Okay…so I didn’t make a New Year’s resolution to be more prompt with my posts. Some things are just too hard to change, and I actually think you guys would miss the old, always late and always running behind Jaz if she was replaced with a new, punctual version.
On that note, it’s January 3rd and time for me to finally say HAPPY NEW YEAR!!! I can’t believe 2018 is no more. Time freaking FLIES, but on the plus side that means we’re about to enter ESC NF season again – a better season than the best bits of autumn, winter, spring and summer combined. Before every second thing I type becomes ‘Melodifestivalen’ (or potentially ‘Australia Decides’), I’ve got to squeeze in a look back at the year we’ve just farewelled.
2018 began with a sensational string of Eurovision selections, continued with a phenomenal Portuguese ESC, and ended with an unforgettable Junior Eurovision. Accompanying those three events were hundreds of songs competing to get to or win a Eurovision event, and to honour the sheer awesomeness of some, I’m presenting you with my top 10 favourites from across the board. Keep reading to find out which songs I chose and why (there’s some weird ones that needed an explanation) then hit the comments box/visit me on my socials to share your own musical highlights of the last year living on Planet Eurovision!
#10 | Tengo Otra, Alejandro Fuentes (Norway, Melodi Grand Prix)
Is this a curveball way to start this list? Probably. But being a Eurovision and national final freak means getting used to other people going gaga over songs that didn’t stand out to you at all. For some reason – a reason I’m about to try and identify – Tengo Otra is a standout of the 2018 NF season for me, knowing it passed the majority of fans (and Norwegians) by as part of the MGP lineup.
I can understand that when I remember it was surrounded by the likes of Rebecca’s big ballad, Ida Maria’s iconic and NSFW Scandilove and Alexander Rybak. But I think the Despacito Latin-pop influence that leaked into multiple NFs last year was peak bueno with Alejandro. In fact, I’m going to go all out and say that this song is better than Despacito (and it’s been inarguably less overplayed). Tengo Otra is just as summery and catchy, but edgier – and the production on the studio version is next level. It’s one of those songs that starts so mysteriously, you can’t help wondering where it’s going. And when the chorus arrives it’s not in-your-face, but it makes exactly the statement it came to make: ‘Visit Chile Or Anywhere Else Where Spanish Is Spoken!’. That’s what it says to me, anyway.
Should this song have been sent to Eurovision? Not before Rybak’s or Rebecca’s – but the beauty of national finals is discovering more music to love whether it gets to the big show or not. I will say that Tengo Otra > the majority of songs Spain has sent to the contest recently. To you that may not be saying much, but to me this track is a banger. It didn’t pop up on my most-played of 2018 Spotlify playlist for nada!
#9 | Scandilove, Ida Maria (Norway, Melodi Grand Prix)
Can you tell that I rather enjoyed Norway’s MGP last year? A lot more than I enjoyed the Danish equivalent, that’s for sure. If Dansk has the monopoly on safe, cookie-cutter radio pop with the occasional bearded Viking thrown in, then Norsk has original, often moody Scandipop locked down. I can’t say the wonderfully bizarre Scandilove is moody, but it’s definitely original. Spice Girls with 1000% more attitude level original!
Behind the bonkers is a genuinely well-crafted pop song with a bouncy beat and unmatched energy. And you guys know I’m a sucker for a catchy chorus. When it comes to lyrical one-liners, this track is as quotable as Mean Girls. If you need fast proof, I’d offer up ‘Can you make love like a Scandinavian?’ and of course, ‘Swim in the ocean, feel the emotion, it’s f*%king freezing!’. How do you say ‘iconic AF’ in Norwegian? I’m asking because I also want to use the phrase to describe Ida’s spotted suit and High-School-Musical-on-crack staging.
It’s all so brilliant and impossible to ignore. There’s a part of me that wonders what it would have been like if Norway had sent Scandilove to Eurovision, but I don’t blame them for playing it safe. You can’t go from silent storms and grabbing the moment to I’M SCANDINAVIAN Y’ALL without building up to it.
#8 | Talk To The Hand, Aleksander Walmann (Norway, Melodi Grand Prix)
This is the last MGP entry on this list, I promise (the 2018 show was just TOO GOOD). Eurovision 2017 proved that the lyrical genius of JOWST and the vocal talents of Aleksander Walmann was an excellent combination. And if it ain’t broke, why not try it again immediately at Melodi Grand Prix?
