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:
- Macedonia (9)
- Italy (8)
- Albania (7)
- 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…
Didn’t see this coming in the wake of last week’s top 5 performances of 2017 countdown? Well, neither did I. Consider my face officially palmed.
I actually have the awesome Anita from Eurovision Union to thank for inspiring this companion piece to that post: a countdown of the countries that didn’t, in my opinion, get it all right in terms of their song’s staging and/or performance in Kyiv. I’ve deliberately not made this about the five worst performances, since there wasn’t a single country that I’d say got everything wrong (although one came close). Instead, I’ve singled out the elements in a handful of acts – dodgy vocals, horrifying costume choices, bad backdrops etc – that dragged them down…and in the case of a few, may have had a hand in their non-qualifications.
Have your say on the biggest stuff-ups of Eurovision 2017 in the comments. Remember, honesty is the best policy (and there’s no fun in 24/7 sunshine and rainbows, so get critical!).
Oh, BTW – you can (and should!) still vote in the People’s Choice polls of the 2017 EBJ Eurovision Excellence Awards. They’ll close in a few days’ time and the results will be revealed soon after that, so do your Eurofan duty while you have the chance!
#5 | Montenegro steers clear of OTT…for worse, not for better
I’m starting with something that was too inoffensive rather than too offensive, especially considering the source. From my very first listen of Slavko Kalezić’s Space, I was expecting to see it on stage in the campest and most fabulous fashion imaginable. I’m talking buff, topless male dancers who had marinated themselves in body glitter in the hours leading up to the show; galaxy-inspired visuals that alternated between dramatic (for the verses) and flamboyant (for the choruses; and plenty of overuse of the core Eurovision elements – wind and fire. I was confident in Slavko’s ability to make this dream of mine come true, given that he was to 2017 what Tooji was to 2012 – only Space didn’t require the reining in of camp that Stay did. So you can imagine my disappointment when he appeared on the Kyiv stage by himself, with only a mediocre costume change and his beloved Rapunzel braid for company. It’s not that he couldn’t command the stage on his own, because he strutted around like a boss and did the hairycopter with full enthusiasm. But when a song so obviously calls for one to go full gimmick on its ass, one should obey. Space needed more colour, more choreography and a crowd (of five other people) to be everything non-Eurovision fans think the contest is. Not so much to give it a shot at qualifying, since that was unlikely to ever happen (sadface), but just to make the most of the saucy, sassy lyrics; the fun, upbeat vibe; and Slavko’s larger-than-life personality.
#4 | Switzerland sugar-coats their staging of Apollo
I’ve got a job for you: take all of the 2017 entries that were chosen via a national final, and compare how they were staged initially to how they were staged at Eurovision. For the most part, you’ll notice that not many changed drastically, and those that did mostly improved on their presentation. Timebelle’s Apollo, then, is the exception and not the rule, because it went downhill between NF season and contest week. In fact, the only way Switzerland went up was by sticking Miruna at the top of a spiral staircase, which she eventually descended anyway (in stilettos, without breaking a sweat or any bones, which does deserve a high five). What we saw and what we heard clashed like crazy. Apollo benefited way more from the dramatic and modern NF staging, which could have been built on for ESC purposes. Yet that was discarded in favour of cheap and predictable background graphics, the inexplicable staircase (Why was it there? What did it add?), and an equally inexplicable yellow dress that I thought was less Beauty and the Beast inspired and more like the repurposed outer layer of a certain big bird who lives on Sesame Street. And let’s not forget more pastel shades than you’d find in the maternity wing of a major hospital. Overall, the look of this would have worked wonders for the right song (minus the tacky backdrop) but it took a good song and made it below-average. If I were Switzerland, I’d be contacting Sacha Jean-Baptiste right now to book her for Eurovision 2018.
#3 | Australia’s hit-and-missed high note
Contrary to what you might think, I don’t enjoy bringing this up in conversation time and time again. However, as patriotic and proud of Isaiah’s work in Kyiv as I am, I can’t deny that when we’re talking about the biggest broadcast boo-boos of the year, that notorious note he aimed for during the semi final HAS to be mentioned. I don’t recall ever hearing the guy drop a note while he was singing his heart out on The X Factor last year, so perhaps the grueling rehearsal and media schedule of Eurovision took its toll…or maybe it was a combination of nerves and trying too hard. Whatever the cause, to say that Isaiah failed rather than nailed that note – one accompanied by a pyro curtain, which is the international symbol for ‘This is the moment that’s supposed to win you over and secure your votes’ – would be an understatement. It turned out to be a moment that had me convinced Australia had just lost out on a spot in the grand final instead. Thankfully, because his jury semi performance was more X Factor and less cringe factor, Isaiah did slip through in a still remarkably high sixth place. He then went on to make up for the vocal mishap to end all vocal mishaps on the Saturday night, though it has to be said that the initial pyro note still wasn’t up to scratch. Whenever I watch either of his performances back in the future, my hand will be hovering over the mute button as the two-minute mark approaches.
#2 | Albania dresses Lindita up for a wacky wedding…WTF?!?
I could complain until the cows come home about all of the questionable costuming choices made by the 2017 delegations. Belgium? Should have worn the jumpsuit from the flag parade. Poland? Shouldn’t have worn white. Israel? What were they thinking putting him in a shirt when shirtless clearly would have been the best way to go? But right at the top of the heap – though at the bottom of the pile in terms of suitable sartorial selections – is undoubtedly Albania. I don’t know what kind of performance Lindita’s ‘Vegas showgirl meets drunken 3am Vegas bride’ outfit would be appropriate for, but it was just plain ridiculous when paired with World. I don’t get the thought process behind it, assuming there was one. It proved to be such a distraction that I couldn’t even concentrate on Lindita’s mind-blowing vocals, which hadn’t been an issue when she won Festivali I Këngës with the song formerly known as Böte. Unfortunately, this look wasn’t a one-off, as she wore something equally frightening (in nude, not white) on opening ceremony night. She obviously felt pretty and powerful on both occasions – she doesn’t strike me as a person who’d wear what she was told if she wasn’t 100% happy about it – but in my eyes, a black bin liner would have been a better choice both times. You know, like the one Croatia’s Nina Badrić wore back in 2012.
#1 | Spain’s…well, everything
Many of us fans felt sure about two things prior to this year’s contest. One, that Italy would walk it, and two, that Spain would finish dead last. We may have been wrong about the former, but the latter did its predicted duty. Poor Manel – he had a terrible time at Objetivo Eurovisión thanks to The Mirela Incident, and then couldn’t prove anyone wrong by defying our ESC expectations of him. You might wonder why, if you’re unacquainted with both Do It For Your Lover and his rendition of it in Ukraine. Well, the song was weak to start with – great for roaring down the road in a convertible on a summer’s day en route to the coast, but too much of a repetitive flatliner to stand up in a song competition. It could have been saved by some genius stage concept, who knows…but Spain had the total opposite up their hibiscus-patterned shirt sleeve. The surfer idea was good in theory, but the execution was on par with High School Musical 2, if High School Musical 2 had been lumped with a production budget of $100. Low-quality graphics – including a Kombi van that kept on rocking without any danger of anyone knocking, an overhead shot of Manel and his band on surfboards that they just didn’t pull off, and a general air of over-casualness – made the package pretty unappealing. The fact that it was an entire verse before anyone turned around to face the camera/audience was also a turn-off. And just when we thought Spain might scrape enough points to NOT finish 26th, Manel’s voice decided to re-break at a pivotal moment, which sealed the deal. I’m sorry for seeming extra bitchy about this (you must be craving sunlight after all this shade I’ve thrown) but I’m being cruel to be kind. Both Manel and Spain deserve a LOT better.
Do you agree with any of my picks, or do you think I’M the one making the mistakes? Which competing countries of Eurovision 2017 made the wrong decisions when it came to putting on the best possible show?
Next time…you’ve voted (I hope) and now the EBJ Eurovision Excellence Award winners – People’s Choice + my personal choices – can be made public. First up, I’ll be handing out (pretend) trophies in the categories of The Artists and The Songs – followed by The Performances, The Show and The Results. The celebration of Kyiv’s bests and worsts will continue, and you’d be as crazy as Lindita Halimi’s costume designer if you missed it!
Two weeks, people. TWO WEEKS!!! That’s (roughly or exactly, depending on when you’re reading this) how long we have to wait until the first semi final of Eurovision 2017.
That’s 95% wonderful in my mind, with the remaining 5% a result of a) me freaking out because it’s almost been an entire year since I attended my first live contest, and b) me freaking out because I have five more rounds of song reviews and (hopefully) some predictions to post here on EBJ in such a short space of time. SEND HELP.
Today is judgment day for Lindita, Hovig, Triana Park, Jana Burčeska, Claudia Faniello and Timebelle. And before you ask, yes, my mum has come back again to help me review their ESC entries! So without further ado – ‘ado’, as you probably know by now, is code for ‘Jaz-rambling’ – let’s get this party started.
*moonwalks, stacks it on a stray sock and falls to near-death*
My thoughts Anything I say about an Albanian Eurovision entry usually begins with ‘Well, the Albanian version was mysterious and unique and generally great, but the English version…’ – you get my drift. And FYI, Lindita’s World (or The Song Formerly Known As Botë) will be no exception. I really liked the version of the song that won the American Idol alum Festivali I Këngës, because it was so intense and interesting. English – and I know it’s only because I can understand it – has a way of making most of that disappear, particularly if the English lyrics are lame. That’s what it’s done to World, although no change of language could make Lindita herself less of a vocal powerhouse. The melody is still nice and dramatic, and that money note she belts out for what seems like ten straight minutes is still a staggering ‘wow!’ moment. But with Albanian off the menu, the song sounds plain vanilla when it used to be covered in chocolate sprinkles. I understand countries wanting to use English to communicate with more people, but when an artist can invest emotion in their vocal performance like Lindita can, sticking with their native tongue wouldn’t hold them back. Imagine Hungary’s Origo, or even the chorus of 1944, in English. Things wouldn’t pack the same punch with those two songs, would they? I don’t think so. World, to someone who never knew it as Botë, is probably a decent enough power ballad. But even so, I hope Lindita is prepared to fight for a spot in the final, because she’ll be lucky to get there otherwise. 6 points.
My mum says… Someone has a serious set of lungs! I’m guessing you all know the particular part of this song that made me sure of that. As for the rest of (the) World…well, I wasn’t a huge fan at first. It starts off slowly and sounds sort of old-fashioned for a piano ballad. But when it turns from piano ballad to power ballad, the situation improves. I got swept up in the emotion and passion Lindita projects once she gets fired up, which made me appreciate the song more. 6 points.
Albania’s score 6.00
My thoughts As hilarious as it would be to see Hovig carried out on stage by a giant and carefully positioned on a fake rock at Eurovision, it’s a different Gravity to Zlata’s that he’s packing in his suitcase: the Thomas G:son kind. And holy Rag’n’Bone Man rip-offs, it’s amazing! I like to think of it more of an homage to Human rather than a textbook case of plagiarism. It’s also an example of a song that’s better than the last one the artist tried to get to Eurovision with, which often isn’t the case (though I do dig Stone in A River too). From the second that mechanical, hypnotic beat kicks in at the start, I’m hooked. Simply-worded verses lead to the biggest earworm of a chorus in this year’s contest (one that’s instantly memorable thanks to clever rhyming), and both are perfectly suited to Hovig’s strong, slightly gravelly voice. The potential for epic staging is sky-high here, so I hope Cyprus has taken advantage of that and not left the poor guy to just stand centre stage in a spotlight. I do think the song is good enough to shine without gimmicks, but an edgy lighting scheme or some Loïc Nottet-style dancers (slash Cirque du Soleil acrobats, given the possibilities for tricks suggested in the music video) would set the scene and give Gravity the atmosphere it deserves. Either way, I don’t have much more to say about it other than this: if Minus One managed to qualify, then Hovig should too. Oh, and Gravity kicks astronaut ass. And regular, 9-to-5 worker ass. Basically, all ass. 10 points.
My mum says… I liked this straight away – there was no waiting for something exciting to happen. That beat (and the strange sounds that accompany it, which I suspect may be an alien mating call) piqued my interest instantly. There’s great energy all the way through, and the lyrics are interesting enough in their own right to prevent potential boredom. Gravity makes for a refreshing change from the usual love song style, and I wouldn’t mind hearing it again right now! 8 points.
Cyprus’ score 9.00
My thoughts Latvia has come a long, long way since Cake To Bake. Sure, that was sweet (pun intended) but you have to admit that what they’ve sent to the ESC since then has been in a whole different league of contemporary pop awesomeness. Just when we thought that was all down to Aminata’s involvement, along came Triana Park with Line, the third installment in a trilogy of fantastic Latvian tracks (and sequels are supposed to suck!). It’s just SO COOL. Everything from the silky-smooth electronic production to the minimalist, non-cliché lyrical content, bare-bones instrumental hook, and lead singer Agnese’s unique voice and constantly-changing look (the woman is a hair, makeup and clothing chameleon) is what I want to see more countries ship off to the contest. Basically, a package that even the most seasoned ‘Eurovision is crap’ troll would find appealing, or at least very hard to take the piss out of. There is something stopping Line from being one of my favourite songs of the year – maybe the fact that it is quite flat and repetitive (though that’s typical of the genre), or just the fact that I happen to enjoy other entries more. But in terms of measuring up to Love Injected and Heartbeat, it definitely does. The live performance is not as slick as the studio version, which wasn’t an issue for Aminata or Justs, so I don’t think Triana Park will be jury high-flyers. Televoters will go more gaga over Line, I think, so we’ll see if that’s enough to nab Latvia another left-side result on the Saturday night…assuming they make it that far. They sure as heck deserve to. 8 points.
My mum says… This isn’t (totally) my cup of tea. I enjoyed the catchy chorus, but I found the rest of the song monotonous and far too repetitive. It didn’t do much for me at all. The lead singer’s voice didn’t seem to have the same power and appeal as any of the other singers I’ve heard so far. If I’m not the target audience for Line, though, it’ll probably do well because it certainly sounds current. 4 points.
