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ESC Insight’s Musical Moments Of 2020: Part One Written by on January 6, 2021 | 1 Comment

As we draw the curtains over 2020 and look forward into the new year, it’s time for us here at ESC Insight to look back over our playlists of the last twelve months to bring you our favourite musical moments. Today we’ll have the picks from the Insight team, and in part two we’ll have the friends of the parish.

Samantha Ross

Fai Rumore’ by Diodato

I’m not going to lie, when the flood of Sanremo entries were released on the first night of the show, ‘Fai Rumore’ made little to no impact on me. I was focused on the hotly-anticipated ‘Andromeda, co-written by Mahmood, or ‘Viceversa, the return of Eurovision alum Francesco Gabbani.

Even by the time the fourth night rolled around and I had begun to familiarize myself with the songs, Diodato was overshadowed by Pinguini Tattici Nucleari’s chaotically joyous entry ‘Ringo Starr’, or ‘Me Ne Frego’, from the unabashedly boundary-pushing Achille Lauro. I was mystified by how the simple, straightforward ‘Fai Rumore’ kept rising to the top of the jury’s rankings, despite more dynamic songs from other artists. I chalked it up to “Sanremo being Sanremo”, and shrugged disappointedly when the Penguins only clinched third place on the final evening of the marathon show.

What was so special about just another brokenhearted love ballad?

But as time went on, and 2020 kept on 2020-ing, I finally got it. Not only did I come to appreciate Diodato’s powerful vocals, but what the song came to symbolize. As the best-laid plans for Eurovision went awry, and life in general fell apart for so many of us, Fai Rumore’ was not only about the end of a relationship, but it gained additional layers of meaning. As Italians going through lockdown sang it from their balcones en masse, literally screaming into the void, “…non lo posso sopportare / questo silenzio innaturale…”

I cannot stand this unnatural silence.”

Fai Rumore’ morphed from being a song about the delirium of a broken heart into an anthemic cry against the isolation and confusion of a global pandemic, feeling helpless and hopeless and not knowing when or how to break out of the darkness.

And just as we were coming up on the week of what was supposed to be Eurovision 2020, Diodato gave us all an incredible gift. He performed his song (which, granted, was still too long to be considered a ‘Eurovision edit’) alone in the vast, Roman-era Verona Arena. Clad in black, he belted out ‘Fai Rumore’as the venue slowly filled with light. It was a bittersweet moment that seemed to encapsulate everything that we were feeling, and felt like a hug, a glass of wine, and a pep talk all in one.

I’m a pretty strong agnostic, but I found it interesting that the name Diodato basically translates as ‘God-given’. This song, and that moment in Verona, were exactly what a lot of us needed this Spring (and, frankly, continue to need).

Playa’ by Twosome

There have been a number of ways to cope with this year. Sometimes, a pensive, introspective song like ‘Fai Rumore’ is just what a person needs. And other times, you just need something surreal and ridiculous to confront a dumpster fire. Nonsensical lyrics, bouncing basketball body paint, broken violins, and the sheer earnestness of the threesome that is Twosome was the ideal balm to put on the constant burn of this year.

Lithuania’s revamped selection process,Pabandom iš naujo, gave us a handful of truly stellar songs that could have done extremely well in Rotterdam 2020, but it was this charming little ditty that crashed unceremoniously out of its semifinal that stays with me.

There is a place in this world for silly, tongue-in-cheek fun, and somehow Lithuania is the place to go for it. Remember, this is the nation that gave us LT United, InCulto, and this advertising campaign. If this small Baltic nation can give us cocky football chants, men in sparkly hot pants, and ‘Playa’, what else do they have in the tin? If this year has been getting you too down in the dumps, please don’t prevent yourself from indulging in a bit of stupid, healthy fun. After all, they say that laughter is the best medicine…

.And yes, the extra bonus of the guys popping up on X-Factor singing ‘Ja Ja Ding Dong’ in kilts solidified their place on my list for this year.

