ESC Insight’s Musical Moments Of 2019: Part One

ESC Insight’s Musical Moments Of 2019: Part One

Ellie Chalkley

‘Ne Partez Pas Sans Moi’ by Celine Dion

I knew intellectually that Celine was the queen of everything, but this was the year that I learned it in my heart.

2019 was the year that I turned my hand to event planning and together with Danny Lynch (who you also have to thank for your OGAE UK ticketing arrangements) put together a quarterly Eurovision club night in Glasgow, Scotland’s party capital. Once the phrase ‘Ne Party Pas Sans Moi‘ turned up in our shared Google Doc, there was no way we could call it anything else. An image of Celine wearing a traffic cone as a hat has become our uniquely Glaswegian logo, and we finish each edition of the event with a group singalong to Celine’s Eurovision winning song.

I love that people actually turn up and I love that they have such a good time with our quizzes, video votes, cosplay competitions and all-banger Eurodisco. Going into 2020, we’re working hard to cram more fun into each edition and I look forward to seeing you on the dancefloor on January 24th.

‘Klefi/Samed’ by Hatari

They were always going to do something, but in the end it didn’t go entirely according to plan.

Dropping their incendiary collaboration with Bashar Murad between the qualification from the first Semi Final 1 and the Grand Final appearance would have been a creative way to hijack the news cycle for their own consciousness-raising purposes, and might even have got them enough attention to upgrade that top 10 finish.

It seems like a certain level of pressure was applied to the Icelandic delegation, the message was conveyed that Hatari had exhausted the patience of the EBU and the single release was delayed until after they’d left Tel Aviv. The song is a message of steadfast resistance in the face of oppression and an explicit call for justice and freedom for the people of Palestine.

It is also an absolute banger. Music first, always?

Ewan Spence

Freaks’ by Jordan Clarke

Does a ‘Musical Moment’ count if it does not happen? I think so, because my moment was the split second of realisation that the BBC was going to take on a concept that has been mostly ignored at the Eurovision Song Contest… namely ‘The Greatest Showman‘.

Jordan Clarke’s ‘Freaks’ had all the required elements of a cracking Eurovision song; a melody with changes of pace and temp to keep viewers engaged, a bass line to fill the dance floor and bring forth the remixes, a storyline running through the three minutes, and the sentiment behind the song was clear albeit a touch heavy handed.

It was far too easy for me to picture a set of bleachers on a darkened Eurovision stage, a low angle tracking shot focused just on Clarke’s boots (James Cameron style) as he nervously paces under the bleachers, before stepping out in a burst of colour as the chorus kicks in with the full Hugh Jackman ringmaster’s outfit on. It was far too easy for everyone else to see it once I pitched the staging once the National Final songs were released.

With the opening shot of ‘Eurovision: You Decide’ I got a chill. Clarke was in the Jackman jacket. I thought to myself “blimey, this is game on!” Alas I don’t live in that universe. The identical styling of the dancers damaged the effect, the smaller studio space at Media City denied any stroytelling camera shots, and the Expert Panel made it clear who their favourite was. And it wasn’t in the Big Top.

So that’s my moment. The briefest of moments, when I saw the United Kingdom opening the Grand Final in Israel with a grainy black and white reverse angle looking out to the audience, Clarke starting the vocals, tapping the bass line with his cane, followed by a confident stride into the arena to begin the greatest show.

I Do’ by Arvingarna

‘Welcome to route number one, next destination Funsville!’

Really, that’s it. I Do‘ is one of the few Eurovision songs this year that delivered exactly what it said on the tin, with no compromises, with no dilution, it was concentrated joy in a can.

While the Melodifestivalen winner is becoming ever more predictable, the other 27 songs contribute to one of the key light entertainment shows in Sweden. Even though Arvingarna (who had already been to Eurovision in 1993) fought through Andra Chansen, it was right and proper that the energy and the enthusiasm of the dansband closed off the show in the headliner slot.

Put simply, this song was fun. Sometimes that’s all you need.

Samantha Ross

Sebi’ by Zala Kralj & Gašper Šantl

There are only a handful of moments when my musical hopes for the Eurovision Song Contest line up with my desires for the Song Contest itself on a structural level. My personal favourites rarely win, and I came to terms with that long ago. But to see an understated song that wormed its way into my heart not only beat the odds on the scoreboard, but also potentially have an effect on the Contest in later years? That’s just icing on the cake.

I adored Zala Kralj & Gašper Šantl’s ‘Sebi’ from the moment I heard it. I was drawn in by the song’s simple, ethereal production without any pretense, and a presentation so deeply intimate that I almost felt like I was violating someone’s personal space as I watched it. Digging into the message of finding beauty in weakness, and staying steadfastly by the side of someone dealing with the throes of self-doubt…I was hooked. There was something so refreshingly “no bull” about ‘Sebi’. Just two people in their own universe…everything else outside of their bubble was just background noise.

