What is the Eurovision Song Contest?
Started way back in 1956 as a way of drawing a fractured Europe back together with the healing power of music, the Eurovision Song Contest, or Concours Eurovision de la Chanson – the contest is telecast in both English and French – is open to all active members of the European Broadcasting Union, which oversees the competition.
Each country is permitted to submit one three-minute song to the contest – a song which is selected by a variety of means, usually a winner-takes-all competition such as Sweden’s renowned Melodifestivalen – which they perform in one of two semi-finals in the hopes of making it to the glittering grand final.
Only six countries have direct entry into the grand final:
- The Big Four who fund most of the contest – UK, Germany, France and Spain
- The host country (which is the winner of the previous year’s contest)
- Italy, who didn’t take part for many years and was re-admitted in 2011 after a 14 year absence (it was one of seven countries that competed in the first event), making the Big Four the Big Five.
The winner is chosen by a 50/50 mix of viewer votes (you cannot vote for your own country) and a jury of music industry professionals in each country, a method which was chosen to counter the alleged skewing of votes based on political and/or cultural lines when voting was purely the preserve of viewers at home.
Past winners include, of course, ABBA in 1974 with “Waterloo” and Celine Dion who won for Switzerland in 1988 with “Ne partez pas sans moi”.Above all though, the Eurovision Song Contest is bright, over the top and deliciously camp, a celebration of music, inclusiveness and togetherness that draws annual viewing figures in the hundreds of millions.
SAN MARINO: “Adrenalina” by Senhit
The world is all the richer for people who bring a mix of perspectives to the table and you can add San Marino’s representative Senhit to the list of extraordinary people making beautifully new, diverse things.
Born to Eritrean parents in Bologna, Italy, the artist, who cites ABBA’s :Voluez-Vous” as the song tyhat will absolutely get on the dancefloor and who adores brie (the cheese, though the woman is also, no doubt, delightful too) “combines her African roots with Italian style and European electro-pop attitude” to create some truly original music.
Beginning her career appearing in musicals across Europe such as The Lion King, Fame and Hair, Senhit has played massive stadiums and smaller clubs, charting in English and Italian.
She has also, and this could prove very handy when it comes to making a splash at this year’s contest, appeared at Eurovision before (2011), and although she failed to qualify with her song “Stand By” and lost her chance to perform in 2020 with the COVID-triggered cancellation of last year’s contest, experience counts for everything and her third go on the Eurovision merry-go-round will undoubtedly prove to be a wholly different experience.
“Adrenalina” is a perfect example of how having another shot at performing at Eurovision, and thus having to submit a brand new song as per contest rules, can really benefit an artist and the country they represent.
While “Freaky!” was actually a pretty, very danceable song, its successor is a whole other step up, possessed of a beat-heavy melody that takes no prisoners and move forward relentlessly and gloriously, a pounding, building sense of excitement, and a chorus that, combined with some tasty Middle eastern accents, blasts everything out of the water.
As Eurovision dancefloor bangers go, “Adrenalina” is a fantastically full-on slice of culturally hybrid pop and you can bet the 3500 COVID-approved audience members in the stadium and those watching from home, will have a buoyantly fun time of it.
The clip is all colour and exuberant vibrancy and you can expect it to pack a memorably visual punch on the night it’s performed, with Senhit looking like just the artist to put San Marino into more than viable contention for the grand final.
SERBIA: “Loco Loco” by Hurricane
If you’re going to form a band, then the Caribbean is the place to do it!
Hurricane, comprising Sanja Vučić, Ivana Nikolić and Ksenija Knežević, chose the island of Saint Martin to join themselves together in holy musical matrimony, a union of artists who respectively have studied philology (the study of language in oral and written historical sources), economics and media and communications.
There’s some impressive talent on show, musically and academically, and it’s meant that Hurricane have done very nicely indeed in their time on the musical stage, according to their Eurovision bio.
“Over the past 3 years, the group has garnered international attention with songs that have been broadcasted by more than 100 radio stations around the world.The trio has released 7 songs in English, and in 2019, they released their first single in the Serbian language titled Favorito. The song was very successful in the Serbian music scene, confirmed by the 30 million views on their official YouTube channel. Hurricane is currently in Los Angeles, working on 2 songs for the US market and an album for the Serbian market which is expected to be released in 2020.”
With some impressive Eurovision experience to their credit – “Sanja represented Serbia at the Eurovision Song Contest in 2016 with her song Goodbye (Shelter), earning a respectable 115 points at the Grand Final in Stockholm” while “Ksenija is a singer of Montenegrin origin who provided backing vocals for her father Knez on his 2015 Eurovision entry Adio – this became the most successful entry for Montenegro so far” – this might be Hurricane’s year to really make an impression.
