Things We Learned By Reading the Bios of the 2017 Eurovision Participants

It’s time once again to comb through the bios of this year’s Eurovision Song Contest participants to discover the little nuggets of trivia that will enhance our enjoyment of their performances. Or at least to find out which acts truly intend to bring the Nordic metropolitan charm.

  • Isaiah (Australia) comes from a family of 11 siblings. Getting attention from mom don’t come easy!
  • Marta (Czech Republic) is “an extreme goat cheese lover.” We prefer to think that “extreme” is describing the type of goat cheese she likes.
  • Before a performance Koit Toome (Estonia) has “a habit of walking around the room in a specific, yet peculiar way.” Meanwhile, Laura says that “her favorite way to treat herself is on a Sunday morning with her grandma’s pancake recipe.” Below, Koit is sad he did not get an invite.

  • Alma (France) says she needs to receive a “love dose” before she goes onstage, which means she randomly hugs people and not what you thought she meant.
  • Germany’s entry for the Eurovision Song Contest 2017 is the perfect liaison of Nordic metropolitan charm, a husky voice of international class, and a song that will delight Europe.” Also it is “a contagious, border-crossing pop hymn for a modern Europe.” Boy, that song sounds amazing! We wonder why Germany replaced it with “Perfect Life.”
  • Despite being an award-winning singer, Demy (Greece) is “a diligent law student” in her free time. Always prepare for a second career in case your first one goes all MC Hammer.
  • “Believer, fighter, singer, dreamer, father and Samurai – these are the many faces of Joci Papai (Hungary).” In the movie version of his life, he will be played by Tony Randall.
  • Svala’s (Iceland) lucky routine before a performance? “I bathe myself in unicorn tears and take a shot of snow on fire.” Svala’s awesome, y’all.
  • Francesco Gabbani (Italy) says, “As for the ape, she’s happy. She adores being on stage.” Like many Eurovision legends before him, Francesco Gabbani is challenging our preconceived notions of gender!
  • Arturs, the guitarist for Triana Park (Latvia), is “one of the best baristas of Latvia,” which as we all know is an underrated skill in the music industry. Also, the band’s favorite food is “banana pancakes with Nutella.” They need to come with us to visit Laura from Estonia on a Sunday morning!
  • The music of Fusedmarc (Lithuania) “is not an experiment but a fusion of maturity, true emotions, and inspiring energy.” It sounds like Fusedmarc is a bit tired of people saying their music is an experiment.
  • “A unique voice. A million emotions. A girl next door by day and glamorous diva by night with a passion for music and life. That’s how Claudia Faniello, Malta’s representative in the 2017 Eurovision Song Contest, has been described.” By herself.
  • Setting aside the levity here, we feel that Sunstroke Project (Moldova) could use some advice on how to pick the right headshot. We recommend they pay particular attention to points one, two, and seven.

  • “Artist. Theatre. Music. Movies. TV series. TV media. X Factor. One man show. Vegetarian. Cosmopolitan. Those few words describe the diversity of Slavko Kalezić (Montenegro).” You may be surprised to learn Slavko has a background in drama. In 2009, he “started a masters in acting where he perfected movement as an important tool in 21st century theatre.” He doesn’t say if he finished it.
  • OG3NE’s (Netherlands) name comes from the Vol sisters’ mother’s blood type. They’ve got the same type blood. Type O.
  • Jimmie Wilson (San Marino) says, “Eurovision is important to me as a singer because you reach a multi-million international audience with ONE performance!” Not on Logo, you don’t. Anyway, he must not like San Marino’s chances to qualify.
  • Omar Naber (Slovenia) says, “I have been saving this song for ten years. I have been saving it for a special occasion.” Only the ten years?
  • Manel Navarro (Spain) says, and we quote verbatim from the Eurovision website, “I’m an honest and natural guy, , I write my own songs…. and I look good on camera!” He could use an editor though.
  • Robin Bengtsson (Sweden) entered Swedish Idol and “literally blew the judges away with his soulful and mature voice.” It’s amazing they let him on the show after he literally blew the judges away. The insurance risk alone must have been staggering.
  • Timebelle (Switzerland) says, “We don’t try to be impressive.” Noted.

Songwriter Spotlight: Borislav Milanov

In 2016, Bulgaria notched its best result at the Eurovision Song Contest to date, finishing fourth with “If Love Was a Crime.” The song was co-written by Borislav Milanov, a Bulgarian songwriter based in Vienna. Milanov returns to the Song Contest in 2017 with three songs: Kristian Kostov’s “Beautiful Mess” for Bulgaria, Tijana Bogićević’s “In Too Deep” for Serbia, and Jana Burčeska’s “Dance Alone” for Macedonia.

Before becoming a songwriter, Milanov played soccer for Rapid Vienna. But he said, “Music was my passion and I just started doing it.” In a short amount of time, he has found success as a composer. The first song he sold was Krista’s “Tova, koeto iskash,” which was a top 10 hit on Bulgaria’s singles charts in 2008.

