And then there were five. No, I’m not referring to the days left until Eurovision gets underway – although there’s about five of those left too (depending on your time zone and method of counting stuff and…stuff). In this case, though, I’m talking about the songs remaining for my esteemed EBJ Jury to review.
The lucky/unlucky last entries to be put under the musical microscope come from Portugal, Australia, Latvia, FYR Macedonia and Belarus, and once they’re done, so are my first-ever collaborative reviews. Sadface.
But it’s not all bad news. With the entire Class of 2015 ranked, I can finally reveal the jury’s Top 40, so that’s your reward if you make it to the end of the post. Good luck!
First, let’s take care of the usual business. Meet my partners in crime for the last time…
TODAY’S EBJ JURY
Fraser McEachern: My fellow Australian Fraser returns (to rapturous applause, I’m sure) to the EBJ Jury today, having managed to fit in all of his reviewing prior to jetting off to Vienna with partner, previous EBJ Jury member and co-star of the escTMI YouTube show, Matt. You’re missing out if you haven’t taken a look at their videos, people.
James Sayer: You met James, a nineteen-year-old creative writing student, in the previous installment of VVs. He’s British, so we can blame him for Electro Velvet. Or thank him for Electro Velvet, depending on far up the scoreboard the pair can shimmy and scat next Saturday night. Up until recently, he was one of the driving forces of the fab blog ESC Views, which remains just as fab without him (I swear that’s a compliment).
Jasmin Bear: I won’t introduce myself yet again – you know me (though if you’re a first-time visitor to EBJ, you may not, so FYI, I’m awesome). I’m most looking forward to the first semi final on Tuesday because I’ll get to hear some ESC 2015 entries for the first time in SEVEN WEEKS. Just because my pre-show abstinence was voluntary doesn’t make it any less painful. #stillworthit.
Now, do me a favour and imagine really dramatic music playing as I say the following:
Leonor. Guy. Aminata. Daniel. Uzari & Maimuna. Only one act can emerge from this blog bloodbath victorious…but who will it be? And where will they factor into the EBJ Jury’s Top 40?
Read on to find out!
Há Um Mar Que Nos Separa by Leonor Andrade
Fraser: Please don’t make me listen to this song again. It’s just…blah. Why did Portugal think that this was a good song to put into the contest? The guitar drives me crazy. 1 point.
James: I’ve been looking forward to my first chance to write a really positive review here, just to prove to you guys that I do have it in me to be nice. Soooo yeah, here it is: OH MY GOD, PORTUGAL IS AMAZING. There’s a sentence I bet you thought you weren’t gonna hear – I know most people aren’t keen on Há Um Mar Que Nos Separa, and it probably won’t do very well and all that…but I absolutely love it. It’s all deep and dramatic and it’s incredibly beautiful. I adore the synthy backings and the haunting choral echos, and whilst I wish Leonor’s vocal was turned up a bit louder in the studio mix, that won’t be a problem live in Vienna. This song has such an amazing melody – like seriously, that register change in the ‘nos’ note is spine-tinglingly perfect. Have I used enough hyperbolic adjectives to let you know how much I love this one yet? I’m gonna go for it and give Portugal a well-deserved 12 points, because why not?
Jaz: Wow, Portugal sure divided the opinion of my fellow jurors! I’m amazed that such an innocuous song has inspired such mixed reactions. Funnily enough (if you are very easily amused) I’m sitting pretty much in the middle of 1 and douze points on this one. Portugal sent effervescent ex-air-hostess Suzy to Eurovision last year with a song that was ethnic, infectious and uptempo – but it could have been sent back in time to the 2005 contest and fit right in (not a good thing in terms of the ESC moving musically forward). This year, they’ve sent the opposite. Há Um Mar blah blah blah (one cannot bring oneself to type out that entire song title sometimes) isn’t particularly ethnic, it’s definitely not uptempo, and I wouldn’t call it catchy, exactly. But it is reasonably contemporary, at least. Sure, it wouldn’t have been ahead of its time in Kyiv, but it won’t sound stale or über of-another-Euro-era in Vienna either. I quite like the melody in the choruses, and Leonor is a nice vocalist who comes across far more mature than she is onstage (partly due to an overload of eye makeup…she must have attended the same Bump Up Your Age In Thirty Seconds class as Nina Sublatti). The problem I have with this is that I don’t find it very memorable. I literally cannot remember how the verses go. It also fails to ignite any strong reaction in me – love or hate. It just plods along, not heading anywhere exciting but not heading to purgatory either. And yet, I do enjoy it. What I remember of it, anyway. I highly doubt it will make it out of semi two, but I hope Portugal don’t take that as a sign to bow out of next year’s comp. They came so close to qualifying last year, and this is a respectable enough entry to carry on with. They just need something less lacklustre . Something that combines the fun and energy of Quero Se Tua with the somewhat-fresh and mature sound of Há Um Mar et cetera. 6 points.
