The pandemic may have cancelled last year’s edition of Eurovision. But tonight at 21:00 CET the song contest returns with a bang — and plenty of fire, fake eyelashes and even Flo Rida. Over the past two weeks, five of our correspondents have been on-the-ground in Rotterdam, while an army of our reporters and editors at home have been watching from afar, dissecting all the props and effects you’ll see this evening — from an oversized Russian doll that conceals the Russian singer to a big balloon that inflates to create a full moon for Spain. Tonight we’ll be live streaming from the press centre on our YouTube channel and we’ll also have reporters inside the arena updating our Insta Stories. You can also hear our thoughts on Twitter. If you want to watch our initial reactions from the first time we heard the songs, please visit this YouTube playlist.
Now, as the contestants slip into their tightest trousers and lubricate their wind machines, sit back and follow our handy guide to what’s about to go down in Rotterdam. Consider it our pre-recorded commentary. Let’s do this!
Eurovision 2021 Preview: Your guide to the grand final
1. Cyprus: Elena Tsagrinou — “El Diablo”
Elena sings of falling in love with a man as bad as the devil. And with that comes a sensual performance replete with devilishly good choreography performed by Elena (at times on her back, at times arching it) and four dancers in skin-tight red catsuits. The stage moves between solid black, red and white, always framing Elena and her dancers beautifully. At the end of the song letters spelling out EL DIABLO become apparent and they catch fire — providing extra heat to an already hot performance.
Memorable lyrics: “Hotter than sriracha on our bodies, Ta-Taco tamale, yeah, that’s my mood.”
Interesting fact: Elena is triple threat. Not only can she sing and present but she is also a voice actress in films. Elena’s vocals can be heard on the Greek dubs of several popular animated movies. She plays Jenny on 2013’s Free Birds. Jenny is a wild turkey, originally voiced by American comedian Amy Poehler. In 2017, Elena took on the role of Smurflily in Smurfs: The Lost Village — Modern Family’s Ariel Winter voiced the character in the Hollywood version.
2. Albania: Anxhela Peristeri – “Karma”
Whether you speak Albanian or not, it’s pretty clear that “Karma” captures a woman in crisis. In the dramatic ballad Anxhela blames herself for her world — romantic and otherwise — falling apart. The opening verse sees her describing herself as selfish and somewhat spoiled: “Life, as if a fairy tale, had spoiled me, High in the sky like a star I lived, Laughing like crazy when you groaned, Heartless, I only loved myself.” By the time the chorus hits, she’s the star of her own tragedy and she’s left with nothing but dirty tears. “God does not forgive me, the world fell on me, I fled you, my friends fled, I have no light…tears collect in my hand, they are rusty…” The idea that our actions impact the world are reflected on a glorious LED — it reacts with storms and lightening — as Anxhela shimmies and slides through her narrative.
Memorable lyrics: “God does not forgive me, the world fell on me.”
Interesting fact: In 2001, while Anxhela was trying to find a way to start her musical career, another door opened to her — Miss Albania. She has said in television interviews that she agreed to compete in the competition only because competitors could showcase a talent on one of the nights. And that was the perfect opportunity for Anxhela to introduce Albania to her singing abilities.
3. Israel: Eden Alene — “Set Me Free”
“Getting you out of my life — I feel so strong.” The words of Eden Alene as she says goodbye to a relationship that feels like a prison. This upbeat number comes with slick group choreography and a dramatic dress reveal. Eden’s white coat gives way to a nude illusion dress — she appears completely naked except for extra-long braids that snake around her sensitive areas. As she told me in an interview, the nudity connotes freedom and the braids celebrate her Ethiopian heritage. Brace yourself for the high notes toward the end — they are officially the highest notes ever performed in the contest.
Memorable lyrics: “Used to be your treasure now I’m gone forever.”
Interesting fact: Eden Alene started her mandatory army service in October 2018. During her time she was lead vocalist in the Israel Defence Forces band. Eden was still serving when she was initially selected for Eurovision over a year ago. She had to carefully manage her time between the army and performing. She’s also a huge fan of Japanese anime and told me she’s spent her mandatory hotel lockdown watching Mermaid Melody Pichi Pichi Pitch.
4. Belgium: Hooverphonic “The Wrong Place”
Hooverphonic are serving the coolest song about a regrettable hookup. The lyrics of “The Wrong Place” are packed full of amazing lines, including the absolute gem “You get up because you need an organic cup of tea”. It very much paints a picture of morning-after regret, when the choices of the night before seem a million times worse in the cold, hard light of day. In a semi-final filled with over-the-top visuals, this three-piece pare things back. Geike’s steely eyes provide one of the most impressive focal points of the show. That the bandmates perform together — but remain isolated from one other on stage — reflects our times in a subtle but poignant way.
