Serbia’s Eurovision 2020 Entry

Ready for a good ol’ foot-stomping banger?

Sanja Vucic, Ksenija Knezevic, and Ivana Nikolić formed Hurricane in 2017. Two of the members have participated in Eurovision before. Ksenija was backing singer for her father Knez when he represented Montenegro in 2015, while Sanja represented Serbia in 2016. Sanja co-wrote “Hasta La Vista” with Nemanja Antonić and Kosana Stojić.

“Hasta La Vista” is a blast, but there is also something dated about it. It reminds us of the the type of song that was prevalent when we first started watching Eurovision in 2006. We also thought the vocals on the verses were a bit thin. The vocal arrangement isolates the singers when the song could use some more richness.

Once Hurricane gets to the chorus, though, it’s easy to get hooked. We always take it as a hallmark of a catchy song that we only need to hear it once and then remember the chorus just by looking at the title. “Hasta La Vista” is a bit of an earworm, which is why we kinda wish those verses were a little tighter. It could have been that much more fun.

Cyprus’ Eurovision 2020 Entry

One of the things that we have been deprived of by the cancellation of this year’s Eurovision Song Contest is the delight (or horror) of discovering how countries would have staged their entries. We mention this now because we have absolutely now idea how Cyprus would have pulled this one off.

Sandro (a.k.a. Alessandro Ruetten) was born in Germany to Greek and American parents. He competed on the eighth season of The Voice of Germany and finished sixth while representing the United States at Russia’s New Wave Festival in 2019. He cowrote “Running” with The Voice Australia winner Alfie Arcuri, German singer-songwriter Octavian Rasinariu, German songwriter and producer Sebastian Metzner Rickards, and someone named Teo DK (not to be confused with Teo BY).

“Running” has an ambient quality that reminds us of downtempo artists like Ulrich Schnauss. It’s kind of an odd choice for a Eurovision song, because it doesn’t strike us as a performance song. It’s a mood piece with a decent hook for a chorus, which is not something that pops on a big stage.

Even though “Running” didn’t leave much of an impression on us at first, it has grown us considerably. One of our favorite songs from 2019 was Alphabeat’s “Shadows.” Here, Sandro offers up a more internalized companion piece. The lyrics are (to us, anyway) about hiding from the world when you’re filled with self-doubt. For those of us who struggle with anxiety, it’s quite an anthem. Maybe it’s a bit too introverted to be a Eurovision song, but it resonates anyway. A dose of “Running,” a dose of “Shadows,” and we won’t be afraid to move on.

Portugal’s Eurovision 2020 Entry

Sometimes we just want to hear a song to help us relax.

Elisa Silva is a singer from Madeira who tried out for Ídolos in 2015. She studies music at Escola Superior de Música in Lisbon. Her song “Medo de sentir” was written by Marta Carvalho, a finalist on the 2016 edition of The Voice Portugal who has since had success as a songwriting while continuing her career has a singer. She joined Elisa on stage as pianist and backing vocalist during Festival da Canção.

“Medo de sentir” finished second with the public and second with the jury at Festival da Canção. However, the song that won the jury vote was spiked by the public and vice versa, which gave Elisa the win. Keiino and Tamara Todevska can speak a little bit about what it’s like to have that happen.

We liked “Medo de sentir” well enough when we first heard it in the Festival semifinals, and liked it about the same when we heard it again the final. It’s not a remarkable, “Oh yes, crank it up” song, but it’s pleasant, like a more commercial take on “O Jardim.”

It doesn’t land a deep impact on us, though. We think that’s because there is no build to a grand finale: the bridge makes it seem like Elisa is going to go big, but instead she returns to the song’s meditative pace to bring it to a gentle close. Gentle is nice, but it isn’t necessarily memorable.

Still, if you are in the mood for a contemplative song about the difficulties of learning to love again after your heart has been broken, “Medo de sentir” is a fine way to squeeze out your tears.

The Eurovision Song Contest 2020 That Almost Was

The European Broadcasting Union has announced that because of concerns about the efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19, this year’s Eurovision Song Contest has been cancelled. It’s the cherry-shaped poop pellet on top of the crap cake that is 2020.

We’re going to keep writing our song reviews, though, for three reasons:

  1. These songs still exist as their respective countries’ national selections.
  2. We still have strong opinions about almost all of them.
  3. One of the ways we can ease stress during a time of uncertainty is to do things that we love, and we love to write about Eurovision.

We’re not going to speculate on what happens next, although we assume Rotterdam will be given the chance to host again next year if they want to. We just hope that each and every one of you stay safe and stay healthy.

