Category Archives: Reviews
Hey there, sweet people/children of the universe/other ESC-themed pet names for you guys that I can’t think of right now. Last time I attempted to introduce a post, we were four weeks away from Eurovision 2019’s semi numero uno. Now we’re four weeks away from the second semi, and before you know it we’ll be four weeks away from the final. It’s creeping closer and closer, and I am SO READY.
Unless you consider still having 36/41 reviews to take care of not being all that ready, in which case I need to make my motto less talk, more action. Without further ado, it’s time for round two!
Today is Judgment-by-Jaz Day for Australia, Georgia, Hungary, Romania and Switzerland. I definitely have some favourites out of Kate, Oto, Joci, Ester and Luca’s songs, and if you do too – or if you don’t – let me know in the comments. And stay tuned ‘til the end to see where these countries slot into my overall ranking so far…
Okay…the time has come for me to try and separate my patriotic attachment to this song from my actual opinion of it. Wish me luck! There are two things you should know about me if you don’t already: one, I’m a born-and-bred Australian; and two, I was in the Australia Decides audience when KMH became our fifth Eurovision representative. Like Lordi’s Hard Rock Hallelujah (winner of the first contest I watched) and Robin Bengtsson’s I Can’t Go On (the Melodifestivalen winner the year I made it to Friends Arena) this song is automatically special to me and associated with tons of good times. However, I do pride myself on my ability to support Australia’s Eurovision journey from go to whoa AND be honest in terms of how highly I rate the entry in question. And so, I can’t say my love for Zero Gravity is as sky-high as Kate’s glass-shattering operatic notes – and to tell the truth, it is my least favourite Aussie entry to date – but I still think it’s worthy.
For starters, it’s a relief that we’re sending something outside of our usual box – something far less generic than before and not written by DNA (we seriously needed to change up our recipe). Theatrical, dynamic and more popera than any other ESC entry before it, Zero Gravity is as much of a statement piece as Kate’s dangerously spiky silver fascinator. There’s an authentic feel about it that’s been missing from the Aussie package for a few years now. Kate isn’t just a singer who’s been paired with a song and told to give it her best go – rather, this track has her name written all over it (and in the writing credits, obviously). Combining her classical music background and pop sensibilities is what she does best. Zero Gravity’s verses are for Pop Kate and the choruses are for Classical Kate, yet the mish-mash of styles somehow makes sense and doesn’t sound like a stitched-together Frankenstein’s monster song. My favourite thing about ZG is the surprising substance it has in telling the story of Kate’s postnatal depression and the freedom she felt in her recovery. And of course, I love the last thirty seconds when she really lets rip with her high notes, and then never fails to nail that bombastic finale.
Even so, I’m not totally sold on this entry. Sure, I dished out a fair few compliments just then, but that was Biased Jaz talking. Truth-Be-Told Jaz actually wishes that Electric Fields were going to Tel Aviv, and thinks that 2000 and Whatever was a potential Eurovision winner whereas she’s super uncertain of how Zero Gravity will do. I (still talking as truthful Jaz) do think it’s a solid, unique entry deserving of qualification and a left-side scoreboard spot. But as someone who thought it was WTF at first, I can understand why many fans haven’t warmed to it. The Elina Nechayeva copycat claims are unwarranted, but the big dress needed to be ditched, so I was happy to hear that’s likely the case. Also re: the original staging, it was OTT for a song that has a lot going on by itself, so I’m hoping for a stage show that is less action-packed (or dare I say ‘gimmicky’) and more refined in May. There’s no doubt that I’ll be cheering Kate on with embarrassing enthusiasm then, but I’ll be nervous about her chances…and if she doesn’t make it out of the semi or screeches to a halt in the final, my thoughts will again turn to Electric Fields and what could have been.
In a line Action-packed popera that will divide but not necessarily conquer 2018 VS 2019 2018. I’ve still got love for We Got Love Predicted result SF 7th-10th, GF 11th-17th My score 7 points
Georgia isn’t a country I think of in super positive terms when it comes to Eurovision. Junior Eurovision, yes – but there have been very few Georgian adult contest entries that I’ve been crazy about (and in 2016, part of that craziness was due to the Lolitaz’ light show which singed my retinas and had me hallucinating for hours afterwards). It seems like I’m not alone, since the past two years have seen Georgia continue to kick goals at JESC while failing to qualify to the ESC final. I want them to find a successful formula again, complete with that special brand of Georgian quirk we’ve come to love…but that will have to wait until at least 2020. Keep On Going is not going to be their saving grace.
This song is 41st in my personal ranking, and has been there or thereabouts in every single top I’ve watched on YouTube or seen on social media. It’s not bringing up the rear of my ranking because I hate it with a passion. I actually don’t. I just happen to like the 40 other songs better and think they have more to offer. The good I see in this song is that Georgia is adding to the variety in Tel Aviv with the only straight-up rock song in the lineup; and that the song is perfectly suited to Oto’s powerful, rough-edged vocals. I also want to give credit to the revamp, which created more atmosphere and a bit more build. But I don’t think the most exhaustive musical makeover possible would have given Georgia a chance of competing in the final. It’s just not meant to be, as far as I’m concerned. I wouldn’t have wanted Oto to be stuck with a song that didn’t fit him, and of course there are rock songs that have triumphed at Eurovision (Hard Rock Hallelujah, We Could Be The Same and Deli, for example). Georgia themselves even took the genre into the top 10 back in 2011 with One More Day. But this particular rock track is a plateau of three long, dragging minutes in which waiting for something exciting to happen turns out to be pointless.
As I said, I don’t mind it myself…until I think about it as the competitive song it’s supposed to be. Even in the non-bloodbath SF that is Tuesday’s, there are easily ten other entries that have more appeal for both jurors and televoters. I’d go so far as to say that there are only one or two songs that have LESS voting appeal than Keep On Going. That’s not the sort of thing I’ve ever said about a song that went on to qualify. If we could break about eight rules and enter Your Voice by Tamar Edilashvili (Georgia’s 2018 JESC entry, for those who avoid the kids’ contest at all costs) then I’d be much more hopeful right now. But as it is, I highly doubt Oto’s offering is dynamic or interesting enough to even be a borderline qualifier. If he does miraculously make it through I’ll look pretty stupid, but I’ll be too shocked to care.
In a line Solid rock destined to stay put in the semi finals 2018 VS 2019 2018 Predicted result SF 15th-17th My score 4 points
You guys would have enjoyed the comic relief that was me finding out Joci was back attempting to represent Hungary again. I quite literally fell off my chair and may have shed a tear or 2500. THAT’S JUST HOW MUCH I LOVE ME SOME PÁPAI, OKAY?!? You don’t even want to know what I did when he went on to win A Dal again, but it would have gone viral if captured on camera. Anyway, my point is that I couldn’t be happier to have Joci back. If you’ve been reading EBJ since 2017, you’ll know Origo was my favourite entry that year, and that it became one of my all-time faves faster than I could listen to Joci’s beautiful back catalogue. He’s really found his sound lately, with every folk/ethnic infusion he comes out with giving me goosebumps.
Naturally, that means you’re about to be hit with one heck of a biased review. Joci’s music speaks to me and Az Én Apam is no exception – I absolutely adore this song. It’s emotional and heartfelt without a hint of fakery; it blends that trademark ethnic folksiness with an easy-listening guitar-based ballad to create something spellbinding; it sounds stunning in Hungarian, as every genre of music tends to; and Joci performs it with the same honesty and raw talent we had the privilege to be introduced to in 2017. Same man, same manbun…he’s just been hitting the gym, which you’ll have noticed if you paid the same obsessive attention to A Dal as I did this year. I have to add that the reworking of this song did wonders, filling in the few gaps of build and drama from the original version. Now it’s a track that’s ready to compete, despite what a lot of (less biased) fans think.
I’m not saying Joci is invincible. Even with rose-coloured glasses glued to my face, I can see that Az Én Apám isn’t as instant as Origo. Some might say it’s too understated, though I think Slovenia will have the biggest battle in that department. I’m more worried about one of Hungary’s main selling points – the emotion of the father/son relationship depicted by the lyrics – being lost in translation. Italy managed to convey their message in Lisbon (and funnily enough, will be trying to do the same thing in Tel Aviv with another father-inspired song) but other countries have failed before. Still, the call has been put out for photos of people’s dads á la the photographic backgrounds of Malta 2014/UK 2016, which should help. No matter what happens, I don’t expect Az Én Apám to outdo Origo – but that won’t mean failure for Joci. He’s bringing something meaningful and full of feeling (Salvador Sobral stamp of approval incoming) to the contest yet again, and has another chance to tell part of his life story on the stage. That’s just as important as numbers on a scoreboard. Having said that, if Hungary doesn’t at least qualify with this, I will throw a very undignified tantrum. Thank heavens Australia is in the same semi so I can steal the phones of everyone I know and vote en masse.
In a line Majestic Magyarorság magic feat. manbun 2018 VS 2019 2019. Sorry AWS, but I know where my loyalties lie Predicted result SF 6th-8th, GF 12th-17th My score 12 points
2018 was not the best Eurovision for Romania. They missed out on a spot in the final and lost their 100% qualification record in the process, something that once upon a time would have seemed impossible (but after Greece bombed out in 2016, nobody was safe). Their trip to the contest this year involves a song that wasn’t preferred by the Romanian public but singled out by the jury, and managed to outrank two big favourites to win. On A Sunday, from Canadian-Romanian Ester Peony, is also a song that stood out to me when I was previewing the Selecţia Naţională entries – mainly, I have to say, because I was so shocked to hear something like it pop up where it did.
On A Sunday fits the Eesti Laul or A Dal mould more than anything else. There’s grit to it and a vintage sexiness (if that makes any sense) that just doesn’t sound like the Romania we know. Consider this being the same country that sent Zaleilah, It’s My Life, Miracle and Yodel It and you’ll see what I mean. None of those songs could have made the cut for the Fifty Shades of Grey soundtrack, but if Ester’s subject matter was a little less breakup and a little more bondage (maybe she should collab with Hatari?) then she’d be a shoo-in with this. I’ve been thinking of her song as a musical mashup of Black Velvet by Alannah Myles, Ann Sophie’s Black Smoke and Croatia’s entry from Lisbon, Crazy. I like all of those songs, and I really like On A Sunday too. In fact, when it did catch my ear before the Romanian NF, it immediately became The One for me – but I never thought it would beat Army of Love and Dear Father. It didn’t seem like something Romania would ever choose, and technically, I guess they didn’t. But however the victory came about, I can’t help being happy about it.