Memorable lyrics: “Don’t you ever dare to wear my Johnny Cash T-shirt.”
Interesting fact: In 1998, Hooverphonic went on a European tour supporting, among others, Moloko, Fiona Apple and Massive Attack. Band member and founder Alex Callier says that they learned much from touring with these acts, lessons they still use today. They would later cover Massive Attack’s “Unfinished Sympathy”. For their second LP Blue Wonder Power Milk they collaborated with American producer Mark Plati. He has worked with acts such as The Cure, David Bowie and Fleetwood Mac. Although Alex writes most of Hooverphonic’s material himself, he occasionally writes with others. One of these folks is Cathy Dennis. Best known for the very non-Hooverphonic sounding “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head” (Kylie Minogue) and “Toxic” (Britney Spears), she chipped in on “Jacky Cane” and “The Last Thing I Need Is You”.
5. Russia: Manizha — “Russian Woman”
Manizha opens with one of the most memorable visuals of the year: She sings from inside an oversized Russian doll. Controlled remotely, she glides across the stage and spins before opening a door in her dress. She emerges in a factory worker’s outfit — it’s at once throwback but somehow contemporary — announcing that she’s casting off the stereotypes of yesterday and is ready to slay as a modern “Russian Woman”. Just as Manizha reaches the spiritual chanting portion of her song, a giant image of an Orthodox-style religious icon appears on screen. Eventually Manizha kneels on the ground and sings to a wall filled with one hundred inspirational women of all sexualities and skin tones. It’s a powerful moment in which she calls on them to believe in themselves and to fight for their rights. “You’re strong enough!” she frequently chants. Manizha is too.
Memorable lyrics: “Every Russian woman needs to know, you’re strong enough to break the wall.”
Interesting fact: Manizha was born in Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan, two months before the country declared independence from the Soviet Union. Three years later, she left Tajikistan with her parents after a shell hit their house during the Tajik Civil War. They settled in Moscow, where the singer still resides, and she began her studies in music. Her Tajik origins have been a source of controversy. Some have deemed her song “not Russian enough”. However, she has remained fierce in the face of opposition, receiving support from many other Russian stars. After all, Russia is a massive country with people from many nationalities and communities.
6. Malta: Destiny — “Je Me Casse”
Hell naw she is not your honey! But Malta’s Destiny may well be your next Eurovision winner. The 18-year-old vocal powerhouse has been pitch perfect throughout her time in Rotterdam, nailing all three minutes of her empowering song “Je me casse” — French slang for “I gotta go” or “I’m outta here!” Destiny wears a silver, sparkly number with thigh-high boots and stands centre stage with four dancers flitting around her. The staging features bold blocks of colour — from pinks to yellows — and eventually turns into a gigantic starscape. When Destiny hits the bridge — Ladies, listen to me! — the stars seem to shoot out from everywhere, creating a real moment.
Memorable lyrics: “Hell no, I don’t want your money, got it wrong I ain’t into dummies.”
Interesting fact: In 2017, Destiny brought her brand to Britain. She showcased the golden voice and attitude we all know and love on the popular Britain’s Got Talent. She blew away the judges and easily got herself a spot among the top 40 acts. And although she didn’t qualify for the grand final, everyone had nothing but praise. She was called a future star and someone who needed to be signed up to a record label as soon as possible. Simon Cowell said “there are probably five, ten West End producers watching this show now, like the guys who produce Motown. If I was one of those guys, I would hire you tomorrow to put you on a show like that to kick-start your career. Because your talent, your voice is exceptional.”
7. Portugal: The Black Mamba – “Love Is on My Side”
“Love Is On My Side” was born out of a 2019 tour in the Netherlands. These performances inspired the group to write and record an album called Another Night In Amsterdam. The LP tells the story of “all the characters” they met during this time, particularly from the city’s infamous red-light district. Their Eurovision track was also written during these sessions. Speaking to the Portuguese broadcaster after their selection, The Black Mamba explain that “this song is inspired by an old lady we met in Amsterdam a couple of years ago, when we were on tour in the Netherlands.”
When we first meet the woman in their song she is young and full of hope. “Left home when I was only sweet sixteen / Chasing blind love and a bunch of broken dreams”. But things don’t pan out as planned. “She ended up addicted to drugs and that led to prostitution”, recount the band. “I can feel it still runnin’ through my veins / Ran so fast I couldn’t even grow / Forgot where I belong / Sold my body on a dirty cold floor”. The lead singer Tatanka attempts to embody her by working his higher register. We also see a silhouette of a woman walking across their LED, though we’re not sure where she is going.
