Earlier this month, Lithuania chose Monika Liu as The Roop‘s Eurovision successor at the third edition of Pabandom iš naujo!. It was a decisive victory, with only Lolita Zero coming anywhere close to matching her televote scores. Though she may not be a name to people outside of Lithuania, Monika‘s domestic career so far laid the groundwork for her PiN! success.
She was a Warbling Wunderkind
Born Monika Liubinaitė on February 4, 1988, Monika Liu began dancing ballet at age three and playing the violin by age five. Her interest slowly turned to singing, and, at age of 15, she began competing in various televised singing competitions:
- In 2004, she triumphed on an episode of Mažųjų žvaigždžių valanda (roughly translates to Little Star Hour), performing Norah Jones’ “Don’t Know Why”. Jonas Narbutas, later of InCulto (ESC 2010) also competed on that episode.
- That same year, she reached the winners’ concert night of Dainų dainelė (roughly translates to Song of Songs), performing the gospel standard “Oh Happy Day”. She returned to the contest again in 2006, making the winners’ contest night once more. (She was a special guest performer at both the 2008 and 2010 editions of Dainų dainelė, as well.)
- In 2006, she competed on a season of Mažųjų žvaigždžių ringas (roughly translates to Circle of Little Stars), the competition that would become a funnel for Lithuania’s Junior Eurovision prospects the very next year.
- Speaking of Junior Eurovision, though she was too old to enter by the time Lithuania began participating, she DID make an appearance at the 2008 national final. She performed a duet with Monika Linkytė, then the 3rd place finisher from the previous year’s national final. (Eurovision fans may best remember Monika Linkytė as one-half of the smooching singers that performed “This Time” at Eurovision 2015.)
To see highlights of Monika Liu‘s adolescent appearances on singing competition shows, pulled from LRT’s extensive video archive, watch below:
Monika Liu‘s professional relationship with Monika Linkytė would end up paying dividends down the line. Eurovision fans may know that Monika Liu was a co-writer on Lithuania’s 2015 Eurovision entry, “This Time“, performed by Linkytė and Vaidas Baumila, but what fans may not know is that the two have collaborated on a Eurovision hopeful before. In 2010, Monika Liu was a co-writer on “Give Away”, the song Linkytė finished in 10th place with at the Lithuanian national finals. Watch the national final performance of “Give Away” here.
After graduating college, Monika Liu became a bit of a rising star in the Lithuanian club and electronic scene. In 2006, she co-founded and provided vocals for Lithuanian hip hop group 8’as Marsrutas. The group released one album (stream left) and won best debut at the Lithuanian hip hop awards in 2007.
In 2009, she joined the roster of the Silence Family, an indie electronic music label and collaborative project, eventually releasing the song “What If“.
She also provided guest vocals on “Ne Vakar”, a chart-topping song by Lithuanian electro-hip hop group Sel, in 2010. Watch a contemporary live performance of the song below:
She’s a Student of the World
While Monika‘s music career was in full swing, she was also studying in the jazz department of Klaipėda University. Her parents, both artists themselves, initially bristled at the idea, preferring she pursue a more typical career. But she had other plans.
“If I were a lawyer, I would cry during the hearings; if I were a doctor, I would leave a knife in the patient’s belly,” she said in a 2011 interview. “I think I have chosen the right path.”
While studying at Klaipėda University, Monika was a recurring lead vocalist for the school’s newly formed jazz ensemble. She also competed at (and, in some cases, won) numerous international vocal competitions and attended a summer intensive in Perugia, Italy, organized by Boston-based Berklee College of Music. That program offered attendees the opportunity to audition for scholarships to attend the US university in-person. Unsurprisingly for someone with her level of performing experience, Monika received one of those scholarships, and, in 2011, she moved to Boston, Massachusetts, to study at Berklee.
The culture shock was real. Upon arrival, she found herself without a place to stay. Monika called up Eurovision 2004 veteran Simona Jakubėnaitė, herself a student at Berklee College of Music, and eventually moved in with her for a time. With the less than ideal living conditions and the education costs rising, Monika made a decision, leaving Berklee after three semesters and decamping to London.
“Whatever you say, London is the capital of music. Mecca,” she said in a 2016 interview. “My friend kept repeating that I definitely had to come to him in London.”
