The Eurovision Seal of Approval: Ale Jestem

Eurovision began for me in 2006. Sure, I’m aware of the history of the Song Contest: it was ABBA, Dana International, the Olsen Brothers, and Stefan Raab that led me into it in the first place. But I’ve dived so deep into each Eurovision season since I’ve started writing this blog that, while my knowledge of the past fifteen years of the Song Contest is vast, my awareness of what came before exists only in bits and pieces.

I think I have seen all of the contests between 1970 and 2005 at least once, as evidenced by some of the stray pre-2006 entries in my Pantheon pages. But I was more looking for kitsch, stuff that could populate the Campiest Performances and Biggest Misfires pages.

As I’ve started to write up songs for the Seal of Approval page, I’ve realized how much of a recency bias I have. Up until 2019, my favorite Eurovision song was from 2008, and now my two all-time faves are two of the last three Italian entries.

And yet I realize that once I get out of a Eurovision season, when I stop listening to all of that year’s entries over and over again and get back to “normal” music listening, there are a number of songs that I keep coming back to, and it’s past time for me to acknowledge my affections here.

This brings me to “Ale Jestem,” which represented Poland at the 1997 Song Contest. I always seem to be drawn to Anna Maria Jopek’s song in the summertime. It sort of feels like the closing credits to the Eurovision season: the winner has been crowned, we’re all about to head into the post-Song Contest doldrums, and “Ale Jestem” plays as we head off to play in a field with our Eurodogs.

Even though I haven’t frequently revisited 1990s editions of Eurovision, “Ale Jestem” does sound a lot like what I associate with that era. It also reminds me a lot of an IQ album that I am a bit obsessed with called Are You Sitting Comfortably? It’s those synthesizers: they bulk up the orchestration, even though they definitely feel a bit dated now.

And yet, I still find “Ale Jestem” invigorating. Reading the translated lyrics, I get the sense that it is about enjoying the simpler, natural joys of being alive “nim wielka cisza pochłonie mnie,” or “before a great silence engulfs me.” That I could get the feeling of seasonal rebirth from the song without realizing what the lyrics meant speaks to the quality of the arrangement. Even if it is a song for a summer long ago, it still feels like an eternally optimistic melody.

It’s also a song that encourages me to bone up on my history more. If I can obsessively listen to a song from Eesti Laul 2009, then there’s no reason I can’t unearth other gems from Eurovision’s main history. But more on that later this summer…

Recap of 2021 Semifinal Two

We have our 26 Eurovision Song Contest finalists, and it’s hard to believe that two years of preparation have come down to this already. As with Tuesday’s results, I generally can’t fault any act that was eliminated from contention last night. No one deserved to go home early, but sometimes competing in Eurovision is a losing game.

I can’t ignore how COVID-19 reared its ugly head this week. Duncan Laurence has been denied a victory lap after contracting the coronavirus. Even more devastatingly, poor Jóhann Sigurður from Gagnamagnið tested positive on Wednesday. In solidarity with their comrade, Daði and the rest of the band decided to withdraw from performing. Footage from their second rehearsal was used instead. It’s a testament to their gumption and work effort that their performance was still amazing.

Also, leave it to Gagnamagnið to figure out how to make a circular keyboard work in ways that Ovi couldn’t.

It’s always tough for me to tell what is going to resonate with juries and televoters. For example, I can’t quite grok how a strong vocal from Albania’s Anxhela Peristeri and Pedro Tatanka from Portugal’s The Black Mamba made an impression, but a strong vocal from Austria’s Vincent Bueno didn’t. If I’m being nit-picky, Vincent’s performance was a bit too stage-theatrical, but given how effective and gut-wrenching his vocal and his staging was, it seems churlish to pick nits. I thought he deserved better.

Maybe it’s as simple as going fifth in the running order and Gjon’s Tears going second to last with an even bigger, more emotional performance. I definitely got Loreen vibes from Gjon’s Tears: a powerful vocal and some dance moves that were true to the artist while still fitting the tone of the song. I still think Switzerland is in the mix for the win.

I was expecting good things from The Black Mamba, even though I wasn’t sure if a song influenced by American Southern rock ballads was going to appeal to anyone in Europe. I was really happy to see that it did.

