THE EBJ EUROVISION 2018 REVIEWS: Round 2 (Azerbaijan, Estonia, Poland, Romania + Spain)
Bonjour! In case you hadn’t noticed, Eurovision 2018 is so close that the road to Lisbon is practically walkable – provided you’re not wearing giant platform boots like the lead singer of Wig Wam. I’ve definitely noticed, given I’ve got so many reviews to cram into the few weeks left before the contest kicks off.
Clearly, it’s time for less talk and more action. And today I’m talking all things Azerbaijan, Estonia, Poland, Romania and Spain. Spoiler alert: there are highs, and there are lows.
How high and how low are we talking? There’s only one way for you to find out. Keep reading to see how I rate the entries from Aisel, Elina, Gromee feat. Lukas, The Humans and Amaia & Alfred. Make sure you vote for your favourite of today’s five while you’re at it…scroll for the poll!
My thoughts Last year we had their skeletons, and now – because Bulgaria has the bones covered in this year’s Eurovision Anatomy lesson – Azerbaijan has moved on to the major organs. They’ve also moved back to a non-Azerbaijani production with X My Heart, which I’m not thrilled about since Skeletons was one of their best, and certainly most original, entries in years. Aisel’s song is neither of those things in my opinion, but it does what it needs to: it’s a competent pop song and an addition to the Lisbon line-up that will deliver an adequate result without challenging for the win. If that’s what Azerbaijan is after, then a happy ending is en route. I do like the track – it’s well-written and produced, energetic enough to bop to (without having a X-my-heart attack), anthemic and catchy (for the most part…I’m on my pre-show listening ban at the moment and have forgotten how the verses go). All in all, it’s solid and doesn’t do anything wrong. But – I bet you could sense there was a big ol’ but coming – I have whipped out my fine-toothed comb and located some minor issues. Head lice on the otherwise healthy scalp of Azerbaijan’s 2018 ESC effort, if you’re up for such a gross metaphor. For starters, there’s the legacy of co-writer Dimitris Kontopoulos and how this song compares to what’s come before it. Kontopoulos is the brains behind a bunch of BANGING Eurovision songs, including Work Your Magic (Belarus 2007), Shady Lady (Ukraine 2008), This Is Our Night (Greece 2009) and You Are The Only One (Russia 2016). Sadly, this song just ain’t in the same league – but that might be the influence of Swede Sandra Bjurman, who gave us one of the contest’s most maligned winners ever, Running Scared. Another little irritation of mine is Aisel herself, who’s gorgeous to look at but is supposed to be a smoky jazz singer…so why has she been given a dance-pop song to sing that doesn’t suit her voice or show her off to maximum advantage? It seems like an odd combo of song and singer to me, and that’s a feeling that doesn’t strike me with most, if not all, of the other countries competing (think of Austria or Israel, for example. Cesár and Netta didn’t co-write their entries, but you can tell they were tailored to their voices and styles). It’s a case of Valentina Monetta Syndrome. Will the majority of other fans/casual viewers/jurors notice or care about the mismatch when they’re voting? I doubt it, and they’ll give Azerbaijan enough of a boost to reach the final and then finish around 12th-17th. I’d be satisfied with that – but if they’re not, then they need to try a different tactic in 2019.
2017 VS 2018? Skeletons – cross my heart.
My score 7
My thoughts If your home and car insurance isn’t up-to-date, you might want to get on that because Elina is about to smash your windows with her on-point operatic vocals. Just as there’s nothing quite so painful to the ear as out of tune operatics, there’s nothing quite so impressive in the vocal world as flawless, crystal-clear pipes like hers. They’re the main selling point of La Forza, let’s be honest – so fingers crossed there’s no mic fail á la Laura last year. As for the song itself, well…I find both opera and popera hit-and-miss at Eurovision (I loved Grande Amore, hated La Voix) as does the scoreboard. La Forza slots in somewhere between those two past entries on my love/hate spectrum, with Estonia being closer to Italy than Sweden (just not geographically). I feel the powerful effects of the song, but not as strongly as a lot of other fans. I can’t help being swept up in the majesty of it all when the chorus drops though, and Elina is a hypnotic performer with a slight case of crazy eyes. With THAT VOICE, her ethereal beauty, a big song that suits her to a tee (take note, Azerbaijan), and a dress designed for Mrs. Slender Man that may or may not have projections on it in Portugal (I don’t think they’re necessary myself), Estonia has a statement piece on their hands. But do they have a winner? Possibly, but not probably. La Forza is firmly in a genre that does not appeal to everyone, and Elina can only do so much – i.e. perform perfectly – to change that. There is a clinical feel to the song and performance package too that gives it a coldness, and not in a cool purposeful way like Equinox’s Bones. I can’t see that vibe overcoming more warm-hearted rivals like Toy to win the televote, but Estonia has a good chance at a top three jury vote, I think. After two years of unexpected disappointments, Estonia is looking at an almost certain qualification (I reserve the right to take that back come prediction time *covers own butt in case*) and a final result that couldn’t be classified as a crash and burn. Elina’s talent alone is top 10-worthy, and how high she can go will likely depend on how many spines she can tingle when it matters.
