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.
AUSTRALIA: “Not the Same” by Sheldon Riley
Born in Sydney but growing up on the Gold Coast in Australia’s sunny north – technically Australia is all mostly sunny but “sunny north” sounds lovely and so it shall be for this bio – Sheldon Riley, the musical nom de plume of one Sheldon Hernandez, first made a name for himself via reality TV.
First in the eighth season of The X Factor Australia in 2016, where he mentored by both Adam Lambert (solo artist) and Iggy Azalea (boy band) before being eliminated, and then 2018 in The Voice Australia where he finished in third place, Riley released his first single “Fire” the same year.
But reality TV was not done with him yet or rather he wasn’t done with it yet, with time spent on The Voice in 2019 as an all-star contestant, and in 2020 in America’s Got Talent where he made it as far as the semi-final under the coaching of Australian singer Delta Goodrem.
Clearly Riley had some talent in hand and loves music, something his Eurovision bio picks up on when it says:
“The Sydneysider considers performing, singing, writing and playing piano as intrinsic to who he is; regarding music as the purest way of expressing his emotions and allowing himself to heal.”
That’s the purest form of devotion there is and it’s expressed beautifully in his song “Not the Same” which won the Australian selection contest Eurovision – Australia Decides on 15 February this year.
As you might expect from an artist who has publicly declared the salvational role music has played in his life, Riley, who penned the lyrics to “Not the Same” and co-wrote the music with Cam Nacson, has poured his heart and soul into his entry.
It has the torch song power of “Rise Like a Phoenix” by the winner of the 2014 contest Austria’s Conchita Wurst and the raw emotional intimacy of Australia’s Kate Miller-Heidke “Gravity” (2019), “Not the Same” is one of those songs you don’t simply listen to, you experience.
It’s hard not to with the song heavily autobiographical and hence deeply emotional for the artist.
“It is the story I never thought I’d ever feel I’d be able to tell. Written from the memories of a child who at age 6 was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. Growing up in public housing, moving from home to home, unaware of my sexuality, among a deeply religious family. A path already laid that I would never be able to properly understand or interact with other people.”
Possessed of vocals that are more than up to the task and a balladic build-up that is anything but run of the mill, “Not the Same” has every chance to be a showstopper, easily catapulting Australia into the grand final, and a likely healthy top ten placing.
AZERBAIJAN: “Fade to Black” by Nadir Rustamli
They love him, they really love him!
While he never uttered a Sally Field-esque “And I can’t deny the fact that you like me. Right now, you like me!” – she never actually said “You like me! You really like me!” but for the purposes of our bio opening for Azerbaijan’s entrant, let’s pretend she did – there’s a fair bet that the former piano student at the Gulu Asgarov Music School in his hometown of Salyan shares many of the same sentiments.
Capturing a more than healthy 40% of the audience vote to win The Voice of Azerbaijan (he was coached by 2011 Eurovision alum Eldar Gasimov), which saw him get the nod but three weeks as the country’s representative at Eurovision 2022, Rustlamli has been a student of music throughout school and university, even joining a band where he was not only the lead singer but also the artistic director.
That’s some impressive multitasking going on there, and it should stand him in good stead upon the stage in Turin where vocal prowess and showmanship go neatly, and hopefully successfully hand-in-hand.
While he didn’t play a hand in writing the track, “Fade to Black” feels like the sort of song that is very personal to Rustlamli.
A song about romance going bad, with all the emotional devastation that entails, the track benefits greatly from the artist’s vocal intensity, which involves not simply nailing all the notes with aplomb, but investing every single word with all the emotion you’d expect from someone singing about romantic grief and loss.
“Fade to Black”, which lyrically speaks of a finality that no one wants to contemplate when they first embark on the grand adventure of love, is a beautiful piece of music that unfortunately is hobbled somewhat by sounding like a thousand other songs.
That’s not a bad thing necessarily unless you want to stand out, and usually at Eurovision, that’s precisely what you want to do, and while Rustamli will likely acquit himself beautifully with a knockout performance likely in the offing, there’s no guarantee it will do more than get the country into the grand final which is where is usually finds a home such is its Eurovisionic consistency.
BELGIUM: “Miss You” by Jérémie Makiese
A winner of The Voice Belgique, Jérémie Makiese speaks both French and Dutch, plays football in addition to, rather handily for his upcoming presence at Eurovision, singing – he started off singing in a church choir before studying further at school – and comes from a family steeped in the love of music.
All of clearly stood him in good stead with Makiese getting not one but all four judges to turn their chairs around for him, a piece of flamboyant The Voice theatricality that nevertheless, doesn’t make for impressive TV, that stamped this young man, whose recently signed to play football for Excelsior Virton FC, as someone to watch.
If that’s not enough, and clearly it is not, he also harbours am abiding interest in geology with his Eurovision bio going so far as to say he’s excited to go to Turin not simply to sing up a storm, but because “the city is widely regarded as a fascinating place to investigate from a petrographic and mineralogical point of view!”
With geology taking a back seat at the moment so the artist can focus on footballing and singing (or both at once; now that would make for a show), everything’s in place for him to make a real show of it at Eurovision.
While we can only hope he will combine his twin passions of football with singing in his Eurovision performance, there is no doubt that “Miss You” will make quite an impression at Eurovision this year.
On first blush, the song feels like just another slow burner musing on the lingering toxic aftereffects of the end of love, which it does with some lyrical intensity – “You stay like a nightmare / When I close my eyes” – until it begins building, both musically and vocally as Makiese demonstrates why it is all those chairs turned so fast.
Quite simply he has one of those voices that stops you in your tracks, capable of pinpoint accuracy note-wise but redolent with the kind of emotion you need in any performance if it’s going to do more than glance off your listening ear, never to be seen again.
