Three-Minute Throwdown: Norway 2020 Edition

For the 58th edition of Melodi Grand Prix, Norway’s broadcaster NRK created a new format. On 6 January, the broadcaster released the names of the pre-qualified finalists. NRK also released the names of the four acts who would be competing on the coming Saturday for a spot in the Melodi Grand Prix final on 15 February. After five heats and five performances from each of the pre-qualified acts, the field has been set. Following the footsteps of previous national selection preview articles, all ten songs will be analyzed in more musical depth without backtracking within any song (stopping is OK). As always, previous analysis articles from all Eurovision family contests, in particular the 3-part series on “Arcade” (which is all linked in the series’ final article), may help where more in-depth explanation may be desired.

The format of this will eschew conventional prose in favor of a semi-structured stream of consciousness writing style. The pre-qualifying acts will be analyzed first, followed by the songs that qualified via live voting. Without further ado, let us begin!

Sondrey – Take My Time

Preliminary thoughts: R+B/soul artist and former sprinter Sondrey pulls influence from Michael Jackson according to Spotify. The video preview is giving me some Boris René vibes (albeit without a fedora). The song could groove. Sondrey participated in Stjernekamp, a show that pits established musicians against each other in a cover contest covering various genres through the weeks, which may suggest a blending of different singing styles as well.

Beginning with a pinwheel light pattern going counterclockwise. G# minor, begins off the tonic on the E major chord. The vocals are solid so far. EDM-laced pop with pentatonic melody so far. The brightest part of the song are the red clothes everyone is wearing. The syncopated bass is fat! Slick production. The groove picks up well after the drums and more cut out tastefully at the beginning of the second verse. The high notes are a bit hit-or-miss. Midrange sounds solid. The instrumentation in the second chorus follows the vocal rhythm when Sondrey sings with syncopation. F# in the background before the bridge changes the rhythmic and textural feel of the song. His falsetto yelp was much more strongly sung than the rest of the falsetto notes that preceded that. Beyond that, solid funktronica/dance-pop song in the footsteps of “Dance You Off”.

Didrik & Emil Solli-Tangen – Out of Air

Preliminary thoughts: Didrik represented the home crowd in 2010 with “My Heart is Yours“, placing 20th out of 25 competing entries. Younger brother Emil also received classical training. I don’t know what kind of song this is, but based on the white tree graphic I would expect the song to be more serene.

Starts off sounding like B major with a half the chords in the chord progression borrowed from minor. Chord progression is B F#m C#m Em. Each of the adjacent chords shares one common tone, which allows for there to be a source of musical connectivity despite every other chord coming from outside of B major. Goes to diatonic G# minor chords directly after: G#m F# E E. Solid C#5! You can tell that the brothers have had plenty of vocal training. These two would likely have some of the most consistent vocals bar severe illness during the Eurovision season should they succeed.

Akuvi – Som du er (As you are)

Preliminary thoughts: Norwegian-Ghanaian artist Akuvi is a newcomer to the NRK competition circuit. I heard something of hers that was particularly soulful and groovy when I searched her name.

That pinwheel seems to be a pattern through all the performances, then. G# minor. I think I heard “slide to/through my DMs”… the orange and red is really reminding me of Renaida Braun’s “All the Feels” from Melodifestivalen 2018, which was probably taken off the Melodifestivalen channel due to a large number of technical difficulties. This is markedly darker in tone and in Norwegian instead. Getting Afro-Latin dance-pop hit vibes from this. How are they going to remake the sliced vocal samples live, though?

Ulrikke Brandstorp – Attention

Preliminary thoughts: Melodi Grand Prix 2017 contestant Ulrikke is back after her EDM-influenced pop song “Places” placed fourth (no pun intended). The lighting of this piece, based on the thumbnail, is a lot warmer, probably suggesting a more organic approach this time around.

