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…

Italy’s Eurovision 2021 Entry

Last year’s Italian Eurovision entry was called “Fai Rumore,” which translates to English as “make noise.”

This year, the Italians took Diodado’s advice.

I watched all 25-plus hours of this year’s Sanremo Music Festival, and I don’t think I’ve recovered yet. Måneskin stood out early on, in part because they were performing gritty glam rock instead of tender ballads, spangly pop, or quirky pop rock. I bookmarked their YouTube channel, figuring I would do a deep dive into their back catalog after Italy picked Ermel or Annalisa.

So you can imagine my surprise when Måneskin made the superfinal. Then you can imagine my shock when Måneskin actually took home that weird trophy they give to Sanremo winners. What just happened?

Well, first of all, they weren’t exactly unknown qualities in Italy. They had already finished second on The X Factor there, and their debut album l ballo della vita was a triple platinum, chart-topping hit.

But enough history, let’s talk about that song. “Zitti e Buoni” has a raunchy riff, a smoldering bass solo that even sounded good when drenched with the Sanremo orchestra’s strings, and a big chorus that even those of us who don’t speak Italian can shout along with.

Singer Damiano David is an absolute rock star in all of glam’s preening, sneering glory. The shot in the official video of him in a suit chewing gum and swinging his microphone around captures him perfectly.

That the rest of the band can measure up to him says a lot about Måneskin’s cohesion as a group. They are tight as musicians, charismatic as performers, and no bystanders to Damiano’s stage presence.

I have listened to “Zitti e Buoni” a lot since Sanremo. I play it while I’m cooking, I crank it when I’m driving, and I accidentally clicked on it as I was finishing this review and listened to it again. I find myself humming it when I’m quietly working. It’s infinitely bad-ass.

As I write this, there does not seem to be any consensus on who is going to win Eurovision this year. I am not even going to try to make predictions. But I can say with confidence that “Zitti e Buoni” is my winner, regardless of other results in May.

Italy’s Eurovision 2020 Entry

For some reason, we have it in our heads that we don’t like Italy’s Eurovision entries. Yet more often than not we find ourselves making exceptions to that rule we’ve invented. That’s not to say we love everything Italy does. But broadly speaking, we are wrong about what we think we think about Italian pop.

Case in point: Diodato’s “Fai Rumore.”

Antonio Diodato released his first album E forse sono pazzo in 2013 and went on to win the MTV Italian Music Award for Best New Generation. In 2014, he first participated in Sanremo with “Babilonia.” He broke onto the Italian album charts in 2017 with Cosa siamo diventati. He now has his first number one single with “Fai Rumore,” which he co-wrote with Edwyn Roberts.

He also looks like the son of Arne Darvin, the secret Klingon agent in the “Trouble with Tribbles” episode of Star Trek.

We envision a stage in Rotterdam filled with tribbles!
Diodato photo from Eurovision Song Contest Wiki. Arne Darvin photo from Memory Alpha.

We like “Fai Rumore” a lot. Its soaring melodies fill us with a beautiful sense of longing. Diodato has a delicate vocal tone, yet he brings Lamborghini levels of power to the chorus. And if the camera catches him just right, we bet he will be able to peer right into our souls.

While we try to review each song without consideration of other entries, we can’t help but compare “Fai Rumore” to Spain’s entry “Universo.” They operate in similar places in both style and mood. But Blas Cantó knew he was going to Eurovision and selected and orchestrated a song that could have uni-universal appeal. Diodato catered to Italy first, and now his goal is to amp his song up for a wider audience.

We’re not saying there are problems in either approach, and it will be interesting to see which song finishes higher in May. But we know which song we’d put money on if we were betting Lemurs.

The Eurovision Lemurs Seal of Approval: Soldi

Eurovision Lemurs Seal of ApprovalSo far in this series, we have celebrated an Italian song and a song with a great bassline. Today we celebrate an Italian song with a great bassline. What can we say: we have a type.

Actually, we’re generally not gushing fans of Italy’s Eurovision output. It just so happens that two of our absolute favorites are Italian. But enough with random defensiveness. Let’s blast this banger!

“Soldi” grabbed a hold on our ears pretty much from the first time we heard it at Sanremo and it wouldn’t let go. It stood out to us because it just sounded different than a lot of the other songs vying for the crown.

To be sure, Mahmood’s vocal melody isn’t that unique compared to the other male vocals on offer at Sanremo. “Soldi” was one of many songs that featured variations the sing-songy, densely packed verses that we associate with Italian pop.

What set it apart was its immediacy. “Soldi” is driven by a recurring mandolin riff and by vocal punctuation that accents the main melody. It also derives its punch from Mahmood’s performance. He sings his autobiographical lyrics with both an air of defiance and a sigh of resignation that draws us in.

He then builds and builds the bridge both lyrically and orchestrally and we brace ourselves for some sort of big release of tension. But instead of resolving, “Soldi” just DROPS into the chorus. There is unresolved emotion in the lyrics and the chorus’ orchestration captures it. The simple, but rich bassline further emphasizes that feeling. This is how Mahmood tells his story to a general audience without speaking their respective languages.

