The Eurovision Lemur Seal of Approval: Nobody But You

There are a lot of reasons why a song can resonate with someone. Sometimes it captures a mood. Sometimes it expresses something you feel in ways you never thought of saying. And sometimes it evokes a sense memory that takes you back to a place you want to be reminded of.

And so it is with me and “Nobody But You,” Cesár Sampson’s 2018 Eurovision Song Contest entry for Austria. It is a really good song, but more importantly for me, it takes me back to Vienna in April 2018.

In the years before the pandemic, I was lucky enough to travel for work. My office has a satellite office in Vienna, so I often found myself in Austria’s capital. I had grown found of the country because my father-in-law is from Innsbruck, so regular trips there only fueled my fascination.

April 2018 was the last time I travelled for work for a variety of reasons, including but not exclusively COVID-19. When I was in Vienna that week, I heard “Nobody But You” a lot. It was in heavy rotation on the radio, so I was guaranteed to hear it whenever I went out to eat or sat down for a beer.

I have no doubt that the steady airplay in Vienna had imprinted on me when, the night before the 2018 Grand Final, I had a dream that “Nobody But You” had won Eurovision. I woke up, laughed, then dismissed it as a farfetched dream. So you can imagine my surprise when “Nobody But You” racked up jury points. Wait… is this really going to happen?

It didn’t, but I’m glad the juries gave “Nobody But You” their top marks. I think it’s a joyous, buoyant song. It has a bright, uplifting orchestration, with lots of soaring vocals and crisp harmonies. It’s a really well constructed pop song, grand in scope but intimate in execution.

If I’m being honest, I don’t really care for the lyrics. They are of a “you can’t leave me” ilk that make me feel a little bit squirmy. I don’t think they really  fit the mood set by the song’s arrangement.

Cesár’s talent lies in how he uses his vocal as an instrument to make his song soar. Even I think if the lyrics are a bit off, he sells them in a way that makes them powerful. Between that and his magnetic charisma, he was able to make an indelible impression at Eurovision.

“Nobody But You” finished third behind “Toy” and “Fuego.” I figure diehard Eurovision fans would have rioted if Cesár had pipped Netta or Elena for the title, so third was probably the perfect spot for him to finish. While the other two songs were perfect packages, “Nobody But You” is the song from 2018 I listen to the most. Especially because it takes me back to my favorite city whenever I hear it.

Recap of 2021 Semifinal Two

We have our 26 Eurovision Song Contest finalists, and it’s hard to believe that two years of preparation have come down to this already. As with Tuesday’s results, I generally can’t fault any act that was eliminated from contention last night. No one deserved to go home early, but sometimes competing in Eurovision is a losing game.

I can’t ignore how COVID-19 reared its ugly head this week. Duncan Laurence has been denied a victory lap after contracting the coronavirus. Even more devastatingly, poor Jóhann Sigurður from Gagnamagnið tested positive on Wednesday. In solidarity with their comrade, Daði and the rest of the band decided to withdraw from performing. Footage from their second rehearsal was used instead. It’s a testament to their gumption and work effort that their performance was still amazing.

Also, leave it to Gagnamagnið to figure out how to make a circular keyboard work in ways that Ovi couldn’t.

It’s always tough for me to tell what is going to resonate with juries and televoters. For example, I can’t quite grok how a strong vocal from Albania’s Anxhela Peristeri and Pedro Tatanka from Portugal’s The Black Mamba made an impression, but a strong vocal from Austria’s Vincent Bueno didn’t. If I’m being nit-picky, Vincent’s performance was a bit too stage-theatrical, but given how effective and gut-wrenching his vocal and his staging was, it seems churlish to pick nits. I thought he deserved better.

Maybe it’s as simple as going fifth in the running order and Gjon’s Tears going second to last with an even bigger, more emotional performance. I definitely got Loreen vibes from Gjon’s Tears: a powerful vocal and some dance moves that were true to the artist while still fitting the tone of the song. I still think Switzerland is in the mix for the win.

I was expecting good things from The Black Mamba, even though I wasn’t sure if a song influenced by American Southern rock ballads was going to appeal to anyone in Europe. I was really happy to see that it did.

