Eurovision 2020: Europe Shine A Light

The cancellation of the Eurovision Song Contest for this year wasn’t really unexpected due to the coronavirus pandemic, and it was the correct and sensible descision, but obviously it was a pity, especially for the artists who were due to compete in it and the Netherlands who were to host it. The decision for next year is that it will be held in the Netherlands, and the artists that were supposed to take part in 2020 can return. However, they have to sing different songs from what they were going to sing this year. Personally, I don’t see why, but apparently it would be against the rules of the competition if they entered the songs due for 2020 again.

Instead of the contest, they broadcast this programme Europe Shine A Light, where we would get to hear all 41 songs (normally, some would be culled in the semi-finals). But we’d only get 30 seconds of each one! I listened to all of them before this programme, so for what it’s worth here’s what I thought of them, and Europe Shine A Light itself:

To be clear, this isn’t a rank of any sort, they’re just in the order they were shown on Europe Shine A Light.

Israel

Eden Alene – ‘Feker Libi’ (‘My Beloved’) was my favourite of all of them! Eden Alene is Israeli and of Ethiopian descent, and ‘Feker Libi’ has four languages (English, Amharic, Hebrew and Arabic). It’s a very upbeat, catchy song with a mix of different styles, including Afrobeat. I don’t know what the final staging would have been like, but I liked the kaleidoscope background effect with butterfly wings and autumn leaves in the video clip. Eden Alene is coming back next year, so I hope it’s with something as good as this!

Norway

Ulrikke – ‘Attention’ had some controversey with being selected – apparently the online voting system crashed, and the finalists were selected by jury alone. Ulrikke has also already said she doesn’t want to come back next year. That aside, ‘Attention’, despite the title, wasn’t very attention-grabbing, it was like most of the other ballads.

Russia

Little Big – ‘Uno’ (‘One’) was the worst one this year. It had a very trashy, horrible sound – and, for the electro dance rave music and cartoonyness of how the act were presented, there was something oddly humourless about the whole thing as well.

Georgia

Tornike Kipiani – ‘Take Me As I Am’ was pretty interesting! Tornike Kipani sings about being expected to “talk like an English man”, “dress like an Italian”, “dance like a Spanish guy”, “smell like a French homme (man)” and “play like a German”, but that he should be taken as the person he is. Fair enough, but it did make me think of the cartoon BraveStarr. Now there’s an obscure reference, but in that Bravestarr called upon animal spirits to use those attributes, “strength of the bear”, “eyes of the hawk”, “ears of the wolf”, “speed of the puma”. So this would be a variation where you could call on stereotypical good qualities of different European countries.

France

Tom Leeb – ‘Mon alliée (The Best in Me)’ was co-written by Tom Leeb himself, last year’s Swedish entrant John Lundvik, the French 2016 entrant Amir Hadad, Thomas G:son and Peter Boström who have contributed to many Eurovison songs, and Léa Ivanne, who as far as I know has no previous Eurovision connection. And what did all those writers come up with? A boring, cheesy ballad that sounds like Westlife covering a Michael Ball song! Well done.

Azerbaijan

Efendi – ‘Cleopatra’ was indeed namechecking the famous historical Egyptian queen, in a “yass slay kwen” sort of way. Cleopatra has probably been referenced plenty of times in Eurovision, but most famously in ‘Diva’ by Dana International which won for Israel in 1998. ‘Cleopatra’ by Endi was very sassy and glam, and it had traditional Azerbaijan instruments, references to Buddhism, and a pro-LGBT message. So plenty going for it. Whether it “worked” or not might be debatable, but I enjoyed it from the time I watched it and the 30 seconds we saw of it in Europe Shine A Light.

Portugal

Elisa – ‘Medo de sentir’ (‘Fear of Feeling’) was pleasant and pretty I guess. Erm, ran out of things to say about it already.

Lithuania

The Roop – ‘On Fire’ had a catchy tune and a dance routine which caught a lot of attention, lyrically it was a “the world is your oyster” type of song, sounding almost life coach-ish! In fact, borderline mid-life crisis! But I think it might have done well.

