THE EUROVISION 2020 REVIEWS | Round 5 (Austria, Azerbaijan, Romania + Serbia)
Has Eurovision 2020 been and gone or is it still in limbo? That’s the infuriating question we can all ask ourselves now that May 12th, 14th and 16th are in the past. Nothing the EBU or any other broadcaster could come up with – including Eurovision: Europe Shine A Light – filled the Grand Canyon-sized hole left by the cancelled contest, and I don’t know about you but I’m suffering a whole different kind of PED as a result. But I’m going to tackle that today with less complaining and more reviewing, because I’m pretty sure you’d stick around for option two (option one, not so much).
Obviously, I didn’t get all my 2020 reviews done by the Saturday before last – it’s been a traumatic time and I’ve had zero focus – so I hope you’re still keen for the leftovers. This round is all about Austria’s Alive, Azerbaijan’s Cleopatra, Romania’s Alcohol You and Serbia’s Hasta La Vista. There are songs in this foursome that people love, hate and probably love to hate – but if you want to know what I think, keep reading. And don’t forget to vote for your favourite in the poll/share your thoughts in the comments.
Vincent, Efendi, Roxen and Hurricane…brace yourselves!
Austria hasn’t done too badly at this Eurovision thing lately – not since they rose to the top of the scoreboard like a phoenix (had to) in 2014. Okay, so The Makemakes’ zero on home ground the following year wasn’t a high point (it was, in fact, the lowest possible point) but after that came fan favourite Loin D’ici, the delightful-in-every-department Running On Air and jury winner/overall bronze-placer Nobody But You. And I wouldn’t call PÆNDA’s DNQ last year a misstep, per se – Limits is a stunning song that just couldn’t hold up competitively, which happens sometimes. To sum up, Austria has sent a string of solid – and at times sensational – songs to the contest recently, leaving 2020’s internally-selected act Vincent Bueno with sizeable shoes to fill. He’s feeling alive like Stelios Konstantas and Imri Ziv before him, and following in the funky and horny (instrumentally speaking) footsteps of Sandhja and Laura Tesoro…but would that have helped or hindered him at the ESC?
Before I decide, I have to say what a fantastic opener Alive would have made for the second semi-final. There were other good choices (the Czech Republic and Serbia, for example) and I guess Greece works too (though nobody saw it coming). But come on! This song has party-starting energy from start to finish, kicking off with a simple piano-backed verse that rapidly gives birth to the musical love child of Bruno Mars and Justin Timberlake (sorry for that disturbing mental image). As someone who stans both Bruno and JT – and who was there in person to see the effect Justin had on the crowd at the ESC 2016 final – I mean that as a massive compliment. Alive wasn’t on everyone’s radar as one to watch pre-contest (back when we thought there might still be a contest) and if you don’t usually like the kind of cloth it’s cut from, that’s understandable. I, however, always enjoy this type of super-danceable pop. The song contains one of the catchiest choruses of the year, and it really is the statement piece of the song (as a chorus should be). That ‘I’m like a little matchbox, all I need is a little spark’ bit is bomb, if unrealistic (you can barely light up a fireplace with one of those tiny matchboxes, let alone the whole world). The lyrics in general are on the weak, nonsensical side – a prize for anyone who can decode the first verse in particular – but I’m willing to overlook it because who cares about lyrical integrity when the dancefloor is calling their name at such a high decibel? If Alive doesn’t get its shot over the Euroclub sound system in 2021, I will be bitterly disappointed. There’s an effervescence to the song that makes me so happy. It’s not deep or dramatic, and it might not give you goosebumps or send shivers down your spine, but it serves an important purpose in a line-up packed with sadboi ballads (which I also enjoy, don’t get me wrong…but the joy Austria adds = *chef’s kiss*). We need songs that are light, fun and fly by fast. So what if this one isn’t challenging or creative, and wouldn’t have been considered a heavy-hitter in the competition? Things would be way too intense if all 40+ entries were potential winners. Austria is in the upper-middle of the 2020 pack for me, with the only weak spot (lyrics aside) being an ending that’s a little weird – Alive doesn’t go out with a bang so much as a slight puff of air. But that’s not an unpardonable offence, and wouldn’t even bother Eurofans who don’t feel compelled to pick songs apart like I do.
