Welcome back to our Eurovision coverage as seen through the eyes of a somewhat sleep-deprived Australian at 5am! This review is absolutely full of links to YouTube clips of the performances, and as always, some of them don’t work in the US. We have done our best to find versions that are visible on both sides of the globe, so if the first clip doesn’t work for you, scroll a little bit further, because the second one hopefully will!
For optimal Eurovision enjoyment, we recommend opening this post in a new tab, then opening all the links in subsequent tabs and savoring each one individually. It may take a while – but it will be WORTH IT! And if you need more music, check out the Eurovision 2020 post!
So, Eurovision 2021. Wow. I feel like all the performers spent their respective lockdowns going ‘how can we make this more EXTRA?’, and then sewed on twelve more diamantes while removing another inch of fabric and contemplating how many backing dancers, pyrotechnics, surprise rappers, costume reveals, wind machines and key changes they could fit on a single stage.
I loved it.
We spent two consecutive nights watching the semi finals with friends while eating far too much sugar (Ken took a trip to the Netherlands this year, and I think it agreed with him), before piling into the living room in the wee small hours to watch the show in our pyjamas with a small but enthusiastic group of friends.
There were so many great songs this year – as well as a good number who put up such fun performances that the music hardly mattered. Admittedly, the actual winner wasn’t particularly to my taste, but that is sadly normal for me! At least the Australian public vote was solidly in the camp of, well, camp. We who awaken at 5am to watch Eurovision share a common bond, and that bond is made entirely of glitter.
I wasn’t quite sure how to write about Eurovision this year. It’s tempting to review each song individually – but then we would all be here all night. So instead, I have decided to combine my two greatest pop culture loves and group this year’s songs into romance novel categories. In the best traditions of Eurovision, my groupings will be highly subjective, frequently silly, and occasionally perverse. True Eurovision aficionados will undoubtedly disagree vehemently with some of my votes. But that’s OK – consider this article to be the jury vote, and the comments to be the public vote. And, as we all learned yet again this morning, the public vote is more than capable of overriding the jury vote…
Let’s start with something traditional.
One might well argue that almost everything in Eurovision harkens back a few decades, but there were several acts that truly embraced the retro vibe this year.
France this year sent Barbara Pravi, with her song Voilà, which was a proper chanson in the style of Edith Piaf or Jacques Brel. France is always extremely French at Eurovision, but this took the genre to new heights. One could almost smell the baguettes. This one was so Old Skool that its style pre-dates Eurovision itself, and it’s rather on the serious side, but I loved it to bits. And so, evidently, did everyone else, since it came second.
The Roop from Lithuania countered with a song that was bananapants in a more than usual literal sense. And also very eighties in its styling. I loved it for its very yellow costumes, bizarre dance moves, and the excellent eyebrow work of the lead singer.
The Roop have also kindly provided a dance tutorial video, because they are kind and giving people.
I also loved Denmark’s Fyr og Flamme, who sadly did not make it through to the finals, presumably because their time machine was stuck in the 1970s and they couldn’t get back (thus explaining their opening line – “Tiden er gået i stå” – “Time has stopped”). This was a true festival of terrible dancing and questionable fashion choices and it was glorious.
For those who can’t see the first link, here’s their performance from their intra-Denmark competition – it doesn’t have quite as much astonishment factor, but it does give you a feel for some of the extra special retro nature of this song.
COVER SNARK AND CRAZYSAUCE
This category is brought to you first and foremost by Albina from Croatia, who inspired this entire post. I took one look at her, with her butt-lasers and her backing dancers in their chapless space armour and went, I’m sure I’ve seen a sci-fi romance novel with this cover. And I would definitely snark it.
I’m not sure the song itself is particularly amazing, but did I care? Not one bit. (Sadly, others clearly did, as this song didn’t make it through to the final)
San Marino is a very tiny country which contains approximately four singers, judging by their Eurovision history, and Senhit has been here before. She knows what Eurovision likes, and she brings it all.
Costume reveal – tick.
Sequins – tick.
Energetic masked dancers – tick.
Asymmetrical frilly pants – tick.
Balkan harmonics – tick.
American rapper – wait, what?
If this were a romance cover there would be a clinch and rainbows and a dress coming off the shoulder and purple clouds and a horse freaking out in the background, for sure.
US viewers, unfortunately it looks like the live performance link doesn’t work for you, but fear not!
While the official music video is utterly unlike the staging, it is still completely over the top, with multicoloured wigs, sexy dancing, and suggestive bananas. There is even a horse. It’s like Senhit knew what I was going to write about her…
Oh Germany. What a delight you are. This year, Germany sent Jendrik, with a song featuring a bedazzled ukelele, trombones, and a backing singer whose costume is supposedly a hand making a peace sign, but which honestly looks more like a giant penis. Cover snark ahoy!
Anyway, I adored this song, with its light 1960s harmonies and bombastic brass breaks. Very sadly, while I didn’t feel hate for it, others did, and it came second last. (Experienced Eurovision viewers will easily guess who placed last)
This one is hard to watch from the US! You can see a short clip here, or a very unofficial video from the audience here, or the version from the internal German competition here:
Ed. warning- WHOA FLASHING LIGHTS ahoy!