Sweden

The Mamas – ‘Move’ ended up being Sweden’s representative by just one point in Melodifestivalen, the Swedish selection contest. The song it just beat was ‘Bulletproof’ by Dotter, which was a song I quite liked, but I think I prefer ‘Move’. I certainly prefer it to last year’s Swedish entry ‘Too Late For Love’ by John Lundvik, which the Mamas also featured on as the backing singers. ‘Move’ was a very happy, uptempo song.

Latvia

Samantha Tina – ‘Still Breathing’ was low in most betting odds to win, so in that respect she can’t complain too much about the contest being cancelled, but in another way she could, because she had attempted to represent Latvia five times before, and to represent Lithuania twice as well – the one time she got through, the contest was cancelled! ‘Still Breathing’ wasn’t very easy on ears though, either Samanta Tina’s voice or the messy production, so I think it probably wouldn’t have even got past the semi-final.

Belgium

Hooverphonic – ‘Release Me’ was sort of gloomy and grungy, but classy as well. It sounds a bit James Bond theme-ish, and indeed Hooverphonic have appeared on a lot of TV, film and advert soundtracks, and the opening ceremony for UEFA Euro 2000. Though Hooverphonic’s bassist Alex Callier apparently felt it was beneath them to sing ‘Love Shine A Light’ at the end with the other finalists, which doesn’t reflect particularly well on him, frankly. It could get awkward next year, as Hooverphonic are due to return…

United Kingdom

James Newman – ‘My Last Breath’. James Newman has a more famous brother, John Newman. OK , John Newman is probably not be an easily recognised name either, but has appeared on four UK number one singles (his own, ‘Love Me Again’, ‘Feel The Love’ with Rudimental, ‘Blame’ with Calvin Harris and on a charity record ensemble Artists For Grenfell with a cover of ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’). James Newman’s main music success has been as a songwriter, co-writing Rudimental hits ‘Waiting All Night’ feat. Ella Eyre and ‘Lay It On Me’ feat. Ed Sheeran, and ‘Love Me Like You’ by Little Mix, among others. So he certainly has a background in sucessful pop hits. He also has a background in Eurovision, co-writing ‘Dying To Try’ which was performed by Brendan Murray and represented Ireland in 2017 and… didn’t make it past the semi-final. James Newman’s own track for Eurovision, ‘My Last Breath’ was kind of bland, to be honest. It sounds like something that would have been radio friendly in the early 2010s – around the time all those above songs were hits. We’ll never know, but I imagine it would have been yet another low scorer for the UK.

Belarus

VAL – ‘Da vidna’ (‘Before Dawn’). VAL are one of those female vocalist/male keyboardist-producer sort of duos. The singer, Valeria Gribusova, has won awards
and has being singing since childhood, and like many Eurovision contestants she has been in a version of The Voice. The keyboardist/producer Vlad Pashkevich, can play lots of instruments, and produced ‘Story Of My Life’, the Belarus entry for 2017 which was performed by Naviband. As for ‘Da vidna’, it was… kind of eh.

Finland

Aksel – ‘Looking Back’ was co-written by American pop-rock band Before You Exit – I don’t know, but it seems so random that a US pop-rock band would write a Eurovision entry I wonder if it was originally something they didn’t want to record themselves? It’s pretty generic stuff lyrically, about living in the moment, appreciating what you have while you still have it, those summer nights of your youth etc. The other credited writers are Finnish producer Joonas Angeria, and Whitney Phillips who co-wrote ‘Hello’, a hit song by Australian DJs The Stafford Brothers which featured Lil Wayne and Christina Milian. Anyway, ‘Looking Back’ ended up sounding like a mid-tempo electro-pop ballad. The singer, Aksel, seemed like quite a nice guy.

North Macedonia

Vasil – ‘You’ was quite a generic dance song. Vasil contributed to the contest last year, providing backing vocals for ‘Proud’, North Macedonia’s entry which was performed by Tamara Todevska.