Eurovision was a draw for the aspiring songwriter. He said, “I always have been [a fan], so this stage was very attractive for me from the very beginning of my career.” He had a chance to enter the Song Contest in 2011 when he co-wrote “Na Inat” for Poli Genova. “I know Poli for many years, and she just asked me to do it, because she wanted to do Eurovision then.” Genova went on to win Bulgaria’s national final.

Because they had success together before, it would seem natural that Genova would again call on Milanov when she returned to the Song Contest in 2016. But in fact, it was Bulgaria’s broadcaster BNT that reunited the artist and the songwriter. “BNT contacted me back then to submit a song, because they have been searching for songs from selected composers all across the world. And that’s how it happened,” said Milanov. “The truth is that this song was not meant for Poli, but she managed to make her own. I’m also very thankful to BNT for their management of the project because they did even the impossible to execute it in the best possible way.”

It is a bit of luck that Milanov ended up with three songs at this year’s Song Contest. “In Serbia, we … sent a proposal to RTS, and I’m happy they liked it,” he said. “In Macedonia, I have good relationships with the local broadcaster [MRT] as I was involved in their entry in 2015 as well.” (Milanov’s booking and production agency Symphonics produced Daniel Kajmakoski’s “Autumn Leaves” and also handles bookings for Blackstreet.)

“In Bulgaria, I contacted the music label Virginia Records who manage Kristian Kostov and then we started working on the project. After we had finished, we submitted a song for the internal selection of BNT, and we were selected.”

Coordinating with three different national delegations has its challenges. “[The] three projects differ significantly – not only as artistic features but also when it comes to organisation of the collaboration,” said Milanov. “In Bulgaria, for example, it is an incredibly complex thing, involving many parties, different funding – both public and by external sponsors. It requires a lot of time and discussions until we reach an agreement on every detail. But at the same time, we can rely on a large and great team combining the know-how of BNT, Virginia, [and] Symphonics.”

“Beautiful Mess” is one of the bookies’ favorites this year and has generated a lot of buzz from Eurovision fans on social media. But Milanov engages in the online discussions on an as need basis. “I follow the reactions through the communications team of BNT who do this for me and analyse the whole feedback,” he said. “Every week I get a report [on] what’s going on and if there is an important issue to address or if there are questions to answer on my own.”

Milanov co-wrote “Beautiful Mess” and “If Love Was a Crime” with Sebastian Arman and Joacim Bo Persson, both of whom he met living in Vienna. He and Persson also worked together on “In Too Deep” and “Dance Alone.” Collaborating with other songwriters demands flexibility, said Milanov. “It depends on the circumstances and it’s case by case. We use the Internet, but also we meet in person, because we have to make the recordings and other arrangements.”

Working with other songwriters gives Milanov a lot of creative flexibility. “There are cases when I come up with an idea for a song, and then I’m searching for other composers to develop it and vice versa.” When asked what challenges arise in collaborating, he said, “There are always problems connected to logistics and communications, but as a whole, I can’t say there is a major obstacle that will make me think to stop doing team work. It’s essential for the success, I think.”

The 2016 Eurovision That Almost Was: The Big Six and Romania

We finish up our review at what might have been in Stockholm this year with a look at the high rollers and also Romania, which is, of course, the opposite of a high roller. But they totally would have qualified.

Italy: Stadio – “Un giorno mi dirai
Italy’s story this year is similar to Germany’s story last year: the winner of the music competition declines the offer to represent their country at Eurovision and the runner up lands the spot. Unlike Germany, Stadio did not go up on stage after winning Sanremo’s Big Artists competition and reject the offer in front of the entire country. They just quietly passed on the honor and RAI just as quietly gave Francesca Michielin the opportunity. It was probably for the best: “Un giorno mi dirai” is a decent mid-tempo rock ballad, but “No Degree of Separation” was a better fit for the Song Contest.

Sweden: Oscar Zia – “Human
We were worried that Sweden was really depressed after winning their sixth Eurovision Song Contest. Frans won Melodifestivalen with a zingy kiss off song dressed up as a gentle pop ballad and second place finisher Oscar Zia offered up a despondent plea for people to stop being such jerks to each other. No wonder Ace Wilder was telling everyone “Don’t Worry.” Anyway, Zia pipped Frans by a point to win the international jury vote, but finished third in the televote.

Germany: Alex Diehl – “Nur ein Lied”
Germany is in a bad way right now, with two last place finishes in a row. They got 11 points this year, though, which is an 11-point improvement over their 2015 result. It’s hard to say how they would have fared if Alex Diehl won Unser Lied für Stockholm instead of Jamie-Lee Kriewitz. Maybe a simple ballad by an unassuming regular Joe would have stood out more than the pop explosion that detonated at the bottom of the Eurovision table.

France: Internal selection, not applicable.

