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:




Armenia’s Eurovision 2020 Entry

There is this delicate balance we strike whenever we review a song for Europe. On the one hand, we want to review an entry based on its own merits. And yet, it’s hard for us to not think about it in all of its other contexts. For example, is it a good fit for the Song Contest? Or, more pertinently to “Chains On You,” what was its competition like at the national Final?

Because here’s the thing: “Chains on You” was our favorite song at Depi Evratesil. But we also kinda don’t like it.

Athena Manoukian is a Greek-Armenian singer who been active in the music scenes in both Greece and Armenia. She co-wrote “Chains on You” with DJ Paco. Well before her participation in Depi Evratesil, she finished seventh in the 2008 Greek national final for Junior Eurovision with “To fili tis Afroditis.” As a mature artist, she won the 2015 Armenian Pulse Award for Best English Song with “XO,” and auditioned for The X Factor in 2018.

And it is The X Factor that is kind of the keystone to understanding what Athena is doing here. She auditioned with Beyoncé’s “Crazy In Love” because she is trying to be the Greek Beyoncé. Or the Armenian Beyoncé. Whichever.

There is a American hip hop influence on “Chains On You.” The sparse backing track with the deep rhythms and the jangly samples push the song forward. It’s our favorite part of the song. But Athena’s vocal in the verse is barely there. She’s rapping (?) unintelligibly, and it is kind of wack.

When she gets to the bridge, she is able to sing in her range, and that’s where “Chains On You” comes to life. You can see Athena’s star quality and the possibility that she could have the next “Fuego” in her hands.

Then the chorus comes. And it gets, to refer back to Louis Tomlinson’s critique of Athena’s X Factor audition, cheesy. And it’s even cheesy on the recorded track. It’s all posturing with no real teeth.

Side note: until we read the lyrics, we thought she was saying “creamy boy” in the pre-chorus. Which honestly works just as well in “Chains On You” as the actual lyric.

And yet, despite all of this, we can see potential. Given Athena’s clear ambition, we suspect that she is going to pull out all of the stops in Rotterdam. If she carries it off, then we could get ourselves a classic Eurovision high-concept staging. And if she doesn’t, we’ll probably still enjoy it with some cheese popcorn and glasses of Cristal like we’re rewatching Glitter. It’s a win-win, really.

But yeah. It’s pretty wack.

Reviews of the Rest of Eurovision 2019

Eurovision rehearsals are about to begin and we weren’t able to complete full reviews of all of this year’s entries in time. So let’s take a deep breath and cover all the rest in one go!

Finland: Darude feat. Sebastian Rejman – “Look Away

Darude had a global smash hit 19 years ago with “Sandstorm.” Now he’s representing Finland at Eurovision. We mock the United Kingdom when they do stuff like that and we see no reason to spare Finland our snark. Especially when the U.K. nostalgia acts send better songs.

Belarus: Zena – “Like It

Zena offers up a slightly generic, but still quite enjoyable pop song. We… well, you know… like it. Not sure if it’s going to do well for Belarus, but with the right staging, or at least the right Belorussian staging, maybe it could surprise us.

Serbia: Nevena Božović – “Kruna

Nevena is a veteran of Moje 3, the Barbara Dex Award-winning act from 2013. She’s back with a bland ballad, but she made it soar at Beovizija 2019. We expect more vocal fireworks in Tel Aviv. And better costumes.

Belgium: Eliot Vassamillet – “Wake Up

“Wake Up” reminds us of “City Lights.” We didn’t like “City Lights,” but it seemed like everyone else did. We like “Wake Up,” but it seems like no one else does. Go figure.

Georgia: Oto Nemsadze – “Sul Tsin Iare

Oto brought a wide-eyed intensity to his performance of “Sul Tsin Iare.” It worked for the judges and the people of Georgia, but we can’t say it’s going to work for the rest of Europe.

San Marino: Serhat – “Say Na Na Na

San Marino has sent disco songs for three of its last four entries because this one time, die hard Eurovision fans convinced them that’s what we want. Maybe we should tell them that we like other genres too.

Armenia: Srbuk – “Walking Out

Srbuk looks a lot like my mom did when she was 18 and I’m struggling to get past that.

Ireland: Sarah McTernan – “22

We are not particular fans of Meghan Trainor’s oeuvre, so anything that resembles her output is not going to rank high with us. But at least it’s not another earnest ballad.

Moldova: Anna Odobescu – “Stay

Moldova is following up successive classic Eurovision contributions with a song that we will probably forget about shortly after the Song Contest is over. Sigh, it’s hard to generate memes every year.

