Category Archives: Reviews

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

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

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

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

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

 

In album tracklist order…

 

Behave

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

 

I Wouldn’t Know

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

 

I’ll Be Fine Somehow

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

 

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

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

 

Spotlights

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

 

Dance You Off

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

 

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:

  1. Sweden (12)
  2. Belarus (10.5)
  3. Norway (10)
  4. Switzerland (8)
  5. Russia (7)  
  6. 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!!

 

 

 

 

THE EBJ EUROVISION 2018 REVIEWS: Round 7 (Denmark, Iceland, Italy, Serbia, Slovenia + the United Kingdom)

We’re nearly there, guys. It’s May, and the first live semi final of Eurovision 2018 is on Tuesday. TUESDAY!!!!!

I’ve never been so terrified at how quickly time is passing and so keen for a little bit more to pass at the same time. I’ve also never been so confused about which songs are going where, especially in SF1. But the chances of me embarrassing myself by getting 5 or 6 qualifiers correct is a discussion for another day.

Right now, I’m taking care of business by squeezing in the last few rounds of reviews for the year. This is the second last installment, and it involves ginger beards, cinnamon rolls and candy-coloured hair. Sweet. So who’s got the goods and who’s got some explaining to do out of Rasmussen, Ari, Ermal & Fabrizio, Sanja Ilić & Balkanika, Lea and SuRie? That’s subjective, but keep reading if you want my opinion!

 

  

My thoughts Everyone out there who’s been dreaming of the day Game of Thrones would meet Eurovision: this is your year! Okay, so maybe Rasmussen’s Higher Ground is more Vikings than GoT, but I really wanted to joke about the possibility of Denmark using gratuitous nudity and decapitations in their staging concept (in reality, it’s Belarus who’ve gone gratuitous and gruesome). What Denmark has done is let a Melodifestivalen reject represent them at the contest – an “honour” shared with Azerbaijan in 2016, and heaven knows how many other countries in heaven knows how many other years. But it’s not all bad, because a Melfest discard will still be half-decent at least, and this particular one is more than that. It’s definitely more adventurous than the Danish entries we’re used to (in style, performance, and in the sense that it screams ‘epic sea shanty!’ and begs for us all to wave our cutlasses in the air like we just don’t care). Combining Gregorian-esque chants with a pounding beat, an interesting time signature and a big ol’ belter of a chorus, it’s reminiscent of Himmel I Hav by Roger Pontare (of Melfest…go figure); only Higher Ground is more current, and more accessible by way of being in English. Even so, you wouldn’t hear a song like it anywhere outside of the ESC bubble or a movie soundtrack. To me, that’s part of the charm. There are a lot of layers to this song as far as production goes (you might say it’s as deep as the deep blue sea) with instrumentals that are rich and soaring, and powerful vocals from Rasmussen. I love the way his hair (and beard) blows in the manufactured breeze conjured up by our beloved wind machines – this song needs weather, though I don’t suggest Rasmussen pulls a Flashdance by drenching himself in water while wearing a leotard that leaves little to the imagination. My favourite thing about this track is how quickly it creates an atmosphere. Electricity is crackling in the air pretty much from the second it starts, and that’s hard to ignore – unlike a few Danish entries from recent years. I also have to commend the fact that there isn’t another song competing in this contest quite so suited to the nautical theme and ship-inspired stage. Congrats to Denmark for choosing so wisely, even if it was accidental. At the end of the day, I’m pleased with Higher Ground if not impressed by it. Anja Nissen was a hard act to follow for me, as someone (in the minority, I know) obsessed with her and Where I Am. That remains a song more stylistically Jaz than this one. Still, HG is a solid effort and stands out in the field. It’s got a reasonable shot of qualifying, but if it does I doubt we’ll see it on the left side of the scoreboard. Denmark still has a way to go before I start dropping the douze on them and calling them potential winners.

2017 VS 2018? I’ve fangirled over Anja too much to be disloyal, so 2017 it is.

My score 7

 

 

My thoughts Last round, I said that the Czech Republic had glowed the heck up in the space between Eurovision 2017 and Eurovision 2018. Flip the script, and you have Iceland – a country that has willingly swapped the incredible, why-the-eff-didn’t-she-qualify ice queen Svala and her Scandipop masterpiece Paper for….ugh. How do I even describe Our Choice without having to shove my life savings into the swear jar? I guess first off, I have to get one thing straight: I absolutely adore Ari. The Nathan Trent of 2018, he is a precious and über-talented human who deserves a brilliant song to represent Iceland with. It’s a massive shame that what he gets to represent them with is the musical equivalent of squishy cheese, vintage 1990. Seriously, this song sounds like it predates its own performer (Ari was born in 1998…let that sink in and horrify you if you think late 90s babies should still be in diapers). It puts Boggie’s Wars For Nothing, a similarly saccharine wannabe charity song, on the same level as We Are The World and Do They Know It’s Christmas? While there’s literally nothing I like about the song, the lyrics well and truly are the worst aspect. It’s 2018, we have entries likeToy and Dance You Off feat. razor-sharp lyrics, and Iceland thinks that lame lines like ‘There’s always a choice we can make to help and to heal in different ways’ and ‘Inside we’re all the same’ are acceptable? NOPE. Granted, Pollapönk got away with ‘Inside we’re the same’ in 2014, but that was a message song not originally written in hieroglyphics on a stone tablet by Ancient Egyptians. I think the credited songwriter here is trying to pull a fast one on us by pretending Our Choice was penned this century. I can make a concession given that the Icelandic NF Söngvakeppnin was very lacklustre this year. But regardless, I’m mystified as to how this topped the lot (Aron Hannes + Golddigger = far superior). I suppose Ari’s puppy-dog eyes, strong voice and ability to sell the song to some degree (not 100% – he ain’t Superman) must have had something to do with the win. It’s safe to say that is the only song contest this bland, stale ballad will be winning. PLEASE FORGIVE ME, ARI! It’s not you, it’s the song. And as if the signs for it going nowhere weren’t clear enough, Our Choice was lumped with the Slot of Death (no. 2) in the Semi of Death. The best possible outcome for Iceland this year is to not finish last on Tuesday night, and even that’s an ambitious goal. If Ari had released his song as an actual charity single to raise money for the homeless (thirty years ago), it might have done some good. But at a highly-competitive song contest in 2018, he’s just preaching to the non-converted.

2017 VS 2018? Bring back Svala (or give Ari something reasonable to work with).

My score 2.5

 

 

My thoughts There are two ways I’ve reacted to Italian entries lately: I fall in love with them immediately (grande amore!), or I think ‘hmm’ at first only to fall in love after three or four listens. What I always think is that Italian music is classy AF – unlike myself – and has its own unmistakeable thing going on. All of that applies to Ermal and Fabrizio’s Non Mi Avete Fatto Niente…except the instant enamour bit, because this was a song that snuck up on me with its brilliance, as opposed to smacking me in the face with it while blowing a vuvuzela and yelling ‘VIVA ITALIA!’. On first listen I found it too complex, too wordy and not hooky enough to remember. I think I must have had a headache at the time too, because Fabrizio’s insanely gravelly voice was up there with nails down a blackboard on the ‘Dear Lord, Make It Stop!’ scale. I looked up the translation of the lyrics; felt no change (I mentioned in the last round that I’m a soulless witch – Eurovision’s own Ebenezer Scrooge). Listened to it again; a slightly higher opinion of it. Listened to it again – to cut a long and boring story short – and BAM, just like that I was head over heels. And I don’t think it’s just a crush or a phase. I’m in this for the long haul, so put a ring on it, Italy! The complexity of this song is now something I appreciate about it: the melody and phrasing isn’t clear-cut and there’s no hooks that have been shoehorned in purely to make people dance, cry or headbang. The wordiness is one of those classic Italian musical tropes, and I feel like it’s in keeping with Ermal and Fabrizio having so much to say. And as for the lack of memorability I thought NMAFN had before…well, that’s probably still the case for a lot of first-time listeners, but I can’t get it out of my head now. The message is getting to me more these days, and I applaud the substance of the subject matter. That meaningfulness, combined with the beautiful guitar work, amazing chorus in which Italian has never sounded better, and contrasting smooth-edged/rough-edged vocals of the duo (that I understand now balance each other out, yin-yang style) makes for an overall impression of SI, SI, SI. Sure, it took a while for me to reach this state of obsession – which may not bode well for Italy’s contest chances – but good things come to those who wait. Speaking of this in a competition context, I have to come full circle and say ‘hmm’. Will Europe (and Australia) get this? Can the anti-war, anti-terrorism message be conveyed strongly enough via staging in three minutes to affect and pull focus in a 26–song final? One in which many of the other songs will be more instantly memorable and potentially overshadow Italy’s? Sadly, I doubt it. Italy was the overwhelming fave in 2017 (until the last minute) and ended up 6th. Unless this flips those fortunes, as current 10th favourite to win I see it ending up far lower. But I love it so much (finally), I’m hoping to be proven wrong.

2017 VS 2018? Anti-evil beats evolution – 2018.

My score 10

 

 

My thoughts There are a few songs in the Lisbon fam that are ESC throwbacks, and I love it. Taking me back in time to the mid/late 2000s are the likes of Belarus, Greece and Serbia (obviously, or I wouldn’t have mentioned this at the start of their review). Ethnic to the extreme with a Eurodance beat, and partly performed by a strangely attractive bald yet bearded dude? Hvala da, Slovenia joke intended. There’s no question Nova Deca could have slipped seamlessly into the line-up of the Istanbul or Helsinki contests (it would have been a great host entry in Belgrade too, no disrespect to Oro) but I’m happy it’s here in 2018 adding retro variety to the show. It’s striking from the second it begins, when the wailing (I’m sorry, but I don’t know how else to describe it) puts the ethno in ethnopop. Just when you think you’re in for 180 seconds of traditional Serbian folk music, DAT BEAT kicks in and promises much more – not that I would have been mad about a totally traditional Serbian song, especially after last year’s mostly Swedish production. Good energy, an anthemic quality and a catchy chorus (a key ‘Woohoo!’ requirement for me) fill the rest of the running time, and I have zero complaints about any of it. I’m not sure what else to say – sometimes you just like something and you can’t put into (that many) words why. I will admit that this is not a song anyone’s likely to call ‘so 2018’. But I don’t care. It’s another one you’d never stumble upon outside of Eurovision (or at least outside of the Balkans) which is one of the things I love about it. I’m sure the huge Serbian population here in Australia will respond to this positively, dancing up a SuRie storm. Whether or not that translates into votes, we’ll see. I do think Serbia will struggle for a final spot again, and to be honest my jaw will drop a little if Balkanika are announced as qualifiers – in a good way. Nova Deca would be a fantastic song to have in the final program, since no matter what it follows or precedes it will be different. And I think Serbia needs some encouragement to start sending ethno-fusion songs to Eurovision on a more regular basis, because when they do, they do it very well. They always get the Jaz tick of approval, anyway.

2017 VS 2018? 2018. Easy choice.

My score 8.5

 

 

My thoughts Pink hair, don’t care. That’s Lea Sirk (and her Portuguese twin Cláudia Pascoal), repping Slovenia with a song that makes last year’s On My Way sound even more passé than it actually was. First things first, I’m still pissed that BQL were knocked back again at EMA with another amazing Maraaya creation. I sincerely hope their victory day will come. In the meantime, we have Hvala, Ne!, a song I have quite the like/dislike relationship with. Do the good things outweigh the bad, IMO? Let’s see. Positives: It’s contemporary and radio-friendly; it has attitude; it’s in Slovene when the temptation to switch to the English version would have been high; and Lea is a solid performer and vocalist. The NF performance was simple but effective too, so if they’ve replicated it in a way that fills the bigger ESC stage, I’ll be happy. Negatives: It’s kind of flat and monotonous; the noise in the chorus that punctuates ‘Hvala ne’ sounds like a smoke alarm having a nervous breakdown, and I am not here for it; and Lea’s NF outfit was super unflattering (it looks like she’s wearing something similar for Eurovision, and I do not approve). Okay, so it seems I’m leaning towards the angel on my shoulder rather than the devil on the other one re: Hvala, Ne! But at the same time, the song doesn’t ignite enough passion in me – in a yay or nay way – to make me want to vote for it. And I suspect I’m not the only person thinking this. There aren’t any ‘wow’ moments to speak of, and Lea’s position in the running order isn’t too favourable – Montenegro before her, while not the best Balkan ballad ever, is grander; and Ukraine after her? Well, they could destroy any impression Slovenia leaves like it’s a scrap of paper left on top of Melovin’s flaming piano. I can see Slovenia finishing in the 11th-14th bracket in SF2, but no higher. If I’m right, I won’t be glad to see the back of Lea and her amazing fairy floss hair, but I won’t miss her song in the final a whole lot either.

