Recap of Eurovision Song Contest 2018

Congratulations to Netta Barzilai and Israel!

Remember when Israel’s victory seemed inevitable before rehearsals began and then it didn’t because Cyprus showed up with fire and memes and stuff? Then it looked like Austria was going to romp to victory and somehow Sweden was in contention too, and then Sweden got crap points from the televote and Austria got okay votes from the televote and all of a sudden Israel’s victory looked inevitable again because Netta got more points than Eleni in the jury vote?

It’s like the past two weeks didn’t even happen!

Our overwhelming reaction to the outcome was…relief. We love that Netta challenges and helps us move our conceptions of femininity forward, not unlike Conchita did for gender identity. So we have to admit that it would not have sat well with us if Cyprus had won. In any other year, we probably would have been fine with it. But this year, our top two contenders shaped up to be a unique artist who defied female stereotypes and a sex kitten. This, against the backdrop of #MeToo. What a message that would have sent. Thank you, Europe, for getting it right.

Don’t get us wrong: Eleni Foureira was great and a deserved the top five finish. Also, in a year where our predictions for the Final went so awry, we can take solace in the fact that we nailed our write ups of both “Toy” and “Fuego” earlier this year.

Chris said that he had a dream on Friday night that Austria somehow won Eurovision this year. So you can imagine our amazement during the jury voting when “Nobody But You” kept racking up points. If you had told us one of Symphonix International’s songs was going to be the jury favorite, we would have thought it would have been “Bones” (which won the Marcel Bezençon Composers Award). A huge round of applause for Cesár Sampson.

The bookies ultimately had the correct odds for Germany going into the Final. Michael Schulte’s performance of “You Let Me Walk Alone” was touching and effective. Even though we thought Germany’s LED screen was a bit of a cop out, we have to admit it made the song even more memorable.

If any country should feel really hard done by this year, it should be Italy. (Although let’s be real, Spain did get screwed with the draw.) The juries ranked “Non mi avete fatto niente” 17th and the televote rated it 3rd. Would they have won if the jurors were a bit more generous? That huge disparity between the juries and the public–particularly since this isn’t the first time an Italian song has had this type of discrepancy–are driving discussions that the jury system needs to be overhauled. (Again.)

The other driver of those discussions is Sweden’s result. Sweden was second in the jury vote, but absolutely bombed with the public. They finished 23rd in the televote. 23rd! The juries ate up “Dance You Off,” but it would seem our concerns that it was struggling to connect with viewers were confirmed. This result suggests that not only is our relationship with Benjamin Ingrosso complicated, but apparently the music industry’s will be as well. He’s talented, but that’s one heck of an Achilles’ heel. For some reason, this makes me want to comfort poor Benji even more.

I am a little disturbed by my feelings towards him at this point.

Anyway, while we understand everyone’s points about how the jury system seems unjust, to us it just feels a lot like sour grapes. Fairly or unfairly, the juries are doing what they were meant to do when the EBU moved away from the 100% televote. Besides, what else would we talk about after Eurovision is over if we didn’t have the jury results to debate? Of course, we may be biased because we rather liked the outcome of the jury vote.

We were surprised that France ultimately finished 13th, well out of contention. “Mercy” finished second in the OGAE voting behind “Toy” and consistently had short betting odds. We didn’t think of it as a fanbait song, but apparently it was.

And we were shocked Australia absolutely bombed, finishing 12th with the juries and dead last with the public. There is already some grumbling that Australia should pull out next year and focus on Eurovision Asia (if that’s still going to be a thing). We would hate to see them leave over this result, but we can understand if Australia has the impression they are not welcome at the Contest. Wait until Canada replaces them!

Lastly, we salute SuRie for her poise and professionalism after being attacked by a stage invader. She has been a delight to follow before the Contest and during the rehearsals, and she has been an absolute wonder since. We expected her to perform again, but to be honest, we can see why she didn’t feel like she needed to. She was able to make her song’s lyrics all the more powerful by drawing strength from her perseverance.

We have two takeaways from this: 1) The United Kingdom was very lucky to have had her as their representative this year, and 2) There is a clear need for the EBU to adopt more sensible and consistent security measures. This is the second year in a row that Eurovision has had a stage invader, and this time the invader went for the artist. That’s completely unacceptable. Perhaps Israel will give them some pointers about how to do security right.

