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.