Three-Minute Throwdown: Serbia 2020 Edition

After two days of semi-finals, the stage is set for 12 songs to take the stage one last time in Belgrade for a chance to represent Serbia in Rotterdam. The third of three days of performance will be judged by both a jury and public vote and will crown one of the following songs as the successor to “Kruna” as performed by Nevena Božović in Tel Aviv. As with all other articles in the Three-Minute Throwdown series, each of these songs will be analyzed in one take for musical and performance details for greater musical enrichment. Due to RTS’ not having published all live performances at this point in time, the studio versions will be analyzed for parity.

Milan Bujaković & Olivera Popović – Niti (Threads)

E minor. Much more electronic and modern than what I’m used to from Serbia. Solid execution, particularly of the vocals, in this studio take. Curious as to if the execution of the upward run at 0:36-ish would translate live. Oh, he sings the A3..B3-D4..E4-G4..A4-B4 run a few times (it’s going up the E minor pentatonic scale). It’s strange hearing such a song in Serbia due to how much I associate their ballads with rampant melodicism – all Eurovision songs by Željko Joksimović (Serbia and Montenegro 2004; Bosnia 2006; Serbia 2008, 2012; Montenegro 2015) are strongly singable due to their melodic nature. Very down-tempo, deep-sounding and synth-driven as opposed to the more lo-fi, trap-influenced percussion and guitar present in “Sebi” (Slovenia 2019).

Hurricane – Hasta la vista

The song received a revamp from what I’ve heard, so I have linked the music video version (which is about 2 days old).

D minor. Catchy tresillo rhythms and other fun syncopated parts. A bit raunchy to say the least, plus a lot of attitude from the girls in the group, including Sanja Vučić (part of ZAA in 2016). Fun party song; not sure how much of this would be appropriate for the stage, though Hatari managed to adapt their attire to the Eurovision stage last year.

Neda Ukraden – Bomba (Bomb)

C minor. This is probably the ethno-pop I was missing… though much more pop than ethno, even if ethnic instruments can be found throughout. What hides behind all that AutoTune during the actual live performance? Trap-inspired hi-hat repeater programming. The interludes are providing the majority of the ethnic flair of this song. Male backing vocal choir chanting “bomba” from time to time. Fun, but feels really short.

Andrija Jo – Oči Meduze (The eyes of Medusa)

D minor. This definitely has ethnic influences as well, at least in the beginning. Fun EDM with many fun rhythmic things going on throughout. The blend between the female voice (unforced head voice) and the male voice parts (chest voice, and there might be some sort of either innate gruffness or some kind of piercing distortion put on the voice. There is definitely audible AutoTune going on here) leaves something to be desired. The higher synth melody around 2:35, among other places in the post-choruses, almost sounds like it wants to morph into the well-known song “Faded” (Alan Walker) but doesn’t in the end. Not sure if the song specifically sounds like what I would imagine eyes of Medusa to evoke, but cool nevertheless.

Igor Simić – Ples za rastanak (Parting dance)

Eb minor. 10 seconds in, the melody sounds rather pentatonic (singing the notes Eb-Gb-Ab-Bb-Db) over a rich Wurlitzer-like electronic piano sound with a fairly slow but apparent tremolo (a periodic change in the volume of the sound). Very heavy bass comes in, wobbling while a closed hi-hat sound slowly builds around 0:19. Good build into the chorus; the drums seem a bit detached from the rest of the sound, panned to the right, particularly the cymbals (if my headphones aren’t failing). Giving “In Too Deep” vibes with the drum-and-bass approach. Solid high notes; would love if they hold live. Soulful backing vocals in the interlude after the second chorus. Dynamic and fun mid-tempo track.

Thea Devy – Sudnji dan (Doomsday)

Not sure if the graphic shows doomsday/apocalypse/judgment day particularly well, but let’s listen. F minor. Doomsday is apparently delay-heavy guitar behind a very strong electronic beat and a bass that follows the bass drum. At this hour, this is giving me steampunk saloon imagery. That was a lot of “Da” (yes), not sure if that’s the most inventive or pleasant usage of 5-10 seconds’ worth of lyrics. At this point (second verse), getting more of a “judgment day for you and your bad decisions, boy” vibe than any religious overtones (just the allusion holds). The pre-chorus actually sounds like it’s in Ab major instead of the relative minor key, F minor (they share the same notes under natural circumstandes, just different focus), because even though there is a V-i in F minor, the fact that it occurs in the middle of the phrase as opposed to the IV-I movement (a plagal cadence) in Ab major points more strongly to Ab major. Solid dynamic increase in the chorus (which drops the title), actually. I wish the sound were a bit more open – instead of sounding contained in a DAW (digital audio workstation), that the sound would be able to open itself more fully and give a greater frequency range, particularly with the cymbal intricacies.

