JAZ REVIEWS JESC 2019 | Round 1 (Albania, Armenia, Australia + Belarus)

 

Most of the time this is a Eurovision-only zone, with Melodifestivalen mentioned every so often (‘often’ means ‘all the damn time’, right?). But once again, Junior Eurovision is approaching, and I do love me some JESC…so consider this your warning: if you’re not a fan, maybe step away until December. Until then, I’m going to be all about Gliwice-Silesia, the city Poland has chosen to host their very first Eurovision event (Young Dancers and Young Musicians aside). I can’t wait to see what they’ll serve up.

JESC 2019 is taking place in Poland thanks to Roksana Węgiel, who just won an MTV Europe Music Award at the mere age of 14 – almost exactly a year after her Junior victory. Way to make the rest of us feel inadequate, Roxie. Before I dive deep into reviewing this year’s entries, let’s check back in with her winning performance:

Anyone I Want To Be is a pretty hard act to follow, but one of the 2019 nineteen will have what it takes. Could it be one of the songs I’m reviewing today? First up, Albania, Armenia, Australia and Belarus. Keep reading to see what I think of Isea, Karina, Jordan and Liza’s entries for Junior Eurovision, and be sure to vote for your favourite of the four in the poll provided. Now, let’s get this show on the road!

 

 

There are two kinds of Albanian JESC entries, apparently: the cutesy bubblegum pop kind and the sophisticated ballad kind (Dambaje from 2015 was the exception and remains their most successful song to date). After opting for type A last year and witnessing Europe/Australia do Efi Gjika dirty, it’s bounce-back-to-type-B time with Isea Çili and Mikja Ime Fëmijëria. This is a song that could easily fit in at Festivali I Këngës feat. an age-appropriate vocalist, which isn’t a bad thing at Junior these days. The last time a song that couldn’t have doubled as an adult ESC entry won was in 2011, so maturity is clearly winning out over more childlike material (an explanation for Barbie not getting far in Minsk). That does mean there’s a bunch of big ballads in the 2019 line-up, and it will be hard for them all to get noticed in a sea of same-same. Does Mikja Ime Fëmijëria have what it takes to come out on top?

I don’t think so, I’m afraid. It’s unlikely that this song can compete with Spain, Kazakhstan and North Macedonia etc in the ballad stakes. It’s also pretty similar in tempo and style to Ireland, just a bit more “classic ballad”, which doesn’t help it stand out. I wouldn’t be disappointed to be proven wrong though, because I do like it. In fact, I almost always like Albania’s entries at JESC and ESC, as there’s something so uniquely Albanian about them (and I don’t mean the Albanian language…it’s something less obvious than that). They’re usually dramatic, majestic and classy, and Isea’s song checks all those boxes. It reminds me a bit of 2016’s Besoj, which I also really liked while knowing it wouldn’t do much. It’s the tinkly piano intro and sedate verses that explode into a memorable chorus, I guess. There’s a nice melody to Mikja all the way through, and I get some genuine emotion from it which is partly down to the song and partly down to Isea’s delivery. It’s not down to me having translated the lyrics via Google, because I did that and still don’t know what this song is about. But anyway, in general this is a solid entry, and I’m glad no one felt the need to throw in some token English. Or maybe that would have helped, I don’t know. I can’t have it both ways, so let’s just leave it at ‘Kudos on the full Albanian!’.

So I’m reasonably keen on this, yes. But even so, it isn’t right up there as a favourite of mine for this contest, and there’s a few reasons for that. Firstly, as memorable as the chorus is, I can’t say the same for the verses. I re-listened to the song just before I sat down to write this review, and I cannot remember how they go. I do remember thinking that they don’t seem to match up that well with the chorus. There are definitely ballads with better flow in the mix. Still, we will get a good vocal and probably good, if predictable, staging out of this. I’m not expecting a performance hugely different from the NF, with Isea alone on stage (Albania has a 100% record of leaving their Junior soloists solo) and belting this out while something pretty happens on the screens surrounding her – think Poland 2016. That alone is unlikely to get Albania back into the top five. Lower top 10 is about as much as they can ask for, and even that’s ambitious. But what do I know? There’s always a surprise success on the scoreboard, and if my tendency to misjudge things is any indication, it could be this. 7 points.

