Eurovision 2021 Superlatives

It’s time once again to give out Eurovision Lemur’s Superlatives, the awards that capture all the magic of the Eurovision Song Contest! As Hot Chocolate once sang, everyone’s a winner. Although one act won a weeeeeeeee bit more than everyone else…

Best Fusion Cuisine: Cyprus
Elena Tsagrinou – “El Diablo”

The Second Annual Award That Shafts Albania By Placing Them Second In the Running Order: Albania
Anxhela Peristeri – “Karma”

Most Unlikely Weather Report for Spicy Season: Israel
Eden Alene – “Set Me Free”

The Frans Award for Not Caring But Really Caring: Belgium
Hooverphonic – “The Wrong Place”

Best Entry by Someone Who Doesn’t Wanna Put In: Russia
Manizha – “Russian Woman”

Manizha - Russia - Grand Final - Eurovision Song Contest 2021 - Rotterdam Ahoy — EBU / THOMAS HANSES
Photo by Thomas Hanses/EBU

Best Bilingual Kiss-off: Malta
Destiny – “Je Me Casse”

Most Touching Tour of Rotterdam’s Red Light District: Portugal
The Black Mamba – “Love Is on My Side”

Best Personification of a Belgrade River Club: Serbia
Hurricane – “Loco Loco”

The Andy Abraham Award for the Entry Least Deserving of Its Fate: United Kingdom
James Newman – “Embers”

Best Illustration of the Invisible Hand Theory: Greece
Stefania – “Last Dance”

Most Intergalactic: Switzerland
Gjon’s Tears – “Tout l’univers”

Most Planetary: Switzerland
Gjon’s Tears – “Tout l’univers”

The Can Bonomo Award for Most Bad-ass Staging: Iceland
Daði og Gagnamagnið – “10 Years”

¸Daði og Gagnamagnið, Iceland, Second Rehearsal, Rotterdam Ahoy, 13 May 2021 — EBU / THOMAS HANSES
Photo by Thomas Hanses/EBU

Best Performance by a Band from Their Hotel Rooms: Iceland
Daði og Gagnamagnið – “10 Years”

Best Performance Inside a Planetarium: Spain
Blas Cantó – “Voy a quedarme”

Best Reason to Not Upgrade Your Windows Software: Moldova
Natalia Gordienko – “Sugar”

The LT United Award for Most Self-Aware Entry: Germany
Jendrik – “I Don’t Feel Hate”

Best Wiggling with That Middle Finger: Finland
Blind Channel – “Dark Side”

Best Failure to Never Let That Middle Finger Wiggle Back: Germany
Sophia, the dancer in the hand costume in “I Don’t Feel Hate”

Best Musical Representation of the Premise to The Little Prince: Bulgaria
Victoria – “Growing Up Is Getting Old”

Best Dance Move for the Next Star Trek Convention: Lithuania
The Roop – “Discoteque”

Best Way to Get Your Chernobyl Rave Jumping: Ukraine
Go_A – “Shum”

Meilleure chanson avec un… Je ne sais quoi: France
Barbara Pravi – “Voilà”

The Annual Award for the Most Successful Theft of France’s Thunder: Italy
As usual.

Best Use of a Photocopier: Azerbaijan
Efendi – “Mata Hari”

Most Literal Staging: Norway
TIX – “Fallen Angel”

Most Effective Response to Anyone Who Unwittingly Tweets Stuff That Confirms the Biases That They Swear They Don’t Have: The Netherlands
Jeangu Macrooy – “Birth of a New Age”

Jeangu Macrooy - The Netherlands - Grand Final - Eurovision Song Contest 2021 - Rotterdam Ahoy — EBU / THOMAS HANSES
Photo by Thomas Hanses/EBU

Best Comeback to Anyone Who Makes Up Bullshit Rumors About You: Italy
Måneskin – “Zitti e buoni”

Best Update to Generic Russian Eurovision Entries: Sweden
Tusse – “Voices”

Freakiest Queen: San Marino
Senhit featuring Flo Rida – “Adrenalina”

Best Dry Run for Florida’s Entry in the American Song Contest: San Marino
Senhit featuring Flo Rida – “Adrenalina”

Most Likely to Get There, Popular: Italy

Måneskin won the Eurovision Song Contest 2021
Photo by Andres Putting/EBU

Featured photo by Jordy Brada/EBU

Highlights from 2021

As part of my efforts to stave off post-Eurovision depression, I’m taking a look back at the three Eurovision shows last week and casting a critical eye on everything I saw. That said, just having a Song Contest was a welcome return to normalcy, so that is the biggest highlight of all.

Seal of Approval

Under Consideration

The Netherlands: Jeangu Macrooy – “Birth of a New Age
Lithuania: The Roop – “Discoteque
Bulgaria: Victoria – “Growing Up Is Getting Old
Czech Republic: Benny Cristo – “omaga
Italy: Måneskin – “Zitti e buoni

My Pick: Italy

Honestly, narrowing this list down to just five songs was difficult. “Technicolour,” “10 Years,” “Adrenalina,” “Je Me Casse,” “Maps,” “Voilà,” and “Russian Woman” all could have made the cut. But I have a definite favorite entry this year.

