Author Archives: Jaz

THE JESC 2018 REVIEWS | Round 2 (Armenia, Georgia, The Netherlands, Portugal + Russia)

Hello again, and thanks for stopping by to check out the next round of my JESC 2018 reviews! I’m not going to keep you in suspense this time (humour me as I pretend that you were in suspense at all) because I want to get straight into the compliments and criticisms. Constructive criticisms, of course…I don’t want to scar these kids for the rest of their lives.

Up for judgment today are Levon, Tamar Edilashvili, Max and Anne, Rita Laranjeira and Anna Filipchuk. Keep reading to find out what I think of their songs and how I think they’ll do when it’s time for those precious points to be handed out.

Don’t forget to leave your personal rankings and opinions in the comments so I can high-five you (in my head) or agree to disagree…

 

 

Never let anyone tell you that Eurovision events aren’t educational! Between JESC (e.g. Serbia teaching us foreign languages in 2006) and ESC (e.g. Norway teaching us how to write a song in 2018), there’s a whole lot of learning going on for fans. Now it’s Armenia’s turn to enlighten us, and in Minsk they’ll be teaching us how to spell the name of their representative Levon…or L.E.V.O.N, in case you still weren’t sure. I’m not a massive supporter of song titles that are solely/include the name of the artist (it’s the musical equivalent of Ivan from JESC 2015 wearing his own face on a t-shirt in the Bulgarian postcard), but this is one of my favorite Junior Eurovision countries we’re talking about here, and there’s not much I won’t overlook when it comes to Armenia in this contest.

L.E.V.O.N is everything we know and I love about Armenian JESC entries, in a slightly weird and very wonderful package. It’s energetic (relentlessly), catchy and memorable – not on the same level (or should I say L.E.V.E.L?) as People of the Sun or Tarber, but a big step up from the majestic but awfully performed Boomerang from last year. The spelling bee chorus is kind of genius, giving those of us who don’t speak or understand Armenian something to sing along to and remember. Levon has loads of personality on stage, which makes up for him not being the best singer on the planet. His NF performance was pretty bare-bones, but I expect Armenia to amp it up for contest purposes and present us with a slick and fun stage show, as they always do.

If that’s the case, can this win JESC 2018? I‘m going to say N.O.P.E, but it could be there or thereabouts. At this point there are a couple of countries I expect to outdo Armenia, with the obnoxious, in-your-face style of this song being a possible handicap when it comes to the jury vote. But even so, I never underestimate Armenia’s ability to succeed on the power of kick-ass staging alone. Complementing an effortlessly awesome track like L.E.V.O.N, great presentation might not score them their second-ever win…but it could see them slip into the top five for the ninth time. It’s definitely in mine – I L.O.V.E it. 12 points.

 

 

When I think of the most successful and impressive Junior Eurovision participants, Georgia is always among them. After all, they’re heading into this year’s contest off the back of a second place in 2017 and a win in 2016 (so if the pattern continues, they’ll be taking home a bronze medal from Minsk). For me – and prepare to be scandalised – Voice of the Heart was better than Mzeo, but they were both magical…which leaves Georgia with a lot to live up to in 2018.

Your Voice (which may or may not be the same as the voice of the heart) is in keeping with the more mature entries they’ve sent recently – i.e. a million miles away from Bzz…, Funky Lemonade and Gabede. Tamar’s song doesn’t put the ‘junior’ into Junior Eurovision to the extent that those did, but it’s still youthful. Is it enjoyable too? I think so. Starting out soft before swiftly building up to a big, banging chorus with a slightly EDM-esque beat – and squeezing in some English lyrics along the way – it’s an interesting and dynamic addition to the Class of ’18. Georgian has never sounded as powerful as it does in that chorus, helped in large part by Tamar’s INCREDIBLE vocals. Seriously, what do Georgians feed their children that makes them such amazing singers? Based on the live vocals provided at JESC in the past, I’m expecting this girl to blow us all away live on stage – and she needs to nail that money note towards the end to not undo any good work she does beforehand. I’m pretty confident she can. You can’t watch this contest for sixteen years without realising that Europe is a hotbed of ridiculously talented child vocalists who can hit notes performers twice their age couldn’t hit with a monster truck.

All in all, this is a super solid effort from Georgia that I really like, if not love on the same scale as I loved Voice of the Heart. I think it’s missing that special something that makes a winner a winner, but a top 10 result is both deserved and likely for Tamar. And as I’ve already implied, I am so excited to see her sing this live. Bring on the 25th! 8 points.

 

 

How do you follow on from the tour de force of Fource? The Netherlands’ answer: don’t even try. It could be argued that Russia, for example, is sending a Wings sequel to JESC 2018 – and they’re not doing themselves any favours given that, like most sequels, it’s not as good (I’ve explained exactly why in the Russia review below). The Netherlands, on the other hand, has kept a safe distance from anything resembling a boy band armed with infectious radio pop…knowing they probably wouldn’t do as well as 4th if they sent something similar so soon. Instead we have Max and Anne, one of two boy-girl duos competing this year, and their sugary-sweet musical friendship bracelet Samen.

Judging by that description you might think I’m not a fan of this song. But don’t worry, I’m not about to start a protest outside AVROTROS demanding they ‘BRING BACK FOURCE!’. Yes, Samen is very sweet, but I mean that in a complimentary way. I actually really, really like it. It’s a nice mix of power ballad, piano pop and anthemic singalong song that practically compels you to turn your phone torch on and wave it above your head in time with the music. The language mix is tastefully done, and Max and Anne are vocally great together – not to mention (though I’m about to) their believability as a couple of kids singing about the strength of their friendship. For all I know they met five minutes before the Dutch final, but they make me believe they’re BFFs and that’s what matters.

There’s not a lot that can be done staging-wise with a song like this, but I don’t think it needs a bunch of bells and whistles. It stands out based on being a down-tempo ballad and the boy/girl dynamic. Having said that, it may be a little too vanilla compared to other songs that are more like ice-cream sundaes with whipped cream, nuts and a cherry on top. Also, a brunette female soloist in a white dress has won JESC the last two years running, and they say things come in threes (so pay attention to the costumes come rehearsal time). But after their big success last year – a public voting win and a solid top five result – I’d like to see the Netherlands do well again. It depends on a lot, from the running order to the live performance, but it’s not impossible. 10 points.

 

 

If you thought San Marino was the country most obsessed with shoehorning social media into Eurovision songs, a) think again and b) stand back, because here comes Portugal! It’s kind of ironic that their two consecutive social network-themed JESC songs have been pretty dated in sound and style. Youtuber and now Gosto De Tudo… both seem to belong in Junior Eurovision contests past – circa 2004-2008. I almost wish we could bring back Portugal’s initial few entries from 2006 and 2007 (which were more mature but still childlike enough) to compete now.

Rita could certainly do with a song more suited to her voice, and to be honest, her age – Mariana Venancio just about pulled off this sort of cutesy throwback pop last year, but as a teenager Rita could do with something more like Dancing Through Life or I Am The One (courtesy of Macedonia and Belarus in 2017). Maybe I’m just too old and cynical to appreciate a song like this nowadays. Then again, I don’t think JESC juries and voters do either based on the lacklustre results of similar songs (I’m thinking of Montenegro 2014 and Macedonia 2015). As a rule, they’re inoffensive (i.e. boring) with a hint of cheese – there’s never many exciting moments, vocal or musical, to get excited about. Gosto De Tudo definitely fits that profile, right down to the cheesy clapping and the fact that not even its performer sounds particularly interested in singing it. Everything about it reminds me (if you don’t mind me comparing this to just one more song) of Andorra’s debut ESC entry Jugarem A Estimar-Nos – and we all know how well that went down in Istanbul.

In a nutshell (in case you hadn’t guessed) I just don’t like this very much. It feels lethargic and under-baked, and there’s no way it can stand up and compete against…well, the majority of its competition, in all honesty. The only saving graces are a touch of catchiness, the Portuguese (one of my favourite musical and spoken languages) and Rita herself, who is very sparkly and charismatic even though I feel like she knows this song doesn’t show off the best of her talents. I don’t think I’ll be listening to it much after the contest. 4 points.

 

 

Russia is a powerhouse country no matter what they’re competing in, apparently (more so if there’s an ice rink or gymnastics equipment involved, but musically too). They are, after all, the current JESC titleholders thanks to Polina Bogusevich and her Wings (one of my 2017 faves and a song I was super happy to see win). It kind of seems like their mentality this year was ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ – meaning Unbreakable is pretty similar to Wings. In fact, Anna’s pre-chorus is almost identical to Polina’s verses. But whatever. I’m a big fan of both.

A cookie-cutter power ballad that also has a lot in common with Australia’s (fingers crossed they’re positioned far apart in the running order), Unbreakable doesn’t try too hard to be anything amazing, but it ticks all the boxes on the checklist of Song Qualities That Jaz Needs In Her Life. The production is as polished as you’d expect from Russia, the verses are strong and the chorus is a statement piece. Once again we have a Russian first half and English second half, but I’d argue that Unbreakable’s English lyrics are less awkward and make more sense than Wings’ English lyrics (I’m still confused by ‘floating angels reaching up the sky’). Where Russia 2017 really overshadows 2018, however, is in the singing department. Anna is adorable, but she just doesn’t pack the vocal punch Polina did, and at the NF there were a bunch of weak moments that the backing vocals couldn’t compensate for. Obviously she’s not competing against Polina (so I should stop comparing them) but she is up against other impressive singers from Australia, Kazakhstan and Malta, etc. Even in studio her vocals aren’t mind-blowing, which could let her down with the juries.

I think it’s safe to say that Russia won’t win two contests on the trot, but I personally do really like this song – and with Russia’s ability to splash cash on staging, I’m looking forward to seeing how they’ve upgraded the presentation for JESC. At this point, I reckon a respectable 6th-9th place is within reach. 10 points.

 

 

That’s today’s five tracks covered. Time flies when you’re being critical of children, in my experience. Here’s my final ranking for this round of reviews:

  1. Armenia (12)
  2. The Netherlands (10)
  3. Russia (10)
  4. Georgia (8)
  5. Portugal (4)

So it’s Levon who spells his way into the top spot, followed closely by Max, Anne and Anna. Apologies to Portugal, but I’m sure someone out there would give you douze points, Rita.

Maybe it’s you? Hit up that comments section with your scores for these JESC songs. I know you want to!

 

NEXT TIME With 10 countries down and 10 to go, it’s crunch time for Australia, France, Malta, Poland and Wales. The girl power is strong, but do the songs follow suit? Don’t miss my next post if you want to know what I think.

 

 

 

THE JESC 2018 REVIEWS | Round 1 (Azerbaijan, Belarus, Israel, Kazakhstan + Serbia)

It’s that time again, you guys! And by ‘that time’, I mean the time when all Junior Eurovision phobics have to go into hibernation for a few weeks while the rest of us talk about it non-stop.

