Romania’s Eurovision 2018 Entry

Say hello to “Goodbye.”

Romania’s The Humans formed in 2017, but most of the members have had careers before the band. Singer Cristina Caramarcu competed on the second season of Vocea României, but was eliminated right before the live shows. She co-wrote “Goodbye” with bandmates Alexandru Matei and Alin Neagoe.

We’re trying to decide if The Humans are pretentious or if Google Translate is making them sound pretentious. Here is a translation of part of their Facebook bio, so you be the judge: “‘We Believe in Humanity’ – this is the motto under which the band will manifest its artistic spirit … Their music is not a mechanical act of interpretation, but a sharing of boundless feelings between the scene and the public, an act of creation.”

In our review of Serbia’s entry, we grumbled that “Nova deca” took awhile to get going. But “Nova deca” is positively speedy compared to “Goodbye.” The song floats along until the guitars finally kick in at the 1:25 mark. Only then does “Goodbye” really come alive. And then it just suddenly stops at the end. Okay, we gotta go. Three minutes, bye bye.

Once “Goodbye” finds its feet, we hear of some strains of Heart and Ann Wilson. But mostly it’s just a nondescript ’80s rock song that ticks a lot of Eurovision boxes: a good front person, a cellist, a little bit of visual pizzazz, appropriately big themes, and a stadium friendly sound. It doesn’t feel special.

Israel’s Eurovision 2018 Entry

Israel is in it to win it this year. Here’s Netta Barzilai with “Toy.”

Netta Barzilai is a 25-year old singer who, prior to appearing on Israel’s national selection show The Next Star for Eurovision 2018, was primarily in the performance arts space. Her signature style is improvisational singing and working with a looper. In 2016, she toured with Israel’s prestigious Batsheva Dance Company, which merged her improvisational vocals with dance.

There’s been speculation about whether the EBU will permit Netta to use her looper in a live performance, but our take is that if the EBU allowed Norway and JOWST to use synthesized vocals last year, then it seems unlikely this will be an issue.

“Toy” is co-written by Doron Medalie, Israel’s pop Svengali who was the creative force behind 2015’s “Golden Boy” and 2016’s “Made of Stars.” As a pop song, “Toy” is every bit as good as these successes that preceded it.  The chorus “I’m not your toy/You stupid boy” hooks us, and the arrangement has that distinctive Tel Aviv sound.

Netta’s genius is that she has taken “Toy,” with all of Doron’s style and hallmarks, and made it uniquely her own. The outcome elevates Doron’s raw material and provides Netta with a vehicle that has commercial appeal.

Netta is the rare, desperately needed breed of pop musician who acts—with agency—rather than reacts. Her point of view feels feminine, empowered, and confident. Contrast “Toy” with “Beauty Never Lies” from Serbia’s Bojana Stamenov. Bojana’s song was also empowering, but it was more about the process of learning to love yourself. Listening to “Toy,” you get the sense Netta is already there and has been for some time.

At the same time, Netta expresses herself in a way that isn’t threatening, marginalizing, or off-putting. She is fun: she clucks like a chicken and we laugh along with the joke (and riff off of it). To win her ticket to Eurovision, she did a medley of Kesha’s Tik Tok and Psy’s Gangnam Style. You can’t help but applaud her badassity.

Netta isn’t just likable, she’s important. There are too few examples of confident, intelligent women who can navigate the difficult cultural terrain that comes with female success. She defies the one-dimensional stereotypes of femininity (diva, big girl, sex kitten, princess, bitch, etc.), and she does it playfully, without politics or anger. We hope that Netta can be to Eurovision what Spanx was to underwear. Strong, for females by a female, and wholly transformative. Go get ’em, tiger.

The Netherlands’ Eurovision 2018 Entry

Waylon is back for another bite of the Eurovision apple. Here’s “Outlaw in ‘Em.”

You may remember Waylon from such Eurovision Song Contests as the one he nearly won in 2014, when he teamed up with Ilse DeLange as the Common Linnets with “Calm After the Storm.” It finished second at Eurovision and turned into a surprise summer hit after the Contest.

Listening to “Outlaw in ‘Em,” we are struck by how much it resembles what we hear on American country radio these days. It’s got a powerful guitar riff, a head-bobbing rhythm, and a spot-on arrangement with steel guitar. “Outlaw in ‘Em” also tips its hat to ’80’s hard rock. On vocal, Waylon gives us twang with a touch of Axl Rose.

