Tuesday 16 March 2021

Belarus 2021 - Shuma - Dreva

With the Belarussian regime clearly using this year's Eurovision Song Contest to try and prove a political point and sending both a song and an act that were never going to meet the favour of the rest of the continent, it's still unclear whether they are going to be appearing at this year's competition in any form. So a group of musicians from the country have created a Eurovision entry in exile for their troubled country, and it's a bit stunning.

You may remember Shuma from their beautifully dark piece of folk electronica called Hmarki from the 2018 Belarussian final. Now in exile in Ukraine they've put together a sparse and chilling hymn to the current state of their nation, based around an old folk song where a woman asks the gods to ward off trouble from the neighbouring land. The video that accompanies it is both bleak and beautiful, and includes a stark message to those outside of Belarus at the end. As it's increasingly looking like there will be no official entry from the country this year, maybe we should all consider this to be actual, albeit unofficial entry for the country this year. It wouldn't be eligible for any points, obviously, but it would be a more than welcome addition to the canon in this of all years. Music is always political, no matter what you're singing about, and I reckon this is a fitting end to this year's season on Apocalypse. Thanks for staying with us in this most wonky of all Eurovision years.

Monday 15 March 2021

Malta 2021 - Destiny - Je Me Casse

Ooh now Malta, what have you gone and done now! This year as each new song has ticked by we've been inclined to think "Yeah, that's not bad - we're in for a good year here" but nothing had given us the germs of truly winning potential. Until this afternoon. It's almost as if Destiny has sucked up all the scraps from the returning artists who weren't quite as good as they were last time, mixed them all up into a pot and cast them into this little thing of bountiful wonder.

It's upbeat, positive and effortlessly full of character where others are trying just that little bit to hard. And we all know what a likeable and capable performer our Destiny is too. If we were Maltese we'd be getting just a little bit excited right now. We were on the island the first time they held Junior and the place nearly exploded with delight then. Who knows what would happen if they bagged the senior gong too.

Of course, there's going to be all sorts of bumps in the road between now and then, with shows to be built and reputations to be damaged - and of course who knows if Belarus haven't got a surprise belter up their sleeve (Clue: they probably haven't) - so it's still too early to call. But if this doesn't finish in at least the top five come May we'll either be incredibly surprised, or something that none of us saw coming has pulled something incredible out of the bag.

So no pressure, Destiny girl. None at all.

Georgia 2021 - Tornike Kipiani - You

(Click here if you can't see the video panel above…)

Most of us with little more than a passing knowledge of Tornike's career will mainly know him for his singular vocal style whereby he just kinda shouts in a controlled but still kind of noisy style. Which is why the song that he's chosen for this year's Eurovision is all the more flipping lovely.

Gentle, measured, but still building to moments of great power, it's the kind of song that would have been left out of a Who rock opera or a Primal Scream remix album, but that the producer kept on his own personal hype reel all the same. There's not much to it, but the heartfelt emotion is almost chewable, and Tornike's stoic delivery draws you right into the very centre of the story.

It's not a song that we can see doing an awful lot of business on the big night - especially if the lad is as intense on that Rotterdam stage as he appears in pretty much any video we've ever seen him perform in. But to be honest we're not terribly bothered about that. We're just glad he's here, and that he's delivered us this beautiful bit of unassuming loveliness. Quiet music for noisy people - yeah, that's it.


Saturday 13 March 2021

Sweden 2021 - Clara Klingenström - Behöver Inte Dig Idag

(Click here if you can't see the video panel above…)

We're struggling to get our lobes around the fact that it's the last national final of the season tonight. I'm sure that last time we looked there were only about ten songs selected! And what's been the strangest of all seasons is going to end up with the most curious of Melfests. All squeezed up into an area that we used as a press conference hall back in 2000, what the songs have lacked in spark and originality, the production has more than made up for in creativity. Just a quick look at some of the sets for the likes of Danny Saucedo, Eric Saade , and even Charlotte Perrelli in her way shows that they've really though about their limitations and tried to make the best use of space for each individual song.

A shame then that they seemed to have run out of ideas when it came to poor Clara Klingenström here. "Oh, she's one of those indie types. Put her in a short shiny dress and big boots like all them riot grrrls used to wear in the nineties - that'll work. No wait! You know what'll make it even more authentic? Hang a guitar around her neck and let her wave her hands around awkwardly in front of it. Bingo! It'll be just like watching * rummages through Courtney love biography * Babes In Toyland or someone!"

