Never in the history of the world (or at least our favourite song contest) has it taken a Eurofan from the end of one national final season to the start of another to complete their contest reviews. So on behalf of myself, I’d like to congratulate me for doing just that. ‘Oops’ doesn’t quite cover it, does it?
I won’t drag the process out any longer with an explanation of why it’s taken SO DAMN LONG for me to get to this point (36 Eurovision 2020 songs down, five to go). Let’s get straight into today’s round of reviews instead, feat. Australia’s Don’t Break Me, Bulgaria’s Tears Getting Sober, Germany’s Violent Thing and Sweden’s Move. That’s right – there’s a bunch of big-hitters on the chopping block today, and even if you know me you might not guess which one is my personal pièce de résistance. I wouldn’t even try to guess yours, so make sure you tell me where your loyalties lie by voting in the poll and leaving a comment.
No more stalling, Montaigne, Victoria, Ben and The Mamas: it’s Judgement Day (Jaz-style) at long last.
Well, the time has arrived for me to (try and) be as unbiased as possible, because I’m reviewing my own country’s entry. This song would have been Australia’s sixth sent to Eurovision, and the second chosen by national final – a.k.a. (in case you’ve forgotten because it was a while ago) Australia Decides. Us Australians helped the show live up to its name by deciding Montaigne should represent us in Rotterdam with Don’t Break Me, and that put our destiny back in the hands of songwriting duo DNA. Those guys have penned 4/6 of our songs (all but Tonight Again and Zero Gravity) but this is only the second time the performing artist also had a hand in the track’s creation (Jess Mauboy having had some input in We Got Love like the legend she is). DNA also gets credit for the multiple top 10 results we’ve enjoyed during our ESC journey, with We Got Love being their only (and undeserved) ‘oops’ moment. Would Don’t Break Me – why do we keep telling people what not to do? – have joined it on the outside of the top 10, fallen totally flat and not qualified at all, or kept us on the left side of the scoreboard in the wake of HRH KMH?
This is one I’ll forever be curious about, since it had the potential to take path a, b or c in equal measure (so had a 33.333333-something percent chance of…oh, never mind). It was uncharted territory for starters, being the most alternative entry in Australian ESC history. Not to say it it’s super off-the-wall and original, but when I say it’s the only one of our songs that would ever have a shot at making a Triple J playlist, my fellow Australians will know what I mean. Montaigne is the most indie artist we’ve selected, so that makes sense – but even so, I think the fact that Don’t Break Me is a joint effort between herself and DNA is very obvious. It’s more mainstream-pop in sound than a lot of her work but less cookie-cutter than a lot of DNA’s stuff, and I like that balance (as someone who’s definitely more of a pop girl than an alt girl). It’s atmospheric and well-produced from start to finish, and the lyrics are more experimental than usual (for us). My picks of the bunch = ‘Isn’t love a compromise, two people trying to keep the fire burning?’ and, of course, ‘Every time that I try to explain it, you think that your pain is more important.’ That one is a punch in the guts (in a good way). Plus – take note, Poland – there’s just one analogy running through the entire song, rather than 10 different ones. Our girl isn’t made of elastic, she’s made of glass and she is breakable, basically. Relatable or what? Another R word I’d label this with is ‘repetitive’, but that’s not a negative. It’s just repetitive enough to score a nomination for the 2020 Earworm Awards without being annoyingly so. There’s a decent chorus in this song too, though I wouldn’t say it’s the highlight – which it really should be. DNA can do better. Probably my biggest bugbear re: Don’t Break Me, however, is the lack of a real “moment”. It’s missing that extra, vote-securing something all of our other entries have had, which is usually a money note – or in KMH’s case, a whole bank account’s worth of money notes plus that small matter of swinging around on a rafter-reaching bendy pole that looked like it could snap at any second (I always watch that back with my heart in my mouth even though I know she survived). Where is the bendy pole equivalent in this? Itramps up a little as it progresses, but the second half plateaus and there’s nowhere to insert pyrotechnics (my way of saying it never gets explosive). Montaigne’s vocals do a lot of heavy lifting in terms of adding interest, I will say. I love her voice – it’s so distinctive – and if she’d stopped moving for a second during her NF performance and been able to take a breath, it would have been shown off to full advantage. She could definitely rank highly with juries based on her vocals come 2021, if she doesn’t insist on performing a rhythmic gymnastics routine at the same time as singing her little heart out. That – and everything else – considered, my attitude towards this reflects how I’ve felt about most Aussie entries, Tonight Again (PEAK ‘STRAYA!) aside. It’s a good song and I do like it, but I don’t feel any passionate love for it.
