Monty Moncrieff (Second Cherry Podcast)
‘Cicciolina’ by Erika Vikman
Hungarian-born Italian adult entertainment actress and artist’s muse cum politician Ilona Staller might seem an unlikely inspiration for a song, but in her ‘Ciccolina’ Erika Vikman evokes the real-life cultural icon’s manifesto of sexual liberation, set perfectly to the backdrop of stomping Finnish disco.
Vikman’s Cicciolina is not just in the market for titillation. She uses her three minutes to turn this into a song of female empowerment: sexual, yes, though never on anybody’s terms but her own. She even questions the double standards levelled at women who own their own sexuality, pondering that were a man to be enjoying the same sexual freedoms he’d be lauded as a playboy whilst she, a woman, is chastened.
The song was an instant fan favourite, and climbed the Finnish charts, making it the odds-on favourite for the Eurovision Song Contest ticket. She even topped the Finnish televoting, though half of the international jurors had different ideas and scored her as low as they were able, clearing the way for Aksel’s ‘Looking Back’ to claim victory. Not for the first time this offered fans plenty to discuss concerning the merits of selected foreign invitees being able to subvert the will of the national voting public, but within a few short weeks whoever had won would have received the news they would not be taking their song to Rotterdam anyway.
Personally, I’m pleased that through Second Cherry – almost a Eurovision podcast – we were able to let Cicciolina breathe again and claim a victory of sorts to end the year. But I’m also devastated we’ll never see what could have been an iconic moment on the Song Contest stage in a potential collaboration with the real Cicciolina herself. Ever the shrewd businesswoman she responded to the news of a song in her name by suggesting to Vikman that working with her could add tremendous value to her Eurovision campaign, adding “Of course, I’m an international artist so the price would have to match…”
Whatever 2021 may have in store, please, give us more like this!
‘Grow’ by Jeangu Macrooy
It’s easy to characterise the Eurovision Song Contest with the crash, boom, bang of spectacle, yet in Duncan Lawrence’s ‘Arcade’ the Dutch ended almost 45 years of waiting with a low-key performance of a low-key song. To mark their turn hosting the solution for the prestigious host entry was to turn the key to an even lower setting.
On first listen this sounds not only unlikely as a Song Contest entry but even incomplete, with one of the most abrupt endings we’ve heard in a Contest song. You wonder whether there’s half a song left over as this was spliced to meet the strict three-minute rule. But as this introspective, existential reflection on inner tranquillity and personal development wraps itself around your ears, then, like its lyrical tone, it nestles ever closer to you and gently assumes its place in your inner soundtrack.
By the time the Contest was abandoned this had climbed to the upper reaches of my 2020 ranking. There’s something about the poise of this song, and the devastating beauty of the vocal, that convinced me this was to be the true dark horse of Rotterdam 2020. The moment that Macrooy could have created with this, late to bat and with an enthusiastic home crowd, could have been something quite, quite magical indeed.
Like all discussions about what might have been this year we’ll never know for sure, but you have to hand it to the Dutch, and to Jeangu, for selecting what might be one of the bravest entries we’ve ever seen.
Robyn Gallagher (Wiwibloggs)
‘Think About Things’ by Daði og Gagnamagnið
Since 2020’s Eurovision Song Contest was cancelled, a curious idea has emerged — the notion that if the Song Contest had gone ahead, it would have been won by Iceland’s Daði og Gagnamagnið with the song ‘Think About Things’. Like, easily won in a landslide of quirky Icelandic pop.
Except it’s not quite that certain. At the time the EBU made the decision to pull the plug on 2020, ‘Think About Things’ was by no means the bookies’ overall favourite to win the Contest. ‘Tears Getting Sober’, ‘On Fire’, ‘Répondez-moi’ and ‘Uno’ were all sitting on more favourable odds.
That’s not to say ‘Think About Things’ wasn’t in with a chance. The catchy funk-pop tune with its TikTok-friendly dance made it an obvious favourite, especially for the televote. But it wasn’t looking like a ‘Euphoria’ type of unstoppable Eurovision hit.
