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RANDOM REVIEW | Magnifique or a massive musical mistake? Amir’s ‘Au Cœur De Moi’

As we all know, France took Stockholm by storm with the adorable Amir and J’ai Cherché (though their sixth place – the country’s best result since 2002 – didn’t quite stack up to their win in the OGAE poll). Eurovision 2016 saw the man manage to haul France from the murky depths of the bottom five for the first time in four years, and that’s one of the million reasons why those of us who love him…well, love him.

I personally became so infatuated during my time in Sweden, I knew the first thing I did when I arrived back in Australia – before I’d even unpacked my substantial supply of Plopp bars – would be to grab a copy of his latest album Au Cœur De Moi, which was released just pre-ESC. And yes, I mean an actual, physical, flesh-and-blood (a.k.a. paper and plastic) copy to squeeze onto my Eurovision shrine shelf. I’m old-fashioned like that.

Even being as blinded by Amir amour as I was, this purchase could have been an unfortunate one if the album as a whole didn’t echo any of the awesomeness of J’ai Cherché. You’re about to find out if I think it does, and discover whether I’d recommend it to you if you haven’t heard it yet. If you follow me on social media (HINT HINT), you’ll know how I feel about it already, since, like Selena Gomez and her hands, I have trouble keeping my feelings to myself. But here’s a more detailed lowdown on/rating of the album anyway.

Enjoy, and let me know which pre or post-contest releases from ESC 2016 artists you’ve been listening to lately in the comments!

PSBWS (PS Before We Start): You can listen to the entire album here if you need to decide whether you agree with what I’m about to say…or not.

 

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Au Cœur De Moi fact files

    • The album was released in April 2016 and is Amir’s second, following the all-Hebrew Veyehi from his pre­-Voice days in 2011
    • The title translates to ‘At the Heart of Me’
    • It peaked at no. 6 on the French Albums chart and has charted in Belgium and Switzerland
    • Amir co-wrote nine of the twelve tracks, including his Eurovision entry J’ai Cherché
    • The bulk of the album is French-language, with one song entirely in English and another three a mix of both
    • So far, three singles have been released from the album: Oasis in June 2015, J’ai Cherché in January 2016 and On Dirait in August 2016

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The track list

  1. J’ai Cherché (I Searched)
  2. On Dirait (It Looks)
  3. Au Cœur De Moi (At The Heart of Me)
  4. Ma Vie, Ma Ville, Mon Monde (My Life, My City, My World)
  5. A Ta Manière (In Your Way)
  6. I Know
  7. Très Haut (Very High)
  8. Je Reviendrai (I’ll Be Back)
  9. Lost
  10. Oasis
  11. Broken Heart feat. ABI
  12. Il Est Temps Qu’on M’aime (It’s Time To Be Loved)

Anyone horrified by those translations should blame Google, and/or the fact that I haven’t studied French since I was twelve.

 

So, what does it sound like?

Planning on taking a summertime road trip feat. copious amounts of karaoke interspersed with re-energising naps? If so, then this is the soundtrack you’ll want to back it. It’s forty-two minutes of music that may not be on the knife edge of the French pop scene (emphasis on ‘may not’, because I actually have no idea what current, trendy French pop sounds like) but is full of feel-good vibes as well as some heartbreak-iness for good measure. Those mood swings allow Amir to showcase his versatility as an artist, as a singer, and as a songwriter.

That’s right: Au Coeur De Moi isn’t an album comprised of one J’ai Cherché after another (which I wouldn’t have minded, to be honest). That means that whether J’ai made you jump for joy or not, you’re still likely to find something to enjoy if you give this album a go.

Not convinced? Well, it’s positively packed with Eurovision 2016 reference points. On Dirait is more in the mould of J’ai Cherché than anything else on the album, and Oasis is like a more sedate, less folksy remix. The trumpet-drenched disco flavour of I Know (the most upbeat and energetic song in the mix by far) shares genre shelf space with Laura Tesoro’s What’s The Pressure and Sandhja’s Sing It Away (though I like to think it would have been more Belgium than Finland had it been an ESC entry). Given the title and the fact that is isn’t sleazy in the slightest, it’s almost the antithesis of Serhat’s I Didn’t Know – and in a battle between the two songs, I’d much rather be in the know. You know?

Amir certainly knows he’s a rung above Serhat on the ladder of musical integrity. And boy, is he happy about it.

Amir certainly knows he’s a rung above Serhat on the ladder of musical integrity. And boy, is he happy about it.

Meanwhile, title track Au Coeur De Moi and closer Il Est Temps Qu’on M’aime have the hypnotic beat and edge of Justs’ Heartbeat, though they’re a little less bare-bones (which doesn’t make them superior or inferior, given that all three songs kick derriere). If the music I’ve already mentioned brings out Amir’s fun side, then these examples give him the chance to get serious. Light-hearted or intense, they’re equally enjoyable tracks.

But wait! The Eurovision just past isn’t the only one that I’m reminded of as I listen to Au Cœur for the fiftieth time (today). Take Trés Haut, which is almost like the love child of Jessy Matador’s Allez Ola Olé and any of the dance anthems to have made it to the ESC stage recently – think Stay by Tooji or Only Love Survives by Ryan Dolan, with a generous helping of fabulous Frenchiness that makes it slightly quirkier than those songs. As for Broken Heart, a surprisingly uptempo duet with ABI…well, let’s just say it’s something Monika and Vaidas might sing at a later, non-sugar-coated stage of their This Time relationship.

Another aspect of the album I really appreciate is this: if you pay attention, you can hear the Israeli influence more than once. Most noticeable in A Ta Manière and Oasis, this adds another layer of depth to the record and increases the interest factor.

Overall, Au Cœur De Moi  is pretty darn dynamic. It manages to be energetic and easy-listening while still feeling complete and cohesive. It’s slick, as you might expect from the eternally-classy French (even when they’re gallivanting around a glammed-up shipyard in Copenhagen wearing zany hotpants and repeating the word ‘moustache’ over and over again), but it’s not TOO slick. It still feels authentic, and very Amir.

 

My top five tracks

J’ai Cherché This goes without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway. This song is and always will be an absolute gem, and has me looking like the smiliest of smiley emojis whenever I hear it. It’s a great opener for the album because it starts things off on a positive note, and makes you want to hear more should the folk-pop style be up your street (though, as I said before, you should stick around to hear what else Amir has to offer even if you can’t stand that style of music).

 

On Dirait This one isn’t as much of a statement piece as J’ai Cherché, but it is just as much fun, just as easy to clap along to, and possibly even more summery in sound. French seems to suit this type of song extremely well, and when combined with those summer vibes, makes me want to fly to the French equivalent of Ibiza and crash the first beach party I can find.

 

Au Cœur De Moi I don’t know if the title of this song was chosen for the album because it was supposed to be the star attraction (despite no single release) or if it just encapsulated Amir’s attitude towards the whole thing. Whatever the case, it’s an excellent title track. It’s the most contemporary song on the record and takes advantage of electronic production. The pounding beat makes it hard to skip when it comes on shuffle.

 

Oasis This song is a stunner, but not in a showy way. Again, the French language is ovary-meltingly beautiful here (though that may be because I know it’s coming out of Amir’s mouth); the verses are super-soothing (who needs to pay $100 an hour to a therapist when you’ve got this?); and the chorus is simple but effective. The only thing I dislike about the guitar-backed ballad is that the instrumental bit right at the end is too short (and it’s so pretty I want it to go on forever…or at least for a few more bars).

