Eurosong – Najveći hitovi

Boogaloo Club, Zagreb, Croatia
Saturday 8th June 2024

Eurovision 2024 was a stressful event for fans of the contest with Palestine protests happening in and around the venue, the disqualification of one of the most popular acts this year and the prospect that several other acts might drop out in solidarity. A lot of viewers only watch the Grand Finale, and were blissfully unaware of all the drama behind the scenes; as I’ve only just blossomed into a fully-fledged ESC nerd, I started to wonder whether it was usually this nerve-wracking to follow all the drama, but from the reactions online, it seems that this was quite a special case indeed.

Still, as a resident of Croatia, I remained hopeful that fan favourite Baby Lasagna could take the trophy this year and bring the contest to Zagreb. That… didn’t quite happen, and the disappointment was real, but we were still so proud of him for how well he did and how much hype he brought to this country. It’s been a thrill to feel so connected to Eurovision by the chosen artist and it’s something I’ve never felt before as a Brit.

But an even more crushing disappointment came the very next day. Upon flying home to Zagreb, Baby Lasagna performed an impromptu concert in the main square… which I was entirely unaware of. Some ten thousand people were chanting along to Rim Tim Tagi Dim and meanwhile, I was minding my snoozing toddler in my flat just a kilometre away. The Instagram stories started pouring in and I was left shattered that I’d missed such an excellent opportunity to witness a piece of Eurovision history.

I was determined to witness Baby Lasagna live; even though I had scored tickets to Dora earlier this year, I was at the wrong semi-final, instead seeing other wonderful performances like Let 3 featuring Severina and Slimane. All of a sudden, Baby Lasagna dropped his first solo concert date at ŠRC Šalata, and all of the tickets were gone in under five minutes. Had I missed another opportunity? The artist himself seemed rather taken aback by his own popularity on his social media as he began to announce more dates that afternoon. The second round dropped at 4 pm and I was ready with my credit card and laptop in hand at 3:55 in order to get them. Quite fortunately, I was one of the few who made it, as my friend who also tried was unsuccessful.

Revelling in my success I began to Google articles about the artist, one of which revealed that he would also be playing in Zagreb much sooner than his planned dates in September as part of something called Eurosong. Huh? I quickly Googled. Sure enough, this was a planned date at a club that would feature many Eurovision and Dora artists from Croatia and abroad. And tickets were only a meagre €35.70. For what we were getting – Eurovision royalty such as Baby Lasagna, Alessandra, Emmelie de Forest, Efendi and more – this seemed like a shockingly low price. More suspiciously, it wasn’t already sold out already. I imagined that I probably had misunderstood what this event was going to be like but decided that the price was certainly low enough to take a punt.

Then came the pre-gaming or research. Having only actively watched Eurovision since 2017 (and only getting into the Semi-Finals since last year – the first initiation of being a hardcore ESC fan), I’m still relatively new to the Eurovision universe and have a lot to learn. I realised I didn’t even recognise Emmelie de Forest, winner of Eurovision 2013, so I started with her song Only Teardrops and was instantly smitten with her performance. Her loose blonde hair, barefooted performance and deep feminine vocals made her seem like a Danish Shakira. Googling the artists led me down some other rabbit holes but I was curious how this setlist would actually work given that most of the artists only performed at Dora.

I sidled up to the Boogaloo Club, which was where the event was newly situated after being originally planned at the larger Boćarski dom event centre. Just a few days before, I was still nervous that this event was not all it was cracked up to be until I saw Norway’s Alessandra post a video saying that she was looking forward to coming to Zagreb. Okay, so the artists were going to be there. But I still couldn’t understand the outstanding value. The venue also didn’t seem quite big enough to support such a momentous gathering of artists.

Arriving half an hour early gave me an advantageous viewpoint only about four rows from the stage, and also allowed me to enjoy one beer before the party began. As a warm-up to the live acts, a DJ played a medley of recent Eurovision songs, most of which were on the periphery of my knowledge. Nevertheless, the audience sang along to every song, even the ones that were in different languages such as Ukraine’s Teresa & Maria. I noticed it was quite warm in the club, especially as more and more people filled the room behind me, and I began to wonder if I should have got some water as well.

Finally, the event began with the official Eurovision theme before local singers Selestia and Marko Bošnjak took to the stage to welcome everyone. Apart from a few sentences in English here and there, everything was spoken in Croatian but it was enough to get the gist of what was happening.

