Eurovision 2011: Semi-Final Preview Part 2

Eurovision 2011: Semi-Final Preview Part 2

Not one, but TWO sets of identical twins.

Zdob shi Zdub, “So Lucky”

JORDAN: Now this is more like it.  If these guys don’t win, I am going to smash up the place.  I love everything about this — the old school bass drum with the band’s name on it, the fact that everyone involved is super amped up except for the drummer who is totally blissed out and may be listening to a completely other song on those headphones, the one guy who doesn’t bother putting down his trombone before he starts playing the clarinet.  I like that Zdob shi Zdub is just a Moldovan onomatopoeia for a drum beat, making it the equivalent of a band named “Ba-dump ching!” I like the Ramones meets The Five Hundred Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins visual aesthetic (not in the video so much, but click here).  And most of all I like the music, which is just, like, totally antithetical to everything that Eurovision is supposed to be about:  committed, raw, exciting, and I’m guessing connected to Moldovan musical traditions in a way that’s both passionate and original.  Andrew W.K. would write this kind of music if he had been raised by Roma street musicians.  Gogol Bordello would does write this kind of music. There’s no way these guys are advancing past this round.

FENZEL: Where Kid Rock takes Southern Rock and mixes it with Hip Hop (and has money like Fort Knox), Zdob shi Zdub takes the Punk Rock and mixes it with Hip Hop, and then mixes that with Traditional Moldovan Music, and then mixes that with Roma Music From The Gypsies. Rap-rock has never been this eclectic – despite my efforts to edit the Wikipedia article to the contrary, Limb Bizkit never released a “Rollin’ (Clarinet Solo Vehicle)” remix. Zdob shi Zdub are Eurovision veterans, finishing 6th in 2005, and it’s easy to see why – the mix feels totally fresh and distinctive and rocks pretty hard whilst being totally ridiculous at the same time.

“So Lucky” borrows from Bling Bubble era hip hop – references to being awesome and beloved, drinking things and driving things, hopefully not in that order, and being ostentatious – except it describes things a Moldavian rocker might do, rather than describe a lifestyle it might not plausibly achieve but needs to speak to in order to fit the genre. Zdob ain’t flying like a G6, they’re hitting on Moldavian ladies who aren’t always amenable to their affections, but usually are.

It’s perhaps telling for our age that the songs about gratitude and being awesome seem to be coming from post-Soviet states where the current economic situation is really not that bad, relative to a history of entrenched poverty and rampant government abuse. It’s good that somebody gets to be happy about it. There’s no brighter bling than getting to have a country.

Genre-wise, the song seems to be constantly translating itself into itself – playing analogous music in multiple genres at the same time and mashing them together into a whole that retains enough chunkiness to rock pretty well. I’m impressed. I wonder whether voters who aren’t as bright-eyed about their current situations will share Moldova’s joy for their current state of affairs.

BELINKIE: Anton Chigurh can rock.


I move with ease
In my convertible, breeze
My pity, whiskey on the rocks
Live from Zdob
The party never stops.

The Netherlands
3JS, “Never Alone”

FENZEL: The grungy painted frames, the plaid-glad guitar rock, the lightly-scuffed pretty boy, the rapturous lyrics, the invisible piano – yep, we’ve entered the Christian Rock section. Their Wikipedia page doesn’t identify 3JS as a Christian Rock band, and perhaps they’re just being optimistic about the medium-term future, but it seems like when Eurovision acts were drawing mid-twenty-aughts American musical genres out of whatever hat they used, 3JS got Creed & Company. It’s a harmless enough song, but the degree to which it is totally inoffensive is at odds with the band’s look and presentation. Their frontman also fails to impress. I’d give them very slim chances of winning.

BELINKIE: You know who else people gave very slim chances of winning? Jesus. Just sayin’.


Though the road is long
There are golden gardens
Etc. etc.

Hotel FM, “Change”

BELINKIE: Oh, I like this one. First off, I’m a sucker for minor-major transitions. Secondly, I like showtunes, and this is a showtune. If someone told me this was from the new Sister Act musical, I’d nod and make a mental note to get tickets for my mom. Finally, represent bowtie.

JORDAN: Hey Romania! Billy Joel called! He wants “Only the Good Die Young” back! Also his hat.


You think you’ve got the time to figure it out
Life will pass you by, your time is running out, oh yeah
You’re haunted by your troubles every day
Wasted smiles away, what’s there left to say?

