They Are the Winners (Of Eurovision)

“What song could win Eurovison 2021?” 

That’s the question ESC in Context posed to a panel of contributors, with one catch. Everyone ranked the songs beforehand, and were assigned to make the case for a song they loved, some songs they liked, and a song they loathed.  

Our rationale? People who love Eurovision can find something compelling about even the weakest acts. 

Here’s your alphabetical guide to each of the 39 entries that could very well win Eurovision 2021. See if you can tell who has genuine enthusiasm for the song, and who is just making a case for the win because they were asked to do so. 

Photo credit: EBU / THOMAS HANSES

Albania: Anxela Peristeri, “Karma”

Albania is a country that sticks to its musical guns year after year, and “Karma” is one of the best examples in its arsenal. It grabs your attention from its opening dramatic flourish, and the folk ornamentations make it all the more striking. 

Anxhela Peristeri has a gorgeous vocal tone and an impressive range that juries lap up like puppies eating peanut butter. It’s the total Albanian package. –Chris

Australia: Montaigne, “Technicolour”

One constant (unfounded) criticism of Eurovision is that its music is dated. Well, try telling that to Australia’s Montaigne, who has brought the candy-coloured high energy maximalist genre to the Eurovision stage. This song is what every pop song is going to sound like two years from now. 

“Technicolour” has a bit of everything for everyone – confessional lyrics, an amazing catchphrase (style and lasers, yeah!), a convincing hook, and – most importantly – vocals for days. People think the jury overlooks bangers, but with the range and high notes that Montaigne has put in here – complete with some pretty demanding choreography – this song is likely to do well. And of course, Montaigne’s own charisma pops off the screen like, well, technicolour. –Dude

Austria: Vincent Bueno, “Amen”

At the start of his song, we find Vincent Bueno in the aftermath of a break-up, with nothing left to do but to say a begrudging requiem over the rubble. “Amen, I guess,” he sings, shrugging away his pain and trying to hide just how devastated he is. Even though he tries to play it cool, Vincent cannot prevent the song from building to a natural crescendo. By the time he reaches the bridge, it has become impossible to keep those emotions contained.

From the other party “dressed in black”, to a marching band playing “Gone Too Soon”, the ‘funeral’ metaphor is very in-your-face. But here’s the thing: you don’t hold a funeral for something that has a chance of coming back to life. When he breathes his final ‘amen’, Vincent reaches the final stage of grief: he accepts

And what a relief it ends up being. This is a story expertly told in three minutes by a remarkably sincere performer. –Jeroen

Azerbaijan: Efendi, “Mata Hari”

“Mata Hari” is the type of chaotic ethnic banger that does well at Eurovision, and the tiny powerhouse Efendi has the vocal chops to deliver it. She can belt it out, roll those ‘rs’ and look like the leader of a girl boss army while doing so. 

Azerbaijan views Eurovision as a key component of their soft power foreign policy focus, they’re relying on Efendi to hand-dance her way into the hearts of Europeans. For a first-time viewer, the “Ma-Ma-Ma-Ma” chorus is likely to stick in their head well past the time it takes to vote.

Finally, if the performance doesn’t hit the mark, Efendi has a back-up plan: engaging in a cutesy flirtation with the Norwegian contestant TIX. Much like Mata Hari, she’s using her feminine wiles to gain powerful allies – in this case, votes from Scandinavian countries. The sheer chutzpah alone shows she’s got what it takes to win. –Dude 

Photo credit: ZEB DAEMEN

Belgium: Hooverphonic, “The Wrong Place”

Dry, wry, and arch pop from the chill-out zone, I think a Belgian victory is on the card precisely because this entry is so different from those around it. The trip-hop elements may just be whispers in what is a soft-rock pop song, yet it stands for me because of its understated character. 

Belgium should win this year because it’s a subtle feminist take on the usual one-night stand pop lyric, it’s ice-cool and different, and because some people opened accounts with betting agencies just to predict this would win, so there’s a crisp fiver resting on Europe picking up the phones.  Don’t you dare to wear my Johnny Cash t-shirt! –Liam

Bulgaria: Victoria, “Growing Up is Getting Old

One could write pages about the beautifully layered production of “Growing Up Is Getting Old.” I could dedicate several paragraphs to the richly textured orchestral score that underlines Victoria’s distinctive voice, oh so delicate and airy, without ever losing its pitch-perfect precision.

