By Sean Sieczka
In May, the 64th Eurovision Song Contest (ESC) will be hosted in Tel Aviv, Israel. Forty-one countries have all selected one song to represent them in one of the largest and most viewed music competitions in the world. Eurovision has seen some of the biggest names in music on its stage. In 1974, ABBA won for Sweden. In 1988, Celine Dion won for Switzerland. In 1997, Katrina and the Waves won for the UK.
And yet, most Americans don’t seem to have ever heard of Eurovision.
If you haven’t heard of it, that’s okay. Eurovision has only been broadcasted in the United States since 2016 and is shown on LOGO TV, and as of late the full contest and all individual live performances have been blocked in the United States on YouTube. But not to fear, I’m going to run through all 41 entries of this year’s ESC, so in May, you can huddle around your computer and watch a laggy livestream of the contest using a VPN like I do every year. Part of the American Eurofan experience, I guess.
For a breakdown of how the voting system and competitions rounds of Eurovision are organized, watch this video. :)
Song: “Ktheju Tokës”
Translation: “Return to the Land”
Artist: Jonida Maliqi
Lyrics and Music: Eriona Rushiti
About Jonida:Jonida Maliqi has had a long and successful career in music in Albania winning many awards in Albanian music competitions like Festivali i Këngës (FiK), Kënga Magjike, and Top Fest. She also played Juliet in the Albanian musical version of Romeo and Juliet. In December 2018, she won first place at Festivali i Këngës 57 with “Ktheju Tokës,” earning the right to represent Albania in Eurovision 2019.
About the song: The song is about the migration of ethnic Albanians from the Balkan Peninsula during the 1990s as a part of the Kosovo War and also alludes to the current migration crisis as a whole. The instrumentation itself is distinctly Albanian, with a dark orchestral sound that is common in FiK songs. What sets this song apart, however, is Jonida’s soaring vocals. Albania is well known for always bringing a talented and capable vocalist to Eurovision, regardless of the quality of the song, and Jonida is no exception.
Will it qualify? I’d say so. Albania’s success in 2018 shows that the voting public is open to hearing something different than the typical Eurovision song or the standard pop fare. The song sounds even better live than it does in studio, so I have no doubt she will impress on stage. Also, this is the only song in Semifinal 2 that has no lyrics in English, so that will only help the song stand out more.
Song: “Walking Out”
Lyrics: Garik Papoyan
Music: Lost Capital and tokionine
About Srbuk: Srbuk (aka Srbuhi Sargsyan) first gained notoriety on the first season of the Armenian version of The X Factor, where she placed second. In 2018, she placed fourth on The Voice of Ukraine. Her two most popular pre-Eurovision singles: “Yete Karogh Es” and “Half a Goddess” have a combined 2 million views on YouTube.
About the song: The lyrics tell a story of someone in a relationship who, despite giving all of their love to the other, is not being treated as well as they deserve. In the end, the person decides that it isn’t worth the pain, and calls the relationship off. You can tell that much thought was put into the composition and production of the song, because the studio cut is sleek and modern. I could not find a recording of her singing the song live, but you don’t get second place on The X Factor if you can’t sing well live.
Will it qualify? Yes. Even before the Armenian broadcasters allegedly bought views on the YouTube music video, this was one of the most watched videos of all the 2019 songs. Most of the reactions to this song have been positive (unless you’re from Azerbaijan, but that’s another story for another time). I definitely think this song will qualify with ease, barring any unforeseen disasters.
Song: “Zero Gravity”
Artist: Kate Miller-Heidke
Lyrics and Music: Kate Miller-Heidke and Keir Nuttall
About Kate: Kate Miller-Heidke is a classically trained opera and pop singer. While performing in opera houses all across Australia, she has also released 4 EPs, a top 5 single in Australia, and 4 studio albums, 3 of which peaking in the top 5 in the Australian music charts as well. She, in collaboration with her husband, Keir Nuttall, became the first Australian to win the 2008 International Songwriting Competition for her single, “Caught in the Crowd.” In February 2019, she earned an underdog victory in “Eurovision 2019: Australia Decides” with her song, beating out favorites Electric Fields and Sheppard (who charted in the US in 2014 with their song “Geronimo”) to represent Australia in Eurovision 2019.
