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THE EBJ EUROVISION 2018 REVIEWS: Round 6 (Belgium, Czech Republic, Germany, Israel, Macedonia + San Marino)

I have to open this post with three letters: OMG!!! As I type this, Eurovision 2018 rehearsals are underway, with the semi 1 first halfers taking to the stage yesterday and the second halfers going through the motions right now. It still feels surreal that we’ve reached this point already. Didn’t Salvador only win in Kyiv like, three months ago?

As you’ll know if you’ve hung out with me and my blog before, my golden rule is to NEVER watch the rehearsals. I like to keep things fresh for when I fall out of bed onto the floor at 3am for the live shows (that’s why I also haven’t listened to any of the songs in full for a good six weeks). So you won’t find any analysis of who’s nailing and failing their practice runs on the Altice Arena stage here. It’s not like there’s going to be a shortage of that stuff anyway, and I’m sure you know where to find it: my favourites are ESC Xtra, my Aussie girl Anita at Eurovision Union, and ESC Insight for the daily podcasts. But I do offer catty/complimentary comments on Twitter based on descriptions I’ve heard and photos I’ve seen – #professional. Head over there and follow me @EurovisionByJaz for many Mikolas Josef well-wishes and reaction GIFs.

What you will find here is the continuation of my 2018 reviews, as I trudge towards the finish line approximately 150 kilometres behind everyone else. I still get an ‘A’ for effort, right? There are three rounds left for me to bring to you guys, and today’s is all about Belgium, the Czech Republic, Germany, Israel, Macedonia and San Marino. Want to know what I think of the songs Sennek, Mikolas, Michael, Netta, Eye Cue and Jessika feat. Jenifer packed in their Portuguese suitcases? Then keep reading – and don’t forget to comment your thoughts on these tracks + vote in the Round 6 poll. How else am I supposed to know how much you all disagree with me?

 

 

My thoughts Pressure (whatever that is, says Laura Tesoro) on Belgium this year was sky-high, as we wondered if they would maintain the run of Eurovision magnificence that began with Loïc Nottet in 2015. The simple question is, have they done so with Sennek and A Matter of Time? And the not-so-simple answer from me is the following. The thing is, if I loved Rhythm Inside 100% (which I did), I loved What’s The Pressure 90% of that, and City Lights 90% of that. And as much as I want to say my love for A Matter of Time is at 70% or more, the reality is that I don’t love it at all. My brain says ‘This is a damn good song, Jaz, don’t you reckon?’, but my heart says ‘Nope’. It leaves me feeling absolutely nothing. We seem to have a James Bond theme at every ESC these days, and sometimes they do connect with me and give me all the feels (sorry, Renaida possessed me for a second there) but Sennek’s gives me none. No goosebumps, no heart palpitations, no need to call an ambulance due to the sheer shock of how amazing it is whatsoever. I can’t put my finger on why not. It’s polished and sophisticated; cinematic in its drama (totes appropes for a song that should accompany footage of Daniel Craig kicking the asses of fifteen assassins at once); original for what it is, with melodic twists and turns that flow well but make sure there’s no time to get bored; and it’s performed beautifully by Sennek (in studio). So what’s wrong with me? Why don’t I adore this? Why am I more excited by the prospect of Sennek’s visual merchandising work for Ikea than by the prospect of seeing this performed live for the first time? If anyone out there is an amateur or professional psychologist  and can offer some insight into my severe Belgian mental block, please let me know. In the meantime, I’ll offer some insight on how I think this will do in Lisbon. Once again Belgium is competing in the first semi, which as we all know is the Semi of Death and Destruction and Weeping Eurofans Worldwide. But since Sennek was a contender FTW in the odds, I’d say she’s on the borderline between certain qualifier and a ‘most likely to’ qualifier. In other words, I won’t be splashing any cash on her to make the final, but I do expect to see her there (especially because I don’t ‘get’ this entry, which means it’ll probably do well because that happens every year). As for what will go down on the Saturday night: well, with a good vocal performance and modern, atmospheric staging, a fourth consecutive top 10 place for Belgium wouldn’t come as a surprise – but I’m thinking 11th to 15th at this point.

2017 VS 2018? Blanche = better. I’m not sure how anyone could argue with that.

My score 7

 

 

My thoughts If I was giving out an award for the biggest Eurovision glow-up from 2017-2018, the Czech Republic would win it without even trying. I never had a major vendetta against Martina’s My Turn last year, but that’s because it was so bland – bland enough to be one of my least favourite entries of Kyiv. Fast forward twelve months, and the Czech Republic is not only right up in my top 3 for the year, they’re also in the mix to win the entire thing. WTF?!? This almost-favourite status is unprecedented for a country with a disastrous track record, feat. two semi final last places and another last place in the only final they’ve managed to make it to. But I have no hesitation in saying that Lie To Me is the Czechs best entry ever by a million miles. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat after dreaming that Mikolas wasn’t chosen to go to Portugal – that’s how much of a missed opportunity picking anything else would have been. Lie To Me is the musical love child of Problem by Ariana Grande and Talk Dirty by Jason Derülo, with ridiculously wonderful lyrics fired at us a mile a minute until the sparser, smoother, sing-along chorus drops. The trumpet riff pulls you in instantly (what a great way to start a song) and rivals Hey Mamma for catchiness. This might come across as a novelty song in some ways, but at its core it’s epic R&B-pop that’s impossible to ignore even if you don’t like it (but if you don’t, I’m afraid we can’t be friends). It’s urban, fun, a little bit NSFW even though it’s been cleaned up for the contest, and full of attitude. And let’s not forget Mikolas’ charisma and swag, both of which are on the favourable side of the ‘Am I A Douche or Not?‘ spectrum. If I had to pick on something, I’d say I’m not sure about the backpack (or the camel…it’s in the lyrics/music video, and all I can think of based on the song’s subject matter is that its presence has something to do with humps). But I firmly believe that Lie To Me can not only fly into the final, but that Mikolas can ride that camel all the way to the podium. I can’t imagine a song with lyrics like “I know you ‘bop-whop-a-lu bop’ on his wood bamboo” (the tip of the OMG lyric iceberg) actually winning, but 3rd would be a mighty fine spot for the Czech Republic to score. Beyond fine, in fact. Let’s make it happen, Team Miki (and jurors, who will hopefully not think this is offensive and mutter stuff about ‘The youth of today’ as they rank it right at the bottom).

2017 VS 2018? Do I even need to answer this? 2018!!!

My score 12

 

 

 

My thoughts Oh, Germany. What happened to you? 2010 was a turning point that ground to a screeching halt in 2013 with a great song + bad staging. That was followed by a decent but not memorable song, a nul pointer, a great song + terrible costume choice, then a song last year that was destined to do nothing on the scoreboard. This might sound harsh, but there are a lot of countries that deserve an automatic spot in the final more than Germany does at the moment. They’re certainly not making the most of their Big Five status, and I think that trend has continued with You Let Me Walk Alone. It’s supposed to be a sentimental tearjerker of a piano ballad about Michael’s late father – I say ‘supposed’ because the sentiment is lost on me, and my eyes are drier than a desert when I’m listening to it. Does that make the song artificially emotional, or am I a cold, unfeeling witch who should go and live the hermit life in an isolated mountainside cave? Maybe don’t answer that. I am sorry that I don’t feel what I “should” be feeling here (and I’m sorry for Michael’s loss) but this does even less for me than Belgium’s song. It’s musical wallpaper. I do actually like the pre-chorus, because that’s where the lyrics are least cliché and the melody is worth an approving nod. If the rest of the song was more like that part, I wouldn’t be wearing my Negative Nancy t-shirt right now. But as it is, if I do the mental test of asking myself ‘Would this qualify if it was competing in a semi?’, my personal answer is no, I don’t think so. But hey, since Germany has a talent for dragging good songs down with bad staging choices (occasionally…I don’t mean to be a bitch about this) perhaps they’ll do the opposite this year and elevate YLMWA to a place where even I can appreciate it. Then again, I have heard they’re using the old photos-in-the-background trick which doesn’t bode well – I hate that almost as much as I hate cover albums (and I really hate cover albums). Regardless of what Michael is surrounded by, standing on top of or wearing, I think his song will get lost in the 26-song grand final, unless it’s tacked on to the end of the running order (unlikely). I cannot see him faring much better than Levina, but don’t be too hard on me if I’m spectacularly wrong and Germany goes top 10. That would be kicking me while I’m already down, and while I’m confused.

2017 VS 2018? 2017, I guess. Can you feel the lack of enthusiasm?

My score 5

 

 

 

My thoughts Here it is: the bookies’ favourite and runaway winner of the OGAE Poll. This time last year I could have said the same thing about Italy, and we all know what happened to Occidentali’s Karma when the actual contest came around. Thanks to Francesco’s 6th place, we have to question whether Netta will also fall short of pre-show expectations, or if she’ll she do an Alexander Rybak right in front of Alexander Rybak. I feel like it’s one of the two, but more on that after I’ve talked about Toy itself. You might remember that I was never sold on Occidentali’s Karma as a winner, and I have similar gut feelings about Toy…only they’re more fragile feelings this time (which tells me Netta is more likely than Francesco was to steamroll her opponents into submission). Once again I’ve found myself fond of, but not crazy about the song that’s been crowned The One by masses of Eurofans. The thing I do absolutely love about this entry is how original it is, to the point of being riskily so. It’s great to see a country go out on a limb instead of playing it safe. There is no doubt that this stands out from start to finish, and not just because Netta has her vocal looper in tow. The music is inventive, the lyrics are clinically insane but iconic as heck (I don’t know exactly what ‘taking my Pikachu home’ means, but I’m on board with it) and the energy is unrelenting. This is the kind of song that makes me wish more than ever that I was going to Eurovision this year so I could mosh to it. Toy has spawned memes and merchandise, not to mention an epidemic of clucking chicken impressions (a vaccine is currently in development) and that impact can’t be ignored. However, as I said, the song is not keeping my boat especially buoyant, if you know what I mean (translation: it doesn’t float my boat as much as a lot of other entries do). I can praise its originality until the end of time, but I couldn’t honestly say I’ve fallen in love. That might be why I’m not convinced of Israel’s winning chances – I’d prefer plenty of other songs to win. Still, I genuinely see road blocks for Toy to get over that were not in the pathway of Fairytale and Heroes, for example. I said it about the Czech Republic and I’ll say it again about Israel: As much as I want a fun-filled banger of a winner, I can’t imagine a song with lyrics like Toy’s winning the whole contest. And I have to wonder if, because the majority of people going crazy over this are firmly in the Eurovision bubble, first-time listeners/viewers will react to it in the same hugely-positive way. It could be an assault on the senses live on the big stage (not that I’d advise Israel to go for tasteful and understated. That’s fine for France but a mismatch for them). If not Israel to win though, then who? My ideal situation would be for a country we haven’t focused on that much to step up their game during the rehearsal period and say ‘I have ARRIVED!’ – partly because I hate a predictable winner; partly because I want a song I love to win, not a song I like. But majority rules. If the Eurovision roadshow is meant to go to Tel Aviv or Jerusalem in 2019, that’s where it will go and I will have to live with it.

2017 VS 2018? You might question my sanity, but I honestly prefer I Feel Alive (and not just because Imri is a beautiful creature/hopefully not a stupid boy).

My score 7.5

 

 

 

My thoughts Macedonia had a similar contest experience to Italy last year in terms of being hyped and then missing the expected mark. Dance Alone was fanwank material that wouldn’t have been so highly regarded if Sweden had sent it, but because it came from Macedonia it was a pleasant surprise. Only the overwhelming love from fans (excluding me since I was never that into it) didn’t transfer into ESC success, and FYROM failed to even qualify. Is the same story being written for Macedonia as we speak? Lost and Found is a somewhat surprisingly high-quality song that has been hyped and showered with affection, but may struggle to make it out of its semi. What’s the difference, aside from the fact that, as far as I know, neither member of Eye Cue is a) pregnant, or b) about to get engaged during a global television broadcast? It is a very different song, of course – there are actually two or three different songs within this one song – and it’s probably going to be staged in a less off-putting way than Dance Alone on the basis that Lost and Found is a warmer, more fun song. Every segment of it, like a ripe orange, is delicious and appealing; but also like an orange (I hope you didn’t think I’d stopped with the food metaphors) as a whole it is messy. We’ve got infectious reggae-pop in the verses, which follows on from the soft acoustic-style opening lines repeated throughout, which in turn leak into the upbeat dance chorus (I think it’s the chorus, anyway). They’re all catchy, all lyrically blessed and all sung beautifully by vocalist Marija – I LOVE her voice, and she’s already proven it’s like honey live. On one hand, I like how Lost and Found dips in and out of different styles, packing so much into its three minutes it’s like a lunchbox overflowing with tasty snacks. On the other hand, I’m disappointed that a song with the potential to be epic had it been cohesive is anything but cohesive. I’m still not sure if it works as a whole or not. It can’t be compared to the last entry to change things up in-song to such an extent – Icebreaker by Agnete – because that changed tempo rather than genre. The changes Macedonia makes aren’t as arresting, but are more confusing. I want Eye Cue to qualify, but at this point where I’m yet to make any official, posted-on-social-media-for-the-world-to-laugh-at predictions, I’m on the fence, and it’s hurting my brain (and my backside…it’s an uncomfortable fence) trying to answer the will-they-or-won’t-they question. So I won’t answer it right now. I’ll just say that if Macedonia does get to the final, I’m foreseeing a lower left-side placing at best.

2017 VS 2018? 2018. They’ve lost their grip on genre, but found some incredible pieces of pop.

My score 8.5

 

 

My thoughts San Marino is always a fun country to review for all the wrong reasons. They’re also a country that puts me to the test in terms of not being too insulting. Don’t be shocked to hear that I’m being tested yet again in 2018 with Jessika (via Malta) and Jeni B (via Germany). Look, I really like these girls: they’re friendly, personable and seem to be enjoying their ESC journey (which will be a pretty short one) so far. I’m happy for them to have the chance to do something so cool, especially Jessika who’s been rejected as a Maltese representative about 75 000 times and was obviously desperate to get to Eurovision (can’t blame her). But the bottom line for me is that Who We Are is TERRIBLE. To think that the Loin D’ici Straubs were partially responsible for bringing it to life is horrifying. It sounds like something the winner of Popstars might have released as a winner’s single circa 2001, but it couldn’t have been called current back then. I actually have no idea which decade this song would have been fashionable in. The sound-alike Heroes chorus is the only common trait between this and a song with the calibre to win the contest, and Jeni B’s rap is the worst rap I’ve ever heard. That’s not because she’s a bad rapper but because the lyrics she’s being forced (there must have been gunpoint involved at some stage) to rap are from Cringe City. I can’t decide if the worst part is ‘If they dissin’ you on Twitter, don’t get sad don’t be bitter’, or ‘If they say so, get in the car, rev it up and be a star.’ To say ‘What is this, Junior Eurovision?’ would be doing JESC a disservice. Okay, so the anti-bullying message is worth a round of applause – I fully support that. And, believe it or not, I don’t hate this as much I used to, but that in itself is something I hate. I did NOT want this to be a grower. It hasn’t grown beyond being the 42nd song in my top 43, but there was a time when it was right at the rear, and if it can creep up once it could creep up again. Someone should make a horror movie about a situation like this. I can see the tagline now: Who We Are Is Coming To Get You, And Jeni B Won’t Stop Until She Knows YOU Know That Jess Over Here Is A Special VIP *screams bloody murder*. To sum up, the Who We Are I wanted at Eurovision 2018 was from Norway; I don’t think anyone asked for this one. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad we have San Marino in the Euro family…but good Lordi, they need to find a way to slay. Safe to say I’m confident they’re staying behind in the semi.

