Iceland’s Eurovision 2019 Entry

Iceland has not qualified for the Grand Final since Pollapönk made it in 2014. They’ve tried Disney pop ballads, dramatic orchestral ballads, old-fashioned ballads, and alternative pop diva ballads. This year, they decided to mix it up a bit.

Hatari are a punk techno trio known for their bondage gear, their anti-capitalist bent, and their wicked sense of humor. They originally announced they were breaking up in December 2018 because they had failed to destroy capitalism, then showed up at Söngvakeppnin 2019 weeks later. They will keep “Hatrið mun sigra” in Icelandic, because let’s be honest, no other language will do.

So imagine if Jimmy Somerville had Rammstein’s baby and Trent Reznor was the midwife. It is everything we listened to when we were in college, with an added touch of cynicism: “Hatrið mun sigra” translates to “Hatred Will Prevail,” which sadly seems to be the case in a lot of well-to-do countries around the world these days. It’s taking all our effort to not just quote the whole of Dudepoint’s “Why Hatrið mun sigra is the song we need, not just the song we deserve” in this post.

Even with the gritty growling vocal during the verse and the gnarly electronic arrangement, “Hatrið mun sigra” is still recognizable as a cracking Eurovision song. It’s catchy and it even has a key change. Group that all together with striking visuals and more cheek than a drunk Paul Oscar and what’s not to love?

There has been a bit of buzz about Hatari among some of our fellow die hard Eurovision fans, who get some serious Lordi vibes out of this thrashing, leather-clad trio of pop music anarchists. We’re not exactly ready to buy our tickets to Reykjavik just yet, but we feel like Iceland is on to something this year. Hatari needs to bring even more energy and intensity to Tel Aviv because we would hate for them to fall flat like DJ Bobo or Teapacks. We’re not worried, because boy howdy, do they seem up for this.

Germany’s Eurovision 2019 Entry

Do you like Frozen? Would you like to hear a song that sounds like it was cut from the Broadway version of Frozen? Germany has got you covered.

S!sters were formed to compete at this year’s Unser Lied. Carlotta Truman was a finalist on The Voice Kids in 2014. Laurita Spinelli (no relation to Carlotta) won a competition called Kiddy Contest in 2010 and is currently one of Lena’s backing singers. Their song “Sister” was co-written by Laurell Barker, Thomas Stengaard, Marine Kaltenbacher, and Tom Oehler. Those first two names may sound familiar: Laurell co-wrote this year’s United Kingdom entry “Bigger Than Us,” while Thomas co-wrote last year’s Germany entry “You Let Me Walk Alone.”

“Sister” is about two sisters who reunite after many years of bad blood. The second verse begins, “I’m sorry/Sorry for the drama,” but are they really? S!sters emote the living daylights out of their song. It’s all a bit much. We were no fans of Michael Schulte’s song last year, but at least he was drawing on some genuine emotion by telling his own story. “Sister” replaces emotion with theatrics. It’s all show and it leaves us cold.

Hungary’s Eurovision 2019 Entry

The nice thing about artists returning to Eurovision is that a lot of our work is already done. Case in point: Joci Pápai. Just read the bio we wrote when he represented Hungary in 2017, then note that he finished 8th in the Grand Final that year.

Of course, that was then. What about now?

“Az én apám” is a gentle ballad about Joci’s dad. (That’s two songs in a row from Hungary about fathers. Wonder if there’s something going on there?) It’s a lovely song, but it doesn’t strike a chord with us the way “Origo” did. Maybe we are being unfair comparing the two songs, but we think his latest effort lacks the spark that made his previous effort so successful. If he wasn’t an artist the audience was already familiar with, we wonder if he would have made it out of Hungary’s A Dal competition.

We will be thinking a lot about artists coming back for a second bite of the apple, mainly because Joci, Nevena Božović from Moje 3, Sergey Lazarev, and Serhat are all returning to Eurovision this year. They likely aspire to be like Dima Bilan, who finished second in 2006, then came back and won in 2008.

However, a lot of returning performers often find their second go-around isn’t quite as successful as their first one. For example, Elitsa Todorova and Stoyan Yankoulov snagged Bulgaria’s best finish to date in 2007, but missed the Final when they came back in 2013. There wasn’t a lot wrong with “Samo Shampioni,” but it sure wasn’t “Water.” We’d love to say we got Dima Bilan vibes out of Joci this year, but we’re feeling more Elitsa and Stoyan.

Denmark’s Eurovision 2019 Entry

After watching Leonora win Dansk Melodi Grand Prix with “Love Is Forever,” we asked ourselves, “Did anyone in Russia put their guns down and not go fight in Donbass?”

tl;dr No.

