REWIND: An American reviews the would-be Eurovision 2020 entries, Part 3

Athena Manoukian, Eurovision

Athena Manoukian. Courtesy: Eurovision.

First, let me address that this has been an extremely, profoundly, historically bad week in the United States.

As of this writing, there are protests, both violent and nonviolent, in at least 25 cities across the country, because 20 years into the 21st century an entire race of people still has to go to these lengths to demand their right to live.

The President of the United States is trying to shut down a private company for displeasing him. He threatened to send the military to an American city to gun down Americans in the street, and his justification was property damage. He cut off Hong Kong and removed the country from the World Health Organization when we need it most.

And on top of all that, the death toll from a still out-of-control pandemic has claimed over 100,000 lives, and the only thing those in charge can think about is how to make people go back to work so the wealthy can resume making money. Coast to coast, regardless of party, with cases still near their peak, our government’s sole focus has turned to sending us into a situation that could kill us as soon as possible.

So, yes, in a way I feel a bit silly writing a humor column ripping on would-be “Eurovision” contestants.

At the same time, in times like these we all need to stop to take a breather every now and then. We need a change of pace, a laugh, a way to take our mind off things for a few minutes, so we can recharge a bit to get through the day. So I hope this bit of snarky humor, along with Parts 1 and 2 of this series, can give you that mental break.

And now back to your regularly scheduled cheap shots.

Denmark: Ben & Tan – “Yes”

So this is certainly a start. Good or bad I don’t know, but a start nonetheless.

Putting aside Ben’s suit and haircut, which is very hard to do because they’re both the most regrettable parts of this song, and putting aside the fact that Tan is wearing two outfits sewn together in the middle for some reason, this song is OK. It’s certainly not the Ben’s haircut of songs.

[Gokhman note: I think the haircut is called the Jack Antonoff, and I approve of it].

I’m told by Wikipedia that Ben and Tan competed on the Danish “X Factor” in the same season as solo acts, then later formed a duo. I’m not sure why; they don’t go together very well. Maybe she was seduced by his haircut.

Albania: Arilena Ara – “Fall from the Sky”

It’s tough to review this song because I haven’t been able to make it all the way through without falling asleep. It’s like audio Ambien. There are guided meditation tapes that aren’t as effective at knocking me out cold.

Of the parts of it I’ve been awake for, the thing that stands out most is what a terrible actress Arilena Ara is. How do you even overact in a music video? There’s no dialogue! She just has to sing, and somehow she ends up chewing the scenery! It would be impressive if the song wasn’t so dreadfully dull.

Finland: Aksel – “Looking Back”

I don’t understand how Denmark and Finland, two of the most objectively metal countries on Earth, could come up with such profoundly lame entries.

You can’t throw a rock up there without smudging the corpse paint of two black metal bands, but this is what they come up with on a national stage? Some dude named Aksel Kankaanranta from “The Voice” of Finland with Paul Blart’s hair and mustache singing the least interesting song ever written?

It’s a shame. So much metal going to waste.

Armenia: Athena Manoukian – “Chains on You”

Say what you will about “Chains on You,” but it’s not bland. And for that I salute it.

It says a lot about the “Eurovision” slate that this is one of the most interesting songs. The lyrics don’t appear to mean anything and it’s basically just chanting to a beat, but it’s not some incredibly boring former reality show contestant crooning some generic tripe in English.

Manoukian is actually the third “Junior Eurovision” alum who was supposed to compete in 2020, but oddly she performed on the Greek entry. I guess there are free agents in “Eurovision?”

Portugal: Elisa – “Medo de Sentir”

In the pro column, the song from Portugal is in Portuguese. Of the 41 would-be contestants, only nine by my count have non-English-language lyrics. It genuinely bothers me.

In the con column, the song is almost as boring as Albania’s entry. I’ve heard catchier white noise machines. I refuse to believe nobody in Portugal wrote a better song than that in an entire year; I have more faith than that in Portugal as a country. Does nobody own a guitar there?

Georgia: Tornike Kipiani – “Take Me as I Am”

Kipiani, an alum of the “X Factor Georgia”—because apparently every country has an “X Factor” and “Eurovision” is just an extension of that—is the rare male “Eurovision” singer whose voice conveys an emotion other than vaguely romantic longing.

The song’s theme, exemplified by the opening lyrics, “How do you want me to talk like an Englishman?/ Where do you want me to dress like an Italian?/ How do you want me to dance like a Spanish guy?/ I guess you don’t love me, no you don’t love me,” is somewhat undercut because the song is in English. He’s actually talking like an Englishman.

Bulgaria: Victoria – “Tears Getting Sober”

Victoria Georgieva is known only by her first name and was a contestant on “X Factor Bulgaria,” because every 2020 “Eurovision” competitor is the same person.

Seriously, I really only had to write the one entry for most of these:

[Singer’s first name], whose unused last name is [long last name I can’t pronounce], participated in “X Factor” [country of origin]. [He/she] is extremely bland and performs in English. [His/her] song sounds exactly like every other “X Factor” contestant, and I wish I was listening to Iceland’s entry again. Still not as bad as Russia, though.

