Hey there fellow Eurofreaks! As always, I mean that in the nicest of ways. I’m perfectly happy to let my freak flag fly and you should be too.
Anyway…guess what? Yes, it’s time for another round of Eurovision 2020 reviews. We’re slowly but surely creeping closer to number 41 (and Christmas, at the rate I’m going) so here’s a halfway-ish reminder of the countries critiqued so far:
- Round 1 Armenia, Estonia, Israel + Switzerland
- Round 2 Cyprus, Latvia, North Macedonia + the UK
- Round 3 Croatia, Finland, France + Lithuania
- Round 4 Ireland, Norway, San Marino + Spain
- Round 5 Austria, Azerbaijan, Romania + Serbia
Back in the present, my spotlight’s about to shine on Belgium’s Release Me, Denmark’s Yes, Malta’s All of My Love and Moldova’s Prison – and this might be the most controversial round yet, because there’s a fan favourite in there that is definitely not a favourite of THIS fan. There’s also a country that needed a good talking to, so naturally I obliged (you’re welcome, XXXXXXX). Keep reading to clear up the mysteriousness I just tried to create, and don’t forget to vote for your favourite of the four when you’re finished. I think we’ll have to agree to disagree this time.
In the wise words of PeR (remember them?) here we go, Hooverphonic, Ben & Tan, Destiny and Natalia…
Remember Belgium’s recent Eurovision renaissance? ICYMI somehow, it was a brief but beautiful thing that birthed Rhythm Inside, What’s The Pressure and City Lights. Sadly, the situation soured in 2018 and 2019, with A Matter of Time and Wake Up suffering from obvious issues that equalled DNQs for both. It’s no wonder VRT – who got the bad juju going with Sennek – wanted to redeem themselves when choosing the act they’d send over to neighbours The Netherlands. Hooverphonic, a big-deal band (so I heard…in all honesty I had no idea who they were until they decided to give the contest a go) were chosen to widespread happiness in the Eurofandom. And based on their longevity (they formed in 1995) and career triumphs (including the on-screen use of their songs in I Know What You Did Last Summer, The Interview and Cold Case) hopes were sky-high for their ESC song. Were those expectations met? And in a parallel, pandemic-free universe where Eurovision 2020 went ahead, would Hooverphonic have brought Belgium back to life after an unfortunate few years?
I’m not convinced, though it has grown on me lately. Release Me is in a similar ballpark to A Matter of Time, which makes it a double-edged sword of a song. It’s not as blatantly Bond-inspired, but it hits the same heights of quality and class, and also feels authentic to its act – not surprising given that Hooverphonic founding member Alex Callier co-wrote it. Lyrically and melodically, it’s simple and repetitive, with the words tending towards cliché at times (a pet peeve of mine). It’s in the style I was anticipating, but not necessarily hoping for. Personally I wanted something more upbeat/uptempo like Looking For Stars, and definitely something a) less boring and b) less depressing. The melancholy is a bit too much for me. And while I’m sure the mention of a ‘losing game’ wasn’t borrowed from Arcade, that’s what I think of when I hear it and it makes me feel like Release Me is lacking originality. Obviously this song wasn’t created to suit my specific tastes, so as long as the band is happy with it and there are people out there who love it – and they’re out there for sure – that’s the main thing, especially now it’s just a song rather than a contest song. But I don’t think Belgium would have had a huge chance of success in Rotterdam with this. Staging would have been a deciding factor, and VRT are hit and miss when it comes to bringing complementary, memorable visuals to the Eurovision stage. Even if they had nailed the look of the live (keeping it simple and playing around with lighting, perhaps) I can’t see a song that never gets out of second gear – and not in a spellbinding Calm After The Storm sort of way – shooting too far up the final scoreboard (if it even got to Saturday night). I’m probably underestimating the power of Hooverphonic and you’re laughing at me as we speak, but can you prove me wrong? Not this time (unlike all the other times I’ve predicted stuff that could be proven wrong). When it comes down to it, I don’t dislike this song. I’ve warmed to it since it was presented, and I do enjoy the classiness and sentiment. I just reckon it’s better suited as background music or to a live performance in a smoky basement bar. Songs that fit either of those descriptions don’t usually excite me, and this is no exception.