‘Think About Things’ went on to enjoy genuine success in the UK, where it made the singles chart, was playlisted on BBC Radio 1 and even featured on Strictly Come Dancing. Twelve points from the UK, surely, but as Nika Kocharov & Young Georgian Lolitaz know, a 12 from Britain alone isn’t enough to win the Eurovision Song Contest.
The best thing from the cancellation of Rotterdam 2020 is that there was no winner. While broadcasters, fans and Eurovision media alike all tried to figure out who probably maybe possibly might have won, in the end Eurovision 2020 had no winner.
Daði og Gagnamagnið will finally have their shot at winning Eurovision in Rotterdam this May, along with the 40 other acts in the competition this year.
‘Mostantól’ by Gergő Rácz and Reni Orsovai
Eurovision Song Contest fans were disappointed when Hungarian broadcaster MTVA quietly withdrew from the contest in late 2019. While the broadcaster has never specifically said why, it’s been suggested that the modern Eurovision was at odds with their increasingly conservative values of the Hungarian government. Indeed.
But a show must go on and Hungary continued with its national song contest, A Dal. The contest is no longer used as a Eurovision national final, but that decision seemed to come late for the 2020 edition and many acts were still competing with Eurovision-friendly three-minute pop songs.
A Dal 2020 was eventually won by Gergő Rácz and Reni Orsovai with their song ‘Mostantól’. Gergő had previously represented Hungary at Eurovision 1997, as part of the boyband VIP. He seemed ready to return to the Contest and had the song for it.
‘Mostantól’ documents a relationship falling apart — he’s been caught cheating, swears he’ll never do it again (the title means ‘from now on’) but she’s hurting and isn’t having his hollow promises.
The song uses clever Hungarian word play and features a pre-chorus that ramps up the drama to thrilling levels. The duo performed two versions at A Dal; the electro-pop of the studio version, featuring elaborate choreography; and an acoustic version which highlighted the songcraft and let the emotion of the performance come through.
It was all there… a strong song, compelling staging and two captivating performers. In a parallel universe, this would have been a fine Eurovision entry for Hungary. But like a lot of things this year, we’ll never know what might have been.
Phil Colclough (OnEurope)
‘Over The Sea’ by Magnus Bokn
I don’t like Alexander Ryback. I know that might come as a shock to some, but I don’t think ‘Fairytale’ is any good and ‘That’s How You Write A Song’ wanted me to slap him more than usual. Rybak does, though, appeal to me when he’s not being sickly smug and it took the combined talents of the man in the light mask out of JOWST Joachim With Steen, and Magnus Bokn from Idol and The Voice to tone down everything Ryback can be and make him focus on his talent.
Bokn sells me this song in the first 42 seconds by looking down the camera and singing the first verse “I don’t wanna feel so small, I don’t wanna feel so lost, but its almost fine, I don’t want that much, but this just ain’t enough” at me and pointing and accenting “This, just this aint enough”.
From then on the lyrics gets me right in the heart and I totally identify with Magnus being not classically beautiful, but by god he’s telling me that he is worth it and in a year that has been all shades of wrong, we all need to be told that everything is OK and not to worry and Magnus dancing round the stage in Trondheim is just beautiful in ways it probably shouldn’t be.
The Eurovision Song Contest has the power to bring us all together through the medium of song, despite what the populist press of your nation tells you, but good songs always have the power to make the hardest people cry, no matter what language or style they are in. This song makes me smile and cry in equal measure. It didn’t make the final four in Trondheim that Saturday night, but its message stayed with me all year and that should be the measure of success.
‘One Last Breath’ by James Newman
We can all do the jokes about how inappropriate this song sounds in the year when a respiratory disease took hold of the world and make cheap capital on that, but if you look beyond that you will find that the BBC and BMG have, at their first attempt at getting something new into the Eurovision, got a cracking little underrated song.