I was surprised when the first act to take the stage was Emmelie de Forest. She seemed too important to be featured this early in the set, but perhaps they wanted to start on a high? Alternatively, she might have wanted to be in bed at a sensible time; as someone also in their thirties, I can relate! She began with Rainmaker, a song I wasn’t familiar with but later found out that she played during her set at the Eurovision 2014 Grand Final in Copenhagen. Then she sang a song she mistakenly called a “Spanish winner from the 1970s” which turned out to be the incredibly popular Eres tú which only received 2nd place in 1973. The melody of the song bears some striking resemblances to Elvis’s Can’t Help Falling in Love which in turn was based off 1784’s Plaisir d’amour. She sang beautifully and I was delighted to hear her perform songs that weren’t just what she is known for.

Emmelie de Forest at Eurosong

At the same time, I really did want to hear her play Only Teardrops and I needn’t have feared as that was her last song of the night. She had worn heels for the first two songs but asked the audience if they wanted to see her go barefoot. It was a surprising ask, but the audience erupted in applause and she dutifully took her shoes off, requesting that no one take any pictures of her feet, mentioning an accident she’d had whilst rehearsing in Malmö a decade ago. I have to say, there was something more authentic about seeing her perform her winning song barefooted, even if I was too far away from the stage to see her lower half.

This was the first song the whole audience was expecting to hear and as a result, everyone was chanting all the words with her. Somehow, she seemed surprised but delighted by this and commented during the second verse, “It sounds lovely when you sing.” This distraction caused her to replace the line “Let’s leave the past behind us” with “No shooting star to guide us” from the first verse. She instantly realised her mistake and even called out “Oh my god, I messed up the words for the first time ever, haha… And I’ve sung this song like a thousand times!” To her credit, she got right back into singing the bridge straight after and finished the song like a pro. Afterwards, she commented on the mistake again and said that she just felt so moved that the whole audience seemed to know not only the words to the chorus but also the verses. It seemed a surprise to me that she wouldn’t have expected that level of devotion from a room full of Eurovision nerds, but the way she spoke about how it made her feel was so wholesome and it felt as if we’d given her some sort of wonderful gift in return for her performance.

Looking back, her performance was my favourite of the night as the slip-up made it unique. It was a spontaneous moment where we got to experience her personality beyond her beautiful singing; her joyful, unserious reaction to getting her lyrics wrong felt much more valuable than yet another pitch-perfect performance that you could simply watch on YouTube.

After Emmelie, another Eurovision winner hit the stage: Emilija Kokić who won for Yugoslavia with her band Riva in 1989 and brought the contest to Zagreb in 1990 just before the union ceased to exist. A Croatian icon, she performed two Eurovision classics – My Number One and Euphoria – before delivering a song I had never heard before that sent the audience into overdrive. That song turned out to be Hajde da ludujemo which was Yugoslavia’s 1990 entry and a great hit with fans. Croatia’s only winner performing all these legendary tracks felt iconic and it was only a matter of time before she also played her winning song Rock Me. During my research, I was surprised that this song had been chosen as the winner that year as it seemed like a fairly basic pop track without any virtuoso performances. The more I listened to it, however, the more I became entranced by the catchy chorus and the light-hearted lyrics about a stuffy classical pianist. The audience certainly loved it too.

Albina, Croatia’s entrant from 2021, came on to perform her song Tick-Tock (which NQ’d in the semi final that year, so I wasn’t familiar with it) followed by a performance of 1999’s Marija Magdalena which was massive with the crowd. I was very much enjoying the format of Eurovision stars covering other Eurovision songs, which added a lot of surprises to the list and an education about what fans (especially Croatian ones) enjoyed about the contest. I hadn’t heard Marija Magdalena before, but quickly became aware that it was one of Croatia’s favourite national entries, as it was even selected for the country’s postcard video in this year’s competition.