Eurovision Lemurs Seal of Approval“Zitti e buoni” is a raucous rock classic. It wears its ‘70s glam influences on its sleeves, but re-contextualizes those influences in a way that makes them sound fresh. Måneskin builds the song up well. “Zitti e buoni” starts with Thomas Raggi’s crunchy guitar riff and some subtle percussion from Ethan Torchio. The band gradually adds Victoria De Angelis’s bass line and more percussion before they unleash the song’s potential energy with the chorus. Damiano David spits out rapid fire lyrics in the second verse, propelling the song like a car driving too fast down a highway. There are breaks in the action with Victoria’s bass solo and with Ethan’s brief drum solo, both of which serve to get the crowd screaming and to rebuild the song’s electricity. After that last break, “Zitti e buoni” hurtles to a cathartic conclusion. It’s a well-constructed song that breaks all of the rules of what is a successful Eurovision entry while still being a tight, three minute pop song.

I’ve had “Zitti e buoni” for breakfast pretty much every day since Sanremo ended and I’m going to continue to have it for breakfast knowing that it won Eurovision.

Biggest Misfire

Under Consideration

Romania: Roxen – “Amnesia
Ireland: Lesley Roy – “Maps
Latvia: Samanta Tīna – “The Moon Is Rising
Czech Republic: Benny Cristo – “omaga
Australia: Montaigne – “Technicolour

My Pick: Latvia

It seems particularly mean to name the biggest misfire this year because I don’t think any of these songs are pantheon-worthy. You can’t fault Lesley Roy for her staging ambition and you can’t fault Samanta Tīna and Montaigne for their musical ambitions. You can’t fault Roxen for trying to do a representational staging to illuminate her song’s message. And you can’t fault Benny Cristo for trying to bring a party atmosphere to his joyous post-COVID banger.

I only picked Latvia as my choice because “The Moon Is Rising” finished with the least points out of both Semifinals. It’s a cruel fate for someone who has wanted to perform in Eurovision for so long, and I can’t help but wonder if the staging played some part in that result. Instead of being surrounded by dancers the way she was in her official video, she had backing singers off to the side à la her staging last year’s “Still Breathing.” That changed the energy of the song, leaving poor Samanta flailing when she should have been empowered.

Least Self-Aware

Naw, everyone at the Song Contest this year was pretty self-aware. Plus, everyone, even Hooverphonic, seemed determined to enjoy their experience in Rotterdam. This year’s Eurovision lived up to the idea that it’s Europe’s biggest party, and all the participants seemed to add to that atmosphere.

Campiest Performance

Under Consideration

Germany: Jendrik – “I Don’t Feel Hate
Azerbaijan: Efendi – “Mata Hari
Denmark: Fyr & Flamme – “Øve os på hinanden
Poland: Rafał – “The Ride
Moldova: Natalia Gordienko – “Sugar

My Pick: Germany

Jendrik strummed a bedazzled ukulele while accompanied by a dancer named Sophia who wore a giant hand costume. It may have been deliberately kitschy, but I can’t help but applaud the effort. Plus Sophia stayed in character the entire time. Considering she signed up to be a middle finger but ended up having to be a peace sign for her two weeks in Rotterdam, I admire her commitment to her job.

Biggest Diva Performance

Under Consideration

Israel: Eden Alene – “Set Me Free
Russia: Manizha – “Russian Woman
Malta: Destiny – “Je me casse
Serbia: Hurricane – “Loco Loco
France: Barbara Pravi – “Voilà

My Pick: France

The first line of “Voilà” is “écoutez moi,” and how can you not pay attention when Barbara Pravi sings? Her song is both unapologetically old fashioned and strikingly modern. The staging was beautiful and intense. And through it all Barbara sells it with just the right amount of aggression and pathos. She expresses the emotion of “Voilà” with such abandon that it’s easy to get swept up in her performance. She rightfully captured France’s best result in 30 years.

Recap of Eurovision Song Contest 2021

Italy won Eurovision.

Italy. Won. Eurovision.

It’s been 31 years, and Italy has come tantalizingly close in the decade since it returned to the Song Contest. And now it has finally happened.

I genuinely did not expect this. I adore “Zitti e buoni,” but I really thought a straightforward rock song like this couldn’t win. Barbara Pravi had the dramatic, emotional chanson ballad. Gjon’s Tears had the pure vocals. They both were rewarded, of course: Barbara snagged France’s first 2nd place in 30 years and won the Artistic Award and the Press Award. Gjon’s Tears won the jury vote and the Composers Award to land Switzerland’s first 3rd place in 28 years.

But Måneskin got just enough love from the juries to be in a prime position to win when they got 318 points from the televote. They may have only edged Barbara by 25 points in the combined scores, but the win still somehow feels comprehensive and overwhelming.

To add to my delight, Iceland’s Daði and Gagnamagnið finished fourth. To see a group of close knit friends who march to the beat of their own circular keytars getting rewarded for being uncompromisingly geeky warms the cockles of this aging nerd’s heart.

Go_A rounded out the top five with a song that made no attempts to be a broadly accessible pop song. They were punished by the juries, but they finished second in the televote because I imagine folks at home saw the Ukrainian band’s performance and said, “I want to dance to this at a sweaty night club the first chance I get.”

As giddy as I am about the top 5, I know that there is going to be a huge amount of disappointment for the rest of the artists as it’s really hard to fault anyone who performed in the Grand Final. No one deserved to finish in last place, let alone get nul points. James Newman handled his result with grace and aplomb and while I am sure it stings a lot, I also bet the warmth he got from the artists and the fans in the arena will ease that pain a bit.