Spain: Xuso Jones – “Victorious
Xuso Jones hit the Objetivo Eurovisión stage with a grand pop song co-written by Peter Boström. It sounded like Peter heard Cascada’s “Glorious” and thought he could write a better version. Or maybe we just think all songs that end in “-orious” sound the same. Anyway, Xuso finished solidly in second place and well behind Barei, showing that nominative determinism doesn’t work with song titles.

United Kingdom: Second place not revealed.

Romania: Ovidiu Anton – “Moment of Silence”
Poor Ovidiu Anton. He just wants to rock and to let you know that he likes to rock. But fate, or more specifically, Romania not paying its bills to the EBU, cost all of us, every one, the opportunity to bask in the glory in “Moment of Silence.” We hear Romania has their bills squared away now and we hope that rather than doing a selection show, they just give Ovidiu the chance to finally live out his rock and roll fantasy on the Eurovision stage. Assuming he’s not bitter about what happened in 2016. Maybe they should make sure he doesn’t have the guy with the sword in that initial meeting.

The 2016 Eurovision That Almost Was: Semifinal Two

Welcome to the alternate reality Semifinal Two, where goths run amok, a Norwegian pretends he’s Jamaican and Poland is the fan favorite to win Eurovision.

Latvia: Catalepsia – “Damnation

Going into Supernova 2016, the buzz among the die-hard Eurovision fans was all about Justs. Indeed, Justs’ victory in Latvia was the closest to a sure thing this season. It wasn’t entirely a runaway though. While he won the online vote, he finished second in the Latvian televote behind gothic metal band Catalepsia. We could argue Catalepsia’s song “Damnation” may have been a bit too dark for Eurovision, but then again, Ukraine did win the Song Contest this year with “1944.”

Poland: Margaret – “Cool Me Down

Going into Krajowe Eliminacje 2016, the buzz among the die-hard Eurovision fans was all about Margaret and her Rihanna-influenced earworm. However, Margaret’s low energy performance made us wonder if she had bought into her own hype and was saving herself for Sweden. Michał Szpak brought the intensity and compelling stage presence that Margaret did not and booked his ticket to Stockholm instead.

Switzerland: Bella C – “Another World

Imagine you are in a bar at a Swiss chalet after a long day on the slopes. You’re sipping schnapps and dining on fondue, and Bella C is at the lounge’s piano, singing “Another World” and covers of well-known pop standards. You know, like “Empire State of Mind,” so the Americans will drop a few Francs into the tip jar. You will probably quickly down a couple more shots before bailing out on the apres-ski and vote for Rykka to go to Eurovision instead.

Israel: Nofar Salman – “Made of Stars

Hovi Star represented Israel with “Made of Stars,” but he and the Israel delegation re-did the arrangement he used at the national final. Nofar Salman’s original, smoky interpretation was more influenced by Mediterranean pop. Frankly, we liked her version better than Hovi’s version for Israel, but we cannot deny that Hovi’s revamped version was tailor-made for Eurovision.

Belarus: NAPOLI – “My Universe

NAPOLI’s “My Universe” is a pop ballad not entirely dissimilar to cha “Gravity,” Zlata Ognevich’s 2013 entry for Ukraine. At Belarus’ national final, NAPOLI was runner up to Ivan, because once the power of the wolf is unleashed it cannot be denied. Undeterred, NAPOLI then made their way over to Poland’s national final with the same song, where they summarily finished in last place. We applaud their chutzpah, but it’s obvious that they did not go far enough. We hope they come back in 2017 and enter all of the national finals.

Serbia: Internal selection, not applicable.

Ireland: Internal selection, not applicable.

Macedonia: Internal selection, not applicable.

Lithuania: Erica Jennings – “Leading Me Home

Erica Jennings is the lead singer for the band SKAMP, which represented Lithuania at the 2001 Eurovision Song Contest with “You’ve Got Style.” Her 2016 song “Leading Me Home” is a dull, gospel-tinged show tune that seems to have a chorus and a bridge but no verse. Erica finished second with both the juries and the televoters. It’s tough to go up against Donny Montell now that he has established his Eurovision bonafides.

Australia: Internal selection, not applicable.

Slovenia: Raiven – “Črno bel

Slovenians had a choice at EMA 2016 between “Blue and Red” and “Black and White,” and we think that 3,865 of them made the wrong choice. Raiven came close to catching ManuElla, receiving 3,738 votes in the EMA super final. Her atmospheric pop song was haunting, and she certainly cut a striking look with her Morticia Addams at a Bauhaus concert realness. Also: harp solo! Unfortunately for us, Taylor Swift is more popular than Siouxie Sioux.

Bulgaria: Internal selection, not applicable.

Denmark: Anja Nissen – “Never Alone

It comes as no shock that “Never Alone”–which you may recognize by its other name, “Only Teardrops 2.0”–was co-written by Eurovision winner Emmelie de Forest. That Song Contest pedigree probably helped propell Anja to the MGP super final alongside Simone Egeriis and eventual winner Lighthouse X. Thankfully, Denmark decided that one “Only Teardrops” is plenty.

