Recap of 2021 Semifinal One

It feels so good to have Eurovision back! I knew I missed it, but I didn’t really realize how much of a void last year’s cancellation had left in me until I pressed play on Peacock’s live feed. At last my Mays are complete again.

2021 is such a strong year that my quibbles feel more petty than usual. Every loss is gut-wrenching, even when I totally get why an act didn’t qualify.

No non-qualification was more heartbreaking to me than Ireland’s. Lesley Roy and her team came up with a very cool concept for “Maps” that took Silvàn Areg’s “Allez Leur Dire” staging and cranked it up to 11. There was also a charming third act reveal to show how the whole thing was done. The problem was that it required so much work to pull off that Lesley’s vocal suffered. It also didn’t help that the stagehands couldn’t get it set up fast enough, forcing host Chantal Janzen to vamp after Ireland’s postcard had already aired and delaying Lesley’s performance when she was already on stage. Even if the staging for “Maps” didn’t completely work, I found myself hoping that she would get a second chance to get it right.

(Updated 5/21/2021: The delay was caused by a camera malfunction, not a delay in setting the props up. Still: disruptive.)

I don’t think I was too shocked about the other songs that missed out on the Grand Final. I had expected Croatia to make it through, but I was only mildly stunned that it didn’t. “Tick Tock” is a really good song, but Albina and her dancers were washed out by a sea of neon pink and blue lighting.

Meanwhile, Romania drowned Roxen in so much fog that it was hard to see her for a while. And even when I did catch a glimpse of her, I paid more attention to that one really hammy back-up dancer.

Slovenia and North Macedonia seemed to suffer due to their straightforward staging of big ballads. To steal a point made by Robyn Gallagher and Elaine O’Neill on Twitter, Ana Soklič and Vasil had these big, rich pre-recorded backing vocals with no onstage proxy. They both looked mighty lonely on the big Rotterdam Ahoy stage.

While Australia was hurt a bit by Montaigne not performing in person, I also think the staging was too polarizing to make an already uncompromising song easier to warm to. The special effects pushed viewers away from Montaigne instead of drawing them in, leaving her even more isolated.

Who won the night? Lithuania. The genius of Vaidotas Valiukevičius’ hand gesture dance move is it’s easy to reference whenever the cameras focus on The Roop. The entire delegation were doing it constantly last night, and Vaidotas telling co-host Edsilia Rombley that it stood for “Euro-Vision” made it even more charming. The Roop opened the show, then ensured they were memorable all night.

Cyprus and Ukraine were my other Tuesday winners. Elena Tsagrinou and her team took the “Fuego” staging and added more, well, fuego to it. Even though “El Diablo” left me cold when I first heard it, Elena gave such a warm and playful performance that I fell for her song at last.

But no singer captivated me as much as Kateryna Pavlenko from Go_A. Her intense vocals coupled with her dry, yet soulful stare made “Shum” stand out. The dais prop and the dancers were just there to accentuate her performance, and it bloody worked.

The evening was dominated by bad-ass women. Manizha brought to Rotterdam the most Russian entry ever and used it to subvert Russian norms the entire way. She ended her song with a defiant, “Are you ready for change? Because we are!” It was easy to feel like she was right.

Eden Alene is such a charismatic and purely talented singer and performer that she made the stage her playground. Even if said playground was drenched in the same color scheme as Croatia’s ill-fated entry. “Set Me Free” came alive, and that had all to do with Eden’s skills and sense of style.

Hooverphonic did two smart things in their Eurovision performance. One, they made sure Geike Arnaert was the focal point throughout. All she had to do was look soulfully into the camera to draw audiences in. Two, they did not assume they were just playing another gig, but instead had a thoughtful presentation that made “The Wrong Place” come alive.

