In my four years of covering the Eurovision Song Contest, I do not recall encountering an entry with as much baggage as Russia’s “Shine” by the Tolmachevy Sisters.
Song Title: “Shine”
Artist: Tolmachevy Sisters
Semi-Final: First, Position 7
Last year’s entry: “What If” – Dina Garipova (5th Place)
Strap in folks, this is going to be a long entry.
Let’s begin with Russia within the Eurovision Song Contest. The country has participated since 1994, never missing a final and winning in 2008. Russia has been swinging for the fences the last two years, earning 2nd place in 2012 with the grannies and 5th place last year with an anthem to peace and understanding. All in all, a very solid track record.
Stepping outside of the Contest, Russia has not been playing nice with others. The country’s anti-LGBT laws have made the country unwelcoming to a significant fanbase in the Eurovision community.1 Though the Winter Olympics in Sochi did not experience significant problems2, the facilities and handling of things such as stray dogs caused a justifiable amount of angst. Oh, and there’s that whole annexation of Crimea from Ukraine thing.
I don’t want to make light of the situation as two (or more) countries may be on the brink of war, but the focus of this article is Eurovision and I find how these simultaneous events intertwine absolutely fascinating. As far as I know, there has not been a situation like this to happen during the modern era of the Contest. Azerbaijan and Armenia have had their conflicts, but nothing that reached this level. Armenia did not participate when Baku hosted in 2012 due to safety concerns, but that was only a one-year hiatus. Russia and Georgia’s conflict happened shortly after the 2008 Contest. Though tensions eased before Russia hosted in 2009, Georgia withdrew from competition when their song “We Don’t Wanna Put In“—which was totally not political3)—was deemed ineligible by the EBU.
If there was a time since 2004 when two countries—who are in the same semi-final, no less—were involved in a land grab during the Eurovision season, please let me know. Although I have no evidence to support this, I have a hunch the EBU may have been trying to negotiate Russia exiting from this year’s competition. Had the situation in Crimea escalated, there could have been two warring countries in competition. With how the first semi-final allocation landed, that would have put several former SSRs on the spot with having to choose a side in that conflict, as well as the western countries delivering more heavy-handed results.4 The entire competition could have been upended. I cannot conceive of a deal Russia would have accepted that would satisfy egos without the EBU looking completely hamstrung. What a mess.
Aside from all the external stuff that Eurovision theoretically ignores, Russia’s entry selection was its own drama. The country was originally going to stage its national selection as a New Year’s Eve event, but had to push back the deadline due to an insufficient number of quality entries. The second deadline passed and Russia still had nothing on its calendar. As the middle of March and the Contest’s song submission deadline approached, there was still no indication of what Russia’s plans were. It wasn’t until almost the last minute that the Tolmachevy Sisters, winners of the 2006 Junior Eurovision Song Contest, were announced as the representatives. Their song “Shine” was not formally announced by Eurovision until almost two weeks after the deadline5, though a version of the song had leaked earlier. Here’s the final version:
I think Russia’s trolling us, y’all. First, as Ben pointed out, it is almost a requirement that “Shine” be the name of at least one entry each year. A gimmick like twins or having a former JESC competitor is also a Eurovision trope, and the Tolmachevy Sisters are a two-fer. Then there’s the actual song. The lyrics are rather paint-by-numbers and the tune lacks any remarkable qualities. If anything, this sounds like a retread of Slovakia’s 2011 entry.
This could be the result of Russia waiting until the last minute to throw something together, but I have to wonder if the country is also testing its clout in the Contest. Russia could be like Greece, where no matter what gets sent to Eurovision, that song will advance. With a field mostly comprised of former SSRs, I don’t see how Russia will experience any sort of backlash or point penalties from the west. It doesn’t matter if you qualify 1st or 10th—all that matters is getting to the Grand Final. The Tolmachevy Sisters will probably be there with their sub-par entry.