I’m seeing questions being rightfully asked about the fact that four of the five countries who sent Black artists finished on the bottom half of the table and that Jeangu Macrooy’s song, which directly confronts the history of racism in Europe, got nul points from the public and just 11 points from the juries. I’m also seeing a lot of questions about some curious jury decisions. Those questions all need to be asked, even if the answers are not going to be easy to discern. Though I trust the Eurovision diehards I follow on Twitter and work with on ESC in Context are going to get to the bottom of it.

To be honest, the week leading into the Grand Final had not been the easiest for me, and having Eurovision all week was a needed distraction. Yesterday was the first time my Song Contest buddies and I have seen each other in two years. It felt so cathartic to finally have that Dutch and Surinamese-themed Eurovision party. So cathartic that I quite literally cried in front of everyone when “Zitti e buoni” won. My favorite song, coming from my grandfather’s country of birth, winning the whole shebang was just the release I needed. Amazing.

Italy won Eurovision.

I need to watch this again…

Eurovision 2021: A Primer for Saturday Night Viewing

Eurovision is back! After last year’s Song Contest was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Rotterdam was given another chance to host the show this year. It’s already been a dramatic week so it’s hard to contain my excitement about Saturday’s big show!

If you’re an American who is just picking up the Eurovision habit, you may have some questions. And I’m here to answer them!

Who Are the Contenders?

Before rehearsals started on May 9, the betting odds were dominated by France, Malta, and Switzerland. France’s Barbara Pravi is singing “Voilà,” a classic chanson performance highlighted by her natural charisma and intensity.

Malta is represented by Destiny, who won Junior Eurovision in 2015 with the song “Not My Soul.” Her 2021 song “Je Ma Casse” shows her maturation as an artist and her flawless vocal chops.

Switzerland’s Gjon’s Tears brings a soaring, gorgeous voice and so much existentialism to “Tout l’univers” that Albert Camus would be jealous. Add some impressionist dance moves, and you get a striking and unique performance.

Since rehearsals began, however, Italy overtook everyone to become the odds leader. Måneskin are a 1970s glam-style rock band with killer chops and an exquisite fashion sense. How well a straightforward rock song will do at a pop competition remains to be seen, but this year might be Italy’s best chance to finally capture that elusive third Eurovision trophy.

Any Dark Horses?

So many dark horses!

  • Iceland’s Daði and Gagnamagnið bring DIY charm, slick harmonies, and 8-bit graphics to their geeky pop love song “10 Years.”
  • Ukraine’s Go_A is an electronica band heavily influenced by traditional folk songs. “Shum” sounds like nothing else at this year’s Song Contest, and lead singer Kateryna Pavlenko will peer into your soul with more intensity than Tilda Swinton in a one-woman play called Tilda Swinton Peers Into Your Soul.
  • The Roop from Lithuania have a fab dance single called “Discoteque” that’s accentuated by the greatest use of the Vulcan salute since Leonard Nimoy invented it.
  • Elena Tsagrinou is a Greek pop diva representing Cyprus, and she gives a fiery performance of her song “El Diablo.” Even though Cyprus’ Orthodox Church wishes she wouldn’t.
  • Victoria from Bulgaria tackles anxiety, depression, and the pandemic head on with “Growing Up Is Getting Old.” It’s a gorgeous ballad out to pluck on your heartstrings.
  • Senhit has finally figured out something that San Marino has been missing throughout its history of Eurovision participation: send a good song and you’ll get more attention than you would by just reinventing disco yet again. But add a cameo from a famous American rapper just in case.

How Has COVID-19 Affected This Year’s Song Contest?

Because of Australia’s pandemic-related travel restrictions, their representative Montaigne was unable to fly to The Netherlands for the show. She recorded a live-on-tape performance that was shown during Semifinal One, but she unfortunately did not qualify for the Final.

In an even more heartbreaking story, Jóhann Sigurður from Daði Freyr’s band Gagnamagnið tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday, prompting the group to withdraw from performing the rest of the week. Their rehearsal footage was used in Thursday’s Semifinal and will be used in the Final as well.

The reigning champion Duncan Laurence, whose “Arcade” became a worldwide hit this year thanks to TikTok, was meant to open the Grand Final. However, he contracted COVID-19 as well. If Iceland wins, I’m looking forward to Duncan handing over the title to Daði and Gagnamagnið via Zoom.

How Twee Is Germany’s Entry?

So sehr twee.

Will I, an American Who Is New to Eurovision, Recognize Anyone?

American pop hip hop star Flo Rida has teamed up with Senhit on “Adrenalina.” Before this year, famous American performers at Eurovision were interval acts, but Flo Rida is actually competing. Now’s a good time for mainstream America to jump on the San Marino bandwagon!

Meanwhile, Belgium is represented by legendary trip-hop band Hooverphonic, best known for their songs “2wicky” and “Mad About You.”

If you’re an avid YouTube fan, you’re sure to recognize cohost Nikkie “NikkieTutorials” De Jager. She’s the one who famously described her experience of appearing on The Ellen DeGeneres Show as being on “Teletubbies after dark.”

Is Eurovision Finally Getting Diverse?

It’s making progress, although the Song Contest still has a long way to go since the first, and to date, only Black singer won Eurovision twenty years ago. Six countries have been represented by Black performers this year, and five of them will participate on Saturday. Destiny from Malta, Eden Alene from Israel, Tusse from Sweden, and Senhit and Flo Rida from San Marino all qualified out of the Semifinals. Only poor Benny Cristo from Czech Republic did not make it to the Final.

