REVIEWS | The EBJ Jury Judges Eurovision 2016 (Part 5)

Understatement Time: These reviews are slightly late. Let’s just say that I’ve suddenly realised how many To-Dos I have to cross off my list before I fly to Sweden’s capital on Friday night (!). Now, I’m left with three episodes of the EBJ Jury judgments to cram in before my departure. So here’s the first of those three.

 

 TODAY’S EBJ JURORS

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Mrs. Jaz, Wolfgang and I are ready to review Azerbaijan, Belgium, Iceland, Israel, Latvia and the United Kingdom – otherwise known as Samra, Laura, Greta, Hovi, Justs and Joe & Jake (they should form a supergroup…their names sound great together). Are you ready to join us? If so, read on and find out what we have to say – and how the entire EBJ Jury scores these six songs.

 

 

Azerbaijan

Mrs. Jaz Hmm. As someone who likes songs that are a little bit quirky, I wouldn’t go into raptures over this one. It’s very commercial, and it would fit right in on the radio at the moment, but that’s because it sounds like it was plucked off a musical factory conveyor belt – in Sweden, apparently. Samra’s voice is lovely, but without any trace of an accent, I had no idea which country she was representing (since the music doesn’t give any clues away either). This could have been Australia’s entry, for all I knew! I guess I’m saying that I would have liked to hear some ethnicity in there, especially as I’m told Azerbaijan usually do throw some traditional instruments into the background of their songs. That would have added more authenticity to Miracle too, which would have allowed me to connect with it as a consumer. As it stands, I can’t.

Wolfgang This miracle, so to speak, came at the last minute in a moment when I least expected one. Sometimes there are songs that need some time until I like them much, but then there are songs that I love from the very first moment. Samra’s entry belongs in the latter category. And although it is again a song composed by Swedish songwriters, and produced by Swedish producers, Miracle really has something special to me: the song is beautiful and catchy, the lyrics are great and Samra’s voice sounds amazing in the video/studio version. I only hope she will hold that standard and do an equally amazing live performance in her semi on the ESC stage. Then maybe a ‘miracle’ could happen for Azerbaijan in Stockholm. For one of my favourites this year I give 12 points and lots of love!

Jaz  Azerbaijan, turning up at Eurovision with a song written by Swedes? MADNESS…said no one ever. When you think about it, Azerbaijan (or Azurjerbin, as I pronounce it in my head in honour of Lynda Woodruff) is the most predictable participant in the entire contest. Every year, they wait until March to drop a perfectly-polished Scandipop song on us, hoping we’ll think it’s the bomb dot com. And, against all my better judgement, Samra’s Miracle is verging on being explosive material in my book. I know I should hate the fact that it’s so derivative and one-dimensional; that it’s not risky or challenging or ethnically Azerbaijani in any way. I mean, we’ve just found out that it not only sounds like a Melodifestivalen reject – it IS a Melodifestivalen reject, for Christer Björkman’s sake! But, while those aspects of the entry do play on my mind, the song is so engineered-to-enjoy – melodically, lyrically and structurally – that I can’t fight the feelings of love that overwhelm me when I listen to it. It reminds me a lot of Lisa Ajax’s Melfest entry My Heart Wants Me Dead, which I would say was superior, but that I also love – it’s the partly middle-eastern, partly WTF computer-generated noises that run throughout, mostly. The chorus is soaring, impressive and instantly memorable, worming its way into your head when you’ve only heard it once. Samra’s vocal – in studio – is as smooth as silk and/or a baby’s bum, whichever simile you prefer…and let’s not ignore the fact that she is stunning to look at. Stick her on stage (possibly on a podium) in a spotlight and a wind-machine-friendly dress, and you have the recipe for a visually and aurally appealing package that will certainly maintain Azerbaijan’s 100% qualification record. A solid result in the final isn’t out of the question, but I’m wondering if this is too “perfect” to have the impact to push it into the top 10. Winning, I’m sure, will have to wait at least another year. Who wants to head back to Baku in 2018?

The EBJ Jury says…

  • Ali 5
  • Fraser 6
  • James 7
  • Jaz 10
  • Martin 7
  • Mrs. Jaz 6
  • Nick 5
  • Penny 8
  • Rory 4
  • Wolfgang 12

Azerbaijan’s EBJ Jury score is…7

 

 

Belgium

Mrs. Jaz Now THIS is up my street – a song that has me yelling ‘Somebody get me some roller skates and take me back to the disco era, ASAP!’. I don’t know how it would go getting radio airplay and climbing up the charts outside of Belgium, but I do know I really like it. What’s not to like? It’s catchy and high on energy, and unwaveringly uplifting. The cherry on top is the fact that the intro sounds like Another One Bites The Dust. When you’ve got Queen in your corner, you’re all set.