But we don’t have time for that. We only get three minutes to peer into the intimate dreamscape that Victoria conjures up, and watch as she grapples with the inherent melancholia that comes with growing older.

However tempting it is to hide away when the world gets too overwhelming, time simply marches on. You may wish to curl up beside Victoria and give up, but she finishes the song by reminding us that, even when the world looks as bleak as it does now, “getting up is all you’ve got”. There’s no doubt that’s going to resonate. It’s going to sound even better at the end of her winner’s reprise. –Jeroen

Croatia: Albina, “Tick-Tock”

Croatia’s Albina is the whole pop star package: she’s got an incredible voice, killer dance moves, and a catchy song with an empowering message and an epic, get-stuck-in-your-head chorus. “Tick-Tock” is an ode to breaking free from a toxic relationship and reclaiming your power, and Albina is a mesmerizing force that viewers will be rooting for, from the slow build beginning to the explosive end of the song. –Navah

Cyprus: Elena Tsagrinou, “El Diablo”

Cyprus has become known for two things at Eurovision in recent years: female-fronted pop bangers and massive product placement in their music videos. “El Diablo” continues both of those trends as Elena Tsagrinou lends her voice to a devil that’s “hotter than sriracha.” Elena’s a talented performer who truly brings this song to life with a strong vocal backed with an overall package that’ll fit right in on today’s pop charts.

Maybe the heart we give to El Diablo is having these lyrics stuck in your head for hours on end after hearing the song. This is bound to be a strong contender to do well in the televote.  – Andrew

Czech Republic: Benny Cristo, “Omaga”

Benny Cristo of the Czech Republic brings wordplay and one line of Czech back to the contest! “Omaga” is the only song with clear panini references, but it doesn’t generate cringe or the trauma of last year’s celebrity cover of “Imagine.” 

Benny’s clever lyrics and energy will have viewers dancing in their living rooms. Let “Omaga” be the bop that marks 2021. –Delfina

Photo credit: EBU / THOMAS HANSES

Denmark: Fyr og Flamme, “Øve Os På Hinanden”

Is there a song in this year’s Eurovision that is more historically Eurovision than Fyr og Flamme’s “Øve Os På Hinanden”? 

It’s Song Contest history in a three-minute package, hearkening back to the era of language rules, mandatory orchestras, and pink and light blue neon. Fyr & Flamme are both sincere and cheeky, which makes “Øve Os På Hinanden” a playful delight. It’s an irresistible piece of ear candy wrapped up in shiny, glittery wrapping. –Chris

Estonia: Uku Suviste, “The Lucky One”

This year, Estonia is represented by singer-songwriter, Berklee School of Music graduate, and former ‘Estonian Sexiest Man Alive’ Uku Suviste. And that sentence should tell you all you need to know about the Estonian entry – it’s a heartfelt song that requires some serious vocal chops and some incredibly cut abs. Really, instead of writing a review of the song, I should just put a picture of Suviste and his ice-blue eyes right here. Editors, can we do that? (Ed: We can. Enjoy, moms!) -Dude

Photo credit: KARL SAARE

Finland: Blind Channel, “Dark Side”

Finland already has a good track record when it comes to hard rock, and Blind Channel’s brand of “violent pop” is sure to resonate with angsty teens everywhere while activating the nostalgia centers in those of us who used to frequent Hot Topic and/or brood to Linkin Park in our bedrooms. 

Plus, they put on a great show and the song invites audience participation even if you’re just watching them from your couch (put your middle fingers up! Take a shot!). At the very least, it’s a violent (ha) contrast from the large number of diva bangers at this year’s contest, so it will stand out. –Max

France: Barbara Pravi, “Voila”

If you were to ask someone to imagine a French song, chances are they might come up with something that sounds like “Voilà”. At the very least, there will be no confusion on the night as to which country it was that sent the real proper French chanson.

