Hello there, stranger/s. It’s been a hot minute since my last round of reviews, thanks to a) life in general throwing all kinds of curveballs in my direction and b) the lack of deadline in the form of an upcoming contest making me lazier than usual. But, better late than never, I’m back – and ready to critique the absolute crap out of Ireland’s Story of My Life, Norway’s Attention, San Marino’s Freaky! and Spain’s Universo. I hope you’re ready to do the same. Scroll on down to check out my thoughts and scores, vote for your favourite of the four and leave your opinions in the comments. I’ll love you forever in a non-creepy Leonora sort of way if you do!
Let’s see what Lesley, Ulrikke, Senhit and Blas would have loaded into their luggage before heading to rehearsals in Rotterdam…and if it would have been worth the trip.
You can’t think about Ireland and Eurovision at the same time without thinking of their super-successful (bordering on ancient) history. But with Sweden yet to step up and equal/overtake the Emerald Isle’s tally of seven wins, the country does tend to use that golden 90s era in particular to distract from more recent contest fails. Ryan O’Shaughnessy was a brief beacon of hope back in 2018…then poor Sarah McTernan found herself adding to the Irish collection of DNQs. They’re in desperate need of an entry that revitalises their results and reignites their ESC enthusiasm. And according to pre-release talk, that’s what they’d found in 2020 – a song that had the memorability and danceability of Euphoria (Lesson #1: Never try to create hype by associating a song with one of the all-time greats). Ultimately, does Lesley Roy’s Story of My Life live up to those lofty promises or is her autobiography one better left on the bookshelf?
I have to go Swiss-neutral and say neither. It’s hardly as unforgettable as Euphoria – then again, what is – but it’s by no means a song that’s difficult to listen to. Hearing it for the first time it felt so familiar, like I’d listened to it in a past life. That wasn’t a coincidence. This is the type of song that had its heyday in the late 2000s/early 2010s via Katy Perry and Kelly Clarkson, and every time I hear it I’m back in high school. Specifically, it transports me back to Katy’s Hot ‘n’ Cold (2008) and Kelly’s (Stronger) What Doesn’t Kill You (2011) – interesting, considering a few of Lesley’s songwriters have written for Kelly Clarkson before. Artist aside, Story of My Life was produced by an entirely American and mostly country music focused team (one of whom has also written for Ilse deLange). The American influence is obvious, but there’s nothing country about this: it’s pure pop-rock. And if it sounds like anything ESC-related, rather than a ten-year-old Katy/Kelly single, it’s Et Cetera by Sinead Mulvey & Black Daisy. That entry was right on time when it competed in 2009, but this one is almost ten years too late. Still, it’s so endearing and unique in the 41 that it kind of gets away with it. I’ll be honest, I don’t love it. It does have its fair share of appealing points though, and I understand why a lot of Eurofans see it as a breath of fresh air. It’s full of attitude and feels genuinely joyful, like there’s nowhere Lesley would prefer to be than wherever she is, singing this song. There’s not a whole lot of substance to it, and it wouldn’t win any awards for originality – but it’s breezy, anthemic and flies by very fast. I also must admit that after listening to it just once, I had the chorus stuck in my head for days. Even without replaying the song for a good few weeks afterwards, I could have hummed it any time if you’d asked me (which you didn’t, I notice. How rude). I get the impression a lot of effort went into the lyrics, which keep away from cringey clichés and are satisfyingly tight in the verses. They read like a TV or movie script surgically attached to a poem: there’s no excess word count, it says exactly what it needs to say and the rhymes are tidier than Marie Kondo’s sock drawer. It’s worth noting that Lesley manages to mention a Eurovision winner within the first ten seconds too – Puppet On A String, ICYMI. I doubt that was purposeful and it definitely wasn’t foreshadowing, but it makes the song a tiny bit meta in my mind and I like that. It sure beats Dustin the Turkey namedropping ABBA and Johnny Logan, anyway.
It’s hard to say (when you have the prediction skills of a chimpanzee) whether Story of My Life would have suffered the same fate as Et Cetera, or leapt over the line and into the final in Rotterdam. The song had potential for greatness, and ample space for an energetic live performance that would have blown the roof off the arena (not literally). We shouldn’t base anything on Lesley’s Late Late Show rendition – has there ever been an Irish entry performed well on that show? The acoustics must be on par with those of an empty shoebox. I think Lesley is a very personable performer capable of delivering a knockout performance, and I hope RTÉ give her the chance to prove it in 2021. If she’s armed with a more modern version of this song, she could be unstoppable in terms of qualifying and doing damn well in the final. That would be a win for Ireland at this point.
