Eurovision 2020 vs. 2021: Battle of the Songs

eurovisioneurovision 2020eurovision 2021music

We're a mere two weeks away from the start of the 2021 Eurovision song competition. I'm looking forward to it, but unlikely to be tuning in live or providing much further commentary due to other engagements. So, I thought I'd write this post instead.

Eurovision 2021 is remarkably similar in lineup to the cancelled 2020 competition. Initially, all of the countries that would have participated in 2020 confirmed their participation in 2021. Two thirds of these countries eventually decided to select their 2020 artist for a second time.

What this means is that I have the unique opportunity to sit down and listen to two three-minute long pop songs from 39 countries, and pontificate from my armchair about which one is the better number.

I can hardly think of a better usage of my time and yours.

Vincent Bueno is ballading hard in his 2021 entry for Austria, 'Amen.'
Vincent Bueno is ballading hard in his 2021 entry for Austria, 'Amen.'

Let's get started!

I've sorted the countries alphabetically, because that's what makes the most sense. For each country, I'll embed videos of both songs, my current impressions of both, and decision on which song is better. And at the end, we'll note which year was better over all.

Armenia and Belarus have been omitted, since they are not performing in 2021. A song vs. silence is too unfair to include.

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Albania: Arilena Ara - "Fall From The Sky" vs. Anxhela Peristeri - "Karma"

Arilena Ara - Fall From The Sky - Albania 🇦🇱 - Official Music Video Youtube video Click to load YouTube video.
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Anxhela Peristeri - Karma - Albania 🇦🇱- National Final Performance - Eurovision 2021 Youtube video Click to load YouTube video.

Albania is first in the alphabet, and their 2020 and 2021 artists both have names that start with "A" as well.

In 2020's number, Arilena sings about having her soul crushed, but she seems like she's enjoying it. I mean, just look at that smile as she belts "I'm screaming insiiiiiiiide." This is a good ballad, but there's nothing unusual or too ambitious about it.

"Karma" meanwhile features a lot more shifts in instrumentation, with guitars, strings, clarinets, dance beats, and so on popping in at various points. I do also like that the song is in Albanian, though it makes it harder for me to connect with the lyrics.

"Karma" definitely wins, but it did overcome some decent competition.


Australia: Montaigne - "Don't Break Me" vs. "Technicolour"

Montaigne - Don't Break Me - Australia 🇦🇺 - Official Video - Eurovision 2020 Youtube video Click to load YouTube video.
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Montaigne - Technicolour - Australia 🇦🇺 - Official Video - Eurovision 2021 Youtube video Click to load YouTube video.

I was a tad surprised to find myself really liking both of Montaigne's Eurovision entries. Given that Australia is quite far from Europe, their presence in the competition is strange, so it's good to see them justifying it by sending such strong songs from an artist who takes risks.

But, do those risks pay off?

"Technicolour" (from 2021) is a straight-forward banger, which features some vocal hysterics that are... well, dubious. I'm not sure that they can be pulled off perfectly. But, I also don't care. We have flashing lights and dancing on a giant pink triangle.

In comparison, "Don't Break Me" (from 2020) is a more subdued number. The shakiness of the performance underscores the lyrics perfectly. It's a bit slower tempo and less hyperactive.

I like both songs, but "Don't Break Me" is more emotionally impactful and less risky.


Austria: Vincent Bueno - "Alive" vs. "Amen"

Vincent Bueno - Alive - Austria 🇦🇹 - Official Music Video - Eurovision 2020 Youtube video Click to load YouTube video.
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Vincent Bueno - Amen - Austria 🇦🇹 - Official Music Video - Eurovision 2021 Youtube video Click to load YouTube video.

Austrian-Filipino singer Vincent Bueno is one of the artists who decided to significantly alter their style between 2020 and 2021, which makes this a lot more interesting. Not only is 2021's "Amen" a ballad, while 2020's "Alive" is Bruno Mars-esque funk pop, but they're also opposite lyrically, given that "Amen" is about a "funeral" to Bueno's relationship.

"Amen" is an okay ballad, though one that's a bit melodramatic and over the top.

"Alive" is definitely the more interesting composition, opening with jazzy piano, and abruptly switching gears into electronic music with a decent hook ("you make me feel like.")

I think "Amen" has less rough edges, but "Alive" has dance moves to the table. And dance moves are better than a smooth but stale ballad.


Azerbaijan: Samira Efendi - "Cleopatra" vs. "Mata Hari"

Efendi - Cleopatra - Azerbaijan 🇦🇿 - Official Music Video - Eurovision 2020 Youtube video Click to load YouTube video.
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Efendi - Mata Hari - Azerbaijan 🇦🇿 - Official Music Video - Eurovision 2021 Youtube video Click to load YouTube video.

2021's "Mata Hari" desperately wants to be 2020's "Cleopatra" to such an extent that it feels like half of 2021's song is sampling 2020's... even trying to rip off the hook and make bizarre claims about how Mata Hari was just like Cleopatra. (The similarity is that they both had "an army of lovers" and could "start a fire.")

