National Final Season in Review 2021: Favorite Songs

This year’s national final season has been one of the easiest ones to cover. The normal volume of music often makes my quest to dig up gems more like finding needles in too many haystacks. Having just 12 national finals and three song selection shows is a luxury. Maybe I could complain about not having the richest vein of music to mine, but I still hit plenty of pay dirt.

Italy: Madame – “Voce”

I picked a really good year to take up Sanremo marathon running. There were so many good songs on offer. The one I’ve listened to almost as much as “Zitti e Buoni” is “Voce.” Madame is only 19, but she is already a full-fledged, fashion-forward pop icon. First off, she had the guts to perform Adriano Celentano’s “Prisencolinensinainciusol” on Sanremo’s cover night, and she was able to make it her own. Impressive.

As for “Voce” itself, it is sumptuous and forlorn. Madame embodies so much hurt and so much pining in the song that I can’t help but feel as heartbroken as she is. What a gorgeous achievement.

Portugal: Karetus & Romeu Bairos – “Saudade”

Like Sanremo, Festival da Cançāo was particularly strong in 2021, and I am sure that every Eurovision fan who watched would struggle to narrow their list of favorite songs to an arbitrary limit. But I have no doubt that most of them would include “Saudade.” As artistically uncompromising as Conan Osiris’s “Telemóveis,” it was also silky and hauntingly melodic. The visuals in both the semifinal and final performances were striking, but the song itself can be fully enjoyed without the spectacle.

Bulgaria: Victoria – “The Funeral Song”

Maybe a tune called “The Funeral Song” is not particularly appropriate for the first Eurovision Song Contest of the COVID-19 era. But I’ll be damned and doomed if Victoria’s song about existential bliss isn’t one of the most life-affirming songs I’ve heard this year. The quirky musical touches just emphasize the boldness of the song. Both “The Funeral Song” and “Growing Up Is Getting Old” are the perfect songs for me at this time of my life for various reasons, and I can’t help but smile through the tears every time I listen to them.

Sweden: Danny Saucedo – “Dandi Dansa”

Danny Saucedo is first and foremost a showman. The playful and catchy “Dandi Dansa” could have very easily gotten cheesy, but his charm and confidence makes it entertaining. The staging leans into its Jamiroquai influences a bit too heavily, yet it’s hard to complain when Danny and his dance crew pull it off almost flawlessly every time.

Estonia: Jüri Pootsmann – “Magus Melanhoolia”

When last I saw Jüri Pootsmann, he was struggling to get Eurovision audiences to understand how much smoldering stage presence he actually has. He came back to Eesti Laul this year with a wicked cool song that reestablished him as a brooding, sultry pop artist. “Magus Melanhoolia” fit his vocal tone perfectly, and it didn’t need to pander to stand out.

Norway: Blåsemafian – “Let Loose”

I have a soft spot in my heart for brass band pop, which is why I’ve been missing Washington, DC during the pandemic. If there’s a brass band busking by Dupont Circle station, I’m suddenly not in a huge rush to get where I need to go to next. These days, if I’m feeling a bit low, I will crank up La BrassBanda and dance around the house. So obviously, I was very receptive to “Let Loose” when Blåsemafian performed it at Melodi Grand Prix. It’s a stomping, romping good time, and I was thrilled to see it make the top four in the final.

Italy: Extraliscio feat. Davide Toffolo – “Bianca luce nera”

How to explain “Bianca luce nera,” especially now that Sanremo only exists in brief clips on the official RAI website? Extraliscio is an eclectic neo-traditional folk-pop band whose singer Mirco Mariani looks like a mad scientist. Another member, Mauro Ferrara, looks like the father of the bride who wandered into the wrong party. Meanwhile, special guest Davide Toffolo is a comic book artist and performer who wears a skull mask, evoking the late, great MF Doom at a Day of the Dead celebration.

Together, they created a song that works like a perpetual motion machine, constantly building and building. Their performances at Sanremo were fun chaotic parties I never wanted to end, and the studio version of “Bianca luce nera” shows the tightly-constructed method to their madness.

Lithuania: Black Spikes with Indre Launikonyte – “Don’t Tell Me”

I spent a lot of time over the past year exploring my heavy metal roots and getting caught up on where the genre has gone, and gosh am I glad I did, because I was primed to gush over “Don’t Tell Me.” Black Spikes’ song is an emo-numetal pop song with flashes of guttural vocals and a flair for over-the-top stage costumes. It is the culmination of metal history in a fab little three minute package.

Portugal: Miguel Marôco – “Girassol”

This is going to be a hard one for me to explain. I have a huge fondness for certain styles and rhythms of the 1970s. “Girassol” fires all the synapses in my brain that store that affection. I love swimming around in Miguel Marôco’s song because it takes me back to a time in my life that never really existed, but lingers inside me anyway.

National Final Season in Review 2021: WTF?

I thought that living through 2020 would numb me from any inexplicably odd moments in light entertainment programs. But 2020 didn’t prepare me for an Emmy-winning filmmaker to descend from the ceiling of a Zagreb studio to warble a song about world peace. Here are all the head-scratching, jaw-dropping, eyebrow-raising moments of this year’s national final season.

Belarus: Galasy ZMesta – “Ya Nauchu Tebya (I’ll Teach You)”

I’ve talked about what happened with Belarus’s 2021 Eurovision entry already, so I only will ask: Did BTRC deliberately submit this as a Eurovision entry, knowing it would be rejected, so that they could pretend they were victims of Western suppression? Or were they really that oblivious to the level of attention focused on Belarus as the protests broke out?

