Excuse me for cutting the ribbon on these reviews in the most predictable of ways, but I can’t believe it’s time to do this again. How can we possibly be FOUR WEEKS away from the first semi final of Eurovision 2019? Netta only won in Lisbon like, three months ago, didn’t she?
As it turns out, no, she didn’t. It was almost a YEAR ago. And with this last pre-ESC month bound to fly by faster than Salvador Sobral left the stage after handing the 2018 trophy to the singer of a song with far more fireworks than feelings, I can’t keep you in suspense any longer. It is time to take a long, hard and overly-judgemental look at all 41 (maybe 42 if I can squeeze Ukraine in somewhere) entries for Tel Aviv, in typical Jaz style. That means you’ll need energy, determination and multiple cups of coffee to get through each round of five or so songs. Are you ready for this?
Up first for critique in 2019 (after a Tribute to Ye Olde Eurovision random draw) are Albania, Cyprus, Latvia, Montenegro and Serbia. Let me know what you think of Jonida, Tamta, Carousel, D mol and Nevena’s tracks in the comments, after you’ve checked out my thoughts and scores. And remember: honesty is the best policy around here…
Let the Tel Aviv Reviews begin!
Albania’s Festivali i Këngës is THE national final of the festive season, and back in December it delivered the first Eurovision entry of 2019 direct to our doorsteps. Jonida Maliqi – with her super-cool name, razor-sharp fringe, ultra-white teeth and punch-packing vocals – is off to Tel Aviv with Ktheju Tokës, which is thankfully staying put in Albanian after Eugent Bushpepa did so well in his native tongue last year. It’s been revamped for the better and hasn’t lost its original spirit, but did I like it when it was selected and do I like it now? The answer to both of those questions is yes. This song has more mystery and intrigue than a Dan Brown novel, which is just how I like my Albanian entries. There’s often something about them that sets them apart and is just so…Albanian. Ktheju Tokës is no exception.
Everything about it is interesting: the way Jonida works her way through it with vulnerability and power; the unconventional melody of the verses; the haunting atmosphere and hypnotic beat…I mean, wow. It may not be the most radio-friendly or streamable song of the year, nor is it particularly instant and hooky – but it is original and impactful. I will say that the studio version is kind of strange (it makes Jonida sound like she’s singing slightly out of tune) whereas the live version is the one with all the impact. Here we have a singer who can belt out big notes like nobody’s business, and emotively eyeball a camera at the same time. And you just know she’s going to wear something amazing in Israel, making us forget about the possessed bride look the last Albanian female soloist went for. So for me, that’s a kickass song + a fierce vocalist + stellar styling that we’re in for from Albania.
Having said all of the above, I’m far from convinced that Jonida will sail through to the final. She’s in the second semi, which is the more competitive one – and not just because there are 18 countries competing for qualification as opposed to 17 in the first semi (thanks to Ukraine’s shenanigans). With big hitters and likely top-scorers like the Netherlands, Norway, Russia, Sweden and Switzerland also in the Thursday line-up, she has an uphill battle ahead of her. With the right staging and a solid all-round performance though, the hill shouldn’t be too steep to climb (even if she’s wearing stilettos). And there’s no other song remotely like Ktheju Tokës in the entire contest, let alone in her semi – so she’s bound to stand out. I’d love to have Albania in the final again. How about you?
In a line Albania doing what Albania does best: being exotic, mystical and powerful 2018 VS 2019 2019. Us ladies have to stick together! Predicted result SF 8th-12th, GF 15th-19th My score 8 points
Following up Fuego, a Eurovision entry iconic in so many ways, was always going to be a tough task for Cyprus. With thousands of keyboard warriors/amateur music critics (including myself) waiting to drag the island if they didn’t build on their 2018 success, the pressure to do so was higher than Kaliopi’s whistle tone. I feel like they have delivered, but let’s not pretend there’s no ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ mentality at (re)play here. Tamta’s song has been co-written by three of the minds behind Fuego, and it sounds like their brief was ‘Pen another banger with a beat drop and the exact same structure in order to catapult Cyprus into the top 10 again.’ But I’m not saying Fuego was the most original song to ever exist, and I do think Replay is different enough in the realm of pop music, where lots of stuff is similar, to make calling it Fuego 2.0 a bit unfair. I can’t blame Cyprus for finding a bomb formula and sticking to it.
