EU(RIO)VISION | ESC anthems to inspire you and fire you up for the rest of the Olympic fortnight

Unless you’ve been living in an underground bunker for quite a while (which is fine if that’s what you’re into; not so fine if you’re being held captive down there), you’ll know that the 2016 Summer Olympics kicked off the weekend before last, in Rio de Janeiro. I’m not ashamed to admit that I la la love the Olympics, and have done for as long as I can remember – and I think part of that has to do with the parallels one can draw between the Games and Eurovision, if one can be bothered.

I won’t ramble on about all the similarities right now, but you can imagine the kind of stuff I’m referring to: different countries competing against each other in a way that’s friendly enough, but definitely involves tension and prayers that someone else will be the loser…more flags than you can poke a flagpole at…et cetera. On top of that, there are plenty of Eurovision entries, past and present, that remind me of the Olympics á la Chariots of Fire. Songs that pump me up and inspire me to do the impossible by getting myself moving when I feel like doing the opposite.

Because I’m awesome, and because I never let the Olympics slip by without celebrating them here on EBJ*, I’ve gathered together the very songs I’m talking about in one place for your listening pleasure. From dance bangers through to slightly cheesy ballads, here are the tracks of recent contest history that are as perfect for backing ‘moment of triumph’ montages this Olympiad as they were for the Eurovision stage.

Oh, BTW – I may have thrown some NF songs from the 2016 season into this mix too. As Rihanna would say, they just workworkworkworkwork.

 

* I bet you thought I was going to, since we’re over halfway through this Olympics. There’s a slight chance this post was supposed to go live before the opening ceremony, but didn’t because reasons. You know what I’m like.

 

 
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 Say Yay! by Barei (Spain 2016)

If you wouldn’t say yay when you’ve just won an Olympic medal, then when would you? In between shoe-shuffling and faux-falling, Barei references the stuff that this sporting spectacle is made of – climbing over hills, following your dreams, and doing lots of running. Basically, this is the anthem for hurdlers everywhere.

 

Sound of Our Hearts by Compact Disco (Hungary 2012)

Invincible by Carola (Sweden 2006)

To The Sky by Tijana (FYR Macedonia 2014)

 

Be My Guest by Gaitana (Ukraine 2012)

What Eurovision does on a musical level, the Olympics do on a sporting level: bring people from all over the planet together, making us all (in theory) discard our differences while cattily criticising what the participants are wearing. It’s a beautiful thing, and Ukraine’s four-year-old ESC entry encapsulates that very well.

 

Molitva by Maria Serifović (Serbia 2007)

Rise Up by Freaky Fortune & RiskyKidd (Greece 2014)

Gravity by Zlata Ognevich (Ukraine 2013)

 

Victorious by Xuso Jones (Spain NF 2016)

I’ll be honest: this was the song that convinced me to include a few national finalists in this playlist, rather than Eurovision entries exclusively. Up-tempo and centred around triumphing over adversity, it totally deserves to be an honorary Olympic anthem.

 

Butterflies by 3+2 (Belarus 2010)

Amazing by Tanja (Estonia 2014)

Pioneer by Freddie (Hungary 2016)

Na Inat by Poli Genova (Bulgaria 2011)

 

Believe by Dima Bilan (Russia 2008)

As sugary as it is, a ballad about believing that you can do heaps of difficult shit without giving up (or something similarly poignant) is Olympic gold. If that’s not reason enough for you to pop Dima in your own playlist, remember that Russia’s winning performance in Belgrade featured the multiple medal-nabbing figure skater Evgeni Plushenko. Surely that’s a sign?

 

Miracle by Paula Seling & Ovi (Romania 2014)

A Million Voices by Polina Gagarina (Russia 2015)

Deli by Mor ve Ötesi (Turkey 2008)

Keine Grenzen by Ich Troje (Poland 2003)

 

I’ve Been Waiting For This Night by Donny Montell (Lithuania 2016) 

Any momentous event, musical or sporting (or getting out of bed on a particularly cold winter’s morning), tends to be the culmination of a heap of hard work for the people involved. I think Donny Montell totally understands that, even if he was referring to hooking up with someone he’s had the hots for since forever *pretends he’s not married for three minutes*. For a thousand years, through a million tears, etc…just like the path leading to a synchronised swimming podium placement. Obviously.

