A DAL, YOU’VE DONE IT AGAIN | A love letter to Hungary’s Eurovision 2019 song selection feat. my top 30!

In case you didn’t know, Sweden is my all-time favourite Eurovision country and the one I support unconditionally every year (2009 aside…La Voix was a moment of insanity on their part). But I have to say, there’s another nation nipping at their stylishly-shod heels.

Hungary has gifted three minutes of greatness (in every genre imaginable) to the ESC almost every time they’ve participated, and while I’ve been waiting for them to finally win I’ve kept a close eye on their national final A Dal. And this year, the competition is seriously wow. I mean, if I had to sum up how I feel about it in just a few words, ‘VISZLAT NYASSS!!!’ would do it.

Thankfully I don’t have to limit myself to just a few words, so instead I’m going to devote an entire blog post to how awesome it is. The upcoming A Dal is too good NOT to discuss in detail to the point where you guys are snoring and drooling – so maybe grab some coffee (triple shot) before you check out my thoughts on all 30 entries as we wait for the comp to start on Saturday night. And as always, share your agreements and disagreements in the comments. I’m desperate to know if you’re as impressed by Hungary this year as I am!

 

 

My A Dal douze pointers

Working from best to worst, this is my top 10 in a comp that’s setting the standard for song quality this NF season. If the Eurovision gods are smiling down on me when the A Dal final rolls around, one of these tracks will win it. If not, I may cry a little.

Lighthouse, Olivér Berkes This song does to me what I think Amar Pelos Dois did to a lot of people (but NOT me): it makes me feel feelings that manifest in the form of goosebumps, spine tingles and moist eyes that I may or may not blame on allergies. It’s one of the prettiest piano ballads my ears have ever been exposed to, and Olivér – competing in A Dal for the first time as a soloist and the third time overall – delivers it emotively and with the perfect mix of flawless and rough-edged vocals. I do think the Hungarian version Világítótorony is extra special, so I’m hoping Olivér opts to sing that during A Dal. Either way though, it will be stunning.

Wasted, Barni Hamar Barni might look like he should be competing in a JESC NF, but his song is totally ready for adult Eurovision. Wasted – composed and written Mikolas Josef style by Barni himself – is exactly the kind of cutting-edge, catchy as heck radio pop I always gravitate towards when the A Dal songs are unveiled. I’ve had it stuck in my head for days and I’m not complaining about it. This song is the bomb, and if you love it too, check out Barni’s EP Different on Spotify – the whole thing is in the same musical and lyrical neighbourhood.

Incomplete, yesyes Truth time: I didn’t get the yesyes hype last year, when they finished just behind AWS with I Let You Run Away. With this comeback track, they’ve taken the skeleton of that song and fleshed it out, bringing something to life I can definitely say yesyes to. Incomplete has every box on my douze-point checklist ticked – it’s current, dynamic, edgy, atmospheric and catchy. Plus, the potential for a kick-ass light show to accompany it is sky high, and that tends to make me happy. Watch out for this one, because it could run away (see what I did there) with the win very easily.

Roses, The Middletonz This is the fifth time András Kállay-Saunders has attempted to represent Hungary at Eurovision (with a 1/5 success rate, obviously). This latest try is giving him a pretty good shot at victory in my opinion (as someone whose own success rate at predicting the outcomes of national finals is laughable). Roses is a love it or hate it sort of song, but clearly I love it. What I love most about it is how it’s ever-evolving, shapeshifting in sound constantly throughout the three minutes but in a pattern that you can follow. I’ve never heard a song quite like it before, and neither has Eurovision. Just saying…

Az Én Apám, Joci Pápai My boy is back! I nearly passed out when I heard that Joci, the man behind one of my all-time favourite ESC entries and a string of other amazing songs, was giving A Dal another go. Given Hungary’s tendency to bounce from genre to genre and never send the same act twice, I don’t think we’ll see him at Eurovision 2019 – but they could do a lot worse than sending this heartfelt ethno-folk ballad. It might not be as dramatic as Origo (topping that is impossible) but it’s just as beautiful and arresting in its own way.

Posztolj, USNK As soon as I found out that ByeAlex co-wrote this, I knew I’d soon be professing my love for it on this blog. And here we are! That songwriter credit is the only thing Posztolj has in common with Kedvesem (another favourite ESC entry of mine), but I’m a fan regardless. It serves swag, attitude and grit, and makes me feel cooler than I actually am just by listening to it. USNK, fresh from winning Hungary’s X Factor, obviously have public vote-pulling power too. I don’t think Hungary would be afraid to send this to the A Dal final.

Százszor Visszajátszot, Konyha I’m strangely bummed that I like this so much because it means I have to type out that crazy long title more often (JK…I’ll be copying and pasting). But it’s too good to resist. Hungarian is one of my most beloved musical languages, and this song is a great example of why. It’s slick, it’s neat, and that chorus is infectious times infinity. I also think it works as chill party background music, a song you’d sing along to on the radio in the car AND one that can compete in a contest. That’s no mean feat. 

Maradj Még, Kyra Here’s the powerhouse female pop I knew would be in A Dal somewhere, since this NF leaves no genre stone unturned. Again, because this is Hungary, it’s not straightforward, middle-of-the-road cookie cutter pop we’re talking about here. Maradj Még has bite. It moves from solid verses to an awesome bridge, then on to an epic chorus feat. big vocals and a little EDM influence. I hope to heck that Kyra can deliver this live – if not it will be a mess, but if she can, HECK YES.

Hozzád Bújnék, Gergő Oláh Another returnee, Gergő is in it to win it for the fourth time, and while Hozzád Bújnék is no Győz A Jó (a song that deserved Eurovision and so much more) it’s still top notch stuff. Soaring, powerful and all class, it’s like a talent show winner’s single but actually decent. Gergő will want to be at his vocal best performing this, since it showcases his voice without spotlighting much else (i.e. there’s no bells and whistles to distract from a dodgy vocal). I’m pretty confident he can handle it.

Csak 1 Perc, Gotthy You might see this as a wildcard in my top 10, or at least as a song that wouldn’t be so highly thought of by many other people. But there’s always an underdog in with my favourites, and congrats Gotthy – it’s you this time! I don’t expect Csak 1 Perc to progress too far in A Dal. Unlike Százszor Visszajátszot (copied and pasted) it’s a definite radio song rather than a radio song AND a competition song. But that just means I will be streaming the shiz out of it on Spotify and enjoying every minute.

 

The rest of the best

I’ve listed all my absolute favourites from A Dal 2019 now, but I wouldn’t be devastated if any of these next entries won instead.

Hazavágyom, Leander Kills This is something a bit different from Leander Kills – and it’s damn good different. I prefer epic Élet from 2017, but this ethnic, unique and folksy creation is a song I wouldn’t mind winning the whole thing.

La Mama Hotel, Dávid Heatlie I love the intensity and energy of this one. It passed me by a little when I was first running through the 30, but I’m glad I gave it the attention it deserves.

Ide Várnak Vissza, DENIZ I’m a sucker for a rap/vocal combo (it’s one of the billion reasons I love Origo so much) so what DENIZ is bringing to A Dal is A+. How similar does the vocalist sound to Medina though? Listen to 100 Dage, her collab with Thomas Helmig, and you’ll know what I mean.

Holnap, Bogi Nagy If you’re looking for a female equivalent of Olivér Berkes – or a female-led song that’s simple, pretty and emotive like Lighthouse – here’s your girl and here’s your song. It’s far from being in Lighthouse’s league, but it’s a really nice ballad and Bogi’s vocals are practically angelic.

Help Me Out of Here, Petruska I loved Petruska’s last entry Trouble In My Mind, and for me this one doesn’t quite measure up to that. But the Paul Simon Graceland vibes put me in a good mood.

Barát, Salvus The early 2000s called, but they can’t have this Christian rock-esque number back because I want and need it here in 2019.

A Remény Hídjai, Nomad Mid-tempo soft rock is on the vanilla side of things for me, and this is no exception. But vanilla is still appealing! Hungarian sounds boss in this genre like it does in EVERY GENRE IN EXISTENCE.

Ő, The Sign This is a weird song, and most of it is taken up by ‘Őőőőőőőőőőőőőő.’ But, even though it may not maximise the 180 seconds it has to work with, I find it so soothing and pleasant to listen to that I still like it a lot.

Frida, Rozina Pátkai ’Ethereal’ is a word I don’t use very often when I’m talking music, but it’s fitting for this track. I wish it had more x-factor to take it to the next level, but that’s a small pet peeve and I’m still impressed by it.

Nyári Zápor, Acoustic Planet I didn’t like this much based on the teaser, and I still think the guitar parts are way too throwback. But the rest is easy-listening enjoyment all the way, and it puts a smile on my resting bitchface.

Little Bird, Diana There’s one thing stopping me from ranking this way higher, and it’s Diana’s voice – it just grates on me. That aside, Little Bird is an awesome addition to A Dal this year. I’m hoping I’ll find the vocals more agreeable live.

 

I’m undecided…

I need some more alone time with these songs to see how I really feel about them, but there’s something appealing about them all.

Madár, Repülj!, Gergő Szekér I think I like this. It’s original and dramatic, no doubt, but a bit messy. Chaotic messy, not artfully messy like Gergő’s hair.

Szótlanság, Bence Vavra I’ve listened to this as often as I’ve listened to everything else, and I cannot remember how it goes. Yet when I do press play, I always think ‘Yeah, this isn’t bad!’. Go figure.

Egyszer, Mocsok 1 Kölyök I don’t feel any fire from this in terms of competing FTW, however I wouldn’t skip it on a shuffling playlist. The 90s grunge feels are strong.

You’re Gonna Rise, Klára Hajdu There’s usually a carbon copy of this song in A Dal (it reminds me particularly of Fall Like Rain from a few years back) and I’m never a big fan. This time it’s a guilty pleasure for me, though. The lyrics are beyond cliché, but the melody is nice and overall I find it a relaxing listen.

Kulcs, Fatal Error I have to be in the right mood to listen to this, otherwise the noisiness and frantic pace send me into meltdown mode. If I am in the right mood, I will headbang until I need a chiropractor.

Someone Who Lives Like This, László Váray Would I miss this if it wasn’t invited to the party? No, but I don’t mind it being on the guest list.

Kedves Világ!, Timi Antal feat. Gergő Demko Okay, nothing special. I welcome every song that’s in Hungarian though.

 

Thank u, next

Loving or liking 28 out of 30 in this lineup is what made me want to write this ramble in the first place – but yes, there are a few songs I don’t like.

Forró, Ruby Harlem The style of this is not my bowl of goulash at all, and I find the chorus super irritating.

Run Baby Run, Monyo Project The verses aren’t bad but the chorus (another song-ruining one) is so repetitive and monotonous, it gives me a headache.

 

 

And that’s every single song on offer in A Dal this year from my perspective. I love so many that I’m guaranteed to get heartbroken during the heat and/or semi stages, but I’m confident we’ll get a great winner and Eurovision entry from Hungary in the end. Stay tuned to EBJ for my predictions when the time is right…

 

Which potential Hungarian ESC entries are you excited about at the moment? Is A Dal 2019 as dal-ightful in your opinion as I think it is? Let me know below!

  

 

 

 

GOODBYE TO YESTERDAY…A.K.A. 2018! My top 10 songs from last year’s ESC, JESC and NF season

Okay…so I didn’t make a New Year’s resolution to be more prompt with my posts. Some things are just too hard to change, and I actually think you guys would miss the old, always late and always running behind Jaz if she was replaced with a new, punctual version.

On that note, it’s January 3rd and time for me to finally say HAPPY NEW YEAR!!! I can’t believe 2018 is no more. Time freaking FLIES, but on the plus side that means we’re about to enter ESC NF season again – a better season than the best bits of autumn, winter, spring and summer combined. Before every second thing I type becomes ‘Melodifestivalen’ (or potentially ‘Australia Decides’), I’ve got to squeeze in a look back at the year we’ve just farewelled.

2018 began with a sensational string of Eurovision selections, continued with a phenomenal Portuguese ESC, and ended with an unforgettable Junior Eurovision. Accompanying those three events were hundreds of songs competing to get to or win a Eurovision event, and to honour the sheer awesomeness of some, I’m presenting you with my top 10 favourites from across the board. Keep reading to find out which songs I chose and why (there’s some weird ones that needed an explanation) then hit the comments box/visit me on my socials to share your own musical highlights of the last year living on Planet Eurovision!

 

 

 

#10 | Tengo Otra, Alejandro Fuentes (Norway, Melodi Grand Prix)

Is this a curveball way to start this list? Probably. But being a Eurovision and national final freak means getting used to other people going gaga over songs that didn’t stand out to you at all. For some reason – a reason I’m about to try and identify – Tengo Otra is a standout of the 2018 NF season for me, knowing it passed the majority of fans (and Norwegians) by as part of the MGP lineup.

I can understand that when I remember it was surrounded by the likes of Rebecca’s big ballad, Ida Maria’s iconic and NSFW Scandilove and Alexander Rybak. But I think the Despacito Latin-pop influence that leaked into multiple NFs last year was peak bueno with Alejandro. In fact, I’m going to go all out and say that this song is better than Despacito (and it’s been inarguably less overplayed). Tengo Otra is just as summery and catchy, but edgier – and the production on the studio version is next level. It’s one of those songs that starts so mysteriously, you can’t help wondering where it’s going. And when the chorus arrives it’s not in-your-face, but it makes exactly the statement it came to make: ‘Visit Chile Or Anywhere Else Where Spanish Is Spoken!’. That’s what it says to me, anyway.

Should this song have been sent to Eurovision? Not before Rybak’s or Rebecca’s – but the beauty of national finals is discovering more music to love whether it gets to the big show or not. I will say that Tengo Otra > the majority of songs Spain has sent to the contest recently. To you that may not be saying much, but to me this track is a banger. It didn’t pop up on my most-played of 2018 Spotlify playlist for nada!

