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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!

 

 

 

SHINE BRIGHT! Jaz’s JESC 2017 Reviews, Round 3 (Australia, Belarus, Malta + Ukraine)

If you’re not ready for Junior Eurovision 2017 (which TBH I’m not, considering I’m still frantically trying to get my song reviews done on time), too bad – it’s nearly here! The countdown is in single-digit days, rehearsals have started in Tbilisi’s festively-decorated Olympic Palace, and Mariam Mamadashvili is probably wondering what to have printed on her business cards now that ‘Current JESC Champion’ is about to be void.

In fact, the contest is so close than I have zero time for a classic Jaz Introductory Euroramble™. All I’m going to say is here’s Round 3 of my annual reviews, feat. Australia, Belarus, Malta and Ukraine. Check out my verdicts and vote for your favourite of the four below! 

 

 

Watch it here

Last year…I couldn’t help being happy – though very, VERY confused – when Alexa Curtis finished 5th with We Are. I suspect the absence of a televote had something to do with it.

The 2017 verdict We’re back, bitches! Actually, scratch that, because I should be keeping my language in check when discussing JESC. We’re just…back. As an Australian, it’s hard not to be pleased that our Eurovision invitations are still being extended (even in the face of frequent backlash/mutterings from other countries, which I do understand. But at the same time, IT’S HAPPENING, SO GET OVER IT). Also pleasing is the fact that we’re yet to send a bona-fide dud to the adult or junior contest, and the seriousness of our approach is worth at least one less snide remark, right? I definitely think so when it comes to Isabella’s Speak Up, which is arguably our best JESC entry ever. It doesn’t have My Girls whiff of lyrical cheesiness, or the wishy-washiness of We Are – the lyrics are great, the chorus is catchy and easy to sing along to, the vibe is young without being too young, and it includes one of the best key changes of the year (which Isabella has already proven she can nail live). I honestly feel like I would rate this song no matter which country it was coming from or what language it was sung in. It’s not as bubblegum pop as, say, Kisses and Dancin’ from The Netherlands last year, but it has a similar charm and upbeat energy that makes you smile. All in all, there is very little to pick on re: Australia 2017 – before seeing it live, anyway (rehearsals have obviously started, but my golden rule is NEVER watch them). Isabella will be backed by some dancers, the outfits and graphics will be slick, we’re performing second-to-last…what could go wrong in a contest that’s weaker than the last few? Well, a lot. I have an unfortunate feeling that even though a) Speak Up is our best Junior track so far, way better than We Are, and b) as I just mentioned, 2017 is not the strongest field of songs, we’re not going to make it into the top 5 again. I think we deserve to with this – not necessarily reaching the podium, but 5th or 4th place, sure. I just have this gut feeling that Australia is headed for more of a 6th-8th ending á la 2015. Still, I don’t have the most reliable guts on the planet, so anything could happen. My fingers are extra crossed!

Song score 10

Artist score 10

Final score 10

 

  


Watch it here

Last year…Alexander Minyonok and Muzyka Moikh Pobed received the Christer Björkman douze points of approval, which (when combined with a usage of hoverboards that totally eclipsed Serbia’s) helped him hit the heights of 7th place.

The 2017 verdict This might not apply at adult Eurovision, but you should always keep an eye on Belarus at Junior. They’ve won it twice and done very well for themselves on most other occasions. The trend continues 110% with Helena and I Am The One, and I’m going to cut right to the chase by saying she may actually be the one (someone had to say it). This song is undeniably high-class, and I don’t think many people could call it anything less than flawless without lying a little bit. It’s not even in my personal top three for 2017 and I’m calling it perfection. Beautifully produced – right down to the music video – and big on atmosphere and drama, it does everything a dark pop song should do without being cookie-cutter predictable. Belarusian lyrics + English title = totally fine by me, as are the explosive choruses and moments of light and shade that make the Serbias and Portugals of the year sound flatter than a pancake. Helena’s voice can get a teensy bit grating in the chorus if I’m extra-critical, but as long as she has ultimate control over it and stops it from entering The Screech Zone (it’s like the Twilight Zone, but you need multiple pairs of earplugs to make it out alive) I can deal. Speaking of things that might happen live…I want this performance to be the way I’m picturing it in my head SO BAD. The mystical ball from the MV better be there at least, and dynamic, epilepsy-triggering laser lights basically go without saying. For the costume, I’m thinking boho-robot, but that’s a concept I need to write an explanatory thesis on later. For now, I don’t know what else I can say about Belarus bar the following: the other four or so songs in winning contention better watch their backs. Then again, this could be the pre-show favourite that doesn’t quite meet expectations. There’s only a few days until we find out!

Song score 12

Artist score 12

Final score 12

 

  


Watch it here

Last year…home girl Christina Magrin delivered possibly THE vocal performance of the year, and came 6th with Parachute. I still can’t stand the song…but damn, that voice!

The 2017 verdict If this was the Junior Eurovision Cuteness Contest, Malta would walk it because Gianluca is so, so cute *melts despite not being the biggest fan of kids in general*. But it’s not. Sure, being adorable and charismatic and having impressive eyebrow-waggling ability for a 10-year-old will benefit him, but he needs an A-grade song to secure Malta’s third JESC win since 2013. Does he have it in Dawra Tond? Well, it was better three years ago when Armenia sent it and called it People of the Sun. It is very similar to that bronze medalist of Betty’s, but as with movies and music, the original is usually better. Still, the infectious sunny energy of POTS is worth taking “inspiration” from, so I can’t be too harsh on Dawra Tond. The pros include: a bit of Maltese for the first time since 2010; simple lyrics and phrasing that make this sing-along friendly and a total earworm; a good combo of retro (there’s something Mambo No. 5 about it) and modern dance-pop sounds; and that energetic beat that Malta can’t stay away from for too long (though they’ve won Junior with and without it). Overall the song doesn’t show off Gianluca’s incredible vocal abilities as much as I would have liked, but it does have some big moments. Performing between female ballad-fielders Ukraine and Russia should make Malta stand out, but with Polina being a heavy hitter and a handful of other stronger songs scattered throughout the running order, I wouldn’t bet any money on Gianluca winning (but I’m still pre-predictions, so don’t hold me to that if he does!). Honestly, I don’t want him to, but I could live with a decent finish in the range of 3rd-7th. Any higher and I’ll be forced to post bitter (yet not offensive because KIDS) statuses, tweets and stories all over social media to console myself.

Song score 7

Artist score 12

Final score 9.5

  

 

Watch it here

Last year…Ukraine had something of an off year at JESC, only making it as far as 14th with Sofia Rol’s ballad Planet Craves For Love. The nonsensical Cirque du Soleil staging didn’t help.