That carried over into one of my favourite moments from behind the scenes in Tel Aviv. After a blisteringly long day, capped off by a hard-fought semifinal, the post-show Qualifiers’ Press Conference was beginning to drag. The artists up on the dais were as polished as could be, smiles pasted on despite the taxing 12 hour day they had just completed. Following a question from the assembled press about potential running order spots, Gašper simply called the question “boring”, the exhaustion and annoyance written all over his face and voice. In a single moment, he had cut through the noise, and a number of other artists followed suit, applauding and rising from their chairs bemusedly, taking charge of the situation en masse and effectively ending the conference in its tracks.

Maybe it’s just a coincidence that at November’s Junior Eurovision (an event which often serves as a testing ground for policies and practices for the senior event in May), there was a much smaller emphasis placed on Press Conferences for the participants. Maybe Gašper’s brutal honesty will remind those of us in the press center to step up and come with as much of our A-Game as the artists do. But if Gašper’s throwaway remark helps make the Contest (and the processes behind the scenes that most viewers don’t catch) that much better for everyone involved, then all the better.

2000 And Whatever’ by Electric Fields

Sometimes I choose a song for this yearly article based on some deep personal meaning, or how it reflects greater trends in the contest as a whole.

This is not one of those times.

I had to put Electric Fields’ ‘2000 and Whatever’, the runner-up in this year’s Australian National Final, on the list for one simple reason… I just love it.

Zaachariaha Fielding and Michael Ross (no relation, for the record) served up a song filled with defiant, uplifting exuberance, all while stuffing language, culture, genre, and even gender expression into a blender and setting it to puree. While ‘Zero Gravity’ was polished and pretty, ‘2000 and Whatever’ felt organic and natural, like we were watching the duo at a gig, rather than at ‘Australia Decides‘ (which, granted, may have been why they were pipped to the post in the end by Kate Miller-Heidke).

Since the National Final, they’ve been racking up accolades, including a trio of National Live Music Awards, two National Indigenous Music Award nominations, and their first ARIA nod. They’re working on a full album next, but have had the time to collaborate with Norwegian fan darlings Keiino on an upcoming track. Just goes to show that you don’t need to win Eurovision to win from Eurovision.

Ben Robertson

Armanyńnan Qalma’ by Yerzhan Maksim

In November Ewan Spence and I were on location in Poland for Junior Eurovision’s seventeenth edition. This year’s show had plenty of environmental themes and a smash hit winner, but the one that I recall most is from that well-known Eurovision powerhouse, Kazakhstan.

Well, if this entry is anything to go by, they will become a powerhouse sooner rather than later.

Yerzhan Maksim is an old fashioned belter of a singer. He comes on stage all nonchalant and let’s rip with a vocal that leaves you in awe that a child could take such a big breath in the first place.

He is the perfect marriage to this song, which Junior Eurovision fans put into the ever-popular ‘Frozen’ genre. That doesn’t do it justice. This is the most ridiculous and most tasteless piece of music ever written, building up with the most overblown key changes and triplets ever known. But it’s brilliant, effective, emotive – written to induce the crowd into a spontaneous standing ovation.

It’s just so…Eurovision.

Kazakhstan threw the kitchen sink at this, with a holographic stage show and plenty of TV news coverage back home for those loyal vote-for-yourself votes. After all winning Junior Eurovision would be a whole part of Kazakhstan’s global strategy. And they nearly did it. Kazakhstan steamrolled the jury points but just fell short after Poland landslided the online vote.

Keep an eye on Kazakhstan in years to come. This is serious business.

Proud’ by Tamara Todevska

Yes, both of my choices are the winners of the Eurovision jury votes this year. And what good choices they were.

Proud’ is very much a 2019 song. The lyrics tell a story to Tamara’s daughter about the perils and pitfalls of growing up in today’s world. At a simple level we can take this as the year’s feminist anthem, and the differences between growing up as a boy or as a girl. But it’s deeper than that. The song is a call for all people to stand up against ‘them’ that dictate the way the world works today. This is a message of hope to our next generation. They can take the moral high ground, ‘stand up proudly’ and eventually create a world free to the stigma and separation that divides us.

That is certainly a message I feel stronger about today.

There’s plenty of critique around the fan community about this song winning the jury vote, that the message won rather than the song. Firstly, that’s unfair to the music here, which while isn’t going to make Radio 1 airplay has a brilliant crescendo to the final moment – this would fit well in any West End musical.

Secondly, that’s a misunderstanding in thinking the Eurovision Song Contest is just about pure music anyway. Eurovision is art, and art divides opinion. Art reflects opinion. Art fits into a modern purpose. Art tells a story in the then and now. ‘Proud‘ would likely not have won the jury vote in 2018, and would likely not win against whoever competes in 2020. ‘Proud‘ was the right song at the right time for 2019.

John Egan

‘Light On’ by Monika Marija

The Lithuanian national selection is something of a gauntlet. In any given year there are more than 20 entries, representing all sorts of musical genres, mostly produced in an extremely resource constrained environment. In fact, few of the artists who have represented Lithuania on the Eurovision stage make their living solely as performers.

