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

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

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

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

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

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

 

…now!

 

Watch it here 

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

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

Song score 10

Artist score 8

Final score 9

 

 


Watch it here

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

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

Song score 6

Artist score 8

Final score 7

 

 


Watch it here

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

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

Song score 12

Artist score 12

Final score 12

 

 

Watch it here

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

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

Song score 7

Artist score 8

Final score 7.5

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

See you on the other side of JESC!

 

 

 

JAZ JUDGES EUROVISION 2017 | Armenia, Austria, Finland, Moldova, San Marino + Slovenia

Good day sir/madam/whoever is reading this from wherever in the world! I’m flattered you’ve taken the time to drop by EBJ, given all of the rehearsal goodness going down at Kyiv’s International Exhibition Centre that can be enjoyed vicariously through social media (believe me, I’ve been doing my bit in an attempt to quash my ‘Last year I was in the Press Centre at Eurovision and this year I am not’ depression).

It’s hard to comprehend that it’s May already, and that the pre-show prep is in full swing. Rehearsals for the first half of the second semi are taking place as I type this, and I’m eagerly (and sweatily #nerves) awaiting the turn of a few of my favourites. If you are too and you’re after a distraction, then look no further – you’ve found it!

I have three rounds of 2017 reviews left to squeeze in before the ESC hits our TV screens, and today it’s the moment of truth for *drum roll* *realises you’ll already have seen the title of this post* *shrugs*:

  • Armenia’s Artsvik with Fly With Me
  • Austria’s Nathan Trent with Running On Air
  • Finland’s Norma John with Blackbird
  • Moldova’s Sunstroke Project with Hey Mamma
  • San Marino’s Valentina Monetta & Jimmie Wilson with Spirit of the Night
  • Slovenia’s Omar Naber with On My Way

As always, my mum has given her verdict on these six songs too…and boy, was there some serious disagreement this time. We actually haven’t spoken a word to each other since I played them for her.

So much for ‘come together’.

Anyway, keep reading to find out how we rated these entries, and feel free to share your feelings about them in the comments – love, hate or tolerate!

 

 

 

My thoughts If you remember what I said when reviewing Serbia, you can skip the next sentence because it’ll be pretty much the same criticism (not to say I hate either song. I don’t). I’d just like to reiterate my warning to all competing Eurovision countries that if you make us all wait until the very last minute before lifting the cloche off your song for the year, we’ll be expecting something phenomenal. So, even if said song is a solid 8/10, it won’t seem that good because you’ve let our expectations pile up like a Jenga tower taller than Jonatan Cerrada’s stilt dancer. Enter Armenia, who did exactly that by being the final country out of 43 to unveil their contribution to the Kyiv contest. If I’d personally heard Fly With Me in February, I might have thought more of it than I do now and wouldn’t have been at all disappointed by it. Rest assured, if you think this song is the best thing since the introduction of the semi-final system, I’m only a tiny bit disappointed. It’s just not a fantastic ethno-pop banger in my opinion, so much as a weird combination of classic Eurovision ethno-pop circa 2005 and the bass (?) guitar from Eneda Tarifa’s Fairytale. I like how exotic and interesting it is, and the ‘fly with me’ hook towards the end – when Artsvik ramps things up vocally – leaves a pretty powerful impression. This is another song, though, that doesn’t seem to have a solid identity. It’s like a coconut fell on its head while it was on holiday in Hawaii, and now it can’t remember its name, age or occupation. It offers up a bunch of different body parts that are disjointed when put together, just enough to be noticeable but not so much that the disjointedness actually becomes an intriguing gimmick (á la Icebreaker). As a result, I can’t decide exactly how I feel about it. I don’t know about you, but if I’m confused about something I’m not very likely to support it (e.g. by voting). Artsvik’s rehearsals have been very well received, so we can expect Fly With Me to be elevated when performed live – as Armenia’s entries often are – but since the song’s still a question mark for me, I still have to hand out an indecisive, ‘Do I like it or not?’ score of 6 points.

My mum says… I have mixed feelings about this too, but the biggest portion of the mix is dislike. I do get a kick out of the hypnotic beat, and I think the music is varied and very interesting to listen to…but everything else is too disjointed and old-fashioned for me. If it had become more cohesive and modern after the first thirty seconds, I’d score it better, but it carried on how it started (just getting more shouty as it went along). I don’t think I ‘get’ it. 3 points.

Armenia’s score 4.5

 

 

 

My thoughts If this was the Eurovision Adorableness Contest, Austria would be an Italy-level favourite right now. Nathan Trent is the most precious person on the planet – as far as I can tell from his press/profile videos without knowing him personally – and that’s the sort of thing that should shine through when he’s on stage, hopefully singing the shiz out of the equally sweet Running On Air. How could anyone hate this song? It’s a prime piece of feel-good inspo-pop (if that term catches on, I want full credit) that just avoids being cheesy, thanks to Nathan sounding more like a smooth R & B singer than an overly-keen finalist on The X Factor performing their potential winner’s single. The low-key, contemporary-sounding verses really show off his voice, while the catchy – if slightly passé-sounding by comparison – chorus is so easy to sing along to, it’s practically impossible to resist. Although the entry doesn’t have the same energy as Belgium’s did last year, What’s The Pressure is what it reminds me of because it’s three minutes of pure happiness that could turn any frown upside down. We need a few tracks like that to give us a break from the intensity of Poland, Bulgaria, Finland, Hungary, et cetera: all of the countries who’ve taken a more heavy-going approach (in song style, subject matter or both). Running On Air is fun without being too fluffy, full of affirmations but not in an eye-rolling way, and has its own little space in this year’s line-up that lets it stand up and shout from the top of a mountain (somewhere in the Alps, obviously) ‘I’M HERE AND I AM JUST AS LOVABLE AS LOIN D’ICI!’. Seriously, if Nathan doesn’t make it to the final it will be just as heartbreaking as when I watched a shattered Jüri Pootsmann slink out of the green room in Stockholm, followed by a borderline suicidal Stig Rästa. It cannot happen! Except…it could. I don’t have Austria down as a dead cert to qualify, as they’re on stage second after Serbia and before Macedonia (in the middle of girl power on full blast, in other words). But my fingers will be crossed for Nathan, being a guy with a mid-tempo easy listener, to make his presence felt when sandwiched between two more in-your-face female pop numbers. If he can’t, I will make myself available for post-semi comfort hugs if he’s willing to fly to Australia to receive them. 8 points.

My mum says… Austria is a lot easier for me to love than Armenia – musically, that is, as I’m sure both countries are beautiful in their own way. I really liked this song. It sounds very mainstream compared to a lot of the other entries (it could be a Maroon 5 album track) but I’m not such a snob that I’d let that deflate my enjoyment! I see this as simple, straightforward pop that I’m imagining will have bucketloads of mass appeal. 8 points.

Austria’s score 8.00

 

 

My thoughts When you consider that Finland could have sent a song about “loving yourself” (in the privacy of one’s own home, hopefully), a song about kissing someone else’s paradise (also in the privacy of one’s own home, PLEASE GOD) or a song featuring the lyric ‘What would the X-Men do if they came to the rescue?’ (which they very nearly did, as Zühlke’s Perfect Villain finished second), it’s nothing short of merciful that they chose Norma John’s Blackbird instead. Remove all of those questionable UMK entries from the equation, though, and Blackbird remains an absolutely beautiful song, and easily one of the best ballads – if not THE best ballad – competing in Kyiv. It reminds me so much of Norway’s A Monster Like Me from 2015, which will always hold a special place in my heart as a piano ballad so powerful, it had me reaching for something to wipe my wet eyes with every time I heard it. I’m not saying the two songs sound particularly alike, but they have the same pared-back, minimalist lyrical content; the same musical interlude which sort of needs the singer/s to do something during it, but it’s still stunning when they just stand there awkwardly; and yes, that same haunting and emotional quality that makes me want to weep. Whenever Leena (not Norma, as you might expect) launches into the chorus with her crystal-clear-plus-a-hint-of-fragility voice, unleashing that ‘Now you remind me of something I’ll never have’ line upon an unsuspecting world, I turn into a tsunami of tears (and I haven’t even been jilted recently, so I hate to think what state this song would put me in if I was freshly heartbroken). There’s a shiver down my spine and goosebumps all over my body too, and you know what the last song to have that effect on me was? 1944. Before you accuse me of being delirious in thinking that Norma John have mad Francesco Gabbani-defeating skills and will win the contest, that’s so NOT what I’m thinking. I know Finland isn’t going to do what Ukraine did last year, since lightning doesn’t strike twice – not two years in a row at Eurovision, anyway. But Blackbird’s ability to move me makes it special. It deserves to do well in the comp in a way that Sing It Away (an easy song to sacrifice) couldn’t. This song, IMO, is not disposable – it’s integral to have in the final. 10 points.

My mum says… It’s not often that music manages to choke me up, but Blackbird is so beautiful, and so beautifully melancholic, I nearly had to wipe away some tears. It’s so different to all of the other ballads I’ve heard – more subdued and less dramatic, but somehow even more emotional. Leena’s voice is just perfect for expressing all of that emotion, and she has an Adele-like way of making you feel what she’s feeling, even if you’re not experiencing it first-hand. It’s stunning. 10 points.

Finland’s score 10.00

 

 

 

My thoughts EPIC SAX GUY IS BACK!!! The man who inspired the most famous Eurovision meme in the history of memes is returning to the contest with his fellow Sunstroke Project boys, but sans guest vocalist Olia Tira this time. That’s not news to anyone reading this, I’m guessing, but I do know something you don’t know: exactly how I feel about Hey Mamma. But don’t worry, I’m about to tell you. To put it simply, I love it. It’s so different to 2010’s Run Away – i.e. very light-hearted and lots of fun, as opposed to intense and fast-paced – that it’s hard to compare the two, but I personally prefer Hey Mamma. Trying to win over one’s in-laws is a struggle that so many people can associate with, and the fact that Moldova has produced a song that brings some humour and happiness to the situation is worth a round of applause. I’ve also found myself clapping for the insanely catchy verses and chorus, plus the inclusion of not only another top-notch sax riff, but a violin riff too. Oh, AND another copy-worthy dance that accompanies the sax riff (feat. less groin thrusting this time). Clearly, this entry shares some ingredients with Run Away, as do the songs of repeat artists that came before the Sunstroke Project (Paula Seling & Ovi, for example) – I mean, when a formula proves fairly successful, why pinball in a totally different direction on your next try? But this is everything we know and love about the boys in a new and improved package. A controversial opinion? Probably, if you think this song is garbage. But the ESC needs light and shade to make it more exciting, and Moldova – not for the first time – aren’t taking things too seriously, song-wise. Instead, they’ve given us all a Euroclub banger that will also be a banger played at Club Le Jaz’s Loungeroom (and in unrelated news, if you’re currently in Kyiv for Eurovision purposes, I hate you with a passion). Everyone needs some saxual healing from time to time. We’ll have to wait and see if the results reflect that, or if Moldova will fail to get out of their semi for the fourth year running. Even if they don’t qualify, if nobody forgets to remove their accreditation badge for the broadcast it’ll be a step up from 2016. 10 points.

My mum says… Ohhhhh no. Not a fan! This sounds like a song that was written in ten minutes after the composers forgot they had a deadline for it, and it’s really obvious. It comes across so…naff. My favourite part was when it finished, and I’ll be happy to not hear it start ever again – even though the look on Jaz’s face when I told her this was a look that could kill. One person’s trash is another’s treasure, so they say. 2 points.

Moldova’s score 6.00

 

 

 

My thoughts If a genie ever appears in front of me and grants me three wishes, I’m convinced I’ll just wish for the same thing three times to make 110% sure that it happens. That thing would be for some random, Eurovision-appreciating Sammarinese resident to win the lottery, and be able to bankroll San Marino’s contest participations until Ralph Siegel has fallen off the perch and cannot physically (or spiritually, fingers crossed) do it. That has to be the explanation for his constant creation of half-baked, cringe-worthy songs that have been composed by the numbers from an instruction book called ‘How To Write A Song That Sounds Like It Was Recorded In 1978 And Yet Would Still Have Been Regarded As Bollocks Back Then.’ Obviously, Serhat took the reins in Stockholm and, with a group of other misguided music “professionals”, produced something remarkably similar to a Siegel song – but at least it had entertainment value! Spirit of the Night, performed by the artist ESC fans most associate with San Marino and an artist no one has ever associated with San Marino, has none. It’s just a big wheel of cheese feat. approximately sixteen unnecessary key changes and a lyrical “conversation” that makes me want to go one better than Vincent Van Gogh and cut both of my ears off to save me from ever having to hear it again. Valentina Monetta – and no doubt Jimmie Wilson too – is so much better than this, yet NONE of her four (!) entries have shown her musical talents off to their fullest. She’d be far more suited to singing the Czech song, or something like it, in Italian. But the Monetta-Siegel saga continues. My favourite thing about San Marino 2017 is the dynamic between ValMon and Jimmie, who seem to have a great time together and can somehow perform this horror show with genuine enthusiasm (something I’ve managed to pick up on despite the waves of secondhand embarrassment that wash over me every time I see the two in action). I’d be happy for them to qualify, if there was some way they didn’t have to take Spirit of the Night through as well. But with the rules being as they are, I give this duo full permission to stay behind in the semi final. 2 points.

My mum says… Actually, maybe Moldova isn’t so bad after all. Not when compared to this THING, anyway. All right, so the singers are enthusiastic, and do their best to get us all on board with the spirit of the night (speaking of, was this song’s writer drunk on some sort of spirit when he decided it qualified as a semi-decent song suitable for public exposure?). But apart from that, I can’t find any redeeming features here. It’s like the theme from a terrible 1970s movie that no amount of popcorn could make worth watching. Sorry, San Marino, but what an epic fail! 1 point.

San Marino’s score 1.5

 

 

 

My thoughts Omar’s one of two artists making their Eurovision comeback in Kyiv after first participating in the same city in 2005. Like Estonia’s Laura, he’s been chipping away at a second shot at representing his country between then and now, but it wasn’t his time (again) until 2017…though many would say it should have been BQL’s time this year. But that’s another story for the post-contest conversations about which countries effed up royally in retrospect. Omar’s pulled a Sunstroke Project by taking something more uplifting and less intense than his previous entry to this contest – but on this occasion, I don’t think it’s for the better. On My Way is no Stop, which I think we can all agree (and I accept no opposition to this) was ROBBED a place in the ’05 final. However, if we pretend that never existed for the sake of viewing On My Way objectively, it’s not a bad man ballad. Sure, it’s dated – Omar’s openly said that he wrote it a decade ago and has been saving it (perhaps hoping that this sort of song would come back into fashion, which sadly for him it hasn’t). But I feel far more positively about it than most other fans do. I like how symphonic and soaring it is, especially in the chorus: it’s just as big and bombastic as you’d expect. I don’t like how clichéd and overly-simplistic the lyrics are, considering they’re the mind child of someone who’s lived in London for years and speaks fluent English. But the decent melody and Omar’s flawless vocal delivery (the star attraction) distract me from that lyrical dumb-down. I feel like I can compare the whole vibe of this entry to Ott Lepland’s Kuula, though that was far superior in every way. But the grand man ballad style and stage presentation of this song are cut from the same cloth. Unfortunately, Slovenia seems to be lost without Maraaya (hence the BQL mention) and seem destined for another DNQ. At the very least, they’ll scrape into the final and end up with a right-side score after that. 7 points.

My mum says… Okay, Omar – if you want to be on your way, I’m happy to help you along. I’ll even be a temporary bellboy and carry your bags. Anything to get you moving out of hearing range! As powerful as this song might be, I wanted it to stop pretty soon after it had started, because it just goes on and on (and on some more) in an “inspirational” way that would make it fit right in on an episode of Glee featuring a performance at a high school graduation. Eurovision, not so much. Well, not in terms of fitting in enough to win voters over, anyway. 1 point.

