Good day sir/madam/whoever is reading this from wherever in the world! I’m flattered you’ve taken the time to drop by EBJ, given all of the rehearsal goodness going down at Kyiv’s International Exhibition Centre that can be enjoyed vicariously through social media (believe me, I’ve been doing my bit in an attempt to quash my ‘Last year I was in the Press Centre at Eurovision and this year I am not’ depression).
It’s hard to comprehend that it’s May already, and that the pre-show prep is in full swing. Rehearsals for the first half of the second semi are taking place as I type this, and I’m eagerly (and sweatily #nerves) awaiting the turn of a few of my favourites. If you are too and you’re after a distraction, then look no further – you’ve found it!
I have three rounds of 2017 reviews left to squeeze in before the ESC hits our TV screens, and today it’s the moment of truth for *drum roll* *realises you’ll already have seen the title of this post* *shrugs*:
- Armenia’s Artsvik with Fly With Me
- Austria’s Nathan Trent with Running On Air
- Finland’s Norma John with Blackbird
- Moldova’s Sunstroke Project with Hey Mamma
- San Marino’s Valentina Monetta & Jimmie Wilson with Spirit of the Night
- Slovenia’s Omar Naber with On My Way
As always, my mum has given her verdict on these six songs too…and boy, was there some serious disagreement this time. We actually haven’t spoken a word to each other since I played them for her.
So much for ‘come together’.
Anyway, keep reading to find out how we rated these entries, and feel free to share your feelings about them in the comments – love, hate or tolerate!
My thoughts If you remember what I said when reviewing Serbia, you can skip the next sentence because it’ll be pretty much the same criticism (not to say I hate either song. I don’t). I’d just like to reiterate my warning to all competing Eurovision countries that if you make us all wait until the very last minute before lifting the cloche off your song for the year, we’ll be expecting something phenomenal. So, even if said song is a solid 8/10, it won’t seem that good because you’ve let our expectations pile up like a Jenga tower taller than Jonatan Cerrada’s stilt dancer. Enter Armenia, who did exactly that by being the final country out of 43 to unveil their contribution to the Kyiv contest. If I’d personally heard Fly With Me in February, I might have thought more of it than I do now and wouldn’t have been at all disappointed by it. Rest assured, if you think this song is the best thing since the introduction of the semi-final system, I’m only a tiny bit disappointed. It’s just not a fantastic ethno-pop banger in my opinion, so much as a weird combination of classic Eurovision ethno-pop circa 2005 and the bass (?) guitar from Eneda Tarifa’s Fairytale. I like how exotic and interesting it is, and the ‘fly with me’ hook towards the end – when Artsvik ramps things up vocally – leaves a pretty powerful impression. This is another song, though, that doesn’t seem to have a solid identity. It’s like a coconut fell on its head while it was on holiday in Hawaii, and now it can’t remember its name, age or occupation. It offers up a bunch of different body parts that are disjointed when put together, just enough to be noticeable but not so much that the disjointedness actually becomes an intriguing gimmick (á la Icebreaker). As a result, I can’t decide exactly how I feel about it. I don’t know about you, but if I’m confused about something I’m not very likely to support it (e.g. by voting). Artsvik’s rehearsals have been very well received, so we can expect Fly With Me to be elevated when performed live – as Armenia’s entries often are – but since the song’s still a question mark for me, I still have to hand out an indecisive, ‘Do I like it or not?’ score of 6 points.
My mum says… I have mixed feelings about this too, but the biggest portion of the mix is dislike. I do get a kick out of the hypnotic beat, and I think the music is varied and very interesting to listen to…but everything else is too disjointed and old-fashioned for me. If it had become more cohesive and modern after the first thirty seconds, I’d score it better, but it carried on how it started (just getting more shouty as it went along). I don’t think I ‘get’ it. 3 points.
