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…

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.

Iceland’s Eurovision 2021 Entry

There was no Eurovision entry I was anticipating more this year than Daði og Gagnamagnið’s song. They captured the Song Contest zeitgeist last year with “Think About Things,” to the point that Strictly Come Dancing was still referencing it in promos for its fall 2020 season.

There was a bit of a bizarre backlash to the song, based on the idea that Netflix engineered it to go viral to help promote Will Farrell’s Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga. Ahem, that’s the Oscar nominated Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga. I thought the whole conspiracy story was without teeth, but as with any conspiracy stories, it had quite a few adherents who would have had fits if Iceland actually won last year.

Have I mentioned, speaking as an American, how tired I am of conspiracy stories?

Anyway, unlike the other Nordic countries, Iceland decided to eschew a national final and just send Daði og Gagnamagnið directly to Eurovision. They knew they had captured lightning in a bottle last year, and they had to hope Daði and his band of merry music makers would be able to recreate that magic with “10 Years.”

Before I get to the song, I have to address the official video for “10 Years.” I think it’s trying a bit too hard to replicate “Thing About Things” while making it just different enough to feel fresh. It doesn’t fully work for me, although that doesn’t mean I didn’t laugh out loud at its playful sense of humor.

Of course, I may just have been disappointed they weren’t wearing the  space Elvis jumpsuits.

However, that all doesn’t mean I’m not delighted by “10 Years.” It’s a charmingly wide-eyed love song for Daði’s wife Árnýja Fjóla Ásmundsdóttir (one of the electrokvinnaböske players in Gagnamagnið). It’s simple, it’s ebullient, and it shows that not everyone got COVID-divorced last year.

I am amused that Daði decided to take the subtle disco flourishes in “Think About Things” and make them more overt in “10 Years.” It actually makes a lot of sense. If the song lyrics are about unbridled joy, then what sounds more joyous than a really good disco song?

An aside: if you ever get a chance to drive around San Francisco at midnight while listening to Van McCoy’s “The Hustle,” do it. You will not be disappointed.

Like The Roop, Daði og Gagnamagnið faced the impossible task of recreating the buzz they had created last year, and they’ve made a valiant go of it. Even if I don’t believe they’ve re-engineered it as successfully as their Lithuanian colleagues, I still think they are delightful enough to make an impression in Rotterdam.

Iceland’s Eurovision 2020 Entry

A funny thing happened to Iceland in 2019. They got tired of their songs getting lost in the Eurovision Semifinals, so they mixed things up by sending an agitprop anti-capitalist industrial dance collective. It worked out pretty well: Hatari finished 10th in the Grand Final and they only got fined the €5,000 after they waved Palestinian flags in the Tel Aviv green room.

Then it dawned on everyone: hey, maybe the secret to this Eurovision thing is to find acts that stand out. Pretty men singing bland ballads are a dime a dozen. Who else is sending a geeky synth pop band who are obsessed with 8-bit animation, homemade musical instruments, and exquisite choreography?

Daði og Gagnamagnið first competed in Söngvakeppnin in 2017 with “Is This Love,” which finished as the runner up to Svala’s “Paper.” At first glance, the only real difference between “Is This Love” and “Think About Things” is that instead of singing a song to keyboardist Árnýja Fjóla Ásmundsdóttir (who is his wife), Daði Freyr Pétursson is singing a song to his infant daughter (who is not in the band yet). Otherwise, the band is pretty much doing the same thing here as they did during their first go.

But everything is now a bit more polished, a little more slick, and a lot more catchy. They have a keen sense of their own brand, right down to the costuming and the nerdy, yet chic staging. The whole package is evocative of both Napoleon Dynamite’s dance to “Canned Heat” and Pollapönk’s “No Prejudice,” with a little bit of Real Genius thrown in for good measure. It is goofy fun, made more delightful by their attention to detail.

The hidden power of “Think About Things” lies in the collective talent of backing vocalists Hulda Kristín Kolbrúnardóttir and Daði’s sister Sigrún Birna Pétursdóttir. Their vocals have been consistently tight throughout this year’s Söngvakeppnin and they add a professional sheen to the song that elevates the band’s high school talent show aesthetic.

We can imagine that this is not everyone’s cup of tea. A little too twee, a little too precious, or something like that. But we adore it because, to paraphrase a tweet from Elaine O’Neill, Daði og Gagnamagnið just look like us. We could be those kids. We frequently are those kids to this very day. And it’s nice to see someone like us make good.

Eurovision 2016 Round-Up: St. Lucia’s Independence Day Edition

All of the Eurovision Song Contest entries decided in the past couple of days have the ring of familiarity to them. Two artists make their return to the Grand Prix, and two others have tried to represent their respective nations in years past. Let’s try and relive some magic.

Bosnia & Herzegovina: Dalal & Deen featuring Ana Rucner and Jala – “Ljubav Je”

Bosnia & Herzegovina returns to Eurovision with an all-star cast of performers, including Song Contest veteran Deen. “Ljubav Je” is a standard Balkan ballad with a hip hop twist, thanks to Jala. We love how they staged the song presentation: it looked like Dalal and Deen were singing about the Romeo & Juliet-like love story between Jala and Ana Rucner. Will strings melt a hip hopper’s heart? Will rhymes be the hammer to ring the chimes of the cellist’s soul? Tune into SVT in May to find out.

Cyprus: Minus One – “Alter Ego”

Minus One are an internal selection. They vied for the chance to represent Cyprus last year and their song was one of our favorites from the national final season even if it was called “Shine.” They teamed up with the prolific Thomas G:Son to shred the hell out of their entry. It’s rocking good stuff and we’re looking forward their performance in Stockholm.

Iceland: Greta Salóme – “Hear Them Calling”

It seems that Greta Salóme took notice of all that fancy stuff Måns Zelmerlöw did at the Song Contest last year and did her own goth take on it. It’s alright, we guess, but the Lemur household is of the opinion that if Iceland was going to send a Greta song, they should have picked “Á ný,” which she wrote for Elísabet Ormslev. We’re not disappointed, Iceland, just mad.

Ukraine: Jamala – “1944”

Because this is Ukraine, we’re not entirely confident saying that Jamala is representing her country in Stockholm with “1944.” (Heck, she may not be entirely confident either, given her past experience with the Ukraine national selection process.) This is a song about Jamala’s great-grandmother, who was deported with other Crimean Tatars to Central Asia by Joseph Stalin in 1944. Andriy “Verka Serduchka” Danylko noted during Ukraine’s Lord of the Rings-length national final there is concern that it could be seen as political – certain parallels with contemporary times and all that. It’s probably just Ukraine being oversensitive and we are sure that the Russians will not complain one bit. Not one iota. Nope. Anyway, it’s a very effective song, and we could see it doing very well at the Song Contest this year.