Is it too early to place bets on who is going to win the jury vote?
Ana Soklič was slated to represent Slovenia last year with “Voda,” a gentle, winding ballad that benefited from her powerful voice. This year, she gets her chance to go to Eurovision with a grand, powerful ballad.
Ana co-wrote this song with her “Voda” partner Bojan Simončič and Slovenian composer and arranger Žiga Pirnat, with English lyrics by Eurovision winner Charlie Mason. Bringing in Mason was a smart idea (and I don’t just say that because I think he reads this blog). He has shown a knack for writing lyrics that offer inspiration without flinching from reality. To wit:
“You’ll get beaten and bruised/You’ll be scarred into your core/But it’s gonna make you who you are.”
“Hey child/The fear will never go away/Might as well accept it now.”
“Can the heart that’s broken cry?”
Not your typical syrupy aphorisms.
The arrangement makes full use of the RTV Slovenia Symphony Orchestra. It also takes advantage of the rule this year that allows for pre-recorded vocals to provide Ana a full choir to back her up. My favorite part of “Amen” is the orchestration in the bridge, which has some unexpected, jazzy melodies that help build the song to a cathartic, gospel-laden finish.
At the center of it all is Ana Soklič herself, who imbues her song with grace and power. She hinted at her range on “Voda,” but “Amen” puts it on full display. She is a magnificent singer.
My big concern about “Amen” is not that Vincent Bueno named his song for Austria “Amen.” (In fact, he should be worried about Ana.) It’s that the song is musically and thematically similar to Tamara Todevska’s jury winner “Proud.” I think “Amen” is a better song, but Tamara delivered such an iconic performance at the 2019 Song Contest that I worry that Ana could suffer by comparison.
On the other hand, after all that has transpired since the last competitive Eurovision, maybe “Amen” will feel like a lovely release for a lot of the people watching at home.
Ana Soklič competed on the first season of X Faktor Slovenia, and was knocked out of the show in the fifth week. She participated in two previous editions of EMA, singing “Oče” in 2007 and “If You” as a member of Diona Dimm in 2004. She co-wrote “Voda” with Bojan Simončič, her Diona Dimm bandmate and the guitarist for the 1980s Slovenian New Wave band Ultimat. She recorded her song with the Budapest Art Orchestra, which also recorded “Rise Like a Phoenix.”
“Voda” translates as “Water,” which makes sense. The melodies of the song meander around like a leaf on a gentle stream, going here and there gently and occasionally getting stuck on a rock. It’s pleasant, and it will probably be lovely to listen to when we’re in the mood to relax. But it doesn’t really wow us.
That said, Ana has a rich, smoky voice and she gives a measured, professional performance. She sings it beautifully, and gives “Voda” a burst of life when she lands her big notes. There is room for her to open this up, which she will need to do if “Voda” is going to stand out in Rotterdam.
Oh for crying out loud, Slovenia! You had a chance to send one of the most intense, awesome, and potentially divisive Eurovision entries to the Song Contest, one that could have been the talk of Tel Aviv. Instead you sent a song that answers the question, “What if last year’s Portuguese entry was a little too high energy?”
Here’s Zala Kralj and Gašper Šantl with “Sebi.”
Zala Kralj and Gašper Šantl first teamed up in 2018 after a mutual friend introduced them through Instagram. Zala appeared as a featured artist on tracks Gašper produced, and the partnership proved so fruitful that they decided to form a duo.
“Sebi” is a dreamy, atmospheric song. It has a quiet, droning vocal melody and that, paired with Zala and Gašper internalized performance, makes the song ambient and intimate. One of the challenges Slovenia will face at the Song Contest is how to open Zala and Gašper’s performance up so that they bring the audience into their world, not exclude us from it. Something as simple as the tight camera work we saw in “Calm After the Storm” would be enough to draw us in.
We only have two real issues with “Sebi.” One, it doesn’t really go anywhere over its three minutes. Two, we have sour grapes. Slovenia could have finally sent Raiven, an artist we have loved from her previous Ema performances. She has a strong perspective on her music and her image and she brought an intriguing staging to Ema 2019. And Slovenia overwhelmingly rejected her song: Zala and Gašper won with almost 73% of the vote.
Of course, our hard feelings have no bearing on the Song Contest itself and most people who will watch Eurovision in May did not watch the Slovenian national final. Heck, given how many national finals there were this past Saturday, most die-hard Eurovision fans probably didn’t watch either. (They watched a Melodifestivalen heat instead.)
But this one hurts. It’s like Slovenia has rejected us. We take it very personally and will not be visiting Ljubljana or the Žalec beer fountain this year. We are that bitter.
