EUROVISION 2019 PROLOGUE: NATIONAL FINALS FAVORITES (CONCLUSION)

SERBIA

Broadcaster RTS held the ninth edition of Beovizija to select its Eurovision representative.  And it’s grander than ever as 24 entries compete in two live semifinal rounds culminating to a grand final.  I’ll be discussing the ones that garnered the most buzz amongst the internet fandom, including a couple that missed making the finals, starting with…

“Boje [Colors]” – Gipsykord. This entry is noted for its disco groove (think the 1999 hit from Australian band Madison Avenue, “Don’t Call Me Baby“) and the revealing jumpsuit sported by the lead singer.  Despite the potential for the visual to have the hetero dudes voting furiously, it wasn’t enough for this to qualify, hurt by the juries not giving it any points and its seventh place finish with the televote not enough for it to make the finals as they were only selecting the Top Six for each heat.  It finished ninth overall in the second semifinal.

“Čudo [Miracle]” – Goga Stanić.  This modern electro-pop number was well regarded by the internet fandom, but because the vocals were far from pitch perfect, it only ended up eight place overall in the second semifinal.

“Viktorija” – Jana Šušteršić. This dramatically arch art ballad has its adherents, and Jana was sufficiently crazily committed in her performance that it’s compelling.  It was undoubtedly a jury darling, though the Serbian public didn’t dig it as much.

“Aritmija [Arrhythmia]” – Sofija Perić. This is a nice electro-pop ditty that also has a significant following amongst the internet fandom.  I do like this number, too, and felt it deserved to finish better than its ninth place finals finish.

“Radnički sin [Worker son]” – Lord.  This artist specializes in fusing upbeat Slavic folk music with electro-pop beats and packaging them in an engaging cabaret show and him showcasing some breakdancing moves.  He made a splash last year with “Samo nek se okreće“, which placed fourth and this entry is in the same vein, with even more energetic dancing.  He deserved to finish higher than his eighth place finish here, in my opinion, for the sheer entertainment level.

“Moja bol [My pain]” – Ivana Vladović & Wonder Strings.  This can be classified as a traditional Balkan ballad, and this is a high quality example of that much-missed genre.  It was third with the jury, but the Serbian public were not as into this so they only ranked this sixth, resulting with this entry finishing fifth place overall.

“Samo bez straha [Just with no fear]” – Nataša & Una. The Serbian public dug this female empowerment number that they overwhelming made this their favorite.  Unfortunately the juries were not that into this that they only ranked this ninth, hence this entry ended up fourth overall.

“Da li čuješ moj glas [Do you hear my voice]” – Sashka Janx. This lady was a veteran who had previously tried to represent this country in 2009, 2013, and last year.  She finished eighth in her first foray but never finished below the Top Three since then, coming closest last year by finishing second.  This is a quality rhythmic pop entry, but as much as it’s beloved by the juries (finishing second), it finished fifth with the televote and hence ending up in third place overall.  Sure, she did set foot on the big Eurovision stage back in 2010 as a backup singer for Milan Stanković (“Ovo je Balkan”) but when will she be given a spotlight for herself?

“Nema suza [No fears]” – Dženan Lončarević.  Here is another good Balkan ballad entry with a presentation featuring a grieving mother knitting.  It finished second with the televote and fourth with the jury, enough for this to finish as runner-up.  Honestly as much as I appreciate this entry and its presentation, I would’ve preferred the other finalists I previously mentioned to outrank this, but I understand how this struck a chord with the Serbian public.

BELARUS

The national selection staged by this country featured an audition process that featured the return of UK rap artist Daz Sampson, who previously represented his home country with “Teenage Life” in 2006   He came to this audition with Nona and their song was “Kinky Boots.  Their entry was undeniably a trashy pop piece that could be considered a guilty pleasure, but it is understandable why it missed making the list of 10 finalists.  Another 2006 Eurovision alumni also joined the fray as MIHAI also submitted his entry meant for the Romanian national selection, “Baya“, but eventually backed out and was a no-show in the audition.  The final was decided solely by seven-member jury, which scored each entry a score from 1 to 10 points, but most of them did not submit a score below 7 points, which is why we witnessed a three-way tie for fourth place.  Here are the most notable finalists.

“No Love Lost” – Keysi. It’s a well-sung martial pop entry, but well, perhaps issues with her diction may have caused her to be marked down a bit.

