Yesterday, music compilation giant NOW! (of the NOW! That’s What I Call… cd’s) announced they’ll be doing a three disc Eurovision album, celebrating 70 of the most memorable songs from the history of the contest. While it is quite exciting that something like this exists, some of the choices made regarding the tracks are… a bit weird.
Still, I’m happy it exists, I get that licensing must have been a mare, and I totally get it’s not aimed at someone like me, but (*extremely C*rrie Br*dshaw voice) I couldn’t help but wonder… if I was given three discs to fill with the most memorable songs from the history of the contest, and I could pick absolutely any songs (rights be damned) which ones would I pick?
We all know by now that a whole batch of artists selected for last year’s contest are coming back for their proper go at the contest. That’s not what this post is about, though. This post is about the three representatives who have also previously performed as lead vocalists for the same country, and five artists who participated in other Eurovision events or as backing vocalists for the same or for another country (thank you Wikipedia).
This isn’t a new thing at all. From the second ever contest on, people who had previously taken to the Eurovision stage whether as a lead vocalist or backing vocalist (or group member) were coming back for another go in some way or another. Hell, one of the first two people doing this (the other being Corry Brokken, who bloody well won that second contest and went on to host the year the contest was last in the Netherlands, 1975) was the original winner, Lys Assia. And she did it again in 1958 (Legend, you are sorely missed – my personal highlight of quite a lot of contests was seeing her face pop up, whether she was in the audience or, as in 2003, via video link from Nicosia).
So, let’s take a look at who from this year’s crop you may have seen (or heard) before on the contest stage, and… I don’t know, talk about the songs they’re associated with?
Now that we’ve got all of that sorted… what the hell do we do now? There’s no pre-party season (in person anyway – I’m informed that Spain’s pre-party is still going ahead online, and you can get tickets hither). There’s just… waiting. I said that I was going to take a short break, but I’m kind of… not really feeling that idea given that writing regularly on this blog is one of the few things that keeps me going right now.
So, let’s have some fun, shall we, and play favourites with the class of 2021… I may do more of these, I don’t know.
“We are the fruit, adorning the legacy Of every forgotten revolutionary Born in resilience, proud like a lion We are the birth of a new age”
From Birth of a New Age (Jeangu Macrooy)
Honestly, the entirety of Birth of a New Age is lyrically stunning but this bit in particular gets me every time.
“I did a lot of dumb shh A lot of things I wish I didn’t do, aye”
From Omaga (Benny Christo)
I love how it goes from that opening to those lines, and I love how he pulls back from just fully saying the naughty word. Still in my top five, my dudes.
“My soul is a map, my heart is a compass I am the road”
From Maps (Lesley Roy)
Basically the entire song is poetry, but this bit in particular. You just want to shout it out loud, you want to have it impulsively tattooed on you, you want to live these words because they’re a bit bloody beautiful, aren’t they?
“By dancing on my own I’m healing wounded soul My body’s shaking, heart is breaking Have to let it go”
From Discoteque (The Roop)
When I say I feel it every time, I am naaaaaaht lying.
“You’re strong enough, you’re gonna break the wall.”
From Russian Woman (Manizha)
Sometimes you need someone else to tell you that you’re strong enough and you’re made of tough stuff.
Rank the Big 5 + Host!
Zitti e Buoni
Birth of a New Age
I Don’t Feel Hate
Voy a Quedarme
Favourite video moments
Post-Apocalyptic Brum (Go_A – SHUM)
The chin is cake (Natalia Gordienko – Sugar… yes, really, I do love that moment for the sheer WTF of it all)
Geike has declared: OFF WITH YOUR HEAD (Hooverphonice – The Wrong Place)
#DestinedForGreatness (Destiny – Je Me Casse)
Sponsored by Head and Shoulders (Elena Tsagrinou – El Diablo … yes, also really, because I genuinely could not stop laughing)
HOLY SHIT THAT REALLY IS FLO RIDA (… you know which one this is, right?)