This alone really, really pissed me off in my first impression, because I felt that 2020's track was an incoherent but entertaining mix of elements. It eagerly rolled its r's and referenced Latino superstars, sampled a Japanese Buddhist chant for literally no reason, and was entirely couched in gaudy fake Egyptian play-acting. It was eager to be as many things as possible, except for Azerbaijani. In short: it was novel.

In terms of message, storytelling, and concept, "Cleopatra" wins. That is to say, "Cleopatra" conveys a vague narrative, and has a hazy message about being true to yourself if you squint really hard. "Mata Hari" can only convey that Mata Hari was a sexy spy, while reminding the audience as often as possible that "Cleopatra" exists.

However, re-listen, they're much closer to each other in quality than I thought. "Mata Hari" actually has a somewhat faster tempo and better production, shifting between its samples and rhythms with more smoothness than "Cleopatra," which stops in its tracks each pre-chorus. Listening to the two side-by-side, though, "Mata Hari" benefits from the guitar at the end which brings the song to a much nicer finale, and comes across stronger overall.

"Mata Hari" says nothing except, "did you hear how awesome my song was last year," but it manages to somehow be a tighter, faster, smoother composition. And much to my chagrin, I think it wins.


Belgium: Hooverphonic - "Release Me" vs. "The Wrong Place"

Hooverphonic - Release Me - Belgium 🇧🇪 - Official Music Video - Eurovision 2020 Youtube video Click to load YouTube video.
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Hooverphonic - The Wrong Place - Belgium 🇧🇪 - Official Music Video - Eurovision 2021 Youtube video Click to load YouTube video.

What is Belgium even doing at Eurovision? I feel like I really don't understand their choices of artist and song, sometimes.

This extends to their pick of Hooverphonic, whose 2020 and 2021 entries I remember both having elements I really liked that were quickly squandered in favor of mediocre hooks that were repeated into oblivion. Let's see how good my memory is...

"Release Me" opens with some nice Rhodes playing (the element I like.) Lyrics about heartbreak. It has a good mood to it, but it is repetitive and the main hooks are all kinda weak.

"All the lies and all the pain
Only you can make them go away
All those words won't comfort me
It's clear we are not meant to be
Yeah, release me from this sad and losing game"

Whereas "The Wrong Place" opens with guitar and drums, so it's a little more heavy-hitting. It's hammered dulcimer hits are a fantastic musical element, and again, it does have a good mood.

But, its hooks are even worse than those of "Release Me." Which mainly include "You're in the wrong place," "Last Niiiight," and "Don't you ever dare to wear my Johnny Cash T-Shirt."

2020 might be underwhelming, but it still whelms me more than 2021.

Sigh.


Bulgaria: VICTORIA - "Tears Getting Sober" vs. "Growing Up Is Getting Old"

Victoria - Tears Getting Sober - Bulgaria 🇧🇬 - Official Music Video - Eurovision 2020 Youtube video Click to load YouTube video.
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VICTORIA - Growing Up Is Getting Old - Bulgaria 🇧🇬 - Official Music Video - Eurovision 2021 Youtube video Click to load YouTube video.

Last year's "Tears Getting Sober" is ballad-like baroque pop tune full of choral vocals, pizacatto strings, bowed strings, piano, and sweet singing. I think it's a bit too sweet and sappy for me. Take this snippet of lyrics for example:

"Your lies burn like sugar in my wounds
So I have sweet bruises
In time I'll forget what you have done
In time my wound will be a scar"

Similarly, this year's "Growing Up Is Getting Old" is a ballad-like baroque pop tune full of choral vocals, pizacatto strings, music boxes, piano, and sweet singing. Unsurprisingly, it's also too sweet and sappy for me. I find it a bit suffocating.

They're both very, very similar, though I think "Tears Getting Sober" has a nicer melody. So, it narrowly wins.


Croatia: Damir Kedžo - "Divlji Vjetre" vs. Albina "Tick-Tock"

Damir Kedžo - Divlji Vjetre - Croatia 🇭🇷 - Official Video - Eurovision 2020 Youtube video Click to load YouTube video.
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Albina - Tick-Tock - Croatia 🇭🇷 - National Final Performance - Eurovision 2021 Youtube video Click to load YouTube video.

Damir Kedžo provided Croatia with a beautiful Croatian-language ballad in 2020. It's a good song, though a bit predictable, down to the higher key change at the end of the tune. It is good though, and it is lovely to hear the song in Croatian.

"Tick-Tock" is much more my speed. It's a break-up bop. It's a very different style, and I like it more. (In fact, it's one of my favorites this year.)


Cyprus: Sandro - "Running" vs. Elena Tsagrinou - "El Diablo"

Sandro - Running - Cyprus 🇨🇾 - Official Music Video - Eurovision 2020 Youtube video Click to load YouTube video.
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Elena Tsagrinou - El Diablo - Cyprus 🇨🇾 - Official Music Video - Eurovision 2021 Youtube video Click to load YouTube video.

Cyprus changed artists between 2020 and 2021, ditching Sandro in favor of Elena.

Sandro's 2020 "Running" is a classic dance track, with a four-to-the-floor beat, and even some of that off-beat cymbal for the full party boy effect. I think the vocals are a bit low energy, and the backing beat isn't all that dynamic.

Curiously, while 2020 Sandro was running away from his demons, 2021 Elena is in love with hers.

