We were just thinking that we needed another love ballad song by a handsome fellow with scruffy facial hair.
Uku Suviste is a singer and songwriter who won the 2008 Uno Naissoo composing competition. He finished second at Eesti Laul 2019 with “Pretty Little Liar.” He has worked with Birgit Õigemeel on the album Ilus Aeg and with the Estonian Ministry of Defence on the song “Võitmatu,” which had a cameo by Justin Gatlin.
Also, he is the Snow Miser to Freddie’s Heat Miser.
Uku co-wrote his song with Sharon Vaughn, who was an established songwriter in American country music before jumping into the world of Eurovision with such songs as Jedward’s “Waterline,” Sergey Lazarev’s “Scream,” and this year’s Greek entry, Stefania Liberakakis’ “SUPERG!RL.”
We are underwhelmed by “What Love Is.” It is very pretty, and the staging is very pretty. Uku is also very pretty. The whole package just rests on pretty, which doesn’t make it compelling.
Our main complaint is that the chorus is really lumpy. It’s so crammed full of notes and lyrics that it sounds more desperate than romantic. The “one-two-three-one-two-three-one-twoooo” pattern builds up lots of tension, but the release isn’t cathartic. We’re just relieved that Uku has moved onto other melodies.
Uku is a good singer and a compelling television presence. When he looks right into the camera as he sings “Til I looked into your eyes,” it’s effective rather than cheesy. There’s no doubt he will be able to do the hard sell with this package. But we’re still not buying it.
If a non-Eurovision fan ever asked us which country was our favorite Song Contest participant, we would say Estonia. And they would look at the songs that have represented Estonia for the past decade and probably scratch their heads. We would need to explain to this theoretical person that even if the songs Estonia send are usually not much to write home about, Eesti Laul has always been best national final. But this year, we were muttering to ourselves, “What happened to you, man? You used to be cool.”
With that ringing endorsement out of the way, let’s talk about “Storm.”
Victor Crone is a Swedish singer who teamed up with Behrang Miri on “Det Rår Vi Inte För” at Melodifestivalen in 2015. They lost in the Andra Chansen round to Samir & Viktor’s “Groupie,” the poor things. Victor co-wrote “Storm” with Stig Rasta, an Eesti Laul mainstay who along with Elina Born represented Estonia at the 2015 Song Contest with “Goodbye to Yesterday.” He also wrote Estonia’s 2016 entry “Play.”
We will say this: “Storm” is relentlessly catchy. It took just a couple of listens before we had the melody of the chorus stuck in our heads. It helps that the chorus is repeated five times and has a pretty simple lyric to remember: “A storm like this/Can break a man like this/But when it all calms down/We’re still safe and sound.” It is a genetically-engineered ear worm.
Victor is a likable performer, but he suffers from serious constipated tenor syndrome when trying to reach his high notes. The Eesti Laul staging featured an awful animation section where a faux-Crone is singing in front of the audience, then the camera swirls around and he is standing on a mountain in a storm. It looked cheesy and we hope Estonia drops it. We also figure they won’t because it clearly worked at Eesti Laul.
It’s hard for us to generate a lot of enthusiasm for this song. Stig’s two previous Eurovision entries benefited from a distinct music style influenced by late 1960’s-era country-influenced pop rock. Meanwhile, “Storm” polishes Tom Petty’s “Won’t Back Down” to a Melodifestivalen sheen and tweaks it to be even more earnest.
The thing is, we probably would have written something similar if any of the other Eesti Laul finalists had won the ticket to Tel Aviv. We were underwhelmed this year. Maybe we’re just being harsh because our expectations for Estonia are usually so high.
Elina Nechayeva is a soprano who was a finalist on the ETV show Klassikatähed 2014, a competition show for young classical musicians. She co-hosted Eesti Laul in 2017.
She wrote “La Forza” with fellow Klassikatähed vet Ksenia Kuchukova, as well as Mihkel Mattisen and Timo Vendt, who both wrote Estonia’s 2013 entry “Et uus saaks alguse” for Birgit Õigemeele.
When “La Forza” debuted in its Eesti Laul semifinal, betting on it went wild enough to make Estonia the odds leader. Since then it has been hovering around the top three in the odds tables.
