North Macedonia’s Eurovision 2020 Entry

We have been accused in the past of being Eurovision snobs that have no appreciation of camp and of being Eurovision scows that only care about the trashier side of the Song Contest. We aren’t ashamed to be either of those things because Eurovision wouldn’t be the same if one was missing in favor of the other.

But sometimes our Song Contest duality means that we don’t give certain songs a fair shake because we wanted something else from the artist. They are just doing what they think will work in their repertoire and in the context of a music competition. And here we are judging them using a very arbitrary reason.

Which brings us to Vasil and “You.”

Vasil Garvanliev is a classically trained singer who was a soloist in the Chicago Children’s Choir when he was 12. He studied in the University of Toronto Opera School and the Royal Conservatory of Music Glenn Gould and has performed in operas around the world. But he also has a pop background, starting his performance career when he was seven. He was one of the backing singers for Tamara Todevska at last year’s Eurovision Song Contest, where she totally won the jury vote.

So we’ve got a singer here who can work in both pop and classical vocal styles. When we learned this, we had it in our heads that Vasil was going to be Jacques Houdek 2.0. We wanted that so bad.

Now, this is not a sensible expectation to have. Vasil, wisely, chose to work in his pop voice. Obviously, he was going to do that. Which makes us ask if our disappointment in “You” lies in the intrinsic quality of the song or our unrealistic idea of what it should be.

The answer probably lies in the middle. “You” is an odd song for Eurovision. It’s tango-flecked electronic dance pop that sounds intimate and sensual. Vasil’s vocal is restrained and measured, giving us glimpses of his range without going over the top. We think it would have struggled to qualify for the Grand Final because, well, it’s just not flashy enough. North Macedonia didn’t need to go the full “My Friend,” but we still wish they had been a little less subtle. Maybe that’s an unfair expectation, but there is something to be said for standing out.

Reviews of the Rest of Eurovision 2019

Eurovision rehearsals are about to begin and we weren’t able to complete full reviews of all of this year’s entries in time. So let’s take a deep breath and cover all the rest in one go!

Finland: Darude feat. Sebastian Rejman – “Look Away

Darude had a global smash hit 19 years ago with “Sandstorm.” Now he’s representing Finland at Eurovision. We mock the United Kingdom when they do stuff like that and we see no reason to spare Finland our snark. Especially when the U.K. nostalgia acts send better songs.

Belarus: Zena – “Like It

Zena offers up a slightly generic, but still quite enjoyable pop song. We… well, you know… like it. Not sure if it’s going to do well for Belarus, but with the right staging, or at least the right Belorussian staging, maybe it could surprise us.

Serbia: Nevena Božović – “Kruna

Nevena is a veteran of Moje 3, the Barbara Dex Award-winning act from 2013. She’s back with a bland ballad, but she made it soar at Beovizija 2019. We expect more vocal fireworks in Tel Aviv. And better costumes.

Belgium: Eliot Vassamillet – “Wake Up

“Wake Up” reminds us of “City Lights.” We didn’t like “City Lights,” but it seemed like everyone else did. We like “Wake Up,” but it seems like no one else does. Go figure.

Georgia: Oto Nemsadze – “Sul Tsin Iare

Oto brought a wide-eyed intensity to his performance of “Sul Tsin Iare.” It worked for the judges and the people of Georgia, but we can’t say it’s going to work for the rest of Europe.

San Marino: Serhat – “Say Na Na Na

San Marino has sent disco songs for three of its last four entries because this one time, die hard Eurovision fans convinced them that’s what we want. Maybe we should tell them that we like other genres too.

Armenia: Srbuk – “Walking Out

Srbuk looks a lot like my mom did when she was 18 and I’m struggling to get past that.

Ireland: Sarah McTernan – “22

We are not particular fans of Meghan Trainor’s oeuvre, so anything that resembles her output is not going to rank high with us. But at least it’s not another earnest ballad.

Moldova: Anna Odobescu – “Stay

Moldova is following up successive classic Eurovision contributions with a song that we will probably forget about shortly after the Song Contest is over. Sigh, it’s hard to generate memes every year.

Austria: Pænda – “Limits

“Limits” is a great song to listen to at 3 A.M. when it’s gently, but audibly raining outside and you’re feeling a little sad and need a good cry. That’s usually not the atmosphere Eurovision provides, which may hurt Austria’s chances.

Lithuania: Jurijus – “Run with the Lions

Jurijus is this dreamy guy singing an anthemic song about believing in yourself and dreaming big. It’s a pleasant three minutes made better by Jurijus’ inherent likability.

North Macedonia: Tamara Todevska – “Proud

“Proud” is an old fashioned ballad about empowering girls to believe in themselves and dream big. It’s a lovely three minutes made better by Tamara’s vocal star quality.

Israel: Kobi Marimi – “Home

Israel is happy to have won Eurovision and is also not interested in winning again this year.

Macedonia’s Eurovision 2018 Entry

Eye Cue are going all over the place, including Lisbon!

