THE TEL AVIV REVIEWS | Round 4 feat. Armenia, Belarus, the Netherlands, Norway + Russia
Hello again, if you’ve been here before…and welcome if this is your first time dropping by! I’m Jaz, and these are my Eurovision 2019 reviews. If you’d like to catch up or need a refresh on the countries I’ve covered so far, check out Rounds 1-3, ASAP:
- Round 1 Albania, Cyprus, Latvia, Montenegro + Serbia
- Round 2 Australia, Georgia, Hungary, Romania + Switzerland
- Round 3 Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Lithuania + North Macedonia
All up-to-date? Awesome. I’ll get going with Round 4 then, featuring Armenia, Belarus, the Netherlands, Norway and Russia. In this bunch is the bookies’ favourite, the bookies’ second favourite, a former Junior Eurovision co-host, a powerhouse vocalist and KEiiNO (look, they’re hard to describe in just a few words). It’s a mixed bag, but I was feeling generous when I reviewed them and may have handed out some very high scores. Want to know who got what? Well, there’s only one way for you to find out!
See what I think of Srbuk, Zena, Duncan, KEiiNO and Sergey’s songs for Europe (slash Australia slash the rest of the world) and share your thoughts in the comments.
Armenia + Eurovision = a bit of a sore point for me after my precious Qami did a DNQ in Lisbon. I do understand how it happened (though I will argue that it’s an amazing song until the day I die). But that was the first time ever a song in my top three hasn’t made the final. I’m used to songs I love finishing last in the final, but the Sevak situation was a fresh kind of hell I’d prefer not to experience again. Fortunately it isn’t going to happen with Armenia this year since a) Walking Out has a way better chance of qualifying, and b) I’m not super-duper invested in it to start with.
Don’t get me wrong, I do like it. I didn’t know what we were going to get from Srbuk once we finally got it, besides something along the lines of Half A Goddess. The ESC entry didn’t end up sounding like that at all, but that’s testament to this lady’s versatility. Walking Out is more of a soulful power ballad with an edge, but almost all of its attitude comes from Srbuk herself and her cracking vocal performance (literally…watch your windows towards the end). She tells a story with her voice as she swaggers through the song, letting frustration and anger build during the verses and then venting it in the chorus. Speaking of the chorus – with a few anticlimactic ones in the 2019 contest, it’s great to have something explosive from Armenia that’s bound to be sung along to by everyone who’s ever wanted out of a relationship (or anyone who’s just feeling angsty). It’s the centrepiece of the song, as it should be. But Walking Out doesn’t reach its climax with the chorus. That happens in the last thirty seconds thanks to Srbuk’s screeching. Impressive, in-tune screeching which makes the song a lot more memorable. You know what they say: go hard or go home.
As Armenia has gone hard, I don’t think they’ll be going home early this year. Qami’s staging must have been a misstep because I do trust them to stage the heck out of a song like this. Based on the music video, I’m expecting something powerful and artistic with an emphasis on strong choreography. And of course, a troupe of attractive men wearing tuxedo jackets over their bare torsos would be a welcome addition. Shirtless men involved or not, there’s no doubt Srbuk will start the SF2 party off with a bang (too bad Maruv can’t provide the bang for SF1). And assuming she nails her vocals for the jury shows and the broadcasts, this will have major woman power. I know I said I wasn’t obsessed with Walking Out, but I still think it kicks butt. You go, girlfriend.
In a line An attitude-packed theme song for pissed-off spouses and other angry people 2018 VS 2019 2018 – you know I’m qrazy for Qami Predicted result SF 5th-9th, GF 8th-14th My score 8 points
Like Armenia, Belarus will be looking to recover from a somewhat surprising (until we’d witnessed the performance) DNQ in Tel Aviv. The only similarity between ZENA and Alekseev, since she doesn’t have flowering plants penetrating parts of her body and won’t shake like a leaf on stage, is the scent of national final rigging they share. I know there may be no truth in the rumours, but like last year it seems only one act had a chance of winning the 2019 Belarusian NF. And that was ZENA, whose name I apparently have to type in capitals even though it looks like yelling. Junior Eurovision fans will recognise her as one of 2018’s co-hosts, and her experience presenting such a big show on such a big stage – in English – has helped a heap with her ESC journey.