Next came a slew of Dora performers: eugen (whom I had witnessed in person earlier this year at the semi-final), hosts Selestia and Marko Bošnjak and Domenica. I recognised eugen’s song tišine immediately; his voice had seemed to falter during Dora but this live performance felt much more powerful, underpinned by a strong response from the audience who chanted along with the vocalisation during the chorus. A string of Eurovision covers from the local area was played with Selestia playing no less than four Croatian entries. I was barely familiar with any of them but I did recognise the iconic Moja štikla from 2006 having Googled Severina earlier this year after she also appeared at Dora with Let 3. Selestia made the song her own as she danced and skipped around the stage singing what I understand to be ‘nonsense lyrics’ in Croatian: “AFRIKA PAPRIKA”

Bošnjak was also in fine form, playing his Dora 2022 track Moli za nas before launching into two classics from the 00’s: Lejla (which I’d miraculously just come to learn about) and Dancing Lasha Tumbai. I only recognised the latter after I Googled it later; Serduchka is an icon of Eurovision and I felt like a fool for not knowing this song. Then again, this was a great takeaway from the concert: what do most Eurovision fans connect on? As I said, it was an education.

Domenica only performed her rather tame song Indigo which felt like a filler moment of the evening. It was getting extremely warm and many members of the audience were fanning themselves with their printed-out tickets. I wondered how it was possible for a venue such as this to have no air conditioning. Fortunately, someone had the bright idea to open the fire exit doors which allowed a little bit of fresh air, but it didn’t really make the problem go away.

Next up was fan-favourite Efendi who I didn’t initially recognise until she began singing, due to her radical new frizzy hairstyle. She was selected by Azerbaijan for the 2020 contest which was cancelled due to COVID. Like many other artists that year she elected to return in 2021, with a song that was very similar, thematically, to her 2020 piece Cleopatra. As a former resident of Armenia, there’s a part of me that will always feel conflicted about anything related to Azerbaijan, but good music knows no borders. Efendi’s Cleopatra was one of the most memorable numbers in an extremely strong year, beginning with an unexpectedly frank and LGBT-friendly verse:

Cleopatra was a queen like me,
Just like me,
Yeah just like me,
Straight or gay or in between,
In between,
Yeah in between,

To my glee, this was the song which she chose to begin her set and it was another huge hit with the audience. Then she began another Eurovision track which took me a minute of head-scratching to recognise as Azerbaijan’s one and only winning song Running Scared. With cringeworthy lyrics and a pitchy performance when it originally won in 2011, I’ve seen it described by some fans as their least favourite winner of the decade. Nevertheless, Efendi’s heartfelt performance brought the song to life and had the audience swaying and singing along, easily outshining Ell and Nikki.

It’s only natural that she had to perform the track she actually competed with in 2021, Mata Hari. It probably shouldn’t have been a surprise to me, but this got a bigger reaction from the crowd than Cleopatra. I’m guessing that more people were familiar with Mata Hari because they would have actually seen it performed live in the 2021 final, whereas not everyone would have listened to all of the 2020 numbers. Still, to my ears, Mata Hari is a pale imitation of Cleopatra with weaker musical hooks and worse lyrics. It would be hard to top Cleopatra. Still, as worried as I was that each artist would only be allowed to perform one of their tracks, I’m so grateful that we got to hear three from the wonderful Efendi.

This concert was probably one of the most unusual I have ever attended. I’m used to seeing live music performed on instruments, but here the singers all used backing tracks. This meant that the only unique part of the music to analyse was the singer’s voices, which was often drowned out by the deafening chanting of the audience. If I’m listening to Emilija Kokić perform Euphoria, for example, I want to hear her take on it. But quite often, I would get a load of the deep-voice bloke behind me shouting “MATA HARI” out of key. Very often, the singers would point their microphones to the audience to the crowd indicating more participation, and I couldn’t help but feel as if this started to dominate some of the performers. What’s the point of going to see singers if we can’t hear them sing? For the first time in my concert-going life, I had to strain to hear the singers in the noise, and when I was able to connect to their voice, I was very satisfied by what I heard.

Next on the stage was one of the gems of the evening, Jorge González from Spain. The 35-year-old has attempted to represent his country at Eurovision three times in the past, most recently this year with Caliente. His performance at Benidorm Fest where he was surrounded by four sweaty men convinced me he should have won (no offence to Nebulossa). He has everything a Eurovision crowd would eat up: slick but rather silly dance moves (which he performs completely deadpan), a catchy chorus, homoerotic overtones and he even hits his own Speorg note at the end of the song. If you know, you know.