The 2017 verdict Ukraine are a bit hit-and-miss with me at Junior, though I’ve liked all of their recent entries (I’ve got no complaints about the 2012-2016 songs on a purely musical level). And hit-and-miss is actually how I feel about Anastasiya’s Don’t Stop specifically. It has grown on me since it won the national final back when dinosaurs still walked the earth (a.k.a. ages ago). But, while there are parts of the song I love, there are other parts that really irritate me – so on the whole I can’t say I’m going to be voting for it. Getting my tick of approval are the verses – nice melody and structure, plus an acoustic-y, chilled-out vibe that gives me life – and anytime the violinist pops up even though that does remind me a bit of Jacques Houdek’s My Friend. However, my main peeve is kind of a big one: the chorus. Anastasiya seems very sweet and she has a nice voice, but whenever an ‘ay-i-ay-i-ay-i-ay’ comes out of her mouth (which is a handful of times in every chorus) the nearest mute button becomes all I can think about. Sometimes you don’t know why you’re annoyed by something…you just are. And sadly, as sweet as she is, Ana is not Gianluca-level cute in that I would forgive her if she stole all of the money out of my purse. There’s always the chance of her new and improved live version winning me over, I guess. Looking at/listening to Don’t Stop as objectively as I can, I think it has the potential to do fairly well in the contest, if not amazingly so. It’s not a winner (if Ukraine think that the key to winning Junior is sending a very small child called Anastasiya, they are wrong) but my notoriously unreliable crystal ball tells me mid to lower top 10 is attainable.

Song score 7

Artist score 8

Final score 7.5

 

 

Well, there’s another four songs I can cross off my list. And here’s the mini-ranking from this round: 

  1. Belarus (12)
  2. Australia (10) 
  3. Malta (9.5)
  4. Ukraine (7.5)

So Helena’s the one AND number one on this occasion, closely followed by Isabella *screams patriotically*. This was a pretty high-scoring round though, so on the miniscule chance that Anastasiya is reading this, she shouldn’t feel bad. That score won’t put her at the bottom of the overall ranking still to come. DRAMA!!

Is Belarus your favourite of today’s four tracks, or is Malta more your cup of tea? Perhaps Australia or Ukraine have served up your preferred kind of pop. Take your pick!

 

NEXT TIME There’s one final round of reviews for me to get through – so who’s left? Armenia, Ireland, Russia and Serbia, that’s who. Keep an eye out for that post to find out who gets douze points from me.

 

Until then,

 

 

 

SHINE BRIGHT! Jaz’s JESC 2017 Reviews, Round 2 (Albania, Italy, Macedonia + Portugal)

Hi there, and welcome to the second episode of my Junior Eurovision reviews for 2017! A few days ago, Round 1 saw Cyprus, Georgia, The Netherlands and Poland get COMPLETELY CRUCIFIED by yours truly (JK, I was actually very nice). With the Tbilisi contest creeping closer and closer, there’s no time to waste – so I’m back with Round 2 today feat. Albania, Italy, Macedonia and Portugal. If you want to be a tree-hugging, choice-making Youtuber who dances through life (and let’s face it, who doesn’t), this post is perfect for you.

Keep reading if you want to know what I think of Ana Kodra’s Don’t Touch My Tree, Maria Iside Fiore’s Scelgo, Mina Blažev’s Dancing Through Life and Mariana Venâncio’s Youtuber. If you don’t, then I have to wonder why you’re here in the first place.

Cue reviews in 3, 2, 1…

 

 

Watch it here

Last year…Albania sent a belter of a ballad called Besoj to Malta – but as adorably shouty as Klesta Qehaja was, she couldn’t sing her way higher than 13th.

The 2017 verdict Some people love it, some people hate it…the slightly weird music Albania often sends to ESC and JESC, that is. Music that isn’t particularly ethnic but is somehow stamped PROPERTY OF ALBANIA – think One Night’s Anger by Hersi. Unusual melodies and a mighty fine atmosphere (which mostly disappears if the lyrics are switched to English) are the key ingredients, and miniscule vocalist with surprising grunt in her vocal Ana Kodra (potentially Albania’s version of Anastasiya Petryk) has a song packed with both. It’s a message song too – presumably about the environment and human mistreatment of it, but to be honest it comes off as Ana being totes possessive about a tree that she legally has no personal claim to whatsoever (it’s not ‘Please be careful around this particular tree ‘cause I like it a lot’, it’s ‘DON’T TOUCH MY TREE IF YOU WANT TO SEE 2018!!!’). Yeah, the aggression is a little off-putting – as are the English lyrics which are possibly the worst and most awkward in the entire contest this year. However…I quite like this anyway. Who else is in the minority with me? *fist bumps all three of you*. As with most Albanian Eurovision-related songs, I can’t really put into words why I like it, but I just do. The melody of the verses is as distinctive as the melody of the chorus, and there’s a tribal feel to the beat and the music that I’m always drawn to (JESC examples = Moldova 2013, and funnily enough, Albania 2015). Ana herself needs to be more in control of her live vocal and be more commanding on stage, especially if she’s stuck out there by herself as per Albanian Junior tradition – that would be a big improvement on the overall effect of Don’t Touch My Tree. But regardless of the negatives and the fact that I know this is going nowhere in the comp, I’m a fan. Call me crazy if you want – it’s probably true because I talk to myself constantly.

Song score 8

Artist score 6

Final score 7

 

 

 
Watch it here

Last year…Unexpectedly, Fiamma Boccia’s Cara Mamma charmed itself into 3rd place. Bravo!

The 2017 verdict Here’s a brief history of my reactions to Italian JESC entries, because one of them is the same as the reaction I’m having to Maria’s Scelgo. 2014 (Vincenzo Cantiello’s Tu Primo Grande Amore) – fell head-over-heels instantly and may have cried when it won; 2015 (Chiara & Martina’s Viva) – never made it out of ‘this is meh’ territory; 2016 (Fiamma’s Cara Mamma) – didn’t think much of it at first but began to hear the appeal after a second or third listen. Now, in 2017, things haven’t come full circle since I’m apparently having another Fiamma moment with Maria. Ranking (then 15) entries after listening to Scelgo once, I had it last – not because I hated it, but because I liked everything else more. Then I decided I needed to give it a fair go as I’d listened to the likes of Russia 50 times and the situation was becoming a bit unfair. So I did, and all of a sudden this song seemed…better. It’s got that typically Italian way about it of sounding like there are twice as many words to be sung than actually fit into the timeframe of the track, but that’s part of the charm. The melody is interesting but not too complicated, and the chorus does have an earworm-y quality to it. I’m not 100% sold on the way they’ve mixed languages, but I love how it’s done right at the end, with the line ‘I choose not to be afraid’ finishing things off in a sweet, cohesive way. As always, this is a classy effort from Italy, but I doubt it will pull in the points to score as well as Cara Mamma (surprisingly) did last year. I just don’t think it’s going to capture juries (or voters…YASSS WE GET TO HAVE OUR SAY AGAIN!) to the same extent. And I get the feeling it could be quite messy live, but I’ll be happy to stand corrected. 

Song score 8

Artist score 8

Final score 8

 

 


Watch it here

Last year…With a brilliant song but maybe not a brilliant song for Junior Eurovision – Love Will Lead Our Way – Martija Stanojković made it to 12th place. I guess love couldn’t lead her all the way.

