Eurovision 2020: First Impressions
• Series: Eurovision First Impressions • Tags: music • Eurovision • Eurovision 2020 • Europe
As Coronavirus rears its ugly head, I thought it would be important for me to finally get around to focusing on the important things in life. By which, I of course meant the Eurovision 2020 song competition.
For those of you not in the know, Eurovision is a song competition designed to help foster a sense of "European Community." Each country sends one artist to perform one song, and people in each country get to vote on which of the other countries' songs they most preferred.
The songs vary in quality and style, but they can basically be described as pop, mainly dance pop (yay!) or ballads (eh!). (Oh, look, I'm outing my prejudices right here.)
Perhaps one of the most prominent artists that Eurovision can really be thanked for bringing to widespread attention is ABBA. So good on them for that...
So without any further ado, here are my thoughts on all entrants.
To aid in navigation: here is a table of contents.
Russia / Little Big - "Uno"
My goodness, this is a dreadful number. Why is Russia trying to cop so hard from Latin music? Like, I realize that Latin dance style is so 2020, but by god I would have preferred a modern Eurotrash ballad, even if it sounded like it had been in deep freeze since 1990.
Why does this band insist on counting 1-1-1-2-4? Yes, that fits your shitty rhythm, but that's not how counting works.
The comic relief chubby backing dancer tripping over his microphone stand on the way out is also not a good look.
With this opening the Eurovision 2020 playlist, I have to wonder if I'll have the strength to go on.
Ranking: Completely and utterly wretched
Denmark / Ben & Tan - "YES"
Has Denmark ever had a good entry into Eurovision?
I haven't been following the competition for all that long, but last year's entry were some people twirling umbrellas and exclaiming that they should just be happy and not get political. The year before that presented the world's least interesting vikings mumbling in a boat. So, suffice to say, my expectations for Denmark this year were low and my interest was the opposite of piqued.
... And, wow. My expectations were exceeded.
First of all, unlike the last two years, Denmark has delivered an actual song. Not only that, but an actual song with bombast.
Now, that isn't to say that I really like it. It's going for an indie pop acoustic anthem along the lines of "Ho Hey" by the Lumineers, a tune which I really don't care for.
But, it's a quite well executed version of the style, so I have to give it a lot of credit.
Ranking: Actually pretty good
Czech Republic / Benny Cristo - "Kemama"
One thing that Eurovision is really good at making the low key argument for, is that European culture can sure as hell benefit from immigrants and influences of various styles. I mention this, beacuse this song totally can make that case. It's a nice dancy African-influenced number from a singer whose father was originally Angolan.
Really, I was gripped from beginning to end and I loved the guitar parts especially.
The music video is a totally boring "let's party with things shot at crappy angles for no reason" video, and they also could have done much better. (Last year's entry from Czech for example really had a fantastic vid.)
The song has a lot going on. The youtube comments lament that this is apparently a revised version with "way too many unnecessary things added to it." As a fan of maximalism, I dig it. But, I can understand that stripping some of the layers back might be a bit more... tasteful.
Estonia / Uku Suviste - "What Love Is"
Okay, it's a piano ballad. But it sure explodes with passion. And sap. My goodness, this song is sappy. Let me give you an example:
I couldn't have told you what blue is
'Til I looked into your eyes
Or how soft the feel of a cloud is
'Til I was touching your skin
You see, Uku believed he would be lost and forlorn. Unloved forever. And he couldn't even concieve of just how amazing love is. But, it has become the only thing he dreams of.
I never really knew the man I thought was me
Dreams that I believed
Convinced my destiny
I was meant to be alone
And man, once he discovers that he was literally destined to be in love the song really takes off. With this level of passion, I'd love to hear a breakup song from this guy.
Except, it would probably be sad and not bombastic, and it would disappoint.
They really knocked this one out of the park on the production side. Really quite good.
Romania / ROXEN - "Alcohol You"
This is my most anticipated song, just from... Idk, the punny song title.