Memorable lyrics: “Don’t know how I thought I’d be a queen.”
Interesting fact: The Black Mamba is a highly venomous snake found in sub-Saharan Africa. And while the real-world creature’s bite can be deadly, the group are venomous in a different sense. Their official website claims that the inspiration for their name came from their “own infectious venom and they used it to name their first album”. Speaking to our William, Tatanka and Miguel gave their own take on the name. “After a show, we went home and there was this National Geographic TV show going on, and it was about the black mamba,” says the band’s frontman. “We thought it was a cool name for a band and that was it.” Miguel’s explanation is a bit deeper — “We also spread our good venom around the globe.”
8. Serbia: Hurricane – “Loco Loco”
There’s an extreme weather warning in Rotterdam because a certain Hurricane is about to blow the roof off the Ahoy. This is a full-force Balkan banger! Hurricane provide a high-energy track that gives its stars Sanja, Ivana and Ksenija the space to strut their stuff and deliver a dynamic performance. Their high contrast black and white aesthetic makes a pleasing break from all the pinks and blues. As the song progresses we get splashes of red, while words like “baby” fill the screen. Soon we’re in a full-on disco, complete with LED disco ball. As Sanja shouts “come on girls”, they strut down the catwalk and finish the performance on the satellite stage amidst a load of pyro.
Memorable lyrics: “It will be wild, wild, wild, So, Come on, be loco loco”
Interesting fact: The story of the group’s formation is explained by their founder, Zoran Milinković. After hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated the Caribbean in 2017, Milinković participated in the cleanup efforts on the island of Sint Maarten. After returning to Serbia, he then formed the group to send a message of support. Hurricane’s first single, fittingly, was named “Irma, Maria”. The music video showed cleanup efforts, whilst the song preached about the strength and will to rebuild after tragedy.
9. United Kingdom: James Newman — “Embers”
“Embers” is a bouncy song with an electro-brass sound — it’s uptempo not for the sake of it, but because James wants to transmit energy and good vibes. It recounts his love for his wife and fellow songwriter Cleo Tighe. The lyrics suggest their union will weather any storm, and that nothing can burn them out. They aren’t just getting by, they’re thriving and lighting up the room! You might call this number rather horny: James sings between two very large trumpets which traveled to the Netherlands by boat. At the end of the performance, bolts of fire shoot up from around the stage. Pray that James is standing in the right place throughout or our man is BBQ!
Memorable lyrics: “Sometimes I know my fire burns low, but as long as you’re with me I’ll never get cold.”
Interesting fact: James isn’t the only Newman absolutely smashing it in the music industry. His younger brother John has worked with the likes of Calvin Harris and Rudimental. He collaborated with the latter for his breakout single “Feel The Love”. It reached number one and is a firm favourite of the British music scene to this day. James has written for his brother on several occasions, most notably his aforementioned collaboration with Calvin Harris, “Blame”. That also went to number one. John’s most famous solo track is “Love Me Again”, a Northern Soul inspired pop belter and another number one.
10. Greece: Stefania – “Last Dance”
The 18-year-old has a clear perspective on “Last Dance” and its meaning. “If something ends, something new starts,” she says. “There is never an end. If you have a bad dream you can make it your own fantasy. It’s what you see in the video….I turn my dream into one of my best dreams ever.” Here in Rotterdam, the Greek singer — who was born and raised in The Netherlands — turns the stage into a massive green screen, onto which producers project buildings in all shades of purple and blue. We see her climb skyscrapers and dance with men whose skin is keyed out — they become dancing trousers, dancing jackets, dancing shorts. It’s only at the end that they emerge as fully-formed humans – a magical moment that draws rapturous applause. During rehearsals, smoke that lingered in the air from earlier acts impacted her green screen effects. Producers are now using wind machines to blow the smoke off stage to make sure her image is crystal clear.
Memorable lyrics: “My heart was born in neon lights, floating in space like satellites.”
Interesting fact: Born on 17 December 2002, Stefania is 18-years-old and five months at Eurovision 2021. That means she’s slightly younger than other song contest teens such as Malta’s Destiny (29 August 2002) and Sweden’s Tusse (1 January 2002). Thus, Stefania has the distinction of being the youngest in the class of 2021. She would also have been the youngest contestant at Eurovision 2020.