EBJ Jury Score: 6.33
Tonight Again by Guy Sebastian
Fraser: Well, it seems Guy may have cobbled together a pretty decent tune here. I do wish he would stop telling everyone that he wrote, arranged, recorded and produced it in three days. Aside from that, it’s a really fun song. It’s catchy, it sounds like a song that will chart well over a European summer, and it shows off what Guy can do with his voice without overdoing it! 10 points.
James: My first reaction to this was ‘well-timed Uptown Funk 2.0 without the sass.’ And I think I’m still somewhere in that region two months later, to be honest. It’s a pretty good song, and definitely one of the most chart-friendly offerings of the 2015 contest…but it’s not exactly to my personal taste. I do think I’ll go and check out some of his other stuff though, and I love it when Eurovision introduces me to *new* artists like this, so yay! I hope nobody complains if this one does well though – and by that, I mean a country who is theoretically denied a personal-best placing by the Australian entry, then goes and withdraws because they think it’s unfair because Australia doesn’t even go here…or something stupid like that. Side note: what the hell is Mr. Sebastian wearing on the single cover? That outfit makes him look like a two-tone IKEA curtain, please no. I hope he wears something better on the night! 5 points.
Jaz: I never thought I’d be reviewing my own country’s entry in the lead-up to Eurovision – at least, not prior to my moving to Sweden, adopting a terrible accent and assuming the identity of Sanna Nielsen’s long-lost cousin. But here we are, living in a world where Australia’s been cordially invited to fire everyone up by participating in the 60th contest, for an alleged one-time-only. We’ve all questioned the EBU’s sanity in issuing this invitation time and time again, so I’ll leave that behind now and actually discuss Guy Sebastian’s song. Tonight Again isn’t an example of Guy’s finest work, but it does stay true to the retro-flavoured, funky kind of pop music that he’s explored in the past with the likes of Like It Like That and Gold. This kind of music has a better track record at Eurovision than r & b/hip hop-influenced stuff, which is another direction Guy could have taken in the wake of his hits Oh Oh and Battle Scars. At the beginning of those infamous three days, he made a very smart decision to not create a ballad for Vienna. Whether this is because he took a listen to his competition, and the down-tempo, depressing penny dropped, we don’t know for sure, but the result is a relief. Tonight Again helps fill the void left by all the 2015 ballads, where sassy, dance-worthy, karaoke-ready anthems usually take up a lot of space. It’s also broadcasting a message perfectly suited to the Eurovision final (obviously not by coincidence) – tonight’s so good, forget tomorrow, we can do tonight again. I bet we’re all going to want a do-over of the final by the time *INSERT APPROPRIATE COUNTRY HERE* is announced as the winner. So there’s a lot to like about this entry. People favouring it to the equally-funky Cliché Love Song, however, are not people I agree with. I LOVED Denmark’s host entry last year, and that >Tonight Again, IMO. I do think the Aussie entry suffers from its whirlwind conception/gestation/birth period, in terms of originality. But it does stand out in the field, it will get the audience on their feet, and consummate pro Guy will perform it pitch-perfectly. And I can’t help being a little biased about it. This is the only chance I’ll get to possibly hear the words ‘And douze points go to…Australia!’. Make my dream come true, Europe? 7 points.
EBJ Jury Score: 7.33
Love Injected by Aminata
Fraser: Your love…pierces my earssssssss (and not in a decorative way). I want to like this song, as it’s probably the best song out of Latvia in a long time, or ever. There are parts of the song that are pleasing to the ears, but others make them bleed. Sorry Latvia – it’s not your year. 2 points.
James: Experimental female-vocal electro-pop? Judging by my usual music taste, I should like this more than I actually do. Maybe it will grow on me, I don’t know. My only issue really is that the verses are far too high. I can’t work out what she’s saying a lot of the time, and there’s not much of a melody there to compensate. The chorus is fantastic though, and she really attacks it! I love the music, and I’m hoping these two things can win me over enough to overlook the weakness of the verses. I would love Latvia to qualify at some point, and I’d be happy for this to be the song that finally gets them back into the final – but I’d be less happy if it does so at the expense of better songs *cough – PORTUGAL – cough*. 6 points.