Norway: Daniel Owen – “Psycho”

“Psycho” isn’t a bad song, but those lyrics… “Psycho, never thought you would make me a psycho?” They’re so uncomfortable that I could have sworn they were written by a certain recently disgraced Hollywood actor. Eww.

Albania: Evi Reçi – “Tjerr”

If you can ignore Evi Reçi’s weird “will the nipples slip or won’t they” outfit, you can enjoy the spectacle of two inept escape artists struggling to free themselves from a rope loosely draped around them.

France: Poney X – “Amour Fou”

I hate myself for enjoying “Amour Fou” as much as I do. The DJ pony gimmick is dumb, but the “Rednex covers ‘Mambo No.5’” one-hit wonder of it all is ridiculously entertaining.

Estonia: Redel – “Tartu”

Kristjan Oden and Indrek Vaheoja from Winny Puhh have written the definitive song about Tartu’s massive amount of wood. I don’t think that’s a euphemism.

Sweden: WAHL fet Sami – “90-talet”

This ode to the 1990s was staged as if it were an ode to the 1980s and no amount of ecstasy will make me feel like I did that much coke.

Italy: Colapesce & Dimartino – “Musica leggerissima”

Colapesce & Dimartin staged their smooth 1970s yacht rock ballad with a Miami Vice look and just the right amount of sly self-awareness. Also, even when you know the roller skater is coming, you are never prepared for the roller skater to show up.

Lithuania: Thomukas 1 – “Wish”

Imagine if Harry Potter dropped out of Hogwarts, got into muscle cars, and embarked on a career as the Jimmy Somerville of Lithuania. The spoken word bit at the end just made “Wish” all the more surreal.

Croatia: Ashley Colburn i Bojan Jambrošić – “Share the Love”

As a documentary filmmaker you really want to get to know your subject, understand it, immerse yourself in it. And sometimes that means performing a cheesy call and response duet during Dora 2021. If you had told me this was a song from an off-Broadway musical based on Glitter, I totally would have believed you.

The 2021 Eurovision That Almost Was

My annual look into the parallel Eurovision universe is a lot easier this year because the alternate timeline doesn’t look that different from the actual one. Only 12 countries held national finals to determine their artist and song, and only three returning performers had a song selection show.

Moreover, Bulgaria’s Victoria didn’t so much have a competition to choose her song as she had a chill rooftop concert in Sofia before casually revealing which song was her Eurovision entry. It was fun and all, but it also meant Bulgaria made an internal selection.

So that leaves just 14 songs for me to play with as I construct 2021’s Eurovision That Almost Was Tweaked Slightly.

Lithuania: Gebrasy – “Where’d You Wanna Go”

“Where’d You Wanna Go” starts off as a really striking song, and Gebrasy sings it a spellbinding intensity. Then a staccato drum beat kicks in during the second verse, and the spell is broken. For a minute I could lament this one getting lost in the national finals, but I really just want Gebrasy to come back with a tighter song in a year without a Lithuanian national treasure competing.

Russia: #2Mashi – “Bitter Words”

Manizha won Russia’s national final with 39.7% of the televote while #2Mashi snagged 35.7%.  The duo’s “Bitter Words” sounds like a song that would have finished mid-table in the 2006 Song Contest. I really like it, and it has a strange way of seeping into my consciousness at odd moments when I’m editing spreadsheets. But it just doesn’t pop the way “Russian Woman” does.

Sweden: Eric Saade – “Every Minute”

Eric Saade returned to Melodifestivalen with a more mature song musically, but a pretty immature song lyrically. He may not sing high school-level dis songs anymore, but he’s merely graduated to frat-boy lust songs. I didn’t understand his wardrobe choice, either, unless he knows something about the sex appeal of cricket players that isn’t common knowledge on this side of the Atlantic. Still, “Every Minute” did have a really cool staging, featuring Eric dancing with a shadow. That was sweet.

Norway: KEiiNO – “Monument”

There was a lot of excitement in the Eurovision fan community about KEiiNO returning to Melodi Grand Prix this year, and I think most people expected them to romp through to Rotterdam. I wouldn’t have been surprised if they had, but I wasn’t particularly impressed. “Monument” struck me as being a vaguely smug song about their own self-importance. I honestly wish they had held on to “Black Leather” for Eurovision season, if only for the staging possibilities.

Croatia: Nina Kraljić – “Rijeka”

Nina Kraljić represented Croatia at the 2016 Song Contest with “Lighthouse,” and she won! The Barbara Dex award, I mean. She seemed to be gunning for a repeat win with her Dora 2021 outfit. Her song “Rijeka” was a sludgy mess that sloshed together a staid ballad orchestration and melodramatic opera vocals. Nina also somehow found a way to be hammy without changing her facial expressions.

Italy: Francesca Michielin & Fedez – “Chiamami per nome”

Like Nina Kraljić, Francesca Michielin is another 2016 Eurovision Song Contest participant who vied for a return trip this year. She teamed up with rapper Fedez for “Chiamami per nome,” and while the recorded version of the song is strong, the live version never really clicked live. Fedez’ solo vocals featured modulation effects that were a bit too jarring for the tone of the song. That they finished second during a really tight Sanremo festival is impressive, but I also would have been really disappointed if they had won instead of Måneskin or third-place finisher Ermal Meta.

Israel: Eden Alene “La La Love”

“La La Love” is a lot of fun, although I think how you handle the lyric “Love is my disease/I don’t need no medication/I want it to infect my generation” depends on how you’ve maintained your sense of humor during the pandemic. Mine was always a bit morbid, so I loved it.