 

Broken Heart The addition of a duet to Au Cœur De Moi was a stroke of genius – something I’d also say about the sole duet on Måns Zelmerlöw’s Perfectly Damaged. Amir’s vocals shine alongside ABI’s (I’d never heard of her before, and she seems to be hard to track down even using that internet thing all the kids are into these days). It’s a sweet collaboration that’s catchier than the common cold.

 

The verdict

By now, my opinion of this album will be obvious. There’s nothing on it that I don’t like, and most of it I love. I wouldn’t say it’s all killer and no filler, but there aren’t any weak tracks that make you think ‘Why did they bother?’. There’s actually a handful that would have made respectable Eurovision entries in a parallel universe devoid of J’ai Cherché – and that says a lot, since not every song on the planet is fit to be a competition song.

What also says a lot is me writing this review in the first place. There’s only been one previous occasion on which I’ve felt passionate enough about a release from an ESC alum to ramble on about it for far too much page space. That was five years ago, almost to the day (creepy, right? Maybe you should revisit that review of Dima Bilan’s Mechtatel to calm yourself down). So congratulations, Amir, on prompting my second album review in seven years!

Ultimately, I’d recommend Au Cœur De Moi to any pop fan, because it’s far from being a one-trick pony. Like someone who didn’t have breakfast heading to an all-you-can-eat, 150-dish buffet for lunch, you’re sure to find something here that you like, and would like to sample again in the future.

Don’t hold me to that, though. As a Eurovision fan, you’ll be well aware that ‘each to their own’ is a phrase you have to employ frequently.

Now, as every review ends with a score of some kind, it’s rating time. In Eurovision terms – because I try to put everything in my life in Eurovision terms – it’s a douze-pointer. In standard album review terms, I give it five stars.

 

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If you’re after even more Amir (and who wouldn’t be, really), you can find him in all the usual online places.

Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Official site

 

What are your thoughts on Amir’s Au Cœur De Moi? Which Eurovision 2016 act has blown your mind with their non-contest music? Let me know below!

 

The 2016 EBJ Eurovision Excellence Awards: Part 1 (The Artists, The Songs and The Singing!)

Good evening Europe, and everywhere else that’s relevant!

You’ve just made the excellent decision to tune in to the super-delayed first episode of the 2016 EBJEEs: that is, the EBJ Eurovision Excellence Awards. There’s no time like way after the official, Justin Timberlake-less Eurovision DVD has been released to do something like this, right? Not when this is the earliest I’ve been able to get around to it. Better late than never, that’s my motto.

So, if you’re ready for the ceremony to begin, great. If not, too bad – it’s (finally) happening. Today/tonight, I’m presenting second-rate statuettes in the categories of The Artists, The Songs and The Singing, including many of the People’s Choice Awards voted on by you fabulous people last week. Get excited!

Please???

*Academy Award-worthy intro music plays* Välkommen till…

 
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THE ARTISTS

 

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Winner Freddie Honourable Mention/s Amir, Douwe Bob

It’s award number one (my number oooonnne) and the EBJ Express has already arrived at Objectification Station – and I’m not sorry, no. There was an array of dashing dudes on display at this year’s contest, and as I was actually there (!) I can attest to the true, in-the-flesh attractiveness of each and every one. So, to those of you who thought Serhat was SerHOT, I say this: not even he could compare to the heartthrob ex-basketball player from Hungary. I mean, even in a one-on-one battle between Freddie and Måns Zelmerlöw, Hungary would quite possibly have the edge over Sweden. They’d definitely have a height advantage.

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Winner Samra Honourable Mention/s Iveta Mukuchyan

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, rather than the ear – which is how Samra came to be awarded this trophy by yours truly. She may have suffered from some vocal issues in Stockholm (several of her rehearsals would have had Jemini reaching for earplugs) but she is a stunner, and the cameras would have had zero complaints about focusing on her for three minutes…except that perhaps, three minutes wasn’t long enough to have her in their sights. If I sound lecherous here, it’s because I have a girl crush on Samra the size of Siberia, with symptoms that include a slack jaw and plans to write a dissertation on how someone can look that incredible in a skintight metallic onesie.

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Winner Amir Honourable Mention/s Sergey Lazarev

Well, you guys are off to a good start with your picks. I couldn’t have voted better myself! He may not have won Eurovision (although 6th is a win by recent French standards) but Amir absolutely won our hearts – cheesy, but true – with his general adorableness and charm, on and off stage. If there’s one act from ESC history that would be ideal to take home to meet the parents, it’s this guy. My parents are available, Mr. Haddad, if you’re interested…

 

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Winner Poli Genova Honourable Mention/s Zoë, Laura Tesoro, Sanja Vučić

Not unpredictably, Poli out-polled a force-field of girl power to take home the Miss Congeniality trophy. Anyone who wouldn’t jump at the chance to hang out with her, and help her search for any dress of hers that might be missing at the time (Junior Eurovision in-joke alert) is not a person I’d like to associate with. That may sound harsh, but COME ON!!! Poli’s personality and pizzazz is so strong, I’m pretty sure it was responsible for powering her light-up ILWAC costume. Isn’t that what everyone looks for in an amigo?

 

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Winner Laura Tesoro Honourable Mention/s Poli Genova

This award goes to the artist whose onstage charisma and energy eclipsed that of their competition, and who should never give up their career in showbiz because that would be an absolute waste. Belgium’s Laura may still be a teenager, but she performs like a pro from way back. She lit up the Globen stage every time she stepped on it (seriously, I don’t even think the tech guys had anything plugged in during her performances, á la Poli), and was so effervescent I would have blamed it on an illicit substance if she wasn’t so darn innocent. This girl was THE one to watch this year, and she’ll be one to watch for a long time to come.

 

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Winner Ira Losco Honourable Mention/s Dami Im

A Eurovision runner-up returning to the contest will always be a talking point – especially when that runner-up remains the rightful winner in the minds of many fans. But add in the rehearsal week revelation that Ira Losco had a kanelbulle in her oven – and a costume change that, among other things, elegantly emphasised that – and you have a walking water-cooler moment on your hands (and a Walk On Water moment). This was a case of Conchita-itis, in which a country’s artist is a more prominent part of their package than their song.

 

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Winner Laura Tesoro/Zoë Honourable Mention/s Frans

It’s a tie! A tie I could have broken if I’d been bothered. But I think both Laura and Zoë – practically senior citizens compared to runner-up Frans – deserve this award for dealing with the media, performance and competition aspects of the contest like pros. Zoë, in particular, should receive a high five for managing to sing in tune at all times when she probably couldn’t even hear herself over the screaming that followed her wherever she went.

 

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Winner Belgium Honourable Mention/s Bulgaria

Belgium snapped up this award last year too – and yet, white outfits aside, Loïc’s backing brigade couldn’t have been more different from Laura’s. The latter helped elevate the energy of What’s The Pressure in a live context, meaning that what would still have been a brilliant show if Laura had been by herself on stage became THA BOMB, DOT COM. Interacting with her and with the audience, they sang and danced their way straight into the #squadgoals hall of fame.

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 THE SONGS AND THE SINGING

 

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Winner If I Were Sorry Honourable Mention/s Alter Ego

Songs that sound the same as other songs have not (necessarily) been plagiarized. I’m a firm believer in a grey area existing where musical resemblances are concerned. As such, I’m not saying that Sweden’s 2016 ESC entry was partly stolen from some other random song I never knew existed until someone decided IIWS was a rip-off of it. But there is some aural twinning going on here, and I don’t think that can be denied. Here’s proof.

 

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Winner Hear Them Calling Honourable Mention/s Loin D’ici, Say Yay!