 

Jas Ja Imam Silata by Gjoko Taneski (FYR Macedonia 2010)

Playing With Fire by Paula Seling & Ovi (Romania 2010)

Warrior by Amber (Malta 2015)

 

Falling Stars by Lidia Isac (Moldova 2016)

It may not have had the steam to make it out of its semi final, but Falling Stars has the energy and up-tempo goods to get anyone remotely Olympically-inclined pumped up for competition. That’s as long as you can ignore Lidia’s half-hearted “money note”, which is worth about two Euros, and was partially responsible for her downfall.

 

Verjamem by Eva Boto (Slovenia 2012)

Higher by NuAngels (Ukraine NF 2016)

You’re Not Alone by Joe & Jake (United Kingdom 2016)

 

Euphoria by Loreen (Sweden 2012)

Come on…do I really need to explain this one? I know I feel like I could successfully complete a decathlon whenever I listen to Loreen’s winning entry (although I’m more likely to be found eating a donut, tbh).

 

Help You Fly by IVAN (Belarus 2016)

Cvet z Juga by Alenka Gotar (Slovenia 2007)

Dziesma Par Laimi by Fomins & Kleins (Latvia 2004)

Glorious by Cascada (Germany 2013)

 

Cool Me Down by Margaret (Poland NF 2016)

It’s going to be a while before hardcore, NF-following ESC fans stop mentioning Margaret, even though Poland proved anti-Michał peeps wrong by smashing Eurovision 2016 without her. So why not bring her up in this conversation? After all, I can confirm that many of the athletes competing in Brazil are hotter than fire, and that nothing could cool them down.

 

Unbreakable by Sinplus (Switzerland 2012)

Walk On Water by Ira Losco (Malta 2016)

We Are The Heroes by Litesound (Belarus 2012)

 

Dime by Beth (Spain 2003)

Based on how psyched the Spanish team were during the opening ceremony’s parade of nations, I don’t think they need one of their fellow countrywomen to pump them up. But the rest of the world could use a little Latin flavour courtesy of Beth – it’s perfect for getting us in the mood given that the Rio games are the first to be held in South America. Olé!

 

Time To Shine by Melanie Réne (Switzerland 2015)

Sunlight by Nicky Byrne (Ireland 2016)

I Can by Blue (2011)

 

Heroes by Måns Zelmerlöw (Sweden 2015)

I bet you thought I’d left the most obvious song of all out of the running (pun intended). As if! Last year’s winner is so suited to becoming an Olympic anthem, I’d bet my not-completely-pathetic bank balance on Sweden having used it to back their coverage at least ten times already. MZW performed Heroes at the Australian Open earlier this year, so we already know it works in a sporting context. Put on some Lycra and blast it as loud as possible, and I can guarantee you’ll be feeling like an Olympian (if not an idiot) in no time.

 

 

 

And voila! That’s my personal soundtrack of the 2016 Olympics, Eurovision-style (my favourite style). Because I’m down with the kids, y’all, I could have put together a convenient Spotify playlist to insert here at the end of this post…but due to a technical error, you’re getting a good old-fashioned YouTube playlist instead. That’s better than nothing, right?

 

 

What do you think of this collection of tracks? Would you be happy to sprint for the finish line (possibly in slow-mo) to these tunes, or do you have a playlist of your own that makes you feel like an elite athlete…or just less like a couch potato? Let me know below.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to get back to feasting my eyes on anything and everything Rio has to offer. If it involves countries competing against each other while flags obscure the majority of camera shots, then I’m on board!

 

I hope you enjoy the rest of the Olympics. Remember, they’re just like Eurovision, only sweatier. Or, in Sergey Lazarev’s case, just like Eurovision.

 

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The 2016 EBJ Eurovision Excellence Awards: Part 2 (The Performances, The Costumes and The Results!)

