A Eurovision song that changed my perception of the Song Contest? With over 1,500 songs spanning well over half a century, how could I choose?
Would it be the prototypical ‘90s bop that I loved as a kid, with no realisation at the time that it was part of a larger, international telecast? How about the first song I heard live from the arena in rehearsals, where the colours seemed so much brighter and the bass so much stronger? The entries that sparked friendships? The ones that made me laugh, cry, or feel wistful?
No, I had to make things hard on myself and pick a song that didn’t even make it to Eurovision Song Contest in the first place.
A Decade Before Logo
As I’ve mentioned in my past writings for ESC Insight, I didn’t grow up with the luxury of watching the Eurovision Song Contest in America, and really only started to follow the Song Contest closely around 2005. My fandom kicked into high gear with the 2008 event, where Mor Ve Ötesi, Miodio, Ani Lorak, and Vânia Fernandes each grabbed my attention (and subsequently broke my heart when none of them took the trophy home). But even despite those brilliant acts, Eurovision was still just a one-week event, a few shows on a laggy live stream.
In preparation for Moscow 2009, I decided that I needed to go deeper. All I knew was that forty-odd nations took to the stage in May, but how did they get there? I had never delved into the world of National Finals, but I knew that there were stories and songs there that would never make it to the international level, and I knew there must have been a few gems hidden in far-flung National Selections.
A New Contest For A New Fan
After a few years of unfortunate results, the news that Estonian broadcaster ERR would be revamping their selection process, from Eurolaul to Eesti Laul, was intriguing. Would a competition to find a song for Estonia that would just happen to be presented on an international stage be more fruitful than a nation’s search for a Eurovision song? After ‘Leto Svet’, the only way forward was up, of course, but how much of an effect would a retooling of a selection process change the fate of a nation at the Eurovision Song Contest?
The question intrigued me.
Listening to the songs in contention that year, I had braced myself for an onslaught of pop much like what I had heard from the country at recent Eurovisions. ‘Let’s Get Loud’, ‘Through My Window’, and ‘Partners in Crime’ were… fine, I suppose, but certainly not in my personal wheelhouse, and not particularly innovative.
But as I queued up the list of songs on the roster for 2009, I saw the beginnings of some incredible things to come: a wide variety of genres, an equal split between English and Estonian, and some songs of truly great quality. As we now know, in the decade since Eesti Laul came on the scene, it’s not only created some impressive results for the country (including four Top Ten placements), but it’s gained a reputation for being one of the most innovative, diverse, and well-loved National Finals on the Eurovision calendar.
Reality-show winners, veteran acts, Eurovision alumni, cartoons, spirit animals, singlet-wearing hirsute punks…it all kicked off with a change in 2009.
While all eyes were on Urban Symphony’s stunning ‘Rändajad’ that year (and with good reason), it was that year’s runner-up, Traffic’s ‘See Päev‘, that really got to me. I loved ‘Rändajad’, and still listen to it often, but ‘See Päev‘ ticked all of my boxes. It reminded me a bit of all of the reasons why I loved ‘Deli’ in Belgrade the year before. A mid-tempo rock track, great vocals, an anthemic, yet accessible chorus… the song soared and swelled over its three minute run, opening up like a decanted wine.
Much like Mor ve Ötesi, it inspired me to research Traffic’s back catalogue, and even now, they’re one of my favourite Eurovision-tangential discoveries. Seeing them pop up in subsequent Eesti Laul shortlists (with 2012’s ’NASA’ and 2014’s stunning ‘Für Elise‘) is like reuniting with an old friend. Knowing that their songwriter and guitarist, Stig Rästa, has risen to the level of Eurovision royalty is nothing short of gratifying, especially considering that the first images I had of him were of a guitarist in the shadows, face barely visible under a mess of shaggy hair and a knit cap.
For me, ‘See päev’ is not only a great song, but it symbolizes a turning point in my own Eurovision journey. My first National Final experience, my first “if only it had made it to the Big Show” heartbreak, the first act that I followed from a domestic level to eventual Contest success (at least for Stig), and the first program that made me think about the inner workings of the show, how experimentation in formats can lead to changes in fortune. It was the pot of gold at the end of the exploratory rainbow in my first year of diving deeper into the Eurovision process, and set me on the path that I find myself on today, in terms of my relationship with the Contest.
As we move forward into the National Final Season for 2019, I hope the old guard and the new recruits to the Eurovision Song Contest can find their own ‘See päev’, and I hope it brings as much joy and enthusiasm to them as it has to me.