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SATURDAY SHORTLIST | The six biggest staging bloopers of Eurovision 2018

Just as there’s diversity in the musical line-up of every ESC, there’s also diversity in terms of how well each song is performed live. I realise I’m telling you something you already know even if you’re a casual Eurofan (as opposed to a hardcore year-round obsessive, like me and most of the people who put up with my lengthy Eurovision ramblings). But I’m trying to segue into the topic of today’s post, dammit! And that topic is the performances from Lisbon that left a little – or a LOT, in some cases – to be desired.

Bad backdrops, inappropriate props, lacklustre lighting, catastrophic costumes, vomit-inducing vocals…for a handful of countries, things just didn’t come together (STOCKHOLM SLOGAN PUN ALERT). Following on from my way more complementary Top 10 performances of 2018 post, here’s the other end of the spectrum: the biggest mistakes made and/or overall worst performances of the year from where I was sitting (on my couch). I don’t mean any disrespect to the artists mentioned or to their delegations…but sometimes, one’s inner bitch just HAS to come out.

 

 

Croatia: (All) lights and (no) shadows

I’m starting off with something small that bothered me about a performance in Portugal. As picky as I know I can be, there are times when a tiny detail drags down staging that would otherwise have seen a country’s contest package all wrapped up with a pretty ribbon on it. Take Croatia, who positioned the beautiful Franka on stage in an equally gorgeous gown (albeit one with a pattern that drew too much attention to her pelvic area) in front of a mic stand, where she proceeded to werk the camera and sass her way through a totally competent rendition of Crazy. So far so good, right? Sure – except Crazy is a moody, sexy boudoir ballad that begged for a moody, sexy lighting scheme (think dark shadows, spotlights and a dash of red), and it did NOT get what it wanted. Without the required combo of Austria, Belgium and Latvia’s lighting, Croatia’s three minutes looked ‘meh’ – almost like Franka was rehearsing and her team still had changes to make. It seems a bit weird that a country can throw everything at their performance one year (and I mean EVERYTHING, Jacques) and then miss the mark twelve months later. Maybe 2019 will be the year Croatia finds a happy medium?

 

 

Greece: No drama = no good

Yianna Terzi: another attractive female soloist with excellent dress sense and great hair who delivered on her end of the ESC bargain this year – a.k.a. she put in an applause-worthy, almost studio-perfect performance. It was what happened around and behind her on the Altice Arena stage (by which I mean nothing) that screwed her over. Seriously, I know Greece don’t have a lot of cash to splash on their song contest presentations…but Oneiro Mou is more dramatic than Silvia Night when she didn’t qualify in Athens, and as such deserved less simplistic stage treatment. It was one song that emphasised the lack of in-built LED screens in a bad way, given that I’m guessing Greece couldn’t afford to ship in (nautical pun intended) their own á la Germany and Malta. That’s not to say that the right prop or (again) lighting scheme wouldn’t have helped boost them into the qualification zone. What I’m saying is that as patriotic as they were, Yianna’s white dress and blue hand (presumably intentional, but maybe she was just cold) were not enough. Her song needed drama served up hot, but sadly, I think it was undercooked.

 

 

Russia: A mountainous mistake

Raise your hand if you didn’t think I was going to mention this! Obviously I can’t see you guys right now (my mass spying devices are on the blink at the moment) but I don’t think I need to – nobody has their hand in the air. It was awkward, ridiculous, and I must say laughable enough when Russia waved their CGI wand over poor Yulia and turned her into a mountain for the I Won’t Break music video. But did we think they’d come up with something less WTF for the live show? I did, but that may have been wishful thinking. It turns out that disguising a wheelchair (unnecessarily) with a prop mountain live on stage looks even more ridiculous than doing it via a computer generated alp. Also, what does a mountain even symbolise in relation to this song? Probably overcoming obstacles, blah blah blah, but that was not clear (and three minutes doesn’t give viewers a lot of time to analyse potential deeper meaning). It was uncomfortable to watch and literally uncomfortable for Yulia. Add ropey vocals and some random dancers into the mix – who arguably got more screen time than she did – and it’s a) hard to believe that Sergey Lazarev and his impeccable staging = Russia’s last representative; and b) easy to work out why Russia failed to qualify for the first time with this.

 

 

Belarus: Gothic horror goes wrong

I’ve said this a billion times before, but I don’t watch Eurovision rehearsals. If I’m getting up at 3am for something, I want it to be a surprise! But I do listen to and read every little rehearsal description from the press centre and on my Twitter feed – total abstinence is impossible. My point is, when I heard what Belarus had in store for the ESC staging of Forever, I was super psyched. On paper, the rose handover, brief game of archery and Alekseev’s gruesome prosthetics sounded OTT, but also OMG YES. If you can’t do stuff like that at Eurovision, where can you? It’s too bad then that in the end, the whole concept came off as a bit of a joke. For starters, Alekseev was shaking so much he could barely pass the rose to the camera guy (and the whole jerky rose rotation was pure cringe). The on-screen petal explosion was timely but tacky. And that bed-of-roses-on-the-back reveal was…well, I still thought it was cool in a gross, ‘WHAT IN THE NAME OF NAVIBAND AM I LOOKING AT?!?’ kind of way. But it wasn’t as effective as I think Belarus wanted it to be…and I definitely couldn’t take it seriously. Many fans might have questioned the light-up space suit Alekseev wore when he won the Belarusian NF, but in hindsight, packing that in his suitcase for Portugal might have been a smart idea.

 

 

Romania: The Humans + a bunch of dummies

It still feels strange knowing that Romania lost their 100% qualification record this year – but after the bizarre staging brought to us by The Humans, is it really that surprising? Romania has never misfired so badly before, but that’s what happens when you take a song with the potential to be elevated by an awesome stage show (which is exactly what went down with Moldova) and have it performed in the presence of creepy department store mannequins. There’s a reason horror movies have been made about those things, and since Goodbye isn’t a song that’s supposed to scare the crap out of people, I have to ask…what were they thinking? It didn’t work for Switzerland in 2007 (but at least Vampires Are Alive had a pre-existing creep factor) and I can’t imagine what possessed the Romanian delegation to give it a try. The main purpose those faceless freaks served was distracting us from the performance elements that did work – Cristina’s risqué dress and epic vocal power, for instance. They didn’t help to fill the stage (except with fear) or tell the story of the song, that’s for sure. And to think that last year, cannons that weren’t allowed to be fired and an awkward kiss were Romania’s biggest on-stage issues!

 

 

Macedonia: MY EYES!!!

If you hadn’t guessed, I’ve been working my way up to the worst of the worst staging disasters of Eurovision 2018…which is why I haven’t mentioned Macedonia until now. They are the masters of messing up live performances of great songs, and the streak of self-sabotage continued in Lisbon. Eye Cue hit the city armed with a multiple-personality song that needed clever staging – and cool costumes, of course – to pull everything together. Tragically (in a first-world-problem sense), as with Spain last year, it all went wrong in alarming fashion. The fashion, in fact, was the single most horrific thing we were forced to look at, as the otherwise stunning Marija wandered aimlessly around the stage in a bright pink, backwards tuxedo jacket with inexplicable armpit cutouts. When she whipped it off mid-song, I thought a crisis had been averted…only to witness the most unflattering half sweater/half swimsuit monstrosity the world has ever seen. The only saving grace in a performance that was as neat and tidy as the top shelves of my closet (i.e. not at all) was the vocals. Oh, and Marija’s shoes – they were dope. Just not dope enough to save Macedonia from their Barbara Dex destiny…

 

 

Which Eurovision performances disappointed/shocked/scared the s%*t out of you enough to become your personal “worsts” of the year? Let me know in the comments below…and from one overly-judgmental person to another, don’t hold back!