The 2017 verdict This is all too familiar. From JESC 2016àESC 2017àJESC 2017, Macedonia has sent a string of high-quality, current and catchy pop songs to Eurovision events – but the first two just didn’t work in a competition context. I think last year’s JESC entry was too mature for the contest, right down to the dance moves. Dance Alone suffered from a similar issue (but when you’re too adult for adult Eurovision, some serious reevaluation is required!). Now the same fate seems to be looming for Mina. Dancing Through Life (alone, Jana-style? Not alone, Aram Mp3-style? WE NEED ANSWERS!) is without a doubt – in my opinion, obvs – an epic EDM track with so many hooks crammed into it, you could hang up the coats of the Buranovskiye Babushkis AND all of their extended families. Verses? Catchy. Choruses? Catchy. Chant-along oh-oh-oh bits? CATCHY. The genre is also perfectly suited to Mina’s voice, and with the pounding pace and explosive money note, has all the energy you could want in a song without the ‘hyped up on red cordial’ feel that can crop up at JESC. Sadly, overall this entry belongs more at Eurovision than where it is competing – and unless Macedonia can find a way to make the performance super young and fresh (which would probably jar with the song) I’m worried it’s not going to perform very well on the scoreboard. Sophistication can and does succeed at Junior, but there’s a grey area where youthful stuff works and more mature stuff works. Outside of that, there are songs that are too childish and songs that are too grown-up. Russia, for example, has struck a balance between the two, but Macedonia hasn’t quite managed it. Dancing Through Life is a better prospect than LWLOW, but I will be shocked if it ends up in the top 5. Personally speaking, I love it.

Song score 10

Artist score 8

Final score 9

 

 

Watch it here

Last year…nada. 2017 will mark Portugal’s third appearance at Junior, and we last saw them compete in 2007 (when, for the record, Jorge Leiria came 16th with Só Quero É Cantar).

The 2017 verdict I can’t be the only one who was excited at the prospect of Portugal returning to JESC, after a Poland-esque hiatus. Their very first adult contest win clearly gave them the motivation to give Junior another go, and hopes were high in the Eurofam that they’d deliver something of comparative calibre to Amar Pelos Dois. What we got instead was a kids’ edition of The Social Network Song (if I even need to say ‘kids’ edition’). This time, Youtuber will go all the way with its title intact, which is as sketchy as the EBU allowing Dami Im to sing ‘FaceTime’ when we all know they meant the Apple kind. Potential double standards aside, I have a hard time believing that this song was not composed by Ralph Siegel – that’s how cheesy and passé it is in 2017. However, it was extra cheesy and passé when we heard the demo version performed (if I remember rightly) by the actual adult composer. Mariana, as a child, makes it more palatable and even slightly enjoyable. But the cringe-factor of the “funky” tune and barely-more-than-a-single-word chorus remains. The poor girl can only do so much to salvage the situation. It’s even more of a shame because her voice is strong and she has great control over it. If she can project some more confidence and sell Youtuber to the best of her ability in Tbilisi, she might avoid last place (she’s very precious and I don’t want her to end up there). Ultimately, though I don’t hate this with a passion and acknowledge that it has one or two decent moments, I have to call a spade a spade – this is one of the weakest entries of the year, and it will struggle. I just hope a bad result doesn’t put Portugal off trying again in 2018, because they are capable of great things. Learn from your mistakes, guys!

Song score 6

Artist score 7

Final score 6.5

 

 

Eight down, eight to go – someone high-five me, quick! I feel like I’ve been pretty generous so far with my critiques and scores (maybe it’s my inner Father Christmas). Then again, this is Round 2 of 4 and there are plenty more opportunities for me to be unnecessarily cruel to children. Yay!

Here’s the ranking for this round:

  1. Macedonia (9)
  2. Italy (8)
  3. Albania (7)
  4. Portugal (6.5)

Macedonia takes this one out, with Italy not far behind. Will that be at all reflected in reality next weekend? Considering the tendency of my favourites to drop just out of winning range, probably not.

Speaking of favourites, it’s time for you to choose yours:

 

And don’t forget to leave your own mini-ranking in the comments. Let’s see if we agree on anything or if you’re wrong 😉

 

NEXT TIME Keep your eyes peeled for Round 3 of the JESC 2017 reviews, feat. Australia (I’ll try to keep a lid on my bubbling bias), Belarus, Malta and Ukraine. Who’s done wonders and who’s disappointed? You’ll see my perspective very soon!

 

Until then, much love love and a whole lotta peace peace…

 

 

 

SHINE BRIGHT! Jaz’s JESC 2017 Reviews, Round 1 (Cyprus, Georgia, The Netherlands + Poland)

Gamarjoba, Eurofans who do double duty as Junior Eurofans (if you don’t, then this is your warning to back away from this blog for a while). I’m 72% sure I just greeted you guys in Georgian, which is my way of getting into the spirit of Tbilisi’s first Eurovision event.

There’s less than two weeks until Junior Eurovision 2017, when adorable child/vocal powerhouse Mariam Mamadashvili will hand over the title of reigning contest champ to another pint-sized singing sensation (or four, if The Netherlands wins). That means it’s beyond time for me to start reviewing all sixteen songs competing on the 26th! So let’s breeze past the fact that I haven’t posted since the end of August (my bad…my very, VERY bad) and get this party started.

I’ve pulled four countries out of the special EBJ hat I keep in my closet for such occasions, and they are Cyprus, hosts Georgia, The Netherlands, and Poland (bet you didn’t see that coming. It’s not like I stuck them in the title or anything). Keep reading for my thoughts on Nicole Nicolaou’s I Wanna Be A Star, Grigol Kipshidze’s Voice of the Heart, Fource’s Love Me and Alicja Rega’s Mój Dom. Spoiler alert: one of them just might be my favourite entry of the year.

By the way…I didn’t have time to get an EBJ Junior Jury together this year, but I still wanted to be able to average out the score for each song based on a few factors. I’ve gone simplistic by awarding a standard EBU-regulation point score (1-8, 10 or 12 points) to both the song itself (how I rate it personally) and the artist performing it (their vocal skills, personality on stage etc). The average of those two scores will be each country’s final score. As always, I’ll post a mini ranking at the end of each review round + the full ranking alongside my pre-show predictions just before the contest. Share your own mini ranking in the comments to let me know which entries are hot and which are not in your opinion (but don’t be too mean because we are talking about kids here).

Now let’s go.

  

 

Watch it here

Last year…George Michaelides’ Dance Floor finished 16th (second last). I had a lot of blues to dance away in George’s parallel universe where the world is a dance floor after that.

The 2017 verdict Cyprus has transitioned from George’s cutting-edge but unsuccessful ethnopop to oh-so-2005 – but probably more of a point magnet – ethnopop with Nicole. Her catchy (to say the chorus of I Wanna Be A Star is an earworm would be an epic understatement), super-predictable (a blindfolded 2012-edition Donny Montell would have seen that key change coming) song comes via three-time ESC act Constantinos Christoforou – and given that he seemingly represented Cyprus with the adult version of the same song back in Kyiv in 2005, THAT MAKES SO MUCH SENSE. I guess I should stop going on about how dated IWBAS is, because that’s not a totally bad thing. After all, it means Cyprus is doing what Belarus did last year by bringing back a slice of vintage JESC for us all to feast on (although the Belarusian hoverboards would clearly have never featured in a Junior Eurovision circa 2004). I always appreciate a throwback in a contest that has grown up a lot recently, with a lot of the songs having the potential to double as ESC entries if a few lyrical changes were made. This throwback is a classic kid-spirational anthem with Cyprus stamped all over it, and the high energy + hooks = party time for three minutes. I definitely like it – while definitely not loving it – but I do wonder if Nicole has the charisma and live vocal ability to pull it off onstage. If it doesn’t look young and fun and if it doesn’t sound perfect, the result could be cringeworthy. In the end, I see I Wanna Be A Star outperforming Dance Floor, but only by a few rungs on the leaderboard ladder. I’m thinking 12th-14th, prior to making my official predictions…

Song score 7

Artist score 6

Final score 6.5

 

  

Watch it here

Last year….Mariam Mamadashvili’s Mzeo became Georgia’s third JESC winner in ten years of competing. They seriously need to start putting some effort in (#sarcasm).

