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.

The Netherlands’ Eurovision 2020 Entry

The Netherlands are hosting Eurovision for the first time in 44 years, and they have asked Jeangu Macrooy to defend their crown.

Jeangru Macrooy is a singer from Suriname who made his name in The Netherlands with his first single “Gold,” which was featured in an advertisement for HBO. Jeangru performed it at TEDxMaastricht in 2016 and it is fantastic. He wrote his song for Europe “Grow” with his longtime collaborator Perquisite.

So, nothing says Eurovision a song about how it sucks to get older, right? If you’re in the market for a song about that, The Roop already have you covered. Maybe we’re just hurt that “Grow” cuts a little close to home when Jeangu and his backing vocalists sing, “The more I learn, the less I know.” That has been our motto when making Eurovision predictions on this site for the past decade.

As for the song itself, we like the bare vocal with the quiet organ underneath to start the song, and how each bar adds a bit more to build “Grow” up. It’s like the song itself is growing, which is pretty cool. And Jeangu is a commanding presence when he performs (which is why we’re linking above to his live performance on DWDD instead of the official video).

It’s a likable song with a meditative story to tell, but we’re not sure its amiability will translate to back-to-back wins for the host country. We see “Grow” as more of a summation of a seven year journey for The Netherlands, that started with Anouk’s “Birds” in 2013 and culminated with Duncan Laurence’s win last year with “Arcade.” They rethought their participation and found success by just offering up quality. They’ve grown as a Eurovision power and we hope their success continues.

Romania’s Eurovision 2020 Entry

We were just thinking that we need another Eurovision song about a relationship that has gone bad.

Roxen (a.k.a. Larisa Roxana Giurgiu) first rose to fame when she guested on SICKOTOY’s 2019 single “You Don’t Love Me,” which peaked at number three on Romania’s Airplay 100 chart last September. “Ce-ți cântă dragostea,” her first solo single, went to number five in November.

We were pretty excited to hear what Roxen would offer up after she was announced as Romania’s representative. Here is a singer whose star is rising very fast. We also loved her second solo single, “I Don’t Care,” and had hoped that this American hip-hop influenced pop number would indicate the direction she would go in at the Song Contest.

So maybe our unreasonable expectations explain why “Alcohol You” landed with a thud for us. That and the aforementioned fact that it’s yet another song at Eurovision 2020 about a doomed love affair.

But our main complaint is that Romania has this young, vibrant singer and she’s been saddled with a dour tune that floats around without ever really building to anything. Tonally, the chorus sounds the same as the verses, with no rise or fall. It’s a very flat journey, like driving through the middle of Nevada.

And as much as we try to avoid whinging about lyrics these days, we really dislike how the chorus is built around a pun so bad Andy Zaltzman would cringe. “Alcohol you when I’m drunk?” Really? We can’t ignore that or the reference to “fake news” because those lines are so out of character with someone singing about desperate loneliness after a break-up. Between the static orchestration and the misshapen lyrics, it’s easy for us to give this one the pass.

Greece’s Eurovision 2020 Entry

We need a hero! We’re holding out for a hero til the end of the night of the Grand Prix Final! She’s got to be strong and she’s got to be Dutch and Greek and she’s got to be fresh from today’s pop charts!

(We also need to hone our skills as lyricists.)

Stefania Liberakakis is a Dutch-Greek singer who represented The Netherlands in the 2016 Junior Eurovision Song Contest as part of the group Kisses. In addition to her music career, she has acted on the Dutch series Brugklas and voice-acted in the Dutch dubs of the movies Wonder Park and Doolittle. We hope she’s also available to voice Haley Dunphy in the Dutch dub of Modern Family too.

Her song “SUPERG!RL” was composed by Dimitris Kontopoulos (who also co-wrote this year’s entry from Moldova), Sharon Vaughn (who also co-wrote this year’s entries from Moldova and Estonia), and the songwriting collective Arcade (who had nothing to do with last year’s entry from The Netherlands)

“SUPERG!RL” is a blast, chock full of infectious melodies and interesting flourishes. The orchestration is very Just Dance. Even though the popular Ubisoft video game draws from current singles on pop charts in each year, they will obviously be biased towards certain melodies and rhythms that lend themselves towards cute animated videos and easy choreography. “SUPERG!RL” fits right in and we’d love to see it on the 2021 edition.