 

 

 

 

 

THE EBJ EUROVISION 2018 REVIEWS: Round 5 (Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Portugal + Ukraine)

Happy Thursday, guys! There are just a few days until rehearsals proper start inside Lisbon’s Altice Arena (I like to tell you things you already know), so it’s got to be full steam ahead for me with my horrendously late reviews.

If you’ve missed any that came before this round, or you want to relive what I’ve done so far, here are the quick links:

  • Round 1 feat. Armenia, Cyprus, Hungary, Malta + The Netherlands
  • Round 2 feat Azerbaijan, Estonia, Poland, Romania + Spain
  • Round 3 feat. Albania, Finland, Greece, Lithuania + Moldova
  • Round 4 feat. Australia, France, Georgia, Ireland + Latvia

And, before I get started on today’s round, here are the results of the ‘Vote for your favourite of the five!’ polls I’ve been annoying you with at the end of each post (with my winner of each round in bold):

  • Round 1: Cyprus, 33% (Armenia, 25%; The Netherlands, 17%; Hungary, 13%; Malta, 13%)
  • Round 2: Poland, 35% (Estonia, 24%; Romania, 18%; Spain, 18%; Azerbaijan, 6%)
  • Round 3: Albania, 33%, (Finland, 25%; Greece, 25%; Lithuania, 8%; Moldova, 8%)
  • Round 4: France, 67% (Australia, 22%; Latvia, 11%; Georgia, 0%; Ireland, 0%)

That’s the story so far – so let’s get stuck into the next chapter. Sit back, relax and read about the ESC 2018 entries from Cesár, Equinox, Franka, Cláudia and Mélovin…and obviously, what I think of them. That’s the whole point of this, right?

Oh, and don’t forget to vote for your favourite out of today’s five in the poll (had to).  

 

 

My thoughts Hail, Cesár! It’s becoming a trend for Eurovision backing singers to step into the main artist spotlight, and this guy is a prime example (and prime specimen of manhood). Not only did he provide backup for Bulgaria last year, helping them earn their best-ever result, but he did the same in 2016 – even getting to strut out on stage with Poli instead of being hidden in a filing cabinet in the wings. Maybe it wasn’t BNT responsible for Bulgaria’s contest turnaround after all…and if Cesár’s a good luck charm, that bodes well for Austria now they’ve managed to pry him out of Bulgaria’s grasp. The song he’s carrying on his own is worlds apart from both If Love Was A Crime and Beautiful Mess, despite being co-written by three of the same songwriters. It’s a soulful, Sam Smith-esque gospel ballad with a 2018 twist; an upbeat sibling of Isaiah’s Don’t Come Easy, almost. This song’s subject matter, however, is actually age-appropriate for the artist (seriously, how were we supposed to believe that a 17-year-old had a long history of love and loss behind him?). I had a feeling I was going to love Nobody But You from the writing credits alone, and I was not wrong. Damn, it’s good! If Nathan Trent was an adorable golden retriever puppy last year, then Cesár is a full-grown pedigree German Shepherd (well, Austrian Shepherd technically – think Inspector Rex) with a song that’s full of feeling, beautifully produced, current, and multi-layered like a Baklava. The lyrics are simple but not clichéd, making the song easy to sing along to and to remember. And if we had any doubts about Cesár’s ability to step it up and command the attention a headline artist has to, he apparently erased them with his powerful pre-party performances (as you may or may not know, I avoid those to keep the songs fresh for the actual contest). All we need now is the right staging to make this entry pop even more and become a package people want to vote for. Sadly, I can’t, as Australia is voting in semi 2…but if Austria gets to the final I will be texting my ass off for nobody but you (not true but I couldn’t resist the wordplay), Cesár! And to get back to staging for a second, Austria does have form – their 2016 and 2017 efforts were brilliant, so let’s hope it’s three masterpieces on the trot. Time will tell, but there’s one thing I know for sure right now: this is the semi 1 song that I’m not certain will qualify, but I NEED it to or I will be inconsolable. To quote Culture Club, do you really want to hurt me, Europe? Do you really want to make me cry? If not, then vote for Austria.

2017 VS 2018? I can’t choose, unless there’s money in it. No? Well, I’m not choosing then.

My score 10

 

 

My thoughts If there’s any country (besides Belgium) that has become a big Eurovision hitter lately, it’s Bulgaria. That means the pressure is now well and truly on BNT to maintain the sky-high standard they first set for themselves with Poli Genova in 2016. This year, they certainly did a top job of piquing curiosity in the Eurofan community with their cryptic pre-song-and-act reveal clues. In the end, it was the “common framework” project (we can’t just call them a group, apparently) Equinox with the otherworldly Bones that would follow in Kristian Kostov’s footsteps…but how far exactly can they follow? There’s no doubt – not from me, anyway – that this song is a good one. It’s dark, moody and modern, with slick production and an intense atmosphere. Lyrical quality is reasonably high (though at times I have as much idea of what they’re referring to as I did when Dihaj was discussing men with horse-heads having her skeletons). And I love the melody of the verses, pre-chorus and the chorus itself. I would argue that the chorus is melodically weaker than the rest of the song, but it still sticks. The five Bulgarian and American voices blend well, at least in studio…and so I’ve heard, live. Overall, this is an infinitely more enjoyable entry than the last one that attempted to bring a bunch of personalities together for an experimental musical project (*cough*Armenia 2015*cough*). But I just don’t feel the same sense of wow that I felt – and still feel – when I listen to Beautiful Mess. Bones is a bit too alien, cold and calculating for me to connect with on the same level. Ironically, for a song that’s about loving beyond the bones, I feel like there’s not a lot under the surface of this besides a desire to do well in the contest. My impression is that it’s trying too hard to be something special. While Beautiful Mess was organically awesome and ended up living up to hype created during rehearsals, Bones has already been hyped. It seems that after coming so close to a win in 2017, Bulgaria wants to go one better so badly that their finished product is missing the magic that made Kristian’s ESC so successful in the first place. I really don’t think the social media stir-up by the Bulgarian team was the best idea ever – it was pretentious and heightened expectations of the entry so much that they couldn’t possibly be met. I probably need to pull back on the harsh judgments here because at this point, you wouldn’t believe I actually do have Bulgaria in my top 10. The song is good enough on its own to win me over, but as for winning the whole contest? I doubt it. Qualification is a given though, and another podium finish isn’t out of the question. I’m keen to see if Bones has been given the stage treatment it deserves, and if these guys (+1 girl) come across as a cohesive group…er, I mean, ‘common framework’.