Latvia’s score 6.00
My thoughts Macedonia was one of two countries that really surprised me with their 2017 song, because I was expecting something totally different to what they delivered (I’ll tell you now that the other one was Belgium, but you’ll have to wait and see if I was pleasantly or not-so-pleasantly surprised by City Lights). I’ll confess that I didn’t even have the chance to have a cursory glance at Jana’s musical background/career to date before Dance Alone pirouetted into the picture, but even if I had, I doubt I would have seen such contemporary, radio-friendly pop coming. Not from her or from Mace-Dona-donia! This song is super polished; modern, as I mentioned, but brings the eighties back in a way that Ruffus would approve of; and seems to have been lifted straight from a Spotify playlist called ‘Music To Get Ready For A Night Out To’. It’s unfortunate that, after such a show of ethnicity in Stockholm with Kaliopi, there’s no trace of traditional sounds to be heard here, but given Kaliopi’s failure to even qualify for the final, I don’t blame Macedonia for pinballing in a different direction. With infectious hooks throughout, simple but effective lyrics and a charismatic performer, there’s nothing wrong with Dance Alone. Perhaps that’s my problem, because as much as I like it, I can’t force myself to fall in love with it. It’s so perfect in a plastic-package kind of way, I feel disconnected from it and can’t muster up any strong emotions when I hear it (love, hate or the irresistible urge to dance). There’s always a song competing in Eurovision that I know is a good-quality one, but it ends up in my ‘meh’ pile anyway. I guess this is the 2017 version. 6 points.
My mum says… After listening to this, I might have to make the pavement my catwalk too! It’s a cool pop song that had me moving to the music very quickly, and I can’t deny that’s a sign of something being up my alley. The whole thing is infectious (in a good way – no need for face masks) and I can’t think of anything to complain about. Well done, Macedonia. 8 points.
Macedonia’s score 7.00
My thoughts I am so horrified by Malta’s downgrade from Walk On Water to Breathlessly (albeit a downgrade from a Swedish-made song to a Maltese-made song, which is not the horrifying part) that I can’t even contain myself enough to write a suspenseful intro that keeps you wondering WTF I think of Claudia’s entry for a line or six. When I first heard it, she’d already won – MESC was one national final I had to sacrifice acquainting myself with until it was over (thanks, adult commitments). I actually couldn’t believe that Malta had willingly chosen to send such a dated, dull and overly-dramatic ballad to Eurovision, straight after serving up slayage with Ira Losco. Over time, my despise has turned to tolerance (so long as I’m in a generous mood) but Breathlessly is still right near the rear end of my overall ranking. It’s something that belongs in the credits of a mid-1990s romantic drama movie starring Kevin Costner and Julia Roberts – not a highly competitive song contest in 2017. If that’s not enough to turn you off, how about the creepy lyrical content seemingly written from an unhinged stalker’s perspective? ‘I’ll be watching you, breathlessly’? Watching me call the cops! Okay, so maybe I wouldn’t do that to Claudia, who seems like a cool person, does the song justice vocally and looks stunning in the music video. But not only does she deserve a better song to go to the ESC with, she’s had better songs to go to the ESC with. It’s too bad her time has finally come with an entry that will struggle to break free from the semi final. 4 points.
My mum says… ‘Terribly ballady’ were the words that came to mind when I was listening to Claudia go on and on and on, feeling like a psychiatrist she should be paying by the minute. The subject matter of the song doesn’t seem that sad and miserable, but it made me feel really down in the dumps which is NOT how I like music to affect me. If there was more variety in the mood or the lyrics, it’d be better, but Breathlessly flatlines. I don’t think I’ll bother firing up the defibrillator and trying to revive it. 3 points.
Malta’s score 3.5
My thoughts There’s one thing I have to get out of my system before I talk about Timebelle’s Apollo, and that is the all-important subject matter of how FREAKING BEAUTIFUL (I hope Robin Bengtsson hasn’t trademarked that phrase) lead singer Miruna is. If she just stood on stage for three minutes doing nothing but batting her eyelashes at the camera, I wouldn’t be able to look away – and I say this as a straight female. She can sing and stuff too, I know, but…hashtag hottie. Right, I’ve said it. Now, The Song! Apollo, for me, is a step up from Timebelle’s last Swiss NF entry Singing About Love (although they are once again singing about love). Sure, it could have been a minor radio hit five or ten years ago, but I don’t think this sort of ballad style dates too badly. I really like every element of it, even in 2017 – the tune, the dynamic way that softer verses build up to big, dramatic choruses, the lyrics (which are simple but not too simple, and just about cliché-free)…and how’s ‘I’ll follow you, Apollo’ for a lyrical hook? Well, you might think it sucks, but I think it makes the song even more instant. Overall, it’s memorable enough – and will be well-performed enough – to squeeze into the second semi’s top 10, but that’s not a given. ‘Enough’ isn’t always enough (if that makes any sense) in a competitive environment, and I can see why Switzerland might miss out just as easily as they could slip through to the final. Either way, they’re guaranteed to improve on Rykka’s result from last year (lest we forget the blue perm and boob-smoke). 7 points.
My mum says… Now here’s a ballad I can get on board with. It’s uplifting, easy to sing along to and just poppy enough to put some pep in your step. The steps taken when following Apollo, obviously. I think Malta should take notes during the lesson Professor Switzerland delivers in Ukraine! 8 points.
Switzerland’s score 7.5
18 down, 24 (possibly plus-one, if I decide the flame is indeed burning) to go! Here’s the ranking after today’s reviews:
- Cyprus (9.00)
- Switzerland (7.5)
- Macedonia (7.00)
- Latvia (6.00)
- Albania (6.00)
- Malta (3.5)
I’m happy to announce Hovig as the winner of this round. Will he find himself on top – or at least close to the top – of any other upcoming leaderboards? I can hardly stand the suspense. I don’t think there’s a lot of suspense in wondering what will happen to last-placed Malta, but then again, the ESC always manages to provide us with some shocks (you haven’t forgotten about Greta-gate already, have you?).
How would you rank the entries my mum and I judged this time? Let us know in the comments. I love knowing who agrees and disagrees with my opinions so I know who I’m buying a birthday present for – and who I’m so NOT – this year…
If you’re enjoying the Jaz + Mrs. Jaz Judgments so far, then stay tuned for the next installment. We’ll be taking on some big hitters in the form of Bulgaria, France, Italy, Romania, Serbia and Sweden. The bookies rate (some of) them very highly, but will we? Look out for our thoughts on Kristian, Alma, Francesco, Ilinca & Alex Florea, Tijana and Robin to go live if you want to find out!
The Songs of Eurovision 2017 So Far: First impressions, 2016 vs 2017, my top five + vote for your favourite!
Happy First of February, everybody! As scary as it is that a full four weeks of 2017 have already gone by – it’s practically a permission slip for us all to Get Frighten like Lolita Zero – February is an exciting month on the Eurovision calendar, so maybe we should all “get excite” instead.
January just ended with the presentation of Kyiv’s logo and slogan (‘slogo’ to those of us who don’t have time for excess syllables):
It isn’t the most attractive logo (or the greatest slogan) in ESC history as far as I’m concerned (the colour scheme in particular is pretty drab). However, it has the potential to look slick in show-motion, as part of the postcards, and plastered all over posters/lanyards/t-shirts/toilet paper (an untapped item of merchandise that could, ahem, wipe the floor with the rest). So shall we give it a chance to shine – or not – before we throw it in the trash via salty Twitter sessions? Yes? Okay then.
In other end-of-January news, the allocation draw for the semi-finals took place yesterday, and has divided all of the non-automatic finalists into either the Tuesday or Thursday night shows. This doesn’t mean that much at the moment. Still, I’m happy to have Sweden in the first semi alongside Australia (despite the fact that they’re obviously tough competition) because we’re pretty friendly, and unless it’s third time unlucky and Australia sends something diabolically bad to Ukraine, we’re likely to get a little boost of points from last year’s hosts. If we don’t, the entire country will have a mob of angry Aussies (or perhaps just me) to answer to.
With the theme art unveiled and the allocation draw done and dusted, we can now move on to the millions (slight exaggeration) of national finals mapped out for this month – including the magnificent Melodifestivalen, which starts this Saturday. For now, though, there are five seen-and-heard songs in the race to be the next 1944…and that’s such a neat little number, I’ve got to take advantage of it. So here, have some opinions on the fabulous (and not-so-fabulous) five songs chosen to date for the 2017 contest. And stick around to the (possibly bitter) end to vote for your favourite before five becomes…more than five. #mathsskillz.
Bonjour, Albania, Belarus, Finland, Georgia and the United Kingdom. I’m about to criticise you like crazy.
Botë by Lindita Halimi (Albania)
When discussing Albania at the moment, we’re fully aware that the song we’re talking about now is probably not the song we’ll be talking about in a month or two. That’s because Lindita and her crew are currently revamping it and preparing for its English-language unveiling (not because the Botë writers are going to pull a Diell on us and actually force her to find a different song to sing in Kyiv). In its at-this-second state, Botë is classic Albania – a big, brassy power ballad in possession of a mysterious beauty. Even if any of that changes when the final version is presented, Lindita will still sing the absolute crap out of it without breaking a sweat. If she doesn’t qualify to the ESC final, I feel like someone’s going to get punched (not by me, but by her. The girl is fierce).
My current score 8 points.
Better than Fairytale? As one of the few living and breathing fans of Fairytale, I’m not 100% certain, but I think Lindita trumps Eneda. She’d definitely beat her in the boxing ring.
Historyja Majho Žyccia by NAVI (Belarus)
Like Finland, Belarus chose wisely from their NF line-up when they could easily have made a dreadful decision (in my opinion…which as always, is the right one). NAVI’s brand of fun folk-pop is wrapped up in a neat, cheerfully-decorated package with Historyja Majho Žyccia. Even though it will stay in Belarusian (which makes me want to do a little ethnic/highly embarrassing dance of joy) we’ll all be able to sing along to the various heys and hos that up the cute factor throughout. I’m not head-over-heels in love with this song – it could be the genre, which isn’t my favourite, or just a missing bit of pizzazz – but I like it a lot, and I’m interested to see how it performs at Eurovision.
My current score 7 points.
Better than Help You Fly? This is like comparing 1944 with Wadde Hadde Dudde Da (don’t try to tell me that Stefan Raab masterpiece isn’t stuck in your head now). Basically, it’s a tough call, but I’m saying yes.
Blackbird by Norma John (Finland)
I was holding out a little hope that this track would win UMK, but until I saw the performances, I assumed Emma had it in the bag. Or that Finland would think ‘f%#k it’ and pick Günther & D’Sanz. Fortunately, they pleasantly surprised me by doing neither of those things. Blackbird has plenty of people pretending to puke whenever it’s mentioned, but for me, it has a bit of the magic of A Monster Like Me plus the raw emotion of Silent Storm. That amounts to something special, if not spectacular. Some pre-ESC crafting of the staging concept should elevate it to semi top ten status, but it’s early days and most of Norma John’s competition is a question mark. They might blend into the background, or make a statement with their subtlety. If you ask me, it’s Option B!
My current score 10 points.
Better than Sing It Away? As a party-starter/dancefloor-filler, nope. In every other department, yep.
Keep The Faith by Tako Gachechiladze (Georgia)
Tako nearly made it to Moscow in 2009 as part of the peeps that brought us We Don’t Wanna Put In. To be honest, I’d rather listen to that disco-flavoured, thinly-veiled dig at Russia’s main man than this melodramatic, been-done ballad. When you’re watching a song being sung, and you’re thinking about how sparkly the singer’s dress is and how voluminous her hair is and where you can buy a lipstick in that exact shade because it’s gorgeous…but not about the song itself as it kind of sends you to sleep, that’s bad news. And that, my friends, was me watching Tako do her thing at the Georgian final. One person’s trash is another’s treasure, so I know Keep The Faith has its fans. I’m just not one of them at this point.
My current score 5 points.
Better than Midnight Gold? No way. Bring back the drug references and epileptic lighting sequences.
Never Give Up On You by Lucie Jones (United Kingdom)
Was it my number one (like, the only treasure I’ll ever have) choice of the six You Decide songs? Not before the comp. But I’ve got to admit, this song has grown on me very rapidly after only a few listens and a look at Lucie’s pared-back performance from Friday night (in which she sang like a songbird, wore an amazing velvet dress and reminded me a little bit of Lena circa 2010 if Lena had taken a Valium before stepping onto the Oslo stage). It’s an almost-exceptional, well-worded minimalist ballad that Emmelie de Forest has co-created here – and may I remind the haters that every single song she’s written that has made it to the ESC has won the contest? True fact.
My current score 10 points.
Better than You’re Not Alone? Definitely. Joe + Jake were a much less hyperactive and more sensible-haired version of Jedward, which can only be a good thing – but Lucie is a step in a more successful direction.
For those of you who made it through all of the above, here’s my top five:
- United Kingdom
How long will it be before somebody, if anybody (*sneezes in a very timely fashion with a ‘SWEDEN!’ instead of an ‘AACHOO!’*) steamrolls over the UK and parks in my personal top spot?
I have no idea.
Here’s an easier question to answer:
If you want to justify your poll pick or say something snarky about a song you don’t like (this is not a bitchiness-free zone, so go ahead), drop by the comments below. Also, feel free to send your personal top five my way so we can compare our rankings while secretly wondering why the heck each of us has THAT song in first/last place.
Until Saturday, when the clouds part and a heavenly glow covers Gothenburg because it’s Melfest Semi One Day (can’t you hear the angels warming up their vocal chords in anticipation?)…
I bet you didn’t see this coming. Regardless and right on schedule, round three of the EBJJJ judgments has arrived!
Today, it’s time for a few of last year’s JESC success stories; host country Malta; and Italy (who neither did brilliantly in 2015 or are hosting like they COULD HAVE in 2015) to be picked apart by me and my posse of Europop aficionados. Prepare for highs, lows and mixed emotions, people.
Without further ado, let’s jump in to judging Klesta, Alexander, Fiamma and Christina’s songs for Europe. And Australia. And any other country that happens to be broadcasting JESC this year.