The highlight of this entry for me has nothing to do with the song, and everything to do with the person singing it. Hooverphonic’s latest lead vocalist Luka won The Voice in 2017, and I love watching her audition in front of the man who would recruit her as the group’s frontwoman less than a year later (I wonder if the penny dropped right then and there?). She has a voice that makes it hard to believe she’s still a teenager, and makes me feel old and untalented. It’s gorgeous, and very in keeping with the band’s vibe. I have no doubts about the decision to add her to the line-up. The prospect of a 2021 Hooverphonic do-over is intriguing, if mainly to see how Luka’s skills blossom over the next 12 months. But credit where it’s due: the whole band is solid, and with such a stellar career to their name I’m sure they’ll create another classy track for next year’s show, whether I like it or not. I hope I do.
In a line A high-quality but slightly boring song elevated by a talented frontwoman 2019 VS 2020 2020 has more to offer overall Ranking #33 Score 6 points
If you can rewind your mind back far enough, you’ll remember a Danish national final that was two things: unimpressive (in terms of song quality) and awkward (in terms of the lacking live audience). That’s how I remember DMGP 2020, anyway. Song standards are subjective, but if you can convince me that Ben & Tan & Everyone Else performing to nobody but a camera crew wasn’t the most cringeworthy, secondhand embarrassment-inducing few hours of the selection season, it will be a miracle. I felt terrible for all the acts that didn’t get a proper “moment” with a crowd cheering them on, but especially aforementioned winners Ben & Tan – a less celebratory celebration has never been seen by human eyeballs. And it seems these two are destined to never experience a proper live performance (their time on The X Factor, where they met, not included) since the cancellation of the Eurovision pre-parties and the contest itself fast followed their anticlimactic DMGP victory. Given the chance, though – because we’ll be speculating about this stuff until the end of time – would their song Yes have flourished or flopped in front of thousands of feverish Eurofans in the Ahoy Arena?
It was a song with the potential to do well for Denmark, that’s for sure, and stood out by a mile from its DMGP rivals (literally the only other song I liked was Screens by Sander Sanchez, which finished 2nd). It’s a simple, formulaic song not unlike The Lumineers’ Hey Ho, and while it doesn’t dabble in anything experimental or exciting, it’s so damn happy-clappy I can’t help liking it. It has a way of worming into your brain and setting up camp there that deserves a pat on the back – I had the chorus stuck in my head straight after my first listen, and let me tell you, it did not want to leave. That’s the mark of a song that would have been remembered come televoting time, which would have been handy for Denmark since Yes isn’t exactly unforgettable in other ways. It’s a pretty stereotypical Danish entry: polished, pleasant and conducive to a campfire singalong. There’s no way it would have been in winning contention, but it ticks enough boxes to please most people and definitely not offend everyone else. That’s my way of saying it’s another safe, vanilla-flavoured entry from a country I wish would take a risk every now and then. There is something about this song that takes it to a higher level than Denmark’s last handful of entries – a charm and authenticity that wins me over and makes me feel guilty if I insult it. But it does what it does over and over again, without daring to be different or more dynamic at any point. Once you’ve heard the first minute you’ve heard the whole song, but you still have to sit through it twice more. And because the chorus is a repetition in itself (‘Think my heart is beating me to death, I have got an arrow through my chest, I am so in love I must confess, say yes…’ times two) the song feels even more samey than it might have with some lyrical variation in the chorus. Call me overly-critical (I am) but the extreme repetitiveness bothers me. It’s the main reason Yes has worn thin with me over the last month or so. If I’d reviewed it in March or April, I would have been more complimentary. There just comes a time when it starts to grate, and I’ve actually stopped listening to it so that I don’t reach the stage where I say no instead of yes as instructed. Having said (all of) that, if the song had gone to the ESC and been judged by people who hadn’t heard it a million times, the effervescence and earworminess would have worked in its favour. I don’t think there was much in it for juries, but it’s an instant heart-warmer with a great hook, and a decent – if not spectacular – public score was likely, IMO. Taking that into consideration and looking at the line-up of SF2, I think Denmark would have qualified…unless they’d been buried by Iceland and Switzerland performing before them. The frustration of knowing we’ll never know is real, guys.