The song itself is pleasant and serviceable but the real power of Belgium’s entry this year is Makiese’s voice which, if it holds up live, will hit all the right goals (see what I did there? There’s more where that came from).
CYPRUS: “Ela” by Andromache
Andromache Dimitropoulou, who usually goes by the professional mononym of Andromache or Andromachi, is an artist who moves seamlessly between Germany and Greece, the two countries of her heritage and upbringing.
For the welcome national duality of her life, look no further than her studies which saw undertaking German philology (according to Wikipedia, “the philological study of the Germanic languages”) in Athens, where Andromache also beginning singing at various spots in the Greek capital’s music scene.
That last bit is the product of growing up in a family that were, and here we can thank her Eurovision bio for its enthusiastic affirmation of her musical heritage, “passionate performers when it came to singing and dancing”, a background that saw her enter the second season of The Voice of Greece in 2015.
While the aspiring singer may not have made past the second live show, it sparked a further love of performing that led to the release of her debut single, “To feggari” (“The Moon”), which has been followed by a succession of sings including the breakout success of “Na Soun Psema” “Let Them Lie”, and of course, “Ela” which Andromache will perform in Turin
After the heartbreak of Azerbaijan and Belgium’s entries, we are taken back in romantic time by Cyprus’s Andromache who is wrapped up rather headily in the first throes of effervescent attraction.
Ringing through my head
When you lay eyes on me
The rush is from above
It feels so heavenly
Come and charge me up like electricity.”
She’s got it bad, and set against a traditional mix of Greek folk and pop with some pulsating synth drumming surging throughout, “Ela” (“Come”) is an alluring piece of mid-tempo pop.
Lovely though it is, and it’s catchy in an unobtrusive way, “Ela” isn’t going to set the world, or at least Europe as alight as the artist and Cyprus might want, due simply to its lack of utter distinctiveness.
Delightfully buoyant but with music that never really captures the elevating thrill of first love, it may make for a memorable semi-final performance but will likely struggle to translate into the no doubt hoped-for grand final appearance.
CZECH REPUBLIC: “Lights Off” by We Are Domi
Straddling two countries, Czech-Norwegian electropop band, comprising Czech lead vocalist Dominika Hašková (daughter of one of the greatest ice hockey goaltenders of all time so basically sporting royalty) and Norwegians guitarist Casper Hatlestad and keyboardist Benjamin Rekstad, found its genesis in 2018 in the UK city of Leeds wherein lies (and who doesn’t want to use those two words together) the Leeds College of Music.
What was supposed to be mere one-time project flash in the creative pan became something much longer lasting with everyone picking up sticks at the end of their studies and relocating to Prague where the band continued to hone their emerging craft.
The proud owners of six singles, all of which sport group’s the indie-laced electro-pop sound, We Are Domi believe in lots of on-stage energy which should do rather nicely with on the club stages and festivals they hope to frequent going forward, and Eurovision, where audiences traditionally love a band with passion and presence.
But do We Are Domi have the necessary presence to make their mark in Turin (not an actual mark obviously as they’ll never get their bond back)?
“Lights Off” benefits tremendously from two key things – an arrestingly good song, which is a perfect marriage of lyrical incisiveness and a headily vivacious melody which builds and builds to glorious effect, and Hašková’s transcendentally vocals which suit the material to a tee.
While not a knock out original song in some ways with the world’s top 40’s littered with similar-sounding songs, “Lights Off” manages to rise above the pack, its infectiously danceable vibe the kind that will get it noticed in Turin and which should see the Czech Republic leap handily into a grand final placing.
It should also make for a dazzling live performance which, no matter how good the song, is where many Eurovision acts live and die; count on We Are Domi to not only live but thrive with a catchy piece of luminously uplifting pop which will attract notice for all the right reasons.
ESTONIA: “Hope” by Stefan
Monomyms win again!
Stefan Airapetjan, known to his fans simply as Stefan, is an Estonian singer-songwriter who is the son of Armenia immigrant restaureteurs who has been singing his heart out since he was a child thanks to a vocal coach who has steered the aspiring artists to wins in a number of music contests including Laulukarussell, a child-centric competition where Stefan reached the final.
But that is not the end of the singer’s contest entering; the man dubbed Estonia’s Sexiest Man of the Year by the popular magazine Kroonika has also entered Eesti Laul, the contest which decides the country’s Eurovision entrant, four times, once as part of the duo VAJÉ and three times as a soloist, with the fourth time being the charm (it’s always good to see someone who subverts truisms and cliches).
While he spent much of 2020 in disguised as a giant ram (but of course he did) on Maskis Laulja, the Estonian version of Masked Singer, he’s ready to come to Eurovision with that beautiful face of his with a song that is hopefully up to the task.
Possibly if Europe has a previously undisclosed love of brooding country-influenced epic pop songs.
“Hope” is all Wild West atmosphere and driving guitar-pop, a song that builds and builds in presence, anchored by a powerfully insistent melody and Stefan’s impressively emotive vocals.
It may be a country-infused piece of music but it has a bigger than Ben Hur vibe going on, spurred by music that refuses to go small, and should make for a brilliant live performance.
In the end, it’ll likely come down less to how well received the song is received, though clearly that matters in an, ahem, song contest, but how Stefan performs on the night and whether his smouldering good looks do the job when he’s live on stage doing his handsome cowboy thing.
EUROVISION 2022 EXTRA EXTRA!
The Host City for the 20th Junior Eurovision has been announced and the winner is … Yerevan, Armenia! To be staged in the Karen Demirchyan Sports and Concerts Complex, the event will take place on Sunday 11 December.
For more, watch the video and go to “Yerevan announced as Host City for the 20th Junior Eurovision 🇦🇲” …