JAZ REVIEWS JESC 2019 | Round 4 (Poland, Portugal, Russia + Serbia)
Welcome to another round of my Junior Eurovision reviews! With the Class of 2019 now on the ground in Gliwice and rehearsals underway, it’s official: the contest is freaking close. If you’re reading this I assume you’re a JESC fan, so you must be as keen as I am for the show to kick off and for us to finally find out who the f—ah, I mean, just who is going to win this thing. Taking the trophy home on the 24th could be one of the artists from the countries I’m reviewing today: Poland, Portugal, Russia and Serbia.
There’s more than one contender in that bunch, so stay tuned if you want me to name names. These are my thoughts on Viki, Joana, Tatyana/Denberel and Darija’s songs for Sunday. As usual, be sure to vote for your favourite in the poll and drop by the comments box to share your views on all four.
Now, let’s get going!
They’ve hosted Eurovision Young Musicians once and Eurovision Young Dancers three times, but Poland has never hosted an ESC or a JESC…until now. In the wake of Roksana Węgiel’s win last year, Junior Eurovision is currently taking over Gliwice-Silesia, an extremely fun host city to say out loud (though I’m sure it has more to offer than that). Poland’s song for 2019 is obviously the host entry, and it looks like they might in it to win it for the second year running. They’re sticking pretty closely to 2018’s winning formula: sending a teenage female soloist from The Voice Kids who has thousands more Instagram followers than most of us combined, and arming her with a contemporary and catchy message song. It worked in Minsk, but can Poland be the host with the most and win the whole competition again? And if so, will they get us questioning the fairness of being able to vote for your own country/admiring the power of Polish diaspora in the process?
I think they could do all of the above this weekend. And if Viki’s Superhero was to win, I don’t think the shady voting system could be totally blamed. This is a fantastic follow-up to Anyone I Want To Be – it’s just as good of a song if not (depending on my mood) a tiny bit better. We’re definitely looking at an If I Were Sorry sort of host entry rather than the I Am Yours kind. I will say that the first time I heard this, it didn’t exactly grab me and yell ‘I’M AWESOME!’ right in my face. But for some reason, just a few seconds into my second listen, it had me hook (there are heaps), line (age-appropriate, non-lame lyrics FTW) and singer (Viki is a superstar at just 12 years old). Starting out in English like last year is a smart move, since it gives us an idea of what the song is about straight away. The transition to Polish is pretty smooth, and I’d say the same about all the language switches in this song. They’re purposeful and aren’t distracting, so we get to concentrate on how “now” this sounds (Dua Lipa wouldn’t turn her nose up at recording it, I reckon) and how much of an earworm it is. The chorus – assuming the ‘na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-naaaaaa’ part afterwards isn’t the actual chorus – is my highlight. I do prefer it in Polish because it gives off cooler vibes, probably because I don’t speak a word of the language and constantly forget what Google told me Viki’s lyrics translate to. There’s also a touch of musical ethnicity to this song that reminds me of classic Eurovision ethnopop (e.g. North Macedonia 2005) and that’s a big plus. Superhero is a slam dunk for me. It’s one of the standout pop songs of the year, and considering it’s up against approximately 87 ballads (that’s what it feels like) and has the built-in support of being the host entry, there is podium potential in Poland…in Poland. It’s Polandception!
So, 1st, 2nd, 3rd or lower? Everyone I’ve asked seems to think 2nd is reserved for Viki, but it might all come down to how Superhero is staged – especially compared to the other songs pushing a ‘save the planet’ message. If they all have a supersized Paradise Oskar earth graphic in the background (or a Kate Miller-Heidke earth graphic on screen) things will start looking same-same. Based on Viki’s video, I’m expecting something more out-of-the-box and definitely something colourful. There has to be dancers, that goes without saying (but I’m saying it anyway). Poland seem to know what they’re doing on the (Junior) stage these days, so whatever they’ve come up with should do this justice. I’m super keen to see Superhero performed outside of a TV studio, and to hear the audience go crazy before, during and after Viki hits the stage. This A-grade package from Poland deserves a big round of applause for filling Roxie’s Docs so successfully. It can win the contest, but I have a feeling settling for a little less is what it will have to do. Anywhere from 2nd to 6th is where I see Superhero ending up if it doesn’t finish first, and Poland can be proud of any of those places. 12 points.
I have to be brutally honest about Portugal: I don’t have high expectations of them when it comes to Junior Eurovision. Granted, they haven’t competed often enough to really get a good thing going (despite first participating back in 2006, they’re only up to entry no. 5 thanks to bowing out between 2007 and 2017) but their last few songs have seemingly been retrieved from the early 2000s JESC vault. Weirdly, their first-ever entry Deixa-Me Sentir – my personal fave of all five – would fit in better at the contest these days than songs like Youtuber. But sadly I lack the magical powers and EBU rule-bendability to swap 2019’s Vem Conmigo for that. Joana is only 10 years old, and I don’t want to be too mean about what she’s bringing to Poland…but I started this review in all honesty, and that’s how I have to go on.
