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Introducing: Zala Kralj & Gašper Šantl for Slovenia

Introducing: Zala Kralj & Gašper Šantl for Slovenia

🇸🇮 Slovenia 2019 | “Sebi” (English: Oneself)

Photograph by Ana Šantl

Grand Final | 15th Place | 105 points

Semi Final 1 | 6th Place | 165 points | Qualified

Zala Kralj & Gašper Šantl, who now go by the mononym zalagasper, are a lo-fi indie pop duo and couple from Maribor, Slovenia, who won the superfinal of Evrovizijska Melodija with 73 percent of the vote and thus the right to be Slovenia’s entry to Tel Aviv 2019 with their winning song, “Sebi”.

The duo only first met in 2017 and soon after became both musically and romantically involved, officially forming their duo in 2018 with the release of “Valovi” (English: Waves). Following the single’s success, the pair followed up with two additional singles before “Sebi” was released, and were all packaged together in the 2019 EP Štiriwhich was released a few days before their upset over the favorite at EMA.

“Sebi” reflects on being oneself and what it means to be yourself. Though you may not know what to do and where to go, just be you, even if you make mistakes trying to find your way. If you make a mistake along the way for being you, don’t apologize for it. The lyrics both state that we, as each individual people, don’t need to prove ourselves to anyone else, and that we are all broadly guided by the same dreams and fears. The song is about being lost with yourself and your way in the world, and that all you need to do to go on is to find your way back to yourself and thereby finding happiness in being you.

Kralj and Šantl initially met on Instagram in 2017, as Kralj was an aspiring vocalist doing covers and Šantl was an instrumentalist and songwriter searching for somebody to sing “Valovi” when he happened upon her. The pair got together shortly after and began dating before the release of “Valovi” in 2018, and have been together since. The duo have been awarded for the work despite their relative recency, winning the Zlata Piščal Award with “Valovi” for best song. Though they came in 2nd during the final of EMA 2019, they won with a recording breaking share of the vote in the superfinal against the initial first place performer.

Since performing at Eurovision, the duo released their first English-language single, Come to Me.

Watch “Sebi” below, and follow Zala Kralj & Gašper Šantl on Instagram,  Twitter, and Facebook. Listen to their EP, Štiri, on Spotify.

Introducing: Duncan Laurence for the Netherlands

Introducing: Duncan Laurence for the Netherlands

Photograph by Paul Bellaart

🇳🇱 The Netherlands 2019 | “Arcade”

Grand Final | 1st Place | 498 points | 👑

Semi Final 1 | 1st Place | 280 points | Qualified

Duncan Laurence, who’s real name is Duncan de Moor, was chosen internally by The Netherlands’ national broadcaster AVROTROS to represent his country with “Arcade”.  He competed on The Voice of Holland and was coached by Eurovision alumni Ilse DeLange (of the Common Linnets, Netherlands 2014), who later became a mentor to him. Laurence constantly sent songs he had written to DeLange, asking for her advice, and upon receiving “Arcade” she heavily implored him to allow her to submit the song to the Dutch Eurovision team for possible selection. Laurence was formally announced in January as the Dutch representative, with “Arcade” being revealed two month later in March.

“Arcade” is, at its core, a song that about longing for a lost love that has gone and the burdening pain that comes with. Though keeping the broader meaning of the song universal, Laurence was strongly inspired by a woman he was close to who died suddenly at the age of forty. She had continued to love her husband, even though he had left her, and “Arcade” channels that heartbreak and melancholy. In the music video, Laurence swims nude in a void, presenting himself as vulnerable in a field of seemingly infinite darkness.

Laurence himself is a relatively unknown artist. His main foray into the public was as a competitor on The Voice of Holland in 2014, where he made it to the semi-finals under DeLange’s guidance. Following that, he was a member of  The Slick (at one point called The Slick & Suited), with whom he parted with in 2016. In the intervening years, he attended the Rock Academy, in Tilburg, where he graduated in 2017. Laurence is also openly bisexual and has a boyfriend. He is noted as being a frequent user of the phrase “you know what I mean?”.

