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ESC Insight’s Musical Moments Of 2022 Written by on January 9, 2023 | 1 Comment

The run-up to Liverpool 2023 is about to kick into high gear. Before we switch all our focus to the National Final season, we’re going to take a final look back and salute 2022’s Musical Moments.

Ewan Spence

‘Ciao Ciao‘, by La Rappresentante Di Lista (Italy).

Going into Sanremo you have no idea what’s coming up song-wise. You have the artist names and their back catalogue but the songs in the competition are held back until they step out on the Ariston Theatre stage. No early releases, no work-in-progress YouTube demos, not even some Swedish-style 30-second clips.

I was hoping for great things from many artists, but especially from La Rappresentante Di Lista, not least because 2021’s entry ‘Amare’ was an absolute blast. Would Veronica Lucchesi and Dario Mangiaracin deliver in 2022? I’d hyped this up so much in my head that they couldn’t possibly deliver.

They delivered. And then delivered some more. Oh my.

Ciao Ciao’ is immediate. Where ‘Amare’ had a relatively slow burn and a climbing intensity, ‘Ciao Ciao’ lays out everything n the first few seconds, addresses each element in turn, mixes it all up, and then brings them all back for the triumphant ending. All of which is the catnip I look for in my music.

What’s impressive is how operatic ‘Ciao Ciao’ is. The first few seconds introduce all the elements of the next three minutes; you have the melody with the vocal dum-dah dah-dah presented, the complimentary bass line sneaks in, and the whole song is teased much as we know Romeo and Juliet are going to die by the end of the epic.

Essentially the song opens with an overture. Then it’s a matter of developing the story through playful arias, wall-of-sound choruses, recitative bridges, and the Italian lyrics all twisting around each other. Plus a signature dance move to hide your emotions behind an almost salute to the joy of the song.

Bellissimo.

Trenulețul’, by Zdob și Zdub and The Advahov Brothers (Moldova).

Once Zdob și Zdub threw their hat into the ring to represent Moldova in Turin, it felt like a foregone conclusion that the National Final, and the ticket to Turin, was theirs to lose. And the band definitely did not lose.

Trenulețul’ (The Little Train) is a celebration of an actual train, the then recently reopened line between Chișinău to Bucharest. Closed during the CoVID Pandemic, the 13-and-a-half-hour-long sleeper service (the Prietenia service, which means Friendship) connected the countries as the world slowly re-emerged. Who wouldn’t want to write the happiest song in the world? Who wouldn’t want to share this? Who wouldn’t think that the perfect medium would be a rock band bringing along some fiddles and a double bass for a clickey-clack track?

There’s also the delight of having two versions of the song; the initial release in Molodova which placed more emphasis on The Advahov Brothers sound and raised a few eyebrows with those familiar with the more kinetic Eurovision entries from Zdob și Zdub. Yet this has all the hallmarks of a classic ZsZ, manic energy coupled with a high-concept story, and musical dexterity woven into an accessible earworm.

Not long after their selection, the band performed a version of the song at a ‘regular’ gig and it was this rockier version that took to the stage in Turin… a version that was much more the international vision of  Zdob și Zdub.

Eighth place in the Grand Final hides a bigger story though. The bright and colourful ‘Trenulețul’ finished second in the televote with only Ukraine’s ‘Stefania’ ahead of it. The Little Train connected all over the continent and beyond.

Sometimes you need to make a statement. Sometimes you just need a bit of escapism. With the Eurovision Song Contest you can have both.

Fin Ross Russell

Tini zabutykh predkiv’, by Alina Pash (Ukraine)

No story of an entrant for the Eurovision Song Contest in 2022 represents as much of a microcosm as to what was set to come for the season ahead than Alina Pash’s ‘Tini zabutykh prevdiv’. For all of the hype around Kalush Orchestra and their huge margin of victory in Turin, it’s easy to forget that ‘Stefania’ didn’t actually manage to win its National Final.

Vidbir 2022 was as exciting a National Final as could be expected, with a range of genres, languages, styles and artists on display, and Eurovision legends Jamala and Tina Karol joining Yaroslav Lodyhin on a three-strong jury.

Ultimately, there were no surprises as ‘Tini zabutykh predkiv’ battled ‘Stefania’ for the victory, with Alina Pash ultimately winning through as a result of Yaroslav Lodyhin marking Kalush Orchestra much lower than expected, despite Kalush Orchestra’s wide margin of victory in the televote.