2017 VS 2018? When Valentina is an option, always choose Valentina.

My score 3

 

 

31 down, 12 to go! Here are the standings now I’ve scored today’s six songs:

  1. Czech Republic (12)
  2. Macedonia (8.5)
  3. Israel (7.5)
  4. Belgium (7)
  5. Germany (5)
  6. San Marino (3)

No lie – Mikolas wins this round by a big margin. I know I’ll get some gasps for sticking Israel in the middle, but honesty is the best policy, right? Unless you’re Benjamin Ingrosso, but that’s a discussion topic for another day.

If you’re on Team Israel or you want to show your love for any of the other songs on the program today, you know what to do.

 

NEXT TIME If you’ve been keen for me to judge Denmark, Iceland, Italy, Serbia, Slovenia or the United Kingdom, then the wait is over! One is in my top 10, another is anything but, and the rest are the filling in the sandwich. Come back later this week to find out which is which.

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

*tumbleweed blows*

Moving on…

 

 

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

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

Belgium’s score 9.00

 

 

 

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

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

Croatia’s score 2.00

 

 

 

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

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

Greece’s score 4.00

 

 

 

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

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

Israel’s score 7.5

 

 

 

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

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

Ukraine’s score 4.5

 

 

 

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

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

The United Kingdom’s score 7.00

 

 

 

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

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

Russia’s score 1.5

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

REVIEWS | The EBJ Jury Judges Eurovision 2016 (Part 5)

Understatement Time: These reviews are slightly late. Let’s just say that I’ve suddenly realised how many To-Dos I have to cross off my list before I fly to Sweden’s capital on Friday night (!). Now, I’m left with three episodes of the EBJ Jury judgments to cram in before my departure. So here’s the first of those three.

 

 TODAY’S EBJ JURORS

 mwm

Mrs. Jaz, Wolfgang and I are ready to review Azerbaijan, Belgium, Iceland, Israel, Latvia and the United Kingdom – otherwise known as Samra, Laura, Greta, Hovi, Justs and Joe & Jake (they should form a supergroup…their names sound great together). Are you ready to join us? If so, read on and find out what we have to say – and how the entire EBJ Jury scores these six songs.

 

 

Azerbaijan

Mrs. Jaz Hmm. As someone who likes songs that are a little bit quirky, I wouldn’t go into raptures over this one. It’s very commercial, and it would fit right in on the radio at the moment, but that’s because it sounds like it was plucked off a musical factory conveyor belt – in Sweden, apparently. Samra’s voice is lovely, but without any trace of an accent, I had no idea which country she was representing (since the music doesn’t give any clues away either). This could have been Australia’s entry, for all I knew! I guess I’m saying that I would have liked to hear some ethnicity in there, especially as I’m told Azerbaijan usually do throw some traditional instruments into the background of their songs. That would have added more authenticity to Miracle too, which would have allowed me to connect with it as a consumer. As it stands, I can’t.

Wolfgang This miracle, so to speak, came at the last minute in a moment when I least expected one. Sometimes there are songs that need some time until I like them much, but then there are songs that I love from the very first moment. Samra’s entry belongs in the latter category. And although it is again a song composed by Swedish songwriters, and produced by Swedish producers, Miracle really has something special to me: the song is beautiful and catchy, the lyrics are great and Samra’s voice sounds amazing in the video/studio version. I only hope she will hold that standard and do an equally amazing live performance in her semi on the ESC stage. Then maybe a ‘miracle’ could happen for Azerbaijan in Stockholm. For one of my favourites this year I give 12 points and lots of love!

Jaz  Azerbaijan, turning up at Eurovision with a song written by Swedes? MADNESS…said no one ever. When you think about it, Azerbaijan (or Azurjerbin, as I pronounce it in my head in honour of Lynda Woodruff) is the most predictable participant in the entire contest. Every year, they wait until March to drop a perfectly-polished Scandipop song on us, hoping we’ll think it’s the bomb dot com. And, against all my better judgement, Samra’s Miracle is verging on being explosive material in my book. I know I should hate the fact that it’s so derivative and one-dimensional; that it’s not risky or challenging or ethnically Azerbaijani in any way. I mean, we’ve just found out that it not only sounds like a Melodifestivalen reject – it IS a Melodifestivalen reject, for Christer Björkman’s sake! But, while those aspects of the entry do play on my mind, the song is so engineered-to-enjoy – melodically, lyrically and structurally – that I can’t fight the feelings of love that overwhelm me when I listen to it. It reminds me a lot of Lisa Ajax’s Melfest entry My Heart Wants Me Dead, which I would say was superior, but that I also love – it’s the partly middle-eastern, partly WTF computer-generated noises that run throughout, mostly. The chorus is soaring, impressive and instantly memorable, worming its way into your head when you’ve only heard it once. Samra’s vocal – in studio – is as smooth as silk and/or a baby’s bum, whichever simile you prefer…and let’s not ignore the fact that she is stunning to look at. Stick her on stage (possibly on a podium) in a spotlight and a wind-machine-friendly dress, and you have the recipe for a visually and aurally appealing package that will certainly maintain Azerbaijan’s 100% qualification record. A solid result in the final isn’t out of the question, but I’m wondering if this is too “perfect” to have the impact to push it into the top 10. Winning, I’m sure, will have to wait at least another year. Who wants to head back to Baku in 2018?

The EBJ Jury says…

  • Ali 5
  • Fraser 6
  • James 7
  • Jaz 10
  • Martin 7
  • Mrs. Jaz 6
  • Nick 5
  • Penny 8
  • Rory 4
  • Wolfgang 12

Azerbaijan’s EBJ Jury score is…7

 

 

Belgium

Mrs. Jaz Now THIS is up my street – a song that has me yelling ‘Somebody get me some roller skates and take me back to the disco era, ASAP!’. I don’t know how it would go getting radio airplay and climbing up the charts outside of Belgium, but I do know I really like it. What’s not to like? It’s catchy and high on energy, and unwaveringly uplifting. The cherry on top is the fact that the intro sounds like Another One Bites The Dust. When you’ve got Queen in your corner, you’re all set.

Wolfgang It’s not about Laura Tesoro – she surely is a nice artist and has a voice (not THE voice, in my opinion), but it’s all about her song What’s The Pressure that does not appeal to me. I normally like funky and soulful songs a lot, but in this case she seems to be too young and inexperienced for the song. In the Belgian national final, her vocals sounded so try-hard that I got the impression the song’s simply too difficult for her vocal abilities. On the other hand, Laura is a powerhouse, and knows how to perform on stage well. Maybe her performance will help to compensate for some weak vocals, or one or two wrong notes. But I guess the ‘pressure’ will be very high for her to qualify to the final this year, with so many stronger competitors. In my opinion, it will be an ‘Iris’ year for Belgium in Stockholm. I don’t see this entry going anywhere.

Jaz  I would have felt sorry for whoever succeeded Loïc Nottet as Belgium’s representative. The shoes he left behind for Laura (who turned out to be that ‘whoever’) to fill were inhumanly large – Bigfoot might have been a better choice, but he wasn’t shortlisted for Eurosong unfortunately (though can’t you just see him hip-thrusting through a Thomas G:son dance banger?). I personally would have preferred Adil Arab to be the successor in question, which you might think is setting the tone for the remainder of this review. However, I am a fan of Laura and What’s The Pressure. I was more of a fan back when she was selected, and all Eurovision 2016 had to its name was a handful of songs. As time went on and the entry forms were filled out by twenty, then thirty, then forty-plus countries, Belgium’s follow-up to Rhythm Inside wore a little thin, and sounded kind of pedestrian. But while it is pedestrian in terms of quality, it’s also pedestrian in terms of pace – as in, you can power-walk your butt off (sorry for all the bum references I’m making today) to it as it trumpets along. There’s a heap of energy on show, and a sense of fun that Laura manages to project every time she’s performing it. It does suffer from ‘Haven’t I Heard That Somewhere Before?’ Syndrome – in this case, I hear a fusion of Uptown Funk and Sax – but that recognition factor might actually work in Laura’s favour. She’s closing semi two, so if any of us are flagging by the time the end draws near, she’ll pump us up again – but that could be her only purpose. WTP can easily be compared to Finland’s Sing It Away in that it’s a pretty dispensable party track. It doesn’t really fight for a final place, so if it gets one, I suspect it will be due to a 9th or 10th place in the semi rather than a top five. I don’t think last year’s brilliant Belgian result was a fluke, but I do think they need to rediscover the formula that made such an impression on the juries and voters…because Laura will struggle to do the same.

The EBJ Jury says…

  • Ali 12
  • Fraser 8
  • James 5
  • Jaz 8
  • Martin 7
  • Mrs. Jaz 8
  • Nick 2
  • Penny 7
  • Rory 12
  • Wolfgang 2

Belgium’s EBJ Jury score is…7.1

 

 

Iceland

Mrs. Jaz *makes face that suggests I’ve just waved dog poo under her nose* *which I didn’t* After what was a promising start, this fell flat. It descended into far too many mentions of ‘hear them calling’ for my liking – jeeze, we get it, lady! Consequently, the chorus seemed to come around much faster than it actually did. The song – which I assumed was titled Hear Them Calling, on a hunch – is catchy, but in a mediocre, doesn’t-go-anywhere kind of way. Is catchy mediocrity a thing? If not, it is now. I’m sorry, but if this came on the radio and I’d already heard it on there once, I’d be quick to change stations before I suffered an acute attack of the yawns.

Wolfgang The Icelandic national final appeared to me like a Lame Lady Ballad contest this year, which I was not really impressed by. So I would say that Greta Salóme’s song was the best of a weak bunch, but is still good enough for Eurovision to leave an impression. What I like about the song is the country style, and that it’s really dynamic and up-tempo. But what makes the difference on the Eurovision stage is its amazing performance that reminds me strongly of those ‘Shadowland’ performances of the PILOBOLUS dance theatre artists. And that’s something I really enjoy watching! This could become the Mika Newton performance of 2016, from which we still remember the beautiful work of the sand artist (while we have almost forgotten Mika and her song). But remember: Mika came 4th in the grand final of Eurovision 2011 in Düsseldorf. Maybe this will be THE surprise performance of the year in Stockholm?

Jaz Yes, Greta’s back, blah blah blah…I kind of wish she’d reunited with Jónsi for her return, though, even if he’d just sat on the side of the stage looking like the chiselled descendant of a Viking god that he is. What was I talking about? Oh yeah, Greta. I’m going to cut right to the chase and say that her solo effort Hear Them Calling outdoes Never Forget – but NOT its Icelandic version. In turn, as Raddirna, this song had an extra something special that it now lacks. Plus, it seems ten times more repetitive in English (how many times does she say ‘hear them calling’ during the three minutes? It’s like the new ‘Why-ay-ay-ayyyy’). I also dislike the Mumford and Sons-style folksiness of the song – it’s been done to death. I’d say it actually died circa 2014. Let’s be honest (well, those of us who don’t think the song is all that, anyway): it’s all about the staging with this one. I have to give a curt nod to Iceland for taking the concept of projections and not just copycatting Heroes (the clear inspiration) but playing with shadows instead – there is a lot of light and shade in Greta’s performance, literally. That moment where she leans back and “smoke” billows out of her like she overdid it at an Indian curry buffet the previous evening is a golden one. Now, I know using visuals to win over your audience is exactly what Sweden did to win Eurovision 2015 – but to me, Heroes was a better and more modern standalone song than Hear Them Calling. The package was more complete. Iceland still has a decent shot at qualifying and maybe squeezing onto the left-hand side of the scoreboard with what they’ve got, but because that is a) an obvious attempt to capitalise on Sweden’s offering of last year, and b) overshadowed (so to speak) by better and edgier entries, the chances of Reykjavik 2017 are very slim.

The EBJ Jury says…

  • Ali 7
  • Fraser 10
  • James 12
  • Jaz 7
  • Martin 12
  • Mrs. Jaz 5
  • Nick 10
  • Penny 8
  • Rory 8
  • Wolfgang 7

Iceland’s EBJ Jury score is…8.6

 

 

Israel

Mrs. Jaz Aah…the beauty of simplicity. So much modern music is so noisy, full of stupid noises and vocal manipulations. This, on the other hand, is a pure and simple piano ballad that managed to be anthemic without being in-your-face about it. The music doesn’t overshadow the vocals, meaning I could understand what Hovi was saying (and though some of it was silly, I liked it). I can imagine couples all over Israel and beyond using this song as their ‘first dance’ wedding song, assuming Ed Sheeran becomes passé in the near future. It’s very nice indeed.

Wolfgang It seems to me that sun, moon and star metaphors are booming this year in the Eurovision lyrics. The Israeli entry is a classic example of a lame lady ballad that wants to ‘shine’ (a little light?) – only done by a male artist. As with Belgium, there is nothing wrong with Hovi Star: he has a great voice and a wide vocal range that is a bit comparable to Adam Lambert, IMO. So the only thing he needs for Eurovision would be a better song. Made of Stars to me is so cliché in an awful way, and it sounds dated, not contemporary. The build of the song resembles somehow the ‘drama queen’ ballad by Conchita from 2014, only this one goes nowhere and suddenly ends when you expect more to come. But what I find really cheesy and annoying are the lyrics: ‘A million faces tied in chains, you ride a black horse in the rain.’ Honestly, did they let the songwriters of the last three Russian entries write these lines? To sum it up, the song’s very cliché, the lyrics are terrible, and I don’t see a qualification for Israel this year. Not with that song!

Jaz If ever there was a shoo-in to win the prestigious EBJ Eurovision Excellence Award in the category of Mr Congeniality, Hovi Star is it (and a bit). I don’t even know this guy, and I LOVE him. He is, to me, the Tooji of 2016 – so personable and fabulous, you want to be his BFF after watching a thirty-second vox pop. And damn, he’s got great hair! My main mission in Stockholm is to touch it so I can then relay back to you guys what it feels like (Schwarzkopf-misted silk, I’m sure). I could go on forever about how much I want to hang out with Hovi, but I suppose I should devote some page space to Made of Stars. It’s not as fabulous as he is, but I think it’s beautiful in its simplicity. Initially, Israel were sending a big, brash, theatrical production that had Adam Lambert written all over it – and if you read my review of the now (sadly) disqualified Romania, you’ll know I detest OTT drama at Eurovision. Granted, that version of Made of Stars had a strong identity; but the revamp/reshape has toned down the drama and allowed the spotlight to shine on Hovi’s vocals. The lyrics, nonsensical as they can be, are lovely to listen to – ‘thunder and lightning, it’s getting exciting’, they are not – and the pared-back piano backing is equally so. Overall, though it’s not as powerful as it could have been, I’m very fond of this. I think, given Hovi’s performance skills and the star-related possibilities of his staging (the drones from the music video probably won’t be making an appearance, but still) Israel could do better than many expect, but I’m not convinced they even have the legs to qualify. Nonetheless, I will be watching on in rapt fascination when Hovi’s time comes…while fashioning a long-distance hair-stroking device out of toothpicks.

The EBJ Jury says…

  • Ali 8
  • Fraser 8
  • James 2
  • Jaz 10
  • Martin 7
  • Mrs. Jaz 7
  • Nick 7
  • Penny 6
  • Rory 6
  • Wolfgang 4

Israel’s EBJ Jury score is…6.5

 

 

 Latvia

Mrs. Jaz  I think I liked this. That’s probably a strange thing to say, but I honestly couldn’t make up my mind about it. Pros: Great music. A nice voice to accompany that music. A beat that mimics a pulse (totally by coincidence, right?). Generally of a better standard than the Icelandic song. Cons: It didn’t jazz up in the way that I thought it was going to (you could say the Heartbeat flatlined). It might prove to be a bit forgettable seeing as it’s opening its semi. Other observations: I reckon I need repeat listens to learn to love Latvia.