We have high hopes for Stefania and “SUPERG!RL.” There is a lot of potential here for a fun, vibrant performance. With any luck, she and her team can pull out all the stops and give us a VMA-worthy staging that can make “SUPERG!RL” pop live. Granted, it’s been a few years since Greece has given us a truly inspired full-on Greece staging, but if there is any year to regain that form, this is that year.

Georgia’s Eurovision 2020 Entry

Why should all the women of Eurovision 2020 have a monopoly on awful relationships?

Tornike Kipiani won the first season of X Factor Georgia back in 2014 and earned his ticket to Rotterdam by winning Georgian Idol. He wrote “Take Me As I Am” with Aleko Berdzenishvili, who has worked with Stephane & 3G of “We Don’t Want to Put In” fame.

Holy cow, this is amazing. Tornike is a handsome guy with a twinkle in his eye and lungs of leather. But deep in his soul he has more pathos than a 16 year old boy with clinical depression who just got stood up for the prom. Stop comparing him to all those Western European and English guys, unnamed antagonist! Love him for who he is: a hot, brooding Georgian dude!

Tornike’s vocal is the metal equivalent of “And I Am Telling You” from DreamgirlsThat growl he lets out when he sings “Why don’t love me” at the end of the first chorus is as intense and breathtaking as Jennifer Holliday’s deep breath-big note. It is glorious.

Yes, “Take Me As I Am” doesn’t go anywhere. The second half of the song is pretty much the same as the first, from verse through chorus. And yes, it just peters out without any strong conclusion. Minor complaints in our mind. We love it.

The thing that amazes us the most is that Tornike won Georgian Idol, sat down with Aleko Berdzenishvili and wrote this, and when he played it for the Georgian delegation, they said, “Yes.” Because no other country but Georgia would submit as its Eurovision entry a three-minute prog metal epic that would make Jim Steinman think, “Boy, that’s a bit over the top.” Thank you, Georgia, for being you.

Moldova’s Eurovision 2020 Entry

It’s almost as if Moldova heard this year’s Eurovision entries from Belgium, Norway, and Poland and said, “Oh, you think your relationships are messed up?”

Natalia Gordienko first represented Moldova in 2006, teaming up with Arsenium to perform “Loca.” Two years later, she received an Artist Emerit award from the government of Moldova. Her song “Prison” was co-written by Philipp Kirkorov and Dimitris Kontopoulos, longtime fixtures of our Eurovision Songwriters page. The lyrics are by Sharon Vaughn, who we wrote about in our review of this year’s Estonian entry. We should probably make her a fixture of our Eurovision Songwriters page, too.

Our first reaction to “Prison” is that it reminded us of Azerbaijan, because it sounds like a cross between “Hour of the Wolf” and “When the Music Dies.” It also has Kirkorov’s signature bounciness in both the melody and the rhythm, even though it’s a dramatic doomed love song.

Natalia needs to work on her connection to the story of “Prison” before she gets to Rotterdam. Her performance at O melodie pentru Europa 2020 felt disconnected with the lyrics. The staging leans into the song’s utter desperation, yet Natalia sings with a flat, pure vocal tone. She could be singing about a particularly overcast day as much as a bad romance. We need to feel your existential pain!

Even if she does somehow leave her heart on the floor of the Rotterdam Ahoy arena, we still can’t imagine a lot of general enthusiasm for this dire little dirge.

Belarus’ Eurovision 2020 Entry

Our year of audience-friendly choreography continues!

VAL are singer Valeria Gribusova and musician Vlad Pashkevich. Valerie was runner up in the 2015 Slavic Bazaar and auditioned for The Voice of Ukraine in 2017. Meanwhile, Vlad owns the music studio ToneTwins, which produced Naviband’s 2017 Eurovision entry “Story Of My Life.”

“Da Vidna” has a vibe that takes us back to Milan Fashion Week in the mid-1990s. Not that we were there, but if we had been, we expect something like this to be played during the Missoni show. It’s very stylish, very smooth, and very pleasant.

It’s also very inconsequential. We enjoy it when we hear it, but in the way we enjoy songs we hear when we’re trying on clothes at some posh clothing store even though we can’t afford any of it. But this Missoni cardigan looks so nice! Then we leave and never bother to figure out what songs we heard in the changing room.