Slovenia’s score 4.00

 

 

There go another six songs into the ‘Reviewed Like A Boss’ pile! This is where they ended up:

  1. Finland (10.00)
  2. Austria (8.00)
  3. Moldova (6.00)
  4. Armenia (4.5)
  5. Slovenia (4.00)
  6. San Marino (1.5)

I’d shed a tear over Finland winning this round, but I think I’ve used up enough boxes of tissues over Blackbird (plus I need to save some crying energy for Norma John’s performances next week). Austria follows not too far behind, and Moldova not too far behind them. Armenia and Slovenia – after being dragged down by Mrs. Jaz – finish in the lower-middle range, which I don’t think will happen for either of them in the actual contest (take from that what you will). San Marino, suitably, is as far behind here as Ralph Siegel is behind the times when it comes to writing a good pop song.

Next time, we’re zipping around Europe – and a little further afield – to bring you potentially bitchy opinions on Australia, Belarus, Iceland, Ireland, Montenegro and Spain. What do two different generations of Australians think of Isaiah? And more importantly, how will my MOTHER react to the most pornographic song in Eurovision history (which is obviously Montenegro’s, not Australia’s)? You’ll have to come back to get the answers to those questions. Keep an eye on my Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (or subscribe over there –>) to be the first to know when I’ve posted. Your feeds and inboxes are already being bombarded with Eurovision anyway, so it can’t hurt…

 

 

Happy Almost-ESC Week!

 

 

 

 

Maltese mishaps, mimes and Mariam’s Mzeo: My review + wrap-up of Junior Eurovision 2016!

WARNING: Things are about to get very honest.

Just like that, Junior Eurovision is done and dusted for another year – but none of us who tuned in are likely to forget about it that easily.

Sadly, that’s not because Malta outdid their spectacular show from 2014, but because Sunday’s contest was a bit of a shambles from start to finish (on the part of the adults in charge, not the kids competing). With the most rushed artist parade in history; painfully scripted host dialogue that Ben Camille and Valerie Vella stumbled over like they were running through a booby-trapped trail in the dark; camera operators spending more time in full view than out of it, á la Eurovision 2015; a venue that was far too intimate and therefore lacked atmosphere; AND the cherry on top, when Valerie single-handedly destroyed the tension buildup of the voting by blurting out the remaining amount of points, this was the most amateur JESC of all time. The fact that Malta has handled it with ease before makes it that much worse that things went so downhill this year.

Let’s cross our fingers for Tbilisi to take on the challenge with more finesse (which, TBH, wouldn’t be hard) if we happen to head there in 2017. Because, moving on from my endless list of complaints, my congratulations must go out to this year’s winner Georgia: the Ireland of Junior, only Georgia’s on top of their game now, and they don’t dwell on ancient victories which will soon be outnumbered by Sweden’s.

Hashtag burn.

You’d be forgiven for thinking it was JESC 2013 all over again, as a pint-sized brunette in a poofy white dress belted her way to the win with a powerful ballad. But we subbed in Mariam Mamadashvili for Gaia Cauchi this time, and watched her take the first-place trophy out by creating a truly magical moment on the Mediterranean Conference Centre stage. Hers wasn’t a triumph that everybody saw coming – particularly those of us who refrained from viewing the rehearsals – but, much like Italy’s the last time JESC met Malta, it became inevitable and was very much deserved.

Sixteen other stars shone pretty bright on Sunday, too – but not all of them could end the night on a note as in-tune as every single one that came out of Mariam’s mouth. So let’s hit rewind and review what went down from the start of the performances to THE MOST PRECIOUS REPRISE IN EUROVISION HISTORY (as seen above). I promise I’ll try to stay positive about all of it.

FYI…this is a long one, so you might want to grab a cup of tea and/or call in sick to work for the next three days. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

  

The performances

Ireland Zena’s start to the show was a nice one, but I found everything about it to be a bit messy (and not in a deliberate, that-totally-works kind of way, like her hair). I didn’t like the addition of an English chorus (clichéd lyrics never win me over). As for her dress…well, now we know what would happen if Yohanna’s Eurovision gown got together with a piñata and had a really ugly baby. So much for staying upbeat, Jaz.

Armenia The bad bits were average, but the good bits were great! Tarber is one of my personal favourites of the year, and it was just as entertaining to watch as it is to listen to. Anahit & Mary’s harmonies weren’t exactly on fleek (as Kisses would say) and I wish they’d been styled more in line with the music video (Mary’s hair in particular). If we’re talking fashion, I also think the costume-reveal outfits would have been more effective as dresses made up of both fabrics the girls started out wearing. But that’s just me being picky. Correct, but picky.

Albania Klesta is so sweet, and she can definitely sing (with more power than one would expect from such a small person). But this fell a little flat, and I think it’s because she couldn’t fill the stage with a presence like Mariam did. Besoj is a beautiful song, but it would work better at adult Eurovision, being sung by someone older and more experienced like Elhaida Dani.

Russia I was having heart palpitations in the lead-up to Sofia’s performance – Water of Life floats my boat like nobody’s business. Overall, it wasn’t as slick and powerful as I was hoping (since I wanted it to win) but I loved the girls’ outfits and choreography. Sofia was a stellar lead vocalist, too.

Malta This song, on the other hand, makes me want to rip my ears off. But I can’t deny that Christina (like everyone else residing in Malta) is one heck of a singer. She nailed every note, and unlike Klesta, had all the charisma she needed to fill the stage despite having no one else up there with her. Expect to see her at MESC the minute she’s old enough.

Bulgaria I’ve made it pretty clear already that I think Lidia is absolutely adorable, and that I plan on adopting her ASAP. Apart from one vocal slip-up, she charmed her way through her performance of Valsheben Den. The last thirty seconds really would have benefited from some backup vocalists supporting her visually instead of just aurally. On her own, she ended up looking very tiny and lonely.

Macedonia I applaud Macedonia for their top-notch vocals, cool choreography, and gorgeous rose gold costumes (I would quite like a catsuit like Martija’s to wear on Christmas Day, but it’s probably not that flattering after excessive amounts of turkey and pudding). Unfortunately, the whole thing would have been more at home in Kyiv next year than it was in Valletta for JESC. Still, an A+ for effort.

Poland I have one word for this: FLAWLESS. ‘Perfection’ also comes to mind. We got a stunning dress, graphics and vocals from Olivia, and in her case, I didn’t mind the last-minute addition of English. My only complaint? Why did the audience not cheer louder and longer for her?

Belarus And the Award for Most Improved Since Initial Selection goes to…Belarus, without a doubt! Alex’s breathless, shouty vocals from back then had clearly been whipped into shape. The whole three minutes was slick, entertaining, and the most Junior an entry can be without going too far. Extra kudos is deserved here for extreme multitasking – I’m not even sure I could get on a hoverboard without breaking something (on my body or someone else’s), let alone sing pitch-perfectly while riding one.

Ukraine A gigantic upside-down umbrella would have been OTT enough…but this was a Ukrainian performance, so why stop there? Throw in a couple of mimes as well. What either of these gimmicks had to do with Sofia’s song I don’t know, so they just left me very confused and distracted. Pretty dress though. She can reuse it for her future wedding.

Italy I’d say that Fiamma’s delivery of Cara Mamma was a cute overload, but it was actually just the right level of cuteness – if it were a bowl of porridge, it would be the one Golidlocks would opt for. Her costume (if you can call it that) was too casual for my liking, but even so, she had me melting into a puddle on the floor because AWWWWW. The simplicity of this after the OTT of Ukraine made it come across even better.

Serbia Whoever hit the hoverboard second was going to be unfavourably compared to the one who hit it first – too bad for Dunja. There wasn’t anything terribly wrong with her performance, though like Lidia, she could have used some backup. She also had the glitteriest case of dandruff I’d ever seen, and I’m still unsure whether I liked that look or not. All in all, Serbia didn’t get the party pumping like they should have.

Israel This was another performance in which some parts were great and others were messy, which didn’t give the best overall impression. Shir & Tim’s vocals were okay. They had decent chemistry and nice costumes (as you may be able to tell, I put a lot of stock in what people are wearing). I was hoping this would be presented in a more atmospheric way, which would have made it more memorable.

Australia We Are is weak, and there wasn’t much Alexa could do to elevate it. She sang reasonably well if not perfectly, and her engagement with the camera and the audience proved the worth of her time on The Voice Kids. But, as I expected, I wasn’t left feeling strongly about this in a positive or negative way. It was just…there.

The Netherlands I think I’ll be spelling ‘fun’ k-i-s-s-e-s from now on, because these three were the life of the party! The costumes they eventually chose were atrocious (had they just been renovating and repainting a Barbie Dream House? And why was one of the outfits beige?) but apart from that, this was Junior Eurovision in a psychedelically-patterned nutshell.. The energy was unrelenting, and the vividness of the 80s flashback was extreme (and I wasn’t even born until 1991). I loved every second.

Cyprus I’m still not convinced that George isn’t Sakis Rouvas after seven years of plastic surgery (has anyone seem him since Moscow?), but I am convinced that his performance kicked butt. There was no other pure ethno-pop – with drums! – competing in 2016, so this really stood out.

Georgia Last but not least (literally), was another heart-melter. Mariam had the dress that Fiamma didn’t, and elegantly powered her way through the classically beautiful Mzeo without missing a single note. She made serious magic on that stage, and she didn’t even have to saw someone in half to do it. At this point, the doorway to victory was wide open, and she strolled right through it.

 

If I had to filter those seventeen down to my top five, I’d go with (in random order) Russia, Macedonia, Poland, Belarus and Georgia. But all of the competing kids did themselves proud.

Speaking of the kids…I have to draw attention to the level of cute on display at this year’s contest. I’ve never wanted to adopt so many children at once in my life, so watch out, Angelina Jolie – your record may be about to be broken.

Now, before we move on from the performances to the voting and results, let’s take a look back at the entertainment between them.

  

The interval acts

Poli Genova Good golly, Miss Poli! Fiercer than ever and just as adept at doing the chicken dance without looking like a loser, she had the few people who could actually fit into the MCC on their feet.

Destiny Chukunyere Why, oh why wouldn’t they let her sing? Sing live, I mean. She was put to better use as a mime than the kids accompanying Sofia Rol on stage. Pre-recorded vocals aside, Destiny’s reprise of Not My Soul was pretty enjoyable. The other song she performed was…different. And slightly inappropriate at times.

The common song This was more of a cheesefest than a quattro formaggio pizza party for the entire population of Europe. I must be getting old and bitter, because I did not enjoy it at all. The reappearance of extreme miming didn’t help matters.

Jedward Let’s just say that, while their hair may have gotten even higher since their ESC days, the twins’ musical talents haven’t improved much. I never thought I’d say this, but stick to the expert judging, boys!

 

The voting + the results

The end of a Eurovision event is usually the most exciting part – and with the JESC 2016 voting echoing that of ESC 2016 (which nearly killed me), it was bound to be worth waiting for.

It was, but it also turned out to be confusing in the way it was presented. For starters, we had the child spokespersons reading out the adult jury votes. Then we had the expert jurors announce their scores one by one. Then came the combined points from the kids’ jury, read out by the adult hosts. Given that all of this took place at 2am my time, you can understand how it seemed to be less than straightforward. But it certainly delivered on tension, until Valerie made the slip-up that brought one heck of a crescendo to a screeching halt. After that, this is what we were left with: 

  1. Georgia 239
  2. Armenia 232
  3. Italy 209
  4. Russia 202
  5. Australia 202
  6. Malta 191
  7. Belarus 177
  8. The Netherlands 174
  9. Bulgaria 161
  10. Ireland 122
  11. Poland 60
  12. Macedonia 41
  13. Albania 38
  14. Ukraine 30
  15. Israel  27
  16. Cyprus 27
  17. Serbia 14

The scoreboard wasn’t a carbon copy of this after the adult jury points had been presented: though many countries stayed put throughout the final two voting segments, the adults ranked The Netherlands 3rd and Belarus 4th, while Italy and Russia would eventually rise up to 3rd from 6th and 4th from 9th respectively.

The adult jury gave their top points to Georgia; the kids’ jury gave theirs to Armenia; and the expert jury gave theirs to Russia. All three ranked Australia 5th, which was the only across-the-board agreement. Some of the most drastic differences of opinion? Russia (top three with the KJ and EJ, 9th with the AJ); Georgia (1st with the AJ, 8th with the EJ); and Malta (2nd with the KJ, 10th with the EJ).

Opinions also differed among the three expert jurors (a.k.a. the two expert jurors and Jedward) – Mads handed his douze to Italy, Christer gave his to Belarus, and Jedward rewarded Russia with their top score.

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The scoreboard after the adult jury votes (top left), the expert jury votes (top right), and the kids’ jury votes (bottom).

 

If we combine the twelve points from both the AJ and the KJ, it leaves us with Georgia scoring 11 sets – the same number of countries that received at least one top score.

Three countries finished in the same position they performed in. Armenia performed second and came second, Russia performed fourth and came fourth, and Cyprus performed 16th and came…you guessed it, 16th! The same thing happened twice last year. Fortunately for Georgia, Mariam bucked the trend by finishing first after performing last. This is the fourth time that has happened in JESC history – the final songs to be performed also won in 2005, 2006 and 2007.

The countries that improved on their last results were Georgia, Italy, The Netherlands, Australia, Ireland, Russia, Macedonia and Poland. The countries that did NOT improve were Serbia, Belarus, Ukraine, Malta, Albania, Israel and Cyprus. As for Armenia and Bulgaria…well, they ended up in the exact same positions as last year.

Another “interesting” fact…there were only two songs that were performed without any English lyrics. One won, and the other came last.

If you were wondering what I thought of the final results, then I’ll tell you – there were some shocks and surprises, and a few injustices, but the right entry won…even if it wasn’t my favourite. I always believe that the eventual winner is the true winner, simply because they won according to the rules of the contest. But Mariam’s Mzeo is definitely more of a Waterloo than an I Wanna – i.e. it’s a song I can get on board with, rather than a song I’ll quietly resent for years.

I can also live with my far-and-away favourite Russia finishing fourth – the same position my #1 entry reached in 2015. And as I predicted Armenia would come second, I’m not going to complain about that. Underrated IMO were Poland, Macedonia and Cyprus. Overrated was Australia (so if you hear news of me being deported to Greenland, you’ll know why). Then again, the bulk of the points were based on the performances at the jury show on Saturday – and unless you were there in the MCC at the time, you’ll never know how they differed from the televised versions.

 

So, was this the greatest Junior Eurovision ever? Umm, no. Was it up there (or down there) with the worst? Production-wise and host-wise, yes (in my honest opinion. You’re welcome to disagree). Can Malta do better? Of course, we know that. But what we did get out of the show was seventeen enjoyable performances from seventeen talented acts that must have had Jedward feeling insanely inferior; a voting sequence that had us on the edge of our seats almost until the very last second (DAMMIT, VALERIE!); and an insight into how uncomfortable Christer Björkman is when he’s not in total control of such proceedings.

Oh, and I also got my Tweet read out loud (albeit attributed to a boy named Yaz) so that was a personal highlight.

jtjesc

 

What were your overall impressions of JESC 2016? Do you think Malta nailed or failed their second attempt at hosting? And how did your favourite songs end up faring in the competition? If there’s something you want to say, I’m listening…a.k.a. monitoring the comments section below.

I’ll be back soon with a few more Junior-themed posts (sorry to those who can’t stand it, but I’m not willing to let go just yet) before launching into some Stockholm flashbacks – after all, it has been SIX MONTHS since the final. Then, it’s on to NF season we go, and this time, I really mean that (in case you hadn’t heard, I’m off to Melodifestivalen in March!).

