REVIEWS | The EBJ Jury Judges Eurovision 2016 (Part 4)
Welcome to the halfway point of my quest to cram 43 Eurovision 2016 reviews into a far-too-short space of time! It’s been quite a rush so far (literally), and today, six more songs are under the scrutiny of my esteemed panel of ESC experts. But first, in case you’ve forgotten which countries came before this bunch, and/or what choice comments the EBJ Jury made about them, here’s your midway reminder:
- Part 1 Croatia, France, Greece, Poland, Romania and Russia (reviewed by Rory from Ireland and Wolfgang from Germany)
- Part 2 Belarus, Cyprus, Georgia, Italy, Sweden and Switzerland (reviewed by Mrs. Jaz and Fraser from Australia)
- Part 3 Albania, Estonia, Germany, Lithuania, the Netherlands, San Marino (reviewed by James and Martin from the UK)
Now we can move on to exposing the identities of Part 4’s jurors and countries, whether they like it or not. I’m sure they would, though. It is an honour AND a privilege to be associated with me, after all.
TODAY’S EBJ JURORS
It’s an almost all-American panel making the judgment calls this time. Nick, Penny and I are about to ramble on (and on some more, in my case) about Bosnia & Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Denmark, Hungary, Montenegro and Spain. Dalal and Deen (AND Ana Rucner, AND Jala), Poli, Lighthouse X, Freddie, Highway and Barei are undoubtedly dying to hear our verdicts – so let’s get going!
Nick Ah, Balkan melodrama – one of my favorite Eurovision offerings. Bosnia & Herzegovina’s returning to the contest with flair, a fair amount being brought by the ever-exuberant Deen. His 2004 entry is actually a pretty big miss with me, so I’m happy he’s brought along this troupe of supporting characters, as Ljubav Je is a decent hit with me. The song grows nicely and it all flows pretty well together, until Jala comes in to mess things up (but in a good way). If the rap wasn’t there, the song would stagnate and have no good way of developing after that. Jala drives it home into the final chorus, and his is probably my favorite part of this entry. Also worth noting is the use of full Bosnian in this song, making it one of only three to go entirely non-English this year – and it’s the best of the three (sorry not sorry, Austria and FYR Macedonia). I do worry that it’s too contrived for the ESC, and that its big downfall will be that it doesn’t go down the standard Balkan ballad route, but I’m happy they took a chance with it. Let’s see if Europe rewards them.
Penny When BHRT announced that their 2016 song was going to involve a mash-up of styles, part of me was expecting a really bad mash-up of six songs fused together. After listening to Ljubav Je for the first time, it sounded like someone crossed Zauvijek Moja (Serbia & Montenegro 2005) with Jas Ja Imam Silata (FYR Macedonia 2010). I like Ana’s cello solo paired up with the drums, the gradual build-up of the song, and how Jala’s rap part fits in with everything else. I don’t have any idea what he’s saying, but at least he starts at the right point and does a syllable count before adding in his part so it doesn’t sound as jarring as a lot of people say. So, yay – the Balkan ballad quota of the year has been filled. But at the same time, I think I might be getting tired of the formula, because I can’t find that ‘magical’ aspect in the verses, despite them being performed well. Also, I’m still trying to get over the fact that Deen’s face has morphed into an Easter Island moai head (sorry, Deen).
Jaz Eurovision without a Balkan ballad would be like Melodifestivalen without schlager (yes, even in 2016): just plain weird. So I’m very thankful to my old mates B & H – plus Dalal, In-The-Disco-Deen, Ana Rucner and Jala – for delivering us from the evil of an atmospheric powerhouse-less contest. With Ljubav Je, they have also delivered us a Balkan ballad with a difference – namely, the rap. I can’t confess to having missed that element in Montenegro’s masterpiece Adio last year, but nor am I one of those people who think ‘rap’ puts the R-A-P in ‘crap’. The combo of ethnic and urban sounds that this song serves up is an interesting one, and I do think it works – the rap toughens up the classical beauty of the cello, while Dalal and Deen stay true to the step-by-step guide I’m sure exists entitled ‘How To Perform A Balkan Ballad’ (though it is a bit sad to see Deen removing all traces of 2004 hip-thrusting from his routine). And Jala’s entrance is more of an appealing surprise than a jarring one, in my opinion. BUT…not all Balkan ballads are created equal, and this is no Adio, Lejla or Lane Moje. It’s not even close. The overall feel is by-the-numbers and slightly half-hearted, and it doesn’t give me any goosebumps as the best of the BBs do. Still, I reckon this is an entry that will thrive live on the big stage, with all bells and whistles in place. It’s likely to be far more impressive and multidimensional then, when all memories of the low-budget video clip have (hopefully) been banished from our minds.
