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:

 

 

 

Belarus’ Eurovision 2020 Entry

Our year of audience-friendly choreography continues!

VAL are singer Valeria Gribusova and musician Vlad Pashkevich. Valerie was runner up in the 2015 Slavic Bazaar and auditioned for The Voice of Ukraine in 2017. Meanwhile, Vlad owns the music studio ToneTwins, which produced Naviband’s 2017 Eurovision entry “Story Of My Life.”

“Da Vidna” has a vibe that takes us back to Milan Fashion Week in the mid-1990s. Not that we were there, but if we had been, we expect something like this to be played during the Missoni show. It’s very stylish, very smooth, and very pleasant.

It’s also very inconsequential. We enjoy it when we hear it, but in the way we enjoy songs we hear when we’re trying on clothes at some posh clothing store even though we can’t afford any of it. But this Missoni cardigan looks so nice! Then we leave and never bother to figure out what songs we heard in the changing room.

The staging is simple but effective, featuring some snazzy, easy-to-follow moves and Valeria’s striking headwear (which is more Dolce&Gabbana than Missoni). As luck would have it, though, VAL are drawn in the same half as The Roop, who go for less subtle dance movies for greater effect.

We don’t revel in poking holes in “Da Vidna,” because we really do like it (and really hope they keep it in Belarusian). We just feel like it’s one of those songs that gets lost in the shuffle in a Semifinal. But we’ll always have Milan.

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.

Belarus’ Eurovision 2018 Entry

At last we come to Belarus. We delayed our review of “Forever” because we can never tell if the song Belarus initially selects for Eurovision is going to be the one that will represent Belarus at Eurovision. Given all the controversy over Alekseev’s participation at this year’s Belarusian national final, it seemed like there was a good chance that “Forever” was not going to make it to Lisbon. But, as is so often the case, Belarus’ president Alexander Lukashenko weighed in so that Eurovision preparations could move forward. He’s helpful that way.

It’s been a few years since Belarus has had a chaotic national final, so we are bathing in the nostalgia.

So, without further ado (we hope), here is Alekseev with “Forever.”

So we’ll give Alekseev top marks for staging. Knowing Portugal is not using giant LED screens at Eurovision, he showed up with an LED suit. Fabulous. If only his vocal were as good.

Of course, since the national final, he’s revamped his song a bit, so here is the official video with a new arrangement.

It’s not bad, but the vocal line is still the same. You know, the vocal line that he struggled with live and can’t seem to nail even on the recorded track. So it doesn’t exactly give us confidence that his national final performance was an off night. But he’ll have the LED suit, right? That should keep the audience happy since nothing else will.

Belarus’ Eurovision 2017 Entry

NAVI won Belarus’ national final with their song “Historyja majho žyccia.”

Arciom Lukjanienka and Ksienija Žuk formed NAVI in 2013. They first vied to represent Belarus in 2016 with “Heta ziamla.” They finished fourth, well behind winner IVAN, but were immortalized in one of the greatest tweets about Eurovision ever:

“Historyja majho žyccia” is not entirely dissimilar to their previous effort, but benefits from sounding… more authentic? Like, if “Heta ziamla” is NAVI selling out, “Historyja majho žyccia” is NAVI staying true to themselves. (To wit, NAVI will be performing their song in Belarusian in Kyiv.)

That said, its folk-pop sound reminds us of bands like Mumford and Sons and past Eurovision efforts like Firelight’s “Coming Home” and Monika Linkytė and Vaidas Baumila’s “This Time.” Despite the air of familiarity, we really enjoy NAVI’s effusiveness. Also we hope they keep those graphics for their video backdrop. Once again, we love Belarus and we got it deep inside.

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”

Belarus’ Eurovision 2015 Entry

Uzari and Maimuna will represent Belarus at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest with “Time”:

Third time’s the charm for Uzari, who previously vied for a spot in the Eurovision Song Contest in 2012 and 2013 (although he did back up Anastasia Vinnikova on 2011’s “I Love Belarus”). He is joined by Malian-Belorussian violinist Maimuna, who has done a violin-based remix of  “Gangnam Style” and whose website biography is fabulous; “On the Way to Olympus” by way of Vienna!

“Time” doesn’t do much for me as a song. It’s kind of a bland pop take on Trans-Siberian Orchestra. But I like how Uzari sings it, and I think he and Maimuna are going to sell it well. Plus the staging at the Belorussian National Final seems to have been designed for the big Eurovision stage, with its interactive graphics and 3D visual effects.  This could be a fun one to see on the big stage, even if I won’t be bumping the song in my vehicle any time soon.