Basically, I have all the Eurovision you need to get you through the next few months. And then the rest of your life, probably.

 

Until next time…

 

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THE EBJ JUNIOR JURY REVIEWS | Armenia, Georgia, Poland + Ukraine

Hi there, whoever you are and whichever hemisphere you’re in. Welcome to the first episode of four to feature complimentary and catty critiques targeted at children who may cry if they catch sight of the latter (I’m sorry, but I appear to have misplaced my maternal instincts).

Yes, it’s Junior Eurovision pre-party time again! For those of us who love JESC and cannot keep our opinions about it to ourselves, that means reviewing and ranking the competing entries – a solid seventeen, in 2016’s case – possibly in an attempt to figure out what will go down on judgment day. This year, that’s November 20th in Malta (take two for the tiny island), and funnily enough, that date is creeping closer rather than disappearing into the distance. So I’ve got to get reviewing and ranking, like, right this second.

Just before I do, an FYI: to help me out here, I’ve assembled a globe-spanning (a.k.a. mostly Australian with a few other nationalities thrown in ‘cause that’s just how things panned out) JESC jury to score each and every entry alongside me. Together, we’ll award an average rating that will go on to determine where each country sits in the prestigious *cough* EBJ Junior Jury Ranking. I’d like to thank all of my jurors for taking the time to do some Molly Sterling-esque playing with numbers as a favour to yours truly. Props bigger than Ukrainian hamster wheels and Montenegrin Trojan horses go to all of you!

Now, before it’s literally too late, let’s get started.

 

header

 

It’s all about girl power today as Armenia, Georgia, Poland and Ukraine face the music. Read on to find out what me and my crew think of the songs Anahit & Mary, Mariam, Olivia and Sofia are set to perform in Valletta in ten days’ time.

If you need a musical reminder so you can deliver your own verdict, then check out the official JESC Youtube channel’s playlist here.

 

armenia

My thoughts Armenia is one of a handful of countries that just “get” JESC. Year after year, whether they’ve nailed or failed adult Eurovision, they serve up something fun and infectious at Junior that always ends up being in the mix to win the whole contest. So have they done the same in 2016, according to moi? You bet they have! Tarber is a song with the distinction of being both upbeat pop fluff (I use the word ‘fluff’ here positively) and a song that’s likely to tick multiple boxes on the jury’s criteria list – critical for the win considering there’s no televoting this year. The latter is obvious from the second it starts, with Anahit and Mary belting out an intro worthy of a Christina Aguilera/Mariah Carey duet (which they will need to pull off live, or Armenia could suffer a serious scoreboard slump for the first time in forever). That soon gives way to a funk-inspired main event, complete with an incredibly catchy chorus and enough repetition to make the three minutes cohesive, but not boring. The fairly well-written English lyrics squeezed in towards the end (a tactic also used by the likes of Bulgaria, Italy and Russia) are the cherry on top of a cake that I suspect the jury will find pretty appetising – if not the most appetising of the competing seventeen. Overall, I’m a big fan of this song, having enjoyed it more on my first listen than I did last year’s runner-up Love. If the girls have staging up to usual Armenian standards to present in Valletta – and if they can sing close to studio-perfect live – then I think they’re on track to get Armenia inside the top five for the eighth time out of ten participations. That’s what I’ll have my fingers crossed for, anyway!

My score 10

The EBJ Junior Jury says…

  • Dara, Australia – 6
  • James, UK – 4
  • Joshua, Australia – 6
  • Matthew, Ireland – 12
  • Michael, Australia – 12
  • Penny, USA – 10
  • Rory, Ireland – 12

 

 georgia 

My thoughts Here’s another country that could do Junior Eurovision blindfolded, and do it well (they have had unimpressive results for the past few years, but Georgia still has a stellar record to look back on). Only this time, I’m not so sold on their contribution to the potluck dinner of JESC 2016. I don’t hate Mariam’s Mzeo so much as I have extra-mixed feelings about it. On one hand, I think it has a nice melody and builds beautifully. Then there’s the lushly layered orchestration, which gives it a depth that you don’t find in stuff like the Netherlands’ Kisses and Dancin’ (more on that in another post). Really, it’s an IRL Disney ballad, and Mariam’s the princess with a heap of pent-up emotions to purge on stage. However, there are aspects of this song that turn me off in a big way. It’s almost too dramatic, and gets very shouty towards the end (which, seems to take a looooong time to arrive). It doesn’t capture my attention enough to keep my mind from wandering/wondering (what’s next, song-wise). I also think it’s verging on being too mature for JESC thanks to the old-fashioned, Hollywood musical sound. I know the last three or four winners haven’t exactly put the ‘Junior’ into Junior Eurovision, but they’ve all retained a sense of youth somehow. I’m not sure this song does, Mariam’s slightly squeaky voice aside (something else that stops me from enjoying Mzeo too much). To tell the truth, I prefer the weird, off-the-wall JESC Georgia. The Georgia that has won the comp twice thanks to kids in wasp costumes and kids who really, really like candy. Can we please have that Georgia back next year?

My score 6

The EBJ Junior Jury says…

  • Dara, Australia – 1
  • James, UK – 2
  • Joshua, Australia – 3
  • Matthew, Ireland – 5
  • Michael, Australia – 1
  • Penny, USA – 8
  • Rory, Ireland – 5

 

poland

My thoughts First things first: POLAND IS BACK IN JESC, AND I AM JUMPING FOR JOY! It’s always great to have somebody rejoin the party, but Poland’s comeback is particularly noteworthy due to the mahusive gap between their last participation (2004, in case you were unsure) and this one. Their entries in ’03 and ’04 scored six points between them, so it would be mighty fine if Poland could improve on that unfortunate record enough to make them want to embrace (HAHAHA, see what I did there?!?!?) Junior Eurovision in 2017 too. Although it’s not the tallest of orders, I think Olivia + Nie Zapomnij = a good chance. The song is a pretty, hopeful ballad, but it’s got some guts courtesy of the beat that kicks in, driving it home; and thanks to Olivia’s powerful, dynamic vocal, which is in keeping with the power and dynamism present in most other aspects of the package. The fact that it’s totally in Polish may make it a little inaccessible to those of us whose brain-boxes can’t comprehend a word of the language (TBH, I have no idea how born-and-bred Poles can wrap their head around it) but it also gives it a mysterious allure – kind of like the one Festivali I Këngës winners have prior to the inevitable unveiling of their mediocre English versions. The thing I like most about this song is that you’re not always sure where it’s going. It almost seems like a couple of songs rolled into one, without being messy. Having said that, I don’t think Nie Zapomnij is the most memorable ballad competing in Valletta, and I worry that it will pale in comparison to much of what follows it if it’s placed early on in the running order. Then again, I could be wrong and it could walk the whole thing (I have been known to make a “few” mistakes when making Eurovisual predictions). I guess we’ll have to sit tight and see what happens…

My score 8

The EBJ Junior Jury says…

  • Dara, Australia – 5
  • James, UK – 7
  • Joshua, Australia – 8
  • Matthew, Ireland – 7
  • Michael, Australia – 7
  • Penny, USA – 7
  • Rory, Ireland – 7

 

ukraine

My thoughts Next year’s adult Eurovision hosts are also one of my favourite JESC countries. It’s been a long time since I haven’t fangirled over the song they’ve sent to Junior, so I was pretty keen to find out what they’d choose in the wake of Jamala’s victory. Planet Craves For Love (AWKWARD ENGLISH TITLE ALERT!!!) was their pick, and – even sweeping any potential biases under the shagpile rug for the sake of objectiveness – I absolutely adore it (imagine me saying that in a very posh British accent, if you don’t mind). To me, it’s Anna Trincher’s Pochny z Sebe with the rock elements removed and the traditional Ukrainian sounds ramped up. The two songs are even thematically similar (though Anna’s was more intense in lyrical content as well as in the number of guitars being thrashed in the background). It remains to be seen whether Sofia will emerge from a giant lotus flower á la Anna, but even if the comparison stops when she steps on stage, it’ll still have a lot to do with the way I feel about her song. Excluding the title, there’s nothing I don’t like about it. Melodically, the verses, bridges and chorus are stunning; there’s multiple money moments throughout that make it memorable; the music is as organic and sweet as the fruit at a farmer’s market (if that makes any sense); and the tempo ensures it’s a sleepy ballad that won’t actually send you to sleep. Quietly powerful, it’s a song I intend to support via ultra-enthusiastic flag-waving on the day. I do have some reservations about Sofia’s live vocal abilities, but if she and her peeps have spent the last few months shaping and tightening up both sound and staging, well…I, for one, will be happy about it. I’m not sure how Ukraine will score in 2016 given Anna’s middling result in Sofia (that’s Sofia the city), but I’d love the jury to respond to them like they did in Stockholm.

My score 12

The EBJ Junior Jury says…

  • Dara, Australia – 0
  • James, UK – 10
  • Joshua, Australia – 2
  • Matthew, Ireland – 4
  • Michael, Australia – 12
  • Penny, USA – 10
  • Rory, Ireland – 6

 

Four down, thirteen to go! And with that, we arrive at the exciting part of this post – if the reviews themselves weren’t exciting enough in your opinion (in which case, whatever. I don’t even care. *weeps silently*). It’s the EBJ Junior Jury ranking for this round, and it looks a little something like this: 

  1. Armenia (9)
  2. Ukraine (7)
  3. Poland (7)
  4. Georgia (3.87)

Georgia hasn’t offered up the level of quirky fun this year that we’re used to, and the EBJJJ didn’t reward them for it. Ukraine and Poland end this episode neck and neck, but I’ve broken the tie on countback (ESC-style, of course) and ranked Sofia above Olivia. That leaves Armenia as today’s champ. I don’t know about you, but that makes me want to pull a Barei and say ‘YAY YAY YAY!’.

Next time, the EBJ Junior Jury and I will cast our eyes and ears over Bulgaria, Cyprus, Ireland and Russia. Does one of those countries have the power to eject Armenia from the top spot? Drop by in a few days to find out!

In the meantime, let me know which is your favourite entry of today’s four. And while you’re at it, which of the juror’s scores do you agree with, and whose have you questioning their sanity? Naming and shaming (in a nice, respectful way) is totally cool in my comments section.

 

Until next time…

 

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PARTY FOR EVERYBODY! Celebrating EBJ’s 7th birthday with a special countdown (#shareyour7)

For most people, today is Tuesday. For some people, it may still be Monday. For other people – the really slack ones who didn’t get the memo that I’d posted this and just happened to stumble across it belatedly (subscribe or stop by my social media to avoid such disasters by receiving new post alerts *SHAMELESS PLUG*) – it could be any old day of the week. But for me, it’s June 28, and that’s kind of a big deal.

Why? Because seven years ago today (!) I decided to inflict my obsession with/ability to talk constantly about Eurovision upon the world, via a blog that would become known as Eurovision By Jaz…since that’s what I decided to call it that day, duh. Back then in 2009, I couldn’t have foreseen that I’d still be running the blog in my own haphazard manner after so much time had passed – let alone off the back of an ACTUAL TRIP to the contest after ten years of frenzied fangirling (I still have to pinch myself on the hour every hour to remind myself that I was in Stockholm). The reason I’m still around is simple, though: I do it for the love. I mean, if I did for popularity and adoration I would’ve lost the will years ago.

Here and now, in case you were wondering, I’m certain that as long as I enjoy chatting all things ESC with you guys, and as long as at least one person out there seems to be a fan of my material (besides me), I’ll be here doing what I do. I.e. criticising contestants’ costume choices and objectifying whoever happens to be the hottest guy of the latest contest line-up (in 2016, I’ve moved on from Måns to Freddie, FYI). If you’re willing to come along for the ride, I can guarantee a safe, yet entertaining and occasionally controversial journey through the years to come.

Before I let loose and blow my own kazoo (not a euphemism), I want to thank anyone who’s reading this intro. If you are, it means you’ve taken the time to drop by EBJ, probably out of habit or to see if it’s your cup of kaffe. You might have been with me from the beginning, be a recent reader, or be someone who’s sick of me already and plans to stick with Wiwi Bloggs exclusively from now on – I don’t mind whichever way. I’m just grateful for your visit and confident that you must be a pretty cool person since you’re attracted to rather than repulsed by the word ‘Eurovision’.

Now, to kick off my 7th birthday (blogday?) celebrations, here’s a substandard graphic I prepared earlier!

 

hbebj16

 

I’ve decided to celebrate this milestone with a countdown that’s not your usual countdown. It’s not a Top 10, for starters – it’s actually a Top 7, and (brace yourselves for a theme to emerge here) it will feature my personal top 7 songs that have placed seventh in the ESC since EBJ began. In other words, I’m about to rank, from my least loved to my most loved, the seventh placers of 2010-2016. Given that I started blogging just after Eurovision 2009, Sakis Rouvas Vol. 2 will not be included in this list. But, as I know he’d be devastated to be un-invited so unceremoniously from this partay (and be likely to release a song entitledThis Is (Not) Our Night), I’m going to use him to rate each of the seven entries using a system I like to call ‘The Sakis Head Scale’.

You can see why.

 

shs

 

If you’re keen to rate any of the following tracks – or ANY seventh-placed song from Eurovision history, for that matter – using the Sakis Head Scale/conventional 0-12 points (ugh, how normal), head to the comments section below. Alternatively, tweet me @EurovisionByJaz using the hashtag #shareyour7, and tell me which sixth runner-up is your favourite…or least favourite.

Without further ado (you know how I love ado, but I’ll restrain myself on this occasion), let’s kick off the countdown!

 

 

#7 | ‘May the winter stay away from my harvest night and day…’

Apricot Stone by Eva Rivas (Armenia 2010)

I fully expect to be pelted with apricot stones and verbal abuse over this one. I wasn’t surprised by Armenia’s lower-end-of-the-top-ten finish in Oslo, but that doesn’t mean I ‘got’ Apricot Stone. It’s not a bad song, per se – but push my buttons, it does not. It reminded me a bit of the Dutch entry two years previously, and that (Hind’s Your Heart Belongs To Me, for anyone having a brain-blank) was dated in 2008. Based on that, I never found the Armenian version very fresh – especially its chorus. And I hate to say this, because I’m totally pro-Rapunzel letting down her hair…but Eva’s super lengthy locks kind of freaked me out.

Sakis 2

 

#6 | ‘Watch my dance, head up high, hands like wings and I’ll fly…’

Watch My Dance by Loukas Giorkas feat. Stereo Mike (Greece 2011)

Ah, Greece and their love of fusing rap with…not rap. There has to be some irony in the fact that they blended rap and ethnic sounds better in 2016 than in 2011, yet lost their 100% qualification record this year and finished seventh five years ago. If I remember correctly, a lot of us fans were convinced that Loukas and Stereo Mike (now known as Spotify Mike, most likely) would be Greece’s downfall, and that included me at the time. Nowadays, I like this song more than I did then, but it’s still too intense and too melodramatic for me to play that often – not to mention jarring enough to resemble an edit of a movie put together by a monkey. All in all, I prefer it when Greece takes a lighter approach to their rap fusion entries, á la Rise Up (#ROBBED). Though I’m not unwilling to watch Loukas’ dance, if he’s still after an audience and will be shirtless.

Sakis 2.5

 

#5 | ‘My life is on a string when I see you smile, our love will last a thousand miles…’

Shine by the Tolmachevy Sisters (Russia 2014)

Here’s a song that I hated when I first heard it, only to find myself humming along shortly thereafter. I guess there’s no shortage of wonders an oversized see-saw can work, particularly when combined with twins who temporarily become conjoined via their ponytails. To be honest, I still don’t think Shine is a great song – it certainly has nothing on the duo’s Junior Eurovision winner Vesinniy Jazz – but there’s something nice about the melody and the way the girls harmonise (as only identical twins can) that had it growing on me even before the giant papier mâché sun was unfolded by a Portuguese national finalist (naturally). In fact, I have it stuck in my head right now.

