JAZ JUDGES EUROVISION 2017 | Belgium, Croatia, Greece, Israel, Ukraine, the UK…and Russia
Happy Eurovision Eve, guys! If it’s still Eurovision Eve Eve when you’re reading this, then Happy That to you too.
As promised, I’m back with the final round of EBJ reviews for this year’s adult contest. It’s down to the wire given that Kyiv’s first semi is so close, and the jury semi even closer (timezone-ally speaking again, it may be over by the time you read this). Plus, there’s still the all-important – and in my case, hilariously inaccurate – predictions to be made, which I may end up posting on social media only (if you don’t see them here, check out my Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, all @EurovisionByJaz). So – and I’m saying this to myself – let’s have a little less conversation and a little more action, please!
Read on to find out how my guest juror/mother and I rate the entries from Belgium’s Blanche, Croatia’s Jacques, Israel’s IMRI, Ukraine’s O.Torvald, the UK’s Lucie…and yes, Russia’s Yulia. I couldn’t come this far and then leave her out, even though she’s out of the competition.
Here’s the last seven songs of 2017, according to two extremely intelligent and attractive Australian women.
My thoughts I don’t know what’s gotten into Belgium lately, but they’ve been batting the ball right out of the field with their Eurovision entries – 2013, 2015, 2016 and now 2017 being the gold star examples (the less we say about the creepfest of 2014, the better). Blanche’s City Lights took me by surprise, because for some reason I was expecting her to be assigned some twee, folksy guitar-strummer á la Joan Franka, which is SO not up my street. I don’t know why I expected that – she must just have that look about her. Anyway, I apologise, Blanche. You/your songwriters have given us a skillfully-crafted, cutting edge alt-pop song that’s melancholy in all the right ways. If Kristen Stewart were a song, this would be it: edgy, flat and lacking in emotion, but bizarrely attractive nonetheless. There’s nothing about it I can pick on – even the repetitiveness makes it more hypnotic. Blanche’s voice is way smokier and sultrier than you’d expect from a seventeen-year-old, and it sets off the song perfectly. The contrast between Belgium last year and now (with different broadcasters behind each entry) is huge, and I love them both. The only issue is that there’s one negative difference between Laura and Blanche, and it’s to do with their on and off-stage personalities. Laura, with all of her theatre and TV experience, was a ball of energy and enthusiasm with more charisma than Triana Park’s Agnese has wigs. She charmed the press, audience and home viewers with ease. Blanche is virtually the opposite, as far as I can tell – reserved, quietly-spoken and pretty nervy on stage. Obviously she shouldn’t smile her way through performances of City Lights, since that wouldn’t make any sense. But her uncertainty and lack of emotion at times put what is a fabulous, should-be-a-surefire-hit song right into the danger zone she’s singing about being alone in. That’s why Belgium has dropped considerably in the odds since rehearsals started, and why we could be looking at a (somewhat shocking) non-qualifier here. But, not having seen any rehearsals myself and not knowing what Blanche might muster up for the jury and broadcast shows, I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt and base my score of 10 points on the song itself.
My mum says… Wow – that’s a voice with depth! I can’t believe it’s coming out of someone so young. It kind of makes Blanche the antithesis of Ireland’s Brendan. Her song is just as impressive as her voice. It doesn’t sound manufactured, and its moody in a way that kept me interested even though it was really repetitive, which is a hard thing to do. Bravo, Belgium! 8 points.
Belgium’s score 9.00
My thoughts There are only a few duos competing at Eurovision 2017, but Croatia’s is the most notable given that it’s a duo made up of Jacques Houdek…and Jacques Houdek. Yes, we have a man duetting with himself in the contest, via a song that isn’t so much well-blended popera as it is pop-opera with a definitive divide between the two. And it is HILARIOUS. Hilariously terrible, that is. Things don’t get off to a good start when Jacques opens with some wannabe inspirational (i.e. retch-worthy) spoken lyrics that even the most warm-hearted person would find hard to take seriously. It’s not exactly downhill from there – that, IMO, is the worst part of the song – but when cheesy lines give way to Pop Jacques and Opera Jacques fighting for attention, it’s time to laugh (because it’s absolutely mental) or cry (because it’s a Disney-fied disaster). No other song so strongly begs the question ‘What were they thinking?’ than My Friend. Yet apparently, it works well enough on stage to be in contention for qualification. Whenever I hear or see someone say that, it makes me wonder if I’ve woken up in my worst nightmare. I think the only aspect of Croatia’s entry deserving of a place in the final is Mr. Houdek himself, because he’s a top bloke with bucketloads of talent (I can’t deny that he nails both the Jekyll and Hyde vocal segments of his song). Apart from that…no. Just no. I take a little sugar in my coffee, but I don’t fill the entire cup with an unpleasant combo of white and raw, if you know what I mean. That would be way too sickly. 2 points.
My mum says… Oh my gosh. If the TV show Touched By An Angel was ever made into a musical, this would be the theme song. Not that I’d know that for sure, because I would NOT be buying tickets to see it. Is ‘abysmal’ too harsh a word to describe this song? I mean, the voices are good – great even, when you realise that they’re both coming out of the same person – but everything else is…ugh. 2 points.
