Let’s be honest: the Eurovision song factory produces a lot of crap. The pressure to transcend borders compels artists to take any old cliché and sing about it in English—regardless of their proficiency. The result is usually three minutes of meaningless gibberish set to an electro-pop beat. But every now and then, a Eurovision artist is brave enough to let her music speak for itself untranslated. Even if listeners can’t understand the lyrics, the song’s meaning and authenticity push through. It’s like Shakira singing in Spanish, and it’s often very powerful.
This year, Slovakia’s Kristina Pelakova takes the plunge. It’s risky. Said three times fast, “Horehronie” could imply a loose woman in heat. But it’s actually the name of a region of Slovakia that extends from the Hron River valley to the Low Tatras mountain range.
When the sun sets in Horehronie, I want to sing, die and live.
When the sun sets in Horehronie, I wish I could get closer to heaven.
The official preview video initially suggests some sort of fairy tale: a beautiful wood nymph bathed in green light, surrounded by mountain warriors doing ethnic aerobics. You might mistake Kristina for some crazy who has missed the bus to the local Renaissance Festival. But look past the dancing and into the mist, and an environmental theme emerges. Flora wraps around Kristina’s arms, and her back-up dancers form trees when standing stationary. In that light, the song becomes an ode to the natural beauty of Horehronie—and it’s ability to renew one woman’s soul.
The most beautiful trees are in Horehronie. A silent brotherhood tells me to return here when I feel sad. The trees tell me: shake it off.
Lying on the grass and dreaming. Of what, I don’t even know. In the breeze that gently sways me when the sun goes down.
Many Eurovision performers rely on camp lyrics and low-cut tops to make an impact. Not Kristina. Her song radiates Slavic soul and conveys the beauty of the Slovak language. Its mystical sound draws you in and its intoxicating melody keeps you there. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Kristina is gorgeous—a fact her stage producers will no doubt emphasize in Oslo. A back-up singer wrapped in tissue paper sings hallelujah repeatedly to give Kristina a chance to catch her breath and flirt with the camera.
The song, which peaked at #1 in Slovakia, has become the nation’s green anthem with environmental groups using it in adverts about deforestation. But not everyone is thrilled with Kristina. A number of bloggers have accused her team of drawing too heavily on the works of other folk artists. The video below compares “Horehronie” to a song by Kosovar-Turk artist Shpat Kasapi. Oh, snap:
Slovak officials deny any link between the songs. In the wake of the scandal, newspapers in Slovakia consulted music experts to investigate the claims. They shot the criticism down, concluding that “Horehronie” was not plagiarized and that the rhythmic similarity is close to zero. The songs, they say, merely stem from a common folk source—and that’s not protected by any copyright law.
Kristina competes in the first semi-final where she’s expected to go head-to-head with Greece’s George Alkaios and Friends. He’s also singing in his native tongue, setting up an interesting battle between two artists too talented to employ “Eurovision English.” Tom Dice of Belgium may also sneak into the mix. Regardless of who wins the first semi, all three will qualify for the Eurovision final.
Slovakia has never finished higher than 18th in the Eurovision final. That rather unimpressive record could work in Kristina’s favor if Eurovision voters hope to spread the love. No country is fielding a song that sounds remotely like “Horehronie,” so it will stand out, especially given the large number of bland ballads this year.
Slovak officials recently revealed that Kristina will attempt difficult choreography that has required her to work out five days a week. Will she bench press logs in time with the music? Will she support the weight of her mountain dancers on her shoulders? Depending on how extreme she goes, Kristina may be the dark horse of the competition. She will finish no lower than 10th and could even crack the top five.