Recap of Eurovision Song Contest 2021

Italy won Eurovision.

Italy. Won. Eurovision.

It’s been 31 years, and Italy has come tantalizingly close in the decade since it returned to the Song Contest. And now it has finally happened.

I genuinely did not expect this. I adore “Zitti e buoni,” but I really thought a straightforward rock song like this couldn’t win. Barbara Pravi had the dramatic, emotional chanson ballad. Gjon’s Tears had the pure vocals. They both were rewarded, of course: Barbara snagged France’s first 2nd place in 30 years and won the Artistic Award and the Press Award. Gjon’s Tears won the jury vote and the Composers Award to land Switzerland’s first 3rd place in 28 years.

But Måneskin got just enough love from the juries to be in a prime position to win when they got 318 points from the televote. They may have only edged Barbara by 25 points in the combined scores, but the win still somehow feels comprehensive and overwhelming.

To add to my delight, Iceland’s Daði and Gagnamagnið finished fourth. To see a group of close knit friends who march to the beat of their own circular keytars getting rewarded for being uncompromisingly geeky warms the cockles of this aging nerd’s heart.

Go_A rounded out the top five with a song that made no attempts to be a broadly accessible pop song. They were punished by the juries, but they finished second in the televote because I imagine folks at home saw the Ukrainian band’s performance and said, “I want to dance to this at a sweaty night club the first chance I get.”

As giddy as I am about the top 5, I know that there is going to be a huge amount of disappointment for the rest of the artists as it’s really hard to fault anyone who performed in the Grand Final. No one deserved to finish in last place, let alone get nul points. James Newman handled his result with grace and aplomb and while I am sure it stings a lot, I also bet the warmth he got from the artists and the fans in the arena will ease that pain a bit.

I’m seeing questions being rightfully asked about the fact that four of the five countries who sent Black artists finished on the bottom half of the table and that Jeangu Macrooy’s song, which directly confronts the history of racism in Europe, got nul points from the public and just 11 points from the juries. I’m also seeing a lot of questions about some curious jury decisions. Those questions all need to be asked, even if the answers are not going to be easy to discern. Though I trust the Eurovision diehards I follow on Twitter and work with on ESC in Context are going to get to the bottom of it.

To be honest, the week leading into the Grand Final had not been the easiest for me, and having Eurovision all week was a needed distraction. Yesterday was the first time my Song Contest buddies and I have seen each other in two years. It felt so cathartic to finally have that Dutch and Surinamese-themed Eurovision party. So cathartic that I quite literally cried in front of everyone when “Zitti e buoni” won. My favorite song, coming from my grandfather’s country of birth, winning the whole shebang was just the release I needed. Amazing.

Italy won Eurovision.

I need to watch this again…

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.

Switzerland’s Eurovision 2021 Entry

Just under a year ago, I wrapped up our look at the Eurovision 2020 entries with a gushing review of Gjon’s Tears’ song “Répondez-moi.” Now I find myself a bit underwhelmed while listening to his 2021 effort “Tout l’Univers.”

It’s not that I don’t think “Tout l’Univers” is beautiful. It’s touchingly melancholic and hauntingly orchestrated. Gjon’s Tears sings it beautifully, and he’s given himself lots of room to show off his range. If I were a betting Lemur, I’d put money down that he will make this soar to the rafters come competition time.

But for some reason, it doesn’t really grab me the way “Répondez-moi” did. There is a tension, an underlying aching to “Répondez-moi” has that “Tout l’Univers” doesn’t quite capture. The latter song has more of an impact me when watching the gut-wrenching video than it does just listening to it on its own. If Gjon’s Tears executes “Tout l’Univers” flawlessly, he will deserve to take home the trophy. I don’t doubt for a moment that he will deliver a stunning performance, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he won Eurovision in this most competitive of years

What it comes down to is this: I think that some Song Contest winners are about the strength of the song itself and some are about the package in total. “Arcade” is an example of the former, while “1944” is an example of the latter. They are both perfectly legit and worthy winners. I just listen to “Arcade” a lot more than “1944.”

Switzerland’s Eurovision 2020 Entry

And so we finish our review of the national final season with Switzerland. Now, we had a lot of favorite entries this year. Daði og Gagnamagnið is still our favorite and The Roop is still our second favorite. But we have to say that the worst part about the cancellation of this year’s Song Contest is that we all were robbed of the opportunity to hear Gjon’s Tears perform “Répondez-moi” on the big stage. Because dammit, this would have been wonderful.