Jeangu Macrooy was given the honor of representing The Netherlands as host nation. Originally from Suriname, Jeangu uses his song “Birth of a New Age” to tackle Dutch colonialism head on. It could easily be about the United Kingdom, Spain, or Portugal, and it could even be about the United States as well. But as depressing and infuriating as the weight of history can be, Jeangu’s song radiates with hope and strength.

There were also two performers of Filipino heritage at this year’s Song Contest. Sadly, neither Montaigne from Australia or Vincent Bueno from Austria made it out of the Semifinals.

Could France’s Entry Be More French?

Mais non.

Has Russia Come to Smash the Patriarchy?

Surprisingly enough, yes! Manizha is a Tajikistan-born pop singer who  campaigns for equal rights for women, refugees, and the L.G.B.T.Q.I.A.+ community in Russia. How on earth she was selected to participate in her country’s national final while Vladimir Putin is still in charge is anyone’s guess. Her performance is more about reforming Russia’s attitudes than it is about Eurovision glory, but she could have her cake and eat it too.

Could It Be… SATAN?

Norway’s song is called “Fallen Angel” and singer Tix performs it while wearing angel wings and surrounded by backing dancers dressed as demons.

Not to be outdone, Cyprus offers up “El Diablo.” While Elena Tsagrinou largely avoids evoking the devil, she does have some underworldly dancers flexing around her. This almost makes you forget that the song lyrics describe sex as putting a tamale into a taco and slathering it in sriracha.

Who Has Brought the Brass?

Malta’s “Je Ma Casse” is arranged as an electro-swing song, which means it is chock full of horn samples. However, the United Kingdom one ups their favorite island vacation destination by not only filling the orchestration for “Embers” with lots of brass instruments, but by having giant trumpets hanging above singer James Newman in the staging.

How Many Times Have You Listened to Måneskin’s “Zitti e buoni”

My conservative estimate is over 100 times. At least once a day since it won Italy’s Sanremo Music Festival, plus I play it in the car a lot while running errands. I really like it.

How Can I Watch Eurovision In the United States?

NBC has picked up the rights to show Eurovision on its Peacock network, which makes sense since they have also picked up the rights for the upcoming American Song Contest. The ultimate battle between American states will debut in 2022, and I suspect the nation will dissolve after Texas wins and the North secedes. While we wait for the end of the American era, enjoy this year’s Eurovision Song Contest at 3pm Eastern/12pm Pacific on Saturday, May 21, 2021.

Recap of 2021 Semifinal Two

We have our 26 Eurovision Song Contest finalists, and it’s hard to believe that two years of preparation have come down to this already. As with Tuesday’s results, I generally can’t fault any act that was eliminated from contention last night. No one deserved to go home early, but sometimes competing in Eurovision is a losing game.

I can’t ignore how COVID-19 reared its ugly head this week. Duncan Laurence has been denied a victory lap after contracting the coronavirus. Even more devastatingly, poor Jóhann Sigurður from Gagnamagnið tested positive on Wednesday. In solidarity with their comrade, Daði and the rest of the band decided to withdraw from performing. Footage from their second rehearsal was used instead. It’s a testament to their gumption and work effort that their performance was still amazing.

Also, leave it to Gagnamagnið to figure out how to make a circular keyboard work in ways that Ovi couldn’t.

It’s always tough for me to tell what is going to resonate with juries and televoters. For example, I can’t quite grok how a strong vocal from Albania’s Anxhela Peristeri and Pedro Tatanka from Portugal’s The Black Mamba made an impression, but a strong vocal from Austria’s Vincent Bueno didn’t. If I’m being nit-picky, Vincent’s performance was a bit too stage-theatrical, but given how effective and gut-wrenching his vocal and his staging was, it seems churlish to pick nits. I thought he deserved better.

Maybe it’s as simple as going fifth in the running order and Gjon’s Tears going second to last with an even bigger, more emotional performance. I definitely got Loreen vibes from Gjon’s Tears: a powerful vocal and some dance moves that were true to the artist while still fitting the tone of the song. I still think Switzerland is in the mix for the win.

I was expecting good things from The Black Mamba, even though I wasn’t sure if a song influenced by American Southern rock ballads was going to appeal to anyone in Europe. I was really happy to see that it did.

But I have to admit I didn’t see Anxhela’s performance coming, even though I witnessed her be a complete powerhouse during Festivali i Këngës. Albania’s staging is straightforward, with good use of lighting, fog, and graphics. It all served Anxhela’s performance quite effectively, letting her be the most compelling part of the presentation.

“Growing Up Is Getting Old” didn’t have as much of an impact on me as I thought it would. Something about a singer sitting on the stage (or the prop, in this case) always seems to mute a performance, even when it’s thematically appropriate. Fortunately, Victoria getting up and singing the final lines a cappella was enough to get me all teary-eyed.

Moving on to the bangers: Was there anything more surreal than Flo Rida appearing on stage with Senhit? He’s not the first American to compete in the Song Contest and he’s not the first world famous American to perform at Eurovision. And yet his appearance in “Adrenalina” was still a sight to behold. He only arrived this week and he fit into the production perfectly. I also loved the shots of him hanging with the Sammarinese delegation throughout the rest of the evening. I think he might be hooked on this.

I was disappointed we didn’t get reaction shots of Flo Rida after Hurricane performed, though. For some reason, I’d love to get his thoughts on “Loco Loco.” Hurricane’s energy was appropriately overwhelming. They were moving constantly, dancing from one end of the giant stage to the other. They were a blast, and it wouldn’t have been a Saturday night without them.