The 2017 verdict Host entries – at least when they’ve become host entries via their country winning the year before, which isn’t always the case with JESC – have a lot of pressure placed on them to follow in the footsteps of a peak result…or at least not embarrass themselves by failing miserably off the back of a peak result. Whether they’re hosting or not, Georgia is always a country to keep an eye on when Eurovision’s younger sibling drops by, and they’ve proven yet again that they know how this contest works with Grigol and his Voice of the Heart. It’s a more mature song and vocalist combo than usual, and for the third time in a row the lyrics are 100% Georgian (YAASSS for having full confidence in your native language!). It’s almost like a child-friendly version of Versace On The Floor by Bruno Mars – in fact, the structure and 90s R&B sound are so similar I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that it was directly inspired by that track. As such, since I’m a mahusive fan of both Bruno Mars and 90s R&B, VOTH is parked so far up my street it’s actually on someone’s front lawn. It’s not my favourite (or even second favourite) song in the 2017 comp, but I dig everything about it. Great melody, great build into some spectacular vocal runs that I hope to heck Grigol can replicate live, and an easy-listening feel that begs for atmospheric staging feat. spotlights and LED stars. In terms of measuring up to Mzeo, I don’t expect it to, but I am hoping for a decent 5th-8th finish. And when the audience inevitably claps their butts off for this host entry, I will be doing the same thing from my sofa (while simultaneously sobbing because I’m not in Tbilisi with them *sniff*).

Song score 10

Artist score 10

Final score 10

 

 

 

Watch it here

Last year…Don’t pretend you’ve forgotten about Kisses and Dancin’, or that you’ve forgotten the dance moves. I know I haven’t. As irresistible as it was, it didn’t crack the top 5 in Malta – Kisses finished 8th.

The 2017 verdict Variety is the spice of life (apparently) so the Dutch bounce from girl group to boy band is worth a fist bump. We can expect Fource to be choreographed to within an inch of their pre-pubescent lives at JESC, and if their NF performances are anything to go by their vocals will be pretty tight (unless somebody’s voice breaks at the worst possible moment) – but that’s where the similarities between Kisses and Dancin’ and Love Me come to a screeching halt. Love Me, strangely enough, isn’t as instantly loveable as last year’s song, but after a few listens I’d say it’s just as high-quality. It’s more grown-up, and something you’d hear on mainstream radio if it was entirely in English. The chorus is so simple you don’t have a choice but to belt it out along with the boys (so the English that is used has been used very well) and the instrumental breaks are made for slick, crowd-pumping choreography á la the precision kind I mentioned before. Overall, the song’s energetic, modern and strikes a good balance between youthfulness and sophistication. It’s definitely in the middle on the maturity scale, but even so it reminds me of Macedonia’s too-mature-for-JESC entry last year, Love Will Lead Our Way (I guess when your song has ‘love’ in the title, maturity makes sense). I’m only talking in terms of style, but given Macedonia’s less than impressive result in 2016, that is a worry. Is Love Me dynamic enough to be in it to win it? Not quite, but I’m not discounting these guys. The Netherlands don’t always get the points they deserve at Junior, but when they’re on point anything is possible. Fource’s is a performance I’m extra psyched to see because if it’s cohesive, as the only group act in this year’s contest they’ll stand out for the right reasons.

Song score 8

Artist score 10

Final score 9

 

 

Watch it here

Last year…Poland returned to JESC for the first time since 2004, reaching 11th place (a big leap from their losing streak of 2003/2004) with Olivia Wieczorek and Nie Zapomnij.

The 2017 verdict I wasn’t sure whether to create an air of mystery around this one or just lay all of my cards on the table right away. Eventually (after .5 of a second) I decided to go for the second option, and tell you that the suit of my cards is hearts all the way because OMG I LOVE THIS!! It is stunning. From the first time I heard that tinkly piano intro, I knew I’d found something special – the one song (because my other faves will have less trouble doing well) that I’d be supporting like a woman possessed. Like Georgia, Poland has opted to leave English out of their entry in favour of exotic, unpronounceable-to-the-untrained-speaker Polish, and it’s used in a melodically spine-tingling ballad that sounds more than a little Balkan at times (scoring major love points from me). I also must mention that masterpiece of a key change which, for a split second, makes crystal-clear vocalist Alicja sound like she’s out of tune until you realise she was just transitioning to a powerful second chorus in a way that would challenge singers twice her age. Speaking of Alicja – she may need to work on her charisma and stage presence a teensy bit, but she does emote enough to give Mój Dom the feels it needs to not look like an adult’s song being sung by a teenager. If someone can give her a shot of confidence and a Cinderella-style costume makeover before she steps on the Junior stage, Poland will have achieved perfection. Unfortunately, they aren’t a sure thing for success. I’m hoping this song will be another Tu Primo Grande Amore (or at least come close) but it could just as easily fall by the wayside, a.k.a. the low side of the scoreboard. My fingers will be crossed – once I’m done voting for it – in the hope that other people get the goosebumps I do when I hear it.

Song score 12

Artist score 8

Final score 10

 

 

And Round 1 is DONE! You’ve got to love Junior Eurovision for making the review caseload way lighter than the adult contest does (reviewing 4/16 songs makes you feel much more accomplished than reviewing 4/42 songs).

With the first four JESC 2017 entries criticised (as nicely as possible) and scored by moi, here are the current standings:

  1. Poland (10)
  2. Georgia (10)
  3. The Netherlands (9)
  4. Cyprus (6.5)

So Grigol just misses out on getting a high five from me in favour of Alicja, whose song I’ve bumped ahead because it’s a little more magical. Will Poland manage to beat Georgia, The Netherlands and Cyprus in the actual contest? Probably not…but a girl can dream.

Before we find out for sure the weekend after next, I want to find out something else from you:

 

Once you’ve voted, come on down to the comments and let me know how you’d rank the rest of this random, out-of-the-EBJ-hat bunch who are prepping to shine bright in Tbilisi. You know you want to! It’ll help pass the time between now and Round 2 feat. Albania, Italy, Macedonia and Portugal J

 

Until then…

 


 

 

JAZ JUDGES EUROVISION 2017 | Belgium, Croatia, Greece, Israel, Ukraine, the UK…and Russia

Happy Eurovision Eve, guys! If it’s still Eurovision Eve Eve when you’re reading this, then Happy That to you too.

As promised, I’m back with the final round of EBJ reviews for this year’s adult contest. It’s down to the wire given that Kyiv’s first semi is so close, and the jury semi even closer (timezone-ally speaking again, it may be over by the time you read this). Plus, there’s still the all-important – and in my case, hilariously inaccurate – predictions to be made, which I may end up posting on social media only (if you don’t see them here, check out my Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, all @EurovisionByJaz). So – and I’m saying this to myself – let’s have a little less conversation and a little more action, please!

