Welcome to yet another installment of the Viennese Verdicts! I know, I know, I posted the last one, like, two seconds ago…two very long seconds that almost lasted for three days ago. But, you see, I’ve arrived at the point where I simply must cram things in if I want to take care of all necessary business by Eurovision time. Which I really do. So, with that in mind, let’s get cracking.
On the menu today we have a delicious (or not, depending on one’s tastes) selection of musical dishes, courtesy of Cyprus, Poland, Italy, Montenegro and Armenia. Meet the trio sampling these pan-European dishes:
TODAY’S EBJ JURY
Kohan Ikin: Kohan is from Perth, Australia. He started watching Eurovision in 2003 to see famous Russian faux-lesbian pop duo tATu, and got hooked after seeing Alf Poier’s folk/metal act performed by cardboard animals. Kohan has since been to Eurovision three times, and engineered Perth’s first Eurovision nightclub event (together with Perth-via-Denmark fan Kate Hansen). Clearly that Alf Poier incident did something to his brain. You can stalk Kohan online here and here.
Wolfgang Schmidt: “My name is Wolfgang – in full, Wolfgang Michael Schmidt. But nice people and/or good friends call me ‘Wolf’ or ‘Mikey’. I am from a small town near Essen in the mid-west of Germany, not far from the Eurovision host city of 2011, Düsseldorf. I have been a Eurovision addict ever since I can think! The first contest I remember was ESC 1974, which one of the greatest bands on Earth, ABBA, won. From then on, I watched the show every year, missing it only in 1996 as it was not broadcast in Germany (due to the fact that we did not qualify to participate). In 1998 I attended Eurovision live for the first time to support the German delegation in Birmingham. That was the most amazing experience I ever had with the Eurovision! All in all, I have attended the contest four times, in Birmingham in 1998, Copenhagen in 2001, Düsseldorf in 2011 and Malmö in 2013. My all-time favorite Eurovision songs are Lane Moje by Željko Joksimović, Stronger Every Minute by Lisa Andreas, and The One That I Love by Chiara, which would all have gotten the full douze points from me. Eurovision is a ‘come together’ of different cultures, styles of music and kinds of people who all love to share the moments of great music, awesome stage performances and ridiculous dressing (well, sometimes!). And it is THE biggest party in Europe to celebrate with people coming from around forty different countries. That makes it so special to me once a year!”
Jasmin Bear: “Let’s continue the series of ‘Eurovision-Related Facts About Jaz You May Or May Not Want To Have Forced Down Your Throat’ with a list of the countries I’d like to win Eurovision 2015…based on where I’d most like to visit. Numero uno? Heja Sverige! My obsession with all things Swedish spawned from my addiction to the ESC and, consequently, Melodifestivalen. As a lover of the language, the food, the music, the movies, the architecture, the landscapes AND the flat-pack furniture of Sweden – and as someone still waiting to make their first Eurovision attendance happen – Mr. Zelmerlöw taking the top prize in Vienna would equate to me crossing two things off my bucket list at once. In terms of the other countries I’d be hysterically happy to visit in 2016 should they take out the 60th comp, no matter how unlikely that might be…I’d say the UK, Switzerland, Belgium or Iceland. But, if one of my top three songs should win (besides Sweden, as I’ve parroted on about that country enough already) I will be satisfied to jet off to Italy or Norway next year!”
Without further ado (or perhaps I should say ‘adio’, since Montenegro features in this round of reviews) I present our thoughts on what John/Giannis, Monika, Il Volo, Knez and Genealogy are serving up in Vienna. FYI, some of these songs have left a bad taste in our collective mouths…
One Thing I Should Have Done by John Karayiannis
Kohan: Ugh! This really annoys me. I’m sure John is a nice guy, but…wait, when does that sentence ever end well? His voice is great, and the guitar reminds me of More Than Words by Extreme (not a bad thing). But that puts all the focus on the lyrics, and they’re creepy. Whiney post-breakup introspection: ‘I’m cold, I’m staring at the wall, it’s raining, sad colours’. Then there’s the passive-aggressive streak that he ‘always did everything for you’, so clearly the breakup isn’t his fault. Oh, and the One Thing He Should Have Done is he ‘should have been there’ even more?! Am I the only one getting stalker vibes here? And what was that ‘hour of need’? These lyrics pose more questions than they answer. It’s like a Stephen King novel – possibly Misery. I’m looking forward to the karaoke version. 2 points.
