Think About Things – Highlights of the 2021 National Final Season

We’ve taken inspiration from Daði & Gagnamagnið to create our newest series, ‘Think About Things’ where I’ll be joined by guest Editor, Dennis from ESCDaily to discuss all things Eurovision. In today’s discussion, Dennis and I talked about our highlights from the 2021 Eurovision National Final season!

A: It has been an unprecedented year, with last year’s cancellation changing the national final landscape this year. Despite many of last year’s artists joining the 2021 line-up, we still had a fruitful national final season. Did it feel like you were missing out this year, or did it feel like we were back to normal?

D: After the cancelation of Eurovision 2020, it was very nice to get back in the Eurovision mood as the national final season kicked off. I really missed it. Despite the lack of audience at all shows, I must say I got used to that quite soon and managed to focus on the songs and their potential chances in May, just like normal.

A: Also I think in recent years, many broadcasters have chosen to select their entrant or song internally, so it still felt as if we were getting the same amount of national final content. Plus, the internal selections still create hype, as we wait for the songs to be revealed. I think this was especially heightened knowing that many of the internally selected artists for 2021 were the 2020 artists. We actually had something to compare to, but on the flip side, I think it perhaps made it difficult for those artists because fans are inevitably going to compare songs. Will those comparisons really matter when it comes to the actual Eurovision voting?

D: I think not, because most of the millions of viewers in May will not know which acts were supposed to take part last year as well, let alone with which song they were bound to take part. From a humane point of view I would have liked all nations to reselect their artist of 2020 for this year. But competition wise, I am happy some of them made new choices and came up with new shows to fill the void. What are your thoughts on that? 

A: I feel the same about wanting the class of 2020 to have their chance, their redemption on the 2021 stage, and for a Eurovision fan, it might feel a little disjointed to see some returning acts but not the full line-up of last year. With that said, if we didn’t have the national finals this year, we wouldn’t have discovered some of the gems – and there were certainly some cracking songs this year.

D: We started just before Christmas 2020 with Albania, and closed it off with the final in Sweden not too long ago. What was your favourite show of all nations

A: The Albanian selection certainly feels like a distant memory at this stage, and it was sad not to see Arilena compete, but in terms of favourite selections, I know we will both agree that Italy was a stand out as per usual. I also enjoyed some of the songs from Sweden and France. Norway also produced a great show even though it was a line-up of new acts. But it wasn’t just the ‘traditional’ national finals I enjoyed, but also the song selection formats such as Israel, where we knew Eden would represent the nation, but the public were a bit more involved with the selection. What was your favourite selection?

D: You are right, I really enjoyed Sanremo this year. Not just because of the strong field of songs, but also because they managed to ‘use’ the lack of audience and made a lot of jokes about how ridiculous the current situation is. I think that is also the way to go in May, and not make a show like there is an audience via video-connections, like in Sweden. I did not like that.

A: Realistically we are all impacted by the pandemic, and Italy’s approach was better, I agree. We are all at that point where we just need to be uplifted and humour is certainly the way to go. The other thing that Sanremo had going for it was the sheer number of Bugo-Morgan references. I mean, what else can you ask for?

D: Hahaha, Che succede? It was even included in some of the songs and acts. They sure left their mark on the Sanremo history! 

A: Song-wise, who were your top picks from Sanremo, and who did you see rising to the top to represent Italy from first impressions?

D: Of course the winning act Maneskin and their Italian glamrock-song was one of my favourites as well, along with Ermal Meta’s beautiful ballad. On a personal level I still play the rap song by Willie Peyote a lot and Irama’s song ‘La genesi del tuo colore’, produced by Dardust. I thought that would have booked a good result in Rotterdam as well. What were your top picks?

A: Prior to the contest I was hyping Fedez and Francesca, as were the bookies. Being a big fan of Fedez, I was super excited to see him in the line-up, especially knowing the songs they have worked on together in the past. Maneskin was also heavily on my radar as I have been a fan of them since X Factor, so those were my two top picks going into the competition. Once we heard the songs, I will say I was totally disappointed with Chiamami Per Nome (although I’m warming to it now), while Maneskin became my firm favourite. 