Contrast that with “Je Me Casse.” Destiny is still in the mix for the win, but I really wish the Malta delegation just trusted in her talent and poise. She can stand there and sing a phone book and capture people’s attention, but Malta has saddled her with a staging that constantly looks like she’s being put into a box. It reminded me of the staging for Michela Pace’s “Chameleon,” which was also overly fussy. It’s the first time I’ve doubted she could repeat her Junior Eurovision success.

Still, “Je Me Casse” felt cohesive, which is more than I can say for “Mata Hari.” I realize that part of my issue is that I can’t help but think that this was the same staging Azerbaijan had planned for “Cleopatra” last year. Why else would the cobra be in the graphics? As I said in my initial review, I bet this sounds fresh to someone who is just seeing Efendi’s shtick for the first time, but the whole package felt cheap and lazy to me.

While Tix’s performance and staging of “Fallen Angel” are solid, he also got a subtle boost when the producers got cheeky and had him follow “El Diablo.” Tix looked like a sullen fallen angel lamenting the fact that the love of his life was in love with El Diablo instead. Cyprus drew the first half of the Final and Norway drew the second, so the producers could still put them together again at the halfway point of the show. For storytelling purposes.

I did briefly wonder if Sweden was going to miss out on the final. “Voices” is so trite, and it was made even more shallow by following “Russian Women.” But I will give Tusse and the Swedish delegation a lot of credit: The staging made “Voices” look more deep than the generic lyrics would suggest. And even though his vocal wasn’t perfect, Tusse is such a powerful presence that it’s easy to see why he qualified.

In the end, Tuesday wasn’t really a night of surprises. Along with a lot of good performances, we got a solidly entertaining show with a good opener from reigning champion Duncan Laurence, a cool interval act, and mostly unobtrusive hosting from the quartet of emcees. It was all about getting us back into the swing of things, and it succeeded. Not bad for the Semifinal that I thought was the less interesting of the two. Bring on Thursday!

Russia’s Eurovision 2021 Entry

Any views that I express in this post do not necessarily reflect those of my employers. (Gosh, I’ve been saying that a lot this year.)

It is interesting to follow news from Russia right now. The country has seen a large number of protests recently after opposition leader Alexei Navalny was arrested in January. Navalny had returned to Russia for the first time since being hospitalized in Germany after being poisoned with a nerve agent. He accused President Vladimir Putin of engineering the attack in retaliation for his work exposing corruption in the Russian government. As he and his supporters share information on social media, Russian authorities are trying to crack down on services like Twitter, TikTok, and Instagram while simultaneously cracking down on the protests before September’s parliamentary election.

Meanwhile, The Sun reported in November that Putin has Parkinson’s disease and is being pressured to step down. The Kremlin denied the report, which was kind of a gimme: it was a report in The Sun, after all. Still, I can’t help but wonder if there is something to that story.

I mention all of this in a review of a Eurovision Song Contest entry is not because I’m an American and we still have a Cold War view of Russia here. (Though we do.) It’s because it is in this environment that Manizha not only competed in, but won a national final held by the state-owned television station Channel One.

At first glance, it’s easy to assume that Manizha is singing an ode to Mother Russia. But there is something a bit off about her song. In fact, sometimes it sounds like she’s being sarcastic. Then she sings in English, “Every Russian woman needs to know/You’re strong enough to bounce against the wall.” That’s when you realize Manizha is no run of the mill pop singer.

Born in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, Manizha and her family moved to Moscow when she was a kid to escape the country’s post-Soviet  civil war. Being Tajik-Russian, she faced bullying as a child and prejudice in the music industry. She has used her music and her platform to call attention to Russia’s discrimination against Central Asians, as well as to support women’s and LGBTQ+ rights. She also serves as a goodwill ambassador for UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency.

Not surprisingly, the news of her win led to certain sectors of Russia’s population complaining about her being Tajik, while a prominent Russian musician alleged that her song is not Russian enough (making me wonder if he listened to the song before denouncing her). Fortunately, artists like Dima Bilan, Dina Garipova, and Yulia Savicheva have leapt to her defense.

