13 April 2020
This has been the eighth Fab Five post since this Eurovision blog started in late 2012, and never has it been so tough to find my favourite song and the final order of the Fab Five. While the top 5 were easy to settle on, I needed an extra week of listening to really confirm them. I had “settled” on three different ones over the weeks before finally settling down, getting married and raising children with the chosen one.
The close contest at the top for me is quite indicative of Rotterdam 2020 too, where this year’s Eurovision Song Contest had six songs roughly level at the top of the betting markets before the event was cancelled. Out of Bulgaria, Lithuania, Switzerland, Iceland, Russia and Italy, two of those are in my Fab Five.
The Fab Five is presented worst to best under the 5-star rating system, and upon each break, one of the Fab Five songs will be revealed. Here’s the playlist of all 41 songs in order too.
One Star (Poor)
41 Ukraine – Go_A – Solovey
A potentially great song ruined by that hideous screech-singing. Didn’t anyone learn from Poland’s Tulia last year? Apparently it’s called “white-voice” – appropriate, as it would scare most people white as ghost the moment they hear the first note. Ukraine have ditched their national final next year to give Go_A another chance. Please, enough of the punishment.
40 Czechia – Benny Cristo – Kemana
Contemporary style of hip-hop with African-beat, it’s not my thing and a bit boring.
39 Israel – Eden Alene – Feker Libi
I was very harsh about this on twitter, and I apologise. I listened through phone speakers, which I know is bad. Something I never do if I’m to judge a song fairly, and something I won’t do again. Eden actually has a pleasant voice, it’s just that the song is too dull and simplistic. With her already confirmed for 2021, I’ll be looking for a better entry then.
05 Romania – Roxen – Alcohol You
Never heard the word alcohol used as a verb, nor do I understand the meaning in the context of song, and it must be the first song at Eurovision to include the phrase “fake news”. Anyway, this is one of the most interesting entries, notably with the quirky vocals. It builds aggressively through the bridge before finishing subtly. Quite dramatic. Up until my final review and sorting of the songs a few days ago, this was my number one. Roxen will get another go 2021, and hopefully can find just as good a song.
Two Stars (OK)
38 Austria – Vincent Bueno – Alive
A poor man’s Germany. Vincent has been confirmed as Austria’s entry for 2021. He’ll want to bring something much better.
37 North Macedonia – Vasil – YOU
This is just one of those nondescript entries. So many solo men to keep track off, so many solo men to forget. He possibly could have livened it up on stage.
36 Cyprus – Sandro – Running
Every year there’s at least one song you hear often enough over the months and still can’t remember it. This is one. For the sake of the exercise, giving it another listen, it’s your standard, generic dance song. I’ve already forgotten again.
35 Sweden – The Mamas – Move
An unimaginative decision for Sweden to pick the backing singers of last year’s entrant, John Lundvik. Especially as it was finally a really strong year of Melodifestivalen, and especially even more so for home-grown Swedish female artists. Sweden hadn’t sent a female since 2014 with Sanna Neilsen, and technically they won’t be with The Mamas. Even if 2020 wasn’t cancelled, The Mamas are a hybrid Swedish/American soul/gospel group, and Move is the sort of song you hear plenty enough… in America. So Sweden’s phobia against local female Swedish products remain!
34 Azerbaijan – Efendi – Cleopatra
We waited so long for this, and while it starts promisingly, the chanting sections into the chorus, and the chorus itself, is really tacky. Efendi will go again in 2021.
33 Portugal – Elisa – Medo De Sentir
The usual pleasant plodder from Portugal.
32 Belarus – VAL – Da Vidna
I liked this initially, now it’s a bit bland. It just doesn’t have the required hook.
31 San Marino – Senhit – Freaky!
Good to see Senhit back after her under-appreciated Stand By at Eurovision 2011. Not only have San Marino recently lobbed for sending previous artists again (perhaps they’ve simply run out of options), they’ve lobbed for disco too. While this has promise, the chorus needs more, and it’s no where near infectious enough compared to Serhat last year. While it’s not announced, you’d expect Senhit will be selected for 2021. Who else is there?
