The 2016 EBJ Eurovision Excellence Awards: Part 1 (The Artists, The Songs and The Singing!)

Good evening Europe, and everywhere else that’s relevant!

You’ve just made the excellent decision to tune in to the super-delayed first episode of the 2016 EBJEEs: that is, the EBJ Eurovision Excellence Awards. There’s no time like way after the official, Justin Timberlake-less Eurovision DVD has been released to do something like this, right? Not when this is the earliest I’ve been able to get around to it. Better late than never, that’s my motto.

So, if you’re ready for the ceremony to begin, great. If not, too bad – it’s (finally) happening. Today/tonight, I’m presenting second-rate statuettes in the categories of The Artists, The Songs and The Singing, including many of the People’s Choice Awards voted on by you fabulous people last week. Get excited!

Please???

*Academy Award-worthy intro music plays* Välkommen till…

 
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THE ARTISTS

 

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Winner Freddie Honourable Mention/s Amir, Douwe Bob

It’s award number one (my number oooonnne) and the EBJ Express has already arrived at Objectification Station – and I’m not sorry, no. There was an array of dashing dudes on display at this year’s contest, and as I was actually there (!) I can attest to the true, in-the-flesh attractiveness of each and every one. So, to those of you who thought Serhat was SerHOT, I say this: not even he could compare to the heartthrob ex-basketball player from Hungary. I mean, even in a one-on-one battle between Freddie and Måns Zelmerlöw, Hungary would quite possibly have the edge over Sweden. They’d definitely have a height advantage.

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Winner Samra Honourable Mention/s Iveta Mukuchyan

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, rather than the ear – which is how Samra came to be awarded this trophy by yours truly. She may have suffered from some vocal issues in Stockholm (several of her rehearsals would have had Jemini reaching for earplugs) but she is a stunner, and the cameras would have had zero complaints about focusing on her for three minutes…except that perhaps, three minutes wasn’t long enough to have her in their sights. If I sound lecherous here, it’s because I have a girl crush on Samra the size of Siberia, with symptoms that include a slack jaw and plans to write a dissertation on how someone can look that incredible in a skintight metallic onesie.

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Winner Amir Honourable Mention/s Sergey Lazarev

Well, you guys are off to a good start with your picks. I couldn’t have voted better myself! He may not have won Eurovision (although 6th is a win by recent French standards) but Amir absolutely won our hearts – cheesy, but true – with his general adorableness and charm, on and off stage. If there’s one act from ESC history that would be ideal to take home to meet the parents, it’s this guy. My parents are available, Mr. Haddad, if you’re interested…

 

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Winner Poli Genova Honourable Mention/s Zoë, Laura Tesoro, Sanja Vučić

Not unpredictably, Poli out-polled a force-field of girl power to take home the Miss Congeniality trophy. Anyone who wouldn’t jump at the chance to hang out with her, and help her search for any dress of hers that might be missing at the time (Junior Eurovision in-joke alert) is not a person I’d like to associate with. That may sound harsh, but COME ON!!! Poli’s personality and pizzazz is so strong, I’m pretty sure it was responsible for powering her light-up ILWAC costume. Isn’t that what everyone looks for in an amigo?

 

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Winner Laura Tesoro Honourable Mention/s Poli Genova

This award goes to the artist whose onstage charisma and energy eclipsed that of their competition, and who should never give up their career in showbiz because that would be an absolute waste. Belgium’s Laura may still be a teenager, but she performs like a pro from way back. She lit up the Globen stage every time she stepped on it (seriously, I don’t even think the tech guys had anything plugged in during her performances, á la Poli), and was so effervescent I would have blamed it on an illicit substance if she wasn’t so darn innocent. This girl was THE one to watch this year, and she’ll be one to watch for a long time to come.

 

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Winner Ira Losco Honourable Mention/s Dami Im

A Eurovision runner-up returning to the contest will always be a talking point – especially when that runner-up remains the rightful winner in the minds of many fans. But add in the rehearsal week revelation that Ira Losco had a kanelbulle in her oven – and a costume change that, among other things, elegantly emphasised that – and you have a walking water-cooler moment on your hands (and a Walk On Water moment). This was a case of Conchita-itis, in which a country’s artist is a more prominent part of their package than their song.

 

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Winner Laura Tesoro/Zoë Honourable Mention/s Frans

It’s a tie! A tie I could have broken if I’d been bothered. But I think both Laura and Zoë – practically senior citizens compared to runner-up Frans – deserve this award for dealing with the media, performance and competition aspects of the contest like pros. Zoë, in particular, should receive a high five for managing to sing in tune at all times when she probably couldn’t even hear herself over the screaming that followed her wherever she went.

 

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Winner Belgium Honourable Mention/s Bulgaria

Belgium snapped up this award last year too – and yet, white outfits aside, Loïc’s backing brigade couldn’t have been more different from Laura’s. The latter helped elevate the energy of What’s The Pressure in a live context, meaning that what would still have been a brilliant show if Laura had been by herself on stage became THA BOMB, DOT COM. Interacting with her and with the audience, they sang and danced their way straight into the #squadgoals hall of fame.

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 THE SONGS AND THE SINGING

 

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Winner If I Were Sorry Honourable Mention/s Alter Ego

Songs that sound the same as other songs have not (necessarily) been plagiarized. I’m a firm believer in a grey area existing where musical resemblances are concerned. As such, I’m not saying that Sweden’s 2016 ESC entry was partly stolen from some other random song I never knew existed until someone decided IIWS was a rip-off of it. But there is some aural twinning going on here, and I don’t think that can be denied. Here’s proof.

 

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Winner Hear Them Calling Honourable Mention/s Loin D’ici, Say Yay!

Everyone’s definition of a ‘fanwank’ is probably different – which explains why my decision not to include Italy as a nominee here was met with a little criticism. I do agree with this winner though, on the basis of a fanwank being a song that is drooled over and put up on a pedestal by the Eurovision community, only to crash and burn once it emerges from the pre-show bubble and enters the competition. Austria may have had a happy ending, but Iceland? Not so much.

 

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Winner Sound of Silence Honourable Mention/s Ghost, Play

2016 was a strong year for lyrics that weren’t…well, crap. For lyrics that could actually be enjoyed by a former English major who adores symbolism and detests clichés. The best set of words put to song in my opinion was Australia’s. And no, I’m not letting nationality overtake objectivity right now. There was something simple yet so inventive about the Sound of Silence lyrics, particularly in the verses. My favourite line of the lot would have to be ‘Tidal waves of tears are crashing, no one here to save me drowning.’ The imagery! The metaphors! The non-cheesy rhyme! SO MUCH YES. And, okay…maybe a little bit of bias.

 

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Winner I Didn’t Know Honourable Mention/s Soldiers of Love

Now we travel from the good to the gouda – by which I mean check out the cheese! Not to mention the inconsistencies in tense and a distinct lack of sanity. San Marino/Turkey, what were you thinking allowing lines like ‘I got to be inside your mind and hide into your arms’ (ouch) to represent you on a global platform, in 2016?

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Winner If Love Was A Crime Honourable Mention/s What’s The Pressure

Poli’s performance of ILWAC at the Euroclub on Opening Party night (though technically, it was the morning after Opening Party night) was one of my ESC trip highlights, so I’m thrilled to be able to metaphorically present her with this award on behalf of all of y’all. I can confirm that the dancefloor couldn’t have been fuller during her three minutes that evening/morning – though I probably don’t have to, because even if you were in Antarctica at the time, you’d have heard the chants of ‘Oh, day mi lyubovta!’. Epic times. Prepare yourself, future fiancé, because the DJ will be playing this on repeat at our wedding.

 

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Winner Loin D’ici Honourable Mention/s Color of Your Life

In terms of the songs that grew on me ‘more and more each day’ as Serhat would croak from the window of his favourite hangout Sleaze Palace: The Disco, Austria made the most impressive transition. The throwback to a time long gone by that is Loin D’ici irritated the strudel out of me initially, especially when I compared it to the contemporary offerings from Armenia, Latvia and Ukraine. But I was won over by a) its charm as an homage to twee French pop, b) Zoë’s general loveliness, and c) the reaction both she and the song received in the Euroclub and in Globen (it was too cute to resist).

 

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Winner Made of Stars Honourable Mention/s What’s The Pressure

As much as Eurovision these days is about presenting audiences with a live music video rather than a live, concert-style performance (if you want to succeed, that is), there are some songs that feed off a flesh-and-blood crowd and come to life as a result. Made of Stars is one of them. There is a passion in the delivery of the song via Hovi that is lacking when you listen to the studio version, or when you watch the official, drone-dominated video. Those are my thoughts, anyhow. Perhaps it’s the theatricality of song and artist that needs to be seen and heard outside of a box to be appreciated.

 

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Winner Ghost Honourable Mention/s The Last of Our Kind

 And then, there’s the other end of the Swarovski-encrusted microphone stand. I personally believe that Germany’s Ghost was one of the best songs in the competition this year, but the mismatched live performance destroyed and detracted from it. Listening to it in studio, without the distraction of Jamie-Lee’s Halloween costume test-run (I think she was supposed to be a cocktail umbrella) is a totally different experience – for the better.

 

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Winner No Degree of Separation Honourable Mention/s You Are The Only One

What is the significance of Francesca’s music video happenings? Who knows. Does anyone care? Nope. It’s beautifully shot and interesting to watch, and there was actual effort put into the making of it. Much better than a budget video or *gasp* no video bar a national final performance. Not that I’m demanding or anything…

 

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Winner Bulgaria Honourable Mention/s Australia, Norway

If I had a gripe about anything to do with Eurovision 2016, it’s the postcards – not because they sucked (they didn’t), but because they just weren’t very memorable. They were beautifully shot, but none of the artists were handcrafting their country’s flag out of foodstuffs, or participating in risky extra-curricular activities in the host city. I’m bestowing the trophy for best of the bunch to Bulgaria though, because watching Poli Genova go about her daily business (albeit a glossy version that includes getting ink done) could never fail to be fascinating.

 

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Winner Michał Szpak Honourable Mention/s Hovi Star, Sergey Lazarev

What do you get when you cross Captain Hook with someone who can carry a song single-handedly without the support of any detectable backing vocalists? Michał Szpak, that’s who. Hovi Star had the emotion and Sergey Lazarev had the singing/dancing combo down pat, but Michał powered through each of his performances of Color of Your Life with ease – and, as I said, without any contribution (as far as I could hear and see) from another singer who’d been stuffed in the wings. The Jedward syndrome-suffering Azerbaijani delegation must have been very jealous indeed.

 

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Winner Dami Im Honourable Mention/s Jamala

There were two ladies who stood head and shoulders above the rest when it came to singing the pants off their respective songs (though not the pants off themselves. That would have been unfortunate for Jamala). Honestly, my vote would have headed in a Ukrainian direction, but Australia topping this poll is obviously reason for a happy dance from me. You can’t argue that Dami is an incredible vocalist, and she managed to give her all for the entire Eurovision fortnight without dropping a single note. You keep doing you, Dami, ‘cause it’s awesome to witness.

 

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Winner Nika Kocharov & Young Georgian Lolitaz

Honourable Mention/s Joe & Jake, Minus One

This one’s a bit of a surprise to me, even though there were no Il Volos to speak of in 2016 and so the bar was set a little lower. Don’t get me wrong – I’m totally pro-Georgia, and Nika and his Lolitaz sounded more or less studio-perfect during their performances. I’m just shocked that the majority of you guys thought so too.

 

 

And now, some good news for those of you with numb bums: this evening’s (if it isn’t night time where you are, just pretend) ceremony has reached its conclusion! The EBJEEs will continue in a few days as I present my personal – as well as the remaining People’s Choice – awards in the categories of The Performances, The Costumes and The Results. So don’t return those fancy outfits you undoubtedly hired for the occasion just yet. There’s still a whole lot of Eurovision 2016 left to talk about!

 

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PARTY FOR EVERYBODY! Celebrating EBJ’s 7th birthday with a special countdown (#shareyour7)

For most people, today is Tuesday. For some people, it may still be Monday. For other people – the really slack ones who didn’t get the memo that I’d posted this and just happened to stumble across it belatedly (subscribe or stop by my social media to avoid such disasters by receiving new post alerts *SHAMELESS PLUG*) – it could be any old day of the week. But for me, it’s June 28, and that’s kind of a big deal.

Why? Because seven years ago today (!) I decided to inflict my obsession with/ability to talk constantly about Eurovision upon the world, via a blog that would become known as Eurovision By Jaz…since that’s what I decided to call it that day, duh. Back then in 2009, I couldn’t have foreseen that I’d still be running the blog in my own haphazard manner after so much time had passed – let alone off the back of an ACTUAL TRIP to the contest after ten years of frenzied fangirling (I still have to pinch myself on the hour every hour to remind myself that I was in Stockholm). The reason I’m still around is simple, though: I do it for the love. I mean, if I did for popularity and adoration I would’ve lost the will years ago.

Here and now, in case you were wondering, I’m certain that as long as I enjoy chatting all things ESC with you guys, and as long as at least one person out there seems to be a fan of my material (besides me), I’ll be here doing what I do. I.e. criticising contestants’ costume choices and objectifying whoever happens to be the hottest guy of the latest contest line-up (in 2016, I’ve moved on from Måns to Freddie, FYI). If you’re willing to come along for the ride, I can guarantee a safe, yet entertaining and occasionally controversial journey through the years to come.

Before I let loose and blow my own kazoo (not a euphemism), I want to thank anyone who’s reading this intro. If you are, it means you’ve taken the time to drop by EBJ, probably out of habit or to see if it’s your cup of kaffe. You might have been with me from the beginning, be a recent reader, or be someone who’s sick of me already and plans to stick with Wiwi Bloggs exclusively from now on – I don’t mind whichever way. I’m just grateful for your visit and confident that you must be a pretty cool person since you’re attracted to rather than repulsed by the word ‘Eurovision’.

Now, to kick off my 7th birthday (blogday?) celebrations, here’s a substandard graphic I prepared earlier!

 

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I’ve decided to celebrate this milestone with a countdown that’s not your usual countdown. It’s not a Top 10, for starters – it’s actually a Top 7, and (brace yourselves for a theme to emerge here) it will feature my personal top 7 songs that have placed seventh in the ESC since EBJ began. In other words, I’m about to rank, from my least loved to my most loved, the seventh placers of 2010-2016. Given that I started blogging just after Eurovision 2009, Sakis Rouvas Vol. 2 will not be included in this list. But, as I know he’d be devastated to be un-invited so unceremoniously from this partay (and be likely to release a song entitledThis Is (Not) Our Night), I’m going to use him to rate each of the seven entries using a system I like to call ‘The Sakis Head Scale’.

You can see why.

 

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If you’re keen to rate any of the following tracks – or ANY seventh-placed song from Eurovision history, for that matter – using the Sakis Head Scale/conventional 0-12 points (ugh, how normal), head to the comments section below. Alternatively, tweet me @EurovisionByJaz using the hashtag #shareyour7, and tell me which sixth runner-up is your favourite…or least favourite.

Without further ado (you know how I love ado, but I’ll restrain myself on this occasion), let’s kick off the countdown!

 

 

#7 | ‘May the winter stay away from my harvest night and day…’

Apricot Stone by Eva Rivas (Armenia 2010)

I fully expect to be pelted with apricot stones and verbal abuse over this one. I wasn’t surprised by Armenia’s lower-end-of-the-top-ten finish in Oslo, but that doesn’t mean I ‘got’ Apricot Stone. It’s not a bad song, per se – but push my buttons, it does not. It reminded me a bit of the Dutch entry two years previously, and that (Hind’s Your Heart Belongs To Me, for anyone having a brain-blank) was dated in 2008. Based on that, I never found the Armenian version very fresh – especially its chorus. And I hate to say this, because I’m totally pro-Rapunzel letting down her hair…but Eva’s super lengthy locks kind of freaked me out.

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#6 | ‘Watch my dance, head up high, hands like wings and I’ll fly…’

Watch My Dance by Loukas Giorkas feat. Stereo Mike (Greece 2011)

Ah, Greece and their love of fusing rap with…not rap. There has to be some irony in the fact that they blended rap and ethnic sounds better in 2016 than in 2011, yet lost their 100% qualification record this year and finished seventh five years ago. If I remember correctly, a lot of us fans were convinced that Loukas and Stereo Mike (now known as Spotify Mike, most likely) would be Greece’s downfall, and that included me at the time. Nowadays, I like this song more than I did then, but it’s still too intense and too melodramatic for me to play that often – not to mention jarring enough to resemble an edit of a movie put together by a monkey. All in all, I prefer it when Greece takes a lighter approach to their rap fusion entries, á la Rise Up (#ROBBED). Though I’m not unwilling to watch Loukas’ dance, if he’s still after an audience and will be shirtless.

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#5 | ‘My life is on a string when I see you smile, our love will last a thousand miles…’

Shine by the Tolmachevy Sisters (Russia 2014)

Here’s a song that I hated when I first heard it, only to find myself humming along shortly thereafter. I guess there’s no shortage of wonders an oversized see-saw can work, particularly when combined with twins who temporarily become conjoined via their ponytails. To be honest, I still don’t think Shine is a great song – it certainly has nothing on the duo’s Junior Eurovision winner Vesinniy Jazz – but there’s something nice about the melody and the way the girls harmonise (as only identical twins can) that had it growing on me even before the giant papier mâché sun was unfolded by a Portuguese national finalist (naturally). In fact, I have it stuck in my head right now.