It’s not big, it’s not showy but it would have been something that the UK entry had lacked over the last few years… a well written song by someone who actually got what the modern Eurovision Song Contest is all about. The critics would point to the fact that its an album track, or a filler track, and it wouldn’t have had the oomph to get the UK onto the left hand side of the scoreboard and we’ll never know that.
For me it marks a turning point. The UK has talented songwriters and great singers but the Eurovision brand has been made toxic over the last many years and this song was clearly geared to Radio 2 listeners. That’s not a bad thing because that’s precisely the demographic that makes up fifty percent of of the results in the Eurovision, the juries.
The balance, though, between the undoubted quality of this song and the instant nature of getting Mrs Smith in Bologna picking the phone up to vote for this kind of thing isn’t there just yet, but it could be a staging post and I am hopeful for the future – although I’ve been hopeful for many years only for it to be dashed by one thing or another.
Let’s hope the BBC and BMG choose to build on this solid foundation.
John Egan (58points)
‘Golden’ by ELM
2020 was a very leaky year for the Irish delegation. Early in January the buzz was that an out queer Irish pop act would be going to Rotterdam with a proper banger. Of the two names bouncing around, Lesley Roy’s has been in frame before. ‘Story of My Life” is, very much, a proper Katie Perry-esque banger, which would have been amazing five (or more) years ago.
To be fair, Roy had a decent shot of making it out of her Semi Final, which isn’t something Irish fans can say in every year. But am I the only Irish fan who’s sort of fed up “might qualify” as a definition of success?
There was another out queer act’s name bouncing around: ELM; whose members have nicknames like Twink, Otter, Hetro-queer, and Trans; and who rep a range of gender and sexual orientations not really showcased in Irish pop music to date. There’s a lot of sparkle and a subversive power to their music too. As it happened, their track ‘Golden’ was released during the eligibility period. too
And yet…ELM are very much an emerging act, perhaps not quite ready for a gig like the Eurovision Song Contest, not unlike Electric Fields in the 2019 Australian national selection. Perhaps it would be better to send ELM when they’ve got more TV experience under their belts?
This would’ve rocked the Song Contest. Crank it up, glory in it, and imagine ‘Golden’ blasting the roof off the Ahoy. ELM are today’s Ireland: sharp, edgy, passionate and modern. Roy’s got the 2021 ticket from RTÉ…but there is always 2022.
‘Still Breathing’ by Samanta Tina
Some artists plug away at their National Selection, year after year after year after…
Some never make it to the Eurovision stage. Some eventually make it with a weak entry (cough’Vertigo’cough) that has little impact. But some do what Samanta Tina did in 2020: they package up everything they’ve learnt and tried before and use it to produce something awesome. Like ‘Still Breathing’.
There is nothing safe about this entry!. The lyrics, arrangement and preview video demand your attention. Samanta needed to nail a belter of a vocal in the National Final – boy did she ever – and she staged it creatively too! It’s unsurprising her university dissertation was on the Contest: ‘Still Breathing’ is all about impact.
Performing last in the Thursday Semi Final, this was sailing into the Grand Final. What would’ve happened on Saturday night? No. Idea. At. All.
I am gutted for Samanta Tina. If you have any doubt how much ‘Still Breathing’ meant to her, watch this clip where LTV tells her she’ll get to represent Latvia in 2021. All she can say, again and again, is “Paldies.” Thank you.
No Samanta, thank you for being unboring, being willing to take creative risks, and lifting your game in 2020. I am excited to see what you unveil for us in the coming months.
Roy D Hacksaw (ESC Apocalypse)
‘Tears Getting Sober’ by Victoria
While folks were all getting all over-excited by the thought that their favourite song from Iceland/Italy/Russia/Switzerland/Azerbaijan, and even, cough, Lithuania, was sure to win this year’s Eurovision Song Contest, fan-kind in general seemed to be wilfully ignoring a song that had been sitting rather quietly at the top of the betting for pretty much the whole national selection season. And that song came from Bulgaria.
