The Eurovision Lemur Seal of Approval: Birds

Now that I’ve finished my analysis of the 2021 Eurovision Song Contest, I can turn my attention to other projects that I’ve been dying to do for the Eurovision Lemur blog.

In previous years, I’ve awarded the Eurovision Lemur Seal of Approval to my favorite Eurovision songs of all time. I bestow a seal because that sounds a lot fancier than me just saying, “OMIGARSH I love this song so much!”

I’ve already added Måneskin’s Eurovision-winning song “Zitti e buoni” to the pantheon page, and over the next few weeks I’ll be taking a look at other songs that are still in heavy rotation at my house.

It seems appropriate to start with something from the most recent host of the Song Contest, The Netherlands. Going into Eurovision 2013, the country had failed to make it out of the Semifinals eight years in a row. So Dutch broadcaster TROS asked multi-platinum selling artist Anouk to help change their fortunes.

Anouk’s offering, “Birds,” was a track on her album Sad Singalong Songs, the title of which tells you a lot about the lyrical content of the single. The song captures with melodramatic flair all the heartache and depression that comes from the end of a relationship. “Birds falling down the rooftops/Out of the sky like raindrops” are quite possibly the most bleak lyrics I have ever heard at Eurovision.

Yet “Birds” is hauntingly beautiful. The lush orchestrations carry an eerie power to them, perfectly accentuating Anouk’s smoky vocal tone and morose lyrics. If gothic horror pop is a musical genre, then “Birds” is a prime example.

The song could be relentlessly dour, but glimmers of hope flicker throughout. “Birds” ends on a major note, and its bridge is sung by a children’s choir. Rather than being creepy, the choir’s vocals instead sound like the clouds are beginning to lift. Of course, the bridge leads right back into the chorus, so let’s not get our hopes up too much.

The live version at the 2013 Song Contest replaces the children with adult singers, but rather than diminishing “Birds,” the switch infuses it with an uncanny quality that makes it even stronger. This is one of those rare moments where I prefer the live version to the recorded one, because the vocal arrangement is so much more opulent and powerful.

Anouk led The Netherlands to the Finals and finished ninth overall. She also kicked off a new era for the Dutch at Eurovision. TROS merged with AVRO the following year to form AVROTROS and celebrated by finishing second with The Common Linnets’ “Calm After the Storm.” It would take them just five more years to get that long-awaited fifth win with Duncan Laurence’s “Arcade.” They’ve put out some quality entries since 2013, but Anouk’s song still resonates with me the most all these years later.

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…

The Netherlands’ Eurovision 2021 Entry

The views I present in this review of Jeangu Macrooy’s song for Europe do not necessarily represent those of my employers. They definitely don’t represent those of a certain ex-president.

There is something infinitely bad-ass about Jeangu taking his second opportunity to represent The Netherlands at Eurovision with a song that turns the history of the Dutch colonization of Suriname into an empowering anthem.

Frustratingly, but not unexpectedly, a song called “Birth of a New Age” has gotten some jack-assed Old Age commentary from people who should know better than to “accidentally” mishear the non-English lyrics and from other people clinging to an idea of history that focuses on some sense of national identity based on past “glory” rooted entirely on conquest and/or exploitation.

On the other hand, part of the new age we are beginning to live in involves artists like Jeangu confronting history and listeners facing that history without getting defensive, then spreading their understanding to the next generation of people who are one further step removed from the old way of thinking.

It takes more than a song to end years of prejudicial thinking, and trust me, it’s easy to get complacent when you see your country take strides towards a more equal and just society only to completely reverse course and install into power someone who openly wants to preserve class, gender, and racial divisions. The old ways do not get swept away that easily, because decades of defensiveness and self-righteous anger don’t just melt away on Inauguration Day.

Listening to “Birth of a New Age” again the day after gawking at Belarus’s agitprop just reminds me that progress has been slow and painful. And I am one of the many people who is tired of that. We live in an age where we can accelerate progress and, frankly, we need to as the old guard resorts to historical tactics to hinder it.

