Three-Minute Throwdown: Belarus 2020 Edition

At 20:00 on Friday (CET; 22:00 Minsk time), Belarus will start its national final. The winner of the final, which can be watched on Belarusian TV channels 1 and 24 as well as the official website on the same channels, will go on to represent Belarus in Rotterdam for the Eurovision 2020 festivities, succeeding 2019 competitor and 2018 Junior Eurovision co-host ZENA.

As with all the songs in the Three-Minute Throwdown series, these songs will be listened to in one take and analyzed for musical and performance details. Stopping will be allowed; backtracking will not be allowed. Without further ado, let us begin listening and describing the music and performances!

NAPOLI – Dоn’t let me down

Did it start off with hi-hats as a count-in because she doesn’t have a click track in her ears or something? The song is in D minor. I’ll have to see if the two-cymbal count-in stays constant or just for this song, because she starts singing right after the synthesizer swells for about 2 seconds max into the verse. Interesting sunglasses indoors look and dancers with some sort of indigenous costume… last time this happened with Joan Franka (Netherlands 2012), they didn’t do so great. This presentation reminds me of “Like It” with the semi-sporty casual lead singer and two backing dancers. The part that the singer is singing in the chorus has two distinct chroma (the notes C and D) in two octaves (C5-D5-D5-D4), while the backing track adds a connective diatonic (using the notes in D minor only) run from F5 to C5. If this needs to be performed completely live in the future, the transition between the two parts needs to be smoothed out. Tresillo 3+3+2 rhythm in the chorus drums. Good dance moves, though the costumes are going to need to change, and the high run down from F5 to C5 which I think she sang around 2:30 was a lot weaker than the other vocals in the same section. Fun vibraphone (or similar struck idiophone)-driven EDM track.

Sasha Zakharik – Rocky Road

Gb major. Getting a traditional pop vibe, combining Adele, Colbie Caillat, and Michael Bublé with less organic representations of instruments (strings and likely percussion, probably the piano as well). 0:22 finishes a I-vi-ii-V progression. Piano-forward, but not a ballad by any means. The piano’s quarter-note marcato pulsing – somewhere between legato (connected) and staccato (markedly short) and emphasized in some way (though maybe not as loud as what classical music terminology may imply). Alternatively, I can imagine this alongside Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You”, albeit a bit slower. A bit repetitive… hello, modulation to Ab major. A bit middle-of-the-road, but feel-good.

Anastasia Malashkevich – Invisible

G# minor. EDM-heavy. Her voice isn’t high enough in the mix. Given the large combination of sounds, this would probably be easier to mix if the audio engineer had access to at least two instrumental tracks instead of having to fit the singer’s voice into something that already sounds good without live vocals that somehow have to fit. There wasn’t much of a build in the chorus into the interlude/breakdown… The verses include a synth bass note every first beat of 8, but they don’t last long, which leads to the verses sounding a bit top-heavy (which was probably the 2000’s habit that people most greatly rebelled against in the 2010’s in my opinion). Second chorus ends in the opposite of a build-up; hoping that the energy builds back up. It doesn’t. Oops.

CHAKRAS – La-ley-la

B minor. 6/8, piano in the background but there are a lot of extra ambient effects going on. The piano could stand to be a bit higher up in the mix. Woman on stage left is holding a bird, which might have had something to do with the sound effects I heard in the intro. Middle girl moving her arms like a bird. Solid harmonies. Stage right girl (on the left) has the most operatic vocals. OH, THESE VOCALS ARE SOMETHING ELSE. I now see that the male furthest stage left is actually filling in the lowest notes. Good mix of ethnic folk singing with operatic singing. Please, more of this in Eurovision, even if it’s the second coming of Spain’s 1968 winner La la la (Massiel). I came to watch Eurovision for musical diversity. This is the druid circle summoning a musical spirit with drums, flutes, jaw harp, and those vocals. I think the judges asked them to sing again a cappella, and they nailed it.

Anastasia Glamozda – Burning again

A minor. Some sort of flute in the background, dark. These two songs are really similar (this and the previous) in a way, but this includes trap beats and much more modern influences. The percussion is really far back in the mix in the verses, in particular the hi-hats that often are sped up at times using a note repeater. Something is off with the vocal mix between backing vocalists and Glamozda herself. Solid performance.

Anastasia Razvadovskaya – Hello

Eb minor. Synthwave possibly in the first five seconds reminds me automatically of the 80’s-based aesthetic of Atlanta-based band The Midnight. It’s a bit more updated than that given a bit more time, so more new wave, synth pop. Nice hook. The image between the backing singers and Razvadovskaya is a bit disjoint, though I do not know how much coordination there is between the artists and their backing singers before the show. Ends away from tonic.