Watch “Arcade” below, and follow Duncan Laurence on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

Introducing: Hatari for Iceland

Introducing: Hatari for Iceland

🇮🇸 Iceland 2019 | “Hatrið mun Sigra” (English: Hatred will Prevail)

Photograph by Íris Dögg Einars

Grand Final | 10th Place | 232 points

Semi Final 1 | 6th Place | 221 points | Qualified

Hatari, a techno-industrial band consisting of Matthías Tryggvi Haraldsson, Einar Hrafn Stefánsson, and Klemens Nikulásson Hannigan, will represent Iceland at Tel Aviv 2019 after winning the superfinal of Söngvakeppnin 2019 with their song “Hatrið mun Sigra“. They are noted primarily for their anti-fascist and anti-capitalist themes in their music, which is further exemplified by their BDSM imagery, though they are not without a sense of humor about themselves. Hatari says they are sponsored by “SodaDream”, an off-brand and critical mockery of the Israeli company SodaStream that has been accused of expanding its factories into Palestinian territory. 

“Hatrið mun Sigra” refers to the rise of far-right fascism across Europe and the greater world, with lyrics being skewing to being over-the-top and satirically edgy. Despite the bleak message, and Hatari’s appearance, the band advocates the even if hatred prevails, we should all still love each other to see us through the darkness. 

The band was formed between cousins Matthias and Klemens in 2015, and the band will be joined onstage by Sólbjört Sigurðardóttir, Andrean Sigurgeirsson, and Ástrós Guðjónsdóttir. Despite the harshness of their presentation, they are genuinely nice people. The bands main purpose is too dismantle capitalism, which had supposedly led to their brief break up in late 2018 before they were announced to be one of the competing artists at Söngvakeppnin. The band has released one EP, Neysluvara, in 2017 and a stand-alone single, “Spillingardans”.

Watch “Hatrið mun Sigra” below, and follow Hatari on Instagram and Facebook. Listen to their their debut EP Neysluvara and single “Spillingardans” on Spotify.

Introducing: Katerine Duska for Greece

Introducing: Katerine Duska for Greece

🇬🇷 Greece 2019 / “Better Love”

Photograph by Efi Gousi

Grand Final | 21st Place | 74 points

Semi Final 1 | 5th Place | 165 points | Qualified

Katerine Duska is an indie Greek-Canadian singer/songwriter who was chosen internally by ERT to represent Greece at Tel Aviv 2019 with the song “Better Love”. Through the selection process, ERT directors were swayed by Katerine’s unique voice and unanimously selected her. Though she is based in Athens, her debut album, Embodiment, released in 2016, is entirely in English, and she gained acclaimed indie status through her debut single One in a Million and her cover of the Arctic Monkeys’ “Do I Wanna Know”. Duska’s strong singing voice and non-Greek musical stylings were a strong deciding factor for ERT, as the past five years have been marked by poor placings, including two non-qualifications, with both traditionally Greek and standard pop songs.

“Better Love” is, as the title implies, a song about striving and working toward a seeking an uncompromising and unconditional love. The song is a journey past what we consider the accompanying pain that love must come with and looseness in which we proclaim love in order to seek out a real, true love. Duska invites the listener with her, to continue this everlasting burdensome journey knowing you’re not alone. She implores that this better love is one that lets us love the way we want, with whoever we want.

Duska was born and raised in Montreal, Canada, until moving to Athens, Greece, when she was a teenager. Though she studied law at the University of Athens, she was always interested in music and initially found her calling classical music before finding her way with more modern sounds. Her debut single, One in a Million, was recorded and released in 2013, garnering her acclaim among the Greek indie music community, with her debut album, Embodiment, being recorded two year later in 2015 and being released to critical acclaim in 2016. She wrote and composed the album herself and has been favorably compared to Amy Winehouse on several occasions.

Watch “Better Love” below, and follow Katerine Duska on Instagram,  Twitter, and Facebook. Listen to her debut album, Embodiment, on Spotify.