Ellie Chalkley

BLCK SQR’ by Fo Sho

The morning after January’s edition of ‘Ne Party Pas Sans Moi, I was heading to meet Ewan for brunch and an amazing realisation hit me. The Black Square is a painting! This changes everything!

Let’s rewind a little.

I’d been enjoying the Fo Sho entry in Vidbir on the surface level since release (were you expecting chill hip hop with beautiful sisterly harmonies from Ukraine? No, you were not) but for some reason that morning I remembered hearing about a mysterious painting by a ‘dude from Kyiv’ on a podcast, months before. I rushed to brunch, didn’t let Ewan get a word in while I explained about the artistic significance of the Black Square and within a couple of weeks, this article popped out.

It’s not all ‘Ja Ja Ding Dong’ in the Eurovision Song Contest. This song is all about the nature of art and Ukrainian identity. One of the national selection results I was saddest about was that this song didn’t even make it to the Vidbir final. The lineup for the Ukrainian national final was particularly strong, with songs like ‘99’ and ‘Bonfire’ hitting my indie sensibilities, as well as introducing us to the offbeat pop provocateur Jerry Heil and the super cool Go_A.

Since then? Fo Sho are continuing to build their careers in Ukrainian hip hop, we’ve not managed to have an edition of Ne Party Pas for obvious reasons and I remain quite proud of this article.

Vem E Som Oss’ by Anis Don Demina

Do I think I’m too cool for Melfest? Maybe. A bit. Anyway for whatever reason, I didn’t really watch any of the Melfest heats in 2020, and on the night of the final I was in Tampere watching Aksel win UMK and then trying to pretend a bar fight wasn’t happening right behind me in the aggressively heterosexual nightclub afterparty. There was a lot going on, and so I missed out on the whole Melodifestivalen experience.

However, during the first few weeks of lockdown, Lina Hedlund had the bright idea of having musicians come over to play in her living room for what they called the ‘Karantansessions’ although in what sense visiting Lina Hedlund’s house constitutes quarantine, I do not know.

But anyway, it was a heady combination of loungewear and live music! A thrilling concept! And at least one of these sessions ended with Anis Don Demina giving us ‘Vem E Som Oss’such an uplifting burst of serotonin and communal joy. It became the first thing I played during a work-from-home-day and allowed me to at least remember what parties felt like. A highly necessary energetic bright spot in some dark days. And indeed, who is like us?

 

Ben Robertson

Kingdom Come’ by Anna Bergendahl

I ticked off one of the craziest bucket-list experiences in the winter of 2020, being able to attend all six weeks of Melodifestivalen, taking trips up just shy of the Arctic circle one week before journeying down to the Öresund strait the next. I now feel well versed in small Swedish town culture and managed to get silver reward status with the train operator (which sadly I haven’t had need to use since).

One of the moments of Melodifestivalen culture that I was most fascinated by was the traditional press reveal of the songs on a Wednesday evening. This was done in a conference room in the official hotel of each hosting city and had the sound quality to match, making each song sound half a notch worse than it would ultimately end up being.

I was expecting little of Anna Bergendahl. ‘Ashes to Ashes’, her Melodifestivalen attempt the previous year, bopped around at a far too pedestrian pace, and ‘Kingdom Come’ was described early as being in the same field. However from the huge bell gong in the opening second this was clearly a level of production way above what we had heard that evening (yes, Dotter was in that same semi final, and it is an interesting observation how ‘Bulletproof’ underwhelmed much of the press on that first listen).

I tapped out a tempo at 148 bpm and was caught up in a frantic track with typically nonsensical lyrics that I knew immediately would have a home on the schlager dancefloors. Note how in the final the older age categories gave this the maximum score, but didn’t score from children voters.