I’M NOT DEAD!!! Say yay yay yay! *insert foot shuffle here*

I figured I’d open this post in such a morbid yet somehow still optimistic manner because, as it’s been such a long time since I’ve popped up on my own blog to chat song contests (one in particular), I wanted to confirm that I haven’t been run over by an errant Ukrainian hamster wheel or anything. I’m just slack and/or disorganised. But now I’m BACK and disorganised, which is much better.

Today, it’s time to conclude the EBJEEs for 2016 (sadface/happyface). Better late than never, right? Actually, my motto (as of right this second) is, if you beat the host city announcement, then you’re not too late. And guess what? The EBU is still having a Pitch Perfect-style riff-off (I assume) to determine whether Kyiv, Dnipro or Odessa will be painted Eurovision next May. If they’ve finished up by the time you’re reading this, then I still pipped them at the post. And also, congratulations KyivDniproOdessa! I KNEW you’d be the chosen one. All along. Knewwww it.

Now, let’s unroll that red carpet and find out which performances, costumes and results of Stockholm ’16 are taking home my fancy trophies – plus those you guys handed out by voting in the People’s Choice polls way back when.

 

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THE PERFORMANCES

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Winner Ukraine Honourable Mention/s Australia

There was only one true, that-totally-makes-sense choice I could settle on when selecting this trophy winner: the winner of the whole contest. Tingles down the spine were just one of many effects Jamala’s triumphant performance had on me personally, and countless others I’ve interacted with. Also afflicting those of us who aren’t cold, unfeeling, soulless robots (JK…but how can you watch her in action and feel nothing?): body-spanning goosebumps, hairs from scalp to shins standing on end (what? It was too cold in Stockholm for me to shave my legs) and extremely leaky eyeballs. Nobody can pour pain into a performance like Jamala, and as such, 1944 – on or off the Eurovision stage – reduces me to a sniveling mass of admiration every time.

 

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Winner Ukraine Honourable Mention/s Bosnia & Herzegovina, Serbia

We tend to see different types of drama at Eurovision: for example, the overblown kind created by an artist with overly-expressive eyebrows and the tendency to wave their arms all over the place until at least one backing singer has a black eye; and the kind helped along by dry ice, interpretive dance and violent lighting schemes. Then there’s Academy Award-winning drama, in which a performer feels every word they utter with every fibre of their being, and conveys that both down the camera and to the crowd. Enter Jamala (again). Everything about her performance, vocally and visually, was dramatic without being overly so, and it all culminated in a (crystal clear, totally in tune) screech that, if the ESC were the Oscars, would have secured her a golden statuette for sure.

 

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Winner Russia Honourable Mention/s Australia

Sweden’s win last year ensured that the 2016 contestants would be keen to outdo and/or build on the projection screen concept that Måns’ team so cleverly devised. After all, one winner usually leads to a flood of copycats. A handful of countries pushed the boundaries of technological staging in Stockholm, and at the forefront was undoubtedly Russia. Sure, their stage show was OTT and didn’t really help tell the “story” of You Are The Only One…but I don’t think it was meant to. It was designed to impress the shiz out of us, and it certainly did that. The moment that made it the most innovative – the most unlike anything we’d seen before at Eurovision – was Sergey scaling the screen and then rotating on it, prompting musings of whether he or the prop were the main attraction. It also prompted us to ask ‘He’s still alive, right?’ after that infamous rehearsal fall, but the less said about that, the better. JUST KIDDING – I love talking about it.

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Winner Bosnia & Herzegovina Honourable Mention/s Hungary, The Netherlands

As we all know, instruments are used as props more than music-makers at Eurovision nowadays. That doesn’t stop them from being used to great advantage. In the case of Bosnia & Herzegovina 2016, the cello has never been sexier. Ana Rucner let loose with her futuristic one (once she’d shed her rather UN-sexy cellophane cape, that is), and it was epic. And what is a Balkan ballad without at least one instrument bringing it to life? I guess we should ask Montenegro, who figured an ice dancer would be a good substitute back in Copenhagen.

