Off-Topic: The People's Guide to Supernova 2019, Latvia's Eurovision Selection Contest

It's time to take a break from all of the serious news and politics that we've been discussing throughout Latvia Weekly's run so far, which is why we're going to start going "off-topic" once in a while and discuss things that are a bit less pressing or important. This week, Joe's taking a look at one of his favorite Latvian pop culture institutions, the yearly "Supernova" song contest that picks Latvia's Eurovision contestant.

For those of you who didn't grow up in Europe, it's a bit hard to fathom the cultural phenomenon that is Eurovision. Just as the Super Bowl is in many ways the manifestation of American clichés with its glorified sports violence, endless cringe-inducing commercials, and traditional consumption of fatty, salty foods, Eurovision is the kind of glitzy, cheesy, nationalistic extravaganza that almost certainly couldn't happen anywhere but Europe (and Israel and Australia for complicated reasons). With a modest start of just 14 countries participating in the inaugural 1956 contest, 42 countries will compete in two semi-finals this year, with 24 making it into the "Grand Final" on May 18th. Latvia has participated since the year 2000, winning the entire competition just two years later in 2002 and having wildly mixed results since then with six appearances in the Grand Final as well as four dead-last place finishes in the semi-finals (and no, "Cake to Bake" was not one of them).

While different countries have their own methods of choosing their yearly three-minute contenders to compete in front of the roughly 200 million people who pretend not to tune in each year, some countries like Latvia have decided to leave it up to the people to decide via a nationally televised vote-in song competition. Latvia's current iteration is called "Supernova," which has already seen a number of changes over its five-year history including to its format, hosts, judges, and the heartbreaking decision to not bring back the one-of-a-kind French-rapping, break-dancing, paper airplane-making "Rīgas bebrs" ("Riga's beaver") who entertained the live studio audience and internet viewers during TV ad breaks.

This year's format is nearly identical to Eurovision's, albeit with less entries. Two semi-finals with eight songs each have already taken place with four artists or groups from each competing in a final to be broadcast this weekend on LTV1. Those of you here in Latvia without cable or an antenna can watch LTV1 anytime you like for free on here, and those reading elsewhere can still watch live via the LTV Visiem online channel and on a special stream that will appear on minutes before the show starts at 9:25 PM this Saturday.

For those of you who didn't get a chance to watch the last two semi-finals and want to get fully caught up before tomorrow, I've given a little bit of background information about each of the contestants. Since Supernova's marketing generally targets the country's youth, I've also enlisted my high school students Alise and Niks to provide a bit of Generation Z-style commentary on each of the entries. As should be perfectly obvious, Latvia Weekly does not officially endorse any of the biased musical opinions found below, nor any particular contestant.

Carousel — "That Night"

Joe: Although this group's tender Norah Jones-esque duet is about as un-Eurovision-y as one could possibly imagine, "That Night" was an immediate hit with listeners who propelled Carousel into the finals with a first place finish in the second semi-final episode. Although this is the first time the group has competed in Supernova as main contestants since their founding in 2015, guitarist Mārcis Vasiļevskis co-wrote Rītvars' entry from last year "Who's Counting" in which singer Sabīne Žuga also performed as a backing vocalist.

Alise: L.O.V.E. The song that is the queen. It's the best out of everyone, and if it won't be going to Eurovision, for example because of RIVA, I will be as always disappointed in Latvians for BAD MUSIC TASTE.

Niks: This song is nice, it is catchy. It actually doesn't need the flare, that usually wins Eurovision.

Double Faced Eels — "Fire"

Joe: Although better known as an early 2000s alternative/pop punk group for hits like "To Take a Breath" and "Zilais Valis" ("Blue Whale"), Double Faced Eels have updated their sound with the times and their Supernova entry sounds a lot more like a cross between Maroon 5 and Imagine Dragons than anything from their earlier work. The group hopes to follow up on their success in other TV musical contests, having previously won an episode the YouTube "Best Cover Ever" online show in 2017 and their new vocalist Reinis Straume's appearing in the finals of Latvia's version of the "X-Factor."

Niks: They have a kind of boy band vibe, but they look too old to be one.

Alise: I don't like it. Nothing more to add.

Dziļi Violets ft. Kozmens — "Tautas Dziesma"

Joe: Latvian for "Deep Purple," Dziļi Violets have been producing off-beat indie pop for the last decade or so with songs about Latvian literary characters, snowmen in the southern town of Dobele, and trams who dream they have tires, and have served as the house band for the "late night" show “Pusnakts šovs septiņos ar Jāni Skuteli” ("Midnight Show at Seven with Jānis Skutelis"). This year they've enlisted Rīga's beaver himself, comedian Mārtiņš Kozlovskis (aka Kozmens), for a typically nonsensical entry called "Tautas Dziesma" (Folk Song) about not being able to dance that they wrote together for a show episode based on interviews the host conducted with people in a park about what kind of song could win it all.

Alise: Decent song that ACTUALLY can be sent to Eurovision.

Niks: I love the combination of French, English and Latvian, and the song itself.