The result was controversial with Kalush Orchestra immediately claiming foul play due to several technical difficulties that unfolded during the announcement of the results. Meanwhile, in Alina Pash’s camp, the celebrations were marred by the revelations of activist & video blogger Serhii Sternenko who claimed Alina had supposedly entered Crimea via Russia in 2015 and had forged her travel documents in order to compete at Vidbir. The rule regarding artists who entered Crimea via Russia was brought in after the debacle surrounding Maruv and the other Vidbir artists of 2019 whose refusal to abide by UA:PBC’s conditions for participation ultimately led to Ukraine’s withdrawal from the 2019 contest in Tel Aviv.

The Ukrainian Border Guard Service would go on to announce that they had not issued the document which Alina Pash had handed into UA:PBC as part of her participation at Vidbir. Alina Pash would go on to withdraw her participation at the Eurovision Song Contest as the Ukrainian representative and on June 2nd, would admit to having forged the documents.

The rest as we know is history. Kalush Orchestra would be invited to represent Ukraine at the contest. The Russian army would march into Ukraine and immediately put the future of the country in doubt. Then despite all the barriers to participating, UA:PBC found their way to Turin and Kalush Orchestra delivered fantastic performances on the Turin stage to deliver Ukraine’s third contest victory and the highest televote margin in history.

But there are so many sliding doors moments to consider in this remarkable story. What if Russia never invaded Ukraine in 2014 and began a conflict that continues to rage on to this day? What if the events of Vidbir 2019 hadn’t led to the rule regarding entering Crimea via Russia being introduced? What if Lodyhin had felt in a different mood and marked Kalush Orchestra three places higher, forcing a jury-televote tie which would have ultimately come down on the televote side? What if Serhii Sternenko hadn’t come across the information regarding Pash’s documents or decided that it wasn’t worth mentioning on her platform? What if Pash had found a way to ultimately convince UA:PBC that the documents were in fact real? And perhaps, most interestingly of all, what would have happened had Kalush Orchestra not won the contest in Turin?

We will never know the answers to all of these questions, instead all we know is that Alina Pash’s reputation has been significantly hampered by the debacle and yet, she will always belong to a unique category of artists who won national finals but didn’t represent their nation on the Eurovision stage, the 2022 act that Ukraine almost had and perhaps the 2022 Eurovision winner we almost had.

Terra’’, by Tanxugeuiras (Spain)

If you think the results of Eurovision 2022’s Semi Finals produced some controversy, you haven’t seen anything that compares to what went down at this year’s Benidorm Fest.

Re-introduced for the first time since 2006, this was Spain’s latest attempt at finding a National Final formula to select an entry to be successful at the Song Contest. Although Chanel ended up winning the contest with ‘SloMo’ and coming third in Turin, she wasn’t considered a favourite to win the Spanish selection. That’s because the final was poised to be a straight shootout between Rigoberta Bandini and her feminist anthem ‘Ay mamá’ and Galician folk group Tanxugueiras with the song ‘Terra’.

Whilst many in the community gravitated towards ‘Ay mamá’, there was always something that stood out to me regarding ‘Terra’. Spain is a complicated nation with proud regional cultures that have their own languages, traditions and identities which feel very much separate from Spanish, so much so that there are 12 regions with separatist movements in the country. It’s therefore both surprising and unsurprising that broadcaster RTVE has never sent a song to Eurovision in any of these languages. What’s more of a statement however is that not only has RTVE nominated a song to Benidorm Fest that had the majority of its lyrics in Galician, but it also contained the phrase “There are no borders” in Galician, Basque, Catalan, Asturian and Spanish, in that order.

Anybody who follows National Finals will know that there are regularly strange breakdowns used to arrive at the eventual winner and Benidorm Fest was no exception. 50 percent of the scores would be awarded by a jury with 25 percent awarded by a 433-strong demoscopic jury representative of the Spanish TV-viewing population and therefore only 25 percent awarded by the televoters at home. Eyebrows were raised when Chanel surprised everybody to win Benidorm Fest but they were raised even further when it transpired that Tanxugueiras had won the demoscopic vote by just less than one percent and the televote by over 50 percent… but somehow placed third after the jury ranked them fifth.