Ukraine: The Hardkiss – “Helpless

Here’s a piece of Eurovision trivia: “1944” barely made it out of its national final. Going into the Ukrainian national selection, the favorite was the Hardkiss’ “Helpless,” a gothic prog ballad. Its striking staging featured singer Yulia Sanina sporting a hairstyle seemingly inspired by Dilophosaurus and festooned with tubes of light that made her look like a central processing unit in the Matrix. If we remember correctly, judges Ruslana and Andriy “Verka Serduchka” Danylko debated the Hardkiss’ performance for three hours. They then allowed the Ukrainian national final to move on to the evening’s fourth song of six. That said, they liked the song well enough to make it the jury’s top choice. Jamala’s “1944” did better with the public, so Jamala and the Hardkiss tied for first place. The tiebreaker went to the public vote, and the rest is Eurovision history.

Norway: Freddy Kalas – “Feel Da Rush”

We have described a few of the songs we’ve featured in this post as being “goth.” Freddy Kalas’ “Feel Da Rush” could be best described as the opposite of goth. It’s a Caribbean-flavored pop jam that is as authentic as Taco Bell. The sight and sound of a lily white Scandinavian bro mimicking a Caribbean accent is almost too ridiculous to be offensive. Almost. If there is ever a remake of Weekend at Bernie’s, then we have found the perfect song for its opening credits.

Georgia: Nika Kocharov & Young Georgian Lolitaz – “Sugar and Milk

Nika Kocharov & Young Georgian Lolitaz were an internal selection, but Georgia held a selection show to determine their song for Europe. “Midnight Gold” was the overwhelming preference of the Georgian public (and jury member Andy “ESCKAZ” Mikheev), but Eurovision Song Contest 2016 producer Christer Björkman gave his jury vote to “Sugar and Milk.” We’re not ones to question Christer’s taste in music, but we can’t figure out why he thought this noodly 1990s jam band filler was a good fit for the Song Contest. Not to say we don’t like it, but “Midnight Gold” was such a better entry.

Albania: Aslajdon Zaimaj – “Merrmë që sot

“Merrmë që sot” is all over the shop, bouncing from pop ballad to metal song to prog rocker like an over-enthusiastic child in a toy store. It eventually settles into a galloping groove, but by then we were checking our watches. Eneda Tarifa’s “Përrallë” won Festivali i Këngës and despite her song’s fate in Europe, we won’t argue Albania made the wrong choice.

Belgium: Tom Frantzis – “I’m Not Lost

Tom Frantzis’ “I’m Not Lost” is a Coldplay-esque pop rock anthem decked out with an “it’s the journey, not the destination” lyrical theme. It would be perfect for Belgian iPhone ads. Tom made it to Belgium’s super final, but his standard issue rock staging was no match for Laura Tesoro’s fully choreographed funk extravaganza.

The 2016 Eurovision That Almost Was: Semifinal One

To give you an idea of how intense our year has been, we just now noticed that we never did our Eurovision That Almost Was posts for 2016. Yet our scars from Söngvakeppnin are still surprisingly raw!

Finland: Saara Aalto – “No Fear

True story: we didn’t watch Finland’s UMK final live, but caught up on it later in the day. Chris spent the show talking about how every song was a potential winner. Every song except “Sing It Away.” Jen, of course, had been spoiled on the result and was chuckling madly to herself at the fact that Chris wasn’t even considering that “Sing It Away” could win. Saara Aalto’s plain ballad “No Fear” won the public vote, but only finished third with the juries, who inexplicably gave Sandhja’s jazz festival banger top marks. We’re not entirely sure Finland’s prospects would have brightened in Stockholm had they sent “No Fear” instead, but at the very least they probably would have had slicker choreography.

Greece: Internal selection, not applicable.

Moldova: Cristina Pintilie – “Picture of Love

Cristina Pintilie’s old fashioned Eurovision ballad received a fair amount of love from Moldova’s jury: it finished in second place, ahead of eventual winner “Falling Stars.” However, “Picture of Love” ended up in a distant third place after the public mostly voted for Lidia Isac and eventual fourth placer DoReDoS. Cristina’s song is not bad and features some nice orchestral flourishes during the second verse. We like to think that had this won the national final, Moldova still would have used the astronaut in its staging.

Hungary: Gergő Oláh – “Győz a jó

Hungary had possibly its strongest A Dal competition to date, with four credible contenders making the Super Final. No runner-up was revealed after Freddie was declared the winner, but Gergő Oláh finished second in the jury vote that determined the final four. As mentioned in the Favorite Songs post, “Győz a jó” was a slinky, sexy trip-hop track that would have acquited Hungary quite nicely at the Song Contest.

Croatia: Internal selection, not applicable.

Netherlands: Internal selection, not applicable.

Armenia: Internal selection, not applicable.

