Excuse me for cutting the ribbon on these reviews in the most predictable of ways, but I can’t believe it’s time to do this again. How can we possibly be FOUR WEEKS away from the first semi final of Eurovision 2019? Netta only won in Lisbon like, three months ago, didn’t she?
As it turns out, no, she didn’t. It was almost a YEAR ago. And with this last pre-ESC month bound to fly by faster than Salvador Sobral left the stage after handing the 2018 trophy to the singer of a song with far more fireworks than feelings, I can’t keep you in suspense any longer. It is time to take a long, hard and overly-judgemental look at all 41 (maybe 42 if I can squeeze Ukraine in somewhere) entries for Tel Aviv, in typical Jaz style. That means you’ll need energy, determination and multiple cups of coffee to get through each round of five or so songs. Are you ready for this?
Up first for critique in 2019 (after a Tribute to Ye Olde Eurovision random draw) are Albania, Cyprus, Latvia, Montenegro and Serbia. Let me know what you think of Jonida, Tamta, Carousel, D mol and Nevena’s tracks in the comments, after you’ve checked out my thoughts and scores. And remember: honesty is the best policy around here…
Let the Tel Aviv Reviews begin!
Albania’s Festivali i Këngës is THE national final of the festive season, and back in December it delivered the first Eurovision entry of 2019 direct to our doorsteps. Jonida Maliqi – with her super-cool name, razor-sharp fringe, ultra-white teeth and punch-packing vocals – is off to Tel Aviv with Ktheju Tokës, which is thankfully staying put in Albanian after Eugent Bushpepa did so well in his native tongue last year. It’s been revamped for the better and hasn’t lost its original spirit, but did I like it when it was selected and do I like it now? The answer to both of those questions is yes. This song has more mystery and intrigue than a Dan Brown novel, which is just how I like my Albanian entries. There’s often something about them that sets them apart and is just so…Albanian. Ktheju Tokës is no exception.
Everything about it is interesting: the way Jonida works her way through it with vulnerability and power; the unconventional melody of the verses; the haunting atmosphere and hypnotic beat…I mean, wow. It may not be the most radio-friendly or streamable song of the year, nor is it particularly instant and hooky – but it is original and impactful. I will say that the studio version is kind of strange (it makes Jonida sound like she’s singing slightly out of tune) whereas the live version is the one with all the impact. Here we have a singer who can belt out big notes like nobody’s business, and emotively eyeball a camera at the same time. And you just know she’s going to wear something amazing in Israel, making us forget about the possessed bride look the last Albanian female soloist went for. So for me, that’s a kickass song + a fierce vocalist + stellar styling that we’re in for from Albania.
Having said all of the above, I’m far from convinced that Jonida will sail through to the final. She’s in the second semi, which is the more competitive one – and not just because there are 18 countries competing for qualification as opposed to 17 in the first semi (thanks to Ukraine’s shenanigans). With big hitters and likely top-scorers like the Netherlands, Norway, Russia, Sweden and Switzerland also in the Thursday line-up, she has an uphill battle ahead of her. With the right staging and a solid all-round performance though, the hill shouldn’t be too steep to climb (even if she’s wearing stilettos). And there’s no other song remotely like Ktheju Tokës in the entire contest, let alone in her semi – so she’s bound to stand out. I’d love to have Albania in the final again. How about you?
In a line Albania doing what Albania does best: being exotic, mystical and powerful 2018 VS 2019 2019. Us ladies have to stick together! Predicted result SF 8th-12th, GF 15th-19th My score 8 points
Following up Fuego, a Eurovision entry iconic in so many ways, was always going to be a tough task for Cyprus. With thousands of keyboard warriors/amateur music critics (including myself) waiting to drag the island if they didn’t build on their 2018 success, the pressure to do so was higher than Kaliopi’s whistle tone. I feel like they have delivered, but let’s not pretend there’s no ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ mentality at (re)play here. Tamta’s song has been co-written by three of the minds behind Fuego, and it sounds like their brief was ‘Pen another banger with a beat drop and the exact same structure in order to catapult Cyprus into the top 10 again.’ But I’m not saying Fuego was the most original song to ever exist, and I do think Replay is different enough in the realm of pop music, where lots of stuff is similar, to make calling it Fuego 2.0 a bit unfair. I can’t blame Cyprus for finding a bomb formula and sticking to it.
Catchy from the second it starts, slickly produced and perfectly suited to Tamta, Replay ticks all the boxes on the ‘Is This A Banger?’ checklist, right down to the less-ethnic-than-Fuego-but-still-ridiculously-danceable instrumental hook. It’s one of those songs where each part is equally memorable, without a weak link like an anticlimactic chorus. Unfortunately the most memorable moment comes during the first verse, when Tamta apparently says she’s ‘shitting her body tonight’. Call me immature if you must (I am, to be fair) but it’s pretty off-putting and sounds nothing like the actual lyric – ‘them sheets need my body tonight’. I’ve been trying to roll with it and tell myself that Tamta’s so keen on the subject of the song, her bodily functions go haywire at the mere thought of him. Can’t say I’ve ever met a guy who had that effect on me, but that’s not a bad thing.
