I thought that living through 2020 would numb me from any inexplicably odd moments in light entertainment programs. But 2020 didn’t prepare me for an Emmy-winning filmmaker to descend from the ceiling of a Zagreb studio to warble a song about world peace. Here are all the head-scratching, jaw-dropping, eyebrow-raising moments of this year’s national final season.
Belarus: Galasy ZMesta – “Ya Nauchu Tebya (I’ll Teach You)”
I’ve talked about what happened with Belarus’s 2021 Eurovision entry already, so I only will ask: Did BTRC deliberately submit this as a Eurovision entry, knowing it would be rejected, so that they could pretend they were victims of Western suppression? Or were they really that oblivious to the level of attention focused on Belarus as the protests broke out?
Norway: Daniel Owen – “Psycho”
“Psycho” isn’t a bad song, but those lyrics… “Psycho, never thought you would make me a psycho?” They’re so uncomfortable that I could have sworn they were written by a certain recently disgraced Hollywood actor. Eww.
Albania: Evi Reçi – “Tjerr”
If you can ignore Evi Reçi’s weird “will the nipples slip or won’t they” outfit, you can enjoy the spectacle of two inept escape artists struggling to free themselves from a rope loosely draped around them.
France: Poney X – “Amour Fou”
I hate myself for enjoying “Amour Fou” as much as I do. The DJ pony gimmick is dumb, but the “Rednex covers ‘Mambo No.5’” one-hit wonder of it all is ridiculously entertaining.
Estonia: Redel – “Tartu”
Kristjan Oden and Indrek Vaheoja from Winny Puhh have written the definitive song about Tartu’s massive amount of wood. I don’t think that’s a euphemism.
Sweden: WAHL fet Sami – “90-talet”
This ode to the 1990s was staged as if it were an ode to the 1980s and no amount of ecstasy will make me feel like I did that much coke.
Colapesce & Dimartin staged their smooth 1970s yacht rock ballad with a Miami Vice look and just the right amount of sly self-awareness. Also, even when you know the roller skater is coming, you are never prepared for the roller skater to show up.
Imagine if Harry Potter dropped out of Hogwarts, got into muscle cars, and embarked on a career as the Jimmy Somerville of Lithuania. The spoken word bit at the end just made “Wish” all the more surreal.
Croatia: Ashley Colburn i Bojan Jambrošić – “Share the Love”
As a documentary filmmaker you really want to get to know your subject, understand it, immerse yourself in it. And sometimes that means performing a cheesy call and response duet during Dora 2021. If you had told me this was a song from an off-Broadway musical based on Glitter, I totally would have believed you.
2020 marked the 60th anniversary of Norway’s participation in the Eurovision Song Contest, so NRK decided to expand their usual one night Melodi Grand Prix extravaganza into a multi-week selection process. They gathered up 25 songs, selected five to go straight to the MGP final, then pitted the remaining songs in a series of head-to-head battles during five heats.
This would have been fine, except that it was clear from the outset that the songs in the competition were just not up to snuff. We wondered if NRK committed to the format before they put out their call for entries.
But instead of relishing these tacky moments, all we wondered was how the producers thought these were viable Eurovision songs. Into what era of the Song Contest would any of these numbers fit? “I Am Gay” was a particular lowlight, a calculated attempt to be provocative that was utterly joyless in its execution and pointlessly juvenile to boot.
Fortunately, there were a few numbers that gave us some kitsch we could luxuriate in. First off, there’s Alexandru’s “Pink Jacket,” in which Norway’s answer to Eric Saade sings an ode to his pink jacket. That’s it. That’s all the song is about. We need Charles Dance to do a dramatic reading of this one: “And look at how I own it/And you say it’s dope like I didn’t know it.”
“How About Mars?” is an interesting song and Anna Jæger is a charismatic performer. Unfortunately, the staging managed to be both too sparse and needlessly complex. Paired with Jæger’s raw vocal, the whole package seemed a bit scattershot. A few back-up performers on stage and less camera tricks could have helped. We liked “How About Mars” a lot, which is probably why we keep finding ourselves analyzing it.