San Marino: Internal selection, not applicable.

Russia: Internal selection, not applicable.

Czech Republic: Internal selection, not applicable.

Cyprus: Internal selection, not applicable.

Austria: Elly V – “I’ll Be Around (Bounce)”

Just 17, Elly V is a charismatic singer/songwriter who wowed the juries that helped determine the Wer singt für Österreich super final. “I’ll Be Around” is an intriguing dance pop anthem, but Elly V’s performance showed some raw edges that could have frayed on the big Eurovision stage. Often when we say that we haven’t heard the last of an artist on our website, you never hear from them again. However, Austria has been known to reward also-rans in subsequent years: Conchita Wurst, Trackshittaz and this year’s national final winner Zoë all made strong impressions at earlier national finals before making it to the Grand Prix. It’s possible that in Elly V we are looking at another future Austrian representative.

Estonia: Laura – “Supersonic

Laura was a member of Suntribe, which represented Estonia at the 2005 Eurovision Song Contest. She has tried to return the big show as a solo artist a few times since then. “Supersonic” was a solid effort although it didn’t do much for us at the time. Hindsight being 50/50, perhaps Laura, with her experience, would have been a better choice than the more green Jüri Pootsmann. Still, that Trackshittaz/Electro Velvet light-up outfit would have needed to go.

Azerbaijan: Internal selection, not applicable.

Montenegro: Internal selection, not applicable.

Iceland: Alda Dís Arnardóttir – “Now

As mentioned in our review, we were very bitter that “Á ný” was not even considered to represent Iceland at Eurovision this year. What the hell, Iceland? The ultimate choice at Söngvakeppnin was between “Hear Them Calling” and “Now,” and while we were no fans of the eventual winner, we preferred it to this twee ballad sung by a wannabe Disney Princess. Still, Alda had Pétur Örn Guðmundsson as a back-up singer, so it wouldn’t have been all bad if she had won. Eurovision could always use more Pétur Örn.

Bosnia & Herzegovina: Internal selection, not applicable.

Malta: Ira Losco – “Chameleon” / Brooke – “Golden”

Ira Losco won Malta’s national final with “Chameleon,” which we described at the time as “a warmed over mash-up of ‘Invincible’ and ‘Euphoria.’” Fortunately, Ira switched to “Walk On Water.” At the Maltese national selection, Brooke was the clear second place finisher with both the jury and the public. “Golden” is all about how we all can shine, so we don’t think it would have brought anything unique to this year’s Song Contest. Still, with a more interesting song Brooke could be a worthy representative for Malta some day. Hopefully we haven’t cursed her by saying that.

Eurovision 2016 Superlatives

It’s time once again for us to pay tribute to the finalists in this year’s Eurovision Song Contest the best way we know how: with bitchy quips and references to Patty Duke and obscure 1950s sci-fi films.

  • Most Successful Pastiche of Annie, Freddie Mercury & Frieda from Peanuts: Belgium
  • Best 8-Bit Stage Design: Czech Republic
  • Most Awkward 10 Seconds: Netherlands
  • Best Use of Sale Items From Sports Authority’s Going Out of Business Sale: Azerbaijan
If this was an NFL team, it'd be called the Fire.

If this was an NFL team, it’d be called the Fire.
(Samra screenshot by Eurovision Lemurs)

  • The Sigh, So Dreamy Oh You Were Singing Something Award: Hungary
  • Best Array of Lawn Ornaments: Italy
  • The Sparkle, Neely, Sparkle Award for Sparkle: Israel
  • Best Innovation In Traffic Cop Uniform Technology: Bulgaria
  • The Frans Award for Not Caring But Really Caring: Sweden
  • Best Reason to Give Stefan Raab Millions of Euros to Run Your National Selection: Germany
  • Most Successful Theft of Austria’s Thunder: France
  • Best Tasting Schmaltz: Poland
  • Best Musical Representation of What It Would Be Like to Be the Last Person to Own a Telephone: Australia
  • Best Lupine Consolation Prize: Cyprus
  • Most Creative Use of Bobby Pins: Serbia
What's a Grown Woman Doing with a Bobby Pin?

What’s a grown woman doing with a bobby pin?
(Sanja Vučić screenshot by Eurovision Lemurs)

  • Most Donny Performance: Lithuania
  • The 3+2 Award for Best Use of Costuming to Distract You From a Mediocre Song: Croatia
  • Most In Need of a Balloon Boy, As It Turns Out: Russia
  • Most Gasp-Worthy Death Drop: Spain
  • Second Best Eurovision Entry Ever Written By Aminata: Latvia
  • Best Song That’s Not About the War That’s About the War That’s Not About the War: Ukraine
  • Best Homage to The Brain That Wouldn’t Die: Malta
The Losco That Wouldn't Die

The Losco That Wouldn’t Die
(The Brain That Wouldn’t Die screenshot by Shock Till You Drop.
Ira Losco screenshot by Eurovision Lemurs)

  • Best Depiction of a Bad LSD Trip: Georgia
  • Best Depiction of a Good LSD Trip: Austria
  • Best Theme to a Bromantic Comedy: United Kingdom
  • Winner of Eurovision’s Swimsuit Competition: Armenia
  • Most Likely to Get There, Popular: Ukraine
She is the winner of Eurovision! She is! She is!