The obvious criticism was “but Billie Eilish!!!” Indeed, every National Final in 2020 seemed to have their own version of a teenage girl mumbling through her hair about how hard her life was, but only Romania’s Roxen and our Victoria here really had any idea of how to go about it effectively. And what Victoria brought, that Roxen had sadly forgotten, was one heck of a good song and the perfect personality to present it.
Laden with atmosphere, melody, and a dark-yet-optimistic lyric, ‘Tears Getting Sober’ was surely this year’s big contender hiding in plain sight. A song that hit the pop zeitgeist and yet maintained entirely its own universe, and could very easily have been dragging us all to Sofia in 2021 while all the other more bombastic songs cancelled each other out – had the accursed bug not hit, of course. But alas we’ll never know.
‘Me Ne Frego’ by Achille Lauro
At 2019’s Sanremo, an awkward tattooed lump in a stunning white suit, rambled out namechecks to Amy Winehouse, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, Joan Miró, Axl Rose and, ahem, Paul Gascoigne in a weak and reedy voice. But man alive the boy had some charisma. I knew instantly that I had just discovered my new favourite Italian pop hero.
Nothing, however, prepared me for the evolution that was set to be unveiled in 2020. Previously better known for a more macho gangsta edge when he was pioneering the samba trap genre, now he’d transformed into an über camp glam monster, yet still retaining his rap star swagger and punky attitude. While he stood there at the top of those steep Sanremo steps you got the feeling that just about anything could happen, and when he dropped his elaborate Gucci cape to reveal a tight and sparkly flesh-coloured leotard you realised that it just had.
Night after night the audience brimmed with concerned anticipation every time his name was announced, wondering like I was what jaw-dropping new outfit he’d stagger us with this time. Over the course of his four competition performances he evoked notions of St Francis, Mussolini, David Bowie and the entire history of Renaissance Art, all while a psychosexual drama with his guitarist-producer Boss Doms played out in real time, and all on prime time Italian TV. It was like punk rock was starting all up over again.
Erik Nelson (12 Points From America)
‘Om du tror att jag saknar dig’ by Jakob Karlberg
The way Melodifestivalen previews its artists’ songs is devilishly brilliant. Releasing just teases of each song a few days in advance of their performance leaves fans with the task of fleshing out the song and the staging in their heads, formulating what might be. Some of these clips give you a pretty good idea of what you’re getting, while others make you stop, think “hang on what was that?,” then rewatch it again. And then again. And again. Before you know it, a clip will make you fall in love with the mere idea of a song.
Jakob Karlberg’s ‘Om du tror att jag saknar dig’ was that song for me in 2020. The shouts of “Nej!” and gorgeous harmonies in its chorus had me hooked immediately.
When the full song finally made its way to the masses, it was everything I’d hoped for. It was catchy, it had a lovely staging (inspired a bit by the equally lovely Lake Malawi, I suspect). Surely this had to be a contender. It felt like it was too good not to be, but instead, it was…well, not to be.
When it failed to make the first cut of voting, I was gutted. It’s a bittersweet feeling familiar to any Eurovision fan, but that’s okay. An overwhelming majority of our favorite songs lose, but they’re songs we’ll always have. We’ll always have them, and when their artists come back for another go, we’ll be there.
‘Dancing Lasha Tumbai’ by Go_A
The Eurovision Home Concerts, in which dozens of ESC artists performed their own songs and covers voted on by fans, wouldn’t have happened in any year other than this one. There’s something to be grateful for there, I think – we all would have taken the real deal in a heartbeat, but this unique opportunity brought about some special moments.
While many of its performances were delightful, the Home Concerts were at their best when they were at their most unexpected. Arilena Ara’s cool retro vibes in her cover of ‘Satellite’ were lovely, and Uku Suviste’s understated, harmony-laden take on ‘Euphoria’ was a very surprising highlight.
However, Go_A’s cover of Verka Serduchka’s ‘Dancing Lasha Tumba‘ undeniably stole the virtual show. Presented in what appears to be a Ukrainian parking garage, singer Kateryna Pavlenko takes a straightforward approach to the song’s vocals, as well as to the perfunctory dancing (the latter is typically limited to some simple but delightful arm swinging).
