Like what they did last year, instead of a multi-artist competition the Uuden Musiikin Kilpailu [New Music Competition] (UMK) internally selected a superstar artist who would then present three songs that an international jury and general public would select as their choice to become the Finnish entry to Eurovision. This year, the Finnish broadcaster Ylesradio (Yle) selected DJ Darude, who is most famous for his 1999 instrumental smash “Sandstorm”, and Darude recruited actor/singer Sebastian Rejman, who could be dubbed the “Finnish George Clooney” as he is currently starring in a hospital drama similar to the classic 1990s US TV series ER and he is playing a hunky pediatrician.
The first entry presented was “Release Me” and it’s a solid number with a mid-section that though is all synths, seemed to have a reggae-styled rhythm. It has a significant amount of adherents among internet fans, who tended to prefer this over the one eventually chosen. But interestingly, this was overtaken by…
…”Superman”. It seems obvious that this entry was supposedly more of an after-thought. It shows with the way the artists regarded this song and most of the internet fandom. But interestingly, the international jury and the Finnish public preferred this over “Release Me” and ranked this their second choice. Perhaps it’s those little triple-time blips peppered throughout this song that recalled “Sandstorm” that made the juries and public take notice.
This country took a talent show path to select its entry this year, tying it in with Georgian Idol. Unlike what was done in Malta’s version of X-Factor or Israel’s own search, they also selected the song simultaneously with the artist.
“Me mjera [I believe] – Georgi Pruidze. This long-haired teen sang a Coldplay-styled (think “Clocks“) rock ballad. It’s actually well-sung and pretty melodic, but this act was not favored much by the Georgian public and placed last among the four finalists.
“Sul tsin iare [Go ahead]” – Giorgi Nakashidze. A hint that there was favoritism about this song was that this song was performed by two finalists, including the eventual winner. He can be classified as a hunky heartthrob, but his vocals are no match to the eventual winner and there are some pitch issues especially towards the end of his performance. To be blunt I found this the weakest amongst the four finalists but his good looks may have gotten enough votes to edge out his namesake and place third.
“Sevdisperi zgva [Silent sea]” – Liza Kalandadze. The only female finalist in this group offered a dramatic goth ballad. She was actually leading in prior weeks prior but ultimately lost out and became runner-up in the end. I doubt if she can improve her on her rival’s current buzz in the regard of Eurovision fans, but still, much respect as it’s well-sung even if most people won’t get it.
For this year’s Söngvakeppnin (Song Contest) they had 10 entries that were divided into two semifinal heats solely determined by popular vote, and the Top Two of each heat advanced to the final, plus a wildcard (the next highest vote-getter of either heat). This country almost always requires its entries to be performed in native Icelandic, but since 2015, after they are performed in the national language in the semifinal, they allowed the finalists the option to choose preferred language to be performed in the finals. From there, the Top Two would then go head-to-head in a superfinal and the winner is based on that final round of popular voting. The quality of this year’s batch is leagues better than last year, with the entries I would cite below likely to easily beat last year’s chosen entry if that entry was to compete this year. It helps that two of the entries were by artists who previously saw action in the big Eurovision stage.
“Samt ekki [Not Really]” – Daniel Oliver. English version is entitled the cringe-inducing “Licky Licky“. The first semifinal heat was front-loaded with strong entries, that even if this entry finished last in its heat it was actually well-regarded in the internet fandom, albeit as a catchy guilty pleasure.
“Nú og hér [Now and Here]” – Þórdís Imsland. The English version is “What Are You Waiting For?” This lady has a sweet high innocently girlish voice and it is befitting this catchy and lilting pop number. Admittedly its stage presentation is a tad dry, and in a highly competitive first semifinal heat, it couldn’t get much headway. It came close to being granted a wildcard, but one entry beat her to it. Another interesting note is that the amount of votes she garnered would’ve been enough to advance if she performed in the second semifinal heat.
As sorely I missed seeing her perform in the final, at least we have the consolation of hearing her very pretty acoustic version of the winning song. For those who speak Icelandic, hearing her lilting voice singing the lyrics is unsettling. But for us non-Icelandic speakers, it’s an awesome treat. Anyway, I’m rooting for her to see action in the main Eurovision stage in the future.
“Fighting for Love” Tara Mobee. The Icelandic version is entitled “Betri án þín [Better without you]“. It’s not a usual sight to see a performer of color in this relatively lily-white country, but anyway it’s nice to see diversity from this country. This is a very likable club jam and Tara has a sweet soul voice that sells the song. She advanced to the final by placing second in the less-competitive second semifinal heat.