 

 

#9 | Scandilove, Ida Maria (Norway, Melodi Grand Prix)

Can you tell that I rather enjoyed Norway’s MGP last year? A lot more than I enjoyed the Danish equivalent, that’s for sure. If Dansk has the monopoly on safe, cookie-cutter radio pop with the occasional bearded Viking thrown in, then Norsk has original, often moody Scandipop locked down. I can’t say the wonderfully bizarre Scandilove is moody, but it’s definitely original. Spice Girls with 1000% more attitude level original!

Behind the bonkers is a genuinely well-crafted pop song with a bouncy beat and unmatched energy. And you guys know I’m a sucker for a catchy chorus. When it comes to lyrical one-liners, this track is as quotable as Mean Girls. If you need fast proof, I’d offer up ‘Can you make love like a Scandinavian?’ and of course, ‘Swim in the ocean, feel the emotion, it’s f*%king freezing!’. How do you say ‘iconic AF’ in Norwegian? I’m asking because I also want to use the phrase to describe Ida’s spotted suit and High-School-Musical-on-crack staging.

It’s all so brilliant and impossible to ignore. There’s a part of me that wonders what it would have been like if Norway had sent Scandilove to Eurovision, but I don’t blame them for playing it safe. You can’t go from silent storms and grabbing the moment to I’M SCANDINAVIAN Y’ALL without building up to it.

 

 

#8 | Talk To The Hand, Aleksander Walmann (Norway, Melodi Grand Prix)

This is the last MGP entry on this list, I promise (the 2018 show was just TOO GOOD). Eurovision 2017 proved that the lyrical genius of JOWST and the vocal talents of Aleksander Walmann was an excellent combination. And if it ain’t broke, why not try it again immediately at Melodi Grand Prix?

It wasn’t a case of JOWST feat. Aleksander Walmann this time, but the man in the light-up mask remained a composer and lyricist of Talk To The Hand as he had been for Grab The Moment. What can I say? He’s got the magic touch when it comes to pop earworms with lyrics that couldn’t be less cliché. Granted, I don’t think anybody’s uttered the phrase ‘talk to the hand’ with sincerity since 2002…but I was quick to overlook that from the second I pressed play on this track for the first time. It’s funky, it’s fresh, and that guitar intro reminds me so much of the Seinfeld theme that I’m transported back to the 90s while still feeling very much in 2018 (which we’re not any more, but you know what I mean). It’s a song that’s seriously good without taking itself too seriously, and if you can sit still when you’re listening to it I feel compelled to judge you.

Having said all of that, I was actually surprised to see Aleksander in the MGP super final again – I wasn’t sure Norway would be so keen to send him straight back to Eurovision, especially when he was competing against Rebecca and the most unbeatable Alexander of all, Rybak. As it turns out, they weren’t (which may have been a mistake in the end) but I was happy enough to have TTTH get as far as it did. It’s a bop and a half, and I want the JOWST X Walmann pairing to keep on gifting the world with music just like it.

 

 

#7 | Time, Daniel Yastremski (Belarus, Junior Eurovision)

Creeped out by the whole concept of Junior Eurovision but don’t mind being exposed to JESC entries that could pass as ESC entries? Then pay attention to this favourite musical moment of mine. The only thing that made Belarus’ host act/song/performance from Minsk unsuitable for adult Eurovision was Daniel’s birth date.

For starters, the slick R&B pop anthem that is Time (the best Time ever sent to a Eurovision event IMO) was written by Kirill Yermakov, a.k.a. Kirill Good, who’s competed in a bunch of Belarusian JESC and ESC preselections – hello contest pedigree! No surprises as to why it strikes the best kind of balance between youthful and mature. If you’ve checked out Kirill and Daniel’s acoustic duet, then you should easily be able to imagine a parallel universe in which Kirill submitted the song to Eurofest and won with it. As for Daniel’s performance at JESC 2018…well, it was a total Mary Poppins. Practically perfect in every way, that is, and very forward thinking – nobody would bat an eyelid if Sweden turned up in Tel Aviv with something similar, basically. Factor in Daniel’s charisma (he has more than I do and I’m a senior citizen by comparison) and you’ve got a package deal that stands out for all the right reasons.

I know Time wasn’t a hit with all Junior fans, and its eventual 11th place in the comp (I DEMAND JUSTICE) proved that. But if you read my review of the song back in November, you’ll understand why I love it so much and why it’s a highlight of my 2018 in ESC/JESC/NF terms. I don’t want the Kirill/Daniel story to end without the success and massive amount of points it deserves, so here’s hoping there’s a Eurovision collab on the horizon (a.k.a. the second Daniel turns 16). Meanwhile, I’ll be keeping myself busy listening to that awesome duet on repeat.

 

 

#6 | Qami, Sevak Khanagyan (Armenia, Eurovision)

Back in May 2017, foolish Jaz thought that Blackbird becoming a DNQ when it should have flown into the ESC final was the most painful non-qualification scenario she would ever experience. Little did she know that the worst was yet to come, around about the same time she realised referring to herself in the third person is damn annoying.

It’s not that I thought Armenia was a certain finalist last year – but I guess I fell so far in love with Qami (and if I’m honest, the sculpted-ab body armour Sevak wore at Depi Evratesil) I figured everyone else must love it too. Long story you already know short, it bombed out after what I have to admit was a slightly boring performance, and my body could not produce the amount of salt and water needed for me to cry out my anguish. I exaggerate, but it really did hurt.

Regardless, here is a haunting power ballad with ethnic flourishes – much like another song I’ll be talking about later – that captured me in the way Origo did in 2017. In both cases I stumbled across the songs after a previous favourite fell before the NF final and I was searching for a replacement. I loved and lost Deák by Spoon 21 during A Dal 2017 only to discover Origo, and then latched onto Qami in the wake of Poison (Ari Ari) not getting anywhere. It’s a typical song for me to go crazy over, based on my penchant for Balkan ballads. The atmosphere, beauty and power give me goosebumps every time. And it may be a slow burner, but like Aram Mp3’s Not Alone, the explosive climax (I’m talking in musical terms here, you dirty-minded individual) is worth waiting for. Armenia does dynamic songs very well, and for that I salute them. This one deserves a do-over in the form of staging revamp and a retrospective spot in the Eurovision final.

 

 

#5 | Lie To Me, Mikolas Josef (Czech Republic, Eurovision)

Together we’ve witnessed many Eurovision glow-ups over the years. Belgium sending Rhythm Inside right after ghastly Mother, Moldova following up the lacklustre DNQ Falling Stars with eventual bronze medalist Hey Mamma…the list goes on and on. At the very top of it or thereabouts, though, has to be the Czech Republic. How else could you acknowledge the mammoth gap between My Turn and Lie To Me in practically every department? And to think that someone initially wanted Mikolas to perform My Turn…holy WTF.

I cannot overstate how much I was blindsided by Lie To Me popping up as one of the Czech candidates last year, and as soon as I’d heard it for the first time I knew it had to be The One (you don’t want to know what I would have done had it NOT been selected for Lisbon). This song is nothing if not iconic. Ridiculously catchy, eternally danceable and lyrically questionable in the best kind of way, the only problem I have with it is the fact that I still don’t know what ‘Set my camel in the mood’ means.

It doesn’t take a genius to interpret the line ‘Whop-bop-a-lu-bop on his wood bamboo’, but even that gets points from me for originality. Eurovision gets lyrics that saucy pretty infrequently, so when Lie To Me hit the stage in Lisbon it grabbed eyes AND ears. A catastrophe seemed likely when Mikolas nearly snapped himself in half during rehearsals – an injury that could have led to a forced withdrawal – but he managed to pull himself together, play safe for the semi final and then risk it all (‘all’ = the integrity of his spinal column and ability to walk) with a flip for the final. The risk paid off, with the show Mr. Josef putting on earning the Czech Republic their best result ever by a long shot. Lie To Me has also earned him the honour of a place on this list, for being an irresistible song I’ll be lip-syncing for a long time to come.

 

 

#4 | Doma, Marija Spasovska (Macedonia, Junior Eurovision)

Brace yourselves, because I’m about to make a big call: Macedonia’s JESC 2018 entry is arguably the best song they’ve ever sent to a Eurovision event. That’s in my opinion, obviously…but Doma is something special and I know I’m not the only one outraged that it missed out on the Minsk top 10. Marija’s live performance was beautifully staged (which came as a shock since Macedonia are the masters of staging self-sabotage) if slightly shaky in the vocal department – and her song was/is stunning.

I’m not going to repeat all of the adjectives from my review, and my love for this can’t adequately be expressed in words anyway (despite this paragraph of typing). I will say that Elena Risteska, who gave us the epic Ninanajna in 2006 and who should have represented Macedonia again by now (maybe she’s up for a trip to Tel Aviv in May?) helping create such a spellbinding, spine-tingling  ballad is not surprising. Elena plus Darko Dimitrov, the man behind a bajillion Macedonian/other ex-Yugo ESC entries, including Ninanajna.

With a songwriting team like that in her corner, it’s no wonder Marija ended up with such an amazing track. Armed with Doma in a less competitive contest, I think Macedonia could have reached a higher rung on the scoreboard ladder than 12th, but if it’s any consolation this will always be among my personal favourites of last year’s JESC.

 

 

#3 | Last Breath, LIAMOO (Sweden, Melodifestivalen)

I’m not the most confident person on the planet, but I am 110% confident in saying that LIAMOO should have finished higher than 6th in last year’s Melfest final. Last Breath is the bomb! There hasn’t been a better combo of rap and singing by the same person since all the way back in 2017 when Joci Papái gave us the gift of Origo.

Clearly I’m not the type to be turned off by rapping (unlike every jury member ever). I see it as a way of expressing emotions that can’t be expressed properly via vocal runs or money notes, and an outpouring of emotion is what we got from LIAMOO. A rapper first and foremost, the way he structured and performed the song made it authentic and believable because he was in his comfort zone. His verses are neat, quick and pave a smooth path for that cracking chorus, which always makes me feel some kind of way (whatever that means…it’s a good thing right, kids?). Sure, it’s quite a repetitive song, but I could (and do) listen to it over and over again without getting bored thanks to that magical melody. I also watch the performance a heck of a lot too. It’s simpler than Dance You Off and less of a statement piece – but with great lighting, some dry ice and rapid-fire camera cuts (á la Oscar Zia’s equally epic Human performance from 2016) comes something applause-worthy.

As a song that hits me in the heart, from a multitalented performer and accompanied by stripped-back staging, Last Breath is easily one of my favourite musical moments of 2018. I’m super psyched to see what LIAMOO and Hanna Ferm produce at Melfest this year.

 

 

#2 | Dance You Off, Benjamin Ingrosso (Sweden, Eurovision)

I’m issuing a spoiler alert to inform you that this is the last Eurovision entry to make my list. Last, but the opposite of least, being my favourite entry from Lisbon and another song to add to the ‘Why yes, I AM incredibly biased when it comes to Sweden!’ pile. If I’m being honest, Benjamin Ingrosso’s entire 2018 was a musical highlight for me (I even enjoyed his endless Instagram stories about pasta). First came Dance You Off; then the World’s Greatest Bromance™ with Felix Sandman that led to Tror Du Att Han Bryr Sig, then his first proper album Identification dropped and blessed us all with an array of peak summer Scandipop. But it was his Melfest win on attempt no. 2 that had me riding a rollercoaster of emotions last year.

There were lows – one in particular that I call the Outrageous Televoting Incident of 2018 In Which Europe and Australia Displayed A Major Lack of Taste. But for the most part, everything to do with Dance You Off had me on a high. I mean, the staging for starters – I’m pretty sure the words ‘revolutionary’ and ‘dope’ were invented with that rightfully glorified tanning bed in mind. Benjamin was just a boy, dancing on top of and in front of lighting tubes, asking us to love him…and it totally worked on me (not a tough task since I was Team Ingrosso when he was dancing in front of giant foil-covered baked potatoes for Good Lovin’).

He claimed that Melfest crown/ugly trophy and went on to do the exact same performance, only slicker, at Eurovision. The juries saw sense and ranked him 2nd overall, and as for the rest – well, I like to pretend it never happened and just say grattis till Sverige on another top 10 result. Contest placings aside, the real reason Dance You Off is such a highlight for me is because as a song, it’s a pure and simple pop masterpiece. If Michael Jackson, early 90s R&B and a freshly-opened 2018 nightclub somehow had a baby, this would be the product. And thanks to Identification, there are siblings!

 

 

#1 | Eva, Lisandro Cuxi (France, Destination Eurovision)

This might be a surprise numero uno for you if Madame Monsieur’s Mercy was your pièce de résistance of Eurovision 2018. Don’t get me wrong, Mercy is a great song with a great message. But Eva is an even greater song (PLEASE DON’T ABUSE ME IT’S JUST MORE TO MY TASTE ASDFGHJKL) also featuring a message. Sure, it’s less about a refugee child and more about a single mother who moonlights as an exotic dancer…but sometimes it’s the most controversial/emotional subjects that make the best music (Exhibit A: Running, Exhibit B: 1944 and Exhibit C: Mercy, of course).

In a national final that was full of fantastic songs, Lisandro’s piqued my interest immediately above other eventual favourites like Ailleurs, OK ou KO and Rêves de Gamin. Not only do I love me some R&B, but as a Melodifestivalen madwoman I love anything that looks and sounds like it could go direkt to Friends Arena. Eva ticks both of those boxes, and also has a moody atmosphere, radio-ready sound and glass-shattering money note (one that was more on point in the Destination Eurovision final than in the semi, I’ll admit).

Some might say it comes across as manufactured and inauthentic compared to Mercy, but I will fight them to the death (or at least until we’re all pretty tired) in my attempt to prove them wrong. Eva just delivers its message in a different way and is packaged differently to Mercy. And it just so happens that Eva’s genre is more up my alley – so far up my alley that I may have cried a little when Lisandro lost to Madame Monsieur. I’m past the weeping stage now, but this kick-ass gem of a song has stayed with me and been played by moi too many times to count. I love it more than the French delegation loves CGI Eiffel Towers. That’s big love.

 

 

I’ve showed you mine – now you have to show me yours! Which songs from ESC, JESC and the NFs of 2018 do you feel blessed to have on your Spotify playlists?