To my surprise, however, he didn’t begin with Caliente but with the iconic Soldi, performed by Mahmood in 2019. To hear a Spanish person I had recently grown to love performing a rap song in Italian was unbelievable to me. After the concert, I found out that this was no one-off: González has been seen on Spanish television performing Soldi dressed as Mahmood. If it’s his party trick, then why not bring it to a Eurovision party? He also performed his new single Patrá, but I’m pretty sure everyone was waiting for Caliente, which he performed, smiling but still showing off his iconic moves. I do hope Spain will eventually pick him as he absolutely deserves to be heard at Eurovision.

The next half hour of the set was dominated by Croatian performers I had barely heard of mainly singing Eurovision hits. The tall, slim and charismatic Devin Juraj put on his best acting performances as he dressed up as Käärijä for a much-needed cover of Cha Cha Cha and broke out into Italian for Måneskin’s Zitti e buoni. He alternated with Dora performer Lara Demarin who performed her track Ne vjerujem ti between Eurovision winners Arcade and Wild Dances before inviting two other singers on stage to perform Waterloo. I don’t think the night would be complete without a bit of ABBA.

This brought us to the nadir of the evening, a segment that felt at least ten minutes long hosted by caustic drag queen Jovanka Broz Titutka. They performed with Let 3 in the past but said they were not going to play any of their songs and instead got the audience to dance to a dreadful medley of electronic beats. None of it felt Eurovision related and I really just wanted it to end. At one point they invited the audience to get as low to the ground as possible. Having already stood for about three hours straight, I found this extremely painful. They were followed by the rest of House of Flamingo who lip synced to Serbia’s Loco Loco, which was far more preferable to the nightmare that came before.

As a reward for our patience, Alessandra graced the stage and performed Queen of Kings, her exciting, operatic sea shanty that was one of the most memorable songs from last year’s competition. I had hoped she would wear something akin to her iconic green corset, but instead she rocked up in what looked like a set of pyjamas. Regrettably, she also held her microphone out to the audience a lot and didn’t even try to perform her high note. After she finished, she quickly bolted off stage, much to my disappointment and I’m sure many others. Everyone before her had performed at least one cover and I was looking forward to seeing what else she had to bring.

Marcela was the next to perform singing her hit Gasoline from Dora, which certainly had the makings of a memorable Eurovision song had it not been performed the same year as Rim Tim Tagi Dim. Rather than do a Eurovision cover though, she opted to perform her brand new – and forgettable – single Ovako ne ide. At this time, I noticed that one artist from the list had been missing: Natalie Balmix, who also performed at Dora this year with Dijamanti. According to her social media, her young son had had an accident and she needed to look after him, a very understandable reason. I wonder how many people in the audience even clocked that she wasn’t there, however, given all the talent.

It was approaching midnight and it was finally the time everyone had been waiting for. As the hosts could barely contain their excitement, I heard Marko shout in English, “Europe fucking meowed back!” Baby Lasagna was introduced by the Eurovision postcard used this year (which showed clips of Doris Dragović and Let 3) followed by an extended electronic intro that built the audience participation. All phones were out – including my own – making it difficult to see what was happening, but there were rapturous cries from the audience when the Istrian singer hit the stage. Oddly, there were two men holding guitars behind him, the only instruments seen all evening, but I highly doubt they were contributing anything to the music. Perhaps he just didn’t want to be on stage by himself?

Let’s take a minute to talk about the phones. It was a problem, for sure, that whenever a popular song started, many people would race to get their phones out. And I was a part of that problem too. It made it difficult to live in the moment when I was focused on keeping the singer in frame and I’m sure it made it difficult for those behind me to see. On the other hand, there seemed to be no official cameras capturing this monumental concert, which was odd as my ticket had specifically said this event would be televised. As such, I felt it was somehow my duty to safeguard some of these performances so I could treasure them forever more. To behave as graciously as I could to other attendees, I tried to record only the choruses of songs I liked by artists I was familiar with. It was an interesting litmus test to see how popular a song was by how many phones were brought out during its performance, especially for songs that I didn’t previously know like Marija Magdalena.

Baby Lasagna needn’t have sang as the audience knew all the words and chanted along, but I’m very glad to report that he did do quite a lot of his own singing, adding his growl to the proceedings. The audience did the viral dance along with Baby before the final chorus. He finished the song by doing the squatting, thrashing dance that he performed both at Dora and at Eurovision that looks very hard to achieve. And just like that, it was all over.