Estonia: Sissi – “Time”

Sissi is the daughter of Eurovision winner Dave Benton, and she is a star in the making. “Time” is okay: it was hampered by a standard issue gospel-influenced backing vocal and a suffocating audio mix, but it was enhanced by a groovy Procol Harum-esque organ riff and Sissi’s talent. She sings “Time” with skill, joy, and conviction, so I really hope she gets a chance to represent Estonia at Eurovision someday soon.

Albania: Sardi Strugaj – “Kam me t’ba me kajt”

I am trying to figure out the story behind the staging for “Kam me t’ba me kajt” because I don’t think Sardi Strugaj intended it to look like a woman was trapped in a cage being forced to listen to his song. The piercing guitar riff sounded like the voice in the back of my head saying “meh” over and over again.

Portugal: Carolina Deslandes – “Por um Triz”

As fond as I am of The Black Mamba, I was Team Carolina Deslandes all the way during Festival da Canção. “Por um Triz” is a ravishing song and Carolina had such style and grace that I was mesmerized each time I saw her perform.

Finland: Teflon Bros x Pandora – “I Love You”

Teflon Bros x Pandora brought a deliciously trashy, zanily silly masterpiece to UMK. “I Love You” reveled in its simplicity and its campy staging. It’s a dumb song written by clever people and those are always a party and a half.

Denmark: Jean Michel – “Beautiful”

Jean Michel is a likable singer, but his Dansk Melodi Grand Prix entry didn’t do him many favors. The orchestration for “Beautiful” has way too much going on, making it sound very cluttered. The lyrics are very “we can change the world with this simple song.” And the staging suits the song, in that it was as on the nose as one could package a tune with such generic lyrics. It’s all very pleasant, but not particularly interesting.

France: Juliette Moraine – “Pourvu Qu’on M’Aime”

“Pourvu Qu’on M’Aime” is a straightforward and effective chanson number that was beautifully sung by Juliette Moraine. As nice as it is, “Pourvu Qu’on M’Aime” also had a concert staging instead of a performance staging. It’s easy to see why “Voilà” left this in the dust.

Spain: Blas Cantó – Memoria

Oof, the two songs Blas had on offer this year were the equivalent of high school cafeteria lunch options. Do I want the bland Salisbury steak or the undercooked chicken nuggets? At least “Voy a quedarme” is redeemed by its heartbreaking, achingly beautiful official video. “Memoria” is like a ballad that was accidentally arranged as an upbeat pop song. It’s strident and a bit annoying. Yet I still really like Blas’ vocal. He’s so good and these songs are… so not.

National Final Season in Review 2020: Our Favorite WTF Moments, Part Two

2020 marked the 60th anniversary of Norway’s participation in the Eurovision Song Contest, so NRK decided to expand their usual one night Melodi Grand Prix extravaganza into a multi-week selection process. They gathered up 25 songs, selected five to go straight to the MGP final, then pitted the remaining songs in a series of head-to-head battles during five heats.

This would have been fine, except that it was clear from the outset that the songs in the competition were just not up to snuff. We wondered if NRK committed to the format before they put out their call for entries.

You would think that we, as a couple of camp connoisseurs, would eat up stuff like Tore Petterson’s “The Start of Something New,” Jenny Jennsen’s “Mr. Hello,” Nordic Tenors’ “In a Special Place,” or Liza Vassilieva’s “I Am Gay.” They all played like book numbers from flop Broadway musicals, and we love book numbers from flop Broadway musicals.

But instead of relishing these tacky moments, all we wondered was how the producers thought these were viable Eurovision songs. Into what era of the Song Contest would any of these numbers fit? “I Am Gay” was a particular lowlight, a calculated attempt to be provocative that was utterly joyless in its execution and pointlessly juvenile to boot.

Fortunately, there were a few numbers that gave us some kitsch we could luxuriate in. First off, there’s Alexandru’s “Pink Jacket,” in which Norway’s answer to Eric Saade sings an ode to his pink jacket. That’s it. That’s all the song is about. We need Charles Dance to do a dramatic reading of this one: “And look at how I own it/And you say it’s dope like I didn’t know it.”

“How About Mars?” is an interesting song and Anna Jæger is a charismatic performer. Unfortunately, the staging managed to be both too sparse and needlessly complex. Paired with Jæger’s raw vocal, the whole package seemed a bit scattershot. A few back-up performers on stage and less camera tricks could have helped. We liked “How About Mars” a lot, which is probably why we keep finding ourselves analyzing it.

Towering majestically over the competition was Rein Alexander. Now, “One Last Time” is not much of a song, but who cares when it is staged as if Brian Blessed is a viking fending off zombie breakdancers? We were team Ulrikke all the way, but we had strong suspicions Rein was going to take the whole thing, even if NRK didn’t rate “One Last Time” enough to put it directly through to the final.

Going back to the format of this year’s MGP, each of the five heats were made up of randomly drawn head to head matchups. The four competitors would come out and hosts Ronny Brede Aase, Kåre Magnus Bergh, and Ingrid Gjessing Linhave would draw names out of a bowl to determine which pairs were facing off. Then the winner of each matchup would face off against the other to determine who went to the final.

Viewers would vote exclusively using NRK’s app, which was nice because you got instant results. On the other hand, you had to wonder if NRK had a back-up plan in case there was some sort of technical glitch with the app. It’s Norway, one of the most technologically savvy countries in the world, so there was probably nothing to worry about.