May 3, 2018 Rehearsal Recap

It’s tough to follow the rehearsals through short clips and reactions on Twitter and websites. There is very little consensus among the die-hard fans on the ground about what they are seeing. Except that Iceland isn’t going to qualify. Which means it probably will.

Here are your Eurovision words of the day:

  • Compentencies
  • Hands
  • The Continental

Azerbaijan kicks off the first Semi with “X My Heart.” They are showing remarkable restraint in their staging, only bringing some icebergs to perform on. Perhaps they were tipped off to the batshit insane staging to come later. Aisel looks and sounds fabulous.

Photo by: Thomas Hanses (Eurovision.tv)

Next up is Iceland. By all accounts, Ari is a lovely lad, good-natured and sweet. And he is a good singer. But god, this song is as dull as dishwater.

Photo by: Andres Putting (Eurovision.tv)

Albania has gone for a rock concert staging. Eugent is a fantastic singer and “Mall” has a big, arena-sized sound. Whether it is engaging enough to capture votes remains to be seen, especially when this style of Albanian rock has struggled in the past. We really hope they can pull it off.

Photo by: Andres Putting (Eurovision.tv)

Sennek sounds good, but something about her styling and Belgium’s staging overall isn’t clicking with us. Beyond an interesting outfit, they’ve been unable to provide a compelling stage picture. It’s a real shame, because “A Matter of Time” has gone into heavy rotation in our household. We will be really sad, but not surprised, if this does not qualify for the Final.

Photo by: Andres Putting (Eurovision.tv)

Poor Mikolas Josef injured his back during his first rehearsal and spent a couple of days in the hospital. He had been planning a very athletic performance, with backflips and other feats. Now Czech Republic have had to rethink their choreography in order to give him time to recover. He has been philosophical about the situation, saying, “Music is not about flips, it’s about many other things.” In the second rehearsal, he stood and sang while the dancers moved around him. At this point it’s unclear what kind of performance we’ll see on Tuesday.

Photo by: Andres Putting (Eurovision.tv)

Ieva Zasimauskaitė from Lithuania is standing on a bridge in a fuzzy pink sweater singing a love song to her husband, who joins her on stage at the end. If it weren’t so effective, it would be really cheesy. But Ieva’s beginning to look like a qualifier.

Photo by: Andres Putting (Eurovision.tv)

Israel has made a couple of odd staging choices. Netta is on stage surrounded by waving lucky cat dolls and standing at a table that is not a looper, because the backing singers are doing live renditions of the vocalizations. The singers seem to be struggling to keep up with Netta, which is a bit of a concern. Maybe we’re feeling a little snake bit when the odds leader shows up to Eurovision and the staging hasn’t gelled. Is this still a potential winner? We’re not sure, but we still think Israel is going to do just fine.

Photo by: Andres Putting (Eurovision.tv)

Belarus. Belarus Belarus Belarus. Belarus.

Alekseev has given us a little art film. A gory little art film. There are roses and blood and roses and archery and a dancer and more roses. If “Forever” is half as epic on television as the rehearsal footage and the Twitter commentary suggests, we will have one for the ages.

Photo by: Andres Putting (Eurovision.tv)

Estonia had some drama in the lead up to Eurovision because they needed to get a stronger projector for Elina Nechayeva’s projector dress. Because without that dress, the whole package falls apart, we guess? It’s not like we haven’t seen that effect before. Anyway, rather than rethink their staging, Estonia stuck with it and were able to raise enough money in sponsorships to pay for the production. Yay? That said, “La Forza” does stand out as different from the other songs, and Elina and her vocals are pretty. Maybe for the first time in a few years, Estonia is sitting pretty too.

Photo by: Andres Putting (Eurovision.tv)

Equinox sounds good, but Bulgaria’s staging is not doing it for us. It doesn’t seem cohesive. This is a concern, since our criticism of the song is that it felt more like a performance piece than a solid song. If the performance isn’t there, than what is it?

Photo by: Andres Putting (Eurovision.tv)

Macedonia’s staging looks like a hot mess, so at least it suits the song. There is a costume change in which Eye Cue’s Marija Ivanovska loses a backwards pink jacket to reveal a chain mail bustier. There is awkward dancing. It all makes us sad.

Photo by: Thomas Hanses (Eurovision.tv)

We hadn’t rated Croatia highly in our song review, but it sounds like Franka has shown up to play. She comes out looking classy and just belts her song. It should help her stand out in a year full of high concept stagings.

