Let’s say you are part of the Latvian Eurovision delegation, and you are discussing your plans for the 2021 Song Contest. Last year’s Supernova winner and Eurovision scholar Samanta Tīna had finally earned her ticket on her ninth try. Do you even consider the possibility of having a national final instead of giving her a direct pass to Rotterdam? Especially when she busts into the room like this?
No, you sure as hell don’t.
Working again with Aminata, as well as with Oskars “SKVR” Uhaņs, Samanta has found a way to top the musical audacity of “Still Breathing” by a country mile. Given a second bite of the apple, she is willing to take huge risks and proudly display her confidence in her abilities as a performer and an artist.
“The Moon Is Rising” is entirely rhythmic. The beat is carried by a hiccuping vocal sample, some claps, sparse 808 drum beats, and a few percussive piano notes. There are a few musical flourishes adorning the arrangement: a guitar here, a blast of synthesized brass there. But they exist only to accentuate the vocal melody. I described “Still Breathing” last year as a song that requires a diva to sing it. “The Moon Is Rising” specifically requires Samanta Tīna to sing it.
It’s very bold, and she runs the real danger of going off the rails. I’m not worried about her ability to deliver vocally as much as I fret that she could come off as hammy instead of powerful. Then again, she has wanted this moment for so long, so maybe I shouldn’t doubt that she will make every second of that moment count.
Samanta Tīna has been trying to go to the Eurovision Song Contest since 2012. She has competed in six Latvian national finals and also threw her hat into the ring for Lithuania a couple of times, too. She composed the music to “Still Breathing,” while Latvian Eurovision legend Aminata wrote the lyrics.
“Still Breathing” is intense and off-kilter. It has staccato beats and strident synthesized melodies that give us a sense of unease. Samanta’s vocal is defiant, demanding listeners to embrace her while making it clear that she doesn’t care if you do. She has found her peace and in that peace, she can be bold.
It is a diva turn cut from a different cloth than, say, last year’s jury winner “Proud.” The songwriting team for “Proud” gave Tamara Todevska a simple, spacious ballad that she could use to build her vocal. Her interpretation of the song made it powerful.
“Still Breathing,” on the other hand, is a song that requires a diva to sing it. It is a song composed for the singer and structured to be performed as written. Samanta embodies the song so much that it’s kind of amazing that Aminata was the one wrote the lyrics. It is very much Samanta’s story.
Our one worry is that there is a fine line between a bravura performance and a hammy one. Samanta danced along that line in Supernova, especially during her rap. So long as she focuses her energy and her performance, then we can make an early prediction for our Biggest Diva Performance award in May.
Watching Supernova this year was like going to an ultra-hip Riga night spot. The show was packed with dance club bangers and was kept moving with an in-studio deejay. Of course, most night clubs don’t have detailed discussions about each anthem’s viability with general audiences throughout Europe, but no matter: it was our happening and it freaked us out.
Then Carousel hit the stage and we knew they were totally going to win.
Sabine Žuga and Maris Vasilievsky formed Carousel in 2015 and first gained wide exposure in Latvia this December at the annual Pasaka ziemā concert, which had a promo video that featured “That Night.” The pair participated in last year’s Supernova as well: Maris co-wrote Ritvar’s entry “Who’s Counting,” which featured Sabine on backing vocals.
“That Night” is a moody, country-tinged ballad with aching lyrics and melodies full of longing. The staging featured a black and white filter with splashes with color that we’ve seen a few times this Eurovision season (Alekss Silvers even did it in the first Supernova semifinal), but Carousel’s use was subtle and effective. Sabine is a striking and telegenic performer who can draw viewers in.
Going last at Supernova felt like a distinct advantage for the duo. Save for a moment featuring a charming madman in a kilt, there had been a particular sameness to the choices on offer to Latvia. Carousel’s song and performance stood out, as did their stillness. It felt like they were in control of the evening
We’re saying a lot of nice things here, because on paper and in context of Supernova, this is a solid entry. But it doesn’t really wow us. If we were in Nashville attending a show at the Bluebird, we’d dig it. Sitting in the first half of the draw in the second Semi and at the mercy of the producer’s running order selection? We’re less confident it will grab people’s attention.
But we hesitate to count them out. Who knows what they will be up against on the night? We wouldn’t be surprised if they snag a Saturday night performance.
Generally, we try to be level-headed and even-handed when we review songs. But sometimes we have to throw all that out the window, because a song comes along that infuses us with seething, irrational rage. Let’s talk about Laura Rizzotto and “Funny Girl.”
What is this? It’s vaguely bluesy, sung by someone who wants to be Alicia Keys, except that she’s not. She brings nothing to “Funny Girl,” no soul, no heartache, nothing. To that point, we don’t have any interest in her back story because she’s given us so little to react to. What results is jazzy in a cabaret sort of way, which means it completely lacks depth. It’s all artifice. That she wrote this for herself boggles the mind because it sounds like a dated song picked out of the back of a record label’s dusty old file cabinet so she could audition for a Broadway show.
And the arrangement is horrible. It’s plodding and dull and it mistakes empty space for deepness. It’s boring and repetitive. It’s awful. Awful.
Triana Park won Supernova 2017 and head to the Eurovision Song Contest with their song “Line.”
Triana Park is a rock quartet presently made up of vocalist Agnese Rakovska, guitarist Artūrs Strautiņš, drummer Edgars Viļums, and bassist Kristaps Ērglis. They made five previous attempts to represent Latvia at Eurovision between 2009-2012, although they had to pull out of the 2011 Latvian national final after Rakovska got sick. “Line” was written by Rakvska and Ērglis with Kristians Rakovskis.