Misheard lyrics aside, Replay is as flawless as Tamta’s 37-year-old skin which is way more youthful than my 27-year-old skin. No, it isn’t as iconic as Fuego, and Tamta probably won’t hit the Eurovision heights Eleni did. But I’m still impressed. That extends to Cyprus recruiting Sacha Jean Baptiste to create their staging again, a sign that they mean business. Fingers crossed the look and feel of the performance doesn’t clash with Switzerland’s, given that She Got Me is in the same musical category and is also being staged by Baptiste. Neither song needs flashy, gimmicky staging to compensate for musical weaknesses, since there aren’t any – they just need something complementary (why am I suddenly reviewing Switzerland? Save it for later, Jaz). Unless a major screw-up happens somewhere along the way, I can’t see Cyprus finishing outside of the Tel Aviv top 10, though it’s safe to say they won’t be going one better than they did in Lisbon.
In a line Obvious joke, but here’s a song I want to replay, replay, replay, YEAH 2018 VS 2019 2018 Predicted result SF 2nd-4th, GF 5th-8th My score 10 points
Latvia has been sending epic songs to Eurovision for some time now – I’d say consistently since 2015. Yet the last few years have seen them stuck in the semis, even languishing in last place in Triana Park’s case. I’m going to get right to it and say that for me, that run of rad entries has come to a screeching halt, but I expect the DNQ trend to continue. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate That Night. In fact, it’s so innocuous and sweet, like a no-frills vanilla cookie, I don’t know how anyone could hate it…and perhaps that’s the problem. Compared to the other songs in the Latvian national final it’s a masterpiece, and I have no doubt that the country made the best choice based on what was on the buffet table. But I feel like it lacks oomph, coasting along on the same level for three minutes and making me keen for those minutes to tick away so I can listen to something more exciting.
Yes, easy-listening and subdued songs can be exciting, holding your attention and making you want more (I’m thinking of Slovenia’s Sebi specifically). This one, however, doesn’t do anything for yours truly. I don’t mind the melody or the melancholy folksy feel, and vocalist Sabīne suits that vibe for sure. It’s more the missing dynamism + the super repetitive structure of That Night that sucks the life out of me. There’s not a lot to it, and as a result nothing much to reel you in (and when I say ‘you’ I mean ‘me’, because I know there are Eurofans who adore this). I feel like this song is a less bizarre musical version of a Lars von Trier film, and if you’ve ever tried to sit through a Lars von Trier film and lost the will to live, you’ll know I’m not being complimentary.
I know I’m coming across way harsh (to quote Clueless like I do at least twice a day), but where my personal preferences are concerned, Latvia can do a lot better than this. And I honestly think Carousel will struggle to pick up votes in that crazy-competitive second semi final. There are other acoustic-y tracks in the running order, as well as other “introverted” songs that are more captivating (think Austria and Arcade). Then there are the big, bold extroverts that are sure to hoover up votes like an industrial-strength vacuum cleaner (think Sweden, Switzerland and Sergey Lazarev). If Latvia does qualify I think it will be a borderline qualification, and I can’t see them troubling the top 10 or even the left side of the scoreboard. But what do I know? I may have followed Eurovision obsessively for over a decade, but I’m still rubbish at predicting results. Riga 2020 it is!
In a line Nice and nothing more 2018 VS 2019 Definitely 2018 Predicted result SF 10th-14th, GF 17th-21st My score 5 points
There are a few countries that can (sadly) be relied upon to produce surefire non-qualifiers over successes. Montenegro is definitely one, no matter how hard I wish they’d suddenly unveil something sensational like next-door neighbour Serbia does on a regular basis. This year their story started out with a glimmer of hope, for me at least. I’m not saying D mol ever had a chance of making the final, but I did have Heaven down as my guilty pleasure of the year. And as a tribute to S Club 7 with undeniably striking staging, the song kind of worked. I actually enjoyed it. In a nostalgic way, sure, but enjoyment is enjoyment.
But then *insert dramatic Law & Order DUM DUM here* Heaven had a musical makeover that I would describe as an over-accessorisation. Now it’s so unlike the original, sickly-sweet-but-tolerable original version that I feel like I need to judge two different songs. But I will just judge the one with multiple personality disorder that’s actually going to Eurovision – and it is a mess. There’s nothing that hasn’t been thrown at it in the quest for a more competitive edge, but the OTT approach has backfired. The structure is all over the place and impossible to follow; the beat kicking in after the first chorus takes me back to Junior Eurovision circa 2005; the vocal gymnastics are misplaced and desperate; and the synthesisers/miscellaneous other noises in the mix sound like they were dropped in as frequently but randomly as possible by someone doing the Macarena blindfolded. Why, Montenegro, why?!?
To add on to my list of negatives, I can’t see a way for Heaven to be saved by staging. Replicating the NF presentation would look amateurish, especially now LEDs are back in action – and what kind of miracle-working, mind-blowing stage concept could cool down and tidy up such a hot mess anyway? I’m sorry for dragging D mol through the mud (more than I meant to) but I have to be honest. The group themselves are not the main problem, and as a sextet mostly made up of teenagers, they do impress me with their stage presence and camaraderie. They just deserve a better song, because this one will not do anything for them other than send them packing straight after the first semi final.
