THE EBJ EUROVISION 2018 REVIEWS: Round 1 (Armenia, Cyprus, Hungary, Malta + the Netherlands)
Hello there! I bet you thought this day would never come – the day when I’d finally get my Euroshiz together and do what every other ESC website has been doing for a month.
Okay, so you might have known I’d kick things off eventually if you’re familiar with my sloth-like tendencies (never visit this blog for breaking news, because it won’t be breaking by the time I talk about it). Now that there are four weeks to go until Lisbon’s first semi final, though, you’re about to be flooded with my verdicts on all 43 songs competing in Eurovision 2018. It’s a review tsunami, so strap on your lifejackets and take a big breath!
For Round 1, my high-tech random selection process – in which I copy-pasted a list of the countries, closed my eyes and pointed at it 43 times – resulted in Armenia, Cyprus, Hungary, Malta and the Netherlands being the fortunate first group to be judged (you’ll have to wait a while for the lucky last). So if you want to see how I rate Sevak, Eleni, AWS, Christabelle and Waylon, you came to the right place.
Check out my reviews, vote for your favourite of today’s five, and share your thoughts in the comments. Pretty please?
My thoughts If you’d told me a few months ago that Tamar Kaprelian would not be representing Armenia at Eurovision this year, I would have had a very melodramatic meltdown. Poison (Ari Ari) is an ethnopop masterpiece after all (Disagree? CASH ME OUSSIDE, HOW BOW DAH?!?) and when I listened to the snippets of everything else Depi Evratesil had to offer, I didn’t hear anything as awesome. As Donny Montell knows, love is blind…but it also made me deaf to the potential of eventual winning song Qami. I honestly can’t even recall hearing a snippet of Sevak’s power ballad – the first all-Armenian language song sent to adult Eurovision – even though I definitely did. Yet all it took was one look at/listen to his national final performance for me to forget about Poison (almost – a banger is always a banger) and fall head-over-heels for Qami. ‘Wind’ as it translates to – and it’s a safe assumption that he’s talking about the force of nature, not the aftermath of a particularly spicy vindaloo – ticks every box on my mental checklist for epic ballads. It’s a slow burner that starts off subtly before exploding at the end of the second chorus (kind of like the 0-100k/ph dynamism of Aram Mp3’s Not Alone). It’s haunting and mysterious. The melody is stunning, and the repetition of the title gives us non-Armenian speakers something to latch on to. Plus, the contrast between the delicate first half and Sevak’s vocal and visual strength (there’s wearing your heart on your sleeve and then there’s wearing your abs on the outside of your shirt) makes the overall package vulnerable and powerful at the same time. I know a lot of fans aren’t as psyched about this one as I am, but every year there’s one song I adore that not many other people seem to (and it can either bomb, or kick butt in the actual contest like Origo last year). I do think there is room for Qami to do some butt-kicking in Lisbon, this not being a ballad-heavy year and Sevak having the kind of song that could be a mind-blower if it’s staged right. But that’s more of a hope and prayer than a prediction, so don’t hold me to it!
2017 VS 2018? 2018, hands down (sorry, Artsvik).
My score 12
My thoughts Speaking of ethnopop masterpieces…enter Cyprus! Strutting in wearing a catsuit and a pair of sky-high heels, of course. Last year I was pleasantly surprised by Hovig’s Gravity, which was constantly compared to Rag & Bone Man’s Human – familiarity doesn’t breed contempt with me, I guess. I’m mentioning the comparison because once again, Cyprus has delivered a great pop song that happens to fit neatly into the mould of one I’ve heard before – in this case, a bunch of songs from Helena Paparizou’s back catalogue. Is there anything wrong with that? Umm, NO. Don’t get me wrong, I applaud originality, and Lisbon is lucky to have it in the form of Israel, Ukraine etc. But even a Paparizou album filler would be welcome at Eurovision, and since we can’t have the queen herself performing one (though she did record a version), Eleni and her Fuego are the next best thing. I love this, and it was an instant love strengthened by the fact that ‘You got me pelican fly fly flying’ is legitimately one of the lyrics. That IS original! I feel like this song was engineered especially to appeal to ethnopop tragics like myself because, in that department, it does everything right. Simple, neatly-rhymed verses + a chorus made up of hooky melodies and yeahs (which can be exchanged for ohs) + a memorable riff played on a traditional instrument = this, and every other ethnopop entry ever. Basically, it’s Aphrodisiac (Greece 2012) with a 2018 magic wand waved over it. With the product placement from the music video out of the question for the live ESC performance, and Eleni sure to be looking as hot as the fire she’s singing about, my only concern is how she’ll sound. The lives of hers I’ve checked out have been fine – albeit feat. some heavy lifting from backing vocalists – but I have heard she isn’t the most reliable live performer. Still, if Jedward can sing seemingly in tune (with their backup vocalists’ mics turned way up) then anyone can. And if someone can point me in the direction of proof that Eleni is actually a top-notch singer and convince me that I shouldn’t be worried, they’ll get a gold star. I really want this to be Cyprus’ fourth finalist in a row, not their first DNQ since 2013.