So we understand why pop-opera rears its annoying head every couple of years: it is generally predicted to do well. Il Volo’s “Grande Amore” (Italy, 2015) comes to mind: it was in the top three in the betting odds and ultimately landed third. And when a country outside the Big Five sends pop-opera, they usually qualify for the Final. “La Forza” is therefore an appealing choice for a country that has failed to make it out of the Semis three out of the last four years.
But “Grande Amore” aside, this subgenre more commonly finishes mid-table on Saturday night. Think “Sognu” (France, 15th in 2011), “La Voix” (Sweden, 21st in 2009), “Cvet z juga” (Slovenia, 15th in 2007), or “Questa Notte” (Latvia, 16th in 2007). Even glorious, glorious “It’s My Life” (Romania, 2013) finished 13th.
Our bias against pop-opera may be showing, but to us “La Forza” feels more like that latter strain of mediocrity, undeserving of its projected top three status. It’s pleasant, but it lacks majesty. It is quiet and noodly and new agey. It needs to be the diva’s performance from The Fifth Element and it just isn’t.
Koit Toome & Laura Põldvere have won Eesti Laul 2017 and will represent Estonia at the Eurovision Song Contest with “Verona.”
This year’s Estonian delegation is chockfull of Eurovision veterans. Koit Toome first represented his country in 1998 with the song “Mere Lapsed,” and later won Tantsud tähtedega, the Estonian version of Dancing With the Stars. Laura Põldvere was a member of Suntribe, which represented Estonia in 2005 with “Let’s Get Loud.” And “Verona” was written by Sven Lõhmus, the venerable Estonian songwriter behind “Let’s Get Loud,” “Rändajad” for Urban Symphony, and “Rockefeller Street” for Getter Jaani.
As you can probably guess from the title, “Verona” uses Romeo & Juliet as a metaphor for a romance gone bad, although one that doesn’t end quite as badly as the one in Romeo & Juliet, seeing as they are still singing. It’s sort of like using Sophie’s Choice as a metaphor for being unable to decide between the fish or the steak at a restaurant.
Anyway, Toome and Põldvere are solid performers and the staging for Eesti Laul emphasized theatricality. The camera angles and the editing and the visuals were all very smooth and professional and… well, cheesy. Like a camembert: mild, mainstream, slightly musty, but nonetheless tasty.
When we were watching Eesti Laul and the super final ultimately came down to “Verona” and Kerli’s mad electro-pop freakout “Spirit Animal,” we absolutely knew “Verona” was going to win. “Spirit Animal” had its issues, to be sure, but even if Kerli had nailed it, Estonians usually send the safe choice to Eurovision and keep the more interesting stuff for themselves at Eesti Laul.
It’s Teacher’s Day in Albania, and what better way to celebrate than by doing an educational post about the latest news from the Eurovision Song Contest?
Armenia: Iveta Mukuchyan – “LoveWave”
Here is a question we like to ask: what’s worse – being memorably bad or just being unmemorable? Last year’s Eurovision entry from Armenia was terrible, but this year’s entry is mediocre at best. Unless there is a staging miracle in Stockholm, we will remember “Face the Shadow” long after our memories of “LoveWave” have faded.
The Netherlands: Douwe Bob – “Slow Down”
Who would have expected that the best tribute to the late Glenn Frey comes in the form of the Netherlands’ Eurovision entry? “Slow Down” dips into a well of country-inspired mellow gold, but we don’t think it will reach the heights Netherlands achieved the last time they went down the road to Nashville.
Russia: Sergey Lazarev – “You Are the Only One”
Listening to “You Are the Only One” feels like stepping into a time machine set to 2006. If Croatia or Slovenia sent this, you’d pay it no mind, but because it’s Russia we guess we have to take it seriously. The song sounds like a brainstorming session on a corporate retreat: everyone’s throwing ideas against the wall and none of them are sticking or holding together. On the bright side, at least it’s not another pandering plea for peace, love and unicorns.