11. Switzerland: Gjon’s Tears – “Tout l’univers”
The singer’s real name is Gjon Muharremaj. However, he performs under the moniker Gjon’s Tears. His Tears, like Marina’s Diamonds or Christine’s Queens, are metaphorical. “Tout l’univers” has been one of the bookies’ favourites all season. And rightly so. It creates so many moments of stillness and emotion as Gjon takes us on his journey. Having French lyrics might seem like a weak point, but this is a case where the melody of the song guides our emotions. Dressed in an outfit resembling a flamenco dancer or Renaissance court jester, he performs inside a large white frame as fog billows atmospherically around him. He does some light choreography. As the song reaches its climax, everything becomes much more frantic – the lights, his movements. The frame also separates into three distinct parts. It ends with an explosive cinematic flair, exuding class.
Memorable lyrics: “How can we heal our exploding hearts?”
Interesting fact: When Gjon was just 12 or 13 years old, he discovered the Eurovision Song Contest. Gjon says: “When you know that ABBA and Celine Dion come from Eurovision, that’s crazy.’’ Since then, it has been a dream of his to participate at the world’s biggest music event. However, it wasn’t the international superstars that first grabbed Gjon’s attention. “I watched Aurela Gaçe, a really big singer in Albania,” he tells us. “When I saw that, I was like ‘that’s really big, really huge’. And I was dreaming about it”. His favourite Eurovision song is France’s 1969 winner “Un jour, un enfant” by Frida Boccara.
12. Iceland: Daði og Gagnamagnið – “10 Years”
Last week, Iceland’s Eurovision 2021 delegation went into isolation following a positive COVID-19 test. And on Wednesday a member of Daði Freyr’s on-stage band Gangamagnið tested positive for the virus. As a result, the group will compete using a backup recording from their second rehearsal earlier in the week. That performance explodes with colour — mint green is their signature — and video-game inspired graphics of the group’s six members.
The disco tune talks about how, no matter the length of a relationship, you can always find new things to fall in love with, and how a marriage can become an everlasting enjoyable experience. The staging gives space-age disco vibes with a pixellated galaxy backdrop. All of the colours — while keeping in line with the 2021 neon theme — complement each other well. Meanwhile, an army of Gagnamagnið sprites take up the entirety of the runway screen. It’s delightful. The band are equipped with new instruments, too — Árný, Jói and Stebbi are wielding pivoting crescent moon-shaped keyboards that join together for a “Miracle” Romania 2014 moment during the instrumental bridge. The show ends with a delayed pyro pillar and blast of smoke, adding some subtle (but effective) humour.
Memorable lyrics: “You’re so fascinating, I can’t remember the last time I was bored”
Interesting fact: Eurovision 2020 quickly established itself as the “contest of weird dance moves”. THE ROOP started the trend with their entertaining “On Fire” dance, while Russia’s Little Big did their thing with “Uno” in early March. But few have gained as much international attention as “Think About Things”. It swept across Europe. The song featured in various TV shows, including the British shows The Last Leg, Strictly Come Dancing and Dancing On Ice. The buzz even reached Hollywood. Russel Crowe tweeted his support while Jennifer Garner bopped to the song while doing laundry.
13. Spain: Blas Cantó — “Voy a quedarme”
This song is more than just a song. It’s emotion, intimacy and hope, all blended together in a piece that builds slowly but powerfully. To understand the song you need to know the backstory. The past year has been tough for us all. But Blas had it particularly hard. In the space of just a few months, he lost both his father and grandmother. “Voy a quedarme” (I’m Gonna Stay) is directly inspired by them. “It’s a super special song”, he told Spanish broadcaster RTVE. “I wrote this one at the most difficult moment of my life. I wrote it at the time my father was passing away. Then I recorded it when my grandmother was dying from COVID and it was a very hard moment. In fact, the emotion is noticeable in the voice, I think. It is a song that gives off sensitivity and a lot of strength at the end. What happens is that you always put the beginning, which is how slower and so on, but then it grows in a brutal way.” On stage he performs beneath a large balloon that inflates before he takes the stage, creating the effect of a moon. It represents cycles and the passing of time and people.
Memorable lyrics: “I’m going to stay and I promise to love you more than yesterday.”
Interesting fact: From 2009 to 2016, Blas was a member of the chart-topping boyband Auryn. They were made up of five members, all of whom had previously appeared on various talent shows in Spain. They became popular through their YouTube covers of hits like Rihanna’s “Umbrella” and Los Secretos’ “Déjame”. The group’s name was derived from the AURYN talisman which features in the The Neverending Story novel and films. The charm was supposed to grant one the opportunity to fulfil all one’s wishes.