I’ve said all I need to say about the song, so let’s look at the artists for a second. Does anyone else get an Ell & Nikki vibe from Ben & Tan? It’s not too obvious until you discover that Tan is 22 while Ben is four years younger. We have another white-clad cougar on our hands, people! Just kidding – though it is kind of weird for a twenty-something to be singing a love song to/with a teenager, even if they could pass for the same age on sight. Thankfully there’s little romantic chemistry between these two – Ell and Nikki had some, which was iffy (she was 30 he was 21) but at least legal. My point is, Ben & Tan should have avoided songs of this subject matter until Ben reached the ripe old age of 18 (which he did a few days ago…why is this round making me feel so OLD?!?). Apart from that, I like them as a pair. Their voices mesh well and they seem to genuinely get along – unlike another Danish ESC-related duo, who faked affection for each other in Academy Award worthy fashion on stage only to let their true feelings fly behind the scenes. It sucks that Ben & Tan won’t get automatic rights to represent Denmark in 2021, but who knows – maybe we’ll see them compete again. No other act deserves three minutes with a live audience more.
In a line Cute and joyful (but repetitive) folk-pop that stays safe inside its box 2019 VS 2020 My love for Leonora didn’t last forever, so I’ll say yes to Yes instead Ranking #23 Score 7 points
I think we knew, from the moment Destiny Chukunyere stepped out on the Junior Eurovision stage back in 2015, that she was special – and that she would eventually fly the Maltese flag at the adult contest (if the island had any sense at all). We waited patiently for Destiny to be in contention age-wise, then watched as she came even closer as a backup vocalist for Michela in Tel Aviv. It was only natural she’d then graduate to being Malta’s main artist, like many before her (including Ksenija Knežević of Hurricane, The Mamas, Vasil and Vincent Bueno). Sure enough, this year saw her appear at X Factor Malta auditions, and we all jumped for joy knowing no one else had a chance of winning. Destiny went on to smash the show week after week; win the title and with it the right to represent Malta in Rotterdam; and seem poised to become the first artist to win both JESC and ESC. You could say it was her *drumroll please* DESTINY to do so. Then along came All of My Love.
Brace yourselves for what might be my most controversial review of 2020, friends (or soon-to-be ex-friends) because I am not a fan of this song. I adore Destiny – she’s gorgeous and incredibly talented, and I have no doubt that she has Eurovision-winning blood running through her veins. But All of My Love is just not “it” as far as I’m concerned, and I hope you’ll stick around as I try to explain why. This song has been around the block – it’s more well-travelled/has undergone more makeovers in the last four years than I am/have in my 28. It started life with Symphonix in 2016, when a way different version almost went to Stockholm with Poli Genova instead of If Love Was A Crime (which would have been a crime). Who knows what happened to it between then and earlier this year, when it was submitted to Croatia’s Dora by co-writer Bernarda Brunovic…and rejected. Only after that did it fall into Destiny’s lap, apparently being revamped again to suit her better. I shouldn’t get annoyed by songs that are shopped around for years, but I do. I think it bugs me with this because, try as the writers (including 2018 jury darling Cesár Sampson) might have to make All of My Love unmistakeably Destiny, they didn’t pull it off. It still feels like a song she’s been handed and instructed to sing, rather than a song she’s made her own and is in total control of. It’s almost like she’s still on The X Factor doing her own interpretation of someone else’s material, and it leaves me feeling underwhelmed when I want to feel hyped. 14-year-old Destiny took complete charge of Not My Soul, her JESC winner, bursting with energy and enthusiasm as she sang it. Sadly, I don’t get the same vibes from All of My Love. It’s actually my least favourite of Borislav Milanov’s three compositions for Eurovision 2020, which isn’t saying much on the surface since all three were talked about as possible contenders (Bulgaria in particular). But if I’d give douze points to Germany (which I would) and eight points to Bulgaria (yep, would do that too) then I’d only give six to Malta, most of which would be for Destiny in all her fabulous glory. Her vocals are seriously phenomenal, and she deserves a song to match – AND a song that’s youthful enough for her 17-year-old self. All of My Love was written with an older performer in mind and I think it’s obvious. It’s also such a shame when just last year, Malta found the perfect combo of teenage singer + youthful song with Michela and Chameleon (another Symphonix production) so clearly they’re capable of doing it. The final nail in the coffin for me is the lyrics, which are too mature for Destiny to convincingly emote and super generic (the lyrical equivalent of those magazine horoscopes that apply to every Pisces/Virgo/Gemini etc). Maybe I’m tasteless – or maybe a lot of the (over) hype for this song came out of affection for Destiny – but regardless, I can’t give much let alone all of my love to this track.
