We don’t want to jinx this because it’s only February, but it looks like Ukraine has picked their song for this year’s Eurovision Song Contest.
Go_A formed in the early 2010s with the idea of combining traditional folk music with electronic music. They had their first hit when their song “Веснянка” was named Best Track in Ukraine and entered heavy rotation on KISS-FM. (Does every country have a radio station called KISS-FM?) Singer Kateryna Pavlenko studied folklore when she attended university and she and bandmate Taras Shevchenko used a traditional song she found in her research as the foundation for “Solovey.”
The first thing we thought we when we saw Go_A’s initial performance in the Vidbir semifinals was, “This is what Tulia was going for at last year’s Eurovision, except less metal and more Afro Celt Sound System.” Needless to say, we’re fans. Kateryna’s vocal is nasal and shrill in the best way possible. Her tone and her performance give “Solovey” a sense of being both traditional and otherworldly. It’s sort of like the whole of Ukraine’s musical history appeared like a ghost on stage before us.
Go_A are uncompromising in their presentation, with the only nod towards Eurovision convention being their guitar that shoots sparks. Their roots are firmly planted; you can take their vision or leave it, but they won’t let you ignore them. Hey, it’s worked for Ukraine before.
For some reason, Ukraine has been on our minds a lot lately. Not really sure why.
But that’s okay, because Ukraine has always been one of our favorite Eurovision forces. Their songs are usually good fun or at least interesting. Their performances tend to be overstaged in an entertaining way. And failing all that, they can be counted on to bring way too much drama to their national selection process. And sometimes to other countries’ national selection processes.
All of which brings us to Ani Lorak. She was widely expected to win Ukraine’s national final in 2005 with “A Little Shot of Love.” But after weeks of semifinals, broadcaster NTU threw four wild card songs into the final at the last minute. Among the new entries was GreenJolly’s “Razom nas bahato, nas ne podolaty,” which had served as the unofficial anthem of the Orange Revolution. GreenJolly won, leaving Ani second in the table.
It may have hurt at the time, but let’s be honest, we don’t want to live in an alternate history where “A Little Shot of Love” went to Eurovision and “Shady Lady” didn’t.
What is it about “Shady Lady” that still delights us over a decade later? Let’s start with the orchestration. “Shady Lady” is propelled by synthesized strings that build and release tension throughout the song. It evokes lush disco-era orchestrations without sounding dated or pastiche.
To be sure, the verse foregoes the orchestral filigree for a bass-heavy grinding rhythm punctuated by beeps that Lorak and her back-up dancers used to full effect at the Song Contest.
But it’s really all about the strings for us. Our favorite moment in “Shady Lady” comes when the beat drops after the bridge and Lorak sings “Shady. Lady. Are you. Ready.” Those strings zoom back in to kick the song back into full gear. That still makes us tingly.
Lorak fully embodies and inhabits the lyrics. Even though she didn’t write them (Eurovision stalwart Karen Kavaleryan did), she makes them her own. “Baby, don’t call me baby” is one of our favorite Eurovision lyrics.
“Shady Lady” finished second at the 2008 Song Contest, behind Dima Bilan’s “Believe.” We have frequently said on this blog that it’s the best song that never won Eurovision. Even though we’ll posit from time to time that another song has replaced it, we always seem to come back to our original position.
(Though we are ready to say “Soldi” has claimed that title at last. Don’t tell Ani.)
Usually we don’t have to do this type of disclaimer on our Eurovision blog, but any opinions we present in this post do not necessarily reflect those of our employers.
You see, Ukraine had planned to enter Eurovision this year. They held the Vidbir national final and everything. MARUV won with her totally awesome “Siren Song,” a pop banger that had the potential to elevate her to Ani Lorak-level heights with the Eurovision fan base.
Like many Song Contest fans, we followed along with Vidbir aided by the live translations provided by Andy Mikheev from ESCKAZ on Twitter. So like many Song Contest fans, we were taken aback when Andy tweeted that host Serhiy Prytula pointed out that the mother of sister act Anna Maria is in the Crimean government and that Jamala criticized them for not answering correctly about whether or not Crimea is Ukrainian and that Jamala told MARUV that “it is a thing of consience [sic] not to perform in Russia” after discussing MARUV’s plans to tour Russia after Eurovision and that after MARUV said music unites people, Serhiy asked, “if there was anyone after her performance in Russia who said he will put guns down and will not go to fight in Donbass?”
