THE TEL AVIV REVIEWS | Round 8 feat. France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Spain + the UK
This is it! I’ve finally finished reviewing all 41 Eurovision 2019 entries, just in time for Sunday’s opening party to signal the start of ESC week…as opposed to ESC rehearsal week, which we’ve been living and breathing since last weekend.
I don’t know about you, but I’m damn ready for this contest while also not being ready at all. Maybe because it came around quicker than Kseniya Simonova can mime Moldova’s “snow art” at double speed. Still, all that’s left for me to do is hang up my flags, buy my snacks and plan my SF1 voting strategy. Oh, and publish this round of reviews, obviously.
Keep reading to find out what I think of Bilal, S!sters, Kobi, Mahmood, Miki and Michael’s songs for next Saturday night. And keep in mind that I wrote these reviews before France et cetera had hit the Expo Tel Aviv stage, so any comments I made about staging were speculative. Speculative and arguably better than what some countries actually came up with.
PS – If you want to catch up on any of my other 2019 reviews, you can find them all here.
France + Eurovision = c’est magnifique these days. It all started with Amir back in 2016, and the run of absolute quality continued with Alma and Madame Monsieur. Not only have their eventual entries been amazing, but the standard of songs in their NF Destination Eurovision – held during the past two selection seasons – has been sky high. Voice Kids alumnus, social media star and Conchita worshipper Bilal Hassani emerged victorious from the 2019 show, having battled some tough competition and a lot of haters. The haters didn’t disappear after his win, but his fans will give him all the support he needs as he takes on Tel Aviv in style. I’m definitely a fan, but not just of Bilal. Roi is also doing all the right things for me.
Co-written by Madame Monsieur, this song is nothing like Mercy but it does have a message. It’s all about self-empowerment, standing up for yourself, owning your individuality and wearing huge blinged-up shoulderpads. I can personally relate to all of that (don’t underestimate the power of giving shape to your shoulders, people). Anyway, those themes are wrapped up in a pop-ballad package that manages to be quintessentially French without being stereotypically French. Maybe it’s the language mix, with the lyrics flitting between Française and Anglaise faster than you can say baguette. That technique has been used a few times by France at Eurovision events, including ESC 2007 and JESC 2018 – and they know how to do it well. Madame Monsieur know how to pen a current-sounding pop song well too, and though Roi isn’t as contemporary or powerful as Mercy, it still has a lot to offer. Every bit of it is catchy and consistent in its Frenglish; it has plenty of different segments that stop it sounding repetitive or becoming boring; the chorus is strong and easy to sing along to; and the lyrics make the message clear if you speak English and/or French (and if you speak neither, Bilal’s hand-crown helps get the meaning across). I really liked this track the first time I heard it, and it’s continued to grow on me like a sophisticated French fungus ever since.
In all honesty, however, the song pales in comparison to Bilal himself. He has to be my favourite personality of the 2019 contest – he’s fun, flamboyant and friendly, with star power but the kind of down-to-earth nature that makes me want him as my celebrity BFF. And of course, he can sing, dress to impress and rock flowing blonde wigs better than anyone. What’s wrong with this picture I’ve painted? Well, not much. But sadly I can’t see France going too far with Roi. Though plenty of people will be seeing and hearing this entry for the first time during the final (or when it’s previewed during the semis), with so many other standouts bound to catch their eyes and ears, I don’t like its chances. France’s fate might depend on how the Roi staging has evolved, but I can’t imagine they’ll be a televote or jury favourite. From that 6th place in 2016 to 12th and then 13th place last year, they’ve been drifting downwards, and I suspect that will continue to be the case with Bilal…but I’m hoping to be so wrong everybody will laugh at me later.
In a line A powerful, appealing piece of multilingual pop fronted by an awesome human 2018 VS 2019 2019 by one of Bilal’s wig hairs Predicted result 14th-18th My score 10 points
Okay, Germany: take a seat, because it’s time we had a serious talk. But first, some context. Michael Schulte did a top job of making our jaws drop last year when he finished 4th (don’t pretend you saw that coming). As always, when a country does randomly well after years of doing the opposite, I hoped his result would be the start of another successful streak for Germany. The contents of their 2019 national final seemed to promise the same thing. Then, last-minute wildcard addition Sister won it. How that happened is still a mystery to me, though I know we’re about to enter Eurovision week and I should move on from NF drama. But I just don’t get it. What did this entry have to offer that the other German songs didn’t? It wasn’t performed better or staged better than the rest, and the song was weak by comparison. Now it’s lost the one thing that made it memorable (the giant lazy Susan, which presumably goes on the table that belongs with Leonora’s giant chair). And I suspect that’s not the only thing Germany is going to lose.