Ultimately however, despite RTVE taking on board the criticism and agreeing to review the jury-demoscopic-televoter split ahead of future editions, Chanel went to Turin and the Eurovision Song Contest and was immensely popular, finishing third in the final standings.

It would be a stretch to suggest that Tanxugueiras would have achieved the same sort of result for Spain. Had the 71 percent of the Benidorm Fest televoters who voted for ‘Terra’ gotten their way, however, it would have been a watershed moment for Spain and the representation of its regional cultures and languages at the contest. Interestingly, RTVE has opted not to change the voting split for the upcoming edition of Benidorm Fest, suggesting (for whatever reason) that ultimately this system produced the best possible winner.

Judging by Chanel’s global success post-Eurovision, RTVE found the formula.

Ben Robertson

Wonderland’, by AleXa (Oklahoma)

I may only be 34 years old but I’ve been covering the Eurovision Song Contest for over a decade. Sometimes it feels like I’ve seen it all. It’s rare for me to watch a competitive song and witness something so outrageously good my jaw is blown wide open. In fact, it only happened once all last season.

AleXa, initiate breakdown.

The idea that entry number two in this first heat of the American Song Contest was this K-pop artist from Oklahoma caught my attention before the show began. But that was more out of intrigue rather than expectation, and I was curious how this genre would feel in the Song Contest stage.

Nothing prepared me though for the quality of the visual presentation, the catchy and cleverly written hooks, the performer who seemed to defy all expectations with a performance that any pop star would be proud of. Watch the bridge one more time on the video below but focus on the camerawork in particular which makes the whole routine as bombastic as possible – producers take note of that perfection.

That attention to detail made this song pop in ways none of the others in the American Song Contest could do, and it’s little surprise that the public vote in the final swung victory comprehensively in Alexa’s direction. It’s healthy for the brand of the American Song Contest that something so diverse and from an act relatively unknown to the local population could prosper in its first year.

‘Wonderland’ was written in part by Cazzi Opeia, a songwriter who also competed as a solo artist in Melodifestivalen 2022 for the first time. She’s got the bug and is back for another slice at this season’s Song Contest circus.

But this time the act is Loreen. You may have heard of her. And I wouldn’t be surprised if Cazzi’s touch means this song is the true second coming of our Swedish saviour.

Hold Me Closer’, by Cornelia Jakobs (Sweden)

I dismissed this song when I first heard the Melfest tracks on that Wednesday morning before heat one. While I appreciated the rousing production, raspy vocals and hauntingly relatable emotions in the track, competitively my first instinct was that it was chanceless. Melodifestivalen has had a track record of taking style over substance over and over again and my immediate expectation was that the bigger names of that heat, teen megastar Theoz and 2017 winner Robin Bengtsson, would take the vast majority of votes on the button-bashing app. Bengtsson even won the Melodifestivalklubben post-rehearsal vote the night before the heat.

However, fate such had it that the Melodifestivalen app crashed and with far less votes being cast it opened the door for a song with the quality of ‘Hold Me Closer’ to qualify directly against bigger names. With that came the huge benefit of five weeks of publicity as being a favourite and a momentum-build strong enough that Cornelia did come out victorious in Friends Arena.

But ‘Hold Me Closer’ winning Melodifestivalen is more than just a story of a great song winning a National Final and being loved across Europe as it scored well across the board en route to a fourth-place finish. It’s actually a turning point in Song Contest mentality arguably bigger than that the United Kingdom or Spain have felt in the last twelve months. We Swedes just don’t shout about it as loudly.

Songs like this, from artists as unknown as Cornelia, don’t come anywhere close to winning Melodifestivalen. This year is the first in the post-Björkman era of Melodifestivalen and Jakobs winning is the biggest signal that the Song Contest in Sweden is changing its artistic direction. Now it is substance over style, feelings over fireworks, that matter in the land of schlager glitz and glamour.

Watch out for whatever Sweden sends in future years to feel this influence.

Monty Moncrieff (Second Cherry)

SloMo’, by Chanel (Spain)

The passion of the Spanish Eurovision fans to throw full-throated support behind an obvious no-hoper is rivalled perhaps only by us British. When even Blas Canto pulling a giant moony wasn’t enough to drag Spain out of almost a full decade of placings in the 20s it was clear that something had to change. Like the Brits, Spain approached 2022 with renewed vigour, and a rejuvenated minor song festival was reborn. Benidorm Fest was a resounding hit with the public, a jewel in the 2022 National Final season’s crown to rival even the stalwart big guns like Melodifestivalen.

