The Soundshark… Does Eurovision 2020 – Semi-Final 1

On the 18th March, the world lost one of its landmark calendar moments of unity through music, when for the first time in its 64-year tenure, the Eurovision Song Contest was cancelled, because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Eurovision has now scheduled something in place of the original contest, honouring those who were originally supposed to be participating. But there is still part, well, of myself, that yearns for the original broadcast and format to play out in a fantasy scenario, that admittedly got out of hand. In the means of providing some light entertainment in these troubling times, The Soundshark sat through both semi-finals of the already pre-planned brackets (while also abiding by an improvised and hybrid set of drinking rules) and chose a set of 10 finalists from each, to fulfil the scenario of a potential grand final. This is all purely personal opinions and light humour, so nothing is meant to offend. This is all meant to be in the name of fun, so I always tend to go into this blind, with almost zero prior knowledge of what I’m about to hear. Just think of me as a less funny Graham Norton or Sir Terry Wogan. With fun in mind, here’s how Semi Final 1 played out, first explaining the drinking rules, in case you wish to play along and endure as well.

The rules were stitched together from various websites and sources, such as Eurovision Drink, Hostelworld, and news sites like the Metro and Telegraph. Not all performers had to have a preliminary show to crown the representative for their country, so the rules had to ensure that very few songs, live performance or music video alike, slipped through the net of avoiding taking a drink. I’d like to think I did a decent job. As I was analysing this, I did purposely water it down for myself so I had basic cognitive faculties to power through, provide commentary, and review effectively. Thus, for everything listed, I just took a single drink. You may wish to alter this to your tastes, or to honour the original rule creators, it’s all fair game:

  • Crazy dancing
  • Crowd selfie
  • Geometric shapes
  • Innuendo
  • Key change
  • Language change
  • Lighting bloom (i.e. heavy use of light or singular bright burst)
  • Smoke machine
  • Removing clothing
  • Ticker tape
  • Pyrotechnics
  • Martial arts
  • Wearing colour
  • Wind machines
  • Traditional costumes/instruments
  • Aggressive violin
  • Any form of opera

That now settled, away we go!

Australia: Montaigne – Don’t Break Me

A curious dubstep number this one, the ambience is really nice but it’s everything else other than the music that steals the show here. Whether it’s the message, the fact her ruff will not behave itself, how she just looks like she’s fighting herself the entire time, and that the cameraman just will not stop circling her the whole bloody time and Christ I’m dizzy, this really is a performance piece more than a song. Her voice seems to tremble and shake a fair amount, and whether that’s nerves, purposeful for effect, or she’s struggling to sing, it is very noticeable to be said. Still decent overall.

Drink for: Geometric shapes, wearing colour, (dubious) crowd selfie, crazy dancers

Belarus: VAL – Da Vidna

I couldn’t help myself from thinking that Major Lazer & DJ Snake would call and ask for their tune back the entire time musically, but I spent more time obsessing over whether that bloke is just playing the table, as a touchpad keyboard really doesn’t look that obvious. On wheels, no cables, you’re not fooling anyone. I hope it’s a table. The fact it then suddenly vanishes and he’s now playing the guitar at the end really throws me too. Oh, and the other bloke is actually a good dancer, he’s just having to perform a really bad one. Other than a homage to Scott Steiner, nothing special here.

Drink for: Crazy dancers, pyrotechnics

Ireland: Lesley Roy – Story Of My Life

My immediate thought was that Katy Perry’s lawyers were going to be in touch about this one, but I have to forgive it for being catchy as all hell, and making something childish one hell of a hook. This easily would’ve been on radio rotation about five years ago I reckon; it’s a good, clean, affirmative pop song that celebrates individuality and we need more of that. Obviously being a music video, I do wonder if she can play that guitar or it’s just for show, nothing taken away for either. The constant cutting to VHS does bug me too, I don’t get why because they don’t add a lot of behind the scenes stuff in, so it adds nothing.

Drink for: Wearing colour

Lithuania: The Roop – On Fire

The immediate dramatic piano sounds like we’re about to strap in for another ballad, but the beat kicks in, and we get something very different, and very, very fun. What you learn is that the main vocalist has very expressive fingers and eyebrows. And that his dad dancing is endearing. His pronunciations sound a little odd on certain words, but this is just a minor criticism on what is a group of folks just having a total ball making this video. It just so happens the song is great too. Worth a watch to ascertain how much of a laugh these guys must’ve had.