All of which is a shame, because this is easily one of the strongest actual songs in the contest. Where all the rest feel like they were created by committee and focus grouped to within and inch of their respective lives, this one feels like the real deal and that it's coming straight from Clara's heart. And despite being lumbered with a great big stringy plank hanging needlessly around her neck, she performs the absolute life out of it. It's uplifting, atmospheric and just really nice.

We've also noticed that it seems to be pretty much everybody's second favourite song this year, despite having to drag itself out of the Andra Chansen. So it couldn't go on and do a Stjernberg could it? With all the big names she's up again we very much doubt it, but we really wouldn't be terribly upset if she did. 

Thursday 11 March 2021

North Macedonia 2021 - Vasil - Here I Stand

Ooh now, Macedonia (North)! You've gone and snuck in around the back door and lumbered us with something a bit special, haven't you. We've been saying for a few days now that there have been so many big beaty songs in this contest that if someone weighs in with a large old anthem they could very easily nick rather a lot of the top points on offer. And while this one might not be quite that song, it's certainly on the verge of special!

Sou ding like it's been wrenched straight off the stage of an unspecified musical (and that's not ALWAYS a bad thing), it's thespy enough, but still instantly relatable in times like these. Then it builds and falls, ebbs and flows, until that massive multi-layered proto prog bit at the end. Very interesting indeed.

The big old male ballads have suffered a bit at the hands of both the punters are the juries over these last few years, so it's difficult to fully assess quite how this will do, but we're visualising a lot of love for this one across the board. One to keep an interested eye on, to be sure.

United Kingdom 2021 - James Newman - Embers

What is it about the Czechs and their radio constantly bogarting the UK's song releases, eh? We've got this lovely reveal set up on Ken Bruce, and there they them Bohemians go again and sneak it out early. So seeing as they've done it, we figured we might as well. If you don't want to hear it until the official release, we suggest hanging on until after eleven, if you can.

So what is it like then. Well the first thing you'll be pleased to hear is that it's not entirely shit. That's always the first yardstick to be used when trying to assess a UK entry. It's bring, it's breezy, and it's got a little bit of singalongability about it. It's still a smudge more Radio 2 than Radio 1, but you can still imagine hearing it pumping out of your crystal set on a sunny afternoon. It's got that big choral backing that everyone seems to be having a pop at this year, and some hooky little parpy trumpets too. So all is at least looking promising.

However, it's still got something about it that doesn't automatically drag us onto the imaginary dancefloor with our hands in the virtual air. That intangible, almost indefinable UK-at-Eurovision sheen. It also sounds as if lovely James Newman is gasping for air at points in the song - and if he's like that in the studio we have our fears over what he might be like on the big stage. Hopefully it's a deliberate production choice rather than an actual shortcoming with his voice.

But when all is said and done, it's still pretty decent. The competition might not be coming home, as a few commentators are suggesting (what, Lugano?), but I reckon with the wind in the right direction we can drag ourselves into that big chunk of about a dozen songs in the middle for who a few extra points can mean all the difference in table position when it comes to the final reckoning. And of course, the big fella's clear natural charm is going to win more than a few over on its own.

End of first term report? A definite and positive move in the right direction, and hopeful and indication fo good things to come. But just don't get too over excited about the scoreboard, folks. 

Tuesday 9 March 2021

Belarus 2021 - Galasy ZMesta - Ya Nauchu Tebya (I'll Teach You)

Oh my days, Belarus have just done a strange! After all the talks of whether their ticket to Rotterdam would be going to past-contestants, a tawdry exercise in cultural appropriation or even our lovely old pal Daz Sampson, it's actually been decided that they're going to send this curious little ditty.

On face value there's nothing at all wrong with it. Normal looking bloke sits on a stool on what looks like the Minsk version of the Blue Peter studio and jangles out a happy tune of hope and stuff. But then you suddenly get to remembering that this is 2021, and half of the rest of the continent have sent overblown bangers.

It's the kind of thing an angry English songwriter would send us with a note saying "The BBC are fools, this would have won Eurovision for sure" before ranting something about politics, Brexit and nul points. It's all very nice and all, but we're still having real trouble trying to work out why it's actually here. Who sat in a big television office somewhere in the capital and decided "Yeah, that's the one! You watch us go now!"? Or perhaps that's the trick - while everyone is being all bombastic, sneak in behind them all with something floaty nice and delightful and nick the gong. It's a tactic I suppose.

