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…

United Kingdom’s Eurovision 2021 Entry

James Newman had one of the more quietly awesome songs slated to compete in Eurovision 2020. “My Last Breath” was the first song under the BBC’s partnership with the BMG record label. Although it fit into the United Kingdom’s Eurovision sound of recent years, it still felt like progress for a country that has struggled to compete in the past decade.

When I saw that the song title for this year’s entry, “Embers,” I thought to myself, “We’re going to be sticking in that solid middle ground, aren’t we?”

No. No, we are not.

“Embers” is brassy. I mean, in the sense that it has a lot of brass instruments on it. All of the brass instruments. No brass instruments in the United Kingdom were left unused. “Embers” has more brass than the Pentagon. It has so much brass that Martin Wallace needs to make a new edition of his Brass board game series called Brass: Settle, North Yorkshire. It’s got a lot of brass in it.

Now, I can’t tell at this point if my enjoyment of “Embers” has to do with the quality of the song or because James Newman seems like such a lovely bloke. Maybe it’s a combination of both? It is a little hokey, but I really don’t care because it’s so irrepressibly catchy. It hooks me in the same way Kungs vs Cookin’ on 3 Burners’ “This Girl” did. I am a sucker for brassy bops, I guess.

What I am enjoying the most out of this year’s Song Contest selection is the variety of ways everyone is addressing the post-pandemic world. Some folks are internal and self-reflective (see: Bulgaria and North Macedonia), while others are busting out and just dancing (see: Lithuania and Czech Republic). The United Kingdom falls into that second camp, and I love James Newman for it.

United Kingdom’s Eurovision 2020 Entry

The United Kingdom’s run of form at the Eurovision Song Contest in the last decade was not great. Their best result was 11th place with Blue’s “I Can” back in 2011, and they started and ended the 2010s with last place finishes.

When the BBC announced they were partnering up with BMG to internally select this year’s entry, we were intrigued. Our impression has been that the British music industry hasn’t been interested in bolstering the United Kingdom’s chances. We could be wrong about that, of course, but the fact that BMG’s participation was seen as a big deal confirmed that impression in our mind. So is this the moment where the UK turns a corner?

James Newman is a singer and songwriter who has penned songs for Kaiser Chiefs, Kesha, Guy Sebastian, and Toni Braxton. Oh, and his brother John Newman. He won a Brit Award as one of the authors of Rudimental’s 2013 single “Waiting All Night.” He has been a featured vocalist on a number of songs, most notably Armin van Buuren’s “Therapy,” which made it up to 26 on the Dutch Top 100 singles chart in 2018.

We have posited a couple of times before that the United Kingdom has settled on a certain sound for their Eurovision entries. It hasn’t been particularly successful, so at first listen, we were a bit surprised that “My Last Breath” fits snugly into that style.

Still, it’s a really good example of that sunny, inspirational pop sound. It does the strangest thing in the chorus: the word “breath” is isolated on the track and accentuated by James and the backing vocalists. It’s jarring at first, but it makes perfect sense in the context of the lyrics: it’s that last breath he’s giving you when you have nothing left. More to the point, we heard “BREATH – Whoa-oh-Oh-oh-ooh” just once and the chorus nestled comfortably into our heads.

Whenever we discuss Eurovision entries, we often ask ourselves “How would this do at Melodifestivalen?” And we think “My Last Breath” would go direct to the final. Maybe that’s a silly assumption, but Victor Crone went direct to this year’s Melodifestivalen final with a similar song in both style and lyrical content, and we think “My Last Breath” is a much better song than that. Well done.

Apropos of nothing else, unless it hints at the United Kingdom’s staging plans, the official video for “My Last Breath” is pretty brilliant. It’s just James wandering around a snowy forest while Wim “The Iceman” Hof does Wim “The Iceman” Hof things. Yet it does a good job of illustrating the story of the song. The footage of Wim jumping into the river right as the drums kick back in and James sings “If we were deep sea divers” gives us the tingling spines.

Plus Wim is Dutch, so we’d like to believe it’s a sly reference to where the Song Contest is being held this year.

United Kingdom’s Eurovision 2019 Entry

Sound the big ballad klaxon: Michael Rice is bringing “Bigger Than Us” to the Eurovision Song Contest!

Michael Rice was the winner of BBC One’s All Together Now in 2018 and also made it to the bootcamp stage of The X Factor in 2014. His song “Bigger Than Us” comes from a solid group of songwriters: Anna-Klara Folin, who competed on Sweden’s Fame Factory in 2002; Laurell Barker, who co-wrote ZiBBZ’ 2018 Eurovision song “Stones;” singer John Lundvik, who is competing in this year’s Melodifestivalen with “Too Late For Love;” and Jonas Thander, who co-wrote Donny Montell’s 2016 Eurovision effort “I’ve Been Waiting for This Night.”

