Hungary’s Eurovision 2018 Entry

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AWS are a metal band that formed in 2006 and made a name for themselves tackling social issues in their lyrics. In 2011, they were named Brand:New Discovery of the Year on MTV Hungary.

Their path to Lisbon was interesting, to say the least. Hungary’s A Dal format gives the panel of four judges the power to send four songs to a superfinal. The superfinal result is then determined by a televote. Generally, songs that get a lot of points from the jury end up winning the televote.

That was not the case this year. “Viszlát nyár” squeaked into the superfinal with only eight points total from just two jury members. This after it received nines across the board from the four jury members and the televote in its heat, then three 10s and a nine from the jury and just a seven from the public in its semifinal. You can understand when AWS seemed genuinely shocked that they pulled off the win.

We were pretty happy with the A Dal result. To be fair, one member of the Lemurs household in particular is an old metalhead, but we both admired the unconventional choice. It’s almost like the Hungarian public collectively realized that maybe the key to Eurovision success is to not resemble the previous winner at all.

We think there are two omens that hint at good things for AWS in Lisbon. First, stylistically similar songs to “Viszlát nyár” have done pretty well: maNga’s “We Could Be the Same” finished second in 2010 and Eldrine’s “One More Day” finished ninth in 2011. Second, “Kedvesem” was another song that made the A Dal superfinal in the jury’s fourth place slot. ByeAlex went on to finish 10th at the Song Contest.

This could just be wishful thinking, but we always hope that countries that break out of the pop mold are rewarded for their choices. We have our fingers crossed for Hungary this year.

Serbia’s Eurovision 2018 Entry

Sanja Ilić i Balkanika have won Beovizija 2018 with the song “Nova deca.”

Sanja Ilić is a Serbian composer and musician with a degree in architecture. He wrote the 1982 Yugoslavian Eurovision entry “Halo Halo” for the group Aska, and he composed the music to the anthem for the Red Star Belgrade soccer team.

Ilić formed Balkanika in 1998 with the goal of using traditional Balkan musical instruments in modern pop music. The band has 11 members, so they had to be strategic in which six musicians made the Beovizija line-up. They wisely included flutist Ljubomir Dimitrijević because he is the Jerry Garcia of Serbian flutists.

We would eat an ice cream named after him.

“Nova deca” is a challenging song. It takes a full minute to really get going, then it meanders from traditional-sounding choral parts to modern Balkan ballad sections. A touch of synthetic dance beats are thrown in for good measure.

We always fear for songs that deviate from a typical song structure. We harken back to something Daniel Gould wrote on Sofabet:

Pop songs tend to follow a pattern that goes like this: intro; first verse; first chorus; second verse; second chorus; middle eight with a change of pace; and final chorus with something a bit extra.

Eurovision winners tend to follow this formula, with only a few small deviations – in 2008, Serbia’s ‘Molitva’ had an instrumental second verse, for example. I would never back a song to do well that deviated significantly from this structure…

To that end, we remember the fate of “Icebreaker,” Norway’s Eurovision 2016 entry. It had an abrupt rhythm change about which singer Agnete admitted, “It seems like either you love it, or you simply strongly dislike it.” Norway finished 13th in the second Semi, behind Ivan and his wolves.

But it’s not so different from the type of Balkan ballad that has often made its way to the Eurovision stage. Ilić and company have just tweaked the form enough to make it interesting. It will be equally interesting to see how the juries and the public respond to it.

Denmark’s Eurovision 2018 Entry

Since Portugal has given Eurovision a maritime theme this year, it is apropos that Denmark has voted to go for the full Viking. Here’s Rasmussen with “Higher Ground.”

Higher Ground” is by Swedish songwriters Niclas Arn and Karl Eurén, who co-wrote Timoteij’s 2010 Melodifestivalen entry “Kom.” The song is inspired by Magnus Erlendsson, a Viking leader and martyr who sought peaceful solutions to conflicts.

Rasmussen is a singer and actor who fronts an ’80s cover band Hair Metal Heröes. You may be surprised to learn he has performed in a production of Les Miserables.

