Recap of Eurovision Song Contest 2021

Italy won Eurovision.

Italy. Won. Eurovision.

It’s been 31 years, and Italy has come tantalizingly close in the decade since it returned to the Song Contest. And now it has finally happened.

I genuinely did not expect this. I adore “Zitti e buoni,” but I really thought a straightforward rock song like this couldn’t win. Barbara Pravi had the dramatic, emotional chanson ballad. Gjon’s Tears had the pure vocals. They both were rewarded, of course: Barbara snagged France’s first 2nd place in 30 years and won the Artistic Award and the Press Award. Gjon’s Tears won the jury vote and the Composers Award to land Switzerland’s first 3rd place in 28 years.

But Måneskin got just enough love from the juries to be in a prime position to win when they got 318 points from the televote. They may have only edged Barbara by 25 points in the combined scores, but the win still somehow feels comprehensive and overwhelming.

To add to my delight, Iceland’s Daði and Gagnamagnið finished fourth. To see a group of close knit friends who march to the beat of their own circular keytars getting rewarded for being uncompromisingly geeky warms the cockles of this aging nerd’s heart.

Go_A rounded out the top five with a song that made no attempts to be a broadly accessible pop song. They were punished by the juries, but they finished second in the televote because I imagine folks at home saw the Ukrainian band’s performance and said, “I want to dance to this at a sweaty night club the first chance I get.”

As giddy as I am about the top 5, I know that there is going to be a huge amount of disappointment for the rest of the artists as it’s really hard to fault anyone who performed in the Grand Final. No one deserved to finish in last place, let alone get nul points. James Newman handled his result with grace and aplomb and while I am sure it stings a lot, I also bet the warmth he got from the artists and the fans in the arena will ease that pain a bit.

I’m seeing questions being rightfully asked about the fact that four of the five countries who sent Black artists finished on the bottom half of the table and that Jeangu Macrooy’s song, which directly confronts the history of racism in Europe, got nul points from the public and just 11 points from the juries. I’m also seeing a lot of questions about some curious jury decisions. Those questions all need to be asked, even if the answers are not going to be easy to discern. Though I trust the Eurovision diehards I follow on Twitter and work with on ESC in Context are going to get to the bottom of it.

To be honest, the week leading into the Grand Final had not been the easiest for me, and having Eurovision all week was a needed distraction. Yesterday was the first time my Song Contest buddies and I have seen each other in two years. It felt so cathartic to finally have that Dutch and Surinamese-themed Eurovision party. So cathartic that I quite literally cried in front of everyone when “Zitti e buoni” won. My favorite song, coming from my grandfather’s country of birth, winning the whole shebang was just the release I needed. Amazing.

Italy won Eurovision.

I need to watch this again…

France’s Eurovision 2021 Entry

I miss Destination Eurovision, France’s national final format in 2018 and 2019. Granted, neither entry picked those two years did particularly well at the Song Contest, but the shows themselves were a lot of fun. Plus I love Garou.

The one-night Eurovision France, c’est vous qui décidez! was fine, but it really could have benefited from a multi-night format (and Garou). They winnowed 12 songs down to 8 for a superfinal, for crying out loud!

Maybe I was just annoyed because it was such a long show when France had such an obvious winner. Je présente Barbara Pravi avec “Voilà.”

Barbara Pravi is a Paris-born singer and actress who co-wrote Valentina’s “J’imagine,” which won the 2020 Junior Eurovision Song Contest. She once again teamed up with her “J’imagine” songwriting parter Igit for “Voilà.” Igit competed in the 2018 edition of Destination Eurovision with “Lisboa Jerusalem.”

Now, I would have argued that “Lisboa Jerusalem” was the most unapologetically French song ever written. But “Voilà” is more French than a croissant served by a waiter who is only pretending he doesn’t speak English. It is full of raw, sweeping melodies, and has a bouncy rhythm that strikes me as a hallmark of chanson. The impressionistic string flourishes add power to the song. Edith Piaf would have rocked the hell out of, and if there is higher praise than that, then tell me and I will use it.

Barbara’s vocal performance is intense, so much so that it risks being hammy. I don’t necessarily think that works again her because I would be shocked if anything else at this year’s Song Contest sounded anything like “Voilà.” Moreover, the effective Eurovision France staging is likely to translate well no matter which Song Contest scenario comes to pass. If she channels an inner Patricia Kaas, then my hope is that she will do very well.

Of course, I always overrate France’s entries (except in Patricia Kaas’ year), so I feel like I’ve doomed Barbara by saying that.

France’s Eurovision 2020 Entry

We’ve been overvaluing France in our Eurovision predictions the past couple of years. No chance of that happening this year.

Here is a song co-written by two former Eurovision contestants. Amir took “J’ai cherché” to France’s best result in the 2010s. John Lundvik closed out Sweden’s decade of dominance on a high note by finishing 5th last year with “Too Late for Love.” They both wrote the songs that they rode to the upper echelons of the leaderboard. On paper, it was smart of Tom Leeb to bring them into the fold when he was preparing for this year’s Song Contest.