But I have to admit I didn’t see Anxhela’s performance coming, even though I witnessed her be a complete powerhouse during Festivali i Këngës. Albania’s staging is straightforward, with good use of lighting, fog, and graphics. It all served Anxhela’s performance quite effectively, letting her be the most compelling part of the presentation.

“Growing Up Is Getting Old” didn’t have as much of an impact on me as I thought it would. Something about a singer sitting on the stage (or the prop, in this case) always seems to mute a performance, even when it’s thematically appropriate. Fortunately, Victoria getting up and singing the final lines a cappella was enough to get me all teary-eyed.

Moving on to the bangers: Was there anything more surreal than Flo Rida appearing on stage with Senhit? He’s not the first American to compete in the Song Contest and he’s not the first world famous American to perform at Eurovision. And yet his appearance in “Adrenalina” was still a sight to behold. He only arrived this week and he fit into the production perfectly. I also loved the shots of him hanging with the Sammarinese delegation throughout the rest of the evening. I think he might be hooked on this.

I was disappointed we didn’t get reaction shots of Flo Rida after Hurricane performed, though. For some reason, I’d love to get his thoughts on “Loco Loco.” Hurricane’s energy was appropriately overwhelming. They were moving constantly, dancing from one end of the giant stage to the other. They were a blast, and it wouldn’t have been a Saturday night without them.

The only artists to match Hurricane’s intensity were Blind Channel. The Finnish band could have gone overboard trying to get the room worked up. But they were able to walk the fine line of giving a concert performance and giving a Eurovision performance without looking like they were trying too hard. Painting their middle fingers red was a nice touch.

I really enjoyed Greece’s green screen-heavy staging, although I do get the criticism I’ve heard about it. The dancers don’t completely disappear properly and the visual of Stefania walking up invisible stairs to float in the middle of the skyline is a little weird. Even though working through the staging made her a bit stiff, I was still impressed with how well Stefenia commanded attention. Her place in the Final was well deserved.

Not so with Moldova. “Sugar” is a good song, so I’m not surprised Natalia Gordienko qualified. But her performance was really breathy as she pretended to be Marilyn Monroe in front of an old Microsoft Windows screensaver. While her long note to end the song was impressive, it also came out of nowhere, was a wee bit flat, and was clearly a gimmick to get attention. It was all so calculated that it lacked any personality.

Surprisingly, the other vocal that didn’t quite work for me was from Uku Suviste. He’s been so solid every time I’ve heard him sing. For some reason, his vocal was got lost in the backing tracking. I couldn’t tell if it was a sound mix issue, nerves, or both, but the performance didn’t really come together.

I had bad feelings about both Tornike Kipiani’s and Samanta Tīna’s chances of qualifying for the Final even before they took to the stage. I love how uncompromising the two are as artists and I love how their songs are unique in their own ways. But they also seemed a bit too inaccessible unless you really bought into their visions.

Visions of pure 1980s revivalism also died on Thursday night when both Fyr & Flamme and Rafał were eliminated from the competition. I had warmed to Fyr & Flamme since Dansk Melodi Grand Prix, especially after watching singer Jesper Groth on Stormester, the Danish version of Taskmaster. (Yes, I got that geeky.) I had also warmed to Rafał just by seeing his goofy charm in interviews and stray bits about his enjoyment of being in Rotterdam. The stagings for both “Øve os på hinanden” and “The Ride” were fun, if a bit hokey. I’m kind of bummed that both Denmark and Poland are out.

But I think I’ll miss Benny Cristo most of all. I love “omaga,” but I think his performance betrayed some nerves. He wasn’t able to fully display his charm and charisma, and he was out of breath at the end. Once Moldova was announced as a qualifier, I knew that his time in Rotterdam was almost up. Fortunately, I have his whole back catalog to dive back into, because he’s really good. I wish everyone voting in Eurovision had seen it too.

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.

Austria’s Eurovision 2020 Entry

It’s time to crank some pure pop for now people!

