If Romania’s Eurovision entry has it right, then the more a woman loves a man, the more she wants to kill him. And the more she wants to kill him, the more she wants to prance around in leather. In “Playing With Fire,” Paula Seling and Ovi embody that conflict. They portray lovers balancing fiery passion with a desire to harm one another. The result is a musical fondue. Everything is smothered in cheese, and it’s absolutely delicious.
In real life Paula is one of Romania’s most successful artists: she’s released 12 albums and opened for Beyoncé, Michael Bolton, and Ricky Martin. As for Ovi, he’s Romania’s most famous singer of Norwegian descent. The two live the high life in Bucharest, and that lifestyle sets the tone for their official preview video. She sashays onto camera sporting high fashion and plays with an Eastern European iPad. Apparently the trappings of wealth—fish tanks, a flat-screen TV—don’t foster love on their own, and the couple starts fighting immediately:
Girl, girl, girl can’t you see, what you do to me, tonight? Boy, boy, boy, if you’re mean, I will start a fight tonight.
Critics warn that the forced rhyme of the chorus—fire, desire, higher—will make your ears bleed. But the playfulness of those lyrics actually account for much of the song’s appeal.
You and me, can’t you see, we’re playing with fire. Tell me now, do you feel this burning desire? Don’t stop, make it rock, it’s taking us higher. Could it be just a dream? Are you running away?
When playing with fire it’s best to wear breathable fabrics, but Paula seems to have missed the memo. During the chorus she’s clad in a leather body suit. Electricity visibly surges through her body, suggesting that all the fighting sends shock waves to her libido. And then there’s that other tool essential for make-up sex: the double ended piano.
Boy, boy, boy what a fight! Come and spend with me the night. Girl, girl, girl are you sure? I ain’t here to fight, alright? You and I could try to stop, uh boy till you drop. If we get together now we’ll burn this place down.
Eurovision’s contestants have produced some pretty memorable videos this year, like Greece’s homoerotic romp on the beach and Azerbaijan’s near-death experience in a swimming pool. With its potpourri of pop culture references—Avatar, The Matrix, and Battlestar Galactica— Romania’s may have the broadest appeal.
Musically, I’d expect more harmony in a duet. And although Paula’s opera scales soar, there’s a risk that during a live performance she’ll sound like a dying hyena, or Mariah Carey on helium.
Romania competes in the more competitive second semi-final. Thus far bookies have given Romania the cold shoulder. They currently have the act down as ninth in their heat, which would qualify Romania for the final, but only just. My hunch is that they’ll finish much higher than this. Eurovision fans love a good duet—and Paula and Ovi are one of only two in the competition. They’re also the only group bringing piano pop to Oslo—a welcome addition during a year of boring ballads.
Eurovision insiders believe that “Playing With Fire” could challenge during the final. It tows the line between Eurovision camp fabulousness (a favorite of televoters) and mainstream pop (a consideration of the professional jury).
They may also benefit from direct comparison to Denmark, the other nation sending a duet. Bookies have listed the Danes as the act fourth most likely to win Eurovision, but the Danes lack originality; their entry “In A Moment Like This” smacks of Kelly Clarkson’s “A Moment Like This” with regards to content and sound. In a head-to-head comparison, Romania could come off looking pretty despite what the bookies say.
On May 27 I’m listening to my heart and giving Romania my televote during the first semi-final. Well, one of them anyway: you can vote 20 times. If they bring that translucent piano to Oslo, I’m confident they’ll stand out and should aim for a top 10 finish. With a little help from fate—perhaps a few missed notes and a few broken stage lights among their rivals—I can see Romania landing in the top three.