Hosting a huge event like the Eurovision Song Contest is a daunting endeavor, and with Portugal’s unexpected victory last year, it is handed a potentially heavy burden on its shoulders, especially with all the problems Ukraine encountered on the path to hosting this event last year. But inspired by Salvador Sobral’s battlecry against “fast-food music”, the approach Portugal’s broadcaster RTP is to go back to basics–they will still mount a well-designed grand stage at the Altice Arena in Lisbon but they have advised there will be no LED screens at the venue. The challenge here would be making a major impact without the trappings of visual effects that LED screens used to provide, which is not a bad thing at all as the focus is going to revert back to music and authenticity.
Though the directive is not a hard-and-fast one, it is interesting to witness how the competing countries chose to interpret the drive towards “authentic music”, and it turns out there are several different approaches.
First approach was going back to native languages–the number on non-English language entries increased this year to 13, after hitting an all-time low of seven in 2016. In fact, one country, Armenia, is fielding an entry sung solely in Armenian (not English entries peppered with Armenian words like “Qele Qele” and “Jan Jan” in previous years) for the very first time.
Others decided to comply with the directive by fielding songs that dealt with real-world issues, like immigration, terrorism, mental health, and others, like Madame Monsieur‘s “Mercy” from France.
Another stab at authenticity is to appeal to emotions and tug the heartstrings. For instance, three entries this year are inspired by the death of a family member, like a father in two of the songs–for example Germany’s Michael Schulte with “You Let Me Walk Alone“.
Still others decided to disobey the directive and still serve up what is deemed to be “Fast-food music.” For instance, the main target of Mr. Sobral’s pronouncements, Sweden, fielded the obviously slick and poppy “Dance You Off” by Benjamin Ingrosso.
For the multitude of fan girls out there, there are a plethora of dreamy boyish idols to drool and have their ovaries explode over, from Scandinavia with the ageless Alexander Rybak from Norway and Benjamin Ingrosso from Sweden, to Eastern Europe with Belarus’s Alekseev*1 and Ukraine’s Mélovin, to Hollywood deadringers from Czech Republic (Mikolas Josef) and Hungary (Örs Siklosi. lead singer from AWS) to countries hardest hit by the 2008 crisis like Iceland (Ari Olafsson), Ireland (Ryan O’Shaughnessy) and Spain (Alfred Garcia).
*1 I discovered Alekseev is actually Ukrainian, so we are talking about two Ukrainian dreamboats.
For those hungering for manlier hunks, like me, unfortunately this year they are in short supply. Still, for those with alternative tastes, they can probably go for the following:
Anyone hunkering for bald lumbersexuals can get their fix with FYR Macedonia (Bojan Trajkovski of Eye Cue) and Serbia (Mladan Lukic of Balkanika)
Have a crush on British actor Clive Owen? The three vocalists from Georgia’s Ethno-Jazz Band Iriao might do the trick, though for me they fall short from the original.
Fantasizing about being ravished by vikings? Well, Denmark’s Rasmussen and his backup singers might do it for you–though I have to note the newly recruited short-haired backup singer/guitarist on the left qualifies as a conventional hunk in my eyes.
How about tousled-hair, casual types? Well, there is Germany (Michael Schulte) and the duo from Italy (Ermal Meta & Fabrizio Moro) to quench your hankering.
Two guys may not be deemed sexy or attractive at first glance but when they opened their mouths to sing, they ooze with abundant charisma and sex appeal–such is the effect of the amazing voices of Albania (Eugent Bushpepa) and Armenia (Sevak Khanagyan).
Only four guys in my eyes unconditionally qualify as hunks in this year’s contest: France’s Jean-Karl Lucas a.k.a. Stoic Guy from Madame Monsieur, Austria’s Cesar Sampson, Netherlands’ Waylon, and Hungary’s Aron Veress, drummer from AWS. None of them generate the heat like Hungary’s Freddie or Russia’s Sergey Lazarev back in 2016 or Israel’s IMRI last year, but they can momentarily quench thirsts in a pinch.
