Australia’s Eurovision 2020 Entry

One of the nice things about Australia’s continued participation in the Eurovision Song Contest is that we get to learn more about the music scene Down Under. There was a time in the 1980s where Australian pop and rock was making it over to the United States on a regular basis, but the wave gradually petered out. Now, thanks to Eurovision and the YouTube rabbit holes it knocks us into, we are beginning to caught up with what we’ve been missing.

With that off of our chests, let’s get into this year’s Australian entry, Montaigne’s “Don’t Break Me.”

Jessica Cerro had her first break performing under the name Montaigne in 2013 when her first single “I Am Not an End” was featured on Australia’s Triple J radio station. Her debut album Glorious Heights came out in 2016 and reached number four on Australia’s album charts. Later that year, Montaigne won the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) Award for Breakthrough Artist.

Now, some countries that participate in Eurovision develop a certain sound across their entries. Usually that stems from the roots of those nations’ respective cultures and music industries. Sometimes those sounds come out of an almost organic idea of what a Eurovision song should sound like. (See, for example, the past few entries from the United Kingdom.)

But the most obvious way for a country to proffer a distinctive national sound at Eurovision is to partner up frequently with certain songwriters. Bulgaria’s recent relationship with Symphonix International is one example, and Australia offers up another example with DNA Songs. This songwriting team of David Musumeci and Anthony Egizii co-wrote Jessica Mauboy’s “We Got Love,” Isaiah Firebrace’s “Don’t Come Easy,” and Dami Im’s “Sound of Silence.” That’s 71% of Australia’s output.

“Sound of Silence” is the most obvious forebear to “Don’t Break Me.” They are structurally similar, with quiet verses leading into big choruses. The melodies of the verses and the overall orchestration are similar as well.

The differences lie with the singers: Dami Im is a big belter, whereas Montaigne is a more introverted vocal performer. She is telling a personal story with “Don’t Break Me” and that intimacy makes it distinct.

We are concerned that Montaigne doesn’t quite grab the viewer during the verses. Her vocal at Australia Decides was mumbly during the opening verse (although the sound mix may have played a part in that), so the song didn’t really catch fire until the chorus. Without a bolder staging and a stronger opening, “Don’t Break Me” may not be immediate enough to capture one’s attention.

Australia’s Eurovision 2019 Entry

Oh my god, we actually like a pop opera song.

Kate Miller-Heidke is a singer and actress from Brisbane who trained as a classical singer before making the leap into pop music. She’s had three top 10 albums in Australia and the number 3 hit “The Last Day on Earth” in 2009. She co-wrote “Zero Gravity” with her husband Keir Nuttall.

Now: Pop opera is something that rears its ugly head quite frequently at Eurovision, as recently as last year with Estonia’s entry “La Forza.” And we are on the record with our less than positive opinion of the genre.

We will also say, on the record, that we were wrong about “La Forza’s” chances at Eurovision. But that doesn’t make us like it any more.

What immediately grabs us about “Zero Gravity” is that it is not a pop and opera mash-up, like Malena Ehrman’s “La Voix” or Cesar’s “It’s My Life.” It is a pop song that weaves in its opera parts organically. It gives us “Kate Bush singing the Queen of the Night aria” realness.

And praise be, Australia has finally come up with a staging! Assuming that Kate and her crew will take what they devised to Tel Aviv, they have what could be the next iconic Eurovision staging we fawn over in clip shows for the next three decades.

As soon as we heard we saw this, we knew it was going to win. Our son thinks it could win the whole thing, and we think the kid has got a point.

Australia’s Eurovision 2018 Entry

Australia continues sending its most bankable stars to Eurovision with radio-friendly pop hits. This year, Jessica Mauboy takes her turn.

Jessica Mauboy rose to fame from the Australian Idols franchise way back in 2006. Three platinum studio albums and literally dozens of radio singles later, she is one of Australia’s biggest, most recognizable recording artists.

“We Got Love” is uplifting homage to–you guessed it–love, even when it’s hard. And with “We Got Love,” Australia demonstrates (again) how well it understands the Eurovision space.  Although Jessica normally has a more R&B sound, her song for Europe has many time-honored Eurovision traits on display: big vocal, upbeat tempo, strong drum beat, choral breakdown. It’s shamelessly pop, shamelessly radio-friendly, and very, very accessible.