As soon as we heard Michael’s version of “Bigger Than Us,” we knew it was going to be the UK entry. It just sounds like the type of song the UK thinks a Eurovision entry to sound like. That may sound a bit harsh, especially because we do like the song. It’s a big catchy anthem that grants Michael a lot of room to flex his vocal muscles.

And to be sure, Michael has got the chops to sell “Bigger Than Us” within an inch of his life. He’s got a powerful voice and he is practically flawless as a singer. As a performer? Well, he’s charmingly awkward, but he really needs hone his stagecraft if he wants connect with the home audience.

So the UK is sending a pretty good package to Tel Aviv. It’s like a comfy sweater you get as a present. It will wear well, but it’s probably not going to be the gift you remember first when you tell your friends what you got for your birthday.

United Kingdom’s Eurovision 2018 Entry

SuRie has won Eurovision You Decide and will bring a “Storm” to Lisbon.

Born Susanna Marie Cork, SuRie was a backup singer for Loïc Nottet in 2015 and for Blanche in 2017. She has also backed up Will Young and Chris Martin and acted as Fontaine in Les Miserables. In addition to performing, she teaches at Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts in London.

SuRie has an Annie Lennox vibe, both in her look and in her alto voice. She has a likable stage presence that the Brighton audience for Eurovision: You Decide ate up. If the BBC ever released voting figures, we would expect to see that she was the overwhelming favorite of the juries and the televoters too.

If we see a problem, it’s that “Storm” sounds like what the United Kingdom thinks a Eurovision song should sound like. It fits in nicely on a playlist with “Children of the Universe,” “You’re Not Alone,” and “Never Give Up On You.” Each of these songs have their own different styles, but they are all cut from the same middle-of-the-road pop cloth. They are likeable songs performed by likeable performers. They also tend to get forgotten by the end of the night.

If it sounds like we’re being a bit over-critical, we are, because we are always over-critical of the United Kingdom. But we have to give them credit. We think back to 2014, when BBC producer Guy Freeman (who is leaving the BBC this month) published a blog post called “Our Vision for Copenhagen.” In it, he wrote:

“It’s clear there’s a disconnect between what kind of songs and artists are now winning Eurovision, versus the stereotype that many people – including much of the music industry – still hold in their minds.”

That old Wogan-influenced stereotype still lingers, but watching Eurovision: You Decide, we felt like the perception has finally begun to change. Let’s just pretend 2015 never happened, though.

United Kingdom’s Eurovision 2017 Entry

Lucie Jones will be representing the United Kingdom in Kyiv this year with “Never Give Up On You.”

Jones is a Welsh singer who placed eighth on The X Factor in 2009. She lost to Jedward, the poor dear. She has gone on to be a model and stage actress, appearing as Cosette in Les Miz and Victoria in American Psycho. She’s also been on Midsomer Murders, thus fulfilling her national duty as a Brit.

The songwriting team behind “Never Give Up On You” are Emmelie de Forrest, Lawrie Martin, and The Treatment. de Forrest won Eurovision in 2013 with the song “Only Teardrops.” Last year, she co-wrote “Never Alone” for Anja Nissen, who finished second in last year’s Dansk Melodi Grand Prix behind “Soldiers of Love.”

Martin is a Scottish songwriter currently based in London who co-wrote the song “Unstable” with British pop singer Zak Abel. As for the third member of the songwriting team, it’s hard to research The Treatment because when you search Google for The Treatment and “Never Give You On You,” you get a lot of results about not giving up in your fight against [insert debilitating health issue here].

Now, our first impression of “Never Give Up On You” is that it sounds like the 11 o’clock number in an allegorical romantic musical that’s really about Brexit. Perhaps we’re reading too much into the lyrics.

Jones is a powerhouse of a vocalist, bringing a lot of ache and a lot of longing into her interpretation of the lyrics. She gave a damn good performance, and honestly, it doesn’t feel like the U.K. needs to do much other than just throw Jones onstage and let her belt.

Eurovision 2016 Round-Up: Leap Year Edition

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.

Continue reading “Eurovision 2016 Round-Up: Leap Year Edition”

United Kingdom’s Eurovision 2015 Entry

The BBC has fulfilled its contractual obligation to provide the EBU with a Eurovision entry. Here’s Electro Velvet’s “Still In Love With You”:

Electro Velvet pairs up Alex Larke, the lead singer of a Rolling Stones cover band, with Bianca Nicholas, whose primary claim to fame is she auditioned for The Voice UK but didn’t get picked by any of the mentors. “Still In Love With You” was penned by David Mindel, an established songwriter of commercial jingles and theme songs, and Adrian Bax White, a songsmith who was also a member of the Tony Evans Orchestra, the self-proclaimed “Worlds No.1 Dance & Concert Orchestra.”

Here is the internet’s reaction to the United Kingdom’s entry:

This type of upbeat retro swing song shows up in national finals from time to time: Just this year we had MUZZART’s “Only Dance” (Belarus), The Su’sis’ “This & That” (Austria), and Bálint Gájer’s “That’s How It Goes” (Hungary). MUZZART and Natalia Barbu’s “Let’s jazz” (Moldova preselection 2011) are examples of the specific electro-swing sound that Electro Velvet embraces. None of these songs mustered enough support to make it out of their respective national finals. And “Still In Love With You” isn’t as good as any of these songs.