 

  

 

 

 

ANYONE I WANT TO BE = A JESC WINNER? Reviewing and wrapping up Junior Eurovision 2018

Just like that (a whole week ago now), Minsk’s second Junior Eurovision is done and dusted. I still have some residual Resting Sadface, even though we in the Eurovision world have already moved on to the momentous Melodifestivalen artist announcement and unveiling of Tel Aviv’s first act via Armenia (my thoughts on those things are still to come…be patient).

I say ‘we’, but I love JESC so much I’m not ready to move on yet. Hence why I’m here to look back at Sunday’s comp way after everyone else. Me being miles behind the rest of humanity is one of my many charms. Right?

Honestly, my highlight of JESC 2018 was Polina Bogusevich standing on the stage in a gorgeous gown, looking more sophisticated and glamorous than I ever will and belting out an impeccable reprise of Wings. But there were a lot of other high points too, plus a typically tense voting sequence that produced some interesting results. I’m going to go through it all right here, right now.

If you need a refresher or just want to watch the whole thing again (I’ve watched it three times and might need to go in for a fourth ASAP) here’s the show in full:

 

And now, let’s get into reviewing the performances – from Ukraine to Poland and every country in-between – and all of the results.

 

 

The performances

Ukraine Darina kicked the show off with intensity, attitude, and a performance artists three times her age would be proud of. The quick camera cuts at the beginning were totally in keeping with the edginess of the song. Styling on point, vocals impeccable. I feel too uncool to even listen to the song, let alone watch the performance, but I’m going to keep doing it anyway.

Portugal This was cute, but looked and sounded pretty unpolished after Ukraine. I liked the phone screen/social media concept, but I couldn’t take the “boomerang” effect seriously – it just looked like a mistake. All in all it was three minutes of second gear, but Rita is full of personality and that shone through. Any moments she was in the armchair were the best ones.

Kazakhstan The music video was epic, but Daneliya’s performance was underwhelming. Don’t get me wrong, she’s amazing, but her vocals were patchier than usual and I didn’t feel much fight coming from her. When she was on her game, it was stunning. Sadly though, I think a tweaked version of the NF staging would have been better.

 

Albania Efi is a tiny pink and glittery ball of energy, and I adore her. Her enthusiasm and sass at age 10 eclipses mine at age 27, and she had the crowd in her command from the second the music started. She’s not the strongest vocalist but was definitely in tune and giving Barbie her all. My only complaint is how short the performance seemed, because I wanted it go on forever.

Russia I always thought Unbreakable sounded like a JESC winner (maybe too much) and it did come across that way. With Anna front and centre surrounded by her band, it was all very Polina Gagarina, which is a compliment. She sounded solid. I’m torn on the double denim – María Isabel 2004 vibes, anyone? – but the pink extensions were a nice choice.

The Netherlands Like a takeaway pizza, this was covered in cheese and I enjoyed it immensely. Max and Anne are so cute together and have great chemistry. Vocally they were slicker than at their NF. Okay, so the giant versions of the duo on the rear stage screens had a super-high cringe factor, but somehow I found the whole package as endearing as ever.

Azerbaijan The JESC version of this song was nowhere near as good as the original – I wish Fidan had stuck with the full ballad. My other negative was her outfit (half disco, half bridesmaid). The best part of her performance was undoubtedly her vocals, which were angelic and as crystal clear as the Kosta Boda trophy she did not win. She’s precious. And a teenager now, apparently?!?

Belarus You guys know I’m biased on this one, but I honestly felt Daniel lived up to my (very high) expectations. This was impressive, and the staging was so Sweden-like that I’m sure Christer Björkman would have given it a douze if we’d had him as a guest judge again. Daniel is a star in the making and I hope to see him representing Belarus at the ESC in a few years.

 

Ireland Taylor is such a nice kid, and everything about his presence on stage made me want to wave an Irish flag in time with I.O.U (but I don’t own one so I didn’t). This was so much fun and didn’t try to be more sophisticated than it is. I’m convinced that if this entry had competed in the early to mid 2000s, it would have made the top 5.

Serbia If you read my reviews, you’ll know Svet is not a song I like much. But Bojana turned out a spectacular, faultless performance, and I was impressed big time. Great costuming? Check. Gorgeous LED graphics? Check. Vocal perfection? Check. It still felt like a looooong three minutes – the song just drags – but I was happier to watch than I had been just to listen.

Italy Melissa and Marco put on a show that was so cute, my cold, cynical heart defrosted like I’d stuck it in a microwave, and I felt the urge to run through a flowery meadow and blow bubbles and stuff. There was nothing that I didn’t love about this. They sang beautifully and their rapport is something to ‘Aww’ over. So I did.

Australia Jael is my homegirl, and she did me proud! The lighting at the start was top-notch and I wish that Sanna Nielsen vibe had been used more throughout, but I’m not too bothered. I have a conspiracy theory that her dress was sewn from offcuts of Dami Im’s, and we know there’s magic in that. Best armography of the night right here, folks.

 

Georgia If you were questioning how Tamar stood up to older and more experienced singers on The X Factor, I bet you aren’t any more. She was phenomenal, and her staging/styling couldn’t have been better. This was a more grown-up Georgia than we’re used to, and it worked wonders. Was it just me or was there a Japanese influence here? LOVE.

Israel This is how you make a performance interesting without making your singer move a muscle. Children Like These is a stunning (cover) song and Noam was pitch-perfect. All he had to do was stand there and sing, and let the camera, graphics and lighting do the rest of the work. I was spellbound, just as I knew I would be.

France If this is what France produces after a fourteen-year hiatus, maybe they shouldn’t come back to JESC until 2032 (I’m kidding of course, they’ve got to be there in 2019). Angélina’s vocals weren’t the strongest of the night, but the mise en scène was perfect and she was the cutest little leading lady ever. Great props and choreography. C’est magnifique!

Macedonia Like Kazakhstan, I wanted Macedonia to deliver a flawless performance but it didn’t quite happen. Still, this was staged beautifully by Macedonian standards (sorry, but it’s true) with the highlights being the costume change, the LED snowfall and the moment Marija held up her snowflake and the lights went down. When her vocals were at their best, they were spine-tingling.

 

Armenia It was 17 songs’ time before I could no longer resist the temptation to dance (sitting in bed, in my pajamas…it was super late at night okay?). Armenia used Levon’s NF performance as a template but made it bigger and better – and he was on fire. No fading energy or running out of breath like before. Tell me what was wrong with this and I’ll tell you why YOU’RE wrong.

Wales This was such a nice debut for Wales. Think back to how boring Perta was at the selection stage then fast forward to last Sunday, and I think you’ll agree that Wales made the most of it. I’m not 100% on the costume choice, but the choreography was A+. Manw is a really engaging performer and I would have watched two hours of just her on the stage.

Malta This was pretty much what I expected, only with more questionable fashion (party tracksuit alert) and to compensate, more sensational vocals than I was prepared for. Like every other kid who’s represented Malta at JESC since Gaia Cauchi, Ela is insanely talented at this singing business. Her dancers added interest when I was worried they’d look out of place.

Poland Last but not least (quite the opposite, as it turned out) Roksana hit the stage with what was definitely a confusing performance to watch. If there was a cohesive concept in there, I couldn’t pick it out. Still, the bomb song that is Anyone I Want To Be and Roxie’s beyond solid performing arts skills outshone the OTT surrounding her. A random but excellent closer.

 

 

My top 5 performances  

Armenia Nobody had more sass, swag and charisma all rolled into one than Levon. There wasn’t a second where he looked lost on the massive stage, and not a second when I wasn’t loving – or should I say ‘L.O.V.I.N.G’? – his performance.

Australia What can I say…I’m patriotic. I was worried that keeping Jael on a podium leaving just her voice and arms to do the talking would be a mistake, but she didn’t need to move to absolutely nail it. The glittery dress was the cherry on top.

Belarus What can I say…I’m biased. I loved Time from the first listen, think Daniel’s a superstar and consider this three minutes the coolest of the night. If this exact performance was slotted into the ESC, the only surprise would come from people going ‘Is this really BELARUS?’.

France So much cute. This was like a group of friends having the best time ever, coincidentally in front of a huge crowd and millions of online/TV viewers. It couldn’t have been more in keeping with the song’s subject matter. Trés bien.

Georgia Georgia and Tamar slayed every single aspect of this performance, and it’s another one that could have competed at adult Eurovision without any changes. The styling in particular was amazing. Bravo.

 

 

The results

I’m not going to dive too deep into facts and figures, since I’m days late getting this wrap-up done and you’ll have had your fill of that stuff by now (why won’t someone pay me to talk about Eurovision already so I don’t have to waste time at my actual job to make money?). We know our top 10 looked like this:

  1. Poland
  2. France
  3. Australia
  4. Ukraine
  5. Malta
  6. Kazakhstan
  7. Italy
  8. Georgia
  9. Armenia
  10. Russia

I wasn’t expecting Poland to quite get there with the win, but I obviously underestimated the power of Roksana’s fans (all 200 000+ on Instagram alone at the time…she’s now on 300 000+). Anyone I Want To Be was arguably the best song of the contest (though not my favourite) but was it performed better than everything else? I don’t think so. I’m going to say that the current JESC voting system needs work, but I’m excited for Poland to have won something, and I think it would be wrong to drag Roxie for having too much support.

France in 2nd is fabulous and totally deserved. If that’s not motivation enough to come back next year and attempt to go one better, I don’t know what is. Australia rounding out the podium places obviously makes me a very, very happy Jaz – I was expecting lower top 10 at most. Yes, juries love us, but those people out there taking that out on Jael need to just NOT.

After Melissa and Marco’s performance, a decent top 10 result was what I was hoping for and it’s what I got (I even ended up voting for Italy spur of the moment). Georgia and Armenia should have been higher in my opinion. L.E.V.O.N finishing lower than Boomerang and actually scoring Armenia’s worst ever result is ridiculous. Then again, the fact that 9th out of 20 is their poorest showing says great things about Armenia.

Other results outside of the top 10 that “surprised” me (because I don’t want to say ‘pissed me off’ when we’re discussing a children’s contest) include Belarus in 11th – you guys know they were my favourite, and I really think they earned a place in the 6th-9th range at least. Macedonia finishing 12th for the third year running and the 8th time in total is…well, pretty hilarious, but I would have loved Marija to squeeze into the top 10 too. Albania was underrated as far as I’m concerned, but that doesn’t take away from Efi being a teeny queen who we should all be bowing down to. Finally, Wales scoring zero from the juries and coming last overall is an injustice. HOW?!?!?

Okay, I think that’s enough complaining from me. I’m going to wrap things up by celebrating our winner Roksana, who Pole-vaulted into first place at the end of a seriously intense points presentation. I hope ‘Junior Eurovision winner’ qualifies as anyone she wants to be. Congrats to her and to Poland for finally winning a musical Eurovision event. I’m already looking forward to a show (hopefully) hosted in a place we’ve never had a JESC before next November.

 

 

Let me know what you thought of JESC 2018 in the comments!

 

 

 

 

THE JESC 2018 REVIEWS | Round 4 (Albania, Ireland, Italy, Macedonia, Ukraine + my full ranking)

It’s almost here, JESC fans: the biggest and potentially most Belarusian Junior Eurovision ever (we’ll have to compare it to 2010 later and see which show was ultimately more Belarusian). I don’t know about you, but I’m super psyched to see who’ll take over from Russia as the reigning champion. I have a fair idea at this point and for once I’m pretty confident – but my lips are sealed until official prediction time. Keep an eye on my socials (@EurovisionByJaz across the board) over the weekend to see who I think will be on the top – and bottom – of the scoreboard on Sunday.

Before I attempt to predict what’s going to happen I’ve got five of this year’s songs left to review, direct from Albania, Ireland, Italy, Macedonia and Ukraine. There are a few big hitters in there as well as some underdogs, and I do have a douze to give out to one of them…but am I sending it in an obvious direction or not? Keep reading to find out. It’s your moment under my musical microscope, Efi, Taylor, Melissa & Marco, Marija and Darina. I’ll try to be nice, I promise!

 

 

I might be in the minority here, but I’m usually really keen on Albania’s Junior songs. Their 2012 debut wouldn’t make my best-of list, but Dambaje, Besoj and yes, even Don’t Touch My Tree? I enjoyed ‘em all. Albania tends to bounce around a bit genre-wise, and this time they’ve taken the old-school JESC (2003-2008) feel of that debut entry and added more energy, cuteness and overall appeal to it, making Barbie a song that shouldn’t be destined for last place. I like it, anyway…though that has been a bad luck charm in the past *cough* Waldo’s People/Tooji *cough*. I think my favourite thing about Barbie is the contrast between the upbeat pop style/pink-tastic presentation, and the subject matter. ICYMI, Efi means business – she doesn’t want to be directed like a doll during playtime without being permitted thoughts of her own. Oddly, she also wants us to know that ‘I’m not a fruit, I’m not an egg’, unless my online translation has let me down embarrassingly. Sorry to be a party pooper Efi, but I think that was already obvious.

The combo of cuteness and substance in this song speaks to me, and even though I feel like Barbie should be a guilty pleasure, I’m going to ditch the guilt and root for it regardless. I was wondering if the whole Barbie concept could put Efi at risk of a lecture from the EBU regarding product placement – but we did end up bopping along to Youtuber at JESC last year, and we watched a song that namedropped Pikachu (and funnily enough, Barbie) win Eurovision in May. You’ve got to love “loopholes”.

Anyway, I will admit that Albania is still an underdog in this contest, especially given NF staging that needed serious workshopping. I want less LED screen lyrics (a pet peeve of mine), more enthusiasm from Efi and preferably some backing dancers to liven things up. Unfortunately – whether it’s habit, preference or a lack of pocket money – the Albanian modus operandi so far has been ‘girl alone on stage’ without even a hint of another human being. I’ll actually be surprised if they don’t take that approach, in which case Efi needs to find some extra sparkle and sell Barbie like her doll collection depends on it. I hope she can do it, because there’s a rough (pink) diamond here. 8 points.