Singer Marija Ivanovska and singer and guitarist Bojan Trajkovski formed Eye Cue in 2007. Their single “Not This Time” was one of the top 20 videos on MTV Adria in 2010 and they have since gone on to have several top 10 singles in the Balkans. They won Skopje Fest in 2015 with their song “Ubava.”

“Lost and Found” starts off as a pop rock single then slides into a ska song then goes back to the pop rock song then jumps into a U2-via-Coldplay song before leaping into a dance single. It’s, like, how many more genres could this have? And the answer is none. None more genres.

We listen to each entry a few times as we’re reviewing them and sometimes songs get better the more we listen to them (which is usually a problem for songs that have one shot at Eurovision audiences). Other songs end up just filling us with dread. You can guess which camp “Lost and Found” falls into.

Macedonia’s Eurovision 2017 Entry

Jana Burčeska will sing “Dance Alone” on stage with up to five other performers at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest.

Burčeska finished fifth on Macedonian Idol (which featured Kaliopi as one of the judges). Since the start of her career, she has been heavily involved with charity work, serving as a UNICEF Ambassador and working with USAID and the Macedonian Red Cross. “Dance Alone” was co-written by Joacim Bo Persson and Borislav Milanov (working as Bobi-Leon Milanov) of “If Love Was a Crime” fame, along with Alex Omar and Florence A.

We really enjoy “Dance Alone.” It is what Madonna would have sounded like if she had gone in more of new wave direction at the start of her career. It is retro without sounding stale. (Insert dig on San Marino’s entry here.)

While it’s tailor-made to get folks in the Euroclub moving, we are still worried about its chances to get out of the second Semi. Singers of dance club anthems sometimes struggle to translate the energy of the recorded track to a live performance without getting shouty or going off-pitch. Burčeska may be a strong enough performer to handle the transition, but adding to her problems, she’s going third, so we’re afraid she may get lost in the shuffle at the end of the night.

We’re still going to crank “Dance Along” in the car, though.

Eurovision 2016 Round-Up: Dita e Mësuesit Edition

It’s Teacher’s Day in Albania, and what better way to celebrate than by doing an educational post about the latest news from the Eurovision Song Contest?

Armenia: Iveta Mukuchyan – “LoveWave”

Here is a question we like to ask: what’s worse – being memorably bad or just being unmemorable? Last year’s Eurovision entry from Armenia was terrible, but this year’s entry is mediocre at best. Unless there is a staging miracle in Stockholm, we will remember “Face the Shadow” long after our memories of “LoveWave” have faded.

The Netherlands: Douwe Bob – “Slow Down”

Who would have expected that the best tribute to the late Glenn Frey comes in the form of the Netherlands’ Eurovision entry? “Slow Down” dips into a well of country-inspired mellow gold, but we don’t think it will reach the heights Netherlands achieved the last time they went down the road to Nashville.

Russia: Sergey Lazarev – “You Are the Only One”

Listening to “You Are the Only One” feels like stepping into a time machine set to 2006. If Croatia or Slovenia sent this, you’d pay it no mind, but because it’s Russia we guess we have to take it seriously. The song sounds like a brainstorming session on a corporate retreat: everyone’s throwing ideas against the wall and none of them are sticking or holding together. On the bright side, at least it’s not another pandering plea for peace, love and unicorns.

Estonia: Jüri Pootsmann – “Play”

Stig Rästa has finally found the ticket to success at Eesti Laul: mod pastiches of ’60s pop. He followed up last year’s duet with Elina Born by penning “Play” for Estonian dreamboat Jüri Pootsmann. Jüri may look like Anthony Edwards’ hot son, but he also possesses a rich baritone that infuses “Play” with smoldering soul.

Montenegro: Highway – “The Real Thing”

Oh man, in a rock heavy year, Highway reigns supreme with a sweet Soundgarden-influenced riff. If Georgia’s rock act is a bit too impenetrable, Romania’s rock act is a bit too pretentious, and Cyprus’ rock act is a bit too slick, then Montenegro’s rock act is the total package. This is Chris’ favorite song of the competition so far.

Israel: Hovi Star – “Made of Stars”

Hovi Star won Israel’s Rising Star competition, but Israel’s delegation is apparently planning to rework the song. We’re going to hold off commenting on it until the official version is ready.

Macedonia: Kaliopi – “Dona”

Kaliopi returns to Eurovision to represent Macedonia with the big ballad “Dona.” It’s a better song than her previous effort “Crno i Belo,” although it lacks a certain something to make it memorable. Still, we’re happy she’s back, if only because she’s entertaining in the press center.

Poland: Michał Szpak – “Color of Your Life”

Everyone on the internet expected Margaret to win Poland’s Eurovision selection show with “Cool Me Down.” That was before Margaret gave an indifferent performance of her Rihanna knock-off on Krajowe Eliminacje do Eurowizji 2016. That was also before Michał Szpak stared straight into our eyes and peered deep into our soul. “Color of Your Life” is a forgettable show tune, but Michał sold it to the voting public, forcing thousands of Eurovision fans to tear up their Warsaw 2017 travel plans.

Romania: Ovidiu Anton – “Moment of Silence”

Sadly, Ovidiu’s chance to rock Stockholm was taken away from him when the EBU booted Romania from the Eurovision Song Contest because of unpaid debts.