Wolfgang Here we have the ‘Aminata’ song #2, following on from the very successful Latvian entry of 2015 by going for the same success package again in 2016. I must admit that I like this year’s Latvian song and artist much more than last year’s. Justs really is a great vocal performer, and his song is by far catchier than last year’s injected love. What I like most about the song is its up-tempo beat that gives me good vibes and really works well with Justs’ strong, slightly scratchy voice. The only thing I would criticise is the performance, where nothing much happens on stage (at least not in the NF performance). At the moment it all looks like Andrius Pojavis for Lithuania in 2013. So, if the stage performance is improved, including lots of heartbeats, then it will be another top 10 result for Latvia this year. I’m sure this song will leave a great impression on a lot of televoters. Or will we head to Riga again next year?

Jaz Latvia made an excellent decision when they opted to send a song to Eurovision 2016 that was written by their very successful 2015 representative. Aminata knows how to create a song that’s less cookie-cutter and more cutting-edge, cool and contemporary – the kind of thing that makes skeptical, non-ESC-obsessed viewers think ‘Hey, this is actually pretty awesome!’. And for that, I salute you, Miss Savadogo. Justs and his Heartbeat are everything I want to see competing in the contest in 2016. The song is a little alternative in sound and makes me feel like a much more epic person just(s) listening to it, but it’s still hugely accessible for mainstream pop lovers. The chorus, like Azerbaijan’s, is incredibly hooky, and though it does feel like the titular word has been said a few too many times by the end, it is the core of the song – that plus the pulsing beat that drives it. The verses are minimalist in the most appealing of ways, and the synthy string of notes that punctuates them adds an extra piece of ear candy to the concoction. Something else I love about this entry is the contrast between how Justs looks, and how he sounds. He looks like he could be cast as Edward Cullen in a Twilight reboot, but he sounds like…well, Hungary’s Freddie, if Freddie wasn’t as throaty. That ultra-innocent face clashes beautifully with the grunt in his voice. All in all, there is nothing I dislike about Latvia – again – and so much that I love. As a result, I’m hoping for an Aminata-level finish at least. But they’ll have to both pimp and nail their staging to increase their chances. Hey, even if they don’t…wow. I can’t believe we’ve gone from Cake To Bake to THIS in two years.

The EBJ Jury says…

  • Ali 5
  • Fraser 7
  • James 6
  • Jaz 12
  • Martin 8
  • Mrs. Jaz 7
  • Nick 10
  • Penny 8
  • Rory 3
  • Wolfgang 8

Latvia’s EBJ Jury score is…7.4

 

 

UK

Mrs. Jaz  I like this! Yes, the UK is my homeland, but before you call me biased, know that Jaz didn’t tell me this was the UK song until after I’d given my verdict. And if I’d had to guess its origin, I probably wouldn’t have opted for the UK based on my past listening experiences anyway (Bonnie Tyler…Engelbert…the 1920s schtick from last year). You’re Not Alone is a little 80s-inspired, so we have skipped forward a few decades. Still, it’s radio-ready for the 00s too. It instantly got into my head and had me singing along, which has to be helpful for both Eurovision and karaoke nights. I feel quite proud of this, actually. I hope it does well – or at least that it doesn’t do too badly. It deserves a decent result.

Wolfgang This year the BBC started their biggest competition EVER to find the right song and artist(s) for Eurovision 2016, including almost every organisation in the British music industry that is of importance. And the result for their national final was six not-too-overwhelming songs sung by no-names. So that was all ‘Big Mouth’, and then baking only little bread again. But, among the songs there was light and shadow, and I’m glad that one of the better ones won the NF. Joe & Jake are fresh, cool guys who match well together on stage. They have a contemporary song that is a strong grower to me, and both of their voices have a very good live quality. So even if the song’s not too impressive, the guys are charming and good-looking, and they could spread some energy and fun to the Eurovision audience. I guess it won’t be enough for a top 10 placement for the UK in Sweden, but I expect a better result than last year – somewhere in the top 20. This year I’ll keep my fingers crossed for a good UK result.

Jaz I don’t know what I should have expected to hear from the UK after the bonkers-ness of Still In Love With You, but I am relieved it’s something less laughable (and bonus, there’s no mention of disease in the lyrics this time!). Two good-looking lads whose names conveniently both begin with ‘J’ (the superior initial for first names, obviously) sporting an anthem that it’s impossible to do the Charleston to? That’s got to be good, right? It is good – but I wouldn’t describe You’re Not Alone as ‘great’. It’s pleasant to listen to, but it reeks of the kind of song that backs a movie trailer or montage of some kind. If the Rio Olympic organisers are after a song that can soundtrack ‘The Top 10 Team Efforts of the XX-whatever Olympiad’, then they should look no further than Joe & Jake’s. My problem with this entry as a whole is that, while there’s nothing to complain about, there’s nothing to get excited about either. I don’t feel anything when I listen to it. Belgium brings a smile to my face; Latvia gives me goosebumps; this gives me nul points. And yet, I cannot physically fault it, because I wouldn’t describe it as ‘boring’ either! HELP ME. I am looking forward to ogling Joe when he’s on stage, and then pretending I wasn’t when accused shortly thereafter because he’s younger than me and I’m not ready to be classified as a cougar yet. So there’s that. If too many people are feeling the way I’m feeling (about the UK’s song, not about the big box of cutesicles that is Joe), then I can’t see this escaping the 15th-20th zone in the final. That makes me a little sad for the boys, but the Eurovision experience will be a brilliant one for them at this stage of their careers anyway.

The EBJ Jury says… 

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

The UK’s EBJ Jury score is…6.7

 

 

And, as usual, we have a winner! And a loser. Things did NOT go my way this time… 

  1. Iceland (8.6)
  2. Latvia (7.4)
  3. Belgium (7.1)
  4. Azerbaijan (7)
  5. United Kingdom (6.7)
  6. Israel (6.5)

Congratulations to Greta, who can take the nonexistent trophy for this round of reviews back to Reykjavik and display it oh-so-proudly on her mantelpiece. Commiserations to Hovi, who would have finished much higher if I had all the power here (who’s stupid idea was it to recruit a jury, therefore relinquishing the majority of my precious power?). Remember, all of this score-giving and number-crunching is going towards the compilation of the EBJ Top 43*, which I’ll be publishing from Stockholm (which means it’ll be an exotic Top 43).

Yes, I said 43. We took the time to review Romania a few weeks ago, and I think we owe it to Ovidiu to keep him in our ranking. Even if he is rather low in it.

In a few days, the penultimate part of this series will see Armenia, Australia, Ireland, Malta, Moldova and Slovenia critiqued by an American, an Englishman and moi. Check in then to find out how high or low my patriotism level is running at the moment (i.e. what I think of Dami’s Sound of Silence).

 

Until then…

 

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A Belgian waffle: Reviewing and predicting Eurosong 2016 (feat. a bit of boyband fangirling)

The national final train has been chugging along since December 2015, courtesy of Albania. Next stop? Belgium, defending champions of the title for Unexpectedly High Placing of the Eurovision Most Recently Past.

Dutch-language broadcaster VRT are in charge of choosing Loïc Nottet’s successor, which would normally be worrisome – the majority of Belgium’s decent results of late have been credited to French-language broadcaster RTBF. But, be it a coincidental turning of the tide or a totally calculated analysis of what catapulted Rhythm Inside to 4th place in Vienna, VRT have stepped it up for 2016. The five-strong line-up they’ve put together makes the likes of the Swiss final look and sound ten times worse than it already did (sorry, Switzerland, but a douze-worthy NF you have not).

Today, as we look ahead to tonight’s third and final installment of Belgium’s Eurosong, I’m going to take a look (having had a listen) at the potential ESC entries from Adil, Amaryllis, Astrid, Laura and Tom. Read on to find out which artists have songs up their sleeves that I’d vote for (there’s three!), which artists would bestow upon me a toilet break song in Stockholm if they were to win this evening (that’s the other two), and, probably most importantly, which artist and song I think is going to grab the golden ticket with ‘YOU GET TO REPRESENT BELGIUM! IS THAT AMAZEBALLS AF OR WHAT?!?’ stamped on it. As indicated by the (hilarious) title of this post, I might waffle on a bit below, so brace yourselves for that.

WAIT!!! I almost forgot. There’s one more something-something I must take care of first. I promised you a bit of boyband fangirling, and gosh darn it, I’m going to give it to you! Because, as we now know, the rumours flooding social media and the Irish media were not just rumours – earlier this week, it was confirmed that 1/5 of Westlife will be representing the Emerald Isle in May, and that excites my boyband-adoring self very much. Sure, Nicky Byrne isn’t the 1/5 I used to moon over when I was younger and (slightly) more pathetic – that was Kian Egan, who was to Westlife what Nick Carter was to the Backstreet Boys (a.k.a. a floppy-blonde-haired dude whose 2D face I had stuck to my wall in poster form). But I am going to be seeing a member of Westlife IN THE FLESH, so I don’t even mind that much.

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Is this the face of Ireland’s eighth Eurovision winner? I doubt it, but it’s a pretty face nonetheless.

Admittedly, I’m more pumped about Ireland’s choice of artist than choice of song at the moment. I don’t want to be too quick to judge, but Sunlight, while being radio-friendly and competent, is also pretty forgettable. I have literally forgotten how it goes. But time will tell whether a stellar live performance from Nicky can change my tune, so to speak. I think it would help if he takes his shirt off about thirty seconds in….though maybe that’s just me. You can clarify – how do you rate Ireland’s chances at Eurovision 2016? Obviously it’s a bit hard to predict given we’ve only got two songs so far, but for me, Albania’s>Ireland’s. Do you agree or disagree?

 

Right – that’s the interlude of fangirling (a relatively restrained one, by my standards) out of the way, so let’s move out of the Sunlight and onto Eurosong.

 

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No more messing about! I’m going to dive straight in to reviewing the 60% fab, 40% not-so-fab-but-still-decent Belgian hopefuls competing tonight. In alphabetical order according to the artist’s first name in lieu of a running order, of course.

 

In Our Nature by Adil Aarab I had no idea what to expect when I sat down to listen to these tracks for the first time. I certainly didn’t think I’d be blown away by song numero uno. But…I LOVE THIS. I love everything about it, and yes, that love does extend to the copycat choreography harking back to Loïc’s mid-song nanna nap. I’d use many of the same buzzwords to describe this as I used to describe Rhythm Inside, too – i.e. interesting, current, and appealingly minimalist. It’s an underdog for the win, but COME ON, EUROVISION GODS!!

Kick The Habit by Amaryllis Uitterlinden Things went a tiny bit downhill from there with this intriguingly quirky yet slightly irritating number. Still, I think Amaryllis’ song is another indication of VRT learning from their own mistakes and from RTBF’s successes. I don’t want Kick The Habit to win, and I don’t think it’s in any danger of doing so.

Everybody Aches by Astrid Destuyver Firstly…isn’t this Molly Sterling singing under an alias in order to have another crack at the contest? I’m fairly confident that it is. And if so, she’s returning with a song that may have a depressing title, but isn’t half as melancholy as Playing With Numbers. I can imagine Margaret Berger nailing a cover version of this, which automatically makes it cool. Astrid/Molly’s voice is cool too – she’s got what’s probably the most unique voice of the five. I’d love to see something like this hit the stage in Stockholm.

What’s The Pressure by Laura Tesoro This title bugs me. ‘What’s the pressure’? Has anybody ever uttered that particular combination of words? I think not. Pushing that aside, however, I just want to DANCE MY ASS OFF to this track. It’s more infectious than a common cold in a crowded carriage of that aforementioned NF train, and is by far the most energy-packed effort of the evening. To me, it’s got winner written all over it. And, if Adil’s not going to win (which he isn’t) then I’m relying on Laura topping the scoreboard instead. You go, girlfriend.

I’m Not Lost by Tom Frantzis Mid-tempo indie rock rarely parks up my street, and post-first listen of I’m Not Lost, I was duly unimpressed. But I figured I’d give it another chance, and I did end up enjoying it more the second time round (kind of like the leftover pizza you have for breakfast the morning after the night before). Like the four songs before it, it avoids cliché, and it does have a strong sing-along chorus. Tom’s great live, too. I just can’t shake the feeling that his song should be played in the background of an Olympics montage or something, and not competing in the musical battle to end all musical battles (which would be the ESC, not Eurosong). But will I be mad if it wins? Not any more.

 

Based on those first and/or second impression opinions, I’d give eight points to Astrid, ten to Laura, and a big ol’ douze points to Adil (everybody on Team Adil put your hands uuuuup! *waves lonely hands in the air like I just don’t care*). But I don’t actually get to do that, since, in an absolutely shocking turn of events, I wasn’t asked to be an international jury member by VRT. After everything I’ve done for them! Trashing their Eurovision entries, wishing they were more like RTBF…

Oh, okay. It makes sense now I’ve thought about it.

ANYWAY, as I mentioned before, VRT have gone above and beyond in the wake of Rhythm Inside’s success, offering up a selection of songs (mostly) worth salivating over. There are no creepy odes to mothers or cheesy cries of ‘Nothing is impossible!’ to be found here, and that’s one heck of a relief. Deciding which of the non-creepy, non-cheesy songs is going to Stockholm tonight will be the Belgian public, plus an allegedly esteemed panel of jurors hailing from Sweden, the Netherlands, France, and a whole bunch of countries who’ve never voted for Belgium at Eurovision (something Belgium clearly wants to change). The public and jurors will decide on a top two, and that pair will proceed to the second and final round of purely public voting – so the ultimate power lies with those peeps eating popcorn on the couch. Now I’ve explained to you something you already knew, it’s time to make my first official prediction of the 2016 NF season:

The top two What’s The Pressure and I’m Not Lost

The winner What’s The Pressure

Honestly, I wouldn’t put any money down on that prediction – when it comes to fifty-fifty decisions, I usually head in the wrong direction. But, based on mass appeal and YouTube views (a highly scientific approach, no?) I would bet on Laura and Tom being the chosen top two. I think Laura is Belgium’s best chance of Swedish success, given that What’s The Pressure is ridiculously catchy, reasonably memorable (THIS is how you write a radio-friendly song that isn’t vanilla, Ireland) and could be staged impressively at Eurovision. If she does win tonight, Laura will be the fourth Belgian act in a row to have graduated from The Voice to the ESC. Is that a sign?

What do you think? Is a victory for Laura written in the stars (The Voice being Belgium’s ESC entrant store of choice lately) or will Tom take the prize instead? Maybe it’ll be an underdog who impresses the jurors and the public enough to clinch the win? Fill me in on your hopes and expectations for Eurosong down below!

 

Until next time (when the Class of 2016 will have become a trio)…

 

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RETRO RANKINGS | My Vienna 2015 Top 40, then and now (six months after show time!)

Hallå och välkommen til…um…okay, so I haven’t advanced particularly far with my Swedish on Duolingo yet (I’m not even sure there’s a lesson entitled “Welcoming People To Another Extremely Exciting Post Here on Eurovision By Jaz Dot Com in Svenska” anyway), but give me some time, and I’ll be så brå you won’t believe it.

In case the above paragraph wasn’t enough of an indication, I’ll spell things out for you: I’m feeling super-Swedish-obsessed at the moment, now that a) I’m actually, 110% heading to Stockholm for ESC no. 61 (*emits a Kaliopi-screech and farts a rainbow of pure joy*) and b) the Melodifestivalen 2016 line-up has been revealed. I’ve got plenty of Melfest madness planned for you over the coming months, so I don’t want to devote an entire post to the 2016 edition now…but I will give you a glimpse of the artists I’m most excited about seeing back in the competition (and boy, there are a ton of them) or entering for the first time:

  • THE RIDICULOUSLY EXCITING Molly Sandén, Mattias Andréasson (with Albin), Lisa Ajax, Panetoz and Oscar Zia. That’s in order of how much my face resembled the heart-eyes emoji when each name was announced. JESC alumni and all-round amazing human Molly is the bookies’ and my #1 pick to win the whole thing at this early stage. This will be her third try, and she’s never been in a better position to out-sing and out-song her rivals.
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Yes, it took me far too many minutes to create this. No, I am not ashamed in any way.