I’m not going to lie and say it has no redeeming features at all. It is well-produced, gives our girl every chance to show off her voice (making it great bait for juries) and paved the way for one heck of a stage show. I’ll always wonder what the delegation had planned, and if it would have cemented the song as a contender or not. Personally – and this won’t come as a plot twist – I can’t see it as something that would have challenged FTW without the most kickass of stagings elevating it. There was a handful of countries in contention this year, all of whom have either never won Eurovision or haven’t won for an eternity: think Bulgaria, Iceland and Switzerland. Compared to those countries, Malta is missing that extra “thing” that makes a winner a winner. There wasn’t enough buzz or excitement surrounding All of My Love, and other songs would have appealed more to voters who don’t follow this contest religiously, and who don’t even know what a JESC is let alone that Destiny won it and is therefore royalty. Anyway, in 2021 we’ll find out if she can do the double and win the ESC too because she will be back. I have no doubt Symphonix will be involved again, so I’m praying they tailor a song to her talents (and age) rather than hand over another one that’s been floating around for years.
In a line A bombastically-sung but otherwise underwhelming three minutes 2019 VS 2020 I hate to demote Destiny back to backing singer, but 2019 it is Ranking #37 Score 6 points
There were so many songs in the Moldovan NF this year with the quirky charm and traditional touches that have served the country so well in past contests (I’m looking at you, Hora Din Moldova, Lăutar, Hey Mamma and My Lucky Day). Moldova wasn’t served well at all a year ago when Stay, a power ballad so dated and contrived even I didn’t like it, failed to qualify from its semi in a result everybody with a brain cell saw coming. What does that tell you? People prefer the fun, ethnic side of Moldova’s musical personality over the stale, serious side (go figure). That makes me wonder why they would choose an equally contrived and even more dated Stay sequel to represent them right after they’d box-office bombed with the original instalment (of what I hope doesn’t turn out to be a trilogy). I don’t want to deep-dive into the potentially all-powerful influence and/or thickly-padded wallet of Philipp Kirkirov right now, but I can’t help being confused by this choice enough to think it was questionable.
