Hello again, for approximately the 407th time. When I put it that way, it’s no wonder I struggle to think of an original greeting every time I write one of my infamous rambling intros.
This intro is not going to be one of the rambling variety *insert worldwide cheers here* as all I really need to say is welcome to Vol. II of the Viennese Verdicts!
In this episode, the EBJ Jury is getting up, close and personal with another five Eurovision 2015 entries – namely, the Netherlands, Norway, Slovenia, Iceland and Switzerland. I have two brand new jurors by my side (figuratively speaking) and they’re ready to wax lyrical and not-so-lyrical about this bunch of songs – i.e. praise the pants off them, and trash them like there’s no tomorrow. Without further ado, I’d like to introduce you to today’s partners in crime.
TODAY’S EBJ JURY
Mrs. Jaz: That’s the code name I’m giving my mum for the purposes of these reviews. Yes, the woman who (accidentally) raised this Eurovision obsessive agreed to be on the inaugural EBJ Jury, which had nothing to do with me threatening her with the ten-hour YouTube loop of Epic Sax Guy thrusting away. Mrs. Jaz isn’t averse to the ESC – she’s put up with years of me forcing her to listen to the official albums and bringing the subject up at every opportunity. Plus, she sat and watched Junior Eurovision with me last year (I’m assuming there was nothing more to her liking on TV at the time) and watched me burst into hysterical tears of happiness when Italy won it. Still, she’s not exactly a fan. She’s familiar with the winners and entries that were in the charts when she was growing up in the UK, but she has no idea what a Melodifestivalen is and doesn’t understand why I voluntarily wake up at 3am to watch it. I played Mrs. Jaz her assigned entries and had her review them before I told her which countries they were from, what the songs were called and who was performing them – i.e. it was a totally blind process. So, you can be sure her reviews haven’t been influenced by a bias for lustworthy, leather-clad Swedish men or anything (unlike mine). If you think our way with words is somewhat similar, that’s because I was responsible for padding her review notes out into paragraphs. But all opinions, observations and witty/bitchy remarks are her own!
PS – I guess I should explain the above bio photo of France’s 2003 entrant, the lovely Louisa. Mrs. Jaz wasn’t 100% comfortable with having her face plastered on the internet (I assume because she knows how attractive the rest of the EBJ Jury is and feels inadequate as a result). So I’ve used the closest ESC-related doppelganger I could think of to compensate. Imagine Louisa wearing specs and you’ll be just about there.
Nick Provenghi: “Congratulations, I have arrived! My name is Nick and, contrary to what my intro suggests, I am not Icelandic, but am rather coming to you from the rather unremarkable American Southwest. Five years ago, an accidental click on Lena’s video for Satellite gave me a new life-wrecking life-changing addiction. In the past five years, my favorites have ranged from sweet Dutch guitar pop in 2012 to arena-filling rock from Finland in 2014 – but my favorite entry ever would have to be Hungary’s Kedvesem from 2013.”
Jasmin Bear: “Yep, it’s me again! I gave you a regular ol’ bio last time, but I don’t want to repeat that now since I’ll be on my own jury for every installment of the Viennese Verdicts. Instead, allow me to provide you with a “fascinating” ESC factoid about me. The first Eurovision Song Contest I ever laid eyes on was the Athens 2006 show, and I’m pretty sure that was by accident when I was just a naïve fourteen-year-old flicking through the TV channels, hoping to see a bunch of Finnish monsters winning a pan-continental song contest. I really got lucky that night, didn’t I? My point is, once you’ve seen Lordi, you can’t stop yourself from investigating further. My interest was well and truly piqued by those rubber-clad rockers, and by the time I’d watched JESC 2006 and ESC 2007 in Helsinki, I was officially obsessed. The 2007 show will always have a special place in my Eurovision-logo heart as the first contest I experienced as a fan. Not to mention the fact that Finland put on an epic show, and that hosts Jaana and Mikko were perfection personified. I’m still waiting for them to call me up and beg me to hang out with them. It’s been eight years, but I haven’t lost (all) faith.”
