Montenegro’s Eurovision 2019 Entry

Montenegro has participated in the Eurovision Song Contest 10 times, but they’ve only made it to the Grand Prix Final twice. Their output has run the gamut from pop rock to metal to rap to Balkan ballads to performance art to Slavko realness. Generally, they have been interesting and often memorable. But they haven’t really been successful yet.

Can D mol take Montenegro to Eurovision heaven? Or will their country remain in Song Contest purgatory?

D mol are a Montenegrin singing group so obscure the official Eurovision website said, “Little background details were revealed about the group, but as they only got elevated to the international stage tonight, we will surely get to know them better in the days and weeks to come.”  We’d love it if they just never provide the EBU with a bio and if anyone asks the members personal questions, they’d coyly reply, “Mum’s the word.”

Montenegro has already announced that “Heaven” is getting a revamp for Eurovision. Fair enough, because the arrangement was a bit dated. Even so, we enjoyed “Heaven.” It’s chock full of major chords and catchy, sunny melodies. Of course, a pleasant, cheerful pop ballad is not exactly set up to be a world-beater, so that revamp is going to need to do some heavy lifting to change Montenegro’s fortunes.

The presentation at Montevizija 2019 was cute, but D mol was confined to the stage prop. We’d want Montenegro to expand on the original idea and figure out how to make it more dynamic. Also, they need to changing D mol’s styling because for some reason the one of the singers was dressed up like Emily Dickinson.

There’s old fashioned and then there is 1800s old fashioned.

UPDATED 3/9/2019: Here’s D mol’s revamp. And they’ve changed their name from D-Moll or D Moll to D mol. The main change is the addition of folk instrumentation and given how insane that first Semi has shaped up, we’re pretty sure that’s not going to be enough.

Italy’s Eurovision 2019 Entry

Okay, it’s kind of a cliche for non-Italian Eurovision fans to whinge about the length and the pacing of Sanremo, but true story: it took us three nights to watch a replay of the first night of Sanremo. And we never got to the end the show and our son begged us to never watch Sanremo ever again.

But you know what, at the end of the several nights, it was worth it, because Italy has offered up a corker.

Mahmood is a singer from Milan who competed in the sixth series of Italy’s The X Factor, going out in week three. He earned his place at this year’s Sanremo by winning one of the Sanremo Giovani shows that act as a sort of play-in round for young artists. He is the son of an Italian mother and an Egyptian father, making him the second entrant of North African descent at this year’s Song Contest, following Moroccan-French singer Bilal.

Mahmood found himself up against the 2015 Sanremo winners Il Volo and the 2018 Sanremo Newcomers Award winner Ultimo in the superfinal. And when the televote results were tallied, he found himself in a distance third place. But the jury ate “Soldi” up: He received 63.7% of their vote, more than making up for his feeble 14.1% of the public vote.

This result did not go unnoticed by certain far-right populist government officials in Italy, who dogwhistled their disapproval on Twitter. Trust us, there is nothing more insufferable than a prominent right-wing populist politician criticizing liberalism and elitism in the entertainment industry through his Twitter account. It gets old fast.

We think “Soldi” is great. It incorporates hip hop rhythms into modern Italian melodies to create a pulsating, accessible pop song. The lyrics tell a personal story in a relatable way and seamlessly weave a couple of poignant lines in Arabic. Italy has generally had a good run of form since their return to the Song Contest in 2011 and we think they have another strong contender this year. We hope “Soldi” does well for a variety of reasons, none more important than the fact that we love it.

Australia’s Eurovision 2019 Entry

Oh my god, we actually like a pop opera song.

Kate Miller-Heidke is a singer and actress from Brisbane who trained as a classical singer before making the leap into pop music. She’s had three top 10 albums in Australia and the number 3 hit “The Last Day on Earth” in 2009. She co-wrote “Zero Gravity” with her husband Keir Nuttall.