The current political climate like the #MeToo Movement spilled over to this year’s contest amongst the female entries, for the better. We have a rich diversity of women this year, which is worth saluting.
Let’s start with the the androgynous ladies, with backing singer and song composer Isaura of Portugal and SuRie from the United Kingdom.
Then we have the spunky tomboy from Switzerland, Corinne Gfeller from the brother-sister duo Zibbz (get the pun?). Despite the fierce tomboy look with the hat and pants, she’s still undeniably feminine.
For those who like a little sass with their spunk, we have Slovenia’s Lea Sirk and German artist Jenifer Brenning (co-representing San Marino) bringing it on.
Looking very feminine but unleashing power when she sings is Romania’s Cristina Caramarcu from The Humans. Everything about her is on point, except for the song (more about that in my review proper).
Malta is present in two entries this year: the official Maltese representative is Christabelle while her country woman Jessika is representing San Marino. Both are spunky pop singers who are grizzled veterans in the Maltese national selection who finally have their turn to perform on the big Eurovision stage.
The winner of Spain’s Operacion Triunfo, Amaia Romero, brings both immense talent and sweet pop teenage ingenue charm.
Also in a similar pop vein, bringing color and racial diversity for being half-Aboriginal and half-Indonesian Timorese is Australia’s representative, Jessica Mauboy. Oh I wish we can adopt her as an honorary Filipina because it was so easy to mistake her for one of us.
Then, there are the “ladies in red”, who not only wore the same dress color in their music videos, but whose songs seem to be derived by a couple of hits from Alicia Keys. Will Croatia (Franka) and Latvia (Laura Rizzotto) wear the same outfit onstage in Lisbon?
ABBA still made its presence felt in this year’s Eurovision, especially the way they are promoting the two female vocalists of Serbia’s Balkanika, Nevena Stamenković (the blonde) and Danica Krstić (the brunette). But unlike in ABBA, where the two ladies harmonized, in the song they are performing at Eurovision, Danica does the ethnic wailing while Nevena harmonized with the male singer.
Despite the “No Fast-food Music” directive, we are still treated to babelicious pop thrushes, this year served up by Cyprus (Eleni Foureira) and FYR Macedonia (Marija Ivanonvska of Eye Cue)
Greece’s Yianna Terzi would’ve been classified as a pop thrush if you base it on her earlier work, but she seems to be evolving into a sibyl a la Ukraine’s Jamala two years ago.
On the reverse direction is Azerbaijan’s Aisel, whose oeuvre prior to Eurovision is more jazz but has decided to dip her foot in the pop direction, albeit with a forest nymph image from her music video.
Bringing their own quirky flavors are Belgium (Sennek) and Lithuania (Ieva Zasimauskaite). The former brings a retro jazzy James Bond-esque style, while the latter is more of a gentle, fragile flower with a hidden strength within.
Also on a quirky jazz bent is pink-haired Claudia Pascoal of Portugal.
For those who want perky retro-glam, Moldova serves up Marina Djundiet from the trio DoReDos.
Speaking of frail, of course we finally welcome Russia’s Julia Samoylova to the party after being prevented from competing by the Ukrainian government. Like Ieva, there is inner strength in her frailty.
Two ladies are arguably the most elegant to be competing in this year’s Eurovision. France’s Emilie Satt of Madame Monsieur brought an understated yet soignee presence, while Estonia’s Elina Nechayeva is more traditional, classical elegance as befitting her opera number.
Serving up modern and quirky pop style is Equinox‘s Zhana Bergendorff from Bulgaria. Will she sport her Sia-inspired blonde wig in Lisbon?
We close the tribute to womanhood with the two fiercest pop divas in this competition, Finland’s Saara Aalto and Israel’s Netta. To my eyes, the two could pass for sisters, with Saara the elder, more glamorous sister and Netta the younger upstart who is starting to overshadow her older sister in terms of innovative talent and quirky fashion flair.
On a final note, I observed that a few entries evoke pop culture touchstones from a long, bygone era, at least 50 years ago. Below are some influences I discovered–can you guess which entry would these be the source material for? Interesting note: one song actually used two of the “ancient” influences below.