Sakis 2.5

 

#4 | ‘I didn’t want to wake you up, my love was never gonna be enough…’

Goodbye To Yesterday by Elina Born & Stig Rästa (Estonia 2015)

The song that won Eesti Laul by a landslide last year couldn’t do the same at Eurovision, but 7th? Totally respectable, especially given the unfortunate and unjust outcome of Estonia’s entry in Stockholm. Goodbye To Yesterday is one of many fine feathers in Stig Rästa’s compositional cap, and while it wasn’t up there with my personal douze-pointers in 2015, I can’t deny that it has something special. The dynamic between the two characters in the song’s story makes for a perfect duet, and the song itself is one that feels both retro and fresh. And who could resist a lyric like ‘As I got outside, I smiled to the dog’? Not me, that’s for sure. Or the dog, I’m guessing.

Sakis 3

 

#3 | ‘You shook my life like an earthquake, now I’m waking up…’

LoveWave by Iveta Mukuchyan (Armenia 2016)

And here we have the latest track to reach the seventh rung of Eurovision’s top 10 ladder – one that makes me hopeful for a future in which cutting-edge, experimental music outnumbers stale cookie-cutter-type stuff in the contest. When a song doesn’t grab me straight away, but intrigues (rather than horrifies) me, I’m happy, because I know I’m going to love it eventually. LoveWave is initially disarming with its spoken-word start, but it makes you wonder where it’s headed and what kind of ground it’s about to break (so to speak). Ultimately, it’s a powerful punch-packer of a track, fronted by the femme fatale figure of Iveta who sells it vocally and visually. You can’t tell me this doesn’t kick Apricot Stone’s ass.

Sakis 3.5

 

#2 | ‘I am a lonely sailor drinking the night away, my ship is made from hope, she’s searching for your bay…’

Love Me Back by Can Bonomo (Turkey 2012)

The last time we saw Turkey compete in the ESC, they gave me everything I want in my ethno-pop. That includes a) a generous dollop of traditional sounds that set the song apart from its rivals; b) three minutes of fun and frivolity without any ‘this is a novelty act and it can’t be taken seriously’ vibes; and c) back-up dancers who can transform their costumes into a sailboat at a second’s notice. Basically, it’s the whole package. Catchy, unique and easy to sing along to (or yell drunkenly over in the midst of an enthusiastic round of the Eurovision Drinking Game), Love Me Back is also a masterclass in how to make a cultural mark on the contest without alienating anyone…besides people prone to seasickness.

Sakis 3.5

 

#1 | ‘While the world breaks into pieces, I compose new places and desires which also belong to you…’

L’Essenziale by Marco Mengoni (Italy 2013)

If you hadn’t guessed already, given that only one 2010-2016 7th-placer is yet to be mentioned, Italy takes out the top spot with one of my favourite Eurovision songs of ALL TIME (if your name is Kanye West, don’t bother trying to dispute that). An entry that truly puts the ‘song’ into Eurovision Song Contest, L’Essenziale is lyrically and melodically magic, and comes equipped with a message that doesn’t make your skin crawl thanks to its cheesiness (yes, Russia, it CAN be done without resorting to love love, peace peace). I would marry this song if that were at all possible, I’m so crazy about it. Although, if Marco is available, I’d rather marry him instead. Then he could serenade me with the song whenever I wanted. That’s not too much to ask, is it?

Sakis 5

 

Well, I’ve shared my seven – a song for every year I’ve been blogging here at EBJ. Holy Hard Rock Hallelujah! Remember, if you want to do the same, I’d consider it a birthday gift and therefore wouldn’t be offended by the lack of fruit baskets being delivered to my door. You should also feel free to tell me what you thought of my ranking. How would you rearrange it? Was seventh place too good or not good enough for these tracks? Exactly how offended are you right now?

While you’re letting me know, I’ll be off raising a glass to myself…and, of course, planning seven more years’ worth of Eurovisual entertainment for anyone who currently reads or will someday stumble upon this site. I hope you enjoy what’s to come as much as I’m going to enjoy creating it for you (if the Sakis heads are any indication, I’ll have an epic time).

 

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REVIEWS | The EBJ Jury Judges Eurovision 2016 (Part 6)

Hej there! You have made the excellent decision to drop by Jaz HQ to be debriefed on six more Eurovision 2016 entries – or at least, to be informed of how a small group of ESC fanatics feel about them. If you don’t mind some cattiness (‘cause the claws are out today) then you won’t regret it!

 

TODAY’S EBJ JURORS

 mnj

Martin, Nick and I are about to have our say on Armenia, Australia, Ireland, Malta, Moldova and Slovenia – a.k.a. Iveta, Dami, Nicky, Ira, Lidia and ManuElla. Once you’ve heard us out, and seen how the entire EBJ Jury scored these countries, have your own say in the comments. Which is the best song of this bunch?

 

 

Armenia

Martin This is a bold departure from normal Eurovision fare! LoveWave has an unusual spoken start, and is slow-paced throughout with its musical fusion of Western pop and Armenian ethnicity. It’s a difficult song to work out on first listen, and that might be Armenia’s failing this year – for them to qualify, everything hinges on Iveta’s vocals being perfect live and the staging being excellent.

Nick Believe it or not, this is my favorite Armenian entry of the past five years. Think about that low standard for a second. LoveWave has a lot of interesting parts – mainly the music and the structure – but it never coalesces like it should. Part of that has to do with the disconnection between the ethnic tones used for the verses, and the voice-heavy chorus. The pacing also feels off, and I feel like the whole package would work a lot better with a few more BPM. Otherwise, the lyrics are an absolute shambles, probably the worst this year; and I haven’t heard Iveta live, so I don’t know what to expect. Hopefully something entertaining, unintentionally or otherwise, because my god, is the spoken word intro going to be jarring.

Jaz I had sky-high expectations of Iveta Mukuchyan based on her previous form, and to be honest, I still don’t know if she met those with LoveWave. There are moments in this song that make me think ‘This is the weirdest thing I have ever heard’, and others that make me think ‘This is genius!’. The intro is a bizarre, and a beginning that doesn’t lure you in is rarely a positive musical attribute. Still, it did have me hanging around to see what happened next when I first listened to it, and it will probably have the same effect on fans hearing the entries for the first time on the night/s. Once the song settles into itself, it gives off some sexy vibes (thanks in large part to Iveta’s husky vocals), and it’s evident that it missed its calling as a single from the Fifty Shades of Grey soundtrack. It’s full of textures and layers and incomprehensible lyrics (which do add a sense of mystery to it all), and the combo of traditional Armenian instruments and the R & B style most evident in the chorus actually works quite well. On the whole, I have to applaud the song for daring to be different. If Armenia has devised a stunning stage concept to accompany LoveWave – the mileage they got out of Don’t Deny on the basis of superb staging suggests it’s likely – then this will make an impression. I do think it takes itself more seriously than it should, but with a slick performance to distract us all from that fact/opinion, a smidgen of OTT self-importance won’t matter.

The EBJ Jury says…

  • Ali 4
  • Fraser 4
  • James 5
  • Jaz 7
  • Martin 6
  • Nick 2
  • Penny 12
  • Rory 12
  • Wolfgang 6

Armenia’s EBJ Jury score is…6.44

 

 

 Australia

Martin Australia are definitely in it to get at least a respectable placing in Stockholm, but there’s something missing that means that this will not win Eurovision. Dami can definitely sing (she’s vocally superb with an amazing range) and the song is lyrically interesting (it tells a great story) but for me, Sound Of Silence just lacks that winning spark.

Nick Dami Im! You have no idea how excited I was when she was confirmed as the entrant for Australia. I was so prepared for Super Love 2.0, and procuring an Aussie flag for Stockholm. Then the song came out, and ‘disappointed’ was an understatement. Mid-tempo synth-pop for such a colorful artist was a terrible match, and not even Dami’s charisma can save this dirge of a song. The only way I can think to describe it is by using the dominant color in the video: grey. Lyrically grey, musically grey, just… grey. And while last year’s Tonight Again annoyed the pants off me, at least it had some spunk.

Jaz I know it isn’t Thursday (not while I’m typing this, anyway) but I’d like to #throwback to this time last year when I gave Guy Sebastian’s Tonight Again a mediocre review. The purpose of this throwback? To point out that, as I didn’t get a kick of any kind out of that song until Eurovision was actually upon us, you should take what I’m about to say regarding Dami’s Sound of Silence with a whacking great grain of salt. This song – our sophomore effort, which was always going to be interesting in one way or another – is slightly above-average. That’s my not-at-all-glowing review, I’m afraid. I’m not a huge Dami fan, and the fact that she wasn’t Delta Goodrem made her entry unveiling even more tainted with my bitterness. There is no doubt that she can belt out a wannabe-powerhouse track like SOS, and it is a song that allows her to make the most of her vocal abilities. But it’s trying so hard to be on par with a Sia smash hit that it seems desperate, and falls short. Melodically, it’s lovely to listen to, and it certainly fulfils the brief of Contemporary Female Ballad That Is Not An Embarrassment To The Entire Continent of Australia. But the chorus, which should be the selling point, is weakened by unnecessary repetition. Are you telling me that the writers couldn’t have spared a few extra minutes to think up a few additional lines that rhymed with ‘silence’? Violence, defiance, appliance (an ode to a panini press would have been a first at Eurovision)…the list goes on. It smacks of laziness to me. Like a beautifully-crafted movie scene tossed onto the cutting room floor in favour of a crappy, purposeless one, the repetition of the initial chorus lines is a missed opportunity to have created something more masterful. Still, Dami will work with what she’s got, and her fashion sense (slash the fashion sense of her stylist) is so on fleek, I cannot wait to see what she’ll wear for an occasion like this (it’ll be more like a sculpture than actual clothing, I’m sure). And you can bet your behind that I’ll be cheering like crazy for her, and crossing my fingers that she slips through from semi to final. I just wish my driving force was a love for the song, rather than a love for my country and a will for us to qualify.

The EBJ Jury says…

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

Australia’s EBJ Jury score is…6.44

 

 

Ireland

Martin Nicky Byrne is getting the hang of singing Sunlight live, and I think that his self-belief will play a huge part in how well it does. If he nails the vocals on semi night, this will be an easy qualifier to the final and could revive Ireland’s interest in the ESC. ‘Sun <pause> light’ is earworm central in my opinion – a definite toe-tapper, hooking you in from the start and keeping you listening to the end. I think this up-tempo pop song will hit the spot with televoters, at least.

Nick This lot of songs is gonna make me sound like a grump, but actually, this is my dead last place for Stockholm. 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. And it’s not like Ireland hasn’t tried this approach before: just look at 2013’s Only Love Survives. Also, look where that finished – dead last after barely scraping into the final. Still, at least that was peppy and energetic. Sunlight makes me want to close the curtains and throw on a sleeping mask.

Jaz The boyband fangirl inside me (who is so dominant, a member of the Backstreet Boys flies out of my nose every time I sneeze) may have screamed internally when ex-Westlifer Nicky was announced as the Irish representative. You don’t want to know what I would have done if the whole band had reunited for Eurovision. As it stands, we got one fifth, and his song Sunlight is more or less everything you’d expect from a former boyband-mate’s solo singles (if they aren’t Justin Timberlake). It’s catchy and radio-friendly, and I do enjoy it – but it’s not lyrically or stylistically challenging at all. It’s not bad, by any means; but it’s so safe and friendly, like a perpetually happy Labrador who won’t leave you alone, that it irritates me. Ireland gave douze points to Latvia last year in the final, yet they didn’t take any musical inspiration from the edgy Love Injected – something that they clearly liked a lot. I expect everything about this entry to be vanilla in Stockholm, from the staging to the result it gets. Nicky is performing between the powerhouse ladies from Serbia and FYR Macedonia, who don’t necessarily have better songs (in my opinion) but who will almost definitely overshadow him. That’s bound to happen when you just don’t bring it.

The EBJ Jury says…

  • Ali 3
  • Fraser 7
  • James 3
  • Jaz 7
  • Martin 10
  • Nick 1
  • Penny 7
  • Rory 6
  • Wolfgang 3

Ireland’s EBJ Jury score is…5.22

 

 

Malta

Martin Yep, 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. Her visual appeal won’t hurt Malta’s chances either. An upgrade to finalist and mid-table respectability at least for Ira.

Nick Oh, Ira…another artist who made me think Year Stockholm was going to be better than it turned out to be (although there are a lot of variables at play there). So much of her non-Eurovision related stuff is fantastic, but I was never a fan of her 2002 entry, nor her initial 2016 entry, Chameleon. Then they dragged in the Swedes to write her a new song, and I can’t say it’s a vast improvement. I almost feel like they were too inspired by the first song and wrote something that just blends in everywhere without standing out. It’s competent and will be well-performed, I’m sure. But it’s so uninspiring, it almost drives me to the point of madness. But even that is too strong an emotion to be associated with this.

Jaz Of all 2016’s returning artists, Ira Losco was the most successful in her initial attempt to take home the Eurovision trophy. The fact that it took her so many years to give it another go says to me that she felt like she could be in it to win it this year – after all, nobody wants to come back after a lengthy period and fall flat on their face. Those thoughts, if she had them, would have been in relation to Chameleon – a song that won’t be heard in Stockholm, unless someone spins it at the Euroclub. Walk On Water, the replacement, is a superior song on the whole (although I did think Chameleon’s chorus had something special). It’s more cohesive and less chaotic; considerably more contemporary; and packs more of a punch. The chorus is repetitive, but it builds rapidly and really hammers (or perhaps Molly Pettersson-Hammars) home the title and concept of the song. There’s nothing I don’t like about it, except for the fact that I can easily imagine co-writer Molly PH singing it better (and as she’s singing backup for Ira, we could have a vocal catfight on our hands). It’s great that Ira has a more powerful song than 7th Wonder this time, as that was a bit of a vocal wet blanket. Apparently her performance will be quite technologically advanced (will she actually walk on water? A.k.a. is Ira Losco actually Jesus?) but I hope she takes us back to ’02 by pulling another glitter pouch out of her pocket.

The EBJ Jury says…

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

Malta’s EBJ Jury score is…7.22

 

 

Moldova

Martin A standard Euro Club-sounding dance track, Falling Stars would be the sort of song that a DJ might put on as filler before a killer tune is played. To be fair to Lidia, this was the best Moldovan entry on offer at the national final, and it’s not bad – but it’s not that memorable either, unless you want to remember her slightly weird vocal style and range being all over the place. Another non-qualification for Moldova beckons.

Nick Just FYI, this song sounds amazing as a nightcore. Sadly, the regular version can’t measure up, although it does top the segment of songs I dislike, so that’s nice. Lidia’s a good vocalist, but there’s just something missing here. Maybe just a key change or a money note, but there’s nothing that Falling Stars builds to, except perhaps the chorus? But if that was the intent, then the stars in question aren’t so much falling as they are being tossed. Other than that, the lyrics are surprisingly clean, which could really describe this entire entry: too polished for its own good.

Jaz Anything Moldova came out with this year would have seemed like the epitome of elegance compared to the sleazy display of law enforcement provided by Eduard Romanyuta. But you know what? I LOVED the sleazy display of law enforcement. It was trash-tastic and tackier than super-glue, but it took me back to the early 2000s and made an epic semi 1 starter while it was at it. But enough about Moldova 2015 – it’s Moldova 2016 I’m supposed to be reviewing. Falling Stars is one of the few straightforward dance tracks competing this year, which suggests that most other countries have moved on from the trend. And, for every compliment I can send its way, there’s a ‘but’ waiting in the wings. The song will stand out genre-wise, but it sounds a bit stale (circa 2011). The chorus is strong, but leads to Lidia resembling a wailing banshee (there’s no room for any deviation from the correct key there). Overall, it’s fun and fluffy while it’s playing, but it doesn’t leave a lasting impression. Let’s just call it musical fairy floss, coloured blue and yellow in honour of it being another Swedish cast-off. If it wasn’t for the double-glazed donuts and hot buttered popcorn on offer from elsewhere in Europe, Moldova would come off a lot better.