Acts like Guns N’ Roses, Mötley Crüe, and Bon Jovi are surprisingly big influences on modern country. In fact, “Outlaw in ‘Em” prompted a lengthy discussion in our household about that time we saw Jason Aldean in concert and he did a “Paradise City/Sweet Child of Mine” medley. The crowd loved it. We did not. It wasn’t so much the choice of songs as his note-for-note cover brought absolutely nothing new to them. And we were in the front row, right up against the stage: He could see our displeasure.

Anyway, Waylon co-wrote “Outlaw in ‘Em” with Ilya Toshinskiy and Jim Beavers. That’s some serious Nashville weight being thrown around right there. Ilya Toshinskiy is a well-regarded session musician (primarily acoustic guitar, banjo, and mandolin), with a lengthy list of credits with country’s most marketable artists, like Toby Keith, Keith Urban, Blake Shelton, Carrie Underwood, and Trace Adkins. He has twice won the ACM Studio Recording Award for Specialty Instrument(s) Player of the Year, in 2013 and 2015.

Meanwhile, Jim Beavers is an in-demand Nashville songwriter with dozens of songs to his credit. He’s had nine number ones on the American country music charts from stars like Luke Bryan, Tim McGraw, Dierks Bentley, and Josh Turner, among others.  The man knows his stuff: here’s a webinar he did for the Nashville Songwriters Association International on “The Art of Co-Writing.”

You think Eurovision is a small world? Take a look at Nashville some time. Here’s a fun example:  Jim Beavers co-wrote, sang backup, and played guitar on Toby Keith’s seminal classic “Red Solo Cup” (and has a cameo in the music video). Ilya Toshinskiy was a studio musician on that album, Clancy’s Tavern.

All this to say, “Outlaw in ‘Em” is the real deal. When country music shows up at Eurovision or the national heats, it is typically pastiche or a bad facsimile. The Common Linnets brought authenticity, but it was a songwriter’s song. It’s a delight to see a country song that is both authentic and current showing up at Eurovision.

Guest Post by Kid Lemur: Sweden’s Eurovision 2018 Entry

A new feature on Eurovision Lemurs: a guest post! Kid Lemur (who is currently in 3rd grade) wanted to weigh in on one of the most talked about entries in our household. When asked why he wanted to write this post, Kid Lemur informed us “because I can.” So be nice y’all.  🙂

Benjamin Ingrosso is pretty well-known in Sweden. This song is pretty good but it could use a few things that are different though. Like I think the background should be different. I don’t think that a bunch of lines does the trick. I think there should be something else that’s not lines. He started singing at the age of nine! That’s amazing! The evolution of him is incredible! He has some incredible talents like singing, performing (it would be better if he did not have that stupid coat) etc. “Dance You Off” is a good song but the lyrics are really weird…. Like “I just want to da-da-dance you off.” What does that even mean? It’s a good song but to be honest Sweden doesn’t have a good chance at winning this year. I mean it’s a good song, but they’re not winning. Like seriously, how does this win?!?!?!? But I feel like he is too focused on winning that he can’t make the song to be as good as he wants it to be.

Sweden’s Eurovision 2018 Entry

Benjamin Ingrosso reigned supreme in what many regarded as the worst…Melodifestivalen…ever…  Here’s “Dance You Off.”

Benjamin Ingrosso comes from a multi-generation entertainment family. His parents are singer Pernilla Wahlgren and her former backing dancer and now restaurant owner Emilio Ingrosso. His grandparents are actors, his uncle is a singer, and there’s a family tie to Swedish House Mafia in there as well. When he was 9, Benjamin represented Sweden at the 2006 Melodi Grand Prix Nordic (the Scandinavian equivalent of the Junior Eurovision Song Contest). He followed that up with a foray into pop music and then musical theater. He won Let’s Dance 2014, Sweden’s version of Dancing with the Stars. Benjamin landed on our, and most other Eurovision fans’, radar last year when he entered Melodifestivalen with “Good Lovin’,” which finished 5th overall. We had extensive thoughts (for better and worse) about him at the time, which you can read about here.

In 2018 we find that our relationship with Benjamin Ingrosso is no less complicated than it was in 2017.

Benjamin Ingrosso’s lane is pop teen idol with R&B influences, similar to Justin Timberlake or Justin Bieber. “Dance You Off” is austerely produced dance-pop with an R&B flair that keeps him in his falsetto for most of the time. It’s radio-friendly and has a memorable hook. Vocal-only captures on YouTube provide evidence that he sings well live, and he knows how to work a camera. We love him.