The EBJ Jury says…
- Ali 4
- Fraser 4
- James 4
- Jaz 7
- Martin 5
- Nick 5
- Penny 7
- Rory 5
- Wolfgang 8
Bosnia & Herzegovina’s EBJ Jury score is…5.44
Nick Another returning B country, Bulgaria’s also trotting out a returning artist: fandom queen and (debatably) wronged 2011 NQ Poli Genova. Her song was the last to be revealed this year, and dare I say, it was worth the agonising wait. If Love Was a Crime definitely sounds like it comes from the Balkans, but it’s got a smartly-applied layer of Swedish gloss that doesn’t distract from the intended sound (hear that, Cyprus?). The build-up into a drop using the chorus is an undeniably modern choice – especially for Eurovision – and it was even smarter to write in a Bulgarian-language hook that’ll get stuck in everyone’s heads come May. My main concern with this entry is that it’ll be really hard to stage in a way that highlights the song rather than holding it back. It’s not got that many opportunities for choreography, so it’ll be interesting to see what the Bulgarian delegation (one not known for stage direction) will do. Otherwise, I have no doubts that this will be one of the standout tracks of the year.
Penny First off, there’s a flute solo. Given what’s happened to other songs with flute solos (e.g. Lane Moje, Molitva and Only Teardrops), Poli’s probably in good company and should qualify. Throw that in with one of the most Ohrwurm-y refrains of the year, and she could get into the top half of the final. I wonder how many people will get ‘O, daj mi ljubovta’ simply by seeing the words printed on the screen or hearing Poli sing the song once. The song feels really light-hearted and fluffy in the verses, but then she gets to ‘If love was a crime, we would be criminals,’ and I can’t help but connect with the words despite them sounding really cheesy (thanks, S.O. whom I haven’t seen since November because of scheduling issues and constant technical difficulties). There’s also something really nice about the way she pronounces ‘miracles’ and ‘criminals’ in the song that I don’t know to describe…but it’s kind of like in songs that shove too many syllables into one line to show that there’s so much emotion/back story that it wouldn’t fit if it stayed in syllable count. So yes, I’ll be waving white-green-red in front of my laptop during ESC week.
Jaz All paths were leading to Poli Genova representing Bulgaria this year: her super-successful turn as 2015’s JESC host, her…ah…um…okay, so maybe there was just the one path. But it was still a logical choice for BNT to make – and a choice that was incredibly well-received by the fan community. I haven’t seen a single negative word Facebooked, Tweeted or Instagrammed about Poli, and the reaction to her second ESC entry If Love Was A Crime (the prequel to Frans’ If I Were Sorry, I presume) has been almost as positive. And why wouldn’t it be? This is a song that does pretty much everything right, ticking all boxes without being a goody two-shoes about it. Lyrically, the verses and pre-chorus are a little weak – I mean, I get that ‘If love was a crime, we would be criminals’ is a necessary evil in a song that hypothesises what would happen if love was, in fact, something you could get arrested for indulging in…but it’s such a predictable line. Still, I can’t criticise much else about this track. It’s contemporary (complete with weird non-human noise in the background), energetic, ultra catchy (particularly when Poli launches into the Bulgarian chorus, which even non-Bulgarian speakers can latch on to with ease) and memorable, mainly thanks to that hook. Factor in Poli’s proven ability as a live performer who always seems to enjoy herself on stage, and you’ve got Bulgaria’s best chance of a celebration-worthy result in a long time – perhaps EVER, given that their highest placing in history is 5th. I did say ‘perhaps’ – girl is going to have to fight for it. But, huge success in the offing or not, Bulgaria deserves a round of applause (and a round of drinks) for pulling Poli and not-Na-Inat-2.0 out of their hat.