Now: Pop opera is something that rears its ugly head quite frequently at Eurovision, as recently as last year with Estonia’s entry “La Forza.” And we are on the record with our less than positive opinion of the genre.

We will also say, on the record, that we were wrong about “La Forza’s” chances at Eurovision. But that doesn’t make us like it any more.

What immediately grabs us about “Zero Gravity” is that it is not a pop and opera mash-up, like Malena Ehrman’s “La Voix” or Cesar’s “It’s My Life.” It is a pop song that weaves in its opera parts organically. It gives us “Kate Bush singing the Queen of the Night aria” realness.

And praise be, Australia has finally come up with a staging! Assuming that Kate and her crew will take what they devised to Tel Aviv, they have what could be the next iconic Eurovision staging we fawn over in clip shows for the next three decades.

As soon as we heard we saw this, we knew it was going to win. Our son thinks it could win the whole thing, and we think the kid has got a point.

United Kingdom’s Eurovision 2019 Entry

Sound the big ballad klaxon: Michael Rice is bringing “Bigger Than Us” to the Eurovision Song Contest!

Michael Rice was the winner of BBC One’s All Together Now in 2018 and also made it to the bootcamp stage of The X Factor in 2014. His song “Bigger Than Us” comes from a solid group of songwriters: Anna-Klara Folin, who competed on Sweden’s Fame Factory in 2002; Laurell Barker, who co-wrote ZiBBZ’ 2018 Eurovision song “Stones;” singer John Lundvik, who is competing in this year’s Melodifestivalen with “Too Late For Love;” and Jonas Thander, who co-wrote Donny Montell’s 2016 Eurovision effort “I’ve Been Waiting for This Night.”

As soon as we heard Michael’s version of “Bigger Than Us,” we knew it was going to be the UK entry. It just sounds like the type of song the UK thinks a Eurovision entry to sound like. That may sound a bit harsh, especially because we do like the song. It’s a big catchy anthem that grants Michael a lot of room to flex his vocal muscles.

And to be sure, Michael has got the chops to sell “Bigger Than Us” within an inch of his life. He’s got a powerful voice and he is practically flawless as a singer. As a performer? Well, he’s charmingly awkward, but he really needs hone his stagecraft if he wants connect with the home audience.

So the UK is sending a pretty good package to Tel Aviv. It’s like a comfy sweater you get as a present. It will wear well, but it’s probably not going to be the gift you remember first when you tell your friends what you got for your birthday.

Czech Republic’s Eurovision 2019 Entry

Watch out, Estonia: Czech Republic is coming for your quirky indie pop crown! Mainly because they are actually sending their quirky indie pop to Eurovision!

Lake Malawi formed in 2013 and have had some low-level chart success in the Czech Republic. Their biggest single to date, “Chinese Trees,” peaked at 25 on the Czech charts in 2014. Their name was inspired by Bon Iver’s song “Calgary,” which mentions a lake, but not Malawi. (To be fair, it doesn’t mention Calgary either.) Also, they have a LinkedIn page, which we find utterly charming.

Their song “Friend of a Friend” is the 1980’s sophisti-pop song you didn’t know you needed in your life. Make room between your Johnny Hates Jazz and Level 42 albums for Lake Malawi’s output. They are right in our wheelhouse of high school pop music memories.

We’re not sure why lead singer Albert Černý does the British accent before the chorus, and we’re trying to decide if we should be skeezed out by the lyrics. Nevertheless, this has all the makings of a song we are going to listen to over and over again this season. Na zdraví, Czech Republic!

France’s Eurovision 2019 Entry

Will there be a new king of Eurovision? Bilal Hassani aims to take the crown at this year’s Song Contest!

Bilal Hassani is a 19-year-old singer who first gained attention in France when he auditioned for the children’s version of The Voice with “Rise Like a Phoenix.” He has since gained a large fan base through his YouTube channel and his Instagram account. He co-wrote his song “Roi” with Madame Monsieur, who represented France at last year’s Eurovision Song Contest.

