In 2008, after the fallout which emerged out of “Leto Svet” winning that year’s edition of Eurolaul, something needed a change in Estonia.
With a transfer of power at the Estonian broadcaster, Heidy Burga, who led the team for Eurovision programming, changed the vision for Estonia’s national final. Instead of focusing on what would best appeal to Europe, they would start with finding the best of the Estonian music has to offer and have them compete for the chance to represent them at Eurovision.
The first Eesti Laul saw ten songs compete, and the winner would go on to break Estonia’s five year non-qualification streak. Since then, Eesti Laul became one of the most diverse national finals, to the point where it’s sometimes dubbed as the “alternative Melodifestivalen”.
Since the first Eesti Laul, the number of songs has expanded to twenty, reaching as many as twenty-four. Usually, these songs would compete in multiple semi-finals, with five of them making it to the final through a 50/50 vote between the juries and the televoters, and the sixth of each semi-final chosen by a wild-card.
However, starting from 2024, there will be only one semi-final of fifteen songs, where five songs will qualify to the final, joining ten songs which already made it there.
In the final, all the songs are performed again, and the juries and televote decide on the top three songs to make it into a super-final, with the points displayed like in Eurovision. Once there, the winner is decided by the televote alone.
Urban Symphony — Rändajad (2009)
Curiously, despite its apparent popularity in the fandom, “Rändajad” came in second in the initial televoting, with Laura’s “Destiny” coming out on top. However, a lower jury score knocked “Destiny” out of contention, and “Rändajad” ended up winning in a landslide in the superfinal.
The group, which was formed out of an Estonian idol show, took the audience on a mystical journey, through deserts and blue landscapes. It placed 6th in Eurovision 2009, their first top-ten result since 2002, and charted in seven different countries, peaking at #3 in its native country.
Winny Puhh – Meiecundimees üks Korsakov läks eile Lätti (2013)
How wrong can a trip to Latvia go? Winny Puhh’s song, which also has a notably long title, deals with the misadventures of a man from Korsakov, who ends up getting injured multiple times.
Along with the lyrics, many things about the pop-punk band’s performance borders on the surreal. From the quick camera angles to the wrestling costumes to Korraldajaonu’s furry-like portrayal, it stood out by showing off the traits of 2000s Eurovision. Despite coming second in the televote in the final, its jury score sunk it to third place, missing out on the superfinal.
Mick Pedaja — Seis (2016)
In contrast, Mick Pedaja’s “Seis” leaves one standing still, as suggested by the title. The ambient, minimalistic track meditates on fears, but it also leaves it up to the listener to contemplate its meaning.
The staging is simple, but effective here. Filled with star-like imagery, glowing designs, and natural elements, it creates a hidden world which Mick eventually grows out of. Coming in second in the semi-final, “Seis” came in second in the final jury vote, but a lower televote score ultimately saw Mick finish in fourth.
Kerli — Spirit Animal (2017)
With her mix of pop, dance, and alternative rock, Kerli is one of Estonia’s most high-profile singers. She competed in Eurolaul 2004 with the song “Beautiful Inside“, where she came in second behind Neiokõsõ’s “Tii“. Thirteen years later, she returned to the Estonian selection, and she did in style.
“Spirit Animal” ties itself to the Estonian land, but it traverses through fantasy worlds in trying to find the one you love. With the staging inspired by arctic landscapes, Kerli put on a show, and moved Estonian fans.
Despite coming in first in both the semi-final and the final, both times she came in second in the televoting. This would play a role in the superfinal, where, ironically, she lost to Koit and Laura by over 20,000 televotes.
OLLIE — Venom (2023)
While this year’s Estonian entry, “Bridges” by Alika, came in eighth and made the Estonian populace proud, another entry in last year’s Eesti Laul also made a big impact.
OLLIE, who has a number of singles under his belt, competed in Eesti Laul 2023 with an alternative rock song discussing a tormented relationship. “Venom”, like the title suggests, is filled with bit and intensity, which is shown through the live performance.
OLLIE narrowly lost in the super-final to Alika, but he will come back in 2024 with the song “My Friend”. Will he manage to one-up himself this time?
Eesti Laul’s semi-final will take place on 20 January 2024, and the grand final will be on 17 Feburary.