Malta’s Eurovision 2021 Entry

I wasn’t a huge fan of “All of My Love,” Malta’s 2020 Eurovision entry. It was written by a Symphonix International team seemingly flying on autopilot. While I had no doubt Destiny would sell it for more than it was worth, “All of My Love” felt like a glove she had to break in instead of one that fit her from the start.

This year, however:

Well, I couldn’t have said it any better myself.

What impresses me the most about Destiny is that, even though she’s just 18, the former Junior Eurovision winner has excellent control over her vocal. The way she delivers the “I’m too good to be true” part of the pre-chorus manages to be both charmingly flippant and technically flawless.

She delivers so much style and displays so much charisma that I can ignore what I see are flaws with “Je Me Casse.” I personally don’t care for the electro swing elements of the song. Now, I have not been kind to that genre in older posts (again, I apologize for being such a jerk, Electro Velvet), and “Je Me Casse” doesn’t exactly sway me. The choppy horn samples get on my nerves. That I think Destiny has delivered a strong entry for this year’s Song Contest has more to do with her being a proper pop star than the quality of the arrangement.

Still, I would have to be the worst kind of hater to not recognize that the strengths of “Je Me Casse” completely wipe out my own personal distaste for some stylistic choices. I am really looking forward to seeing Destiny finally making her appearing at Eurovision this May. Is she a potential winner? Given how she rocketed to the top of the odds when “Je Me Casse” came out, it seems a lot of people are willing to place their bets on her. Can’t fault them for that.

Georgia’s Eurovision 2021 Entry

I marveled last year that Georgia’s Eurovision delegation listened to Tornike Kipiani’s “Take Me As I Am” and said, “Perfect.” The song is an achingly angsty masterpiece further elevated by Tornike’s powerful, emotively sincere vocal. It was bonkers and brilliant at the same time. I genuinely had no idea how people would respond to it and I also genuinely had no idea how he and co-songwriter Aleko Berdzenishvili would be able to top it.

Here’s how: rather than go over the top, they dialed it all back. Yet they still found a way to make an impression.

“You” is a gentle and meditative love song to nature. Even as it builds to a big climax, it remains peaceful and contemplative. And it ends on an unresolved note, which invites me to listen to the song again.

There is a real 1970’s vibe to it that I can’t quite put my finger on. Some parts of the orchestration have a kind of AM gold feel to them, yet it all still sounds bracingly modern. I guess what I’m saying is that “You” sounds like Marc Bolan teamed up with Elbow to record “I’m Going Home” from Rocky Horror in the style of Pink Floyd. If you see what i mean.

Even though it lacks the brashness of “Take Me As I Am,” “You” is still a bold choice as a competitive song. I again genuinely have no idea how people are going to respond to it. I can only hope that I’m not the only one who digs what Tornike is offering up.

Azerbaijan’s Eurovision 2021 Entry

Some of the returning artists to this year’s Eurovision decided to go in a completely different direction from their previous entry (See: Australia). Others took what worked and reshaped it in ways to freshen it up for 2021 (See: Lithuania). And still others took the basic template of their 2020 song and pretty much just reused it (See: Estonia.)

Azerbaijan decided to take that last route by photocopying “Cleopatra” and slapped a new historical figure on top of it.

“Mata Hari” hits all of the same beats as “Cleopatra,” right down to the deep chanting part. Efendi even finds a way to work in her rolling Rs when she gets to namecheck Cleopatra in the pre-chorus. It’s like a sequel to a movie that tries to recreate what made the first one work, but it can’t quite recapture the surprises.

Now, how much that matters to a general audience who only tunes into Eurovision on a Saturday in May is debatable. I would assume most people  aren’t intimately familiar with all of the Song Contest entries before they watch. So maybe “Mata Hari” will sound fresh and Efendi will come off as a proper Eurovision diva.

But as someone who fully dives into national final season and listens to entries I don’t even like over and over again so I can write about them, I find “Mata Hari” so devoid of originality that I can’t take it seriously at all.

Sweden’s Eurovision 2021 Entry

Saying that Tusse won Melodifestivalen this year is an understatement. He totally won the living daylights out of Melodifestivalen this year. He received 12 points from four of the eight international juries and received 10 points from two others. In the detailed televoting results, he received 12 points from all seven age groups in the app vote and 12 more points from the telephone vote. Eric Saade finished 10 points behind him in the jury vote, and The Mamas finished 40 points behind him in the televote. He received 2,964,269 votes from the public, which beat John Lundvik’s previous record by just over 750,000. His win was comprehensive.

Not bad for his first Melodifestivalen entry.

Tusse is a refugee from the Democratic Republic of the Congo who came to Sweden at age eight. He has discussed the difficulties he had leaving his family behind as a child and settling into a new country on his own. He is now 19 and still in school; he mentioned in interviews before and after the Melodifestivalen final that he had a science paper due the week after the competition ended.

Aside from being a wonderful story about being celebrated by his new home, Tusse is also a wonderful story about an incredible performing talent. His vocal on “Voices” is flawless, and he has that rare ability to stare into the camera and express personal warmth and comfort to whoever is watching at home.

