Almost exactly a year ago I rated the 10 “Eurovision” 2019 finalists. I did not like them. Eurovision fans, in turn, did not like me for criticizing them, and I had to turn my Twitter notifications off for several months because Europe wouldn’t stop yelling at me.
So naturally, despite its plague-related cancellation, this year I’m reviewing all 41 would-be Eurovision 2020 entries.
For our normal American audience, Eurovision is a song competition where European nations, and several extremely not European nations (for some reason), can each submit one song. From there it’s basically the live part of “American Idol,” but international—so far more corrupt. Usually, the blandest song wins because if you average out the musical tastes of that many countries, you end up with the equivalent of listening to the color beige.
For our new and probably irate European audience that hate-clicked a link on social media, you know what “Eurovision” is. But you don’t know it’s bad yet so let an American explain what pop culture you should like.
Sweden: The Mamas – “Move”
As much as I’d like to come out the gate swinging, this is really good. Way to go Sweden.
It still has that Eurovision sound behind the chorus; that vocal texture that sounds like someone trying to imagine Imagine Dragons, but otherwise it’s a throwback to the great gospel-inspired girl group songs of the ‘60s and ‘70s but with a modern flair. While most “Eurovision” songs I genuinely like catch my attention because they’re delightfully extreme outliers like Lordi and Hatari, this is just plain good.
I don’t expect the good fortune to continue.
Belarus: VAL – “Da Vidna”
OK, so let’s start with the good first: It’s actually in the language of the country it represents. That’s depressingly rare among Eurovision songs, a point which I’ve made to excess and will continue to complain about indefinitely.
Compliments out of the way, it’s a fairly generic pop song. Not bad but not good. The production, though, kinda trips me out. For one thing, VAL barely acknowledges the dancer so it’s almost like some creepy dude just wandered onto the stage and started busting a move, and their costumes and makeup remind me of the old “SNL” Sprockets sketches more than they likely intended.
Australia: Montaigne – “Don’t Break Me”
According to Google, the shortest distance between any point in Europe and any point in Australia is 8,757 miles. That’s 35 percent of the circumference of the Earth. It’s about the same as driving from Los Angeles to New York, back to Los Angeles because you forgot to lock the back door, then back to New York again.
Why even call it “Eurovision?” I mean, come on.
Anyway, this is not Montaigne at her best. The neck ruffle is never a good idea, and apparently the weird cheek-circle doll makeup is a regular thing for her rather than a regrettable decision for that particular show. The song itself sounds like if an Adele impersonator recorded an alt-rock song after reading about the genre in a book.
The shame of it is Montaigne’s other singles are actually pretty good, before she succumbed to the pressure to adapt to the bland uniformity of the “Eurovision” style.
North Macedonia: Vasil – “You”
We have our first generic, electronic-influenced crooner-pop love song! That took longer than I thought.
What’s a shame is that Vasil’s story is far more interesting than his “Eurovision” entry. He started singing at 7 years old in what was then Yugoslavia and became famous as an opera singer at age 10. He later came to the United States as a refugee in 1997 due to the Kosovo War, where he continued his music career with the Chicago Children’s Choir, even performing at the White House… until he and his family were sent back to Macedonia due to 9/11-related immigration restrictions.
That’s two in a row that I wish would perform from the heart rather than pander to Eurovision’s insatiable desire for blandness.
Slovenia: Ana Soklič – “Voda”
Look, if I wanted to listen to Celine Dion, you should call 911 because I’d be sending you a coded message that something is terribly wrong. I never want to listen to Celine Dion. Wait, what was I saying? Oh, right: This sounds like the generic store brand version of Celine Dion.
That’s not to say she doesn’t have a killer voice. She hits a note near the end that’s downright amazing. If she was on “The Voice” or something she would crush it. But is that really the bar for an international singing competition? Does Slovenia really have nothing better to offer than “would advance into the later rounds of a reality show?”
Lithuania: The Roop – “On Fire”
The band’s name is The Roop and their song is called “On Fire.” That’s fantastic!
The Roop. The Roop. The Roop is on fire.
The lead singer of The Roop should not try to dance. It’s like he lost a bet up there. The performance looks someone mocking a chicken before getting interrupted by a swarm of wasps. I’ve seen more graceful expression through movement from people actively falling down the stairs. Know your limitations, my dude.
Ireland: Lesley Roy – “Story of My Life”
This is… not bad, actually. I wouldn’t call it one of my favorite songs, but it’s obviously written to be good music rather than to win “Eurovision,” which I appreciate. There’s a spirit of fun to it, the feeling that the people involved in making it were enjoying themselves through the process. And I dig the Katy Perry vibe.
One thing bothers me, though. Why did they give her a guitar in the video? I know that nobody’s actually playing their instruments in music videos but they at least usually try to make it look like they are, and she’s just waving her hand near the strings for most of it. Plus, most importantly, I don’t actually hear any guitar in the song itself.
All in all, though, that’s pretty minor. Put this on the good list.
Russia: Little Big – “Uno”
What… What did I just watch?