 

 

I feel like we should have had a gender reveal party for Ireland, because for the first time in their Junior Eurovision history, it’s a boy! A boy with more luxurious hair than I could ever hope to have, specifically. Rapunzel Taylor is following in the footsteps of Aimee Banks, Zena Donnelly and Muireann McDonnell and will no doubt be hoping to outdo Zena’s 10th place from 2016. With I.O.U up his sleeve (the sleeve of his sweatshirt which, by total coincidence, has ‘I.O.U’ printed on the front) I think that will be a challenge, especially in a field of 20 contestants – many armed with much stronger songs. But there’s something endearing about this track, and about Taylor himself, that makes me want to support Ireland this year.

I.O.U is total ‘JESC early years’, circa 2003-2008 – and that’s actually a redeeming feature in my opinion. I love entries that put the junior into Junior Eurovision, since it doesn’t happen a lot these days. The melody, throwback feel and youthfulness of this take me back to stuff like My Vmeste by Ksenia Sitnik (Belarus’ 2005 winner) and I Mousiki Dinei Ftera by Yiorgos Ioannides (Cyprus’ less-successful song from 2007), plus a bunch of other entries I could mention if I felt like it (and wanted to bore you to death). The chorus is particularly childlike. Overall the song isn’t too young for Taylor though. He sells it well, despite being a less polished (and some would say, manufactured) performer than a lot of the other contestants. I think if this song was in English – even partially, which could have easily been the case – the cheesiness would have been too much to take, but somehow going full Irish saves it from that savoury fate. Apart from being repetitive (which actually helps the catchy chorus get stuck in your brain whether you like it or not) I appreciate this entry for the nostalgia and fluffiness it brings to the table. Sure, the NF performance combined with a song of I.O.U’s style made me feel like I was watching a middle school talent show, but it’s kind of refreshing in that sense. It also boasts the best music video of the 2018 contest, feat. Niamh Kavanagh and Ryan O’Shaughnessy as Taylor’s parents (IDK how they pull it off, but they do).

The problem? While Ireland is giving us something oh-so-junior, they’re also fulfilling a brief from ten or fifteen years ago. JESC has changed and the tone of songs that shoot up the scoreboard has too. Mature, sophisticated ballads sung by female soloists in white dresses are extra likely to succeed, and neither I.O.U nor Taylor fit into that mould (but Kazakhstan, Macedonia and Australia do…just saying). If I’m honest, compared to the lion’s share of Ireland’s 19 rivals this entry comes off as a little amateurish. And I can’t imagine it attracting a sizeable public or jury vote. That puts Ireland in the danger zone as a potential bottom five finisher, but I’d welcome a more positive outcome. I don’t know yet if I have a vote to spare for Taylor in a year of bangers, but I can give him 7 points right now.

 

 

If there’s one word that describes Italy at any Eurovision event, it’s ‘classy’. Even Emma Marrone managed to expose her gold underpants to the world in a classy way in Copenhagen – it’s just in Italian blood. I have to admit though, when I first clapped eyes and ears on Italy’s 2018 Junior Eurovision entry I thought they’d finally gone off the deep end and left all of their class on the diving board behind them. This was mainly because I broke my rule of not watching the JESC music videos when listening to the song for the first time, because at best they’re a distraction and at worst they are abysmal. Melissa and Marco’s falls somewhere in between, under the heading of ‘hilariously WTF’, and I let that cloud my judgment of what is a classy and majestic – if cliché-packed – duet. There is something about the 1980s transitions, awkward dancing and…well, everything else happening onscreen that makes me laugh way too hard at a pair of poor innocent children.

Take those visuals away, however, and you’re left with another solid Italian entry that I think tops Scelgo from last year (but has nothing on the pinnacle of Italian musical majesty that is Tu Il Primo Grande Amore). What Is Love is interesting in that it twists and turns along the way to a satisfyingly predictable conclusion. We get Marco – who I think we can all agree is the star of the duo – opening strongly on his own, before Melissa (SHE’S SO TINY AND CUTE I CAN HARDLY STAND IT) arrives during the first chorus to add another dynamic. The two bounce off each other well vocally, with the back-and-forth song structure giving them both a chance to shine (though as I said, Marco shines brighter and could easily have been a solo act). It’s hard to believe there’s a four-year age gap between them – a gap I found a little uncomfortable until I realised this song isn’t a love duet in the traditional sense.

Another thing I like about it is the ‘moments’ sprinkled throughout that make it memorable. Harmonies, clever language changes, big notes and a key change (oh yes, they went there) combine to create a song that has more light and shade to it than main rival Samen from the Netherlands. Having said that, when it comes to the two boy-girl duets competing in Minsk, I do prefer the Netherlands. But because the dynamic between the boys and girls in question is totally different, I think there’s room for both Max & Anne and Melissa & Marco to do well on the night. I highly doubt either duet will walk away with the trophy, or even a podium placement. Then again, there’s been a surprise song in the top 3 for the last few years, and in 2018 it could be What Is Love. For me personally it’s not a top 3 song, but I have grown fond of it very quickly. I just needed to shut my eyes when I pressed play on that video. 8 points.

 

 

I don’t know what it is with Macedonia, but their last few JESC songs could easily have been sent to the ESC – and in my opinion, they were both better than what was actually sent to the adult contest. Love Will Lead Our Way? Flawless. Dancing Through Life? Flawless with space buns. Now we have Doma, which is very different to those last two entries – a.k.a. it’s a far cry from radio-friendly pop. This is a ballad, and a big Balkan ballad at that. It even has the word ‘molitva’ in the lyrics (as co-written by Elena Risteska) which may or may not be a sign. It too would fit in well at Eurovision, and FOR GOD’S SAKE JAZ STOP RAMBLING AND TELL US WHAT YOU THINK OF IT!!!

Your wish is my command: I LOVE this, and I can safely say that Macedonia has delivered a JESC cracker yet again. From the second Doma starts, elevated instantly by Marija’s beautiful vocals, there’s a magical atmosphere afoot and touches of mysterious ethnicity woven in. I have goosebumps before the first chorus even drops. When it does, things are taken to another level of atmospheric, emotional and ethnic awesomeness (and I’m reminded of EXO’s Mama somehow…compare the choruses and tell me I’m not going crazy). I adore how majestic and statement this song is. If JESC 2018 was a jewelry store, Doma would be an ornate, gem-encrusted necklace rented out exclusively to royalty and Eleni Foureira (our queen). Truth be told, ornate statement pieces don’t win Junior Eurovision, and mature ethno-ballads like this (think Serbia 2015) are usually left behind at the halfway-ish mark of the scoreboard. But hey, that would be progress for poor Macedonia, who’ve been a little robbed for the last few years.

Sadly, I’m expecting Marija to be overshadowed by the likes of Armenia and France – fun, danceable entries that don’t have so much in common with 2017 winner Wings. Not to mention her main rival in Kazakhstan’s Daneliya. Still, if she is as amazing live as she is in studio, and puts on a spellbinding performance (lighting, or lack thereof, is v. important here), anything could happen. I’ll enjoy it, at least. Pre-performance and based on the power of the song alone, I’m going all in and handing Macedonia DOUZE POINTS!

 

 

For a brief but terrible time earlier this year, it looked like Ukraine wouldn’t be joining the JESC 2018 party. That would have left a huge pop-masterpiece-shaped hole in the lineup, so I’m glad they changed their mind (or stopped trolling us, one of the two). I say pop masterpiece because that’s exactly what we would have missed out on had Darina + Say Love not been part of Junior. You can find this song online at http://www.thebomb.com, guys. What a banger! It takes the subject matter of Anna Trincher’s Pochny z Sebe (Ukraine’s less poppy but still pretty decent entry from 2015) – in basic terms, humanity’s need to say yes to love and no to war – and presents it in a slick package that, like France’s entry, sits pretty on the fence between too junior and not junior enough.

There are two main things I love about Say Love (which I just did). Firstly, the fact that the song is super contemporary, but doesn’t sound like anything I’ve heard before. Secondly, how interesting it is – it’s one of those songs that grabs and hangs on to your interest as you wonder where it’s going. The mysterious edge and dynamic structure keep you on your toes, while the repetition of the chorus prevents it from sounding aimless. My absolute favourite part is Darina’s megaphone chant, and if she doesn’t appear on stage this weekend in the exact outfit from the music video, with that megaphone in her hand (looking like the pint-sized yet seriously fierce cheerleading coach of Mylène and Rosanne from JESC 2013) I will be disappointed.

If all goes according to plan, Anastasiya Baginska’s very respectable 7th place from 2017 should be outdone by Darina – but by how many places? I’ve seen Ukraine at the top of a heap of Youtube ranking videos, as I did with Russia last year, but I don’t think Say Love is quite going to get there as a winner. For starters, as we know, any girl who wants to win JESC these days must wear a white dress and perform a ballad. Plus I just don’t have The Feelings about it – that gut instinct that tells you which songs have a real shot at the trophy and which ones don’t. I can’t see the credits rolling over a reprise of this. But if I’m wrong, I won’t be unhappy. It has been a while since Ukraine’s last win, after all. 10 points.

 

 

And just like that/just in time, that’s all 20 Junior Eurovision songs reviewed by yours truly. Before I dramatically reveal my full ranking for the year, let’s take a look at the standings from this round:

  1. Macedonia (12)
  2. Ukraine (10)
  3. Albania (8)
  4. Italy (8)
  5. Ireland (7)

If you know me at all, you won’t be shocked to see the Balkan ballad on top – and I’m hoping to see it somewhere in that neighbourhood of success on Sunday night. Macedonia is closely followed by Ukraine and Albania, with Italy scoring a much lower 8 than Albania if that makes any sense. Ireland takes the wooden spoon today, but with 7 points that’s nothing for Taylor to worry about (because obviously he’s going to see this post, read it and take to heart…that’s not a delusional thought at all, Jaz). 

And now (create your own drumroll, please), I can unveil my complete ranking of all 20 entries, based on my review scores from the last few weeks. All ties have been broken behind the scenes.

  1. Belarus (12)
  2. Macedonia (12)
  3. Armenia (12)
  4. Israel (12)
  5. Kazakhstan (10)
  6. France (10)
  7. Australia (10)
  8. The Netherlands (10)
  9. Ukraine (10)
  10. Russia (10)
  11. Poland (8)
  12. Albania (8)
  13. Georgia (8)
  14. Italy (8)
  15. Ireland (7)
  16. Malta (7)
  17. Wales (6)
  18. Azerbaijan (6)
  19. Serbia (5)
  20. Portugal (4) 

Well, this has taught me that if your lowest score is a 4 and your 18th-favourite song out of 20 still gets 6 points, you must REALLY be enjoying the bunch of entries in question. I don’t think I’ve been this honestly generous with my points in my entire history of reviewing Eurovision-related music. Thank you Minsk!

Now I’ve showed you mine, you’re pretty much obligated to show me yours – so hit up that comments box and tell me a) how you rank the five songs I reviewed for this round, and b) what your full ranking looks like. You’ve got to have something to occupy the time between now and when JESC kicks off, right?

This is all the pre-show coverage you’re going to get from me in 2018 (I had more planned but life got in the way as usual). As I mentioned in the intro, if you want to see what I’m predicting for Sunday’s contest – including winners, losers and every scoreboard place in-between – head over to my Facebook, Twitter or Instagram (all @EurovisionByJaz) and I’ll post them on all three ASAP. Be sure to follow me on Twitter especially if you want to discuss the show during the show. I’m not above making jokes at the expense of children, if that helps – someone needs to toughen them up.

Just kidding. OR AM I?!?!?

 

See you on the other side of JESC 2018, when we have our 16th winner!

 

 

 

THE JESC 2018 REVIEWS | Round 3 (Australia, France, Malta, Poland + Wales)

Wherever you are in the world and whatever time it is there, a) hello and b) thanks for coming back to read more of my Junior Eurovision 2018 reviews!

I’m squeezing them in at this point since the contest is happening this weekend…I know, it’s super shocking that I, Jaz, your hot mess of a Eurovision aficionado, am having issues getting things done on time. But once you’ve recovered from said shock, I’m going to shock you even more by getting straight into today’s round of reviews. Obviously this one includes the songs from Australia, France, Malta, Poland and Wales, so you might want to prepare yourself for all the girl power.

Keep scrollin’ on (Maltese wordplay intended) to see what I think of Jael, Angélina, Ela, Roksana and Manw’s JESC contributions and chances, as they take to the stage for the first time to rehearse. Could I be reviewing a potential winner here? Tell me what you think and how excited you are for Junior Eurovision (on a scale of 1 to almost peeing your pants) in the comments.

 

 

We’re back! It’s attempt no. 4 for us Aussies to win Junior Eurovision, and with our results reading better by the year (8th, 5th and 3rd so far) there’s a lot of pressure on Jael to do just that. Now, you can call me biased if you want – I won’t be able to deny it – but I really think we’re in with a shot this time. If not to go all the way, then to do pretty well for ourselves at the very least.

Champion is right there with Speak Up in terms of greatness (only as a power ballad, it’s got a different energy) and it leaves My Girls, and We Are especially, in its dust. Sounding a lot like Beyoncé’s Halo and featuring an arguably better chorus, it may be derivative for a song that’s advising us all to live like we’re original – but by-the-numbers pop is what Australia has delivered to JESC’s doorstep every time, and it’s continued to work in our favour (adult Eurovision = another story). Anyway, the lyrics are no more generic than the English verses/choruses of most of the other entries…or a lot of the lyrics in general if you Google Translate them. This is a song contest for kids we’re talking about, so uplifting messages about being yourself and shooting for the stars and stuff are always going to outnumber deep and meaningful musical ponderings re: the meaning of life and the inevitable existential crisis that hits you when you turn 13 (or was that just me?).

Besides, the real star attraction of this show is Jael herself – she’s got the vocal power of reigning Junior Champion (HA HA) Polina Bogusevich without the English pronunciation handicap. And this song is perfect for her voice. Those tones plus the majestic melody could equal a spine-tingling three minutes on the Minsk stage, assuming that Jael brings her vocal A-game when it counts and we don’t screw up, undercook or overdo her staging (I say we, but I’m taking zero responsibility if it happens). Australia hasn’t exactly been the best role model for live presentations at Junior, so I’m hoping the delegation has built on last year’s interesting-but-not-OTT production for Isabella. If they have, I don’t see how we couldn’t finish on the upper left side of the scoreboard. But like I said, I’m biased. 10 points.