San Marino’s and Azerbaijan’s Eurovision 2020 Entries

Every year, we write a couple of posts called The Eurovision That Almost Was. It’s our chance to revisit songs that finished second at national finals, singers who were runners-up on talent shows, and entries that for one reason or another never graced the stage at the Grand Prix.

Usually, we wait until after the Final to write up those posts to give us something to do over the summer. But this year, we have an opportunity to talk about what might have been in conjunction with what actually happened.

No, we’re not talking about a potential cancellation of the entire Contest due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We’re just talking about this year’s San Marino entry, “Freaky!”

Senhit returns to the Song Contest nine years after she first represented San Marino without that letter H in her name. Since then, San Marino has made disco its national brand. Thus, when Senhit had her flash national final to decide which song she would bring to Rotterdam, it seemed inevitable that “Freaky!” was going edge “Obssessed.”

We thought “Freaky!” was the better song anyway. Senhit delivers a lot of sass and sexiness to the recorded track, which makes fun. The trouble is, as is often the case with San Marino, the song is more dated than retro. Their hopes rely heavily on Senhit’s personality shining through.

However, many hardcore national final followers felt that they were deprived of a third choice. Senhit had recorded another track called “Cleopatra” and the general feeling was that it was so much better than “Freaky!” or “Obsessed.”

Cut to Azerbaijan, who were searching for a song for their internal selection Efendi. “Cleopatra” suited her to a T. Thus, Senhit’s pass was Efendi’s gain.

Efendi embodies “Cleopatra” so much that it’s hard to believe it wasn’t written just for her. The way she rolls her Rs when she sings “Like Cleopatrrrrra” is instantly iconic and even makes you forget the silly “Nam Myōhō Renge Kyō” bit that leads into the chorus. (We didn’t know Cleopatra was Buddhist.) Sure, this is just a revamped version of Katy Perry’s “Dark Horse,” but it bloody works.

So what was Senhit thinking by passing on it? Take a listen to her version of “Cleopatra” and you will understand. She interprets the lyrics fairly literally and her vocal lacks the playfulness she brings to “Freaky!” Efendi’s take has way more attitude. She brings a lot of cheek to “Cleopatra,” which plays into its goofier moments while still making it compelling.

Also, Senhit’s arrangement for the song has a random Latin-influenced breakdown in the middle. It’s probably inspired by the lyric “Egyptian and Latin, the voices run through me,” but it sounds out of place. Efendi’s arrangement has a more sparse and faintly Middle Eastern breakdown that’s more in step with the overall inspiration for the song.

It’s all about what works for each performer. Efendi nails the tone of “Cleopatra.” Senhit nails the tone of “Freaky!” Ultimately, we think both San Marino and Azerbaijan made the right choices for this year’s Song Contest.

Denmark’s Eurovision 2020 Entry

This year’s Dansk Melodi Grand Prix was a preview of what life is going to be like for the next few months. Because the Danish government issued restrictions on large crowds in order to stem the rapid spread of COVID-19, the entire show was staged in an empty arena.

So let’s assume that Ben and Tan now have a distinct advantage if the EBU need to fall back on a contingency plan for this year’s Eurovision Song Contest.

Benjamin Rosenbohm and Tanne Balcells met during the 2019 edition of Denmark’s The X Factor. Ben finished second, while Tan was a member of the fourth place finisher Echo. They formed a duo after the series was over.

Their song “Yes” was written by Jimmy Jansson, Linnea Deb, and Emil Lei. Jimmy had a break-out year as a songwriter at Melodifestivalen this year, co-authoring six songs in the Swedish competition. Emil is a Danish engineer who has worked with Greta Salome. And Linnea is of course one of the songwriters behind the Eurovision-winning song “Heroes.”

“Yes” is a country-flecked pop tune with a big catchy “SAY YES” of a chorus. Ben and Tan’s vocal tones compliment each other really well, with some lovely harmonization throughout their performance. We love how they provide support for each other as they alternate leads on the harmonies. It’s a well-constructed song that has a lot of warmth.

We have to comment on the staging, though, because it was far from ideal for a love song duet. For two thirds of the song, Ben and Tan are on different parts of the stage. At one point, Tan stands behind Ben, staring at the back of his head while he faces forward. They don’t look at each other until the 2:12 mark of the song. It all made Chanée and N’evergreen look like Monika and Vaidas.

That’s why we hope Denmark let Ben and Tan wear their hearts on their sleeves at the Song Contest. “Yes” is going to fall flat if they aren’t allowed to display any chemistry.

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.