REWIND: An American judges the Eurovision 2021 finalists

Daði og Gagnamagnið, Daði Freyr

Daði og Gagnamagnið from Iceland perform during a rehearsal of the second semifinal of the Eurovision Song Contest in Rotterdam, Netherlands on May 13, 2021. Photo by Patrick van Emst/ANP/ AFP.

And we’re back. Yesterday we covered the 13 songs knocked out of the “Eurovision” semifinals, and now we’re covering the… sigh… 26 finalists. Two finalists for every elimination. This is why y’all need America to step in and show you what’s what.

I won’t get too deep into why an American needs to help you guys out in Europe, both because I already explained it in yesterday’s column linked above and because it should be obvious, but I’m just the American for the job. I drive a 2010 Camaro SS, I think it’s impressive that I drive a 2010 Camaro SS, I have a beard that’s an easy 6-8 inches long and I’m currently drinking out of a 40-ounce souvenir soda cup with an American flag on it from a minor league baseball game. I’m as American as they come.

So join me as I spare you the four-hour slog through the Eurovision finals later today by telling you who should win. If you don’t think I spent enough time on your favorite entry, it’s because it was boring, and I have 26 of these to get through.

Cyprus: Elena Tsagrinou — “El Diablo”

I want to like this one. I really do. The beat is good. It has character. It’s not an overdramatic ballad. But this vocal style is like nails on a chalkboard to me. I don’t think this is autotuned, but it sounds vaguely like it is anyway, and not in a good way.

That said, it’s probably in my top ten. The bar is low.

Albania: Anxhela Peristeri — “Karma”

Another proof of my American credentials? I don’t even know how to begin pronouncing “Anxhela.”

Back to the point: I actually dig this song. It’s not an English-language ballad with every ounce of character or genuine human emotion focus-grouped out of it, for one thing. I don’t know Albanian musical traditions, but this sounds unanglicized, such that I have to imagine Albania is showing through here, and I appreciate that.

This is no fun; we’re two-for-two on songs I don’t actively loathe. NEXT!

Israel: Eden Alene — “Set Me Free”

OK, so we’ve gotta address some things, so I’m gonna break character for a second and get real.

I don’t blame Eden Alene for the actions of Israel’s government, and I’m sorry her chance at a big break comes in these circumstances. I’m an American, after all, and if anyone should understand that the barbaric actions of a nation’s government don’t reflect on every citizen, it’s us.

That said, there should be consequences for the nation as a whole, and one easy consequence is that they should be disinvited from international competitions. It’s not fair to the competitors, but the attacks aren’t fair to the Palestinians either, and the affected Israelis are in a position to stand up and protest until it stops.

There are calls to boycott “Eurovision” over Israel’s inclusion, and I support that. I wasn’t going to watch anyway, and I don’t think it would make any difference. What will make a difference, if you’re an American, is to call your Senators and your Congressmember and tell them to publicly oppose Israel’s bombing of Palestinian homes and civilians. No amount of rocket attacks justify war crimes.

And now back to our regularly-scheduled roast.

Belgium: Hooverphonic — “The Wrong Place”

Pros: Hooverphonic is a great band name. Belgium has great chocolate. It’s not a generic ballad.

Cons: It’s dull even by dark pop standards. It sounds functionally identical to their would-be 2020 entry. It’s so melancholy that it instantly sucks the air out of whatever room it’s played in, which probably isn’t great for the fourth song in a four-hour marathon of TV.

Russia: Manizha — “Russian Woman”

The good news is this is far less confusing than Little Big, their would-be 2020 entrant. I was traumatized by “Uno” last year, and I still haven’t completely gotten over it.

It’s also nice that, if this translation of the lyrics is to be believed, this song is a feminist anthem about women’s empowerment. I respect that, especially in Russia where the shirtless guy is functionally the dictator. Not exactly a bastion of gender equality over there at the moment.

All that said I’m going to say the same thing I always say: Make Pussy Riot your “Eurovision” representative, you cowards.

Malta: Destiny — “Je me casse”

I’m all for women’s empowerment. Men have screwed everything up so badly that it’s well past time for everyone else to take over. But it’s still a little weird that there’s two women’s empowerment songs back-to-back.

If this is a running theme among the finalists, it’s my duty to rank them. So far this is the best one, and Russia is last.