I love the whole vibe of this song: smoky and sultry but mournful at the same time. I love the lyrics, which are pretty sparse but cliché free (unlike neighbouring Moldova’s lyrics, but I’ll get to those later). I love the hypnotic beat that draws you in as the song progresses. I love the melody. And, last but not least, I love Ester’s voice, especially when she works her way into those high notes towards the end. Her vocals at the NF were ropey at times, but no doubt they’ll be polished up by May. All in all I’m into this in a big way, and I’m seeing all sorts of staging possibilities in the hope the Romanian delegation can read my mind. I’m not totally confident Ester will take Romania back to the final – not many people are this fond of her song, and a top 10 place in that second semi won’t be easy to come by. But my fingers will be crossed for this Canadian to be closer to Celine Dion than Rykka, results-wise.
In a line Being dumped never sounded so good 2018 VS 2019 2019, though I am sad to say goodbye to Goodbye Predicted result SF 9th-14th, GF 16th-21st My score 8 points
Remember how flabbergasted (I don’t get to use that word enough) we all were when Mikolas Josef came out of nowhere with an absolute banger and gave his country their best result ever by a million miles? It was only a year ago, so you should remember. Now, I’m not saying Luca Hänni is going to give the Swiss their best-ever placing, since he’d have to win to even equal it. I just think that in many ways, Luca is and will continue to be the Mikolas of 2019. I first got familiar with him (though not as familiar as I’d like to, WINK WINK) late last year when the rumour mill was turning at warp speed in his favour, and I thought I’d better do some research in case the rumours became reality. Within minutes I was in deep and knew I’d be devastated if he was a red herring and Switzerland was actually sending Sebalter again. So danke schön, my conflict-neutral, chocolate-producing friends, for making my dreams come true. What’s not dreamy about a ridiculously good-looking singer/dancer/model armed with a crazy-catchy party anthem?
NOTHING. She Got Me is the best Swiss entry in years, with the country’s bittersweet leapfrog over Sweden in the odds (my loyalties have never been so divided) testament to that. They’re currently sitting pretty in third place, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they finished that high in the actual contest. Given that Luca can sing AND dance, when it comes to his last few releases I was hoping for his Eurovision song to be more like Signs than Powder, as much as I love the latter. My wish was granted. One of the ESC 2019 songs that can be compared to Fuego (basically, it’s got a beat drop) this has quickly become more talked about than Replay and Chameleon, and I’m a willing participant in the conversation. The song is iconic and infectious from the moment it starts, with a chorus so instant it should be illegal. There’s an exotic Middle-Eastern flavour found in the memorable musical hook. The whole thing is densely packed and has been produced by someone who knows what they’re doing (always good). And it strikes the right balance between ‘not repetitive enough to follow’ and ‘so repetitive I want to rip my ears off.’ Even though the chorus is repeated as a way of transitioning to the explosive last 30 seconds, the instrumental break in-between keeps things fresh and leaves room for a kickass choreographed sequence on stage.
Speaking of on stage, Switzerland have recruited Sacha Jean-Baptiste to give them a grade-A presentation…which she’d better, because She Got Me deserves the best. Dodgy staging is the only thing that could drag this entry down as far as I see it (those Amsterdam vocals will be dealt with, trust me) and Baptiste has been questionable in her choices on occasion. But at the least, her involvement shows that Switzerland is super serious about Eurovision this year. Their song alone will whip the crowd into a frenzy á la Golden Boy, and I cannot see a scenario in which it fails to qualify (unlike their last four entries). I also can’t imagine anything other than a left-side scoreboard finish for Luca. She Got Me stands out from the crowd both in terms of man-bangers (including Estonia and Finland) and in general. For me, it’s the best of the Fuego follow-ups, which is high praise. I love everything about it and can’t wait for Switzerland to have a major change of Eurovision fortune.
In a line The surprise package of the year that makes sure you can’t sit still 2018 VS 2019 2019, duh! Predicted result SF 2nd-4th, GF 4th-6th My score 12 points
From zero gravity to dirty dancing, this round is over. ‘Already?’ I can hear you saying (even though you’re actually saying ‘At last!’). Yep, that’s it. But before I go, let’s have a look at the standings:
- Hungary (12)
- Switzerland (12)
- Romania (8)
- Australia (7)
- Georgia (4)
And after Round 1, I now have a top 10 that looks like this:
- Hungary (12)
- Switzerland (12)
- Cyprus (10)
- Romania (8)
- Serbia (8)
- Albania (8)
- Australia (7)
- Montenegro (5)
- Latvia (5)
- Georgia (4)
So Hungary takes the top spot from Cyprus, and Switzerland overtakes them too. Sorry Tamta.
Next time we’ll see where Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Lithuania and North Macedonia factor in as far as I see it. Be there or…well, nothing will happen if you’re not there, but I’d love you to come back and check out the rest of my 2019 reviews. Follow me on my socials (all the usuals @EurovisionByJaz) to make sure you don’t miss a thing. And once you’ve done that, share your thoughts on today’s tracks down below – but be warned, if you badmouth Joci, it might be the last thing you ever do.
What a nice note to end this post on.
< Four weeks and counting!
Excuse me for cutting the ribbon on these reviews in the most predictable of ways, but I can’t believe it’s time to do this again. How can we possibly be FOUR WEEKS away from the first semi final of Eurovision 2019? Netta only won in Lisbon like, three months ago, didn’t she?
As it turns out, no, she didn’t. It was almost a YEAR ago. And with this last pre-ESC month bound to fly by faster than Salvador Sobral left the stage after handing the 2018 trophy to the singer of a song with far more fireworks than feelings, I can’t keep you in suspense any longer. It is time to take a long, hard and overly-judgemental look at all 41 (maybe 42 if I can squeeze Ukraine in somewhere) entries for Tel Aviv, in typical Jaz style. That means you’ll need energy, determination and multiple cups of coffee to get through each round of five or so songs. Are you ready for this?
Up first for critique in 2019 (after a Tribute to Ye Olde Eurovision random draw) are Albania, Cyprus, Latvia, Montenegro and Serbia. Let me know what you think of Jonida, Tamta, Carousel, D mol and Nevena’s tracks in the comments, after you’ve checked out my thoughts and scores. And remember: honesty is the best policy around here…
Let the Tel Aviv Reviews begin!
Albania’s Festivali i Këngës is THE national final of the festive season, and back in December it delivered the first Eurovision entry of 2019 direct to our doorsteps. Jonida Maliqi – with her super-cool name, razor-sharp fringe, ultra-white teeth and punch-packing vocals – is off to Tel Aviv with Ktheju Tokës, which is thankfully staying put in Albanian after Eugent Bushpepa did so well in his native tongue last year. It’s been revamped for the better and hasn’t lost its original spirit, but did I like it when it was selected and do I like it now? The answer to both of those questions is yes. This song has more mystery and intrigue than a Dan Brown novel, which is just how I like my Albanian entries. There’s often something about them that sets them apart and is just so…Albanian. Ktheju Tokës is no exception.
Everything about it is interesting: the way Jonida works her way through it with vulnerability and power; the unconventional melody of the verses; the haunting atmosphere and hypnotic beat…I mean, wow. It may not be the most radio-friendly or streamable song of the year, nor is it particularly instant and hooky – but it is original and impactful. I will say that the studio version is kind of strange (it makes Jonida sound like she’s singing slightly out of tune) whereas the live version is the one with all the impact. Here we have a singer who can belt out big notes like nobody’s business, and emotively eyeball a camera at the same time. And you just know she’s going to wear something amazing in Israel, making us forget about the possessed bride look the last Albanian female soloist went for. So for me, that’s a kickass song + a fierce vocalist + stellar styling that we’re in for from Albania.
Having said all of the above, I’m far from convinced that Jonida will sail through to the final. She’s in the second semi, which is the more competitive one – and not just because there are 18 countries competing for qualification as opposed to 17 in the first semi (thanks to Ukraine’s shenanigans). With big hitters and likely top-scorers like the Netherlands, Norway, Russia, Sweden and Switzerland also in the Thursday line-up, she has an uphill battle ahead of her. With the right staging and a solid all-round performance though, the hill shouldn’t be too steep to climb (even if she’s wearing stilettos). And there’s no other song remotely like Ktheju Tokës in the entire contest, let alone in her semi – so she’s bound to stand out. I’d love to have Albania in the final again. How about you?
In a line Albania doing what Albania does best: being exotic, mystical and powerful 2018 VS 2019 2019. Us ladies have to stick together! Predicted result SF 8th-12th, GF 15th-19th My score 8 points
Following up Fuego, a Eurovision entry iconic in so many ways, was always going to be a tough task for Cyprus. With thousands of keyboard warriors/amateur music critics (including myself) waiting to drag the island if they didn’t build on their 2018 success, the pressure to do so was higher than Kaliopi’s whistle tone. I feel like they have delivered, but let’s not pretend there’s no ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ mentality at (re)play here. Tamta’s song has been co-written by three of the minds behind Fuego, and it sounds like their brief was ‘Pen another banger with a beat drop and the exact same structure in order to catapult Cyprus into the top 10 again.’ But I’m not saying Fuego was the most original song to ever exist, and I do think Replay is different enough in the realm of pop music, where lots of stuff is similar, to make calling it Fuego 2.0 a bit unfair. I can’t blame Cyprus for finding a bomb formula and sticking to it.
Catchy from the second it starts, slickly produced and perfectly suited to Tamta, Replay ticks all the boxes on the ‘Is This A Banger?’ checklist, right down to the less-ethnic-than-Fuego-but-still-ridiculously-danceable instrumental hook. It’s one of those songs where each part is equally memorable, without a weak link like an anticlimactic chorus. Unfortunately the most memorable moment comes during the first verse, when Tamta apparently says she’s ‘shitting her body tonight’. Call me immature if you must (I am, to be fair) but it’s pretty off-putting and sounds nothing like the actual lyric – ‘them sheets need my body tonight’. I’ve been trying to roll with it and tell myself that Tamta’s so keen on the subject of the song, her bodily functions go haywire at the mere thought of him. Can’t say I’ve ever met a guy who had that effect on me, but that’s not a bad thing.
Misheard lyrics aside, Replay is as flawless as Tamta’s 37-year-old skin which is way more youthful than my 27-year-old skin. No, it isn’t as iconic as Fuego, and Tamta probably won’t hit the Eurovision heights Eleni did. But I’m still impressed. That extends to Cyprus recruiting Sacha Jean Baptiste to create their staging again, a sign that they mean business. Fingers crossed the look and feel of the performance doesn’t clash with Switzerland’s, given that She Got Me is in the same musical category and is also being staged by Baptiste. Neither song needs flashy, gimmicky staging to compensate for musical weaknesses, since there aren’t any – they just need something complementary (why am I suddenly reviewing Switzerland? Save it for later, Jaz). Unless a major screw-up happens somewhere along the way, I can’t see Cyprus finishing outside of the Tel Aviv top 10, though it’s safe to say they won’t be going one better than they did in Lisbon.