F minor. Starts off with violin and cello on stage. Despite that, this song goes back to an electronic backdrop once Ulrikke starts singing. However, it is still more acoustic in its approach. The two string instruments and Ulrikke are so distant on stage, which complements the longing for attention that Ulrikke may not be getting according to the lyrics. Odd moment to have a “dancefloor” lyric atop a stage covered by theater fog. I would probably think about a staging with backing vocalists not giving her attention or mirroring her from the furthest possible point while touching the perimeter of a circle with center mid-stage. Bittersweet ballad.

Tone Damli – Hurts Sometimes

Preliminary thoughts: Tone Damli was the runner-up in MGP 2009 to eventual Eurovision winner Alexander Rybak and also competed with Erik Segerstedt in Melodifestivalen 2013 and made the second chance round. The latter is former member of supergroup E.M.D. with Matthias Andreassen, who will be backing Albin Johnsén this coming week in Melodifestivalen; and Danny Saucedo, who came second in 2012’s Melodifestivalen with the song “Amazing”. The song she sang in 2009 reminds me of a pop country song without the twang – a cross between “Call Me Maybe” in the string arrangement and 2000’s Taylor Swift. Whatever this is will probably be more updated.

E major, 12/8. It took a while to find the beat since everything else has been simple meter (4/4). Fascinating staging props opening up to the audience from behind and then in front. Constant 3-against-2 polyrhythm from the vocal swung 4/4 (even straight 4/4 in the beginning) on top of the 12/8. This primitive midi representation attempts to show the division of the vocals, rhythmically doubled by the arbitrary auxiliary percussion. The vocals and auxiliary percussion play four times while the overall 12/8 beat, played by the rest of the percussion and accented by the hi-hat cymbal, plays six times.

Breaking down the beat. The sung melody is in turquoise (midi note names are an octave above sound), while the auxiliary percussion is on C5. The overall pulse, shown by the hi-hat, is on G#3.

I may have gone to bed before finishing analysis, so I backtracked for 4 seconds for recall purposes. Oops!

Raylee – Wild

Preliminary thoughts: Raylee was part of MGP 2015 and Stjernekamp 2014. This looks fiery, which to me suggests possibly an Afro-Latin crowd favorite, particularly from what I’ve heard among the ESC community.

B minor, starts with rather percussive and muted acoustic guitar line. High arpeggiated Bm chord flourish in a synth part. Tresillo rhythm really pops out in the chorus, although the beginning of the chorus is a bit empty outside of her singing and the periodic instrument playing in the backing track. Beginning to hear the animal metaphors in the chorus, and yes, this is an Afro-Latin crowd pleaser. I think one of the lower-mid synths is loosely based on the sound qualities of a brass instrument. Modulation to C# minor for the final chorus.

Rein Alexander – One Last Time

Preliminary thoughts: Rein is reminding me of both Reyn from Xenoblade Chronicles and an older version of Rasmussen (Denmark 2018). Could be another song hearkening back to what people consider Viking aesthetics.

G# minor. Starts with grunts on the first of 8 beats, hypothesis seems to be holding for now. His voice is so bassy and yet clear, which reminds me of basses in a cappella groups such as Avi Kaplan from Pentatonix and Club for Five. The lyrics from what I hear sound somewhat inspired by the Pagan faiths of pre-Christianized Scandinavia. This has somehow changed to a combination of those aesthetics and schlager elements like the slowly sped-up snare drum leading into the second part of the first chorus. This is somewhat like KEiiNO was a mixture of dance pop and many different vocal identities. Somehow expected this to go better with a folk metal instead route instead due to the historical ties between Viking behavior (including grunts) and metal genres with traditional masculinity, but strangely catchy.

Kristin Husøy – Pray for Me

Preliminary thoughts: Edit 13 February: I missed this too. This is what a crazy Eurovision national final grind looks like… Thanks to the people in the Eurovision Hangout Discord server who pointed it out!
Husøy is new to the process. The thumbnail doesn’t give much to look for – all lights around Husøy are gone.