And, alas, it's a sad, forlorn ballad from someone who is quite possibly in a toxic relationship.
The vocal performance and production are good, but the song really doesn't do it for me. At least the strings at the end of the song are pretty nice, as are the occasional sampley bits in the background.
Azerbaijan / Samira Efendi - "Cleopatra"
Okay, this is the kind of relatable content I'm here for. This song is practically Eurovisionbate, and it's really effective if not convincing.
Take for example the opening lines:
Cleopatra was a queen like me
Just like me, yeah, just like me
Straight or gay or in between
In between, yeah, in between
So, right in here we get some bold opening. As we all know, Cleopatra was probably "straight or gay or in between," seeing as she was probably interested in sex, and therefore fell somewhere along the kinsey scale.
Now, this doesn't feel particularly authentic to me, and it sure as hell isn't subtle. But will it resonate? Possibly.
But, in what way is Efendi like Cleopatra?
Betrayed by a lover
So hard to recover
Couldn't see the forest for the trees
Just like me, oh, in too deep
Oh yeah! She's a queen who was jilted by a man. Thanks, song!
So, what else can we do? Well, KEiiNO's "Spirt in the Sky" had some throat singing in it, so we gotta have some of that as well.
Except, the song doesn't quite do that. It's using the Buddist chant, "Nam Myōhō Renge Kyō" as an incredibly awkward bridge that just doesn't flow with everything else.
And whilst were at it, we do also go for some weird claims on Latin-type style, with some serious r-trilling in the hook "Just like Cleopatrrrra," certainly not something found in Azerbaijani...
And some weird lyrical justification for this:
Egyptian and Latin, the voices run through me
Hot mess status achieved. (Just like Cleopatra, of course.)
The music video meanwhile really excels in random desert set pieces, opening with Ms. Efendi taking a bath in a cargo container!? and later dancing whilst motorcyclists do donuts around her, along with random dancing in an array of slightly skimpy two-pieces.
So, I really enjoyed that one. I just wish the pre-chorus jelled more and the chorus was less... generic.
Ranking: Peak Eurovision
Albania / Arilena Ara - "Fall From The Sky"
This song is an emotional powerballad about being hurt and surviving.
Always making me hold back my wings
When I'm destined to fly
I'm screaming inside
You can crush and break down my walls
But my heart will survive
The bridge is definitely the best part, and it's the part where it feels like there's some genuine anger/passion from the singer. The rest really feels like a power ballad by numbers. Though, as I've said a million times before, sure is nice that we have climatic strings at the end of this one.
Greece / Stefania - "SUPERG!RL"
Okay, so... this song has one really strong thing going for it. And that is most definitely the zurna section, which makes for a stellar, stellar breakdown.
The rest of the song strikes me as pretty generic. 17-year-old Stefania is fine at the vocals, and though the title implies that this is maybe a song about female empowerment...
Na-na-nothing can stop me, no-nobody can hold me down
Standing in the light, it's a new world, let me be your supergirl
Na-na-nothing can stop me, no-nobody can hold us down
Fighting in the dark over true love, let me be your supergirl
The song definitely goes the "after a boy" route. And, boy is the opening verse about not needing super powers undercut by the scenes of Stefania levetating to save a cat from a tree in the music video.
But, man, that zurna slaps.
Ranking: Zurna: 10/10, Rest: Forgettable
Portugal / Elisa - "Medo De Sentir"
Last year, Portugal did one of the most bold and interesting experimental performances.
This year, they've done a piano ballad duet. It has a languid tempo, and far too many "ooooohs" and "mmmmms".
Definitely the snooziest number so far.
Moldolva / Natalia Gordienko - "Prison"
Disaffected blonde sings about how "love is a fool's prison" over a thumping dance bass-line.
There is nothing interesting, innovative, or memorable here. But, this is a style that I do deeply enjoy. So, hurrah!
Ranking: A bop, but not a winner
Malta / Destiny - "All Of My Love"
Ooh, another 17-year-old singer, except we get a long intro to the music video where we see some beautiful shots of Maltese coast while a deep-voiced man says that we should fuflill our destiny or whatever.... Hmm...