In a line A thrilling three-minute trip back in time to the late 2000s 2019 VS 2020 I like both, but can’t resist the singalong lure of Lesley’s song Ranking #30 Score 7 points
Norway is one of my favourite contest countries, and they must have really been hitting it out of the ballpark lately – I can’t remember the last time I disliked a Norwegian entry (including That’s How You Write A Song…my Scandi bias knows no bounds). I was basically engineered to enjoy whatever wins Melodi Grand Prix, whether that’s a joik-pop banger that tops the ESC televote or a spellbinding ballad about something somebody did in their early youth. After throwing a party we all RSVPd to last year (there ain’t no party like a KEiiNO party) Norway changed tactics in 2020 with a heartstring-tugger. It’s a bounce-around that may never have happened if not for an online voting disaster, but thank the Lordi fate (with the help of an uncharacteristically dumb move by NRK) intervened.
I’m just going to say it: Ulrikke’s Attention is my number one song of this Eurovision that won’t be. It’s the Scandinavian ballad of my dreams and was The One from my very first listen. I shouldn’t have expected anything less than this exquisite showcase of emotion (nothing to do with Ron Burgundy’s glass case of emotion) considering the song’s creators. Ulrikke, who previously made the MGP Gold Final in 2017 with Places, had a hand in the songwriting process alongside none other than Christian Ingebrigtsen – who himself finished 2nd in MGP 2010 with A1 and has penned three other runner-ups for MGP and UMK – and Mørland, who can do no song wrong (proof = A Monster Like Me/Who We Are/En Livredd Mann). Together they created magic, and if they want to make more as a trio I say DO IT, DO IT RIGHT NOW YOU CRAZY-TALENTED NORWEGIANS! This is to 2020 what Sanna Nielsen’s Undo was to 2014: down-tempo power ballad perfection feat. stunning vocals, all wrapped up in pure sophistication. It’s no wonder I love this when Undo has a permanent place in my all-time Eurovision top 10. Attention is a flawless diamond, even if it doesn’t offer up any surprises in subject matter or structure. It focuses more on atmosphere and feeling than on genre-defying creativity. I won’t lie – lyrically it’s one long complaint about someone not being given enough attention from their significant (or maybe not-so-significant) other. But it’s an understandable complaint for Ulrikke to make. I think a lot of us can relate to feeling neglected in a relationship, wanting out as much as we want in, and realising that no matter what we do it will never be enough…okay, I’m getting a little too real for a frivolous song review here. What I’m trying to say is that I can certainly connect with the lyrics and message of Attention, and that’s a big reason why I love it so much. Others include all the moments that give me goosebumps (there’s a whole handful) and Ulrikke’s dynamite vocals. Her voice seamlessly switches from fragility to intensity and back again, reflecting the sadness and frustration of the subject matter. It’s a crystal clear and confident voice too, sounding very Lucie Jones in a ‘professional with musical theatre experience’ sort of way. Getting annoyed at me for going on and on (and on) about this entry’s good points? Here’s a bad one for you: the performance at MGP. Not that it was bad so much as predictable, having the potential to win awards for being so by-the-numbers. Also, was a triumphant fire curtain really the most appropriate accessory for such a moody song? I think not. A classy light show á la Undo would have been a better choice and left me with nothing at all to nit-pick.
That issue aside, this entry earns each and every one of the 12 points I’m obviously going to give it. Ulrikke came a long way since Places, and Attention was the perfect song to show off the maturity and extra stage experience she’d gained since 2017. Not only is she compelling to watch perform, but she also seems to be the life of the party IRL (and by IRL I mean on Instagram). I’m pretty disappointed in her refusal to compete in MGP 2021, but I get it. If I’d won the show, then been robbed of my shot at Eurovision through no fault of my own and wasn’t given a certain second chance, I’d be pissed to say the least. And I wouldn’t want to enter again straight away and win, forever wondering if people voted for me out of sympathy. The best case scenario? Ulrikke makes a comeback in a couple of years, once she finds another amazing song that has what it takes to win MGP – and maybe the ESC as well.
In a line One of the most perfect Scandi power ballads I ever did see/hear 2019 VS 2020 Sorry KEiiNO, but do I need to answer this? Ranking #1 Score 12 points
Who would have thought San Marino would send a returning artist to Eurovision? Everyone, when we’re talking about the country that’s only been represented by five different acts despite competing 11 times. I’d be keen for the grossly underrated Miodio to go again, but instead San Marino settled on Senhit in a throwback not quite as vintage. Senhit last stood on the ESC stage in 2011 with Stand By, failing to qualify to the final (it would be three more years before they got there, so she shouldn’t feel too bad). Fast forward nine years and she’s back with a vengeance (remember that wordplay because it’ll be relevant in a second). It’s just a shame she didn’t get to go all the way back, especially since selecting her song was such an eventful process.