Leonora was a figure skater who competed in the World Junior Championships in 2016 and won gold with her brother Linus at the Danish figure skating national final in 2016. She still works as a choreographer while pursuing her music career. “Love Is Forever” was co-written by Lise Cabble, who also co-wrote “Only Teardrops.”

Leonora is an amiable performer with an amiable voice singing an amiable song with an amiable staging. Plus it’s all about love changing the world in the most direct way possible. And she sings it in French and Danish too! What’s not to tolerate for three minutes?

Okay, maybe we’re a bit cynical, but keep in mind we flipped over to Dansk Melodi Grand Prix after watching the fiasco unfolding in Ukraine, so maybe we weren’t up for a sunny “love conquers all” number at the time. Revisiting “Love Is Forever” a week later, we came to the conclusion that it is not good, it’s not bad, it’s just nice. Good luck changing the world with that.

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.

Romania’s Eurovision 2019 Entry

We would love to be given the reigns for a country’s Eurovision selection. We’ve been doing this blog for 13 years now and are totally experts, so we obviously could come up with something earth-shattering for the Song Contest! Look at Vasil Ivanov and Deyan Yordanov, two Eurovision superfans who were given a chance to run Bulgaria’s national selection process. They turned out to be massively successful and only financial issues kept Bulgaria from competing this year.

But there’s a flip side: William Lee Adams and Deban Aderemi from Wiwibloggs served on the jury of Romania’s national final Selecţia Naţională, and have been getting a lot of stick from other Eurovision fans for how they voted. We don’t have a particular side in the battle royale, but we are reminded that we need to be careful what we wish for. We would hate to get a taste of our own medicine!

Enough about that. How’s Romania’s song? Hey it’s pretty good!

Ester Peony is a Romanian singer who grew up in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. She has formal jazz training, and was signed to Romanian record label MusicExpertRecords after they saw song covers she posted on YouTube.

“On a Sunday” is a sultry and sulky number about desperate love. Imagine if “Black Velvet” was a murder ballad. It has a slithery groove and melodies that packs a lot of tension and release into three minutes.

The Selecţia Naţională staging was fun, with this one super-charismatic drummer that needs to have his own fan page. But we never lost sight of who the star of the show was: Ester seated center stage in a vibrant red dress, pulling faces, and commanding the camera. We are concerned her emoting could get a bit over the top. She chewed so much scenery she became a leading cause of deforestation in Romania.

Whether or not the Selecţia Naţională jury got it right in the eyes of the Romanian televoters and the Eurovision fan base, we think Romania has come back strong from their first non-qualification. We’re looking forward to seeing where this goes.

Latvia’s Eurovision 2019 Entry

Watching Supernova this year was like going to an ultra-hip Riga night spot. The show was packed with dance club bangers and was kept moving with an in-studio deejay. Of course, most night clubs don’t have detailed discussions about each anthem’s viability with general audiences throughout Europe, but no matter: it was our happening and it freaked us out.

Then Carousel hit the stage and we knew they were totally going to win.

Sabine Žuga and Maris Vasilievsky formed Carousel in 2015 and first gained wide exposure in Latvia this December at the annual Pasaka ziemā concert, which had a promo video that featured “That Night.” The pair participated in last year’s Supernova as well: Maris co-wrote Ritvar’s entry “Who’s Counting,” which featured Sabine on backing vocals.

“That Night” is a moody, country-tinged ballad with aching lyrics and melodies full of longing. The staging featured a black and white filter with splashes with color that we’ve seen a few times this Eurovision season (Alekss Silvers even did it in the first Supernova semifinal), but Carousel’s use was subtle and effective. Sabine is a striking and telegenic performer who can draw viewers in.

Going last at Supernova felt like a distinct advantage for the duo. Save for a moment featuring a charming madman in a kilt, there had been a particular sameness to the choices on offer to Latvia. Carousel’s song and performance stood out, as did their stillness. It felt like they were in control of the evening

We’re saying a lot of nice things here, because on paper and in context of Supernova, this is a solid entry. But it doesn’t really wow us. If we were in Nashville attending a show at the Bluebird, we’d dig it. Sitting in the first half of the draw in the second Semi and at the mercy of the producer’s running order selection? We’re less confident it will grab people’s attention.

But we hesitate to count them out. Who knows what they will be up against on the night? We wouldn’t be surprised if they snag a Saturday night performance.

Estonia’s Eurovision 2019 Entry

If a non-Eurovision fan ever asked us which country was our favorite Song Contest participant, we would say Estonia. And they would look at the songs that have represented Estonia for the past decade and probably scratch their heads. We would need to explain to this theoretical person that even if the songs Estonia send are usually not much to write home about, Eesti Laul has always been best national final. But this year, we were muttering to ourselves, “What happened to you, man? You used to be cool.”

With that ringing endorsement out of the way, let’s talk about “Storm.”

