That’s right, these reviews are STILL going – and I really think I deserve some sort of prize for dragging them out longer than any other Eurovision commentator on Mr. God’s green earth (it’s a talent, I’m telling you). While I wait for my prize to arrive (yes, ‘delusional’ is my middle name…why do you ask?) here are four more songs that would have competed in the 2020 contest had the universe decided not to Fresh Prince flip-turn upside down.
Today is all about the Czech Republic’s Kemama, Italy’s Fai Rumore, Slovenia’s Voda and Ukraine’s Solovey (way to ruin the one-word title trend, Italy). And after the string of painfully average scores I awarded in the last round, I’m happy to say I’ve handed out some mighty high ones this time. Where did they go and was there a douze involved? Keep reading to find answers to those questions whether you actually asked them or not, and don’t forget to vote for your favourite of the four when you’re finished!
Hey there, Benny/Diodato/Ana/Go_A – are you ready to be reviewed? Too bad if you aren’t…
I’m not going to say the Czech Republic can’t catch a break when it comes to our beloved contest, but their moments of brilliance have been few and far between. Their debut in Helsinki’s semi-final of death (a dramatic yet accurate description) saw rock band Kabát finish rock bottom, and CZ proceeded to end up no higher than 13th in a semi until their first qualification came in 2016. Even then it wasn’t until 2018 that they really broke through with Mikolas Josef, followed by LAKE MALAWI FROM THE CZECH REPUBLIC who deserved a massive televote score rather than a miniscule one (if you didn’t vote for them you have a lot to answer for). It looked like this country was onto their third consecutive kickass entry when they chose Benny Cristo’s Kemama this year…only for the Rotterdam contest to be cancelled. Of course, you knew that was the case. I’m not sure why I mentioned it again and gave you all that unnecessary Czech Republic context, but here we are.
I guess I was trying to convey how much I’ve stanned them the last few years, after they turned things around out of nowhere. Not everyone who loved Lie To Me loved Friend of a Friend, and how you feel about those probably didn’t affect your reaction to Kemama (a song super-different to those two and different to anything CZ has sent before). But I’m a huge fan of all three, and I’m gutted that we’ll never see Benny’s song on the Eurovision stage. Well, not this particular one, anyway…but more on that later. Right now I’d better stop rambling and actually review Kemama. I more or less laid my cards on the table two seconds ago, but ICYMI (it was pretty subtle, not my usual M.O.) I love this song. It shows off a multicultural side of the Czech music scene that feels fresh, and added party vibes to the 2020 line-up in a way that could never be labelled ‘novelty’ (unlike Iceland/Lithuania/Russia…not that I agree with that term re: that trio). I should clarify that I’m talking about the final version of Kemama here, which found a balance between the tropical/urban sound of the original ESCZ winner and the African-flavoured initial revamp (in which you could barely hear Benny’s vocals). It’s a shame Benny didn’t have the confidence in that first revamp to run with it, but on the plus side, his doubts – based on fan feedback – gave us the version we know now and I’ll love for a long time to come. I enjoy everything about this: the music, which blends and layers those urban and ethnic sounds in a way that’s smooth but still lets each shine; the catchiness that flows through the verses and definitely leaks into the chorus (just thinking about it gets it stuck in my head); the positive energy (it’s an instant mood-lifter); and the spirit Benny brings to the table too. It’s clear he co-wrote Kemama, because it fits him like a glove stylistically and feels authentic. That’s the feeling I’m missing with Malta: that sense of total comfort between song and singer that comes from said singer being involved in the writing process, rather than being handed a song that’s been shopped around (which happens all the time, I know…I’m just drawn to the difference). If you’ve paid any attention to the lyrics, you’ll have noticed some interesting ones that add to the song’s charm and uniqueness (in Eurovision terms). ‘I’m high, I’m lifted like sir Bob Marley’ is my personal favourite, followed by ‘I’m a put my heart on the stove, let you all feel the heat.’ Say what you want about those lines, but you can’t tell me they’re boring or cliché. In fact, there’s nothing about Kemama that ticks either of those unfortunate boxes.
I understand why it didn’t hit the heights of the Czech Republic’s last two entries in the Eurofandom (that’s a word, right?). The genre mix does make it less accessible than Lie To Me and Friend of a Friend, and it isn’t a song that builds up to a bombastic climax or has more lights and shadows than O’G3NE would know what to do with. But I think it does its own thing brilliantly, keeps the energy up, doesn’t become too repetitive and – most importantly – makes for a fantastic floor filler. Benny’s performance at Vidbir (traditional for CZ at this point) proved that Kemama comes to life live, and that obviously would have benefited him at Eurovision. I’m not 100% convinced he would have qualified, but he deserved to and would have stood out from the SF2 crowd regardless. I really like this guy, and it made my day when he was confirmed for 2021. As someone who released his first album a decade ago and has barely paused for breath since, he knows what he’s doing musically – he just needs to stand by his creative choices next time around. I’m keen to listen to more of his back catalogue while we wait for his follow-up entry to be conceived. I have no doubt I’ll love it if it’s anywhere near as dynamic, energetic and infectious as Kemama.