This song is on another level to everything else in this year’s contest, and I don’t mean that as a compliment. The whole thing seems like an amateur production compared to the likes of France, Poland and Spain – like it was a school assignment for a media class created by a bunch of kids Joana’s age. It really is in the wrong “era” of JESC. Back in the early days, when the songs were all written by the performers themselves and it really felt like a children’s contest, Vem Conmigo might have had a chance – but boy, have things changed since then. JESC is more of a mini ESC than ever at the moment, and a song like this just can’t compete. From the very start when there seems to be a spaceship landing in the background and Joana is singing out of tune (I’m sure she isn’t, but it sounds like it) the signs aren’t good. From there it’s not exactly downhill, but also not a case of building up to something better. The verses are monotonous, the bridge emphasises Joana’s poor English pronunciation (which I don’t hold against her, but I wish they’d let the poor girl sing in 100% Portuguese) and the chorus is kind of lame. What should be the statement piece of the song is instead a dated, cliché and generic call to save the world – a topic addressed in multiple entries this year, but nobody’s going to pay enough attention to this one for it to have any effect. My main issue with this song is actually the music, which is just as generic as the chorus and adds nothing to the song. My overall impression is very much ‘meh’. I don’t care about this, it doesn’t make me feel anything (except feel like switching it off) and for me it’s far and away the worst song of JESC 2019. It gives me Game Over vibes (ICYMI, the destined-for-disaster Croatian entry from 2014) and that means one thing: Portugal has 19th place in the bag. Like S!sters getting that goose egg from the Tel Aviv televote, it’s oh-so-predictable. There’s only one song I can see potentially finishing last instead and bumping Portugal up to 18th, but I’d be surprised if that actually happened. I hate to be so negative about this, but the truth must be told. Well, my truth, anyway.
If you asked me to pick out one redeeming feature of this as a package, I’d have to go with Joana herself, who’s adorable and doing the best she can with the material she’s been given. I haven’t heard her sing live, but if she can replicate the Vem Conmigo studio vocals on stage, that’s best case scenario. I can’t imagine what sort of staging would elevate this entry, but it’s likely to be simplistic if Portugal’s past efforts are any indication. Even if they threw everything and more at it, it’s a no-hoper. I am happy to have Portugal participating again, but I wish they had a better grasp on what works at Junior in the 2010s/soon to be 2020s (!). This feels like someone showing up to a dinner party with a stale loaf of bread when all the other guests came with fancy desserts. Who’s going to dive for a piece of the bread when there’s a towering croquembouche (France), plate of chrusciki (Poland) and pile of churros (Spain) surrounding it? Neither the juries nor us online voters will feel compelled to vote for Vem Conmigo. I hope this isn’t the last we see of Portugal at Junior, but I do believe we’ll see them come last. 3 points.
Junior Eurovision: the place where Russia’s constant supply of peace + love propaganda actually feels appropriate and doesn’t make us (well, me) roll our eyes so hard they do a full 360. I’ve loved a lot of Russian JESC entries in my time, from their jazztastic 2006 winner Vesinniy Jazz to Lerika’s Sensatsiya, Mikhail Smirnov’s Mechta, the amazing Water of Life and of course, 2017’s victorious Wings. And apparently I’m not alone: Russia has never finished outside of the top 10 and has made the top five NINE times, including a three-year run of 4th places between 2011 and 2013. That’s impressive. This year, they have a duo waiting in the wings (Polina pun intended) and it’s worth noting that both times they’ve sent a pair to Junior in the past, they ended up 1st and 2nd. If the pattern continues, it’ll be 3rd place for Tatyana and Denberel, the 2019 version of Melissa and Marco in terms of an awkward age gap (she’s 9 and this year’s youngest contestant; he’s 13). Is that podium placement a possibility? Or will it be goodbye top 10 record, hello bottom half for Russia with A Time For Us?
I think there are a handful of things that could happen to this song. There is potential for another strong Russian result, or a weaker one. I can see this being forgotten and left in 11th-14th; slotting comfortably into the top 10; or even scoring a surprise win if the three-way loyalty to France, Poland and Spain splits scores too evenly. Yes, you read that right. There is something about this song that gives me goosebumps, and it grabbed my attention from the first listen. Part of that was due to Denberel’s vocals, which are a very arresting way to start the song. Does this kid survive on a diet of cigarettes and gravel or what? I haven’t heard a singing voice so rough since Ich Troje last represented Poland at Eurovision (someone pointed out to me that the baby in the belly onstage in Athens would be Denberel’s age by now, so make of that what you will). Anyway, his vocals do take some adjustment time, but you can’t say they aren’t striking. Halfway through the first verse, Tatyana chimes in and her voice couldn’t be more different: it’s all sweetness and light, and so angelic it seems unlikely the two vocals will work together. But somehow, when the chorus comes and these guys start harmonising, it does work. Rather than the expected clash, you get Tatyana softening the rough edges and Denberel adding texture and maturity to the mix. Vocals aside, this is power ballad 101 and has more than an air of Tina Turner’s Simply The Best about it. It’s so 1980s, a decade too early to be the cool retro influence right now…but they’ve committed to it so much, I don’t think it sounds dated. There’s a suitably powerful melody at play throughout the song, and I find the chorus especially anthemic. In terms of the dynamic between tween Tatyana and teen Denberel, I don’t find it that uncomfortable since this isn’t a love song. They’re not standing there making heart eyes at each other – they’re just a united front trying to get the (cheesy, I’ll admit) message of the song across. I think they do a good job without it coming off fake and forced. I like them as a pair and they seem like genuinely nice kids, so I’m rooting for Russia to bring something polished to us during the show so they get what they deserve – a good result.