It wasn’t a case of JOWST feat. Aleksander Walmann this time, but the man in the light-up mask remained a composer and lyricist of Talk To The Hand as he had been for Grab The Moment. What can I say? He’s got the magic touch when it comes to pop earworms with lyrics that couldn’t be less cliché. Granted, I don’t think anybody’s uttered the phrase ‘talk to the hand’ with sincerity since 2002…but I was quick to overlook that from the second I pressed play on this track for the first time. It’s funky, it’s fresh, and that guitar intro reminds me so much of the Seinfeld theme that I’m transported back to the 90s while still feeling very much in 2018 (which we’re not any more, but you know what I mean). It’s a song that’s seriously good without taking itself too seriously, and if you can sit still when you’re listening to it I feel compelled to judge you.
Having said all of that, I was actually surprised to see Aleksander in the MGP super final again – I wasn’t sure Norway would be so keen to send him straight back to Eurovision, especially when he was competing against Rebecca and the most unbeatable Alexander of all, Rybak. As it turns out, they weren’t (which may have been a mistake in the end) but I was happy enough to have TTTH get as far as it did. It’s a bop and a half, and I want the JOWST X Walmann pairing to keep on gifting the world with music just like it.
#7 | Time, Daniel Yastremski (Belarus, Junior Eurovision)
Creeped out by the whole concept of Junior Eurovision but don’t mind being exposed to JESC entries that could pass as ESC entries? Then pay attention to this favourite musical moment of mine. The only thing that made Belarus’ host act/song/performance from Minsk unsuitable for adult Eurovision was Daniel’s birth date.
For starters, the slick R&B pop anthem that is Time (the best Time ever sent to a Eurovision event IMO) was written by Kirill Yermakov, a.k.a. Kirill Good, who’s competed in a bunch of Belarusian JESC and ESC preselections – hello contest pedigree! No surprises as to why it strikes the best kind of balance between youthful and mature. If you’ve checked out Kirill and Daniel’s acoustic duet, then you should easily be able to imagine a parallel universe in which Kirill submitted the song to Eurofest and won with it. As for Daniel’s performance at JESC 2018…well, it was a total Mary Poppins. Practically perfect in every way, that is, and very forward thinking – nobody would bat an eyelid if Sweden turned up in Tel Aviv with something similar, basically. Factor in Daniel’s charisma (he has more than I do and I’m a senior citizen by comparison) and you’ve got a package deal that stands out for all the right reasons.
I know Time wasn’t a hit with all Junior fans, and its eventual 11th place in the comp (I DEMAND JUSTICE) proved that. But if you read my review of the song back in November, you’ll understand why I love it so much and why it’s a highlight of my 2018 in ESC/JESC/NF terms. I don’t want the Kirill/Daniel story to end without the success and massive amount of points it deserves, so here’s hoping there’s a Eurovision collab on the horizon (a.k.a. the second Daniel turns 16). Meanwhile, I’ll be keeping myself busy listening to that awesome duet on repeat.
#6 | Qami, Sevak Khanagyan (Armenia, Eurovision)
Back in May 2017, foolish Jaz thought that Blackbird becoming a DNQ when it should have flown into the ESC final was the most painful non-qualification scenario she would ever experience. Little did she know that the worst was yet to come, around about the same time she realised referring to herself in the third person is damn annoying.
It’s not that I thought Armenia was a certain finalist last year – but I guess I fell so far in love with Qami (and if I’m honest, the sculpted-ab body armour Sevak wore at Depi Evratesil) I figured everyone else must love it too. Long story you already know short, it bombed out after what I have to admit was a slightly boring performance, and my body could not produce the amount of salt and water needed for me to cry out my anguish. I exaggerate, but it really did hurt.
Regardless, here is a haunting power ballad with ethnic flourishes – much like another song I’ll be talking about later – that captured me in the way Origo did in 2017. In both cases I stumbled across the songs after a previous favourite fell before the NF final and I was searching for a replacement. I loved and lost Deák by Spoon 21 during A Dal 2017 only to discover Origo, and then latched onto Qami in the wake of Poison (Ari Ari) not getting anywhere. It’s a typical song for me to go crazy over, based on my penchant for Balkan ballads. The atmosphere, beauty and power give me goosebumps every time. And it may be a slow burner, but like Aram Mp3’s Not Alone, the explosive climax (I’m talking in musical terms here, you dirty-minded individual) is worth waiting for. Armenia does dynamic songs very well, and for that I salute them. This one deserves a do-over in the form of staging revamp and a retrospective spot in the Eurovision final.