Switzerland

Gjon’s Tears – ‘Répondez-moi’ (‘Answer Me’) – I’m sorry, but this one really wasn’t for me! I just found it pretentious. Admittedly the clip’s black and white video might have added to that effect and it might not have come over as badly when performed on stage, but the way he uses the name “Gjon’s Tears” as well – it’s named after his tears because he’s so EMOTIONAL wants his music to MOVE YOU! It’s just cringey! He’s said he’s definitely coming back next year, so I guess I’ll give whatever song he comes back with a chance, but so far it’s a no from me.

Serbia

Hurricane – ‘Hasta La Vista’ (‘See You Later’) was a song which included three languages, Serbian, English and the title which is a very famous Spanish phrase.
Hurricane are a pop-R&B girlgroup, who on evidence of this song seem very Pussycat Dolls-ish. Apparently, all three of Hurricane are in the middle of studying university degrees! So is the group a gap year then? The lead vocalist Sanja Vučić also co-wrote the track, and she represented Serbia in Eurovision before, in 2016 singing ‘Goodbye (Shelter)’.

Spain

Blas Cantó – ‘Universo’ (‘Universe’). Blas Cantó competed to be Spain’s entry for Junior Eurovision in 2004, and in 2011 when he was part of a boyband called Auryn they competed to be Spain’s entry for that years Eurovision. So yet another contestant who’s made several attempts to get in, finally did, and then the contest is cancelled! Well, it’s not too bad in Blas Cantó’s case, as he’s already confirmed to be Spain’s entrant in 2021. One of the co-writers for ‘Universo’ is English, Ashley Hickin, and has written for lots of popstars, and has contributed to a few Eurovision songs, including ‘Me And My Guitar’ by Tom Dice, which represented Belgium in 2010. Another, Mikolaj Trybulec co-wrote and produced last year’s Czech Republic entry ‘Friend Of A Friend’ by Lake Malawi! Mikolaj Trybulec also co-produced ‘Universo’.

Albania

Arilena Ara – ‘Fall From The Sky’, which I thought sounded very like ‘Skyfall’ by Adele, not just the similar title. Darko Dimitrov has contributed to a lot of Eurovision entries, he had two this year alone as he produced North Macedonia’s entry as well. Anyway, I wasn’t a fan of this one. I just found it too overwrought, the song itself and the vocals.

Ireland

Lesley Roy – ‘Story Of My Life’ on the other hand, I LOVED this! A catchy pop-rock song. It’s similar in theme to ‘Don’t Let Me Get Me’ by Pink, where part of it was talking about how they wanted to package her as a popstar into something that wasn’t really her, but musically and in style ‘Story Of My Life’ is more like a Katy Perry song. Lesley Roy has worked with pop songwriter extraordinaire Max Martin, who has also worked with Pink and Katy Perry and countless others. But on ‘Story Of My Life’, the writers Lesley Roy has written this song with tend to do Nashville country music. ‘Story Of My Life’ was so fun and enjoyable, and it was tipped to be one of Ireland’s best performing ones in years. I think Lesley Roy has expressed an interest in coming back in 2020, so I hope she will!

Slovenia

Ana Soklič – ‘Voda’ (‘Water’) – and it had a sort of watery sound, sort of lanquid and like bubbles slowly forming in a water tank and dripping water. So generally this is all “water water water”. Had the competition gone ahead it probably wouldn’t have had quite the same impact ‘Fuego’ by Eleni Foureira had, which the title and the main motif was all “fire fire fire”. Ana Soklič will be representing Slovenia again next year.

Austria

Vincent Bueno – ‘Alive’ was a slickly produced Justin Timberlake-like number, which Vincent Bueno could easily carry off with his smooth vocals. He’s back next year as well.