Wolfgang: I have a soft spot for male singer/songwriter ballads, so I really like this song! I like the voice of Giannis and think he will do a good live performance. But I fear that the song can soon be forgotten again right after his performance. I would recommend staging with just the spotlight on Giannis and his song, which could create a more intimate atmosphere and give us a Tom Dice moment on stage. The ‘one thing he should have done’ by May is change his glasses and wear something comfortable, so we don’t get another Moran Mazor effect! I’d love to see this qualify to the final, but I don’t have much hope it will. Some of these ballads have to die the ‘ballad death’ in the semis. 5 points.
Jaz: Considering how long and involved Cyprus’ Eurovision Song Project was, it didn’t narrow things down to a great selection of songs. You could say that this particular project was, if not an F-grade fail, C-grade at least. Like the other less-than-impressive NFs of the season, though, Cyprus scores points for picking the best of a bad bunch – that is, the best apart from Hovig’s Stone In A River, which I personally believe should be representing them instead. One Thing I Should Have Done is a soft, reasonably pretty ballad that definitely harks back to the days of Tom Dice and his equally simplistic entry. The thing is, I was never that attached to Me and My Guitar, and the same goes for the bespectacled John/Giannis’ song (which has nothing to do with the fact that Tom was better-looking). It’s nice, it’s sweet, and the emotion is genuine, but I don’t feel much at all when I listen to it. The only reason I’d be disappointed if Cyprus didn’t qualify with this is because it’s Cyprus, and I always like it when they do advance. But unless they create a ‘moment’ on the night – an air of simplicity that provides a stunning contrast to most of the other performances – I think Slovenia’s three minutes that follow will obliterate all memory viewers have of Cyprus. 5 points.
EBJ Jury Score: 4.00
In The Name of Love by Monika Kuzyńska
Kohan: I like this one! I know I’m meant to be a punk/metal fan, and this is so middle-of-the-road adult contemporary…but dammit, it works. Just when I think the song is about to plateau, it kicks up to the next level, bringing the guitars, bringing the drums. The way it swells to a crescendo is perfect. It better qualify for the final, it’s good. I think Poland is safely through semi two this year. 6 points.
Wolfgang: I am not really impressed by this song, as it sounds to me like the prototype of an LLB (Lame Lady Ballad). It could have been an entry in the contests of 1979, 1985, 1994 or 2001, etc – it sounds quite old-fashioned and like I’ve already heard it a hundred times before in different ESC shows. I absolutely think this song cannot stand out and will not qualify. I would compare it to the entry of France, with France having the advantage of already being qualified to the final. Sorry, but this simply is not enough to make the difference on the Eurovision stage. It sounds like the B-side of If You Asked Me To by Céline Dion. I hope there won’t be another Dion-esque diva performance in the second semi. I don’t see a second performance here! 2 points.
Jaz: Many people will be inquiring as to the whereabouts of the buxom butter-churner and her stain-removing friend (whisky and gin are hard to remove from one’s petticoat) in Poland’s performance this year, as I can safely assume they will not be making an appearance. In The Name of Love is pretty much as far removed – genre, mood and subject-wise – as you can get from My Słowianie, which is a strike against it in my book. Poland made a serious splash in Copenhagen, and it’s a shame to see them toss their triple-flavour icecream sundae with hot fudge sauce, sprinkles and a cherry on top (two actually…one on each scoop *wink*) in the trash in favour of a plain Greek yoghurt (or Polish yoghurt, if there is such a thing). Having said that, there must be a little sugar in this confection, because it is sweet. As piano ballads go, it flows nicely and compliments Monika’s voice, and the lyrics don’t make me nauseous. It isn’t cutting-edge, but I still feel like it fits well enough into the 2015 contest, even if it would go down a treat in 1995 as well. There’s nothing really wrong with it, and I find it to be a soothing, pleasant listen. But it’s just not memorable, and when you think back to Poland 2014, it becomes even less so in comparison. I cannot see Monika making it out of her semi final, no matter how hard I try, because there’s nothing here that would compel the masses to vote. She’ll do okay with the juries, and if her performance is well-packaged, she’s sure to avoid the dreaded last place. But I think that’s the best result Poland can hope for. 6 points.