Towering majestically over the competition was Rein Alexander. Now, “One Last Time” is not much of a song, but who cares when it is staged as if Brian Blessed is a viking fending off zombie breakdancers? We were team Ulrikke all the way, but we had strong suspicions Rein was going to take the whole thing, even if NRK didn’t rate “One Last Time” enough to put it directly through to the final.
Going back to the format of this year’s MGP, each of the five heats were made up of randomly drawn head to head matchups. The four competitors would come out and hosts Ronny Brede Aase, Kåre Magnus Bergh, and Ingrid Gjessing Linhave would draw names out of a bowl to determine which pairs were facing off. Then the winner of each matchup would face off against the other to determine who went to the final.
Viewers would vote exclusively using NRK’s app, which was nice because you got instant results. On the other hand, you had to wonder if NRK had a back-up plan in case there was some sort of technical glitch with the app. It’s Norway, one of the most technologically savvy countries in the world, so there was probably nothing to worry about.
Anyway, the app crashed during the first round of the Melodi Grand Prix final. Of course it did. The back-up plan turned out to be a pre-selected jury of 30 members of the public. This seemed reasonable: get a representative sample of Norwegians experiencing the final along with the country as whole. If MGP was staged like Eurovision, we’d expect that this jury would have watched a dress rehearsal and logged their votes then.
Instead, it turned out that they voted on the songs the day before the final without seeing any of the performances. Although this was explained in the rules before MGP started, some of the artists were unhappy that this was how their fates were determined.
We can understand why. A lot of effort goes into staging a song for a competition like this, and to have the result of the final’s initial round be determined without even taking the staging into consideration devalues much of that work. In a way, they wasted a lot of their time. The fact that their live performances aren’t available on NRK’s stagnant YouTube channel adds insult to injury.
NRK has already announced it will hold Melodi Grand Prix next year instead of just giving Ulrikke Brandstorp the opportunity she earned to perform at Eurovision. So in the end, they managed to screw over the winner of the show too. WTF.
The 2020 national final season was one of the strongest we’ve witnessed since we went down this rabbit hole. And yet it still had so many head-scratching moments that we are going to need two posts to cover it all. In part one, we go through some amazing art projects, some painful comedy routines, and an unexpected ode to a talk show host.
But all of you avid Eurovision fans know exactly where we’re going to start, right?
So let’s say you just watched Will Ferrell’s movie Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga and you say to us, “Some of this movie’s plot seems a bit far-fetched.” We would respond by offering up what happened at this year’s Sanremo Music Festival.
Bugo is a wry singer-songwriter and Morgan is a rock singer who has coached five winners of Italy’s The X Factor, including Italy’s 2013 Eurovision representative Marco Mengoni. Their song “Sincero” is a fun, synth-driven bop with a wicked sense of humor. In normal circumstances, this should have been an absolute blast live.
However, the two apparently weren’t getting along with each other throughout the festival. Things got so bad between them that on night four, Morgan began to sing new lyrics to “Sincero” that pointedly called Bugo out on his attitude. Bugo grabbed the lyric sheets from Morgan’s synth, then walked off stage. Morgan then acted surprised that Bugo would do such a thing, which struck us as particularly insincero. He chased after Bugo, leaving the hosts to vamp while the situation was unraveling. Later in the evening, the pair were disqualified from the competition.
Nanne is a singer-songwriter who represented Sweden at Eurovision in 1996 as a member of One More Time. Our cringing over her 2020 Melodifestivalen track began as soon as we saw the song title. Is this really going to be about James Corden’s popular segment on The Late Late Show?
“Jag vill sjunga Carpool Karaoke/Med James Corden yeah”
Klemen Slakonja is always a bit of a wildcard when he hosts EMA, and we’ve heard some fans grumble that he sometimes upstages the contestants. That was certainly the case with his pratfall during his cover of “Arcade.” As if the stunt wasn’t jarring enough, it also led to an extended bit of uncomfortable dead air and filler to make it look like something really went wrong. He spent most of the remaining show wearing a bandage that would change places on his face every time he came back on stage. It was a running gag that just didn’t work.
Fortunately, he redeemed himself later in the show when he celebrated Slovenia’s silver anniversary at Eurovision by faithfully reconstructing all of their previous entries. That was fab.
