Songwriter Spotlight: Borislav Milanov

In 2016, Bulgaria notched its best result at the Eurovision Song Contest to date, finishing fourth with “If Love Was a Crime.” The song was co-written by Borislav Milanov, a Bulgarian songwriter based in Vienna. Milanov returns to the Song Contest in 2017 with three songs: Kristian Kostov’s “Beautiful Mess” for Bulgaria, Tijana Bogićević’s “In Too Deep” for Serbia, and Jana Burčeska’s “Dance Alone” for Macedonia.

Before becoming a songwriter, Milanov played soccer for Rapid Vienna. But he said, “Music was my passion and I just started doing it.” In a short amount of time, he has found success as a composer. The first song he sold was Krista’s “Tova, koeto iskash,” which was a top 10 hit on Bulgaria’s singles charts in 2008.

Eurovision was a draw for the aspiring songwriter. He said, “I always have been [a fan], so this stage was very attractive for me from the very beginning of my career.” He had a chance to enter the Song Contest in 2011 when he co-wrote “Na Inat” for Poli Genova. “I know Poli for many years, and she just asked me to do it, because she wanted to do Eurovision then.” Genova went on to win Bulgaria’s national final.

Because they had success together before, it would seem natural that Genova would again call on Milanov when she returned to the Song Contest in 2016. But in fact, it was Bulgaria’s broadcaster BNT that reunited the artist and the songwriter. “BNT contacted me back then to submit a song, because they have been searching for songs from selected composers all across the world. And that’s how it happened,” said Milanov. “The truth is that this song was not meant for Poli, but she managed to make her own. I’m also very thankful to BNT for their management of the project because they did even the impossible to execute it in the best possible way.”

It is a bit of luck that Milanov ended up with three songs at this year’s Song Contest. “In Serbia, we … sent a proposal to RTS, and I’m happy they liked it,” he said. “In Macedonia, I have good relationships with the local broadcaster [MRT] as I was involved in their entry in 2015 as well.” (Milanov’s booking and production agency Symphonics produced Daniel Kajmakoski’s “Autumn Leaves” and also handles bookings for Blackstreet.)

“In Bulgaria, I contacted the music label Virginia Records who manage Kristian Kostov and then we started working on the project. After we had finished, we submitted a song for the internal selection of BNT, and we were selected.”

Coordinating with three different national delegations has its challenges. “[The] three projects differ significantly – not only as artistic features but also when it comes to organisation of the collaboration,” said Milanov. “In Bulgaria, for example, it is an incredibly complex thing, involving many parties, different funding – both public and by external sponsors. It requires a lot of time and discussions until we reach an agreement on every detail. But at the same time, we can rely on a large and great team combining the know-how of BNT, Virginia, [and] Symphonics.”

“Beautiful Mess” is one of the bookies’ favorites this year and has generated a lot of buzz from Eurovision fans on social media. But Milanov engages in the online discussions on an as need basis. “I follow the reactions through the communications team of BNT who do this for me and analyse the whole feedback,” he said. “Every week I get a report [on] what’s going on and if there is an important issue to address or if there are questions to answer on my own.”

Milanov co-wrote “Beautiful Mess” and “If Love Was a Crime” with Sebastian Arman and Joacim Bo Persson, both of whom he met living in Vienna. He and Persson also worked together on “In Too Deep” and “Dance Alone.” Collaborating with other songwriters demands flexibility, said Milanov. “It depends on the circumstances and it’s case by case. We use the Internet, but also we meet in person, because we have to make the recordings and other arrangements.”

Working with other songwriters gives Milanov a lot of creative flexibility. “There are cases when I come up with an idea for a song, and then I’m searching for other composers to develop it and vice versa.” When asked what challenges arise in collaborating, he said, “There are always problems connected to logistics and communications, but as a whole, I can’t say there is a major obstacle that will make me think to stop doing team work. It’s essential for the success, I think.”

Armenia’s Eurovision 2017 Entry

Artsvik is going to take us on a journey with her song “Fly With Me.”