My thoughts Last year, I staunchly supported Mishela Rapo and her dibi-dibi-Dambaje as they ventured forth into the bloody musical battle that is…not JESC (blood-drawing = not so child-friendly, and probably frowned upon by the EBU). The haters did hate, but she went on to finish 5th, equaling the best-ever ranking in a Eurovision event that Albania secured with Rona Nishliu in Baku. Funnily enough, their Junior entry for 2016 reminds me of Suus, for several reasons. But am I intending to sing its praises the way I did with Dambaje (and yes, Suus, once my ears became accustomed to Rona’s tuneful but still very loud wailing)? The answer is ‘kind of’. In my opinion, there’s more to like about Klesta’s Besoj than there is NOT to like about it, but it isn’t flawless. Let’s start with the good stuff, though. A mature, sophisticated and B-I-G ballad bursting out of a precious-looking little girl (in glasses, no less) has been a secret to JESC success lately – think Gaia Cauchi’s 2013 win or Slovenia’s song from Lina Kuduzović last year. So there’s that. Then there’s the fact that this ballad features multiple moments of melodic magnificence throughout, particularly between the choruses. The choruses do have their strengths, as they’re a dynamic contrast to the softness of what surrounds them, exploding out of nowhere and allowing Klesta to reach her full vocal potential (surprising unsuspecting viewers in the process). It’s a statement song, that’s for sure. But I have to point out its flaws if I want to get all of the cattiness out of my system before these reviews reach their conclusion, and these are the most obvious: firstly, the somewhat strange use of English in amongst the Albanian – ‘believe’ popping up in that first chorus instead of ‘besoj’ is too random for my tastes. Secondly, the second half of the chorus, where most of the power is packed, is OTT enough to give me the beginnings of a headache by time the song’s over. Still, my personal ratio of like to dislike here is about 85%:15%, which ain’t bad for Albania. It just means that the more people who feel the way I do, the more likely they’ll have to settle for a less impressive result than last year’s. I’m not sure if it would be a help or hindrance if Klesta took even more cues from Rona Nishliu and appeared on stage with her hair forming part of her costume…
My score 7
The EBJ Junior Jury says…
- Dara, Australia – 6
- James, UK – 6
- Joshua, Australia – 12
- Matthew, Ireland – 7
- Michael, Australia – 4
- Penny, USA – 10
- Rory, Ireland – 10
My thoughts This is old-school Junior Eurovision right here, folks! From 2003-2010 (ish), pre-teen pop was the core of the contest. Nowadays, we’re lucky to get two or three tracks per year that bring back those memories (the trio of 2016 being Belarus, The Netherlands and Serbia). Alex’s homeland came third in 2013 with something similar, and I’m guessing he’d like to do the same or better. Sadly, I’m about to burst his bubble, because Muzyka Moikh Pobed is only okay, and certainly no Poy So Mnoy (then again, what is? That was BOSS). It’s a mid-tempo, pretty well-sung and performed song with a reasonably catchy chorus, and I do get a kick out of it – just not a hard one. More like a gentle poke with the toe, if you were after specifics. There’s nothing about it that’s memorable, even though comparing it to anything else in the competition would be like comparing Lordi and Boggie. It would make a great Sing It Away-style opener for the show because it’s energetic and sets the mood switch to ‘Party Time!!!’, but can then promptly be forgotten about by everyone and eventually putt-putt to a halt in 13th place because it’s disposable. I don’t want it to fail – if an outcome like that would be considered a fail – but I don’t see it having the steam to climb much higher. That doesn’t mean Europe should stop sending kid pop: it can be done in a memorable way that still scores serious points. It just means that…well, you can’t take a top 5 spot every single year. Unless you’re Armenia.
My score 6
The EBJ Junior Jury says…
- Dara, Australia – 5
- James, UK – 7
- Joshua, Australia – 10
- Matthew, Ireland – 5
- Michael, Australia – 8
- Penny, USA – 7
- Rory, Ireland – 5
My thoughts Nobody does class like Italy. It consistently ensures they get great adult Eurovision results (when they don’t, those are the exceptions, not the rule) and even won them the Junior Eurovision title on their very first try in 2014. Fiamma Boccia’s ballad, which is an ode to her mother (see, Axel Hirsoux…it CAN be done in a non-creepy way!), is nothing if not classy. Yet it still manages to be age-appropriate for the twelve-year-old, who actually looks younger than her years (she may be asked for ID upon entering the Mediterranean Conference Centre for the first time). To be honest, I thought Cara Mamma was an unfortunate sweet-and-savoury combo of sugar and cheese back when it was presented, and if it was entirely in English (against JESC rules, I know, but I’m talking hypothetically here) I probably still would. But further listens have somehow changed my mind, and I’m really digging it now. It is sweet, but the Italian, as always, adds an aspect of beauty that’s very appealing. The chorus is soaring and melodic without being overblown or melodramatic. And the softness of the verses that is echoed when the song winds down gives me a satisfying feeling that the entry has come full circle, returning to its roots and making it more meaningful. Italy also makes excellent use of the little English they’ve opted for, as it doesn’t feel like it was crammed in just to increase the song’s accessibility. Fiamma is pretty darn cute, and has an emotional presence – at least in her music video – that reminds me of Alisa Kozhikina, who represented Russia the year Italy won JESC (albeit with a ballad that was too mature and melodramatic for my liking, but still finished 5th). I think she has one of the best ballads of the year up her sleeve, but with tough competition coming from Albania, Bulgaria and Poland, she needs to pull off a top-notch performance to give herself the best shot of outdoing the others. I’d like to see her do well, and I bet her mother would too (her father, who’s probably feeling a little left out, may be less supportive).
My score 8
The EBJ Junior Jury says…
- Dara, Australia – 5
- James, UK – 12
- Joshua, Australia – 7
- Matthew, Ireland – 10
- Michael, Australia – 8
- Penny, USA – 8
- Rory, Ireland – 4
My thoughts Malta has been hyped a heap at Junior Eurovision recently, and usually they live up to that hype by winning or doing very well indeed. Destiny’s Not My Soul wasn’t my favourite entry last year (far from it, in fact), but she certainly fulfilled expectations, and did deserve to win as far as I’m concerned. But if Christina Magrin does the double on home soil with the frequently-fangirled-over Parachute, I will be FURIOUS. To cut what could be a long story short, I hate this song. So much so that I’ve taken to calling it Parashite (hoping that Christina never finds out, because I’m not a monster who wants to hurt a child’s feelings). I seem to be in the minority, but to me the song is annoying, vacuous, derivative crap. And what the heck is up with that ‘Ew ew ewhew ewwwww’ part of the chorus? I mean, yes, it accurately describes my attitude towards the whole thing, but what does it add to the track? It’s like the writers couldn’t for the life of them think of any more lyrics for that section, so they decided to string out the last syllable sung instead in the most irritating manner known to man. All in all, this is bubblegum pop that should stay stuck to the underside of a school desk somewhere. Maybe this rant makes me a distant relative of Satan himself, but I have to tell the truth! I will admit that Christina is a great singer, as is everyone under the age of sixteen who calls Malta home. But her vocal gymnastics can’t somersault the song into my good graces. Worryingly, the last time I felt this strongly about a Maltese JESC entry in a negative way, it was 2013 and Gaia Cauchi’s The Start went on to win with ease. So if Parachute does the same¸ y’all can go off and celebrate and I’ll just be crying in a corner, cursing the juries under my breath.
My score 2
The EBJ Junior Jury says…
- Dara, Australia – 5
- James, UK – 10
- Joshua, Australia – 6
- Matthew, Ireland – 12
- Michael, Australia – 6
- Penny, USA – 8
- Rory, Ireland – 3
And with that controversial ending to today’s round of reviews (direct all hate mail to me and expect a falsely polite reply within six to eight months), there’s now twelve down, five to go for the EBJ Junior Jury.
Our ranking after scoring this group of four looks like this:
- Albania (7.75)
- Italy (7.75)
- Belarus (6.62)
- Malta (6.5)
It’s the ballads that have reigned supreme, with Albania and Italy equaling each other’s scores. Albania gets the top spot on countback, but the gap between the two is barely there. Belarus and Malta keep each other company in the lower half, with very little separating them as well.
How do they all fit in to the full EBJJJ ranking for 2016? Well, you’ll have to wait and see – but don’t worry, there’s not long now until I reveal all. The final five left to be reviewed are Australia, Israel, Macedonia, The Netherlands and Serbia. Maybe we’ve saved the best until last….maybe we haven’t. Either way, you won’t want to miss it.
Did Albania deserve to take out today’s top honours, or should Malta have been the cream of the crop á la Destiny? Perhaps Italy or Belarus have won you over instead. Let me know what you’re thinking in the comments!
It’s creeping ever closer, people! If you don’t know what I mean by ‘it’, then I have to question why you’re reading this blog. For those who do know, you’ll also be aware that the Eurovision 2016 stage is taking shape inside the Globe Arena, and that means more reviewing must be done before it resembles the diagrams we oohed and aahed over a little while ago. It’s still mostly scaffolding at this point – but there’s no time to waste! Let’s say hej to today’s judges, and to the countries they’ll be discussing in this third installment of reviews.
By now, you guys should know where to meet and greet the EBJ Jury, so I won’t tell you again (well, maybe just one more time. Hint: scroll up!). James, Martin and myself are about to complement and criticise the life out of Albania, Estonia, Germany, Lithuania, the Netherlands and San Marino – or, as I like to call them (because we’re all best buddies), Eneda, Jüri, Jamie-Lee, Donny, Douwe Bob and Serhat. Who’ll be our favourite, and will any country other than the predictable one be our LEAST favourite? Settle down with some popcorn and find out now!
James Okay, I feel like I’m going to be in the minority here when I say I actually think the revamp has improved Albania’s song this year…instrumentally, at least. Fairytale 2.0 sounds a lot more professional than Përrallë did – the only issue I have is that Eneda’s new vocal somehow sounds like she recorded it right after waking up from a three-hour nap, and quite fancied getting straight back to bed as soon as she was done. I’m hoping she really attacks it live because even with its lucky running order position, it’s gonna need a LOT of extra energy if it’s to stand ANY chance of making it to Saturday night. The English lyrics aren’t brilliant, I must admit, but that’s never been an issue in the past *cough, undo my sad, cough*. As a song though, I do enjoy listening to Fairytale, and the hook does stick with me. I’d be happy to see Albania in the final with this.
Martin Swapping from Albanian to English, along with losing forty-five seconds of the FiK version of Fairytale, is going to lead to yet another non-qualification for Albania – much in the same way as it did for Hersi in 2014. What was a powerful and passionate emotional rollercoaster with lots of interesting nuances in Tirana has now lost it all and become a repetitive low-key ballad that no longer holds my attention.
Jaz Albania seem to have forgotten fast that a fully-Albanian language entry gave them their best-ever Eurovision result. Obviously, it’s well within their rights to sing in whatever language they like – but I can’t help feeling that ANY language other than English would have helped Eneda’s Fairytale retain the mystery and intrigue that it initially had (and in doing so, you might say, made it a Fairytale with a happy ending). Like Martin, I can’t say that this song, in its English incarnation, is anything special – whereas it was when it was known as Përrallë. Language gripes aside, I still rate the gritty, rocky sound (and how it contrasts with Eneda’s/Kate Winslet’s ladylike styling), and the melody and construction of the choruses is still interesting (we’re rarely on the receiving end of cookie-cutter stuff from Albania). But, without the air of ‘Ooh, what’s this all about then?’ that the original version of the song created, I cannot see this qualifying. Not unless a handful of other countries stumble and fall flat on their faces, that is.
The EBJ Jury says…
- Ali 5
- Fraser 5
- James 5
- Jaz 6
- Martin 5
- Nick 2
- Penny 6
- Rory 8
- Wolfgang 6
Albania’s EBJ Jury score is…5.33
James Aagh, Estonia. I genuinely still don’t know what I think of Play yet. It’s definitely one of the most original songs in this year’s line-up, and it’s fresh and relevant whilst oozing the kind of timeless classiness that Estonia are so good at of late. The thing I’m not so sure about is Jüri’s voice – if the song had been written a couple of semitones higher, it would be in a much more comfortable place for him. This is something I’m all too familiar with from trying to record covers myself – literally, if someone from his team could just whack the karaoke version into Audacity and change the pitch up a bit, everything would be fine! He still sings it perfectly well, of course, but there’s not a single point in the song where he has the chance to break out of that sludgy lower register and show off the full extent of his vocal capabilities, and the overall effect is far too dark, in my opinion. Yes, I know it’s MEANT to be like that, but I don’t think it really works. Especially live – the melody is so low that it blends in with the track and obscures a lot of the meaning, which is a shame since the lyrics are one of the song’s highlights. I still think it’s got a pretty good shot at qualifying, though, and it’s definitely going to stand out, one way or another.
Martin With a passing nod to the vocal style of Neil Hannon and The Divine Comedy, Jüri brings chic and coolness to Eurovision with a very laid-back and confident performance, together with a song that builds nicely and has a memorable chorus. Play just lacks a ‘wow’ moment that would definitely confirm a final place, and a possible top half finish for Estonia. Because of that, this could be one of the ‘better’ casualties of this year’s semi finals.
Jaz Estonia has pulled a Latvia this year, selecting a song written by their 2015 representative to fly their flag (I’ll be swapping the countries around and saying the same thing about Latvia when the time comes). While I’d put Love Injected on par with Heartbeat in the ‘How freaking awesome is this?’ department, I’d actually rank Goodbye To Yesterday a little lower than Jüri’s Play. That’s not because I hate GTY (I don’t, although it never topped my rankings) but because I LOVE Play. Jüri + this song = a performance by a more well-groomed and more intense version of Hozier, and it is soaked with smoky retro sophistication. This kid (I can call him that since he’s younger than me and my mental age is akin to that of a teenager) might look angelic, but when he’s on stage, those of us watching him aren’t sure whether he wants to skin us alive or if he’s just really, really in the zone. I like the fact that he’s so ‘in character’ as he works his way through a song that literally hits all the notes that Bond-inspired vintage-vibe pop should. Of all the throwback songs that will be showing up in Stockholm this year (‘all’ meaning, like, three or four) this is the most well-executed IMO, and it almost serves as a prequel – or sequel, depending on how the listener writes the story – to GTY, as an added bonus. Though I doubt Jüri will squeeze out a single tear á la Elina Born at Eurovision, I don’t doubt his ability to take Stig’s song to the final…and perhaps secure Estonia another top 10 result as well.
