Ugh. Can you tell I’m running low on salutations again?
If you haven’t already defected to Wiwi Bloggs in disgust, welcome back to the Viennese Verdicts. As the first semi final of Eurovision 2015 is mere days away *hyperventilates into a brown paper bag for a second* there’s no time to waste in getting these reviews out and about (i.e. finished). This is Part 6 of 8, and today I’ve rounded up German and Australian ESC experts to help me critique Israel, Hungary, Germany, Moldova and Azerbaijan.
TODAY’S EBJ JURY
Wolfgang Schmidt: You met German-born-and-bred Wolfgang – a.k.a. Wolf – back in Part 3 of the Viennese Verdicts. He’s a massive ABBA fan (as is my other guest juror for today) with an impressive history as a Eurovision addict. Altogether he’s attended four contests: Birmingham 1998, Copenhagen 2001, Düsseldorf 2011 (just a hop, skip and awkward Lena dance step away from his hometown) and Malmö 2013, and the Birmingham show was his favourite. You know what they say…you’re always fondest of your first!
Andrew Pentecost: Andrew is from Sydney, Australia. He doesn’t know how long he’s been aware of Eurovision, but it probably started not long after ABBA’s win with Waterloo. Andrew was a huge ABBA fan from about 1975, and they’re still his favourite pop group forty years later. After ABBA introduced Andrew to Eurovision, he discovered that, along with pop music, Eurovision also offers Balkan rhythms, popera, a smörgåsbord of languages and dodgy accents, costumes and frocks, choreography and all sorts of other delights. Some of his favourite songs come from the ‘golden age’ – Poupée de Cire, Poupée de Son by France Gall, Eres Tú by Mocedades, L’Oiseau et L’Enfant by Marie Myriam, Boom Bang-A-Bang by Lulu, and Un Jour, Un Enfant by Frida Boccara. More recent favourites include Fairytale by Alexander Rybak, Energy by Nuša Derenda, and Invincible by Carola. And let’s not forget the show’s hosts – Andrew’s all-time favourite was the stupendous Petra Mede from 2013, who managed to combine Nordic humour, elegance and flawless English language skills into the ultimate package. Andrew and his partner Richard believe they’ve been watching the contest on Australia’s SBS together for more than twenty years – it’s bigger than Christmas and birthdays in their household. Last year they attended Eurovision in Copenhagen, and in 2015 they’re off to Vienna. A highlight of the last two years has been making all sorts of friends – people from every corner of the world who are equally mad about Eurovision!
Jasmin Bear: Surprise, surprise – it’s me again! I bet you’re about as shocked right now as you were when you found out Australia was participating in Eurovision 2015. That’s assuming you’re very easily shocked.
Nadav, Boggie, Ann Sophie, Eduard and Elnur are no doubt on the edge of their seats, waiting to hear our verdicts. So I won’t make them sweat onto the upholstery any longer! I must warn them, and you, however, that one of today’s judges was difficult to impress…
Golden Boy by Nadav Guedj
Wolfgang: The Israeli entry this year sounds more Turkish than a lot of Turkish entries of the past ten years. It is a very ethnic and catchy song that seems like an ear-worm summer smash to me. And hey, who would have thought that the guy singing this song is only sixteen years old? He already has the voice and appearance of at least a 23-year-old, doesn’t he? I hope Israel will qualify in Vienna with this ‘golden boy’ after their 2011-2014 disasters. They really deserve a qualification this year. And with this song, I also see a good placement in the final – let’s say 10th to 14th on the scoreboard. 7 points.
Andrew: Nadav is handsome beyond his years. Like many young people, he tries to do too many vocal runs for my taste, but he is a strong singer with a distinctive vocal quality that’s a bit like Guy Sebastian’s. The song itself is an odd mix of styles. The verses do absolutely nothing for me but I quite like the Eastern feel of the chorus. Pop music for me is all about vocal quality, melody, emotion and rhythm, which means I rarely listen to the lyrics…but the lyrics to this song are so atrociously corny that I cringe when I hear them. 1 point.