But, then the song actually starts, and let me put it this way Destiny has it. She's got some soulfulness! Like, her vocal performance is really quite good.
The music is y'know some slightly R&B infulenced upbeat stuff with handclaps, and so on. If anything it's actually a bit too slick. I bet Destiny would excel in a raw setting without a gospel-ish chorus backing her up.
But man, this is well-executed. This sounds like a song that would actually get played on the radio really widly. This sounds like a song that ordinary human beings would enjoy. This one is on the nose, and on the money.
Serbia / Hurricane - "Hasta La Vista"
Oh god, are we going to continue with the Slavic wannabe Latin theme? Yes, but only with one line in the chorus. The rest of the song, aside from a "Cute but Psycho!" is in Serbian, which is probably for the best.
The music video is... about what I'd expect from a Serbian video. Certainly the one with the most skin by a long shot of any of the videos. Perhaps that is a way to victory?
But, to be honest, this is also a really well executed tune. It's (as one YouTube comment describes it) a "pop bop." And though it doesn't quite hit the heights of memorableness that some of the other tunes hit, it seems like a serious contender.
Especially if they can bring some girl group karisma to the stage.
Ranking: Total Bop
San Marino / Senhit - "Freaky!"
San Marino is the tiniest country in Eurovision, which is probably why they send the same singers repeatedly to do cheezy disco tunes. Last year's Serhat attained meme status among Eurovision fans. What will this year bring?
Well, to no surprise. It's disco. Maybe with some light BDSM elements in the music video... to justify the title? But yeah, it's a disco tune.
Unlike Serhat, Senhit can sing. But this is definitely in line with San Marino's past submissions: a forgettable, fun disco tune.
I think I do need to give the music video credit for the weird brief shot of everyone hanging out with a giant phallus. That's a bold image. Actually, correction. I just went back to screencap it, and it was a middle finger. I'm upset with my mind now.
North Macedonia / Vasil - "YOU"
The music video complements the music perfectly, building tension as an attractive man (Vasil) eyes an attractive woman at the bar, who eyes him back as it builds up. They start dancing as some accordion comes in. Oh yes.
And then the chorus comes in. We have the four to the floor beat, and the refrain "I just want to dance with you." What disco. How fantastic.
None of the other patrons are dancing, but Vasil is apparently able to just compel this attractive woman to do a real sensual set of moves together. My favorite is when he seems to hand gesture to her to get lower and lower to the ground with her back. Those are some jedi mind powers.
So, as for the song, I think it opens strong, but the chorus is a little repetitive, and the song really has nowhere to go once it hits. I love the accordian. I love the four to the floor. It eventually has a somewhat misguided funky breakdown.
Ranking: So Close, Yet So Far
Iceland / Daði og Gagnamagnið - "Think About Things"
Iceland has downgraded from a quasi-industrial BDSM band (last year's memorable Hatari), to a bunch of people wearing shirts with pixelized versions of their faces on matching green jumpsuits.
Fashion has definitely taken a downturn. (I do actually like the dorky aesthetic, but nothing beats Hatari!)
So how about the music?
Well, we have some singing. We have some funky bass. We have some drums. We eventually have horns. If you believe the performance video all of these sounds eminate from cardboard boxes.
I've used the word "well-executed" a lot. This is well-executed, i.e. not a sloppy mess. But it's not all that interesting either.
Oh, but apparently the song is about parents being interested in their young daughter's feelings and opinons? Well, that totally redeems it.
Finland / Aksel - "Looking Back"
We're back into sappy piano ballad territory. Sometimes drums enter, sometimes some other backing sounds come in, but it never really gets all that interesting. It is, merely, a competent soft tune.
Speeding through red lights
We had a good ride
But we never know what we have
Until it's over and we're looking back
The most important thing I have learned is that Aksel is nostalgic for his days of commiting traffic violations without getting in accidents.
