Three-Minute Throwdown: Estonia 2020 Edition

In the beginning of December, ESCtakeover reported that ERR, Estonia’s public broadcaster associated with Eurovision, had released all 24 songs competing in the Eesti Laul national final program. Two weeks after the second of two semifinals, half of the songs remain and will compete to succeed Swede Victor Crone (who is competing in Melodifestivalen this year and advanced directly to the final last week) and his song “Storm” on the Eurovision stage. Each of the 12 songs will be analyzed in full from one live take or so (the author listened to 14 songs’ studio recordings in December before the events of Festivali i Këngës transpired). In this take, musical and performance details will be analyzed for music theory, production, and arrangement tidbits, as well as comments on how these can potentially be changed in a tasteful manner.

Inger – Only Dream

Preliminary notes: Singer-songwriter. There’s whistling. His voice reminds me of a deeper Michael Rosenberg (Passenger singer) crossed with Hunter Hayes. Despite some programmed drum loops, this song is overall relatively organic in production. Cute.

Bb major, should be capo 3, and confirmed. This is still cute, though the guitar looks far less resonant than the loudspeakers make it sound. Bold colors in the background with a heart in the background overlaying a camera’s contents. Might be kind of weird if someone the singer didn’t know was in those shots… is there a kiss cam?!? I’m not sure that this would fly in Eurovision – the crowd has far less light cast upon it. Inger should develop a stage show that’s more than just him playing guitar on a bright stage should he advance forward. The highest notes he sings (Bb4 and A4) and the rest of his range (G4 downward) aren’t particularly well-connected, which results in something like a voice crack between A4 and G4 most of the time. In the long run, this technique may tire his vocal chords out.

Rasmus Rändvee – Young

Preliminary writing: The vibe I got was like from spaghetti Westerns: guitar reverb, twang, and vibrato. The intro was somehow more folky-sounding. The EDM percussion and production kicked in from verse 2 onward. There was a complete cut in sound before at least one chorus.

With the spaghetti Western guitar sound, I was expecting more cowboy hat or wild staging. Rasmus is literally sitting down with a maroon suit in a set that looks like a pink-tinted room on Valentine’s Day or something of the sort. His voice is rather nasally, and somehow his falsetto in the beginning is far more in tune than any of his chest voice.

Stefan – By My Side

This will be first listen.

C major, starts with fingerpicked acoustic guitar. Really light voice. Cello around 0:42 I think, ballad but surprisingly not a piano-driven ballad. Small string section. Add somewhat manipulated drums (added reverb and probably darker setting overall) and you have a solid emotional ballad. The one shot for extended time really worked in the beginning-middle of the song.

Synne Valtri feat. Väliharf – Majakad (Lighthouses)

Preliminary writings: Tribal drums and strings at the beginning were just an intro, and when the music started (presumably in the verse – it’s been a while since I listened), it threw me in a loop. There was a strong picked bass sound after the synth and acoustic riff in C minor. A four on the floor bass drum pattern develops after an electric guitar fill. For a schlager song, this was rather bass-heavy to the point of burying the synth parts. I made a note about a baritone singer (medium-low male voice) and wrote that it was an interesting blend of folk and schlager.

Hello accordion. The bass is way too strong for the presence of only an acoustic guitar. This could work even as a sort of “Knights of Cydonia” (Muse) or “Vampira” (Devin Townsend) sort of staging, having a sort of over-the-top quality that matches the intensity of the schlager being played, though the color scheme and attire matches the aesthetic of things around a lighthouse. Not sure if the timing around 2:19 was right or not. Overall fun, the idea can expand a bit and actual mix be fixed.

Uudo Sepp – I’m Sorry. I Messed Up

Preliminary thoughts: In this post-relationship song, the same mood stays throughout the text’s performance. There is some reverb and chorus on that guitar, with more chorus at the last line of a verse (not sure if all verses). I wrote “cute, emotional”.

C major. Very electric-guitar focused from the get-go, though this is playing a fuller arpeggio than in the pre-chorus section of “Arcade”, whose write-up contains an instrumental reconstruction of said section. The song is still very emotional, but the voice is slightly buried under the instrumentals. Feeling can be conveyed without sacrificing vocal quality; some sort of in-between would be nice. Nice LED effects, however. Would have preferred to see a guitar (much more prominent in mix) as well, them all looking away from the singer who per lyrics messed up and is probably now separated from the person he loved.

Uku Suviste – What Love Is

This will be a first listen take.

A minor. Mix between his low notes and the more subdued piano much more auspicious. Backing vocals doubling his rich baritone an octave up in a section (maybe pre-chorus) that sounds somewhat like wading slowly in water (deep and warm, but not overly dark sounding – there is some high-frequency glimmer). He sings an octave up in the chorus. I am getting some ii-V-I echoes of “No Degree of Separation” (Italy 2016, Francesca Michielin) in the chorus, though instead of the C major (I) chord, her song resolves to Am (vi). This song is more uptempo, however. Emotional and uses the light tubes for once (they remind me of the 2013 stage). Around 2:40, when he drops the octave, the sound of the instrumental (and it seems his voice) is muffled by a low-pass/high-cut filter. Would have hoped for a more interesting descant when the music picked up, but overall a solid performance.

SHIRA – Out in Space

Preliminary notes: 6/8 or 12/8 piano ballad (I don’t remember). There was a IV chord in minor (the E major chord in the context of B minor. There’s bluesy guitar, bass, drums, and strings added later. For a space song, it seemed pretty warm of a sound.

