Cancelled but not Forgotten: the Show Must Go on for Eurovision 2020

Baku hosted the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest, which this year was due to be held in Rotterdam
Baku hosted the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest, which this year was due to be held in Rotterdam | © INTERFOTO / Alamy Stock Photo
Elise Morton

Former Commissioning Editor (Eastern Europe)

The 2020 Eurovision Song Contest may have been cancelled due to coronavirus, but that doesn’t mean would-be contestants should miss out on their moment of glory. Discover some of the best and most intriguing among this year’s entries – and have yourself a socially distant Eurovision knees-up.

It was with great sadness that die-hard Eurovision fans – along with lovers of sequins and strobe lighting – received the news that the 2020 edition of the contest would be cancelled due to the Covid-19 outbreak. The event, scheduled to take place at the Ahoy Arena in Rotterdam, was due to welcome artists from 41 countries to compete for the votes of viewers.

All is not lost, however. On the dates planned for this year’s semifinals (12 and 14 May), the official Eurovision YouTube channel is hosting a two-part Eurovision Song Celebration 2020, recognising all 41 participants and their songs. While there isn’t any official competition, there’s nothing to stop you from getting the scorecards out. Come the night of the grand final (16 May), many members of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) screen Eurovision: Europe Shine a Light, a live show broadcast from the Netherlands, featuring this year’s participants as well as special appearances from former contestants.

Constituent members of the EBU are also paying homage to the beloved contest in their own ways. The BBC, for example, is hosting a week of Eurovision-themed programming, while a number of countries, including Sweden, Norway, Iceland and Germany, will give TV viewers the opportunity to choose their Eurovision 2020 winner in their own national competition.

While it was extremely hard to narrow down, Culture Trip brings you nine of the best, catchiest and in some cases most eccentric entries of 2020 to help get you in the mood for a Euro-party.

Daði Freyr, ‘Think About Things’, Iceland

Among the hot favourites to take home the Eurovision trophy, Daði and his band Gagnamagnið went viral with their quirky electro-pop anthem Think About Things – as much for the killer dance moves as for the song itself. As well as ensuring the track sticks in your head all day, watching the music video offers some serious sweater envy, courtesy of the band’s signature mint green jumpers, adorned with 1980s video-game-esque self-portraits.

“My song is very personal. It’s about my daughter so it’s very close to my heart,” Daði says, adding that despite Eurovision being cancelled, the success of the song has had an impact on him professionally. “It has completely changed my reach. All of a sudden I have thousands of people listening which I didn’t [have] before. I’m excited to see where I can take this.”

Daði believes Eurovision still has something special to offer, even if it can’t happen in the usual way this year. “Eurovision is something Europe does together. I think that’s the strongest point of it. When I watch Eurovision I feel like I’m participating in something with the rest of Europe, I don’t feel that with anything else,” he says, encouraging the public to get into the Eurovision spirit.

When asked about his top tips for life in lockdown, Daði keeps it simple. “Take care of yourself. Learn a new skill, take time to have fun and keep active. Love yourself, because if you can’t love yourself, how in the hell are you going to love somebody else?”

Diodato, ‘Fai Rumore’ (Make Noise), Italy

Another song to do well in the original betting odds, Diodato’s Fai Rumore is one of few 2020 entries to be sung in a native language, as opposed to English, which most songs are now sung in. The pressure was on for Diodato after his predecessor, Mahmood, won second place for Italy last year with his song Soldi, but the singer can claim a more memorable prize – the sound of Italians belting out his emotional track from their balconies during lockdown.

Victoria, ‘Tears Getting Sober’, Bulgaria

Themed around mental health and trauma, Victoria’s Tears Getting Sober is very personal to the 22-year-old singer, who kicked off her career when she took part in X Factor Bulgaria in 2015. “It tells a story about overcoming your fears and pain and moving forward. We don’t speak often about the mental health problems our generation faces and this song aims to inspire them and to give them hope,” she told Eurovision.tv of her emotional track, which manages to be perturbing, ethereal, pure and gentle all at once. Many have said that, were it not for Covid-19, this could have been Bulgaria’s year.

Go_A, ‘Solovey’ (Nightingale), Ukraine

Go_A deserve some recognition (and, indeed, points) if only because the group would have been the first Ukrainian act to sing in the country’s official language at Eurovision. Their experimental track Solovey (or Nightingale) recounts a love story in rural Ukraine, combining elements of EDM and drum and bass with folk sounds.

Efendi, ‘Cleopatra’, Azerbaijan

Buddhist chanting, twerking, drum and bass, latin rhythms: Efendi’s high-energy track Cleopatra has it all. The song is also infused with Azerbaijani sounds, featuring traditional instruments such as the guitar-like oud, balaban (wind instrument) and tar (a string instrument, which made it onto the Unesco List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity). This song is worthy of the beguiling figure that is Cleopatra, the supposed femme fatale of the ancient world.

The Roop, ‘On Fire’, Lithuania

“They told me maybe I’m too old, but there’s fire in my soul,” read the lyrics of On Fire by Lithuanian pop-rock group The Roop. Fun without being kitschy, this quirky indie-pop tune is a call not to give up. “It’s about writing yourself off too quickly. We underestimate ourselves too often. We think we don’t meet some standards or that we are uninteresting, too young, too old,” lead singer Vaidotas Valiukevičius told the British magazine Radio Times. Having made it into the top 10 twice before, Lithuania will have to wait another year to attempt Eurovision victory; for now, The Roop will keep the continent dancing with their memorable dance moves.

Little Big, ‘Uno’, Russia

Hailing from St Petersburg, Russian punk-pop-rave band Little Big has gone viral with its already iconic dance moves and catchy tongue-in-cheek track. Simple but effective, the song’s chorus is a gift to teachers of level one Spanish – “Uno, dos, tres, cuatro, cinco, seis!” – while the verses keep it classy with such rhyming pairs as “It’s gonna take more than one margarita, I’m gonna call you my sweet señorita.”

Gjon’s Tears, ‘Répondez-moi’ (Answer Me), Switzerland

Having come third in Albania’s Got Talent and reaching the semifinals in the French edition of The Voice, Swiss-Albanian singer Gjon is no stranger to TV fame. Though his chance to sing live to the living rooms of Europe will have to wait, his soulful and deeply personal song Répondez-moi has already won a place in the hearts of many Eurovision fans. Exploring questions of identity and roots, the song’s lyrics draw on Gjon’s own background. “Everyone asks themselves why exactly are we here, where do we come from and where are we going? These are key questions, particularly for people from a migrant background. My parents are from Albania and Kosovo. I grew up in Switzerland, it’s my home, but these are questions that I think about a lot,” he told Eurovision.tv.

Roxen, ‘Alcohol You’, Romania

After failing to qualify for the Eurovision Grand Final in 2018 and 2019, Romania looked poised to prove that third time’s a charm, with Roxen’s Alcohol You a bookies’ favourite. Even though Roxen won’t be taking to the Eurovision stage for now, listeners can still admire her melancholic track’s lyrics – using “alcohol” interchangeably with “I’ll call” is the kind of wordsmithery we’ve come to love and expect in Eurovision – and relatable subject matter: a difficult break-up.

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