Word from Portugal is that organizers are planning a minimalist stage with simple lighting and no LED screen for Eurovision. Rather than let another organizer’s stage undermine their performance, Sweden’s solution is to bring their own. Benjamin is showcased against a full backdrop of fluorescent lights, which fill the frame. “Dance You Off’s” concept is so slick, so tightly edited, and so elegant we are certain we will be seeing it again in May.


However, Benjamin Ingrosso has an inner saboteur. Despite his best efforts, in both Melfest 2017 and 2018 there was a thing about his presentation that made it land left of center. In Melfest 2017, it was the age-inappropriate wardrobe choice and the uncomfortable lyrics. For Melfest 2018, he fixed both those things, but there was the JACKET. Ugh, the jacket. It kept getting in his way. And the come hither look he kept giving us was not sexy, it was creepy. So our first reaction to “Dance You Off” was “We like him. The song is ok. The staging is very good. But it’s not enough.” And then nothing else showed up in Sweden, and we were rooting for him to win.

It’s telling that the Swedish delegation opted to submit his musical video to Eurovision instead of the Melodifestivalen performance (which has been Sweden’s customary practice). We surmise that team Christer Bjorkman et al will be giving Benjamin some notes between now and May. Hopefully that will help him, but that inner saboteur can be a tricky demon.

To us, Benjamin Ingrosso is an intriguing figure. We like his music and so much about him is appealing. Then he does something to undermine himself. He can’t help it. It gives him layers, to the point where he earns a place alongside Donny Montell in our pantheon of patron saints. We wish him the best.

Ireland’s Eurovision 2018 Entry

Ryan O’Shaughnessy is stepping out on behalf of Ireland at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest. Here’s “Together.”

Ryan O’Shaughnessy started as a child actor appearing on the soap opera Fair City. He transitioned to a music career and auditioned for the first series of The Voice of Ireland in 2012. He ended up on Brian Kennedy’s team but was ultimately eliminated after the first live show. He had better luck on the sixth series of Britain’s Got Talent, where he finished fifth. His eponymous debut album hit number one on the Irish album charts and number nine on the British album charts.

There was a minor kerfuffle when Ryan claimed on Twitter that Russia was going to ban the video for “Together” because it depicted a gay relationship. Although the story was picked up in some press outlets, Wiwibloggs reported that no ban threat existed.

For us, it was just nice to see something interesting generated by Ireland this year, even if it was just wanton rumor. “Together” is fine: The lyrics are about the end of a relationship and are suitably heartbreaking. Musically, it is a lot better than the past two Irish entries. But it doesn’t exactly sound like an entry from a country ready to reclaim past fortunes.

To be fair, a gentle ballad won Eurovision last year, and Ireland had a lot of success with gentle ballads during its salad days. In a way, that makes the situation a lot sadder: RTE is asking Europe, “Remember when we won Eurovision? You liked us back then, right? If we give you something now that sounds like that stuff you used to like back then, you’ll like us again, right?” And they never seem to listen to the answer.

Estonia’s Eurovision 2018 Entry

Oh god, pop-opera.

Elina Nechayeva is a soprano who was a finalist on the ETV show Klassikatähed 2014, a competition show for young classical musicians. She co-hosted Eesti Laul in 2017.

She wrote “La Forza” with fellow Klassikatähed vet Ksenia Kuchukova, as well as Mihkel Mattisen and Timo Vendt, who both wrote Estonia’s 2013 entry “Et uus saaks alguse” for Birgit Õigemeele.

When “La Forza” debuted in its Eesti Laul semifinal, betting on it went wild enough to make Estonia the odds leader. Since then it has been hovering around the top three in the odds tables.

So we understand why pop-opera rears its annoying head every couple of years: it is generally predicted to do well. Il Volo’s “Grande Amore” (Italy, 2015) comes to mind: it was in the top three in the betting odds and ultimately landed third.  And when a country outside the Big Five sends pop-opera, they usually qualify for the Final. “La Forza” is therefore an appealing choice for a country that has failed to make it out of the Semis three out of the last four years.

But “Grande Amore” aside, this subgenre more commonly finishes mid-table on Saturday night. Think “Sognu” (France, 15th in 2011), “La Voix” (Sweden, 21st in 2009), “Cvet z juga” (Slovenia, 15th in 2007), or “Questa Notte” (Latvia, 16th in 2007). Even glorious, glorious “It’s My Life” (Romania, 2013) finished 13th.

Our bias against pop-opera may be showing, but to us “La Forza” feels more like that latter strain of mediocrity, undeserving of its projected top three status. It’s pleasant, but it lacks majesty. It is quiet and noodly and new agey. It needs to be the diva’s performance from The Fifth Element and it just isn’t.