The EBJ Jury says…

  • Ali 4
  • Fraser 2
  • James 8
  • Jaz 7
  • Martin 5
  • Nick 3
  • Penny 5
  • Rory 4
  • Wolfgang 8

Moldova’s EBJ Jury score is…5.11

 

 

Slovenia

Martin Last year’s EMA was a perfect storm. This year, it was a car crash! What a plummeting drop from one of the best pop entries last year (Here For You), down to the mess that is Blue and Red, with ManuElla trying to be Taylor Swift but ending up being Phoebe from ‘Friends’. Why do I say that? The lyrics of the song, combined with her vocal ‘talents’, border on that almost-comedic sitcom level and the staging is amazingly clichéd, with erratic hand and body movements along with telegraphed facial expressions. Words also fail me regarding the dress reveal  – she should have gone the whole hog and worn a blue and red halved dress to ‘put the cherry on the cake’. A probable last-placed semi finalist.

Nick What? A Taylor Swift renaissance piece? Out of Slovenia? What could’ve been a complete disaster (and IS a complete disaster, in the eyes of most) has actually turned out to be one of the year’s biggest charmers! Okay, so 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. The 2009-esque country/pop banjo instrumental and admiral outfit don’t go together at all, but it somehow works, like an eclectic fever dream of leftover high school theatre props. ManuElla herself is a surprisingly fitting performer and lends herself to the role demanded by the song. The slight retooling from the initial NF version has added an unnecessary starter, but other than that, it’s a nice strengthening of a song that’s comfortably in my top 10. I’d like to hope that Slovenia could pull out a stunning live and shock everyone by qualifying to the final, but I won’t hold my breath.

Jaz Nope. Just nope. I like Taylor Swift as much as the next person, and I actually miss her country bumpkin days. But even I know that neither the world nor Eurovision needs a poor imitation of Taylor ‘2007’ Swift. Everything about ManuElla’s performance is amateurish, including the costume reveal (and I normally can’t resist one of those), and don’t even get me started on how crazy I’m driven by the childish lyrics of Blue and Red. ‘Blue is blue and red is red’…yeah, thanks for the art lesson, lady. While some countries have really stepped up their game between 2015 and 2016, Slovenia has dropped the ball so violently that it is now lodged in the core of the Earth. Literally the only thing ManuElla has in common with Maraaya is the initial ‘M’. I will commend her for bringing variety to the contest, but seeing as the Netherlands have a country song up their sleeve too – and it’s an infinitely better one – even that’s difficult for me to do. Surely this cheese-fest isn’t making it to Saturday night?

The EBJ Jury says… 

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

Slovenia’s EBJ Jury score is…5.78

 

 

With those six songs sliced, diced and served up on a silver platter, we have a winner – albeit a winner out of a very low-scoring round. 

  1. Malta (7.22)
  2. Armenia/Australia (6.44)
  3. Slovenia (5.78)
  4. Ireland (5.22)
  5. Moldova (5.11)

Forget water – Ira Losco will be walking on air after taking this one out (well, she would be if a) she knew about it, and b) the EBJ judgments were of any actual importance). How high can she go in Stockholm? She has the potential to impress, but only time (or perhaps rehearsals) will tell how much. Slovenia, Ireland and Moldova, on the other hand, failed to impress the EBJ Jury. Are we psychic enough to have predicted a few non-qualifications here? In a few short weeks, we’ll find out!

Next time, the final round of reviews will see two Aussies and an Irishman walk into a bar, and…hang on. That’s the joke version. It will ACTUALLY see two Aussies and an Irishman free their thoughts on Austria, the Czech Republic, Finland, FYR Macedonia, Norway, Serbia and Ukraine. There is a good chance I’ll be posting that installment from Stockholm (or at least from my AU-SE transit location, Dubai) so it’ll be pretty exotic and awesome and you better check it out or I’ll spread unfortunate rumours about you at the Euroclub.

 

Until then…

 

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Malta fulfill their Destiny: Looking over the performances (and the leaderboard) of JESC 2015

Since Junior Eurovision 2015 came to a conclusion on Saturday night, I’m sure you’re already aware that we have our winner. Even if you’re repulsed by the mere mention of mini-Eurovij, you’d have heard that Malta’s Destiny Chukunyere destroyed her competition and clinched the tiny island’s second victory in three years with the party-starting Not My Soul. The thirteen-year-old triumphed over Armenia’s Mika by nine points – quite a massive margin by JESC standards – and in the process, nabbed the record for the highest-ever score in the contest. Mika has a record of his own to take home, too, scoring the highest amount of points for a non-winner in Junior history.

Although I did call Malta to win, it wasn’t the outcome I was hoping for (and even though Armenia wasn’t my ideal winner, I would have preferred them to take it out instead). But you can’t help being happy for a country that is fast becoming to JESC what Sweden is to ESC – i.e. a superpower. Plus, there’s no denying that Destiny is an incredible talent, and it’s likely we’ll see her pop up in Malta’s NF MESC the split second she’s sixteen. She’ll be shattering windows and Ming vases simultaneously with her voice by then, so there’s something to look forward to (unless you’re the owner of said windows/vases).

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I’ll get back to the results later on in this post. Right now, I’m going to answer the question nobody asked: what did I think of Bulgaria’s first-ever Eurovision event?

Well, there’s not much I could complain about. The stage was super-cool, and like last year’s, could easily accommodate the adult contest. Hostess Poli was confident and competent, and sported a hairstyle that only she – and maybe Gwen Stefani – could rock. The postcards showed off Bulgaria’s beauty to the fullest, and featured the contestants for the first time since 2013 (I was hoping that’d make a comeback). And the interval acts were actually reasonably entertaining (meaning I didn’t traipse outside to watch my lawn grow while waiting for the show to go on). Sweeping a bit of shoddy camera-work aside, I’d say that the exercise was a big success for Bulgaria – and hopefully a good practice run for hosting Eurovision sometime while I’m still around to see it (though as countries like Portugal have competed for 40+ years and never won, I won’t hold my breath…and as some countries continue to nail JESC and fail ESC, I ALSO won’t hold my breath. Basically, no breath of mine will be held over this).

Now, the biggest drawcard of any Eurovision event is the performances of the participants, right? *assumes you all agreed enthusiastically*. So let’s have a look back at the seventeen acts that battled it out for a place on the figurative podium (there should be an actual podium, I reckon), to see who shone, who needed more polishing, and who…well, the terminology I was going to use would be too cruel for children.

 

From Serbia to Montenegro and everyone in-between, here are my thoughts on the competing seventeen!

These are all my own opinions, of course, and you are free to agree or disagree in the comments. Let’s get cracking so you know just what you’re agreeing/disagreeing with!

Serbia A very red, and violent – what with all those arm movements (no wonder there were no backing dancers…at least one of them would have ended up with a black eye) – performance from Lena opened the show. She had amazing intensity for someone who ordinarily, I’d want to pinch the cheeks of because they’re SO CUTE, and vocally, she was almost entirely on point – that shaky final note the exception. Much ljubav for the lyrically-aligned hand tatts!

Vocals 9/10 Staging 8/10 Costumes 9/10 Overall 8.5/10

 

Georgia Speaking of intensity, The Virus’ front man Data was frighteningly intense during Georgia’s performance. The group’s choreography and vocals weren’t as slick as what we’re used to from Georgia, and I felt like a bit of energy was missing. The girls’ costumes were great though. I love me some houndstooth, and I suppose it’s more sophisticated than the pajamas and towel turbans I was expecting/hoping for.

Vocals 7/10 Staging 6/10 Costumes 8.5/10 Overall 7/10

 

Slovenia I could listen to Lina sing all day long, so I was really looking forward to song number three. Vocally, she did not disappoint – the clarity of her voice was unreal. Her cutesey dress and sparkly sneakers also got my tick of approval, but I wasn’t 100% sold on the Frozen-esque visuals Slovenia opted for. I feel like a cool lighting scheme (a spotlight and some of Serbia’s redness, perhaps) would have been more suitable.

Vocals 10/10 Staging 8/10 Costumes 9/10 Overall 9/10

 

Italy The reigning champions (in case the overwhelming Bulgarian-ness made you forget that Italy won last year) put on a pretty good show, better than I thought they would. It was fun and competent, though lacked a little charisma. I loved the graffiti-type backdrop, which made the somewhat dated Viva feel fresher. You could say it brought the song back to viva. Or you could not be annoying like I am, and leave puns out of it.

Vocals 8.5/10 Staging 8/10 Costumes 7/10 Overall 8/10

 

The Netherlands Shalisa is so gorgeous, and would have lit up the camera even without her shiny jacket on and those candles burning. I love Million Lights, but it’s not particularly cohesive, and neither were the accompanying dancers – I didn’t really get how some of their moves related to the song. ‘Disjointed’ is how I’d describe the sound and staging, as much as I want to say otherwise.

Vocals 8.5/10 Staging 6/10 Costumes 8/10 Overall 7/10

 

Australia My eyes were moist during Bella’s turn, so I hate to imagine what state her mother was in. Another Australian debut was always going to be a big moment for me, and I applaud our well-choreographed and attractively metallic stage show. Bella’s Christina Aguilera impression was bang-on, too (#shegotthegrowl), and I adored her pants as much as I moon over Måns Zelmerlow’s leather pair…though for different reasons.

Vocals 9.5/10 Staging 9.5/10 Costumes 9.5/10 Overall 9.5/10

 

Ireland Following directly on from an excellent debut performance was another excellent debut performance – albeit one that lost its ability to spine-tingle thanks to some distracting graphics. That dodgy, badly-animated floating ship behind Aimee made me seasick. Dry ice was used to its maximum potential here, however, and it looked like Aimee was floating on the ocean herself. Fortunately it didn’t invade her lungs and ruin her vocals.

Vocals 9/10 Staging 6.5/10 Costumes 10/10 Overall 8/10

 

Russia Wow. Unexpected wow. This really impressed me! As much as I like Mechta, I was convinced Mikhail’s live rendition would be flat and boring (like it was at the Russian NF). But Russia seemed to have cut a mix of the song that had far greater impact in the arena. I loved the mood set by the moon prop and the dry ice (boy, that machine got a workout on Saturday), the dancer, the appropriately dreamy feel created by the blue and white colour scheme…it was all lovely. Well done, Russia.

Vocals 8.5/10 Staging 10/10 Costumes 9/10 Overall 9/10

 

FYR Macedonia Okay, bad bits: the vocals were in tune but a bit wobbly, and the costumes looked like they’d been fished out of a charity shop bargain bin after Britney Spears had dropped off a load of stuff circa 1999. The good bits? Well, Ivana and Magdalena avoided creating car-crash TV (that came later) and seemed to have fun on stage. Energetic choreography and good stage presence all round helped elevate this from amateur to enjoyable.

Vocals 7/10 Staging 8.5/10 Costumes 6/10 Overall 7/10

 

Belarus This was everything I was hoping it would be, Volshebstvo being my favourite entry of the year (in case you weren’t around when I mentioned that the other 500 times). Belarus used the backdrop to perfection, and Ruslan’s vocals were insanely good, as always. His camera and crowd engagement was top-notch until he finished off with that ultra cheesy wink (WHY, RUSLAN, WHY?). Pretending that never happened, I’d call this the total package.

Vocals 10/10 Staging 9.5/10 Costumes 10/10 Overall 9.5/10

 

Armenia Mika also had a (bright pink) package, signed, sealed and delivered to the door of victory…or something like that. Armenia’s stage show would have been drooled over by Georgia, who didn’t carry off the boy/girl/girl/girl dynamic half as well (plus, effortless, quirky fun used to be their forte). Mika is such a little star, and I think he’s going to have a bright future – perhaps as an Armenian representative in adult Eurovision one day (he said he’d be happy to do it when he answered my question during the winners’ press conference!).

Vocals 9.5/10 Staging 10/10 Costumes 10/10 Overall 9.5/10

 

Ukraine Waterfalls, sharks, forests, mechanical human-sized flowers…a list of what Ukraine didn’t incorporate into Anna’s stage show would be shorter than a list of what they did. This was OTT, even by Eurovision standards, with too many colours and too many vistas on the backdrop making things messy. Anna’s Pochny z Sebe is like a vanilla cupcake, not a ten-tiered marzipan-enrobed masterpiece fit for a royal wedding – it only needed minimal decoration.

Vocals 8.5/10 Staging 6/10 Costumes 7/10 Overall 7/10

 

Bulgaria Not bad, Bulgaria. There was possibly a bit too much going on here as well (rainbows! Ribbons! Unflattering cummerbunds!) but in comparison to Ukraine, Gabriela and Ivan’s performance was simplicity personified. Both kids’ vocals were strong individually, and together…well, it could have been much worse.

Vocals 9/10 Staging 7/10 Costumes 8.5/10 Overall 8.5/10

 

San Marino Epic staging and brilliant costumes couldn’t disguise the weaknesses in Kamilla’s voice, and she looked very uncomfortable on stage (whether that was due to nerves or her Aliona Moon-esque height off the ground, I don’t know). With a more competent vocalist, this could have been a contender for the top five.

Vocals 5/10 Staging 10/10 Costumes 10/10 Overall 7/10

 

Malta Destiny can sing – we all know that. She certainly didn’t emit a single off-key note on the night, and did her best to full up a big stage without the aid of backing singers, dancers, or trumpet players. Her personality and stage presence are larger than life, but I still wish she’d had some (or all) of the above with her. Company is what her performance was missing for me, because it certainly wasn’t missing soul (obvs, since THEY CAN NEVER TAKE AWAY HER SOUUUUUUL) or spark.

Vocals 10/10 Staging 7.5/10 Costumes 7/10 Overall 7.5/10

 

Albania Mishela is another soloist who could have used some backup to bring her song to life, but again, I really liked her performance anyway. Her voice is amazing, and so was that dress (though I know I’m in the minority, I wouldn’t give her a Junior Barbara Dex Award). If I could have given her some advice beforehand, I would have said ‘Smile! This is JESC, not a funeral’. It definitely wasn’t the death of Albania’s JESC journey, if her eventual result is anything to go by.

Vocals 10/10 Staging 7/10 Costumes 10/10 Overall 8.5/10

 

Montenegro Oh dear. What WASN’T wrong with this? Unsuitable colour scheme and costumes, half-hearted attempts to create a fun, tropical atmosphere on stage, and woeful vocals were all present and accounted for. Judging by the way Jana fiddled with her earpiece, then hissed at her backing dancers as soon as she struck her final pose, I’d say some technical problems may have been afoot. Hell hath no fury like a woman with a malfunctioning in-ear monitor.

Vocals 5/10 Staging 6/10 Costumes 5/10 Overall 5/10

 

That was the show from my point of view, and based on the marks I’ve awarded as if I’m a musical theatre teacher examining my protégées, here’s my ranking of the performances:

  1. Armenia
  2. Belarus
  3. Australia
  4. Slovenia
  5. Russia
  6. Albania
  7. Serbia
  8. Bulgaria
  9. Italy
  10. Ireland
  11. Malta
  12. FYR Macedonia
  13. San Marino
  14. Ukraine
  15. Georgia
  16. The Netherlands
  17. Montenegro

Hmm…that doesn’t quite match up with the actual results, does it?

