Serbia: Luke Black and Samo Mi Se Spava

I woke up with a migraine this morning, and while the pain is largely gone, I’m now in the stage known as the postdrome – the period post-migraine where the world feels fuzzy around the edges. I’m taking thirty seconds to stare out the window between sentences because my mind is just working very slowly.

So what better time to review a song whose title translates to ‘I Just Want to Go to Sleep?’

First of all, I feel like we need to talk about how successful Luke Black has been in constructing the personality of LUKE BLACK. This is a man who adopted the stage name Luke Black as a teenager to protest the death of the Serbian music scene. His whole Eurovision song for this year emerged from a pandemic project where he answered letters from people online. While he has a day job as a graphic designer, I feel like his stage persona is a walking Tumblr – at once cute and twee and ironic and sad and looking for connection. And even though my brand of terminally online is not this, I love it!

Secondly, I don’t think we’re talking enough about how Luke Black has produced the pandemic era anthem. We’re all focused on the lobster and the Hello? and the floppy-haired cuteness of Black. And all of that is great, but there’s a deeper layer to the song than what is first visible in his uwu aesthetic.

There’s a section of the song which is easy to ignore, because most of the vocals are distorted in a robot voice, but its lyrics are:

SAVEST SPAVA [the conscience is asleep]
DOK SVET GORI [while the world is burning]

RAZUM SPAVA [the sanity is asleep]
DOK SVET GORI [while the world is burning]

That’s a pretty good summary of the past three years! But those lyrics are buried under layers of references and visual language that reflect the way that Luke Black and others survive this constant barrage of bad things happening. Black can’t confront these things head on – to do so would be too overwhelming. So in the video, he has to use the proxy of the video game – something that kept him and others sane during the epidemic – to reflect the way he battles back against the world. (There’s also something Matrix-y here about the way he unplugs the dancers from the mainframe, but I’m too tired to get into anything that’s going to bring up redpill discourse.)

And while the end of the video is hopeful – the bad guy in the game is killed – Black’s song is less so. He’s acknowledged the world is burning. He’s acknowledge the need to do something. But his overwhelming desire is just to go back to sleep, which makes Luke Black oh so relatable.

I like the ambiguity of the ending of his song. Last year, Serbian contestant Konstraka ended her performance about wellness and her worries about health care on the lyric ‘So what do we do now?” She was acknowledging the issues, but also her powerlessness to do anything about them, and I think we’re seeing some of the same from Luke Black here. Like many of his generation, he’s lived through some pretty awful things, and yet those in power just seem to ignore them and do nothing. So what’s the solution? Why not just go back to sleep if nothing’s going to get any better?

It is a very bleak message for a Eurovision song, and I don’t know if it’s going to fully translate on stage for those who haven’t spent months poring over the lyrics. But it’s the type of song I’d rather have in Eurovision over things like Switzerland, which does a mealy-mouthed recitation of platitudes that ultimately mean nothing. Luke Black knows what it means to feel like no one is listening, and he’s trying to shout his meaning into the world – to see who responds to his hello.

Finally, before I end this review, I just want to note that Serbia had possibly the best National Final this year. They had 32 acts competing, and at least 1/3 were solid gold bangers. Filip Balos? Dzipsii? Nadia? Hurricane? Savo Perovic? Filip Zmaher? Eegor? I feel like I’m going to need to go back in the off season and write more about it, because there is truly so much to love here. I can’t wait to see what they bring next year.

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