In recent years LRT’s qualification record has improved: from 60 percent this decade versus 40 percent previously. This includes both of Donny Montell’s Eurovision entries. Part of Mr Montell’s graft is being a mentor on Lietuvos balsas, the Lithuanian franchise of The Voice. Montell’s done very well on the show: exactly half the winners have been from his team, including. some of his protégées who have gone on to compete in the Lithuanian national obstacle course selection. Like Monika Linkytė who performed ‘This Time’ with Vaidas Baumila in the 2015 Contest, finishing 18th in Grand Final).

But Montell’s most successful balsas protégée is Monika Marija, who won in 2017. Shortly thereafter she appeared in the 2018 Lithuanian Eurovision selection with ‘The Truth‘, which finished a respectable fourth in that year’s Lithuanian final.

In the following year she entered the song ‘Criminal’, but her track ‘Light On‘ had become the biggest radio hit in Lithuania in 2019. LRT was happy to let her compete with ‘Light On’ …if she left ‘Criminal’ in the mix as well. Despite her social media pleas asking fans to support only ‘Light On’, both songs qualified for the final.

Monika’s request to withdraw ‘Criminal‘ from the Lithuanian final was granted: most following the Lithuanian selection thought ‘Light On‘ would romp the jury and televotes (as it had in the heats and semi-finals), and quite possibly give Lithuania its first ever top five result at the Eurovision itself.

Except…the juries and public both put ‘Light On‘ second. Jurijus Veklenko’s ‘Run With The Lions’ went to Tel Aviv, missing a grand final qualification by a single point.

What happened? Perhaps the juries legitimately preferred Veklenko’s entry: it too had topped its heat and semi-final. As for the public, LRT’s YouTube channel has ‘Light On‘ on 377 thousand YouTube streams versus 279k for ‘Run With The Lions‘. In an interview with local press Audrius Giržadas, the Lithuanian Head of Delegation said ““We can’t force a singer to sing, but there are rules and sanctions in place” a few days before the national final.

It turns out that tall poppy syndrome might not be merely an anglosphere phenomenon.

‘You Make Me So Crazy’ by Markus Riva

I do not love ‘You Make Me So Crazy‘. Rather I offer it as a cautionary tale.

Markus Riva is persistent, at least. A frequent entrant in the Latvian national selection, he’s finished in the runner-up slot twice, including with ‘You Make Me So Crazy’. Would this entry have done better than Carousel’s “That Night’? Perhaps, perhaps not.

And that’s the problem.

In 2015 Riva’s ‘Take Me Down’ was clearly outclassed by Aminata’s “Love Injected’. But his was also a strong entry and had a good shot at making the Grand Final in Vienna. I would argue that ‘I Can was deserving of making the following year’s Latvian final – but again, selecting Justs’ ‘Heartbeat’ was the right call.

Generally artists aren’t encouraged to return to the Eurovision Song Contest proper if their subsequent entry isn’t better than their previous one. That principle applies to national selections as well: don’t just toss in one entry after another….because you might accidentally end up on the Eurovision stage with something rather underwhelming. We sometimes call this ‘doing a Claudia Faniello’.

Markus, mate, you’re talented. Wait until you’ve got a really strong entry. Come back with a great track, stage it well and you’ll get your moment on the Song Contest stage with something awesome.

This is ‘doing an Aminata’. Who had a good entry on 2014, but came back in 2015 with something epic, which Europe loved.

John Lucas

Arcade’ by Duncan Laurence

Well, somebody had to choose it…

The revival of Dutch fortunes has been one of the most fascinating arcs of the past decade at Eurovision. Like many Western European nations, the Netherlands had a rough ride during the mid 00s, to put it mildly. Eight consecutive non-qualifiers between 2005 and 2012 gave them the worst losing streak of the Semi Final era, until local hero Anouk stepped in to turn things around in 2013.

Duncan’s victory in Tel Aviv was the culmination of an ongoing learning process that followed. Taking risks, trusting the artist, valuing songcraft and authenticity over headline hunting. Sure, there were missteps, but the Dutch team consistently picked themselves up, held their nerve and kept their eyes on the prize. Duncan’t victory in 2019 wasn’t inevitable, but it felt all the sweeter for being so well deserved.

Victorious’ by Lina Hedlund

The health of modern Melodifestivalen remains a source of furious debate among Eurofans. Sweden’s national selection remains a ratings behemoth that consistently places them in the upper echelons of the Eurovision scoreboard, but the flattening impact of app voting, the struggle to connect with Europe’s televoters and a five-year run of male winners are all causes for concern.

One element that thankfully remains in rude health is the Swedish public’s penchant for surprises. None were more delightful to me this year than the advancement of Alcazar’s Lina Hedlund to the Grand Final, fending off youthful competition from Rebecka Karlsson, Dolly Style and Omar Rudberg in the process.