No wonder that fellow judge Andriy “Verka Serduchka” Danylko described the discussions like this:
#Eurovision#Ukraine#EuroSTB2019 Andriy says the situation is like in Soviet party meeting, when someone is accused in anti-Soviet stand. He thinks if he was on their place, he would just left the stage now after all these questions.
Now, discussions of politics and national identity are not new to Vidbir’s judging. Jamala’s performance of “1944” back in 2016 included a detailed discussion by the judging panel (which included Ruslana and Andriy Danylko) about how political a song it was.
Maybe it shouldn’t be a shock, given that Jamala won Eurovision with a song about Crimea, that she would bring up Crimea during the judging of a Eurovision Song Contest entry. I mean, other than a fact that this was a show selecting a Eurovision Song Contest entry. But politics and Eurovision have been intertwined in Ukraine for quite some time, from Ruslana’s career in parliament to GreenJolly’s entry being an anthem of the Orange Revolution to, again, their most recent winner.
ESCKAZ and ESCXtra both cover the aftermath in detail, but in short, after reviewing the contract she was expected to sign to represent Ukraine, MARUV decided it was not worth it. UA:PBC offered the spot to second place act Freedom Jazz and third place act Kazka, and both rejected the opportunity as well. Meanwhile, private broadcaster STB, who runs Vidbir on behalf of the underfunded EBU member UA:PBC, cast doubts on whether or not they would continue to manage the national selection. As Eric Graf put it after Ukraine announced its withdrawal:
Yep. They managed to burn their main source of funding and spook the entire Ukrainian music industry in one fell swoop. That'll show those Russians!
We in the Eurovision community may be scratching our heads, but if we are honest with ourselves, everything that happened during and after Vidbir is not that surprising. Russia and Ukraine relations have deteriorated since the annexation of Crimea and tensions flared up between the two countries as recently as this past November.
Not long after the annexation, I read an article written by The Economist’s Moscow Correspondent Noah Sneider called “The Empire Strikes Back.” It’s a lengthy and often tough read, but it provided me with a lot of insight into the history of Russia and Ukraine. It also reminded me that as big as Eurovision is, it is just a small part of a greater history being played out.
I realize that’s not a deep insight, but people can spend their careers analyzing Russia and Ukraine, and I just came to Vidbir for the divas who slay. This is best sense I can make of it all, and now I can move on to making fun of Denmark’s entry.
Kylo Ren has a favorite to win Eurovision this year!
Melovin won the sixth season of X Factor Ukraine. He was the public’s choice to defend Ukraine’s Eurovision title last year with his song “Wonder,” but despite finishing first in the televote, he was spiked by the jury (that included Jamala and Andriy “Verka Serduchka”Danylko), which gave O.Torvald the win.
Of course, there usually is no glory in representing your country the year after it wins, as The Makemakes can attest. Speaking of pianos on fire, we like how Melovin subverted that trope by playing piano on a flaming riser at Vidbir.
Anyway, Melovin definitely has a look. The goth Jedi costume and the one colored contact lens certainly captures attention. Given his styling, we were expecting him to perform some emo rock, but “Under the Ladder” is more of a Slavic top 40 pop song. It’s surprisingly accessible, with a catchy hook and a propulsive beat that makes it as memorable as its singer. Lovelorn teenage girls dressed in black are going to swoon.
For the second time in its history, Ukraine will defend its Eurovision title with a rock band. Here is O.Torvald with “Time.”
O.Torvald got their start in 2005 and have since released seven albums, including last year’s #нашiлюдивсюди, which even in Cyrillic is kind of a lame album title. As was the case last year, Ukraine’s national final Vidbir came down to a tie with two songs: “Time” and Tayanna’s “I Love You” both finished with 10 points. And like last year, the tie was broken by the televote: “Time” finished second with the public while “I Love You” finished third. (Are you reading this, Spain?)
The staging for “Time” is neat. The band members stand on volcanos with digital clocks bursting out of their chests. There’s lots of fire. Speaking as a perpetual teenaged metal fan, I dig it. Plus, it ticks all the boxes for a song representing the host country: it’s solid, it’s well-staged, it’s not embarrassing and it guarantees Ukraine won’t have to host the Song Contest again in 2018.
All of the Eurovision Song Contest entries decided in the past couple of days have the ring of familiarity to them. Two artists make their return to the Grand Prix, and two others have tried to represent their respective nations in years past. Let’s try and relive some magic.