As Fin Ross has noted previously, Benidorm served up a feast of Latin drama. After unceremoniously dumping former Eurovision stars Azucar Moreno out in the first round, the results were given a twist by a complicated voting system. This delivered victory to a compromise song favoured by neither the demoscopic jury nor the national televoters, gaining less than 4% of the latter’s points. As Chanel’s Fuego-like pop song was declared the winner I had to wonder whether it might get lost in a sea of Fuego-likes once our Eurovision line-up was complete.

I needn’t have worried. Come May SloMo was the only real Fuego-like in its genre, a factor one could view as luck rather than judgement. But Chanel had more than just luck on her side. In the Benidorm Fest final she showed the real power of her entry: the performance. Slickly – and cleverly – arranged and choreographed to allow Chanel’s vocal and dance skills to both shine and (crucially) complement one another as the energy built throughout the routine it was easy to see how the live performance of SloMo wowed at first sight.

Honed and perfected throughout the preview season, by Turin just the right amount of embellishments had been added: a stereotypically Spanish sounding intro to announce the body of the song; a deftly added dance move or two to up the wow factor; and the quintessential flourish of a hand fan to complete the whole ensemble. As Chanel and her dance troupe moved through the routine, the energy built inside the Pala Alpitour Arena like nothing I’ve ever experienced at Eurovision before. The energy transferred across the TV screens too, meaning ‘SloMo’ was a genuine crowd-thriller and an instant classic Eurovision performance. The joy of being a British fan, sitting amid a block of fellow Brits and next to a block of Spaniards as the points rained down for both nations is an experience I shall treasure forever.

It’s easy to mock what at times feels more frenzy than just fandom from the Spanish fans, but finally their unwavering support is fully vindicated. It was always going to take something special to dislodge Loreen’s Euphoria from the top of the annual fan 250 Countdown poll. Chanel achieving that feels fully deserved.

In Corpore Sano’, by Konstrakta (Serbia)

OK, hands up whoever had “Meghan Markle’s hair” on their Eurovision 2022 bingo card. Nobody? It was one of the more surprising lyrical references to grace the Contest’s stage in any year. Yet it was but one of the many intriguing aspects to Konstrakta’s song and performance for Serbia.

An eye-catching performance complete with washing bowl, jugs of water and towels – and likened to the performance-art of fellow Serb Marina Abramović – guaranteed that even if you didn’t know what was going on you wanted to immediately watch it again and find out. And watch it we did, with the video rounding off the top 10 most-watched on Eurovision’s YouTube channel in their end-of-year chart.

Pinning down the meaning proved somewhat more elusive. As with all the best art, Kontrakta ensured the song has multiple layers and myriad interpretations. It touches on the vacuity of celebrity and crank wellbeing remedies, taking a swipe at Serbia’s supposedly universal healthcare system that serves those pursuing more independent careers, such as artists, rather less universally.

Thematically it’s far from the crash boom bang popularly – and (stereo) typically – associated with Eurovision. Musically too, save for the easily clap-along-able chorus, it’s hardly a banger. Yet by piquing the interest visually – and cleverly augmenting the impenetrable Serbian language for most viewers with just a hint of overlaid meaning written across the screen – Konstrakta created one of the most memorable moments in the Contest’s long history. No mean feat with such a complex message, demanding much of the viewer in just three short minutes.

I adore moments like these in the art I admire. I love being challenged by the artist to meet them at least half-way and to be prepared to put in the work to understand it. From the first glimpse of this in its National Dinal I called a top-10 finish purely through its originality and bravery to take a risk. I’m so pleased for Kontrakta that her three-minute risk paid off. Let’s hope more true artists feel it’s worth taking one too.

Mike McComb (EuroWhat?)

Llámame’, by WRS (Romania)

Wilderness periods make me nervous. When a participating country hits a lengthy dry spell at Eurovision, particularly when there have been past tensions with the EBU, I worry that one more missed qualification could mean the broadcaster dusts off their hands and says “enough.”