The only artists to match Hurricane’s intensity were Blind Channel. The Finnish band could have gone overboard trying to get the room worked up. But they were able to walk the fine line of giving a concert performance and giving a Eurovision performance without looking like they were trying too hard. Painting their middle fingers red was a nice touch.

I really enjoyed Greece’s green screen-heavy staging, although I do get the criticism I’ve heard about it. The dancers don’t completely disappear properly and the visual of Stefania walking up invisible stairs to float in the middle of the skyline is a little weird. Even though working through the staging made her a bit stiff, I was still impressed with how well Stefenia commanded attention. Her place in the Final was well deserved.

Not so with Moldova. “Sugar” is a good song, so I’m not surprised Natalia Gordienko qualified. But her performance was really breathy as she pretended to be Marilyn Monroe in front of an old Microsoft Windows screensaver. While her long note to end the song was impressive, it also came out of nowhere, was a wee bit flat, and was clearly a gimmick to get attention. It was all so calculated that it lacked any personality.

Surprisingly, the other vocal that didn’t quite work for me was from Uku Suviste. He’s been so solid every time I’ve heard him sing. For some reason, his vocal was got lost in the backing tracking. I couldn’t tell if it was a sound mix issue, nerves, or both, but the performance didn’t really come together.

I had bad feelings about both Tornike Kipiani’s and Samanta Tīna’s chances of qualifying for the Final even before they took to the stage. I love how uncompromising the two are as artists and I love how their songs are unique in their own ways. But they also seemed a bit too inaccessible unless you really bought into their visions.

Visions of pure 1980s revivalism also died on Thursday night when both Fyr & Flamme and Rafał were eliminated from the competition. I had warmed to Fyr & Flamme since Dansk Melodi Grand Prix, especially after watching singer Jesper Groth on Stormester, the Danish version of Taskmaster. (Yes, I got that geeky.) I had also warmed to Rafał just by seeing his goofy charm in interviews and stray bits about his enjoyment of being in Rotterdam. The stagings for both “Øve os på hinanden” and “The Ride” were fun, if a bit hokey. I’m kind of bummed that both Denmark and Poland are out.

But I think I’ll miss Benny Cristo most of all. I love “omaga,” but I think his performance betrayed some nerves. He wasn’t able to fully display his charm and charisma, and he was out of breath at the end. Once Moldova was announced as a qualifier, I knew that his time in Rotterdam was almost up. Fortunately, I have his whole back catalog to dive back into, because he’s really good. I wish everyone voting in Eurovision had seen it too.

Recap of 2021 Semifinal One

It feels so good to have Eurovision back! I knew I missed it, but I didn’t really realize how much of a void last year’s cancellation had left in me until I pressed play on Peacock’s live feed. At last my Mays are complete again.

2021 is such a strong year that my quibbles feel more petty than usual. Every loss is gut-wrenching, even when I totally get why an act didn’t qualify.

No non-qualification was more heartbreaking to me than Ireland’s. Lesley Roy and her team came up with a very cool concept for “Maps” that took Silvàn Areg’s “Allez Leur Dire” staging and cranked it up to 11. There was also a charming third act reveal to show how the whole thing was done. The problem was that it required so much work to pull off that Lesley’s vocal suffered. It also didn’t help that the stagehands couldn’t get it set up fast enough, forcing host Chantal Janzen to vamp after Ireland’s postcard had already aired and delaying Lesley’s performance when she was already on stage. Even if the staging for “Maps” didn’t completely work, I found myself hoping that she would get a second chance to get it right.

(Updated 5/21/2021: The delay was caused by a camera malfunction, not a delay in setting the props up. Still: disruptive.)

I don’t think I was too shocked about the other songs that missed out on the Grand Final. I had expected Croatia to make it through, but I was only mildly stunned that it didn’t. “Tick Tock” is a really good song, but Albina and her dancers were washed out by a sea of neon pink and blue lighting.

Meanwhile, Romania drowned Roxen in so much fog that it was hard to see her for a while. And even when I did catch a glimpse of her, I paid more attention to that one really hammy back-up dancer.

Slovenia and North Macedonia seemed to suffer due to their straightforward staging of big ballads. To steal a point made by Robyn Gallagher and Elaine O’Neill on Twitter, Ana Soklič and Vasil had these big, rich pre-recorded backing vocals with no onstage proxy. They both looked mighty lonely on the big Rotterdam Ahoy stage.

While Australia was hurt a bit by Montaigne not performing in person, I also think the staging was too polarizing to make an already uncompromising song easier to warm to. The special effects pushed viewers away from Montaigne instead of drawing them in, leaving her even more isolated.

Who won the night? Lithuania. The genius of Vaidotas Valiukevičius’ hand gesture dance move is it’s easy to reference whenever the cameras focus on The Roop. The entire delegation were doing it constantly last night, and Vaidotas telling co-host Edsilia Rombley that it stood for “Euro-Vision” made it even more charming. The Roop opened the show, then ensured they were memorable all night.

Cyprus and Ukraine were my other Tuesday winners. Elena Tsagrinou and her team took the “Fuego” staging and added more, well, fuego to it. Even though “El Diablo” left me cold when I first heard it, Elena gave such a warm and playful performance that I fell for her song at last.

But no singer captivated me as much as Kateryna Pavlenko from Go_A. Her intense vocals coupled with her dry, yet soulful stare made “Shum” stand out. The dais prop and the dancers were just there to accentuate her performance, and it bloody worked.

