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 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!

Ukraine’s Eurovision 2021 Entry

No Ukraine drama this year: Go_A were chosen to represent their home country at Eurovision this year after winning Vidbir last year, but being robbed by circumstance of their chance to go to Rotterdam.

Now to copy last year’s bio: 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. 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,” their Vidbir-winning song last year.

Their song this year, “ШУМ” (“Shum,” which means “noise” in English), is more of the same, only very much more so. Go_A are not softening any edges to make their song more palatable for general audiences. Although to be fair, I don’t think even they were expecting this to their song for Europe:

“ШУМ” is cacophonous, with shrill wind instrument and electronic riffs accenting Kateryna’s piercing vocal. It is stark and harsh, and it is also one of the more successful attempts to combine traditional music with electronic elements that I’ve ever heard. Most of the time, the traditional elements get watered down and polished to a new age sheen. Not the case here, thankfully.

I wonder how polarizing an entry it will be. Tulia represented Poland in 2019 with their white voice-meets-heavy metal “Fire of Love,” which I thought was a fun way to make their traditional vocal styling easier to take in. Then they didn’t make it out of their semi, so that shows what I know. Maybe Go_A’s more direct approach will pay bigger dividends.

Regardless, I am really excited by “ШУМ” and can’t wait to see what they do with it in May. I don’t know if the official video will offer any staging hints, though I do dig the coronavirus at Chernobyl vibe.

Ukraine’s Eurovision 2020 Entry

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.

The Eurovision Lemurs Seal of Approval: Shady Lady

Eurovision Lemurs Seal of ApprovalFor 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.)

Ukraine’s Eurovision 2019 Entry That Almost Was

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.

But there was just one problem: Russia.

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:

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:

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.

Ukraine’s Eurovision 2018 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.

Ukraine’s Eurovision 2017 Entry

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.

Eurovision 2016 Round-Up: St. Lucia’s Independence Day Edition

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.

Ukraine’s Eurovision 2014 Entry

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…)

Anyway, the guy in the hoodie was not impressed.