Mia Nicolai. Dion Cooper. For a few months now, we’ve been putting those names together. They will represent the Netherlands at the Eurovision Song Contest 2023 – which will also be their first performance together. But what do they tell us with their song Burning daylight? What is their shared story?
Burning daylight is written by producer Loek van der Grinten, by Mia & Dion themselves, but it’s also written by Duncan & Jordan. Duncan Laurence, our international superstar, who used Eurovision as a catapult. Not only did Arcade become a long-lasting hit, but its success also led to Duncan partially moving to the United States and meeting international songwriters – including Jordan Garfield. Who became his lover and his fiancé. Together, they wrote beautiful Duncan songs like Stars and Electric life, and of course, Burning daylight.
How it happened (1)
This is how it happened: Michaja Nicolaï (= Mia Nicolai, 27) met Jordan, and Dion Cuiper (= Dion Cooper, 29) knew Duncan.
Or, to provide more details: Mia moved from a bartending job at restaurant Tolhuistuin in Amsterdam to the United States for music and met Jordan Garfield in a writing session.
Dion had been working with on and off success in music for about eight years and texted various composers and lyricists during the COVID lockdowns, to create new things together, given the emptiness. That included Duncan – which led to performing during his concert tour as his opening act, for example.
How it happened (2)
Fast forward to July 6, 2021:
Dion is on his way to the studio in Halfweg, Netherlands. He received a call from Duncan. He and Mia have worked with Jordan on a new song that feels like a duet. Can Dion come and listen to see if they click? In the studio, Dion likes the first version of the song, enjoys his interaction with Mia, they watch a documentary about Shawn Mendes together, and then work a bit more on the song that would become Burning daylight.
Later: Duncan suggests submitting it for Eurovision.
Even later: the selection committee likes the song and continues to do so throughout the selection rounds.
That’s the backstory; now for the main story. What is Burning daylight about?
Last year, S10 called her song De diepte an ode to sadness, and this year Dion & Mia adopt her choice of words. ‘Burning daylight,’ they say, ‘is an ode to falling down and getting up.’
But what exactly do they mean by that?
First off, ‘burning daylight’ means, of course: doing nothing, being bored, wasting time.
And that’s what Dion and Mia’s verses are about. Dion starts by saying he’s done with the old routines, that he doesn’t know what used to make him happy, and that he’s come to the conclusion that his time is slipping away. In interviews, Dion explained that this refers to the year when his studies left him unsatisfied, his relationship ended, and there was only one way out: music, fully and full-time. Then Mia. She tells us that she no longer believes in a god (nice detail: she refers to god as ‘she’) and that Mia also feels her days are spent on unsatisfactory pursuits.
The inner struggle – that’s the theme of Burning daylight. And how consistent is that with ‘the Dutch story.’ At least: in Eurovision. Since 2019, the selection committee has been selecting songs, not artists. In the five songs that have been chosen in recent years, a more-or-less continuous story can be discovered, as at least four of the five lyrics look inward, openly and honestly, to the artists’ own hearts and doubts. In 2019, Duncan sang in Arcade ‘My mind feels like a foreign land.’ In 2020, Jeangu Macrooy sang in Grow ‘My thoughts are flickering, just like satellites, lost in the sky.’ In 2022, S10 sang in De diepte ‘Do you know that feeling of – of your dream not coming true? Aren’t you afraid it will always stay that way?’ and in 2023: ‘I’m just human now.’
This fits the times. In mid-2022, the Dutch Central Bureau of Statistics reported that the mental resilience of young people had deteriorated significantly. In 2019 and 2020, eleven percent were mentally unhealthy; in 2021, eighteen percent. A spectacular increase. But also a logical one: COVID had taken its toll. And that just happened to be the year when the first outlines of Burning daylight emerged.
But wait, Mia and Dion called their song an ode to falling down and getting up. And they express that getting up at the end of the song. Burning daylight has an interesting structure, deviating from the usual build-up used in these types of songs. Usually there are verses and a chorus, and the latter is then enlarged or repeated to close the song. Burning daylight has verse one (Dion) with a chorus, then verse two (Mia) with a chorus, and after that: a second chorus. Or a long outro, depending on what you want to call it. That last part has only one line, which is about embracing a new future:
Goodbye, old life!
Goodbye, old life, Dion and Mia sing exuberantly. With that, they rhyme – a bit of a forced connection, perhaps, but hey, we’re connecting here – with the pride expressed in Jeangu’s Birth of a new age, and they may also point to a new tone in Dutch Eurovision entries over the next five years: that of optimism and celebration.
What’s certain is that the joy at the end will be reflected in their performance in Liverpool. Just as Ilse DeLange went from participating to coaching, Duncan is now taking the step from A to B (literally: from Arcade to Burning daylight). And with lighting designer Henk-Jan van Beek, director Marnix Kaart, and the creative input of Jordan and Duncan, telling the story comes together well.
For Duncan, Eurovision was just a starting point, as it was the event that made him say ‘goodbye, old life.’ We sincerely hope that this will be the case for Mia and Dion as well. With new songs together, perhaps, but also separately. For those who listen to their solo releases, there are sometimes promising discoveries. For instance, Mia’s Mutual Needs is a nice farewell song to a lover (‘You give me issues I don’t wanna have’), with a great production and interesting samples (see sidebar).
There is already much to enjoy from Dion Cooper’s music as well. In some of his songs, we see Duncan Laurence and Jordan Garfield as co-authors once again, for example, in Blue Jeans, and Know (which also involved Wouter Hardy, composer and producer for Arcade, Gjon’s Tears’ Tout l’univers and Alika’s Bridges!) But we’d like to highlight Bobbie’s Song (sidebar), a love song for his girlfriend, with the beautiful lyric:
‘So here is my heart in a basket, next to the fruit and the drinks on the ground.’
Conclusion: Yes, Mia and Dion have talent, and these glimpses prove it. So whatever happens in Liverpool – let Eurovision be their hello, new life in which we will continue to hear that.