Traditional Instruments, Fire, and Power Ballads: what to expect from Eurovision 20219 min read

 In Caucasus, Central Europe, Culture, Eastern Europe, Opinion, Russia, Southeastern Europe
It is the best time of the year. No, it is not Christmas, but better – it is Eurovision time. The 65-year old song competition brings all of Europe (and then some) together to compete in who can produce the best music and argue over whether songs are political or not. 

Taking place in Rotterdam in the Netherlands, this year the contest will include entries from 39 countries, with 26 competing in the final tomorrow. While this year, like any other, will feature traditional instruments, songs in a plurality of languages, fire and smoke machines, it is also different as due to last year’s cancellation, many countries have decided to return with the same artist–some, albeit, with a different song. The pandemic has also affected the competition in other ways, with an audience of 3500 allowed, equaling 20 percent of the venue’s capacity. Countries have also been given the option to not participate in person, but instead be broadcasted from their home country, as in the case of Australia

Much like our last piece on past winners from the post-socialist space, this article will focus on the entries from Central and Eastern Europe, the Balkans and Baltics, as well as the Caucasus and Russia. 

The absences 

Before we get into the countries and the entries taking part this year, let’s look at the countries that won’t be attending. Firstly, Hungary decided not to partake, without giving any explanation as to why. There is speculation that it is because Eurovision is simply seen as “too gay” and a threat to the traditional family image that ruling party Fidesz is attempting to promote. This idea has been rejected by Hungary’s Eurovision broadcaster.

Slovakia is another country that will not take part in Eurovision 2021. This, however, does not come as a surprise. They have been absent from the competition for the past nine years due to financial reasons, a lack of interest in the competition and low viewing figures.

Armenia was initially meant to compete, but following the war with Azerbaijan in 2020, they announced their withdrawal, claiming that it was as a result of the “shortness of production time as well as other objective reasons”. This is not the first time that Azeri-Armenian relations have affected the Song Contest: in 2009, several Azerbaijani citizens who voted for the Armenian entry that year were interrogated by the police. In 2016, the Armenian entry risked disqualification for waving the flag of Nagorno-Karabakh on television. To further rub salt into the wound, Azerbaijan has announced that the next edition of the Turkvision Song Contest will be hosted in Shusha, a city in  Nagorno-Karabakh, which was conquered by Azerbaijan in November 2020. 

Belarus drew attention when their first submission was disqualified. However, the controversies already began when the 2020 entry by VAL was not re-elected for the competition in 2021. This came after VAL had expressed their support for the Belarusian democracy movement on Instagram. The Belarusian state broadcaster (BTRC), then announced that VAL would not represent Belarus in 2021, due to the group having “no conscience”.

Instead, Galasy ZMesta with the song “I’ll Teach You” was chosen by the BTRC to represent Belarus. The song was deemed to be too political, with lyrics like “I will teach you to toe the line”, especially after the band openly ridiculed the anti-government protests. The disqualification came after a petition was launched one day after the song was released. Belarus was finally disqualified from the competition when their second submission was also deemed too political by the European Broadcasting Union (EBU); the EBU have yet to announce why the second entry was problematic.  

Russian Woman 

While this year’s entry was bound to have a hard time topping Russia’s entry from last year, which has become one of the most-watched videos on the Eurovision Song Contest’s YouTube channel with over 200 million views, Manizha with her song “Russian Woman”, featuring an incredible staging and plenty of fire, does quite a good job. 

With controversial lyrics such as “Every Russian woman needs to know you’re strong enough, you’re gonna break the wall”, Manizha has managed to cause debate in Russia, with even the first deputy chairman of the State Duma Committee on Culture suggesting that Manizha should be banned from competing under the Russian flag at Eurovision. The Russian Union of Orthodox Women, in a public letter, argued for the banning of the song as they think it incites hatred towards men. Manizha has also experienced a backlash against her heritage; being of Tajik origin, some argue that she is not actually the Russian woman in her song. A more in-depth take on Manizha can be found in Lossi 36’s April in Russia editorial.

Baltic stars

Last year’s winner of Eesti Laul, the Estonian song competition to pick a Eurovision contestant, Uku Suviste, with the song “The Lucky One”, took home the victory this year too and will be representing Estonia. In the final of Eesti Laul, he was up against the daughter of one of Estonia’s 2001 contestants, Dave Benton, who together with Tanel Padar became the first singers from a post-Soviet country to win Eurovision with the song “Party for Everybody”. Is this year’s entry from Estonia a unique, exciting and great song? No. But it is catchy and features some nice crescendos –so it is definitely not the worst that Eurovision 2021 has to offer.