 

 

Armenia is a Junior Eurovision powerhouse. They haven’t missed a single edition since their 2007 debut, and in that time they’ve won the whole thing, finished 2nd four times and 3rd twice, made the top five eight times (out of 12 participations, giving them a 67% success rate), and – finally, so I can take a breath – ended up no lower than 9th. They’re showing off at this point really, though last year was when that all-time-low 9th place happened (undeservedly…L.E.V.O.N was and still is a banger, and I refuse to acknowledge otherwise). Listing their achievements is my way of professing adoration for Armenia in this contest. I love them as much as everyone else does, based on that rollcall of results. In song quality and on the scoreboard, they have a lot to live up to, and that might be why they’re serving up a slice of ethno-pop reminiscent of entries like People of the Sun and Tarber in 2019. Is Karina’s Colours of Your Dream colourful enough to do what those songs did?

I hope so, because I am LIVING for this. It was the first song to be selected this year, and as others trickled in slowly it remained my favourite. Not much has changed since then. There’s a group of three or so songs that are on top of my list and this is one of them. I hate to call it a bop since I’m in my late twenties and it makes me sound like I’m trying to ‘get down with the kids’, but this really is a bop. Tarber comparisons are easy to make from the start, when Karina unleashes a dramatic string of big notes á la Anahit & Mary. Then (bim) bam, the beat drops in to say hey and the infectiousness, memorable melodies and high energy never let up from that point on. There is a lot going on in this song: changing rhythms from the drum machine, traditional instrumentation, a language switch and so on. But it’s so well put-together nothing feels unnecessary or out of place. The chorus is anthemic and uplifting in both languages, and I think the Armenian/English mix is nicely structured. Overall, this is both accessible and representative of the country it’s coming from, not to mention one of the few dancefloor fillers we have to get us moving this year. It also strikes the perfect balance between childlike and mature – it’s youthful and fun, but not overly so in a contest where songs that are too “kiddy” don’t fly high anymore.

I wish there was a bigger buzz around this entry. I could be clueless (likely) but I reckon Armenia has a good chance of getting back into the top five after a few years out. I would like to see some changes from the national final performance, which was pretty colourless considering the song title and subject matter. Ditch the white outfits for something bright and throw in some choreography and I will be sold. Winning over the juries is all up to Karina – she’s a decent vocalist, but she needs to nail those opening notes to get things off to a good start. Armenia is better at being runner-up than winner at Junior, and that’s probably the highest they can aim in Poland. As much as I love it, I don’t think Colours can propel them all the way into trophy territory. But I expect it to do reasonably well with the juries and the public, and if so that should even out into a placing Karina can be proud of. 12 points.

 

 

You guys know I’m bound to be biased when reviewing Australian ESC/JESC entries. But brace yourselves for an extra level of ‘Straya Can Do No Wrong And If You Dare To Disagree I Will Hold A Quokka Hostage’ with this one. For starters, I both hoped and predicted that Jordan Anthony would become our 5th (!!!) Junior Eurovision rep after a bit of detective work. What else? Well, he just so happens to be from Perth, Western Australia, and guess who also lives there? That would be me, folks, so I’m pretty much obliged to support him or I’ll be exiled to the eastern states. I followed 14-year-old Jordan’s journey on The Voice earlier this year – all the way to the final – and spent the whole time being amazed at his ability to hold his own up against singers twice his age, with twice his experience. He’s actually the first JESC act to have appeared on the adult version of The Voice as opposed to The Voice Kids before competing. And in case you hadn’t noticed, he’s the first male artist Australia has sent to Junior. Basically, this is a contest of firsts for us. But will it be the first one we manage to win too?

That would be a shock, but don’t go discounting us just yet. I think We Will Rise is being über underrated by Eurofans. No, it’s not groundbreaking or that creative, but the same can be said about most of the other entries. The song sticks to the formula of previous Aussie entries My Girls, We Are and Champion in that it’s a pop ballad with inspirational (and at times, clichéd) lyrics about staying strong when you’re struggling and having faith in your support system, et cetera. It’s by-the-numbers, follows a predictable path and doesn’t take any risks. But you know what? I don’t care. I legitimately love it. We Will Rise gives me the same feelings Champion did last year: a massive sense of pride plus a shiver down my spine whenever I hear it. It sounds like a TV talent show winner’s single in the best sort of way, and flows smoothly from simple verse to promising pre-chorus, then on to the actual chorus which I think delivers the goods (yes, it’s repetitive, but that’s a hook in itself). And can we talk about that bridge before the last chorus? Hello there, glorious gospel-esque goodness! Like the rest of the song, it lets Jordan show off the light and shade in his voice without We Will Rise turning into a three-minute vocal vehicle and nothing else. Knowing how incredible his live vocals are, I can’t wait to see him perform in Poland. That’s when I think a lot of fans might change their currently ‘meh’ opinions about this song, since people often forget how much a live performance can elevate an entry. I really think that’s going to be the case with We Will Rise.