Vincent Bueno is a singer and actor who won Musical! Die Show in 2008. He has also done the Austrian version of Dancing with the Stars while continuing his theater and recording careers. At time of writing, he is in the musical Rock My Soul at the Wiener Metropol, so if you see this post before March 28, 2020, get over to Vienna now! He has also worked to establish a music career in the Philippines and made a number of appearances on the variety show ASAP.

“Alive” has this neo-New Jack Swing vibe going on. It’s smooth and silky and a lot of fun. Vincent has an appealing vocal tone, which has just enough growl to carry the soulful parts of the song without being theatrical. We won’t be surprised if “Alive” is chosen as the song to open Semifinal 2. It’d be a great song to kick off the show.

However, we’re struggling to wrap our heads around the structure of the song. It’s mostly chorus with a brief breakdown at the bridge and seemingly just one verse. The stark intro and the sudden coda have the same structure as the verse, but without the funky orchestration. The final chorus is cut short so that the song can head right into its brief finale. It feels strange.

Maybe we’re overthinking this, but we’ve been trying to figure out why “Alive” hasn’t had a bigger impact on us. As much as we like it, we don’t see it as a contender, and we think that the song structure is why. At least it will be a fun one to crank as we drive around.

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.

Austria’s Eurovision 2018 Entry

Cesár Sampson steps into the spotlight for Austria. Here’s “Nobody But You.”

Cesár Sampson is a singer, songwriter, and producer from Linz. He sang back-up to Poli Genova and Kristian Kostov at the last two Eurovision Song Contests. “Nobody But You” was written by Boris Milanov, Sebastian Arman, and Joacim Persson from Symphonix International, as well as Johan Alkenäs, who has written songs for Ashley Tisdale.

We complained in our review of “Bones” that the Symphonix team provided Equinox with a performance piece, not a single. Not the case here. Cesár gets a proper pop song that he can sink his teeth into. It has grit and gospel and melodies that stick with you after its done.

Cesár has a rich voice and, at least in the performance video, a smoldering presence. He’s also a better mountaineer than Nathan Trent. No offence, Nathan.

Our concern about “Nobody But You” is that it’s one of those songs that is good but not moreish. There are a lot of solid Eurovision songs that catch your ear when they come up on shuffle, but they’re not ones that you seek out and listen to over and over again. It’s a good song, but it may not be one  that necessarily catches on with the home audience. We hope it does, but we are of course biased because it’s from Austria.

Austria’s Eurovision 2017 Entry

Nathan Trent will represent Austria at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest with “Running On Air.”

Trent is a 24-year-old pop singer from Innsbruck, Austria, so we’re already inclined to like him. He was on the shortlist of this year’s the German national final, but was disqualified when he became Austria’s internal selection. He co-wrote “Running On Air” with Austrian producer and songwriter Bernhard Penzias.

It’s always hard to judge a Eurovision contestant based on a music video instead of a live performance. All we can tell really is that despite being from Innsbruck, he sucks at mountaineering.

We like the song. It’s upbeat, pleasant, and fun in a Maroon 5 kind of way. But we need more information. Judging from his bio, Trent is very early in his music career. He was willing to jump into Unser Song while also negotiating to represent Austria, so he certainly seems to think he’s ready. But we have no idea if anything has prepared him for this. Many a young artist before has crumbled under the intensity and the chaos of Eurovision. Let’s hope that he can keep it together in Kyiv this May.

Eurovision 2016 Round-Up: President’s Day Edition

These are busy times in the Lemurs household, making it difficult for us to write about the National Finals results on a regular basis. Rather than skip out on the Eurovision season altogether, we decided to do a round-up of what has happened around Europe up until now.

The most interesting (if not exciting) thing so far is what happened in Italy. This year’s Sanremo winners, Stadio, turned down the invitation to represent Italy in May’s Grand Prix. The day after Sanremo ended, Italian broadcaster Rai announced that they gave the ticket to Stockholm to runner up Francesca Michielin. It was not quite as dramatic as Germany’s schlagerfiasco last year, but trust the Italians to be better prepared than the Germans to handle this kind of situation.

(Wait, did I just say that?)