G# minor. Reminding me of “Rolling in the Deep” and other songs beginning with muted acoustic guitar strumming and drums, though this adds a la-do-re-mi la-do-re-do (in solfège – check the third “Arcade” article linked above for explanation). Loaded gun lyrics, where does the prayer in the song title come in? This also reminds me of “Stones” (ZiBBZ, Switzerland 2018), which also had similar rhythms with regard to harmonic change (G#2-D#3 power chord strum seven times, then F#2-C#3 once – this pattern three times, then something else the last time). The drums were more prominent in “Stones”. Piano comes in during chorus and gives a D# chord resolving to a G#m chord. Whistling hook. Could be seen as the female response to “Take Me to Church” (Hozier) where Husøy would be an elevated (literally and figuratively) person of worship (though they may not have actually met). Second verse adds organ. The lights in this song when present are very warm – thinking sultry, but not earthy/dark-sounding like Hozier. Then again, the audio qualities could be an artifact of video compression. Not sure how I feel about the in and out again layering between the piano and organ – consistency and more upfront sound design could sell the message better. Blues scale with the D#7#9 sound made famous by the late Jimi Hendrix is featured extensively within the dissonance between the instrumental (playing the sound enharmonic to G) and Husøy’s sung F#. Could definitely bring the attitude in Rotterdam.

Magnus Bokn – Over the Sea

Preliminary thoughts: Sorry I missed this! Newcomer, but a lot of established names behind this song. Could be worth watching. Guy’s attire reminds me of Jack’s attire from Titanic, very blue-collar, seafaring, etc.

D major. Rybak would be more convincing as a fiddler, particularly on the double-stops, but he might be busy – might be worth taking him to Rotterdam if this song makes it. Very folky beginning – acoustic guitar playing capo 5, fiddle, percussion, and piano. Epic drums begin a harmonized chorus that is otherwise a cappella. Reminds me of the ending of the choruses in Kodaline’s “Brother” and the beginning chorus in Mariana Trench’s “Who Do You Love“, among others. The transition into a general programmed 4/4 beat is a bit surprising and a departure from the aesthetic of the first ~70 seconds. Mørland (Eurovision 2015; MGP 2019) has written songs like “No Firewall” with more acoustically-focused instrumentals and similar maritime aesthetics in presentation, and it might not have been a bad idea to ask Mørland to bridge JOWST’s production savvy with Rybak’s songwriting skills here. Not sure if it was intentional or just bad syncing, but the clapping was off-sync to 2 and 4. Direct modulation up to E major. Getting some Hasse Andersson “Guld och gröna skogar” vibes from the folk pop, dancing, mimed fiddling, and beat after the first verse, but this song seems less hopeful by its lyrical existentialism.

Mørland’s “No Firewall” (2015).

Liza Vassilieva – I am Gay

Preliminary thoughts: Apparently, this song was slated for a different artist, according to Pink News, but NRK asked Vassilieva, who is straight, to sing the song instead. From the get-go, this song does not really present subtlety, but it could win the attention of the very gay-friendly audience.

E major. This would definitely go well for a QX Pride Parade in Stockholm. (QX is the largest LGBT magazine publisher in Scandinavia.) It is a bit disingenuous to be singing about being LGBT while not being a member, but that’s not on her specifically. The song is bubblegum pop content, but if people are looking for the next LGBT-friendly bop, look no further. The hook is straightforward – the lyrics “I am gay” into the chorus are each sung with the same pitch (general frequency associated with E4, approximately 329.6 Hz) and length of time, then welcoming the other instruments (synth strings, synth bass, piano, percussion). Not sure if I was hearing this right but there were some drop-outs of the synth bass that sounded abnormal or unplanned, and as someone whose third instrument was bass guitar, that sounds slightly unsettling. Either the mix is weird on the TV or something might need to be done with the track and the bass part, and I’m out of listens for this track.

Out of these 10 tracks, which of these resonated the most with you? The final will happen on 15 February at 20:00 CET and can be streamed on NRK’s site.

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