Birgir – Alive

Tim: Inexplicably, some artists were still releasing songs last week, which strikes me a bit like a school five-a-side match being played the same day as the World Cup final, but never mind. This from Birgir is substantially different from his Icelandic compatriots’ entry on Saturday, and while ‘stick with it’ is normally a terrible thing to say about a song, the first 43 seconds have almost nothing in common with the rest of it.

Tom: You’re not wrong, that unexpectedly goes… well, to me it sounds like Mumford and Sons decided to cover Bastille. By which I mean I was literally singing parts of Pompeii over the top of it.

Tim: Lovely melody, lovely instruments, lovely vocals, lovely message, even a load of lovely colours in the video – what’s not to love?

Well, aside from that dull as heck introduction, but that’s over soon enough and we’ve the knowledge of what to come that’ll get us through that. Aside from that, it’s an all in lovely song, that I’ve listened to a good few times now and not got bored of.

Tom: I feel like I’ve heard it before, which is — of course — probably why I’ve taken to it. I can’t remember any of it after I listen, but I certainly enjoyed it while it was there.

Tim: Great stuff.

KEiiNO – Spirit In The Sky

“OKAY THEN let’s have a debrief.”

Tim: OKAY THEN let’s have a debrief. ITEM ONE: the winner was tedious garbage which won because every country found it basically okay (perhaps the lowest proportion of 12 points for a winner ever, just 8 out of a possible 80).

Tom: It’s an awful compromise victor, the Eurovision equivalent of a shrug. I’ll be honest, I think this is the first time I’ve been genuinely annoyed by a Eurovision result. I think part of that is John Lundvik’s face when he hears the final numbers: that was such a good track, my favourite of the night, and to end up sixth with less than half of the televote points he needed is absolutely brutal.

Tim: It really is, because it’s great, though your mention of John Lundvik leads us on to ITEM TWO: my favourite, a.k.a. ours, did appallingly, coming last overall but technically not coming last with either the jury (sorry, Spain) or the televote (suck it, Germany, with your NO POINTS), so I’m viewing that as not a complete loss.

Tom: Mm. Part of that is surely the Brexit effect, but I’m still baffled as to why that’s your favourite. Moving on.

Tim: ITEM THREE: Finland, with their dance champion Darude, finished dead last in their semi-final, and by no small margin.

Tom: I previously predicted middle of the table for that, so I was completely wrong. Given some of the other dreck in there, I’m surprised it did that badly.

Tim: It does, mind, conclusively prove my point from a few weeks back that star power is absolutely not a thing – hell, it’s arguable that the worst performance of the night was Madonna’s. ITEM FOUR: as with last year, we’ve the occasional significant disparity between the initial juries and the later televotes (looking at you with smug satisfaction North Macedonia, looking at you with slight sympathy Sweden, and looking at you with delight Spain).

Tom: If they go full jury vote, it feels wrong. If they go full televote, diaspora votes take over. There’s no good answer.

Tim: True, and I guess we just have to trust that most of the time it more or less works. Other times, though, it causes an issue, such as ITEM FIVE, being this from Norway. Won the televote, and had a severe technical cockup on the jury viewing but weren’t allowed to redo it. SCANDAL, cried NRK, and most pop fans across Europe, because, well, watch and listen.

Tim: Isn’t it great?

Tom: It’s certainly nice to know what René from Aqua’s up to these days. (I joke, but that guy’s actually called Fred-René, which is a pleasant coincidence.)

Tim: Oh, that is fun. Thing is, I didn’t appreciate it hugely during my initial run through, but having watched it in its semi-final and then again on Saturday, it was the winner of the ‘stuck in your head the next morning’ test, which isn’t surprising when we break it down bit by bit. It’s a good melody, it’s a strong message, a hefty beat, and with its joik it includes a bit of regional music, such as I was lamenting the loss of just a few days ago.