The entire video (Benny Christo – Omaga, Lesley Roy – Maps, Senhit – Adrenalina, Jeangu Macrooy – Birth of a New Age)
Favourite moments from the national final performances
Basically everything about the Discoteque performance, but especially the opening and the little nod to On Fire, but ESPECIALLY the instrumental breakdown and Vaidotas’s little Star Trek hand move).
Tusse’s general essence during his performance of Voices, what a young king.
“Hey child, why do you hide from the light?” sang while Ana’s bathed in the absolute most ominous shade of red lighting (Amen, indeed).
The singer from Fyr & Flamme bounding onto the stage and grabbing his microphone like the eighties never left, we stan enthusiasm (Øve os på hinanden, natch)
Yes, I had forgotten completely about Israel putting out a revamp of Set Me Free, but there it was in my YouTube Recommended queue this morning. And since I actually forgot to address the Ukraine revamp at the time, I wanted to do this quick post for the sake of completion.
Before I address Go_A’s shiny new SHUM and Eden’s sparkly new Set Me Free, I want to very quickly talk about the Russian and Italian revamps. Russian Woman has a bit more English in it now, and the “strong enough to bounce against the walls” has had a badass upgrade to “you’re strong enough, you’re gonna break the walls”. Zitti e Buonihas had two (very minor) cuts to make it fit to the standard Eurovision 3 minutes and the swearing has been replaced, but it still sounds *chef’s kiss*. Maybe even more so.
Go_A – SHUM (2.0)
When SHUM (a song that wasn’t initially meant for the contest) got selected, Go_A found themselves with a big problem: the original is a re-arrangement of a few different versions of a traditional Ukrainian folk song, A v nashoho shuma. As the rules to the contest state that a song should not have been released before September 1st (that’s when the submission period for the next year’s contest opens), Go_A went back to the drawing table, changing the melody and rewriting pretty much the whole song.
The new version of SHUM (I do like that you can tell the difference between the two versions by the title – the original is in Ukrainian script, so ШУМ, and the Eurovision version is SHUM) takes a bit of getting used to if you’re a bit like me and have had the first version on repeat since it came out. You kind of keep expecting it to go somewhere it’s not. But having said that… I do still absolutely fucking love it.
The video (Go_A put out a call for ideas regarding the video concept and Maksym Tuzhylin won from a tender of ten participants with ideas) is suitably epic, and it makes Kateryna look like a warrior queen straight from a Mad Max: Fury Road sequel. My absolute favourite bit of the video is the car, which looks like a post-apocalyptic cousin to Brum. It’s still epic. Fucking look at the video thumbnail. They’re coming to make some noise.
Eden Alene – Set Me Free (2.0)
Set Me Free was one of the first songs chosen for this year, and given that the year so far has once again been a hundred years long, you’d be forgiven for also forgetting that this one was also getting a revamp. But here it is. It’s maintained the same structure and composition overall, but it’s been amped up and made a bit darker. There’s more bass to it, and the key change at the end’s been cut out. What’s been put in is a couple of moments for Eden to show off her ridiculous vocals, which I like a lot. It feels far less meandering (reading my initial response back, that seemed to be my main complaint – it meandered both visually and aurally) and there’s scope for some nice dance moments in the stage performance.
I like the concept of the video as well – the frozen in time world slowly waking up. Eden looks strong throughout, and most importantly, she looks like she’s enjoying herself.
Quick note – I know I did put my opinions on Azerbaijan’s song up, but I’ve thought about that and have kind of come to the conclusion that if I’m not speaking on Poland (or B*lar*s for that matter), I should not be speaking on that song either. Especially given the circumstances that saw Armenia withdraw. So, I’m removing that section.
The utterly lovely Vasil Garvanliev first tasted the Eurovision stage as a backing vocalist for Tamara Todevska back in 2019. He was internally selected to represent North Macedonia for 2020 and was asked to come back for his shot properly. Vasil has lived a life, y’all, and he’s bringing all that life experience, plus a gorgeous musical theatre voice to…
First things first, I absolutely stand in solidarity with Vasil. It’s gutting to see him come under fire and receive so much homophobic, xenophobic, nationalistic bullying. If you’ve not heard about what’s happened here – the folks at Wiwibloggs have written about it. Vasil was chosen by the broadcaster and deserves to go to the contest. To hear that because of these nationalist asshats, the broadcaster has formed a committee to decide whether or not Vasil gets to represent his country on the basis of people kicking off about 1) a random piece of artwork seen for about a second in the video that coincidentally looks a bit like the colours of a flag (in this case, supposedly the Bulgarian flag), and 2) his dual nationality (both North Macedonian and Bulgarian) is just fucking gutting.
