TWO WEEKS TO GO!!! How we got so close to Eurovision 2019 so fast I’ll never know, but I’m not complaining. The always amusing stand-in rehearsals have started, and within one week the real-deal rehearsals will begin. Maybe then we’ll know who’s actually going to win the thing, because it’s far from being predictable at this point…for me, anyway. You Netherlands/Iceland/Italy superfans out there might disagree.
Speaking of Iceland, they’re one of the countries I’m judging today as I continue cramming in all 41 song reviews before May 14th. They’ll be joined by Belgium, Greece, Poland and San Marino in a majorly mixed bag of tracks, but that was bound to happen when Iceland was involved.
Check out my thoughts on/scores for Eliot, Katerine, Hatari, Tulia and Serhat, then share your own in the comments. Who’s floating your boat and who has your ship sinking?
Sorry about the nautical metaphors…they’re so Lisbon 2018.
2015-2017 had Belgium going from Eurovision strength to strength, like they were on a set of monkey bars and had a hell of a grip as they swung from one rung to the next. It was only a matter of time until they won the whole thing, right? Well, funnily enough it was A Matter of Time that saw them lose grip and fall flat on their face. 12th in their semi last year was their worst result in a while, but now the responsibility is back in the hands of RTBF – the broadcaster that gave us Loïc Nottet, Blanche and two 4th places. Eliot’s Wake Up has even been penned by Pierre Dumoulin, co-writer of City Lights. I feel like Belgium might want to mimic Blanche’s result here, but have they really got the goods to do it?
My first impression was no, and my current impression is still no. I do think Wake Up is a good song with great moments. When it opens with those otherworldly, 1980s-esque synth sounds, it sets us up to believe we’re safe in the hands of something special. For me, that feeling stays strong through the first verse, because it is an excellent one – catchy and complete with a beat that promises an epic chorus. Unfortunately, that’s when things become the opposite of epic. The stellar chorus teased by the start of the song never comes. I know every person on the planet has said the same thing, but doesn’t that ring alarm bells? It seems to be universal that the chorus doesn’t measure up to the rest of the song or make it more exciting, when it should be the part that actually does make you Wake Up (not have a quick nap as you wait for it to be over). Obviously not every single song has a statement chorus, which is fine on Spotify or on the radio – but in a competition, you don’t want to be underwhelming. It’s a shame because everything else about this song is totally whelming! I love the 1980s-meets-2010s feel, (most of) the melody and the lyrics. And I can imagine cool, artistic staging making this memorable in Tel Aviv.
Eliot isn’t a risk-free performer, based on lives we’ve seen so far. He does have a lot of potential though, and can pull off a solid vocal. I just want him to be more confident and more charismatic on stage, and own the song so it doesn’t overshadow him. He has Blanche’s songwriter behind him, but he needs to channel Laura Tesoro when it comes to taking charge of his performance. Belgium is opening the first semi’s second half – a positive – and performing before Georgia, which is also a positive (just not for Georgia). But then comes a string of songs ranging from ‘considerably more interesting than Wake Up’ to ‘I will never forget what I just witnessed as long as I live.’ And that, to quote Blanche (who I’ve mentioned a lot in this review) puts Belgium in the danger zone. I would like Eliot to qualify, but I worry that a Sennek sequel – a.k.a. another 12th place – is in his future.
In a line Slick, sophisticated synthpop with a sadly forgettable chorus 2018 VS 2019 2019, even with that sadly forgettable chorus Predicted result SF 8th-12th, GF 17th-20th My score 8 points
Remember when Greece was the untouchable, golden country of Eurovision? I’m old and do recall those days, but if you were born after 2000 you actually may not. The era was 2004-2011, when they won once, finished in the top three twice and never ended a contest’s final night lower than 9th. Then things took a turn for the (much) worse, from 2014 onwards in particular. Greece did manage to cling on to their 100% qualification record post-2011, until they lost it in Stockholm. THEN, after a bounce-back in 2017, they fell in the semi-finals again last year. So that’s where we’re at now, and I suppose I should stop giving you an unnecessary Greek history lesson and talk about Better Love.
The Duska discussion should start with me saying this is my favourite Greek entry in ages – and it’s not like I’ve hated their recent contributions. Continuing the tradition of bringing a great song when represented by a Greek-Canadian, Greece has got to be onto a good thing with this (you could say they’ve found the secret combination for success *insert canned sitcom laughter here*). Better Love is an amazing track that puts a bunch of other power ballads to shame. It’s well-written, builds musically and melodically, and manages to stick in my head in a way that’s usually reserved for up-tempo dance bangers á la Cyprus and Switzerland. The lyrics are simple and pretty minimalistic, especially in the chorus, making it easy to sing along to. I also like the balance Better Love strikes between sounding original and sounding familiar enough to be accessible – Portugal, on the other hand, might struggle because of their overwhelming originality (but that’s a debate for another day). What I LOVE about this song, and what makes it as magical as it is, is Katerine’s distinctive vocals. They hook me from the moment she says ‘Live for the mess’, which is good advice and I do it all the time where my bedroom is concerned. And when she hits those high notes in the chorus, and the even higher notes in the bridge…wow alert!