Oh god…did I just use the term ‘journey’? Forget that, please. At sixteen, ZENA is confident performing to a crowd and to cameras; she can sing and dance at the same time (not flawlessly on both counts, but I’ll come to that); and she has no trouble with English pronunciation, which is a bonus when you’re singing a song as wordy as Like It. I thought Italy was supposed to be master and commander when it comes to maximum words per minute, but Belarus takes the title this year. The wordiness is one of the things I really like about Like It. This is such a fun song, and an underrated one in the fandom as far as I can see (which is about as far as my Twitter timeline). It’s catchy, energetic and age-appropriate without being too youthful to have adult appeal. The frantic verses are thankfully broken up by the more minimalist pre-chorus and chorus, the latter being so simple you could lip-sync it in your sleep…which isn’t a bad thing. And the whole song is catchy as heck. I wouldn’t be shocked if Zara Larsson came out with something like it (title pun intended).
On the downside, it’s a better studio song than it is a live song, but ZENA’s performances so far have been far from disastrous and just need polishing. She is one of those vocalists who can struggle until they get to belt out a big note. She handles those better, but who could blame her when there’s barely time to breathe during those verses? Apart from some vocal coaching, I’d also like to see some development in the staging come Eurovision rehearsals. It wasn’t bad at Eurofest, but kind of basic and could easily be amplified to match the much bigger event/stage space in Tel Aviv. All in all I see potential in this package, and I’d love to see it qualify. Sadly, though, I don’t think I’ll have any spare votes for Belarus by the time I’ve voted for my other first-semi favourites.
In a line Yes I’m gonna like it, yes I’m gonna like it 2018 VS 2019 This is a tricky one, but 2018…I think Predicted result SF 9th-13th, GF 16th-20th My score 10 points
The Netherlands have been pretty hot Eurovision property since 2013, when Birds (inexplicably) gave them their first top ten result in years – and paved the way for a string of successes including Calm After The Storm’s second place. Sure, Trijntje Oosterhuis-gate was an exception, but the less we mention that the more we can pretend it never happened. After a solid if divisive showing last year in Lisbon, the Dutch are back on form in 2019…and then some. We’re talking about the current and longstanding odds leader here: The Voice of Holland alumnus Duncan Laurence (who was coached on the show by none other than Ilse DeLange) and Arcade. To cut a long story short, this song is so good I didn’t even notice Duncan was butt naked in the music video at first – which for me, a straight woman with an eye for a sculpted male behind, says a lot.
To NOT cut a long story short, here’s the specifics of why I think Arcade is amazing. Starting out sparsely but creating an atmosphere fast is musically uncommon, but this song does it with ease. It’s arresting from the beginning, with the first line alone enough to send shivers down my spine. Then Duncan drops in with his delicate vocals – lighter than air but carrying the weight of loss and hopelessness at the same time – and tells us an emotional tale without a trace of the contrived, cheesy lyrics Waylon crammed into Outlaw In ‘Em. Everything that leads up to the chorus is fragile and beautiful, and then the chorus comes along and Duncan gets to let the pain loose while packing a punch of his own. It’s all ethereal and floaty and full of feelings, and stops you in your tracks (unless you’re a soulless cyborg). And on top of that, the metaphor that runs through the song actually makes sense. An arcade à addictive games à pennies in slots à winners and losers…well, it makes sense when you listen to the song. Unlike, for example, Malta’s cannibal/animal/miracle mish-mash of WTF from 2018.