2017 VS 2018? 2017, hands down (to the floor, Robin Bengtsson-style).

My score 8.5

 

 

My thoughts There are two countries competing this year that couldn’t have sent more drastically different songs to Lisbon than they did to Kyiv if they tried. Croatia is one of them (and no prizes for guessing the other – it’s pretty obvious). We’ve bid our farewells to both Jacques and their ginormous LED heads, and now we’re saying zdravo to the gorgeous Franka and her boudoir ballad Crazy. The elephant in the room on this one is the ‘Was the composition stolen from a random Romanian guy or not?’ drama of a few weeks back. That tarnished things a bit for Croatia, but to be honest I’m not sure there was that much at stake. I like this song for the most part: the questionably-sourced music is the highlight, but the overall structure is good; the lyrics, while not revolutionary and clunky at times, aren’t bad; and I dig the saucy, sexy vibe, one that Latvia taps into as well. But unlike Latvia, Croatia isn’t getting me super-psyched. Crazy is kind of one-dimensional. I know Franka’s not saying she’s crazy as she sits in an armchair knitting sweaters for her twenty cats – she’s crazy in love. But a bit of craziness might have benefited a song that doesn’t push any boundaries (except for risking people not understanding the ‘roses and horses and the rain’ line). I’m 99% sure that during Franka’s performance, my mind will be occupied by thoughts of how much she looks like Rochelle from The Saturdays rather than how much I want to vote for her (not that I can anyway since she’s in the first semi). I think Croatia is going to sink rather than swim this year, which is what I figured last year too, but in hindsight I can see how that was naive. Looking at Crazy from every angle, including what it’s sandwiched between in the running order – Lost and Found from Macedonia and Nobody But You from Austria – Croatia is too easy to sacrifice. It screams ‘12th’ to me for some reason, so we’ll see if that’s my sixth sense talking. I don’t think I have anything else to say about Croatia this year, and you have to admit, that was never a problem with My Friend. Wait a second…there is one more thing: I wish we could CTRL-Z that spoken word bit, because the cringe factor there is HUGE.

2017 VS 2018? I can’t believe I’m saying this, but…2017.

My score 6.5

 

 

My thoughts Say olá to our host entry for 2018 – Portugal’s first ever! This is also the first time Portugal has found themselves automatically qualified for the Eurovision final since the semi system was introduced, as they failed to qualify from 2004-2007. After that, nobody outside of the reigning champ and the Big Four/Five had the privilege – if you see it that way – of not having to make it out of a semi in order to perform on the Saturday night. Basically, this is a big deal for Portugal. And it’s pink-haired The Voice alum Cláudia Pascoal who’s carrying both that privilege and the pressure of not embarrassing her country on home soil on her shoulders (too bad the Czech Republic aren’t hosting…Mikolas could be carrying it in his backpack). Backed up by songwriter Isaura, can she do Portugal proud – or even do the double – with O Jardim? I wouldn’t say this song is a winner, no – but it is beautiful. Festival da Cançao was pretty dire this year, and O Jardim, IMO, was the ONLY decent option. Luckily, it’s more than just decent, with a dreamy quality, leisurely but hypnotic (and strangely soothing) pace, and meaningful lyrics. Delicate vocals from Cláudia are amped up when Isaura chimes in, though Cláudia could easily carry this on her own (and I do find it a bit awkward how Isaura does nothing for several minutes and then chimes in out of nowhere). There’s a message about a lost loved one in this song that reminds me of Germany’s You Let Me Walk Alone, but this is less overt and more moving to be honest, because it doesn’t feel like it’s trying desperately to tug at everybody’s heartstrings. If you’re not a Portuguese speaker and don’t Google Translate the lyrics (a favourite pastime of mine), you’ll miss lines like ‘The flowers are my place; now that you’re not here, I water your garden’ (SOMEONE PASS ME A TISSUE FFS) – but I know I still feel the emotion regardless of speaking literally three words of Portuguese (well, four now I know what jardim means). Overall, it’s a pretty package being delivered here; one that never feels calculating, like it’s trying to replicate Salvador’s success. There are flaw(s) in Portugal’s plan, though. For example, O Jardim is a slow three minutes, and anyone who doesn’t feel the emotion of it or like the lullaby vibes might find it monotonous. For another, it is a statement song, but it’s whispering and not shouting – so will it be remembered when 18 songs have followed it in the final? And is it realistically a vote magnet? I’m not convinced. I think Portugal will struggle for a top 10 result, not because this song is undeserving but because it will be outshone. I’m seeing a host country result more in line with Sweden 2013 than Sweden 2016 – but there’ll definitely be an improvement on Ukraine 2017 (and Austria 2015…that must’ve hurt). One thing that’s for sure is that Cláudia will get to bask in one of the biggest audience reactions of the night – and the audible support for the host country in the arena is always something I look forward to during the final.

2017 VS 2018? Sorry, Salvador, but O Jardim gives me more feels. Controversial?

My score 8.5

 

 

My thoughts The 2018 Ukrainian national final was more or less a rehash of 2017’s – Tayanna was there singing her heart out, Mélovin was there with his creepy contact lens, and many of us thought a third party would swoop in and steal the victory from under their noses. But that didn’t happen. Tayanna may have ended up in second place again (she’s the Saara Aalto of Ukraine, so she should have her happy ending eventually) but this time Mélovin made his mark and won the right to represent Ukraine with Under The Ladder. Given that he doesn’t mind chilling under the occasional ladder, we can expect him to be everything but superstitious at Eurovision – opening umbrellas inside, willingly allowing black cats to cross his path, smashing Moldova’s mirrors, etc. And I reckon we can expect him to have a much better contest than O.Torvald did last year. Mélovin would have made a great rep with Wonder back then, a song that I initially thought was better than Under The Ladder. But his ESC entry grew on me very quickly, and I can now say that I am Mélovin it (HA HA HA). First things first, it’s one of the most original songs in the entire Lisbon line-up – not as out there as Israel, but on the same wavelength when it comes to stuff we haven’t heard in the contest before. I’d call it a distant, moodier relative of Mr. Brightside by The Killers, if anything. Starting out with pared-back piano behind the vocals, before the beat kicks in and the music swells, it’s dramatic and dynamic without being OTT. The chorus might have sacrificed lyrical space for oh-oh-ohs, but they’re catchy ones. And speaking of the lyrics…I’m still working out WTF the meaning is behind them all, but damn, I love them! You won’t find any love/above or fire/desire/higher here (no disrespect to Helena Paparizou). Instead we’re treated to the opening line ‘Curtains down, I’m laughing at the trial’ which leads to the gem that is ‘You can see that whatever the weather, that the wind’s always there, always fair.’ Alliteration and good rhyming? I’m sold. Then there’s the change of pace towards the end that keeps things interesting…not that I personally need that to keep me hooked on this. Okay, so I’ve established that this song is the bomb dot com, but what about the performer? Well, I have no complaints there either. Mélovin is an onstage force to be reckoned with. And despite what a lot of fans have said, I don’t have a problem with his English pronunciation. Any issues are with his voice and enunciation more than his Eastern European accent. Can you tell I’d defend Under The Ladder to the death? Ukraine is the last country on the second semi’s setlist, and I’m only unhappy about that because it means I have to wait until the end of the second show to see Mélovin in action.

2017 VS 2018? I could leave this unsaid, but 2018 to infinity and beyond!

My score 12

 

 

25 down, 18 to go! Today’s leaderboard looks like this:

  1. Ukraine (12)
  2. Austria (10)
  3. Bulgaria (8.5)
  4. Portugal (8.5)
  5. Croatia (6.5)

With Austria getting a strong 10 from me, it was a close call…but how could I not give Ukraine top honours when I gushed about them so much? Bulgaria is just inside my top 10 at the moment with that 8.5, and Portugal’s not far outside (I’ve been trying to fit 15 songs into my top 10 for weeks and it’s just not working).

Would you put Under The Ladder over the other songs in this round, or not so much? Leave me a comment to let me know how you’d rank them, and pick your personal fave below.

 

NEXT TIME This weekend is judgment weekend for Belgium, the Czech Republic, Germany, Israel, Macedonia and San Marino. That’s right: thanks to that irritating number 43, I’m jumping from five songs per round to six. Don’t miss the first super-sized episode of the EBJ Eurovision 2018 Reviews!

