Norway’s Eurovision 2019 Entry

This isn’t a dream! This is really happening!

KEiiNO is a pop group who formed to perform “Spirit In the Sky” at Melodi Grand Prix. Tom Hugo is a singer-songwriter who had a top 20 single on the Norwegian singles chart in 2012 with “Open Up Your Eyes.” He wrote “Spirit In the Sky” with his husband Alex Olsson, then recruited Alexandra Rotan and Fred Buljo to form the band. Alexandra teamed up with Stella Mwangi for MGP in 2018 to perform “You Got Me,” while Fred is a member of the Sami rap group Duolva Duottar that competed on the 2008 edition of Norske Talenter. The band took its name from Fred’s hometown of Kautokeino.

This is not good. It’s not. It is generic schlager gussied up with some joik singing to give it gravitas. The lyrics are bland aphorisms tricked out with folk tropes. It gives into every mawkish instinct with a straight face. Then there’s the official video, which is irrepressibly cheesy.

Needless to say, we love it. “Spirit In the Sky” is ridiculously catchy and KEiiNO’s earnestness makes it both more compelling and more kitschy in a way that bring us joy.

We will always defend the Eurovision Song Contest to any casual viewer who pokes fun at its hokey excesses and only tune in for the next Nicole and Hugo. On the other hand, Eurovision’s campiness is what sent us down this rabbit hole in the first place. We may not be in an era with a high cheese factor anymore, but that doesn’t mean the cheese platters have gone away either. It’s that combination of the ridiculous and the sublime that makes Eurovision so entertaining to us.

Also, we still hold out hope that KEiiNO will wear the fox ears in Tel Aviv.

The Netherlands’ Eurovision 2019 Entry

Lord, take me downtown.

Duncan Laurence competed on season five of The Voice of Holland under his birth name Duncan de Moor. He was on Ilse DeLange‘s team and was eliminated in the semifinals. He co-wrote “Arcade” with Swedish songwriter Joel Sjöö and Dutch songwriter Wouter Hardy.

“Arcade” is a gorgeous song, with a similar vibe to Kristian Kostov’s “Beautiful Mess.” It sounds like a modern pop take on a sea shanty, full of longing and heartache. Even if it isn’t immediately catchy, its melodies find their way into our heads, and they linger long after.

When “Arcade” was released, it immediately rocketed to the top of the betting odds and has stayed there ever since. We can’t decide if the buzz is based on the quality of the song or the quality of the official video or, within that, the quality of Duncan’s delicious, delicious ass. Maybe he needs to consult with Ivan about how to stage a Eurovision entry while naked.

We’re being facetious, of course. “Arcade” is a haunting song that lives up to the hype. Even if we are a bit annoyed by reports of Dutch cities already prepping their bids to host Eurovision 2020, we can’t deny that Duncan has given us a worthy contender.

Russia’s Eurovision 2019 Entry

Russia crapped out in the Semifinals last year. Time to call in the bookie bait!

Anyway, Sergey Lazarev is a Russian pop star who came close to winning Eurovision in 2016, if it weren’t for those meddling juries. For “Scream,” he has once again teamed up with songwriters Philipp Kirkorov and Dimitris Kontopoulos. They are joined by Sharon Vaugh, an American lyricist who started off working in country music before branching out into European pop. She has worked with Boyzone, The Wanted, Måns Zelmerlöw, Alcazar, and Helena Paparizou, and co-wrote “Waterline” for Jedward.

The unnamed songwriter in the Russian camp this year, however, is Sergei Prokofiev. If you’re in the mood for some good old-fashioned Soviet pomp, Prokofiev is your boy. Thus “Scream” is the most Russian-sounding entry Russia has sent since “Lost and Forgotten.”

We like “Scream,” although our fondness has more to do with the cool music video than the song itself. We figure Sergey and his team are going to pull out all of the stops in the staging, and it’s all going to be spectacular.

And we also figure Russia is going to achieve the same result they did in 2016. Again: those meddling juries. Maybe our knowledge of previous Eurovision results is having too much of an influence on our instincts, but we have a feeling history is going to repeat itself.

