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.

National Final Season in Review 2018: Our Favorite Songs

When we looked back at our notes from the national final season, we heard Tim Gunn’s voice echoing through our brains: “It’s all a matter of taste.” There are a couple of songs on our list that were, shall we say, less than beloved by other Eurovision diehards. Maybe these choices will reflect poorly on us, but we don’t care because they brought us joy. That is all we can ever ask for out of pop music.

France: Nassi – “Rêves de gamin

Destination Eurovision, France’s national final competition, was the best national final of them all in 2018. Even the songs that were clunkers were better than other countries’ Eurovision entries. We could have picked most of the songs for our list.

We were familiar with Nassi before the competition from his single “La vie est belle.” If anything, “Rêves de gamin” suffered a bit from hewing  too close to the “La vie est belle” template. (Well, that and Nassi lacked confidence when performing.) We loved it anyway.

France: Malo’ – “Ciao

“Ciao” is a stomping indie anthem that was perhaps a bit too out there for a general audience. But Malo’ is a unique artist with a gentle and distinct voice that drew us in.

Hungary: Yesyes – “I Let You Run Away

In our Eurovision That Almost Was post, we focused on the song that scored the most points with the judging panel because A Dal usually doesn’t reveal the second place winner. We later saw on the ESC Hungary website that Yesyes had actually captured second place with 29% of the public vote (versus AWS’ 32%). So let’s revise our revisionist history. We’re usually fans of Ádám Szabó’s A Dal output and “I Let You Run Away” was his strongest effort to date. Of course, we’re biased towards accordion solos.

Hungary: Viktor Király – “Budapest Girl”

Yes, it is shamelessly commercial. Yes, it is relentlessly cheesy. Yes, the lyrics make us cringe. But we do not care. “Budapest Girl” made us stupidly happy.

Sweden: Samir & Viktor – “Shuffla

Samir & Viktor’s brand of bro-schlager has become a Melodifestivalen staple and it has never been better than with “Shuffla.” From its silly sepia-tinged intro to its strategic use of an epic sax guy, “Shuffla” is an almost perfect Eurotrash dance anthem.

Estonia: Indrek Ventmann – “Tempel

“Tempel” is the type of Eesti Laul entry that turns casual national final viewers into diehard Eesti-fans. (Laulheads?) The staging sees Indrek  maintaining his peace while suffering through all the trappings of modern life, such as cell phone calls and strangers randomly scissoring up your t-shirt. The song goes on a bit at the end, but we forgive it because the whole package is fabulous.

Ukraine: Laud – “Waiting

There is something appealingly askew about “Waiting.” It has a slithering groove that sidles up on you, but the arrangement and the backing vocals are slightly off-kilter. It made us pay attention.

Ukraine: Pur:Pur – “Fire

Pur:Pur has a knack for moody, ethereal orchestrations and singer Nata Smirina has a striking fashion sense. They made it to the final of Ukraine’s national selection in 2016 with “We Do Change,” which we thought didn’t stand up to the band’s theatrical style. We liked “Fire” a lot more, yet it died in the semifinals. Go figure.

Portugal: JP Simões – “Alvoroço

There is a fine line between awesome and WTF and JP Simões doesn’t care if he veers all over it as he struts along. “Alvoroço” kicks off with unsettling blasts of strings before settling into a cool little 1970s-tinged samba. JP’s rich baritone guides us along and, when we get unsettled by a sudden, brass-driven manic breakdown, he calms us down as he brings us home. It’s like a first visit to a big city condensed into a three-minute song.

Norway: Ida Maria – “Scandilove”

If we are being honest, “Scandilove” is utterly ridiculous. The too-cheeky-by-half lyrics wink so hard Ida Maria could have strained her eyelids. But “Scandilove” is catchier than the nasty cold that befell Ida at MGP. It’s so much fun and we only wish that she had been physically strong enough to carry it to its full potential.

National Final Season in Review 2017: Our Favorite WTF Moments

Look, Eurovision is weird. A song sung by a guy performing with a dancer in a gorilla costume was the odds leader for most of the season. So an act really has to be special to get us to look at each other and mutter, “WTF?”​ Here is this year’s crop:

Sweden: Our complicated relationship with Benjamin Ingrosso

Benjamin Ingrosso is a child star who, at age 19, is trying to make the jump to more grown-up fare. And in many ways, “Good Lovin” worked. It sounds like something Justin Timberlake would have churned out in his early solo career. And seeing as we enjoy the song stylings of Justin Timberlake, “Good Lovin” has been in high rotation as we manage our post-Eurovision depression.