Look, “All the Blood” is a pretty good song, and its official video offers an effective, if heavy-handed, case against eating meat. But we would argue that the only reason why this song was on anyone’s radar during national final season was because of the band name. Too bad The AV Club doesn’t seem to do “The Year In Band Names” anymore, because We All Poop would be a ripe candidate to make the list.
It’s now time for a brief interlude where we go through a few acts that were trying way too hard to be WTF.
Estonia’s Viinerid seemingly took inspiration from the Haunted Mansion’s “Grim Grinning Ghosts” when they staged “Kapa Kohi-LA.” Unfortunately, the visual gag went on so long that it muted the band’s impact on their own song when they eventually made their live appearance.
Over in Ukraine, Jerry Heil staged her college radio anthem “Vegan” like a nightmarish children’s show, which only played up the song’s lack of substance.
We are of two minds about “Playa.” On one hand, Twosome (featuring WTF veteran Banzzzai) went overboard playing up their song’s utter inanity. On the other hand, it has the lyric “I’m a Lithuanian basketball player,” and that’s kinda brilliant.
Belarus loves its high concept stagings, so when we saw NAPOLI recreating the Pompidou fountain early in the Belarusian national final, we thought the avant garde quotient had been fulfilled. Then came “La-ley-la,” which combined an ‘80s Eurovision song title, ‘90s Eurovision music, and every possible new age trope that could be shoved into a three minute song. None of the performers seemed to be singing the same song, although one of them found the perfect use of her ability to whinny like a horse. Did we mention there was a baby at the end? There was a baby at the end.
Sergey has two levels: VERY LOUD and preparing to be VERY LOUD. At first, Nikolay doesn’t have much to do during “Ha, Take a Step” except to gesture to the crowd. But when he finally gets his moment, it’s… raspy. Then it becomes fascinating to hear Sergey try to blend with Nikolay when all he wants to do is sing VERY LOUD.
Of all the songs we’ve presented here, “Drip” is the one that befuddles us the most. At first glance, it seems to be doing for ’90s R&B what “Ice Ice Baby” did for ’90s hip hop. But the goofy background video acts like a wink to confirm Meandi is just kidding around. Yet he performs “Drip” with such earnestness that we can’t tell if he’s trying to be funny when he belts out lines like, “From the EU but I’m feeling so Westside.” We’re left wondering if Meandi is just a really big fan of Bud Bundy on Married…With Children.
Bonus WTF moment for Americans: David Axelrod – “Horizon”
It has been a good year for those of us who collect WTFery from the national finals. We had a tingly feeling about 2019 the moment we heard that the United Kingdom’s 2006 representative Daz Sampson had teamed up with a singer named Nona to enter the Belarus pre-selection with a song called “Kinky Boots.”
Lest we were worried about peaking too soon, Lithuania topped “Kinky Boots” and then some with Banzzzai’s ultimate masterpiece of self-aware obliviousness, “I Don’t Care.” The love child of Psy and Anri Jokhadze, Banzzzai heard that old inspirational quote, “Dance like no one is watching,” and added ninjas to it. Plus he had a flashing neon milkshake and he scatted. It was fabulous.
France gave us Battista Acquaviva’s “Passio.” Imagine if Enigma wrote “La Forza” and you have a sense of how “Passio” sounded. That couldn’t prepare you for the live performance. Battista’s vocal was wispy and thin and her stage presence was stiffer than the main characters at the end of Reservoir Dogs. She was joined by shirtless guys doing calisthenics, which seemed gratuitous. We appreciated the eye candy anyway. France 2 has inexplicably pulled all of the Destination Eurovision videos off of YouTube, so we’re not entirely sure we didn’t dream this.
Updated 7/3/2019: Eric Graf has helpfully linked to a video of “Passio” in the comments, confirming that was no dream!
Heading up to Denmark, Teit Samsø’s “Step It Up” would have been uncomfortably sleazy in the best of circumstances. But Teit’s oily performance gave us the effect of a drunk uncle hitting on his niece while chaperoning her to her junior prom.