2021's controversial entry "Diablo" is a higher energy number, but it really lacks something. The chorus gets repeated too much, and the bridge just feels awkward. The delivery could be better, and the child-like "I love El Diablo" backing vocal chants towards the end of the song are very cringeworthy. The breathy sounds also make for a terrible hook. I really don't feel it.

2020 is closer to a style I prefer, and gels much better as a song. It is the winner.


Czech Republic: Benny Cristo - "Kemana" vs "omaga"

Benny Cristo - Kemama - Czech Republic 🇨🇿 - Official Music Video - Eurovision 2020 Youtube video Click to load YouTube video.
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Benny Cristo - omaga - Czech Republic 🇨🇿 - Official Music Video - Eurovision 2021 Youtube video Click to load YouTube video.

Benny Cristo is one of the contestants who really impressed me, with funk and charisma, and so on.

In 2020, "Kemana" is an afropop tune about... well, not letting people beat you down and being happy to dance on your own. It's catchy and upbeat, and it's just a lovely tune. Perhaps to its detriment, its final arrangement is a bit over-ornamented with guitar fills, horn fills, and probably a bit more elements than it needs. But I'm a maximalist, so I dig.

2021's "omaga" is definitely a bit too... obnoxious in its lyrics... I have trouble getting over the refrains of "I'm like oh my god you're so beautiful! Why don't you let me have it?" But, other than that it's a funky, upbeat pop song that sounds like the kind of thing that would get played to death on US radio. It might be more of an earworm.

In my opinion, "Kemana" is a far superior tune.


Denmark: Ben & Tan - "YES" vs. Fyr & Flamme - "Øve Os På Hinanden"

Ben & Tan - YES - Denmark 🇩🇰 - Official Video - Eurovision 2020 Youtube video Click to load YouTube video.
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Fyr & Flamme - Øve Os På Hinanden - Denmark 🇩🇰 - Official Video - Eurovision 2021 Youtube video Click to load YouTube video.

Typically I have low expectations for Denmark in Eurovision. Ben & Tan's 2020 entry easily exceeded them. It's an upbeat indie-folk-pop song with all of the insipid elements and sappy lyrics I'd expect from something like "Ho Hey" by the Lumineers...

But, it's a nice duet where they do a very good version of the style. The hooks work, and the song has the proper amount of momentum and drive to it... even if it feels like something from 2012.

Meanwhile, Fyr & Flame's 2021 entry feels like a song from 1976. It is over the top disco balladry. Unfortunately, it lays the piano and strings on much heavier than the bass riffs, so it is definitely not my speed.

It is nice to hear them sing in Danish, but I feel like Ben & Tan's song was just better, hookier, and fresher.


Estonia: Uku Suviste - "What Love Is" vs. "The Lucky One"

Uku Suviste - What Love Is - Estonia 🇪🇪 - National Final Performance - Eurovision 2020 Youtube video Click to load YouTube video.
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Uku Suviste - The Lucky One - Estonia 🇪🇪 - National Final Performance - Eurovision 2021 Youtube video Click to load YouTube video.

I loved Uku's 2020 entry, which is a sappy power ballad about how he believed he would be alone forever, until he found that he believed in love. There's no way to attract Eurovision votes like having an attractive man belt that "love is all he dreams," right? The thing is, though, even though it's whizz-grade cheesy, it's also a nicely written tune.

And the energy in the live performance I embedded here is palpable, even though it's staged with a lit-up love sign and moments where animated hearts float behind Uku. Which is just... really selling it. Yeah, we'll go with that.

2021's tune is less Disney-grade in its lyrics, and a bit more Weeknd-grade in its style and composition. It definitely feels more manicured in its instrumentation -- with strategic synth fills, but with everything feeling more restrained and a touch dull.

Looking at the live performance, it's still good, but just a bit lower energy than 2020's. And that energy, along with the excess of cheddar pushes 2020 over the edge.


Finland: Aksel - "Looking Back" vs. Blind Channel - "Dark Side"

Aksel - Looking Back - Finland 🇫🇮 - Official Video - Eurovision 2020 Youtube video Click to load YouTube video.
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Blind Channel - Dark Side - Finland 🇫🇮 - Official Video - Eurovision 2021 Youtube video Click to load YouTube video.

These are two very different entries.

Axel's 2020 entry "Looking Back" is a ballad about how we never know what we have until it's gone. It's an okay song, not too notable or memorable. It's a tad repetitive, leaning hard on the same melody and chorus which it repeats ad nauseum.

Blind Channel's 2021 entry can't be any more different, opening by demanding that the audience put their middle fingers up. "Dark Side" is pure nu-metal cheese.

Though "Dark Side" is not my favorite entry, nor my favorite style, it is much, much more memorable, and much, much more interesting than "Looking Back." So it quite handedly wins this round.


France: Tom Leeb - "Mon Alliée (The Best In Me)" vs. Barbara Pravi - "Voilà"

Tom Leeb - Mon Alliée (The Best In Me) - France 🇫🇷 - Official Music Video Youtube video Click to load YouTube video.
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Barbara Pravi - Voilà - France 🇫🇷 - Official Music Video - Eurovision 2021 Youtube video Click to load YouTube video.