2017 VS 2018? I’m actually torn on this one. Both have big pros and cons. 2018, I think?

My score 7

 

 

 

My thoughts In 2017, the UK reminded us all that glitters is gold – and that a gold-drenched stage and singer won’t necessarily propel you into the gold medal position. Something they’re hoping will do the trick is sending a two-time backup singer (for Belgium, with Loïc and Blanche) in the form of SuRie. She’s a superstar on social media and the kind of Eurovision artist we all want to be our BFF…so it’s a shame that Storm doesn’t live up to her awesomeness as a person.  Like Germany, the UK is not earning their automatic Saturday night spot with this – a song that would have a hard time qualifying from a semi. It’s nice, there’s nothing wrong with it, and SuRie is a joy to watch perform as she’s a Little Miss Sunshine onstage like Jess Mauboy. The lyrics are cheesy and predictable at times, but she charms her way through them and makes me believe she means what she’s saying (not that I’d been having trouble believing storms don’t last forever). But no matter how hard I look, I can’t find any ‘oomph’ in this. It’s lacking an element of excitement to light my fire and toast my marshmallows. Is it a heart-warmer? Not really. Can you dance to it? Nope. Is it hard to resist singing along to? Not in my experience. To put it another way, if Eurovision was an election campaign made up of political candidates, the UK wouldn’t be one who makes a powerful statement and attracts voters like Portuguese custard tarts attract Lisbon tourists. Up against the other automatic finalists, Storm comes across mediocre – and my ‘meh’ feeling only increases when I compare it to the other 37 songs. I hate that I’m not even surprised by that happening with a UK entry. Who wants to be accustomed to average? Lucie Jones gave us a glimmer of hope last year, but if she couldn’t finish higher than 15th, I don’t think SuRie can either. This year is turning out to be more on par with 2017 than we first thought in terms of the overall standard, so because Never Give Up On You > Storm, my early prediction for the UK now is 18th-22nd. But here’s your consolation prize, SuRie: when it comes to crowning the Twitter Queen of Eurovision 2018, nobody else stands a chance.

2017 VS 2018? I loved Lucie, so sorry SuRie.

My score 6.5

 

 

37 down, SIX TO GO!!! I’m on the home stretch, y’all, and that’s worth a happy dance. While I’m getting jiggy with it, you can check out this round’s ranking: 

  1. Italy (10)
  2. Serbia (8.5)
  3. Denmark (7)
  4. Slovenia (7)
  5. United Kingdom (6.5)
  6. Iceland (2.5)

All I’m going to say on this one is…poor Ari.

Does Italy give you the most grande amore out of these six songs, or does Rasmussen’s majestic beard song win you over every time? Maybe you actually *gulp* enjoy Iceland? Make your decision and vote for your favourite now!

 

NEXT TIME It’s all come down to this: the final six countries competing in Eurovision 2018. Who’s got me fist-pumping and who’s got me face-palming when it comes to Belarus, Montenegro, Norway, Russia, Sweden and Switzerland? This weekend, all will be revealed…

  

 

 

THE EBJ EUROVISION 2018 REVIEWS: Round 6 (Belgium, Czech Republic, Germany, Israel, Macedonia + San Marino)

I have to open this post with three letters: OMG!!! As I type this, Eurovision 2018 rehearsals are underway, with the semi 1 first halfers taking to the stage yesterday and the second halfers going through the motions right now. It still feels surreal that we’ve reached this point already. Didn’t Salvador only win in Kyiv like, three months ago?

As you’ll know if you’ve hung out with me and my blog before, my golden rule is to NEVER watch the rehearsals. I like to keep things fresh for when I fall out of bed onto the floor at 3am for the live shows (that’s why I also haven’t listened to any of the songs in full for a good six weeks). So you won’t find any analysis of who’s nailing and failing their practice runs on the Altice Arena stage here. It’s not like there’s going to be a shortage of that stuff anyway, and I’m sure you know where to find it: my favourites are ESC Xtra, my Aussie girl Anita at Eurovision Union, and ESC Insight for the daily podcasts. But I do offer catty/complimentary comments on Twitter based on descriptions I’ve heard and photos I’ve seen – #professional. Head over there and follow me @EurovisionByJaz for many Mikolas Josef well-wishes and reaction GIFs.

What you will find here is the continuation of my 2018 reviews, as I trudge towards the finish line approximately 150 kilometres behind everyone else. I still get an ‘A’ for effort, right? There are three rounds left for me to bring to you guys, and today’s is all about Belgium, the Czech Republic, Germany, Israel, Macedonia and San Marino. Want to know what I think of the songs Sennek, Mikolas, Michael, Netta, Eye Cue and Jessika feat. Jenifer packed in their Portuguese suitcases? Then keep reading – and don’t forget to comment your thoughts on these tracks + vote in the Round 6 poll. How else am I supposed to know how much you all disagree with me?

 

 

My thoughts Pressure (whatever that is, says Laura Tesoro) on Belgium this year was sky-high, as we wondered if they would maintain the run of Eurovision magnificence that began with Loïc Nottet in 2015. The simple question is, have they done so with Sennek and A Matter of Time? And the not-so-simple answer from me is the following. The thing is, if I loved Rhythm Inside 100% (which I did), I loved What’s The Pressure 90% of that, and City Lights 90% of that. And as much as I want to say my love for A Matter of Time is at 70% or more, the reality is that I don’t love it at all. My brain says ‘This is a damn good song, Jaz, don’t you reckon?’, but my heart says ‘Nope’. It leaves me feeling absolutely nothing. We seem to have a James Bond theme at every ESC these days, and sometimes they do connect with me and give me all the feels (sorry, Renaida possessed me for a second there) but Sennek’s gives me none. No goosebumps, no heart palpitations, no need to call an ambulance due to the sheer shock of how amazing it is whatsoever. I can’t put my finger on why not. It’s polished and sophisticated; cinematic in its drama (totes appropes for a song that should accompany footage of Daniel Craig kicking the asses of fifteen assassins at once); original for what it is, with melodic twists and turns that flow well but make sure there’s no time to get bored; and it’s performed beautifully by Sennek (in studio). So what’s wrong with me? Why don’t I adore this? Why am I more excited by the prospect of Sennek’s visual merchandising work for Ikea than by the prospect of seeing this performed live for the first time? If anyone out there is an amateur or professional psychologist  and can offer some insight into my severe Belgian mental block, please let me know. In the meantime, I’ll offer some insight on how I think this will do in Lisbon. Once again Belgium is competing in the first semi, which as we all know is the Semi of Death and Destruction and Weeping Eurofans Worldwide. But since Sennek was a contender FTW in the odds, I’d say she’s on the borderline between certain qualifier and a ‘most likely to’ qualifier. In other words, I won’t be splashing any cash on her to make the final, but I do expect to see her there (especially because I don’t ‘get’ this entry, which means it’ll probably do well because that happens every year). As for what will go down on the Saturday night: well, with a good vocal performance and modern, atmospheric staging, a fourth consecutive top 10 place for Belgium wouldn’t come as a surprise – but I’m thinking 11th to 15th at this point.

2017 VS 2018? Blanche = better. I’m not sure how anyone could argue with that.

My score 7

 

 

My thoughts If I was giving out an award for the biggest Eurovision glow-up from 2017-2018, the Czech Republic would win it without even trying. I never had a major vendetta against Martina’s My Turn last year, but that’s because it was so bland – bland enough to be one of my least favourite entries of Kyiv. Fast forward twelve months, and the Czech Republic is not only right up in my top 3 for the year, they’re also in the mix to win the entire thing. WTF?!? This almost-favourite status is unprecedented for a country with a disastrous track record, feat. two semi final last places and another last place in the only final they’ve managed to make it to. But I have no hesitation in saying that Lie To Me is the Czechs best entry ever by a million miles. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat after dreaming that Mikolas wasn’t chosen to go to Portugal – that’s how much of a missed opportunity picking anything else would have been. Lie To Me is the musical love child of Problem by Ariana Grande and Talk Dirty by Jason Derülo, with ridiculously wonderful lyrics fired at us a mile a minute until the sparser, smoother, sing-along chorus drops. The trumpet riff pulls you in instantly (what a great way to start a song) and rivals Hey Mamma for catchiness. This might come across as a novelty song in some ways, but at its core it’s epic R&B-pop that’s impossible to ignore even if you don’t like it (but if you don’t, I’m afraid we can’t be friends). It’s urban, fun, a little bit NSFW even though it’s been cleaned up for the contest, and full of attitude. And let’s not forget Mikolas’ charisma and swag, both of which are on the favourable side of the ‘Am I A Douche or Not?‘ spectrum. If I had to pick on something, I’d say I’m not sure about the backpack (or the camel…it’s in the lyrics/music video, and all I can think of based on the song’s subject matter is that its presence has something to do with humps). But I firmly believe that Lie To Me can not only fly into the final, but that Mikolas can ride that camel all the way to the podium. I can’t imagine a song with lyrics like “I know you ‘bop-whop-a-lu bop’ on his wood bamboo” (the tip of the OMG lyric iceberg) actually winning, but 3rd would be a mighty fine spot for the Czech Republic to score. Beyond fine, in fact. Let’s make it happen, Team Miki (and jurors, who will hopefully not think this is offensive and mutter stuff about ‘The youth of today’ as they rank it right at the bottom).

2017 VS 2018? Do I even need to answer this? 2018!!!

My score 12

 

 

 

My thoughts Oh, Germany. What happened to you? 2010 was a turning point that ground to a screeching halt in 2013 with a great song + bad staging. That was followed by a decent but not memorable song, a nul pointer, a great song + terrible costume choice, then a song last year that was destined to do nothing on the scoreboard. This might sound harsh, but there are a lot of countries that deserve an automatic spot in the final more than Germany does at the moment. They’re certainly not making the most of their Big Five status, and I think that trend has continued with You Let Me Walk Alone. It’s supposed to be a sentimental tearjerker of a piano ballad about Michael’s late father – I say ‘supposed’ because the sentiment is lost on me, and my eyes are drier than a desert when I’m listening to it. Does that make the song artificially emotional, or am I a cold, unfeeling witch who should go and live the hermit life in an isolated mountainside cave? Maybe don’t answer that. I am sorry that I don’t feel what I “should” be feeling here (and I’m sorry for Michael’s loss) but this does even less for me than Belgium’s song. It’s musical wallpaper. I do actually like the pre-chorus, because that’s where the lyrics are least cliché and the melody is worth an approving nod. If the rest of the song was more like that part, I wouldn’t be wearing my Negative Nancy t-shirt right now. But as it is, if I do the mental test of asking myself ‘Would this qualify if it was competing in a semi?’, my personal answer is no, I don’t think so. But hey, since Germany has a talent for dragging good songs down with bad staging choices (occasionally…I don’t mean to be a bitch about this) perhaps they’ll do the opposite this year and elevate YLMWA to a place where even I can appreciate it. Then again, I have heard they’re using the old photos-in-the-background trick which doesn’t bode well – I hate that almost as much as I hate cover albums (and I really hate cover albums). Regardless of what Michael is surrounded by, standing on top of or wearing, I think his song will get lost in the 26-song grand final, unless it’s tacked on to the end of the running order (unlikely). I cannot see him faring much better than Levina, but don’t be too hard on me if I’m spectacularly wrong and Germany goes top 10. That would be kicking me while I’m already down, and while I’m confused.

2017 VS 2018? 2017, I guess. Can you feel the lack of enthusiasm?

My score 5

 

 

 

My thoughts Here it is: the bookies’ favourite and runaway winner of the OGAE Poll. This time last year I could have said the same thing about Italy, and we all know what happened to Occidentali’s Karma when the actual contest came around. Thanks to Francesco’s 6th place, we have to question whether Netta will also fall short of pre-show expectations, or if she’ll she do an Alexander Rybak right in front of Alexander Rybak. I feel like it’s one of the two, but more on that after I’ve talked about Toy itself. You might remember that I was never sold on Occidentali’s Karma as a winner, and I have similar gut feelings about Toy…only they’re more fragile feelings this time (which tells me Netta is more likely than Francesco was to steamroll her opponents into submission). Once again I’ve found myself fond of, but not crazy about the song that’s been crowned The One by masses of Eurofans. The thing I do absolutely love about this entry is how original it is, to the point of being riskily so. It’s great to see a country go out on a limb instead of playing it safe. There is no doubt that this stands out from start to finish, and not just because Netta has her vocal looper in tow. The music is inventive, the lyrics are clinically insane but iconic as heck (I don’t know exactly what ‘taking my Pikachu home’ means, but I’m on board with it) and the energy is unrelenting. This is the kind of song that makes me wish more than ever that I was going to Eurovision this year so I could mosh to it. Toy has spawned memes and merchandise, not to mention an epidemic of clucking chicken impressions (a vaccine is currently in development) and that impact can’t be ignored. However, as I said, the song is not keeping my boat especially buoyant, if you know what I mean (translation: it doesn’t float my boat as much as a lot of other entries do). I can praise its originality until the end of time, but I couldn’t honestly say I’ve fallen in love. That might be why I’m not convinced of Israel’s winning chances – I’d prefer plenty of other songs to win. Still, I genuinely see road blocks for Toy to get over that were not in the pathway of Fairytale and Heroes, for example. I said it about the Czech Republic and I’ll say it again about Israel: As much as I want a fun-filled banger of a winner, I can’t imagine a song with lyrics like Toy’s winning the whole contest. And I have to wonder if, because the majority of people going crazy over this are firmly in the Eurovision bubble, first-time listeners/viewers will react to it in the same hugely-positive way. It could be an assault on the senses live on the big stage (not that I’d advise Israel to go for tasteful and understated. That’s fine for France but a mismatch for them). If not Israel to win though, then who? My ideal situation would be for a country we haven’t focused on that much to step up their game during the rehearsal period and say ‘I have ARRIVED!’ – partly because I hate a predictable winner; partly because I want a song I love to win, not a song I like. But majority rules. If the Eurovision roadshow is meant to go to Tel Aviv or Jerusalem in 2019, that’s where it will go and I will have to live with it.

2017 VS 2018? You might question my sanity, but I honestly prefer I Feel Alive (and not just because Imri is a beautiful creature/hopefully not a stupid boy).