A Swiss singer whose family comes from Albania and Kosovo, Gjon Muharremaj named himself Gjon’s Tears after a moment when his grandfather cried while hearing him sing “Can’t Help Falling In Love.” At 12, Gjon finished third in Albania’s Got Talent and later competed on Switzerland’s Got Talent and The Voice France. He co-wrote “Répondez-moi” with Xavier Michel, Alizé Oswald, and Jeroen Swinnen.

”Répondez-moi” is an intense song. It packs Albert Camus levels of existentialism into a tight three minutes, and you don’t even need to understand French to get the message. The haunting chorus generates more chills than skinny-dipping in an Alpine lake in January.

Gjon’s Tears is charismatic as all get out, with that special knack for peering into your soul. His range is stunning, and his upper register is particularly piercing. Those high notes may dangerous roads to travel on, but when we listened to the sparse and powerful acoustic version, we felt assured that he can deliver the goods each and every time.

Thankfully, Gjon’s Tears will be coming back next year. We really hope that he finds away to top “Répondez-moi,” because if he does, it is going to be brilliant.

Switzerland’s Eurovision 2019 Entry

Wait, Switzerland is one of the odds leaders at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest? How did that happen?

Oh. Hello there.

Luca Hänni won Deutschland sucht den Superstar, the German version of Pop Idol, when he was 17. His first single “Don’t Think About Me” was a number one hit in Switzerland, Germany, and Austria and he’s gone on to have chart success in his home country. He co-wrote “She Got Me” at a Swiss songwriting camp and was an internal selection.

Given how Eurovision has been going for Switzerland in the past 12 years, you can see the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation hearing “She Got Me,” cancelling any plans for a national final and sending Luca straight through. “WE GOT A LIVE ONE,” they yelled, running around the halls of their Bern headquarters and high-fiving each other and then eating a metric ton of traditional Swiss foods to celebrate.

“She Got Me” is a delectable blend of “Fuego” and “Lie to Me” wrapped up in Serhat’s disco suit from Eurovision 2016. It’s a lot of fun, and if you want to dance along, Luca has got you covered. Maybe Switzerland is trying a little to hard to make “She Got Me” into this year’s Eurovision sensation, but as we said, it’s been a while since they’ve had an entry this good. We don’t blame them for being a bit excited, because we are too.

Switzerland’s Eurovision 2018 Entry

Let they who are without Sinplus cast “Stones” to Lisbon. Here is Switzerland’s representative for Eurovision, Zibbz.

Corinne and Stee Gfeller are siblings who founded Zibbz in 2008. They divide their time between Los Angeles and their home country and starred in a reality show for a few years on the now-defunct Swiss network Joiz. They’ve had two top 20 albums on the Swiss charts and their song “One Shot” was the official song of the 2012 Unihockey World Cup.

Zibbz have described themselves as a “trash-pop indie rock band” who “combine their love of fun, innovation, and toy instruments to create a new sound and stage presence that has been viewed as unique and the next ‘big thing’ to hit the airwaves and everyone’s ear drums.”

Which is interesting since “Stones” struck us as a kinda bland blues rock album track.

To be fair, we feel bad ragging on “Stones.” The song’s lyrics are about online bullying and they resonate with us at a time when interaction on the internet seems to be increasingly tetchy.

So let’s focus on the positives: Corinne has a gravelly, raspy singing voice and a snarly, camera-friendly intensity. We liked how Zibbz stayed on brand by incorporating their logo into their staging. And the Gfellers just seem like fun, lovely people.

All of which makes us sad we don’t like the song more. It’s fine. That’s all. We really wish they had brought the toy instruments.

By the way, from now on, can we call the action of singing while banging on a drum with one hand Sebaltering?

Switzerland’s Eurovision 2017 Entry

Swittzerland has selected Timebelle’s “Apollo” as its Eurovision entry for 2017.

Timebelle are singer Miruna Manescu and multi-instrumentalist Emanuel Daniel Andriescu from Romania and drummer Samuel Forster from Switzerland. They take their name from Bern’s Zytglogge clock tower. They met while studying at the Bern University of the Arts and they first vied for Switzerland’s Eurovision spot in 2015 with their song “Singing About Love.”