But I have to admit I didn’t see Anxhela’s performance coming, even though I witnessed her be a complete powerhouse during Festivali i Këngës. Albania’s staging is straightforward, with good use of lighting, fog, and graphics. It all served Anxhela’s performance quite effectively, letting her be the most compelling part of the presentation.

“Growing Up Is Getting Old” didn’t have as much of an impact on me as I thought it would. Something about a singer sitting on the stage (or the prop, in this case) always seems to mute a performance, even when it’s thematically appropriate. Fortunately, Victoria getting up and singing the final lines a cappella was enough to get me all teary-eyed.

Moving on to the bangers: Was there anything more surreal than Flo Rida appearing on stage with Senhit? He’s not the first American to compete in the Song Contest and he’s not the first world famous American to perform at Eurovision. And yet his appearance in “Adrenalina” was still a sight to behold. He only arrived this week and he fit into the production perfectly. I also loved the shots of him hanging with the Sammarinese delegation throughout the rest of the evening. I think he might be hooked on this.

I was disappointed we didn’t get reaction shots of Flo Rida after Hurricane performed, though. For some reason, I’d love to get his thoughts on “Loco Loco.” Hurricane’s energy was appropriately overwhelming. They were moving constantly, dancing from one end of the giant stage to the other. They were a blast, and it wouldn’t have been a Saturday night without them.

The only artists to match Hurricane’s intensity were Blind Channel. The Finnish band could have gone overboard trying to get the room worked up. But they were able to walk the fine line of giving a concert performance and giving a Eurovision performance without looking like they were trying too hard. Painting their middle fingers red was a nice touch.

I really enjoyed Greece’s green screen-heavy staging, although I do get the criticism I’ve heard about it. The dancers don’t completely disappear properly and the visual of Stefania walking up invisible stairs to float in the middle of the skyline is a little weird. Even though working through the staging made her a bit stiff, I was still impressed with how well Stefenia commanded attention. Her place in the Final was well deserved.

Not so with Moldova. “Sugar” is a good song, so I’m not surprised Natalia Gordienko qualified. But her performance was really breathy as she pretended to be Marilyn Monroe in front of an old Microsoft Windows screensaver. While her long note to end the song was impressive, it also came out of nowhere, was a wee bit flat, and was clearly a gimmick to get attention. It was all so calculated that it lacked any personality.

Surprisingly, the other vocal that didn’t quite work for me was from Uku Suviste. He’s been so solid every time I’ve heard him sing. For some reason, his vocal was got lost in the backing tracking. I couldn’t tell if it was a sound mix issue, nerves, or both, but the performance didn’t really come together.

I had bad feelings about both Tornike Kipiani’s and Samanta Tīna’s chances of qualifying for the Final even before they took to the stage. I love how uncompromising the two are as artists and I love how their songs are unique in their own ways. But they also seemed a bit too inaccessible unless you really bought into their visions.

Visions of pure 1980s revivalism also died on Thursday night when both Fyr & Flamme and Rafał were eliminated from the competition. I had warmed to Fyr & Flamme since Dansk Melodi Grand Prix, especially after watching singer Jesper Groth on Stormester, the Danish version of Taskmaster. (Yes, I got that geeky.) I had also warmed to Rafał just by seeing his goofy charm in interviews and stray bits about his enjoyment of being in Rotterdam. The stagings for both “Øve os på hinanden” and “The Ride” were fun, if a bit hokey. I’m kind of bummed that both Denmark and Poland are out.

But I think I’ll miss Benny Cristo most of all. I love “omaga,” but I think his performance betrayed some nerves. He wasn’t able to fully display his charm and charisma, and he was out of breath at the end. Once Moldova was announced as a qualifier, I knew that his time in Rotterdam was almost up. Fortunately, I have his whole back catalog to dive back into, because he’s really good. I wish everyone voting in Eurovision had seen it too.

Poland’s Eurovision 2021 Entry

Have you ever wondered what Miami Vice would have looked like if it starred mid-level bureaucrats?

I debated with myself about whether this is a satire like American Psycho or genuine like The Room. I concluded that it was too sincere to be self-aware.