Yes, waiting three hours just to see Baby Lasagna play for three minutes did seem like a bit of an anticlimax, but I noticed some of the staff on stage gesturing to the audience for call out for an encore, which they were already doing. I was actually hoping to see Baby Lasagna perform one of his other songs, such as IG Boy or In the Shadows which he performed at Dora 2019 with his former band Manntra. Perhaps he could do a Eurovision cover.

Instead, we were treated to another round of decompress… I mean, another round of Rim Tim Tagi Dim, which, let’s face it, is what the audience most wanted to hear. And I reckon the audience enjoyed it more too, as there were far fewer phones out this time around; the first performance may had been for the phones, but the encore was just for us to enjoy. There was nothing noticeably different between his performances, but it was great just to get another three minutes with this rapidly rising star. His place at Eurosong had been arranged around the time he performed at Dora in February, well before he was adored by Eurovision fans all around the world. It’s difficult to believe he would have attended this event had he been invited now, given how huge of a star he has become, so it was magical to be in the presence of such Eurovision royalty.

Before exiting the stage one last time, Baby leaned into some audience participation, singing his chorus while getting the audience to chant “Whoaaah”, as we were all too pleased to do. From interviews I’ve seen him give, I take it that he is quite the introvert and he has even said it has been harder for him to perform at home than on the Eurovision stage. So I wasn’t all too surprised that he gave a short set without much personality. It was simply a privilege to have seen him perform live.

The hosts took to the stage one last time and gave thanks to all the organisers before the event officially ended. To my chagrin, the fire exit close by had been blocked off, forcing all the punters to leave by the front door, which resulted in a huge crush that took several minutes to shuffle through. I’m not sure this venue had been designed with such an event in mind.

Nevertheless, I have to say the organisers did an incredible job. For Croatia’s first ever Eurovision party, they put together an impeccable setlist with an excellent roster of stars and managed to sneak in some surprises and even an education in Eurovision along the way. I had not expected to learn so much about Croatia’s history in Eurovision at this party, but I’ve come away with some new highlights and hidden gems to add to my playlist. Of course, being able to advertise the event with Baby Lasagna as the headline act was a coup for the organisers, as his fame has only snowballed since he was selected for the event earlier this year. I felt very lucky to be able to attend the first incarnation of this Eurosong event and I hope that its success leads to another Eurovision party in Zagreb next year.

SETLIST (as best as I can remember)
Emmelie de Forest
– Rainmaker
– Eres tú (English version) (Spain 1973)
– Only Teardrops (Denmark 2013)
Emilija Kokić
– My Number One (Greece 2005)
– Euphoria (Sweden 2012)
– Hajde da ludujemo (Yugoslavia 1990)
– Rock Me (Yugoslavia 1989)
– Tick-Tock (Croatia 2021)
– Marija Magdalena (Croatia 1999)
– tišine (Dora 2024)
– Nije ljubav stvar (Serbia 2012)
– Neka mi se svane (Croatia 1998)
– Više nisam tvoja (Croatia 2003)
– Celebrate (Croatia 2011)
– Moja štikla (Croatia 2006)
Marko Bošnjak
– Moli za nas (Dora 2022)
– Lejla (Bosnia and Herzegovina 2006)
– Dancing Lasha Tumbai (Ukraine 2007)
– Indigo (Dora 2019)
– Cleopatra (Azerbaijan 2020)
– Running Scared (Azerbaijan 2011)
– Mata Hari (Azerbaijan 2021)
Jorge González
– Soldi (Italy 2019)
– Patrá (new single)
– Caliente (Benidorm 2024)
Devin Juraj
– Llámame (Romania 2022)
– Cha Cha Cha (Finland 2023)
Lara Demarin
– Arcade (Netherlands 2019)
– Ne vjerujem ti (Dora 2024)
Devin Juraj
– Insignia (new single)
– Zitti e Buoni (Italy 2021)
Lara Demarin
– Wild Dances (Ukraine 2004)
– Waterloo (Sweden 1974)
Jovanka Broz Titutka
– Bizarre medley
House of Flamingo
– Loco Loco (Serbia 2021)
– Queen of Kings (Norway 2023)
– Gasoline (Dora 2024)
– Ovako ne ide (new single)
Baby Lasagna
– Rim Tim Tagi Dim (Croatia 2024)
~ Encore:
Baby Lasagna
– Rim Tim Tagi Dim (Croatia 2024)

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