Bulgaria

Victoria – ‘Tears Getting Sober’ was compared to Billie Eilish. ‘Tears Getting Sober’ is about mental health issues, and the video clip features Victoria in a woodland park surrounded by fireflies. It’s quite sweet and pretty, but it’s slightly airy. I quite like this track, but I feel it should be something I’d normally love. Not least that one of the writers on it, Borislav Milanov, contributed to a lot of Eurovision songs I really like, including ‘If Love Was A Crime’ by Poli Genova, ‘Beautiful Mess’ by Kristian Kostov (both for Bulgaria, the former in 2016, the latter in 2017), ‘Nobody But You’ by Cesar Sampson (Austria 2018), ‘Bones’ by Equinox (Bulgaria, again, in 2018), ‘Truth’ by Chingiz and ‘Chameleon’ by Malta (both 2019, the former for Azerbaijan, the latter for Malta). But ‘Tears Getting Sober’ just doesn’t completely click with me for some reason. Still, Victoria is back next year, so maybe I’ll like her new song more.

San Marino

Senhit – ‘Freaky!’ was a what-it-says-on-the-tin disco song. Senhit is back representing San Marino next year as well, though she has done it before, in 2011, and it wouldn’t have been a surprise if she was back in 2021 even if the contest hadn’t been cancelled. Being a small enclave state with a small population, San Marino’s options for competing in Eurovision are a bit limited – Valentina Monetta actually gained a lot of fan affection for representing San Marino three years in a row (then again just two years later!). Last year’s entrant Serhat previously did it 2016, and given that most of their other times San Marino have entered a duet, then the pattern suggests 2022 could be Senhit and Serhat! You know what, they probably should do that, why not?

Iceland

Daði og Gagnamagnið – ‘Think About Things’ was a favorite to win and had a lot of hype from people – and I’m just going to admit right now that I never got what the fuss was about. I wasn’t alone either, quite a few people were puzzled at all the hype it got. That’s not to say it wouldn’t have won. I think it would have had a good chance. I wouldn’t say I hated either, it would have just about made my personal top ten. Anyway, Daði describes himself as a “student of Eurovision“, and this group has his wife on keyboards, his sisters on backing vocals, and according to the official Eurovision website he “even borrowed a vintage microphone from his father – a noted sound engineer – to help create the perfect sound”. The song is also about his daughter who was born last year. So on the whole, it’s very much a family affair. Though Daði wrote the whole song himself. He has a jumper with a picture of his face which reminded me a bit of the pixel art in the video for ‘Move Your Feet’ by Junior Senior. I suppose I can see the charm and the appeal of ‘Think About Things’, but I’m not sure all the hype was justified. But we’ll never know now anyway. I think people bought into Daði as well though, so if he comes back next year I guess we’ll find out if that popularity has been maintained.

Greece

Stefania – ‘Supergirl’ – which has sometimes been written as ‘Superg!rl’ – very P!nk circa early 2000s! The video is set in a high school with Stefania in class starting to have super powers, which she uses to protect bullied kids and rescue a cat out of a tree. Awww. Then she levitates, and throughout all of this her classmates taking pictures and videos of it all on their phones. I think the video is slightly silly but somewhat likeable as well.

Czech Republic

Benny Cristo – ‘Kemama’ was a track I found very fun and catchy, and could be a great summer song. Apparently it went through a few revamps along the way, but I liked the version that ended up getting entered. While it is a happy song, there is a deeper meaning to it, as it’s about overcoming the cruelty of others. Sadly Benny Cristo has faced racism, and has spoken out about it. He’s also an animal rights activist. On top of all this, he’s a professional jiu-jitsu competitor and took part in snowboarding professionally as well!

Poland

Alicja – ‘Empires’ has an ecological, environmental message, and how empires always fall. The video has lots of pollution stock footage, with landfill sites and factories billowing smoke. I quite like the lyrics of this track, references to fool’s gold, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, crumbling towers, gasoline to a match, playing with fire, moths to a flame – and a line about “birds on a plane of glass”! That’s a less poetic and less well trodden metaphor than “moths to a flame”, but it works well! The second place to be Poland’s entry for Eurovision 2020 was Albert Černý, lead singer of Lake Malawi. I like Alicja – ‘Empires’, but Lake Malawi were one of my favourites last year so I would have liked to have seen Albert Černý again.

