The below editorial features the opinions and views of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of #escYOUnited as a whole, Eurovision or the EBU. And though announcing it as such would take the sting out of the joke, this article is meant to be a light-hearted outsider’s view on the Contest.
Americans have been warned. They’re getting their own version of Eurovision. Whether it is a Transatlantic success like the Steve Carell starring version of The Office or an interstellar dumpster fire like the Craig Bierko starring version of Red Dwarf remains to be seen. But they’re getting a version of Eurovision, so they better be ready.
And what’s the best way to warm up an American to Eurovision? It’s a cliche if you’d show them clips of ABBA and Celine Dion, or go the “camp” route or use the “so bad it’s good” show reel. No, as a real fan, you start with a national selection. To use an American county fair analogy, you don’t eat the giant corn dog and go on the rides first. You start by viewing the exhibits, taking in all the jams and preserves contests, the children’s “art,” the commercial hall, and the animals first.
As the adult Eurovision is the log flume of the county fair, Junior Eurovision is the giant sculpture of butter loosely based on the theme of this year’s fair.
This 2,200 pound statue of butter (credit: American Dairy Association Mideast, Ohio State Fair) sums up Junior Eurovision’s theme of “Move the World” rather well.
So in that spirit, I decided to spring the Dutch national selection for Junior Eurovision 2020 on an unsuspecting American. The unsuspecting American is Gerald Bergen, a former music journalist, concert reviewer, and DJ. Having reviewed the likes of Blue Oyster Cult, Southern Culture on the Skids, and James Brown, and having performed sets at several Burning Man events, we let him express his thoughts on the four acts hoping to make it to Junior Eurovision 2020 on the Netherlands’s behalf. He also curates a set online every Sunday at 9 a.m. ET.
A brief disclaimer: Gerald Bergen is unfamiliar with Eurovision, other than he knows someone called ABBA won it once and his favorite entry was “My Lovely Horse.” His lack of familiarity with Eurovision is the point of this review and should be a leading indicator on how Americans may (or may not) embrace a version of Eurovision.
So here are Gerald’s thoughts on Junior Songfestival 2020, which concludes this Saturday night, September 26, 2020. The ESC United team reviews, with thoughts from actual Dutch persons and absent obscure literary references, will be out later this week.
T-Square – “Count on Me”
Basically a younger, pre-pubescent New Kids On The Block (NKOTB), they are about as threatening as a ream of copy paper and the type of band members that grandmothers would insist on pinching their cheeks at family gatherings. This band was not put together by any sort of American/Canadian impresario, because the telling point is that instead of having “the shy one/the sporty one/the outgoing one” you only can make out “the one wearing navy-blue/the one wearing beige/the one that looks like Fred Savage/etc.” It’s like setting a video of Power Rangers dunked in drab colors to music.
Also, during the playground basketball hoop section of their video, I think I heard the Dutch phrase for “one for all, all for one”, which doesn’t quite explain why the video is trying to highlight Athos, Porthos, Aramis, and D’Artangnan’s horrible jump shots.
But to the music itself: please prepare yourself, if I have to say this, for this theme to be repeated over the next several reviews of this reviewer’s “idea” of what constitutes a nation’s song, or at least the concept as I understand it.
I would generally imagine that it would be of the general notion of a folk song (updated for the tenor of modern music), delivered entirely in that nation’s tongue, seeing as it represents the country in general. Sure, some nations have long standing traditions/histories with one or more languages (Canada with English and Quebecois French; Belgium with Dutch, Flemish, and French; Switzerland with Italian, French, German, and Schwyzerdütsch, und so on).
But to hear English casually thrown around as the chorus, like some strange ornaments hanging on this particular Dutch Christmas tree? Sinterklaas has his work cut out for him. I think it’s the English chorus which apparently is universal enough across languages to get people to understand the general theme of the song (without having to resort to Dutch and running perilously close to running out of the world’s supply of Ks and Js) that is the most grating, or at least takes you out of the song.
Because that’s another song ornament that’s confusing: the chorus keeps using what I assume are primarily English words and phrases (“in the spotlight”) but then the framing in Dutch leaves me clueless…oh wait, did they say “hoot in de spotlight”? Ah, yes, small child, the heat of the spotlight creates tension without resolution. It’s like a Brecht play. YOU KNOW WHO BRECHT WAS, RIGHT?
Anyway, the video itself … well, the not on the money dance choreography also sticks out, as the Navy-Blue Power Ranger is also wayyyyyy out of step. If they were from North America, they would have served dinner there on the halfcourt after the sun went down and asked to take their marks yet again, running take after take until the level was at least as high as the 2nd best dancer from Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation tour. We’re making money here! Pain and these kids’ sleeping schedules are on the back burner! They can sleep on mattresses stuffed with guilders when they’re dead!
This review has already run rather long for my pick of the least worthy of the four; but the upshot is that the resultant national lab experiment that made T-Square is like they put a vintage boy-band into a centrifuge and somehow separated every kilogram of soul, grit, and overweening charm out of these poor fellows, making them 1) Impossibly lame, and 2) miming something that doesn’t make the mood or music that fits the language, and 3) use English as a universal…which , feh, English isn’t incredibly European nowadays.
Their whole ethos is like a Sears catalog set to music. For readers who may not be aware: the mercantile company of Sears, Roebuck at one time had an incredibly popular catalog that was famous from having everything ranging from a packet of 10 penny nails to entire houses that would show up as a train station as precut and hewn lumber and buckets of paint and roofing shingles. But by the 1970s and 80s, this catalog had been renamed the Wish Book and came out around late November, which in the back was crammed full of the toys available for that Christmas. Flashing lights! Plastic! Darts that could maim and injure!