Here’s the lowdown on the upcoming contest: Taking place in Minsk on November 25, it’ll be the biggest JESC ever, with 20 countries competing to succeed Russia as the winner. Among those countries you’ll find Australia (yes, we’re still crashing the party); hosts Belarus (who’ve participated in every single contest); Azerbaijan, France and Israel (competing for the first time since 2013, 2004 and 2016 respectively); and debuts from Kazakhstan and Wales – one of which I’ll be discussing today as I kick off my 2018 song reviews.

Obviously, it’s Kazakhstan (the title of this post was kind of a giveaway), and joining them under my musical microscope will be Azerbaijan, Belarus, Israel and Serbia. So let’s get going and see what Fidan HuseynovaDaniel YastremskiNoam DadonDaneliya Tuleshova and Bojana Radovanović are bringing to the JESC 2018 buffet, feat. loads of Jaz Judgments™ so you know exactly where my loyalties lie.

Spoiler alert: I have more than one set of douze points to give away today, so I must be in a generous mood. Let me know if you are too and what you think about all five of today’s entries in the comments.

 

 

I’m a pretty lazy person by nature, and the reason I’m mentioning that now is because I was too lazy to Google Translate ‘Welcome back, Azerbaijan!’ from English into Azerbaijani. So plain old ‘Welcome back, Azerbaijan!’ it is. The Land of Fire has competed in two previous JESCs to date – debuting in 2012, having another go in 2013 and then giving up after neither Omar & Suada nor Rustam Karimov managed to make waves. Azerbaijan obviously didn’t believe in third time lucky back then, but maybe they do now…and on attempt no. 3, they’re this year’s Disney ballad providers.

That’s kind of appropriate given that all I think of when I see the title I Wanna Be Like You is that orangutan from The Jungle Book. This song is only similar in name though, and Fidan will probably be a much more effective voting magnet than an orangutan. Her song isn’t a divisive one, but it does pull me in two directions as there are things I love about it and things I really dislike. The good news first: overall it’s a good ballad, chilled-out and not too dramatic. Easy listening, basically. The music is well-written, the tempo is nice, and I’m a big fan of the verses. That leads me to the not-so-good news, which mainly revolves around the chorus. Repetition of the title + lots of yeahs and oohs + a child literally saying that their life goal is to be like someone else? All of that equals a half-baked, rather unsatisfying chorus that could be doing a whole lot more to promote self-confidence.

Okay, so I’m trolling a little with the lyrical content nit-picking…but the general fairy floss fluff that is the chorus genuinely bothers me. There’s also a strong whiff of cheesiness about the whole song, something it shares with the Netherlands (theirs is the scent of gouda, of course). But while I think the cheese somehow works in Max and Anne’s favour, I don’t think it does anything for Fidan. Being pretty darn adorable, she can almost pull it off, but my inner Cheese Detector never lets me ignore stuff that’s engineered to make you go ‘Aww!’. Still, she’s on track to deliver Azerbaijan’s best-ever JESC vocal performance, if her live vocals are even a patch on her studio vocals. To score their best-ever result might be a tougher task, even though their stats stand at 11th and 7th. Song-wise and IMO, 2018 is stronger than Arnold Schwarzenegger in the Mr. Olympia days. And I think there are better, more memorable ballads competing, all from equally talented female soloists – Australia, Kazakhstan and Macedonia specifically. A flawless vocal, great staging and a decent position in the running order could change the prediction I’m about to make, but before we know how the contest performance is going to pan out, I’m guessing 8th-13th is in Fidan’s future. That’s nothing to be ashamed of in a contest of 20 (and neither is 20th, kids) but if it’s a win Azerbaijan is after, they’ll be disappointed. For me, I Wanna Be Like You is almost a 7 point song, but just doesn’t get there. So here’s 6 points instead.

 

 

Not-so-secret confession time: Belarus is one of my favourite JESC countries. They may even be my absolute favourite, based on a few questionable contributions from Armenia and Russia and Spain’s refusal to make a comeback (THEY WERE SO DAMN BUENO!). That’s not to say that Belarus has 100% hit and 0% missed over the years, but come on: they’ve participated in every single edition, won twice and given us gems like Tantsuy (2003), Poy so Mnoy (2013), Sokal (2014), Volshebstvo (2015) and I Am The One (2017) along the way. And their staging is consistently slick. What’s not to love? And what doesn’t make you wonder why they kick butt at JESC but struggle at the ESC?

Anyway, I’m getting round to telling you whether or not their 2018 song – a.k.a. the host entry – lives up to the super-high Belarusian standard. Without further ado, I’ll go ahead and say that for me, HECK YES it does. What’s more, Daniel’s Time – a song title Belarus is obviously fond of – is my favourite entry this year. By one of his very 90s floppy hairs, but my favourite nonetheless. I’m not sure how popular of an opinion this is going to be, since the song style isn’t everyone’s shot of vodka (an alcohol analogy when discussing kids’ music? Nice one, Jaz). And I know those folks who followed the Belarusian NF were pretty peeved that Welcome To My Belarus didn’t win, but I think that was a little overrated. This, I love. I can’t even explain why (which isn’t going to help me review it), but I’m obsessed. Maybe it’s the balance it strikes between being youthful enough for Junior, but still mature enough to appeal to me (a 27-year-old) and my R&B sensibilities. Maybe it’s the mid-tempo, chilled-out vibe and contemporary radio sound. Maybe it’s Daniel’s ability to sing and dance without dropping a note or missing a beat. Maybe it’s everything. Like a hole for a Time capsule, I dig it. Also helping that along is the fluidity of the Belarusian-English mixture and Daniel’s flawless, non-distracting pronunciation (he was born and partly-raised in the USA, so I’m assuming his English is good).

Expect him – especially as he is the home boy – to bring it come show time. Belarus should never be discounted from the JESC race because even if you’re not a fan of their songs, they have a way of taking things to the next level on the night. Even I can see that Time isn’t going to score the country their third trophy, but I am hoping for a finish inside the top 10. The extra audience support the host entry gets is always a contest highlight for me – and it doesn’t hurt results-wise based on recent host successes. I’m totally on Team Time. Who’s with me? 12 points.

 

 

If their adult Eurovision win with Toy was Israel’s motivation to make another JESC comeback (they debuted in 2012, dropped out, then returned in 2016 only to give the Tbilisi show a miss) then I’m both very happy and very shocked. Happy because the more the merrier, shocked because Noam’s Children Like These couldn’t be more different to Toy. When you think about it, Toy could easily have been a Junior song, with a few lyrical changes of course. And similarly, Children Like These (a super awkward title that should’ve stayed in Hebrew) would definitely not be refused entry at the ESC for sounding too childlike.

That may be because it’s actually a cover (!!!) of a song from an adult singer, an infuriating fact that I’m choosing to ignore because I love, love, LOVE it. It reminds me of Israel’s 2008 Eurovision entry The Fire In Your Eyes, a song I was obsessed with back then and still love more than some members of my family. Unlike that, Children Like These isn’t looking overly popular with fans, but in every Eurovision event there’s something I fall head-over-heels for that hardly anyone else likes, so I guess this is the JESC 2018 version. Noam has something really special to pack in his suitcase pre-Minsk: a song that’s original, complex, mystical, ethnic, angelic, atmospheric…have I missed any adjectives? Even if you disagree with one or all of those I did use, you can’t deny that this is one of a kind in the line-up of 20. For me it’s far and away Israel’s best JESC entry ever, and that’s coming from someone who liked what they’ve dished up in the past. The delicate verses that are built on instrumentally as the song continues don’t follow a predictable path, but where they lead is worth the wondering and the wait. I’m going to go so far as to say that Children Like These gives me Origo-level feels – basically, goosebumps that sprang up before I even knew what the heck Noam was singing about.

Speaking of which, WHAT A VOICE! It would be criminal for the universe to make his voice break before/during JESC, so if that doesn’t happen and he sounds close to or the same as he does in the studio, we are in for an audio treat. Even so, and in spite of all my gushing, I don’t expect Israel to do much results-wise with this. It’s not straightforward or accessible enough to win over the masses, and the group of viewers it does work its magic on (I’m appointing myself team captain) won’t be big enough to give it a substantial scoreboard boost. But there’s still the potential for Israel to create a moment on the night, and as always there’s a chance I’m wrong about how they’ll do. I actually want to be wrong on this. 12 points.

 

 

I don’t know about you, but the most shocking moment of 2018 for me was when Kazakhstan was announced as a Junior Eurovision debutant. I did NOT see that coming, and it made the other debuts/returns seem pretty boring by comparison (sorry Azerbaijan, France etc). It’s always interesting to see what a brand new country brings to the table and whether or not they “get” JESC on their first try. Kazakhstan has certainly checked a bunch of boxes.

Firstly, they’re sending a stellar vocalist – and Daneliya, as a Voice Kids champion of Ukraine (I must have watched her audition a hundred times, it’s so incredible) has had the required TV time and live audience experience to take on Junior Eurovision with confidence. Someone who can nail every note without a hint of deer-in-the-headlights? That’s what you want. Talking about Ózińe Sen itself…now that’s a bit trickier. It’s not a typical power ballad, based on how Daneliya manipulates the verses with her voice and the unusual song structure. Those two elements combine to make this as exotic as it is epic – it sounds like it belongs on a movie soundtrack. It’s packed with all the dramatic moments one could handle in three minutes, plus a language change that definitely does it favours. All in all, there is something special here, and I do think Kazakhstan is a contender for the win.

I’ll believe that even more if their JESC staging is anything like the NF staging. They have recruited the man responsible for Russia’s ESC 2015 performance to sort it out (thumbs up for that) but he’s also the same guy who thought that Yulia Samoylova’s wheelchair-disguising mountain was a good idea. If Ózińe Sen is presented more like A Million Voices, then we’ll all be able to breathe a sigh of relief. And, the resulting place for Daneliya will be more likely to mirror Polina Gagarina’s than Yulia’s (though you’d have to screw things up in a major way to not even qualify to a final that has no semis). To sum up, Kazakhstan have kicked a big goal; Daneliya is amazing and so is her song; and together they’re possible winners. There are a few songs I prefer to this one, but I can’t ignore its power. 10 points.

 

 

Serbia started their JESC campaign off strong back in 2006 (with the iconic, ridiculously multilingual Učimo Strane Jezike) and followed it up with a few great results – including two best-ever 3rd places achieved in 2007 and 2010. Just lately though, they’ve had some bad luck in the contest, losing their way a bit and not necessarily understanding how modern Junior Eurovision works. I’m not sure that has changed at all with Bojana’s Svet – which might translate to ‘world’, but only has me thinking how in the world I’m going to fill up sufficient paragraph space talking about it.

One comment on the Youtube video for the song caught my eye by using the word ‘relaxing’. Now, relaxing is nice – who wouldn’t want to be lying in a hammock on a South Pacific beach, sipping a pina colada and being fanned with palm leaves? But when ‘relaxing’ is being used to describe a competition song – and I agree that Svet is so chill it’s practically comatose – it can be a negative. Despite being a big ballad performed by a female soloist, this entry has none of the heartwarming sentiment of Piši Mi or the dynamic drama of Lenina Pesma. What it has instead is the plodding gait of an arthritic pony, and a bunch of musical moments that are supposed to be jaw-droppers but come off more like head-scratchers since they’re shoehorned in to the song so randomly. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate this. There are parts of the melody and instrumentation that I enjoy, and Bojana is a quality vocalist. But the lethargy of Svet in general, plus the fact that I have trouble picking out the chorus (and if you’re missing a hook, you won’t catch any fish…or votes, in this case) leaves me feeling sleepy and unsatisfied at the end of the song. Not to mention that Serbia just doesn’t stand up compared to the JESC 2018 countries that have brought out bigger (confetti) guns in the ballad department.

