While it took us until 2017 to devise the Eurovision Lemurs Seal of Approval, we really came up with the spirit of idea in 2016. That was the year Bulgaria returned to the Eurovision Song Contest after a couple of years off with a new game plan: send awesome songs.
That may sound like an obvious plan, but it’s a unique formula that some former Song Contest forces struggle to adhere to these days.
“If Love Was a Crime” was a song that was immediately awesome. It hooked us right from the start with its brief introductory interlude that used a haunting electronically-generated voice to grab our attention. It then kicks off properly with a finger snap-laden beat that propels Poli’s vocal over the piano’s melody.
Then that bassline kicks in. Oh, yes, very nice! It’s rich and pulsating, and it is the roaring engine that drives “If Love Was a Crime” along. When we’ve got this cranked, the bassline still has the power to give us chills.
Although the bridge is not much to write home about, it is at least orchestrated in a way to build anticipation for the chorus. You can hear rising synthetic strings right before Poli sings, “They will never break us down,” and you are primed for that chorus to explode.
The switch to Bulgarian is seamless and the lyrics (translated as “oh, give me love”) serves to emphasize the message of the English lyrics. The ornate vocal tracks of the chorus give “If Love Was a Crime” its anthemic quality.
If we were to quibble, it would be in regards to how it was staged at the 2016 Song Contest. Poli’s costume was ridiculous and while the choreography was cute, the Bulgarian delegation could have her backing singers come out earlier to do it along with her. We felt like saving the singers for the last 30 seconds blunted the song’s impact.
Of course, we are talking about a song that finished fourth at the Grand Prix final, so are we to quibble?
Bulgaria is looking to keep its hot streak alive with “Bones.”
Equinox is pop quintet formed for Eurovision. Members include Zhana Bergendorff, who won the second series of X Factor in Bulgaria; Johnny Manuel, who made it to the semifinals on the 2017 edition of America’s Got Talent; and Vladimir Mihailov, a singer and actor who sang backing vocals for Kristian Kostov at last year’s Song Contest.
Bulgaria is coming off a second place finish at Eurovision. Given its success the past couple of years, anticipation around their entry has been high. They recruited Eurovision fans to be a part of the jury to select a song, which helped generate even more buzz.
“Bones” is by Borislav Milanov and Joacim Persson, who co-wrote previous Bulgarian entries “If Love Was a Crime” and “Beautiful Mess,” along with Dag Lundberg and Equinox member Trey Campbell. Milanov and Persson–under their nom de plume Symphonix–have become hot Eurovision songwriters in recent years: in addition to their Bulgarian songs, they wrote last year’s Serbian and Macedonian entries, this year’s Austrian entry, and a song that competed in Malta’s national final in February. We were pretty excited to hear what they came up with.
Then the song came out. It’s not bad.
The thing is, “Bones” lacks the immediacy of “Beautiful Mess” and “If Love Was a Crime” and the pop songs Symphonix have provided Eurovision the past few years. It sounds less like a single and more like a performance piece without the performance attached. It feels incomplete.
This wouldn’t be the first Eurovision entry that only soars when you see it staged. We look forward to seeing what Bulgaria does with it. But we’ve been such big fans of Bulgaria’s recent output that maybe we just wanted a little more. That might be the drawback for setting expectations so high.
Deyan Yordanov from BNT explains how Bulgaria handles its social media and internet presence during the Eurovision Song Contest.
For die hard Eurovision fans, a big part of Bulgaria’s success in 2016 came from national broadcaster BNT’s entertaining and adept use of social media. As Kristian Kostov prepares to represent Bulgaria at this year’s Song Contest with “Beautiful Mess,” we caught up with Deyan Yordanov, BNT’s editor in chief of communications management, strategy and planning, to find out more about the work that goes into maintaining Bulgaria’s online presence.
There are four people working on BNT’s social media team. “There are no assigned roles – everything is shared and discussed between the team members,” he said. “In BNT the communication team also coordinates the whole project and takes part actively in the decision-making process of the entire production.”
BNT’s strategy for the 2016 Song Contest was adapted from one they first used during the 2014 Junior Eurovision Song Contest. “Our objectives were, and still are, to create a strong brand of our broadcaster and country on a European level and to improve the awareness of the local audience,” said Yordanov. “Our strategy also follows the latest trends which show that people nowadays watch TV on more than one screen. They use their mobile devices; they want to comment, engage, connect to the program they are watching.”