 

 

 

 

 

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 1)

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

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

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

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

 

TODAY’S EBJ JURORS
Jurors1

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

Let’s get started!

 

 Croatia

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

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

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

The EBJ Jury says… 

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

Croatia’s EBJ Jury score is…8.67

 

 France

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

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

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

The EBJ Jury says… 

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

France’s EBJ Jury score is…10

 

Greece

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

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

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

The EBJ Jury says… 

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

Greece’s EBJ Jury score is…5.67

 

Poland

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

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

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

The EBJ Jury says… 

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

Poland’s EBJ Jury score is…6.22

 

Romania

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

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

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

The EBJ Jury says… 

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

Romania’s EBJ Jury score is…3.22

 

Russia

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

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

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

The EBJ Jury says… 

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

Russia’s EBJ Jury score is…7.44

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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JESC 2014, Ranked AND Reviewed! | #16-#12

Bonjour, mesdames et messieurs. I’m hoping that by distracting you with an exotic French greeting, you’ll forget that this is the first post I’ve put up in over a month. Did it work? No? Ah well. I won’t bring it up next time, and maybe that will help.

Basically (pending one mahusive assignment yet to be marked and a graduation ceremony on the horizon) I finished uni FOREVER as of Friday, and the chaos leading up to that point and my horror at coming to terms with my future as a proper adult who has to like, find an actual job and stuff, are my excuses for being AWOL from EBJ up until now. But with a little more free time on my hand at the moment, and Junior Eurovision less than a fortnight away, I’m back to begin my condensed JESC coverage. I’m kicking it off today with the first instalment of my 2014 reviews, only this time, you’re getting two posts for the price of one (I expect your cheques to be in the mail this week). What I mean is, rather than reviewing the sixteen songs participating in Malta in plain old alphabetical order, or putting the countries in a hat and plucking them out randomly, what I’ve done is this: I’ve ranked them from ‘what in the name of Ruslana IS that?’ to ‘Woohoo, nailed it!’ and I’ll be reviewing them in three parts from #16 to #1. That’s my bottom five, top five, and everything in the middle, with the best saved ‘til last.

So, without further boring explanations that have probably put you all to sleep, let’s get started with #16 and finish with #12.

 

#16
RUSSIA
Dreamer by Alisa Kozhikina

img.phpSounds like: Russia took more than a leaf out of the book of a certain Maltese entry, when choosing their own this year…

What I think: Perhaps it’s a coincidence that so many parallels can be drawn between Gaia Cauchi’s JESC victor and this schmaltzy, totally-engineered-to-tug-at-people’s-heartstrings ballad. If not, it wouldn’t be the first time the winner of a Eurovision event has had an influence on what other countries choose to send the following year. The difference is that Gaia and The Start were unique in the 2013 field, whereas in 2014, nearly half the competitors are bringing ballads to the table (with varying degrees of success in my opinion). Russia’s is far and away my least favourite. Even sweeping the sickly sweetness of it under the rug, I remain utterly creeped out by this tiny child wailing that she wants someone to be her everything and love her until the end of “the” time (I wish she’d specified what time exactly she’s referring to). Speaking of crappy English lyrics, that last chorus is the clincher of cliché, thrown in with a key change just to ensure that no part of the canvas is left blank in this by-the-numbers painting. Precious and talented as Russia’s Voice Kids winner Alisa is, everything about her entry makes me go ‘yeuch!’. I’m praying it doesn’t work on Europe the way it hasn’t worked on me, because if this wins, I’m going to end up being banned from Twitter for my excess use of profanity when tweeting about a children’s competition.

The verdict: No. Just, no. That’s a ‘no’, in case you didn’t get it. 1 point.

JESC chances: Junior songs that make me gag have won in the past, but I’m predicting 4th-8th for this one.

 

#15
CROATIA
Game Over by Josie

Josie-Croatia-Junior-Eurovision-Josephine-Ida-Zec-wiwibloggsSounds like: Croatia’s back, but not quite with a bang.

What I think: I was all set to trash this, only mildly less than I’ve just trashed Russia. Then I listened to it again, and realised that I can’t be quite so straightforward (i.e. bitchy) about it. It’s an interesting song that doesn’t seem to measure up to Croatia’s previous JESC standards. But for me personally, said standards weren’t actually that high. Sure, I love Ti Si Moja Prva Ljubav, but – and prepare to gasp – Hej Mali never did that much for me, and the two entries that followed it were pretty substandard. So re-listening to Josie’s vaguely electronic, vaguely dubstep track with a catchy chorus that sticks, I found myself intrigued rather than horrified. There are a lot of variables which could affect how Croatia scores on their comeback – i.e. can Josie pull off a live vocal? Which entries will she be sandwiched between? Will she have a bunch of backing dancers who do the robot impeccably while dressed up as Tetris pieces (my suggestion to the delegation)? But if all goes according to plan, I have a sneaking feeling this won’t be left languishing in 16th position come the night, as y’all (and by ‘y’all’, I mean a sample of random individuals whose comments I read on Youtube) seem to be thinking it will.

The verdict: It’s a little disjointed/cheesy, sure, but it’s fun, and stands out from the ballad/dance-heavy crowd. 6 points.

JESC chances: Some might say it’s game over for Croatia, but I reckon this might do surprisingly well. Or at least, not shockingly badly – somewhere in the 11th-14th region.

 

#14
SERBIA
Svet U Mojim Očima by Emilija Đonin

Serbia-JESC-2014-Emilija-Donin-4Sounds like: The theme song of a Serbian teen soap circa 2001

What I think: Point numero uno – if Emilija sounds anywhere near as good singing this live as she does in studio, her three minutes on stage will be a treat for the ears. Given her stint on Serbia’s version of Got Talent, it’s highly likely. As far as the song itself goes…well, it’s nice. It’s pretty. It’s age-appropriate. I do find it a little stale in sound with the guitars twanging away in the background, so I kind of wish it’d been composed with violins or vuvuzelas (for that touch of eardrum-bursting fun) instead. But it’s competent. It doesn’t make me want to pick up the phone to vote for it (which isn’t to Serbia’s disadvantage since I can’t vote anyway) nor does it make me want to run screaming out of the nearest door, tearing my hair out and screaming “WHY, EUROVISION GODS, WHY?”. And above all else, I’m happy to have Serbia back in JESC.

The verdict: I want to hear Emilija sing this song more than I want to hear the song itself, but I do think it’s pretty. 6 points.

JESC chances: I can’t see this making its way any further than mid-table – 8th-11th.

 

#13
GEORGIA
Happy Day by Lizi Pop

Lizi-Pop1Sounds like: I don’t need to say it. You already know.

What I think: Okay, so I WILL say it, but just this once – if people thought Sanna Nielsen’s Undo was Wrecking Ball 2.0, then they must be thinking Happy Day is a carbon copy with (mostly) Georgian lyrics. It’s not often you hear a song that doesn’t remind you of another these days, but in this case I’m a little disappointed, because Georgia can usually be relied upon to send something unique/endearingly bizarre to JESC. Like Moldova in the adult contest, they normally bring something special that helps them stand out; but in the sea of impressive voices and big ballads Malta-bound, Lizi will find it a challenge to carry on that trend. The impact of Wrecking Ball for me lies in both the vocal performance, and the soft, vulnerable verses interspersed with big, loud choruses. Those are also the main pros to Lizi and Happy Day, assuming she’s got the vocal combo of restraint/grunt to pull this off live. I like this song, cringey English bits and chorus chants aside, but it comes up short when compared to the ballads from the likes of Bulgaria and Italy, IMO. I’m hoping that the Georgian-ness we’ve all come to know and love (unless Bzikebi drove you crazy and CANDY gave you diabetes) will be injected into the stage presentation somehow, via outrageous costuming or some kind of massive, distracting prop. My money’s on a bubble-dispensing piñata.