Photo by: Andres Putting (Eurovision.tv)

It looks like Austria is relying on some camera tricks to accentuate Cesár Sampson’s performance. He’s got a big platform to fly around on, but he still finds time to wander the stage. We’re worried he is not going to give a grounded performance in his efforts to fill the room.

Photo by: Thomas Hanses (Eurovision.tv)

Greece’s Gianna Terzi feels lost in the diva parade tonight. Between Azerbaijan, Israel, Estonia and Croatia before and Finland and Cyprus to follow, Gianna is just there with her blue hand. We hear Greece has some camera tricks up their sleeve that they have yet to reveal. Will that miraculously make their staging engaging?

Photo by: Andres Putting (Eurovision.tv)

Saara Aalto is finally at Eurovision and Finland has given her everything plus a couple of kitchen sinks to play with. However, what really matters to us is how well she sings “Monster” amidst all the chaos. And we think she sounds shrill.

Photo by: Andres Putting

The last four songs in Semifinal One rehearse tomorrow. Despite all our caveats and reservations, this show is shaping up to be a doozy. And this isn’t even the crazy Semifinal. It’s going to be a fun year.

Things We Learned By Reading the Bios of the 2018 Eurovision Participants

When we write our song reviews, we do research to get background into the songs and the artists performing them. But the official bios on the Eurovision site are our chance to see what the artists have to say about themselves in their own words. Or their publicists’ words.  Of course, in the past many artists have lacked self-awareness or humility. Mika Newton’s bio, in which she says “she got acquainted with the such legendary producers as … Randy Jackson,” inspired us to start writing “Things We Learned by Reading the Bios” posts so we could document such unintentional hilarity.

This year, the main thing we have learned is that the artists bios are really dull. Almost every bio can be summed up thusly: the artists are all child prodigies who attended Berklee College of Music in Boston and/or Royal Academy of Music in London and got a lot of streams on Spotify and/or views on YouTube before appearing on X Factor and/or The Voice and/or Pop Idol, then doing a musical and/or winning Dancing With the Stars. Also, their songs are about how love can transform the world.

So it is with a great deal of excitement and relief that we point you to Benjamin Ingrosso’s bio. It is a tour de force. It says so much and yet so little at the same time. His bio claims he “has turned many a head with his contemporary twist of polished pop tones and soulful performance bravado.” He brags that he is “set to consistently channel a customized stamp that falls far for [sic] the stereotypical world of Swedish pop music,” then in the very next paragraph talks about writing songs for Oscar Zia and Molly Pettersson Hammar.

He goes on to say, “Having a lit spark over in Scandinavia with his breakthrough last year, his undeniable pop sensibility and genuine musicality spread like wildfire through the rest of Europe.” “As the heat intensifies towards the US,” his bio boldly claims, “Benjamin Ingrosso is the one to watch in 2018.”

Then there’s this gem, “The years ahead points to a well-oiled peak.” First of all, years point, not years points. Grammatical error. Also, years don’t actually point. That’s not something years do. Syntax error. Also, why would you oil a peak? Why does a peak need to oiled, let alone be well-oiled?

If you’re looking for something less gushy and a bit more pretentious, let’s head over to France. Madame Monsieur start their bio, “Since the dawn of time, the old saying is that two is better than one. In some cases, it rings as true to the ears as it does to the eyes.” Let us repeat: they start their bio with the phrase “Since the dawn of time.” We like Madame Monsieur, but we can’t help but roll our eyes when we read stuff like, “Jean-Karl and Emilie’s fortuitous meeting with producer Guillaume Silvestri came at the end of a cycle of doubt, as if the planets had aligned and delivered them the way forward.”

By the way, they inform us their second single “Comme une reine” “serves as a resounding warning for the self-esteem against tyranny.” Right. Maybe it makes more sense in French.

Then there’s Elina Nechayeva (Estonia). “She is a big fan of all the classic Disney Princess cartoons and has a love for Japanese Anime” because of course she does. She dreamed of being an astronaut when she was a kid and “it is this same drive that inspired ‘La Forza.'” Not sure how much drive you need to dream of being an astronaut compared to actually becoming an astronaut, but sure let’s run with it.

Not surprisingly, given her genre, Elina “enjoys the clear structure of Mozart’s music and the passion and rich soul of Tchaikovsky. This shows also the two sides of her vivid personality – playful, yet formidable.” Maybe if “La Forza” was a bit more like Mozart’s “Queen of the Night” aria and less like “Sognu” we’d be more excited. Also, don’t mess with us in a pretension battle. We’re older and we’ve got layers.

