LATVIA: Carousel “That Night”May 6, 2019
Latvia’s results in Eurovision have changed quite considerably since the success of the early 2000s and their 2002 win. In the past decade, they have had a long streak of non-qualifications from 2009-2014 (equalling Andorra, Bulgaria and North Macedonia’s run of six straight non-qualifications each, but not beating the Netherlands’ record of eight consecutive non-qualifications from 2005-2012). Their success improved drastically with the introduction of the National Selection show, Supernova, achieving a 6th place result in 2015 with Aminata’s Love Injected, followed by a 15th place finish in 2016 with Heartbeat by Justs (also written by Aminata). In 2017, they failed to qualify for the Grand Final with one of their worst ever results - a last place in the Semi Final, with a slight improvement in 2018 when they were placed 12th in that Semi Final. Can unlucky Latvia turn their fortunes around in 2019? Are there any dark horses on this Carousel?
If the current betting odds are anything to go by, one would be forgiven for thinking that there is “no light” for them. Currently ranked 4th last out of all the songs to win Eurovision, or even qualify from their Semi Final (they were allocated to the tough Semi Final 2, loaded with fan favourites and strong, competitive entries), there is no doubt that this sleepy song is being “slept on” by the public. Part of the reason could be that Latvia’s entry this year, That Night, is a unique song that defies expectations, beating out fan favourites in the form of Edgars Kreilis and perennial second-placer Markus Riva (seriously, the poor guy is becoming the new Saara Aalto) to win Supernova 2019. It was second in the public vote, but a winner with the jury vote. On paper, it reads as entirely the opposite of what one may think of when they think of a “typical Eurovision entry”, but that’s why it’s a breath of fresh air. It’s not a pop banger with backup dancers, pyrotechnics, and the wind machine turned up to 11. There’s just the band, the stage, and the tender intimacy they create within three minutes with one song - shared with the audience.
Carousel may be relative newcomers to the music scene in terms of commercial releases, but they share a wealth of musical experience. Beginning as a duo comprised of vocalist Sabīne Žuga and guitarist Mārcis Vasiļevskis, the band started performing together in 2015 under the moniker ‘Madam Žuzī and Misjē Magrē’, performing in a 1930s jazz style, eventually going by their real names by February 2017. Passionate fans may also recognise Mārcis from another song in Supernova 2019 with the band Laime Pilnīga, Awe, which he also co-wrote. Awe placed third at Supernova this year. In Supernova 2018, Mārcis also was one of the co-authors of the song Who’s Counting by Ritvars, while Sabīne was one of Ritvars’ backing vocalists. Feeling that their sound was incomplete, Carousel increased from two to four members, as Sabīne and Mārcis are joined by bassist Staņislavs Judins and drummer Mareks Logins for That Night, as well as for their upcoming debut album.
The power of That Night lies in its timeless simplicity - from its straightforward yet poetic lyrics and concept, to its smooth and intricate instrumentation that seamlessly blends with Sabīne’s smoky, soft voice while also giving it its own space to truly work its magic. Carousel are inspired by the works of their favourite authors, and this storytelling quality is evident in their music, which evokes a wistful, dreamy nostalgia. That Night also marks Sabīne’s songwriting debut, telling the story of a lonely night coloured by the vividness of a persistent, unsettled imagination. Whether you’re single and pining for your true love to come, or in a relationship and missing your significant other, That Night’s simple meaning is something many can relate to. With its sentiment of longing and yearning for a loved one, this song captures the feeling of loneliness and the rush of thoughts that accompany it incredibly well, with a subtlety that truly shines. This charming gem of a song is proof that there is such a thing as spectacle, without being overly loud or brash. The saying “when force fails, gentleness often succeeds” definitely applies here.
Carousel’s winning performance at Supernova, despite being filmed entirely in black-and-white (save for some artistic lens flares), allows the music to lend it a colour of its own. It has country-esque lilts without overdoing it and upsetting the balance of its acoustic roots. It is exquisitely staged, blurring the lines between live performance and music video in a way that gives the song great intimacy. And with the power of Eurovision-winning stage director Rennie Miro behind them, that quality is bound to be translated to the stage in Tel Aviv!
That Night is a very measured song, knowing its limits and showing masterful restraint, but the atmospheric music expands outside the boundaries of any box you may try and put it in. While its harshest critics may complain that it doesn’t have much in the way of a grand musical climax, it doesn’t need one - but for those who are curious as to what that would sound like, the collaboration/cover of That Night with Laime Pilnīga should pique your interest. Watch until the end to see Marcīs really show off his guitar skills!
If you’re a fan of bands like Angus & Julia Stone or Eurovision songs such as When We’re Old (Lithuania 2018) or Calm After The Storm (Netherlands 2014), you should definitely check this out. The high-placing results of those two entries alone should speak volumes - proving that there is as much of a place for simple, delicate songs on the Eurovision stage as there is in a quaint local café, even if both of those songs were initially written off as failures in the betting odds or by fansites. If you’re a Salvador Sobral-style musical aficionado, That Night is a gourmet dining experience in a contest plagued with “fast food” music. It’s proof that music’s feeling can create the fireworks, no matter how delicate they may be.