Eesti Laul begins for another year on Thursday, as the selection process for Estonia’s Eurovision 2019 entry gets underway. Twelve acts will take part in the first semi-final of the competition, with a number of familiar faces, including Tanja and Birgit in The Swingers, Urban Symphony’s Sandra Nurmsalu and the return of Stefan from last year’s runners-up, Vajé. Victor Crone’s entry will also see a familiar name in the credits with Stig Rästa contributing to “Storm”.

With all of this in mind, what did our editors think of this year’s crop of Estonian talent? Let’s see with the first twelve sets of reviews…

The Swingers – High Heels in the Neighbourhood

James – 6 – “If Electric Velvet tanked in Vienna in 2015, I don’t think this neo-swing number will fare much better no matter how many former Eesti Laul participants you stuff into it (Birgit Sarrap, Mihkel Mattisen and Tanja Mihhailova). Despite all the talent involved, it doesn’t quite work as a cohesive piece. A good trumpet solo, some nice piano flourishes, and it’s an upbeat number performed by singers who can work a crowd, but it has that supergroup flatness to it where the product is less than the sum of its parts.”

Jordan – 2 – “I’m sorry but this is just silly. I know this will have fans and Tanja and Birgit are Eurovision veterans, but this just feels like an embarrassment for them to me. This gives them no credibility at all and I can’t take them seriously. This just isn’t good.”

Sean – 7 – “Well this is certainly interesting. Tanja and Birgit are back with The Swingers and it’s a complete sea change from their two previous entries, but I’m pleasantly surprised. The strained saxophone reminds me a little of the South African producers Goldfish crossed with Ariana Grande and Iggy Azalea’s “Problem”, and while the lyrical content isn’t great, it’s an underrated sound and I can appreciate this upbeat swing-pop number!”

Total – 15

Marko Kaar – Smile

James – 7 – “If Adam Levine was a bit more buff, a bit less of an a%&hole, and dressed like a financial analyst, you’d have Marko. Marko got the memo that the best way to get over being jilted or slighted is to just smile, and the infectious smile on the dance floor will get people to come to you. “Smile” is a little too generic though – it’s a dance pop song we’ve heard on many a national selection contest before. With a bit more thrust and less Maroon 5, Marko would have a sure-fire bet here.”

Jordan – 5 – “I like his voice. He has a really nice tone, but this song doesn’t really suit him in my opinion. It feels like there is just too much going on and in the music video he does come across as a little creepy. This isn’t bad by any means but in a competition as strong as this it doesn’t stand out at all.”

Sean – 7 – “I get a little bit of a Jüri Pootsmann vibe from Marko, so I need to see how comfortable he is with this song on stage before I make a judgement on him. But the song is a nice summery electropop anthem with a catchy hook and is sure to have the audience dancing and swaying along with Kaar and his dancers. My only issue is that with this copying the current musical trends, will many other countries be trying a similar tactic?”

Total – 19

xtra basic & Emily J – Hold Me Close

James – 7 – “A contemporary American pop number ala Demi Lovato or Ariana Grande. Lacks the distinctiveness of Jennifer Cohen’s “Little Baby El” in this semi-final, and I am curious to see how well Emily’s vocal delivery works on stage. I am skeptical, but if she can pull it off, it should do well. All told, a very slick, modern Western-facing pop song.”

Jordan – 7 – “I like this. Yes, it is basic and a bit middle of the road but overall it has potential. Emily J has a great voice and the song is current and would work in today’s market. The pop drop in the chorus won’t appeal to that many people but I feel it works here and doesn’t detract from the track. This is a good effort.”

Sean – 8 – “If I didn’t know this was an Eesti Laul entry I wouldn’t at all be shocked to hear this on the radio – it sounds like a Galantis, Marshmello or 3LAU produced track, and this type of future house track would be a breath of fresh air in Eurovision. Emily J’s voice is very mature and suits this style of music well, although the song may perhaps be too Westernised in its sound to truly represent Estonia.”

Total – 22

Johanna Eendra – Miks sa teed nii?

James – 8 – “An intriguing newcomer, with a dark, brooding ballad with contemporary pop style. A lot is muttered about the returnees to Eesti Laul, but I find that some of the newcomers are blowing them out of the water with impressive vocals and excellent song choice. Johanna is no exception here.”

Jordan – 8 – “I really like this! This is modern and contemporary, and she has an excellent voice. I get some people may not like the vocal chops, but I think it really works in this song and the Estonian language is beautiful. I don’t see this winning, but I will definitely be putting this song on my Spotify playlist!”