Russian Woman,” which she wrote on International Women’s Day in 2020 and debuted on International Women’s Day in 2021, is about expanding the role of women in Russian society. Manizha highlighted her theme in her national final staging when she dropped her traditional garb for a factory worker’s coveralls (which I took as a sly reference to Soviet Russia’s industrial history). In her lyrics, she mocks people who put her down by telling her she’s too fat, too arrogant, or just needs to find a man and settle down.

The music is herky-jerky, sometimes diving into traditional Russian folk, sometimes dipping into hip hop. It’s raw and striking and its unusual rhythms grab my attention as much as Manizha’s commanding stage presence. She is bold, expressive, and powerful. She strikes me as someone who is funny, warm, and supportive and also someone you shouldn’t mess with.

Manizha has said she will add some English to the final version of the song, but will be keeping much of the Russian lyrics. Hopefully, she doesn’t change the music up too much, because I really don’t want “Russian Woman” to lose its immediacy. It’s a brilliant track.

Thanks to Star-Spangled Eurovision for links to Calvert Journal’s profile of Manizha. Give them a follow on Twitter!

Russia’s Eurovision 2020 Entry

It is a scary time in the world, as a mysterious new virus fills our lives up with fear and dread and hand sanitizer. Fortunately, Russia is here to cheer us all up.

Little Big is a satirical pop band known for their crazy, surreal videos. They won the Most Trashy video award at the 2016 Berlin Music Video Awards for “Big Dick” (do we even need to mention it’s not safe for work?) and achieved viral success in 2018 with the infectiously danceable “Skibidi.”

If you’ve ever wondered what Aqua would sound like if they took themselves a little less seriously, then you’ll get a sense of what Little Big is like. They’ve dialed back their usual style, opting to send a ridiculously cheesy synth-laden dance song set to a generic Latin music beat. The chorus is just an elaborate vocal arrangement of the band and their new backing singers singing, “Uno, dos, cuatro, uno, dos, tres, cuatro, cinco, ses.” It puts the inane in insane.

But oh, is it glorious. The official video plays out like a playful parody of 1970s-era Eurovision. And judging from their first live performance, Little Big might just be giving us a preview of how they are going to stage “Uno.”

Move over, The Roop and Daði og Gagnamagnið. That’s all we’re saying.

Is it profound art? Yes, in the way John Waters films are in all their trashy glory. If “Dead Unicorn” is Little Big’s Multiple Maniacs and “Big Dick” is their Polyester, then “Uno” is their Hairspray. Even if it’s a bit more mainstream than their usual work, it still has the subversive quality they’re known for.

After all, as they say themselves in “Go Bananas:” pop is new punk.

Pop Is the New Punk

Russia’s Eurovision 2019 Entry

Russia crapped out in the Semifinals last year. Time to call in the bookie bait!

Sergey Lazarev is a Russian pop star who came close to winning Eurovision in 2016, if it weren’t for those meddling juries. For “Scream,” he has once again teamed up with songwriters Philipp Kirkorov and Dimitris Kontopoulos. They are joined by Sharon Vaughn, an American lyricist who started off working in country music before branching out into European pop. She has worked with Boyzone, The Wanted, Måns Zelmerlöw, Alcazar, and Helena Paparizou, and co-wrote “Waterline” for Jedward.

The unnamed songwriter in the Russian camp this year, however, is Sergei Prokofiev. If you’re in the mood for some good old-fashioned Soviet pomp, Prokofiev is your boy. Thus “Scream” is the most Russian-sounding entry Russia has sent since “Lost and Forgotten.”

We like “Scream,” although our fondness has more to do with the cool music video than the song itself. We figure Sergey and his team are going to pull out all of the stops in the staging, and it’s all going to be spectacular.

And we also figure Russia is going to achieve the same result they did in 2016. Again: those meddling juries. Maybe our knowledge of previous Eurovision results is having too much of an influence on our instincts, but we have a feeling history is going to repeat itself.