I think the mixed reactions to Montaigne’s planned staging for Rotterdam, which we got to see during SBS’ substitute contest coverage, were justified. The NF staging needed simplifying, but what would have been broadcast in May was probably too simple. I think they could have played around more with quickfire close-up camera shots and moody lighting to make it more cinematic and interesting (á la She Got Me or Oscar Zia’s Melfest runner-up Human) and to really get those strong emotions across. Sure, the whole “puppet on a string” concept came across in a cooler and clearer way after the update, but there was still a mediocre vibe about it. The biggest issue of all had nothing to do with the standard of this entry and how it was presented though, and everything to do with Kate Miller Heidke’s iconic/insanely memorable Tel Aviv staging. Anything Australia devised directly after that was bound to feel like an anticlimax, so maybe it’s a silver lining that we’ll have had two years between proper ESC performances by May next year. I still reckon there’s the promise of great things with her, and if she’s allowed to fly free with her creativity we’ll have a chance to break out of the safe little box we’ve been accused of enclosing ourselves in since 2015. That might mean that we aren’t a huge success in terms of points and placing, but we will have proved that we’re not a one-trick-pony and that we do dare to be different…once or twice every six or seven years.
In a line A nice slice of almost-alt pop that comes up a bit short against tough competition 2019 VS 2020 It’s got to be Zero Gravity Ranking #18 Score 8 points
There are not one, but two Symphonix creations to review this round, and here’s the first. Bulgaria are no strangers to the songwriting team that has become a formidable force in Eurovision lately. BNT and Symphonix have paired up for Bulgaria’s last three entries, including this one by Victoria – wait, I’m sorry, by VICTORIA (I do not understand everyone’s need to stylise in all caps or all lowercase these days). Though they have all been strong entries worthy of a pat on the metaphorical back, the original (Beautiful Mess) is my favourite, with neither Bones nor (spoiler alert) Tears Getting Sober managing to measure up. Having said that, I’d be clowning around to think Bulgaria wasn’t on track to kick butt in Rotterdam. There are a few song/singer combos in the 2020 line-up that seem to be summoning up the spirit of Billie Eilish, and this is the most blatant. I’m not saying it’s a copycat song, or that Victoria isn’t singing in a way that comes naturally to her – it’s just a happy coincidence that her whole vibe is similar to such an on-trend, internationally-popular artist.
In this case, song + singer = a match made in heaven…not exactly a shocker knowing Victoria co-wrote this track. Technically speaking, it’s pretty much flawless, and to prove that I’ll start with Exhibit A: how dynamic it is. It’s delicate to begin with, feat. tinkly piano and soft vocals from Victoria. Then there’s a slow but sure build before it suddenly blooms into something strong and powerful (that’s the sort of thing Steel Magnolias is referring to, right?). It ticks all the ballad boxes in a bit of an unconventional way, reaching a familiar destination but taking a scenic route. Exhibit B: the instrumentation, which is GORGEOUS (see, I can do all-caps too!). When it swells to back up the last chorus it’s everything Disney (and probably Lizzie McGuire’s) dreams are made of. The melody and the vocal stylings put a stop to any saccharine-sweet or dated feels that might accompany that Disney-ness, thankfully. Exhibit C: the unique lyrics. Lines like ‘Your lies burn like sugar in my wounds, so I’ll have sweet bruises’ deserve a place in a hall of fame that doesn’t exist but really should. I will come clean: I still have no clue what ‘tears getting sober’ actually means. Is she not using alcohol as a Band-Aid anymore so even though she’s still upset she’s not simultaneously drunk? Somebody please explain, and then feast your eyes on Exhibit D (the last…for now): it’s superbly produced. I’d expect nothing less from anything Borislav Milanov had a hand in. Tears is one of his more interesting compositions, not really fitting the mould of his previous ESC entries like the bangers (e.g. If Love Was A Crime and Chameleon) or even his most stellar ballad to date, the aforementioned Beautiful Mess. It’s a refreshing change, however, and proves that when it comes to songwriting, he’s a bit of chameleon himself. Now, after stringing y’all along for a while the time has come for me to burst this Bulgarian love-bubble, because I don’t actually adore this song, per se. I respect it, and recognise that technically it is very good…but there are plenty of other 2020 songs I prefer. Don’t attack me with a (metaphorical) flaming torch, please: if you read the first paragraph you should have seen this coming. I wouldn’t have had a vote to spare for Bulgaria this year (or last year, since they weren’t there) but I have no doubt many, many members of the Eurofam – and a fair few jurors as well – would have. In fact, if Victoria could have created a Salvador sort of moment on stage, what with Tears being an understated, orchestral song not 110% unlike Amar Pelos Dois (if Billie Eilish put her spin on Amar Pelos Dois), then we could have been traveling to Sofia in 2021 for an ESC that didn’t have a ‘J’ in front of it.