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#4 | ‘I didn’t want to wake you up, my love was never gonna be enough…’

Goodbye To Yesterday by Elina Born & Stig Rästa (Estonia 2015)

The song that won Eesti Laul by a landslide last year couldn’t do the same at Eurovision, but 7th? Totally respectable, especially given the unfortunate and unjust outcome of Estonia’s entry in Stockholm. Goodbye To Yesterday is one of many fine feathers in Stig Rästa’s compositional cap, and while it wasn’t up there with my personal douze-pointers in 2015, I can’t deny that it has something special. The dynamic between the two characters in the song’s story makes for a perfect duet, and the song itself is one that feels both retro and fresh. And who could resist a lyric like ‘As I got outside, I smiled to the dog’? Not me, that’s for sure. Or the dog, I’m guessing.

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#3 | ‘You shook my life like an earthquake, now I’m waking up…’

LoveWave by Iveta Mukuchyan (Armenia 2016)

And here we have the latest track to reach the seventh rung of Eurovision’s top 10 ladder – one that makes me hopeful for a future in which cutting-edge, experimental music outnumbers stale cookie-cutter-type stuff in the contest. When a song doesn’t grab me straight away, but intrigues (rather than horrifies) me, I’m happy, because I know I’m going to love it eventually. LoveWave is initially disarming with its spoken-word start, but it makes you wonder where it’s headed and what kind of ground it’s about to break (so to speak). Ultimately, it’s a powerful punch-packer of a track, fronted by the femme fatale figure of Iveta who sells it vocally and visually. You can’t tell me this doesn’t kick Apricot Stone’s ass.

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#2 | ‘I am a lonely sailor drinking the night away, my ship is made from hope, she’s searching for your bay…’

Love Me Back by Can Bonomo (Turkey 2012)

The last time we saw Turkey compete in the ESC, they gave me everything I want in my ethno-pop. That includes a) a generous dollop of traditional sounds that set the song apart from its rivals; b) three minutes of fun and frivolity without any ‘this is a novelty act and it can’t be taken seriously’ vibes; and c) back-up dancers who can transform their costumes into a sailboat at a second’s notice. Basically, it’s the whole package. Catchy, unique and easy to sing along to (or yell drunkenly over in the midst of an enthusiastic round of the Eurovision Drinking Game), Love Me Back is also a masterclass in how to make a cultural mark on the contest without alienating anyone…besides people prone to seasickness.

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#1 | ‘While the world breaks into pieces, I compose new places and desires which also belong to you…’

L’Essenziale by Marco Mengoni (Italy 2013)

If you hadn’t guessed already, given that only one 2010-2016 7th-placer is yet to be mentioned, Italy takes out the top spot with one of my favourite Eurovision songs of ALL TIME (if your name is Kanye West, don’t bother trying to dispute that). An entry that truly puts the ‘song’ into Eurovision Song Contest, L’Essenziale is lyrically and melodically magic, and comes equipped with a message that doesn’t make your skin crawl thanks to its cheesiness (yes, Russia, it CAN be done without resorting to love love, peace peace). I would marry this song if that were at all possible, I’m so crazy about it. Although, if Marco is available, I’d rather marry him instead. Then he could serenade me with the song whenever I wanted. That’s not too much to ask, is it?

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Well, I’ve shared my seven – a song for every year I’ve been blogging here at EBJ. Holy Hard Rock Hallelujah! Remember, if you want to do the same, I’d consider it a birthday gift and therefore wouldn’t be offended by the lack of fruit baskets being delivered to my door. You should also feel free to tell me what you thought of my ranking. How would you rearrange it? Was seventh place too good or not good enough for these tracks? Exactly how offended are you right now?

While you’re letting me know, I’ll be off raising a glass to myself…and, of course, planning seven more years’ worth of Eurovisual entertainment for anyone who currently reads or will someday stumble upon this site. I hope you enjoy what’s to come as much as I’m going to enjoy creating it for you (if the Sakis heads are any indication, I’ll have an epic time).

 

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VOTE FOR THE WINNERS: The EBJ Awards for Eurovision Excellence (People’s Choice) polls are now open!

Greetings, guys. As promised – and as you know, 94.6% of the time I keep my promises – it’s time for the preliminary stage of the 2016 EBJ Eurovision Excellence Awards, a.k.a. the People’s Choice polls!

In case that sentence meant nothing to you, allow me to explain: every year, like basically every Eurovision blogger in existence, I hold an online awards ceremony on par with the Oscars to commend the best (and best of the worst) of all things related to the contest just passed (if you’re bored or actually happen to have the will, as unlikely as that is, you can relive the glitz and glamour of last year’s EBJEEs here and here). And because I’m all about sharing the love and letting/forcing you to have your say, I always like to make some of my trophies awardable by people other than myself. So, if you have opinions about Eurovision 2016 and you like to vote on serious matters such as who had the coolest prop at this year’s comp, you’ll enjoy this post.

Based on the feedback from the 2015 People’s Choice vote, there are more nominees in more categories this time – plus, you can vote for multiple nominees instead of choosing just one. Don’t say I’m not Miss Generosity (not a People’s Choice Award, sadly). So limber up those fingers and prepare to make THE MOST IMPORTANT DECISIONS OF YOUR LIFE. No pressure.

Europe, Australia and everywhere else…start voting now!

 

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Mr. Congeniality

The ‘he’ you’d never pass up an opportunity to hang out with – thanks to the Euroclub shuttle bus-loads of charm, presence and personality he displayed in Stockholm.

 

 

Miss Congeniality

The ‘she’ you’d choose to be your ESC BFF – i.e. the most personable, likeable lady act available.

 

 

Teen Act of the Year

This one’s pretty self-explanatory. Which under-20 artist kept your boat most afloat and proved to be the most talented teenager in this year’s line-up?

 

 

Fanwank of the Year

Not all of these songs were favourites with the bookies, but they were certainly favourites with the fans – in the lead-up to the contest, on social media and (trust me on this one) in the Euroclub. But which one was the most fanwanky of them all? You decide.

 

 

Dancefloor Filler of the Year

You’ll play this song at your wedding when time’s getting on, and your guests are losing the will to woki their popos. Press play and the problem’s solved!

 

 

Best Preview Video

Some were flashy, some were quirky and some were super-duper stylish…but which one is your number one? If you need a memory refresher, check out this playlist I prepared earlier.

 

 

Best Vocal (Male)

They all sang their hearts out, but vote for the guy who gave you goosebumps with his vocal prowess – or just made you think ‘DAYUM, this dude can sing.’

 

 

Best Vocal (Female)

Ditto – only this one’s about girl (vocal) power.

 

 

Best Vocals (Duet/Group)

There were only a handful of twos, threes and mores participating in 2016, so it shouldn’t be hard for you to decide which of those acts hit their harmonies just right.

 

 

Best Prop or Gimmick

Most countries add a little extra spice to their performance via something their artists do, sit on, stand on, dance around, trip over etc. Give props (HA HA) to the prop or gimmick you saw as superior in Stockholm!

 

 

All-Rounder of the Year

Vocals, costumes, choreography; backdrops, song and stage presence – every element matters in a Eurovision entry. Who had the most perfectly-packaged performance that ticked all boxes this year?

 

 

The Host With The Most

This is a straight-up, head-to-head, battle-of-the-sexes duel. Petranators and Månsters, pledge your allegiance and help your favourite host take this trophy home.

 

 

Jaw-Dropping Moment of the Year

There were OMGs aplenty before and during this year’s comp. If your jaw hit the floor when any of these occurred, this poll wants to know about it.

PS – If you’re not sure about the Moldovan moment, be aware that Lidia’s astronaut *may* have forgotten to remove his delegation accreditation for televised semi final purposes. Oops.

 

 

Opening/Interval Act of the Year

For once, the pre and mid-show entertainment at Eurovision was more than multiple annoying interludes interrupting the contest’s exciting parts. From MZW’s reprise with a difference to a US superstar dropping by, there was something for everybody on show. So, which offering gets the biggest high five from you?

 

 

Most Improved (From NF to ESC)

Some delegations work tirelessly to reshape and ramp up their song and/or performance, between winning domestically and stepping onto the Eurovision stage. Vote for the act that made the most impressive transition during that time, in your opinion!

 

 

And (assuming you took the time to vote in all of those polls) your work here is done! Tack så mycket for your input, and stay tuned to find out if your favourites will be winners that take it all. The EBJEEs, feat. the People’s Choice Awards and plenty of others, are almost here, so hurry up and hire those tuxedoes/show-stopping ball gowns. You know, so you can sit at home in them staring at a screen when I do post the “ceremonies”. Fun!

 

Until then…

 

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An Alternate Stockholm Scoreboard: The EBJ Jury’s Top 43 for 2016 (and how it stacks up to the actual results!)

If you’re reading this, bonjour! If not, then there’s no bon or jour for you whatsoever.

Question: do you remember when I posted the final round of EBJ Jury reviews, approximately seventeen years after they were relevant, some amount of time ago?

Me neither. Regardless, I’m going to go ahead and wrap them up once and for all today. Yes, that’s right: at long, long, long last, I’m ready to unveil my jury’s full ranking, from numero uno all the way down to the unfortunate four-three (because, in case you weren’t aware, Romania remains a player in our game. I’m not saying Ovidiu is ranked 43rd, but without him, I’d obviously be posting a top 42. Förstår du?).

This ranking will be accompanied by the highest and lowest scores each country received from the EBJJ, plus a comment from ye olde reviews that justifies their position in the list. Also, since we have actual, official results now (and have had for like, a MONTH) I’m also going to finish off with a quick analysis of the jury’s ranking VS the one compiled by the televoters and jurors of Europe/Australia back in May.

PS – For the last time, I’d like to remind you that all the info on the 2016 EBJ Jury members is available here. Go bask in their awesomeness whether you need to or not!

Let’s get this party started.

 

 

headerebjj43

 

#1. France (10)

Highest score: 12 (Jaz, Wolfgang)

Lowest score: 8 (James, Nick)

‘I truly believe that if this doesn’t hit the heights of the top 10 in Stockholm, there will officially be something very wrong with the world…or some possible irregularities in the jury/televoting figures.’ (Jaz)

 

#2. Ukraine (9.78)

Highest score: 12 (James, Jaz, Rory, Wolfgang)

Lowest score: 6 (Nick)

‘Never has there been a more soulful song about the swallowing of souls! I can report that, on more than one occasion, in the course of listening to 1944, I have detected on my upper cheeks the inexplicable presence of salt water.’ (Ali)

 

#3. Italy (9)

Highest score: 12 (Ali, James, Jaz)

Lowest score: 5 (Martin, Nick)

This is gorgeous, and makes me want to get married again just so I can use it as my wedding song.’ (Mrs. Jaz)

 

#4. Bulgaria (8.67)*

Highest score: 12 (James, Rory)

Lowest score: 5 (Martin)

‘If Love Was a Crime definitely sounds like it comes from the Balkans, but it’s got a smartly-applied layer of Swedish gloss that doesn’t distract from the intended sound (hear that, Cyprus?).’ (Nick)

 

#5. Croatia (8.67)*

Highest score: 12 (Ali, Penny, Rory)

Lowest score: 4 (Fraser, Nick)

‘It’s a strong Balkan song that, for once, didn’t come from the nostril of Željko Joksimović!’ (Rory)

 

#6. Iceland (8.6)

Highest score: 12 (James, Martin)

Lowest score: 5 (Mrs. Jaz)

‘What I like about the song is the country style, and that it’s really dynamic and up-tempo. But what makes the difference on the Eurovision stage is its amazing performance.’ (Wolfgang)

 

#7. Germany (7.78)

Highest score: 12 (Nick)

Lowest score: 4 (Rory)

‘Melancholic lyrics, an atmospheric score and hauntingly powerful vocals were all at odds with the visual package of an 18-year-old girl obsessed with manga outfits!’ (Martin)

 

#8. Russia (7.44)

Highest score: 12 (Fraser)

Lowest score: 4 (Rory)

‘This is precisely thought-out, clinical and slickly-produced schlager dance, and it is dangerous.’ (Jaz)

 

#9. Latvia (7.4)

Highest score: 12 (Jaz)

Lowest score: 3 (Rory)

‘I must admit that I like this year’s Latvian song and artist much more than last year’s. Justs really is a great vocal performer, and his song is by far catchier than last year’s injected love.’ (Wolfgang)

 

#10. Sweden (7.3)

Highest score: 12 (Fraser)

Lowest score: 1 (Rory)

‘If I Were Sorry is in the mould of Sweden’s recent host entries, in that it’s more organic, less precise, and simplified in comparison to the stuff they send when they’re competing on foreign ground.’ (Jaz)

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Frans, upon hearing he ranked so highly with the EBJ Jury, smiles for the first time since 2003.

 

 

#11. Malta (7.22)

Highest score: 10 (Fraser, James, Martin, Wolfgang)

Lowest score: 3 (Nick, Rory)

‘It was definitely the right decision to change songs for Malta! Walk On Water makes full use of Ira’s amazing vocal ability and range, combining it with a much more contemporary sound that is radio-friendly enough to stay in voter’s memories far past Eurovision.’ (Martin)

 

#12. Austria (7.11)

Highest score: 12 (Ali, Wolfgang)

Lowest score: 4 (Nick)

‘Those who glibly dismiss this song as ‘cotton candy’, ‘girly’, and calculatedly faux-nostalgic have failed to see the wood for the trees.’ (Ali)

 

#13. Belgium (7.1)

Highest score: 12 (Ali, Rory)

Lowest score: 2 (Nick, Wolfgang)

This is right up my street – a song that has me yelling ‘Somebody get me some roller skates and take me back to the disco era, ASAP!’. (Mrs. Jaz)

 

#14. Estonia (7)*

Highest score: 12 (Ali)

Lowest score: 4 (Nick)

‘It’s definitely one of the most original songs in this year’s line-up, and it’s fresh and relevant whilst oozing the kind of timeless classiness that Estonia are so good at of late.’ (James)

 

#15. Azerbaijan (7)*

Highest score: 12 (Wolfgang)

Lowest score: 4 (Rory)

‘Sometimes there are songs that need some time until I like them much, but then there are songs that I love from the very first moment. Samra’s entry belongs in the latter category.’ (Wolfgang)

 

#16. Czech Republic (6.89)

Highest score: 12 (James, Rory)

Lowest score: 2 (Ali)

‘Gabriela is more used to singing rock and gothic songs, but this is a really pleasant departure from her comfort zone. The lush beats and strings really bring out the best in her vocals.’ (Rory)

 

#17. Switzerland (6.8)

Highest score: 12 (Wolfgang)

Lowest score: 1 (Rory)

‘I’m a ballad fan if said ballad fits my definition of ‘decent’, and Last of Our Kind definitely does.’ (Mrs. Jaz)

 

#18. Spain (6.78)

Highest score: 12 (Fraser)

Lowest score: 1 (Ali)

‘Overall, I find this a little wallpaper-like. It’s there and it’s nice, but I’m not going to be paying that much attention to it when there’s opulent statement furniture elsewhere in the room.’ (Jaz)

 

#19. United Kingdom (6.7)

Highest score: 10 (Rory)

Lowest score: 3 (James)

‘It’s pleasant to listen to, but reeks of the kind of song that backs a movie trailer or montage of some kind. If the Rio Olympic organisers are after a song that can soundtrack ‘The Top 10 Team Efforts of the XX-whatever Olympiad’, then they should look no further than Joe & Jake’s.’ (Jaz)

 

#20. Serbia (6.55)*

Highest score: 12 (Martin, Penny)

Lowest score: 3 (Ali)

‘The song is pleasant enough to listen to, but when it comes to the subject matter – domestic violence – I just feel like it’s ripping off András Kallay-Saunders, but with a more mature vibe to it.’ (Rory)

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I’m hoping Sanja doesn’t murder me in my sleep for having something to do with her mediocre ranking…

 

#21. Lithuania (6.55)*

Highest score: 10 (Fraser, Wolfgang)

Lowest score: 3 (Ali, Rory)

‘Yes, this has ‘Melfest Reject’ written all over it, but you know what? I don’t mind at all.’ (James)

 

#22. Israel (6.5)

Highest score: 10 (Jaz)

Lowest score: 2 (James)

‘The build of the song resembles somehow the ‘drama queen’ ballad by Conchita from 2014, only this one goes nowhere and suddenly ends when you expect more to come.’ (Wolfgang)

 

#23. Australia (6.44)*

Highest score: 10 (Fraser)

Lowest score: 2 (Nick)

‘Dami is definitely destined to get at least a respectable placing in Stockholm, but there’s something missing that means she will not win Eurovision.’ (Martin)

 

#24. Armenia (6.44)*

Highest score: 12 (Penny, Rory)

Lowest score: 2 (Nick)

‘LoveWave has a lot of interesting parts – mainly the music and the structure – but it never coalesces like it should.’ (Nick)

 

#25. Hungary (6.33)

Highest score: 12 (Wolfgang)

Lowest score: 1 (Nick)

‘I couldn’t remember what this song sounded like until listening to over forty ranking videos. And although I can now remember what (part of) it sounds like, I don’t understand how it’s in almost everyone’s top 10.’ (Penny)

 

#26. Poland (6.22)

Highest score: 10 (Wolfgang)

Lowest score: 2 (Nick)

‘It is a beautiful and timeless classic entry that easily could have been in any other ESC in the past. Every time I listen to Color of Your Life it grows on me and gives me goosebumps.’ (Wolfgang)

 

#27. Finland (5.89)

Highest score: 10 (Ali)

Lowest score: 3 (Nick, Wolfgang)

‘Sandhja’s song did all it could do at Eurovision – it served as an excellent-but-disposable show opener, so easily sacrificed that it might be better for us to think of it as part of the first semi’s opening act than as an actual competition song.’ (Jaz)

 

#28. Slovenia (5.78)

Highest score: 10 (Ali, Fraser)

Lowest score: 2 (Jaz, Wolfgang)

‘A lyric like “blue is blue, and red is red” definitely isn’t winning any songwriting awards, but it fits the air of naïveté that the song so beautifully creates.’ (Nick)

 

#29. Cyprus (5.7)

Highest score: 7 (Ali, James, Martin, Penny, Rory)

Lowest score: 2 (Fraser)

‘I think I’d need further listens to appreciate this, but as I got bored halfway through this one (I zoned out and did some online shopping during the last 90 seconds) I’m not too keen to hear it again.’ (Mrs. Jaz)

 

#30. Greece (5.67)

Highest score: 10 (Rory)

Lowest score: 3 (Fraser, James)

‘Overall, it’s a non-dynamic, non-event kind of entry, with lame English lyrics and far too much repetition.’ (Jaz)

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Greece: all white, but nothing special.