Some of those ballads will rise and others will fall, and I cannot see Svet fighting its way through to emerge on top of the pile. Or anywhere close to the top, for that matter. I’m not going to lay my ‘Who’s going to come last?’ card on the table yet, but for me Serbia is there or thereabouts in the 17th-20th range. And I can’t help giving them my lowest score so far. 5 points.

 

 

Well, I’m sorry to end on a negative note – but that’s the way the cookie (sometimes) crumbles. And this was still a very high-scoring round to get things started. Here’s my first mini-ranking of the JESC 2018 season if you want proof!

  1. Belarus (12)
  2. Israel (12)
  3. Kazakhstan (10)
  4. Azerbaijan (6)
  5. Serbia (5)

I can almost guarantee that nobody else would have the same top two when it comes to these countries, but as a Eurovision fan you have to agree to disagree (or seethe quietly to yourself when you discover that someone who clearly has no taste despises a song you adore). There’s a definite quality gap between Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan IMO, but Azerbaijan – and even Serbia – could grow on me over time (Belarus pun unintended, but WHOOMP there it is). Stay tuned to see me change my mind 700 times before the contest actually happens.

Next time, for Round 2 of my JESC 2018 reviews, I’ll be turning my attention to Armenia, Georgia, the Netherlands, Portugal and Russia – so if you love (or hate) any of their songs, you won’t want to miss that. Subscribe in the sidebar to receive email alerts when I post something new, and/or join me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @EurovisionByJaz to keep yourself in the Paula-and-Ovi-piano-shaped loop. And once you’ve done that, drop by the comments box below and give me your verdict on today’s songs. I’m desperate to know what you think and not ashamed to say it!

Hence why I just did.

Okay, I’m leaving now.

 

 

 

 

SUNDAY SHORTLIST | My top six tracks from Benjamin Ingrosso’s Identification

Have you been trapped in a basement for the past month or so? Maybe you just don’t follow Swedish darling and Eurovision 2018 wonder boy/televote non-magnet Benjamin Ingrosso on social media (the less dramatic option). Either way, you might’ve missed the build up to and eventual release on Friday of Benjamin’s first proper album: a.k.a. Identification.

I, as a tragic Ingrosso fangirl from way back, missed nothing. I’d been clinging on to the pre-release song teasers on Instagram like Salvador Sobral clinging on to the hope that he wouldn’t have to hand the ESC winner trophy to a fast-food-and-fireworks song like Toy (i.e. desperately). I dropped everything to read Scandipop’s comprehensive preview (luckily I wasn’t holding anything fragile, expensive or living at the time), and shook my fist super threateningly at Central European Time for dictating that the album would be released while I was at work. No prizes for guessing what I did the second I got home on Friday…

It’s now been a few days since Identification dropped, and since then I’ve played it more or less nonstop. As a result, I’m beyond ready to review it for anyone who’s interested – but rather than rambling on endlessly about all 12 tracks (which I could, because every single one is DOPE) I’ve decided to pick out my favourite six songs from the album and ramble on about those, and only those.

Behind the naturally cool-as-heck cover art of Identification is Benjamin’s latest single I Wouldn’t Know, Melodifestivalen winner/Eurovision entry/greatest song ever Dance You Off, and ten other slickly-produced pop songs – all co-written by the man himself – ranging from emotional ballads and hazy dream-pop to dancefloor bangers. And here, ladies and gentlemen, is the best of that brilliant bunch according to Jaz. You wouldn’t be here reading this if you didn’t want my opinions, right?

 

In album tracklist order…

 

Behave

It would have been easy to make Dance You Off the Identification opener, but I’m glad Benjamin didn’t – not when this absolute BANGER was waiting in the wings, equipped to get things started in style. Ingrosso’s trademark falsetto leads to a chorus so infectious, you’ll feel like wearing a surgical face mask and bathing in antibacterial sanitiser after hearing it. Subject-wise the song is almost like a Dance You Off prequel, with Benjamin taking us to the club where he’ll eventually dance this girl off the floor because she’s become a bitch (his side of the story) – only on this occasion, they’re meeting for the first time and she’s looking mighty fine…hence why he can’t make his eyes behave. Honestly, he could have based this song’s lyrics on his desire to judo chop Big Bird from Sesame Street and I’d still rate it. As it is, I’m placing a mental bet on Behave being the follow-up single to I Wouldn’t Know.

 

I Wouldn’t Know

Speaking of which, here’s I Wouldn’t Know in all its summer-soaked glory – track no. 2 of the album and one of my highlights without a doubt. If this song seems to sound like LA (which it totally does) that’s Benjamin’s excessive time spent in the city creeping in to his music. It’s a pretty upbeat song considering it’s about someone who’s just not that into him (are all these songs about the same person? If so, she must be seriously high-maintenance). Every time I hear the retro, sun-bleached intro, I feel like I’ve been transported to the land of palm trees and shopping streets where Julia Roberts is not welcome until she’s made the full transition from hooker with a heart of gold to Richard Gere’s sophisticated arm candy (and yes, that is a compliment). Cruisy vibes and overall catchiness make this a perfect addition to any holiday roadtrip playlist. Also, ‘Tell me what it’s like to love someone who gives a damn about you, ‘cause I wouldn’t know’? Sick burn, Benjamin.

 

I’ll Be Fine Somehow

This breakup ballad has none of the danceable qualities of Behave or the ironic happy feels of I Wouldn’t Know, but it’s equally awesome in its own way. It reminds me a little of Benjamin’s first grown-up single Fall In Love, only it’s slower and sounds more like it was influenced by R&B. It tells a typical story that we can all identify with (album title pun not intended, but I’ll roll with it). That includes a little list of the pros and cons of the relationship split in question, summed up in the chorus with this lyric: ‘I miss the way that you feel but I won’t miss the way I felt’. Excuse me while I melt into a puddle of feelings on the floor! My only complaint about this song is that it’s too short. As we Eurovision fans are well aware, three minutes isn’t always sufficient song-wise, and I’ll Be Fine Somehow is over before I’ve had the chance to reflect on all of the horrendous aspects of my love life. I suppose I could just play it ten times in a row…

 

So Good So Fine When You’re Messing With My Mind

This is what happens when you put Benjamin’s late 80s/early 90s influences in a blender with a bunch of top-tier pop songs and a big scoop of protein powder. Oh, and a profanity bleep for every chorus that only draws more attention to the d-word. There’s no kale or chia seeds in there, but that just makes for a more appetising smoothie. If Dance You Off didn’t do anything for you but you’re still hoping for an Ingrosso track that will make you move, this would be my suggestion – the chorus alone is impossible to sit still to. Coming a close second in the ‘Best of SGSFWYMWMM’ stakes is the fact that every part of the song is interesting and has a unique selling point, but all parts compliment each other like it ain’t no thang (or, to use normal person words, effortlessly). Like Behave, this song would make a great follow-up single to I Wouldn’t Know. HINT HINT.

 

Spotlights

You can hear the Los Angeles in this one too. Spotlights is basically Benjamin justifying his place in the music industry – and in the spotlight, obviously – in the face of haters who think he’s only where he is in his career thanks to the Wahlgren-Ingrosso legacy (this is something the Kardashians should consider doing if they can gather enough material). And this justification is boxed up in jazz-pop package that Bruno Mars would be proud of. My highlight within-a-highlight here has to be the second verse, because the rhymes are so, so satisfyingly neat. ‘See I was only fifteen, labels didn’t want me, they saw me on the TV, said I didn’t have a story, so I had to prove it, did it with my music, when I become a star they’re gonna say they always knew it’ = bomb wording if ever I’ve seen it. I don’t mind if Benjy’s career did get a boost from that hyphenated family name, because it eventually led to this song’s existence in my life and presence on all of my summer party soundtracks.

 

Dance You Off

Well, duh! I like to think of Dance You Off as the last official track of Identification, with Happiness being an acoustic tack-on that makes for a nice encore rather than a great grand finale. Fortunately, this song helps Benjamin go out with a bang. You guys know what it sounds like – I don’t need to describe it to you. Will that stop me though? Um, no. The late 80s/early 90s atmosphere is thick, the Michael Jackson influences are clear, and no matter how many times I listen to this track (or watch the mind-blowing performance) I will NEVER understand why the voting Eurovision public responded to it so negatively. It goes without saying that I exclude myself from that narrative, since I voted for Sweden and only Sweden back in May (well, there may have been a few messages sent for Mikolas Josef, but you get my drift). Ultimately it doesn’t really matter. Dance You Off is the gift that keeps on giving, televoting points or *sniff* hardly any televoting points.

 

 

Okay – that’s my top six tracks covered, so I’ll press pause on the ramble. But I do want to say one more thing: if you’re yet to give this album a go, get on it ASAP (wherever you usually listen to music digitally). It’s far from being a collection of Dance You Off clones, so if that wasn’t your cup of cocoa but you are a pop lover, you’re still likely to find something Benjamin Ingrosso-branded to enjoy.

I’m going to cheat and recommend two more tracks in addition to my favourite six: No Sleep (which sounds like it was recorded under water with the supervision of The Weeknd, and the result is glorious) and Good Intentions (another one to make you feel like you’re in sunny LA drinking cocktails at a beach party). But, in case you hadn’t guessed, I love this entire album and wouldn’t tell you to avoid any of it.

 

If you have given Identification a run-through, tell me which tracks floated your boat in the comments. How many stars would you give it? It’s pretty obvious that I’d give it the full five.

Now I’ve got to go play it again, because it’s been several hours and I’m having withdrawals.

 

Until next time (when I’ll write about something in a less sickeningly complimentary way),

 

 

SHOULD’VE KNOWN BETTER: Six 2018 OGAE Second Chance songs that probably should have been ESC entries…

Hey there! Remember me? It’s embarrassing the amount of times I’ve had to reintroduce myself on my own blog due to an accidental vacation, but I’m Jaz – still living, breathing and thinking about Eurovision 24/7 (or 25 hours a day, if Le Freak’s skewed concept of time works better for you). Yet again, “other stuff” has cut short my ESC rambling time lately (so annoying), but I’m back now and ready to try and keep it that way. Did you miss me?

I’m going to assume the answer was HELL YEAH and move on to today’s post. Now, if you’re a Eurofan who has a hard time letting go of songs you wish had won their respective NFs, then the annual OGAE Second Chance Song Contest is for you. I’m definitely the type to fall in love with music from Melodifestivalen, MGP, MESC etc, only to fall to pieces when something else wins. So naturally I jump at the chance to see some of those songs get a second chance at competing in and winning an international contest…even if it’s not quite on the same level as actual Eurovision.

