It’s almost here, JESC fans: the biggest and potentially most Belarusian Junior Eurovision ever (we’ll have to compare it to 2010 later and see which show was ultimately more Belarusian). I don’t know about you, but I’m super psyched to see who’ll take over from Russia as the reigning champion. I have a fair idea at this point and for once I’m pretty confident – but my lips are sealed until official prediction time. Keep an eye on my socials (@EurovisionByJaz across the board) over the weekend to see who I think will be on the top – and bottom – of the scoreboard on Sunday.
Before I attempt to predict what’s going to happen I’ve got five of this year’s songs left to review, direct from Albania, Ireland, Italy, Macedonia and Ukraine. There are a few big hitters in there as well as some underdogs, and I do have a douze to give out to one of them…but am I sending it in an obvious direction or not? Keep reading to find out. It’s your moment under my musical microscope, Efi, Taylor, Melissa & Marco, Marija and Darina. I’ll try to be nice, I promise!
I might be in the minority here, but I’m usually really keen on Albania’s Junior songs. Their 2012 debut wouldn’t make my best-of list, but Dambaje, Besoj and yes, even Don’t Touch My Tree? I enjoyed ‘em all. Albania tends to bounce around a bit genre-wise, and this time they’ve taken the old-school JESC (2003-2008) feel of that debut entry and added more energy, cuteness and overall appeal to it, making Barbie a song that shouldn’t be destined for last place. I like it, anyway…though that has been a bad luck charm in the past *cough* Waldo’s People/Tooji *cough*. I think my favourite thing about Barbie is the contrast between the upbeat pop style/pink-tastic presentation, and the subject matter. ICYMI, Efi means business – she doesn’t want to be directed like a doll during playtime without being permitted thoughts of her own. Oddly, she also wants us to know that ‘I’m not a fruit, I’m not an egg’, unless my online translation has let me down embarrassingly. Sorry to be a party pooper Efi, but I think that was already obvious.
The combo of cuteness and substance in this song speaks to me, and even though I feel like Barbie should be a guilty pleasure, I’m going to ditch the guilt and root for it regardless. I was wondering if the whole Barbie concept could put Efi at risk of a lecture from the EBU regarding product placement – but we did end up bopping along to Youtuber at JESC last year, and we watched a song that namedropped Pikachu (and funnily enough, Barbie) win Eurovision in May. You’ve got to love “loopholes”.
Anyway, I will admit that Albania is still an underdog in this contest, especially given NF staging that needed serious workshopping. I want less LED screen lyrics (a pet peeve of mine), more enthusiasm from Efi and preferably some backing dancers to liven things up. Unfortunately – whether it’s habit, preference or a lack of pocket money – the Albanian modus operandi so far has been ‘girl alone on stage’ without even a hint of another human being. I’ll actually be surprised if they don’t take that approach, in which case Efi needs to find some extra sparkle and sell Barbie like her doll collection depends on it. I hope she can do it, because there’s a rough (pink) diamond here. 8 points.
I feel like we should have had a gender reveal party for Ireland, because for the first time in their Junior Eurovision history, it’s a boy! A boy with more luxurious hair than I could ever hope to have, specifically. Rapunzel Taylor is following in the footsteps of Aimee Banks, Zena Donnelly and Muireann McDonnell and will no doubt be hoping to outdo Zena’s 10th place from 2016. With I.O.U up his sleeve (the sleeve of his sweatshirt which, by total coincidence, has ‘I.O.U’ printed on the front) I think that will be a challenge, especially in a field of 20 contestants – many armed with much stronger songs. But there’s something endearing about this track, and about Taylor himself, that makes me want to support Ireland this year.
I.O.U is total ‘JESC early years’, circa 2003-2008 – and that’s actually a redeeming feature in my opinion. I love entries that put the junior into Junior Eurovision, since it doesn’t happen a lot these days. The melody, throwback feel and youthfulness of this take me back to stuff like My Vmeste by Ksenia Sitnik (Belarus’ 2005 winner) and I Mousiki Dinei Ftera by Yiorgos Ioannides (Cyprus’ less-successful song from 2007), plus a bunch of other entries I could mention if I felt like it (and wanted to bore you to death). The chorus is particularly childlike. Overall the song isn’t too young for Taylor though. He sells it well, despite being a less polished (and some would say, manufactured) performer than a lot of the other contestants. I think if this song was in English – even partially, which could have easily been the case – the cheesiness would have been too much to take, but somehow going full Irish saves it from that savoury fate. Apart from being repetitive (which actually helps the catchy chorus get stuck in your brain whether you like it or not) I appreciate this entry for the nostalgia and fluffiness it brings to the table. Sure, the NF performance combined with a song of I.O.U’s style made me feel like I was watching a middle school talent show, but it’s kind of refreshing in that sense. It also boasts the best music video of the 2018 contest, feat. Niamh Kavanagh and Ryan O’Shaughnessy as Taylor’s parents (IDK how they pull it off, but they do).
