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Feature: Sing Out For Eurovision 2021

The Entertainment Phenomenon is Back, Undimmed and Ready to Go

Feature: Sing Out For Eurovision 2021

This month sees the return of the Eurovision Song Contest, taking place in Rotterdam following its cancellation last year due to you-know-what. Eurovision fans are already beside themselves with excitement after waiting 24 months for a contest, but here are a few curiosities that might pique the interest of the more casual viewer - or even the uninitiated - to tune in to this year's three live shows, May 18, 20, and 22. .

It gives us hope that big entertainment events could return

Eurovision is adapting this year to fit with current Covid restrictions - in fact it's being used as an official Covid test event by the Dutch government. Performers, their entourages, technical crew, press and audience members are all limited in number and face strict safety protocols and regular testing.

There have already been several Covid-related dramas during the preparatory week. The singer of the Ukrainian band Go_A had to miss a rehearsal whilst awaiting a PCR test result after feeling unwell (she tested negative). The Polish, Icelandic, Maltese and Romanian delegations all had to quarantine and skip Sunday's opening ceremony event after people in their hotel tested positive.

Nevertheless, the stringent protocols and testing are identifying potential risks quickly, which is a hopeful sign that big, complex events such as this can be run safely in the not-too-distant future. (The closest we got to the Contest last year was the Oscar-nominated "Husavik (My Hometown)" from the film, Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga.)

There may be use of back-up "live-on-tape" or rehearsal performances

Every competing country this year was required to pre-record a "live-on-tape" performance prior to leaving for the Netherlands, in case their artist couldn't travel to Rotterdam due to Covid restrictions, or tested positive after arriving.

The only act so far confirmed to be using their live-on-tape is Australia's Montaigne with her song "Technicolour". The decision is sad for her (and unclear if it will affect public support) but it's understandable given that Australia has had almost no Covid-related deaths since October and has very strict travel rules to prevent future cases.

All other acts have now been through full rehearsals in Rotterdam. That means they can choose to insert footage from one of their on-site rehearsals into the live show if they are unable to perform live due to Covid infection.

And if you're curious to know how the live-on-tape performances differ from the live-in-Rotterdam ones, you're in luck! One week after the grand final, there'll be a special show broadcast to showcase all of the back-up performances. Eurovision nerds rejoice!

It's giving a second chance to a lot of acts

After the 2020 Eurovision was cancelled, each country had to decide whether to allow their selected artist to return in 2020 with a different song. In the end, twenty-six countries re-selected the same acts.

It could be argued that Azerbaijan has gone one step further and is sending not only the same artist, Efendi, but also an almost identical song. "Mata Hari" even cheekily name-checks "Cleopatra", which was Efendi's song for 2020.

Pre-recorded vocals are allowed for the first time

This year, acts can use pre-recorded backing vocals during live performances. Don't worry - lead vocalists and anyone with a microphone on stage must still sing live! The rule relaxation was mainly to enable countries to bring fewer performers to Rotterdam, but some artists have taken the opportunity to beef up their backing tracks.

Iceland's competitor Daði Freyr even put out a call to fans to submit vocals to be included in his song "10 Years", which in its final version features a massed choir of over 1,000 people (including yours truly - if he wins, I'm claiming a tiny part of the victory)!

As a supplementary fun fact, Germany's representative, Jendrik, also submitted a vocal for the Icelandic song, making him the first contestant to feature on two Eurovision entries for two different countries in the same year.

It's a good year for diversity and representation

2021 continues the contest's recent strong run of gender equality, with twenty female and nineteen male lead vocalists. The first semi-final will actually only feature four male lead vocals amongst its sixteen acts! Fans of female empowerment anthems can choose between "Je me casse" (roughly translating as "I'm outta here") sung by Destiny from Malta, Samanta Tina from Latvia's "The moon is rising", and "Russian Woman" by Russia's Manizha.