So let’s not put too fine a point on it: “Higher Ground” is “One Day More” crossed with “Only Teardrops,” but with zombie Vikings. It is a suitably haunting song and the staging is simple but effective. Rasmussen is a solid, charismatic singer and the arrangement makes good use of bass, dwarvish vocal tones. It was our favorite at Dansk Melodi Grand Prix from the moment we heard it.

We do wonder if there is a market for a theatrical song about Vikings outside of Denmark. If so, who will like it more: the parts of Europe that were never invaded by Vikings or the parts that were frequently invaded by Vikings? Either way, we are more than happy that Rasmussen and his fellow unkempt, undead hippie Norsemen have set sail to Lisbon.

Italy’s Eurovision 2018 Entry

Alright, let’s get this over with. Here’s Italy’s entry to the Eurovision Song Contest.

Ermal Meta was born in Albania but moved with his family to Italy when he was 13. He started his music career in the bands Ameba4 and La Fame di Camilla before becoming a successful solo artist. Two of his albums have topped the Italian charts since 2017. Meta’s single “Vietato morire” finished 3rd at Sanremo last year and reached number seven in the Italian singles charts.

Fabrizio Moro won the Sanremo Newcomers competition in 2007 with the anti-Mafia song “Pensa,” which hit number one on the Italian singles chart. He’s had three top 10 albums and also presented the TV show Sbarre.

Meta and Moro wrote “Non mi avete fatto niente” with Andrea Febo in response to the attack on Manchester Arena in 2017. The song has certain structural similarities to Febo’s “Silenzio,” which Ambra Calvani and Gabriele De Pascali performed at the 2016 Sanremo Music Festival.

Hey, if you find a chorus that works for you, then run with it.

As with this year’s French entry, this year’s Italian entry could be seen as a political song. “Non mi avete fatto niente,” which Google-translates as “You did not do anything to me,” is about remaining defiant in the face of terror. It’s a catalog of recent terror attacks punctuated with a defiant “fuck you.” This message resonates with us. It’s an alternative to putting empty platitudes and calls for policy change up on Facebook that we know will result in nothing because there is insufficient political will.

Unfortunately,”Non mi avete fatto niente” is a poor vehicle for the message. The lyric is crowded and the melody rambles on. We’re sure the song has more impact to those who understand Italian, but how widely is Italian understood by Eurovision’s international audience?  Regardless, translation (unlikely to happen) or staging are unlikely to solve the fundamental problem: the song lacks elegance.

Charlie Hebdo put it more succinctly. “They have guns. Fuck them, we have champagne.”

Switzerland’s Eurovision 2018 Entry

Let they who are without Sinplus cast “Stones” to Lisbon. Here is Switzerland’s representative for Eurovision, Zibbz.

Corinne and Stee Gfeller are siblings who founded Zibbz in 2008. They divide their time between Los Angeles and their home country and starred in a reality show for a few years on the now-defunct Swiss network Joiz. They’ve had two top 20 albums on the Swiss charts and their song “One Shot” was the official song of the 2012 Unihockey World Cup.

Zibbz have described themselves as a “trash-pop indie rock band” who “combine their love of fun, innovation, and toy instruments to create a new sound and stage presence that has been viewed as unique and the next ‘big thing’ to hit the airwaves and everyone’s ear drums.”

Which is interesting since “Stones” struck us as a kinda bland blues rock album track.

To be fair, we feel bad ragging on “Stones.” The song’s lyrics are about online bullying and they resonate with us at a time when interaction on the internet seems to be increasingly tetchy.

So let’s focus on the positives: Corinne has a gravelly, raspy singing voice and a snarly, camera-friendly intensity. We liked how Zibbz stayed on brand by incorporating their logo into their staging. And the Gfellers just seem like fun, lovely people.

All of which makes us sad we don’t like the song more. It’s fine. That’s all. We really wish they had brought the toy instruments.

By the way, from now on, can we call the action of singing while banging on a drum with one hand Sebaltering?