Malta’s Eurovision 2019 Entry

Malta’s fortunes at Eurovision have waxed and waned in the past decade. They have been batting .500 in terms of qualification for the Grand Prix Final, but struck out the last two years. So they changed their stance and choked up on their bat and we have no idea why we’re going for a baseball metaphor here, but instead of holding a national final, they gave the ticket to Tel Aviv to the winner of the newly launched X Factor Malta.

Now they look poised to hit it out of the park. Here is Michela Pace with “Chameleon.”

While Malta is going with a previously undiscovered talent as their singer, they hired some heavy hitters to write her song. Joacim Bo Persson, Johan Alkenäs and Borislav Milanov are increasingly influential Eurovision songwriters who teamed up last year to co-write “Nobody but You” with Cesár Sampson (which we remind you won the jury vote). For “Chameleon,” they are joined by Paula Winger, who has written for Miranda Cosgrove and composed the theme song for the Disney Channel show Liv and Maddie.

Gosh almighty, do we love “Chameleon.” It is battling with “Soldi” at the top of our personal chart. There’s the jaunty little horn intro that leads into a funky, sultry R&B verse. The pre-chorus splashes us with a dash of “Fuego” mixed up with a taste of the pop bangers that Borislav and his Symphonix team have brought to Eurovision the past few years . Then the chorus ties it all together with a bouncy, coiling beat.

Michela has a rich, smoky voice and the recorded track hints at her ability to belt and run. She takes this song and makes it her own with a confidence that belies her professional experience.

Our only concern is that lack of experience. Winning X Factor Malta is an achievement, but we’ve seen other talent show winners struggle on the gigantic Eurovision stage. Maybe we’re worrying for no reason, but we want “Chameleon” in the top 10 so bad that we are thinking of the worst case scenario. Come on, Malta, you got this!

Portugal’s Eurovision 2019 Entry

Oh hi! Long time, no see! We have been through the ringer a bit lately, so we haven’t really had a chance to post. We are back now and are increasingly comfortable with the fact that we may not be able to write reviews of every single entry in detail before all the acts arrive in Tel Aviv. (Sorry, Moldova.)

We thought we’d cherry-pick an easy entry to ease our way back in. Then we decided to review “Telemóveis” instead.

Conan Osíris is a self-taught singer and songwriter who also has a degree in graphic design. He has released two EPs and two full albums, with his 2017 release Adoro Bolos serving as his breakthrough. He was eventually invited by Portuguese broadcaster RTP to compose a song for this year’s edition of  Festival da Canção.

We have absolutely no idea what to make of “Telemóveis.” It might be the least accessible Eurovision entry we have heard in our years of following the Song Contest. We have no entry point to come at it, no knowledge of Conan’s musical genre, no reference point to decode it. It is totally out of our comfort zone.

“Telemóveis” was the overwhelming winner at Festival da Canção and was an early favorite of diehard Eurovision fans. But we wonder if most viewers in May will react the way we did, scratching their heads wondering what the heck that was.

And yet, and yet… We are happy Conan is at Eurovision because he is bringing something utterly unique to the Song Contest, a song unlike anything we’ve ever encountered. We may not get it, but we want it to be there. It is striking and special.

Iceland’s Eurovision 2019 Entry

Iceland has not qualified for the Grand Final since Pollapönk made it in 2014. They’ve tried Disney pop ballads, dramatic orchestral ballads, old-fashioned ballads, and alternative pop diva ballads. This year, they decided to mix it up a bit.

Hatari are a punk techno trio known for their bondage gear, their anti-capitalist bent, and their wicked sense of humor. They originally announced they were breaking up in December 2018 because they had failed to destroy capitalism, then showed up at Söngvakeppnin 2019 weeks later. They will keep “Hatrið mun sigra” in Icelandic, because let’s be honest, no other language will do.