 

Taking a look at the leaderboard

Speaking of which, here are the actual results, for anyone who needs a refresher (which I would totally understand given that I’m so late in posting this wrap-up…as usual):

  1. Malta (185)
  2. Armenia (176)
  3. Slovenia (112)
  4. Belarus (105)
  5. Albania (93)
  6. Russia (80)
  7. Serbia (79)
  8. Australia (64)
  9. Bulgaria (61)
  10. Georgia (51)
  11. Ukraine (38)
  12. Ireland (36)
  13. Montenegro (36)
  14. San Marino (36)
  15. The Netherlands (35)
  16. Italy (34)
  17. FYR Macedonia (26)

There’s only so much you can say without knowing the split results (even though they might not prove to be that interesting). I’ll save a more in-depth scoreboard analysis for when they’re released, but here’s a few observations for the meantime.

  • Malta’s win marks their third top five result in a row – not bad for a country that only squeezed in to that section of the scoreboard once during their first eight years of participation.
Malta-Champion-Destiny-Chukunyere-Credit-EBU-Elena-Volotova-Vladimir-Dudakliev-604x272

How could you NOT be happy for that face? (Photo: EBU, Elena Volotova/Vladimir Dudakliev)

  • Armenia’s second place takes their total of runner-up trophies to three. They have also won once and come third twice, and are yet to finish outside of the top ten.
  • Five countries achieved their best placements ever in 2015: Slovenia, Albania, Australia, Ireland and Montenegro. For Australia and Ireland, that was always going to be the case; but two-time competitor Slovenia reached the top three for the first time in any Eurovision event, and Albania equaled their best-ever ESC result from 2012. DambaYAY!
  • Italy, on the other hand, experienced a fall from grace that could only have been more unfortunate if they’d come last. From winning last year on their debut to just sidestepping last place, it’s hard to predict how they’ll fare if they decide to return in 2016.
  • Belarus added to their collection of commendable results with Ruslan’s fourth place. They have now won twice, come third twice, and appeared in the top five eight times out of thirteen participations. The same can’t be said about their record in the adult contest…
  • Bulgaria might have done better than many of us expected, but they actually performed pretty poorly for a host entry. The past five home representatives have finished 4th (Malta in Malta, 2014), 2nd (Ukraine in Kyiv, 2013), 7th (the Netherlands in Amsterdam, 2012), 5th (Armenia in Yerevan, 2011) and 5th again (Belarus in Minsk, 2010).
  • FYR Macedonia (a.k.a. the Norway of JESC) came last for the third time in Sofia. IMO, there was a different country starting with ‘M’ that should have taken out the wooden spoon this year.
  • If you’re wondering how my pre-show predictions panned out, then prepare to laugh at my ineptitude! Yes, I did peg Malta as a possible winner, but I only guessed three of the top five correctly – Malta, Armenia and Belarus – and unlike last year, only predicted one country in the exact right place (FYR Macedonia in 17th). I massively underestimated Albania (though can you blame me?) and massively OVERestimated Australia (I blame bias for that one). How did you do?

 

I’m going to take my leave now in order to wallow in the murky waves of PJED (Post-Junior Eurovision Depression) – although the prospect of the upcoming delayed Aussie broadcast of the show, complete with our own commentary team and whatnot, is easing the pain. I’ll be back with a fun-sized amount of further JESC coverage before looking ahead to Stockholm 2016 – a party that we’ve just discovered will be attended by a) Bosnia and Herzegovina (where did they end up getting funding from? I hope to hell it wasn’t Ralph Siegel) and b) Kaliopi, Miss Congeniality of the world. I will be there too, but how much ‘there’ might depend on tomorrow’s ticket sales working in my favour. Wish me luck as I attempt to snap up the same thing that everybody else wants!

 

Until next time,

 

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JUNIOR EUROVISION HAS ARRIVED! The EBJ Junior Jury’s Top 17 + predictions for Sofia’s spectacular show

It’s D-day, guys. #discover day. Saturday, for those less JESC-inclined. For the rest of us, though, the next best thing to Eurovision is about to take place in Sofia, Bulgaria, and we (I can safely assume) are very, very excited!

There are mere hours until a certain European – or perhaps Australian – takes over from Vincenzo Cantiello as Junior Eurovision champion incumbent, and I am more than ready to find out who that child is. But before that, there’s some important business to take care of: the business of predicting. Attempting to guess what’s going to happen at any given Eurovision event is tradition, and I don’t like to break from tradition. You can see where this is going, right?

3, 2, 1, predictions!

Oh…hang on. There’s one teensy thing I forgot I had to do first. But you’ll like it, I promise.*

 

*I can’t REALLY promise that.

 

Revealed: The EBJ Junior Jury’s complete ranking, from #1 to #17

Whether you’re an EBJ regular or a random, you’ll be aware that over the past few weeks, myself and seven other JESC devotees have been both extremely catty and extra complimentary in reviewing Sofia’s seventeen competing entries. If you want to revisit all the highs and all the lows, follow Gaitana’s lead and be my guest.

  • Part 1, feat. Armenia, Montenegro, the Netherlands and Serbia
  • Part 2, feat. Italy, Malta, Russia and Slovenia
  • Part 3, feat. Australia, Belarus, Georgia and Ukraine
  • Part 4, feat. Albania, Bulgaria, FYR Macedonia, Ireland and San Marino

I totted up the top four/five at the end of each round of reviews, but being a fan of a soap opera-style cliffhanger, flatly refused to reveal the full ranking until I was gosh darned ready – i.e. when the suspense had pulled up at the intersection of Unbearable Street and Just Tell Us Already Avenue (in the suburb known as Jaz’s Overactive Imagination). That moment, my friends, has arrived. Without further ado, feast your eyes on this collaborative ranking of the Class of (JESC) 2015.

ebjjj17I’m very happy to report that my hands-down favourite from the start, Belarus, topped the list in the eyes (and ears) of the EBJ Jury. I should think so, too…I didn’t bribe them for nothing! Also in our top five are the highly regarded songs from Slovenia, Armenia and Australia, with Albania making a bit of a curveball appearance. I don’t expect Mishela, as lovely as she and her song are, to dambaje her way to such heights tonight. See my scoreboard prediction below if you want to find out where I think she will finish.

Our gracious first-time hosts Bulgaria didn’t fare so well with the EBJJJ, limping into last place. If that’s their fate in the actual contest, at least Gabriela and Ivan will be spared the humiliation of mimicking The Makemakes’ goose egg – thanks to the ‘Douze points for everybody, dance’ Junior rule, none of the kids will be jetting out of Sofia empty-handed. Bless ‘em.

In case you were wondering (which is highly unlikely, I know), here’s a rundown of the top scores handed out by each of my jury members. Not all jurors reviewed all of the entries – in fact, I was the only one who did – so keep that in mind when you’re about to mutter ‘Well, there’s no accounting for taste.’

  •  Jaimie (Australia) 10 points to Armenia
  • James (UK) 10 points to Slovenia
  • Jaz (Australia) 12 points to Belarus and Slovenia
  • Liam (Australia) 7 points to Ireland
  • Lukman (Australia) 10 points to Belarus
  • Mrs. Jaz (Australia) 8 points to Italy
  • Penny (USA) 12 points to Belarus
  • Rory (Ireland) 12 points to Albania

With three sets of douze points being awarded to Belarus, have we chosen a champ you can bet on? Or have we jinxed Ruslan right out of trophy territory? All will be revealed in a few hours’ time.

To officially conclude my 2015 JESC reviews, I’d like to thank all of my jury members for taking part – some at quite short notice. You guys are awesome, and if we were in the same room right now, I’d give you the high five of the century.

Now, onto what you probably started reading this post for: some predictions!

 

Looking into my (cloudy) crystal ball and getting all psychic on Sofia

Let’s start the proceedings with some standard guesses re: who’s going to hit, who’s going to miss, and who’s going to have it all. I’m the CEO of Never Ever Watch The Rehearsals Enterprises, so the following predictions are based on what I’ve heard about the run-throughs, plus my personal opinions of how the songs will fare.

 

The slickest staging Armenia/Belarus. Armenia never fail to entertain, and from what I’ve heard, they’ve really got their shiz together this year, bringing some of the fun from Mika’s music video to the Arena Armeec stage. Belarus will be replicating Ruslan’s NF performance, having adapted it a little to bring it up to JESC standards. It’s sure to be simple, but super-duper effective.

The most jaw-dropping vocals Australia/Belarus/Ireland/Malta/Serbia/Slovenia…I could go on. Once again, the 10-15-year-olds of Europe (and Australia…) are singing like they’ve been doing it for decades, and given that flashy vocals were a big part of Italy’s winning formula in 2014, the ability to make us all go ‘Wow!’ could be crucial. My top picks for tonight are Australia and Ireland. If there aren’t any voice-breaking incidents in the Belarusian camp, listen out there too.

The most cutting-edge costumes Armenia/Georgia/San Marino. I’ll admit, I have caught glimpses of these guys in costume, so this isn’t so much of a prediction as an educated opinion. It’s all about colour for Armenia and Georgia, whereas San Marino is going for shattered-glass chic. Believe it or not, it works.

The best backdrop Belarus. Trees are always a crowd pleaser. Hey, prettiness! Hey, symbolism!

The coolest choreography Armenia. Because if they don’t, it just wouldn’t be Junior Eurovision. And I would not know what the heck to do with myself.

The total package Armenia, Australia, Belarus. This trio should have sight and sound fully covered, and that’s what makes them frontrunners for the win.

A positive surprise San Marino. Both in terms of performance and result, I’m hoping Kamilla will surpass expectations.

A negative surprise Ukraine. Usually you can trust Ukraine to nail the visuals and mechanics of their stage performance, but I hear they’ve gone all Amanecer and thrown everything at Anna, including a giant lotus flower and a CGI shark. What the?

Biggest cheer from the crowd Armenia/Bulgaria/Malta. Bulgaria gets a free pass on this one as the host country – even if they’d sent two aggressive feral cats to hiss through a duet (which, let’s face it, is actually a semi-decent way of describing the dynamic between Gabriela and Ivan) they’d be received with rapturous applause. Armenia’s Love and Malta’s Not My Soul will get the audience going in a big way as two of the most energetic songs on the program.

 

Now, to bring out the big guns…guns that fire pixilated love hearts á la Armenia’s. Decoded, that means it’s time to predict the final results.

One of the bajillion things I love about JESC is its unpredictability. For some reason, this contest is always harder to predict than its adult counterpart, which can be frustrating as well as wonderful. 2015 is just as unclear-cut as the previous few editions have been – even in terms of who’s going to finish last, which is usually the easiest call to make – but I’m not going to let that stop me from making a fool of myself! Here’s how I think the leaderboard of Junior Eurovision 2015 is going to look just before the winner’s reprise and the roll of the credits.

 

The bottom five

Albania, Bulgaria, FYR Macedonia, Italy, Montenegro

If I HAD to call it: Montenegro 13th, Italy 14th, Albania 15th, Bulgaria 16th, FYR Macedonia 17th

 

The mid-rangers (a.k.a. the meat in the scoreboard sandwich!)

Georgia, Ireland, The Netherlands, Russia, San Marino, Slovenia, Ukraine

If I HAD to call it: Georgia 6th, Slovenia 7th, Ireland 8th, Ukraine 9th, San Marino 10th, The Netherlands 11th, Russia 12th

 

The top five

Armenia, Australia, Belarus, Malta, Serbia

If I HAD to call it: Belarus/Malta 1st/2nd (I CANNOT call it, okay?!?), Armenia 3rd, Australia 4th, Serbia 5th

 

Call it controversial (even if it isn’t, just to make me feel badass) but I’ve had a gut instinct that Belarus, my favourite entry of the year, is going to fare a lot better than some believe. I don’t want to tempt fate and ruin Ruslan’s chances, but I ignored the similar instinct I had about Italy last year, and we all know what went down in Malta. The thing is, I’m not anywhere near certain that Belarus will win – perhaps because many parallels can be drawn between their package of singer and song, and Italy’s last year, and I’m wondering if voters and juries will go for the same thing two years in a row. But, I’ve heard nothing but good things about Ruslan’s rehearsals, and provided he kept his voice in check (generally and hormonally-speaking) for the jury final, he would have raked in the points – and as some countries, including Australia, are using 100% jury vote *mutters angrily about not being able to vote*, televoters have less power here. Basically, I think things look very good for Belarus, and if they don’t win, it’ll be at least a return to the top five for them.

Belarus-secind-rehearsal-photo-2-600x400

Ruslan had better hope the dry ice doesn’t go all Nina Sublatti on him tonight… (Photo: Wiwibloggs)

If I’m not about to witness my favourite song win a Eurovision event for the third consecutive time, however, then it’s got to be a win for Malta (which I’m steeling myself for as it’s not an outcome I’d be thrilled about…NO NO NO!) or Australia. Armenia could take it out too, but I’m convinced Love is the kind of song that will come second or third rather than go all the way. With adult jury influence heavily in play, “junior” Junior entries have struggled to beat their more mature rivals, and I suspect that trend will continue here. But top five is almost a certainty for Armenia again.

There’s a big space between the top five and bottom five that has to be filled, but it’s ridiculously hard to predict how. Georgia has a good chance of almost being back on form this year, because they know how to put on a show, and Gabede is a song that stands out (not necessarily for all the right reasons, but it’s definitely memorable). I’m crossing my fingers for Ireland to finish in the upper mid-table region, or surprise me and do even better. The Netherlands and Russia won’t perform terribly – which is a relief for me because I really like Million Lights and Mechta – but they’re just not memorable enough to battle for anything other than to squeeze into the top ten. This is, of course, in my opinion, but I am incredibly knowledgeable AND have an impeccable prediction record. Not.

Mikhail-Smirnov-Russia-Junior-Eurovision-2015-rehearsal

Mikhail’s fairly well suited to JESC, and his backing dancer’s all white. (Photo: Wiwibloggs)

I’m pretty sure that FYR Macedonia, who once upon a time sent absolute gems to JESC, is going to be to Sofia 2015 what Croatia was to Malta 2014 – i.e. the loser (sorry, kids, but when there’s an über-accurate word for a situation, you’ve just got to use it). I don’t mind Pletenka, but even I can hear that it’s repetitive and monotonous, and maybe a little too amateur in comparison to the other sixteen songs. But I’m happy to be wrong if it means FYR Macedonia defies expectation, does okay and then decides to return to the comp next year.

 

Finally…the five things I’m most looking forward to seeing tonight

I don’t think this segment requires an intro.

  • Seeing how Bulgaria handle their hosting duties. Malta did an amazing job in 2014, and I’m sure Bulgaria can measure up. With Poli Genova at the helm, the night’s got to be rocking.
  • The performances from my personal top three. I’ll be on the edge of my seat when Belarus, Slovenia and Ukraine have their minutes in the spotlight, hoping for the best (or, in Ukraine’s case, hoping the shark thing was a joke).
  • Australia making their JESC debut. There was a time I would have laughed at you for fifteen straight minutes if you’d even implied that we Aussies would have a delegation at mini-Eurovij, all the whole wishing it would happen. Now it IS happening, and I am psyched.
bella-paige-australia-second-rehearsal-600x400

‘My girls here we goooooooo…to the supermarket, to buy some more alfoil for this dress.’ (Photo: ESC Daily)

  • Speaking of Australia…I’m awaiting our point delivery with eagerness too. Hopefully our jury has made the kind of choices that compensate for a lack of public vote. Although, we’re relying on an ex-Wiggle here…
  • And, to finish off, Vincenzo’s reprise of the stunning Tu Il Primo Grande Amore. I’m keen to see if his sass levels are still higher than a kite a year on from his victory. I’ve no doubt his voice remains spectacular.

 

I think I’ve said all I need to say before the show kicks off – or at least, all I have time to say, as I’ve got to go and have a pre-contest nap so I don’t pass out halfway through the recap. I’ll be doing some live tweeting tonight if you want to meet me on Twitter (I’m @EurovisionByJaz, in case you didn’t know).

