The jury has deliberated, and the court is back in session. We’ve got our Top 10 picks from this year’s line-up of Eurovision contenders: where did we place your favourite? Did we rate it all?
We listened to every song more than a few times over to determine our ranking. We reviewed each song on these four qualitative measures: vocal ability, originality, musical composition and the vibes. The only thing we paid attention to was the song itself: we didn’t watch any music videos or live performances, and we had no knowledge of the bookkeeper favourites or the rankings of other fans and communities. We had our ears, Apple Music, and the best quality headphones that we could find—that’s it.
In reverse order, here’s our Top 10!
Sweden: Tusse — Voices
Tusse deftly carries the Eurovision torch for Sweden on this track. His voice flows effortlessly like waves over a tight composition that has songwriters Linnea Deb and Joy Deb written all over it. The production is perhaps slightly dated—by a few years, we’d say—but Tusse has the vocal stylings of The Weeknd, which brings the track forward in 2021. The layering of Tusse’s vocals over a restrained choir elevates Tusse higher still, and commands attention to the lyrics: an area of the song that could’ve done with a little more workshopping. Overall, this is a solid record that—performance dependant—has the potential for a Top 10 finish.
Serbia: Hurricane — Loco Loco
Loco Loco would be right at home on a K-pop album from ~2012: and we’re here for it! It earns acclaim for being sung (almost) entirely in Serbian, but with a melody and banger-ness that transcends language. The recorded vocals are crisp and each voice is easily distinguishable from the others. There are moments of immaculate composition: the track crescendos in a spectacular way towards the end of the song, giving Serbia the foundation to put on a big show in Rotterdam. Though, caution must be exercised, as the end of the song also requires vocal control and ability. So, we need a big, powerful crescendo as well as vocal excellence. It’s a tall order, but Hurricane can bring the house down.
Cyprus: Elena Tsagrinou — El Diablo
El Diablo is a massively slick track: its chorus is instantly memorable and formulaic, but its edges offer relief and moments of unpredictable contrast. There’s an ever-so-slight undertone of darkness and dread beneath the record’s main line and it’s this nuance where we find El Diablo just edges out Fuego as our preferred Cypriot track in a theoretical Eleni/Elena matchup. El Diablo is a clear stand-in for whatever sabotaging Judas-esque force we find in our own lives, making the track a stronger grab for the lyrical listener.
Belgium: Hooverphonic — The Wrong Place
Geike Arnaert fronts the Belgian band Hooverphonic who have a long and storied history since their late-90s formation, and they bring this cultural knowledge into their entry. Geike’s sultry and mysterious vocals capture your attention on this track, and act like a tour-guide across its many elements. It weaves through a haunting piano line and an ethereal pre-chorus and into the heights of a chorus that makes you feel like you’re rapping the sides of head to get the voices to relent and declare they’re in The Wrong Place. The act’s real test will come in Rotterdam where they’ll need to do something extra to encourage the votes their way.
United Kingdom: James Newman — Embers
This record was so, so compelling from the first listen. It is one of the few party-for-the-sake-of-party songs this year, and its presence is like a soothing salve: a salve that makes you want to jump. It is clearly at home on Top 40 radio; its universal appeal and instant likeability should assure success on the Eurovision scoreboard. James Newman is the song’s true star: his voice is luxurious and rough in the right way. Another vocalist with a more generic sound probably wouldn’t have elevated the track in the way James does. We hope the UK gets behind him, and the rest of Europe joins in: you do want to be the cool kids at the party, right?
Finland: Blind Channel – Dark Side
Blind Channel have achieved something that we’ve longed for at Eurovision: a pop-rock song that evokes all the pleasures of living as a slightly-disaffected young person in late-00s America. It’s gives us everything we wanted: gritty rock moments, hook-y pop moments and those classic slide-y nu metal vocals that make it clear what you’re listening to. It could easily be a deep cut on a record from Thousand Foot Krutch or Linkin Park. It’s retro, now, not dated, and it’s a standout among the crowd. If all this is true without a stage, we can’t even begin to imagine what the song will look and feel like in a live performance. We’re quivering at the thought.
Switzerland: Gjon’s Tears — Tout l’Univers
Gjon’s Tears gives us a masterclass in masterpieces with this record. It’s a song that’s not easily categorised: it floats between styles, paces, and atmosphere with our only North Star being Gjon’s piercing vocals. Strings and chorals combine with electronic pulses to create something that is modern and retrospective. It seems to fill the room, then the world, with chaotic discontent but ends with a solemn loneliness. There is so much scope for a stellar live performance and, depending on how that pans out, could raise interesting questions as to who may raise the Eurovision Grand Prix when all is said and done.
Bulgaria: VICTORIA — growing up is getting old
Right down the lower-case stylisations, VICTORIA is an expert is everything current in 2021. The song stands up and holds it own among its peers, including the mega-hit drivers license by Olivia Rodrigo. For this reason, the track is going to be instantly recognisable among juries and the public alike, with the potential to be ranked highly by both. It is impeccably composed and orchestrated; strings and angelic backing vocals combine to direct attention to the lyrics where one may find a common lived experience. It excels in every metric, without ever becoming over-bearing; it is an exercise in pure beauty. The magic in the track alone is pervasive, and that’s before you consider the expansive potential of a live performance. This is a rare moment for a depth of artistry and story-telling at Eurovision and we hope that Bulgaria and VICTORIA make the most of it. They’re certainly going in the right direction.
France: Barbara Pravi – Voilà
In less than three minutes, Barbara Pravi transports us to a cinematic world of French intrigue. Her voice stands alone for much of the song, but carries it—and us—on a journey clearly marked by pain and struggle. Knowing the exact words that are song is not essential: their meaning is expressly visible and clear. The parallels between Pravi and Édith Piaf are immediate and obvious. Voilà pays homage in Padam Padam without being reductive, and Pravi’s voice is almost as expressive as Piaf’s. We should never be too quick to draw comparisons between legends and our contemporaries, but we think this one is justified. Voilà is uniquely compelling at a level that few others in this year’s lineup are. We think it will be a jury darling, and has the potential to capture willing hearts in the televote.
Malta: Destiny — Je me casse
Destiny brings the ultimate package to Eurovision 2021. The record is finessed and assured: it flows between modern pop and electroswing effortlessly without ever feeling like hard work. The track opens with Destiny’s voice over a single beat line which has the effect introducing her authority and presence. It creates and solidifies a notion that this is her song, enhancing to the lyrical message of women’s empowerment, and proving that she will be a deft handler of the record’s expansive soundscape. Adding a saxophone to a track is a hit-or-miss choice, but next to Destiny, this was the right one. The question and answer style between Destiny and the vivacious saxophone is a stunning structural element that provides contrast and tension. Of course, Destiny wins this exchange with her incredible vocal supremacy on the track. She especially shines in the bridge, which is a key moment as the chorus provides little opportunity for Destiny’s vocals to really expand. The presentation of this massive record on stage will be key to Destiny’s ultimate success in Rotterdam. It is providing the foundation for success, but will Malta deliver? We think they can.
The Eurovision Song Contest 2021 will take place in Ahoy, Rotterdam in The Netherlands on 19, 21 and 23 May 2021. Eurofans in New Zealand can watch all three shows live on the official Eurovision YouTube channel, without commentary.