Saturday Reject: Aistė Pilvelytė – Unbreakable

“I defy you to find me a Eurovision fanatic who wouldn’t lose their absolute shit to this on a dance floor.”

Tom: Right, after a week of Sweden: what’s the rest of Europe got?

Tim: Lithuania had an interesting result this year (well, for a given value of interesting): not just a landslide televote gap between the winner and runner up, but also a landslide gap between that and third place, and continuing down in a sort of reverse exponential curve.

Tom: A “power-law distribution“, I believe.

Tim: Here’s the third place, which actually got quite a bit more love from the the public than the jury.

Tom: That’s… like Carola’s Invincible, but not quite as good?

Tim: Hmm, I’ll give you similarities, I guess, but…nah. Either way, this is a BANGER of sorts, at least compared to everything else on offer that night, and I’m often left wondering what it is that jurors are told to base their votes on. Just the song, with a combination of melody, genre, lyrics; the performance and stage presence of the artist; the lighting and the stage decoration; how they think it’ll do on the night; or just whether or not they individually like it?

Tom: I tried to look up the rules, but couldn’t find anything: I do wonder how much deliberation there is between the jurors, too.

Tim: Because I’ll be entirely honest: for at least the first three of those things, I can’t find a problem with this, at all.

Tom: I’m not convinced by every high note in there, but sure, I don’t know why the jury would rate it that much lower. Perhaps it’s too much schlager and not enough Serious Pop.

Tim: Yeah, it’s that fourth which would most explain it: danced-up schlager isn’t exactly in vogue right now amongst the general populace, which I suppose slightly justifies it (though I defy you to find me a Eurovision fanatic who wouldn’t lose their absolute shit to this on a dance floor). If it’s the fifth, though, well, that’d just show them all to be idiots.

Dotter – Bulletproof

” I can’t believe I’ve never seen what is basically ‘human disco ball’ as a trick before.”

Tim: And finally in our trek through the Melodifestivalen final, the song that was runaway favourite heading into to the final, but ended up coming second by just one single point, which has got to be a killer.

Tim: Heck of a song, though.

Tom: Heck of a dress. Actually, the whole staging is brilliant: I can’t believe I’ve never seen what is basically “human disco ball” as a trick before. Even that single beam of light projected into her palm could have been cheesy — so I have absolutely no idea how the production team pulled off the full epilepsy-inducing trick without it seeming completely ridiculous.

Tim: It does look good, doesn’t it? Of course, it’s interesting in this situation to figure what it was that could cause just a few thousand people to vote another way, or if changed could have brought her victory. Is it that bits of the verse are a tad reminiscent of Imagine Dragons’s Thunder? Is it that they saw her start by lying down and thought “yeah, Victor’s already done that, let’s have something new”? Is it even just that not so many people had the phones lit up at 1:25 as they did in, say, a comparable yet almost breathtaking shot from the song just a few previously?

Tom: Or a slightly off note somewhere, or lighting that reflected in a way that seemed distracting rather than cool. Or maybe the audience just got bored of the trick itself. There’s not much wrong with the actual song — I don’t think it’d have won, but there’s not much wrong with it.

Tim: No – these are all tiny, tiny things, that would never normally be criticisms, but might just have made the difference. Who knows. Whatever happened, though, she more than acquitted herself, and hopefully she’ll come back next year.

Mendez feat. Alvaro Estrella – Vamos amigos

“That middle eight is… certainly a brave choice.”

Tim: The party track, the one that everyone loves (or at least enjoys parts of) and listens to at home, and stands no chance at all of going to Rotterdam.

Tom: It’s partly in Spanish, and there’s a got the “come on!” party shoutout at the start and everything. Yep. Ticks all the boxes, doesn’t it?

Tim: Juries ranked it last, alongside Victor.

Tom: I am not surprised, that middle eight is… certainly a brave choice. It’s like you’ve crossed Daddy Yankee and Guy Fieri.

Tim: Perhaps, but even so, the viewers still liked it, because, yeah, it’s the party track, and even with the awful rapping section without even much music underneath to save it, it’s still fun and listenable and not so bad to get behind. The juries, apparently and sensibly, knew better, but it’s still fun to watch on a Saturday evening, surrounded by more sensible stuff. I wouldn’t have a final without it.

