Bonjour and welcome back to my Tel Aviv Reviews! France isn’t featured in this round, so sorry if the ‘bonjour’ misled you. I was just feeling flamboyant.
As of today I’m ten countries deep into my 2019 judgments, which I hope you guys have enjoyed so far, and told your friends (and friends of friends of friends) about. Now it’s time for me to take on another five competitors: Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Lithuania and North Macedonia. Keep reading for my thoughts on what Roko, Lake Malawi, Victor, Jurij and Tamara are packing in their ESC suitcases as we speak.
Am I feeling the force of North Macedonia’s girl power or is it all about the boys this time? And what’s your opinion on these five entries? There’s only one way to answer the first question – then you can answer the second one in the comments. See you there in about three hours.
Um, Croatia? Eurovision 2008 called and it wants its song back. But it can’t have it, because I’m actually kind of keen on it. The Dream has the mark of Jacques Houdek, the man of many faces, all over it. He co-wrote it, after all, and his lyrical influence is clear in the cliché-crammed English verse and chorus. Jacques did do pretty well at Eurovision himself, however, and one of this song’s other writers has an even stronger pedigree. Charlie Mason co-wrote L’Amoré è Femmina for Italy in 2012, Rise Like A Phoenix for Austria in 2014, and both Beauty Never Lies for Serbia and Here For You for Slovenia in 2015. Between them, Houdek and Mason have never finished lower than 14th in an ESC final. As a duo, you would think they’d be sure to succeed…right?
I’m not so sure. But first, let me try and explain why I actually like this entry against all the odds and my better judgement. There’s an uplifting, stirring atmosphere to it that draws me in, and the fact that it could easily pass as an Olympic Games theme helps (I’m moved by stuff like that, and I really love the Olympics a.k.a. Eurovision with sports). The song builds quickly and trots out a generous share of explosive moments. The melody is pretty simple in general, with the chorus being less of a substantial one and more of a vocal showcase for Roko. And he deserves that showcase, no doubt – this kid is jury catnip, assuming juries aren’t bothered by songs being dated and slightly cringe. Yes, The Dream is a guilty pleasure of mine, but there is a point when it flicks from guilty pleasure to genuine pleasure: the second Roko starts singing in Croatian. Without English-language clichés dragging the song down, it’s much better and makes me wish the all-Croatian version Heroj was competing instead. Still, I’ll take the language mix over full English.
Now I’ve got that off my chest, I can be more objective and say that I am worried for Croatia. I do think The Dream stands out more than Crazy did last year, but all most people will remember about it are Roko’s really subtle angel wings rather than the song itself. It’s too much to ask that the wings be ditched for ESC purposes, with Jacques Houdek loving a good gimmick or six (I’ve obtained a copy of his birth certificate that states ‘OTT’ is his middle name). Plus, dated ballads don’t have a good recent history in the contest, as Omar Naber would confirm. With Croatia stuck in that super-tough second semi, there’s only one member of their bloc nearby to potentially give them a points boost – North Macedonia – and this song just doesn’t have the goods to transcend geography. As someone who doesn’t think The Dream is a nightmare, I wouldn’t mind if Roko reached the final…but even I don’t think he’s going to.
In a line An angelic, vocally impressive power ballad too stale to get out of its semi 2018 VS 2019 2019. I must be feeling nostalgic Predicted result SF 12th-15th My score 7 points
When a country does something amazing at Eurovision out of nowhere, I always hope they’ll surf their wave of success into the following year. Germany did after Lena’s win in 2010, and Bulgaria did it even better after 2016 put them back on the map (RIP, BNT). I’m not sure why I’m talking about Germany and Bulgaria when I’m supposed to be reviewing the Czech Republic…but my point is, CZ had big sneakers to fill after Mikolas Josef gave them their best-ever result, and I was praying they’d bring something just as iconic to Israel. Well, almost as iconic – Lie To Me is basically unbeatable in that department.
I’m relieved to announce that Mikolas’ successors Lake Malawi are setting my camel in the mood for sure. These guys were far and away the smartest choice the Czech Republic could have made in a pretty weak NF (such as it was) lineup. And what they’re bringing to Eurovision is very different to what Mikolas brought, but it’s equally enjoyable and arguably more original. They’re an established band and their experience, rapport and unique style is all on show throughout Friend of a Friend. I cannot help moving to this song á la Jamala, and if I used it as an alarm I’d emerge from REM sleep in two seconds flat, shimmying the entire time. The bouncing beat, memorable chorus and creepy yet somehow endearing lyrics make it irresistible. Speaking of the lyrics, if the line ‘It sounds like you and me when we’re making love’ doesn’t capture your attention then I don’t know what would.