Read on to find out how my guest juror/mother and I rate the entries from Belgium’s Blanche, Croatia’s Jacques, Israel’s IMRI, Ukraine’s O.Torvald, the UK’s Lucie…and yes, Russia’s Yulia. I couldn’t come this far and then leave her out, even though she’s out of the competition.

Here’s the last seven songs of 2017, according to two extremely intelligent and attractive Australian women.

*tumbleweed blows*

Moving on…

 

 

My thoughts I don’t know what’s gotten into Belgium lately, but they’ve been batting the ball right out of the field with their Eurovision entries – 2013, 2015, 2016 and now 2017 being the gold star examples (the less we say about the creepfest of 2014, the better). Blanche’s City Lights took me by surprise, because for some reason I was expecting her to be assigned some twee, folksy guitar-strummer á la Joan Franka, which is SO not up my street. I don’t know why I expected that – she must just have that look about her. Anyway, I apologise, Blanche. You/your songwriters have given us a skillfully-crafted, cutting edge alt-pop song that’s melancholy in all the right ways. If Kristen Stewart were a song, this would be it: edgy, flat and lacking in emotion, but bizarrely attractive nonetheless. There’s nothing about it I can pick on – even the repetitiveness makes it more hypnotic. Blanche’s voice is way smokier and sultrier than you’d expect from a seventeen-year-old, and it sets off the song perfectly. The contrast between Belgium last year and now (with different broadcasters behind each entry) is huge, and I love them both. The only issue is that there’s one negative difference between Laura and Blanche, and it’s to do with their on and off-stage personalities. Laura, with all of her theatre and TV experience, was a ball of energy and enthusiasm with more charisma than Triana Park’s Agnese has wigs. She charmed the press, audience and home viewers with ease. Blanche is virtually the opposite, as far as I can tell – reserved, quietly-spoken and pretty nervy on stage. Obviously she shouldn’t smile her way through performances of City Lights, since that wouldn’t make any sense. But her uncertainty and lack of emotion at times put what is a fabulous, should-be-a-surefire-hit song right into the danger zone she’s singing about being alone in. That’s why Belgium has dropped considerably in the odds since rehearsals started, and why we could be looking at a (somewhat shocking) non-qualifier here. But, not having seen any rehearsals myself and not knowing what Blanche might muster up for the jury and broadcast shows, I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt and base my score of 10 points on the song itself.

My mum says… Wow – that’s a voice with depth! I can’t believe it’s coming out of someone so young. It kind of makes Blanche the antithesis of Ireland’s Brendan. Her song is just as impressive as her voice. It doesn’t sound manufactured, and its moody in a way that kept me interested even though it was really repetitive, which is a hard thing to do. Bravo, Belgium! 8 points.

Belgium’s score 9.00

 

 

 

My thoughts There are only a few duos competing at Eurovision 2017, but Croatia’s is the most notable given that it’s a duo made up of Jacques Houdek…and Jacques Houdek. Yes, we have a man duetting with himself in the contest, via a song that isn’t so much well-blended popera as it is pop-opera with a definitive divide between the two. And it is HILARIOUS. Hilariously terrible, that is. Things don’t get off to a good start when Jacques opens with some wannabe inspirational (i.e. retch-worthy) spoken lyrics that even the most warm-hearted person would find hard to take seriously. It’s not exactly downhill from there – that, IMO, is the worst part of the song – but when cheesy lines give way to Pop Jacques and Opera Jacques fighting for attention, it’s time to laugh (because it’s absolutely mental) or cry (because it’s a Disney-fied disaster). No other song so strongly begs the question ‘What were they thinking?’ than My Friend. Yet apparently, it works well enough on stage to be in contention for qualification. Whenever I hear or see someone say that, it makes me wonder if I’ve woken up in my worst nightmare. I think the only aspect of Croatia’s entry deserving of a place in the final is Mr. Houdek himself, because he’s a top bloke with bucketloads of talent (I can’t deny that he nails both the Jekyll and Hyde vocal segments of his song). Apart from that…no. Just no. I take a little sugar in my coffee, but I don’t fill the entire cup with an unpleasant combo of white and raw, if you know what I mean. That would be way too sickly. 2 points.

My mum says… Oh my gosh. If the TV show Touched By An Angel was ever made into a musical, this would be the theme song. Not that I’d know that for sure, because I would NOT be buying tickets to see it. Is ‘abysmal’ too harsh a word to describe this song? I mean, the voices are good – great even, when you realise that they’re both coming out of the same person – but everything else is…ugh. 2 points.

Croatia’s score 2.00

 

 

 

My thoughts It’s still hard to comprehend the fact that Greece lost their 100% qualification record last year. You’d think that would be the kick in the pants they needed to reclaim their Eurovision glory days of 2004-2013, when they could hardly keep themselves out of the top 10. The announcement of Demy as their artist confirmed that, and I was excited. Then along came the three candidate songs, one of which she’d end up singing in Kyiv…and they were all utterly average and totally uninspired. This Is Love, a dance track that feels half 2000s ESC and half cookie-cutter club hit, was the best option, I’ll give them that. But all it does is satisfy the requirements for an okay pop song. It takes zero risks, feels super familiar (like it’s a Frankenstein creation of other dance songs stitched together) and doesn’t feel lyrically original. It’s not offensive, but I have no reason to fall head over heels in love with it (hence why I’ve taken to calling it This Isn’t Love in my head). It’s just there, in the line-up, not measuring up to a good 75% of the other entries. If anything can save it – and I suspect it will be saved – it’s Demy and the staging. I’m pretty confident that will get Greece back into the final, and for all I know, back into the top 10. That’s not a result I’d rejoice in, though, as much as I love Demy. She’s better than this song, and I expected something much stronger. Hashtag disappointed! 5 points.

My mum says… I have to admit, I’ve already forgotten how This Is Love goes, but when I was listening to it I was pretty bored. I feel like Greece did try to start a fire with it, but there’s just no spark. I wasn’t even moving to the music – danger alert! Demy has a nice voice, but her stage performance will have to be incredible to make up for the weaknesses in her song. 3 points.

Greece’s score 4.00

 

 

 

My thoughts It’s convenient that my random selection resulted in Israel being reviewed right after Greece, since they’re so stylistically similar. It makes it even easier for me to say that I Feel Alive is miles ahead of This Is Love in every department (in my opinion, of course). And no, that’s not because Imri has the power to melt me into a human puddle of swoonage with one brief, smoldering gaze. I’m not (quite) that shallow, guys! I just think it’s a far better and far more original song. It’s definitely more current-sounding, and I like how even though each part of the song is different, the whole thing is cohesive and the energy/intensity level never wavers. It’s also great to have a bit of ethnicity shoehorned in via the instrumental break. Overall, I find this entry very catchy and danceable, and we need some of that to break up the ballads that are a bit hard to dance to if you’re alone á la Jana Burčeska. Unfortunately, there’s a question mark over Imri’s ability to pull off a pretty tricky (if my in-shower attempts are any indication) vocal. He has enough stage presence (and muscle tone) to win people over, and as he’s sung backup for Israel the past two years in a row, he can handle the Eurovision experience in general. But can he hit those high notes? Notes that could be Jemini-level awful if he doesn’t nail them? If he wasn’t doing double duty as a singer and dancer – because I’m guessing there’s some choreography for him to work with – he’d have a better shot. But I’m worried. He has the honour of closing the second semi final, and he needs to leave a good impression behind if he wants to be the lucky charm that helped Israel make the final in 2015 and 2016. I’m not sure, but I hope that he can do it. I Feel Alive would be a cracking song to have on the Saturday night. 8 points.

