Russia’s “Flame is Burning” for Julia Samoylova

Now can we try not to start World War III with it?

Julia Samoylova will represent Russia at the 2017 Eurovision Song Contest in Kyiv. (Screenshot: YouTube) Julia Samoylova will represent Russia at the 2017 Eurovision Song Contest in Kyiv. (Screenshot: YouTube)

Bear with me for a moment, folks, while I try to briefly recap the dumpster fire that is Ukrainian-Russian relations right now specifically as it pertains to Eurovision; you’ll have to look elsewhere for broader geopolitical news.1

Last year, Ukraine competed with a song Russia felt violated the no-politics-at-Eurovision rule and should have been banned. That didn’t happen, and Jamala’s “1944” took home the prize despite failing to win either with the juries or in the televote. Russia felt this was the result of a political conspiracy to keep them from winning, and various members of the delegation have been vocal about their displeasure ever since. Earlier this month, shortly after Russia announced they’d be represented by Julia Samoylova, Ukraine announced that she would not be able to enter the country because she illegally toured in Crimea in 2015. The EBU tried to broker a peace, suggesting that Samoylova could compete live via satellite, but Ukraine said “nope, that’s still illegal” and Russia said “you’re weird, no thanks.” So we’re not entirely sure if Russia will send Samoylova, or anyone, to the Contest this year. Until the EBU/Eurovision officially announces Russia withdrawing from or changing their entry for this year’s Contest, though, we will be proceeding under the assumption that they will be competing, and doing so with Julia Samoylova.

Phew! That was a lot of information. So let’s just check out this song, shall we?

Julia Samoylova has a lovely voice, and given that she was the runner-up on the Russian version of The X-Factor in 2013, we know she can bring it live. This is an okay song that’s been growing on me, even if those lazy near-rhymes still drive me nuts.2 I’ll be honest, though: it feels like Russia isn’t making a good-faith effort this year. That’s not an indictment, necessarily — I can understand why they’re pissed, even if I don’t think they’re correct about why things have gone how they have the last few years. The level of production in this video and song are so far below what we’ve come to expect from Russia, it’s both frustrating and disappointing.

Setting aside last year’s blockbuster Sergey Lazarev video for a moment, let’s compare this year’s official music video to the ones for Russia’s last three female-fronted ballads: Polina Gagarina in 2015, the Tolmachevy Sisters in 2014 (another recent moment when Ukraine and Russia seemed on the brink of war), and Dina Garipova in 2013. All of these are slick and heavily produced in a way that “Flame is Burning” just … isn’t. If and when we do see this on the Eurovision stage, I hope they’ve put more effort and thought into the performance, which is what Samoylova (and anybody putting themselves through the Eurovision ringer) deserves.

  1. Editor’s Note: Until the EBU/Eurovision officially announces Russia withdrawing from or changing their entry for this year’s Contest, we will be proceeding under the assumption that they will be competing with Julia Samoylova.  
  2. “Dreaming” and “ceiling” can rhyme, if you let them. Pick a pronunciation for that final syllable and stick with it, please.  

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