  • THE MODERATELY EXCITING Molly Petterson Hammar, Samir & Viktor, David Lindgren and (a now brunette) Isa. Molly PH has obviously recovered from App-Gate 2015, and it’s great to see her back with a vengeance. I really wish that’s what her song was called for the purposes of a brilliant pun, but it’s actually called Hunger – and it’s been penned by the trio behind MZW’s Heroes.
  • THE INTRIGUING Krista Siegfrids. Aftonbladet didn’t anticipate this one, so how could we common folk have seen it coming? Krista’s supposed to be hosting UMK in Finland next year, so it will be interesting to see how she juggles both commitments, and/or whether the Finnish public see fit to throw their shoes at her for trying her luck in Sweden. Surely they’re too polite to engage in such shenanigans?

That’s that för nu (SOMEBODY STOPPA MIG!!): now, let’s move from Melfest to Eurovij.

Before I start looking forward to Stockholm, I thought it would be timely to look back to Vienna, given that it’s been (just over, but close enough to) six months since Sweden snatched their sixth victory. And what better way to do that than by re-ranking all of the entries from this year’s contest to see, once and for all, how I feel about them now compared to how I felt about them at show time (the last Top 40 I posted was just before Semi Final 1)?

I’ll leave you to tell me if there would have been a better way to commemorate six months since, after you’ve checked out the revised ranking below. If you’re up for it, go and re-calculate your own using everyone’s favourite sorting tool, and post it – or some of it – in the comments. Which songs have grown on you over time, and which ones have started to grate? Let me know down below.

My brand spanking new, end-of-2015 ranking looks like this (with the previous position of each country in brackets):

 

Keep scrolling…

 

Just a bit further…

 

Here it is!

 

#1 | Sweden (=) Don’t act surprised, or reach for a sick bag! I never bought a ticket to ride on the ‘Not Sweden again! ITALY WAS ROBBED’ train, being the massive fan of Mr. Zelmerlöw, avid supporter of Heroes with or without the stick man, and generally Sweden-obsessed freak that I am (I maintain that the whole jury-vote-deciding-winner is the kind of situation where you should hate the game, not the player). I love this song just as much in December as I did in February – only now, I get even more caught up in screaming ‘WE ARE THE HEROOOOOOOOES!!!’ knowing I’ll be seeing Måns reprise it live.

This is a pretty accurate representation of how my face will look when that precious, precious moment arrives.

This is a pretty accurate representation of how my face will look when that precious, precious moment arrives.

#2 | Italy (+1) Six months on, Grande Amore still gives me goosebumps. Will it have that effect á la Lane Moje, my all-time favourite ESC entry, and last a lifetime? Get back to me in a decade or two and I’ll let you know.

#3 | Belgium (+1) Belgium’s fairytale fourth place is something I still pinch myself over – when I’m not doing the robot to the minimalist, cutting-edge sounds of Rhythm Inside, of course. I’m still attempting to master Loïc’s triple pirouette, but I’m happy to crack this track way up for years to come in order to practice.

#4 | Montenegro (+4) Of all Željko’s contest compositions, Adio is the one that took me the longest to fall in love with. But, as you can see, it’s leapt from 8th place to 4th in my Top 40, and I won’t say it’s not going to climb higher in the future. It’s a textbook spine-tingling, haunting, atmospheric Balkan ballad, and if you can put it out of your mind that Knez looks like a circus ringmaster, it’s pretty much perfection in a three-minute package.

#5 | Australia (+12) Making a far bigger leap up my personal leaderboard is my own country’s first – and as we now know, NOT last – entry. Tonight Again was definitely a grower for me. I liked it instantly, but didn’t love it…then Australia came fifth, and I miraculously changed my mind. Actually, the change of mind was more to do with the vibes when I was cheering Guy on in a room full of Aussies. But let’s not dwell on that. It just happened! Do whatcha whatcha whatcha waaaant….

#6 | Spain (+4)

#7 | Israel (+15) Nadav is still my golden boy, and I certainly do enjoy. A lot more, evidently, than I did back in the day (i.e. May). Golden Boy , I have discovered, makes for an epic workout song. Squats suddenly become slightly more bearable when it’s blaring in the background. 

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Nadav captured at the precise moment he realises he doesn’t have time to show you Tel Aviv before he leaves.

#8 | Germany (+1)

#9 | Romania (-4)

#10 | Moldova (+2)

#11 | Latvia (-5)

#12 | FYR Macedonia (-5)

#13 | Slovenia (=)

#14 | Norway (-12) This is a controversial one. Maybe I over-listened to AMLM, which was my second-favourite song once upon a time, or maybe it just lost some of its magic for me. Either way – though I still like it a lot – I can’t hold it in as high a regard as I used to. Does this count as doing something terrible in my “early” youth?

#15 | Azerbaijan (+1)

#16 | Austria (-1)

#17 | Malta (+4)

#18 | Russia (+7)

#19 | Belarus (+8) I’m surprised that this has crept up rather than stayed put. There was never anything about Time that grabbed me with both hands (the hands of Time, obviously) which always irritated me because Uzari and Maimuna are both awesome in their own right, and have both produced far more dynamic and impressive music in the past. But I guess I’m not that irritated after all. And time really is like thunder, a-ahh.

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“To poke or not to poke Uzari with my violin bow so I can be the star of the show…”, Maimuna, 2015.

#20 | Iceland (-1)

#21 | Portugal (+8)

#22 | Albania (+10)

#23 | The Netherlands (-9)

#24 | Estonia (-13) I never felt the feverish love for Stig & Elina’s Eesti Laul landslider that many others did, so this drop doesn’t mean that much. Don’t get me wrong – we’re at #24, and the only songs I’m verging on hating with a passion are #37 through #40. It’s just…to steal the motto of Eurovision 2012 and rephrase it for my own personal use, Goodbye To Yesterday doesn’t light my fire, as such. I wonder if another tragic tear will snake its way down Elina’s cheek over that comment?

#25 | United Kingdom (-2)

#26 | Switzerland (-2)

#27 | Denmark (-7)

#28 | Serbia (+12) Bojana was my bottom-ranked act in May – though I should specify that it had nothing to do with her (she’s a delight, and can we be best friends forever, please?) and everything to do with the cheesy English-language version of Beauty Never Lies. I’m still not overly keen on it (it’s becoming a theme as we creep closer to number 4-0) but I can’t deny that it is a cracker of a dance-floor filler.

#29 | Greece (+5)

#30 | France (+1)

#31 | Georgia (-13)

#32 | Cyprus (+1)

#33 | Ireland (-7)

#34 | San Marino (+4) Is San Marino still in my bottom five? As Michele would say, NO! That’s a major achievement for the republic in itself. This song is total crap, but a part of me sees/hears it as a guilty (so very guilty) pleasure. I love how hard Michele and Anita try to make it something it’s never going to be – i.e. a decent, age-appropriate pop song that people would willingly listen to on a regular basis.

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It’s a shame Anita and Michele didn’t introduce their outstretched palms to Ralph Siegel’s face at high speed, BEFORE he lumped them with ‘Chain of Lights’…

#35 | Poland (-7)

#36 | Hungary (+3)

#37 | Lithuania (-7) This Time  was, is and always will be so full of cheese, you could make a batch of toasted sandwiches with said cheese so big that the Buranovskiye Babushkis and their extended families could feast on them for years without worrying about a dwindling supply. I don’t know about Vaidas’ solo stuff, but Monika’s is infinitely better than this.

#38 | Finland (-1)

#39 | Czech Republic (-4)

#40 | Armenia (-4) I haven’t sat through the recorded or live version of Genealogy’s melodramatic musical mess since their performance in the Viennese grand final. It’s just not my cup of tea (to put it politely) and I think that Not Alone, which preceded Don’t Deny, shows it up massively. I suspect that Iveta Mukuchyan’s entry, which will succeed it, will do the same.

 

 

Are you still awake? If so, congrats on making it all the way through this Top 40! If not, then I guess you’re not reading this right now, so I don’t need to address you (I am going to draw on your face with a Sharpie while you’re snoring, though). Things have changed quite a bit on my end, rankings-wise, so now it’s your chance to shock me with how much you’ve rearranged the field of 2015 in your mind – or on paper – since the contest took place.

 

Come on, spill! How’s your Top 40 looking as we approach the end of twenty-fifteen?

 

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COMING UP It’s been a while since the previous episode, but what better time than now for another Melfest Monday? Then, ever since Australia was granted a precious second shot at Eurovision glory, minds the world over have been whirring trying to come up with the best artist to fly our flag this time. I’m yet to chip in on this discussion, but I’ve been biding my time for a reason. Drop by for a Friday Fast Five in which I’ll reveal my top five fantasy Aussie representatives. I promise ‘Guy Sebastian, again’ isn’t among them.

 

 

EBJ’s Top 10…performances of Eurovision 2015

Hej hej! Welcome to the filler post that’s supposed to make you drool with anticipation as you await the results of my 2015 Eurovision Excellence Awards.

Don’t worry; their arrival is in the offing. In the meantime, if you haven’t voted in the People’s Choice polls yet, I would la la love you to do so while you still can. The polls are sitting pretty in my previous post, where they’ll be open for another few days (UPDATE: They’ve now closed!!!). Many of the results are close at this point, so your vote could determine who wins and who goes home empty-handed. As our beloved Queen Loreen would say, you got the power.

Before you head off to use it, though (and thanks so much if you already have…douze points for you!) why not hang around here for a bit and check out today’s countdown?

The forty songs performed in Vienna over three nights have been narrowed down to ten: my top ten of the lot, based on how well they were staged and sung, how aesthetically pleasing they were, and how insignificant the shocking camerawork became in light of all of the above.

 

As taking forty down to ten is a tough task (even with a few badly-staged, badly-sung entries among that forty) I’m allowing myself some Honourable Mentions to start:

Moldova If Moldova had tried to disguise I Want Your Love as a classy, contemporary affair, there would have been a global eye-roll epidemic. Fortunately, Eduard and his team acknowledged how trashy and 2000s the song is via a heavily-choreographed, sleazy dance routine performed by “police” hot off a porn set. I don’t care what anyone says – we NEEDED this in Eurovision 2015.

Montenegro Željko Joksimović was part of Adio in spirit (and as songwriter) if not on stage, with his influence extending to the use of every Balkan ballad trope imaginable during Knez’s performance. In this case, I’m more than happy to embrace the clichés, because I’ve long been a sucker for Balkan ballads and their atmospheric ensemble-based stagings…especially when Željko’s engineered them.

Russia I can’t deny that Polina gave a win-worthy performance in the final, helped along by her all-white resemblance to Dima Bilan back in ’08 (except his neckline was even more plunging than hers). But, more so than the costumes or the backdrops, it’s the emotion and energy she put into conveying the message of A Million Voices that I applaud here. Polina clearly invested every fibre of her (pure and angelic) being into her performance, and the fact that she semi-crumbled at the end endeared her effort to me all the more. You go, girlfriend.

 

And now, let’s get to the really, really good stuff (and pretend I didn’t just say ‘You go, girlfriend’): my top ten performances of the year.

When compiling this list, I thought back to how strong my desire was to clap after each performance, rather than bury my head in my hands. I also tried to recall whether my eyes were glued to the TV screen for three minutes straight (á la Sweden) or if I was tempted to tear them out after ten seconds because I NEVER EVER WANT TO SEE ANYONE WEAR ANYTHING LIKE THAT AGAIN, TRIJNTJE!

This is the end result.

 

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#10 | Game of Thrones meets Eurovision…and it’s a perfect match

Genealogy’s performance of Face The Shadow for Armenia

Game of Thrones with a ton of (subliminal) ads for Cadbury Family Blocks thrown in, that is. Armenia’s medieval-esque and very purple outfits – which may or may not have been retrieved from the depths of Inga’s wardrobe and repurposed, based on their resemblance to her and her sister’s 2009 costume choice – added to an equally purple and well-executed performance that took my pre-show perception of Face The Shadow and completely reversed it. Once performed live, the chaos of the studio version – in which all six singers attempted to outdo each other at every opportunity – disappeared, making way for screen shots that almost literally walked us through Essaï, Mary-Jean, Stephanie, Inga, Tamar and Vahe’s solos. On top of that, the migraine-inducing melodrama of that studio version came off as more of a theatricality, and one that worked very well outside of the recording booth. I still feel like Genealogy would have been more at home in a West End production of The Phantom of the Opera than at Eurovision…but their performance made me want to retract most of the snarky comments I made when reviewing Armenia a few months ago – and that deserves praise.

 

#9 | How do you say ‘OTT’ in Spanish?

Edurne’s performance of Amanecer for Spain

After a pretty lengthy period of simplistic staging choices, it was only a matter of time before Spain regurgitated every unused costume reveal, backdrop, dance move and wind machine gust from the past five years all over the Eurovision stage. We’ll never know whether less would have been more where Amanecer is concerned, but I personally don’t mind never finding out – because Edurne’s action-packed, meme-worthy performance harked back to the ultra-gimmicky days of the contest, and I couldn’t help loving it. Si, it was OTT, but not in a tacky, trashy way (Moldova had the tackiness and trashiness all to themselves). To put it in Eurovision terms, if Silvia Night’s Congratulations performance in ’06 was a petulant child, then Edurne’s Amanecer performance was the same child nine years later – more mature, but now at the party-girl stage of life when all she wants to do is rip off the demure cloak she wore out of the house to appease her parents, revealing a flashy dress that enables her to be manhandled by a half-naked dancer up in the club. Or in this case, up on the Stadthalle stage in front of thousands of flag-waving fans. Something else I commend about Spain’s show is the fact that Edurne didn’t let the myriad of backdrops, or the machine-made wind, or any of the other stuff that was happening to/around her, outshine her. She retained her status as star of the show the entire time. I guess when you’re that stunning, it’s easy to do.

 

#8 | Before I leave, you can definitely show me Tel Aviv!

Nadav Guedj’s performance of Golden Boy for Israel

I mean that in a ‘because you guys are the collective kings of fun’ kind of way, as opposed to an ‘I have the hots for a sixteen-year-old which, as I am in my twenties, is creepy, even though said teenager looks older than me’ kind of way (I swear I don’t). Without question, Israel was the life of the Eurovision party in Vienna, and all it took was simple but bang-on staging of the energetic floorfiller that is Golden Boy. All the song needed was a cool lighting scheme, men who could move, and – something I didn’t visualise pre-ESC but now can’t imagine sacrificing – some sweet-as-heck metallic sneakers. And Israel delivered on all three of those counts. They also gave us a teen talented beyond his years, who worked the stage like a pro and made millions of people watching at home leave the butt-shaped crater in their couches behind in order to shake the butt that made the indentation. I was doing no such thing when I was sixteen, being too busy carrying out my grand plan to win over the guy I liked by never looking at or speaking directly to him, which worked a treat. Not. ANYWAY, there was nothing not to enjoy about Nadav’s moment in the spotlight – including his literal moment in the spotlight during Golden Boy’s ballad-like intro, also perfectly staged – which is why it’s going down as one of my top ten performances. As long as I can keep pretending the cringe-tastic ‘Do you like my dancing?’ lyric doesn’t exist, I’ll be re-watching it on repeat.

