Author: Casey Koutris

Serhat for San Marino 2019

Serhat for San Marino 2019

🇸🇲 San Marino 2019 / “Say Na Na Na”

Photograph by Cem Talu


Grand Final | 19th Place | 77 points

Semi Final 1 | 8th Place | 150 points | Qualified

Ahmet Serhat Hacıpaşalıoğlu, simply known by the mononym Serhat, is a Turkish singer who was chosen by SMRTV to return and represent San Marino at Tel Aviv 2019 with the song “Say Na Na Na”. After previously competing for the microstate at Stockholm 2016 with “I Didn’t Know”, and despite not qualifying, Serhat continued to build his career. Despite San Marino’s history of poor results at the contest, Serhat has achieved the third best results for the country, falling just behind four-time representative and San Marino’s sole one-time qualifier Valentina Monetta (San Marino 2012, 2013, and 2014, and with Jimmie Wilson in 2017).

“Say Na Na Na” invites the listener to celebrate the joy life despite the trying times they’re in, especially in the current climate. The lyrics say that no matter how hopeless things seem or how dark the road ahead may be, that you should embrace the beauty of life and there’s always a place for you here to be yourself. Serhat, under the condition he would compete for San Marino once again if he had the right song, wrote the track while in Cologne, and called SMRTV shortly after to confirm his return.

Born and raised in Istanbul, Turkey, Serhat had initially graduated from the Faculty of Dentistry at the University of Istanbul before choosing to pursue a career in entertainment. He founded his own production studio, End Productions, and was the producer and host of Riziko!, the Turkish version of Jeopardy!, from 1994 to 2000. His international career blossomed with the success of the single “Total Disguise” in 2004, where the single charted 11th in Greece and later led to a remake of the song with Eurovision winner Helena Paparizou (Greece 2005) in 2018. After competing at Stockholm 2016, Serhat rereleased “I Didn’t Know” with Grammy nominee Martha Walsh, for which led to him being the first Eurovision artist to be on the US Billboard charts in over ten years.

Follow Serhat on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. Listen to Serhat’s extended discography, including “I Didn’t Know” and “Total Disguise”, on Spotify.

Roko for Croatia 2019

Roko for Croatia 2019

🇭🇷 Croatia 2019 / “The Dream”

Photograph by Damjna Fiket and Marko Košutić


Semi Final 2 | 14th Place | 64 points | Did Not Qualify

Roko Blažević, who will simply go by Roko at Eurovision, won the 2019 edition of Croatia’s national selection process Dora with the song “The Dream” and thus won the right to represent Croatia at Tel Aviv 2019. A relatively young artist, Roko has competed in several music competitions and has been mentored by Jacques Houdek (Croatia 2017)

“The Dream” refers to the collective ideal of a love that extends across humanity, one that bridges us together. This titular dream is one that pieces us as humans back together from war and devastation, and in the Croatian lyrics, to love, even though you are one person, makes you a hero that will help see this dream to fruition. The song was jointly composed by Houdek, Andrea Čubrić, and American lyricist Charlie Mason, who’s writing credits encompass several Eurovision songs including the winning song of Conchita Wurst (Austria 2014) and other international singers such as Miley Cyrus.

Roko was born in Split, Croatia, in 2001 to two musically talented parents. He won the Serbian television series Pinkove Zvezdice in 2017 and then competed on the Croatian series Zvijezde, where he placed second. Given his success on these two series at a young age, he attracted the attention of Houdek who became his mentor. Roko has been occasionally referred to as the “Croatian Michael Bublé” by the Croatian media (Bublé is a Canadian of Croatian descent.)

Follow Roko on Instagram and Facebook.

Michael Rice for the United Kingdom 2019

Michael Rice for the United Kingdom 2019

🇬🇧United Kingdom 2019 / “Bigger Than Us”

Photograph by the BBC and Joe Giacomet


Grand Final | 26th Place | 11 points | Prequalification

Michael Rice has been chosen to represent the United Kingdom with “Bigger Than Us” at Tel Aviv 2019 after winning Eurovision: You Decide. Rice had previously participated in The X Factor UK in 2011 and the British reality music competition series All Together Now in 2018 before being one of six artists chosen to take part in the 2019 edition of Eurovision: You Decide.

“Bigger Than Us” is about the idea there’s a grander meaning and essence at work than just the connection between two people. For Rice personally, he cites his families struggles and his father’s drug addiction, and that despite the rocky early years, his father was immensely proud of his musical prowess. His father passed away years ago, but when Rice won All Together Now he couldn’t help but wonder how he might feel seeing him today. The song, notably, was penned by another competing contestant at Eurovision this year, Sweden’s John Lundvik.