 

 

Bonjour! Longtime JESC fans will remember that France had a fleeting affair with Eurovision’s younger sibling (which sounds wrong, but you know what I mean). It started in 2004 and ended in…well, 2004, when they sent the Frenchiest Song Ever™ to Lillehammer – Si En Voulait Bien by Thomas Pontier. Beginner’s luck and a generally great entry scored them 6th place, but they dropped out regardless and haven’t graced a JESC with their presence since. Until now, obviously. The question is, has that extended vacation been beneficial or has it put them out of touch with what Junior Eurovision is about these days?

For me, France was worth waiting for. Adorable Angélina and Jamais Sans Toi are EXACTLY what I want from a JESC package. She is so cute (and if her parents are inexplicably looking to put her up for adoption, I’ll take her for sure) with all the charm and confidence a kid needs to handle a big performance like the one she’ll be giving in Minsk. And the song is, like Mary Poppins, practically perfect in every way. It’s catchy, energetic and summery; the mix of languages is seamless; it’s contemporary; and it’s neither too junior nor too adult. Basically, all I can hear is the sound of boxes being ticked. France has done everything right with this whether it was on purpose or not, and I salute them for that. The only thing they could potentially mess up is the staging, and since Thomas’ song didn’t require anything but bare-bones presentation, all we can look to if we want to gauge their skills is adult Eurovision. Jamais Sans Toi is not unlike a kid version of Alma’s Requiem, with a similar energy, vibe and sound…and Alma’s staging was underwhelming. Let’s hope France learnt from it and are throwing some backing dancers Angélina’s way (not literally). At the very least they need to make sure she doesn’t get swallowed up by a big stage and/or dizzying aerial shots of Paris. I will be the prayer emoji in human form until I’ve seen this performance.

For now I’m going to wrap things up with a plot twist: in spite of everything I’ve just said, France isn’t currently right at the top of my JESC 2018 ranking. But that’s just testament to how epic this edition of the contest is. I’ve got Angélina about 7th as of right this second, and I’m still going to give her 10 points.

 

 

With two JESC trophies in their display cabinet and a bunch of other respectable results to their name, Malta shouldn’t be underestimated in this contest. Sure, I personally overestimated them last year, thinking that Dawra Tond was a possible/probable winner (when it eventually finished 9th…oops). But still, this is an island that gives Junior all they’ve got, every year. Ask me if I think they’ve done the same in 2018 and I’ll hesitate for five minutes before saying ‘I thiiiiink so?’.

Marchin’ On actually fits the mould of every Australian JESC entry ever more than it does previous Maltese songs – we Aussies are the lyrical cliché masters after all, and Ela belts out some big ones. ‘As one army we’ll give our all, fearless, not afraid to fall’? ‘Find the light that shines bright deep within’? You’d think countries with English as a main language could be more creative than that. But hey, I’m not here to criticise children (too much). Lyrics like those – and the grammatical disaster that is ‘Whether if you’re big or small’ – aside, there is something appealing about Marchin’ On overall. The melody is nice, the atmosphere is uplifting and the chorus is catchy and memorable. Ela is a great vocalist too, though she’ll be hard pressed to outdo the mind-blowing performances of Gaia Cauchi, Destiny Chukunyere and Christina Magrin in that department (I’m convinced that both Maltese and Georgian kids get deported if they can’t sing). There might be a bit of x-factor missing here, and in what has shaped up to be a super competitive contest, I don’t know if this has the steam to move ahead of six or eight other contenders. Yet I still have a sneaking suspicion Malta will do quite well in Minsk.

Assuming their staging is on point, the only obstacles to success would be a) the big bunch of contender countries I just mentioned, and b) Marchin’ On being kind of unsure of itself. It’s mid-tempo, not really a power ballad but definitely not a piano ballad, and missing a “moment” – Ela’s vocal gymnastics towards the end seem a bit desperate and tacked on just because she can pull them off. Okay, so maybe she won’t do that well – and I’ve talked myself out of a third Maltese win, I think – but there’s a possible spot for her on the lower left side of the scoreboard. Upper right at least. To clarify, my predicted range for Malta at this stage is 8th-13th, and my score for them is 7 points.

 

 

Poland is one country that’s made a cracking comeback to a Eurovision event – kind of like Bulgaria at adult Eurovision, but on a smaller scale (and with a little less success). They dropped out of JESC after two consecutive last places in 2003 and 2004, and didn’t return until 2016. Since then they’ve sent two stunning ballads and two sensational female soloists to the contest, with Alicja Rega achieving their best result ever last year (though I think Mój Dom deserved to be higher than 8th because HOLY KIELBASA, IT’S AMAZING!!!). It’s female soloist no. 3 for Poland in Minsk, but The Voice Kids winner Roksana isn’t packing a big ballad in her suitcase.

Funnily enough, when the song title was revealed I assumed Anyone I Want To Be was definitely going to be a ballad, and a cheesy one at that – but I was wrong. It’s actually hard to categorise this song (at least in one or two words) so I’m going to say it’s ‘contemporary radio-friendly pop with urban and rock influences and a whole lot of attitude’. So much attitude that Roksana’s almost too nice to pull it off, but I think she just manages to get away with it. I’m a big fan of this track in general – it’s catchy, fun and has some edge, making it totally age-appropriate but not unappealing to voters and jurors who are *ahem* a little way away from their childhood/teenage years, like myself. I especially love the pre-chorus and any of the parts that are in Polish. That leads me to my only real issue with AIWTB, which is the pretty messy mix of languages. There’s English and Polish all over the place, and it makes the whole thing feel less than cohesive. I would have preferred the entire song to be in Polish, at least up until the last chorus (a more traditional trend of shoehorning English into LOTE entries). But the song is good enough in every other way for me to ignore the bilingual elephant in the room.

It’s great to see Poland doing something different after the last few ballads they’ve sent, without reverting to dated pop or the lacklustre stuff that saw them finish dead last twice back in the early Junior Eurovision days. I just hope they can stage this in the right way, because it needs something less basic than the ‘stand there and sing in front of a pretty LED background’ formula that worked fine for Nie Zapomnij and Mój Dom. I’m thinking backing dancers, lots of colour and possibly the theft of the Netherlands’ costumes from 2016. It will be interesting to see what is done with this, but I have high hopes. We know Roksana can sing – you don’t win The Voice by wailing like we all did when Finland didn’t qualify to the ESC final last year – and she’s singing a very good song. So, if the performance is in keeping with singer and song quality, there’s no reason why Poland couldn’t potentially equal or better that 8th place from Tbilisi. I do prefer Mój Dom – that’s a douze pointer for me – but AIWTB is worth a round of applause and a top 10 result. 8 points.

 

 

After Kazakhstan, Wales’ RSVP to the JESC 2018 party was the biggest jaw-dropper of the year. There’d been rumours of participation in the past, but it was far from being a done deal that they’d compete in either JESC or the ESC…until now, when anything is possible (and I mean ANYTHING, in a world where Bulgaria can just up and withdraw from Eurovision at the top of their game). So here we are with Berta by Manw, a song that has (thankfully) been revamped and is ready to represent Wales – if not win, or even come close – for the first time.

Now, I’m all about that ‘the more the merrier’ mentality, but I was hoping Wales would make more of a splash with their debut when the day finally came. Now it’s here, I am a little disappointed (particularly when I think about what Kazakhstan is bringing to the table – i.e. a song that could win the entire contest). There’s nothing majorly wrong with Berta. It’s a nice song actually: dreamy and soothing, with a chorus that makes Welsh sound very pretty (because truth be told, it’s not the prettiest language on the planet). And Manw’s voice is perfectly suited to this type of song. But in terms of competition songs that can attract enough attention to rise above the rest, it’s missing something. Drama? A catchier hook? Variety? I’m not sure, but I know it’s not bringing its musical A-game. I can’t imagine Berta outshining the likes of L.E.V.O.N, Your Voice, Ózińe Sen, Samen, Say Love…I could carry on, but that would make Manw feel bad if she miraculously happened to read this.

In all fairness, I have been wrong about this kind of thing before – and there are always songs that do far better in JESC than expected – but I will be in a state of shock for months if Wales makes the top 5, or even the top 10. Either way, they should come back next year and give it another go, because it’s hard to understand exactly what works at Junior Eurovision on the first try. As an Australian, I can admit that we didn’t get it initially, and even now we’re still figuring it out. And Wales has to be commended for putting on a national final in their attempt to figure it out, and ending up with an entry that’s decent if not dangerous. I like Berta and I will listen to it post-show, but I won’t be voting for it. 6 points.

 

  

15 down, 5 to go! With another group of this year’s participating songs critiqued by yours truly, here’s the mini-ranking for this round:

  1. France (10)
  2. Australia (10)
  3. Poland (8)
  4. Malta (7)
  5. Wales (6)

As much as the biased fan inside me wants to put Australia on top, I have to bump Angélina above Jael by a croissant crumb because Jamais Sans Toi is just so infectious, fun and summery (and as we’re heading into summer here in Australia, I guess I’m in a sunny mood). Poland is sitting pretty in the middle with a strong 8 points, followed fairly closely by Malta and Wales. I’ve mentioned again and again how high-quality I think this competition is, and the fact that my least-liked song of the day is one I still enjoy and can give a reasonable score to is proof of that.

How about you? Is this 16th edition of Junior Eurovision floating your boat more buoyantly than ever before, or do you reckon we’ve had better contests in the past? Which of today’s reviewed entries is your personal favourite, and could any of them win the whole thing? Let me know below.

 

NEXT TIME By process of elimination, you’ll know which countries I’m yet to review – and in a few days’ time the wait will be over! Step right up Albania, Ireland, Italy, Macedonia and Ukraine, because I’m shining my spotlight on all of you…and y’all know I believe that honesty is the best policy.

 

See you then!

 

 

 

THE JESC 2018 REVIEWS | Round 2 (Armenia, Georgia, The Netherlands, Portugal + Russia)

Hello again, and thanks for stopping by to check out the next round of my JESC 2018 reviews! I’m not going to keep you in suspense this time (humour me as I pretend that you were in suspense at all) because I want to get straight into the compliments and criticisms. Constructive criticisms, of course…I don’t want to scar these kids for the rest of their lives.

Up for judgment today are Levon, Tamar Edilashvili, Max and Anne, Rita Laranjeira and Anna Filipchuk. Keep reading to find out what I think of their songs and how I think they’ll do when it’s time for those precious points to be handed out.

Don’t forget to leave your personal rankings and opinions in the comments so I can high-five you (in my head) or agree to disagree…

 

 

Never let anyone tell you that Eurovision events aren’t educational! Between JESC (e.g. Serbia teaching us foreign languages in 2006) and ESC (e.g. Norway teaching us how to write a song in 2018), there’s a whole lot of learning going on for fans. Now it’s Armenia’s turn to enlighten us, and in Minsk they’ll be teaching us how to spell the name of their representative Levon…or L.E.V.O.N, in case you still weren’t sure. I’m not a massive supporter of song titles that are solely/include the name of the artist (it’s the musical equivalent of Ivan from JESC 2015 wearing his own face on a t-shirt in the Bulgarian postcard), but this is one of my favorite Junior Eurovision countries we’re talking about here, and there’s not much I won’t overlook when it comes to Armenia in this contest.

L.E.V.O.N is everything we know and I love about Armenian JESC entries, in a slightly weird and very wonderful package. It’s energetic (relentlessly), catchy and memorable – not on the same level (or should I say L.E.V.E.L?) as People of the Sun or Tarber, but a big step up from the majestic but awfully performed Boomerang from last year. The spelling bee chorus is kind of genius, giving those of us who don’t speak or understand Armenian something to sing along to and remember. Levon has loads of personality on stage, which makes up for him not being the best singer on the planet. His NF performance was pretty bare-bones, but I expect Armenia to amp it up for contest purposes and present us with a slick and fun stage show, as they always do.

If that’s the case, can this win JESC 2018? I‘m going to say N.O.P.E, but it could be there or thereabouts. At this point there are a couple of countries I expect to outdo Armenia, with the obnoxious, in-your-face style of this song being a possible handicap when it comes to the jury vote. But even so, I never underestimate Armenia’s ability to succeed on the power of kick-ass staging alone. Complementing an effortlessly awesome track like L.E.V.O.N, great presentation might not score them their second-ever win…but it could see them slip into the top five for the ninth time. It’s definitely in mine – I L.O.V.E it. 12 points.

 

 

When I think of the most successful and impressive Junior Eurovision participants, Georgia is always among them. After all, they’re heading into this year’s contest off the back of a second place in 2017 and a win in 2016 (so if the pattern continues, they’ll be taking home a bronze medal from Minsk). For me – and prepare to be scandalised – Voice of the Heart was better than Mzeo, but they were both magical…which leaves Georgia with a lot to live up to in 2018.

Your Voice (which may or may not be the same as the voice of the heart) is in keeping with the more mature entries they’ve sent recently – i.e. a million miles away from Bzz…, Funky Lemonade and Gabede. Tamar’s song doesn’t put the ‘junior’ into Junior Eurovision to the extent that those did, but it’s still youthful. Is it enjoyable too? I think so. Starting out soft before swiftly building up to a big, banging chorus with a slightly EDM-esque beat – and squeezing in some English lyrics along the way – it’s an interesting and dynamic addition to the Class of ’18. Georgian has never sounded as powerful as it does in that chorus, helped in large part by Tamar’s INCREDIBLE vocals. Seriously, what do Georgians feed their children that makes them such amazing singers? Based on the live vocals provided at JESC in the past, I’m expecting this girl to blow us all away live on stage – and she needs to nail that money note towards the end to not undo any good work she does beforehand. I’m pretty confident she can. You can’t watch this contest for sixteen years without realising that Europe is a hotbed of ridiculously talented child vocalists who can hit notes performers twice their age couldn’t hit with a monster truck.

All in all, this is a super solid effort from Georgia that I really like, if not love on the same scale as I loved Voice of the Heart. I think it’s missing that special something that makes a winner a winner, but a top 10 result is both deserved and likely for Tamar. And as I’ve already implied, I am so excited to see her sing this live. Bring on the 25th! 8 points.