2017 VS 2018? Verona is more up my street (if not anywhere near as vocally impressive).
My score 8
My thoughts From Flashlight to Light Me Up, here’s Poland! They’ve switched things up from a solo female ballad to a Norway 2017 sequel (albeit a less inventive, more lyrically pedestrian and typically inferior sequel) and I am pretty pleased with the results. Swedish dominance at Eurovision – outside of the actual Swedish entry – continues with Melodifestivalen’s Mahan Moin co-writing this track alongside fellow Swede Lukas, and the end product is what you’d expect. It’s slick, simple but effective, and will whip the arena audience into a semi-frenzy – especially as Poland is due on stage right after Georgia. Light Me Up is more fun and accessible (and yes, Salvador, fast food) than Sheni Gulistvis, and will probably be rewarded accordingly. I’m not going to pretend it’s The Greatest Song In The World™, but the fact that it is Grab The Moment’s more cookie-cutter cousin gets it on my good side. The chorus is insanely catchy, and the musical hook that follows creates an epic atmosphere. What else can I say? I’m an easily pleased person when it comes to pop music – as long as something has an infectious melody and decent lyrics, it will probably end up on a Spotify playlist of mine at some stage. If I’m going to go negative for a minute, I’ll do it by saying that Lukas had what I hope is a case of Ryan Dolanitis when this song won Krajowe Eliminacje. In other words, his vocals weren’t out of this world. But I know he’s capable of ironing them out for Eurovision (I hate to repeat myself, but as I’m on my contest song hiatus, I haven’t watched Polish performances from the preview parties to compare). Factor in the limit on the number of ways a producer/singer duo song can be performed – JOWST did an A+ version last year which would be a bad idea to mimic so soon – and there are a few flaws in Poland’s plan. I say that even as someone who really likes (maybe even…loves *insert soaring violin music here*) Light Me Up. Strangely, I won’t be shocked if Gromee & Lukas just miss out on qualifying. The 8th-ish mark in semi two seems as easy to access for them as 12th. But Poland is in possession of a great recent track record: they’ve made it to the final every year since their 2014 comeback. And luckily for them, the second semi is not as diabolically difficult to get out of as the first. If Poland does advance, don’t be surprised if they end up opening the final – it would set the mood like a charm, and it’s not a potential winner to be held back for later on in the show. You (might have) heard it here first!
2017 VS 2018? 2018 – it’s the JOWST effect.
My score 10
My thoughts The late-1980s power ballad police called, and they want to put The Humans’ Goodbye behind bars – but I’m not keen to let them, because I’m actually really fond of it. I’ve found myself in the awkward position of being pro-Romania this year when most other reviews of their song have been negative…when last year was the complete opposite (I didn’t dislike Yodel It!, but I was in Camp Take It Or Leave It while the majority of other fans were in Camp OMG THIS IS EPIC). If you think I couldn’t possibly justify my attraction to this entry for 2018, think again! Firstly, I have zero problems with late-1980s power ballads, so Goodbye being the Eurovision edition of Alone by Heart gets a thumbs up from me. It’s definitely a slow burner, taking a solid minute or so to transition from piano ballad to big hair/shoulder pads/inch-thick eyeliner territory. Unlike most other sane people who are not stuck in a decade in which they weren’t even born, however, I think what happens is worth the wait. I’m happy to stick around listening for the beat to drop and the guitars to kick in, and I think people hearing Goodbye for the first time during semi two might be curious enough to do the same (or get bored and use the second half of the second as a toilet/snack break, I’ll admit). No exaggeration, that ‘Why don’t you see the beauty that surrounds you everywhere?’ line in the first chorus gives me LIFE. The entire chorus, in fact (when it finally arrives) is a cracker. Another thing I appreciate about this is that it doesn’t follow a predictable song structure, so it never seems to repeat itself – not in the excessive way we’re used to with a lot of ESC entries, at least. Throw in the powerful, raspy-edged vocals from lead singer Cristina and what is the greatest, most appropriate song ending of this year’s contest (it practically begs for a dramatic mic drop) and I hope you can now see why I’m on Team Romania. There are plenty of other songs that I believe are better than this – it’s sitting at the 20-ish mark in my top 43 at the moment, though as I’ve said there are literally only two songs that I dislike – but overall I think it’s a great 80s-influenced PB (power ballad) that won’t get Romania a Eurovision PB (personal best) but might grab a few of my votes. I get why people are saying it might undo the country’s 100% qualification record, but personally (in my special biased way) I have a feeling it will squeak through. Or maybe even do better than expected…
