Pesma za Evroviziju (Serbia) 2022 Reviews: Semi-Final 1

Unlike many of the larger national selections, Serbia announced their massive 36 song line-up later in the season, when many other selections were already underway. Hence, I’ve run out of time to review these songs in pairs as I originally planned to do. The order here is what they were listed as on the YouTube playlist uploaded by the Serbian broadcaster.

Sanja Bogosavljević — “Priđi mi”
Catchy synth-pop track with 1980s influences and some surprising production choices (. The vocals manage to be deadpan and ever so slightly seductive at once, although I think the backing vocals could have been left out as they clutter up an otherwise clear sound. Biggest weakness is that the song remains in second gear for too much of the track, but it feels like a strong entry.

VIS Limunada — “Pesma ljubav”
I think I’m not the only one who thought the opening line was going to be “Hey Mr Tamborine Man” instead of “Hey Mr DJ”, but the general influence is correct: this is a modern folk track with a full band and some quirky extra sounds (which the band should probably drop, as they’re distracting). The lead and backing singers harmonise really well when the chorus hits and the song has a pleasant pace, but it feels more suited to a local festival rather than Eurovision.

Zorja — “Zorja”
Well, you know where this one’s going from the start, with Zorja’s vocalising introducing a song which is built around a style of singing that other Europeans will recognise as being from the Balkan region of the continent. The piano and particularly the strings give this song a certain dramatic edge which the drums just amplify, but the focus is Zorja, who goes from gently accompanying the piano to singing full blast at the chorus. These are always powerful songs to hear and see performed.

Bojana Mašković — “Dama”
This seems like a cool song, its funky groove combined with Mašković’s rich vocal tones. There’s a lot of new things to listen to in the instrumentation as the song progresses, which mostly makes up for its one-paced nature. This means the vocals can just about get away with not being overly adventurous as the singer sticks to her strengths.

Boris Subotić — “Vrati mi”
The first classic ballad so far, with a slow build to the last minute where Subotić’s vocal intensity goes up a notch, and the music eventually follows for a big finish. This is an example of the formula being used well, but not exceptionally well. Yes, Subotić has an impressive voice and should hit all his notes with comfort on the night, but I’m not sure there’s enough innovation here to make it stand out on the night.

Ivona — “Znam”
A song of two halves: the first is okay and goes along amicably; it’s the second half that ups the ante, providing some variety and a nice start-stop moment before an energising last 30 seconds. While the build in itself is carefully controlled, it’s also too slow for this format. I’m afraid there’s too much of this song that doesn’t stick with me for long enough.

Bane Lalić & MVP — “Tu gde je ljubav ne postoji mrak”
Blues-rock with big band overtones isn’t anything I ever expected to find, even in a national selection, but this is a lot of fun for what it is. The singer has an appropriately gravelly voice, engaging in call-and-respond with his brass section, which is very loud and probably dominates the song more than it should. It ends with a crash of instruments, as these songs should.

Angellina — “Origami”
When I noticed that it was taking a while for this song to get going, I looked at the track length and saw that it was just over 2:30, meaning that this wasn’t going to mess around for much longer. And once it gets going, the song is fairly relentless EDM that keeps adding an extra layer or dimension as it gallops along. Angellina occasionally sounds like she’s struggling to keep up, in a way that you know she certainly isn’t. The song runs of out of things to say by the time of the 2:30 mark as it turns out — I like the sound of this, but it feels more like a collection of impressions rather than a complete package.

Ana Stanić — “Ljubav bez dodira”
Dramatic ballad which has a more modern sound that some of the others I’ve heard so far. Stanić’s vocals are very expressive and are there to take us on a ride. Her backing vocals play a strong supporting role in adding a dimension to the chorus which makes it sound more anthemic than it really it. In the end, I think it’s the comparatively tame instrumentation which lets this song down: there’s a nice keyboard somewhere, but it’s in the background.

Julija — “Brzina”
There are many words in this, rapped fairly seamlessly by Julija. She leaves the chorus to some synth effects which I suspect are a distortion of the notes that might be played on an analogue instrument. All this works surprisingly well in the end because it provides something interesting musically to contrast with the drum and bass of the verses. The track feels cutting edge, but it might be too quirky to attract a broad audience.

Aca Lukas — “Oskar”
Ah yes, the classic Balkan ballad. When the music kicks in properly (0:54) there’s no sound quite like it. Someone was playing around with a drum machine for the background beats and probably should have been sent home for the day instead. Lukas’ voice has earthy tones with something strangely calming about it, despite his roars.

Konstrakta — “In Corpore Sano”

We’ve entered the woods of quirky, hypnotic electro-pop with this one. Konstrakta’s deep, deadpan voice serves as a stable force against the uncertainty of the instrumentation, which covers a fair bit of ground in the world of electronica. It finishes as strangely and suddenly as it begins. I’m curious to see how they stage this: some of the beats sound like they need to be marched to — there are some interesting options for choreography.

Igor Simić — “To nisam ja”
And now we’ve reached a power ballad, with its big peaks and troughs. Simić seems to revel in ramping things up quickly, and when he does the song is certainly at its most effective. I’m not sure his non-chorus vocals are quite my thing, though — they sound fragile in the verses in a way that approaches croaky.

Mia — “Blanko”
I’m not sure a 30-second chorus is quite in fashion these days at Eurovision, but I really enjoyed the introduction to this song. It’s has a thudding beat with extra layers of being added every few seconds. Mia’s vocals come in and just I’m starting to adjust to the situation the music drops away and she goes out on her own for a few lines of a-capella before the music surges back in. It’s a surprising and creative moment. While that little guitar riff sounds awfully familiar and probably doesn’t need to be there, I’m enjoying it in its messiness. The only issue I have is that the last minute is underwhelming and repetitive when compared to the first half of the song, so some rearranging may have suited it better.

Jelena Pajić — “Pogledi”
Solid pop song that follows a lot of the conventions but adds a few bits and pieces, including a few impressively long notes by Pajić. The production creates a relatively spacious environment to give the vocals room to take centre stage, while (not for the first time in this semi) the backing vocals provide some extra elements that the instruments are not set up to do.

Biber — “Dve godine i šes’ dana”
Minimalist folk track that relies upon the usual tried and tested ingredients: violin, drums, acoustic guitar (and something else I’m not familiar with). The vocals come in by themselves, accompanied later by the guitar before everything else comes in. It’s a very traditional-sounding song, though; it could have been sent in to the contest at any time over the last several decades. There’s definitely an audience for this, but I’m afraid it’s not me.

Marija Mikić — “Ljubav me inspiriše”
Speaking of traditional-sounding songs — this is another one, although Mikić has a bigger, expansive sound backing her up which I think makes it more accessible. It feels like it needs to be performed in a concert hall rather than the pub on the corner. Sometimes I think her vocals take too much of a backseat to the instruments, and it finishes with a bit of a whimper, which is a shame.

LIFT — “Drama”
Glad to see we have a rock track in this line-up as well. I’m intrigued by the fact that they stop the track twice in order to focus almost exclusively on the vocals before returning to the rock sound. The big upside of this is that it gives the song an extension, because the instruments don’t really do as much as I’d expect from this genre, and that includes the guitar solo in the last minute. Not sure about this one — I’m feeling a lack of energy in this cut, and I’m hoping the band makes up for it on stage.