Sweden / The Mamas - "M0VE"
So, this is the group that did the backing vocals for Sweden's entry last year. And they deliver some gospel pop, with a particularly strong chorus. (Yes, "ooh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh" is a strong chorus!)
It's not really my cup of tea, but I could see this doing well, particularly because the "expert voters" love Sweden for no discernable reason.
Ranking: Could be Popular
Cyprus / Sandro - "Running"
Oh yeah this opens, and we're immediately into four on the floor zone, whilst Sandro expresses how he's just so tired of running from his demons.
Things drop back for a dramatic prechorus that almost kills the momentum like Sam Smith doing a James Bond song.
But hang on, we build with a bunch of drums! And then we hit our dance breakdown. And it is... anticlimactic.
Oh, this tune could slap. Or, it could be an effective ballad. But, it has decided to do neither.
But at least we have pained shots of our singer as he stands in a red room with a sheet above him, or stares at his hands in a dark room, or looks to the sky in a white room.
Ranking: Should be just a bit better
Slovenia / Ana Soklič - "Voda"
Oooh, we're in slow ballad territory here. And, also Slovenian language territory. We have the piano. We have the piano delicately hitting chords.
And, we have a chorus where Ana screams the word for "water."
We have nice drums in the background and occasional water drop sound effects. We have a lot of nice things.
I may be opinionated and biased against songs that are slow, but I do think this song completely lacks any melodic hook or thing to make it interesting to listen to outside of the dripping sounds and the chorus.
Ranking: Needs work
Bulgaria / Victoria - "Tears Getting Sober"
I prefer to parse the name of this song as someone having a conversation with their tears about how that eyewater needs to lay off the bottle. But I was sure that wouldn't be the line...
Strained, but my tears are getting sober now
But actually, this is a really nice sounding tune. Yep, it's a ballad. But hang on, it's building to something.
I don't love this as much as Bulgaria's last two entries, and I really wish it had some driving percussion in the chorus rather than being drowned in strings, chorus, organ, etc.
But, I do like this. It's a good change of pace.
Ranking: So close, yet so far
Ireland / Lesley Roy - "Story Of My Life"
Okay, we're back in pop banger territory. And man there is a lot of vocal processing. And, once again, a celebration of breaking rules.
We have the four to the floor. We have production that reminds me of 2010-era Katy Perry.
But it feels really empty and substanceless. There's just not anything going on here, even though it nails that specific sound. I mean:
And now I sing, na-na-na-na-na-na, hey, hey, hey
My life, it's mine, my, my life
My life, yeah, I'm gonna be me, yeah
Austria / Vincent Bueno - "Alive"
Okay, here's the actual winner of the funkiest Eurovision song right here. This may as well be a Bruno Mars song.
I don't know if I really have anything else to say about it, given that I'm not that into Bruno Mars.
Ranking: Could Be Popular
Israel / Eden Alene - "Feker Libi"
Israel brings us the first song with Amharic in it in Eurovision. That sentence alone gives us some indication that Eurovision has maybe outgrown its roots of helping to invent a sense of European community.
So the thing about this song, is it goes for generic '90s dance piano in the middle, and I'm a total sucker for that. It kind of mashes a lot of dance clishes together. The four chord marimba thing is in there too. And also, some fancy horn stings in the pre-chorus.
That said, the transitions are shockingly smooth.
I do feel like it's missing some critical element, but I'm not sure what it is. Maybe it's not passionate enough. But, it is an enjoyable listen.
The Netherlands / Jeangu Macrooy - "Grow"
I make the assumption that Eurovision winners explicitly try not to repeat that fate for a second year in a row.
Jeangu Macrooy is originally from Suriname, and he sings a ballad. It's pleasant enough, but I don't find it particularly... memorable musically.