Everyone’s definition of a ‘fanwank’ is probably different – which explains why my decision not to include Italy as a nominee here was met with a little criticism. I do agree with this winner though, on the basis of a fanwank being a song that is drooled over and put up on a pedestal by the Eurovision community, only to crash and burn once it emerges from the pre-show bubble and enters the competition. Austria may have had a happy ending, but Iceland? Not so much.

 

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Winner Sound of Silence Honourable Mention/s Ghost, Play

2016 was a strong year for lyrics that weren’t…well, crap. For lyrics that could actually be enjoyed by a former English major who adores symbolism and detests clichés. The best set of words put to song in my opinion was Australia’s. And no, I’m not letting nationality overtake objectivity right now. There was something simple yet so inventive about the Sound of Silence lyrics, particularly in the verses. My favourite line of the lot would have to be ‘Tidal waves of tears are crashing, no one here to save me drowning.’ The imagery! The metaphors! The non-cheesy rhyme! SO MUCH YES. And, okay…maybe a little bit of bias.

 

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Winner I Didn’t Know Honourable Mention/s Soldiers of Love

Now we travel from the good to the gouda – by which I mean check out the cheese! Not to mention the inconsistencies in tense and a distinct lack of sanity. San Marino/Turkey, what were you thinking allowing lines like ‘I got to be inside your mind and hide into your arms’ (ouch) to represent you on a global platform, in 2016?

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Winner If Love Was A Crime Honourable Mention/s What’s The Pressure

Poli’s performance of ILWAC at the Euroclub on Opening Party night (though technically, it was the morning after Opening Party night) was one of my ESC trip highlights, so I’m thrilled to be able to metaphorically present her with this award on behalf of all of y’all. I can confirm that the dancefloor couldn’t have been fuller during her three minutes that evening/morning – though I probably don’t have to, because even if you were in Antarctica at the time, you’d have heard the chants of ‘Oh, day mi lyubovta!’. Epic times. Prepare yourself, future fiancé, because the DJ will be playing this on repeat at our wedding.

 

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Winner Loin D’ici Honourable Mention/s Color of Your Life

In terms of the songs that grew on me ‘more and more each day’ as Serhat would croak from the window of his favourite hangout Sleaze Palace: The Disco, Austria made the most impressive transition. The throwback to a time long gone by that is Loin D’ici irritated the strudel out of me initially, especially when I compared it to the contemporary offerings from Armenia, Latvia and Ukraine. But I was won over by a) its charm as an homage to twee French pop, b) Zoë’s general loveliness, and c) the reaction both she and the song received in the Euroclub and in Globen (it was too cute to resist).

 

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Winner Made of Stars Honourable Mention/s What’s The Pressure

As much as Eurovision these days is about presenting audiences with a live music video rather than a live, concert-style performance (if you want to succeed, that is), there are some songs that feed off a flesh-and-blood crowd and come to life as a result. Made of Stars is one of them. There is a passion in the delivery of the song via Hovi that is lacking when you listen to the studio version, or when you watch the official, drone-dominated video. Those are my thoughts, anyhow. Perhaps it’s the theatricality of song and artist that needs to be seen and heard outside of a box to be appreciated.

 

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Winner Ghost Honourable Mention/s The Last of Our Kind

 And then, there’s the other end of the Swarovski-encrusted microphone stand. I personally believe that Germany’s Ghost was one of the best songs in the competition this year, but the mismatched live performance destroyed and detracted from it. Listening to it in studio, without the distraction of Jamie-Lee’s Halloween costume test-run (I think she was supposed to be a cocktail umbrella) is a totally different experience – for the better.

 

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Winner No Degree of Separation Honourable Mention/s You Are The Only One

What is the significance of Francesca’s music video happenings? Who knows. Does anyone care? Nope. It’s beautifully shot and interesting to watch, and there was actual effort put into the making of it. Much better than a budget video or *gasp* no video bar a national final performance. Not that I’m demanding or anything…

 

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Winner Bulgaria Honourable Mention/s Australia, Norway

If I had a gripe about anything to do with Eurovision 2016, it’s the postcards – not because they sucked (they didn’t), but because they just weren’t very memorable. They were beautifully shot, but none of the artists were handcrafting their country’s flag out of foodstuffs, or participating in risky extra-curricular activities in the host city. I’m bestowing the trophy for best of the bunch to Bulgaria though, because watching Poli Genova go about her daily business (albeit a glossy version that includes getting ink done) could never fail to be fascinating.

 

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Winner Michał Szpak Honourable Mention/s Hovi Star, Sergey Lazarev

What do you get when you cross Captain Hook with someone who can carry a song single-handedly without the support of any detectable backing vocalists? Michał Szpak, that’s who. Hovi Star had the emotion and Sergey Lazarev had the singing/dancing combo down pat, but Michał powered through each of his performances of Color of Your Life with ease – and, as I said, without any contribution (as far as I could hear and see) from another singer who’d been stuffed in the wings. The Jedward syndrome-suffering Azerbaijani delegation must have been very jealous indeed.

 

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Winner Dami Im Honourable Mention/s Jamala

There were two ladies who stood head and shoulders above the rest when it came to singing the pants off their respective songs (though not the pants off themselves. That would have been unfortunate for Jamala). Honestly, my vote would have headed in a Ukrainian direction, but Australia topping this poll is obviously reason for a happy dance from me. You can’t argue that Dami is an incredible vocalist, and she managed to give her all for the entire Eurovision fortnight without dropping a single note. You keep doing you, Dami, ‘cause it’s awesome to witness.

 

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Winner Nika Kocharov & Young Georgian Lolitaz

Honourable Mention/s Joe & Jake, Minus One

This one’s a bit of a surprise to me, even though there were no Il Volos to speak of in 2016 and so the bar was set a little lower. Don’t get me wrong – I’m totally pro-Georgia, and Nika and his Lolitaz sounded more or less studio-perfect during their performances. I’m just shocked that the majority of you guys thought so too.

 

 

And now, some good news for those of you with numb bums: this evening’s (if it isn’t night time where you are, just pretend) ceremony has reached its conclusion! The EBJEEs will continue in a few days as I present my personal – as well as the remaining People’s Choice – awards in the categories of The Performances, The Costumes and The Results. So don’t return those fancy outfits you undoubtedly hired for the occasion just yet. There’s still a whole lot of Eurovision 2016 left to talk about!

 

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An Alternate Stockholm Scoreboard: The EBJ Jury’s Top 43 for 2016 (and how it stacks up to the actual results!)

If you’re reading this, bonjour! If not, then there’s no bon or jour for you whatsoever.

Question: do you remember when I posted the final round of EBJ Jury reviews, approximately seventeen years after they were relevant, some amount of time ago?

Me neither. Regardless, I’m going to go ahead and wrap them up once and for all today. Yes, that’s right: at long, long, long last, I’m ready to unveil my jury’s full ranking, from numero uno all the way down to the unfortunate four-three (because, in case you weren’t aware, Romania remains a player in our game. I’m not saying Ovidiu is ranked 43rd, but without him, I’d obviously be posting a top 42. Förstår du?).

This ranking will be accompanied by the highest and lowest scores each country received from the EBJJ, plus a comment from ye olde reviews that justifies their position in the list. Also, since we have actual, official results now (and have had for like, a MONTH) I’m also going to finish off with a quick analysis of the jury’s ranking VS the one compiled by the televoters and jurors of Europe/Australia back in May.

PS – For the last time, I’d like to remind you that all the info on the 2016 EBJ Jury members is available here. Go bask in their awesomeness whether you need to or not!

Let’s get this party started.