She is the winner of Eurovision! She is! She is!
(Samra screenshot by Eurovision Lemurs)

Highlights from 2016

It’s that time of the Eurovision cycle when we assess what we’ve heard at Eurovision this year and ask ourselves, “Does Ivan enter the pantheon of camp classics?” And we reply to ourselves, “Oh hell yes.”

Biggest Misfire

For Our Consideration

Greece: Argo – “Utopian Land
Estonia: Jüri Pootsmann – “Play
Switzerland: Rykka – “The Last of Our Kind
Ireland: Nicky Byrne – “Sunlight

Our Pick: Estonia. In any other year, the first Greek act to miss the Final would be a shoo-in for biggest misfire. But this year, Estonia took everything that was great about Jüri Pootsmann at Eesti Laul and ditched it in favor of a lame-ass Vegas motif. That left poor Jüri with a third-rate magic trick and a come hither look that was on the wrong side of hither. Then there was that one hand gesture that he did over and over and over again. And again. And again. “Play” was hilariously, mesmerizingly awful and it finished dead last.

Least Self-Aware

For Our Consideration

San Marino: Serhat – “I Didn’t Know
Belarus: Ivan – “Help You Fly
Lithuania: Donny Montell – “I’ve Been Waiting for This Night
Ireland: Nicky Byrne – “Sunlight

Our Pick: It takes a vast lack of self-awareness to think that a disco song would work in a 21st century music competition. Or that you can stage a song called “Sunlight” with a concept that evoked Mars at night. Or that it is a good idea to include a hologram of yourself naked with wolves. But all y’all are not Donny Montell. Donny gives and gives. He is like a puppy dog trying to impress you. And goddamn it he does. He finished ninth. Ninth, people. You are only encouraging him, and we are all the better for it. Also, his song was pretty darned good this year. We can’t say the same for his hairdo. Donny finally claims the title that eluded him in 2012.

Legitimately Good Song

For Our Consideration

Australia: Dami Im – “Sound of Silence
Bulgaria: Poli Genova – “If Love Was a Crime
Georgia: Nika Kocharov & Young Georgian Lolitas – “Midnight Gold
France: Amir – “J’ai cherché
United Kingdom: Joe & Jake – “You’re Not Alone

Our Pick: “If Love Was a Crime.” It was tough for us to narrow the list of candidates down this year, but there was no doubt which song was our favorite. “If Love Was a Crime” was love at first listen, and it is destined to be in our heavy rotation for a long time. Special shout-out to Bulgaria, who has had such a rough go of it at Eurovision, for returning to the Song Contest with a classic.

Campiest Performance

For Our Consideration

Moldova: Lidia Isac’s astronaut – “Falling Stars
San Marino: Serhat – “I Didn’t Know
Estonia: Jüri Pootsmann – “Play
Belarus: Ivan – “Help You Fly
Croatia: Nina Kraljić – “Lighthouse

Our Pick: Belarus. Chris attempted to argue that Estonia pipped Belarus in the camp category because Jüri’s hand gestures got more and more hilarious as his performance went on. But Jen rightfully reminded Chris that Belarus kicked off its performance with a hologram of a naked Ivan telling a wolf he would help it learn how to fly. Chris withdrew his argument. Did we mention there was a baby at the end? There was a baby at the end. If you truly need more convincing, listen to the audience reaction when Stephen Colbert showed a clip of “Help You Fly” on The Late Late Show.

Biggest Diva Performance

For Our Consideration

Armenia: Iveta Mukuchyan – “LoveWave
Malta: Ira Losco – “Walk On Water
Ukraine: Jamala – “1944
Macedonia: Kalliopi – “Dona
Israel: Hovi Star – “Made of Stars

Our Pick: Sure, Jamala won, but she won with a good song. Iveta Mukuchyan elevated an unlistenable mess to essential viewing through raw sex appeal and outstanding production design. Plus she found time to make a brash political statement to boot!

Songwriter Spotlight: Jonas Thander

jonasthanderLast year, we had the chance to interview Eurovision-winning lyricist Charlie Mason for our website, which got us to thinking that we’d like to do a regular feature interviewing the songwriters, who are the under-appreciated lifeblood of the Eurovision Song Contest.

We weren’t trying to make an annual feature, per se, but there you go.

This year we’re shining a spotlight on Jonas Thander,  who with Beatrice Robertsson co-wrote Donny Montell’s “I’ve Been Waiting for This Night,” Lithuania’s entry for the Eurovision Song Contest 2016. His credits as a songwriter, producer, and arranger include work for Arianda Grande, Demi Lovato, Jessie J and Pastora Soler. He also arranged the horns for and played saxophone on Taylor Swift’s massive hit “Shake It Off.”