Now the formalities are out of the way, read on to find out what the three of us think of the offerings from Trijntje, Mørland & Debrah, Maraaya, Maria and Mélanie. Spoiler alert: reactions are mixed!
Walk Along by Trijntje Oosterhuis
Mrs. Jaz: Well, isn’t this catchy! I found myself tapping my feet to the beat and singing along to those why-ay-ay-ays almost instantly. I think this would make an excellent karaoke track. I like Trijntje’s voice and the country vibe of the song. It is a bit repetitive though, and I find myself wondering ‘why-ay-ay-ay’ the Netherlands didn’t make better use of the time they had. More verse content might have helped, because that chorus comes around very quickly and could very easily start to grate. 6 points.
Nick: In my strange little head, I like to imagine the origin story of this year’s Dutch entry playing out like an episode of the Real Eurovision Singers of Amsterdam, with Anouk teaming up with her friend Trijntje to get back at the former’s archival, Ilse de Lange, for upstaging her. Unlike the strategy she used for her 9th place finish in Malmö, though, Anouk went down the pop route and got a little caught up in the pursuit of a crown, because she forgot the soul to the song. Walk Along is a nice little number delivered well by Trijntje, but it’s sadly devoid of any of the charm that Anouk and Ilse both channeled to get to the (near) top. 6 points.
Jaz: The Netherlands have had an extremely successful past few years at Eurovision, kick-started by Anouk’s qualification in 2013 (their first since 2004) and eventual top 10 result (their first since 1999). The woman in black returns this year as songwriter and producer for Trijntje’s Walk Along, which is surprisingly upbeat considering its creator (sorry/not sorry, but I always found Birds to be a depressing life-drainer). It is peppy and it is catchy (that ‘why-ay-ay-ay?’ is a hook and a half) for sure…but boy, is it repetitive! You’ve barely heard the first chorus and started to wonder what else the song will offer, when another chorus and another set of why-ay-ay-ays comes along (or should I say ‘walks along’?). I really enjoy listening to this entry, but it’s very obvious that it doesn’t take advantage of the 180 seconds it has to play with, unlike many of the songs it’s competing against. Those hearing it for the first time during semi final one will latch on to that hook quite easily, and if they like what they’re hearing as much as I do, the repetitiveness won’t stop them from voting for Trijntje. Still, I’m on the fence with regards to a third Dutch qualification on the trot. 7 points.
EBJ Jury Score: 6.33
A Monster Like Me by Mørland & Debrah Scarlett
Mrs. Jaz: Wow…what did this guy do in his early youth, exactly? Jeez! Apart from being slightly concerned about that (though as he’s singing live at Eurovision and not via satellite from a prison cell, that concern might be unnecessary) I really liked this, if that’s the right way to respond to such a dark song. The criminal and his lady friend (Norway’s Bonnie and Clyde, I presume) sound lovely together, and their song has more substance and more of a story than the Dutch song. I appreciate the fact that it’s lyrically interesting and musically in-depth – it’s not fluff. 8 points.
Nick: For the second year in a row, I just can’t “get” the Norwegian entry. But at least this year, I can pinpoint what’s bugging me, and it’s the lyrics, for the most part. That opening line is just awful: ‘I did something terrible in my early youth.’ No, Mørland, you did something terrible in the early part of this song, because I burst out laughing when I heard that for the first time. The rest of the song doesn’t get much better, and as a result, it wastes the perfectly nice music and singers. 5 points.