From 2020, Raspy-voiced Tom Leeb plays an acoustic guitar and sings a sweet ballad about how his s/o is the best of him. I do not like the key changes, nor the overwhelming orchestration. When the strings come in, the song quickly pivots from sounding sweet and low-key to sounding like it has just rolled off the conveyer belt from the factory where they churn out meaningless ballads.

From 2021, Barbara Pravi's piano-led ballad feels fresh. It's just off-kilter enough to be interesting, especially with the chorus. The vocals are super strong. The strings fit into the piece naturally, and it comes together as a strong, unique-sounding Eurovision entry.

An easy win for 2021.


Georgia: Tornike Kipiani - "Take Me As I Am" vs. "You"

Tornike Kipiani - Take Me As I Am - Georgia 🇬🇪 - Official Music Video - Eurovision 2020 Youtube video Click to load YouTube video.
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Tornike Kipiani - You - Georgia 🇬🇪- Official Music Video - Eurovision 2021 Youtube video Click to load YouTube video.

After 2020's rock-oriented "Take Me As I Am," I was genuinely surprised when Tornike leaned strongly in the ballad direction in 2021.

Ultimately, I like the singing a lot more in "You."


Germany: Ben Dolic - "Violent Thing" vs. Jendrik - "I Don't Feel Hate"

Ben Dolic - Violent Thing - Germany 🇩🇪 - Official Music Video - Eurovision 2020 Youtube video Click to load YouTube video.
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Jendrik - I Don't Feel Hate (Live - Schlagerchampions 2021) Youtube video Click to load YouTube video.

2020 brought us Ben Dolic's "Violent Thing," a well-executed club banger. I don't really feel the lyrics, or Dolic's somewhat high-pitched voice, but it's a perfectly passable tune. I think it does get better as it builds with its repetitions, but it ain't one of my favorites.

Meanwhile, 2021 brings us Jendrik with "I Don't Feel Hate," an obnoxious, twee novelty song about how Jendrik can't be brought down. Alternating horns and ukulele, with whistling and an inspid degree of upbeatness... well, I'm not a fan. But, truth be told, it's a far more interesting song than "Violent Thing" to send to Eurovision. It's a lot more fun, and I'd rather see it on the stage.

I can't believe I just ranked "I Don't Feel Hate" as the better of two songs.


Greece: Stefania - "Supergirl" vs. "Last Dance"

Stefania - SUPERG!RL - Greece 🇬🇷 - Official Music Video - Eurovision 2020 Youtube video Click to load YouTube video.
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Stefania - Last Dance - Greece 🇬🇷 - Official Music Video - Eurovision 2021 Youtube video Click to load YouTube video.

2021's "Last Dance" has boring verses and a boring build for the first minute of the song, but a really fun chorus. The following two minutes of the composition are pretty high-energy, and sound like a typical pop song that could easily get airplay on US radio. It's a bit generic, but well-executed.

2020's "Supergirl" in comparison has some sick duduk sampling, which sets it apart from US pop. It's definitely a worse-produced track, with Stefania's vocals being much lower in the mix. Its hook is less hooky, though its first minute is maybe less boring than "Last Dance's" first minute. Still, a sick duduk sample does not a good song make.

2021 wins.


Iceland: Daði og Gagnamagnið - "Think About Things" vs. "10 Years"

Daði Freyr (Daði & Gagnamagnið) – Think About Things (Official Video) Youtube video Click to load YouTube video.
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Daði og Gagnamagnið - 10 Years - Iceland 🇮🇸 - Eurovision 2021 Youtube video Click to load YouTube video.

These are similar songs, but I think that "10 Years" has a much stronger hook. "It just keeps getting betta!" trumps "I really want to know-- howdoyuothinkaboutthings." I think it's also just a more entertaining song more of the way through.

In all seriousness, though, the 2021 entry is among the very best songs in the running, and I horribly underrated the 2020 entry.


Ireland: Lesley Roy - "Story of My Life" vs. "Maps"

Lesley Roy - Story Of My Life - Ireland 🇮🇪 - Official Music Video - Eurovision 2020 Youtube video Click to load YouTube video.
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Lesley Roy - Maps - Ireland 🇮🇪 - Official Music Video - Eurovision 2021 Youtube video Click to load YouTube video.

Kick, snare! Kick, snare!

2020's would-have-been entry, "Story of My Life" is 100% Katy Perry, circa 2010.

And you know what it does nail that sound pretty well, albeit with a less dynamic composition and arrangement than any of the Teenage Dream hits it apes. I don't think it excels in lyrics or message. I would prefer for a song called "Story of My Life" to... perhaps tell a story. It is nice that it ends on the line "I don't care what you say."

21's "Maps" is more of a ballad-esque upbeat, uptempo track. It has some violin and stuff, but again feels rather static.

I don't think I would ever choose to bop to one of them, but if I had to pick one, "Story of My Life" is more of a banger and nails its style better, even if its lyrics are kludgier.


Israel: Eden Alene - "Feker Libi" vs. "Set Me Free"

Eden Alene - Feker Libi - Israel 🇮🇱 - Official Video - Eurovision 2020 Youtube video Click to load YouTube video.
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Eden Alene - Set Me Free - Official Music Video - Israel 🇮🇱 - Eurovision 2021 Youtube video Click to load YouTube video.