 

#7 | Where there’s smoke, there’s Nina

Nina Sublatti’s performance of Warrior for Georgia

Let’s be honest: there were a lot of lady ballads in Eurovision this year. Countless women in floor-sweeping gowns were either a) wilting away at their microphones because the flame of their loins had departed, or b) demanding in a very shouty manner that we all come together and build a bridge and pray for peace and whatnot (thanks, but no thanks). So it’s a relief that Georgia gave us some grunt factor in the form of a fierce-as-F-word, gothic goddess in black leather hotpants and thigh-high boots – a.k.a. Nina Sublatti. At twenty years of age, Nina held her own on a sizeable and very smoky stage (she didn’t even bat a kohl-covered eyelid when the Dry Ice Overload Incident took place during the final). Girl eyeballed the camera, strutted around in those amazing boots (sorry to keep mentioning them, but they’re a 10 on the Maja Keuc scale of lust-worthy footwear) and generally hypnotised me into staring at her the entire time she was doing her femme fatale thing. She didn’t need anyone else accompanying her on stage, and I get the feeling the same applies to her everyday life – she’s the epitome of a strong, independent woman who don’t need no man. It’s quite possible that I’m a little bit in love with her, actually. But pushing that aside, I think that Georgia staged Warrior impeccably. A striking backdrop, a dark and sexy choice of costume, dry ice for atmosphere and Nina herself was all that the performance needed to succeed.

 

#6 | Lights! Camera! Completely unjustified nul points!

Ann Sophie’s performance of Black Smoke for Germany

From one saucy, black-clad woman to another…let’s talk about Ann Sophie and her Eurovision rendition of Black Smoke. And this time, I’m going to get straight to the point: I LOVED this performance. Fans who didn’t like the song beforehand and were still annoyed about the Andreas situation may not have felt the same way watching it, and I’ll admit that as I did rate Black Smoke quite highly in the contest lead-up – and wanted poor, downtrodden Ann Sophie to surpass expectations (which didn’t quite pan out) – I’m probably biased. But you tell me something that was über-wrong with Germany’s three minutes, and I’ll tell you that you’re crazy. Everything about it was simple, seductive and sophisticated – and no, I haven’t forgotten about the butt-centric shots that dominated the first verse. What can I say? The woman has a behind that deserves camera time, and the fact that she spent thirty seconds with her back to the audience was at least a unique and memorable approach to stage choreography. It was hardly off the charts wackiness-wise when compared to some of Belgium’s choreography (which *spoiler alert* will be discussed again shortly). Ann Sophie’s style and charisma were equally on point, and her voice wasn’t half as nasally as it had been at the German national final. On top of that, the use of the giant lights as props was inspired, and totally in keeping with the slightly retro flavour of Black Smoke. All in all, Germany’s was a slick and entertaining performance in which every visual element was nailed and the artist played their part in adding pizzazz. Neither the televoters nor the juries thought that zero points was a fair score here, so I blame the current combined voting system for a failure that will haunt my dreams for years to come.

 

#5 | Three (handsome, Italian) heads are better than one

Il Volo’s performance of Grande Amore for Italy

Il Volo, of course, had sung Grande Amore live at Sanremo in order to win the main section of the comp – but after hearing the song for the first time via the cinematically-themed video and falling in love with it, I decided not to seek out the live version. Rather, I’d wait until Eurovision time to see if the boys would blow me away as I expected them to. Obviously, since I’m talking about them on a list of my favourite Viennese performances, they did. They really, really did. All they had to do was stand on the stage in front of that majestic and oh-so-Italian backdrop in dapper suits, and nail their solo vocals and harmonies, and the power of the song would do the rest. A little partnership between the lighting/graphics and the explosive launch into the choruses added to the drama, and that wink from Gianluca down the camera cemented the sex appeal and charisma of this popera entry. Comparisons to the stuffy and straight-laced Sognu should have ended there, but people refuse to stop pitting Italy 2015 against France 2011…even now that we know Italy won the televote and finished third overall (seriously, STOP IT!). Effortless, classy and with an Italian stamp on their performance like always, Italy more than made up for Emma’s scoreboard slump of 2014. And gave me some epic goosebumps. Brr.

 

#4 | Did we pick the right Guy for the job? Too right, mate!

Guy Sebastian’s performance of Tonight Again for Australia

No list of this nature written by an Australian would be complete without our debut performance on it. In fourth place is Guy Sebastian, whose talent, personality and posse of backup dancers/singers had the whole of the arena on their feet (from what I could see on screen) and dismissing the ‘WTF?’ factor of Australia being invited to compete. Tonight Again is the kind of song that works better live, when the performer can feed off the energy of the audience – and in this case, where smooth-as-honey vocals like Guy’s sound sweetest. From his first note, the crowd made the noise that indicated they knew they were in for a fun time (fun being extremely welcome after a ton of down-tempo songs that simply could not be twerked to), and when the trumpets kicked in, there was no looking back. The 3D and 2D street lights served as an eye-catching and appropriate part of simple but effective staging – i.e. staging that was far from boarding Spain’s OTT train, but not at all boring. My absolute favourite thing about our debut was this: watching it unfold in a room full of other Aussies, all of us waving our flags and singing along to every word, while dancing in the uncoordinated kind of way one does at 4 o’ clock in the morning. For the first time, I felt the patriotic spirit that those of you in regularly-competing countries must feel when you’re supporting your entry for the year (assuming you like it and aren’t embarrassed to get behind it). If we’re not invited back, then I’ll always have that memory and feeling to hold on to (sorry for the cheese, but this was a special event, and I’m getting kind of emotional thinking about it *sniff*).

 

And now, for the top points…er, I mean, performances. Or perhaps both?

Yes.

Eight points go to…

 

#3 | Affected, detected, reflected and injected

Aminata’s performance of Love Injected for Latvia

I am proud to say I’m someone who approved of Love Injected when it won the Latvian NF. But not even I foresaw how epic Aminata’s Eurovision performance, and eventual result, would be. I mean, this is Latvia we’re talking about – their contest history includes the world’s campest pirates, Johnny Logan name-dropping and songs about cake-baking. In the post-2000 years, I’ve often had low expectations of them…but that’s changed. Watching barely-five-foot Aminata attempt to fit through backstage doorways in that giant red puffball of a dress, I was skeptical. But with that dress, and the girl in it, being the focal point of the presentation, magic was made. The colour scheme and lighting were seamlessly integrated with the theme and hypnotic beats of the song, and the camerawork here was among the best of the lot. The real drawcard, though, was Aminata herself. Like Conchita, she remained in the same spot for the entirety of her performance, but managed to belt out Love Injected with a whopping amount of power, and emote using only her facial expressions and arm movements. Note-perfect every time and totally present and absorbed in the moment, she had so much to do with Latvia providing another spine-tingler. Overa-a-a-a-all (couldn’t resist) they impressed me big time, brought up my heart rate, and achieved a result that was more Brainstorm than Beautiful Song.

 

Ten points go to…

 

#2 | Lord of the dance, and the leather pants

Måns Zelmerlöw’s performance of Heroes for Sweden

Oh, Sweden – you did it again! Á la 2012, the ESC powerhouse’s out-of-the-box thinking led to an innovatively-staged performance that was unique in the field, and deservingly took out Eurovision’s top honours. The extent to which Sweden takes Melodifestivalen and Eurovision seriously is evident in how well-packaged their entries are from the very first time you see them live – when they’re just potential Swedish representatives competing in a Melfest semi. Changes to the stick man aside, the Heroes that turned up in Vienna was shot-for-shot, move-for-move the same as the Heroes that had won Melfest in Stockholm. And there’s nothing wrong with that – why strive to improve on perfection? Sure, there were a few minor tweaks that did just that: e.g. the colour scheme becoming monochromatic, which, as Måns said, gave the visuals a crispness they didn’t have before. That was the cherry on top of a precision-iced cake. Although I’d seen Måns interacting with cartoon Måns (who’s not as handsome but is adorable nonetheless) a million times before he did so at Eurovision, I was compelled by the staging every time. MZW  was selling something I already wanted to buy, so the fact that a) his vocals were top-notch, b) his engagement with the audience and camera was as pro as always, and c) he was still rocking those leather pants *swoons pathetically* was an added bonus. Just because every element of a performance has been thought through and rehearsed to within an inch of its life doesn’t mean said performance will become stale. It can still be fresh, with the right frontman…or in this case, the right frontmåns.

 

And now, the moment you’ve waded through my ramblings for. The douze points for my personal favourite performance of the year go to…

 

#1 | Black + white + rap pap pap tonight!

Loïc Nottet’s performance of Rhythm Inside for Belgium

Belgium has been a hit-and-miss kind of contest competitor lately. After Roberto Bellarosa’s surprise success in Malmö, Axel Hirsoux’s failure to qualify in Copenhagen must have taken the wind out of their sails (while not surprising the majority of us who were creeped-out by Mother). This year, with Francophone broadcaster RTBF in charge again, Loïc Nottet was internally selected – and what a brilliant selection it was. Loïc – who we mustn’t forget is only nineteen years old – proceeded to co-write a cutting-edge pop song and choreograph a cool routine for some all-white backing singers. The rest, as they say, is history. Belgium’s best result since 2003 was thanks to a song and performance unlike anything we’d heard or seen on the Eurovision stage before, which is mainly why I voted for it. Simple shapes, bizarre but complementary dance moves and a minimalist, monochromatic colour scheme united as Loïc let rip with a killer vocal. Unusual camera shots, and an intensity from The Voice Belgique runner-up that would be hard for an artist twice his age to muster, added to the intrigue, making Belgium’s performance pretty impossible to forget. The whole thing was strange yet satisfying, and gelled in a way that some other performances didn’t. I couldn’t tear my eyes away, having been a fan of Rhythm Inside from the start and then been blindsided by a level of awesomeness in its presentation. I want to see more of this in Eurovision as we journey on into the show’s seventh decade. Maybe that would prove that the older the contest gets, the cooler it gets – you know, like your grandmother who goes bar-hopping, listens to heavy metal and takes hang-gliding lessons.

 

 

That’s my countdown concluded, peeps. I’ve said my (very long) piece, so now it’s your turn. Which ten performances of Eurovision 2015 will you be watching over and over until a distraction comes along in the form of Eurovision 2016? Let me know below. I’m as curious as always!

 

NEXT TIME Dust off your tuxedoes, fluff out those tulle skirts, and red-carpet-proof your footwear – the EBJ Awards for Eurovision Excellence have arrived! Well, the first installment has, anyway. You’re cordially invited to sit front-row as the trophies in the categories of The Artists and The Songs are handed out. Four of the People’s Choice winners will be revealed as well, so you won’t want to miss this ceremony.

 

nsig

 

VIENNA 2015 | It’s the final countdown, so let’s pick a winner (and squeeze in a review of semi two)!

Welcome to Eurovision final Saturday, random person or regular reader (I think I have at least one of those…)!!! This day has the ability to be both the best and worst of the year, depending on just how much you love Eurovision. If you’re head over heels like me – and I’m going to assume you are – then you have to be prepared to be extremely excited one minute, and extremely depressed the next. The 60th contest is nearing its conclusion, and that brings with it Loreen-levels of euphoria as well as the kind of unshakeable sadness that Anita and Michele must have felt when they found out they were going to be lumped with a Ralph Siegel song. We feel you, guys.

This is where we are as I type this: 13 countries have fallen at the semi stage, and 27 remain in contention to succeed Conchita and give one of their broadcasters a very expensive coup. By the end of the evening, 26 of these participants will have lost (an unfortunate way to put it, perhaps, but technically true) and one will have won the opportunity to take the snazzy glass microphone home and display it on their mantelpiece (after Instagramming an “artistic” shot of it, of course). It’s time to take a punt at just which country and act that will be – and to take a guess at where all 26 losers will end up.

Before I get to that, it’s time for a quick (don’t take that too seriously coming from me) rundown of the second semi final, held two days ago and already reviewed by everyone else. What can I say? Being fashionably late is my trademark.

 

Semi final two was not vastly different to the first, except in song quality – I thought it was clearly the stronger one. Our three hosts were slightly less wooden, Conchita put them all to shame yet again with her easy charm and radiant glow (I think I love her a little bit), and the postcards continued to be precious. The 17 performances were what made the difference, so let’s focus on those.

These were the ten qualifiers, in performance order:

  • Lithuania I like cheese as much as the next person (assuming the next person doesn’t have an intolerance to dairy) but This Time is too cheesy even for me. Lyrically and performance-wise, this was dripping with the stuff. I found it artificial, not cute. Not that it matters, because it qualified anyway.
  • Montenegro Never underestimate the power of Željko Joksimović! The Balkan tropes were out and proud during this performance, and if Knez had been wearing a Željko mask, nobody would have picked up on it (and the cardboard would have looked more realistic than Knez’s actual face).
  • Norway I adore this song so much I’d marry it if I could. But the colour scheme – the warm lighting and the white outfits – doesn’t embrace the darkness and moodiness of the song, and prevents Norway’s overall package from being a slick one in winning contention. The harmonies were lovely as ever, though.
  • Israel Nadav really IS the king of fun! One of the few floor-fillers in this year’s contest, Israel got the party started at last and qualified for the first time in five years. They also provided us with frequent shots of some golden shoes that Herreys would die for.
  • Latvia Speaking of qualifying for the first time in a long time…Aminata used her incredible voice and artfully flailing arms to full advantage, taking Latvia into the final after six years of DNQs.
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Who knew that all Latvia needed to succeed was a decent cactus impression?

  • Azerbaijan Well, there wasn’t a big Perspex box involved here (always a disappointment) but I’d watch and listen to this performance any day over last year’s Azeri snoozefest. The dancers are verging on distracting from Elnur’s vocal – a big selling point of the entry.
  • Sweden Call me biased, what with my unconditional love for Sweden and Måns’ leather pants and all, but this was perfection. It was a carbon copy of the Melodifestivalen performance give or take a cone-headed cartoon man, sure, but why fix what ain’t broken? Possible winner status = cemented.
  • Cyprus Two words: surprisingly good. I didn’t rate this song too highly in studio, but John was engaging and vocally on his game. Not to mention the fact that he rocked specs on stage in the way of 2007 champ Marija Šerifović. I give a big tick to Cyprus’ use of the background too.
  • Slovenia I wanted Maraaya to wow me, but sadly, they did not. The combination of Marjetka’s ever-present headphones and her standing pretty statically the whole time made the performance quite introverted and not very energetic (in spite of the efforts of the air violinist). I still really like the song though, and clearly I’m not the only one.
  • Poland The prettiest staging of the night. I am a little surprised this advanced, but it proves that Poland can opt for the opposite of busty butter-churners and still get somewhere. And yet I still miss the busty butter-churners…

 

Now, my thoughts on the seven non-qualfiers (also in performance order, because it just works, okay? Get off my back!):

  • Ireland All is absolutely forgiven for Ireland’s shocking staging of Heartbeat in Copenhagen after this. Molly was always going to be a borderline qualifier if she qualified at all, and it just didn’t happen for her on Thursday. But I really enjoyed her time on stage – or playing the piano in the middle of a forest. I couldn’t tell which.
  • San Marino That’s what I did when I wasn’t laughing at Michele’s opening ‘No!’. Nothing, not Michele’s sass or Anita’s pretty dress, could have saved this from being bottom of the heap. I hope you’re happy, Ralph.
  • Malta I think the reworked version of Warrior is what let this down – it just fell flat in the stadium (from a TV viewer’s perspective, anyway) and had little lasting impact. Amber herself looked and sounded better. Malta made great use of the background, but that’s not enough.
  • Portugal Like Sertab Erener when she got her heel stuck in the Istanbul stage vent, Portugal was going nowhere fast. Leonor also looked and sounded decent, but she looked strangely angry during the choruses.
  • Czech Republic As several people told me I would, I didn’t mind this live. Marta and Václav have great chemistry on and off stage, and if they’d been in a theatre mid-way through The Phantom of the Opera, they would have received a standing ovation (the theatrical equivalent of a sure place in the final). It would have been great for the Czech Republic to earn their first final place, but it wasn’t to be. Gee, I hope Marta didn’t take off her shoes and throw them at Václav in anger. Oh wait…
  • Iceland The poofy dress may have worked for me in the end, but it wasn’t enough of distraction from the shrill vocal and the fact that Unbroken is one long chorus. Iceland will miss the final for the first time since 2007, and María will be throwing away her tin of gold body paint.
  • Switzerland Melanie Réné was probably my non-qualifier of the night. I’ll admit that Time To Shine is an anticlimactic song, but this performance took me by surprise. Loved the costume, loved the drummers, loved the lighting scheme (I’m big on lighting this year). Job well done, Switzerland.