OK, so, first off, this is the Russian entry. From Russia. And it’s performed in a combination of English and Spanish, both notable for not being Russian. Were they under the impression Latin America was voting in this one? Has Spain had a population boom that I missed?
That guy in the back, in the black suit with the white frills—what’s going on with the black around his mouth? It’s incredibly unsettling.
Why is the male singer so angry? Is “furious disco hipster” a thing in Russia? Also, I’m not an expert on Russian mafia tattoos, but I think at least some of those tattoos mean something to the Russian mafia.
Are they making fun of the dancer on our left? I feel like they’re making fun of him and that makes me mad since he’s pretty good.
Oh, and apparently Russia is back to its old election-meddling tricks. I’ve never seen this ad before and I am 100-percent sure I’ve never gone to any sites to invite it, so I can only assume it’s part of another foreign influence campaign.
All in all, this makes me completely understand why Russian literature is all so crushingly depressing. If this is Russia’s attempt at whimsy, I hope it never, ever tries it again.
Belgium: Hooverphonic – “Release Me”
I think I need another minute or two to compose myself after Russia’s entry.
OK, I’m back. On to Hooverphonic.
At least this is a decent palate-cleanser. It’s got a nice bluesy undertone, and the use of the symphony isn’t gratuitous or excessive. It doesn’t fall into the trap of a lot of other entries of abandoning the band and leaning on the vocals. This is definitely the band’s song rather than the singer’s.
What’s intriguing is that this was originally an electronic band that delved into alternative rock, and this is as far from an electronic song as you can get. But in a good way! If this is what they do outside their core genres, maybe they should change their core genres.
Malta: Destiny – “All of My Love”
The 40 seconds of bad James Earl Jones knockoff at the beginning of the video is unnecessary, and I’m not sure what’s going on with the parkour theme, but that aside, this is also a good song!
Destiny is a televised singing competition veteran, having competed on “Britain’s Got Talent,” the Maltese “X-Factor” and “Junior Eurovision 2015,” which is why it’s so surprising that she’s this good. Usually singers who go through the Reality Show Industrial Complex are soulless and overprocessed.
Check out Destiny at 14 years old absolutely crushing an Aretha song: She needs to win something for this alone.
Croatia: Damir Kedžo – “Divlji vjetre”
Well, we had a good run. Two genuinely good songs in a row before we got to the next utterly indistinguishable sweeping ballad by a clean-cut male singer.
This may actually be the least distinguishable of all. I’m struggling to find anything to say about it. Damir Kedžo’s voice is pretty good, I guess. But otherwise there’s not a lot here to separate it from the other clean-cut male singers doing sweeping ballads.
Azerbaijan: Efendi – “Cleopatra”
So just to be sure, everyone else saw Russia’s entry too, right? It seems so unlikely that would have advanced to an international competition that I’m starting to get worried I hallucinated it.
Anyway, Efendi’s “Cleopatra” is incredible and I love it so much. Really, I found it on Spotify and added it to a couple playlists. It’s so good.
No, really. There’s no joke coming. I actually really like it.
It includes traditional Azerbaijani instruments, meaning a nation is actually using international competition to introduce the world to its local music rather than pandering with angry disco hippies. But I don’t just like it for using the instruments. They’re used really well. I started to suspect it after Altin Gün but now it’s confirmed: Every nation’s traditional stringed instrument sounds better than the guitar.
Also, for some reason, there’s a break in there where it gets weirdly black metal, and I don’t know what those lyrics mean but I don’t remember my walls having this many eyes before. This song is awesome.
Cyprus: Sandro – “Running”
The top YouTube comment really says it all: “Message from Cyprus: sorry Europe we are all out of Fuegos and Elenis…. get over it…”
Yeah, it had the misfortune to follow “Cleopatra” in my listening order, but this is also the order they would have performed. Sandro was doomed from the start. And it doesn’t help that this is just another generic ballad, this time from the “electronic influence” category. You could put the vocals over the music from “Divlji vjetre” and if you didn’t notice they’re in different languages you probably couldn’t tell the difference.
Norway: Ulrikke – “Attention”
“Attention” proves that there’s nothing necessarily wrong with the sweeping, vocal-driven ballads. Because this is, in essence, the female version of “Running,” but it’s actually good.
This isn’t better specifically because the singer is a woman, but I have a suspicion the cultural expectations for male and female singers is part of it. Ulrikke not only has better vocal range but a wider range of emotions. She sings with passion and heart. Sandro and Damir, meanwhile, have good voices, but they performance is far more muted and one-dimensional.
Do female vocal performances cover the emotional spectrum while the emotion in male vocal performances is limited to sexual desire or rage because Western society expects and encourages emotion from women but shames men for anything more than sexual desire or rage? I’ll leave that to sociologists.
If your country hasn’t come up yet, don’t worry! There are two more parts! Come back in a few days for your excuse to hate me. I’ll try to avoid pointing out that the United States would win every year because Lizzo and Janelle Monae live here so y’all are just competing for the best of the also-rans.
Follow editor Daniel J. Willis and tweet column ideas to him at Twitter.com/BayAreaData.