Greetings from the USA! Although last year’s Eurovision was the first time in 64 years that the Song Contest had to be canceled, it’s finally a new year and we’re heading back to Rotterdam — with a trillion percent more Flo Rida. In case you forgot, here’s where we left off: 2019’s Eurovision Song Contest was held in Tel Aviv and won by the Netherlands’ Duncan Laurence and a breathy banger called “Arcade.” (Not my favorite, but I am unfortunately not within the voting body of Eurovision.)
Because it was canceled, 2020’s entrants had to rewin their local song contests (with brand new songs!) to qualify for this year’s show. Sadly, that means many of last year’s gems are fully lost to time, and while quite a few of the performers from last year are back again, their new song entries might not be as good as the originals. (Note: Many of the videos included below, because of rights reasons, are the music-video versions of the songs; keep in mind that so much of this contest is judged on the artist’s finale stage show.) And if this is simply not enough primer info for you, please check out my favorite English-language resources: Popbitch’s hilarious primer and the podcast EuroWhat?
I’ll remind you for a final time: I can’t even vote in this thing. But that won’t stop me (or you, if you live outside of Europe, Australia, and the parts of Asia that compete) because this year, finally, we have a bona fide way to watch the competition live. Not only has an American version of the song contest been green-lit for this coming winter, but NBC put its streaming rights to good use and is streaming the show live and for free on Peacock. That means you still have time to watch the replays of both semifinals (which aired earlier this week) and tune into the grand finale live this Saturday beginning at 9 p.m. Central European Time / 3 p.m. Eastern Time / 12 p.m. Pacific. So throw that VPN away, babe! Now let’s get to the odds of who’ll take the crown.
The Fan Favorites
Iceland: Daði Freyr (Daði & Gagnamagnið) - “10 Years”
As the No. 1 fan favorite from last year, the real question was could Daði Freyr (of Daði & Gagnamagnið) come back another year with a song just as weird, sweet, and catchy as “Think About Things”? I think he did a pretty good job with the follow-up, “10 Years,” which showcases Freyr and his band — which includes his wife of ten years, Árný Fjóla, who inspired the song, as well as his sister and friends — really nicely. And perhaps the Oscar-nominated “Husavik” from Eurovision: The Story of Fire Saga could even help Iceland actually take the prize in real life? Unfortunately, something that won’t work in Iceland’s favor is that this week it was announced that one of the members of Gagnamagnið tested positive for COVID-19, and therefore they won’t be performing live for the finale and the show will air their second rehearsal recording instead. Huge bummer for Iceland!
Russia: Manizha - “Russian Woman”
I don’t know which absolutely wacky Russian entry I prefer: Little Big’s “Uno” (which got robbed by the 2020 cancellation but went viral anyway) or the 2021 replacement, “Russian Woman” by Manizha. This song has maybe 20 different parts, each more unexpected than the last, all sung by a bonafide U.N. Goodwill Ambassador from Tajikistan.
Lithuania: The Roop - “Discoteque”
Ideally, each Eurovision song should come with its own dance. This year, only Lithuania’s entry “Discotheque” has one that’s worth a damn. The Roop is back for another go, and even though last year’s song was more favored to win, this one is just as fun and relevant — singing “I feel it’s safe to dance alone / Let’s discotheque right at my home / It’s okay to dance alone” like the coronavirus version of Robyn’s “Dancing on My Own”.
San Marino: Senhit ft. Flo Rida - “Adrenalina”
I’m still in disbelief that San Marino — a country known for sending the weirdest, nonwinning songs because could a country with a population of 33,000 people even be able to host Eurovision if they won??? — is showing up to Rotterdam with not just a pop banger but one that features none other than Flo Rida. And while it appears Flo didn’t show up to the filming of this music video, the very American rapper who is literally named after the state of Florida flew himself all the way to the Netherlands to perform on stage alongside San Marino’s Senhit. Bottom line: “Adrenalina” is really good, and it means San Marino isn’t fucking around this year.
The Actual Favorites (or So Say the Bookmakers)
Italy: Måneskin - “Zitti E Buoni”
You can totally see why Italy is so highly favored this year. Måneskin is giving us the coolest form of Eurovision rock — seemingly without pretense or shtick. (Sorry, Finland!) This doesn’t sound like anything else across the board, and that’s what makes it special. I’m the first to demand schlocky pop from Eurovision, but when you hear something truly good, you can’t help but root for it. Oh, by the way, Måneskin means “moonlight” in Danish.
