After a weekend of new entries that did the opposite of ripple the betting market, Belarus added some much needed spice with the revelation of its new song ‘Solayoh’ performed by Alyona Lanskaya, now down to 20-1 to take the prize. You can listen to it here.
‘Solayoh’ is the fun ethnopop number we’ve been lacking so far. There are elements of previous winners: the drums are reminiscent of Ruslana’s ‘Wild Dances’ and it has an ethnic hook to rival Sertab’s ‘Everyway That I Can’. All this encapsulated in a cod-Latin vibe for all those disappointed not to see Norwegian runner-up ‘Bombo’ in Malmo.
Ethnopop remained popular enough as a genre to be placed in both the 2008 and 2009 contests, though it doesn’t have such a good record since, as evidenced by the failure of ‘Zaleilah’ and ‘Aphrodisiac’ last year. Can ‘Solayoh’ bring the genre back to the top of the scoreboard?
Let’s start with what the song has going for it, notably that immediate ethnic hook with which it opens. It’s the most familiar Eurovision-y riff in any upbeat number selected so far. This recognisable hook sets it apart from pretty much everything else at the moment. It’s just a shame we don’t hear it again until after the second chorus.
Otherwise, the structure is just what you’d expect and hope from such a song. The ethnic hook returns for a fitting climax after an instrumental bridge that can be used for something spectacular on stage. The Belarussians are known for their kitsch here, whether it’s costume changes (2005), butterfly wings (2010) or levitation (2007 and 2012). I can’t wait to see what they bring to the arena in Malmo with ‘Solayoh’.
Staging will obviously play a big part in how well it goes down with televoters. Belarus’s general record in the competition shows that it’s not usually the alpha or even beta country in the former Soviet bloc, and there is plenty of competition from the area this year. Nonetheless, Dimitry Koldun managed sixth place for them in 2007 with both Russia and Ukraine even higher up the scoreboard. This shows that if they send something good enough, formidable regional strength can reward it.
Some of that regional strength is on display in the semi from which ‘Solayoh’ hopes to qualify. Drawn in the second half of a very weak looking first heat of just sixteen, these advantages should help it into the final. (Unless it’s a car crash live, which isn’t out of the question.) The song will have to broaden its appeal to reward each-way backers on Saturday night, though.
In 2008, ‘Secret Combination’ showed that when you get it right on stage, ethnopop can win over most regions. Last year, Romania and Greece didn’t end up making it work so effectively. Their allies still allowed them a top ten place in the televote, but it was far short of what many had expected, and a poor jury score dropped both further down the scoreboard.
Whether juries will say “no way-o” to ‘Solayoh’ has got to be a huge concern. In many ways the song represents what jurors have been punishing most in recent years: it has an obvious lack of authenticity and musical artistry.
Juries didn’t buy the pseudo-Latin number with nonsense lyrics in an eastern European accent when Mandinga tried it last year. They placed it 20th out of 26. It’s hard to make a case that they will be any easier on ‘Solayoh’. If anything, Mandinga’s Elena is a better vocalist than Alyona, and her band brought their instruments on stage with them.
To be fair, footage of Alyona in the 2013 and 2012 national finals shows that she’s perfectly serviceable as a vocalist for a song of this kind. She has no range but isn’t terribly off-key, and can combine vocals with some movement. Shove in a few backing singers and she should be reasonable enough, though it’s hard to see her impressing in this respect.
Still, vocals were hardly strong for either Turkey’s ‘Dum Tek Tek’ or Azerbaijan’s ‘Always’ in 2009 and these ethnopop numbers managed seventh and eighth place in the jury vote. But I’d be surprised to see Belarus as high even in this poorer year, because it’s not Azerbaijan whilst ‘Dum Tek Tek’ had a far more contemporary and commercial sound.
I get the same sense when I play this demo of ‘Solayoh’ in a line-up with studio versions of other ethnopop efforts such as Adelen’s ‘Bombo’ or Tooji’s ‘Stay’, although poor live vocals hindered the latter examples on stage. The production of ‘Solayoh’ in its current form feels much less sophisticated, more on a par with Norway’s 2007 non-qualifier ‘Ven a Bailar Conmigo’.
There is time to beef up the arrangement and improve on this, but at present the song is nothing more than catchy but trashy.
There was a time when catchy but trashy was enough to do great things on the Eurovision scoreboard, but I fear that time has passed. What do you think of ‘Solayoh’ and these thoughts? Let us know below.