In practice? Well, they came up with a wedding song.

Now, John Lundvik has experience with that sort of thing. His songwriting career took off when “When You Tell the World You’re Mine” was performed at the wedding of Sweden’s Crown Princess Victoria. It’s a mawkishly awkward love song, but hey, you want that kind of thing at a wedding, right?

So if you are in Paris and dreamy McDreamboat Tom Leeb proposes to you while you are visiting the Eiffel Tour, then we can see how you would want to crank “The Best In Me” during your first dance. However, while “The Best In Me” may be a foundation for a strong marriage, that doesn’t make it a strong Eurovision entry.

Look, the United Kingdom finished last at the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest with “Bigger Than Us,” which was also co-written by John Lundvik. It’s a good song that deserved a better fate than finishing behind “Sister.” But it was done in by an unimaginative staging and a likable singer who lacked the necessary star power to make his song memorable. France has the singer with the it factor, but their song is much, much worse. In a just world, Michael Rice would have a better result than Tom Leeb. But we’ve seen Pretty In Pink, so we kinda know how this is going to work out.

France’s Eurovision 2019 Entry

Will there be a new king of Eurovision? Bilal Hassani aims to take the crown at this year’s Song Contest!

Bilal Hassani is a 19-year-old singer who first gained attention in France when he auditioned for the children’s version of The Voice with “Rise Like a Phoenix.” He has since gained a large fan base through his YouTube channel and his Instagram account. He co-wrote his song “Roi” with Madame Monsieur, who represented France at last year’s Eurovision Song Contest.

Bilal is a self-assured performer with a striking androgynous look. He cuts a unique stage picture, and he has the vocal chops to back up his style. He’s not perfect: there are some high notes in the chorus of “Roi” that he never confidently hit in either Destination Eurovision performance. But we have a good feeling he will be busting his butt to nail that vocal at the Song Contest.

We see his song as his biggest liability. “Roi” is more of a mission statement like “That’s What I Am” than an anthem like “Rise Like a Phoenix.” It’s good, but we don’t feel like it completes Bilal’s total package. We wonder if the Destination Eurovision results are a harbinger for his fate in May. He was the overwhelming winner of the televote, but he finished fifth with the juries.

Regardless of how he finishes at the end of the day, we have no doubt Bilal is going to be a great ambassador for France and for the Song Contest. The road to Tel Aviv won’t be easy, but he seems to have a good, strong head on his shoulders.  We’re happy to have him in the Eurovision family.

France’s Eurovision 2018 Entry

Madame Monsieur won a corker of a French national final with a corker of a song, “Mercy.”

Singer Émilie Satt and musician and producer Jean-Karl Lucas formed Madame Monsieur in 2013. They cowrote and were featured on rapper Youssoupha’s 2015 single “Smile” from his top five album NGRTD. Their debut album Tandem was released in 2016.

“Mercy” tells the story of a girl born prematurely to a refugee on a boat from Libya to Europe. Madame Monsieur have since had to address whether or not it is a political song, but we think whether you believe it is speaks more to your own politics than to the song’s narrative.

We got excited when we first heard “Mercy” in Destination Eurovision’s semifinals. We both had it stuck in our heads for days afterwards, even without repeated listens. It’s a cool, modern adult contemporary song and it is very, very catchy. Plus we dug Madame Monsieur’s Sprockets-esque stage look.

However, we grew concerned when we heard “Mercy” in the final. Madame Monsieur’s performance seemed to lack the intensity of their first performance, as if the added fog machine had blown away all of their warmth. We worried that they had ceded victory to Lisandro Cuxi’s “Eva.”

Our concerns seemed to be justified when the international juries placed “Mercy” third and “Eva” first. While “Mercy” took the public vote overwhelmingly (118 points to Lisandro’s 72 points), we are left wondering if the song will appeal to the international juries it will face in Lisbon.

Hand-wringing aside, we love “Mercy.” It’s sleek and memorable and it will tell a story of modern Europe at a Song Contest with a theme that hearkens back to the continent’s maritime history. How Madame Monsieur get that story across, short of a language change, will be important. Romania’s Voltaj finished 15th in 2015 with a similar humanitarian message and we hope “Mercy” does not suffer the same fate.

France’s Eurovision 2017 Entry

Out of nowhere, France has announced Alma will represent them at Eurovision with “Requiem.”

Alma is a 28-year-old singer with a degree in economics who is at the start of her music career. Her first single “La chute est lente” came out last year, and “Requiem” is the second single from her upcoming debut album. It is a catchy song with an upbeat Latin rhythm (which is surprising for a song called “Requiem.”)

Alma performed “Requiem” live at the melty Future Awards on February 6, three days before the Eurovision announcement. Our impression was that she doesn’t quite own the song yet. While “Requiem” doesn’t have a difficult melody, it does has a crowded lyric that may be hard to sing live. We heard pitch issues, and it seemed like she didn’t always know where to breathe. We shouldn’t be thinking that singing a song is hard work.