 

 

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#1. France (10)

Highest score: 12 (Jaz, Wolfgang)

Lowest score: 8 (James, Nick)

‘I truly believe that if this doesn’t hit the heights of the top 10 in Stockholm, there will officially be something very wrong with the world…or some possible irregularities in the jury/televoting figures.’ (Jaz)

 

#2. Ukraine (9.78)

Highest score: 12 (James, Jaz, Rory, Wolfgang)

Lowest score: 6 (Nick)

‘Never has there been a more soulful song about the swallowing of souls! I can report that, on more than one occasion, in the course of listening to 1944, I have detected on my upper cheeks the inexplicable presence of salt water.’ (Ali)

 

#3. Italy (9)

Highest score: 12 (Ali, James, Jaz)

Lowest score: 5 (Martin, Nick)

This is gorgeous, and makes me want to get married again just so I can use it as my wedding song.’ (Mrs. Jaz)

 

#4. Bulgaria (8.67)*

Highest score: 12 (James, Rory)

Lowest score: 5 (Martin)

‘If Love Was a Crime definitely sounds like it comes from the Balkans, but it’s got a smartly-applied layer of Swedish gloss that doesn’t distract from the intended sound (hear that, Cyprus?).’ (Nick)

 

#5. Croatia (8.67)*

Highest score: 12 (Ali, Penny, Rory)

Lowest score: 4 (Fraser, Nick)

‘It’s a strong Balkan song that, for once, didn’t come from the nostril of Željko Joksimović!’ (Rory)

 

#6. Iceland (8.6)

Highest score: 12 (James, Martin)

Lowest score: 5 (Mrs. Jaz)

‘What I like about the song is the country style, and that it’s really dynamic and up-tempo. But what makes the difference on the Eurovision stage is its amazing performance.’ (Wolfgang)

 

#7. Germany (7.78)

Highest score: 12 (Nick)

Lowest score: 4 (Rory)

‘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!’ (Martin)

 

#8. Russia (7.44)

Highest score: 12 (Fraser)

Lowest score: 4 (Rory)

‘This is precisely thought-out, clinical and slickly-produced schlager dance, and it is dangerous.’ (Jaz)

 

#9. Latvia (7.4)

Highest score: 12 (Jaz)

Lowest score: 3 (Rory)

‘I must admit that I like this year’s Latvian song and artist much more than last year’s. Justs really is a great vocal performer, and his song is by far catchier than last year’s injected love.’ (Wolfgang)

 

#10. Sweden (7.3)

Highest score: 12 (Fraser)

Lowest score: 1 (Rory)

‘If I Were Sorry is in the mould of Sweden’s recent host entries, in that it’s more organic, less precise, and simplified in comparison to the stuff they send when they’re competing on foreign ground.’ (Jaz)

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Frans, upon hearing he ranked so highly with the EBJ Jury, smiles for the first time since 2003.

 

 

#11. Malta (7.22)

Highest score: 10 (Fraser, James, Martin, Wolfgang)

Lowest score: 3 (Nick, Rory)

‘It was definitely the right decision to change songs for Malta! Walk On Water makes full use of Ira’s amazing vocal ability and range, combining it with a much more contemporary sound that is radio-friendly enough to stay in voter’s memories far past Eurovision.’ (Martin)

 

#12. Austria (7.11)

Highest score: 12 (Ali, Wolfgang)

Lowest score: 4 (Nick)

‘Those who glibly dismiss this song as ‘cotton candy’, ‘girly’, and calculatedly faux-nostalgic have failed to see the wood for the trees.’ (Ali)

 

#13. Belgium (7.1)

Highest score: 12 (Ali, Rory)

Lowest score: 2 (Nick, Wolfgang)

This is right up my street – a song that has me yelling ‘Somebody get me some roller skates and take me back to the disco era, ASAP!’. (Mrs. Jaz)

 

#14. Estonia (7)*

Highest score: 12 (Ali)

Lowest score: 4 (Nick)

‘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.’ (James)

 

#15. Azerbaijan (7)*

Highest score: 12 (Wolfgang)

Lowest score: 4 (Rory)

‘Sometimes there are songs that need some time until I like them much, but then there are songs that I love from the very first moment. Samra’s entry belongs in the latter category.’ (Wolfgang)

 

#16. Czech Republic (6.89)

Highest score: 12 (James, Rory)

Lowest score: 2 (Ali)

‘Gabriela is more used to singing rock and gothic songs, but this is a really pleasant departure from her comfort zone. The lush beats and strings really bring out the best in her vocals.’ (Rory)

 

#17. Switzerland (6.8)

Highest score: 12 (Wolfgang)

Lowest score: 1 (Rory)

‘I’m a ballad fan if said ballad fits my definition of ‘decent’, and Last of Our Kind definitely does.’ (Mrs. Jaz)

 

#18. Spain (6.78)

Highest score: 12 (Fraser)

Lowest score: 1 (Ali)

‘Overall, I find this a little wallpaper-like. It’s there and it’s nice, but I’m not going to be paying that much attention to it when there’s opulent statement furniture elsewhere in the room.’ (Jaz)

 

#19. United Kingdom (6.7)

Highest score: 10 (Rory)

Lowest score: 3 (James)

‘It’s pleasant to listen to, but reeks of the kind of song that backs a movie trailer or montage of some kind. If the Rio Olympic organisers are after a song that can soundtrack ‘The Top 10 Team Efforts of the XX-whatever Olympiad’, then they should look no further than Joe & Jake’s.’ (Jaz)

 

#20. Serbia (6.55)*

Highest score: 12 (Martin, Penny)

Lowest score: 3 (Ali)

‘The song is pleasant enough to listen to, but when it comes to the subject matter – domestic violence – I just feel like it’s ripping off András Kallay-Saunders, but with a more mature vibe to it.’ (Rory)

CiSPFSgWkAEz94D

I’m hoping Sanja doesn’t murder me in my sleep for having something to do with her mediocre ranking…

 

#21. Lithuania (6.55)*

Highest score: 10 (Fraser, Wolfgang)

Lowest score: 3 (Ali, Rory)

‘Yes, this has ‘Melfest Reject’ written all over it, but you know what? I don’t mind at all.’ (James)

 

#22. Israel (6.5)

Highest score: 10 (Jaz)

Lowest score: 2 (James)

‘The build of the song resembles somehow the ‘drama queen’ ballad by Conchita from 2014, only this one goes nowhere and suddenly ends when you expect more to come.’ (Wolfgang)

 

#23. Australia (6.44)*

Highest score: 10 (Fraser)

Lowest score: 2 (Nick)

‘Dami is definitely destined to get at least a respectable placing in Stockholm, but there’s something missing that means she will not win Eurovision.’ (Martin)

 

#24. Armenia (6.44)*

Highest score: 12 (Penny, Rory)

Lowest score: 2 (Nick)

‘LoveWave has a lot of interesting parts – mainly the music and the structure – but it never coalesces like it should.’ (Nick)

 

#25. Hungary (6.33)

Highest score: 12 (Wolfgang)

Lowest score: 1 (Nick)

‘I couldn’t remember what this song sounded like until listening to over forty ranking videos. And although I can now remember what (part of) it sounds like, I don’t understand how it’s in almost everyone’s top 10.’ (Penny)

 

#26. Poland (6.22)

Highest score: 10 (Wolfgang)

Lowest score: 2 (Nick)

‘It is a beautiful and timeless classic entry that easily could have been in any other ESC in the past. Every time I listen to Color of Your Life it grows on me and gives me goosebumps.’ (Wolfgang)

 

#27. Finland (5.89)

Highest score: 10 (Ali)

Lowest score: 3 (Nick, Wolfgang)

‘Sandhja’s song did all it could do at Eurovision – it served as an excellent-but-disposable show opener, so easily sacrificed that it might be better for us to think of it as part of the first semi’s opening act than as an actual competition song.’ (Jaz)

 

#28. Slovenia (5.78)

Highest score: 10 (Ali, Fraser)

Lowest score: 2 (Jaz, Wolfgang)

‘A lyric like “blue is blue, and red is red” definitely isn’t winning any songwriting awards, but it fits the air of naïveté that the song so beautifully creates.’ (Nick)

 

#29. Cyprus (5.7)

Highest score: 7 (Ali, James, Martin, Penny, Rory)

Lowest score: 2 (Fraser)

‘I think I’d need further listens to appreciate this, but as I got bored halfway through this one (I zoned out and did some online shopping during the last 90 seconds) I’m not too keen to hear it again.’ (Mrs. Jaz)

 

#30. Greece (5.67)

Highest score: 10 (Rory)

Lowest score: 3 (Fraser, James)

‘Overall, it’s a non-dynamic, non-event kind of entry, with lame English lyrics and far too much repetition.’ (Jaz)

2016-05-10T194535Z_1148624669_D1AETDHJJJAA_RTRMADP_3_MUSIC-EUROVISION

Greece: all white, but nothing special.