Wolfgang It’s not about Laura Tesoro – she surely is a nice artist and has a voice (not THE voice, in my opinion), but it’s all about her song What’s The Pressure that does not appeal to me. I normally like funky and soulful songs a lot, but in this case she seems to be too young and inexperienced for the song. In the Belgian national final, her vocals sounded so try-hard that I got the impression the song’s simply too difficult for her vocal abilities. On the other hand, Laura is a powerhouse, and knows how to perform on stage well. Maybe her performance will help to compensate for some weak vocals, or one or two wrong notes. But I guess the ‘pressure’ will be very high for her to qualify to the final this year, with so many stronger competitors. In my opinion, it will be an ‘Iris’ year for Belgium in Stockholm. I don’t see this entry going anywhere.

Jaz  I would have felt sorry for whoever succeeded Loïc Nottet as Belgium’s representative. The shoes he left behind for Laura (who turned out to be that ‘whoever’) to fill were inhumanly large – Bigfoot might have been a better choice, but he wasn’t shortlisted for Eurosong unfortunately (though can’t you just see him hip-thrusting through a Thomas G:son dance banger?). I personally would have preferred Adil Arab to be the successor in question, which you might think is setting the tone for the remainder of this review. However, I am a fan of Laura and What’s The Pressure. I was more of a fan back when she was selected, and all Eurovision 2016 had to its name was a handful of songs. As time went on and the entry forms were filled out by twenty, then thirty, then forty-plus countries, Belgium’s follow-up to Rhythm Inside wore a little thin, and sounded kind of pedestrian. But while it is pedestrian in terms of quality, it’s also pedestrian in terms of pace – as in, you can power-walk your butt off (sorry for all the bum references I’m making today) to it as it trumpets along. There’s a heap of energy on show, and a sense of fun that Laura manages to project every time she’s performing it. It does suffer from ‘Haven’t I Heard That Somewhere Before?’ Syndrome – in this case, I hear a fusion of Uptown Funk and Sax – but that recognition factor might actually work in Laura’s favour. She’s closing semi two, so if any of us are flagging by the time the end draws near, she’ll pump us up again – but that could be her only purpose. WTP can easily be compared to Finland’s Sing It Away in that it’s a pretty dispensable party track. It doesn’t really fight for a final place, so if it gets one, I suspect it will be due to a 9th or 10th place in the semi rather than a top five. I don’t think last year’s brilliant Belgian result was a fluke, but I do think they need to rediscover the formula that made such an impression on the juries and voters…because Laura will struggle to do the same.

The EBJ Jury says…

  • Ali 12
  • Fraser 8
  • James 5
  • Jaz 8
  • Martin 7
  • Mrs. Jaz 8
  • Nick 2
  • Penny 7
  • Rory 12
  • Wolfgang 2

Belgium’s EBJ Jury score is…7.1

 

 

Iceland

Mrs. Jaz *makes face that suggests I’ve just waved dog poo under her nose* *which I didn’t* After what was a promising start, this fell flat. It descended into far too many mentions of ‘hear them calling’ for my liking – jeeze, we get it, lady! Consequently, the chorus seemed to come around much faster than it actually did. The song – which I assumed was titled Hear Them Calling, on a hunch – is catchy, but in a mediocre, doesn’t-go-anywhere kind of way. Is catchy mediocrity a thing? If not, it is now. I’m sorry, but if this came on the radio and I’d already heard it on there once, I’d be quick to change stations before I suffered an acute attack of the yawns.

Wolfgang The Icelandic national final appeared to me like a Lame Lady Ballad contest this year, which I was not really impressed by. So I would say that Greta Salóme’s song was the best of a weak bunch, but is still good enough for Eurovision to leave an impression. What I like about the song is the country style, and that it’s really dynamic and up-tempo. But what makes the difference on the Eurovision stage is its amazing performance that reminds me strongly of those ‘Shadowland’ performances of the PILOBOLUS dance theatre artists. And that’s something I really enjoy watching! This could become the Mika Newton performance of 2016, from which we still remember the beautiful work of the sand artist (while we have almost forgotten Mika and her song). But remember: Mika came 4th in the grand final of Eurovision 2011 in Düsseldorf. Maybe this will be THE surprise performance of the year in Stockholm?

