A (Non) Comprehensive Eurovision 2021 Breakdown

What do ABBA, Celine Dion, and Olivia Newton-John all have in common? They’ve all competed in Eurovision! 

The Eurovision Song Contest (or just Eurovision, for short) is an international song contest that has been held annually since 1956. Participating countries submit an original song to be performed at a live, internationally broadcasted event. 

The contest today spans several days and three live performances: two semi-finals and a grand final. The winner of Eurovision is determined through a voting system with participation from each country’s jury as well as public televoting. “Big 5” countries (France, Germany, Spain, Italy, & the UK) automatically advance to the grand final. The remaining slots are filled with 10 winners from each semi-final. 

There’s decades of history, lore, and rules we could get into in this article, but all you really need to know is that over time, Eurovision has become a fantastic, kitschy, over-the-top staple of European music culture. The aesthetics of each performance push boundaries and celebrate the culture of their respective nations. 

Naturally, no cultural bastion is without controversy. Over the years, Eurovision has been accused of being political, censorship, and playing favorites. Nevertheless, the contest remains an aspiration for musicians across the world. 

Individuality is the name of the game. Some songs are in English, some in the artists’ native language, and genres range from ballads to rock anthems. Performers represent many ages, backgrounds, and gender identities. Drag queen Conchita Wurst won representing Austria in 2014, cementing Eurovision’s place in European queer culture as well. This year, each artist’s pronouns are listed in their official biography page! 

Eurovision 2021 is set to take place May 18-22 in Rotterdam, Netherlands. After the 2020 contest was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic, anticipation is higher than ever for this year’s contest. Participating countries have selected their entries (you can browse them all here), and now it’s a waiting game until the big day.  

In this writer’s humble opinion, winning Eurovision acts aren’t necessarily the “best” songs. Vocal talent is a requirement, sure, but it’s not the only thing that matters. Successful entries are a combination of stage presence, charisma, and how many votes from the general population the song is able to actually win. 

While each act this year brings something special and fun to the table, there will inevitably be a winner in the end. Here are my Eurovision 2021 acts to watch: 

1. “10 Years” by Daði og Gagnamagnið (Iceland)

 Daði Freyr and his band Gagnamagnið went viral last year for their 2020 Eurovision entry, “Think About Things.” I confess - I’ve become a massive Daði fan. They’re back to represent Iceland in 2021 with “10 Years” which is almost as catchy. Freyr’s music is inspired by his family - last year’s song was a tribute to his young daughter and this year’s song is for his wife (who plays keys in his band!). Freyr’s aesthetic is wacky and wonderful, existing in its own little alternate universe. While I don’t think this year’s entry is quite as good as last years, I’m hoping it’s enough to take Iceland into the final! 

Watch the performance here.

2. “Tout l’univers” by Gjon’s Tears (Switzerland)

Gjon Muharremaj, known by his moniker Gjon’s Tears, has made (virtual) waves with “Tout l’univers” (in English, “the whole universe”) this year. Singing in French, one of Switzerland’s four official languages, Gjon is a frontrunner in this year’s contest. This is a pretty big deal for Switzerland - they haven’t won Eurovision since ‘88! “Tout l’univers'' is one of those songs that’s just downright lovely, combining an emotional ballad and a catchy chorus. As long as the live performance and stage presence holds up with the rest of the competition, I think Switzerland will go pretty far. 

Watch the performance here.

3. “Je Me Casse” by Destiny (Malta) 

Destiny is no stranger to Eurovision - she represented Malta in 2015 at Eurovision Junior and garnered a record-winning 185 points. She’s a powerhouse with a rich, versatile voice. “Je Me Casse” is a girl-power pop song sung in English and French. It’s a dynamic Eurovision entry, catchy and upbeat with ample opportunities for dance breaks while also playing to Destiny’s vocal strengths. 

Watch the performance here.

4. “Maps” by Lesley Roy (Ireland) 

Ireland has won more times than any other country, even snagging consecutive wins in the 90’s, but has recently hit a few years of bad luck. They’ve got some of their groove back with “Maps” and Lesley Roy. The music video features sweeping shots of the Irish countryside and feels very much like a tribute to Roy’s roots. While not the most groundbreaking in terms of composition or lyrics, “Maps” has a hint of that Irish special sauce that could carry it to the top 10. 

Watch the performance here.

5. “omaga” by Benny Cristo (Czech Republic)

“omaga” is one of those songs that’s just plain fun. Benny Cristo is one of the most significant Czech artists in today’s music scene, so it makes sense that he’s this year’s Czech entry. The song is funky and fresh, with an eclectic mix of electronic beats and vocals. What elevates “omaga” is Cristo’s stage presence. If the music video is any indication, Cristo is an artist who’s not afraid to be his most over-the-top self. Promising a fun live show, Benny Cristo looks in good shape to win the Czech Republic some significant Eurovision votes. 

Watch the performance here.

6. “ZITTI E BUONI” by Måneskin (Italy) 

Made up of four band members and encompassing genres like rock, rap, and funk, Måneskin shakes things up for Italy. “ZITTI E BUONI” (which translates to “quiet and obedient”) is angsty, punky, and has been stuck in my head since I started doing research for this article. Most Eurovision songs are traditionally pop/electronic songs or adjacent ballads, which helps Måneskin stand out (although Finland submitted a more alternative song, in my humble opinion it’s not as dynamic). Fun fact: Italy comes in as the founding country of the Sanremo Music Festival which Eurovision is modeled after! 

Watch the performance here

Honorable Mentions

Montaigne gets a special shout-out from me because even though there’s no way in heck she’s getting past the semi-final, this song SLAPS. Australia is new to Eurovision (joining in 2015) and folks down under haven’t turned out to vote for their faves yet. Montaigne is such a talented artist, and “Technicolour” is one of my new favorite hype songs. 

Watch the performance here.

Compared to Manizha’s live performance, the studio cut is kinda lame. But as far as Russian-language feminist pop/rap crossover bops, this one is a good one. 

Watch the performance here.

The 80’s called, they want their Danish disco back. Fyr Og Flamme serves us a reminder of why we love Eurovision: the chaotic wild cards. 

Watch the performance here.

Oh, Senhit. “Adrenalina” is better than her last Eurovision foray. If it came on at a party I wouldn’t be mad about it. But why does Flo Rida get a featured verse?? 

Watch the performance here.

So there you have it: my non-comprehensive round-up of who I think will be among the top acts at Eurovision 2021! Obviously, I’m no expert - just a wildly fascinated spectator. But Eurovision is one of my favorite times of year, because it’s so joyous and so wacky. Drop me a line and let me know who your favorite is (or your least favorite)! Happy jamming!