Croatia’s score 2.00
My thoughts It’s still hard to comprehend the fact that Greece lost their 100% qualification record last year. You’d think that would be the kick in the pants they needed to reclaim their Eurovision glory days of 2004-2013, when they could hardly keep themselves out of the top 10. The announcement of Demy as their artist confirmed that, and I was excited. Then along came the three candidate songs, one of which she’d end up singing in Kyiv…and they were all utterly average and totally uninspired. This Is Love, a dance track that feels half 2000s ESC and half cookie-cutter club hit, was the best option, I’ll give them that. But all it does is satisfy the requirements for an okay pop song. It takes zero risks, feels super familiar (like it’s a Frankenstein creation of other dance songs stitched together) and doesn’t feel lyrically original. It’s not offensive, but I have no reason to fall head over heels in love with it (hence why I’ve taken to calling it This Isn’t Love in my head). It’s just there, in the line-up, not measuring up to a good 75% of the other entries. If anything can save it – and I suspect it will be saved – it’s Demy and the staging. I’m pretty confident that will get Greece back into the final, and for all I know, back into the top 10. That’s not a result I’d rejoice in, though, as much as I love Demy. She’s better than this song, and I expected something much stronger. Hashtag disappointed! 5 points.
My mum says… I have to admit, I’ve already forgotten how This Is Love goes, but when I was listening to it I was pretty bored. I feel like Greece did try to start a fire with it, but there’s just no spark. I wasn’t even moving to the music – danger alert! Demy has a nice voice, but her stage performance will have to be incredible to make up for the weaknesses in her song. 3 points.
Greece’s score 4.00
My thoughts It’s convenient that my random selection resulted in Israel being reviewed right after Greece, since they’re so stylistically similar. It makes it even easier for me to say that I Feel Alive is miles ahead of This Is Love in every department (in my opinion, of course). And no, that’s not because Imri has the power to melt me into a human puddle of swoonage with one brief, smoldering gaze. I’m not (quite) that shallow, guys! I just think it’s a far better and far more original song. It’s definitely more current-sounding, and I like how even though each part of the song is different, the whole thing is cohesive and the energy/intensity level never wavers. It’s also great to have a bit of ethnicity shoehorned in via the instrumental break. Overall, I find this entry very catchy and danceable, and we need some of that to break up the ballads that are a bit hard to dance to if you’re alone á la Jana Burčeska. Unfortunately, there’s a question mark over Imri’s ability to pull off a pretty tricky (if my in-shower attempts are any indication) vocal. He has enough stage presence (and muscle tone) to win people over, and as he’s sung backup for Israel the past two years in a row, he can handle the Eurovision experience in general. But can he hit those high notes? Notes that could be Jemini-level awful if he doesn’t nail them? If he wasn’t doing double duty as a singer and dancer – because I’m guessing there’s some choreography for him to work with – he’d have a better shot. But I’m worried. He has the honour of closing the second semi final, and he needs to leave a good impression behind if he wants to be the lucky charm that helped Israel make the final in 2015 and 2016. I’m not sure, but I hope that he can do it. I Feel Alive would be a cracking song to have on the Saturday night. 8 points.
My mum says… Here’s a song that had my foot tapping very quickly. That’s a good sign for me, because I react to music how I react to books: if it doesn’t grab me and make me feel something fast, I’ll give up on it. I Feel Alive is very catchy, and I love the instrumental bit that sounds a bit like an Irish jig (don’t worry, I know it isn’t). I’m keen on stuff like that! And I’m told Imri is a beautiful sight to behold, so it sounds like Israel has the total package. 7 points.
Israel’s score 7.5
My thoughts I know I shouldn’t be dwelling on stuff that happened during national final season, but I’m still convinced that Tayanna’s I Love You would have been one of the best host entries in Eurovision history. It’s heartbreaking that she ended up sick prior to the Ukrainian final and barely managed to sing her way through the whole song when it mattered the most. In that sense, I can see how O.Torvald won instead. Their final performance, elevated by some gruesome but awesome prosthetics that took Time literally in a jaw-dropping way, was fantastic. Sadly, that’s not the staging they’re using for the ESC (I guess it’s not that suitable for what’s considered a family show) so they’re relying more or less on song alone to get the job done. The ‘job’ being ‘host entry that scores enough points to not be an embarrassment, but doesn’t put Ukraine in danger of having to host again in 2018’. I have a feeling a right-side scoreboard finish is in the band’s future, though. Don’t get me wrong – I’m very happy to have rock in the competition. Time stands out just because of its genre, and I think it’s got a lot going for it, apart from adding variety to the grand final. But I don’t think it’s memorable enough to thrive on simplistic staging, and I can’t see it outdoing Sweden’s 2013 result with Robin Stjernberg. In fact, I’m predicting it will finish lower than that – in the 16th-20th range – in spite of the support it’ll get from the crowd, being the host entry and all. Ukraine shouldn’t suffer the indignity that Austria did on home soil in 2015, but it’s very unlikely they’ll do what Sweden did last year and finish in the top five. O.Torvald’s musical rivals are too hard to handle. 6 points.
