He’s the Russian lyricist behind some of of the most successful Eastern European Eurovision songs in the past two decades. Karen Kavaleryan has talked to Wiwibloggs about his Eurovision experiences and the importance of song lyrics at Eurovision.
Internationally, Kavaleryan is most known for his poetic contributions to many of the most successful Eastern European Eurovision songs in the late ’00s and early ’10s. Among others, he penned the lyrics of Dima Bilan’s “Never Let You Go”, Dmitry Koldun’s “Work Your Magic” and Ani Lorak’s “Shady Lady”.
It is therefore easy to conclude that Russian lyricist Karen Kavaleryan has built up a large legacy throughout the years. In his home country, he has also received numerous accolates. Eighteen of his songs were chosen to receive prizes during the prestigious annual Russian Song of the Year. Next to that, he penned the anthem for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. But preferring to be in the background, his current career focuses on theatre productions.
But back in May, on his personal Facebook page, Kavaleryan wrote a series of posts detailing his numerous Eurovision experiences between 2002 and 2013. The posts paint a picture of the emergence of Eastern Europe at the contest. It produced an interesting perspective on the successes of then, sometimes perhaps showing a shadow sight too.
As a result, Wiwibloggs decided to have an in-depth chat with Karen Kavaleryan to discuss what it was like to be a songwriter at that time and his opinion on songwriting in general at Eurovision.
Karen Kavaleryan Interview: Veteran lyricist talks about his Eurovision legacy
Wiwibloggs: Despite the fact that you have not written for the contest in seven years, your contributions are still very well regarded. What do you think of that?
Kavaleryan: I am pleased to hear that, although now I have nothing to do with the Eurovision and am busy only with theatrical projects. We come to this world to leave a good memory of ourselves. If I succeeded, then I did my job honestly.
Since the pandemic, fans of Eurovision have held a few re-votes of the contest under the name of #EurovisionAgain. For on the Eurovision 2008 screening, “Shady Lady” finished first. Did you hear at all of that news?
I am grateful to the fans for remembering the song “Shady Lady”, but I cannot take this vote seriously. Another contestant with a different song won the real contest. Unfortunately.
Did you use some special formula or does songwriting come from the soul? Can you please tell us something about your creative processes?
I have no formulas. And there are no rules either. Each new song is a different adventure. You just go into an unknown direction and react to the circumstances. You only have faith in yourself, a certain number of skills and your reflexes. But you never know how this will end. It feels alive. But songs are my life. Anyway, it was, when I dealt with the Eurovision.
You worked with some of the most prolific show-business people in Eastern Europe, such as Philipp Kirkorov, Dima Bilan and Ani Lorak. But was getting so close to those artists like? Who did you enjoy working most with and why?
All of them are really good at what they do. I respect all of these performers. But I have never been close to any of them. This is not a necessity for the creation of a good song. In general, I never get close to the artists and do not want to become part of their entourage. I am interested in my own life.
How much influence did you as a songwriter have on what is eventually presented on stage?
The only time I ever actively participated in this was in 2010. I practically co-produced Eva Rivas and “Apricot Stone” song. It was the most ideologically driven performance that I have ever seen in my life. It was more than show business. There, in Oslo, a part of my heart remained on the stage. We did not manage to realize everything that was planned. But I’m proud of this song and this particular performance.
What was it like to attend Eurovision as a songwriter?
I was present in person in 2002 (Tallinn), 2008 (Belgrade) and 2010 (Oslo). But the most memorable visit I ever made was the first one — to Tallinn. We had a very tightknit team. Despite the fact that almost 20 years have passed, my co-author, composer Kim Breitburg, and I are still working together on various theatre projects. As for the rest of the guys from the Prime Minister band, we are still friends, despite the fact that I was terribly angry because of their frivolous behaviour on the eve of the performance that almost failed us. I remember that I was so disappointed with the tenth place that I did not go to the afterparty and wandered around the city all night on my own, drinking cognac right out of a bottle.
What has been your favourite memory in this Eurovision phase of your life?
In 2008, Belgrade, I had two songs out there — one from Ukraine (“Shady Lady”) and from Georgia (“Peace Will Come”), and the Georgian delegation was very jealous of me because of the Ukrainian song. So much so that me, my wife and son weren’t even given the tickets to the show’s finals.
My good friend Andy Mikheev from ESCKAZ.COM invited us to watch the finals in the press centre and we accepted the invitation. At the entrance to the press centre, a security guard, who then carefully examined our accreditations, stopped us. Especially mine. Then he asked to open the bag. I thought that I would have problems now — there were two bottles of Armenian cognac, which I brought from Moscow.
I asked the guard if I could take my liquor with me and I was sure that the answer would be no. But he smiled and unexpectedly replied that I can do anything. I asked him, why so. And he said that this is because I was the star of this show. Then, he took my autograph and asked me to take a picture with him. So I did.
That was the most unexpected confession that was ever addressed to me. But at that time, I really was the “star of the show”. After all, I held a Eurovision record — I wrote songs for performers from five different countries. It seems that as of now, this record is beaten.
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Do you feel that composers get enough praise at the contest? What do you think about initiatives, such as the Marcel Benzencon Award, to give recognition to the best composition, as decided by the composers?
That’s a fine idea. But why should only the opinion of composers be taken into account? Why are the poets less important? Poets matter too.
Do you feel that songwriting changed throughout the contests you were involved with and do you think it has evolved since?
I reckon it’s the same game that it was a hundred years ago. Nothing new was discovered ever since the Tin Pan Alley.
Recently, winners have called to focus again on the song as opposed to the staging. Portuguese singer Salvador Sobral said that “music is feeling and not fireworks” and the last contest winner Duncan Laurence said that he dedicated his prize to “Music first, always”. What do you think about these kinds of statements?
Artists are prone to simplifying. But it is impossible to fit life into a universal formula, no matter how much you repeat all these mantras that something is more important than something else. Everything is important. Music, lyrics, production, costumes, sound, light, PR, and even the lunch you have on the day of the competition. And the dream you had the night before, too. I don’t know why music seems to be the most important element to these guys. Personally, I think that’s nonsense.
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