Still, has anyone translated the lyric yet?


Ooh now. It's already transpiring that they've got some seriously dodgy lyrics in some of their past work, and their band name translates as Voices Of Content - anyone else getting a bad feeling about this?


Yep, turned out that the lyric was dodgy as feck, and the EBU have warned them to change it, bin it, or risk being DQ'd. Good work, the EBU!

Monday 8 March 2021

Russia 2021 - Manizha - Russian Woman

So it turned out that this morning's little bit of Little Big excitement was nothing more than wishful thinking, and Russia did, after a fashion, have a national final. They did, however, have last year's victors-in-waiting on to have a run-through of Uno, and although we couldn't entirely work out what was being said, Ilya came up front afterwards and explained something with a sad look on his face while the rest of the band kept their poses from the end of the performance frozen - which me must say was a bit of a strange spectacle in itself. More fool them for not picking Sex Machine, I say!

So anyway, what we did get was three songs of variable content. The first was a serious looking chap with a pleasingly bleak little number. The we had a couple of ladies jigging about inconsequentially before the reason, we suspect, that we were all convened here this evening turned up and knocked us all for six.

Anyone else think it's a coincidence that they held the final on a Monday night that just happened to be International Women's Day? Yeah, that was either utterly blatant or so innocent that it's halfway believable. But whatever the intentions, I reckon they've done and picked themselves a pretty decent replacement for our thwarted video heroes, and the lass Manizha has enough sass and swagger to carry a massively complex song like this with ease. There's a good chance that it will transpire that this is some kind of moderately dubious nationalist statement, but what the heck - on face value it was easily the best song of the three, so it deserved its win.

It still ain't Little Big though, curse it. Major major missed opportunity there.


Hold that thought, for it turns out that our Manizha here is of Tajik descent, and is very good at kicking ass and getting important stuff done - as you can see in the link below. Quite whether she's singing to all women of Russia, or has been co-opted in to water down her message, remains to be seen, but the portents are good!


Russia 2021 - Little Big - Sex Machine

So tonight there may be some kind of a Russian national final. Or not. And the world-beating anarcho pop band Little Big may be one of the contenders. Or again not. What is for certain is that this is a new song by the cheeky scamps, released late last night. And it's really rather interesting.

So the story had it for ages that Little Big - one of the world's biggest bands on the internet - were obviously going to be the Russian act again this year. Then we heard a story that Russian telly didn't like any of their songs and decided to make them hold a final for the local public to decide which one was going to Virtual Rotterdam. Then another story took hold that they weren't going to be one of the acts, but that they'd be performing this song in the interval of the final. And now? Who bloody knows.

 One kind of hopes that it's all been some kind of weird situationist run up to a one-shot sit-com featuring the band themselves, formally presenting this song to the world, while having guest performances by all their mates. And if you've seen some of the names bandied about as being potential other contenders that could be a really interesting show - whatever the heck the show is about.

Well, after the weekend we've just had it could hardly get any weirder, right?

Sunday 7 March 2021

San Marino 2021 - Senhit & Flo Rida - Adrenalina

 So after around eight-and-a-half hours of Eurovision related activities last night, when we woke up this morning to the news that Flo Rida was very possibly doing Eurovision - for San Marino - we assumed we were still delirious on a contact high with whatever Achille Lauro was imbibing. But no, Senhit's only managed to bag one of world pop's greatest sidemen to do a little bit in the middle of a banging reggaeton stomper! Eh?

Now, whether he'll do it in real life, or on the big screen behind her in this most singular of Eurovision years is another matter. But still, it's bloody Flo Rida! At bloody Eurovision!

Or at least it might be - this news is still only at rumour stage at the moment, and we know that our girl Senhit lakes a jape, so we urge caution on this news at the moment. But all the same, Flo bloody Rida!

Saturday 6 March 2021

Italy 2021 - Måneskin - Zitti e Buoni

So the usual form at Sanremo is that you spend five days listening to a vast array of incredible Italian music from a broad scope of different styles and genres, then a heartbreaking ballad by a familiar old hand nips in and wins it at the end. But not this year, oh no. In one of the most open contests in years, the daily tallies were going up and down all over the place, while aside from the reliable Ermal Meta being permanently anchored to the top of the table, nobody else seemed to be taking much of a grip of the contest.