And Benjamin Ingrosso is an engaging performer. He was good on camera in a Mark-Paul Gosselaar sort of way, and that tooth gap was endearing. We like him.

But so much of his Melodifestivalen performance was uncomfortable. There was that J. Crew shopping spree. Since when is a lavender jumper and charcoal gray slacks a good pop star look? Then there was that choreography. The pelvic thrust with one hand in his pants pocket when he dances? Cringe.

And let’s not overlook the lyrics. Singing “He’s touching your body like I used to do”? Eeeeeeeewwwwwwww. What 19 year old thinks like that?

And we know this is superficial, but we couldn’t help but be distracted by just how hairy his arms are. Chris has got really hairy arms, and even he was uncomfortable by how hairy Benjamin Ingrosso’s arms are. Bigfoot would look at his arms and say, “Boy, that kid is hirsute.”

Still, good song. But, ugh, complicated.

Slovenia: Tim Kores – “Open Fire”

It’s hard to explain what camp is, but we know it when we see it. “Open Fire” is the EMA equivalent of Battlefield Earth: lots of lame visuals cribbed from more successful sources, and also bad contact lenses. When Kores “throws” a “ball of fire” to “set the drumkit on fire,” any ember of credibility is doused. We watch this one far more often than we really should. It is mesmerizing in its awfulness.

Belarus: Lermont x Julic – “Heartbeat

Is Lermont x Julic a mathematical equation? We were told there would be no math. But no problem, we got this. Here is a direct proof:

Axiom 1: Lermont x Julic = uncontrollable chortling.
Axiom 2: Lermont x Julic + back-up performers >~ Lermont x Julic.
Theorem: Lermont x Julic = 0.

Sweden: De Vet Du – “Road Trip

Epic and hilarious. De Vet Du are a comedy music group who have mastered the art of lacking self-awareness in a totally self-aware way. They also recognize that you consume the most fast food music when you’re in your car.

Estonia: Close to Infinity feat Ian Karell – “Sounds Like Home

Ever wondered why Beatles riffs haven’t been sampled by more hip hop acts? “Sounds Like Home” explains why.

Belarus: Nikita Hodas – “Voices In My Head

At first, Nikita comes off as Sam Smith covering “Time of Your Life” with a pitchy falsetto. He performs while holding a book to show that he feels the feels. Then he speak-sings his life story and it all gets unbearably twee. If Dear Evan Hansen ever makes it to Eastern Europe, we have found the perfect lead.

FinlandKnucklebone Oscar and the Shangri-la Rubies – “Caveman

Imagine if Jack Black was cast as Hyde in That ’70s Show. Imagine Jackie and Donna as stiff back-up singers. Imagine if there was a coherent song to accompany whatever this was supposed to be. When Oscar broke his guitar at the end, he was speaking for all of us.

Sweden: All the F-bombs

There was a lot of cussing at Melodifestivalen this year. Excuse me, Melodi-f’n-festivalen, to quote host Clara Hall. Between the first cut of “I Can’t Go On” to Lisa Ajax’s utterly embarrassing “I Don’t Give A,” Sweden went out of its way this year to make us reconsider watching Melodifestivalen with our eight-year-old.

Slovenia: EMA’s production value

This year’s EMA felt like a remedial A/V club project. The crowd noise was frequently piped in. The director kept using a strange medium shot that placed each singer in the lower half of the screen. (Hey director man, ever heard of the rule of thirds?) Then there was the lengthy filler content where the contestants talk about how much they like each other. They try, oh how they try.

Lithuania. Gytis “Lolita Zero” Ivanauskas – “Get Frighten”

At first glance, Lolita Zero looks like a busted queen. But when you look past the inflatable devil horns, you realize that she’s actually quite visionary. Who else has thought of combining Urban Cowboy with Gallagher’s Sledge-o-matic? No one, that’s who. What really caught our attention was the fact that Gytis rose to prominence with his lauded performance in Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. Talk about putting the “rascal” in Raskolnikov!

