Russia’s Eurovision 2020 Entry

It is a scary time in the world, as a mysterious new virus fills our lives up with fear and dread and hand sanitizer. Fortunately, Russia is here to cheer us all up.

Little Big is a satirical pop band known for their crazy, surreal videos. They won the Most Trashy video award at the 2016 Berlin Music Video Awards for “Big Dick” (do we even need to mention it’s not safe for work?) and achieved viral success in 2018 with the infectiously danceable “Skibidi.”

If you’ve ever wondered what Aqua would sound like if they took themselves a little less seriously, then you’ll get a sense of what Little Big is like. They’ve dialed back their usual style, opting to send a ridiculously cheesy synth-laden dance song set to a generic Latin music beat. The chorus is just an elaborate vocal arrangement of the band and their new backing singers singing, “Uno, dos, cuatro, uno, dos, tres, cuatro, cinco, ses.” It puts the inane in insane.

But oh, is it glorious. The official video plays out like a playful parody of 1970s-era Eurovision. And judging from their first live performance, Little Big might just be giving us a preview of how they are going to stage “Uno.”

Move over, The Roop and Daði og Gagnamagnið. That’s all we’re saying.

Is it profound art? Yes, in the way John Waters films are in all their trashy glory. If “Dead Unicorn” is Little Big’s Multiple Maniacs and “Big Dick” is their Polyester, then “Uno” is their Hairspray. Even if it’s a bit more mainstream than their usual work, it still has the subversive quality they’re known for.

After all, as they say themselves in “Go Bananas:” pop is new punk.

Pop Is the New Punk

Sweden’s Eurovision 2020 Entry

There ain’t no Melodifestivalen that the Mamas wouldn’t move.

The Mamas are Ashley Haynes, Loulou Lamotte, and Dinah Yonas Manna. Alongside Paris Renitsa, they were John Lundvik’s backing singers when he represented Sweden at the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest. Notably, Ashley quit her job in Washington, DC after her boss wouldn’t give her time off to perform “Too Late for Love.” That risk has certainly paid off as The Mamas are now signed with Universal Music Sweden.

“Move” was written by Melanie Wehbe, Patrik Jean, and Herman Gardarfve, who composed “Rain” for 2019’s Swedish Idol winner Tusse. Melanie co-wrote Leonora’s “Love Is Forever,” which delivered a 12th place finish for Denmark at last year’s Song contest. Patrik co-wrote Kenny Duerlund’s “Forget It All,” an entry in this year’s Dansk Melodi Grand Prix. Herman has never written a song for Denmark, but he did co-author Robin Bengtsson’s 2018 song “Liar.”

The Mamas were the first act to perform in the first heat of this year’s Melodifestivalen and were given the honors of closing out the whole shebang. It was a nail-biter, though: they were tied with Dotter after the jury vote and won the televote by one point. Talk about squeaking out a win.

We’ve liked “Move” from the first moment we heard it. It’s family-friendly, gospel-influenced schlager, as radiant as sunbeams and almost relentlessly chipper. It’s not unique: we recognized some familiar tropes, including a breakdown to get the audience clapping, references to mountains and vast bodies of water, and lyrics that can easily be interpreted in either religious and secular contexts. Usually all of that is an anathema to us because we’re recovering teenaged goths, but it works for us here.

Of course, we have to admit that we were a bit biased towards the American in the competition. Goodness knows there have been so much Swedish influence on the American pop charts over the past few decades, so it’s nice to get one back.

Austria’s Eurovision 2020 Entry

It’s time to crank some pure pop for now people!

Vincent Bueno is a singer and actor who won Musical! Die Show in 2008. He has also done the Austrian version of Dancing with the Stars while continuing his theater and recording careers. At time of writing, he is in the musical Rock My Soul at the Wiener Metropol, so if you see this post before March 28, 2020, get over to Vienna now! He has also worked to establish a music career in the Philippines and made a number of appearances on the variety show ASAP.