 

#31. The Netherlands (5.55)

Highest score: 10 (Penny)

Lowest score: 3 (James, Rory, Wolfgang)

‘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 actually “can’t go on”.’ (James)

 

#32. FYR Macedonia (5.44)*

Highest score: 12 (James)

Lowest score: 1 (Nick)

‘I didn’t have high expectations of Kaliopi’s second official ESC entry given that I didn’t love her first…and as expected, I like this even less.’ (Jaz)

 

#33. Bosnia & Herzegovina (5.44)*

Highest score: 8 (Wolfgang)

Lowest score: 4 (Ali, Fraser, James)

‘I think I might be getting tired of the Balkan ballad formula, because I can’t find that ‘magical’ aspect in the verses, despite them being performed well. Also, I’m still trying to get over the fact that Deen’s face has morphed into an Easter Island moai head…’ (Penny)

 

#34. Albania (5.33)

Highest score: 8 (Rory)

Lowest score: 2 (Nick)

‘What was a powerful and passionate emotional rollercoaster, with lots of interesting nuances in Tirana, has now become a repetitive low-key ballad that no longer holds my attention.’ (Martin)

 

#35. Georgia (5.3)

Highest score: 10 (Ali)

Lowest score: 1 (Fraser, Wolfgang)

‘Immediately this sounds like some average 90s Brit-pop band is making a comeback. There is nothing that sounds remotely Eurovision about it.’ (Fraser)

 

#36. Ireland (5.22)*

Highest score: 10 (Martin)

Lowest score: 1 (Nick)

‘Everything about this screams desperate, from the wannabe 2013 Avicii composition to the recycling of 90s “heart-throb” Nicky Byrne to screech-er, I mean, sing it.’ (Nick)

 

#37. Denmark (5.22)*

Highest score: 8 (Fraser, Jaz, Penny)

Lowest score: 2 (Ali)

‘I want this to melt my marshmallows, but all it does is brown them ever-so-slightly. Basically, it’s perfectly fine, and therefore very vanilla.’ (Jaz)

 

#38. Moldova (5.11)

Highest score: 8 (James, Wolfgang)

Lowest score: 2 (Fraser)

‘Falling Stars is the sort of song that a DJ might put on as filler before a killer tune is played.’ (Martin)

 

#39. Norway (4.89)

Highest score: 10 (Jaz)

Lowest score: 1 (Nick)

‘I can see how many people could enjoy the metaphor that Agnete’s going to be the ship to free us all from the ice we’ve been stuck in…but the song just leaves me feeling empty.’ (Rory)

 

#40. Belarus (4.8)

Highest score: 7 (Jaz, Mrs. Jaz, Penny)

Lowest score: 1 (Nick, Wolfgang)

‘This song is easy to sing along to, and not bad as a bit of background music. I’m struggling to see how it has anything to do with wolves…but hey, this is Eurovision, so who cares!’ (Fraser)

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Not even the wolves knew what Ivan’s wolf obsession was all about.

 

#41. Montenegro (3.78)

Highest score: 8 (Ali, Jaz)

Lowest score: 0 (Wolfgang)

‘Deep voices aren’t usually my thing to begin with, and especially not when I’m being crooned at with such lyrics as ‘I’m gonna run, gonna feel good.’ Assuage me of fears that does not, and it really harms what could’ve been a strong entry.’ (Nick)

 

#42. Romania (3.22)

Highest score: 7 (Martin, Penny)

Lowest score: 0 (James, Wolfgang)

‘To get straight to the point with Romania in one word: HORRIBLE! Just horrible!’ (Wolfgang)

 

#43. San Marino (2.44)

Highest score: 8 (Ali)

Lowest score: 0 (James, Wolfgang)

‘I had hoped for a trumpet-backed, updated version of Mambo No. 5 from Serhat, 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.’ (Jaz)

 

*Tie broken via Twitter poll.

 

Sadly, as we know, France couldn’t translate their OGAE poll win into a Eurovision win (although given that Amir’s sixth is their best result since 2002, we can probably loosen the definition of ‘win’ a little). However, they steamrolled ahead of actual champ Ukraine to claim another prestigious prize here. In fact, who needs OGAE poll results when you’ve got the hugely-delayed results of some random blog’s jury voting in your favour? Not France, that’s (not at all) for sure.

That was my long-winded and delusional way of congratulating Amir for taking out the top spot in the EBJJ vote for 2016. As aforementioned, Jamala was hot on his heels, and creeping up on her in turn were Francesca from Italy and Poli from Bulgaria. Rounding out our top 5 (though this one had nothing to do with me) was Croatia’s Nina, who didn’t need to win here as she recently won the most coveted prize of them all: the Barbara Dex Award. Reaching the latter heights of the top ten = Iceland, Germany, Russia, Latvia and Sweden. High fives and metaphorical gift baskets go out to those guys too!

I would like to point out that my kick-ass jury, while not psychic, managed to predict Bulgaria’s future by ranking Poli 4th. We also got pretty darn close with our positioning of Austria in 12th (Zoë came 13th). Overall, as you’ll see in a second when I compare our ranking to the official outcome/s, we did very well when it came to predicting who’d end up in the final, even if we weren’t too top-notch on the specifics. A correct guess wasn’t what we were aiming for anyway – our reviews and scores were based on personal opinions, not which entries we thought would triumph or crash and burn.

 

EBJ versus ESC: Let’s compare the pair!

23 of the countries in our top 26 appeared in the actual final. Six were already there (the automatic finalists and hosts Sweden, of course), but the remaining seventeen were correctly, collectively predicted by the EBJ jury. If I could pat my entire team of Eurovision experts on the back right now, I would.

Estonia, who were awarded the dishonour of placing 42nd out of 42, were ranked 14th with us – and I personally think they deserved to be closer to 14th than 42nd. But I’m totally over it. Whatever.

#JUSTICEFORJÜRI.

Our highest-ranked non-qualifier was Iceland in 6th place. As we all know now, Greta Salóme missed out on a Saturday night spot by a mile rather than a millimeter – she placed 14th in her semi.

13 of the countries we considered non-final material turned out to be exactly that. We did underestimate the Cypriot, Dutch and Georgian abilities to advance, but 13 out of 16 is pretty impressive regardless. A lot more impressive than the 6 out of 10 that I personally rightly predicted before semi final 1. But the less people who know about that, the better. Don’t expect me to confess that online any time soon.

Oops…too late.

The EBJ Jury’s lowest-ranked qualifier of the abovementioned three was Georgia, in 35th place. I’m going to take most of the credit for seeing something in Nika and his not-actually-that-young Lolitaz that few others did.

