Australia鈥檚 Eurovision 2020 Entry

One of the nice things about Australia’s continued participation in the Eurovision Song Contest is that we get to learn more about the music scene Down Under. There was a time in the 1980s where Australian pop and rock was making it over to the United States on a regular basis, but the wave gradually petered out. Now, thanks to Eurovision and the YouTube rabbit holes it knocks us into, we are beginning to caught up with what we’ve been missing.

With that off of our chests, let’s get into this year’s Australian entry, Montaigne’s “Don’t Break Me.”

Jessica Cerro had her first break performing under the name Montaigne in 2013 when her first single “I Am Not an End” was featured on Australia’s Triple J radio station. Her debut album Glorious Heights came out in 2016 and reached number four on Australia’s album charts. Later that year, Montaigne won the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) Award for Breakthrough Artist.

Now, some countries that participate in Eurovision develop a certain sound across their entries. Usually that stems from the roots of those nations’ respective cultures and music industries. Sometimes those sounds come out of an almost organic idea of what a Eurovision song should sound like. (See, for example, the past few entries from the United Kingdom.)

But the most obvious way for a country to proffer a distinctive national sound at Eurovision is to partner up frequently with certain songwriters. Bulgaria’s recent relationship with Symphonix International is one example, and Australia offers up another example with DNA Songs. This songwriting team of David Musumeci and Anthony Egizii co-wrote Jessica Mauboy’s “We Got Love,” Isaiah Firebrace’s “Don’t Come Easy,” and Dami Im’s “Sound of Silence.” That’s 71% of Australia’s output.

“Sound of Silence” is the most obvious forebear to “Don’t Break Me.” They are structurally similar, with quiet verses leading into big choruses. The melodies of the verses and the overall orchestration are similar as well.

The differences lie with the singers: Dami Im is a big belter, whereas Montaigne is a more introverted vocal performer. She is telling a personal story with “Don’t Break Me” and that intimacy makes it distinct.

We are concerned that Montaigne doesn’t quite grab the viewer during the verses. Her vocal at Australia Decides was mumbly during the opening verse (although the sound mix may have played a part in that), so the song didn’t really catch fire until the chorus. Without a bolder staging and a stronger opening, “Don’t Break Me” may not be immediate enough to capture one’s attention.

Czech Republic鈥檚 Eurovision 2020 Entry

We’re only three songs into the Eurovision season as of this writing, and this year’s Song Contest is already getting a lot more interesting. Here’s Benny Cristo with the Czech Republic entry, “Kemama.”

Ben Cristovao is an Angolan-Czech singer who competed on the first edition of the talent show Superstar. He has gone on to have five charting singles on the Czech Top 100, and reached third in 2019 with “Aleiaio.” He also competes in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and won a gold medal at the 2016 Madrid Open.

We love “Kemama.” It is bright and joyful, buoyed the sparkling synth lines that propel the song and the minimalist beats that pepper it. It’s a party song, but one with lyrics that hint at the adversity Benny faced while growing up. It’s rich, vibrant, and primed to light up summer radio.

This is only Czech Republic’s ninth entry, but no two Czech songs have been alike. They’ve sent grandiose ballads, goth show tunes, sludgy metal, sophistipop, and Roma rap. They found their best result with a sexy contemporary R&B number. Now they’re dipping into Angolan hip hop pop. Czech Republic usually isn’t looking for a good Eurovision song, they’re just looking for a song that stands out from the crowd. It’s a damned good strategy.

Spain鈥檚 Eurovision 2020 Entry

Spain has had a terrible run of form at the Eurovision Song Contest in recent years. They’ve only had two top 10 finishes in the past decade (literally finishing 10th both times), and have been lingering in the bottom ranks of the table for the past five years.

So every year, we follow along with the Spanish selection, hoping that this year,聽this year they will finally have something that’s going to break through. Is 2020 their year?

Blas Cant贸 has been trying to go to Eurovision his whole life. He participated in聽Eurojunior聽in 2004, but finished runner-up to eventual Junior Eurovision winner Mar铆a Isabel. Later, as a member of the band Auryn, he participated in the 2011 edition of Destino Eurovisi贸n, but lost to Luc铆a P茅rez. Since going solo, Blas has topped the Spanish charts with his 2018 album Complicados.

Universo” is a slick pop song with a lush arrangement and memorable hooks in the bridge and the chorus. Of course, the bridge of “Perd贸name, perd贸name, uni-universo” and the “Ohh, uni-universo” chorus are memorable mostly because they are repeated over and over again. It’s a calculatedly constructed ear worm.

Blas is handsome and telegenic, so we are confident he’ll be able to Spzak the cameras during his performance. But he is singing high in his tenor range for most of the song, and without support, his vocal could get a bit thin. That said, we love the element of danger contained in that high note he lands in the climax of “Universo.” So long as they don’t drop a fire curtain behind him when he belts it.

We’re probably being a bit too critical of a song that we like. We really want Spain to do well, and we see a lot of potential here. So maybe we don’t want to get too excited because it’s so early in the season. But fingers crossed.

Albania鈥檚 Eurovision 2020 Entry

As always, the Eurovision Lemurs kicked off the holiday season with Festivali i K毛ng毛s. 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 Bj枚rkman 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.”

Ara has already announced that she will perform the song in English at the Song Contest. So insert the usual caveats about writing up Albania’s Eurovision entries right after Festivali.

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.