THE EUROVISION 2020 REVIEWS | Round 8 (Albania, Belarus, Portugal + Russia)
Like Lindita Halimi’s mammoth World money note, my Eurovision 2020 reviews are dragging on for what feels like forever. And speaking of things so obvious they don’t need to be pointed out, here’s another round for you! This time the spotlight’s shining on Albania’s Fall From The Sky, Belarus’ Da Vidna, Portugal’s Medo De Sentir and Russia’s Uno. Remember them? If not, then consider this your refresher course.
Without further ado, let’s get critical re: Arilena, VAL, Elisa and Little Big.
Albania gave us one of the most controversial winners of the 2019/2020 NF season (if you remember December). It wasn’t Arilena Ara herself, or the Song Formerly Known As Shaj, that knotted everybody’s knickers. Instead it was fan favourite Elvana Gjata losing out in questionable, jury-related circumstances. Me Tana is an absolute bop that would have been unlike anything Albania has sent to Eurovision before. What we ended up with was a classic, orchestral Albanian power ballad the likes of which we’ve definitely heard from them before, but that’s not a negative. I’ve always supported these types of songs for all the drama and intrigue they offer up – they’re kind of like a Bond movie condensed into three-minute musical form. The problem is, they lose a lot of their redeeming features when they’re switched into English. Mall and Ktheju Tokës stuck to their linguistic guns and were extremely well-received for it…but since December, Shaj has become Fall From The Sky and now you guys need to PREPARE YOURSELVES (I’m capital-lettering so you know I mean business) for me complaining about it for the rest of this review.
I’m not saying this is the worst Albanian-to-English rewrite/translation to ever exist. But just like One Night’s Anger, Fairytale, World and the handful of other entries that didn’t make it to the contest in FiK form, Fall From The Sky went from mysterious to mediocre with the flick of a (language) switch. It’s fine – there’s nothing offensive there. It just doesn’t have the same power anymore. I’ll never understand why Albania opts for English versions that lose most of their original spirit during the makeover process. Their only top 5 result has Albanian to thank, FFS! This whole thing had a strong authenticity once upon a time, right down to the styling which saw Arilena dressed in a sprayed-on black catsuit. I think that outfit reflected the song’s mood much better than all the white in the revamp’s music video – it’s easier to believe someone saying ‘You can crush and break down my walls, but my heart will survive’ when they’re wearing black latex, basically. Anyway, separating Shaj from Fall From the Sky and pretending the former never existed, I can dish out some compliments. The bones of this song are calcium-rich – a.k.a. strong – courtesy of a majestic melody and a handful of attention-grabbing moments (e.g. the gut-punch of the first chorus, and later on when Arilena lets all her frustrations loose). The music is well-composed and atmospheric. And on top of that – the cherry on top of a vanilla sundae – are some fantastic vocals. Vocals that are allowed ample opportunity to appeal to the hypothetical juries of Eurovision 2020 – there are more money notes in a single chorus than in your average ATM machine. I do think this is a case of the singer being bigger (SO MUCH BIGGER…does that joke still hold up?) and better than the song they’ve been given. Arilena is seriously talented, with great stage presence and believability on her CV too. She could do epic things with an entry that takes Fall From The Sky’s power and passion, and wraps them up in a more exciting package. Preferably one with better lyrics, while I’m asking. Co-writer Darko Dimitrov has written and/or produced nine other ESC entries, including Ninanajna (North Macedonia 2006). Surely someone who came up with ‘I can make Beyoncé and Shakira dance for you’ can aim higher than a glorified collection of clichés – a pet peeve of mine, ICYMI. As an award-winning songwriter known for originality and poetic prowess myself, I’m totally in a position to judge (NOT). The moral of this story is, FFTS is full of hits and misses. At times I’m underwhelmed and at others I’m overwhelmed…leaving me averaging out at ‘whelmed’, which is not a 100% happy place for me.
I am mourning the loss of a post-FiK live performance. It would have been interesting to see how the NF staging/styling would have changed to match the made-over song, and whether that would have been enough to elevate FFTS and Arilena to the level of a qualifier. Albania would have performed after Denmark and before Finland, and that’s a sandwich that could have been to their benefit. The contrast between happy-clappy Yes and this track is major (not by coincidence) and it might have come across as extra deep and dramatic in Ben & Tan’s wake. The song is more impactful than Looking Back too (though I love that song and prefer it by far). My point is, there was a chance for Albania to make the final with this. It would have been their third success on the trot, and in my experience things tend to come in threes (so when Sergey Lazarev makes another ESC comeback we’ll all know what placing he’s headed for). It’s not likely we’ll see Arilena test that theory: she won’t be representing Albania in 2021 unless she happens to a) enter FiK again, and b) win it again. File that under ‘Things That Are Too Risky To Bet On’. If next year isn’t her year, I hope another will be.
