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.)
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.