All opinions expressed in this article are those of the person quoted and do not necessarily represent the opinions of the other team members or ESC United as a whole.

This year, Estonia threw us all a curve ball and launched Eesti Laul in late November. After four quarterfinals, the Estonian public and a jury of music professionals narrowed the field of entries down to twenty.

With the first semi-final scheduled for Thursday, February 3, Team ESC United will be weighing in on this year’s Estonian Eurovision hopefuls, five songs at a time. Our seven self-proclaimed experts are:

Based on the studio recordings and official music clips, which songs do we think should advance to the finals? And which of these twenty songs do we collectively think should represent Estonia at Eurovision in May? There’s only one way to find out.

Alabama Watchdog- “Move On”

William: “Great gowns, beautiful gowns.” 3.5/10

Boris: “Opinions on songs and the musicians performing them are often poorly aligned. Fortunately, Alabama Watchdog (what is this for a name, btw? I’m aware that Estonian bands always decide theirs via random CAPTCHA, but sheesh) deliver a song that perfectly describes their edgelord personalities. An edgy (but, in reality, very tepid) BritRock song in which they ‘apologize’ about the lessons they’ve learnt from last year’s controversy (but not actually), punctuated with tired #ProudBoy slogans (“DON’T STOP BREAKING THE TRUTH”, like wat???). I cannot wait to read their Reddit AMA they’ll hold about the wicked blow they dealt to the Woke Movement after they NQ in the semi.” 3/10

Roy: “Now this is more like it. You can see that they have learned a few things since their attempt from last year. This song is way more cohesive, and the instruments are far clearer. The vocals and the chorus are more memorable, and they just tried to make a decent song this time. The little breakdown near the end is a lovely addition, and, overall, I think the band moved forward nicely. Is it good enough to do well in Eurovision? It might not be strong enough for that yet.” 6.5/10

Tyler: “Good to hear rock make an appearance here, but the kind of rock on display is bland and not very original. I get late ’00s vibes from this, at best, so it’s a nice nostalgia factor. I do think the instrumentation is good technically, but the lyrics leave something to be desired. ‘Don’t stop breaking the truth,’ seems like it could be a good hook for a journalism song, but just doesn’t seem to work here.” 3.5/10

David: “Hard to move on from this song, a mix of some techno and rock that comes together very well and creates a catchy beat. Very enjoyable. Momentum does fall a bit towards the end, because it can sound a bit repetitive, but a valiant effort.” 8/10

Stefan: “I’m getting Georgia 2016 vibes, but with more pop influence and, of course, Italy’s win last year. This isn’t something I would normally listen to, but never say never. I did play it couple of times, and it did start to grow a bit. It has potential to grow with the live performance.” 5/10

James: “My initial reaction to ‘Move On’ and its sentiment as a follow up by this band to their inglorious 2020 entry is … ‘f%$# off.’ If we take them at their word, and last year’s entry was a misunderstanding, then the sure way to actually move on would be for them to do songs about muscle cars, picking up women, whatever normally floats their boats. But no, in ‘Move On’ we get another gaslighting, ‘no! It’s not us, it’s you guys!‘ anthem. The rock community made fun of Kid Rock and Monster Truck’s lametastic “Don’t Tell Me How to Live” in November 2021, but at least it’s an unsubtle reflection of Kid Rock’s opinions. ‘Move On’ has weaselly double negatives like the dipshitistic, ‘Don’t Stop Breakin’ the Truth,’ on top of ‘90s era U2 riffs. If they want to be edgelords, they should just own it. But no, they want to play edgelord and deny it at the same time. They should just take their own advice and move on out of here instead of wasting everyone’s time.” 1/10

Total: 30.5

Andrei Zevakin feat. Grete Paia- “Mis nüüd saab”

William: “Now this is just cool. Very excited Andrei Zevakin is back after delivering what I thought was the best overall package at Eesti Laul last year. I don’t like this one quite as much as I liked ‘Wingman’, but it’s still incredibly solid.  This would really benefit from more fully integrating Grete into the flow of the song. Make it more of a natural back-and-forth, a conversation between the two singers, a sung-through tête-à-tête. Right now, her solo section grinds the song to a bit of a halt. But that’s easily fixable, and, overall, this has a ton of potential.” 8/10