 

#31. The Netherlands (5.55)

Highest score: 10 (Penny)

Lowest score: 3 (James, Rory, Wolfgang)

‘It’s supposed to make you feel happy, but by the third line I just want to Sellotape Bob’s smug little mouth shut so he actually “can’t go on”.’ (James)

 

#32. FYR Macedonia (5.44)*

Highest score: 12 (James)

Lowest score: 1 (Nick)

‘I didn’t have high expectations of Kaliopi’s second official ESC entry given that I didn’t love her first…and as expected, I like this even less.’ (Jaz)

 

#33. Bosnia & Herzegovina (5.44)*

Highest score: 8 (Wolfgang)

Lowest score: 4 (Ali, Fraser, James)

‘I think I might be getting tired of the Balkan ballad formula, because I can’t find that ‘magical’ aspect in the verses, despite them being performed well. Also, I’m still trying to get over the fact that Deen’s face has morphed into an Easter Island moai head…’ (Penny)

 

#34. Albania (5.33)

Highest score: 8 (Rory)

Lowest score: 2 (Nick)

‘What was a powerful and passionate emotional rollercoaster, with lots of interesting nuances in Tirana, has now become a repetitive low-key ballad that no longer holds my attention.’ (Martin)

 

#35. Georgia (5.3)

Highest score: 10 (Ali)

Lowest score: 1 (Fraser, Wolfgang)

‘Immediately this sounds like some average 90s Brit-pop band is making a comeback. There is nothing that sounds remotely Eurovision about it.’ (Fraser)

 

#36. Ireland (5.22)*

Highest score: 10 (Martin)

Lowest score: 1 (Nick)

‘Everything about this screams desperate, from the wannabe 2013 Avicii composition to the recycling of 90s “heart-throb” Nicky Byrne to screech-er, I mean, sing it.’ (Nick)

 

#37. Denmark (5.22)*

Highest score: 8 (Fraser, Jaz, Penny)

Lowest score: 2 (Ali)

‘I want this to melt my marshmallows, but all it does is brown them ever-so-slightly. Basically, it’s perfectly fine, and therefore very vanilla.’ (Jaz)

 

#38. Moldova (5.11)

Highest score: 8 (James, Wolfgang)

Lowest score: 2 (Fraser)

‘Falling Stars is the sort of song that a DJ might put on as filler before a killer tune is played.’ (Martin)

 

#39. Norway (4.89)

Highest score: 10 (Jaz)

Lowest score: 1 (Nick)

‘I can see how many people could enjoy the metaphor that Agnete’s going to be the ship to free us all from the ice we’ve been stuck in…but the song just leaves me feeling empty.’ (Rory)

 

#40. Belarus (4.8)

Highest score: 7 (Jaz, Mrs. Jaz, Penny)

Lowest score: 1 (Nick, Wolfgang)

‘This song is easy to sing along to, and not bad as a bit of background music. I’m struggling to see how it has anything to do with wolves…but hey, this is Eurovision, so who cares!’ (Fraser)

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Not even the wolves knew what Ivan’s wolf obsession was all about.

 

#41. Montenegro (3.78)

Highest score: 8 (Ali, Jaz)

Lowest score: 0 (Wolfgang)

‘Deep voices aren’t usually my thing to begin with, and especially not when I’m being crooned at with such lyrics as ‘I’m gonna run, gonna feel good.’ Assuage me of fears that does not, and it really harms what could’ve been a strong entry.’ (Nick)

 

#42. Romania (3.22)

Highest score: 7 (Martin, Penny)

Lowest score: 0 (James, Wolfgang)

‘To get straight to the point with Romania in one word: HORRIBLE! Just horrible!’ (Wolfgang)

 

#43. San Marino (2.44)

Highest score: 8 (Ali)

Lowest score: 0 (James, Wolfgang)

‘I had hoped for a trumpet-backed, updated version of Mambo No. 5 from Serhat, which would have been a bit of fun. But what we got instead more closely resembles something you’d step in by mistake at the local dog park.’ (Jaz)

 

*Tie broken via Twitter poll.

 

Sadly, as we know, France couldn’t translate their OGAE poll win into a Eurovision win (although given that Amir’s sixth is their best result since 2002, we can probably loosen the definition of ‘win’ a little). However, they steamrolled ahead of actual champ Ukraine to claim another prestigious prize here. In fact, who needs OGAE poll results when you’ve got the hugely-delayed results of some random blog’s jury voting in your favour? Not France, that’s (not at all) for sure.

That was my long-winded and delusional way of congratulating Amir for taking out the top spot in the EBJJ vote for 2016. As aforementioned, Jamala was hot on his heels, and creeping up on her in turn were Francesca from Italy and Poli from Bulgaria. Rounding out our top 5 (though this one had nothing to do with me) was Croatia’s Nina, who didn’t need to win here as she recently won the most coveted prize of them all: the Barbara Dex Award. Reaching the latter heights of the top ten = Iceland, Germany, Russia, Latvia and Sweden. High fives and metaphorical gift baskets go out to those guys too!

I would like to point out that my kick-ass jury, while not psychic, managed to predict Bulgaria’s future by ranking Poli 4th. We also got pretty darn close with our positioning of Austria in 12th (Zoë came 13th). Overall, as you’ll see in a second when I compare our ranking to the official outcome/s, we did very well when it came to predicting who’d end up in the final, even if we weren’t too top-notch on the specifics. A correct guess wasn’t what we were aiming for anyway – our reviews and scores were based on personal opinions, not which entries we thought would triumph or crash and burn.

 

EBJ versus ESC: Let’s compare the pair!

23 of the countries in our top 26 appeared in the actual final. Six were already there (the automatic finalists and hosts Sweden, of course), but the remaining seventeen were correctly, collectively predicted by the EBJ jury. If I could pat my entire team of Eurovision experts on the back right now, I would.

Estonia, who were awarded the dishonour of placing 42nd out of 42, were ranked 14th with us – and I personally think they deserved to be closer to 14th than 42nd. But I’m totally over it. Whatever.

#JUSTICEFORJÜRI.

Our highest-ranked non-qualifier was Iceland in 6th place. As we all know now, Greta Salóme missed out on a Saturday night spot by a mile rather than a millimeter – she placed 14th in her semi.

13 of the countries we considered non-final material turned out to be exactly that. We did underestimate the Cypriot, Dutch and Georgian abilities to advance, but 13 out of 16 is pretty impressive regardless. A lot more impressive than the 6 out of 10 that I personally rightly predicted before semi final 1. But the less people who know about that, the better. Don’t expect me to confess that online any time soon.

Oops…too late.

The EBJ Jury’s lowest-ranked qualifier of the abovementioned three was Georgia, in 35th place. I’m going to take most of the credit for seeing something in Nika and his not-actually-that-young Lolitaz that few others did.

Georgia_eurovision-large_trans++qVzuuqpFlyLIwiB6NTmJwfSVWeZ_vEN7c6bHu2jJnT8

Seeing something, and seeing double…

Looking down the list, you can see that the EBJ Jury greatly underrated the likes of Australia, Armenia and Poland. Conversely, we overrated Italy, the Czech Republic and Switzerland. We also placed Germany in our top 10, and therein lies the difference between voting mainly on the merit of a song, and voting based on a manga-marinated visual version of that song.

 

And now, because this post has gone on way too long in traditional Jaz style, I’m going to stop observing and start winding things up. If you have any further observations re: the EBJJ or actual top 43/42, though, you know my comments section is always open for business!

In a few days’ time (I swear to Mr. God) I’ll be asking you for even more opinions – only all you’ll need to do then is click a bunch of times. Translated, that means the EBJ Awards for Eurovision Excellence – 2016 edition – are imminent, and that the People’s Choice polls are just about ready for public viewing and voting. Say yay yay yay!

What? Barei would. Be like Barei.

 

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REVIEWS | The EBJ Jury (Finally) Judges Eurovision 2016 (Part 7)

I’M BACK! I guess that’s one thing I have in common with the likes of Kaliopi, Donny Montell, Poli Genova, and that one guy from Lighthouse X who played keyboard for Emma Marrone in Copenhagen.

I, however, am back in multiple senses of the word. Not only am I back at home in Australia, but I’m also back blogging after what feels like an eternity away, on the ground in Stockholm writing with the awesome ESC Insight team. In actual fact, it was only three weeks – but what an incredible blur that three weeks turned out to be! I have SO much to tell you guys, if you’re willing and able to hear it over the next few months (what can I say? It’s going to take a while for everything to come screaming back to me).

In the meantime, if you’re feeling even a hint of the Post-Eurovision Depression that I am (and I haven’t even gone back to work yet…that’ll be the true reminder that life is going back to boring *hopes my boss never sees this*) you might want to ease the pain by checking out Insight’s epic coverage of Eurovision 2016, feat. in-depth articles, thought-provoking videos and hilarious podcasts. Because this is my blog and I’m allowed to be narcissistic here, may I recommend checking out my pieces first? Like any proud mother, I want to show off my babies. In this case, quadruplets.

Because I’m so keen on retrospective ramblings, I’ll be filling you in on what went down in and out of the Press Centre in Stockholm as time goes on (feat. such juicy gossip as the 2016 act who called me their ‘new best friend’, and the 2016 act who I witnessed being manhandled out of the Euroclub at 3am the morning after the final. SUCH JUICINESS). But for now, I’ve got some pre-ESC loose ends to tie up – a.k.a. some outstanding business to take care of, a.k.a. some very, very late reviews to make public.

My life got so crazy in the lead-up to my Eurotrip, I didn’t have a spare second to post the last part of the EBJ Jury’s 2016 reviews, or the subsequent EBJ Jury Top 43 (including the dearly departed Romania). And if I thought I’d have time to post those while I was away, I WAS WRONG. Hectic rehearsal schedules and far-too-frequent celebrity-spotting took care of that. And now, here I am – we have a wonderful new contest winner who nobody should be bloody complaining about even if 1944 ain’t their cup of coffee, and I’m yet to review it. I am definitely un-Frans-like and very sorry about this.

I won’t drag said reviews out any longer – I’ve already created the longest cliffhanger in history, after all. So, let’s make like Barei and say hey hey hey to today’s panel of Jaz-approved judges.

  

TODAY’S EBJ JURORS

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Remember, you can meet the entire EBJ Jury properly here.

Ali, Rory and I are FINALLY about to review Austria, the Czech Republic, Finland, Macedonia, Norway, Serbia and Ukraine – a.k.a. Zoë, Gabriela, Sandhja, Kaliopi, Agnete, Sanja AND Jamala. It’s all about girl power on this occasion, but who will prevail? Jamala, the actual Eurovision champ? Zoë, the fan favourite? Or someone else? Read on to find out, and let us know which of these ladies’ songs keeps your boat most buoyant in the comments below!

Oh, and FYI…all of the following reviews except mine were written before the contest took place, so if they seem to be totally unaware of the final results, that’s why. Just pretend it’s April, and all will be well.

FYI again (this is the last one, I promise)…this is one heck of a mammoth post. You might want to prepare yourself a pot of tea and a supply of Plopp to get you through this one.

 

  

Austria

Ali So, what do we have here? If one cares to delve beyond the overt ‘sweet’ simplicity, there is much to be found: a solo guitar’s rollicking strumming conjuring a roaming minstrel; strings (in pizzicato, then sweeping legato, and later pulsing staccato) which weave the ever-evolving landscape through which we are drawn; our singer, with gentle hope and resolve in her voice, in the throes of affirming to the spirit that is leading her, how faithfully she will follow. The destination? A country far from here, where the people, in a naïve search for paradise, are singing. A rhythmic, driving repetition sets our singer’s steady, determined pace, despite the apparent distance, and the dangers of straying into futility (‘si la route nous semble sans issu’), or into the despair of the abyss (‘même si on sera perdu’). There is a poignancy and potency in the fact that our pilgrim (coincidentally, no doubt?) adopts not her native tongue, but the language of the victims of some of the more notorious of those atrocities. The path proposed here is to faithfully follow the song and the music. Indeed, the spirit to which our pilgrim addresses herself is the music itself: when it sings, she sings too; when it flies, so does she; if it soars, she follows it, unencumbered by doubt. The song’s title, and the lyrics of its chorus, are the ever-present reminder that this place we seek is indeed ‘far from here’. The revolving ‘seasons’ in the (official) video, and the ever-flowing chord progressions, reinforce that this trek may indeed be never-ending. But equally, the chorus’s hopeful, trance-like mantra also reminds us that what matters is the journey itself. Those who glibly dismiss this song as ‘cotton candy’, ‘girly’, and calculatedly faux-nostalgic have failed to see the wood for the trees. Though cloaked in ‘lightness’, what we are invited to experience here is by several country miles the most profoundly philosophical and spiritual of all of this year’s creations. It delivers a lasting, symbolic homage to that ultimate musical pilgrimage, the song contest itself. But then again, maybe it’s just another DNQ fanwank?

Rory I’m just going to put it out there: I’m not a fan of Zoë this year. Austria had some really great artists in their NF – LiZZA, Céline/Farna and Bella Wagner (to a very broad extent) – and they went with a song with a very schlager beat to it, and it’s all in French. I’m not hating on her, okay? I’m just saying that with some other very different artists in their selection, Austria had a lot of other options. I can see why they picked Loin D’ici  – the staging in itself was a show, coupled with her USP of singing in a completely unofficial language of her country. However, with an über-poppy, almost tween-ish beat to it, I can’t see it appealing to non-Eurovision fans. There’s making yourself stand out and there’s taking the p***, and I think that Austria might JUST have overshot it this year…maybe it’s a bit of a reality check? We’ll have to wait and see.

Jaz I’m going to start by reminding you again that I’m the only person reviewing and scoring this bunch of songs AFTER Eurovision (because everyone else managed to get their act together beforehand. I’m the one who let the team down). If I’d commented on Loin D’ici back in April when I was supposed to, I’d actually have a very different take on it to the one I have now. When Austria first crowned Zoë as The Makemakes’ successor, I was pretty horrified, to be honest. As cute and whimsical as the song was/is, the tragically stale Eurodance beat that kicks in after the first chorus made me want to call on Conchita Wurst to float down from the heavens (obviously she’s still alive, but I just figure she hangs out up there being perfect most of the time) and save us all from such dated un-fabulous-ness. Upon arriving in Stockholm, it became clear that Zoë was a massive fan favourite, partly due to her song being such a tribute to stereotypical Eurovision anthems of a time gone by – I was nearly danced to death by the horde of devotees basking in her Euroclub performance on Opening Party night. And I still didn’t get it. In fact, even now, I’m not about to give Loin D’ici a douze. But after being subjected to the song more times than I would have if I’d stayed home this year, I started to…well, hate it a lot less. I don’t doubt that there is as much depth under the song’s surface as Ali states, but what I rather like about it now is the face-value sweetness and light, and the almost-irresistible melody that becomes a karaoke dream once you’ve wrapped your tongue around the French lyrics. And Zoë herself is so precious, it’s hard to insult anything she’s had a hand in. I also may want to borrow from her extensive collection of frou-frou strapless dresses one day, and if I’m mean to her, there’s zero chance of that happening.

