It would have taken a fortune teller with the most high quality of crystal balls to foresee the value that The Roop would come to have on the Eurovision Song Contest over the past two years.
Whilst their prospective 2018 entry ‘Yes I Do’ had respectably placed second in the televote to eventual winner Ieva Zasimauskaitė with her entry ‘When We’re Old’, there wasn’t a high level of expectation for The Roop to go on to win the show in future years. And yet, as the band stepped on stage on January 25th 2020, from the moment lead singer Vaidotas Valiukevičius stared down the camera through a magnifying glass and sang the immortal opening lyrics “I’m a human, not a stone” in his striking white turtleneck and black bell bottom trousers, it was clear that Lithuania were on to something really special.
The rest, as they say, is history.
But going back to the very beginning – the band formed 10 years ago in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius with it’s 3 longtime members: vocalist Vaidotas Valiukevičius, percussionist Robertas Baranauskas and guitarist Mantas Banišauskas. Since 2014, they have released 2 albums as well as an EP ‘Yes I Do’ which spawned from their initial entry into the Eurovision selection process.
Trying to understand the origin of the band name and picking up the dictionary, one will discover that ‘to roop’ means to ‘shout out’ or ‘make a great noise’. Is this how the band sees its role with the music that they play?.
“We are not shouting. The biggest win is not losing your head, not losing yourself, keeping calm. it may seem that everything in our lives went easy. It’s not quite true. For example, 1,5 years ago Vaidotas was unemployed. He had no money, just a big dream. All band members did their best to keep themselves motivated and not give up. We felt that the time would come, but never knew when.
We’ve been together for 10 years now, and we are happy to have this strong bond which is built of patience, support and trust… we are trying to make nice sound and relate with other people’s thoughts, problems, views. And maybe even help them to go throw the hardest moments in their lifetime.”
As fans we have only witnessed part of the story of their formation, but it is fascinating to see how they have carefully structured and created a unique identity for themselves over the course of their Eurovision adventure. The Roop appear to transcend the usual boundaries of singers or musicians and ventured into a sort of performative art, where their stage shows engage and interact with people in a way less akin to a Eurovision entry, and more like a piece of theatre. As a theatre-maker myself, I am curious about whether they describe themselves as artists, musicians or performers?
“It’s hard to pick one name. We think that a good artist is (a) combination of these three: artist, musician and performer.”
Ultimately for all the artistry of their live performances, The Roop are just three “simple guys” who use their music as a means of overcoming the ordinary troubles and tensions of life. So what serves as the biggest inspiration for their work?
“We are simple guys and we find inspiration in everyday things. Beautiful sunrise, a cup of nice coffee, smile from our wives and girlfriends. Life is so full of beautiful things, you just need to look around and be open to others. We think that’s the road to successful life.”
But for all the talk of ordinary, they achieved something extraordinary – The Roop won the 2020 Lithuanian National selection show by receiving more televotes than any artist had received in its history. They were highly rated by critics and fans alike, and many believed that The Roop were set to bring the contest back to Vilnius for the first time ever.
Due to COVID-19, we will never know how ‘On Fire’ would have fared on the Eurovision stage, but we do know that in the unofficial contests and votes that followed, Lithuania won both the OGAE Poll and the German alternative Eurovision show which rubber-stamped the incredible reputation the group managed to develop in a short space of time.
Given the expectation of a high result in 2020, one wonders how band felt about the news of the cancellation of the contest. The Roop answers,
“We never thought about giving up. Even “On Fire” was about not giving up. So we just knew that there was no way in which we would not continue our journey with music. And after we heard the news that we had to compete again, we just thought to ourselves that we must act as best as we can in those circumstances.”
‘On Fire’ was such a distinctive song with a performance that felt simultaneously memorable, fresh and engaging. Just many of their contemporaries this year, the band have had to undertake the challenge to create something that would equal or surpass expectations built up from their 2020 effort, with the added pressure of having to compete once again for their chance to stand on the Eurovision stage.
‘Discoteque’ was borne organically last Autumn during a session in the Lithuanian woods, with final production by popular Finnish producers Ilkka Wirtanen, Kalle Lindroth and Lithuanian producer Laisvūnas Černovas at the Helsinki studios of Warner Music; the label they signed with as a consequence of their 2020 viral success.
And through its development it’s clear that attention to detail and high levels of research is always high on the agenda within The Roops’ creative process. One could have assumed that the spelling of the song’s title was a mistake or a quirk, so it is exciting and impressive to discover that every element for them is a carefully considered artistic decision, from the title to the colours used in the song’s stage performance.
“We called our song “Discoteque” without an “h”, because it is a different kind of discotheque… (and in regards to the performance) Yellow is the colour for hope. Purple means ambition, creativity and mystery.”
Dance is also a central part of the package for The Roop; an aspect that has made both ‘On Fire’ and ‘Discoteque’ so popular. What drives this urge for the band?
“We have already noticed with ‘On Fire’ how music and dance affects people. Music and dance liberate everyone. There’s not a single person who cannot dance – it is innate. Dance is like a tool which can also heal scars… With our song ‘Discoteque’, we want people to move. When you move, you feel good, it’s common knowledge. And everyone knows dancing is good for you and has positive effects on our physical and mental health.
A growing number of researchers have proven that, while dancing, an abundance of mood-improving chemicals is released within the body of the dancer. These chemicals help improve your mental state; even one dance session can reduce depression.”
It’s clear that even though ‘Discoteque’ is an upbeat dance number, that it is conscious of the wider context around this year’s Eurovision Song Contest and the impact COVID-19 has had on the everyday lives of its audience. It’s not simply that dancing and performing are at the heart of the song’s message but that it has been made with its audience specifically in mind, firmly in the belief that the song can make people feel better in a time when we desperately need art to help us achieve that. So what specifically are The Roop aiming to get across when they perform the song?
“’Discoteque’ talks about personal inner liberation. Rather often we say that we are free and that we live in a free world. But most of our restraints come from the inside. So, this song and movement aims liberate our minds, which contains too much self-criticism, fear of appearing different, reluctance to accept your body, even limiting your attractiveness. So we are hoping that no matter if you watch or listen to us and ‘Discoteque’ you feel liberated and happy.”
It was exciting to see that when Pabandom iš naujo! 2021 came around that The Roop had not only carried over much of the same energy, dynamism and creativity that had made ‘On Fire’ such a success but with a look and sound that felt distinctly unique. It is perhaps no surprise that The Roop won their national final at a canter, smashing their own televote record in the process.
The dynamism of The Roop has encouraged a wave of optimism across their nation, from the decoration of local statues with yellow ribbons to serve well wishes to the band as they journey to Rotterdam, video of Lithuanian airline staff performing their dance routine in celebration of the song, to grand plans by Vilnius’ mayor to host an open air discoteque in the streets should they prove victorious in just over a fortnights time.
For me, just like the Mirror of Erised from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone that reflects the deepest, most desperate desires of our hearts, I have discovered that with this complex and vibrant band, the way you see them is linked closely to the way you want to see them.
You want a band who can make fun and exciting music? Tick.
You want artists/performers who will put thought and creativity into every detail of their work? Tick.
You want a group of alchemists who can turn the ordinary struggles and pleasures of life into extraordinary artistic concepts? Tick.
Perhaps most importantly however, if you want three people who mark a fantastic representation of Lithuania to the rest of the continent, this is a massive tick!
Anything can happen at the Eurovision Song Contest but what I can be sure of is that on Tuesday May 18th, and then again on Saturday May 22nd they will finally get the chance to complete their long and winding Eurovision journey and in doing so, will make a lot of people within and beyond Lithuania extremely proud.