In a line Obvious joke, but here’s a song I want to replay, replay, replay, YEAH 2018 VS 2019 2018 Predicted result SF 2nd-4th, GF 5th-8th My score 10 points
Latvia has been sending epic songs to Eurovision for some time now – I’d say consistently since 2015. Yet the last few years have seen them stuck in the semis, even languishing in last place in Triana Park’s case. I’m going to get right to it and say that for me, that run of rad entries has come to a screeching halt, but I expect the DNQ trend to continue. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate That Night. In fact, it’s so innocuous and sweet, like a no-frills vanilla cookie, I don’t know how anyone could hate it…and perhaps that’s the problem. Compared to the other songs in the Latvian national final it’s a masterpiece, and I have no doubt that the country made the best choice based on what was on the buffet table. But I feel like it lacks oomph, coasting along on the same level for three minutes and making me keen for those minutes to tick away so I can listen to something more exciting.
Yes, easy-listening and subdued songs can be exciting, holding your attention and making you want more (I’m thinking of Slovenia’s Sebi specifically). This one, however, doesn’t do anything for yours truly. I don’t mind the melody or the melancholy folksy feel, and vocalist Sabīne suits that vibe for sure. It’s more the missing dynamism + the super repetitive structure of That Night that sucks the life out of me. There’s not a lot to it, and as a result nothing much to reel you in (and when I say ‘you’ I mean ‘me’, because I know there are Eurofans who adore this). I feel like this song is a less bizarre musical version of a Lars von Trier film, and if you’ve ever tried to sit through a Lars von Trier film and lost the will to live, you’ll know I’m not being complimentary.
I know I’m coming across way harsh (to quote Clueless like I do at least twice a day), but where my personal preferences are concerned, Latvia can do a lot better than this. And I honestly think Carousel will struggle to pick up votes in that crazy-competitive second semi final. There are other acoustic-y tracks in the running order, as well as other “introverted” songs that are more captivating (think Austria and Arcade). Then there are the big, bold extroverts that are sure to hoover up votes like an industrial-strength vacuum cleaner (think Sweden, Switzerland and Sergey Lazarev). If Latvia does qualify I think it will be a borderline qualification, and I can’t see them troubling the top 10 or even the left side of the scoreboard. But what do I know? I may have followed Eurovision obsessively for over a decade, but I’m still rubbish at predicting results. Riga 2020 it is!
In a line Nice and nothing more 2018 VS 2019 Definitely 2018 Predicted result SF 10th-14th, GF 17th-21st My score 5 points
There are a few countries that can (sadly) be relied upon to produce surefire non-qualifiers over successes. Montenegro is definitely one, no matter how hard I wish they’d suddenly unveil something sensational like next-door neighbour Serbia does on a regular basis. This year their story started out with a glimmer of hope, for me at least. I’m not saying D mol ever had a chance of making the final, but I did have Heaven down as my guilty pleasure of the year. And as a tribute to S Club 7 with undeniably striking staging, the song kind of worked. I actually enjoyed it. In a nostalgic way, sure, but enjoyment is enjoyment.
But then *insert dramatic Law & Order DUM DUM here* Heaven had a musical makeover that I would describe as an over-accessorisation. Now it’s so unlike the original, sickly-sweet-but-tolerable original version that I feel like I need to judge two different songs. But I will just judge the one with multiple personality disorder that’s actually going to Eurovision – and it is a mess. There’s nothing that hasn’t been thrown at it in the quest for a more competitive edge, but the OTT approach has backfired. The structure is all over the place and impossible to follow; the beat kicking in after the first chorus takes me back to Junior Eurovision circa 2005; the vocal gymnastics are misplaced and desperate; and the synthesisers/miscellaneous other noises in the mix sound like they were dropped in as frequently but randomly as possible by someone doing the Macarena blindfolded. Why, Montenegro, why?!?
To add on to my list of negatives, I can’t see a way for Heaven to be saved by staging. Replicating the NF presentation would look amateurish, especially now LEDs are back in action – and what kind of miracle-working, mind-blowing stage concept could cool down and tidy up such a hot mess anyway? I’m sorry for dragging D mol through the mud (more than I meant to) but I have to be honest. The group themselves are not the main problem, and as a sextet mostly made up of teenagers, they do impress me with their stage presence and camaraderie. They just deserve a better song, because this one will not do anything for them other than send them packing straight after the first semi final.
In a line It was never heavenly, but now it’s hellish 2018 VS 2019 2019, believe it or not Predicted result SF 15th-17th My score 5 points
She’s baaaaaaaack! Nope, that’s not the tagline of a terrifying Carrie sequel, but rather my way of saying hey to Nevena for the third time in (J)ESC history. If you’re not a Junior Eurovision fan, you might not know that she represented Serbia in 2007, finishing 3rd – years before she’d appear at Eurovision as part of Moje 3 and unfortunately fail to qualify (I could write an essay on why that was down to those ridiculous costumes, but I won’t). It seems she fares better when she strikes out on her own, and she’s done that big time in 2019. Not only is she competing in Tel Aviv as a soloist, but she also wrote the music and lyrics of Kruna on her own. What a woman! Let’s breeze past the fact that she’s also an incredible vocalist and drop-dead gorgeous before I end up with the world’s biggest inferiority complex.
Kruna is a dramatic power ballad, one that has had the power amped up even more via a revamp (Montenegro, THIS is how you give a song a good makeover). The music starts out softly and becomes more intense in sync with Nevena’s vocals, and the combo of acoustic/electric guitar work is one of my favourite things about the song. I appreciate that the big statement chorus doesn’t take too long to arrive, because it can be boring waiting for a ballad to go somewhere. And just before it does rock up (so to speak) we get those English lyrics that do double duty: they add interest without seeming like they were shoehorned in just because, and they give us non-Serbian speakers a feel for what the song is about in a very short space of time. Overall, Kruna is the musical equivalent of wearing a floral dress under a studded biker jacket. It’s feminine and classy, but it also has an edge.
Okay, okay, I’ll talk about Nevena’s talents. She’s an amazing singer, and her delivery is passionate and believable. Her ability to sing lullaby-style and the opposite without batting her lashes is impressive, and sure to elevate her jury appeal. And of course, she’s stunning and super telegenic. Is there anything wrong with this package? Well, it doesn’t have the aura of a winner, and while I feel the feelings Nevena is putting out there, others may not. Plus, even I needed a few listens to really get on board, so I can see why the song might not be instant enough to be a vote magnet. Having said that, I do think Nevena has a better shot at making the final now she’s Moje 3 Minus 2. Serbia is competing in that less scary first semi, alongside a lot of uptempo and/or divisive songs – so they’ve got a decent chance to advance as far as I see it. With atmospheric staging and a costume choice less questionable than those 2013 creations (circus hooker chic? I still can’t land on the right label for them) the gate should open wide enough to let them through.
In a line A sophisticated, pitch perfect power ballad 2018 VS 2019 2018, but it’s a close one and kind of hard to compare the two Predicted result SF 7th-13th, GF 14th-19th My score 8 points
That’s all for today, folks! And with the first five countries taken care of, here’s my first mini-ranking for the year:
- Cyprus (10)
- Serbia (8)
- Albania (8)
- Montenegro (5)
- Latvia (5)
Congratulations to Cyprus for winning me over…but how long will Tamta stay on top? Stay tuned for the rest of my reviews to find out. I’ll be including the running ranking at the end of each round so you can see who’s sitting where.
Next time I’ll be putting Australia, Georgia, Hungary, Romania and Switzerland under my (imaginary) musical microscope. But before that, leave me a comment so we can compare notes on Albania, Cyprus, Latvia, Montenegro and Serbia. Who’s your favourite of the five? Is there a winner in there or will Eurovision weekend be Eurovision-free for this bunch? Whatever’s on your mind, I want to know…especially if we happen to agree on something.
Just like that (a whole week ago now), Minsk’s second Junior Eurovision is done and dusted. I still have some residual Resting Sadface, even though we in the Eurovision world have already moved on to the momentous Melodifestivalen artist announcement and unveiling of Tel Aviv’s first act via Armenia (my thoughts on those things are still to come…be patient).
I say ‘we’, but I love JESC so much I’m not ready to move on yet. Hence why I’m here to look back at Sunday’s comp way after everyone else. Me being miles behind the rest of humanity is one of my many charms. Right?
Honestly, my highlight of JESC 2018 was Polina Bogusevich standing on the stage in a gorgeous gown, looking more sophisticated and glamorous than I ever will and belting out an impeccable reprise of Wings. But there were a lot of other high points too, plus a typically tense voting sequence that produced some interesting results. I’m going to go through it all right here, right now.
If you need a refresher or just want to watch the whole thing again (I’ve watched it three times and might need to go in for a fourth ASAP) here’s the show in full:
And now, let’s get into reviewing the performances – from Ukraine to Poland and every country in-between – and all of the results.
Ukraine Darina kicked the show off with intensity, attitude, and a performance artists three times her age would be proud of. The quick camera cuts at the beginning were totally in keeping with the edginess of the song. Styling on point, vocals impeccable. I feel too uncool to even listen to the song, let alone watch the performance, but I’m going to keep doing it anyway.
Portugal This was cute, but looked and sounded pretty unpolished after Ukraine. I liked the phone screen/social media concept, but I couldn’t take the “boomerang” effect seriously – it just looked like a mistake. All in all it was three minutes of second gear, but Rita is full of personality and that shone through. Any moments she was in the armchair were the best ones.
Kazakhstan The music video was epic, but Daneliya’s performance was underwhelming. Don’t get me wrong, she’s amazing, but her vocals were patchier than usual and I didn’t feel much fight coming from her. When she was on her game, it was stunning. Sadly though, I think a tweaked version of the NF staging would have been better.
Albania Efi is a tiny pink and glittery ball of energy, and I adore her. Her enthusiasm and sass at age 10 eclipses mine at age 27, and she had the crowd in her command from the second the music started. She’s not the strongest vocalist but was definitely in tune and giving Barbie her all. My only complaint is how short the performance seemed, because I wanted it go on forever.
Russia I always thought Unbreakable sounded like a JESC winner (maybe too much) and it did come across that way. With Anna front and centre surrounded by her band, it was all very Polina Gagarina, which is a compliment. She sounded solid. I’m torn on the double denim – María Isabel 2004 vibes, anyone? – but the pink extensions were a nice choice.
The Netherlands Like a takeaway pizza, this was covered in cheese and I enjoyed it immensely. Max and Anne are so cute together and have great chemistry. Vocally they were slicker than at their NF. Okay, so the giant versions of the duo on the rear stage screens had a super-high cringe factor, but somehow I found the whole package as endearing as ever.
Azerbaijan The JESC version of this song was nowhere near as good as the original – I wish Fidan had stuck with the full ballad. My other negative was her outfit (half disco, half bridesmaid). The best part of her performance was undoubtedly her vocals, which were angelic and as crystal clear as the Kosta Boda trophy she did not win. She’s precious. And a teenager now, apparently?!?