My mum says… Here’s a song that had my foot tapping very quickly. That’s a good sign for me, because I react to music how I react to books: if it doesn’t grab me and make me feel something fast, I’ll give up on it. I Feel Alive is very catchy, and I love the instrumental bit that sounds a bit like an Irish jig (don’t worry, I know it isn’t). I’m keen on stuff like that! And I’m told Imri is a beautiful sight to behold, so it sounds like Israel has the total package. 7 points.

Israel’s score 7.5

 

 

 

My thoughts I know I shouldn’t be dwelling on stuff that happened during national final season, but I’m still convinced that Tayanna’s I Love You would have been one of the best host entries in Eurovision history. It’s heartbreaking that she ended up sick prior to the Ukrainian final and barely managed to sing her way through the whole song when it mattered the most. In that sense, I can see how O.Torvald won instead. Their final performance, elevated by some gruesome but awesome prosthetics that took Time literally in a jaw-dropping way, was fantastic. Sadly, that’s not the staging they’re using for the ESC (I guess it’s not that suitable for what’s considered a family show) so they’re relying more or less on song alone to get the job done. The ‘job’ being ‘host entry that scores enough points to not be an embarrassment, but doesn’t put Ukraine in danger of having to host again in 2018’. I have a feeling a right-side scoreboard finish is in the band’s future, though. Don’t get me wrong – I’m very happy to have rock in the competition. Time stands out just because of its genre, and I think it’s got a lot going for it, apart from adding variety to the grand final. But I don’t think it’s memorable enough to thrive on simplistic staging, and I can’t see it outdoing Sweden’s 2013 result with Robin Stjernberg. In fact, I’m predicting it will finish lower than that – in the 16th-20th range – in spite of the support it’ll get from the crowd, being the host entry and all. Ukraine shouldn’t suffer the indignity that Austria did on home soil in 2015, but it’s very unlikely they’ll do what Sweden did last year and finish in the top five. O.Torvald’s musical rivals are too hard to handle. 6 points.

My mum says… I don’t know why, but this reminds me of a B-side to a 1980s ballad. The music’s interesting, but I didn’t like much else. It’s quite a dramatic change from Jamala, so at least Ukraine aren’t creatures of habit. 3 points.

Ukraine’s score 4.5

 

 

 

My thoughts I’m not as partial to Emmelie de Forest as a lot of other people. Only Teardrops is far from being one of my favourite ESC winners, and I much prefer Anja Nissen’s Where I Am to the song de Forest co-wrote for her DMGP appearance last year. My point is, when I heard she was responsible for a Eurovision: You Decide song, I wasn’t exactly jumping for joy. Never Give Up On You quickly won me over, however, because I loved how bare-bones it was at the NF, with hardly any instrumentation backing it and no beat that kicked in when it seemed obvious that a beat would kick in (when Lucie hits her big note towards the end). But apparently I’m fickle AF, as I then decided the song would benefit from some sort of driving beat to give it some oomph. When the revamp was unveiled feat. just that….you guessed it, I found myself preferring the original version. The ESC version has a bit of an identity crisis – it’s halfway between understated piano ballad and soaring power ballad, with an electronic influence creeping in that does make it contemporary, but ultimately sounds wishy-washy. The UK are in danger of becoming musical wallpaper once again – but if reports on their stage presentation are to be believed, they might have hauled themselves out of trouble at the last minute. From the photos I’ve seen, they’ve gone for a gold-heavy, art-deco theme that I wouldn’t have imagined suiting the song, but it looks like the camera will love it. If it does suit the song, then this entry could be a very well-wrapped package. The song is certainly up Lucie’s alley, as it caters for both her pop side (as an ex-X Factor contestant) and her theatrical side (as a past and future star of Legally Blonde: The Musical). I’d love to see her do well, but there are better ballads that are 99% likely to make it to the final and be in direct competition with her – think Finland and Portugal. And it is the United Kingdom we’re talking about. I’m always doubtful. But you can’t say they haven’t taken the contest seriously this year, or put in the level of effort required to succeed. 7 points.

My mum says… This is very nice. I like a ballad that’s powerful without being too loud and screamy, and this definitely falls into that category. I can imagine Lucie in a long, flowy dress with the (fake, wind machine-generated) wind in her hair as she channels all of her emotion into it. Her voice is gorgeous, and it’s not hard to picture her on the West End stage…or the Eurovision stage, for that matter. I’ll have my fingers crossed for the UK, because I don’t want to have to pretend I wasn’t born there! 7 points.

The United Kingdom’s score 7.00

 

 

 

My thoughts I don’t like the way Russia’s departure from Eurovision this year played out, on the Russian or Ukrainian ends. But try as I might, I can’t help being relieved that Flame Is Burning won’t be competing in Kyiv and won’t be taking a spot in the final away from a higher-quality song. Sorry to be so blunt, but OMG, I HATE IT. Maybe that’s partly because it came from Russia, and every time they (try) and send an “inspirational” preaching-for-peace ballad to the contest, it makes my skin crawl. That doesn’t just apply to Russia, though…see my Croatia review for proof. Anyway, just as a song, if you don’t think about its origins, it’s awful. Lame lyrics, a lacklustre melody and a style that went out of style about 25 years ago do not make for something I’d voluntarily listen to. The other problem is Yulia’s thickly-accented English, which makes it hard to understand anything she’s singing (although you could look at that as a blessing). With a better song in Russian, her talents would be put to way, way better use – which, with any luck, is what’ll happen next year if Russia re-involve themselves and send her. So, the moral of my story is, I won’t miss Flame Is Burning, just like I didn’t miss Romania’s Moment of Silence last year. I’ll just feel super sorry for their performers. 1 point.

My mum says… I don’t hate this like Jaz does (which made her jaw drop about a kilometre) but it’s nothing outstanding, that’s for sure. If it was competing, it sounds like it would be forgotten five minutes after it was performed. That’s not the key to Eurovision success, is it? And her accent is so strong, it’s distracting. 2 points.

Russia’s score 1.5

 

 

I can’t believe I get to say this, but that’s it – 43/43 reviewed! The ranking for this round looks like this:

  1. Belgium (9.00)
  2. Israel (7.5)
  3. United Kingdom (7.00)
  4. Ukraine (4.5)
  5. Greece (4.00)
  6. Croatia (2.00)
  7. Russia (1.5)

Belgium (pretty unsurprisingly) takes out the nonexistent trophy, with Israel and the UK hot-ish on their heels, and the others not even lukewarm. But did Belgium do enough to top the full EBJ Jury ranking? Watch this space to find out.

How would you rank the songs we reviewed today? Would Belgium be your number one too, or is there something else floating your boat? Let me know in the comments.

I’ll probably be making another appearance here pre-semi 1, but in case I don’t, I want to wish all of you a very merry contest experience! I’m looking forward to a low-key one myself, after a few years of not watching from my couch, but I will be on Twitter, typing away through all of the live shows. Maybe I’ll meet you there? It’s going to be freaking beautiful!