Robin Bengtsson – Take A Chance

“You’re a music competition, not the new series of Westworld.”

Tim: We’re three performances in, and yet I’ve only just noticed that this year Melodifestivalen was (almost entirely) shot in 2.35:1.

Tom: Oh, that’s been annoying me all week. Keeps happening — I think Doctor Who’s in 2:1 this season, apparently — and there’s absolutely no need for it.

Tim: Absolutely not, and it annoys me whenever it’s on TV – unlike in a cinema, where the picture gets wider, you’re not getting any extra size benefit. Instead, you’re just losing stuff. I’m fairly sure, here, it was Robin’s slightly annoying suaveness that made me realise it.

Tim: See, again with that cinematic look – I said almost entirely because on occasions, like parts of another song, they were forced to go back to 16:9 so they could fit in the background. Here, we’ve close up shots like the one at the end, and you’re forced to chop his hair off for no good reason. Sure, in some dramas, the directors want to look all cinematic, and fine, that’s their choice. But come off it: you’re a music competition, not the new series of Westworld.

Song’s alright, though.

Tom: He’s got an interesting voice, but I’m not convinced that’s a good thing: my reaction on those first few notes was “oh”, and it took me a while to appreciate it. I’m not sure whether that falsetto at the end is a good idea.

Tim: I don’t know – Europe wasn’t too unhappy with his voice three years ago, getting him fifth place in Kiev, and I think it pretty much works here.

Tom: Well, there’s my bad memory for songs again. Mind you, speaking of memories, it’s certainly a bold choice for a Swedish song to use the words “take a chance on me”.

Tim: Ha, do you know I’d not thought of that, but you’re not wrong. In any case, it ended up mid-table with voters, juries, and combined, and that seems about right.

KEiiNO feat. Charlotte Qamaniq – Black Leather

“Yeah, I guess we do have to put the folk stuff in, don’t we, it’s kind of our thing.”

Tim: ‘A pop tribute to the Berlin club scene’, this is, so, erm, yeah.

Tim: So that’s, for me, the second track in just four weeks that’s (a) brilliant and (b) coming with a dollop of “yeah, I guess we do have to put the folk stuff in, don’t we, it’s kind of our thing”.

Tom: You’re not wrong. Has the gimmick reached its limit? Because this has a really great chorus melody, and then… then there’s some traditional singing too. I think this might well be better without it. (It’d also be better with a rewrite of that awful “looking like a snack / no way back” lyric couplet, but never mind.)

Tim: This is, according to the notes beneath the video, “the first pop-banger that includes traditional singing from two indigenous cultures; Sami Joik and Inuk throat singing”, the latter of which is what Charlotte provides.

Tom: I actually thought the throat-singing worked well: because it’s so unlike anything I’ve heard before, my brain treated it as almost like a new synth or other vocal sample. The joik, on the other hand, just sounded out of place.

Tim: It is odd: both this and Colours are two great tracks that have just had the folk element shoehorned in, and a tiny (teeny teeny tiny) part of me wonders if the two of them that aren’t Fred (the Sámi rapper) might be happy enough without it. On the other hand, KEiiNO without that would be like Scooter without HP Baxxter: a bit more mainstream, perhaps, but really just not the same at all.

Saturday Reject: Nanne Grönvall – Carpool Karaoke

“If there’s no other water-cooler moment, at least there was the mad woman singing about James Corden.”

Tim: You’re thinking ‘no, it can’t be, can it?’, but yes, yes it is. This Melodifestivalen entry, which finished in last place in last Saturday’s heat, is indeed a tribute to the feature on James Corden’s American TV show.

Tom: I’m going to hate literally everything about this, aren’t I?

Tim: Yes, yes you are.

Tom: Good heavens, at least it was in last place. I genuinely couldn’t finish it.

Tim: Basic message: “I’m feeling a bit down right now, but I don’t want to go shopping, or partying, or to a spa. Nope, what will really cheers me up is driving around in a car with James, singing very loudly, even if we get stopped by the police.” I don’t know why, I really don’t.