Anyway, the app crashed during the first round of the Melodi Grand Prix final. Of course it did. The back-up plan turned out to be a pre-selected jury of 30 members of the public. This seemed reasonable: get a representative sample of Norwegians experiencing the final along with the country as whole. If MGP was staged like Eurovision, we’d expect that this jury would have watched a dress rehearsal and logged their votes then.

Instead, it turned out that they voted on the songs the day before the final without seeing any of the performances. Although this was explained in the rules before MGP started, some of the artists were unhappy that this was how their fates were determined.

We can understand why. A lot of effort goes into staging a song for a competition like this, and to have the result of the final’s initial round be determined without even taking the staging into consideration devalues much of that work. In a way, they wasted a lot of their time. The fact that their live performances aren’t available on NRK’s stagnant YouTube channel adds insult to injury.

NRK has already announced it will hold Melodi Grand Prix next year instead of just giving Ulrikke Brandstorp the opportunity she earned to perform at Eurovision. So in the end, they managed to screw over the winner of the show too. WTF.

via GIPHY

National Final Season in Review 2020: Our Favorite WTF Moments, Part One

The 2020 national final season was one of the strongest we’ve witnessed since we went down this rabbit hole. And yet it still had so many head-scratching moments that we are going to need two posts to cover it all. In part one, we go through some amazing art projects, some painful comedy routines, and an unexpected ode to a talk show host.

But all of you avid Eurovision fans know exactly where we’re going to start, right?

Italy: Bugo and Morgan – “Sincero

So let’s say you just watched Will Ferrell’s movie Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga and you say to us, “Some of this movie’s plot seems a bit far-fetched.” We would respond by offering up what happened at this year’s Sanremo Music Festival.

Bugo is a wry singer-songwriter and Morgan is a rock singer who has coached five winners of Italy’s The X Factor, including Italy’s 2013 Eurovision representative Marco Mengoni. Their song “Sincero” is a fun, synth-driven bop with a wicked sense of humor. In normal circumstances, this should have been an absolute blast live.

However, the two apparently weren’t getting along with each other throughout the festival. Things got so bad between them that on night four, Morgan began to sing new lyrics to “Sincero” that pointedly called Bugo out on his attitude. Bugo grabbed the lyric sheets from Morgan’s synth, then walked off stage. Morgan then acted surprised that Bugo would do such a thing, which struck us as particularly insincero. He chased after Bugo, leaving the hosts to vamp while the situation was unraveling. Later in the evening, the pair were disqualified from the competition.

Sweden: Nanne Grönvall – “Carpool Karaoke

Nanne is a singer-songwriter who represented Sweden at Eurovision in 1996 as a member of One More Time. Our cringing over her 2020 Melodifestivalen track began as soon as we saw the song title. Is this really going to be about James Corden’s popular segment on The Late Late Show?

“Jag vill sjunga Carpool Karaoke/Med James Corden yeah”

Oh god.

As uncomfortable as her stunt was to watch, it still got James Corden’s attention, so who are we to scoff?

Slovenia: Klemen Slakonja’s Pratfall

Klemen Slakonja is always a bit of a wildcard when he hosts EMA, and we’ve heard some fans grumble that he sometimes upstages the contestants. That was certainly the case with his pratfall during his cover of “Arcade.” As if the stunt wasn’t jarring enough, it also led to an extended bit of uncomfortable dead air and filler to make it look like something really went wrong. He spent most of the remaining show wearing a bandage that would change places on his face every time he came back on stage. It was a running gag that just didn’t work.

Fortunately, he redeemed himself later in the show when he celebrated Slovenia’s silver anniversary at Eurovision by faithfully reconstructing all of their previous entries. That was fab.

Czech Republic: We All Poop – “All the Blood (Positive Song Actually)

Look, “All the Blood” is a pretty good song, and its official video offers an effective, if heavy-handed, case against eating meat. But we would argue that the only reason why this song was on anyone’s radar during national final season was because of the band name. Too bad The AV Club doesn’t seem to do “The Year In Band Names” anymore, because We All Poop would be a ripe candidate to make the list.

It’s now time for a brief interlude where we go through a few acts that were trying way too hard to be WTF.

  • Estonia’s Viinerid seemingly took inspiration from the Haunted Mansion’s “Grim Grinning Ghosts” when they staged “Kapa Kohi-LA.” Unfortunately, the visual gag went on so long that it muted the band’s impact on their own song when they eventually made their live appearance.
  • Over in Ukraine, Jerry Heil staged her college radio anthem “Vegan” like a nightmarish children’s show, which only played up the song’s lack of substance.
  • We are of two minds about “Playa.” On one hand, Twosome (featuring WTF veteran Banzzzai) went overboard playing up their song’s utter inanity. On the other hand, it has the lyric “I’m a Lithuanian basketball player,” and that’s kinda brilliant.

Now back to the proper WTFery.

Belarus: CHАKRАS – “La-ley-la

Belarus loves its high concept stagings, so when we saw NAPOLI recreating the Pompidou fountain early in the Belarusian national final, we thought the avant garde quotient had been fulfilled. Then came “La-ley-la,” which combined an ‘80s Eurovision song title, ‘90s Eurovision music, and every possible new age trope that could be shoved into a three minute song. None of the performers seemed to be singing the same song, although one of them found the perfect use of her ability to whinny like a horse. Did we mention there was a baby at the end? There was a baby at the end.

Lithuania: Andy Vaic – “Why Why Why

Andy Vaic doesn’t have full command of his singing voice and we felt a little squeamish listening in on his plaintive lyrics. But the whiff of amateurism made “Why Why Why” kind of charming.

Latvia: Annna – “Polyester

Kirsten Dunst is such a fan of T.J. Maxx that she had to sing about it.

