Serbia 2023: Luke Black
Photo: Vasso Vu

Luke Black from Serbia: "We will elevate the performance into a deeper dream world"

INTERVIEW Being a happy person all the time may be challenging for Luke Black from Serbia, but that didn't stop him from an enjoyable and insightful conversation. Besides going deeper about himself or his friendship with Konstrakta, this year's Serbian representative reveals how his Eurovision performance will be elevated

When the Eurovision Song Contest 2023 is over, will Luke Black just want to sleep?

Back in March Luke Black won the Serbian selection, Pesma za Evroviziju, and will represent Serbia in the Eurovision Song Contest 2023 in Liverpool with the song "Samo mi se spava" ("I Just Wanna Sleep"). Just a year after a close friend of his, Konstrakta, won in Serbia with the song "In Corpore Sano."

We're meeting with Serbia's Luke Black for a walk and talk. Luke spots a woman and gets excited:

– Is that Konstrakta? he asks.

It is, and later on she'd join him on stage for the PrePartyES in Madrid. The ice is broken: How are you, and how are you coping with all of these pre-parties?

– It's a big shock for me to have to be happy, friendly, and all that. I am an introverted person, and I love to spend time at home, he laughs.

– But I really love it, and I am trying to cherish it as much as I can.

Serbia 2022: Konstrakta – "In Corpore Sano"

As mentioned above, Konstrakta (Serbia 2022) is a close friend of Luke's, and even helped with the creation of "Samo mi se spava." Not everyone has such a mentor, but he does:

– That's true, but with her it's been the same as with my family. I haven't been able to talk a lot to my family since my victory. Me and Konstrakta are quite similar in the way we portray the world. We're both friendly, yet not extremely social. But, as you said, it's really good to have someone close to you who has been through the same exact thing, he says.

– When you have second thoughts, they can simply comfort you and relate to you. It's good guidance.

Luke also reveals that his participation in this year's Serbian selection was all thanks to Konstrakta. They have been working together for more than 10 years, and he never thought there would be a place for art like theirs in Eurovision:

– She won in Serbia, went on to Eurovision, and got really accepted. I felt something extremely positive, and I knew I should apply hoping to be understood by my Serbian audience, which happened, and I am grateful for that. And now we're here!

Did you expect to win?

– That's a tricky question because I don't want to be dishonest. I really believed in my performance and I knew it was a winner's performance, but you can't control the audience and you never know what people are ready for.

– The answer for that would be "no" because most of the time I didn't think I'd win, and most of the time for me it was enough that I got to plan and make that performance happen.

I am much sadder than happier.Luke Black

He did win, and Luke also admits his life has "definitely changed" since his victory in the best way possible. He went from being misunderstood to feeling love and support from a lot of people:

– I was struggling a lot as an artist to be understood, and even when the selection began there was no consensus on whether I was a good artist or not because I am not exactly an entertainer. I simply like to speak about important stuff. I am much sadder than happier but I wanted to do it because I found out that there's people who understand and relate to me. That's something that I missed my entire life. That's the main thing that has changed in my life, and I am eternally grateful for it.

Luke Black

Luke Ivanović is a 30-year-old Serbian singer. His first steps on the music scene happened in 2014 when he decided to adopt "Luke Black" as his stage name:

– Back in the day I wore black-colored clothes mostly as I was mourning the music industry in Serbia. I was really young and dramatic, we all go through that phase, he says.

– I get much more inspired when I am wearing black, and then I realized that this is where my strength came from. I wanted to honor it by using it as my stage name.

His music connection began at a younger age when he went on to steal his sister's Casio keyboard and started making music:

– I wrote a song and I remember how I didn't know what I was doing. I didn't go to school for piano or anything, so as I started singing and playing chords I started crying and realized there's no better feeling than when you just connect with whatever it is that gives you inspiration, he explains.

Since then, Luke has polished his skills. And just like his stage name suggests, he's developed a passion for darker pop music:

– Nowadays, Luke Black is just this guy who really loves music and likes to communicate about the world and his inner feelings through it. I am also a songwriter, and usually do my best within the realm of dark, electronic pop music.

There's no better feeling than when you just connect with whatever it is that gives you inspiration.Luke Black

As we speak about his artistic growth, he goes on to tell me how much he loves producing music. It seems he can do it all by himself, but Luke hasn't forgotten who helped and continues to help him achieve his goals:

– I love it and I do my best when I am with my close friends. A lot of people like producer Majed, Ben from COMANAVAGO, and Konstrakta, for example, helped on this track. My gang from London made the visuals for the performance. We function as one big master brain.

From video games to Eurovision

In his song, "Samo mi se spava," Luke Black sings about how he likes the world better when he's asleep. Moreover, he whispers words like "violence," "guns," and "virus." Is there a connection with the COVID-19 pandemic that hit the world in 2020?

– I did write it in April of 2020. The pandemic had just started, but we didn't know what was yet to come. Since then, a lot of people started having mental health struggles and coping with anxiety. I have friends who I looked at as the "stable friends," who are now a bit scared of the world as well, he explains.