In addition, several performers are openly gay or queer, including Germany's Jendrik, Jeangu Macrooy from the Netherlands, Ireland's Lesley Roy and Vasil from North Macedonia. Manizha is also a vocal supporter of LGBT communities in Russia.

Eurovision has sometimes tended to be a largely white affair, but this year's acts from Sweden, Israel, Malta, San Marino, the Czech Republic, Austria, the Netherlands and Russia all represent minority ethnic groups. The 2021 Contest certainly feels like a step towards better representation in this area - let's hope the trend continues.

It's also quite a diverse year linguistically, with fifteen languages featured in the songs. Most are in English, but you'll hear a couple in French and one each in Spanish, Italian, Russian, Ukrainian, Serbian, Albanian and Danish. In fact Fyr Og Flamme, Denmark's act, are the first from their country to sing entirely in their native language since 1997. If you listen carefully, you'll also hear snippets of Croatian, Hebrew, Czech, German, Azerbaijani and even Sranan Tongo, spoken in Suriname where the Dutch contestant has roots.

There's the devil, an angel and two Amens

Feature: Sing Out For Eurovision 2021
"Fallen Angel" by Tix
photo c. Andres Putting

The show's producers have had some fun with the running order of the songs in the first semi-final, putting the Norwegian entry "Fallen Angel" by Tix directly after Elena Tsagrinou's "El Diablo", representing Cyprus [pictured up top]. See what they did there?

There are also two songs with the same title, "Amen". Both are powerful and emotive ballads, sung respectively by Slovenia's Ana Soklič in the first semi-final and Austria's Vincent Bueno in the second semi-final. But whose prayers for a place in the grand final will be answered?

It's TikTok-able

Social media users may well already be familiar with the Icelandic song (in fact Daði's 2020 song went viral globally even in the absence of the contest) and the Lithuanian entry, "Discoteque" by The Roop. Both have some quirky dance moves that TikTok-ers have delighted in learning. Rumours that Albina from Croatia named her song "Tick-Tock" after the app are, however, unconfirmed.

There's a battle of the middle fingers...

Weirdly, two songs this year mention flipping the middle finger. Blind Channel from Finland sing "Put your middle fingers up" in their angsty 'violent pop' song "Dark Side". On the contrary, positive vibes guru Jendrik from Germany declares "You can wiggle with the middle finger, it'll never wiggle back to you" in his up-tempo pop song "I Don't Feel Hate", whilst dancing around the stage with someone dressed as a giant hand (no, I'm not making this up). Watch to see what hand gestures these two entries inspire you to make...

...and battles of the pyros, pink and purple lights and massive props

Although it's nominally a song contest, Eurovision is also all about how songs are staged. Italy and Finland in particular, who have both sent songs on the rock spectrum, have blown their budgets on pyrotechnics. If you want to guarantee a post-Eurovision hangover, take a drink every time you see a song featuring a pink and purple lighting scheme, a singer performing with four dancers, or someone in a silver or fringed outfit. And if physical props are more your bag, watch out for Spain's giant inflatable moon and the UK's massive trumpets.

Will it be Flo Rida, Faux Rida or No Rida?

Finally, arguably the most suspenseful marketing campaign this year has been run by the tiny micro-state of San Marino. Back in March the Eurovision fan community collectively lost its mind when their artist Senhit released a cut of her entry "Adrenalina" featuring a segment by American rap artist Flo Rida.

Ever since, it's been a topic of hot debate whether he'll show up to perform with her during the Contest - especially since he was judging a bikini model search in Miami until 16th May (again, I'm not making this up). They've remained sassily non-committal even during press conferences and rehearsals in Rotterdam... so watch this space during the second semi-final to see whether we get Flo Rida, Faux Rida (an alternate rapper or some sort of virtual reality appearance) or No Rida!

Eurovision airs May 18, 20, 22.

Image of Elena Tsagrinou from the Cyprus entry, "El Diablo", photo c. Thomas Hanses

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