My score 7.5

 

 

 

My thoughts Macedonia had a similar contest experience to Italy last year in terms of being hyped and then missing the expected mark. Dance Alone was fanwank material that wouldn’t have been so highly regarded if Sweden had sent it, but because it came from Macedonia it was a pleasant surprise. Only the overwhelming love from fans (excluding me since I was never that into it) didn’t transfer into ESC success, and FYROM failed to even qualify. Is the same story being written for Macedonia as we speak? Lost and Found is a somewhat surprisingly high-quality song that has been hyped and showered with affection, but may struggle to make it out of its semi. What’s the difference, aside from the fact that, as far as I know, neither member of Eye Cue is a) pregnant, or b) about to get engaged during a global television broadcast? It is a very different song, of course – there are actually two or three different songs within this one song – and it’s probably going to be staged in a less off-putting way than Dance Alone on the basis that Lost and Found is a warmer, more fun song. Every segment of it, like a ripe orange, is delicious and appealing; but also like an orange (I hope you didn’t think I’d stopped with the food metaphors) as a whole it is messy. We’ve got infectious reggae-pop in the verses, which follows on from the soft acoustic-style opening lines repeated throughout, which in turn leak into the upbeat dance chorus (I think it’s the chorus, anyway). They’re all catchy, all lyrically blessed and all sung beautifully by vocalist Marija – I LOVE her voice, and she’s already proven it’s like honey live. On one hand, I like how Lost and Found dips in and out of different styles, packing so much into its three minutes it’s like a lunchbox overflowing with tasty snacks. On the other hand, I’m disappointed that a song with the potential to be epic had it been cohesive is anything but cohesive. I’m still not sure if it works as a whole or not. It can’t be compared to the last entry to change things up in-song to such an extent – Icebreaker by Agnete – because that changed tempo rather than genre. The changes Macedonia makes aren’t as arresting, but are more confusing. I want Eye Cue to qualify, but at this point where I’m yet to make any official, posted-on-social-media-for-the-world-to-laugh-at predictions, I’m on the fence, and it’s hurting my brain (and my backside…it’s an uncomfortable fence) trying to answer the will-they-or-won’t-they question. So I won’t answer it right now. I’ll just say that if Macedonia does get to the final, I’m foreseeing a lower left-side placing at best.

2017 VS 2018? 2018. They’ve lost their grip on genre, but found some incredible pieces of pop.

My score 8.5

 

 

My thoughts San Marino is always a fun country to review for all the wrong reasons. They’re also a country that puts me to the test in terms of not being too insulting. Don’t be shocked to hear that I’m being tested yet again in 2018 with Jessika (via Malta) and Jeni B (via Germany). Look, I really like these girls: they’re friendly, personable and seem to be enjoying their ESC journey (which will be a pretty short one) so far. I’m happy for them to have the chance to do something so cool, especially Jessika who’s been rejected as a Maltese representative about 75 000 times and was obviously desperate to get to Eurovision (can’t blame her). But the bottom line for me is that Who We Are is TERRIBLE. To think that the Loin D’ici Straubs were partially responsible for bringing it to life is horrifying. It sounds like something the winner of Popstars might have released as a winner’s single circa 2001, but it couldn’t have been called current back then. I actually have no idea which decade this song would have been fashionable in. The sound-alike Heroes chorus is the only common trait between this and a song with the calibre to win the contest, and Jeni B’s rap is the worst rap I’ve ever heard. That’s not because she’s a bad rapper but because the lyrics she’s being forced (there must have been gunpoint involved at some stage) to rap are from Cringe City. I can’t decide if the worst part is ‘If they dissin’ you on Twitter, don’t get sad don’t be bitter’, or ‘If they say so, get in the car, rev it up and be a star.’ To say ‘What is this, Junior Eurovision?’ would be doing JESC a disservice. Okay, so the anti-bullying message is worth a round of applause – I fully support that. And, believe it or not, I don’t hate this as much I used to, but that in itself is something I hate. I did NOT want this to be a grower. It hasn’t grown beyond being the 42nd song in my top 43, but there was a time when it was right at the rear, and if it can creep up once it could creep up again. Someone should make a horror movie about a situation like this. I can see the tagline now: Who We Are Is Coming To Get You, And Jeni B Won’t Stop Until She Knows YOU Know That Jess Over Here Is A Special VIP *screams bloody murder*. To sum up, the Who We Are I wanted at Eurovision 2018 was from Norway; I don’t think anyone asked for this one. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad we have San Marino in the Euro family…but good Lordi, they need to find a way to slay. Safe to say I’m confident they’re staying behind in the semi.

2017 VS 2018? When Valentina is an option, always choose Valentina.

My score 3

 

 

31 down, 12 to go! Here are the standings now I’ve scored today’s six songs:

  1. Czech Republic (12)
  2. Macedonia (8.5)
  3. Israel (7.5)
  4. Belgium (7)
  5. Germany (5)
  6. San Marino (3)

No lie – Mikolas wins this round by a big margin. I know I’ll get some gasps for sticking Israel in the middle, but honesty is the best policy, right? Unless you’re Benjamin Ingrosso, but that’s a discussion topic for another day.

If you’re on Team Israel or you want to show your love for any of the other songs on the program today, you know what to do.

 

NEXT TIME If you’ve been keen for me to judge Denmark, Iceland, Italy, Serbia, Slovenia or the United Kingdom, then the wait is over! One is in my top 10, another is anything but, and the rest are the filling in the sandwich. Come back later this week to find out which is which.

 

 

 

 

THE EBJ EUROVISION 2018 REVIEWS: Round 5 (Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Portugal + Ukraine)

Happy Thursday, guys! There are just a few days until rehearsals proper start inside Lisbon’s Altice Arena (I like to tell you things you already know), so it’s got to be full steam ahead for me with my horrendously late reviews.

If you’ve missed any that came before this round, or you want to relive what I’ve done so far, here are the quick links:

  • 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

And, before I get started on today’s round, here are the results of the ‘Vote for your favourite of the five!’ polls I’ve been annoying you with at the end of each post (with my winner of each round in bold):

  • Round 1: Cyprus, 33% (Armenia, 25%; The Netherlands, 17%; Hungary, 13%; Malta, 13%)
  • Round 2: Poland, 35% (Estonia, 24%; Romania, 18%; Spain, 18%; Azerbaijan, 6%)
  • Round 3: Albania, 33%, (Finland, 25%; Greece, 25%; Lithuania, 8%; Moldova, 8%)
  • Round 4: France, 67% (Australia, 22%; Latvia, 11%; Georgia, 0%; Ireland, 0%)

That’s the story so far – so let’s get stuck into the next chapter. Sit back, relax and read about the ESC 2018 entries from Cesár, Equinox, Franka, Cláudia and Mélovin…and obviously, what I think of them. That’s the whole point of this, right?

Oh, and don’t forget to vote for your favourite out of today’s five in the poll (had to).  

 

 

My thoughts Hail, Cesár! It’s becoming a trend for Eurovision backing singers to step into the main artist spotlight, and this guy is a prime example (and prime specimen of manhood). Not only did he provide backup for Bulgaria last year, helping them earn their best-ever result, but he did the same in 2016 – even getting to strut out on stage with Poli instead of being hidden in a filing cabinet in the wings. Maybe it wasn’t BNT responsible for Bulgaria’s contest turnaround after all…and if Cesár’s a good luck charm, that bodes well for Austria now they’ve managed to pry him out of Bulgaria’s grasp. The song he’s carrying on his own is worlds apart from both If Love Was A Crime and Beautiful Mess, despite being co-written by three of the same songwriters. It’s a soulful, Sam Smith-esque gospel ballad with a 2018 twist; an upbeat sibling of Isaiah’s Don’t Come Easy, almost. This song’s subject matter, however, is actually age-appropriate for the artist (seriously, how were we supposed to believe that a 17-year-old had a long history of love and loss behind him?). I had a feeling I was going to love Nobody But You from the writing credits alone, and I was not wrong. Damn, it’s good! If Nathan Trent was an adorable golden retriever puppy last year, then Cesár is a full-grown pedigree German Shepherd (well, Austrian Shepherd technically – think Inspector Rex) with a song that’s full of feeling, beautifully produced, current, and multi-layered like a Baklava. The lyrics are simple but not clichéd, making the song easy to sing along to and to remember. And if we had any doubts about Cesár’s ability to step it up and command the attention a headline artist has to, he apparently erased them with his powerful pre-party performances (as you may or may not know, I avoid those to keep the songs fresh for the actual contest). All we need now is the right staging to make this entry pop even more and become a package people want to vote for. Sadly, I can’t, as Australia is voting in semi 2…but if Austria gets to the final I will be texting my ass off for nobody but you (not true but I couldn’t resist the wordplay), Cesár! And to get back to staging for a second, Austria does have form – their 2016 and 2017 efforts were brilliant, so let’s hope it’s three masterpieces on the trot. Time will tell, but there’s one thing I know for sure right now: this is the semi 1 song that I’m not certain will qualify, but I NEED it to or I will be inconsolable. To quote Culture Club, do you really want to hurt me, Europe? Do you really want to make me cry? If not, then vote for Austria.

2017 VS 2018? I can’t choose, unless there’s money in it. No? Well, I’m not choosing then.

My score 10

 

 

My thoughts If there’s any country (besides Belgium) that has become a big Eurovision hitter lately, it’s Bulgaria. That means the pressure is now well and truly on BNT to maintain the sky-high standard they first set for themselves with Poli Genova in 2016. This year, they certainly did a top job of piquing curiosity in the Eurofan community with their cryptic pre-song-and-act reveal clues. In the end, it was the “common framework” project (we can’t just call them a group, apparently) Equinox with the otherworldly Bones that would follow in Kristian Kostov’s footsteps…but how far exactly can they follow? There’s no doubt – not from me, anyway – that this song is a good one. It’s dark, moody and modern, with slick production and an intense atmosphere. Lyrical quality is reasonably high (though at times I have as much idea of what they’re referring to as I did when Dihaj was discussing men with horse-heads having her skeletons). And I love the melody of the verses, pre-chorus and the chorus itself. I would argue that the chorus is melodically weaker than the rest of the song, but it still sticks. The five Bulgarian and American voices blend well, at least in studio…and so I’ve heard, live. Overall, this is an infinitely more enjoyable entry than the last one that attempted to bring a bunch of personalities together for an experimental musical project (*cough*Armenia 2015*cough*). But I just don’t feel the same sense of wow that I felt – and still feel – when I listen to Beautiful Mess. Bones is a bit too alien, cold and calculating for me to connect with on the same level. Ironically, for a song that’s about loving beyond the bones, I feel like there’s not a lot under the surface of this besides a desire to do well in the contest. My impression is that it’s trying too hard to be something special. While Beautiful Mess was organically awesome and ended up living up to hype created during rehearsals, Bones has already been hyped. It seems that after coming so close to a win in 2017, Bulgaria wants to go one better so badly that their finished product is missing the magic that made Kristian’s ESC so successful in the first place. I really don’t think the social media stir-up by the Bulgarian team was the best idea ever – it was pretentious and heightened expectations of the entry so much that they couldn’t possibly be met. I probably need to pull back on the harsh judgments here because at this point, you wouldn’t believe I actually do have Bulgaria in my top 10. The song is good enough on its own to win me over, but as for winning the whole contest? I doubt it. Qualification is a given though, and another podium finish isn’t out of the question. I’m keen to see if Bones has been given the stage treatment it deserves, and if these guys (+1 girl) come across as a cohesive group…er, I mean, ‘common framework’.

2017 VS 2018? 2017, hands down (to the floor, Robin Bengtsson-style).

My score 8.5

 

 

My thoughts There are two countries competing this year that couldn’t have sent more drastically different songs to Lisbon than they did to Kyiv if they tried. Croatia is one of them (and no prizes for guessing the other – it’s pretty obvious). We’ve bid our farewells to both Jacques and their ginormous LED heads, and now we’re saying zdravo to the gorgeous Franka and her boudoir ballad Crazy. The elephant in the room on this one is the ‘Was the composition stolen from a random Romanian guy or not?’ drama of a few weeks back. That tarnished things a bit for Croatia, but to be honest I’m not sure there was that much at stake. I like this song for the most part: the questionably-sourced music is the highlight, but the overall structure is good; the lyrics, while not revolutionary and clunky at times, aren’t bad; and I dig the saucy, sexy vibe, one that Latvia taps into as well. But unlike Latvia, Croatia isn’t getting me super-psyched. Crazy is kind of one-dimensional. I know Franka’s not saying she’s crazy as she sits in an armchair knitting sweaters for her twenty cats – she’s crazy in love. But a bit of craziness might have benefited a song that doesn’t push any boundaries (except for risking people not understanding the ‘roses and horses and the rain’ line). I’m 99% sure that during Franka’s performance, my mind will be occupied by thoughts of how much she looks like Rochelle from The Saturdays rather than how much I want to vote for her (not that I can anyway since she’s in the first semi). I think Croatia is going to sink rather than swim this year, which is what I figured last year too, but in hindsight I can see how that was naive. Looking at Crazy from every angle, including what it’s sandwiched between in the running order – Lost and Found from Macedonia and Nobody But You from Austria – Croatia is too easy to sacrifice. It screams ‘12th’ to me for some reason, so we’ll see if that’s my sixth sense talking. I don’t think I have anything else to say about Croatia this year, and you have to admit, that was never a problem with My Friend. Wait a second…there is one more thing: I wish we could CTRL-Z that spoken word bit, because the cringe factor there is HUGE.