 

 

 

 

JAZ JUDGES EUROVISION 2017 | Australia, Belarus, Iceland, Ireland, Montenegro + Spain

Hello again, and welcome to the second-last round of my Eurovision 2017 reviews! Obviously nothing has changed in my life since I was at university, because I’m still battling to get stuff done by certain deadlines. Just expect a lot of reviews in a short period of time, and everything will be fine (something I’m telling myself at least three times a day at the moment).

There’s just two days to go until the first semi final, and all 42 songs have now been rehearsed on the real-deal stage. We’ve seen our likely winner in action (monkeying around to massive rounds of applause) but that doesn’t mean we have to stop talking about all of the other songs. So that’s what my mum (she keeps coming back, even though I figured I’d have scared her off by now) and I are up to today.

Keep reading to find out what we think of the songs from Isaiah, NAVI, Svala, Brendan Murray, Slavko Kalezić and Manel Navarro. Spoiler alert: there are some major disagreements involved!

 

 

 

My thoughts A seventeen-year-old fresh from a TV talent show win – which followed an audition during which he forgot his lyrics (for the second year running) – wouldn’t have been my ideal choice for my country’s 2017 Eurovision act. On paper, it doesn’t sound that promising…and me bringing all that stuff up makes me sound mean, I know. But I wanted to make the point that when Isaiah was revealed as our act in March, I had a LOT of doubts that he was ready for such a big-scale show. As it turns out, I think he’s grounded and mature enough, and has gained enough on-stage confidence in the wake of his X Factor victory, to do Australia proud next week. He’s going to do that with a song that may be missing the x factor (ironically) that saw Guy Sebastian and Dami Im smash their respective shots at the contest, but has been a major sleeper hit with me. Don’t Come Easy is a soulful ballad that Sam Smith would totally approve of, and it couldn’t be any more suited to Isaiah’s voice. Lyrically, it could be more suited to his age – it’s hard to buy such tales of woe and heartbreak from a seller who’s still considered a kid in many ways (he can’t legally drink, gamble or complain bitterly about adult responsibilities). But if he can use those epic eyebrows to emote as much as possible, and not just sing the words – even though he’ll sing them terrifically – his age may end up being just a number. Most people watching him belt out the song in front of his own super-sized face (check out some rehearsal footage if you’re confused RN) won’t be worrying about it. I hope the staging doesn’t end up being a worry and lives up to what Australia’s put together the last two years, as both times it has made our songs stronger competitors. Don’t Come Easy has grown on me a lot since I first heard it, and now I find it really sticks in my head and makes me feel some feels (not on a Finland level, but there’s something there). There’s potential in the build of the song to create an explosive moment, like Israel did last year, and I believe we’ve even got a pyro curtain to help that along (just like Hovi did). If it all comes together, then another top 10 result is achievable. I don’t think top 5 is on the cards, but I will be waving my Aussie flag with pride (and probably a sweaty palm) in any case. 8 points.

My mum says… I own and treasure a copy of Sam Smith’s In The Lonely Hour, so the fact that this song could have fit right in to that album’s tracklist will give you a good idea of how I feel about Don’t Come Easy. I really like it! It’s retro in a wonderful way, with powerful music and lyrics that are set off by Isaiah’s incredible (especially for a teenager) voice. There’s a bit of an Adele feel to the soul of the song as well, and yes, you guessed it – I also own all of her albums. Is this a biased review? Nope, because I listened to it without knowing which country it was representing. Now I know, I’m proud. 8 points.

Australia’s score 8.00

 

 

 

My thoughts This song is like a musical version of Nathan Trent – so adorable you can’t help your urge to hug it so tightly it almost suffocates. The difference between the two is that the cuteness of Story of My Life doesn’t totally win me over, even though I acknowledge that it’s there. I think it’s fantastic that we get to hear Belarusian on the adult Eurovision stage for the first time ever thanks to NAVI – and I’m so appreciative of the fact that their entry is one of just four this year to feature 100% non-English lyrics *weeps internally*. I also think the sing-along factor of the song is a real asset, giving it an anthemic quality not often found in folk music. But – and you can call me bitter and/or soulless once I’ve said this – the overall ‘aww!’ vibe of Belarus that a heap of other fans feel, I don’t AT ALL. I wouldn’t skip the song if I was shuffling the 2017 album, but I wouldn’t wait for it to play with bated breath. For the sake of Belarus succeeding in the contest, and for the sake of filling the final with as many foreign languages as possible, I hope NAVI do qualify on Thursday. If they don’t, though, I’ll be okay with it. Overall, SOML is too repetitive and maybe too folksy for my tastes. 5 points.

My mum says… I couldn’t have less of a clue what these two are singing about, but it can’t be anything heavy going – the whole song is light and bright, and I really got into it. I especially like the use of instruments. However, that final stretch of hey-ho shouts went on way too long for my liking. That space could have been filled with something less repetitive, and in turn I’d have been giving this entry more than 6 points!

Belarus’ score 5.5

 

 

 

My thoughts There are some songs you can’t help but cut to the chase with when you’re talking about them. And cutting is an appropriate term to use when talking about Svala’s Paper, which I worship. At least 75% of my devotion to the entry has to do with Svala herself, a.k.a. Iceland’s answer to Gwen Stefani. She’s an age-defying, super-stylish GODDESS of a woman, and I am the personification of the heart eyes emoji whenever I think about her. But Paper also rubs me up in all the right ways. It’s like the cutting-edge, 1980s-inflenced love child of Margaret Berger’s I Feed You My Love and Aminata’s Love Injected – two songs I love to pieces. It’s ice cold and Svala is the ice queen with impeccably styled hair and makeup, plus bone structure that would have made Michelangelo weak at the knees. Not to say that I’m fixating on her cheekbones when she’s performing such an earworm of an electro-pop ballad (IDK how else to describe it). I’m actually getting lost in the dreamy atmosphere that the 80s synth sound provides, which contrasts beautifully with the slick production. It’s a perfect marriage. My only problem with Iceland this year is Svala being a visual force to be reckoned with, yet she’s singing a song that should bring out a vulnerable side based on the story told by the lyrics. She’s a little too intense, pulled-together and in control to pull off Paper with 110% authenticity. At least, she has been up until this point. From what I’ve seen (like, one photo) and heard (*insert long, long list of Eurovision sites/podcasts here*) of the rehearsals, she still needs to soften to match the emotions present in the song. Even if she does, I’m not that confident in Iceland’s ability to score themselves through to Saturday night. But I reckon this song would be an interesting and very contemporary (feat. a throwback sound that somehow makes it even more modern) addition to the final line-up. After the country’s shock DNQ last year – and failure to make the final the year before that – they seriously need a pick-me-up. I don’t want Svala using her Paper to wipe away tears of post-semi sadness. 10 points.

My mum says… This is far from being the worst entry I’ve heard, but it’s also far from being one of my favourites. I quite like Svala’s voice (though I’m incredibly jealous that she looks so young for her age and am wondering if it’s too late for me to up and move to Iceland) but I’m not a fan of a metaphor based on office supplies. I find the lyrics a bit lame in general. It’s just not for me! 5 points.