The EBJ Jury says…
- Ali 12
- Fraser 6
- James 5
- Jaz 10
- Martin 7
- Nick 4
- Penny 8
- Rory 6
- Wolfgang 5
Estonia’s EBJ Jury score is…7
James I should absolutely adore this. It’s got that modern synth-pop sound with a waif-like female lead vocal, which I usually really dig…but something about Ghost just doesn’t click with me. Don’t get me wrong, it has its moments – I like the bridge, for example, and the chords in the ‘lonely in a crowded room together’ line. But on the whole, that chorus is such an anti-climax, isn’t it (please say somebody agrees with me?). It’s still a decent enough song, but I guess I just feel a bit miffed every time I hear it because I feel like it could have been soooooo much better! I hope it grows on me, and it probably will when I get the CD and actually let myself play all the songs to within an inch of their lives…but until then, it’s mid-table at best for me. Sorry, Germany.
Martin Melancholic lyrics, an atmospheric score and hauntingly powerful vocals were all at odds with the visual package of an 18-year-old girl obsessed with manga outfits! ‘The Voice of Germany’ was totally the focus of the national final performance of Ghost and rightly so. Jamie-Lee’s simple but sublime delivery of this entry could be the sleeper hit this year in Stockholm. One of my favourites – it’s my number 4 at this stage.
Jaz I don’t want to get overly-attached to Jamie-Lee and her Ghost, given what happened in the wake of me latching on to Ann Sophie’s Black Smoke (I’m beginning to think I’m a bad luck charm). But…this song is brilliant! Hashtag fail on the ‘keep your distance’ thing! I’m no musical expert – which you may find hard to believe – but I think that technically-speaking, this is one of the best songs competing in this year’s contest. The background music is almost church hymn-like, which adds a pleading but accepting tone to the words pouring out of Jamie’s mouth; while the steady beat makes the whole thing hypnotic. As a package, the music and lyrics are fresh and edgy, and Eurovision needs those adjectives. However, what we see rather than hear is where Germany has gone wrong. I know Jamie-Lee loves her K-pop and her Harajuku-inspired outfits (in other words, Gwen Stefani would adore her) – but not only does her choice of costume detract from a song it just isn’t suitable for, it also makes for a jarring combination of a mature, emotionally-charged song being performed by someone who looks distinctly Junior Eurovision, and therefore far too young to have an understanding of what she’s singing about. Jamie, sans stuffed-toy-covered wardrobe, does have the maturity required to pull this off despite her young age, and her vocal talents are undeniable. But dressing the way she does, she’d be better off joining Dolly Style when one of their current members inevitably departs, or performing a song that is as fun, cute and playful as she looks. To people not named Jaz, the contrast between Ghost and Jamie’s sartorial selections might make her stand out positively from her 25 fellow finalists – but I think, as much as I admire her passion for and loyalty to her look, keeping it for Eurovision is a big risk. I do love the song though…
The EBJ Jury says…
- Ali 8
- Fraser 5
- James 5
- Jaz 10
- Martin 10
- Nick 12
- Penny 6
- Rory 4
- Wolfgang 10
Germany’s EBJ Jury score is…7.78
James Okay, yes, this has ‘Melfest Reject’ written all over it, but you know what? I don’t mind at all. One thing I really look for in Eurovision now is relevance. As I’m hosting a Eurovision party for all my non-fan friends, I get really excited when there are songs that sound like they’d fit right into the UK charts or radio playlists right now, because then I can point at the screen and go ‘SEE? EUROVISION’S NOT SHIT!’ and smile smugly as all my friends listen and can’t help but agree, because songs like Lithuania’s match their own tastes and would do so well if released by someone more well-known over here. So yeah, well done Lithuania! Ever since Attention, which I ADORED, they’ve really upped their game at Eurovision, and I’m enjoying their commitment to giving Europe the very best that their country can offer! Another thing though – have you heard any of Donny’s more recent music? Because damn, boy, he’s so much better now than when he sang that god-awful thing at the ESC in 2012! He’s got a really slick Troye Sivan/The Weeknd kind of vibe going on (think Aminata/Loïc Nottet if you want a contest reference) and it really suits his voice and style. I sort of wish he’d entered something more like that for Eurovision, but meh – I’ve Been Waiting… is more than good enough as it is!
Martin Donny gives this entry everything – it’s definitely memorable, it’s a standout high-tempo pop song that is performed superbly well, and it makes full use of his onstage charisma and good looks. Is the song’s title also a good omen for Lithuania? Donny could well be singing ‘I’ve been waiting for this night’ over the credits of the Eurovision final as his country’s first winner.
Jaz How does a pasty, preppy dude whose hobbies include strumming an imaginary guitar and wearing comical bejeweled blindfolds transform into a buff, bronzed and blonde (for the most part) crowd-captivator? Why not ask Donny Montell? He’s done just that between 2012 and 2016. Don’t get me wrong – Love Is Blind was the bomb, and Donny has always been a showman and a half, who can dance and sing simultaneously to a degree that probably makes Eric Saade very depressed indeed. But it’s great to see that Donny has evolved as an artist, and that he didn’t try to make an ESC comeback by repeating his approach of four years ago. I’ve Been Waiting For This Night is a bog-standard dance anthem, but the catchy chorus coupled with Donny’s charisma elevate it to above-average. Not since Kurt Calleja’s This Is The Night have we witnessed an entry that sets the tone for the show so perfectly (although Tonight Again did a darn good job of that in Vienna, I must say). Needless to say, the Globen audience (which will include me!), plus everyone watching on TV will be partying it up-up-up-up-up-uuup Loreen-style thanks to Lithuania. I am expecting them to qualify, and I will be complaining very loudly if they don’t. Oh, and I’ll also be starting a petition to get Donny to drop the Anglicised stage name and revert back to his much cooler birth name. ‘Donny’ worked with Love Is Blind. ‘Donatas’ is the artist IBWFTN deserves.
The EBJ Jury says…
- Ali 3
- Fraser 10
- James 6
- Jaz 8
- Martin 8
- Nick 5
- Penny 6
- Rory 3
- Wolfgang 10
Lithuania’s EBJ Jury score is…6.55
James Anyone who knows me will know that I absolutely love Calm After The Storm. So I guess when we worked out that by sending Douwe Bob, The Netherlands were going to be trying country music again, I was cautiously optimistic. And then I heard the song. Yeah, no. It’s the kind of thing that would only feel at home around the track 12 mark on disc two of some cheap ‘Driving Anthems’ compilation: the kind my Dad would play on long car journeys circa 2004. As a result, Slow Down just makes me think of those car journeys as a kid and I get a weird second-hand travel-sickness from it and…yeah, I just really don’t like it. The chord pattern, the instrumentation, the tone of the whole thing – it’s supposed to make you feel happy, but by the third line I just want to Sellotape Bob’s smug little mouth shut so he ‘can’t go on’ (see what I did there? Eh, eh?). Can I just stop listening to this and go listen to Calm After The Storm again instead please? That was such a special song. This is not.
Martin Country & western returns to Eurovision courtesy of the Netherlands yet again – it’s always about the lyrics, as this genre can sound like every other C & W track you’ve ever heard. Slow Down is well sung, and Douwe Bob is personable and handsome…but the steady pace and sound of the song won’t stand out in Stockholm. Another possible ‘good’ non-qualifier for me.
Jaz I have to agree with both James and Martin on this one, in terms of the fact that Douwe Bob’s Slow Down is achingly average – and it certainly doesn’t recapture the magic of Calm After The Storm (though you can’t blame the Netherlands for trying to in the wake of the Trijntje incident). The song’s not bad (we’ll come to one that is almost undeniably so in a minute). But, as much as I enjoy the cruisy pace and general jauntiness of it, plus Bob’s insistence that we chillax bro – and his vocal, which is super-smooth with a rough retro edge that I find strangely attractive – the entry as a whole just doesn’t ‘do’ much for me. Therefore, I have no choice but to file it away with the likes of Finland and the Czech Republic. I can’t imagine that the staging for this will be epic enough to make Douwe Bob the second coming of the Common Linnets, because even on its own, their song had the x-factor. Still, he should serve us up a nice, clap-friendly three minutes on stage (and if he lets that rose tattoo poke out of his shirt, you may hear me wolf-whistling amidst the applause). That should at least ensure that he won’t be bottom of his semi. Qualification isn’t out of his reach, but it’s definitely not in the bag.
The EBJ Jury says…
- Ali 7
- Fraser 6
- James 3
- Jaz 6
- Martin 7
- Nick 5
- Penny 10
- Rory 3
- Wolfgang 3
The Netherlands’ EBJ Jury score is…5.55
James Okay…is this a joke? Like, genuinely, I hope this is a joke, because if not, it’s just plain embarrassing. I cannot comprehend how one country can send so many palpably half-arsed entries in such a short space of time. I completely understand that San Marino are strapped for cash, and since Ralph Siegel has stopped bankrolling their entire Eurovision operation (hallelujah!) they’ve adopted the approach of nominating artists who can pay their own participation fee. So that essentially means they’ve got the pick of, oh, I don’t know, EVERY SLIGHTLY RICH ARTIST IN THE ENTIRE CONTINENT – hey, actually no, THE ENTIRE WORLD…and they’ve sent THIS. Was this really the best they could do? The original was dire, but by trying to squash Serhat’s badly-written, cringey, lopsided spoken words (that is not singing. I’m sorry, but no) into a DISCO TRACK, they’ve somehow managed to make it even worse. The beat itself, well, erm, Baccara called and they want that back ASAP. But dear lord, Serhat’s voice is the most grating thing in the entire Stockholm line-up! My dog has a bigger vocal range than he does. I’d literally rather spend three minutes listening to her barking right in my ear for her daily Dentastick, and deal with the copious amount of drool that accompanies such a request, than listen to any track with Serhat’s voice on it. Look at his face and then Google the troll face, and tell me they’re not distant cousins at the very least. This HAS to be a pisstake, right? It goes without saying that they haven’t got a hope in hell of qualifying, and if they do – ESPECIALLY if they take the place of someone like Gabriela from the Czech Republic – then there is something very, very wrong with this contest. Come on, San Marino. Sort yourselves out for next year, I beg you!
Martin The Turkish Leonard Cohen meets Studio 54! What would have been a very creepy monotone delivery of a set of ‘obsessive’ lyrics by Serhat is now tempered by some decent female backing, and the light and breezy disco beat that somehow makes this work. I Didn’t Know isn’t great (that’s an understatement!) but at least it’s now bearable to listen to. And, it’s no longer my worst entry this year (just).
Jaz I’ll be honest, and I think many of you will agree with me on this: I’ve never had particularly high expectations of San Marino’s Eurovision entries. Whether they’ve been armed with Siegel’s stash of cash or not, I’ve never been on the edge of my seat waiting for them to produce something on par with an Italian effort (I’m not a Valentina Monetta fan either, which doesn’t help). Even so, the sheer awfulness of I Didn’t Know has sent my jaw straight to the floor countless times since it was unveiled in its original, non-disco form. Like James, I was sure San Marino were trolling us when they presented the song to the public – how else could you explain the so-stale-it-was-growing-stuff track that sounded more like a recording of an audio book gone wrong than a song, or the laughable accompanying video clip that could have been lifted from an SNL sketch? But sadly, it wasn’t a joke. Then, just when we thought things couldn’t get any worse, I Didn’t Know was given the Donna Summer treatment, and OH DEAR GOD. This is what media outlets and non-fans will latch on to when they want to make a mockery of the contest. They won’t ignore it in favour of discussing Latvia or France – they’ll zone directly in on Serhat and his Seventies nightmare (thanks a lot, San Marino/Turkey). Based superficially on his appearance, I had hoped for a trumpet-backed, updated version of Mambo No. 5 from this guy, which would have been a bit of fun. But what we got instead more closely resembles something you’d step in by mistake at the local dog park. In the words of His Majesty Michele Perniola (whose 2015 entry is suddenly sounding like musical genius by comparison), NO.
The EBJ Jury says…
- Ali 8
- Fraser 5
- James 0
- Jaz 1
- Martin 4
- Nick 1
- Penny 2
- Rory 1
- Wolfgang 0
San Marino’s EBJ Jury score is…2.44
Duh duh duh…another six bite the dust! This third round of reviews has produced the lowest-scoring set of songs so far – but it did include San Marino, so we should have anticipated that. Here’s today’s top six:
- Germany (7.78)
- Estonia (7)
- Lithuania (6.55)
- The Netherlands (5.55)
- Albania (5.33)
- San Marino (2.44)
I tip my hat (the hat I’m not actually wearing) to Jamie-Lee Kriewitz for taking out the top spot on this occasion. You go, girlfriend. Where will she finish in the grand scheme of the EBJ Jury’s Top 43? We’ll all find out in a few weeks’ time.
Coming up, two Eurofans from the US of A will join me to pass judgment on Bosnia & Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Hungary, Denmark, Montenegro and Spain. There’s bound to be some hits and misses among them, so make sure you drop by to witness the humorous differences of opinion (it’s always amusing when someone rips a song to shreds and someone else takes offence and they have an argument which results in the destruction of a longtime friendship, don’t you think?).
Sense the sarcasm, guys.
While you’re waiting for me to hit publish on that post, let the EBJ Jury know what you think of today’s tracks. Does Germany’s Ghost get you going, or will it just get you going to the kitchen to put the kettle on? Is San Marino’s sixth place deserved or totally uncalled for? Comment and score these songs for yourself down below – we’d all love to hear from you!
Until next time,
JESC 2015 Judgments feat. the EBJ Junior Jury | Albania, Bulgaria, FYR Macedonia, Ireland and San Marino
Hello again, and welcome to the final round of the EBJ Junior Jury’s JESC ’15 reviews!
Before I introduce today’s jurors and then actually allow you to check out their comments, there’s something I have to acknowledge. Something pretty sizeable that has made headlines on Planet Eurovision since the last lot of reviews went live. I cannot sweep it under the glitter-infused rug, not even until JESC is done and dusted. What could I possibly be referring to? Um, only AUSTRALIA BEING CONFIRMED AS NO. 41 FOR STOCKHOLM!!!