The verdict: Derivative and repetitive, but still a good effort, with admirable emoting from Lizi. 6 points.

JESC chances: It’s hard to fathom a JESC fail for Georgia, but I just don’t see this stealing focus away from all of the other ballads. My prediction is 7th-11th.

 

#12
SLOVENIA
Nisi Sam (Your Light) by Ula Ložar

Slovenia-Ula-Lorza-JESC-SloveniaSounds like: Ula’s one fake ID away from being ready for adult Eurovision!

What I think: First things first, I’m the realest. NO, IGGY AZALEA, YOU CANNOT TAKE OVER THIS POST! GET BACK TO TWERKING! Ahem. As I was saying, first things first, welcome to JESC, Slovenia. We’re very happy to have you. Much like Italy, they’ve put forward a sophisticated debut entry – though whilst we all knew that was how the Italians would play it, Slovenia could have veered off in any direction. I think they should be proud of themselves, even if they’re not likely to be topping the scoreboard come November 15. Ula is a phenom live vocalist (sorry to be rambling on about the voices so much, but this is THE year of the miniature powerhouse) and her song has a haunting, understated feel to it that sets it apart. I do feel like the whole package is maybe too mature for the Junior contest – or at least, to work well in this context. Then again, you could have said that about Ukraine 2012 or even Gaia last year, bar the poofy party dress. I find JESC incredibly hard to predict, and without rehearsals to base an opinion on or a running order to imagine the impact of, it’s hard to say just how Slovenia will fare. Though there are songs I like more, I would be happy to see this one get somewhere – even if that somewhere is just out of the danger zone of the automatic douze points.

The verdict: Pretty and classy, and Ula sings like a champ. A strong 6 points.

JESC chances: Like I said, I’m clueless (not in all aspects of life – just this one). Anywhere between 6th-14th would be my broad guess.

 
So that’s my bottom five, though as you can see, I’m only really anti-Russia. Musically speaking, in this instance. Here’s what my rankings look like so far, with question marks aplenty for added mysteriousness:

#1 | ?
#2 | ?
#3 | ?
#4 | ?
#5 | ?
#6 | ?
#7 | ?
#8 | ?
#9 | ?
#10 | ?
#11 | ?
#12 | Slovenia
#13 | Georgia
#14 | Serbia
#15 | Croatia
#16 | Russia

 

What do you think? Have I offended anyone with my abuse of Alisa’s Dreamer? Does the fact that I don’t hate Croatia make you want to strangle me with a feather boa? Or do you agree with my sentiments to a shocking extent? Let me know below.

I’ll be back on Friday with Part 2, feat. my #11-#6. Whoever could they be?

 

EBJ Signature

 

EBJ’s top 10…entries from Croatia

The week before last (on my birthday, of all days…c’est tragique!) we Eurovisionaries received the horrendous news that Croatia will not be competing in Copenhagen next year. Apparently they’re experiencing a cash flow problem, which rumour had it was also affecting Serbia. Thankfully that’s no longer an issue, because if Serbia withdrew it would send me right over the edge. And now I don’t feel compelled to wire the contents of my savings account to the Serbian head of delegation.

Anyway, as things stand, the loss of Croatia is sad enough. But instead of trying to ease the pain by eating our own weight in ćevapčići, why don’t we make like Daria Kinzer and celebrate Croatia’s time spent in the ESC? We don’t even have to don any of her hideous dresses.

Is that a yes? Well, I’m going to go ahead and celebrate whether you want to or not, and I’m doing it by presenting my top 10 Croatian entries of all time.

 

WARNING: This list does NOT feature Neka Mi Ne Svane by Danijela, which will mystify and enrage many people, I’m sure. I like the track, but it’s a bit too national anthem-like to squeeze into my top 10. Haters gon’ hate, but that’s how I feel.

So, here are the ten songs that did make the cut…

 

#10

1997 | Probudi Me by ENI

I was a child of the 90s, and a stereotypically girly one at that – so naturally, I freaking LOVED the Spice Girls (I had their movie on VHS and the Impulse body spray and everything). I say that because ENI are the closest thing to a Croatian version of the Spice Girls that I’ve ever come across, and so my childhood obsession with Ginger, Scary, Sporty, Posh and Baby probably explains my attraction to their Eurovision entry. It wouldn’t win any awards for musical or lyrical depth (or costume design..yeuch!) and it didn’t do very well in the contest (coming in 17th) but I like it. These girls wanted to be woken up in the morning with love, not with breakfast, and I totally get that. Although…can I get the breakfast too?

 

#9

2000 | Kad Zaspu Anđeli by Goran Karan

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dqZKKfK2aEA

This song is one of the few from Stockholm that could enter Eurovision today and not sound like it came from 2000, mainly because it actually sounds like it came from 1993. What I’m saying is that it’s vintage, but timeless at the same time. I love the guitar, which makes the song a ballad that wouldn’t be out of place in the background of a movie scene where Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie do a sexy dance. I also think the Croatian sounds particularly pretty in it, which is high praise coming from someone who would marry the Croatian language if that were at all possible. My love for KZA has waned to a strong like over the last few years, but I still reckon it was an honourable Hrvatski effort.

 

#8

2013 | Mižerja by Klapa s Mora

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FYm4sGd-qP0

Now, for a song that is less ‘Brangelina’ and more ‘Come visit Croatia – it’s majestic!’. You probably don’t need me to mention how much the country’s most recent entry belongs in a tourist campaign, accompanied by sweeping shots of clifftops and beaches and ruins. What we got at Eurovision was six dudes in ornate outfits performing it pitch-perfectly and with a lot of passion, and that was good enough. Despite the title, this is an uplifting and beautifully ethnic three minutes, and it has a strange ability to make my eyes all moist. It’s not emotion. I must just have something stuck in them. Every time.

 

#7

2003 | Više Nisam Tvoja by Claudia Beni

From the country that brought us the Balkan Spice Girls came the Balkan Britney Spears. Let’s face it, this is Hit Me Baby…One More Time 2.0, only without the school uniforms. And that, folks, is why I love it. There’s always room for tear-inducing ethnic ballads at Eurovision, but if a country decides to send trashy 90s pop instead, this fan ain’t gonna complain about it. This example of said trash pop is so catchy, and takes me back to many a primary school dance during which my friends and I would fiddle with our hair chopsticks and pretend to ignore the boys we thought were cute. A.k.a. very good times.

 

#6

2005 | Vukovi Umiru Sami by Boris Novković

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UqAKFyZw2Ls

I’ll admit, I didn’t “get” this at first. I watched the 2005 contest shortly after I discovered the ESC, and it kind of flew under my radar amongst the Moldovas and Greeces and Norways that year. But since then I’ve developed a fondness for it. It is very Croatian – you certainly wouldn’t mistake it as an entry from outside of former Yugoslavia, and I like that, because a lot of the songs entered these days could be from anywhere (or in Azerbaijan’s case, are usually from Sweden). It’s also sing-along friendly despite not being up-tempo, which gives it an edge.