Artsvik Harutyunyan got her start as a contestant on the second season of Russia’s version of The Voice, Golos. She won the right to represent Armenia on the Depi Evratesil artist selection show. Her song “Fly With Me” was written by Avet Barseghyan and David Tserunyan.

It’s been said that people decide within the first 30 seconds a song whether or not they like it. “Fly With Me” burns through a good 20 seconds with a dreadfully bland soft opening that conjured up in our minds Genealogy. (Oof.)

Fortunately, with 10 seconds of our attention span to spare, “Fly With Me” kicks in proper. It gets slinky and slithery and cool. Artsvik carefully builds the song with a determined intensity. (Compare it to Albania’s revamp of “World,” which starts off big and just stays there.) “Fly With Me” is a master class in delayed gratification. When it eventually builds to its climax, we were satisfied in a way we didn’t expect. It goes to show that sometimes it’s about the journey and not the destination (which is appropriate given the song title).

Azerbaijan’s Eurovision 2017 Entry

DiHaj will be representing Azerbaijan in Kyiv with the song “Skeletons.”

Diana Hajiyeva made her first attempt to represent Azerbaijan during 2011’s artist selection show, but did not make it out of her heat (which included eventual representative Eldar Gasimov). She since launched DiHaj as an electronic music group dabbling in “experimental doom pop,” which is a natural fit for Eurovision. (When you think about it, “1944” is kind of a dark song.) “Skeletons” was written by Isa Melikov and Sandra Bjurman, who co-wrote Azerbaijan’s winning entry “Running Scared.”

As you might expect from a singer from an experimental doom pop electronic music group, “Skeleton” is a moody, atmospheric song. There are a lot of sweet ’80s-influenced synth lines and a big booming chorus to add an air of drama. But underneath the veneer of this “4AD sells out” number is a pretty solid pop song with surprisingly chipper lyrics. It’s not so much a pensive dirge as an ode to falling in lust at first site.

We gave up on predicting Azerbaijan would miss out on the Final (because if they could qualify with last year’s entry, they could probably qualify with a beatboxing mime performing in front of dogs playing poker), so let’s assume that they are through, stealing Finland’s and Iceland’s thunder on the way.

Macedonia’s Eurovision 2017 Entry

Jana Burčeska will sing “Dance Alone” on stage with up to five other performers at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest.

Burčeska finished fifth on Macedonian Idol (which featured Kaliopi as one of the judges). Since the start of her career, she has been heavily involved with charity work, serving as a UNICEF Ambassador and working with USAID and the Macedonian Red Cross. “Dance Alone” was co-written by Joacim Bo Persson and Borislav Milanov (working as Bobi-Leon Milanov) of “If Love Was a Crime” fame, along with Alex Omar and Florence A.

We really enjoy “Dance Alone.” It is what Madonna would have sounded like if she had gone in more of new wave direction at the start of her career. It is retro without sounding stale. (Insert dig on San Marino’s entry here.)

While it’s tailor-made to get folks in the Euroclub moving, we are still worried about its chances to get out of the second Semi. Singers of dance club anthems sometimes struggle to translate the energy of the recorded track to a live performance without getting shouty or going off-pitch. Burčeska may be a strong enough performer to handle the transition, but adding to her problems, she’s going third, so we’re afraid she may get lost in the shuffle at the end of the night.

We’re still going to crank “Dance Along” in the car, though.

Czech Republic’s Eurovision 2017 Entry

It is Martina Bárta’s turn to represent Czech Republic at the Eurovision Song Contest with “My Turn.”

Bárta is a jazz singer and French horn player based in Berlin. She attended the Berlin University of the Arts and in 2010 she won the role of Lady Marianne in a musical version of Robin Hood on the TV show Robin Hood cesta ke slávě, a reality competition to cast a musical. “My Turn” was written by London-based singer and songwriter Kyler Niko along with the songwriting collective DWB.