TWiiNS, “I’m Still Alive”

FENZEL: Those expecting a Pearl Jam cover will be sorely disappointed (but what a move that would be!). This song might as well be called “Hubris,” and I would respect it a lot less if it came from a less plucky upstart kind of country. But Slovakia is using their first-ever Eurovision entry not sung in Slovak as a coming-out party of sorts, pairing their pair (The eponymous “TWiiNS,” which, like so many great things, is a Nintendo product waiting to happen) with video footage of the great protests, natural disasters, political moments and…hockey games…and…fetuses…that Slovakia had to endure to become the country it is today.

This song is a bit of a shame, because the small Central and Eastern European countries who sing in their native tongues are another part of what makes Eurovision special. Eurovision is funny and works because so many people sing in English, but it gets to the next level because not everybody does. Slovakia is still not oriented here toward actually competing in the big show (the TWiiNS don’t have quite that much appeal), but maybe they’re looking to do so in the future.


Nothing can touch me
Come see what I can be
Lonely, I walked through the fire
But I’m still alive.

Maja Keuc, “No One” (AKA “Vanilija”?)

JORDAN: I was going to make some kind of joke about how this sounds like a James Bond theme song, and she looks like a Bond Girl, and she even sort of has a Bond Girl name, but it turns out that Keuc is pronounced more like the last syllable of “accuse,” which takes most of the fun out of it. Luckily, all the fun we could possibly need has been provided by Chippy and Skippy, the world’s most inappropriately energetic backup dancers.  Which is weird, because the song actually has plenty of energy… but you’ll see what I mean. If they had only done the Michael Jackson flourish at 0:58, dayenu! If they had only done the walk-like-an-Egyptian-into-riverdance at 1:21, dayenu! If they had only done the pelvic thrusts at 1:56,dayenu! But the cherry on the Terpsichorean sundae comes at 3:04, when Skippy has a wardrobe malfunction and ends the song bare-midriffed.  Anyway, this music is pretty good.  Bellow “Save me!” every fifteen seconds or so while you listen to it, and you might end up with something that sounds like Evanescence. (So, you know. Maybe don’t do that.)


(Now something on you, something smells like vanilla.) Like vanilla!

Eric Saade, “Popular”

FENZEL: A lot of Eurovision songs contain either overt or subliminal messages about being Eurovision songs – my favorite (and favorite Eurovision song ever) is still LT United’s 2006 entry from Lithuania, “We Are the Winners,” which just came out and said it. If “Popular” is a little more subtle, it’s only because it applies its cynical metatext to a broader swath of human endeavor – not only is Eric Saade willing himself to be successful on Eurovision, he’s willing himself into the lives and minds of teens everywhere. The man is, at least, aspirationally, the Swedish Zac Effron, a children’s entertainer turned ardent teen heartthrob, but with a few less years of experience, less anxiety for his long-run artistic legitimacy and little interest in communicating the same kind of positive message, perhaps because his market share depends less on it. I’m not saying he’s a bad person – I barely know the guy – but this song in particular is so on-the-nose as to be inescapable and a bit jarring. It’s not like American audiences don’t have cynical songs about this sort of tween social domination, but they don’t state their case quite so plainly. It seems gauche, even relative to something like “Hey, hey, you, you, I don’t like your girlfriend!”

I’m particularly amused by the line “my body wants you, girl” – usually of course it is the other way around, where the subject is still a person and the object is dehumanized, a la “I want your body.” Here the singer is on such a steamrolling, nonstop drive to satisfy his Will that he loses himself and sees his physical interactions with individuals as the distant voices of some faraway possession, like a letter from the keepers of a dacha.

It’s hard to tell whether Eric Saade (if I ever walk past a live show of his advertised with a big sign above the door, I’m totally making a joke about the marquee) is so possessed by Continental Philosophy and ideas of the Will that he is confounded by the notion of the self, or whether the English is just a little wrong.


I will be popular.
I will be popular.
I’m gonna get there.

Mika Newton, “Angel”

FENZEL: Ukraine isn’t dithering around with the Gatling gun at this point, it has torn off his shirt and is covered in war paint and mud. By way of Predator metaphor, I mean that this is a serious song that isn’t trying to show off, it’s trying to win Eurovision – Ukraine is playing for keeps, perhaps in a play for national pride against the Russian Eurovision juggernaut. Hot, overly made-up front-woman, pop sensibility, strong appeal to the Eastern European voting bloc, Puff Daddy-esque overproduction (all the way down to the fan in the poor girl’s face), this song is just trying… so… hard! It tries so hard it comes off to me as more than a little bit racist in the process. It tries so hard the singer strains her voice in multiple tracks as the producer reverbs her intense burning need for votes.