I don’t understand why Poland didn’t give their ticket to Rotterdam to Alicja Szemplińska, who was supposed to represent them last year. Was the song she submitted for the competition really liked less than this?

“The Ride” isn’t even a bad song. It just sounds dated rather than retro. It’s the difference between aping an old style or reinterpreting it. This is evoking ’80s synth pop without offering anything new.

By the way, RAFAŁ may look familiar to you if you are a diehard Eurovision fan (or a budget analyst in the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development). In Poland’s 2017 national final, he sang the delightfully inane “Sky Over Europe.” If that hadn’t finished second, we would have written about it in our annual WTF round-up instead of the Eurovision That Almost Was post. Thanks to Robyn Gallagher from wiwibloggs for reminding me of that golden nugget!

Poland’s Eurovision 2020 Entry

Jeez, listening to this year’s Eurovision entries from Belgium and Norway have got us down. Maybe we can listen to Poland’s new song to cheer ourselves up.

Oh. Never mind then.

Alicja Szemplińska won the 2019 season of The Voice of Poland. Her song “Empire” is by pop singer Patryk Kumór and songwriters Dominic Buczkowski-Wojtaszek, Frazer Mac, and Laurell Barker. Laurell collaborated with Frazer on the 2019 Swiss entry “She Got Me” and co-wrote the German entry “Sisters” and the United Kingdom entry “Bigger Than Us.” She also has two songs at this year’s Melodifestivalen. We need to add her to our Songwriters page.

There is nothing in particular wrong with the song or with the singer. However, we feel like they are not a good fit for each other. Alicja is only 17 years old, so it’s kind of hard for us to believe the story she’s telling in the song. Teenagers in love are always dramatic, to be sure, but the lyrics track older than that. Although maybe that’s because the line “Like a bird to a pane of glass” reminds us of Anouk’s “Birds.”

Anyway, although Alicja has a beautiful, mature voice, her performance did not elevate “Empires.” There was no depth, just some big notes that show off her potential.

And yet, it’s hard for us to be completely dismissive. That’s partly because we feel churlish criticizing a teenager who has won two televised singing competitions within the span of four months. But there is also the fact that Szansa na sukces was held in a small studio space, which dampened any potential for “Empire” to show off its full grandiosity. Give Alicja a big room and some time to live with “Empire” and it may work out just fine. She’s got the raw goods, and there is time to refine it.

Poland’s Eurovision 2019 Entry

And now for something completely different. Here is Tulia with “Fire of Love (Pali się).”

Tulia are a Polish folk quartet who formed in 2017. They gained national attention in Poland with their reworking of Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence,” and they rode that attention to a top 10 hit album on the Polish charts in 2018.

Tulia has also covered Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters,” which makes sense to us because there is an interesting hard rock undercurrent to “Fire of Love.” They could compete with Hatari for heaviest Eurovision entry at the 2019 Song Contest. Is it weird that this reminds us of Babymetal, the Japanese J-pop/thrash metal crossover? There is something about the dissonance between the style of music and the style of singing that is striking in a unique way.

Like Portugal’s Conan Osiris, Tulia are an act at this year’s Eurovision that we don’t entirely get, but are thrilled to have competing. “Fire of Love” may be a smidge more conventional than “Telemóveis,” but only just a smidge. Poland has sent some mainstream and old-fashioned pop choices the past few years and missed out on the final last year with a fairly safe option. Like Iceland, they’re going to Tel Aviv with something different, and we hope they get rewarded with a spot on Saturday night.

Poland’s Eurovision 2018 Entry

Poland has chosen Gromee and Lukas Meijer to light Lisbon up.

Gromee is a deejay who had a number one single in Poland in 2016 with “Spirit.” He has teamed up with Swedish musician Lukas Meijer, with whom he had the top 10 hit “Without You.”

How to describe “Light Me Up?” Let’s go with relentlessly chipper. It’s nice to see Gromee and Lukas and their backing singers are having so much fun performing and all that, but after a minute of their grating cheeriness, we are quite ready to bust out Bauhaus and sulk in the corner.

It’s sunny in a Maltese national final sort of way and we’re sure it can get a crowd moving at the Euroclub. But it’s so not cool. It feels like a song your parents crank in the car, leaving you totally embarrassed.