2017 VS 2018? I can’t believe I’m saying this, but…2017.

My score 6.5

 

 

My thoughts Say olá to our host entry for 2018 – Portugal’s first ever! This is also the first time Portugal has found themselves automatically qualified for the Eurovision final since the semi system was introduced, as they failed to qualify from 2004-2007. After that, nobody outside of the reigning champ and the Big Four/Five had the privilege – if you see it that way – of not having to make it out of a semi in order to perform on the Saturday night. Basically, this is a big deal for Portugal. And it’s pink-haired The Voice alum Cláudia Pascoal who’s carrying both that privilege and the pressure of not embarrassing her country on home soil on her shoulders (too bad the Czech Republic aren’t hosting…Mikolas could be carrying it in his backpack). Backed up by songwriter Isaura, can she do Portugal proud – or even do the double – with O Jardim? I wouldn’t say this song is a winner, no – but it is beautiful. Festival da Cançao was pretty dire this year, and O Jardim, IMO, was the ONLY decent option. Luckily, it’s more than just decent, with a dreamy quality, leisurely but hypnotic (and strangely soothing) pace, and meaningful lyrics. Delicate vocals from Cláudia are amped up when Isaura chimes in, though Cláudia could easily carry this on her own (and I do find it a bit awkward how Isaura does nothing for several minutes and then chimes in out of nowhere). There’s a message about a lost loved one in this song that reminds me of Germany’s You Let Me Walk Alone, but this is less overt and more moving to be honest, because it doesn’t feel like it’s trying desperately to tug at everybody’s heartstrings. If you’re not a Portuguese speaker and don’t Google Translate the lyrics (a favourite pastime of mine), you’ll miss lines like ‘The flowers are my place; now that you’re not here, I water your garden’ (SOMEONE PASS ME A TISSUE FFS) – but I know I still feel the emotion regardless of speaking literally three words of Portuguese (well, four now I know what jardim means). Overall, it’s a pretty package being delivered here; one that never feels calculating, like it’s trying to replicate Salvador’s success. There are flaw(s) in Portugal’s plan, though. For example, O Jardim is a slow three minutes, and anyone who doesn’t feel the emotion of it or like the lullaby vibes might find it monotonous. For another, it is a statement song, but it’s whispering and not shouting – so will it be remembered when 18 songs have followed it in the final? And is it realistically a vote magnet? I’m not convinced. I think Portugal will struggle for a top 10 result, not because this song is undeserving but because it will be outshone. I’m seeing a host country result more in line with Sweden 2013 than Sweden 2016 – but there’ll definitely be an improvement on Ukraine 2017 (and Austria 2015…that must’ve hurt). One thing that’s for sure is that Cláudia will get to bask in one of the biggest audience reactions of the night – and the audible support for the host country in the arena is always something I look forward to during the final.

2017 VS 2018? Sorry, Salvador, but O Jardim gives me more feels. Controversial?

My score 8.5

 

 

My thoughts The 2018 Ukrainian national final was more or less a rehash of 2017’s – Tayanna was there singing her heart out, Mélovin was there with his creepy contact lens, and many of us thought a third party would swoop in and steal the victory from under their noses. But that didn’t happen. Tayanna may have ended up in second place again (she’s the Saara Aalto of Ukraine, so she should have her happy ending eventually) but this time Mélovin made his mark and won the right to represent Ukraine with Under The Ladder. Given that he doesn’t mind chilling under the occasional ladder, we can expect him to be everything but superstitious at Eurovision – opening umbrellas inside, willingly allowing black cats to cross his path, smashing Moldova’s mirrors, etc. And I reckon we can expect him to have a much better contest than O.Torvald did last year. Mélovin would have made a great rep with Wonder back then, a song that I initially thought was better than Under The Ladder. But his ESC entry grew on me very quickly, and I can now say that I am Mélovin it (HA HA HA). First things first, it’s one of the most original songs in the entire Lisbon line-up – not as out there as Israel, but on the same wavelength when it comes to stuff we haven’t heard in the contest before. I’d call it a distant, moodier relative of Mr. Brightside by The Killers, if anything. Starting out with pared-back piano behind the vocals, before the beat kicks in and the music swells, it’s dramatic and dynamic without being OTT. The chorus might have sacrificed lyrical space for oh-oh-ohs, but they’re catchy ones. And speaking of the lyrics…I’m still working out WTF the meaning is behind them all, but damn, I love them! You won’t find any love/above or fire/desire/higher here (no disrespect to Helena Paparizou). Instead we’re treated to the opening line ‘Curtains down, I’m laughing at the trial’ which leads to the gem that is ‘You can see that whatever the weather, that the wind’s always there, always fair.’ Alliteration and good rhyming? I’m sold. Then there’s the change of pace towards the end that keeps things interesting…not that I personally need that to keep me hooked on this. Okay, so I’ve established that this song is the bomb dot com, but what about the performer? Well, I have no complaints there either. Mélovin is an onstage force to be reckoned with. And despite what a lot of fans have said, I don’t have a problem with his English pronunciation. Any issues are with his voice and enunciation more than his Eastern European accent. Can you tell I’d defend Under The Ladder to the death? Ukraine is the last country on the second semi’s setlist, and I’m only unhappy about that because it means I have to wait until the end of the second show to see Mélovin in action.

2017 VS 2018? I could leave this unsaid, but 2018 to infinity and beyond!

My score 12

 

 

25 down, 18 to go! Today’s leaderboard looks like this:

  1. Ukraine (12)
  2. Austria (10)
  3. Bulgaria (8.5)
  4. Portugal (8.5)
  5. Croatia (6.5)

With Austria getting a strong 10 from me, it was a close call…but how could I not give Ukraine top honours when I gushed about them so much? Bulgaria is just inside my top 10 at the moment with that 8.5, and Portugal’s not far outside (I’ve been trying to fit 15 songs into my top 10 for weeks and it’s just not working).

Would you put Under The Ladder over the other songs in this round, or not so much? Leave me a comment to let me know how you’d rank them, and pick your personal fave below.

 

NEXT TIME This weekend is judgment weekend for Belgium, the Czech Republic, Germany, Israel, Macedonia and San Marino. That’s right: thanks to that irritating number 43, I’m jumping from five songs per round to six. Don’t miss the first super-sized episode of the EBJ Eurovision 2018 Reviews!

 

 

 

 

 

THE EBJ EUROVISION 2018 REVIEWS: Round 4 (Australia, France, Georgia, Ireland + Latvia)

Hello again, and welcome to yet another round of Eurovision 2018 reviews! With two weeks to go until semi numero uno (I STILL CAN’T BELIEVE IT), I’m slowly but surely getting there with these musical judgments. You can bet your brand new ESC board game that I will have all 43 songs covered by then. #womanonamission.

Here’s a spoiler alert for this latest round: it was a big-hitter for me, with three of the five songs currently chilling in my top 10. Who out of Jessica, Madame Monsieur, Iriao, Ryan and Laura am I talking about? Keep reading to find out. And, as always (you must be sick of me mentioning this) vote for your personal favourite in today’s poll.

Now, in true Melodifestivalen style, NU KÖR VI!!!

Yeah…probably should have saved that segue for the round with Sweden in it. My bad.

               

 

My thoughts I can’t believe this is the fourth time I’ve had the chance to review my own country’s Eurovision entry – totally objectively, of course. Okay, maybe not totally. As soon as I got the opportunity to be biased with Guy in 2015, I instantly understood how easy it is to support a song that you may not normally be crazy about, so long as it’s your country that’s sending it. Don’t Come Easy was a prime example, but Isaiah’s follow-up artist Jessica Mauboy – technically a Eurovision returnee – is packing a song in her suitcase for Portugal that I honestly like a lot. I’m psyched to see Jess back in the contest and actually competing this time, after voting for her to win Australian Idol using my Nokia 3310 (in between playing Snake) way back in 2006. And though she’s dabbled in different genres during her music career, with We Got Love she’s found a perfect fit for her voice and personality. The song is three minutes of pure happiness that radiates out of her every time she performs it. It might be a song that’s obviously trying to tick Eurovision boxes, but in this case that’s not a bad thing, because it’s a) energetic enough to be irresistible on the Euroclub dancefloor; b) armed with simple, one-size-fits-all lyrics and an often-repeated title that sticks; c) the proud owner of a dangerously catchy chorus; and d) got a money note that has ‘Vote for me in 3, 2, 1, NOW!’ written all over it. It’s the kind of song that wouldn’t be out of place at an Olympics opening ceremony (and really should have been performed at the Commonwealth Games a few weeks ago) – a.k.a. it’s ultra uplifting and unifying. Could it be any more of an ESC anthem? And am I irritating you with my gushing yet? Well, don’t worry. I know I said the song was a perfect fit for Jess, but it isn’t a perfect song. We Got Love got flaws, and the biggest of the few I can find is those ambiguous lyrics. While an asset in terms of allowing the masses to relate to them and interpret their meaning individually, they are pretty aimless and clearly weren’t written with a specific situation in mind. They don’t tell a story, so there won’t be one to tell on stage. Then again, we have story songs from the Czech Republic and France, for example, that ARE about particular situations (very different ones) so what’s wrong with a three-minute, generalised but positive mantra? I do think Australia 2018 packs a punch, and in a weaker year than 2017, when we miraculously managed to make the top 10 (I know Europe still hates us for that), Jess should be there or thereabouts. If Sacha Jean-Baptiste can stage something upbeat anywhere near as well as she stages dark, moody stuff, I don’t see why Australia can’t grab a spot in the 4th-6th range. And who knows…if all goes according to plan, then repeating our 3rd place from JESC 2017 might be a strong possibility. Or maybe I’m deluded but endearingly patriotic?

2017 VS 2018? 2018…though so far, I’ve been 100% biased and loved all of our entries.

My score 10

 

 

My thoughts Once upon a time, I thought and hoped I’d be reviewing Lisandro Cuxi’s Eva as France’s Eurovision 2018 entry. I also thought I’d NEVER move on from Eva losing out to Mercy at the last minute as it did at the Destination Eurovision final. But time heals all (NF-related) wounds, and now I’m ready to talk about Madame Monsieur’s meaningful electro alt-pop ballad as another success in the string of magnifique French songs sent to Eurovision since 2016. Mercy stood out from the early stages of Destination, even though it was a selection show full of great music, and I couldn’t say I was shocked when it went on to win. It’s one of the most cutting-edge tracks heading to Lisbon, written by Emilie and Jean-Karl themselves and oozing classic French confidence, sophistication and minimalism. I’d compare it to Italy in that it’s an effortlessly classy message song; but being way less wordy than Non Mi Avete Fatto Niente – plus more in line with what streams successfully on Spotify – makes it more accessible. As message songs go, it’s also found the balance between making a statement and avoiding doing so in a sugary, overly-sentimental way (á la Running from Hungary in 2014). Baby Mercy’s story is just that, anyway: a story rather than a controversial political statement that should be banned from the competition (ya hear that, Mercy haters and 1944 naysayers?). Subject matter aside, this is just a really cool song – the kind I’d use to try and brainwash my non-Eurovision obsessed friends into becoming fans without them even realising it. It might be down-tempo and lacking in a big, showy ‘moment’, but it makes an impact in other ways. There’s something in it for Salvador Sobral types who need their music to be meaningful, something for established ESC fans looking for style and a memorable melody, and something instant that should capture the attention of first-time listeners during the final. Then we come back to Emilie and Jean-Karl who have a backstory (they’re married!), are ridiculously good-looking, and perform this song perfectly with just the right amount of emotion – in all black with red accents, of course, because the French don’t do OTT. My sole complaint re: this as a package deal is that the ‘Merci, merci’ chant at the end is a slight waste of song time (I’d have cut it in half and squeezed in another chorus). But that’s hardly a dealbreaker. I love this song regardless, and even though it’s not in my top five at the moment, it’s firmly in my top 10 (sitting at no. 7 FYI). It would be fantastique for Madame Monsieur to at least fare as well as Alma on the Lisbon leaderboard. If they can own the stage better than she did, I don’t see why the actual top 10 (as opposed to my top 10) shouldn’t have a place for France. Either that or they’ll flop and finish 22nd. Europe/Australia, have some mercy for Mercy!

2017 VS 2018? France is constantly kicking goals these days, but for me this tops Requiem.

My score 10

 

 


My thoughts If you liked Klapa s Mora in Malmö (they represented Croatia with Mižerja, ICYMI) then you’re bound to like Iriao and Sheni Gulistvis – more than someone who wanted to slapa the Klapa boys across the face, anyway. It’s a similar brand of all-male ethnic ballad that does have its supporters, but will struggle to catch enough votes in its butterfly net to qualify. Now, I was a Mižerja fan, but that had some pop elements to it so it wasn’t alienating. Sheni is fully wedged in its niche genre pigeonhole, and as much as I respect that and am happy to have something unique and cultural in the 2018 contest, it just doesn’t do anything for me. I don’t hate it, but I don’t enjoy listening to it, and that’s why it’s drifted down to the #41 position in my current ranking. It sounds like a cover of an ancient national anthem, and doesn’t have any of the power and/or touch of bat-shit craziness that we’ve come to expect from Georgia. I do find them hit-and-miss at adult Eurovision, whereas I adore them at Junior Eurovision – a contest they completely ‘get’. And if they were sending their JESC 2017 runner-up Music of the Heart to Portugal (give Grigol Kipshidze a fake ID and rip up the EBU rulebook and they’d be good to go), I‘d be dropping a great big douze on top of Georgia right now. Sadly, I can’t do that for Iriao, and I can’t connect with what they’re bringing to the table. I’m pretty sure that Georgia will have to sit out of the final for the second year in a row…but I haven’t seen Sheni performed live, and I do think there’s a chance that the boys can create a magic moment on stage. Still, I doubt a flawless vocal performance will be enough. I don’t want a DNQ to put Georgia off sending ethnic, Georgian-language (this is their first fully-Georgian ESC entry) songs though. This particular one may not my cup of cocoa, and may not have the mass appeal it needs to make the final (in my opinion), but the next one might be more appealing – while staying true to tradition.