14. Moldova: Natalia Gordienko – “Sugar”
Let there be no doubt: Natalia wants that sugar! This sexy dance number uses sweet confections as a metaphor for lust and desire. “I can’t explain it but there’s something going on, a crazy energy inside of me,” Natalia says. “First a tingle, then it turned into a burn”. While most of us might visit a pharmacy for some cream, Natalia decides to sort that out in a more carnal way. She begs her lover to “come over, come over” to fulfil her desires. Her request reads like a demand: “Give me some… sugar!” All of this unfolds on a rotating platform. Wait for the high note at the end.
Memorable lyrics: “Hey lover, give me some sugar”
Interesting fact: Natalia has performed since the age of five, but had to wait a few years to get her big break. At the age of ten, she featured on the Moldovan children’s television show Cheiţa de aur (Golden Key) and became a star. Since then she’s become a known face in her homeland. Every week, Moldovans tune into the Loteria Națională to see who will strike it lucky. Natalia helps to host the half-hour show, which includes different games of chance.
15. Germany: Jendrik — “I Don’t Feel Hate”
At their heart, the “I Don’t Feel Hate” lyrics encourage people not to absorb the negativity that’s directed at them. Jendrik — with his infectious smile and aura of positivity — calls on people to instead hold up a shield built of reason and compassion. The hate they give isn’t a burden for you — it’s a reflection of the shortcomings and difficulties of the person throwing all that shade. When you remember that, it’s easier to scroll on past rather than hitting reply. That has an added bonus: Trolls lose power when they can’t cause a stir. As Jendrik sings: “I really don’t mind to be your rival, ’cause for your kind it’s essential for survival.” A woman dressed as the Middle Finger battles Jendrik on stage, and eventually succumbs to his charms and sparkling ukulele.
Memorable lyrics: “You feel so very clever whenever you find another way to wear me down.”
Interesting fact: Jendrik loves the ukulele. He even made the instrument the topic of his Bachelor of Arts thesis. Jendrik’s own ukulele is completely unique and you won’t find it in any shop. That’s because the singer glued over 4,000 rhinestones onto it, thus giving birth to the sparkling silver wonder which he plays on stage and in his music video. He’s vowed to never undertake such an arduous task ever again.
16. Finland: Blind Channel – “Dark Side”
The men of Blind Channel are purveyors of “violent pop”. It’s essentially a sub-genre of heavy metal music with elements of pop. And the band have made it their own. “Dark Side” won the Finnish selection in a resounding fashion. And it’s not hard to see why the Finns were swept up by this seemingly anarchic anthem. The group’s request for viewers to put their middle fingers up isn’t disrespectful. It’s actually an empowering call to stand up and be counted, even when systems or clicks try to exclude you. Musically this may nod to Linkin Park, but this isn’t in any way derivative. Blind Channel have their own frequency and chemistry — they perform with panache and fire, nailing their spins and headbangs without ever veering into the outré. Musically this comes with one of the best hooks of the year — and one sung in perfect harmony despite the deliberately rough sound.
Memorable lyrics: “Put your middle fingers up, take a shot, throw it up and don’t stop.”
Interesting fact: They originally bonded over their collective love for Linkin Park. The U.S. outfit remains their biggest influence — “That’s the one influence you can still hear in our music”. They also listened to acts like 30 Seconds to Mars and Enter Shikari when the first started out. Later they began to take inspiration from the likes of Bring Me the Horizon and Twenty One Pilots. However, the band’s tastes go beyond rock — “You have to know pop music if you wanna make violent pop!”. They also listen to Billie Eilish and Post Malone.
17. Bulgaria: Victoria – “Growing Up Is Getting Old”
Like any good storyteller, VICTORIA doesn’t rush her exposition. She takes her time with “Growing Up Is Getting Old” — literally opening with the heavy sound of a ticking clock. The song slowly and carefully warms up, layering nostalgia and tenderness over strings and piano. As Victoria comes to terms with the relentlessness of time, expressed through that delicate and distinct voice, her trickle of emotion becomes a flood, delivering one of the biggest musical pay-offs of the year. This song may be a slow burn, but it definitely ignites, giving us an “it” moment worthy of the win. “I’ve never understood how so much can fit in little me,” VICTORIA sings. In these three minutes, she proves that she contains multitudes.
This performance is organic in more ways than one. Yes, she sings on a rock that seems to float on water before stars, and she reaches out to touch falling sand. But beyond that she looks at a picture of her father, who was recently diagnosed with motor neurone disease. When she sings to Europe — and to him — it comes from a place of love and impending loss.