 

 

How do you follow on from the tour de force of Fource? The Netherlands’ answer: don’t even try. It could be argued that Russia, for example, is sending a Wings sequel to JESC 2018 – and they’re not doing themselves any favours given that, like most sequels, it’s not as good (I’ve explained exactly why in the Russia review below). The Netherlands, on the other hand, has kept a safe distance from anything resembling a boy band armed with infectious radio pop…knowing they probably wouldn’t do as well as 4th if they sent something similar so soon. Instead we have Max and Anne, one of two boy-girl duos competing this year, and their sugary-sweet musical friendship bracelet Samen.

Judging by that description you might think I’m not a fan of this song. But don’t worry, I’m not about to start a protest outside AVROTROS demanding they ‘BRING BACK FOURCE!’. Yes, Samen is very sweet, but I mean that in a complimentary way. I actually really, really like it. It’s a nice mix of power ballad, piano pop and anthemic singalong song that practically compels you to turn your phone torch on and wave it above your head in time with the music. The language mix is tastefully done, and Max and Anne are vocally great together – not to mention (though I’m about to) their believability as a couple of kids singing about the strength of their friendship. For all I know they met five minutes before the Dutch final, but they make me believe they’re BFFs and that’s what matters.

There’s not a lot that can be done staging-wise with a song like this, but I don’t think it needs a bunch of bells and whistles. It stands out based on being a down-tempo ballad and the boy/girl dynamic. Having said that, it may be a little too vanilla compared to other songs that are more like ice-cream sundaes with whipped cream, nuts and a cherry on top. Also, a brunette female soloist in a white dress has won JESC the last two years running, and they say things come in threes (so pay attention to the costumes come rehearsal time). But after their big success last year – a public voting win and a solid top five result – I’d like to see the Netherlands do well again. It depends on a lot, from the running order to the live performance, but it’s not impossible. 10 points.

 

 

If you thought San Marino was the country most obsessed with shoehorning social media into Eurovision songs, a) think again and b) stand back, because here comes Portugal! It’s kind of ironic that their two consecutive social network-themed JESC songs have been pretty dated in sound and style. Youtuber and now Gosto De Tudo… both seem to belong in Junior Eurovision contests past – circa 2004-2008. I almost wish we could bring back Portugal’s initial few entries from 2006 and 2007 (which were more mature but still childlike enough) to compete now.

Rita could certainly do with a song more suited to her voice, and to be honest, her age – Mariana Venancio just about pulled off this sort of cutesy throwback pop last year, but as a teenager Rita could do with something more like Dancing Through Life or I Am The One (courtesy of Macedonia and Belarus in 2017). Maybe I’m just too old and cynical to appreciate a song like this nowadays. Then again, I don’t think JESC juries and voters do either based on the lacklustre results of similar songs (I’m thinking of Montenegro 2014 and Macedonia 2015). As a rule, they’re inoffensive (i.e. boring) with a hint of cheese – there’s never many exciting moments, vocal or musical, to get excited about. Gosto De Tudo definitely fits that profile, right down to the cheesy clapping and the fact that not even its performer sounds particularly interested in singing it. Everything about it reminds me (if you don’t mind me comparing this to just one more song) of Andorra’s debut ESC entry Jugarem A Estimar-Nos – and we all know how well that went down in Istanbul.

In a nutshell (in case you hadn’t guessed) I just don’t like this very much. It feels lethargic and under-baked, and there’s no way it can stand up and compete against…well, the majority of its competition, in all honesty. The only saving graces are a touch of catchiness, the Portuguese (one of my favourite musical and spoken languages) and Rita herself, who is very sparkly and charismatic even though I feel like she knows this song doesn’t show off the best of her talents. I don’t think I’ll be listening to it much after the contest. 4 points.

 

 

Russia is a powerhouse country no matter what they’re competing in, apparently (more so if there’s an ice rink or gymnastics equipment involved, but musically too). They are, after all, the current JESC titleholders thanks to Polina Bogusevich and her Wings (one of my 2017 faves and a song I was super happy to see win). It kind of seems like their mentality this year was ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ – meaning Unbreakable is pretty similar to Wings. In fact, Anna’s pre-chorus is almost identical to Polina’s verses. But whatever. I’m a big fan of both.

A cookie-cutter power ballad that also has a lot in common with Australia’s (fingers crossed they’re positioned far apart in the running order), Unbreakable doesn’t try too hard to be anything amazing, but it ticks all the boxes on the checklist of Song Qualities That Jaz Needs In Her Life. The production is as polished as you’d expect from Russia, the verses are strong and the chorus is a statement piece. Once again we have a Russian first half and English second half, but I’d argue that Unbreakable’s English lyrics are less awkward and make more sense than Wings’ English lyrics (I’m still confused by ‘floating angels reaching up the sky’). Where Russia 2017 really overshadows 2018, however, is in the singing department. Anna is adorable, but she just doesn’t pack the vocal punch Polina did, and at the NF there were a bunch of weak moments that the backing vocals couldn’t compensate for. Obviously she’s not competing against Polina (so I should stop comparing them) but she is up against other impressive singers from Australia, Kazakhstan and Malta, etc. Even in studio her vocals aren’t mind-blowing, which could let her down with the juries.

I think it’s safe to say that Russia won’t win two contests on the trot, but I personally do really like this song – and with Russia’s ability to splash cash on staging, I’m looking forward to seeing how they’ve upgraded the presentation for JESC. At this point, I reckon a respectable 6th-9th place is within reach. 10 points.

 

 

That’s today’s five tracks covered. Time flies when you’re being critical of children, in my experience. Here’s my final ranking for this round of reviews:

  1. Armenia (12)
  2. The Netherlands (10)
  3. Russia (10)
  4. Georgia (8)
  5. Portugal (4)

So it’s Levon who spells his way into the top spot, followed closely by Max, Anne and Anna. Apologies to Portugal, but I’m sure someone out there would give you douze points, Rita.

Maybe it’s you? Hit up that comments section with your scores for these JESC songs. I know you want to!

 

NEXT TIME With 10 countries down and 10 to go, it’s crunch time for Australia, France, Malta, Poland and Wales. The girl power is strong, but do the songs follow suit? Don’t miss my next post if you want to know what I think.

 

 

 

THE JESC 2018 REVIEWS | Round 1 (Azerbaijan, Belarus, Israel, Kazakhstan + Serbia)

It’s that time again, you guys! And by ‘that time’, I mean the time when all Junior Eurovision phobics have to go into hibernation for a few weeks while the rest of us talk about it non-stop.

Here’s the lowdown on the upcoming contest: Taking place in Minsk on November 25, it’ll be the biggest JESC ever, with 20 countries competing to succeed Russia as the winner. Among those countries you’ll find Australia (yes, we’re still crashing the party); hosts Belarus (who’ve participated in every single contest); Azerbaijan, France and Israel (competing for the first time since 2013, 2004 and 2016 respectively); and debuts from Kazakhstan and Wales – one of which I’ll be discussing today as I kick off my 2018 song reviews.

Obviously, it’s Kazakhstan (the title of this post was kind of a giveaway), and joining them under my musical microscope will be Azerbaijan, Belarus, Israel and Serbia. So let’s get going and see what Fidan HuseynovaDaniel YastremskiNoam DadonDaneliya Tuleshova and Bojana Radovanović are bringing to the JESC 2018 buffet, feat. loads of Jaz Judgments™ so you know exactly where my loyalties lie.

Spoiler alert: I have more than one set of douze points to give away today, so I must be in a generous mood. Let me know if you are too and what you think about all five of today’s entries in the comments.

 

 

I’m a pretty lazy person by nature, and the reason I’m mentioning that now is because I was too lazy to Google Translate ‘Welcome back, Azerbaijan!’ from English into Azerbaijani. So plain old ‘Welcome back, Azerbaijan!’ it is. The Land of Fire has competed in two previous JESCs to date – debuting in 2012, having another go in 2013 and then giving up after neither Omar & Suada nor Rustam Karimov managed to make waves. Azerbaijan obviously didn’t believe in third time lucky back then, but maybe they do now…and on attempt no. 3, they’re this year’s Disney ballad providers.

That’s kind of appropriate given that all I think of when I see the title I Wanna Be Like You is that orangutan from The Jungle Book. This song is only similar in name though, and Fidan will probably be a much more effective voting magnet than an orangutan. Her song isn’t a divisive one, but it does pull me in two directions as there are things I love about it and things I really dislike. The good news first: overall it’s a good ballad, chilled-out and not too dramatic. Easy listening, basically. The music is well-written, the tempo is nice, and I’m a big fan of the verses. That leads me to the not-so-good news, which mainly revolves around the chorus. Repetition of the title + lots of yeahs and oohs + a child literally saying that their life goal is to be like someone else? All of that equals a half-baked, rather unsatisfying chorus that could be doing a whole lot more to promote self-confidence.

Okay, so I’m trolling a little with the lyrical content nit-picking…but the general fairy floss fluff that is the chorus genuinely bothers me. There’s also a strong whiff of cheesiness about the whole song, something it shares with the Netherlands (theirs is the scent of gouda, of course). But while I think the cheese somehow works in Max and Anne’s favour, I don’t think it does anything for Fidan. Being pretty darn adorable, she can almost pull it off, but my inner Cheese Detector never lets me ignore stuff that’s engineered to make you go ‘Aww!’. Still, she’s on track to deliver Azerbaijan’s best-ever JESC vocal performance, if her live vocals are even a patch on her studio vocals. To score their best-ever result might be a tougher task, even though their stats stand at 11th and 7th. Song-wise and IMO, 2018 is stronger than Arnold Schwarzenegger in the Mr. Olympia days. And I think there are better, more memorable ballads competing, all from equally talented female soloists – Australia, Kazakhstan and Macedonia specifically. A flawless vocal, great staging and a decent position in the running order could change the prediction I’m about to make, but before we know how the contest performance is going to pan out, I’m guessing 8th-13th is in Fidan’s future. That’s nothing to be ashamed of in a contest of 20 (and neither is 20th, kids) but if it’s a win Azerbaijan is after, they’ll be disappointed. For me, I Wanna Be Like You is almost a 7 point song, but just doesn’t get there. So here’s 6 points instead.

 

 

Not-so-secret confession time: Belarus is one of my favourite JESC countries. They may even be my absolute favourite, based on a few questionable contributions from Armenia and Russia and Spain’s refusal to make a comeback (THEY WERE SO DAMN BUENO!). That’s not to say that Belarus has 100% hit and 0% missed over the years, but come on: they’ve participated in every single edition, won twice and given us gems like Tantsuy (2003), Poy so Mnoy (2013), Sokal (2014), Volshebstvo (2015) and I Am The One (2017) along the way. And their staging is consistently slick. What’s not to love? And what doesn’t make you wonder why they kick butt at JESC but struggle at the ESC?

Anyway, I’m getting round to telling you whether or not their 2018 song – a.k.a. the host entry – lives up to the super-high Belarusian standard. Without further ado, I’ll go ahead and say that for me, HECK YES it does. What’s more, Daniel’s Time – a song title Belarus is obviously fond of – is my favourite entry this year. By one of his very 90s floppy hairs, but my favourite nonetheless. I’m not sure how popular of an opinion this is going to be, since the song style isn’t everyone’s shot of vodka (an alcohol analogy when discussing kids’ music? Nice one, Jaz). And I know those folks who followed the Belarusian NF were pretty peeved that Welcome To My Belarus didn’t win, but I think that was a little overrated. This, I love. I can’t even explain why (which isn’t going to help me review it), but I’m obsessed. Maybe it’s the balance it strikes between being youthful enough for Junior, but still mature enough to appeal to me (a 27-year-old) and my R&B sensibilities. Maybe it’s the mid-tempo, chilled-out vibe and contemporary radio sound. Maybe it’s Daniel’s ability to sing and dance without dropping a note or missing a beat. Maybe it’s everything. Like a hole for a Time capsule, I dig it. Also helping that along is the fluidity of the Belarusian-English mixture and Daniel’s flawless, non-distracting pronunciation (he was born and partly-raised in the USA, so I’m assuming his English is good).

Expect him – especially as he is the home boy – to bring it come show time. Belarus should never be discounted from the JESC race because even if you’re not a fan of their songs, they have a way of taking things to the next level on the night. Even I can see that Time isn’t going to score the country their third trophy, but I am hoping for a finish inside the top 10. The extra audience support the host entry gets is always a contest highlight for me – and it doesn’t hurt results-wise based on recent host successes. I’m totally on Team Time. Who’s with me? 12 points.

 

 

If their adult Eurovision win with Toy was Israel’s motivation to make another JESC comeback (they debuted in 2012, dropped out, then returned in 2016 only to give the Tbilisi show a miss) then I’m both very happy and very shocked. Happy because the more the merrier, shocked because Noam’s Children Like These couldn’t be more different to Toy. When you think about it, Toy could easily have been a Junior song, with a few lyrical changes of course. And similarly, Children Like These (a super awkward title that should’ve stayed in Hebrew) would definitely not be refused entry at the ESC for sounding too childlike.

That may be because it’s actually a cover (!!!) of a song from an adult singer, an infuriating fact that I’m choosing to ignore because I love, love, LOVE it. It reminds me of Israel’s 2008 Eurovision entry The Fire In Your Eyes, a song I was obsessed with back then and still love more than some members of my family. Unlike that, Children Like These isn’t looking overly popular with fans, but in every Eurovision event there’s something I fall head-over-heels for that hardly anyone else likes, so I guess this is the JESC 2018 version. Noam has something really special to pack in his suitcase pre-Minsk: a song that’s original, complex, mystical, ethnic, angelic, atmospheric…have I missed any adjectives? Even if you disagree with one or all of those I did use, you can’t deny that this is one of a kind in the line-up of 20. For me it’s far and away Israel’s best JESC entry ever, and that’s coming from someone who liked what they’ve dished up in the past. The delicate verses that are built on instrumentally as the song continues don’t follow a predictable path, but where they lead is worth the wondering and the wait. I’m going to go so far as to say that Children Like These gives me Origo-level feels – basically, goosebumps that sprang up before I even knew what the heck Noam was singing about.

