Estonia (Final) - Edward Okulicz

Eesti Laul remains one of the more fun stops on the Eurovision
pre-selection calendar. There's a little more variety than some other
countries' shows and it is professionally but still with a low-sheen
vibe to it. The multi-part voting with juries and phone votes and
super-finals with just phone-votes is a better version of what Sweden
does, in my opinion. The field is nice and big (12 songs in the final)
but the small population of Estonia means you will see some familiar
faces even if you're only a casual fan. Last year's contest seemed like
a complete non-contest once you'd heard "La Forza" (even if you didn't
like it, and I didn't) so this year's had a bit more uncertainty about
it for me as well.

I didn't have time to listen to the semi-finals, but fortunately, I had
time to read Alan and Cindy's wonderful summaries of the two semi-finals.

1. SISSI - "Strong"

I'd actually heard this song previously as it came up on YouTube (its
algorithm knows what I like) and I hadn't realised Sissi was a woman
because her low voice and the GENERIC EDM POP SOUND meant I just hadn't
processed her identity as a singer at all, instead her voice just
sounded like "faceless dance hook singer". On stage, quite apart from
her appearance, it's much easier to hear what she sounds like and her
voice has some personality, though her attempts to liven it up with some
ad-libs falls a bit flat. She was right to try because the song is
pretty uninteresting. Some white-clad gymnasts appear to dance around a
bit, which is the sort of thing you can get away with if you're Moldova,
but not otherwise. A draw of 1 is exactly where songs like this go to
die, but it's inoffensive.

2. Lumevärv ft. Inga - "Milline päev"

The only song of the final sung in Estonian, a language I really love.
Lest you not know who the singer is, her name is on the band at the top
of her pants which have fabric where you wouldn't expect and no fabric
where you might expect. Unfortunately this is another fairly uninspiring
bit of glow-stick waving lite-doof-doof. My foot tapped a bit but I
didn't take many memories away from it.

3. Victor Crone - "Storm"

This entry comes with plenty of pedigree, being co-written with Stig
Rästa. Crone himself also competed in Melodifestivalen in 2015, not
quite making it through Andra Chansen. It shares more than just a title
with SuRie from the UK's entry last year -- it has a few similar builds
and very basic iterations of the storm metaphor. It has a cool bit where
a blonde girl appears as if out of nowhere. Crone doesn't have the best
live vocals to my ears, but he is telegenic and the whole thing has a
very slick combination of effects and camera angles so it looked great.

4. Kerli Kivilaan - "Cold Love"

Kerli is a very likeable and good singer, and "Cold Love" has lyrics
that on paper suggest a compelling song. But this one feels like it goes
on forever with no variation. Also, while a song like this doesn't need
to spit venom, it probably needs a little bit more oomph.

5. xtra basic & Emily J - "Hold me Close"

My comment in the intro about Eesti Laul generally looking quite
professional doesn't quite apply to this one, which looks cheap on
stage. Emily J got her start putting up pop covers on YouTube, but on
screen and live seems to have little stage presence, and the two dancers
are distracting at worst and add nothing at best. Follows the standard
EDM template of a chorus and an instrumental hook, but it comes across
as thrown-together quickly and unprofessional. Falls into the Eurovision
uncanny valley as not sounding modern enough for 2019 but not being a
good-enough throwback to be retro.

6. Kadiah - "Believe"

Pixie-twee girl runs through as many meaningful ballad cliches in 3
minutes as permitted under EU law. However, there are cellos, and cellos
are always good. I can't get over the idea that this has been cobbled
together from a bunch of right-hand-column finishers over the last 15
years more than anything.

7. Synne Valtri - "I'll Do It My Way"

With a title like that, it could only have been one of two things -- a
show/swing tune, or a lighters-aloft schlager statement of self and
intent. Surprise, it's the latter! Synne rocked on the spot, waving her
arms and making hand gestures, and giving some good eye to the camera.
About the corniest thing you can imagine, really dated and one of the
things that I wish people didn't think of when Eurovision comes to their

8. Stefan - "Without You"

A guy in white playing a piano. We've seen this staging before, haven't
we? We've also seen Stefan before, as half of a duo called Vajé in last
year's Laul. Stefan sings well, and the package is attractive, so not
for nothing was this a big favourite with fans and favoured to do well.
But I find myself getting really bored with the "without you I feeeeeeel
like I'm drowning" hook, which is not so much leant on, it's the only
thing holding this song up and it's run into the ground.

9. The Swingers, Tanja & Birgit - "High Heels in the Neighbourhood"

You like returners? Here's two! Tanja and Birgit have both represented
Estonia. And there's a prominent saxophonist, which again, you can only
get away with if you are Moldova. It's Eesti Laul, not Eesti "lol".
Performed with a good amount of animated stick, but while Eurovision is
in some ways a musical revue, this is late-night variety house jazz band
musical revue if anything. And those outfits! Yikes.

10. Uku Suviste - "Pretty Little Liar"

Now here's a pop ballad whose singer really goes for it with drama and
fire and fashionable hair and pyrotechnics. Certainly the song that most
embodies what people think about when they think of Eurovision. I
thought it was interesting how you've got Uku, who loves the camera, but
the choreography and direction doesn't move to him for quite some time,
focusing on the floor-bound writhing interpretative dancer. It's not
really obvious to me what story she's interpreting, or wouldn't be
without the BIG TEXT.

11. Inger - "Coming Home"

Inger Fridolin is a fairly young singer who looks like an extremely
young singer. She's cute and has perhaps the final's best
singer-songwriter chops, as she has plenty of fond and sweet original
songs of her own on YouTube. I'm pretty awful with accents, but to my
ears, she almost sounds Irish at some points with her vowels. True to
form, "Coming Home" is a gentle, sweet little song, but not a
particularly memorable one. She strums with intent, but I admit those
vowels distract me, how "eyes" becomes "oyes" and how the long-O of
"home" sounds like "hooreerrooorme". The shy persona of her videos is
nowhere in sight - she's very confident and likeable and if she keeps
entering, I reckon she might have an Eesti Laul winner in her in the
next few years.

12. Sandra Nurmsalu - "Soovide puu"

And the night closed with yet another familiar face, with Sandra being a
member of Urban Symphony, one of Estonia's best-performing Eurovision
entrants with "Rändajad". That song would give you a ballpark of what to
expext here, although without the dramatic, Eastern-influenced strings
or slow pace. An even better predictor would be "puu", which is Estonian
for "tree" - it's ethereal but also evokes forests and trees in a
slightly mystical way. It's very pretty but the forgettable, static
staging didn't do much for its chances to persuade people to vote for
it. I liked it though.

The voting happens. The jury goes big for Stefan, whereas the televote
is dominated by Victor Crone. Uku Suviste does fairly well on both to
also make the top 3. Inger loses out on the top 3 due to a poor
performance from the juries (she is probably a bit of an acquired taste)
and the high-jury songs from Sissi and Lumevärv (which didn't strike me
as jury-bait) scored about a fifth and a sixth in televotes. But Victor
Crone ended up with about as many votes as 2nd and 3rd together, and
Stefan (in fourth on votes) had more than twice as many as fifth to

With the final say going to a super-final televote, Victor Crone wins
convincingly with 46% of the vote.

I think the Estonians have again voted smartly for a credible song that
could do well, but this one needs a bit more polish than "La Forza" -
but Crone has a few months to get his voice into top shape. I think Uku
Suviste may have been a slightly smarter choice because of the big DRAMA
in his song, and it not sharing its title with a flop UK entry, but I'd
think they should qualify again in 2019.