Sean – 5 – “Can’t really work out what this song is trying to be. Kudos for using the great Estonian language but, is this meant to be some kind of emotive pop ballad or something else? It’s a strange mix of styles for me and while Johanna Eendra sells it well, I can’t put my finger on what’s odd about this on to me.”

Total – 21

Stefan – Without You

James – 3 – “What a dirge. Both musically and lyrically. Stefan’s got a decent voice, but it is wasted on a joyless song with cliched break-up lyrics “Life goes on like a radio track!” “Without you I feel like I’m drowning!” And then there’s “But baby tell me please is he better than I?” As my Uncle Rick, serial dater and Monster Truck rally attendee would say, “boy, if you have to ask that question, you know the answer is yes!””

Jordan – 8 – “This was the song I was most looking forward to hearing when the songs were released. I loved Vajé’s entry last year and I expected something in the same vain. This isn’t quite as good but it’s still a very strong song. I think this is very underappreciated. I feel if this is performed well it could be a massive contender.”

Sean – 7 – “Stefan has a great voice and it’s good to see him taking another crack at Eesti Laul after coming close last year. This is an interesting take on the traditional piano ballad with the emotion and pain of the verses replaced with thumping drum beats, angst and attitude in the choruses. If he can belt out the vocals like we hope he can, Stefan could be another strong contender this year.”

Total – 18

Sandra Nurmsalu – Soovide puu

James – 9 – “Sandra Nurmsalu from Urban Symphony is back, and this is awesome! “Randajad” was fantastic back in 2009, and this slightly more subdued, more New Age influenced song could do the business in 2019. This is not as bombastic as “Randajad” was with the pronounced violin parts, but this more folky, almost-Celtic tinged approach displays incredible maturity and is a great platform for Nurmsalu to strut her voice. The song could do with a little lift at the end, but this is my 12 points for Eesti Laul.”

Jordan – 6 – “Okay, before I get into what I think, I understand that this is a beautiful song and Sandra has an outstanding voice. I can’t get enthused by this for whatever reason or another. And being a chef myself, hearing a title like “Soovide Puu” makes think of the cooking poop in a water bath… It’s just unfortunate. I wish Sandra the best though as she is an excellent singer.”

Sean – 6 – “Wow, does Sandra not age? She’s back in Eesti Laul a whole decade after reinventing Estonia in Moscow, and once again she brings a dramatic, enchanting track that highlights the strong local musicality of Estonia. It does get a little samey towards the end, but this is a sweet track that I’m sure will have many fans.”

Total – 21

Jennifer Cohen – Little Baby El

James – 8 – “Sounds like contemporary American pop ala Ariana Grande, which is no surprise given this is written with American musicians Chris Hierro and Robert L. Smith (who has worked with Lady Gaga). This is surely one of the favorites for victory at Eesti Laul, and well placed to be a dark horse in Tel Aviv. The downfall could be in the staging, as with some of these videos it’s hard to see how they’ll translate from the almost homey, personal videos they’ve prepared for Eesti Laul to a grand stage.”

Jordan – 7 – “I love her voice, she has some serious sass in it and it’s great. I like the song too. It’s not necessarily a song I would listen to regularly but for what it is it’s good. I don’t see this challenging for the top spots in Eesti Laul but this is credible!”

Sean – 4 – “Strange subject matter for a track and I’m not really one for these schmaltzy family kind of songs, but it’s a solid track that Jennifer Cohen sells well. I’d have to say though that there’s nothing groundbreaking here or anything I could really raise much interest in.”

Total – 19

Sofia Rubina-Hunter – Deep Water

James – 5 – “Slightly outdated yet slick dance number, Rubina’s soulful voice dominates over a generic club banger. Another national selection mistake – a great singer being paired with a mediocre song, particularly out of her comfort zone of jazz and soul.”

Jordan – 2 – “Unfortunately, this isn’t really for me. I find her voice and vocal tricks quite off-putting sometimes. This just isn’t a song I can get into. It’s not Sofia’s fault, it’s just my personal taste and my personal taste is that I don’t like it. I’m sorry!”

Sean – 6 – “Tip, tip, water! There’s a great 90s retro house vibe to this one with the beats and the big soulful vocals, so to an extent I do like this, but while I find it an intriguing concept of a song, it’s a little bit messy and it does mean that the structure is all over the place. Will be interesting to see how a song like this is staged…”

Total – 13

Öed – Öhuloss

James – 2 – “An annoying electro-house Icona Pop knock-off. And the video is dreadful, like Öed’s dads discovered the app that distorts the user’s face on the video camera. Noisy, likely to give you a headache, and sounds like 2012.”

