It’s been a long old road to get there, but this weekend will finally see the return of the Eurovision Song Contest.
Almost two years after Duncan Laurence gave The Netherlands its first win in more than 40 years (and one year after they put on the Eurovision: Europe Shine A Light “celebration” that we’re more than happy to leave behind in 2020), a new host of singers from around Europe and beyond are hoping they can bring home the trophy for their home countries.
Iceland and Malta were both early frontrunners (and both hail from countries that have never actually managed a Eurovision win before), while Switzerland, France and Italy have also become favourites as the competition nears.
Based on Betfair’s stats – and online chatter among Eurovision fans – here are nine of the acts and songs to keep an eye out for during this year’s live final…
Daði Og Gagnamagnið – 10 Years
Our verdict: You might remember Icelandic singer Daði Freyr from last year, when his quirky song Think About Things went viral in the lead-up to the 2020 competition which, of course, ended up being cancelled.
After being invited back for a second year, Daði’s song this time around doesn’t veer far from what made him so popular, and as you can see in the above video, he’s amped up the eccentricities in his performance by throwing everything but the kitchen sink at his staging.
Unfortunately, the road to Eurovision has not been a smooth one for Daði. After missing out on his spot last year, he’s found himself unable to perform in 2021, after one of his backing band contracted coronavirus.
However, given his first performance of the song on Icelandic TV, Daði served up yet more TikTok-ready choreo, a children’s choir that appeared from nowhere (and disappeared just as quickly) and ended with an actual confetti cannon explosion, we wouldn’t be entirely surprised if his pre-recorded performance video ended up being enough to win the whole thing for Iceland.
Destiny – Je Me Casse
Our verdict: Like Daði, Destiny (who you may remember from Britain’s Got Talent back in 2017) is another of last year’s contestants who was invited back for 2021. And while the 18-year-old was planning to bring a more simple ballad to the competition last year, she’s taking a rather different approach this time around.
Destiny will perform the empowerment anthem Je Me Casse in the final, which puts is in mind of something Lizzo might release, mixed with Fleur East’s Sax. There are moments the song verges on cheesy (hey, it is Eurovision after all!), but Destiny’s voice and personality are definitely both powerful enough that they help sell it.
And although there’ll be no shortage of uptempo tunes on the Rotterdam stage, most of them are either pop bangers or club-centric tracks, meaning Je Me Casse’s more organic sound really stands out.
Måneskin – Zitti E Buoni
Our verdict: “Rock” and “Eurovision” aren’t two musical concepts you’d immediately associate with one another, but Finnish winners Lordi and Icelandic faves Hatari both prove it can be done well at the competition.
This year, Italian rock group Måneskin are hoping their unique approach to Eurovision can help bring something unique to the contest, and so far, people seem pretty taken with them, nearing the top of the bookies’ odds in the days before the competition.
We’ll admit the first time we heard Zitti E Buoni we weren’t exactly sold, but on repeat listens, it’s actually a lot catchier than first impressions would suggest.
Barbara Pravi – Voilà
Our verdict: France have a bit of a reputation for their “unique” approach to Eurovision, having sent a fair few novelty acts through to the contest in the past. More recently, though, they’ve taken things more seriously, first with Madame Monsieur’s thought-provoking Mercy and then with Bilal’s heartwarming Roi.
In 2021, they’re giving us pure drama with Barbara Pravi’s Voilà, a somber French-language piano ballad that’s giving us the halfway point between Edith Piaf and Adele. Even when she’s singing the track on a massive stage, Barbara evokes an intimate, smoky cabaret bar with every passionate performance of Voilà we’ve seen her give so far.
To quote the great prophet Trinity The Tuck: “I don’t know what the f*** she’s saying but girl, I am living.”
Gjon’s Tears – Tout L’Univers
Our verdict: Someone else who’s giving us pure theatre with their song is Gjon’s Tears with Tout L’Univers, the second of the French-language ballads in the competition this year.
While Barbara Pravi’s Voilà’s drama is all in her vocal delivery, Tout L’Univers is more epic, with sweeping production that builds over the course of the song. Gjon’s Tears (the stage name of singer Gjon Muharremaj) does have an amazing voice too, which lives up to the song brilliantly.
Gjon has also been a favourite since before the acts even arrived in Rotterdam, so he could well be about to bag Switzerland their first win in over 30 years.
Elena Tsagrinou – El Diablo
Our verdict: Alright… did somebody ask for a banger?
Ever since Eleni Foureira’s near win in 2018, Cyprus seems determined to replicate that success with similar tracks. It started with Tamta’s (seriously underrated) Replay in 2019, and now Elena Tsagrinou’s El Diablo.
And we have to say, we’re totally here for it.
While the above clip is an almost boastful rip-off of Zara Larsson’s Love Me Land music video, the song itself is giving us Ava Max, early Lady Gaga and a touch of Little Mix. It takes a similar approach to Serbia’s Loco Loco and Moldova’s Sugar, but this is by far the strongest of the bunch.
If the Eurovision title is going to go to a straight-up bop this year, we’re hoping it’s Cyprus.
Senhit – Adrenalina
Representing: San Marino
Our verdict: By now, you might have heard about Senhit’s Adrenalina, not least because the studio version of the track features chart-topping rapper Flo Rida.
This led to much confusion about whether the man himself will be putting in an appearance on the night (egged on by Senhit herself, it has to be said), but it’s now been confirmed that Flo Rida is not just in Rotterdam, but he will, indeed, be taking to the Eurovision stage on Saturday night.
Still, Flo Rida or no Flo Rida, Adrenalina would still be a total banger, and definitely not one to be overlooked in the final. Senhit has bags of personality on her own (she just makes sense as a Eurovision winner), while the track itself puts us in mind of that post-Gaga era of pop music, when Nicki Minaj’s Starships, Alexandra Burke’s Bad Boys and Sugababes 4.0 were all circling the top of the UK charts.
Go_A – Shum
Our verdict: We’ve got three words for Shum: What a racket.
And we mean that literally. The word “shum” translates from Ukrainian as “noise”, and they are not underselling that, with the track mixing traditional “vesnianka” folk songs and avant-garde club beats.
The result is definitely going not going to be to everyone’s tastes, and we expect Shum will most likely be a bit too polarising to actually win Eurovision for Ukraine this year. But whether you love it or hate it (we definitely fall into the former camp, for what it’s worth), it’s not likely to be something you forget in a hurry – with support building among Eurovision devotees since Go_A sailed through the first of this year’s semi-finals.
James Newman – Embers
Representing: United Kingdom
Our verdict: Like a few of the returning stars from last year’s cancelled contest, James Newman took a decidedly different approach in 2021, leaving the ballads behind and contributing something a bit more like his past work with Sigala and Rudimental.
“I wanted something people can dance to, even if it’s just in their kitchen,” James recently told the BBC.
Unfortunately, as you can see from those betting odds, things are not looking good for the UK at Eurovision this year. Embers, it has to be said, is a bit of a by-the-numbers club track, that sounds somewhat less polished than some of the other uptempo tunes it’s going toe-to-toe with in 2021.
Still, we have to commend James for trying something different, and it’s been a long time since we sent an act with a song so upbeat and fun, so we’ll most certainly be cheering him on come the final.
This year’s Eurovision Song Contest live final will air on Saturday night at 8pm on BBC One.