Catchy from the second it starts, slickly produced and perfectly suited to Tamta, Replay ticks all the boxes on the ‘Is This A Banger?’ checklist, right down to the less-ethnic-than-Fuego-but-still-ridiculously-danceable instrumental hook. It’s one of those songs where each part is equally memorable, without a weak link like an anticlimactic chorus. Unfortunately the most memorable moment comes during the first verse, when Tamta apparently says she’s ‘shitting her body tonight’. Call me immature if you must (I am, to be fair) but it’s pretty off-putting and sounds nothing like the actual lyric – ‘them sheets need my body tonight’. I’ve been trying to roll with it and tell myself that Tamta’s so keen on the subject of the song, her bodily functions go haywire at the mere thought of him. Can’t say I’ve ever met a guy who had that effect on me, but that’s not a bad thing.
Misheard lyrics aside, Replay is as flawless as Tamta’s 37-year-old skin which is way more youthful than my 27-year-old skin. No, it isn’t as iconic as Fuego, and Tamta probably won’t hit the Eurovision heights Eleni did. But I’m still impressed. That extends to Cyprus recruiting Sacha Jean Baptiste to create their staging again, a sign that they mean business. Fingers crossed the look and feel of the performance doesn’t clash with Switzerland’s, given that She Got Me is in the same musical category and is also being staged by Baptiste. Neither song needs flashy, gimmicky staging to compensate for musical weaknesses, since there aren’t any – they just need something complementary (why am I suddenly reviewing Switzerland? Save it for later, Jaz). Unless a major screw-up happens somewhere along the way, I can’t see Cyprus finishing outside of the Tel Aviv top 10, though it’s safe to say they won’t be going one better than they did in Lisbon.
In a line Obvious joke, but here’s a song I want to replay, replay, replay, YEAH 2018 VS 2019 2018 Predicted result SF 2nd-4th, GF 5th-8th My score 10 points
Latvia has been sending epic songs to Eurovision for some time now – I’d say consistently since 2015. Yet the last few years have seen them stuck in the semis, even languishing in last place in Triana Park’s case. I’m going to get right to it and say that for me, that run of rad entries has come to a screeching halt, but I expect the DNQ trend to continue. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate That Night. In fact, it’s so innocuous and sweet, like a no-frills vanilla cookie, I don’t know how anyone could hate it…and perhaps that’s the problem. Compared to the other songs in the Latvian national final it’s a masterpiece, and I have no doubt that the country made the best choice based on what was on the buffet table. But I feel like it lacks oomph, coasting along on the same level for three minutes and making me keen for those minutes to tick away so I can listen to something more exciting.
Yes, easy-listening and subdued songs can be exciting, holding your attention and making you want more (I’m thinking of Slovenia’s Sebi specifically). This one, however, doesn’t do anything for yours truly. I don’t mind the melody or the melancholy folksy feel, and vocalist Sabīne suits that vibe for sure. It’s more the missing dynamism + the super repetitive structure of That Night that sucks the life out of me. There’s not a lot to it, and as a result nothing much to reel you in (and when I say ‘you’ I mean ‘me’, because I know there are Eurofans who adore this). I feel like this song is a less bizarre musical version of a Lars von Trier film, and if you’ve ever tried to sit through a Lars von Trier film and lost the will to live, you’ll know I’m not being complimentary.
I know I’m coming across way harsh (to quote Clueless like I do at least twice a day), but where my personal preferences are concerned, Latvia can do a lot better than this. And I honestly think Carousel will struggle to pick up votes in that crazy-competitive second semi final. There are other acoustic-y tracks in the running order, as well as other “introverted” songs that are more captivating (think Austria and Arcade). Then there are the big, bold extroverts that are sure to hoover up votes like an industrial-strength vacuum cleaner (think Sweden, Switzerland and Sergey Lazarev). If Latvia does qualify I think it will be a borderline qualification, and I can’t see them troubling the top 10 or even the left side of the scoreboard. But what do I know? I may have followed Eurovision obsessively for over a decade, but I’m still rubbish at predicting results. Riga 2020 it is!