Throughout its history, Melfest has been as much about celebrating Sweden’s pop cultural identity as it has been choosing a potential Eurovision winner, so while evolution is both vital and inevitable, it’s always nice to be reminded that despite reports of the genre’s demise, the classic Schlager-pop that helped build the Contest continues to have a toehold in the affections of local viewers. Can Linda Bengtzing or Nanne Grönvall repeat the trick in 2020? Only a fool would count them out…

Ross Middleton

Mi sento bene’ by Arisa

There is an incredibly specific reason why I have chosen this song as one of my musical moments of 2019. However, before I explain the specifics, I should also point out the joys of this entry in its own right.

Mi sento bene’ was one of the few entries from Sanremo 2019 that I could get on board with straight away. With the exception of Loredana Bertѐ’s ‘Cosa ti aspetti da’ me this was the only song that instantly caught my attention upon first listen. You don’t need to speak a word of Italian to understand the joyous, upbeat nature of this song. It has a certain timeless quality, ‘Mi sento bene’ could be dropped into any of the last five decades and it would fit right in. It’s one I’ll be consistently revisiting for years to come.

There was, however, an additional factor that made it all the more enjoyable.

Try to cast your mind back to the world of Eurovision Twitter on March 9th 2017. A couple of tweets sparked my favourite total non-starter Eurovision rumour of all time… Tony Hadley was to form one half of the duo representing San Marino in Kyiv.

This rumour sent the Twitter-verse into overdrive for all of an afternoon. It very quickly became obvious it was just a fabrication and the former Spandau Ballet frontman would not be taking to the Eurovision stage. It was much to my delight, therefore, when he partnered Arisa on the Friday evening of this year’s Sanremo. Going in with high expectations it was somehow everything I was hoping for and more! The libreal flips throughout from English to Italian; the affected crooning accent on almost every vowel sound and the fantastic dancers from Kataklò all came together to form my favourite single performance of the 2019 National Final season.

We should all be so thankful to Arisa for bringing this performance into existence. It may not be the main stage in May, but it was as close as that Twitter rumour came to being true. Actually, someone get me Aly Ryan’s email… I have an idea for a San Marinese duet.

Watch a clip of the performance on Instagram.

Zero Gravity’ by Kate Miller-Heidke

After three years of fantastic internal selections (and whatever 2017 was supposed to be) Australia brought us one of the finest National Finals of last season. Australia Decides served an eclectic, quality mixture of entries staged and performed to a high standard. Whilst Electric Fields caught the attention of man (including Samantha Ross), there were fabulous entries throughout.

Whilst Sheppard’s live performance may have lacked energy (that mimed guitar playing anyone?) the studio version of On My Way is still a fun listen. Courtney Act was as entertaining as one would expect from such a charismatic performer. Leaa Nanos proved she’ll be one to watch in years to come and how Ella Hooper ended up last with an anthem like ‘Data Dust‘ is beyond me! However, there was one act that stood head, shoulders and at least two whole humans above the rest.

I was beguiled by Kate Miller-Heidke’s voice from the very first listen of ‘Zero Gravity’. There hasn’t been a popera entry from the recent Contests I haven’t fully embraced, but this one now takes the top spot. After listening time and time again in the build up to the National Final, the hot mess of the original stage concept did leave me a little worried. Whilst it was the most lavish staging on the Gold Coast something didn’t quite click. It was the start of an idea that wouldn’t be fully realised until Tel Aviv.

It wasn’t until the massive dress was ditched, three bendy poles were added and Emily Ryan & Emma Waite of Strange Fruit were brought on board that the vision finally came to life. At last, the staging actually matched the repeated refrains of “zero gravity” and “nothing holding me down”. The final ‘pull back and reveal’ and those celebratory spins over the final 40 seconds still stir the emotions even now. An acrobatic technique combined with a simple visual overlay created something truly magical on our screens. These changes took an act pilloried by many, to a Semi Final winner. Australia came good!

Whilst I adored everything above, there was something an awful lot more serious at its heart that hit home. Miller-Heidke’s lyrics detailed her experiences of, and recovery from post-natal depression. “Nothing holding me down” represented her feeling of weightlessness following her recovery as she regained her strength and motivation. At the time I was struggling with my own mental health and the lyrics really struck a chord, like no other Eurovision song I can remember. I will be forever grateful to Kate Miller-Heidke for giving me a three minute beacon of hope that also happens to be an absolute banger.

We’re Not Finished!

The call for Musical Moments went out to many of the ‘friends of the parish’ who contribute throughout the year, from Juke Box Juries and daily podcasts to articles and opinions. Want to know what they thought of the year of music? Read part two of ESC Insight’s Musical Moments Of 2019… tomorrow!

And if you want to support ESC Insight as we cover the 2020 Song Contest, please visit our Patreon page, patreon.com/escinsight.

Categories: ESC Insight


And the Best Eurovision Winner of The Decade is… ?

And the Best Eurovision Winner of The Decade is… ?

Emmelie de Forest with her 2013 winner's trophy

Should it be a recent winner like Duncan Laurence or Netta? A Eurovision classic like Euphoria? With the 2010s coming to a close, we thought we would discuss our favourite winner from the last 10 years and ask for your opinion.