Armenia: Sergey & Nikolay Arutyunov – “Ha, Take a Step

Sergey has two levels: VERY LOUD and preparing to be VERY LOUD. At first, Nikolay doesn’t have much to do during “Ha, Take a Step” except to gesture to the crowd. But when he finally gets his moment, it’s… raspy. Then it becomes fascinating to hear Sergey try to blend with Nikolay when all he wants to do is sing VERY LOUD.

Lithuania: Meandi – “Drip

Of all the songs we’ve presented here, “Drip” is the one that befuddles us the most. At first glance, it seems to be doing for ’90s R&B what “Ice Ice Baby” did for ’90s hip hop. But the goofy background video acts like a wink to confirm Meandi is just kidding around. Yet he performs “Drip” with such earnestness that we can’t tell if he’s trying to be funny when he belts out lines like, “From the EU but I’m feeling so Westside.” We’re left wondering if Meandi is just a really big fan of Bud Bundy on Married…With Children.

Bonus WTF moment for Americans: David Axelrod – “Horizon

No, not that David Axelrod.

In our next post, we will unpack what would have been the biggest mess of 2020 if it weren’t for everything else that happened in 2020: Norway’s Melodi Grand Prix.

National Final Season in Review 2020: Our Favorite Songs

In a year that has been as much fun as stepping on flaming dog poop while barefoot, it’s nice to listen to some terrific songs that remind us of things like Eesti Laul when it is quirky, Festivali i Këngës when it is epic, Beovizija when it is partying, and Söngvakeppnin when it is offering something that Will Ferrell wishes he had dreamt up.

Portugal: Throes + The Shine – “Movimento

Ooo, how we love “Movimento.” It has a slinky, serpentine groove that is imminently danceable. But it also has a piercing intensity that makes us feel like we’re dancing as the world falls apart. We’ve been diving into Throes + The Shine’s back catalog, and there is a lot there to love. We’re looking forward to what they do next.

Sweden: Felix Sandman – “Boys With Emotions

“Boys With Emotions” is such a cool song. It has a interesting rhythm-driven orchestration that heightens the message in the lyrics. With a title like that, we expected it to be mopey. Instead, it was full of hope. That said, Felix’s performances at Melodifestivalen were all a bit mumbly, which definitely dampened its impact.

Ukraine: KRUTЬ – “99

Vidbir was an absolute blast this year, and we probably could have picked almost any of its entries as our favorite. “99” stood out to us the most. KRUTЬ is an expert bandura player, and she really leans into the kvinnaböske staging. But we found ourselves too entranced with her ethereal song to scoff.

Estonia: Kruuv – “Leelo

Joyous and vibrant, “Leelo” revels in the glory of the Estonian language. It died in the Eesti Laul semifinals, and we’re still really bitter about that.

Iceland: Kid Isak – “Ævintýri

When our son heard “Ævintýri,” he said, “I would listen to this at 3am and just say I am vibing.” Kid Isak was a bit too green as a performer, so we’re hoping having a national final under his belt will give him some confidence.

Latvia: Miks Dukars – “I’m Falling for You

“I’m Falling for You” is a simple, gorgeous love song with a soaring chorus. Miks’ vocal is powerful and packed with emotion. We get chills every time we hear it.

Iceland: Iva – “Oculis Videre

We have no idea what “Oculis Videre” is. Was there an Icelandic remake of The Wicker Man that we missed? Did Enigma write the soundtrack? And yet we can’t get this odd, ethereal song out of our head. It’s strangely awesome. To be fair, we would have been bitter as hell if it had pipped “Think About Things” as Iceland’s Eurovision entry.

Albania: Renis Gjoka – “Loja

Judging from every Festivali i Këngës we’ve seen, Albania has a knack for orchestral rock songs. “Loja” is one of the grandest examples we’ve heard yet. It was made even better when Renis got the crowd clapping after the bridge, then took a moment to just enjoy the experience. This is everything we love about Festivali i Këngës in a four-minute package.

Serbia: Marko Marković – “Kolači

“Kolači” crosses “Ovo de Balkan” with “Alcohol is Free” and pushes it past 11. Marko’s voice is gloriously gritty, and his energetic performance made this into a party anthem. You know, if we still had parties.

The 2020 Eurovision That Almost Was That Almost Was: Semifinal Two

We’ve been thinking about alternate timelines a lot lately. Not sure why.

Anyway, we’re going to take a break from imagining a world where all humans are treated equally and motor-mouthed narcissists who lack compassion or even a basic understanding of decency are not running countries and put our daydreaming skills to use on Semifinal Two of the 2020 Eurovision Song Contest. Here’s what would have happened if we not only had a Eurovision this year, but also had a completely different set of national final winners. We’d mention the Big Three who were slated to vote in this semi, but they all had internal selections. Plus ça change.

Greece: Internal selection. Not applicable.

Estonia: Jaagup Tuisk – “Beautiful Lie”

Is it a coincidence that “Beautiful Lie” sounded so much like “Arcade,” or was Jaagup deliberately emulating the reigning champion? Either way, it’s never a good idea to resemble the previous winner of Eurovision.

Austria: Internal selection. Not applicable.

Moldova: Pasha Parfeny – “My Wine”

Pasha represented Moldova in 2012 with “Lautar.” “My Wine” takes the “Lautar” formula and makes it, well, more Moldovan. We were kind of disappointed the stage performance didn’t live up to the jubilant official video. The limit of six people on stage really dampened the party atmosphere. But, let’s be honest: even a relatively subdued wine cellar romp was better than the song that won Finala națională 2020.