Edgars Kreilis — "Cherry Absinthe"

Joe: 27-year-old Jelgava native Edgars Kreilis is back for the third year in a row, hoping to improve on an appearance in last year's finals thanks to his gritty pop song about a difficult childhood connecting with voters. This year's number uses the same basic musical formula of his 2018 finals success, but this time around the lyrics deal with a far less serious late-night winter romance after drinking cherry absinthe.

Alise: I didn't even remember that he got into finals.

Niks: I couldn't even remember this song, it just doesn't get stuck in my head and that means the song isn't catchy.

Laime pilnīga — "Awe"

Joe: These first time Supernova contestants have been quite active in the Latvian music scene throughout the last decade, with all three of Laime Pilnīga's (Latvian for "Complete Happiness") LPs having been nominated for "Best Rock Album" at the yearly "Zelta Mikrofons" ("Golden Microphone") music award ceremony. Their song "Awe" sounds like it would be more likely to found on Adult Contemporary Radio rather than the glam "Grand Final" stage, but there's nothing less predictable than what Eurovision voters will be looking for on the day of the big show.

Alise: I just don't get it why people like it. 😹😹😹😹😹

Niks: Pass.

Aivo Oskis — "Somebody's Got My Lover"

Joe: Another first-time Supernova contestant, Aivo Oskis has been quite active on the Baltic music contest circuit since returning a few years ago from an extended stay abroad, having appeared on both the Latvian and Lithuanian versions of the "X Factor" in the last two years. His entry "Somebody's Got My Lover" is a bit of cognitive dissonance, pairing heartbroken lyrics about a lost high school love with loungey, danceable upbeat pop backing track.

Alise: Honestly, he tried to make an other typical pop song that is not memorable and hopes to get in Eurovision with this.

Niks: The melody sounds fine but the singer isn't.

Markus Riva — "You Make Me So Crazy"

Joe: There is consistent, and then there is Markus Riva, who has competed in all five seasons of Supernova in a never-ending quest to finally represent Latvia in Eurovision. Despite high-profile gigs including a Radio SWH show and hosting Latvia's version of the "X Factor," as well as a sizable following in neighboring countries capped off by his duet with Мята "Не відпускай" winning "Song of the Year" on Ukrainian National TV's New Year's broadcast, success in Supernova has so far eluded this prolific pop star.

Alise: 5th year and it gets worse and worse. He made it so far that he is even famous in Ukraine and YET can't make actually a good song for Eurovision.

Niks: For some people 3rd time's the charm, if not they usually give up — but Riva doesn't give up. That's a good personal quality, but the songs just keep getting worse and worse and he could just stop.

Samanta Tīna — "Cutting The Wire"

Joe: Though not quite as much of a permanent fixture as Mr. Riva, Samanta Tīna is also no stranger to Supernova, having competed with two different songs in 2016 before dramatically telling the audience to not vote for her because neither of the songs were good enough. She's back with a vengeance this year though, with her very confident and very Eurovision-y entry "Cutting the Wire" placing first in her semi-final round.

Alise: She has nice voice, but... let's be honest. Not a song for Eurovision, it's just nothing special.

Niks: I like the outfits and the song but this is not the song I would send to Eurovision.

Joe's Top 3:

  1. Dziļi Violets ft. Kozmens — "Tautas Dziesma" The legendary and sorely missed Rīga's beaver always wanted to be a symbol of European culture, and it's my mission to allow his human form of Kozmens to fulfill the dream.
  2. Carousel — "That Night" In both fantasy football and in Eurovision there's always the decision to be made between "playing it safe" and "going big or going home," and this is the kind of song that has huge boom-bust "dark horse" potential depending on how the rest of Europe is feeling this May.
  3. Markus Riva — "You Make Me So Crazy" If it's not one of the first two, then come on Latvia; just send the poor guy to Eurovision, for crying out loud! Even his song titles of "This Time" and "You Make Me So Crazy" sound like a desperate cry for help from the person who probably cares more about Eurovision than the rest of Latvia combined.

Niks' Top 3:

  1. Carousel — "That Night"
  2. Dziļi Violets ft. Kozmens — "Tautas Dziesma"
  3. Samanta Tīna — "Cutting the Wire"

Alise's Top 3:

I only have a "top 2." Seriously, I didn't like the rest. They didn't get to me, and in my opinion the other songs are not qualified for Eurovision. But, well... many people, many thoughts.
  1. Carousel — "That Night"
  2. Dziļi Violets ft. Kozmens — "Tautas Dziesma"

So who will come out on top this Saturday? As Alise mentioned, it's up to you to decide! You can tune into Supernova tomorrow at 9:25 PM on LTV 1 or at using either the "LTV1" stream for here in Latvia or the "LTV VISIEM" stream for those of you abroad. Take care!

About the authors:

Joe Horgan is the editor of Latvia Weekly has an unhealthy obsession with both Latvian politics and pop culture. If he had any musical talent and/or were a Latvian citizen, he would probably also try to compete in Supernova.

Alise and Niks are co-hosts of the monthly English language "Sunlit Era" internet radio show which explores life in Latvia as high school students. Their next episode will be on March 3rd, and will discuss International Women's Day.

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