In an alternate universe Anna would have got the ticket and would have performed with her wall of sex in Rotterdam. It wouldn’t have been in contention to win Eurovision, but it would likely have qualified to the Grand Final. Given the drama surrounding Anna’s non-qualification ten years prior – and, despite all the success Sweden has had in modern Eurovision, I can’t think of any more heart-warming story that could have been.

‘Ville Ønske Jeg Havde Kendt Dig’ by Emil

When it comes to National Finals it would be little surprise for many to hear me be not too gracious about where Dansk Melodi Grand Prix has ended up in the last decade.

While the production is world class, far too many Danish songs have had this sterile, made-for-radio quality that created perfectly fine performances that weren’t memorable after the three minutes were up. It’s little surprise the word ‘Danish’ has become an adjective for those songs that just end up too safe to make any kind of impression.

Most of Melodi Grand Prix this year fell into this trap, including the winner ‘Yes’. The hooks in Ben & Tan’s songs certainly work, but do little to invigorate emotion or something special, which I crave in my Eurovision (but more on ‘Yes’ in a moment – Ed.).

It was therefore amazing that Emil’s little guitar diddy squirmed into the Melodi Final this year, needing a broadcaster wildcard to make the show after losing in an internet vote to, unsurprisingly, a Swedish-written pop song. ‘Ville Ønske Jeg Havde Kendt Dig’ tells the story of Emil’s deceased grandfather, who died tragically in a car accident, and growing up seeing his picture and hearing stories about him, but not getting to know the man behind it. A genuine tearjerker of a lyric.

This was the rank outsider in the build up to the Danish final, yet this heartfelt performance resonated with the Danish public, ending up losing to Ben & Tan in the superfinal. I think back to Salvador Sobral’s comments about music not being fireworks, but being feeling, and this song’s surprise success is a reminder of exactly that.

Ross Middleton

Yes’ by Ben & Tan

If there was one moment that summed up the year we’ve had, from a Song Contest standpoint, it was Ben & Tan’s Dansk Melodi Grand Prix winning performance. Firstly, I should point out that I like this song, I don’t love it, but it’s nice enough. When it pops up on a playlist it’s a bright and breezy three minute listen, catchy enough to sing along to and puts a smile on my face. However, the song alone is not enough for me to select it. It was the performance.

The time at which the pandemic started to get serious for those of us in the western world coincided with the end of the national final season. Most of the final few selections managed to get across the line as normal. Sweden’s Melodifestivalen and Finland’s UMK just scraped through as planned but it was not to be for the Dansk Melodi Grand Prix final, which proceeded in a basically empty Royal Arena.

Ben & Tan willfully struggling on without the energy of a live audience to feed off will be one of the ever abiding memories of the Covid non-Contest. For many, Diodato’s live performance from the Arena di Verona will quite rightly be the Eurovision image of 2020. By that point we all knew the dangers, we had all experienced lockdowns and his performance reflected that. However, the haunting image of the empty area, the muted rounds of applause from crew members and the performers’ “show must go on” attitude against the uncertain backdrop of the time will stay with me far beyond 2020.

Husavik’ by My Marianne & Will Ferrell

It’s not a Contest or National Final song but if you’re asking me for a Eurovision musical moment from 2020 then the entire two hour runtime of Fire Saga is a no-brainer. In the interest of full disclosure I was always pro-Fire Saga and went into it trying to maintain an open mind. However, even I was pleasantly surprised with how well it was received both in and out the Eurovision community. Whilst critics gave it the mauling they needed to and a few fans remained resolutely opposed to the whole idea, it ended up being a feel good hit of the summer. Something we all needed.

After the mournful tone of ‘Europe: Love Shine a Light’, Fire Saga was the dose of silliness and sparkle. It gave a fandom starved of frills and frolics a chance to live through a Contest (albeit one with a lot of artistic license applied).