Russia’s Eurovision 2018 Entry

Let’s try this again. Russia will participate at the Eurovision Song Contest in Portugal, and they will be represented by Julia Samoylova and “I Won’t Break.”

Julia is a 29-year-old singer who was runner-up on the third season of Faktor A, the Russian version of The X Factor. She lost use of her legs when she was a child, so she will be the second Eurovision participant to perform in a wheelchair. “I Won’t Break” is by Leonid Gutkin, who co-wrote “What If” for Dina Garipova and “A Million Voices” for Polina Gagarina. He co-wrote the song with Netta Nimrodi and Arye Burstein, with whom he teamed up to write Russia’s Eurovision 2017 entry “Flame Is Burning.”

You probably remember what happened next, but if not: Ukraine barred Julia from participating because she had performed in Crimea after Russia annexed it. Russia pulled out of the Song Contest and Ukraine faced a fine for their actions. In the aftermath, Russia promised to send her again in 2018.

From strictly a musical point of view, the songwriters have benefited from having a whole year to come up with a song for Julia. “Flame Is Burning” was one of those songs about peace and love and understanding that we always assume are banged out last minute because Russia forgot they had to enter a song in Eurovision. “I Won’t Break” more directly relates to its singer and stands out as a more cohesive song. It’s pretty good for what it is.

Because “I Won’t Break” feels more biographical, we hope that Russia can stage it so that it tells Julia’s story. One of our big issues with “In the Name of Love,” the song Monika Kuszyńska sang for Poland in 2015, was that the attempt to give her story a more universal message watered her story down for public consumption. The video for “In the Name of Love” did the storytelling that the song and the eventual Eurovision staging lacked.

So we were a bit concerned about official video for “I Won’t Break,” which hides Julia by staying on a close-up of her face for most of the video before revealing her as the peak of a mountain. We get the metaphor that she is a rock, but the video assumes you know her story already.

Fortunately, official videos usually don’t reveal too much about how a song is going to be staged (Sergey Lazarev excepted), so we’re hopeful Julia and her team will figure out a way to make this work in Lisbon.

Russia’s Eurovision 2017 Entry

As Americans, we’ve been thinking a lot about Russia lately. But at last, the true story has come out and we have clarity: Russia will participate at the Eurovision Song Contest in Ukraine, and they will be represented by Yulia Samoylova and “Flame Is Burning.”

Samoylova is a 28-year-old singer who was runner-up on the third season of Faktor A, the Russian version of The X Factor. She lost use of her legs when she was a child, so she will be the second Eurovision participant to perform in a wheelchair. “Flame Is Burning” is by Leonid Gutkin, who co-wrote “What If” for Dina Garipova and “A Million Voices” for Polina Gagarina. He co-wrote the song with Netta Nimrodi and Arye Burstein.

If you follow either Eurovision or world politics closely, you probably don’t need us to recap the current conflict between Russia and Ukraine. (If you do, just go back and read our recap of last year’s Song Contest. And also a newspaper.) Suffice to say, Russia faced a difficult decision this year: whoever they picked would be entering particularly hostile territory, both because the Song Contest is in Ukraine and because, Sergey Lazarev notwithstanding, Eurovision fans in the hall have been more than enthusiastic to boo the Russian entry in recent years.

Despite calls by hardliners in Russia (and apparently Philipp Kirkorov) to boycott the Song Contest this year, Russia’s Channel One decided to stand strong like a tree in the wind. Nothing’s going to move this mountain or change their direction.

Is Samoylova a good singer? Yes. Is the song any good? Sure, if you like Russia’s brand of generically inspiring Eurovision ballads. Does any of this matter? Probably not. Russia has fulfilled its obligation to the EBU to participate and is also daring the Eurovision fans to boo a woman in a wheelchair.

Have we mentioned that Russia has the chrome-plated balls?

We do feel bad for thinking about this in such cold and cynical terms, of course, but you know, we can’t help it: we are Americans.