30 Belgium – Hooverphonic – Release Me
When you’re first to announce your artist, expectations are high for something good. Starts like it could be really good; ends disappointingly. Quite mundane, monotone and repetitive. Although, there is still something intoxicating about it. Perhaps live it would have presented much better. They’ll get another chance next year.
29 United Kingdom – James Newman – My Last Breath
This is actually quite decent and contemporary for the Brits, at least in feel. It lacks with the gibberish intro about the force of life. The only force I care about is in Star Wars. Then the chorus is really some “oh oh oh” and an abrupt “one last breath”. Almost like James is out of breath.
28 Iceland – Dadi og Gagnamagnid – Think About Things
Strip away the nerd factor (which they partially did by ditching their adorable jumpers for some sort of stupid tracksuit ensemble at the national final), there’s not much to this. It’s cute and sort of catchy. It just doesn’t do much and is vocally insipid. Probably that’s the point, and I’m missing it.
04 Bulgaria – Victoria – Tears Getting Sober
So beautiful when hearing it the first time, and I emphasis “hearing” it. I had it on in the background and it was quite mesmerising and intoxicating. As is often the case, watching the video strips away much of the magic. It’s still great, and had it held that initial magical appeal, it would still be my number one as it was in the early days. As one of six songs almost equal favourite in the betting markets, it would have been interesting to see whether Victoria could entrance live and deliver the win Bulgaria. She’s already been announced as returning in 2021 and wanted to perform this song. Obviously that’s not possible so will will face the difficult choice of sending something similar and it instantly compared to Tears Getting Sober or send something different. The risk when comparing similar styles is if fans don’t see the new song immediately as better, they typically forget it.
Three Stars (Good)
27 Netherlands – Jeangu Macrooy – Grow
A tricky one. On first thoughts, it takes too long to go anywhere. On second thoughts, it doesn’t really go anywhere and you appreciate that it doesn’t. On third thoughts, it does take too long to go somewhere. Fourth thoughts? That would have reserved for the performance in Rotterdam. Jeangu has been confirmed as the Dutch entry for 2021.
26 Croatia – Damir Kedzo – Divlji Vjetre
Great voice, and a dramatic opening, it seems to have all the right ingredients without completely baking the cake. Bit of a soggy centre by the end.
25 Malta – Destiny – All Of My Love
Wowed us with her smooth, soulful voice when she won Junior Eurovision in 2015 with Not My Soul. Sadly, All Of My Love doesn’t quite do her justice, and is your typical over-produced Maltese pop. It has a smorgasbord of songwriters, including Austria’s Cesar Sampson (won the jury vote in 2018), and it shows. It just tries to do too much, just as Malta always does. It’s good, just not great.
24 Georgia – Tornike Kipiani – Take Me As I Am
Georgia has been a bit forgettable the past few years, and this would have changed this year with Tornike’s roaring rock voice. The song doesn’t quite live up to his level, though, with a huge vocal presence, he would have left an impact in Rotterdam and probably reached the final. He’s already announced as Georgia’s 2021 representative, so he has a year to find a better song.
23 Spain – Blas Canto – Universo
Sounds like a Latin/Swedish mixed. It’s very polished and you can imagine this at Melodifestivalen. With the right staging, this could have done well, at least for Spain. That would be top 20. He gets a second chance next year.
22 Switzerland – Gjon’s Tears – Repondez-moi
Stylish and a haunting voice, and singing in French certainly adds to the experience. It just doesn’t do enough, and gets a bit lost when comparing to the many other superior ballads and slower songs. Another artist already confirmed for 2021.
21 Germany – Ben Dolic – Violent Thing
This is reminiscent of something on Madonna’s Confessions on a Dancefloor album, and that’s good! With lines like “don’t tell your mama”, that’s also another link to Confessions. Dolic is of Slovenian origin, moving to Switzerland and then Germany later in life, before finishing second on The Voice Germany in 2018. Speaking of his voice, it’s quite effeminate, and really suits this song. Germany often tracks as either good or boring entries, and this year it’s good. Last year’s entry of Sister by S!sters was actually my favourite of the year, which wasn’t shared by many other people. This year was a bit different as Germany’s support was much wider.