“Can We Dream” – Alyona Gorbachova. This is a listenable but cliche pop ballad that is well sung, but again, the diction is just too thick.

“Humanize” – Michael Soul. There are a significant amount of fans who were expecting this would be the entry that would represent Belarus, but the juries were not as into this that it also is in a three-way tie for fourth place.  This is an edgy pop ballad and again this has diction issues.  But it’s pretty edgy, and generally wsell-sung.  It deserved to have been runner-up at least instead of a fourth-place finisher.

“Champion” – BLGN & Mirex. It’s so surprising to see a black singer attempting to represent the country that some have dubbed as “White Russia”.  But it seems this artist has been plying his career in these shores for quite a while now.1This R&B pop number is the surprise runner-up for this final

A note for the third placer, “Never Getting Close” by Sebastian Roos–now it’s a headscratcher why the jury scored it this high as ti’s just so mediocre and even amateurish.

SWITZERLAND

This country did not stage a national final per se, but the Italian-language broadcaster RSI disclosed its three finalists publicly that featured an alumni from 2014.  The French and German-language broadcaster also had pooled its own shortlists but did not disclose their finalists, and the eventual winning entry turned out to come from the German-language entity, SRF.  THe three shortlisted entries from the Italian side are all worth checking out.

“Playground” – Scilla Hess. This is a quirky uptempo pop ditty that is a catchy bop.  Though it’s not likely to lift Switzerland’s recent semifinal doldrums it’s still a treat worth checking out.

“Carry the Light” – Sebalter.  The last time Switzerland made the finals was 2014, and representing them was this artist, with “Hunter of Stars“.  This is a poppier, more contemporary sounding number than his previous entry.  It’s uncertain if this would’ve lifted Switzerland’s doldrums, but it’s also worth listening and would’ve had some adherents if this were chosen.

“Mama (I Walk Alone)” – Julie Meletta.  This is also another acoustic-laced boppy ditty that actually topped the Italian pre-selection.  It’s listenable and pretty catchy and would also be considered a well-regarded entry like Switzerland’s two previous entries, but again, there would’ve been no guarantee that this entry will lift Switzerland’s doldrums like the eventual chosen entry.

SWEDEN

Of course for most EUrovision fans, the national final to watch was Sweden’s Melodifestivalen. It is a grand six-week extravaganza feature 28 entries competing in four semifinal heats solely determined by popular vote, with the Top Two of each heat automatically advancing to the final.  The third and fourth placer of each heat have a chance to make the finals via the Andra Chansen (Second Chance) round, and four of them would join the eight previously selected automatic finalists.  The typically epic final would then be decided by a combination of jury and televote.  This year did feature a strong field (much better compared to last year in my opinion) though I have to note that I found Australia and Sweden’s national selections more compelling than this one.  Still, there are a host of worthwhile treats to check out, even among the non-finalists starting with…

“Stormbringer” – Pagan Fury. There are a significant amount of Eurovision internet fans who dig this hard rock entry, but unfortunately the Swedish public was not one of them, as this placed dead last in its heat (the fourth semifinal).  I do agree that there is a bit of injustice here, as it deserved better than its last place finish, but them’s the breaks sometimes, as it is pitted against what turned out to be the eventual Top Two finalists.

“Habibi” – Dolly Style.  This is a danceable boppy dance-pop tune with an infusion of Middle-Eastern pop instrumentation.  There is a significant fan base for this act and this is undeniably catchy.  I think what hurt is that people would’ve wanted to see a bit of ethnic visual to accompany with this ditty, but all we see is their typically plastic Barbie doll-style presentation, and hence it ended up fifth in the third semifinal heat.

“Tempo” – Margaret. Speaking of an act with a big fanbase, many were expecting that this Polish singer would’ve been gotten at least a slot at Andra Chansen but it missed the cut and was shut out.  There is nothing to fault this bright, boppy tropical-laced number, but somehow the Swedish public just favored four other entries over this during the second semifinal heat.  For many fans, this was the biggest injustice in this year’s Melodifestivalen.

“Mina bränder [My fires]” – Zeana featuring Anis don Demina. This Swedish-language tropical dance number is high energy and also has a significant amount of adherents, but well, despite garnering enough votes to make Andra Chansen in other semifinal heats, this fell short in the first semifinal heat.