Belarus You guys know I’m biased on this one, but I honestly felt Daniel lived up to my (very high) expectations. This was impressive, and the staging was so Sweden-like that I’m sure Christer Björkman would have given it a douze if we’d had him as a guest judge again. Daniel is a star in the making and I hope to see him representing Belarus at the ESC in a few years.
Ireland Taylor is such a nice kid, and everything about his presence on stage made me want to wave an Irish flag in time with I.O.U (but I don’t own one so I didn’t). This was so much fun and didn’t try to be more sophisticated than it is. I’m convinced that if this entry had competed in the early to mid 2000s, it would have made the top 5.
Serbia If you read my reviews, you’ll know Svet is not a song I like much. But Bojana turned out a spectacular, faultless performance, and I was impressed big time. Great costuming? Check. Gorgeous LED graphics? Check. Vocal perfection? Check. It still felt like a looooong three minutes – the song just drags – but I was happier to watch than I had been just to listen.
Italy Melissa and Marco put on a show that was so cute, my cold, cynical heart defrosted like I’d stuck it in a microwave, and I felt the urge to run through a flowery meadow and blow bubbles and stuff. There was nothing that I didn’t love about this. They sang beautifully and their rapport is something to ‘Aww’ over. So I did.
Australia Jael is my homegirl, and she did me proud! The lighting at the start was top-notch and I wish that Sanna Nielsen vibe had been used more throughout, but I’m not too bothered. I have a conspiracy theory that her dress was sewn from offcuts of Dami Im’s, and we know there’s magic in that. Best armography of the night right here, folks.
Georgia If you were questioning how Tamar stood up to older and more experienced singers on The X Factor, I bet you aren’t any more. She was phenomenal, and her staging/styling couldn’t have been better. This was a more grown-up Georgia than we’re used to, and it worked wonders. Was it just me or was there a Japanese influence here? LOVE.
Israel This is how you make a performance interesting without making your singer move a muscle. Children Like These is a stunning (cover) song and Noam was pitch-perfect. All he had to do was stand there and sing, and let the camera, graphics and lighting do the rest of the work. I was spellbound, just as I knew I would be.
France If this is what France produces after a fourteen-year hiatus, maybe they shouldn’t come back to JESC until 2032 (I’m kidding of course, they’ve got to be there in 2019). Angélina’s vocals weren’t the strongest of the night, but the mise en scène was perfect and she was the cutest little leading lady ever. Great props and choreography. C’est magnifique!
Macedonia Like Kazakhstan, I wanted Macedonia to deliver a flawless performance but it didn’t quite happen. Still, this was staged beautifully by Macedonian standards (sorry, but it’s true) with the highlights being the costume change, the LED snowfall and the moment Marija held up her snowflake and the lights went down. When her vocals were at their best, they were spine-tingling.
Armenia It was 17 songs’ time before I could no longer resist the temptation to dance (sitting in bed, in my pajamas…it was super late at night okay?). Armenia used Levon’s NF performance as a template but made it bigger and better – and he was on fire. No fading energy or running out of breath like before. Tell me what was wrong with this and I’ll tell you why YOU’RE wrong.
Wales This was such a nice debut for Wales. Think back to how boring Perta was at the selection stage then fast forward to last Sunday, and I think you’ll agree that Wales made the most of it. I’m not 100% on the costume choice, but the choreography was A+. Manw is a really engaging performer and I would have watched two hours of just her on the stage.
Malta This was pretty much what I expected, only with more questionable fashion (party tracksuit alert) and to compensate, more sensational vocals than I was prepared for. Like every other kid who’s represented Malta at JESC since Gaia Cauchi, Ela is insanely talented at this singing business. Her dancers added interest when I was worried they’d look out of place.
Poland Last but not least (quite the opposite, as it turned out) Roksana hit the stage with what was definitely a confusing performance to watch. If there was a cohesive concept in there, I couldn’t pick it out. Still, the bomb song that is Anyone I Want To Be and Roxie’s beyond solid performing arts skills outshone the OTT surrounding her. A random but excellent closer.
My top 5 performances
Armenia Nobody had more sass, swag and charisma all rolled into one than Levon. There wasn’t a second where he looked lost on the massive stage, and not a second when I wasn’t loving – or should I say ‘L.O.V.I.N.G’? – his performance.
Australia What can I say…I’m patriotic. I was worried that keeping Jael on a podium leaving just her voice and arms to do the talking would be a mistake, but she didn’t need to move to absolutely nail it. The glittery dress was the cherry on top.
Belarus What can I say…I’m biased. I loved Time from the first listen, think Daniel’s a superstar and consider this three minutes the coolest of the night. If this exact performance was slotted into the ESC, the only surprise would come from people going ‘Is this really BELARUS?’.
France So much cute. This was like a group of friends having the best time ever, coincidentally in front of a huge crowd and millions of online/TV viewers. It couldn’t have been more in keeping with the song’s subject matter. Trés bien.
Georgia Georgia and Tamar slayed every single aspect of this performance, and it’s another one that could have competed at adult Eurovision without any changes. The styling in particular was amazing. Bravo.
I’m not going to dive too deep into facts and figures, since I’m days late getting this wrap-up done and you’ll have had your fill of that stuff by now (why won’t someone pay me to talk about Eurovision already so I don’t have to waste time at my actual job to make money?). We know our top 10 looked like this:
I wasn’t expecting Poland to quite get there with the win, but I obviously underestimated the power of Roksana’s fans (all 200 000+ on Instagram alone at the time…she’s now on 300 000+). Anyone I Want To Be was arguably the best song of the contest (though not my favourite) but was it performed better than everything else? I don’t think so. I’m going to say that the current JESC voting system needs work, but I’m excited for Poland to have won something, and I think it would be wrong to drag Roxie for having too much support.
France in 2nd is fabulous and totally deserved. If that’s not motivation enough to come back next year and attempt to go one better, I don’t know what is. Australia rounding out the podium places obviously makes me a very, very happy Jaz – I was expecting lower top 10 at most. Yes, juries love us, but those people out there taking that out on Jael need to just NOT.
After Melissa and Marco’s performance, a decent top 10 result was what I was hoping for and it’s what I got (I even ended up voting for Italy spur of the moment). Georgia and Armenia should have been higher in my opinion. L.E.V.O.N finishing lower than Boomerang and actually scoring Armenia’s worst ever result is ridiculous. Then again, the fact that 9th out of 20 is their poorest showing says great things about Armenia.
Other results outside of the top 10 that “surprised” me (because I don’t want to say ‘pissed me off’ when we’re discussing a children’s contest) include Belarus in 11th – you guys know they were my favourite, and I really think they earned a place in the 6th-9th range at least. Macedonia finishing 12th for the third year running and the 8th time in total is…well, pretty hilarious, but I would have loved Marija to squeeze into the top 10 too. Albania was underrated as far as I’m concerned, but that doesn’t take away from Efi being a teeny queen who we should all be bowing down to. Finally, Wales scoring zero from the juries and coming last overall is an injustice. HOW?!?!?
Okay, I think that’s enough complaining from me. I’m going to wrap things up by celebrating our winner Roksana, who Pole-vaulted into first place at the end of a seriously intense points presentation. I hope ‘Junior Eurovision winner’ qualifies as anyone she wants to be. Congrats to her and to Poland for finally winning a musical Eurovision event. I’m already looking forward to a show (hopefully) hosted in a place we’ve never had a JESC before next November.
Let me know what you thought of JESC 2018 in the comments!
It’s almost here, JESC fans: the biggest and potentially most Belarusian Junior Eurovision ever (we’ll have to compare it to 2010 later and see which show was ultimately more Belarusian). I don’t know about you, but I’m super psyched to see who’ll take over from Russia as the reigning champion. I have a fair idea at this point and for once I’m pretty confident – but my lips are sealed until official prediction time. Keep an eye on my socials (@EurovisionByJaz across the board) over the weekend to see who I think will be on the top – and bottom – of the scoreboard on Sunday.
Before I attempt to predict what’s going to happen I’ve got five of this year’s songs left to review, direct from Albania, Ireland, Italy, Macedonia and Ukraine. There are a few big hitters in there as well as some underdogs, and I do have a douze to give out to one of them…but am I sending it in an obvious direction or not? Keep reading to find out. It’s your moment under my musical microscope, Efi, Taylor, Melissa & Marco, Marija and Darina. I’ll try to be nice, I promise!
I might be in the minority here, but I’m usually really keen on Albania’s Junior songs. Their 2012 debut wouldn’t make my best-of list, but Dambaje, Besoj and yes, even Don’t Touch My Tree? I enjoyed ‘em all. Albania tends to bounce around a bit genre-wise, and this time they’ve taken the old-school JESC (2003-2008) feel of that debut entry and added more energy, cuteness and overall appeal to it, making Barbie a song that shouldn’t be destined for last place. I like it, anyway…though that has been a bad luck charm in the past *cough* Waldo’s People/Tooji *cough*. I think my favourite thing about Barbie is the contrast between the upbeat pop style/pink-tastic presentation, and the subject matter. ICYMI, Efi means business – she doesn’t want to be directed like a doll during playtime without being permitted thoughts of her own. Oddly, she also wants us to know that ‘I’m not a fruit, I’m not an egg’, unless my online translation has let me down embarrassingly. Sorry to be a party pooper Efi, but I think that was already obvious.
The combo of cuteness and substance in this song speaks to me, and even though I feel like Barbie should be a guilty pleasure, I’m going to ditch the guilt and root for it regardless. I was wondering if the whole Barbie concept could put Efi at risk of a lecture from the EBU regarding product placement – but we did end up bopping along to Youtuber at JESC last year, and we watched a song that namedropped Pikachu (and funnily enough, Barbie) win Eurovision in May. You’ve got to love “loopholes”.
Anyway, I will admit that Albania is still an underdog in this contest, especially given NF staging that needed serious workshopping. I want less LED screen lyrics (a pet peeve of mine), more enthusiasm from Efi and preferably some backing dancers to liven things up. Unfortunately – whether it’s habit, preference or a lack of pocket money – the Albanian modus operandi so far has been ‘girl alone on stage’ without even a hint of another human being. I’ll actually be surprised if they don’t take that approach, in which case Efi needs to find some extra sparkle and sell Barbie like her doll collection depends on it. I hope she can do it, because there’s a rough (pink) diamond here. 8 points.
