Denmark’s Eurovision 2021 Entry

For a moment there, I thought I had fallen asleep in a Delorean and woken up in 1985.

My initial reaction to Fyr & Flamme’s “Øve os på hinanden” was confusion. Are they a joke act or are they doing an intricately-constructed pastiche of the ’80s era of Eurovision? Reading the interview they did with Good Evening Europe: Eurovision Denmark, it’s clear (even with Google’s rough English translation) that they are celebrating the era rather than mocking it. How well that comes off when they perform at Eurovision will probably be the key to their success.

I am not a member of the Eurovision fan community who has a soft spot for the Song Contest of the 1980s. That is kind of strange, considering I first came to Eurovision for the campiness. That decade had kitsch in abundance, but I generally prefer the 1970s type of gaudiness.

That said, I can’t force myself into disliking “Øve os på hinanden.” Singer Jesper Groth is a big reason why. His slightly exaggerated movement and delighted looks at the camera impart such joyful enthusiasm for what he’s doing that I can’t help but smile. So even though I find the song he’s singing cheesy, I am also happy to keep watching him sing it.

Also, he has a chest tattoo, which is something I associate with 1930’s cartoon strongmen and and sailors. That he comes off as more Popeye than Bluto just makes him more likable.

Thanks to Good Evening Europe for flagging on Twitter their interview with Fyr & Flamme!

Estonia’s Eurovision 2021 Entry

I am happy Uku Suviste gets a chance to represent Estonia at the Eurovision Song Contest given what all happened last year. But I really wish he hadn’t gotten rewarded at Eesti Laul for simply rewriting his 2020 song.

What makes “The Lucky One” so disappointing to me is that I have seen how other returning artists have pushed themselves this year. Granted, the edgier entries were from singers who were internal selections, and Uku still had a national final to win. However, I feel like public sentiment in Estonia was going to get him to Rotterdam anyway, so he could have at least challenged himself a bit musically.

Though I think the music to “The Lucky One” is bland, I really like its lyrics. Co-written with Sharon Vaughn, the words do a fantastic job of capturing that moment when someone wakes up to the reality of a souring relationship. They are both lucid and heartbreaking, and argh I wish they were connected to a better song.

Serbia’s Eurovision 2021 Entry

When I was preparing to go to Belgrade on a business trip a number of years ago, I read a bunch of tourist guides, which all highlighted the city’s river boat night clubs. Tempted though I was to check one out, I was there for work, so I behaved myself. I only mention this because, in my mind, Hurricane is a Belgrade river boat night club personified.

At first glance, Hurricane’s 2021 entry “Loco Loco” isn’t that different from their 2020 entry “Hasta la Vista.” But everything about “Loco Loco” is just a little bit better. The beat is tighter, the vocals are bouncier, the chorus is just that much more catchy.

I mean, it is a lot cheesier. “One, two, girls, come on,” indeed. It is glittery and bit chintzy, sexy and a bit trashy, bold and a bit tacky. The hair is over-permed, the lips are over-glossed, everything is just a bit over the top.

And I’m not mad about that. Hurricane are selling overindulgence in “Loco Loco” and after a year of forced austerity, who doesn’t want to completely overdo it the first chance they get? “Loco Loco” may not be a song I play over and over again, but I will totally turn it up when it comes on.

Moldova’s Eurovision 2021 Entry

Let’s talk about Philipp Kirkorov for a moment. He has decided to be to Moldova what Ralph Siegel was to San Marino for a few years, only much more so. Natalia Gordienko’s song reveal of “Sugar” was in Moscow, not Chisinau, and included a long speech by Philipp about how he is now Mr. Eurovision. Then he, Natalia, and “Sugar’ co-writer Dimitris Kontopoulos showed up to Russia’s flash national final. When host Yana Churikova interviewed him, he neglected to mention Natalia even though he was sitting uncomfortably close to her.

To top it all off, Philipp performed his Eurovision song “Kolybelnaya dlya vulkana,” which finished 17th at the 1995 Song Contest, instead of letting Natalia perform “Sugar.”

He is utterly insufferable. I wish his songs weren’t so damned good.

