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 their selected entrant performs 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. *
* this year it’s the Big Five with Italy also the host thanks to last year’s win in Rotterdam.
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.
ALBANIA: “Sekret” by Ronela Hajati
All the world’s a stage, mused Shakespeare, or more specifically Jaques in As You Like It, something to which Albania’s entrant for 2022, Ronela Hajati has firmly subscribed for some time now.
Going the Madonna route and known by the mononym Ronela, the singer, songwriter and dancer has graced more than a few stages in her time, with her official Eurovision bio observing that “she’s appeared in a dizzying array of festivals, contests and TV talent shows over the past decade, including Kënga Magjike, Poleposition, Star Academy Albania, Kerkohet Një Yll and Ethet e Së Premtes Mbrëma. She’s even competed in Dancing With The Stars Albania.”
As if that isn’t enough, the performer who kicked off her career as a child in Tirana studying ballet and piano, recently took to one important stage in particular, winning the 60th Festivali i Këngës from which Albania selects its Eurovision entry each year.
Adept across an impressive raft of genres including R&B and reggae, Ronela credits Michael Jackson as one of her biggest musical influences, is at her happiest in the studio, whether it’s recording her own suite of successful singles such as “Male Gata” and “Pa dashni”, or helping others record theirs, and is ready to make her mark on Eurovision 2022’s stage in Turin …
Declaring that “I want to be a singer for the people … I don’t want to be a superstar” to Wiwibloggs’ William Lee Adams, Ronela has poured her heart and soul into “Sekret” which was composed by the singer herself, with production duties sitting with Albanian producer Marko Polo.
A heady mix of traditional Albanian folk music and modern pop sensibilities, “Sekret” takes a deep dive into the affairs of the (broken) heart, a tale as old as time which allows Ronela to wear her artistic heart very much on her sleeve.
Sporting what’s described as an “ethno-pop” vibe, the song’s clip draws inspiration appropriately from the Albanian mythological snake of Bistrice; adding the modern to the ancient is a song revamp courtesy of London outfit Diztortion which gives its more traditional folk elements an infectiously listenable modern pop sheen, anchored by Ronela’s richly resonant, strong vocals which will no doubt make an impression come Turin.
Recalling the heyday of ethno-pop back in the Noughties with notable acts such as Ukraine’s Ruslana with “Wild Horses”, “Sekret” is definitely repeat listenable with a better than even chance of making the grand final, especially if bolstered by a memorable stage presentation which surely Ronela has sewn up already.
ARMENIA: “Snap” by Rosa Linn
Hailing from the town of Vanadzor where she was born and raised, Rosa Linn is a grounded artist who doesn’t necessarily believe in fairytales, choosing to put her faith in something far more pragmatic.
“From the outside looking in, the odds seemed like they were against me – an unknown girl from a small town in Armenia. But the power of manifestation is real when it is combined with hard work; persistence; and just putting oneself out there.”
So no Grimms, more Tony Robbins for the singer who was internally selected by EU member broadcaster AMMPTV who picked the 21-year-old singer-songwriter and producer who while she might hail from a small town in country Armenia has some impressive international connections with Eurovision World noting that “Rosa is part of the US-based record label Nvak Collective [with a] style … characterized [sic] as a mix of 80s and 90s alternative indie pop.”
Small town sensibilities mixed with an international outlook should surely give Rosa Linn just the right type of expansive outlook to do Eurovision justice, especially when it comes with a song as good as the one she has in hand.
That retro style is very much on display in the immensely catchy “Snap” which channels a loping country vibe in a song that the artist describes thus:
“I think we’ve all been at a snapping point, where it felt like there’s no way out and that the entire world is just crumbling down around you … You start questioning everything, including yourself. I have been there. And what I realized was that I had the strength to shape my reality – it just took getting out of my own way and finding inner-peace. It’s all about self-love and accepting that you are enough. Writing ‘Snap’ was a form of therapy for me and I hope that it can be that for others who are also going through hard times.” (Broadway World)
With hard times definitely upon us in all kinds of forms, “Snap” is definitely a timely song, an infectiously upbeat track that can’t help but get you tapping your feet and eventually get you up and dancing, and if we ever needed to dance, it’s now.