Bosnia & Herzegovina: Dalal & Deen featuring Ana Rucner and Jala – “Ljubav Je”
Bosnia & Herzegovina returns to Eurovision with an all-star cast of performers, including Song Contest veteran Deen. “Ljubav Je” is a standard Balkan ballad with a hip hop twist, thanks to Jala. We love how they staged the song presentation: it looked like Dalal and Deen were singing about the Romeo & Juliet-like love story between Jala and Ana Rucner. Will strings melt a hip hopper’s heart? Will rhymes be the hammer to ring the chimes of the cellist’s soul? Tune into SVT in May to find out.
Cyprus: Minus One – “Alter Ego”
Minus One are an internal selection. They vied for the chance to represent Cyprus last year and their song was one of our favorites from the national final season even if it was called “Shine.” They teamed up with the prolific Thomas G:Son to shred the hell out of their entry. It’s rocking good stuff and we’re looking forward their performance in Stockholm.
Iceland: Greta Salóme – “Hear Them Calling”
It seems that Greta Salóme took notice of all that fancy stuff Måns Zelmerlöw did at the Song Contest last year and did her own goth take on it. It’s alright, we guess, but the Lemur household is of the opinion that if Iceland was going to send a Greta song, they should have picked “Á ný,” which she wrote for Elísabet Ormslev. We’re not disappointed, Iceland, just mad.
Ukraine: Jamala – “1944”
Because this is Ukraine, we’re not entirely confident saying that Jamala is representing her country in Stockholm with “1944.” (Heck, she may not be entirely confident either, given her past experience with the Ukraine national selection process.) This is a song about Jamala’s great-grandmother, who was deported with other Crimean Tatars to Central Asia by Joseph Stalin in 1944. Andriy “Verka Serduchka” Danylko noted during Ukraine’s Lord of the Rings-length national final there is concern that it could be seen as political – certain parallels with contemporary times and all that. It’s probably just Ukraine being oversensitive and we are sure that the Russians will not complain one bit. Not one iota. Nope. Anyway, it’s a very effective song, and we could see it doing very well at the Song Contest this year.
The 2014 Eurovision season kicked off with Ukraine’s National Final on December 21, 2013. Twenty entries vied for the chance to represent Ukraine in Copenhagen and Maria Yaremchuk was given the opportunity with her song “Tick-Tock.”
“We belong to each other/Like a sister to a brother” is already the leading contender for worst lyric at the 2014 Song Contest because EEWW.
Yaremchuk kind of sang like Britney Spears and was kind of styled like Rihanna. The song kind of sounded like Serebro and kind of had the same name as a Ke$ha song. It was kind of good, in a disposable pop sort of way, but I have a sneaking suspicion Ukraine is going to need all the staging theatrics it can muster to snag a top 10 finish this year. (Those back-up dancers can help…)
It’s taken us a while to write up our review of Ukraine’s submission for this year’s Eurovision Song Contest. Part of the delay was holiday-related travel, but part of it was the amount of work that goes into reviewing a Ukrainian entry. First, you have to listen to the song. Then, you have to review all of the Eurovision news sites to make sure that no controversies have erupted since the song was selected. Then, you have to do background research into the performer singing the song since she might have been screwed over in a Ukraine selection show in years past, and you want to make sure you mention that in the review. Only after all that do you actually review the song.
But we kid Ukraine.
Anyway, Zlata Ognevich is slated to represent Ukraine this year with the song “Gravity.” You may remember Ognevich from such selection shows as Ukraine’s 2011 national final, which ended in controversy when allegations of voter fraud arose after Mika Newton won with her song “Angels.”
“Gravity” is not entirely dissimilar to Georgia’s 2010 entry “Shine,” but nowhere near as interesting. It starts off quiet, but quickly crescendos to a peak and stays there, with no further development. It just sits there; it feels like the number in a musical where the entire cast just stands in a line in front of the audience and sings their hearts out without really doing anything but standing. The “Seasons of Love” number, if you will.
Like this song, my review is going nowhere, so like the song, I’m just going to end it abruptly.
I’m conflicted about national finals where more than 10 songs compete. On one hand, it’s a good test for the larger ESC, forcing an act to stand out from a pack of 25 songs. On the other hand, it makes for a very long show.
The Ukrainian national final presented us with no fewer than 21 acts. There were a fair number of good options to choose from, but we had to wade through some pretty low moments to get there. In the end, the Ukrainian winner was the only entry to receive a standing ovation from the jury. Gaitana, with “Be My Guest,” won the jury vote and took second in the public vote.