The EBJ Jury says…

  • Ali 12
  • Fraser 6
  • James 5
  • Jaz 6
  • Martin 7
  • Nick 4
  • Penny 7
  • Rory 5
  • Wolfgang 12

Austria’s EBJ Jury score is…7.11

 

 

Czech

Ali The Czech Republic’s Saturday night cherry is still unpopped, so I will try to say some encouraging things here. The intro of simple lilting piano and a slow current of low strings is very promising. The chorus’ melody is pared-back but engaging, and the pace is elegant and restrained. Gabriela has a stunning voice, and is certainly gentle enough on the eye, in a Tanya Plibersek kind of way. Plus, her floral afro in the video is the most impressive I have ever seen. Alas…the lyrics of I Stand lurch between lazily clichéd and waywardly clunky, and the narrative is befuddledly (yeah, befuddledly) circuitous, with the result that – in contrast to our songstress, who professes to ‘always care’ – I find myself quickly giving up caring about her, her various travails, and anything her song has to tell me. We can’t tell who the hero is supposed to be: on one hand, the song seems to be trying to celebrate Gabby’s own resilience; but on the other hand, it’s a ‘better half as saviour’ song. And those lyrics! ‘I’ve worn the path, I’ve hit the wall’? Did the lyricists even care what these idioms mean when they tossed them in? It jars when I hear ‘head’ attempting to rhyme with ‘cares’, ‘rain’ with ‘fall’, et cetera. Can we blame Bill Gates for the fact that the spell-checker failed to flag that the past tense of ‘to fall’ is ‘fell’, not ‘fall’? And who decided Gabby should spend the video lying down whilst saying ‘I stand’? The problems with the story and words were all easily avoidable, which makes them all the more exasperating. The unfortunate result is that I end up not giving two hoots about whether she’s standing, squatting, or doing the downward-facing dog.

Rory When I saw that the Czech Republic would be interested in taking part in Eurovision again after last year’s failure to reach the final, I thought that they must be crazy. But with I Stand, I am so grateful that they’ve continued on their quest for a Eurovision qualification – which I’m guaranteeing they’re going to get with this song. Gabriela is more used to singing rock and gothic songs, but this is a really pleasant departure from her comfort zone. The lush beats and strings really bring out the best in her vocals. The peak of the song definitely comes out at the end of the song with that screech in the lead-up to the last chorus, which just lets out so much emotion and care and you can really feel that. My one concern is how they’re going to stage the song: with Hope Never Dies, they managed to understage it, because there wasn’t really anything that made you remember the performance. With I Stand, they have to play it really carefully…maybe they can get her to be like in her music video and lie down while her hair is covered by layers of flowers? Regardless, best of luck, Czech Republic!

Jaz They may not have traveled far in the final, but congratulations must go to the Czech Republic (Czechia?) for making it to Saturday night for the first time. There were several other songs I’d have preferred to see among the last 26 standing, but it’s always nice when a struggling country finds a surprising degree of success. That said, I understand why Gabriela didn’t find any on final night. Her performance was pretty much perfect – from flawless vocals with just the right amount of emotion present, to the stunning geometric floor-and-wall patterns; from her bridal-esque outfit to the timely hair-release that thankfully didn’t end the same way as Moldova’s in 2014. But…I never found I Stand to leave much of a lasting impression, and in the final, it was up against at least twenty songs that were more memorable. That’s not to mention the fact that the Czech Republic were handed the dreaded second slot to perform in, which we all know to be legitimately cursed. Hopefully, however, this progression from the semis is a stepping stone to further success for the country in 2017. It’s got to be one of the reasons they’ve already confirmed for next year’s contest.

The EBJ Jury says…

  • Ali 2
  • Fraser 8
  • James 12
  • Jaz 5
  • Martin 6
  • Nick 4
  • Penny 5
  • Rory 12
  • Wolfgang 8

The Czech Republic’s EBJ Jury score is…6.89

 

 

Finland

Ali Apart from heartily fist-bumping the underlying ‘song-as-therapy’ message, I do dig a ditty that gets me lip-syncing along with it, and wiggling my ample tuchas (apologies for the unsolicited visual!), especially in a year that’s weighed down by dollops of dirges. Throw in some snappy brass riffs, a lively percussion track, a swag of ohh-ohh-ohh-oh-oh’s, a positive ‘friend-in-need’ message, and some evocative lyrics – ‘When heavy waters try to break you, you will be singing for life’ – and, hot-diggidy, I find myself in total lock-step: ‘YEAHHH!’. If Sandhja and her team are able to extract maximum engagement, joyfulness and life by connecting sympathetically with the cameras and the audience, then why can’t this (pretty please?) at least get through to the final?

Rory I’m going to go against the grain and say that I actually enjoy Sing It Away. I’ve a big guilty pleasure for funk, and Sandhja delivers in that aspect in ways that acts like the KMGs (Belgium 2007) couldn’t. This is sleek, sophisticated, and builds up before exploding into the chorus. I do think Sandhja needs to work on her live vocals, if she plans on moving as much as she did at UMK as she will onstage, just because it might prove to be a problem. I don’t see an issue with this making a connection, but in the ferocious first half of Semi Final 1, she’ll have to make sure her performance is memorable. That being said, singing lines like ‘I WANT YOUR BALLS AWAY!’ will definitely give her that edge (it’s supposed to be ‘All my troubles away’, but I can’t bring myself to correct it every time I hear it!). Hopefully, Europe won’t listen to her and will give her their balls in the form of votes, but it’s really a 50:50 chance!

Jaz I had some ridiculous favourites in UMK this year (Thief, Shamppanjataivas, and the comparatively normal On It Goes) as well as some songs I detested (mainly just the bookies’ number one, No Fear). Sing It Away fell in neither of those categories, but I was mighty relieved when Sandhja beat Saara Aalto nonetheless. Her song did all it could do at Eurovision – it served as an excellent-but-disposable show opener, so easily sacrificed that it might be better for us to think of it as part of the first semi’s opening act than as an actual competition song. I don’t dislike it – it’s fun and funky, and Sandhja has the personality required to pull it off and convince us that she will sing ‘it’ away (it’s great how the ‘it’ is open for interpretation. Got dandruff? She’ll sing it away. Been run over by a parade float full of schlager stars? Sandhja’s got you covered). But it lacks the fire and some of the energy that saw counterpart What’s The Pressure sail into the final and squeeze into the top 10. It’s almost as if it won UMK by accident because the decision-makers couldn’t choose between Saara and Mikael – a kind of DMGP/Eurovision 2011 situation. And that doesn’t give you a contest winner…Eurovision 2011 aside. But we’re all still scratching our heads over that one, aren’t we?

The EBJ Jury says…

  • Ali 10
  • Fraser 5
  • James 7
  • Jaz 6
  • Martin 5
  • Nick 3
  • Penny 7
  • Rory 7
  • Wolfgang 3

Finland’s EBJ Jury score is…5.89

 

 

Macedonia

Ali Unlike Nika (from Georgia) and his muddied bed partner, I don’t smoke. But I will definitely be buying myself a cigarette lighter to take along to the second semi-final, just so I can do the old ‘waving-the-ciggy-lighter-back-and-forth-to-the-slow-chorus’ thing to this big, hearty Balkan tavern ballad. Sometimes it can be satisfying when a song delivers (with aplomb) a totally ‘no-surprises’ offering. Even though I have not been overly generous with my points here, this in my book has an ample supply of plombs. Staying with a more classical structure, this builds in all the right ways, and Kaliopi’s voice, as always, intoxicates us with the smokiness of an Islay single malt. There is some loss of momentum from having an unadumbrated middle verse (in contrast to the modern trend of cutting it short, e.g. Norway this year), but it is worth the price, because it makes us savour the ‘bring-it-home’ chorus all the more. Being one of only three songs this year (count them) that are entirely in a LOTE, and therefore arguably less ‘accessible’ to the full spread of jurors and televoters, qualifying is far from a ‘gimme’, but one can live in hope. Who is Dona? I have no idea. But all in all, I’m very glad someone thought she/he/it was worth singing about.

Rory DONUT, DONUT, DONUT, DONUT, DONUT, DONUT, GLAAAAAAD I MET! Oh wow, Kaliopi is back with a bang and I’m secretly enjoying it. I must admit, I was expecting something along the lines of Crno i Belo, but with Dona, I feel like I’ve been transported back to the late 80s/early 90s, with a power ballad like this. Of course, we’ll have to see how she delivers this onstage to get a feel of how it could do in the long run, but with only half the vocal range required to sing Dona than to sing Crno i Belo, I think Kaliopi will slay BIG TIME with this. Whether it qualifies or not, however, is a completely different story. I’m very sorry, but I’ve got nothing else to say about Macedonia…unless you want to hear me sing DONUT, DONUT again!

Jaz The following sentence will tell you what I think about Dona in a nutshell: I didn’t have high expectations of Kaliopi’s second official ESC entry given that I didn’t love her first…and as expected, I like this even less. That’s not to say that I detest it – and, as with a few other 2016 songs, frequent exposure during the rehearsal period ensured that it grew on me – but it’s too dated and over-dramatic for my taste. Even Kaliopi, a singer whose power knows no bounds (she can shatter glass with a single note, so it’s a good thing she wasn’t performing in the Crystal Hall this time) seemed to struggle to give her all to the demanding Dona, just ever-so-slightly. It’s for that reason that her highest-of-high notes at the end of the song never quite measured up to the clarity and pitch-perfection of Jamala’s. There are things about this track that I like – more so the gentler verses than the big, domineering choruses. But even from the beginning, I have trouble paying attention to Kaliopi for three whole minutes, without wondering if a song I like better is coming up next in my playlist/the semi. It usually always is. I thought Macedonia would make it to the final if mainly on artist name alone, but I have no issues with the fact that they didn’t.

The EBJ Jury says…

  • Ali 5
  • Fraser 6
  • James 12
  • Jaz 3
  • Martin 4
  • Nick 1
  • Penny 6
  • Rory 6
  • Wolfgang 5

FYR Macedonia’s EBJ Jury score is…5.44

 

 

Norway

Ali A lot of good, solid, ‘play-to-our-strengths’ Lapp/Nordic buttons are being pushed here, and coupling that with Agnete’s fine voice and presence, I think this may manage to sneak (break?) through to the final. Many listeners have reportedly found the tempo change for the chorus unsettling, if not disappointing, given that by all indications it was otherwise building into a Euphoria-esque up-tempo dance number. But I think, in context, it works: after all, an ice-breaker is not a particularly fast-moving vessel. And having the brakes go on the pace at that point also reinforces the arduousness of the effort our Agnete would need to put in to liberate her ‘stuck’ friend. However, the storyline here lacks traction: a lot of the song is spent cataloguing the reasons why this ex-and/or-potential partner is extremely high maintenance, if not an outright cad/cadette, so we aren’t given much of a feel for why Agnete would be so determined to save him or her. Indeed, perhaps this cad/ette would benefit from spending a bit of reflection time stuck in the ice – sorry, I mean in the ‘fro-o-o-zen water’…a.k.a. ice?

Rory I’m not really sure what to make of Icebreaker. I mean, I can see how many people could enjoy the metaphor that she’s going to be the ship to free us all from the ice we’ve been stuck in (maybe that’s why I’ve been so hypothermic), but the song just leaves me feeling…empty. There’s nothing in here for me to like or dislike. It’s just…neutral, if you get what I mean. Agnete’s vocals are exceptional and I’m sure that that will work in her favour, but the song is just very lacklustre – which is highly ironic, as I should really be enjoying this sort of genre! Norway will easily sail through to the final, just because it has a few reliable countries making its case. As for the final, I can’t exactly put my finger on their exact finishing position – it could be the bottom of the left-hand-side of the scoreboard or the top of the right-hand-side. It’s definitely a Mar(Vegi)mite song this year, a lot like I Feed You My Love – you either love it or you hate it. Suffice to say, I don’t eat Mar(Vegi)mite, so you’re better off asking someone else!

Jaz Love, hate or feel indifferently towards Icebreaker, you have to applaud Norway for managing to send two entries to Eurovision this year without breaking any rules: the first, an atmospheric Euphoria-esque dance banger; the second, an intense I Feed You My Love-style anthem that I do not recommend listening to if you have a headache coming on. The stark tempo and genre changes in Agnete’s song were initially arresting in all the wrong ways for me, back when I was still bitter that Afterglow didn’t win NMGP. But as I’ve gotten more accustomed to them, I actually think the track takes a risk that could have paid off under better circumstances. It’s adventurous in a way that we hadn’t heard at Eurovision before, and the overall effect is edgy, dramatic and powerful. It’s just a shame that Agnete was too poorly pre-ESC to trek the promotional trail (i.e. attend any pre-parties, or press conferences on the ground in Stockholm) or reshape her performance much from the national final stage. I always expected Icebreaker to have a 50:50 shot at qualifying, but if Agnete’s path to the contest had been as smooth as everyone else’s, I think she might have slotted in to Saturday night. I would have loved to see her there as I actually get multiple kicks out of this song now – but just making it through rehearsals and the broadcast was a win for her, at the end of the day.

The EBJ Jury says…

  • Ali 4
  • Fraser 2
  • James 4
  • Jaz 10
  • Martin 5
  • Nick 1
  • Penny 6
  • Rory 5
  • Wolfgang 7

Norway’s EBJ Jury score is…4.89

 

 

Serbia

Ali This has huge potential, and I really want to like it. But ZAA’s stage performance will be the decisive factor. In the official video, her melodramatic gestures and facial expressions are a bit OTT, and borderline comical. This obviously tends to detract from the real potency of the song’s conflict-laden atmosphere. A more constrained presentation would more powerfully convey the inner struggle inherent in the theme. She also has to get the audience on side. One way to help do this would have been to have ZAA herself singing (with backing vocalist accompaniment) the sympathetic ‘whoa-oh-oh-ohhs’ that follow the chorus — but admittedly, that would leave her without a decent breather, so may have sapped her energy for the big finish. In terms of the song itself, I know the temptation would naturally have been to give ZAA opportunities to demonstrate her undoubted virtuosity, but I do find it a bit off-putting how, in each half of the chorus — in contrast to the controlled tension of the notes and dynamics in the verses — the notes at the end of the first two lines wobble round like a learner driver trying to work out which gear to use: ‘Every time I say goodby-Y-y-Y-yyye …’. Anyway, the ingredients are all there for ZAA to make this either a Eurovision classic or a Eurovision calamity. Hey, Laura T – you need to have a chat to ZAA about pressure, STAT!

Rory This year, Serbia has me questioning a lot of things. First off, I very much appreciate sending an unknown singer to Eurovision, but why give her two names? ZAA Sanja Vučić? Could it not just be her? The song is pleasant enough to listen to, but when it comes to the subject matter – domestic violence – I just feel like it’s ripping off András Kallay-Saunders, but with a more mature vibe to it. Secondly, Sanja is a singer who – with ZAA – normally plays ethnic-indie music (see her video for Irie&Kool for a proper reference), so why get her to sing a ballad that is so pop, it oozes Charlie Mason? Finally, why does she make so many facial expressions and jagged movements, some of which don’t even work in time with the music? I just feel like this has been very forced and I think that had she been given a more alternative song, or a song in a genre she’s more experienced in, she’d give a more convincing performance. Nevertheless, her vocals are amazing, and the versatility and flexibility of her music makes her incredibly adaptable. But I feel RTS just took a shot in the dark, and that it might not pay off.

Jaz When it comes to controversial song subject matter at Eurovision, I’m an advocate. I think it’s important for music to be used to address issues other than love and fairytales and happy endings and falling stars and donuts (say whatever you want, Kaliopi…we all know your entry is an ode to Krispy Kremes). Not all the time, but sometimes. That’s partly why I hold Hungary’s Running and Ukraine’s 1944 (which I’ll be gushing over in a minute) in such high regard. Serbia’s Goodbye (Shelter) has the kind of ambiguous lyrics that could refer to a verbally-abusive or extremely strained relationship, as much as to a physically-abusive one. That makes it less uncomfortable to listen to, but it also gives it less of an identity and less strength, message-wise. Having said that, I still believe it’s a powerful song – a rocky Balkan ballad delivered with a maturity you might not expect from a normally happy-go-lucky 22-year-old like Sanja. Given that she reined in the jerky performance style we saw when Goodbye was presented on Serbian TV, there was nothing vocally or visually wrong with her performance. Perfect colour scheme, perfect graphics, perfect costumes, perfect choreography…every piece was in place. But I still didn’t love the song enough to back it as a potential winner. It certainly deserved its place in the final, but it didn’t move me, and I understand why it didn’t bother the top 10.

The EBJ Jury says… 

  • Ali 3
  • Fraser 6
  • James 4
  • Jaz 7
  • Martin 12
  • Nick 5
  • Penny 12
  • Rory 4
  • Wolfgang 6

Serbia’s EBJ Jury score is…6.55

 

 

Ukraine

Ali Never has there been a more soulful song about the swallowing of souls! I can report that, on more than one occasion, in the course of listening to 1944, I have detected on my upper cheeks the inexplicable presence of salt water. Jamala will indeed win many a heart with her ‘Negro-spiritual’-like timbre, and prodigious vocal range. Whether a largely uninitiated TV audience will be able to pick up on the full gamut of what is being laid out before them here is very doubtful. It may, for example, be vulnerable to the predictable Norton-esque derision for being too ‘dreary’, ‘serious’, etc. We shall see. The lyrics may have benefited in some places from having their nuances honed, to ease them back from the brink of what might be perceived as hyperbole, but that is a very minor quibble, in the context of the subject matter. If this is not in the final, the universe will be very much the poorer for it.