The problem? While Ireland is giving us something oh-so-junior, they’re also fulfilling a brief from ten or fifteen years ago. JESC has changed and the tone of songs that shoot up the scoreboard has too. Mature, sophisticated ballads sung by female soloists in white dresses are extra likely to succeed, and neither I.O.U nor Taylor fit into that mould (but Kazakhstan, Macedonia and Australia do…just saying). If I’m honest, compared to the lion’s share of Ireland’s 19 rivals this entry comes off as a little amateurish. And I can’t imagine it attracting a sizeable public or jury vote. That puts Ireland in the danger zone as a potential bottom five finisher, but I’d welcome a more positive outcome. I don’t know yet if I have a vote to spare for Taylor in a year of bangers, but I can give him 7 points right now.
If there’s one word that describes Italy at any Eurovision event, it’s ‘classy’. Even Emma Marrone managed to expose her gold underpants to the world in a classy way in Copenhagen – it’s just in Italian blood. I have to admit though, when I first clapped eyes and ears on Italy’s 2018 Junior Eurovision entry I thought they’d finally gone off the deep end and left all of their class on the diving board behind them. This was mainly because I broke my rule of not watching the JESC music videos when listening to the song for the first time, because at best they’re a distraction and at worst they are abysmal. Melissa and Marco’s falls somewhere in between, under the heading of ‘hilariously WTF’, and I let that cloud my judgment of what is a classy and majestic – if cliché-packed – duet. There is something about the 1980s transitions, awkward dancing and…well, everything else happening onscreen that makes me laugh way too hard at a pair of poor innocent children.
Take those visuals away, however, and you’re left with another solid Italian entry that I think tops Scelgo from last year (but has nothing on the pinnacle of Italian musical majesty that is Tu Il Primo Grande Amore). What Is Love is interesting in that it twists and turns along the way to a satisfyingly predictable conclusion. We get Marco – who I think we can all agree is the star of the duo – opening strongly on his own, before Melissa (SHE’S SO TINY AND CUTE I CAN HARDLY STAND IT) arrives during the first chorus to add another dynamic. The two bounce off each other well vocally, with the back-and-forth song structure giving them both a chance to shine (though as I said, Marco shines brighter and could easily have been a solo act). It’s hard to believe there’s a four-year age gap between them – a gap I found a little uncomfortable until I realised this song isn’t a love duet in the traditional sense.
Another thing I like about it is the ‘moments’ sprinkled throughout that make it memorable. Harmonies, clever language changes, big notes and a key change (oh yes, they went there) combine to create a song that has more light and shade to it than main rival Samen from the Netherlands. Having said that, when it comes to the two boy-girl duets competing in Minsk, I do prefer the Netherlands. But because the dynamic between the boys and girls in question is totally different, I think there’s room for both Max & Anne and Melissa & Marco to do well on the night. I highly doubt either duet will walk away with the trophy, or even a podium placement. Then again, there’s been a surprise song in the top 3 for the last few years, and in 2018 it could be What Is Love. For me personally it’s not a top 3 song, but I have grown fond of it very quickly. I just needed to shut my eyes when I pressed play on that video. 8 points.
I don’t know what it is with Macedonia, but their last few JESC songs could easily have been sent to the ESC – and in my opinion, they were both better than what was actually sent to the adult contest. Love Will Lead Our Way? Flawless. Dancing Through Life? Flawless with space buns. Now we have Doma, which is very different to those last two entries – a.k.a. it’s a far cry from radio-friendly pop. This is a ballad, and a big Balkan ballad at that. It even has the word ‘molitva’ in the lyrics (as co-written by Elena Risteska) which may or may not be a sign. It too would fit in well at Eurovision, and FOR GOD’S SAKE JAZ STOP RAMBLING AND TELL US WHAT YOU THINK OF IT!!!
Your wish is my command: I LOVE this, and I can safely say that Macedonia has delivered a JESC cracker yet again. From the second Doma starts, elevated instantly by Marija’s beautiful vocals, there’s a magical atmosphere afoot and touches of mysterious ethnicity woven in. I have goosebumps before the first chorus even drops. When it does, things are taken to another level of atmospheric, emotional and ethnic awesomeness (and I’m reminded of EXO’s Mama somehow…compare the choruses and tell me I’m not going crazy). I adore how majestic and statement this song is. If JESC 2018 was a jewelry store, Doma would be an ornate, gem-encrusted necklace rented out exclusively to royalty and Eleni Foureira (our queen). Truth be told, ornate statement pieces don’t win Junior Eurovision, and mature ethno-ballads like this (think Serbia 2015) are usually left behind at the halfway-ish mark of the scoreboard. But hey, that would be progress for poor Macedonia, who’ve been a little robbed for the last few years.