Georgia_eurovision-large_trans++qVzuuqpFlyLIwiB6NTmJwfSVWeZ_vEN7c6bHu2jJnT8

Seeing something, and seeing double…

Looking down the list, you can see that the EBJ Jury greatly underrated the likes of Australia, Armenia and Poland. Conversely, we overrated Italy, the Czech Republic and Switzerland. We also placed Germany in our top 10, and therein lies the difference between voting mainly on the merit of a song, and voting based on a manga-marinated visual version of that song.

 

And now, because this post has gone on way too long in traditional Jaz style, I’m going to stop observing and start winding things up. If you have any further observations re: the EBJJ or actual top 43/42, though, you know my comments section is always open for business!

In a few days’ time (I swear to Mr. God) I’ll be asking you for even more opinions – only all you’ll need to do then is click a bunch of times. Translated, that means the EBJ Awards for Eurovision Excellence – 2016 edition – are imminent, and that the People’s Choice polls are just about ready for public viewing and voting. Say yay yay yay!

What? Barei would. Be like Barei.

 

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REVIEWS | The EBJ Jury Judges Eurovision 2016 (Part 1)

Hello! Or, if you don’t mind me greeting you in the languages of the countries being reviewed today: zdravo, bonjour, xαίρετε, cześć, buna and Привет!

Don’t worry…I won’t do that every time.

Yes, it’s finally ESC 2016 review time here on EBJ (they’ve arrived just as unfashionably late as I do to all professional and social events). If you haven’t met the jury members who will be joining me on the quest to critique and compile a full ranking of all 43 entries, head to the ‘Välkommen Aboard!’ page above, or click here if you’re too lazy to look for it. You may as well get to know the people about to rip your favourite songs to shreds a little better.

Although all of the jurors will be scoring all of the entries this year, only three of us will actually be reviewing each time (if you’re hopping off the train at Complication Station right now, I apologise). And so…

 

TODAY’S EBJ JURORS
Jurors1

In this first installment of reviews, Rory, Wolfgang and I will be taking a look at/listen to Croatia, France, Greece, Poland, Romania and Russia – a.k.a. Nina, Amir, Argo, Michał, Ovidiu and Sergey. There are some hyperbolic highs and some low, low lows among the songs of these countries and artists – but which is which, and according to whom? Well, you’ll have to read on to find out.

Let’s get started!

 

 Croatia

Rory Croatia, you’ve sent some beautiful acts to Eurovision – Doris Dragović and Daniela to name but a couple – but in recent years, you’ve given us some of the most…”interesting” songs around, with a rapping granddad, ‘SALIBRAYYYYY’, and Nina Badrić dressed in an assortment of bin bags! So where have you been hiding potential like this? I am so smitten with Lighthouse, it’s unbelievable. Nina is a proven live singer, what with her experience on The Voice of Croatia, and although her look doesn’t exactly fit the typical Eurovision style, the song is easily going to make up for that. When I listen to the song, I can immediately think of the staging and how it’s going to look, with the cameras and everything. It’s a strong, Balkan song that for once didn’t come from the nostril of Željko Joksimović! This should easily sail through to the final (get it? I’m keeping up with the nautical theme!) and make it into the top 10 – and maybe it’ll give HRT the incentive to make The Voice into a national selection, so they can keep sending individual and adaptable artists to Eurovision.

Wolfgang I’m very happy that Croatia is back in Eurovision again this year, with an outstanding voice and a wonderful song. Nina’s voice is hauntingly brilliant, and the music reminds me of some of the good Irish entries of the 90s. It sounds original, a little Celtic and folky, and it is quite different to a lot of the other female electronic ballads we have this year. In addition to this, Lighthouse gives me the same vibes that some of Enya’s songs give me every time. Plus, it is a contemporary song in the likes of Faded by Alan Walker, which is a huge hit all over Europe this spring. I’m very excited about the staged “lighthouse” that we will hopefully see during her performance. Croatian ladies are the best at Eurovision…well, mostly (Severina not included). Great choice this year, Croatia, and lots of luck from Germany!

Jaz I’ve been through quite the thought process where this comeback track from Croatia is concerned. The first time I heard it, I detected traces of Emmelie de Forest, and that turned me right off (I’m not Only Teardrops’ biggest fan). On my second listen, I suddenly warmed to the Cranberries-meets-Corrs Celtic pop sound, because it’s a nostalgic throwback to the 90s while still feeling contemporary. The third time around, I realised just how much the chorus of Lighthouse mimics the chorus of Swedish superstar Zara Larsson’s Uncover (which I love) and mused to myself, ‘Is THAT what’s making this “now”?’. I won’t go on to tell you how I felt after every single subsequent play of the song, but I will tell you what I think of it at this point (since that’s the whole purpose of these reviews). As much as I’m irritated by the frail, ethereal sound of Nina’s voice, and as much as I detest songs that use lighthouses as metaphors in their lyrics (all the talk about light guiding people safely home and whatnot makes me want to deliberately steer my metaphorical ship into a cliff face so I don’t have to hear it any more), I do like this. The lyrics aren’t as lame as they could be; the pounding beat is hypnotic; the key change is impressive; and Nina does have the kind of vocal chops that suit a song of this genre. So, while Croatia may not be fielding my favourite song of the year (why they’re so high in the betting odds is a mystery to me) I am quite keen on Lighthouse.

The EBJ Jury says… 

  • Ali 12
  • Fraser 4
  • James 10
  • Jaz 7
  • Martin 7
  • Nick 4
  • Penny 12
  • Rory 12
  • Wolfgang 10

Croatia’s EBJ Jury score is…8.67

 

 France

Rory I’ve enjoyed the majority of French songs from the past few years (the exception being Sognu – what was that utter mess?!?) and this year is no different! Unhappy with their constant string of undeservedly low results, France has finally sent something that can actually be seen as radio-friendly! I enjoy the indie tones of J’ai Cherché, and the bilingual aspect of it means it will be a lot easier for the song to make a connection with a wider audience. However, this could end up being a double-edged sword, as the wrong sort of staging could ruin their chances. It’s been done before (Anggun, I’m looking at you…why GYMNASTS, of all things?). I’m not sure how it’s going to be on stage, as previous performances have been very bare and stripped back, but I’m open to being surprised. As long as Amir gives a strong performance, France will definitely be out of the bottom five!

Wolfgang I am a big fan of la France and their musical genre Variété Francaise-loving artists, like Patrick Fiori, Garou and Mickaël Miro. The French Eurovision artist for 2016, a.k.a. Amir, belongs in this category too, and he has got an excellent song in his luggage for Stockholm. J’ai Cherché is very catchy and contemporary, and it could be THE Eurovision summer hit of this year (at least I would love to hear it more often). As with Croatia, I am really happy that France has come again with a great song after four years of suffering over a ‘lowlight’ vocal performance, a horrible alternative song, a crazy fun entry and a boring lame lady ballad last year. But this year, France is back in the game, and it could become their Eurovision year. No other city in Europe can use such a big event like the ESC than Paris at the moment. Hopefully they go all the way with Amir – that would make me happy. Douze points d’Allemagne!