As a locked down Edinburgh resident who hadn’t seen the city I adore for months at that time, it was such a boost to see the Capital being used as the colourful backdrop for the film. Apart from the fact that there had been a mini Salvador Sobral concert in my city centre and I had no idea. I’d have been an extra for free Netflix. For free I tells ya! *shakes fist*

And then there’s the music. The promotion campaign and film alike opened with Volcano Man (admittedly after the  brief customary ABBA reference at the start of the latter). I’ll admit I had my doubts but these were quickly assuaged by the surprisingly catchy ‘Double Trouble’ and the subject of the meme of the summer, ‘Ja Ja Ding Dong’. All the fake Contest numbers seemed uncannily realistic, especially the female vocal led Lordi style entry for ‘Belarus’ that was reminiscent of a certain Finnish duet from earlier this year.

But it was Husavik, the song from the film’s denouement, that took the ‘win’ for me. A beautiful dual language duet that showed off Molly Sanden’s superb vocal in full force. It’s a number that tugs at the heartstrings and would do well in any real Song Contest. I don’t even mind Will Ferrell’s bits, that’s how much I love this song!

Fin Ross Russell

Move’ by The Mamas

I really wanted to submit my two entries whilst keeping away from the Rotterdam-bound 41 but this one has too many personal meaningful reasons to not be featured. My 2019 ended outside of Insight on my own blog where I wrote an article questioning if Melodifestivalen had sexism issues after five years of solo male (mostly white) winners. As excited as I was about the Mamas and their own entry into Melodifestivalen, I was very aware of the existing precedent for MelFest winners and very aware that they had an uphill battle to climb before a note was even sung. With Robin Bengtsson, Malou Prytz and bookies’ favourite Felix Sandman in their Semi Final, I wasn’t even certain that they would qualify to the Grand Final.

Fast forward to March 7th 2020 when my partner and I found ourselves in Copenhagen with two tickets for a Dansk Melodi Grand Prix that had been brought behind closed doors. As it happened, we were staying with friends in Malmö and so decided to make the best of the trip by watching the final with our friends. The combined feeling of joy, shock and surprise to see The Mamas triumph married with the raw emotion of John Lundvik in tears presenting the trophy was a memory I will hold onto forever. This was finally a Swedish entry going to Eurovision that married a slick stage show with a passion, feeling and energy that everybody wanted to be a part of.

Since then, the world has experienced so much pain. We’ve lost people, experiences, memories, opportunities. At times, we have looked into the future and wow, did it look stark and bleak but through all of it, I have kept coming back to ‘Move’, a song about going the extra mile for the ones you love, believing that there is no obstacle that cannot be overcome (including COVID-19) and that if something is important enough to you, that it is worth moving mountains for.

It is that sense of hope amidst the fog that has helped me get out of bed every morning and keep going in an uncertain and unrecognisable world.

Yes, I Will Wait’ by Victor Crone

I don’t do New Year’s resolutions. Instead, I give each year a theme and a song. My song of 2021 is Victor Crone’s ‘Yes, I Will Wait’. It is a song that is admittedly not the most musically complicated with lyrics that were probably put together in about thirty minutes but its message is one that we can all get behind as we end 2020 and head into the coming months.

Anybody who claims to have any certainty of what 2021 will bring is either lying or was sent from the future. We don’t know what kind of Eurovision Song Contest we will get, we don’t know how many people will be allowed to watch the show live, we don’t know if it will feel just as magical as a Eurovision experience normally does.

All I know is that as somebody who is not an essential worker, I have come to terms with the fact that I don’t have all the answers and I can’t make time go faster and being at such an early stage of my career, I know that my options might be decimated by the time this pandemic is over. I have come to learn that that’s okay and that it’s okay not to always feel optimistic and it’s even okay to make mistakes during a period that the world has no precedent for.