Until then, if you catch sight of the comments section and feel like using it, give me one or all of your predictions for JESC 2015! I hope, no matter how right or wrong you turn out to be, you enjoy the show. I know I will, even if it does mean hauling my butt out of bed at two o’clock in the morning.

Merry JESC!

 

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JESC 2015 Judgments feat. the EBJ Junior Jury | Armenia, Montenegro, The Netherlands and Serbia

Zdraveĭ, guys! That, for anyone wondering, is what Google Translate has informed me ‘hello’ is in Bulgarian (meaning there’s a good chance it actually translates to ‘I can see your underpants’ or something like that). But it’s the thought that counts, and I’m definitely thinking I’d rather say hi than say anything in reference to your underpants…unless Måns Zelmerlöw is reading this, of course.

Ahem. Moving right along now. Believe it or not, Bulgaria’s first Eurovision event – Junior Eurovision 2015, obviously – will take place in just over two weeks’ time. As such, I need to kick my pre-show coverage into high (or, really, any) gear. Today I’m doing just that by unveiling installment numero uno of my JESC reviews for the year.

But these aren’t just my reviews. As I did for EBJ’s ESC reviews earlier this year LINK, I’ve put together a globe-spanning jury who are ready to slide all seventeen songs competing in Sofia under their musical microscopes (I shipped one out to everybody, which got very expensive) in order to determine which ones deserve douze points, and which ones…well, don’t (let’s leave it at that. Someone has to think of the children!). Each of these JESC Judgment posts will see three ESC and/or JESC fanatics (including yours truly, as I wasn’t prepared to relinquish complete control) comment on and score each entry – revolutionary, I know. Before we get down to the nitty-gritty of said commenting and scoring, allow me to introduce the first trio of jury members.

 

TODAY’S EBJ JUNIOR JURY

EBJJJ 1Lukman Andi Uleng ‘What do you get when you mix sugar and spice and everything nice with a teaspoon of Eurovision? Well, it makes me, Lukman Andi Uleng! I’ve been following the most fantastic show on Earth since 2001, when my sister asked me to watch the show with her on SBS. Funnily enough, I became the Eurovision fan, while she despises it! I’ve also been watching the Junior version since it first started in 2003, and to this day, still follow it. I remember the early days when it used to have a strong focus on colours, cuteness and tackiness, and the children themselves would be the main composers of the songs. Junior Eurovision is about fun, letting the talented children of Europe show the world what they can do. I guess it’s a great platform for their future in the entertainment industry. My favourite Junior Eurovision songs ever include Te Traigo Flores by Antonio José, Te Doy Mi Voz by Dani Fernández, and Planet of the Children by Krisia, Hasan and Ibrahim. I’m so excited that Jaz invited me to review some of the Junior Eurovision songs selected for 2015!’

Jaimie Duncan Jaimie is a Eurovision tragic who longs to own a wind machine of her own (there are days when a pedestal fan is just not enough). She finds the idea of Junior Eurovision simultaneously appealing and unsettling, and tends to drink and yell at the television when watching it – and sometimes when reviewing the songs as well.

Jaz ‘Surprise, surprise – it’s ME! You’re probably aware that I devote almost as much brain-space to Junior Eurovision as to its older, wiser sibling, and have done since I stumbled upon them both in 2006. As someone who nearly had a breakdown when JESC went through its rough, could-be-cancelled-at-any-minute patch a few years back, I got ridiculously excited seeing it bounce back and become bigger and better than…well, maybe not ever, but it’s pretty awesome these days, right? If I could magic any non-competing country into the competition this year and for the future, it’d be Spain. They rocked at JESC from 2003-2006, and left on a high…meaning they could return on a high too. See you in 2016, amigos?’

 

 

So now you’ve seen our incredibly attractive faces and know our names, go ahead and check out what we think of the JESC 2015 efforts from Armenia, Montenegro, the Netherlands and Serbia. Don’t worry, Mika, Jana, Shalisa and Lena – we haven’t been too hard on you…

 

 

 Armenia15

Lukman Armenia is one of the powerhouses of Junior Eurovision, and their entries are always catchy, fun and a bit out-of-the-box. Mika is such a big personality and a born star, and if the Armenians can stage a wonderful, exciting and suitable performance as they always do, he will finish on the first half of the scoreboard. I admire the entry as it is age-appropriate, compared to some younger singers singing songs more suitable for adults. The song itself is cute and cheeky, and more of a song to watch than to listen to. The verses and choruses are not the most memorable and not the most original; however, the song is about spreading love, fun and happiness. A serious contender for the win? Well, maybe not…but it will definitely be one to watch. Good luck Mika! 6 points.

Jaimie Has everyone seen 10-year-old George Dalton’s viral cover of Trap Queen yet? If you haven’t, watch it – it’s a weirdly mesmerising, Scott Bradlee-style reimagining. It’s also deeply disturbing when you consider that the original Fetty Wap song is about a girl who cooks meth, not apple pie. I have to admit that when I first heard Armenia’s JESC entry, my first thought was ‘Oh look, it’s the Armenian George Dalton. Except cooler. And with a love gun. Wait… what?’. The music video is hard to decode (where is the first location? Dr Love’s Evil Lair? Some sort of call centre? Santa’s Workshop? Why are they wearing 60s sci-fi costumes?. I feel I should learn this dance. At least the guy driving is grown up. OMG, THAT’S WHAT ARAM MP3 IS UP TO NOW? Should we be encouraging the shooting of love-nerf from a moving vehicle? Uh, you do know what happens when dogs “fall in love” right? Oh, he’s a motivational speaker. Or a supervillain. That makes so much more sense. God, this is weird.) What the video does offer is some clues about staging which could be a completely fabulous little retro revival as long as Mika leaves the love gun at home. Coming from a default position of finding JESC just a little creepy, I worry about how much I love this song…and what that says about me as a human. 10 points.

Jaz Armenia certainly know what they’re doing when it comes to JESC, and they’ve demonstrated that they mean business yet again by relegating Aram Mp3 to chauffeur status in Mika’s music video for the happy clappy Love. To put things simply, I like this song – I like it a lot. I wouldn’t say I feel the Love just yet, but this is the kind of effortless, retro-mod pop that a) puts me in a great mood, and b) tends to succeed at Junior Eurovision (see Russia 2006 or 2010 if you’re after a prime example). Mika is adorable and in possession of inordinate amounts of sass and swag for a kid his age. I have no doubt that he’ll have more than a pint-sized amount of stage presence to carry him through in Sofia. And, as Lukman said, Armenia never fail to put on an impressive performance, so expect top-notch costuming, props, lighting and choreography to accompany him. With all of that at their disposal – plus a catchy, fun track that is weaker than their previous, but is also competing in a far weaker field – Armenia could be dangerous to all sixteen of their rivals (though that’s partly due to the fact that they’re armed with those love guns). 8 points.

EBJ Junior Jury Score 8.00

 

 

Monte15

Lukman Let me start by stating that Oluja is a decent song and has a wonderful story in the video clip. I just feel that the song is a teeny bit outdated, and not particularly suited to Jana. The melody isn’t memorable, and there is just no hook. The chorus could be a bit stronger and a little more likeable. I really hope they have a strong and fun routine planned, which could help the song out. I would have loved to have heard some Balkan instruments in the song, or even stronger instrumentation. Sadly, as it is, Oluja has no ‘wow’ factor, but I’m sure Jana’s vocals will be awesome on the night! 4 points.

Jaimie So, the story of this song appears to be quite simple (I have to base this on the video clip as I am hampered by language here). Two kids, having run away from a folk festival of some kind, play a completely inept game of hide and seek which ends when the girl nicks the boy’s scarf and runs off with it, presumably to more fully embrace her new life of crime. Flash forward, and the boy, having grown a staggeringly majestic set of cheekbones, is still moping about the countryside missing his scarf. The girl, having grown into a Dolly magazine model and renounced her life as a criminal mastermind, runs into him in a field. He’s so pleased at having his scarf back, he hugs her, not realising she’s plucked his wallet out of his pocket. It’s a classic romance. It’s also boring and forgettable, and cannot possibly move into the top half of the board without this girl’s organised crime connections fixing the vote (possibly having been bribed with the scarf). 5 points.

Jaz Lucky it’s Throwback Thursday, because Jana’s Oluja is one heck of a #tbt to the JESC days of yore – not that I mind much. I had a feeling Montenegro were going to BRING IT on their second shot at Junior, so in that sense, I was disappointed when this cookie-cutter, half-hearted attempt at ethno-pop dropped. But it’s amazing what a second listen can do! I still think Jana is putting as much energy into her vocals as Maša & Lejla did into their performance in Malta (i.e. not much at all…is Montenegro suffering from a sugar shortage or something?) which detracts from the sunny vibrancy of the melody. Nor do I think her song makes the most of its almost-three minutes (is that extended instrumental break necessary?). However, I don’t mind having a dance to it at this point. Oluja really does reek of JESC circa 2005, and though that’s fine by me because I loved (and still love) those contests, it might not help Montenegro improve on last year’s mediocre result. I’m interested to see how this is presented, and how Jana comes across live (will she have to have a Loïc Nottet-style lie down halfway through because she’s so lethargic?). My fingers will be crossed that it’s at least competent on both of those counts. 7 points.

EBJ Junior Jury Score 5.33

 

 

Nether15

Lukman Shalisa is a very talented singer with great stage presence. I really like the verses, which sound really lovely to the ear. Unfortunately, I don’t find the chorus as strong. I appreciate it is beautiful, but it’s not catchy and not too memorable. Despite the chorus not being catchy enough I appreciate that the song is high quality, contemporary and filled with lots of emotions, feelings and passion. I hope she sticks to singing whilst playing the piano because it may give her the edge, and also shows off what she can do! 6 points.

Jaimie Eh. I don’t hate it. I don’t “love” it as much as the Armenian song. Shalisa looks like a young Natalie Portman which is intriguing, and I like her hat. Million Lights is pretty clinical. It provokes no feeling. It’s safe and pleasant. It’ll probably win. 6 points for the hat.

Jaz The Netherlands is another one of those countries that seem to ‘get’ JESC without always proving themselves to have the same understanding of the ESC. Year after year, they send something polished, well-produced and contemporary to mini-Eurovij, and 2015 is no exception. Million Lights is a pretty ballad with Rihanna-esque r & b influences, sung beautifully by Shalisa (who’s emanating Emilija Đjonin vibes)…but it’s not the total package. It’s a song that seems to get lost in itself, with awkward switches from Dutch to English and vice versa contributing to the choruses being hard to single out; and it doesn’t really build up to much – not enough to demand votes, anyway. I’m not sure it’s cohesive or memorable enough to squeeze onto the left-hand side of the scoreboard. It is melodically douze-worthy, though, and I enjoy all the different bits and pieces within. This is a genre that’s right up my street, and there’s something about this example of it that draws me in, in spite of some obvious flaws. 8 points.

EBJ Junior Jury Score 6.67

 

 

Serbia15

Lukman An absolutely beautiful song represents Serbia at this year’s Junior Eurovision – but saying that, I do lean towards Balkan songs. I really like the melody, and the chorus is very emotional and dramatic. I wish the instrumentation was a bit stronger as the song is missing a bit of oomph that it needs. My idea would be to throw in a few more instruments that would remedy that; however, I do like the inclusion of ethnic sounds in the song. I guess they could be going for simple instrumentation. The song does sound slightly outdated but I still love it. Lena is such a powerful singer and has been gifted with a really sweet voice. I am 100% sure she will sing well on the night! Good luck Lena! 7 points.

Jaimie Sigh. This is why I find the Junior contest so unsettling. I know kids. I’ve met some. I don’t know any of them who would get this passionate about things that aren’t Pokémon or pizza night at the roller rink or how their brother keeps stealing the Wii remote when it’s clearly not his turn. I do know an eight-year-old who stopped speaking for three days when Zayn left One Direction though, so I’m not saying that kids can’t harbour strong feelings about things. Perhaps Lena is super stoked about getting 10 out of 10 on a spelling test, but I rather think this song is about her self-empowerment instead (I’m guessing). This is no bad thing, really. I’m trying to be sympathetic. But here’s why I disconnect from JESC – I’m a grown-up. I’ve forgotten what the passions of childhood are like, whether they are about Pokémon or about realising you’re a complete person on your own, and I can’t help but wonder how many of the passionate words coming out of these child performers’ mouths have been put there by adult songwriters who have also forgotten. I want to take it seriously, because Lena’s obviously a good performer and I don’t want to do her a disservice, but I just can’t. I’m too cynical…and she’s no Mika. 6 points.

Jaz YES! A dramatic Balkan ballad! It’s almost like my main man Željko Joksimović will be with us in spirit in Sofia – although Lenina Pesma is even more drama-packed than the majority of his Eurovision compositions (which is really saying something). Unlike Million Lights, this is a song that builds up to something big, and doesn’t relent until the very end – or until Lena’s run out of oxygen and passes out on stage, one of the two. This girl might be miniature, but she has a massive voice that’s sure to impress on the night, assuming she can sustain it throughout the rehearsal period. She should sound strong, and Lenina Pesma won’t just be a showcase for her voice – it holds its own, and is sure to be a more memorable presence in the line-up than Serbia’s song was last year. It’s not exactly cutting-edge, but Balkan ballads don’t need to be – they’re timeless. This is on track to do rather well, as long as Serbia don’t overdo the staging (an atmospheric lighting scheme and a couple of dancers would do just fine). All in all, this is an excellent choice. 7 points.

EBJ Junior Jury Score 6.67

 

 

And just like that, there’s four songs done and dusted, leaving thirteen un-judged. Let’s have a look at the EBJJJ leaderboard at this early stage (which includes a tie I’ve broken on countback of individual scores):

  1. Armenia (8.00)
  2. The Netherlands (6.67)
  3. Serbia (6.67)
  4. Montenegro (5.33)

With no douze points doled out yet, will Armenia stay in prime position? Or will one of the next four countries to be placed in the spotlight take the title of Most Likely To Win According To The EBJ Junior Jury’s Totally Scientific Calculations? You can speculate on that as I let you know that Italy, Malta, Russia and Slovenia are up next. They’ll be reviewed by not one, but two returnees from my May ESC jury – James from the UK, and my mum (yep, Mrs. Jaz is back, and she didn’t even need to be bribed into it…much).

Join us then for more JESC-themed shenanigans, or be square!

 

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VIENNESE VERDICTS | The EBJ Jury Reviews (Part 3)

Welcome to yet another installment of the Viennese Verdicts! I know, I know, I posted the last one, like, two seconds ago…two very long seconds that almost lasted for three days ago. But, you see, I’ve arrived at the point where I simply must cram things in if I want to take care of all necessary business by Eurovision time. Which I really do. So, with that in mind, let’s get cracking.

On the menu today we have a delicious (or not, depending on one’s tastes) selection of musical dishes, courtesy of Cyprus, Poland, Italy, Montenegro and Armenia. Meet the trio sampling these pan-European dishes:

 

TODAY’S EBJ JURY

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Kohan Ikin: Kohan is from Perth, Australia. He started watching Eurovision in 2003 to see famous Russian faux-lesbian pop duo tATu, and got hooked after seeing Alf Poier’s folk/metal act performed by cardboard animals. Kohan has since been to Eurovision three times, and engineered Perth’s first Eurovision nightclub event (together with Perth-via-Denmark fan Kate Hansen). Clearly that Alf Poier incident did something to his brain. You can stalk Kohan online here and here.