EBJ Jury Score: 4.67
Grande Amore by Il Volo
Kohan: Majestic. Italy has the full package: charisma, perfectly harmonised vocals…and they look fantastic. The way the song builds is sublime. I understand now the true power of a well-tailored Italian suit, and putting Back To The Future references in your video clip is a great way to bribe the Hatman jury (thanks, fellas). But…I’m only giving it 8 points (Jaz is gonna kill me). It’s a contender for the trophy and the juries will love it, but it isn’t a song I’m playing repeatedly.
Wolfgang: Il Volo are already popular in a lot of European countries. That is an advantage, because they already have a wide fan community. And the guys have great voices and outstanding live abilities, so this year Italy will easily fly again into the top 10 of the scoreboard if they do a perfect show. The song also combines the musical taste of the older and the younger generation, so that they will get a lot of points from various countries across Europe. I think it will easily end up 6th-8th in the final. The bookies already see this coming close to winning. IMO, it is the best song of these five I am reviewing here, but it is not a winning song. 8 points.
Jaz: If marrying a song ever becomes socially acceptable, I will be dragging this one down the aisle before you can say ‘Jaz, what the hell is wrong with you?’. It was love at first listen between us, fueled firstly by the beauty of the popera, secondly by the blend of those three voices, and thirdly by my bias where Italian music is concerned. Then, when I watched the music video, the collective attractiveness of Piero, Ignazio and Gianluca was added into the mix, and my grande amore (the pun had to happen) for Il Volo and their Sanremo winner was cemented. This entry is everything that great Eurovision moments are made of. It starts softly, then builds to an explosive crescendo perfect for pyrotechnics use; it’s sung in Italian, the most musical language in existence; and it’s performed by three magnificent vocalists who have been honing their harmonies for six years, despite still being in their early twenties. After a bit of a misstep last year, Italy should be back to its flawless, classy-as-heck best in Vienna. I don’t buy into any of the negative comparisons between Grande Amore and France’s operatic flop of 2011, Sognu. The former is more of a pop-and-opera hybrid (hence my use of the word ‘popera’ earlier) whereas the latter was straight opera – Grande Amore is much more accessible. Plus, the boys from Il Volo are charismatic and laid-back performers, unlike Amaury Vassili on the ESC stage. He looked stiff and uncomfortable, and like it was an extreme effort to expel every word of Corsican. A better reference point for Grande Amore would be Latvia’s 2007 entry Questa Notte, which was a triumph by Latvian standards. Italy being Italy, and Il Volo’s song being more dynamic and accessible than Questa Notte, they should fare even better. I do have to agree with Wolfgang – I don’t think Italy is gong to win Eurovision this year. But I do think they have the power to come close, and at the least, make up for Emma’s panty-flashing mishap. DOUZE POINTS!!!
EBJ Jury Score: 9.33
Adio by Knez
Kohan: I liked this when I first heard it, and it’s grown on me even though it’s not my usual style (what, no electronica? Where’s the drop?). The transition at 1:24 is awkward and I don’t know what the song is about, but it still keeps me hooked every time I listen – there’s something about the ambience it creates. I hope it qualifies, but I doubt it’s a song we’ll remember next year. 7 points.
Wolfgang: After my first listen to Adio I was a bit disappointed, because my expectations on another Željko song were really high, him being my favorite male artist of all time in Eurovision. And I really love all four of his entries to the Eurovision, including Oro by Jelena Tomašević. When I compare this song to the other four, I automatically come to the conclusion that Adio is not the best song Željko has ever written for Eurovision. But that’s complaining on a very high level, because it is still a very good song and Montenegro can be proud of Knez, who is a really good singer, too. I am sure this will qualify to the final, but then, anything can happen. I hope at least for a placement between 11th and 16th, which would be a bit better than Sergej Četković’s placing last year. This song to me is a grower, getting better with every further listen. 7 points.
