You came back? It’s a miracle! Welcome to the second round of my Eurovision 2020 reviews, you wonderful human being.
Hopefully the first round helped you work up an appetite for musical judgments that go a little too in-depth (my bad). On the more-of-the-same menu today is Cyprus’ Running, Latvia’s Still Breathing, North Macedonia’s You and the UK’s My Last Breath. Coincidentally, there’s a lot of running and breathing going on with these guys – so scroll to see if Sandro, Samanta, Vasil and James’ songs for 2020 took my breath away, or had me sprinting in the opposite direction as fast as my legs could carry me…which isn’t very fast if I’m honest.
PS – Don’t forget to vote for your favourite out of this foursome in the poll. I’m predicting your top pick won’t be the same as mine, so we’ll have to agree to disagree. Or agree that I’m right, one of the two.
Apologies to every Eurofan who’d been wanting a conclusion to the Fuego trilogy this year. Following in the footsteps of Eleni and Tamta, but not too closely – can you see him wearing a flaming bodysuit or wet-look leotard? – is Sandro, who was born in Germany to a Greek mother and American father and is now representing Cyprus. Well, he WAS representing Cyprus. Fun fact: he’s the second 2020 artist (after Ben Dolic) to be a Voice of Germany 2018 graduate, where he turned all four chairs (Ben only turned two, what a loser). But if you think the multicultural buck of this entry stops at Sandro, you are as wrong as whoever thought Electro Velvet was a good idea. Running is the brainchild of two Germans, an Australian (Alfie Arcuri of The Voice Australia/Australia Decides 2019), Theofilos from Freaky Fortune (of Eurovision 2014 fame) and finally, Sandro himself. And it isn’t the sadboi ballad I was expecting.
We can officially put our tissues to one side, guys, because this is a straight up Dance Banger™. Actually, hang on to the tissues in case you need to wipe away the sweat from all the dancing you’ll be doing while listening to it. Or is that just me? IMO Cyprus has served up a third consecutive bop here, albeit a man-bop minus any ethnic touches. Unless ‘ethnic touches’ includes Running being clearly influenced by the music of Italian production trio Meduza. Seriously, if someone drew a Venn diagram feat. Meduza’s Piece of Your Heart and Lose Control plus this track, the overlap would be both bigger than us AND bigger than you and me (not to mention bigger than everything we see). The thing is, I’m a fan of Meduza’s musical stylings, so it’s only natural that I should be crazy about Running too. In other words, I freaking LOVE it. Cyprus selected a song that’s uptempo and energetic like the last two, but with a totally different atmosphere – and I’m happy to see them stray from the Fuego formula. This is the very definition of Songs That Draw Me To The Dancefloor Like Nobody’s Business: it’s precision-produced and infectious AF; it has a simple but effective chorus that builds up to an excellent drop; the beat is unrelenting; it’s dynamic enough to give Sandro a vocal “moment” towards the end; and speaking of Sandro (not that this has anything to do with the song’s ability to make me move) he’s a snack. I understand why people haven’t been rating this, but everything about it works for me. I know there’s no point visualising staging concepts for the Class of 2020, but that doesn’t mean none of us are doing it…so on that note, I had some moody lighting and machine-gun camera cuts in mind for Cyprus. Too bad they never actually asked me to stage-direct for them (shocking!). With contemporary staging as cutting-edge as the song, I think Sandro could have done better than a lot of people predicted. Especially taking into account his vocal abilities (as juries do) – check out his Voice audition for proof that this dude has SKILLZ.
Sure, this type of song might be considered too “background” to be competitive, and if Sandro didn’t have something to do onstage during the drops, awkwardness may have ensued. But we’ll never know for sure. As far as I’m concerned (ICYMI, I’m kind of keen) Running stands out in a sea of man balladeers trying to emulate Duncan Laurence’s emotional victory. It’s high-five worthy that Cyprus – with the assistance of Australia, Germany and Greece – tapped into current music trends during the creative process, when they could easily have produced a dance song long past its expiry date. You might disagree, and/or think of the ‘other’ Running (Hungary’s from 2014) as superior – but this one’s totally different, and like Prima Donna I have love enough for two.