In a line It was never heavenly, but now it’s hellish 2018 VS 2019 2019, believe it or not Predicted result SF 15th-17th My score 5 points
She’s baaaaaaaack! Nope, that’s not the tagline of a terrifying Carrie sequel, but rather my way of saying hey to Nevena for the third time in (J)ESC history. If you’re not a Junior Eurovision fan, you might not know that she represented Serbia in 2007, finishing 3rd – years before she’d appear at Eurovision as part of Moje 3 and unfortunately fail to qualify (I could write an essay on why that was down to those ridiculous costumes, but I won’t). It seems she fares better when she strikes out on her own, and she’s done that big time in 2019. Not only is she competing in Tel Aviv as a soloist, but she also wrote the music and lyrics of Kruna on her own. What a woman! Let’s breeze past the fact that she’s also an incredible vocalist and drop-dead gorgeous before I end up with the world’s biggest inferiority complex.
Kruna is a dramatic power ballad, one that has had the power amped up even more via a revamp (Montenegro, THIS is how you give a song a good makeover). The music starts out softly and becomes more intense in sync with Nevena’s vocals, and the combo of acoustic/electric guitar work is one of my favourite things about the song. I appreciate that the big statement chorus doesn’t take too long to arrive, because it can be boring waiting for a ballad to go somewhere. And just before it does rock up (so to speak) we get those English lyrics that do double duty: they add interest without seeming like they were shoehorned in just because, and they give us non-Serbian speakers a feel for what the song is about in a very short space of time. Overall, Kruna is the musical equivalent of wearing a floral dress under a studded biker jacket. It’s feminine and classy, but it also has an edge.
Okay, okay, I’ll talk about Nevena’s talents. She’s an amazing singer, and her delivery is passionate and believable. Her ability to sing lullaby-style and the opposite without batting her lashes is impressive, and sure to elevate her jury appeal. And of course, she’s stunning and super telegenic. Is there anything wrong with this package? Well, it doesn’t have the aura of a winner, and while I feel the feelings Nevena is putting out there, others may not. Plus, even I needed a few listens to really get on board, so I can see why the song might not be instant enough to be a vote magnet. Having said that, I do think Nevena has a better shot at making the final now she’s Moje 3 Minus 2. Serbia is competing in that less scary first semi, alongside a lot of uptempo and/or divisive songs – so they’ve got a decent chance to advance as far as I see it. With atmospheric staging and a costume choice less questionable than those 2013 creations (circus hooker chic? I still can’t land on the right label for them) the gate should open wide enough to let them through.
In a line A sophisticated, pitch perfect power ballad 2018 VS 2019 2018, but it’s a close one and kind of hard to compare the two Predicted result SF 7th-13th, GF 14th-19th My score 8 points
That’s all for today, folks! And with the first five countries taken care of, here’s my first mini-ranking for the year:
- Cyprus (10)
- Serbia (8)
- Albania (8)
- Montenegro (5)
- Latvia (5)
Congratulations to Cyprus for winning me over…but how long will Tamta stay on top? Stay tuned for the rest of my reviews to find out. I’ll be including the running ranking at the end of each round so you can see who’s sitting where.
Next time I’ll be putting Australia, Georgia, Hungary, Romania and Switzerland under my (imaginary) musical microscope. But before that, leave me a comment so we can compare notes on Albania, Cyprus, Latvia, Montenegro and Serbia. Who’s your favourite of the five? Is there a winner in there or will Eurovision weekend be Eurovision-free for this bunch? Whatever’s on your mind, I want to know…especially if we happen to agree on something.
It’s almost here, JESC fans: the biggest and potentially most Belarusian Junior Eurovision ever (we’ll have to compare it to 2010 later and see which show was ultimately more Belarusian). I don’t know about you, but I’m super psyched to see who’ll take over from Russia as the reigning champion. I have a fair idea at this point and for once I’m pretty confident – but my lips are sealed until official prediction time. Keep an eye on my socials (@EurovisionByJaz across the board) over the weekend to see who I think will be on the top – and bottom – of the scoreboard on Sunday.
Before I attempt to predict what’s going to happen I’ve got five of this year’s songs left to review, direct from Albania, Ireland, Italy, Macedonia and Ukraine. There are a few big hitters in there as well as some underdogs, and I do have a douze to give out to one of them…but am I sending it in an obvious direction or not? Keep reading to find out. It’s your moment under my musical microscope, Efi, Taylor, Melissa & Marco, Marija and Darina. I’ll try to be nice, I promise!
I might be in the minority here, but I’m usually really keen on Albania’s Junior songs. Their 2012 debut wouldn’t make my best-of list, but Dambaje, Besoj and yes, even Don’t Touch My Tree? I enjoyed ‘em all. Albania tends to bounce around a bit genre-wise, and this time they’ve taken the old-school JESC (2003-2008) feel of that debut entry and added more energy, cuteness and overall appeal to it, making Barbie a song that shouldn’t be destined for last place. I like it, anyway…though that has been a bad luck charm in the past *cough* Waldo’s People/Tooji *cough*. I think my favourite thing about Barbie is the contrast between the upbeat pop style/pink-tastic presentation, and the subject matter. ICYMI, Efi means business – she doesn’t want to be directed like a doll during playtime without being permitted thoughts of her own. Oddly, she also wants us to know that ‘I’m not a fruit, I’m not an egg’, unless my online translation has let me down embarrassingly. Sorry to be a party pooper Efi, but I think that was already obvious.