2017 VS 2018? 2017. When a rip-off Bond theme is done right, I dig it.

My score 5.5

 

 

My thoughts What is it with Ireland associating relationships with death? Last year we had Dying To Try, and now Ryan is lamenting that he ‘thought we’d be together ‘til we die’. RTÉ should be sourcing songs for the next Romeo & Juliet film adaptation. What they should also be doing is taking a good long look at their Eurovision approach, because they still haven’t moved on from their 1990s glory days – and holding onto that isn’t helping them find favour in the 2010s. I was a Brendan supporter last year, and despite what I just said I am a fan of Ryan’s Together. I just think Ireland needs a firework set off under their backside, but more on that later. For now, I want to chat about the pros of this year’s effort, not the cons. It’s a really nice song – easy-listening, soothing, a little bit sad…a song you’d hole yourself up in your bedroom to blast during a breakup grieving period. The lyrics are simple feat. metaphors that actually make sense (yes, it IS possible), and Ryan’s voice is made for this sort of guitar-driven, singer-songwriter ballad – which it should be, since he co-wrote it. I think the vibe and melody of the verses and pre-chorus are stunning. It’s only when the chorus arrives that things start to unravel, because it’s the musical equivalent of a deflated balloon (thankfully Ireland had a fully-inflated one in Kyiv). Again, the lyrics are good, but overall the chorus is weaker than every other part of the song when it should be the star of the show. As a result, I feel like Together goes nowhere. That’s made much more painful by the fact that a powerful, statement chorus would have made a good song great, yet what we have is a good song being dragged down by one weak spot. Even so, this song has the potential for a Tom Dice (or more likely, Paradise Oskar) result. Especially if Ryan is as enchanting (if you’ll let me get away with such flowery language) on stage as I’ve heard he is from EiC etc attendees. It’s far from a cert though, and that brings me back to my irritations over Ireland never truly fixing what’s broken. When’s the last time people were Israel 2018 excited about an Irish entry? It’s as if those responsible for choosing them think it’s only a matter of time (Sennek pun intended) before everything old is new again and songs that would have won at Eurovision in 1994 start doing it all over again. Like Denmark – but to an extreme degree – Ireland sends safe, vanilla songs that are more inside the box than Azerbaijan’s trapped alter-ego man from 2013. Year after year after year! Yeah, I’ve liked what they’ve done the past two years, but neither Dying To Try nor Together were/are potential winners or guaranteed to qualify. Where’s the spark? The x factor? Not in Ryan’s chorus, that’s for sure – but there is a glimmer of hope in the rest of his song. We’ll soon see whether that’s going to pay off or not.

2017 VS 2018? Ireland was a guilty pleasure for me last year – #TeamBalloon!

My score 7.5

 

 

My thoughts Being Aminata-short on time this NF season, I didn’t get the chance to follow Supernova – so when I cleared three minutes in my schedule to listen to show winner Laura being a Funny Girl, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Would the song be on the same level as Love Injected/Heartbeat/Line, or would it be a jokey, lighthearted (and potentially lame) entry as the title suggested? As it turned out, the title was a herring as red as Laura’s NF dress. There’s nothing funny about Funny Girl, and I mean that as a compliment. My honest first reaction was ‘Wow!’. This song is soulful, sexy and sad all at once, and Laura’s performance was too (with added hair flicks for maximum sass). The situation of not being taken seriously by a boy who Netta Barzilai would definitely call stupid is explored using simple but original lyrics, a musical style that’s both on-trend and throwback, and a dramatic chorus that begs for a seductive lighting scheme (I don’t think the emphasis on lights, not LEDs, on the Lisbon stage will affect Latvia at all). There’s also an atmosphere of tension, frustration and desperation built up throughout Funny Girl that feels raw and genuine on every listen. Basically, I’ve been impressed by Latvia for the fourth year running. Laura’s one of our annual American accents at Eurovision, and her extensive musical education in the US shows in an awesome song that she wrote and composed herself, and in her competent, confident live performances. Although there’s nothing I don’t love about her overall package, I have to admit that Latvia slipped down a little in my ranking through selection season, as songs I liked even more were chosen and already-established entries grew on me. They’ve also slipped down the scoreboard over the past few years, with Aminata’s 5th followed by a 15th from Justs…then a big drop to a DNQ and last place in 2017 with Triana Park (I’m still mad). I do have high hopes that Laura can do better than a semi wooden spoon. There’s a good six or seven countries accompanying her in the second semi that are dead certs or at least very likely to qualify – leaving three or four spots open. I think she’s capable of snatching one, but could finish 11th or 12th as easily as 9th or 10th. Will I be as heartbroken as Funny Girl Laura if it’s another DNQ for Latvia? Pretty much. Particularly if it’s revealed that she finished 11th and Russia went through in 10th…but that’s another story.

2017 VS 2018? Laura gave me goosebumps on listen no. 1, so 2018 it is.

My score 8.5

 

 

That’s all for today, folks – and the stats are now 20 down, 23 left. Told you I was getting there. It might be like an arthritic sloth completing a marathon, but that’s part of the Jaz charm, right?

Here’s this round’s leaderboard:

  1. Australia (10)
  2. France (10)
  3. Latvia (8.5)
  4. Ireland (7.5)
  5. Georgia (5.5)

Look, I’m sorry/not sorry, but I HAD to put Jess on top when it came to choosing between Australia and France. I’d probably be deported for being unpatriotic if I didn’t. If it makes you feel any better, it was like choosing between a deep-dish pizza and another deep-dish pizza – i.e. very difficult and almost too close to call.

Do you have a few favourites here that you couldn’t possibly narrow down to one? If not, and you know exactly where your loyalties lie, this question will be a lot easier for you to answer.

 

NEXT TIME It’s full steam ahead with Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Portugal and Ukraine. I have some strong feelings about all of them, so drop by again to see if they’re happy-dance kind of feelings…or the punch-a-hole-in-the-wall kind. Subscribe in the sidebar and/or follow me on social media @EurovisionByJaz to make sure you never miss a post!

 

 

 

 

 

THE EBJ EUROVISION 2018 REVIEWS: Round 3 (Albania, Finland, Greece, Lithuania + Moldova)

Good *insert time of day here*, guys. In a plot twist that everyone saw coming, I’m back with more Eurovision 2018 reviews – and with rehearsals for this year’s contest kicking off NEXT WEEKEND (how did this happen?), I have zero time for one of my traditional rambling intros. Lucky you.

Speaking of you…if you saw the title of this post and decided it was worth a look, then you’re probably wondering what I think of Eugent, Saara, Yianna, Ieva and DoReDos – plus the musical offerings they’re bringing to Lisbon’s mahusive potluck dinner. Keep reading if you want to stop wondering! Then, as always, you can pick your personal fave of the five (scroll for the poll) and share your ranking in the comments. I know you want to…

 

 

My thoughts Way back in ye olde 2017, Eugent’s Mall became the first song to be selected for Eurovision 2018 (if I remember rightly). It’s a typical move for Albania, with Festivali I Këngës always falling during the festive season. The plus side is that Albanian entries have more time to grow on us and/or be reworked; the downside is that sometimes they don’t age like a fine wine so much as like a loaf of bread. So is Mall, all those months later, a drop of something delicious or a stale loaf of sourdough? And why do I constantly compare music to food? I can’t answer that second question TBH, but I can tell you that for me, this song is somewhere in the middle of awesome and awful. I think it’s quite wallpaper-like: imagine this year’s contest as a room, with Israel being the avant-garde statement armchair and San Marino being the ugly, dated fireplace (spoiler alert for my San Marino review) and you’ll know what I mean. Mall is there and it’s competing, but there’s no fire in it as far as I’m concerned, and nothing that really grabs me – even in the chorus, which if no other part does, should be the part of a song that sticks. I definitely don’t hate it, because there’s really nothing to hate. It’s not super-current but it isn’t decades too late either; it’s well-produced and the music is richly-layered, even minus the live FiK orchestra; it’s anthemic and will probably have some arms waving in Altice Arena…basically, I don’t see/hear any major flaws. What I hear actually impresses me the most about Albania, in terms of Eugent’s vocals. They’re flawless, clearer than the crystal Eurovision trophy, and powerfully projected in a way that will fill the spacious Portuguese stage even if he’s standing on it solo (no France 2017 issues are in his future). But excellent vocals aren’t enough in a competition full of great vocalists – many of whom also have standout songs up their sleeves. Mall is not a standout song in my opinion. It’s a decent song with an Albanian essence that suitably qualified Eurofans can detect with a single sniff (which I appreciate that about their entries). And I’m glad Albania is putting faith in their own tongue for the first time since Identitet in 2013. Unfortunately, I doubt it will pay off. I cannot see this qualifying, especially from the first half of death in the semi final of death (the Grim Reaper will be busy on the Tuesday night). Even though Albania will sound brilliant coming right after Iceland (spoiler alert for my Iceland review), I’m anticipating around 16th place in the semi for Eugent.

2017 VS 2018? 2017. Call me controversial, and I’ll take it as a compliment.

My score 6.5

 

 

My thoughts An unfortunate trip to Kyiv last year ended much too soon for Norma John (and if you think I’m over it, THINK AGAIN…and read this post). And so Finland brought out the big guns for Lisbon – perennial competition bridesmaid Saara Aalto, her belter of a voice, and her bucketloads of charisma and stage presence. Let’s be real, we ALL adore this woman. She’s a precious Nordic angel who had to take a turn on The X Factor UK before Finland realised they’d better just internally select her lest she be poached by the Brits. That brings me to my main point re: Monsters. The track is being showered with love by fans and in the fan-voted OGAE poll (no surprises there) but would people be raving about it if someone other than Saara was performing it? The way I see it, the song is secondary in the overall package of the Finnish entry to Saara herself. The country is sending an artist with a song, not an artist AND a song, if you know what I mean (and Norway is in a similar position). I’m not saying Monsters isn’t good enough for her or that it’s not good at all, but it could do more for its singer than it does. Sweden’s Deb duo are the driving forces behind it, and have created a dance-pop almost-banger that isn’t exactly at the forefront of the music scene right now (Ireland sent a vaguely similar song to Malmö, Estonia to Copenhagen). It is catchy, with a strong chorus and a distinctive vocal hook – ‘I ain’t scared no more’ – plus an inspirational message passed on in a way that doesn’t make me feel nauseous (Iceland, pay attention). And you can bet your entire collection of Eurovision merchandise that I’d be burning major calories in the Euroclub with this song as my soundtrack, were I going to Lisbon. Anything that makes you want to move – and not towards the nearest exit to escape it – is good, right? But while I can easily acknowledge the merits of Monsters, I can also easily admit that it’s not one of my favourite songs of the year. I like it but I don’t love it, and I think Saara is capable of more. She’s not going to be the contest winner we thought she’d be back when her name was announced (though why we thought that when she’s finished second so many times, I don’t know). Finland should be back in the final again after sitting it out (involuntarily) for three years, but at this stage I do have them under as borderline in my predictions. Am I letting my lack of enthusiasm cloud my objectivity, or is Monsters legitimately not that amazing? We’ll find out in a few weeks.

2017 VS 2018? Blackbird moves me. Monsters (kind of) grooves me, but I can’t say no to Norma John.

My score 7

 

 

My thoughts Going full Greece didn’t do the former ESC darling any favours in 2016 – it resulted in the loss of their 100% qualification record. Demy got them back to the final last year with cookie cutter Greek-free dance though (go figure…so why have they opted for something ethnic this year? Answer: because Yianna Terzi could pay the right price. And thank Hellas for that! I love it when any country sends a song to Eurovision that couldn’t be from anywhere else, and it doesn’t happen that often these days. That’s my no. 1 reason to applaud this entry. Reason no. 2 is that Oneiro Mou features the kind of drama Koit and Laura name-dropped in Verona; my way of saying that it’s atmospheric and mysterious (when I pretend I never looked up the lyrics on Google Translate). The verses get a bit of intrigue bubbling as you wonder, when listening for the first time at least, where the song is headed. Then the chorus delivers extra drama – maybe not in the most bombastic  way possible, but in a way that I get a kick out of. If this song wasn’t in Greek, it wouldn’t have half the appeal that it does, so I’m grateful for that too. And Yianna, besides having an incredible head of hair á la Tamara Gachechiladze (no need to turn that volume up, ‘cause it’s already on full blast) is also a well-established, seasoned performer. Ergo, she won’t go all deer-in-the-headlights on stage and will hopefully give us a studio-grade rendition of Oneiro Mou. I say that as someone who’s yet to check out her live vocal chops (I’ve barely had time to brush my own teeth lately, so please excuse that) but I’m assuming she’s got the goods. Greece has made it out of semi finals with weaker songs than this – ICYMI it was NOT love between me and This Is Love, and I’d class that as a weak song that squeaked through. Still, 2016 proved that they’re not infallible, and even in a nautically-themed contest, Greece is unlikely to sail though to Saturday night (HA HA). Like Albania, they’re fighting to emerge from that tough first semi, and I’d say it’s 50:50 – pre-rehearsals – as to whether they’ll make it or not. If the song is staged well (Lights! Dry ice! Wind! Give it the full salon treatment) it’ll help. If not, it might blend into the background, and that would not make for a happy Jaz. The more nationalistic music we get to hear in the final the better.