Jordan – 4 – “I’m not really sure on this one… I’m in-between liking it and hating it. I don’t know which one it is. I like that they are singing in Estonian but overall the song doesn’t really work to my ears. I think this song will definitely have its fans but unfortunately, I don’t think it’s for me.”

Sean – 4 – “I’m not sure if I enjoy this or if I find it annoying. It’s quite a brash, in your face number and the almost rhythmic chant-like lyrics can grate after a while, but the ladies are obviously all about having fun so I can see this having a decent “don’t give a shit” kind of staging in Eesti Laul.”

Total – 10

Victor Crone – Storm

James – 6 – “Country influenced pop, and not half bad. A little canned though, and I suspect the video set in the studio and the “storm inside” lyrics are meant to evoke the most recent “A Star is Born”, itself trying to bridge the gap between the sounds of country and pop. Crone could benefit from some more maturity, and I suspect he will get there and come back at a later Eesti Laul with his “Shallow” that will blow the doors open. Not 2019, though.”

Jordan – 10 – “Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! This song is utterly fantastic! Victor has an extremely good voice which would sound right at home in the charts. The song is simple but different enough to keep me interested and the chorus has an anthemic quality. I love this song and feel it would bring Estonia another top 10 placing if it were to go to Eurovision. Excellent!”

Sean – 7 – “This is clearly inspired by the sadly departed Avicii, so it will be interesting to see if this will gain this song any extra votes. This mix of country and ethereal house music was Mr. Bergling’s trademark and it’s a similar polished product from Victor Crone here. Sure, it’s not going to win any awards for originality, but I’m a sucker for tracks like this.”

Total – 23

Ranele – Supernova

James – 1 – “Eh up Ranele, lass, Supernova is Latvia’s contest! But no matter which Baltic country you assign this to, “Supernova” is awful. Ranele herself is lost in the mix with a tinny piano and horrid drum samples, Super Mario Bros. synth and outdated bass drops. This is rank amateur and the worst song I’ve heard yet at any national selection.”

Jordan – 3 – “Sorry but this one isn’t for me. It’s just not a genre of music I can get into personally. She does have a nice voice, but it doesn’t work here for me. The backing track also sounds like a theme tune that could be on a video game like Sonic the Hedgehog or something. It’s not terrible but there are definitely better songs in this selection.”

Sean – 5 – “Wasn’t expecting this song to be drum and bass somehow. It’s a pleasant surprise, but all things considered there perhaps isn’t enough punch to this song and it seems like a half-baked attempt at the genre as a result. A bit too generic for me I’m afraid.”

Total – 9

Inger – Coming Home

James – 4 – “England football fans should recognize the folly of singing “coming home” in a competitive setting. I am also over mandolin driven indie or pop songs. It’s also 25 seconds too short, and with a song this simple, they have the opportunity to add a little something after the second verse to spruce it up. And though some may disagree, with his voice in mid-break, this young lad may be a little too green for the adult version of Eurovision.”

Jordan – 9 – “I’m a massive fan of this! I love acoustic guitar driven songs, and this hits the nail on the head perfectly. I love Inger’s rather quirky voice and I think he sells the song perfectly. He doesn’t over-do it he just gives us a lovely simple song. This is really good. I would be very happy to see this at Eurovision.”

Sean – 5 – “Look, it’s a good song but this ‘nasal voice with an indie acoustic song’ sound has been done to death by now. It’s certainly uplifting and Inger has all the charm and glee to make the viewer smile but I’d be interested in something different for Eurovision.”

Total – 18

With all of that said and done, what did this mean for our ranking? Let’s find out!

  1. Victor Crone – Storm – 23
  2. xtra basic & Emily J – Hold Me Close – 22
  3. Johanna Eendra – Miks sa teed nii? – 21
  4. Sandra Nurmsalu – Soovide puu – 21
  5. Marko Kaar – Smile – 19
  6. Jennifer Cohen – Little Baby El – 19
  7. Stefan – Without You – 18
  8. Inger – Coming Home – 18
  9. The Swingers – High Heels in the Neighbourhood – 15
  10. Sofia Rubina-Hunter – Deep Water – 13
  11. Öed – Öhuloss – 10
  12. Ranele – Supernova – 9

Based on our votes, it would be Victor Crone and “Storm” that would come out on top in this semi-final, with xtra basic & Emily J close behind in second, followed by Johanna Eendra and Sandra Nurmsalu in joint third. The remainin qualifiers would be Marko Kaar and Jennifer Cohen. But will this be the case on Thursday night? We’ll have to wait and see!

Who do #YOU want to represent Estonia in 2019? Share your thoughts with us on our forum HERE or join the discussion below and on social media!

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