The most epic result of the weekend had to be Ovidiu Anton’s triumph at Selecţia Naţionala. Neither Ovidiu or the presenters could stress enough how much he liked to rock, and boy does he, in the most prog-heavy way possible. “Moment of Silence” is utterly ridiculous and ridiculously entertaining.

For further reading, see Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Savatage, and Tenacious D. See also: Ovidiu’s entry from 2015, which made our annual WTF post.

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Macedonia’s Eurovision 2015 Entry

While Eurofans are gearing up for this weekend’s Junior Eurovision Song Contest in Malta, people in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia selected their representative at the next Eurovision Song Contest in Vienna. Here is Daniel Kajmakoski with “Lisja esenski”:

It’s not bad, right? It has simple melodies that Kajmakoski can riff off of, and it has a big chorus for him to sell. It also has a well-constructed arrangement that gives the stage producers marks to build around. (I fear there is going to be a fire curtain to punctuate that pause between the verse and the chorus.)

Kajmakoski has an amiable voice and some brooding charisma, but his performance was punctuated by a lot of unfocused movement. I was distracted by all of the hand gestures, lip licking, looks around the stage, rock star posing, and occasional dance moves. (Although, to be fair, if you wear yellow shoes, you have to show them off.) Goodness knows he has plenty of time to reign in that ragged energy so he can deliver a smooth performance in Vienna.

We’ve been following Eurovision closely long enough now to tell that “Lisja esenski” is not going to be one of those tracks we listen to obsessively. It’s pleasant, but it doesn’t excite us.

FYR Macedonia’s Eurovision 2014 Entry

In an internal selection, Macedonia has announced that their representative will be Tijana Dapčević with “To the sky.”

Thank goodness she is going to sing live, because her lip-sync skills in this video leave something to be desired. But I wouldn’t rush to conclusions about her Eurovision prospects based on this performance alone. The song presentation showed us nothing in the way of performance, and this is the kind of number that needs packaging. Tijana is an established recording artist, and a review of her back catalog shows an experienced, polished performer. Her career has primarily been in Serbia, but she is also known more widely in the Balkans.

As for the song, “To the sky” is disposable dance club candy. You enjoy it while it’s there, but it’s not particularly memorable. It’s fine, but whatever.  The DJ is going to need dance music to delight fanboys at the Euroclub. Good Macedonia, always helps.

FYR Macedonia’s Eurovision 2013 Entry

FYR Macedonia originally presented “Imperija” as their 2013 Eurovision entry. Apparently, reaction to Esma & Lozano’s effort was so toxic that the Macedonian delegation withdrew it, and they’ve replaced it with “Pred Da Se Razdeni.”

“Pred Da Se Radzdeni” is a vast improvement over “Imperija.” It follows a Balkan pop template at first, but Esma enters and brings an ethereal quality to the song that I find very effective. Lozano is a bit bland, but he’s a good singer, and carries “Pred Da Se Radzdeni” well. I don’t think this is going to one of those songs that I seek out when looking for Eurovision tracks to listen too, but it’s certainly one that I won’t mind hearing when it comes on. I am looking forward to seeing how they stage it.

FYR Macedonia’s Eurovision 2013 Entry

FYR Macedonia has announced it is replacing “Imperija” as its Eurovision entry. Stay tuned…

Imagine if Pet Shop Boys and Dusty Springfield decided to go Balkan pop. Or stop imagining and listen to Esma & Lozano’s “Imperija!”

I don’t even think that description does “Imperija” justice. It is just a clattering amalgamation of synthesizers and musical instruments tied together with Lozano’s generically smooth tenor and Esma’s folksy bad-ass-ness. Not to slight Lozano, but Esma certainly commands your attention. I expect her to be front and center in the Macedonian staging.

FYR Macedonia is not in a Semi with their voting bloc, so they may struggle to make it to the Final. On the other hand, if they work as many costume changes as Esma has in the video into their performance at Malmö, then maybe they’ll have a shot.

FYR Macedonia’s Eurovision 2012 Entry

Forgoing the usual epic national final, FYR Macedonia enlisted Kaliopi to be its representative at Eurovision this year, and today she presented her song “Crno i belo”:

There is really just one melody in “Crno i belo,” with a minor variation to act as a chorus, and Kaliopi repeats it ad naseum. Starting off on piano, she proceeds to add new, increasingly loud and increasingly shrill musical instruments over the course of the three minutes. Going from a sensitive ballad into a mid-tempo hard rock song complete with ridiculous hair metal guitar solo does nothing to inject any life into it. It’s competent for what it is, but I don’t think it really adds up to much in the end.

“Crno i belo” will be performed in the first half of the second Semi, and I think it operates in the same space as Croatia’s Nina Badric’s “Nebo,” which will be performed later that night. Comparing the two makes me appreciate “Nebo” more, because Nina does a good job of building the song to a peak, rather than just throwing a whole bunch of sturm und drang at it to simulate a climax. In the end, I’d be willing to bet “Nebo” will be moving on to the Final long after everyone has forgotten about “Crno i belo.”