 

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Winner Russia’s projection screen Honourable Mention/s Armenia’s multiple Ivetas

The first People’s Choice Award on this occasion is very well deserved, I’ll admit. Like you guys did, I’ll also give kudos to Russia for putting maximum effort into their entry this year, despite it not paying off to the extent they’d have liked. After all, that screenus maximus was nothing if not an attention-grabber, and it was used very calculatedly to try and outdo the Heroes staging that started it all (that’s not an assumption. I sat and heard Philipp Kirkirov say so during the first Russian press conference). There are a number of ways You Are The Only One could have been performed to amplify it as an entry, but this method gave it a serious ‘wow’ factor.

 

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Winner Bulgaria Honourable Mention/s Azerbaijan, Belgium

Any country that makes the chicken dance cool again (slash cool for the first time in history) should receive a high five at least. Bulgaria assigned the chorus of If Love Was A Crime its own set of moves that quickly became irresistible in terms of attempting to copy them (or was that just me?). Sassy, fun and a little bit off-the-wall – just like Poli herself – they helped make Bulgaria’s appearance in this year’s contest extra memorable.

 

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Winner Ukraine Honourable Mention/s Austria, France, Latvia

In a time when you can back your act with pretty much anything (a naked hologram of yourself frolicking with wolves, for instance), it’s hard to haul yourself to the top of the heap. Ukraine’s collection of colours, textures and trees (well, just the one tree), however, did just that. It complemented the story and dynamics of 1944 so perfectly, I can’t personally look past it. That tree “exploding” out of Jamala at the song’s climax is one heck of an iconic image.

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Winner Russia Honourable Mention/s Azerbaijan

The likes of Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Azerbaijan are famous for throwing everything and the kitchen sink – sometime, several kitchen sinks – at their Eurovision performances. To prove that point, note that only one of them didn’t  in 2016 (and note how it worked in their favour). Russia takes this trophy home, though, for putting on a show so in-your-face, it practically screamed ‘VOTE FOR US! WE WANT TO WIN! WE DON’T NEED AN OLYMPIC FIGURE SKATER THIS TIME!’. Factor in the lack of correlation between the lyrics of YATOO and what we saw Sergey getting up to on stage, and you’ve got OTT for the sake of OTT. That’s, like, the highest level of OTT.

 

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Winner Bulgaria, Ukraine Honourable Mention/s Armenia, Russia

To win Eurovision, you need a cohesive package in which all aspects are on point. If having that up your sleeve doesn’t ensure a podium placing, it should at least drag you away from the depths of the dreaded bottom five. That’s what happened to Ukraine and Bulgaria this year – a win for the first time in over a decade and a best-ever result. Excellent vocals? Check. Brilliant songs? Yep. Perfect costumes? You know it. Setting the scene by pimping the stage? Of course. Both countries had it all going on.

 

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Winner Poland’s baffling televote boost Honourable Mention/s Justin Timberlake is announced as an interval act

As someone who was standing in the thick of it i Globen, I can confirm that thousands of jaws required picking up off the floor in the wake of Poland’s leap from last place to the top ten. Of all the stuff we didn’t see coming re: the 2016 contest, this was the most unpredictable – despite Poland’s apparently domineering diaspora (which didn’t help them during the Polish slump period of 2004-2011). But, whether you love, hate or ‘meh’ Color of Your Life, you have to admit that this particular leaderboard leapfrog made for a priceless Eurovision moment (and GIF).

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Winner Belgium Honourable Mention/s Bulgaria

Is Laura Tesoro a cyborg programmed to be constantly cheery and have unflagging energy? I think so. Has she ever been to a party and not been the life of it? As if! Can I have a smidgen of her sparkling personality if there’s any to spare? I’ll leave it to her to answer that question.

 

THE COSTUMES

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Winner Australia Honourable Mention/s Azerbaijan, Malta

Call me biased if you want to, but I feel like I’m just stating the obvious when I say that the Steven Khalil-designed, diamonte-encrusted creation Dami Im donned for her performances was STUNNING. The arm bling and sparkly stilettos slathered frosting on a look that said ‘This is what Glinda the Good Witch would wear to her wedding.’ It is also what I would like to wear to my wedding. Or to the supermarket. Whichever aisle I happen to walk down first, basically.