“Moving On” – Hera Björk. The Icelandic version is entitled “Eitt andartak [One moment]“. Many fans were excited learning she’ll be seeing action in this national final and are rooting for her return to the big Eurovision stage after her 2010 stint with “Je ne sais quoi“. But unlike the Euroclub jam of her previous entry, she opted to compete with a ballad this time and unfortunately it backfired as even she was an automatic finalist in the highly competitive first semifinal heat, she was edged out by the wildcard entry in the final.
“Mama Said” – Kristina Skoubo Bærendsen. Icelandic version: “Ég á mig sjálf [I own myself].” This sassy retro-Motown-ish entry wasn’t an automatic qualifier to the final as it was beaten by Hera Björk and the eventual champion in the first semifinal heat, and needed a wildcard to make it to the final. She was the only one who significantly changed the staging from her semifinals to the final, as during the semifinals, it was a tentative affair with her in a gold jacket and leather miniskirt with four backing dancers. She changed her styling in the final as she sported straight hair and then wielded a guitar instead of joining in the choreography, It actually worked as she generated a badass presence in her new look, and that helped her outrank Hera in the end. Still, the juries and public preferred to reward the two finalists that opted to still perform in Icelandic.
“Hvað ef ég get ekki elskað? [What if I can’t have love?]” – Friðrik Ómar. He previously saw action in the main Eurovision stage eleven years ago as part of the techno-pop duo Euroband which placed 14th with “This is My Life”. Like Hera, he decided to come with a ballad this year, and it’s a lovely, soulfully sung waltzing retro-pop ballad. He also exuded sex appeal with the tight all-white outfit he sported showcasing how well he has maintained himself after all those years. I have a feeling if he won, he would opt to perform the English version in Tel Aviv, but I have to salute the savvy strategizing on his part to stay Icelandic during the national selection, But the winning entry was undeniably unstoppable and deservingly so.
This year’s Melodi Grand Prix was chock-full of high quality entries, that I’ll shine a spotlight on eight of the 10 finalists. And those two I didn’t cite, I’ll still give a couple of notes: Erlend Brattland (“Sing For You”) physically resembles Adam Lambert if he decided to let himself go and be pudgy, but he’s saddled with a so-so song, and I doubt if he has Adam’s powerful vocal range, while “Fake It” by Hank von Hell was a highly entertaining glam rock number, but his staging was a tad cheesy. Now, the more notable finalists:
“Hold Me Down” – Carina Dahl. This is a nice danceable empowerment pop anthem. In a lesser year this could make it to the “silver” final round, but with such a strong field this year, and with her vocals not that pitch-perfect in the middle sections, this couldn’t make serious inroads. Still it is well-regarded by a few fans.
“Feel” – Ingrid Berg Mehus. She has a connection to Alexander Rybak as they were a couple as teenagers, both studying and perfecting their musical craft in school. It could be said that Alexander’s Eurovision-winning song from ten years ago, “Fairytale“, was actually about their romance. And like Alexander, she is blessed with youthful genes that even if she’s in her early 30s, she could still pass as a teenage ingenue. This sophisticated classical-music-infused electro-pop is a lovely listen and could’ve been a worthy entry on the main Eurovision stage.
“We Try” – Chris Medina. American Idol fans would remember him for his Season 10 (2010) human interest story involving his then-fiancee, how she was suffering from a brain hemorrhage after a car accident that took place two months before they were slated to be married. He didn’t make it to the live rounds, but he has been generating a greater profile than those who ranked ahead of him. He actually has Norwegian heritage, and after breaking up from said fiancee five years ago he has been residing in this country since then. This is a well-crafted pop song and would’ve been super-final worthy in another year.
“En livredd mann [A terrified man]” – Mørland. This guy previously represented Norway at Eurovision four years ago with his duet with Debrah Scarlett, the Marcel Bezençon-award winning ballad “A Monster Like Me“. He plumbs a similarly haunting classical style with this entry, but it is now in the Norwegian language, and it had a few pulsing avant-garde uptempo electro-synth touches. I thought this entry would’ve been in the gold duel with the eventual winner, so I’m slightly upset that this didn’t even advance to the silver final. I can only console myself that at least one jury gave it its douze (12) points–did the other international juries mark this down because it was sung in Norwegian? Anyway, he technically still made it in the gold duel, as he co-wrote the runner-up entry, but still, I love this number, even if I don’t understand or speak Norwegian.
“Holla” – Anna-Lisa Kumoji. We have to hand it that this trap-infused entry is loaded with sass and that probably what caused it to garner high mark with the international jury and that made it edge out Mørland and reached the super-final. It is a highly entertaining entry, and I do like this number.