 

In terms of predictions, I managed to call 9/10 again – Iceland being my downfall this time (the Nordics have not been kind to me). It turns out that there’s only enough room in the final for golden shoes, not golden feet (and extreme, off-key repetition). I failed to predict Poland as a qualifier, but I’m happy enough to see them go through.

How did you go with your predictions? Prepare to spill all as you venture on into my guesses for the outcome of the grand final – coming to you live from Vienna in a matter of hours!

 

finaleeeee

The running order

Slovenia, France, Israel, Estonia, United Kingdom, Armenia, Lithuania, Serbia, Norway, Sweden, Cyprus, Australia, Belgium, Austria, Greece, Montenegro, Germany, Poland, Latvia, Romania, Spain, Hungary, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Russia, Albania, Italy

It seems the theory that a producer-orchestrated running order will always result in the most entertaining and varied string of songs isn’t a reliable one – at least when the producers leave some of the draw to chance. With a heap of ballads pulling the second half out of the hat, ORF have had no choice but to compile a very down-tempo latter part of the proceedings. We’d better all choreograph some interpretive dance moves suitable for Hour of the Wolf, because after Golden Boy, Still In Love With You and Tonight Again, there’s more or less NOTHING to woki our popos to.

Slovenia should set a good tone for the show, however, and Israel will elevate the energy levels as we head into a long home stretch. If reports on the UK’s rehearsals are to be believed, it will be a positive to get their performance out of the way early on. Sweden can win from a reasonably early 10th slot if they’re meant to – Austria did it in 2014 from 11th. I hope discussion on Australia finally making its ESC debut in the 12th slot won’t overshadow the next country on stage, Belgium, who could be in store for their best result in a very long time.

Funky Germany’s scored a decent position between two ballads, but I suspect Ann Sophie will struggle anyway. Latvia, on the other hand, might benefit from being in a similar situation. Love Injected is nothing if not a standout song, and preceding Poland will probably suffer as a result. The final six songs will be hard to stay awake for, if I’m honest. Albania, I hope, will pep us all up enough so that we can be blown away by Italy, who will close the 2015 contest (I’m not 100% happy about them being last, but I can understand ORF’s reasoning).

Like I said and like we all know, the song that’s meant to win will win from any position, which means there’s still hope for Italy. But it doesn’t look like we’re going to have a repeat of 2003 here, when Turkey won after performing 4th (sorry, Estonia!). We might well have a repeat of 2003 in terms of voting though – back then, Turkey beat Belgium by 2 points, who in turn beat Russia by a single point. My fingers will be crossed for a nail-biter finish in that vein.

 

Highlights of the night: my expectations

Justifying myself in brief, Twitter-esque form, these are the countries I’ll be hanging out to see in action:

  • France An army of drummers that doesn’t breach the six-person rule? I’m intrigued, France.
  • Israel It may have been Pink who wanted to get the party started on a Saturday night, but it’s Nadav who’ll be the party-starter on this occasion.
  • United Kingdom Will Electro Velvet salvage a shambles, or will this be car crash television? I’m morbidly keen to find out.
  • Norway Because no matter how unsuitable I think the mise en scène is, A Monster Like Me is one of my goosebump songs. I actually don’t know what would happen to my body if they’d nailed the lighting and costuming.
  • Sweden The favourite. MY favourite. Need I say more?
  • Australia Uh, hello! I never thought the day would come that I could cheer my own country on in the ESC. I cannot wait for this moment.
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‘Do whatcha whatcha whatcha want…as long as that’s voting for Australia!’

  • Belgium This is just…so freaking cool. Bravo, Belgium!
  • Austria The cheer received by the host country is always up there with my favourite final moments. I don’t expect this to be any exception.
  • Montenegro It’s a Balkan ballad. There’s mountains in the background and minimalist dressing in the foreground. This was made for me!
  • Latvia Like Belgium’s, Latvia’s song is weird in the best possible way. Love Injected, and Aminata’s interpretation of it, is spellbinding. This could be a surprise success.
  • Spain I hear everything except the kitchen sink (though I’m not convinced they haven’t swathed that in sequins and secreted it somewhere on stage) has been thrown at Edurne’s performance, and I can’t say I’m not keen to find out if it’s true – and if it works.
  • Italy We have to wait a long time to see Il Volo smoulder their way through Grande Amore, but I have no doubt it’ll be worth it.

 Let me know which acts you’re most looking forward to down below.

 

So, who’s going to take the trophy home?

I still believe this is an open year, despite one country in particular rising up the ranks and overtaking one of the long-standing bookies’ favourites. I don’t think we have a clear-cut champ just yet…but I reserve the right to change my mind once the votes start coming in and everyone rushes to book a hotel room in Sochi for May 2016.

No matter how biased it may seem, I cannot discount Australia as a potential winner – even based on novelty value alone. We have a good position in the first half, and Guy Sebastian is fronting a catchy, energetic pop song that will be remembered even if it’s just by association – like, ‘Hey! Let’s vote for the Australian song!’. The juries will give him a boost thanks to his impressive vocals. I don’t necessarily think Tonight Again deserves to win, but would I complain if it did? Um, no. I’d be screaming my head off, actually.

Italy outclassed all others in the OGAE vote, and while that doesn’t always signal impending success, it’s not devoid of clout. I wish Il Volo were performing prior to the point where viewer fatigue will set in, but I’m convinced they will make a big impression even as the last act on stage. Even if they f%#k up completely, I’m going to vote for them.

Russia has come out of nowhere to be a danger to the holy trinity of Sweden, Italy and Australia, who sat on top of the odds list for months. Polina is currently second-favourite to win, and though I will be disappointed if she does – not because it’s Russia, but because the song and performance don’t do much for me – I won’t be shocked. Russia won Eurovision seven years ago with a white-clad singer, and there’s a real chance they could do the same again. Polina definitely looks better in that dress than Dima Bilan would.

2015-05-18t200623z2072020018lr2eb5i1jucmirtrmadp3music-eurovision

I can’t deny that Russia is on the white track to win.

My last pick for a probable winner has to be the favourite, Sweden. Måns is almost guaranteed to give Sweden another podium finish, but with Polina snapping at his heels (in a very ladylike manner) the landslide win a lot of us expected is no longer likely. I still believe he has a fighting chance, and I hope the nineteen or so votes I’ll be texting his way will contribute to that. LYCKA TILL SVERIGE!

What’s that? You also want a dark horse? Well, since I aim to please, here’s one: Belgium *insert dramatic soap opera music here*. Loïc, like Polina, has upset the apple cart of pre-contest favourites, having overtaken Australia. He’s sitting in fourth position behind Sweden, Russia and Italy, and this excites me greatly. A Belgian win is a lot to ask, but there is something masterful about the package of Rhythm Inside – the precision, the quirk, how cutting-edge it is – that speaks to me. This is memorable for all the right reasons, and I would LOVE Eurovision to have a winner that’s so out-of-the-stereotypical-box. But if it’s not to be, and Loïc ends up snugly in the top 10 or even the top 5, that will also be worth celebrating.

 

Top half VS bottom half of the table: Who’ll finish where?  

If you’re up for predicting the entire final scoreboard from #1-#27, points included, I’m not going to stop you. I am going to stop myself, however. That could only end in disaster. Instead, I’ll have a stab at predicting which countries will finish on the left side of the scoreboard (i.e. at or close to the top of the table) and which countries won’t be so lucky, as Zdob şi Zdub would say.

Top half Australia, Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Georgia, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Norway, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovenia, Sweden

Bottom half Albania, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, France, Germany, Greece, Israel, Lithuania, Montenegro, Poland, Spain, United Kingdom

No doubt they’ll be one or two countries that succeed against the odds, but I’ve given up on trying to figure out who they are. Given up or run out of time, one of the two.

 

 

On that note, like Nadav Guedj, I’ve gotta go, bye-bye. I’m off to a cinematic live screening of the final tonight/tomorrow morning, and I’m taking a gigantic flag cape with me (it’s an all-occasion kind of garment, but I thought it would do alright for this). I’m sorry to have rushed this post, but life is hectic at the moment, and to be honest, the occurrence of the ESC isn’t helping! But I’m more than happy to give it some priority time.

I’ll be back, as always, to dissect tonight’s results and discuss any fallout with you guys. In the meantime, hit me up with your predictions. Where is Eurovision headed in 2016? Who’s going to score jaw-droppingly well, and who’s going to fall flat at the final hurdle? Will we get the tense-as-heck voting sequence we’ve been waiting for? Tell me what you think in the comments.

 

Until Eurovision no. 60 comes to an end…

nsig

 

3, 2, 1…60! My first semi-final predictions (plus an updated pre-ESC Top 40)

There’s only one way to sum up how I’m feeling right now.

emae

As I write these words, the first semi final of Eurovision 2015 is mere hours away, with the jury semi already over. It genuinely feels like I was saying the same thing about Eurovision 2014 about a month ago. I don’t know about time being like thunder, but it sure moves freaking fast!

Pushing that frightening thought aside, I can tell you that I am more excited to set my alarm for 2.30am Wednesday than I ever thought I could be. I won’t tell you a whole lot more before I get into my predictions for the first semi, because I’ve still got flags to plaster all over my living room and show snacks to send someone else out to buy for me (because I’m too hyped-up to be let out in public).

A two-part disclaimer re: this post’s predictions, which cover the results, possible jaw-droppers and general other Eurovisiony occurrences:

  • You may or may not be aware that my foresight is dreadful. Unless something is blatantly obvious, I will rarely see it coming (just check out my 2014 prediction post if you want proof. So please make allowances for this when you’re checking out my thoughts.
  • You also may or may not be aware that I NEVER watch the Eurovision rehearsals – nor have I listened to any of this year’s entries for about seven weeks. I have my reasons for this, but the former does make it very hard to guess what’s going to happen. My predictions are based on what I’ve heard about the run-throughs, and the few photos I’ve seen so far.

I think that’s all I need to gab on about for now, so let’s dive in to my amateurish assumptions regarding the outcome of semi final numero uno!

PS – I’ve also taken the liberty of letting you know who I’m voting for, as I support my favourites for the very first time. If you want to throw stuff at me after reading that bit, you’ll need to have quite the arm. I know my next-door neighbours, and you’re not any of them.

 

sf1pred

The running order

Moldova, Armenia, Belgium, The Netherlands, Finland, Greece, Estonia, FYR Macedonia, Serbia, Hungary, Belarus,  Russia, Denmark, Albania, Romania and Georgia.

I’m fairly confident that I’ve predicted this correctly. Then again, this is ME we’re talking about *checks the appropriate Wikipedia page for the 127th time just to be sure*.


The results

My top 10 prediction

Because making a fool of myself by listing qualifiers randomly isn’t enough.

  1. Russia
  2. Estonia
  3. Georgia
  4. Belgium
  5. Armenia
  6. Greece
  7. Romania
  8. Denmark
  9. Hungary
  10. Albania

I don’t want to accept this – purely because the song’s not up there with my favourites – but Russia has pulled off one perfect rehearsal after another, if the reactions of the press are to be believed. In this semi, Polina has the potential to be a formidable force.

russia

Polina doesn’t want coloured powder thrown at her tonight – she wants your votes. And it’s highly likely she’ll get them.

I’m not convinced Estonia still has the steam to come out on top here, but they should do well anyway.

I desperately want Belgium to get through, and I think they will. But as what they’ve chosen to put on stage has divided observers, I don’t think Loïc will come too close to winning the semi.

I had Armenia down as a DNQ when their live performance was a question mark, but it seems they’ve managed not to transfer the chaos from the studio version of Don’t Deny Face The Shadow to the live version. The power of all those personalities and voices, plus a decent stage show, should see them qualify safely.

Greece is, well, Greece. One Last Breath may be a bore, but I hear they’ve staged it well, and Maria Elena is great at what she does – impersonating Céline Dion. Not so great, however, that she’ll end up mimicking Switzerland’s 1988 victory or anything.

Since they’ve been so successful in the years post-comeback, it’s hard to imagine a final without Hungary in it. Boggie is a borderline qualifier as far as I’m concerned, but I’m putting her down as a finalist because a) to reference The Common Linnets, she’ll be the calm after Serbia’s storm, and that in itself could be arresting; and b) the juries will lap her song up like its water and they’ve just been wandering through the desert sans liquid for a week. The Aussie jury in particular is on the hunt for a ‘social cause’ (bleurgh) and Wars For Nothing is nothing (like the wars) if not that.

I feel like Albania will slip in to the top 10, but just. Serbia has the potential to snatch that 10th spot though.

 

My fantasy top 10

A.k.a. the result we’ll never get in a million years, unless I happen to become all-powerful within the next few hours.

  1. Belgium
  2. Romania
  3. FYR Macedonia
  4. Moldova
  5. Estonia
  6. Georgia
  7. The Netherlands
  8. Belarus
  9. Denmark
  10. Russia

Go on, have a good old laugh about this. I know it’s wishful thinking of the most ridiculous kind.

 

My bottom six prediction 11. Serbia, 12. The Netherlands, 13. Finland, 14. Belarus, 15. Moldova, 16. FYR Macedonia

Bojana’s voice and presence for Serbia – plus the last thirty seconds of Beauty Never Lies – could carry her through, but Elhaida Dani also has a big voice and a more consistent, cohesive song. Hence I’m bumping Serbia into ‘close, but no cigar (or Saturday night)’ territory.

Trijntje has swapped her boob-baring gown for something more demure and less MY EYES, MY EYES!! But I reckon she’ll struggle nonetheless.

nether

‘What did you say about my stylist running with scissors?’

Finland could sail through, but I’m not convinced people’s heads will stop reeling in time to decide whether they liked Aina Mun Pitää or not. I’m intrigued to see how it does jury-wise.

I was going to tip the sleazefest that is Moldova to advance, having had a gut feeling that Eduard might scrape through for a while now. After all, last year’s rather sleazy (and cheesy) Belarusian Cheesecake had no trouble getting out of its semi. And the fact that Moldova are not incorporating hair removal into their choreography this year bodes well. But now I’m ignoring my gut (probably a mistake) and falling in line with the crowd who think the Moldovan package is trash dressed up in trampy police outfits. Please note that if they do qualify, I will say ‘I told you so!’ even though I technically didn’t.

 

If there’s a shock result…because there’s always something I don’t see coming, no matter how hard I try to see it beforehand. In the case of semi one, the shocker could be a country with a 100% qualification record losing that record – I’m referring to Greece or Romania, as I’ll choke on my kvass if Russia trips up in this department. I’m not saying this IS going to happen – as you’ve seen from my predictions above, I don’t think that’s the case at all.

But but but, if a gasp-worthy outcome is on the cards, there is a chance it could.  Neither Greece nor Romania have sent songs that scream ‘qualifier!’, for different reasons – Greece because it’s a prehistoric ballad, Romania because it’s understated (it’s hard to believe Voltaj are representing the same country that gave us angle grinding, round pianos and Cezar). But, by the media’s reckoning, both One Last Breath and De La Capăt have been well-staged and performed during rehearsals, and even if they hadn’t been, one or neither advancing would equal much drama and debate, methinks.

How about this: what if Finland win the first semi? If PKN made it to the final, that in itself wouldn’t make my eyes bug out of my head. But if I later found out they’d topped it, well…then my eyeballs would know no bounds.