I feel like A Time For Us should be a guilty pleasure for me, but I’m going to say I like it a lot with no shame. After all, if you enjoy something you shouldn’t have to feel guilty (to a point…there are exceptions). I am on the fence about how it will do in the end. Like I said, I can see it finishing anywhere on the scoreboard from right on top (don’t call me crazy) to safely in the top five or top 10, or somewhere between 11th and 14th. I’m confident Tatyana and Denberel are out of the bottom five – considering Russia can vote for themselves, there’s no way the online vote would leave these two too low. I’m hoping for some more creative staging than we saw from Russia last year, which was very A Million Voices meets Hannah Montana. We know they can make memorable stage shows, and if they use those skills to make this entry unforgettable, that will put it in the potential winner pack. Get ready for Russia to win again, because it could happen. Pigs wouldn’t even have to fly first. Remember, if Portugal can win Eurovision, anything is possible. 10 points.
It’s been a while since Serbia made a big splash at JESC. The last time they found themselves in the top five was almost a decade ago, and they’ve only made the top 10 once since then. Last year they sent a song that wasn’t my cup of tea, but after Bojana’s beautiful performance I expected a better result than 19th (or as some might call it, second-last). So this country doesn’t have a lot to live up to in 2019. Finishing second-last this time would automatically give them a better placing, but if the hype around Darija and Podigni Glas is to be believed, Serbia is about to achieve one of their best results in a very long time.
This is one of those songs that has a bandwagon packed with Eurofans, but I haven’t felt the desire to jump on it yet. I definitely feel more enthusiastic about this track than I did about Bojana’s Svet, but I don’t get all the talk about Serbia being in with a winning chance. Podigni Glas is one of the many 2019 entries Greta Thunberg would applaud, since it’s urging us to save the Earth, etc. I don’t mean to trivialise an important and topical issue, but the amount of preaching going on at this contest by kids who probably don’t have the best understanding of what they’re advocating for is exhausting. Having said that, Darija is an adorable poster girl for the cause, and I do buy what she’s selling for the most part. She’s a personable performer with loads of passion, and this song feels like a good fit for her. I must say, I don’t find anything that isn’t the chorus that memorable – I’m actually struggling to recall how the verses go as I type this. The chorus is a B+, as in ‘a solid effort but could be better’ (that’s what I’d write on Darija’s report card, but I’d sign it with a smiley face so she didn’t get too upset). When it comes to the language change, I think Serbia has done it well and helped get the message across to non-Serbian speakers in a short space of time. My favourite thing about this song is the driving beat behind it, which gives it more of a pop feel than a ballad feel. I also like the plot twist that is Darija showing off the extent of her vocal range towards the end. That should win her some jury points. Also, any juror whose cold, dead heart isn’t partially defrosted by her cuteness should be replaced immediately. So, to sum up how I feel about this entry pre-contest, I like the artist more than the song, but the song is decent. I think I might end up liking it more, and maybe seeing what the people calling it winner material are seeing, when it’s performed live.
There are so many epic entries this year that I would love to see succeed. I wouldn’t be disappointed if this one took a top 10 or even top five spot, but there are 10 songs I prefer. Still, I can’t ignore everyone who is loving – and I’m guessing, planning to vote for – Podigni Glas. An above average score could come from both sides, and that puts it in a very good position. If I’m being honest though (and you guys know I’m a fan of dropping truth bombs) I can’t see this going all the way. That’s because I can’t see the credits rolling over it instead of, for example, Marte. With that beneficial last spot in the running order and a performance that maximises their potential, Serbia could end up on the podium, but I’m seeing more of a 5th-10th finish. That would be a win of sorts for a country that last ended up that high in 2010. 7 points.
That’s this round of reviews done and dusted – thanks for reading them (or scrolling straight through them, whatever floats your boat…I’m just happy you’re here). I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you what comes next.
NEXT TIME The contest is just a few days away, and I have just three songs left to pick apart in the (hopefully) endearing way that I do. It doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to deduce who’s yet to be reviewed: Spain, Ukraine and Wales. Subscribe/follow me on my socials so you don’t miss the last round of JESC judgements when it drops!
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