Rotterdam 2021 – My Top 39 & Fab Five

7 April 2021

All songs reviewed and ranked

It’s a fascinating Eurovision Song Contest in 2021 with so many returning artists following the cancellation of Rotterdam 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Declared to return from 2020 were 24 artists, while two others, from Estonia and Lithuania, won through again from their respective national finals.

The full list of countries with returning artists from 2020: Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Bulgaria, Czechia, Estonia, Georgia, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Moldova, Netherlands, North Macedonia, Romania, San Marino, Serbia, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland, Ukraine and United Kingdom. We’ve lost Armenia and Belarus that would have performed last year, meaning 39 countries are set for 2021.

Eurovision 2021 Top 39, Fab Five and all songs reviewed and ranked - Rotterdam - Eurovision Song Contest

Overall, the standard is up this year, and most of the returning artists have taken advantage of their second chance and brought superior songs. Ranking the songs didn’t prove too difficult. After the first run of viewing them all together, two stood out from the pack and have remained that way, while only three have made any significant movement in either direction. Those being Israel, Poland and Spain.

If you’ve yet to watch all the songs in one session, try it on my Top 39 playlist. While you watch my ranking from worst to best, you can dip in here to find my thoughts on each song.

One Star (Poor)

39 France – Barbara Pravi – Voila

A mess. Hate the style, and the voila, voila, voila gets on my nerves.

38 North Macedonia – Vasil – Here I Stand

Self-indulgent drivel. I hate the smarmy appearance too, and don’t get me started on the masks on the orchestra.

37 Portugal – The Black Mamba – Love Is On My Side

Starts ok and is quite ingratiating, then becomes annoying and quite quickly.

Two Stars (OK)

36 Czechia – Benny Cristo – Omaga

It’s ok. It just doesn’t do much for me.

35 Latvia – Samanta Tina – The Moon Is Rising

This is something that might work better live. Otherwise, it’s all a bit melodramatic for no good cause.

34 United Kingdom – James Newman – Embers

Apt title. Instead of hot flames, it’s dying embers.

33 Netherlands – Jeangu Macrooy – Birth Of A New Age

Nice African vibe obscures a dull song.

32 Azerbaijan – Efendi – Mata Hari

A rework of last year’s Cleopatra, so may as well just copy the comment for that: “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 was ranked 34 last year so we can objectively say Mata Hari is better than Cleopatra.

31 Germany – Jendrik – I Don’t Feel Hate

It’s a laugh the first time, then ok the next. It reminds me a bit of the guy for Austria in 2003 (Alf Poier) with the cardboard animals on stage, except no where near as good.

30 Iceland – Dadi og Gagnamagnid – 10 Years

Not as good as Think About Things, which wasn’t that good anyway. I hate the outfits with the buttons. Return to the simple jumper. That’s more nerdy, whereas this style is geeks gone wild. The main problem here is it just seems so forced, whereas Think About Things had a natural good feeling about it. Play Jaja Ding Dong.

Three Stars (Good)

29 Israel – Eden Alene – Set Me Free

Revamped it recently with extra and unnecessary instrumental effects in the chorus and the result is something a bit disjointed and annoying compared to the original. I’ve consequently dropped it from its initial place of 25 and it’s only that it’s still quite catchy and far superior to her 2020 entry that I didn’t drop it into the two star range.

28 Russia – Manizha – Russian Woman

I appreciate the charasmatic performance, the theatrics and the quality of the artist. I wish the song was better.

27 Serbia – Hurricane – Loco Loco

The girls bring very much the same rapid-fire style as last year, especially the frantic and somewhat messy chorus, and they’d do better to reduce the hurricane to a tropical storm to allow for more vocal expression.

26 Slovenia – Ana Soklic – Amen

One of the entries that will benefit with the rule allowing backing vocals as the choir effects late in the song really launch it. Sad that it just takes too long to eventually launch so it’s very much the Soviet entry if this was a race to the moon.