Introducing: Kate Miller-Heidke for Australia

Introducing: Kate Miller-Heidke for Australia

🇦🇺 Australia 2019 / “Zero Gravity”

Photograph by Jo Duck

Grand Final | 9th Place | 284 points

Semi Final 1 | 1st Place | 261 points | Qualified

Kate Miller-Heidke won the inaugural Eurovision: Australia Decides national final with the song “Zero Gravity” and will represent the country in their fifth year at the contest at Tel Aviv 2019. Boasting a broadcast musical skill set and being classically trained, Miller-Heidke has a broad discography covering the ground of pop, folk, and opera. Her accolades and performances are spread throughout the English-speaking world, having top charting albums in Australia, performing in New York operas, and working in British theaters.

“Zero Gravity” combines pop and opera in a crescendo meant to emulate the emotion of breaking free of depression and finally feeling yourself again. For Kate personally, the song is about her overcoming her post-natal depression and the wave of relief that came with it. The song has no music video, in part due to Miller-Heidke having split with her label nearly a decade ago and hasn’t produced a music video since, and instead the official video is her winning performance at Australia decides.

Miller-Heidke was trained at the Queensland Conservatorium, where she developed her vocal abilities as a classical singer. She is married and has one child. With four albums under her belt in addition to a ‘best of’ compilation, Miller-Heidke has a larger discography than most of her competing peers. Her album O Vertigo! was crowded funded, being the highest funded Australian music project at the time and debuted at four on the Australian charts. In addition, her second and third albums, Curiouser and Nightflight, both reached number two on the Australian charts.

Watch “Zero Gravity” below, and follow Kate Miller-Heidke on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. Listen to O Vertigo!, Curiouser, Nightflight, and the rest of her discography on Spotify.

Introducing: Tamta for Cyprus

Introducing: Tamta for Cyprus

🇨🇾 Cyprus 2019 / “Replay”

Photograph by Kynthia Kindeli

Grand Final | 13th Place | 109 points

Semi Final 1 | 9th Place | 148 points | Qualified

Tamta Goduadze, who simply goes by Tamta, is a Georgian-Greek singer who was chosen internally by Cyprus to represent the country with the song “Replay” at Tel Aviv 2019. She is a pop star in Greece and Cyprus, coming to the spotlight when she first appears on the Greek version of Pop Idol, Super Idol. Though originally from Tbilisi, she moved to Athens with her daughter, mother, and brother after divorcing her husband when she was 20. Her last proper album was released in 2010, but she’s kept up her popularity with the releases of numerous singles.

“Replay”, lyrically, speaks of a lover who cannot get enough of her and one that’s she’s too happy to oblige. Compositionally and thematically, the song relates to Cyprus’s previous entry, “Fuego”, and it’s major success as last year’s runner up. The song was crafted by the same team with the intention of repeating their success, especially as a country that tends to see middling results.

Tamta, born in Georgia while under the USSR, married her boyfriend at age 16 and gave birth to a daughter. The marriage only lasted six years, after which Tamta moved to Greece and competed in Super Idol, finishing second. Her strong finish built up her career over night, releasing charting albums and starring in several musical productions. She previously attempted to represent Greece at Belgrade 2008, and has worked with Eurovision artists such as Helena Paparizou (Greece 2005), Mihai Traistariu (Romania 2006), and Mikolas Josef (Czechia 2018). Beyond her music, she has also served as a judge on the Greek and Georgian editions of the X Factor

Watch “Replay” below, and follow Tamta on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. Listen to her discography on Spotify.

Introducing: Mahmood for Italy

Introducing: Mahmood for Italy

🇮🇹Italy 2019 / “Soldi” (English: Money)

Photograph by Attilio Cusani

Grand Final | 2nd Place | 472 points | 🥈| Prequalified

Alessandro Mahmood, known professionally just as Mahmood, will represent Italy at Tel Aviv 2019 after winning the newcomer-only Sanremo Giovani which then led him to compete in and win the prestigious Sanremo Music Festival, which also serves as Italy’s national selection process, with the song “Soldi”. His victory at Sanremo angered conservatives in Italy due to his multicultural-influences background and his half-Egyptian heritage. Mahmood’s first foray into the public eye when he competed on the Italian edition of the X Factor in 2012, though he was eliminated early on.

“Soldi” harkens back to his childhood trauma over his father’s abandonment of his mother and him, and that his father only came back to take advantage of his son’s success. The song uses a diverse, ethnic instrumentation and utilizes an Arabic phrase Mahmood recalls from his childhood. “Soldi” broadly is meant to highlight how money can change and impact people’s relationships.