2017 VS 2018? Yodel It has worn pretty thin with me, so I’d have to say Goodbye.
My score 8.5
My thoughts It has to be said: Spain had a disastrous contest in Kyiv, with Manel’s money note fail becoming the sour cherry on top (and a sound-on GIF that did multiple rounds on social media, and that I may or may not have laughed at). Based on Do It For Your Lover – which didn’t do it for anyone – whatever followed was bound to come across as a masterpiece. But DOES IT??? *insert tense music here*. Tu Canción can best be described as a romantic lullaby, performed by a couple who got together during the quest to seek out the Spanish entry for Lisbon. I know we’re supposed to get all misty and wipe away happy tears whenever this backstory is mentioned, or whenever we see Alfred and Amaia’s onstage PDAs that are not manufactured at this point (though wouldn’t it be interesting if they broke up before the contest…I’m not hoping, I’m just curious). I must have a black hole where my soul is supposed to be though, because I find both the song and the public displays of affection too sugary sweet for my taste. It’s like the duo are in their own little love-cave when they’re performing, and that doesn’t engage me as I’m watching them. Instead, I feel like I’m looking through the window of their honeymoon suite and really should turn away to give them some privacy. Hashtag awkward! The song itself is certainly a step up from Do It For Your Lover in terms of a competition song, but I prefer the summery, fun vibes Manel offered to be honest. Tu Canción is probably the closest thing to a reigning winner copycat that we’ve got in 2018, and no doubt Salvador would approve of the lack of fireworks and flood of feelings. I just don’t have any strong feelings either way – schmaltz aside, it is a pretty and delicate ballad with a nice flow to it, but nothing more to me. I do have an approving nod to spare for the vocals – the tinkly quality and clarity of Amaia’s voice balances out the rough-edged sound of Alfred’s, and they harmonise like a match made in heaven. Maybe they are…maybe there’s an ESC wedding on the horizon! Not that I’m saying these two should get married on stage during their final performance, but in the absence of LEDs you’ve got to be creative with your gimmicks. I’m unsure how Spain will go on the Saturday night, but it’s safe to say they’ll end the night in a better position – and having put on a more polished show – than last year. Personally, Tu Canción isn’t my favourite of the Big Five + Portugal, but it’s not at the bottom of my list (so please don’t plot my death, Spanish Eurofans).
2017 VS 2018? I liked Do It For Your Lover for what it was. Don’t judge me (too harshly)!
My score 6.5
There you go: that’s another five songs for Lisbon reviewed by yours truly. I should probably stop doing this, but…10 down, (only?) 33 to go!
Here’s today’s ranking:
- Poland (10)
- Romania (8.5)
- Estonia (8)
- Azerbaijan (7)
- Spain (6.5)
This is a very mixed-up version of the ranking most other fans would create, I know. You can hit up the comment box below to tell me how you’d organise this bunch from best to worst. Or not-so-best, in my case…I definitely don’t hate Spain. I do really, really like Poland though. Stick around for the rest of my reviews to see how Gromee and Lukas stack up against the entire Class of 2018.
Besides sharing your own ranking, why not pick your outright favourite of these five too and see if you’re in the majority?
NEXT TIME I’m putting on my Eurovision lab coat (it’s still white, but white sequins) and sliding Albania, Finland, Greece, Lithuania and Moldova under my microscope to see whether good things or bad things are lurking in their entries for 2018. Don’t miss my diagnosis!
6 Responses to “THE EBJ EUROVISION 2018 REVIEWS: Round 2 (Azerbaijan, Estonia, Poland, Romania + Spain)”
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Azerbaijan and Poland – if they are sung well enough and Aisel is staged well enough, these could both be top ten easily. Eurovision fans don’t like generic pop but 99.999999% of viewers of that one night in May do and they will get shedloads of votes. They are both qualifying because it is Azerbaijan and Poland, obviously…
Estonia – will get a huge jury vote and probably a decent sized public vote too. Enough for the win? Probably not but I can see this being a top 5 which for Estonia will be a triumph…
Romania – no matter what any fan says, Romania has the biggest diaspora barring Poland this year and they never let their nation down. It will get to the Final but the first half of “Goodbye” is too slow and quiet to get anyone interested enough to vote it high in the Final…
Spain – totally understand why the Spanish voted this one through but for me I agree that it is too sickly sweet. At least it is a true connection on stage that only a real couple can muster – I wouldn’t be surprised if this gets Spain’s another top ten (barely though)…
Nice reviews Jaz – you better speed up though, still 33 acts to cover!