Jaz: Poor Israel hasn’t had the best run over the last few years (although only one of their DNQs really puzzled me – Moran Mazor’s, whose choice of outfit also puzzled me). Via their Next Star competition, they’ve selected an artist who undoubtedly has star quality, plus the potential to undo their semi-final-related-sad (excuse my tendency to drag any topic into Sanna Nielsen territory). Nadav, as we’ve all acknowledged, is clearly a man in his mid-twenties masquerading as a teenager for some reason (at least, that’s what I’ll believe until I’ve seen his birth certificate). This “kid” is a great fit for the fusion of urban and traditional sounds that is Golden Boy. Whether those sounds fit together or not, I’m not so sure. I love the Justin Timberlake vibe of the verses, and the unashamedly ethnic chorus, but the flow from one to the other isn’t so smooth. And I have to agree with Andrew on the lyrics – some of them are awful. Still, I don’t think that will hold Israel back too much. The song is instant, modern (for the most part) and, crucially in a contest bursting with ballads, a dancefloor filler (I defy anyone in the Stadthalle or at home to stay seated when Nadav hits the stage). The lack of ethnicity among his rivals’ entries makes him stand out too. I’m not putting any money on Golden Boy breaking Israel’s streak of bad luck, but I really hope it does. 7 points.
EBJ Jury Score: 5.00
Wars For Nothing by Boggie
Wolfgang: This song really says nothing to me! It sounds like it was from ‘before yesterday’ and it is absolutely non-catchy. To me, it is one of the most boring entries this year. And lyrically speaking, it is the other side of the A Little Peace medal – I am sure that the Ukraine would give their douze to this song this year, but unfortunately they are not competing. I already see a Dina Garipova performance straight from the IKEA lamp department coming up, with the backing singers joining Boggie hand-in-hand at the last minute. Oh, how sweet…not! One point for the beautiful blue dress + one for her voice + no points for the song = 2 points!
Andrew: I rarely enjoy the songs and artists sent to Eurovision by Hungary, and sadly, 2015 is no exception. A pleasant guitar instrumental leads into a very low-key, repetitive ballad that simply doesn’t build to anything. The main vocal is weak and often off-key and the harmonies are also poor. This is an utter nul-pointer in my opinion.
Jaz: Up until Hungary opted for Boggie this year, I was convinced that they were on track to win Eurovision within the next couple of years. Ever since their comeback in 2011, they’ve impressed me – their 2013 and 2014 entries were especially epic by my standards. But when your least favourite song of an entire national final lineup ends up winning that national final, you start to lose faith…and boy, have I lost my faith. I’m not saying that if Kati Wolf (whose A Dal entry remains on top of my could-have-been list for 2015) had been representing Hungary instead, they would have won in Vienna, or anything. I’m just saying that an up-and-coming country has let itself down here. In Copenhagen, Hungary gave us a powerful message song that was moody, gritty and contemporary. Wars For Nothing is a message song, but that’s about all it has in common with Running. I don’t find it powerful or particularly contemporary – lame and limp are the words I’d use to describe it. There are rare moments when I think I’m warming to it, but then I think about the likes of Sweden, Italy and Norway, and things are swiftly put into perspective. Boggie is a nice vocalist and a lovely person inside and out, but I’m just not interested in buying what she’s selling. 3 points.
EBJ Jury Score: 1.67
Black Smoke by Ann Sophie
Wolfgang: I feel like I should say something nice now, but unfortunately I can’t! It is no secret that I am not a big fan of Ann Sophie. I belonged to Team Andreas, which means I voted (more than once) for Heart of Stone, which was the best song in the German national final, IMO. I also like that he is not the polished superstar on stage, who plays perfectly with the camera and does an impressive show. But when you hear him sing, you understand why he won The Voice of Germany. Coming back to Ann Sophie, I must admit that I like Black Smoke a lot more than Jump The Gun (her second USFÖ entry). What can save us in the contest is that we don’t have a lame lady ballad like a lot of other countries, but a song that is much catchier. Also, Ann Sophie is a ‘Rampensau’ when she performs, meaning she kicks ass and rocks the stage. Maybe she can keep us awake after the sixth lame ballad in a row. I don’t have high expectations concerning the scoreboard this year – I think we can be very satisfied with a result between 15th and 20th place in the final, same as Elaiza last year. 5 points.
