10 February 2017
When the Eurovision Song Contest was last in Kyiv, it was my first realisation that Eurovision was more than just a show. It was a showcase to discover great new music, with the year proving to be transformative. That year was 2005, the performers were Vanilla Ninja, the country represented was Switzerland, and the song was Cool Vibes. Following 2005, my interest in Eurovision really accelerated, to eventually having the dream to one day attend. There were some preconditions on that, notably a favourite artist would need to be involved, or the contest held in an interesting part of the world I’d never visited before.
While I’ve discovered so many great artists over the years through Eurovision, the most enduring legacy of all is with that small band from Estonia, Vanilla Ninja. They were so easy to like too, producing an array of brilliant and energetic music, with powerful vocals, in my favourite genre of pop-rock. Then, after they disbanded about 4 years later, the legacy endured through lead singer Lenna Kuurmaa. After so many years, I still find it difficult to describe her voice adequately, and maybe it’s something I need to ask her one day if ever there’s the chance. Suffice to say, there’s a rich soft-rock tone with a soulful edge that really tugs at my soul, and her unique intonation, particularly on rock-style songs, it’s so exquisite, and her pronunciation is perfect. Maybe the only word that can adequately describe Lenna is “Lenna”.
My first dalliance with attending Eurovision was 2014. Lenna entered Eesti Laul with Supernoova so I immediately booked accommodation for Copenhagen with the plan to only buy tickets and flights if she won. I soon learnt that was a failed strategy, as tickets were on sale way before Eesti Laul would be decided. The question then became, do I immediately launch for tickets and hope Lenna wins, or do I wait for Lenna to win and pray for tickets? I made an “educated” decision to wait, believing Supernoova wasn’t quite strong enough to win Eesti Laul. Sorry, Lenna! Lenna finished fourth in the final and the next day I cancelled the hostel reservation.
Then came 2016 and Stockholm. While I’d been to Stockholm before, those visits were only fleeting, and with my sister keen to go, we booked accommodation once dates were formalised. I still would not commit to actually going unless a favourite artist attended, and we could purchase tickets. Lenna released a beautiful song called Suvehommik Setumaal in December of 2015 – a song I felt could win Eesti Laul – only to receive the shock of my life when seeing the confirmed Eesti Laul entries. No Suvehommik Setumaal! I speculated in my Eesti Laul 2016 post that 2016 was such a strong year that Lenna was unlikely to win, so the organisers bumped her to give others a chance. Anyway, Grete Paia was trying for Estonia, as was Molly Sanden for Sweden and Mihai Traistariu for Romania. Stockholm was still looking good! I committed to buy tickets, and once successful, booked flights. Luck would escape me yet again, as there was no Grete, Molly or Mihai in Stockholm. Not that I can complain. In hindsight, it was a wonderful experience – beyond anything anticipated. Except for that one little ingredient of seeing someone you love on the big Eurovision stage.
It’s 2017, and I can see shadows of my destiny. Eurovision is back in Kyiv and so, too, hopefully is Lenna. That is the big dream, to see Lenna on the Eurovision stage again. From those formative moments of a distant TV broadcast in 2005, to the full evolution of a live experience in 2017, it would be poetic. It seems to be a dream for Lenna too, as this will be her fourth attempt as a solo artist and sixth overall. With the fourth place in 2014, she finished second in 2010 and 2012, and, with Vanilla Ninja, fourth in 2007 and equal last in 2003 (public voted them first). Unlike her past 3 solo attempts, she’s brought an English language song this time. Slingshot, co-written by herself and Michelle Leonard, who had many credits on Vanilla Ninja’s final album, and greatest album ever, Love Is War, is obviously trying to summon the vibes of 2005. With Lenna confirmed for Eesti Laul, and with me never being to Ukraine before, it was enough to commit. Now it’s a matter for Lenna to win Eesti Laul. If she can win, two dreams would come true, and I could quite happily never attend another Eurovision again.
Only one question remains: Can Lenna win Eesti Laul? My initial experience of Slingshot was of a well crafted song, recalling the Vanilla Ninja days and adding Lenna’s contemporary flavour, and with plenty of potential for Lenna to lift it to a winning chance. That feeling remains today. Current feeling on the internet has it about fifth best, so it needs a powerful and passionate performance, which is certainly within Lenna’s capabilities. Her voice has never sounded better, nor with so much control – particularly apparent in the acoustic version. It’s like she’s had extra vocal coaching in order to reengage with this style of music. Her Estonian language songs are rarely this lively, which could be a function of the language itself. Those powerful English vowel sounds really allow her to stretch her voice and exercise her vibrato. All the trademark Lenna characteristics are there, like the powerful accentuations and whipping the end of notes. It’s never gratuitous either, with only certain syllables and notes receiving such treatment, which shows a true mastery of her art. There’s also her rarely heard softer tone upon exiting the bridge, which, again, is quite beautiful, and oh-so pitch perfect. Whether others feel Slingshot at this level, or she can similarly enchant enough of the Estonian public, that is the big unknown.
Going to bed on the night all songs were released for the first semi final, I would dream about Eesti Laul. Naturally, as is often the case with dreams, it morphed into a strange scenario that Lenna was a champion Olympic swimmer and Eesti Laul was the Olympic final. In her big race, she would finish second, beaten by someone from Croatia. Even stranger, suddenly I found that I had finished third. There must have only been 3 in the race. At the medal ceremony, as Croatia were being awarded their medal, Lenna and I began reflecting on the actual Eesti Laul contest, discussing the performances and her future. Then I woke up.
Is this some sort of premonition? I immediately reconciled with the fact not all dreams can come true, and quite possibly this one won’t. Not this year. Not any year. Possibly I’m already living the dream. I’ve seen Vanilla Ninja live, I’ve met Lenna, I’ve been to Eurovision, and have enjoyed over a decade of great music. If I’m currently living the dream, it’s a dream that won’t end with the completion of Eesti Laul either way. It will only continue, and to heights impossible to realise until that dream is over.
Lenna performs in the first semi final of Eesti Laul 2017, which is broadcast on 11 February at 2135 local time.
Moonland album review & more about my journey with Vanilla Ninja
Update – Lenna’s Eesti Laul performances
I really loved the semi final performance. Slick and stylish choreography really augmented the song. A perfect presentation. Lenna was peerless vocally, too. The performance in the final I enjoyed less. The trapeze section broke up the choreography, leaving Lenna missing from the stage for too long and the presentation overall disjointed. More: Eesti Laul 2017 Review
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