20 Armenia – Athena Manoukian – Chains On You
Interesting ethnic beat and sound effects, which carries the song a long way. It doesn’t resonate much more beyond that.
19 France – Tom Leeb – The Best In Me
Strangely, this works. While seemingly old fashioned and banal, there’s a charm to it. Part of that can be attributed to the large songwriting team that includes noted Swedes John Lundvik and Thomas G:son. Leeb’s pleasant appearance and voice no doubt adds to that as well. It’s reminiscent of Poland’s Michal Szpak with Color Of Your Life in 2016, which was third with the public vote and one of my favourites that year.
18 Serbia – Hurricane – Hasta La Vista
After being starved of female entries during the early stages of the national final season, Serbia hit us with three in one shot. If you recognise the brunette as Sanja Vucic from 2016, you’re doing well. I had no idea. She left her Shelter for a Hurricane with Ksenija Knezevic and Ivana Nikolic, and they bring us this high-energy, pulsating entry. While it’s all a bit superficial, and you could say goodbye to the uninspiring and repetitive refrain, it is different. Probably needs the instrumental sections to get more of a work-out to elevate it further.
17 Lativa – Samanta Tīna – Still Breathing
Not sure what to make of this. It seems to be trying to do a family-friendly MARUV – Ukraine’s cancelled entry from last year. It’s a mix of upbeat pop, racy choir girls, then crazy chorus and stage antics. When I listen to it, it’s quite rubbish. Watching the antics in the preview video or national final performance, it’s good.
16 Slovenia – Anna Soklic – Voda
This promises so much – it’s something I really want to like – it just doesn’t get there. The big moments aren’t big enough, which is a shame, because Anna has a rich tone to her voice that needs to be exploited more.
15 Russia – Little Big – Uno
There was plenty of hype for their song when Little Big were announced as Russia’s entry. It’s proved to be a little big letdown. Without the fun video featuring the roly poly dancer, it might have been a big big letdown.
03 Moldova – Natalia Gordienko – Prison
We all remember Natalia Gordienko from 2006 when she performed with Arsenium, right? If not, here’s a reminder. Strangely, I couldn’t remember her, either by name or physical appearance, until I looked up the performance. I guess I’ve progressed to sophisticated women these days.
Speaking of sophistication, Natalia certainly presents as that with this smoldering song. It’s no surprise I like it so much when the composers are Dimitris Kontopoulos and Phillip Kirkorov. The pair are responsible for many noted Eurovision songs, including Shady Lady (Ukraine 2008), Hold Me (Azerbaijan 2013), Shine (Russia 2014) and You Are The Only One (Russia 2016), while Kirkorov composed My Lucky Day for DoReDos in 2018 for Moldova. Big sounding, big vocal moments and a big chorus. It lacks a decent bridge to really compare against their classics. Otherwise, great song.
Four Stars (Excellent)
14 Lithuania – The Roop – On Fire
A good change-up from the dominance of slow, mundane songs among the first 10 or so countries to release songs. Great dance moves and flares too. Probably a bit too simplistic to really attract the masses. As one of the favourites, you suspect it would have made the final in Rotterdam. Not sure about winning. Its appeal seems more that it’s different, not super great. The Roop have been offered a direct spot to next year’s Lithuanian song selection grand final.
13 Australia – Montaigne – Don’t Break Me
Entered Australia Decides as one of the favourites, won Australia Decides with opinion divided. That was mostly over the crazy clown outfit. Totally unnecessary for a song capable of dramatising itself without adding affectations that only distract the audience. Update the choreography a little, get a hand microphone for better control and a professional look, and it would likely be another top 10 for Australia. We won’t know now, so Montaigne will need to try her luck with a new song, as SBS has already made the crazy decision to cancel Australia Decides 2021 and send Montaigne again. A better option, which other countries are offering, is provide the 2020 artist a guaranteed spot in the 2021 national final with any song they like. That way the artist gets two shots at national exposure, other local artists don’t miss their opportunity to shine on a big stage, and fans don’t lose their national final. It’s win, win, win. Whereas, with SBS’s decision, the only winner is Montaigne.