2017 VS 2018? This is like choosing a favourite child. NOPE. Not happening.
My score 10
My thoughts You’ve got to give Hungary credit for never sending the same song to Eurovision twice. Their bounce-around approach has, since their 2011 comeback, given us dance pop, electro rock, an acoustic alt-ballad, EDM, a charity song, anthemic rock and an ethnopop slice of heaven (Joci Papái was my favourite last year and is still a true musical love of mine). In 2018 we’re getting something different again with hardcore(ish) rock/metal/I’m clearly not an expert on the genre of AWS’ Viszlát Nyár but it sounds intense to me. It’s certainly the most hardcore, rocky song competing in Lisbon, and while that will help it stand out, such songs don’t always go over well at the ESC (I can’t imagine juries going nuts over this). The fact is that the demographic AWS are aiming at is not found, in droves at least, in the Eurovision audience (if someone did a Venn diagram to demonstrate it, the two fan bases would have a pretty tiny overlap area). I’m definitely not the kind of person who would readily abandon their pop sensibilities for anything involving screaming to music. So you might be surprised to learn that I actually like this. Like, not love (á la Origo, which I said I’d marry in my review last year if I could) but yes, I dig it. It reminds me a little of Dead By April’s Melodifestivalen entry Mystery, which I was obsessed with back in 2012 – it features the same mixture of soft moments and intense, scream-your-lungs-out moments that a) make it dynamic, and b) stop it from totally alienating people who aren’t regular purveyors of hard rock. As always, Hungarian sounds alluring and mysterious as the language of choice (is there a genre it doesn’t work with?), especially in the verses. Overall, Viszlát Nyár might be well outside my top 10 for the year, but there are only two or three songs I dislike and this is not one of them. I’m a big supporter of Hungary in the contest and I do hope AWS give the country their 8th consecutive qualification…but I think it could be a tough task. The best comparison song would be Softengine’s Something Better, which did very well for Finland in 2014 but was a lot more accessible (and the screaming was confined to the last twenty seconds or so). I don’t expect Hungary to perform as impressively as that if they do make the final, and TBH, I’ll live if they don’t. Still, it would be nice to have some rock on hand to spice up the best Saturday night of the year.
2017 VS 2018? It’s a no-brainer – Origo all the way.
My score 7
My thoughts Not for the first time – they did it last year too – Malta is sending an artist to Eurovision who’s tried to represent them before with a better song than the one they’re actually getting to go with. In Christabelle’s case, 2015’s Rush really should have been her Eurovision song, but it finished 2nd in MESC that year (Saddy McSadface). And so, three years later, we’ve ended up with Taboo, a mostly Maltese production feat. input from Thomas g:Son (shocking). I’ve developed a bit of a love-hate relationship with this song, though now I think about it, those words are probably too strong – ‘like-dislike’ would be more accurate. Basically, there are parts of it I really like and others that I really don’t. First, the negatives: it may not be as lyrically lame as past Maltese entries, but it’s all over the place with metaphors and similes, making it fairly nonsensical and the message confusing (apparently it’s about mental health struggles, ICYMI). The chorus in particular bugs me like crazy – it seems like the songwriters wanted it to be meaningful, but it turned into a mess of words that happen to rhyme with ‘animals’ (criminals, miracle, *my brain explodes*). The dubstep break is my other main gripe with Taboo, just because it feels passé and could have been left out to no great loss. Positives-wise, there’s good energy, a hypnotic beat, a contemporary-sounding melody, and an overall approving nod for Malta choosing something like this. And I have to mention the MESC performance, which was OTT but very cool at the same time…even if it might be hard to replicate on Lisbon’s LED-less stage. To her credit, Christabelle is a likeable performer with a decent voice, providing she’s not running a marathon or doing star jumps constantly during a performance (code for ‘don’t make her move too much, Team Malta!’). I think Taboo has a better chance of qualifying to the final than Claudia’s Breathlessly did last year – that proved us all right when it went nowhere. But in semi two, where five or six countries could easily advance from the first half alone, Malta’s odds are 50-50, and the shock value will be minimal whether they qualify or not. Unfortunately they’re performing just three songs before Sweden, and Benjamin is armed with an uptempo song accompanied by a slick, impressive stage presentation – much like Malta, but better. And with Sweden being almost a dead cert to qualify, if one of the two is going to be sacrificed to the DNQ gods, it will be Malta.