If there’s an entry that could have transitioned from average (based on other people’s opinions, not mine) to far above with the right staging, it’s this one. I actually think it would have been difficult to do this dirty, and that – plus the fun factor and easy appeal I think the song would have had outside of our obsessive Eurovision bubble – makes me think a qualification could have been on the cards. Alive isn’t the most jury-friendly entry, and the bulk of “professional” points would have been eaten up by Bulgaria and Switzerland in SF2. But that was the weaker show feat. only a few certain qualifiers, so there were plenty of places up for grabs. Vincent seems like the kind of performer who could shoot a couple of ‘You know you want to vote for me’ looks down the camera and have 7th-10th sewn up. Disagree all you want, but neither of us will ever be proved right! I know I’m glad Mr. Bueno will be back in action next year, and if he wants to bring along a song similar to this (hopefully with stronger lyrics and even more exciting moments) we might see him opening his semi – or even the final – next May.
In a line An overlooked dance-pop banger than puts the fun into funky 2019 VS 2020 Only you can make me feel alive again, Vincent Ranking #15 Score 8 points
It’s too soon to say if Azerbaijan is back to being a Eurovision force to be reckoned with. They’ve got to be grateful for last year’s return to the top 10 though (even if Chingiz complained about being underrated afterwards). What we can say for sure is that the 2020 Azerbaijani entry was sorely missed in our minds, as we imagined what OTT amazingness we would have witnessed the week before last on the Ahoy Arena stage. Cleopatra – which I like to think of as a San Marino reject swept up by Azerbaijan, even if that’s not technically the truth – is a song with staging that pretty much creates itself. It’s also a song that would only ever exist in the ESC universe, and where would we be without entries like that? I shudder to think.
I’m in two minds about this song. First, the pros. It’s catchier than…well, let’s just stick with the common cold. The verses are lower on the scale of infectiousness, but the pre-chorus and insanely simple-but-effective chorus itself – made up entirely of LA LA LA LA and ‘Like Cleopatrrrrrrra’ – are a 10/10. Efendi (why she went all anti-Madonna and dropped her first name I’m not sure) really knows how to roll her Rs, and every time she does it’s a memorable moment. That’s also how I’d describe the baritone Buddhist mantra that drops before the chorus: memorable, but bonkers at the same time. What does it have to do with the Ancient Egyptian queen in question? Who decided to go beyond Barry White when choosing how low to vocalise it? I’m slightly confused, but I can roll with it. Damn, it would have been great to see that replicated live. Speaking of the non-existent performance, can’t you visualise how it would have played out so easily? I’ve been seeing sexy togas, elaborate headdresses and stacks of gold jewellery on Efendi and her backup dancers, accompanied by graphics and props feat. birds and sphinxes and thrones and hieroglyphics (one big cliché, basically). There’d be a few modern touches thrown in to match the music video, of course. In fact, if they hadn’t wanted to use their own MV as a reference they could have used Katy Perry’s Dark Horse as an alternative. Not that I’ve given this much thought. I’m convinced the predictable presentation possibilities of Cleopatra would have worked to its advantage in a major way. I also think fans would have given credit to the use of not one, not two, but three traditional Azerbaijani instruments. These were incorporated into the track after it was snatched out of Sammarinese hands (obviously) and not only do they make the song more ethnic, they also give the impression that more effort went into putting Azerbaijan’s stamp on it (unlike in the past when a song has been handed over by some Swedish songwriters and that was that). I don’t have much else to say about this song in terms of positives, except that it’s the sort of slick package we’ve come to expect from this country – and I think the song is served better by Efendi than it would have been by Senhit. Samira has the attitude and confidence level required to pull it off and make it sexy rather than ridiculous (and I doubt anyone else could roll their Rs quite like she does).
There are a few things about Cleopatra I dislike. That ‘straight or gay or in-between’ lyric doesn’t sit well with me when it’s in a song representing Azerbaijan, despite how Efendi herself may or may not feel about the subject. It seems like sucking up to a largely LBGT+ audience when it suits, then discriminating against the very same people back at home (this year, and not for the first time, Azerbaijan was named the worst place in Europe for gay rights). But maybe I’m overthinking things (it’s Daði Freyr’s fault). Superficially, it’s just a lame lyric, and not the only one you’ll find in this song. Cleopatra sounds disjointed to me too: the pre-chorus and chorus are awesome and contemporary, but the verses are pretty passé. These are little things that drag it down a touch but not a ton for me. I don’t think anyone else would have been bothered by such small stuff if the contest had gone ahead. Efendi will be flying the blue, red and green flag next year, and she definitely has the potential to come through with a song as good as this – or better, and blow us all away.