Jaz Yes, Greta’s back, blah blah blah…I kind of wish she’d reunited with Jónsi for her return, though, even if he’d just sat on the side of the stage looking like the chiselled descendant of a Viking god that he is. What was I talking about? Oh yeah, Greta. I’m going to cut right to the chase and say that her solo effort Hear Them Calling outdoes Never Forget – but NOT its Icelandic version. In turn, as Raddirna, this song had an extra something special that it now lacks. Plus, it seems ten times more repetitive in English (how many times does she say ‘hear them calling’ during the three minutes? It’s like the new ‘Why-ay-ay-ayyyy’). I also dislike the Mumford and Sons-style folksiness of the song – it’s been done to death. I’d say it actually died circa 2014. Let’s be honest (well, those of us who don’t think the song is all that, anyway): it’s all about the staging with this one. I have to give a curt nod to Iceland for taking the concept of projections and not just copycatting Heroes (the clear inspiration) but playing with shadows instead – there is a lot of light and shade in Greta’s performance, literally. That moment where she leans back and “smoke” billows out of her like she overdid it at an Indian curry buffet the previous evening is a golden one. Now, I know using visuals to win over your audience is exactly what Sweden did to win Eurovision 2015 – but to me, Heroes was a better and more modern standalone song than Hear Them Calling. The package was more complete. Iceland still has a decent shot at qualifying and maybe squeezing onto the left-hand side of the scoreboard with what they’ve got, but because that is a) an obvious attempt to capitalise on Sweden’s offering of last year, and b) overshadowed (so to speak) by better and edgier entries, the chances of Reykjavik 2017 are very slim.

The EBJ Jury says…

  • Ali 7
  • Fraser 10
  • James 12
  • Jaz 7
  • Martin 12
  • Mrs. Jaz 5
  • Nick 10
  • Penny 8
  • Rory 8
  • Wolfgang 7

Iceland’s EBJ Jury score is…8.6

 

 

Israel

Mrs. Jaz Aah…the beauty of simplicity. So much modern music is so noisy, full of stupid noises and vocal manipulations. This, on the other hand, is a pure and simple piano ballad that managed to be anthemic without being in-your-face about it. The music doesn’t overshadow the vocals, meaning I could understand what Hovi was saying (and though some of it was silly, I liked it). I can imagine couples all over Israel and beyond using this song as their ‘first dance’ wedding song, assuming Ed Sheeran becomes passé in the near future. It’s very nice indeed.

Wolfgang It seems to me that sun, moon and star metaphors are booming this year in the Eurovision lyrics. The Israeli entry is a classic example of a lame lady ballad that wants to ‘shine’ (a little light?) – only done by a male artist. As with Belgium, there is nothing wrong with Hovi Star: he has a great voice and a wide vocal range that is a bit comparable to Adam Lambert, IMO. So the only thing he needs for Eurovision would be a better song. Made of Stars to me is so cliché in an awful way, and it sounds dated, not contemporary. The build of the song resembles somehow the ‘drama queen’ ballad by Conchita from 2014, only this one goes nowhere and suddenly ends when you expect more to come. But what I find really cheesy and annoying are the lyrics: ‘A million faces tied in chains, you ride a black horse in the rain.’ Honestly, did they let the songwriters of the last three Russian entries write these lines? To sum it up, the song’s very cliché, the lyrics are terrible, and I don’t see a qualification for Israel this year. Not with that song!

Jaz If ever there was a shoo-in to win the prestigious EBJ Eurovision Excellence Award in the category of Mr Congeniality, Hovi Star is it (and a bit). I don’t even know this guy, and I LOVE him. He is, to me, the Tooji of 2016 – so personable and fabulous, you want to be his BFF after watching a thirty-second vox pop. And damn, he’s got great hair! My main mission in Stockholm is to touch it so I can then relay back to you guys what it feels like (Schwarzkopf-misted silk, I’m sure). I could go on forever about how much I want to hang out with Hovi, but I suppose I should devote some page space to Made of Stars. It’s not as fabulous as he is, but I think it’s beautiful in its simplicity. Initially, Israel were sending a big, brash, theatrical production that had Adam Lambert written all over it – and if you read my review of the now (sadly) disqualified Romania, you’ll know I detest OTT drama at Eurovision. Granted, that version of Made of Stars had a strong identity; but the revamp/reshape has toned down the drama and allowed the spotlight to shine on Hovi’s vocals. The lyrics, nonsensical as they can be, are lovely to listen to – ‘thunder and lightning, it’s getting exciting’, they are not – and the pared-back piano backing is equally so. Overall, though it’s not as powerful as it could have been, I’m very fond of this. I think, given Hovi’s performance skills and the star-related possibilities of his staging (the drones from the music video probably won’t be making an appearance, but still) Israel could do better than many expect, but I’m not convinced they even have the legs to qualify. Nonetheless, I will be watching on in rapt fascination when Hovi’s time comes…while fashioning a long-distance hair-stroking device out of toothpicks.