The 2018 OGAE SCC is packed with excellent almosts from the most recent NF season, as well as a few glaring omissions (no Tayanna for Ukraine? Seriously?). If you’re not already familiar with the line-up, check it out here. The winner of this year’s contest – succeeding Sweden who won in 2017 with Mariette’s A Million Years – will be revealed in October. To help pass the time until then, I present to you guys my little list of competing songs that, in hindsight, really shouldn’t need a second chance in the first place. Basically, they should – or at least, could – have made it to Lisbon so they could end up losing to Netta.

Remember, this is a subjective subject. The likelihood of us agreeing on more than one or two songs is lower than Max Jason Mai’s pants by the end of his performance in Baku, but I’m happy to hear your opinions in the comments if you’re nice about mine!

 

 

Who We Are by Rebecca, Norway

Looking Rybak on Melodi Grand Prix 2018 (see what I did there?), it’s obvious that no one could have stopped Eurovision’s most spectacular point-scorer from making his comeback. Rebecca, with this magical power ballad penned by Mørland, came closest – and for all the guilty pleasure I get out of That’s How You Write A Song, I did have my fingers crossed for her at the time. I don’t want to say outright that Norway choosing Rybak over Rebecca was a mistake; after all, he did win his semi final and finish a respectable (for anyone other than a landslide former winner) 15th. But…I can’t help feeling like Who We Are (a song that shared only a title with San Marino’s entry, THANK THE LORDI) could have gone further, at least in the final. In a contest that wasn’t overrun with big belter female ballads, the song’s mix of mournful Scandipop and soaring anthem (with a hint of schlager, a whole bunch of magnetic moments and a kick-ass money note) would have had a parking spot on the scoreboard all of its own, one that meant it wasn’t competing directly with the likes of Fuego or Toy. What I’m saying is that I think Norway could have scored a similar result to 2017 with this one. As it stands, they have a decent shot of winning the OGAE SCC instead, so that’s something.

 

 

Royalty by Feli, Romania

This pick has more to do with Goodbye being the wrong choice than with Royalty being an absolutely amazing song that Romania let go – which is hard for me to say because I am a fan of Goodbye. The thing is, though, it takes an eternity to get going and when it does, it’s not exactly fun – which, in the wake of Yodel It, seemed kind of uncharacteristic for Romania. That ultra slow burn plus a creepy, nonsensical stage show (which I’ve discussed before here) led to Romania losing their 100% qualification record in Portugal. Feli’s Royalty, I’m pretty positive, would not have suffered the same fate. This track is tropical-tinged cocktail of fun from the second it starts, and it doesn’t waste time building up to anything because that’s not what it’s there for. It’s there to create a party atmosphere with a touch of empowerment for all my ladies out there (if we can’t strut out onto the dance floor to this song while kicking all thoughts of our ex-boyfriends to the kerb, then when can we?). Okay, so the staging and costuming would have needed an overhaul to make Feli’s package fit for the ESC, but that’s what the end of March and all of April is for. Vocally it was great, and the potential for greatness in everything else was there too. Missed opportunity alert!

 

 

Out of the Twilight by Sara de Blue, San Marino

Eurovision wouldn’t be the same without the plucky little microstate of San Marino making questionable musical choices every year – but even so, I think most of us wish they’d made the decent choice that was presented to them on a silver platter during 1in360. Dropping in via Austria, Sara de Blue was head and shoulders above all of her competition, even if it was mainly in terms of her FLAWLESS vocals that turned average ballad Out of the Twilight into an above average combo of all things hauntingly beautiful and powerful. It might have sounded a little passé on the Eurovision stage next to stuff like Lie To Me and Dance You Off – but presented in the right way, as an old-school lady ballad performed to perfection, there’s no way it wouldn’t have improved on the result achieved by the infinitely more dated (read: stale as a month-old loaf of sourdough) Who We Are. This is one of those NF winner VS runner-up situations that makes you wonder how on earth the final decision was made, and how sane the people were who made it. But don’t get me started on how the winner was decided at 1in360 (we’d be here all damn day). This isn’t the case with every song on this list, but for Sara’s sake I have to say that Out of the Twilight should have been sent to Lisbon, no question.

 

 

Lo Malo by Aitana & Ana Guerra, Spain

Speaking of countries that make dodgy decisions time and time again…I can think of at least three recent occasions when Spain has had us all shaking out heads in disbelief at what they opted to send to Eurovision – despite a pre-packaged success story being ready and waiting in their NF (which always ends up 2nd or 3rd). 2018 was no exception, with Spaniards so caught up in Amaia and Alfred’s amor that they overlooked an absolute banger Eurovision would have welcomed with open arms. Lo Malo could have been the latest Camila Cabello smash hit, but instead it was sitting pretty at the Operacion Triunfo gala and begging in Spanish to be crowned The One for Portugal. I guess it didn’t beg loud enough to drag attention away from the lovebirds making puppy dog eyes at each other. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-romance (in fact, I read it almost exclusively). But when an ESC NF presents you with a) a sappy ballad and b) a modern pop masterpiece, and asks you to choose one, YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO GO FOR THE SECOND OPTION. Aitana and Ana were the duo we all deserved from Spain this year, and the pair who could have propelled the country out of the bottom five in the final. If there’s ever a time for the EBU to bend the September 1st rule, it’s when the upcoming ESC season arrives so we can have Lo Malo in Israel.

 

 

Compass by Alejandro Reyes, Switzerland

If you guys saw my list of NF favourites from the 2018 season, you’ll already know that I love this track, and in spite of being a Zibbz supporter I was hoping for the adorable Alejandro to represent Switzerland. In hindsight especially, this may not have been a bad idea. I’m still reeling from Stones’ failure to qualify, and when it comes to considering whether or not Compass could have done things differently…well, maybe, maybe not. In terms of the type of song I personally would kill to see Switzerland send to the ESC though (not literally, but give it a few years and I just might) this song is peak YASSS. Fresh, catchy, lyrically as unique as what JOWST comes out with and well performed, Compass might have lacked the attitude of the actual winner, but it made up for that with slick production – and a sense of being, to quote Mugatu from Zoolander (which I can’t say I’ve done on EBJ before) ‘so hot right now’. What I mean by that is, Shawn Mendes could have recorded it and teenage girls worldwide would have lapped that shiz up. Not everything at Eurovision needs to have Spotify streaming potential, but my ears prick up when something does…even if it doesn’t make it all the way to the big show.

 

 

Legends by Asanda, United Kingdom  

I know, I know…Asanda needed to up her cardio fitness like crazy before trying to sing and dance her way through Legends live (a problem not shared by SuRie). Had she gone to Eurovision, she also would have been in direct competition with Eleni Foureira and probably lost (another problem not shared by SuRie). Still, if we’re talking about a song that would have made more of a statement in Lisbon than Storm did – stage crasher aside – hers was the one to opt for out of the You Decide line-up. Sky-high on energy, dynamic and radio-friendly, it was pretty much in the middle of the Venn diagram between what the UK should send to Eurovision and what they actually do. I totally understand how SuRie (bless her and her awesome personality + social media game) won through instead, and I’m not saying she didn’t deserve to get the golden ticket. But in a parallel universe, Asanda nailed her vocals at the NF and headed off to join her fellow fierce, dancefloor-owning females in Portugal. Just think – if her stage show had been crashed, her version of ‘the show must go on’ might have involved punching the offending individual in the face, and that would have made great TV.

 

So, do we agree on anything? Which OGAE Second Chance songs for 2018 do YOU think should have made it to Eurovision back in May? Don’t leave me hanging!

 

 

 

 

THE 2018 EBJ EUROVISION EXCELLENCE AWARDS | The Show + The Results

First things first: I know Eurovision ended (what feels like) months ago, and that “awards ceremonies” like this should have too. But if you’re a regular EBJ reader (WHAT A LEGEND) then you’ll be familiar with my lack of multitasking skills, and therefore my inability to blog when other aspects of life get busy.

But my motto is ‘better late than never’, and I do like to (eventually) finish what I start. So at last, here’s the third and final episode of the 2018 EBJEEs – brought to you before I get stuck into some serious off-season filler material. Today’s show is all about…well, Lisbon’s ESC show, as well as the results revealed at the end of it. If you missed me handing out trophies for The Artists + Songs and The Performances, update yourself and then come back to see what I (and you – there’s still a few People’s Choice Awards to go) thought was worthy of an accolade when it comes to the hosts, qualifiers, non-qualifiers, final scoreboard positions and more.

And, if you agree or disagree with literally anything, tell me in the comments!

 

  

 

Winner Filomena Cautela

The reason I decided this award should continue to be People’s Choice in 2018 was not because I wanted to see who’d win it based on public opinion – it’s because I wanted to see how much of an Alexander-Rybak-in-Moscow-style win it would give to Filomena. Providing some comic relief from the cringe that was the hosts’ script, she may not have been up there with the Anke Engelkes and Petra Medes of the contest MC world…but Filomena was definitely the star attraction of the Real Housewives of Lisbon.

Even Elina knew the best host answer was a no-brainer.

 

 

Winner SuRie’s stage invasion Honourable Mention/s Australia loses the televote, Sweden finishes 2nd with the juries…then 23rd with the public

You guys chose SuRie’s performance – well, the part of it that was way more memorable than intended, anyway – as the jaw-dropper of jaw-droppers for 2018, and I’m not about to argue. For the second year running at the ESC, an absolute queen was interrupted while doing her thing. Fortunately (like Jamala), SuRie carried on afterwards like nothing had happened. The stage invasion actually seemed to put more energy and fight into her than she’d had during her uneventful initial few minutes.

 

 

Winner Czech Republic Honourable Mention/s Iceland, Ukraine

Confession: At this point, I can barely remember any of the postcards. It has been a while since I’ve seen them, but at the end of the day I just don’t think they were very memorable. I do remember, however, Mikolas Josef jumping around looking like a living, breathing Mardi Gras float (and/or a piñata) – and to be honest, totally pulling it off. That in itself deserves an award.

 

 

Winner Switzerland Honourable Mention/s Armenia, Latvia

Armenia’s DNQ might have hurt me more, but in the wake of the semi final performances I was definitely more surprised that Switzerland didn’t squeeze through. Zibbz nailed Stones on the night, and I think they knew it – so much so that Corinne’s reaction to their non-qualification was apparently as iconic as Moran Mazor’s in 2013 (only with fewer tears and more rage).

 

 

Winner Ireland Honourable Mention/s Serbia

After four years of being stuck in the semis, I did not think the luck of the Irish would get the Emerald Isle to the final this time around either. In fact, right up until I saw Ryan perform Together live – and heard the crowd reaction to his dancers – I was convinced Ireland wasn’t going anywhere. What can I say? Sometimes you’re more than happy to stand corrected.

 

 

Winner Sweden Honourable Mention/s Cyprus, Czech Republic

Forget the lack of televoting love for the Swedes this year – regardless of that, they remain one of the most successful Eurovision countries of the 2010s, and if you thought there was any chance Benjamin Ingrosso wouldn’t qualify this year for Sweden, you must have been off your fika. I can’t see another 2010 disgrace being allowed while Christer Björkman is in command.

