favorite Željko Joksimović ballads, and it had a bouncy, vibrant orchestration that gave Ivan room to maneuver.
We’re big fans of k.d. lang, so that may be why Fed Horses caught our attention at EMA 2019. “Ti Ne Poznaš Konjev” sounds like something out of k.d.’s back catalog, if she ever did an album where side two was entirely in Slovenian. It operates in the same space as this year’s Latvian entry “That Night,” but Fed Horses gives their song a grandness and a sense of scope that Carousel’s song lacked.
Is it cliché for a Eurovision blog to include two Swedish songs in its list of faves? Yes, it is, but we don’t mind being clichéd. The Lovers of Valdaro did not made it out of their Melodifestivalen heat, probably because our household seems to be the primary market for their song “Somebody Wants.” It has a lot of stuff we love: mid-era Pet Shop Boys orchestration, neo-disco flair, and rich, thumping bass lines. It’s far from perfect, we’ll forgive it because they wrote it just for us.
It has been a good year for those of us who collect WTFery from the national finals. We had a tingly feeling about 2019 the moment we heard that the United Kingdom’s 2006 representative Daz Sampson had teamed up with a singer named Nona to enter the Belarus pre-selection with a song called “Kinky Boots.”
Lest we were worried about peaking too soon, Lithuania topped “Kinky Boots” and then some with Banzzzai’s ultimate masterpiece of self-aware obliviousness, “I Don’t Care.” The love child of Psy and Anri Jokhadze, Banzzzai heard that old inspirational quote, “Dance like no one is watching,” and added ninjas to it. Plus he had a flashing neon milkshake and he scatted. It was fabulous.
France gave us Battista Acquaviva’s “Passio.” Imagine if Enigma wrote “La Forza” and you have a sense of how “Passio” sounded. That couldn’t prepare you for the live performance. Battista’s vocal was wispy and thin and her stage presence was stiffer than the main characters at the end of Reservoir Dogs. She was joined by shirtless guys doing calisthenics, which seemed gratuitous. We appreciated the eye candy anyway. France 2 has inexplicably pulled all of the Destination Eurovision videos off of YouTube, so we’re not entirely sure we didn’t dream this.
Updated 7/3/2019: Eric Graf has helpfully linked to a video of “Passio” in the comments, confirming that was no dream!
Heading up to Denmark, Teit Samsø’s “Step It Up” would have been uncomfortably sleazy in the best of circumstances. But Teit’s oily performance gave us the effect of a drunk uncle hitting on his niece while chaperoning her to her junior prom.
We whined all this year about how Eesti Laul had lost its spark, but that doesn’t mean the Estonia national final was completely devoid of colorful weirdness. Kaia Tamm’s entry “Wo sind die katzen?” was probably the best song ever about how Alice In Wonderland is a metaphor for Schrödinger’s cat and vice versa.
And Eurovision Lemurs favorite Jaan Pehk returned to Eesti Laul with Cätlin Mägi to perform “Parmumäng.” The staging featured Jaan’s head transposed onto a rack of mouth harps. This is only slightly less odd than it sounds, and the song sounded awesome live. Keep coming back, Jaan!
Speaking of songs that were brilliant and bizarre at the same time, let’s end in Latvia. Is there a more joyful expression of feeling like an outcast than Dzili Violets and Kozmens’ goofy and relentlessly catchy “Tautasdziesma?” The staging only really makes sense if you’ve seen the official video. Then again, making sense wasn’t really a part of the plan. Kozmens, the guy with the kilt and the spectacular mustache, is the man behind WTF mainstay Riga Beaver. “Tautasdziesma” is a worthy addition to his already notable Supernova legacy.
You would think that our review of the Semifinal Two that might have been would have been easy given that eight of the countries listed here went for internal selections. But spend some time contemplating “Tower of Babylon” and you may understand the enormity of the task we are undertaking.
“I Will Not Surrender” is a moderately rocking pop number about believing in yourself. It’s made special by the fact that Maxim is dressed like a Star Wars character yearning to break free from the corporate job he got on Coruscant.
This is Markus’ sixth attempt to represent Latvia at Eurovision and “You Make Me So Crazy” is one of his stronger efforts. Unfortunately for him, he had the best dance anthem out of several others on offer at Supernova and everyone in Latvia voted for the song that did not sound like a dance anthem.
Laura is a 17-year-old who has already won Romania’s Got Talent and finished sixth on America’s Got Talent. She does a Houdek in “Dear Father,” going from pop voice to operatic soprano at the song’s climax. We think it’s pretty awful, so we’re not complaining too much that TVR gave their international jury way too much say in determining the winner of their national final.
“League of Light” is a real missed opportunity. Julie & Nina are from Greenland and they spiced up their bland schlager song with some lyrics in Greenlandic. It operates in the same space as KEiiNO’s “Spirit In the Sky,” except that “Spirit In the Sky” goes all in while “League of Light” just checks on the flop. As much as it pains us to say this, “Love Is Forever” was the right choice to represent Denmark.
Bishara is a 16-year-old singer who is performing a song that is way more mature than his immature voice and angelic looks can carry off. Not surprisingly, “On My Own” is by Benjamin Ingrosso, who knows a lot about singing songs that are uncomfortable fits for their performer.
Oh wow. If you thought that the only thing missing from mid-’00s mid-table Eurovision pop entries were vaguely Middle Eastern-influenced orchestrations, then have we got a song for you! Lorena sells it for all it is worth, though, which just makes it all the more wonderful.
Malta: Owen Leuellen – Song internally selected.
Owen covered “Gangsta’s Paradise” during X Factor Malta. He also rhymed “Picasso,” “lost bro,” and “not slow” with “Ira Losco” in the finale. Honestly, he’s kinda delightful. Maybe a bit wack, but kinda delightful.
As much as we like it when Jurijus peers deep into our soul, we had been rooting for Monika to win the Lithuanian national final. “Light On” has a bit more of a lyrical edge to it than “Run with the Lions,” and Monika delivered a big performance that could have been honed to near perfection by the time she arrived in Tel Aviv.
“Rrëfehem” starts off sounding like weird fado. Then it gets all Albanian orchestral metal. Then Mike Pompeo shows up to do a big-ass sax solo at the end. It’s really odd, which is something we seem to say about Festivali i Këngës also-rans every year.
Adrian and his guitar evoke Ed Sheeran via Michael Schulte. Saying that probably doesn’t give “The Bubble” enough credit for being a pretty good folk-pop song, but let’s be honest: it’s not “Spirit In the Sky,” is it?
The Netherlands: Internal selection. Not applicable.
North Macedonia: Internal selection. Not applicable.
If S!sters performed an overwrought show tune at Unser Lied, Makeda performed an overwrought cabaret number. She over-sang it by a country mile, so we suspect Germany’s Eurovision fate was sealed from the get-go.
“I tuoi particolari” has a really simple chorus that frequently gets stuck in our heads, but after while it feels like Ultimo is yelling at us within our own brains. Not cool, Ultimo, get out of our skulls!
United Kingdom: No 2nd place announced. Not applicable.
As usual, the BBC never released the voting tallies for You Decide. It’s basically one more thing to be annoyed about when thinking about how the BBC handles its Eurovision entry year in and year out.