Whether or not this is still a problem in May remains to be seen. She’s got time to figure it out. We also have seen that audiences can forgive minor pitch issues if they like you well enough. We had similar concerns about Amir last year, but his charm and charisma carried him far. Alma seems just as charming. She has a strong stage presence that radiates on camera.

“Requiem” was written by Nazim Khaled, who may turn out to be the more interesting part of this story. Khaled co-wrote “J’ai cherché” for Amir. So, Khaled has provided France with two solid Eurovision entries for two straight years. If it continues, he may prove to be a key voice in France’s Eurovision renaissance.

Eurovision 2016 Round-Up: Ides of March Edition

Beware the Ides of March, but beware the Eurovision Song Contest entries from San Marino more.

San Marino: Serhat – “I Didn’t Know”

For those of us who first came to Eurovision for the campiness, the past decade has been relatively slim pickings. Sure, you sometimes get a countertenor on a plinth or an Albanian Gumby impersonator, but most countries are increasingly taking this seriously. Fortunately, San Marino and Serhat have teamed up to offer us a slice of old school hokum that has transported us to a magical land where that strap-on monocle is an actual thing that people actually wear. We want to vacation in Manfred T. Mugler’s artistic vision. With any luck, the staging of this least self-aware miracle will live up to the amazing video. San Marino, don’t fuck this up.

UPDATED 03/21/2016: They fucked this up. Since we posted this review, San Marino decided to use the disco remix of “I Didn’t Know” as their Eurovision entry. Sadly, the original video has been scrubbed from the Eurovision YouTube playlist. Why do you got to stick it to the Manfred, San Marino?

Continue reading “Eurovision 2016 Round-Up: Ides of March Edition”

France’s Eurovision 2015 Entry

Lisa Angell will represent France at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest with “N’oubliez pas”:

Angell first performed “N’oubliez pas” (“Do not forget”) during a concert held as France commemorated the 100th anniversary of World War I, but the song is intended to be more of a universal statement about war. Because the song is in French, I don’t know how much its themes will resonate with the general Eurovision audience unless the staging specifically draws attention to them.

Lisa is an established cabaret performer, with a big, clear voice. She should have no problem selling “N’oubliez pas.” The question is whether or not we will buy it. In recent years, ballads like “N’oubliez pas” make the Final, but then drop like a rock when the final tallies come in. I don’t really expect anything different here.

UPDATED 5 MARCH 2015: The video is from Lisa’s official presentation of “N’oubliez pas” on the Chico And The Gypsies, Le Grand Show on 28 February 2015. She sings it well, but the song still does not strike me as one that gets people to pick up their phones and vote.

France’s Eurovision 2014 Entry

France has voted to send Twin Twin to Eurovision with “Moustache”:

After “Moustache” was initially presented in January, there were rumblings that it sounded similar to Stromae’s hit song “Papaoutai.” Per esctoday.com, Virgin Radio did a mash-up of the two songs, along with “Dur Dur D’etre Bebe” by French child star Jordy, who won A.V. Club’s Least Essential Album by a Minor in the 1990s. Actually, “Moustache” sounds more like “Dur Dur D’etre Bebe” than it does “Papaoutai.”

Regardless, “Moustache” is a bright, bouncy gimmick song. It’s goofy and catchy, but Twin Twin are going to need to figure out how to expand the staging when they perform in Copenhagen. Something this light and airy is in danger of falling flat when being performed on a big stage. If they can get the tone right at the Final, then “Moustache” will be a fun way to spend three minutes. If not… well, it will probably be a bit annoying. C’est la guerre du Concours Eurovision de la chanson.

France’s Eurovision 2013 Entry

After last year’s dismal result, France revamped how it chose its Eurovision entries, and they selected Amandine Bourgeois as their performer back in January. The song, “L’enfer et moi,” was released today, and it is very French. I know you don’t believe it coming from an American, but I mean that in the absolute best possible way.

Listening to it, I’m whisked away to Paris 1968. I have no idea what Paris was like in 1968, but I’m pretty sure “L’enfer et moi” captures it. The song is a great example of a song that feels retro without feeling dated. While the song doesn’t really go anywhere musically, the intensity of the vocal increases as the song progresses, ending with a real wallop.

“L’enfer et moi” reminds me a bit of Nina Zilli’s “L’Amore È Femmina” from last year’s Song Contest. Only… well, dirtier. Not in a ribald way. I just mean that it sounds more raw, more worldly, less slick, and more bad-ass. (Which is saying something, because Nina Zilli was pretty bad-ass in her own right.)

France has been one of my favorite Eurovision countries the past few years. Sébastien Tellier, Patricia Kaas, Jessy Matador, and Anggun have all had really good songs. Unfortunately, like Amaury Vassili, Tellier and Anggun ended up fizzling on the Eurovision stage. I hope that Bourgeois can emulate Kaas’ success and that “L’enfer et moi” finishes toward the top of the leader board.