 

 

Winner Iceland Honourable Mention/s Macedonia, San Marino

Poor Iceland didn’t have a chance this year, and we all knew it (I don’t know if Ari knew it and decided to make the most of the experience despite that or not). A song like Our Choice would have struggled in 1995, so it was beyond stale in 2018 – a problem not shared by Paper last year, and that didn’t make it through either. Here’s hoping Iceland can break their DNQ streak in Israel.

 

 

Winner Czech Republic’s 6th place Honourable Mention/s Cyprus’ 2nd place

I may have gushed over the Czech 2017-2018 glow-up on multiple occasions, but can it ever be discussed enough? When you come out of nowhere with such an iconic, contemporary hit-potential BANGER, you deserve to hit the heights of the top 10 for sure. A spot in the top 5 would have been preferable for Lie To Me, but for a country with a previous PB of dead last in the final, 6th on the Saturday night is an amazing outcome.

 

 

Winner Australia’s 20th place Honourable Mention/s Portugal’s 26th place

I’ve admitted before that Jess Mauboy’s semi performance was far stronger than the final version (DAMMIT) but I will never understand how we lost the televote, which led to that unfortunate, could-be-worse-but-still-ain’t-good 20th. If Isaiah managed to make the top 10, Jess should have at least been on the left-hand side of the scoreboard! The fact that she wasn’t even close is a tragedy Shakespeare could have penned a play about.

 

 

Winner Spain’s 23rd place Honourable Mention/s Israel’s 1st place

The problem with Spain using Operación Triunfo to select their Eurovision entry this year was that everyone was too busy shipping Alfred and Amaia to think about choosing a song that would thrive in an international song contest. The pair didn’t have months to win over Europe with their love story – they only had three minutes, and it was never going to be enough.

 

 

Winner Italy’s 5th place Honourable Mention/s Australia’s 20th place

I’m glad to find out that I’m not alone in my still-lingering shock over Italy’s placing. It’s not that I think it was undeserved – if you read my 2018 reviews, you’ll remember that I grew to love Non Mi Avete Fatto Niente (around about the same time I learnt how to spell it properly). I just thought Italy was no more or no less impressive than France live on stage at the final, and I expected both to finish in that 10th-15th range. But Eurovision curveballs are a big thing these days, so maybe it was so unlikely I should have seen it coming.

Was Ermal pleasantly surprised or putting his gracious loser face into practice? We’ll never know.

 

 

That’s it – the 2018 EBJEEs are finally done and dusted! Did your favourites take home the People’s Choice Awards? Which parts of Lisbon’s show and results would score these trophies if you were in charge?

 

 

 

 

THE 2018 EBJ EUROVISION EXCELLENCE AWARDS | The Performances

Hello there. Remember me? After the longest ad break in history (and after breaking my vow to finish these awards by the time the Eurovision 2018 DVD was released, OOPS), I’m finally back with the second EBJEE presentation segment.

This time, the trophies re: all things performance-wise will be presented, including three more People’s Choice Awards. That means everything from drama levels to dance moves, money notes and costume choices is about to be honoured by yours truly (and by you truly…I had no part in deciding the People’s Choice winners, obviously). So without any more ado than I’ve already adone, let’s get this party started!

 

 

 

Winner Denmark Honourable Mention/s Belarus, Ukraine

Okay, so you’re not going to find Rasmussen and his bearded stagefellows on Coronation Street or the Bold and the Beautiful (for starters, their acting skills are too superior). But they went beyond the small screen and straight onto the silver screen with the cinematic level of drama they served up in Lisbon. Intense smouldering stares, manly stomping and a fake snowstorm that whipped all that hair back and forth majestically…what more could you want? If a Scandinavian hipster version of Pirates of the Caribbean was ever produced, this is what it would look like.

 

 

Winner Germany Honourable Mention/s Italy

I asked you guys to vote for the most totes emosh (DID I JUST TYPE THAT?!?) three minutes of Eurovision 2018, and you delivered by crowning Michael Schulte’s tribute to his late father the winner of this tearjerking People’s Choice trophy. I’m not about to argue, even though I didn’t “feel it” with You Let Me Walk Alone until the ESC performance rolled around, feat. backdrop photos and lyrics that made the message extra clear. But hey, all the feels were present and accounted for when it mattered most.

 

 

Winner Estonia Honourable Mention/s Armenia

This gong goes to a performance that had the hairs standing up on the back of my neck, goosebumps popping up on my arms and of course, tingles shooting up and down my spine. I don’t know about the rest of you, but Elina Nechayeva’s haunting delivery of La Forza came straight to my doorstep in Chillsville and affected me from top to toe. At one point I actually thought I was having an aneurysm and considered calling an ambulance, but then I realised it was just the glass-shattering notes messing with my middle ear.

 

 

Winner Honourable Ukraine Mention/s Ireland, Norway

Who knew a piano could be so multifunctional until Mélovin gave us that stellar live demonstration? It’s handy for anyone musical who can only afford to live in a tiny studio apartment to know that there’s an instrument that can double as a bed. What a space-saver! Mélovin, of course, was using it more as a coffin (or according to the artist himself, as a uterus from which he was birthed in a matter of seconds…seriously). But each to their own.

 

 

Winner Moldova’s human storage cabinet Honourable Mention/s Estonia, Sweden, Ukraine

Here’s another People’s Choice Award I’d struggle to argue with. Moldova (or ‘Russia 2.0’, as they were known this year) clearly have no qualms about sourcing stage props at Ikea: first it was the mirrors from the Moldovan NF, then the super-sized cabinet they lugged to Lisbon. But there’s nothing wrong with that. It often happens that the simplest things are the most effective, and DoReDoS proved that spectacularly.

When one door closes, another one opens…frantically, in Moldova’s case.

 

 

Winner Moldova Honourable Mention/s Cyprus, Denmark

Speaking of Moldova…it wasn’t just the furniture they used that made My Lucky Day so successful. The DoReDoS doppelgangers played a big part in that too. What would this performance have been without them? An extra enthusiastic high five goes to the guy who had to swap his shoes for heels at one point (I’m not ashamed to admit I have still have leg envy).

 

 

Winner Sweden Honourable Mention/s Cyprus, Moldova

I gave this award to Sweden last year, and I’m doing it again for a similar reason. Both Robin Bengtsson (and his backing dancers) and Benjamin Ingrosso didn’t just bust a move on or around a stage prop, but with a stage prop – and both performances were flawless. In Benjamin’s case, he was working in harmony with lighting, and transported us to an ultra-cool nightclub where sneakers are in the dress code and slick dance moves are mandatory.

 

 

Winner Norway Honourable Mention/s Italy

The cartoon instruments, question marks and soccer balls etc scribbled on screen by Norway added an element of cute to Alexander Rybak’s performance that made it seem all the more appropriate for Junior Eurovision – but I wouldn’t have ditched them from his adult Eurovision stage show. Without that little extra something, That’s How You Write A Song live wouldn’t have been quite so memorable (marginally…it still would have had Eurovision’s biggest runaway winner ever fronting it, after all).

 

 

Winner Israel Honourable Mention/s Belarus, Finland

It’s often said that less is more, but at the ESC more is more just as frequently. We bounced from a bare-bones winner in 2017 to the opposite in 2018 with Netta – not the performer who threw the absolute most at their stage show, but the most successful one to make things flamboyant. Lights, lucky cats, crazy costumes, clucking backup dancers, explosions…just the basics for Israel’s three minutes.

 

 

Winner Cyprus Honourable Mention/s Denmark, Ukraine

When it comes to the most perfect package deals of this year’s contest – where vocals and visuals were so on point you could practically cut yourself – nobody was as flawless as Cyprus. Armed with a Swarovski crystal-studded catsuit, a quartet of dancers almost as fierce as herself and a slick Sacha Jean-Baptiste staging concept, Eleni did no wrong. She proved to everyone skeptical of her abilities to perform live (I used to be) that she’s worth the hype.

 

 

Winner Germany Honourable Mention/s Italy, United Kingdom

Germany’s was the highest-scoring performance of the Big 5, and you guys clearly agreed that their 4th place was earned with this People’s Choice pick. To be honest, I think all of the automatic qualifiers put their best possible foot forward this year, which didn’t pay off all round. But Germany won’t be worrying about that when they can just sit back and languish in their success.

 

 

Winner Eleni Foureira Honourable Mention/s Amaia, Saara Aalto

I’ve already mentioned Eleni’s catsuit in passing, but as ladies’ costumes in Lisbon go it’s worth an award all of its own. Leaving just enough to the imagination, combining crystals with leather and being just as hot as Fuego called for, this outfit couldn’t have been better (cat) suited for Cyprus in 2018. It should be displayed in the Louvre in close proximity to the Mona Lisa. Or at least in the Eurovision section at Stockholm’s ABBA Museum.

 

 

Winner Benjamin Ingrosso Honourable Mention/s Cesár Sampson

I have a bias towards anything and everything Scandinavian, including the fashion – so don’t be surprised by this pick. As unsure as I still am re: Benjamin’s shoe choice, he did pull the look off. Plus, the positives of his toned-down-from-Melfest jacket selection and the decision to actually wear said jacket like a normal person this time outweighed any negatives.

 

 

Winner Marija Ivanovska (Eye Cue) Honourable Mention/s Vanja Radovanović

There was no competition here, really. I’m struggling to think of another fashion disaster from the entirety of ESC history as momentous as this one from Macedonia. Neither of Marija’s outfits even sound good on paper – a shiny pink tuxedo jacket feat. armpit cutouts worn backwards, followed by a wildly unflattering knitted playsuit? NOPE. As gorgeous as she is, nobody could make those work. A Barbara Dex Award well deserved.

 

 

Winner Elina Nechayeva Honourable Mention/s Saara Aalto

There hasn’t been an ESC female vocal as consistently faultless and hauntingly beautiful as Elina’s since Jamala’s, so I had to hand this trophy her way. ‘DAMN, GIRL!’ are the words that come to my mind every time she opens her mouth. What she can do with her vocal cords is beyond belief, and I’m 50% amazed, 50% jealous (she’s two months younger than me, FFS).

 

 

Winner Eugent Bushpepa Honourable Mention/s Sevak Khanagyan, Waylon

I don’t know how you solve a problem like Maria (musical theatre reference alert) but I do know how you fill an arena like Eugent: by singing your ASS off. This guy can project his powerful voice for miles without seeming to break a sweat, and I could listen to him do it all day long. Even among the numerous other strong male voices of the year, he stood out.

 

 

Winner Amaia y Alfred Honourable Mention/s Equinox, Iriao

I’m sensing this could be a controversial choice (as controversial as I get, anyway). Alfred, I’ll admit, is the weak link in this pair, but I actually like how his raw-edged vocal blends with Amaia’s delicate, high-clarity diamond of a voice. They were never fighting each other for the spotlight (which happened a bit with Equinox), instead balancing each other out.

 

 

Winner Elina Nechayeva Honourable Mention/s Örs Siklósi (AWS), Netta

Estonia’s opera diva strikes again! You know someone’s impressive when there’s not one, not two, but a whole bunch of mind-blowing notes peppering their performance. I don’t think I need to justify this one any further.