The evening was dominated by bad-ass women. Manizha brought to Rotterdam the most Russian entry ever and used it to subvert Russian norms the entire way. She ended her song with a defiant, “Are you ready for change? Because we are!” It was easy to feel like she was right.

Eden Alene is such a charismatic and purely talented singer and performer that she made the stage her playground. Even if said playground was drenched in the same color scheme as Croatia’s ill-fated entry. “Set Me Free” came alive, and that had all to do with Eden’s skills and sense of style.

Hooverphonic did two smart things in their Eurovision performance. One, they made sure Geike Arnaert was the focal point throughout. All she had to do was look soulfully into the camera to draw audiences in. Two, they did not assume they were just playing another gig, but instead had a thoughtful presentation that made “The Wrong Place” come alive.

Contrast that with “Je Me Casse.” Destiny is still in the mix for the win, but I really wish the Malta delegation just trusted in her talent and poise. She can stand there and sing a phone book and capture people’s attention, but Malta has saddled her with a staging that constantly looks like she’s being put into a box. It reminded me of the staging for Michela Pace’s “Chameleon,” which was also overly fussy. It’s the first time I’ve doubted she could repeat her Junior Eurovision success.

Still, “Je Me Casse” felt cohesive, which is more than I can say for “Mata Hari.” I realize that part of my issue is that I can’t help but think that this was the same staging Azerbaijan had planned for “Cleopatra” last year. Why else would the cobra be in the graphics? As I said in my initial review, I bet this sounds fresh to someone who is just seeing Efendi’s shtick for the first time, but the whole package felt cheap and lazy to me.

While Tix’s performance and staging of “Fallen Angel” are solid, he also got a subtle boost when the producers got cheeky and had him follow “El Diablo.” Tix looked like a sullen fallen angel lamenting the fact that the love of his life was in love with El Diablo instead. Cyprus drew the first half of the Final and Norway drew the second, so the producers could still put them together again at the halfway point of the show. For storytelling purposes.

I did briefly wonder if Sweden was going to miss out on the final. “Voices” is so trite, and it was made even more shallow by following “Russian Women.” But I will give Tusse and the Swedish delegation a lot of credit: The staging made “Voices” look more deep than the generic lyrics would suggest. And even though his vocal wasn’t perfect, Tusse is such a powerful presence that it’s easy to see why he qualified.

In the end, Tuesday wasn’t really a night of surprises. Along with a lot of good performances, we got a solidly entertaining show with a good opener from reigning champion Duncan Laurence, a cool interval act, and mostly unobtrusive hosting from the quartet of emcees. It was all about getting us back into the swing of things, and it succeeded. Not bad for the Semifinal that I thought was the less interesting of the two. Bring on Thursday!

National Final Season in Review 2021: Favorite Songs

This year’s national final season has been one of the easiest ones to cover. The normal volume of music often makes my quest to dig up gems more like finding needles in too many haystacks. Having just 12 national finals and three song selection shows is a luxury. Maybe I could complain about not having the richest vein of music to mine, but I still hit plenty of pay dirt.

Italy: Madame – “Voce”

I picked a really good year to take up Sanremo marathon running. There were so many good songs on offer. The one I’ve listened to almost as much as “Zitti e Buoni” is “Voce.” Madame is only 19, but she is already a full-fledged, fashion-forward pop icon. First off, she had the guts to perform Adriano Celentano’s “Prisencolinensinainciusol” on Sanremo’s cover night, and she was able to make it her own. Impressive.

As for “Voce” itself, it is sumptuous and forlorn. Madame embodies so much hurt and so much pining in the song that I can’t help but feel as heartbroken as she is. What a gorgeous achievement.

Portugal: Karetus & Romeu Bairos – “Saudade”

Like Sanremo, Festival da Cançāo was particularly strong in 2021, and I am sure that every Eurovision fan who watched would struggle to narrow their list of favorite songs to an arbitrary limit. But I have no doubt that most of them would include “Saudade.” As artistically uncompromising as Conan Osiris’s “Telemóveis,” it was also silky and hauntingly melodic. The visuals in both the semifinal and final performances were striking, but the song itself can be fully enjoyed without the spectacle.

Bulgaria: Victoria – “The Funeral Song”

Maybe a tune called “The Funeral Song” is not particularly appropriate for the first Eurovision Song Contest of the COVID-19 era. But I’ll be damned and doomed if Victoria’s song about existential bliss isn’t one of the most life-affirming songs I’ve heard this year. The quirky musical touches just emphasize the boldness of the song. Both “The Funeral Song” and “Growing Up Is Getting Old” are the perfect songs for me at this time of my life for various reasons, and I can’t help but smile through the tears every time I listen to them.

Sweden: Danny Saucedo – “Dandi Dansa”

Danny Saucedo is first and foremost a showman. The playful and catchy “Dandi Dansa” could have very easily gotten cheesy, but his charm and confidence makes it entertaining. The staging leans into its Jamiroquai influences a bit too heavily, yet it’s hard to complain when Danny and his dance crew pull it off almost flawlessly every time.

Estonia: Jüri Pootsmann – “Magus Melanhoolia”

When last I saw Jüri Pootsmann, he was struggling to get Eurovision audiences to understand how much smoldering stage presence he actually has. He came back to Eesti Laul this year with a wicked cool song that reestablished him as a brooding, sultry pop artist. “Magus Melanhoolia” fit his vocal tone perfectly, and it didn’t need to pander to stand out.