The staging is simple but effective, featuring some snazzy, easy-to-follow moves and Valeria’s striking headwear (which is more Dolce&Gabbana than Missoni). As luck would have it, though, VAL are drawn in the same half as The Roop, who go for less subtle dance movies for greater effect.

We don’t revel in poking holes in “Da Vidna,” because we really do like it (and really hope they keep it in Belarusian). We just feel like it’s one of those songs that gets lost in the shuffle in a Semifinal. But we’ll always have Milan.

Estonia’s Eurovision 2020 Entry

We were just thinking that we needed another love ballad song by a handsome fellow with scruffy facial hair.

Uku Suviste is a singer and songwriter who won the 2008 Uno Naissoo composing competition. He finished second at Eesti Laul 2019 with “Pretty Little Liar.” He has worked with Birgit Õigemeel on the album Ilus Aeg and with the Estonian Ministry of Defence on the song “Võitmatu,” which had a cameo by Justin Gatlin.

Also, he is the Snow Miser to  Freddie’s Heat Miser.

Freddie Screen Capture by Eurovision Lemurs. Uku Suviste picture from Eurovision.tv. Heat Miser and Snow Miser from Click Americana.

Uku co-wrote his song with Sharon Vaughn, who was an established songwriter in American country music before jumping into the world of Eurovision with such songs as Jedward’s “Waterline,” Sergey Lazarev’s “Scream,” and this year’s Greek entry, Stefania Liberakakis’ “SUPERG!RL.”

We are underwhelmed by “What Love Is.” It is very pretty, and the staging is very pretty. Uku is also very pretty. The whole package just rests on pretty, which doesn’t make it compelling.

Our main complaint is that the chorus is really lumpy. It’s so crammed full of notes and lyrics that it sounds more desperate than romantic. The “one-two-three-one-two-three-one-twoooo” pattern builds up lots of tension, but the release isn’t cathartic. We’re just relieved that Uku has moved onto other melodies.

Uku is a good singer and a compelling television presence. When he looks right into the camera as he sings “Til I looked into your eyes,” it’s effective rather than cheesy. There’s no doubt he will be able to do the hard sell with this package. But we’re still not buying it.

Iceland’s Eurovision 2020 Entry

A funny thing happened to Iceland in 2019. They got tired of their songs getting lost in the Eurovision Semifinals, so they mixed things up by sending an agitprop anti-capitalist industrial dance collective. It worked out pretty well: Hatari finished 10th in the Grand Final and they only got fined the €5,000 after they waved Palestinian flags in the Tel Aviv green room.

Then it dawned on everyone: hey, maybe the secret to this Eurovision thing is to find acts that stand out. Pretty men singing bland ballads are a dime a dozen. Who else is sending a geeky synth pop band who are obsessed with 8-bit animation, homemade musical instruments, and exquisite choreography?

Daði og Gagnamagnið first competed in Söngvakeppnin in 2017 with “Is This Love,” which finished as the runner up to Svala’s “Paper.” At first glance, the only real difference between “Is This Love” and “Think About Things” is that instead of singing a song to keyboardist Árnýja Fjóla Ásmundsdóttir (who is his wife), Daði Freyr Pétursson is singing a song to his infant daughter (who is not in the band yet). Otherwise, the band is pretty much doing the same thing here as they did during their first go.

But everything is now a bit more polished, a little more slick, and a lot more catchy. They have a keen sense of their own brand, right down to the costuming and the nerdy, yet chic staging. The whole package is evocative of both Napoleon Dynamite’s dance to “Canned Heat” and Pollapönk’s “No Prejudice,” with a little bit of Real Genius thrown in for good measure. It is goofy fun, made more delightful by their attention to detail.

The hidden power of “Think About Things” lies in the collective talent of backing vocalists Hulda Kristín Kolbrúnardóttir and Daði’s sister Sigrún Birna Pétursdóttir. Their vocals have been consistently tight throughout this year’s Söngvakeppnin and they add a professional sheen to the song that elevates the band’s high school talent show aesthetic.

We can imagine that this is not everyone’s cup of tea. A little too twee, a little too precious, or something like that. But we adore it because, to paraphrase a tweet from Elaine O’Neill, Daði og Gagnamagnið just look like us. We could be those kids. We frequently are those kids to this very day. And it’s nice to see someone like us make good.