Mahmood brought a smoldering intensity to his performance at Eurovision. Yet one of our favorite moments of the entire Song Contest in 2019 is the beaming smile he breaks into when he’s done. We felt the same way then and feel the same way now.

The Eurovision Lemurs Seal of Approval: Occidentali’s Karma

Eurovision Lemurs Seal of ApprovalNot enough people celebrate the 13th anniversary of anything. It’s the lace anniversary, you know.

Tempted though we are to dress our site up in frilly lingerie, we are going to mark our website’s 13th anniversary with a series introducing you to the songs that we have awarded the Eurovision Lemurs Seal of Approval. It’s our chance to finally revamp our old Legitimately Good Songs page and to figure out what it is about our favorite Eurovision songs that tickle our aortas the way they do.

Our main criteria for stamping a song with our Seal of Approval is that it has to be one that the entire Lemurs household agrees is awesome. We realize that we’re giving veto power to an 11-year-old, but these are the hazards when you raise a kid on Eurovision.

First up, let’s talk about the song that sparked this whole idea in the first place: Francesco Gabbani’s “Occidentali’s Karma.”

We were three of the many Eurovision fans who latched onto “Occidentali’s Karma” after its first performance at Sanremo 2017. Initial attention was of course paid to the dancer in the gorilla suit. But underlying the silly stage picture and the accompanying goofy dance was a song satirizing both the need for humans to feel like we have a higher purpose and our tendency to appropriate other cultures to feel like we have achieved that purpose.

Despite the seemingly cynical subject matter, “Occidentali’s Karma” radiates joy. It may be poking fun at an annoying side of human nature, but it does so with a playful elbow to the ribs and a pat on the back. The staccato plunking at the start sets the tone for the subject matter, but the effervescent chorus gives “Occidentali’s Karma” a grand scope and a ridiculously catchy hook.

Although it was the odds leader almost as soon as Francesco won Sanremo, it ultimately finished six at Eurovision. Why did it falter? Well, there is no better case for bringing back the live orchestra than “Occidentali’s Karma.” Compare the Eurovision performance with the Sanremo performance. They aren’t that different from each other. But having the Sanremo orchestra interact with the song brought an additional level of energy and playfulness for Francesco to feast upon. Even though the hot crowd in Kyiv gave him a big “alé” on cue, Francesco spent most of his time at the Song Contest trying to generate his own energy. This led to a more frenetic, less confident performance.

Fortunately, we don’t have to rely on the Grand Prix performance (or even the awkward edited version on the official Eurovision album) to achieve maximum enjoyment. We bought the single the second it became available, and we still listen to it on a regular basis.

Italy’s Eurovision 2019 Entry

Okay, it’s kind of a cliche for non-Italian Eurovision fans to whinge about the length and the pacing of Sanremo, but true story: it took us three nights to watch a replay of the first night of Sanremo. And we never got to the end the show and our son begged us to never watch Sanremo ever again.

But you know what, at the end of the several nights, it was worth it, because Italy has offered up a corker.

Mahmood is a singer from Milan who competed in the sixth series of Italy’s The X Factor, going out in week three. He earned his place at this year’s Sanremo by winning one of the Sanremo Giovani shows that act as a sort of play-in round for young artists. He is the son of an Italian mother and an Egyptian father, making him the second entrant of North African descent at this year’s Song Contest, following Moroccan-French singer Bilal.

Mahmood found himself up against the 2015 Sanremo winners Il Volo and the 2018 Sanremo Newcomers Award winner Ultimo in the superfinal. And when the televote results were tallied, he found himself in a distance third place. But the jury ate “Soldi” up: He received 63.7% of their vote, more than making up for his feeble 14.1% of the public vote.

This result did not go unnoticed by certain far-right populist government officials in Italy, who dogwhistled their disapproval on Twitter. Trust us, there is nothing more insufferable than a prominent right-wing populist politician criticizing liberalism and elitism in the entertainment industry through his Twitter account. It gets old fast.

We think “Soldi” is great. It incorporates hip hop rhythms into modern Italian melodies to create a pulsating, accessible pop song. The lyrics tell a personal story in a relatable way and seamlessly weave a couple of poignant lines in Arabic. Italy has generally had a good run of form since their return to the Song Contest in 2011 and we think they have another strong contender this year. We hope “Soldi” does well for a variety of reasons, none more important than the fact that we love it.

Italy’s Eurovision 2018 Entry

Alright, let’s get this over with. Here’s Italy’s entry to the Eurovision Song Contest.

Ermal Meta was born in Albania but moved with his family to Italy when he was 13. He started his music career in the bands Ameba4 and La Fame di Camilla before becoming a successful solo artist. Two of his albums have topped the Italian charts since 2017. Meta’s single “Vietato morire” finished 3rd at Sanremo last year and reached number seven in the Italian singles charts.