In a line A typical ESC power ballad that hits an occasional bullseye but misses the mark in many other ways 2019 VS 2020 2019 Ranking #31 Score 7 points
Belarus is something of a Eurovision enigma. You never know if they’ll send something clinically insane (a.k.a. the stuff memes are made of) or if they’ll accidentally strike gold with something charming and/or shockingly competent. Sorry to go all Graham Norton on you, but that’s just how I feel. It’s been a rollercoaster ride since 2004, that’s for sure – and lately there’s been more downs that ups, off the back of a shaky and overdramatic performance from Alekseev and ZENA’s 25th in Tel Aviv (or ‘Top 25’ finish, as she puts it in her Instagram bio…got to love that attitude). Their NF doesn’t stack up against the Melodifestivalens or Vidbirs of the world either, so I tend to breeze by and wait to see what wins before I pay any actual attention. That’s what I did this year, and nothing stood out to me based on the snippets. I even started missing the Potato Monks for a minute there.
BUT WAIT! Like last year, when I didn’t even notice Sebi lurking in the EMA previews before watching it performed with my jaw on the floor, I sat down to check out VAL’s Da Vidna and my mind was blown. I’m not saying this song is up there with Sebi (a modern masterpiece) but I was so prepared to be underwhelmed by what I heard and saw that it was huge surprise to be impressed instead. There’s something about the sounds and sights of Da Vidna that instantly drew me in. It’s all so compelling. The song itself is a little of a lot – electronica, pop, R&B – but it all comes together in a smooth, slightly sexy way (or is that just me?). You can tell that these two, Valeryja and Vlad, know what they’re doing in terms of song writing and production. There’s a subtle/steady build to what they’ve created, and a unique energy that feels vibrant and laid-back at the same time. I love that the verses are pretty simple and repetitive, but don’t get boring because Valeria uses her (amazing) vocals to add variation. I also think it’s cool that the chorus has a soft section, a louder section, and then that drop into the electronic riff – it’s dynamic and different to your average centrepiece. The song’s structure is left field in other places too: i.e. when the riff pops up in place of a full second chorus straight out of the second verse. It’s those little things that make this so hypnotic. Rather than putting the ‘mental’ in experimental and becoming inaccessible in the process, it’s inventive in microscopic moments throughout. I do want to point out how perfect and poetic Belarusian sounds here too – it really hasn’t ever sounded better. Obviously I have a lot of love to give to this track, and there’s some to spare for the way it was presented at Eurofest too. Like the song itself, the staging was straightforward with a sprinkling of individuality. Think Valeria’s black power suit paired with that blingtastic headpiece (for those times you have a business meeting at 9 and a cabaret gig at 9.30) and all the fabulous hand choreography. Some levelling up for Eurovision would have been needed – and personally, I’d have ditched the pyro in favour of lighting – but there was huge potential to make this entry and those hand gestures memorable in the bigger picture of semi number one. I personally think the latter > The Roop’s fire fingers. Can my Eurovision fan card be revoked for that?
I’m not kidding myself that Da Vidna would have followed in Sebi’s qualification-and-reasonable-result-shaped footsteps, especially with a godawful “draw” doing them a disservice. No amount of artistic hand movements would have helped Belarus out of such a sticky running order spot, which, ICYMI or just forgot, was second (insert GIF of someone screaming here) after Sweden and before Australia. Add Lithuania, Russia, Malta, Azerbaijan, Norway and Israel (plus Australia’s fellow 100% qualifier Ukraine) into the mix and the words ‘not a chance’ come to mind. Still, anything is possible and occasionally all the predictions we agonised over go flying out the (hopefully open) window. I get to live eternally in my fantasy wherein VAL did qualify anyway. I don’t know about you, but I want to see them in the Eurofest line-up again ASAP. Preferably showing off some more hypnotic hand movements from their repertoire.
In a line Smooth, sexy and subtly powerful electro-pop performed by the more personable version of Zalagašper 2019 VS 2020 My ears approve of both, but VAL get my vote Ranking #16 Score 8 points
Have you ever had the feeling a song won a national final by accident? If it can happen at the Eurovision tier (not naming any names, but try thinking back nine years) then it’s got to be a possibility at the not-as-serious NF tier. There were some real standouts in this year’s edition of Festival da Canção – Abensonhado by Jimmy P and Movimento by Throes + The Shine, for example – and in the face of such greatness (plus fan favourite Passé-Partout which I didn’t like at all) it almost seems like Elisa’s Medo de Sentir slipped through cracks made when the contenders cancelled each other out. I know I’m sounding too close to conspiracy theory for comfort, but it’s hard to believe Portugal would purposely choose such an understated song so soon after Telemóveis. It’s like Iceland plot-twisting from Our Choice to Hatrið Mun Sigra, only in reverse.