Romania’s last visit to the Grand Final was in 2017 with “Yodel It!” a song that, while fun, is maybe not the best reminder of what the country has to offer musically. Enter WRS, a former boy band member and professional dancer from various Romanian TV competitions. His entry “Llámame”, a somber Latin-influenced dance track, tells a story about love in secret. Lyrically there are queer undertones, but it’s the choreography that speaks of queerness matter of factly, in sharp contrast to overwrought or overextroverted expression of similar sentiments that also appeared in this year’s second Semi Final.

I generally don’t associate these themes with Romania or its recent slate of entries, and perhaps that may explain why the journey through Selecția Națională 2022 was not a smooth one. In the first phase, viewers seemed indifferent to ‘Llámame’ as it placed 21st in a field of 45 entries based on public votes. A professional jury stepped in and selected the song to continue to the second phase. In this next phase, the jury reduced the field of 20 songs to 10 with WRS advancing while the overall audience favorite, ‘Malere’ by E-an-na, was eliminated. The final phase again combined jury and televoting to determine the winner. This time the support for ‘Llámame’ was significantly stronger, with the song winning the jury and running a close second in the televote.

To me, the National Final journey demonstrates why this song works as a strong Eurovision entry. ‘Llámame’ is completely unexpected while functioning as a pop song, but it takes time for the effect to sink in.

I don’t recall there being much fanfare for this entry in the runup to Turin 2022, but I also don’t recall skipping this entry whenever it came up on my (too) many playlists in preparation for the second Semi Final. While there may have been confusion about which country had sent this entry, the slow burn of the song’s story plus the earworm that is “hola, mi babebe” had time to burrow deep into the subconscious. I still get a bit verklempt each time I watch the dance break toward the end of the performance. The seamless transition of WRS dancing with a female partner to a male partner, maintaining the same romantic intensity feels normal, exactly as it should. The song is direct, the performance is not coy, and I appreciate the final product because of it.

Although Romania did finally break out of its skid, the wilderness period may not be over yet. Immediately following the Contest, the delegation was implicated in the jury point-swapping scandal. In response, a televised debate and referendum was held to discuss Romania’s future in the Contest. Although we expect to see Romania in Liverpool, it may require another slow burn or strong showing to warm up the relationship between TVR and the EBU.

My hope is that ‘Llámame’ will become the battle cry for a new Romanian era at Eurovision.

 

Ben Smith (Eurowhat?)

Bad’, by Bermudu Divstūris (Latvia)

After our Patreon coverage for the second week of the American Song Contest finished, I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what it felt like the show was missing. Based on the performances from the first week, NBC was clearly throwing an appropriate amount of money at the show, and the selection of the acts showcased a diverse musical subset of America, including Wyoming’s goofy neon ‘New Boot Goofin’’. We understood our assignment! Fun stuff would be in the mix!

But that second week was rough, and all my excitement immediately curdled into “what are we doing?”. Thinking further over what I had enjoyed from the just-finished Eurovision selection season, it hit me: some of the entries in the ASC were good, but none of them were “Bad”.

I have a soft spot for what gets (incorrectly) classified as “joke” entries at Eurovision – things that wink at the audience and fully commit to their own ridiculous bit for the time they’re allotted. The Baltic nations have excelled at this for the last few seasons… think of Twosome’s Lithuanian basketball playas or Meandi’s bright yellow drip from that same Pabandom iš Naujo. While Lithuania played it safer this year, Latvia’s Supernova had a bumper crop of this sort of entry in its final: the colorful 80s excess of Bujāns’ He, She, You & Me’, whatever 3-minute MTV microdrama was being told by Mēs jūs mīlam’s ‘Rich Itch’, and the perfect blend of cheek and musicianship that pushed Citi Zeni’s ‘Eat Your Salad’ over the edge to the actual win.

Let’s be clear: I didn’t think “Bad” would win Supernova, but it’s absolutely the sort of thing I immediately forwarded to all my Eurovision-curious friends as another reminder that they should be watching National Finals for things like this. The 8-bit shine on the glasses! The Busby Berkeley-esque overhead camerawork! It’s an SNL Digital Short that has a chance of being performed live on an international stage, and it took me until writing this to realize that the reason it sounded familiar was because Bermudu Divstūris is the exact same crew as Musiqq, Latvia’s 2011 entrant that performed ‘Angel in Disguise’.