He can also elevate a song that is really a paint-by-numbers world harmony number, the type that Russia usually sends when they do internal selections. I don’t really like “Voices” on its own; I find the lyrics to be a bit trite. The fact that Tusse can take those lyrics and make them sound meaningful just highlights what a special talent he is.

I mentioned in my review of the Swiss entry “Tout l’Univers” that I sort Eurovision entries into two broad groups: songs that stand out because of strength of the song itself and ones that stand out because of the package in total. “Voices” stands out because Tusse is the total package.

Iceland’s Eurovision 2021 Entry

There was no Eurovision entry I was anticipating more this year than Daði og Gagnamagnið’s song. They captured the Song Contest zeitgeist last year with “Think About Things,” to the point that Strictly Come Dancing was still referencing it in promos for its fall 2020 season.

There was a bit of a bizarre backlash to the song, based on the idea that Netflix engineered it to go viral to help promote Will Farrell’s Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga. Ahem, that’s the Oscar nominated Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga. I thought the whole conspiracy story was without teeth, but as with any conspiracy stories, it had quite a few adherents who would have had fits if Iceland actually won last year.

Have I mentioned, speaking as an American, how tired I am of conspiracy stories?

Anyway, unlike the other Nordic countries, Iceland decided to eschew a national final and just send Daði og Gagnamagnið directly to Eurovision. They knew they had captured lightning in a bottle last year, and they had to hope Daði and his band of merry music makers would be able to recreate that magic with “10 Years.”

Before I get to the song, I have to address the official video for “10 Years.” I think it’s trying a bit too hard to replicate “Thing About Things” while making it just different enough to feel fresh. It doesn’t fully work for me, although that doesn’t mean I didn’t laugh out loud at its playful sense of humor.

Of course, I may just have been disappointed they weren’t wearing the  space Elvis jumpsuits.

However, that all doesn’t mean I’m not delighted by “10 Years.” It’s a charmingly wide-eyed love song for Daði’s wife Árnýja Fjóla Ásmundsdóttir (one of the electrokvinnaböske players in Gagnamagnið). It’s simple, it’s ebullient, and it shows that not everyone got COVID-divorced last year.

I am amused that Daði decided to take the subtle disco flourishes in “Think About Things” and make them more overt in “10 Years.” It actually makes a lot of sense. If the song lyrics are about unbridled joy, then what sounds more joyous than a really good disco song?

An aside: if you ever get a chance to drive around San Francisco at midnight while listening to Van McCoy’s “The Hustle,” do it. You will not be disappointed.

Like The Roop, Daði og Gagnamagnið faced the impossible task of recreating the buzz they had created last year, and they’ve made a valiant go of it. Even if I don’t believe they’ve re-engineered it as successfully as their Lithuanian colleagues, I still think they are delightful enough to make an impression in Rotterdam.

Poland’s Eurovision 2021 Entry

Have you ever wondered what Miami Vice would have looked like if it starred mid-level bureaucrats?

I debated with myself about whether this is a satire like American Psycho or genuine like The Room. I concluded that it was too sincere to be self-aware.

I don’t understand why Poland didn’t give their ticket to Rotterdam to Alicja Szemplińska, who was supposed to represent them last year. Was the song she submitted for the competition really liked less than this?

“The Ride” isn’t even a bad song. It just sounds dated rather than retro. It’s the difference between aping an old style or reinterpreting it. This is evoking ’80s synth pop without offering anything new.

By the way, RAFAŁ may look familiar to you if you are a diehard Eurovision fan (or a budget analyst in the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development). In Poland’s 2017 national final, he sang the delightfully inane “Sky Over Europe.” If that hadn’t finished second, we would have written about it in our annual WTF round-up instead of the Eurovision That Almost Was post. Thanks to Robyn Gallagher from wiwibloggs for reminding me of that golden nugget!

Latvia’s Eurovision 2021 Entry

Let’s say you are part of the Latvian Eurovision delegation, and you are discussing your plans for the 2021 Song Contest. Last year’s Supernova winner and Eurovision scholar Samanta Tīna had finally earned her ticket on her ninth try. Do you even consider the possibility of having a national final instead of giving her a direct pass to Rotterdam? Especially when she busts into the room like this?

THE QUEEN

No, you sure as hell don’t.

Working again with Aminata, as well as with Oskars “SKVR” Uhaņs, Samanta has found a way to top the musical audacity of “Still Breathing” by a country mile. Given a second bite of the apple, she is willing to take huge risks and proudly display her confidence in her abilities as a performer and an artist.

“The Moon Is Rising” is entirely rhythmic. The beat is carried by a hiccuping vocal sample, some claps, sparse 808 drum beats, and a few percussive piano notes. There are a few musical flourishes adorning the arrangement: a guitar here, a blast of synthesized brass there. But they exist only to accentuate the vocal melody. I described “Still Breathing” last year as a song that requires a diva to sing it. “The Moon Is Rising” specifically requires Samanta Tīna to sing it.