In a line An authentic, feelgood fusion of sounds I can’t get enough of 2019 VS 2020 This one hurts…but if I’m honest, Team Benny is where I belong Ranking #9 Score 10 points
Italy may not be my numero uno Eurovision nation (they’re actually my second favourite, and if you don’t know who’s above them you must be new here) but when it comes to classiness, they cannot be beaten. Every song they’ve ever sent to the contest has been effortlessly elegant – even when Emma Marrone crawled down the Copenhagen stage’s catwalk flashing her gold underwear as she went, it was more sophisticated than if another country had done the same. I don’t know how Italy does it, but the words ‘cheap’ and ‘tacky’ just don’t apply to them. As an appreciator of classy entries that also generate goosebumps, I have a fair few Italian entries filed away in my all-time favourites folder: e.g. Era (1975), Fiumi di Parole (1997), L’Essenziale (2013), Grande Amore (2015), No Degree of Separation (2016) and Soldi (2019). I could go on, but I am supposed to be discussing Italy’s 2020 entry from Diodato. ICYMI somehow, it’s called Fai Rumore – and if you’re wondering whether or not I’d add it to that list of Italian loveliness, I have an answer for you.
Yes I would, without a doubt. This is a stunning, spine-tingling slice of emotional balladry from Italy that I absolutely adore – and I honestly feel like it could become an ESC classic, if only in my mind (but if you disagree you must be tasteless). It’s Italy by numbers in a lot of ways, but that’s hardly a bad thing to be. When you’re naturally perfect, why aim for anything else? The instrumentation is simplistic and beautiful, swelling and soaring as Diodato works his way through the three minutes before coming full circle to finish. The verses have a touch of that typical Italian wordiness that we know and love, but it isn’t OTT. The chorus is explosive and the emotional centrepiece of the song, and it gives me all the feels (including one that makes my eyes leak this weird salty stuff…no idea what that is). There’s a money note included that feels organic – it hasn’t been shoehorned in to act as jury bait, which makes sense since Italian entries are written for Sanremo rather than the contest they ultimately end up at. The lyrics are heartbreaking and relatable, and the fact that they were shouted from Italian balconies and rooftops during coronavirus quarantine – in a country devastated by the pandemic – makes them all the more significant. The song became a symbol of strength, hope and togetherness in a dark time, and that speaks so loudly of the power of music. Fai Rumore literally translates to ‘make noise’, and though in the song that refers to breaking the silence between two people in a strained relationship, it’s bigger than that when you look at what’s happening in the world right now. Listen to it because it’s a beautiful song and/or because it hits home on a deeper level: either way, it’s meaningful. Like that random student in Mean Girls who ‘doesn’t even go here’, where this song is concerned I have a lot of feelings. It also reminds me of another song I love: Creep by Radiohead. It’s less of a downer (and more down-tempo) but I get similar vibes, and Creep is a song that has stood the test time as I expect Fai Rumore to do. The two share similarities in the vocal delivery department too – Radiohead’s Thom Yorke sings softly at first before belting his heart and soul out later on, and that’s just what Diodato does here. He has a voice that’s powerful when it needs to be and vulnerable in all the right places – you can tell he’s been in the business for a while and knows his instrument inside and out. He and Fai Rumore are just the perfect pairing. Are you sick of me raving about them yet? I might need a gentle slap to stop.
If this entry had been able to compete in May, outdoing Italy’s 2019 result would have been a very tough task. There was a lot of love for it post-Sanremo, but the massive momentum Soldi had was missing. Still, Italy has only finished outside the top 10 five times since 1980 and ended up safely inside it the last three years running, so I think Fai Rumore had all the goods required to keep them in top 10 territory. All it needed was pared-back, L’Essenziale-style staging – maybe feat. some strategic lighting – and the song/singer would have done the rest. You Let Me Walk Alone made the top five, so this certainly could have. RAI hasn’t confirmed Diodato for 2021 yet, but I’m praying they do. As Eurovision is secondary to Sanremo (which can’t technically be considered a national final) it would be easy enough for them to run it without offering ESC participation as an add-on. And Diodato seemed super excited about going to the contest, which is pretty unusual for Italian acts. I’m sure he could craft another sensational song if he had the chance…and wouldn’t it be interesting to see what an Italian entry written specifically for Eurovision would sound like?