From Lena’s catchy Satellite (Germany 2010) to this year’s melancholic Arcade for the Netherlands, the last decade saw stylistically diverse songs lifting the Eurovision trophy. Often, winners came from entries that dared to be different, such as Jamala’s mournful 1944 (Ukraine, 2016) or Salvador Sobral who, singing in the country’s native language, brought Portugal its first ever Eurovision victory in 2017. Half the times – in 2011, 2015, 2016, 2018, and 2019 – the professional juries did not agree with the televote on who ought to win. On the other hand, the 50-50 voting system, by not favouring popular appeal over expert preference, can be seen to have promoted musical variety since its introduction in 2009. In any case, with the decade drawing to a close, some of us here at EuroVisionary decided to pick our own favourite 2010s winners and it goes as follows:

William – Portugal 2017- Amar Pelos Dois by Salvador Sobral – ‘Music always has to evoke an emotion with me, happiness, sadness, longing for another and this song does that to me. It’s the first time I cried at a Eurovision performance, and for good reason. Salvador’s honest and touching rendition of this song makes it so much more than memorable, it makes it timeless. It was a glorious moment to see one of my favourite Eurovision countries win for the first time.’

Michael – Sweden 2012: Euphoria by Loreen – ‘This was my favourite at the time as it was so fresh and modern and seemed to take Eurovision up a level. Its constant winning ESC radios’ fave song and her rotten follow ups have kind of soured me against the song, but it is still my favourite from the last decade of winners. However last year it dropped from my 7th fave of all time, to my 46th.’

Josef – Denmark 2013: Only Teardrops by Emmelie de Forest – ‘My favourite winner of the past decade is probably Denmark 2013 and Emmelie de Forest’s Only Teardrops. That is the only song out of the winners where I had no doubts from the first time I heard the official audio. It had some mystical and magical tunes of the flute and drums and made a great impact in combination with Emmelie’s voice. If I would go year by year, I would find something good in each of the songs, but none surpasses Only Teardrops. For me, it is a pure gold, maybe rather a diamond, because it always shines so bright.’

Elvir – Sweden 2015: Heroes by Måns Zelmerlöw – ‘When I heard Heroes for the very first time, I knew it will win the whole thing. Måns Zelmerlöw is a great artist and his vocal performance, combined with very clever and powerful visual effects, was way ahead of all the other competitors in a very strong field back in 2015. After Vienna, later the same year, I was lucky to attend Måns’ concert in Copenhagen – it just conviced me once again that he is one of the greatest artists who took part in the Eurovison Song Contest.’

Theo – Austria 2014: Rise Like A Phoenix by Conchita Wurst – ‘For me, this is a well-crafted song – a beautiful melody combined with a Bond-esque musical arrangement that is reminiscent of the time of live orchestras at Eurovision. Good vocal performance, sleek staging and, at the core of it all, a strong message.’

Charlotte – Denmark 2013: OnlyTeardrops by Emmelie de Forest – ‘I might be biased as I am Danish, but in a really tough choice between Only Teardrops and Arcade, I went for the first one. The song is catchy and easy to sing along to, yet it has a delicate touch which prevents it from being “too simple” or sounding like everything else in its genre. The choreography, the drummers, the backdrop and the golden rain provides the last bit which makes this perfect to me.’

Tommy – The Netherlands 2019: Arcade by Duncan Laurence – ‘My favourite is Duncan. Simply a quality performance, a quality song and a some powerful and emotional lyrics.’

But this is us – what do you think? Feel free to vote for your favourite Eurovision winner of the last decade in the poll below!

Favourite Eurovision winner the past decade?

This reflection article is based on the author's ownpersonal experience. Views expressed belongs to him or her, and are to be seen as unrelated to EuroVisionary.com.

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Categories: Eurovisionary


Introducing Another Eurovision Tradition, Vienna’s New Year’s Day Concert

Introducing Another Eurovision Tradition, Vienna’s New Year’s Day Concert

Here’s the thing. I don’t know when I realised that the New Year’s Day concert was ‘a big cultural moment’, let alone that it had an association with the Eurovision Song Contest. With the Song Contest it’s easy to know when it all started because ‘One Step Further’ is stuck in my head as an early memory (and I have the 7-inch single from April 1982 to prove it).

For me, the Concert has always been there.

Godwin’s Law In Reverse

Of course it hasn’t always been there. Vienna has been hosting various New Year’s Concerts from 1838 with the Hofburg Court Orchestra at the Royal Palace. But the one that has lodged in the international consciousness is the Concert put on by the Vienna Philharmonic in the Golden Hall of the Musikverein Concert Hall.

December 31 1939 saw the first Concert, with the second Concert taking up the January 1st slot a year and a day later in 1941. Given the dates you might be wondering the driving force behind the first Concerts. The BBC’s Petroc Trelawny explains:

…the idea of a seasonal Strauss gala really gained traction when the Nazi party’s cultural commissars hit upon the idea of a unifying event that could be broadcast live across the Third Reich. The concert moved to New Year’s Day in 1941. …When the war ended, not a beat was missed – the concerts simply continued, their awkward history quietly forgotten.

