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.
Montenegro has participated in the Eurovision Song Contest 10 times, but they’ve only made it to the Grand Prix Final twice. Their output has run the gamut from pop rock to metal to rap to Balkan ballads to performance art to Slavko realness. Generally, they have been interesting and often memorable. But they haven’t really been successful yet.
Can D-Moll take Montenegro to Eurovision heaven? Or will their country remain in Song Contest purgatory?
D-Moll are a Montenegrin singing group so obscure the official Eurovision website said, “Little background details were revealed about the group, but as they only got elevated to the international stage tonight, we will surely get to know them better in the days and weeks to come.” We’d love it if they just never provide the EBU with a bio and if anyone asks the members personal questions, they’d coyly reply, “Mum’s the word.”
Montenegro has already announced that “Heaven” is getting a revamp for Eurovision. Fair enough, because the arrangement was a bit dated. Even so, we enjoyed “Heaven.” It’s chock full of major chords and catchy, sunny melodies. Of course, a pleasant, cheerful pop ballad is not exactly set up to be a world-beater, so that revamp is going to need to do some heavy lifting to change Montenegro’s fortunes.
The presentation at Montevizija 2019 was cute, but D-Moll was confined to the stage prop. We’d want Montenegro to expand on the original idea and figure out how to make it more dynamic. Also, they need to changing D-Moll’s styling because for some reason the one of the singers was dressed up like Emily Dickinson.
There’s old fashioned and then there is 1800s old fashioned.
Okay, it’s kind of a cliche for non-Italian Eurovision fans to whinge about the length and the pacing of Sanremo, but true story: it took us three nights to watch a replay of the first night of Sanremo. And we never got to the end the show and our son begged us to never watch Sanremo ever again.
But you know what, at the end of the several nights, it was worth it, because Italy has offered up a corker.
Mahmood is a singer from Milan who competed in the sixth series of Italy’s The X Factor, going out in week three. He earned his place at this year’s Sanremo by winning one of the Sanremo Giovani shows that act as a sort of play-in round for young artists. He is the son of an Italian mother and an Egyptian father, making him the second entrant of North African descent at this year’s Song Contest, following Moroccan-French singer Bilal.
Mahmood found himself up against the 2015 Sanremo winners Il Volo and the 2018 Sanremo Newcomers Award winner Ultimo in the superfinal. And when the televote results were tallied, he found himself in a distance third place. But the jury ate “Soldi” up: He received 63.7% of their vote, more than making up for his feeble 14.1% of the public vote.
This result did not go unnoticed by certain far-right populist government officials in Italy, who dogwhistled their disapproval on Twitter. Trust us, there is nothing more insufferable than a prominent right-wing populist politician criticizing liberalism and elitism in the entertainment industry through his Twitter account. It gets old fast.
We think “Soldi” is great. It incorporates hip hop rhythms into modern Italian melodies to create a pulsating, accessible pop song. The lyrics tell a personal story in a relatable way and seamlessly weave a couple of poignant lines in Arabic. Italy has generally had a good run of form since their return to the Song Contest in 2011 and we think they have another strong contender this year. We hope “Soldi” does well for a variety of reasons, none more important than the fact that we love it.
Oh my god, we actually like a pop opera song.
Kate Miller-Heidke is a singer and actress from Brisbane who trained as a classical singer before making the leap into pop music. She’s had three top 10 albums in Australia and the number 3 hit “The Last Day on Earth” in 2009. She co-wrote “Zero Gravity” with her husband Keir Nuttall.
Now: Pop opera is something that rears its ugly head quite frequently at Eurovision, as recently as last year with Estonia’s entry “La Forza.” And we are on the record with our less than positive opinion of the genre.
We will also say, on the record, that we were wrong about “La Forza’s” chances at Eurovision. But that doesn’t make us like it any more.
What immediately grabs us about “Zero Gravity” is that it is not a pop and opera mash-up, like Malena Ehrman’s “La Voix” or Cesar’s “It’s My Life.” It is a pop song that weaves in its opera parts organically. It gives us “Kate Bush singing the Queen of the Night aria” realness.
And praise be, Australia has finally come up with a staging! Assuming that Kate and her crew will take what they devised to Tel Aviv, they have what could be the next iconic Eurovision staging we fawn over in clip shows for the next three decades.
As soon as we heard we saw this, we knew it was going to win. Our son thinks it could win the whole thing, and we think the kid has got a point.
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.
Watch out, Estonia: Czech Republic is coming for your quirky indie pop crown! Mainly because they are actually sending their quirky indie pop to Eurovision!
Lake Malawi formed in 2013 and have had some low-level chart success in the Czech Republic. Their biggest single to date, “Chinese Trees,” peaked at 25 on the Czech charts in 2014. Their name was inspired by Bon Iver’s song “Calgary,” which mentions a lake, but not Malawi. (To be fair, it doesn’t mention Calgary either.) Also, they have a LinkedIn page, which we find utterly charming.