“My Turn” is a sweet little ballad in the Sara Bareilles vein. To date, the song has flown under the radar and has been largely dismissed by the fans and the betting markets. We attribute that to the rather underwhelming recorded track. Not so fast, we say. The official video adds an emotional weight that we hope the Czech delegation can incorporate into the staging. We have liked Bárta as a performer from the videos we’ve seen of her, so we think “My Turn” has the potential to be a dark horse to qualify.

Serbia’s Eurovision 2017 Entry

Tijana Bogićević is hoping to take Serbia deep into this year’s Eurovision competition with “In Too Deep.”

Bogićević first vied to represent her country in 2009, but her song “Pazi Šta Radiš” did not make it out of the Beovizija 2009 semifinal. At Eurovision 2011, she was a backing singer on Nina’s “Čaroban.” “In Too Deep” was written by Borislav Milanov, Sebastian Arman, and Joacim Bo Persson, who wrote this year’s Bulgarian entry “Beautiful Mess” and Bulgaria’s 2016 entry “If Love Was a Crime.”

“In Too Deep” sort of sounds like “If Love Was a Crime” crossed with Katy Perry’s “Firework.” It’s a pleasant enough pop song, but we’ve been struggling to remember it after we’ve listened to it. This year, Kristian Kostov got the songwriting team’s best work.

The Song Contest producers chose Serbia to open the second Semi, so Bogićević has a fair chance to make an impression on audiences before all the other acts. We think she has a shot of making it to the Final because there will be a a lot of chaff on display that Thursday night (and the chance for some friendly voting as well). But she is going to need every ounce of charisma and talent to make a lasting impression.

Bulgaria’s Eurovision 2017 Entry

Kristian Kostov will represent Bulgaria at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest with “Beautiful Mess.”

Kostov is 17 years old, making him the first performer born in the 2000s to represent their country at Eurovision. When a singer who was born after we started our blog makes it to the Song Contest, we are going to feel really old.

Anyway, he was a finalist on Russia’s The Voice Kids, mentored by Dima Bilan, and runner up on the fourth season of X Factor Bulgaria. His debut single “Ne si za men” peaked at number 13 on the Bulgarian charts.

“Beautiful Mess” was written by the team of Borislav Milanov, Sebastian Arman, and Joacim Bo Persson, who were also responsible for Bulgaria’s previous entry “If Love Was a Crime.” They also wrote this year’s entry for Serbia, “In Too Deep.”

We’re struggling with “Beautiful Mess” a bit. It’s a solid contemporary pop ballad, ornately orchestrated with a cool ethnic string riff tying it together. And it is being sung by someone who is already an experienced performer despite barely being out of the larval stage. We are trying not to judge this song against “If Love Was a Crime,” although it’s hard not to given that it is by the same songwriting team for the same country. So if we’re not excited about by “Beautiful Mess,” it may just be because we are comparing it unfairly to one of our favorite Eurovision songs of all time.

As of this writing, Bulgaria is second in the betting odds behind Italy. Given the situation between the EBU, Russia, and Ukraine over Russia’s Eurovision entry, there would be something fitting about a song called “Beautiful Mess” winning Eurovision.

Norway’s Eurovision 2017 Entry

This year’s winner of Norway’s Melodi Grand Prix is JOWST with “Grab the Moment.”

JOWST’s real name is Joakim With Steen. At Melodi Grand Prix 2017, he was the dude with the light-up mask. Up until now, Steen has been a sound engineer and producer. “Grab the Moment” is his first foray into making his own music. For this effort, JOWST teamed up with Aleksander Walmann, who is best known for his runner-up finish in 2012’s The Voice Norge. Walmann is also early in his career, but this is not his first collaboration with a house music DJ. Last year, Walmann was featured on Simon Field and Jamie’s rather fabulous cover of Mr. Mister’s “Broken Wings.”

In the bio on his website, JOWST says he is seeking to mix genres and to make something that sounds new. Well, with “Grab the Moment,” he has created a cool beat, a patter-heavy verse and a harmonic chorus with voice modulation. Walmann is a good singer, and he handles the crowded lyric with ease. The combination is successful, and it is an enjoyable way to pass three minutes.