For both 2020 and 2021, Israel opted for Ethiopian-Israeli singer Eden Alene. She's quite a charismatic and talented performer!

2020's "Feker Lebi" leans hard into '90s dance pop tropes like the ubiquitous piano, blending them with Eastern and African rhthyms and lyrics in English, Hebrew, Arabic, and Amharic. It's a bop, though its arrangement is a bit scattered.

2021's "Set Me Free" is more of a straight-ahead, English-language funk pop song. I think it's much less ambitious and interesting in what it tries to accomplish, but it boasts a stronger melody, stronger vocals, and a more focused composition.

So, with heavy heart, I will mark 2021 as an improvement.


Italy: Diodato - "Fai Rumore" vs. Måneskin - "Zitti E Buoni"

Diodato - Fai Rumore - Italy 🇮🇹 - Performance in Arena di Verona Youtube video Click to load YouTube video.
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Måneskin - Zitti E Buoni - Italy 🇮🇹 - Official Music Video - Eurovision 2021 Youtube video Click to load YouTube video.

Going into this, 2020's entry, "Fai Rumore," is one I didn't remember at all. I think that's probably on account of it being a ballad with somewhat strained vocals. That said, it builds up well. But, it's definitely not my cuppa tea.

"Zitti E Buoni," meanwhile, is in a very different style. It's a straight-ahead hard rock song. I think my main issue with it, is that I don't like the chorus very much. The riffs, verses, and bridge are all good, but since I don't like the chorus, that means I can't really be that enthused by the whole thing overall.

But, I think I do like the hard rockers' bridge enough to choose them.


Latvia: Samanta Tina "Still Breathing" vs. "The Moon is Rising"

Samanta Tīna - Still Breathing - Latvia 🇱🇻 - National Final Performance - Eurovision 2020 Youtube video Click to load YouTube video.
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Samanta Tīna - The Moon Is Rising ( Zelta Mikrofons 2021 ) Youtube video Click to load YouTube video.

Samanta Tina's 2020 entry, "Still Breathing" is a nice mix of vocal hysterics, dance breakdown, feminist lyrics, occasional rap, oh, and dubstep. It's rather brash, but certainly memorable, and certainly a strong composition.

2021's entry is roughly similar, except with a hook about the blood moon rising and the queen of the night coming. The dubstep elements have been replaced with flamenco elements.

I think "Still Breathing" has a better concept and better lyrics. Also, I like the dubstep more than 2021's flamenco.


Lithuania: The Roop "On Fire" vs. "Discoteque"

The Roop - On Fire - Lithuania 🇱🇹 - National Final Performance - Eurovision 2020 Youtube video Click to load YouTube video.
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The Roop - 'Discoteque' In The Studio - Lithuania 🇱🇹 - Eurovision 2021 Youtube video Click to load YouTube video.

Lithuanian minimalist disco king The Roop provides us with two good tracks with goofy dancing and fun.

"On Fire" has a good synth hook after the verses, whereas "Discoteque" is maybe a slightly higher energy, better arranged tune but I'm probably less into its hook.

No preference.

(Except, if the weird scat section from the in the studio version of "Discoteque" I linked happens on stage in Rotterdam... it might win out.)


Malta: Destiny - "All Of My Love" vs. "Je Me Casse"

Destiny - All Of My Love - Malta 🇲🇹 - Official Music Video - Eurovision 2020 Youtube video Click to load YouTube video.
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Destiny - Je Me Casse - Malta 🇲🇹 - Official Music Video - Eurovision 2021 Youtube video Click to load YouTube video.

Soulful Destiny really shook things up moving from 2020 to 2021.

"All of My Love" is an upbeat, soulful, gospel-inspired pop song that's really well done. It's not my favorite style, but Destiny is charismatic and a powerful singer, and her performance elevates this number from forgettable fare to a memorable and enjoyable piece. It helps that the chorus has a catchy, abeit unoriginal hook. (I'm not sure what the parkour music video is doing, though.)

Meanwhile, "Je Me Casse" is an electro-swing number about feminism. It's a very different style from "All of My Love," but Destiny shifts perfectly. Again, her presence and vocal performance helps elevate this one as well. She is good.

They're definitely both good tracks, but 2021's is definitely the crowd pleaser, and it wins for the amped up energy.


Moldova: Natalia Gordienko - "Prison" vs. "Sugar"

Învingătoarea Finalei Naționale Eurovision 2020 - Natalia Gordienko - Prison Youtube video Click to load YouTube video.
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Natalia Gordienko - SUGAR - Moldova 🇲🇩 - Official Music Video - Eurovision 2021 Youtube video Click to load YouTube video.

2020's "Prison" is a piano-led, ballad-ish pop song with a thumping bass line and occasional flutes. Natalia has conflicted feelings about her love, who she neither wants to be with, nor live without. Thus, "love is a fool's prisooooooooooon." And, I really like it. It's not earthshattering, but I think it's pleasant, catchy, and totally, totally underrated.

2021's "Sugar" goes in a very different direction: K-Pop meets John Barry. It's catchy, fun, and more flippant and dancy with a great drop. It's one of my favorites from 2021.