The EBJ Jury says…

  • Ali 8
  • Fraser 8
  • James 2
  • Jaz 10
  • Martin 7
  • Mrs. Jaz 7
  • Nick 7
  • Penny 6
  • Rory 6
  • Wolfgang 4

Israel’s EBJ Jury score is…6.5

 

 

 Latvia

Mrs. Jaz  I think I liked this. That’s probably a strange thing to say, but I honestly couldn’t make up my mind about it. Pros: Great music. A nice voice to accompany that music. A beat that mimics a pulse (totally by coincidence, right?). Generally of a better standard than the Icelandic song. Cons: It didn’t jazz up in the way that I thought it was going to (you could say the Heartbeat flatlined). It might prove to be a bit forgettable seeing as it’s opening its semi. Other observations: I reckon I need repeat listens to learn to love Latvia.

Wolfgang Here we have the ‘Aminata’ song #2, following on from the very successful Latvian entry of 2015 by going for the same success package again in 2016. I must admit that I like this year’s Latvian song and artist much more than last year’s. Justs really is a great vocal performer, and his song is by far catchier than last year’s injected love. What I like most about the song is its up-tempo beat that gives me good vibes and really works well with Justs’ strong, slightly scratchy voice. The only thing I would criticise is the performance, where nothing much happens on stage (at least not in the NF performance). At the moment it all looks like Andrius Pojavis for Lithuania in 2013. So, if the stage performance is improved, including lots of heartbeats, then it will be another top 10 result for Latvia this year. I’m sure this song will leave a great impression on a lot of televoters. Or will we head to Riga again next year?

Jaz Latvia made an excellent decision when they opted to send a song to Eurovision 2016 that was written by their very successful 2015 representative. Aminata knows how to create a song that’s less cookie-cutter and more cutting-edge, cool and contemporary – the kind of thing that makes skeptical, non-ESC-obsessed viewers think ‘Hey, this is actually pretty awesome!’. And for that, I salute you, Miss Savadogo. Justs and his Heartbeat are everything I want to see competing in the contest in 2016. The song is a little alternative in sound and makes me feel like a much more epic person just(s) listening to it, but it’s still hugely accessible for mainstream pop lovers. The chorus, like Azerbaijan’s, is incredibly hooky, and though it does feel like the titular word has been said a few too many times by the end, it is the core of the song – that plus the pulsing beat that drives it. The verses are minimalist in the most appealing of ways, and the synthy string of notes that punctuates them adds an extra piece of ear candy to the concoction. Something else I love about this entry is the contrast between how Justs looks, and how he sounds. He looks like he could be cast as Edward Cullen in a Twilight reboot, but he sounds like…well, Hungary’s Freddie, if Freddie wasn’t as throaty. That ultra-innocent face clashes beautifully with the grunt in his voice. All in all, there is nothing I dislike about Latvia – again – and so much that I love. As a result, I’m hoping for an Aminata-level finish at least. But they’ll have to both pimp and nail their staging to increase their chances. Hey, even if they don’t…wow. I can’t believe we’ve gone from Cake To Bake to THIS in two years.

The EBJ Jury says…

  • Ali 5
  • Fraser 7
  • James 6
  • Jaz 12
  • Martin 8
  • Mrs. Jaz 7
  • Nick 10
  • Penny 8
  • Rory 3
  • Wolfgang 8

Latvia’s EBJ Jury score is…7.4

 

 

UK

Mrs. Jaz  I like this! Yes, the UK is my homeland, but before you call me biased, know that Jaz didn’t tell me this was the UK song until after I’d given my verdict. And if I’d had to guess its origin, I probably wouldn’t have opted for the UK based on my past listening experiences anyway (Bonnie Tyler…Engelbert…the 1920s schtick from last year). You’re Not Alone is a little 80s-inspired, so we have skipped forward a few decades. Still, it’s radio-ready for the 00s too. It instantly got into my head and had me singing along, which has to be helpful for both Eurovision and karaoke nights. I feel quite proud of this, actually. I hope it does well – or at least that it doesn’t do too badly. It deserves a decent result.