I feel like we should have had a gender reveal party for Ireland, because for the first time in their Junior Eurovision history, it’s a boy! A boy with more luxurious hair than I could ever hope to have, specifically. Rapunzel Taylor is following in the footsteps of Aimee Banks, Zena Donnelly and Muireann McDonnell and will no doubt be hoping to outdo Zena’s 10th place from 2016. With I.O.U up his sleeve (the sleeve of his sweatshirt which, by total coincidence, has ‘I.O.U’ printed on the front) I think that will be a challenge, especially in a field of 20 contestants – many armed with much stronger songs. But there’s something endearing about this track, and about Taylor himself, that makes me want to support Ireland this year.
I.O.U is total ‘JESC early years’, circa 2003-2008 – and that’s actually a redeeming feature in my opinion. I love entries that put the junior into Junior Eurovision, since it doesn’t happen a lot these days. The melody, throwback feel and youthfulness of this take me back to stuff like My Vmeste by Ksenia Sitnik (Belarus’ 2005 winner) and I Mousiki Dinei Ftera by Yiorgos Ioannides (Cyprus’ less-successful song from 2007), plus a bunch of other entries I could mention if I felt like it (and wanted to bore you to death). The chorus is particularly childlike. Overall the song isn’t too young for Taylor though. He sells it well, despite being a less polished (and some would say, manufactured) performer than a lot of the other contestants. I think if this song was in English – even partially, which could have easily been the case – the cheesiness would have been too much to take, but somehow going full Irish saves it from that savoury fate. Apart from being repetitive (which actually helps the catchy chorus get stuck in your brain whether you like it or not) I appreciate this entry for the nostalgia and fluffiness it brings to the table. Sure, the NF performance combined with a song of I.O.U’s style made me feel like I was watching a middle school talent show, but it’s kind of refreshing in that sense. It also boasts the best music video of the 2018 contest, feat. Niamh Kavanagh and Ryan O’Shaughnessy as Taylor’s parents (IDK how they pull it off, but they do).
The problem? While Ireland is giving us something oh-so-junior, they’re also fulfilling a brief from ten or fifteen years ago. JESC has changed and the tone of songs that shoot up the scoreboard has too. Mature, sophisticated ballads sung by female soloists in white dresses are extra likely to succeed, and neither I.O.U nor Taylor fit into that mould (but Kazakhstan, Macedonia and Australia do…just saying). If I’m honest, compared to the lion’s share of Ireland’s 19 rivals this entry comes off as a little amateurish. And I can’t imagine it attracting a sizeable public or jury vote. That puts Ireland in the danger zone as a potential bottom five finisher, but I’d welcome a more positive outcome. I don’t know yet if I have a vote to spare for Taylor in a year of bangers, but I can give him 7 points right now.
If there’s one word that describes Italy at any Eurovision event, it’s ‘classy’. Even Emma Marrone managed to expose her gold underpants to the world in a classy way in Copenhagen – it’s just in Italian blood. I have to admit though, when I first clapped eyes and ears on Italy’s 2018 Junior Eurovision entry I thought they’d finally gone off the deep end and left all of their class on the diving board behind them. This was mainly because I broke my rule of not watching the JESC music videos when listening to the song for the first time, because at best they’re a distraction and at worst they are abysmal. Melissa and Marco’s falls somewhere in between, under the heading of ‘hilariously WTF’, and I let that cloud my judgment of what is a classy and majestic – if cliché-packed – duet. There is something about the 1980s transitions, awkward dancing and…well, everything else happening onscreen that makes me laugh way too hard at a pair of poor innocent children.
Take those visuals away, however, and you’re left with another solid Italian entry that I think tops Scelgo from last year (but has nothing on the pinnacle of Italian musical majesty that is Tu Il Primo Grande Amore). What Is Love is interesting in that it twists and turns along the way to a satisfyingly predictable conclusion. We get Marco – who I think we can all agree is the star of the duo – opening strongly on his own, before Melissa (SHE’S SO TINY AND CUTE I CAN HARDLY STAND IT) arrives during the first chorus to add another dynamic. The two bounce off each other well vocally, with the back-and-forth song structure giving them both a chance to shine (though as I said, Marco shines brighter and could easily have been a solo act). It’s hard to believe there’s a four-year age gap between them – a gap I found a little uncomfortable until I realised this song isn’t a love duet in the traditional sense.
Another thing I like about it is the ‘moments’ sprinkled throughout that make it memorable. Harmonies, clever language changes, big notes and a key change (oh yes, they went there) combine to create a song that has more light and shade to it than main rival Samen from the Netherlands. Having said that, when it comes to the two boy-girl duets competing in Minsk, I do prefer the Netherlands. But because the dynamic between the boys and girls in question is totally different, I think there’s room for both Max & Anne and Melissa & Marco to do well on the night. I highly doubt either duet will walk away with the trophy, or even a podium placement. Then again, there’s been a surprise song in the top 3 for the last few years, and in 2018 it could be What Is Love. For me personally it’s not a top 3 song, but I have grown fond of it very quickly. I just needed to shut my eyes when I pressed play on that video. 8 points.
I don’t know what it is with Macedonia, but their last few JESC songs could easily have been sent to the ESC – and in my opinion, they were both better than what was actually sent to the adult contest. Love Will Lead Our Way? Flawless. Dancing Through Life? Flawless with space buns. Now we have Doma, which is very different to those last two entries – a.k.a. it’s a far cry from radio-friendly pop. This is a ballad, and a big Balkan ballad at that. It even has the word ‘molitva’ in the lyrics (as co-written by Elena Risteska) which may or may not be a sign. It too would fit in well at Eurovision, and FOR GOD’S SAKE JAZ STOP RAMBLING AND TELL US WHAT YOU THINK OF IT!!!
Your wish is my command: I LOVE this, and I can safely say that Macedonia has delivered a JESC cracker yet again. From the second Doma starts, elevated instantly by Marija’s beautiful vocals, there’s a magical atmosphere afoot and touches of mysterious ethnicity woven in. I have goosebumps before the first chorus even drops. When it does, things are taken to another level of atmospheric, emotional and ethnic awesomeness (and I’m reminded of EXO’s Mama somehow…compare the choruses and tell me I’m not going crazy). I adore how majestic and statement this song is. If JESC 2018 was a jewelry store, Doma would be an ornate, gem-encrusted necklace rented out exclusively to royalty and Eleni Foureira (our queen). Truth be told, ornate statement pieces don’t win Junior Eurovision, and mature ethno-ballads like this (think Serbia 2015) are usually left behind at the halfway-ish mark of the scoreboard. But hey, that would be progress for poor Macedonia, who’ve been a little robbed for the last few years.
Sadly, I’m expecting Marija to be overshadowed by the likes of Armenia and France – fun, danceable entries that don’t have so much in common with 2017 winner Wings. Not to mention her main rival in Kazakhstan’s Daneliya. Still, if she is as amazing live as she is in studio, and puts on a spellbinding performance (lighting, or lack thereof, is v. important here), anything could happen. I’ll enjoy it, at least. Pre-performance and based on the power of the song alone, I’m going all in and handing Macedonia DOUZE POINTS!
For a brief but terrible time earlier this year, it looked like Ukraine wouldn’t be joining the JESC 2018 party. That would have left a huge pop-masterpiece-shaped hole in the lineup, so I’m glad they changed their mind (or stopped trolling us, one of the two). I say pop masterpiece because that’s exactly what we would have missed out on had Darina + Say Love not been part of Junior. You can find this song online at http://www.thebomb.com, guys. What a banger! It takes the subject matter of Anna Trincher’s Pochny z Sebe (Ukraine’s less poppy but still pretty decent entry from 2015) – in basic terms, humanity’s need to say yes to love and no to war – and presents it in a slick package that, like France’s entry, sits pretty on the fence between too junior and not junior enough.
There are two main things I love about Say Love (which I just did). Firstly, the fact that the song is super contemporary, but doesn’t sound like anything I’ve heard before. Secondly, how interesting it is – it’s one of those songs that grabs and hangs on to your interest as you wonder where it’s going. The mysterious edge and dynamic structure keep you on your toes, while the repetition of the chorus prevents it from sounding aimless. My absolute favourite part is Darina’s megaphone chant, and if she doesn’t appear on stage this weekend in the exact outfit from the music video, with that megaphone in her hand (looking like the pint-sized yet seriously fierce cheerleading coach of Mylène and Rosanne from JESC 2013) I will be disappointed.
If all goes according to plan, Anastasiya Baginska’s very respectable 7th place from 2017 should be outdone by Darina – but by how many places? I’ve seen Ukraine at the top of a heap of Youtube ranking videos, as I did with Russia last year, but I don’t think Say Love is quite going to get there as a winner. For starters, as we know, any girl who wants to win JESC these days must wear a white dress and perform a ballad. Plus I just don’t have The Feelings about it – that gut instinct that tells you which songs have a real shot at the trophy and which ones don’t. I can’t see the credits rolling over a reprise of this. But if I’m wrong, I won’t be unhappy. It has been a while since Ukraine’s last win, after all. 10 points.
And just like that/just in time, that’s all 20 Junior Eurovision songs reviewed by yours truly. Before I dramatically reveal my full ranking for the year, let’s take a look at the standings from this round:
- Macedonia (12)
- Ukraine (10)
- Albania (8)
- Italy (8)
- Ireland (7)
If you know me at all, you won’t be shocked to see the Balkan ballad on top – and I’m hoping to see it somewhere in that neighbourhood of success on Sunday night. Macedonia is closely followed by Ukraine and Albania, with Italy scoring a much lower 8 than Albania if that makes any sense. Ireland takes the wooden spoon today, but with 7 points that’s nothing for Taylor to worry about (because obviously he’s going to see this post, read it and take to heart…that’s not a delusional thought at all, Jaz).
And now (create your own drumroll, please), I can unveil my complete ranking of all 20 entries, based on my review scores from the last few weeks. All ties have been broken behind the scenes.
- Belarus (12)
- Macedonia (12)
- Armenia (12)
- Israel (12)
- Kazakhstan (10)
- France (10)
- Australia (10)
- The Netherlands (10)
- Ukraine (10)
- Russia (10)
- Poland (8)
- Albania (8)
- Georgia (8)
- Italy (8)
- Ireland (7)
- Malta (7)
- Wales (6)
- Azerbaijan (6)
- Serbia (5)
- Portugal (4)
Well, this has taught me that if your lowest score is a 4 and your 18th-favourite song out of 20 still gets 6 points, you must REALLY be enjoying the bunch of entries in question. I don’t think I’ve been this honestly generous with my points in my entire history of reviewing Eurovision-related music. Thank you Minsk!
Now I’ve showed you mine, you’re pretty much obligated to show me yours – so hit up that comments box and tell me a) how you rank the five songs I reviewed for this round, and b) what your full ranking looks like. You’ve got to have something to occupy the time between now and when JESC kicks off, right?