I see no reason to agonize over this decision. I really like both of Gordienko's tracks, and I'd be equally happy with either of them.

("Sugar" would probably get more points than "Prison" though.)


The Netherlands: Jeangu Macrooy - "Grow" vs. "The Birth of a New Age"

Jeangu Macrooy - Grow - The Netherlands 🇳🇱 - Official Music Video - Eurovision 2020 Youtube video Click to load YouTube video.
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Jeangu Macrooy - Birth Of A New Age - The Netherlands 🇳🇱 - Official Music Video - Eurovision 2021 Youtube video Click to load YouTube video.

"Grow" is a somewhat uneven ballad; "The Birth of a New Age" is a strong and powerful number with a much better hook and more consistent instrumentation.


North Macedonia: Vasil - "You" vs. "Here I Stand"

Vasil - YOU - North Macedonia 🇲🇰 - Official Music Video - Eurovision 2020 Youtube video Click to load YouTube video.
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Vasil - Here I Stand - North Macedonia 🇲🇰 - Official Music Video - Eurovision 2021 Youtube video Click to load YouTube video.

"YOU" is an electropop tune. I appreciate some of the instrumentation... mainly the accordion in the pre-chorus, but overall the piece is repetitive and lacking in strong melodies.

"Here I Stand" is barely coherent, overloaded with piano, chorus, orchestra, and the kitchen sink thrown onto it.

Between the two, "Here I Stand" feels like a much more authentic, heartfelt piece, and dare I say a more entertaining one too.

"YOU" is too repetitive and soulless, so "Here I Stand" is the winner.


Norway: Ulrikke - "Attention" vs. Tix - "Fallen Angel"

Ulrikke - Attention - Norway 🇳🇴- Official Video - Eurovision 2020 Youtube video Click to load YouTube video.
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TIX - Fallen Angel - Norway 🇳🇴 - Official Video - Eurovision 2021 Youtube video Click to load YouTube video.

Ulrikke performs a stong ballad, but one which I feel lacks a strong chorus. Its orchestration is lovely though.

She's no match for Tix's ridiculous costuming and staging and '90s-boy band-esque tune from TIX; He didn't fall from heaven directly onto the Eurovision stage for nothing!


Poland: Alicia - "Empires" vs. RAFAL - "Ride"

Alicja Szemplińska - Empires - Poland 🇵🇱 - National Final Performance - Eurovision 2020 Youtube video Click to load YouTube video.
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RAFAŁ - The Ride - Poland 🇵🇱 - Official Music Video - Eurovision 2021 Youtube video Click to load YouTube video.

In 2020, Alica performed a downtempo number about the fall of an empire that sounds a bit like a Bond-theme. It builds in energy perfectly, and she performed it quite capably.

RAFAL, on the other hand, managed to take an electropop tune full of bleeps and bloops and make it boring. He's about as charismatic as a rock.

Point: Alica.


Portugal: Elisa - "Medo De Sentir" vs. The Black Mamba - "Love is On My Side"

Elisa - Medo De Sentir - Portugal 🇵🇹 - Official Video - Eurovision 2020 Youtube video Click to load YouTube video.
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The Black Mamba - Love Is On My Side - Portugal 🇵🇹 - Official Video - Eurovision 2021 Youtube video Click to load YouTube video.

Elisa's "Medo De Sentir" is a good ballad, and it's well-performed. I can really feel the emotional content, and I love the moments in the video when Elisa almost duetting with the pianist. It is absolutely a solid ballad. It really builds up well too.

"Love is On My Side" isn't a bad song. It's definitely an emotionally effective one, telling the tale of a down-and-out, drug addicted prostitute who somehow still has faith that things will get better. I just don't like the vocal stylings.

Point: Elisa.


Romania: Roxen "Alcohol You" vs. "Amnesia"

ROXEN - Alcohol You - Romania 🇷🇴 - Official Music Video - Eurovision 2020 Youtube video Click to load YouTube video.
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ROXEN - Amnesia - Romania 🇷🇴 - Official Music Video - Eurovision 2021 Youtube video Click to load YouTube video.

Roxen is a talented performer, whose type of downtempo sad pop is certainly in vogue currently.

"Alcohol You" has really nice verses which build up well. The first instance of the chorus jettisons a lot of the song's momentum. I'm also not really feeling the "why do fairytails fail baby" hook. But overall, it is a good slow tune about drunk dialing.

"Amnesia" doesn't lose any momentum as the song goes, and even though some of the wording in the chorus is a little clunky, ("Self-love amnesia, don't worry if it got you, cause you're not alone") it is not a dealbreaker.


Russia: Little Big - "Uno" vs. Manizha - "Russian Woman"

Little Big - Uno - Russia 🇷🇺 - Official Music Video - Eurovision 2020 Youtube video Click to load YouTube video.
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RUSSIAN WOMAN Youtube video Click to load YouTube video.

I find Little Big's song "Uno" to be very annoying, whereas I find Manizha's "Russian Woman" to be a really entertaining blend of styles with some fantstic lyrics.

Manizha has gotten a lot of hate for her Tajik background, and for not being Little Big. She's a really charismatic performer with a great sense of humor and I wish her well in 2021.