Despite his rough childhood, Mahmood worked hard, studying music while working at a bar until he began entering the newcomer’s section of Sanremo, where began to see success. Though his early elimination on the X factor came as a shock, he pushed through that setback and began building up his discography. His popularity began to skyrocket in the mid-tens, releasing several singles, up to Sanremo 2019 where in addition to revealing “Soldi” he also released his debut album, Gioventu Bruciata.

Watch “Soldi” below, and follow Mahmood on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. Listen to Gioventu Bruciata and the rest of his discography on Spotify.

Introducing: Darude ft. Sebastian Rejman for Finland

Introducing: Darude ft. Sebastian Rejman for Finland

🇫🇮 Finland 2019 / “Look Away”

Photograph by Anton Sucksdorff

Semi Final 1 | 17th Place | 23 points | Did Not Qualify

Ville Virtanen, known better as Darude, a Finnish DJ, was internally selected by Finland‘s national broadcaster Yle to represent the country at Tel Aviv 2019. With Sebastian Rejman, a Finnish-Swedish singer, Darude presented three different songs at Uuden Musiikin Kilpailu, Finland’s national selection final, where “Look Away” ultimately won. Darude is most know for his hit single “Sandstorm”, which later became apart of a meme. Rejman, meanwhile, is a part of two bands, The Giant Leap and Sebastian and the 4th Line Band, the latter of which was formed in response to the former going on hiatus.

Watch “Look Away” below, and follow Darude on Twitter and Facebook. Listen to his extended discography on Spotify.

Introducing: Eliot for Belgium

Introducing: Eliot for Belgium

🇧🇪 Belgium 2019 / “Wake Up”

Photograph by Wouter Struyf

Semi Final 1 | 13th Place | 70 points | Did Not Qualify

Eliot Vassamillet, who will appear under Eliot, was chosen internally by Belgium‘s public broadcaster to represent the country with the song “Wake Up” at Tel Aviv 2019. He’s a relatively fresh voice, only having acquired national attention after appearing Belgian edition of The Voice, where he reached the live shows before being eliminated. Though he is still a high school student, he’s toured the country for several concerts.

“Wake Up” is particularly poignant for Eliot’s generation, as the song is a call for the youth of today to open their eyes to what the world has become and to come together and work to make it a better place. The song is written by Peter Dumoulin, who was behind Belgium 2017’s entry, “City Lights” by Blanche.

Eliot grew up in Mons, he was given his first guitar when he was seven and has studied music theory while in school. After appearing on The Voice in late 2018, Eliot was approached by Dumoulin and the two began to collaborate, with the first demos of “Wake Up” coming to light soon after. Between being in his senior, his girlfriend, and publicity work for Eurovision, Eliot’s last few months leading up to Tel Aviv 2019 have been rough with all his permitted absences being consumed by the contest.

Watch “Wake Up” below, and follow Eliot on Instagram and Facebook. Listen to “Wake Up” on Spotify.

Introducing: Michela for Malta

Introducing: Michela for Malta

🇲🇹 Malta 2019 / “Chameleon”

Photograph by Jonathan Brincat

Grand Final | 14th Place | 107 points

Semi Final 1 | 8th Place | 157 points | Qualified

Michela Pace, who will go by just Michela at Tel Aviv 2019, will represent Malta with the song “Chameleon” after winning the inaugural season of the X Factor Malta. She is only eighteen, but she has competed in several music competitions across Europe. “Chameleon” is her first original song in her arsenal. 

“Chameleon” is a contemporary pop song about adapting to life as it comes at you, no matter what you may face. The music video exemplifies Michela’s Mediterranean upbringing by bringing a bright, vibrant, and tropical aesthetic.

Michele was born and raised on the Maltese island of Gozo, but she’s traveled across Europe and competed in several music competitions. Her accolades include winning the Lithuanian Music Talent League and finishing as a finalist in the Baltic Voices. She has also taken apart in an artist development program in London.

Watch “Chameleon” below, and follow Michela on Instragram, and Twitter. Stream “Chameleon” on Spotify.