#5 | Lie To Me, Mikolas Josef (Czech Republic, Eurovision)
Together we’ve witnessed many Eurovision glow-ups over the years. Belgium sending Rhythm Inside right after ghastly Mother, Moldova following up the lacklustre DNQ Falling Stars with eventual bronze medalist Hey Mamma…the list goes on and on. At the very top of it or thereabouts, though, has to be the Czech Republic. How else could you acknowledge the mammoth gap between My Turn and Lie To Me in practically every department? And to think that someone initially wanted Mikolas to perform My Turn…holy WTF.
I cannot overstate how much I was blindsided by Lie To Me popping up as one of the Czech candidates last year, and as soon as I’d heard it for the first time I knew it had to be The One (you don’t want to know what I would have done had it NOT been selected for Lisbon). This song is nothing if not iconic. Ridiculously catchy, eternally danceable and lyrically questionable in the best kind of way, the only problem I have with it is the fact that I still don’t know what ‘Set my camel in the mood’ means.
It doesn’t take a genius to interpret the line ‘Whop-bop-a-lu-bop on his wood bamboo’, but even that gets points from me for originality. Eurovision gets lyrics that saucy pretty infrequently, so when Lie To Me hit the stage in Lisbon it grabbed eyes AND ears. A catastrophe seemed likely when Mikolas nearly snapped himself in half during rehearsals – an injury that could have led to a forced withdrawal – but he managed to pull himself together, play safe for the semi final and then risk it all (‘all’ = the integrity of his spinal column and ability to walk) with a flip for the final. The risk paid off, with the show Mr. Josef putting on earning the Czech Republic their best result ever by a long shot. Lie To Me has also earned him the honour of a place on this list, for being an irresistible song I’ll be lip-syncing for a long time to come.
#4 | Doma, Marija Spasovska (Macedonia, Junior Eurovision)
Brace yourselves, because I’m about to make a big call: Macedonia’s JESC 2018 entry is arguably the best song they’ve ever sent to a Eurovision event. That’s in my opinion, obviously…but Doma is something special and I know I’m not the only one outraged that it missed out on the Minsk top 10. Marija’s live performance was beautifully staged (which came as a shock since Macedonia are the masters of staging self-sabotage) if slightly shaky in the vocal department – and her song was/is stunning.
I’m not going to repeat all of the adjectives from my review, and my love for this can’t adequately be expressed in words anyway (despite this paragraph of typing). I will say that Elena Risteska, who gave us the epic Ninanajna in 2006 and who should have represented Macedonia again by now (maybe she’s up for a trip to Tel Aviv in May?) helping create such a spellbinding, spine-tingling ballad is not surprising. Elena plus Darko Dimitrov, the man behind a bajillion Macedonian/other ex-Yugo ESC entries, including Ninanajna.
With a songwriting team like that in her corner, it’s no wonder Marija ended up with such an amazing track. Armed with Doma in a less competitive contest, I think Macedonia could have reached a higher rung on the scoreboard ladder than 12th, but if it’s any consolation this will always be among my personal favourites of last year’s JESC.
#3 | Last Breath, LIAMOO (Sweden, Melodifestivalen)
I’m not the most confident person on the planet, but I am 110% confident in saying that LIAMOO should have finished higher than 6th in last year’s Melfest final. Last Breath is the bomb! There hasn’t been a better combo of rap and singing by the same person since all the way back in 2017 when Joci Papái gave us the gift of Origo.
Clearly I’m not the type to be turned off by rapping (unlike every jury member ever). I see it as a way of expressing emotions that can’t be expressed properly via vocal runs or money notes, and an outpouring of emotion is what we got from LIAMOO. A rapper first and foremost, the way he structured and performed the song made it authentic and believable because he was in his comfort zone. His verses are neat, quick and pave a smooth path for that cracking chorus, which always makes me feel some kind of way (whatever that means…it’s a good thing right, kids?). Sure, it’s quite a repetitive song, but I could (and do) listen to it over and over again without getting bored thanks to that magical melody. I also watch the performance a heck of a lot too. It’s simpler than Dance You Off and less of a statement piece – but with great lighting, some dry ice and rapid-fire camera cuts (á la Oscar Zia’s equally epic Human performance from 2016) comes something applause-worthy.