“Mr. Unicorn” – D’Sound. Many Eurovision fans are surprised that this turned out to be the jury darling, garnering four douze (12) points out of ten. Interestingly, if this was the winner, it would’ve had the opportunity to tap a previously uncatered audience to garner votes its way on the main Eurovision stage. You see, this jazz-pop act is a major fixture in Philippine radio airwaves for over 20 years now, with mellow songs like “Do I Need a Reason” and “Tattooed on My Mind“, the latter now a staple of many a debut, prom, or wedding setlist in our shores. They even collaborated with a Filipino artist, Up Dharma Down frontwoman Armi Millare on the 2018 single “Lykkelig [Happy]“, which despite its Norwegian title, its lyrics were entirely in Tagalog. For their Eurovision foray, they went with a catchy Daft Punk-style uptempo ditty. I think the sound was catnip to the international jury, but in the superfinal, it’s dependent solely on televote, and this entry lacked that televote support within Norway. If only there was enough of the Filipino diaspora residing in this part of the world, imagine them flooding phone lines to vote for this entry.
“The Bubble” – Adrian Jørgenson. Not only did Mørland co-write this Ed Sheeran-style acoustic rock entry, but another Eurovision veteran lent a hand–
Garth Brooks, er, Chris Gaines, er Alexander Walmann (“Grab the Moment” with JOWST back in 2017) was also co-writer. It got great marks with the international jury as it got three douze (12) points, and has enough support to advance to the gold duel.
Originally, this country’s broadcaster TRM intended to have 28 shortlisted entries compete in a two-heat semifinal stage before the grand final, but abruptly decided to immediately whittle down the list to ten and just hold one single final. Admittedly the pickings are slim, but here are the most worthwhile ones from the list.
“Gravity” – Lemonique. This electro-pop entry finished in a three-way tie for third place, finishing fourth with the jury and third with the televote. It’s an interesting, intriguing listen and arguably would’ve helped Moldova make more inroads in the admittedly crowded Eurovision second semifinal.
“Cold” – Vera Turcanu. This is an avant-pop EDM entry and for the final it was presented with four male dancers in long skirts. If Moldova was drawn in the first semifinal instead of the second, this would’ve fit in with the risky entries in that bracket. It traded places with Lemonique, placing third with the jury and fourth with the general public.
“Lies” – Diana Brescan. Diana has a powerful voice, but this waltzing ballad is a cliche. Yet her powerful vocals won over the jury which ranked this second. But the general public didn’t dig it, ranking it sixth, hence the total points she garnered made her tie with the more intriguing and listenable entries from Lemonique and Vera Turcanu.
“I Will Not Surrender” – Maxim Zavidia. Amongst the internet fandom this cheesy, cliche, poorly-enunciated rhythmic pop ballad was not highly regarded. The juries didn’t have a high regard for this, ranking it sixth. But oddly, it won the televote and actually beat the eventual champion here by a four-to-one margin. But since points are determined by ranking and did not factor in the proportion of votes garnered, this entry only ended up second overall. Anyway, I’m glad this didn’t win, and to be blunt, I would rather have Lemonique and Vera Turcanu outrank him.
I find it intriguing that the key standouts of this year’s Festival da Canção are acts of color, as three of the highly regarded favorites were not white. I’m all for diversity, and this country featured a host of them this year.
“A dois [For two]” – Calema. There are a significant amount of fans who dig the R&B style of this brotherly duo. It’s a strong number, indeed, and is radio-friendly. But while it finished a solid fourth with the general public, the juries didn’t quite dig this and ranked it second-to-last among the finalists, making this entry finish sixth overall.
“Pugna [Struggle]” – Surma. The winning entry was not the only avant-garde number in this roster as this one is also off-the-beaten-track. It’s a challenging listen but it’s rewarding for those who are open to this kind of sound. It finished third with the jury but second-to-last with the televote, resulting in a fifth-place finish overall.
“Munda a mudar [World is changing]”. This is a very traditional acoustic entry, so it’s expected why it finished in a tie for fourth place with the jury. The general public ranked this fifth, but this results with this finishing fourth overall. To jazz up what could’ve been a quite presentation, the performers sported face paint.
“Perfeito [Perfect]” – Calema. During the first semifinal heat, this entry actually beat the eventual champion as the narrower set of juries cotton to this conventionally traditional classical ballad with an R&B twist (coming from the singer’s soulful, James Ingram*5-esque voice.. But with a larger jury pool in the final (arranged across regions), it turns out this doesn’t have as much support as initially perceived, ranking in a tie for fourth with the jury. But it was popular with the televote, placing second behind the champion.
*5 James Ingram recently passed away. May God bless his soul.
“Igual a ti [Same as you]” – NBC. NBC in this case doesn’t stand for the US TV network, but for “Natural Black Color”, since this singer is black. I love this song, and I like this singer’s charisma and stage moves as he performed this pop ballad. But he has even flyer dance moves, as you would witness as he joined in when the champion reprised his winning song–could he join them in Tel Aviv as an additional backup dancer?
Coming up: the Week of March 4-10.