I’m hearing it as 6/8 due to how slow it is. The piano appears as a prop that somehow plays in the background while the keys are untouched… perhaps the Festivali i Këngës approach (LED of a violin) would have been even more believable. (Also, as a pianist, I believe they are best played, but alas, Eurovision regulations.) There seems to be a lot of ballads with blue tones and watery themes. The chord progression, guitar articulations, and somewhat dark sounds reminds me of a 6/8 and less upbeat version of “Wicked Game” (Chris Isaak). Blues riffing and blue backgrounds seem more suited for a song entitled “Out in Atlantis” or something to that effect, but nice to hear a 6/8 ballad once in a while.

Anett x Fredi – Write About Me

Preliminary notes: Starts with a B9sus4 chord in E major. This is a slow 6/8 ballad that reminded me of the bluesy duo Zelliack, though this song was a bit darker in sound. There was something about the song playing E major pentatonic over an F-rooted chord that I found really cool. Written in notes: “YES, BRASS ENTRANCE” and “Cool chords jazzy tune”, the latter which includes a particularly piquant Fmaj7#11 in the chorus – notes F A C E B.

The song is sounding good live! I think that this slow-dancing song could be staged more intimately (almost like “Goodbye to Yesterday” – Estonia 2015, Elina Born and Stig Rästa) to better capture the song’s text. The bass is also playing a significant part in this song, so having a staging with both bass and guitar could be nice and serve as two sides of a relationship talking to each other. That might work better than the walk down the catwalk amidst cheesy animated curves that remind me vaguely of Windows 98 screensavers crossed with the 2015 Eurovision stage design. The brass presence, yes! Solid track, would change the performance.

Jaagup Tuisk – Beautiful Lie

Preliminary thoughts: I am aware that quite a few people think that this song will win. I wrote that the harmonies were more like those of Straight No Chaser than of Pentatonix, the latter whose harmonies were a bit more elaborate. There’s an interesting interaction between the instruments and choir that reminded me of a blend of old and new. There’s a fat distorted synth bass. “Imogen Heap x Duncan Laurence”. Very dynamic.

First off, that staging thumbnail looks absolutely stunning and reminds me of the musical-esque live performance of “On It Goes” (Mikael Saari, UMK 2016). That performance, particularly during the semi-final stage, was quite impactful. Upside-down camera? Begins with solid harmonies; are they really singing, though? Hard to tell for sure, but it does sound a bit filtered, which would mean studio-treated vocals. This is difficult to watch because it’s so overwhelmingly good. This is magical. That precipitation effect was done masterfully. Wraps up with the camera returning to the upside down state of the beginning. I can see this winning everything.

Traffic – Üks kord veel

This will be the first time listening to this.

Victor and Stig, I see you! The piano rhythm sounds really familiar, almost as if it was transferred from another instrument. Almost like a simplified version of “The Nights” (Avicii) or “Groupie” (Samir + Viktor, Melodifestivalen 2015). Very warm, and the simple staging complements it. Bb minor. Has nice hooks, harmonies, and performance. Hello, Stig. Not sure if Estonia is looking for folk pop right now, but this is a possible choice.

Egert Milder – Georgia (On My Mind)

This will be the first time listening to this.

D major. It reminded me of Sam Smith if his songs had more indie producers and songwriters until the vocals came in, after which time it began to sound more like indie Coldplay crossed with Ben Folds Five. The band has worked well together to create their own indie pop-rock sound. Very laid-back singing and groove. “Georgia, Georgia, Georgia on my mind” singalong is very catchy.

Laura – Break Me

Laura Põldvere, referred to by her given name, has won the Estonian selection twice – once in the group Suntribe (selection Eurolaul) in 2005 and once with Koit Toome (1998 Estonian representative) in 2017. Neither of Laura’s entries advanced to the final.

Preliminary thoughts: Acoustic beginning in G minor changes to a powerful pop EDM ballad (can’t remember the musical context of this statement). The transition between the chorus and verse 2 is a bit muddy. There are added backing vocals and drums when compared to the beginning of verse 2, but the instrumental volume levels are still the same. I think this led me to thinking that the sound space was a bit crowded.

  • Liked: Different guitars (3, 4 with bass guitar), harmonies, solid hook, and range
  • Needs: proper live show mix, good backing vocalists, to nail high notes, something about tech… it’ll probably make sense once I listen to it.

It looked like she started off in a music video, but no, she starts off lying down on the LED floor. Fun gimmick. Wait, no, it actually was a pre-recorded gimmick! I’d have liked it more if there was more continuity between the two sections, like Robin Bengtsson’s walking in from backstage in “I Can’t Go On” transitioning between two settings. Perhaps using an LED-friendly costume like Elina Nechayeva (Estonia 2018), Wiktoria (Sweden’s Melodifestivalen, 2016), Aliona Moon (Moldova 2013), or Sabina Babayeva (Azerbaijan 2012) would work to bridge the two sections better. Her head voice notes are a bit wispy and hard to hear… I did read that this song got in on popular vote, but given the strong field, weak vocal performances are probably not going to fare well, particularly among the jury voters, which is a shame because the song’s guitar hook and overall composition is good.

Of these 12 entries, which resonated most with you and why? Feel free to leave a comment and discuss here and in our social media! The final begins at 18:30 CET on Saturday.

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