There are a few bones to pick here without even mentioning the quality of the song: the ‘!’ in S!sters (that kind of stylisation was last considered cool circa 2002); the fact that the song title is virtually the same as the group name; Carlotta and Laura not actually being related (making my last point even more irritating); and the knowledge that Sister was rejected by Switzerland before being picked up, dusted off and dropped on Germany’s doorstep. As for the song itself…well, after my first listen I pegged it as this year’s 26th placer. That’s not because it’s terrible – I wouldn’t say it was. But it is a big pile of nothingness. It’s not instant, it has no call to action, it’s not dramatic enough to be a musical theatre number but too overblown to be an appealing pop ballad…there’s just nothing to grab on to. The verses sound like they’re still in the workshopping process, with a stilted structure and questionable lyrics. The chorus isn’t bad until the girls start shouting ‘SISTER!’ repeatedly at each other. And the whole thing is too slow and plodding, with not enough going on throughout the three minutes to make it feel like three minutes instead of ten. Carlotta and Laura are lovely, I’m sure, and they do the best they can with the material they’ve been given. But that material is not up to scratch.
I think Germany’s recent last places at Eurovision have been undeserved. But this year, there is no other entry already in the final or likely to qualify from the semis that deserves to finish lower than this. Not having seen S!sters’ new and (probably not) improved staging as I type this, I can’t imagine they’ve miraculously given themselves a chance of finishing above 26th. What else can I say about this? Switzerland made the right move rejecting it. And if Germany wanted to build on their 2018 triumph, they would have been better off sending Makeda or my preferred pick Linus Bruhn (whose performance needed polishing, but who had potential) to Israel. Or you know, LITERALLY ANYONE ELSE. I’m sorry for all the negativity, and I know the same amount of time and effort has been invested in this entry as in the other 40. But I’m disappointed. And as S!sters keep saying ad nauseum, if you feel something, ‘don’t you try to hide it, SISTERRRRR.’
In a line A non-event with a good message but few other redeeming features 2018 VS 2019 2018, in news that will shock no one Predicted result 26th My score 4 points
It’s host country time! The aptly-titled Home is Israel’s first post-win entry since 1999, and I don’t think Kobi can hold a candle to Eden and Yom Huledet. But who could? The correct answer is ‘no one’. Kobi has nothing in common with the boy band anyway, though there were enough Kobis in his music video to create one (nobody show it to Simon Cowell, for god’s sake). 20 years later, Israel is sending a solo singer down the road to the arena with a dramatic operatic ballad. It’s safe to say they haven’t attempted to repeat their 2018 winning formula here. RIP chicken clucks, Pokémon references and plagiarism lawsuits from the White Stripes.
My first experience with Home was not a good one. Having been drawn in by those ethnic wails at the beginning, I was feeling it. Then the wails turned out to be false advertising for a haunting Israeli masterpiece that never materialised, and I felt cheated. What did materialise was pompous and over-pronounced and self-indulgent. But two things happened after that. One, I got to know Kobi and discovered that he’s next-level likeable, which automatically forced me to be kindlier about his song. Two, I listened to said song a few more times, and in shocking news (because this never happens *insert sarcasm here*) I came around. I realise grower songs aren’t great for a contest relying heavily on instant appeal. But regardless, Home has made progress with me. I’m not turned off by the dramatics any more, I appreciate the melody and slow burn, and I feel like Kobi can do it all justice with a voice that understandably won him The Next Star. If I compare Home to other recent (ish) male operatic entries, it comes out on top of My Heart Is Yours – Norway’s 2010 host entry – and Sognu from France in 2011. It still sits way below Grande Amore from Il Volo, but that’s the pinnacle of the genre and cannot be beaten. For me, Home is average with a tendency to be slightly above. If I had to give it a grade on a report card I’d go with a B minus, but I would have given it a D a few weeks ago.