 

#5

2007 | Vjerujem U Ljubav by Dragonfly feat. Dado Topić

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3UR-I5VwEuQ

You may or may not know that I am a little obsessed with Helsinki’s Eurovision, because it was the first one I watched as a semi-knowledgeable fan. I wouldn’t say that every single entry that year was as amazing as the stage, the postcards, the interval acts and the hosts (Jaana and Mikko have not been out-awesomed yet, IMO) so I’m not just being biased when I say that I really love what Croatia sent to Finland. Vjerujem is cruisy pop-rock with a great chorus and some lovely guitar work, which I know didn’t endear it to a whole lot of people, but it works for yours truly. Keep the abuse of my musical taste to a minimum, please.

 

#4

1999 | Marija Magdalena by Doris Dragović

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x2oIkF3sQtE

If you didn’t just start singing ‘Marija Magdaleennna, ah-ah-ah-ah-ahah-ahhhhhhhhhhhh!’, trying your best to imitate the sound of Doris + Gregorian choir, then shame on you. Of course, it was that Gregorian choir that got Croatia stripped of a whole bunch of points in ’99, but that didn’t really end up being a punishment – Doris still came fourth and her country didn’t have to sit the 2000 contest out. And what a deserved fourth this song was! I’d say it’s Croatia’s most epic entry to date. DD owned the stage and belted out the dramatic, up-tempo number in a way that didn’t require oversized props or flashy backing graphics. That was handy, since this was just prior to when those added extras became a real part of the contest.

 

#3

2012 | Nebo by Nina Badrić

I professed love for this entry a little while ago, and surprisingly had more than one person (i.e. my entire blog readership) agree that it was, if not THE bomb, then pretty darn close. Aside from the fact that Nina thought wearing a garbage bag on stage would be a good idea, I genuinely love Nebo. It’s my second favourite Nebo of all Eurovision time, actually (you can’t beat a scarily talented ten-year-old doing dubstep). I love the structure, the music, the bells, the melody…just insert every musical term imaginable here, and you can guarantee I rate it. That may be because it reminds me of one of my most-loved non-ESC songs – Wonderful Life by Hurts (who’d better rep the UK in the near future) – but who cares? Love is love.

 

#2

2006 | Moja Štikla by Severina

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zaEzHI_V4U8

Songs that mention shoes are usually awesome, but this one takes the cake…and the stiletto. It combines everything I love in a Eurovision song: ethnicity, fun, quirkiness, and a costume reveal. As a result, seven years after Athens (!!!) it has stood the test of time. Severina is a great performer, and in Greece she brought a song that sounds brilliant in studio anyway to another level. Whether I’m watching her performance or just listening to it, I can’t help dancing (which gets embarrassing if I’m in public, but YOLO, right?) and that’s the mark of a good ethno-pop/turbo-folk song, in my mind.

 

#1

2010 | Lako Je Sve by Feminnem

Having said that, it’s a ballad that outranks the rest of Croatia’s entries as far as I’m concerned. And not just any ballad; this is one that will haunt me for the rest of eternity as a song that should have qualified to the final. Feminnem came back to the ESC with a vengeance (and a different member) after an average showing five years earlier for Bosnia and Herzegovina. They’d tried to return before, but it was the stunning Lako Je Sve that did it and had me thinking ‘we are sooo going to Zagreb in 2011.’ Sadly, it wasn’t to be, with a slightly off-kilter performance and a tacky love heart getting them only as far as 13th in their semi. But I still believe the song was strong enough and should have pushed through. It’s a beautiful ballad that builds, but not predictably, and combines piano with electronic elements which is an excellent combo. But you knew that. I’m just trying to show my ljubav here, for everything the song is. Damn you, Europe, for letting it go.

 

Will you miss Croatia when Copenhagen rolls around? What have been your highlights of their time in the ESC?

 

Counting down to JESC: Copenhagen 2003

There are just under nine weeks until Junior Eurovision 2012 (!!!) and for as many ESC fans that don’t give a backup dancer’s sequined hotpants about that, there are those a la moi who can’t wait (and also wish the majority of countries who haven’t picked their entries yet would get a move on, so they can like, write reviews and stuff).

That’s an assumption, obviously, not a scientific fact published in Random Musings of Song Contest Maniacs Monthly. My point is that if you aren’t a JESC lover, that’s okay –but you should probably step away from your internet-enabled device for now and come back later when my focus is big Eurovision. For those who do enjoy it, I have some great (some would say) things lined up for you over the next few months, starting right now with the first installment of a special countdown.

When Junior began I was twelve, and as a result of that, and the fact that I didn’t even know what ‘ESC’ stood for at that point, the details can be a little fuzzy when I look back on it. So to remind myself as well as you guys of the inaugural edition as we approach the 10th, here’s a recap of what went down…and my thoughts on the best and worst in show. 

 

 

 

The stats

Edition: 1st

When: 15th November, 2003

Where: The Forum Copenhagen, Denmark

Hosts: Camilla Ottesen & Remee

Broadcaster: DR

Entries: 16

Debutants: 16

Returnees: N/A

Withdrawals: 0

Interval act/s: Sugababes with Hole In The Head and Busted with Crashed The Wedding

First place: Croatia

Last place: Poland

Most douze points: 3 – Croatia, United Kingdom

 

The entries

Greece/ Fili Gia Panta by Nicolas Ganopoulos

Croatia/ Ti Si Moja Prva Ljubav by Dino Jelusić

Cyprus/ Mia Efhi by Theodora Rafti

Belarus/ Tantsui by Volha Satsuk

Latvia/ Tu Esi Vasarā by Dzintars Čīča

Macedonia/ Ti Ne Me Poznavaš by Marija & Viktorija

Poland/ Coś Mnie Nosi by Kasia Żurawik

Norway/ Sinnsykt Gal Forelsket by 2U

Spain/ Desde El Cielo by Sergio

Romania/ Tobele Sunt Viaţa Mea by BUBU

Belgium/ De Vriendschapsband by X!NK

United Kingdom/ My Song For The World by Tom Morley

Denmark/ Arabiens Drøm by Anne Gadegaard

Sweden/ Stoppa Mig by The Honeypies

Malta/ Like A Star by Sarah Harrison

Netherlands/ Mijn Ogen Zeggen Alles by Roel

 

The scoreboard

Dino celebrates his win by punching Remee in the face

  1. Croatia – 134
  2. Spain – 125
  3. United Kingdom – 118
  4. Belarus – 103
  5. Denmark – 93
  6. Belgium – 83
  7. Malta – 56
  8. Greece – 53
  9. Latvia – 37
  10. Romania – 35
  11. Netherlands – 23
  12. Macedonia – 19
  13. Norway – 18
  14. Cyprus – 16
  15. Sweden – 12
  16. Poland – 3

  

My top 5…

(Please excuse the lack of fives in some areas, where I just couldn’t muster up the numbers.)

…songs

Croatia you’ve got to love a slow piano intro that gives way to, well, something a lot less slow and piano-y, especially when that something is super catchy. I still can’t believe an eleven-year-old wrote this.

UK – It’s funny that in the same year they came dead last (and with zero points) in the ESC, the UK managed to come third in Junior. What was their secret? A kid who could sing, for starters, and his cracking message ballad. The chorus actually makes me tear up a little. You know, if I’m feeling vulnerable.

Denmark – a Middle Eastern-flavoured song is pretty much guaranteed to win me over, as the host country did in ’03. This has got to be one of my favourite JESC entries of all time, and not just because I can belly-dance to it without feeling (too) stupid.