Armenia’s score 4.5
My thoughts If this was the Eurovision Adorableness Contest, Austria would be an Italy-level favourite right now. Nathan Trent is the most precious person on the planet – as far as I can tell from his press/profile videos without knowing him personally – and that’s the sort of thing that should shine through when he’s on stage, hopefully singing the shiz out of the equally sweet Running On Air. How could anyone hate this song? It’s a prime piece of feel-good inspo-pop (if that term catches on, I want full credit) that just avoids being cheesy, thanks to Nathan sounding more like a smooth R & B singer than an overly-keen finalist on The X Factor performing their potential winner’s single. The low-key, contemporary-sounding verses really show off his voice, while the catchy – if slightly passé-sounding by comparison – chorus is so easy to sing along to, it’s practically impossible to resist. Although the entry doesn’t have the same energy as Belgium’s did last year, What’s The Pressure is what it reminds me of because it’s three minutes of pure happiness that could turn any frown upside down. We need a few tracks like that to give us a break from the intensity of Poland, Bulgaria, Finland, Hungary, et cetera: all of the countries who’ve taken a more heavy-going approach (in song style, subject matter or both). Running On Air is fun without being too fluffy, full of affirmations but not in an eye-rolling way, and has its own little space in this year’s line-up that lets it stand up and shout from the top of a mountain (somewhere in the Alps, obviously) ‘I’M HERE AND I AM JUST AS LOVABLE AS LOIN D’ICI!’. Seriously, if Nathan doesn’t make it to the final it will be just as heartbreaking as when I watched a shattered Jüri Pootsmann slink out of the green room in Stockholm, followed by a borderline suicidal Stig Rästa. It cannot happen! Except…it could. I don’t have Austria down as a dead cert to qualify, as they’re on stage second after Serbia and before Macedonia (in the middle of girl power on full blast, in other words). But my fingers will be crossed for Nathan, being a guy with a mid-tempo easy listener, to make his presence felt when sandwiched between two more in-your-face female pop numbers. If he can’t, I will make myself available for post-semi comfort hugs if he’s willing to fly to Australia to receive them. 8 points.
My mum says… Austria is a lot easier for me to love than Armenia – musically, that is, as I’m sure both countries are beautiful in their own way. I really liked this song. It sounds very mainstream compared to a lot of the other entries (it could be a Maroon 5 album track) but I’m not such a snob that I’d let that deflate my enjoyment! I see this as simple, straightforward pop that I’m imagining will have bucketloads of mass appeal. 8 points.
Austria’s score 8.00
My thoughts When you consider that Finland could have sent a song about “loving yourself” (in the privacy of one’s own home, hopefully), a song about kissing someone else’s paradise (also in the privacy of one’s own home, PLEASE GOD) or a song featuring the lyric ‘What would the X-Men do if they came to the rescue?’ (which they very nearly did, as Zühlke’s Perfect Villain finished second), it’s nothing short of merciful that they chose Norma John’s Blackbird instead. Remove all of those questionable UMK entries from the equation, though, and Blackbird remains an absolutely beautiful song, and easily one of the best ballads – if not THE best ballad – competing in Kyiv. It reminds me so much of Norway’s A Monster Like Me from 2015, which will always hold a special place in my heart as a piano ballad so powerful, it had me reaching for something to wipe my wet eyes with every time I heard it. I’m not saying the two songs sound particularly alike, but they have the same pared-back, minimalist lyrical content; the same musical interlude which sort of needs the singer/s to do something during it, but it’s still stunning when they just stand there awkwardly; and yes, that same haunting and emotional quality that makes me want to weep. Whenever Leena (not Norma, as you might expect) launches into the chorus with her crystal-clear-plus-a-hint-of-fragility voice, unleashing that ‘Now you remind me of something I’ll never have’ line upon an unsuspecting world, I turn into a tsunami of tears (and I haven’t even been jilted recently, so I hate to think what state this song would put me in if I was freshly heartbroken). There’s a shiver down my spine and goosebumps all over my body too, and you know what the last song to have that effect on me was? 1944. Before you accuse me of being delirious in thinking that Norma John have mad Francesco Gabbani-defeating skills and will win the contest, that’s so NOT what I’m thinking. I know Finland isn’t going to do what Ukraine did last year, since lightning doesn’t strike twice – not two years in a row at Eurovision, anyway. But Blackbird’s ability to move me makes it special. It deserves to do well in the comp in a way that Sing It Away (an easy song to sacrifice) couldn’t. This song, IMO, is not disposable – it’s integral to have in the final. 10 points.