Tom: And it’s regional music that still works for a regular European audience. They’ve done well to integrate it. It’s a good song, and it would have been a deserved winner. And yet, we’re stuck with the Netherlands. Which means Eurovision 2020 will probably be a year of soppy piano ballads. Ugh.

Tim: Shall we all read this, from just two weeks ago?

Saturday Reject: Anna Odobescu – Stay

“I think there’s a lesson to be learned for future set designers.”

Tim: Slightly different take on the Reject format today: Moldova’s entry, that failed to qualify from Thursday’s semi-final, and I think there’s a lesson to be learned for future set designers.

Tim: Basically: don’t make you scenery so utterly captivating that no-one’s going to pay attention to the song.

Tom: You’re not wrong there. What you’ve got is a video of sand drawing with some stock music — at least while you’re watching it.

Tim: I watched that three times before writing this, and still had barely any idea whatsoever what the song sounded like. Unlike almost every other time I say something like that, though, that is absolutely not a slight against the song – I pressed play again, put it in the background, and it’s a lovely song. It’s heartfelt, it’s melodious, it’s got a good chorus and there’s even a decent key change in there. But watching it on TV, I’m just not taking it in. At all. When there’s close up shot of her face, I want it to cut away, and see that sand drawing, because that’s the MVP here.

Tom: Two separate sand drawings as well: that’s a prerecorded video on the back wall and a separate live drawing. It’s brilliant, but…

Tim: But background drawing and her wafting away like a victim of Thanos isn’t going to win you a song contest.

Lorena Bućan – Tower of Babylon

“It looks like she’s the one already-drunk person who got up to dance at the start of the night.”

Tim: Croatia dropped out of Eurovision last night, failing to qualify, which was a bit of a shame as they had some very good looking backing dancers wearing angels wings and everything. It was a somewhat operatic number, with plenty of emotions on display, and a damn fine key change. This was their runner up, and shares absolutely none of those characteristics.

Tom: That first instrumental is one of the most awkward camera shots I’ve seen in a long time. It looks like she’s the one already-drunk person who got up to dance at the start of the night. All it needs is her repeatedly shouting at people to come up and join her. And what’s with the audience? This is Sweden gives them things to wave about and cheer with. There’s actually someone on their phone in one of the shots.

That’s all down to the production crew, though. We’re talking about the music.

Tim: Curiously, there isn’t much music like this, regionally distinctive, in the contest this year, which is kind of a shame. Sure, there are a high number of strong tracks, but not many you could say “yep, that’s definitely eastern European/Polish/Mediterranean”. A loss?

Tom: Well, it depends. Something like this can do well in the contest on rare occasions, but it’s a bold strategy that seems to produce more misses than hits. Certainly mixing it with modern pop sensibilities helps, as they’ve done here. It’s certainly nice to hear it in the Contest, but as to whether it’s a loss…

Tim: I think so, yes, and I think this year would have been improved by the inclusion of this song. It’s regional, and it’s much more of a dance beat banger than their eventual choice, which may have fared better. Or not, of course – it was a strong semi (yep), with only a few that definitely shouldn’t have qualified (even though one of those, Albania, did, irritatingly) – but it would have been nice to see anyway.

Tom: I’d just finished writing this, Tim, and I was starting to write a conclusion — when I found I was still humming the chorus, minutes after listening to it. Which is usually a good sign.

Except I wasn’t humming the chorus. I was humming the theme tune to Pirates of the Caribbean. Have a listen to that chorus and those orchestral hits, and tell me there’s not at least a passing resemblance.

Tim: Oh. Oh, yeah, you’re not wrong there. It’s the “ohhhh-oh-oh-oh” and then the beats, dammit you MONSTER.

Tom: Anyway, that’s the track ruined for me.

Laura Bretan – Dear Father

“It’s actually quite nice when people break the rules a bit.”

Tim: Split voting, televote vs jury, is always tricky, as we found out yesterday, and there’s no real perfect way of sorting it, though I’d say Sweden comes closest with its splitting the whole 270 televotes points down by percentage and giving equal weight to public and jury.