Jaz: Pardon the crappy pun, but I’ve definitely been injected with love for Aminata’s second attempt at reaching the heights of Eurovision (and the heights of her vocal range). I haven’t been this enthusiastic about a Latvian entry since about 2005 – maybe even 2000 (Brainstorm’s My Star is Latvia’s original and probably best contribution to the contest). This song is weirdly wonderful, cutting-edge and powerful in the way of Norway 2013, but it’s even more dynamic than I Feed You My Love, what with those minimalist, high-pitched verses and explosive choruses. As a package, the entry isn’t overblown or over-baked – just subtly layered and filled with attention-grabbing contrasts. Aminata herself is a performer who loses herself in the song, which is a positive; but she needs to ensure she connects with the camera and the audience on some level. That would be my only criticism of Latvia’s offering, as the rest of it – song, singer, look, interpretive hand movements – works like a charm with me. I just hope they find a balance in the staging, not distracting from the song with anything OTT, but not leaving things too bare and boring. They need something…just not too much. Sorry I can’t be any more helpful than that, Latvia, but as you’re rehearsing right this second (or thereabouts) I’m assuming you’ve got things sorted anyway. I will be voting my butt off for this song, and I give it 10 points (not the twelve you were probably expecting, but there are songs I prefer).
EBJ Jury Score: 6.00
Autumn Leaves by Daniel Kajmakoski
Fraser: Awww Daniel, what have you done? The original version was so much better. The Eurovision English version loses a lot of the spark of the original. If we look at what will be presented at the contest, it’s nice. It’s a polite song about falling leaves with some weird sound played throughout, but I can get over that. Hopefully it makes it to the left side of the scoreboard, but I’m not convinced anymore. 5 points.
James: I really liked Lisja Esenski. I really DON’T like Autumn Leaves. Sanna, help me pls, I have a sad that needs undoing. Basically, the Macedonian entry in its national language was a pure pop anthem. I loved the fact that it had a beat to it and there was a fab backup vocal line – it really brought the melody to life. In English, it’s just dead. They have literally taken a knife and chopped out everything that was great about their song. And every time Daniel launches into that lacklustre grey chorus, I’m reminded of the energetic, angsty Macedonian equivalent which was once in its place, and I mourn the loss all over again. 4 points.
Jaz: When a country chooses their song as early on in the season as Macedonia did, it seems like a logical use of time to give said song an overhaul. In fact, I’d be disappointed if they hadn’t tweaked Lisja Esenski since Daniel and his funky footwear won their ticket to Vienna. ‘Tweaked’, however, is an understatement in this instance. Autumn Leaves is a completely different song, and I can’t say I like the changes that have been made. That’s because I LOVE them (sorry/not sorry for the trolling). I did like the song in its original incarnation – I’m always a fan of national languages, especially as they’re becoming rarer in the ESC; and I also enjoyed the anthemic quality it had, which Daniel seemed to thrive on. But it turns out the man can do pared-back emotion (and English without a heavy accent) as well. There’s something about Autumn Leaves – the heartfelt lyrics, the softness, the vulnerability…I can’t pinpoint it – that hits me right in the feels factory. It brings a tear to my eye almost to the same extent that Norway’s Monster does. I know I’m in the minority here, and that Daniel will probably struggle to qualify – Macedonia has a talent for finishing 11th in semi finals, and I can easily see that happening again – but I’ve been sucked in by this new version. It’s had an effect on me that the old one didn’t, even though I’m unsure about some of the sacrifices made during the chopping-and-changing process. Ideally, I’d love to be hearing the simpler, softer version in Macedonian at Eurovision. But I’m not complaining about what we WILL be hearing. That ‘Every moment will hurt from the last to the first’ line gets me every time *dabs eyes*. 10 points.
EBJ Jury Score: 6.33
Time by Uzari & Maimuna
Fraser: This one just gets better and better with time [pun intended?]. This was one of the first songs I heard this year, and I didn’t think too much of it back then. However, the more I hear it, the more I like it. There is a lot of power in the song, and the video certainly helps it all come together as well. Uzari and Maimuna both seem like lovely people too – they are very engaging on social media, which makes me want to cheer for them even more! 8 points.
James: Belarus’ entry this year is a prime example of reworking done right. The NF version of Time did very little for me. It felt like it didn’t quite know what it wanted to be, and I didn’t know what to think of it as a result. Now what we’re dealing with is a well-sung, melodically interesting and energetic up-tempo pop song which I think will really stand out in Vienna. If they come up with some really unique staging, this one might even be knocking on the door of the top ten. They have the violin gimmick to fall back on too, as well as Uzari’s inexplicable metal elf ears, if all else fails. As far as my personal tastes go, it’s not one of my absolute favourites, but I’m enjoying it all the same. 6 points.