I am hoping for more interesting staging than Jael had in Minsk – the ‘singer on podium waving their arms around wildly’ concept worked for her (enough to get her on the podium, thank you v. much) but it would be great to mix things up this time with something unexpected. Some cool effects, a memorable prop, maybe a second or third person so the ‘we’ makes more sense than it did for We Got Love…ANYTHING, PLEASE. Well, anything except VR goggles and concealed costume ribbons that turn Jordan into a human maypole. That might be too familiar. Assuming we pull off a solid performance or even a magical moment, there is potential for another great result here. I’m not anticipating a win, because I don’t think our jury vote will be 2018-strong and we tend to be dragged down by the public vote. But every time I listen to this song, I’m convinced it will find an extra gear live and make it to the mid/lower top ten. I wouldn’t see that as a disappointment off the back of our consecutive 3rd places: I’d see it as a strong finish in a contest with a sizeable pack of contenders. Go to Gliwice and get ‘em, Jordan! 12 points.

 

 

If you thought JESC’s national final season was lacking the drama of its adult counterpart, then the Belarusian show must have made your day. It turns out that (allegedly), Eastern European children are not immune to manipulation/vote-rigging (again, allegedly) with fan favourite Viatry by Maria Ermakova losing out to Liza’s Pepelny in suspicious, jury-related circumstances. I know what you’re thinking: Belarus being all shady? Impossible! But it’s (ALLEGEDLY) what went down. In spite of what may or may not have happened, nobody was stripped of their trip to JESC, so I’m not going to waste time on what ifs or review Pepelny in comparison to Viatry. Let’s take the entry that we’ve got and give it a fair go, okay? Belarus is one of my personal favourite Junior countries, and they’ve been there right from the start without missing a contest. They’ve won twice – in 2005 and 2007 – and collected more than a few other fantastic results along the way. Last year’s host entry Time may not have done spectacularly well, but it was my number one song of the year. And that means Belarus has big shoes to fill as far as I’m concerned.

Pepelny is a really strong entry from my P.O.V. Co-written by Kirill Good, who’s popped up in JESC and ESC national finals in the past and also wrote Time, it’s another song I would file under ‘Bops’. It has a similar energy to ZENA’s Like It – which might explain why I do, in fact, like it – and anyone who says it isn’t catchy as heck needs their hearing tested. It taps into the 90s trend that means we’re allowed to wear scrunchies again, but the chorus sounds contemporary enough that it doesn’t feel like a dated throwback. It has pretty much everything I ask for in a dancefloor filler, and if it’s sandwiched between ballads it’s going to stick out. But considering the online vote opens before the show, and a lot of fans aren’t as happy with this choice as I am (either because they dislike it or they dislike the fact that it isn’t Viatry), Pepelny might struggle to score points. I can understand why it’s not proving too popular at this point. Liza’s vocals have a strange sound which doesn’t bother me much – I’d call it unique – but I can imagine it being off-putting for some people. Language-wise, there’s more of a mix in the final version of Pepelny, but it’s not a change for the better. Liza’s pronunciation needs work, and the English lyrics are questionable (anything that draws attention to the awkward ‘Ashen’ title translation should have been avoided IMO). Here we have a situation where something’s been fixed that wasn’t technically broken in the first place…but then, we all know Belarus loves a revamp almost as much as Ukraine, so no doubt they couldn’t help themselves.

Another thing: I’d say Pepelny has a lot in common with Poland’s Superhero, and that’s bad for Belarus since that is the host entry (so it’s armed with ready-made support) and it’s arguably superior. Even I prefer Viki’s entry to Liza’s. If the two are positioned pretty far apart in the running order that would be better, but even so I think Poland will outshine Belarus for the second year running. Last year’s 11th place might look a whole lot better when the 2019 show is done and dusted, but if the universe wants my predictions to look as dodgy as usual in hindsight, that’s fine. Besides, if I squint, I can see a pathway for Belarus to reach the 9th-12th range. They need to keep the staging fun and youthful, and there would have to be some voters out there who haven’t made up their minds or who are seeing this performed for the first time during the show. Juries won’t love it, but they might appreciate how suitable it is for JESC, how confident Liza comes across and how as a package, it’s cohesive. I know I do…even if I’m in the minority. 10 points.

 

 

That’s all for this round of JESC reviews. Now I want to hear what YOU think of these tracks. Choose your favourite below, then head down to the comments to tell me how terrible my opinions have been today. I can handle the heat. Probably.

 

 

 

NEXT TIME We’re working our way through the alphabet, and that means France, Georgia, Ireland and Italy are next in line. Is one of them a potential winner? I happen to think yes, so stay tuned if you want to know who…

 

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