Poland’s Eurovision 2017 Entry

Kasia Moś will represent Poland with the song “Flashlight” at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest.

Moś first vied for a Eurovision slot in 2006 with her song “I Wanna Know.” Last year, her song “Addiction” finished sixth in Poland’s national final. She has been a performer in the Pussycat Dolls Burlesque Revue and also finished third place in the 2012 edition of the talent show Must Be the Music. Moś co-wrote “Flashlight” with Pete Barringer and Rickard Bonde Truumeel.

This one bored us. There is nothing here we haven’t heard before and we’re not getting any new twists on old themes. Also, while in the past we have been willing to give some countries a pass for bad lyrics, in this instance we just can’t. Are you all really rhyming “fire” with “desire”? Still? Also, like Switzerland’s “Apollo,” “Flashlight” starts off with a bad bullet analogy. “Like a bullet from a smoking gun/They try to tell us that we don’t belong.” If we thought about it, we might come up with some pithy witticism about that, but honestly, we don’t want to spend any more time considering this plodding dirge of song.

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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Poland’s Eurovision 2015 Entry

Monika Kuszyńska will represent Poland at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest in Vienna with “In the Name of Love”:

Monika was the singer of the band Varius Manx when, in 2006, she was left paralyzed after a car accident. After years of rehabilitation, she returned to performing in 2010 with a performance on the Polish TV show Dzień Dobry TVN. She released her first solo album Ocalona in 2012.

Monika wrote the lyrics for “In the Name of Love” to music by her husband and former Varius Manx bandmate Kuba Raczyński. The song is autobiographical to a point, but she said it aims for a more universal inspirational theme that evokes the theme of this year’s Song Contest, “Building Bridges”:

Through my artistic activity, I am trying to promote the idea of combining the two worlds, which until recently seemed to be unable to connect – the world of people with and without disabilities. The bridge of understanding between them is strengthening every year, and I believe that one day the boundaries will be blurred.

So it’s a song that’s autobiographical but at the same time it’s written to be universal. I don’t mean to sound churlish, but she’s watered down her personal story to create a universal message that lacks bite. How much more powerful could this song have been if she’d put herself out there emotionally and showed us the pain underneath her strength? Taken out of context, “In the Name of Love” is merely a pretty, toothless song that runs out of steam at the two minute mark. It’s not something I want to listen to over and over again.

In context, however, “In the Name of Love” makes more sense. The video tells Monika’s story well and it’s hard not to choke up while watching it. If Poland can translate that story to its staging then it has the potential to touch a lot of people. But color me skeptical. Empathetic staging has historically not been Poland’s strong suit.

Poland’s Eurovision 2014 Entry

After a 3-year hiatus Poland is back! Today, Poland announced that they are sending “My Slowianie” by Donatan and Cleo to Copenhagen.

“My Slowianie” (Polish language version) is already a huge hit in Poland. It reached #1 on the Polish pop charts, and as of the time of writing, has been on their charts for 16 weeks. The song has also been something of an internet success. The video currently has over 38 million views on Youtube, and even in today’s parlance, that’s a lot of eyeballs. It’s reached a point in the Polish zeitgeist where it’s being parodied. This parody has 7 million views.

Looking at the timeline, you have to wonder if Poland decided to re-enter the contest specifically for this song. “My Slowianie” was released on November 4, and by November 19, it was clear Donatan and Cleo had a hit. On December 5, Poland announced its return to Eurovision. The English language version of the song was released on February 4, indicating an effort to market it more broadly. In today’s press release, the Polish broadcasters confirmed that they will be presenting a bilingual version of the song. Also, they still have 10 seconds to cut, so the final version is yet to come.

As for our take, “My Slowianie” is “Country Grammar” does “Hora din Moldova.” And we love it as much as Poland does. Other performances, such as this one below, suggest that Cleo will have no problem delivering live. It also looks like they’ve put some thought into the staging.

Igranka“‘s early exit last year left a lot of folks wondering if there is any audience for hip hop at Eurovision. Well, there’s always a first time, and a boatload of momentum going in sure would help. If ever a hip hop song could succeed, this is the one.