In contrast, Romania’s system gave this one, which scraped two thirds of all public votes, 12 points, and then the next one 10, despite it barely scraping 20%.

Tom: Ouch, that’s harsh. Of course, perhaps the idea is to minimise the chance of a Runaway Public Winner outweighing the expert opinion?

Tim: Add that to the fact that there were six jurors who each had the same points level as the whole public combined, and this easily got knocked back.

Tom: Huh. Maybe the idea is just to use the public as a tiebreaker.

Tom: For the first half of this, I’d written “the jury members are probably right”, because I couldn’t see why the public went for it. And then… well.

Tim: Curious structure, here, perhaps forced upon it by the relative calm for much of it, with us completely missing out the second chorus and middle eight and instead jumping straight to that lovely key change. Sometimes I’d complain, but when you’ve only got three minutes to play with it’s understandable, and it’s actually quite nice when people break the rules a bit.

Tom: And when they have such a spectacular voice. I don’t know why I think this works: the first half is slow and dull, the operatic vocals should be just ridiculous, but somehow — and I think this is down to the performer — I can see this doing really well, in the way that extremely competent, extremely noticable tracks do sometimes at Eurovision.

Tim: Also, of course, it helps that so much of what we do have is so good. In the first chorus there’s the shock value of ‘oh, so that’s what we’re doing’, which allows us to skip past the fact that it’s relatively damp. There’s that slight beat coming for the second verse, and then, yeah, that key change, the proper use of her impressive voice and then that backing chanting to bring everything to a climax. So, if someone could have a word with TVR about how democracy works, that’d be great, cheers.

Maxim Zavidia – I Will Not Surrender

“It’s very much Classic Eurovision.”

Tom: Tonight, on “Eurovision entrant or Harry Potter spell”…

Tim: You may or may not want to sing “From the day we arrived on this planet” over the first line of this Moldovan runner up; I certainly did, but as for the rest of it, well, take a listen.

Tom: Good grief, you’re not wrong there. I wonder if that was deliberate?

Tim: So, we’ve a Lion King rip-off, but only really for the intro and middle eight, so I’m very much inclined to excuse that, largely because the rest of it is just so damn good.

Tom: You’re not wrong there. It’s very much Classic Eurovision, the sort of thing that’d show up on that schlager YouTube channel you keep linking me to, and I suspect that’d count against it these days.

Tim: There are criticisms that could legitimately be made, sure – for starters, the fact that there is no key change in the long note at 2:15 is downright criminal – but this song, as a Eurovision entrant, is absolutely outstanding. The two-act middle eight works well, despite the aforementioned lack of a key change, and the vocal strength, the melody, the energy, the everything is right there.

Tom: Full marks for having a whole extra bar of silence in there, as well. It’s a brave choice, but somehow it works. And that final note is a heck of a way to end it.

Tim: As for the staging, I’ve no idea what the clock’s doing, and certainly not why it starts spinning backwards the moment he sings about reaching tomorrow, but the reveal of the ‘faith’ and ‘hope’ T-shirts is fun and ludicrous, and while I frequently complain about sparks showers being present when there’s nothing to deserve it, this absolutely should come with one. It’s wonderful, and so what really hurts is that it came second.

Thing is, it absolutely wiped the floor in the televote, getting almost as many votes as all the other eleven entries combined, but was largely slated by the jurors.

Tom: Of course: it’s Classic Eurovision, and that’s not what the juries look for. I wonder if that would have been repeated in the main event? We’ll never know. Thanks, jurors.

Tim: Pooheads, all of them.

Sheppard – On My Way

“Bright colours, a terrible jacket and two of the most bizarre backing performers I’ve ever seen.”

Tim: Australia’s fifth year entering, and their first with a public selection. Their actual entry’s a bit disappointing, their runner up was garbage, but I think you’ll enjoy this third placer, from a fairly successful Australian band.