San Marino: “Obsessed” – 2nd place song

San Marino had a flash national final this year, in which Senhit posted two songs on her website and asked fans to pick which one should be her Eurovision entry. “Obsessed” is a decent song that seems to show what Robyn would have sounded like if she debuted in the ‘80s. It’s technically a better song than “Freaky!”, but Senhit brought so much more personality to “Freaky!” that we knew that “Obsessed” was going to be left behind before the votes were even tallied.

Czech Republic: Elis Mraz & Čis T – “Wanna Be Like”

Elis Mraz reminds us of a young Jennifer “Stifler’s Mom” Coolidge, which makes “Wanna Be Like” even more charming than it already is. Side note: her quarantine anthem “Don’t Touch Me” is hilarious.

Serbia: Naiva – “Baš, baš”

We love this so much. “Baš, baš” has got a mod, bouncy ‘60s vibe, but in a more sultry way than Serbia’s classic Eurovision romp “Caroban.” Naiva makes it soar with her rich, smoky voice, and gives the cute staging a little bit of an edge.

Poland: Albert Černý – “Lucy”

Albert Černý is the singer for Lake Malawi, which represented Czech Republic in 2019 with “Friend of a Friend.” He threw his hat into the ring for Poland’s Szansa Na Sukces Eurowizja 2020 with a Lake Malawi  single (that has an awesome official video, by the way). The producers evidently had to tweak the show’s rules on the fly so that he could participate, and we suppose we should be put off by the carpetbagging. But “Lucy” is such a great song that we were really disappointed Poland went with “Empires” instead.

Iceland: Dimma – “Almyrkvi”

Jen recuses herself of any discussion about metal songs at Eurovision (with the exceptions of Lordi and Keep of Kalessin). So it’s up to me to discuss Dimma. “Almyrkvi” sounds like two different songs that were similar enough to be fused together. The ending brings it all together effectively, but just as Dimma were getting into the groove, their three minutes were up. I can’t help but feel that “Almyrkvi” would have benefitted from being twice as long so it could have developed into a more cohesive whole.

Switzerland: Internal selection. Not applicable.

Denmark: Sander Sanchez – “Screens”

Sanders has a cool vocal tone and a dynamic range. “Screens” shows it off, but the song never really kicks into any gear. The chorus blends into the verses without any impact. It’s too bad, because Sander has so much star quality. We hope we get to see more from him in the future.

Albania: Elvana Gjata: – “Me Tana”

Oooh, that intro to “Me Tana” just gives us the chills. Then Elvana opens it up into an absolute banger. The song lacked some of the shading and levels that made “Shaj” so compelling, and the outfits for the female back-up were horrible to the point of distraction. But when Elvana and her crew break out into the dance that closes her song, we have no doubt she would have slayed in Rotterdam.

Finland: Erika Vikman – “Cicciolina”

Iceland showed the rest of Europe in 2019 that it’s better to be bold with your Eurovision choice if you want success at the Song Contest. And Erika Vikman’s “Cicciolina” is a very bold choice. The song turns the story of porn star-turned-politician Ilona Staller into an anthem for sexual liberation. Erika was the narrow winner of the public vote, so maybe the Finnish audience thought they had the next Hatari on their hands. However, the international jury spiked her, with only wiwibloggs’ William Lee Adams and Spain’s 2011 Eurovision representative Lucía Pérez giving her top marks. Too bad, because Erika seemed like the perfect person to go to Eurovision.

Armenia: ERNA – “Life Faces”

“Life Faces” is sparse, jazzy pop song that would have been better served if ERNA had performed it with a full band at a jazz festival than by herself on an empty stage. The bubbles were a nice touch, though.

Portugal: Bárbara Tinoco – “Passe-Partout”

We find “Passe-Partou” insufferably cutesy. We may be in the minority on that. Still, Bárbara is an adorable, yet subtly commanding performer. As always, it’s better to stand out when you’re competing against 17 other numbers, and regardless of our personal opinion, “Passe-Partout” would have done just that.

Georgia: Barbara Samkharadze – 2nd place singer

We kind of regret not following Pop Idol Georgia more closely because our impression from watching clips of both Barbara Samkharadze and Tornike Kipiani that it was an absolute belt fest. Barbara can blast “Jesus Christ Superstar” and smolder with “You Don’t Own Me” and charm with “ჯადოსნური კვერცხი” (“The Magic Egg”) and we are just enchanted. The X Factor winner edged the Georgia’s Got Talent winner in the end, but Georgia would have been in steady hands with either of them.

Bulgaria: Internal selection. Not applicable.

Latvia: Katrīna Dimanta – “Heart Beats”

Sometimes, we selfishly don’t want a song to win a national final because we want it all to ourselves. Take, for example, the delightful “Heart Beats.” Katrīna is casually charismatic, and can growl out big notes like a true diva. “Heart Beats” is everything we wanted “Passe-Partout” to be, with a bit of grit and a lot of attitude. Sorry, Europe, but we’re keeping this one.

France: Internal selection. Not applicable.

Spain: Internal selection. Not applicable.

United Kingdom: Internal selection. Not applicable.

The 2020 Eurovision That Almost Was That Almost Was: Semifinal One

Imagine, if you will, an alternate reality where the 2020 Eurovision Song Contest took place. Now imagine an alternate reality to that alternate reality. You see, once you have one alternative Eurovision universe, you have infinite ones. That’s Tegmark’s Mathematical Eurovision Hypothesis.

In other words, welcome to the Eurovision That Almost Was That Almost Was. Let’s look at Semifinal One and the automatic finalists who got to vote in it.

