National Final Season in Review 2019: Our Favorite WTF Moments

It has been a good year for those of us who collect WTFery from the national finals. We had a tingly feeling about 2019 the moment we heard that the United Kingdom’s 2006 representative Daz Sampson had teamed up with a singer named Nona to enter the Belarus pre-selection with a song called “Kinky Boots.”

Lest we were worried about peaking too soon, Lithuania topped “Kinky Boots” and then some with Banzzzai’s ultimate masterpiece of self-aware obliviousness, “I Don’t Care.” The love child of Psy and Anri Jokhadze, Banzzzai heard that old inspirational quote, “Dance like no one is watching,” and added ninjas to it. Plus he had a flashing neon milkshake and he scatted. It was fabulous.

France gave us Battista Acquaviva’s “Passio.” Imagine if Enigma wrote “La Forza” and you have a sense of how “Passio” sounded. That couldn’t prepare you for the live performance. Battista’s vocal was wispy and thin and her stage presence was stiffer than the main characters at the end of Reservoir Dogs. She was joined by shirtless guys doing calisthenics, which seemed gratuitous. We appreciated the eye candy anyway. France 2 has inexplicably pulled all of the Destination Eurovision videos off of YouTube, so we’re not entirely sure we didn’t dream this.

Updated 7/3/2019: Eric Graf has helpfully linked to a video of “Passio” in the comments, confirming that was no dream!

Heading up to Denmark, Teit Samsø’s “Step It Up” would have been uncomfortably sleazy in the best of circumstances. But Teit’s oily performance gave us the effect of a drunk uncle hitting on his niece while chaperoning her to her junior prom.

We whined all this year about how Eesti Laul had lost its spark, but that doesn’t mean the Estonia national final was completely devoid of colorful weirdness. Kaia Tamm’s entry “Wo sind die katzen?” was probably the best song ever about how Alice In Wonderland is a metaphor for Schrödinger’s cat and vice versa.

And Eurovision Lemurs favorite Jaan Pehk returned to Eesti Laul with Cätlin Mägi to perform “Parmumäng.” The staging featured Jaan’s head transposed onto a rack of mouth harps. This is only slightly less odd than it sounds, and the song sounded awesome live. Keep coming back, Jaan!

Speaking of songs that were brilliant and bizarre at the same time, let’s end in Latvia. Is there a more joyful expression of feeling like an outcast than Dzili Violets and Kozmens’ goofy and relentlessly catchy “Tautasdziesma?” The staging only really makes sense if you’ve seen the official video. Then again, making sense wasn’t really a part of the plan. Kozmens, the guy with the kilt and the spectacular mustache, is the man behind WTF mainstay Riga Beaver. “Tautasdziesma” is a worthy addition to his already notable Supernova legacy.

Estonia's Eurovision 2012 Entry

Eesti Laul is always a highlight of the Eurovision season, and tonight was no exception. Sure, I would have liked Jaan Pehk actually performing, rather than showing up as a songwriting credit on Traffic’s “NASA,” and I would have loved to have Mimicry in the final with their terrific “The Destination.” I’d even have liked Malcolm Lincoln back, even if this year’s “Bye” is no “Siren.”

But Eesti Laul 2012 offered a number of delights. Andres Kõpper fought off a cold to bring proper icy distance to Tenfold Rabbit’s “Oblivion,” this year’s “too cool for Eurovision” Estonian number. POP Maniacs threw together complex harmonies and slick choreography to the ridiculously catchy pop number “I Don’t Know.” Ex-Vanilla Ninja Lenna went to the super final with her James Bond in Tallinn track “Mina jään.”

However, the day went to Ott Lepland, who will be performing “Kuula” in Baku on Estonia’s behalf:

This reminds Jen of Barry Manilow, sort of a slowed down “Can’t Smile Without You” with a touch of Niamh Kavanagh’s “It’s For You” thrown in at the top. It’s lushly orchestrated, and Lepland is good looking and has a nice voice. It definitely looked like a crowd favorite from a performer that Estonians have known since he won Eesti otsib superstaari in 2009. (Two other Superstaari winners, Birgit Õigemeel and Liis Lemsalu, also vied for the trip to Baku).

But I fear for this one, because it’s in the second half of the second Semi. It definitely doesn’t hold up against Slovenia’s “Verjamem,” and while it is a better song than Croatia’s “Nebo,” it doesn’t crescendo the way Nina Badric’s entry does. I’m not sure there’s room in the Final for all three songs. Draw may turn out to be important for all three, and if “Kuula” precedes its rivals, it could get lost in the mix.

