Luke Black will represent Serbia at the Eurovision Song Contest 2023 with his song Samo mi se spava (‘I just want to sleep’). An artist with a dark name and a dark song about one of his dark periods in life — there were at least two of them. Which periods were those? We have to start at the beginning.
Luke Black. You might think: not a very typical Serbian name. And you’re right. He was born as Luka Ivanović in 1992 in Čačak, a city in central Serbia, and had been spending his free time writing song lyrics since he was twelve. His pseudonym began with a death when Luka was fifteen or sixteen years old. The deceased? The Serbian music industry, because according to Luka, it was so sad that he declared it dead. His idols were John Lennon, David Bowie, and Lady Gaga, and the Serbian sound was nowhere close. Luka decided to mourn.
‘I was very dramatic as a teenager,’ he confesses in an interview. ‘My mother was worried.’ Luka actually set a mourning period of forty days, complete with wearing black clothes every day. But during those forty days, he found inspiration for new music, and in tribute to the color black, he decided to use the pseudonym Luke Black.
Luke Black longed for a more dangerous and turbulent life and moved to Belgrade at the age of twenty-two. He was noticed by Zemlja Gruva, a Serbian music collective that included singer Konstrakta (Eurovision 2022) at the time. With Zemlja Gruva’s help, Luke released a song on a single (D-generation*), was immediately acclaimed, received an invitation to the office of Universal Music Belgrade, had few demos on hand but sang everything he had, wholeheartedly, and got a record deal. He released a first (Thorns) and a second (Neoslavic) EP, and then…
In 2018, he suddenly quit. For five years, he didn’t perform anywhere. ‘I had a period where I lost confidence in my music. Nobody expected anything from me, nobody expected me to perform, to be the coolest person in the world and always appear with a good ‘look’. I ate a lot, played video games, and didn’t shower.’
He constantly complained to his friends: ‘Ugh, I can’t take it anymore, I just want to sleep.’ And the COVID crisis came, and now his friends complained too: ‘Ugh, I just want to sleep.’ And suddenly, he wrote his Eurovision song, together with producer and good friend Majed Kfoury.
Samo mi se spava
‘I just want to sleep’ (Serbian: ‘Samo mi se spava’). They put that sentence on paper. And again: ‘I just want to sleep.’ And they began to fill in the lines in between. They wrote the song in 25 minutes.
I just want to sleep forever,
like it better when I dream.
I want to sleep eternally
while the world burns.
I just want to close my eyes
and just get it over with.
The electropop beat towers like an angry outer world high above his quiet lament. Sighing and tired, Luka sings it, like a child who, early in the morning — when his/her/their mother wakes him/her/them up, exclaims: ‘Why can’t I just keep sleeping?’
Or like a child whose screen time has expired: ‘Why can’t I just keep gaming?’
Luke Black identifies as a gamer. ‘I carried my PlayStation with me everywhere. If I went somewhere for two days, it had to come with me.’ Gaming means the same to him as sleeping, namely escaping from a world that keeps on rushing at you and wants something from you. Fortnite in particular helped him with that, an online fighting game with a point system so addictive and a playing field so large and so beautiful, with forests, rivers, mountains, valleys, dunes, lakes, deserts, cities, villages… sigh, ideal for daydreaming. But let’s go back to Samo mi se spava for a moment.
Luke’s stage performance during the Serbian preselection contained another reference to a video game. At one point, he bends his back and head backward, looks at the ceiling (where a camera is looking down at him), waves desperately at the camera, and calls out: ‘Hello??’
People who have played The Sims game will recognize this gesture. The Sims is a game series that was once conceived as a parody of modern life (and its aimlessness). Somewhere in the city, there is an empty plot where the player can build a dream house for the Sim(ulation) family that will live there. The Sims have their needs, summarized in eight bars, from hunger to hygiene to comfort to social contact, and it’s up to the player to keep those bars green. Or not! Is there a money shortage? Just type in a code (‘Motherlode’), and you receive a sum of simoleons as a gift.
The Sims can move on their own, but the player (who hovers above the house like a god) ultimately decides what the Sims do. A Sim can run to the toilet all they want when they have a full bladder, but if the player clicks on the garden and says ‘go here’, the Sim can say goodbye to that bathroom visit. The only thing the Sim can do, as a protest against this pointless action, is to look up, at the camera, at the player on the other side of the screen, and wave. ‘Hello??’
It could very well be that Luke will wonder what he’s doing all alone on the big stage during his performance in the live show in Liverpool. He says in an interview that the song is very difficult to perform. ‘Memories come back, memories of that nihilistic period in my life. I don’t know who I will be on stage at that moment. I hope I can fight against that robot in my head that makes me think about those things.’
If Luke Black can master those thoughts, he can take on the whole world. And then, as in his performance, he can also disconnect others from their dream world.
Photo: VASSO VU / Eurovision.tv