Eurovision 2020 In Memoriam
Today would have marked the 65th Edition of the Eurovision Song Contest. And while it’s not the first cultural casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic, its inevitable cancellation has caused many a pang in the hearts of fans cross the globe. Eurovision is a show notable for themes of inclusion, diversity, and tolerance— to say nothing of its silliness. It’s exactly the content that would have been perfect for these trying times.
For the uninitiated, Eurovision is an annual singing competition every May that takes place in (you guessed it) Europe. Any country in the European Broadcasting Union (which surprisingly includes some a few non-European countries like Israel and Azerbaijan) is eligible to compete with an original song and a spunky up-and-coming singer. Over the course of a week, viewers and juries vote songs through two semi-finals, until a grand winner is decided. The winning country then hosts next year’s contest.
Over the years, Eurovision has propelled many artists to international stardom, including ABBA, Celine Dion, and Bucks Fizz. Taking place annually since 1956, it has become a cultural behemoth, racking up nearly 200 million viewers every year. And it’s a goddamn delight.
Eurovision is a beautiful and queer expression of unity, tolerance, and diversity. It has featured multiple drag contestants (including a winner). In 1998, a transgender Israeli woman named Dana International took the crown in a win for LGBTQ visibility. Lyrics often discuss previously taboo topics in Europe, such as the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide, or the deportation of Crimean Tartars. Songs tend to skew towards the pop side of music with more than a little camp thrown in (unintentional or not). Visual presentation is crucial, leading to complicated choreography like Moldova 2018 or extraordinary stage presence like Iceland 2019.
This year would have taken place in Rotterdam, Netherlands following Duncan Lawrence’s 2019 victory with his heart-wrenching ballad “Arcade”. But alas, in early April, to prevent further spread of the virus, the plug needed to be pulled.
BUT — Before cancellation, each competing country had already picked their entry; since these 41 entries are not eligible for 2021, we will never see them live on the Eurovision stage. So, like Tantalus, we can see the sacrilegious fruit but cannot taste its sweetness. We can only imagine which country would have reigned victorious.
And while we cannot see them live, we can imagine what may have been. Here, in no particular order, are the seven best songs we would have seen.
1 — Lithuania
Song: “On Fire” by The Roop
Underdog Lithuania quickly became an unconventional favorite with its vibrant piece of indie-pop “On Fire”. The rhythmic synth and guitar lull the audience into a hypnotic bliss. Lead singer Vaidotas Valiukevičius struts across the stage with a magnetic confidence and quirky facial expressions; his unique persona lends itself perfectly to the groovy beat.
Initially, the most impactful part of the performance is the bizarre, modern dance that accompanies the synth section. It looks like a mating call a well-plumaged bird may enthusiastically shake its tail feathers too. Equal parts hilarious and earnest, it is hard to ignore.
Most importantly, Lithuania’s entry is unabashedly itself: I have yet to see something quite like it on the Eurovision stage.
The heat is getting higher
I feel that I’m on fire
2 — Sweden
The Song: “Move” by The Mamas
Eurovision juggernaut Sweden, with 11 Top Five placings in this century alone, has sent another stand-out. The Mamas — formed of Ashley Haynes, Loulou Lamotte & Dinah Yonas Manna — have produced a slick piece of soul-pop guaranteed to get your foot tapping.
The Mamas went from back-up singers in 2019 to center-stage in 2020: winning the insanely competitive Melodifestivalen, Sweden’s most iconic music showcase. They combine soulful energy with a heavy dose of pure, unadulterated joy, making their number impossible to watch without smiling.
Even when the rain is falling
Even when you hit the bottom
I’ll be there
I’ll be there
3 — Iceland
The Song: “Think About Things” by Daði og Gagnamagnið
Daði og Gagnamagnið (dah-thee o gog-na-math-nith) rose to front-runner status almost immediately after their bop “Think About Things” debuted internationally. It went viral within days and it’s easy to see why. The song is catchy, unique, with both a funky bass line and a killer brass solo.