I may not be a Home hater any more, yet the song still isn’t what I wanted from Israel this year. I was hoping for something more like their 2018 Junior Eurovision entry or The Fire In Your Eyes: something spellbinding and ethnic. Even a song feat. some Hebrew would have been nice, but they opted for a full English breakfast instead. With Madonna being shipped in as an interval act, Home seems like another missed opportunity for Israel to show off some culture. Host entries have set up camp in Struggletown lately, and while I think Kobi can do more for Israel than The Makemakes did for Austria and Cláudia Pascoal did for Portugal (not that they deserved to hit rock bottom) I would be surprised to see him on the left side of the scoreboard. But since 26th place is pretty much reserved for Germany, he’s sure to avoid the ultimate embarrassment. And with a song that’s quite powerful and a voice to match, he has the chance to nip at the heels of the top half. Even so, Israel should come to terms with a mid-table downgrade from 2018’s clucking awesome 1st place.
In a line A majestic number fit for musical theatre that won’t thrill Europe or embarrass Israel 2018 VS 2019 2018 – fun and inventive wins out for me Predicted result 15th-20th My score 6 points
Ah, Italy. A true Eurovision love of mine, second only to Sweden (I have my reasons). A country that cannot help but be classy and ultra-Italian, no matter which genre they’re dipping their leather-clad toes into. And a country that really should have won at least once since their 2011 comeback. Could 2019 finally be the year they go all the way? If it is, you’ll hear my hysterical screams all the way from deepest, darkest Siberia or wherever else you are in the world. I am head-over-heels for Soldi (I love Mahmood too, but there’s no point being head-over-heels for him when you’re a straight woman). Just when I thought Italy couldn’t impress me more than they already have during the 2010s, along comes a song so effortlessly cool, I can barely believe it’s a Eurovision entry.
Not because I don’t think Eurovision is the coolest thing ever. Clearly I do, having devoted ten years of my life to talking about it here on EBJ. It’s just that songs like Soldi don’t often pop up in the contest. Actually, we’ve never had one quite like it competing, and I never imagined that if we did it would be a contender for the win. This song is edgy, gritty and tells a tale of woe – Mahmood’s relationship with his father isn’t very Brady Bunch – but it also manages to be fun (it’s the irresistible claps), inventive and catchy. It combines the classic Italian musical traits we know and love, like lyrical wordiness and rich (from all that Soldi) instrumentals, with hypnotic urban beats, hip-hop influences and an Arabic undercurrent. Mahmood’s cultural makeup is represented by the ethnic and language fusion, while his family story is represented in the lyrics. This is deep. It has fireworks AND feelings (take that, Salvador). It’s also a very cleverly-composed song, with those wordy verses being broken up by a minimalist chorus everyone can latch on to in seconds. My absolute highlight of Soldi is the Arabic-infused bridge, which adds an extra element of interest and significance to a modern masterpiece. I also like the nonchalance of Mahmood’s performance style: his distinctive vocals are always A+, but when he’s singing this song he gives off a ‘whatever’ vibe. It’s like he’s channelling the indifference he now feels towards his father, who he’s learnt is all about the money. That’s my interpretation, anyway.
Italy is hardly trying too hard this year, and apparently that’s what it takes to be a dangerous competitor. It’s like barely bothering with an assignment only to score 95%, purely because you didn’t overthink or overwork it. That makes me wonder if Italy actually wants a Eurovision victory, or if they’re happy to carry on with strong top 10 placements. After all, they won JESC by accident in 2014 and turned down the chance to host it the following year. They might get what (I think) they’re wishing for in Tel Aviv, because the path to victory isn’t as clear for Mahmood as it is for the other big favourites. He did win the 2019 OGAE Poll, but it was a tight race and those points all came from hardcore fans. I don’t know if the general public will take to Soldi like we have. Juries should at least reward its originality, but it’s not traditionally jury-friendly on other counts. And I’m unsure if Italy can stage this in a way that gets the message across and matches the cool, contemporary feel of the song. I would love all of the above to become irrelevant and have Italy as our winner this year – they’re my personal second favourites – but I’m sensing that’s too much to ask.