Yep, we’re back – but this time, we actually have to earn our place in the final by qualifying from the semis. Fair enough, too. I think most of us knew this news was coming, but it took official confirmation from Eurovision.tv yesterday for me to lose my mind completely and do the world’s greatest victory dance. Okay, so even I have reservations re: the decision – our participation was supposed to be a one-off, and I don’t particularly want the floodgates surrounding the ESC to open in light of possible Aussie permanency, taking the ‘Euro’ out of the equation to a ridiculous extent.
But…OH MY GOD! Basically, though I think this is a terrible idea, I also somehow think it’s a freaking fantastic one. I can’t help being peeing-in-my-pants-a-little thrilled about it, partly because I will get the chance to cheer on an act from my own country at Eurovision, in person. My plan had long been to attend the 60th ESC, so when that didn’t pan out, I thought I was missing my one and only shot at waving an Australian flag with a purpose. But in May, I’m heading to Stockholm for contest 61, and so is a Guy Sebastian successor. Will it be Delta Goodrem, causing all my dreams to come true at once which will in turn cause me to spontaneously combust with excitement (hopefully after Delta’s performance)? We’ll have to wait and see.
Something Australia-related we don’t have to wait long for (this is my segue back to JESC and I’m not ashamed of it) is Bella Paige’s Junior Eurovision performance on Saturday night, or ‘Sunday morning’ as we call it in my time zone. The contest is so close I can barely concentrate on anything else (seriously, don’t try and communicate with me about anything non-Eurovisiony until after the weekend) so before time runs out, here are the final five EBJJJ reviews. Albania, Bulgaria, FYR Macedonia, Ireland and San Marino: meet your judges!
TODAY’S EBJ JUNIOR JURY
Liam Clark Liam is a Eurovision journalist for escXtra, based in Melbourne, Australia. He first started writing about Eurovision back in 2009, and hasn’t looked back. He’s particularly fond of and has a large amount of expertise in the Baltics, especially Estonia. He first discovered Eurovision in 2003 – the same year as the first Junior contest, when he was still a kid himself. In 2011, he attended JESC in Yerevan (Jaz: IMO, he picked a great year to go!).
Rory Gannon ‘Well hello there, peoples of the internet variety! My name is Rory Gannon, and I am from the Isle of Emeraldness – otherwise known as Ireland. I also work on the website ESC Views, as you might remember from earlier in the year (Jaz: Rory joined me on the EBJ Jury back in May). I was the guy who hated Måns? Well, that really backfired on me, didn’t it! However, we’re here for Junior Eurovision, and hopefully Europe will make the right decision and side with me this time…although, what are the odds of that happening? I started watching this post-ESC 1989 attempt at child labour (I KID!!!) in 2010, and it has never failed to offer up some great songs, which would have to include…ehh…I have always been a fan of Odelia Ranuni (Georgia 2007), Miy Litaak (Ukraine 2010), Nebo (Ukraine 2012), People of the Sun (Armenia 2014), Choco Factory (Armenia 2013), We Are One (Ukraine 2013), Mari Dari (Georgia 2010)…really, there some CHOONS there! Does it make me a bad person that I want some Armenian “shocka” now?’
Jaz “For my last bio *praises the lord* I guess I’ll fill you in on my JESC story. I discovered the contest the same year I discovered the adult contest – 2006 – and that discovery was just as accidental as when I flicked the TV over to SBS one night and saw Lordi on stage with a hot Greek guy and Maria Menounos from Entertainment Tonight and thought ‘What exactly is happening here?’. In May and again in November, I fell in love, and I’ve never looked back either (nor have I gone a day without bringing Eurovision up in conversation since, much to the chagrin of my family and friends). I’m not sure if I can put into words why I love JESC when so many ESC fans don’t. It must be the same thing that draws me to all international competitions where flags are waved – the Olympics, Miss Universe…you name it, I’m glued to the broadcast. Global and pan-European contests just speak to me on a spiritual level. JESC, specifically, is so much fun to watch, and has indeed produced some epic entries over the years. It also allows certain countries (Armenia, Belarus, etc) to shine in a way that they just can’t manage to in the adult contest. All in all, it makes me feel warm and fuzzy to see the competing kids having fun and supporting each other…and a little inadequate, given that I’m 24 and still sing more like Jemini than Gaia Cauchi.”
Now that we’ve relayed our JESC-related autobiographies to you (the abridged versions, anyway) it’s time for the EBJ Junior Jury to cast our eye and ear over the remaining entries for 2015. Mishela, Gabriela & Ivan, Ivana & Magdalena, Aimee and Kamilla – the stage is yours!
Liam I feel like I get what Mishela is going for here, but it just never really takes off. The first minute of Dambaje is cute, but then it just repeats itself. She looks like a lovely kid, but I fear that this is just going to bore all of the other kids. 2 points.
Rory There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Albania is my number one this year. When Dambaje became the first entry picked for Junior Eurovision back in the summer, I had a listen to the *incredibly grainy* NF performance and thought that if they revamped it, they’d have a good chance of making it to the top half of the leaderboard. They’ve done that tenfold with the new version! I love the way that it just grows and when I listen to it, I do feel like I’m on the plains of the Serengeti. That, coupled with Mishela’s flexible yet stunning vocal range, gives you a feeling of pure peace and contentment. If there’s one thing I think is a flaw, it’s the fact that the song’s not actually upbeat, and because it’s being performed second last on the night, it just might get lost in the crowd. But, in any case, I’m definitely supporting Mishela this year. #DambaToTheJe, and DOUZE points!!!
Jaz Simply put, Albania had me at ‘song that sounds remotely tribal and would make the soundtrack for an African safari adventure road trip, and/or wouldn’t be out of place playing over the credits of The Lion King’. Zlata Ognevich’s Gravity, Rafael Bobeica’s Cŭm Sa Fim (sent to JESC by Moldova in 2013) and Mishela’s Dambaje have formed a holy trinity of tracks that tickle my tribal fancies no end, and if you’re about to question why, I won’t hear you as I’ll be too busy dancing around a bonfire to the beats of all of the above. Like Rory, I’m transported right to the heart of Africa whenever Mishela utters any of the song’s adorably multi-lingual lyrics. When she’s doing so, she looks so happy that I can’t help being happy too, and that’s the kind of music I like to listen to (for the most part). I feel like this entry is tailor-made for JESC, with those seamless language switches that can grate at Eurovision, but are much more easily carried off by kids. I love the melody of the verses and chorus, the sound of Mishela’s voice…all in all, this blows Albania’s previous debut entry out of the water. But – yes, there is a ‘but’ – there is one thing that I strongly dislike about Dambaje – holy hairnets, it’s repetitive! I mean, if you’re going to write a song with a one-word chorus, you might want to feature those choruses as sporadically as possible so as not to drive listeners insane. That glaring negative aside, I’m a big fan of Albania 2015, and I hope they do a heck of a lot better than they did back in 2012. They definitely deserve to! 10 points.
EBJ Junior Jury Score 8.00
Liam I never thought I would see a more forced and awkward duet than that of Anita Simoncini and Michele Perniola, but I guess that’s why you never say never. As for the song – well, I’m still listening to it and I’ve already forgotten how it goes. 1 point.
Rory Bulgaria this year is in complete contrast to what I thought of Bulgaria last year. In Malta, Krisia was the odds-on favourite to win the whole show, and I had reason to believe that it would actually happen (although James from the previous round of reviews would disagree with me!) – what with a small girl with a powerful voice singing a power ballad, along with the twins who seemingly went unnoticed (a.k.a. Slovenia every year). Now, this year’s song is more ethnic than Planet of the Children, but it just doesn’t have the same impact on the audience that Krisia’s did. Colour of Hope is just…well, rather lacklustre, in my opinion. It’s missing something that would help it reach its full potential. That doesn’t mean that I hate it – I just wish that it had something more that would make it stand out! And while we’re on about Gabriela, where the hell did that Ivan guy come from? I thought she was singing on her own, and then this guy just pops up out of nowhere. If you ever wanted a Halloween jump scare, that’s where you’re gonna get it, peeps! 6 points.
Jaz Let’s face it – Planet of the Children was always going to be a hard act for hosts Bulgaria to follow (and as IF they were going to find another child who’s as precious as Krisia to sing for them *mimes pinching her cheeks like an overbearing grandmother*). What they have followed it up with is a duet between two singers who mesh about as well as the song as a whole – i.e. not very well. I actually rather like Colour of Hope. The verses are quite unusual and mysterious-sounding, and the guitar work is beautiful – very sophisticated, in fact. The chorus, while cheesy in a way that makes me wonder if Gabriela and Ivan are asking for monetary donations for a charity of some sort, is uplifting and catchy (and very reminiscent of Belarus’ 2010 host entry Muzyki Svet, which was a success in Minsk). The problem is, those verses and that chorus sound like they’ve been lifted from two very different songs, and cobbled together in a non-cohesive manner that just doesn’t feel 100% right. And our two singers – boy, NF winner Gabriela must be peeved at having to share her spotlight – as I said before, aren’t exactly a vocal match made in heaven. Still, there is a lot about their song that intrigues me, and they’ll naturally receive the biggest, loudest round of applause of the evening as the home act. I suspect that’s all they’ll receive though, if you know what I mean (and if you don’t know what I mean, I mean they won’t be walking away with a trophy). 7 points.
EBJ Junior Jury Score 4.67
Liam There is something wonderfully 1996 about Pletenka. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it’s there. There isn’t a lot to the song, and it gets repetitive pretty quickly; however, it’s more memorable than some of the other songs on offer. 3 points.
Rory Oh my god, this just SCREAMS nationality, doesn’t it? And in all seriousness, who would sing about a braid? Like, do they mean a braid as in a plait you do in your hair? Or is there something called a “braid” that’s only sold on the streets of Skopje that I’m not aware of? FYR Macedonia, I know you adore your nationalist ways, but you really don’t help your case here. As catchy as this song is and as much “charisma” as Ivana and Magdalena have, I think it would be a fair bet to say that FYR Macedonia will be finishing towards the bottom of the leaderboard. Sorry guys – once you put Comic Sans in your music video, there’s no going back! 5 points.
Jaz Alongside Montenegro, FYR Macedonia are taking me right back to the Junior Eurovisions of yore…or more specifically, JESC 2005. And, as I said when I reviewed Jana’s Oluja, I don’t mind that at all. Back in those days, JESC was ultra childlike; today, it’s more like a mini-Eurovision than anything else. We need slightly amateurish, youthful, artist-penned songs to compete, or else Junior will lose all of its identity as a contest for children. So in that sense, I’m grateful that FYR Macedonia is back and urging us to MAKE A BRAID! This song isn’t musical genius, and it’s not technically put together or particularly well-sung (which means the juries will blank it completely). But it epitomises Junior Eurovision in my opinion, possessing the childlike spirit that dominated the contest ten years ago in truckloads. It’s like a midday movie – complete with second-rate acting and a lack of energy – so bad, it’s good. It won’t go anywhere, but it’s catchy and cute, so I’ll look forward to seeing it on stage rather than being scarred by the dreadful video clip. Plus, I really like the word ‘pletenka’, and plan to use it as often as possible in everyday conversations from now on. Don’t believe me? Well, I’m off to pletenka my hair right this second. But before I go, I’ll give FYR Macedonia 7 points.
EBJ Junior Jury Score 5.00
Liam While Destiny from Malta takes us to church in a fun, soul, ‘Sister Act’ kind of way, Aimee is taking us to church in more of an ‘I’ve been dragged here by my parents’ kind of way. Her voice is exquisite, and Réalta na Mara is a beautifully sung song. But it’s not fun, and I think that will really work against it. 7 points.
Rory I always seem to be assigned the group of countries featuring my own…is this rigged?!? (Jaz: Yes, it is!). Right, where do I start on this? For anyone who doesn’t know, I followed the Irish national final on ESC Views’ Twitter, and my favourite song in the entire competition (along with the already selected song for JESC) was Gan Tú by Amy Meehan. When she got knocked out of the competition, I relied on Zena Donnelly to be the beautiful second choice. What happened? She lost to Aimee Banks. I’m afraid to say this, but I don’t like Aimee’s song at all. Although Réalta na Mara is a great piece of music on its own, we’re not really getting the most of what Ireland could possibly send to a music event out of it. I do feel like I can’t understand anything that she’s singing, despite being able to speak Irish almost fluently. I’m sure she’ll do great though, if my luck in the adult contest is anything to go by. But in my opinion, opera is just not the way to go – Federica Falzon was a one-off! 4 points.
Jaz First things first: how great is it to have Ireland – and Irish – represented at JESC for the first time? Pretty darn great, if you ask me. With no history to draw on for comparison, though, it was difficult to predict what the Emerald Isle would send to Sofia. Aimee’s Réalta na Mara is, for the most part, an Irish stereotype tied up with string, but not in a tacky way (thankfully, at the NF, no cardboard four-leaf clovers were strung from the ceiling) and though it is what I expected from Ireland – perhaps hoping for something else – I’m quite drawn to it. There’s something about the chorus, and how gorgeous the Irish sounds in it, that almost gives me goosebumps. It’s not a straight-up spine-tingler, possibly because it doesn’t have a true ‘moment’ to speak of (or vote for, which worries me) but there’s some magic there nonetheless. And you can practically hear the dry ice circulating the stage, which will have the crowd choked up with emotion and smoke inhalation. The biggest draw card here isn’t the song (or the smoke) however – it’s Aimee’s voice, which is nothing short of angelic. Crystal clear and precisely controlled, her vocal will be a stunning sorbet sandwiched between Bella Paige’s belting of My Girls and Mikhail Smirnov’s nice-and-nothing-more rendition of Mechta. Though the juries will likely reward her for her efforts (or effortlessness, in this case), I don’t expect the televoters will warm to an entry that could have won Eurovision 1996 for Ireland if Eimear Quinn had gone AWOL at the last minute and taken The Voice with her. But this package is still class personified, and I think Ireland should be proud to have sent it (did you hear that, Rory?!?). 8 points.
EBJ Junior Jury Score 6.33
Liam Mirror features one of the most forced key changes I have ever heard, but I appreciate the effort. This is fun and catchy, and it’s got a good hook. I don’t think it will be at the top of the scoreboard, but it’s fun and should do better than the most serene republic is used to. 6 points.