Here I Stand is a rousing musical theatre-style ballad, inspired by the feeling of grief Vasil had following the cancellation of the contest. He speaks at the beginning of the video:
“When the contest was cancelled last year, I was devastated – dreams gone. I remember sitting in my bed with my clinker in front of me and I just started singing and playing, tears in my eyes. It went “there are times” and I knew that’s the one.”
He lets his emotions build along with the orchestration across the three minutes, and it sounds proper lush. You cannot deny the passion Vasil clearly has for this contest, and for singing itself. And that’s what makes a good representative.
[Edit, 23/3: at the time of writing this post (I work a couple of days in advance when I can and just schedule), Vasil’s participation was still very much up in the air, pending on the decision the committee I mentioned reached. I am enormously relieved to add this bit to the post and tell you that Vasil will indeed be joining the party in Rotterdam. Vasil, much love to you, and I look forward to you wowing the viewers with your amazing voice]
Russia: Manizha – Russian Woman
Manizha Dalerovna Sangin, or Manizha – a Russian/Tajik singer/songwriter, LGBTQIA+ activist, feminist, Goodwill Ambassador for refugees and generally fucking awesome person. She easily won Russia’s first national final in nine years (apparently she was only asked two days before to compete?!) and will be taking to the Rotterdam stage with…
I am genuinely excited to see her representing in May, because she’s such an interesting person and her stage presence is electric.
Malta: Destiny – Je Me Casse
Destiny Chukunyere MQR ( Midalja għall-Qadi tar-Repubblika (Medal for Service to the Republic), a medal of the Republic of Malta). Winner of the 2015 Junior Eurovision Song Contest. Winner of the second season of the Maltese version of X Factor, which gave her the ticket to Rotterdam. With fans, Destiny has basically been a case of “when, not if” when it came to her making it to the stage of the adult contest, and now she’s finally gracing us with her presence and she’s doing so with…
So of course people (and by people I mean dumbasses) have come at her for supposedly objectifying the male model in the video. Jesus, this year’s been exhausting so far. But Destiny is absolutely not letting it get to her, and good for her. Je Me Casse is a fantastic song, and that whole middle section (the ladies, if you feel like flaunting it’s alright) is a top class display for Destiny’s absolutely ridiculous vocals. It’s so exciting that she’s finally getting to do her thing on the ESC stage (the adult version, of course) – it’s almost like it was her… destiny?
Vincent Mendoza Bueno, Austrian singer of Filipino descent, the winner of Musical! Die Show and another returnee from the 2020 crop. He’ll be bringing us…
RuPaul said “Can I get an Amen?” and the Eurovision Song Contest really said “Have two, why not.” Yes, this is the otherAmen, a big stomping ballad about grieving a relationship. There’s a nice layer of symbolism in the video, where (guided by a black crow) Vincent slowly finds his way to increasingly bigger surroundings (as if finding his way out of his grief) and ends up on the roof of the building he’s in. Apparently there’s some deeper significance to the song for Vincent, relating to loss in his personal life, which I feel like the video very effectively portrays. You don’t need to know the full story to know that he’s close to these lyrics. It’s not the kind of song I go for, but it’s very well sung and it could be a moment if staged and placed correctly on the night.