While “If Love Was a Crime” generated a lot of good will from Eurovision fans, Yordanov said that BNT was also prepared for possible negative reactions as well, such as the criticism of Bulgaria’s staging during last year’s rehearsal period. “[We] always have a plan [for] what to do in case things go wrong and there is some backlash,” he said. “In all situations, we want to stay true to our most important principles – to be honest, confident and sometimes even bold and provocative in our communication. It’s better to be wrong but to make people react than to leave them indifferent.”
Thank you very much for your feedback.We have assessed it very carefully and we remain confident on what we are doing 🙂 #Eurovision#ILWAC
“Of course, the best thing is to be right and to know what your are doing. Not always possible, though,” he added with a smile.
BNT makes sure that everyone involved in its Eurovision delegation stays on message, even the artists themselves. “The performers should follow our guidelines in all situations – both when it comes to their social media presence and their interviews. We have very strict requirements on the matter, because we are the ones responsible for the brand image. If the performer says something that should not be said, we will be held responsible in that case.”
Yordanov quickly added, “That doesn’t mean we are ‘control freaks’ and create an artificial image of our performer. We just want to clarify some red lines that should never be crossed by our performers. I’m happy that everyone understands it and the performers even appreciate it. That’s why we have a team – the singers have to perform, we have to do our job.”
Things have been going well with Kostov so far. “Working with [him] is a true pleasure. No matter he is so young, he is really a top professional and handles everything as it should be,” said Yordanov.
With rehearsals kicking off this weekend, Bulgaria’s delegation is prepared for the most intense part of their year. “The two weeks are much longer as we work from the moment we launch our selection process,” said Yordanov. “As I said, we have a broad range of responsibilities and social media is just one of them. Eurovision is one sleepless experience, but it’s emotionally rewarding – especially when things work fine.”
Kristian Kostov will represent Bulgaria at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest with “Beautiful Mess.”
Kostov is 17 years old, making him the first performer born in the 2000s to represent their country at Eurovision. When a singer who was born after we started our blog makes it to the Song Contest, we are going to feel really old.
Anyway, he was a finalist on Russia’s The Voice Kids, mentored by Dima Bilan, and runner up on the fourth season of X Factor Bulgaria. His debut single “Ne si za men” peaked at number 13 on the Bulgarian charts.
“Beautiful Mess” was written by the team of Borislav Milanov, Sebastian Arman, and Joacim Bo Persson, who were also responsible for Bulgaria’s previous entry “If Love Was a Crime.” They also wrote this year’s entry for Serbia, “In Too Deep.”
We’re struggling with “Beautiful Mess” a bit. It’s a solid contemporary pop ballad, ornately orchestrated with a cool ethnic string riff tying it together. And it is being sung by someone who is already an experienced performer despite barely being out of the larval stage. We are trying not to judge this song against “If Love Was a Crime,” although it’s hard not to given that it is by the same songwriting team for the same country. So if we’re not excited about by “Beautiful Mess,” it may just be because we are comparing it unfairly to one of our favorite Eurovision songs of all time.
As of this writing, Bulgaria is second in the betting odds behind Italy. Given the situation between the EBU, Russia, and Ukraine over Russia’s Eurovision entry, there would be something fitting about a song called “Beautiful Mess” winning Eurovision.
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 ofCroatia. 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 Gunčíková’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 Vučić 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.)
My oh my what a roller-coaster ride we’ve been having in Bulgaria this year.
In the aftermath of the 2012 contest, Bulgarian organizers conducted a survey to the Eurovision-viewing public in an effort to improve their results. An unconventional move, but it’s nice to know they care. Bulgaria’s best Eurovision result was back in 2007, when the fab “Water” from Elitsa Todorova and Stoyan Yankoulov reached #5. Since then, Bulgaria has struggled to even make the finals.
Their solution? Go back to what worked in the past. So Bulgarian organizers recruited Elitsa and Stoyan for another go in 2013. Here’s the song they are taking to Malmö, “Samo Shampioni” (Only Champions):
Elitsa and Stoyan have a distinctive musical style that fuses flat vocals and vocal dissonance with strong percussion, bagpipes, and tribal rhythms. Their sound is essentially unchanged from 2007.
“Samo Shampioni” replaces “Kismet,” which was the winning song at the Bulgarian national selection. Bulgarian broadcaster BNT explained they had to pull “Kismet” because they could not come to a copyright agreement with the song’s co-writer and that the co-writer was requiring substantial changes that would have taken so much time to implement that BNT would miss the filing deadline with the EBU.