The EBJ Jury says…
- Ali 6
- Fraser 10
- James 12
- Jaz 10
- Martin 5
- Nick 7
- Penny 10
- Rory 12
- Wolfgang 6
Bulgaria’s EBJ Jury score is…8.67
Nick Once again, Denmark’s choice of a seemingly run-of-the-mill boyband entry over an annoying female fanwank proved to set the fandom alight for no reason, as the superior song was picked. With either Simone or Anja hopping across the Øresund to Sweden, Denmark would be much further down on my list (especially with the latter, who’d occupy space 43 easily), so Lighthouse X is my personal savior. That being said, Soldiers of Love is still a pretty bland song that occupies the same area of the pop landscape as the Irish song this year. However, it does it so much better than Sunlight, and it ends up that Soldiers of Love is actually the song that shines. The music is written to be catchy and punchy, the occasional riffs on piano standing out in that aspect; and there’s a nice flow to it. It’s also one of the few entries this year that stands out more live than in studio, as the group’s voices add an extra layer that’s lacking in the studio version. Hopefully Europe will hear the difference in quality and send this boyband nouveau song through from semi two.
Penny Remember last year, when Norway’s Mørland said he did something terrible in his early youth? After DMGP, a lot of people would probably say that he stole a time machine, formed a band, went to the year 2016, entered Dansk Melodi Grand Prix, and angered every fan who wanted Simone or Anja Nissen to win. I’m just kidding, but does anyone else think one of the Lighthouse X guys looks like Mørland? While this was a bit of a surprise winner at the time and a tad cheesy (somewhere around sharp cheddar), I’ve warmed up to them and found myself singing along to the refrain of Soldiers of Love every time they show up. It’s cheery, makes me smile after having to endure multiple exams, and – as proven by their DMGP performance – they can pull it off live.
Jaz I know I should leave the past in the past and move the heck on, but you say ‘Denmark 2016’ and I say ‘How DARE you remind me of the most painful heartbreak I have ever experienced during a national final season?’. The hours I spent sobbing into my pillow (and whoever else’s pillow I came across during the grieving process) weren’t due to Anja Nissen’s so-close-but-so-far DMGP defeat, but to Simone’s shockingly distant third place (which left a heart-shaped hole in my chest…if only metaphorically). I simply did not see Lighthouse X coming – or the fact that their name is pronounced ‘Lighthouse Ten’ (Roman Numerals are rarely the first thing on my mind). I suppose I should have, since they satisfy every requirement in the Danish rulebook of selecting a Eurovision entry: they’re a generically good-looking act offering a competent but not-at-all risky or exciting pop song, and that (somehow) always gets the Danes voting in droves (possibly because that’s the bulk type of song they have to choose from, thanks to DR). Usually, it works for them at the ESC – qualifications, comfortable results, and an occasional win thrown in for adequate measure – but last year, it backfired. Yet we’re still getting more of the same! Having said all of that, I do like Soldiers of Love, and how easy on the eye the Lighthouse trio is. They look pretty and sound pretty singing a song that does most of the things it should in all the right places. The chorus is melodically strong and uplifting, even if every line of it is a cliché (you might even say it’s a cliché love song. Oh, the irony!). But…does it light my fire? Nope. I want it to melt my marshmallows, but all it does is brown them ever-so-slightly. Basically, it’s perfectly fine, and therefore very vanilla. Denmark might be all for safety first, but when countries think outside the box, that’s when they’re truly competing.
The EBJ Jury says…
- Ali 2
- Fraser 8
- James 3
- Jaz 8
- Martin 5
- Nick 5
- Penny 8
- Rory 4
- Wolfgang 4
Denmark’s EBJ Jury score is…5.22
Nick When I came to ranking these songs, I wanted to listen to the nightcore (sped-up and pitched-up) versions of each one to ease myself into the process. Usually, I end up liking those a little more, and Pioneer was no exception. In saying that, I still wanted the song to be over less than halfway through. Moving on to the regular live performance was even worse, as the one featured on the official channel had Freddie mumbling and screaming off-key on the A Dal stage. The song is a noisy mess that has no flow and clichéd motivational lyrics. It also does that horribly annoying thing where the singer draws out a word for no reason other than to fit the rhyme: see ‘real’ in the second line of the chorus. I’d almost appreciate the brashness of the music if everything else was done tactfully enough to let it shine…but as it stands, this is an absolute mess of an entry that should see Hungary out of the final for the first time since their return. Better luck next year.