Although the origins are rarely mentioned, the Concert itself has had an unbroken run, with the 2020 Concert representing the 81st edition.

You’re Going To Hear A Lot Of Strauss

The New Year’s Day Concert is very much at the lighter end of classical music, and is driven by a wide range of bright polkas, marches, and waltzes by Johann Strauss and his sons. As The Johann Strauss Society of Great Britain neatly sums it up, “The Strauss family was the principal contributor to the genre of Viennese light music.”

It’s not exclusively a Strauss concert, so you will hear other composers, but the majority will be Austrian, with a few notable exceptions in keeping with that year’s theme.

Getting Into The Hall

If you thought getting tickets to the Eurovision Song Contest was hard, then it’s a walk in the park compared to the New Year’s Day Concert. If you’re looking to attend then prepare to enter a ticket ballot more fraught than your OGAE fan package scramble. You need to register your interest with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra in February the year before you want to attend, and hope you are lucky. Given the huge demand from around the world, and a capacity of 1744 seats and around 300 standing places, competition is high.

"Goldener Saal" in Vienna's Musikvereinsgebäude (cc: Wikimedia / Gryffindor)

“Goldener Saal” in Vienna’s Musikvereinsgebäude (cc: Wikimedia / Gryffindor)

Prices start at 35 Euros right up to 1200 Euros for the New Year’s Day Concert. You also have the option to going to the earlier performances. The televised Concert is the last of three public performances, with a Preview Concert on December 30th and a New Year’s Eve Concert on the 31st.

Broadcasting Around The World

The New Year’s Day Concert is not only a musical tradition in Vienna, but a musical tradition around the world. Austria’s ORF produces the televised broadcast (for the 62nd time), and it has been carried over the EBU’s Eurovision network since 1969. For 2020, 42 members of the EBU will air the show, including both Belgian broadcasters (VRT and RTBF), all three Swiss broadcasters (SRF,RTS, and RSI), and Turkey’s TRT. Over 50 other broadcasters will also carry the Concert, and it is expected to bring in an audience of over 40 million viewers.

Check your local listing for details, and remember that the Concert starts at the traditional time of 11.15 CET.

The Spotters Guide To The New Year’s Day Concert

Turning to Concert itself in general, and the 2020 Concert in particular, what should you be watching out for?

The Tasteful Bling

You have to start with the Hall itself. Imagine a shoebox with perfect acoustics, with church-like pews in the stalls and a tiered gallery seating at the higher level. And gold. Lots of gold. The sort of levels o gold that seem almost Presidential. Except here it works and feels appropriate.

"Goldener Saal" in Vienna's Musikvereinsgebäude (cc: Wikimedia / Bwag_

“Goldener Saal” in Vienna’s Musikvereinsgebäude (cc: Wikimedia / Bwag_

A New Conductor

For the first forty years, only three Austrian Conductors held the baton for the show (Clemens Krauss, Josef Krips, and Will Boskovsky’s unbroken run between 1955 and 1979). Since then the conductor has changed each year, although a number of conductors have returned, notably Lorin Maazel.

In 2020, Andris Nelsons makes his debut. Born in Riga, the Latvian conductor is the current music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra

A Birthday Party For Someone Else

Of the five ‘Not-Strauss’ pieces this year, the most intriguing is going to be the first appearance of Ludwig van Beethoven in the program. To celebrate what would have been his 250th birthday this year, six of his Contredanses will be performed. These are not without an Austrian flavour though, as they were composed for the Viennese Balls while Beethovem was living in the capital city.

Some Ballet For The New Year

Where the Eurovision Song Contest has the interval act, the New Year’s Day Concert has the Ballet performances. Coming from the Vienna State Ballet (and, whisper it, recorded in August); three couples will dance to ‘Seid umschlungen, Millionen!’ (‘Be Embraced, You Millions!’) by Johann Strauss II, with two further couples dancing to the aforementioned Contradanses in Vienna’s Beethoven Museum.

The Traditional Encores

Like any good live performance the encores are planned out in advance, and tradition plays a huge part in the last twenty minutes or so of the Concert. You’re going to get three encores this year, and I can tell you about two of them, because the first encore is simply not announced.

Much like the Eurovision Song Contest fans know that when the points come to an end there will be a rousing cheer for the winner as the song is reprised; the New Year’s Day Concert fans will have the comfortable cloak of ‘The Blue Danube‘ as the second encore. Yes, that one from ‘2001: A Space Odyssey‘ (which I suspect my younger self latched on to the Concerts as a ‘thing’).

But where Kubrick is slow and leisurely, the Vienna Philharmonic inject so much pace and life into the piece it is transformed. Plus they do the full ten minute version.

And then… it’s the ‘Radetzky March‘. Put simply you either know how this one goes and what happens in the Musikverein (including an object lesson in how to conduct an audience), or you’ll fall in love with it this year.

No more spoilers, just enjoy!