“Alive” has this neo-New Jack Swing vibe going on. It’s smooth and silky and a lot of fun. Vincent has an appealing vocal tone, which has just enough growl to carry the soulful parts of the song without being theatrical. We won’t be surprised if “Alive” is chosen as the song to open Semifinal 2. It’d be a great song to kick off the show.

However, we’re struggling to wrap our heads around the structure of the song. It’s mostly chorus with a brief breakdown at the bridge and seemingly just one verse. The stark intro and the sudden coda have the same structure as the verse, but without the funky orchestration. The final chorus is cut short so that the song can head right into its brief finale. It feels strange.

Maybe we’re overthinking this, but we’ve been trying to figure out why “Alive” hasn’t had a bigger impact on us. As much as we like it, we don’t see it as a contender, and we think that the song structure is why. At least it will be a fun one to crank as we drive around.

Ireland’s Eurovision 2020 Entry

Out of the Pop Kitchen, into the pop fire!

Lesley Roy broke onto the U.S. charts in 2008 when her Max Martin-produced debut album Unbeautiful peaked at number five on Billboard’s Top Heatseekers chart. She also had minor success on the old Billboard Pop 100 chart with her singles “I’m Gone, I’m Going” and “Unbeautiful.” After suddenly getting dropped by her record label, she worked as a songwriter, notably with Adam Lambert on his song “Pop That Lock” and with Desmond Child on Marlee Scott’s “Rhinestone in the Rough.” She now hosts the Pop Kitchen podcast with Jeff Michael Johnson, who has a GoFundMe page to help him head to Dublin and Rotterdam to support Lesley at Eurovision.

Listening the Max Martin episode of Pop Kitchen when she discusses her career gave us a lot of insight into the lyrics for “Story of My Life.” It’s a tricky balancing act to spill your guts like that while still making it feel universal, and in that regard she succeeds.

That’s why we wish we liked the song more. The orchestration is heavily influenced by Max Martin’s rock-pop style, which is not a style we respond to. We’ve seen other Eurovision fans compare Lesley’s song to early stuff by Katy Perry and Kelly Clarkson. We thought of P!nk’s “So What.” Whichever song you pick, it was probably co-written by Max Martin.

Lesley’s lyrics “Rock it all you want, but make it pop enough” stands out to us because it captures how we feel: “Story of My Life” is a pop song that uses guitars as decoration, and that doesn’t make it a rock song. We wished it rocked a bit harder.

Given what she has gone through in her career, we’re happy to see that Lesley has gotten the chance to represent her home country at Eurovision. And we’re looking forward to hearing about her Eurovision journey on Pop Kitchen. However long that journey lasts, we hope that the experience will be rewarding.

And dammit, this job was a lot easier we just made flippant judgements about pop songs without getting to know the people who made them.

The Netherlands’ Eurovision 2020 Entry

The Netherlands are hosting Eurovision for the first time in 44 years, and they have asked Jeangu Macrooy to defend their crown.

Jeangru Macrooy is a singer from Suriname who made his name in The Netherlands with his first single “Gold,” which was featured in an advertisement for HBO. Jeangru performed it at TEDxMaastricht in 2016 and it is fantastic. He wrote his song for Europe “Grow” with his longtime collaborator Perquisite.

So, nothing says Eurovision a song about how it sucks to get older, right? If you’re in the market for a song about that, The Roop already have you covered. Maybe we’re just hurt that “Grow” cuts a little close to home when Jeangu and his backing vocalists sing, “The more I learn, the less I know.” That has been our motto when making Eurovision predictions on this site for the past decade.

As for the song itself, we like the bare vocal with the quiet organ underneath to start the song, and how each bar adds a bit more to build “Grow” up. It’s like the song itself is growing, which is pretty cool. And Jeangu is a commanding presence when he performs (which is why we’re linking above to his live performance on DWDD instead of the official video).