EJO – Trag (Trail)

B minor. FRETLESS BASS. Jazz. Ethno-jazz. Yes, please. Since even before I started the Three-Minute Throwdown series, I have spoken with some Albanians about the conflicts between Festivali i Këngës and its traditional legacy, including at the site Peizazhe të fjalës (Landscapes of Speech), and one thread of conversation led me to acquiring a CD copy of Eda Zari’s album Entropy (billed as where Byzantium meets jazz, a modern reworking of religious texts that also honors its Byzantine roots). I haven’t had the time to listen to all of it; the type of listening I do for such albums is not conducive to car listening (not to mention that my car radio is dead), but also these articles are quite time-consuming between listening, focusing, and figuring out what to write, even in one take. Just listening to parts of the faithful fusion of ideas was eye-opening.

Back to this! Nice combination of instruments. Piano definitely features prominently, but there’s some pitched drum that I can’t put my name to right now. The song must have started off with a lot of different chords disguising the actual key, D minor (there’s a bVI-bVII-I in the first 20 seconds, which is basically what happens in the intro of “Kiss from a Rose” by Seal), though there is a lot of modal interchange (alternation between the D minor and major chords). Was not quite expecting the Latin percussion to pick up around 1:00, but it’s welcome. Epic kaval (the flute whose player is cut off in the thumbnail) part around 1:28. This song grooves a lot and reminds me of “Gaur Plains (Day)” from Xenoblade Chronicles, a game I bought for the music. Key change to F minor near the end. This is really fun, though I’m not sure how well Europe has received jazz in the past…

LIFT – Samo mi kaži (Just tell me)

E minor. Starts with a pentatonic riff between the guitar and bass, likely in standard tuning. This is giving me some 70’s prog rock feelings. Interesting blend of ideas and electro-rock. Percussion going at a frenetic pace, particularly on the hi-hat cymbal, but there are quick muted guitar chord strums throughout. The bass is playing everywhere in its wide range. The choruses could stand to be heavier instead of predominantly drum-and-bass. Fun groove with indie rock-style guitar lines where they appear.

Ana Milenković – Tajna (Secret)

A minor. The beginning piano riffing (Am D) reminds me of “Earth Song” (Michael Jackson). Emphatic pressing of the two lowest A notes on a standard 88-key piano. This is the type of melodicism I think of when I think of Serbian ballads. Trap hi-hats. The violin came out of nowhere and is a bit over-amplified. I dislike the mix of that part a lot. That mix contextualizes everything else in that everything else has begun to sound too bassy and not trebly enough. The ending was kind of there, but not resolutely ending on the A that would work most stably.

Naiva – Baš, baš (Right, right)

E major. Not sure if there’s a name for the percussion pattern in the beginning of the song, but it’s in the bridge of “Cheeseburger in Paradise” (Jimmy Buffet) and the beginning of “California Heart” (Lisa Miskovsky). Brass, laid-back bass groove, overall danciness. The brass sounds synthesized or otherwise constrained in the recording, which is unfortunate given Serbia’s rich truba history. Fun accordion part. The acoustic guitar part is fun, though a bit more of the actual acoustic sound (instead of the electronic pickup recording) would be more appreciated. Sudden break into a cappella singing and clapping. Naiva’s voice has a lot of character. Solid song.

Marko Marković – Kolači (Cakes or Cookies, unsure without lyrical context)

Trumpet sighting. It starts with brass, “alright”. Fun double-time offbeat guitar strumming. Bass-heavy. Vibrato is very folky, not of a classical Western origin. A bit too much focus on beats 1 and 3 in the percussion during the verses. Ska fun times. I think I heard a siren sound effect… would usually associate these types of fun times with Moldova, but not completely out of the picture. Haven’t heard ska in Eurovision in a while.

Bane Mojićević – Cvet sa Prokletija (Flower from Prokletije, Bjeshkët e Nemuna in Albanian)

F minor. The beginning humming reminded me vaguely of “Misty Mountains” from The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey before the synths and production elements came into play. Is this the second coming of Željko? The guitar sounds remind me of 90s rock ballads like “I Will Remember” by Toto. The mix isn’t ideal, but the execution is otherwise just like a Željko production for Eurovision: key change, sonorous lead singer with a very melodic part, solid backing harmonies, a woodwind instrument backing, the works. This is actually the type of Balkan ballad that drew me to Eurovision.

Of these 12 songs, which ones do you see faring the best? The stage drama is set to unfold at 21:00 CET on RTS 1 and RTS SVET. The stream can be accessed by international viewers through RTS Planeta:

  • On desktop: Click on the red “Пријавите се” (Log In) button and register (Региструјте се бесплатно.) Tabbing through the form will go through the fields First Name, Last Name, Email, and Password. Accept the Terms of Service, activate your account, and log-in. Choose the free subscription package on top. On the “Live TV” tab, click RTS SVET (РТС СВЕТ) and disable any ad-blocking software.
  • On mobile: the RTS Planet app is downloadable on the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store. An unofficial Beovizija account has a Twitter thread on how to watch the show.

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