Tom: It does, at least, give people something to talk about: if there’s no other water-cooler moment, at least there was the mad woman singing about James Corden.

Tim: True, and it’s not like there are no good things about it: it’s creative, it’s bonkers, it stands out in an otherwise not remotely exciting heat, and it has a table being turned into a car by one person holding up a steering wheel and another person holding two normal wheels.

Tom: I’d say I regretted leaving the video before then, but honestly, I don’t. It’s a heck of a list.

Tim: Nothing there really does it any justice, though, and to be honest I’m not really sure what would. I know we generally have at least one song that’s a bit weird most years – but this? This is just bizarre.

Oh, and yes, he found out.

Tom: I also hate everything about that, too.

Die Amigos – Cindy

“They’ve got a green-screen and they’re not afraid to use it.”

Tim: There is a moment not far into this lyric video which made me let out one single yelp of laughter. Press play and don’t read ahead until you’ve got to it, spoilers and all that.

Tom: They’ve got a green-screen and they’re not afraid to use it. They should be, but they’re not.

Tim: Now, we’ve said before how fun it is that Germany provides a market for ageing men to keep putting out bangers well into their dotage, but seeing this (with knowing nothing about them beforehand) does make me wonder if we should, at some point, just take their hands and say “okay, hun, okay. You’re done now.”

Tom: Perhaps, but then we’d miss out on moments like this.

Tim: Because, oh that’s not a good look – two old guys (69 & 71, since you’re probably wondering) singing slightly creepily over an Alice Deejay-esque dance beat, one of them strumming an acoustic guitar (why exactly?) and the other vaguely moving his arms in time to the music.

Tom: I can tell you why: because they’ve been going for fifty years. They were quite different back then, and with those trumpets you can hear why they went with “Amigos”. The album title translates as “50 Years: Our Hits From Back Then”, and it’s a remix album. The original (which is as recent as 2010) sounds much more like you’d expect, complete with default mock-pass synth pads and what sounds a lot like a default Casio beat behind it.

Tim: Part of me’s impressed, mind, as it seems actual Germany is all for it: for the past decade they’ve had one new album out every year, and every year it’s gone to number one.

Tom: That’s because purchasing an album, in this decade, is something done either for or by older folks. This is, to be fair, quite impressive.

Tim: True, I guess, but another part of me still just thinks: oh, no.

James Newman – My Last Breath

‘“I would die for you” is best not expressed as “if we have completely recklessly screwed up, I’ll let you watch me die first in exchange for you having a couple more minutes of terror”.’

Tim: ALRIGHT THEN so all us British Eurovision fans got a bit excited at the weekend because it was announced that our entry this year would be announced on Radio 1 and Radio 2 at the same time, which is pretty much the first time in decades that Radio 1 had played any serious attention to Eurovision.

Tom: Yep. This was properly exciting. Did we finally have another Katrina?

Tim: Was the question on everyone’s lips – with that and the knowledge that the BBC had binned off public selection and teamed up with BMG to find an entrant, naturally the rumour mill went into overdrive: Lewis Capaldi’s name was thrown around, some had heard John Newman, some saying John Newman’s brother. Aaaand, it’s the last one of those. Press play.

Tom: I’ll level with you, I had to Google who John Newman was, let alone his brother. I think I remember him? Sort of?

Tim: Fair’s fair, describing him as ‘John Newman’s brother’ is a massive disservice, given that he’s a very successful songwriter, having written songs that have won Brit awards and been nominated for Grammys, so let’s not do that.

Tom: Didn’t bring it for this one though, did he? Bottom quarter of the table, easily, probably bottom four.

Tim: Oh, wow, see I was going to go for: it’s an alright track, really.

Tom: Is it though? The melody’s forgettable and the chorus lyrics are cringeworthy. Divers / find-us isn’t a great rhyme to base an entire hook on, and if you are going to make your entire chorus an extended saviour metaphor, you’d better make sure it stands up to at least some scrutiny.