It’s a likable song with a meditative story to tell, but we’re not sure its amiability will translate to back-to-back wins for the host country. We see “Grow” as more of a summation of a seven year journey for The Netherlands, that started with Anouk’s “Birds” in 2013 and culminated with Duncan Laurence’s win last year with “Arcade.” They rethought their participation and found success by just offering up quality. They’ve grown as a Eurovision power and we hope their success continues.

Romania’s Eurovision 2020 Entry

We were just thinking that we need another Eurovision song about a relationship that has gone bad.

Roxen (a.k.a. Larisa Roxana Giurgiu) first rose to fame when she guested on SICKOTOY’s 2019 single “You Don’t Love Me,” which peaked at number three on Romania’s Airplay 100 chart last September. “Ce-ți cântă dragostea,” her first solo single, went to number five in November.

We were pretty excited to hear what Roxen would offer up after she was announced as Romania’s representative. Here is a singer whose star is rising very fast. We also loved her second solo single, “I Don’t Care,” and had hoped that this American hip-hop influenced pop number would indicate the direction she would go in at the Song Contest.

So maybe our unreasonable expectations explain why “Alcohol You” landed with a thud for us. That and the aforementioned fact that it’s yet another song at Eurovision 2020 about a doomed love affair.

But our main complaint is that Romania has this young, vibrant singer and she’s been saddled with a dour tune that floats around without ever really building to anything. Tonally, the chorus sounds the same as the verses, with no rise or fall. It’s a very flat journey, like driving through the middle of Nevada.

And as much as we try to avoid whinging about lyrics these days, we really dislike how the chorus is built around a pun so bad Andy Zaltzman would cringe. “Alcohol you when I’m drunk?” Really? We can’t ignore that or the reference to “fake news” because those lines are so out of character with someone singing about desperate loneliness after a break-up. Between the static orchestration and the misshapen lyrics, it’s easy for us to give this one the pass.

Greece’s Eurovision 2020 Entry

We need a hero! We’re holding out for a hero til the end of the night of the Grand Prix Final! She’s got to be strong and she’s got to be Dutch and Greek and she’s got to be fresh from today’s pop charts!

(We also need to hone our skills as lyricists.)

Stefania Liberakakis is a Dutch-Greek singer who represented The Netherlands in the 2016 Junior Eurovision Song Contest as part of the group Kisses. In addition to her music career, she has acted on the Dutch series Brugklas and voice-acted in the Dutch dubs of the movies Wonder Park and Doolittle. We hope she’s also available to voice Haley Dunphy in the Dutch dub of Modern Family too.

Her song “SUPERG!RL” was composed by Dimitris Kontopoulos (who also co-wrote this year’s entry from Moldova), Sharon Vaughn (who also co-wrote this year’s entries from Moldova and Estonia), and the songwriting collective Arcade (who had nothing to do with last year’s entry from The Netherlands)

“SUPERG!RL” is a blast, chock full of infectious melodies and interesting flourishes. The orchestration is very Just Dance. Even though the popular Ubisoft video game draws from current singles on pop charts in each year, they will obviously be biased towards certain melodies and rhythms that lend themselves towards cute animated videos and easy choreography. “SUPERG!RL” fits right in and we’d love to see it on the 2021 edition.

We have high hopes for Stefania and “SUPERG!RL.” There is a lot of potential here for a fun, vibrant performance. With any luck, she and her team can pull out all the stops and give us a VMA-worthy staging that can make “SUPERG!RL” pop live. Granted, it’s been a few years since Greece has given us a truly inspired full-on Greece staging, but if there is any year to regain that form, this is that year.

Georgia’s Eurovision 2020 Entry

Why should all the women of Eurovision 2020 have a monopoly on awful relationships?

Tornike Kipiani won the first season of X Factor Georgia back in 2014 and earned his ticket to Rotterdam by winning Georgian Idol. He wrote “Take Me As I Am” with Aleko Berdzenishvili, who has worked with Stephane & 3G of “We Don’t Want to Put In” fame.