Sweden: Dotter – “Bulletproof”

Both “Bulletproof” and Melodifestivalen’s winner “Move” are examples of how performance and staging can elevate so-so songs. Dotter has a cool vocal tone and a risky upper register, and her charisma is a big part of why “Bulletproof” works live. Add to that a very cool staging that requires nothing more than some lighting and a mirrored shirt, and you have a successful Melodifestivalen entry. We were Team Mamas, but we would have been more than happy if Dotter had won.

Belarus: Yan Yarosh – “Fire”

“Fire” is a pleasant little number in the Jamie Cullum vein. There are some lovely musical moments hindered slightly by an overly enthusiastic drummer. The only real issue here is that Yan Yarosh went for a concert staging and VAL went for a performance staging, and a performance staging just stands out more.

Australia: Casey Donovan – “Proud”

As a song, this “Proud” is not that much different than the “Proud” that won the jury vote at the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest. But like Tamara Todevska before her, Casey Donovan turns this run of the mill number into an absolute anthem. We get why Australia ultimately went for Montaigne, but damn if Casey didn’t bring the house down in the Gold Coast.

North Macedonia: Internal selection. Not applicable.

Slovenia: Lina Kuduzović – “Man Like U”

So here’s a job: stand and look serious into a camera so the producers can cut to you at key moments of a song. Love it. Unfortunately, Lina’s performance at EMA was a bit stiff, and her vocal was nasal and milky. It’s such a missed opportunity, because she wrote herself a pretty good song. But the more poised performer won the day in Slovenia.

Lithuania: Moniqué – “Make Me Human”

Moniqué told a fully fleshed out story in her staging of “Make Me Human,” taking the song’s metaphorical message and turning it into a cyborg’s cry for love. It didn’t work 100% of the time, but the overall package was quite engrossing.

Ireland: Internal selection. Not applicable.

Russia: Internal selection. Not applicable.

Belgium: Internal selection. Not applicable.

Malta: Justine Shorfid – 2nd place singer

As outside observers (meaning we didn’t actually watch the show), we assumed Destiny’s win at X Factor Malta was a forgone conclusion. But she had some stiff competition with Justine Shorfid. Justine has a rich, smoky vocal tone that stands out. We thought she overemoted a bit in her performances, but that’s a minor complaint. She’s a compelling singer.

Croatia: Mia Negovetić – “When It Comes to You”

We like to evoke Radio Disney as a kind of insult towards teen-oriented sunny pop tunes, and we totally could sling that at Mia’s “When It Comes to You.” And yet, Mia is such a likeable performer that it was easy to root for her. It’s cute, and we don’t mind that’s too twee for our tastes.

Azerbaijan: Internal selection. Not applicable.

Cyprus: Internal selection. Not applicable.

Norway: Kristin Husøy – “Pray for Me”

As much of a hot mess as Melodi Grand Prix was this year (as we’ll discuss in our WTF post), at least the Gold Duel came down to two strong entries. “Pray for Me” reminded us a bit of Amandine Bourgeois’ “L’enfer et moi,” and Kristin Husøy has a smoky, raspy voice that fits her song like a glove.

Israel: Ella-Lee Lahav – 2nd place singer; “Roots” – 2nd place song

Ella-Lee Lahav is just pure pop. Look for any of her HaKokhav HaBa L’Eurovizion performances and enjoy. (“Toxic” was a particular standout to us). We have no doubt Ella-Lee would have represented Israel admirably at Eurovision. Maybe she will someday.

After winning HaKokhav HaBa L’Eurovizion, Eden Alene was given a song selection show. “Roots” was the admirable runner up, taking a fairly nondescript song about being proud of who you are and spicing it up with a spectacularly strident chorus that grabbed our attention. It’s not the most accessible song, though, so despite our reservations about “Feker Libi,” we can’t say Israel made the wrong choice.

Romania: “Storm” – 2nd place song

We are not the biggest fans of “Alcohol You,” but when we look at Roxen’s other options for Eurovision, we totally understand how that one was chosen as her song for Europe. “Storm” sounds like someone accidentally copied and pasted the chorus to Zibbz’ “Stones” in between some bland, noodly verses. The staging served “Storm” perfectly, in that it accentuated how awful the song was.

Ukraine: Khayat – “Call for Love”

We love Go_A’s “Solovey,” but we also love Khayat’s “Call for Love.” Khayat treads this line between being a proper pop star and a singer trying too hard to be suave, but he won us over with his ethereal vocal. “Call for Love” was an absolute blast from start to finish. Ultimately, Go_A is just a bit more unique than Khayat, which is really saying something.

Germany: Internal selection. Not applicable.

Italy: Francesco Gabbani – “Viceversa”

We love when past Eurovision stars come back, and we also love to complain when their new songs aren’t quite as special as their first entries. And so it goes with Francesco Gabbani. If “Occidentali’s Karma” is the lead single of an album, “Viceversa” is the fifth single released as the world tour is wrapping up. It’s still good, and Francesco still has boatloads of charm to go with his beautiful, raspy vocal tone. But the right song won Sanremo this year, and we bet even Francesco himself would agree.

The Netherlands: Internal selection. Not applicable.

National Final Season in Review 2019: Our Favorite Songs

Let’s face it: summertime may be nice for a lot of reasons, but it is the utter doldrums for Eurovision fans. Sure, you can wait with bated breath over the next twist in the search for a host city. Or, if you’re lucky, the EBU will announce which U.S. broadcaster has snatched up the American rights to the Song Contest in the latest vain attempt to make Eurovision a mainstream thing in the States. Otherwise, all we can do is compile wishlists of acts that we would love to see at Eurovision and endlessly replay performances from the most recent year gone by.