While not one of those standout songs that traditionally win Eurovision, “Snap” has emotion, presence and a lyrical timeliness that should see it connect with the audience and push Armenia into the grand final with a real chance of a top 10 finish.
After all, who doesn’t want to feel good and triumphant over dark times, especially at an event dedicated to just such an outcome?
Collaboration is the order of the day for Austria with the country bringing together “one of the hottest names in the global electronic music scene” (eurovision.tv) in LUM!X – how hot is he? He eschews the common mortal “I” for the far more declarative exclamation mark – with singer-performer Pia Maria who hails from the world of theatre and who has a powerful voice to match!
Known to his no doubt very proud parents as Luca Michlmayr, LUM!X is an Austrian DJ and producer who gained everyone’s singular attention with the song “Monster” which it goes without saying was a Godzilla-sized hit (thankfully without the attendant building crushing and population maiming) notching up over 200 million streams on Spotify.
Kicking things off nice and early as many Eurovision performers seem wont to do, Luca was discovered as a youngster (let’s be honest – he still is), so says Wikipedia, after “uploading bootlegs and original songs to SoundCloud and YouTube … [where] the Swedish independent label and network Bounce United found him and signed him.”
Mission accomplished and it’s only been up and up since then, leading of course to working with Pia Maria who devoted three years to training for beauty and special effect make-up for the stage, which comes in handy when, as her Eurovision bio says, you have “bags of musical theatre experience”.
That’s presumably a lot, which means Pia Maria and LUM!X should be a dream combo capable of taking Austria to some lofty spaces, right?
Quite possibly, on paper at least.
Thing is while “Halo” is a supremely catchy of dance-pop candy with a driving beat, Maria’s evocatively intense vocals which match LUM!X’s driving music to a tee, it’s more than a little generic.
Now this has, of course, not stopped songs of its ilk ascending the pop charts, or doing well at pan-European song contests (you know which one), in the past and while there’s no doubt that “Halo” will get the Torino audience up and dancing, not to mention more than few living room viewers, and is a brillliantly good piece of pop, it’s difficult to see if cutting through in a really memorable way.
It’s perfect of-the-moment pop but like many dancefloor bangers which live and die in a three-minute burst of melody addiction and euphoric bliss, it may well be forgotten by voting time.
Or everyone could keep dancing, and vote accoridngly, because good lord for all its everysong-ness, it’s as infectious as ever-loving hell …
BULGARIA: “Intention” by Intelligent Music Project
If you’re looking for the musical equivalent of a revolving door, then go no further than Intelligent Music Project.
That’s not necessarily because it’s a terrible setting in which to collaborate but simply because the band was founded by Milen Vrabevski, a businessmen who decided to bring together, in Eurovision’s words, “a supergroup of musicians with vast experience of performing on stage, either together or with other bands.”
Hence, door meet revolving – you’re welcome.
Currently fronted by Chilean rock vocalist Ronnie Romero, the band, which has collaborations with the likes of TOTO, Black Sabbath, Stevie Wonder and Phil Collins under their belt, released their debut album, The Power of Mind in 2012, making their presence at Eurovision a lovely anniversary present.
One person who’ll know his way around the whys and wherefores of the contest is the band’s drummer Stoyan Yankulov-Stundzhi who represented Bulgaria at Eurovision in 2007 and 2013 as part of the duo Elitsa Todorova & Stoyan Yankulov and Elitsa & Stoyan respectively (a lot can happen in six years including the shortening of a duo’s name).
He qualified in 2007 but not in 2013 for the grand-final – which part of history will repeat come May in Turin?
It depends frankly whether nostalgia trumps current rock tastes honestly.
Sporting a rock song that reflects what is best called the Måneskin Effect – named after last year’s winners who have brought the contest to Italy and whose rock is definitely of a more contemporary variety; now, naturally, everyone wants a rock song to represent them (imitators do love success) – Intelligent Music Project have mined the depths of ’80s rock history to give us “Intention”.
The title very much reflects the outward intent of the song – to craft a track that rocks and hit all kinds of head-banging inclinations; having said that, for all its written-by-nostalgic-committee sound, the song is actually ridiculously catchy.