Natalia was supposed to represent Moldova in 2020 with another Dimitris Kontopoulos/Philipp Kirkorov/Sharon Vaughn song, “Prison.” It was absolutely dire and stood a real chance of becoming the first Kirkorov song to not qualify for the Grand Prix Final.

Thankfully, a yearlong pandemic has given Team Moldova a chance to reevaluate what they are good at: generating memes.  The official video for “Sugar” features Natalia ripping the mouth off of her love interest, revealing a rainbow cake under his face. I can’t imagine they can recreate that in the staging, but I want to see them try!

Natalia successfully walks the thin tightrope of singing “Sugar” both proficiently and sensually without sounding ridiculous. Her vocal is really sexy (in fitting with the theme of the song) and really powerful (in fitting with her being an awesome singer).

Musically, “Sugar” combines the broad Prokofievian bombast of “Scream” and the bold dance-pop stylings of “Shady Lady,” with a lot of potential energy built into Sharon Vaughn’s lyrics. The whole song feels like pent-up arousal finally bursting.

Even though the video is kind of ridiculous, the song itself is really good. I would love to hate it based on a certain egotistical songwriter, but the combined charms of Natalia Gordienko and that big, bold arrangement makes it easy to adore.

Australia’s Eurovision 2021 Entry

The uniqueness of the 2021 Eurovision Song Contest is the fact that so many acts who were slated to perform in last year’s canceled Grand Prix have come back again this year. And so far, many of those returning performers have taken their second opportunity to fully express themselves as artists.

I’ve already discussed how special Jeangu Macrooy’s “Birth of a New Age” is, and now I get to talk about how amazing Montaigne’s “Technicolour” is. It’s been such a good Eurovision year, you all.

I wasn’t a big fan of Montaigne’s “Don’t Break Me.” It felt like a very safe song from an artist who had a unique musical perspective. Not to diss DNA Songs, who co-wrote the song with Montaigne, but I thought it fit into Australia’s Eurovision history without expanding on it.

“Technicolour,” on the other hand, kicks down the walls to any boxes Australia may find itself in and grabs listeners by their collective collars. I think I mixed my metaphors there.

My point is, there is something fresh and exciting about “Technicolour.” The music is a collage of ’80s pop and rap allusions that melt together perfectly without ever sounding retro. I don’t know if these are references that everyone will get, but it sounds like The Go! Team crossed with the Art of Noise. It’s musically striking.

Lyrically, Montaigne is asserting herself. “Technicolour” is poetic while still fitting into a pop framework. Her vocals are fierce, yet melodic, especially during the pre-chorus. Going from the vocal runs that begin with “But everything is frustrating” into the rhythmic chants that begin with “But I got power, yeah” and later “But we got grace, yeah” is not easy, yet she carries it off almost flawlessly.

“Technicolour” is a bold statement by an artist who has come into her own. Like Jeangu Macrooy, she was given room to take risks, and like Jeangu Macrooy, she took full advantage of the opportunity.

Austria’s Eurovision 2021 Entry

As universal a language as music is, it is also intensely personal. I’m not just talking about preferences in musical styles or the levels of intimacy artists can attain in their work. I’m specifically talking about how a certain song will come out at a particular time in your life, and it resonates with you in ways that even the song’s creator couldn’t imagine. Vincent Bueno’s “Amen” is a stinging punch to my chest. That’s really all I can say about it.

The Netherlands’ Eurovision 2021 Entry

The views I present in this review of Jeangu Macrooy’s song for Europe do not necessarily represent those of my employers. They definitely don’t represent those of a certain ex-president.

There is something infinitely bad-ass about Jeangu taking his second opportunity to represent The Netherlands at Eurovision with a song that turns the history of the Dutch colonization of Suriname into an empowering anthem.

Frustratingly, but not unexpectedly, a song called “Birth of a New Age” has gotten some jack-assed Old Age commentary from people who should know better than to “accidentally” mishear the non-English lyrics and from other people clinging to an idea of history that focuses on some sense of national identity based on past “glory” rooted entirely on conquest and/or exploitation.

On the other hand, part of the new age we are beginning to live in involves artists like Jeangu confronting history and listeners facing that history without getting defensive, then spreading their understanding to the next generation of people who are one further step removed from the old way of thinking.