While in London, Monika continued writing and performing music, but she worked at a clothing boutique to pay the bills.
“I sang … for a thousand crowds in Lithuania, and now I am selling rags,” Monika remembered in a 2016 interview. “At such moments, you start to doubt your future, which makes you a little nervous.”
Through a lot of hard work, music eventually became her full-time gig in London, but she had been absent from the Lithuanian pop music scene for several years. That was all about to change.
Singing Competitions Brought Her Back Into the Spotlight
In September 2014, Monika released her first piece of new music in several years, a song called “Journey to the Moon“. This was timed to coincide with her appearance on the third series of Auksinis Balsas, roughly translates as Golden Voice, an LRT competition series featuring established Lithuanian singers performing different genres of music each week. Watch Monika‘s performance on the opera-themed episode below:
She did not ultimately win the series, but she was able to reintroduce herself to the Lithuanian public. And, in 2015, she was finally able to release her debut solo EP, “What If”. (Stream below left.)
Although Auksinis Balsas was Monika‘s last time competing on a major televised singing competition, (until Pabandom iš naujo! 2022), she has returned to the genre as a coach and judge in recent years. For the past two seasons, she has served as one of the coaches on Lietuvos balsas (The Voice Lithuania) alongside two-time Eurovision veteran Donny Montell and Pabandom iš naujo! 2020 2nd place finisher Moniqué.
Last year, she also joined the panel for the second season of Kaukės, Lithuania’s version of the Masked Singer franchise. The Roop lead singer Vaidotas Valiukevičius was a fellow judge during season two, a season that saw Eurovision 2018 veteran and Pabandom iš naujo! 2022 7th place finisher Ieva Zasimauskaitė finish in 3rd place as The Moon.
She’s Rediscovered Her Musical Roots
After her triumphant return to Lithuanian airwaves, Monika spent the next few years commuting between London and her home country. She performed concerts, collaborated with other artists, and even opened for Joss Stone when the English singer-songwriter performed in Vilnius in 2016.
In 2019, Monika released her first full-length album, Lünatik, recorded in New York and London. The album had a number of singles, and she created avant-garde music videos to accompany them. See the truly wild video for her song “FALAFEL” below:
2020 saw the release of a special project: a 4-song vinyl EP titled Melodija. But unlike her previously released solo efforts, domestic audiences were pleased to discover Monika‘s new songs had all been written in Lithuanian, something she had rarely, if ever, done as a solo artist. One song in particular, “Vaikinai trumpais šortais” or “Guys in Short Shorts”, made a splash on the Lithuanian music charts, peaking at #31. Watch a live performance of the song below:
She has relocated back to Lithuania full-time in recent years and has become more and more entrenched in the domestic music and entertainment scene. She even composed songs for the Lithuanian comedy film “The Wedding” and cameoed in it as a wedding singer. (See official music clip here.)
“I was trying to figure out who I was,” she said in a 2020 interview. “And to understand that, you need to remember where you come from. I began to think about my roots … [Authenticity] is the most important thing.”
She’s an Artist … in More Ways than One
“Over time, I created my own rituals of how music is born,” Monika explained in a 2020 interview. “I sit down, there is silence and then I start to feel the pulse in my head. Then I wonder, what’s the rhythm here? And so I start creating.”
But singing and songwriting are not Monika‘s only creative pursuits. Not by a long shot.
She has dabbled in drawing and painting from an early age, and her paintings have been integrated into many of her music videos (see here). In 2015, to promote the release of her EP I AM, images of her artwork were projected on buildings in central Vilnius. Her paintings were also used as the album artwork. In 2017, her art took on a second life when Monika collaborated with Lithuanian luxury clothing brand Coocoomos for a line of scarves featuring her drawings.
During the pandemic, Monika took up a new craft: jewelry making. And though it can be hard, slightly dangerous work (“I go to sing with my wounds on my fingers in the evening,” she claimed in an interview last year), she finds the practice meditative.
“For me, creativity is the most interesting and most important element in a person,” she said in a 2016 interview. “Through creativity, you enter into a relationship with yourself.”
Were #YOU excited to see Monika win Pabandom iš naujo! this year? Do #YOU think I could pull off her haircut? It’s so chic! Sound off in the comments below, in our forum, or on social media @ESCUnited.