Appealing to a Eurovision voting bloc strategically is tricky business – you have to let them know you’re on their side by separating yourself from the “other,” but you can’t be so foreign that nobody else will vote for you. The singer’s accent and affectation seems to do a decent job of this, as does her Fear-Uncertainty-Doubt (FUD) appeals in the song to the danger the audience is in and their need to acknowledge mutually that they are awesome, borderline-supernatural beings who are all on the same white team for some reason.

I don’t like this song at all, but it is catchy. Damn you, Ukranian Puff Daddy!


We are people on the planet,
We live human lives.
We are angels,
We’re in danger,
We are crystal white.
Crystal white.

BELINKIE: At the very least, this song is in bad taste, since Ukraine has a documented problem with racism. Just a few weeks ago, Fox Sports ran an article about…

…more than 200 serious hate crimes at [soccer] matches in Ukraine and Poland during an 18-month period. These included fans racially abusing their own black players, the use of fascist banners and violent attacks on anti-racist groups.

And now, back to the Ukrainian Eurovision entry:

We are angels,
We’re in danger,
We are crystal white.
Crystal white.

And on that cheery note, I’d say 6,000 words is probably enough for one post. I really appreciate Fenzel and Stokes riding shotgun on this musical Grand Tour, if you will. But Eurovision is just getting interesting! Stay tuned for a look at the “Big Five,” the rich nations that skip the semis and go straight to the finals. And then it’s time for our predictions; who do we think is going home with the glory?

But whoever wins, one thing is for sure. Someday soon, my wonderful girlfriend will look at me with beautiful eyes as deep as the ocean and whisper, “I love you.” And I will smile back at her and involuntarily say “I love Belarus.”

25 Comments on “Eurovision 2011: Semi-Final Preview Part 2”

  1. Stokes OTI Staff #

    By the way, when I say it’s interesting that Estonia is the only country singing about America, I don’t mean that I’m shocked more countries didn’t realize how interesting and awesome we are. Rather, I’m shocked that anyone would enter a song about America into Eurovision. What was the calculus there? I can’t imagine it’s going to win them any votes.


    • fenzel OTI Staff #

      I was curious about this too, and the answer turns out to be a bit weirder even than that — if you look up Eesti Laul 2011, the even by which Estonia picked its Eurovision song, you’ll see the second-place song was called “I Wanna Meet Bob Dylan” by the Outloudz (which is a great name for a band), and written by Stig Rästa and Fred Krieger.

      So, the Estonian Superfinal was two different songs about America.

      I haven’t found anything out past that.


      • Valatan #

        Since the end of the cold war, the Baltic states have been the most pro-Western of the former soviet bloc (consider that they were the first Soviet Socialist Republics to declare independence), and Estonia the most pro-Western of the Baltics. They were the first former SSR to apply for EU membership, and they caused a minor row with Russia when they applied for NATO membership. They border and feel threatened by Russia, and want to align themselves with the states for protection.

        Perhaps this fliters down to making songs about America popular there.


    • Marie #

      It’s not the first time either. Germany once sent a pink country singer and another time a 50’s inspired sing starring Dita Von Teese, and Sweden sent an entry that was entirely about Las Vegas. All of the tanked pretty hard if I remember correctly.


      • fenzel #

        The German country singer did pretty well, as I recall. Didn’t win, but made the final.


      • Nat #

        I loved the German country song for the pure novelty of it. The Germans all loved it, it just bewildered everyone else.


      • Winterbay #

        The Swedish entry finished last I think, which was a great shame and the artist had to go out publically and say that he was sorry for having brought this down upon the great country of Sweden and its music traditions… :)


        • Marie #

          I don’t think it did, because the rankings only got worse after that and we weren’t bumped from The final until last year…


          • Winterbay #

            Well, wasn’t last year the first with the two semifinals that everyone (but the big five) had to participate in in order to get to the final.

            Stenmarck and Las Vegas was in 2005 and the year after is the first year that Sweden had to qualify in the semifinal.
            That said in 2008 Sweden didn’t even make it to the final and that didn’t get as much of a uproar as I remember Stenmarck getting when he came in 19th (of 24).

  2. Matthew Belinkie OTI Staff #

    So after I went to sleep last night, frequent OTI commenter and actual European Nat Hopchet emailed me a whole bunch of commentary on these songs. It was too late to get it into the post, but I’m sharing it below. Thanks Nat!