First it was alleged that Azerbaijan’s Cleopatra was the one – or at least that SMRTV were fighting for it, a battle they were bound to lose. Then that went out the window in favour of a head-to-head two-song online vote, which ended with Freaky! winning out. Other option Obsessed wasn’t bad – a trip to the 1980s rather than the 1970s – but it was about as exciting (in a competitive sense) as Stand By, a song that bored me out of my brain in all honesty. Freaky!, on the other hand, has a certain charm to it and injected some extra personality into this year’s contest. That’s why I voted for it (and I’m still waiting for my Sammarinese ESC-branded cap and condoms to arrive). It’s catchy and fun from start to finish, and would definitely have had me up on the dancefloor at the Euroclub after a drink or three. It’s also well suited to Senhit, and I like the attitude she puts into her vocal performance. Doesn’t it feel SO San Marino too? This is hardly the first time they’ve dipped their toes into the disco era. Freaky! is more disco-meets-now than I Didn’t Know, Spirit of the Night and Say Na Na Na – it’s actually a slice of the genre that isn’t so stale you could make croutons out of it. Although, it’s not exactly cutting edge either. There are people who can take retro sounds and make them contemporary, but when it comes to disco only Dua Lipa has mastered the art recently. A single – or even an album track – from Future Nostalgia this is not. There’s promise at the beginning, but the modern opening gives way to more straight-up 70s vibes, with a helping of clichés thrown in for not-so-good measure. Freaky! is far from disastrous overall, but I think those other disco entries from San Marino caught on because they were so cringe it made them memorable (even enough to get Serhat to the final second time around). Freaky! isn’t the same: it doesn’t stack up against the majority of the Eurovision 2020 line-up, but it’s too polished to mock and doesn’t fall into the ‘guilty pleasure’ category either. I certainly don’t get any pleasure, guilty or otherwise, from the lyric ‘they say we cray’, which hasn’t been a cool thing to say since…well, ever. Unlike Ulrikke, Senhit has de-matured in terms of the tone of her second ESC-related effort. Freaky! is much more youthful than Stand By, and that’s not a bad thing. It just feels like a room that needs redecorating to modernise it and make it age-appropriate for the person living in it. Also, the songwriters’ definition of freaky is a lot on the tame side. Kissing in the dark? Raunchy! Late-night dancing in the park? Oh no you didn’t! Making colourful clothing choices? DO YOU WANT TO GET ARRESTED, SENHIT?!? Watch out, we’re dealing with one wild woman here. Dropping the sarcasm, I know Eurovision is a family show and we can’t get too freaky, but seriously? Drinking on rooftops isn’t exactly a jaw-dropping thing to do (unless you’re wearing stilettos and standing perilously close to the edge, but they didn’t specify).
For me this is a massive improvement on Senhit’s 2011 entry, infinitely more interesting by comparison. The staging possibilities were endless too, and I’m sad we won’t get to see any of them in action. But – and I’m sure you knew there was a ‘but’ coming – taking into account the goodness that is 2020 in general (ESC-wise…the year itself has been a shitshow) this drops far down my personal list. Still, it’s one of the better Sammarinese entries to date. I think they were heading in the right direction with both songs we had to choose from actually. There’s no reason why they couldn’t send Senhit again in 2021 and build on what they armed her with this year to produce a finalist. Imagine all the celebratory condoms that would be manufactured if they did!
In a line A light and bright dose of disco fever that’s a step up for Senhit 2019 VS 2020 Competent > kitsch this time. 2020! Ranking #37 Score 5 points
Rewind twelve months to Tel Aviv, where Spain sent a thirst trap + a song that couldn’t have come from anywhere else and ensured the arena/green room went off in the process (that video of the delegations in a conga line warms my cold, cynical heart every time). Fast forward to the present and Spain had lined up ANOTHER thirst trap to represent them (when we can travel internationally again I need to get my single butt to Madrid). Universo isn’t a rehash of La Venda, however. It actually marks Blas Cantó’s third attempt to get to a Eurovision event, not that he had to fight for the chance this time. Back in 2004 he entered the Spanish NF for Junior Eurovision, losing out to María Isabel who went on to win the comp. Seven years later with boy band Auryn (alongside Dani Fernandez who represented Spain at JESC 2006) he missed out on a ticket thanks to Lucía Perez. Basically, it’s taken a long time for this guy to get to the contest, and now he has to wait even longer (what’s another year?). But if Universo is any indication, was he/will he be worth the wait?