Estonia: Jüri Pootsmann – “Play”
Stig Rästa has finally found the ticket to success at Eesti Laul: mod pastiches of ’60s pop. He followed up last year’s duet with Elina Born by penning “Play” for Estonian dreamboat Jüri Pootsmann. Jüri may look like Anthony Edwards’ hot son, but he also possesses a rich baritone that infuses “Play” with smoldering soul.
Montenegro: Highway – “The Real Thing”
Oh man, in a rock heavy year, Highway reigns supreme with a sweet Soundgarden-influenced riff. If Georgia’s rock act is a bit too impenetrable, Romania’s rock act is a bit too pretentious, and Cyprus’ rock act is a bit too slick, then Montenegro’s rock act is the total package. This is Chris’ favorite song of the competition so far.
Israel: Hovi Star – “Made of Stars”
Hovi Star won Israel’s Rising Star competition, but Israel’s delegation is apparently planning to rework the song. We’re going to hold off commenting on it until the official version is ready.
Macedonia: Kaliopi – “Dona”
Kaliopi returns to Eurovision to represent Macedonia with the big ballad “Dona.” It’s a better song than her previous effort “Crno i Belo,” although it lacks a certain something to make it memorable. Still, we’re happy she’s back, if only because she’s entertaining in the press center.
Poland: Michał Szpak – “Color of Your Life”
Everyone on the internet expected Margaret to win Poland’s Eurovision selection show with “Cool Me Down.” That was before Margaret gave an indifferent performance of her Rihanna knock-off on Krajowe Eliminacje do Eurowizji 2016. That was also before Michał Szpak stared straight into our eyes and peered deep into our soul. “Color of Your Life” is a forgettable show tune, but Michał sold it to the voting public, forcing thousands of Eurovision fans to tear up their Warsaw 2017 travel plans.
Romania: Ovidiu Anton – “Moment of Silence”
Sadly, Ovidiu’s chance to rock Stockholm was taken away from him when the EBU booted Romania from the Eurovision Song Contest because of unpaid debts.
The most epic result of the weekend had to be Ovidiu Anton’s triumph at Selecţia Naţionala. Neither Ovidiu or the presenters could stress enough how much he liked to rock, and boy does he, in the most prog-heavy way possible. “Moment of Silence” is utterly ridiculous and ridiculously entertaining.
For further reading, see Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Savatage, and Tenacious D. See also: Ovidiu’s entry from 2015, which made our annual WTF post.
At long last, Stig Rästa has made it to Eurovision, representing Estonia alongside Elina Born with “Goodbye to Yesterday”:
ESC Insider and ESC Insight’s Samantha Ross estimates that “Goodbye to Yesterday” is Stig’s ninth attempt to represent Estonia either as a performer or a songwriter. He wrote “Enough” for Elina in 2013 and came painfully close to winning Eesti Laul in 2011 with Outloudz’ “I Wanna Meet Bob Dylan.” We’ve never been particular fans of his, but we’re always happy when someone who has been at it for a long time and clearly wants the chance to represent their country at Eurovision finally gets their shot.
It’s alright, I guess, but once the verse is finished, Elina and Stig just sing the chorus over and over again for over a minute. If you like the chorus, then I suppose that’s great, but it’s not to our personal tastes. Moreover, Stig especially seemed to struggle singing “Goodbye to Yesterday” live, mumbling through the lyrics when using his lower register. He will need to work on that before May if he and Elina want to make it to the Grand Prix final in Vienna.
We love Eesti Laul. It’s a lot of fun, it usually has a lot of great music and a lot of eccentric performers, and above any of the other national finals we watch, it has a sense of humor on display. A sense of humor we don’t fully get because we don’t speak Estonian, but still, there is comedy there, and we appreciate it.
But the past few years it has become clear that while Estonia likes its eccentricity during Eesti Laul, it also would rather leave those quirky acts in Estonia and send more conventional songs to Eurovision. Since Malcolm Lincoln got knocked out of Eurovision 2010 in the Semis, Estonia has been represented by two ballads and a pop tune.