Rory Finishing off it all is Malala Yousafsai from….San Marino? Okay, there is no denying the fact that Kamilla bears a striking resemblance to Malala – go on, Google the two of them and comment on how similar you think they look! As for the song, I’m left feeling quite….unnerved after listening to it. Mirror is something that you would definitely hear from the likes of Belarus in the adult competition, and in my opinion, it could do a lot better there. And if there’s one thing I could change about this song, it would be Kamilla’s dreadful Italian accent. I mean, I know learning another language is complicated and arduous for some, but you learn the accent of the people! During the song, I just hear what sounds like Russian, but is Italian…like, it’s okay to listen to, but I don’t think we’re gonna see the competition go the top of Mount Titano. They’ll have to import another singer then! Maybe try Monaco next time? 6 points.
Jaz I was fully prepared for a member of The Peppermints to take the reins for San Marino this year…and I still think that would have been a better move than nabbing someone who has allegedly visited the country they’re representing, and nothing more. That’s not to say I’m completely against inter-country artist loans for JESC/ESC purposes, but I’m with Rory – Kamilla’s obviously-non-Italian accent (and non-Italian fluency) is a major distraction from what is a decent and dramatic ballad. And I don’t want to upset anybody, but her vocal on the studio cut of Mirror is very weak. I can’t imagine a voice so sub-par in studio being impressive live. That’s a pain in the behind in my book, because San Marino does have a strong song here, and based on the video for it, they’ll have slick staging too – so the performer is where they’re likely to be let down. Is there definitely no Peppermint still under the age of sixteen who could be drafted in at the final hour? Non? Damn it. I guess I’ll wrap this up then, by saying that song-wise, I give San Marino 7 points for something that’s well-written and makes the most of Italian-English switches; artist-wise, I give them 1 point, because I just can’t stand the sound of Kamilla’s voice (I’m sorry!). Average it out, and that’s 4 points from me.
EBJ Junior Jury Score 5.33
That’s it! In the (super slow-mo) blink of an eye, all seventeen of Sofia’s hopefuls have been judged and scored by the EBJ Junior Jury. This final round was a pretty interesting one – particularly when you consider that Ireland received its lowest score from the sole Irish member of the jury.
Here’s a distraction from said awkwardness in the form of today’s top five:
- Albania (8.00)
- Ireland (6.33)
- San Marino (5.33)
- FYR Macedonia (5.00)
- Bulgaria (4.67)
Surprisingly, I must say, Albania wins the day thanks to Rory’s douze and my almost-as-strong score, trailed distantly by debutants Ireland. You have to feel for the host country, finishing with the lowest average score of them all. But hey, it’s not like these numbers mean anything in reality. We’re not psychic, and we don’t know how Saturday’s scoreboard will look (although I will be taking a shot at predicting just that prior to the show).
Until that momentous day comes, let us know how you rate the entries from Albania, Bulgaria, FYR Macedonia, Ireland and San Marino down below. Which country would your douze be doled out to?
COMING UP All of the verdicts are in, and the EBJ Junior Jury has its Top 17 for 2015! So, alongside a bunch of hopes and predictions for JESC ‘15, I’ll be unveiling the collaborative ranking this weekend. Who’ll finish where? Will the leaderboard in any way resemble the actual results? Is anybody even reading this bit right now? I don’t know the answers to any of those questions yet, but I hope you’ll drop by for ze rankings and ze predictions anyway.
There are just three weeks until the final of Eurovision 2015, people. THREE WEEKS! We do, of course, have the equally important/exciting semi finals to look forward to prior to that, which doesn’t give me much time to devise a detailed schedule and allocation chart that dictates the destinations of my precious votes. I’d better get on that ASAP.
With this rapidly diminishing amount of pre-ESC days, I don’t have any time to waste when it comes to churning out the rest of the Viennese Verdicts. The past few days have been momentous ones, what with Loïc Nottet’s message for EBJ (check it out, if you haven’t yet – it’s short but sweet) and the royal baby birth and stuff, but none of that compares to the momentousness of this fifth installment of reviews. This time (Lithuanian pun 100% intended) it’s the turn of Malta, Georgia, Albania, Lithuania and Spain to be judged by a few familiar faces.
TODAY’S EBJ JURY
Rory Gannon: You met Ireland’s own Rory (if you hadn’t already met him) waaaaay back in Part 1. He’s the beauty and brains behind a Eurovision blog that is just as fabulous as he is – and I say that of my own volition, not because he paid me to. You can find said blog ESC Views here, and/or like the ESC Views Facebook page here.
Matt Kelly: Aussie Matt, hailing from Adelaide (or Radelaide, as it’s often known) also laid his Eurovision-branded cards on the table in Part 1. He’s one of the stars of YouTube’s escTMI review show, so he’s well-schooled in doling out compliments and criticisms to Eurovision participants. You can subscribe to escTMI’s YouTube channel here and/or like their Facebook page here.
Jasmin Bear: As they say, I’m here all week…if by ‘week’, one means FOR THE REST OF ETERNITY, MWAHAHAHAHA!!! Even though my links are blatantly promoted over in the sidebar, I have no qualms about promoting them even more blatantly here. So, that being said, feel free to like the EBJ Facebook page here, follow me on Twitter here, and/or follow me on Instagram here.
The three of us are ready to marvel over and moan about what Amber, Nina, Elhaida, Vaidas & Monika and Edurne are taking to the Austrian capital. Are you?
Warrior by Amber
Rory: Umm…Malta? We just don’t really get on, do we? I wanna break up. It’s not you, it’s me…actually no, it is you. I’m sorry, but I am not a fan of your song. Can anyone actually understand what Amber sings in the live version of Warrior? If you can’t be understood, what’s the point in even sending the song? At least they’ve worked on the pronunciation aspect of it – the fact that she kept calling the past ‘the pest’ really did p**s me off! 4 points.
Matt: The original Warrior, Amber’s has all the elements of a modern Eurovision song – violins, big drums, powerful vocals, and a positive message of hope. I personally feel that this song is old hat now, as it was one of the first songs chosen all the way back in November. But I’m sure Amber will bring it to life again in Vienna. 10 points.
Jaz: Amber was approximately two attempts at representing Malta away from becoming the Sanna Nielsen of the island (though that’s the situation for most Maltese artists, let’s face it) when she finally won MESC last year. When she steps onto the Stadthalle stage in a few weeks’ time, she’ll be in the unusual position of having performed on the Junior and adult Eurovision stages within six months – not because she’s in the same boat as San Marino’s Anita Simoncini, but because Malta understandably repurposed the JESC stage for their national final use. None of this has anything to do with Amber’s Warrior, of course – I just like going off on tangents. I’m constantly changing my mind when it comes to my personal winner of the Warrior face-off, as I like both. I have to say, though, Malta has impressed me with their choice of representative for the third year in row. Granted, MESC 2014 wasn’t an NF to end all NFs, but Amber stood out to me from my first listen of the line-up. There’s something about the style of Warrior that I get a kick out of, even though it isn’t the most finely-crafted, cohesive power ballad I’ve ever heard. And speaking of power – Amber has it in spades when she launches into that big chorus. She just needs to ensure she’s in key to make it explosive in a good way. I did actually prefer the song before it was reworked, and I’m still irritated by the ‘con-quer-er-errrr’ bit (it almost puts ‘uh-uh-uh-un-dooooooo’ to shame) but that’s the majority of what I’d pick on re: Malta 2015. There are plenty of songs that are superior, but I like this enough to give it 8 points.
EBJ Jury Score: 7.33
Warrior by Nina Sublatti
Rory: So I told you that I wasn’t a fan of Malta, but to be honest, Georgia wins the Warrior battle hands-down. I mean, the song beforehand was strong, but it’s really packing a punch now. Seeing as they’ll be closing the first semi, I see no reason why Nina won’t do incredibly well. It’s crazy, addictive, hypnotic…if only Georgia (plus Belgium….and the Netherlands) was in the second semi!! 10 points.
Matt: The other Warrior, Nina’s song is the ESL emo version. I wanted to like it – it’s dark and unusual. But the lyrics are so bad. Did she use Google Translate to write them? I can’t sing along to a chorus that has ‘still stucked in my mind’ as one of its lines. And I still don’t know what ‘oximated’ means, but it’s good to know that Nina’s ‘not a shabby’. It’s hard to believe this song was reworked by the Eurovision legend Thomas G:son. Surely he should’ve fixed the mistakes…but no, this song is going to Vienna with all of the original, bad lines. I feel like it’s a missed opportunity, and that’s just frustrating. 5 points.
Jaz: This was the standout song in the Georgian final, and it’s also the best song Georgia has sent to Eurovision in a long time. That doesn’t mean I’m about to lavish it with douze points (spoiler alert: I’m not) but it does mean I find a lot of positives in it. The lyrics, in terms of that little thing called ‘making sense’, are not one of those positives (like Matt, I am appalled by the use of ‘stucked’…subtract two letters, and it would be fine) but honestly, I’d rather listen to interesting lyrics like these than lame, cheesy ones that rhyme ‘love’ with ‘above’ or ‘dove’, or even worse, ‘love’. This song is edgy and hip (no matter how uncool my use of ‘hip’ might make it) and rather alternative by Eurovision standards. There are a few songs in that vein competing in Vienna – Belgium, Latvia, etc – and I’m digging them all. When it comes to originality, this Warrior has the battle in the bag, and the juries should reward it for that at the least. Nina’s an intense performer for a nineteen-year-old, which I blame on the heavy makeup that makes her look at least twenty-five. Her experience participating in and winning Georgian Idol will be beneficial as she rides the Eurovision merry-go-round – probably not all the way to the top, but hopefully to the upper mid-table of the final scoreboard. PS – For everyone still wondering, ‘oximated’ means ‘reaction with, or conversion into an oxime.’ So I guess we’ll continue to wonder, then. 8 points.
EBJ Jury Score: 7.67
I’m Alive by Elhaida Dani
Rory: Ohhhhhh Albania, you always have the best sense. Well, most of the time (we still have to talk about Rona’s hair). I am incredibly happy that they actually ditched Diell in favour of I’m Alive. This song actually shows off Elhaida’s versatile vocal range – and my god, it is an UP-TEMPO SONG! This calls for a celebratory Verka Serduchka dance around the stage. Well done, Albania. You’ve learned from your mistakes! 8 points.
Matt: I’m Alive is a really contemporary ballad, and it’s a million light years away from the awful, outdated song Elhaida was originally going to sing. Talk about dodging a bullet. I could imagine Beyoncé or the like singing this, and it doing well on mainstream radio. A seasoned talent show veteran, Elhaida will deliver amazing vocals on stage, and has the stage presence that will sell the song to the audience. I think this will do well. 8 points.
Jaz: So I guess I’m alone in preferring Diell, then (I got the raw deal in Albania’s surprise song exchange). The composers of Elhaida’s Festivali I Këngës winner deciding to withdraw the song from Eurovision is almost as inexplicable a move as Andreas Kümmert saying danke, but nein danke, to representing Germany. But while in Germany’s case, the unexpected turn of events worked in my favour, in Albania’s…it really didn’t. There is nothing horrendously wrong with I’m Alive. In fact, it’s a darn good eleventh-hour song (something you could also say about Australia’s). It’s more contemporary and uplifting than Diell, not to mention more energetic. Plus, it allows Elhaida to be a bit more playful with her undoubtedly impressive vocals. All of that makes it a welcome addition to the contest. But I just don’t get the hype. I find the repetition in the chorus quite irritating, and despite the inclusion of that big belter of a note towards the end (which is very Jessie J-esque) the song doesn’t travel to as epic of a place as I’d like it to. I haven’t seen Elhaida perform this live, but I did watch her winning FiK performance – and based on the way she sung the pants off Diell, her Eurovision performance has the potential to change my mind. But until then, I’m not 100% sold. 6 points.
EBJ Jury Score: 7.33
This Time by Vaidas & Monika
Rory: Ehhhh…I’m not really sure what to say about Lithuania this year. I’m happy that they’re finally sending something that will appeal to the masses, but performing first on the night might be a little bit of a hindrance to them, to say the least! As a sidenote, how nice is their video, though!!? Vaidas…phwoar! 6 points.
Matt: When I was a kid I always assumed that Grease’s John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John were a couple, due to their fantastic on-screen chemistry. I feel the same about Monika and Vaidas. They are so cute together, and I believe that their song of love comes from the heart (to avoid another disappointment, I’m not going to research whether they are a couple or not). The song itself is simple and catchy, but nothing too amazing. My prediction is that the audience will feel some love for this, but not enough to get them to the top. I think they’ll probably end up in the middle of the pack. 7 points.
Jaz: If you’re hoping I’m going to say ‘Aww, isn’t this cute!’, well, I’m not. Nor am I going to say ‘Ugh, isn’t this revolting!’. I’m somewhere in the middle, as it happens. I’m not totally feeling Vaidas and Monika’s love, but I’m not totally averse to it either. This Time, for me, is a poor man’s version (or more accurately, a poor but very peppy man’s version) of Firelight’s Coming Home, which in turn wasn’t going to win any awards for Best Original Song. It’s formulaic and verging on being sickly sweet (that “impromptu” kiss has already worn thin with me) but I don’t feel like it’s a song you can hate with a passion. It’s extremely catchy, after all, and the chemistry between Vaidas and Monika is up there with the most genuine of the year. They always appear to be enjoying themselves on stage, and enjoying performing with each other – in spite of the fact that they aren’t a couple (sorry to burst that bubble, Matt, but who knows…they might be by the time Eurovision’s over!). I guess I’m more of a fan of Lithuania’s performers than Lithuania’s song. This Time is serviceable pop, but it doesn’t excite me enough to consider voting for it. 5 points.
EBJ Jury Score: 6.00
Amanecer by Edurne
Rory: I’m afraid I’m going to have to go against the grain here and say that I don’t like Amanecer. Sure, it’s really catchy in the chorus (that e-e-e-o-o is addictive), but for me that’s all it is – just a bit of repetition. I feel like RTVE really overhyped the promotion of the song, and it’s just a bit of a letdown (I have a feeling that Kit Kat won’t have to give a free bar to everyone who retweeted that Tweet back in January!). *opens arms and braces self for the onslaught of tomatoes*. 3 points.