And boy, do Bulgaria deserve to win after all the A-game they’ve brought to the contest in a pretty short space of time, having been residents of Struggletown for while prior. Staging would have been key, of course, but it wouldn’t have taken a MENSA member to figure out how to stage this magically – even a live recreation of the music video would have worked (or looked a little too much like Ireland’s staging for Together, one of the two). Would I have bet my bank balance on this FTW though, even if it was a perfect package? Not so much. The comp would have been too open, and Victoria’s pathway to victory was hardly obstacle-free. Another top 10 result for Bulgaria was on the cards, with the top five within easy reach of a tyrannosaurus rex. But just how high they could have gone will forever remain a frustrating AF mystery, so fill in the blanks yourselves.
In a line Lush, stirring and slick balladry from a burgeoning ESC powerhouse 2019 VS 2020 2020, for obvious reasons Ranking #20 Score 8 points
Now we’re diving straight into the second Symphonix song of this round, and the third of this contest-that-wasn’t overall. 2020 marked Germany’s first collaboration with the group, and I like to think Borislav had an especially soft spot for it since he slapped his B-OK moniker on it. Given that Mr. Milanov is Bulgarian, co-wrote the song with Canadians and Swedes, and ended up handing it over to a Slovenian who finished 2nd on The Voice of Germany in 2018, this is definitely an international effort (if the song was a passport it would be well stamped). Ben Dolic could have represented his home country in Stockholm 2016 if his band D Base had won EMA that year, but fate had other plans and for that I am über grateful. I’m not even going to try and hide my obsession with this track – I love it HARD and if you don’t, you probably won’t enjoy reading this review.
Like all of us – and thanks to that B-OK diversity – I didn’t know what to expect when I pressed play on the intriguingly-titled Violent Thing for the first time. What I got was three minutes of pop perfection that embedded itself into my brain like a bullet (horrible imagery, but damn it was fast) and has been living in there rent-free ever since. I think it’s mainly the similarities between this and a lot of Years & Years’ back catalogue (if you don’t know them you should because they’re amazing) that got me. Violent Thing is so stylistically up my street, it’s like it was written based on a detailed brief I personally provided. Needless to say I love everything about it. The verses, pre-chorus and chorus itself are all just as infectious as each other, but the chorus still manages to stand out; the lyrics are an original, tightly-rhymed and cliché-free zone (‘Such a violent thing, would you let me know…knocking me down like a domino’ is solid gold); and there’s such a great energy to it all round. Try and tell me you wouldn’t burn some calories to this on the Euroclub dance floor and I will never believe you. It’s my top party song of this contest for sure, and the perfect showcase for Ben’s vocals, which range from low and a little sexy (if I say so myself) to a sky-high falsetto that a certain fellow Benjamin (Ingrosso) would consider applause-worthy. The (slightly) revamped version of Violent Thing gave him one heck of a vocal challenge: hitting that glass-shattering money note with thirty seconds to go. And the live performance we saw that showed us what Germany would have brought to Rotterdam in May also showed us that he could hit it, no problem. Ben aside, there was a cool concept to that performance, with the disappearing dancers and edgy LED display. I would have liked to see it looking slicker and ramped-up even more had it competed for real – as it was, there was still potential though. Germany, at the very least, was on track to upgrade big time from Sister’s epic fail in Tel Aviv. My blind love for this makes me want to believe the left side of the scoreboard was calling Ben’s name, but even if that wasn’t to be there’s no way this was coming last (or bottom five, for that matter). The only complaint I have about the whole (violent) thing is Ben’s haircut, which will seem terrifyingly familiar if you’ve ever laid eyes on Courteney Cox in Scream 3. I don’t know what’s got into all these guys who think the 90s miniscule fringe should make a comeback, but I hope they can have it exorcised ASAP.
Now I have to bring up the very sad bit of news we got recently: Ben will not be returning for Germany in 2021. Apparently his career’s going in a different direction at the moment, but I can’t help feeling as if Germany should have nailed him down the moment this year’s contest was cancelled, by any means necessary. By dithering, then opening up the selection to new artists to give them a shot at the ESC when Ben didn’t even get a proper one, they’ve missed an opportunity to send a talented young artist with a song tailored to him in the extra time the cancellation gave every participating country. But maybe that’s just me being salty because I’m so bummed we’ll be Ben-less next year. He and Symphonix make an excellent match, so let’s hope the union gets a do-over at some point in the future. I’ll be manifesting my butt off to make it happen, and you’ll join me if you have a heart! Alternatively, I’ll Venmo you some $$$ if that’s what it takes.