Remember BBC producer Guy Freeman’s manifesto for Eurovision last year? Particularly the part where he wrote, “Yes, novelty songs and acts do still turn up in the show, provide great entertainment and make good press – but they don’t tend to win?” We remember, but the BBC clearly doesn’t.

What angers us most about this year’s UK entry is how fast the BBC abandoned what could have been a good long-term strategy to find talent. Last year, BBC looked for a new singer-songwriter on its BBC Introducing site. Sure, that act fizzled on the big stage last May, but that doesn’t mean the strategy was bad.

This year, they still hired unknown talents to perform their song, but they selected a pair of singers with no history of working together and gave those singers a song co-written by the guy who composed the Jim’ll Fix It theme. It’s almost like they were so busy planning for the Eurovision’s Greatest Hits concert that they lost sight of the main event.

United Kingdom’s Eurovision 2014 Entry

We used to have a page in our Eurovision Fundamentals section called Most Hopeless Countries, which we got rid of because we decided it was a bit too mean-spirited. But the United Kingdom was right at the top of that list. We complained that a country that produces so much great music had no business sending tired warhorses like Engelbert Humperdinck or Bonnie Tyler or miserable pop throwbacks like “Flying the Flag” or “That Sounds Good to Me.” It seemed to us that the BBC was more interested in generating online buzz for its entries than actually competing well. And while they could luck themselves into an 11th place finish with Blue or a 5th place finish with Jade Ewan singing an Andrew Lloyd Webber song, they were more likely to finish middle of the pack or worse. We felt like the BBC wasn’t even trying.

This year, ahead of the announcement of the UK Eurovision entry, BBC executive producer Guy Freeman published a post on the BBC Eurovision blog called “Our Vision for Copenhagen.” In it, Freeman acknowledged the United Kingdom’s “fortunes have waned somewhat” even though the Song Contest remains as popular as ever. He also pointed out the gulf between what type of songs were winning Eurovision and what type of songs the UK considered Eurovision songs.

Freeman and his team decided it was time to take a different approach for this year and make use of an artist using the BBC Introducing service, in which unsigned acts can post their music to promote themselves to the powers that be at BBC Radio. This artist would then write a brand-new, “Eurovision friendly” song for the UK to use as their entry. This way the UK gets a talented artist early in their career, looking for their big break.

It is a promising idea, and to judge from what we heard yesterday, it’s already paying off. Here is this year’s Eurovision entry from the United Kingdom, Molly with “Children of the Universe”:

Goddamn, can Molly write hooks: the opening “power to the people” chant grabs you immediately and the “whoa-OH-oh-oh-oh” that kicks off the chorus can generate ear worms epidemics. It’s big and anthemic, designed to play to a big room and get them to clap and sing along. It’s also memorable – a day later, I can still hum the tune.

Lyrically, it’s safe: it kicks off with a “power to the people” chant, so you kind of know where the song is going from the outset. “Shining like diamonds,” “hope on the horizon,” “not giving in,” “love in our hearts,” all this is standard issue Eurovision lyrical fare. And yet, Molly sells it. She’s a great singer with the kind of charisma the camera eats up. She may not be breaking new ground lyrically, but she makes it sound fresh.

I hope that regardless of how the UK does in Copenhagen that Guy Freeman and his team at the BBC stay on this path. I have a feeling they will: they issued a vision statement, for crying out loud! I don’t worry about the United Kingdom this year, though. Unless they get completely screwed over by the draw, they should finish substantially better than in previous years. We’ve heard more than half the songs at this point, and this one is rising toward the top.

United Kingdom’s Eurovision 2013 Entry

The BBC announced that Bonnie Tyler of “Total Eclipse of the Heart” fame is representing the United Kingdom at the Eurovision Song Contest this year with “Believe In Me.” It’s a pleasant-enough little country ditty. In fact, it’s better than some of the other ballads that are vying for the title this year. It’s nice, and I love that the word “stuff” is used prominently in the first verse of the song. I love the word “stuff.”

However, I can’t help but think, as with last year’s selection of Englebert Humperdinck, that the BBC is hoping to make a big splash with a notable name (from British music charts of old) and let that carry them where it may (towards the bottom of the table). Maybe with the Swedish producers determining the song order for the Final instead of the traditional random draw, the BBC can count on their big name signing to get a sweet spot in the line-up? Preferably after all of the other less interesting ballads? If that will even matter?

The BBC organizers seem to like the attention they get on social media, both with the rumors that pop up before they make their announcement and with the debate that arises after their selection is revealed. But, as we say on our Most Hopeless Countries page, the BBC really isn’t trying to come up with a contender. If they were really trying to win, they wouldn’t replicate the formula that got them a second to last place finish last year.