Rory There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that I’ll sound biased on this, but 1944 is my favourite song of the 2016 contest by millions and millions of miles. When I first heard the song on February 5th, the day before it was due to be performed at the national selection in Ukraine, it LITERALLY reduced me to tears – I’m not even exaggerating. The song is just so beautiful and emotive, it gives me goosebumps every single time I listen to it – you know that every note Jamala sings is one that she feels for both herself and her fellow Crimean Tatars. Turning to the dark side of the song, I am clearly stating that there’s no political intent in 1944 whatsoever. Jamala has said in an interview that politics aren’t her cup of tea (sorry Valentina Monetta – Jamala doesn’t get you!), and that there was no political motive behind the song. The fact that some people see a political aspect to it is just a coincidence. 1944, with its breaking-beats, Crimean Tatar lyrics and climax with the final chorus (along with that scream that just gives me the shakes every time – it’s like she’s releasing her soul whenever she reaches that note) give it that edge to stand out a mile in the semi final, and all skeptics will be proven wrong when it easily qualifies – it might even win the semi! Personally, Jamala is my winner of the whole contest, but will she actually win? She’s definitely top 10 or top 5 material. I could go on all day about her, and about 1944 and her other songs, but I won’t bore you to death. I will let you know that Ukraine is my #1 for this year’s Eurovision, in case that wasn’t already clear. DAVAI UKRAÏNA!

Jaz I’m not quite sure how to articulate my affection for 1944. ‘Affection’ is an understatement, really. This song had me hypnotised from the first few seconds of my first listen, partly because it was so different to what I was expecting – Jamala’s previous entry in a Ukrainian NF, Smile, was way too cheesy and repetitive for me, and I figured she’d be offering up something similar this time. FACEPALM!! I’ll admit, I didn’t realise how versatile she was as an artist. I did realise that her vocal range is beyond incredible, and 1944 shows that off to the fullest, while simultaneously allowing her to tap in to her emotions. I don’t think it’s just her acting abilities that give Jamala the skill to make past pain feel fresh every time she performs this song – it’s also the fact that this song is about a specific experience, even though she wasn’t around to live it. It’s the most substantial song that competed in Stockholm, and the most experimental, and I’m still over the moon that it managed to win the whole contest when its divisiveness could have dragged it down. It’s everything a winning song should be made of, in my opinion – it’s unique, contemporary, brilliantly performed (without the staging overshadowing the sound), and has something real to say. To some, it might be a vehicle for a wailing Eastern European woman; to me, it’s a victory for inventiveness and significance in a contest where the appeal of the last few winners has been in the artist’s persona (Austria 2014) and the high-tech trickery of their performance (Sweden 2015)…not to take anything away from Conchita or Måns (you guys know I love them both). Let’s also not forget that, with so few songs that weren’t entirely in English competing in 2016, not only did one of those win, but it was the one featuring a language new to the Eurovision stage. As Petra and MZW declared during ‘That’s Eurovision!’, music is a language that we all know how to speak, and Jamala’s Crimean Tatar transcended tongue barriers to entrance jurors and televoters everywhere (and make me cry in front of thousands of strangers). That’s one heck of an artist, and one heck of a song.

The EBJ Jury says… 

  • Ali 10
  • Fraser 8
  • James 12
  • Jaz 12
  • Martin 8
  • Nick 6
  • Penny 8
  • Rory 12
  • Wolfgang 12

Ukraine’s EBJ Jury score is…9.78

 

 

And with judgment passed on Jamala, I finally get to say this…we’re done! It took ever-so-slightly longer than I’d intended, as I said at the start – and involved me deviating to a different hemisphere for a few weeks – but the EBJ Jury has officially reviewed all 42/43 entries of Eurovision 2016. I think a round of applause and some hysterical screaming is warranted here.

Applause and screaming should also be directed at our winner for this round, who also won the actual contest and therefore gets to be the reigning champ until Sweden wins again next year: Ukraine!

  1. Ukraine (9.78)
  2. Austria (7.11)
  3. Czech Republic (6.89)
  4. Serbia (6.55)
  5. Finland (5.89)
  6. FYR Macedonia (5.44)
  7. Norway (4.89)

Austria finishes surprisingly strongly (as they did IRL) in second place, with the Czech Republic and Serbia not too far behind. Finland and FYR Macedonia could only muster up mediocre scores, and it looks like I was basically the sole supporter of Norway in the EBJJ. Today’s top 4 qualified in Stockholm, while the bottom 3 didn’t – so I guess as a group, we’re pretty perceptive. Or psychic.

Of course, there’s still one loose end left to tie up, and it’s the EBJ Jury Top 43. Each round of reviews has featured its own mini-ranking, but meanwhile, I’ve been busy combining and tie-breaking until I’ve been left with one big list of favourites, and…not-so-favourites. Next time, that ranking will be revealed – and since the 2016 comp has taken place, I’ll be comparing it to the actual Top 42 to see if my elite assembly of Eurovision freaks (I mean that in the most affectionate of ways) managed to predict any of the results correctly. Hint: we actually did!

I’ll (hopefully) see you then, as I continue to play catch-up and fill you in on all the details of my first, fabulous ESC experience. Over the next month or so, you can expect some belated national finalist playlists; my extensive gallery of 2016 doppelgangers; a series of Stockholm photo albums that will send you to sleep; and the annual EBJ Awards for Eurovision Excellence, in which you get to play a bigger part than ever (if you want to). Watch out for all of that – it’s on the way to help ease your PED. And mine, of course. I don’t do anything unless there’s something in it for me.

#honestyisthebestpolicy.

 

Hej då!

 

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STOCKHOLM SEMI TIME…AGAIN! My picks for tonight’s Top 10

Hej, fellow humans! I use that term loosely because today, I’m feeling rather crappy and not very human-like at all. But it’s time to push past that – Eurovision is in full swing, after all.

Did you hear that? That was the sound of me jumping for joy.

I have an embarrassing confession to make that you’ll already be aware of if you read my last, brief post in which I attempted to predict the outcome of the first semi. Even having the inside track and viewing all of this year’s rehearsals (SO MANY REHEARSALS *eyes glaze over a little*), I managed to spectacularly bomb and only guess six of Tuesday’s qualifiers correctly. Whether I got the order right at all remains to be seen. But believe me, I am ashamed of myself.

My goal, however, is to redeem myself tonight by getting…well, more than a measly six, on the money. It’s going to be another bloodbath of a qualifier, and gazing into the crystal ball is a struggle. But here are the ten I’ve come up with. Share your personal predictions below so we can compare notes!

 

Semi Final 2: From 1st to 10th According to Jaz (A.K.A. Here Are Some Predictions You Shouldn’t Put Money On Under Any Circumstances) 

  1. Ukraine
  2. Australia
  3. Bulgaria
  4. Latvia
  5. Israel
  6. Serbia
  7. FYR Macedonia
  8. Belgium
  9. Poland
  10. Lithuania
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Jamala will be just as happy if she DOES win her semi.

 

I’m off now to prepare myself for some serious Ukrainian and Australian flag-waving, and to determine how vigorously I can chair-dance to Bulgaria without bothering the people sitting around me. If you get the chance before tonight’s show kicks off, please let me know who you think is through to Saturday night and will therefore complete the final lineup.
Until next time (when I’ll try to nail down my winner prediction for you)…

 
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STOCKHOLM SEMI TIME: Who’s In and Who’s Out (According To Moi)?

Hej hej, everybody! You might remember me as someone who used to blog here on a regular basis. You might not know that I attempted to post an apologetic article yesterday explaining my absence from EBJ, only to accidentally delete it and not be able to have a second shot as I ran out of time. Basically, I blame Eurovision.

I’m on the ground in Stockholm as we speak, and staring down the barrel of attending my first live show tonight in the giant golf ball known as the Globe Arena. I’ve been busy since last weekend doing duties in the press centre with the folks at ESC Insight (in case you, like Serhat, didn’t know, they unwisely agreed to take me on this Eurovision) so if you want to see what we’ve been up to, we’d appreciate the heck out of it. Otherwise, you can follow my personal movements on Twitter and Instagram (trust me, my feeds have never been as interesting as they are now and probably never will be again).

When I’m back home in Australia – or as soon as I’m on Plane 1 of 2 heading back to the Southern Hemisphere – I’ll be filling you in on all the gossip and excitement of my maiden ESC voyage. I’ll also be posting the very belated last part of the EBJ Reviews, AND our collective Top 43 (including Romania). Until then, there’s just enough time for me to post my terribly-predicted list of qualifiers for tonight’s semi. Woohoo! Feel free to post yours in the comments, so we can compare notes later. I’ll even let you laugh at me re: all my mistakes – being at Eurovision and watching literally every rehearsal has apparently not made me a more accurate guesser. Damn it.

Without further ado…

 

SEMI FINAL 1: My Qualifiers, In Non-Random Order 

  1. Russia
  2. Armenia
  3. Iceland
  4. Malta
  5. Hungary
  6. Greece
  7. Estonia
  8. Bosnia & Herzegovina
  9. Czech Republic
  10. Azerbaijan

What do you think? Is Russia the runaway semi winner we all saw coming, or is there an underdog waiting in the wings and ready to strike? How many people have I completely offended by leaving out *Insert Country Here*? If you’ve got something to say and it won’t make me burst into tears, type away in that box below.

 

Until next time (which hopefully won’t be in the too-distant future)…

 
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REVIEWS | The EBJ Jury Judges Eurovision 2016 (Part 6)

Hej there! You have made the excellent decision to drop by Jaz HQ to be debriefed on six more Eurovision 2016 entries – or at least, to be informed of how a small group of ESC fanatics feel about them. If you don’t mind some cattiness (‘cause the claws are out today) then you won’t regret it!

 

TODAY’S EBJ JURORS

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Martin, Nick and I are about to have our say on Armenia, Australia, Ireland, Malta, Moldova and Slovenia – a.k.a. Iveta, Dami, Nicky, Ira, Lidia and ManuElla. Once you’ve heard us out, and seen how the entire EBJ Jury scored these countries, have your own say in the comments. Which is the best song of this bunch?

 

 

Armenia

Martin This is a bold departure from normal Eurovision fare! LoveWave has an unusual spoken start, and is slow-paced throughout with its musical fusion of Western pop and Armenian ethnicity. It’s a difficult song to work out on first listen, and that might be Armenia’s failing this year – for them to qualify, everything hinges on Iveta’s vocals being perfect live and the staging being excellent.

Nick Believe it or not, this is my favorite Armenian entry of the past five years. Think about that low standard for a second. LoveWave has a lot of interesting parts – mainly the music and the structure – but it never coalesces like it should. Part of that has to do with the disconnection between the ethnic tones used for the verses, and the voice-heavy chorus. The pacing also feels off, and I feel like the whole package would work a lot better with a few more BPM. Otherwise, the lyrics are an absolute shambles, probably the worst this year; and I haven’t heard Iveta live, so I don’t know what to expect. Hopefully something entertaining, unintentionally or otherwise, because my god, is the spoken word intro going to be jarring.

Jaz I had sky-high expectations of Iveta Mukuchyan based on her previous form, and to be honest, I still don’t know if she met those with LoveWave. There are moments in this song that make me think ‘This is the weirdest thing I have ever heard’, and others that make me think ‘This is genius!’. The intro is a bizarre, and a beginning that doesn’t lure you in is rarely a positive musical attribute. Still, it did have me hanging around to see what happened next when I first listened to it, and it will probably have the same effect on fans hearing the entries for the first time on the night/s. Once the song settles into itself, it gives off some sexy vibes (thanks in large part to Iveta’s husky vocals), and it’s evident that it missed its calling as a single from the Fifty Shades of Grey soundtrack. It’s full of textures and layers and incomprehensible lyrics (which do add a sense of mystery to it all), and the combo of traditional Armenian instruments and the R & B style most evident in the chorus actually works quite well. On the whole, I have to applaud the song for daring to be different. If Armenia has devised a stunning stage concept to accompany LoveWave – the mileage they got out of Don’t Deny on the basis of superb staging suggests it’s likely – then this will make an impression. I do think it takes itself more seriously than it should, but with a slick performance to distract us all from that fact/opinion, a smidgen of OTT self-importance won’t matter.

The EBJ Jury says…

  • Ali 4
  • Fraser 4
  • James 5
  • Jaz 7
  • Martin 6
  • Nick 2
  • Penny 12
  • Rory 12
  • Wolfgang 6

Armenia’s EBJ Jury score is…6.44

 

 

 Australia

Martin Australia are definitely in it to get at least a respectable placing in Stockholm, but there’s something missing that means that this will not win Eurovision. Dami can definitely sing (she’s vocally superb with an amazing range) and the song is lyrically interesting (it tells a great story) but for me, Sound Of Silence just lacks that winning spark.

Nick Dami Im! You have no idea how excited I was when she was confirmed as the entrant for Australia. I was so prepared for Super Love 2.0, and procuring an Aussie flag for Stockholm. Then the song came out, and ‘disappointed’ was an understatement. Mid-tempo synth-pop for such a colorful artist was a terrible match, and not even Dami’s charisma can save this dirge of a song. The only way I can think to describe it is by using the dominant color in the video: grey. Lyrically grey, musically grey, just… grey. And while last year’s Tonight Again annoyed the pants off me, at least it had some spunk.

Jaz I know it isn’t Thursday (not while I’m typing this, anyway) but I’d like to #throwback to this time last year when I gave Guy Sebastian’s Tonight Again a mediocre review. The purpose of this throwback? To point out that, as I didn’t get a kick of any kind out of that song until Eurovision was actually upon us, you should take what I’m about to say regarding Dami’s Sound of Silence with a whacking great grain of salt. This song – our sophomore effort, which was always going to be interesting in one way or another – is slightly above-average. That’s my not-at-all-glowing review, I’m afraid. I’m not a huge Dami fan, and the fact that she wasn’t Delta Goodrem made her entry unveiling even more tainted with my bitterness. There is no doubt that she can belt out a wannabe-powerhouse track like SOS, and it is a song that allows her to make the most of her vocal abilities. But it’s trying so hard to be on par with a Sia smash hit that it seems desperate, and falls short. Melodically, it’s lovely to listen to, and it certainly fulfils the brief of Contemporary Female Ballad That Is Not An Embarrassment To The Entire Continent of Australia. But the chorus, which should be the selling point, is weakened by unnecessary repetition. Are you telling me that the writers couldn’t have spared a few extra minutes to think up a few additional lines that rhymed with ‘silence’? Violence, defiance, appliance (an ode to a panini press would have been a first at Eurovision)…the list goes on. It smacks of laziness to me. Like a beautifully-crafted movie scene tossed onto the cutting room floor in favour of a crappy, purposeless one, the repetition of the initial chorus lines is a missed opportunity to have created something more masterful. Still, Dami will work with what she’s got, and her fashion sense (slash the fashion sense of her stylist) is so on fleek, I cannot wait to see what she’ll wear for an occasion like this (it’ll be more like a sculpture than actual clothing, I’m sure). And you can bet your behind that I’ll be cheering like crazy for her, and crossing my fingers that she slips through from semi to final. I just wish my driving force was a love for the song, rather than a love for my country and a will for us to qualify.

The EBJ Jury says…

  • Ali 6
  • Fraser 10
  • James 3
  • Jaz 6
  • Martin 8
  • Nick 2
  • Penny 8
  • Rory 7
  • Wolfgang 8

Australia’s EBJ Jury score is…6.44

 

 

Ireland

Martin Nicky Byrne is getting the hang of singing Sunlight live, and I think that his self-belief will play a huge part in how well it does. If he nails the vocals on semi night, this will be an easy qualifier to the final and could revive Ireland’s interest in the ESC. ‘Sun <pause> light’ is earworm central in my opinion – a definite toe-tapper, hooking you in from the start and keeping you listening to the end. I think this up-tempo pop song will hit the spot with televoters, at least.

Nick This lot of songs is gonna make me sound like a grump, but actually, this is my dead last place for Stockholm. Everything about this screams desperate, from the wannabe 2013 Avicii composition to the recycling of 90s “heart-throb” Nicky Byrne to screech-er, I mean, sing it. And it’s not like Ireland hasn’t tried this approach before: just look at 2013’s Only Love Survives. Also, look where that finished – dead last after barely scraping into the final. Still, at least that was peppy and energetic. Sunlight makes me want to close the curtains and throw on a sleeping mask.

Jaz The boyband fangirl inside me (who is so dominant, a member of the Backstreet Boys flies out of my nose every time I sneeze) may have screamed internally when ex-Westlifer Nicky was announced as the Irish representative. You don’t want to know what I would have done if the whole band had reunited for Eurovision. As it stands, we got one fifth, and his song Sunlight is more or less everything you’d expect from a former boyband-mate’s solo singles (if they aren’t Justin Timberlake). It’s catchy and radio-friendly, and I do enjoy it – but it’s not lyrically or stylistically challenging at all. It’s not bad, by any means; but it’s so safe and friendly, like a perpetually happy Labrador who won’t leave you alone, that it irritates me. Ireland gave douze points to Latvia last year in the final, yet they didn’t take any musical inspiration from the edgy Love Injected – something that they clearly liked a lot. I expect everything about this entry to be vanilla in Stockholm, from the staging to the result it gets. Nicky is performing between the powerhouse ladies from Serbia and FYR Macedonia, who don’t necessarily have better songs (in my opinion) but who will almost definitely overshadow him. That’s bound to happen when you just don’t bring it.