Andrew: After the cringe-worthy drama of the televised final, Germany is sending Ann Sophie to Vienna as their plan B. I really like this song, and Ann Sophie’s interesting, quirky voice. I plan to support her by cheering loudly in the Stadthalle, and I hope she’ll end up in the middle of the scoreboard. 3 points.
Jaz: If ever there was a prime example of a happy accident, THIS is it. If not to all of us fans (sorry, Wolfgang) then to me. There was nothing wrong with Andreas Kümmert and his Heart of Stone, aside from the fact that the song could have been lifted from a Phil Collins album released twenty-five years ago…but did I love it? Nope. Do I love Black Smoke? Yes I do! There was something about the song that captured me from my very first listen. It’s radio-friendly pop without being generic and cliché, it’s got a hint of retro funkiness to it that adds appeal, and both the verses and the chorus are equally catchy. The lyrics may not be genius (unless you compare them to Israel’s) but I really like those too – they’re simple but effective. I even covet the black-and-white ensemble and giant gold Pac-Man earrings Ann Sophie was wearing the night she “won” the right to represent Germany. It’s all good in my opinion, sans the bad that is the awkward position this girl has been put in as Germany’s choice by default. But, if she can carry the class and conviction she put into her reprise directly after the Andreas Incident (that’s got to win some kind of award for Best TV Drama) through to Eurovision, she’ll be fine. As much as I enjoy Black Smoke, I can’t see it scoring über-well in the final, but let’s hope Ann Sophie can claw her way a little closer to the top 10 than Elaiza managed to last year. Perhaps some of my one-off Australian votes will help her get there. 10 points.
EBJ Jury Score: 6.00
I Want Your Love by Eduard Romanyuta
Wolfgang: My first impression was ‘What was that???’. The second time I watched it, I thought it was a fun entry. On the third play, I laughed my guts out. Sorry, but I can’t take this song and this little boy seriously. His name sounds like a ridiculous stage name and him singing ‘I want your love’ simply sounds so funny that I always have to laugh about it. Not that I’m a great fan of Moldovan entries anyway, but this year I’d wish Aliona Moon or Natalia Barbu back on stage. Can we change that, please? This entry is just not good enough to qualify – I’ll scream aloud if that happens. DNQ!!! One very gentle and polite point.
Andrew: Well, Ukraine did manage to send a singer to Vienna after all – except Eduard will be representing tiny Moldova rather than his homeland. When his hair is not long and lank, he’s quite a cute young man, but his live vocals are nothing to write home about, and he has a strong accent when he sings in English. I find the chorus to this song reasonably catchy in a predictable, boy band kind of way. The lyrics are corny and the video clip is horrendously juvenile. Another nul-pointer.
Jaz: Somebody please tell me where to buy a t-shirt with ‘GUILTY PLEASURE’ emblazoned on it, because I’m going to need one to wear while Eduard is doing his best Eric Saade impression (i.e. putting 95% of his energy into his dance moves, 4% into smoothing his hair and that measly leftover 1% into his vocals) as the opening act of semi final one. This song is total trash, and I LOVE it. Yes, it’s something I would expect to find on my Greatest Hits of N*SYNC album, but the reason I own that album is because I am a boy band tragic from way back who will never stop listening to the Backstreet Boys’ back catalogue. I Want Your Love is the kind of song I was waiting for as the Viennese ballads kept on coming. The performance, on the other hand…well, let’s just say that if it was someone’s face, it would need serious plastic surgery. If Eduard can pull a Ruslana and find the balance between singing and dancing, then do both to the best of his ability; and if the presentation is less 2000s street and more cutting-edge, then Moldova could surprise everyone who isn’t me by qualifying. Another pleasant surprise would be if Eduard chopped his hair off for ESC purposes. At least that way, the Viennese paparazzi wouldn’t mistake him for Edurne. Either way, I’m giving him 10 points.