Though playing it safe is often the riskiest thing a country can do, in this case we are not worried. In her Semifinal, Jessica benefits by her draw in what can only be described as an eclectic line-up. In that context, “We Got Love” is a reassuring turn.

Australia’s Eurovision 2017 Entry

Australia has tapped Isaiah to vie for Eurovision glory with “Don’t Come Easy.”

Isaiah Firebrace won the 2016 season of The X Factor Australia. His debut single “It’s Gotta Be You” peaked at 26 on the Australian charts, but interestingly, it went gold in Sweden. We’ve seen him compared him Sam Smith and to be sure, “Don’t Come Easy” was co-written by Michael Angelo, who worked with Smith on In The Lonely Hour. The other songwriters are Anthony Egizii and David Musumeci from DNA Music, who have penned songs for Guy Sebastian, Samantha Jade, and Geri Halliwell.

“Don’t Come Easy” is a pleasant power ballad with a slick production that gives it a commercial sheen. We liked it, but it didn’t land a visceral punch with us the way Australia’s previous entry did.

The fate of this song lies with Isaiah’s charisma. He’s an appealing singer with a rich tone who also looks like a cross between Raphael Nadal and Alexander Rybak, which is a bonus. Judging from his X Factor performances, we trust he can sell “Don’t Come Easy” to a wide swath of Eurovision voters. And if there are any doubters left, he should be able to seduce them with the power of his mesmerizing eyebrows.

Eurovision 2016 Round-Up: Hungarian-Polish Friendship Day Edition

At long last all of the Eurovision songs have been revealed, although the final versions are still trickling out. (Seriously, San Marino? Seriously?) Still, we know enough about each entry to make pithy and catty comments about them all.

Croatia: Nina Kraljić – “Lighthouse”

Croatia returns to Eurovision with Nina Kraljić, who won The Voice of Croatia. Both good things. “Lighthouse” sounds like a deep track from a later Cranberries album. Not a good thing.

Azerbaijan: Samra – “Miracle”

Azerbaijan takes Eurovision very seriously. Every swing they take is a swing for the fences. This year, they’re planning to take Stockholm by storm with a song (penned by a Swedish team) that could have made the Melodifestivalen final. We’re not sure it would have won the Melodifestivalen final, though, but maybe Azerbaijan can throw a magician onstage to supplement Samra’s performance.

Czech Republic: Gabriela Gunčíková – “I Stand”

Look, it wasn’t going to take much for a song to be the best Czech Eurovision entry ever. But “I Stand” is not just a big leap ahead for the country that brought us Gipsy.cz, it also stands out over a lot of the other ballads we’re going to hear in Sweden this May. If you’ve looked up Gabriela GunÄŤĂ­ková’s performances on YouTube, you’ll have noticed she has more of a rock vibe than a pop ballad vibe (she was a performer in Trans-Siberian Orchestra). So our big question is whether or not she can make “I Stand” sound true to herself. But we still think she has a good shot at clinching the Czech Republic’s first spot in the Final.

Malta: Ira Losco – “Walk On Water”

Ira Losco won Malta’s national selection show with “Chameleon,” but she replaced it with “Walk on Water.” Yay, another Swedish pop song that would have struggled to win Melodifestivalen!

Australia: Dami Im – “Sound of Silence”

Australia were invited to participate in Eurovision last year as a special one-off to mark the 60th anniversary of the Song Contest. They were invited to participate this year to… I don’t know, help promote the Asiavision Song Contest? We don’t mind Australia getting the return invitation because they are following up their confident debut with a proper contender. “Sound of Silence” is one of the strongest entries we’ve heard this year and it may only be Europe’s bewilderment over Australia’s continued presence at Eurovision that keeps it from winning.

Serbia: ZAA Sanja Vučić – “Goodbye (Shelter)”

Earlier in this post, we were going to make a comment about how Samra from Azerbaijan was overselling her song in the video for “Miracle.” But her overemphasized facial expressions are positively dead-eyed compared to the spastically hammy performance Sanja VuÄŤić gave in her song presentation show for Serbia. It’s too bad, because the powerful message of “Goodbye (Shelter)” does not need to bathed in histrionics.

