As an American I’m obligated to give a passing thought to the annual Eurovision Song Contest as a sort of foreign novelty then immediately forget about it. The United States isn’t involved, after all, despite three non-Europe continents being represented. That includes Australia, which is about as far from Europe as one can get.
That said, I am supposed to be a music critic, or whatever, and the Eurovision entries are supposed to be music, so I guess we should give a listen to the top 10 finishers to see if the rest of the world has anything to offer.
10: Hatari — “Hatrið mun sigra” (Iceland)
This is a good start. It’s basically the greatest thing I’ve ever seen.
Viewers of Last Week Tonight will be familiar with Hatari, the Icelandic anticapitalist electro-punk BDSM band. Their goal is to end global capitalism and the guy dressed as a cyberpunk gimp is the son of the Icelandic ambassador to the U.K. It’s fantastic in every way and I’m definitely not going to get my hopes up that any of the nine entries that beat it will be anywhere near as notable.
9: Kate Miller-Heidke — “Zero Gravity” (Australia)
You may recognize this one from the Last Week Tonight segment linked above; she’s the “Australian woman dressed like Elsa from Frozen on a pole,” though in this video she’s merely wearing a two story tall dress. Someone else is on a pole.
This is obviously a massive step down from Hatari. The chorus sounds like the warmup routine of an opera vocalist who’s only a part of the company because her parents made a sizable donation. That’s not to say sweeping, operatic vocals have no place in pop music, mind you. Just that these specific operatic vocals don’t, because they sound like Snow White if she was trying too hard.
8: Chingiz — “Truth” (Azerbaijan)
While still not reaching Hatari’s heights, this song isn’t half bad. I imagine this is what Justin Timberlake’s solo music would sound like if he decided to change it up a bit and make it interesting to listen to.
Notably, though, is the surrealist music video. It’s not really a surreal kind of song, and yet the video looks like it’s set in the dream world of 2000 Jennifer Lopez vehicle The Cell. There’s a guy who looks kinda like Sub-Zero from Mortal Kombat left his mask out near the Bedazzler where his kid could get to it but he decided to wear it like that anyway.
Naturally, I love it.
7: Tamara Todevska — “Proud” (North Macedonia)
I have a confession: I didn’t know that Macedonia changed its name to North Macedonia. Apparently they had to do it in 2018 due to a dispute with Greece, which has a province named Macedonia, but I missed it entirely. But in my defense there were issues domestically that had my attention pretty well captured.
Additionally in researching that dispute I noticed that North Macedonia has two official languages, Macedonian and Albanian, along with five official regional languages. But none of them are English. So I checked Azerbaijan and, out of the official language and the 15 languages spoken by ethnic minorities, none are English there either. Which makes it a bit odd that both their songs are in English, right?
Oh, right, the song. It’s a generic ballad.
6: KEiiNO — “Spirit in the Sky” (Norway)
This one caught me off-guard because it’s actually pretty good.
I don’t mean that to be as patronizing as it sounds this time. It’s not exactly mind-blowing, but it’s a catchy mixture of a few disparate genres that could get pretty decent radio airplay in the U.S., and it came in sixth.
And it turns out this song actually won the fan vote, but each country has a panel of experts that get to award their own set of points. And apparently those experts either hated this song or liked five others significantly more.
So let’s see what the experts preferred…
5: John Lundvik — “Too Late for Love” (Sweden)
I guess ’90s R&B ballads never died in Sweden. Someone tell Usher and D’Angelo so they can arrange a tour and become the Swedish version of David Hasslehoff!
Lundvik was actually born in London and adopted by Swedish expats, only moving to Sweden when he was 6. So I guess it’s no surprise that in addition to performing Sweden’s entry he also wrote the U.K.’s entry, which made the finals itself. Though he likely won’t brag about it. The song came in dead last among finalists.
4: Luca Hänni — “She Got Me” (Switzerland)
Eurovision is not Luca Hänni’s first televised talent competition. He won Deutschland sucht den Superstar (German Idol) in 2012 before resuming his music career in Switzerland.
Accordingly, the song’s not bad! I mean, like most Eurovision fare it sounds like something you’d hear in a supermarket, but at least this one sounds like it would be in a trendy supermarket marketed at young people. That’s not nothing!
3: Sergey Lazarev — “Scream” (Russia)
This came in third, huh? An overwrought, melodramatic ballad beat the likes of Hatari. I mean, his voice isn’t bad, but it’s a song contest and this song is so not notable that I keep forgetting I’m listening to it. Did Russia re-task some of the troll farms and hackers to game the voting system? Has anyone seen the families of the expert judges?
Speaking of Hatari and Russia’s recent antipathy toward English-speaking nations, everyone’s favorite techno performance BDSM band is still the only one in the top 10 to perform in their nation’s native language. Every single other country’s best song of 2019 is in English so far.
Granted, more people speak English than any other language in Europe, so if you’re trying to win votes it’s the safest bet. But more people speak Russian as a first language than any other in Europe! If anyone was going to buck the trend it probably should have been them.
2: Mahmood — “Soldi” (Italy)
Instead, the only other song in the top 10 not in English is in Italian. Good on you, Mahmood, for having some national pride.
Mahmood is another talent competition veteran from the Italian X-Factor, though rather than winning he was eliminated. Twice, somehow. Which I think makes him the Italian Jennifer Hudson, since the eventual winner of his season attempted to represent Italy in Eurovision 2017 but lost.
Back to the music, this song is also pretty good! It’s not up to the standard of Norway or Switzerland, and not even in the same universe as Hatari, but if one of them had won it wouldn’t be unthinkable for this song to come in second. And in fact if this song had won I wouldn’t really have any argument with that, it’s solid hip hop-tinged R&B that transcends the language barrier.
1: Duncan Laurence — “Arcade” (The Netherlands)
But none of those pretty good songs won. Instead, the title went to the blandest entry in the top 10, performed by a guy who looks like Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck.
Hatari was robbed.
If this is what Europe (and parts of the Middle East, Africa, and for some reason Australia) thinks is a good song, it’s our duty to invade next year’s Eurovision and show them what a real song sounds like. Nobody can tell me with a straight face “Old Town Road” wouldn’t have blown all 10 of these out of the water.
Don’t worry, the rest of the world! America’s coming!
Follow editor Daniel J. Willis and tweet column ideas to him at Twitter.com/BayAreaData.