2017 VS 2018? 2018. Demy didn’t do it for me.

My score 8

 

 

My thoughts I’m going to do those of you out there who love this song a favour and spare you having to read this review: it’s not going to be a positive one. Usually I’d ramble on about what happened to Country X last year and make you wonder how I feel about them this year before releasing the kraken that is my opinion. But I want to get straight to the point with When We’re Old, because it’s part of my personal Infamous Four – a.k.a. the four 2018 entries that I just don’t like. I have a top 15 (all of which I want in my top 10), a next best 5 to 10 songs, then a sizeable ‘OK’ category…but underneath that at #40-#43 lies Lithuania and three other countries that I’m yet to talk about. Ieva is at #40 rather than right at the bottom of my ranking, but she’s in my bad books. Why? Because if Lena Meyer-Landrut was only allowed to sing in her inside voice, and starred in a musical version of The Notebook wherein the soundtrack was composed by a rhyming dictionary and a wheel of vintage cheddar cheese, When We’re Old would be the result. Like Iceland’s Ari, Ieva is lovely inside and out, but she’s singing something that is sickeningly sweet and savoury at the same time. Sugar + cheese = not a nice combo (MORE FOOD ANALOGIES JAZ WTF?!?). Sure, it’s romantic and emotive, but I’m afraid my cold, unfeeling heart refuses to be affected by it (perhaps because I’m currently the most single person on the planet and cannot relate to the sentiment). There’s no doubt the song will grow on me during the contest period, and I might be eating these words by the time May becomes June. As of right now, though, I’m not keen for Lithuania to qualify, even if they have a much better chance of making it in Lisbon than they did in Kyiv (they seem to qualify when I don’t want them to and vice versa, with a few exceptions along the way). Of my Infamous Four, When We’re Old is the only one I can visualise in the final, but it will be my toilet break song if it does (and if I don’t need to go to the toilet when Ieva’s on, I’ll go and sit in there anyway). I’m feeling generous with my scores this year, so don’t be surprised by the number you see below…just know that most of those points are for Ieva, NOT her song.

2017 VS 2018? I have to say Rain of Revolution, because it’s more fun and less limp.

My score 5.5

 

 

My thoughts You can’t discuss Moldova 2018 without talking about Moldova 2017 first (well, I can’t). The Sunstroke Project are a gift from the Eurovision gods, having presented the world with an iconic meme in 2010 only to outdo themselves last year by presenting their country with its best-ever result. The problem is, like Bulgaria and Portugal, they set a standard for their successors that is not easy to meet. Repeat NF offenders DoReDos have Russian powerhouse Phillip Kirkirov in their corner, and that helped snag Sergey Lazarev the bronze position in Stockholm. That’s what this trio needs to live up to – 3rd place – but I don’t think the Phillip effect is going to get them that far. There is a heap of stuff to like about My Lucky Day: the classic Moldovan trumpets and infectious tune; the enthusiasm of the band when they’re performing it (maybe they caught that from the Sunstroke boys?); the NF/probable ESC mirrors (props that fit into the Portuguese LED-less puzzle very nicely); and the overall throwback feel that transports me back to contests from 2008-2010. It’s just a fun, fluffy song. Musical fairy floss, you might say, but it’s just light and sweet enough to make you (by which I mean me) want more. Is it a masterpiece? No, in case you thought I was under the impression it was. Lyrically, the situation could be improved…and even though I’m 26 and not 12, I can’t help thinking that the words ‘number two’ should be avoided by songwriters (maturity level = dangerously low). But because it doesn’t take itself too seriously, I don’t feel like I have to take the lyrics too seriously. Moldova hasn’t quite built on their 2017 success in the way I’d hoped, and like Bulgaria did after Poli in 2016. But when I look at this song without thinking about Hey Mamma and how it compares, I can’t complain much (which is a big deal for me). Top 3 on the scoreboard? Nope. Top 10? Maybe. Final? Almost definitely. They’ve got a guaranteed douze from Romania to help them on their way, and they might get a few votes out of me too.

2017 VS 2018? Will Moldova ever top Hey Mamma? They haven’t this year.

My score 8

 

 

Okay…now that I’ve practically written a novel about each country, the stats are: 15 down, 28 to go! I suddenly feel the need to listen to Blue’s I Can to make me feel like I can get the whole Class of 2018 covered in time.

Here’s my mini-ranking for this round:

  1. Greece (8)
  2. Moldova (8)
  3. Finland (7)
  4. Albania (6.5)
  5. Lithuania (5.5)

So it’s Yianna – by one of her amazingly-textured hairs – who wins this five-way battle. Stay tuned to see where she fits in to my ranking of all 43 songs once the reviews are (FINALLY!) done.

Do we have love for Greece in common, or is it Aalto all the way for you? Maybe you’re reeling from my review of Lithuania because you love it so much. Vote for your favourite below, and share your thoughts/spill your tea in the comments!

 

NEXT TIME Coming up on my Lisbon ‘Hit or S*%t’ list (that’s a working title for next year’s reviews…what do you reckon?) are Australia, France, Georgia, Ireland and Latvia. You won’t want to miss me trying not to be biased when I review We Got Love, so make sure you come back for Round 4.

 

 

 

 

THE EBJ EUROVISION 2018 REVIEWS: Round 2 (Azerbaijan, Estonia, Poland, Romania + Spain)

Bonjour! In case you hadn’t noticed, Eurovision 2018 is so close that the road to Lisbon is practically walkable – provided you’re not wearing giant platform boots like the lead singer of Wig Wam. I’ve definitely noticed, given I’ve got so many reviews to cram into the few weeks left before the contest kicks off.

Clearly, it’s time for less talk and more action. And today I’m talking all things Azerbaijan, Estonia, Poland, Romania and Spain. Spoiler alert: there are highs, and there are lows.

How high and how low are we talking? There’s only one way for you to find out. Keep reading to see how I rate the entries from Aisel, Elina, Gromee feat. Lukas, The Humans and Amaia & Alfred. Make sure you vote for your favourite of today’s five while you’re at it…scroll for the poll!

 

 

My thoughts Last year we had their skeletons, and now – because Bulgaria has the bones covered in this year’s Eurovision Anatomy lesson – Azerbaijan has moved on to the major organs. They’ve also moved back to a non-Azerbaijani production with X My Heart, which I’m not thrilled about since Skeletons was one of their best, and certainly most original, entries in years. Aisel’s song is neither of those things in my opinion, but it does what it needs to: it’s a competent pop song and an addition to the Lisbon line-up that will deliver an adequate result without challenging for the win. If that’s what Azerbaijan is after, then a happy ending is en route. I do like the track – it’s well-written and produced, energetic enough to bop to (without having a X-my-heart attack), anthemic and catchy (for the most part…I’m on my pre-show listening ban at the moment and have forgotten how the verses go). All in all, it’s solid and doesn’t do anything wrong. But – I bet you could sense there was a big ol’ but coming – I have whipped out my fine-toothed comb and located some minor issues. Head lice on the otherwise healthy scalp of Azerbaijan’s 2018 ESC effort, if you’re up for such a gross metaphor. For starters, there’s the legacy of co-writer Dimitris Kontopoulos and how this song compares to what’s come before it. Kontopoulos is the brains behind a bunch of BANGING Eurovision songs, including Work Your Magic (Belarus 2007), Shady Lady (Ukraine 2008), This Is Our Night (Greece 2009) and You Are The Only One (Russia 2016). Sadly, this song just ain’t in the same league – but that might be the influence of Swede Sandra Bjurman, who gave us one of the contest’s most maligned winners ever, Running Scared. Another little irritation of mine is Aisel herself, who’s gorgeous to look at but is supposed to be a smoky jazz singer…so why has she been given a dance-pop song to sing that doesn’t suit her voice or show her off to maximum advantage? It seems like an odd combo of song and singer to me, and that’s a feeling that doesn’t strike me with most, if not all, of the other countries competing (think of Austria or Israel, for example. Cesár and Netta didn’t co-write their entries, but you can tell they were tailored to their voices and styles). It’s a case of Valentina Monetta Syndrome. Will the majority of other fans/casual viewers/jurors notice or care about the mismatch when they’re voting? I doubt it, and they’ll give Azerbaijan enough of a boost to reach the final and then finish around 12th-17th. I’d be satisfied with that – but if they’re not, then they need to try a different tactic in 2019.

2017 VS 2018? Skeletons – cross my heart.

My score 7

 

 

My thoughts If your home and car insurance isn’t up-to-date, you might want to get on that because Elina is about to smash your windows with her on-point operatic vocals. Just as there’s nothing quite so painful to the ear as out of tune operatics, there’s nothing quite so impressive in the vocal world as flawless, crystal-clear pipes like hers. They’re the main selling point of La Forza, let’s be honest – so fingers crossed there’s no mic fail á la Laura last year. As for the song itself, well…I find both opera and popera hit-and-miss at Eurovision (I loved Grande Amore, hated La Voix) as does the scoreboard. La Forza slots in somewhere between those two past entries on my love/hate spectrum, with Estonia being closer to Italy than Sweden (just not geographically). I feel the powerful effects of the song, but not as strongly as a lot of other fans. I can’t help being swept up in the majesty of it all when the chorus drops though, and Elina is a hypnotic performer with a slight case of crazy eyes. With THAT VOICE, her ethereal beauty, a big song that suits her to a tee (take note, Azerbaijan), and a dress designed for Mrs. Slender Man that may or may not have projections on it in Portugal (I don’t think they’re necessary myself), Estonia has a statement piece on their hands. But do they have a winner? Possibly, but not probably. La Forza is firmly in a genre that does not appeal to everyone, and Elina can only do so much – i.e. perform perfectly – to change that. There is a clinical feel to the song and performance package too that gives it a coldness, and not in a cool purposeful way like Equinox’s Bones. I can’t see that vibe overcoming more warm-hearted rivals like Toy to win the televote, but Estonia has a good chance at a top three jury vote, I think. After two years of unexpected disappointments, Estonia is looking at an almost certain qualification (I reserve the right to take that back come prediction time *covers own butt in case*) and a final result that couldn’t be classified as a crash and burn. Elina’s talent alone is top 10-worthy, and how high she can go will likely depend on how many spines she can tingle when it matters.

2017 VS 2018? Verona is more up my street (if not anywhere near as vocally impressive).

My score 8

 

 

My thoughts From Flashlight to Light Me Up, here’s Poland! They’ve switched things up from a solo female ballad to a Norway 2017 sequel (albeit a less inventive, more lyrically pedestrian and typically inferior sequel) and I am pretty pleased with the results. Swedish dominance at Eurovision – outside of the actual Swedish entry – continues with Melodifestivalen’s Mahan Moin co-writing this track alongside fellow Swede Lukas, and the end product is what you’d expect. It’s slick, simple but effective, and will whip the arena audience into a semi-frenzy – especially as Poland is due on stage right after Georgia. Light Me Up is more fun and accessible (and yes, Salvador, fast food) than Sheni Gulistvis, and will probably be rewarded accordingly. I’m not going to pretend it’s The Greatest Song In The World™, but the fact that it is Grab The Moment’s more cookie-cutter cousin gets it on my good side. The chorus is insanely catchy, and the musical hook that follows creates an epic atmosphere. What else can I say? I’m an easily pleased person when it comes to pop music – as long as something has an infectious melody and decent lyrics, it will probably end up on a Spotify playlist of mine at some stage. If I’m going to go negative for a minute, I’ll do it by saying that Lukas had what I hope is a case of Ryan Dolanitis when this song won Krajowe Eliminacje. In other words, his vocals weren’t out of this world. But I know he’s capable of ironing them out for Eurovision (I hate to repeat myself, but as I’m on my contest song hiatus, I haven’t watched Polish performances from the preview parties to compare). Factor in the limit on the number of ways a producer/singer duo song can be performed – JOWST did an A+ version last year which would be a bad idea to mimic so soon – and there are a few flaws in Poland’s plan. I say that even as someone who really likes (maybe even…loves *insert soaring violin music here*) Light Me Up. Strangely, I won’t be shocked if Gromee & Lukas just miss out on qualifying. The 8th-ish mark in semi two seems as easy to access for them as 12th. But Poland is in possession of a great recent track record: they’ve made it to the final every year since their 2014 comeback. And luckily for them, the second semi is not as diabolically difficult to get out of as the first. If Poland does advance, don’t be surprised if they end up opening the final – it would set the mood like a charm, and it’s not a potential winner to be held back for later on in the show. You (might have) heard it here first!