Well, that’s their story and they’re sticking to it. But word on the street was that Elitsa was unhappy that “Kismet” was selected over “Samo Shampioni,” to the point where she refused to give interviews after the show. It seems “Samo Shampioni” had been their preferred choice from the beginning, but BNT required a set of songs so they could hold a selection show. The vote between the two songs was close, decided only by a tiebreak that favored the public vote. So replacing “Kismet” is, how shall we say? Convenient.
The irony is that “Samo Shampioni” is the better choice. The song stands on its own and is a better use of their three minutes. Elitsa and Stoyan have lots of drums and do some theatrics with their drumsticks that they can easily bring to Malmö. It’s fine. “Kismet,” on the other hand, had a cool trance vibe, but it started strangely, took too long to get going, and lacked a musical payoff. Every time I heard “Kismet,” I would sing Lady’s Gaga’s “Telephone” because the line “Stop calling stop calling, I don’t wanna talk anymore” provided the musical hook that “Kismet” needed.
At the end of the day, I think Elitsa and Stoyan are unlikely to repeat or improve on their 2007 finish. “Water” had an energy that they are unable to replicate here, regardless of which song they picked.
First, a tip of the hat to Bulgarian television network BNT, who put on a very good (but long) national selection show. They staged great group dance numbers, and between entries we were treated to pre-recorded Eurovision-style dance interludes. During the voting they had nearly non-stop musical entertainment.
Unfortunately, the broadcast amounted to little more than a Christmas present with beautiful wrapping paper and ribbon, and when you open the present, you find a rock that was picked up in the road. Bulgarian Eurovision hopefuls gave us gas masks, a Vegas-style wedding, and lots of bad singing. Such a shame. The less said about the other entries the better. With twice as many votes as the 2nd place finisher, the Bulgarian public spoke loud and clear. Here’s Sofi Marinova with “Love Unlimited”:
The song is a dance club number with the Romanian sound–some have compared it to “Mr. Saxobeat.” I guess, but for me it all just doesn’t quite add up. Listening to the audio track, I wish the vocal was more chill, letting the beats drive the energy of the song. Instead of singing it straight, Marinova goes for drama and feeling: “I love you so much.” Worse, the chorus hits the upper part of her register, which is shrill and off putting. But the biggest problem in the national final was her staging. Marinova performed “Love Unlimited” solo and in a ballgown–which is completely at odds with the mood of the piece. For the ESC, Bulgarian organizers need to think seriously about scrapping the performance and starting from scratch. How about bringing in some of those dancers that performed on the broadcast? Or I’m sure the “Angel si ti” dancers would be glad for the work…
Last year I wrote that Bulgaria’s Eurovision entries don’t suck, they just don’t stand out. Well, I am seriously missing Poli Genova right now. Based on what I saw tonight, 2012 isn’t shaping up to be a good Eurovision year for Bulgaria.
Bulgaria hasn’t been in the finals since 2007. This year in an effort to improve their results Bulgaria used a competition format but a jury for their selection. Who they decided on was Pink look-alike Poli Genova. “Na inat” is a tough-as-nails hard rock entry that for some reason calls to memory Styx during its harder moments.
It’s not a bad song, but Bulgaria’s dry spell hasn’t been because they sent sucky entries. (Well, their 2009 entry sucked). They barely missed the cut with “DJ Take Me Away” in 2008, and their 2010 song “Angel si ti” had the misfortune to be in a strong semifinal. These songs simply failed to move enough people to vote. Similarly, I wonder what about “Na inat” will make people pick up the phone to vote. “A” for effort.
Lightning! Fire! Stilts! Chain mail! A guy singing like a castrato! Krassimir Avramov has it all in his song “Illusion,” which is Bulgaria’s representative at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest! Did I mention the stilts?
Avramov has a fan in Lionel Richie, as it turns out, and he’s a decent enough purveyor of the operatic-techno style that regularly pops up at Eurovision. That said, Avramov loses control towards the end of the song, which makes him sound like Elnur vamping… okay, that’s a bit unfair, but operatic falsetto that’s out of tune is not pleasant to hear. Anyway, he had dancers on stilts, so that counts for something.
UPDATED: Apparently, out of tune operatic falsetto is not the thing many Bulgarians want to hear either.
Okay, I frigging love Deep Zone and Balthazar’s “DJ, Take Me Away.” First of all, it has all the Euro-techno pop trappings I love. Plus, it has flaming turntables. I ask you, how can you not love this?