Matt: I think I have ballad fatigue. Amanecer was written by the same team who wrote 2012’s winning song Euphoria, so I was expecting a lot. While it’s a nice song, it’s no Euphoria, or Quédate Conmigo. It drifts along pleasantly for three minutes and then finishes. That’s it. Edurne is an amazing performer, though, and I’m sure she’ll bring it to life when she takes to the stage in May. 7 points.
Jaz: I’d like to journey back in time to Copenhagen 2014, and remind you that my opinion of Ruth Lorenzo’s Dancing In The Rain was as follows: I knew it was good, but I felt very little attachment to it. I didn’t love it, and it definitely didn’t give me the energy required to wave a flag for it (although I was happy to see Spain back in the top 10). Leaping back through the space/time continuum to 2015, and enter Edurne. Amanecer is not only my new favourite word of all the words, but also a song that I do feel a connection with. That may have something to do with the girl crush I have developed on Edurne, but I genuinely do like her song a lot. I agree that it was overhyped – after the pre-release fervour, it could have been a masterpiece and still failed to meet expectation. But for me, it has the drama and atmosphere and Spanish-ness that I didn’t find in Dancing In The Rain. If Edurne is anything like her fellow countrywoman Pastora Soler, she will help Amanecer hit new heights when she gets to Eurovision by delivering a blistering vocal performance. Hopefully she’ll also bring us a hint of the wildness from the music video. Unfortunately that can not entail a live tiger being onstage, so a faux tigerskin cape that Edurne can whirl around everywhere might be called for. Cape or no cape, I think Spain’s entry has as much potential to make the top 10 as it does to end up mid-table, strangely enough. So much will depend on how this goes down in the jury and televised finals. I would be satisfied with Amanecer outdoing Dancing In The Rain, but I won’t be betting on that happening. 10 points.
EBJ Jury Score: 6.67
And there you have it! Another five reviews are done and dusted, and not without disagreement. Ultimately, the two Warriors won the day. Well, one of them did, but there wasn’t much between Nina and Amber.
- Georgia (7.67)
- Malta (7.33)
- Albania (7.33)
- Spain (6.67)
- Lithuania (6.00)
Despite our differing opinions, on average, the EBJ Jury ranked these countries fairly closely together. I suspect that’s a trend that won’t continue in Part 6 of the Viennese Verdicts, when I ask an American and an Englishman to help me review Finland, San Marino, Denmark, Estonia and Greece. You won’t want to miss the fireworks that combination could cause.
In the meantime, let me know how you’d rank today’s songs. Do you believe Rory’s right, and that Georgia wins the Warrior-off without question? Or do you think Matt’s on the money and Amber will definitely resurrect her Warrior at Eurovision? Maybe you actually agreed with something I said *gasp*. Whatever you’re thinking, we want to hear it!*
*To a point…I mean, don’t hurl abuse at us or anything. Save your curse words up in case the EBJ Jury gives a unanimous douze points to Finland.
Hey there, ladies and gents. You’ll be ecstatic to learn that I have zero time for a long, waffly intro today, since I’ve already spent too much time prioritising writing my Eurovision 2014 reviews over “more important” stuff like major uni assignments due on Monday, etc. So I’ll get on to those while you hopefully get on to reading this first installment of verdicts on the Class of Copenhagen. Albania, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Finland and France (whew!) are on the program first up, and whilst there’s not a ton of hate in there, there’s quite a bit of ‘meh’…and some high praise too. Read on to find out which belongs to which, and let me know where you stand on these entries.
One Night’s Anger by Hersi
Better than 2013: Albanian version, yes. English version, nope.
Top 10 material: No
IMO: You can always rely on Albania to crown something a little bit off-the-wall the winner of Festivali I Këngës – and I mean that in a nice way, for the most part. One Night’s Anger is no exception, even without that intense instrumental opening that didn’t end up making the Eurovision cut. The song is a ballad, but an unusual one that’s difficult to predict the destination of, and I bet it’s difficult to sing too. The rhythm and melody are interesting in their own right, but when combined with Hersi’s unique voice, the overall impression is ear-catching. There was a haunting quality to the song that grabbed me when it won FiK, and at first I couldn’t figure out if I was being grabbed in a good or bad way (unlike being manhandled by a Marco Mengoni type, which would definitely be a good grabbing. Wink wink) but after subsequent listens, I realised I did have a positive appreciation for the balance it strikes between classic and bizarre. Unfortunately, the change from Albanian to English that this country often makes has been to this song’s detriment in my opinion. I’ll readily confess that I tend to prefer whichever language version I heard first in my Eurovision entries, but in this case, it really was the mystery of the Albanian and the emotion Hersi could put into it that’s making me miss it. I still have a regard for One Night’s Anger, the same interesting song now with questionable lyrics – but given the choice, I’d be sending Zemërimi I Një Nate off to Copenhagen next week.
Winner, loser or grower: Grower. 7 points.
Not Alone by Aram Mp3
Better than 2013: Yes
Top 10 material: Yes
IMO: Armenia started out so strongly in Eurovision with André in Athens, securing 8th place then and notching up four consecutive top 10 placings after that. Then Emmy failed to Boom-Boom her way into the final, Armenia sat the Baku show out for obvious reasons, and Gor Sujyan’s double denim squad qualified but deservedly didn’t get much further. On those sour notes, it’s wonderful to see this country back in potential top 10 (and even potential winning, if the bookies are to be believed) form after three years of misfortune. The difference between Not Alone and those entries from Armenia’s heyday is a lack of ethnicity, but I find this equally as enjoyable. The pan-flutes have been traded in for dubstep beats and minimalism, and the result has a lot of impact. The song is a slow burn of the best kind – the kind that really draws out the build, then explodes, in this case into a dramatic, symphonic crescendo. And yet…I’m not sure I do believe the bookies when they put the odds in Aram’s favour, for two main reasons: firstly, as much as I like the song, that ‘minimalist builder’ element makes me wonder how much focus it can hold as a standalone number. It would be ideal in the background of a Hunger Games montage, but can I imagine the credits rolling over it as Mr. Mp3 reprises the crap out of the Hallerne? Not really. Secondly, the reports that came back from Eurovision In Concert implied that this guy is having issues with owning his performance and commanding the stage. If that was the case in the intimate Melkweg, how’s he going to fare on what we’ve seen is a rather massive stage in the arena? There are questions surrounding Armenia, and one of them is still very much ‘Yerevan 2015? Hmm…’
Winner, loser or grower: Winner. 10 points.
Rise Like A Phoenix by Conchita Wurst
Better than 2013: No
Top 10 material: Yes
IMO: Seriously, if the Bond moviemakers don’t call the next one The Phoenix Rises and make this song the theme tune, something is wrong with the world. There’s no denying that Conchita’s entry is totally Bond-ified; nor is there any denying that this genre suits her perfectly, allowing her to let her inner and outer diva shine like a diamond…and rise like a phoenix (duh). She has the power and passion to make her performance one to remember even for those who aren’t fans of her song. Now would be the best time to say that I’m afraid I’m one of them. I don’t hate it by any means, and I LOVE Conchita – after hearing ESC Insight’s interview with her I want us to be BFFs. Like I said, there’s no doubt she’s got the goods to do her demanding song justice. It’s just that the Bond thing is not my thing. Generally (stuff like Adele’s Skyfall included) I find it overly-dramatic and old-fashioned, although very glamorous. Speaking of glamour, I cannot wait to see what Conchita’s wearing for the big event. I’m seeing sequins, plunging necklines, tulle everywhere…OTT sass. I guess the fact that I’m more pumped for costume choices than listening to the song again says more about my feelings than any more rambling could do. The audience, however, will go nuts for this, and that will be a reaction worth waiting for.
Winner, loser or grower: Grower. 5 points.
Start A Fire by Dilara Kazimova
Better than 2013: No. No glass box, no contest!
Top 10 material: Yes
IMO: In the most shocking move of the year (that’s sarcasm, people) Azerbaijan have popped into the supermarket and bought themselves a Swedish-made, albeit Azerbaijan-infused ballad to send to Eurovision. They’ve been doing this same thing long enough now that it’s become a tradition/running joke, and on one hand, I have to give them props for it – they take the contest super seriously, and if they’re not in the mood for contending the win, they at least want a decent placing. On the other hand, this recipe for success involves little of Eurovision’s original essence. They’re not so much sending a song that represents their country as sending one to represent their country and do a great job. There’s nothing you or I can do about that, so having got it off my chest I will now say that this particular Swedish ballad is actually a refreshing change from the norm. Look at the differences between Start A Fire and, to use another example, Georgia’s Waterfall from 2013. The former sounds a lot more genuine and interesting than the contrived and clichéd latter. It’s perhaps not as instant, but I quite like it when a song is unusual enough that you need to pay attention to it and get to know it to formulate an opinion. It kind of wanders along for three minutes, never in your face, but always sparking curiosity as to where it’s headed. All in all, it’s not up there with my absolute favourites, but I think it’s pretty and not at all cheesy, which is a big plus.
Winner, loser or grower: Grower. 8 points.
Cheesecake by TEO
Better than 2013: Yes
Top 10 material: No
IMO: Belarus was one of the first countries to choose their entry for 2014, and before their NF even took place, I’d picked this song out as a favourite of the lineup – if mainly as a guilty pleasure because I figured I’d be in the minority who liked it in all its sleazy glory. I didn’t think it was going to win that final, but it did and here we are. Cheesecake has gone through a few changes, including one to the lyrics, but it’s essentially the same song as always, and I still get a kick out of it. What can I say? I’m a girl of simple tastes, meaning my main requirement in a good ESC (or non-ESC) song is catchiness, and this song has enough of that to fill twenty cake tins. Yes, it’s a little cheesy and as previously mentioned, a little sleazy, what with the whole Robin Thicke vibe TEO’s got going on. But for a song that at face value is about a dessert (and for those of you who are wondering why I’m suddenly discussing the Latvian entry, nope, I’m still on Belarus) it’s actually deep and meaningful…ish. And, in addition to that Thicke vibe, TEO’s also a confident, entertaining and vocally proficient performer. I’m not trying to make this entry into some masterpiece – I know what it is and that it won’t be taken 110% seriously – but I think it has some merit. And damnit, dat catchy chorus!
Winner, loser or grower: Winner. 10 points.
Mother by Axel Hirsoux
Better than 2013: No
Top 10 material: No
IMO: Eurovision royalty Ruslana bursting into tears at the opening bars of your song is no indication that it’s going to get the same reaction from the rest of us. I suppose I did well up a bit the first time I heard Mother – but while Ruslana’s emotion came from barely-restrained adoration of Axel and his ode to the woman who lugged him around for nine months, mine was brought on by the realisation that Belgium was actually sending this pompous, melodramatic and sickly sweet THING to Copenhagen. BUT WAIT! We all know you can’t judge a song on one listen, so wanting to familiarise myself with Mother in order to review it, and to give it another chance, I listened to it again. This time, I found it slightly less hideous, I have to admit. I do find the popped-up opera genre OTT (more so when the singer is pushing the lyrics out with so much force that their head reaches boiling point) and when its subject matter is the mother of a fully-grown man and not an adorable gap-toothed child, it’s not cute – it’s creepy. However, I’m now seeing the positive aspects of this entry, e.g. the class, the sentiment, and Axel’s wonderful voice. I won’t be sobbing along with Ruslana anytime soon, and I have no idea why Belgium has decent odds to win Eurovision with this (I’d love to go to Brussels, but not this way!) but it’s no longer at the bottom of my pile. PS – I watched an interview with Axel in which he was rather precious, admitting that flying to Copenhagen will be his first time on a plane. This is a man you can’t be mean about without feeling like the worst person on the planet.
Winner, loser or grower: Grower. 5 points.
Cliché Love Song by Basim
Better than 2013: Yes
Top 10 material: Yes
IMO: Judging a host entry can be a tricky business. You know the host country hasn’t tried too hard to pick a winning song to represent them on home soil – just one that won’t embarrass them on home soil. Therefore you can’t abuse them for not putting in enough effort. In 2014, it seems that hosts Denmark have inadvertently tried hard enough to get fans thinking that history could continue to repeat itself. The story goes like this: Denmark won the ESC in 2000 when Sweden was hosting. Then last year, in Sweden, Denmark won again. If the pattern continues, Tanja’s Amazing (see the next review for my thoughts on that) will win this year just like Estonia did in Copenhagen 2001, and Denmark will narrowly miss out on the win with Basim’s Cliché Love Song. I’m not convinced it’s going to do that well, but a respectable result is on the cards for this infectious, Bruno Mars-esque foot tapper, and it’s infectious, Bruno Mars-esque performer. The song has a hook that gets stuck in your head, light-hearted lyrics, a bit of whistling which is always welcomed, and an energetic singer who can get the job done with ease and knows how to work a crowd. This is going to go down über well in the final, and I think one performance will be enough to get it onto the left side of the scoreboard. I can’t say it wouldn’t be spookily awesome to experience the déjà vu of Denmark coming second in Denmark, and stranger things have happened…so Basim may end up further up that left side than I’m expecting.
Winner, loser or grower: Winner. 8 points.
Amazing by Tanja
Better than 2013: No
Top 10 material: Yes
IMO: Eesti Laul’s early favourite came through this year, beating some competition that actually was amazing. Amazing the song kind of set itself up for a fall in the way of Don’t Play That Song Again (UK 2000) and That Sounds Good To Me (UK 2010). Many of us have used its title against it, unless of course we genuinely believe it is amazing. For me, it’s way too derivative for such praise. The obsession with dance music that’s taken over the world for way too long now means we’ve heard this kind of song a million times before, so it’s not originality that will get Estonia to the final (most likely) and beyond. What will is Amazing’s annoying ability to worm its way into your brain; the irresistible urge to dance it brings on (or is that just me?); the eye-catching choreography, which I say is not a cheap Loreen impersonation; and Tanja herself, who is very pretty to look at and can seemingly dance and sing at the same time. So long as she swaps the bland dress from Eesti Laul for something better (Softengine are apparently good at locating such things if she needs help) there’ll be nothing wrong enough with her act to stop her from doing well. There are plenty of more original songs in this year’s contest that maybe deserve to beat Estonia – not something I’d be saying if Sandra or Traffic, for example, were in Tanja’s position – but the likelihood is that they won’t. As someone who doesn’t want to but can’t help liking this entry, I can come to terms with that, so long as Estonia compensates by sending something magic in their native tongue next year. That’s when I love them the most.