“Birth of a New Age” is a gorgeous song, sparse yet lush, pulsating and progressive. It is unflinching and celebratory. And it is absolutely the right song for The Netherlands to present to the world at Eurovision this year.

(Also, let me just call myself out for being a bit hypocritical: I am someone who has engaged in a bit of “accidental” mishearing of non-English lyrics. I’m not proud of myself, but I am happy to have moved on from that. Between this and Jendrik’s song, I feel like I am developing into an empathetic human being.)

The Netherlands’ Eurovision 2020 Entry

The Netherlands are hosting Eurovision for the first time in 44 years, and they have asked Jeangu Macrooy to defend their crown.

Jeangru Macrooy is a singer from Suriname who made his name in The Netherlands with his first single “Gold,” which was featured in an advertisement for HBO. Jeangru performed it at TEDxMaastricht in 2016 and it is fantastic. He wrote his song for Europe “Grow” with his longtime collaborator Perquisite.

So, nothing says Eurovision a song about how it sucks to get older, right? If you’re in the market for a song about that, The Roop already have you covered. Maybe we’re just hurt that “Grow” cuts a little close to home when Jeangu and his backing vocalists sing, “The more I learn, the less I know.” That has been our motto when making Eurovision predictions on this site for the past decade.

As for the song itself, we like the bare vocal with the quiet organ underneath to start the song, and how each bar adds a bit more to build “Grow” up. It’s like the song itself is growing, which is pretty cool. And Jeangu is a commanding presence when he performs (which is why we’re linking above to his live performance on DWDD instead of the official video).

It’s a likable song with a meditative story to tell, but we’re not sure its amiability will translate to back-to-back wins for the host country. We see “Grow” as more of a summation of a seven year journey for The Netherlands, that started with Anouk’s “Birds” in 2013 and culminated with Duncan Laurence’s win last year with “Arcade.” They rethought their participation and found success by just offering up quality. They’ve grown as a Eurovision power and we hope their success continues.

The Netherlands’ Eurovision 2019 Entry

Lord, take me downtown.

Duncan Laurence competed on season five of The Voice of Holland under his birth name Duncan de Moor. He was on Ilse DeLange‘s team and was eliminated in the semifinals. He co-wrote “Arcade” with Swedish songwriter Joel Sjöö and Dutch songwriter Wouter Hardy.

“Arcade” is a gorgeous song, with a similar vibe to Kristian Kostov’s “Beautiful Mess.” It sounds like a modern pop take on a sea shanty, full of longing and heartache. Even if it isn’t immediately catchy, its melodies find their way into our heads, and they linger long after.

When “Arcade” was released, it immediately rocketed to the top of the betting odds and has stayed there ever since. We can’t decide if the buzz is based on the quality of the song or the quality of the official video or, within that, the quality of Duncan’s delicious, delicious ass. Maybe he needs to consult with Ivan about how to stage a Eurovision entry while naked.

We’re being facetious, of course. “Arcade” is a haunting song that lives up to the hype. Even if we are a bit annoyed by reports of Dutch cities already prepping their bids to host Eurovision 2020, we can’t deny that Duncan has given us a worthy contender.

The Netherlands’ Eurovision 2018 Entry

Waylon is back for another bite of the Eurovision apple. Here’s “Outlaw in ‘Em.”

You may remember Waylon from such Eurovision Song Contests as the one he nearly won in 2014, when he teamed up with Ilse DeLange as the Common Linnets with “Calm After the Storm.” It finished second at Eurovision and turned into a surprise summer hit after the Contest.

Listening to “Outlaw in ‘Em,” we are struck by how much it resembles what we hear on American country radio these days. It’s got a powerful guitar riff, a head-bobbing rhythm, and a spot-on arrangement with steel guitar. “Outlaw in ‘Em” also tips its hat to ’80’s hard rock. On vocal, Waylon gives us twang with a touch of Axl Rose.