I say si, and I’d say it a million times more if I could be bothered. Universo happens to be my second-favourite song of this contest, if we can still call it a contest. That might be surprising if you’re one of the tasteless fans underrating the crap out of it. Just kidding – about the tasteless part, not the underrating. This song left me shook when I first pressed play, partly because I was expecting the Spanish equivalent of J’ai Cherché (thanks to previous listens of Blas’ folksy singles Él No Soy Yo and Si Te Vas). I would have welcomed that with open arms and maybe it’s what we’ll get next year, but in the meantime we have something totally different that I also adore. Universo has a few unexpected songwriters behind it – e.g. Ashley Hicklin, who has both ESC hits and misses to his name (Me and My Guitar, Mother and Run With The Lions) plus credits on songs for Belgian/UK national finals and Elaiza, Mélovin and Waylon. Also in the mix is Maciej Trybulec, who co-wrote Lake Malawi’s Friend of A Friend (the man must be a musical genius). Those two joined forces with a few others and Blas to create a song that takes anthemic power-pop to new heights (and I’m not just talking about that ear-splitting high note). The internationally-mixed writing team comes through in the universal (ha ha) sound of the song, but there’s a Spanish vibe to it too that I get from more than just the language. Universo is one of just nine songs from the 2020 41 – a.k.a. 22% – to be sung completely in a language other than English, and that’s one of the many things I love about it. It hooks me then reels me in from the second it starts (familiarising us with the simple but effective chorus straight away). The verses are pared-back and seductive, and the chorus “drop” is powerful and rousing, making for a dynamic contrast. This is a song that blends memorable repetition with exciting moments, a mix that stops boring in its tracks. I like the way it lulls you into a false sense of security by quietening down during the bridge, only for Blas to let loose with that aforementioned money note a few seconds later. Plot twist! This entry has been produced with the attention to detail you’d expect for anything released by such a star. Everything about it is high-class, and in keeping with Blas’ other music in terms of the artsy, cinematic music video. I might be in the minority, but I have no complaints. I also don’t have a boyfriend, so your move, Blas.
Not only is this guy beyond good-looking, he’s also had a pretty successful career so far. With Auryn he won an MTV European Music Award; as a soloist he’s had a number one album and clocked up millions of streams/views; and in 2017 he won the Spanish version of Your Face Sounds Familiar with dead-on impressions of Cher, Anastacia and Sam Smith, to name a few. I’d say Spain’s move to send him this year – and to quickly lock him in for 2021 – was smart. The man has the looks, the voice, the style…the whole damn package. And the package he’d planned on taking to Rotterdam was going to be professionally gift-wrapped. Nicoline Refsing – responsible for the overall creative direction of Eurovision 2014, as well as the staging of Love Injected, No Degree of Separation, Sound of Silence and Spain’s comeback JESC entry Marte – had been recruited to stage Universo. I may be biased, but I truly think it could have done wonders for Spain with a performer + song strength + creative direction combo of this calibre. Disagree? Fair enough, but as the likes of Sergey Lazarev and Luca Hänni would confirm, you should never underestimate the ability of a hot guy to deliver a performance that connects (and impregnates).
In a line Classy, sexy Latin power-pop that I can’t get enough of 2019 VS 2020 2020, as much as I love Miki Ranking #2 Score 12 points
16 down, 25 to go! At this rate I’ll still be reviewing Eurovision 2020 entries when rehearsals start for 2021 – but hey, at least that’ll help pass the time. While you wait for me to get my act together and review the rest, check out the ranking for this round:
- Norway (12)
- Spain (12)
- Ireland (7)
- San Marino (5)
Obviously it’s Norway that gets the bulk of my attention, with Spain very close behind. How do those two stack up for you? Maybe you’re more into Ireland or happy-crying in the discotheque with San Marino. Whoever your favourite of this four is, show them some love by voting below.
And don’t forget to tell me what you think of all of today’s songs in the comments. There must be SOMEONE out there who has the same amount of amor for Spain that I do! When we find each other we should totally be BFFs. If you want. Whatever.
NEXT TIME When I eventually post the next round of reviews, these countries will be under my musical microscope: Austria, Azerbaijan, Romania and Serbia. Be sure to subscribe to EBJ and/or follow me on my socials – the usuals @EurovisionByJaz – so you don’t miss the moment they go live.