I do have to give him credit though: the lyrics do feel pretty heartfelt and like they do hit the feeling of growing up pretty well:
The more I learn
less I know
Through every high and every low
Oh, I grow
Armenia / Athena Manoukian - "Chains On You"
Yeah, I start it, I make it, I write it, I work it
Don't like it, I'm gonna say no
I ain't lyin', I'm tryin', I'm flyin', no bye
And I know I'm gonna make it to the top
Okay, so this is what Ariana Grande's success means for the world
On the plus side, the song is entertaining. It transitions between some distinct sections. In addition to wannabe Ariana, we have some Eastern rhythm sections, and a repetitive flat chorus. And an eventual breakdown in which the singer requests her boy to "Hurt me."
It's a weird mishmash of cliches and cockiness.
The chorus is particularly weak. It's definitely the product of hip hop influence and it is definitely flat.
But, as an all around package, I have to say I prefer this to basically anything I ranked as forgettable. It is at least. Memorable.
Definitely a guilty pleasure.
Ranking: Kind of a bop
Italy / Diodato - "Fai Rumore"
Piano ballad? Yup!
It's not my favorite style, I think it's better than any of the ballads I labelled "forgettable" earlier, in particular because the vocals actually do feel like they have the right emotional sentiment behind them.
Also, full credit to Italy for singing in Italian, which definitely does improve things.
Ranking: Could be Popular
Switzerland / Gjon's Tears - "Répondez-moi"
We have got black and white, and rain on our curly haired singer's head. And a band with "tears" in the name.
It eventually turns to snow. And we get some strings. And it's not a bad tune, but it is certainly not one that sticks out to me in any real way.
It does have a nice climax.
Of course, I did feel the same way about last year's winner. Literally forgot what song it was before it won so...
Latvia / Samanta Tīna - "Still Breathing"
OK -- so I'm not sure where to start on this one.
The song is trying to imply a strong feminist stance, at least with the music video which juxtaposes women perofming rote tasks as if being tested in a factory-like setting with shots of women enjoying themselves.
But, the lyrics don't really hit the theme explicilty, and the music, rather than being a piano ballad to ape North Macedonia's entry for last year is a dancey tune with a dubstep breakdown.
The song has a good beat, but the vocals feel rather reverb drenched or low in the mix, or alternatively, a bit too grandiose and front and center.
The pre-chorus has some really nice build up, but somehow the transition to dubstep in the breakdown just doesn't do it for me. And I feel like the rap breakdown is almost a bit embarassing.
I'm all for the intended message, but I feel like the execution seriously missed the mark.
Georgia / Tornike Kipiani - "Take Me As I Am"
Tornike is fed up with all those damned people telling him he is supposed to behave like he's from other countries.
How do you want me to talk like an Englishman?
Where do you want me to dress like an Italian?
Now do you want me to dance like a Spanish guy?
I guess you don't love me
No, you don't love me
And he has the guitars, handclaps, and slightly flat screaming to back it up.
Definitely it improves with the backing vocals, and it has a real sentiment behind it. But I don't think it really hits the mark. It's not really... tuneful.
Ranking: Imperfectly executed, but entertaining
Germany / Ben Dolic - "Violent Thing"
Steel drum sound effects, promise something interesting. But, oh no, the music video turns to clubbing and the steel drums disappear.
Dolic has a high-pitched voice, and it's not my favorite singing voice. It's not his fault, but I feel like I would really prefer a lower-pitched singer on the song.
This song somehow manages to do the '90s dance piano thing, and also the disco chord strum thing... and I still don't love it.
Belarus / VAL - "Da Vidna"
Aw yeah. Piano ballad opening -- but three-part Slavic harmonies. Some serious hand moves.
And then the chorus comes in. And it's just not a particularly strong chorus. And we can do the dance break down, and we do while the background flashes. But, it's not enough.
We just don't have enough momentum here. But, somehow the song keeps going and it builds up just a bit more. And it's fun.
Ranking: Fun but not a winner
Lithuania / The Roop - "On Fire"
This song is just off-kilter enough to not be boring. And it has some really, really dumb lyrics to boot. I mean, it literally opens with the line "I'm a human, not a stone."
The heat is getting higher
I feel that I'm on fire
The world is my desire
I feel that I'm on fire
Ranking: A low key bop!