The combo of cuteness and substance in this song speaks to me, and even though I feel like Barbie should be a guilty pleasure, I’m going to ditch the guilt and root for it regardless. I was wondering if the whole Barbie concept could put Efi at risk of a lecture from the EBU regarding product placement – but we did end up bopping along to Youtuber at JESC last year, and we watched a song that namedropped Pikachu (and funnily enough, Barbie) win Eurovision in May. You’ve got to love “loopholes”.
Anyway, I will admit that Albania is still an underdog in this contest, especially given NF staging that needed serious workshopping. I want less LED screen lyrics (a pet peeve of mine), more enthusiasm from Efi and preferably some backing dancers to liven things up. Unfortunately – whether it’s habit, preference or a lack of pocket money – the Albanian modus operandi so far has been ‘girl alone on stage’ without even a hint of another human being. I’ll actually be surprised if they don’t take that approach, in which case Efi needs to find some extra sparkle and sell Barbie like her doll collection depends on it. I hope she can do it, because there’s a rough (pink) diamond here. 8 points.
I feel like we should have had a gender reveal party for Ireland, because for the first time in their Junior Eurovision history, it’s a boy! A boy with more luxurious hair than I could ever hope to have, specifically. Rapunzel Taylor is following in the footsteps of Aimee Banks, Zena Donnelly and Muireann McDonnell and will no doubt be hoping to outdo Zena’s 10th place from 2016. With I.O.U up his sleeve (the sleeve of his sweatshirt which, by total coincidence, has ‘I.O.U’ printed on the front) I think that will be a challenge, especially in a field of 20 contestants – many armed with much stronger songs. But there’s something endearing about this track, and about Taylor himself, that makes me want to support Ireland this year.
I.O.U is total ‘JESC early years’, circa 2003-2008 – and that’s actually a redeeming feature in my opinion. I love entries that put the junior into Junior Eurovision, since it doesn’t happen a lot these days. The melody, throwback feel and youthfulness of this take me back to stuff like My Vmeste by Ksenia Sitnik (Belarus’ 2005 winner) and I Mousiki Dinei Ftera by Yiorgos Ioannides (Cyprus’ less-successful song from 2007), plus a bunch of other entries I could mention if I felt like it (and wanted to bore you to death). The chorus is particularly childlike. Overall the song isn’t too young for Taylor though. He sells it well, despite being a less polished (and some would say, manufactured) performer than a lot of the other contestants. I think if this song was in English – even partially, which could have easily been the case – the cheesiness would have been too much to take, but somehow going full Irish saves it from that savoury fate. Apart from being repetitive (which actually helps the catchy chorus get stuck in your brain whether you like it or not) I appreciate this entry for the nostalgia and fluffiness it brings to the table. Sure, the NF performance combined with a song of I.O.U’s style made me feel like I was watching a middle school talent show, but it’s kind of refreshing in that sense. It also boasts the best music video of the 2018 contest, feat. Niamh Kavanagh and Ryan O’Shaughnessy as Taylor’s parents (IDK how they pull it off, but they do).
The problem? While Ireland is giving us something oh-so-junior, they’re also fulfilling a brief from ten or fifteen years ago. JESC has changed and the tone of songs that shoot up the scoreboard has too. Mature, sophisticated ballads sung by female soloists in white dresses are extra likely to succeed, and neither I.O.U nor Taylor fit into that mould (but Kazakhstan, Macedonia and Australia do…just saying). If I’m honest, compared to the lion’s share of Ireland’s 19 rivals this entry comes off as a little amateurish. And I can’t imagine it attracting a sizeable public or jury vote. That puts Ireland in the danger zone as a potential bottom five finisher, but I’d welcome a more positive outcome. I don’t know yet if I have a vote to spare for Taylor in a year of bangers, but I can give him 7 points right now.
If there’s one word that describes Italy at any Eurovision event, it’s ‘classy’. Even Emma Marrone managed to expose her gold underpants to the world in a classy way in Copenhagen – it’s just in Italian blood. I have to admit though, when I first clapped eyes and ears on Italy’s 2018 Junior Eurovision entry I thought they’d finally gone off the deep end and left all of their class on the diving board behind them. This was mainly because I broke my rule of not watching the JESC music videos when listening to the song for the first time, because at best they’re a distraction and at worst they are abysmal. Melissa and Marco’s falls somewhere in between, under the heading of ‘hilariously WTF’, and I let that cloud my judgment of what is a classy and majestic – if cliché-packed – duet. There is something about the 1980s transitions, awkward dancing and…well, everything else happening onscreen that makes me laugh way too hard at a pair of poor innocent children.