2017 VS 2018? 2018 – it’s the JOWST effect.

My score 10

 

 

My thoughts The late-1980s power ballad police called, and they want to put The Humans’ Goodbye behind bars – but I’m not keen to let them, because I’m actually really fond of it. I’ve found myself in the awkward position of being pro-Romania this year when most other reviews of their song have been negative…when last year was the complete opposite (I didn’t dislike Yodel It!, but I was in Camp Take It Or Leave It while the majority of other fans were in Camp OMG THIS IS EPIC). If you think I couldn’t possibly justify my attraction to this entry for 2018, think again! Firstly, I have zero problems with late-1980s power ballads, so Goodbye being the Eurovision edition of Alone by Heart gets a thumbs up from me. It’s definitely a slow burner, taking a solid minute or so to transition from piano ballad to big hair/shoulder pads/inch-thick eyeliner territory. Unlike most other sane people who are not stuck in a decade in which they weren’t even born, however, I think what happens is worth the wait. I’m happy to stick around listening for the beat to drop and the guitars to kick in, and I think people hearing Goodbye for the first time during semi two might be curious enough to do the same (or get bored and use the second half of the second as a toilet/snack break, I’ll admit). No exaggeration, that ‘Why don’t you see the beauty that surrounds you everywhere?’ line in the first chorus gives me LIFE. The entire chorus, in fact (when it finally arrives) is a cracker. Another thing I appreciate about this is that it doesn’t follow a predictable song structure, so it never seems to repeat itself – not in the excessive way we’re used to with a lot of ESC entries, at least. Throw in the powerful, raspy-edged vocals from lead singer Cristina and what is the greatest, most appropriate song ending of this year’s contest (it practically begs for a dramatic mic drop) and I hope you can now see why I’m on Team Romania. There are plenty of other songs that I believe are better than this – it’s sitting at the 20-ish mark in my top 43 at the moment, though as I’ve said there are literally only two songs that I dislike – but overall I think it’s a great 80s-influenced PB (power ballad) that won’t get Romania a Eurovision PB (personal best) but might grab a few of my votes. I get why people are saying it might undo the country’s 100% qualification record, but personally (in my special biased way) I have a feeling it will squeak through. Or maybe even do better than expected…

2017 VS 2018? Yodel It has worn pretty thin with me, so I’d have to say Goodbye.

My score 8.5

 

 

My thoughts It has to be said: Spain had a disastrous contest in Kyiv, with Manel’s money note fail becoming the sour cherry on top (and a sound-on GIF that did multiple rounds on social media, and that I may or may not have laughed at). Based on Do It For Your Lover – which didn’t do it for anyone – whatever followed was bound to come across as a masterpiece. But DOES IT??? *insert tense music here*. Tu Canción can best be described as a romantic lullaby, performed by a couple who got together during the quest to seek out the Spanish entry for Lisbon. I know we’re supposed to get all misty and wipe away happy tears whenever this backstory is mentioned, or whenever we see Alfred and Amaia’s onstage PDAs that are not manufactured at this point (though wouldn’t it be interesting if they broke up before the contest…I’m not hoping, I’m just curious). I must have a black hole where my soul is supposed to be though, because I find both the song and the public displays of affection too sugary sweet for my taste. It’s like the duo are in their own little love-cave when they’re performing, and that doesn’t engage me as I’m watching them. Instead, I feel like I’m looking through the window of their honeymoon suite and really should turn away to give them some privacy. Hashtag awkward! The song itself is certainly a step up from Do It For Your Lover in terms of a competition song, but I prefer the summery, fun vibes Manel offered to be honest. Tu Canción is probably the closest thing to a reigning winner copycat that we’ve got in 2018, and no doubt Salvador would approve of the lack of fireworks and flood of feelings. I just don’t have any strong feelings either way – schmaltz aside, it is a pretty and delicate ballad with a nice flow to it, but nothing more to me. I do have an approving nod to spare for the vocals – the tinkly quality and clarity of Amaia’s voice balances out the rough-edged sound of Alfred’s, and they harmonise like a match made in heaven. Maybe they are…maybe there’s an ESC wedding on the horizon! Not that I’m saying these two should get married on stage during their final performance, but in the absence of LEDs you’ve got to be creative with your gimmicks. I’m unsure how Spain will go on the Saturday night, but it’s safe to say they’ll end the night in a better position – and having put on a more polished show – than last year. Personally, Tu Canción isn’t my favourite of the Big Five + Portugal, but it’s not at the bottom of my list (so please don’t plot my death, Spanish Eurofans).

2017 VS 2018? I liked Do It For Your Lover for what it was. Don’t judge me (too harshly)!

My score 6.5

 

 

There you go: that’s another five songs for Lisbon reviewed by yours truly. I should probably stop doing this, but…10 down, (only?) 33 to go!

Here’s today’s ranking:

  1. Poland (10)
  2. Romania (8.5)
  3. Estonia (8)
  4. Azerbaijan (7)
  5. Spain (6.5)

This is a very mixed-up version of the ranking most other fans would create, I know. You can hit up the comment box below to tell me how you’d organise this bunch from best to worst. Or not-so-best, in my case…I definitely don’t hate Spain. I do really, really like Poland though. Stick around for the rest of my reviews to see how Gromee and Lukas stack up against the entire Class of 2018.

Besides sharing your own ranking, why not pick your outright favourite of these five too and see if you’re in the majority?

 

NEXT TIME I’m putting on my Eurovision lab coat (it’s still white, but white sequins) and sliding Albania, Finland, Greece, Lithuania and Moldova under my microscope to see whether good things or bad things are lurking in their entries for 2018. Don’t miss my diagnosis!

 

Until then,

 

 

 

THE EBJ EUROVISION 2018 REVIEWS: Round 1 (Armenia, Cyprus, Hungary, Malta + the Netherlands)

Hello there! I bet you thought this day would never come – the day when I’d finally get my Euroshiz together and do what every other ESC website has been doing for a month.

REVIEWS!!!

Okay, so you might have known I’d kick things off eventually if you’re familiar with my sloth-like tendencies (never visit this blog for breaking news, because it won’t be breaking by the time I talk about it). Now that there are four weeks to go until Lisbon’s first semi final, though, you’re about to be flooded with my verdicts on all 43 songs competing in Eurovision 2018. It’s a review tsunami, so strap on your lifejackets and take a big breath!

For Round 1, my high-tech random selection process – in which I copy-pasted a list of the countries, closed my eyes and pointed at it 43 times – resulted in Armenia, Cyprus, Hungary, Malta and the Netherlands being the fortunate first group to be judged (you’ll have to wait a while for the lucky last). So if you want to see how I rate Sevak, Eleni, AWS, Christabelle and Waylon, you came to the right place.

Check out my reviews, vote for your favourite of today’s five, and share your thoughts in the comments. Pretty please?

 

 

My thoughts If you’d told me a few months ago that Tamar Kaprelian would not be representing Armenia at Eurovision this year, I would have had a very melodramatic meltdown. Poison (Ari Ari) is an ethnopop masterpiece after all (Disagree? CASH ME OUSSIDE, HOW BOW DAH?!?) and when I listened to the snippets of everything else Depi Evratesil had to offer, I didn’t hear anything as awesome. As Donny Montell knows, love is blind…but it also made me deaf to the potential of eventual winning song Qami. I honestly can’t even recall hearing a snippet of Sevak’s power ballad – the first all-Armenian language song sent to adult Eurovision – even though I definitely did. Yet all it took was one look at/listen to his national final performance for me to forget about Poison (almost – a banger is always a banger) and fall head-over-heels for Qami. ‘Wind’ as it translates to – and it’s a safe assumption that he’s talking about the force of nature, not the aftermath of a particularly spicy vindaloo – ticks every box on my mental checklist for epic ballads. It’s a slow burner that starts off subtly before exploding at the end of the second chorus (kind of like the 0-100k/ph dynamism of Aram Mp3’s Not Alone). It’s haunting and mysterious. The melody is stunning, and the repetition of the title gives us non-Armenian speakers something to latch on to. Plus, the contrast between the delicate first half and Sevak’s vocal and visual strength (there’s wearing your heart on your sleeve and then there’s wearing your abs on the outside of your shirt) makes the overall package vulnerable and powerful at the same time. I know a lot of fans aren’t as psyched about this one as I am, but every year there’s one song I adore that not many other people seem to (and it can either bomb, or kick butt in the actual contest like Origo last year). I do think there is room for Qami to do some butt-kicking in Lisbon, this not being a ballad-heavy year and Sevak having the kind of song that could be a mind-blower if it’s staged right. But that’s more of a hope and prayer than a prediction, so don’t hold me to it!

2017 VS 2018? 2018, hands down (sorry, Artsvik).

My score 12

 

 

My thoughts Speaking of ethnopop masterpieces…enter Cyprus! Strutting in wearing a catsuit and a pair of sky-high heels, of course. Last year I was pleasantly surprised by Hovig’s Gravity, which was constantly compared to Rag & Bone Man’s Human – familiarity doesn’t breed contempt with me, I guess. I’m mentioning the comparison because once again, Cyprus has delivered a great pop song that happens to fit neatly into the mould of one I’ve heard before – in this case, a bunch of songs from Helena Paparizou’s back catalogue. Is there anything wrong with that? Umm, NO. Don’t get me wrong, I applaud originality, and Lisbon is lucky to have it in the form of Israel, Ukraine etc. But even a Paparizou album filler would be welcome at Eurovision, and since we can’t have the queen herself performing one (though she did record a version), Eleni and her Fuego are the next best thing. I love this, and it was an instant love strengthened by the fact that ‘You got me pelican fly fly flying’ is legitimately one of the lyrics. That IS original! I feel like this song was engineered especially to appeal to ethnopop tragics like myself because, in that department, it does everything right. Simple, neatly-rhymed verses + a chorus made up of hooky melodies and yeahs (which can be exchanged for ohs) + a memorable riff played on a traditional instrument = this, and every other ethnopop entry ever. Basically, it’s Aphrodisiac (Greece 2012) with a 2018 magic wand waved over it. With the product placement from the music video out of the question for the live ESC performance, and Eleni sure to be looking as hot as the fire she’s singing about, my only concern is how she’ll sound. The lives of hers I’ve checked out have been fine – albeit feat. some heavy lifting from backing vocalists – but I have heard she isn’t the most reliable live performer. Still, if Jedward can sing seemingly in tune (with their backup vocalists’ mics turned way up) then anyone can. And if someone can point me in the direction of proof that Eleni is actually a top-notch singer and convince me that I shouldn’t be worried, they’ll get a gold star. I really want this to be Cyprus’ fourth finalist in a row, not their first DNQ since 2013.

2017 VS 2018? This is like choosing a favourite child. NOPE. Not happening.

My score 10

 

 

My thoughts You’ve got to give Hungary credit for never sending the same song to Eurovision twice. Their bounce-around approach has, since their 2011 comeback, given us dance pop, electro rock, an acoustic alt-ballad, EDM, a charity song, anthemic rock and an ethnopop slice of heaven (Joci Papái was my favourite last year and is still a true musical love of mine). In 2018 we’re getting something different again with hardcore(ish) rock/metal/I’m clearly not an expert on the genre of AWS’ Viszlát Nyár but it sounds intense to me. It’s certainly the most hardcore, rocky song competing in Lisbon, and while that will help it stand out, such songs don’t always go over well at the ESC (I can’t imagine juries going nuts over this). The fact is that the demographic AWS are aiming at is not found, in droves at least, in the Eurovision audience (if someone did a Venn diagram to demonstrate it, the two fan bases would have a pretty tiny overlap area). I’m definitely not the kind of person who would readily abandon their pop sensibilities for anything involving screaming to music. So you might be surprised to learn that I actually like this. Like, not love (á la Origo, which I said I’d marry in my review last year if I could) but yes, I dig it. It reminds me a little of Dead By April’s Melodifestivalen entry Mystery, which I was obsessed with back in 2012 – it features the same mixture of soft moments and intense, scream-your-lungs-out moments that a) make it dynamic, and b) stop it from totally alienating people who aren’t regular purveyors of hard rock. As always, Hungarian sounds alluring and mysterious as the language of choice (is there a genre it doesn’t work with?), especially in the verses. Overall, Viszlát Nyár might be well outside my top 10 for the year, but there are only two or three songs I dislike and this is not one of them. I’m a big supporter of Hungary in the contest and I do hope AWS give the country their 8th consecutive qualification…but I think it could be a tough task. The best comparison song would be Softengine’s Something Better, which did very well for Finland in 2014 but was a lot more accessible (and the screaming was confined to the last twenty seconds or so). I don’t expect Hungary to perform as impressively as that if they do make the final, and TBH, I’ll live if they don’t. Still, it would be nice to have some rock on hand to spice up the best Saturday night of the year.

2017 VS 2018? It’s a no-brainer – Origo all the way.

My score 7

 

 

My thoughts Not for the first time – they did it last year too – Malta is sending an artist to Eurovision who’s tried to represent them before with a better song than the one they’re actually getting to go with. In Christabelle’s case, 2015’s Rush really should have been her Eurovision song, but it finished 2nd in MESC that year (Saddy McSadface). And so, three years later, we’ve ended up with Taboo, a mostly Maltese production feat. input from Thomas g:Son (shocking). I’ve developed a bit of a love-hate relationship with this song, though now I think about it, those words are probably too strong – ‘like-dislike’ would be more accurate. Basically, there are parts of it I really like and others that I really don’t. First, the negatives: it may not be as lyrically lame as past Maltese entries, but it’s all over the place with metaphors and similes, making it fairly nonsensical and the message confusing (apparently it’s about mental health struggles, ICYMI). The chorus in particular bugs me like crazy – it seems like the songwriters wanted it to be meaningful, but it turned into a mess of words that happen to rhyme with ‘animals’ (criminals, miracle, *my brain explodes*). The dubstep break is my other main gripe with Taboo, just because it feels passé and could have been left out to no great loss. Positives-wise, there’s good energy, a hypnotic beat, a contemporary-sounding melody, and an overall approving nod for Malta choosing something like this. And I have to mention the MESC performance, which was OTT but very cool at the same time…even if it might be hard to replicate on Lisbon’s LED-less stage. To her credit, Christabelle is a likeable performer with a decent voice, providing she’s not running a marathon or doing star jumps constantly during a performance (code for ‘don’t make her move too much, Team Malta!’). I think Taboo has a better chance of qualifying to the final than Claudia’s Breathlessly did last year – that proved us all right when it went nowhere. But in semi two, where five or six countries could easily advance from the first half alone, Malta’s odds are 50-50, and the shock value will be minimal whether they qualify or not. Unfortunately they’re performing just three songs before Sweden, and Benjamin is armed with an uptempo song accompanied by a slick, impressive stage presentation – much like Malta, but better. And with Sweden being almost a dead cert to qualify, if one of the two is going to be sacrificed to the DNQ gods, it will be Malta.