EBJ Jury Score: 3.67
Hour of the Wolf by Elnur Huseynov
Wolfgang: Yes, you have read right: it’s the hour of MOI! How can I not love this song, just by its title? I must admit, my expectations of Elnur were very low after hearing he would be going to Eurovision for the second time this year, because I am a hater of his first “heaven and hell” opera, Day After Day. That was so awful that it still belongs on my list of worst-ever Eurovision entries. But this year it’s all totally different! The first time I heard this song it gave me goosebumps, and it is a song that gets better with each and every listen. In the meantime, I really love it! But on the other hand, Azerbaijan has gone for another secure number here by again choosing a song from Swedish songwriters and producers, which is a bit boring now. Nevertheless, this song is material that winning songs were made of in the past, and maybe if he comes barefoot in a white suit, anything can happen! This is my favorite of all the songs I’ve reviewed. 10 points.
Andrew: Azerbaijan seem to have developed a formula of using songs that have been written by composers and lyricists from countries like Sweden and Greece. This year they continue on that well-worn path. Some may enjoy this song, but I am tired of Azerbaijan’s formulaic approach and I wish they would send us some music with genuinely local melodies and rhythms. Hour of the Wolf is pleasant but rather bland. It is sung in heavily-accented English, but the vocal performance is excellent, as I would expect of Elnur. 1 point.
Jaz: Dilara’s Start A Fire sparked absolutely no flame in me last year (see what I did there?). In fact, just thinking about it now is making me drowsy, so I’ll get right on to how much of an improvement Hour of the Wolf is on that borefest. Sure, it’s another ballad with marginal Azerbaijani input, but that’s where the resemblance ends for me. This song is beautiful – almost Sam Smith-like – and although I’m yet to see a live performance (on purpose) I believe it will be a stunner in that context. The verses are well-constructed and the choruses are big without being too shouty. As a whole, this is a song that builds up to something explosive and perfectly complements Elnur’s impressive vocal range. Speaking of the man who really sells this song: Elnur is not the same person who was half of his country’s debut duo back in 2008. The angel wings and copious amounts of body glitter are gone, and a mature, even more powerful vocalist who is now The Voice of Turkey has taken his place. Song and singer have merged into something special here – something that has made me more willing to support Azerbaijan than ever before. I know I should be more critical of their tendency to turn to other countries for musical aid, but in this case, I just can’t. I never said I had principles. 10 points.
EBJ Jury Score: 7.00
And there you have it! That’s five more down, and ten to go – with ten days until Eduard and his long blonde locks step onto that rather sexy Austrian stage (the finished product is, as Cascada would say, glorious) and hopefully start this year’s contest off with a fiery bang rather than a pathetic puff of smoke.
Let’s take a look at today’s rankings:
- Azerbaijan (7.00)
- Germany (6.00)
- Israel (5.00)
- Moldova (3.67)
- Hungary (1.67)
So the Land of Fire is in the lead here and now…but where will Elnur end up in the EBJ Jury Top 40? Within the next week, you’ll find out. First, though, there are a quarter of this year’s entries left to review.
Next time, the stars and stripes, the Union Jack and the Blue Ensign – that’s the American, British and Australian flags, in case you were wondering – will be waving in the wind as the jury judges Finland, San Marino, Denmark, Estonia and Greece. You know you won’t want to miss what we say about the year’s most controversial entry (she says, hoping you’ll find that tempting enough to make a return visit).
While you’re waiting, let us know how you rate Azerbaijan, Germany, Israel, Moldova and Hungary, and how you’d rank them. If you don’t, well…nothing much will happen. But if you do, you’ll get a virtual high-five.