Portugal: The Black Mamba — “Love Is on My Side”

The black and white filter with the fake film scratches gave me the impression this was going to turn from throwback crooner song to something more modern. I don’t know why; maybe I’ve just seen so many “The Wizard of Oz” transitions that I’ve been trained to expect them.

But no, it stays an old-fashioned soul song the whole time.

What kills me is that I actually like the genre, and I want to like that they’re bringing it back, but it’s just not very good. Sorry, guys. At least you tried.

Serbia: Hurricane — “Loco Loco”

I liked Hurricane’s entry for Serbia last year. I really did. But this… this isn’t the same. It feels too much like they’re trying to recapture last year’s better song because they can’t use it again, even though they didn’t technically use it the first time. I mean, come on, the title is even in Spanish again; last year it was “Hasta la Vista.”

On the Grand Scale of Girl Group Songs, this isn’t the Spice Girls; it isn’t even the Pussycat Dolls. It’s B*Witched at best.

United Kingdom: James Newman — “Embers”

The nicest thing I can say about this song is that, if I told you a U.K. singer named James Newman released a song called “Embers,” this is exactly what you would expect it to sound like.

Greece: Stefania — “Last Dance”

I guess this is where they decided to stash the stereotypical overwrought songs that give “Eurovision” its reputation outside Europe. If you decide to attempt to watch all four hours of the “Eurovision” finals—which, I cannot stress this enough, I do not recommend—as soon as James Newman was announced that was your time to use the restroom, take the dog for a walk, or maybe go get something to eat.

Switzerland: Gjon’s Tears — “Tout l’Univers”

I’m just going to steal my commentary from the 2020 edition since it still applies:

“With a band name like Gjon’s Tears, this could go two ways. Either it’s an awesome black metal band, and Gjon is a Great Old One, or it’s an agonizingly sappy emo band and Gjon is the singer.

I regret to inform you that the singer is Gjon Muharremaj. They’re his tears. It’s very boring.”

Iceland: Daði og Gagnamagnið — “10 Years”

Hooray! We’ve finally made it to Daði Freyr! I’m a huge fan of Daði Freyr. If you decided to spend the last three songs alphabetizing your sock drawer or something, be back for this one.

Last year, Daði og Gagnamagnið’s “Think About Things” would have won, no question. It’s a legitimately great song. I named it one of my top five songs of 2020, and I still listen to it fairly often. I also follow his work pretty closely because occasionally he posts something like this awesome cover of Haddaway’s “What Is Love” or this great cover of Cher’s “Believe.”

The song “10 years” isn’t as great as “Think About Things,” but that’s not a fair comparison. The new song is good in the way the second single off a great album is good. If it doesn’t win, the contest is rigged.

Spain: Blas Cantó — “Voy a quedarme”

I wanted to give whoever was unlucky enough to follow my favorite band a fair chance. I even took a break between them so I could come at it with fresh ears.

It didn’t help. This is basically Stock Eurovision Song No. 419.

Moldova: Natalia Gordienko — “Sugar”

Can you believe this is the first song of the second half? They’re really going to show all these songs in one show.

Anyway, I legitimately thought I clicked the link for one of the loser songs by mistake because this sounds exactly like half of them. Why did this make it and those didn’t when they sound functionally identical? That’s the magic of “Eurovision” I guess.

Germany: Jendrik — “I Don’t Feel Hate”

I’m sorry, what?

There’s nothing worse than forced whimsy, and that’s the entire premise of this song. It’s just trying so hard. And the guy looks like decreasingly covert white supremacist PewDiePie. So, ironically, thanks to this song, I now feel hate.

Finland: Blind Channel — “Dark Side”

If it feels like I’m starting to speed through these entries, it’s because I am. The doldrums hit hard, and there was little to nothing to say about those. I’m trying to avoid a 4,000 word column here, so I’m not gonna expound on nothing.

This one, though? This gets words! Because this is good! Finland’s 2020 entry was a Paul Blart cosplayer, and for 2021, they scrapped him for an early ’00s throwback nu-metal band. And I’m here for it.

Daði is still my dude, but I wouldn’t be mad if Blind Channel won it just because it’s only right that Scandinavia sends a metal band to the contest, nu or otherwise. When they sent Lordi, they won after all, and while these guys aren’t nearly as metal as Lordi, they’re on the same spectrum.