Categories: ESC Insight


Eurovision Insight News Podcast: Our First National Final Winner

Eurovision Insight News Podcast: Our First National Final Winner

With the 58th edition of Festivali i Këngës complete, we have our first name for the Eurovision Song Contest 2020 to come through a National Final. But Arilena Ara is not the only news from the last week to light up the Song Contest world. Let’s go over the stories before the end of the (calendar) year festivities begin.

Eurovision Insight News Podcast: Our First National Final Winner

The latest news from the Eurovision Song Contest world; including our first National Final winner, more dates for your diary, and taking the train to Rotterdam in May. Ewan Spence and the team round up the latest news, dates, and thoughts for Eurovision 2020.

More details on Eurovision In Concert, ESPreParty, and Ne Party Pas, can be found at their respective websites.

Our Spotify playlists for Qualified Artists, Australian Artists, Estonia Artists, and Swedish Artists.

As the National Finals for Eurovision 2020 continue, stay up to date with all the Song Contest news by listening to the ESC Insight podcast. You’ll find the show in iTunes, Google Podcasts, and Spotify. A direct RSS feed is  available. We also have a regular email newsletter which you can sign up to here.

Categories: ESC Insight


Lithuania: Ieva Zasimauskaité to host Eurovizijos Atranka 2020 Green Room

Ieva Zasimauskaité

This morning in an interview on Lithuanian Television (LRT) Ieva Zasimauskaité  announced that she will be hosting Eurovizijos Atranka 2020 Green Room and gave updated information about her marriage.

She further confirmed that had she not been hosting, she would have been one of the competitors.

Ieva who represented Lithuania in 2018 in Lisbon, Portugal with the song When We’re Old gave the country a 12th place finish, which was the third best placing they have ever received. She gained lots of publicity due to bringing her husband  Marius on at the end of the song.

Sadly Ieva also revealed today that she and her husband are now living apart. At this time Ieva revealed that they are not yet talking divorce and are trying to clarify their relationship.

Ieva also previewed her latest release Praėjo.

There will also be two other as yet unannounced hosts for the contest this year which starts in January.

Below remind yourself of Ieva’s Eurovision entry When We’re Old.

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Categories: Eurovisionary


Arilena Ara wins Festivali i Këngës 58 and will represent Albania at the Eurovision Song Contest 2020

Arilena Ara wins Festivali i Këngës 58 and will represent Albania at the Eurovision Song Contest 2020

Arilena Ara

An early Christmas present came tonight with the broadcast of Albania’s Festivali i Këngës 58 where the countries Eurovision participant was selected.

After twelve excellent performances tonight from an earthquake recovering city in Tirana, Arilena Ara was chosen as the winner of this years Festivali i Këngës 58 and will go forward to represent Albania at the Eurovision Song Contest 2020 in Rotterdam, The Netherlands.


  • 1 The Show
  • 2 The Judges
  • 3 The Songs
  • 4 The Results
  • 5 Albania In The Eurovision

The Show

As per the semis, the final took place at the Pallati i Kongreseve in Tirana. Our hostess with the mostest, Alketa Vejsiu opened the show with a rousing number featuring a large drum section. She was dressed in her favourite shocking pink colour.

When it came time to introduce the songs Alketa had changed into a space age white contraption, she is indeed a fashion goddess as well as a singer, dancer, producer and host. Too much talent for one person.

For the second half, Alketa is dressed in a royal red dress fit only for a princess, or Alketa herself. She now introduces Cyprus’s Queen of Dance, Eleni Foureira, altough really she could be Albania’s Queen of Dance. Anyway along with her four female dancers in zebra print like cat suits Eleni ran through her hits including Fuego and a version of Eurythmics Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This) , Haddaway’s What Is Love and Madonna’s Like A Prayer.

For the last half of the songs Alketa is into a black slinky number, the costume budget alone must be close to bankrupting Albania. By the time Era Rusi has finished singing, Alketa has changed into yet another costume, a red coat with frills. These costumes could have their own festival themselves – wonder which one Christer liked best – Petra Mede and Katie Boyle never had this many costumes. Alketa then sang an Albanian folk song and after two hours we still await Giusy Ferreri.

Sure enough and now after two and a half hours in, Italian  seaon one X Factor runner up and Amy Winehouse influenced, Giusy appears to run us through her latest release Momenti Perfetti  – wonder if she’d consider representing Italy at Eurovision. Then of course what could be better than a duet with our fabulous host and indeed that’s what we were treated to. Finally Giusy runs through a selection of her hit singles of which she has many to choose from.

Then of course Alketa changes into yet another dress, this time,shocking pink again, for the results (we hope).

However it was not to be as next on was Ema Qazimi to give a performance. However as she has been a great supporter of the festival in the past, all is forgiven.

The Judges

The winner of the competition was chosen by a jury  composed of Christer Björkman, producer of Sweden’s Melodifestivalen and prominent Eurovision Song Contest alumni.

He was joined by Dimitris Kontopoulos, the Greek composer of such favourites as Hold Me, Azerbaijan’s entry in 2013 and You Are The Only One for Russia in 2016.