It’s very bold, and she runs the real danger of going off the rails. I’m not worried about her ability to deliver vocally as much as I fret that she could come off as hammy instead of powerful. Then again, she has wanted this moment for so long, so maybe I shouldn’t doubt that she will make every second of that moment count.

United Kingdom’s Eurovision 2021 Entry

James Newman had one of the more quietly awesome songs slated to compete in Eurovision 2020. “My Last Breath” was the first song under the BBC’s partnership with the BMG record label. Although it fit into the United Kingdom’s Eurovision sound of recent years, it still felt like progress for a country that has struggled to compete in the past decade.

When I saw that the song title for this year’s entry, “Embers,” I thought to myself, “We’re going to be sticking in that solid middle ground, aren’t we?”

No. No, we are not.

“Embers” is brassy. I mean, in the sense that it has a lot of brass instruments on it. All of the brass instruments. No brass instruments in the United Kingdom were left unused. “Embers” has more brass than the Pentagon. It has so much brass that Martin Wallace needs to make a new edition of his Brass board game series called Brass: Settle, North Yorkshire. It’s got a lot of brass in it.

Now, I can’t tell at this point if my enjoyment of “Embers” has to do with the quality of the song or because James Newman seems like such a lovely bloke. Maybe it’s a combination of both? It is a little hokey, but I really don’t care because it’s so irrepressibly catchy. It hooks me in the same way Kungs vs Cookin’ on 3 Burners’ “This Girl” did. I am a sucker for brassy bops, I guess.

What I am enjoying the most out of this year’s Song Contest selection is the variety of ways everyone is addressing the post-pandemic world. Some folks are internal and self-reflective (see: Bulgaria and North Macedonia), while others are busting out and just dancing (see: Lithuania and Czech Republic). The United Kingdom falls into that second camp, and I love James Newman for it.

Bulgaria’s Eurovision 2021 Entry

It’s interesting to me how few of this year’s returning artists have tackled last year’s cancellation of the Song Contest in their songs or their videos. Most of them have moved on quickly, with sly little references if they acknowledge it at all.

In a way, it’s good that only a few performers are facing the aftershocks of the pandemic year directly. I think we’d all have emotional fatigue if every song was tackling the same subject, and it makes the songs that do so land with more of an impact.

Vasil of North Macedonia addressed the cancellation directly in the intro to his video for “Here I Stand.” Meanwhile, Victoria uses the entirety of the  “Growing Up Is Getting Old” to tackle post-cancellation and lockdown-related depression. It’s a beautiful video, and it balances a fine line between confronting emotions without wallowing in them.

The song itself is gorgeous. Musically, it’s not a huge leap forward from her 2020 song “Tears Getting Sober.” That she worked with a different songwriting team on “Growing Up Is Getting Old” tells me that she has a solid vision of how she expresses herself as an artist.

Even though her two Eurovision songs are similar, I prefer Victoria’s 2021 entry more. The lush orchestration is more organic and more properly cinematic, instead of the Disney version of cinematic. If ever there was a song that makes the case for bringing back the live orchestra, this is it.

As I said in my review of Vincent Bueno’s “Amen,” sometimes a song resonates with me independently of the songwriters’ and performers’ intentions. “Growing Up Is Getting Old” doesn’t punch me the way “Amen” did, but its lyrics still touch me deeply as I manage my own anxiety disorder. It helps that after discussing her own feelings throughout the song, Victoria turns to the listener at the end to say:

If your world is breaking
And growing up is getting old
Know that you’re worth saving
And getting up is all you’ve got

Thank you for saying that.

Lastly, I will say that my favorite lyric is the very first one: “Playing Tetris with my feelings.” It reminds me an essay I first read years ago that I like to revisit every now and then: “Your Life Is Tetris. Stop Playing It Like Chess.” It’s a lovely little piece, and like a good song, it helps me keep tabs on myself when I need the boost.

Switzerland’s Eurovision 2021 Entry

Just under a year ago, I wrapped up our look at the Eurovision 2020 entries with a gushing review of Gjon’s Tears’ song “Répondez-moi.” Now I find myself a bit underwhelmed while listening to his 2021 effort “Tout l’Univers.”

It’s not that I don’t think “Tout l’Univers” is beautiful. It’s touchingly melancholic and hauntingly orchestrated. Gjon’s Tears sings it beautifully, and he’s given himself lots of room to show off his range. If I were a betting Lemur, I’d put money down that he will make this soar to the rafters come competition time.

But for some reason, it doesn’t really grab me the way “Répondez-moi” did. There is a tension, an underlying aching to “Répondez-moi” has that “Tout l’Univers” doesn’t quite capture. The latter song has more of an impact me when watching the gut-wrenching video than it does just listening to it on its own. If Gjon’s Tears executes “Tout l’Univers” flawlessly, he will deserve to take home the trophy. I don’t doubt for a moment that he will deliver a stunning performance, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he won Eurovision in this most competitive of years

What it comes down to is this: I think that some Song Contest winners are about the strength of the song itself and some are about the package in total. “Arcade” is an example of the former, while “1944” is an example of the latter. They are both perfectly legit and worthy winners. I just listen to “Arcade” a lot more than “1944.”