San Marino: Senhit - "Freaky" vs. "Adrenalina"

Senhit - Freaky! - San Marino 🇸🇲 - Official Music Video - Eurovision 2020 Youtube video Click to load YouTube video.
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Senhit - Adrenalina - San Marino 🇸🇲 - Official Music Video - Eurovision 2021 Youtube video Click to load YouTube video.

Senhit did mix things up between 2020 & 2021.

The choice here is between 2020's "Freaky," which notably doesn't feature Flo Rida, and 2021's "Adrenalina" which notably does.

"Freaky" is a throw-back disco tune that is really happy to shout the word "Freaky" as often as possible. As far as disco throwbacks are concerned, I certainly prefer it to Denmark's 2021 throwback, but otherwise I'm not particularly enthused.

(Also apparently getting freaky includes activities like "dancing in the park" and "drinks on rooftops." C'mon Senhit, remember how Iceland's entrants were dressed in 2019? You don't have to be G-rated.)

"Adrenalina" broke San Marino out of disco jail. For the first time in years, their entry sounds modern. Putting aside Flo Rida's feature, it's a catchy modern dance pop song with good hooks, hurt slightly by its unfortunate penchant for repeating the title a little too often.

And yeah, Flo Rida's verse is good too.

"Adrenalina" absolutely smokes "Freaky," and I'm not remotely sorry that that's the case, because I'm hoping that this paves the way for future San Marino entrants.

And maybe even the 2022 competition might be held in Valentina Monetta's backyard.


Serbia: Hurricane - "Hasta La Vista" vs. "Loco Loco"

Hurricane - Hasta La Vista - Serbia 🇷🇸 - Official Music Video - Eurovision 2020 Youtube video Click to load YouTube video.
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Hurricane - LOCO LOCO - Serbia 🇷🇸 - Official Music Video - Eurovision 2021 Youtube video Click to load YouTube video.

Serbian girl group Hurricane is among the groups who kept things pretty consistent between years. They may have picked different Spanish words for their title, but the tracks are both Serbian-language Balkan dance pop. They both even have nice cries of "hajde."

One of the first immediate differences is that the band curled their hair in 2021, but kept things straight in 2020.

"Hasta La Vista" has a solid hook in the pre-chorus, with the "imam novi plan, imam novi plan!" line.

"Loco Loco" is a bit faster in tempo and has a great synth fill that introduces the pre-chorus.

I do think that "Hasta La Vista, Babyyyyyy" is a better chorus than "So now you act all Loco loco" (English translation,) but "Loco Loco" has that great section where it's rhyming sam sam sam/znam znam znam/lom lom lom.

They're both similar, strong tunes.

Listening to them side-by-side, I can't actually pick a winner.


Slovenia: Ana Soklič - "Voda" vs. "Amen"

Ana Soklič - Voda - Slovenia 🇸🇮 - Official Video - Eurovision 2020 Youtube video Click to load YouTube video.
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Ana Soklič - Amen - Slovenia 🇸🇮 - Official Music Video - Eurovision 2021 Youtube video Click to load YouTube video.

Between 2020 and 2021, Slovenia has delivered two ballads from fantastic singer Ana Soklič. The most immediate difference is that she sings in English in 2021, but in Slovenian in the 2020 number.

"Amen" has some awkward hooks, e.g. "Hallelujah! We're glorious!" I'm also not really into the whole "Hey, child" type of addressing. It isn't my cup of tea.

2020's "Voda" has a slow build, but it has instrumentation that I like a lot better, with percussion inspired by the sounds of dripping water. Oh, and Soklič really, really belts out the title word in the chorus.

2020 is the easy winner here.


Spain: Blas Cantó - "Universo" vs. "Voy A Quedarme"

Blas Cantó - Universo - Spain 🇪🇸 - Official Music Video - Eurovision 2020 Youtube video Click to load YouTube video.
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Blas Cantó - Voy A Quedarme - Spain 🇪🇸 - Official Music Video - Eurovision 2021 Youtube video Click to load YouTube video.

Blas Cantó is among the artists who switched up styles between the two years.

2020 is far more of a banger, building up into a chorus full of oh-oh-oh-oh-ohs, after some excellerating kick drums. It makes good use of pizaccato strings in the verse. Though the repetition of the title is not among my favorite hooks, it's competent enough.

Spain's 2021 entry is a ballad, which opens strongly with piano and soulful vocals, but which quickly became one of my least favorite tracks in Eurovision 2021 due to obnoxious backing vocals.

Until they come in, it's a pretty good ballad, but I do have to say, they do definitely ruin the vibe for me.

Ultimately neither are my favorite, but 2020's commits no grave sins, while 2021's backing vocals kill the vibes.


Sweden: The Mamas - "Move" vs. Tusse - "Voices"

The Mamas - Move - Sweden 🇸🇪 - Official Video - Eurovision 2020 Youtube video Click to load YouTube video.
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Tusse - Voices - Sweden 🇸🇪 - Official Video - Eurovision 2021 Youtube video Click to load YouTube video.

Hot take: Sweden's tracks are undeservedly overrated and get more votes than they deserve in Eurovision.

