Hello again, and thanks for stopping by to check out the next round of my JESC 2018 reviews! I’m not going to keep you in suspense this time (humour me as I pretend that you were in suspense at all) because I want to get straight into the compliments and criticisms. Constructive criticisms, of course…I don’t want to scar these kids for the rest of their lives.
Up for judgment today are Levon, Tamar Edilashvili, Max and Anne, Rita Laranjeira and Anna Filipchuk. Keep reading to find out what I think of their songs and how I think they’ll do when it’s time for those precious points to be handed out.
Don’t forget to leave your personal rankings and opinions in the comments so I can high-five you (in my head) or agree to disagree…
Never let anyone tell you that Eurovision events aren’t educational! Between JESC (e.g. Serbia teaching us foreign languages in 2006) and ESC (e.g. Norway teaching us how to write a song in 2018), there’s a whole lot of learning going on for fans. Now it’s Armenia’s turn to enlighten us, and in Minsk they’ll be teaching us how to spell the name of their representative Levon…or L.E.V.O.N, in case you still weren’t sure. I’m not a massive supporter of song titles that are solely/include the name of the artist (it’s the musical equivalent of Ivan from JESC 2015 wearing his own face on a t-shirt in the Bulgarian postcard), but this is one of my favorite Junior Eurovision countries we’re talking about here, and there’s not much I won’t overlook when it comes to Armenia in this contest.
L.E.V.O.N is everything we know and I love about Armenian JESC entries, in a slightly weird and very wonderful package. It’s energetic (relentlessly), catchy and memorable – not on the same level (or should I say L.E.V.E.L?) as People of the Sun or Tarber, but a big step up from the majestic but awfully performed Boomerang from last year. The spelling bee chorus is kind of genius, giving those of us who don’t speak or understand Armenian something to sing along to and remember. Levon has loads of personality on stage, which makes up for him not being the best singer on the planet. His NF performance was pretty bare-bones, but I expect Armenia to amp it up for contest purposes and present us with a slick and fun stage show, as they always do.
If that’s the case, can this win JESC 2018? I‘m going to say N.O.P.E, but it could be there or thereabouts. At this point there are a couple of countries I expect to outdo Armenia, with the obnoxious, in-your-face style of this song being a possible handicap when it comes to the jury vote. But even so, I never underestimate Armenia’s ability to succeed on the power of kick-ass staging alone. Complementing an effortlessly awesome track like L.E.V.O.N, great presentation might not score them their second-ever win…but it could see them slip into the top five for the ninth time. It’s definitely in mine – I L.O.V.E it. 12 points.
When I think of the most successful and impressive Junior Eurovision participants, Georgia is always among them. After all, they’re heading into this year’s contest off the back of a second place in 2017 and a win in 2016 (so if the pattern continues, they’ll be taking home a bronze medal from Minsk). For me – and prepare to be scandalised – Voice of the Heart was better than Mzeo, but they were both magical…which leaves Georgia with a lot to live up to in 2018.
Your Voice (which may or may not be the same as the voice of the heart) is in keeping with the more mature entries they’ve sent recently – i.e. a million miles away from Bzz…, Funky Lemonade and Gabede. Tamar’s song doesn’t put the ‘junior’ into Junior Eurovision to the extent that those did, but it’s still youthful. Is it enjoyable too? I think so. Starting out soft before swiftly building up to a big, banging chorus with a slightly EDM-esque beat – and squeezing in some English lyrics along the way – it’s an interesting and dynamic addition to the Class of ’18. Georgian has never sounded as powerful as it does in that chorus, helped in large part by Tamar’s INCREDIBLE vocals. Seriously, what do Georgians feed their children that makes them such amazing singers? Based on the live vocals provided at JESC in the past, I’m expecting this girl to blow us all away live on stage – and she needs to nail that money note towards the end to not undo any good work she does beforehand. I’m pretty confident she can. You can’t watch this contest for sixteen years without realising that Europe is a hotbed of ridiculously talented child vocalists who can hit notes performers twice their age couldn’t hit with a monster truck.
All in all, this is a super solid effort from Georgia that I really like, if not love on the same scale as I loved Voice of the Heart. I think it’s missing that special something that makes a winner a winner, but a top 10 result is both deserved and likely for Tamar. And as I’ve already implied, I am so excited to see her sing this live. Bring on the 25th! 8 points.
How do you follow on from the tour de force of Fource? The Netherlands’ answer: don’t even try. It could be argued that Russia, for example, is sending a Wings sequel to JESC 2018 – and they’re not doing themselves any favours given that, like most sequels, it’s not as good (I’ve explained exactly why in the Russia review below). The Netherlands, on the other hand, has kept a safe distance from anything resembling a boy band armed with infectious radio pop…knowing they probably wouldn’t do as well as 4th if they sent something similar so soon. Instead we have Max and Anne, one of two boy-girl duos competing this year, and their sugary-sweet musical friendship bracelet Samen.
Judging by that description you might think I’m not a fan of this song. But don’t worry, I’m not about to start a protest outside AVROTROS demanding they ‘BRING BACK FOURCE!’. Yes, Samen is very sweet, but I mean that in a complimentary way. I actually really, really like it. It’s a nice mix of power ballad, piano pop and anthemic singalong song that practically compels you to turn your phone torch on and wave it above your head in time with the music. The language mix is tastefully done, and Max and Anne are vocally great together – not to mention (though I’m about to) their believability as a couple of kids singing about the strength of their friendship. For all I know they met five minutes before the Dutch final, but they make me believe they’re BFFs and that’s what matters.