Updated 3/28/2017: We would be remiss if we didn’t update this post to note the controversy over Ukraine’s security agency banning Samoylova over her concert appearance in Crimea. ESC Insight has a good article discussing the situation and the politics behind it.

The EBU was widely derided for its proposal of having Samoylova perform via satellite if she was unable to go to Kyiv. Not to say it’s not a dumb idea, but we thought it was weirdly brilliant: we figure Russia told the EBU, “If our performer is barred entry, why should we pay fines for pulling out after the deadline?” and the EBU was calling their bluff. Maybe that’s a little farfetched, but then again, how much farfetched stuff has come to pass in the past year?

Updated 4/18/2017: As expected, Russia has withdrawn from this year’s Eurovision Song Contest after Ukraine’s government refused to budge on Yulia Samoylova’s travel ban. We’re kind of bummed the EBU hadn’t suggested Samoylova perform as a hologram as a possible solution.

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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Russia’s Eurovision 2015 Entry

Polina Gagarina has been chosen to sing Russia’s third annual Eurovision entry about how we all should just get along and live in peace. Here’s “A Million Voices”:

Polina is a past winner of Star Factory, a long-running Russian talent reality show. She had a number three hit in Russia and a number one hit in Ukraine with her 2012 single “Нет” (“Nyet”). Hopefully, she also has thick skin if the Vienna audience reacts to points given to Russia the way the Copenhagen audience did last year.

Three of the songwriters that penned “A Million Voices” were responsible for Dina Garipova’s mawkish 2013 entry “What if,” a thematically-similar ballad. “A Million Voices” is a definite improvement on their previous work. It is a soaring Eurovision anthem, and Russia will probably stage it beautifully and nab itself another top 10 finish.

I will say we are a bit tired of all these relentlessly sincere “Imagine” wannabes, but it feels like that’s just us. So long as songs like this continue to get votes, they’ll continue to be pepper Song Contests in the years to come.

But, it’s less schlocky than “Wars for Nothing,” so that’s something.

STRAY OBSERVATIONS: The first line of this song is “We are the world’s people,” but I first heard it as “We are the worst people.” I am such a product of the decadent West.

Russia’s Eurovision 2014 Entry

Complaints about neighborly voting have been a constant since the first time Denmark and Iceland gave each other points, but how political does Eurovision voting really get? Sometimes the real world rears its ugly head and current events could have a negative impact on the Song Contest.

In 2003, shortly after the Iraq war began, the United Kingdom sent the pop duo Jemini to Eurovision with their song “Cry Baby.” To say Jemini flopped is an understatement: for the first time in its long Eurovision history, the U.K. not only finished last, it finished with the dreaded nul points.

Sir Terry Wogan, during his commentary for the BBC, said, “I think the UK is suffering from post-Iraq backlash.” Martin Isherwood, the composer of “Cry Baby,” echoed the sentiment: “I think politically we are out on a limb at the moment. As a country I think we paid the price last night.” Even Jemini singer Chris Cromby thought the theory had credence: “With the countries across Europe something has rocked the boat in a way. We don’t think it was fair we came last because we gave the performance of our lifetime.”

Of course, the theory falls apart when you watch Jemini’s miserable performance. Cromby later said, “The monitors weren’t working, Gemma couldn’t hear herself, so she was out of tune.” So perhaps European opposition to the Iraq War did have an effect on voting in 2003, but there was no year where Jemini were going to place anywhere but bottom of the table with that performance.

Which brings us to Russia’s participation in this year’s Eurovision Song Contest. The European Union and NATO are trying to isolate Russia over its actions against Ukraine in Crimea and former Soviet states are increasingly nervous over the ambitions of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Could the fallout of the Ukrainian crisis trickle down to Eurovision voting?

Take a look at the countries in the first Semi-final: Russia faces off against Ukraine, as well as Estonia, Latvia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Moldova. Will these countries give Russia points? They all have large ethnic Russian minorities who could influence the televote. They also have non-Russian majorities that could also influence the televote in the other direction. And then there are their respective juries, who could spike the televote results (as anyone who remembers the fallout of Azerbaijan neglecting to give Russia any points during last year’s Song Contest will attest).

