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.
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.
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 it 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 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.
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 mol take Montenegro to Eurovision heaven? Or will their country remain in Song Contest purgatory?
D mol 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 mol 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 mol’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.
UPDATED 3/9/2019: Here’s D mol’s revamp. And they’ve changed their name from D-Moll or D Moll to D mol. The main change is the addition of folk instrumentation and given how insane that first Semi has shaped up, we’re pretty sure that’s not going to be enough.
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!