We whined all this year about how Eesti Laul had lost its spark, but that doesn’t mean the Estonia national final was completely devoid of colorful weirdness. Kaia Tamm’s entry “Wo sind die katzen?” was probably the best song ever about how Alice In Wonderland is a metaphor for Schrödinger’s cat and vice versa.
And Eurovision Lemurs favorite Jaan Pehk returned to Eesti Laul with Cätlin Mägi to perform “Parmumäng.” The staging featured Jaan’s head transposed onto a rack of mouth harps. This is only slightly less odd than it sounds, and the song sounded awesome live. Keep coming back, Jaan!
Speaking of songs that were brilliant and bizarre at the same time, let’s end in Latvia. Is there a more joyful expression of feeling like an outcast than Dzili Violets and Kozmens’ goofy and relentlessly catchy “Tautasdziesma?” The staging only really makes sense if you’ve seen the official video. Then again, making sense wasn’t really a part of the plan. Kozmens, the guy with the kilt and the spectacular mustache, is the man behind WTF mainstay Riga Beaver. “Tautasdziesma” is a worthy addition to his already notable Supernova legacy.
Look, Eurovision is weird. A song sung by a guy performing with a dancer in a gorilla costume was the odds leader for most of the season. So an act really has to be special to get us to look at each other and mutter, “WTF?” Here is this year’s crop:
Sweden: Our complicated relationship with Benjamin Ingrosso
Benjamin Ingrosso is a child star who, at age 19, is trying to make the jump to more grown-up fare. And in many ways, “Good Lovin” worked. It sounds like something Justin Timberlake would have churned out in his early solo career. And seeing as we enjoy the song stylings of Justin Timberlake, “Good Lovin” has been in high rotation as we manage our post-Eurovision depression.
And Benjamin Ingrosso is an engaging performer. He was good on camera in a Mark-Paul Gosselaar sort of way, and that tooth gap was endearing. We like him.
But so much of his Melodifestivalen performance was uncomfortable. There was that J. Crew shopping spree. Since when is a lavender jumper and charcoal gray slacks a good pop star look? Then there was that choreography. The pelvic thrust with one hand in his pants pocket when he dances? Cringe.
And let’s not overlook the lyrics. Singing “He’s touching your body like I used to do”? Eeeeeeeewwwwwwww. What 19 year old thinks like that?
And we know this is superficial, but we couldn’t help but be distracted by just how hairy his arms are. Chris has got really hairy arms, and even he was uncomfortable by how hairy Benjamin Ingrosso’s arms are. Bigfoot would look at his arms and say, “Boy, that kid is hirsute.”
Still, good song. But, ugh, complicated.
Slovenia: Tim Kores – “Open Fire”
It’s hard to explain what camp is, but we know it when we see it. “Open Fire” is the EMA equivalent of Battlefield Earth: lots of lame visuals cribbed from more successful sources, and also bad contact lenses. When Kores “throws” a “ball of fire” to “set the drumkit on fire,” any ember of credibility is doused. We watch this one far more often than we really should. It is mesmerizing in its awfulness.
Epic and hilarious. De Vet Du are a comedy music group who have mastered the art of lacking self-awareness in a totally self-aware way. They also recognize that you consume the most fast food music when you’re in your car.
At first, Nikita comes off as Sam Smith covering “Time of Your Life” with a pitchy falsetto. He performs while holding a book to show that he feels the feels. Then he speak-sings his life story and it all gets unbearably twee. If Dear Evan Hansen ever makes it to Eastern Europe, we have found the perfect lead.
Finland: Knucklebone Oscar and the Shangri-la Rubies – “Caveman”
Imagine if Jack Black was cast as Hyde in That ’70s Show. Imagine Jackie and Donna as stiff back-up singers. Imagine if there was a coherent song to accompany whatever this was supposed to be. When Oscar broke his guitar at the end, he was speaking for all of us.
Sweden: All the F-bombs
There was a lot of cussing at Melodifestivalen this year. Excuse me, Melodi-f’n-festivalen, to quote host Clara Hall. Between the first cut of “I Can’t Go On” to Lisa Ajax’s utterly embarrassing “I Don’t Give A,” Sweden went out of its way this year to make us reconsider watching Melodifestivalen with our eight-year-old.