Their song “Friend of a Friend” is the 1980’s sophisti-pop song you didn’t know you needed in your life. Make room between your Johnny Hates Jazz and Level 42 albums for Lake Malawi’s output. They are right in our wheelhouse of high school pop music memories.
We’re not sure why lead singer Albert Černý does the British accent before the chorus, and we’re trying to decide if we should be skeezed out by the lyrics. Nevertheless, this has all the makings of a song we are going to listen to over and over again this season. Na zdraví, Czech Republic!
Will there be a new king of Eurovision? Bilal Hassani aims to take the crown at this year’s Song Contest!
Bilal Hassani is a 19-year-old singer who first gained attention in France when he auditioned for the children’s version of The Voice with “Rise Like a Phoenix.” He has since gained a large fan base through his YouTube channel and his Instagram account. He co-wrote his song “Roi” with Madame Monsieur, who represented France at last year’s Eurovision Song Contest.
Bilal is a self-assured performer with a striking androgynous look. He cuts a unique stage picture, and he has the vocal chops to back up his style. He’s not perfect: there are some high notes in the chorus of “Roi” that he never confidently hit in either Destination Eurovision performance. But we have a good feeling he will be busting his butt to nail that vocal at the Song Contest.
We see his song as his biggest liability. “Roi” is more of a mission statement like “That’s What I Am” than an anthem like “Rise Like a Phoenix.” It’s good, but we don’t feel like it completes Bilal’s total package. We wonder if the Destination Eurovision results are a harbinger for his fate in May. He was the overwhelming winner of the televote, but he finished fifth with the juries.
Regardless of how he finishes at the end of the day, we have no doubt Bilal is going to be a great ambassador for France and for the Song Contest. The road to Tel Aviv won’t be easy, but he seems to have a good, strong head on his shoulders. We’re happy to have him in the Eurovision family.
Spain is bringing a party to Tel Aviv! Here’s Miki with “La Venda.”
Miki Núñez is 23 and finished 6th in this year’s Operación Triunfo. He performed two songs at the OT Eurovision Gala, a duet with Natalia Lacunza called “Nadie Se Salva” and the eventual winner “La Venda.”
The first time we heard “La Venda” during the Gala, I thought that it was a party song better enjoyed at the party. It played well in the room, but for us watching at home, the energy Miki and his crew gave off struck us as bit manic.
Jen then pointed out that this was going to be one of those songs that we were going like or even outright love after the third or fourth listen. Sure enough, having listened to it a few times now, I really enjoy it. “La Vende” is a proper stadium anthem that should fill up the room at the Expo Tel Aviv.
I still think Miki’s performance needs to be reined in a bit. When he connects with the camera at the start of “La Vende” and during the “lo que ere” bridge, I can see just how charismatic he can be. Otherwise he spends the rest of the song playing to the audience, which could hurt him if televoters don’t connect with him.
It’s a fine balance: Miki could be utterly charming and end up like the Spanish version of Amir or he could look like he’s trying too hard to pump up the crowd and end up like the Spanish version of Twin Twin. Given Spain’s run of form the past few years, let’s hope it’s the former.
Eurovision season is back! Let’s get ourselves psyched up with the first selected entry!
It’s about Albanians who were displaced during the war in Kosovo…
Okay, so let’s get ourselves contemplatively subdued with Jonida Maliqi with “Ktheju tokës.”
Jonida made her Festivali i Këngës at age 13 and has since competed nine times. She was the host of Festivali in 2010, the host of Dancing with the Stars Albania in 2014 and one of the coaches on The Voice of Albania in 2016. Her song was written by composer and violinist Eriona Rushiti.
So Albania picked its Eurovision entry on December 22 and we’re writing about it almost a month later. We haven’t been busy, we just haven’t been excited. “Ktheju tokës” combines traditional and modern music in a way that sounds a lot like other folk-influenced ballads that have competed at Eurovision. This could be the Albanian entry from 2006 for all we would know.
Both Jonida and Eriona have said they are working on a Eurovision staging, which points up the drawback to reviewing entries shortly after they are selected. There is always the chance a country’s delegation will rework their song ahead of the Song Contest. That said, our suspicion is that the version of “Ktheju tokës” that we will see in Tel Aviv won’t be that different from the version in Tirana. Given the song’s melodies and lyrical content, we can’t see Albania pulling a Toppers and turning this into a dance anthem.
We’re prepared to eat those words, of course, but for now, we’re already lining up for the next selection at the Eurovision buffet. January 26 can’t come fast enough.
We are absolutely gutted to learn that Daniel Gould has passed away. His website Sofabet influenced us greatly when we began to expand our Eurovision blogging horizons. He was an intelligent, thought-provoking writer, and we have absorbed a goodly amount of his insight into our own writing. It’s hard to imagine a Eurovision season with him. Our thoughts are with his family and friends.