We will have to wait until rehearsals start to know whether The Netherlands can win Eurovision 2019, but so far so good. That includes Duncan’s live performances, when he’s delivered a falsetto that has had me falling to the floor. There are certainly less obstacles on his way to the win than there are for the other favourites: Italy might not have the mass/jury appeal they need, the Swiss EiC performance raised doubts, and Russia is trying way too hard to their detriment. All of those countries are more likely to rank highly with juries OR televoters, not both – whereas the Netherlands has televoting appeal and jury boxes ticked. That’s thanks to a stunning song, an attractive and likeable performer (who we know has been blessed in the butt department) and the chance to use Arcade’s atmosphere to create a spellbinding stage show. Given that the man behind both CATS and Walk Along – who is somehow the same man – is in charge of this entry’s presentation, there’s a hit-or-miss risk. But with all the hype and Duncan’s status as favourite, I can’t imagine the delegation stuffing this one up. Amsterdam 2020 is a definite possibility.
In a line A ballad so beautiful, I could cry 2018 VS 2019 As much as I adore leopard print, it’s got to be 2019 Predicted result SF 1st-3rd, GF 1st-3rd My score 12 points
The 2019 selection season was full of surprises, and it often wasn’t the favourite act who took home ESC representation rights. In Norway, however, KEiiNO – made up of MGP returnees Tom Hugo and Alexandra Rotan, feat. the Norwegian Jon Henrik Fjällgren – won to the shock of nobody. Only Alexander Rybak could have beaten them (even if he’d taken part with a song called ‘That’s How You Play A Recorder Really Badly’ that lived up to its title). Spirit In The Sky is another light-and-fluffy entry from Norway, but it arguably has a bigger fanbase than That’s How You Write A Song did. I like both songs a lot, but while Rybak’s was a guilty pleasure I’m happy to own my enjoyment of KEiiNO’s.
It’s a banger, folks. A banger with JOIKING. It’s as if the aforementioned Jon Henrik Fjällgren teamed up with Jessica Andersson and Martin Rolinski for Melodifestivalen. Only this is Norway, and believe it or not, I can stop talking about Sweden for long enough to discuss a different country. So, Spirit in the Sky: what an epic combo of modern and traditional sounds it is! Tom kicks things off with a mysterious pre-verse verse (if that’s a thing) before Alexandra takes the lead and brews up the dancefloor filler chorus we just know is coming. Then Jon Henrik Fred gets joiking and makes Norway’s mark on Eurovision 2019 tattoo permanent. There are a handful of musical styles at play here – pop, dance, a touch of schlager and those ethnic elements – but they all work together as well as Tom, Alexandra and Fred. In this trio, nobody in particular carries the performance or outshines the rest of the group. Kind of like O’G3NE, but without the mind-boggling harmonies and sisterly synchronicity.
Lack of harmonies and blood relations isn’t going to stop KEiiNO from outdoing O’G3NE in the Eurovision final, I suspect. Their song is too catchy and iconic to finish outside of the top 10. I realise that the second semi has Norway performing between the deadly serious, straight-faced drama of Albania and the delicate, moving Netherlands…and some fans understandably think Spirit in the Sky will taste cheap and tacky in that sandwich. Personally I think it’ll be a breath of fresh air after a run of intense, down-tempo ballads, and it will stand out. I don’t expect another semi winner from Norway this year (and TBH I’m still not sure how it happened last year) but I am expecting a comfortable, deserved qualification and a result on par with Grab The Moment or Monster Like Me.
In a line Sensationally Scandinavian ethno-dance-pop 2018 VS 2019 2019. This is how you write a song Predicted result SF 4th-6th, GF 7th-10th My score 10 points
I think we all knew that this day would come: the day Sergey would return to Eurovision to avenge himself after 2016, The Year Russia Should Have Won According To Russia (and the televote). On the plus side, 2019 isn’t looking too much like 2016: Ukraine is no longer competing, Australia is at risk of a DNQ and sadly, Måns and Petra are nowhere to be seen. On the other hand, once again there are songs that might squeeze into the winner queue ahead of Russia based on Russia showboating and trying desperately hard to win. God knows – though he might have told Philip Kirkirov – what Sergey is going to have to do on stage this time to eclipse everybody else’s staging, but we certainly need to brace ourselves.