The EBJ Jury says…

  • Ali 3
  • Fraser 7
  • James 3
  • Jaz 7
  • Martin 10
  • Nick 1
  • Penny 7
  • Rory 6
  • Wolfgang 3

Ireland’s EBJ Jury score is…5.22

 

 

Malta

Martin Yep, it was definitely the right decision to change songs for Malta! Walk On Water makes full use of Ira’s amazing vocal ability and range, combining it with a much more contemporary sound that is radio-friendly enough to stay in voter’s memories far past Eurovision. Her visual appeal won’t hurt Malta’s chances either. An upgrade to finalist and mid-table respectability at least for Ira.

Nick Oh, Ira…another artist who made me think Year Stockholm was going to be better than it turned out to be (although there are a lot of variables at play there). So much of her non-Eurovision related stuff is fantastic, but I was never a fan of her 2002 entry, nor her initial 2016 entry, Chameleon. Then they dragged in the Swedes to write her a new song, and I can’t say it’s a vast improvement. I almost feel like they were too inspired by the first song and wrote something that just blends in everywhere without standing out. It’s competent and will be well-performed, I’m sure. But it’s so uninspiring, it almost drives me to the point of madness. But even that is too strong an emotion to be associated with this.

Jaz Of all 2016’s returning artists, Ira Losco was the most successful in her initial attempt to take home the Eurovision trophy. The fact that it took her so many years to give it another go says to me that she felt like she could be in it to win it this year – after all, nobody wants to come back after a lengthy period and fall flat on their face. Those thoughts, if she had them, would have been in relation to Chameleon – a song that won’t be heard in Stockholm, unless someone spins it at the Euroclub. Walk On Water, the replacement, is a superior song on the whole (although I did think Chameleon’s chorus had something special). It’s more cohesive and less chaotic; considerably more contemporary; and packs more of a punch. The chorus is repetitive, but it builds rapidly and really hammers (or perhaps Molly Pettersson-Hammars) home the title and concept of the song. There’s nothing I don’t like about it, except for the fact that I can easily imagine co-writer Molly PH singing it better (and as she’s singing backup for Ira, we could have a vocal catfight on our hands). It’s great that Ira has a more powerful song than 7th Wonder this time, as that was a bit of a vocal wet blanket. Apparently her performance will be quite technologically advanced (will she actually walk on water? A.k.a. is Ira Losco actually Jesus?) but I hope she takes us back to ’02 by pulling another glitter pouch out of her pocket.

The EBJ Jury says…

  • Ali 4
  • Fraser 10
  • James 10
  • Jaz 8
  • Martin 10
  • Nick 3
  • Penny 7
  • Rory 3
  • Wolfgang 10

Malta’s EBJ Jury score is…7.22

 

 

Moldova

Martin A standard Euro Club-sounding dance track, Falling Stars would be the sort of song that a DJ might put on as filler before a killer tune is played. To be fair to Lidia, this was the best Moldovan entry on offer at the national final, and it’s not bad – but it’s not that memorable either, unless you want to remember her slightly weird vocal style and range being all over the place. Another non-qualification for Moldova beckons.

Nick Just FYI, this song sounds amazing as a nightcore. Sadly, the regular version can’t measure up, although it does top the segment of songs I dislike, so that’s nice. Lidia’s a good vocalist, but there’s just something missing here. Maybe just a key change or a money note, but there’s nothing that Falling Stars builds to, except perhaps the chorus? But if that was the intent, then the stars in question aren’t so much falling as they are being tossed. Other than that, the lyrics are surprisingly clean, which could really describe this entire entry: too polished for its own good.

Jaz Anything Moldova came out with this year would have seemed like the epitome of elegance compared to the sleazy display of law enforcement provided by Eduard Romanyuta. But you know what? I LOVED the sleazy display of law enforcement. It was trash-tastic and tackier than super-glue, but it took me back to the early 2000s and made an epic semi 1 starter while it was at it. But enough about Moldova 2015 – it’s Moldova 2016 I’m supposed to be reviewing. Falling Stars is one of the few straightforward dance tracks competing this year, which suggests that most other countries have moved on from the trend. And, for every compliment I can send its way, there’s a ‘but’ waiting in the wings. The song will stand out genre-wise, but it sounds a bit stale (circa 2011). The chorus is strong, but leads to Lidia resembling a wailing banshee (there’s no room for any deviation from the correct key there). Overall, it’s fun and fluffy while it’s playing, but it doesn’t leave a lasting impression. Let’s just call it musical fairy floss, coloured blue and yellow in honour of it being another Swedish cast-off. If it wasn’t for the double-glazed donuts and hot buttered popcorn on offer from elsewhere in Europe, Moldova would come off a lot better.

The EBJ Jury says…

  • Ali 4
  • Fraser 2
  • James 8
  • Jaz 7
  • Martin 5
  • Nick 3
  • Penny 5
  • Rory 4
  • Wolfgang 8

Moldova’s EBJ Jury score is…5.11

 

 

Slovenia

Martin Last year’s EMA was a perfect storm. This year, it was a car crash! What a plummeting drop from one of the best pop entries last year (Here For You), down to the mess that is Blue and Red, with ManuElla trying to be Taylor Swift but ending up being Phoebe from ‘Friends’. Why do I say that? The lyrics of the song, combined with her vocal ‘talents’, border on that almost-comedic sitcom level and the staging is amazingly clichéd, with erratic hand and body movements along with telegraphed facial expressions. Words also fail me regarding the dress reveal  – she should have gone the whole hog and worn a blue and red halved dress to ‘put the cherry on the cake’. A probable last-placed semi finalist.

Nick What? A Taylor Swift renaissance piece? Out of Slovenia? What could’ve been a complete disaster (and IS a complete disaster, in the eyes of most) has actually turned out to be one of the year’s biggest charmers! Okay, so a lyric like ‘blue is blue, and red is red’ definitely isn’t winning any songwriting awards, but it fits the air of naïveté that the song so beautifully creates. The 2009-esque country/pop banjo instrumental and admiral outfit don’t go together at all, but it somehow works, like an eclectic fever dream of leftover high school theatre props. ManuElla herself is a surprisingly fitting performer and lends herself to the role demanded by the song. The slight retooling from the initial NF version has added an unnecessary starter, but other than that, it’s a nice strengthening of a song that’s comfortably in my top 10. I’d like to hope that Slovenia could pull out a stunning live and shock everyone by qualifying to the final, but I won’t hold my breath.

Jaz Nope. Just nope. I like Taylor Swift as much as the next person, and I actually miss her country bumpkin days. But even I know that neither the world nor Eurovision needs a poor imitation of Taylor ‘2007’ Swift. Everything about ManuElla’s performance is amateurish, including the costume reveal (and I normally can’t resist one of those), and don’t even get me started on how crazy I’m driven by the childish lyrics of Blue and Red. ‘Blue is blue and red is red’…yeah, thanks for the art lesson, lady. While some countries have really stepped up their game between 2015 and 2016, Slovenia has dropped the ball so violently that it is now lodged in the core of the Earth. Literally the only thing ManuElla has in common with Maraaya is the initial ‘M’. I will commend her for bringing variety to the contest, but seeing as the Netherlands have a country song up their sleeve too – and it’s an infinitely better one – even that’s difficult for me to do. Surely this cheese-fest isn’t making it to Saturday night?

The EBJ Jury says… 

  • Ali 10
  • Fraser 10
  • James 5
  • Jaz 2
  • Martin 3
  • Nick 6
  • Penny 7
  • Rory 7
  • Wolfgang 2

Slovenia’s EBJ Jury score is…5.78

 

 

With those six songs sliced, diced and served up on a silver platter, we have a winner – albeit a winner out of a very low-scoring round. 

  1. Malta (7.22)
  2. Armenia/Australia (6.44)
  3. Slovenia (5.78)
  4. Ireland (5.22)
  5. Moldova (5.11)

Forget water – Ira Losco will be walking on air after taking this one out (well, she would be if a) she knew about it, and b) the EBJ judgments were of any actual importance). How high can she go in Stockholm? She has the potential to impress, but only time (or perhaps rehearsals) will tell how much. Slovenia, Ireland and Moldova, on the other hand, failed to impress the EBJ Jury. Are we psychic enough to have predicted a few non-qualifications here? In a few short weeks, we’ll find out!

Next time, the final round of reviews will see two Aussies and an Irishman walk into a bar, and…hang on. That’s the joke version. It will ACTUALLY see two Aussies and an Irishman free their thoughts on Austria, the Czech Republic, Finland, FYR Macedonia, Norway, Serbia and Ukraine. There is a good chance I’ll be posting that installment from Stockholm (or at least from my AU-SE transit location, Dubai) so it’ll be pretty exotic and awesome and you better check it out or I’ll spread unfortunate rumours about you at the Euroclub.

 

Until then…

 

2015sig

 

 

REVIEWS | The EBJ Jury Judges Eurovision 2016 (Part 5)

Understatement Time: These reviews are slightly late. Let’s just say that I’ve suddenly realised how many To-Dos I have to cross off my list before I fly to Sweden’s capital on Friday night (!). Now, I’m left with three episodes of the EBJ Jury judgments to cram in before my departure. So here’s the first of those three.

 

 TODAY’S EBJ JURORS

 mwm

Mrs. Jaz, Wolfgang and I are ready to review Azerbaijan, Belgium, Iceland, Israel, Latvia and the United Kingdom – otherwise known as Samra, Laura, Greta, Hovi, Justs and Joe & Jake (they should form a supergroup…their names sound great together). Are you ready to join us? If so, read on and find out what we have to say – and how the entire EBJ Jury scores these six songs.

 

 

Azerbaijan

Mrs. Jaz Hmm. As someone who likes songs that are a little bit quirky, I wouldn’t go into raptures over this one. It’s very commercial, and it would fit right in on the radio at the moment, but that’s because it sounds like it was plucked off a musical factory conveyor belt – in Sweden, apparently. Samra’s voice is lovely, but without any trace of an accent, I had no idea which country she was representing (since the music doesn’t give any clues away either). This could have been Australia’s entry, for all I knew! I guess I’m saying that I would have liked to hear some ethnicity in there, especially as I’m told Azerbaijan usually do throw some traditional instruments into the background of their songs. That would have added more authenticity to Miracle too, which would have allowed me to connect with it as a consumer. As it stands, I can’t.

Wolfgang This miracle, so to speak, came at the last minute in a moment when I least expected one. Sometimes there are songs that need some time until I like them much, but then there are songs that I love from the very first moment. Samra’s entry belongs in the latter category. And although it is again a song composed by Swedish songwriters, and produced by Swedish producers, Miracle really has something special to me: the song is beautiful and catchy, the lyrics are great and Samra’s voice sounds amazing in the video/studio version. I only hope she will hold that standard and do an equally amazing live performance in her semi on the ESC stage. Then maybe a ‘miracle’ could happen for Azerbaijan in Stockholm. For one of my favourites this year I give 12 points and lots of love!

Jaz  Azerbaijan, turning up at Eurovision with a song written by Swedes? MADNESS…said no one ever. When you think about it, Azerbaijan (or Azurjerbin, as I pronounce it in my head in honour of Lynda Woodruff) is the most predictable participant in the entire contest. Every year, they wait until March to drop a perfectly-polished Scandipop song on us, hoping we’ll think it’s the bomb dot com. And, against all my better judgement, Samra’s Miracle is verging on being explosive material in my book. I know I should hate the fact that it’s so derivative and one-dimensional; that it’s not risky or challenging or ethnically Azerbaijani in any way. I mean, we’ve just found out that it not only sounds like a Melodifestivalen reject – it IS a Melodifestivalen reject, for Christer Björkman’s sake! But, while those aspects of the entry do play on my mind, the song is so engineered-to-enjoy – melodically, lyrically and structurally – that I can’t fight the feelings of love that overwhelm me when I listen to it. It reminds me a lot of Lisa Ajax’s Melfest entry My Heart Wants Me Dead, which I would say was superior, but that I also love – it’s the partly middle-eastern, partly WTF computer-generated noises that run throughout, mostly. The chorus is soaring, impressive and instantly memorable, worming its way into your head when you’ve only heard it once. Samra’s vocal – in studio – is as smooth as silk and/or a baby’s bum, whichever simile you prefer…and let’s not ignore the fact that she is stunning to look at. Stick her on stage (possibly on a podium) in a spotlight and a wind-machine-friendly dress, and you have the recipe for a visually and aurally appealing package that will certainly maintain Azerbaijan’s 100% qualification record. A solid result in the final isn’t out of the question, but I’m wondering if this is too “perfect” to have the impact to push it into the top 10. Winning, I’m sure, will have to wait at least another year. Who wants to head back to Baku in 2018?

The EBJ Jury says…

  • Ali 5
  • Fraser 6
  • James 7
  • Jaz 10
  • Martin 7
  • Mrs. Jaz 6
  • Nick 5
  • Penny 8
  • Rory 4
  • Wolfgang 12

Azerbaijan’s EBJ Jury score is…7

 

 

Belgium

Mrs. Jaz Now THIS is up my street – a song that has me yelling ‘Somebody get me some roller skates and take me back to the disco era, ASAP!’. I don’t know how it would go getting radio airplay and climbing up the charts outside of Belgium, but I do know I really like it. What’s not to like? It’s catchy and high on energy, and unwaveringly uplifting. The cherry on top is the fact that the intro sounds like Another One Bites The Dust. When you’ve got Queen in your corner, you’re all set.

Wolfgang It’s not about Laura Tesoro – she surely is a nice artist and has a voice (not THE voice, in my opinion), but it’s all about her song What’s The Pressure that does not appeal to me. I normally like funky and soulful songs a lot, but in this case she seems to be too young and inexperienced for the song. In the Belgian national final, her vocals sounded so try-hard that I got the impression the song’s simply too difficult for her vocal abilities. On the other hand, Laura is a powerhouse, and knows how to perform on stage well. Maybe her performance will help to compensate for some weak vocals, or one or two wrong notes. But I guess the ‘pressure’ will be very high for her to qualify to the final this year, with so many stronger competitors. In my opinion, it will be an ‘Iris’ year for Belgium in Stockholm. I don’t see this entry going anywhere.

Jaz  I would have felt sorry for whoever succeeded Loïc Nottet as Belgium’s representative. The shoes he left behind for Laura (who turned out to be that ‘whoever’) to fill were inhumanly large – Bigfoot might have been a better choice, but he wasn’t shortlisted for Eurosong unfortunately (though can’t you just see him hip-thrusting through a Thomas G:son dance banger?). I personally would have preferred Adil Arab to be the successor in question, which you might think is setting the tone for the remainder of this review. However, I am a fan of Laura and What’s The Pressure. I was more of a fan back when she was selected, and all Eurovision 2016 had to its name was a handful of songs. As time went on and the entry forms were filled out by twenty, then thirty, then forty-plus countries, Belgium’s follow-up to Rhythm Inside wore a little thin, and sounded kind of pedestrian. But while it is pedestrian in terms of quality, it’s also pedestrian in terms of pace – as in, you can power-walk your butt off (sorry for all the bum references I’m making today) to it as it trumpets along. There’s a heap of energy on show, and a sense of fun that Laura manages to project every time she’s performing it. It does suffer from ‘Haven’t I Heard That Somewhere Before?’ Syndrome – in this case, I hear a fusion of Uptown Funk and Sax – but that recognition factor might actually work in Laura’s favour. She’s closing semi two, so if any of us are flagging by the time the end draws near, she’ll pump us up again – but that could be her only purpose. WTP can easily be compared to Finland’s Sing It Away in that it’s a pretty dispensable party track. It doesn’t really fight for a final place, so if it gets one, I suspect it will be due to a 9th or 10th place in the semi rather than a top five. I don’t think last year’s brilliant Belgian result was a fluke, but I do think they need to rediscover the formula that made such an impression on the juries and voters…because Laura will struggle to do the same.

The EBJ Jury says…

  • Ali 12
  • Fraser 8
  • James 5
  • Jaz 8
  • Martin 7
  • Mrs. Jaz 8
  • Nick 2
  • Penny 7
  • Rory 12
  • Wolfgang 2

Belgium’s EBJ Jury score is…7.1

 

 

Iceland

Mrs. Jaz *makes face that suggests I’ve just waved dog poo under her nose* *which I didn’t* After what was a promising start, this fell flat. It descended into far too many mentions of ‘hear them calling’ for my liking – jeeze, we get it, lady! Consequently, the chorus seemed to come around much faster than it actually did. The song – which I assumed was titled Hear Them Calling, on a hunch – is catchy, but in a mediocre, doesn’t-go-anywhere kind of way. Is catchy mediocrity a thing? If not, it is now. I’m sorry, but if this came on the radio and I’d already heard it on there once, I’d be quick to change stations before I suffered an acute attack of the yawns.