25 Belgium – Hooverphonic – The Wrong Place

The band return to their lead singer from 1997 to 2008 and the results are better. A nicer voice and a better song, even if it does get repetitive like Release Me did in 2020.

24 Ukraine – Go_A – Shum

Still not a fan of this “screech singing”, even though it’s far less intrusive than last year’s ear-piercer. It’s a better song, too, and with real singing, Ukraine would be much higher. The video revives great memories of my visit to the Chernobyl nuclear reactor and surrounding area when I was in Kyiv for Eurovision 2017.

23 Australia – Montaigne – Technicolour

A polarising entry, mostly due to Montaigne’s often shrill vocals, and then the horrendous live performance that served as the basis for the official video. Montaigne was one of many artists that were announced for 2021 very early and that manifested itself in someone that had too much time to formulate their Eurovision entry. Trying to find the right song, fiddling with the production, ticking every box possible, it can end up in a contrived mess. Still, underneath it all lurks something that does stay in your head, and will likely continue Australia’s 100% qualifying record, especially when you consider the traditional jury bias to Australia, the weaker nature of the first semi final, and that top 10 of 16 is a low bar to meet.

22 Sweden – Tusse – Voices

Not the strongest song ever from Sweden. Indeed, it’s too formulaic for its own good, and benefits primarily from the charisma and story of Tusse himself (a refugee from Congo), and his heartfelt performance and strong projection of the song’s message.

Four Stars (Excellent)

21 Georgia – Tornike Kipiani – You

This is one easy to dismiss if you don’t see it to the end. When Tornike finally gets the moment to unleash his powerful vocals, it could be too late. The salvation is, unlike with Slovenia, the song is more engaging during its initial phases, so if Tornike can capture the audience earlier, he will take them on one hell of a journey. Like Slovenia, he’ll be able to use the powerful choir as recorded backing vocals too.

20 Malta – Destiny – Je Me Casse

Oh, Malta. Every year you try so hard, and the results can be a messy. This time, you’ve allowed Destiny (who won Junior Eurovision in 2015) to showcase her powerful vocals amid a very busy video. It’s one of several songs inserting an instrumental hook for extra appeal, so that will be a fascinating mini contest within itself.

19 Italy – Maneskin – Zitti E Buoni

This one hasn’t grown on me as hoped. This raucous rock is normally my thing, and the problem is it’s more about screaming and less about singing for my liking. I don’t care what style of song it is, I always like a nice vocal! Going for it is the infectious guitar riff and a likely epic live performance.

18 Switzerland – Gjon’s Tears – Tout l’Univers

We’re starting to repeat ourselves with songs leaving it all too late. Switzerland is another, albeit, Gjon’s haunting vocals should capture the audience from the start and hold them for the dramatic conclusion.

17 Albania – Anxhela Peristeri – Karma

It’s a light year for ethnic ballads, with this the only one. I stands out for that reason alone, and is rounded off with Anxhela’s imperious vocals.

16 San Marino – Senhit – Adrenalina

An unusually high profile entry from San Marino thanks to the infusion of the rapper, Flo Rida. While I’m more likely to know the names of recent hurricanes to hit Florida than I could name any of Flo Rida’s songs, his appearance will boost the stature of Eurovision in the United States if San Marino happen to win. That is not impossible either as Adrenalina is a highly polished and infectious entry, and only suffers a bit in that the instrumental hook doesn’t help it much. Yes, if travel restrictions permit, Flo Rida will be in Rotterdam.

15 Romania – Roxen – Amnesia

Not quite as dramatic as her entry last year, Alcohol You, Roxen still rocks with her unique vocal style and engaging song. Amnesia is one you won’t forget.

14 Ireland – Lesley Roy – Maps

This is Story Of My Life 2.0, not that there’s anything wrong with that. As I said last year, it’s very “thumping Taylor Swift pop” and something appreciated more from listening to it without the distraction of the video.

13 Finland – Blind Channel – Dark Side

This has lost favour since I first heard it and saw it at UMK 2021. It’s an impact song so the boys will need to really bring it live to rejuvenate it for me. Still a great, energetic song and easily won in a very strong field.