Malta: Destiny - “Je Me Casse”
On her official bio, front-runner Destiny says her musical idols include “Lizzo, Beyoncé and Aretha Franklin” and that’s pretty clear here. “Je Me Casse” is no doubt a pound of Lizzo with a generous dash of 2018’s winner “Toy” by Netta. But being a bit derivative won’t necessarily stop her from winning — especially considering Malta’s never taken home the prize in its 33 years of entering the contest. Maybe this year’s the year.
France: Barbara Pravi - “Voilà”
“This is so French that my boterham turned into a baguette,” reads the top comment on the YouTube video for France’s entry into the competition this year. They’re not totally wrong — although I had to Google “boterham”: it’s a Dutch bread with sprinkles, nice nod to Rotterdam! And I think PopBitch put it best when they wrote in their guide: “Every few years, France likes to dust off a little bit of chanson to remind us that — however much fun we might momentarily be having with this silly pop contest — life is essentially pain and you really ought to be crying, smoking and necking red wine by the glass.”
Switzerland: Gjon’s Tears - “Tout l’Univers”
Before you giggle a little at singer Gjon Muharremaj’s stage name “Gjon’s Tears” like I did, know that it’s inspired by “a childhood rendition of Elvis Presley’s ‘Can’t Help Falling in Love With You’ [that] moved his grandfather to tears.” Moving on, this guy’s been singing on TV since he was 12 years old(!), reaching the semifinals of Switzerland’s Got Talent and The Voice France. The question is: Does Eurovision 2021 want tears? If so, this is their guy.
Ukraine: Go_A - “SHUM”
When you break it down, Ukraine’s entry really has it all: It’s written in their native language, based on local folk stories, and even uses “the ancient folklore technique of ‘white voice.’” (Somewhat similar to a precise screaming or calling, where air escapes through your fully open throat. You can hear it at the very end of “SHUM”; you honestly cannot miss that note.) Aesthetically, it’s Trinity from The Matrix meets Mad Max and that’s exciting. Don’t sleep on Ukraine this year.
Norway: TIX - “Fallen Angel”
We have musician, producer, and songwriter TIX to thank for Ava Max’s “Sweet But Psycho” because he helped write it. He also helped write songs off Kesha’s Rainbow and Toni Braxton’s Sex & Cigarettes and has been nominated for a Grammy twice. All of these impressive things don’t make his Eurovision entry “Fallen Angel” any better of a song.
Bulgaria: VICTORIA - “Growing Up Is Getting Old”
Another plinky Billie Eilish–inspired ballad from the singer who has naturally already covered the singer on her YouTube channel as if to predict (and court) the comparisons. She brought the more-favored “Tears Getting Sober” last year, although “Growing Up Is Getting Old” is a much better double entendre.
Portugal: The Black Mamba - “Love Is On My Side”
I guess Eurovision will not be in Portugal next year.
Greece: Stefania - “Last Dance”
Personally, I’m thrilled that Stefania is back for another shot at the win. Her 2020 song “SUPERG!RL” was fine, but “Last Dance” is much better and much more … Eurovision-y. While it’s unclear what she’ll do for her finale performance, the semifinals stage show of this song included an iconic purple catsuit and “invisible” men dancing in white suits. So what I’m saying is Greece is here to pull out all the stops.
Cyprus: Elena Tsagrinou - “El Diablo”
You can’t deny this is a catchy one despite lyrics that include “hotter than sriracha on our bodies / taco, tamale, yeah, that’s my mood.” (And does it sound just a little too much like “Bad Romance”? You be the judge.) It also helps that Tsagrinou’s live vocals are above and beyond what you normally hear at the live show, although her basic stage show is not as fun as the song’s music video. “El Diablo” does slightly edge out Cyprus’ 2020 entry, which was an electro-pop song called “Running,” but still doesn’t live up to their 2018 entry “Fuego,” which deserved to win and I will never, ever let this go. #JusticeforFuego
Moldova: Natalie Gordienko - “SUGAR”
I still have a major soft spot for Moldova ever since they pulled this stunt off at the 2018 Song Contest, which not only involved an insane amount of skill and planning but was also just a good ass song. This year’s entry could be straight out of a Britney Spears songbook (Glory era, but nonetheless) and could have a huge stage show to match.