Yarosh Yan – Fire

E major, begins on F# minor chord. Why was he looking to the right of the piano at the beginning? The piano miming is a bit cringeworthy as a pianist, which is unfortunate because it seems like he can actually play… 3/4 time signature. Epic chromatic chord substitutions. The studio should have music stands, not clipboards for the backing musicians! The Sanremo and Festivali i Këngës setups, with singers on the side with music stands, works a lot better from a musical communication and aesthetic level – the backing singers could better see visual cues from Yan. Lyrical and emotional song, though.

Angelika Pushnova – True Love

Bb minor. Starts off with acoustic-electric guitar, but I think it was recorded through the electronic output. Beginning tresillo sort of reminds me of Darin’s (Eurovision 2013 interval act; 4th place in Melodifestivalen 2010) “Tvillingen” (The twin) with the acoustic approach. Also reminds me of Michelle Branch’s “Everywhere” based on the chord progression, though this song has an extra chord in the verse chord progression (it goes Bbm – Db – Ab – Eb instead of 2 Ab chords in a row). Eb chord borrowed from Bb major. Choruses sound more like Db major due to the IV-I-V-V in the first half of the choruses (introduces the Bb minor chord instead of a second Ab (V) chord in the second half). Ends on the V chord, very dancy acoustic song.

Daria Khmelnitskaya – On Fire

Another song on fire! This song is in F# minor and starts with synthesized pizzicato strings. Thankfully, in Rotterdam, I should not be able to hear people off-stage besides the cheering, looking at you 0:07. Usually, I don’t think of songs in any F# key as particularly fiery… Internet decided to glitch, need to find where I was. The backing vocalists moving to the beat and the snapping Daria does is a bit amusing. Good build into the breakdown, but a bit too bassy and in need of different mix. The fire thing might be more believable with flaming reds on screen, but I suppose that Eurovision is not the Hunger Games.

AURA – Барані сваё (Barani svajo, Forbid them)

D major. Why is this video cut during the intro? It’s more distracting here because the bagpipe (or similar sound) was cut in the middle of the sound, not just a less-obtrusive synth pad or similar. I do see a bagpiper behind her. Verse 1 begins with muted guitar and drums. Vocal line is sung really low in her range. I’m expecting some pop rock. The female backing singers moving remind me of the backing singers in Miligram’s TV Pink (Serbia) performance of “21. Vek” with Bosnian singer Tifa. Perhaps there’s a certain aesthetic that’s common between the two regions? I don’t think Albania isn’t a good comparison because Festivali i Këngës began under the rule of dictator Enver Hoxha after breaking ties with the Soviet Union and was continually pushed toward Stalinist ideals of how light music should be according to the state. Some freedom of expression was had thanks to the power of the singers and composers to create and perform music that would be broadcast to the public, but considering a past where political enemies – including those involved in the festival – were easily made and reassigned to other parts of the country, there may still be a modicum of restraint on the Albanian side.

Back to the song! Rock vocals that are somewhat throaty. I am assuming that AURA is a group; would that mean that two of the vocalists in the back are in fact part of the main group? The girls in white t-shirts are most likely not used to the rock ethos, which I usually associate with less swaying serenity and more assertive behavior. Did the lady behind the lead singer mess up at 1:18? She looked toward the bagpiper after she was the only one to sing during that break in the lead vocals. Did they add a bagpipe solo over “oh”‘s??? It sounds like arpeggiated synth there more than anything, but it’s nice to have a good rock track once in a while. Key change for final chorus to Eb major. This song features a bVI-bVII-I cadence in major (the harmonic movement at around 0:41 and 0:54 in Hoobastank’s “Say the Same“, among other songs and instances). The ending kind of just dropped the ball of energy, and I don’t know why; otherwise, it was enjoyable.

КейСи (KeySy) – Chili Pepper

C minor. Electronic dance music vibes, not to mention lyrics mentioning “dance floor”. High energy in this dance track with – you guessed it – tresillo rhythms. Using “chili pepper” in the context of a very flirtatious track is clever. Sounds like she’s running out of breath through the song, but also helps to have a backing singer fill in like when she turned to walk away from the camera. I probably would have ended on a higher note than it did, but still fun.

VAL – Да вiдна (Da vidna, Let’s see)

C minor, electronic vibes from the onset. The beginning keyboard part plays a very slow tresillo rhythm (this is the fourth time I’ve mentioned it here, though there could be more songs with this rhythm where I was simply focusing more on other parts). Nice build-up of added synth sounds and percussion. Build went to what sounds like a chorus at 0:51, though there’s a clear low-pass filter that muffles the sound. Expecting a build maybe in the second half of the song. Way to cut out, broadcast. Solid build. Somehow, Belarus has the most solid EDM this year from what I’ve heard so far, even if the mix leaves something to be desired. Solid harmonies and construction.

Of these 12 tracks, which one was most to your taste? Leave a comment here or in social media if you’ve listened with the new knowledge!

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