TALLINN, ESTONIA – Two semi-finals with ten songs each will take place on 13 and 20 February. Five songs from each will then qualify for the grand final concert, which will take place in Tallinn’s Saku Suurhall. This will be the eighth edition of the annual Eesti Laul (Estonian Song) competition after it replaced a similar competition called Eurolaul (Eurosong) in 2009. Eurosong selected the Estonian entries from 1994 to 2008, including the winning Estonian Eurovision song in 2001. However, after selecting five consecutive songs that failed to qualify for the final at Eurovision, the format was scrapped and Eesti Laul was born.
Music personality and member of Estonian Parliament Heidy Purga was the executive producer of Eesti Laul until 2015 and was responsible for the creation of the new format. “We wanted to make something different and put the focus on selecting something Estonians could be proud of, rather than trying to pick a ‘Eurovision song’,” she said in a 2014 interview.
This approach has improved Estonia’s fortunes in the contest, with only two songs failing to qualify and three top 10 finishes at Eurovision. This year’s contest again sees a number of popular Estonian acts facing off against each other.
Among the favourites is Laura, who was recently announced as the most played artist on Estonian radio, with her song ‘Supersonic’, and the winner of the most recent edition of the local Idol franchise Jüri Pootsmann with his song ‘Play’. A dark horse has emerged in the form of DJs ‘Cartoon’ who, along with singer Kristel Aaslaid, have just reached over a million views on YouTube with their entry ‘Immortality’.
But while the winner of Eesti Laul will go on to represent Estonia at the Eurovision Song Contest, for many artists this is not the main goal.
Participation in Eesti Laul has more and more become about local exposure. Stig Rästa won Eesti Laul last year, alongside singer Elina Born, but spoke highly of the third place his band ‘Traffic’ received in 2014. “The people took our song real well and we had a long summer full of concerts,” he said.
And with seven current and former Eesti Laul songs still inside the iTunes top fifty sales chart before the contest has even started, you can see why many artists feel they don’t need to go to Eurovision to be a winner at Eesti Laul.