Take those visuals away, however, and you’re left with another solid Italian entry that I think tops Scelgo from last year (but has nothing on the pinnacle of Italian musical majesty that is Tu Il Primo Grande Amore). What Is Love is interesting in that it twists and turns along the way to a satisfyingly predictable conclusion. We get Marco – who I think we can all agree is the star of the duo – opening strongly on his own, before Melissa (SHE’S SO TINY AND CUTE I CAN HARDLY STAND IT) arrives during the first chorus to add another dynamic. The two bounce off each other well vocally, with the back-and-forth song structure giving them both a chance to shine (though as I said, Marco shines brighter and could easily have been a solo act). It’s hard to believe there’s a four-year age gap between them – a gap I found a little uncomfortable until I realised this song isn’t a love duet in the traditional sense.
Another thing I like about it is the ‘moments’ sprinkled throughout that make it memorable. Harmonies, clever language changes, big notes and a key change (oh yes, they went there) combine to create a song that has more light and shade to it than main rival Samen from the Netherlands. Having said that, when it comes to the two boy-girl duets competing in Minsk, I do prefer the Netherlands. But because the dynamic between the boys and girls in question is totally different, I think there’s room for both Max & Anne and Melissa & Marco to do well on the night. I highly doubt either duet will walk away with the trophy, or even a podium placement. Then again, there’s been a surprise song in the top 3 for the last few years, and in 2018 it could be What Is Love. For me personally it’s not a top 3 song, but I have grown fond of it very quickly. I just needed to shut my eyes when I pressed play on that video. 8 points.
I don’t know what it is with Macedonia, but their last few JESC songs could easily have been sent to the ESC – and in my opinion, they were both better than what was actually sent to the adult contest. Love Will Lead Our Way? Flawless. Dancing Through Life? Flawless with space buns. Now we have Doma, which is very different to those last two entries – a.k.a. it’s a far cry from radio-friendly pop. This is a ballad, and a big Balkan ballad at that. It even has the word ‘molitva’ in the lyrics (as co-written by Elena Risteska) which may or may not be a sign. It too would fit in well at Eurovision, and FOR GOD’S SAKE JAZ STOP RAMBLING AND TELL US WHAT YOU THINK OF IT!!!
Your wish is my command: I LOVE this, and I can safely say that Macedonia has delivered a JESC cracker yet again. From the second Doma starts, elevated instantly by Marija’s beautiful vocals, there’s a magical atmosphere afoot and touches of mysterious ethnicity woven in. I have goosebumps before the first chorus even drops. When it does, things are taken to another level of atmospheric, emotional and ethnic awesomeness (and I’m reminded of EXO’s Mama somehow…compare the choruses and tell me I’m not going crazy). I adore how majestic and statement this song is. If JESC 2018 was a jewelry store, Doma would be an ornate, gem-encrusted necklace rented out exclusively to royalty and Eleni Foureira (our queen). Truth be told, ornate statement pieces don’t win Junior Eurovision, and mature ethno-ballads like this (think Serbia 2015) are usually left behind at the halfway-ish mark of the scoreboard. But hey, that would be progress for poor Macedonia, who’ve been a little robbed for the last few years.
Sadly, I’m expecting Marija to be overshadowed by the likes of Armenia and France – fun, danceable entries that don’t have so much in common with 2017 winner Wings. Not to mention her main rival in Kazakhstan’s Daneliya. Still, if she is as amazing live as she is in studio, and puts on a spellbinding performance (lighting, or lack thereof, is v. important here), anything could happen. I’ll enjoy it, at least. Pre-performance and based on the power of the song alone, I’m going all in and handing Macedonia DOUZE POINTS!
For a brief but terrible time earlier this year, it looked like Ukraine wouldn’t be joining the JESC 2018 party. That would have left a huge pop-masterpiece-shaped hole in the lineup, so I’m glad they changed their mind (or stopped trolling us, one of the two). I say pop masterpiece because that’s exactly what we would have missed out on had Darina + Say Love not been part of Junior. You can find this song online at http://www.thebomb.com, guys. What a banger! It takes the subject matter of Anna Trincher’s Pochny z Sebe (Ukraine’s less poppy but still pretty decent entry from 2015) – in basic terms, humanity’s need to say yes to love and no to war – and presents it in a slick package that, like France’s entry, sits pretty on the fence between too junior and not junior enough.
There are two main things I love about Say Love (which I just did). Firstly, the fact that the song is super contemporary, but doesn’t sound like anything I’ve heard before. Secondly, how interesting it is – it’s one of those songs that grabs and hangs on to your interest as you wonder where it’s going. The mysterious edge and dynamic structure keep you on your toes, while the repetition of the chorus prevents it from sounding aimless. My absolute favourite part is Darina’s megaphone chant, and if she doesn’t appear on stage this weekend in the exact outfit from the music video, with that megaphone in her hand (looking like the pint-sized yet seriously fierce cheerleading coach of Mylène and Rosanne from JESC 2013) I will be disappointed.