The sense of fun entries like ‘Bad’ have was a balm I returned to on Youtube as we got further and further into the ASC’s qualifying heats, and Mike and I gradually descended into madness talking about the show week to week. The powers that be on the ASC allotted us one – ONE – ‘New Boot Goofin’’ in a 56-entry contest, far too low a ratio with that many entries up for selection with the viewing public.

Sure, we had multiple interchangeable male country vocalists in the finals, and a worthy winner in AleXa, but America really could have used a crew of five identically-dressed Latvian bad boys earnestly proclaiming how they wanted to get drunk, get high, and make love with you tonight to spice things up.

I wouldn’t count the America Song Contest fully down for the count, but I think the lackluster reaction it got means it won’t be back in the exact same format next time. Maybe it’s just America’s Puritan roots – we can never truly allow ourselves to be ‘Bad’.

Martin Bishop (Thank You Europe)

Apri Tutte Le Porte’, by Gianni Morandi (Italy)

Since Eesti Laul went downhill I had started to feel slightly homeless in the National Final season. Where some other fans dedicate six weeks to Melodifestivalen, I used to focus heavily on the quirky synth poppets and oddly-named indy bands of Estonia. The Lauls have become too conventional for my tastes in recent years, so I have found myself increasingly turning instead to Sanremo. I’m gradually learning the ropes and figuring out my giuria demoscopica from my televoto.

This year, in an apparent nod to Turin hosting Eurovision, the Sanremo 2022 line-up included a bunch of former Italian representatives, including some older entrants who quite frankly I’d never heard of. It’s not without form, Sanremo has always loved to include a few legends of Italian music who can be relied on to provide a classic Ariston ballad.

But what’s this? A burst of trumpets, a rising refrain of strings, a twinkle in the eye from our performer. ‘Apri Tutte Le Porte’ opens up all the doors. It is spring sunshine in musical form. You don’t need to understand Italian to know the song is about finding the joy in life. The song is pure joy itself and it’s impossible not to end up with a big smile on your face as you sing along to the “Vai così, vai così, vai così, vai cosìiiiii!!!”

Gianni Morandi has been bringing joy to the Italian public since the early 1960s when he had his breakthrough hit ‘Fatti mandare dalla mamma’, which is well worth looking up. 2022 was his seventh go at Sanremo, which he has also hosted twice. The peak of his Sanremo career came in 1987 when he won as part of a trio with Umberto Tozzi and Enrico Ruggeri. As the 2022 Contest progresses, I fall more in love with his song and the old charmer is right near the top of the leaderboard. At 77 years young, could Gianni score a solo win? He couldn’t could, he?

Actually, no he couldn’t. Gianni finished third behind Mahmood & Blanco and Elisa. However, he’s back for 2023 as a co-host. I’ve booked time off work; we’re going full Sanremo.

Eat Your Salad’, by Citi Zēni (Latvia).

It seems like every Eurovision season now needs one moment that brings the entire fan community together in complete shock and confusion. There was that Russell Crowe day in 2020, the day in 2021 where we all asked “wait, did he just say Flo Rida?” and then 2022 was the year we asked “did he just say veggies and pussy?”

Eat Your Salad has the most incredible opening line of any Eurovision song ever, but once we had each scooped up our jaws off the floor, thoughts turned to the how. How can they possibly pull this thing off on the Eurovision Song Contest stage? You can’t say that, even if you are promoting an environmentally friendly lifestyle. It was unclear whether cat noises or on-screen emojis were going to be feasible ways to get round the censors, but we were all gripped.

To be honest, initially it felt a bit academic. It didn’t seem all that likely that we’d get to see ‘Eat Your Salad’ performed at the Song Contest when most of us had only focused on the first line. For me, that changed from the moment I saw Citi Zeni perform live at the semi-final of Supernova. The lads put on quite a show. Frontman Jānis was like an excited schoolboy who has just discovered a new trick to make the whole class erupt with laughter. I half expected him to do a giant knee slide across the studio floor. Instead, it was his colleague Krišjānis who ruined his trousers.

I was fully hooked on the veggie guys. I must admit, I am a sucker for a well-performed bit of comedy funk at Eurovision, going back to when InCulto brought their Eastern European version to Oslo in 2010. Those two songs share the trait of delivering a serious message, but doing it in the stupidest way possible. No one really wants to be lectured in a song, so Citi Zeni’s approach really meant being green was cool.