Belarus’ Eurovision 2014 Entry

giggle Oh Belarus…

Behold TEO and “Cheesecake”:

The core concept, the backing singers’ visual aids, the Bugs Bunny samba dance moves… everything about this performance from the Belorussian national selection is a comedy goldmine.

Singer-songwriter TEO (real name: Yuriy Vashcuk or Yuri Vashchuk, depending on the source) is known to Belorussian Eurovision fans if not by name then by reputation. He has the unfortunate distinction of having composed a string of Belarus publicly-selected-but-ditched songs (2010: 3+2’s “Far Away”, 2012: Alyona Lanskaya’s “All My Life”, 2013: Alyona Lanskaya’s “Rhythm of Love”). He also competed with Anna Blagova in the 2009 national selection. After all that, one might say he deserves a break. (“One” in this context includes the Belorussian jurors, who overrode the public televote to give TEO the win over Max Lorens.)

TEO’s songwriting talent is on fine display in this outing as well — this tune has a great groove. However, what everyone will focus on is the title and the lyrics, the tacky, unbelievably silly lyrics:

I don’t wanna be a toy in your hands today
I don’t wanna be your boyfriend, it’s too late
I look over Google Maps trying to escape
Cuz I’m tired of being your sweet cheesecake

I gotta admit it, boyfriend as sweet cheesecake is a new metaphor for me. So, TEO, thank you for that. He also name drops Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey, but I think we all know in our hearts that’s no shout out to Andy Kaufman. One does wonder if the reference to Google Maps will need to be changed. Of course one also wonders, given Belarus’ habit for replacing its original choice, whether the whole thing will be changed.

In a time where countries are taking the contest more seriously, Belarus is unabashedly holding out as an oasis of kitsch. That’s hardly a bad thing because, damn, this song is fun. And come on, on the night don’t we all want our WTF moments?

UPDATED 14 FEBRUARY 14:  As suspected, TEO has announced a lyric change for the Google Maps reference. According to EBU rules entrants are not allowed to reference commercial brands.  The new lyric is “all the maps,” and frankly, we think that works better.  TEO has remained adamant that he will not be switching to a different song. Baby, you do you. Heaven knows they owe you one.

Belarus’ Eurovision 2013 Entry, Take Two

Alyona Lanskaya won the Belarus national final this year with “Rhythm of Love,” a decent little dance pop number. Obviously, because this is Belarus, “Rhythm of Love” is not the song Lanskaya is going to perform at Eurovision. She’s decided to perform “Solayoh” instead.

I’m a little fuzzy on the reason why she made the switch, but it’s not an improvement. The lyrics are lame and the music is boilerplate Latin pop. It’s not quite as desperate as Guri Schanke’s “Ven a bailar conmigo” in 2007, but “Solayoh” is not doing Lanskaya and Belarus any favors.

At least she is a good singer. She performs the song well, and her English pronunciation is quite good. Our main word of advice to Lanskaya (aside from switch back to her original song): Stop bugging your eyes out so much.

It’s very Norma Desmond-esque.

Painful.

Belarus’ Eurovision 2013 Entry

Obviously, Belarus decided to switch songs. We’re not amused.

Belarus kicked off the Eurovision 2013 season yesterday by selecting Alyona Lanskaya’s “Rhythm of love” as their entry for Malmö. Of course, they picked Alyona last year too, briefly, until President Alexander Lukashenko stepped in when allegations of voter fraud came to light. Hopefully, voting was above the board this year, because Alyona’s song was definitely the strongest on the night.

We were pretty entertained by the Belorussian selection show. Aside from Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s cover of “Lost and Forgotten”, all of the songs were either pretty decent or at least fun kitsch. Next to “Rhythm of love,” the highlight was Nuteki’s “Save me,” which sounded a bit like Killers and featured a Verka Serduchka facsimile on stilts attacking their guitarist. I know that sounds strange (or lame), but it worked pretty well.

Ultimately, Alyona’s slice of Romanian pop ruled the night. If we’re going to quibble, the styling made her look an aging Kylie Minogue impersonator, and she could probably use a second back-up singer to enrich the sound of the vocals. Otherwise, the staging was slick, reminding me a little bit of Ani Lorak’s “Shady Lady.” And the song itself is catchy as all get out. Regardless of how it does in May, I can confidently say this is the Best. Belorussian. Entry. Ever.