Felix Bergsson was an actor in Iceland in such films as Eleven Men Out and The Icelandic Dream before joining RUV and becoming Iceland’s Head of Delegation. Until this year Iceland had not made the finals for four years.

Mikaela Minga  is a music theorist who often leads seminars and talks about music folklore.

Finally, Rita Petro is a famous Albanian poet.

The Songs

Valon Shehu Kutia e Pandorës

The first song comes blasting on stage like a runaway train and is a great opening number to the show. Valon hasn’t really changed anything since his semi final performance. He is all in black while fire pumps out behind him. The composer Eugent Bushpepa would have been proud of this performance – a real rocker.

Sara BajraktariAjër

Nothing has changed in Sara’s performance and this is a real grower the more you hear it. It sounds a but like a sea shanty with its lilting verse and chorus. Considering Sara’s age this is a very confident performance, very much in the Balkan genre of music. Very pleasant and if Sara doesn’t win tonight there surely must be more from her in the future.

Robert BerishaAjo nuk është unë

Robert has changed into a black ensemble for tonight. The backing singers open this song which gets it off to a good start. The song has a sultry summer feel about it with prominent violins in the instrumental break. The performance may just not stand out enough to be tonight’s winner but there was nothing wrong with it either.

Tiri Gjoci –Me gotën bosh

This an extremely slow song yet still managed to feature two female dancers, one in a black dress, the other white. This type of song went out of Eurovision fashion in 1978 but no-one must have told Tiri. This is a pity as he is a very good singer. The three minute experience was pleasant enough but it doesn’t scream winner.

Bojken LakoMalaseen

Three men drawn in a row, which is unusual as there are still six ladies to come. Bojken, this time has an unfavourable draw coming later than Valon’s entry which had more life to it. Still this does sound very much like David Bowie in his Boys Keep Swinging era, and would make a good album track.

Arilena AraShaj

Huge cheers before this one even got started. This is a very standard ballad at the start of the song, albeit very well sung. However before long Arilena is belting out the notes and the orchestra gets very involved. The backing singers do very well in the chorus, which definitely brings the song to live. In her black costume Arilena uses every note in the song to show of her voice. An audience favourite for sure.

See alsoVincent Bueno will represent Austria at the Eurovision Song Contest 2020

Gena Shqiponja e lirë

Gena once again blatantly ignores the Eurovision rules by filling the stage with as many dancers as possible to get on the stage. This is similar to Valon’s opening number in style and gets the contest back on track as it was starting to get a bit boring. This probably has no chance of winning but it certainly woke everyone up with the drumming and wooaahh’s in the refrain.

Kamela IslamajMë ngjyros

A sole piano introduces this performance with Kamela in gold and white wearing a hat to remember. This is a very powerful performance but the tune isn’t that memorable, more vocal acrobats than anything but nothing wrong with that. Albania really does have a lot of great female singers.

Albërie HadërgjonajKu ta gjej dikë ta dua

This is a nice calm down again following the previous two songs. The violins are put to their full use and once again Albërie has a broadband receiver on her head. Dressed in pink and gold the performance is more than satisfactory but probably won’t be winning tonight.

Elvana GjataMe tana

Elvana is the other favourite going into this contest but is the hype overblown – we shall soon see. This is an ethnic dance number, sort of like Qele Qele and features six female dancers all in white like Elvana herself. Much dancing from them, before they are joined by two men and take over the whole stage. This will be a fine entry from Albania and the odds are that after a ballad from The Netherlands won last year, it is time for an uptempo Eurovision winner for 2020.

Olta BokaBotë për Dy

Olta is another good female Albanian singer and has some power in her voice too. This is a real belter of a ballad cleverly written to show case Olta’s voice. However with Dimitris as one of the judges, he may frown upon the box prop which is very similar to Azerbaijan 2013. Not to worry, at least Olta has had a chance at Eurovision so she may be OK stepping aside this year for someone else.

Era RusiEja Merre

This starts with a similar rhythm to last year’s Albanian entry but soon changes tempo into a rousing folk type song. There doesn’t seem to be as much buzz around this song, but there is no reason why this couldn’t be Albania’s entry this year. Lots of energy and a fine way to end the contest. Now we wait and wonder how long until we get some results.

The Results

Jonida Maliqi came on stage also in a shocking pink gown as they called on Christer to come and announce the results. Sara was announced in third place, second went to Elvan Gjata. The winner was Arilena Ara.

Albania In The Eurovision

Since their stunning debut in 2004, Albania has yet to set the Eurovision stage alight. Sure, Anjeza Shahni and Rona Nishliu did quite well coming 7th and 5th respectively in 2004 and 2012 but these two artists were the exception.

Usually Albania struggles to make the left hand side of the board, with six 16th and 17th placings.Worse on seven occasions Albania failed to qualify to the final, with the likes of Eneda Tarifa, Hersi Mutmuja and Aurela Gace all missing out.

The most fancied Albanian entry pre contest was generally accepted to be Elhaida Dani with the song I’m Alive in 2015 but she too was struck with the 17th position curse. Perhaps Albania’s luck will change this year.

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Categories: Eurovisionary

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