That first line was still the star. It’s the sort of thing that you want to make people listen to and watch their reaction. So: cut to the Friday before contest week and imagine my glee when Latvia gets drawn first out of the hat in the office sweepstake I organise. I’ve got a queue of my company’s keenest Euro-ficianados around my desk, but before they all get their entry, they each end up taking their turn on my earphones to hear what all the fuss is about. It was a great shared moment of wonder at this ridiculous old contest we love.

Roy Delaney (ESC Apocalypse).

Stripper’, by Achille Lauro (San Marino)

Regular readers to this annual feature may remember that I’ve been banging on about this fella for a few years now, mostly off the back of his ever more unhinged Sanremo performances. Well this year he finally made it to the big show – only he had to pop next door to the Most Serene Republic in order to finally qualify. Indeed, the Sammarinese selection shows themselves were things of infinite wonk beauty, held, it appeared, in a series of school halls and peopled by pretty much anyone they could drag in from the streets outside in big nets. But then, on the very last night, the boy Lauro swooped in with this monster of an aggro glam stomper and rendered the previous weeks of qualifiers pointless as he pretty much phoned in his performance with a moderately embarrassed aplomb, stomping on all before him in great big rock’n’roll boots.

Those of us who’ve followed his career closely over the last few years just knew he was going to offer us something that little bit extra on the Turin stage. But we just weren’t quite expecting the turbo extra glory that he subsequently delivered. For a start, the song itself evoked memories of the briefly shining bovver rock genre that came and went in that tiny moment between Glam and Punk. Currently undergoing a significant underground revival in Italy with new bands like Guida, and old timers The Hammersmith Gorillas, Lauro did what he always does and tapped into a living movement while giving it his own distinct twist. Of course even his fiercest defenders would grudgingly admit that the boy can’t sing, has the deportment of a hod carrier and can’t dance for toffee – but he still exudes that indefinable star quality that makes him possibly the greatest rock’n’roll star that Europe has to offer right now.

So when it came to the performance we got more than we could ever possibly have wished for. Flames, cages, fizzling guitars and homeorotic undertones, and that beautiful denouement on the bucking bronco machine all spooned on the glory in maximum style. And best of all I finally got to see the big man perform in real life with my own eyes. I have to admit to doing a little swoon, such was the magnitude of the moment. It’s such a darned shame that this didn’t sneak over the line and make it into the final, because the Saturday night casuals at home would still be talking about it now.

Intro’, by Miss Catylove

Possibly the shortest-lived cult moment in all Eurovision history burned brightly for less than 24 hours when last year’s Moldovan shortlist was first published. For a start, it confirmed a theory that I’ve long held that some countries just hastily bang up all the songs they receive without giving them a listen first. And as such, ‘Intro’ quite probably melted more brains than any song in National Final history during its all-too-brief moment in the sun.

Lovers of harsh electronica acts like Whitehouse, Throbbing Gristle and Benefits would have been delighted by Miss Catylove’s left-handed dive into scratchy art noise. But those with less of an ear to the dark side just didn’t have the language to explain it. “Electric drill!” some cried with a terrified wobble in their voice. “Food mixer,” asserted many others. “Stroke of bloody genius!’, the more anarchist corner of Eurofandom bellowed.

And then, as soon as it appeared, it was gone. Miss Catylove themself claims that they withdrew because they weren’t available for the live Moldovan auditions. But most folk just assume that someone at TRM finally heard it and shouted “What the bloody hell is this?!!”

However, its short-lived contender status spawned a whole load of comedy memes, and a cult following hanging on the artist’s every word. Rumours abound as to who Miss Catylove actually is – including a number of prominent members of Eurovision fandom – but to us it doesn’t really matter. That this happened at all is the important thing… and word on the street is that they’re having another go this year. We can’t bloody wait!

Ross Middleton

Dove si Balla’, by Dargen D’Amico (Italy).

In our community the various merits of songs and their relative levels of competitiveness are often debated at great length. How a performer will sound, how it will be staged, where is it in the running order, whether will it stand out, can it win a National Final, and on and on and on. However, when a song and a performer come along that simply makes you happy it’s far more special than any competition. Dargen D’Amico’s ‘Dove si balla’ does exactly that.