Prison is performed by a woman we last saw on the ESC stage in 2006, when she quick-changed into Vegas style bridal wear alongside 1/3 of O-ZONE and a bargain-basement rapper on a scooter (which by comparison looks and sounds like the lesser of two evils). In a word, it’s disappointing. In more than a word…well, I’ll tell you in what will be more of a rant than a review. I don’t have anything against Natalia Gordienko herself – she can sing, she has good stage presence and she deserves better Eurovision material than she’s been given. My entire problem with this entry revolves around the song. Prison is another “Dream Team” creation in a reasonably long line of the same, which dates back to Belarus’ Work Your Magic in 2007 and runs all the way through to 2020 with this song and Greece’s Supergirl. There have been a few shining stars along the way, including Work Your Magic, Shady Lady, Hold Me and You Are The Only One. But boy, has there been some duds too – This Is Love, X My Heart and dare I say it, Scream. Lately I’ve found their songs to be anything but dreamlike. By contrast they’re dated, lifeless and trying too hard – and I think Prison checks all of those boxes. While Stay was straight off a 1990s mixtape marked ‘Celine Dion Rejects’, it was cutting edge compared to this song which is such a throwback I’m not even sure which decade it belongs in. On the Eurovision timeline it slots in around 2003-2006, but in the wider music industry (let’s be honest, there’s a difference) no one has dared release a song like this since the 80s – unless it was for a West End musical. Come to think of it, Prison would be right at home on the soundtrack of an Andrew Lloyd Webber (not so) spectacular, one that never saw the light of day because he realised it was sub-par enough to ruin his reputation. At Eurovision in the 2020s though, it doesn’t cut the mustard. Not only is it way past its use-by date, it also obliterates all traces of the Moldova who, only three years ago, landed their first ever podium placement thanks to the Sunstroke Project. Unlike Hey Mamma, compliments about this are hard to make without access to the best microscope money can buy. The chorus is okay, I guess, but even that has a drawback: whenever Natalia scream-sings ‘PRISOOOOOOOOOON’, I feel like she’s trying to brainwash me in the style of the Futurama hypnotoad. I expect laser beams to start shooting out of her eyes every time (which would actually make this entry more interesting, so it sucks that it never happens). The only thing about this song that doesn’t repel me is the lyrics, because at least they don’t shove the prison metaphor all the way down your throat. Think ‘If love was a crime we would be criminals, locked up for life but I’ll do the time’ spread across a whole song (and then immediately stop thinking of Prison in relation to If Love Was A Crime since they have nothing else in common). Word-wise, this really could have been worse. So there – I can’t be the biggest bitch on the planet since I found a nice (ish) thing to say about The Country Formerly Known As A Fun One.
I’m sure all the stops would have been pulled out for Natalia’s (second) Eurovision performance – Kirkirov wouldn’t accept anything less than his version of the best. And there’s no doubt, looking back at Loca afterwards, which entry would have come off as the more polished and sophisticated (hint: it wouldn’t be the one with the scooter and the striptease). In spite of all that, I’d choose Loca over Prison any day of the week. It might have been as cheap and cheesy as a Domino’s pizza; but it was also catchy, enjoyable, self-aware, and a reflection of reasonably current music trends at the time. Prison = none of the above. The concept of it qualifying from SF1 is one I can’t wrap my mind around, especially when Moldova would have been up against Iceland, Switzerland and Bulgaria (to name a few). Maybe it would have squeaked through and I would have died of shock, but nobody can prove it! I’m sorry Natalia, but with this up your sleeve you didn’t deserve a spot in the top 26 of 2020. If you’re re-selected for next year, I’d suggest kicking Kirkirov to the kerb. By the way, if I suddenly go AWOL that last sentence might have something to do with it.
In a line An über-dated ballad with DNQ written all over it 2019 VS 2020 They have so much in common, but somehow I prefer Stay Ranking #41 Score 5 points
24 down, 17 to go! We’re well past the halfway mark now, so maybe my reviews will be taken care of before the 2021 NF season starts (I’m knocking on wood as I type this). Here’s the ranking for today’s fairly low-scoring round:
- Denmark (7)
- Belgium (6)
- Malta (6)
- Moldova (5)
It’s a yes to Denmark from yours truly, a ‘meh’ to Belgium and Malta, and an OH NO YOU DIDN’T to Moldova (though I didn’t want to be too mean, hence the 5 points). How would you score these four songs? Think about it while you vote for your favourite.
Tell me who you chose and what you think of the others in the comments. I’m interested to see if there’s a Moldova stan out there somewhere…less interested (and a little scared) to see how many of you hate me for my opinions on Malta. Please be gentle. I had to put up with all the insults directed at my beloved Cyprus, after all.
NEXT TIME Round 7 of these never-ending reviews is on the way. Do I have a lot of love or a lack thereof for the Czech Republic, Italy, Slovenia and Ukraine? There’s only one way to find out, so subscribe and/or follow my socials to stay in the loop!