Barbara Pravi is a class act, channelling Jacques Brel and Edith Piaf as she pours her heart out on stage, showing vulnerability and desperation as she pleads to be seen and acknowledged. Even to those who don’t speak the language, the raw honesty on display here absolutely transcends language, in the same way that Salvador Sobral was able to enchant audiences and jury members alike with “Amar Pelos Dois” back in 2017.

“Voilà” was among the first entries to be selected this year, and even as new songs were added, it has consistently remained near the top of the betting odds. If you ask me, this year’s trophy is Barbara’s to lose. –Jeroen

Georgia: Tornike Kipiani, “You”

Could Georgia win this year? “You” bet. 

A three-minute contemplative think-piece on nature’s relationship with human feelings might not jump out at you, but just look at the evidence. It’s delicate and heartfelt, honest and chilled, all the things “Arcade” was, and at half the speed, you get more content per verse than almost any previous entries. 

I want to see Europe unite around something special, which surely means looking at the world around us, to reach out at the sun, the wind, the pretty flowers. And if you want this winning song to succeed because it sounds like John Denver’s “Annie’s Song” then it just shows what a great taste you have. -Liam

Photo Credit: Thomas Hanses/EBU

Germany: Jendrik, “I Don’t Feel Hate”

Germany is what happens when you let the TikTok youth enter Eurovision, and it’s chaotic and wild, and kind of wonderful, actually. “I Don’t Feel Hate” is a messy, three minute delight full of inclusivity, bright colors, and brighter notes, and a refusal to engage in hateful energy of any kind. Oh, and a dancing middle finger.

Some may write Jendrik off as a joke entry, but I Don’t Feel Hate has the genuine, enthusiastic energy that makes people smile, gets people talking, and gets them voting. I Don’t Feel Hate is hands-down one of the most memorable songs this year. AND it has a tap break! –Navah

Greece: Stefania, “Last Dance”

“Last Dance” would be a worthy Eurovision winner, with Dua Lipa vibes and a catchy chorus that builds from the verse into a grand central focus. It’s the kind of mature pop which is breaking out a lot right now, sounding completely on-trend. The attitude is right, the vibe is hot, the time for an all-out youthful banger moment is now. 

If the all-singing, all-dancing, Pegasus blessed video is any guide to the staging, you could struggle to name a nearest rival. -Liam

Iceland: Daði og Gagnamagnið, “10 Years”

Daði and Gagnamagnið are the same kind of geeky pop superfans as the entire Eurovision Song Contest fandom. Like all of us, they adore catchy melodies, eye-catching costumes, and dance moves that everyone can do at home. 

Every single person watching Eurovision this year is going to think to themselves, “This is exactly what I would have done if I were going to compete.” No other song provides such pure expression of the joy of making music, and it’s easy to imagine they will be rewarded for it. -Chris

Ireland: Lesley Roy, “Maps”

Don’t fall for the old rumours that RTE would prefer not winning again. Lesley Roy is an adoptive daughter of Eurovision. You can tell she loves every minute of it. 

What a winner this would be! The pounding drums take us all from the uncertainty of the last year to a wide open space of opportunity. It’s a charismatic, mature pop song, one which lifts the spirit, and the message would resonate across the continent. “Maps” is a classic in waiting, the sort of winner you sing with your arms around your friends, loving life. 

Take us back to Dublin, this “Maps” is clearly marked. -Liam

Israel: Eden Alene, “Set Me Free”

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – Eden is a STAR! That attitude, that voice, those whistle tones… Ariana Grande who? 

“Set Me Free” is an absurdly catchy tune with broad appeal that manages to show off both Eden’s voice and sparkling personality, and in those final notes she might as well be singing “I dare you not to vote for me.” Plus, that chorus will be stuck in your head after a single listen, so at the end of the night, you’re going to remember it. –Max

Photo credit: Francis Delacroix

Italy: Måneskin, “Zitti e Buoni” 

Three words: Italian glam rock. 

Lead singer Damiano, bassist Victoria, guitarist Thomas, and drummer Ethan of Måneskin swayed Italian audiences to win Sanremo, beating out former Eurovision participants. Their irresistible good looks and killer riffs will have all of Europe head-banging. “Zitti e buoni” is three minutes of contempt for comments from people who don’t know what they’re talking about. 