This is Lea’s third trip to Eurovision. She was a backing singer for Tinkara Kovač at Eurovision in 2014 and for ManuElla in 2016. She also made three previous attempts to represent Slovenia as a lead artist. Her song “Vampir je moj poet” (which means what you think it means) finished behind “Narodnozabavni Rock” in EMA 2010. And deservedly so.
But why focus on the negative when we can focus on the positive? “Hvala, ne,” which Lea co-wrote with Slovenian deejay Tomy DeClerque, has a bouncy hip hop rhythm with some sleek techno accents. When it comes on, we drop everything and dance.
Sometimes we hear a selection for Eurovision and say to ourselves, this is a contender. Other times, a selection lands with us, and we have absolutely no idea if it is going to land with a general audience. “Hvala, ne” falls into that latter camp. We love it, but we have no idea if anyone else will. We really hope they do.
Omar Naber won EMA 2017 and will represent Slovenia at Eurovision with “On My Way.”
Naber won Bitka Talentov, Slovenia’s version of Pop Idol, in 2004. The next year, he represented Slovenia at the Eurovision Song Contest with “Stop,” which finished 12th in the Semifinal. According to his Facebook bio, he is a licensed busker on the London Underground. You gotta pay the bills somehow when you split your time between London and Ljubljana.
We were frustrated with EMA this year because there were more interesting entries that Slovenia could have sent. There’s no doubt that Naber is talented, but “On My Way” is a super-safe “I want” show tune. The first thing we thought of when we heard it was “For Life,” Isis Gee’s song for Poland back in 2008. And that song was stale in 2008. Like “For Life,” “On My Way” is jury-friendly: it built a lead in the EMA jury vote that couldn’t be overturned when it finished second in the televote. At Eurovision, there is a slim possibility that its jury appeal becomes an asset. Slovenia participates in the First Semi, which traditionally sees more conservative song choices go through. But for us, this one is a snoozer.
It’s a good thing it’s Leap Year, because we need an extra day to process all of the songs chosen for Eurovision this weekend!
Finland: Sandhja – “Sing It Away”
Donald Trump is going to be the Republican Party candidate for President and Sandhja’s European jazz festival closer is going to represent Finland at Eurovision and I do not understand the world anymore.
Hungary: Freddie – “Pioneer”
We are Eurovision hipsters, so A Dal is of course our favorite national selection competition these days. There were eight songs in the A Dal final, and we felt that the four super finalists would ably represent Hungary in Stockholm. Coming out of the semis, we thought Freddie would not only finish top 5 at Eurovision, but even take the crown. His performance in the final was a bit rougher, so we’re not quite ready to proclaim him the champion yet. But his husky voice and rugged good looks may make him very popular in Sweden.
Maraaya won Evrovizijska Melodija (EMA) 2015 and will be representing Slovenia at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest with “Here for You”:
Maraaya are a wife and husband duo made up of Marjetka and Aleš “Raay” Vovk. They were members of Turbo Angels, which vied for a spot in the 2008 Eurovision Song Contest with “Zabava.” Since then, Raay was a judge on Misija Evrovizija 2012, which selected Eva Boto to represent Slovenia. Last year, he co-wrote the Slovenian entry “Round and Round.”
Marjetka has a nasally, raspy voice that reminds me of a cross between Anastacia and Duffy. She is also a vocal coach who taught last year’s Slovenian Junior Eurovision representative, Ula Ložar. They and Raay were some of the co-writers of the Slovenian Junior Eurovision entry “Your Light.”
Maraaya co-wrote “Here For You” with in-demand American lyricist Charlie Mason, who co-wrote “Rise Like a Phoenix” and is writing English lyrics for this year’s Serbian entry “Ceo svet je moj.” Call him M:Son.
“Here for You” has a propulsive beat, some swanky strings, and a nice vocal from Marjetka. All of the elements come together to create a fun little pop number. The EMA 2015 staging left a little bit to be desired; the headphones Maraaya were wearing looked a bit silly, but not as silly as the back-up dancer miming the violin riff. I’m not sure if Marjetka’s wedding dress was repurposed for the show, but it looked out of place with the contemporary pop song Maraaya were performing.
“Here for You” has Euroclub favorite written all over it, which may not necessarily translate to votes. Even if it gets stuck in Semis, it may turn out to be one of those songs diehard fans listen to more often than the eventual winner.
