LONDON — When the Eurovision Song Contest was canceled last March because of the coronavirus pandemic, Vasil Garvanliev, North Macedonia’s entry, was distraught.
“My whole life, I’d been working my butt off to get there and my journey didn’t even take off,” Garvanliev, 36, mentioned in a phone interview. “I was devastated.”
For Garvanliev — and the occasion’s a whole bunch of tens of millions of followers — Eurovision is excess of a glitzy, high-camp music contest. “It’s the Olympics of singing,” Garvanliev mentioned.
Last March he sat on his mattress feeling depressed, he remembered, earlier than choosing up a keyboard to attempt to console himself. He began choosing out a mild melody on the instrument, then lyrics popped into his head. “Wait, it won’t be long,” he sung, “trust your heart and just stay strong.”
“This song came out of me,” Garvanliev mentioned, “and I thought, ‘Holy smokes, I have something beautiful here.’” Of course, “I didn’t know it’d end up being for this year’s Eurovision,” Garvanliev added. “I didn’t even know I’d be asked back.”
But in January, after an eight-month-long agonizing wait, Garvanliev was invited to carry out at this yr’s competitors — one in all 26 returning acts from Eurovision 2020. Scheduled for May 22 in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, 2021 is more likely to be the strangest version of the competition ever held — a excessive bar, given previous winners have included Abba and Lordi, a Finnish heavy metal act whose members dress as monsters.
The area shall be at 20 p.c capability, with simply 3,500 people in the audience cheering the contestants on, whereas remaining seated to minimize the danger of coronavirus spreading. The occasion is formally a part of a sequence of Dutch authorities trials to see the right way to run giant occasions in a protected method. The contestants will all have made prerecorded variations of their songs in case they catch Covid-19 and are unable to carry out.
But maybe essentially the most uncommon facet is that each one the returning contestants shall be performing a distinct music from the one they’d deliberate for the 2020 occasion. In a contest identified for one-hit wonders, who disappear from view nearly as quickly as the competition ends, this yr’s contestants must show they don’t match that sample.
“This is our difficult second album,” Garvanliev mentioned, referring to the phenomena of bands struggling to match their early success. He hoped his 2021 music “Here I Stand” wouldn’t fall into that lure.
The entrant going through the largest problem in capturing final yr’s magic is Dadi Freyr, Iceland’s act, together with his band Gagnamagnid. Last yr, Freyr was the favourite to win because of his music “Think About Things,” a catchy disco quantity about his new child baby.
By the time Eurovision was canceled, the music’s video had been watched tens of millions of instances on YouTube. Soon, it was going viral on Twitter and TikTok too, after households began performing variations of the video’s dance routine while stuck at home in lockdown.
“It changed my life, that song,” Freyr mentioned in a video interview. Before the pandemic, Freyr typically solely obtained booked for exhibits in Iceland, he mentioned. Suddenly he was promoting out excursions throughout Europe.
“I’ve probably had one of the best pandemics,” Freyr mentioned.
Freyr’s entry this yr is one other catchy disco observe referred to as “10 Years,” this time about his marriage (“How does it keep getting better?” he sings within the refrain). He felt he needed to preserve the observe related in model to “Think About Things,” since Icelanders had voted for a enjoyable disco tune to symbolize them on the competitors, he mentioned. It nonetheless took 12 makes an attempt to give you a brand new music he appreciated, he added.
The observe’s thus far not gone viral, however Freyr mentioned that didn’t trouble him. “I didn’t go to try and recreate the success, because I know it’s impossible to predict something like that,” he mentioned. “Luck has to be part of it.”
Four different Eurovision returnees mentioned in interviews that they discovered the pandemic to be the largest hurdle to writing a brand new hit. “For the first three or four months of the pandemic, I just didn’t do any writing at all,” mentioned Jessica Alyssa Cerro, Australia’s entry, who performs as Montaigne.
“I sort of got to November and was like, ‘Hmm, I should probably start working on that Eurovision song, huh?’” she added.
Jeangu Macrooy, the Netherlands’ entry, mentioned in a phone interview that he equally struggled. “I was getting no inspiration — I was just sitting inside,” he mentioned.
Then, in December when he was attempting to jot down entries for the competition, a number of ideas and emotions round George Floyd’s homicide and the following resurgence of the Black Lives Matter motion began effervescent up inside him.
Soon he had conjured the lyrics to “Birth of a New Age,” an uplifting observe about being “the rage that melts the chains.” Macrooy mentioned he hoped it could converse to everybody standing up for his or her rights now, whether or not individuals of coloration, L.G.B.T.Q. individuals or the in any other case marginalized. The refrain of “You can’t break me” is sung in Sranan Tongo, the lingua franca of his native Suriname in South America.
“It’s an ode to people claiming their space and saying, ‘I deserve respect and deserve to be accepted for who I am,’” Macrooy mentioned. “I couldn’t have written it if I hadn’t lived through 2020,” he added.
He’d lately been dreaming of individuals dancing to the observe, he mentioned, “so if that doesn’t happen at Eurovision, it’ll be awkward.” (The occasion’s present coronavirus security guidelines forestall dancing.)
For Montaigne, such goals are actually a factor of the previous. She lately came upon she wouldn’t be touring to the Netherlands to compete, after Australian officers determined her attendance was an excessive amount of of a coronavirus threat. Instead, Eurovision followers must watch the backup efficiency of “Technicolour,” which she recorded in March.
Montaigne mentioned she was tremendous with the choice, particularly as a result of she knew the pandemic was removed from over within the Netherlands, with thousands of new cases of coronavirus currently being reported every day. “It would have been so bad if I was the person who brought coronavirus back to Australia, where we’re sitting in stadiums, having a good time dancing and touching each other,” she mentioned.
Even with out attending, she nonetheless has a narrative to “tell my grandkids about,” she mentioned. She’s the one Eurovision contestant ever to have missed the occasion twice due to a pandemic.