Damiano threatens in Italian, “if you want to stop me, try cutting off my head.” I don’t see anyone stopping Italy this year. –Delfina

Latvia: Samanta Tina, “The Moon Is Rising”

Samanta Tīna, the Queen of the Night, has arrived in Rotterdam to take her crown with “The Moon is Rising.” She matter of factly sings “you’re mesmerized. In your mind I am already idolized.” Who couldn’t be mesmerized by her? Samanta doesn’t need envy. She doesn’t need despair. She demands to follow her own rules. 

After a long road to win Latvia’s ticket to Eurovision, Samanta’s parade makes a stop in Rotterdam. This in-your-face self-empowering tune is exactly what we needed at Eurovision. –Delfina

Lithuania: The Roop, “Discoteque”

The Roop straddle the fine line between taking themselves way too seriously and not taking themselves seriously at all, which makes them so perfect for Eurovision.

“Discoteque” celebrates the cathartic release of dancing alone… without it being a euphemism for, you know, something else… that makes audiences want to jump up and pump their fists along with the band. And they made the Vulcan salute a dance move! That’s pure genius right there. –Chris

Photo Credit: Andres Putting/EBU

Malta: Destiny, “Je Me Casse”

Destiny’s no stranger to the Eurovision stage, as she won the 2015 Junior Eurovision Song Contest with her unique vocal that’s full of sass and soul. 

Five and a half years later, “Je Me Casse” sees Destiny wiser, bolder, and with zero time for dummies (nuh uh uh uh). If you can excuse her French, you’ll be treated to an anthemic vocal that evokes comparisons to the likes of Aretha Franklin and Beyonce. (Seriously, that last bridge will give you goosebumps.) By no means is this boring though as her vocals are coupled with an electro-swing instrumental highlighted by lots of saxophones and hand shimmying. It’ll be hard not to join in, and I have a hunch that Destiny’s destined for greatness once again. – Andrew

Moldova: Natalia Gordienko, “Sugar”

“I can’t explain it but something’s going on” is how Natalia Gordienko greets us to “Sugar” with her seductive crooning. She’s right as Moldova’s knack for eccentric stagings comes back with a vengeance here as the music video features Gordienko accompanied by dancing ice cream cones and *checks notes* a backing dancer who’s face ends up being a delectable rainbow cake. 

Whether you really have an idea what’s happening on stage or not, there’s no denying this energetic chorus. In a contest full of female-fronted pop, “Sugar” stands out for its borderline absurd visual identity. You’re certainly more likely to vote for a song that sticks with you long after the end of its three minutes on stage.  – Andrew

Netherlands: Jeangu Macrooy, “Birth of a New Age”

The Netherlands has found a treasure in Jeangu Macrooy. Inspired by the BLM movement, “Birth of a New Age” is an ode to marginalized people everywhere claiming their space, standing up for themselves and their rights. As Jeangu’s rich, gorgeous voice describes the efforts of the world, and colonizers, to break us down, he repeats “Yo no man broko me,” or “You can’t break me” in Sranan Togo, the language of Jeangu’s native Suriname.

The lyrics also include a repeated chorus: “Your rhythm is rebellion”. This song celebrates being the rage that melts the chains, rising up—and not just fighting back, but rising up and thriving, of taking the tools of the oppressors and using them to flourish. This stunning reclamation of power is an unforgettable standout. – Navah

North Macedonia: Vasil, “Here I Stand”

Of all the returning artists in this year’s contest, I doubt you’ll find anyone who looks happier to have finally made it to the Eurovision stage than Vasil Garvanliev. Understandably so, as he went through quite the wringer in North Macedonia when his dual citizenship seemed to momentarily jeopardize his participation.

“Here I Stand” is a brilliantly staged musical theatre ballad with a message of the “it gets better” variety. And it actually has gotten much better. Vasil’s entry last year was rather on the unremarkable side. This, however, fits him like a glove, which should be no surprise, given that he actually sat down at his piano and wrote it himself this time.