Wolfgang Schmidt: “My name is Wolfgang – in full, Wolfgang Michael Schmidt. But nice people and/or good friends call me ‘Wolf’ or ‘Mikey’. I am from a small town near Essen in the mid-west of Germany, not far from the Eurovision host city of 2011, Düsseldorf. I have been a Eurovision addict ever since I can think! The first contest I remember was ESC 1974, which one of the greatest bands on Earth, ABBA, won. From then on, I watched the show every year, missing it only in 1996 as it was not broadcast in Germany (due to the fact that we did not qualify to participate). In 1998 I attended Eurovision live for the first time to support the German delegation in Birmingham. That was the most amazing experience I ever had with the Eurovision! All in all, I have attended the contest four times, in Birmingham in 1998, Copenhagen in 2001, Düsseldorf in 2011 and Malmö in 2013. My all-time favorite Eurovision songs are Lane Moje by Željko Joksimović, Stronger Every Minute by Lisa Andreas, and The One That I Love by Chiara, which would all have gotten the full douze points from me. Eurovision is a ‘come together’ of different cultures, styles of music and kinds of people who all love to share the moments of great music, awesome stage performances and ridiculous dressing (well, sometimes!). And it is THE biggest party in Europe to celebrate with people coming from around forty different countries. That makes it so special to me once a year!”

Jasmin Bear: “Let’s continue the series of ‘Eurovision-Related Facts About Jaz You May Or May Not Want To Have Forced Down Your Throat’ with a list of the countries I’d like to win Eurovision 2015…based on where I’d most like to visit. Numero uno? Heja Sverige! My obsession with all things Swedish spawned from my addiction to the ESC and, consequently, Melodifestivalen. As a lover of the language, the food, the music, the movies, the architecture, the landscapes AND the flat-pack furniture of Sweden – and as someone still waiting to make their first Eurovision attendance happen – Mr. Zelmerlöw taking the top prize in Vienna would equate to me crossing two things off my bucket list at once. In terms of the other countries I’d be hysterically happy to visit in 2016 should they take out the 60th comp, no matter how unlikely that might be…I’d say the UK, Switzerland, Belgium or Iceland. But, if one of my top three songs should win (besides Sweden, as I’ve parroted on about that country enough already) I will be satisfied to jet off to Italy or Norway next year!”

 

 

Without further ado (or perhaps I should say ‘adio’, since Montenegro features in this round of reviews) I present our thoughts on what John/Giannis, Monika, Il Volo, Knez and Genealogy are serving up in Vienna. FYI, some of these songs have left a bad taste in our collective mouths…

 

 

CYPRUS

One Thing I Should Have Done by John Karayiannis

Cyprus

Kohan: Ugh! This really annoys me. I’m sure John is a nice guy, but…wait, when does that sentence ever end well? His voice is great, and the guitar reminds me of More Than Words by Extreme (not a bad thing).  But that puts all the focus on the lyrics, and they’re creepy.  Whiney post-breakup introspection: ‘I’m cold, I’m staring at the wall, it’s raining, sad colours’.  Then there’s the passive-aggressive streak that he ‘always did everything for you’, so clearly the breakup isn’t his fault. Oh, and the One Thing He Should Have Done is he ‘should have been there’ even more?! Am I the only one getting stalker vibes here? And what was that ‘hour of need’? These lyrics pose more questions than they answer. It’s like a Stephen King novel – possibly Misery. I’m looking forward to the karaoke version. 2 points.

Wolfgang: I have a soft spot for male singer/songwriter ballads, so I really like this song! I like the voice of Giannis and think he will do a good live performance. But I fear that the song can soon be forgotten again right after his performance. I would recommend staging with just the spotlight on Giannis and his song, which could create a more intimate atmosphere and give us a Tom Dice moment on stage. The ‘one thing he should have done’ by May is change his glasses and wear something comfortable, so we don’t get another Moran Mazor effect! I’d love to see this qualify to the final, but I don’t have much hope it will. Some of these ballads have to die the ‘ballad death’ in the semis. 5 points.

Jaz: Considering how long and involved Cyprus’ Eurovision Song Project was, it didn’t narrow things down to a great selection of songs. You could say that this particular project was, if not an F-grade fail, C-grade at least. Like the other less-than-impressive NFs of the season, though, Cyprus scores points for picking the best of a bad bunch – that is, the best apart from Hovig’s Stone In A River, which I personally believe should be representing them instead. One Thing I Should Have Done is a soft, reasonably pretty ballad that definitely harks back to the days of Tom Dice and his equally simplistic entry. The thing is, I was never that attached to Me and My Guitar, and the same goes for the bespectacled John/Giannis’ song (which has nothing to do with the fact that Tom was better-looking). It’s nice, it’s sweet, and the emotion is genuine, but I don’t feel much at all when I listen to it. The only reason I’d be disappointed if Cyprus didn’t qualify with this is because it’s Cyprus, and I always like it when they do advance. But unless they create a ‘moment’ on the night – an air of simplicity that provides a stunning contrast to most of the other performances – I think Slovenia’s three minutes that follow will obliterate all memory viewers have of Cyprus. 5 points.

EBJ Jury Score: 4.00

 

 

POLAND

In The Name of Love by Monika Kuzyńska

Poland

Kohan: I like this one! I know I’m meant to be a punk/metal fan, and this is so middle-of-the-road adult contemporary…but dammit, it works. Just when I think the song is about to plateau, it kicks up to the next level, bringing the guitars, bringing the drums. The way it swells to a crescendo is perfect. It better qualify for the final, it’s good. I think Poland is safely through semi two this year. 6 points.

Wolfgang: I am not really impressed by this song, as it sounds to me like the prototype of an LLB (Lame Lady Ballad). It could have been an entry in the contests of 1979, 1985, 1994 or 2001, etc – it sounds quite old-fashioned and like I’ve already heard it a hundred times before in different ESC shows. I absolutely think this song cannot stand out and will not qualify. I would compare it to the entry of France, with France having the advantage of already being qualified to the final. Sorry, but this simply is not enough to make the difference on the Eurovision stage. It sounds like the B-side of If You Asked Me To by Céline Dion. I hope there won’t be another Dion-esque diva performance in the second semi. I don’t see a second performance here! 2 points.

Jaz: Many people will be inquiring as to the whereabouts of the buxom butter-churner and her stain-removing friend (whisky and gin are hard to remove from one’s petticoat) in Poland’s performance this year, as I can safely assume they will not be making an appearance. In The Name of Love is pretty much as far removed – genre, mood and subject-wise – as you can get from My Słowianie, which is a strike against it in my book. Poland made a serious splash in Copenhagen, and it’s a shame to see them toss their triple-flavour icecream sundae with hot fudge sauce, sprinkles and a cherry on top (two actually…one on each scoop *wink*) in the trash in favour of a plain Greek yoghurt (or Polish yoghurt, if there is such a thing). Having said that, there must be a little sugar in this confection, because it is sweet. As piano ballads go, it flows nicely and compliments Monika’s voice, and the lyrics don’t make me nauseous. It isn’t cutting-edge, but I still feel like it fits well enough into the 2015 contest, even if it would go down a treat in 1995 as well. There’s nothing really wrong with it, and I find it to be a soothing, pleasant listen. But it’s just not memorable, and when you think back to Poland 2014, it becomes even less so in comparison. I cannot see Monika making it out of her semi final, no matter how hard I try, because there’s nothing here that would compel the masses to vote. She’ll do okay with the juries, and if her performance is well-packaged, she’s sure to avoid the dreaded last place. But I think that’s the best result Poland can hope for. 6 points.

EBJ Jury Score: 4.67

 

 

ITALY

Grande Amore by Il Volo

Italy

Kohan: Majestic. Italy has the full package: charisma, perfectly harmonised vocals…and they look fantastic. The way the song builds is sublime. I understand now the true power of a well-tailored Italian suit, and putting Back To The Future references in your video clip is a great way to bribe the Hatman jury (thanks, fellas). But…I’m only giving it 8 points (Jaz is gonna kill me). It’s a contender for the trophy and the juries will love it, but it isn’t a song I’m playing repeatedly.

Wolfgang: Il Volo are already popular in a lot of European countries. That is an advantage, because they already have a wide fan community. And the guys have great voices and outstanding live abilities, so this year Italy will easily fly again into the top 10 of the scoreboard if they do a perfect show. The song also combines the musical taste of the older and the younger generation, so that they will get a lot of points from various countries across Europe. I think it will easily end up 6th-8th in the final. The bookies already see this coming close to winning. IMO, it is the best song of these five I am reviewing here, but it is not a winning song. 8 points.

Jaz: If marrying a song ever becomes socially acceptable, I will be dragging this one down the aisle before you can say ‘Jaz, what the hell is wrong with you?’. It was love at first listen between us, fueled firstly by the beauty of the popera, secondly by the blend of those three voices, and thirdly by my bias where Italian music is concerned. Then, when I watched the music video, the collective attractiveness of Piero, Ignazio and Gianluca was added into the mix, and my grande amore (the pun had to happen) for Il Volo and their Sanremo winner was cemented. This entry is everything that great Eurovision moments are made of. It starts softly, then builds to an explosive crescendo perfect for pyrotechnics use; it’s sung in Italian, the most musical language in existence; and it’s performed by three magnificent vocalists who have been honing their harmonies for six years, despite still being in their early twenties. After a bit of a misstep last year, Italy should be back to its flawless, classy-as-heck best in Vienna. I don’t buy into any of the negative comparisons between Grande Amore and France’s operatic flop of 2011, Sognu. The former is more of a pop-and-opera hybrid (hence my use of the word ‘popera’ earlier) whereas the latter was straight opera – Grande Amore is much more accessible. Plus, the boys from Il Volo are charismatic and laid-back performers, unlike Amaury Vassili on the ESC stage. He looked stiff and uncomfortable, and like it was an extreme effort to expel every word of Corsican. A better reference point for Grande Amore would be Latvia’s 2007 entry Questa Notte, which was a triumph by Latvian standards. Italy being Italy, and Il Volo’s song being more dynamic and accessible than Questa Notte, they should fare even better. I do have to agree with Wolfgang – I don’t think Italy is gong to win Eurovision this year. But I do think they have the power to come close, and at the least, make up for Emma’s panty-flashing mishap. DOUZE POINTS!!!

EBJ Jury Score: 9.33

 

 

MONTENEGRO

Adio by Knez

 Montenegro

Kohan: I liked this when I first heard it, and it’s grown on me even though it’s not my usual style (what, no electronica? Where’s the drop?). The transition at 1:24 is awkward and I don’t know what the song is about, but it still keeps me hooked every time I listen – there’s something about the ambience it creates. I hope it qualifies, but I doubt it’s a song we’ll remember next year. 7 points.

Wolfgang: After my first listen to Adio I was a bit disappointed, because my expectations on another Željko song were really high, him being my favorite male artist of all time in Eurovision. And I really love all four of his entries to the Eurovision, including Oro by Jelena Tomašević. When I compare this song to the other four, I automatically come to the conclusion that Adio is not the best song Željko has ever written for Eurovision. But that’s complaining on a very high level, because it is still a very good song and Montenegro can be proud of Knez, who is a really good singer, too. I am sure this will qualify to the final, but then, anything can happen. I hope at least for a placement between 11th and 16th, which would be a bit better than Sergej Četković’s placing last year. This song to me is a grower, getting better with every further listen. 7 points.

Jaz: Once the weaker player in the Serbia VS Montenegro tournaments I hold in my mind, Montenegro has embarked on a steady rise in my estimations over the past few years. Igranka > Ljubav Je Svuda. Moj Svijet > the nothing that Serbia sent last year (obviously). And now, Adio > Beauty Never Lies, by far. I too am a massive Željko fan – y’all probably know that all of his previous entries are ESC favourites of mine – so whenever I find out he’s making any kind of Eurovision comeback, as he is composing Adio for Knez…I FREAK OUT! There is something hauntingly, spellbindingly beautiful about all of the Balkan ballads he creates, and this one is no exception. I agree that it isn’t his strongest composition for the contest, but it has the ŽJ stamp on it, and I’m sold. The only thing missing is the man himself. I have nothing against Knez, who is a great performer, but he’s not quite as…shall we say, debonair as Mr. Joksimović (and the fact that he looks like a magician reminds me so much of this that I can’t take him seriously). But all in all, the ethnicity, interesting rhythms and great melody have won me over as they always do. This may be a ballad amongst many, but it will stand out, being the traditional, non-English-language kind, performed by a male (as opposed to the generic, English-language female ballads on offer). I hope that equals qualification. If not – or if Adio fails to finish in the top 10 in the final – it will be the first Željko entry to finish outside of that top 10. I suspect it will struggle to hit those heights, but I’m more than happy to help it out by voting for Montenegro. 10 points.

EBJ Jury Score: 8.00

 

 

ARMENIA

Face The Shadow by Genealogy

Armenia

Kohan: This just confuses me. With the disparate musical styles, it feels glued together, like it’s trying too hard to be Bohemian Rhapsody. Just when I hear a part I like, it turns into a ballad again. Or worse, the part with the opera singer attempting to scat like the UK’s Electro Velvet. Never mind that ‘Genealogy’ is contender for most uncool band name, and that I have no idea what’s with the 1800s family photos in the video (I think I’ve missed something). And those lyrics…is she singing ‘You are chicken your heart’? I give half a point for the black leather outfits (so goth!) and half a point for the power rock ballad parts. I.e. 1 point.

Wolfgang: I am really biased with this entry of Armenia this year. My first thought was, six amazing voices do not make a perfect song! The multiple changes in this song rather make a chaotic impression to me. Every artist alone is a really good performer, but together they don’t make the perfect whole. I am a bit indifferent with this song, but there is something in it that makes me like it. Nevertheless, I think this will qualify to the final even in a semi with so many Eastern European countries. If the Dorians qualified in Malmö, this one should easily do, as it is much better. 3 points.

Jaz: I hate to say this, but whenever I think about Armenia in relation to Eurovision 2015, it comes out as ‘ArmeniUGGGGH!’. I love the idea of Genealogy, presumably borrowed from Switzerland’s assembling of Six4One in 2006, and in theory, the six members would be a force to be reckoned with. In practice, however, they are putting forward a shambolic, chaotic reject from an off-Broadway musical. If Armenia had sent Inga, Tamar, Essaï or any of the other members on their own or as a duet (with a different song) things might have been more palatable. Unfortunately, all of the singers have such distinctive vocal stylings and genres they are suited to, so Face The Shadow comes off as three minutes of cobbled-together competition, in which everybody’s fighting to be the star of the show. I hate to break it to them, but nobody’s winning that fight. As cookie-cutter and naff as Six4One’s If We All Give A Little was back in ’06, at least that was cohesive. It knew what it was, and all six singers blended into a serviceable supergroup. Genealogy and Face The Shadow are the complete opposite. In spite of the star power, I can see them giving us the car crash performance of the year – an onstage mess that will hopefully be swept away by Belgium straight afterwards. 2 points.

EBJ Jury Score: 2.00

 

 

Talk about the good, the bad and the ugly! This round of reviews has given the EBJ Jury leaderboard one of its highest, and one of its lowest scores so far.

Here are today’s standings:

  1. Italy (9.33)
  2. Montenegro (8.00)
  3. Poland (4.67)
  4. Cyprus (4.00)
  5. Armenia (2.00)

So Italy reigns supreme for the time being, taking the #1 spot from previous champs Slovenia. Will our Grande Amore take them all the way? Or will another bookies’ favourite end as favourite with my esteemed jury members? You’ll have to wait and see.

Up next = Sweden, the United Kingdom, Belgium, the Czech Republic and Romania. A YouTube star and my mother (again) will be passing judgment on the songs from these five countries, and you won’t want to miss what they have to say. What I have to say will probably be interesting too. Fingers crossed.

I’ll see you in a few days’ time for Part 4 of the Viennese Verdicts. In the meantime, let me know how you would rank Italy, Montenegro, Poland, Cyprus and Armenia – a.k.a. how much you disagree with all of the above!

 

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