12 Greece – Stefania – SUPERG!RL
Another great song by famed Greek writer and producer, Dimίtris Kontopoulos (see Moldova for more, and he wrote Greece’s excellent entry, This Is Love for Demy, in 2017). From the preview video, Stefania is more superwitch than supergirl, as she relies on witchcraft, not speed or strength. Full name Stefania Liberakakis, she’s Dutch of Greek origin, so you got to admire the cynical play by Greeks to select someone being a home grown girl of the host country. As you expect, Supergirl is a catchy song, and the ethnic influences are nice. They’re most prominent as the instrumental section of the chorus that otherwise would be the weakest part of the song. The lead-in is the strongest, while the verses highlight Stefania’s “throaty” voice. Stefania was part of girl group Kisses that finished 8th at Junior Eurovision 2016. She was most “on fleek” of the trio there, so glad to see her career evolve. With her already selected for 2021, we’ll get to see even more of her. Win!
11 Finland – Aksel – Looking Back
Seems to have dropped his last name Kankaanranta for Eurovision purposes, which is good, because it was a pain to keep looking it up. Looking Back is an apt name for the song that controversially won UMK 2020 as fans worldwide and across the cosmos were hoping Finland would look forward and pick the hot favourite, Erika Vikman with Cicciolina. Instead, they looked back to yet another boring solo male and a song we’ve heard a million times before. In fairness to Aksel, it’s that he popped up late in the season that caused much of the angst, as from the first notes you sensed something special in this song. He really has a lovely voice, and the staging was brilliant, and if he was earlier in the season, perhaps he’d be more welcomed. Although, fans would still be upset to a degree, and his selection speaks more about the usual reserved, shy Finns shunning a risky, local product for something safe, generic and written mostly by Americans.
10 Ireland – Lesley Roy – Story Of My Life
Very “thumping Taylor Swift pop”, this was well appreciated to spice up the selection and make us forget some of the boring solo men. This is one I much prefer to listen to without the visuals so I can bounce around as I type, like right now! Nah, nah, nah, nah… my life is mine. It would have been welcomed on the Rotterdam stage too, especially with a band and plenty of bouncing around.
09 Albania – Arilena Ara – Fall From The Sky
Our very first song of the season and was a good one (and still is!), albeit in the same mould as many we get from Albania. Slow, builds dramatically, big sounding and with epic moments. This was written in English before being translated to Albanian to meet the requirements of Festival i Kenges. There it was called Shaj and apparently for Eurovision it would be Curse. Not sure if that was the original title or a proposed one, either way, it would have been such an unusual word to write a song around. The current title is much better, even if the lyrics themselves are quite generic.
08 Poland – Alicja Szemplinska – Empires
If familiar English phrases are a distraction to you in a song as they are to me, prepare for a massive distraction…
Ashes to ashes
Dust to dust
Moth to a flame
Playing with fire
There’s also “bird to a pane of glass”, which could be one translated from something local in Poland, and “we’re gasoline and a match”. Anyway, there’s so many I forget I’m distracted. Alicja won The Voice of Poland in 2019 and is easily the voice of Eurovision 2020 too. She clearly has the best voice this year, and it’s worthwhile checking her national final performance to get a better sense of her song as the official preview video is a mess visually, nor do the vocals project as well. As with any of these power ballads, it’s vocals that sell it, and I’m sold. She’s only 17.