2017 VS 2018? 2018 fo sho. I’d rather break the taboo than be breathless.
My score 6.5
My thoughts The first question to ask someone who’s about to hear Outlaw In ‘Em for the first time is ‘How do you feel about country music?’. If their answer is ‘Not good’, then they won’t be giving it douze points, or anything close. Waylon’s solo Eurovision entry is without a doubt the countriest country song I’ve ever come across. Every lyric, every guitar lick – even the title – is dripping in the genre, and makes me feel like an idiot (or should I say ‘good for nothin’ varmint’?) for not wearing a cowboy hat. Of course, as soon as the song’s over, normal cowboy-hatless life resumes. I have to say, I do enjoy a country song or 65, but I’m more of an easy-listening cruisy country fan, as opposed to a rip-roarin’, honky-tonkin’, gun-totin’ type. In that sense, you can understand why I much prefer Waylon feat. Ilse deLange (a.k.a. The Common Linnets) with Calm After The Storm to this entry. The fact that Outlaw is so darn country – to the point where it’s about to fall off a cliff edge into Cheesy Canyon – is a turn-off for me, even though I appreciate the go hard or go home mentality (a half-assed country-tinged track for Waylon? No sirree). It reminds me of Achy Breaky Heart too much to take seriously, only it’s too fast to boot-scoot to. I know I’m in the minority here, but I don’t want all of y’all to challenge me to a stand-off just yet. I’m not totally, 110% anti-Outlaw. On the plus side, I like the lyrics: unlike Malta, the theme here is clear and consistent; and the rhyming is beautiful, which makes the overall package sound neat. The song is unique (in this competition, anyway) and definitely memorable. And Waylon is a great performer even when he’s not locking eyes with Ilse – in Portugal he’ll be making eyes at the camera instead, and I’ll imagine he’s staring straight into my soul (in a sexy way, not a demonic way). Will he end up staring down the barrel of qualification, though? The betting odds say heck yes, but I have to wonder if this song is going to be too divisive. It does come to life more on stage than in studio, so I can see it meeting expectations on the night/s that count most. Yet the mass appeal needed for a win isn’t there, and I can’t see a Common Linnets result in Waylon’s future either.
2017 VS 2018? 2017. Girl power and incredible harmonies > full-on country extravaganza.
My score 6.5
And that, guys, is Round 1 done and dusted. Five down, 38 to go in less than four weeks.
Then, when you’ve dialed 911/000/whatever your country’s equivalent is on my behalf, you can take a look at today’s mini-ranking:
- Armenia (12)
- Cyprus (10)
- Hungary (7)
- Malta (6.5)
- The Netherlands (6.5)
So it’s Sevak who takes the top spot, which is obviously not a shock to me because I already knew how I felt about these five songs (let me hear you say ‘DUH!’). Now the question is, can Qami hold on to the #1 position as the EBJ 2018 reviews continue? You’ll have to stay tuned – and subscribed, hint hint – to find out. Opt in for new post email alerts in the sidebar, or find me on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram (all @EurovisionByJaz) to make sure you don’t miss a thing!
Before I sign off and in turn stop begging you to follow me on social media, I do have another question:
NEXT TIME The Lisbon reviews are just revving up…and if I want to get them finished before Eurovision happens, I need to get a move on. Drop by on the weekend when I’ll sit myself down on the EBJ judging panel to critique Azerbaijan, Estonia, Poland, Romania, and Spain!
8 Responses to “THE EBJ EUROVISION 2018 REVIEWS: Round 1 (Armenia, Cyprus, Hungary, Malta + the Netherlands)”
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Jaz, it’s review time again!! It’s an interesting year to be looking it, I’m getting strong 2011 vibes off this year’s lot (maybe it’s the 43 effect?), so I’m really looking forward to the shows. Spoiler alert: we disagree a bit lol
Hmm, this one’s interesting for me; I’ve let it move out of the basement of my rankings but I haven’t warmed to it at all yet. I like the idea behind it, but shouty ballads have never really been my thing (gotta specify for later). Sevak’s got a good set of pipes, though, and it’d be nice to see him ditch the breastplate for something more flattering. Knowing Armenia’s visual prowess, this might turn into a live treat.