The elephant in the room now I’ve mentioned vocals is Katerine’s pre-party performances. They were sketchy from what I heard, but I’m not too worried about that being an issue at Eurovision. That’s because every other live of hers I’ve seen has been flawless; there’s still time for these things to be brushed up; and even vocals that sound awful in an arena or other live venue can sound fine on TV (that I know from my own ESC experience). So Katerine gets the benefit of the doubt from me, and if she does sound good on TV then that’s what will matter in terms of results. Can you tell I’m desperate to defend this entry? Greece has a brilliant song on their hands, and if it sounds good and looks good – recreating the arty/nonsensical video feat. lots of pink tulle might work – they should be back in top 10 for the first time since 2013.
In a line Power ballads don’t get much better than Better Love 2018 VS 2019 2019 Predicted result SF 1st-3rd, GF 6th-11th My score 12 points
Who in the world could have predicted the transformation Iceland would make between 2018 and 2019? Last year they gave us an angelic cinnamon roll (look it up on Urban Dictionary if you need to) performing a love love, peace peace anthem that was about as iconic as a glass of water. This year they have presented us with anti-capitalism, BDSM-dressed performance artists with a penchant for screamo-heavy industrial synthpunk (I think). Holy crap. I feel like Ari is too sweet and innocent to witness Hatari in action. SOMEBODY SHIELD HIS EYES!!! The funny thing is, the Hatari boys seem to be fairly sweet and innocent themselves when they’re doing their day jobs or taking selfies with schoolkids – basically whenever they haven’t been sewn into black latex. But on the stage belting out Hatrið Mun Sigra, it’s a different story. A scary one that shouldn’t be told before bedtime.
I need to tell a story of my own to explain why this song isn’t as appealing to me as it is to a lot of Eurofans. Screamo (if that’s the right term for vocals that require post-performance lozenges) is an off-putting technique and not something I actively listen to, and I know what’s mainly to blame. In general, it’s an assault on the ears…but when I was a kid, I was scarred for life by the credits of a music show we have in Australia called Rage. They don’t freak me out now like they used to, but watch them here and then imagine you’re a child who’s snuck out of their room in 2am darkness to watch music videos on TV only to be terrified back into it fast. I’m telling you this because Hatrið Mun Sigra reminds me a lot of that clip, with all of the aggressive screaming. Though I like the rest of the song, I can’t totally get past the scary parts.
Pushing my fear aside, I get the obsession with this. The industrial style of the music is not unlike Margaret Berger’s I Feed You My Love, and that’s a plus. The song has a hypnotic beat and a slick sound that I really like, and the contrast between the floaty chorus and the hardcore verses – then how they’re layered over one another at the end – is interesting to say the least! I also get a kick out of a song called ‘Hate Will Prevail’ representing a country who, 12 months ago, implored us to treat each other well, help, heal and ease the pain etc. I just wish Iceland had drawn the same half of the first semi as Montenegro so they could have performed after Heaven (for Christer Björkman’s love of the sawtooth approach and for our entertainment). I have no doubt Hatari will qualify from where they are in the semi, though HMS is not a song juries will flock to – it will be relying on a massive televote on both nights. Can Iceland pull a Poland 2016 and shoot up the final scoreboard after a low jury vote? I think they can. Time will tell…and hate will prevail.
In a line Like skydiving, this is terrifying but enjoyable at the same time 2018 VS 2019 2019 – BDSM trumps bland Predicted result SF 4th-6th, GF 5th-13th My score 8 points
Coincidentally, every country in this round of reviews failed to qualify last year. In most cases that was understandable, and Poland is no exception. Light Me Up is a great Euroclub song that I still listen to on the reg. But whenever I think of Gromee’s snake dance and Lukas’ incredibly inadequate vocals, a shudder runs through my entire body and I have to lie down for half an hour. So it’s a relief now to have Tulia, a group of girls we can rely on to deliver vocally…and to NEVER EVER snake dance. I appreciate Poland going in a different direction this year, right down to internally selecting instead of holding a national final (rumour has it they couldn’t afford one since they’re hosting JESC in November). You certainly wouldn’t catch me dancing to Pali Şie in the Euroclub unless it had been severely remixed.
But – and you might have sensed a ‘but’ coming – although I applaud Poland for trying something new, I can’t get on board with this song. It did help when I learned that Tulia’s vocal technique is a legitimate one where they aren’t supposed to be harmonising. Sadly, that doesn’t stop my untrained eardrums recoiling from the sheer force of what sounds, to me, like yelling. I don’t want to trash Tulia because what they do, they do very well. It’s just not my cup of tea. I know they have plenty of fans who will support them and like the sound of all those voices singing the same notes at the same time, so I don’t feel too guilty. Granted, it’s not just the vocals that I can’t get into. The melody of the song has a spark to it but it never lights a full-on fire (of love) in me like the ominous one in the videoclip. I find the chorus too simplistic, especially when the English lyrics drop. And I think Pali Şie is quite same-same all the way through: it doesn’t lose steam but it doesn’t gain traction and really go somewhere either.