Jaz: When a mere snippet of a song gives me moist eyes and goosebumps, I know I’ve stumbled upon something special. That’s what my favourite ESC entry of all time, Lane Moje, does to me on a regular basis. As you may have guessed, A Monster Like Me has done the same ever since Mørland, Debrah and I became acquainted, back when the MGP teasers were released. Their song had ‘NORWEGIAN WINNER!’ written all over it, and sure enough, it’s heading to Vienna with my full support. For me, the song combines the best aspects of the classic Eurovision duet – an intriguing dynamic, voices that harmonise, and a moment that basically screams ‘INSERT PYRO HERE’ – with lyrical and emotional content that is a world away from the artificial cheese of such duets as In A Moment Like This. I don’t know exactly what Mørland did that made him such a monster either, but I do know that he and his flame-haired compatriot are an act I will be supporting wholeheartedly come May (whilst shedding a tear or two, most likely). A tip or two for the MGP-to-ESC transition, though: polish those vocals and rethink Debrah’s bizarre face-bun hairdo (the retro-glam look from the music video wouldn’t go astray for the Eurovision performance, actually). Even if those tips aren’t taken on board (though why wouldn’t they be?) I give Norway DOUZE POINTS!
EBJ Jury Score: 8.33
Here For You by Maraaya
Mrs. Jaz: This is a good one. I could imagine it being played on the radio right now. It’s very instant, not overly repetitive and generally quite memorable. Her voice is unusual in a great way, which adds more of an X-factor to the package. Once again, I was tapping my fingers and feet as I was listening to it. All of the above makes me think Slovenia could have Eurovision success with this. 8 points.
Nick: Say ‘Slovenia’, and images of a flute-playing Morticia Addams and ill-advised wedding dresses might come to mind. Thankfully, neither of those things are anywhere close to this year’s Slovene entry. Devilishly modern and sleek, Here For You is the perfect marriage of dance and violin, brought on by a (hopefully) perfect marriage between singer Marjetka and composer Raay. The composition is totally invigorating and gets under your skin with ease. And unlike other songs with catchy music, the lyrics can comfortably support the tunes here, as they’re crisp and charming. 10 points.
Jaz: Just because a song was the best of a bad bunch (more on Switzerland later!) doesn’t mean that song is mediocre. Case in point, Slovenia ’15. Even with serial ex-Yugo backup vocalist (and occasional lead artist) Martina Majerle in the mix, EMA was a final of less-than-impressive standards this year. Here For You stood out like a diamond-encrusted mullet dress on a rack of black, un-ironed business slacks. It may not be at the very top of my rankings, but it’s higher than I’ve had a Slovenian entry in years. It’s catchy and trendy, with that violin riff serving as the palate-cleansing sorbet between the slightly repetitive courses of the chorus. It’s the kind of song I’d play to a member of the anti-ESC brigade, just to see the look on their face afterwards when I casually mentioned that it’s representing Slovenia in the contest this year. It’s also the kind of song that I actually have to be listening to in order to remember just how much I like it, which shouldn’t harm Slovenia’s chances of achieving their best result for a long time – that’s what the recap is for. 8 points.
EBJ Jury Score: 8.67
Unbroken by Maria Olafs
Mrs. Jaz: Like Slovenia’s song, Iceland’s is catchy, instant and contemporary, though this one’s a bit more commercial-sounding. There’s another lovely female voice on record here, singing nice, inspirational lyrics. I’m a words person where music is concerned, and I did really like the latter. My only big complaint would be the abruptness of the ending – it’s very sudden. And I was a little bit disappointed when the song was over! 7 points.
Nick: In a return to form from 2012, Iceland gave us the best national final of the year in Söngvakeppnin, but selected its most underwhelming winner in recent memory. María Ólafs stepped out onstage looking like Emmelie de Forest’s understudy, with an even more ridiculous song than Only Teardrops. Remarkably, the team made a song that consists entirely of chorus, and it gets old incredibly fast. María’s tendency to go shrill doesn’t help matters here, and the entire package is the worst Icelandic entry I can remember (my memory doesn’t go back far, so take that with a grain of salt). 3 points.