Croatia / Damir Kedžo - "Divlji Vjetre"
And we're straight back into power ballad territory!
And I really don't have anything to say on this one.
France / Tom Leeb - "The Best In Me"
Okay, we're still in power ballad territory, as well as Franglai territory.
But now we have Tom, standing on an empty eiffel tower, singing about how some missing lass (presumably quarentined due to COVID-19) is the best of him.
He even contends with key changes. And sparkly lights all over the tower. And even strings.
UK / James Newman - "My Last Breath"
We get a quality intro from a shirtless man in the woods about how breath is life. And then we get some acoustic guitars and a different guy singing.
And we are firmly in Indie Ballad territory. Will the UK give Denmark a run for its money in this category?
Except the chorus hits and it is almost like a weird acoustic ballad/power ballad hybrid. I'm not sure how to describe it, but it's off. And the higher pitched "breath" at the end of "I'll give you my last breath" just doesn't work as a hook for me.
But, hey, at least the UK brought Europe a shirtless old man doing yoga in the woods. That's better than virtually everything else the UK has brought the world lately...
Ranking: Not as good as Denmark
Ukraine / Go_A - "Solovey"
Let's be real this opens with a flute. And I am living for it.
And then we get more instrumentation. And some traditional-ish Slavic vox. And I'm still living for it.
I would bop to this.
The chorus represents a slow down of momentum, so will it recover in the dance breakdown? Yes, because I love flutes.
Let's be real, this is not gonna win the song competition, but I love it.
Spain / Blas Cantó - "Universo"
Lost in the universe!
Only in a very oddly lit room wearing a long jacket... Blas can only sing impassionately enough to be released to the hillside and shortly afterwards clad in a suit.
Eventually the universe loves him enought that it gives him some dancing companions made out of the CGI artist's idea of what the universe looks like.
I wish that's what happened when I belted out my feelings. (In reality, I just get a free shot for singing karaoke, and that's it.)
As for the song, it's a power ballad. It has a nice build up. It has a well-executed chorus. It has the nice high notes as the song climaxes. And like many of the songs that preceeded it on this list... it isn't quite... memorable.
Belgium / Hooverphonic - "Release Me"
Another song about someone wanting to be released from a failed romance. But, a kinda down tempo slower number that sounds about half way towards being a Bond song, or maybe Portishead type stuff -- except not nearly as good or interesting as that makes it sound.
I think the chorus doesn't quite take it in the right direction. The verses build up nicely, especially with the Rhodes, but I don't feel like it's quite interesting enough.
Ranking: A good try!
Norway / Ulrikke - "Attention"
Ulrikke sings about how she just does crazy things, but it's really just cause she wants your attention. In fact, she's not even her self because she's just so desparate for your attention.
The song has a really nice opening with the strings, which provide lovely accents throughout. I'm not really a huge fan of the lyrics and the theme, though.
Australia / Montaigne - "Don't Break Me"
Aight, so this is another ballad about not wanting people to break you down. However, Montaigne is extremely expressive. Especially in the verses and the non chorus parts, she sounds almost like she's at her breaking point, which really, really works and benefits the song a lot.
The choreography and costume choices in the performance vid are a bit odd. Montaigne looks a bit like a clown, and also appears to be singing directly into the camera, which moves around the middle of the stage, and neglecting the audience. I'm sure with better staging this would work well.
Ranking: Pretty good!
Poland / Alicja - "Empires"
This song is probably the reverse of "Release Me," in that the chorus is way better than the verses. Alicja has a kinda jazzy style which works well. The chorus releases tremendous energy, and really kicks powerballad ass.
And it just keeps building and it has a nice crecendo at the end. Again, it isn't particularly original, but actually, I really do like it.
Oh, and weirdly enough Alicja is another 17-year old. Dunno why there are so many youngings singing.
Ranking: Pretty good
And with that out of the way, I'm left to find something else to do until COVID-19 enraptures us all, or the actual Eurovison 2020 competition happens...
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Thanks for reading!
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