Jaz If there’s a Team ‘France Has Totally Been Robbed of Higher Rankings in Recent Eurovision Years’, then I’m on it. L’Amour Á La Française, Divine, Allez Ola Olé and Moustache all should have had more success than they did in my opinion (although in some cases, I get why they didn’t). I don’t want that same fate to befall J’ai Cherché, because I truly believe that if it doesn’t hit the heights of the top 10 in Stockholm, there will officially be something very wrong with the world (or some possible irregularities in the jury and/or televoting figures). Amir’s ESC effort is everything I appreciate about French pop wrapped up securely in a three-minute package, without being stereotypical (though that doesn’t give him the space to appear onstage sporting a Breton t-shirt and beret). It’s folk-inspired, but not stale like an old baguette; it’s fun, but takes itself seriously at the same time; it blends French and English seamlessly, making it the poster song for bilingual success at this year’s contest; and it’s irresistibly catchy (karaoke, anyone?). And then there’s Amir’s rugged French handsomeness, which is far removed from my beloved Måns Zelmerlöw’s clean-cut and beautifully buff exterior, but is somehow (almost) equally appealing. Basically, what hasn’t this entry got going for it? C’est magnifique, Mesdames et Messieurs…just don’t eff up the staging, France.

The EBJ Jury says… 

  • Ali 10
  • Fraser 10
  • James 8
  • Jaz 12
  • Martin 10
  • Nick 8
  • Penny 10
  • Rory 10
  • Wolfgang 12

France’s EBJ Jury score is…10

 

Greece

Rory Believe it or not, this is first Greek Eurovision entry since Secret Combination that I’ve actually enjoyed *braces for the onslaught of ‘WHY DIDN’T YOU LIKE OPA?!’ comments*. Of course, I’m definitely partial to a bit of ethnicity, but if there’s a lack of authenticity, then you’re just as well to be Rodolfo Chikilicuatre! Argo has created a song that on first listen is quite…odd, but as it goes on, you start to get drawn into it, and by the end, you do feel yourself swaying with the off-beat rhythms. When I listen to Utopian Land, I get echoes of Björk’s Náttúra, which in itself is four minutes of off-beat rhythms and headbanging. I love the ethnicity of this song, and I think it’s a perfect way of describing Greek traditional-pop music. However, with the negative reception the song has received, I feel like people might not get on board with it, and Argo’s Utopian Land may become a DYStopia! I really hope not though.

Wolfgang Now we come to the “Land of Utopia” a.k.a. this year’s Greek entry. I am really biased about this song. On the one hand, I like the instruments used, and the sound is quite catchy, ethnic and original. But on the other hand, I don’t like the rap/spoken parts in the verses much, and the chorus is too repetitive for my ears. The next thing that strikes me is the terrible English the entry is sung in. Why don’t the artists sing in Greek instead of bad English? I’m absolutely not sure if Greece is able to qualify this year in their semi, since the quality of the songs is generally much higher compared to Vienna. I still like Argo’s artful video clip that reminds me a bit of Run, Boy, Run by Woodkid, which is amazing. And the song’s obviously better than the Dion-esque LLB from last year!

Jaz The last time Greece sent a group to Eurovision, everything about it was epic (and that’s if we’re talking about Koza Mostra, OR if you’d define Freaky Fortune feat. Riskykidd as a group). But the standard of their songs and their success on the scoreboard have both taken a hit lately, and I have to admit, I’m very ‘hmm…’ about Utopian Land. As with a whole bunch of 2016 songs, there are things I like and dislike about this one. I don’t mind the rap, since it tends to sound particularly badass in Greek; the chorus is somewhat catchy; and the ethnicity Argo is bringing to the table is appealing, given how little national identity can be heard among their fellow competitors. But overall, it’s a non-dynamic, non-event kind of entry, with lame English lyrics and far too much repetition. So I’m leaning towards a thumbs-down more than a thumbs-up, and I really think Greece will struggle to qualify with it (i.e. they’ll probably squeeze through in 10th place). You never know – it could be staged in such a way that it stuns us all into silence (and then we’d hear that sound that Dami Im’s on about). But I don’t think Greece can afford the amount of trampolines, confetti cannons and state-of-the-art projections required to make THAT happen.

The EBJ Jury says… 

  • Ali 6
  • Fraser 3
  • James 3
  • Jaz 5
  • Martin 7
  • Nick 8
  • Penny 5
  • Rory 10
  • Wolfgang 4

Greece’s EBJ Jury score is…5.67

 

Poland

Rory SHOCK HORROR! MARGARET’S NOT GOING TO EUROVISION! It came as a shock to most Eurovision fans that Conchita’s Polish second-cousin-twice-removed Michał Szpak managed to triumph over Margaret – and Edyta Górniak – to win Krajowe Eliminacje. I have to say, I was expecting Margaret to win as she CLEARLY had the best song of the nine. But with Michał going instead, I’m not as disappointed as I thought I would be. His live vocals have shown that he can actually sing, and his look will easily make him stand out from the crowd. My one problem is that Color of Your Life is a ballad. A ballad in the first half of a semi that’s filled with other ballads. If it was more like Cool Me Down, it would help him be more individual and outstanding. I feel like this will bomb on the night, because it’ll get lost. If it does end up qualifying, we’ll probably see it in the same realms as Monika the year before. Poland, you should have sent Margaret.

Wolfgang To be honest, I wanted Poland’s greatest living singer – Edyta Górniak – for Eurovision 2016, and Margaret was my number two from the Polish national final. And it looked like there was a fight between those two female artists. But in the end, Michał Szpak won the ticket to Stockholm, to my surprise I must admit! But after just a few listens I am now totally won over by this song. It is a beautiful and timeless classic entry that easily could have been in any other ESC in the past. Every time I listen to Color of Your Life it grows on me and gives me goosebumps. The only thing I would change is Michał’s jacket – he looks like a circus ringmaster in it. He needs something cooler for his stage performance, but everything else is awesome, including his HAIR! I love it! I hope Poland will qualify. BTW, the “color(s) of my life” are midnight blue and orange. Man, I feel so Dutch this year.

Jaz Honestly, I’m more upset that Poland didn’t bring us My Słowianie the sequel for 2016 than upset that Margaret didn’t win their national final. Michał and his majestic mane can’t be compared to Cleo and Donatan (well, mainly just Cleo), but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Instead of butter-churning and heaving bosoms, he’s wearing his heart on his sleeve by offering us the sentimental (but not sickly-sweet), sing-along friendly semi-power ballad that is Color of Your Life. I’d say the same thing about this song’s lyrics as I did about Greece’s – they’re cringingly cliché at times (‘…ask your heart who you really are’…seriously? No originality points for you, Mr. Szpak). But that’s where I stop complaining on this one. I actually like it a lot, when I’m listening to it (when I’m not, I forget how much I enjoy it). There’s something about the chorus that speaks to me, saying ‘DAYUM, girl, that melody is super-smooth!’. And I take those words on board. I am concerned that Michał only gives us two choices when it comes to informing him what color/colour our lives are (neither of which are technically colours anyway), but I guess going through every hue in the Pantone range would have taken far longer than three minutes. So, will he bomb or be THE bomb in Stockholm? Fail or succeed, black or white? Given that I assumed Poland wouldn’t qualify last year, I’ll wait for the ESC version of his live performance prior to predicting that. But I’d happily see the country make their third consecutive final with this.

The EBJ Jury says… 

  • Ali 8
  • Fraser 7
  • James 3
  • Jaz 7
  • Martin 8
  • Nick 2
  • Penny 6
  • Rory 5
  • Wolfgang 10

Poland’s EBJ Jury score is…6.22

 

Romania

Rory And so, from the songs I love/don’t mind to one I loathe. I didn’t really pay attention to the Romanian national selection, but what I gathered from it was two things: that Mihai will never do Eurovision again, and that Ovidiu Anton won…and I have to say, why this? It’s rock for starters, which is something I don’t listen to in the first place. Secondly, in the chorus, when he shouts ‘take a moment of SIIIILEEENCE’, he goes so off-key that dogs could probably hear his screams! I’m sorry Romania, but in the last few years you’ve given me no joy whatsoever in the songs you’ve picked. It’s just…..bleugh, for me. I’m sure it’ll qualify, just because it’s Romania and they have that 100% qualification record, but it’s gonna be like Miracle and finish nowhere near where people expect it to. Sorry! Maybe you should have a Moment of Silence for the places that Romania will never reach with this.