Acts like Guns N’ Roses, Mötley Crüe, and Bon Jovi are surprisingly big influences on modern country. In fact, “Outlaw in ‘Em” prompted a lengthy discussion in our household about that time we saw Jason Aldean in concert and he did a “Paradise City/Sweet Child of Mine” medley. The crowd loved it. We did not. It wasn’t so much the choice of songs as his note-for-note cover brought absolutely nothing new to them. And we were in the front row, right up against the stage: He could see our displeasure.

Anyway, Waylon co-wrote “Outlaw in ‘Em” with Ilya Toshinskiy and Jim Beavers. That’s some serious Nashville weight being thrown around right there. Ilya Toshinskiy is a well-regarded session musician (primarily acoustic guitar, banjo, and mandolin), with a lengthy list of credits with country’s most marketable artists, like Toby Keith, Keith Urban, Blake Shelton, Carrie Underwood, and Trace Adkins. He has twice won the ACM Studio Recording Award for Specialty Instrument(s) Player of the Year, in 2013 and 2015.

Meanwhile, Jim Beavers is an in-demand Nashville songwriter with dozens of songs to his credit. He’s had nine number ones on the American country music charts from stars like Luke Bryan, Tim McGraw, Dierks Bentley, and Josh Turner, among others.  The man knows his stuff: here’s a webinar he did for the Nashville Songwriters Association International on “The Art of Co-Writing.”

You think Eurovision is a small world? Take a look at Nashville some time. Here’s a fun example:  Jim Beavers co-wrote, sang backup, and played guitar on Toby Keith’s seminal classic “Red Solo Cup” (and has a cameo in the music video). Ilya Toshinskiy was a studio musician on that album, Clancy’s Tavern.

All this to say, “Outlaw in ‘Em” is the real deal. When country music shows up at Eurovision or the national heats, it is typically pastiche or a bad facsimile. The Common Linnets brought authenticity, but it was a songwriter’s song. It’s a delight to see a country song that is both authentic and current showing up at Eurovision.

The Netherlands’ Eurovision 2017 Entry

OG3NE from the Netherlands are going to lead fans in Kyiv through “Lights and Shadows” at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest.

OG3NE are a pop trio made up the three Vol sisters, Lisa and fraternal twins Amy and Shelley. They represented Netherlands at the Junior Eurovision Song Contest in 2007 and won the fifth season of The Voice of Holland. Their song “Lights and Shadows” was written by their dad Rick Vol and Dutch musician and songwriter and boyfriend of Shelley Vol, Rory de Kievit.

When “Lights and Shadows” was released, more than a few people noted how much it reminded them of Wilson Phillips’ “Hold On.” So your assessment of “Lights and Shadows” will depend entirely your opinion of Wilson Phillips’ venerable hit. If you enjoy tight three-part harmonies and generically encouraging lyrics, then “Lights and Shadows” is an unqualified success. However, if the first strains of watery synth that heralds the start of “Hold On” makes your teeth start to ache and the trite platitudes only encourage you to hold on until you can afford to buy custom voodoo dolls of everyone who was involved in the writing and production of the song, then “Lights and Shadows” is not so much experienced as endured.

We fall into the latter camp, so all we can do is pray that they at least take staging inspiration from Moje 3’s “Ljubav je svuda.” The original version, not the Dex version. That would help.

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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The Netherlands’ Eurovision 2015 Entry

Building on the new normal of the 9-month Eurovision season, Netherlands today debuted its Song for Europe, Trijntje Oosterhuis and “Walk Along.”

Trijntje (pronounced: Traincha) Oosterhuis first got onto our radar nearly a decade ago, when we were in our “see the old crooners before they die” phase. In a span of 5 years, we made pilgrimages to see concerts from Andy Williams (in Branson, Missouri), Jack Jones (Elgin, Illinois), Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme (Red Bank, New Jersey), Tony Bennett (Chicago), and Paul Anka (Atlantic City). These are folks who have made careers covering of the Great American Songbook, Broadway showtunes, and easy listening standards. The more ambitious have attempted to make themselves relevant for younger generations, to varying degrees of artistic and commercial success. But I digress.