Spain’s Eurovision 2018 Entry

Alfred and Amaia are bringing a song for you to the Eurovision Song Contest. Here is “Tu Canción.”

This year, Spanish broadcaster RTVE revived the talent show Operación Triunfo, which was used between 2001 and 2004 to choose the country’s Eurovision act. Instead of selecting the winner of the show, Spain picked its Eurovision entry during Gala Eurovisión, the penultimate episode of the show.

As it turns out, Amaia Romero ultimately won OT, while Alfred García finished fourth. Shouldn’t she be billed first, then?

Anyway, “Tu Canción” was written by composer Raúl Gómez and lyricist Sylvia Santoro. Raúl was the 2013 winner of the show El Número Uno who then moved to London to start his songwriting career. He submitted a song for Spain in 2016 that did not make it out of the pre-selection. Raúl’s aunt Sylvia released two albums in the early 2000s before taking a break for her family, but is now returning to songwriting. They wrote the song inspired by Alfred and Amaia’s real-life romance.

“Tu Canción” is a gentle ballad that sounds like a cross between “Amar pelos dois” and “Wind Beneath My Wings.” It doesn’t appeal to us much, but let’s be honest: the bar was set so low by Spain’s previous entry that you could walk over said bar without even noticing it was there.

We can’t decide if Alfred and Amaia’s performance is helped or hindered by their relationship. On one hand, we want to scream, “Get a room!” But heck, it’s a love song, and if the singers don’t have good chemistry, then how are supposed to buy what they’re selling? So long as they don’t miss their cues, they’ll be fine.

United Kingdom’s Eurovision 2018 Entry

SuRie has won Eurovision You Decide and will bring a “Storm” to Lisbon.

Born Susanna Marie Cork, SuRie was a backup singer for Loïc Nottet in 2015 and for Blanche in 2017. She has also backed up Will Young and Chris Martin and acted as Fontaine in Les Miserables. In addition to performing, she teaches at Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts in London.

SuRie has an Annie Lennox vibe, both in her look and in her alto voice. She has a likable stage presence that the Brighton audience for Eurovision: You Decide ate up. If the BBC ever released voting figures, we would expect to see that she was the overwhelming favorite of the juries and the televoters too.

If we see a problem, it’s that “Storm” sounds like what the United Kingdom thinks a Eurovision song should sound like. It fits in nicely on a playlist with “Children of the Universe,” “You’re Not Alone,” and “Never Give Up On You.” Each of these songs have their own different styles, but they are all cut from the same middle-of-the-road pop cloth. They are likeable songs performed by likeable performers. They also tend to get forgotten by the end of the night.

If it sounds like we’re being a bit over-critical, we are, because we are always over-critical of the United Kingdom. But we have to give them credit. We think back to 2014, when BBC producer Guy Freeman (who is leaving the BBC this month) published a blog post called “Our Vision for Copenhagen.” In it, he wrote:

“It’s clear there’s a disconnect between what kind of songs and artists are now winning Eurovision, versus the stereotype that many people – including much of the music industry – still hold in their minds.”

That old Wogan-influenced stereotype still lingers, but watching Eurovision: You Decide, we felt like the perception has finally begun to change. Let’s just pretend 2015 never happened, though.

Czech Republic’s Eurovision 2018 Entry

Mikolas Josef and his camel would like a dirty word with you. Here is Czech Republic’s Eurovision entry, “Lie to Me.”

Mikolas was a professional model and a busker when he was a teenager. He began releasing his singles independently in 2015. His song “Free” reached 15th on the Czech singles chart in 2016.

Last year, he was offered the chance to represent Czech Republic with the song “My Turn.” He said he turned it down because he didn’t think it was a good fit. Martina Barta ended up taking the song, finishing 13th in the first Semi.

He wrote “Lie to Me” and it is a bit derivative of Jason Derulo’s “Talk Dirty.” But we’ll give it a pass because it’s so damned catchy. The serpentine horns and the hooky chorus make it a guilty pleasure.

The lyrics, on the other hand, are… um… suggestive?

