The past five years have not been kind to Greece at Eurovision. Three entries finished towards the bottom of the table on Saturday nights, and two songs didn’t even qualify for the Grand Prix Final. Can “Better Love” deliver better results?
Katerine Duska is a Greek-Canadian singer born in Montreal but living and working in Greece. She co-wrote “Better Love” with singer-songwriter Leon of Athens and Fame Academy winner David Sneddon, who had a U.K. number one hit with “Stop Living the Lie.”
We love Katerine’s voice. It is rich and velvety and she uses her full range judiciously to propel her song. “Better Love” is a good entry made great by its singer. We also dig the sparkling, ethereal arrangement.
2019 has turned out to be a strong year for Eurovision, with songs that are either awesome or really unique. “Better Love” is probably the most straightforward potential contender on offer. That could be either an asset or a demerit, but we think it’s the former. Katerine has created a properly big Eurovision anthem and we hope she will snag a top 10 finish with it.
The “Truth” is out there, and it’s a bit of a banger.
Chingiz Mustafayev won the Azerbaijani version of Pop Idol in 2007 and competed on the The Voice of Ukraine in 2016. He co-wrote “Truth” with Borislav Milanov, Joacim Persson, and Trey Campbell, the team behind last year’s Bulgarian entry “Bones.” They are joined by rap artist Pablo Dinero and someone called Hostess (or maybe they ate a lot of Hostess products while composing the song and gave credit where credit was due).
We were skeptical about “Truth” when it began because it sounds a lot like “Bones.” Also, the video looks like Aquaman fan fiction. Sorry, Chingiz, but Duncan Laurence does underwater videos better.
When the chorus kicked in, though, we were hooked. We loved the pulsating synth that propels the melody. He does say “shut up” a lot (22 times), which may be what we’ll be muttering to ourselves if “Truth” gets stuck in our head a little too long. Hasn’t happened yet.
Borislav Milanov and Joacim Persson are part of the Symphonix International collective who have contributed several songs to Eurovision in the past few years. (We really need to add them to our Songwriters list.) They co-wrote this year’s Maltese entry, “Chameleon,” and to be honest with you, we like that one more. “Chameleon” sounds like it was customized to fit Michela’s style. “Truth” is more of a generic Symphonix song, even though Chingiz is a co-writer.
That’s a minor criticism, because frankly we like their songwriting and production style. We just feel that if Borislav, Joacim and the other Symphonix team members are going to win Eurovision, they are more likely to do it with a song like “Chameleon” than a song like “Truth.”
Sweden had a weird result at last year’s Eurovision Song Contest. They racked up 253 points from the jury, but only received 21 points from the televote. Did the slick staging leave viewers cold?
This year, Sweden responded by overwhelmingly selecting a song that relies on the likeability of its singer rather than elaborate stage props. See, Europe, they do remember when it was just a song contest!
John Lundvik won a bronze medal in the 4×100 meters relay at the 2005 Swedish Championship before becoming a songwriter. His big break came when he co-wrote “When You Tell the World You’re Mine” for the wedding of the Crown Princess of Sweden. He finished third at last year’s Melodifestivalen with “My Turn” and co-wrote this year’s United Kingdom entry “Bigger Than Us.”
There is a lot to like here. “Too Late for Love” is effervescent and joyful, belying the desperation in the lyrics. John is a charismatic singer with a sparkling stage presence. We enjoyed seeing him interacting with his backing singers during his Melodifestivalen performance instead of relegating them to the side of the stage.
We also love the fact that backing singer Ashley Haynes quit her job and moved to Sweden when her boss in Washington, D.C. wouldn’t give her time off to participate. Which sums up a lot about Washington, D.C. actually.
By itself, “Too Late for Love” is a good song. When we start comparing it to the other entries that speak to us this year, it begins to suffer a bit. It lacks the grit of “Soldi,” the emotion of “Arcade,” the snarl of “Chameleon,” the grandeur of “Better Love,” the pop of “She Got Me,” or the pomp of “Scream.”
That’s an elaborate way of saying that we like it, but we like other songs better. That doesn’t mean we aren’t chair-dancing along when it comes on in the car.