In a line A slick and memorable (if not flawless) ode to an iconic Egyptian queen 2019 VS 2020 Truth be told, I prefer Truth Ranking #29 Score 7 points
Romania must have lost their lucky rabbit’s foot a few years back because they aren’t having the best of Eurovision times. That’s a major plot twist, since every semi they competed in between 2004 and 2017 saw them qualify easily. The success streak ended in 2018, when The Humans finished 11th in the first semi and took that precious 100% qualification record down with them. Ester Peony didn’t do any better in Tel Aviv (in fact, she did worse) and now Romania don’t even have the chance to redeem themselves in Rotterdam for an entire year. How tragic. Still, redeem themselves they can thanks to their not-so-secret weapon Roxen, a promising internal selection for 2020 who’s already been re-selected for next year. If everything had gone according to plan, she would have competed with Alcohol You this May, and who doesn’t love a pun-tastic song title? It’s the musical equivalent of that knock-knock joke that ends with ‘Orange you glad I didn’t say banana?’.
The song isn’t flawless, but there’s something special about it that I’m drawn to – and that, controversially, makes me prefer it to this year’s other Billie Eilish homage (Bulgaria, of course). It’s such a pretty, dreamy-sounding song that oozes melancholy. And it’s unique enough that I can’t think of anything to compare it to (and you know how much I love to do that). Sure, it’s stylistically Eilish-esque, but Roxen’s vocals have a mesmerising quality to them that’s hers and hers alone. She adds the perfect amount of individuality and vulnerability to a song that tells a familiar tale. It’s basically about drunk-dialling somebody, but that message has been boxed up and wrapped in a glamourous package. I love the instrumentation – it’s like a mix of the big orchestral numbers we see at Festivali I Këngës and minimalist electronica. It builds slowly behind the scenes of Roxen’s restrained, emotive vocals, becoming more and more dramatic throughout the three minutes without morphing into melodrama. I don’t love the revamped last chorus, because it feels really random (and a bit alarming). Then again, the song would have made more of an impression on the juries once the money notes were unleashed. And I guess it’s an impressive reveal, after two minutes of being led to believe that Roxen is the opposite of a powerhouse vocalist. Next to her vocals, I think the pre-chorus – when she asks why fairytales fail – is my favourite part of this entry (even though they definitely didn’t at Eurovision in 2009). It actually stands out more than what follows it, which does mean the chorus takes some wind out of the song’s sails. That’s where that bombastic final chorus comes in to compensate, I suppose, but the yo-yo effect of Alcohol You leaves it feeling a little messy. As do some of the lyrics, which are nothing if not WTF. The title wordplay and neat rhyming = a Ben & Tan YES of approval, but the nonsensical stuff (e.g. ‘I need you but it hurts to feel like I deserve your weapons’) = no thanks. And I have to single out the mention of ‘fake news’ which is the worst thing about the whole entry for me. Who wants to be reminded of Donald Trump during an otherwise enjoyable listening experience (or any other time, for that matter)? I can forgive those few lyrical sins though, since the good ones outweigh the bad overall. The second verse is especially lovely, and more poetic than anything I managed to write in my university poetry classes (not that the standard there was high). To sum up, Alcohol You is a diamond in the rough. It could use polishing, but it still shines as bright as Bilal Hassani – and I’d proudly wear it on my ring finger.
Obviously Romania’s ticket to the Eurovision final is no longer guaranteed, but I think they might have made it with Alcohol You. Even if they’d turned up in Rotterdam with the same staging from the NF (which could have been better but did the job) I think they would have squeaked through, if only in 8th-10th. There’s so much merit in this song’s uniqueness, and I like to think that both televoters and juries would have rewarded that. It was a solid starting point for Romania to grab back some of their former contest glory, and with another year of songwriting and workshopping up their sleeve – and another year’s worth of stage experience for Roxen – the sky could be the limit when they travel to Rotterdam in 2021. Fingers crossed she’s past her purple hair phase by then…as good as they look, technicolour locks rarely rank highly on the scoreboard.
In a line An ethereal emo-ballad driven by a captivating vocal performance 2019 VS 2020 It’s close, but 2020 wins out for me Ranking #22 Score 8 points
Last year Serbia sent a female soloist to Eurovision who’d previously participated as a member of a three-piece girl group (Nevena Božović, in case you’d forgotten). This year they did the opposite, sending a three-piece girl group feat. a member who’d previously participated as a female soloist. We’ve actually seen 2/3 of Hurricane at the ESC before: Sanja Vučić, who I was just referring to (she said Goodbye in Stockholm four years ago but clearly didn’t mean it); and Ksenija Knežević, who sang backing vocals for Montenegro/Knez in 2015 (Knez who happens to be her father…NEPOTISM ALERT!). Together with Ivana Nikolić, they’re the first girl group Serbia has sent since Moje 3, and we all know how they went. But that was years ago, and Hurricane is a band with much better dress sense and a massive following in their homeland. How does their song stack up, and could it have done for Serbia what Ljubav Je Svuda couldn’t?