Latvia: Samanta Tīna – “Still Breathing”

Samanta Tīna did not participate in “X Factor Latvia.” She did, however, win something called “O!Kartes Akadēmija,” which her Wikipedia entry says is a Latvian music competition, but which doesn’t seem to exist on the English-language Internet otherwise except as a Google listing for a pop band, which is weird because bands aren’t competitions.

Unless they are?

If you’re Latvian and you’re reading this, please tell me what the heck “O!Kartes Akadēmija” is; the suspense is killing me, and I need something new to watch.

She also competed on a Moldovan singing competition called “Golden Voices,” which also isn’t “X Factor” but is probably pretty close. It’s all reality shows now. Music only exists in singing competitions. Garage bands are dead; you have to wait in line to impress Simon Cowell now.

Anyway, the song’s pretty good. The video is weird enough to keep me entertained, and the song isn’t “Generic ‘X Factor’ Contestant Song No. 616,” so I can’t complain too much.

Wait, is the bizarre video like “O!Kartes Akadēmija?” Because if so, I want to watch it even more.

Netherlands: Jeangu Macrooy – “Grow”

We’re on to the six entries that get to skip ahead to the final for some reason. The “Big Five” get to cut in line, which seems unfair, plus the Netherlands as the host country.

Macrooy is a good singer and does OK with the material, but… man, the material does not give him a lot to work with. This is an incredibly boring song. It’s possible he would have blown everyone away with a powerhouse live performance in front of a home crowd, but on a recording, this makes Arilena Ara’s “Fall from the Sky” sound like Andrew WK’s “Party Hard.”

As a side note, if Andrew WK was in Europe, he would win “Eurovision” every year. That’s an objective fact.

France: Tom Leeb – “Mon Alliée (The Best in Me)”

In case you hadn’t guessed, the Big Five are the rich Western European countries. They get to buy into the finals while the poor and Eastern European countries have to battle it out in semifinals. Because that’s what wealthy nations need: Advantages.

Wikipedia bills Leeb, who looks exactly like a guy named Leeb, as an “actor, singer and comedian,” which I don’t believe for a second. He’s not listed as competing on “X Factor France,” but I absolutely don’t believe that either; this is definitely the most “X Factor” song yet. They barely even polished this one up after digging it out of the “X Factor” song mines; it’s pretty much just ore.

Maybe next year all the “Eurovision” contestants should compare notes first to make sure they didn’t all accidentally write basically the same song.

[Gokhman note: Better idea: All contestants should just do the exact same song to see who does it best].

Germany: Ben Dolic – “Violent Thing”

I was really hoping Germany would be weird and different somehow, but it’s just a dude singing the same song again but to an EDM beat and with an embarrassing falsetto.

Look, I respect Germany. They’re one of the few nations in world history to acknowledge and try to atone for their past sins, and they’ve become a world leader in both economics and diplomacy after beginning the 20th century on the wrong side of two World Wars.

This song, though? Come on. Just because you’re automatically advancing to the finals doesn’t mean you can just coast. At least try.

Italy: Diodato – “Fai Rumore”

The YouTube comments on this video are fawningly, hyperbolically complimentary. And, OK, it’s not bad, but… what, commenters? How do you think this is the best song and a surefire winner when Iceland’s entry exists?

That said, the performance in an empty, ancient Roman amphitheater is a heck of a visual. Heck, the fact that a venue built in 30—not a typo, just 30—is still that well-preserved and an operational venue 1,990 years later. That venue was built when Jesus was still alive and it’s still hosting concerts.

The song is boring, but history is cool.

Spain: Blas Cantó – “Universo”

If you told me all the automatic finalists were singing the same song but in different languages, I’d absolutely believe you. They’re so unbelievably similar that it has to be on purpose. What are the odds five countries all come up with basically the exact same song?

Have they gone full Moneyball on music and distilled the formula down to what experts have determined is the perfect mass-market commercial song, so they’re just gonna keep recording this over and over forever? Because if so, we have to find the evil AI subjecting us to this song and destroy it before it’s too late.

[Gokhman note: That’s, like, basically, all of pop music, Willis].

We at least need to let the AI listen to Gary Clark Jr. in the hopes it’ll learn what music should be and start to feel guilty about what it’s done.

United Kingdom: James Newman – “My Last Breath”

Well, at least this is a slightly different song. I mean it’s still dull and bland, and it still in no way deserves to automatically advance to the finals, especially since Newman sounds like more or less every one of the other male singers in the competition, but the music backing the vocals up has some character to it for once.

That’s a start.

It’s also the end of this year’s review of the 41 “Eurovision” 2020 entries that never actually got to enter “Eurovision.” A significant percentage of these artists will be back for “Eurovision 2021,” hopefully with different songs in most of their cases, because these songs are terrible. And I’ll be back to review them. Except the ones I reviewed already. I don’t need to hear them again; I’ve done my time.

At least we have Iceland, I guess. Iceland’s entry is almost worth Russia’s. Almost.

Follow editor Daniel J. Willis and tweet column ideas to him at

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