Wolfgang The Icelandic national final appeared to me like a Lame Lady Ballad contest this year, which I was not really impressed by. So I would say that Greta Salóme’s song was the best of a weak bunch, but is still good enough for Eurovision to leave an impression. What I like about the song is the country style, and that it’s really dynamic and up-tempo. But what makes the difference on the Eurovision stage is its amazing performance that reminds me strongly of those ‘Shadowland’ performances of the PILOBOLUS dance theatre artists. And that’s something I really enjoy watching! This could become the Mika Newton performance of 2016, from which we still remember the beautiful work of the sand artist (while we have almost forgotten Mika and her song). But remember: Mika came 4th in the grand final of Eurovision 2011 in Düsseldorf. Maybe this will be THE surprise performance of the year in Stockholm?

Jaz Yes, Greta’s back, blah blah blah…I kind of wish she’d reunited with Jónsi for her return, though, even if he’d just sat on the side of the stage looking like the chiselled descendant of a Viking god that he is. What was I talking about? Oh yeah, Greta. I’m going to cut right to the chase and say that her solo effort Hear Them Calling outdoes Never Forget – but NOT its Icelandic version. In turn, as Raddirna, this song had an extra something special that it now lacks. Plus, it seems ten times more repetitive in English (how many times does she say ‘hear them calling’ during the three minutes? It’s like the new ‘Why-ay-ay-ayyyy’). I also dislike the Mumford and Sons-style folksiness of the song – it’s been done to death. I’d say it actually died circa 2014. Let’s be honest (well, those of us who don’t think the song is all that, anyway): it’s all about the staging with this one. I have to give a curt nod to Iceland for taking the concept of projections and not just copycatting Heroes (the clear inspiration) but playing with shadows instead – there is a lot of light and shade in Greta’s performance, literally. That moment where she leans back and “smoke” billows out of her like she overdid it at an Indian curry buffet the previous evening is a golden one. Now, I know using visuals to win over your audience is exactly what Sweden did to win Eurovision 2015 – but to me, Heroes was a better and more modern standalone song than Hear Them Calling. The package was more complete. Iceland still has a decent shot at qualifying and maybe squeezing onto the left-hand side of the scoreboard with what they’ve got, but because that is a) an obvious attempt to capitalise on Sweden’s offering of last year, and b) overshadowed (so to speak) by better and edgier entries, the chances of Reykjavik 2017 are very slim.

The EBJ Jury says…

  • Ali 7
  • Fraser 10
  • James 12
  • Jaz 7
  • Martin 12
  • Mrs. Jaz 5
  • Nick 10
  • Penny 8
  • Rory 8
  • Wolfgang 7

Iceland’s EBJ Jury score is…8.6

 

 

Israel

Mrs. Jaz Aah…the beauty of simplicity. So much modern music is so noisy, full of stupid noises and vocal manipulations. This, on the other hand, is a pure and simple piano ballad that managed to be anthemic without being in-your-face about it. The music doesn’t overshadow the vocals, meaning I could understand what Hovi was saying (and though some of it was silly, I liked it). I can imagine couples all over Israel and beyond using this song as their ‘first dance’ wedding song, assuming Ed Sheeran becomes passé in the near future. It’s very nice indeed.

Wolfgang It seems to me that sun, moon and star metaphors are booming this year in the Eurovision lyrics. The Israeli entry is a classic example of a lame lady ballad that wants to ‘shine’ (a little light?) – only done by a male artist. As with Belgium, there is nothing wrong with Hovi Star: he has a great voice and a wide vocal range that is a bit comparable to Adam Lambert, IMO. So the only thing he needs for Eurovision would be a better song. Made of Stars to me is so cliché in an awful way, and it sounds dated, not contemporary. The build of the song resembles somehow the ‘drama queen’ ballad by Conchita from 2014, only this one goes nowhere and suddenly ends when you expect more to come. But what I find really cheesy and annoying are the lyrics: ‘A million faces tied in chains, you ride a black horse in the rain.’ Honestly, did they let the songwriters of the last three Russian entries write these lines? To sum it up, the song’s very cliché, the lyrics are terrible, and I don’t see a qualification for Israel this year. Not with that song!

Jaz If ever there was a shoo-in to win the prestigious EBJ Eurovision Excellence Award in the category of Mr Congeniality, Hovi Star is it (and a bit). I don’t even know this guy, and I LOVE him. He is, to me, the Tooji of 2016 – so personable and fabulous, you want to be his BFF after watching a thirty-second vox pop. And damn, he’s got great hair! My main mission in Stockholm is to touch it so I can then relay back to you guys what it feels like (Schwarzkopf-misted silk, I’m sure). I could go on forever about how much I want to hang out with Hovi, but I suppose I should devote some page space to Made of Stars. It’s not as fabulous as he is, but I think it’s beautiful in its simplicity. Initially, Israel were sending a big, brash, theatrical production that had Adam Lambert written all over it – and if you read my review of the now (sadly) disqualified Romania, you’ll know I detest OTT drama at Eurovision. Granted, that version of Made of Stars had a strong identity; but the revamp/reshape has toned down the drama and allowed the spotlight to shine on Hovi’s vocals. The lyrics, nonsensical as they can be, are lovely to listen to – ‘thunder and lightning, it’s getting exciting’, they are not – and the pared-back piano backing is equally so. Overall, though it’s not as powerful as it could have been, I’m very fond of this. I think, given Hovi’s performance skills and the star-related possibilities of his staging (the drones from the music video probably won’t be making an appearance, but still) Israel could do better than many expect, but I’m not convinced they even have the legs to qualify. Nonetheless, I will be watching on in rapt fascination when Hovi’s time comes…while fashioning a long-distance hair-stroking device out of toothpicks.

The EBJ Jury says…

  • Ali 8
  • Fraser 8
  • James 2
  • Jaz 10
  • Martin 7
  • Mrs. Jaz 7
  • Nick 7
  • Penny 6
  • Rory 6
  • Wolfgang 4

Israel’s EBJ Jury score is…6.5

 

 

 Latvia

Mrs. Jaz  I think I liked this. That’s probably a strange thing to say, but I honestly couldn’t make up my mind about it. Pros: Great music. A nice voice to accompany that music. A beat that mimics a pulse (totally by coincidence, right?). Generally of a better standard than the Icelandic song. Cons: It didn’t jazz up in the way that I thought it was going to (you could say the Heartbeat flatlined). It might prove to be a bit forgettable seeing as it’s opening its semi. Other observations: I reckon I need repeat listens to learn to love Latvia.

Wolfgang Here we have the ‘Aminata’ song #2, following on from the very successful Latvian entry of 2015 by going for the same success package again in 2016. I must admit that I like this year’s Latvian song and artist much more than last year’s. Justs really is a great vocal performer, and his song is by far catchier than last year’s injected love. What I like most about the song is its up-tempo beat that gives me good vibes and really works well with Justs’ strong, slightly scratchy voice. The only thing I would criticise is the performance, where nothing much happens on stage (at least not in the NF performance). At the moment it all looks like Andrius Pojavis for Lithuania in 2013. So, if the stage performance is improved, including lots of heartbeats, then it will be another top 10 result for Latvia this year. I’m sure this song will leave a great impression on a lot of televoters. Or will we head to Riga again next year?

Jaz Latvia made an excellent decision when they opted to send a song to Eurovision 2016 that was written by their very successful 2015 representative. Aminata knows how to create a song that’s less cookie-cutter and more cutting-edge, cool and contemporary – the kind of thing that makes skeptical, non-ESC-obsessed viewers think ‘Hey, this is actually pretty awesome!’. And for that, I salute you, Miss Savadogo. Justs and his Heartbeat are everything I want to see competing in the contest in 2016. The song is a little alternative in sound and makes me feel like a much more epic person just(s) listening to it, but it’s still hugely accessible for mainstream pop lovers. The chorus, like Azerbaijan’s, is incredibly hooky, and though it does feel like the titular word has been said a few too many times by the end, it is the core of the song – that plus the pulsing beat that drives it. The verses are minimalist in the most appealing of ways, and the synthy string of notes that punctuates them adds an extra piece of ear candy to the concoction. Something else I love about this entry is the contrast between how Justs looks, and how he sounds. He looks like he could be cast as Edward Cullen in a Twilight reboot, but he sounds like…well, Hungary’s Freddie, if Freddie wasn’t as throaty. That ultra-innocent face clashes beautifully with the grunt in his voice. All in all, there is nothing I dislike about Latvia – again – and so much that I love. As a result, I’m hoping for an Aminata-level finish at least. But they’ll have to both pimp and nail their staging to increase their chances. Hey, even if they don’t…wow. I can’t believe we’ve gone from Cake To Bake to THIS in two years.

The EBJ Jury says…

  • Ali 5
  • Fraser 7
  • James 6
  • Jaz 12
  • Martin 8
  • Mrs. Jaz 7
  • Nick 10
  • Penny 8
  • Rory 3
  • Wolfgang 8

Latvia’s EBJ Jury score is…7.4

 

 

UK

Mrs. Jaz  I like this! Yes, the UK is my homeland, but before you call me biased, know that Jaz didn’t tell me this was the UK song until after I’d given my verdict. And if I’d had to guess its origin, I probably wouldn’t have opted for the UK based on my past listening experiences anyway (Bonnie Tyler…Engelbert…the 1920s schtick from last year). You’re Not Alone is a little 80s-inspired, so we have skipped forward a few decades. Still, it’s radio-ready for the 00s too. It instantly got into my head and had me singing along, which has to be helpful for both Eurovision and karaoke nights. I feel quite proud of this, actually. I hope it does well – or at least that it doesn’t do too badly. It deserves a decent result.

Wolfgang This year the BBC started their biggest competition EVER to find the right song and artist(s) for Eurovision 2016, including almost every organisation in the British music industry that is of importance. And the result for their national final was six not-too-overwhelming songs sung by no-names. So that was all ‘Big Mouth’, and then baking only little bread again. But, among the songs there was light and shadow, and I’m glad that one of the better ones won the NF. Joe & Jake are fresh, cool guys who match well together on stage. They have a contemporary song that is a strong grower to me, and both of their voices have a very good live quality. So even if the song’s not too impressive, the guys are charming and good-looking, and they could spread some energy and fun to the Eurovision audience. I guess it won’t be enough for a top 10 placement for the UK in Sweden, but I expect a better result than last year – somewhere in the top 20. This year I’ll keep my fingers crossed for a good UK result.

Jaz I don’t know what I should have expected to hear from the UK after the bonkers-ness of Still In Love With You, but I am relieved it’s something less laughable (and bonus, there’s no mention of disease in the lyrics this time!). Two good-looking lads whose names conveniently both begin with ‘J’ (the superior initial for first names, obviously) sporting an anthem that it’s impossible to do the Charleston to? That’s got to be good, right? It is good – but I wouldn’t describe You’re Not Alone as ‘great’. It’s pleasant to listen to, but it reeks of the kind of song that backs a movie trailer or montage of some kind. If the Rio Olympic organisers are after a song that can soundtrack ‘The Top 10 Team Efforts of the XX-whatever Olympiad’, then they should look no further than Joe & Jake’s. My problem with this entry as a whole is that, while there’s nothing to complain about, there’s nothing to get excited about either. I don’t feel anything when I listen to it. Belgium brings a smile to my face; Latvia gives me goosebumps; this gives me nul points. And yet, I cannot physically fault it, because I wouldn’t describe it as ‘boring’ either! HELP ME. I am looking forward to ogling Joe when he’s on stage, and then pretending I wasn’t when accused shortly thereafter because he’s younger than me and I’m not ready to be classified as a cougar yet. So there’s that. If too many people are feeling the way I’m feeling (about the UK’s song, not about the big box of cutesicles that is Joe), then I can’t see this escaping the 15th-20th zone in the final. That makes me a little sad for the boys, but the Eurovision experience will be a brilliant one for them at this stage of their careers anyway.

The EBJ Jury says… 

  • Ali 6
  • Fraser 8
  • James 3
  • Jaz 7
  • Martin 7
  • Mrs. Jaz 8
  • Nick 6
  • Penny 5
  • Rory 10
  • Wolfgang 7

The UK’s EBJ Jury score is…6.7

 

 

And, as usual, we have a winner! And a loser. Things did NOT go my way this time… 

  1. Iceland (8.6)
  2. Latvia (7.4)
  3. Belgium (7.1)
  4. Azerbaijan (7)
  5. United Kingdom (6.7)
  6. Israel (6.5)

Congratulations to Greta, who can take the nonexistent trophy for this round of reviews back to Reykjavik and display it oh-so-proudly on her mantelpiece. Commiserations to Hovi, who would have finished much higher if I had all the power here (who’s stupid idea was it to recruit a jury, therefore relinquishing the majority of my precious power?). Remember, all of this score-giving and number-crunching is going towards the compilation of the EBJ Top 43*, which I’ll be publishing from Stockholm (which means it’ll be an exotic Top 43).

Yes, I said 43. We took the time to review Romania a few weeks ago, and I think we owe it to Ovidiu to keep him in our ranking. Even if he is rather low in it.

In a few days, the penultimate part of this series will see Armenia, Australia, Ireland, Malta, Moldova and Slovenia critiqued by an American, an Englishman and moi. Check in then to find out how high or low my patriotism level is running at the moment (i.e. what I think of Dami’s Sound of Silence).

 

Until then…

 

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REVIEWS | The EBJ Jury Judges Eurovision 2016 (Part 4)

Welcome to the halfway point of my quest to cram 43 Eurovision 2016 reviews into a far-too-short space of time! It’s been quite a rush so far (literally), and today, six more songs are under the scrutiny of my esteemed panel of ESC experts. But first, in case you’ve forgotten which countries came before this bunch, and/or what choice comments the EBJ Jury made about them, here’s your midway reminder:

  • Part 1 Croatia, France, Greece, Poland, Romania and Russia (reviewed by Rory from Ireland and Wolfgang from Germany)
  • Part 2 Belarus, Cyprus, Georgia, Italy, Sweden and Switzerland (reviewed by Mrs. Jaz and Fraser from Australia)
  • Part 3 Albania, Estonia, Germany, Lithuania, the Netherlands, San Marino (reviewed by James and Martin from the UK)

Now we can move on to exposing the identities of Part 4’s jurors and countries, whether they like it or not. I’m sure they would, though. It is an honour AND a privilege to be associated with me, after all.

*AWKWARD SILENCE*

 

 TODAY’S EBJ JURORS

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It’s an almost all-American panel making the judgment calls this time. Nick, Penny and I are about to ramble on (and on some more, in my case) about Bosnia & Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Denmark, Hungary, Montenegro and Spain. Dalal and Deen (AND Ana Rucner, AND Jala), Poli, Lighthouse X, Freddie, Highway and Barei are undoubtedly dying to hear our verdicts – so let’s get going!

 

 

Bosnia

Nick Ah, Balkan melodrama – one of my favorite Eurovision offerings. Bosnia & Herzegovina’s returning to the contest with flair, a fair amount being brought by the ever-exuberant Deen. His 2004 entry is actually a pretty big miss with me, so I’m happy he’s brought along this troupe of supporting characters, as Ljubav Je is a decent hit with me. The song grows nicely and it all flows pretty well together, until Jala comes in to mess things up (but in a good way). If the rap wasn’t there, the song would stagnate and have no good way of developing after that. Jala drives it home into the final chorus, and his is probably my favorite part of this entry. Also worth noting is the use of full Bosnian in this song, making it one of only three to go entirely non-English this year – and it’s the best of the three (sorry not sorry, Austria and FYR Macedonia). I do worry that it’s too contrived for the ESC, and that its big downfall will be that it doesn’t go down the standard Balkan ballad route, but I’m happy they took a chance with it. Let’s see if Europe rewards them.

Penny When BHRT announced that their 2016 song was going to involve a mash-up of styles, part of me was expecting a really bad mash-up of six songs fused together. After listening to Ljubav Je for the first time, it sounded like someone crossed Zauvijek Moja (Serbia & Montenegro 2005) with Jas Ja Imam Silata (FYR Macedonia 2010). I like Ana’s cello solo paired up with the drums, the gradual build-up of the song, and how Jala’s rap part fits in with everything else. I don’t have any idea what he’s saying, but at least he starts at the right point and does a syllable count before adding in his part so it doesn’t sound as jarring as a lot of people say. So, yay – the Balkan ballad quota of the year has been filled. But at the same time, I think I might be getting tired of the formula, because I can’t find that ‘magical’ aspect in the verses, despite them being performed well. Also, I’m still trying to get over the fact that Deen’s face has morphed into an Easter Island moai head (sorry, Deen).

Jaz Eurovision without a Balkan ballad would be like Melodifestivalen without schlager (yes, even in 2016): just plain weird. So I’m very thankful to my old mates B & H – plus Dalal, In-The-Disco-Deen, Ana Rucner and Jala – for delivering us from the evil of an atmospheric powerhouse-less contest. With Ljubav Je, they have also delivered us a Balkan ballad with a difference – namely, the rap. I can’t confess to having missed that element in Montenegro’s masterpiece Adio last year, but nor am I one of those people who think ‘rap’ puts the R-A-P in ‘crap’. The combo of ethnic and urban sounds that this song serves up is an interesting one, and I do think it works – the rap toughens up the classical beauty of the cello, while Dalal and Deen stay true to the step-by-step guide I’m sure exists entitled ‘How To Perform A Balkan Ballad’ (though it is a bit sad to see Deen removing all traces of 2004 hip-thrusting from his routine). And Jala’s entrance is more of an appealing surprise than a jarring one, in my opinion. BUT…not all Balkan ballads are created equal, and this is no Adio, Lejla or Lane Moje. It’s not even close. The overall feel is by-the-numbers and slightly half-hearted, and it doesn’t give me any goosebumps as the best of the BBs do. Still, I reckon this is an entry that will thrive live on the big stage, with all bells and whistles in place. It’s likely to be far more impressive and multidimensional then, when all memories of the low-budget video clip have (hopefully) been banished from our minds.