Thander says the music of Stevie Wonder motivated him to become a songwriter. “The melodies, lyrics, his musicianship and the emotions that comes with that” inspired him to follow his career path.

Like Charlie Mason, Thander began selling songs and meeting collaborators through a website that connected songwriters with publishers. The first song he sold, “TV or Radio,” was to Sergey Lazarev, Russia’s representative at this year’s Song Contest.

Since then, he has collaborated with a number of songwriters and artists from around the world, which requires a lot of flexibility. “I do it in all ways possible. Sometimes alone, writing lyrics, melodies and producing,” he said. “Sometimes via Skype, sometimes five people in the same room. Sometimes just singing out loud in the bathroom…”

Thander has worked with Donny Montell before, and he and Robertsson had Montell in mind when they wrote “I’ve Been Waiting for Tonight.” He said, “We knew he was looking for a song to compete with in Eurovision.”

When asked what he thought of the Song Contest, he said, “I like it a lot. It’s a great party and a chance to get Europe together for one night. As a kid I used to sing along to Johnny Logan’s ‘Hold Me Now’ looking in the mirror.”

Thander has some experience with other big pan-European events. He had the opportunity to write the music for the opening ceremony of the 2013 UEFA Women’s Euro. “I got the mission to write and produce for the Women’s Euro through an old musician friend of mine,” he said. “It was a challenge but I had a clear vision from the start how I wanted it to sound like.”

When asked about Sweden’s dominance at Eurovision and in pop music worldwide, Thander said, “I guess we’re in a big flow at the moment. Success brings more success.” He added, “Younger people get inspired by older songwriters and producers and the hits keep [on] coming.”

National Final Season in Review 2016: Our Favorite WTF Moments

Joy of joys, based on what we saw this season, we have hopes for some WTF moments this May in Stockholm. That said, we all know that the real WTF action is in the national selections. Here were some of the standouts this year.

Norway: The Hungry Hearts – “Laika”
A song that captures the legacy of Verka Serduchka but is for the ladies. The Golden Girls joined Devo for a nostalgic look at the Soviet Union’s salad days, when disco music filled the streets and garbage bags were the height of fashion. Blanche gets the solo, naturally.

Belgium: Amaryllis – “Kick the Habit”
When Amaryllis sings of her need to kick the habit, she’s referring to her powers of telekinesis. Amaryllis is like Carrie that way, if Carrie had seen A Christmas Story and The Kiss of the Spider Woman musical, and if she had gone on the Phantom Manor (or, if you’re American, the Haunted Mansion) ride a few 100 times. Here’s a fun game for you to try at home: imagine Elmer Fudd singing along. “I’ve got to kill the wabbit, kill the wabbit, kill the wabbit.”

Iceland: Sigga Eyrun – “Kreisi”
Let’s just say it wasn’t the most sympathetic portrayal of mental illness we’ve ever seen.

Estonia: Meisterjaan – “Parmupillihullus”
Things could have been so different for Kylo Ren if he had studied the ways of the samurai, learned to play the jew’s harp, and if Joseph Gordon-Levitt had been cast instead of Adam Driver. (We really enjoyed this one, by the way. It works on many levels.)

Germany: Gregorian – “Masters of Chant”
We don’t necessarily have a problem with the idea of Gregorian chant-inspired pop. We probably should, but we don’t. But “Masters of Chant” was so on the nose that the whole package just felt dumb. Gregorian was, of course, dressed in rhinestoned black cloaks, and there was fire. And green lasers. As one does.

Romania.
No, we are not going to discuss Ovidiu Anton in this post. Everyone gets to enjoy his WTF glory in Stockholm! But did you know that winner of Selecția Națională receives the golden idol prop from Raiders of the Lost Ark?

Ovidu's trophy!

Latvia: The Riga Beaver
Lest we forget, the Riga Beaver made a return appearance at Supernova. The self-styled Cultural Symbol of Europe raised his game this year, playing Pictionary, conducting classical music, leading fitness breaks, doing craft projects, and singing “Let It Go” with a 8-year old ballerina. At this point, he has more than earned the right to read out the results of the Latvian vote at Eurovision. Make it happen, Latvia.

National Final Season in Review 2016: Our Favorite Songs

So 2016 is turning out to be a rather interesting year.  A balanced year, it would seem, without a clear front runner.  And looking back at our favorite songs that didn’t make it out of the national finals, rarely can we say we had a big problem with what went through instead. The exceptions are, however, quite glaring (ahem… Iceland, Denmark).  Here’s our curated assortment of the best of the rest.

Estonia: I Wear* Experiment – “Patience”
This post-punk masterpiece builds as successfully as Mission UK’s “Tower of Strength” (quite an accomplishment in only 3 minutes). Lead singer Johanna Eenma’s piercing vocal is also a standout for us. Sadly, it was not a standout for the Estonians. “Patience” finished a mediocre 6th.