If ever there was a year to test just how political Eurovision voting can be, you would think this would be it. But there is one additional factor to consider in all this: Russia’s song isn’t good. Here are the Tolmachevy Sisters with “Shine”:

This year’s Russian selection process was chaotic: broadcaster Rossija 1 had originally announced there would be a national final in December. They then postponed the final to a later date, before finally opting for an internal selection. The rumor was that Sergei Lazarev was that selection. However, at the last minute, the Tolmachevy Sisters were announced as Russia’s representatives.

The Tolmachevy Sisters won Junior Eurovision in 2006 with their song “Vesenniy Jazz.” They also made an appearance when Russia hosted Eurovision in 2009, flying to the giant stage on the back of a firebird during the opening number of the first Semi. (You had to be there.)

The music for “Shine” is by Philipp Kirkorov and Dimitris Kontopoulos and the lyrics are by John Ballard, Ralph Charlie, and Gerard James Borg. There are a lot of familiar names there: Kontopoulos and Borg make regular appearances at Eurovision, and Ballard and Charlie teamed up with Kontopoulos to write “Hold Me” for Azerbaijan last year. Meanwhile, Kirkorov will be familiar to Eurovision fans not only as Russia’s representative in 1995, but also as one of the songwriters of Belarus’ 2007 entry “Work Your Magic” and Ukraine’s 2008 entry “Shady Lady” (with Kontopoulos).

Kirkorov told the Russian newspaper Moskovskij Komsomolets (per a translation by ESCKAZ) that he signed on to write the song on March 6 (just 11 days before entries were due to the European Broadcasting Union). Kirkorov and Kontopoulos wrote “Shine” the next day. Having heard “Shine,” I can believe that. I don’t know when Ballard, Charlie, and Borg banged out the lyrics, but all told the whole thing feels like a rush job.

“Shine” goes for a late 1960s flower-power harpsichord-driven pop sound. The effect is muted a bit by being over-orchestrated. In particular, the chorus of the song is drowned out by strings and ding-dongs. It’s not the worst song, but given the past work by these songwriters (particularly “Shady Lady”), they had the capability to do much better.

The lyrics, meanwhile, seem to have been pulled out of a hat full of cliches. The line “Living on the edge/Closer to the crime/Cross the line a step at a time” is particularly cringeworthy.

In any other year, we’d be lamenting this as a missed opportunity, particularly because the Tolmachevy Sisters are trying to make the jump from Junior Eurovision success to Eurovision glory. But they now have the unenviable task of putting on a pleasant face to supplant the ugly image of Russia that many European countries now have. Russia has made it to the Final with worse songs, but if the extenuating circumstances are in play, then I wouldn’t expect “Shine” to play more than one night in Copenhagen. That is, if those voting know or care about the extenuating circumstances.

Russia’s Eurovision 2013 Entry

Dina Garipova is representing Russia at the Eurovision Song Contest this year with “What If.” It is a perfectly dreadful “can’t we all get along” song. The most obvious comparison is to Chiara’s “What If We,” but the first song I thought of was “If We All Give a Little,” the Six4One song for Switzerland from 2006. (Lyrically, it also reminds me of “Shine” which I mention only so I can link to that video, which is still ridiculously awesome.)

As I said during our review of Cyprus’ entry, Pastora Soler took Spain to a top 10 finish based on jury support for her performance. If Garipova can bring “What If” home the same way Soler did, I would expect a similar result for Russia. But like Soler, she is going to be hindered by the fact that while juries eat this sort of old-fashioned song up, the public tends to avoid it like the watery gruel it is.

I think Estonian comedians Ott Sepp and Märt Avandi summed this entry up best:

I am still desperate for that “Don’t Die” t-shirt Sepp is wearing. Ära sure Euroopa!