Spain – I don’t think this ballad was quite as good as the UK’s, but there’s something magical and so-very-Spanish about it that gets me. Performed by someone old enough to operate a motor vehicle, it could have done well at the ESC too.  

Belgium – I used to dislike this, and I have no idea why. All I can say is shame on you, Jaz of the Past! X!NK remind me a bit of interval act Busted, who I may or may not have had a poster of on my wall ten years ago. They are purveyors of good, soft-punk-rock.

…voices

UK – no small child yelling into a mike, Tom could properly belt one out.

Croatia – Dino: can write, can sing. Can also pull off outlandish jackets with the best of them (a.k.a. Ralf Mackenbach).

Netherlands – Roel was a senior citizen compared to the rest of the participants, and his experience was reflected in his vocal ability.  

Spain – Sergio: the Spanish Tom Morley?

Macedonia – Marija and Viktorija are probably the most vocally proficient twins ever to take to a Eurovision stage. And they AREN’T EVEN TWINS!

…costumes

L-R: Anne, Dino, Volha and Marija & Victorija

Denmark – pretty, age-appropriate outfits that were well suited to the song.

Croatia – as I said before, and as you’ll see as the countdowns continue, I am a huge fan of bright jackets.

Belarus – nice use of colour.

Macedonia – I applaud the epicness of the flared pants, if nothing else.

 

My bottom 5…

…songs

Sweden – these days Sweden is one of my favourite JESC countries. Let’s just say it took a few years for that to love to develop.

Romania – I don’t hate this song, I just find it a bit yell-y. If I have even the slightest headache, forget it.  

Malta – again, there’s nothing terribly wrong here. It’s just too bland and cliché for my taste.

Greece – one of the least appealing of a strong bunch. Don’t love it, don’t hate it.

Cyprus – sweet but boring. Like a cupcake without icing, or Buranovskiye Babushki without the little granny.

…voices

Norway – Sinnskyt Gal Forelsket = great song. 2U = not-so-great singers.

Greece – I think the Greek delegation confused the ‘s’ in JESC for ‘shouting’.

Romania – as I said, ‘yell-y’ is the key word here (despite it not actually being a word).

…costumes

L-R: Nicolas, Sergio, Tom and Kasia

Greece – sponsored by a sportswear/tartan manufacturing company much?

Spain – a little bland.

UK – also a little bland.

Poland – a little baggy.

 

Enjoy the recap? What were your personal highs and lows of Copenhagen 2003?

 

Baku Reviews: Part 2 (Croatia-Georgia)

Croatia

Nebo/ Nina Badrić

Reminds me of: Wonderful Life by Hurts

The good stuff: I’m a little bit obsessed with Croatia, so I generally have a soft spot for their entries, many of which I feel do not get the points they deserve (I’m thinking Lako Je Sve, not Celebrate *shudder*). But I swear I’m not being biased when I say I love Nebo. I know it hasn’t been that well received, but there’s something about it that just gets to me. Nina’s voice is really raw, like she often breakfasts on gravel, which works well for the rocky style of the ballad. I think the chorus is strong, and the bells/gongs/dropping of cookware onto a tile floor (whatever those ding-dongs are, basically) are the cherry on top.

Everything else: Croatia are in the second semi alongside most of the other Balkan countries, who as we know manage to swap decent amounts of points between each other in spite of the jury influence. But there’s still a lot going against them. I mean, it’s Croatia – one of the less fortunate of this bloc in terms of qualification. Then you have to consider what Nina has to overcome to make the final (e.g. Željko Joksimović) and the fact that as usual, the second semi is going to be the toughest to escape. All of this won’t faze non-fans of Nebo, but it does worry lil’ ol’ me.

Winner, loser or grower: Winner – 10 points.

 

Cyprus

La La Love/ Ivi Adamou

Reminds me of: Titanium by David Guetta

The good stuff: I’m not quite in la la love with this one, despite the fan frenzy and good odds for it to win. It’s a decent dance track with a chorus more infectious than the Black Plague, and it’s certainly something different for Cyprus. It’s like the composers took three or four songs from the top of the iTunes charts, spliced them all together, wrote some new lyrics (nothing too deep or meaningful) and voila, this was the result. For me, Cyprus’ last three entries have been better.

Everything else: The elephant in the room here – although nobody seems to be shy in discussing it – is the mystery of Ivi’s vocals. You would think that having been on The X Factor would guarantee she could at least hold a tune (although Jedward were on theUK version…) but the performances of hers I’ve watched from her time on the show were less than impressive. Plus, having lip-synced at the national final and pulled out of Eurovision in Concert, there’s no record of her singing this song live (that I know of). She has the potential to crash and burn when it comes to the live show.

Winner, loser or grower: Grower – 6 points.

 

Denmark

Should’ve Known Better/ Soluna Samay

Best lyric: ‘Feels like I’m always living out of my suitcase, what about all the years in between, just trying to find my place…’

The good stuff: Has Anna Bergendahl had plastic surgery, changed out of her Converse and upped the tempo on This Is My Life in order to represent Denmark this year? As possibly the only fan of that entry from 2010, for moi that is not an unpleasant possibility. This song surprised me by winning Dansk MGP, but it really was the best choice. It’s cruisy and catchy and has a very reliable, charismatic artist at its helm (an appropriate term considering the nautical theme of Soluna’s NF costume). There’s definite winner potential here, and even more definite top 10 potential.

Everything else: I’m hoping the Danes take inspiration from Sweden, and turn up in Baku with exactly the same outfits as those they wore in the NF. Yeah, I know I’ve already mentioned the clothes, but what can I say? Aesthetics play a big part in the contest, and the hat and the shoulder pads were a seriously striking visual.

Winner, loser or grower: Grower – 7 points.

 

Estonia

Kuula/ Ott Lepland

Top 10 material: Yes

The good stuff: A year ago, I just did not get the whole thing with Rockefeller Street, and in the end neither did Europe. This year, Estonia has got me good with this amazing ballad – their first native-language entry since 2009. Back then, Urban Symphony cracked the top 10, and I think Ott deserves to do the same. Each individual section of Kuula is magic: the verses, the chorus, that other bit before the last chorus that nobody knows the name of…sigh. Also, we should get a great vocal performance from this guy, which is always a plus. Unless you’re listening to Mariah Carey sing Gangsta’s Paradise or something.

Everything else: This is another entry that could be a little boring, presentation-wise. I hope Estonia at least use the inevitable LED background to their advantage, so there is something else going on.

Winner, loser or grower: Winner – 12 points.

 

Finland

När Jag Blundar/ Pernilla Karlsson

Reminds me of: Love by Sasha Son

The good stuff: I love Swedish, so I’m thrilled that in the day and age where Sweden are unlikely to send a song in it, another country has decided to do so. This is a humble ballad in a year of epic ones, but I really like it. It did take me a few listens to develop such affection, but it happened. Finland are rather hit-and-miss in the ESC, and you never know what they’re going to come up with, unlike more predictable (and successful) countries such as Greece. This year, they’ve come up with a gem, although it does beg the question: who do we listen to – Pernilla, who closes her eyes? Or Max Jason Mai who doesn’t want us to? Confusing.

Everything else: Is this song too humble to advance? It is in the first semi which consists of the weakest competition, but it’s no way a cert to make it out. I can’t see the televotes flooding in for it, nor the juries rating it extra high. Then again, coming directly after Belgium in the running order may make it sound like the most exciting thing since Steps announced they were reforming. Then again, again, coming before Israel may make it instantly forgettable.

Winner, loser or grower: Winner – 8 points.