Jaz: Once the weaker player in the Serbia VS Montenegro tournaments I hold in my mind, Montenegro has embarked on a steady rise in my estimations over the past few years. Igranka > Ljubav Je Svuda. Moj Svijet > the nothing that Serbia sent last year (obviously). And now, Adio > Beauty Never Lies, by far. I too am a massive Željko fan – y’all probably know that all of his previous entries are ESC favourites of mine – so whenever I find out he’s making any kind of Eurovision comeback, as he is composing Adio for Knez…I FREAK OUT! There is something hauntingly, spellbindingly beautiful about all of the Balkan ballads he creates, and this one is no exception. I agree that it isn’t his strongest composition for the contest, but it has the ŽJ stamp on it, and I’m sold. The only thing missing is the man himself. I have nothing against Knez, who is a great performer, but he’s not quite as…shall we say, debonair as Mr. Joksimović (and the fact that he looks like a magician reminds me so much of this that I can’t take him seriously). But all in all, the ethnicity, interesting rhythms and great melody have won me over as they always do. This may be a ballad amongst many, but it will stand out, being the traditional, non-English-language kind, performed by a male (as opposed to the generic, English-language female ballads on offer). I hope that equals qualification. If not – or if Adio fails to finish in the top 10 in the final – it will be the first Željko entry to finish outside of that top 10. I suspect it will struggle to hit those heights, but I’m more than happy to help it out by voting for Montenegro. 10 points.
EBJ Jury Score: 8.00
Face The Shadow by Genealogy
Kohan: This just confuses me. With the disparate musical styles, it feels glued together, like it’s trying too hard to be Bohemian Rhapsody. Just when I hear a part I like, it turns into a ballad again. Or worse, the part with the opera singer attempting to scat like the UK’s Electro Velvet. Never mind that ‘Genealogy’ is contender for most uncool band name, and that I have no idea what’s with the 1800s family photos in the video (I think I’ve missed something). And those lyrics…is she singing ‘You are chicken your heart’? I give half a point for the black leather outfits (so goth!) and half a point for the power rock ballad parts. I.e. 1 point.
Wolfgang: I am really biased with this entry of Armenia this year. My first thought was, six amazing voices do not make a perfect song! The multiple changes in this song rather make a chaotic impression to me. Every artist alone is a really good performer, but together they don’t make the perfect whole. I am a bit indifferent with this song, but there is something in it that makes me like it. Nevertheless, I think this will qualify to the final even in a semi with so many Eastern European countries. If the Dorians qualified in Malmö, this one should easily do, as it is much better. 3 points.
Jaz: I hate to say this, but whenever I think about Armenia in relation to Eurovision 2015, it comes out as ‘ArmeniUGGGGH!’. I love the idea of Genealogy, presumably borrowed from Switzerland’s assembling of Six4One in 2006, and in theory, the six members would be a force to be reckoned with. In practice, however, they are putting forward a shambolic, chaotic reject from an off-Broadway musical. If Armenia had sent Inga, Tamar, Essaï or any of the other members on their own or as a duet (with a different song) things might have been more palatable. Unfortunately, all of the singers have such distinctive vocal stylings and genres they are suited to, so Face The Shadow comes off as three minutes of cobbled-together competition, in which everybody’s fighting to be the star of the show. I hate to break it to them, but nobody’s winning that fight. As cookie-cutter and naff as Six4One’s If We All Give A Little was back in ’06, at least that was cohesive. It knew what it was, and all six singers blended into a serviceable supergroup. Genealogy and Face The Shadow are the complete opposite. In spite of the star power, I can see them giving us the car crash performance of the year – an onstage mess that will hopefully be swept away by Belgium straight afterwards. 2 points.
EBJ Jury Score: 2.00
Talk about the good, the bad and the ugly! This round of reviews has given the EBJ Jury leaderboard one of its highest, and one of its lowest scores so far.
Here are today’s standings:
- Italy (9.33)
- Montenegro (8.00)
- Poland (4.67)
- Cyprus (4.00)
- Armenia (2.00)
So Italy reigns supreme for the time being, taking the #1 spot from previous champs Slovenia. Will our Grande Amore take them all the way? Or will another bookies’ favourite end as favourite with my esteemed jury members? You’ll have to wait and see.
Up next = Sweden, the United Kingdom, Belgium, the Czech Republic and Romania. A YouTube star and my mother (again) will be passing judgment on the songs from these five countries, and you won’t want to miss what they have to say. What I have to say will probably be interesting too. Fingers crossed.
I’ll see you in a few days’ time for Part 4 of the Viennese Verdicts. In the meantime, let me know how you would rank Italy, Montenegro, Poland, Cyprus and Armenia – a.k.a. how much you disagree with all of the above!