Austria: Pænda – “Limits

“Limits” is a great song to listen to at 3 A.M. when it’s gently, but audibly raining outside and you’re feeling a little sad and need a good cry. That’s usually not the atmosphere Eurovision provides, which may hurt Austria’s chances.

Lithuania: Jurijus – “Run with the Lions

Jurijus is this dreamy guy singing an anthemic song about believing in yourself and dreaming big. It’s a pleasant three minutes made better by Jurijus’ inherent likability.

North Macedonia: Tamara Todevska – “Proud

“Proud” is an old fashioned ballad about empowering girls to believe in themselves and dream big. It’s a lovely three minutes made better by Tamara’s vocal star quality.

Israel: Kobi Marimi – “Home

Israel is happy to have won Eurovision and is also not interested in winning again this year.

Armenia’s Eurovision 2018 Entry

Hey, look a guy with a beard singing in his native language at Eurovision!

Sevak Khanagyan won X-Factor Ukraine in 2016, one year after competing on The Voice of Russia. The Russian-Armenian singer became a coach on The Voice of Armenia last year. He co-wrote “Qami” with Viktorya Maloyan and former Voice of Armenia contestant Anna Danielyan.

When we watched Depi Evratesil, “Qami” stood out. Weeks later, when we were watching the official video, we were left a bit cold. It was hard to tell why at first, until we went back to Sevak’s live performance. At the national final, Sevak builds his song and delivers big, powerful notes to bring it home. Meanwhile, the studio track washes over Sevak’s power notes with backing singers and orchestrations. The final mix blunts his ability to sell the song.

Still, Sevak has proven himself to be a dynamic performer. Even though the recorded track doesn’t do much for us, we’re pretty sure he will acquit himself nicely in Lisbon.

Armenia’s Eurovision 2017 Entry

Artsvik is going to take us on a journey with her song “Fly With Me.”

Artsvik Harutyunyan got her start as a contestant on the second season of Russia’s version of The Voice, Golos. She won the right to represent Armenia on the Depi Evratesil artist selection show. Her song “Fly With Me” was written by Avet Barseghyan and David Tserunyan.

It’s been said that people decide within the first 30 seconds a song whether or not they like it. “Fly With Me” burns through a good 20 seconds with a dreadfully bland soft opening that conjured up in our minds Genealogy. (Oof.)

Fortunately, with 10 seconds of our attention span to spare, “Fly With Me” kicks in proper. It gets slinky and slithery and cool. Artsvik carefully builds the song with a determined intensity. (Compare it to Albania’s revamp of “World,” which starts off big and just stays there.) “Fly With Me” is a master class in delayed gratification. When it eventually builds to its climax, we were satisfied in a way we didn’t expect. It goes to show that sometimes it’s about the journey and not the destination (which is appropriate given the song title).

Eurovision 2016 Round-Up: Dita e Mësuesit Edition

It’s Teacher’s Day in Albania, and what better way to celebrate than by doing an educational post about the latest news from the Eurovision Song Contest?

Armenia: Iveta Mukuchyan – “LoveWave”

Here is a question we like to ask: what’s worse – being memorably bad or just being unmemorable? Last year’s Eurovision entry from Armenia was terrible, but this year’s entry is mediocre at best. Unless there is a staging miracle in Stockholm, we will remember “Face the Shadow” long after our memories of “LoveWave” have faded.

The Netherlands: Douwe Bob – “Slow Down”

Who would have expected that the best tribute to the late Glenn Frey comes in the form of the Netherlands’ Eurovision entry? “Slow Down” dips into a well of country-inspired mellow gold, but we don’t think it will reach the heights Netherlands achieved the last time they went down the road to Nashville.

Russia: Sergey Lazarev – “You Are the Only One”

Listening to “You Are the Only One” feels like stepping into a time machine set to 2006. If Croatia or Slovenia sent this, you’d pay it no mind, but because it’s Russia we guess we have to take it seriously. The song sounds like a brainstorming session on a corporate retreat: everyone’s throwing ideas against the wall and none of them are sticking or holding together. On the bright side, at least it’s not another pandering plea for peace, love and unicorns.

Estonia: Jüri Pootsmann – “Play”

Stig Rästa has finally found the ticket to success at Eesti Laul: mod pastiches of ’60s pop. He followed up last year’s duet with Elina Born by penning “Play” for Estonian dreamboat Jüri Pootsmann. Jüri may look like Anthony Edwards’ hot son, but he also possesses a rich baritone that infuses “Play” with smoldering soul.

Montenegro: Highway – “The Real Thing”

Oh man, in a rock heavy year, Highway reigns supreme with a sweet Soundgarden-influenced riff. If Georgia’s rock act is a bit too impenetrable, Romania’s rock act is a bit too pretentious, and Cyprus’ rock act is a bit too slick, then Montenegro’s rock act is the total package. This is Chris’ favorite song of the competition so far.