None of the above means I’m not fully prepared for Poland to win me over with their Eurovision performance, by the way. From what I saw at EiC, Tulia slayed those vocals (don’t sue me, Wiwibloggs…that word was necessary) and their costume choice was what I expected – extra polished and extra Polish. We know they won’t be coping with choreography while trying to keep their voices in check, so there’s no reason for them to sound questionable. Visually, ‘ethnic with an edge’ is how I hope for the song to be staged, and if it is I wouldn’t be surprised by a qualification. Should Poland go through, I’ll be happy for them and pleased that Europe (and Australia) embraced something so different. If they don’t, I won’t be mad about not having to hear Pali Şie in the final. My a-Poland-gies.
In a line I’m a harmonies girl in a (usually) harmonised world, and this is too much for me 2018 VS 2019 2018 Predicted result SF 9th-13th, GF 19th-23rd My score 5 points
When Serhat was announced as San Marino’s rep for 2019, I immediately felt like the dumbest person alive for not seeing it coming. Sure, the principality had only recycled Valentina Monetta in the past (unless you count the JESC recycling of Michele Perniola and Anita Simoncini) and it was more likely to be her name they dropped than anybody else’s. But still, Serhat became so iconic back in 2016, he should have been a predictable returnee. It was a matter of when, not if – and here we are with Say Na Na Na, a.k.a. Serhat Strikes Back, a.k.a. the sequel to I Didn’t Know minus monocle. To tell you the truth, I don’t know what to think of this entry and that’s partly because I don’t know how seriously to take it. I’m leaning towards ‘not very’.
Say Na Na Na is every stale Eurovision cliché possible packed into three minutes, without actually having been lampooned by Love Love, Peace Peace (props to San Marino for entering a throwback and finding a loophole at the same time). It’s cheesy, it’s dated, and if anyone other than Serhat was performing it, they’d be definite DNQ material. But somehow – and I have no idea how – it kind of works. This guy certified himself as the ESC disco king as soon as the original I Didn’t Know was swapped for the remix, and his reign continues with this terrible yet enjoyable track. It’s the guiltiest of pleasures, with lyrics like ‘Don’t forget my number, call me any time, I will always tell you life is beautiful and fine’ (which makes Serhat sound like the least helpful psychologist ever) sending the cringe factor through the roof – while set to such a catchy tune that I can’t help singing along. The chorus in particular is an earworm and a half, and will no doubt have the contest crowd obeying Serhat’s command to say you-know-what.
I think we can all foresee the staging treatment this will get, and if it’s anything like the music video or Serhat’s Stockholm performance, it’ll be a massive step up from last year. The fact that San Marino has been given the pimp slot in SF1 suggests the EBU is happy for them to be our freshest memory. That’s quite the confidence boost. It doesn’t mean qualification is a given – just ask Triana Park – but it’s rare for the last song out to stay in the semis. That, combined with Serhat finishing 12th in 2016, has me shook at the prospect of this actually making the final. I don’t 100% agree that Say Na Na Na should qualify, because it’s far from being one of the best 10 songs in semi one. But Serhat himself? Well, I can’t deny that I’d happily have him qualify just for the hilariousness of it, and as a reward for selling the shiz out of another substandard product.
In a line A throwback track just as wonderfully awful as Serhat’s last 2018 VS 2019 2019, without a doubt Predicted result SF 9th-13th, GF 18th-22nd My score 7 points
25 down, 16 to go! I have no choice but to whip through these reviews faster than John Lundvik down a 100m track in his sprinting days. It is now the end of April, after all (HOW?!?!?).
Here’s the mini-ranking for today’s round:
- Greece (12)
- Belgium (8)
- Iceland (8)
- San Marino (7)
- Poland (5)
And here’s where Greece etc fit in to my overall list at this point:
- Hungary (12)
- Switzerland (12)
- The Netherlands (12)
- Greece (12)
- Estonia (10)
- Norway (10)
- Cyprus (10)
- Czech Republic (10)
- Belarus (10)
- Russia (8)
- Romania (8)
- Belgium (8)
- Armenia (8)
- Iceland (8)
- Serbia (8)
- Albania (8)
- Lithuania (7)
- Croatia (7)
- Australia (7)
- San Marino (7)
- Montenegro (5)
- Latvia (5)
- Poland (5)
- North Macedonia (4)
- Georgia (4)
Do we have anything in common so far? Is there anyone who doesn’t have Georgia bringing up the rear (sorry Oto)? I’m curious, so let me know in the comments.
Watch out for my Austria, Denmark, Malta, Moldova and Portugal reviews later this week, and have your opinions at the ready…