On first impressions I also really loved Madame and Famsa, with Italian trap being one of my current favourite genres. I really enjoyed Willie Peyote as you did, and I still listen to Lo Stato Sociale, Ghemon and Colapesce & Dimartino. In conclusion… I liked a lot of the songs! 

D: Two weeks before Sanremo we had a marathon night, including finals in Finland and Norway. And what I remember most is how you already called out that TIX would steal KEiiNO’s ticket to Rotterdam. I’m taking off my hat for that, haha. How did you see that?

A: Let me start by saying that had KEiiNO won Melodi Grand Prix, I think they would have been the hot favourite to win Eurovision. Monument was a fantastic song, and I wasn’t the biggest fan of their previous Eurovision entry. However, with that said, I gravitate more towards TIX. There was something about that song that really caught my heart, but in terms of predicting his win, I think it was more that I recognised just how popular he was in Norway and figured it could be enough to win. I love being right!

 

D: What I didn’t understand with Norway is why they dragged it out with weeks and weeks of shows, when it was pretty clear it was gonna be a two-horse race in the final nonetheless. Same goes for Lithuania. 

A: I agree that it was a two-horse race with Norway, but ultimately we got introduced to a number of great songs, so I can’t be mad at that. As for Lithuania, I ABSOLUTELY do not understand why they even held a selection. I only really listened to snippets of the other competing songs and dare I say, that whole selection was dire. The Roop were guaranteed that win, and it was clear to see in the Final. They have the whole package.

D: Agreed on that, Lithuania perhaps had the less exciting preselection show because of this, but a great winner. The only other contender for the most disappointing show for me is Russia. Little Big entering the stage, only to announce they wouldn’t take part. I must say I wasn’t in the mood to hang around for the rest of the show after that, haha. But I am warming-up for the winning song and it’s message now. 

A: For me, the most disappointing show goes to Denmark, but we will return to that. As for Russia, I have a feeling that they left the decision to the last minute. There was virtually no news about the selection, and even when it was announced, no one really understood what was happening. I read somewhere that the acts only found out about the selection two days prior, and I think it shows. It’s a shame since Little Big would have been a threat for the win, but it is what it is. Manizha was the best choice of the three entries. 

Returning back to Denmark now, we saw the drama play out with broadcaster DR and 2020 acts Ben and Tan, who tried to compete again this year but were rejected, and they were rejected with a pretty decent song – especially in comparison with the other competitors. Did you agree with the justification of DR by saying they wanted a level playing field?

D: No, not at all. They should have judged all songs on their merits. And what you say, it surely wasn’t a worse song than some that did make the cut. But call me crazy, there actually was one song that could have done fairly well in Rotterdam, but it didn’t even make the top-3 in Denmark. The piano ballad Abracadabra. But I fear I stand alone on this?

A: Call you crazy, yes I will, because that song was pretty questionable, as were the rest of the Danish choices. They probably chose the best they had, but I feel that Denmark has lost their way at Eurovision, and that’s been something that had been brewing over the last few years.

D: AH, I see, you don’t like the nice and quiet songs. You must have been playing ‘Shum’ on repeat then? Haha.

A: Look if we take Belarus out of the ranking (a, because of political reasons in regards to their selection, and b, because it was a garbage song), Ukraine is certainly at the bottom of the list for me. As they were last year. I definitely appreciate the uniqueness, but it just doesn’t spark joy.

D: I have another nation at the bottom of my list, and as painful as it may be, it is Australia. I really disliked everything in that live performance. This song seems to be far out of Montaigne’s league. I fear it’s qualification chances. How do you look at it, as an Australian?