If all goes according to plan, Anastasiya Baginska’s very respectable 7th place from 2017 should be outdone by Darina – but by how many places? I’ve seen Ukraine at the top of a heap of Youtube ranking videos, as I did with Russia last year, but I don’t think Say Love is quite going to get there as a winner. For starters, as we know, any girl who wants to win JESC these days must wear a white dress and perform a ballad. Plus I just don’t have The Feelings about it – that gut instinct that tells you which songs have a real shot at the trophy and which ones don’t. I can’t see the credits rolling over a reprise of this. But if I’m wrong, I won’t be unhappy. It has been a while since Ukraine’s last win, after all. 10 points.
And just like that/just in time, that’s all 20 Junior Eurovision songs reviewed by yours truly. Before I dramatically reveal my full ranking for the year, let’s take a look at the standings from this round:
- Macedonia (12)
- Ukraine (10)
- Albania (8)
- Italy (8)
- Ireland (7)
If you know me at all, you won’t be shocked to see the Balkan ballad on top – and I’m hoping to see it somewhere in that neighbourhood of success on Sunday night. Macedonia is closely followed by Ukraine and Albania, with Italy scoring a much lower 8 than Albania if that makes any sense. Ireland takes the wooden spoon today, but with 7 points that’s nothing for Taylor to worry about (because obviously he’s going to see this post, read it and take to heart…that’s not a delusional thought at all, Jaz).
And now (create your own drumroll, please), I can unveil my complete ranking of all 20 entries, based on my review scores from the last few weeks. All ties have been broken behind the scenes.
- Belarus (12)
- Macedonia (12)
- Armenia (12)
- Israel (12)
- Kazakhstan (10)
- France (10)
- Australia (10)
- The Netherlands (10)
- Ukraine (10)
- Russia (10)
- Poland (8)
- Albania (8)
- Georgia (8)
- Italy (8)
- Ireland (7)
- Malta (7)
- Wales (6)
- Azerbaijan (6)
- Serbia (5)
- Portugal (4)
Well, this has taught me that if your lowest score is a 4 and your 18th-favourite song out of 20 still gets 6 points, you must REALLY be enjoying the bunch of entries in question. I don’t think I’ve been this honestly generous with my points in my entire history of reviewing Eurovision-related music. Thank you Minsk!
Now I’ve showed you mine, you’re pretty much obligated to show me yours – so hit up that comments box and tell me a) how you rank the five songs I reviewed for this round, and b) what your full ranking looks like. You’ve got to have something to occupy the time between now and when JESC kicks off, right?
This is all the pre-show coverage you’re going to get from me in 2018 (I had more planned but life got in the way as usual). As I mentioned in the intro, if you want to see what I’m predicting for Sunday’s contest – including winners, losers and every scoreboard place in-between – head over to my Facebook, Twitter or Instagram (all @EurovisionByJaz) and I’ll post them on all three ASAP. Be sure to follow me on Twitter especially if you want to discuss the show during the show. I’m not above making jokes at the expense of children, if that helps – someone needs to toughen them up.
Just kidding. OR AM I?!?!?
See you on the other side of JESC 2018, when we have our 16th winner!
Good *insert time of day here*, guys. In a plot twist that everyone saw coming, I’m back with more Eurovision 2018 reviews – and with rehearsals for this year’s contest kicking off NEXT WEEKEND (how did this happen?), I have zero time for one of my traditional rambling intros. Lucky you.
Speaking of you…if you saw the title of this post and decided it was worth a look, then you’re probably wondering what I think of Eugent, Saara, Yianna, Ieva and DoReDos – plus the musical offerings they’re bringing to Lisbon’s mahusive potluck dinner. Keep reading if you want to stop wondering! Then, as always, you can pick your personal fave of the five (scroll for the poll) and share your ranking in the comments. I know you want to…
My thoughts Way back in ye olde 2017, Eugent’s Mall became the first song to be selected for Eurovision 2018 (if I remember rightly). It’s a typical move for Albania, with Festivali I Këngës always falling during the festive season. The plus side is that Albanian entries have more time to grow on us and/or be reworked; the downside is that sometimes they don’t age like a fine wine so much as like a loaf of bread. So is Mall, all those months later, a drop of something delicious or a stale loaf of sourdough? And why do I constantly compare music to food? I can’t answer that second question TBH, but I can tell you that for me, this song is somewhere in the middle of awesome and awful. I think it’s quite wallpaper-like: imagine this year’s contest as a room, with Israel being the avant-garde statement armchair and San Marino being the ugly, dated fireplace (spoiler alert for my San Marino review) and you’ll know what I mean. Mall is there and it’s competing, but there’s no fire in it as far as I’m concerned, and nothing that really grabs me – even in the chorus, which if no other part does, should be the part of a song that sticks. I definitely don’t hate it, because there’s really nothing to hate. It’s not super-current but it isn’t decades too late either; it’s well-produced and the music is richly-layered, even minus the live FiK orchestra; it’s anthemic and will probably have some arms waving in Altice Arena…basically, I don’t see/hear any major flaws. What I hear actually impresses me the most about Albania, in terms of Eugent’s vocals. They’re flawless, clearer than the crystal Eurovision trophy, and powerfully projected in a way that will fill the spacious Portuguese stage even if he’s standing on it solo (no France 2017 issues are in his future). But excellent vocals aren’t enough in a competition full of great vocalists – many of whom also have standout songs up their sleeves. Mall is not a standout song in my opinion. It’s a decent song with an Albanian essence that suitably qualified Eurofans can detect with a single sniff (which I appreciate that about their entries). And I’m glad Albania is putting faith in their own tongue for the first time since Identitet in 2013. Unfortunately, I doubt it will pay off. I cannot see this qualifying, especially from the first half of death in the semi final of death (the Grim Reaper will be busy on the Tuesday night). Even though Albania will sound brilliant coming right after Iceland (spoiler alert for my Iceland review), I’m anticipating around 16th place in the semi for Eugent.