It takes more than a song to end years of prejudicial thinking, and trust me, it’s easy to get complacent when you see your country take strides towards a more equal and just society only to completely reverse course and install into power someone who openly wants to preserve class, gender, and racial divisions. The old ways do not get swept away that easily, because decades of defensiveness and self-righteous anger don’t just melt away on Inauguration Day.

Listening to “Birth of a New Age” again the day after gawking at Belarus’s agitprop just reminds me that progress has been slow and painful. And I am one of the many people who is tired of that. We live in an age where we can accelerate progress and, frankly, we need to as the old guard resorts to historical tactics to hinder it.

“Birth of a New Age” is a gorgeous song, sparse yet lush, pulsating and progressive. It is unflinching and celebratory. And it is absolutely the right song for The Netherlands to present to the world at Eurovision this year.

(Also, let me just call myself out for being a bit hypocritical: I am someone who has engaged in a bit of “accidental” mishearing of non-English lyrics. I’m not proud of myself, but I am happy to have moved on from that. Between this and Jendrik’s song, I feel like I am developing into an empathetic human being.)

Romania’s Eurovision 2021 Entry

I wasn’t a huge fan of Roxen’s 2020 Eurovision effort “Alcohol You,” although I have a feeling my thoughts on it were based more on her back catalog than the intrinsic quality of the song. I felt like she had a lot more potential than shown by the choices the Romanian public had to vote on.

I’m a lot happier with what she’s given us this year, although I’m not without my reservations.

While Roxen didn’t write “Amnesia” (Viky Red & Adelina Stînga did), I think that she is using her platform at Eurovision to express a strong personal message. The song is about how hard it is to love who you are when you feel pressured to conform to the narrow definitions that society has for you.

The arrangement is intense and atmospheric, perfectly capturing the mood of the lyrics. While manipulated vocals can go either way for me, I think the use of artificial modulation on Roxen’s vocals add a strong, almost unsettling layer to “Amnesia.” She sounds like she is underwater, close to drowning in anxiety.

While I think “Amnesia” is a good song, I find myself struggling to wholly get into it. The choices Roxen and her production crew made here are technically smart, but they don’t pack the wallop it should. Somehow it comes off as a bit clinical and safe. “Amnesia” is so close to being memorable, but it ends up being merely clever.

Armenia Withdraws from Eurovision and Belarus Probably Should

I hate it when the real world sticks its nose into the Eurovision Song Contest because now I have to start off by saying my views presented below do not necessarily reflect those of my employers.

Last Friday, I woke up to the news that Armenia withdrew from this year’s competition. Armenia went to war with Azerbaijan last September over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region. The public diplomacy battles over that area have cropped up numerous times since both countries began participating in the Song Contest. A notable example: in 2016, Iveta Mukuchyan held up a Nagorno-Karabakh flag in the green room.

The war itself ended in November, and the aftermath was seen by many Armenians as a humiliation. Anti-government protests rocked the country after a cease-fire was signed that seemed to greatly favor Azerbaijan. Recently, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has warned about the possibility of a military coup, although it’s hard to tell if that is legit or if it is just an attempt to shore up support against the protests. Given all of this, Armenia’s withdrawal wasn’t a surprise.

The other country I was expecting to bow out of the 2021 Song Contest was Belarus. Protests erupted there after August 9’s presidential election, in which longtime President Alexander Lukashenko claimed he received 80% of the vote. Leading into the election, he either jailed or forced into exile potential rivals. His main opposition candidate, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, had no political experience, but ended up drawing large number of supporters anyway. After Lukashenko declared victory, Tsikhanouskaya fled to Lithuania while workers went on strike. Lukashenko has tried to crack down on protests, which has lead to thousands of arrests.

As U.S. and the E.U. has rejected his legitimacy, Lukashenko has had to turn to Russia for financial help. While Russian President Vladimir Putin may be fine loaning his neighbor money, he has warned the U.S. and the E.U. to stay out of Belarus as Russia does the same.

Meanwhile, the Estonia-based Belarusian Culture Solidarity Foundation called for the European Broadcasting Union to tear up Belarus’s state-run broadcaster BRTC’s membership. As an example of the government’s control over the network, the foundation cited BRTC’s reaction to criticism by last year’s Belorussian Eurovision representative VAL. According to a BRTC statement:

The VAL group will not go to Eurovision 2021 and this is not because something ‘broke’ at BTRC or because censorship is raging, but because the artists of the VAL group have no conscience.