Tim: Well, sure, but–

Tom: To be clear, I’m not asking for realistic song lyrics! It’s just that “I would die for you” is best not expressed as “if we have completely recklessly screwed up, I’ll let you watch me die first in exchange for you having a couple more minutes of terror”. That’s not pedantry, that’s a surface reading. And the entire song hangs on that!

Tim: Hmm. Okay, well, you may have a point there, so let’s move on elsewhere, swiftly. At just two and a half minutes it’s short even by Eurovision standards – we’re done with the first chorus by the one minute mark and it never really changes pace.

Tom: Right. It’s not interesting enough, or catchy enough, or— anything enough. Out of all the world of pop music, this is what they got? Is no-one reputable even going near British Eurovision entries any more?

Tim: AWARD-WINNING, Tom. AWARD-WINNING. Mind you, I can’t disagree with you with the style of it, which is far too close to last year’s fairly tedious winner for starters – but at least it’s not electroswing (though apparently that’s really big right now?).

Tom: Controversial opinion: I honestly think “Still In Love With You” is better than this — perhaps with the exception of that appalling middle eight they had. At least it tried to do something. There was a world where they went slightly less weird with it and it worked; I just can’t see anything that could save this new one.

Tim: Oh, I DON’T KNOW, I really don’t. I’m not excited by it, sadly, but, as I say pretty much every year, I guess it could do alright?

Tom: I don’t think so. But I hope I’m wrong.

Tim: Me too.

DJ Fresh – Drive

“Decent enough dance track hitting many of the right notes, and giving a shout out to Belgium.”

Tom: We are in a bit of a dearth of good new music, but DJ Fresh is — usually — at least “half-decent”.

Tim: True, and true. This time?

Tim: Belgium?!

Tom: Takes a while to get there, doesn’t it? There’s a lot of promise in that verse, but it doesn’t seem to quite convert into a good chorus, or into anything that’d make that build worth it.

Tim: Well, there’s always the sense that yes, this could be a bit more so, but it does at least have a memorable melody to it – or it’s just been repeated so often in three and a half minutes that I’ve no option but to remember it.

Tom: I was about to click away about a minute in, but there was something about those processed vocals at the end of the first part of chorus that got me to stick around.

Tim: I think it sounds okay: decent enough dance track hitting many of the right notes, and giving a shout out to Belgium. Why wouldn’t you?

Tom: My opinion on DJ Fresh continues: it’s at least half-decent. And in a February with this little good music, I’ll take that.

Saturday Reject: Pinguini Tattici Nucleari – Ringo Starr

“I did not expect to like that so much.”

Tim: Tactical Nuclear Penguin was the name of a beer made by BrewDog, that in 2009 briefly held the record for the world’s strongest beer. In 2010, this Italian band got together and thought ‘yep, that sounds like a good name for a band’, and now ten years later here they are, coming third in Sanremo 2020.

Tom: With a song named after a Beatle. They’re strong on the pop culture references, then?

Tim: Oh, we’re just getting started. Here’s the music video; unembeddable performance is here.

Tom: I did not expect to like that so much. And full marks to RAI for providing an orchestra to play along with them.

Tim: Nice, isn’t it? You’ll be pleased (and probably not surprised) to know that they have never really taken themselves too seriously; the lyrics here have references to The Lion King, Toto’s Africa, Batman & Robin and the Italian version of The Chase. As for the message, the singer’s basically going on about how crap he is compared to everyone else; main chorus line translates to “in a world of John and Pauls, I am Ringo Starr”, which seems a bit harsh, though now I think about it I’m not sure who comes off worst.

Tom: I mean, only one of those have asked people to stop sending them fan mail.

Tim: Peace and love, Tom, peace and love, all around really as this is a fairly enjoyable track.

Tom: There are several elements here I recognise: there’s the “whoa-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh” millennial whoop straight out of Good Time, and I swear I know that opening guitar riff from somewhere, too. That single line from the chorus is repeated far too much, but I’ve got to admit it is a good line.

Tim: My biggest fault with it is that it gets a bit closer to shouting than singing on occasion, but that’s not entirely a bad thing. All in all, a worthy third place.