Tom: I’ve been driving through Australia recently: I heard Sheppard’s “Coming Home” on the radio and it’s stuck with me. If it’s in that style, I reckon I’ll like it.

Tim: Bright colours, a terrible jacket and two of the most bizarre backing performers I’ve ever seen. The main three on stage are siblings, with the surname of Sheppard (cunning, that), and the other three are the other band members. Why is one sister singing and one wielding a guitar? Why does one have a crown? Why are the other band members largely shrouded in darkness? No idea, but at least the performance looks a whole lot of fun, and has a cracker of a song to go alongside it.

Tom: I think this could have done well: probably not a winner, but it’s positive and catchy with a memorable set of performers who genuinely seem to be having a good time. Certainly through to the final, maybe even left hand side of the table.

Tim: No complaints from me.

Uku Siveste – Pretty Little Liar

“Earnest vocals, weird dancing, and hair that sticks up at the back like he’s forgotten to brush that bit properly.”

Tim: Let’s continue looking through some Rejects, as there are plenty of decent ones to get through and very limited time. This here is the runner up of Estonia, which in the end chose a Swede to sing an above average track; this one, in my view, is quite a bit better.

Tim: It’s worth admitting that there isn’t much here that’s innovative or ground breaking, but that’s not necessarily what Eurovision’s for.

Tom: What is it for, bizarre staging decisions? Who decided that keeping the singer off camera for the first verse was a good idea? Anyway, yes, sorry, Eurovision.

Tim: It’s for good pop songs, with good verses that move into great choruses, with volume, energy, and spark showers as appropriate. And here, we have all of that and more – earnest vocals, weird dancing, and hair that sticks up at the back like he’s forgotten to brush that bit properly. Excellent stuff, all round.

Tom: It’s a solid middle-of-the-table track, really, isn’t it? It’d do okay with the juries and get a few televote points, but that’s about it. That’s not necessarily an indictment of the song itself, it’s just… okay.

Saturday Reject: BLGN & Mirex – Champion

“Doing his best Rag’n’Bone Man impression.”

Tim: It struck me the other day that we’ve only one week left to go until the big day, yet as far as rejects go we’ve barely set foot outside Scandinavia. Here’s Belarus’s very, very close runner-up, doing his finest Rag’n’Bone Man impression.

Tim: Now, you might’ve thought that with that intro I’d be mocking him, or accusing him of being unoriginal, but no, not at all: I think this is a genuinely great song, in a style that works very well when it’s done properly.

Tom: You’re not wrong. That’s a bold style to choose: if you miss one note or if you slur your words, you’re going to end up being all Shooting Stars Club Singer. He gets close sometimes, but I can see why you think it’s a good choice.

Tim: And here, it really is. I don’t want to speak for Mr Bone Man–

Tom: “Rag’n’” to his friends.

Tim: — but if he were to announce this as the first single off his next album, I’d be looking forward to it. It’s got power, it’s got a strong message, it’s got a good hook, it’s got what a Big Song needs. Belarus’s entry this year is fairly decent – but I’m surprised the juries preferred it to this.

Sick Individuals feat. MPH – We Got It All

“This sounds familiar. So, so familiar. But can I place it? Can I hell.”

Tim: This sounds familiar. So, so familiar. But can I place it? Can I hell.

Tom: It’s Zedd and Elley Duhé’s “Happy Now”. I mean, it’s distinct enough, but that’s what you’re thinking of.

Tim: It’s good track, mind, very good, and every little bit stands out. The first part starting out very strong, sounding like a chorus from some unidentifiable other song, then that instrumental dance breakdown, and then the final singy-shouty bit, also a bit familiar but not quite as much.

Tom: You’re not wrong! That’s some of the most promising first seconds I’ve heard in a while. And, once you get over the fact that it isn’t Happy Now, then yep — there’s a lot of good work in here.

Tim: All sounds good, then we go round and do it again for another 83 seconds. And then we’re done, rhythm still in our head.

Tom: And humming the melody to “Happy Now”.