As another artist back for another bite of the Eurovision cherry, Hurricane are most definitely not suffering from a sophomore slump.
“LOCO LOCO” is a vivaciously danceable burst of pop fun that gets up from the feet, gets its feet into a constant swirl of motion and doesn’t stop for three deliciously, danceably gorgeous minutes.
All drums and swirling beats and harmonised backing vocals, “LOCO LOCO” is that perfect coming together of verse, bridge and chorus, with not a hint “don’t bore us, get to the chorus” to be seen.
It’s a force of gloriously melodic nature that will have everyone up and dancing and if the clip’s anything to go by, their stage performance will more than deliver them a grand final spot.
SLOVENIA: “Amen” by Ana Soklič
We are assured that Ana Soklič started her singing career “early”.
Quite how early isn’t clear but given Eurovision’s embrace of performers who appeared to start singing and dancing lessons mere hours after exiting the womb, and likely before so dedicated are they to their craft, we can assume she was a young girl when the whirligig of creative pursuits kicked off in earnest.
How earnest you might ask? This excerpt from the bio for Slovenia’s entry should make it clear the artist was leaving nothing to chance.
“… she studied with Alenka Dernač Bunta, a solo opera teacher, the acclaimed Slovenian musician Darja Švajger (two-time Slovenian representative at the Eurovision Song Contest) and singing coach Nataša Nahtigal. In 2018, Ana undertook further vocal training with Dileesa Archer (a professional in soul, gospel, R&B) in the United States.”
Throw in songwriting, performances around the world at events like the Veneto Jazz Festival in Venice (2014) and collaborations with RTV Slovenia Symphony Orchestra and other smaller ensembles and it’s clear that Soklič has some serious cred when it comes to jazz, soul and blues.
Good lord but Ana Soklič knows how to rip your heart out, and put it back in again, in the most beautiful way possible.
“Amen” may have just a tinge of “Eurovision Inspirational” to it but that doesn’t hold it back really, thanks to Soklič’s emotively rich and brilliantly powerful vocal delivery.
Every moment of lyrical and musical build up in the song hits the mark perfectly, and when that chorus kicks in in the final third of the song, the only way you won’t react with some sort of swelling of the heart (remember, it’s back in your chest) is if you’re covered in concrete and incapable of reacting to anything.
While Soklič’s solo performance in the clip doesn’t really get us a fully comprehensive idea of what her Eurovision performance will be like, you get the feeling she’s more than capable of pulling off one of those torch song moments than can actually win the contest.
SWEDEN: “Voices” by Tusse
Sweden opted to go for an all-new artist this year, and while you may be mourning the departure of The Mamas who gave us a heady blast of old-time soul, the truth is that their successor is a more than worthy replacement.
Tusse, who came to Sweden alone as a refugee at the age of 13 from Congo-Kinshasa, is a household name in his adopted country thanks to his breakthrough moment on Sweden’s Got Talent, where he reached the semi-finals which he followed up on by winning Swedish idol in 2019.
So, yes, he has the presence, the talent and the ability to wow an audience and make them eat right out of his performative hand.
A man who loves truffle dip with his fries and who owns “amazing dogs … beautiful horses … and some ugly cats” (hopefully they get the therapy they need after this goes public), Tusse has a swag of hits to his name including “My Soul Is Calling You” (a tribute to his mother), the ballad “A Better You”, and a rendition of Whitney Houston’s “How Will I Know.”
He is also a grounded kind of guy which this excerpt from his Eurovision bio makes charmingly clear:
“Always the pragmatist, when asked by Måns Zelmerlöw after winning Melodifestivalen: ‘Are you excited for Eurovision now?’ Tusse replied: ‘No, on Monday I have to hand in an essay in Nature science. Which I’m very excited for.’ That’s dedication!”
So, should you be excited about Tusse’s entry, “Voices”, which garnered him 175 points at Melodifestivalen, the official Swedish artist selection process?
Yes … and no.
Vocally, Tusse nails it, and his stage presence is impressive, indicating he more than has what it takes to really make an impact at Eurovision; the song itself though is been-there-done-that, a connect the dots Eurovision-ready song that makes all the right noises, vocally and musically but fails to really make a lasting impact.
While it will no doubt be wildly popular because it does deliver the inspirationally uplifting boost audiences typically lap up at Eurovision, and will no doubt get Sweden into the grand final, I wouldn’t be expecting a Swedish win when there are other far more authentic and memorable ballads in the mix.