 

 

Winner Moldova Honourable Mention/s Germany

Every national final winner has at least two months between their crowning moment and Eurovision to pimp their performance and polish any questionable vocals. Some don’t change a thing when they really should, some don’t because they don’t need to…and then there’s countries like Moldova, who (with that Russian input) took a perfectly adequate NF stage show and transformed it into something none of us will forget in a hurry. DoReDoS said that body talk is magic, but so was their performance.

 

 

That’s all for today, peeps…but what do you think of the winners? Which Portuguese performances deserved these EBJEE trophies in your eyes? Let me know below – then prepare yourselves for the final (very late) lot of my Eurovision awards for the year, feat. The Show and The Results!

 

 

 

 

THE 2018 EBJ EUROVISION EXCELLENCE AWARDS | The Artists + The Songs

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen! I realise it may not be evening at all when you’re reading this, but for the sake of the glamorous awards ceremony I’m trying to hold, can we pretend it is? Yes? Awesome. Welcome to the first episode of the EBJ Eurovision Excellence Awards for 2018!

Like Jessica Mauboy, I know…I know what you must be thinking. Namely, ‘Um, Eurovision awards season is over, isn’t it? Y U so late, Jaz?’. Well, FYI my too-late marker is when the official contest DVD comes out – so as long as I beat that release date, I reckon it’s all good. And that gives me another few weeks to get my awards over with, so I’m actually early when you think about it.

Maybe don’t think about it.

Anyway, I’m guessing you didn’t drop by for a discussion about my questionable timing. You came for the EBJEE artist and song gongs to be handed out, including a bunch of the People’s Choice Awards that you guys have been voting for all week, right? In that case, I won’t make you wait any longer. Let’s get this show on the road! 

 

 

 

 

Winner Eleni Foureira Honourable Mention/s Elina Nechayeva, Franka

She does say she’s got the fire, and who am I to argue when Eleni is always putting her money where her (amazing) mouth (that I am super jealous of) is? Girl’s got plenty of other appealing attributes – she sings, she dances, she rolls with it when her comments become memes – but it’s her Mediterranean, top-to-toe, hot-as-heckness that’s most noticeable. I need hair, makeup and workout regime advice from Foureira ASAP, so I too can become fuego.

 

 

Winner Mikolas Josef Honourable Mention/s Cesár Sampson, Waylon

This might be a controversial call to make, but come on…who doesn’t love a hot nerd? Sure, Mikolas’ dorky persona is purely for onstage purposes, but I dig the guy with the glasses + braces just as much as the male model with 20/20 vision we see offstage. When you think about it, he’s like Superman switching into Clark Kent mode – only Mikolas uses his specs to tap into the geek chic trend (rather than to conceal a superhero alter ego). I have no problem with this.

 

 

Winner SuRie Honourable Mention/s Saara Aalto, Jessica Mauboy

Kicking off the People’s Choice Awards this year was the prize for most personable female performer, and I’m not at all disappointed that you guys chose SuRie. Who wouldn’t want to be her best friend? With that being unlikely (I haven’t seen a BFF advertisement anywhere) following her on Twitter is an easy way to bring some light into your life. She is hilarious. If we don’t see her at Eurovision solo again, let’s hope we see her giving Belgium more backup support in the future – she’s clearly their good luck charm!

 

 

Winner Cesár Sampson Honourable Mention/s Ari Oláfsson, Mikolas Josef

This one took me by surprise, I must say – Cesár did come across more reserved than Mikolas and less adorable than Ari (but who isn’t?). Still, he didn’t put a foot wrong with the media or fans in Lisbon, took part in some awesome jam sessions with other artists, and made friends with even more. Plus, like SuRie, his social media appeal is just as attractive as his face (I am currently living for his Instagram captions). Bonus: because he won this award I get to say…Hail Cesár!

 

 

Winner Jessica Mauboy Honourable Mention/s Alexander Rybak, DoReDos

Maybe you had your doubts about how well Jess carried off her (in particular, grand final) performance of We Got Love. I’d understand. But if you didn’t watch her on stage – in her element and clearly in her happy place – and feel some joy and enthusiasm yourself, then WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?!? I have no doubts that Miss Mauboy was meant to be a performer, and I could watch her singing, smiling and dancing so hard she gets whiplash all day long.

 

 

Winner Benjamin Ingrosso Honourable Mention/s Ari Oláfsson

He didn’t feel the love from the people in the actual contest (myself excluded…my fingers are still sore from frantically voting for Sweden) but Ingrosso tops the public vote here, and that’s an okay consolation prize. When it comes to 2018’s under-21 club, Benjamin out-scored and out-performed the other members by a mile, handling the pressures of the experience like someone who’s been in the spotlight for more than a decade should. Grattis!

 

 

Winner Crazy Honourable Mention/s Lie To Me

This award usually goes to a song that sounds a whole lot like another one, but not so much that it could be pinned down for plagiarism. Crazy wasn’t booted out of the ESC on that basis, but the fact is that the instrumentals of the song ARE the same ones used in a Romanian (arguably inferior) song released just prior to Franka’s. When the double-up was exposed, a chicken-or-egg debate followed – but the EBU decided Franka was good to go and wouldn’t be disqualified (even though she eventually was…from her semi!).  All’s well that ends well, I guess.

 

 

Winner Czech Republic Honourable Mention/s Ireland, Slovenia

This trophy goes to the country that didn’t exactly make waves in Kyiv…but fast-forward 12 months to Lisbon, and they strutted in with a tsunami of awesome. Slotting into that scenario perfectly was the Czech Republic, who in the years PM (Pre-Mikolas) had only made the final once (in 2016, when they came last). Enter Josef (who Czech TV once wanted to send to Eurovision with My Turn…*shudder*) and the banger that is Lie To Me, and all of a sudden Czechia had Neville Longbottomed…right into 6th place, their best result ever. Let’s hope they can keep it up in Israel.

 

 

Winner A Matter of Time Honourable Mention/s Funny Girl, Stones

I have to say – and I do it as a former English major with a penchant for decent song lyrics – there was a ton of great wording to be heard in Lisbon, which ain’t the case with every contest. The lyricists of Sennek’s A Matter of Time (including Sennek herself) may have lacked the originality of my 2017 Best Lyrics winner JOWST, but they made up for it with sophisticated, mysterious and tightly-rhymed lyrics. My favourite line, FYI, has to be ‘Sometimes it seems we’re at the wrong station, looking for a deadly combination’. It’s macabre, and I love it.

 

 

Winner Who We Are Honourable Mention/s Our Choice, Toy

For the record, the only nominees here I mentally filed under ‘Worst’ rather than ‘Weirdest’ are Our Choice and Who We Are. I chose Who We Are over the Icelandic cheesefest because…well, need I say more than ‘It’s me Jenny B’? The most awful rap in music history was surrounded by lame lines, but the cringe factor in those thirty seconds alone could not be overshadowed. Props go to Jenifer for rapping such trash convincingly, but she deserves better.

 

 

Winner You Let Me Walk Alone Honourable Mention/s Non Mi Avete Fatto Niente

This is a very objective award – obviously, we’re all going to have different entries that we weren’t fans of at first but grew to appreciate later. My big one for 2018 came from Germany via Michael Schulte, who somehow won me over with his flawless, impassioned and well-staged performance in the final…despite me ranking YLMWA 40th of the 43 at one point. I should know by now that first impressions never last. I mean, I don’t even skip San Marino on shuffle now (!!!).

 

 

 

Winner Toy Honourable Mention/s Monsters, Tu Canción

Some fanwanks – songs that the devoted Eurofan community goes crazy like Croatia for, pre-contest – deliver in the end (á la Heroes) while others do not (á la Occidentali’s Karma). This year’s biggest fan favourite Toy, a song that had the potential to bomb even after winning the OGAE poll and topping the betting odds for months, ultimately did add another first to its collection. My way of congratulating Netta is to give her this award, because TBH I was convinced Israel 2018 would be to the scoreboard what Italy was last year – a fave that (slightly) flopped.

 

 

Winner Fuego Honourable Mention/s Dance You Off, Lie To Me

We had no shortage of butt-shaker songs this year (so expect 2019 to be bursting with ballads), but the one that had y’all burning the most calories was Cyprus’ Fuego, by the looks of it. This song now has a permanent place on my ESC party playlist, so I’m not about to question the tastes of my readers. I would question the sanity of anyone who can stay seated after Eleni’s first sultry mention of the song title though.

 

 

Winner Sweden Honourable Mention/s Czech Republic, Malta

Here’s another public-voted prize for Sweden to make me feel better about their TRAVESTY of a televote at Eurovision. I should clarify – and you’ll know this if you checked out my Best Video nominee playlist – the Dance You Off video nominated for this award was the original, pre-ESC version. But how cool is a) the new version, and b) the fact that we got two MVs from a country that often gives us zero? Watch the winning video below for a hit of slick retroness.

 

 

Winner My Lucky Day Honourable Mention/s Higher Ground, La Forza

Some songs come to life when performed live, despite sounding a little flat when coming out of a speaker. Thanks to the genius staging of My Lucky Day, a mediocre song became a mind-blowing musical number that deserved its top 10 place based on the degree of performance difficulty alone. I like this song so much more when I’m watching it than when I’m listening to it.

 

 

Winner Lost and Found Honourable Mention/s A Matter of Time, Forever

And then…there are the songs that just didn’t work live, because the staging was a fail, the singer wasn’t up the task, or the song was just better to hear than see. On those first and last counts, no other country belly-flopped harder than Macedonia. And what makes Lost and Found’s live disaster so much worse is that Eye Cue were armed with such awesome material to start with. Yeah, the song is messy, but messy in an interesting, unique way that could have been staged (and styled) to its advantage. Since it wasn’t, I’d much rather blast it in the car and pretend the performance never happened.

 

  

That’s all for now, folks – but what do you think of the 2018 EBJEEs so far? Did your favourites take home the People’s Choice Awards? Which artists and songs would score these trophies if you were handing them out? Let me know below – and stay tuned for the second EBJEE episode feat. all things performance-related!

 

 

 

 

 

 

VOTE FOR THE WINNERS! Have your say in the 2018 EBJ Eurovision Excellence Awards

***UPDATE: The People’s Choice polls are now CLOSED. Thanks for voting, and stay tuned for the results!***

 

Good day to you, sir/madam! We might be slipping into the ESC off-season (when the contest landscape is bare except for an occasional tumbleweed blowing through), but for now ‘tis still the season to be jolly – I mean, we’re not done dissecting Eurovision 2018 yet. Well, I’m not. You can’t have a love affair that passionate end and then move on in a matter of weeks.

This time of year is traditionally reserved for handing out post-show accolades, so naturally my version of Eurovision awards is coming back with a vengeance. Yes, it’s EBJ Eurovision Excellence Awards time again. And as usual, I’m starting the proceedings by letting you decide the winners of a whole bunch of trophies (trophies not designed by Kosta Boda, but designed by me using MS Paint because I’m sadly lacking in PhotoShop). So flex those voting fingers and prepare to pick your favourites in the categories of The Artists, The Songs, The Show and The Results. I’m counting on you to crown some alternative Lisbon champions – after all, it makes less work for sometimes-lazy me.