Speaking of which, WHAT A VOICE! It would be criminal for the universe to make his voice break before/during JESC, so if that doesn’t happen and he sounds close to or the same as he does in the studio, we are in for an audio treat. Even so, and in spite of all my gushing, I don’t expect Israel to do much results-wise with this. It’s not straightforward or accessible enough to win over the masses, and the group of viewers it does work its magic on (I’m appointing myself team captain) won’t be big enough to give it a substantial scoreboard boost. But there’s still the potential for Israel to create a moment on the night, and as always there’s a chance I’m wrong about how they’ll do. I actually want to be wrong on this. 12 points.

 

 

I don’t know about you, but the most shocking moment of 2018 for me was when Kazakhstan was announced as a Junior Eurovision debutant. I did NOT see that coming, and it made the other debuts/returns seem pretty boring by comparison (sorry Azerbaijan, France etc). It’s always interesting to see what a brand new country brings to the table and whether or not they “get” JESC on their first try. Kazakhstan has certainly checked a bunch of boxes.

Firstly, they’re sending a stellar vocalist – and Daneliya, as a Voice Kids champion of Ukraine (I must have watched her audition a hundred times, it’s so incredible) has had the required TV time and live audience experience to take on Junior Eurovision with confidence. Someone who can nail every note without a hint of deer-in-the-headlights? That’s what you want. Talking about Ózińe Sen itself…now that’s a bit trickier. It’s not a typical power ballad, based on how Daneliya manipulates the verses with her voice and the unusual song structure. Those two elements combine to make this as exotic as it is epic – it sounds like it belongs on a movie soundtrack. It’s packed with all the dramatic moments one could handle in three minutes, plus a language change that definitely does it favours. All in all, there is something special here, and I do think Kazakhstan is a contender for the win.

I’ll believe that even more if their JESC staging is anything like the NF staging. They have recruited the man responsible for Russia’s ESC 2015 performance to sort it out (thumbs up for that) but he’s also the same guy who thought that Yulia Samoylova’s wheelchair-disguising mountain was a good idea. If Ózińe Sen is presented more like A Million Voices, then we’ll all be able to breathe a sigh of relief. And, the resulting place for Daneliya will be more likely to mirror Polina Gagarina’s than Yulia’s (though you’d have to screw things up in a major way to not even qualify to a final that has no semis). To sum up, Kazakhstan have kicked a big goal; Daneliya is amazing and so is her song; and together they’re possible winners. There are a few songs I prefer to this one, but I can’t ignore its power. 10 points.

 

 

Serbia started their JESC campaign off strong back in 2006 (with the iconic, ridiculously multilingual Učimo Strane Jezike) and followed it up with a few great results – including two best-ever 3rd places achieved in 2007 and 2010. Just lately though, they’ve had some bad luck in the contest, losing their way a bit and not necessarily understanding how modern Junior Eurovision works. I’m not sure that has changed at all with Bojana’s Svet – which might translate to ‘world’, but only has me thinking how in the world I’m going to fill up sufficient paragraph space talking about it.

One comment on the Youtube video for the song caught my eye by using the word ‘relaxing’. Now, relaxing is nice – who wouldn’t want to be lying in a hammock on a South Pacific beach, sipping a pina colada and being fanned with palm leaves? But when ‘relaxing’ is being used to describe a competition song – and I agree that Svet is so chill it’s practically comatose – it can be a negative. Despite being a big ballad performed by a female soloist, this entry has none of the heartwarming sentiment of Piši Mi or the dynamic drama of Lenina Pesma. What it has instead is the plodding gait of an arthritic pony, and a bunch of musical moments that are supposed to be jaw-droppers but come off more like head-scratchers since they’re shoehorned in to the song so randomly. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate this. There are parts of the melody and instrumentation that I enjoy, and Bojana is a quality vocalist. But the lethargy of Svet in general, plus the fact that I have trouble picking out the chorus (and if you’re missing a hook, you won’t catch any fish…or votes, in this case) leaves me feeling sleepy and unsatisfied at the end of the song. Not to mention that Serbia just doesn’t stand up compared to the JESC 2018 countries that have brought out bigger (confetti) guns in the ballad department.

Some of those ballads will rise and others will fall, and I cannot see Svet fighting its way through to emerge on top of the pile. Or anywhere close to the top, for that matter. I’m not going to lay my ‘Who’s going to come last?’ card on the table yet, but for me Serbia is there or thereabouts in the 17th-20th range. And I can’t help giving them my lowest score so far. 5 points.

 

 

Well, I’m sorry to end on a negative note – but that’s the way the cookie (sometimes) crumbles. And this was still a very high-scoring round to get things started. Here’s my first mini-ranking of the JESC 2018 season if you want proof!

  1. Belarus (12)
  2. Israel (12)
  3. Kazakhstan (10)
  4. Azerbaijan (6)
  5. Serbia (5)

I can almost guarantee that nobody else would have the same top two when it comes to these countries, but as a Eurovision fan you have to agree to disagree (or seethe quietly to yourself when you discover that someone who clearly has no taste despises a song you adore). There’s a definite quality gap between Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan IMO, but Azerbaijan – and even Serbia – could grow on me over time (Belarus pun unintended, but WHOOMP there it is). Stay tuned to see me change my mind 700 times before the contest actually happens.

Next time, for Round 2 of my JESC 2018 reviews, I’ll be turning my attention to Armenia, Georgia, the Netherlands, Portugal and Russia – so if you love (or hate) any of their songs, you won’t want to miss that. Subscribe in the sidebar to receive email alerts when I post something new, and/or join me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @EurovisionByJaz to keep yourself in the Paula-and-Ovi-piano-shaped loop. And once you’ve done that, drop by the comments box below and give me your verdict on today’s songs. I’m desperate to know what you think and not ashamed to say it!

Hence why I just did.

Okay, I’m leaving now.

 

 

 

 

SUNDAY SHORTLIST | My top six tracks from Benjamin Ingrosso’s Identification

Have you been trapped in a basement for the past month or so? Maybe you just don’t follow Swedish darling and Eurovision 2018 wonder boy/televote non-magnet Benjamin Ingrosso on social media (the less dramatic option). Either way, you might’ve missed the build up to and eventual release on Friday of Benjamin’s first proper album: a.k.a. Identification.

I, as a tragic Ingrosso fangirl from way back, missed nothing. I’d been clinging on to the pre-release song teasers on Instagram like Salvador Sobral clinging on to the hope that he wouldn’t have to hand the ESC winner trophy to a fast-food-and-fireworks song like Toy (i.e. desperately). I dropped everything to read Scandipop’s comprehensive preview (luckily I wasn’t holding anything fragile, expensive or living at the time), and shook my fist super threateningly at Central European Time for dictating that the album would be released while I was at work. No prizes for guessing what I did the second I got home on Friday…

It’s now been a few days since Identification dropped, and since then I’ve played it more or less nonstop. As a result, I’m beyond ready to review it for anyone who’s interested – but rather than rambling on endlessly about all 12 tracks (which I could, because every single one is DOPE) I’ve decided to pick out my favourite six songs from the album and ramble on about those, and only those.

Behind the naturally cool-as-heck cover art of Identification is Benjamin’s latest single I Wouldn’t Know, Melodifestivalen winner/Eurovision entry/greatest song ever Dance You Off, and ten other slickly-produced pop songs – all co-written by the man himself – ranging from emotional ballads and hazy dream-pop to dancefloor bangers. And here, ladies and gentlemen, is the best of that brilliant bunch according to Jaz. You wouldn’t be here reading this if you didn’t want my opinions, right?

 

In album tracklist order…

 

Behave

It would have been easy to make Dance You Off the Identification opener, but I’m glad Benjamin didn’t – not when this absolute BANGER was waiting in the wings, equipped to get things started in style. Ingrosso’s trademark falsetto leads to a chorus so infectious, you’ll feel like wearing a surgical face mask and bathing in antibacterial sanitiser after hearing it. Subject-wise the song is almost like a Dance You Off prequel, with Benjamin taking us to the club where he’ll eventually dance this girl off the floor because she’s become a bitch (his side of the story) – only on this occasion, they’re meeting for the first time and she’s looking mighty fine…hence why he can’t make his eyes behave. Honestly, he could have based this song’s lyrics on his desire to judo chop Big Bird from Sesame Street and I’d still rate it. As it is, I’m placing a mental bet on Behave being the follow-up single to I Wouldn’t Know.

 

I Wouldn’t Know

Speaking of which, here’s I Wouldn’t Know in all its summer-soaked glory – track no. 2 of the album and one of my highlights without a doubt. If this song seems to sound like LA (which it totally does) that’s Benjamin’s excessive time spent in the city creeping in to his music. It’s a pretty upbeat song considering it’s about someone who’s just not that into him (are all these songs about the same person? If so, she must be seriously high-maintenance). Every time I hear the retro, sun-bleached intro, I feel like I’ve been transported to the land of palm trees and shopping streets where Julia Roberts is not welcome until she’s made the full transition from hooker with a heart of gold to Richard Gere’s sophisticated arm candy (and yes, that is a compliment). Cruisy vibes and overall catchiness make this a perfect addition to any holiday roadtrip playlist. Also, ‘Tell me what it’s like to love someone who gives a damn about you, ‘cause I wouldn’t know’? Sick burn, Benjamin.

 

I’ll Be Fine Somehow

This breakup ballad has none of the danceable qualities of Behave or the ironic happy feels of I Wouldn’t Know, but it’s equally awesome in its own way. It reminds me a little of Benjamin’s first grown-up single Fall In Love, only it’s slower and sounds more like it was influenced by R&B. It tells a typical story that we can all identify with (album title pun not intended, but I’ll roll with it). That includes a little list of the pros and cons of the relationship split in question, summed up in the chorus with this lyric: ‘I miss the way that you feel but I won’t miss the way I felt’. Excuse me while I melt into a puddle of feelings on the floor! My only complaint about this song is that it’s too short. As we Eurovision fans are well aware, three minutes isn’t always sufficient song-wise, and I’ll Be Fine Somehow is over before I’ve had the chance to reflect on all of the horrendous aspects of my love life. I suppose I could just play it ten times in a row…

 

So Good So Fine When You’re Messing With My Mind

This is what happens when you put Benjamin’s late 80s/early 90s influences in a blender with a bunch of top-tier pop songs and a big scoop of protein powder. Oh, and a profanity bleep for every chorus that only draws more attention to the d-word. There’s no kale or chia seeds in there, but that just makes for a more appetising smoothie. If Dance You Off didn’t do anything for you but you’re still hoping for an Ingrosso track that will make you move, this would be my suggestion – the chorus alone is impossible to sit still to. Coming a close second in the ‘Best of SGSFWYMWMM’ stakes is the fact that every part of the song is interesting and has a unique selling point, but all parts compliment each other like it ain’t no thang (or, to use normal person words, effortlessly). Like Behave, this song would make a great follow-up single to I Wouldn’t Know. HINT HINT.

 

Spotlights

You can hear the Los Angeles in this one too. Spotlights is basically Benjamin justifying his place in the music industry – and in the spotlight, obviously – in the face of haters who think he’s only where he is in his career thanks to the Wahlgren-Ingrosso legacy (this is something the Kardashians should consider doing if they can gather enough material). And this justification is boxed up in jazz-pop package that Bruno Mars would be proud of. My highlight within-a-highlight here has to be the second verse, because the rhymes are so, so satisfyingly neat. ‘See I was only fifteen, labels didn’t want me, they saw me on the TV, said I didn’t have a story, so I had to prove it, did it with my music, when I become a star they’re gonna say they always knew it’ = bomb wording if ever I’ve seen it. I don’t mind if Benjy’s career did get a boost from that hyphenated family name, because it eventually led to this song’s existence in my life and presence on all of my summer party soundtracks.

 

Dance You Off

Well, duh! I like to think of Dance You Off as the last official track of Identification, with Happiness being an acoustic tack-on that makes for a nice encore rather than a great grand finale. Fortunately, this song helps Benjamin go out with a bang. You guys know what it sounds like – I don’t need to describe it to you. Will that stop me though? Um, no. The late 80s/early 90s atmosphere is thick, the Michael Jackson influences are clear, and no matter how many times I listen to this track (or watch the mind-blowing performance) I will NEVER understand why the voting Eurovision public responded to it so negatively. It goes without saying that I exclude myself from that narrative, since I voted for Sweden and only Sweden back in May (well, there may have been a few messages sent for Mikolas Josef, but you get my drift). Ultimately it doesn’t really matter. Dance You Off is the gift that keeps on giving, televoting points or *sniff* hardly any televoting points.

 

 

Okay – that’s my top six tracks covered, so I’ll press pause on the ramble. But I do want to say one more thing: if you’re yet to give this album a go, get on it ASAP (wherever you usually listen to music digitally). It’s far from being a collection of Dance You Off clones, so if that wasn’t your cup of cocoa but you are a pop lover, you’re still likely to find something Benjamin Ingrosso-branded to enjoy.

I’m going to cheat and recommend two more tracks in addition to my favourite six: No Sleep (which sounds like it was recorded under water with the supervision of The Weeknd, and the result is glorious) and Good Intentions (another one to make you feel like you’re in sunny LA drinking cocktails at a beach party). But, in case you hadn’t guessed, I love this entire album and wouldn’t tell you to avoid any of it.

 

If you have given Identification a run-through, tell me which tracks floated your boat in the comments. How many stars would you give it? It’s pretty obvious that I’d give it the full five.

Now I’ve got to go play it again, because it’s been several hours and I’m having withdrawals.

 

Until next time (when I’ll write about something in a less sickeningly complimentary way),

 

 

SHOULD’VE KNOWN BETTER: Six 2018 OGAE Second Chance songs that probably should have been ESC entries…

Hey there! Remember me? It’s embarrassing the amount of times I’ve had to reintroduce myself on my own blog due to an accidental vacation, but I’m Jaz – still living, breathing and thinking about Eurovision 24/7 (or 25 hours a day, if Le Freak’s skewed concept of time works better for you). Yet again, “other stuff” has cut short my ESC rambling time lately (so annoying), but I’m back now and ready to try and keep it that way. Did you miss me?