Boris: “One should always be careful of the token ‘It Sounds Like A Radio Hit’-entrant, as they very rarely are good enough to be one. Fortunately for Zevakin and Grete, I think ‘Mis nüüd saab’ is just credible enough to draw in voters on both ends of the spectrum. The problem is: I really cannot see them winning Eesti Laul’s hausfrau voting public over. Having said *that*, I feel their potential jury votes are very strongly overlooked, and I cannot wait for the Estonian grannypant audience to shit themselves when ‘Mis nüüd saab’ beats their favourites on finale night <3.” 7/10

Roy: “Ooh, throw this on the radio this summer, please!! I love the vibe of this and could see myself revisiting this song in the summer. It is perhaps a tad repetitive, and I feel like it has a massive danger of falling very flat in the live performance. But it cool, it nice, it can stay!” 7.5/10

Tyler: “This song tries to blend in a pseudo-Latin flair in its composition, and, while it keeps it interesting, I find the best part is Grete’s segment. It becomes almost a giant tongue twister that would be impressive to see live. I’m not as impressed with the lyrics from Andrei’s part, so that drags the song for me. This might be interesting to see live on stage, though! And maybe I won’t be as bored with Andrei’s part! We’ll have to wait and see, though.” 6.5/10

David: “Very slick, enjoyable, nothing like a song where the guitar can shine. The song does leave me a bit confused. I wanna call this a duet, but it comes out more as two singers who are singing the same song. They don’t really elevate each other in the song, and the song never really takes off the ground.” 4/10

Stefan: “Flirty, radio friendly pop song, and it’s in Estonian. I would love to hear this language at Eurovision, but I feel like this song would be much better if performed in English. Performance wise, they do have something going on between them and I think viewers will feel that too.” 6.5/10

James: “Oh, it’s the ‘Wingman’ guy from last year, and this time he has a female singer as a featured guest. The lyrics suggest the wingman guy actually managed to pick someone up, despite his dodgy haircut and unconvincing vocals, and he now has no idea what to do with the lady he’s landed. Grete plays the lady berating him for the aimlessness of his overtures. Or his horrible landing of ‘uh, yeah‘ at the end of every second line. I don’t know who this sedate, down-tempo pop song is for.  Zevakin could do with more confidence and less playing it safe with this low-key effort if he wants to graduate from ‘Wingman’ to a Johnny-Logan-conqueror-of-women-level performer.” 4/10

Total: 43.5

Anna Sahlene- “Champion”

William: “The TRUE winner of Eurovision 2002 returns, and she’s doing it in style. Anthemic, catchy, instrumentally-rich … ‘Champion’ isn’t doing anything especially innovative, but it’s a song with clear ambitions, executed to the max. We already know Anna is a charismatic and engaging live performer, so I expect good things from her in the semi-finals.  I’m a little disappointed not to hear the country-pop sound Anna served with ‘Runaway’. We so rarely get successfully-executed versions of that style of music in the contest.  But, hey, sometimes, quality Schlager is just what the doctor ordered, and this certainly fits the bill.” 6.5/10

Boris: “It’s borderline hysterical to me that Anna Sahlene’s return to Estonia mirrors that of Helena Paparizou (Melfest 2015) and Ira Losco (MESC 2016). Glamorous cougress with an obnoxiously Swedish, overproduced, run-of-the-mill power anthem <3. I like Sahlene, but choosing her would be an absolute disaster. And yet … do Estonians really love themselves more than they love the Swedes? Past editions of EestiLeaks suggest otherwise…” 7/10

Roy: “Anna’s voice had a lot of potential to deliver a good song, but this song fails to deliver on every single front. The instrumentals are okay but nothing ground-breaking. Now that we got all of the positives out of the way, I can absolutely not excuse these insanely cringey and terrible lyrics. It is a parody of an overly inspirational song, constantly talking about the ‘I’ and just saying what you are… Good for you, but it falls so flat, lyrically, and I just can’t listen to this one…” 1/10

Tyler: “This is the kind of song that is borderline for Andra chansen–sorry, semi 5 of Melfest, but it also stands out here in the Estonian selection. It doesn’t read as highly original, both in the lyrics and in the beats, as it’s all about advocating for yourself, which … thanks? Simultaneously, the song itself is just fun to me and definitely stands out in that aspect. It’s a basic song in most regards, and, for the lack of depths it has, I still like it.” 7.5/10