Estonia: Mick Pedaja – “Seis”
Mick delivered a haunting, beautiful performance at Eesti Laul this year, enhanced with an artistic visual design. The juries placed him 2nd, but Mick did poorly with Estonian voters and ultimately had to settle for a 4th place finish. “Seis” remains an excellent choice for night owl listening.

Finland: Annica Milán & Kimmo Blom – “Good Enough”
Euro-fans may remember Kimmo Blom from UMK 2015. Last year, under his alter ego Angelo de Nile, Kimmo gave us a WTF moment with “All for Victory,” complete with centurions, fire, and Pontius Pilate costuming. This year we saw a kinder, gentler Kimmo Blom at UMK. He teamed with Voice of Finland alum Annica Milán for a duet guaranteed to raise your self-esteem. “Good Enough” was, in our opinion, way more than. It finished 5th.

Finland: Stella Christine – “Ain’t Got Time for Boys”
Now, this song wasn’t a fit for Eurovision, a fact which everyone in Finland seemed to recognize. Stella Christine finished 8th on the night. That said, she gave us some serious Brand New Heavies vibes, and we rather enjoy the Brand New Heavies. Props, too, for her off-the-hook backing singers.

Hungary: Gergo Oláh – “Gyoz a jó”
A Dal was firing on all cylinders this year. You know it’s a good year in the Hungarian national selection when András Kállay-Saunders is in the final and doesn’t make our cut. “Gyoz a jó” was hip hop with Middle Eastern influence. The live performance had memorable imagery with desert sand dropping from the ceiling. Oláh finished 2nd with the judges.

Hungary: Petruska – “Trouble in My Mind”
Behind Petruska’s lighthearted folk melody were some haunted lyrics. I much prefer to be fed social consciousness with upbeat melodies. “Trouble in My Mind” is reminiscent of the best songs Moldova has sent in the past. Petruska finished 4th with the judges.

Iceland: Elísabet Ormselv – “Á
Greta Salome had two songs in contention in Iceland this year. We’ll be seeing her in Stockholm with “I Hear Them Calling,” but we believe her better work was left in Iceland.  “Á Ný” was a soaring, minor key ballad–red meat for any skilled singer. Elísabet Ormselv and her Adele-inspired vocals sold it like a boss. For reasons beyond our comprehension, “Á Ný” finished last at Songvakeppnin. We are still upset about it.

Spain: Salvador Beltrán – “Días de Alegría”
Salvador’s live vocal at Objetivo Eurovisión started off like Tom Dice on coke, a mellow singer-songwriter joint with a melody that was bouncing off the walls. You needed to stick with it, because “Días de Alegría” finds its groove at the 1:00 mark.  It was chockfull of toe-tapping Latin rhythms and infectious energy, and by the time we got to the trash can drum breakdown and key change, I was grooving right along doing my chest isolations. Salvador’s song won the international jury. Too bad the Spanish voting public and in-studio jury didn’t see what we saw. It finished 3rd overall.

Sweden: Ace Wilder – “Don’t Worry”
Ace attempted to build on her previous runner-up result at Melodifestivalen by partnering with the songwriting team who brought you last year’s Eurovision winner, “Heroes.” “Don’t Worry” is a catchy pop earworm, but it failed to capture the interest of the Swedish public. She finished 3rd overall. We take heart, though. Ace’s song presentation doubles as an audition for when SVT revives Hollywood Squares.

Honorable mentions:

Belarus: Radiovolna – “Radio Wave”
Black Box (“Everybody Everybody”) and Jamiroquai went to a hotel bar and had appletinis together. A good time was had by all.

Denmark: Bracelet – “Breakway”
What is it they say about insanity…that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result? For us, that pretty much sums up the Danish Melodi Grand Prix, which in our opinion rarely gets their selection right. With its hat in the ring at DMGP was “Breakaway,” a far superior song than what ultimately got picked. Sure it’s Radio Disney, but at least it’s Radio Disney from this decade. Denmark didn’t release vote tallies, but we do know that Bracelet wasn’t in the top 3. Typical.

LithuaniaIeva Zasimauskaitė – “Life (Not That Beautiful)”
Sometimes it’s not the song that’s the revelation but the artist. Ieva has a lovely, unusual tone and smizes like a champ. Consider her one to watch for in the future.
 

Romania: Vanotek feat. The Code & Georgian – “I’m Coming Home”
I ain’t mad at Vanotek’s Fatboy Slim-inspired electropop.

Ukraine. Brunettes Shoot Blondes – “Every Monday”
Brunettes Shoot Blondes followed their indie pop Youtube hit “Knock Knock” with a try for Eurovision. The song was cute, but frontman Andrew Kovaliov simply wasn’t good enough live.

United Kingdom. Matthew James – “A Better Man”
Matthew James’s late ’80s sophistipop vibe brought back a lot of feels for us.