In a line A song as flawless, understated and valuable as an elegant diamond engagement ring 2019 VS 2020 Unless my life depends on it, I refuse to make this decision Ranking #3 Score 12 points
I know you shouldn’t compare countries to their previous participations when judging the following year’s entry – fresh contest, fresh start and all that – but I’m about to. I only feel the need because Slovenia + Eurovision = mostly mediocre (for me) until Sebi came along. Zala and Gašper gave us one of those once-in-a-blue-moon songs that transcends Eurovision, and makes you say pretentious things like ‘this song transcends Eurovision’. Their country didn’t stick with hypnotic dream-pop in their wake however, opting for a traditional slow-burn Balkan ballad instead. It’s impossible not to compare Voda to the iconic Balkan ballads that came before it (as well as Sebi) and though it doesn’t stack up amazingly well against either I still think there’s a lot to like about it. It’s funny how time can change how you think about things (Iceland reference: check). If I had any time management skills and had reviewed this in April/May, I wouldn’t have been very complimentary. But like a handful of this year’s songs, Voda has grown on me. There are perks to being the Laziest Eurovision Reviewer On The Planet™, guys.
Yep, my weakness for Balkan ballads has kicked in with this one. Better late than never! It is true that Voda can’t compete with the likes of Lane Moje, Lejla or Adio (the Holy Trinity of contemporary Balkan ballads IMO, with Nije Ljubav Stvar on the outer by a millimetre) but it’s more of a classic orchestral BB rather than an ethnic, Željko-style BB anyway. It does have a similarly spellbinding quality to it that draws me in, and also shares that slow-burn structure. In fact, it’s the SLOWEST of burners. I can’t think of another ESC entry that takes this long to get going – a sloth doped up on sleeping pills could swim ten laps of an Olympic swimming pool by the time the chorus arrives. Having said that, when it happens it’s nothing short of explosive, and I do think it’s worth the wait. Sure, in an ideal world it wouldn’t take quite so much time to get to the exciting part…but that lengthy build-up does make you wonder (at least on the first listen) where the song is going. A sense of mystery this strong is pretty alluring, I must say. This song has in spades what Albanian entries lose when they’re released in English – an atmospheric, haunting and ethereal feeling helped along by lyrics in a language a lot of us don’t understand. It has so much more substance than stuff like On My Way, for example (then again, so does a piece of photocopy paper). I also appreciate how this song ties itself to its title in a subtle, classy way. None of us need Google Translate to know what ‘voda’ means at this point, thanks to the likes of Bulgaria and Bosnia & Herzegovina. But if translating this song’s lyrics – which don’t go too hard with the metaphor but make the concept as clear, fluid and low-calorie as water itself – isn’t enough, there’s those little droplet sound effects on hand to help. They might be small and sparse, but they do so much for the overall texture and mood of the song. They’re almost (remember, I said ALMOST) on par with the claps in Soldi, which didn’t make the original cut but are now an essential part of that entry’s appeal and memorability. I’m not saying the hypothetical Ahoy audience would have made water droplet sounds with their mouths en masse when Ana was en stage…just that there are similarities between those effects and Mahmood’s clap-claps. You get me?
Another thing I admire about Slovenia 2020 as a package is the artist. Ana’s voice is like an androgynous, powerful throwback to another time – the 90s, maybe. She’s one of those singers who reeks of elegance and experience, and she can belt like nobody’s business without breaking a bead of sweat. She’s a pretty magnetic performer too, not to mention just plain pretty (my girl crush is still alive and well). All in all, it’s hard to tear your eyes off her even if Voda doesn’t do it for you. For that reason, and because the whole ‘water’ theme opens up a Tardis-sized storage facility of obvious but effective staging options, I wouldn’t have ruled this out for qualification. I actually think it’s a better song than Kruna (Serbia 2019) which it could be the distant cousin of, and as that made the final then this had a shot for sure (I love being able to say this stuff with nobody able to realistically contradict me). So who’s to say that Ana, who will be competing next year in Rotterdam, won’t have a fighting chance given another year to create a cracking song? If she sticks with a Balkan ballad that shows off her vocals – but perhaps gets going quicker – the potential will be tsunami-strong. What? I HAD to end on a water reference!
In a line A rather lovely Balkan ballad elevated by an explosive chorus and powerhouse vocalist 2019 VS 2020 2019 Ranking #29* Score 8 points
*FYI: The ranking I’m using for these reviews is from a few months ago, and I’ve changed my mind about 90% of the songs since then (mostly for the better). Slovenia, for instance, would be ranked a LOT higher if I redid it right now…hence the ‘meh ranking, decent score’ situation you see above.