But, as much as we like “Grab the Moment,” it’s a song that doesn’t necessarily pack a visceral wallop. It’s sort like the movie Dodgeball. Both are well-done and likable. You enjoy them both in the moment, but you don’t remember much about them when they are over. Also, they both feature Alan Tudyk.

Hopefully Aleksander Walmann will voice the chicken in the Norwegian dub of Moana.

Iceland’s Eurovision 2017 Entry

Svala has booked her ticket to Kyiv by winning Söngvakeppnin with “Paper.”

Svala “Kali” Björgvinsdóttir’s music career has spanned more than 20 years, and she has experienced more than her fair share of ups and downs over the course. She had a near brush with big time success in late ’90s/early ’00s. She was living in Los Angeles and had signed a six-album deal with EMI–one of the biggest record deals ever for an Icelandic recording artist. Snoop Dogg was the creative chair of her label, Priority Records. Svala’s first single under the label was “The Real Me,” a Britney-style pop song co-written by Anders Bagge (who, tangentially, later found Eurovision fame with Azerbaijan’s “Drip Drop” and “When the Music Dies”). The single had been on the Billboard pop charts for several weeks by Fall 2001. Then September 11th happened, and her label struggled. Nevertheless by this point, she had gained some fame in Iceland.

A few years later, Svala reinvented herself by teaming up with Einar Egilsson and his brother Edvard to form the ’80s-inspired synth-pop band Steed Lord. Though self-distributed, the band’s songs were licensed by North American TV shows, and they were commissioned by H&M to design a clothing line. Then, in April 2008, the band’s car was hit in a head-on collision. All three band members suffered severe injuries, and Einar required three surgeries to save his life. Despite the near-fatal accident, they once again relocated to Los Angeles and the band continued to tour actively. In 2015, Svala became one of the four judges on Iceland’s version of The Voice.

We tell you all of this because Svala’s story is much more interesting than what you’ll see during her three minutes on stage in Kyiv.

When we review songs for this site, we listen to them over and over again. This can be a pleasure or a pain, and in the case of “Paper” it is turning out to be death by a thousand cuts. We do not find the lyrical metaphor or the musical arrangement at all engaging. We were also confused by her staging at Söngvakeppnin, which seemed muddled and disconnected from the song. Iceland would need to considerably revamp “Paper” if they want any chance at making an impact. They are in a competitive first Semi and they must fight to get their share of oxygen. We feel like their chances are slim.

Ireland’s Eurovision 2017 Entry

We’re beginning to develop a hatred of Johnny Logan. It seems like no matter what Ireland does for Eurovision, he is critical of it in an non-constructive way. Whether he’s whinging about Jedward or Dustin the Turkey or denouncing RTE’s “cheap and nasty” approach to selecting Ireland’s Song for Europe this year, he just seems like a grumpy, prickly, entitled character who only has a megaphone because he was once highly successful in a previous era of the Song Contest. Regardless of what he says, even he would struggle to compete at Eurovision if he had a go at it now.

Then again, he’s not wrong, is he?

Brendan Murray is a former member of the Louis Walsh project Hometown. The band went on hiatus in December and Murray is breaking out on his own. Walsh, who has become RTE’s go-to Eurovision consultant in recent years, selected Murray to represent Ireland in Kyiv. “Dying to Try” is by Jörgen Elofsson, who was nominated for a Grammy for writing Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You).” More significant in this context, he wrote songs for Westlife in their heyday.

So if Ireland couldn’t qualify for the Final with a former Westlife member, then what makes them think they can qualify with this? As voiced by Murray, “Dying to Try” sounds like one of a hundred demos that Harry Styles would consider for his solo album before passing on it. There’s nothing remarkable or special about “Dying to Try” or Murray’s vocal on it. It is just not good enough to stand out at Eurovision.

It’s like Yoda said: “Do. Or do not. There is no try.”