Of course, this was never going to win Sanremo. Well, to be fair, given the juggernaut ‘Brividi became with the Italian public nothing else ever stood a chance. But what does that matter? I now have this song and Dargen’s effortlessly cool (and FantaSanremo points amassing) performances to treasure forever. From those opening thumping beats I know that for the next three and a half minutes this bloke in his forties singing about his love of dance music is going to put a smile on my face. The delight in this performance is only enhanced when you read the translated lyrics, my favourite being; “Where you can dance, not give a shit and dance”. Music can very often be the escape we all need, quite simply to not give a shit and dance.

This song followed me throughout the year. Back in March and April when the Ferrari F1 team seemed to finally be world beaters (spoilers, they weren’t) the unmistakable beat of Dove si Balla could be heard pumping out the Italian garages amid the post-race celebrations. When it came to a certain music streaming service’s annual review it came as no surprise to me that this was the song to claim top spot. This is just one of those songs that I cannot skip, regardless of mood. It’s positive, it’s enhancing and if negative, it’s uplifting.

One of my biggest regrets about not travelling out to Turin was missing out on the opportunity to belt this out in some sweaty, Italian nightclub. One day, just maybe, I’ll be able to join arm-in-arm with pals and PA PARA-PA PARA PA-PA-PA!

Malere’, by E-an-na (Romania).

Based on the act and title alone, you may not immediately recall exactly which of the songs that didn’t make it to the final of the Romanian national selection this is. Even when listening along it might be somewhat tricky to place. But then when you see those last thirty seconds, there is no mistake, you will know exactly which one this is.

A significant factor in my watching seemingly endless national finals year on year is the absurd eccentricities each country has to offer. In some cases, these oddities can get pretty close to making the Song Contest. We could’ve had a giant boob globe on stage for Spain or had the rules been slightly different in North Macedonia it could’ve been Viktor’s “Superman”.

We also have those acts and performers who don’t much hope of making it past the juries national broadcasters assemble to weedle out this sort of fun. Who can forget Trollfest dancing like pink flamingos or basically every act except Zdob şi Zdub in the Moldovan live auditions. These are the exact moments I watch hours of this stuff for.

However, it was Romania that provided the biggest “no, hold on what did I just see?” moment of the 2022 season. I should make it clear that even without that moment this entry is very much my sort of thing within its own right. The elements of folk, rock and accordion all combine to create something rather spell bounding. At the end of a long night of selections that included four finals and three other heats the appearance of “Malere” was enough to perk this weary Contest fan’s interest. Then, just as the three minutes was reaching a crescendo, there it was …was that a dinosaur on drums???

Yes, it was just the costume you can get off Amazon for forty quid and of course it would’ve looked ridiculously tacky on the Eurovision stage but who cares! For those final thirty seconds of accordion inspired folk rock there was accompaniment from a T-Rex on drums. This was enough to set this writer off on a fit of giggles like no other. For all the drama, controversies and meltdowns the National Final season can so often create, sometimes we all just need some dude dressed as a dinosaur to remind us all of the glorious silliness of this contest we follow.

And Now, 2023…

With that, our focus turns to the National Final season for 2023. Ukraine and Albanian started us off in December, and both Belgium and Estonia hit the airwaves this week. We have songs and votes to look forward to every Saturday night until mid-March. ESC Insight will be here as always, taking a closer look at the Eurovision Song Contest, bringing you our regular podcasts, and looking forward to Liverpool. 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.

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 2022”

  1. Shai says:

    ‘Dove si Balla’ by Dargen D’Amico

    I should thank Roy for posting this song on his blog, otherwise I wouldn’t have known this song as I hardly follow national finals and San Remo is quite a lengthy national final.
    In theory this shouldn’t work. A singer that more speak the song words than sing it, a voice that somehow doesn’t fit to carry a tune and a song that has a lot of words in it, which sometime can be tiresome. Yet it works so well and produced a song which makes me smile whenever I hear it. Add to that the enthusiastic crowd at San Remo, which was singing and clapping during the performance and you have a crowd pleaser which would have brought the roof down if it would have gotten the chance at Eurovision stage.
    It’s not a sophisticated song but it is one that reminds me what music (and dancing) is all about. Touching you, making you feel and grabbing you and never let go.

    P.s.
    I am glad someone was writing about this song although I thought Roy will have the honor as I think he loves this song very much.

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