Francesca has not confirmed what song she will be performing at Eurovision (although presumably she would go with her Sanremo entry “Nessun Grado Di Separazione”), but plenty of other countries have their entries locked up:

Continue reading “Eurovision 2016 Round-Up: President’s Day Edition”

Austria’s Eurovision 2015 Entry

The Makemakes have been tasked with defending Austria’s title at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest with “I Am Yours”:

Hailing from the state of Salzburg (the state, not the city), The Makemakes are a rock trio named after the dwarf planet Makemake. They’ve had two top 10 hit singles already in Austria. Their 2012 single “The Lovercall” was accompanied by rumors that lead singer Dominic “Dodo” Muhrer was the illegitimate son of Oscar-winning actor Christoph Walz.

The Austrian selection show Wer singt für Österreich? paired its participating artists with established songwriters from around the world to write new songs to compete in Eurovision. The Makemakes collaborated with Jimmy Harry on “I Am Yours.” A Los Angeles-based producer, Harry co-wrote RuPaul’s hit “Supermodel (You Better Work).” He has gone on to work with Pink, Kylie Minogue, Madonna, and Britney Spears, and he also co-wrote Wer singt’s second place finisher, Dawa’s “Feel Alive.”

“I Am Yours” is a Southern rock ballad that would not be out of place in the Lynyrd Skynyrd catalog. It’s a deceptively simple melody that soars with a great piano-supported orchestration. Dodo’s raspy, smoky vocal is powerful at the right times and yet the chorus, sung partly in falsetto, underscores emotional vulnerability. Also, I have to admit I enjoyed the piano on fire. We’ve seen that gimmick a couple of times in other national finals, and it’s high time we got a flaming piano in the big leagues.

Jen and I disagree to a certain extent on this song. I think its retro feel is a detriment and it won’t be able to stand out. Jen thinks that this song plays well to the Makemakes strengths, and folks will recognize how strong the songwriting really is. Either way, we agree that “I Am Yours” is a quality song and a more than respectable follow-up to Austria’s Eurovision-winning song.

Austria’s Eurovision 2014 Entry

Austria is hoping it will “Rise Like a Phoenix” in Copenhagen (or at least make the Final) with Conchita Wurst.

Thomas Neuwirth first came to the public eye in Austria after finishing behind Nadine Beiler in the TV talent show Starmania. Neuwirth later unveiled his drag persona Conchita Wurst on another Austrian talent show, Die große Chance. He narrowly finished behind Trackshittaz in Austria’s national final for Eurovision 2012 with the song “That’s What I Am.” Sensing they had a proper star on their hands, broadcaster ORF handpicked Wurst to represent Austria this year.

We are huge fans of RuPaul’s Drag Race, an American reality competition show in which drag queens vie for the title of “America’s next drag superstar.” Each week, RuPaul mentors the contestants and implores them to utilize their “charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent” in each challenge.

If ever there was a performer that fully embodied those four traits, it’s Wurst. His gimmick is obviously his carefully manicured beard. Rather than completely hiding his gender, he puts his masculinity on display as much as he displays his femininity. His look is very much in your face, and there’s no doubt he is going to be a polarizing figure.

Given that, it may not matter whether or not Wurst’s song is any good. We weren’t impressed with his 2012 attempt, That’s What I Am.” I doubt it means anything to non-musical fans, but we didn’t think it did anything that “I Am What I Am” from La Cage aux Folles accomplished (better) 30 years earlier. It was a generic empowerment anthem. Also, we didn’t think Wurst sang it particularly well.

Rise Like a Phoenix” is a much better fit. It sounds like a Bond theme. But Wurst infuses the lyrics with an autobiographical spirit, giving “Rise Like a Phoenix” an intimacy that suits his drag persona. The above performance is from Austria’s Dancing with the Stars and we’re hoping that it is a tiny preview of how Austria plans to stage the song in Copenhagen. That light show was pretty darned good.

As much as I’d like to believe Eurovision is ultimately just a song contest, I can’t help but wonder if Wurst will prove to be too much for many Eurovision voters (both in the public and on juries) to embrace. But “Rise Like a Phoenix” is a good enough song to carry Austria to the Final, so to paraphrase another RuPaul catchphrase: Europe, don’t fuck it up.