A: I certainly don’t think it’s the worst of the field this year, but I do share a similar sentiment in that the song just doesn’t suit her or her voice. I know she can sing well, but Technicolour highlights some of her vocal downfalls. I think parts of the song are catchy, but as a whole it’s probably one of my least favourite Australian songs. I do wish the public had more say in her entry, perhaps a show similar to Israel might have resulted in a song more suited for her vocally.

 

D: I guess you are right, I was a bit harsh just now. But to be clear, I don’t HATE the song from Australia. I just feel sorry….

A: Germany did well this year, didn’t they? I know not everyone will agree, but that’s a song that really sparks joy.

D: All jokes aside, I think it could surprise a lot of people. It is – no pun intended – a love or hate entry. And that’s the type of song that the people who love it, tend to actually vote for. I just hope they get their staging right, that’s essential, because I can get very chaotic and messy. 

A: After watching the little doco they showed on the official Eurovision channel, I have a really good feeling about Germany. They showed parts of their rehearsals with updated costumes, and it looks great. The performance will feature a lot of choreography which can always come at a cost of vocal performance, but let’s remember that Jendrik and Co. actually come from a musical theatre background. I think at the moment it’s severely underrated, and we will start to see some momentum build come Eurovision rehearsals – and the same goes for Iceland actually, and I’m surprised they have fallen in the odds since their song reveal. How do you feel about the Icelandic song this year?

D: On first listen I was also a bit disappointed, but the song has grown on me since that moment and with Dadi’s charisma, I am certainly not ruling them out. But that being said, I still have a list of about six nations that could potentially win Eurovision for me this year: Switzerland, Malta, Bulgaria, Italy, France and Iceland. I still have a long way to go… What about your list of contenders for the win?

A: Iceland was an instant love for me, and I genuinely love it just as much as last year. It feels like a nice way to end the ‘trilogy’ of songs, and I am confidently keeping them on my list of contenders to win. There’s no doubt they will deliver a fantastic live performance that will easily charm the viewers. As for the others on my list, we have a lot of similar choices. Switzerland for me is the one to beat at this stage. He has the winning voice, but let’s see what rehearsals bring. Malta also has a strong chance, although I don’t feel it as strongly as the others. Italy and France are also strong contenders. At this stage I’ve ruled out Bulgaria, but we’ll see. I just think if the voters want a slower moving, more emotional song, Switzerland and France offer up better choices.

D: Given what Bulgaria has shown us in the past, they can lift up their total package with fantastic staging. And Victoria is a very good singer. She is not my top favourite, but definitely on my list. Did you know the Swiss song was composed by Duncan Laurence’s producer? And do you think this will help them, or not?

A: I did, and I noticed that fans have been commenting a lot on this saying that the two songs are very similar. I don’t agree with that. I don’t listen to Arcade and think, wow, this sounds exactly like Tout l’Univers, and vice versa. What they do have in common is that winning feeling. It’s just a vibe I get with both songs.

D: I want to drop one more name here. It’s not my personal music style, but if Flo Rida actually takes the Eurovision stage, let alone for San Marino, that would be an amazing moment. Do you think it will be happening, or a PR-stunt?

A: I don’t see it happening, and frankly, I don’t know how that collaboration even came about. It’s just SO odd, I can’t even describe. Nothing about that entry screams ‘authentic’ – If I want to listen to an upbeat number, there’s better this year. I don’t think San Marino will do as well as the bookies predict.

D: But you have to give it to San Marino, they finally make a serious attempt this year. I mean, look at where they came from. With ‘The Facebook song’ or that act with the robots on stage… I can deal with this a whole lot better. 

A: I guess it’s a step in the right direction, but I have the same issue with this as I do with Azerbaijan at Eurovision, and even Poland this year is guilty. I don’t want a basic pop song that has absolutely no identity. I guess you can argue that Azerbaijan at least adds the ethnic instrumentation, but ultimately they all just feel so ‘cookie cutter’. I definitely prefer the more authentic songs, and the songs on both our predicted winners lists tick that box.

D: I think it must be one of the six countries I mentioned before, indeed. 

A: Time will tell, but I’m feeling confident about our predictions!