Slovenia: EMA’s production value
This year’s EMA felt like a remedial A/V club project. The crowd noise was frequently piped in. The director kept using a strange medium shot that placed each singer in the lower half of the screen. (Hey director man, ever heard of the rule of thirds?) Then there was the lengthy filler content where the contestants talk about how much they like each other. They try, oh how they try.
At first glance, Lolita Zero looks like a busted queen. But when you look past the inflatable devil horns, you realize that she’s actually quite visionary. Who else has thought of combining Urban Cowboy with Gallagher’s Sledge-o-matic? No one, that’s who. What really caught our attention was the fact that Gytis rose to prominence with his lauded performance in Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. Talk about putting the “rascal” in Raskolnikov!
Joy of joys, based on what we saw this season, we have hopes for some WTF moments this May in Stockholm. That said, we all know that the real WTF action is in the national selections. Here were some of the standouts this year.
Norway: The Hungry Hearts – “Laika”
A song that captures the legacy of Verka Serduchka but is for the ladies. The Golden Girls joined Devo for a nostalgic look at the Soviet Union’s salad days, when disco music filled the streets and garbage bags were the height of fashion. Blanche gets the solo, naturally.
Belgium: Amaryllis – “Kick the Habit”
When Amaryllis sings of her need to kick the habit, she’s referring to her powers of telekinesis. Amaryllis is like Carrie that way, if Carrie had seen A Christmas Story and The Kiss of the Spider Woman musical, and if she had gone on the Phantom Manor (or, if you’re American, the Haunted Mansion) ride a few 100 times. Here’s a fun game for you to try at home: imagine Elmer Fudd singing along. “I’ve got to kill the wabbit, kill the wabbit, kill the wabbit.”
Iceland: Sigga Eyrun – “Kreisi”
Let’s just say it wasn’t the most sympathetic portrayal of mental illness we’ve ever seen.
Estonia: Meisterjaan – “Parmupillihullus”
Things could have been so different for Kylo Ren if he had studied the ways of the samurai, learned to play the mouth harp, and if Joseph Gordon-Levitt had been cast instead of Adam Driver. (We really enjoyed this one, by the way. It works on many levels.)
Germany: Gregorian – “Masters of Chant”
We don’t necessarily have a problem with the idea of Gregorian chant-inspired pop. We probably should, but we don’t. But “Masters of Chant” was so on the nose that the whole package just felt dumb. Gregorian was, of course, dressed in rhinestoned black cloaks, and there was fire. And green lasers. As one does.
No, we are not going to discuss Ovidiu Anton in this post. Everyone gets to enjoy his WTF glory in Stockholm! But did you know that winner of Selecția Națională receives the golden idol prop from Raiders of the Lost Ark?
Latvia:The Riga Beaver Lest we forget, the Riga Beaver made a return appearance at Supernova. The self-styled Cultural Symbol of Europe raised his game this year, playing Pictionary, conducting classical music, leading fitness breaks, doing craft projects, and singing “Let It Go” with a 8-year old ballerina. At this point, he has more than earned the right to read out the results of the Latvian vote at Eurovision. Make it happen, Latvia.
Sometimes, there are moments in Eurovision national final season that make us stare at the TV screen like Alec from The Bosshoss trying to comprend Mizgebonez. Here’s our collection of the weird, wonderful, and offbeat moments from this year’s national final season.
Latvia. The Riga Beaver. Ah, the magic of live television. Only when you sit in a studio audience do you realize all the tricks that make a live show run seamlessly. The video packages, pre-taped live acts in studio, and interval entertainment to keep up the crowd energy. About that last one… During Supernova, Latvian audience members were kept entertained during the ad breaks by a guy in a beaver costume. The devout Eurovision fans that experienced Supernova online got to enjoy this as well. The Riga Beaver saved his best for last. At the national final, the Beaver revealed that he could speak English. He danced, he rapped, and he announced to the world that he wanted to be a symbol for European culture. If the Riga Beaver does not read out the results of the Latvian vote at Eurovision this year, we will be bitterly disappointed.
Repeat this mantra: there’s no such thing as bad publicity. We good? Ok. Here for us were the oddest moments from the national final season. We’re a pretty jaded lot, but for each of these, we did this: