Counting down the days to Junior Eurovision like me? Then you’ll know there’s just 14 of them (a.k.a. two weeks) to go. And I for one am no closer to figuring out who’s going to win this year. I haven’t been so unsure in a long time, but I’m not complaining – it does make things more exciting, after all. Still, if you’re any more certain than I am, please leave a comment that gives me some guidance. I need all the help I can get.
Moving on to my second round of reviews now, and as promised it’s all about France, Georgia, Ireland and Italy today. Here we have a few heavy hitters, a relative newbie, and a country that won straight off the bat but has had mixed results since. What have they got for us in 2019 and how far can they go? Keep reading to find out what I think, and make sure you vote for your favourite afterwards.
Four artists – Carla, Giorgi, Anna and Marta – and four competition songs – Bim Bam Toi, We Need Love, Banshee and La Voce Della Terra. Let’s review them!
2018 was a year of surprise second places at contests with the word ‘Eurovision’ in the title (the kind of contests I tend to like quite a lot). Not only did Cyprus come through with the iconic Fuego in Lisbon, but France dropped back in to Junior Eurovision – after a 14-year break – and smashed it, almost winning the whole thing with Jamais Sans Toi (and the adorable Angélina, who I am always willing to adopt if her parents are interested). I still find it funny that France lost to Poland by 12 points, having given their own jury 12 to Poland. What a faux pas. But that’s in the past, and in France’s immediate JESC future is Bim Bam Toi by Carla. Like Angélina, Carla is a Voice Kids graduate, having made it to the final of the most recent series in her home country. Also like Angélina, she’s heading to Junior armed with one heck of a song, and has a very good chance of taking the (I want to say kite-shaped?) trophy home with her afterwards.
I don’t know what it is with France, but they’ve managed to slot themselves back in to JESC after that huge hiatus with an astounding ease, especially when you consider how much the contest has changed since the mid-2000s. It’s like someone slipped them a how-to manual, ensuring they’d know exactly what to do. They nailed it last year and they’ve continued the trend in 2019 by offering up something creative, fun and youthful, but with appeal for all ages – not to mention something incredibly French, which I love. The only song more French than Bim Bam Toi is Igit’s 2018 Destination Eurovision entry, Lisboa Jerusalem…and wouldn’t you know it, Igit co-wrote this track. I fell in love with it immediately. It gets your attention within seconds thanks to a curious, circus-esque first verse that makes you wonder where the song is going, and it turns out the answer to that is ‘the streets of Paris during a parade of some description’. The lead-up to the chorus and the chorus itself are full of little quirks that make them, and the song as a whole, unique – e.g. the shouting and the laughter – while also reminding me of Björk’s It’s Oh So Quiet, which Carla actually performed when she was on The Voice Kids. That chorus is addictive and everything a chorus should be: punchy, memorable, and boasting a sing-along hook everyone can grab on to. Maybe most importantly of all, Carla looks like she’s having the time of her life when she’s singing it. I’m pretty confident she can pull this off live when it matters most. As a package, this is the perfect mix of JESC-appropriate and mature enough to pass as an ESC entry with a few adjustments. It’s edgy (in a lighthearted way) and one of the most original songs in this year’s competition. And not once does it feel like it’s trying too hard to be those things.
Though they’re undoubtedly planning to have fun in Poland, don’t be fooled: France is taking this seriously, and they’ve assembled a sizeable team to support Carla before and during the show. I hope they’ll give Bim Bam Toi the stage treatment it’s begging for – basically anything reminiscent of the video. Colour, choreography (we already know they’ll be two backing dancers á la Jamais Sans Toi, so that’s a relief), cool costumes, et cetera. I have no questions about their ability to stage this trés, trés bien. My only question is, can France go one better than they did last year? I’d say yes…if there weren’t a few other 2019 entries that are also big contenders. I do wonder if the juries will appreciate this and reward its originality, or if they’ll think it’s too “silly” and lavish love on the likes of Kazakhstan and Spain instead. I’m not too worried about the online vote – Carla should do okay out of that. Whatever happens, I’m sure another magnifique result is on the forecast for France. A second consecutive podium placing, specifically. And I say bring it on. This may not be the best analogy for a children’s contest, but Bim Bam Toi is like an effervescent glass of top-quality champagne that goes down very nicely and would never give you a headache. If that doesn’t deserve gold, silver or bronze then nothing does. 12 points.
There are two sides to Georgia at Junior: the fun and silly side that has brought us stuff like Bzz…, Candy Music and Funky Lemonade; and the more serious, sophisticated side we’ve seen lately in Mzeo, Voice of the Heart and last year’s Your Voice. They’re pretty damn good at turning both tricks, as proven by the fact that they’ve won the contest and been runner-up with both the silly and the serious approach. That makes me wonder how they’ll go this year with a song that contains elements of everything we know and love about Georgia – it’s cute and fun but not super childlike, and gives off the same retro vibes as 2013’s Give Me Your Smile with a touch of the Bruno Mars-y soul from Voice of the Heart (my personal favourite). Giorgi for Georgia’s We Need Love is a jack of all trades when you think about it, but it hasn’t been very well received by JESC fans. I get that, but there is something about this that I can’t help loving.
I do feel like I should be underwhelmed and unimpressed by it, but *cheesy line incoming* it warms my heart. For starters, Giorgi looks like a tiny old man and that makes him a precious cinnamon roll who must be protected at all costs. I can’t be mean about a song sung by a child who makes me go ‘Aww!’. But cute factor aside, I genuinely like this song a lot. It sounds like the theme of a canned-laughter TV sitcom from the early 1980s, and even comes complete with a Brady Bunch style music video (featuring 2018 rep Tamar Edilashvili – it’s nice to see her crazy-talented face again). That probably doesn’t sound like a compliment to you, but it is. The whole song is chill and relaxing, yet funky as heck at the same time – even funkier than 2012’s Funky Lemonade. It’s a style that really suits Giorgi’s voice, which I’m assuming will sound studio-perfect live because I’m pretty sure you get deported from Georgia at birth if you don’t have the vocal abilities of an angel. I will acknowledge the fact that the chorus – the backbone of a memorable, successful competition song – is basically non-existent here. A bit of down-tempo scatting doesn’t really qualify as a chorus, and if I roasted Belgium’s ESC 2019 entry for having a sub-standard one, I shouldn’t let Georgia get away with it now…but I’m totally going to. This one doesn’t take away any momentum from We Need Love, so there is a difference. Instead of stealing the wind from its sails, the ‘bada babaaa’ bits keep the ship right on course on calm waters. Is this song exciting and dynamic? Definitely not. Is it a statement piece that’s bound to give Georgia/Giorgi a boost into the upper left side of the scoreboard? Nope. But does it bring me the joy we’re supposed to be sharing based on this year’s slogan? You bet, and that makes me care very little about the fact that it’s probably destined for the bottom five.
Then again, Georgia is the antithesis of North Macedonia in that they can come through with spectacular staging and costuming that takes a 5/10 song and makes it a 10/10. I’m not sure what they’ll do with this to keep the audience, and us suckers sitting at home on our sofas, interested for three whole minutes of extra chillaxing music. But if there’s a way, you can guarantee Georgia has found it. I’d play up the retro feel and try for capable-meets-cute á la Grigol in 2017. This entry should stand out no matter what we see on stage because there’s nothing else like it in the contest. But I’m not so blinded by my affection that I think that individuality will make it a hit. There’s no way it should finish last or close to, but it will struggle to squeeze into the top 10 – so that leaves 11th-17th for the taking. For me, it’s worth a bit more than that. 10 points.
Ireland is up to JESC entry no. 5 this year. They’ve tried a little bit of a lot since 2015, from classical operatics to indie pop, and of course epic pop (a.k.a. 2018’s underrated IOU). I’ve enjoyed the experimentation, even if the highest place Ireland has managed to achieve with it is 10th – which in all fairness is not an awful result. This year we have Banshee, which I really should have timed to talk about on Halloween. It’s not as spooky as it sounds though. Here’s the lowdown: co-writers Jonas Gladnikoff and Niall Mooney have written a fair few other Irish JESC/ESC songs, including IOU, Ireland’s debut Réalta Na Mara and Et Cetera from Moscow 2009. Another of the co-writers (there are EIGHT) is Anna Banks, who’s none other than the sister of Aimee Banks (singer of that debut JESC entry). If there aren’t enough ESC connections for you there, how about this: Anna Kearney’s mother is a former member of Riverdance and performed during that world-famous Eurovision 1994 interval. God, I’d never shut up about that if I were her. Not that she was around to see it happen since she wasn’t born yet. Anyway, what was I supposed to be doing? Oh, right…reviewing Banshee.
Up until now, my favourite Irish JESC song was IOU (and I’m proud of it) but I have to say, I think this has dethroned it. I really like Banshee. It begins as a piano ballad, which suits Anna’s crystal-clear Charlotte Church-y vocals (if you don’t remember Charlotte Church then you’re obviously not as ancient as I am). Later on a beat kicks in feat. some instrumentation that turns the song into a bit of an R&B ballad. That, my friends, sends it straight up my street. The production here is super slick, and while that does make it feel very ‘adult’, the lyrics plus the lightness of the vocals make it a better fit for the contest it’s competing in. It is quite a slow burn song, and when it gets where it’s going (a land where key changes and abrupt money notes are aplenty) the payoff isn’t that profitable. What I’m trying to say is that there could be more power in this power ballad. But for me the pros still outweigh the cons. That last chorus is pretty powerful in its own way, and if Anna hits that big note right on the head live, it should make the juries sit up and take notice. Another thing I really like about this is how beautiful the Irish sounds. I’ll be honest, I’ve had a hard time adjusting to hearing it in JESC – like Welsh – not because I dislike it as a language but because of the newness factor. I’ve found it distracting at times, but in this case Irish really complements the style of song. As much as I think 100% non-English lyrics deserve a round of applause (or at least a Mahmood double clap) I do wish part of Banshee was in English, just to help get the message across and make it more accessible. The second verse/chorus or that last chorus would have been perfect places to do what Zena did in 2016 with Bríce ar Bhríce, which I really think helped achieve that best-yet 10th place for Ireland. But I don’t know why I’m going on about it since nothing’s going to change for Banshee at this stage.
