‘You And I’, by Asmik (Armenian National Final)
In one sense the biggest musical moment of 2018 was ‘Electric Prelude‘, the new theme tune for the Insight podcast (and we’ve heard the full-length version, not just the short snippets on the podcasts), but that’s not what these moments are for.
Mind you, let’s double up on the music that powers the podcast, because the one track that has contributed the most energy to my creativity this year is from Armenia’s National Final…Asmik’s ‘You And I’.
From the opening note of Depi Evratesil you could hear a legion of Eurovision fans let out an exasperated sigh. This was not going to Portugal. But not me. At that point the song was nothing more than a cute little bit of 90’s dance, a genre I’m not particularly excited about (not even in the nineties). But in the month after the first studio version dropped, it snuck into my ‘warm-up for podcast/broadcast’ playlist. These are a handful of tracks that get me in the right zone to let loose with a “Hello Internet!”
Not only did ‘You and I’ sneak onto the playlist, but it quickly worked its way up to be the lead-in track. The electronic riff and heavy piano notes start a Pavlovian three minute clock, until the vocal-echoed mic-drop at the end leads into my recording light turning on. It’s the musical moment of the year that kicks off everything you hear.
‘Lost And Found’, by Eye Cue (Macedonia)
I’ll sneak in two songs for my second pick as well with Macedonia’s two Eurovision entries. Its Junior Eurovision entry ‘Doma‘ drips in the luxury of a Balkan Ballad, and I’m a sucker for this style. It’s a strong song in the genre, but doesn’t quite get my musical heart thumping as the reggae infused ‘Lost and Found‘ managed to do so earlier in the year.
Eye Cue’s banger never settles into a comfortable space; there’s a constant shifting of tempo, melody, and bassline; it switches between a number of musical styles; and it’s always interesting. Some might think that makes it a bit busy as a song, but it hooked me on my first listen and continues to keep me engaged months later. As a mash-up of music, I love it for all of these reasons.
So why did it not do any better at the Song Contest? As witnessed by the choices made for the live version, Macedonia’s staging superpower of completely missing the target was once more on show in Lisbon. A curious sartorial choice for lead singer Marija Ivanovska meant Eye Cue’s slim chance of reaching Saturday night was thrown away… before the costume change sealed its fate.
No matter. This is a musical moment, not a fashion parade.
‘Fuego’, by Eleni Foureira (Cyprus)
I’ve found, more often than not in the last few years, thats its the second placed position that I genuinely feel is more deserving of the win. Of course, that is a personal gut feeling that clearly is not in line with the jurors’ and televoters’ wishes, but the song ‘Fuego’ this year, managed to be a winner of sorts anyway. It broke through in charts across Europe, gaining Eleni a following beyond her native Greece, and now enjoys superstar status in Spain.
The entry literally set the stage alight as soon as it hit Lisbon for rehearsals. The combination of a pumping dance track, infectious chorus, energetic dance routine and a crazy amount of pyro all came together in a way no-one expected following the studio release, wowing the press – before the Contest it only managed a middling status on the gambling sites and online previews.
It’s the song that remains most foremost in my mind when I look back at May 2018, and shall likely remain on my playlist for years and decades to come. But ‘Fuego’ has given me even more than just a tune to bop along to – I will never be able to look at a pineapple in the same way, and it’s created arguably the best meme since the Epic Sax Guy… Yeah… Yeah… Fire….
‘Champion’ by Jael (Australia, Junior Eurovision)
I’ve always struggled with the idea of being nationalistic, and in particular the idea of popping an Aussie flag around my shoulders and proclaiming my heritage makes me a little tense. Put it in the world of the Eurovision Song Contest and I feel even more ill at ease. For those who haven’t followed my narrative through the years, I subscribe to the idea that Eurovision is about Europe – the Euro says it all. I may have been the President of the Fan Club in the land down under, but to me, it’s about the appreciation of the Song Contest, not our participation in it.
But if the song is right – no matter where its from – give me a little hand waver and I will clap and cheer loudly. When Jael took the stage in Minsk last November for this years Junior Eurovision Song Contest, I did just that. She wowed the jury with a vocal ability beyond her years, and gave an impassioned performance delivering every lyric with emotion. When the votes came rightly rolling in, people looked to me as the only Australian in the press centre for a reaction. I admit I shed a tear or two in excitement.
For that brief period, I thought we could actually win our first ever Eurovision-related contest.
Alas, just like the Adult Contest in 2016, we were beaten by Poland (who were languishing far below) in the televote and denied a win.
Jael nevertheless was a champion, gracious throughout Junior Eurovision, and proving to be popular with everyone. And I gave her my flag to wear on stage around her shoulders, so she could be proud of representing my country, as she should.
‘Monsters’, by Saara Aalto (Finland)
Saara Aalto is one of those artists for whom Eurovision seemed to not be a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when’. A couple of near-misses at UMK established her as a fan favourite among dedicated national final watchers, but it was her odds-defying run on X Factor UK in 2016 that really established her as one to watch.
With Finland wisely revamping the UMK format to focus on finding a great song for a seasoned, high-profile performer, Saara was an obvious choice to test out the format. Of the three songs the public had to choose from, the jury friendly power-ballad ‘Domino’ was probably the safer choice, but I was pleased that they took the riskier, more ambitious route with ‘Monster‘.