Bilal is a self-assured performer with a striking androgynous look. He cuts a unique stage picture, and he has the vocal chops to back up his style. He’s not perfect: there are some high notes in the chorus of “Roi” that he never confidently hit in either Destination Eurovision performance. But we have a good feeling he will be busting his butt to nail that vocal at the Song Contest.

We see his song as his biggest liability. “Roi” is more of a mission statement like “That’s What I Am” than an anthem like “Rise Like a Phoenix.” It’s good, but we don’t feel like it completes Bilal’s total package. We wonder if the Destination Eurovision results are a harbinger for his fate in May. He was the overwhelming winner of the televote, but he finished fifth with the juries.

Regardless of how he finishes at the end of the day, we have no doubt Bilal is going to be a great ambassador for France and for the Song Contest. The road to Tel Aviv won’t be easy, but he seems to have a good, strong head on his shoulders.  We’re happy to have him in the Eurovision family.

Spain’s Eurovision 2019 Entry

Spain is bringing a party to Tel Aviv! Here’s Miki with “La Venda.”

Miki Núñez is 23 and finished 6th in this year’s Operación Triunfo. He performed two songs at the OT Eurovision Gala, a duet with Natalia Lacunza called “Nadie Se Salva” and the eventual winner “La Venda.”

The first time we heard “La Venda” during the Gala, I thought that it was a party song better enjoyed at the party. It played well in the room, but for us watching at home, the energy Miki and his crew gave off struck us as bit manic.

Jen then pointed out that this was going to be one of those songs that we were going like or even outright love after the third or fourth listen. Sure enough, having listened to it a few times now, I really enjoy it. “La Vende” is a proper stadium anthem that should fill up the room at the Expo Tel Aviv.

I still think Miki’s performance needs to be reined in a bit. When he connects with the camera at the start of “La Vende” and during the “lo que ere” bridge, I can see just how charismatic he can be. Otherwise he spends the rest of the song playing to the audience, which could hurt him if televoters don’t connect with him.

It’s a fine balance: Miki could be utterly charming and end up like the Spanish version of Amir or he could look like he’s trying too hard to pump up the crowd and end up like the Spanish version of Twin Twin. Given Spain’s run of form the past few years, let’s hope it’s the former.

Albania’s Eurovision 2019 Entry

Eurovision season is back! Let’s get ourselves psyched up with the first selected entry!

It’s about Albanians who were displaced during the war in Kosovo…

Okay, so let’s get ourselves contemplatively subdued with Jonida Maliqi with “Ktheju tokës.”

Jonida made her Festivali i Këngës at age 13 and has since competed nine times. She was the host of Festivali in 2010, the host of Dancing with the Stars Albania in 2014 and one of the coaches on The Voice of Albania in 2016. Her song was written by composer and violinist Eriona Rushiti.

So Albania picked its Eurovision entry on December 22 and we’re writing about it almost a month later. We haven’t been busy, we just haven’t been excited. “Ktheju tokës” combines traditional and modern music in a way that sounds a lot like other folk-influenced ballads that have competed at Eurovision. This could be the Albanian entry from 2006 for all we would know.

Both Jonida and Eriona have said they are working on a Eurovision staging, which points up the drawback to reviewing entries shortly after they are selected. There is always the chance a country’s delegation will rework their song ahead of the Song Contest. That said, our suspicion is that the version of “Ktheju tokës” that we will see in Tel Aviv won’t be that different from the version in Tirana. Given the song’s melodies and lyrical content, we can’t see Albania pulling a Toppers and turning this into a dance anthem.

We’re prepared to eat those words, of course, but for now, we’re already lining up for the next selection at the Eurovision buffet. January 26 can’t come fast enough.

Remembering Daniel Gould

We are absolutely gutted to learn that Daniel Gould has passed away. His website Sofabet influenced us greatly when we began to expand our Eurovision blogging horizons. He was an intelligent, thought-provoking writer, and we have absorbed a goodly amount of his insight into our own writing. It’s hard to imagine a Eurovision season with him. Our thoughts are with his family and friends.