In a line Nice and nothing more 2018 VS 2019 Definitely 2018 Predicted result SF 10th-14th, GF 17th-21st My score 5 points
There are a few countries that can (sadly) be relied upon to produce surefire non-qualifiers over successes. Montenegro is definitely one, no matter how hard I wish they’d suddenly unveil something sensational like next-door neighbour Serbia does on a regular basis. This year their story started out with a glimmer of hope, for me at least. I’m not saying D mol ever had a chance of making the final, but I did have Heaven down as my guilty pleasure of the year. And as a tribute to S Club 7 with undeniably striking staging, the song kind of worked. I actually enjoyed it. In a nostalgic way, sure, but enjoyment is enjoyment.
But then *insert dramatic Law & Order DUM DUM here* Heaven had a musical makeover that I would describe as an over-accessorisation. Now it’s so unlike the original, sickly-sweet-but-tolerable original version that I feel like I need to judge two different songs. But I will just judge the one with multiple personality disorder that’s actually going to Eurovision – and it is a mess. There’s nothing that hasn’t been thrown at it in the quest for a more competitive edge, but the OTT approach has backfired. The structure is all over the place and impossible to follow; the beat kicking in after the first chorus takes me back to Junior Eurovision circa 2005; the vocal gymnastics are misplaced and desperate; and the synthesisers/miscellaneous other noises in the mix sound like they were dropped in as frequently but randomly as possible by someone doing the Macarena blindfolded. Why, Montenegro, why?!?
To add on to my list of negatives, I can’t see a way for Heaven to be saved by staging. Replicating the NF presentation would look amateurish, especially now LEDs are back in action – and what kind of miracle-working, mind-blowing stage concept could cool down and tidy up such a hot mess anyway? I’m sorry for dragging D mol through the mud (more than I meant to) but I have to be honest. The group themselves are not the main problem, and as a sextet mostly made up of teenagers, they do impress me with their stage presence and camaraderie. They just deserve a better song, because this one will not do anything for them other than send them packing straight after the first semi final.
In a line It was never heavenly, but now it’s hellish 2018 VS 2019 2019, believe it or not Predicted result SF 15th-17th My score 5 points
She’s baaaaaaaack! Nope, that’s not the tagline of a terrifying Carrie sequel, but rather my way of saying hey to Nevena for the third time in (J)ESC history. If you’re not a Junior Eurovision fan, you might not know that she represented Serbia in 2007, finishing 3rd – years before she’d appear at Eurovision as part of Moje 3 and unfortunately fail to qualify (I could write an essay on why that was down to those ridiculous costumes, but I won’t). It seems she fares better when she strikes out on her own, and she’s done that big time in 2019. Not only is she competing in Tel Aviv as a soloist, but she also wrote the music and lyrics of Kruna on her own. What a woman! Let’s breeze past the fact that she’s also an incredible vocalist and drop-dead gorgeous before I end up with the world’s biggest inferiority complex.
Kruna is a dramatic power ballad, one that has had the power amped up even more via a revamp (Montenegro, THIS is how you give a song a good makeover). The music starts out softly and becomes more intense in sync with Nevena’s vocals, and the combo of acoustic/electric guitar work is one of my favourite things about the song. I appreciate that the big statement chorus doesn’t take too long to arrive, because it can be boring waiting for a ballad to go somewhere. And just before it does rock up (so to speak) we get those English lyrics that do double duty: they add interest without seeming like they were shoehorned in just because, and they give us non-Serbian speakers a feel for what the song is about in a very short space of time. Overall, Kruna is the musical equivalent of wearing a floral dress under a studded biker jacket. It’s feminine and classy, but it also has an edge.
Okay, okay, I’ll talk about Nevena’s talents. She’s an amazing singer, and her delivery is passionate and believable. Her ability to sing lullaby-style and the opposite without batting her lashes is impressive, and sure to elevate her jury appeal. And of course, she’s stunning and super telegenic. Is there anything wrong with this package? Well, it doesn’t have the aura of a winner, and while I feel the feelings Nevena is putting out there, others may not. Plus, even I needed a few listens to really get on board, so I can see why the song might not be instant enough to be a vote magnet. Having said that, I do think Nevena has a better shot at making the final now she’s Moje 3 Minus 2. Serbia is competing in that less scary first semi, alongside a lot of uptempo and/or divisive songs – so they’ve got a decent chance to advance as far as I see it. With atmospheric staging and a costume choice less questionable than those 2013 creations (circus hooker chic? I still can’t land on the right label for them) the gate should open wide enough to let them through.