Going through Triana Park’s previous entries in Eirodziesma (the Latvian national final format that preceded Supernova), it’s clear that Triana Park has always had a knack for visuals. Their costuming and staging were usually flamboyant and striking. Given what Latvia ultimately voted through during that time period, you have to wonder where Triana Park was lacking. What for, Latvia? What for?
Perhaps the Supernova format that came into place in 2015 was better set up to bring an act like Triana Park through. Moreover, “Line” is a little more accessible as a pop song than their previous entries. We call them a rock band, but their song is an electronic pop entry. We like “Line,” to be sure, but Triana Park definitely smoothed out the rough edges that they had on display before. They will stand out to audiences watching the first Semi, although we contend those audiences tend to vote more conservatively. So whether their uniqueness is an asset or a detriment remains to be seen. But maybe for Triana Park, just getting to the big dance will be enough.
It’s a good thing it’s Leap Year, because we need an extra day to process all of the songs chosen for Eurovision this weekend!
Finland: Sandhja – “Sing It Away”
Donald Trump is going to be the Republican Party candidate for President and Sandhja’s European jazz festival closer is going to represent Finland at Eurovision and I do not understand the world anymore.
Hungary: Freddie – “Pioneer”
We are Eurovision hipsters, so A Dal is of course our favorite national selection competition these days. There were eight songs in the A Dal final, and we felt that the four super finalists would ably represent Hungary in Stockholm. Coming out of the semis, we thought Freddie would not only finish top 5 at Eurovision, but even take the crown. His performance in the final was a bit rougher, so we’re not quite ready to proclaim him the champion yet. But his husky voice and rugged good looks may make him very popular in Sweden.
Aminata has been selected to represent Latvia at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest with her song “Love Injected”:
Aminata is no stranger to Latvian television, having participated in three different shows in her teens. She also was back-up singer for Jānis Stībelis when he entered “Let It Be Me” into Eirodziesma 2011. She finished fifth in last year’s Dziesma with her song “I Can Breathe.”
“Love Injected” is not just a big step forward for Aminata as a songwriter, but for Latvia, which sent the charmlessly amateurish “Cake to Bake” last year. It is sparse and sultry, with a great big burst of a chorus. It wouldn’t be out of place on SomaFM’s Lush station.
We liked Aminata immediately, but we were not into “Love Injected” at first. But the more we listen to it, the more we like it. And that brings us to our one concern. One hard and fast rule of Eurovision is that an entry needs to land an immediate impact to qualify for the Finals. Our fear is that “Love Injected” is a grower, a song that needs to creep slowly into your soul. (Think “Siren” by Malcom Lincoln.)
We hope that we’re wrong and Aminata carries Latvia to the Final. At the very least, “Love Injected” joins the ranks of songs that are too cool for Eurovision.
Latvia has done what Latvia does, and voted to send Aarzemnieki’s “Cake To Bake” to Eurovision:
Aarzemnieki’s attempt at comedic whimsy comes off as forced and insincere, and their aggressively amateurish performance wears thin within seconds. Of course, the last time Latvia sent something this lame, it qualified for the Final, so who am I to judge?
“Cake to Bake,” I watched “Cheesecake.” I enjoyed “Cheesecake.” “Cheesecake” is a quiet favorite of mine. “Cake to Bake,” you’re no “Cheesecake.”
Latvia will be sending pop/hip hop group PeR (that’s short for Please Explain the Rhythm) to Malmöwith “Here we go.”
Leave it Latvia to not take themselves too seriously. When Latvia’s choices veer toward the amateur we’ve not been fans. But when Latvia finds a professional act that is still quirky and lighthearted, then color us very pleased indeed. Such as when we consume a lovely goat cheese with finely diced red peppers on a cracker with seeds. It’s cheese, but elevated.
“Here we go” is fun. It makes us laugh. It has what is possibly the Best. Eurovision. Pop. Culture. Reference. Evar: “I’m like the man on the moon. Call me Andy Kaufman.” And how can anyone hate on (competent) beatboxing?
Here is a song that could benefit from this year’s new rule change that allows the Malmö producers to set the song order. This is a fantastic song to open a show. And it could happen, because Latvia has been drawn in the 1st half of the 2nd Semi. But wherever it lands and whatever its fate, expect us to be jumping around the room on that Thursday night having a fine old time.
Other lingering thoughts:
Samanta Tina, poor dear, got edged out again. If we had it our way, we would have sent her to Baku last year instead of Anmary. This year she went in with the solo ballad, “I need a hero.” When the public voting closed in the superfinal, she was behind by only 100 votes. But the truth is the ballad simply wasn’t strong, especially when directly compared against “Kuula,” which Ott Lepland performed while the votes were being tallied.
We were digging the snaps during Marta Ritova’s “I am who I am.”
PeR was in the uncomfortable position of having two songs in the final, thus running the possibility of splitting their own votes. “Sad Trumpet” is not a bad song but too atmospheric and sincere to be a good fit at Eurovision. It finished last. Such a sad sad trumpet.
Anmary performed a new song while organizers were tallying votes. She sounded good, but hot damn, if she had shown that much cleavage at Eurovision last year Latvia might have fared better.
Latvia has decided to send a Silvia Night cover of “We Are the Winners” to Baku. Behold Anmary’s “Beautiful Song”:
What do you say about a joke entry that isn’t as funny as the joke entry that didn’t win? To wit, Mad Show Boys’ “Music Thief”:
Not that I wanted “Music Thief” to win, either. I actually really didn’t want any of Latvia’s songs to win. The national final definitely had a feeling of a nation that was going through the motions. I guess Anmary is as good as any of them, but it’s sort of like noting which pothole is the best: all of them should be avoided.