It may have flaws, but I love this entry anyway. It’s cute (when not creepy), fun and competitive without taking itself too seriously. And what makes it even better is, thanks to the straightforward and drama-free Ukrainian NF where Lake Malawi performed as guests, we know the boys can deliver live. The sound great, they look like they’re enjoying themselves on stage, and lead singer Albert has all the energy this song needs (I also really like his Wiggles-chic yellow sweater). Though I don’t have the Czech Republic down as certain qualifiers and wouldn’t bet on Lake Malawi sailing through like Mikolas did, I am quietly confident they will qualify. Friend of a Friend (of a friend of a friend) would make a great grand final opener. Here’s hoping Europe – and Australia, because WOOHOO, we can vote for this – gives the song that opportunity.
In a line A three-minute party I’m happy to RSVP to 2018 VS 2019 2018 Predicted result SF 6th-9th, GF 13th-18th My score 10 points
If you’ve been reading EBJ for a while, you might know how much I love Victor Crone’s Melodifestivalen 2015 entry with Behrang Miri, Det Rår Vi Inte För. I was disappointed back then when it didn’t get out of Andra Chansen, but surprise was what I felt when I heard Victor was entering Eesti Laul this year. I wasn’t as surprised to see him go on and win it as he was, though. It was a televoting triumph, which at least proves that Estonians wanted him to represent them.
Well, they wanted Victor AND the legendary Stig Rästa, who’s partly responsible for the country-to-club anthem that is Storm. I like this song a lot. I like it so much it may be love. There’s something charming about it, even after the beat kicks in, that I can’t get enough of. It’s less laid-back than Goodbye To Yesterday and Stig’s solo EL entry from 2018, Home, but it still has his stamp on it. The melody and music of the verses is strangely soothing, and that’s where Victor’s voice is at its best – but he did a decent job in the Eesti Laul final on those hard-to-handle choruses. Sure, he was sharp in spots, which may account for his lack of jury appeal. But that will likely be tightened up and/or disguised by backing vocalists for Eurovision (no more Lukas Meijer situations, please). I think this is a clever song for a contest because, while I can see how Storm might age fast when you’re listening to it a lot, for first-time listeners it’s very instant and easy to remember. The chorus in particular, with that ‘like this/like this’ rhyme – which tops ‘fire/desire/higher/wire’ – is one big hook. And Storm isn’t a one-trick pony, repetitive as it may be. The dance beat takes care of that, when Mumford and Sons morphs into Avicii and the world breathes a collective sigh of HECK YES.
Combine all of that with the super-cool NF performance, which I’m sure will be replicated at Eurovision, and we have a really solid entry from Estonia. I personally prefer this to La Forza (she says, hoping the backlash won’t be too bad) and I do believe Victor can follow in Elina’s footsteps as far as qualification goes. But as much as I love this and have it in my personal top 10, I can’t see it reaching the actual top 10. Still, the performance is so attention-grabbing Estonia shouldn’t be forgotten even in a 26-song final, unless they end up opening it. And I’d happily be wrong with my prediction if it means Estonia ends up on the left side of the scoreboard again.
In a line A hoedown and dance party in one very appealing package 2018 VS 2019 2019, as nervously mentioned Predicted result SF 4th-7th, GF 14th-19th My score 10 points
Let’s all be honest with each other for a second: who didn’t think Monika Marija would end up singing for Lithuania this year? Girl had not one but two great songs in Eurovizijos Atranka (unfair, but at least she delivered with both) and even when she withdrew Criminal and paid the price for it – literally – Light On remained a safe bet for the win. Then again, this NF season was full of surprises, so it shouldn’t have been shocking when Jurijus/Jurij Veklenko won instead. Run With The Lions did pop out when I was previewing the Lithuanian final, but being preoccupied with other countries I didn’t actually listen to the whole song until it had been crowned.
When I did, I was pleasantly surprised. You never quite know what to expect from Lithuania, given that their recent ESC history reads like a book with chapters alternating between evocative literary fiction and a 50 Shades of Grey disaster. But Jurij is closer to Ieva than Fusedmarc with this proficient, atmospheric piece of power-pop. Obviously it lacks the emotion and honesty of When We’re Old, and it is pretty cookie cutter (it has that ‘pumped out on a factory production line and eventually paired up with an appropriate artist’ vibe) but I don’t mind too much. Co-writer Ashley Hicklin is also responsible for Belgium’s Me and My Guitar and Mother, plus a bunch of music from miscellaneous NFs over the years, and for me this is one of his best Eurovision-related efforts. It has a great melody and flow, and I think the verses, pre-chorus and chorus itself are all equally catchy – even if the overall effect is not exactly exciting.