Indeed, the riff heavy glamsters of Måneskin, despite being the draw of constant love from outside of the Sanremo bubble all week, we're always sitting around the seventh or eighth spot. But then something quite unexpected happened. As the countdown from 26th to the top three began to click by, superfinal contender after superfinal contender began to fall by the wayside, and we were all taking our shoes and socks off trying to calculate quite who had bagged a place in the magic triumvirate. Ermal was a shoe in of course. But then they called not only the crowd-pleasing Francesca & Fedez, but the noisy objects of our affections Twitter absolutely exploded with expectation.

The wait to find out who'd won was excruciating, and while each of the three acts would have made a very worthy winner, all of us more left field fans were crossing our fingers and hoping that noise would win out. Then the unthinkable happened and Ermal got knocked out in third. They couldn't could they? They only bloody did! Cue one of the most delightful and honest winning celebrations we can remember seeing in a long time, and a beautiful moment where the orchestra all stood up and rocked out as they played the winners reprise.

This has been an exceptional Sanremo for all kinds of reasons, and it deserved and exceptional winner - and by golly didn't it ever get one!

Australia 2021 - Montaigne - Technicolour

Montaingne live debuted her 2021 attempt at the Sydney Mardi Gras last night, and as much as we've been enjoying it as a song, we can see it being potentially problematic on the big night. For a start, the hyperpop stylings are going to grate with more than a few folks. It's all well and good bring us a tune at the more accessible end of one of the most exciting music genres on the planet, but most of the folks at home won't have the slightest idea what they're listening to - and I especially fear those now-hating fogeys on the jury when they try to shape their uncultured lugholes around it.

And then there's her voice. Both you and we know that she's actually supposed to sound like this, and that it's entirely a part of her schtick. But will the Saturday night telly viewers? OK, so the vast impersonal expanses of a cricket ground at twilight aren't exactly the best spot to practise your on stage moxy, but that big hall in Rotterdam is going to be pretty empty too - if she's even allowed in the country by then - and her singular tones could be echoing all over that room. But having all said that, at least there's a good chance that she won't be trying to make herself heard over the usual baying mob, so perhaps that's a good thing.

So yeah, the jury's out on this one for us. As a song, for us, it's streets ahead of last year's effort. But whether it will work in context is an entirely different matter. But then, when all is said and done, I don't expect that we're going to hear many better lyric lines than "We've got style and lasers" for the rest of the season, so there's still lots to be pleased about.

Italy 2021 - Willie Peyote - Mai Dire Mai (La Locura)

It's been an absolutely magical Sanremo this year. With no obvious favourites and the lack of an audience it's been a strange beast, and almost impossible to totally gauge who's doing well and who's not. But in a way that's made it all the better. And of course, just as important - and perhaps even more so - there's been all the standard Sanremo nonsense pushed up to eleven. The guest performances have been incredible, with everyone from Diodato to Mahmood, via Loredana Berte, Gigliola Cinquetti and a fabulous Police orchestra, while the peerless Achille Lauro has almost literally destroyed the stage every night. On top of that, after a shaky start last year, the host Amadeus has found himself clearly more comfortable in such an important role, and his buddy act with Fiorello has been an absolute delight. Oh, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic keeps turning up too, but the less said about that the better.

Of the songs in the actual competition, it looked like it was starting to become a bit of a one horse race until last night. Old hand Ermal Meta seem to be running away with it, with only Annalisa putting up any resistance. But then this fella called Willie Peyote began to quietly creep his way up the table and out of nowhere we might just have a scrap on our hands tonight. There's an unexpected bandwagon that builds most years, and this might just be it.

In a contest dripping with overwrought ballads and pasty-faced autotuned rap lads, this cool skulk of a song has got everyone nodding their heads and pulling the right kind of faces to make us think that if he manages to get in the final three tonight, he could end up causing a bit of bother when we get down to the business of the evening. Of course, there's a  lot of other stuff to watch tonight, and it can be quite a challenging and confusing watch if you're more used to the snappiness of actual national finals, so you'd be excused for not having Sanremo especially high on your priority list. But our suggestion to you if you don't entirely fancy it would be to keep it running along on a second or third screen somewhere within eyeshot and keep dipping in and out now and again when the songs come one. But we warn you, it's darned easy to get hooked on this beautiful mammoth of a show, and if you're not careful you'll end up as full five day lifers like the worst of us!