With that out of the way, 2020's gospel-pop tune "Move" is a good one, though I probably would prefer a chorus that was had a few fewer "ooh ooh ooh ooh ooh ooh ooh ooh's" in it. The Mama's are charismatic and they do sound good together, the song is upbeat. Its main problem is that it's just kinda boring.

Tusse's 2021 entry is slickly produced. It's an electropop-style song with a few cool instrumental elements. But, it has an underwhelming chorus, particularly in the section where it decides to repeat the title of the track.

Both of these songs have some very appealing elements, and are sung by enjoyable performers, but they both feel very... safe and undynamic. On the surface, these are very different tracks -- with different performers, constructed of different elements, but I find them equally forgettable. Even trying to think back to how "Move" sounded, immediately after listening to "Voices," I couldn't help but instead recall the melody to Destiny's far superior gospel-inspired entry "All of My Love" from 2020.

I can't really choose one over the other because I don't think I'd notice or care if they were swapped. There's clearly a lot of talent that has been used here, but I feel like there's a real lack of soul, and that's really sad.


Switzerland: Gjon's Tears - "Répondez-moi" vs. "Tout l'Univers"

Gjon's Tears - Répondez-moi - Switzerland 🇨🇭 - Official Music Video - Eurovision 2020 Youtube video Click to load YouTube video.
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Gjon's Tears - Tout l’Univers - Switzerland 🇨🇭 - Official Music Video - Eurovision 2021 Youtube video Click to load YouTube video.

Gjon's Tears is a curly-haired French Swiss fella with a gorgeous singing voice. And, in both years, he utilized his voice for the express purpose of balladry.

"Répondez-moi" is a beautiful ballad, led by piano and strings, with lots of soaring high notes, and eventual electronic drums and elements.

"Tout l'Univers" is a beautiful, ethereal ballad, mainly led by piano, with occasional swirling orchestration and pounding drums. It is a really solid entry, probably the best of 2021's ballads.

I may have described both songs in ways that make them sound similar. They are both emotionally effective ballads sung in French. 2021 is more ethereal. 2020 definitely has more vocal acrobatics -- Gjon can really hit those high notes.

Of the two, "Répondez-moi" stands out just a little more because of the fantastically sung high notes. So, it's the winner.


United Kingdom: James Newman - "My Last Breath" vs. "Embers"

James Newman - My Last Breath - Official Music Video - United Kingdom 🇬🇧 - Eurovision 2020 Youtube video Click to load YouTube video.
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James Newman - Embers - United Kingdom 🇬🇧 - Official Music Video - Eurovision 2021 Youtube video Click to load YouTube video.

The UK has done poorly in Eurovision as of late. Some have claimed that its due to politics, but certainly their underwhelming choices of performers, such as 2019's Michael Rice have not helped.

(Though, honestly it is insulting that they placed below Germany's far worse entrant that year.)

I don't think James Newman really breaks this trend, but he could prove me wrong.

"My Last Breath" is an acoustic guitar/organ-driven ballad with lots of "oh whoa whoa whoa oh" backing vocals, and an odd chorus of "If you had nothing left, I'd give you my last (palpable pause and switch to falsetto) breath!"

The context, by the way, is what would happen if Newman and his lover were deep sea divers and "no one came to find us." It's a real pedestrian number.

"Embers" is a gospel-inspired pop tune with some nice horn fills, and a four to the floor beat. It's well produced, managing these elements with aplomb.

I feel like Newman's delivery of a few lines in the chorus is a bit too... growly or dramatic. I'm not used to the first letter of embers having a couple extra syllables in it. Plus, the verses are real sappy.

But, those quibbles aside, 2021's tune is a lot more peppy and dynamic.


Ukraine: Go_A - "Solovey" vs. "Shum"

Go_A - Solovey - Ukraine 🇺🇦 - Official Video - Eurovision 2020 Youtube video Click to load YouTube video.
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Go_A - SHUM - Ukraine 🇺🇦 - Official Music Video - Eurovision 2021 Youtube video Click to load YouTube video.

Go_A are hands down one of the most exciting and brilliant entrants in Eurovision from both years. Their blend of Ukranian folk elements like flutes and white vocals with electronic dance pop is seamless and fantastically original.

"Solovey" was among my favorite 2020 tracks, telling a pastoral tale of forbidden love over a four-to-the-floor beat. It's an impeccable piece.

"Shum" meanwhile is an even more high-powered blend of electronic dance and folk, mixing hard driving bass with lyrics about sewing a harvest in spring. Its music video is also, super iconic.

As much as I love "Solovey," "Shum" outdoes it. I'm thrilled that Go_A managed to come back with a song even more brilliant than their 2020 number.


Conclusions

This was a surprisingly fun exercise, and one which yielded some unexpected results. Some of the choices I made were absolutely not what I was expecting before I did a side-by-side listen.

Of the 39 song pairs, I preferred 2021's entry 50% of the time. 10% of the time I couldn't choose, and the remaining 40% of the time I would have gone for 2020's entry.

In general, it's kind of a mixed bag. There are some artists/countries who managed to show massive improvement between the two years, but on the whole, I think a lot of people just picked another song and had little else to do but refine it.

Thanks for reading!

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