Some other fun items we unearthed:

The Humans (Romania) end their bio with this: “The Humans project is not just about entertainment, but emotion translated in music through original compositions and remarkable remakes of the most famous rock songs.” That’s a bold claim, but are any of their remakes as remarkable as Simple Minds turning “Love Will Tear Us Apart” into a dance song? We. Think. Not.

Melovin (Ukraine) came up with his name “from a combination of the holiday Halloween and the last name of the British fashion designer Alexander McQueen.” That’s a bit of a stretch, but at least we’ve learned how to pronounce his name. Also, he is passionate about “music, perfumery and chemistry.” That’s pretty awesome, actually. Hopefully this means he plans to use smellitizer technology at his concerts.

Waylon (Netherlands) says, “‘Outlaw In ‘Em’ is an ode to his own authenticity, as well as to his many heroes who dared to be different.” This is coming from someone who named himself after a more famous outlaw country singer.

Saara Aalto (Finland) “was the most and second-most Googled person in Finland in 2016 and 2017 respectively.” Yet another time she found herself in second place.

Australia’s Eurovision 2018 Entry

Australia continues sending its most bankable stars to Eurovision with radio-friendly pop hits. This year, Jessica Mauboy takes her turn.

Jessica Mauboy rose to fame from the Australian Idols franchise way back in 2006. Three platinum studio albums and literally dozens of radio singles later, she is one of Australia’s biggest, most recognizable recording artists.

“We Got Love” is uplifting homage to–you guessed it–love, even when it’s hard. And with “We Got Love,” Australia demonstrates (again) how well it understands the Eurovision space.  Although Jessica normally has a more R&B sound, her song for Europe has many time-honored Eurovision traits on display: big vocal, upbeat tempo, strong drum beat, choral breakdown. It’s shamelessly pop, shamelessly radio-friendly, and very, very accessible.

Though playing it safe is often the riskiest thing a country can do, in this case we are not worried. In her Semifinal, Jessica benefits by her draw in what can only be described as an eclectic line-up. In that context, “We Got Love” is a reassuring turn.

Finland’s Eurovision 2018 Entry

Finland has chosen Saara Aalto and “Monsters” for this year’s Eurovision Song Contest.

Now, it would not be a stretch to call Saara Aalto a competition veteran. She finished second in the Voice of Finland 2012 and she has also finished second at the Finnish national selection show UMK twice, in 2011 and 2016.

See a pattern? One wondered if she was ever going to get a win somewhere, anywhere.

Then something interesting happened: Saara went to the United Kingdom and entered X Factor UK. She finished second (again) in a series that was widely watched by the Brits, the Irish, and the Finns. Rumor had it that she planned to enter the UK national selection competition Eurovision: You Decide. Finland took a look at its crop of songs, decided they were a measly bunch, and gave her a direct-to-Eurovision offer, thus beating the UK to the punch.

It’s a classic story:

You’re not good enough for me.

Ok, I’ll change.  How about now?

Better, but no, you’re still not good enough for me.

Is that really how you feel? It breaks my heart. But I’ll pick up the pieces, move on, and find someone else who will love me the way I deserve.

Wait, someone else likes you?  I like you so much better now. Come back!

Well, it always has been you, so…okay. But you hurt me bad. This time I have some conditions.

Sure, sure anything. But please come back! I need you!

Thus, for this year’s UMK, Saara co-wrote and performed three songs for the public and an international jury to choose from. “Monsters,” the runaway favorite, was co-written with “Heroes” songwriters Joy and Linnea Deb and Ki Fitzgerald from Busted.

“Monsters” is one of those only at Eurovision songs, from its thematic content to its ballad-to-dance track transition. It’s a Euroclub stomper, if not a Eurovision winner. Maybe it will finish second?

Saara’s vocal phrasing is excellent. She’s not flawless: She runs the risk of being shouty and she struggles with the lower end of her range. Be not fooled by her surname: Ms. Aalto is definitely a soprano. But her obvious glee about finally getting her chance at Eurovision translates into a joyful, infectious live performance.

Speaking of infectious, let’s talk about that lyrical hook: “Monster” burrows into your brain and pops out at random times.

“I ain’t scared no more!”

So it’s got that going for it.

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.

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.

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.

 

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 Foureira 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 2016’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…