  • “I know you ‘bop-whop-a-lu bop’ on his wood bamboo”
  • “Then she got one of my friends, she got him dripping on wood”
  • “You should’ve thought about me before you fucked him at the club”
  • “But steady plenty motherfuckers wanna eat my spaghetti”
  • “Set my camel in the mood”

It’s like poetry written by a 14-year-old who just discovered boobs. That said, tacky lyrics shouldn’t be too much of a liability so long as there is a good performance and an entertaining stage show (see: Robin Bengtsson). Mikolas performed at Ukraine’s first semifinal and he projects a quiet confidence and laid back charm.

He certainly seems ambitious, so we’re looking forward to see what kind of package he will put together for Eurovision. Unfortunately, he will have to leave his camel at home thanks to the EBU’s restrictions on live animals at the Song Contest. He can probably bring his own spaghetti, though.

Malta’s Eurovision 2018 Entry

Christabelle will represent Malta at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest with the song “Taboo.”

Although she is just 25, Christabelle Borg is a veteran of Malta’s entertainment industry. She participated in three Junior Eurovision national finals and three previous Eurovision national finals before finally getting the nod this year. She also was the host of the Maltese TV shows Teen Trouble and Teen Traffic.

Outside of her music and television career, she has received her Master’s in Accountancy from the University of Malta. She told Malta’s The Accountant that her dissertation “The setting up of a new private school in Malta : a feasibility study” was named as Best Financial Management Dissertation by her school’s faculty.

Christabelle co-wrote “Taboo” with Johnny Sanchez, Muxu, and Eurovision stalwart Thomas G:son. Musically, the song has a bouncy Melodifestivalen sound that reminded us of Jasmine Kara’s “Gravity” quite a lot. It’s solid, if not particularly remarkable, although the chorus is catchy.

The lyrics are about Christabelle’s struggles with mental illness and she hopes to raise awareness of mental health issues in her performance. We can sort of see how she is telling her story in the MESC staging. Christabelle begins her performance trapped in a box. Her back-up dancers then appear in the box to represent (for lack of a better term) the demons in her mind. By the end of the song, she has quieted those demons down.

Of course, we see this now with benefit of learning more about the song. There’s also a chance we’re misinterpreting what’s going on, which speaks to the challenge Malta faces. There are strong staging elements here, but we think Christabelle and her team need to think about how to tell the story of “Taboo” more clearly to maximize her song’s impact.

France’s Eurovision 2018 Entry

Madame Monsieur won a corker of a French national final with a corker of a song, “Mercy.”

Singer Émilie Satt and musician and producer Jean-Karl Lucas formed Madame Monsieur in 2013. They cowrote and were featured on rapper Youssoupha’s 2015 single “Smile” from his top five album NGRTD. Their debut album Tandem was released in 2016.

“Mercy” tells the story of a girl born prematurely to a refugee on a boat from Libya to Europe. Madame Monsieur have since had to address whether or not it is a political song, but we think whether you believe it is speaks more to your own politics than to the song’s narrative.

We got excited when we first heard “Mercy” in Destination Eurovision’s semifinals. We both had it stuck in our heads for days afterwards, even without repeated listens. It’s a cool, modern adult contemporary song and it is very, very catchy. Plus we dug Madame Monsieur’s Sprockets-esque stage look.

However, we grew concerned when we heard “Mercy” in the final. Madame Monsieur’s performance seemed to lack the intensity of their first performance, as if the added fog machine had blown away all of their warmth. We worried that they had ceded victory to Lisandro Cuxi’s “Eva.”

Our concerns seemed to be justified when the international juries placed “Mercy” third and “Eva” first. While “Mercy” took the public vote overwhelmingly (118 points to Lisandro’s 72 points), we are left wondering if the song will appeal to the international juries it will face in Lisbon.

Hand-wringing aside, we love “Mercy.” It’s sleek and memorable and it will tell a story of modern Europe at a Song Contest with a theme that hearkens back to the continent’s maritime history. How Madame Monsieur get that story across, short of a language change, will be important. Romania’s Voltaj finished 15th in 2015 with a similar humanitarian message and we hope “Mercy” does not suffer the same fate.