Russia’s Eurovision 2018 Entry

Let’s try this again. Russia will participate at the Eurovision Song Contest in Portugal, and they will be represented by Julia Samoylova and “I Won’t Break.”

Julia is a 29-year-old singer who was runner-up on the third season of Faktor A, the Russian version of The X Factor. She lost use of her legs when she was a child, so she will be the second Eurovision participant to perform in a wheelchair. “I Won’t Break” is by Leonid Gutkin, who co-wrote “What If” for Dina Garipova and “A Million Voices” for Polina Gagarina. He co-wrote the song with Netta Nimrodi and Arye Burstein, with whom he teamed up to write Russia’s Eurovision 2017 entry “Flame Is Burning.”

You probably remember what happened next, but if not: Ukraine barred Julia from participating because she had performed in Crimea after Russia annexed it. Russia pulled out of the Song Contest and Ukraine faced a fine for their actions. In the aftermath, Russia promised to send her again in 2018.

From strictly a musical point of view, the songwriters have benefited from having a whole year to come up with a song for Julia. “Flame Is Burning” was one of those songs about peace and love and understanding that we always assume are banged out last minute because Russia forgot they had to enter a song in Eurovision. “I Won’t Break” more directly relates to its singer and stands out as a more cohesive song. It’s pretty good for what it is.

Because “I Won’t Break” feels more biographical, we hope that Russia can stage it so that it tells Julia’s story. One of our big issues with “In the Name of Love,” the song Monika Kuszyńska sang for Poland in 2015, was that the attempt to give her story a more universal message watered her story down for public consumption. The video for “In the Name of Love” did the storytelling that the song and the eventual Eurovision staging lacked.

So we were a bit concerned about official video for “I Won’t Break,” which hides Julia by staying on a close-up of her face for most of the video before revealing her as the peak of a mountain. We get the metaphor that she is a rock, but the video assumes you know her story already.

Fortunately, official videos usually don’t reveal too much about how a song is going to be staged (Sergey Lazarev excepted), so we’re hopeful Julia and her team will figure out a way to make this work in Lisbon.

Cyprus’ Eurovision 2018 Entry

Cyprus made an internal selection this year because with Eleni Foureira there is no need for a competition (and because for years Greece has been unwilling to send her). Here’s “Fuego,” Cyprus’ song for Europe.

Eleni Foureria got her start as a member of the Greek girl group Mystique. She branched out as a solo artist in 2010 and since then has had seven top 10 singles in Greece, including the chart-topping duet with J Balvin “Tranquila.” Eleni’s ancestry has often been a point of media speculation – is she Brazilian? Is she Mexican? Is she Greek? In 2014, she revealed that she hid the fact that she was born in Albania because record labels wouldn’t have signed her based on her ethnicity.

As a performer, Eleni is part of a fine tradition of long-haired divas with legs for days, a tradition that includes Nicole Scherzinger, Queen Iveta, and Zuul. In a semifinal filled with aspiring divas, Eleni has the potential to reign supreme.

“Fuego” was written by a songwriting team lead by Alexander Papaconstantinou, who wrote “Yassou Maria” for Greece, “Always” for Azerbaijan, and “La La Love” for Cyprus. He’s joined by Anderz Wrethov, who co-wrote “Always,” and Viktor Svensson, who co-wrote “La La Love.” Anderz and Viktor teamed up for last year’s Eurofan pre-selection favorite “Cool Me Down.”

For us, the tragedy of “Fuego” is that EBU restrictions on product placements will deny us choreography using Fyffes-branded pineapples. Mmm, fire-roasted pineapples…


Norway’s Eurovision 2018 Entry

Listen up kids, I’ll tell you a story
Dreams can come true, two-time Eurovision glory
Can’t write a melody? Can’t come up with a rhyme?
No need to waste your time
Own the stage, show them you belong
That’s how you perform a song

Step one: camera tricks
They surprise and delight
Step two: smize like a boss
That’s how you perform a song

Come on!

Shoo-bee-doo-bee dab dab (Shoo-bee-doo-bee dab dab)
Sha-ba-da-da hey (Sha-ba-da-da hey)
Sing it all day long (All day long)
And that’s how you perform a song
Scoo-bee-doo-bee bap bap (Scoo-bee-doo-bee bap bap)
Boogie boogie woogie hey (Boogie boogie woogie hey)
Sing it all day long (All day long)
See, that’s how you perform a song

Step one: camera tricks
They surprise and delight
Step two: smize like a boss
That’s how you perform a song
Step three: engage the crowd
Make them sing out loud
Step four: play violin
That’s how you perform a song