As a song that hits me in the heart, from a multitalented performer and accompanied by stripped-back staging, Last Breath is easily one of my favourite musical moments of 2018. I’m super psyched to see what LIAMOO and Hanna Ferm produce at Melfest this year.
#2 | Dance You Off, Benjamin Ingrosso (Sweden, Eurovision)
I’m issuing a spoiler alert to inform you that this is the last Eurovision entry to make my list. Last, but the opposite of least, being my favourite entry from Lisbon and another song to add to the ‘Why yes, I AM incredibly biased when it comes to Sweden!’ pile. If I’m being honest, Benjamin Ingrosso’s entire 2018 was a musical highlight for me (I even enjoyed his endless Instagram stories about pasta). First came Dance You Off; then the World’s Greatest Bromance™ with Felix Sandman that led to Tror Du Att Han Bryr Sig, then his first proper album Identification dropped and blessed us all with an array of peak summer Scandipop. But it was his Melfest win on attempt no. 2 that had me riding a rollercoaster of emotions last year.
There were lows – one in particular that I call the Outrageous Televoting Incident of 2018 In Which Europe and Australia Displayed A Major Lack of Taste. But for the most part, everything to do with Dance You Off had me on a high. I mean, the staging for starters – I’m pretty sure the words ‘revolutionary’ and ‘dope’ were invented with that rightfully glorified tanning bed in mind. Benjamin was just a boy, dancing on top of and in front of lighting tubes, asking us to love him…and it totally worked on me (not a tough task since I was Team Ingrosso when he was dancing in front of giant foil-covered baked potatoes for Good Lovin’).
He claimed that Melfest crown/ugly trophy and went on to do the exact same performance, only slicker, at Eurovision. The juries saw sense and ranked him 2nd overall, and as for the rest – well, I like to pretend it never happened and just say grattis till Sverige on another top 10 result. Contest placings aside, the real reason Dance You Off is such a highlight for me is because as a song, it’s a pure and simple pop masterpiece. If Michael Jackson, early 90s R&B and a freshly-opened 2018 nightclub somehow had a baby, this would be the product. And thanks to Identification, there are siblings!
#1 | Eva, Lisandro Cuxi (France, Destination Eurovision)
This might be a surprise numero uno for you if Madame Monsieur’s Mercy was your pièce de résistance of Eurovision 2018. Don’t get me wrong, Mercy is a great song with a great message. But Eva is an even greater song (PLEASE DON’T ABUSE ME IT’S JUST MORE TO MY TASTE ASDFGHJKL) also featuring a message. Sure, it’s less about a refugee child and more about a single mother who moonlights as an exotic dancer…but sometimes it’s the most controversial/emotional subjects that make the best music (Exhibit A: Running, Exhibit B: 1944 and Exhibit C: Mercy, of course).
In a national final that was full of fantastic songs, Lisandro’s piqued my interest immediately above other eventual favourites like Ailleurs, OK ou KO and Rêves de Gamin. Not only do I love me some R&B, but as a Melodifestivalen madwoman I love anything that looks and sounds like it could go direkt to Friends Arena. Eva ticks both of those boxes, and also has a moody atmosphere, radio-ready sound and glass-shattering money note (one that was more on point in the Destination Eurovision final than in the semi, I’ll admit).
Some might say it comes across as manufactured and inauthentic compared to Mercy, but I will fight them to the death (or at least until we’re all pretty tired) in my attempt to prove them wrong. Eva just delivers its message in a different way and is packaged differently to Mercy. And it just so happens that Eva’s genre is more up my alley – so far up my alley that I may have cried a little when Lisandro lost to Madame Monsieur. I’m past the weeping stage now, but this kick-ass gem of a song has stayed with me and been played by moi too many times to count. I love it more than the French delegation loves CGI Eiffel Towers. That’s big love.
I’ve showed you mine – now you have to show me yours! Which songs from ESC, JESC and the NFs of 2018 do you feel blessed to have on your Spotify playlists?