Memorable lyrics: “Playing Tetris with my feelings.”
Interesting fact: Victoria is passionate about animals. In an interview last year, she told wiwibloggs that she had several dogs of her own. “All my dogs have been adopted and I love them so much! Animal adoption is a cause really close to my heart, and I want to raise awareness in Bulgaria about the amazing people who give their time to help homeless dogs and cats find their new home.” In addition to her canine friends, Victoria revealed that she also had two rabbits and one parrot — “I love animals so much. Sometimes even more than music”. Sadly, one of her rabbits has since passed away. She’s also been a vegetarian for the past five or six years — “I don’t eat my friends”.
18. Lithuania: The Roop — “Discoteque”
The Roop — Lithuania’s musical act of the moment — are known for their weird, hard-to-describe sonic flourishes. “Discoteque” is no different. The toe-tapping number comes with haunting production that pulsates and bounces on the border with darkness. Despite that vibe, the “Discoteque” lyrics are all about seeing the light and lifting yourself up from whatever is holding you back. Everyone is welcome at this discoteque, which is deliberately spelled without the letter h — this is a dance floor all its own. Fans have suggested it’s perfect for the pandemic — “it is OK to dance alone,” they sing. But the band say this is more about self-affirmation and accepting yourself and your body, and having the confidence to shake it all by yourself.
Memorable lyrics: “My body’s shaking, heart is breaking, have to let it go.”
Interesting fact: Ahead of Eurovision 2020, the band revealed in a wiwibloggs interview that Vaidotas was the only The Roop member that worked full-time as a performer. Both Robertas and Mantas had regular day jobs. “It may seem that everything in our lives went easy”, The Roop tell their Instagram followers. “It’s not quite true. For example, 1,5 years ago Vaidotas was unemployed. He had no money, just a big dream. All band members did their best to keep themselves motivated and not give up. We felt that the time would come, but never knew when”. Within the band, Vaidotas is the band “leader”. However, they each have their own responsibilities. For instance, Robertas looks after the technical rider and transport — without him the band have no lift!
19. Ukraine: Go_A — “SHUM”
“Shum” honours a “vesnyanka”, a traditional Ukrainian song that helps usher in spring. The season is the protagonist of the song: “Oh vesnyanka, vesnyanka, where have you spent your winter?” The answer comes in the catchy phrase siyu, siyu, siyu — “sowing, sowing, sowing, sowing hemp plants, Sowing, sowing, sowing, sowing green ones”. It’s understandable why the group might have an interest in rebirth and renewal: The lead singer Kateryna grew up near Chernobyl. Go_A — who rose to fame by mixing Ukrainian folk with EDM — have come with staging as outré as you’d expect. They perform on a white, snowy patch of ground that seems to float through space. At times the LED features golden silhouettes of men that chase after said island. Taken together it connotes the changing of the seasons and the relentless passing of time.
Memorable lyrics: “There on the edge of a forest an owl is blowing into the water.”
Interesting fact: Trying to sustain yourself in Ukraine’s music industry is no easy feat. To make ends meet, Go_A’s frontwoman Kateryna also worked as a part-time model, as well as at a fast-food chain. In our interview in Rotterdam, she told me that fast-food was the hardest gig she’s had — you have to deal with a lot of people and all the time.
20. France: Barbara Pravi — “Voilà”
Barbara Pravi’s “Voilà” is a call for acceptance. “Talk about me to your loved ones, to your friends,” she sings. “Tell them about this girl with black eyes and her crazy dream.” That dream — simply to be seen — comes across beautifully. Barbara initially sings from the shadows, and at one point from a vast expanse of stars. Alone in the cold, she warms the space with pitch-perfect vocals that remain light despite the weight of emotion they carry. As Barbara embraces her talents and her newfound sense of freedom, the pace quickens and the camera shakes — a stirring combination that brings us into Barbara’s inner world and the rush that comes with liberation. This is a grand performance that maintains the intimacy of a conversation. In a rare but poignant feat, she sounds better live than in studio. The secret ingredient is heart.
Memorable lyrics: “Tell them about this girl with black eyes and her crazy dream.”
Interesting fact: At the core of her personality, Barbara holds strong feminist values. She speaks openly about her experiences with misogyny in the music industry. When working on her first EP, producers tried to mould her into an image she disliked. “They wanted me to be the new little Lolita”, Barbara told Ma Musicale. “I refused because I wanted to be true to who I am. I think if you are a man you are forced to do a lot less.” Barbara continues to campaign for gender equality in the music industry. On March 8 every year, Barbara releases new music to celebrate International Women’s Day. This year, she launched her EP Les prières — a series of prayers celebrating freedom and independence.