About the song: Popera always has a special place at Eurovision. Almost every year in recent history has at least one popera song, most recently coming in the form of “La Forza” by Elina Nechayeva from Estonia. This song, however, really does put the “pop” in popera. While showcasing Kate’s mind-blowing operatic vocals, the song is also a fun dance track. The lyrics are about her recovery from post-natal depression, and the feeling of “weightlessness” she felt after regaining her sense of self.
Will it qualify? Australia is one of two countries (and the only one competing this year) to never fail to qualify. Albeit, this is only their fifth year in the contest, but still, their record is squeaky clean. This entry, however, has had the worst reception of all of their Eurovision efforts.There are still some televoters who have failed to get over the fact that Australia even competes in the first place. However, Australia is in the much weaker first semifinal, so that does help its chances. Personally, I think she will qualify, but it is not a done deal.
Lyrics and Music: PÆNDA
About PÆNDA: PÆNDA (aka Gabriela Horn) is an independent singer from Deustchlandsburg, Austria, who graduated with honors from the Vienna Music Institute in 2013. She prides herself in only performing music written and recorded by herself. In 2018, she released her first album, Evolution I. Her next album, Evolution II, is set to be released later this year and will feature her Eurovision entry, “Limits.”
About the song: Unlike most of the acts this year, whose vocals are lauded for their power, her vocals are notable due to their delicate nature. PÆNDA’s ability to sing in her high register with such flatness and ease is definitely impressive on a technical level. The song tells the listener to never give up on yourself, but also to not push yourself beyond your personal limits. Despite being slow ballad, the electropop influences do make an appearance, ultimately creating a unique atmosphere.
Will it qualify? I’m inclined to say probably not. It performs in the second semifinal (the more difficult of the two), and quite early as well. There’s a good chance that this song may be swallowed up by some of the bigger, louder favorites. However, some people said this about Portugal in 2017, and that song ended up winning by a huge margin. Austria may be on the outside looking in, but don’t count “Limits” out just yet.
Lyrics and Music: Borislav Milanov, Trey Campbell, Bo J, Pablo Dinero, Hostess, and Chingiz
About Chingiz: Chingiz Mustafayev is a Russian born guitarist and singer who currently lives in Baku, Azerbaijan. At age 13, he won the Azerbaijani version of Pop Idol in 2007. In 2013, he represented Azerbaijan in the 2013 New Wave contest, placing 11th. He also competed The Voice of Ukraine in 2016, getting eliminated in the battle rounds. His 2019 single “Tənha Gəzən” peaked at number 7 in the Azerbaijani music charts.
About the song: The composition of this song does an amazing job at combining chart-worthy production with that Azerbaijani flair that many Eurovision fans love. Borislav Milanov has helped create many a Eurovision entry, and Trey Campbell was part of Bulgaria’s act last year, EQUINOX. The song is about a toxic relationship, and choosing to part ways rather than to keep taking the abuse. Chingiz uses a mix of chest and head voice to put a cherry on top of a commendable act.
Will it qualify? No doubt. Azerbaijan had always been a contender in the final, until last year when the song “X My Heart” failed to qualify by 14 points. Now, Azerbaijan is back for revenge. Bookmakers have this song finishing around 16th in the final, but I think this is not only a contender for the top 10, but possibly the top 5 as well.
Song: “Like It”
Lyrics: Yuliya Kireyeva
Music: Yuliya Kireyeva, Victor Drobysh
About ZENA: Born in September 2002, at just 16 years old, ZENA is the youngest performer of this year’s Eurovision. She has a respectable YouTube audience, with over 93,000 subscribers and over 15 million views. She has tried to represent Belarus in Junior Eurovision multiple times, and in 2018, she co-hosted JESC when it was held in Minsk. In 2016, she voiced the main character in the Russian dub of Moana. In March 2019, she won the allegedly rigged Eurofest competition, earning the right to represent Belarus in Eurovision 2019.