There’s not a lot that can be done staging-wise with a song like this, but I don’t think it needs a bunch of bells and whistles. It stands out based on being a down-tempo ballad and the boy/girl dynamic. Having said that, it may be a little too vanilla compared to other songs that are more like ice-cream sundaes with whipped cream, nuts and a cherry on top. Also, a brunette female soloist in a white dress has won JESC the last two years running, and they say things come in threes (so pay attention to the costumes come rehearsal time). But after their big success last year – a public voting win and a solid top five result – I’d like to see the Netherlands do well again. It depends on a lot, from the running order to the live performance, but it’s not impossible. 10 points.
If you thought San Marino was the country most obsessed with shoehorning social media into Eurovision songs, a) think again and b) stand back, because here comes Portugal! It’s kind of ironic that their two consecutive social network-themed JESC songs have been pretty dated in sound and style. Youtuber and now Gosto De Tudo… both seem to belong in Junior Eurovision contests past – circa 2004-2008. I almost wish we could bring back Portugal’s initial few entries from 2006 and 2007 (which were more mature but still childlike enough) to compete now.
Rita could certainly do with a song more suited to her voice, and to be honest, her age – Mariana Venancio just about pulled off this sort of cutesy throwback pop last year, but as a teenager Rita could do with something more like Dancing Through Life or I Am The One (courtesy of Macedonia and Belarus in 2017). Maybe I’m just too old and cynical to appreciate a song like this nowadays. Then again, I don’t think JESC juries and voters do either based on the lacklustre results of similar songs (I’m thinking of Montenegro 2014 and Macedonia 2015). As a rule, they’re inoffensive (i.e. boring) with a hint of cheese – there’s never many exciting moments, vocal or musical, to get excited about. Gosto De Tudo definitely fits that profile, right down to the cheesy clapping and the fact that not even its performer sounds particularly interested in singing it. Everything about it reminds me (if you don’t mind me comparing this to just one more song) of Andorra’s debut ESC entry Jugarem A Estimar-Nos – and we all know how well that went down in Istanbul.
In a nutshell (in case you hadn’t guessed) I just don’t like this very much. It feels lethargic and under-baked, and there’s no way it can stand up and compete against…well, the majority of its competition, in all honesty. The only saving graces are a touch of catchiness, the Portuguese (one of my favourite musical and spoken languages) and Rita herself, who is very sparkly and charismatic even though I feel like she knows this song doesn’t show off the best of her talents. I don’t think I’ll be listening to it much after the contest. 4 points.
Russia is a powerhouse country no matter what they’re competing in, apparently (more so if there’s an ice rink or gymnastics equipment involved, but musically too). They are, after all, the current JESC titleholders thanks to Polina Bogusevich and her Wings (one of my 2017 faves and a song I was super happy to see win). It kind of seems like their mentality this year was ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ – meaning Unbreakable is pretty similar to Wings. In fact, Anna’s pre-chorus is almost identical to Polina’s verses. But whatever. I’m a big fan of both.
A cookie-cutter power ballad that also has a lot in common with Australia’s (fingers crossed they’re positioned far apart in the running order), Unbreakable doesn’t try too hard to be anything amazing, but it ticks all the boxes on the checklist of Song Qualities That Jaz Needs In Her Life. The production is as polished as you’d expect from Russia, the verses are strong and the chorus is a statement piece. Once again we have a Russian first half and English second half, but I’d argue that Unbreakable’s English lyrics are less awkward and make more sense than Wings’ English lyrics (I’m still confused by ‘floating angels reaching up the sky’). Where Russia 2017 really overshadows 2018, however, is in the singing department. Anna is adorable, but she just doesn’t pack the vocal punch Polina did, and at the NF there were a bunch of weak moments that the backing vocals couldn’t compensate for. Obviously she’s not competing against Polina (so I should stop comparing them) but she is up against other impressive singers from Australia, Kazakhstan and Malta, etc. Even in studio her vocals aren’t mind-blowing, which could let her down with the juries.
I think it’s safe to say that Russia won’t win two contests on the trot, but I personally do really like this song – and with Russia’s ability to splash cash on staging, I’m looking forward to seeing how they’ve upgraded the presentation for JESC. At this point, I reckon a respectable 6th-9th place is within reach. 10 points.
That’s today’s five tracks covered. Time flies when you’re being critical of children, in my experience. Here’s my final ranking for this round of reviews:
- Armenia (12)
- The Netherlands (10)
- Russia (10)
- Georgia (8)
- Portugal (4)
So it’s Levon who spells his way into the top spot, followed closely by Max, Anne and Anna. Apologies to Portugal, but I’m sure someone out there would give you douze points, Rita.
Maybe it’s you? Hit up that comments section with your scores for these JESC songs. I know you want to!
NEXT TIME With 10 countries down and 10 to go, it’s crunch time for Australia, France, Malta, Poland and Wales. The girl power is strong, but do the songs follow suit? Don’t miss my next post if you want to know what I think.