Moldova

Natalia Gordienko – ‘Prison’ was an icy, moody electro ballad. Interestingly, two of the writers of this, Sharon Vaughn and Dimitris Kontopoulos, also co-wrote Greece’s entry this year, ‘Supergirl’! This was also Natalia Gordienko’s second time representing Moldova at Eurovision, she previously did in 2006, with Arsenium and Connect-R.

Cyprus

Sandro -‘Running’ was a passable dance-pop song that could very easily be a hit in the charts. Yeah, the general consensus of this was “So OK It’s Average”.

Romania

Roxen – ‘Alcohol You’ was another one that was compared to Billie Eilish, and is quite gloomy. While it’s very different from ‘Running’ in one way, it could also be a hit in the charts. Not sure the whole “I’ll call/alcohol” pun really works though.

Croatia

Damir Kedžo – ‘Divlji vjetre’ (‘Wild Wind’), as refreshing as it is when something is sent in a language other than English, I thought this one was kind of phoned in. Damir Kedžo seems to have had a lot success in the charts and musical theatre in Croatia though, so maybe it was the song.

Germany

Ben Dolic – ‘Violent Thing’. Ben Dolic is from Slovenia originally, and he did try, as part of a group, to be selected to represent Slovenia in Eurovision 2016. He became well known in Germany in 2018 after being in their version of The Voice, where he finished runner-up.

Malta

Destiny – ‘All Of My Love’. Destiny is a former Junior Eurovison winner, in 2015, and she was a backing singer for Malta’s entry last year, Michaela. And Destiny is still only 17! She’s also going to be back next year. One of the writers for ‘All Of My Love’ was Cesár Sampson, Austria’s entrant in 2018, and another was Boris Milanov – who co-wrote the Bulgaria, Germany and Malta entries this year! That said, I wasn’t too fussed on any of those three. As I said before, usually I love the songs Boris Milanov has a hand in, this year none of the three he wrote connected much with me for some reason.

Estonia

Uku Suviste – ‘What Love Is’ was yet another Sharon Vaughn/Dimitris Kontopoulos collaboration this year, though in this case Dimitris Kontopoulos was just on production. Sharon Vaughn wrote the song, with Uku Suviste himself. Every year at Eurovision we all have at least one contestant we fancy, it was Uku for me this year, I thought he was very pretty! He quoted Mozart during his video speech at the end of the clip.

Australia

Montaigne – ‘Don’t Break Me’ certainly stood out, with Montaigne’s clown-like make-up blue hair, red cheeks and lipstick, plus an Elizabethan ruffle, which is a homage to influencial 16th century philosopher Michel de Montaigne, which is also where her stage name comes from. The song itself is nice enough electro pop. Montaigne will be back representing Australia next year.

Ukraine

Go_A – ‘Solovey’ (‘Nightingale’) combined traditional Ukrianian folk music with electronic music, which meant it was, at least, one of the more interesting entrants. They will also be back next year.

Denmark

Ben & Tan – ‘Yes’ was sort of like a cheerier, cheesier Mumford & Sons song, and it was quite catchy. It was pretty simple I suppose, but the “Say yes, say yes” stuck in your head, and Ben & Tan, the boy/girl duo who performed it, displayed joy and cheerfulness, so it was effective enough.

Italy

Diodato – ‘Fai rumore’ (‘You Make Noise’) was a BIG ballad that was tipped to do well in the contest, not least due to it getting a lot of YouTube views. It was written mostly by Diodato himself, he wrote all the lyrics and some of the music, which was written with Edwyn Roberts.

Armenia

Athena Manoukian – ‘Chains On You’ was a hip hop/R&B song, and I thought it was one of the best songs this year! Once again, this was written mostly by the artist themself, Athena Manoukin wrote all the lyrics and some of the music, which was written with the track’s producer DJ Paco. Who knows what the staging would have been like, but the video clip had red and white lights, a crown and a diamond platfrom, so it could have been very good!