David: “What a confidence booster this is! It has that fighting beat and champion spirit. No wonder the song is called ‘Champion’. Yet it doesn’t scream winner to me. Sure, it has a great beat and inspirational lyrics, but, in the end, it’s also one of those pop songs that you hear so often and slowly forget about. A great song that’s missing that final punch.” 8/10

Stefan: “Is this something we’ve already heard and seen at Eurovision? Yes, but I can never say no to a magnificent power ballad like this one. This song screams EUROVISION. Anna has such a good voice, and good is a small word. With a clever performance, this can go to the top.” 10/10

James: “From a runaway to a champion, from Sweden to Estonia, and back and forth again, Anna Sahlene is a decades long fixture at Eurovision and its national selections, and she still looks and sounds great. Sahlene herself could still be a champion, but ‘Champion’ itself sounds like a Melfest songwriters’ camp-leftover from 2012. A smarter move would be for her to do a more mature take on the pop country sound of ‘Runaway’ (her 2002 entry) with some self-referential elements (e.g. hint that the runaway became a champion) rather than a generic self-empowerment ballad that could be performed by anyone.” 6/10

Total: 46

Black Velvet- “Sandra”

William: “First of all, incinerate this music video and shoot the ashes into deep space. I get that we’re going for a nostalgic throwback, but it’s OK to leave SOME things in the ’80s. Anyway, the song. Loathe as I am to admit it, there’s something very sonically charming about this. It has a great hook that, importantly, works in any language. The synth is transporting, and the studio track is lush with instrumentation. It sounds PROFESSIONAL, in a way not every song at Eesti Laul this year does.  Not the most exciting song, but what it does, it does well.” 5.5/10

Boris: “BREAKING NEWSFLASH:  For once, Sven Lõhmus has written lyrics that make sense. Plot twist: they’re entirely in Estonian. <3 Anyway, ‘Sandra’ (which I assume is an ode to Nurmsalu, you’re not convincing me otherwise) is pure ’80s New Wave, which is my favourite genre of music, so you better know I’ve loved it instantly, while a good chunk of our forum blamed them (and not the jury, for some reason?) for robbing Ariadne and Dramanda. WELL BLACK VELVET ARE GOING TO QUALIFY AND ROB (‘rob’) I dunno, EVELIN and MAIAN  along they way. You better accept and move on, normiez~.” 8.5/10

Roy: “This pulls off the Swedish Schlager throwback better than any of the attempts in Melfest recently. Obviously, the song is a bit outdated, and, if there were no other options, this could have been a great pick. The selection this year is a lot stronger than the previous two years, in my opinion, so I don’t think this should win. Great to have it in the selection, and where I usually don’t like songs in this genre, I do enjoy this one a lot!” 6.5/10

Tyler: “Part of the big appeal of ‘Sandra’ for me is the ’80s-sounding track, as it makes me feel ready to be in an aerobics montage. The main drawback to me is how the song ends, as it feels like a verse was cut towards the end to fit for time. But ‘Sandra’ itself is a good jam to listen to, and it’s a lot of fun. It’s definitely more modern than, say, Fyr og Flamme from last year, so I don’t think it would be penalized that badly for being outdated. Overall, ‘Sandra’ is a lot of fun to listen to, and I think this will be a fun song to see in the contest.” 9/10

David: “This girl Sandra must be something special, huh? Not too special, apparently, since she got a very repetitive song written in her honor. The beat remains the same. We’re not really moving anywhere, so gone is the interest before it has even started.” 3/10

Stefan: “I think that in every country there is an old school (daddies) band with a song titled with a girl’s name. This is the right time to use the phrase, ‘I like it, but I don’t love it,’ and I don’t really like it that much #sorrynotsorry.” 4.5/10

James: “The songwriter behind ‘Randajad’ and ‘Verona’ is back with his own band, and ‘Sandra’ is a slick, simple, retro-pop effort. A bit of a stink has been made about the video objectifying its main actress, though I get the sense Black Velvet is making some light commentary on the infamous casting couch process rather than being three leery middle-aged dudes gawking at a woman. The song could do with a more memorable chorus beyond the ‘Sandra!‘ call-out, and, though retro synthpop fans may get a kick out of it, it’ll struggle as a distinctive song without a killer hook.” 6/10