My mum says… It’s not often that music manages to choke me up, but Blackbird is so beautiful, and so beautifully melancholic, I nearly had to wipe away some tears. It’s so different to all of the other ballads I’ve heard – more subdued and less dramatic, but somehow even more emotional. Leena’s voice is just perfect for expressing all of that emotion, and she has an Adele-like way of making you feel what she’s feeling, even if you’re not experiencing it first-hand. It’s stunning. 10 points.
Finland’s score 10.00
My thoughts EPIC SAX GUY IS BACK!!! The man who inspired the most famous Eurovision meme in the history of memes is returning to the contest with his fellow Sunstroke Project boys, but sans guest vocalist Olia Tira this time. That’s not news to anyone reading this, I’m guessing, but I do know something you don’t know: exactly how I feel about Hey Mamma. But don’t worry, I’m about to tell you. To put it simply, I love it. It’s so different to 2010’s Run Away – i.e. very light-hearted and lots of fun, as opposed to intense and fast-paced – that it’s hard to compare the two, but I personally prefer Hey Mamma. Trying to win over one’s in-laws is a struggle that so many people can associate with, and the fact that Moldova has produced a song that brings some humour and happiness to the situation is worth a round of applause. I’ve also found myself clapping for the insanely catchy verses and chorus, plus the inclusion of not only another top-notch sax riff, but a violin riff too. Oh, AND another copy-worthy dance that accompanies the sax riff (feat. less groin thrusting this time). Clearly, this entry shares some ingredients with Run Away, as do the songs of repeat artists that came before the Sunstroke Project (Paula Seling & Ovi, for example) – I mean, when a formula proves fairly successful, why pinball in a totally different direction on your next try? But this is everything we know and love about the boys in a new and improved package. A controversial opinion? Probably, if you think this song is garbage. But the ESC needs light and shade to make it more exciting, and Moldova – not for the first time – aren’t taking things too seriously, song-wise. Instead, they’ve given us all a Euroclub banger that will also be a banger played at Club Le Jaz’s Loungeroom (and in unrelated news, if you’re currently in Kyiv for Eurovision purposes, I hate you with a passion). Everyone needs some saxual healing from time to time. We’ll have to wait and see if the results reflect that, or if Moldova will fail to get out of their semi for the fourth year running. Even if they don’t qualify, if nobody forgets to remove their accreditation badge for the broadcast it’ll be a step up from 2016. 10 points.
My mum says… Ohhhhh no. Not a fan! This sounds like a song that was written in ten minutes after the composers forgot they had a deadline for it, and it’s really obvious. It comes across so…naff. My favourite part was when it finished, and I’ll be happy to not hear it start ever again – even though the look on Jaz’s face when I told her this was a look that could kill. One person’s trash is another’s treasure, so they say. 2 points.
Moldova’s score 6.00
My thoughts If a genie ever appears in front of me and grants me three wishes, I’m convinced I’ll just wish for the same thing three times to make 110% sure that it happens. That thing would be for some random, Eurovision-appreciating Sammarinese resident to win the lottery, and be able to bankroll San Marino’s contest participations until Ralph Siegel has fallen off the perch and cannot physically (or spiritually, fingers crossed) do it. That has to be the explanation for his constant creation of half-baked, cringe-worthy songs that have been composed by the numbers from an instruction book called ‘How To Write A Song That Sounds Like It Was Recorded In 1978 And Yet Would Still Have Been Regarded As Bollocks Back Then.’ Obviously, Serhat took the reins in Stockholm and, with a group of other misguided music “professionals”, produced something remarkably similar to a Siegel song – but at least it had entertainment value! Spirit of the Night, performed by the artist ESC fans most associate with San Marino and an artist no one has ever associated with San Marino, has none. It’s just a big wheel of cheese feat. approximately sixteen unnecessary key changes and a lyrical “conversation” that makes me want to go one better than Vincent Van Gogh and cut both of my ears off to save me from ever having to hear it again. Valentina Monetta – and no doubt Jimmie Wilson too – is so much better than this, yet NONE of her four (!) entries have shown her musical talents off to their fullest. She’d be far more suited to singing the Czech song, or something like it, in Italian. But the Monetta-Siegel saga continues. My favourite thing about San Marino 2017 is the dynamic between ValMon and Jimmie, who seem to have a great time together and can somehow perform this horror show with genuine enthusiasm (something I’ve managed to pick up on despite the waves of secondhand embarrassment that wash over me every time I see the two in action). I’d be happy for them to qualify, if there was some way they didn’t have to take Spirit of the Night through as well. But with the rules being as they are, I give this duo full permission to stay behind in the semi final. 2 points.