The EBJ Jury says…

  • Ali 4
  • Fraser 4
  • James 4
  • Jaz 7
  • Martin 5
  • Nick 5
  • Penny 7
  • Rory 5
  • Wolfgang 8

Bosnia & Herzegovina’s EBJ Jury score is…5.44

 

 

Bulgaria

Nick Another returning B country, Bulgaria’s also trotting out a returning artist: fandom queen and (debatably) wronged 2011 NQ Poli Genova. Her song was the last to be revealed this year, and dare I say, it was worth the agonising wait. If Love Was a Crime definitely sounds like it comes from the Balkans, but it’s got a smartly-applied layer of Swedish gloss that doesn’t distract from the intended sound (hear that, Cyprus?). The build-up into a drop using the chorus is an undeniably modern choice – especially for Eurovision – and it was even smarter to write in a Bulgarian-language hook that’ll get stuck in everyone’s heads come May. My main concern with this entry is that it’ll be really hard to stage in a way that highlights the song rather than holding it back. It’s not got that many opportunities for choreography, so it’ll be interesting to see what the Bulgarian delegation (one not known for stage direction) will do. Otherwise, I have no doubts that this will be one of the standout tracks of the year.

Penny First off, there’s a flute solo. Given what’s happened to other songs with flute solos (e.g. Lane Moje, Molitva and Only Teardrops), Poli’s probably in good company and should qualify. Throw that in with one of the most Ohrwurm-y refrains of the year, and she could get into the top half of the final. I wonder how many people will get ‘O, daj mi ljubovta’ simply by seeing the words printed on the screen or hearing Poli sing the song once. The song feels really light-hearted and fluffy in the verses, but then she gets to ‘If love was a crime, we would be criminals,’ and I can’t help but connect with the words despite them sounding really cheesy (thanks, S.O. whom I haven’t seen since November because of scheduling issues and constant technical difficulties). There’s also something really nice about the way she pronounces ‘miracles’ and ‘criminals’ in the song that I don’t know to describe…but it’s kind of like in songs that shove too many syllables into one line to show that there’s so much emotion/back story that it wouldn’t fit if it stayed in syllable count. So yes, I’ll be waving white-green-red in front of my laptop during ESC week.

Jaz All paths were leading to Poli Genova representing Bulgaria this year: her super-successful turn as 2015’s JESC host, her…ah…um…okay, so maybe there was just the one path. But it was still a logical choice for BNT to make – and a choice that was incredibly well-received by the fan community. I haven’t seen a single negative word Facebooked, Tweeted or Instagrammed about Poli, and the reaction to her second ESC entry If Love Was A Crime (the prequel to Frans’ If I Were Sorry, I presume) has been almost as positive. And why wouldn’t it be? This is a song that does pretty much everything right, ticking all boxes without being a goody two-shoes about it. Lyrically, the verses and pre-chorus are a little weak – I mean, I get that ‘If love was a crime, we would be criminals’ is a necessary evil in a song that hypothesises what would happen if love was, in fact, something you could get arrested for indulging in…but it’s such a predictable line. Still, I can’t criticise much else about this track. It’s contemporary (complete with weird non-human noise in the background), energetic, ultra catchy (particularly when Poli launches into the Bulgarian chorus, which even non-Bulgarian speakers can latch on to with ease) and memorable, mainly thanks to that hook. Factor in Poli’s proven ability as a live performer who always seems to enjoy herself on stage, and you’ve got Bulgaria’s best chance of a celebration-worthy result in a long time – perhaps EVER, given that their highest placing in history is 5th. I did say ‘perhaps’ – girl is going to have to fight for it. But, huge success in the offing or not, Bulgaria deserves a round of applause (and a round of drinks) for pulling Poli and not-Na-Inat-2.0 out of their hat.

The EBJ Jury says… 

  • Ali 6
  • Fraser 10
  • James 12
  • Jaz 10
  • Martin 5
  • Nick 7
  • Penny 10
  • Rory 12
  • Wolfgang 6

Bulgaria’s EBJ Jury score is…8.67

 

 

Denmark

Nick Once again, Denmark’s choice of a seemingly run-of-the-mill boyband entry over an annoying female fanwank proved to set the fandom alight for no reason, as the superior song was picked. With either Simone or Anja hopping across the Øresund to Sweden, Denmark would be much further down on my list (especially with the latter, who’d occupy space 43 easily), so Lighthouse X is my personal savior. That being said, Soldiers of Love is still a pretty bland song that occupies the same area of the pop landscape as the Irish song this year. However, it does it so much better than Sunlight, and it ends up that Soldiers of Love is actually the song that shines. The music is written to be catchy and punchy, the occasional riffs on piano standing out in that aspect; and there’s a nice flow to it. It’s also one of the few entries this year that stands out more live than in studio, as the group’s voices add an extra layer that’s lacking in the studio version. Hopefully Europe will hear the difference in quality and send this boyband nouveau song through from semi two.

Penny Remember last year, when Norway’s Mørland said he did something terrible in his early youth? After DMGP, a lot of people would probably say that he stole a time machine, formed a band, went to the year 2016, entered Dansk Melodi Grand Prix, and angered every fan who wanted Simone or Anja Nissen to win. I’m just kidding, but does anyone else think one of the Lighthouse X guys looks like Mørland? While this was a bit of a surprise winner at the time and a tad cheesy (somewhere around sharp cheddar), I’ve warmed up to them and found myself singing along to the refrain of Soldiers of Love every time they show up. It’s cheery, makes me smile after having to endure multiple exams, and – as proven by their DMGP performance – they can pull it off live.

Jaz I know I should leave the past in the past and move the heck on, but you say ‘Denmark 2016’ and I say ‘How DARE you remind me of the most painful heartbreak I have ever experienced during a national final season?’. The hours I spent sobbing into my pillow (and whoever else’s pillow I came across during the grieving process) weren’t due to Anja Nissen’s so-close-but-so-far DMGP defeat, but to Simone’s shockingly distant third place (which left a heart-shaped hole in my chest…if only metaphorically). I simply did not see Lighthouse X coming – or the fact that their name is pronounced ‘Lighthouse Ten’ (Roman Numerals are rarely the first thing on my mind). I suppose I should have, since they satisfy every requirement in the Danish rulebook of selecting a Eurovision entry: they’re a generically good-looking act offering a competent but not-at-all risky or exciting pop song, and that (somehow) always gets the Danes voting in droves (possibly because that’s the bulk type of song they have to choose from, thanks to DR). Usually, it works for them at the ESC – qualifications, comfortable results, and an occasional win thrown in for adequate measure – but last year, it backfired. Yet we’re still getting more of the same! Having said all of that, I do like Soldiers of Love, and how easy on the eye the Lighthouse trio is. They look pretty and sound pretty singing a song that does most of the things it should in all the right places. The chorus is melodically strong and uplifting, even if every line of it is a cliché (you might even say it’s a cliché love song. Oh, the irony!). But…does it light my fire? Nope. I want it to melt my marshmallows, but all it does is brown them ever-so-slightly. Basically, it’s perfectly fine, and therefore very vanilla. Denmark might be all for safety first, but when countries think outside the box, that’s when they’re truly competing.

The EBJ Jury says… 

  • Ali 2
  • Fraser 8
  • James 3
  • Jaz 8
  • Martin 5
  • Nick 5
  • Penny 8
  • Rory 4
  • Wolfgang 4

Denmark’s EBJ Jury score is…5.22

 

 

Hungary

Nick When I came to ranking these songs, I wanted to listen to the nightcore (sped-up and pitched-up) versions of each one to ease myself into the process. Usually, I end up liking those a little more, and Pioneer was no exception. In saying that, I still wanted the song to be over less than halfway through. Moving on to the regular live performance was even worse, as the one featured on the official channel had Freddie mumbling and screaming off-key on the A Dal stage. The song is a noisy mess that has no flow and clichéd motivational lyrics. It also does that horribly annoying thing where the singer draws out a word for no reason other than to fit the rhyme: see ‘real’ in the second line of the chorus. I’d almost appreciate the brashness of the music if everything else was done tactfully enough to let it shine…but as it stands, this is an absolute mess of an entry that should see Hungary out of the final for the first time since their return. Better luck next year.

Penny I couldn’t remember what this song sounded like until listening to over forty Top 43 ranking videos. And although I can now remember what (part of) it sounds like, I don’t understand how it’s in almost everyone’s top 10. The whistling in the verses and the grit in Freddie’s voice sounds nice, but Pioneer is a plodder and doesn’t do much for me. Sorry Freddie, but I’ll probably be getting food while you’re performing so I’m not hung(a)ry. The glow sticks and swirly background do remind me that I need to visit my local science museum though.

Jaz The A Dal final was full of fabulous potential Hungarian entries. For starters, none of them reminded me of Boggie or Wars For Nothing. Then we had the quirky hipster sing-along song from Petruska, epic ethnopop from Gergő Olah, and achingly cool alt-rock from Kalláy Saunders and his band. Rising to the top of them all in the end, though, was Freddie’s Pioneer, an early favourite. For me, there was something about this song from the start – something unique and raw that I was drawn to. The rawness, I guess, was mainly emanating from Freddie himself, who is far from being a smooth operator in the vocal department (that’s a compliment re: his gravelly voice, by the way). As the performer, he adds an authentic rough edge to a song that is an anthem á la Denmark’s, but without the cheese. I love everything about it – the minimalist construction, the whistling, the extremely powerful chorus that is bound to be explosive on the Eurovision stage…and how can I fail to mention the walking, talking hunk of eye candy that is Freddie (yes, I’m shallow. Get used to it). I’ve been saying for a few years now that Hungary are likely to win the contest sometime soon, and though it’s unlikely that 2016 is ‘soon’, I stand by those comments with Pioneer in mind. Also, Freddie, if you’re reading…yes, I am single, and waiting for your call. WINKFACE EMOJI.

The EBJ Jury says… 

  • Ali 7
  • Fraser 6
  • James 5
  • Jaz 10
  • Martin 8
  • Nick 1
  • Penny 6
  • Rory 2
  • Wolfgang 12

Hungary’s EBJ Jury score is…6.33

 

 

 Montenegro

Nick Okay, can we take a minute to recognise ‘I see you inside me’ as one of the creepiest lyrics of this year? In fact, my biggest hang-up with this entry is the vaguely stalkerish imagery that’s present throughout the song. Musically, I’m a big fan of the acid rock/dubstep crossover, but the lyrics and vocals throw me off. Deep voices aren’t usually my thing to begin with, and they’re especially not when I’m being crooned at with such lyrics as ‘I’m gonna run, gonna feel good.’ Assuage me of fears that does not, and it really harms what could’ve been a strong entry. Montenegro’s track record – one that astonishingly includes a song like The Real Thing, 2013’s Most Wrong Entry™ Igranka – tells me that they’ll probably meet the same fate they did when the contest was last in Sweden. However, this time, I’ll probably be a little less bitter about losing them.

Penny Montenegro has decided: two years of Balkan ballads was nice, but there’s more to the ex-Yugo music scene. It looks like that means it’s time to send an entry closer to Who See’s than Knez’s. When I first heard The Real Thing after its presentation, all I could think was, ‘What IS this noise?’ – and that it sounded like a bunch of random people who all wanted to play their instruments as loudly as possible. As of so far, the only lyrics I can understand are still ‘Inside you’ and ‘Feel it; I’m the real thing, yeah.’ It’s not my favorite genre, and I still need to put in effort and energy to focus on the song, but it doesn’t deserve the bottom-three hate that it seems to get in YouTube rankings. Also, I’m still really confused as to what this “real thing” that Highway talk about is. Does it mean that they’re real people? Or are they just not hiding their identities?

Jaz In stark contrast to the previous two acts, Montenegro is sending a group to Stockholm who are NOT incredibly attractive (in my opinion). Why does that matter? Well, it doesn’t – I just thought I’d mention it to remind you that it’s not just what’s inside that counts, especially at Eurovision (and to remind you that I’m a judgmental jerk and proud of it). Anyway…the song! After the 2015 Montenegrin masterpiece that was Adio, we’ve been given what is allegedly The Real Thing – and though I know which one I prefer, I have to applaud Montenegro for showing variety, and Highway for staying true to their style (otherwise, they’d be performing a song called Not Exactly The Real Thing). Like Penny, I don’t agree with everyone who has Highway right at the rear end of their rankings. I’d even go so far as to say that I enjoy this track. It’s Georgia 2.0 for me: I don’t know why I like it exactly, and it’s not in the genre ballpark that I normally hang out in, but I’m on board nonetheless. If we compartmentalise it, we’ve got a) verses that are actually very well-produced and current, b) a chorus that is noisy, yes, but was made for rocking out to, and c) a guitar riff that sticks. It’s surprisingly cohesive when strung together for three minutes. I’m not seeing it through rose-coloured glasses here – I know it’s not going to go anywhere. But in spite of that, it floats my boat. No lifejacket required!

The EBJ Jury says… 

  • Ali 8
  • Fraser 1
  • James 1
  • Jaz 8
  • Martin 5
  • Nick 5
  • Penny 5
  • Rory 1
  • Wolfgang 0

Montenegro’s EBJ Jury score is…3.78

 

 

Spain

Nick It’s a sign of the times: Spain’s finally thrown off the Spanish and is going full English for the first time. Putting aside my disappointment at Eurovision’s continued slide into linguistic homogeny, I must admit that this song lends itself well to the language, although that’s just my backhanded way of saying it’s kind of anonymous. Barei’s the undoubted star of the show in this entry, as her exuberance onstage adds so much to what’s otherwise a drop in the bucket of up-tempo, feel-good songs. That’s not to say the song doesn’t have its positives – the verses are nicely orchestrated and the English lyrics aren’t as cringey as they could’ve been. But it is lacking a distinctly Spanish flair that Barei’s making up for. Whether that will deliver Spain a better result than Edurne’s shriekfest (that was overrated at 21st, if you ask me) is up for debate, but I have a suspicion this year’s result will tend more toward Pastora Soler territory.

Penny While I’m a little disappointed that there won’t be any Spanish in the contest this year, this entry is already an improvement on 2015’s, since a) Barei can hit all the notes and b) her song feels a bit more ‘honest’ (as in, she seems to be telling her own story instead of someone else’s). It’s also really nice to have the one flashmob song of the contest, given that Barei’s been doing that dance for every single performance and in almost every interview; and that Say Yay is really catchy and easy to sing along to. Then again, how hard is learning ‘Say yay, yay, yay’, or ‘Sing it, la, la, la, la’? However, while I’d definitely sing and dance along if someone else played the song, I don’t know if I’d actively search for the song since the backing music makes it sound like it’s something my dentist would play, or one of six (yes, six) songs that would play over the bakery radio at work (I will confirm that this sounds way better than dental drills or the oven buzzer though).

Jaz Like A Dal, this year’s Spanish final was packed with awesome potential ESC entries. I would say Barei was among that bunch with Say Yay!,  but she wasn’t my first, second, third or even fourth choice to represent her country. I have no problem with her – she’s a great singer with a interesting catch in her voice, and she brims with personality and energy on stage. Plus, on the whole, Say Yay! is a modern, effervescent dance number that practically prohibits you from standing still. However, there’s an aspect of it that screams ‘background music’ to me – maybe it’s the largely instrumental chorus. Whatever the source, I just don’t feel like it makes enough of a statement as a standalone song to win Eurovision. There’s no doubt it has the ability to do well for Spain, particularly when pedaled by someone who sells it like Barei does. But overall, I find it a little wallpaper-like. It’s there, and it’s nice, but I’m not going to be paying that much attention to it when there’s opulent statement furniture elsewhere in the room.

The EBJ Jury says… 

  • Ali 1
  • Fraser 12
  • James 7
  • Jaz 7
  • Martin 10
  • Nick 5
  • Penny 7
  • Rory 6
  • Wolfgang 6

Spain’s EBJ Jury score is…6.78

 

 

And we have a runaway winner! Of this round, that is. Shockingly, it isn’t Montenegro. 

  1. Bulgaria (8.67)
  2. Spain (6.78)
  3. Hungary (6.33)
  4. Bosnia & Herzegovina (5.44)
  5. Denmark (5.22)
  6. Montenegro (3.78)

Bulgaria takes this one out in impressive fashion – but will they do the same (or even remotely similar) at Eurovision itself? Are we totally off the mark relegating Spain to second place? Has my undying love for boybands influenced my decision on Denmark, or would you agree that it’s bland, but not bad? I have so many questions, and you can provide the answers in the comments below. If you don’t, the chances of Ani Lorak returning to the ESC will decrease by 33.33%.

Speaking of returnees…next time, my mother and Germany’s very own Wolfgang will be back to have their say on Azerbaijan, Belgium, Iceland, Israel, Latvia and the United Kingdom. You might be surprised by the songs that go down well with those two. Then again, you might not – it depends on how easily you’re surprised. Either way, don’t forget to drop by!

 

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