In Portugal’s defence, anything they picked right after Telemóveis would have seemed ordinary by comparison, even if it were Silvia Night dressed in a Santa suit and playing the bagpipes. It was a sweet relief to have Elisa instead of that (the mental image of which is now eternally burned into my brain) but Medo de Sentir is on the opposite end of the spectrum and that’s not the best case scenario either. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a really nice song full of feeling (more on that in a minute) and boasting a beautiful melody, especially in the chorus. I think it’s classy and elegant but also very sweet at the same time, like a pricey Moscato. And if you’re a fellow non-Portuguese speaker and you check out the lyrical translation, you’ll find it’s an extremely sentimental song too, but not in a sugary way. Let’s just say that anyone who’s struggled to open up again after a heartbreak will be hit right in the feels by what Elisa’s vocalising. I love how she tells the story with restraint and simplicity, sans frills and melodrama. Overall, the understated vibe of this song works wonders – yet somehow, it also drags it down. Such a sweet little breakup ballad balances out “statement piece” songs like Think About Things, Uno and Move for sure. Those songs get people excited though, whereas Medo de Sentir would struggle to get me out of bed in the morning if I used it as a musical alarm (truth be told, I’d roll over and go back to sleep). There’s something more memorable about almost every single other Eurovision 2020 entry, if I’m honest…even the ones I dislike. I don’t believe every single song should explode at some point – a.k.a. practically scream ‘THIS IS WHERE THE PYRO GOES!’. But in a competition, I think this one would have been too lo-fi (not unlike O Jardim) to attract much attention, at least outside of FdC. It makes a valiant attempt to level up during the bridge but never truly takes off. I wouldn’t want Elisa to randomly start belting á la Ariana Grande or anything like that, but a steady build up to a bigger finish would have been much appreciated by moi. Kind of like Tears Getting Sober, which is soft and subtle until the last minute – take notes, Portugal. There are a few other reasons I think their lack of ESC luck (post-2017) would have carried through to Rotterdam this year. Firstly, whenever it shuffles through on Spotify it takes me too long to realise which song it is (you’d think the language was a giveaway, but nope). Secondly, there are moments when it seems to need more vocal guts and believability than Elisa can provide. And thirdly, every time I watch the NF performance I’m less focused on the song and more on her outfit (which I adore and want in my wardrobe stat). Like Ace of Base, I saw the sign(s) and they opened up my eyes to the likelihood of Medo de Sentir tanking at Eurovision.
What Portugal might need to do to avoid future DNQs is find the balance between Conan Osíris’ ‘incredibly weird’ and Elisa’s ‘not weird enough’. They found the right formula with Salvador Sobral, so we know they’re capable…although I don’t think they were actually aiming for an ESC win when they chose Amar Pelos Dois. Something I really admire about Portugal and FdC is that, as with Italy and Sanremo, they choose songs that represent their taste and often, their culture, rather than something they think the rest of Europe will enjoy. I’m on board with that, even if it doesn’t usually translate to great results in May (for Portugal, not Italy). When they happen upon the right song at the right time it’s magical, but Medo de Sentir just didn’t fit that bill. There’s still a lot to like listening to it, however, and I’ll be adding it to the ‘ESC Entries That Make My Eyeballs A Bit Moist’ playlist I plan on compiling when I should probably be doing something else.
In a line A pretty and meaningful ballad, but a song that struggles to stand out 2019 VS 2020 2019 – I want more weird in my life Ranking #28 Score 7 points
When figuring out how to top last year’s 3rd place, Russia put two and two together and got Uno – proving they’re both as terrible at maths as I am, and geniuses deserving of a Nobel Prize for the Strategic Internal Selection of a Eurovision Act (that exists, right?). Little Big is a band that’s…well, a little big. They’ve been rumoured as Russian representatives before, but 2020 proved to be the year they’d actually been chosen. Since forming in 2013 they’ve released five albums, three EPs and a whole string of singles, including one (Skibidi) that went viral thanks to an accompanying dance challenge. These guys have some rather interesting pre-Uno track titles to their name, unless Life In Da Trash, Dead Unicorn and Rave In Peace happen to sound mundane to you. Either way, it’s obvious that despite sounding like a Lumineers-style folksy group of linen-clad whiskey drinkers, Little Big are anything but. Swap all of the above for rave-pop, metallic Lycra and Smirnoff and that’ll paint a more accurate picture. They’re unlike any act Russia has picked for Eurovision in the past and couldn’t be more unlike Sergey Lazarev…but is different a plus or minus in this case?