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Winner Germany Honourable Mention/s Finland  

It’s not often that a costume single-handedly destroys a country’s chances of contest success. The last time that happened was also in Sweden, when Moje 3’s circus clown couture clashed with Ljubav Je Svuda’s good-and-evil concept, untying what could have been a neatly-wrapped package and making a mess instead. Fast forward three years, and Jamie-Lee allowed the same thing to happen to her, refusing to sacrifice – or even tone down/adapt – her love of manga style for the sake of Ghost. A song that good deserved visuals that would have told its story – not detracted from it completely, leading to a discordance that couldn’t be ignored.

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Winner Slovenia Honourable Mention/s Armenia

Most of this year’s artists kept their goodies in the jar, if you know what I mean (and I’m guessing you do). Slovenia’s ManuElla wasn’t one of them. Rather than opting for the military-themed, backing singer-assisted costume reveal from ye olden national final days, she decided to take care of everything concerning revealing all on her own. The result was…well, boobage that the brain behind Trijntje Oosterhuis’ slashed-to-the-waist number might consider risqué. I’m not here to shame a fellow female, but wouldn’t an outfit that was less of an anatomy lesson and more ‘blue and red’ have made more sense?

 

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Winner Bulgaria Honourable Mention/s Poland, Spain

An undercut that kicks butt was all it took for our favourite Bulgarian to take out this award. Good golly, Miss Poli – you OWN that half-and-half hairstyle like nobody else. I can’t wait to see what you do when you get bored of it. Maybe we’ll find out when Eurovision 2021 rolls around?

 

THE RESULTS

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Winner Måns Zelmerlöw Honourable Mention/s Petra Mede 

It was the Very Intelligent People (as Petra likes to label her fans) versus the Månsters for this People’s Choice category, and – somewhat shockingly – the latter were the force to be reckoned with. I guess the fact that MZW did double duty as Eurovision’s reigning champ/chief repriser and an all-singing, all-dancing, all-charming co-host gave him a slight edge over Queen Petra.

 

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Winner ‘Love Love, Peace Peace’ Honourable Mention/s The fashion show of flags

I DID NOT FORESEE THIS. I thought ‘Love Love, Peace Peace’ had passed us all by without making any impact whatsoever. It’s not like it was a masterpiece of musical theatre that poked the right amount of fun at the ESC while warning future competitors to steer clear of clichés. I mean, nobody even requested that it be released as a single!

Hashtag sarcasm. Hashtag ‘Love Love, Peace Peace’ is amazeballs and we all know it.

 

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Winner Iceland Honourable Mention/s Estonia

Estonia’s failure to qualify may have upset me the most (I have permanent tear tracks on my face from the flood that ensued when Jüri was left behind in semi 1…sob!) but Iceland missing out shocked me to my very core. I was never the biggest fan of Hear Them Calling, but I was 110% convinced it would sail through to the final in spite of Sergey Lazarev’s performance overshadowing Greta’s. I still can’t believe Iceland was beaten by San Marino. Come to think of it, I can’t believe ANYONE was beaten by San Marino.

 

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Winner Georgia Honourable Mention/s Czech Republic

Midnight Gold was gold as far as I’m concerned, and I’m not a massive psychedelic rock fan by any means. I wanted it to qualify more than Danny Saucedo wanted to win Melodifestivalen 2012, but I didn’t think it actually would. As it turns out, I was wrong, and that’s fine by me. Go Georgia!

 

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Winner Russia Honourable Mention/s Australia

Even if Russia hadn’t been the pre-contest favourite (and during-contest favourite), the thought of them failing to qualify this year would have been a ridiculous one. The thought of Russia not qualifying any year is ridiculous, really – but Sergey was a standout on stage, as we always knew he would be.