Jaz: I’m going to attempt to push aside the fact that I desperately wish I was reviewing SUNDAY’s Fjaðrir right now, and instead review Unbroken as if it’s the only Icelandic song I’ve heard this NF season. Of course, there’s still the matter of the superior Icelandic version of this song, but…again, that’s irrelevant, because it’s the English version that’s going to Vienna. Maria’s ballad was one of the Söngvakeppnin candidates that drew me in from the start, being as melodically instant as it is. One of its biggest positives is that it’s not one bit depressing; rather, it injects a sense of hope and joy and all things uplifting into a field heavy with ballads that ARE depressing. The English lyrics are a little cliché and emphasise how repetitive the song is, but the situation could have been a lot worse (I don’t want to name any names, but…oh, what the hell. SERBIA!). I can’t help but love this – those happy vibes and the way it builds wins me over every time. Maria is adorable (I know she’s 21, but since she looks 12 I figure I can use that adjective) and I think her voice is, if not totally on point, perfectly ready to belt out Unbroken on the ESC stage. My only real criticism here would be the Emmelie de Forest costume she’s likely to adopt for May. That would bring back unfortunate memories for me. DON’T DO IT, MARIA!!! 10 points.
EBJ Jury Score: 6.67
Time To Shine by Mélanie René
Mrs. Jaz: I may have been disappointed when the Icelandic song ended, but when Switzerland’s did I was glad, to be honest. It’s not dreadful, but all in all it’s pretty flat. It seems to want to be dramatic, like it’s aiming for an explosive moment, but it never even gets close. There’s merit in the music, but the lyrics are quite weak – cheesy and cliché. That doesn’t do it for me, I’m afraid. 4 points.
Nick: Ah, Switzerland. Home of the EBU, chocolate, and a terrible NF format. And this year, only the chocolate hasn’t disappointed me yet. Mélanie won the already weak national final with this dirge of a ballad. The big problem is that it’s so uncommitted to any of the ideas it plays with. If it wants to be an empowering, coming-of-age song, it shouldn’t have a dated 70s guitar solo two minutes in. There’s just nothing that this entry gets right, and the delegation will probably be making an early trans-Alpine return across the border from Vienna. 2 points.
Jaz: Like Slovenia, Switzerland didn’t set the most appetising banquet of songs on their table this year. Unlike Slovenia, this is the case pretty much every year in Switzerland, Still, they have to be given credit for always choosing as wisely as possible, as they have done with Mélanie and Time To Shine. I dislike the title of this song due to its cheesy connotations, but the fact that the song is zero percent LLB (lame lady ballad, for those unfamiliar with this EBJ-copyrighted acronym) and one-hundred percent…actually, what IS it? It’s not a traditional ballad, or an R & B track, though there are tinges of that present. My best description would be down-tempo inspo-pop that tries and fails to be an arena anthem. Nonetheless, there’s something about this that attracts me. I find myself singing along to the chorus automatically, and I like the construction of the song as a whole. Mélanie’s voice also works for me. Apart from the title, the cliché lyrics of the chorus and the oh-so-2000s prom dress she wore at the national final, I’m digging her entry. Donate the dress to your local charity shop, Mel, and I might just consider sending a vote or two your way. 8 points.
EBJ Jury Score: 4.67
Well, I guess that answers the famous question posed by Shakespeare: ‘To be divisive or not to be divisive, when it doth cometh to Eurovision entries?’. Some of this year’s songs are dividing opinion like never before (except for all of the other times that happened before) and I would like to take this opportunity to inform both Nick and my mother that I won’t be speaking to either of them again for quite a while due to their comments on Norway and Switzerland respectively.
JUST KIDDING! Here’s the ranking of today’s Viennese Verdicts.
- Slovenia (8.67)
- Norway (8.33)
- Iceland (6.67)
- The Netherlands (6.33)
- Switzerland (4.67)
The EBJ Jury’s Top 40 will be revealed in due course, but if you recall the results of the previous reviews, you’ll be aware that we now have a new leader in Slovenia. Sorry, Ireland! Will they remain on top or will one of next week’s countries steal the #1 spot? Up next are Cyprus, Poland, Italy, Montenegro and Armenia, with Australian and German representation on the judging panel. You’d be crazy not to come back and see what goes down!