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There’s nothing I can really argue with here! Although I am affectionately mad at you for the reminder of how many reviews I have left to do (it’s down to 28 now, but still…AAAGH!!).
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I know that we should be past the era of guilty pleasures, but I can’t think of a better term for this entry. Every rational part of me understands that this song is a mess; the lyrics are top-notch Eurovision cliché fodder, the music has been done before, Aisel is about as comfortable on this track as Dihaj would be on “Amar pelos dois,” and yet, I’m drawn to “X My Heart” inexplicably. Maybe it’s the fact that I need a break or maybe it’s the fact that it absolutely goes OFF in the car, but I’m not ashamed to say that this squeaks into my top 10. Whether that holds true for the contest it self will be another story, but I enjoy this entry.
No pretense, I absolutely cannot stand this entry. Other popera songs I can sorta get, but something about “La forza” is just absolutely off-putting to me. It does feel very cold, but not in the bracing, Margaret Berger-esque sorta way, more like the lifeless vacuum of space way. Elina’s vocals are undoubtedly perfect, but they’re honestly wasted on a song that only seems to exist to showcase them. When comparing this to something like “La voix,” which is technically worse on every level except entertainment factor, there’s no way I could put this over Malena “Crazy Eyes” Ernman, and her song of nothingness that’s somehow become a personal highlight of Year Moscow. If Estonia wants more popera, make it like that, please!
Do I get a whiff of a summer hit? The Norway 2017 comparisons are bang on, but I’d put my neck out there and say that Gromee & Lukas do it better than Aleksander & JOWST. Maybe it’s the more straightfoward nature of “Light Me Up” in comparison to the… less straightforward “Grab the Moment,” or maybe it’s that I just like Lukas as a singer more than Aleksander, but I’m really feeling Poland this year. I’m glad to see them return to a form that seemed to have died with “My Słowianie” and sending something fun and timely. And while the guys might not have the buttery delights of Cleo & Donatan, this one’s doing quite well in my top.
We’re definitely in the same camp here; when it’s on, I actually really enjoy “Goodbye,” for most of the same reasons you mentioned. The 80s nostalgia combined with the varied structure and strong vocals give it an air that we’ve only really seen recently with Michał Szpak, who was a real marmite entry in the fandom. But looking at his success makes me laugh in the face of everyone who says Romania’s in danger of qualifying this year; you really think that the voting public who put Poland 2016 4th is going to let this flop? Think again. And for a really controversial opinion, The Humans will deserve success more.
Ugh, this is the one entry this year I can’t form a solid opinion on, and it’s driving me nuts. Some days, I really like the idea of an “authentic” love song, sold by a talented couple, but others, the whole thing gives me a cavity the size of Madrid. While writing this, I’m tempted to say that I like the song in studio but not as a performance, but I know that could change as soon as I hit “Post.” One thing I’m pretty sure of is that Spain has the potential to finally break out of the bottom 5. Schmaltz can sell, and while I won’t stand by some earlier predictions I made for them to take the contest, I don’t think top 15 is out of reach.
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I hope we NEVER move past guilty pleasures! A bit of so-bad-it’s-good never hurt anyone (my biggest one for the year is Norway, spoiler alert).
Your summary of Azerbaijan definitely sums up how I feel: “…this song is a mess; the lyrics are top-notch Eurovision cliché fodder, the music has been done before, Aisel is about as comfortable on this track as Dihaj would be on Amar Pelos Dois…” while also still getting some enjoyment out of it. Those crafty Swedish bastards. How do they do it?
I’m sorry, but I have to sit down and recover from you saying that La Voix>La Forza. La Voix is the only Swedish entry of the last twenty years or so – in fact, probably ever – that I HATE. For me, nothing else popera could ever be worse. But each to their own!
It’s good to know I’m not alone in Camp Romania Is Actually Pretty Good. I always wonder if they would have lost their qualification record in 2016 if they’d been allowed to compete (I suspect they might have) but we’ll never know, and I fully expect it to be maintained this year…pre-predictions.
I do agree with you on Spain – I’ve see-sawed over it endlessly – but I wouldn’t be surprised to see it in the bottom five. Lower left side wouldn’t shock me either, strangely. I feel like the usual Spanish fan hype is just that – hype, but then again this could be the annual song I don’t get that proves everyone else right by succeeding while I sit there and go ‘WTF?’.