Like a horse being ridden across a field made of marshmallows, Ukraine is having a rough trot in Eurovision terms. Once upon a time (like, up until a year-and-a-half ago) they were the unstoppable senders of Ruslana, Tina Karol, Verka Seduchka, Ani Lorak, Alyosha, Zlata Ognevich and Jamala – having added two wins, two silver medals and a bronze to their collection in a relatively short string of contests past. Then last year’s infamous edition of Vidbir took place, creating both memes and carnage in its wake. Maruv stuck it to the man (and Jamala), Ukraine withdrew from Eurovision 2019 and the show was sadder for its lack of erotic leg-gun choreography. The sequel to this shocking story saw an eerily unproblematic Vidbir 2020 (meaning you only needed one hand to count the problems on) crown Go_A champions thanks to their song Solovey, only for COVID-19 to say ‘thank u, next’ to the ESC this year. That’s two years in a row we’ve technically been denied Ukrainian fabulousness now.
Yes, I said two years. Siren Song was iconic, and Solovey is epic. Before I tell you why, there’s something I need to get off my chest. Am I the only one who thinks ‘Go_A’ sounds like the name of a hugely successful K-pop band? That’s a compliment – it’s a great name. So great I’d be tempted to start calling myself ‘Ja_Z’ if it had the same ring to it (and didn’t make me sound like I’m married to Beyoncé). Anyway, a group so greatly named can’t possibly produce crappy music, and Go_A proved that to be true with Solovey. Strangely for a Ukrainian entry, this song didn’t receive a whole lot of love from the fandom. Some people seemed convinced Ukraine would have lost the flawless qualification record they now only share with Australia (if I may humble-brag for a second) had the 2020 contest gone ahead. How much that had to do with Go_A vocalist Kateryna’s aggressive singing style I’m not sure, but there is a whiff of Poland 2019 about it – and if we hadn’t been exposed to Tulia in Tel Aviv, I probably wouldn’t like this song so much. I wasn’t a huge fan of Pali Şie, but in hindsight it was a slap-in-the-face introduction to vocals that sound more manic than melodic on the surface, much like Kateryna’s. I think they work in perfect harmony (Fire Saga ESC slogan alert! Watch it now on Netflix if you haven’t yet) with Solovey. If she didn’t attack it in the same way it wouldn’t have half the impact that it does. Also making that happen is the music: an A+ mix of Ukrainian folk instrumentation, electronica and hypnotic drum beats that take ethnopop to new and exciting places. When you pull this track apart, there’s a lot going on but not too much. Each thread has been skilfully woven into one magnificent musical tapestry that I’d hang in pride of place on my wall. I know I’m diving in deep with my praise, but I have such a high regard for this song and think it deserves to be fawned over. I certainly have love to spare for the punchy, tightly-rhymed chorus, and for the fact that the song is chilling and esoteric as well as upbeat and accessible at the same time. We haven’t heard anything quite like this at Eurovision before, not from Ukraine, at least. Songs this unique are part of the reason I live and breathe this contest. And speaking of uniqueness, how’s this: Solovey would have been the first ESC song to be performed in 100% Ukrainian. Good on Go_A for going all in with their native language. We can expect more of the same in 2021, I suspect, so they’ll still make history. Oh, and if you need any more motivation to love them, note that Kateryna’s name is an obvious anagram of Kate Ryan. Fingers crossed that’s an innocuous fun fact, not a sign that Go_A will send a fan favourite song next year that fails to qualify and leaves us all in a state of shock.
I have a hard time believing Solovey would have left Ukraine’s qualification record in tatters. It’s so different to anything it would have competed against, and that makes it memorable. It’s divisive, sure, but a song that takes risks attracts more attention than one that travels a safer path (Confucius might have said that if he’d lived to witness Eurovision). Besides, let’s not forget that Ukraine can stage the shiz out of whatever song they’re dealing with. If there’s anything they know how to do – in addition to revamping songs so drastically they become unrecognisable – it’s nail visuals. And should the Solovey sequel be a stylistic follow-up rather than a totally random change of direction (and get the usual Ukrainian staging treatment) I’ll be just as sure that record will remain intact next May.
In a line Ukrainian folktronica that knocks my socks off 2019 VS 2020 Wanna know my secret? I prefer Solovey. BANG! Ranking #11 Score 10 points
28 down, 13 to go! Nobody’s going to party harder than me when these damn things are finally done. In the meantime, here’s the ranking for Round 7:
- Italy (12)
- Czech Republic (10)
- Ukraine (10)
- Slovenia (8)
This isn’t the first douze Italy has bagged from yours truly, and it won’t be the last. How many points would you give Fai Rumore and the rest of this foursome? Have a think about it while you show some support for your personal favourite.
Let me know who got your vote in the comments. It doesn’t have to be Italy, but if you’d give that masterpiece anything less than 8 points I will be very concerned for your sanity.
NEXT TIME We’re getting there, guys. There’s only a handful of countries left for me to review, and next on the ever-shrinking list is Albania, Belarus, Portugal and Russia. It’s a mixed bag, so make sure you’re subscribed to my socials @EurovisionByJaz so you don’t miss the highs…or the lows!