Sporting a clip that partly pays tribute to all kinds of Spielbergian adventure movies, “Intention” is an absolute hoot in absolute defiance (fitting perhaps?) of its generic creation, and while it’s easy to dismiss its generic ticking off the old FM rock radio boxes, it could actually do well for Bulgaria.
Cue crescendoing guitar solo now!
CROATIA: “Guilty Pleasure” by Mia Dimšić
Mia Dimšić has packed a considerable amount into her 29 years.
Described in her Eurovision bio as a globetrotter – who’s no doubt found the pandemic has no done no favour to the collection of stamps in her passport – Dimšić is a singer-songwriter who kicked her music career off in 2014 as part of tamburitza (named after a type of lute) band Džentlmeni.
After endearing herself to Croatian diaspora in the USA and Canada, the artist went solo in 2016 with lead single “Život nije siv” followed by debut album of the same name in 2017, following up with a Christmas album the same year.
You may think that someone of Dimšić’s comparative youth would still be all about the doing and not the reflecting but you would be wrong with the artist releasing her memoir (already, already!) Cesta Do Sna (The Road to a Dream).
But has she autobiographically peaked too early – could 2022 all but require a chapter about her conquering Eurovision with a song bound to last the ages?
Not so fast; time to put down that pen Mia.
While “Guilty Pleasure” is a perfectly lovely song about a woman all but telling her lover he will always be the delectable second fiddle to the main man of her life – lest you think her a complete cad, the song is laced with all kinds of melancholic regret and lamentations about real life triumphing over romantic dreaming – it’s also a little dull.
Which is odd given the subject material but alas, for all her regret and sadness about being unable to be in two Cupidian places at once – damn you time and your capricious one-shot limitations! – she sings the song, again delightful as it is, like she’s at a picnic of supportively cute and furry animals auditioning for the soundtrack of a Disney film.
So gritty lyrics meets whimsically charming music, and while she sings it beautifully, it lacks musical presence and emotional oomph and likely won’t trouble the grand final much at all.
DENMARK: “The Show” by REDDI
A band whose members call two countries home – say hello Denmark (that’s handy!) and Sweden – is made up of four rocking women, Danes Mathilde “Siggy” Savery (vocals, guitar) and Ihan Haydar (drums) and Swedes Agnes Roslund (guitar) and Ida Bengkvist (bass), all of whom bring intense artistry to their music as their Eurovision bio glowingly reports.
“The band’s passion for all kinds of music permeates their sound, where rock and punk mix playfully with classic strings and colourful pop.”
Happy to rock, they also want to make a statement in the age of #MeToo and long-overdue female empowerment about what women are able to do generally but particularly in the sphere of music:
“With our song, we want to tell the world that you should not let the outside world stop you from doing what you dream of. We want to show the world that women can do everything on their own. We all wondered why there were so few female bands in Denmark, so now we show that it can easily be done.” (Eurovision.tv)
With music and message firmly in place and a member who was part of Denmark’s entrant in 2012 – Haydar was part of the backing group for Soluma Samay – it seems like there’s nothing REDDI cannot do.
Except perhaps win Eurovision 2022, alas.
The Måneskin Effect is well and truly presented and accounted for – rock songs forever! – but this time around there’s far more nostalgic meh and nowhere near as much lasting appeal.
True, “The Show” has enormous amounts of energy and heart, and the enthusiasm of the band performing is a joy to behold which should make for a brilliant semi-final one performance, but there’s hardly anything remarkable about it.
It will sparkle briefly and impressively on the night and could even get Denmark into the grand final on a tide of temporary audience euphoria, but if you wanted to see if rock lightning can strike two years in a row, perhaps a more contemporary might’ve done the trick?
Chalk this one up to a drivingly catchy song not of this age performed by artists who truly love what they do that falls short, despite the best efforts of all concerned …
Let’s go to Turin / Torino!
With a pandemic still raging, and travel not always possible, it’s great that others (and their drones) have gone before us so we can tour the host city of this year’s Eurovision Song Contest … and in a few minutes no less …
And should you only have one way to see the city, where should you go? That’s covered too!