In a line An underrated dance banger of epic proportions 2019 VS 2020 I have to go with Running over Replay (yes, really) Ranking #6 Score 10 points
The world can be so cruel sometimes. Here we have Latvia’s own Sanna Nielsen (she’s even sporting a blonde bob á la Sanna in the Undo days) who has tried to get her hands on a Eurovision ticket countless times. Well, eight times – six in Latvia and an additional two next door in Lithuania. So technically it was sixth time’s the charm for Samanta in her homeland. Basically, her win was a long time coming and testament to the idea of never giving up. But even Miss Tina’s determination will have been challenged now the contest has been cancelled (I’m thinking the Eurovision gods aren’t huge fans of hers). Her male counterpart Markus Riva must be relieved he wasn’t the perennial participant to finally win Latvia’s NF this year.
Samanta’s Still Breathing almost signalled the return of Aminata to the ESC as a songwriter, and while she rarely puts a foot wrong in that department I wouldn’t say it’s her finest work. It couldn’t possibly be her strongest Eurovision-related song in the wake of Love Injected and Heartbeat – that’s far too much to ask. Still, even the staunchest of haters couldn’t deny that this song makes an impression (and that it’s memeable in multiple ways). You know how the chorus of Love Injected hits hard because it’s so intense compared to the fragile verses surrounding it? Still Breathing is like three minutes of that intensity without any subdued moments whatsoever. It’s a lot, but sometimes ‘go hard or go home’ is an approach that works. It fits Samanta’s personality for sure, and she invests every fibre of her being into delivering this live. That’s partly why, while Aminata might have fancier feathers in her cap, I prefer this to Samanta’s previous and less successful NF entries. It grabs my attention from the start with that ‘I will keep on going, I will keep on running’ affirmation that repeats throughout the song. After that, it’s hard to lose focus with all the stuff going on to keep you fixated: verses that burrow into your brain at warp speed, iconic lines like ‘Life is music, I am a composer’, and the hypnotic beat that leaves you needing a nap when it stops. To me this feels longer than three minutes, but in a good way – it’s just repetitious enough and maximises every second of time. It’s funny that I compared the whole thing to one long Love Injected chorus (just in terms of forcefulness) because this doesn’t really have a chorus of its own to speak of. There’s a Fuego-like element to it in that the beat drop and (in this case, dubstep) instrumental more or less form a chorus, but the non-traditional kind. This is no emotional storytelling ballad, but look at the lyrics and you’ll see how authentic it is to Samanta and her journey as an artist. ‘I am gonna make it, destiny is in my hands’? I believe it. ‘Every day I wake up trying to get higher, be a better woman, working even harder’? Okay, where do I join the Church of Samanta? I want in ASAP so I can start practicing what she’s preaching. It’s her connection to those lyrics and how relatable they are to the rest of us that makes me care about this track more than I have about her others.
The Negative Nancy in me wants to say that dubstep had its moment at Eurovision circa 2013 – but Still Breathing being the only song of its kind in 2020 does make it stand out, contest or no contest. And the style suits Samanta perfectly, right down to the rap squeezed in towards the end where she delivers that iconic composer line. It’s also a thousand times more memorable than what Latvia chose last year (That Night in case you’ve forgotten) and that extends to the music video – someone must have been taking the only kind of trip permitted at the moment while planning that one. I don’t know how any of the visuals make sense for the song (except maybe the ball-and-chain holding her down/back) but it’s bonkers enough to be the right accompaniment. Why be a little bit crazy when you can go completely insane? Now excuse me while I put on my Perspex visor and push a doll pram back and forth with my stilettoed foot. TLDR, Samanta is an amazing ball of energy and attitude; her song, a slice of insanity that lets her be her best.