In a line A sophisticated, pitch perfect power ballad 2018 VS 2019 2018, but it’s a close one and kind of hard to compare the two Predicted result SF 7th-13th, GF 14th-19th My score 8 points
That’s all for today, folks! And with the first five countries taken care of, here’s my first mini-ranking for the year:
- Cyprus (10)
- Serbia (8)
- Albania (8)
- Montenegro (5)
- Latvia (5)
Congratulations to Cyprus for winning me over…but how long will Tamta stay on top? Stay tuned for the rest of my reviews to find out. I’ll be including the running ranking at the end of each round so you can see who’s sitting where.
Next time I’ll be putting Australia, Georgia, Hungary, Romania and Switzerland under my (imaginary) musical microscope. But before that, leave me a comment so we can compare notes on Albania, Cyprus, Latvia, Montenegro and Serbia. Who’s your favourite of the five? Is there a winner in there or will Eurovision weekend be Eurovision-free for this bunch? Whatever’s on your mind, I want to know…especially if we happen to agree on something.
It’s been less than two weeks since Israel won Eurovision, but to me it actually feels like longer – which makes it even more shameful that it’s taken me all this time to pick out my favourite performances of Portugal’s contest just past.
In my defence, it wasn’t an easy decision! Competition was fiercer than Eleni Foureira’s catsuit-and-stilettos combo this year, especially due to the no-LED policy of the stage design which meant countries had to get extra creative when chasing the wow factor. Better late than never, though, I’ve made my choices (just like Ari Oláfsson told me to). And, in reverse order as always, because I like to whip up a fresh batch of suspense every time I do a top 10 countdown, here they are. Let me know what our agree/disagree ratio is in the comments below…
#10| Ukraine (Mélovin with Under The Ladder)
When Eurovision meets Ukraine, the result is usually OTT – but up until 2018, it had been a while since the country lived large in terms of their contest staging (1944 and Time didn’t exactly slap you in the face with such subtle items as hamster wheels and half-naked centurions). So it was nice to see Ukraine changing up their recent less-is-more approach for a) a vampiric-looking artist slowly rising from the hellish interior of his grand piano; b) said artist removing a layer of clothing halfway through the song, which in this case looked a lot more badass than when Alexander Rybak did it; and c) yeah yeah FIRE!!! When you think about it, Mélovin’s performance could have been even more flamboyant – but he seemed to know just when to stop to give it the specific level of drama and Gothic glamour it needed. Under The Ladder on the Lisbon stage was as confident and cohesive as we’ve come to expect from Ukraine, whether they’re keeping things simple or kicking their staging up a notch or two (hundred).
#9 | Israel (Netta with Toy)
If it’s controversial to not have Netta right at the top of a ranking like this, then so be it. I didn’t vote for Israel this year and I can’t claim that Toy is the winning song I would have preferred (let’s just say that I was hoping to be trawling through Air BnB apartments in Limassol right about now). But I can’t argue with the punch this performance packed, thanks mostly to Netta herself and not so much to her dancers, who made the whole thing look more novelty than it actually was. Miss Barzilai, though, even without her looper, was a force to be reckoned with. Every facial expression, hand gesture and note was there; the attitude and sass were sky-high just as they should have been; and it was easy to believe that any guy stupid enough to cross her would be sorrier than Frans realising he really was sorry. Netta sold her song like her life depended on it, with her oriental outfit and backdrop adding an exotic touch to the appealingly bonkers proceedings (and not, IMO, falling into the category of cultural appropriation). The Altice Arena audience went crazy for this, and even on TV it was obvious why.