Total: 43

Boamadu- “Mitte kauaks”

William: “With Måneskin’s win and Blind Channel’s strong showing in 2021, we knew the National Final season floodgates would be opening to a tidal wave of rock ‘n roll. Would that they were all this good. This is a blast, a perfect version of itself. I will agree that the mixing of the studio track is a bit wonky. They need to bring the vocals up. The singer is getting a bit swallowed up by the instrumentation. But, otherwise, yeah, I’m a big fan. I have a feeling this is going to kill on stage. Dark horse for the win, even?” 8.5/10

Boris: “In the middle of a really, REALLY crappy quarterfinal, full of anonymous mediocre pop, Boamadu’s brand of pub rock were a presence I was highly grateful for. ‘Finally some edible f’king food.’ In an entirely flat land, even a molehill can appear as a peak. Sadly, Boamadu make for total death fodder in these semi-finals (every qualifier from QF1 is, barring Stig), so I’m having a hard time getting excited over these scrappy pub rockers. I have babies to sacrifice to the blood god to ensure even ONE of Merilin Mälk or Púrr Múdd scrapes through to the finals.” 6/10

Roy: “This one is very difficult to judge. The instrumentals are vastly overshadowing the volume of the singer, making it very difficult to get into the full piece. I think we can only really judge this song after we have seen and heard the live performance. There, this issue can easily be fixed. It definitely has potential, and I absolutely love the guitar solo.” 6.5/10

Tyler: “Short, sweet rock that gets in to give us a rockin’ performance. Good song! I’m ambivalent on how well this would do, but it’s nice to have flavor in Eesti Laul, even if I like other ESC songs that fit this genre of music. The lyrics leave a little to be desired, as I feel they get drowned out by the instrumentation, but this could be fun to watch in the national final! I don’t think this will be enough to win the entire Estonian selection, but it’s a nice and okay song to fill in the gaps.” 7/10

David: “Now we are talking! Here, the music is on point. It’s a song where the instruments shine through, but, unfortunately, the singing doesn’t leave the same powerful impact. I know myself enough to know that I would probably enjoy a pure instrumental version. I don’t know Estonian, but music is considered a universal language, and, in this case, the singing is not powerful enough to drag me completely in.” 6/10

Stefan: “And here’s Waldo … I mean, the true rock song of the national final. I honestly don’t understand. Why are people trying to do this year after year after year? Why is there need to copy the last year’s winner? Is it that hard to be unique?” 4/10

James: “A slick and groovy hard rock track with some great lead guitar. Despite it sounding like a throwback to another era of rock, it has youthful energy. They’re not trying to mimic another era so much as use it as a base for their sound and build upon it. They could use a revamp to give some moments a bit more oomph, particularly the slowed outro which needs a bit more impact to work properly, and to bring the vocalist more forward in the mix. But there’s a base for a strong entry here and could score higher with some well placed tweaks.” 7/10

Total: 45

After having our say on the first five songs, here’s where things stand:

  1. Anna Sahlene– “Champion”, 46 points
  2. Boamadu– “Mitte kauaks”, 45 points
  3. Andrei Zevakin feat. Grete Paia– “Mis nüüd saab”, 43.5 points
  4. Black Velvet– “Sandra”, 43 points
  5. Alabama Watchdog– “Move On”, 30.5 points

Anna Sahlene is in the lead, but the boys of Boamadu are right on her heels. Still, there’s a long way to go.

Interestingly, there’s not a lot of consensus among the team so far, with every song receiving high marks from some and low marks from others. Will that continue? Come back next Tuesday to read Team ESC United’s takes on the next five songs in the line-up. They are:

  • Elina Nechayeva– “Remedy”
  • Elysa– “Fire”
  • Evelin Samuel– “Waterfall”
  • Helen– “Vaata minu poole”
  • Jaagup Tuisk– “Kui vaid”

Do #YOU agree with our takes on these five songs? Do #YOU think any of them have what it takes to go all the way? Sound off in the comments below, in our forum, or on social media @ESCUnited.

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