Now, there is one Andra Chansen shut-out that I felt should’ve made the final.  And that is…

“Who I Am” – Rebecka Karlsson.  This pop empowerment ballad was beaten by the older-skewing retro-Motown styled “I Do” by Arvingarna.  Sure, Arvingarna has better credentials since it actually made it to the big Eurovision stage 26 years ago with “Eloise” finishing seventh that year, but this entry is such a powerful treat that for me this should’ve knocked out those veterans.  But well, the Swedish public probably had a soft spot for the older guys that is why they knocked this entry out of the finals instead.

Before I discuss the finalists, I’d like to give a shout-out for the following finalists that took up the rear:  both “I Do Me by Malou Prytz and “Victorious” by Lena Hedlund could be considered danceable empowerment anthems, the former in a more contemporary electro-pop style and the latter in a 1990s-2000s-era bombastic style.  Both entries deserve to outrank Arvingarna, in my opinion, but there seems to be an anti-female bias by both juries and most especially the Swedish public for this particular year.

“Ashes to Ashes” – Anna Bergendahl.  She previously won Melodifestivalen nine years ago with “This is My Life” and she ended up a “goat” as her nervous, tentative performance caused this country’s only semifinal shutout thus far.  She garnered more confidence since then so even if she didn’t win again, this entry could be considered her vindication.

“Torn” – Lisa Ajax. She generated a significant fan following with highly regarded uptempo pop entries in 2016 (“My Heart Wants Me Dead“) and 2017 (the sassy “I Don’t Give A“).  This year, she slowed things down with this stark, moving ballad.  But the anti-girl bias this year pushed this down to a ninth place finish, and many fans felt this deserved to rank much higher.

“Chasing Rivers’ – Nano.  He finished second two years ago with the dramatic drum-and-bass ballad “Hold On“, which placed second that year.  This entry dropped the drum-and-bass and replaced it with an electro-pulse, but it also plumbs similar territory like that entry.  This is a quality entry, but it’s not as compelling as “Hold On” and as such it finished in a sixth place tie with Arvingarna and…

“Not with Me” – Wiktoria.  Like Lisa Ajax, she is renowned for her uptempo pop ditties in an electro-pop-meets-country style in 2016 (“Save Me“) and 2017 (“As I Lay Me Down), and she slowed things down this year with an R&B-tinged ballad inspired by her recent romantic breakup.  It’s terrific and was rooting for this to win or at least fare Top Three, but then again, there is an anti-girl bias this year for some weird reason.

“Hello” – Mohombi.  This guy competed in the same semifinal heat as Wiktoria, and at that time Wiktoria ranked first and he finished second.  For the finals, somehow the Swedish public somehow preferred this entry over Wiktoria.  Sure, it’s a quality pop entry, but in my opinion, Wiktoria and Lisa Ajax deserves to outrank this entry.

“Norrsken (Goeksegh) [Northern lights]” – Jon-Henrik Fjällgren. This Colombian adopted by a Swedish Sami couple has been promoting traditional Sami joik music in this competition, and came close to representing Sweden back in 2015 with “Jag är fri (Manne liam friije) [I am free]“, beaten by the unstoppable Måns Zelmerlöw who eventually won Eurovision 2015 with “Heroes“.  He also ranked high in his second attempt in 2017 with “En värld full av strider (Eatneme gusnie jeenh dåaroeh) [A world full of battles]” in a duet with Aninia, placing third.  He couldn’t quite top those finishes this time, as he placed dead last with the international jury.  At least the Swedish public still love him enough that the points he garnered with his fourth place finish with them helped him secure a fourth place pverall tie with Mohombi.  Wonder what will it take for him to finally see action on the main Eurovision stage?  A dance pop collaboration a la KEiiNO?

“Hold You” – Hanna Ferm & LIAMOO. Hanna could be considered the highest-ranked female act in this year’s contest, but it took her being part of a male-female duet to do that.  This is a romantic pop number that had a significant following.  Me, I think I prefer Lisa Ajax, Wiktoria, or even Joh-Henrik Fjallgren to outrank this entry, which finished in a tie for second place alongside…

“On My Own” – Bishara.  I would’ve loved to call him “Swedish Bieber” but he’s of Syrian descent, so perhaps “Syrian Bieber” is more apt?  Many have criticized that the song doesn’t seem appropriate for this 16-year-old, and I also find this a tad overrated and undeserving of its second-place-tie finish.  But those kiddie demographic propelled him to this high a finish.