In a line An insanely catchy piece of pop that’s parked right up my street and staying put 2019 VS 2020 Do you even have to ask? Ranking #4 Score 12 points
March 2020 (if you can remember back that far) gave us one of the most heartwarming on-screen moments of the entire year, when John Lundvik got to hand the Melodifestivalen trophy over to The Mamas. 12 months previously, they’d celebrated with him as backing singers when he won the show himself (proving it was not, as we all know by now, too late for love) and this year – minus one member – they won it in their own right by a whisker. Seeing John sink down to his knees in a glass case of emotion (manufactured by Eric Saade) was a beautiful thing to behold. So are The Mamas themselves, who you can’t help but love unless you have a soul as black as the smoke Ann Sophie was talking about. The question is, how did they stack up when they stepped out from the shadows and were no longer sharing the spotlight?
You might be aware that I am a long-time Sweden-stan who’s never met a Swedish ESC entry she didn’t think was fantastisk (apart from one operatic one in particular…every rule has an exception) so I can’t say I hate Move. Another reason for that is because I love it. I actually didn’t at first – I thought it was only okay. But we’re talking at the Melfest snippet stage, when I notoriously and unwisely dismiss a good 20 out of the 28 songs before deciding I love them one or two full listens later. Move wasn’t an unpredictable…well, move for The Mamas to make after Too Late For Love: it’s pretty similar gospel-pop with slightly more generic lyrics and less of a 1990s influence. But boy, it works for them, and they can work it just as hard. There’s something so life-affirming about these ladies, and that’s this song in a (hyphenated) word – though you could add ‘uplifting’, ‘inspiring’ and ‘anthemic’ to the list as well. The chorus is the best example of that trifecta, and has been known to give me goosebumps from time to time. Overall the song doesn’t break any new boundaries or do anything unsurprising – it’s very safe, and the last word I’d use to describe it is ‘experimental’. The lyrics in particular are dangerously close to cringe-worthy cliché all the way through, but The Mamas deliver them with such believability I can’t say I care. Besides, not every Eurovision entry – or song in general, for that matter – needs to be outside of the box. Move makes me feel good feelings and somehow form a bond with The Mamas in just three minutes, and that’s all the appeal it needs. As a package, the entry does sparkle with typical Swedish shine (which is usually a bit plasticky, even I’ll admit) but there’s heart to it too. It never felt like it had been rehearsed it to within an inch of its life. I think their warmth and charisma, and that heart in the performance, helped them leapfrog over Dotter by one measly point last Melfest. It was a win I didn’t actually see coming until it happened, but I reckon it was well-deserved. To sum up, Move is the sort of song we needed on numerous occasions last year (a.k.a. musical Prozac) and had a story and grounded-ness to it that we haven’t seen in a Swedish entry for quite some time. It’s not peak Sverige, but it’s above average for sure (aren’t they always? If you’re going to say nej I don’t want to hear it).
I think it had all the elements of an entry that could have succeeded with the juries and with the televoters – probably not topping either ranking in Rotterdam, but finishing around the top five mark with both and giving Sweden another really solid result in an increasingly long string of solid/spectacular results (ICYMI since 2014…3rd, 1st, 5th, 5th, 7th and 5th). It wasn’t a winner – the one Christer Björkman is hoping to nab before he leaves his post as Swedish ESC Overlord – but it would have been a victory for Sweden to collect a substantial score from the public for the first time in a few years. As we all know, The Mamas are back for Melfest 2021 with In The Middle (in the middle of their deltävling…super subtle, SVT). While I’m happy to have them back, I don’t think it’s going to be their year again considering how stacked the show is. Even if Eric Saade was the only big name on board, I’d be worried. So if it’s not meant to be, let’s just enjoy them for what they are: an awesome and talented collective ray of sunshine, and a formidable force of woman power. There’s a reason everybody wants to move like them. I know I do!
In a line Anthemic, feel-good gospel pop that shows off a more relatable side of Sweden 2019 VS 2020 2019 (which is still a vote for The Mamas) Ranking #7 Score 10 points
After far too many months, I can finally say 40 down, 1 to go! Here’s the usual mini-ranking for this round:
- Germany (12)
- Sweden (10)
- Australia (8)
- Bulgaria (8)
This was a heck of a high-scoring group for me, with Germany’s douze being essential FTW. Where does Ben Dolic fit in to your ranking of these four tracks? If he’s not your favourite, who is? It’s time to take your pick.
Don’t worry, if you didn’t vote for Germany I won’t be mad. It’s not your fault that you’re tasteless.
NEXT TIME Last but in no way least, it’s time to review the Netherlands. Was it love at first listen, did it Grow on me over the last almost-year (!!!) or is Jeangu’s entry just not my jam? Stay tuned to find out, and have your own opinions at the ready.