Holy cow, this is amazing. Tornike is a handsome guy with a twinkle in his eye and lungs of leather. But deep in his soul he has more pathos than a 16 year old boy with clinical depression who just got stood up for the prom. Stop comparing him to all those Western European and English guys, unnamed antagonist! Love him for who he is: a hot, brooding Georgian dude!

Tornike’s vocal is the metal equivalent of “And I Am Telling You” from DreamgirlsThat growl he lets out when he sings “Why don’t love me” at the end of the first chorus is as intense and breathtaking as Jennifer Holliday’s deep breath-big note. It is glorious.

Yes, “Take Me As I Am” doesn’t go anywhere. The second half of the song is pretty much the same as the first, from verse through chorus. And yes, it just peters out without any strong conclusion. Minor complaints in our mind. We love it.

The thing that amazes us the most is that Tornike won Georgian Idol, sat down with Aleko Berdzenishvili and wrote this, and when he played it for the Georgian delegation, they said, “Yes.” Because no other country but Georgia would submit as its Eurovision entry a three-minute prog metal epic that would make Jim Steinman think, “Boy, that’s a bit over the top.” Thank you, Georgia, for being you.

Moldova’s Eurovision 2020 Entry

It’s almost as if Moldova heard this year’s Eurovision entries from Belgium, Norway, and Poland and said, “Oh, you think your relationships are messed up?”

Natalia Gordienko first represented Moldova in 2006, teaming up with Arsenium to perform “Loca.” Two years later, she received an Artist Emerit award from the government of Moldova. Her song “Prison” was co-written by Philipp Kirkorov and Dimitris Kontopoulos, longtime fixtures of our Eurovision Songwriters page. The lyrics are by Sharon Vaughn, who we wrote about in our review of this year’s Estonian entry. We should probably make her a fixture of our Eurovision Songwriters page, too.

Our first reaction to “Prison” is that it reminded us of Azerbaijan, because it sounds like a cross between “Hour of the Wolf” and “When the Music Dies.” It also has Kirkorov’s signature bounciness in both the melody and the rhythm, even though it’s a dramatic doomed love song.

Natalia needs to work on her connection to the story of “Prison” before she gets to Rotterdam. Her performance at O melodie pentru Europa 2020 felt disconnected with the lyrics. The staging leans into the song’s utter desperation, yet Natalia sings with a flat, pure vocal tone. She could be singing about a particularly overcast day as much as a bad romance. We need to feel your existential pain!

Even if she does somehow leave her heart on the floor of the Rotterdam Ahoy arena, we still can’t imagine a lot of general enthusiasm for this dire little dirge.

Belarus’ Eurovision 2020 Entry

Our year of audience-friendly choreography continues!

VAL are singer Valeria Gribusova and musician Vlad Pashkevich. Valerie was runner up in the 2015 Slavic Bazaar and auditioned for The Voice of Ukraine in 2017. Meanwhile, Vlad owns the music studio ToneTwins, which produced Naviband’s 2017 Eurovision entry “Story Of My Life.”

“Da Vidna” has a vibe that takes us back to Milan Fashion Week in the mid-1990s. Not that we were there, but if we had been, we expect something like this to be played during the Missoni show. It’s very stylish, very smooth, and very pleasant.

It’s also very inconsequential. We enjoy it when we hear it, but in the way we enjoy songs we hear when we’re trying on clothes at some posh clothing store even though we can’t afford any of it. But this Missoni cardigan looks so nice! Then we leave and never bother to figure out what songs we heard in the changing room.

The staging is simple but effective, featuring some snazzy, easy-to-follow moves and Valeria’s striking headwear (which is more Dolce&Gabbana than Missoni). As luck would have it, though, VAL are drawn in the same half as The Roop, who go for less subtle dance movies for greater effect.

We don’t revel in poking holes in “Da Vidna,” because we really do like it (and really hope they keep it in Belarusian). We just feel like it’s one of those songs that gets lost in the shuffle in a Semifinal. But we’ll always have Milan.