12 Estonia – Uku Suviste – The Lucky One

Once voted Estonia’s sexy man, Uku Suviste certainly is The Lucky One after winning Eesti Laul despite a near early exit due to the ridiculous international jury. Estonia wanted their man at Eurovision, and they finally got him there after the event was cancelled last year and he finished second in 2019. While I preferred his 2020 entry What Love Is initially, The Lucky One has really grown over time, and that’s saying something since Estonia released all their songs in December and I’ve easily heard it over a dozen times.

11 Cyprus – Elena Tsagrinou – El Diablo

Follows the template of Lady Gaga’s Alejandro, and that’s fine if the song is good. El Diablo actually compares better, with the chorus sections soaring much higher and it overall more dramatic. Its main niggle is structurally it could be tighter. It jumps into the “I fell in love” chorus at extra times when I’d be repeating the soaring “oooh, ooh, ooh” instead.

10 Lithuania – The Roop – Discoteque

One of the fan favourites last year, it’s dropped for many this year, while improved for me. There’s just more to it and I much prefer the arrangement. There’s more energy to it and better dance moves too.

09 Norway – Tix – Fallen Angel

The most interesting story of this year’s Eurovision as Tix used the nickname given to him by fellow students when growing up due to suffering from Tourette Syndrome (it causes tics), and he turned that into a stage character and proved, in his own words, an ugly duckling can become a swan. He’s huge in Norway, which explained his big win at Melodi Grand Prix, beating Keiino in the process. Yes, Fallen Angel is a throwback to older Eurovisions, so newer viewers might twitch in bemusement while older ones will welcome this unashamedly catchy and kitschy entry. Both should find it endearing as Tix didn’t just win because he’s Tix. He had the song too.

Five Stars (Outstanding)

08 Austria – Vincent Bueno – Amen

Vincent has made the biggest leap in songs compared to 2020 with this powerful and dramatic entry. Vocals are superb as he artfully guides us through the vicissitudes of the song. With a strong live performance, this should do well, and we’ll all be saying Amen to that.

07 Denmark – Fyr & Flamme – Øve Os På Hinanden

The purple jacket and charging out to the stage, it’s all a bit Bobbysocks – the Norwegian female duo that won Eurovision in 1985. No surprise then that this year’s Danish entry is another throwback to old school Eurovision. Much like Tix from Norway, while some people might lament this entry as something that should be forgotten, I’m addicted to it. Right from the infectious melody, the cheesy grin on the guitarist, to the lame dancing – it’s so Eurovision! I only lament that the lead singer doesn’t have a better voice as I’d love it even more.

06 Spain – Blas Canto – Voy A Quedarme

The best ballad of the year, an overall great song, and it’s the one that’s boosted its rank the most over the weeks. Blas shines with his lush vocals over this climatic journey. It’s the complete package, and dare I say it’s the first time I’ve ever heard Spanish rival the beauty of Italian. Voy A Quedarme probably tugs a little harder due the video featuring the warmth and caring between a son and his mother. I lost my mother just on two years ago now, and it still affects me daily.


05 Moldova – Natalia Gordienko – Sugar

From Natalia’s self-described “dream team”of Dimitris Kontopoulos and Phillipp Kirkorov, Sugar borrows much from Maruv’s controversial Siren Song in 2019 and is another of those dance songs with an instrumental hook that, like Cyprus, would have benefitted by using more of the stronger parts of the songs to provide a better structure. More of the “come over, come over” vocal sections and less of the instrumental section, please. That’s only a small niggle in this highly polished and addictive song.

04 Croatia – Albina – Tick-Tock

Where Moldova doesn’t quite nail it, Croatia does. The hypnotic Tick-Tock hook is the strongest component of this song and is adeptly used. It’s a great package and I love the addition of the Croatian language section, especially that Albina pronounces Tick-Tock with a Croatian accent during that phase. That’s attention to detail! Her live vocals are also impressive if judging by her winning national final performance at Dora 2021.