Drink for: Crazy dancers

North Macedonia: Vasil – You

If filmed on location, North Macedonia must have some very pretty bars, and what they’re drinking looks tasty. There isn’t a great deal that goes on musically sadly, despite an accordion, some pleasing string melodies, and someone engaging the funk button for the chorus. The random whoops are incredible though. You’ll probably be far more entranced by the brilliant dance recital, unlike everyone else in the video who just seems to carry on drinking and not give a fuck while this happens. The constant staring is super off-putting mind. USE YOUR WORDS. At the end, some do relent and dance seated, but I can’t help but wonder if they drugged the lot of them to achieve this.

Drink for: Wearing colour, traditional instruments

Russia: Little Big – Uno

Prior to deciding to undertake this, this was the only entry I’d heard previously, and I wasn’t that enthralled with it. Now, my feeling is it’s not a great Little Big song, but an excellent Eurovision song, as it fills that quirky quota exceptionally well. As well as electro-pop miscreant Russians singing in English and Spanish, looking super serious in leotards and flared tracksuit bottoms, go. The chorus is them counting badly in a language not their native tongue for goodness sake, though I am in total awe of their knees. The pure focus, of course is to pierce that hook deep into your brain, and have a ridiculously good time doing it. As long as they stop trying to invent dances so I don’t have to remember them.

Drink for: Language change, crazy dancers, martial arts, innuendo, wearing colour

Slovenia: Ana Solkič – Voda

At first glance, the leaves that lead to the stage actually looked super realistic, so immediate impressions were that it was going to be about the environment. Voda actually means water, so I was half right. The water droplets in the sound design kinda gave it away too. What follows, is one hell of a ballad that sounds reminiscent of Annie Lennox’s canon of emotional stirrers. It’s a little slow to get off the mark, but when it ascends, dear god does it take flight. This is a lady of tremendous vocal talent, solo, backed by a super solid ambient composition to maximise her impact. Nothing to riff on, just sheer strength and serenity united.

Drink for: Light bloom

Sweden: The Mamas – Move

Eurovision has always been big on soul, so it’s always great to see acts that emphasise that more than most. A trio of ladies with awesome vocal range, performing an average radio landfill track, saved by a gospel choir, and some really good lyricism, makes for a very interesting Swedish contingent this time around around, as gospel doesn’t immediately scream quintessential Sweden. What do I know anyway? Obvious talent be damned, this is an utterly charming and uplifting listen that’s difficult to rib, as the power of positivity and the union of the human voice carries this far beyond just some radio rotation staple.

Drink for: Light bloom

Azerbaijan: Efendi – Cleopatra

There is so much to unpack in this, I don’t know where to begin. Musically, it starts excellently to begin with, where the strings pay dividends for what is essentially a comparison to the infamous Egyptian queen, which I’m not sure is an entirely good thing. The chorus is wholly annoying though, and not in an infectious way and dampens what could’ve been a very creative pop song. Not paying off that build-up to a drop at the climax also docks it points. But the imagery: bathing in gold glitter, desert chic to ghetto superstar, sexy mummies, and JESUS IS SHE TRYING TO SUMMON IMHOTEP? absolutely makes this worth a watch.

Drink for: Every time you feel like the dead are about to walk the Earth. This isn’t in the drinking rules. I don’t care.

Belgium: Hooverphonic – Release Me

There’s several blushes of bands you could recall that pass through here, though primarily I couldn’t help but sing Mr. Writer over the top, just before the string section comes in. But there’s almost a Portishead-style vibe from the guitar alone, and that sells this hard. A trip-hop song in Eurovision? Stranger things have happened. For something so ambient and mellow, this is richly textured and exceedingly well put together, and those strings truly elevate this into an unintentional burst of Britpop nostalgia a la A Design For Life. In essence, this is a menagerie of influences and songs that form one of the most unique entries this year. MISTEEEER WRRRRRITEEEER.

Drink for: Aggressive violin

Croatia: Damir Kedžo – Divlji vjerte

There will always come a time where not everything will be to your taste, and this was one of those times. Sorry, Damir. I will instead paraphrase the notes I had written down: The song does sound like it’s about to burst into a Star Trek theme at any given moment. Maybe it is a Star Trek theme. Lovely singing voice, but unspectacular ballad is unspectacular. Can’t blame the guy for being passionate, though I am worried about that vein in his head. Perhaps I should learn Croatian. I don’t know if this song is going anywhere, I might just drink because… Oh fuck, that key change.

