News2023.05.04 08:00

‘Čiūto tūto’ and how a joke turned into a Eurovision song – interview with Lithuania’s Monika Linkytė

Monika Linkytė is representing Lithuania in this year’s Eurovision Song Contest with the song Stay.

Linkytė left for Liverpool last weekend and is performing in the second semi-final on May 11.

This will be the second time Linkytė is stepping onto the big Eurovision stage. In 2015, she performed This Time, a duet with Vaidas Baumila that qualified for the grand final and was placed 18th.

This time, Linkytė is not sharing the spotlight. She wrote the song herself and says it’s quite autobiographical. While sung in English, the chorus contains the line “Čiūto tūto” (pronounced “choo-taw too-taw”), words without any fixed meaning that come straight from Lithuanian folk music.

“This time, Eurovision has been fun for me,” said Linkytė in an interview with LRT TV last week, just before heading to Liverpool. “Very much about enjoying life and letting life take us where we have to be.”

Monika, how have the last few months been going, what is your work schedule and how busy are you? I suspect, there’s not much time to sleep?

I don’t really have time to sleep, the schedule is full of all kinds of work, but at the same time I know where I am putting my hands, my feet, and my whole heart. I’m just trying to keep a sharp mind and give my whole self to the big day on May 11.

This is the second time that you are, in your words, putting your hands, feet, and heart in Eurovision. The first time, eight years ago, you and Vaidas Baumila were 18th. Coming back to the big Eurovision stage, how different are you as a performer and a person?

I think I’m coming back a little bit more mature, more grown-up. First of all, I’m very happy that I’m also one of the songwriters. I think I see Eurovision in completely different colours, with completely different eyes this time. I feel much more excited about this journey. I feel like I’m ready for it, and maturity, for me personally, adds a lot to that joy.

You are one of the songwriters of Stay, as you just mentioned. What is this song about?

If I had to choose one word to describe the song, I would say it is about healing. It’s about personal healing, a story from my personal experience, but it seems to me that the whole of Europe needs healing at the moment, so that’s what it’s about.

And the refrain “čiūto tūto”, which comes from Lithuanian folk music, from the sutartinės [multipart songs], it is also so magical, like a magic word that invites you to come back to yourself, to hear yourself and to live from your heart.

In other words, the song is autobiographical?

It is.

In terms of your performance, what will we see in Liverpool that’s different from your performance during the Lithuanian national final?

A much bigger stage. [Laughs]

I joke about the bigger stage, but I’ll also be wearing a different costume. There are some details that we just don’t want to change, such as the amber motif, which is still there, the whole colour scheme.

I think the show is definitely going to be a little different. I’m very excited myself when I go out there and, after the first rehearsal, I see how it all looks on camera. Of course, we are there [in Liverpool] for those two weeks so that we can perfect the performance.

What details will be radically different?

The big difference, I think, will be that the stage is very different and you can plan your three minutes on stage very differently. But now, of course, I’m talking hypothetically, we’ll only be able to tell what it’s going to look like after the first rehearsal.

When do you feel most nervous? Is it when you’re about to get on stage, seconds before the start and you know that you’re about to be seen by millions of people in Europe? Or is it other moments, when you’re backstage or during rehearsals?

Because this experience is very different the second time, at least up to this point, it will be very interesting to compare. From my first time at Eurovision in 2015, I can say that I was at my most emotional when we already had microphones in our hands, standing in front of the stage and they are airing the country postcard.

I was thinking: “My God, so the voice of [Lithuanian Eurovision presenter Darius] Užkuraitis is sounding now, it must be a bit shaky, because before every Lithuanian performance he gets a little shaky, saying just a few short words instead of long sentences. He’s talking about me now.”

I remember that at that moment I felt like I was about to pass out, go unconscious. So I was pushing all those thoughts away, thinking that now I just needed to forget everything, to get on stage and sing.

You have participated in Lithuania’s national Eurovision selection seven times and you won twice. That’s remarkable persistence. Is Eurovision your Olympic games?

I’m a Samogitian, I’m not willing to give up. If I have a goal, I’ll just keep going until I get it. This time, however, Eurovision has been fun for me, very much about enjoying life and letting life take us where we have to be.

I just went to London and I wanted to take some lessons with a vocal teacher I found on social media. And because we somehow became very good friends, she said: “Look, after these lessons, maybe you want to go to this pub, there’s an open mic, maybe if you want you can go and sing and all that, meet my friends?” One of her friends was a very big Eurovision fan, and I said, totally jokingly: “Nicola, since you’re such a big fan, maybe I should try Eurovision again in Lithuania, and if I win, I can give you a ticket to Eurovision, because London and Liverpool are very close.”

I could see she thought I was joking and that the joke would be over the following morning. But I thought, with my Samogitian character, I should do it. I had three weeks to write a song, to make it all happen, and in the end, the same girl with whom we were joking around is now standing next to me on that Eurovision stage.

I think I’m a good example that sometimes you have to trust life and play along, like they say in English, “go with the flow”.

I understand that the friend you mentioned is now one of your supporting singers. Tell us briefly who are the girls on stage with you. Are they foreigners, from London, who had to learn to say “čiūto tūto”?

That phrase quickly made it into their hearts and their voices. I’ve related the story of one of my girls. [Another one] Debbie is a coursemate of mine, she and I studied together in London. When I wrote the song and was planning the whole show, the first person I called was Debbie. I said: “Do you want to come?” She said: “Sure.”

That’s what a girlfriend is for. She invited a few more of her friends. One of them is also from the London Community Gospel Choir, where Debbie sings with Yvonne, and I have a very nice relationship with the choir

You’ve referred to your Samogitian roots, you come from Gargždai. You participated in many singing competitions since your childhood. Your mother was a vocal teacher, was she the one who brought you to the stage?

My grandmother really wanted to be a singer and her plan was to be an opera soloist, but it just so happened that she gave birth to my mother. Mum is still teaching, not as a vocal teacher, but as a music teacher in a school, and she has a band.

I am interested in your professional path. First, you studied public health at Vilnius University, then you switched to law, and finally, you gave it up and went to study music in London. Was it because you finally realised that this was your path?

I used to listen a lot to other people’s opinions: how they see me, what they want to make of me, what path they want me in. After the first Eurovision, my connection to music became very strong. Maybe my self-confidence grew and I decided that I’d had enough of not listening to my own heart, that I needed to hear what I myself wanted, because I didn’t want to have a life crisis in my fifties or sixties, thinking about how my life could have been different. I want to live it here and now and the way I feel now.

What does it mean to you to represent Lithuania in Eurovision, Europe’s biggest song contest?

First of all, it is a very big honour for me. And a great responsibility. I’m really very proud to say the name of Lithuania, I just want to somehow spread the name of Lithuania, a small land, as widely and as loudly as possible. To see myself next to the big names that are making Lithuania famous is a very big responsibility.

You’ve probably heard this question many times, but what’s your expectation for Eurovision, which spot would you be satisfied with? What result would make you feel that the effort was worth your while?

First place would probably be satisfactory for everyone, but I try not to think about numbers for now. It seems that anything can happen. I just know that I’m doing what I have to do and I can say with complete confidence that I’m giving all my heart, all my energy to this performance on May 11 and, hopefully, on May 13. And as for the results and the numbers – I hope for the best.

LRT has been certified according to the Journalism Trust Initiative Programme

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