03 Poland – Rafal – The Ride

Hold on for the ride of your life as Rafal launches us into this 1980s retro classic. He’s really nailed the use of the distinctive synthesiser effects from that decade, not to forget the neon lights, fashion and wearing sunglasses at night. It’s very Miami Vice, if you ever saw that TV show, and recalls classic video games like Out Run, or its recent homage, 80’s Overdrive. It took a few rides for The Ride to really click into fifth gear, and now I’m hooked, as this pulsating song builds through its gears, hits the nitro through the bridge, before cruising off into the neon lights. It will be interesting to see it live. Rafal was one of the presenters of the 2020 Junior Eurovision Song Contest in Warsaw, not that I would have had any idea, unless he removed his sunglasses.

02 Bulgaria – Victoria – Growing Up Is Getting Old

Starting a song with “playing Tetris” is one way to get my attention, and Victoria keeps me entranced like a game of Tetris right from start to end. She’s brought everything that made Tears Getting Sober a classic last year, namely her beautiful vocals and enchanting music, and stepped it up a notch due to a narrative that’s more universally relatable and a stronger engagement throughout. Growing Up Is Getting Old is about “a journey to self-improvement by revisiting your roots and the places you feel safe”, which is something I can appreciate. Seeing the teddy bear in the video reminds me of the one I left on an overnight train as kid, which I still often think about. It also makes it two songs in my Fab Five featuring a teddy bear, the other being Croatia.

01 Greece – Stefania – Last Dance

Epic music, epic vocals, epic song, epic everything. It’s no surprise I love this when the famous Greek writer and producer, Dimitris Kontopoulos, is behind it. Some of his classics and personal favourites of mine are Work Your Magic (Belarus 2007), Shady Lady (Ukraine 2008), Hold Me (Azerbaijan 2013), Shine (Russia 2014), You Are The Only One (Russia 2016) and This Is Love (Greece 2017). Now you can add Last Dance (Greece 2021). It has so much that appeals to my core, with its raw power and glorious vocals mixed into one dynamic package. You can thank the “on fleek” Stefania for the latter part as she steps up her sexy lower tone during the verses into a pulsating crescendo through the choruses and finishes off with a monster note. Stefania is Dutch of Greek origin, and was part of the Dutch trio, Kisses, that finished 8th at the Junior Eurovision Song Contest in 2016. Even then she was recognisable as most talented, and had the role of delivering the song’s biggest note. Now on the senior Eurovision stage, I’m hoping she literally will perform the last dance.

Eight songs with five stars reflects a strong year, as does the next 13 with with four stars. That’s 21 with at least four stars compared to 14 in 2020 (5 had five stars). Looking at previous years, Israel 2019 had 15 songs with at least four stars (including 6 with five stars), Portugal 2018 had 19 (8), Kyiv 2017 had 19 (2), Stockholm 2016 had 13 (6) and Vienna 2015 had 15 (6).

National Final Injustices

Even with fewer national finals this year, there were songs that would have boosted some countries up the rank. Raylee would lift Norway from ninth to third with Hero while Keiino would drop Norway to 13th with Monument. Teflon Brothers x Pandora would lift Finland to fourth with their infectious I Love You (and revive more of the 1980s in the process) while Ilta and her beautiful Kelle Mä Soitan would be nudging the top 5. UMK 2021 was that strong. Koit Toome would likely hold Estonia in 12th with We Could Have Been Beautiful, while Clara Klingenström with Behöver Inte Dig Idag would launch Sweden from 22nd to probably fourth (Dotter’s Little Tot would rank about 9th). Finally, from Denmark, my favourite national final song of the season, Emma Nicoline with Står Lige Her would be at least third and probably challenge for top spot. It would be so close. All three are so good and special in their own way. I’d probably lean to Emma because of the uniqueness of the artist.

Rotterdam 2021 – National Final Injustices


7 responses to “Rotterdam 2021 – My Top 39 & Fab Five

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