Somewhere in that period, Trijntje Oosterhuis released an album of Burt Bacharach covers and it was fabulous. Here was an artist in her prime capturing the spirit of the “beautiful music” of the ’60s in a way that was modern, relatable and not at all annoying (I’m looking at you, Diana Krall). Our own generation, taking the baton from the previous.

So when earlier this year Netherlands announced Oosterhuis as their internal Eurovision pick, we were pleased mightily. And while we were happy, we were also a bit wary. Here’s a jazz singer, a standards vocalist (she was signed to Blue Note, for pete’s sake). Sure she can sing, but will she have a pop song that’s a fit? Will she come over well on stage and be able to appeal to a broad audience?

With the presentation of “Walk Along” I’m not sure that either of those concerns have been addressed.

“Walk Along” was written by Anouk. It is decidedly pop, of a decidedly bland theme, and is perfectly immediate. It feels like a song you might hear on an episode of Nashville or playing in a Walmart somewhere (I mean that in a good way). Oosterhuis does what she can with it. Worth noting, Anouk sang backup on the recorded version linked to here. The song is good, but Oosterhuis is better than this song. I found myself enjoying “Walk Along” in the way that someone enjoys a fine vodka mixed with cranberry juice. Yes, I enjoy the cocktail, but I would much rather drink a high-end vodka straight. There’s just one other problem…

Diction. I found myself ruminating on repeated the emphasis of the “yi” sound in the refrain, “Why-yi-yi-yi-yi”. There’s a disconnect between the use of the harsh, forward “i” sound in the chorus, and the rounder vowel that sits further back when we use the word “why” in real life. And while this may seem nitpicky, when it is the primary focus of the chorus, the thing that is emphasized and repeated, and the thing that sticks in your head after the song is over, it’s annoying. The issue is rooted in the lyric craft, and I don’t think it can be softened in execution. I’m not sure this song will wear well over time.

To cleanse the aftertaste of blatant pandering to mainstream adult contemporary pop audiences, here’s Trijntje Oosterhuis’ version of Bacharach’s “Walk on By” with Leonardo Amuedo on guitar. For songs about walking away, I’d much rather listen to this instead.

The Netherlands’ Eurovision 2014 Entry

In 2013, Netherlands was represented by one of our all-time favorite Eurovision entries, “Birds” by Anouk. It was the first song from Netherlands to qualify for the Eurovision Final since 2004 and finished in the top 10. A hard act to follow, no doubt.

This year’s Dutch entry is no slouch. The Common Linnets are a country duo comprised of Ilse DeLange and Waylon. Isle DeLange has one of those age-old showbiz stories. She had the talent to make it in Nashville–she was signed to a major country label, recorded albums in Nashville, and Alison Krauss even sang backing vocals on “When You Put It Like That,” from DeLange’s second album. But for whatever reason the stars never quite aligned for her on Music Row. So, she went back to the Netherlands and subsequently found fame and fortune. These days, DeLange is a multi-platinum-selling artist and one of the judges on The Voice of Holland. Waylon is a bit earlier in his career but already has a platinum album and three Dutch Top 40 hits to his credit.

Together they have a pop country style akin to Lady Antebellum. Here is “Calm After the Storm”:

Right before the song was released, the Common Linnets performed an acoustic version of “Calm After the Storm” on the Dutch talk show De Wereld Draait Door, which did not necessarily give me high hopes. What plays well at The Bluebird isn’t going to play well on a big Eurovision stage. In other words, it was a bit dull.

The recorded version is more lush and probably closer to how “Calm After the Storm” will sound in Copenhagen. But I’m still a little concerned that the Common Linnets will be a bit too low key when going up against the more bombastic ballads that are in the second half of the first Semi.  On the other hand, I have to admit that after “Mother” and “Maybe” and “Wild Soul,” a nice straightforward country tune might be just what I need.