National Final Season in Review 2018: Our Favorite Songs

When we looked back at our notes from the national final season, we heard Tim Gunn’s voice echoing through our brains: “It’s all a matter of taste.” There are a couple of songs on our list that were, shall we say, less than beloved by other Eurovision diehards. Maybe these choices will reflect poorly on us, but we don’t care because they brought us joy. That is all we can ever ask for out of pop music.

France: Nassi – “Rêves de gamin

Destination Eurovision, France’s national final competition, was the best national final of them all in 2018. Even the songs that were clunkers were better than other countries’ Eurovision entries. We could have picked most of the songs for our list.

We were familiar with Nassi before the competition from his single “La vie est belle.” If anything, “Rêves de gamin” suffered a bit from hewing  too close to the “La vie est belle” template. (Well, that and Nassi lacked confidence when performing.) We loved it anyway.

France: Malo’ – “Ciao

“Ciao” is a stomping indie anthem that was perhaps a bit too out there for a general audience. But Malo’ is a unique artist with a gentle and distinct voice that drew us in.

Hungary: Yesyes – “I Let You Run Away

In our Eurovision That Almost Was post, we focused on the song that scored the most points with the judging panel because A Dal usually doesn’t reveal the second place winner. We later saw on the ESC Hungary website that Yesyes had actually captured second place with 29% of the public vote (versus AWS’ 32%). So let’s revise our revisionist history. We’re usually fans of Ádám Szabó’s A Dal output and “I Let You Run Away” was his strongest effort to date. Of course, we’re biased towards accordion solos.

Hungary: Viktor Király – “Budapest Girl”

Yes, it is shamelessly commercial. Yes, it is relentlessly cheesy. Yes, the lyrics make us cringe. But we do not care. “Budapest Girl” made us stupidly happy.

Sweden: Samir & Viktor – “Shuffla

Samir & Viktor’s brand of bro-schlager has become a Melodifestivalen staple and it has never been better than with “Shuffla.” From its silly sepia-tinged intro to its strategic use of an epic sax guy, “Shuffla” is an almost perfect Eurotrash dance anthem.

Estonia: Indrek Ventmann – “Tempel”

“Tempel” is the type of Eesti Laul entry that turns casual national final viewers into diehard Eesti-fans. (Laulheads?) The staging sees Indrek  maintaining his peace while suffering through all the trappings of modern life, such as cell phone calls and strangers randomly scissoring up your t-shirt. The song goes on a bit at the end, but we forgive it because the whole package is fabulous.

Ukraine: Laud – “Waiting

There is something appealingly askew about “Waiting.” It has a slithering groove that sidles up on you, but the arrangement and the backing vocals are slightly off-kilter. It made us pay attention.

Ukraine: Pur:Pur – “Fire

Pur:Pur has a knack for moody, ethereal orchestrations and singer Nata Smirina has a striking fashion sense. They made it to the final of Ukraine’s national selection in 2016 with “We Do Change,” which we thought didn’t stand up to the band’s theatrical style. We liked “Fire” a lot more, yet it died in the semifinals. Go figure.

Portugal: JP Simões – “Alvoroço

There is a fine line between awesome and WTF and JP Simões doesn’t care if he veers all over it as he struts along. “Alvoroço” kicks off with unsettling blasts of strings before settling into a cool little 1970s-tinged samba. JP’s rich baritone guides us along and, when we get unsettled by a sudden, brass-driven manic breakdown, he calms us down as he brings us home. It’s like a first visit to a big city condensed into a three-minute song.

Norway: Ida Maria – “Scandilove”

If we are being honest, “Scandilove” is utterly ridiculous. The too-cheeky-by-half lyrics wink so hard Ida Maria could have strained her eyelids. But “Scandilove” is catchier than the nasty cold that befell Ida at MGP. It’s so much fun and we only wish that she had been physically strong enough to carry it to its full potential.