Norway: Blåsemafian – “Let Loose”

I have a soft spot in my heart for brass band pop, which is why I’ve been missing Washington, DC during the pandemic. If there’s a brass band busking by Dupont Circle station, I’m suddenly not in a huge rush to get where I need to go to next. These days, if I’m feeling a bit low, I will crank up La BrassBanda and dance around the house. So obviously, I was very receptive to “Let Loose” when Blåsemafian performed it at Melodi Grand Prix. It’s a stomping, romping good time, and I was thrilled to see it make the top four in the final.

Italy: Extraliscio feat. Davide Toffolo – “Bianca luce nera”

How to explain “Bianca luce nera,” especially now that Sanremo only exists in brief clips on the official RAI website? Extraliscio is an eclectic neo-traditional folk-pop band whose singer Mirco Mariani looks like a mad scientist. Another member, Mauro Ferrara, looks like the father of the bride who wandered into the wrong party. Meanwhile, special guest Davide Toffolo is a comic book artist and performer who wears a skull mask, evoking the late, great MF Doom at a Day of the Dead celebration.

Together, they created a song that works like a perpetual motion machine, constantly building and building. Their performances at Sanremo were fun chaotic parties I never wanted to end, and the studio version of “Bianca luce nera” shows the tightly-constructed method to their madness.

Lithuania: Black Spikes with Indre Launikonyte – “Don’t Tell Me”

I spent a lot of time over the past year exploring my heavy metal roots and getting caught up on where the genre has gone, and gosh am I glad I did, because I was primed to gush over “Don’t Tell Me.” Black Spikes’ song is an emo-numetal pop song with flashes of guttural vocals and a flair for over-the-top stage costumes. It is the culmination of metal history in a fab little three minute package.

Portugal: Miguel Marôco – “Girassol”

This is going to be a hard one for me to explain. I have a huge fondness for certain styles and rhythms of the 1970s. “Girassol” fires all the synapses in my brain that store that affection. I love swimming around in Miguel Marôco’s song because it takes me back to a time in my life that never really existed, but lingers inside me anyway.

National Final Season in Review 2021: WTF?

I thought that living through 2020 would numb me from any inexplicably odd moments in light entertainment programs. But 2020 didn’t prepare me for an Emmy-winning filmmaker to descend from the ceiling of a Zagreb studio to warble a song about world peace. Here are all the head-scratching, jaw-dropping, eyebrow-raising moments of this year’s national final season.

Belarus: Galasy ZMesta – “Ya Nauchu Tebya (I’ll Teach You)”

I’ve talked about what happened with Belarus’s 2021 Eurovision entry already, so I only will ask: Did BTRC deliberately submit this as a Eurovision entry, knowing it would be rejected, so that they could pretend they were victims of Western suppression? Or were they really that oblivious to the level of attention focused on Belarus as the protests broke out?

Norway: Daniel Owen – “Psycho”

“Psycho” isn’t a bad song, but those lyrics… “Psycho, never thought you would make me a psycho?” They’re so uncomfortable that I could have sworn they were written by a certain recently disgraced Hollywood actor. Eww.

Albania: Evi Reçi – “Tjerr”

If you can ignore Evi Reçi’s weird “will the nipples slip or won’t they” outfit, you can enjoy the spectacle of two inept escape artists struggling to free themselves from a rope loosely draped around them.

France: Poney X – “Amour Fou”

I hate myself for enjoying “Amour Fou” as much as I do. The DJ pony gimmick is dumb, but the “Rednex covers ‘Mambo No.5’” one-hit wonder of it all is ridiculously entertaining.

Estonia: Redel – “Tartu”

Kristjan Oden and Indrek Vaheoja from Winny Puhh have written the definitive song about Tartu’s massive amount of wood. I don’t think that’s a euphemism.

Sweden: WAHL fet Sami – “90-talet”

This ode to the 1990s was staged as if it were an ode to the 1980s and no amount of ecstasy will make me feel like I did that much coke.

Italy: Colapesce & Dimartino – “Musica leggerissima”

Colapesce & Dimartin staged their smooth 1970s yacht rock ballad with a Miami Vice look and just the right amount of sly self-awareness. Also, even when you know the roller skater is coming, you are never prepared for the roller skater to show up.

Lithuania: Thomukas 1 – “Wish”

Imagine if Harry Potter dropped out of Hogwarts, got into muscle cars, and embarked on a career as the Jimmy Somerville of Lithuania. The spoken word bit at the end just made “Wish” all the more surreal.

Croatia: Ashley Colburn i Bojan Jambrošić – “Share the Love”

As a documentary filmmaker you really want to get to know your subject, understand it, immerse yourself in it. And sometimes that means performing a cheesy call and response duet during Dora 2021. If you had told me this was a song from an off-Broadway musical based on Glitter, I totally would have believed you.

The 2021 Eurovision That Almost Was

My annual look into the parallel Eurovision universe is a lot easier this year because the alternate timeline doesn’t look that different from the actual one. Only 12 countries held national finals to determine their artist and song, and only three returning performers had a song selection show.

Moreover, Bulgaria’s Victoria didn’t so much have a competition to choose her song as she had a chill rooftop concert in Sofia before casually revealing which song was her Eurovision entry. It was fun and all, but it also meant Bulgaria made an internal selection.

So that leaves just 14 songs for me to play with as I construct 2021’s Eurovision That Almost Was Tweaked Slightly.