So the kids would all skip to the back … completely bypassing the pictures of the vacuous staring child models wearing the awful clothing that you would actually get for Christmas that year.
2/10 is my score for them. Good luck out there, gentlemen.
Jackie and Janae – “It’s You and Me”
A tinkling piano, a drum machine and a … steam radiator? A overactive librarian? WHAT IS WITH THAT SHUSHING NOISE? Did they play a cymbal crash in reverse? Did someone get a flat tire?
On a stylistic note separated from the song itself: I never knew they had American-style satin sport jackets in Europe … that were tailored to the midriff … and then had “Becky” embroidered on it in a cursive script.
Becky? A nod to Taylor Swift over some relief pitcher for the New York Mets? Well: with quotation apologies to a quartet of other Europeans, who originally quoted an American who put his thoughts to shellac almost a hundred years ago:
BECKY WON’T HELP YOU, CRYING WON’T DO YOU NO GOOD.
WHEN THE POLDER BREAKS, MOMMA, YOU GOT TO MOVE.
But Jimmy Page can’t help their singing: it’s the same voice. I don’t mean that facetiously: I can’t discern a whit of difference between the two, as I assume their vocals have been Autotuned into a featureless mush with all of the hashtags and markers of their voices reduced to #tween and #woman by a collection of bits and bytes in a far-off studio. And the English comes in and breaks like a half-completed crossword puzzle against the thin music.
(As a general aside, three out of the four songs have “Me” or a cognate in the title. Is this indicative of something in the national Dutch character? I blame Queen Beatrix for abdicating 7 years ago.)
Towards the end of the song, one of the says “It’s like a perfect dream”. (Still not sure who said it.) Still, there is a sailboat in the video, so I am holding out for Michael McDonald to show up in whatever the equivalent of Dutch yacht rock is.
3/10. Nothing could be worse than T-Square.
UNITY – “Best Friends”
We open with the same slow motion walking footage that normally accompanies NFL B-roll footage before a kickoff or of the Mercury Seven, loping NASA astronauts meandering in a chittering 16mm frame towards the rocket.
They may die, you know: those Mercury Rockets weren’t that far removed from the silver Redstone Catastrophe Cigars the US Army and NASA sent upwards from the White Sands Missile Range long ago, laden with stuffed dummies and chimpanzees. To broach the atmosphere into orbit; to fall, fire blossoming from premature stage firings, or less frequently, successfully concluding by being parachuted and weightless back to the glittering white sands below.
So these ladies of an indiscriminate age (that is older than 11 and younger than 14) come loping into camera frame: a female version of “Franki Valli and Die Vier Seizoenen”: young, steady, and CHIPPER. There’s music in their soul, which is slowing down their vibrations, making the slow footage speed that much more important.
THERE WILL BE SONGS ABOUT FRIENDSHIP, AND GOOD TIMES, this slo-mo crawl says to the viewer. POSSIBLY SONGS ABOUT BOYS TOO, WE’RE STILL UNDECIDED ON THEM AS A CONCEPT.
That’s where the similarities end: having been autotuned to Venus and back, these ladies may as well have put their voices in a bowl, stirred them around, then drank the resultant UNITY punch: there’s not a whit of difference between their voices. No country twangs, nothing resembling a vocal topography, it comes out displayed on a featureless sandtable: a mere dune of mulched and pressed-loaf HAPPINESS.
And then the chorus hits: robust, thick and rich. Like coffee … but from a country that hates coffee. England? England.
The all English chorus is thin and reedy against the usual Eurobeat, jouncing back into unintelligible Dutch for the stanzas … which sounds like a state of perpetually wanting to hock a loogie but being unable to, while wearing the remnants of a trunk of clothing (sleeveless and numerous sweaters, French berets, tasteful solid pattern skirts) that was locked in a basement back in 1954, right next to a rack of canned peaches for pie filling: bright flavorful, … and golf-ready.
Yes, UNITY says, we’ll play nine after this song! And then age-appropriate drinks at the 19th hole!
The dancing is better, if only because several of the steps appear to have been nicked from an old DVD of “Riverdance”. Also, their song mentions their name, which is as subliminal as their quest for the championship goes: UNITY sings about uniting! Who can’t argue for that? Like John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt, their name is their song’s name too.
Robin – “Mee”
Well, she has her own voice as only a solo act can, with a small bit of post-production doubling to add that valuable echo.
Wearing a sequined peasant blouse that seems like it was brought back to 2020 from 2010 by Doc Brown in a bit of “Back To The Future” time traveling wardrobing, it’s all … competent, generally. Boys show up in this video, and there’s attempts at miming … tween breakups? General Dutch jocularity? We’re all in this together? Still not sure. The general theme of the video looks like Robin is sing-narrating an American ad for pharmaceuticals. “Taking ‘Mee’ may cause the onset of Hans Brinker syndrome. Do not take if you’re within 1000M of a dike.”
But there’s no English that I could discern to break up the song, and I think this helps. This is a Dutch entry; highlighting the home language against the other entries which liberally salt phrases throughout distracts from the general idea of being an entry from some other country than the UK.
No one other than the Dutch know Dutch (except in Afrikaans) … but if you don’t add any context and smile over a slightly more complicated Eurobeat, it sells the entire enterprise with a lot more elan and brio. Also, they eschewed any song noises resembling a hard glottal stop or a Kindle being thrown down a flight of stairs. Which also helped.
6/10 and my pick for winner. It’s easier to wrangle one person than the other two quartets, or the duo who sing with the same voice.
Do #YOU agree with Gerald’s views on the four acts and that some of his points on language illustrate the absurdity of some JESC rules? Or do #YOU think Eurovision is doomed to a Hindenburg-esque failure in America based on his comments?