JAZ REVIEWS JESC 2019| Round 5 (Spain, Ukraine + Wales)
This is it. Junior Eurovision weekend is here, and I have just three countries left to review* at the very last minute (typical Jaz behaviour, I know). One of them could be this year’s winner, but don’t ask me to call it yet. Everyone has rehearsed multiple times over in Poland, and I’m still none the wiser as to who’s taking the trophy home. It’s going to be an interesting show for sure. Check out my socials, all @EurovisionByJaz, closer to contest kick-off – I’ll be posting my predictions across the board for you to laugh at. I’d love to know what you think will happen tomorrow too, so be sure to share your predictions in the comments.
Now, for the last time this decade (DEAR LORDI!) allow me to segue into some reviews. We’ve arrived at the end of the JESC 2019 alphabet, and that means Spain, Ukraine and Wales are in the spotlight. Keep reading to see what I think of Melani, Sophia and Erin’s entries, and as always, cast a vote for your personal favourite in the poll.
*Missed any reviews or up for a re-read? You can find all 19 in one place: right here.
No exaggeration – the day Spain announced their Junior Eurovision comeback was one of the best days of my life. During the early days of the contest, Spain was a heavy (maybe even the heaviest) hitter of all. They finished 2nd at the first-ever JESC in 2003 with Desde El Cielo, won the following year with Antes Muerta Que Sencilla, came 2nd again in 2005 with Te Traigo Flores, then ended their run on a terrible note of 4th place in 2006 (what losers). Seriously though, an all-time low of 4th, never placing them outside of the top five? You can see why I loved them so much and was heartbroken when they left. But now they’re back for good (hopefully) and the question is: after 13 years out of the loop, can they leap back in and land on their feet á la France – and maintain that top five record in the process – or will they fall flat on their face instead?
It all comes down to pint-sized opera singer Melani García and her massive ballad Marte, yet another of 2019’s environmentally-themed entries. I could beat around the bush and pretend I don’t know what the heck will happen to it, but I’ve waited 16 countries to write about it and I CANNOT CONTAIN MYSELF ANY MORE. As far as I’m concerned, Spain can and should win the whole contest with this song. At the very least, I’m sure that Spanish top five streak (on hiatus…it still counts if they pick up where they left off) will continue. In fact, if Melani doesn’t podium I will be a) super shocked, and b) more devastated than the heroine of a telenovela who’s just found out her husband had an affair with her sister’s best friend’s manicurist. Marte is spectacular, spine-tingling and so suited to its singer, it makes for the perfect package (performance included, if the rehearsal sneak-peek is anything to go by). The song gave me goosebumps just from the snippet released before we got to hear it in full, and I knew I’d be supporting Spain like crazy again after all these years. Marte actually reminds me of another Spanish Eurovision-related song that gives me chills – Quedaté Conmigo by Pastora Soler. That’s based on how both songs build, starting off softly with simple piano backing their (incredible) vocalists, before a beat kicks in and more instrumentation is added along the way. Both songs end with an explosion of soaring music and jaw-dropping vocals – in Melani’s case, vocal gymnastics that I still can’t believe tumble out of her mouth. Marte is dynamic, exciting and passionate (so Spanish by nature) and the chorus is a stunner. The song was seemingly designed to show off Melani’s entire skill set as a performer, and it works wonders. There’s something about an adorable child who can sing beyond their years in an unconventional way that’s memorable on its own; but throw in an incredible song for said child to sing and you’ve got a potentially winning combination. In case you hadn’t guessed, Marte is my favourite song of JESC 2019 and the one I want to see win the most.
I mentioned Melani’s rehearsal before, but to come back to it for a second…it looks like Spain has NOT stuffed this up with a second-rate stage show. That could be because they had Danish assistance devising it. Either way, they’ve brought the oceanic theme of the song and the music video to life via LED and props, but tastefully without making it tacky. In other words, Melani is not being forced to ride an animatronic dolphin that’s been suspended from the ceiling across the arena, as her backing singers attempt to function normally while dressed in those shark suits from Katy Perry’s Superbowl half-time show. Her live vocals are jaw-dropping, and I find myself wiping a weird salty fluid off my face every time I hear them. I hope I’m not the only one being so moved by Marte. Wouldn’t we all like to see Spain host Junior Eurovision next November? I really think this is in with a winning chance, though it’s not in the (biodegradable) bag. The competition is tough, Melani’s vocals could be divisive, and she’s performing early on in the running order. The last year a song from the first half won JESC was 2008, but maybe it’s time to break the trend of later = winner. Buena suerte España! 12 points.
Suffering through Eurovision 2019 without Ukraine was bad enough, so it’s a relief nothing stopped them from making it to JESC six months later. Last year they opened the contest with Darina Krasnovetska’s iconic Say Love, which for all the talk of opening songs not having much hope on the scoreboard, finished 4th. That song would have stood out from anywhere in the running order, and once again we’re on the receiving end of something original from Ukraine…though this isn’t quite as iconic. A world away from Darina’s call to action and Maruv’s provocative dance moves (obviously – this is a kids’ contest) is Sophia Ivanko and The Spirit of Music. KEiiNO is yet to confirm whether or not the spirit of music is the same as the spirit in the sky.