“Apollo” is a better song than “Singing About Love,” so Switzerland has that going for it. On the other hand, Switzerland sent a similar song to “Apollo” last year, which you will note finished last in Semifinal Two.

Plus, the first line of the song is “Like a bullet in my chest, you’re written, bound and etched forever in my mind.” I mean, we try not to harp on bad English lyrics anymore, but a bullet in your chest is nothing like having someone written, bound and etched forever in your mind. There are two entirely different surgical procedures involved.

Die Entscheidungsshow opened with host Sven Epiney fantasizing about Switzerland winning Eurovision. It may be too early in the season to make predictions, but we don’t expect “Apollo” to be making his dreams come true.

Eurovision 2016 Round-Up: President’s Day Edition

These are busy times in the Lemurs household, making it difficult for us to write about the National Finals results on a regular basis. Rather than skip out on the Eurovision season altogether, we decided to do a round-up of what has happened around Europe up until now.

The most interesting (if not exciting) thing so far is what happened in Italy. This year’s Sanremo winners, Stadio, turned down the invitation to represent Italy in May’s Grand Prix. The day after Sanremo ended, Italian broadcaster Rai announced that they gave the ticket to Stockholm to runner up Francesca Michielin. It was not quite as dramatic as Germany’s schlagerfiasco last year, but trust the Italians to be better prepared than the Germans to handle this kind of situation.

(Wait, did I just say that?)

Francesca has not confirmed what song she will be performing at Eurovision (although presumably she would go with her Sanremo entry “Nessun Grado Di Separazione”), but plenty of other countries have their entries locked up:

Continue reading “Eurovision 2016 Round-Up: President’s Day Edition”

Switzerland’s Eurovision 2015 Entry

Mélanie René will represent Switzerland at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest with “Time to Shine”:

It is not entirely dissimilar to “Warrior.” Or to “Warrior.” It is better than both of them, to be sure: René is a better singer than Georgia’s Nina Sublatti or Malta’s Amber.

My biggest problem with “Time to Shine” is that it is called “Time to Shine.” Shine is one of those words that show up constantly at Eurovision: see “Shine” (Russia, 2014), “Shine” (Austria, 2013), “Shine” (Georgia 2010), “Shine” (Netherlands 2009), and, indeed, “Time to Shine” (Lithuanian preselection, 2013). If you have a song with lyrics constructed of greeting card platitudes, you can seal it in an envelope marked “Shine” and send it off to Eurovision. I’ll just toss it in the recycling bin where it belongs.

Switzerland’s Eurovision 2014 Entry

Before nightly sign-off, many PBS stations in the U.S. used to run short weekly videos on naked eye astronomy hosted by Jack Horkheimer, the executive director of the Miami Space Transit Planetarium at the Miami Museum of Science. The bits were surprisingly educational, but eccentric. Horkheimer, or as he preferred to be called: the “Star Hustler” (later he renamed himself “Star Gazer”), had a brash style similar to Rip Taylor, at odds with his subject matter and the mellowness of the late night hour. Here’s a clip of the “Star Gazer” for the week of February 1, 2010. Fittingly, it’s about the Belt of Orion, a hunter.

The music underscoring this and every “Star Gazer” show was “Arabesque #1” by Claude Debussy performed by Isao Tomita. It’s an ambient interpretation with melody performed by…are you ready for this?…whistling.

Which brings us to 2014, Switzerland, and Eurovision. After what can only be described as a meager selection, the Swiss have decided on Sebalter and “Hunter of Stars” as its song for Eurovision 2014.

“Hunter of Stars” is an upbeat bluegrass jig. It’s got a fiddle and banjo, and Sebalter whistles at various points throughout the song. There’s an agreeable melody, but it has a crowded English lyric and Sebalter’s live vocals were ropey at Die Grosse Entscheidungsshow. This song would be good fun at a local music festival, however there’s not much here that merits attention on an arena stage. Once again it seems probable that the Swiss will struggle do well at Eurovision.

Jack Horkheimer passed away in 2010 at the age of 72. Eurovision.tv reports that Sebalter was inspired to write this song during a several months journey in the U.S. So I suppose it’s possible, but I don’t really care whether Sebalter was familiar with his work or not. I for one will never listen to “Hunter of Stars” without being reminded of PBS late nights, Tomita’s version of “Arabesque #1,” and the “Star Gazer.”

As Jack used to say: “Keep looking up!”