07 Denmark – Ben & Tan – YES
All I can think of is YES, YES, YES when I see Tan, because she’s so beautiful. Born in Barcelona to a Spanish father and Danish mother, she mixes those clean, refined lines of the Danes with the sultry, darker look of the Spanish. The pair met on X Factor (who doesn’t, these days) – specifically in 2019 – and bring this quite luscious and uplifting song, co-written by noted Swedish writers, Jimmy Jansson and Linea Deb. I must feel sorry for Jansson. Watching the Melodifestivalen final, he was involved in so many songs and none could win. He would have thought he had the compensation being involved with Denmark at Eurovision, until Eurovision got cancelled. The other writing credit is to Emil Adler, who gets no mention in the bio on the official Eurovision site, so I guess he’s a nobody. YES is so typically Danish with the bouncy pop sound and overall so infectious. A shame no one will see it live on the Eurovision stage, just like no one saw it live at Dansk Melodi Grand Prix due to the lockout.
06 Estonia – Uku Suviste – What Love Is
Justice for Uku after he finished second in 2019 to win Eesti Laul 2020. He was one of the favourites from the start, and dominated the public voting all the way through, to be Estonia’s Song for 2020. That accolade is often a far more important one than being the representative for Eurovision, as for many Estonians, they don’t give a crap about Eurovision. That’s why Estonia was among the first to announce there will be Eesti Laul 2021, and Uku has been guaranteed a spot. It’ll be interesting to see What Uku Brings as the big power ballad with soaring vocals that made What Love Is a success in Estonia was seen by many as too old fashioned. Uku says he had big plans for the staging of it and, remember, Eurovision fans are notoriously unrepresentative of the general public. A good song performed really well always has a chance to at least reach the final.
Five Stars (Outstanding)
02 Norway – Ulrikke – Attention
Won a controversial Melodi Grand Prix after the online voting broke down, and that was despite Ulrikke being the clear favourite and best on night. Eurovision fans can’t stop themselves whinging! Co-written by Kjetil Morland (of A Monster Like Me fame in 2015 with Debrah Scarlett), so the pedigree was always there, and while Ulrikke’s voice is not that spectacular in the high notes, she is accomplished, and the dramatic nature of the song and the excellent presentation would have seen a good result in Rotterdam. If it did’t leave so much to the end, it might have even been my number one. Ulrikke was offered a spot in the final of next year’s Melodi Grand Prix as a wildcard, and politely rejected it, saying she may not have a song as good as Attention. Wow! What a woman. So much selflessness and grace, and teaching the rest of us that the event truly is far bigger than any one individual. It’s also interesting to compare her growth from Places, her 2017 MGP entry, where she finished fourth with a radically different song and appearance.
01 Italy – Diodato – Fai Rumore
Simply another beautiful song Italian song. It took a second listen after a break to really get into this, and then I was hooked. Even though I would look at other songs as possibly better, I always returned to Fai Rumore. It translates to “make noise”, which is poetic, as the noise it generates is superb. It has a lovely progression that delivers an epic sound and vocals, a dramatic bridge section, and a subtle finale. Being in Italian makes it all the more evocative because, remember, everything sounds better in Italian! One curiosity is it is 30 seconds too long for Eurovision rules, so as to the potential impact of an edit, we’ll never know the outcome. Probably quite fitting for this unusual Eurovision year.
Italy has been sending great songs almost every year since they returned in 2011, and this is the first year they are my number one before Eurovision. The previous best was second with Francesca Michielin’s No Degree Of Separation in 2016. Unusually for me, it’s a male at the top too. I guess with so many this year, the odds are one of them would triumph. Also echoing the trend of 2020, seven of the top 10 are ballads or slower songs, including four of the top 5. Of course, that could have been much different if not for some of the National Final Injustices this year. Finland would be up from 11 to 1 easily if Erika Vikman won, and Sweden would be up from 35 to 3 with Hanna Ferm, or in the top 10 with either Dotter, Anna Bergendahl, Victor Crone or Mariette. Australia probably stays at 13 with Jaguar Jonze.
Five songs finishing with 5 stars is about normal, as is three with 1 star. Nine songs with 4 stars is on the low side when the average is around 13 and Kyiv 2017 had 19 (albeit there were only two 5-star songs). It validates the consensus of a rather weak year and that if we ever had to lose a year, this was the one to lose.