 

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Winner San Marino Honourable Mention/s Montenegro

I’m still in shock that Serhat came what can only be described as ‘far too close’ to progressing from Tuesday to Saturday night. But, at the end of the day, he still didn’t make it, and that’s what the Eurovision gods had long since ordained (the 12th place was their version of a belated April Fools’ joke, I assume).

 

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Winner Belgium Honourable Mention/s Israel

You guys chose the transformation of Laura Tesoro as the worthy winner of this trophy. Belgium certainly upped the ante and glitteriness of her performance between NF and IF (international final, obviously), transforming it from something that looked at home on an intimate stage to something that filled a massive one – and filled Globen with masses of energy and positive vibes.

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Winner Ukraine Honourable Mention/s Australia, Denmark

Sorry/not sorry, haters…but I’m so dedicated to Team Jamala, I hold conversations exclusively in 1944 lyrics (I can’t wait to go trick-or-treat doorknocking at Halloween and greet homeowners with the likes of ‘When strangers are coming, they come to your house, they kill you all’. How suitably scary!). As such – and because Her Holiness had so much of herself, and so much of her family’s heartbreaking true story invested in her Eurovision entry – I am adamant that Ukraine won fairly, squarely and deservedly. They earned the absolute shiz out of that triumph.

 

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Winner Estonia Honourable Mention/s Italy

In a semi final that had the words ‘San Marino’ printed in the program, the country that would finish in last place should have been easy to predict. Even when Serhat put on something of an endearing performance *she admits reluctantly*, it seemed like Finland’s Sandhja was going to step into seventeenth instead. What I did not expect was for poor, poor Estonia to fall as flat as possible and end up rock bottom. NOT COOL, EUROPE…and not at all deserved.

 

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Winner Denmark Honourable Mention/s Denmark  

Everyone else on the planet knew what those who voted for Lighthouse X during DMGP didn’t: that the trio didn’t have a hope in heck of qualifying from a Eurovision semi. They were charming enough to avoid finishing last on the Thursday night – and they didn’t use constipation as inspiration for their choreography, á la Rykka – but they lacked the fire (not even Azerbaijan-level pyro would have saved them) and the x-factor to proceed any further. No crystal ball was needed to foretell that outcome.

 

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Winner Poland Honourable Mention/s San Marino

The bulk of ‘It Should Have Been Margaret!’ t-shirt wearers were stopped in their tracks when Michał was catapulted from the lowest of scoreboard lows to the upper echelons of the top 10, all thanks to the televoting. That moment was many things – shocking and impressive among them – but easily explainable? Nope. I find it hard to believe that Polish diaspora is that influential, and even though I really liked Color of Your Life, I’m also confused by the possibility of such an outpouring of voter-at-home love…especially when the juries completely dismissed Poland. COLL was not a song that made you go ‘Yep, the televoters will LOVE that, but the juries’ll hate it.’ If anything, I’d have had it the other way round. To sum up, *insert giant question mark here*.

 

 

And that, my fellow Eurovision freaks, is that! My collapsible table of trophies is empty, and it’s time to roll up that red carpet for another year. I hope you enjoyed the 2016 edition of the EBJEEs in some respect, because I definitely enjoyed bringing it to you (even if it took a little longer than I’d initially planned).

Stay tuned to le blog over the coming weeks if you’re interested in the OGAE Second Chance Contest, the Olympics, random album reviews and lookalikes – I’ve got content concerning all of the above in the pipeline for August (and it IS all ESC-related, I swear).

While you’re waiting for that, why not tell me what you thought of today’s award winners? Did your People’s Choice votes go to waste, or did you get your way? Which performances, costumes and results of Eurovision 2016 do you think deserve some extra credit? Let me know below. I live for your feedback!

Well, I don’t live for it…but I like it.

 

Until next time,

 

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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.

Sakis 2.5

 

#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.

Sakis 3.5

 

#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.

 

 

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#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)

CiSPFSgWkAEz94D

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)

2016-05-10T194535Z_1148624669_D1AETDHJJJAA_RTRMADP_3_MUSIC-EUROVISION

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

 

 

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