Ugh, I want to love this one. Eleni has some absolute BANGERS in her backcatalogue, but Fuego just feels sorta… limp, compared to them. That being said, it’s a fun piece of catchy summer pop, but I can’t get into it. The memes with the pineapple and banana help to make up for it, though.
This song is why I had to specify shouty ballads because SURPRISE, you covered my 2018 winner in the first post! Comparing it to Finland 2014 is a great indication that I love this song and have from the get go; I got a similar feeling listening to “Viszlát nyár” the first time as I did to hearing “Something Better” for the first time almost five years ago. The passion of the performance and lyrics, wrapped up in the packaging of a post-hardcore song just hits me in the sweet spot. I will say, though, that I think Slovakia’s 2012 entry is probably closer to this than Finland 2014, but that’s splitting hairs… and drawing a comparison to a (mistreated and undeserving) semi-final wooden spooner, so I’ll stick with yours.
Props to Christabelle for trying to make a song that was meaningful towards an issue that she clearly cares about, but “trying” doesn’t equal success. I like the idea of “Taboo,” but it’s just… bad. I can barely remember the chorus, but what I’m calling to mind just screams “6th place, semi 2, MF 2008;” it’s nothing new or exciting. Even with a dubstep breakdown that just screams early 2010’s, Slovenia does it better. Try again another time, and knowing how Malta is, she will.
So Waylon started in my top 5, but this song’s aged like milk for me, and I think you hit the nail on the head; it’s too country. From the aggressive guitar to the almost-laughable levels of twang that he starts the song with, I just… can’t handle it anymore. That being said, it left an amazing first impression, so I think the Netherlands have got at least a decent chance with “Outlaw in ‘Em,” but we could very well see a repeat of Imri’s 3rd place to 23rd place (it was 23rd, right?).
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Don’t worry, I’m used to disagreement! I feel like I’ve gotten better at accepting it lately.
Why am I not surprised that Hungary is your fave? I’m glad I was (reasonably) nice about it now ;P It’s not my usual genre of preference, but I swear Hungarian has the power to make me like anything. There’s a lot of atmosphere and a build up of tension in the song (that actually explodes instead of dissolving) that I am on board with. All aboard with, you might say.
Oh my gosh, Waylon’s twang…I just cannot take that first line seriously. ‘It’s a faaaaaaaaan, faaaarn laayne between whiskey and waaaaarterr, and to wahhhhhhhn.’ I’m totally with you on the ‘lifespan of milk’ thing. But I was never that impressed to begin with. You’re probably right about the majority of first impressions though, and I have little doubt at the moment that the Netherlands will be there on the Saturday night…however, Waylon equaling or outdoing his Common Linnets podium position? Preposterous! Shame.
Reblogged this on Let Me Be The One and commented:
Jaz’s first five this year…
Good to see you back reviewing Jaz – better get a move-on though, I’ve just finished mine! I’ve found that it’s a lot easier to do it as I go along this year – the only thing left to do is the revamps (if I can really be bothered) and my SF1/SF2/Overall placings.
Looking forward to seeing where you think everyone will go – I have this feeling that only Sevak and Waylon will make it to the Final out of these five, although Christabelle would be my fav of those above…
Sorry for the delayed reply (but you know me, you can’t possibly be surprised by it!). Don’t worry, I know I need to whip myself into shape re: my review schedule. It’s gonna be a busy next few weeks, that’s for sure. We do it all for the love, though, right? I’m definitely thinking of starting earlier in 2019 and doing one country at a time…it has to be worth a shot as that’s how the majority of sites do it.
I think Cyprus has a decent shot at the final, but perhaps that’s wishful thinking. I’m not bothered about Waylon, but it’s hard to imagine a Dutch-less Saturday night at this point. As long as Sevak qualifies, I will be happy (and if not, you’ll be able to hear my wails all the way from Portugal).
PS – Jealousy aside, I’m enjoying your photos from/reviews of the preview parties. Keeps me in the loop!
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Keep watching – I’ve just got back from Amsterdam so I will have more pictures, interviews and will write up London as well!
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