We’re happy that Ukraine will be bringing some fun to this year’s contest. Obviously it’s a much more disco-friendly, gay dance club anthem than Beauty and the Beast’s “Be Our Guest.” (Sorry, still got Disney on the mind). Gaitana reminds us of Patti LaBelle with her big vocals and strong stage presence, and we are confident that she will hold her own in front of a big crowd. We are also greatly entertained by the Gene-Kelly-as-Chocolat-inspired, trumpet playing backup dancers with the Phantom of the Opera masks. Let’s hope those guys stick around for the big show.
With all that said, does “Be Our Guest” stand a chance for a good result in the contest? Well, in recent years Ukraine has had far more chaotic selection processes than this and landed in the Top 10. Ukraine has a fine Eurovision tradition, neighbors who vote for them, and, above all, they seem to know how to stage a performance that will land with international audiences. This year, the raw goods are there once again. Is this a finalist? Probably. But is this our next winner? Probably not. The song is fun, but in the end it is a dance anthem. While dance songs are popular with Eurovision fans (us included), historically they have underperformed at the contest.
Ukraine had some other good entries this year we want to call out. Despite going 3rd, Max Barskih caught our attention early on with “Dance” (which is pretty much what you imagine it would be). Turns out we weren’t the only ones; he finished 2nd overall.
We also liked Renata with “Love in sunlight rays.” Renata represented Ukraine at the Junior Eurovision contest in 2008, and this year she was competing with a song written by Alyosha. Renata finished first in the public televote with her dewy ballad, but her bid was spiked by the judges. She finished 7th overall.
Finally, Show No. 1 winners The Incredibles put on a polished performance with “Just a Dream,” featuring some well-tuned boy band vocals and effective visuals with a scrim. They finished 4th overall.
NOTE: Because this is Ukraine, the status of this post is set to “constant state of flux.” Seriously, we’ve already edited this post 15 times…
We were going to watch Ukraine’s national final this weekend, but after watching clips of all 19 songs on the Eurovision live stream, we decided it was a safe one to skip. Normally we’re huge fans of Ukraine’s ESC entries, but nothing stood out to us. Even Anastasia Prikhodko, who represented Russia in 2009, entered a bland Ladytron knock-off that was livened up only by the weird plastic thing she was wearing as some sort of breastplate:
Ultimately, voters opted to send to Eurovision Mika Newton and her song “Angel”:
It’s fine, I guess. Maybe our expectations are too high now: we were spoiled by Verka, Ani Lorak, and Svetlana Loboda. Even last year, despite all the mess with the selection, they still went with Alyosha, who took a tuneless dirge of a song and turned it into a top 10 finish. Mika sings “Angel” well, but it’s not a number that really moves me. It exists in that bland middle of the pack, slightly better than “Na Inat” and “C’est Ma Vie” and slightly worse than “The Secret is Love” and “Change.”
It’s Ukraine, so it’s going to get out of the semis, but I would be surprised if this reaches the top 10.
UPDATE: It’s like Ukraine felt bad that we were unable to cover the various controversies over their 2010 entry selection last year and they are giving us a second chance. According to esctoday, Ukraine’s national broadcaster NTU announced that they will be holding a new national final on March 3 due to alleged voting fraud during this past weekend’s national selection. The top three vote-getters (Zlata Ognevich, Jamala and Mika Newton) will perform their respective songs again, and only tele-voting will count.
Of course, Mika apparently asked Ukraine’s organizers if she could sing a different song at Eurovision, so even if the voting fraud controversy hadn’t been raised, this post was probably going to be null and void anyway.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Because it’s Ukraine. Jamala has announced she will not participate in the new final, because it’s totally rigged. Is Anastasia available?
YET ANOTHER UPDATE: Remember that new final? The one Jamala pulled out of? Zlata Ognevich pulled out as well, leaving Mika Newton as Ukraine’s representative. Of course, Ukraine network Pershy Natsionalny said that after a recount of the votes, Mika still had enough to win, so they declared her the winner anyway. Which nullifies the other two updates. Although Mika still wants to go to the ESC with a different song. Which means the main body of this post may still be null and void. Sigh.
FINAL (?) UPDATE: Ukrainian organizers have announced that Mika Newton will sing “Angels” at the ESC. So you can ignore all the updates.
Generally, it’s not our thing to comment on remarks or press conferences, but on this little gem we couldn’t resist. At the press conference, Mika said the following:
“I have a lot of new songs written especially for me in America… <snip>If we had millions, we would not be interested in the Eurovision. We would have filmed the expensive video, paid for the rotations in Europe – that is how we would like to achieve popularity in Europe. And now financially ready to support me are not Ukrainians but Americans.”
Umm…as an American, I feel like I speak for many here when I say, “Oooh sure, good luck with that.”