SWITZERLAND: “Tout l’Univers” by Gjon’s Tears
You may not think it’s a good thing to reduce your grandfather to tears when you’re nine, but if you’re Gjon Muharremaj, born to Kosovan Alabanians in Switzerland, it’s a magnificently good thing, a moment that inspired his artist name, Gjon’s Tears.
The tears flowed as now 21-year-old Gjon sang Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love”, a seminal moment that impelled the visibly moved grandparent to register his grandson for Albania’s Got Talent where he came third in 2011 at the tender age of twelve.
Musical talent shows became quite the thing for Gjon as his Eurovision.tv bio explains.
“A year later, he reached the semi-finals in the Swiss equivalent and again in the French talent show The Voice France in 2019.”
A cinephile and lover of theatre, museum and galleries, Gjon clearly has a love for theatricality which should stand him in good stead at Eurovision; his first love, however, will always be music, with the artist admiring “the magic of Cesária Évora, the eccentricity of Grace Jones and the musical intelligence of David Bowie”.
That’s some diverse influences on display there, but does it translate into a compulsively listenable song that Gjon had a hand in writing?
Yes,, and then some.
If you think the grippingly moving beauty of “Répondez-moi” (Gjon’s Tears’ 2020 effort) couldn’t be topped, then ladies and gentlemen of the Eurovision jury, I present to you “Tout l’Uinvers”, a song that proves this artist can pour all the emotions of the world into one song, with the soul of a poetic, the voice of an angel and all the emotionality a song like this deserves.
Encouraging someone to seize the whole universe, there is an authentic emotionality to “Tout l’Uinvers” that screams real humanity and heart and which puts more awkwardly created efforts such as Sweden (see above) into their beautiful but emotionally barren place.
There is a beauty in ALL CAPS, a song of aching truth and hope married with a melody that feels like all the pain, exploding hearts and nascent hope in the entire universe has found a home, a home that could very well win Switzerland the event such is its emotional impact, truthfulness and impact.
UKRAINE: “Shum” by Go_A
If there’s one thing that Eurovision excels at in the best possible way, it is delivering up truly distinctive artistic voices that dazzle and impress simply because they have an unmissable spark of originality that is evident in everything from the song they sing to they imaginative way they perform it.
Ukraine’s Go_A (Kateryna Pavlenko, Ihor Didenchuk, Taras Shevchenko and Ivan Hryhoriak) fits that mold to a tee, packaging up Ukrainian folklore in hypnotically mesmerising electronica that sounds like nothing you have ever heard before mixed in with some very contemporary and highly repeat-listenable pop.
Founded in 2011 by Shevchenko, the band began making music in earnest in 2012, choosing their name, not from the city in India, which admittedly would have been the perfect quirky, left-of-centre choice, but from a combination of the English word “Go” with the Greek letter “Alpha”.
The band shot to prominence three years in 2015 with “Vesnianka” (Веснянка) not only holding the #1 position on radio station’s Kiss FM’s dance charts for six weeks but being given the heady prize of The Best Track in Ukraine 2015.
That’s impressive stuff but can the band who crave borscht as a fantasy ice cream flavour, go one better in Rotterdam this year?
As gloriously good and quirkily offbeat as last year’s song, “Solovey”, which packed quite the alternative dark electornbica punch, “SHUM” is one of those things that deserves to do well at Eurovision simply because it is so brilliantly original.
But more than that, the song, all pan pipes, surging beats, and arresting vocals, is a dance feast, a song that builds and builds and BUILDS, with an occasional perfectly-judged pause, before heading into a frenzy of head swirling movement in its final third.
While the original version of the song had a tad more edge, the officially submitted mix of the song delivers with a sense of vibrantly upbeat gothic theatre, a subversively edgy beauty that more than matches the more and a spirited sense of occasion that means it will make quite the impression at Eurovision, a contest that has always loved its modern beats mixed with more traditional sounds.
Visually Go_A have the goods too so it’s hard to see all their visual artistry and a distinctive, elevating musicality that gets the pulse racing in all the right ways, cannot combine to grand final entering and top 10 placing effect.
Look for this to be one of the standouts of this year’s contest.
EUROVISION 2021 EXTRA EXTRA!
It’s just a stage they’re going to! Have a look at how the Eurovision stage courtesy of Krista Siegfriends who represented Finland at Eurovision in 2013 with “Marry Me” …
And do you want to know more about Go_A came up with their fantastically catchy song “Shum”? Wait no more …