Wolfgang To get straight to the point with Romania in one word: HORRIBLE! Just horrible! I hate everything about the song and its stage performance. And I’m still not over Florena or Mihai not winning the Romanian national final. There was such a great line-up in Selecția Națională. I liked 6 of the 12 entries from their semi final much, and two others were quite good. But Romania took the decision out of the remaining entries I did not like. To me, that was the ‘supergau’ of this year’s national final season, even worse than Denmark. The song sounds completely dated to me like something that Belarus, Georgia or Russia would have sent in the early 2000s. And that theatrical performance à la ‘Lord of the Rings’ joined by a “Lord of the Dance” is so awful, I did not enjoy watching it. And why did they call it Moment of Silence? It’s so loud, there won’t be a single moment of silence for the whole three minutes (unless you push the mute button). To me, it looks and sounds like a formulaic Meat Loaf tribute. Normally I like Romanian entries at Eurovision much, but this year they belong to my bottom five songs, and I instantly hope they won’t qualify with this terrible song. For me, it’s one of the clear non-qualifiers of 2016 and a BIG ZERO from me. That’s absolutely not what I want to see on Eurovision stage.

Jaz The minute I discovered Moment of Silence was representing Romania, I asked myself ‘Would I like this if it was the closing song of the first act of a Phantom of the Opera-type musical with a residency on the West End?’. The answer is no, but at least it would belong in that environment. As a Eurovision entry, I like it even less. Pompous, melodramatic and dated dirge performed by a gaggle of Game of Thrones extras is not the kind of thing I wave a flag for. I adored De La Capăt, so this is a real step south for Romania as far as I’m concerned. I’d even rather have Paula and Ovi (plus cameo from computer-generated Paula) back for a third try than sit through Ovidiu’s “moment of silence” (as Wolfgang pointed out, that’s hardly am accurate description of the song). In spite of all of the above, I’m a generous judge and I wouldn’t give Romania nothing, points-wise. But if we were handing out fruit baskets or gift vouchers, it’d be a different story.

The EBJ Jury says… 

  • Ali 5
  • Fraser 2
  • James 0
  • Jaz 2
  • Martin 7
  • Nick 3
  • Penny 7
  • Rory 3
  • Wolfgang 0

Romania’s EBJ Jury score is…3.22

 

Russia

Rory *BRACE YOURSELVES FOR A RANT!!* And so we come to the worst one of the lot for me (though not in the whole group of songs – that’s reserved for Rykka and Serhat!). I feel incredibly let down by Sergey Lazarev’s Eurovision effort. In the teaser he published a couple of days before the public release of You Are The Only One, I was impressed by the video production, the high-tech studio, and most of all, the intro to the song, which hinted at it being an alternative, emphatic, atmospheric song (which is right up my alley). Then the song was released…and it was schlager. SCHLAGER. WHY SCHLAGER!?!?! I was left cringing for three minutes, and at the end, I was like ‘Ehh…just eh…I don’t…WHAT!?”. I loathe this sort of 90s Eurodance beat; it’s so outdated, and though people can hate me for all eternity, I’m going to agree with Christer Björkman and say that schlager should be left in the 90s/00s where it belongs. Music has changed, Russia. So should you. And yes, Sergey is very good-looking, but that doesn’t make up for the song, OKAY?! *sigh…rant over*.

Wolfgang I can’t say that I’m disappointed with the Russian entry this year, because Russia meets my expectations exactly with Sergey Lazarev, sending one of their biggest national stars again. Of course, it all smells like the (formulaic) ‘Dima Bilan’ winning package from 2008. The ingredients here are almost the same: you take a big national star, some internationally-recognised songwriters and producers, a hit-like song that sounds so Swedish (more than any song from Melodifestivalen this year) and a performance that almost looks like a Måns Production (but isn’t!). And ready is the Eurovision soup! Let’s face it: Russia are trying very hard this year. They want to win again, under all circumstances and no matter what the cost. But do I want them to win? The answer is ‘No’! The good thing about Russia’s entry this year is that they don’t annoy me again with another ‘love, peace and understanding’ message song (lesson learned?) and Sergey’s video clip is really stunning to watch. If he manages to stage only about 30% of what we see in his video with his acting and live singing abilities, then it can easily be the winning performance of the grand final. On the other hand, the song lacks any kind of emotion for me. It’s formulaic, radio-friendly, sterile and very stereotypical, and it does not touch me at all. Obviously it will be a clear qualifier and yet another top five placement, but here I would go for 3rd or 4th place and hopefully not the no. 1! And another last thing that strikes me: the running gag in Germany about the Russian entry is that the performance will be “sehr gay” this year, and I would add “faux gay” to it. Well, that is what Russians are probably known for at the Eurovision, but it always means a lack of authenticity, and that’s not win-worthy in my opinion.

Jaz If you’d asked me to review You Are The Only One right after my first listen, I would have let rip (kind of like Rory did). After all, I had been expecting something that sounded as cutting-edge as Sergey’s video clip looks, rather than a stale throwback to Eurovision circa 2006 (and let me remind you that a man with a mullet, also from Russia, managed to come second that year). Meanwhile, everyone else was drooling over the song and/or Sergey’s various shirtless shots, which made me wonder whether there was something wrong with me, or with them. The solution? Taking another listen to the song – a.k.a. giving it an andra chansen. And, well…I suddenly saw the light. Or at least, why the bookies universally had and still have Russia in their top spot. I’m not denying that YATOO is dated, and that the songwriters could have written it more into 2016 if they wanted to keep up with the Latvias of the contest. But damn, did they know what they were doing anyway. This is precisely thought-out, clinical and slickly-produced schlager dance, and it is dangerous. If Sergey’s vocals are shipshape, and his staging is as eye-catching as that video (and we know that Russia always have their staging under control), he will certainly be the ‘only one’ to beat. There’s a power in the unrelenting energy and instant chorus of the song that makes it memorable, even in studio – and when paired with visuals that give it a perfectly-packaged kind of feel (á la Heroes) it becomes one step of a winning recipe. Oh, and thank the Lordi it’s not another preachy peace ballad!

The EBJ Jury says… 

  • Ali 7
  • Fraser 12
  • James 6
  • Jaz 10
  • Martin 8
  • Nick 6
  • Penny 7
  • Rory 4
  • Wolfgang 7

Russia’s EBJ Jury score is…7.44

 

And just like that – after several hours of feverish reading on your part – we’re done for the day. And, with all of the above said and done, the leaderboard currently looks like this:

  1. France (10)
  2. Croatia (8.67)
  3. Russia (7.44)
  4. Poland (6.22)
  5. Greece (5.67)
  6. Romania (3.22)

That makes France the très convincing champion of this round…but it’s early days. Can Amir hold on to the top spot? Only time, plus 37 more reviews, will tell!

What do you think of the Part 1 reviews and rankings? Who took the words right out of your mouth, and who should wash theirs out with soap for daring to defile an amazing song? Which of today’s six countries deserves douze points in your opinion? Let us know below.

In the next episode of EBJ Jury judgments, a trio of Aussies (#accident) – including none other than my mother – will have their say on Belarus, Cyprus, Georgia, Italy, Sweden and Switzerland. It’s going to be interesting, to say the least! Come together and join us because we are one?

 

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