It’s true that the vanilla flavour of Run With The Lions puts it in the danger zone (so I guess you’re not all alone, Blanche). I’d say it has a better chance of replicating Lithuania’s 2017 result than their successes in 2016 and 2018, and that’s because it just isn’t competitive enough. Is it a great radio song? Yes. Would it make a great addition to a road-trip playlist? You bet. Is it as suited to an Olympics montage as Croatia’s entry? Maybe even more so. But none of that means it can step up and fight for qualification rights. And as much as I hate to keep mentioning this, Lithuania is in that intimidating second semi, between Malta and Russia no less. It’s a bit like the Iceland-Estonia-Portugal sandwich in semi one, only Estonia may benefit from being the most accessible song in that run…while Lithuania separating two equally accessible but more memorable songs is unlikely to do them any favours. I suspect Run With The Lions will be forgotten and miss out on the final. And to be honest, as much as I do enjoy it, I can’t argue that it’s strong enough to deserve a spot on the Saturday night. It’s good, but not great.
In a line A competent and catchy anthem not impressive enough to survive SF2 2018 VS 2019 2019, because When We’re Old never won me over Predicted result SF 12th-14th My score 7 points
North Macedonia is a land that likes recycling ESC artists. They don’t do it constantly but often enough, with Kaliopi, Karolina and now Tamara taking multiple bites of the apple (the fact that they’ve never convinced Elena Risteska to come back for seconds both mystifies and upsets me). It seems they also like recycling songs, because there’s a striking similarity between Proud and Greece’s 2015 entry One Last Breath. Tamara may not be farting tears like Maria Elena, but her ballad smells strongly of Greece’s Viennese schmaltz. That song isn’t a favourite of mine, so it’s safe to say I’m not a lover of Proud either.
In all honesty, I was hoping for Let Me Love You minus Vrčak and Adrian. That, I would have loved. This is the complete opposite – it’s not up-tempo or trashy in a good way. Instead it’s competent, powerful and packed with money notes…and totally boring. Harsh, but in my head that’s the truth. I get the message Tamara’s trying to send and how the song is supposed to be an empowering feminist anthem (written mostly by men). But I feel like empowering feminist anthems should be uplifting, whereas this one is mournful and depressing. The lyrics don’t seem to match the tone of the song either: ‘Don’t bother being proud or recognising your self-worth because we’re all going to die someday and there’s no point’ would be more fitting words. I will say that Tamara does the material justice with her vocals, but the overall feel is old-fashioned and derivative. In my opinion, of course. I know there are plenty of people loving this.
I also know I’m not alone in disliking it, so the question is this: does North Macedonia have enough people who are Proud of them to help them progress? With countries like Switzerland, Sweden, Malta, Russia, Norway and the Netherlands in SF2 to vote for, I can’t see a sizeable televote rolling in for Tamara. I can see the juries taking to her, but there are better packages on offer for them too – including the Netherlands just before North Macedonia and Azerbaijan straight after. Then there’s the curse that’s seen them miss out on the final several times despite finishing 10th (thanks to some stupid rules of yesteryear) or finish 12th so frequently it’s sparked conspiracy theories. Clearly if they finished 10th this year they wouldn’t miss out, but they’ve always qualified on the cusp – no higher than 9th – and haven’t qualified at all since 2012. I’m not confident this is the entry that’s going to change that. I guess the staging might save it…oh wait. This is (the country formerly known as) Macedonia. Never mind.
In a line A dreary, dated ballad that does nothing for me 2018 VS 2019 2018, warts and all (and by warts I mean horrendous costumes) Predicted result SF 11th-14th My score 4 points
And another round bites the dust! Time flies when you’re having fun being both overly-complimentary and brutally honest, believe me.
Let’s have a look at the standings from today.
- Estonia (10)
- Czech Republic (10)
- Lithuania (7)
- Croatia (7)
- North Macedonia (4)
I don’t see any of these songs as douze-worthy, but high fives go to Estonia and the Czech Republic for coming close. With all of the above five factored in, here’s my overall ranking so far:
- Hungary (12)
- Switzerland (12)
- Estonia (10)
- Cyprus (10)
- Czech Republic (10)
- Romania (8)
- Serbia (8)
- Albania (8)
- Lithuania (7)
- Croatia (7)
- Australia (7)
- Montenegro (5)
- Latvia (5)
- North Macedonia (4)
- Georgia (4)
How does it compare to yours, and what would you score the songs I’ve reviewed this round? Let me know below and I’ll love you forever, Leonora-style (but sans the staring).
Next time I’ll be judging Armenia, Belarus, the Netherlands, Norway and Russia, so get your thoughts on those guys together and be prepared to share. There’s a few big hitters in that bunch and I may have some unpopular opinions on them…be warned*.
*Or I may be pulling your leg and actually have very predictable opinions. You’ll have to check out Round 4 to find out. Subscribe in the sidebar or follow me on my socials @EurovisionByJaz so you don’t miss it!