About the song…well, great expectations were heaped on Russia, I know. We all figured Sergey wouldn’t make a comeback with any old entry and would want to win, and with great expectations come inevitable tweets from Eurofans complaining about how underwhelmed they are. But really, a dated but dramatic and earwormy song elevated by impressive staging was Sergey’s M.O. in Stockholm, so we should have seen Scream and Kirkirov’s promise to knock our socks off coming. I’m glad the song isn’t a stylistic carbon copy of You Are The Only One. Instead it’s a big, theatrical ballad that belongs in a Broadway musical, and it’s bound to let Lazarev show off his spectacular set of pipes (because the man can sing) rather than keep him busy dancing and climbing up/falling off unclimbable walls. The instrumentation is grand and beautiful and makes me wish we could have a forty-piece live orchestra just for the occasion. I like the chorus, especially that ‘OH OH OHHHHHHHHH’ bit, which gives me goosebumps. And I appreciate the message of the song and how it more or less advocates men being allowed to cry. I totally support that.
But there are cons to those pros. Sergey may be in tears on May 18th, but not trophy-lifting tears. Behind all the drama of this track is little substance. It’s much ado about nothing. And I have trouble getting past the lyrics, which are so clichéd and excessively rhymey they sound like a poem I might have written in my diary when I was a pre-teen. I still see Scream as a possible winner, but I’d be disappointed if it did take the prize (let’s pretend Russia hasn’t won before with a returning male artist whose victorious song wasn’t as strong as their previous top three entry). Considering how statement the song is, Sergey’s talents and how impactful the stage show will be, Russia may be there or thereabouts, but the whole thing screams (HA) 2nd place max to me. There are plenty of better, more contemporary and less desperate-FTW songs competing, and if Russia did win it would be like it only happened because Sergey had an IOU. Should they do it, I’ll be happy for the man himself since I fell in love with him a little in 2016 (I went to his press conference where he was super sweet and humble and tripped up the stairs when he came in which was too cute). But Scream as a winning song? Net.
In a line A big, bold comeback that shouldn’t win by default 2018 VS 2019 2019, unless Sergey also gets an ill-advised mountain prop to sing on top of (or would that actually work for this?) Predicted result SF 2nd-5th, GF 2nd-4th My score 8 points
And that’s my five for today judged and scored! Stand by for me to change my mind on said scores at least three times before the contest arrives. At the moment, they look like this:
- The Netherlands (12)
- Norway (10)
- Belarus (10)
- Russia (8)
- Armenia (8)
Surprise, surprise – the favourite to win is also my favourite of these five. Sorry for being so predictable.
Now, an update on my overall ranking for anyone who’s interested (if you’re not, just make like Finland and look away):
- Hungary (12)
- Switzerland (12)
- The Netherlands (12)
- Estonia (10)
- Norway (10)
- Cyprus (10)
- Czech Republic (10)
- Belarus (10)
- Russia (8)
- Romania (8)
- Armenia (8)
- Serbia (8)
- Albania (8)
- Lithuania (7)
- Croatia (7)
- Australia (7)
- Montenegro (5)
- Latvia (5)
- North Macedonia (4)
- Georgia (4)
Hungary is holding on to my top spot, but how much longer will that last? Can Belgium, Greece, Iceland, Poland or San Marino take them down a place…or five? Will I ever stop asking annoying rhetorical questions? Find out during my next round of reviews.
Make sure you don’t miss a thing by following me @EurovisionByJaz across all the usual socials. And don’t forget to let me know how you’d rank today’s ESC 2019 entries in the comments.
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