Wolfgang This year the BBC started their biggest competition EVER to find the right song and artist(s) for Eurovision 2016, including almost every organisation in the British music industry that is of importance. And the result for their national final was six not-too-overwhelming songs sung by no-names. So that was all ‘Big Mouth’, and then baking only little bread again. But, among the songs there was light and shadow, and I’m glad that one of the better ones won the NF. Joe & Jake are fresh, cool guys who match well together on stage. They have a contemporary song that is a strong grower to me, and both of their voices have a very good live quality. So even if the song’s not too impressive, the guys are charming and good-looking, and they could spread some energy and fun to the Eurovision audience. I guess it won’t be enough for a top 10 placement for the UK in Sweden, but I expect a better result than last year – somewhere in the top 20. This year I’ll keep my fingers crossed for a good UK result.

Jaz I don’t know what I should have expected to hear from the UK after the bonkers-ness of Still In Love With You, but I am relieved it’s something less laughable (and bonus, there’s no mention of disease in the lyrics this time!). Two good-looking lads whose names conveniently both begin with ‘J’ (the superior initial for first names, obviously) sporting an anthem that it’s impossible to do the Charleston to? That’s got to be good, right? It is good – but I wouldn’t describe You’re Not Alone as ‘great’. It’s pleasant to listen to, but it reeks of the kind of song that backs a movie trailer or montage of some kind. If the Rio Olympic organisers are after a song that can soundtrack ‘The Top 10 Team Efforts of the XX-whatever Olympiad’, then they should look no further than Joe & Jake’s. My problem with this entry as a whole is that, while there’s nothing to complain about, there’s nothing to get excited about either. I don’t feel anything when I listen to it. Belgium brings a smile to my face; Latvia gives me goosebumps; this gives me nul points. And yet, I cannot physically fault it, because I wouldn’t describe it as ‘boring’ either! HELP ME. I am looking forward to ogling Joe when he’s on stage, and then pretending I wasn’t when accused shortly thereafter because he’s younger than me and I’m not ready to be classified as a cougar yet. So there’s that. If too many people are feeling the way I’m feeling (about the UK’s song, not about the big box of cutesicles that is Joe), then I can’t see this escaping the 15th-20th zone in the final. That makes me a little sad for the boys, but the Eurovision experience will be a brilliant one for them at this stage of their careers anyway.

The EBJ Jury says… 

  • Ali 6
  • Fraser 8
  • James 3
  • Jaz 7
  • Martin 7
  • Mrs. Jaz 8
  • Nick 6
  • Penny 5
  • Rory 10
  • Wolfgang 7

The UK’s EBJ Jury score is…6.7

 

 

And, as usual, we have a winner! And a loser. Things did NOT go my way this time… 

  1. Iceland (8.6)
  2. Latvia (7.4)
  3. Belgium (7.1)
  4. Azerbaijan (7)
  5. United Kingdom (6.7)
  6. Israel (6.5)

Congratulations to Greta, who can take the nonexistent trophy for this round of reviews back to Reykjavik and display it oh-so-proudly on her mantelpiece. Commiserations to Hovi, who would have finished much higher if I had all the power here (who’s stupid idea was it to recruit a jury, therefore relinquishing the majority of my precious power?). Remember, all of this score-giving and number-crunching is going towards the compilation of the EBJ Top 43*, which I’ll be publishing from Stockholm (which means it’ll be an exotic Top 43).

Yes, I said 43. We took the time to review Romania a few weeks ago, and I think we owe it to Ovidiu to keep him in our ranking. Even if he is rather low in it.

In a few days, the penultimate part of this series will see Armenia, Australia, Ireland, Malta, Moldova and Slovenia critiqued by an American, an Englishman and moi. Check in then to find out how high or low my patriotism level is running at the moment (i.e. what I think of Dami’s Sound of Silence).

 

Until then…

 

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About Jaz

I'm Jaz, I'm 25, and I'm 110% Eurovision-OBSESSED. The contest is one big party, and I like to keep it going 365 days a year - that's why I write about anything and everything ESC on my blog. Come join the fun, and I promise you'll never have a nul-point experience! www.eurovisionbyjaz.com/

Posted on April 24, 2016, in Eurovision 2016, Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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