Vasil absolutely owns the stage, standing loud and proud in his own truth. Earlier this month, he came out as gay, making his story of pride in his own journey resonate even deeper. “Here I Stand” is quite literally his moment to shine. – Jeroen

Norway: TIX, “Fallen Angel”

The talented songwriter behind hits like Ava Max’s “Sweet But Psycho” has a hit of his own in “Fallen Angel.” TIX (real name: Andreas Haukeland) puts his personal struggles with mental health on full display in an ode to the person who helped him fight “all of my demons tryna tear me apart.” 

Despite the serious and potentially dark tone a song with this premise could take, “Fallen Angel” strikes a hopeful tone that encourages listeners that they can push through their fight no matter how difficult it may seem. Juries could reward him for this slickly produced song that would fit right into many radio playlists, and he certainly could replicate the overwhelming success he’s seen in Norway since launch on the country’s Spotify top 50 chart pretty much since it was revealed for the country’s Melodi Grand Prix in January. It also doesn’t hurt that you won’t be able to forget TIX’s signature angel costume and sunglasses. – Andrew

Photo credit: EBU / ANDRES PUTTING

Poland: Rafał, “The Ride”

The country of back to back Junior Eurovision victories has caught on to the love for Dua Lipa and sleek 80s sounds. Rafał Brzozowski, the man with sunglasses seemingly forever affixed to his face, is treating us to “The Ride” of our lives. One listen and the melody is stuck in your head for the rest of the day. 

When it comes down to it, Rafał’s performance will make you smile or chuckle. And honestly, who doesn’t need to smile more? –Delfina

Portugal: The Black Mamba, “Love Is On My Side”

Fans were surprised when The Black Mamba won Portugal’s national selection Festival da Canção. Never before since its debut in 1964 had Portugal selected a song that was not in Portuguese. Clearly, there had to have been something special to make Portuguese audiences warm up to a song in English for the first time.

So what’s the secret ingredient? Is it the simple, yet elegant melody that hooks itself in your brain? Is it the vintage 1950’s speakeasy vibe? Is it frontman Pedro Tatanka’s unique and smoky vocal timbre? Or is it the lyrics, which were inspired by the life story of an aging sex worker who the band met while on tour in the Netherlands?

Whatever the secret may be, don’t be surprised if “Love Is On My Side” once again ends up getting, well, more love on its side. –Jeroen

Romania: Roxen, “Amnesia”

Romania’s Roxen is not here to play. 

This stunning slow-build ballad is full of emotion, and Roxen brings both vulnerability and a powerful voice to elevate it into a resonant song that viewers won’t soon forget. The visuals of a young woman fighting her demons, standing up and finding self love in the face of a mental health crisis are unforgettable, and in a night full of upbeat bangers, this lovely emotional ballad will stand out head and shoulders above the pack. – Navah

Russia: Manizha, “Russian Woman”

A feminist anti-racist banger sung by a delightfully sassy, pro-LGBTQ+, UNCHR Goodwill Ambassador who is also a refugee? 

Russia sent this? 

Putin’s Russia?? 

Not only is Manizha an absolutely magnetic performer who is sure to steal the spotlight with incredible staging, but having this win for Russia will ironically be the biggest F*** You to Vladimir Putin that Europe could possibly send. Sure beats booing some nice Russian ladies to the point of tears, amirite? – Max

San Marino: Senhit, “Adrenalina”

“Adrenalina” is the summer anthem that Europe is crying out for after over a year of living in lockdown. Get your vaccination shots, then head to the beach to get your vodka shots! 

It’s a tightly constructed pop confection, from its serpentine synth riffs to its surprising Flo Rida cameo. Senhit’s transformation from a bland rock-pop singer into an erotic pop diva is so delightful that everyone across the continent is going to see her and wonder “Eleni Foureira who?” – Chris

Photo Credit: EBU/Thomas Hanses

Serbia: Hurricane, “Loco Loco”

You’ll hear a lot about big pop bangers this year, and if there is one country living for the moment, it’s Serbia. 