Australia got a bit unlucky this year. Montaigne couldn’t get permission to travel, so she competed via a recording. And the recording used some very dazzling technicolour camera effects that I found physically uncomfortable to look at. I suspect I’m not the only one. I liked her song, Technicolour, quite a bit, but given how many extraordinary songs there were in the first semi-final, I’m sad but not surprised that she didn’t get through. Anyway, this one goes in cover snark because I’m pretty sure I’ve seen that black latex catsuit with puffy sleeves, blinged-up makeup, and prism background on some really old school science fiction covers.
For those who can’t see the clip above, here’s a live performance from the Sydney Mardi Gras this year – it doesn’t quite have the effects I’m describing, but it gives you a bit of a sense of it. And it’s a great song, so you should listen to it!
Trope 1: Mistaken Identity
Russia’s Manizha begins her song Russian Woman dressed as a doll in a caricature of traditional dress, who glides around the stage like a chess piece, before opening a door in the front of the costume and striding out in a bright red boiler suit. Costume reveal surely has to count as mistaken identity, right?
For those who can’t see that one, here’s a recording of one of the dress rehearsals.
This was one of my favourite songs of the night – I loved the feminist lyrics (which apparently made her very unpopular back home), and her high energy performance, but my favourite part was the virtual choir in the chorus, which had a folky sound, gorgeous harmonies, and video footage of all the singers in the backdrop. So beautiful.
Honorable mention in the costume reveal – sorry, mistaken identity! – category is Israel’s Eden Alene (US-friendly link here), who gets points for astonishing hair, a fun, boppy song, incredible high notes, and the fact that I really wouldn’t have imagined she could have fit another costume under what she was wearing.
Another honorable mention goes to Vasil of North Macedonia, who has a truly beautiful operatic baritone voice, and a sadly dull song in which to showcase it. Here I Stand gets into this category because he has a similarly dull black outfit… until he unbuttons his jacket and it turns out that he is wearing a disco ball shirt underneath…
Trope 2: Paranormal Romance
A strong, even crowded category in 2021! Norway’s Tix brought a song called Fallen Angel (US-friendly link here), which didn’t do much for me musically, but which was a triumph of over-the-top costuming, with a glittery angel in a fur coat and headband chained to four dancing demons.
Elena Tsagrinou of Cyprus riposted with her song El Diablo (if that link doesn’t work, you can see an earlier recording of the song here, or get a sense of the look here), which was pretty delightful if you like sequins, red latex, and a bouncy song with a very catchy chorus. Which I do.
But the winner in this category has to be Stefania from Greece, who wore form-fitting sparkly purple and danced with ghosts.
(Once again, this one doesn’t have good versions available outside the US, but this rehearsal footage is fascinating, because you can see how the sausage is made, so to speak, with all the green painted dancers against the green backdrop. For paranormal purposes, we can call them aliens or elves rather than ghosts…)
An honorable mention goes to Latvia, whose song, The Moon is Rising, is clearly a vampire / werewolf romance. I was so sad for her, because her official recording was vocally and musically stunning, but I think she must have suffered an earpiece malfunction in her semi-final, as she was in a different key to everyone else.
(Ah, but which of us has not had the experience of breathlessly awaiting a new vampire / werewolf romance and having it turn out to be… not so inspiring after all? Even if it does have sparkles.)
Romance Trope 3: Second Chance Romance
One could technically describe about two thirds of this year’s program as Second Chance Romance, given that most participating countries sent their 2020 entrant with a new song this year. Sweden’s singer, Tusse, was in fact performing for the first time, but his song, Voices, was a second chance romance for me. It was one of those songs that left me cold on first hearing, but which somehow grew on me. When I heard it a second time I found that I liked it quite a bit, and every time I have heard it I have liked it more. If that isn’t a second chance romance, I don’t know what is.
Also, I have love at first sight for Tusse’s marvellous red outfit. Just beautiful.
(And here’s an alternative video, I think from the internal Swedish competition. The jewelry isn’t quite as fabulous, but the outfit is still very gorgeous.)
Romance Trope 4: Spy / Assassin
Efendi had been planning to sing for Azerbaijan last year with her wonderfully over the top high energy dance banger, Cleopatra, but of course, COVID. She’s back this year with a song that shamelessly throws back to the same style, and I am here for it. In a nod to the host country, this year’s song is called Mata Hari. It’s a heap of fun, and the backing imagery on the screens was particularly gorgeous – some wonderful designs in teal and pink and gold.
And here’s a somewhat less official recording for those who can’t see the first one:
Romance Trope 5: Menage
Oh, Moldova. You always deliver. And this time, you delivered Natalia Gordienko singing her song “Sugar” while using four hot backing dancers as furniture. This song was such a joy to watch because Natalia was clearly having the BEST time singing it. I also loved her backing dancers, and her ever-so-slightly awkward dancing. It’s just a really, really fun song. And I don’t think she needs to worry about being alone tonight, because she definitely has some very good friends there.