This is all the pre-show coverage you’re going to get from me in 2018 (I had more planned but life got in the way as usual). As I mentioned in the intro, if you want to see what I’m predicting for Sunday’s contest – including winners, losers and every scoreboard place in-between – head over to my Facebook, Twitter or Instagram (all @EurovisionByJaz) and I’ll post them on all three ASAP. Be sure to follow me on Twitter especially if you want to discuss the show during the show. I’m not above making jokes at the expense of children, if that helps – someone needs to toughen them up.
Just kidding. OR AM I?!?!?
See you on the other side of JESC 2018, when we have our 16th winner!
Wherever you are in the world and whatever time it is there, a) hello and b) thanks for coming back to read more of my Junior Eurovision 2018 reviews!
I’m squeezing them in at this point since the contest is happening this weekend…I know, it’s super shocking that I, Jaz, your hot mess of a Eurovision aficionado, am having issues getting things done on time. But once you’ve recovered from said shock, I’m going to shock you even more by getting straight into today’s round of reviews. Obviously this one includes the songs from Australia, France, Malta, Poland and Wales, so you might want to prepare yourself for all the girl power.
Keep scrollin’ on (Maltese wordplay intended) to see what I think of Jael, Angélina, Ela, Roksana and Manw’s JESC contributions and chances, as they take to the stage for the first time to rehearse. Could I be reviewing a potential winner here? Tell me what you think and how excited you are for Junior Eurovision (on a scale of 1 to almost peeing your pants) in the comments.
We’re back! It’s attempt no. 4 for us Aussies to win Junior Eurovision, and with our results reading better by the year (8th, 5th and 3rd so far) there’s a lot of pressure on Jael to do just that. Now, you can call me biased if you want – I won’t be able to deny it – but I really think we’re in with a shot this time. If not to go all the way, then to do pretty well for ourselves at the very least.
Champion is right there with Speak Up in terms of greatness (only as a power ballad, it’s got a different energy) and it leaves My Girls, and We Are especially, in its dust. Sounding a lot like Beyoncé’s Halo and featuring an arguably better chorus, it may be derivative for a song that’s advising us all to live like we’re original – but by-the-numbers pop is what Australia has delivered to JESC’s doorstep every time, and it’s continued to work in our favour (adult Eurovision = another story). Anyway, the lyrics are no more generic than the English verses/choruses of most of the other entries…or a lot of the lyrics in general if you Google Translate them. This is a song contest for kids we’re talking about, so uplifting messages about being yourself and shooting for the stars and stuff are always going to outnumber deep and meaningful musical ponderings re: the meaning of life and the inevitable existential crisis that hits you when you turn 13 (or was that just me?).
Besides, the real star attraction of this show is Jael herself – she’s got the vocal power of reigning Junior Champion (HA HA) Polina Bogusevich without the English pronunciation handicap. And this song is perfect for her voice. Those tones plus the majestic melody could equal a spine-tingling three minutes on the Minsk stage, assuming that Jael brings her vocal A-game when it counts and we don’t screw up, undercook or overdo her staging (I say we, but I’m taking zero responsibility if it happens). Australia hasn’t exactly been the best role model for live presentations at Junior, so I’m hoping the delegation has built on last year’s interesting-but-not-OTT production for Isabella. If they have, I don’t see how we couldn’t finish on the upper left side of the scoreboard. But like I said, I’m biased. 10 points.
Bonjour! Longtime JESC fans will remember that France had a fleeting affair with Eurovision’s younger sibling (which sounds wrong, but you know what I mean). It started in 2004 and ended in…well, 2004, when they sent the Frenchiest Song Ever™ to Lillehammer – Si En Voulait Bien by Thomas Pontier. Beginner’s luck and a generally great entry scored them 6th place, but they dropped out regardless and haven’t graced a JESC with their presence since. Until now, obviously. The question is, has that extended vacation been beneficial or has it put them out of touch with what Junior Eurovision is about these days?
For me, France was worth waiting for. Adorable Angélina and Jamais Sans Toi are EXACTLY what I want from a JESC package. She is so cute (and if her parents are inexplicably looking to put her up for adoption, I’ll take her for sure) with all the charm and confidence a kid needs to handle a big performance like the one she’ll be giving in Minsk. And the song is, like Mary Poppins, practically perfect in every way. It’s catchy, energetic and summery; the mix of languages is seamless; it’s contemporary; and it’s neither too junior nor too adult. Basically, all I can hear is the sound of boxes being ticked. France has done everything right with this whether it was on purpose or not, and I salute them for that. The only thing they could potentially mess up is the staging, and since Thomas’ song didn’t require anything but bare-bones presentation, all we can look to if we want to gauge their skills is adult Eurovision. Jamais Sans Toi is not unlike a kid version of Alma’s Requiem, with a similar energy, vibe and sound…and Alma’s staging was underwhelming. Let’s hope France learnt from it and are throwing some backing dancers Angélina’s way (not literally). At the very least they need to make sure she doesn’t get swallowed up by a big stage and/or dizzying aerial shots of Paris. I will be the prayer emoji in human form until I’ve seen this performance.
For now I’m going to wrap things up with a plot twist: in spite of everything I’ve just said, France isn’t currently right at the top of my JESC 2018 ranking. But that’s just testament to how epic this edition of the contest is. I’ve got Angélina about 7th as of right this second, and I’m still going to give her 10 points.
With two JESC trophies in their display cabinet and a bunch of other respectable results to their name, Malta shouldn’t be underestimated in this contest. Sure, I personally overestimated them last year, thinking that Dawra Tond was a possible/probable winner (when it eventually finished 9th…oops). But still, this is an island that gives Junior all they’ve got, every year. Ask me if I think they’ve done the same in 2018 and I’ll hesitate for five minutes before saying ‘I thiiiiink so?’.
Marchin’ On actually fits the mould of every Australian JESC entry ever more than it does previous Maltese songs – we Aussies are the lyrical cliché masters after all, and Ela belts out some big ones. ‘As one army we’ll give our all, fearless, not afraid to fall’? ‘Find the light that shines bright deep within’? You’d think countries with English as a main language could be more creative than that. But hey, I’m not here to criticise children (too much). Lyrics like those – and the grammatical disaster that is ‘Whether if you’re big or small’ – aside, there is something appealing about Marchin’ On overall. The melody is nice, the atmosphere is uplifting and the chorus is catchy and memorable. Ela is a great vocalist too, though she’ll be hard pressed to outdo the mind-blowing performances of Gaia Cauchi, Destiny Chukunyere and Christina Magrin in that department (I’m convinced that both Maltese and Georgian kids get deported if they can’t sing). There might be a bit of x-factor missing here, and in what has shaped up to be a super competitive contest, I don’t know if this has the steam to move ahead of six or eight other contenders. Yet I still have a sneaking suspicion Malta will do quite well in Minsk.
Assuming their staging is on point, the only obstacles to success would be a) the big bunch of contender countries I just mentioned, and b) Marchin’ On being kind of unsure of itself. It’s mid-tempo, not really a power ballad but definitely not a piano ballad, and missing a “moment” – Ela’s vocal gymnastics towards the end seem a bit desperate and tacked on just because she can pull them off. Okay, so maybe she won’t do that well – and I’ve talked myself out of a third Maltese win, I think – but there’s a possible spot for her on the lower left side of the scoreboard. Upper right at least. To clarify, my predicted range for Malta at this stage is 8th-13th, and my score for them is 7 points.
Poland is one country that’s made a cracking comeback to a Eurovision event – kind of like Bulgaria at adult Eurovision, but on a smaller scale (and with a little less success). They dropped out of JESC after two consecutive last places in 2003 and 2004, and didn’t return until 2016. Since then they’ve sent two stunning ballads and two sensational female soloists to the contest, with Alicja Rega achieving their best result ever last year (though I think Mój Dom deserved to be higher than 8th because HOLY KIELBASA, IT’S AMAZING!!!). It’s female soloist no. 3 for Poland in Minsk, but The Voice Kids winner Roksana isn’t packing a big ballad in her suitcase.
Funnily enough, when the song title was revealed I assumed Anyone I Want To Be was definitely going to be a ballad, and a cheesy one at that – but I was wrong. It’s actually hard to categorise this song (at least in one or two words) so I’m going to say it’s ‘contemporary radio-friendly pop with urban and rock influences and a whole lot of attitude’. So much attitude that Roksana’s almost too nice to pull it off, but I think she just manages to get away with it. I’m a big fan of this track in general – it’s catchy, fun and has some edge, making it totally age-appropriate but not unappealing to voters and jurors who are *ahem* a little way away from their childhood/teenage years, like myself. I especially love the pre-chorus and any of the parts that are in Polish. That leads me to my only real issue with AIWTB, which is the pretty messy mix of languages. There’s English and Polish all over the place, and it makes the whole thing feel less than cohesive. I would have preferred the entire song to be in Polish, at least up until the last chorus (a more traditional trend of shoehorning English into LOTE entries). But the song is good enough in every other way for me to ignore the bilingual elephant in the room.
It’s great to see Poland doing something different after the last few ballads they’ve sent, without reverting to dated pop or the lacklustre stuff that saw them finish dead last twice back in the early Junior Eurovision days. I just hope they can stage this in the right way, because it needs something less basic than the ‘stand there and sing in front of a pretty LED background’ formula that worked fine for Nie Zapomnij and Mój Dom. I’m thinking backing dancers, lots of colour and possibly the theft of the Netherlands’ costumes from 2016. It will be interesting to see what is done with this, but I have high hopes. We know Roksana can sing – you don’t win The Voice by wailing like we all did when Finland didn’t qualify to the ESC final last year – and she’s singing a very good song. So, if the performance is in keeping with singer and song quality, there’s no reason why Poland couldn’t potentially equal or better that 8th place from Tbilisi. I do prefer Mój Dom – that’s a douze pointer for me – but AIWTB is worth a round of applause and a top 10 result. 8 points.
After Kazakhstan, Wales’ RSVP to the JESC 2018 party was the biggest jaw-dropper of the year. There’d been rumours of participation in the past, but it was far from being a done deal that they’d compete in either JESC or the ESC…until now, when anything is possible (and I mean ANYTHING, in a world where Bulgaria can just up and withdraw from Eurovision at the top of their game). So here we are with Berta by Manw, a song that has (thankfully) been revamped and is ready to represent Wales – if not win, or even come close – for the first time.
Now, I’m all about that ‘the more the merrier’ mentality, but I was hoping Wales would make more of a splash with their debut when the day finally came. Now it’s here, I am a little disappointed (particularly when I think about what Kazakhstan is bringing to the table – i.e. a song that could win the entire contest). There’s nothing majorly wrong with Berta. It’s a nice song actually: dreamy and soothing, with a chorus that makes Welsh sound very pretty (because truth be told, it’s not the prettiest language on the planet). And Manw’s voice is perfectly suited to this type of song. But in terms of competition songs that can attract enough attention to rise above the rest, it’s missing something. Drama? A catchier hook? Variety? I’m not sure, but I know it’s not bringing its musical A-game. I can’t imagine Berta outshining the likes of L.E.V.O.N, Your Voice, Ózińe Sen, Samen, Say Love…I could carry on, but that would make Manw feel bad if she miraculously happened to read this.