In a line Flawless and meaningful modern Italian music with an exotic twist 2018 VS 2019 2019, but Italy always impresses me Predicted result 4th-6th My score 12 points
What happens when arguably the best song in a national final is performed by someone with no desire to go to Eurovision? Well, occasionally it still wins and we’re treated to an unenthusiastic performance that drags a great song down. Fortunately for Spain, they had a solid backup to María’s Muérdeme in the form of Miki’s La Venda. His song might not be as current and slick as hers, but he performs it with so much enthusiasm he makes it better than it would have been with a less lively artist attached to it. This guy has tough competition when it comes to being Mr. Congeniality, ESC 2019 Edition – especially from his fellow auto-finalists Bilal, Kobi and Michael. He blows them all away when it comes to charisma and personality during a performance though. And La Venda is the perfect song for him in terms of letting his fun flag fly.
It’s also a perfect party anthem. Is there a better motivator to get up and dance in this upcoming contest? I don’t think so! If you can listen to this without moving, congratulations on living Les Misérables. The song is a piñata made of music that’s been busted open and proceeds to rain happiness and effervescence over all of us for all three minutes. That’s because it starts as it means to go on – in top gear with trumpets and an insanely joyful melody. The fact that it doesn’t change much throughout means it lacks a little dynamism, but it also means the energy is constant and keeps you (literally) on your toes. The pace is almost frantic, but I for one am willing to try and keep up with it as I shout ‘LA VENDA YA CAYÓÓÓÓÓÓ!!!’ repeatedly until my neighbours beg me for mercy. Something else I really like about this is the message that lies underneath the façade of fun and frivolity, proving that you don’t need to be dead serious to make a statement. According to Miki (or his lyricist), we should all take off our metaphorical blindfolds and see all that we have and all that life has to offer us instead of looking away, Finland-style. And to that I say amen. It’s a relief to have a break from anything remotely lovey-dovey after Amaia and Alfred’s PDA display. Spain is giving us a fiesta instead of a love-fest this year, and ironically I love them for it.
I don’t know if enough Europeans or my fellow Australians will be feeling the same level of love for this. It has been popular with fans and done pretty well in pre-polls, but it’s not unusual for Spanish entries to be hyped to the point of, in hindsight, overhype. I get a kick out of the Spanish fans’ enthusiasm re: their ESC entries, and I’m on their side this time…but even so I’m thinking Miki might struggle to live up to his hype. He’s a Hulk-strong performer, but La Venda has weaknesses: it’s repetitive, it stays in the same gear all the way through (a pro and a con, as I mentioned before) and it tends to disappear like fairy floss when followed by more eventful entries. Unless Spain scores a late second-half slot in the final, I can easily see them being forgotten in the middle of a 26-song stack. Having said that, La Venda is so enjoyable, and it has the power to get an audience going like nothing else it’s up against. If the ecstatic crowd gets a starring role in the performance alongside Miki, this entry will be elevated.
In a line The ultimate Latin party in a three-minute package 2018 VS 2019 2019 Predicted result 16th-21st My score 8 points
If you thought Germany was the only country with a song rejected by someone else, you thought wrong. The UK is bringing to Tel Aviv what could have been the Swedish entry sung by John Lundvik (but probably would have drifted down to mid-table in the Melfest final while Bishara packed his bags instead). John, who co-wrote Bigger Than Us and will compete against his own composition this week, originally wanted to enter Melfest with the ballad instead of Too Late For Love. He was convinced to change his tune, and that’s how Michael ended up with (this version) of the song. I don’t know why I wasted time telling that story when you all know it already. Anyway, Michael’s certainly made Bigger Than Us his own with his big voice – and his endless repertoire of arm flourishes. It’s hard to imagine anyone else singing it now…but would I prefer it if the song hadn’t been recycled by Mr. Rice?