Vote while you can…the People’s Choice polls are now open!

 

 

Miss Congeniality

Last year’s winner Alma

She’s friendly, she’s fun, and she’s the female singer of 2018 you’d choose to hang out with above all others. It’s about personality rather than looks for this award (though all of these ladies are beautiful on the outside AND the inside).

 

Mr. Congeniality

Last year’s winner Nathan Trent

Now it’s time for you to pick the most personable male artist who charmed both fans and the media in Lisbon. You’d take a road trip with him without hesitation, because you’d be guaranteed a great time and a lot of laughs!

 

The Young Achiever Award

Last year’s winner Kristian Kostov 

Age ain’t nothing but a number, and it definitely doesn’t stop those with a little less life experience taking on Eurovision. Which member of Portugal’s 21-and-under club impressed you the most on and/or off the stage?

 

Dancefloor Filler of the Year

Last year’s winner Hey Mamma

Whether you were in the Euroclub, at a Eurovision party or home alone in your pajamas, there had to be at least one song this year that you couldn’t resist dancing to – and will be playing again any time you need to add some life to a future party.

  

Best Music Video

Last year’s winner Belgium

We don’t get preview videos from every single country competing in the contest, but the bunch we do get often bring their A-game. 2018 was no exception, so let’s see which video you think is the best of the best! If you need a refresher, check out all of the nominees here.

 

The Salvador Sobral Award for Performance With The Most “Feelings” 

***NEW AWARD*** 

Music isn’t fireworks, it’s feelings – at least, that’s what 2017’s Eurovision winner told us. Emotion on the Eurovision stage is easy to find, whether it’s happiness, sadness, anger or something else entirely. Which artist from Lisbon’s line-up had their heart well and truly on their sleeve, and made you feel all the feels too?

 

Best Prop/Gimmick

Last year’s winner Azerbaijan

The Eurovision stage sees more stand-out props and gimmicks than any other, and they (usually) add something special to a performance. Vote for the little – or large – extra something that made you say ‘Wow!’ this year.

 

Best Performance from the Big 5

Last year’s winner United Kingdom

There are always musical hits and misses from France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK – but this award is for the country that stood out on stage when compared to their fellow automatic finalists (the hosts not included).

 

The Host With The Most

Last year’s winner Volodymyr ‘Vova’ Ostapchuk

Having not one, not two, not even three…but FOUR female hosts this year was intense. But hey, it gives us a lot of choice when choosing the one that stood out from the others. Go forth and name a name from the 2018 hostess squad!

 

OMG Moment of the Year

Last year’s winner The Ukrainian butt-flasher crashes Jamala’s performance

There were many jaw-on-the-floor occurrences this year, and not just during the performances – the rehearsals and results provided some WTF moments too. Which one saw you shocked to your very core…or compelled you to take to Twitter in total disbelief?

 

The ‘How Did THAT Happen?’ Award for Most Shocking Result

Last year’s winner Finland’s DNQ

Speaking of shocking…even the most talented predictor wouldn’t have seen some of the Eurovision 2018 scoreboard placements coming. Some countries defied expectations while others failed when we thought they’d flourish. Choose your biggest personal surprise below!

 

 

Aaaaaaaand *drumroll* your duty is done! Thanks for having your say, and stay tuned for the presentation ceremonies of the 2018 EBJ Eurovision Excellence Awards. There are plenty more trophies to be handed out in addition to the People’s Choice gongs, and you won’t want to miss out on knowing who’s taking them home to display proudly on a spotlit pedestal with a velvet rope around it (that’s not too much to ask, is it?).

 

 

 

 

SATURDAY SHORTLIST | The six biggest staging bloopers of Eurovision 2018

Just as there’s diversity in the musical line-up of every ESC, there’s also diversity in terms of how well each song is performed live. I realise I’m telling you something you already know even if you’re a casual Eurofan (as opposed to a hardcore year-round obsessive, like me and most of the people who put up with my lengthy Eurovision ramblings). But I’m trying to segue into the topic of today’s post, dammit! And that topic is the performances from Lisbon that left a little – or a LOT, in some cases – to be desired.

Bad backdrops, inappropriate props, lacklustre lighting, catastrophic costumes, vomit-inducing vocals…for a handful of countries, things just didn’t come together (STOCKHOLM SLOGAN PUN ALERT). Following on from my way more complementary Top 10 performances of 2018 post, here’s the other end of the spectrum: the biggest mistakes made and/or overall worst performances of the year from where I was sitting (on my couch). I don’t mean any disrespect to the artists mentioned or to their delegations…but sometimes, one’s inner bitch just HAS to come out.

 

 

Croatia: (All) lights and (no) shadows

I’m starting off with something small that bothered me about a performance in Portugal. As picky as I know I can be, there are times when a tiny detail drags down staging that would otherwise have seen a country’s contest package all wrapped up with a pretty ribbon on it. Take Croatia, who positioned the beautiful Franka on stage in an equally gorgeous gown (albeit one with a pattern that drew too much attention to her pelvic area) in front of a mic stand, where she proceeded to werk the camera and sass her way through a totally competent rendition of Crazy. So far so good, right? Sure – except Crazy is a moody, sexy boudoir ballad that begged for a moody, sexy lighting scheme (think dark shadows, spotlights and a dash of red), and it did NOT get what it wanted. Without the required combo of Austria, Belgium and Latvia’s lighting, Croatia’s three minutes looked ‘meh’ – almost like Franka was rehearsing and her team still had changes to make. It seems a bit weird that a country can throw everything at their performance one year (and I mean EVERYTHING, Jacques) and then miss the mark twelve months later. Maybe 2019 will be the year Croatia finds a happy medium?

 

 

Greece: No drama = no good

Yianna Terzi: another attractive female soloist with excellent dress sense and great hair who delivered on her end of the ESC bargain this year – a.k.a. she put in an applause-worthy, almost studio-perfect performance. It was what happened around and behind her on the Altice Arena stage (by which I mean nothing) that screwed her over. Seriously, I know Greece don’t have a lot of cash to splash on their song contest presentations…but Oneiro Mou is more dramatic than Silvia Night when she didn’t qualify in Athens, and as such deserved less simplistic stage treatment. It was one song that emphasised the lack of in-built LED screens in a bad way, given that I’m guessing Greece couldn’t afford to ship in (nautical pun intended) their own á la Germany and Malta. That’s not to say that the right prop or (again) lighting scheme wouldn’t have helped boost them into the qualification zone. What I’m saying is that as patriotic as they were, Yianna’s white dress and blue hand (presumably intentional, but maybe she was just cold) were not enough. Her song needed drama served up hot, but sadly, I think it was undercooked.

 

 

Russia: A mountainous mistake

Raise your hand if you didn’t think I was going to mention this! Obviously I can’t see you guys right now (my mass spying devices are on the blink at the moment) but I don’t think I need to – nobody has their hand in the air. It was awkward, ridiculous, and I must say laughable enough when Russia waved their CGI wand over poor Yulia and turned her into a mountain for the I Won’t Break music video. But did we think they’d come up with something less WTF for the live show? I did, but that may have been wishful thinking. It turns out that disguising a wheelchair (unnecessarily) with a prop mountain live on stage looks even more ridiculous than doing it via a computer generated alp. Also, what does a mountain even symbolise in relation to this song? Probably overcoming obstacles, blah blah blah, but that was not clear (and three minutes doesn’t give viewers a lot of time to analyse potential deeper meaning). It was uncomfortable to watch and literally uncomfortable for Yulia. Add ropey vocals and some random dancers into the mix – who arguably got more screen time than she did – and it’s a) hard to believe that Sergey Lazarev and his impeccable staging = Russia’s last representative; and b) easy to work out why Russia failed to qualify for the first time with this.

 

 

Belarus: Gothic horror goes wrong

I’ve said this a billion times before, but I don’t watch Eurovision rehearsals. If I’m getting up at 3am for something, I want it to be a surprise! But I do listen to and read every little rehearsal description from the press centre and on my Twitter feed – total abstinence is impossible. My point is, when I heard what Belarus had in store for the ESC staging of Forever, I was super psyched. On paper, the rose handover, brief game of archery and Alekseev’s gruesome prosthetics sounded OTT, but also OMG YES. If you can’t do stuff like that at Eurovision, where can you? It’s too bad then that in the end, the whole concept came off as a bit of a joke. For starters, Alekseev was shaking so much he could barely pass the rose to the camera guy (and the whole jerky rose rotation was pure cringe). The on-screen petal explosion was timely but tacky. And that bed-of-roses-on-the-back reveal was…well, I still thought it was cool in a gross, ‘WHAT IN THE NAME OF NAVIBAND AM I LOOKING AT?!?’ kind of way. But it wasn’t as effective as I think Belarus wanted it to be…and I definitely couldn’t take it seriously. Many fans might have questioned the light-up space suit Alekseev wore when he won the Belarusian NF, but in hindsight, packing that in his suitcase for Portugal might have been a smart idea.

 

 

Romania: The Humans + a bunch of dummies

It still feels strange knowing that Romania lost their 100% qualification record this year – but after the bizarre staging brought to us by The Humans, is it really that surprising? Romania has never misfired so badly before, but that’s what happens when you take a song with the potential to be elevated by an awesome stage show (which is exactly what went down with Moldova) and have it performed in the presence of creepy department store mannequins. There’s a reason horror movies have been made about those things, and since Goodbye isn’t a song that’s supposed to scare the crap out of people, I have to ask…what were they thinking? It didn’t work for Switzerland in 2007 (but at least Vampires Are Alive had a pre-existing creep factor) and I can’t imagine what possessed the Romanian delegation to give it a try. The main purpose those faceless freaks served was distracting us from the performance elements that did work – Cristina’s risqué dress and epic vocal power, for instance. They didn’t help to fill the stage (except with fear) or tell the story of the song, that’s for sure. And to think that last year, cannons that weren’t allowed to be fired and an awkward kiss were Romania’s biggest on-stage issues!

 

 

Macedonia: MY EYES!!!

If you hadn’t guessed, I’ve been working my way up to the worst of the worst staging disasters of Eurovision 2018…which is why I haven’t mentioned Macedonia until now. They are the masters of messing up live performances of great songs, and the streak of self-sabotage continued in Lisbon. Eye Cue hit the city armed with a multiple-personality song that needed clever staging – and cool costumes, of course – to pull everything together. Tragically (in a first-world-problem sense), as with Spain last year, it all went wrong in alarming fashion. The fashion, in fact, was the single most horrific thing we were forced to look at, as the otherwise stunning Marija wandered aimlessly around the stage in a bright pink, backwards tuxedo jacket with inexplicable armpit cutouts. When she whipped it off mid-song, I thought a crisis had been averted…only to witness the most unflattering half sweater/half swimsuit monstrosity the world has ever seen. The only saving grace in a performance that was as neat and tidy as the top shelves of my closet (i.e. not at all) was the vocals. Oh, and Marija’s shoes – they were dope. Just not dope enough to save Macedonia from their Barbara Dex destiny…

 

 

Which Eurovision performances disappointed/shocked/scared the s%*t out of you enough to become your personal “worsts” of the year? Let me know in the comments below…and from one overly-judgmental person to another, don’t hold back!