Short answer: it’s likely. Long answer: well, I have a lot to say about this one. My only real complaint is that I don’t believe Sanja when she says ‘hasta la vista’. Her farewells don’t seem to stick, so expect her back at the contest for a third time someday with Adiós or Auf Wiedersehen. Hasta La Vista is what we have now though, and I’ll be damned if it isn’t what a certain Mr. Sobral was referring to when he made his post-victory “fast food music” speech. If that is the case, then supersize me because it is tasty AF (and yes, I would like fries with that). Never mind the calorific content or the fact that I feel a little trashy after listening to it – this is what we all need in our Eurovision every so often. I don’t believe music needs to be deep and meaningful to be worthy. Songs that are slick, catchy and drag you onto the nearest dancefloor like they dragged Katie out of bed in Paranormal Activity are just as necessary as introspective statement songs with lyrical flair. Hasta La Vista might not be an ESC entry that stays with you for years to come. But it’s so catchy and so much fun, and provides a much-needed distraction from all the stress and isolation we’re dealing with at the moment. It’s a party song with a kickass chorus that makes me want to say goodbye to all the stuff in my life that’s dragging me down and holding me back. But when you look closer it turns out it’s a feminist anthem too, packed with woman power (I’d like to hear Salvador try to argue that feminism means squat). It’s an intense three minutes – bold, brassy and in-your-face – and travels at a blistering, almost frantic pace. But the girls keep up with it all the way (their cardio fitness levels must be through the roof). I will say that Sanja’s probably due for some physiotherapy – it has to be a heavy load carrying this track vocally. She has a star quality that the other two don’t have, and I wish the live performance at Beovizija had made more use of her. The group is quite strong as a collective: together they seem like sisters from different misters that thrive on the trio dynamic, rather than a disjointed “common framework” á la Equinox (no offence, BNT). If the Pussycat Dolls dropped a bunch of members and moved to the Balkans, Hurricane would be the result. As a threesome, they’ve given us the best Hasta La Vista to have paid a visit to Planet Eurovision so far…not that Ukraine or Belarus left massive shoes to fill in 2003 or 2008. Regardless, Serbia has obliterated both in typical Hurricane fashion. Tie down all loose objects before blasting this one!
Now, if you thought I was going to pretend that Hurricane’s NF performance wasn’t a hot mess, you’re wrong. Like my bedroom at the moment, it was utter chaos. But that doesn’t mean their win was undeserved. They stood out from the crowd, and though the room for improvement was the size of a football field, I have no doubt Hasta La Vista would have been whipped into shape before the ESC. These girls are professionals, after all, with both Sanja and Ksenija knowing exactly what’s expected at Eurovision. I think they needed to run with the intensity and sex appeal of the song, and raise everything up to a more competitive standard. Never make the mistake neighbours Montenegro did with Slavko by simplifying a song that begs for OTT staging – that’s my (new and weirdly specific) motto. Pointlessly predicting Serbia’s end result, I think it would have been along the lines of Sanja’s in 2016, i.e. a qualification and a 15th-20th in the final. That also happened to be Nevena’s fate last year, but I prefer exciting over understated – even if this bounce in the opposite direction wouldn’t have made a bigger impression on the Saturday night.
In a line Slick and sexy lady pop perfect for a Euroclub booty-shaking session 2019 VS 2020 I’ll take the spicy Spanish-Serbian tapas of 2020, please Ranking #27 Score 8 points
20 down, 21 to go! Should I celebrate arriving at the halfway point or freak out because I’m ONLY at the halfway point? While I decide, check out the ranking for this round:
- Austria (8)
- Serbia (8)
- Romania (8)
- Azerbaijan (7)
Austria takes this round for me by a millimetre – just call me Finland crowning the only dude in the UMK line-up champion. Would you do the same, or are you all for girl power this time around? Make your choice and vote below:
Let me know who got your vote and what you think of all four would-have-been entries in the comments. Hasta la vista!
NEXT TIME The show must go on, even if it takes the entire second half of 2020…but I promise it won’t take that long. Coming up in Round 6 is Belgium, Denmark, Malta and Moldova. Subscribe and/or follow my socials @EurovisionByJaz to make sure you don’t miss a Eurovision-related thing.
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