Fabrizio Moro won the Sanremo Newcomers competition in 2007 with the anti-Mafia song “Pensa,” which hit number one on the Italian singles chart. He’s had three top 10 albums and also presented the TV show Sbarre.

Meta and Moro wrote “Non mi avete fatto niente” with Andrea Febo in response to the attack on Manchester Arena in 2017. The song has certain structural similarities to Febo’s “Silenzio,” which Ambra Calvani and Gabriele De Pascali performed at the 2016 Sanremo Music Festival.

Hey, if you find a chorus that works for you, then run with it.

As with this year’s French entry, this year’s Italian entry could be seen as a political song. “Non mi avete fatto niente,” which Google-translates as “You did not do anything to me,” is about remaining defiant in the face of terror. It’s a catalog of recent terror attacks punctuated with a defiant “fuck you.” This message resonates with us. It’s an alternative to putting empty platitudes and calls for policy change up on Facebook that we know will result in nothing because there is insufficient political will.

Unfortunately,”Non mi avete fatto niente” is a poor vehicle for the message. The lyric is crowded and the melody rambles on. We’re sure the song has more impact to those who understand Italian, but how widely is Italian understood by Eurovision’s international audience?  Regardless, translation (unlikely to happen) or staging are unlikely to solve the fundamental problem: the song lacks elegance.

Charlie Hebdo put it more succinctly. “They have guns. Fuck them, we have champagne.”

Italy’s Eurovision 2017 Entry

Francesco Gabbani has won Sanremo 2017 and will represent Italy at Eurovision with “Occidentali’s Karma.”

Gabbani got his start in the music industry as a member of the band Trikobalto. He released his first solo album in 2013 and, at the age of 33, won Sanremo’s newcomers award in 2016 with his song “Amen.” Building on the platinum success of “Amen,” Gabbani wrote the soundtrack for the movie Poveri ma ricchi.

Sometimes, there’s a Eurovision entry that just lands with us. One that stands out above all the rest and usually does not get overtaken by any other entry that follows. We had moments like that with “Heroes” and “If Love Was a Crime.”

We love this song. Absolutely love it. It is Italian pop at its best, effervescent and vibrant and fun. Assuming the staging from Sanremo makes its way to Kyiv, “Occidentali’s Karma” has its own little “Save All Your Kisses for Me” dance and a silly staging moment that somehow just works in the performance. It brings us joy.

Initially, we wondered whether there was some cultural appropriation going on, especially after we saw the video, which is filled with Japanese imagery despite the lyrics referencing Indian concepts–a sloppy mix of Zen and Theravada Buddhism. However, when we read a rough translation of the lyrics, we took the song to be a criticism of Western cultural appropriation. In other words, satire rather than exploitation. Now, subtle parody doesn’t always translate across language, but we think if Gabbani sticks with the Sanremo staging, it will go over just fine.

Eurovision Lemurs Seal of Approval“Occidentali’s Karma” has inspired us to create the Official Eurovision Lemurs Seal of Approval. We whole-heartedly recommend “Occidentali’s Karma” for your listening pleasure.

Eurovision 2016 Round-Up: Hungarian-Polish Friendship Day Edition

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 of Croatia. 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, 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.)

Italy’s Eurovision 2015 Entry

Il Volo, come back to the United States! PBS needs you for another pledge concert!

Italy has chosen “Grande Amore,” the winner of this year’s prestigious Sanremo festival, as its 2015 Eurovision representative. Il Volo is made up of three dewy, sexy, youthful Italian opera-trained singers – tenors Piero Barone and Ignazio Boschetto, and baritone Gianluca Ginoble. At this point, I think we’re all familiar with the formula (Il Divo, 3 Tenors, 3 Welsh Tenors, 3 Irish Tenors, etc.).

Il Volo is already known internationally. Their 2011 self-titled album cracked the Top 10 album sales in many European and North American countries, U.S. included. They did a massive push on American media to promote the album – making appearances on Good Morning America, The Talk, American Idol, and, indeed, their own PBS special. The trio performed “O Sole Mio” on American Idol (for those of you who still watch American Idol). At the time, the boys were 16 and 17. The performance was really quite impressive:

Since then, Il Volo has toured worldwide, playing all sorts of amazing dates. They did a Nobel Prize Concert. They joined Barbra Streisand on the North American leg of her tour, and the woman never tours. They wrapped on a US/Canada tour last summer, and finally toured Italy for the first time late last year.

All fine and well, you may say, but how’s “Grande Amore,” the Eurovision song? Answer: it’s exactly what you expect it to be. Professional, grandiose, and full of Italian machismo. And by the by, the boys are way, waaaay hotter now. Et tu, Ignazio? And we are in love with Piero’s eyewear.

There’s so much alpha male-ness going on, in fact, that we were reminded of this bit from Jon Stewart:

Once again, Italy is a making a bold statement to the countries of the EBU that it is not messing around.

Touch it. Please.