Speaking of stages, the Gliwice Arena stage might be where anything lost in translation could be grabbed back by a clever performance. Ireland doesn’t have a history of staging things fantastically, but I get the feeling there’s some extra effort behind this year’s entry. The package is boxed up nicely so far: talented, telegenic singer, check; strong, well-produced song, check. What we need now is high-quality wrapping paper that doesn’t tear as soon as you touch it, plus a ribbon that adds a final bit of pizzazz. And if that metaphor made no sense to you (I’m not sure it made sense to me and I wrote it) then all I mean is, Ireland needs a performance that matches the high standard of Anna and her song, and then they’ll get the most out of this Junior experience. Banshee can be top 10 material, but there’s a lot standing in its way – definitely too many shoo-ins for the top 5 to leave room for Ireland. As much as I like this, I think 8th is about as high as it can go, with 10th-13th more achievable. No matter what happens, I’ll be impressed by Ireland this year. 8 points.
If you’ve been hanging around here for a while, you’ll know of my unconditional love for Italy where Eurovision is concerned. Also where food is concerned, but because this wasn’t a food blog the last time I checked I won’t go into detail about that. I can’t say I adore Italy quite as much at JESC, but their 2014 winner is one of my all-time faves and is as classy as every other song they’ve sent since then. Last year was adorable on overload, and you can bet I added Melissa to my totally non-creepy list of ‘JESC Kids I Will Happily Adopt If I Ever Get The Chance’. This year we have Marta instead of Marco and Melissa (who came after Maria) and she’s one of the many kids asking us to save the planet through their song. Greta Thunberg should be the official sponsor of this Junior Eurovision, really.
La Voce Della Terra is a mid-tempo ballad that I wouldn’t exactly call a power ballad – the rule is if you can’t imagine Celine Dion singing something, then it ain’t no power ballad. This is similar to a few entries Italy has sent in the past, some of which have made the podium and some of which…well, haven’t. And like the entries I’m thinking of (Cara Mamma and Scelgo, mainly), I’m not head over heels for it. I prefer when Italy goes grande, like 2014’s Il Tu Primo Grande Amore or last year’s epic What Is Love-fest. Marta’s song is nice enough. There are moments of memorable melody and times when her younger-sounding voice really shines. The ‘sempre’ hook is pretty strong and makes for the most dramatic section of the song – the one the crowd will chant along with, probably because the word will pop up on the background or on screen. I also quite like the end of this, which sounds weird, but there’s a lot to be said for a good ending. Leaving us with the title in English makes it clear what the song’s about whether you speak Italian or not (sadly, I do not). I can’t say this isn’t as classy or well-rounded as everything Italy produces, but those aren’t very exciting words. In fact, this entire review has been less than exciting so far and that’s because I don’t have much to say about La Voce Della Terra. I’m physically incapable of going into raptures over it. And I may not be particularly psychic when it comes to Eurovision-related predictions, but when a song leaves you struggling to make interesting comments about it, it’s safe to say it’s not a winner.
There is the possibility staging will save this. And Marta herself has a lot to offer: she looks like a little ray of sunshine, and if anyone can convince me to recycle more and shop sustainably she can. I do wonder if she’s commanding enough in terms of stage presence and vocals to demand attention and get votes. Her voice is almost as childlike as Melissa’s last year, but without a Marco to complement that and add some extra texture, I don’t think she’s going to attract a ton of jury support. We know jurors go crazy for powerful voices more than anything else – hey there, Vincenzo/Destiny/Mariam/Polina etc. Those of us voting from home tend towards the older-sounding singers too, and if we don’t – Exhibit A, France 2018 – we need a less anonymous, more iconic song to reel us in instead. So, to sum up: Italy is nice but nothing incredible; Marta is super sweet and I feel bad being negative about her song; and mind-blowing staging is required to give this entry an x-factor. If the live performance is anything less than impressive, I’m calling 11th-15th place. 6 points.
8 down, 11 to go! I think I’ve said all I wanted to say about these four countries, so now it’s time for you to do your duty. All it takes is a tap (or a click if you happen to be on Ye Olde Computer, like I am right now).
NEXT TIME If you know your ABCs, you won’t be surprised by who’s coming up. But just in case…it’s Kazakhstan, Malta, the Netherlands and North Macedonia. There’s more than one potential winner in that list, so don’t miss Round 3 if you want to see me drop some names – and be prepared to agree/disagree, because I have some OPINIONS. Don’t I always?