    Austria – “The Secret is Love”
    The usual shout out for peace, love and unity, delivered by a girl giving her best Christina Aguilera impersonation. Apparently she wrote the lyrics as well, which means only she is to blame for lines such as “All the fears and doubts, they turn into believe.” But she does get bonus point for the black choir which suddenly appears.
    (While I see it, look at last years entry from Armenia – “Apricot Stone”)

    Belarus – “I Love Belarus”
    Not so much a Eurovision entry as a propaganda song, shouted rather than sung. Reminds me scarily of that ‘Friday’ song. I love that apparently in Belarus they have traditional folk dancers in their night clubs. Can’t see how this will get anyone other than people from Belarus to vote for it.

    Belgium – “With Love Baby”
    I might be biased, but I love this acapella song. Could do without the beatboxing, but in general it’s very catchy. The beatboxing is apparently provided by RoxorLoops (who co-wrote the song) who is described as a ‘beatboxing genius’, so I guess they had to include it. Also, am I the only one who noticed that their song title is very similar to the band’s name? For the record, witloof is the Belgian word for chicory. Apparently they come from all around the country to represent it as a whole, which is kind f ironic seeing as the country is constantly threatening to split into two, and last I checked didn’t have a functioning government. But yeah, sweet song.

    Bosnia & Herzegovina – “Love in Rewind”
    I don’t really get this song. They seem to have wholeheartedly embrace the folky vibe which seems to be fashionable at the moment, but still trying to be a pop song and it doesn’t really succeed. And it’s message of a man looking back on his life is not really going with Eurovision’s aim of getting younger demographics interested in the show. Also, he apparently wrote their national anthem, and is therefore far too prestigious to be involved in the melodrama that is Eurovision.

    Bulgaria – “Na Inat”
    A decent pop-rock attempt, which is one of the few songs to not be in English (there seem to be in English than in previous years). She seems very enthusiastic. I love the use of keytar and the random headphones around her neck. First song I’ve seen to try a wind machine as well, although certainly not the last.

    Cyprus – “San Aggelos S’agapisa”
    I thoroughly disapprove of this song. It’s a standard angry breakup song, which has no place in the cheesy trashy forum of Eurovision. The video is creepy and incredibly tacky, and the guy seems to be incapable of showing emotion on his face. Two thumbs way down for Cyprus.

    Denmark – “New Tomorrow”
    Now this is more like it. Cheesy, light, no real depth to the lyrics, good looking young lads with crazy hair. I think in fact I may have heard this song before, but then it is so generic a pop song it’s entirely likely I haven’t. for a band named ‘Friend in London’, apparently they’re big in Canada. Denmark typically does quite well in Eurovision, so I think these guys have a good chance.

    Estonia – “Rockefeller Street”
    Strange for a Eurovision entry to be all about New York, and it doesn’t quite work. I do love the bright colours of her dress, her crazy attempts at dancing, and the building set pieces. But overall, less than average.

    Ireland – “Lipstick”
    Ugh, these guys are awful. Once again, I’m biased after being completely over-exposed to them from their stint on the X Factor (also, I’m noticing a trend that a good number of entrants seem to have risen to fame after entering reality talent shows. A sign of the times to be sure) but I find nothing appealing about these two idiots. The song is repetitive and annoying, and whoever told them to wear their hair like that should be imprisoned.

    Israel – “Ding Dong”
    Dana International also has a decent following, but I don’t care for this song. They’ve done well to do the song half in Hebrew and half in English, but the weird electro-synth thing that it has going on doesn’t appeal to me in the slightest. And as I’ve already expressed, Israel doesn’t belong in this contrest anyway.

    Latvia – “Angel in Disguise
    Now this is the way to get the youth involved in Eurovision. While the song is nothing special, it ticks all the boxes for a successful RnB song, and will doubtlessly fair quite well in the contest. The performers are a little bland, and need to build up their showmanship for their live performances, maybe get some backing dancers or something.

    FYR Macedonia – “Ruskina”
    If I had to think of the Eurovision song contest, this song is what I would think of. I can’t quite explain it, but this song is so quintessentially Eurovision it actually makes me nostalgic even though I’ve never heard it before. The music video makes me a little dizzy, but could make for quite a fun performance.

    Moldova – “So Lucky”
    A bizarre rock song that doesn’t have much going for it apart from the only instance i can think of of a clarinet in a rock song. Easily forgettable.

    Netherlands – “Never Alone”
    Very reminiscent of the Fray, once again a very generic bland song, with none of the spetacle I expect from Eurovision. They do seem very intense, and definitely emote their song well. I wish them luck but I don’t think they’ll get very far.