Switzerland: Gjon’s Tears – Tout l’Univers
Gjon Muharremaj, or Gjon’s Tears, is a Swiss-Albanian singer and songwriter – yet another returnee from the 2020 crop and one of the hot favourites to win the whole thing. He competed in the Albanian and Swiss edition of Got Talent (at the ages of 12 and 13 respectively, fucking hell…) and reached the semi finals of The Voice : la plus belle voix on Team Mika (yes, that Mika). This year, he’ll bring you…
I love Gjon’s very tender, very clear voice and he seems like such a lovely guy. Having said that, that video is very hard to watch – I’ve said before I’m not here for crying hours this year and that video sets me off quite badly. It’s also again not at all something I would go for musically – it’s just a lot after the past year, and while I see why this is one of the big favourites (brilliant voice, technically very beautiful, staging potential) I’m not wanting to back it because it just makes me want to throw myself dramatically on a bed and cry into the nearest pillow.
Bulgaria: VICTORIA – Growing Up Is Getting Old
First of all, that title is a mood though. Anyway – Miss VICTORIA (Victoria Georgieva), Bulgarian X Factor alumna and returnee from the 2020 crop (something explicitly referenced in the video, try as I might I can’t keep it from being crying hours apparently oh my god). She is bringing her mellow vibes and jazzy vocals to…
I’ve heard a couple of people say she looks like Wanda Maximoff (love of my life, light in my soul) but why the hell is no-one talking about how SHE’S THE SPITTING IMAGE OF BECKY HILL? Anyway, playing Tetris with my feelings. trying to keep them all inside is one hell of an opening lyric and the whole three minutes are just a raw nerve being struck with the gentlest of vocals. There’s a powerful energy coming from VICTORIA, like a wisdom far beyond her years. She’s compared to Billie Eilish vocally, but I’d go one further and say they have similar energies. Which, I’m not complaining, I love both of these women enormously. It’ll be interesting to see this one go out, as it’s in the same half of the second semi as Gjon on one end of the spectrum and Samanta and Blind Channel on the other. Hopefully, they can make some staging magic happen.
Slightly different format so I can get this last lot of songs done quicker!
Greece: Stefania – Last Dance
Stefania Liberakakis, the Greek-Dutch singer who was selected last year, returns for her chance proper. She’s had form with the Junior version of the contest, representing the Netherlands as part of the girl group Kisses in 2016 before going solo. And now…
I love how immense this feels. It’s giving me 80s, main pop girlie and drama all at the same time. Last Dance is a song about how everything in life is transient and every end is a new beginning, and that meaning gives the song a wistful, mournful yet hopeful quality to it that I am absolutely vibing with. Can’t wait to see how this works on stage.
Georgia: Tornike Kipiani – You
Rocker Tornike (winner of X Factor Georgia and the winner of Georgian Idol , which gave him the ticket) was also due to rep Georgia last year, so now he’s back back back for his proper go with…
The absolute whiplash going from Take Me As I Am, a frustrated cry of a song about wanting to be accepted as his whole authentic self, to this gentle, lulling love song about wanting to be near a beloved, I may never recover. The cast iron guarantee with Tornike that you’re getting 100 percent him gives me a weird feeling of certainty. He cannot be boxed in. He is a genre in and of himself. I have no idea what to expect on stage from him but that’s actually kind of exiting?
I was going to talk about Poland but given that he’s apparently a right-wing telly mouthpiece I’m just going to drop this thread here and give you this rundown by alloutabout the current situation for our LGBTQIA+ siblings in Poland. Please sign the petition in that article and help protect them, as well as this petition.
EDIT – I originally spoke about Azerbaijan in this post, but I have since come to the conclusion that not speaking about Poland (or B*lar*s) given the circumstances there and then still speaking about the Azeri song is a bit fucked. Especially given the reason Armenia’s had to withdraw. So, this post has been altered.
James Richard Newman, singer/songwriter/composer/BRIT Award winner and older brother of Love Me Again singer John Newman. He’s got some seriously huge writing credits (that BRIT Award was for co-writing Waiting All Night for Rudimental and Ella Eyre – he’s also composed for the likes of Kesha and Toni Braxton) and has been a featured vocalist for the likes of Armin Van Buuren. He was internally selected as the UK’s representative last year, and was due to sing My Last Breath before the contest got cancelled.