2017 VS 2018? 2017. Call me controversial, and I’ll take it as a compliment.
My score 6.5
My thoughts An unfortunate trip to Kyiv last year ended much too soon for Norma John (and if you think I’m over it, THINK AGAIN…and read this post). And so Finland brought out the big guns for Lisbon – perennial competition bridesmaid Saara Aalto, her belter of a voice, and her bucketloads of charisma and stage presence. Let’s be real, we ALL adore this woman. She’s a precious Nordic angel who had to take a turn on The X Factor UK before Finland realised they’d better just internally select her lest she be poached by the Brits. That brings me to my main point re: Monsters. The track is being showered with love by fans and in the fan-voted OGAE poll (no surprises there) but would people be raving about it if someone other than Saara was performing it? The way I see it, the song is secondary in the overall package of the Finnish entry to Saara herself. The country is sending an artist with a song, not an artist AND a song, if you know what I mean (and Norway is in a similar position). I’m not saying Monsters isn’t good enough for her or that it’s not good at all, but it could do more for its singer than it does. Sweden’s Deb duo are the driving forces behind it, and have created a dance-pop almost-banger that isn’t exactly at the forefront of the music scene right now (Ireland sent a vaguely similar song to Malmö, Estonia to Copenhagen). It is catchy, with a strong chorus and a distinctive vocal hook – ‘I ain’t scared no more’ – plus an inspirational message passed on in a way that doesn’t make me feel nauseous (Iceland, pay attention). And you can bet your entire collection of Eurovision merchandise that I’d be burning major calories in the Euroclub with this song as my soundtrack, were I going to Lisbon. Anything that makes you want to move – and not towards the nearest exit to escape it – is good, right? But while I can easily acknowledge the merits of Monsters, I can also easily admit that it’s not one of my favourite songs of the year. I like it but I don’t love it, and I think Saara is capable of more. She’s not going to be the contest winner we thought she’d be back when her name was announced (though why we thought that when she’s finished second so many times, I don’t know). Finland should be back in the final again after sitting it out (involuntarily) for three years, but at this stage I do have them under as borderline in my predictions. Am I letting my lack of enthusiasm cloud my objectivity, or is Monsters legitimately not that amazing? We’ll find out in a few weeks.
2017 VS 2018? Blackbird moves me. Monsters (kind of) grooves me, but I can’t say no to Norma John.
My score 7
My thoughts Going full Greece didn’t do the former ESC darling any favours in 2016 – it resulted in the loss of their 100% qualification record. Demy got them back to the final last year with cookie cutter Greek-free dance though (go figure…so why have they opted for something ethnic this year? Answer: because Yianna Terzi could pay the right price. And thank Hellas for that! I love it when any country sends a song to Eurovision that couldn’t be from anywhere else, and it doesn’t happen that often these days. That’s my no. 1 reason to applaud this entry. Reason no. 2 is that Oneiro Mou features the kind of drama Koit and Laura name-dropped in Verona; my way of saying that it’s atmospheric and mysterious (when I pretend I never looked up the lyrics on Google Translate). The verses get a bit of intrigue bubbling as you wonder, when listening for the first time at least, where the song is headed. Then the chorus delivers extra drama – maybe not in the most bombastic way possible, but in a way that I get a kick out of. If this song wasn’t in Greek, it wouldn’t have half the appeal that it does, so I’m grateful for that too. And Yianna, besides having an incredible head of hair á la Tamara Gachechiladze (no need to turn that volume up, ‘cause it’s already on full blast) is also a well-established, seasoned performer. Ergo, she won’t go all deer-in-the-headlights on stage and will hopefully give us a studio-grade rendition of Oneiro Mou. I say that as someone who’s yet to check out her live vocal chops (I’ve barely had time to brush my own teeth lately, so please excuse that) but I’m assuming she’s got the goods. Greece has made it out of semi finals with weaker songs than this – ICYMI it was NOT love between me and This Is Love, and I’d class that as a weak song that squeaked through. Still, 2016 proved that they’re not infallible, and even in a nautically-themed contest, Greece is unlikely to sail though to Saturday night (HA HA). Like Albania, they’re fighting to emerge from that tough first semi, and I’d say it’s 50:50 – pre-rehearsals – as to whether they’ll make it or not. If the song is staged well (Lights! Dry ice! Wind! Give it the full salon treatment) it’ll help. If not, it might blend into the background, and that would not make for a happy Jaz. The more nationalistic music we get to hear in the final the better.