Netherlands

Jeangu Macrooy – ‘Grow’, the host country, and it’s been confirmed the host country next year, with Jeangu Macrooy representing them next year too! Again, he wrote the whole song lyrically and some of the music with the producer, Pieter Perquin. ‘Grow’ is about getting older, life going on and the world keeping spinning. I might be wrong, but I wonder if it was partly designed to slip under the radar a little. Obviously, the Netherlands very much DO want to host the contest next year, and they are doing, but in another timeline where the coronavirus pandemic didn’t happen, I’m not so sure they would have had “host Eurovision 2021″ as a priority…

As for Europe Shine A Light itself, it was certainly different. It felt more like a Comic Relief/Children In Need televised charity fundraiser than Eurovision. A long night with lots of famous faces popping up, lots of talk of the seriousness of the issue that was being highlighted, footage of people in other locations doing their bit, and songs. Except that Comic Relief and Children In Need have comedy sketches as well, so this felt very sombre throughout. Not that it was bad to watch, but the tone was quite bleak, intercepted with messages of staying safe, looking after your health, and getting through it.

There were a few performances. Some performed versions of their winning songs – Johnny Logan, Måns Zelmerlöw, Gali Atari (backed by some Junior Eurovision contestants), and Marija Šerifović, and some performed new songs – Diodato, Netta and Duncan Laurence.

Måns Zelmerlöw performing ‘Heroes’ with an acoustic guitar in his front garden, with clips of people working in hospitals – as they are “the heroes of our time”. I know it might not sound like that worked, but it did! I guess the sincerity of it helped.

Netta‘s song, ‘Cuckoo’, which she performed in her bedroom while playing a music box, was lovely! I admit I haven’t heard much of Netta’s music outside of her appearances in Eurovision, but her coming out with such a delicate, intimate, gorgeous song like that was a revelation for me. It’s such a contrast from her outlandish, extravagent songs. I’m not saying there was anything wrong with those songs or that they didn’t have depth, because ‘Toy’ certainly had a message, but ‘Cuckoo’ was a very different sort of song, something more introspective.

Michael Schulte and Ilse DeLange performed ‘Ein bißchen Frieden’, a song which won Eurovision 1982 for Germany, and was performed by Nicole. An English language version of it, ‘A Little Peace’, again performed by Nicole, was a UK number one in 1982. I wasn’t even born then, but I do know ‘A Little Peace’ quite well, because we had to sing it in assembly when I was in school in the ’90s! It was among all the hymns they had us sing, like ‘Prayer of Saint Francis/Make Me A Channel Of Your Peace’, ‘Hand Me Down
My Silver Trumpet Gabriel’ and ‘Give Me Oil In My Lamp/Sing Hosanna’. It seems kind of random that a Eurovision winner was among those, other than the fact it has a “world peace” message.

This wasn’t included in Europe Shine A Light, but the clip going round of Kristia Siegfrids and Mr. Lordi, two former Finland Eurovision entrants, covering ‘Diva’ by Dana International was a Eurovision highlight of this year for me. Would it have improved the mood of this year if it had been in the main show, or would it have massively jarred? Who knows, but I liked it.

Europe Shine A Light was named after ‘Love Shine A Light’ by Katrina and the Waves, which was the Eurovision winner in 1997, the last time the UK won (and yes, you can’t help the feeling it may well turn out to be the last time ever!) Our Eurovision commentator Graham Norton was interviewed, and he noted that we haven’t done well recently. He talked a lot all night about how we have to look at silver linings in clouds at the moment, and one of those is the fact that they chose a UK winning song as the main theme for this. It’s a lot more positive than our recent Eurovision appearances – in 2019, we came last! And to be honest, I don’t think our planned entry this year would have fared much better.

This evening reminded me what a good song ‘Love Shine A Light’ is. There were two versions performed here, on both occasions with each performer in a seperate room
due to quarantine and social distancing. One version was by the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra, which was very nice, but the last song of the night was (most of) the 2020 finalists (plus Katrina herself at the end, with her dog) singing ‘Love Shine A Light’ – and it was a good version, it was very emotional and stirring.

Europe Shine A Light might not have been Eurovision as we know it, but I quite liked it. Hopefully the coronavirus issue and the awful situation the world is in will generally have improved by next year, but in any case here’s to Eurovision 2021.

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