At the end of the day, this job does serve as a platform and you want to say something important when you have that.Luke Black

– There was actually a very important conversation I had with my mother a few months before COVID. I expressed my concerns to her about the pressure on all artists, and how I just wanted six months of rest and being at home.

Congratulations! You got two years!

– Well, yes, but back in the lockdown period nobody expected you to be the best version of yourself, and I think that's what I liked about it. It wasn't easy for everyone, but it happened. I played video games and watched anime for six months, and the song came from there.

More specifically from a video game titled "Dreamfall: The Longest Journey," which also inspired the performance for Pesma za Evroviziju. In the video game, people from the future have this dream machine they're connected to, but the corporate world starts extracting personal data from them. And once people find out, the protagonist fights against it.

– As for the performance, it tells a story about a really sleepy boy who wants to save the world. I am waking up in this techno lotus flower which is made out of cables and plastic. And on stage we're all connected to this giant robot that is controlling the world and our inner dreams. The dancers represent the outside world that has been zombified by the giant robot.

Music Video: Luke Black – "Samo mi se spava"

Was there any other song you considered submitting?

– No, I think this is the only song that had an inside and outside global message that I wanted to portray. At the end of the day, this job does serve as a platform, and you want to say something important when you have that. As someone who has been wanting to say a lot of things for 10 years and nobody listened, I wanted to go with something that was deep and meaningful, he explains.

– The curious thing about all of this is that I initially didn't want to participate, but this song existed for a while and I kept on sleeping on it. When I went back to it, I realized it was exactly three minutes long and it honestly was a quick decision. I'd say, nonetheless, I have better songs than this but either they're too personal or too experimental.

Speaking of the dilemma of participating or not participating, he was actually approached for the Eurovision Song Contest 2016 by the Serbian broadcaster. In the end, Sanja Vučić ZAA got the spot. But how did that come about?

– I got a call from the Serbian delegation. It was an internal selection, so they just wanted to hear about my demos and they really liked my song "Demons." But I wasn't ready for it, and being so young I was also immature and thought, "Well, I'm an artist! I don't need this," he laughs.

– There were much better contestants in the process and I didn't have experience with performances. Not to mention, at that age, I wouldn't have been able to support all of this media attention and speaking to people. I really wasn't self-confident. Not like I am now, but I am more relaxed about it.

The preparations for Liverpool

Back to the day we spoke, Luke told us the rehearsals for Eurovision hadn't started but goes on to tell how things are planned to go:

– We're still working behind the scenes, but I think the whole thing actually starts from the first rehearsal in Liverpool. I will have the same staging and all that, but I won't get to see it until I go there, and things will be different because the stage will be way bigger, he says.

– The big stage prop is my biggest concern performance-wise. As for the rest, everything is easily replaceable, and you can recreate multiple things. But we're making a bigger and more elaborate techno lotus flower, which will take some time and I won't get to see it until I get there.

I am confident we will elevate the dream into a deeper dream world.Luke Black

When asked what makes him the most nervous about this Eurovision experience, his answer is focused on himself:

– I don't like being perceived and, as of now, every move of mine is being perceived. Whatever I do is a meme or goes on Twitter and sometimes I enjoy it, other times I am just like, "Oh God! What am I doing?" I even perceive myself, and that makes me uncomfortable.

– As for the performance, I am nervous about the creative process because I am also part of the production team. But I am confident we will elevate the dream into a deeper dream world and upgrade the graphics. You watched me in 720p, and now you'll watch me in 1080p.

Luke Black is a qualifier if you ask the bookmakers. How is the pressure from expectations?

– I am not really a fan of betting money on anything but some of my friends are. Before the selection, they did bet on me when my chances were really low and ended up getting a lot of money, he shares.

– What I really hope is that I get to perform at least twice because I am working so hard and the betting odds don't mean a lot to me. Many people haven't even heard the song yet besides the Eurovision community, and many don't have time to watch all of these pre-parties and stuff.

One last question needs to be asked: Do you have any favorites from this year's entries?

– I like the song from Finland, it's a dark song, and the happy party of it towards the end stands out a lot for me as it resembles the sounds of hyperpop, which is really close to me. Performance-wise, there's a lot of theatricalness from Käärijä.

Luke Black will perform "Samo mi se spava" in the Liverpool Arena on 9 May during Eurovision's Semi-final 1.

About the author: Pedro Santos (Portugal)

authorPedro comes from Lisbon, Portugal. He's 30 years old and graduated in journalism. He has attended Eurovision Song Contest three times live - 2018, 2019 and 2022 - and covered the show twice more (2021, 2023) but his first Eurovision memory takes him back to 2007 when Sarbel delivered his catchy "Yassou Maria" performance. Pedro's favorite Eurovision song is Albania's 2015 "I'm Alive" by Elhaida Dani which is also his favorite Eurovision edition.

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