Saturday Reject: Liza Vassilieva – I Am Gay

“Well, yes, that’s certainly a track, isn’t it?”

Tom: Strong title.

Tim: Indeed, and spoiler alert: this song sounds exactly like you think a Scandinavian Eurovision song called ‘I Am Gay’ will sound.

Tom: Millennial whoop in the first few seconds, and… well, yes, that’s certainly a track, isn’t it?

Tim: It entirely and definitely is. It got through to the final, and then the gold final, but not to the gold duel, which is…well, I’ll be honest, probably about right. It did respectably enough, Liza can go home with her head held high, and Norway get to send a sensible song to Eurovision which might have a fair amount of mass-market appeal.

Tom: The lyrics are… well, I think it’d be wrong to say “trite”, but let’s go with “simplistic and so on-the-nose”. This is a specific simile, but: it feels like the sort of song a sitcom would put together as a cheap joke. It feels like Minimum Viable Pop Song.

Tim: In case you’re wondering, Liza is entirely not gay, but apparently the song was written by her and submitted with the intention that NRK would find someone else to sing it, but then they asked her anyway; my feelings on that are muddled at best, really, so actually I’m kind of glad it didn’t go through for that reason as well, so I don’t have to spend time working out whether or not that annoys me. Well done Norway, sensible all round.

Saturday Reject: Didrik & Emil Solli-Tangen – Out of Air

“He’s dialling down the operatics and he’s ramped up the dance beat.”

Tim: So, Eurovision’s off. It was rumoured Tuesday night, and then confirmed Wednesday morning. Let’s be honest: upsetting but probably the right thing to do. HOWEVER, the songs are all still out there, and so are the ones that didn’t get chosen, so let’s just keep going as per, shall we? You’ll remember Didrik of course from coming a disappointing and unjust 20th at Eurovision 2010 with the stunning My Heart Is Yours; ten years on, he’s back!

Tom: You know how bad my memory is for songs, Tim? Well: not only can I remember the name, not only can I remember the track — I can remember the chorus.

Tim: Cor, bloody hell, that’s a heck of a compliment.

Tom: Although I think if you’d have asked me, I’d have said it was a Josh Groban number. Anyway, yes, I remember him!

Tim: He’s got rid of much of his outstanding hair (seriously, check the artwork); he’s compensating by bringing along his younger brother, who does have good hair; he’s dialling down the operatics; and he’s ramped up the dance beat.

Tom: Those are some strong “woah-oh-oh-oh” bits in the introduction. And it never really lets up from there, does it?

Tim: Oh, it’s just FABULOUS. This one didn’t have to qualify to get to the final (it’s weird, but to celebrate Norway at Eurovision turning 60, NRK made Melodi Grand Prix bigger, more confusing and a tad unfair for many qualifiers, but never mind that), but got knocked out before the Gold Final (though again, that’s complicated, as there was a SCANDAL involving the online voting system breaking down). However and wherever it ended up doesn’t really matter, though, because isn’t it just a TUNE and a half?

Tom: Like last week’s track, it reminds me of a lot of things I’ve heard before: although at least, this time, it doesn’t bring back memories of a specific Eurovision winner. It’s a solid track. And the harmonies in the final chorus!

Tim: Melody, vocals, beat, sparklers, EVERYTHING.

Tom: Full marks to the steadicam operator for that move in the second verse, too.

Tim: They’re both enjoying singing it, and I’m enjoying hearing it. Brilliant stuff.

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.

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.

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.

Saturday Reject: Edgars Kreilis – Tridymite

“Someone on the internet has to pay attention to the song that came seventh in Latvia’s national selection.”

Tim: Tom, IT IS TIME.

Tom: Time you got a watch?

Tim: Bought one yesterday. No, Eurovision is three months away, many countries have their search to find their entries well underway, and, well, someone on the internet has to pay attention to the song that came seventh in Latvia’s national selection.

Tim: Now, my geological knowledge is patchy at best, but according to Wikipedia tridymite is a crystal that is notable for typically occurring as three crystals linked together (hence the tri- in the name) and there being quite a lot of it on Mars; arguably, therefore, the song is about him liking the girl either because she’s into threesomes or because she’s an astronaut.

Tom: “Arguably” is doing a lot of work in that sentence, but sure.

Tim: Either way, I’d imagine a lot of that would go over the head of a primarily Latvian-speaking audience, so we’re left to judge the music really, and it’s…varied. That’s absolutely not a bad thing in a normal song, though – but the way it switches so often between dark brooding synth stuff and upbeat dance pop could, I guess, have also put a lot of people off voting for it.

Tom: Yep: this isn’t a particularly bad song (those backing vocals, in particular, are quite nice, and those arpeggios in the final chorus work so well), but I can see why it came seventh.

Tim: It’s a shame, because I really like the song as it is – guess it’s just not a song for Eurovision, though.

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.

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.