The band has a retro aesthetic, with shirts and paraphernalia reminiscent of 80s pixelated graphics. Similar to Lithuania, Iceland’s stage performance comes armed with a simple yet recognizable dance that anyone can mimic. Their stage persona is cute, nerdy, and impossible not to love.
The band is a family affair: Dadi’s sister Sigrún Birna joins as a backing vocalist while his wife Árný Fjóla is a dancer. Family friends consist of the rest of the ensemble. The song’s lyrics continue the familial theme: it is essentially a love letter to Daði and Árný’s infant daughter.
Iceland had never won Eurovision (only coming close once), making it particularly painful not to see these lovable underdogs compete for the gold. This seemed all but guaranteed for a Top 5 finish.
Baby, I can’t wait to know
What do you think about things?
Believe me, I will always be there
4 — Switzerland
The Song: “Répondez-moi” by Gjon’s Tears
Switzerland returns with this year’s best ballad, with lyrics entirely in French for the first time since 2010. Gjon’s Tears has a mournful voice and he displays a tremendous amount of skill in his range.
The tune is haunting and soulful. Gjon’s Tears performs initially the song with minimal violin accompaniment, allowing his soulful voice to carry plenty of emotion for the viewer. It’s a slow build with an emotional falsetto climax that hits you right in the heart.
J’donne ma langue au chat / Répondez-moi
I give up / Answer me
5 — Armenia
The Song: “Chains on You” by Athena Manoukian
While this song didn’t make waves when it launched, many see it as the dark horse of the competition. It’s a slick piece of dance-pop that calls to mind a typical Nicki Minaj track…if that track was fed into a campy Eurovision machine and spit back out again.
While it’s not particularly unique, it has an infectious beat that would make any Eurogay twerk their heart out. This one tilts towards the campy end of the Eurovision spectrum, which is not a criticism in any way.
I ain’t no lyin’, I’m tryin’, I’m flyin’, no buyin’
And I know I’m gonna make it to the top
6 — Russia
The Song: “Uno” by Little Big
Russia is no stranger to Eurovision success. Since 2012, they have placed in the Top 10 on six different occasions and placed Top 3 four times. The crown is just within reach for this Eurovision powerhouse.
In 2020, they chose to send a bizarre, satirical, rave, electro-pop band called Little Big. It’s exactly the type of left-field choice that often does well in the competition.
The song itself is just mainstream enough to achieve success: it has a remarkably catchy hook and a extremely simple dance that would no doubt have been mirrored in the Eurovision stadium during the grand finale. The back-up dancer in the music video never fails to get a laugh from me.
Combining comedy with satire, this silly banger is deliciously infectious.
Uno, uno, uno (uno), dos (dos), cuatro (cuatro)
Uno, dos, tres, cuatro, cinco, seis
7 — Israel
The Song: “Feker Libi” by Eden Alene
Finally, we have perhaps the Platonic ideal of a Eurovision entry, containing many essential elements: multiple languages (English, Hebrew, Arabic & Amharic); an explosively simple pop chorus; ethnic diversity; a break-dancing climax; and magnetic stage presence from leader singer Eden Alene.
Ethiopian-Israeli artist Eden has star power to spare. Her strong vocals, explosive energy, and perfect style are impossible to look away from. The song combines her African roots with modern Israeli pop making for a feel-good, not-so-guilty-pleasure of a bop.
Tonight is our story
We celebrate the glory
We have no shame
Eurovision is a cultural moment felt across the globe, a rallying cry for queer people, an a place for uninhibited artistic expression. There is a replacement concert airing at the time of the original broadcast on May 16th, but it remains to be seen if it can capture the original magic. We’ll never know who would have reigned victorious, but at least we can set these seven songs to repeat on our Spotify playlists.
Goodbye Eurovision. We will see you in Rotterdam in 2020.