 

Georgia

I’m A Joker/ Anri Jokhadze

Better than 2011: No

The good stuff: If there’s anyone out there who can help me pad out this section, please – DO! I just don’t know what to say, Congratulations, Georgia, you have made me speechless. I guess I feel like this song would only be useful as the background music in an acid trip (which would in turn be enough to put anyone off drugs for life).

Everything else: What is this? Seriously. Anri, it’s very apt that you’re a joker because your song is a complete joke – an unfunny one with dreadful wording. The only reason I’m not giving it nothing is because there is another song that somehow manages to be worse, but I’ll get to that in another lot of reviews. And I will admit to liking the instrumental bits. Mainly because they have no lyrics…

Winner, loser or grower: Loser – 2 points.

 

NEXT TIME: Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel and Latvia become the next nations to be slid under my microscope and examined in the lab of this blog…and I stop describing EBJ in scientific terms.

 

Time-Warp Tuesday: JESC edition

Every Tuesday for me is a chance to go back in time and relive both the greatest and most horrifying moments in Eurovision history. In Junior Eurovision, there is an equal amount of good and bad, and today, I’ve chosen songs that could be either…depending on your taste. This Time-Warp is a celebration of JESC Firsts, beginning with:

The first ever performance

Who: Greece, with Nicolas Ganopoulos and Fili Gia Panta

When and where: 2003, Copenhagen, Denmark

Result: 8th place, 53 points

Is it just me, or is there something very Ping Pong about this performance? Some would argue that this is a better song with a better singer than Israel put up in Eurovision 2000, but to me they are eerily similar – a dreadfully cheesy song with a lackluster performance. Still, this is a primary-school age kid opening a live television contest being broadcast continent-wide…what’s your excuse for the mediocrity, Ping Pong?

 

The first-ever winner

Who: Croatia, with Dino Jelusić and Ti Si Moja Prva Ljubav

When and where: 2003, Copenhagen, Denmark

Result: 1st place (obviously), 134 points

This is the second time Dino’s cropped up in my JESC month (so far), but how could I celebrate firsts without inviting JESC’s inaugural champion to the party? It’s possible he won simply by following up the above performance; then again, it may have been the catchiness and actual ability to sing that did it. Europe’s under-16s sure have got talent!

 

The first country to win…again

Who: Belarus, with Alexey Zhigalkovich and S Druzyami

When and where: 2007, Rotterdam, the Netherlands

Result: 1st place (again, do I need to mention this?), 137 points

In 2005, Ksenia Sitnik won the contest by three points with My Vmeste. Not having had the best luck in Eurovision at that point (and continuing to lack it today), I bet Belarus were mighty pleased with the victory. Fast-forward two years to Rotterdam, and lo and behold, Belarus triumph again – this time by ONE point. Perhaps the rather exercise-ready costumes are the key to the country’s success, and if this year’s representative Lidiya were to take to the stage in leg warmers and a leotard she would have a good chance of making it trophy number three?

 

What are your favourite JESC ‘firsts’? Let me know with a comment =)

 

THIS WEEK: More challenge, and Part 2 of my 2011 reviews!

 

Saturday: from A to Sweden

Hello all! I want to get straight into the results of last night without boring your pants off with a long and rambling intro that in the end turns out to be about very little at all. That reminds me of 1996, the time I went…..just kidding. Here goes:

ARMENIA/ Emmy/ Boom Boom: It might be a Yerevan Eurovision for the Junior contest in 2011, but there’s no need for Armenian television to worry about hosting the big one in 2012 – not with this song representing their country. ‘Boom boom chaka chaka’? Really? I thought we’d grown out of meaningless onomatopoeic phrases in ESC songs? Even Finland’s Da Da Dam has a little more substance. I expected much more from Armenia than this, a song which is passable until the moment the chorus kicks in, at which point any hopes of another top ten finish for them are swiftly dashed in six syllables. It’s a firm thumbs down, and 3 points from me.

When, will I, will I go to Eurovision???

CROATIA/ Daria Kinzer/ Break A Leg: This I would lump in the category of “Songs That Are Almost Quite Good But Are Just Missing That Extra Bit Of Goodness Required To Make Them So”, which also features Slovenia. It’s a bit catchy, fairly well performed by Celine Dion’s long lost cousin Daria, a little up-tempo and a dash clubby – but not a lot of anything. I suppose ‘safe’ is the word I’d use to sum it up. It doesn’t venture outside the box and so I don’t think it was worth the 925 semi finals approximately that Croatia held to end up with it. Not bad, not great, just…5 points. PS – I really wish that the Croatian version could be the one we hear on stage in May, as the English lyrics really bother me. But I think a wish is all it’ll be.

PORTUGAL/ Homens da Luta/ A Luta é Alegria: Oh my god, it’s the Portugese Village People! Eurovision was certainly lacking in that niche department, but no more! The title of this sounded exotically beautiful to me, and I was hoping the song would be too, but it just doesn’t cut the mustard. I like the traditional sound, but that’s about it, and I think Portugal will struggle to qualify again, despite the first semi looking to be the weaker one (as usual). I wish they would just bring a contemporary, thumping pop song to Eurovision once in a while, a lá Spain 2001-2004. The closest they seem to have gotten to that was the corset-clad awfulness of Coisas de Nada in Athens. 3 points.

In other news: 

Lady Gaga, sans makeup?? Nope, it's Alexey!

Russia have internally selected the dashing Alexey Vorobyov to sing Get You in Germany, a song that will be presented to the public on March 12th (how irritated will Sweden be that someone is trying to steal their limelight?). It has been composed by Lady Gaga’s musical manbag RedOne, who must be pleased to get his work to Eurovision this year considering that his song for Love Generation was knocked clean out of Melodifestivalen yesterday (see below). It’s now another unheard song that I have high hopes for, alongside the UK and France. But since countries that can usually be relied upon for stellar stuff (coughArmeniaGreececough) have disappointed, reliable Russia may do the same.

Sweden’s second chance round made a fool of me yet again as the two songs I would least have expected to make it through two duels took the last two places in next weekend’s final. Spring för Livet by Sara Varga and The Moniker’s Oh My God! (coincidentally the first thing I said when I saw the results) join eight other songs for the last battle, the lineup of which looks a little like this: 

1. In The Club/ Danny Saucedo

2. Spring för Livet/ Sara Varga

3. Oh My God! / The Moniker

4. 7 Days and 7 Nights/ Brolle

5. E de Fel på Mej/ Linda Bengtzing

6. Leaving Home/ Nicke Borg

7. Me and My Drum/ Swingfly

8. I’m In Love/ Sanna Nielsen

9. The King/ The Playtones

10. Popular/ Eric Saade

As it’s my last chance to predict something correctly for Sweden, I’ll have to have a careful think about who will win. If the previous track record is anything to go by (the winners having always qualified first in their semi final) then it should be Danny, Linda, Sanna or Eric, but as Swingfly has proven popular with the fans, I’ll be taking that into consideration also. If I had to put money on right now (if I had some money, that is), I’d be tossing it in Eric Saade or Danny’s direction. I might toss myself in Eric’s direction also…

To finish off your weekend, here’s the remaining selection itinerary. By this time next week, we’ll have all 43 songs locked in!

Monday the 7th: France’s song presentation; Tuesday the 8th: Israel; Friday the 11th: The United Kingdom’s song presentation on The Graham Norton Show/ San Marino; Saturday the 12th: Sweden/ Russia’s presenation.

Azerbaijan and Hungary TBC (please hurry up and confirm, guys!)

Enjoy the anticipation, everyone!