NEW YORK - Estonians take Eurovision very seriously, and so do their musicians. In the two years since Vanilla Ninja debuted before its first big audience, the four-piece girl-group has gone places no other Estonian musician, except perhaps Arvo Part, has been before.
They recently released "Blue Tattoo," their second full length international album and the follow up to "Traces of Sadness," the German-produced debut that made them idols to adolescent females across Europe and piqued enough global interest to secure the girls a Japanese TV appearance, which, along with their fashionable persona, landed "Traces of Sadness" in the Japanese Top 20.
"We all fell in love with Japan. This place is just so different from Europe and we have never met so many nice and polite people as we met in Japan," wrote Piret Jarvis, the 21-year-old singer, guitarist, and spokesperson for Vanilla Ninja in an e-mail to The Baltic Times.
Outside Estonia, where every move of theirs is documented in tabloids like SL Ohtuleht and Kroonika, the group has had its greatest success in Germany. "Traces of Sadness" lodged itself in the Top 10, the record went Gold, and the group opened enough eyes to get a personal invite from neighboring Switzerland to represent the land of chocolate and watches at the Eurovision semi-finals in Kiev on May 19.
"Some people from Swiss Television had noticed us from somewhere and they made a proposal for us to represent their country at this competition. We were really honored by such an offer and so we decided to take it," said Jarvis.
In Kiev, Vanilla Ninja will be performing "Cool Vibes," the third single off "Blue Tattoo" which was released in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Poland in March, and in Estonia last month
"The style is a mixture of rock and pop music with a touch of '80s,'" wrote
Jarvis. The '80s' description is apt, because Vanilla Ninja immediately brings to mind pop girl groups of yesteryear like Bananarama, The Bangles, and the Go-Gos. Stylistically, the group have most in common with Bananarama - the British trio that scored a handful of dance pop hits when the ladies of Vanilla Ninja were being born.
Their Stock Aitken Watermen (the producers behind Bananarama, Kylie Minogue and others) was Estonian pop svengali Sven Lohmus, who formed the group in autumn 2002 and wrote the material for their 2003 Estonian debut before handing the group over to David Brandes, a German producer, in autumn 2004 for an undisclosed sum.
Unlike the Spice Girls and other pop groups, the Ninjas play their own instruments, at least on the road. In this way they come closer to Duran Duran and other 80s heartthrob bands. They want you to pick a favorite member and put her picture in your locker. And despite the fact that they haven't penned their own hits yet, Jarvis wants to remind fans that the Ninjas are pop ROCK, as opposed to just trite pop.
"We started out with a pop-rock style of music. But as we have all learned several instruments, we decided to take the instruments on stage with us at one point. Our new producer David Brandes was writing songs which were more rocky than our previous songs 's so it seemed quite logical to grab the guitars and do some rock and roll on stage," she said.
Like great pop phenomena before them, Vanilla Ninja have not only scored hits, but scored tabloid-friendly controversy - the kind that inadvertently propels a group forward on their quest for global domination.
In June 2004, according to the Estonian tabloids, founding front woman Maarja Kivi, then 18, was forced to quit the group after she became pregnant.
"At first we were all a little bit shocked by the news and didn't know how we should move on," said Jarvis. After much soul searching on the part of the band, they recruited Triinu Kivilaan, a 17-year-old musician and model from Viljandi, to join as the newest Ninja.
"The choices were to continue with 3 members or to take someone new. We had met Triinu a couple of years ago and we knew that she was an excellent singer and could play several instruments. Besides, she looked extremely similar to Maarja," said Jarvis.
According to Jarvis, Kivilaan has shown her Ninja spirit ever since. "Triinu has fit in very well with the group. She has that certain kind of 'Ninja factor' in her," wrote Jarvis.
The 'Ninja factor' is what the group is banking on to get them the top slot in Kiev and beyond.
"One thing for sure - we are going to give a great rock-performance there.
Plus, there are some surprises which we cannot reveal yet," said Jarvis of the Eurovision gig.
"We want to go as far as possible with our band and our music. The aim is to conquer the world one day," she wrote.
But even if Vanilla Ninja beats out Estonian competitors Sun Tribe (another girl group assembled by Sven Lohmus) and the 2006 Eurovision competition takes place in Bern, Switzerland, Jarvis said that Estonia will always be the group's home.
"Estonia is still our one and only home, Germany is just a place where we are working most of the time," she said.
And who can beat a place where you have your own brand of ice cream and kohuke (another Estonian treat)?
"Everybody finds it so hard to believe that we have our own brand of ice-cream because not many bands in the world have their own food-products. So it's really fun for us. Besides, both our kohuke and ice-cream taste just delicious. We are really proud to have those products named after us," she said.