After about eight million years of no news, James was finally confirmed to be returning back in February and he is making good on his promise to bring an absolute banger this time around with…
All credit first of all to the Head of Delegation for the UK, Lee Smithurst – he saw a change was desperately needed, not just in the BBC’s approach to choosing an act but in the general attitude of the UK towards the contest. The wonderful Ellie Chalkley from ESC Insight wrote an article last year on how to dispel the common myths that are sadly all too pervasive in the UK conversation around the contest, and it’s very worth reading.
I don’t want to add anything more at the moment, but I do want to say this: first of all, you are voting for songs, not against. This isn’t a Big Brother eviction scenario – if you don’t like a song, you don’t vote for it. There’s no-one actively voting against the UK (and also, you can’t actually give someone nul points – if you end up with nul points at the end of the night, that means no-one liked your song enough to vote for you. It’s failing to score, not a score given. Also, the UK has only scored nul points once in its history at the contest, and that was because Jemini sadly had the worst version of a style of song that was way too pervasive that year, coupled with some atrocious vocals. The UK has finished second on 15 occasions, think about that instead).
Second – you cannot expect brownie points as a country just because you’re in the big Five. You actually have to put in effort in your whole package to go over with 40+ countries – and the UK’s weird resistance towards doing this and then getting angry because we’re paid dust mystifies me. No-one wants to see the UK fail – people want to see the UK do well, because they know the quality of the music scene, and for too long it’s come across as the UK not giving a shit. You can’t keep blaming external factors like Brexit, the Iraq war, politics, the vaccine or whatever when the solution really is that simple. It’s uncomfortable, yes, but simple. Luckily, the tide seems to be turning, and the BBC’s partnership with BMG as well as new blood at the head of the delegation has brought us the considerable talents of a Mr. James Newman.
I bloody love James. He looks like such a decent guy, he’s got bags of enthusiasm about the contest and things surrounding it (finding out he was watching and Instagramming along with last week’s Melfest final, I loved it) and he absolutely knows what makes a song work – and he’s got the creds to prove it. Embers sounds delightfully current – it’s been put on several radio stations’ A playlists and I can confirm it works brilliantly. It’s upbeat, it’s got parpy trumpets and (and I mean this as the highest compliment) would work really fucking well as a musical ident on Love Island. You know what else would work well as an ident on that show? Hey Mamma by SunStroke Project. Just an aside.
James told us last year that if he came back (something which was apparently set in stone last summer – that it took the Beeb about seven-hundred years to actually announce he was back is… yeah) he’d do so with a banger given that most people really just want to cut loose and dance right now, and I am so happy he 1) came back and 2) delivered on that promise. Embers is a hopeful song about knowing you and your loved one can make it through any troubles and rise from the embers once again. The big LIGHT UP THE ROOM bit followed by the big trumpets just makes me grin like a little shit – it’s three minutes of serotonin and full disclosure, it’s extremely in my top 5 for the year.
They’ve got an impressive team for the staging (someone who’s worked with TAYLOR SWIFT among others), they’ve got a song which is gaining traction and airplay, they’ve got an artist who genuinely loves the contest and wants to make this work. I’m pleased as punch.
A note: remember, the aim is not to immediately win though – as The Netherlands showed, turning a country’s fortunes around towards a win takes a while (from Anouk and Birds in 2013 to Arcade‘s eventual win in 2019 was a six year work in progress). But I can see this going off really well. I know that as I write this, there are several contenders already arising for that win, so it depends on what works with the public (and about several thousand other factors such as staging, running order, etc.) but I think that James is easily in a position to bring a moment of Big Joy Energy on the Rotterdam stage in May. And really, isn’t Big Joy what we all crave right now?
With so many delegations deciding to keep their 2020 artists, there was a bit of a concern that this shorter national final season would be a bit meh. But that concern thankfully turned out to be completely unfounded – the national finals that remained absolutely brought it (… something something something Denmark) and more of us took the plunge into the multi channel, multiscreen watching experience so it felt like a lovely communal experience when, say, the entire fandom was screaming at Mr. P. K*rk*rov to STOP FUCKING TALKING.
Still not over it.
ANYway, before I post these last couple of song reviews for the crop of 2021, I wanted to look back on that National Final season and also give you a top… oh, let’s say 25 of my favourite songs of the season.