Fortunately for BRTC, they found a perfectly willing representative for this year’s Song Contest: Galasy ZMesta.

Not surprisingly, the band is solidly pro-Lukashenko, and the lyrics to their song “Ya Nauchu Tebya (I’ll Teach You)” seem to be telling the anti-government protesters that they will teach them all a lesson about opposing the president:

This is not “I Love Belarus” propaganda. It’s a band and a broadcaster kissing up to the head of state by mocking those who oppose him.

All of which is why it’s sort of hard, given BTRC’s continued membership, to take it seriously when the EBU tweets stuff like this:

Lest you think I am some blustery American buttinsky, let me talk about the USAGM. Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and Radio Free Asia are managed by a government bureau called the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM). VOA is owned by the U.S. government, while RFE/RL and RFA are independent news agencies that receive government funding.

The ex-president of the United States had installed as the head of USAGM a political appointee who tried to turn the independently-run news agencies into mouthpieces for the president during his reelection campaign. He sought to dissolve oversight boards at the independent agencies, investigate the political leanings of reporters, and fired senior executives at USAGM that opposed this and replaced them with loyalists to the president.

After a lawsuit was filed against the USAGM, a federal judge imposed injunctions to prevent further actions. Once the new administration took office in January, the acting CEO of USAGM fired any appointees that had refused to resign after the transition.

Free, independent media is an important thing, and we’ve lived for four years with someone who did his damnedest to undermine that every chance he got. The damage done is far reaching, not just in the U.S. but around the world. And yet I still have hope that free, independent media will survive and prosper.

So long as those who fancy themselves promoters of free, independent media act on their convictions.

Update (11 March 2021): Here’s why the video link above doesn’t work:

I am curious what the EBU means by “recent reactions to the proposed entry risk bringing the reputation of the ESC into disrepute.” Given that Belarus’s entry was posted to the official Eurovision YouTube site seemingly without vetting it, I would argue that Eurovisions fans should have the ability to petition the EBU to remove it. But I also don’t know how nasty some of those tweets got.

Still, the right choice was made and now we just wait to see if Belarus submits an appropriate song or if they just pull out altogether. I am hoping for the latter.

Update (26 March 2021): The EBU confirmed that Belarus has been dropped from this year’s Song Contest:

 

 

 

Belgium’s Eurovision 2021 Entry

I used to be a reasonably enthusiastic Hooverphonic fan. Not a hardcore fan, but I would definitely turn the volume up whenever one of their songs would play when my iPod was set to shuffle.

Then I read their official bio on the Eurovision site last year. Ugh.

Now, I try to separate the artist from their music as much as possible, unless they are outright criminals. If I let prickly personalities get in the way of the enjoyment of my music, I’d have to delete half of my music collection.

But Alex Callier trying to defend why Hooverphonic didn’t participate in the recording of “Love Shine a Light” for Eurovision: Europe Shine a Light set such a sour taste in my mouth that all of the miracle berries in the world probably wouldn’t kindle any interest in his band’s 2021 Eurovision contribution.

Then Hooverphonic dropped last year’s lead singer Luka Cruysberghs for Geike Arnaert, singer of their biggest hit “Mad About You.” I don’t know the circumstances behind the change, but my attitude towards the band now makes me assume that the move was a cold, calculated one.

If I try to be objective, I can say that Geike does a great job expressing the ennui that the lyrics are conveying. The arrangement is suitably lush in that John Berry style that Hooverphonic have made their signature sound.

On the flip side, there aren’t a huge variety of notes in the melodies, which makes the song constricted like it’s wearing a corset that’s on too tight. The backing vocals on the chorus sound weirdly whiney. It’s an okay addition to Hooverphonic’s oeuvre, and it’s a decent way to welcome Geike back into the fold.

As much as I would love to be able to review each song objectively, though, I also feel it’s important to address everything that influences my critiques. Therefore, given all that I’ve said, I don’t really like “The Wrong Place” because I refuse to give it a fair shake.