Italy’s Eurovision 2021 Entry

Last year’s Italian Eurovision entry was called “Fai Rumore,” which translates to English as “make noise.”

This year, the Italians took Diodado’s advice.

I watched all 25-plus hours of this year’s Sanremo Music Festival, and I don’t think I’ve recovered yet. Måneskin stood out early on, in part because they were performing gritty glam rock instead of tender ballads, spangly pop, or quirky pop rock. I bookmarked their YouTube channel, figuring I would do a deep dive into their back catalog after Italy picked Ermel or Annalisa.

So you can imagine my surprise when Måneskin made the superfinal. Then you can imagine my shock when Måneskin actually took home that weird trophy they give to Sanremo winners. What just happened?

Well, first of all, they weren’t exactly unknown qualities in Italy. They had already finished second on The X Factor there, and their debut album l ballo della vita was a triple platinum, chart-topping hit.

But enough history, let’s talk about that song. “Zitti e Buoni” has a raunchy riff, a smoldering bass solo that even sounded good when drenched with the Sanremo orchestra’s strings, and a big chorus that even those of us who don’t speak Italian can shout along with.

Singer Damiano David is an absolute rock star in all of glam’s preening, sneering glory. The shot in the official video of him in a suit chewing gum and swinging his microphone around captures him perfectly.

That the rest of the band can measure up to him says a lot about Måneskin’s cohesion as a group. They are tight as musicians, charismatic as performers, and no bystanders to Damiano’s stage presence.

I have listened to “Zitti e Buoni” a lot since Sanremo. I play it while I’m cooking, I crank it when I’m driving, and I accidentally clicked on it as I was finishing this review and listened to it again. I find myself humming it when I’m quietly working. It’s infinitely bad-ass.

As I write this, there does not seem to be any consensus on who is going to win Eurovision this year. I am not even going to try to make predictions. But I can say with confidence that “Zitti e Buoni” is my winner, regardless of other results in May.

Portugal’s Eurovision 2021 Entry

Festival da Canção has become my favorite national final to watch. Like the Sanremo Music Festival, it is really more about celebrating the national music scene than it is picking a Eurovision entry. Unlike Sanremo, it gets the job done in a relatively tight package.

I realize some fans will quibble about that given the final lasted about two hours and 45 minutes and only an hour of that was spent presenting the songs. On the other hand, I watched all five hours plus of the Sanremo final; trust me, Festival da Canção was really well-paced. And let’s be honest, when a good hour and a half of the show’s total running time was spent celebrating Portuguese music history in gorgeous, electrifying ways, I think you’d have to be pretty churlish to want them to get to the point already.

Given all this, I was pleasantly surprised that the song that ultimately won the 2021 competition was a slice of Southern blues rock. I wasn’t expecting that.

The Black Mamba kicked off the first Festival semifinal, and I was immediately struck by them. Their song opens with an old Hollywood orchestral flourish before Pedro Tatanka begins to belt in his smoky alto timber. As “Love Is on My Side” progresses, it gets more lush and more epic in scope. It wouldn’t sound out of place on classic rock radio.

I have two dings against it, though. One is that, at just under three minutes, it’s way too short. A song like this needs room to build and breathe and have an epically awesome guitar solo. The Eurovision format cuts “Love Is on My Side” off at the knees.

The other is that The Makemakes got nul points at the 2015 Eurovision Song Contest with a similar song. Given how strong and diverse this year’s song selection is, I’m afraid The Black Mamba may suffer a similar fate to their Austrian counterparts.

For now, all I can hope is that they bring out an extended six minute version of “Love Is on My Side” so they can really make it feel complete.

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.