In all fairness, I have been wrong about this kind of thing before – and there are always songs that do far better in JESC than expected – but I will be in a state of shock for months if Wales makes the top 5, or even the top 10. Either way, they should come back next year and give it another go, because it’s hard to understand exactly what works at Junior Eurovision on the first try. As an Australian, I can admit that we didn’t get it initially, and even now we’re still figuring it out. And Wales has to be commended for putting on a national final in their attempt to figure it out, and ending up with an entry that’s decent if not dangerous. I like Berta and I will listen to it post-show, but I won’t be voting for it. 6 points.
15 down, 5 to go! With another group of this year’s participating songs critiqued by yours truly, here’s the mini-ranking for this round:
- France (10)
- Australia (10)
- Poland (8)
- Malta (7)
- Wales (6)
As much as the biased fan inside me wants to put Australia on top, I have to bump Angélina above Jael by a croissant crumb because Jamais Sans Toi is just so infectious, fun and summery (and as we’re heading into summer here in Australia, I guess I’m in a sunny mood). Poland is sitting pretty in the middle with a strong 8 points, followed fairly closely by Malta and Wales. I’ve mentioned again and again how high-quality I think this competition is, and the fact that my least-liked song of the day is one I still enjoy and can give a reasonable score to is proof of that.
How about you? Is this 16th edition of Junior Eurovision floating your boat more buoyantly than ever before, or do you reckon we’ve had better contests in the past? Which of today’s reviewed entries is your personal favourite, and could any of them win the whole thing? Let me know below.
NEXT TIME By process of elimination, you’ll know which countries I’m yet to review – and in a few days’ time the wait will be over! Step right up Albania, Ireland, Italy, Macedonia and Ukraine, because I’m shining my spotlight on all of you…and y’all know I believe that honesty is the best policy.
See you then!
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:
- Armenia (12)
- The Netherlands (10)
- Russia (10)
- Georgia (8)
- 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.
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 Huseynova, Daniel Yastremski, Noam Dadon, Daneliya 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!
- Belarus (12)
- Israel (12)
- Kazakhstan (10)
- Azerbaijan (6)
- 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.
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…
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.
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),
THE EBJ EUROVISION 2018 REVIEWS: Round 8 (Belarus, Montenegro, Norway, Russia, Sweden + Switzerland)
Well, I did it! 43 reviews down, ZERO to go.
As you may/may not have noticed, I didn’t start my Eurovision reviews this year until mid-April. Over the past 28 days or so, I’ve worked my butt off and written an average of 1.5 reviews every single day – in between going to work, cooking enough food to keep myself alive and occasionally interacting with other humans socially. Sure, I haven’t ironed for a month, my floordrobe has to be seen to be believed, and I have unpaid bills stacked up to the ceiling…but Eurovision is priority number one. Everything else can wait.
I hope at least one of you has enjoyed my 2018 ramblings. If you’ve enjoyed them so much you want to go back and read them again before the contest kicks off – or if you’ve found me for the first time and want to catch up – here are all the links you’ll need for fast access:
- Round 1 feat. Armenia, Cyprus, Hungary, Malta + The Netherlands
- Round 2 feat Azerbaijan, Estonia, Poland, Romania + Spain
- Round 3 feat. Albania, Finland, Greece, Lithuania + Moldova
- Round 4 feat. Australia, France, Georgia, Ireland + Latvia
- Round 5 feat. Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Portugal + Ukraine
- Round 6 feat. Belgium, Czech Republic, Germany, Israel, Macedonia + San Marino
- Round 7 feat. Denmark, Iceland, Italy, Serbia, Slovenia + the United Kingdom
And then there were six. Before we dive headfirst into Eurovision week, I need to talk about Belarus, Montenegro, Norway, Russia, Sweden and Switzerland. Is there a douze-worthy song up the sleeve of Alekseev, Vanja, Alexander, Yulia, Benjamin or Zibbz? Maybe there’s a few, as far as I’m concerned. If you want to know what I think and how I scored their entries, keep reading – and for the final time, scroll for the poll to vote for your favourite!
My thoughts Sometimes rumours become truths, and that’s how Alekseev ended up representing Ukraine at Eurov…wait. That’s not right. It could have been Alekseev flying the blue-and-yellow flag this year, had he not pulled out of the Ukrainian selection to try his luck in less merciless Belarus. That’s not where the drama stopped (it practically went on Forever). But, many debates in the Eurovision community and withdrawals by fellow Eurofest contestants over the age of this song (i.e. was it eligible to go to the ESC as per the EBU rules and regs) later, Alekseev is in Lisbon after all. And he’s there armed with the original melody and English lyrics of a Russian-language song that was definitely publicly performed prior to September 1st. That date rule is a bendy one, isn’t it? And I’m down with it on this occasion, because I freaking LOVE Forever. This song is everything I want in an old-school Eurovision power ballad. It’s dynamic, dramatic in that classic Eastern European way (Work Your Magic comes to mind as a reference point), has a massive chorus which in turn has two massive money notes in it (which spawned the iconic Twitter account Alekseev’s Mouth) and, like a few other songs this year, takes me back to the ESC glory days of 2004-2008. The octave change in the first verse is an attention-grabbing opening to the song, one that’s hypnotic in its bold, loud moments, and spellbinding in its softer moments. And the melody throughout is haunting enough to give me the shivers. Now, I know what you’re thinking: This is clearly not at the forefront of modern music and isn’t exactly a masterpiece, so why am I making it out to be The Best Song Ever? Well, I don’t have a good answer to that. All I know is that if you could get Eurovision songs delivered like pizza, and I ordered an epic lights-and-shadows power ballad with a sprinkling of cheese, Forever is what I’d expect to be delivered to my door. The only things I’d pick off it, if it were a pizza, are a few questionable lyrics. ‘No need to worry, rain falling down, it’s our happiest story and there’s no one around’ ain’t the stuff of lyrical legends. I’m also bamboozled by Alekseev’s ability to blast his way through Let’s Get It Started by the Black Eyed Peas, in English without any trace of an accent (for his Voice Ukraine audition….you MUST YouTube it!), despite the fact that a few years later his singing English is heavily accented. That’s what makes me wish, since the EBU would probably have allowed it, that he was singing this song as Navsegda on Tuesday night. Not that anyone’s going to be listening to what’s coming out of his (Twitter-famous) mouth when he’s got a BED OF BLOODY ROSES protruding from his back. If the sight of that is as laughable as the press are telling us (us = me ‘cause I don’t watch rehearsals), Belarus are on the borderline of qualification. I suspect they might be sacrificed in this deadly semi, and that will upset me forevAAAAAAAAAaaaaaaaaaah.
2017 VS 2018? I wasn’t a huge fan of Naviband’s song (don’t hate me), so 2018.
My score 10.5
My thoughts I realise that anything Montenegro sent to the ESC straight after Space would have seemed like a stark contrast – but to go for a majestic Balkan ballad, right off the back of a song that referred to wet dreams, is a plot twist and a half. Bringing us the best possible Montenegrin option (their NF was pretty shocking) is Vanja, and if Inje wasn’t missing the magic ingredient that makes a Balkan ballad sensational (Željko Joksimović as composer) I’d be praising the Eurovision gods for its presence in Portugal. As it is, I’m kind of feeling it. It’s a slow-moving, slow-burning number that doesn’t quite explode into a climax worth waiting for (to use Slavko-approved language) but feels grand anyway. If Lejla by Hari Mata Hari is a Chanel, Inje is a Wal-Mart…but that’s only by comparison. Still, I normally go so (dancing Italian) ape over big Balkan ballads, I was wondering why exactly I couldn’t go crazy over this one. I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s due to what isn’t there rather than what is – because what is there is adequate, if not remarkable. It’s slightly too slow-paced to whip up excitement; the melody of the chorus is simplistic when I personally prefer my BBs to be extra-rhythmic; and there are times when I could call it boring, even though I don’t want to. I guess I want the whole thing to level up. Like last year, when I loved the camptastic Space but wanted more from Slavko’s performance (wind/dry ice/a horde of hot, half-naked, oiled-up male dancers seductively waving huge, feathered fans), I like Inje, but I’m asking more of it than it wants to give. I want more drama, more atmosphere and more complexity (I’m very greedy, I know). I’m waiting now to see if the performance fills in some of the gaps – maybe when I’m watching it, I’ll get the spine-tingles I so desire. Or not, as Montenegro’s had as many staging misses as they have hits. They do have a capable, confident performer in their corner, which is a giant plus. Vanja may not be in the same smouldering category as Željko Joksimović, or be quite as compelling as Knez (and unlike Knez, is not an expert at making doves disappear and sawing people in half) but he holds his own. And he’s surprisingly hilarious on social media: a fact that may not help him succeed in the contest, but has won him a lot of admirers thanks to his snappy Inje-hater clapbacks. Vanja? More like VanJAAASS. Because he’s such a dope dude, I regret to predict a DNQ yet again for Montenegro, even knowing that every time they’ve sent a Balkan ballad in the past they have made it to the final. Third time unlucky, I reckon. This song would be a nice addition to the final 26, so if I’m wrong, I won’t complain.
2017 VS 2018? The disco-dance power and smuttiness of Space wins.
My score 7
My thoughts Any Eurofans out there who thought ESC record-holder Rybak wouldn’t end up representing Norway this year were very naïve. I know, because I was one of them. That was in spite of his irresistible performance of That’s How You Write A Song winning me over, after I’d already made the most drastic change-of-mind possible on the song itself. It went a little something like this: Listen No. 1 (with high hopes): ‘What the HELL is THIS?!?!? It’s TRASH, is what it is! You should be ASHAMED of yourself, Alexander!!!’. I was so disappointed, I could have cried myself to sleep that night (but didn’t ‘coz I’m a grown-ass woman and pulled myself together). Then came Listen No. 2, my reaction to which was (inexplicably): ‘Holy crap, this is AMAZING!!! I have never known the true meaning of musicianship until this moment!’. Okay, so I’ve dramatised that reaction a tiny bit to show you how much of a 180-degree turn I did. But boy, did I change my tune. I can’t even remember why I was so appalled in the first place…maybe because the song is a humungous throwback to an era that isn’t yet retro-fashionable again. I no longer care about that, and I definitely don’t care that Alex’s instructions for writing a song are wildly inaccurate. I’m too caught up in the bubblegum fun of the mid-tempo disco music, simple lyrics that make for a karaoke dream song, inevitable violin solo, and showstopping final third. I even love the scatting…what have I become? The onscreen scribbles may have been borrowed from Francesca Michielin, but they’re used more interactively á la Bulgaria in Kyiv, and look great on TV. If you’re thinking I need a reality check and should throw in some negatives to prove I haven’t gone completely insane…too bad. I swear, if anyone other than Rybak was peddling this track, I wouldn’t have come around. It’s not because he is who he is, with that Eurovision legacy, but because he has the ability to sell the song like his life depends on it. And I’m not just buying it – I’m throwing fistfuls of kroner at him while screaming hysterically. He instructs us to ‘believe in it’ in the THYWAS chorus, and he seems to practice what he preaches, pouring boundless energy and charm into his live performances. And he still looks so youthful (more on that in a second) that his childlike enthusiasm is infectious, not creepy. The thing I do find annoying about this, Alexander, is that you couldn’t wait another twelve months to make your (possibly) triumphant comeback TEN years after Fairytale. Nine years just bugs me. Also annoying (as it doesn’t apply to me), how has this guy barely aged, when he was 23 at the time of his win and is about to turn 32? Potential humanoid cyborg alert! More importantly, I might have to issue a potential two-time Eurovision winner alert while I’m at it. I can’t believe I’m even saying it, but Norway’s shift to 2nd in the odds after Rybak’s first rehearsal show how dangerous he could be. A safe top 10 result is more likely, but I am yet to discount this entry from the first-place fight.