My mum says… I don’t know why, but this reminds me of a B-side to a 1980s ballad. The music’s interesting, but I didn’t like much else. It’s quite a dramatic change from Jamala, so at least Ukraine aren’t creatures of habit. 3 points.
Ukraine’s score 4.5
My thoughts I’m not as partial to Emmelie de Forest as a lot of other people. Only Teardrops is far from being one of my favourite ESC winners, and I much prefer Anja Nissen’s Where I Am to the song de Forest co-wrote for her DMGP appearance last year. My point is, when I heard she was responsible for a Eurovision: You Decide song, I wasn’t exactly jumping for joy. Never Give Up On You quickly won me over, however, because I loved how bare-bones it was at the NF, with hardly any instrumentation backing it and no beat that kicked in when it seemed obvious that a beat would kick in (when Lucie hits her big note towards the end). But apparently I’m fickle AF, as I then decided the song would benefit from some sort of driving beat to give it some oomph. When the revamp was unveiled feat. just that….you guessed it, I found myself preferring the original version. The ESC version has a bit of an identity crisis – it’s halfway between understated piano ballad and soaring power ballad, with an electronic influence creeping in that does make it contemporary, but ultimately sounds wishy-washy. The UK are in danger of becoming musical wallpaper once again – but if reports on their stage presentation are to be believed, they might have hauled themselves out of trouble at the last minute. From the photos I’ve seen, they’ve gone for a gold-heavy, art-deco theme that I wouldn’t have imagined suiting the song, but it looks like the camera will love it. If it does suit the song, then this entry could be a very well-wrapped package. The song is certainly up Lucie’s alley, as it caters for both her pop side (as an ex-X Factor contestant) and her theatrical side (as a past and future star of Legally Blonde: The Musical). I’d love to see her do well, but there are better ballads that are 99% likely to make it to the final and be in direct competition with her – think Finland and Portugal. And it is the United Kingdom we’re talking about. I’m always doubtful. But you can’t say they haven’t taken the contest seriously this year, or put in the level of effort required to succeed. 7 points.
My mum says… This is very nice. I like a ballad that’s powerful without being too loud and screamy, and this definitely falls into that category. I can imagine Lucie in a long, flowy dress with the (fake, wind machine-generated) wind in her hair as she channels all of her emotion into it. Her voice is gorgeous, and it’s not hard to picture her on the West End stage…or the Eurovision stage, for that matter. I’ll have my fingers crossed for the UK, because I don’t want to have to pretend I wasn’t born there! 7 points.
The United Kingdom’s score 7.00
My thoughts I don’t like the way Russia’s departure from Eurovision this year played out, on the Russian or Ukrainian ends. But try as I might, I can’t help being relieved that Flame Is Burning won’t be competing in Kyiv and won’t be taking a spot in the final away from a higher-quality song. Sorry to be so blunt, but OMG, I HATE IT. Maybe that’s partly because it came from Russia, and every time they (try) and send an “inspirational” preaching-for-peace ballad to the contest, it makes my skin crawl. That doesn’t just apply to Russia, though…see my Croatia review for proof. Anyway, just as a song, if you don’t think about its origins, it’s awful. Lame lyrics, a lacklustre melody and a style that went out of style about 25 years ago do not make for something I’d voluntarily listen to. The other problem is Yulia’s thickly-accented English, which makes it hard to understand anything she’s singing (although you could look at that as a blessing). With a better song in Russian, her talents would be put to way, way better use – which, with any luck, is what’ll happen next year if Russia re-involve themselves and send her. So, the moral of my story is, I won’t miss Flame Is Burning, just like I didn’t miss Romania’s Moment of Silence last year. I’ll just feel super sorry for their performers. 1 point.
My mum says… I don’t hate this like Jaz does (which made her jaw drop about a kilometre) but it’s nothing outstanding, that’s for sure. If it was competing, it sounds like it would be forgotten five minutes after it was performed. That’s not the key to Eurovision success, is it? And her accent is so strong, it’s distracting. 2 points.
Russia’s score 1.5
I can’t believe I get to say this, but that’s it – 43/43 reviewed! The ranking for this round looks like this:
- Belgium (9.00)
- Israel (7.5)
- United Kingdom (7.00)
- Ukraine (4.5)
- Greece (4.00)
- Croatia (2.00)
- Russia (1.5)
Belgium (pretty unsurprisingly) takes out the nonexistent trophy, with Israel and the UK hot-ish on their heels, and the others not even lukewarm. But did Belgium do enough to top the full EBJ Jury ranking? Watch this space to find out.
How would you rank the songs we reviewed today? Would Belgium be your number one too, or is there something else floating your boat? Let me know in the comments.
I’ll probably be making another appearance here pre-semi 1, but in case I don’t, I want to wish all of you a very merry contest experience! I’m looking forward to a low-key one myself, after a few years of not watching from my couch, but I will be on Twitter, typing away through all of the live shows. Maybe I’ll meet you there? It’s going to be freaking beautiful!
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