I didn’t know what to make of this song from the start, and I mean before it even won the Ukrainian NF. I didn’t think I’d need to figure out what I thought about it, because it seemed like an unlikely winner, but here we are. Firstly, I have to give kudos to Ukraine for choosing something so unconventional. It’s not like they’re super into safety first, but The Spirit of Music could easily have been passed up for one of their more straightforward options. This song isn’t cookie-cutter by any means, and the word that I think sums it up is ‘interesting’ (always better than ‘boring as blank paper’). It starts with delicate piano, delicate and breathy vocals from Sophia, and a three-beat rhythm you don’t hear very often in pop songs. Then it changes languages almost immediately, only to one-up itself by changing to a traditional four-beat rhythm for the chorus. Somehow, all of these changes flow nicely and feel natural. The chorus is as soft and light as fairy floss, grabbing attention by being understated. Those high-pitched ‘hoooohoohoooo’ bits are hauntingly beautiful, and Sophia handles them with an impressive amount of control and not unlike Jamala in 1944 (I have an uncomfortable question to you: Sophia is Jamala?). I like how this song develops, adding power to the piano for the second verse/chorus, before stripping itself right back to what feels like a false ending. Then the actual ending knocks your socks off in a mixture of Ukrainian and English, coming full circle. There’s a lot of thought in this song, and the changes made were clever ones that enhanced an already creative entry. I wouldn’t say this has the ‘wow’ factor for me personally, but I do think it’s substantial and I appreciate that I can’t think of anything else quite like it. Comparing this to past Ukrainian entries, it looks like they’re following that Coco Chanel rule of taking off an accessory before leaving the house – instead of walking out the door wearing a fur coat, tiara and a blingy ring on every finger.
There is definitely nothing else like this in the competition, and that works in its favour. It has a lot of fans who are planning to vote for it; a uniqueness that will probably win over undecided viewers; and enough style, substance and singing ability to satisfy jury criteria. And though Sophia would have stuck out sandwiched between anything, she’s performing after Ireland and before the Netherlands in the second half – two more conventional songs with very different tempos. Ukraine is practically incapable of staging songs badly, so things are looking good for them. Even so, I’m unsure about how they will do. I think a top 10 result is likely, and Sophia may even squeeze into the top five. But for now, I’ll be strangely specific and call 9th place. You heard it here first (unless I’m way off, of course). 8 points.
It would have been easy for Wales to chalk their JESC debut up as an experience they didn’t want to have again. But if you’re starting from the bottom (of the scoreboard) there’s nowhere to go but up – so good on them for having another go. They’ve chosen another female soloist this year, one who looks a lot like Anja Nissen but doesn’t have the same belting power (that’s asking too much). She – Erin Mai – also doesn’t have a bombastic ballad like Where I Am to work with, but there are so many ballads competing in Poland that’s not necessarily a negative. Calon yn Curo is a hard song to categorise. Is it pop? Is it pop-rock? Is it even the same genre it was before it was revamped? If anyone knows, please tell me.
What I know myself is that it has nothing on 2018’s Perta. There may be nowhere to go but up for Wales this year, but sadly that may come down to last place in this contest being 19th, not 20th. Erin seems sweet and she can definitely sing, but she’s been handed a song that’s so…blah. I liked it a bit better before the revamp, which I consider more of a D mol type devamp that threw all sorts into the backing music in an attempt to add pizzazz (spoiler alert: it backfired). I don’t mind the verses: they have a decent melody to them and show off the Welsh language quite nicely, which is a language we’re still getting used to at JESC. It’s the chorus that really takes the wind out of the song’s sails. It’s repetitive, and those oh-oh-ohs lose any momentum built up beforehand and feel like filler. Every time the chorus comes around I think ‘Not this again!’ and a well-written song should not work that way. Perta for me wasn’t much more exciting, but it was cohesive and melodically appealing all the way through, which Calon yn Curo just isn’t. It also sounds dated to me, and it took a while to tap into exactly what it reminds me of. Anyone out there remember Junior Eurovision 2005? Back then, the Netherlands sent a song called Stupid by Tess, which was actually a great little song that did well for them. Calon gives me the same vibes, but on a lesser level. And the fact that it makes me think of a song from 2005 is a worry. This is one of those entries that can’t realistically be saved by staging. I can’t imagine what would have to happen in the arena for us all to think ‘Actually, this is amazing and I MUST vote for it!’. Where are the votes going to come from for Wales? There’s far more appealing stuff on show for both online voters and juries. It pains me to say this, but there’s only one song I can see finishing lower than this, and if you read my last round of reviews you’ll know which one I’m talking about.
If I’m right and Wales = fail for the second year in a row, I’m worried they’ll drop out in 2020. But all they need is a different approach, and to come up with a memorable, catchy and/or emotive song. I think the artists they’ve selected so far have had a lot going for them – they’re confident performers, engaging on stage and vocally talented. It’s just the rest of their packages that need perfecting. I can’t muster up much enthusiasm about this one, and I doubt many other people will either. 5 points.
19 down, none to go! For the first time, I’m glad there’s not an even 20 competing this year. It must be pretty obvious who my pick of today’s bunch is – but whether you share my opinion or not, show your support below:
I want to wrap up by saying thanks for reading my JESC 2019 reviews and voting in the polls – I appreciate it all. Please come back though! After next week’s Junior review, it’ll be time for my Eurovision ‘Best of the Decade’ series (while it still makes sense). Then, my NYE party playlist goes live, which could never compete with the ESC 250 but I’m doing it anyway.
Before that, enjoy Junior Eurovision…and if you don’t want to make a koala cry, vote for Australia!
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