Jaz: Okay…I am steeling myself not to be biased regarding this entry. No, I am not part-Belarusian (that I know of). I just have a history of worshipping both Uzari and Maimuna as separate artists, and now together as the Eurovision duet of my dreams (until Darin and Agnes transform their interval act from Malmö into the true Eurovision duet of my dreams). I did also have the chance to interview the pair recently, which has clouded my judgment a bit. But I’ll try to keep myself honest here. Time is another song that has undergone reconstructive surgery since winning its national final, and at first, I wasn’t sure that it was for the better. The revamped version felt like a remix of the original that didn’t quite suit the dance beat behind it. Then the official video was released, and somewhere among the fire, snakes and gigantic hourglasses, I realised that it all fit together. Uzari busting his butt to reach Maimuna in that huge hourglass mirrored the energy that had been added in the rework. Time has been given the punch it needed to have arena-worthy impact – kind of like Kedvesem received thanks to the Zoohacker remix. It also now possesses the pop sensibility that gives it a more solid identity as classical crossover music. It’s an intriguing track that doesn’t follow a clichéd path, and it’s fronted by a great pair. Uzari has an amazing voice, and Maimuna is stunning whether she’s standing still doing nothing, or ripping into a solo on the violin. I’d really like this to qualify, but without that hourglass (yes, I’m a little obsessed with that thing) I’m concerned the staging could fall flat and take the song with it. Time will tell. I give Belarus a strong 7 points.
EBJ Jury Score: 7.00
That’s it, folks! Forty down, zero to go. The standings for this final round of reviews look like this:
- Australia (7.33)
- Belarus (7.00)
- Portugal (6.33)
- FYR Macedonia (6.33)
- Latvia (6.00)
What could I possibly say in response to this other than GO STRAYA! It’s nice to see Guy on top of at least one leader board, despite the fact that I do prefer the Macedonian and Latvian entries to his. Belarus wasn’t far behind, but I guess it just wasn’t their Time. Daniel K fell like the autumn leaves into fourth place, and…oh, stop it.
Now it’s finally time to reveal that semi-important Top 40, as decided by the ten EBJ Jury members hailing from Australia, Ireland, Germany, the UK and the USA – all of whom I’d like to thank profusely for coming on board. As the late, great Udo Jürgens might have said, merci, chéris.
I’ve calculated an average score for each country based on the points we gave them, and compiled the full list from there. In the event of a tie (of which there were many) I’ve ranked countries using the Eurovision count-back method (i.e. which country received the greater amount of higher points). Without further ado, here’s the result!
Congratulations to man’s man Måns (???) who takes the #1 spot from Loïc Nottet by a whisker of carefully cultivated stubble. All in all, we have a top five here that sits very well with me. The group of countries in the top 10 is a group I’d be happy to see in the Eurovision top 10, too, but I’m not sure the jury has predicted next weekend’s outcome too accurately here. That’s fine, because making accurate predictions was not the object of the exercise.
That’s what I’ll be attempting to do in my next post, as I take a look at the line-up for semi final one; make my guesses as to which acts will be heading to the final and which acts will be heading home; and let you know who I plan to vote for now that Australia has the opportunity. Exciting times are just ahead, guys!
In the meantime, feel free to revisit all of this year’s Viennese Verdicts:
- Part 1, feat. Russia, Austria, France, Ireland and Serbia
- Part 2, feat. the Netherlands, Norway, Slovenia, Iceland and Switzerland
- Part 3, feat. Cyprus, Poland, Italy, Montenegro and Armenia
- Part 4, feat. Sweden, the UK, Belgium, the Czech Republic and Romania
- Part 5, feat. Malta, Georgia, Albania, Lithuania and Spain
- Part 6, feat. Israel, Hungary, Germany, Moldova and Azerbaijan
- Part 7, feat. Finland, San Marino, Denmark, Estonia and Greece
- Part 8, feat. Portugal, Australia, Latvia, FYR Macedonia and Belarus…which you’re reading right now.
Don’t forget to let me know below how you’d rank today’s reviewed entries, and what you think of the EBJ Jury’s Top 40. Whether you’re enraged that Sweden topped the list or hysterically happy; confused as to why Boggie’s stuck on the bottom or nodding vigorously in agreement, I want to know. I’m a very nosy person, so humour me, won’t you?
Until the predictions begin (have yours at the ready!)…