Did the gamble pay off? The 25th placing at the final was tough, but the quirky-pop vote that year clearly went to eventual winner Netta, and getting to the Grand Final at all is always an achievement for Finland. Ultimately, for me it was a joy to see a genuine Eurovision enthusiast finally getting her moment, and I strongly suspect that ‘Monsters’ will enjoy an afterlife far above some of the songs that placed ahead of it on Saturday night. As for Finland, they now have a solid foundation to build on – and if they can keep attracting high grade talent. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them back on the left hand side of the leaderboard before too long.
‘Higher Ground’, by Rasmussen (Denmark)
2018 was a mixed year all round for the Nordic power-bloc. With the exception of Iceland, they all managed to advance to the Grand final, but despite high pre-contest expectations, Sweden, Norway and Finland all fell surprisingly short on the televote.
It’s sort of fitting that Denmark emerged as the dragon slayers of the year with their heavily Game of Thrones inspired entry. Never really considered a major contender, Rasmussen nevertheless managed to score more televote points than Alexander Rybak, Benjamin Ingrosso and Saara Aalto combined – a pleasant surprise that hardly anybody saw coming.
Never underestimate a Danish viking.
‘Lie To Me’, by Mikolas Josef (Czech Republic)
Czech Republic and contemporary are not words that sit comfortably together glancing through their short Eurovision history.
Not only did Mikolas smash Czech Republic’s previous best ever placing (25th in the 2016 Grand Final with nul points from the televoters) but Eurovision has provided a springboard into a music career in lands far away from Prague – mission accomplished.
I highlight ‘Lie To Me’ because I expect many songs in future Eurovision Song Contests will be echoing its unique traits. A music video styled staging. A sexy instrumental post-chorus. European youth not understanding the lyrical boundaries caused by the British watershed.
And, furthermore, the soap opera will he/won’t he of beforming his somersault flip after injuring himself in rehearsals. More than ever a good result at the Eurovision Song Contest requires artists to create a narrative after all…
‘You’, by Jaz Ellington (United Kingdom, National Final)
Big claim here. The UK missed genuinely being in the fight to win the Eurovision Song Contest in May by picking SuRie.
‘You’ simply wasn’t a Eurovision style of song. Jaz Ellington wasn’t a Eurovision style of singer. This was ‘real music’. Depending on your viewpoint, that term was being used as a complementary or derogatory term.
But this was British music. A rich smooth soul voice. A storyline through a journey of complicated romance. A verse-chorus structure that wasn’t simply the ABAB format ABBA perfected.
Jaz Ellington was authentic real British music. He was our Salvador Sobral and we blew it.
The UK’s new National Final format, with three songs for six artists to sing, means songs like ‘You’ won’t be hitting Eurovision anytime soon. Whatever is chosen I suspect it is going to sound more ‘fake music’ than ‘real music’, to the detriment of the artist, the BBC, and the Eurovision Song Contest itself.
I don’t think I’ve ever missed one that got away more.
‘Lo Malo’, by Aitana & Ana Guerra (Spain, National Final)
There was a lot of fuss about a pair of exciting young artists who rocked us with their sizzling chemistry in Operation Triunfo 2018. Sadly, Aitana and Ana Guerra lost out in the Spanish Eurovision selection process, and had to make do with having an enormous radio hit instead. ‘Lo Malo‘ is a summery, danceable ode to enthusiastic consent (“but if you touch me: I decide where, when and with who”) and moving on from the bad boy in your life.
It also snaps, as the young people say.
I’ve played it all through the summer and I’ve put it on my winter party playlist and I can see it sitting happily between Eleni’s ‘Fuego’ and Inna’s ‘Gimme Gimme’ for years to come. Because this song didn’t get selected for Eurovision and have to conform to the compressed production schedule, Aitana and Ana got the chance to reswizzle the track and film a particularly fun music video for it.
And yes, I know, it would have been a total shambles at Eurovision.
‘Scandilove’, by Ida Maria (Norway, National Final)
This was the year that my younger obnoxious indie kid self finally merged with my outrageous Eurovision self, when I had the absolute pleasure of seeing Ida Maria triumphantly arse up her Melodi Grand Prix performance. The ten years since I first heard her records have been eventful for both of us (she’s done the full rock star breakdown, rehab, sobriety, marriage, a baby, reality TV thing and I’ve done… a lot) but it’s wonderful to see her back on stage, happy and free.
But back to Scandilove: the song was a ridiculous burst of joy, wordplay and a judicious bit of swearing, the costume was polka dots in excelsis deo and the stage show was an absolute mess. But she had a great time. I love Ida Maria and want to be half as wise, daring and exuberant as her when I grow up.
We’re Not Finished!
ESC Insight is more than our core team of writers, so naturally the call for Musical Moments went out to many of the ‘friends of the parish’ who contribute throughout the year, from Juke Box Juries and daily podcasts to articles and opinions. Want to know what they thought of the year of music? Click here!
And if you want to support ESC Insight as we cover the Song Contest, please visit our Patreon page, patreon.com/escinsight.