Musically, however, this cover is something else entirely. It’s a perfectly crafted piece of elegant brutality. It’s certainly still danceable, in the way that a mosh pit is a form of dancing. It’s the sort of music you’d hear as you fight the final boss of dancing, exchanging moves the way heavyweight boxers exchange blows. If this is any indication of what Go_A might bring to the table in Rotterdam next year, we are in for a treat. A brutal, compelling treat. It’s beautiful.
Okay, happy end.
Matt Baker (Second Cherry Podcast)
‘Make Me Human’ by Monique
One of last year’s unexpected pleasures was the revamp of the Lithuanian national selection for Eurovision, Pabandom iš naujo. Yes, we were treated to the usual fare of musical, erm, ‘curiosities’ from our Baltic friends, but the real talking point was the obvious uplift in song quality from previous years. This improvement was largely down to the ‘back to the drawing board’ thinking of broadcaster, LRT, and its closer ties to the big players in the local music industry.
One of those coveted big names was Monique, the highly-rated, former ‘X Faktorius’ (X Factor) winner and coach on ‘Lietuvos Balsas’ (The Voice of Lithuania). ‘Make Me Human’ wasn’t written with Pabandom iš naujo or Eurovision in mind, but Monique told me when I met up with her last year that she secretly thought the song was right for the Song Contest. And when her team inexplicably expressed the same thought without her prompt, she knew she had to enter.
I grant you, it’s a simple song on the surface – perhaps a bit too simple when up against the likes of The Roop’s memorable hook and infectious dance moves. But I felt the more I heard the song, the more layers I started to peel away. The staging in the final of Pabandom iš naujo was pretty spectacular, with dark yet uplifting storytelling and some very artful wearable lighting tech thrown in for good measure. The sort of staging you can imagine would have been elevated incredibly well if it had made it to the Eurovision stage. Monique’s haunting voice in ‘Make Me Human’ still gives me chills today, so I absolutely have to list it as one of my songs of 2020.
‘Black Leather’ by KEiiNO
It was the big question I kept hearing around the community: Would a KEiiNO album actually work? As a one-off, their Eurovision 2019 entry ‘Spirit in the Sky’ was a real hit and just pure alchemy. It was a unique blend, but blend the trio did. So, how to put together an album of songs that isn’t just variations and rehashes of ‘Sky’?
The group took their time, didn’t rush into anything, travelled and collaborated with other artists. With a clear goal to fuse a variety of pop music genres with indigenous sounds and voices, KEiiNO eventually treated us to ‘OKTA’. I could mention any of the songs on the album but ‘Black Leather’ really stands out.
The group teamed up with Canadian singer Charlotte Qamaniq, who offered her traditional Inuk throat singing into a modern pop banger. Who knew that what we all needed in our lives was an ode to the Berlin club scene, gender identity and expression, peppered with the Sami joik and throaty Inuk rifts?
KEiiNO will forever have a special place in my heart for so many reasons, not least because they were the act performing at Eurofest and the return of the Second Cherry Song Contest live show back in 2019. As one of the show’s presenters, I can legitimately say that I’ve shared a stage with KEiiNO, but I digress! ‘Black Leather’ was the song that lifted my mood during those long, stuffy summer days during last year’s lockdown. It’s the year we’re all hoping to forget, but at least we had our musical companions to pull us through 2020. Tom, Alexandra, Fred, I can’t thank you enough.
Over To You
Don’t forget you can read the Insight team’s Musical Moments of 2020 here on ESC Insight.
And with that, our attention turns to the National Final season for 2021. We’ve had the Albanian appetiser, now it’s full song ahead every Saturday night until mid-March. And we’ll be here as always, taking a closer look at the Eurovision Song Contest, bringing you our regular podcasts, and looking forward to Rotterdam. We look forward to you joining us on our journey.
If you want to give us a little bit of support as we cover the Song Contest, please visit our Patreon page, patreon.com/escinsight, where you can make a small monthly contribution to our running costs.