 

 

 

 

 

IT’S THE (GRAND) FINAL COUNTDOWN! My top 10 performances of Eurovision 2018

It’s been less than two weeks since Israel won Eurovision, but to me it actually feels like longer – which makes it even more shameful that it’s taken me all this time to pick out my favourite performances of Portugal’s contest just past.

In my defence, it wasn’t an easy decision! Competition was fiercer than Eleni Foureira’s catsuit-and-stilettos combo this year, especially due to the no-LED policy of the stage design which meant countries had to get extra creative when chasing the wow factor. Better late than never, though, I’ve made my choices (just like Ari Oláfsson told me to). And, in reverse order as always, because I like to whip up a fresh batch of suspense every time I do a top 10 countdown, here they are. Let me know what our agree/disagree ratio is in the comments below…

 

 

#10| Ukraine (Mélovin with Under The Ladder)

When Eurovision meets Ukraine, the result is usually OTT – but up until 2018, it had been a while since the country lived large in terms of their contest staging (1944 and Time didn’t exactly slap you in the face with such subtle items as hamster wheels and half-naked centurions). So it was nice to see Ukraine changing up their recent less-is-more approach for a) a vampiric-looking artist slowly rising from the hellish interior of his grand piano; b) said artist removing a layer of clothing halfway through the song, which in this case looked a lot more badass than when Alexander Rybak did it; and c) yeah yeah FIRE!!! When you think about it, Mélovin’s performance could have been even more flamboyant – but he seemed to know just when to stop to give it the specific level of drama and Gothic glamour it needed. Under The Ladder on the Lisbon stage was as confident and cohesive as we’ve come to expect from Ukraine, whether they’re keeping things simple or kicking their staging up a notch or two (hundred).

 

#9 | Israel (Netta with Toy

If it’s controversial to not have Netta right at the top of a ranking like this, then so be it. I didn’t vote for Israel this year and I can’t claim that Toy is the winning song I would have preferred (let’s just say that I was hoping to be trawling through Air BnB apartments in Limassol right about now). But I can’t argue with the punch this performance packed, thanks mostly to Netta herself and not so much to her dancers, who made the whole thing look more novelty than it actually was. Miss Barzilai, though, even without her looper, was a force to be reckoned with. Every facial expression, hand gesture and note was there; the attitude and sass were sky-high just as they should have been; and it was easy to believe that any guy stupid enough to cross her would be sorrier than Frans realising he really was sorry. Netta sold her song like her life depended on it, with her oriental outfit and backdrop adding an exotic touch to the appealingly bonkers proceedings (and not, IMO, falling into the category of cultural appropriation). The Altice Arena audience went crazy for this, and even on TV it was obvious why.

 

#8 | Austria (Cesár Sampson with Nobody But You

Starring in this year’s episode of ‘Surprising Eurovision Third-Placers’ was Austria’s Cesár, who contributed a jury vote-winning rendition of Nobody But You to the grand final line-up. While I didn’t see that overwhelming jury love coming, I did get some spine-tingles from his performance: one that proved he could more than cope with the transition from backing singer to main artist. Commanding the stage – and a spectacular hydraulic platform – completely solo, he made it hard for me to look away from him (or even blink, lest I miss a shot of his impressive arm musculature). Austria also added a mix of shadowy and golden lighting that perfectly suited the song and its soul vibes; a bit of crowd interaction in the second half to up the human connection with Cesár; and, tapping into a trend that was way overused in 2017, the sole giant selfie of the year…which was great apart from the fact that super-sized Cesár was wearing a different shirt to flesh-and-blood Cesár. But that’s a mildly irritating detail I can overlook, based on how boss every other aspect of this performance was.

 

#7 | Denmark (Rasmussen with Higher Ground)

Like Sweden (a country you should expect me to mention later on in this list) Denmark rarely changes much about their staging between their national final and Eurovision. Unlike Sweden, a lot of the time they need to but just don’t. Fortunately, 2018 was not one of those years – and some credit needs to be given to the ship-inspired Lisbon stage for that. Performing a seafaring Viking song, Rasmussen must have thanked his lucky stars when he discovered how neatly Higher Ground fit in to the concept of the ESC this year. Sure, a ship wasn’t the first thing you thought of when you looked at the stage, but just knowing how appropriate Denmark’s package would appear in the year of ‘All Aboard!’ gave them a boost. Sails, snow, stomping, blue lighting, beards, and a manufactured breeze were all Rasmussen needed to create the ideal atmosphere for Higher Ground – and what came out of the oven once all of those ingredients had been combined and baked was gobbled up by televoters. They ranked Denmark first in the second semi, and in the top five in the final. That’s definitely higher ground than the Danes managed to reach in Kyiv!

 

#6 | Estonia (Elina Nechayeva with La Forza)

I’ve said this in a previous post, but there was a time when I thought Estonia didn’t need to stick Elina in a ridiculously expensive projection dress to make a statement. La Forza and her insanely impressive operatic talents would do the trick on their own, right? Well, we’ll never know for sure – but what I now know for certain is that The Dress: Eurovision Edition (forget about some wedding guest getup that’s black and blue/white and gold) turned Estonia’s appearance at Eurovision 2018 into a showstopper. What helped to make the performance all the more dynamic were the close-up shots of Elina during the soft, mystical verses (just to hammer home how stunning she is) interspersed with wider shots and aerial shots during the explosive choruses – those showing off the dress projections to maximum advantage. If I was being ultra picky (as I enjoy being sometimes) I would have liked the lighting scheme and projections to be totally celestial – more cool colours to take us all to a galaxy far, far away. But a bit of red lighting here and there and some psychedelic dress swirls didn’t prevent me from being speechless at the end of this three minutes.

 

#5 | Australia (Jessica Mauboy with We Got Love)

Okay…before you scream at your screen that I must have walked Rasmussen’s plank and drowned in a sea of my own insanity, hear me out. Firstly, I’m Australian and am therefore totally biased when it comes to our handful of ESC entries and my unconditional defense of them. Secondly, when I name Jessica’s performance as one of my favourites of the year, I’m referring more to the stronger semi-final version than the nervy final version. And thirdly, whatever your opinion on her vocals, that dress (which we now know finished 2nd in the Barbara Dex vote) or the characteristically dark Sacha Jean Baptiste staging, you have to admit that Jess is a ray of sunshine who invested every fibre of her energy into her time on stage and brought light to those overly-moody surroundings. I felt so proud (and a little bit teary) after her Thursday night performance – and part of that was to do with the freedom, rawness and authenticity that came from the dreamtime dance moves and a vocal that was a rough diamond rather than a crystal-clear one-carat diamond. Jess did what she does best by bringing her personality on stage as a prop, and I really enjoyed watching her as a result.

 

#4 | Moldova (DoReDos with My Lucky Day)

Discarding a cool NF staging concept in the hope of wowing people at the ESC with an even cooler concept is risky. Moldova took that risk, ran with it, and ended up providing us with an impeccably-timed slapstick-chic performance that elevated an okay song to sensational status. Try and find a flaw in DoReDos’ Eurovision creation and I will dispute whatever you come up with, because it had it ALL. Eye-catching costumes (in Moldovan flag colours, of course)? Check. Boatloads of stage presence and charisma from all three band members and their backing squad? Check. An oversized Ikea cabinet put to better use than anything with doors has been before? Check! Putting paid to the stereotype that men can’t multitask – and proving that women absolutely can – the trio sang, danced and dashed in out of those doors without missing a beat or looking like it was any sort of struggle. In a day and age of the easily distracted (myself included) keeping all eyes on you for 180 seconds can be difficult – but My Lucky Day live in Lisbon was entertainment well worth the price of admission.

 

#3 | Czech Republic (Mikolas Josef with Lie To Me)

From being stuck on a hospital gurney with a neck brace on to turning out a performance like this – only to go on and top it in the final? Mikolas, I salute you. For a horrifying few days early on in rehearsal week, we weren’t sure whether the Czech Republic would even get to compete in the contest with their best entry ever. But the Eurovision gods were smiling down on us (that, and Mikolas did what doctors told him to do). He got through his semi show in more restrained style than he would have liked before pulling out all of the acrobatic stops on the Saturday night – moves that capped off a super-fun, well-choreographed, part-music video/part-live performance feat. SWAG. There is nothing I would change about the Czech staging, although I wouldn’t have complained if a hologram camel had materialised at some point. The highlight – besides Mikolas landing the flip and not ending up back in the emergency room – has to be the butt wiggle/floss/backpack combo after the second chorus. That was genius, and in keeping with the saucy subject matter. I can fully understand why plenty of these greedies want to eat Mikolas’ spaghetti (apologies if I just said something super rude…I honestly don’t know).

 

#2 | Cyprus (Eleni Foureira with Fuego)  

There’s a reason Eurofans still talk about Ani Lorak all the time, despite Shady Lady finishing as the Eurovision runner-up TEN YEARS AGO (!). Ani was a crazy-hot woman in an amazing outfit who, backed by a posse of equally attractive dancers, strutted her way through a top-notch pop song to rapturous applause from the audience. Does that sound familiar? Does it sound…fuego, perhaps? I think so. Eleni came to Portugal armed with an ethnopop banger that had all the best elements of Shady Lady in its staging, and also threw back to Secret Combination and Qele Qele (Greece and Armenia’s ’08 entries that finished 3rd and 4th respectively). I loved being reminded of those other fierce women who’d showed the ESC who was boss back in the day, while being treated to a song that was modern enough to work in 2018. Eleni looked incredible, danced like a woman possessed, and whipped her hair back and forth in amongst fake and real fire while wearing that sparkly catsuit you wouldn’t want to have to pee while sewn into. I’m not going to lie…I wanted to BE her. If we must have successful 2018 entry copycats in 2019, can they please be Fuego + Foureira copycats?

 

#1 | Sweden (Benjamin Ingrosso with Dance You Off)

As we arrive at my no. 1 personal pick for Eurovision performance of the year, it will either be a massive plot twist (because you’re new here and were partly responsible for Sweden’s low televoting score) or a predictable ending (because you know how obsessed with Sweden and how big a fan of Benjamin’s I am). Whatever the reason for that lack of love from the public, it was not a problem for me – someone in awe of the glow-up between Benjamin’s 2017 and 2018 Melodifestivalen performances, and then continually impressed by the Dance You Off performance that was copy-pasted to the ESC (why would you mess with something that slick?). I don’t know why people have an issue with Swedish performances being the same every time, at Melfest and in every Eurovision rehearsal. When you put that much effort in to a stage show – even though Benjamin’s was relatively simple, just extremely effective – and rehearse the crap out of it, why shouldn’t it be flawless by the time it’s going to be on TV? I love this song and I love how it was staged, unconditionally. Jean Baptiste who?

 

 

I’ve showed you mine…now show me yours! Which Eurovision performances floated your boat the most this year?