2017 VS 2018? It’s another case of ‘I love them both equally and could never choose!’.
My score 10
My thoughts When Russia gives Eurovision their all, they go BIG (baking sweet treats live on stage and everything). When they really want to win the contest, it’s crystal clear. The only thing big about Yulia’s 2018 entry is the papier-mâché mountain she’s been forced to sing it on top of (the hills are alive…with the sound of mediocre music). And what’s crystal-clear about I Won’t Break is that, while Russia did good by keeping their promise to Yulia after last year’s Drama (drama so sizeable it deserves a capital D), they didn’t do good by her when they came up with this as her comeback track. It goes without saying that this song runs rings around last year’s almost-entry Flame Is Burning. But that’s not saying much, and unfortunately, plenty of the same problems remain. Once again we’ve been presented with a song that is a) unexciting and uninspired, b) belongs in a different decade, c) features wannabe-inspirational lyrics about strength and resilience and how there is light even in the darkest of places, blah blah blah, and d) in a language that Yulia is obviously not 100% comfortable with and cannot clearly pronounce with genuine feeling (which she shouldn’t be expected to). All of this is just on a smaller, much more bearable scale. I mean, I can sit and listen to I Won’t Break without wanting to punch a hole in the wall. But it’s still light years away from making a Best of Russia at Eurovision play list on Spotify. The beat is good, and I like the melody and the way it develops. But the lyrics are vague and clichéd, and overall the song is just not that interesting – it’s one of those you can imagine playing in the background of an Olympics montage (in this case, moments in which athletes triumphed over adversity) and that’s rarely a sign of imminent ESC success (Heroes aside). My biggest issue of all with this entry is that insistence – by whom, I’m not sure – that Yulia sings in English. It’s not her comfort zone. But for all I know, she was the one who insisted on it. I have to wonder, after trying so hard to win in Stockholm and losing to Ukraine, of all places (and Australia, but I don’t think Sound of Silence bothered them much compared to 1944), what happened to Russia’s A-game? Did Sergey accidentally leave it in the stage wings of Globen, where it was picked up on the sly by Christer Björkman and added to Sweden’s already stellar Eurovision toolkit? With the right song and the right approach, Yulia could be portraying Russia at their ESC best, and even though I Won’t Break makes Flame Is Burning sound…well, just as bad as it was, it still only gives her half a chance of success, if that. Yet we know Russia can do amazing things on the Eurovision stage. They certainly have the funds for it. I’m sure that mountain cost a pretty penny, but it wasn’t a wise investment piece. Is it a gimmick that will help them reach the lofty peak of the final, or is that 100% qualification record of theirs about to be destroyed? I can’t decide, but this must be the most dangerously close to a DNQ that they’ve ever been. I want Lazarev-level Russia back next year, please.
2017 VS 2018? There is nothing that isn’t better than Flame Is Burning.
My score 7
My thoughts Sweden may not be alphabetically last in this round of reviews, but this is my 43rd review for the year – i.e. I wrote it after the Swiss one below. I decided to save Sverige for as long as possible, like I was eating a particularly delicious slice of chokladkaka and leaving all of the frosting until last. Why? Well, if you’ve read literally any of my posts before, you’ve probably picked up on my Swedophile status: they’re my favourite Eurovision nation, I speak a fair bit of Svenska and am always teaching myself more, and I’ve traveled to Stockholm twice in the past two years (for the ESC in 2016 and for the Melodifestivalen final in 2017). Needless to say, I’m biased as heck when it comes to the country’s contest entries, and you won’t be shocked to discover that Dance You Off is my #1 song of this year’s comp. Some Eurofans hate it and think it’s trash; others aren’t bothered either way; and then there’s people like me who think it’s INCREDIBLE and actually cried a little when Benjamin won Melfest in March (okay, so I might be the only person who cried). I understand why the song doesn’t appeal to everyone, but I’ll tell you why it appeals to me. Firstly, Benjamin’s musical stylings are right up my street, and I love every song he’s released prior to this – Do You Think About Me, One More Time and last year’s Melfest entry Good Lovin’ in particular tap into the polished, slick and summery dance-pop I have a weakness for. Then there’s the resemblance between Dance You Off and two cracking songs by another of my favourite artists, The Weeknd – Can’t Feel My Face and I Feel It Coming. Those two songs and DYO all take inspiration from the late 80s and early 90s, and mesh those influences with late 2000s pop trends to create effortless cool. THEN there’s my tendency to fangirl over anyone who can whip out some falsetto and smooth dance moves simultaneously (I am aware that Benjamin is too young for me and has insanely hairy Italian arms, but I can still admire his talents, right?). You can add to that simple, but at times downright genius lyrics – ‘Treated you good, we were gold, I dug you like you were treasure’ = OH YES. Last but in no way least, there’s the fan-bloody-tastic staging concept that sees Benjamin bring a music video to life on a stage within a stage. Visually, this is so impressive – the first time you see it especially, but I’ve watched this performance more than any other and I’m still in awe. Unfortunately, because Sweden is criticised more harshly than any other Eurovision country if they don’t have a surefire, mass appeal winner on their hands, I feel this entry is receiving more hate than it deserves. But in a nice act of revenge, it will probably do better than a lot of people think. Don’t discount the fact that many people will see Dance You Off in all its light-up glory for the first time during Thursday’s semi, and even if they don’t like the song, the staging is easily spectacular enough to suck up votes like a vacuum. When Sweden inevitably reaches the final, they might not do quite as well as they have the past two years (though I believe this should do better than 5th) but there’s a top 10 place with their name on it. I hope that some day soon, Sweden stops being punished by Eurovision fans for their streak of success (even if it’s for selfish reasons because I’m sick of seeing hate comments directed at my favourite songs). Regardless…Team Ingrosso, NU KÖR VI!
2017 VS 2018? 2018, but they were both jättebra.
My score 12
My thoughts Ahh, Switzerland. The land of Lys Assia (RIP), excellent cheese and chocolate (what more do you need?), and consistent choosers of the best possible Eurovision entry from their NF. Sadly, they’re rarely rewarded for that last national trait – maybe because their best offering can’t quite compete with the best offerings from most other countries (harsh but true). The Swiss actually had two awesome, you-better-pick-that songs in this year’s Entscheidungsshow, and one of them was indeed Stones. There’s something about this song that is just plain cool and very likeable. It’s Americana-inspired soft rock that’s 100% authentic, 0% artificial – unlike the other Americana song we have in Lisbon via the Netherlands. Corinne and Stefan do spend half their time in Los Angeles, so there’s the explanation for that. It’s brimming with attitude, and the lyrics are definitely on track to being my favourite of the year – they’re especially tight in the chorus, but original and well-rhymed all the way through. The only part I’m not a fan of is the precursor to the final chorus, where it’s rammed down our throats that these two ‘ain’t standing alone’. It’s a little cheesy and not on par with the rest of the song, but that last chorus and the mic-drop ending later, and all is pretty much forgiven. Even though I’m an Australian whose studying days are over, this song makes me want to go on college spring break just so I can attend a party feat. warm beer in those classic red cups, and hopefully scream-sing it at the top of my lungs before jumping off a balcony into someone’s swimming pool. I’m not going to, but dang, the pull is strong! I love that vibe. Stones in general is laid-back and relaxed but has bite, and it’s a good combo. It’s not right up there with my most beloved songs of 2018 – not right now, at least – but as I’ve said before, there are only a few I truly dislike this year and this one is well above those in my ranking. Of course, if Switzerland had sent Compass by Alejandro Reyes, they’d be firmly inside my top 10 and wouldn’t have to worry about being booted out. I’d also be more confident of a qualification then, but with Zibbz I’ve been back and forth. I feel like they can, and therefore might be sacrificed from semi numero uno. There are so many powerful acts and big-hitters up against them, and Switzerland does not have a great recent track record (they last qualified in Copenhagen). However, I have heard good things about their rehearsals, and with this year looking more unpredictable by the minute, I wouldn’t be shocked to see them slip through. It’ll be 9th-14th in the semi, I think – and if it’s 9th or 10th, the final result is likely to be lower than left-side scoreboard. Just being involved in Saturday night, though, would be a step closer to leveling up for a country that’s been sent home early three years in a row.
2017 VS 2018? 2017 by a Stones-throw (my god, I’m hilarious).
My score 8
And that is that! THANK THE LORDI. Before I go and have a lie down because this race to smash out 43 reviews in a month has exhausted me beyond belief, I’ll give you a look at today’s ranking:
- Sweden (12)
- Belarus (10.5)
- Norway (10)
- Switzerland (8)
- Russia (7)
- Montenegro (7)
In news that will surprise no one, Sweden tops my list with an easily-earned douze. Belarus and Norway are not far behind. This was a generally high-scoring lot of songs, and I’m glad I got to end on a positive note.
If you’re wondering when I’ll unveil the entire EBJ ranking for 2018, wonder no more: it’s happening ASAP. Definitely before the first semi final, and probably alongside my predictions for SF1 – so keep an eye on my social media over the next few days if you don’t want to miss a thing (I’m @EurovisionByJaz everywhere).
Now it’s time for you to do your Eurovisual duty:
Feel free to post your personal ranking of all six – or even all 43 songs in the Lisbon line-up – in the comments. If you have thoughts on anything ESC-related, basically, I’m happy to hear them.
Okay, I’m seriously going to go pass out now. I’ll be back before it’s too late (a.k.a. before that first semi begins) with my promised predictions. Who’s in and who’s out? At this point, I’m still confused about that, so I’ll get back to you…
Welcome to Eurovision week – it’s going to be a great one!!