I salute you, Finland. Good job.

Bulgaria: Victoria — “Growing Up Is Getting Old”

So, of course, the good song is followed by an annoyingly slow, annoyingly twee song that begins with a fake news report about “Eurovision” 2020 being canceled. This is way too late in the list for audio narcolepsy.

Lithuania: The Roop — “Discoteque”

This is quite possibly the most stereotypically Europop music I’ve ever heard, and not in a good way. It’s upsettingly Europop. I keep expecting Mike Meyers to pop out as Dieter from the old SNL Sprockets sketches.

Stop trying to bring the ’80s back, Europe. We don’t want it back. The only good thing to come out of the ’80s the first time was me.

Ukraine: Go_A — “Shum”

I don’t know what’s happening here, but I love it. I love every part of it.

The Mad Max vibe with the rusted patchwork car? Love it. The weird nose jewelry the singer is wearing? Love it. Falconry? Love it. A straight up fife solo? Love it.

Seriously, I have nothing negative to say about this song or video. And believe me, I tried.

France: Barbara Pravi — “Voilà”

This song and video couldn’t be more French if it was wearing a horizontally striped shirt and beret while smoking a skinny cigarette in a long holder. It’s entirely too French. I mean, I’m tolerant; I don’t mind if you’re French, but there’s no reason to rub it in my face like this.

Azerbaijan: Efendi — “Mata Hari”

France aside, we’re in another hot streak. This song is also pretty great.

Like Albania’s entry, way, way up at the top of this column, this has shades of the represented country. It’s a pop song, but in an interesting way rather than a watered-down, mass market way. It’s got a catchy hook. All in all, I’ll give it a B.

Norway: Tix — “Fallen Angel”

Didn’t we do Norway? I could’ve sworn we already did Norway. But then again, this is the 22nd song, so who can tell anymore? Is it still 2021? What is time?

I’ve complained a lot about boring songs so far, and for good reason, because they’re very boring. This is one of the most boring yet. And worse? TIX wears a headband that says “TIX” on it, just in case we forget that he’s TIX.

We know you’re TIX. How could we forget? Seriously, we’re asking, because we’d really like to forget, but nothing is working.

Netherlands: Jeangu Macrooy — “Birth of a New Age”

Part of this song is sung in Sranan Tongo, a creole language that’s primarily Dutch words with English grammar mixed with traces of various West African languages, Portuguese and Spanish. It developed as a way for people to communicate after the English took West African slaves to a Dutch colony. Language is fascinating.

The song itself? Less fascinating. But at least I learned about a language I hadn’t known of previously.

Italy: Måneskin — “Zitti e buoni”

This is a weird rock song, and I dig it.

I’m not gonna try to fit this square peg in a round hole by squeezing it it in a rock subgenre. It’s just weird rock. It’s a blend of a whole lot of different rock from a lot of places and eras, and it’s weird. And I like weird. So this is awesome.

I’ve actually liked quite a few of these. Maybe I’m in a good mood? No, that can’t be it. I wonder what’s wrong with me.

Sweden: Tusse — “Voices”

Wait, no, there it is—there’s my inner hater. He’s still there.

There’s nothing especially wrong with this song or her performance, but it’s just… there. It’s just kinda there. I wouldn’t recognize it in the future, and I have no real desire to hear it again.

It makes me wonder: Is this really the best song Sweden has produced in the past year? There’s really nothing more noteworthy than this they could have put forward?

San Marino: Senhit and Flo Rida — “Adrenalina”

OK, so I have good news, and I have bad news.

Good news first: This is the last finalist! We made it, everyone! It’s been a long road to get here, but we finally made it.

The bad news: The last finalist features Flo Rida.

I’m not sure how Flo Rida qualifies to represent San Marino, or why San Marino reached out to a guy who had one hit in 2007 and had reportedly never even heard of “Eurovision” before they asked him to be in it. Also, and I am again not making this up, he missed the rehearsal because he was judging a bikini contest in Miami.

This song is actually pretty catchy in a one-hit-wonder sort of way, which is appropriate considering, you know, Flo Rida. See, that’s what happens when you bring in an American: Instant quality.

Even though there are some more contenders this year than usual, Daði og Gagnamagnið is my pick to win.

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