Penny I couldn’t remember what this song sounded like until listening to over forty Top 43 ranking videos. And although I can now remember what (part of) it sounds like, I don’t understand how it’s in almost everyone’s top 10. The whistling in the verses and the grit in Freddie’s voice sounds nice, but Pioneer is a plodder and doesn’t do much for me. Sorry Freddie, but I’ll probably be getting food while you’re performing so I’m not hung(a)ry. The glow sticks and swirly background do remind me that I need to visit my local science museum though.
Jaz The A Dal final was full of fabulous potential Hungarian entries. For starters, none of them reminded me of Boggie or Wars For Nothing. Then we had the quirky hipster sing-along song from Petruska, epic ethnopop from Gergő Olah, and achingly cool alt-rock from Kalláy Saunders and his band. Rising to the top of them all in the end, though, was Freddie’s Pioneer, an early favourite. For me, there was something about this song from the start – something unique and raw that I was drawn to. The rawness, I guess, was mainly emanating from Freddie himself, who is far from being a smooth operator in the vocal department (that’s a compliment re: his gravelly voice, by the way). As the performer, he adds an authentic rough edge to a song that is an anthem á la Denmark’s, but without the cheese. I love everything about it – the minimalist construction, the whistling, the extremely powerful chorus that is bound to be explosive on the Eurovision stage…and how can I fail to mention the walking, talking hunk of eye candy that is Freddie (yes, I’m shallow. Get used to it). I’ve been saying for a few years now that Hungary are likely to win the contest sometime soon, and though it’s unlikely that 2016 is ‘soon’, I stand by those comments with Pioneer in mind. Also, Freddie, if you’re reading…yes, I am single, and waiting for your call. WINKFACE EMOJI.
The EBJ Jury says…
- Ali 7
- Fraser 6
- James 5
- Jaz 10
- Martin 8
- Nick 1
- Penny 6
- Rory 2
- Wolfgang 12
Hungary’s EBJ Jury score is…6.33
Nick Okay, can we take a minute to recognise ‘I see you inside me’ as one of the creepiest lyrics of this year? In fact, my biggest hang-up with this entry is the vaguely stalkerish imagery that’s present throughout the song. Musically, I’m a big fan of the acid rock/dubstep crossover, but the lyrics and vocals throw me off. Deep voices aren’t usually my thing to begin with, and they’re especially not when I’m being crooned at with such lyrics as ‘I’m gonna run, gonna feel good.’ Assuage me of fears that does not, and it really harms what could’ve been a strong entry. Montenegro’s track record – one that astonishingly includes a song like The Real Thing, 2013’s Most Wrong Entry™ Igranka – tells me that they’ll probably meet the same fate they did when the contest was last in Sweden. However, this time, I’ll probably be a little less bitter about losing them.
Penny Montenegro has decided: two years of Balkan ballads was nice, but there’s more to the ex-Yugo music scene. It looks like that means it’s time to send an entry closer to Who See’s than Knez’s. When I first heard The Real Thing after its presentation, all I could think was, ‘What IS this noise?’ – and that it sounded like a bunch of random people who all wanted to play their instruments as loudly as possible. As of so far, the only lyrics I can understand are still ‘Inside you’ and ‘Feel it; I’m the real thing, yeah.’ It’s not my favorite genre, and I still need to put in effort and energy to focus on the song, but it doesn’t deserve the bottom-three hate that it seems to get in YouTube rankings. Also, I’m still really confused as to what this “real thing” that Highway talk about is. Does it mean that they’re real people? Or are they just not hiding their identities?
Jaz In stark contrast to the previous two acts, Montenegro is sending a group to Stockholm who are NOT incredibly attractive (in my opinion). Why does that matter? Well, it doesn’t – I just thought I’d mention it to remind you that it’s not just what’s inside that counts, especially at Eurovision (and to remind you that I’m a judgmental jerk and proud of it). Anyway…the song! After the 2015 Montenegrin masterpiece that was Adio, we’ve been given what is allegedly The Real Thing – and though I know which one I prefer, I have to applaud Montenegro for showing variety, and Highway for staying true to their style (otherwise, they’d be performing a song called Not Exactly The Real Thing). Like Penny, I don’t agree with everyone who has Highway right at the rear end of their rankings. I’d even go so far as to say that I enjoy this track. It’s Georgia 2.0 for me: I don’t know why I like it exactly, and it’s not in the genre ballpark that I normally hang out in, but I’m on board nonetheless. If we compartmentalise it, we’ve got a) verses that are actually very well-produced and current, b) a chorus that is noisy, yes, but was made for rocking out to, and c) a guitar riff that sticks. It’s surprisingly cohesive when strung together for three minutes. I’m not seeing it through rose-coloured glasses here – I know it’s not going to go anywhere. But in spite of that, it floats my boat. No lifejacket required!