In a line Weird but wonderful and extremely self-motivating – life IS music and I AM a composer! 2019 VS 2020 No brainer – 2020 Ranking #17 Score 8 points
Is anyone else still shocked by North Macedonia’s jury win in Tel Aviv? I’m not saying it was undeserved, just that I never saw it coming. The then-new ‘North’ gave them gumption at ESC and JESC last year, and it seemed the trend would continue into 2020 – Vasil was one of Tamara Todevska’s backing singers, so it seemed natural and promising for him to graduate to lead artist. Anyone who thought we’d be on the receiving end of Proud 2.0, however (definitely not me…oh okay, it was me) would have been blindsided when You was released. By contrast, it’s Latin-inspired dance pop in which Vasil shows off his falsetto (not as saucy as it sounds, unfortunately). To set the tone for the rest of this review, I’m not sure how I feel about You. There are pros and there are cons, so let’s take a look at both.
I am glad North Macedonia didn’t use their success with Proud as an excuse to copy-paste it into the Rotterdam line-up, but this style switch feels like a step backwards. It’s a step backwards in time, at least. You is what would happen if you threw Max Barskih’s Dance (if you know you know) and Zoli Ádok’s Dance With Me in a blender – not necessarily a bad thing, save for the fact that one of those songs is from 2012 and the other one’s even older. Yes, You has the 2000s written all over it. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good throwback as much as the next nostalgic person…but is this actually a good throwback? I’m not convinced. It gets points for a chorus and pre-chorus (my favourite part) that tend to stick. Overall it’s catchy enough that I can imagine people drunkenly stumbling around their living rooms – in the absence of a Euroclub – in an effort to dance to it. Hopefully they enjoy themselves more than Vasil does in the music video. Clearly he’d prefer to be tripping the light fantastic with the bartender rather than a woman who, based on the lack of chemistry between them, is well aware of his preferences. Anyway, what I was saying was that there is appeal to this song, earworm-wise. It has an exotic feel about it too, and is a pretty well-wrapped package if you can see past the cringey aspects. The cringe factor comes from those dated vibes and the dodgy lyrics that kick off as soon as Vasil says he’s being pulled ‘closer and closer with sweet melodies’. What is this, 1977? Because Ireland sent an entry to Eurovision that year with a very similar lyric, and I don’t think it holds up in 2020.
There is a place for this type of song in the contest nowadays, but that place is usually around 14th-16th in a semi final. Had You actually made it to the contest – and competed in that deadly Tuesday night show – I think it would have struggled to qualify, even with staging that modernised it. Maybe North Macedonia should thank their lucky stars that they get a do-over. I hope they give Vasil another shot next year because he has massive potential. I love his look and his voice, and his back catalogue proves he can do better than the material he was given. Something in Macedonian would be awesome…but we can’t ask too much. For me, 2020’s song sits on the guilty side of pleasurable. Sometimes I’m into it, other times I’ll skip it if it pops up on Spotify in favour of something more “now”. I really do love parts of it though, and I can’t bring myself to ignore that just to give You the score you might be expecting.
In a line The sort of song that screams Eurovision 2004 for better and for worse 2019 VS 2020 2020 – I never was a big lover of Proud Ranking #26 Score 7 points
There’s nowhere to go but up when your most recent Eurotrip ended with a wooden spoon – last place, for those not familiar with their kitchen utensils. Unless the contest gets cancelled, of course. There did seem to be the potential for improvement with James-not-John Newman and My Last Breath, but you might not want to listen to me re: this entry, since I loved/love Bigger Than Us and thought it might do okay in Tel Aviv (facepalm of the century). Here’s another song with serious songwriting cred, this time via Ed Drewett (Best Song Ever, One Direction; Shout Out To My Ex, Little Mix; Rise, Jonas Blue), Iain Farquharson (Running Scared, Ell & Nikki; Love Kills, Roberto Bellarosa; Wings, Little Mix) and James himself (Blame, Calvin Harris; Lay It All On Me, Rudimental; Dying To Try, Brendan Murray). Between them they have a string of successful songs and a Eurovision winner – but would My Last Breath fall into either of those categories if given the chance?