Also, that sustained note at the end is EPIC.
Backup clip for them what can’t see the one above!
Also, if you can’t see the staged performance – or even if you can! – her coterie also appears in the video clip – they aren’t doing human furniture, but their costumes are even wilder.
Romance Trope 6: Rockstar Romance
It’s unusual for Eurovision to do proper rock music, and I am honestly a poor judge of this category, because I don’t really like hard rock. And, actually, I don’t like rockstar romance either, so there you go! Anyway, while I wasn’t a fan of either entry in this category in 2021, I’m clearly in the minority with this opinion since Italy’s Måneskin won with their song Zitti e buoni. I did like their glam rock aesthetic, even if their song didn’t grab me. Maybe it will grab you?
If you can’t see the video above, you can click on this link for a snippet to give you a sense of their look and sound on the night, or watch the video below for the whole song.
An honorable mention in this category goes to Finland’s Blind Channel, with their metal song Dark Side. Again, not my thing, but I was highly entertained by their commitment to the genre.
SQUEE FROM THE KEEPER SHELF
There were so many songs I loved this year, but these five were particularly good.
Malta had an excellent entry with Je Me Casse, sung by Destiny, very much in the mode of Aretha Franklin. It’s a fun, feminist anthem, which is completely over cat-calling, and Destiny, at 18, has a huge voice.
And the alternate recording for those who can’t see the first one:
I am generally not a fan of power ballads, but Albania’s Anxhela Perister sang a marvellously dramatic one with her song Karma. I loved the instrumentation and the Eastern European tonalities in this one, as well as the staging. Perister has a fantastic voice, and it really suited this song. Everything about this worked for me.
Also, the lyrics are super melodramatic.
For those who can’t see the video above, this is Anxhela singing at Albania’s internal competition
Ukraine was always going to be a favourite of mine. My favourite Eurovision genre is traditional folk songs turned into new music. Go-A’s song, Shum, takes a ‘vesnyanka’ ritual welcoming the spring and makes it into an electronic dance track. I loved the lead singer’s glare and traditional singing style, I loved the combination of traditional pipe and electric guitar, and I adored the imagery, with the bare trees and the halo-like discs the dancers were using. It’s just a great piece of music.
Footage from the jury show, for those who can’t see the final performance above.
Also, their video clip is cool.
The Netherlands are the host country this year, and traditionally the host country does not want to win, because hosting Eurovision is expensive. Well, if it had been in my hands this year, they might have been in trouble, because Jeangu Macrooy’s anti-colonial anthem, Birth of a New Age, wholly delighted me. I was disappointed to see him do so poorly. The lyrics (sung in English and in Sranan Tongo) are fantastic, and the harmonies are rich and just spoke to my heart. The voices are perfect, and I really liked the dancing. It’s just a fantastic piece of music that I could listen to again and again.
For those who can’t see that one, here’s the version from the Netherlands’ internal competition (AKA the 1970s flashback version):
And while we’re all here, I’m going to share the video clip, because it really is beautiful.
Which brings us to my favourite song of the year, Daði Freyr’s Ten Years. I love this one with my whole heart. But I confess, I am a little bit biased about it.
I’m in it, you see.
GUYS I’M IN EUROVISION!!
(Sorry, I really had to do that.)
Daði Freyr was going to represent Iceland last year, with his song Think about Things, a completely adorable song about his infant daughter in the tradition of the Brotherhood of Man’s Save your Kisses for Me, but with more 80s flair. This year, he’s back with a song about how much he adores his wife, and it is incredibly sweet and goofy.
Daði’s band, Gagnamagnið, consists of himself, his wife, his little sister, and three friends. When it turned out that one of the band members had tested positive for COVID, the entire band elected not to perform, instead using their rehearsal recording for their entry. (I like to think that but for this act of solidarity, they would have won. But I love them for deciding that they didn’t want to sing without their friends.)
Basically, I love this group, because they have great songs and hilarious staging, but also because they seem like good people.
So yes, when Freyr put out a call for people to record voice parts for a virtual choir, you can bet that I had my voice recorder out before you could say ‘Eyjafjallajökull’. Those one thousand-odd voices you can hear in the brief little choir bit towards the end? I’m six of them.
This song is just fabulous. There are geeky costumes and silly dancing and great harmonies and fake musical instruments (fun fact: they designed the instruments with a curve because Daði’s wife is pregnant and they wanted her to be comfortable. So we have another romance trope here: Secret Baby!).
It is also probably the most romantic song in Eurovision this year, and thus a fitting finale for this post.
Here’s some rehearsal footage for those who can’t see the above. (If you are curious, my very tiny vocal cameo is at 2:47).
Also, if you can’t see the stage performance – and even if you can – the official video clip is HILARIOUS and magnificent and I highly recommend it, especially if you like 1980s music videos with superhero narratives that bear no relationship to the song itself.
Did I mention I love this song?
And that’s it! Another year of Eurovision, done and dusted! Did you watch the Eurovision Song Contest this year? Which were your favourites? Did I get the genres right? Tell us in the comments! In the immortal words of Daði Freyr – I can’t wait to know just what you think about things…