No I wouldn’t. Call me crazy (it’s true) but I LOVE this song, in all its repetitive, key-changing, memetastic glory. It’s a TV talent show winner song for sure, but it’s the kind that brings tears to your eyes because you’ve voted for the singer for weeks and they actually won and you’re so invested it doesn’t matter how clichéd their inspirational power ballad is. That’s a hypothetical scenario, but Michael is a TV talent show winner. And with good reason: the boy can sing. He’s the best vocalist the UK have sent to Eurovision in a long time, and his vocals make more of Bigger Than Us than a less skilled singer would have. The song follows a predictable ballad structure: verse, chorus, (alarmingly short) verse, chorus, subdued chorus, money note + key change, lots of emotional warbling, and SCENE. There are no surprises. ‘Bigger’ is repeated 50-something times throughout, and it seems like more because the second chorus comes around so soon, Occidentali’s Karma-style. The last quarter of the song is padded out with extra biggers in place of quality content. And you can pick, down to the split second, when the fire curtain switch will be flicked. I know all of this, yet I still adore this song. The melody is beautiful, the explosive moments are mighty explosive, the gospel backings are rousing and Michael is amazing. Is it a little cheesy? Sure, but I like cheese. And this is uplifting, powerful cheese. If John Lundvik’s life was a musical, Bigger Than Us would be the song signalling his newfound determination to stand tall and fight for what he believes in (which I think would come after he figures out that it isn’t too late for love). Also, if John Lundvik’s life was a musical I would buy front-row tickets. But I digress.
Back to Michael. He’s a top bloke, as we’d say here in Australia. The kind of funny, grounded guy you’d hang out with in a heartbeat. That makes him voteable, at least to people who’ve been following his pre-ESC journey, and those spectacular vocals make him attractive to jurors judging singing ability. Where he might trip up is with the song itself and his performance. Bigger Than Us is probably too passé and predictable to stand out. And if he hasn’t upped his live game since You Decide – in terms of camera connection and toning down those arm movements – I’ll be worried. I’m also concerned the UK is going to leave Bigger Than Us to its own devices staging-wise, and it really isn’t strong enough to survive bare-bones (unlike, for example, The Netherlands’ Arcade). There is a lot that can go wrong here. But at worst it will still be competent and showcase high-class vocals, and that’s not a bad position to be in. I have faith that if everything goes right with this entry, it can improve on the UK’s recent results. After all, it’s SO MUCH BIGGER.
In a line A by-the-numbers power ballad that’s worked its magic on me 2018 VS 2019 2019 Predicted result 15th-19th My score 12 points
If you made it through all that, thanks for sticking around. The UK was lucky last and concludes the EBJ judgments for 2019. I’m not-so-secretly relieved, and I’m guessing you feel the same! Here’s today’s mini-ranking:
- Italy (12)
- United Kingdom (12)
- France (10)
- Spain (8)
- Israel (6)
- Germany (4)
And here’s the maxi-ranking feat. the full class of 2019 (apart from that one student who didn’t make it to graduation):
- Sweden (12)
- Italy (12)
- Hungary (12)
- Switzerland (12)
- Slovenia (12)
- United Kingdom (12)
- The Netherlands (12)
- Greece (12)
- Estonia (10)
- France (10)
- Azerbaijan (10)
- Portugal (10)
- Norway (10)
- Cyprus (10)
- Malta (10)
- Czech Republic (10)
- Belarus (10)
- Spain (8)
- Russia (8)
- Romania (8)
- Belgium (8)
- Armenia (8)
- Iceland (8)
- Serbia (8)
- Albania (8)
- Denmark (7)
- Ireland (7)
- Lithuania (7)
- Finland (7)
- Croatia (7)
- Australia (7)
- Austria (7)
- San Marino (7)
- Moldova (6)
- Israel (6)
- Montenegro (5)
- Latvia (5)
- Poland (5)
- North Macedonia (4)
- Germany (4)
- Georgia (4)
Sweden on top is no surprise if you know me. Have I changed my mind since the first round of reviews? Not where my favourites are concerned, but if I did a full ranking again there would be some shifts in the 15th-35th range. Might be time to pay another visit to the ESC Sorter…
Be sure to let me know how you rate the Big 5 + Israel – or any country you like – in the comments, as we continue to watch and wait out the rehearsals. And follow me @EurovisionByJaz on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (links are in the sidebar —>) because that’s where you’ll find my predictions for Tel Aviv’s three hopefully fantastic shows. We’re so close, guys. Enjoy what’s left of the lead-up to Eurovision 2019!
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