And so it continues this year. Estonia could have put its freak flag on display, but instead it went for schlager. Here’s “Amazing” by Tanja:
Apparently, Tanja and her crew saw the staging Georgia did for Sopho Nizharadze’s “Shine” and thought, “What that number needs is more choreography.” It’s ridiculous how much movement Tanja does during her performance, and how it doesn’t seem to impact her vocal performance. After watching the show live in Tallinn, ESC Insight‘s Ewan Spence tweeted, “…they’re going to need to hide that backing singer a little better in Copenhagen.” On TV, we didn’t really notice anything amiss thanks to the camera angles, but we have to admit that it’s incredibly hard choreography to hit and still be able to sing live.
However, it’s the marriage of choreography and song that makes this entry stand out. If Estonia were to tone down the choreography, I don’t know how much of an impression “Amazing” would leave on me. Right now, I’m thinking, “Let the poor woman sing,” but if Tanja did just sing, would I even remember her song at the end of the night? I’m not sure I would.
Estonia has picked Birgit Õigemeel to go to Malmö with “Et uus sacks alguse,” another safe ballad in a Eurovision season that has seen more than a few of them (see Russia and Cyprus, for example). It came down to Õigemeel and Grete Paia in the end, with “Et uus saaks alguse” getting 51% of the vote in the Super Final.
There was a very good chance that Estonia could send the absolutely bat shit insane Winny Puhh to ESC with their song “Meiecundimees uks korsakov laks eile Lätti.” It was bonkers in the semis, but Winny Puhh really upped their game for the Eesti Laul final:
As for “Et uus sacks alguse,” it’s nice. It’s a pleasant, almost country ballad. Õigemeel gave a good performance, much better than Paia and other competitors on the night. It’s fine, but right now it lacks a spark to make it interesting. Of course, Ott Lepland added a lot of firepower to “Kuula” at Baku and a sixth place. But I don’t see “Et uus saaks alguse” being the type of song that lends itself to theatrics the way “Kuula” did. It will most likely make the Final, but it may struggle to make a mark.
Eesti Laul is always a highlight of the Eurovision season, and tonight was no exception. Sure, I would have liked Jaan Pehk actually performing, rather than showing up as a songwriting credit on Traffic’s “NASA,” and I would have loved to have Mimicry in the final with their terrific “The Destination.” I’d even have liked Malcolm Lincoln back, even if this year’s “Bye” is no “Siren.”
But Eesti Laul 2012 offered a number of delights. Andres Kõpper fought off a cold to bring proper icy distance to Tenfold Rabbit’s “Oblivion,” this year’s “too cool for Eurovision” Estonian number. POP Maniacs threw together complex harmonies and slick choreography to the ridiculously catchy pop number “I Don’t Know.” Ex-Vanilla Ninja Lenna went to the super final with her James Bond in Tallinn track “Mina jään.”
However, the day went to Ott Lepland, who will be performing “Kuula” in Baku on Estonia’s behalf:
This reminds Jen of Barry Manilow, sort of a slowed down “Can’t Smile Without You” with a touch of Niamh Kavanagh’s “It’s For You” thrown in at the top. It’s lushly orchestrated, and Lepland is good looking and has a nice voice. It definitely looked like a crowd favorite from a performer that Estonians have known since he won Eesti otsib superstaari in 2009. (Two other Superstaari winners, Birgit Õigemeel and Liis Lemsalu, also vied for the trip to Baku).
But I fear for this one, because it’s in the second half of the second Semi. It definitely doesn’t hold up against Slovenia’s “Verjamem,” and while it is a better song than Croatia’s “Nebo,” it doesn’t crescendo the way Nina Badric’s entry does. I’m not sure there’s room in the Final for all three songs. Draw may turn out to be important for all three, and if “Kuula” precedes its rivals, it could get lost in the mix.
I’m confident Lepland can deliver a strong performance, given the composure we’ve seen from him thus far. We’ll have to see if that will be good enough to see him through.
Today Estonia selected Getter Jaani to represent them in Dusseldorf. “Rockefeller Street” is a catchy, contemporary and a wee bit twisted pop tune. As we noted in our preview, this year’s Eesti Laul was packed with high quality tunes, and the selection turned out to be a nail-biter. I’m not sure ESC2012 is going to be held in Tallinn, but Estonia would certainly deserve a good showing this year. This is one of my favorites, and I’m looking forward to seeing it on the big stage.