What a laugh riot it’d be for “Loco Loco” to win. A sugary, sweet, high-NRG bop, in Serbian(!), taking all the production of contemporary US female R&B and taking it through the Eurovision factory for its hyperactive revamp. I can see this winning on the back of its Little Mix-inspired visuals alone. 

Is there a better way to announce the return of normal times than through the prism of Balkan girls living their absolute best? No. – Liam

Slovenia: Ana Soklič, “Amen”

If there’s one thing being a Eurofan has taught me, it’s to never underestimate the power of a lady with big vocals. While Slovenia’s ballad “Amen” (which should really be called Hallelujah, by the way) has not received much attention in the pre-season, all of that is likely to change once the song is performed live. There’s a sort of magic that takes place when you’ve got a lone figure on a big stage who is absolutely owning the arena with her voice, and “Amen” gives powerhouse vocalist Ana the opportunity to belt it out. 

Similarly underrated performances from Austria in 2018 (Cesar, “Nobody But You”) and North Macedonia in 2019 (Tamara Todevska, “Proud”) means that Slovenia is one to watch —  especially in a year when the contest’s female vocalists mostly seem to be focused on uptempo pop bangers. – Dude

Spain: Blas Cantó, “Voy a Quedarme”

Spain 2021 presents a delicate Spanish-language ballad from Blas Cantó. “Voy a Quedarme” is a song about love, loss, and the need to stay with the people we love. Written during a time of personal loss, Blas’ delicately urges his loved one to stay with him even if the sky falls. 

His voice caresses the listener after a year of scarce human contact. All Europeans and Australians – and everyone in between tied on VPNs – can relate to the emotions without the need to understand Spanish. Expect to phone your loved ones in tears after Blas performs. “Voy a Quedarme” is the dramatic ballad to beat with goosebump-inducing instrumentation and *those* high note notes. –Delfina

Sweden: Tusse, “Voices”

Sweden comes to Eurovision with a built-in advantage, and for all our talk about them bringing plastic, soulless pop to the contest, take one look at Tusse and you’ll see that he’s far more than just a vessel for Swedish pop domination. His charm, his swagger, and his story will win over audiences across Europe just like they did in Sweden. 

“Voices” is heartfelt and has broad appeal, and there’s no way that smile is getting shafted in the televote. Add that to their likely conquest of the juries and Sweden ends up as the one to beat. –Max

Switzerland: Gjon’s Tears, “Tout L’Univers”

Although he’s lost a bit of steam in the odds to other songs in recent days, make no mistake about it: Switzerland’s Gjon’s Tears is very much in the hunt. “Tout l’univers” is bound to make Gjon’s tears yours as what starts as a steady piano ballad explodes into a supernova of sound helmed by his signature falsetto. 

It takes an interpretative take on loss, as the pain of loss goes from a slow drip to a cry from help accentuated in the music video by a literal car crash. Simply put, this song is gorgeous and one of the most technically demanding songs of the year (though you wouldn’t know it from his vocals). – Andrew

Photo Credit: Thomas Hanses/EBU

Ukraine: Go_A, “Shum”

A lot of people tune in to Eurovision to hear something they haven’t heard before, and unlike a few of us who actively seek out apocalyptic ethno-rave, your average Eurovision viewer will not have been previously exposed to the absolute chaotic delight that is Go_A. 

“Shum” is meant to start the party while also showcasing Ukraine’s unique and ancient musical traditions and really, this is exactly what Eurovision is all about. There’s a reason Ukraine is one of the most successful countries in this contest, and that will be on full display in Rotterdam. –Max

United Kingdom: James Newman, “Embers”

Why is the UK going to win Eurovision? Have you talked to any British person? Britain INVENTED popular music. She gave the world The Beatles! The Stones! Adele! Madonna! Coldplay! The only way that any other country could beat that is if they provide a pale imitation of what the UK has birthed originally. 

Seriously, though, the UK is in the middle of rebuilding its Eurovision credibility. It’s recruited an award winning singer-songwriter (who is also a cuddly teddy bear) to bring a radio-friendly, pop-hook heavy song to Rotterdam, complete with brass for days.  

Discount it at your peril, because I find that I’m quite frequently yelling “Light up the ROOM!” as this delightful earworm unspools in my brain. –Dude