My mum says… Actually, maybe Moldova isn’t so bad after all. Not when compared to this THING, anyway. All right, so the singers are enthusiastic, and do their best to get us all on board with the spirit of the night (speaking of, was this song’s writer drunk on some sort of spirit when he decided it qualified as a semi-decent song suitable for public exposure?). But apart from that, I can’t find any redeeming features here. It’s like the theme from a terrible 1970s movie that no amount of popcorn could make worth watching. Sorry, San Marino, but what an epic fail! 1 point.
San Marino’s score 1.5
My thoughts Omar’s one of two artists making their Eurovision comeback in Kyiv after first participating in the same city in 2005. Like Estonia’s Laura, he’s been chipping away at a second shot at representing his country between then and now, but it wasn’t his time (again) until 2017…though many would say it should have been BQL’s time this year. But that’s another story for the post-contest conversations about which countries effed up royally in retrospect. Omar’s pulled a Sunstroke Project by taking something more uplifting and less intense than his previous entry to this contest – but on this occasion, I don’t think it’s for the better. On My Way is no Stop, which I think we can all agree (and I accept no opposition to this) was ROBBED a place in the ’05 final. However, if we pretend that never existed for the sake of viewing On My Way objectively, it’s not a bad man ballad. Sure, it’s dated – Omar’s openly said that he wrote it a decade ago and has been saving it (perhaps hoping that this sort of song would come back into fashion, which sadly for him it hasn’t). But I feel far more positively about it than most other fans do. I like how symphonic and soaring it is, especially in the chorus: it’s just as big and bombastic as you’d expect. I don’t like how clichéd and overly-simplistic the lyrics are, considering they’re the mind child of someone who’s lived in London for years and speaks fluent English. But the decent melody and Omar’s flawless vocal delivery (the star attraction) distract me from that lyrical dumb-down. I feel like I can compare the whole vibe of this entry to Ott Lepland’s Kuula, though that was far superior in every way. But the grand man ballad style and stage presentation of this song are cut from the same cloth. Unfortunately, Slovenia seems to be lost without Maraaya (hence the BQL mention) and seem destined for another DNQ. At the very least, they’ll scrape into the final and end up with a right-side score after that. 7 points.
My mum says… Okay, Omar – if you want to be on your way, I’m happy to help you along. I’ll even be a temporary bellboy and carry your bags. Anything to get you moving out of hearing range! As powerful as this song might be, I wanted it to stop pretty soon after it had started, because it just goes on and on (and on some more) in an “inspirational” way that would make it fit right in on an episode of Glee featuring a performance at a high school graduation. Eurovision, not so much. Well, not in terms of fitting in enough to win voters over, anyway. 1 point.
Slovenia’s score 4.00
There go another six songs into the ‘Reviewed Like A Boss’ pile! This is where they ended up:
- Finland (10.00)
- Austria (8.00)
- Moldova (6.00)
- Armenia (4.5)
- Slovenia (4.00)
- San Marino (1.5)
I’d shed a tear over Finland winning this round, but I think I’ve used up enough boxes of tissues over Blackbird (plus I need to save some crying energy for Norma John’s performances next week). Austria follows not too far behind, and Moldova not too far behind them. Armenia and Slovenia – after being dragged down by Mrs. Jaz – finish in the lower-middle range, which I don’t think will happen for either of them in the actual contest (take from that what you will). San Marino, suitably, is as far behind here as Ralph Siegel is behind the times when it comes to writing a good pop song.
Next time, we’re zipping around Europe – and a little further afield – to bring you potentially bitchy opinions on Australia, Belarus, Iceland, Ireland, Montenegro and Spain. What do two different generations of Australians think of Isaiah? And more importantly, how will my MOTHER react to the most pornographic song in Eurovision history (which is obviously Montenegro’s, not Australia’s)? You’ll have to come back to get the answers to those questions. Keep an eye on my Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (or subscribe over there –>) to be the first to know when I’ve posted. Your feeds and inboxes are already being bombarded with Eurovision anyway, so it can’t hurt…
Happy Almost-ESC Week!