Lithuania: Gebrasy – “Where’d You Wanna Go”

“Where’d You Wanna Go” starts off as a really striking song, and Gebrasy sings it with a spellbinding intensity. Then a staccato drum beat kicks in during the second verse, and the spell is broken. For a minute I could lament this one getting lost in the national finals, but I really just want Gebrasy to come back with a tighter song in a year without a Lithuanian national treasure competing.

Russia: #2Mashi – “Bitter Words”

Manizha won Russia’s national final with 39.7% of the televote while #2Mashi snagged 35.7%.  The duo’s “Bitter Words” sounds like a song that would have finished mid-table in the 2006 Song Contest. I really like it, and it has a strange way of seeping into my consciousness at odd moments when I’m editing spreadsheets. But it just doesn’t pop the way “Russian Woman” does.

Sweden: Eric Saade – “Every Minute”

Eric Saade returned to Melodifestivalen with a more mature song musically, but a pretty immature song lyrically. He may not sing high school-level dis songs anymore, but he’s merely graduated to frat-boy lust songs. I didn’t understand his wardrobe choice, either, unless he knows something about the sex appeal of cricket players that isn’t common knowledge on this side of the Atlantic. Still, “Every Minute” did have a really cool staging, featuring Eric dancing with a shadow. That was sweet.

Norway: KEiiNO – “Monument”

There was a lot of excitement in the Eurovision fan community about KEiiNO returning to Melodi Grand Prix this year, and I think most people expected them to romp through to Rotterdam. I wouldn’t have been surprised if they had, but I wasn’t particularly impressed. “Monument” struck me as being a vaguely smug song about their own self-importance. I honestly wish they had held on to “Black Leather” for Eurovision season, if only for the staging possibilities.

Croatia: Nina Kraljić – “Rijeka”

Nina Kraljić represented Croatia at the 2016 Song Contest with “Lighthouse,” and she won! The Barbara Dex award, I mean. She seemed to be gunning for a repeat win with her Dora 2021 outfit. Her song “Rijeka” was a sludgy mess that sloshed together a staid ballad orchestration and melodramatic opera vocals. Nina also somehow found a way to be hammy without changing her facial expressions.

Italy: Francesca Michielin & Fedez – “Chiamami per nome”

Like Nina Kraljić, Francesca Michielin is another 2016 Eurovision Song Contest participant who vied for a return trip this year. She teamed up with rapper Fedez for “Chiamami per nome,” and while the recorded version of the song is strong, the live version never really clicked live. Fedez’ solo vocals featured modulation effects that were a bit too jarring for the tone of the song. That they finished second during a really tight Sanremo festival is impressive, but I also would have been really disappointed if they had won instead of Måneskin or third-place finisher Ermal Meta.

Israel: Eden Alene “La La Love”

“La La Love” is a lot of fun, although I think how you handle the lyric “Love is my disease/I don’t need no medication/I want it to infect my generation” depends on how you’ve maintained your sense of humor during the pandemic. Mine was always a bit morbid, so I loved it.

Estonia: Sissi – “Time”

Sissi is the daughter of Eurovision winner Dave Benton, and she is a star in the making. “Time” is okay: it was hampered by a standard issue gospel-influenced backing vocal and a suffocating audio mix, but it was enhanced by a groovy Procol Harum-esque organ riff and Sissi’s talent. She sings “Time” with skill, joy, and conviction, so I really hope she gets a chance to represent Estonia at Eurovision someday soon.

Albania: Sardi Strugaj – “Kam me t’ba me kajt”

I am trying to figure out the story behind the staging for “Kam me t’ba me kajt” because I don’t think Sardi Strugaj intended it to look like a woman was trapped in a cage being forced to listen to his song. The piercing guitar riff sounded like the voice in the back of my head saying “meh” over and over again.

Portugal: Carolina Deslandes – “Por um Triz”

As fond as I am of The Black Mamba, I was Team Carolina Deslandes all the way during Festival da Canção. “Por um Triz” is a ravishing song and Carolina had such style and grace that I was mesmerized each time I saw her perform.

Finland: Teflon Bros x Pandora – “I Love You”

Teflon Bros x Pandora brought a deliciously trashy, zanily silly masterpiece to UMK. “I Love You” reveled in its simplicity and its campy staging. It’s a dumb song written by clever people and those are always a party and a half.

Denmark: Jean Michel – “Beautiful”

Jean Michel is a likable singer, but his Dansk Melodi Grand Prix entry didn’t do him many favors. The orchestration for “Beautiful” has way too much going on, making it sound very cluttered. The lyrics are very “we can change the world with this simple song.” And the staging suits the song, in that it was as on the nose as one could package a tune with such generic lyrics. It’s all very pleasant, but not particularly interesting.

France: Juliette Moraine – “Pourvu Qu’on M’Aime”

“Pourvu Qu’on M’Aime” is a straightforward and effective chanson number that was beautifully sung by Juliette Moraine. As nice as it is, “Pourvu Qu’on M’Aime” also had a concert staging instead of a performance staging. It’s easy to see why “Voilà” left this in the dust.

Spain: Blas Cantó – Memoria

Oof, the two songs Blas had on offer this year were the equivalent of high school cafeteria lunch options. Do I want the bland Salisbury steak or the undercooked chicken nuggets? At least “Voy a quedarme” is redeemed by its heartbreaking, achingly beautiful official video. “Memoria” is like a ballad that was accidentally arranged as an upbeat pop song. It’s strident and a bit annoying. Yet I still really like Blas’ vocal. He’s so good and these songs are… so not.