21. Azerbaijan: Efendi — “Mata Hari”
“Scandinavian Orientalism” — that’s how Azerbaijan’s team describe their Eurovision 2021 stage show, which sees Efendi portraying the infamous Dutch spy. “On stage you will see powerful, strong women,” Efendi tells us. “After that, no one needs to be afraid of anything. I want to give this strength through my songs, my costumes — everything.” The LED fire looks so real you worry our girl may get burned, and an LED snake inside of a golden orb may leave you thinking of Cleopatra and that asp. Musically this plays on sounds of the near east, including traditional Azerbaijani instruments. The quickening pace of the ending is a rush of adrenaline to the head — don’t blink or you’ll miss some of the fiercest choreography of the year.
Memorable lyrics: “I’m a liar, playing the game of desire.”
Interesting fact: Efendi told me that she has been doing pole dancing for about three years. She approaches the activity like a sport, building her strength and stability. You can see her in action at about nine minutes into our March interview. She also shared some bonus trivia with us. During the filming of the music video for “Mata Hari”, the corset she wore was so tight that she scratched her entire back (2:45 in the interview). Thankfully, they were only temporary and have now cleared up. Something that’s a bit more permanent is her tattoo. It’s a star and stands for luck. Her team tells us that she can’t show a photo as it is in a very intimate place. In fact, Efendi really believes in signs and claims that things she sees in her dreams often come true.
22. Norway: TIX — “Fallen Angel”
This is not a song about unrequited love. It’s about a man battling the dark voices in his own head that tell him he isn’t worthy of love. As he makes clear in the verses: “Here in the dark, inside the hole in my heart, I’m fighting all of my demons trying to tear me apart, and I’m still not sure what you ever saw in me.” TIX conveys that tortured subject matter with ease, wearing his heart on his sleeve (and his furry coat). The song itself has a real earworm quality and glides effortlessly from pained verses to soaring chorus. The literal treatment of heaven and hell with all those winged angels adds a level of drama worthy of the big screen.
Memorable lyrics: “I’m fighting all of my demons tryna tear me apart.”
Interesting fact: Otherwise known as Andreas Haukeland, TIX has been open about having Tourette’s syndrome and OCD. His stage name comes from a childhood nickname that referenced the involuntary tic movements he experiences as part of the condition. It’s also why he wears his trademark sunglasses — to help disguise the tic movements he sometimes experiences with his eyes. Being open about Tourette’s syndrome and OCD has also been helpful for his fans dealing with similar issues. TIX said, “Even if I only get one message from a parent saying their child is doing better because of me, I know I’m doing something right.”
23. The Netherlands: Jeangu Macrooy — “Birth of a New Age”
“Birth of a New Age” is special because its lyrics are partially in Sranan Tongo, the local language of Jeangu’s birth country Suriname. Sranan was born as a Dutch and English-based creole language initially used by slaves to communicate with each other. Nowadays, it is still an important language of intercultural communication in Suriname. Jeangu will be the first ever contestant to perform the language at Eurovision.
He has described it as a universal story of standing up for yourself when everybody is trying to get you down. About the lyrics, Jeangu tells RTL Boulevard: “I am an optimistic person and the past year was very hard for everyone. But instead of looking around and focus on what’s bad, you can also find the power within yourself and believe that everything will be fine in the end. It’s my way to say: don’t underestimate me, you cannot get me down.”
Memorable lyrics: “Your rhythm is rebellion.”
Interesting fact: Not only is Jeangu very close to his twin brother Xillan — who is nine minutes younger — they are also very close when it comes to music and have a distinctive way of working together. According to their mother Jeannette, the boys have always had their own method of writing song lyrics, with that method developing through them drawing pictures as children. “They always used one sheet. One would draw from the left of the sheet, the other would draw from the right. And later on, this is how they would write songs and lyrics. One would start with a specific line, the other would do the next one and so on and so on, until a lyric was born.” Xillan is joining Jeangu on stage as a backing vocalist.
24. Italy: Måneskin — “Zitti E Buoni”
Pyro. So much pyro. We’ve got a gigantic pyro curtain, pyro shoots from the floor. I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen as much pyro on the Eurovision stage at any one time. But I’m getting ahead of myself, because that all comes at the end. The performance begins behind the LED screen, which opens like a door to reveal Damiano and the rest of the band. The camera then follows the band’s frontman as he brings us to the front of the stage. What we then get is a spectacular glam rock concert. The group are suitably dressed, Damiano’s getup is particularly eye-catching — he’s wearing a pair of silver flares, and not much else. The LED has projections of their silhouettes. As the intensity builds, the stage is flooded with red light and later blue. Then comes the aforementioned pyro. The whole performance ends with a dramatic death drop from the lead singer. As rock performances go at Eurovision, this is among the best. Potential winner alert!