The most important thing that any of us can do right now is continue to hold out hope for what we believe in. Yes, things are clouded and dark now but this too shall pass and when it does, we will be able to come together again and celebrate music and bounce around the Euroclub to Avicii-esque bops like this one. It may take a thousand nights and a thousand more till we reach that day but think of how joyful it will be once we finally get there and how much we will have learned as part of this process of healing for the world.

Ewan Spence

Un Passo Dalla Luna’, by Rocco Hunt and Ana Mena.

Let’s face it, in any other year this would be ‘Ringo Starr’ by Pinguini Tattici Nucleari. Honestly,I was on board with the band on the strength of the name. Thankfully the surprisingly bouncy hit from Sanremo 2020 lived up to expectations (and they picked up bronze in the Ariston Theatre, yaay).

Months later, I find it hard to decide to listen to ‘Ringo Starr’. When it comes up on shuffle I’m right there with it, but this was a song from February, and well… 2020.

So I’m going to bend the rules just a little, because the song that essentially became my ‘Ringo Starr’ of the year was happy, bouncy, light, Italian summer vibes track titled ‘Un Passo Dalla Luna’, from Ana Mena and Rocco Hunt (winner of the Newcomers award at Sanremo 2014, does that satisfy the stretch?). For me this track illustrated the power of music. It was the ultimate escape of the year, lifting me from my home studio to a better, brighter, and carefree place in the sun.

Oh and it’s a chart topper too, spending pretty much the entire summer as Italy’s Number One. If you want to talk about what is current in the charts, what televoters will be drawn to, and which songs would make the Eurovision Song Contest relevant to the modern music industry, here you go.

It’s just a shame that I can never see this style of song being invited to Sanremo, let alone win through and get the ticket to the Song Contest. But if Pinguini Tattici Nucleari can get on the podium…

I See A Star’, by Mouth and MacNeal

For our community, 2020 will forever be the year of #EurovisionAgain, the juggernaut of synchronised rewatchings of old Song Contests. For some fans it was a chance to revisit an older Contest, for others it was an opportunity to collectively delve into history and discover countless new favourites – the appearance of MFO’s ‘Sufi’ (Turkey’s 1988 entry) in the ESC250 at the end of the year speaks to this power of discovery

The Eurovision Again team may not have managed to clear the Contest that I really wanted to have a shared experience (that would be 1968), but it was a masterstroke to run 1974 – the year of ABBA – just 24 hours after the broadcast of ‘Eurovision: Europe Shine A Light. Everyone was expecting ‘Waterloo’, but there were other surprises in the mix. Specifically I was waiting for the fan reaction to one of my favourite Eurovision songs of all time, the absolute madness that is ‘I See A Star’ by Mouth and MacNeal.

I was not disappointed, the reaction was incredible. My love for the song and the performance was suddenly shared with the community, and they loved it as well.

And I can’t wait till the first big EuroParty to do some cosplay.

We’re Not Finished!

ESC Insight is more than our core team of writers, so the picks of the friends of the parish (who contribute to Insight throughout the year) will be in Part 2 of our ‘Musical Moments of 2020’.

We know we’re going to find hear some great music during 2021 as we head to Rotterdam 2021 and beyond. If you want to support ESC Insight as we cover the Song Contest, please visit our Patreon page, patreon.com/escinsight.

 

About The Author: Ewan Spence

British Academy (BAFTA) nominated broadcaster and writer Ewan Spence is the voice behind The Unofficial Eurovision Song Contest Podcast and one of the driving forces behind ESC Insight. Having had an online presence since 1994, he is a noted commentator around the intersection of the media, internet, technology, mobility and how it affects us all. Based in Edinburgh, Scotland, his work has appeared on the BBC, The Stage, STV, and The Times. You can follow Ewan on Twitter (@ewan) and Facebook (facebook.com/ewanspence).

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One response to “ESC Insight’s Musical Moments Of 2020: Part One”

  1. dimitris esc says:

    Thank you for the article. The national finals season can be hectic and often some entries may be overlooked or you miss all the layers of a song/performance.

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