My third and final jaw-on-the-floor moment would involve FYR Macedonia qualifying. I am Beyoncé-level crazy in love with Autumn Leaves, but it was always a song on the fence in terms of qualification. Now Daniel’s rehearsed and things have (apparently) been particularly beige and not particularly cohesive, I’m fearing the worst. Therefore, if he does manage to nab the 9th or 10th spot post-voting, I will be flabbergasted. Flabbergasted in a hysterically happy kind of way (i.e. I will alternate between collapsing on the floor clutching my chest, and moonwalking up and down my hallway).

 

Who’s most likely to…

…get the biggest round of applause? Serbia and Russia.

Serbia has one of the only up-tempo songs in this semi at their disposal – at least for the final stretch of their three minutes – and Bojana will have a big, triumphant finish that I’m sure the fans in the Stadthalle will go crazy over. I would, if I was there (can you hear the sound of my heart breaking?) even though Beauty Never Lies is literally my least favourite entry right now, as you’ll see when I unveil my updated Top 40 below. Curse that painful English version that’s cheesier than a wheel of Switzerland’s finest!

ser

Craploads of silver material? Check. Flags? Check. White snuggies with built-in neck braces? Check.

And, to answer the question I know you have in mind – no, I don’t think Russia’s going to get booed this year. Polina is so angelic, and by all accounts, her performance is so on point, that I will be surprised if anyone in the audience lets loose with a big, fat, B-O-O.

 

…sing best live? Genealogy, Loïc Nottet, Maria Elena Kyriakou, Polina Gagarina, Elhaida Dani…I could go on.

There is a wealth of wonderful singers in the Viennese lineup, but in terms of the live voices I’m most enthusiastic to hear in action, I’ll be waiting for Genealogy, Loïc and Polina.

 

…sing worst live? Moldova.

Let’s not pretend otherwise. I don’t know how far Eduard has come since his woeful-yet-winning NF performance, but he won’t stand up vocally next to…well, more or less ALL of the singers taking to the stage after him. Fortunately, I Want Your Love isn’t an LLB (lame lady ballad, in case you’re new and don’t know that’s a thing now) that relies on a stunning vocal to elevate it. Nothing is going to retrieve this from the trash chute, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

 

…make the best use of the background? Romania.

I predict this because, singing mostly in Romanian, Voltaj need to use the visuals as much as possible to convey their message to those of us who don’t understand Romanian and/or who don’t already know the story of the song. I believe they’re making a good attempt at that.

 

…have the most boring stage show? The Netherlands, Hungary and Denmark.

I know not every country can have men in hamster wheels rolling around among giant wooden horses trapped in glass boxes, while rainbow sparks rain down and the wind machine is switched up to MAX, and then the wind blows some of the rainbow sparks into the audience and someone’s flag catches fire, and then the stadium starts burning and everyone has to evacuate, and the stadium ends up as a pile of black rubble littered with smoking cardboard cut-outs of Nina Sublatti.

Ahem. My point is, it’s unnecessary for every performance to have bells and whistles attached. It’s unlikely that Trijntje, Boggie or Anti Social Media are going to do anything but stand still and sing and pretend to play their instruments. There might be a bit of walking around involved, but that’ll be it. ASSUMPTION ALERT!!!

 

…have the best costume/? Georgia.

I’m cheating here, as I have seen Nina’s getup – a badass version of Maja Keuc’s leather-and-metallic look from Düsseldorf. Or perhaps the new-and-improved edition of Molly Smitten-Downes’ backup singers’ costumes. Either way, it’s perfection.

georgia

Nina, ready to take flight and land on a scarecrow straight after her performance.

 …have the worst costume/s? The Netherlands.

Yes, Trijntje (how did I end up having to type that name so many times during this post?) has changed her dress, thank the Lordi. But we can’t just forget about the original ensemble that looked like it had been personally designed for her by Freddy Krueger. And what’s with the veil? This is Eurovision, not Derby Day at the races. Or a funeral, for that matter.

 

So, where are my votes going?

Having been given the chance to vote in Eurovision for the first (and “only”) time, I’m not going to waste it. I’ll reveal to you now in list form who I’m supporting, so you can blame me if X country goes through against your wishes, and so I can refer back to it at 4.30 tomorrow morning when I’m too delirious to remember who I wanted to vote for.

This list aligns with the aforementioned fantasy top 10, but I’m saving my votes for the first five countries on it: Belgium, Romania, FYR Macedonia, Moldova and (possibly) Estonia. I say ‘(possibly) Estonia’ because I’m not as attached to Goodbye To Yesterday as I am to the other four songs. Plus, I don’t think Stig & Elina need my help as much as the others do.

 

Last but not least, it’s ranking time! 

It’s tradition to revise one’s Top 40 just before the contest kicks off…isn’t it? I’m gonna say it is. And so, I present to you my updated pre-ESC ranking, with numeric proof of how much it’s changed over the last few months.

tfu

Haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate.

And with that out-of-place Taylor Swift reference, I pronounce this post over, ladies and gents! I can’t wait to join y’all for the first semi final, watching live and – if you’re a fellow Australian, or if you’ve just never bothered to vote before – voting for the first time.

I probably won’t be taking to social media during the show, because I want to focus 110% on what’s happening on my TV screen (the voting period excepted, of course) so this is peace out from me until we have our first ten finalists. Besides the seven already booked in to Saturday night. You know what I mean. I’ll be back before semi two to review the performances and results of semi one, and make some more unreliable predictions. Yay?

Wherever you are in the world, I hope you enjoy the show…unless you’re in Vienna and are attending the contest, in which case I hope you have a horrible time (though I’ll retract that if you promise to send me a postcard and/or a lock of Måns Zelmerlöw’s chest hair). Let me know below what your plans are for the evening/afternoon/morning (bloody time zones!) plus your predictions for this first Eurovision 2015 installment. Who’s going through and who’s going home? Place your bets now.

 

See you on the other side of the semi!

 

nsig

 

VIENNESE VERDICTS | The EBJ Jury Reviews (Part 4)

Being all about that bass is so passé. Right now, at least within the Eurovision sphere, it’s all about those Eurovision 2015 reviews. That’s why I barely let you finish reading one installment before I publish another. Case in point: this is Part 4. Yep, we’re halfway through already!

Under the musical microscope today are Sweden, the UK, Belgium, the Czech Republic and Romania; and on the EBJ Jury today are an Australian, another Australian, and me – also an Australian. Pay careful attention to how our points stack up, because that might give you an insight into where the Aussie points will go come May 19th, 21st and 23rd. Or not. Actually, that’s very unlikely. Forget I said anything, okay?

 

TODAY’S EBJ JURY

vv4

Mrs. Jaz: She’s back! Louisa Baileche lookalike and mother of me, Mrs. Jaz refused to stop her review count at five. Hang on a second…no, that was me. I refused to let her stop at five. Anyway, she’s joining the EBJ Jury for the second and final time today to offer opinions from a non-fan, outside-of-the-bubble perspective. How she rates the entries from Sweden etc could be a gauge as to how they’ll fare in the final (if they make it that far) when all of the casual viewers drop by and vote for the songs that make the best first impressions.

Fraser McEachern: “Hello Europe, this is Fraser from Adelaide calling! As one half of the the record-breaking escTMI Eurovision review show (well, in our minds anyway) I have loved the Eurovision Song Contest since I first laid eyes on it back in 1998. I recall turning the TV channel over to see Dana International performing Diva, and from that moment, I was hooked – and I haven’t missed a contest since! My love for Eurovision culminated in Loreen’s 2012 win, which led escTMI to attend the show in Malmö in 2013. We loved it so much that this year, we’re heading to Vienna to join in the fun all over again. My favourite Eurovision songs of all time tend to be the same ones, just in different positions. At the moment, #1 is Invincible by Carola, #2 is Quedate Conmigo by Pastora Soler, #3 is Je N’ai Que Mon Âme by Natasha St-Pier, #4 is Je T’adore by Kate Ryan, and #5 is Rise Like A Phoenix by Conchita Wurst. As I said, these change regularly. However, there have been many brilliant songs (and remixes) over the years that I have become addicted to!”

escTMI on YouTube | escTMI on Facebook | Follow Fraser on Twitter

Jasmin Bear: “Yes, it’s me again. Just face it, I’m not going anywhere! I’m also not going to tell you a Fascinating Eurovision-Related Story Masquerading As A Regular Bio today, as I’m still trying to figure out which one I should publish next: a) a tale of all the times I thought I heard a Eurovision song playing in a shop but it turned out to be something else, and the ensuing disappointment; or b) a three-hundred-word mini essay weighing up the pros and cons of Dana International’s Gaultier fixation. They’re both so very scintillating, I can’t choose between them.”

 

 

We’re a fabulous trio, as far as I’m concerned (in fact, I think we should form an Alcazar-esque pop threesome and represent Australia at Eurovision next year, should the opportunity arise). I’m sure you’ll let us know if you agree or disagree with that once you’ve checked out our views on Måns, Electro Velvet, Loïc, Marta & Václav and Voltaj (and their songs, obviously). Let’s get started!

 

 

SWEDEN

Heroes by Måns Zelmerlöw

Sweden

Mrs. Jaz: The first thing I thought when this song twanged into gear was ‘Have Mumford & Sons defected to Sweden for some reason?’. The folky/country intro reminds me very strongly of their kind of music. Then, things swiftly took a poppier turn and became anthemic and uplifting. This song boasts great choruses with a slick production sound and simple but effective lyrics that had me singing along by the second run-through. The remaining lyrics aren’t the world’s greatest, but that hardly matters when every other aspect is much more than mediocre. The staging visuals take the package up a notch, and I have to admit, the visual of Måns (he has a great voice and everything, but LEATHER PANTS!) helps too…7 points.

Fraser: I had big expectations of Måns in the lead-up to his performance in Melodifestivalen, and for the first few seconds of Heroes, I thought ‘Crap! What has he done? It’s a country song!’. Moments later, I realised he was just channeling the Avicii-esque sound that is big across the world at the moment, and that it’s a hook to get us into the fabulous pop song that follows. ‘We are the heroes of our time’ speaks volumes to a bit of a trend in Eurovision songs of late focusing on positive messages (think Rise Like A Phoenix and this year’s Beauty Never Lies) which I think will help it resonate with the voting public. If it doesn’t, Måns’ leather pants and background animations surely will! I love this song and I have a feeling it will do exceptionally well in the contest. DOUZE POINTS!!!

Jaz: BACK OFF, MUM. I SAW HIM FIRST. Ahem. Forget me being biased about Australia – it’s when I start talking about Sweden that my impartiality goes flying out the window with the greatest of ease. Despite my lack of Swedish roots, I feel particularly attached to the home of Melodifestivalen, and cannot help supporting them no matter what they send to Eurovision. Fortunately, for the past five years running Sweden has chosen my favourite Melfest entry to represent them in the ESC – so my fervent flag-waving has been out of genuine appreciation for their song. And lo and behold, they’ve just done it for the sixth time in a row. Just when I thought Sanna Nielsen’s 7th-time-lucky win couldn’t be equaled in terms of how much it excited me, Måns Zelmerlöw goes and triumphs on his third Melfest attempt. I’ve been a Måns fan since the Cara Mia days, but I always felt like that song, and its follow-up Hope and Glory, were a bit too schlager to succeed in a contest that was outgrowing that style. Not to mention the fact that they required dance moves that came at the expense of Måns’ vocals. Heroes is different. It’s more dynamic, more accessible (i.e. not overstuffed with schlager) and more of an anthem. Plus, the intriguing countrified intro is not only trendy, but gives Måns a chance to focus on his vocals (with a little attention reserved for the cartoon man). And his vocals absolutely soar on this infectious track that is ideally suited to raising the roof off an arena. His entry has everything going for it, even with the controversy over the graphics (which the delegation seems to be taking as a chance to make the staging even better) and Eurovision 2015 is Sweden’s to lose as a result. DOUZE POINTS!!!

EBJ Jury Score: 10.33

 

 

UNITED KINGDOM

Still In Love With You by Electro Velvet

Programme Name: Eurovision 2015 (C) BBC - Photographer: Sarah Dunn

Mrs. Jaz: Aaaand straight to the 1920s we go, with a song that would definitely be on the soundtrack of a movie entitled Flappers Go Mental. To quote Kath and Kim (hoping that someone outside of Australia will get the reference) this is different, it’s unusual! I won’t say it’s noice too, although the love story is cute, if a little too sweet and mushy at times. I like how unashamedly retro the song is, and the fact that it’s been infused with some contemporary sounds. But even so, that cosmic-sounding bit caught me off guard – it’s a weird inclusion. As a duet, Bianca and Alex work well together as they Charleston and scat their way through some amusing lyrics. This entry isn’t perfect, but it’s endearing and energetic, and the UK expat in me is giving it 6 points.

Fraser: Unlike with Sweden, my expectations for the UK are always low. They are so erratic with the quality of the songs they send, it’s just plain confusing. Enter Electro Velvet – wow! I had my toes tapping and my spirit fingers shaking (I’m not scatting for anyone). The video is rich and fun, and I have enjoyed the unique sound each time I have listened to it. Today, however, I’ve found the recorded version on Spotify, and it sounds like they have slowed it down by a third. I can only hope this is not what they will perform in Vienna [UPDATE: Fortunately, it isn’t]. I’ll give them some points for trying, but it’s all a guess until we get to see it performed live. 6 points.

Jaz: The first time I heard this song, I literally facepalmed. I thought the 1920s theme was cringey, the scatting was awful, and that no song that makes mention of ‘nasty diseases’ should ever have the chance to take to the Eurovision stage. All in all, I was pretty close to grabbing the UK by the shoulders and shaking them violently, while politely enquiring at the top of my lungs as to what the bloody hell they were thinking, voluntarily choosing to have this nightmare represent them on an international stage. But then I listened to it again, and don’t ask me how or why, but I found myself digging the ridiculous trip back in time. It is bonkers, but it definitely livens up a contest full of songs on the opposite end of the spectrum – i.e. down-tempo and vanilla. Alex and Bianca look and sound great together (I’m choosing to ignore the reports of lacking chemistry from those who’ve watched the pair’s live performances) and I love the parts they play that correspond with the lyrics. Competing against angsty, moody duos such as Stig & Elina and Mørland & Debrah Scarlett, Electro Velvet’s effervescence will be welcomed. Having said that, I do like the Estonian and Norwegian entries more than Still In Love With You, and I suspect both of those countries will leave Vienna with a better placing than the UK’s. But first impressions never last, and as I really like this song now, I hope it gets somewhere on the scoreboard. 8 points.

EBJ Jury Score: 6.67

 

 

BELGIUM

Rhythm Inside by Loïc Nottet

Belgium

Mrs. Jaz: I’ve been informed that I’m the 987426th person to say that this is very Lorde – but there’s nothing wrong with that! There is so much to enjoy where this entry’s concerned. The music and lyrics are really good, and the overall ‘sound’ really draws you in and takes you on an interesting journey. I wanted to keep listening (not the case with some of the others I’ve heard) and I would be happy to listen to it again. It’s my favourite of all the songs Jaz has forced me chosen for me to review! 10 points.

Fraser: Wow, wow and wow! I can completely understand why Loïc did so well on The Voice in Belgium. This song is not normally my sort of thing, but I really like it. He has soul and sauciness in his voice, and teamed with this song, I think he will be able to deliver some really good points for his country. Even if he doesn’t, we will keep watching the video – it’s hot! 10 points.