Wait, Switzerland is one of the odds leaders at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest? How did that happen?
Oh. Hello there.
Luca Hänni won Deutschland sucht den Superstar, the German version of Pop Idol, when he was 17. His first single “Don’t Think About Me” was a number one hit in Switzerland, Germany, and Austria and he’s gone on to have chart success in his home country. He co-wrote “She Got Me” at a Swiss songwriting camp and was an internal selection.
Given how Eurovision has been going for Switzerland in the past 12 years, you can see the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation hearing “She Got Me,” cancelling any plans for a national final and sending Luca straight through. “WE GOT A LIVE ONE,” they yelled, running around the halls of their Bern headquarters and high-fiving each other and then eating a metric ton of traditional Swiss foods to celebrate.
“She Got Me” is a delectable blend of “Fuego” and “Lie to Me” wrapped up in Serhat’s disco suit from Eurovision 2016. It’s a lot of fun, and if you want to dance along, Luca has got you covered. Maybe Switzerland is trying a little to hard to make “She Got Me” into this year’s Eurovision sensation, but as we said, it’s been a while since they’ve had an entry this good. We don’t blame them for being a bit excited, because we are too.
And now for something completely different. Here is Tulia with “Fire of Love (Pali się).”
Tulia are a Polish folk quartet who formed in 2017. They gained national attention in Poland with their reworking of Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence,” and they rode that attention to a top 10 hit album on the Polish charts in 2018.
Tulia has also covered Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters,” which makes sense to us because there is an interesting hard rock undercurrent to “Fire of Love.” They could compete with Hatari for heaviest Eurovision entry at the 2019 Song Contest. Is it weird that this reminds us of Babymetal, the Japanese J-pop/thrash metal crossover? There is something about the dissonance between the style of music and the style of singing that is striking in a unique way.
Like Portugal’s Conan Osiris, Tulia are an act at this year’s Eurovision that we don’t entirely get, but are thrilled to have competing. “Fire of Love” may be a smidge more conventional than “Telemóveis,” but only just a smidge. Poland has sent some mainstream and old-fashioned pop choices the past few years and missed out on the final last year with a fairly safe option. Like Iceland, they’re going to Tel Aviv with something different, and we hope they get rewarded with a spot on Saturday night.
We don’t usually like to brag when we look like geniuses, but we feel like we nailed our review of Cyprus’ Eurovision 2018 entry. It didn’t seem like a lot of people rated it when it first came out, but “Fuego” was quite the sensation once the rehearsals kicked off in Lisbon. Not that we necessarily would have predicted Cyprus to finish second at the Song Contest, but we just had a feeling Eleni Foureira was going to be the diva to end all divas.
Cyprus is trying to replicate last year’s magic, which is why it’s not surprising to us that their song is called “Replay.”
Tamta is a Georgian Greek singer who finished second in Super Idol, the short-lived Greek version of Pop Idol. She has gone on to be a judge on both the Greek and Georgian versions of The Voice. She also finished third in the 2007 Greek national final with the song “With Love.”
The official video for “Replay” is ridiculous, a collection of perfume ad outtakes that includes a factory that only manufactures sparks. We think it’s a collective metaphor for sex, although we’re trying to figure out what kink is symbolized by dropping a knife that turns into packing peanuts.
That Tamta looks like Sharon Tate as Jennifer North in Valley of the Dolls as another level to the video, because it looks like she’s performing in the French art films Jennifer starts acting in when she needs to raise money for Tony after he’s hospitalized for his mysterious illness.
Too deep a pull?
Anyway, you’re probably wondering what we think of the song. We like it! It is maybe trying a bit too hard to be “Fuego” 2.0, but it’s catchy. Our son refers to it as “Bing-Bong-de-Bing-Bong-de-Bay,” which captures the melody of the chorus quite well.
Eurovision’s producers have picked “Replay” to kick off the First Semi, which we think makes perfect sense. It’s the only proper banger in the first half of the draw. Cyprus is likely going to try hard to recapture lightning in a bottle, so the staging is either going to be ridiculously awesome or memorably ridiculous. Hope they have the spark generator primed and ready.
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.
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 crapped out in the Semifinals last year. Time to call in the bookie bait!
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 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!