The real Baltic star, however, is Lithuania’s entry “Discoteque” by The Roop, reminding us that in these times of social distancing, we can still “discoteque right at my home, It is okay to dance alone”. Last year, they were set to enter the competition with the song “On Fire”. The dance moves are as inspiring as last year, featuring the signature move with their hands behind the head. Similarly to last year, the outfits are something that an Art History student would wear, and I am definitely here for it. 

Since we’re already talking about the Baltics, what about Latvia, you might be thinking? Well, if there is one thing Latvia will be bringing this year it is a beautiful woman in a stunning dress, to rival North Macedonia’s from 2019. Put the two women next to each other and it might be hard to tell them apart.

Silver clothes for the silver medallists?

A number of entries seem to believe that the winning formula this year will be silver outfits and four to five background dancers, as can be seen in both Croatia and Moldova’s performances. The Moldovan singer Natalia Gordienko seems to be blinding her dancers with her sparkling silver dress, as they are all clad in very smart sunglasses. One Eurovision blog has even started a poll to decide who has the best silver outfit this year. Of course, this is not the first time silver-clad performers have taken the Eurovision stage and become a success, as can be seen in Ukraine’s 2007 entry, where Verka Serduchka claimed the second place in a sparkling silver staging.

In the comments below the YouTube video of Moldova’s entry, the opinions seem to be positive. Then there are of course a few people commenting on how the music video probably took up all of Moldova’s state budget for 2021.

Much like previous years, this year’s Eurovision also features its ballads. Slovenia with “Amen”, North Macedonia with “Here I Stand”, Albania with “Karma” , Georgia with “You” and Bulgaria with “Growing Up Is Getting Old” are all there to fulfil the ballad quota and, if you’re like me, provide breaks to go refill your drink or popcorn and pop to the bathroom. By the name “Loco loco” you can tell that Serbia’s entry is a more lively pop song; we will just have to wait and see if the band Hurricane manages to sweep Europe off its feet, take everyone by storm and make their way to the final.

Central European Pop

Another upbeat pop song is brought by the Czech Republic. Benny Cristo will perform the song “Omaga”, short-hand for Oh My God. And oh my god, the more I listen to it, the more catchy it gets. However, Benny Cristo is not only a singer but has a wide career behind him as an actor and sportsman–he came first in the Czech snowboarding cup in 2006. Now it is only up to Europe to see if he will be able to take home the victory in Eurovision.

Poland’s entry takes us back to times past, pre-pandemic and the lads going to the club. Quite different from Poland’s previous entries, like the 2014 song “We Are Slavic”, featuring milkmaids in traditional clothing churning butter, this year we are instead brought a group of men dressed in dark suits. Who knows, maybe they realised that pop songs performed by men in the past few years have been a hit, or Poland simply just did not want to win and chose to send a somewhat plain song. 

Powerful female vocals

Like last year, Go_A will represent Ukraine, with a folk electro song titled “SHUM”. With intensive flutes that draw you in and a hypnotic tempo similar to what you might expect at a rave, I am hoping that we will see them make their way from the first semi-final. At the first rehearsal in Rotterdam, the lead singer was wearing a green feathery outfit, surrounded by dead trees. It is exactly how one may envision a rave in Chernobyl, with her radioactive outfit.

Romania’s entry, 21-year old Larisa Roxana Giurgiu, known by her stage name Roxen, has been called Romania’s Billie Eilish due to her oversized clothing and colourful hair. While the original music video for the song “Amnesia” was filmed at the National Theatre in Bucharest, the move to the Eurovision stage in Rotterdam will feature plenty of smoke machines and background dancers.

Azerbaijan returns with the same artist as last year, who is still going strong with songs about female historical figures. Last year it was Cleopatra, this year it is time for Mata Hari – a Dutch exotic dancer and courtesan, convicted of spying for Germany during World War I. The song is accompanied by the traditional Azerbaijani instruments nagarna and zurna. While this year we miss out on lyrics such as “Cleopatra was a queen like me, just like me, yeah, just like me, straight or gay or in-between” from Azerbaijan, we do get a nod to last year’s song with the words “just like Cleopatra”.

Douze points

So, what to expect when you are already expecting fire, medieval instruments and power ballads? Rest assured that all of your cravings for the aforementioned will be met, and you can also expect some catchy Europop, a lot of silver dresses, and a few entries surrounded by political controversy. Now, the real question is which country will claim the victory this year, and which city we can expect to host the competition next year? If I was to line up my favourite entries, Lithuania and Ukraine definitely make the list, but my douze points will probably go to Russia and their Russian-Tajik woman Manizha. Sadly it is not all up to me, so we will just have to see what Europe decides tomorrow evening.

Featured image: Eurovision / Amanda Sonesson
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