Rice was born in 1997, in the fall after the United Kingdom’s last win at Eurovision, and grew up in Hartlepool, where his grandmother introduced him to singing through street performances. Despite a rough childhood, including the death of his father, Rice found his way to the eleventh season of The X-Factor UK in 2011. However, he was eliminated in the early stages of the competition, and it wasn’t until a cover of a Years & Years song went viral on YouTube in 2015 that Rice attracted the attention of the BBC. He was asked to compete in the inaugural season of All Together Now in 2018, where he came out victorious. After he put his winning earnings to his mother’s crepe shop, Rice was shortly petitioned by the BBC to compete at Eurovision: You Decide. In addition to competing at Tel Aviv 2019, Rice is also currently working on his debut EP.

Follow Michael Rice on Instagram and Twitter.

Joci Pápai for Hungary 2019

Joci Pápai for Hungary 2019

🇭🇺 Hungary 2019 / “Az én Apám” (English: My Father)

Photograph by MTVA and Nikolett Kaszner


Semi Final 1 | 12th Place | 97 points | Did Not Qualify

József Pápai, who goes by Joci Pápai, is a Romani singer-songwriter who won Hungary‘s national selection A Dal with the song “Az én Apám”, two years after he previously represented Hungary at Kiev 2017 with “Origo”. Pápai has a long history with music, having released his debut album in 2005 and taking inspiration from his father. He is one of few Romani people to represent a country at Eurovision, as they are a historically repressed minority in Europe.

“Az én Apám” was written about Pápai’s father, and his relationship with him as his an inspiration and important bedrock in his life. While the song relates to his childhood memories specifically, the broader is to take a moment and appreciate the loved ones in your life while you can before they’re gone.

Pápai’s family introduced him to music, with his father being a member of a Romani choral group. His first public debut was as apart of Megasztár, a Hungarian voice talent competition, in 2005, and though he didn’t get far he released his debut album, Vigaszdíj, later that year. It took until 2010 for Pápai to find his big break, with the single “Ne nézz így rám” which launched him into the Hungarian public’s eye. With his increasing profile throughout the early 10’s, Pápai was chosen as one of the participants of A Dal 2017, where he won with the song “Origo” and later placed eight at Kiev 2017.

Watch “Az én Apám” below, and follow Joci Pápai on Instagram and Facebook. Listen to his debut album, Vigaszdíj, and assorted singles on Spotify.

Zena for Belarus 2019

Zena for Belarus 2019

🇧🇾 Belarus 2019 / “Like It”

Photograph by BTRC


Grand Final | 24th Place | 31 points

Semi Final 1 | 10th Place | 122 points | Qualified

Zinaida Alexandrovna Kupriyanovich, known by her stage name Zena, won the national final of Belarus‘s national selection process with the song “Like It”, and will represent the country at Tel Aviv 2019.

Follow Zena on Instagram. Listen to “Like It” on Spotify.

Paenda for Austria 2019

Paenda for Austria 2019

🇦🇹 Austria 2019 / “Limits”

Photograph by Patrick Muennich


Semi Final 2 | 17th Place | 21 points | Did Not Qualify

Gabriela Horn, otherwise known as Paenda, is a singer-songwriter from Austria who was chosen internally to represent the country with the song “Limits“. She grew up in southern Austria writes and record her music from her home studio, and graduated from the Vienna Music Institute. Starting her artist project in 2016, Paenda has since released two albums, Evolution I and Evolution II.

“Limits” comes from her sophomore album and song recants now Paenda pushes her interest and musical talent to the point of near collapse. It is about passion and how far we push ourselves for that passion, and the need we have to recognize our own boundaries and vulnerabilities in that pursuit.

Though Paenda began her namesake project in 2016, her first album debuted in early 2018 and her sophomore album followed suit in early 2019. The selection of “Limits” to represent Austria was contested in broadcaster ORF’s board, with opinions being largely divided over the song.

Watch “Limits” below, and follow Paenda on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. Listen to Evolution I and Evolution II on Spotify.

Chingiz for Azerbaijan 2019

Chingiz for Azerbaijan 2019

🇦🇿 Azerbaijan 2019 / “Truth”

Photograph by Alexandr Porubaymykh


Grand Final | 8th Place | 302 points

Semi Final 2 | 5th Place | 224 points | Qualified

Chingiz Mustafayev, who will be simply known as Chingiz at Eurovision, is a Russian-born Azerbaijani singer-songwriter who was chosen internally by İTV to represent Azerbaijan at Tel Aviv 2019 with the song “Truth”. Though he was born in Moscow, he moved to Azerbaijan at a young age where he learned to play guitar. Labeled as a rising star in the Caucasian nation, his song “Truth” won the internal selection process beating out over 350 other entires.