Drink for: Geometric shapes, light bloom, key change

Cyprus: Sandro – Running

Drinking game fans will be disappointed with this one unfortunately. Nadda. This is actually a pretty decent pop song, as far as potential mainstream radio play goes, but musically, while having some incredible strings, it is very dark, so dark that I’m not sure his voice was the right fit for it really. For someone singing about running, he seems to be on his knees a lot. And surprised he has hands. And fighting inside a plastic bag. And on fire. Forest fires are no joke, put that out. In fact, quite a lot happens to this poor lad in the space of three minutes, that how this ended up so dark gradually makes more and more sense.

Drink for: N/A (or make your own rule)

Israel: Eden Alene – Feker libi

For the first ever Eurovision song in Ahmaric, as well as English, Hebrew, and Arabic, this does feel like it has multiple personalities within the song to accommodate. Eden herself is a talented vocalist, but one part of the song is a stone’s throw away from being on Rihanna’s latest album, and that’s in no way an insult, another is a dated club floorfiller I could forget about, and the final part is this Eastern/Arabic-influenced pace change that sounds truly menacing, and I love it. There’s some odd details too like the miming music box, the neon yellow back-up dancers, and the water drops for no discernable reason, that makes this all a bit of a sensory assault, in both a good and bad way.

Drink for: Language change, smoke machine, ticker tape, traditional instruments

Malta: Destiny – All Of My Love

I have to say, this little narration at the inset, while well-meaning and motivational, has a subtle sinister undertone I can’t shake. A YOLO propaganda spiel, eh? Oh, here’s a goofy sounding pop intro to distract from that gentle brainwashing! This lady, already famous for appearances on Britain’s Got Talent, reminds me that I do really like Emeli Sande, as I get that same style and aura from these three minutes, and no doubt she is gifted, but this falls short of being rousing and ends up a little flavorless. I can’t put my finger on why exactly. Anyway, come for the music, stay for the parkour. Maybe even the attractive men.

Drink for: Wearing colour

Norway: Ulrikke – Attention

If Hooverphonic was Portishead, Ulrikke is channeling Massive Attack. For about a minute. Though I was begging for it not to evolve into a dance beat, and thankfully it doesn’t. Ultimately, this is an exercise in how stripped down music production can become the greatest asset in making vocals a force of nature. I was worried she might cry at multiple points in the song, but maybe I’m reading too much into her face. Tears or not, the song slowly unravels into a grandiose modern pop ballad, that plays with dynamics well, her softer notes especially good, and it never feels like it’s on the verge of being overblown.

Drink for: Pyrotechnics, light bloom, wearing colour, smoke machine

Romania: ROXEN – Alcohol You

In a twisted sense of irony, in a song about the effects of alcohol, the drinking rules did not apply to this song either. Lyric videos are not cool in 2020. Probably for good reason though, as the subject manner is dark. Almost uncomfortably dark. In fact, consider this a gentle trigger warning for abusive relationships if you choose to listen. Bar the line about fake news, which does feel crowbarred in and doesn’t fit the tone of the song, the sound design of this song is genuinely wonderful, conveying the sense of melancholy well with strings, and a slow heartbeat on the first chorus for company is pretty moving. She’s got one hell of a voice too.

Drink for: N/A

Ukraine: GO_A – Solovey

Prior to the contest being cancelled, Ukraine has qualified every single year it has been part of the contest. I’d like to make a bold assumption that this year, they wouldn’t have. Major Lazer didn’t invent dancehall, but they should consider getting in touch, as the keyboards and big drums do hark back to their work again. Though the addition of flute is pretty nice. I do feel like I’m watching some sort of neo-tribalism in action, and this woman constantly shouting in Ukrainian, who is bloody terrifying, is performing some sort of ritual to awaken earthbound gods, and now there’s a metal guitar shooting pyro, and please make it stop.

Drink for: Light bloom, wearing colour, pyrotechnics

So that concludes Semi- Final 1.

For extra entertainment value, guess the 10 finalists I would’ve picked, and take a drink for everyone you got wrong, assuming you were drinking of course.

In this abstract fantasy scenario if I were selecting the finalists, they would be as follows:

  • Australia – Montaigne – Don’t Break Me
  • Ireland – Lesley Roy – Story Of My Life
  • Lithuania – The Roop – On Fire
  • Russia – Little Big – Uno
  • Slovenia – Ana Soklič – Voda
  • Sweden – The Mamas – Move
  • Belgium – Hooverphonic – Release Me
  • Cyprus – Sandro – Running
  • Norway – Ulrikke – Attention
  • Romania – ROXEN – Alcohol You

Thanks for reading, and see the breakdown of Semi-Final 2 here!

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One thought on “The Soundshark… Does Eurovision 2020 – Semi-Final 1

  1. […] Thanks for reading, and if you missed it, feel free to head back to Semi-Final 1 here. […]

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