Iceland’s score 7.5

 

 

 

My thoughts Ireland – or at least those responsible for their recent Eurovision entries – needs a slap. Either that, or Sweden needs to hurry up and overtake them in the wins department so they’ll have to step up rather than falling back on the old line ‘Oh, but we’ve won the contest more than anyone else!’, which is usually accompanied by an entry of the same mould they were sending in the 2000s…which in turn paid tribute to the songs that won for them in the 1990s. Not much has changed in 2017, as the country’s collective face is still looking like it needs a high five. However…my relationship with Brendan Murray’s Dying To Try (not Trying To Die, thankfully) is love-hate. Here’s what I love: the first minute and a half. The understated start, the echo-y beat that kicks in, the melody, the frailty of Brendan’s voice (Svala needs to borrow some of that) and even the lyrics, which are a little cliché but have been neatly phrased and sparingly used, are all really nice. And, if the songwriters had carried on with another verse similar to the first, then a bigger second chorus that transitioned into an even more explosive final chorus without using a cringingly passé key change, all would be well. Instead, the entire second half of the song is one long, whiny chorus that doesn’t tell us anything we don’t already know. It’s like they literally couldn’t be bothered to write anything after that first chorus, so they dragged it out in order to fill as many seconds as possible. Except, it hasn’t. There’s an emptiness there as you wait for a second verse that never comes. I mean, who’d mix up a bowlful of cake batter and then only pour half of it into the pan? Ireland, that’s who. It’s a wasted opportunity of a song that could have totally tickled my fancy. I honestly love the first half enough to give it 10 points, but the rest deserves about 3. I’ll settle somewhere in the middle and give Dying To Try 7 points.

My mum says… THIS IS A GUY?? Mind = blown. It’s not like I’ve never heard high-pitched male vocals before, but I was completely convinced I was listening to a lady here. That aside (because it has nothing to do with what I think of the song) it’s a nice ballad with a good beat and a soothing quality. I think that comes both from the music and from Brendan’s voice. This is quite an emotional song – not so much that I’m in need of a tissue or ten, but enough to make me feel something. I like that in my music. I do think that this can be categorised as a forgettable ballad though. Describing something as ‘nice’ often leads down that path. 6 points.

Ireland’s score 6.5

 

 

 

My thoughts I never, not even in my wildest dreams, imagined that we would someday have an entry competing in Eurovision that could be considered camper than Deen’s In The Disco and Zoli Ádok’s Dance With Me combined. But Montenegro has given us the gift of Slavko’s Space, and I am SO here for it. It’s like a highly sexualised Alcazar made it to the contest with the help of a sponsor that manufactures hair extensions. What about that description makes it a bad thing? Nada, people. This is a BANGING disco-dance track that somehow doesn’t seem dated and lame like San Marino’s – possibly because it’s right up Slavko’s flamboyant street, and he owns the shit out of it. He whips his hair back and forth (I’m hoping it doesn’t fly off into the audience during the broadcast…or am I?), struts like it’s an Olympic event and has me lip-syncing along with the most outrageously pornographic lyrical metaphors I’ve ever encountered in a Eurovision song (mainly because the line ‘I trample in your arse’ from Slovenia’s 1999 song turned out to be a misheard lyric). I enjoy every second of every minute, even if I feel like my pleasure should be guilty. Generally speaking, I want Eurovision to evolve and be much less of what skeptics think it is (i.e. all novelty, cheese and the worst word ever – ‘kitsch’), but at the same time, I love that Space brings a touch of schlager back to the show. We’ve got plenty of edgy, deadpan entries this year – think Azerbaijan, Belgium, Iceland and Latvia – plus a classic ESC ballad from Portugal. So Montenegro are bringing some variety along with a suitcase exclusively reserved for body glitter (I assume). Uptempo, catchy and oh-so-danceable, this is the song that’s most making me miss the Euroclub. I would have busted some memorable moves to it on that dance floor, let me tell you. Unfortunately, I can also tell you that it probably won’t qualify, as sublime is likely to beat ridiculous (with the exception of Romania). As I can see that coming from a mile away, I won’t be too upset about it. But I’ll console myself anyway by playing it on full blast at every opportunity, until my neighbours file a complaint regarding excessive noise and sexual innuendos. Bring it on! 10 points.

My mum says… It’s hard to stay focused on how catchy the tune of this song is when the lyrics are so suggestive. That’s an understatement, really – Slavko seems to be less about suggesting than explaining in detail. Just when I thought ‘When you look this f*%$ing beautiful’ was the most controversial (almost) Eurovision line I’d ever heard! I could be convinced to dance to Space, but for the most part I can’t get past the ridiculous, R-rated lyrics. 5 points.

Montenegro’s score 7.5

 

 

 

My thoughts I’m not going to mention the words ‘Mirela’ or ‘contigo’ in this review (apart from mentioning them to say I won’t be mentioning them) because I think it’s about time we all moved on from The Spanish NF Incident of 2017. Manel Navarro is the one rehearsing in Kyiv right now, and Do It For Your Lover is the song representing Spain this year – that’s all there is to it. Speaking of which, there’s not a lot to this song apart from some simple charm, a cruisy surfer vibe and the most repetitive chorus since Ivi Adamou’s ‘La la la la la la la la la la la la la la la loooove.’ Those three things don’t add up to something spectacular, but I have to admit to liking this more than most other people I come across. Any music that sounds perfect for playing while on a road trip, with the windows down and no responsibilities to speak of for a few days, is bound to appeal to me to a certain extent. DIFYL ticks about 60% of my boxes – it’s inoffensive without being too bland, but it doesn’t push any boundaries either, and that repetition of the title (in case we forgot it, it was declared that Manel would repeat it 947 times in three minutes) is pretty irritating. As a result, I enjoy the Spanish-language verses more than any other part of the song. Manel’s aesthetic is casual street busker, which isn’t the sort of thing that does super well at Eurovision: Douwe Bob was a more polished exception. With his song failing to light a fire even for me, the odds are against him to strum his way out of the final’s bottom five. It might be time for Spain to revaluate their approach to the ESC on several levels, unless Manel shocks us all and defies our expectations. I can’t picture it, but I could live with it for sure. 6 points.

My mum says… Well, you can tell where this one comes from, and I like that about it. The Spanish parts are nice, easy-listening material, and I sort of wish that English didn’t feature at all in the song. It’s when that kicks in that things get monotonous. I especially dislike the stutter effect stuck in after each chorus. There needs to be more to a song than Do It For Your Lover has at its disposal to win me over completely. 6 points.

Spain’s score 6.00

 

 

 

That’s our six taken care of for this round…and here’s the ranking: 

  1. Australia (8.00)
  2. Iceland (7.5)
  3. Montenegro (7.5)
  4. Ireland (6.5)
  5. Spain (6.00)
  6. Belarus (5.5)

Naturally, I’m HORRIFIED that Australia topped the list. Not. Congrats go to Iceland for not being far behind, and commiserations to Belarus for being very far behind. Lucky for them that this scoring couldn’t have less bearing on the actual contest results.

There’s six more sets of scores for the mini EBJ jury to hand out, and then the full ranking will be revealed! Drop by on Monday to check out our thoughts on Belgium, Croatia, Greece, Israel, Ukraine and the United Kingdom. Trust me, you don’t want to miss my mother’s reaction to a man duetting with himself.

In the meantime, let me know how you’d rank today’s tracks. What do you think will happen to them this week as the competition gets going? I want all the dirt. You guys know how nosy curious I am.

 

Get (even more) excited – Eurovision is nearly here!!!