“Truth” centers itself around a toxic relationship and the devastation of the lies and deceit therein. The chorus, where Chingiz repeatedly tells himself to “shut about it” is him struggling to admit to himself that the relationship is faulty and failing fast. He knows this, but feels compelled to keep up the facade and bear the brunt of abuse.

Moving to Qaza at the age of six, Chingiz quickly picked up playing the guitar and learned to sing. Upon moving to Baku in his teenaged years, he soon entered Pop Idol, where he emerged victorious and quickly made a name for himself. He later took part in New Wave in Latvia, performing alongside Polina Gagarina (Russia 2015) and placing eleventh. Though apart of his own band, Palmas, Chingiz began releasing solo singles in early 2019. 

Watch “Truth” below, and follow Chingiz on Instagram. Listen to his discography on Spotify.

Bilal Hassani for France 2019

Bilal Hassani for France 2019

🇫🇷 France 2019 / “Roi” (English: King)

Photograph by Fifou


Grand Final | 16th Place | 105 points | Prequalified

Bilal Hassani, a Moroccan-French singer and YouTuber, won Destination Eurovision with his song “Roi” and thus is the representative of France at Tel Aviv 2019. He originally came to light via YouTube and has built himself a strong social media following in France. It’s also known that he is a big Eurovision fan and was particularly inspired by Eurovision winner Conchita Wurst (Austria 2014).

“Roí” is a song about self acceptance and loving yourself in spite of what difficulties you may face. For Hassani, this is an especially personal message, as he is a queer Muslim and has dealt with numerous homophobic and islamophobic messages. The song was written in collaboration with Madame Monsieur (France 2018).

Hassani is the son of Moroccan and naturalized-French parents, currently living with his mother as his father works in Singapore. He appeared on French version of The Voice Kids, whereafter he began to build his social media following and rise to fame. Hassani has released his debut album, Kingdom, prior to Tel Aviv 2019.

Watch “Roi” below, and follow Bilal Hassani on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. Listen to his debut album, Kingdom, on Spotify.

Lake Malawi for Czechia 2019

Lake Malawi for Czechia 2019

🇨🇿 Czechia 2019 / “Friend of a Friend”

Photograph by Tomas Gal


Grand Final | 11th Place | 157 points

Semi Final 1 | 2nd Place | 242 points | Qualified

Lake Malawi, a Czech indie pop band consisting of Albert Černý, Jeroným Šubrt, and Antonín Hrabal, won the inaugural Eurovision Song CZ national final to represent Czechia at Tel Aviv 2019 with the song “Friend of a Friend”. Formed by lead singer Černý in 2013, the band takes its namesake from a Bon Iver song. Černý’s musical aspirations found their origins in Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 and has since led to a debut EP and an album.

“Friend of a Friend” is directly about the yearning of a relationship with someone who only barely know through your social circles and is indirect about the myriad of degrees of separation we are all from each other. The song tied with the runner-up at Czech Song, but had received more higher sets of points and thus was declared the winner.

The band has supported artists like Thirty Seconds to Mars and Mika during their concerts in Prague. Their debut EP, We Are Making Love Again, was released in 2015 and led to their 2017 debut album, Surrounded by Light.

Watch “Friend of a Friend” below, and follow Lake Malawi on Instagram and Facebook. Listen to their extended discography on Spotify.

Victor Crone for Estonia 2019

Victor Crone for Estonia 2019

🇪🇪 Estonia 2019 / “Storm”

Photograph by Stina Kase


Grand Final | 20th Place | 76 points

Semi Final 1 | 4th Place | 165 points | Qualified

Victor Fritz-Crone, who has occasionally performed under the name Vic Heart, will represent Estonia with “Storm” at Tel Aviv 2019 after winning the Estonian national final, Eesti Laul. Though he was born and raised in Sweden, Crone moved to America in his teens to study music before returning to Europe. He had attempted to represent Sweden by competing in Melodifestivalen in 2015, but lost in the second chance round. He then latered moved to Estonia, where he began to release the occasional single.

“Storm” was intentionally written to be open to interpretation, as it’s lyrics are vague and unassuming. But Crone states that, generally, the song revolves surviving hardship and working through to what lies beyond it.

Crone comes from Österåker and was born into a musically inclined family, though he did not embrace his own talent until his teenage years. He then moved to the United States for a few years, writing music in Nashville, New York City, and Los Angeles. Returning to Sweden, Crone competed in Melodifestivalen 2015 with the song “Det rår vi inte för”, though he did not win. The following year he met Stig Rästa (with Elina Born, Estonia 2015), who convinced him to move to Estonia where he’s been ever since. Despite being a Swede by birth, the Estonian public have formed behind him as their representative at Tel Aviv 2019.

Watch “Storm” below and follow Victor Crone on Instagram and Facebook. Listen to his discography on Spotify.