National Final Season in Review 2017: Our Favorite Songs

The summer doldrums are in full swing. It’s the perfect time for us to go through our notes from the national final season, dust off those chestnuts that didn’t make it to the Eurovision Song Contest, and speculate about which of these artists will make it to the big show two or three years from now.

Finland: Lauri Yrjölä – “Helppo elämä

One part Måns Zelmerlöw, one part Aminata, all parts awesome. Bonus points to Lauri for keeping it in Finnish. Sexy, sexy Finnish. Fifty lashes with a wet noodle to Finland for giving him a paltry 8th place finish.

FinlandMy First Band – “Paradise

Do you like Maroon 5 but wished that Adam Levine dressed like Michael Jackson and took backdrop inspiration from a 1980s Vegas strip club? My First Band have got you covered. “Paradise” is a relentlessly upbeat and catchy bit of pop radio fodder (with slightly skeezy lyrics), but it’s so easy to sing along with, we don’t mind one bit. They finished 4th.

Estonia: Ariadne – “Feel Me Now

Ariadne is adorable, but she was a bit stiff as a performer. Ugh, who are we kidding, she was uncomfortably stiff. “Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board” was invented so that one day we could use it to explain just how stiff she was up on that Eesti Laul stage. But man oh man, was her song fab. “Feel Me Now” is the type of song that makes an Eesti Laul fan out of an aspiring Eurovision diehard. She finished 6th overall, but with a world of promise.

Hungary: Adam Szabo – “Together

Adam Szabo has got a great voice and this was a good song with a good staging. But year after year, Szabo chokes on his live performance. This year’s A Dal semifinal performance was pitchy, and once again he struggled to connect on camera. We hope he’ll figure out how to present the whole package some day.

Hungary: Roma Soul – “Nyitva a ház

Oláh Gergő and company were perhaps a bit unfortunate to come up against Joci Pápai this year. That said, we enjoyed the energy of this Roma-inspired number. It does have the whiff of summer festivals, but it is still a lot of fun. Between losing Adam Szabo and Roma Soul, that second A Dal semifinal was a rough one for us.

Latvia: Lauris Valters – “Magic years”

This is a joyful song in the vein of “Kedvesem” and some of the recent great Maltese entries and Jen will accept no criticism of it. Sadly, Valters was eliminated in the Supernova semifinal.

Sweden: Mariette – “A Million Years

“A Million Years” takes Ira Losco’s “Walk On Water” and just does it better. In Sweden, however, improved Ira Losco is only good enough for a 4th place finish. The staging, which featured dancers on bungee cords and slo-mo camera tricks, was interesting and effective. Of course, if you’re reading this blog in the United States, you’re going to have to imagine all the cool staging because you’re stuck listening to the audio track. God, does international copyright and exclusive licensing need to be rethought in Eurovision’s internet age. (See also: the Eurovision Song Contest’s YouTube channel.)

Sweden: Jasmine Kara – “Gravity

Generally we trust the Swedes to get it right, but we have no idea why this Gaga-esque pop tune got left behind in the third heat of Melodifestivalen. Jasmine’s vocal may not be perfect and her energy may be a little unfocused, but “Gravity” was a fun song with some nifty visual effects.

Slovenia: Nuška Drašček – “Flower In the Snow”

You need to get to the 0:50 mark and don’t get too hung up on Nuška’s weird crow earrings or her initially wobbly vibrato. When it hits its stride, “Flower In the Snow” is a jazzy power ballad with sophisticated chording. And Nuška sells it within an inch of her life. She finished 4th overall, but the jury liked her, so that’s something.

Slovenia: Raiven – “Zažarim

“Zažarim” stood out to us not because the song is anything special, but because her staging was interesting. Raiven wore a custom-made body suit with mirror pieces on it, When the stage lights shone on her, Raiven became a disco ball. It evoked fond memories of Diahann Carroll in the Star Wars Christmas Special. Raiven finished 3rd.

Portugal: Celina da Piedade – “Primavera”

This sweet and gentle folk tune is the perfect song for a national final: Enjoyable in its element. You are secretly happy it doesn’t win because you want to keep it your little secret. Celina finished 3rd.