Sadly, I’m expecting Marija to be overshadowed by the likes of Armenia and France – fun, danceable entries that don’t have so much in common with 2017 winner Wings. Not to mention her main rival in Kazakhstan’s Daneliya. Still, if she is as amazing live as she is in studio, and puts on a spellbinding performance (lighting, or lack thereof, is v. important here), anything could happen. I’ll enjoy it, at least. Pre-performance and based on the power of the song alone, I’m going all in and handing Macedonia DOUZE POINTS!
For a brief but terrible time earlier this year, it looked like Ukraine wouldn’t be joining the JESC 2018 party. That would have left a huge pop-masterpiece-shaped hole in the lineup, so I’m glad they changed their mind (or stopped trolling us, one of the two). I say pop masterpiece because that’s exactly what we would have missed out on had Darina + Say Love not been part of Junior. You can find this song online at http://www.thebomb.com, guys. What a banger! It takes the subject matter of Anna Trincher’s Pochny z Sebe (Ukraine’s less poppy but still pretty decent entry from 2015) – in basic terms, humanity’s need to say yes to love and no to war – and presents it in a slick package that, like France’s entry, sits pretty on the fence between too junior and not junior enough.
There are two main things I love about Say Love (which I just did). Firstly, the fact that the song is super contemporary, but doesn’t sound like anything I’ve heard before. Secondly, how interesting it is – it’s one of those songs that grabs and hangs on to your interest as you wonder where it’s going. The mysterious edge and dynamic structure keep you on your toes, while the repetition of the chorus prevents it from sounding aimless. My absolute favourite part is Darina’s megaphone chant, and if she doesn’t appear on stage this weekend in the exact outfit from the music video, with that megaphone in her hand (looking like the pint-sized yet seriously fierce cheerleading coach of Mylène and Rosanne from JESC 2013) I will be disappointed.
If all goes according to plan, Anastasiya Baginska’s very respectable 7th place from 2017 should be outdone by Darina – but by how many places? I’ve seen Ukraine at the top of a heap of Youtube ranking videos, as I did with Russia last year, but I don’t think Say Love is quite going to get there as a winner. For starters, as we know, any girl who wants to win JESC these days must wear a white dress and perform a ballad. Plus I just don’t have The Feelings about it – that gut instinct that tells you which songs have a real shot at the trophy and which ones don’t. I can’t see the credits rolling over a reprise of this. But if I’m wrong, I won’t be unhappy. It has been a while since Ukraine’s last win, after all. 10 points.
And just like that/just in time, that’s all 20 Junior Eurovision songs reviewed by yours truly. Before I dramatically reveal my full ranking for the year, let’s take a look at the standings from this round:
- Macedonia (12)
- Ukraine (10)
- Albania (8)
- Italy (8)
- Ireland (7)
If you know me at all, you won’t be shocked to see the Balkan ballad on top – and I’m hoping to see it somewhere in that neighbourhood of success on Sunday night. Macedonia is closely followed by Ukraine and Albania, with Italy scoring a much lower 8 than Albania if that makes any sense. Ireland takes the wooden spoon today, but with 7 points that’s nothing for Taylor to worry about (because obviously he’s going to see this post, read it and take to heart…that’s not a delusional thought at all, Jaz).
And now (create your own drumroll, please), I can unveil my complete ranking of all 20 entries, based on my review scores from the last few weeks. All ties have been broken behind the scenes.
- Belarus (12)
- Macedonia (12)
- Armenia (12)
- Israel (12)
- Kazakhstan (10)
- France (10)
- Australia (10)
- The Netherlands (10)
- Ukraine (10)
- Russia (10)
- Poland (8)
- Albania (8)
- Georgia (8)
- Italy (8)
- Ireland (7)
- Malta (7)
- Wales (6)
- Azerbaijan (6)
- Serbia (5)
- Portugal (4)
Well, this has taught me that if your lowest score is a 4 and your 18th-favourite song out of 20 still gets 6 points, you must REALLY be enjoying the bunch of entries in question. I don’t think I’ve been this honestly generous with my points in my entire history of reviewing Eurovision-related music. Thank you Minsk!
Now I’ve showed you mine, you’re pretty much obligated to show me yours – so hit up that comments box and tell me a) how you rank the five songs I reviewed for this round, and b) what your full ranking looks like. You’ve got to have something to occupy the time between now and when JESC kicks off, right?
This is all the pre-show coverage you’re going to get from me in 2018 (I had more planned but life got in the way as usual). As I mentioned in the intro, if you want to see what I’m predicting for Sunday’s contest – including winners, losers and every scoreboard place in-between – head over to my Facebook, Twitter or Instagram (all @EurovisionByJaz) and I’ll post them on all three ASAP. Be sure to follow me on Twitter especially if you want to discuss the show during the show. I’m not above making jokes at the expense of children, if that helps – someone needs to toughen them up.
Just kidding. OR AM I?!?!?
See you on the other side of JESC 2018, when we have our 16th winner!