2017 VS 2018? 2018. Demy didn’t do it for me.
My score 8
My thoughts I’m going to do those of you out there who love this song a favour and spare you having to read this review: it’s not going to be a positive one. Usually I’d ramble on about what happened to Country X last year and make you wonder how I feel about them this year before releasing the kraken that is my opinion. But I want to get straight to the point with When We’re Old, because it’s part of my personal Infamous Four – a.k.a. the four 2018 entries that I just don’t like. I have a top 15 (all of which I want in my top 10), a next best 5 to 10 songs, then a sizeable ‘OK’ category…but underneath that at #40-#43 lies Lithuania and three other countries that I’m yet to talk about. Ieva is at #40 rather than right at the bottom of my ranking, but she’s in my bad books. Why? Because if Lena Meyer-Landrut was only allowed to sing in her inside voice, and starred in a musical version of The Notebook wherein the soundtrack was composed by a rhyming dictionary and a wheel of vintage cheddar cheese, When We’re Old would be the result. Like Iceland’s Ari, Ieva is lovely inside and out, but she’s singing something that is sickeningly sweet and savoury at the same time. Sugar + cheese = not a nice combo (MORE FOOD ANALOGIES JAZ WTF?!?). Sure, it’s romantic and emotive, but I’m afraid my cold, unfeeling heart refuses to be affected by it (perhaps because I’m currently the most single person on the planet and cannot relate to the sentiment). There’s no doubt the song will grow on me during the contest period, and I might be eating these words by the time May becomes June. As of right now, though, I’m not keen for Lithuania to qualify, even if they have a much better chance of making it in Lisbon than they did in Kyiv (they seem to qualify when I don’t want them to and vice versa, with a few exceptions along the way). Of my Infamous Four, When We’re Old is the only one I can visualise in the final, but it will be my toilet break song if it does (and if I don’t need to go to the toilet when Ieva’s on, I’ll go and sit in there anyway). I’m feeling generous with my scores this year, so don’t be surprised by the number you see below…just know that most of those points are for Ieva, NOT her song.
2017 VS 2018? I have to say Rain of Revolution, because it’s more fun and less limp.
My score 5.5
My thoughts You can’t discuss Moldova 2018 without talking about Moldova 2017 first (well, I can’t). The Sunstroke Project are a gift from the Eurovision gods, having presented the world with an iconic meme in 2010 only to outdo themselves last year by presenting their country with its best-ever result. The problem is, like Bulgaria and Portugal, they set a standard for their successors that is not easy to meet. Repeat NF offenders DoReDos have Russian powerhouse Phillip Kirkirov in their corner, and that helped snag Sergey Lazarev the bronze position in Stockholm. That’s what this trio needs to live up to – 3rd place – but I don’t think the Phillip effect is going to get them that far. There is a heap of stuff to like about My Lucky Day: the classic Moldovan trumpets and infectious tune; the enthusiasm of the band when they’re performing it (maybe they caught that from the Sunstroke boys?); the NF/probable ESC mirrors (props that fit into the Portuguese LED-less puzzle very nicely); and the overall throwback feel that transports me back to contests from 2008-2010. It’s just a fun, fluffy song. Musical fairy floss, you might say, but it’s just light and sweet enough to make you (by which I mean me) want more. Is it a masterpiece? No, in case you thought I was under the impression it was. Lyrically, the situation could be improved…and even though I’m 26 and not 12, I can’t help thinking that the words ‘number two’ should be avoided by songwriters (maturity level = dangerously low). But because it doesn’t take itself too seriously, I don’t feel like I have to take the lyrics too seriously. Moldova hasn’t quite built on their 2017 success in the way I’d hoped, and like Bulgaria did after Poli in 2016. But when I look at this song without thinking about Hey Mamma and how it compares, I can’t complain much (which is a big deal for me). Top 3 on the scoreboard? Nope. Top 10? Maybe. Final? Almost definitely. They’ve got a guaranteed douze from Romania to help them on their way, and they might get a few votes out of me too.
2017 VS 2018? Will Moldova ever top Hey Mamma? They haven’t this year.
My score 8
Okay…now that I’ve practically written a novel about each country, the stats are: 15 down, 28 to go! I suddenly feel the need to listen to Blue’s I Can to make me feel like I can get the whole Class of 2018 covered in time.
Here’s my mini-ranking for this round:
- Greece (8)
- Moldova (8)
- Finland (7)
- Albania (6.5)
- Lithuania (5.5)
So it’s Yianna – by one of her amazingly-textured hairs – who wins this five-way battle. Stay tuned to see where she fits in to my ranking of all 43 songs once the reviews are (FINALLY!) done.
Do we have love for Greece in common, or is it Aalto all the way for you? Maybe you’re reeling from my review of Lithuania because you love it so much. Vote for your favourite below, and share your thoughts/spill your tea in the comments!
NEXT TIME Coming up on my Lisbon ‘Hit or S*%t’ list (that’s a working title for next year’s reviews…what do you reckon?) are Australia, France, Georgia, Ireland and Latvia. You won’t want to miss me trying not to be biased when I review We Got Love, so make sure you come back for Round 4.
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.