That’s why we have rummaged through our notes and revisited the songs from the national finals that we highlighted with enthusiastic asterisks. Do the songs that struck us as hidden gems in March still shine brightly in the July sun? Or were they just fool’s gold that only glittered in a national final that was covered in the mud of mediocrity?

As it turns out, we’ve already covered a few of our favorite songs elsewhere on the site, so we’ll just link to our original posts:

“2000 and Whatever” is our absolute favorite song this year, but running second is Silvàn Areg’s “Allez Leur Dire.” He and co-writer Doutson originally called their song “Le Petit Nicolas” after the children’s book series, but the copyright owners of the books didn’t appreciate the shout-out. Between the Destination Eurovision semifinal and final, Silvàn changed the song title to “Allez Leur Dire.” But he kept the delightful, and delightfully low-tech, staging inspired by the books. The result is probably the most unapologetically French song you will hear this year.

Swedish singer Mohombi had a platinum hit in Europe with his 2010 single “Bumpy Ride.” He entered Melodifestivalen this year with the charming pop confection “Hello.” The song and the staging weren’t particularly ground-breaking, but the total package was a lot of fun. “Hello” will likely be one of those songs that randomly pops up in our heads years from now.

The first thing we noticed when Leea Nanos began her performance at Australia Decides was that she was an inexperienced stage performer. That was to be expected as she is just sixteen. But the next thing we noticed was that her song “Set Me Free” was really good. Give her some more time in front of a big live audience and show her how to smize and she could be great.

We admit that we didn’t expect much of Ivan Kurtić when he hit the stage at Beovizija 2019. He may look like a bouncer at a Belgrade river club, but he is a heckuva singer. “Bela” reminded us of our favorite Željko Joksimović ballads, and it had a bouncy, vibrant orchestration that gave Ivan room to maneuver.

We’re big fans of k.d. lang, so that may be why Fed Horses caught our attention at EMA 2019.Ti Ne Poznaš Konjev” sounds like something out of k.d.’s back catalog, if she ever did an album where side two was entirely in Slovenian. It operates in the same space as this year’s Latvian entry “That Night‎,” but Fed Horses gives their song a grandness and a sense of scope that Carousel’s song lacked.

Is it cliché for a Eurovision blog to include two Swedish songs in its list of faves? Yes, it is, but we don’t mind being clichéd. The Lovers of Valdaro did not made it out of their Melodifestivalen heat, probably because our household seems to be the primary market for their song “Somebody Wants.” It has a lot of stuff we love: mid-era Pet Shop Boys orchestration, neo-disco flair, and rich, thumping bass lines. It’s far from perfect, we’ll forgive it because they wrote it just for us.

 

National Final Season in Review 2019: Our Favorite WTF Moments

It has been a good year for those of us who collect WTFery from the national finals. We had a tingly feeling about 2019 the moment we heard that the United Kingdom’s 2006 representative Daz Sampson had teamed up with a singer named Nona to enter the Belarus pre-selection with a song called “Kinky Boots.”

Lest we were worried about peaking too soon, Lithuania topped “Kinky Boots” and then some with Banzzzai’s ultimate masterpiece of self-aware obliviousness, “I Don’t Care.” The love child of Psy and Anri Jokhadze, Banzzzai heard that old inspirational quote, “Dance like no one is watching,” and added ninjas to it. Plus he had a flashing neon milkshake and he scatted. It was fabulous.

France gave us Battista Acquaviva’s “Passio.” Imagine if Enigma wrote “La Forza” and you have a sense of how “Passio” sounded. That couldn’t prepare you for the live performance. Battista’s vocal was wispy and thin and her stage presence was stiffer than the main characters at the end of Reservoir Dogs. She was joined by shirtless guys doing calisthenics, which seemed gratuitous. We appreciated the eye candy anyway. France 2 has inexplicably pulled all of the Destination Eurovision videos off of YouTube, so we’re not entirely sure we didn’t dream this.

Updated 7/3/2019: Eric Graf has helpfully linked to a video of “Passio” in the comments, confirming that was no dream!

Heading up to Denmark, Teit Samsø’s “Step It Up” would have been uncomfortably sleazy in the best of circumstances. But Teit’s oily performance gave us the effect of a drunk uncle hitting on his niece while chaperoning her to her junior prom.

We whined all this year about how Eesti Laul had lost its spark, but that doesn’t mean the Estonia national final was completely devoid of colorful weirdness. Kaia Tamm’s entry “Wo sind die katzen?” was probably the best song ever about how Alice In Wonderland is a metaphor for Schrödinger’s cat and vice versa.

And Eurovision Lemurs favorite Jaan Pehk returned to Eesti Laul with Cätlin Mägi to perform “Parmumäng.” The staging featured Jaan’s head transposed onto a rack of mouth harps. This is only slightly less odd than it sounds, and the song sounded awesome live. Keep coming back, Jaan!

Speaking of songs that were brilliant and bizarre at the same time, let’s end in Latvia. Is there a more joyful expression of feeling like an outcast than Dzili Violets and Kozmens’ goofy and relentlessly catchy “Tautasdziesma?” The staging only really makes sense if you’ve seen the official video. Then again, making sense wasn’t really a part of the plan. Kozmens, the guy with the kilt and the spectacular mustache, is the man behind WTF mainstay Riga Beaver. “Tautasdziesma” is a worthy addition to his already notable Supernova legacy.