Bulgaria: Poli Genova – “If Love Was a Crime”

We were happy when Poli Genova was announced as Bulgaria’s Eurovision artist this year. “Na Inat” was one of the better non-qualifying entries in recent memory. Bulgaria took their sweet time releasing this year’s Eurovision entry “If Love Was a Crime,” but their delightful Twitter account built up to the song reveal nicely so it was worth the wait. Poli has changed her edgy rocker chick vibe from 2011 for a softer look and poppier sound. The last few songs Bulgaria entered before they took their break were in Bulgarian, and we think switching to English for this contemporary pop song (albeit with a little Bulgarian thrown into the chorus) has a lot of crossover potential and should lead Poli to the Final.

Italy: Francesca Michielin – “No Degree of Separation”

Francesca Michielin was runner up at this year’s Sanremo Music Festival, but she got the nod when winners Stadio declined the invite to Stockholm. In principle, we don’t have a problem with “No Degree of Separation,” but it sounds way too old for her. Nevertheless, Italy is maintaining its general good run of form since their return to the Song Contest. (We say general good run because there was also Emma.)

Australia’s Eurovision 2015 Entry

Australia has long been regarded as the great outsider of the Eurovision community. For 30 years, the Australian network SBS has broadcasted the Contest, and intrepid Australians have woken up in the wee hours of the morning to get their fix. In celebration of Eurovision Song Contest’s 60th anniversary and the theme of “Building Bridges,” the EBU made a very unusual announcement. For 2015 only, Australia will be included in the the Eurovision Song Contest. They will compete in the final, similar to the “Big 6” (the host country plus Italy, France, Germany, Spain and the United Kingdom). But unlike the Big 6, Australia will cast a vote in both Semifinals. Australia’s participation is one of the big storylines of this year’s contest.

The Eurovision fanbase’s reaction to the announcement was divided. Some felt that Australia had no place in a contest for Europe (and Israel and also Morocco that one time) and the exception set a problematic precident, particularly when it comes time to tally the votes. Other folks, like us, said “the more the merrier.” Australia clearly loves Eurovision, and through their song for Europe, they have demonstrated that they understand the Contest and will make a worthwhile contribution.

Guy Sebastian is SBS’s internal pick to represent Australia. His big break came as the first winner of Australian Idol in 2003. Since then, he has gone on to become one of Australia’s most successful male recording artists. He’s had 12 Top 10 singles, and six number ones. Up until now though, he’s had limited international success, New Zealand notwithstanding. His most successful single, “Battle Scars” (with Lupe Fiasco) went to number two in Norway, but that’s pretty much it.

SBS allowed Sebastian a great deal of leeway in what song he could pick for Eurovision. At Australia’s press conference, Guy Sebastian indicated that he would probably pick a ballad off of his current album Madness. It wouldn’t necessarily have been a bad choice. The album was critically well-received, and there were some candidates that would have worked. However, Sebastian also considered the Eurovision contest landscape as it was coming together. Seemingly, he noted the high number of ballads that would be performed in Vienna, and at the last minute he decided to go back into studio and come up with something more upbeat. The song was written, recorded, and mastered in two days, just before the song deadline.

Here’s “Tonight Again”:

“Tonight Again” is very much a Guy Sebastian song. It’s got an urban pop feel, and there’s some funk influence in there, consistent with his musical influences. The horn section reminds us of BeyoncĂ©’s and Jay Z’s “Crazy in Love.” His vocal tone is similar to Bruno Mars Ă  la “Uptown Funk.” It’s a big, feel-good song that should play well in an arena. And the lyrics are self-aware, cheekily referencing that this is Australia’s seemingly one shot at the contest: “This is one tough act to follow/Oh baby tonight’s so good/Forget tomorrow/We can do tonight again.”

Our quibble, if anything, is that the song is lightweight. Although, since when has that been a problem at Eurovision? Also, the production in the recorded track feels unfinished. We have no doubt that if they had left themselves more time that would have been addressed. Such is the tradeoff they made.

All in all, Australia has done good here. They’ve given us a fun, modern pop song from a savvy artist who is sure to do them proud.

STRAY OBSERVATIONS: We are not looking forward to the Austria/Australia jokes that are sure to follow.

Australia and UK participated in the international jury in the Austrian national final. Australia’s votes mirrored our preferences exactly, including giving its 12 votes to the Makemakes, who eventually won. Meanwhile, UK gave its 12 points to the act that would finish last. If that’s not a microcosm for the two countries’ dispositions toward the Contest, I don’t know what is. If we had our druthers, Australia would have a permanent place at the contest. Give them the UK’s spot.