I’m going to assume the answer was HELL YEAH and move on to today’s post. Now, if you’re a Eurofan who has a hard time letting go of songs you wish had won their respective NFs, then the annual OGAE Second Chance Song Contest is for you. I’m definitely the type to fall in love with music from Melodifestivalen, MGP, MESC etc, only to fall to pieces when something else wins. So naturally I jump at the chance to see some of those songs get a second chance at competing in and winning an international contest…even if it’s not quite on the same level as actual Eurovision.

The 2018 OGAE SCC is packed with excellent almosts from the most recent NF season, as well as a few glaring omissions (no Tayanna for Ukraine? Seriously?). If you’re not already familiar with the line-up, check it out here. The winner of this year’s contest – succeeding Sweden who won in 2017 with Mariette’s A Million Years – will be revealed in October. To help pass the time until then, I present to you guys my little list of competing songs that, in hindsight, really shouldn’t need a second chance in the first place. Basically, they should – or at least, could – have made it to Lisbon so they could end up losing to Netta.

Remember, this is a subjective subject. The likelihood of us agreeing on more than one or two songs is lower than Max Jason Mai’s pants by the end of his performance in Baku, but I’m happy to hear your opinions in the comments if you’re nice about mine!

 

 

Who We Are by Rebecca, Norway

Looking Rybak on Melodi Grand Prix 2018 (see what I did there?), it’s obvious that no one could have stopped Eurovision’s most spectacular point-scorer from making his comeback. Rebecca, with this magical power ballad penned by Mørland, came closest – and for all the guilty pleasure I get out of That’s How You Write A Song, I did have my fingers crossed for her at the time. I don’t want to say outright that Norway choosing Rybak over Rebecca was a mistake; after all, he did win his semi final and finish a respectable (for anyone other than a landslide former winner) 15th. But…I can’t help feeling like Who We Are (a song that shared only a title with San Marino’s entry, THANK THE LORDI) could have gone further, at least in the final. In a contest that wasn’t overrun with big belter female ballads, the song’s mix of mournful Scandipop and soaring anthem (with a hint of schlager, a whole bunch of magnetic moments and a kick-ass money note) would have had a parking spot on the scoreboard all of its own, one that meant it wasn’t competing directly with the likes of Fuego or Toy. What I’m saying is that I think Norway could have scored a similar result to 2017 with this one. As it stands, they have a decent shot of winning the OGAE SCC instead, so that’s something.

 

 

Royalty by Feli, Romania

This pick has more to do with Goodbye being the wrong choice than with Royalty being an absolutely amazing song that Romania let go – which is hard for me to say because I am a fan of Goodbye. The thing is, though, it takes an eternity to get going and when it does, it’s not exactly fun – which, in the wake of Yodel It, seemed kind of uncharacteristic for Romania. That ultra slow burn plus a creepy, nonsensical stage show (which I’ve discussed before here) led to Romania losing their 100% qualification record in Portugal. Feli’s Royalty, I’m pretty positive, would not have suffered the same fate. This track is tropical-tinged cocktail of fun from the second it starts, and it doesn’t waste time building up to anything because that’s not what it’s there for. It’s there to create a party atmosphere with a touch of empowerment for all my ladies out there (if we can’t strut out onto the dance floor to this song while kicking all thoughts of our ex-boyfriends to the kerb, then when can we?). Okay, so the staging and costuming would have needed an overhaul to make Feli’s package fit for the ESC, but that’s what the end of March and all of April is for. Vocally it was great, and the potential for greatness in everything else was there too. Missed opportunity alert!

 

 

Out of the Twilight by Sara de Blue, San Marino

Eurovision wouldn’t be the same without the plucky little microstate of San Marino making questionable musical choices every year – but even so, I think most of us wish they’d made the decent choice that was presented to them on a silver platter during 1in360. Dropping in via Austria, Sara de Blue was head and shoulders above all of her competition, even if it was mainly in terms of her FLAWLESS vocals that turned average ballad Out of the Twilight into an above average combo of all things hauntingly beautiful and powerful. It might have sounded a little passé on the Eurovision stage next to stuff like Lie To Me and Dance You Off – but presented in the right way, as an old-school lady ballad performed to perfection, there’s no way it wouldn’t have improved on the result achieved by the infinitely more dated (read: stale as a month-old loaf of sourdough) Who We Are. This is one of those NF winner VS runner-up situations that makes you wonder how on earth the final decision was made, and how sane the people were who made it. But don’t get me started on how the winner was decided at 1in360 (we’d be here all damn day). This isn’t the case with every song on this list, but for Sara’s sake I have to say that Out of the Twilight should have been sent to Lisbon, no question.

 

 

Lo Malo by Aitana & Ana Guerra, Spain

Speaking of countries that make dodgy decisions time and time again…I can think of at least three recent occasions when Spain has had us all shaking out heads in disbelief at what they opted to send to Eurovision – despite a pre-packaged success story being ready and waiting in their NF (which always ends up 2nd or 3rd). 2018 was no exception, with Spaniards so caught up in Amaia and Alfred’s amor that they overlooked an absolute banger Eurovision would have welcomed with open arms. Lo Malo could have been the latest Camila Cabello smash hit, but instead it was sitting pretty at the Operacion Triunfo gala and begging in Spanish to be crowned The One for Portugal. I guess it didn’t beg loud enough to drag attention away from the lovebirds making puppy dog eyes at each other. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-romance (in fact, I read it almost exclusively). But when an ESC NF presents you with a) a sappy ballad and b) a modern pop masterpiece, and asks you to choose one, YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO GO FOR THE SECOND OPTION. Aitana and Ana were the duo we all deserved from Spain this year, and the pair who could have propelled the country out of the bottom five in the final. If there’s ever a time for the EBU to bend the September 1st rule, it’s when the upcoming ESC season arrives so we can have Lo Malo in Israel.

 

 

Compass by Alejandro Reyes, Switzerland

If you guys saw my list of NF favourites from the 2018 season, you’ll already know that I love this track, and in spite of being a Zibbz supporter I was hoping for the adorable Alejandro to represent Switzerland. In hindsight especially, this may not have been a bad idea. I’m still reeling from Stones’ failure to qualify, and when it comes to considering whether or not Compass could have done things differently…well, maybe, maybe not. In terms of the type of song I personally would kill to see Switzerland send to the ESC though (not literally, but give it a few years and I just might) this song is peak YASSS. Fresh, catchy, lyrically as unique as what JOWST comes out with and well performed, Compass might have lacked the attitude of the actual winner, but it made up for that with slick production – and a sense of being, to quote Mugatu from Zoolander (which I can’t say I’ve done on EBJ before) ‘so hot right now’. What I mean by that is, Shawn Mendes could have recorded it and teenage girls worldwide would have lapped that shiz up. Not everything at Eurovision needs to have Spotify streaming potential, but my ears prick up when something does…even if it doesn’t make it all the way to the big show.

 

 

Legends by Asanda, United Kingdom  

I know, I know…Asanda needed to up her cardio fitness like crazy before trying to sing and dance her way through Legends live (a problem not shared by SuRie). Had she gone to Eurovision, she also would have been in direct competition with Eleni Foureira and probably lost (another problem not shared by SuRie). Still, if we’re talking about a song that would have made more of a statement in Lisbon than Storm did – stage crasher aside – hers was the one to opt for out of the You Decide line-up. Sky-high on energy, dynamic and radio-friendly, it was pretty much in the middle of the Venn diagram between what the UK should send to Eurovision and what they actually do. I totally understand how SuRie (bless her and her awesome personality + social media game) won through instead, and I’m not saying she didn’t deserve to get the golden ticket. But in a parallel universe, Asanda nailed her vocals at the NF and headed off to join her fellow fierce, dancefloor-owning females in Portugal. Just think – if her stage show had been crashed, her version of ‘the show must go on’ might have involved punching the offending individual in the face, and that would have made great TV.

 

So, do we agree on anything? Which OGAE Second Chance songs for 2018 do YOU think should have made it to Eurovision back in May? Don’t leave me hanging!

 

 

 

 

THE 2018 EBJ EUROVISION EXCELLENCE AWARDS | The Show + The Results

First things first: I know Eurovision ended (what feels like) months ago, and that “awards ceremonies” like this should have too. But if you’re a regular EBJ reader (WHAT A LEGEND) then you’ll be familiar with my lack of multitasking skills, and therefore my inability to blog when other aspects of life get busy.

But my motto is ‘better late than never’, and I do like to (eventually) finish what I start. So at last, here’s the third and final episode of the 2018 EBJEEs – brought to you before I get stuck into some serious off-season filler material. Today’s show is all about…well, Lisbon’s ESC show, as well as the results revealed at the end of it. If you missed me handing out trophies for The Artists + Songs and The Performances, update yourself and then come back to see what I (and you – there’s still a few People’s Choice Awards to go) thought was worthy of an accolade when it comes to the hosts, qualifiers, non-qualifiers, final scoreboard positions and more.

And, if you agree or disagree with literally anything, tell me in the comments!

 

  

 

Winner Filomena Cautela

The reason I decided this award should continue to be People’s Choice in 2018 was not because I wanted to see who’d win it based on public opinion – it’s because I wanted to see how much of an Alexander-Rybak-in-Moscow-style win it would give to Filomena. Providing some comic relief from the cringe that was the hosts’ script, she may not have been up there with the Anke Engelkes and Petra Medes of the contest MC world…but Filomena was definitely the star attraction of the Real Housewives of Lisbon.

Even Elina knew the best host answer was a no-brainer.

 

 

Winner SuRie’s stage invasion Honourable Mention/s Australia loses the televote, Sweden finishes 2nd with the juries…then 23rd with the public

You guys chose SuRie’s performance – well, the part of it that was way more memorable than intended, anyway – as the jaw-dropper of jaw-droppers for 2018, and I’m not about to argue. For the second year running at the ESC, an absolute queen was interrupted while doing her thing. Fortunately (like Jamala), SuRie carried on afterwards like nothing had happened. The stage invasion actually seemed to put more energy and fight into her than she’d had during her uneventful initial few minutes.

 

 

Winner Czech Republic Honourable Mention/s Iceland, Ukraine

Confession: At this point, I can barely remember any of the postcards. It has been a while since I’ve seen them, but at the end of the day I just don’t think they were very memorable. I do remember, however, Mikolas Josef jumping around looking like a living, breathing Mardi Gras float (and/or a piñata) – and to be honest, totally pulling it off. That in itself deserves an award.

 

 

Winner Switzerland Honourable Mention/s Armenia, Latvia

Armenia’s DNQ might have hurt me more, but in the wake of the semi final performances I was definitely more surprised that Switzerland didn’t squeeze through. Zibbz nailed Stones on the night, and I think they knew it – so much so that Corinne’s reaction to their non-qualification was apparently as iconic as Moran Mazor’s in 2013 (only with fewer tears and more rage).

 

 

Winner Ireland Honourable Mention/s Serbia

After four years of being stuck in the semis, I did not think the luck of the Irish would get the Emerald Isle to the final this time around either. In fact, right up until I saw Ryan perform Together live – and heard the crowd reaction to his dancers – I was convinced Ireland wasn’t going anywhere. What can I say? Sometimes you’re more than happy to stand corrected.

 

 

Winner Sweden Honourable Mention/s Cyprus, Czech Republic

Forget the lack of televoting love for the Swedes this year – regardless of that, they remain one of the most successful Eurovision countries of the 2010s, and if you thought there was any chance Benjamin Ingrosso wouldn’t qualify this year for Sweden, you must have been off your fika. I can’t see another 2010 disgrace being allowed while Christer Björkman is in command.

 

 

Winner Iceland Honourable Mention/s Macedonia, San Marino

Poor Iceland didn’t have a chance this year, and we all knew it (I don’t know if Ari knew it and decided to make the most of the experience despite that or not). A song like Our Choice would have struggled in 1995, so it was beyond stale in 2018 – a problem not shared by Paper last year, and that didn’t make it through either. Here’s hoping Iceland can break their DNQ streak in Israel.

 

 

Winner Czech Republic’s 6th place Honourable Mention/s Cyprus’ 2nd place

I may have gushed over the Czech 2017-2018 glow-up on multiple occasions, but can it ever be discussed enough? When you come out of nowhere with such an iconic, contemporary hit-potential BANGER, you deserve to hit the heights of the top 10 for sure. A spot in the top 5 would have been preferable for Lie To Me, but for a country with a previous PB of dead last in the final, 6th on the Saturday night is an amazing outcome.

 

 

Winner Australia’s 20th place Honourable Mention/s Portugal’s 26th place

I’ve admitted before that Jess Mauboy’s semi performance was far stronger than the final version (DAMMIT) but I will never understand how we lost the televote, which led to that unfortunate, could-be-worse-but-still-ain’t-good 20th. If Isaiah managed to make the top 10, Jess should have at least been on the left-hand side of the scoreboard! The fact that she wasn’t even close is a tragedy Shakespeare could have penned a play about.

 

 

Winner Spain’s 23rd place Honourable Mention/s Israel’s 1st place

The problem with Spain using Operación Triunfo to select their Eurovision entry this year was that everyone was too busy shipping Alfred and Amaia to think about choosing a song that would thrive in an international song contest. The pair didn’t have months to win over Europe with their love story – they only had three minutes, and it was never going to be enough.

 

 

Winner Italy’s 5th place Honourable Mention/s Australia’s 20th place

I’m glad to find out that I’m not alone in my still-lingering shock over Italy’s placing. It’s not that I think it was undeserved – if you read my 2018 reviews, you’ll remember that I grew to love Non Mi Avete Fatto Niente (around about the same time I learnt how to spell it properly). I just thought Italy was no more or no less impressive than France live on stage at the final, and I expected both to finish in that 10th-15th range. But Eurovision curveballs are a big thing these days, so maybe it was so unlikely I should have seen it coming.

Was Ermal pleasantly surprised or putting his gracious loser face into practice? We’ll never know.

 

 

That’s it – the 2018 EBJEEs are finally done and dusted! Did your favourites take home the People’s Choice Awards? Which parts of Lisbon’s show and results would score these trophies if you were in charge?