Winner, loser or grower: Grower. 7 points.
Something Better by Softengine
Better than 2013: No
Top 10 material: No
IMO: Just as I became attached to a couple of Eesti Laul entries in particular, so too did I have two songs in Finland’s UMK that caught my attention and never let it go. Unfortunately, neither of those songs was Something Better. This song is on my Copenhagen periphery – it’s there, in the outer field, not offending me but definitely not doing anything for me. I can’t find anything about it that would summon me to pick up the phone and vote for it…you know, if I could (*weeps pathetically all the way from Down Under*). The chorus is okay, verging on catchy, but I cannot for the life of me remember how the rest goes, and I’ve listened to it just as often as everything else. For me to like rock, it has to have something special, and this just doesn’t. I do have a strong opinion on one aspect – the screaming at the end. That hurts my ears. Plus, I fear for lead singer Topi’s vocal chords, having to deal with that through all the rehearsals, the semi final performances and (possibly) the final as well. Then again, if his voice goes I won’t have to put up with the screaming, so bring it on! Sorry, Team Softengine, but I have to be honest, and Something Better is exactly what I’m on the hunt for after listening to this.
Winner, loser or grower: Grower. 5 points.
Moustache by Twin Twin
Better than 2013: Yes
Top 10 material: No
IMO: I may be one of those people whose bedrooms are full of French-themed…well, everything, but I have never been able to truly get behind France in Eurovision. When I say ‘get behind’, I’m talking gushing over their song choice and waving a tricolour flag so enthusiastically that it disintegrates. I came close four years ago (and I still bust a move to Allez Ola Olé on a regular basis) and I have enjoyed some of their entries in my years of ESC fandom, but until now, I’ve never fangirled over one. That’s right, I said ‘until now.’ A moustache has come along and changed my life. Ever since listening to the snippets of the three potential French entries, I’ve had this in high regard. Back in the snippet days, it was the one of a strong threesome that stood out to me, seeming to embody all that I love about French pop music. Thinking Joanna had the repping rights in the bag, I was trés trés thrilled when Twin Twin took the win win with the incredibly catchy, quirky Moustache. It takes me right back to other fun French entries that I’ve almost waved a flag for, such as L’Amour A La Française and Divine. It’s not to be taken too seriously, nor is it a novelty song about a guy trying really hard to grow a moustache (that’s Justin Bieber’s next single). The message is a little deeper than that. To be truthful, I wouldn’t care if it wasn’t. I love this for superficial reasons. It sounds great to me, and though I don’t expect it to do wonderfully in the final, I hope it at least looks great too. I’m expecting moustache motifs, clashing prints and the most extensive use of hairspray since Jedward just to keep lead singer Lorent’s ‘do in place. C’est magnifique!
Winner, loser or grower: Winner. DOUZE POINTS!!!
And with that, France receives my first and only set of douze so far, which I’m guessing I’ll get some stick for from the Anti-Facial Hair Brigade (a.k.a. anyone who’s hating on Moustache). But remember, I do my very best to respect your opinion – even if you think it totally makes sense that Belgium is being considered a possible winner – so please try to respect mine! To recap it, here’s a mini-ranking of the countries in this first lot of reviews.
I’m yet to label any entry a ‘loser’, so that last place for Austria at this point doesn’t mean I have no desire to see Conchita rise like a phoenix. I’m just not that bothered.
Next up, in a few days’ time, Germany, Georgia, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel and Italy will be the countries in my judgment zone, so if you enjoyed reading these reviews be sure to drop by for that. If you didn’t, come back anyway and give me another chance to win you over?
How do you rate the entries from Albania-France? Will we have to agree to disagree or are we thinking alike?
By my calculations, there are just fourteen days until we’ll be graced by the first semi final of Eurovision 2013, live from Malmö Arena. Holy sequined hotpants! Of course, for my Australian TV-viewing self there are a few more days to factor in (as well as an extended period of internet avoidance) but it’s worth the wait for an unspoiled HD experience that doesn’t take place at 3 o’clock in the morning.
Basically, there’s so much to do and so little time to do it in, especially since giving the cold shoulder to everyone I know who’s going to Sweden takes up so many hours. So, just before we’re officially in Eurovision month, allow me to introduce the first installment of my 2013 reviews, featuring Albania, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus and Denmark. These come complete with awarded points and extreme judgment. I hope you enjoy the read, and please stick around ‘til the end for a ranking and to let me know where you stand on this group of ten.
First up for the year is…
Identitet by Adrian & Bledar
IMO: Rock on, Albania. ROOOOCK OOOOONNN! I’m not saying that because I’m wildly enthusiastic about this entry. It’s more a case of ‘we have ourselves some rock muzak from Albania for the first time! Intriguing!’. And it is pretty good rock, don’t get me wrong. I find the whole thing generally catchy, and I think the verses are equally as strong as the choruses – in fact, the choruses sound like they’re taking their hats off to the verses (a.k.a. complementing them on a job well done). Making the decision to leave Identitet in Albanian was a good one. In English it would have been a middling rock number, but the mystery of the native language gives it an extra bit of ‘oomph’ (though not to people who understand Albanian). This song won’t hit the unexpected heights of Suus, and may not even qualify (I haven’t decided yet) but as one of only two or three rock entries on offer in this year stuffed full of ballads, it adds variety to the proceedings.
Winner, loser or grower: Grower. 7 points.
Lonely Planet by Dorians
IMO: I feel like Armenia has lost its way a bit over the last few years. They started out so strongly with acts like André, Sirusho and Eva Rivas. But then, out of the blue, came Emmy’s fail Boom-Boom, followed by a year of absence…and now, this. I think I speak for everyone who isn’t from Azerbaijan when I say I was hoping they’d come back in 2013 with a bang. But Lonely Planet, despite its unashamed rockiness and good intent, is more of a gentle knock. I did appreciate it more after my most recent listen than my first, but like the Russian song, the schmaltzy message it conveys just feels contrived (though not as contrived as What If’’s). Gor Sujyan’s combination of yelling and vocal gymnastics is jarring, particularly when heard live, so that doesn’t bode well for Eurovision. Having said all of that, I don’t hate it by any means. I just prefer the old tassel-shaking, apricot-harvesting Armenia, and I think this might be staying in the semi – just like Emmy.
Winner, loser or grower: Grower. 5 points.
Shine by Natália Kelly
IMO: I’ve had trouble in the past getting into entries called Shine. This time around, Shine was the best song in Austria’s fairly weak NF line-up, but again, I won’t be professing my undying love for it anytime soon. It’s one of those songs that make you smile and maybe sing along with the chorus a couple of times, but after the third or fourth listen gets a bit boring. It also has a super-awkward key change. I do like it more than the Shines of the past (don’t hate me for giving Georgia 2010 a miss); it’s quite sweet and radio-friendly, and Natália looks and sounds pretty when she’s performing it. It will probably improve on Austria’s dreadful result – lowest of the low – from last year, but I can’t imagine it having the interest factor for enough people to push it a heap higher. I’d rate Woki Mit Deim Popo higher myself (but then I’ve always been weird).
Winner, loser or grower: Grower. 6 points.
Hold Me by Farid Mammadov
IMO: This song is a mish-mash of two different ballads to my ears: the first, a dark and contemporary one (as heard in the verses and bridge), the second a dated and clichéd one (that’s the choruses). As a result, I love the verses but really dislike the chorus. The fact that those verses are so good and that Farid is a decent vocalist should be tipping me towards enjoying the entry as a whole, and just accepting the bad parts. But the fact that so many fans are raving about it like it’s the best thing since the invention of wind machines, and insisting that it’s going to win, is freaking me out. In spite of the pros here, I think there are far better songs in the competition, and that this deserves to end up around 10th-16th position in the final (there’s no doubt it’s going through). But this is Azerbaijan we’re talking about, so expect a low to mid-top 10 result for Farid at least, especially if he borrows Sabina Babayeva’s projection dress. That would be a sight worth voting for.
Winner, loser or grower: Grower. 6 points.
Solayoh by Alyona Lanskaya
IMO: Just when I thought time travel was totally impossible, Belarus went and transported us all straight back to Eurovision circa 2005 with this cliché-ridden summer “hit”. What with the way it came about and the fact that it replaced Rhythm of Love which I really liked, I want to hate it, and in some ways I do. It is dated (literally…it wasn’t just written that way), predictable, and unimaginative. But in other ways, damn, it’s good. It’s so catchy I can’t help singing along to it, and I suspect Europe will be too when Alyona steps onstage in May, hopefully wearing a foot-high turban made of tropical fruit. It reminds me of I Love Belarus in that it’s a replacement song that has become a guilty pleasure. Can I also point out how random Alexander Rybak’s appearance in the music video is? Maybe he was so pissed off that the song he composed for NMGP didn’t win, he figured he’d crash anyone’s Eurovision campaign he could manage (yes, I know he’s Belarusian-born, but it’s still random).
Winner, loser or grower: Winner. 7 points.
Love Kills by Roberto Bellarosa
IMO: We’ve all witnessed the horror that was the Belgian national final (and I use the term ‘national final’ loosely) which certainly played a part in the instant negative reaction to this chosen song. In spite of that, I was one of the few to develop a fondness for it immediately, and since the revamped version was released, that fondness has only grown stronger. I also have a slight fondness for Roberto, but let’s not discuss that. Call me crazy, but this is my personal favourite Belgian entry since 2004’s 1 Life, and Urban Trad’s Sanomi before that (I never got the whole Tom Dice thing). I think Love Kills is pretty contemporary, and I like the beat, the melody and the lyrics. I don’t expect it to do well, although if the staging is polished and more interesting than last year’s (not a big ask) and Roberto’s vocal is on point, Belgium may surprise us all. But while being scheduled next-to-last after the incredibly boring Cyprus is a blessing, coming before the similarly-paced song from Serbia (a country with infinitely better chances of qualifying) is likely to be a curse on a nice, uplifting pop song.
Winner, loser or grower: Winner. 10 points.
Samo Shampioni by Elitsa Todorova & Stoyan Yankulov
IMO: The result of BNT’s massive Eurovision-themed survey of 2012 was the rounding up of their most successful entrants ever. Clearly, the pressure is on Elitsa and Stoyan to do the same thing they (surprisingly, let’s admit it) managed to do in Helsinki with Water. But can they do it six years later with Samo Shampioni? This song has elements that remind me a lot of that previous entry, mainly Elitsa’s wailing and Stoyan’s drum-beating which puts the Moldovan grandmamma to shame. The wailing and drumming is what these guys do, so that’s only natural. Then there are some elements in the music that make it less ethnic and more contemporary than Water. It’s almost ethno-dance, and certainly stands out from the other 38 songs. However, I don’t think it has the legs to be a sure qualifier, let alone equal or top the 2007 5th place. People who voted for Water might find this too derivative or not derivative enough, and people who didn’t or are seeing the duo for the first time might just be disturbed. Who knows what the juries will make of it.
Winner, loser or grower: Grower. 6 points.
Mižerja by Klapa s Mora
IMO: Croatia’s ethnic entries have a history of success when compared to their more mainstream pop songs. I hope that trend continues this year, since the country has spent the last three contests stuck in the semis and it’s about time they found a way out. This very ethnic entry has a lot going for it, which could make that happen. First and foremost, the guys are brilliant vocalists who can harmonise like nobody’s business, and as we now know, great vocals are part of what the juries will be listening for. Then, there’s the lovely, classy song, which may be called ‘Misery’ but isn’t half as depressing as say, the Dutch song. It sticks out for being something other than a club thumper or cheesy ballad, and I applaud Croatia for returning to their musical heritage. I will applaud even harder if they qualify. They did in Moscow with the not-entirely-dissimilar Lijepa Tena, even if it was by the skin of their teeth, so maybe that magic will work again.
Winner, loser or grower: Grower. 7 points.
An Me Thimase by Despina Olympiou
IMO: And the award for ‘Song Most Likely To Be Everyone’s Toilet Break’ goes to…An Me Thimase! This award will be presented in my head by Iris, the performer of last year’s winner, Would You. There’s at least one entry each year that sends me to sleep, and unfortunately, after four years of songs I still enjoy, in 2013 it’s from Cyprus. This is verging on nice, but has anyone ever wanted to fist pump for a ‘nice’ song? When this comes on, you’ve barely got time to form a fist, let alone pump it, before you’re snoring your head off. The chorus, which takes up 80% of the running time, has no catchy hook to latch on to, and as a result, three minutes here feel like ten. No doubt it will be beautifully sung, but I don’t think there’s any amount of props or costume reveals the Cypriots can whip out of their Mary Poppins handbag to get Despina to the final.
Winner, loser or grower: Loser. 3 points.
Only Teardrops by Emmelie de Forest
IMO: I mentioned before how I never ‘got’ Tom Dice. His was a song that I knew was good, that I knew had merit, but that I just couldn’t get into. I feel exactly the same way about Emmelie’s Only Teardrops, the favourite to win Eurovision 2013. It’s clearly a good song, quite original, ethnic (albeit in a very Irish way) and, to use a term I haven’t used since describing this entry prior to Dansk MGP, rousing. And yet, it doesn’t rouse anything in me personally. It’s a definite qualifier, and I’d be happy for it to win if it means Azerbaijan doesn’t swoop in again with an average ballad and wipe out the superior competition…but…meh. The most exciting thing about that victory to me would be Denmark winning on Swedish soil exactly as they did back in 2000 (I love me some spooky patterns). PS – Emmelie is a good performer and probably a very nice person, so I wish her luck with her career, no matter what happens in Malmö. And I hope she finds some shoes in the near future.
Winner, loser or grower: Grower. 7 points.
So that’s part 1 of 4 done and dusted, and with that, here are my personal standings:
- Belgium 10
- Croatia 7
- Albania 7
- Denmark 7
- Belarus 7
- Bulgaria 6
- Azerbaijan 6
- Austria 6
- Armenia 5
- Cyprus 3
What do you think? Bring on the disagreement (and if you’re one of the rare breed to agree with me, I welcome that too). Which of these entries are hot and which are so not?
PS – Drop by later in the week for part 2 of the Malmö Reviews, featuring Estonia, Finland, Georgia, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland and Israel, plus the first of the Big Fivers: France, Germany and Italy.