    Romania – “Change”
    The name ‘Hotel FM’ inspires a vision of annoying Muzak from hotel lobbies. What they give instead is a charming, catchy and incredibly likeable song. Once again, its very simple, very generic (the usual lyrics about believing in yourself, making a change, living the dream etc.) but does it in a cheerful, pleasant way.

    Slovakia – “I’m Still Alive”
    More eagles! Sorry, I got distracted from the incredibly boring song. I think the best thing this song has going for it is that its performed by rather pretty twins. The viedo implies that the song represents the country’s ability to overcome adversity etc. but that’s not exactly going to make other countries vote for it. On to the next one.

    Slovenia – “No One”
    This girl seems to be a very good singer, who has unfortunately gone blue. The video director seems to have watched Twilight one too many times (which is once). I quite like this song, but it’s not a standout. I hope for some aerial acrobatics.

    Sweden – “Popular”
    Another song going for the youth vote. Absolutely awful lyrics “Stop don’t say that it’s impossible/Cos I know/It’s possible” and seems to express stereotypical teenage boys wants of popularity and sex. But at least we can expect some good dance moves from this one. He’s the Swedish Justin Timberlake.

    Ukraine – “Angels”
    A singer who’s apparently very popular in Russian bloc countries doesn’t seem to be trying very hard in this song and yet trying way too hard at the same time. This is another song which could be saved by the theatrical element of its performance, because it wouldn’t win anything on the song alone.


  3. fenzel OTI Staff #

    By the way, we shouldn’t be making too much fun of Belarus – isn’t there a big Overthinking It fan from Belarus who was one of the first people to donate to us when we first asked for money?

    There was some talk among the writer’s group at the time of having a global contest where the country that donated the most to OTI would get a week of custom content all about its country. We rejected it for a whole bunch of reasons (several of which should be obvious – it would be kind of a jerk thing to do), but the winner would have been Belarus, and a week of Belarus-only content would have bee awesome – because we probably would just play “I LOVE BELARUS” over and over again.

    Hopefully, our Belarussian fan appreciates the special place in our hearts Belarus continues to claim this Eurovision season, and I look forward to other Belarussian cultural exports in the months and years ahead.


    • Stokes OTI Staff #

      Who’s mocking Belarus? If the worst thing you can say about a dance song is that it sounds like Boney M. (not to mention that you “love [it]”), that’s not such a bad dance song.


      • fenzel OTI Staff #

        You know, if I were in an actual dance club, and “I Love Belarus” actually came on, it would actually be the best thing ever.


  4. Valatan #

    The FYR of Macedonia wanted to just call itself “Macedonia” after independence from Yugoslavia, but, insanely and hilariously, Greece said that it felt ‘threatened’ by having a neighbor name itself ‘macedonia’, considering the history that the Greeks and the Macedonians had TWO THOUSAND YEARS AGO, and so they had to add the “Former Yugoslav Republic” bit


    • Valatan #

      Also, Jedward walks the line between too ridiculous to even mock and so absurd that it’s the best thing ever.


    • petrlesy #

      but they might get quite upset when you call them FYRoM or something, personal experience


  5. Timothy J Swann #

    “How do you pronounce an “s” wearing a hat?”
    The caron adds a h sound following the letter: č is ch, š is sh, and ž is zh (at least in Croatian and Serbian). Zh is hard to pronounce.


  6. Timothy J Swann # should give you everything you need to know about Jedward. The two are exceptionally well-known in Britain and their native Ireland (their debut album hit No. 1 there). It is often difficult to accept that they are real: their butchery of Ghostbusters has gone done in legend.

    Are there any other competitors spawned from non-Eurovision reality contests?


      • Marie #

        Well, possibly the isles as the only impression I got from them was “oh, PR people have gone out of their way for these guys” Without the hype, they seem like a decent couple. It’s like cross between Saade and these guys:

        Or it might be a glimpse of their future. Anyhow, they better get the number right this time.


  7. Timothy J Swann #

    ‘I’m Still Alive’
    No-one else wishing that it was the Jonathan Coulton track?


  8. michael #

    Re: vaguely racist Ukrainian lyrics:
    It looks like the song was originally recorded in Russian, and according to somebody on the Internet the literal English translation of the Russian chorus is

    Like how birds in the deep blue sky
    Forgive me for all the undaring dreams!
    We call ourselves people on this earth
    We just hide behind big wings
    Big wings…

    So the white power-sounding stuff only came in when they rewrote the English lyrics to rhyme, fit the melody, etc.?


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