The EBJ Jury says…
- Ali 8
- Fraser 1
- James 1
- Jaz 8
- Martin 5
- Nick 5
- Penny 5
- Rory 1
- Wolfgang 0
Montenegro’s EBJ Jury score is…3.78
Nick It’s a sign of the times: Spain’s finally thrown off the Spanish and is going full English for the first time. Putting aside my disappointment at Eurovision’s continued slide into linguistic homogeny, I must admit that this song lends itself well to the language, although that’s just my backhanded way of saying it’s kind of anonymous. Barei’s the undoubted star of the show in this entry, as her exuberance onstage adds so much to what’s otherwise a drop in the bucket of up-tempo, feel-good songs. That’s not to say the song doesn’t have its positives – the verses are nicely orchestrated and the English lyrics aren’t as cringey as they could’ve been. But it is lacking a distinctly Spanish flair that Barei’s making up for. Whether that will deliver Spain a better result than Edurne’s shriekfest (that was overrated at 21st, if you ask me) is up for debate, but I have a suspicion this year’s result will tend more toward Pastora Soler territory.
Penny While I’m a little disappointed that there won’t be any Spanish in the contest this year, this entry is already an improvement on 2015’s, since a) Barei can hit all the notes and b) her song feels a bit more ‘honest’ (as in, she seems to be telling her own story instead of someone else’s). It’s also really nice to have the one flashmob song of the contest, given that Barei’s been doing that dance for every single performance and in almost every interview; and that Say Yay is really catchy and easy to sing along to. Then again, how hard is learning ‘Say yay, yay, yay’, or ‘Sing it, la, la, la, la’? However, while I’d definitely sing and dance along if someone else played the song, I don’t know if I’d actively search for the song since the backing music makes it sound like it’s something my dentist would play, or one of six (yes, six) songs that would play over the bakery radio at work (I will confirm that this sounds way better than dental drills or the oven buzzer though).
Jaz Like A Dal, this year’s Spanish final was packed with awesome potential ESC entries. I would say Barei was among that bunch with Say Yay!, but she wasn’t my first, second, third or even fourth choice to represent her country. I have no problem with her – she’s a great singer with a interesting catch in her voice, and she brims with personality and energy on stage. Plus, on the whole, Say Yay! is a modern, effervescent dance number that practically prohibits you from standing still. However, there’s an aspect of it that screams ‘background music’ to me – maybe it’s the largely instrumental chorus. Whatever the source, I just don’t feel like it makes enough of a statement as a standalone song to win Eurovision. There’s no doubt it has the ability to do well for Spain, particularly when pedaled by someone who sells it like Barei does. But overall, I find it a little wallpaper-like. It’s there, and it’s nice, but I’m not going to be paying that much attention to it when there’s opulent statement furniture elsewhere in the room.
The EBJ Jury says…
- Ali 1
- Fraser 12
- James 7
- Jaz 7
- Martin 10
- Nick 5
- Penny 7
- Rory 6
- Wolfgang 6
Spain’s EBJ Jury score is…6.78
And we have a runaway winner! Of this round, that is. Shockingly, it isn’t Montenegro.
- Bulgaria (8.67)
- Spain (6.78)
- Hungary (6.33)
- Bosnia & Herzegovina (5.44)
- Denmark (5.22)
- Montenegro (3.78)
Bulgaria takes this one out in impressive fashion – but will they do the same (or even remotely similar) at Eurovision itself? Are we totally off the mark relegating Spain to second place? Has my undying love for boybands influenced my decision on Denmark, or would you agree that it’s bland, but not bad? I have so many questions, and you can provide the answers in the comments below. If you don’t, the chances of Ani Lorak returning to the ESC will decrease by 33.33%.
Speaking of returnees…next time, my mother and Germany’s very own Wolfgang will be back to have their say on Azerbaijan, Belgium, Iceland, Israel, Latvia and the United Kingdom. You might be surprised by the songs that go down well with those two. Then again, you might not – it depends on how easily you’re surprised. Either way, don’t forget to drop by!
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