Tinkara Kovač has been picked to represent Slovenia at Eurovision with “Spet (Round and Round)”:
“Spet” has a bit of a pedigree. Kovač has had a long career in Slovenia, and has made three previous attempts to represent her country. Her best finish before this year was in 1999, when she had won the televote but eventually finished second. The music for “Spet” is by Raay, who was a judge on Misija Evrovija 2012 and served on Slovenia’s national jury for Eurovision 2013. The song’s lyrics are by Kovač, Tina Piš and last year’s Slovenian entry, Hannah Mancini. Presumably the American Mancini provided the English translation used during the bilingual performance, although the lyrics still sound like they’ve been Google-translated:
I’m gonna show you how to breathe I’m gonna show you how to live I’m gonna hold your heart in hand I’m gonna make you understand
You don’t know, you don’t know Is it love, is it hate What are you changing (What are we doing) You don’t know, you don’t know Can you feel it inside Feel the roses, feel the pride (Do you believe it)
Round and round again we Round and round again we Go-oh-oh-oh, Oh-oh-oh-oh
It’s kind of hard to describe what “Spet” is other than a Eurovision song. It sounds like the writers sat down, listened to mid-90s Eurovision winners, then patched together a quilt of Eurovision tropes. That said, it’s not a bad effort, and I kind of like Kovač rocking the flute during her performance. I assume they’re going to work on the staging, at least so the back-up singers do the finger twirls in sync.
Ultimately, though, I’m not sure it’s memorable enough to make out of the second Semi. Slovenia performs in the second half, and I think “Spet” is going to get overshadowed.
Slovenia, no doubt upset with its poor showing after a many months long selection process last year, has opted for an internal selection for Malmö. They selected Hannah and “Straight into love.”
We had to give up seeing Klemen Slakonja for THIS?!?
Hannah Mancini is a Colorado native making her way as a singer in Slovenia. She made a previous bid for Eurovision in 2011 in collaboration with DJ Sylvain and Mike Vale with “Ti si tisti,” a song which, frankly, betrays many concerns for “Straight into love.”
I’m starting to think that Slovenia’s real problem is its choice of songs. As a song, this one holds little artistic merit. Once you get past the opening verse, the song becomes repetitive. Worse, emotionally, it holds one level and stays there. This may seem out of left field, but upon first listen, I was actually reminded of Slovakia and TWiiNS, which had a similarly simplistic melody.
Hannah doesn’t do much to strengthen the song. Vocally, she has some power but in the recorded track there are times when she sounds so harsh my ears start to bleed. Moreover, in EMA 2011, where she sang live, there were times when her pitch went off the rails. As a performer, she moves awkwardly on stage and her presence on camera is underwhelming. And if that atrocity of a dress during the song presentation is any of indication of what she’ll wear in Malmö… well… let’s just say that I hope the Slovenian organizers have more fashion sense than her.
Still, “Straight into love” is the kind of trashy outing that the Eurovision fanboys love. It’s electropop, has a beat and you can dance to it. Indeed, it seems to have received a relatively favorable response from the fan community. So who knows, maybe she’ll pull an Ivi Adamou and receive 12 points from Sweden. Ivi couldn’t dance either.
So is Hannah this year’s Ivi Adamou or TWiiNS? Only time will tell.
Slovenian voters have chosen Eva Boto to represent them with “Verjamem.” The decision concludes a months long search through Misija Evrovisija, an Idol-style series, and EMA2012, an Unser Star-style selection show.
We have followed Misija Evrovizija on and off since October (check out our earlier observations here and here). A powerful and talented vocalist, 16-year old Eva Boto emerged early as a worthy successor to Maja Keuc. Throughout the series, Boto showed range in her song choices and was consistently strong. She offered 3 songs as part of EMA2012. A big Eurovision ballad, “Verjamem” showcases Boto at her best.
Competing against Eva Boto were identical twins Nika & Eva Prusnik. In truth, we didn’t take the Prusnik sisters seriously until the final weeks of Misija Evrovisija. Vocals are not the twins’ strong suit, but they entertained viewers through gimmickry and goofy charm. Their strongest entry in EMA2012, “Konichiwa,” was cheesy, politically incorrect, and fun–a perfect example of what they do so well. This one made it to the Superfinal, and we would have been chuffed to see it progress.
My biggest concern with “Verjamem” is that we’ve heard it before. The opening impression is The Little Mermaid–Ariel’s voice. Then at 2:27, it turns into 2007 Eurovision winner “Molitva.” Small surprise, as songwriter Vladimir Graic was behind both “Molitva” and “Verjamem.” The question for me is whether these similarities will bother Eurovision voters. The song is good, and Boto sings it well. Personally, I have a hard time getting past it.
The bottom line: we think the Slovenians made the right choice. “Konichiwa” had kitsch value but would have gotten no support from juries. I doubt it would have made it out of the semifinals. Eva Boto, on the other hand, has oodles of talent, and “Verjamem” is the type of power ballad that in the past has found favor with juries. With this one they stand a chance.
A final note: Though we have made our feelings about host Klemen Slakonja known in the past, it bears repeating. We think he’s fabulous. We would love to see Slovenia win just to see him as host.