Memorable lyrics: “I really believe that I can make this jump even if the road is uphill.”
Interesting fact: Måneskin honed their craft in the heart of Rome, their city of origin. The hours of rehearsals in the studio were flanked by live performances for passers-by. You could hear them on the streets of the city’s historic centre, including the famous Via del Corso and the Colli Portuensi district. But the general public got to know Måneskin during the eleventh season of X Factor Italia in 2017. On the talent show, they were coached by Manuel Agnelli, leader of the alternative rock band Afterhours. They were considered the favourites to win from their first audition onward. They eventually came second, behind pop tenor Lorenzo Licitra. But some of their performances on stage went viral, such as when they covered “Kiss This” by The Struts while Damiano was pole dancing wearing a pair of stiletto-heeled boots.
25. Sweden: Tusse — “Voices”
The opening shot of Tusse walking on digital water is a come-to-Jesus moment: You can’t help but go silent and get ready for the Scandipop sermon! Tusse is a vision in velvet and diamonds and glamour, yet when he sings you hear the wisdom of a survivor and former refugee who understands struggle and what it’s like to be dragged through the mud. It’s this grit — along with his total authenticity and freedom of movement — that elevates this above all the other generic songs about haters. He sings, yes, but you also get the sense he’s speaking directly to you and from his heart. We may have heard it all before, but we haven’t heard it this good.
Memorable lyrics: “Can’t stop us now forget the haters.”
Interesting fact: Tusse — real name Tousin Chiza — was born in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo on 1 January 2002. However, he had to leave his family behind as he fled the country to escape war. He settled in the Swedish village of Kullsbjörken in 2015 as a 13-year-old. But he held onto his Congolese heritage. He suggests his upbringing contributed to his musical ability, as music and dance are an integral part of Congolese culture. He remained in contact with his biological family, and his dad supported him during Melodifestivalen.
26. San Marino: Senhit feat. Flo Rida– “Adrenalina”
Nothing seems impossible for Senhit. She is the personification of the Eurovision spirit and you can feel the fun she’s having. Knowing which bits and pieces she had to improve from last year, she single-handedly shocked everyone with the drop of “Adrenalina” — a slick, uptempo-production with a memorable hook. Gone are the days of entries from San Marino as guilty pleasures. If you’re at all familiar with the work of Luca Tommassini, this performance is his whole aesthetic summarised in a lovely three-minute snapshot. The plethora of looks (pink wigs, golden crown, endless fringe) shouldn’t work together, but they do.
And of course, let’s not forget her secret weapon — the American superstar rapper Flo Rida. He’s the man behind global hits like “Low”, “Right Round” and “Whistle”. For the longest time, it was uncertain whether he would even make it to Rotterdam. And, indeed, for the first and second round of rehearsals he was otherwise engaged at a bikini model contest in the US. He brings an added sheen of star power to the entry and will surely guarantee pan-European headlines for plucky San Marino.
Memorable lyrics: “Gasoline kerosene stop drop roll, I can’t blame it on the stove”
Interesting fact: Senhit was born and raised in Bologna to Eritrean parents. They moved to Italy almost 45 years ago. The singer officially became Italian between the ages of six and seven. Citizenship came as a consequence of that granted to her parents. In an interview with iO Donna she remembered: “The day my sister, brother and I became fully Italian there was a huge party, like a wedding. We set up our garage, at the time we lived outside Bologna, in the San Ruffillo district. We invited relatives and friends, practically the whole neighbourhood. It was a big event”.
“At home we have always spoken Italian, my mother speaks Eritrean only when she gets angry with us! On the table there is room for Bolognese cuisine but also for Eritrean titbits. It’s important to maintain traditions but we are Bolognese. Therefore at our table we serve tortellini, perhaps next to zighini, without ever mixing things up, of course”. Senhit also performed in Eritrea, as revealed to wiwibloggs: “I did a big tour four years ago in Eritrea, it was for charity. For them, I’m the person who made it. You know, they think ‘She’s from Europe, she’s a singer, the dream came true’”.
What are you most looking forward to at Eurovision 2021? Who do you think is going to win? And who do you want to win? Let us know in the comments box down below!