2017 VS 2018? 2018 fo sho. I’d rather break the taboo than be breathless.

My score 6.5

 

 

My thoughts The first question to ask someone who’s about to hear Outlaw In ‘Em for the first time is ‘How do you feel about country music?’. If their answer is ‘Not good’, then they won’t be giving it douze points, or anything close. Waylon’s solo Eurovision entry is without a doubt the countriest country song I’ve ever come across. Every lyric, every guitar lick – even the title – is dripping in the genre, and makes me feel like an idiot (or should I say ‘good for nothin’ varmint’?) for not wearing a cowboy hat. Of course, as soon as the song’s over, normal cowboy-hatless life resumes. I have to say, I do enjoy a country song or 65, but I’m more of an easy-listening cruisy country fan, as opposed to a rip-roarin’, honky-tonkin’, gun-totin’ type. In that sense, you can understand why I much prefer Waylon feat. Ilse deLange (a.k.a. The Common Linnets) with Calm After The Storm to this entry. The fact that Outlaw is so darn country – to the point where it’s about to fall off a cliff edge into Cheesy Canyon – is a turn-off for me, even though I appreciate the go hard or go home mentality (a half-assed country-tinged track for Waylon? No sirree). It reminds me of Achy Breaky Heart too much to take seriously, only it’s too fast to boot-scoot to. I know I’m in the minority here, but I don’t want all of y’all to challenge me to a stand-off just yet. I’m not totally, 110% anti-Outlaw. On the plus side, I like the lyrics: unlike Malta, the theme here is clear and consistent; and the rhyming is beautiful, which makes the overall package sound neat. The song is unique (in this competition, anyway) and definitely memorable. And Waylon is a great performer even when he’s not locking eyes with Ilse – in Portugal he’ll be making eyes at the camera instead, and I’ll imagine he’s staring straight into my soul (in a sexy way, not a demonic way). Will he end up staring down the barrel of qualification, though? The betting odds say heck yes, but I have to wonder if this song is going to be too divisive. It does come to life more on stage than in studio, so I can see it meeting expectations on the night/s that count most. Yet the mass appeal needed for a win isn’t there, and I can’t see a Common Linnets result in Waylon’s future either.

2017 VS 2018? 2017. Girl power and incredible harmonies > full-on country extravaganza.

My score 6.5

 

 

And that, guys, is Round 1 done and dusted. Five down, 38 to go in less than four weeks.

SEND HELP.

Then, when you’ve dialed 911/000/whatever your country’s equivalent is on my behalf, you can take a look at today’s mini-ranking:

  1. Armenia (12)
  2. Cyprus (10)
  3. Hungary (7)
  4. Malta (6.5) 
  5. The Netherlands (6.5)

So it’s Sevak who takes the top spot, which is obviously not a shock to me because I already knew how I felt about these five songs (let me hear you say ‘DUH!’). Now the question is, can Qami hold on to the #1 position as the EBJ 2018 reviews continue? You’ll have to stay tuned – and subscribed, hint hint – to find out. Opt in for new post email alerts in the sidebar, or find me on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram (all @EurovisionByJaz) to make sure you don’t miss a thing!

Before I sign off and in turn stop begging you to follow me on social media, I do have another question:

 

NEXT TIME The Lisbon reviews are just revving up…and if I want to get them finished before Eurovision happens, I need to get a move on. Drop by on the weekend when I’ll sit myself down on the EBJ judging panel to critique Azerbaijan, Estonia, Poland, Romania, and Spain!

 

Until then,

 

 

 

SHINE BRIGHT! Jaz’s JESC 2017 Reviews, Round 4 (Armenia, Ireland, Russia + Serbia)

Today’s the day, everyone who’s into Junior Eurovision! You’d have to be if you’re reading this.

There are just hours until Georgia hosts their first-ever contest, with the jury final done and dusted and a big chunk of votes already in (we still have until 15.59 CET to get our pre-show votes in, so get on it if you’re yet to have your say). What makes things even more exciting is that, even after rehearsals, it’s still an open contest without a totally predictable, probable-runaway winner. So – with due thanks also going to the current method of announcing the results – we should be on the edge of our seats until the very last score is calculated (unless one of the hosts screws things up like Valerie Vella, Queen of Spoilers, did last year). I’m SO excited for this!

I do have another few jobs to do before I can sit back, not relax (TOO EXCITED) and enjoy the show later. One is to make my official predictions for the comp public, which I will be doing on Instagram this afternoon (follow me @EurovisionByJaz…the link is over there in the sidebar). The other job is to squeeze in the final round of 2017 song reviews, of course! Here’s what’s gone down so far:

  • Round 1 feat. Cyprus, Georgia, The Netherlands + Poland
  • Round 2 feat. Albania, Italy, Macedonia + Portugal
  • Round 3 feat. Australia, Belarus, Malta + Ukraine

That means Armenia, Ireland, Russia and Serbia are left – so stay tuned to see what I think of Misha’s Boomerang, Muireann McDonnell’s Súile Glasa, Polina Bogusevich’s Wings and Irina & Jana’s Ceo Svet Je Naš. It’s happening right…

 

…now!

 

Watch it here 

Last year…powerhouse duo Anahit & Mary scored Armenia’s second 2nd place in a row with Tarber – a song I am still listening to on a daily basis and refuse to hear a bad word about.

The 2017 verdict Armenia is one of the most successful JESC countries period, having only finished outside of the top 5 twice in 10 participations. They’re on a particularly impressive run at the moment with a consecutive 3rd, 2nd and 2nd on their performance record. The problem with that, of course (*morphs speedily into Negative Nancy*) is that they’ve set themselves a standard so high, they might need the aid of a professional pole-vaulter to make sure Misha can top it – or at least equal it, since the only way to truly top it would be to win. I will be talking about the rehearsals here, but when it comes to song alone I’d say that Boomerang does have ‘winner’ written all over it. I didn’t feel it at first, but something clicked on listen no. 2 and I began to believe that Misha (well, studio Misha) had everything required in that three minutes to take the new and (some would say) improved JESC trophy home. I’d describe this song Eurovisually as a hybrid of Aram Mp3’s Not Alone – a power ballad that starts off subtly and simply before exploding into a million pieces of ‘Wow! – and Lisa Angell’s N’oubliez Pas, because it’s backed by a pounding militaristic beat. What it adds to that combo is interesting rhythm changes, and a younger vibe thanks to Misha’s delicate vocals (delicate until he unleashes his inner Anahit and/or Mary towards the end). It’s an aurally arresting mixture that suggests Armenia shouldn’t be discounted from the race, as per usual. But PLOT TWIST: from what I’ve heard about their rehearsals (told you I needed to mention the R word), an out-of-character misstep might be in store instead. Live performances can build an ordinary song up or tear a great one down, and though I haven’t watched any rehearsals as normal, reports of questionable vocals, a hoverboard that may not be serving Misha all that well and things just not coming together have me worried. I was going to tip Armenia as a possible winner, but now I’m wondering if they’re going to dip below their current worst-ever result of 8th. Before seeing evidence of that though, I will stick to my guns and not write them off. After all, Armenia has never ended a Junior contest lower than 2nd when they’ve entered a song with a single-word title. COINCIDENCE? Yeah, probably.

Song score 10

Artist score 8

Final score 9

 

 


Watch it here

Last year…Ireland participated for the second time with Bríce ar Bhríce by Zena Donnelly, improving on their debut 12th place with 10th (I predicted it to come last…oops).

The 2017 verdict I have to say, Ireland hasn’t exactly set my soul (or any other part of me) on fire with their JESC entries to date. All three have been good but not great IMO – though in 2015 and now in 2017, it’s more a case of the genres not being my bowl of Irish stew. Muireann is a cool kid who’s been personality plus when interviewed in Tbilisi this week, and there’s no denying she’s got talent. But Súile Glasa just doesn’t do much for me. It’s like a bowl of porridge (what’s with all the food references? If I’m not careful I’ll be discussing the Irish Potato Famine in detail next) without any flavouring. Okay, maybe a little flavouring…it is sweet. And the chorus is the stuff of sing-along dreams even in Irish. AND – check out all of these positives I’m pulling out! – I like the breathy, earth-child sound of Muireann’s voice. But like is as far as my relationship with this song will ever go – it’s in the Friend Zone, people. I am aware that my Music That Will/Will Not Work In A Competition Based On What I Think Of It radar is in good need of a repair job – and that my apathetic attitude towards Súile Glasa isn’t shared by many other Eurofreaks Eurofans. With that in mind, Ireland could be on track to improve on their debut result even further by improving on last year’s – I’m sensing 8th place for Muireann using my virtually non-existent psychic powers. In my personal ranking, it’s a lot lower than that, but not because it’s heinous. To me, it’s another You and Me by Joan Franka (i.e. I just don’t ‘get’ it). And Ireland in JESC so far…well, let’s just say I’m happy to have them at the party, but they’re definitely not the life of it.

Song score 6

Artist score 8

Final score 7

 

 


Watch it here

Last year…The Water of Life Project’s Water of Life pulled in the third-highest kids’ jury vote which propelled them into 4th place overall.

The 2017 verdict I have ADORED Russia at Junior for the last few years. Water of Life, in fact, was my runaway favourite of 2016 and I still love it a year later. Prior to 2015, though, I found them pretty hit-and-miss. I’m telling you all this stuff you probably don’t want to hear to make you question whether or not I’m a fan of Russia’s 2017 entry Wings. The short answer is yes. The slightly longer answer is HECK YES. Now for the longest answer of all: while it’s not another hands-down fave of mine (there are a few other songs I love on a similar level) Polina’s musical bid to win JESC no. 2 for Russia is right at the top of my list (floating around with those other few). This is everything I want in a ballad and more – so much so that I don’t even care about the nonsensical areas of the English lyrics despite being a former English major and staunch advocate of correct grammar. Taking inspiration from the soaring, electronic-edged ballads Sia has made famous, Wings is polished pop perfection with a massive chorus, epic build up to that chorus, a strong story backed up well by visuals in the music video (and on stage, I’m told) and a money note that overshadows all others we’ll hear in Tbilisi. Polina is an absolute powerhouse with all the necessary facial manipulation skills to sell the song to the audience and through the camera lens. I may acknowledge that the use of English in Wings has weaknesses, but that’s purely in the lyrics themselves – I really like the way the languages switch, with the song coming to an end in Russian right where it started. Speaking of the end…how good is it with the repetition of the final chorus line? Overall, Wings packs a memorable punch that I’m praying sees Russia in the top 5 again. Sadly, they seem to have trouble winning no matter how hard they try (something Sergey Lazarev could identify with) and this package doesn’t feel quite like the winning one to me – but that’s mainly because my favourites hardly ever win JESC or ESC and I’ve become pessimistic. The almost impossible could happen, and I’ll be doing my part to help it along by voting for Russia!

Song score 12

Artist score 12

Final score 12

 

 

Watch it here

Last year…poor Dunja Jeličić was out-hoverboarded by Belarus (ouch!) and ended up at the bottom of the leaderboard in U La La Last place.

The 2017 verdict Unlike Armenia, all Serbia has to do at JESC 2017 is not lose in order to outdo their showing in 2016. Unfortunately, that may be a tall order for Irina and Jana…but you know what? They wouldn’t come last if the outcome was up to me. Ceo Svet Je Naš is a cute little throwback to Junior contests of the past – think 2003 to 2005 – with a 1920s flapper feel shoehorned in. I’ve said before that I like it when countries go classic JESC on us, and the same goes for this entry. It’s clearly a kids’ song for a kids’ contest, and wouldn’t double up as an adult Eurovision song like Belarus or Macedonia, which makes it an awesome addition to the line-up. Being so sweet and simplistic, it’s also a breath of fresh air amongst more serious, hard-hitting and dramatic stuff á la Armenia, Poland and Russia. What puts the girls in losing contention isn’t so much the lack of good material – it’s just that by comparison, most of the other 15 songs have more to offer and are more exciting. Even I, who will bop to this while wishing I was wearing some fringe and feathers, am not tempted to vote for it when there are plenty of other songs on offer that practically demand to be supported. It’d be like picking up a sugar cookie from a buffet full of layer cakes and ice-cream sundaes (here I go again with the food analogies). I’m guessing most other people – those of us at home and those on the juries – will feel the same. As a result, I can’t see Irina and Jana charming their way out of the bottom 5. If Montenegro couldn’t do it in 2014 with a throwback duo, I can’t see Serbia doing it now.

Song score 7

Artist score 8

Final score 7.5

 

 

Finally, after four rounds, I get to say it: 16 down, 0 to go! The last mini-ranking for the year looks like this: 

  1. Russia (12)
  2. Armenia (9)
  3. Serbia (7.5)
  4. Ireland (7)

Polina wings her way (HAHAHA not) straight to the top, with Misha not too far behind, and the others fairly far behind…all according to me, obviously. There’s not long at all to wait until we find out who’ll actually come out on top and who’ll be left on the bottom (because somebody has to be).

Now it’s time for The Question I Always Ask Because I’m Nosy.

 

I know I haven’t asked you yet what your overall Junior Eurovision 2017 favourite is – so make sure you do head over to my Instagram and follow me @EurovisionByJaz if you don’t already. When I post my album of rankings and predictions later on today, put yours in the comments or tag me in those you post so I can see them! We can start a social media war over our differing opinions and trade insults that are definitely not kid-friendly…all that fun stuff.

Then it’ll be show time. Give me a Y A S S S! I’ll be hanging out on Twitter during the contest and I hope to see you there too, hashtagging the heck out of #ShineBright.

Enjoy your viewing experience, no matter who wins. I mean, it actually doesn’t matter since we’re going to Minsk next year regardless. Personally, I’m Team Australia (shocking), Georgia, Poland and Russia, so I’ll be crossing my fingers for them. Waving four different flags is a bit much for me to handle at the moment (also, I do not own a Georgian or Russian flag).

 

See you on the other side of JESC!