I’m confident Lepland can deliver a strong performance, given the composure we’ve seen from him thus far. We’ll have to see if that will be good enough to see him through.

Preview: Estonia – Eesti Laul 2011 National Final

When:
February 26, 2011

Storyline(s) we’ll be looking for:
Estonia is year-in year-out one of our favorite Eurovision countries. Eesti Laul entries range from quirky alt rock to the truly bizarre. We enjoy Eesti Laul not just as a Eurovision national final but as a music festival.

  • Can Ott and Märt live up to the standard they set last year?

Eesti Laul 2010 set the entertainment standard by which all other national finals will be measured. Last year’s hosts, comedians Ott Sepp and Märt Avandi, were engaging, funny, and did some spot-on musical parodies we still reference. For example, we can’t look at Paradise Oskar’s song (Finland 2011) without being reminded of this:

I gather that Märt Avandi is not hosting this year for personal reasons, but he still is contributing to the creative team. We are looking forward to the quality of songs being presented, and hope that Ott–and Märt’s replacements–can pull out a couple of good canned comedy bits.

  • Is Estonia for real this year?

Estonia is treating us to some excellent entries this year. Two of them could catch on and place strongly in the ESC finals. But there’s also “a villain” — one song that has buzz that we think is vastly overrated.

The Songs:

Hopa’pa-rei! – Ithaka Maria. One part Lordi, one part folk melody. Ithaka Maria is in the same hard rock vein as Hanna (Finland 2007), but her song is much stronger. Effective use of electric and classical string instruments, and it’s got a memorable hook in the chorus. Powerful. She’s going first, but we believe “Hopa’pa-rei” can win Eesti Laul and deliver a strong finish for Estonia in the finals.

All & Now – Rolf Roosalu. Dude, where’s the rest of your boy band? He looks so lonely up there.

Valss – Orelipoiss. The most eccentric entry in this year’s Eesti Laul, and we love them for it. If Andy Partridge covered Rufus Wainwright’s “Beautiful Child.” “Organ Boy” Jaan Pehk could have used a gospel choir to ramp up the drama in his song. Instead Madis Kubu from Malcolm Lincoln (Estonia 2010) tends his garden and plays a blade of grass during the instrumental bridge. Robin Juhkental sings backup.

Rockefeller Street – Getter Jaani. Katy Perry’s Estonian cousin visits New York and gets lost in Hell’s Kitchen. It seems no one told her there is no Rockefeller Street in Manhattan. It’s wide-eyed Swedish pop with hints of naughtiness underneath. This one is a lot of fun. If “Rockefeller Street” won instead of “Hop’pa-rei” we wouldn’t mind.

Do Not Want Anything – Jana Kask. “I Believe I Can Fly,” sung by a white girl. Next.

Smile – MID. Dark indie pop a la 80s-Manchester, 24 Hour Party People. MID takes inspiration from Joy Division, but is polished and contemporary like Interpol or Editors. The song doesn’t really go anywhere, nor is it going to ESC, but me likey.

I Wanna Meet Bob Dylan – Outloudz. This is a moody, introspective mid-tempo number that we find dull, dull, dull. If the Eesti Laul viewer poll is to be believed, it ranks 2nd among fans behind “Hopa’pa-rei.” We really hope that’s an unrepresentative sample. Seriously boys, Bob Dylan doesn’t wanna meet you.

The Storm – Mimicry. Mimicry were in last year’s final as well, and they’ll do about as well in this year’s. This entry pays homage to early Depeche Mode, Ladytron, and black light. And holy cow does the lead vocalist sound like Ian Curtis.  Sadly, it’s a tuneless mess.  They’ll siphon votes from MID, but this song is not as endearing.

Be My Saturday Night – Noorkuu. Noorkuu is a 5-member boy band, but the Bee Gees achieved the same sound with 3 people, 35 years ago. The staging does a decent job at making them seem relevant, but those harmonies are pretty distinctive and it’s hard to get past.

Baby Had You – Victoria.  “Baby Had You” is possibly the coolest entry in the lineup. Victoria is super hot and has a new wave, post-punk vibe akin to Blondie or Maja Ivarsson from the Sounds. Me likey very much. It’s great listening and completely inappropriate for Eurovision.

BONUS: This one didn’t make it out of the semifinals, but it’s worth sharing anyway.

St. Cabah – Shirubi Ikazuchi. Considerable deference is given to Siouxsie and the Banshees, both in vocal style and lyric sensibilities. WITCHES! WITCHES! WITCHES WE ARE!!! Right here, this is why we follow the Estonians.