So imagine if Jimmy Somerville had Rammstein’s baby and Trent Reznor was the midwife. It is everything we listened to when we were in college, with an added touch of cynicism: “Hatrið mun sigra” translates to “Hatred Will Prevail,” which sadly seems to be the case in a lot of well-to-do countries around the world these days. It’s taking all our effort to not just quote the whole of Dudepoint’s “Why Hatrið mun sigra is the song we need, not just the song we deserve” in this post.

Even with the gritty growling vocal during the verse and the gnarly electronic arrangement, “Hatrið mun sigra” is still recognizable as a cracking Eurovision song. It’s catchy and it even has a key change. Group that all together with striking visuals and more cheek than a drunk Paul Oscar and what’s not to love?

There has been a bit of buzz about Hatari among some of our fellow die hard Eurovision fans, who get some serious Lordi vibes out of this thrashing, leather-clad trio of pop music anarchists. We’re not exactly ready to buy our tickets to Reykjavik just yet, but we feel like Iceland is on to something this year. Hatari needs to bring even more energy and intensity to Tel Aviv because we would hate for them to fall flat like DJ Bobo or Teapacks. We’re not worried, because boy howdy, do they seem up for this.

Germany’s Eurovision 2019 Entry

Do you like Frozen? Would you like to hear a song that sounds like it was cut from the Broadway version of Frozen? Germany has got you covered.

S!sters were formed to compete at this year’s Unser Lied. Carlotta Truman was a finalist on The Voice Kids in 2014. Laurita Spinelli (no relation to Carlotta) won a competition called Kiddy Contest in 2010 and is currently one of Lena’s backing singers. Their song “Sister” was co-written by Laurell Barker, Thomas Stengaard, Marine Kaltenbacher, and Tom Oehler. Those first two names may sound familiar: Laurell co-wrote this year’s United Kingdom entry “Bigger Than Us,” while Thomas co-wrote last year’s Germany entry “You Let Me Walk Alone.”

“Sister” is about two sisters who reunite after many years of bad blood. The second verse begins, “I’m sorry/Sorry for the drama,” but are they really? S!sters emote the living daylights out of their song. It’s all a bit much. We were no fans of Michael Schulte’s song last year, but at least he was drawing on some genuine emotion by telling his own story. “Sister” replaces emotion with theatrics. It’s all show and it leaves us cold.

Hungary’s Eurovision 2019 Entry

The nice thing about artists returning to Eurovision is that a lot of our work is already done. Case in point: Joci Pápai. Just read the bio we wrote when he represented Hungary in 2017, then note that he finished 8th in the Grand Final that year.

Of course, that was then. What about now?

“Az én apám” is a gentle ballad about Joci’s dad. (That’s two songs in a row from Hungary about fathers. Wonder if there’s something going on there?) It’s a lovely song, but it doesn’t strike a chord with us the way “Origo” did. Maybe we are being unfair comparing the two songs, but we think his latest effort lacks the spark that made his previous effort so successful. If he wasn’t an artist the audience was already familiar with, we wonder if he would have made it out of Hungary’s A Dal competition.

We will be thinking a lot about artists coming back for a second bite of the apple, mainly because Joci, Nevena Božović from Moje 3, Sergey Lazarev, and Serhat are all returning to Eurovision this year. They likely aspire to be like Dima Bilan, who finished second in 2006, then came back and won in 2008.

However, a lot of returning performers often find their second go-around isn’t quite as successful as their first one. For example, Elitsa Todorova and Stoyan Yankoulov snagged Bulgaria’s best finish to date in 2007, but missed the Final when they came back in 2013. There wasn’t a lot wrong with “Samo Shampioni,” but it sure wasn’t “Water.” We’d love to say we got Dima Bilan vibes out of Joci this year, but we’re feeling more Elitsa and Stoyan.

Denmark’s Eurovision 2019 Entry

After watching Leonora win Dansk Melodi Grand Prix with “Love Is Forever,” we asked ourselves, “Did anyone in Russia put their guns down and not go fight in Donbass?”

tl;dr No.