I’ll come straight out with it and say that I haven’t loved a Russian entry this much in YEARS. I’m talking well over ten years, in fact. Far too frequently I find their songs mechanical, manipulative (all that love + peace is coming from the wrong country) and/or just not that interesting. Uno is none of those things. It’s an instantly loveable and infectious party anthem with a nostalgic feel and the perfect amount of ridiculousness. It doesn’t take itself too seriously – that’s not Little Big’s style – but under the surface it’s a legitimately well-written pop song. It’s far from being 1944 deep and meaningful, obviously. One look at the lyrics and you know Salvador Sobral would find the whole thing horrific (which makes me like it even more). The bridge is particularly WTF, but hey – rhyming dummy, yummy, chummy, bunny and honey is a refreshing respite from fire/higher/desire. And if it sounds strangely familiar to you, it’s probably because Russia has gone down that rhyming road before, with another numerically-titled song no less: Serebro’s Song #1 from 2007, which went for funny bunny + money + honey + yummy. It must be a Russian thing. Anyway, as much of a stickler for decent lyrics as I am, any song that kicks off by pairing ‘margarita’ with ‘señorita’ has me at hola. Uno is singalong-friendly from start to finish, so expect to see it performed – or be tempted to take it on yourself – at plenty of Eurovision karaoke parties to come. Who could resist when every bit of this song is stickier than bubblegum on the sidewalk? Fitting, since it falls into the bubblegum pop category I like to call ‘Dolly Style on speed’. The Latin-infused intro reminds me a bit of Let’s Get Loud by Jennifer Lopez, while leading lady Sonya takes us back a bit further to the 90s and the glory days of Aqua and Toy-Box. I associate nothing but good times with all of it, which is a relief after Scream made me want to do just that into a pillow. With everything that’s happened in the world to make 2020 the industrial-sized dumpster fire we know and definitely don’t love, this injection of fun is just what we needed in our lives. If you want proof, how about the fact that Little Big recently nabbed Netta’s most-viewed Eurovision video crown? People just can’t stop watching the Uno video, apparently – it’s racked up 140 million views in just four months (at the time of typing) compared to the two years Toy took to reach 135 million. There’s so much crazy packed into the three minutes of screen time, such popularity isn’t a shock. From suggestive everything to an iconic resting bitch face and memorable moves from a man in a velour sweatsuit, it has so much to offer. There’s even a made-for-TikTok dance included, which requires a pair of flares for maximum effect. Don’t ask me how I know that.
Does Uno becoming numero uno on YouTube – and so damn quickly – suggest that Russia would have won this year’s televote without even trying? It’s likely, but with the competition they had it wouldn’t have been a given. And I’d have downgraded Little Big’s winning chances based on the lack of jury love they would have undoubtedly received. It’s not like people with credentials wouldn’t have been sucked into this alongside the rest of us – jurors just don’t want to associate themselves with “novelty” entries as a rule (Toy being an exception) and that’s how you get your obvious jury favourites coming through. Still, no jury member could have denied how bang-on Little Big’s performance would have been if the televised one they put on a few months back was any indication. It sounded – and looked – just like the music video, and that deserves praise (and points). Let’s hope we get to see them be the bomb dot com on an actual Eurovision stage in 2021. They’re yet to be confirmed as Russia’s reps again, but I’m thinking they will be – it’ll be a massive missed opportunity if they aren’t.
In a line Aqua get Russian citizenship and give us the bonkers bop we never knew we needed 2019 VS 2020 I can’t say 2020 fast enough Ranking #12 Score 10 points
32 down, 9 to go! We’re on the home stretch, and I’ll definitely have moved on to other things by the time Christmas crackers go on sale at the supermarket. Well, probably. Time will tell.
Here’s the ranking for today’s round:
- Russia (10)
- Belarus (8)
- Albania (7)
- Portugal (7)
This is the first time Russia has ever won a round of my reviews, so it’s a (little) big deal. Is Uno your favourite of this four too or not so much? It’s time to take your pick:
Let me know who you voted for and what you think of the other three entries in the comments. I’ll try to keep a lid on Judgmental Jaz if you do…but really, how could Russia not be your numero uno?
NEXT TIME There are only so many countries left on my to-do (or should I say ‘to-review’?) list, and next up = Georgia, Greece, Iceland and Poland. Stay tuned and/or subscribe to find out exactly what I think about things.
Start the Eurovision conversation