About the song: You can tell that she is really young, because the song is full of youthful swagger. The song is radio friendly and current (at least by Belarus’s standards). The lyrics themselves may be considered vapid, but it wouldn’t be the first time where a dance song has cast lyrics to the side and focused more on creating a danceable groove. ZENA does a good job singing live, as well as performing polished choreography (again, polished by Belarus’s standards).
Will it qualify? Probably not, but I’m not 100% convinced. This song does have the worst like to dislike ratio of all of the official videos on the Eurovision YouTube page, and overall, the song has no hype. However, semifinal one is wide open, and aside from a few sure bets, the fate of most of these songs is unclear. If performed well on the night, this could be a shock qualifier.
Song: “Wake Up”
Lyrics and Music: Pierre Dumoulin, Eliot Vassamillet
About Eliot: Eliot first gained exposure after participating in the seventh season of The Voice Belgique, after which he was contacted by Dumoulin (who also wrote the Belgian entry for 2017, “City Lights”) who wanted him to represent Belgium at Eurovision. At age 18, he is one of the youngest performers this year.
About the song: Like many of Belgium’s entries in the past 5 years, “Wake Up” has a contemporary edge that is right at home in 2019. Eliot’s voice is smooth, and it confidently carries the message of the song, to come together to make the world a better place. Though you can definitely hear his Walloon accent whilst he speaks English, it gives the song a distinctly Belgian charm.
Will it qualify? Last year, Belgium seemed to be a safe qualifier, poised to come about 5th in the semifinal. Then, after some questionable choices regarding staging and a less than stellar live performance, Belgium crashed out of the semifinal. Belgium finds themselves in a similar position in the odds but with a slightly less popular song. They are in the weaker semifinal one, but by no means is this a done deal. It will likely go through, but only if the live performance doesn’t fall flat.
Song: “The Dream”
Lyrics and Music: Jacques Houdek, Charlie Mason, Andrea Čubrić
About Roko: Roko Blažević grew up in a musical family, both of his parents Marija and Tonči both are singers and his brother is a guitarist. In 2017, he won the Serbian singing competition Pinkove Zvezdice, and in 2018, he placed second in the Croatian version of the show. In 2019, he won Dora 2019, earning the right to represent Croatia at Eurovision 2019 with “The Dream.”
About the song: The instrumentation of the song is pretty sound, which is to be expected of a Jacques Houdek composition (Houdek placed 13th in Eurovision 2017). Lyrically, the message is very straightforward, without a lot of flowery vocabulary. The Croatian language in the second half of the song is a refreshing change, but substance is just as absent there as it is in English. The real selling point of the song is Roko’s voice. Despite being only 18, the power and control Roko has during the higher parts of this song is definitely something to take note of.
Will it qualify? No, this song has next to no chance. It’s in the bloodbath that is semifinal two, and public reception for this song has been poor at best. Nothing is absolutely written in stone, but there’s a reason this song’s odds to win are 200 to 1.
Lyrics and Music: Alex Papaconstantinou, Geraldo Sandell, Viktor Svensson, Albin Nedled,
About Tamta: Tamta is a Georgian-Greek singer who first gained fame from placing second in Super Idol Greece in 2004. She has tried twice before to represent Greece in Eurovision, in 2007 and 2015. In 2010, she played Mimi in the Greek production of Rent and played Sally Bowles in the Greek production of Cabaret. She has also been a mentor on both the Greek and Georgian version of The X Factor.
About the song: I’m going to be honest here. “Replay” is a carbon copy of Cyprus’s entry last year, “Fuego” by Eleni Foureira. Listen to these two side by side and it will be apparent: same structure, same key, similar vocalists. To their credit, they picked a good song to model “Replay” off of, considering “Fuego” placed 2nd last year. In a vacuum, “Replay” is still a credible dance pop track that could find itself right at home on the charts. Again, the song is not lyrically brilliant, but that isn’t as important in dance tracks like these.
Will it qualify? Yes, and with ease. It worked for Cyprus last year, it should work again. Going in the first semifinal also helps. This song is 6th most likely to win as of writing this, so watch out for this in the top 5.
That's the end of part one! Which of these 9 songs are your favorite? Feel free to comment!
Learn more about Eurovision on their official website: https://eurovision.tv/