Israel: Hovi Star – “Made of Stars”

Hovi Star won Israel’s Rising Star competition, but Israel’s delegation is apparently planning to rework the song. We’re going to hold off commenting on it until the official version is ready.

Macedonia: Kaliopi – “Dona”

Kaliopi returns to Eurovision to represent Macedonia with the big ballad “Dona.” It’s a better song than her previous effort “Crno i Belo,” although it lacks a certain something to make it memorable. Still, we’re happy she’s back, if only because she’s entertaining in the press center.

Poland: Michał Szpak – “Color of Your Life”

Everyone on the internet expected Margaret to win Poland’s Eurovision selection show with “Cool Me Down.” That was before Margaret gave an indifferent performance of her Rihanna knock-off on Krajowe Eliminacje do Eurowizji 2016. That was also before Michał Szpak stared straight into our eyes and peered deep into our soul. “Color of Your Life” is a forgettable show tune, but Michał sold it to the voting public, forcing thousands of Eurovision fans to tear up their Warsaw 2017 travel plans.

Romania: Ovidiu Anton – “Moment of Silence”

Sadly, Ovidiu’s chance to rock Stockholm was taken away from him when the EBU booted Romania from the Eurovision Song Contest because of unpaid debts.

The most epic result of the weekend had to be Ovidiu Anton’s triumph at Selecţia Naţionala. Neither Ovidiu or the presenters could stress enough how much he liked to rock, and boy does he, in the most prog-heavy way possible. “Moment of Silence” is utterly ridiculous and ridiculously entertaining.

For further reading, see Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Savatage, and Tenacious D. See also: Ovidiu’s entry from 2015, which made our annual WTF post.

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Armenia’s Eurovision 2015 Entry

UPDATED 17 MARCH 2015: After we posted our review, Armenia changed the name of its song. We’ve updated this post accordingly.


Deep breath, everyone. Here’s Armenia’s song for Europe, “Face the Shadow”:

Geneology is a vocal group that has been assembled for the 2015 contest. The six members symbolize five continents, plus, you know, Armenia. They are Essaï Altounian (Europe), Tamar Kaprelian (America), Vahe Tilbian (Africa), Stephanie Topalian (Asia), Mary-Jean O’Doherty Vasmatzian (Australia), and Inga Arshakyan (Armenia 2009).  In case you didn’t know, Armenia would like to take this moment to tell you that they have a large global diaspora.

“Face the Shadow” was originally called “Don’t Deny.” 2015 is the 100th anniversary of the start of what is known as the Armenian Genocide, where according to many historians the Ottoman Empire systematically removed approximately 1.5 million Armenians from its lands. The New York Times has a nice overview of the history. Much of Armenia’s large global diaspora has been attributed to the dispersion of Armenians that happened as a result of these events. The modern government of Turkey disputes that deaths during this time were part of a genocide, and both Turkey and Azerbaijan have accused Armenia of politicizing the Eurovision Song Contest with its entry. Political entries are not permitted under the rules of the contest.

It would of course be ridiculous to suggest that submitting a song called “Don’t Deny” during the year Armenia is marking the centenary, sung by six singers from around the world with genealogical ties to Armenia, was politically motivated. Said the Armenian national broadcaster in response:

“The song is about universal values and the message is one – ‘Happiness is born when people are united and live in harmony with themselves, their families, love relationships and so on. Generations are shifting with time but the genealogy remains, thus the values of love and peace are stable.’…We announce that there is no political content in the song ‘Don’t Deny’ and there is no need to look for one.  We encourage Media platforms to stay away from provocative announcements and articles and stop distorting the facts and put the ESC rules under doubt. Genealogy was created because of our inspiration from this year’s fantastic slogan. We have built a bridge between the past and the present, Armenian genetics and world music, Armenia and Eurovision.”

Regardless of the broadcaster’s response, during the Heads of Delegation meeting in Vienna, Armenia asked the Eurovision Song Contest Reference Group to change the name of their song from “Don’t Deny” to “Face the Shadow.” Presumably, they made this change by request of the EBU.

Setting aside whether or not the song is political, the fact is the song is a mess.

Vocally, there are a ton of issues. Assemble any group of soloists for a one-off collaboration at your peril. Moreover, Geneology draws singers from a wide range of vocal styles: opera, boy band pop, adult contemporary, and Armenian folk, and one singer claims an interest in reggae and Latin music. Even when singers are from the same musical genre, it takes time and practice to get true vocal cohesion. I see no indication from the video that this patched-together group is going to get anywhere close. Further, the last minute is overwrought. With six soloists each doing vocal theatrics in their own native styles, the song goes completely off the rails. It adds up to cacophony.