Jaz: Belgium is one of those countries that fail to impress year after year, making the majority of us think ‘Why bother?’ (or, in last year’s case ‘Why Mother?). Then, seemingly out of nowhere, they strike gold and send something epic. They most recently did so in 2013, putting their faith in teenage The Voice winner Roberto Bellarosa, who was duly rewarded with a place in the final, then a result that was one of the best Belgium had seen in a long time. In 2015, they’ve selected…well, a teenage alum of The Voice. And Loïc Nottet, as the alum is known, is peddling a freaking fantastic song, just like Roberto – only Rhythm Inside is superior to Love Kills. This is one of a bunch of this year’s songs that wouldn’t be out of place on the radio right now, and not just on mainstream stations. It’s a little alternative, but it still possesses so much of what attracts me to a pop song  – infectiousness, pared-back verses that contrast with big choruses, lyrics that may make little sense but are in no way lame or cheesy…it’s all there. And, like Fraser, I am left with no questions as to why Loïc had such a great run on The Voice. His pipes are as unique and enjoyable to listen to as his song. He may be just nineteen years old, but so was Lena when she won Eurovision in 2010 (and do I even have to mention Sandra Kim?). I’m not saying Belgium’s going to win the contest. That would be a huge ask, even if Loïc locked Måns in the Stadthalle basement on final night. All I’m saying is that I reckon their song is the bomb, and so is their artist – and that’s a recipe for success. I desperately want this to make the final, and as the overall package is stronger than the one Belgium put forward in Malmö (and with this being a weaker year than 2013) if they do qualify, a top 10 finish is within their reach. That, for Belgium, is more or less a win anyway. 10 points.

EBJ Jury Score: 10.00

 

 

CZECH REPUBLIC

Hope Never Dies by Marta Jandová & Václav Noid Bárta

Czech Republic

Mrs. Jaz: Well, this is all terribly, terribly dramatic, isn’t it? What a trés tragique, OTT ballad it is. In spite of all that drama, it didn’t really do anything for me – I spent most of the three minutes waiting for the END of the three minutes, which I’m guessing isn’t a promising sign in terms of potential Eurovision success. Just thinking about it makes me want to yawn, actually. I know they’re trying to tell us that hope never dies, but mine definitely did! I hope someone’s in the wings come contest time, ready to drag this pair off stage with one of those giant hooks reserved for drunk, off-key karaoke singers. 3 points.

Fraser: This is stating the obvious, but it’s very musical theatre. I love musicals, but I don’t really like this one. I don’t think their voices work well together – his is so deep and manly, hers is less so. Not for me, sorry. Czech Republic, you won’t be troubled in 2016. 4 points.

Jaz: The Phantom of the Opera is heeeeeeeere…competing in Eurovision 2015, apparently. He’s buffed up, gotten some ink and no longer requires his white mask, but based on the melancholy, theatrical sound of Hope Never Dies, it’s him, alright. Now, don’t get me wrong: I too love musicals, and the actual Phantom of the Opera soundtrack is as good as they come (thanks to Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber). But this song is so painfully ESC circa 2005, and so over-dramatic, that it doesn’t compare favourably. I do like it more at this point than I did after my first listen, but there’s no aspect that really grabs me. Nothing makes me love it. The Czech Republic hasn’t returned to Eurovision with the bang I was hoping for, so I think they’ll remain one of the weakest-performing participants when the 60th contest has concluded. It’s a shame, as it may dissuade them from trying again next year. Still, I won’t be sorry to see them left behind in their semi-final. 4 points.

EBJ Jury Score: 3.67

 

 

ROMANIA

De La Capăt (All Over Again) by Voltaj

Romania

Mrs. Jaz: Nice…very nice. This makes for a soothing listen, and I got a lot of emotion from it without having a clue what the subject matter was. I was curious about the topic at hand though, so I was pleasantly surprised by the language switch. The English part may not communicate the intended meaning explicitly (I’ve been schooled on that meaning by a certain someone) but it gave me a better understanding, and I think it will help the non-Romanian speakers of Europe connect with the song too. 8 points.

Fraser: I don’t mind this one. It’s a nice, mid-tempo song that will do something around the middle of the field in the contest. It doesn’t really go anywhere as a song, but it’s nice enough to hum along to. I am happy that they appear to be singing mostly in Romanian in the competition, then the end in English with that hint of ESL in his voice! 8 points.

Jaz: I’ll get straight to the point (which is something I rarely do): I’m in love with this. As soon as I heard Voltaj were the favourites to win the Romanian final, with a song that had already been a domestic hit, I had to give it a listen. After all, that was the case when Mandinga won the same NF in 2012, and Zaleilah was amazing. I had high hopes for what was then known as De La Capăt, and they were exceeded. This song is beautiful. You definitely don’t need to speak Romanian to know that there’s a message here; or to enjoy how nicely the song’s been constructed, with a lovely minimalism to the verses. You wouldn’t think Romania would go for minimalism of any kind based on the ostentatious entries they’ve been selecting recently – Miracle, It’s My Life, and even Zaleilah – but it’s great to see them opt for a change of pace. I’m very glad Voltaj are taking a bilingual version of their song to the ESC, rather than the fully-English one. Both versions are surprisingly good, but Romanian is so well-suited to music (and native tongues are so sparing in this year’s contest) that I think they made a good choice. With Romania’s 100% qualification record, I’d have no worries about Voltaj making it out of their semi if it wasn’t for one thing – lead singer Călin’s vocals, specifically during the national final. Considering how long his band has been around, I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he was having an off night. If so, and the staging is simplistic enough to allow the song to shine, Romania should find themselves in the final. Unfortunately, though, I’ll be surprised if De La Capăt (All Over Again) outdoes last year’s tacky, try-hard Miracle. 10 points.

EBJ Jury Score: 8.67

 

 

Well, that’s another round of highs and lows taken care of. But just how high were the highs, and how low were the lows? Here’s a recap in case you’ve got an incredibly short memory, and/or you’re too lazy to scroll back up and check.

  1. Sweden (10.33)
  2. Belgium (10.00)
  3. Romania (8.67)
  4. United Kingdom (6.67)
  5. Czech Republic (3.67)

Congratulations and jubilations go to Sweden, sitting pretty (so very pretty, ifyaknowwhatimean) on top of this party of five. Commiserations go to the Czech Republic, whose 5th place here will probably be hailed as a raging success after they’ve finished 16th in their semi final (having beaten nobody but San Marino).

Drop by again in a few days’ time as Matt – Fraser’s escTMI co-host – and Rory from ESC Views return to review Malta, Georgia, Lithuania, Albania and Spain. If you’re lucky, I might throw in that mini essay I mentioned earlier too.

In the meantime, why not revisit the first three installments of the Viennese Verdicts?

  • Part 1 feat. Russia, Austria, France, Ireland and Serbia
  • Part 2 feat. The Netherlands, Norway, Slovenia, Iceland and Switzerland
  • Part 3 feat. Cyprus, Poland, Italy, Montenegro and Armenia

And don’t forget to let the EBJ Jury know how you’d rank today’s scrutinised songs. Sweden may be on top with us, and in the betting odds – but who’s your favourite of the five?

 

nsig

 

JESC Month | My All-Time Junior Top 50 (Part 2)

I bet you didn’t see this coming.

Not. Clearly, this highly predictable post follows on from the first installment of my JESC top 50, which I hope you enjoyed if you read it (I doubt you would have enjoyed it if you didn’t read it…). Now, the countdown must continue, because the days until Junior Eurovision 2013 are numbered and there’s still a lot of business to take care of before it happens. So much, in fact, that I don’t even have time for my usual rambling intro that I sometimes slip a random word into to check if anyone is reading it BANANAS.

I don’t really do that.

Here’s the next part of the countdown.*

 

* Remember, if you want to know what I see in any of the songs featured but not discussed, let me know and I’ll spill the details.

 

#30 | Anders by Trust (Belgium 2007)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zK5JXfPlO3M

This is one of those songs that I can’t believe was written by under-sixteens (can’t and won’t, because it makes me feel like a serious underachiever). Whether you know the story behind it or not, you get the message through the music, as corny as that sounds. Meaning aside, Anders is just a really nice ballad that gave us all a break from the full-on, blinged-up, glitter-encrusted Europop that otherwise dominated that year. Unfortunately – but not surprisingly – it couldn’t keep up with Serbia’s similarly pretty, sentimental ballad back then. But personally, I will always set aside douze points for Trust.

 

#29 | Odelia Ranuni by Mariam Romelashvili (Georgia 2007)

 

#28 | De Vriendschapsband by X!NK (Belgium 2003)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eGzP3BMKHm4

It would seem that this countdown is turning into a Belgium-fest. What can I say? They know how to float my JESC boat. Here’s a song of theirs that I didn’t always have a fondness for, but like a fine wine (perhaps not the best term to use when we’re talking about kids, but whatever) it got better with age – at least in my mind. I could spend all day praising X!NK’s ability to jump up and down for three whole minutes without the aid of a pogo stick and whilst playing instruments, but since we’re talking about their song, let me say instead that De Vriendschapsband rocks. I have been known to head-bang to the chorus in the privacy of my bedroom, and I usually only do that to Hard Rock Hallelujah. Then again, who doesn’t?

 

#27 | Goed by Kimberley (Netherlands 2006)

 

#26 | Mama by Vladimir Arzumanyan (Armenia 2010)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lgi0YX7Ryas

There have been times when I’ve been confused and/or enraged by the songs that have won JESC. But when Armenia took out contest number eight, I wasn’t either of those things, unless you count my confusion over why anyone would allow Daniil Kozlov to represent the host country in a gold velvet jacket and a turtleneck. That, my friends, is because I love Mama, and I think it deserved to win by more than one measly point. It’s everything I look for in a good entry: well-performed, well-presented, catchy, interesting, up-tempo AND ethnic. There couldn’t really be any more boxes ticked. Not that I exclusively prefer up-tempo ethnopop…but this is a great example of that.

 

#25 | Stupid by Tess (Netherlands 2005)

 

#24 | Erazanq by Arevik (Armenia 2007)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vAaOfu9KM0s

Here’s another one from Armenia (I guess Belgium has some competition), one I mentioned as a personal favourite in my A to Z of J-E-S-C. Arevik were responsible for Armenia’s debut entry, and ended up proving that their country could do mini-vision just as well as they could do the adult contest. They actually couldn’t have done much better for first-timers, and IMO, they haven’t had as strong a song since. I don’t know how to describe Erazanq by genre (is it r & b? More ethnopop? Something else entirely?) but I do know that it excels at being whatever it is, if that makes sense. It’s super catchy, fresh, and young without being childish.

 

#23 | Te Doy Mi Voz by Dani (Spain 2006)

 

#22 | Edna Mechta by Krastyana Krasteva (Bulgaria 2008)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qQ_7kkzcucc

Edna Mechta came dead last when it competed, but I think there were plenty of worse entries that year. It’s too bad for Krastyana that I wasn’t at all responsible for scoring them, because she definitely wouldn’t have come 15th. Her song has a certain charm that wins me over every time, and I like that it isn’t too repetitive. Plus (and I don’t want to keep using the same word over and over again, but I can’t help it) it’s really catchy! Come on! It is! I kind of understand how it ended up last (and it only has a little something to do with those stupid distracting glasses Krastyana was wearing) but I’m very fond of it myself.

 

#21 | Click Clack by Ralf (Netherlands 2009)

 

#20 | S Druz’yami by Alexey Zhigalkovich (Belarus 2007)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hV3U7Hw0L1U

Now to the other end of the scoreboard…say hello to the winner of 2007, and Belarus’ second winner overall: S Druz’yami! This is a guilty pleasure of mine, which is strange considering it won. But I’ve never gotten the impression it’s a popular winner, and I feel like I shouldn’t want to add it to those select few songs I like to head-bang to. Consider it added though, because I get a kick out of the unashamed 80s-ness and power chorus. I will also add it to a separate list I have of songs that one should punch the air to, for those same reasons.  

 

#19 | Ti Ne Me Poznavaš by Marija & Viktorija (FYR Macedonia 2003)

 

#18 | Mitt Mod by Lova Sönnerbo (Sweden 2012)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=orBiLpxytgk

Like De Vriendschapsband, this song wasn’t always a favourite. In fact, the first time I heard it, I thought it was the most boring three minutes of my life. I apologise to Lova for that mistake, since as it turns out, Mitt Mod was a grower – a song you have to be patient with in order to see its spellbinding beauty, and all that jazz. Once I’d heard it a few more times I realised that it really is a stunning song, and one with real meaning at that. I do enjoy the songs about chocolate production and funky lemonade (which I think we all established was regular lemonade with a few frivolous tweaks), but as someone who’s quite shy and retiring, I can really connect with the idea of being brave – of being “the girl who dares tell it to the world.”

 

#17 | Supergeroy by Ivan Ivanov (Bulgaria 2011)

 

#16 | Allt Jag Vill Ha by Josefine Ridell (Sweden 2010)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u53tL22HugY

Looking back on Sweden’s JESC history (as I like to do quite often because it is AMAZING!) you can see that this country likes to send mature songs. Apart from one or two earlier efforts, all of their entries could have been lifted straight out of adult Melodifestivalen and plonked on the JESC stage to battle it out with more kid-oriented numbers. As you may have guessed, this is fine by me. Sweden’s grown-up contribution of 2010, co-written by Thomas G:son and Arash (Azerbaijan’s bronze medalist of Eurovision ’09), was a slickly produced and very contemporary pop ballad that I used to be crazy about. I’m not quite so crazy nowadays (seriously, I used to want to marry it) but it’s still one of my favourites from that year, and still part of why I love Sweden in JESC so much.  

 

#15 | Nebo by Anastasiya Petryk (Ukraine 2012)

 

#14 | Si On Voulait Bien by Thomas Pontier (France 2004)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X5BO9HZerWE

This is without doubt the Frenchiest thing ever to have existed, and not just in terms of music – I mean out of everything on the planet. I do think France should have just gone all the way and put Thomas in a striped shirt and a beret, and had him sing into a baguette instead of a microphone…but apart from that, I have no complaints. This song is so cute and quirky, and because there’s no mistaking where it’s from, was unlike anything else on offer in Lillehammer. Maybe that’s why it finished 6th despite the, erm, casual performance Thomas turned out (let’s face it, it was more like a rehearsal). I reckon I’d have voted for it if I’d had the chance. Oui indeed.  

 

#13 | Učimo Strane Jezike by Neustrašivi Učitelji Stranih Jezika (Serbia 2006)

 

#12 | Zo Verliefd (Yodelo) by Laura (Belgium 2009)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rujk2bkr5C8

I’m pretty sure y’all know I dig this one. The only surprise is that it doesn’t quite make my top 10, since it used to be my absolute favourite JESC song, like, of all time. But my tastes change every five minutes, and at this moment in time I have to admit that Laura’s Yodelo has begun to grate on me. Don’t worry, I still love it, from the humble beginning through to the irresistible main event, and all the way to the final yodel. I might just ease off on listening to it multiple times per day, and that should take care of the grating.

 

#11 | My Song For The World by Tom Morley (UK 2003)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7lJpvLHaYms

It’s funny that the UK debuted in Junior with such a great song and an excellent result when, just a few months earlier, they’d earned themselves a big fat zero in the ESC with the guilty-pleasure-only disaster that was Cry Baby. It’s safe to say that ten-year-old Tom wrote a better song than the dude responsible for that. My Song For The World kind of encapsulates Junior Eurovision, since it’s all about bringing people together and creating peace and harmony and whatnot through music. It sounds pretty cheesy on paper, but in song form (and sung by a child) it totally works. It didn’t get the UK 3rd place for no reason.

 

Once again, that’s all I have to say for now. But stay tuned over the next few weeks for what JESC Month has left to offer, a.k.a. reviews, predictions, and coming up next, the final and most important installment of this countdown. It’s almost time to reveal my top 10, and even if you’ve figured out which songs have made the cut using your powers of deduction, I think you’ll be surprised by my number one.

The only treasure I’ll ever have….you are the one, you’re my number one…

I couldn’t help myself.

 

What are your thoughts on #30-#11 in the countdown? Which JESC gems would just miss out on making your top 10?