Well, there’s no way it would have won in Rotterdam – it isn’t distinctive or gripping enough to hit those heights. But I am a fan of this as a standalone song, and I think there’s more right than wrong with it. I love the easy-listening style that makes it a perfect addition to any road trip playlist (for future reference). The melody is A-grade from the start and gets you wondering where the whole thing is headed. The chorus is solid, short and sweet, plus pretty memorable thanks to the pause placed between ‘last’ and ‘breath’ (clever, and not so drawn out that you can knit a sweater before it ends despite all the jokes we made on Twitter). I get a kick out of the chorus lyrics too: ‘If we were deep sea divers, and no one came to find us’ is instantly iconic, and sure beats rhyming ‘love’ with ‘above’ and the like. That centrepiece of the song does seem to come around quickly, but I’m not annoyed by it. In fact, I’m so un-annoyed (?) by the song in general that it finishes too soon for my liking. My Last Breath could have made much more out of the three-minute time limit by throwing in a longer bridge that doesn’t just repeat the pre-chorus, or by really ramping up the last section of the song. It clocks in at two and a half minutes, meaning James and co had another thirty whole seconds to play with, but chose not to. What a shame…this would have benefited big time from some add-ons. Putting the song aside for a second, James is actually my favourite thing about this entry. Firstly because he’s adorable (as adorable as you can be when you’re a 34-year-old man) and I want to give him a hug enthusiastic and random enough to warrant a restraining order. Secondly because his voice is amazing, with a touch of huskiness to it that gives me the shivers. He’s super talented in his own right and shouldn’t be standing in his brother’s shadow at all. Having said that, if John is announced as the UK rep one day I will let out an extremely loud squeal and potentially pee my pants with excitement, just to warn you.
Anyway, back to My Last Breath. I do have to admit that it isn’t the statement piece I expected from someone who’s written the sort of songs James has, for the likes of Little Mix and Rudimental. It’s like he expended all his creative energy penning album killers for other artists, and then could only muster up an album filler for himself. It’s good filler, though – the gruyere in a gourmet grilled cheese sandwich. And as it’s no longer a competition song, it can fulfil its destiny as a radio/Spotify song without fighting to stand out from the Bulgarias, Icelands and Lithuanias of Eurovision 2020. My fingers are crossed for James to be re-selected by the BBC for 2021, because I think he’s a skilled singer/songwriter who deserves a chance at the ESC proper. My Last Breath is a good starting point for an entry that could knock Europe (and Australia’s) socks off.
In a line Unremarkable but very enjoyable pop courtesy of an multi-skilled Englishman 2019 VS 2020 Bigger Than Us is my jam, what can I say? Ranking #14 Score 8 points
8 down, 33 to go – we’re getting there. It does help having no deadline, I must admit. Maybe there’s a microscopic silver lining to Eurovision being cancelled after all?
Here’s the ranking for this round of reviews:
- Cyprus (10)
- United Kingdom (8)
- Latvia (8)
- North Macedonia (7)
That’s a little win for Cyprus with nobody falling too far behind this time. Who’s your winner when it comes to this foursome? Vote now!
Let me know where your vote went – and what you think of all four songs – down below. That’s an order if you’re a Cyprus supporter BTW, because we need to band together.
NEXT TIME Round 3 of my reviews is on the way and Croatia, Finland, France and Lithuania are in the spotlight. Would I rather not look back at Finland? Is The Roop really on fire or just plain dire? Stay tuned to find out, and have your own opinions at the ready.