Leonora was a figure skater who competed in the World Junior Championships in 2016 and won gold with her brother Linus at the Danish figure skating national final in 2016. She still works as a choreographer while pursuing her music career. “Love Is Forever” was co-written by Lise Cabble, who also co-wrote “Only Teardrops.”

Leonora is an amiable performer with an amiable voice singing an amiable song with an amiable staging. Plus it’s all about love changing the world in the most direct way possible. And she sings it in French and Danish too! What’s not to tolerate for three minutes?

Okay, maybe we’re a bit cynical, but keep in mind we flipped over to Dansk Melodi Grand Prix after watching the fiasco unfolding in Ukraine, so maybe we weren’t up for a sunny “love conquers all” number at the time. Revisiting “Love Is Forever” a week later, we came to the conclusion that it is not good, it’s not bad, it’s just nice. Good luck changing the world with that.

Ukraine’s Eurovision 2019 Entry That Almost Was

Usually we don’t have to do this type of disclaimer on our Eurovision blog, but any opinions we present in this post do not necessarily reflect those of our employers.

You see, Ukraine had planned to enter Eurovision this year. They held the Vidbir national final and everything. MARUV won with her totally awesome “Siren Song,” a pop banger that had the potential to elevate her to Ani Lorak-level heights with the Eurovision fan base.

But there was just one problem: Russia.

Like many Song Contest fans, we followed along with Vidbir aided by the live translations provided by Andy Mikheev from ESCKAZ on Twitter. So like many Song Contest fans, we were taken aback when Andy tweeted that host Serhiy Prytula pointed out that the mother of sister act Anna Maria is in the Crimean government and that Jamala criticized them for not answering correctly about whether or not Crimea is Ukrainian and that Jamala told MARUV that “it is a thing of consience [sic] not to perform in Russia” after discussing MARUV’s plans to tour Russia after Eurovision and that after MARUV said music unites people, Serhiy asked, “if there was anyone after her performance in Russia who said he will put guns down and will not go to fight in Donbass?”

No wonder that fellow judge Andriy “Verka Serduchka” Danylko described the discussions like this:

Now, discussions of politics and national identity are not new to Vidbir’s judging. Jamala’s performance of “1944” back in 2016 included a detailed discussion by the judging panel (which included Ruslana and Andriy Danylko) about how political a song it was.

Maybe it shouldn’t be a shock, given that Jamala won Eurovision with a song about Crimea, that she would bring up Crimea during the judging of a Eurovision Song Contest entry. I mean, other than a fact that this was a show selecting a Eurovision Song Contest entry. But politics and Eurovision have been intertwined in Ukraine for quite some time, from Ruslana’s career in parliament to GreenJolly’s entry being an anthem of the Orange Revolution to, again, their most recent winner.

ESCKAZ and ESCXtra both cover the aftermath in detail, but in short, after reviewing the contract she was expected to sign to represent Ukraine, MARUV decided it was not worth it. UA:PBC offered the spot to second place act Freedom Jazz and third place act Kazka, and both rejected the opportunity as well. Meanwhile, private broadcaster STB, who runs Vidbir on behalf of the underfunded EBU member UA:PBC, cast doubts on whether or not they would continue to manage the national selection. As Eric Graf put it after Ukraine announced its withdrawal:

We in the Eurovision community may be scratching our heads, but if we are honest with ourselves, everything that happened during and after Vidbir is not that surprising. Russia and Ukraine relations have deteriorated since the annexation of Crimea and tensions flared up between the two countries as recently as this past November.

Not long after the annexation, I read an article written by The Economist’s Moscow Correspondent Noah Sneider called “The Empire Strikes Back.” It’s a lengthy and often tough read, but it provided me with a lot of insight into the history of Russia and Ukraine. It also reminded me that as big as Eurovision is, it is just a small part of a greater history being played out.

I realize that’s not a deep insight, but people can spend their careers analyzing Russia and Ukraine, and I just came to Vidbir for the divas who slay. This is best sense I can make of it all, and now I can move on to making fun of Denmark’s entry.