Victor Crone is a Swedish singer who teamed up with Behrang Miri on “Det Rår Vi Inte För” at Melodifestivalen in 2015. They lost in the Andra Chansen round to Samir & Viktor’s “Groupie,” the poor things. Victor co-wrote “Storm” with Stig Rasta, an Eesti Laul mainstay who along with Elina Born represented Estonia at the 2015 Song Contest with “Goodbye to Yesterday.” He also wrote Estonia’s 2016 entry “Play.”

We will say this: “Storm” is relentlessly catchy. It took just a couple of listens before we had the melody of the chorus stuck in our heads. It helps that the chorus is repeated five times and has a pretty simple lyric to remember: “A storm like this/Can break a man like this/But when it all calms down/We’re still safe and sound.” It is a genetically-engineered ear worm.

Victor is a likable performer, but he suffers from serious constipated tenor syndrome when trying to reach his high notes. The Eesti Laul staging featured an awful animation section where a faux-Crone is singing in front of the audience, then the camera swirls around and he is standing on a mountain in a storm. It looked cheesy and we hope Estonia drops it. We also figure they won’t because it clearly worked at Eesti Laul.

It’s hard for us to generate a lot of enthusiasm for this song. Stig’s two previous Eurovision entries benefited from a distinct music style influenced by late 1960’s-era country-influenced pop rock. Meanwhile, “Storm” polishes Tom Petty’s “Won’t Back Down” to a Melodifestivalen sheen and tweaks to be even more earnest.

The thing is, we probably would have written something similar if any of the other Eesti Laul finalists had won the ticket to Tel Aviv. We were underwhelmed this year. Maybe we’re just being harsh because our expectations for Estonia are usually so high.

Ah well, we’ll always have “Parmumäng.”

Croatia’s Eurovision 2019 Entry

Croatia have picked the ne plus ultra of Eurovision entries this year. Here is Roko’s “The Dream.”

Roko Blažević is an 18-year-old singer who won the Serbian talent show Pinkove Zvezdice in 2017. He also finished second on the Croatian show Zvijezde last year. His song written by Eurovision royalty: Jacques Houdec represented Croatia at the 2017 Song Contest with the epic “My Friend” and Charlie Mason is the lyricist behind “Rise Like a Phoenix” and “Beauty Never Lies.”

So let’s get down to brass tacks. Roko is standing on stage dressed in white and wearing huge angels wings. He is singing a song about peace and love and understanding. He crushes big note after big note. He spots the camera and unleashes a little bit of smolder. There is a language change. There is a key change. Of course there is.

“The Dream” is soaring and grandiose and it is as archetypal a Eurovision song as you could possibly get. It shows the Song Contest ideal in all its earnest glory. It has a fabulous “only at Eurovision” quality to it, but in an almost sensible sort of way.

Yes, Roko is wearing angel’s wings while he sings. When you consider other times you’ve seen someone wear angel’s wings at Eurovision, you have to appreciate his subtlety.

Slovenia’s Eurovision 2019 Entry

Oh for crying out loud, Slovenia! You had a chance to send one of the most intense, awesome, and potentially divisive Eurovision entries to the Song Contest, one that could have been the talk of Tel Aviv. Instead you sent a song that answers the question, “What if last year’s Portuguese entry was a little too high energy?”

Here’s Zala Kralj and Gašper Šantl with “Sebi.”

Zala Kralj and Gašper Šantl first teamed up in 2018 after a mutual friend introduced them through Instagram. Zala appeared as a featured artist on tracks Gašper produced, and the partnership proved so fruitful that they decided to form a duo.

“Sebi” is a dreamy, atmospheric song. It has a quiet, droning vocal melody and that, paired with Zala and Gašper internalized performance, makes the song ambient and intimate. One of the challenges Slovenia will face at the Song Contest is how to open Zala and Gašper’s performance up so that they bring the audience into their world, not exclude us from it. Something as simple as the tight camera work we saw in “Calm After the Storm” would be enough to draw us in.

We only have two real issues with “Sebi.” One, it doesn’t really go anywhere over its three minutes. Two, we have sour grapes. Slovenia could have finally sent Raiven, an artist we have loved from her previous Ema performances. She has a strong perspective on her music and her image and she brought an intriguing staging to Ema 2019. And Slovenia overwhelmingly rejected her song: Zala and Gašper won with almost 73% of the vote.

Of course, our hard feelings have no bearing on the Song Contest itself and most people who will watch Eurovision in May did not watch the Slovenian national final. Heck, given how many national finals there were this past Saturday, most die-hard Eurovision fans probably didn’t watch either. (They watched a Melodifestivalen heat instead.)

But this one hurts. It’s like Slovenia has rejected us. We take it very personally and will not be visiting Ljubljana or the Žalec beer fountain this year. We are that bitter.