Whenever a Eurovision song takes on a hard-hitting subject matter, it’s always a challenge to set the right tone. This is an understandably emotional topic for Armenians, and we’ll have to see if the Armenian organizers have the presence of mind to take a step back and look at the song from an outsider’s perspective. This has the potential to be a huge misfire.


Please note: seeing as this is a blog about Eurovision songs and not about sensitive political issues, we would appreciate keeping the comments focused on whether or not the song is any good. Political comments will not be approved. Thanks.

Armenia’s Eurovision 2014 Entry

Armenia went for an internal selection this year, choosing Aram Mp3. Here’s “Not Alone”:

First of all, I have this knee-jerk dislike for music artists with filenames or URLs in their names. (, anyone?) I need to get over that. Aram actually got the name from his early career in sketch comedy with 32 Atam, where he would do parodies of popular songs.

My first impression when I heard “Not Alone” was favorable. It’s modern, has a melody, builds, and has a universal message. All this, with a competent live singer. In a year where few Eurovision songs have presented themselves as possible winners, this one immediately has seemed a candidate. At the time of writing it’s the bookie favorite, with nearly even odds.

The arrangement, paired with the vocal, is what makes the song stand out. “Not Alone” starts as a piano ballad, then builds with a string arrangement. There’s a dubstep climax, then at the end it retreats again to the piano. Aram Mp3’s vocal similarly evolves, beginning with soft tones and long phrases, building to gritty tone and clipped lines, ending again with soft tones and long phrases.

All this to say the hype has some merit. But I also think the hype is overblown. The song’s effectiveness can be attributed to execution, not the quality of ideas. The song has an unconventional structure, overly relying a repeated chorus. Granted, “You’re not alone” is one of those messages that’s best said with emphasis and conviction, since when we most need the reassurance we also need a lot of convincing. However, its repetitiveness means it’s not the kind of song I want to hear over and over again.

If Aram Mp3 sells the hell out of it on the night, we might be impressed just long enough to vote for him. But a week later we’re going to realize there’s not much there.

Armenia’s Eurovision 2013 Entry

This year Armenian organizers internally selected Gor Sujyan, and the public and jury were asked to pick his Eurovision entry from 4 songs. Armenia opted for “Lonely Planet.”

Gor Sujyan is the lead singer of the hard rock band Dorians, who were backing him in the national selection and presumably will also be making the trip to Malmö.

“Lonely Planet” was penned by Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi and Armenian lyricist Vardan Zadoyan. (Yet another fine British artist writing a song for a country other than the UK.  Not that the UK is missing out too much this time.) Zadoyan was one of the talents behind “Jan Jan” (Armenia 2009).

With its concluding mantra of “we can stop it,” “Lonely Planet” occupies the safe lyrical space of “we can change the world” global awareness. Musically, the refrain is late-era Soundgarden and there are some interesting time signatures in the verse.  It’s not enough.

Overall, we shrug and say “meh.” MaNga and Eldrine are recent examples of rock bands that succeeded at Eurovision, but both brought songs with a lot more intensity than we see here.  Unfortunately for Armenia, “Lonely Planet” was the most plausible choice of the 4 songs at their national selection.  I fear Armenia may be in for a rough ride this year.

This is a case of a promising artist being unable to find the right song. It’s an all too familiar story this year.

UPDATED 18 MARCH 2013: Judging from the official video posted on the official Eurovision YouTube channel, Dorains are representing Armenia. It makes sense, since the band was backing up Sujyan anyway.

Armenia’s Eurovision 2011 Entry

Armenian organizers this year had already announced Emmy would represent them, so today’s national final simply asked voters to pick from 4 songs. The song order was determined at the start of the national final with Emmy picking slips of paper out of a fishbowl. After the nonsense in Ukraine and the pimp slotting of preferred songs in nearly every other country, that level of transparency was pretty refreshing.

“Boom-Boom,” their selection, is an upbeat confection with a pounding disco beat and a lyrical hook in the “Qele Qele” kind of way, or a boom shaka laka kind of way. Emmy looks like she has a lot of fun performing the song, and we enjoy it too. You can’t listen to this one without wanting to groove just a little bit. I do hope that they use the time between now and May to work on her styling, because her hair and dress in the national final aged her about 15 years.

You have to figure that Armenia will make a pretty good showing — they have friends, a strong diaspora, and their entries are typically pretty strong. Five years in the competition and they’ve finished as well as 4th and low as 10th. “Boom Boom” is good fun, I think they’re in for a similar result this year. Go Armenia.