#8 | Austria (Cesár Sampson with Nobody But You)
Starring in this year’s episode of ‘Surprising Eurovision Third-Placers’ was Austria’s Cesár, who contributed a jury vote-winning rendition of Nobody But You to the grand final line-up. While I didn’t see that overwhelming jury love coming, I did get some spine-tingles from his performance: one that proved he could more than cope with the transition from backing singer to main artist. Commanding the stage – and a spectacular hydraulic platform – completely solo, he made it hard for me to look away from him (or even blink, lest I miss a shot of his impressive arm musculature). Austria also added a mix of shadowy and golden lighting that perfectly suited the song and its soul vibes; a bit of crowd interaction in the second half to up the human connection with Cesár; and, tapping into a trend that was way overused in 2017, the sole giant selfie of the year…which was great apart from the fact that super-sized Cesár was wearing a different shirt to flesh-and-blood Cesár. But that’s a mildly irritating detail I can overlook, based on how boss every other aspect of this performance was.
#7 | Denmark (Rasmussen with Higher Ground)
Like Sweden (a country you should expect me to mention later on in this list) Denmark rarely changes much about their staging between their national final and Eurovision. Unlike Sweden, a lot of the time they need to but just don’t. Fortunately, 2018 was not one of those years – and some credit needs to be given to the ship-inspired Lisbon stage for that. Performing a seafaring Viking song, Rasmussen must have thanked his lucky stars when he discovered how neatly Higher Ground fit in to the concept of the ESC this year. Sure, a ship wasn’t the first thing you thought of when you looked at the stage, but just knowing how appropriate Denmark’s package would appear in the year of ‘All Aboard!’ gave them a boost. Sails, snow, stomping, blue lighting, beards, and a manufactured breeze were all Rasmussen needed to create the ideal atmosphere for Higher Ground – and what came out of the oven once all of those ingredients had been combined and baked was gobbled up by televoters. They ranked Denmark first in the second semi, and in the top five in the final. That’s definitely higher ground than the Danes managed to reach in Kyiv!
#6 | Estonia (Elina Nechayeva with La Forza)
I’ve said this in a previous post, but there was a time when I thought Estonia didn’t need to stick Elina in a ridiculously expensive projection dress to make a statement. La Forza and her insanely impressive operatic talents would do the trick on their own, right? Well, we’ll never know for sure – but what I now know for certain is that The Dress: Eurovision Edition (forget about some wedding guest getup that’s black and blue/white and gold) turned Estonia’s appearance at Eurovision 2018 into a showstopper. What helped to make the performance all the more dynamic were the close-up shots of Elina during the soft, mystical verses (just to hammer home how stunning she is) interspersed with wider shots and aerial shots during the explosive choruses – those showing off the dress projections to maximum advantage. If I was being ultra picky (as I enjoy being sometimes) I would have liked the lighting scheme and projections to be totally celestial – more cool colours to take us all to a galaxy far, far away. But a bit of red lighting here and there and some psychedelic dress swirls didn’t prevent me from being speechless at the end of this three minutes.
#5 | Australia (Jessica Mauboy with We Got Love)
Okay…before you scream at your screen that I must have walked Rasmussen’s plank and drowned in a sea of my own insanity, hear me out. Firstly, I’m Australian and am therefore totally biased when it comes to our handful of ESC entries and my unconditional defense of them. Secondly, when I name Jessica’s performance as one of my favourites of the year, I’m referring more to the stronger semi-final version than the nervy final version. And thirdly, whatever your opinion on her vocals, that dress (which we now know finished 2nd in the Barbara Dex vote) or the characteristically dark Sacha Jean Baptiste staging, you have to admit that Jess is a ray of sunshine who invested every fibre of her energy into her time on stage and brought light to those overly-moody surroundings. I felt so proud (and a little bit teary) after her Thursday night performance – and part of that was to do with the freedom, rawness and authenticity that came from the dreamtime dance moves and a vocal that was a rough diamond rather than a crystal-clear one-carat diamond. Jess did what she does best by bringing her personality on stage as a prop, and I really enjoyed watching her as a result.
#4 | Moldova (DoReDos with My Lucky Day)
Discarding a cool NF staging concept in the hope of wowing people at the ESC with an even cooler concept is risky. Moldova took that risk, ran with it, and ended up providing us with an impeccably-timed slapstick-chic performance that elevated an okay song to sensational status. Try and find a flaw in DoReDos’ Eurovision creation and I will dispute whatever you come up with, because it had it ALL. Eye-catching costumes (in Moldovan flag colours, of course)? Check. Boatloads of stage presence and charisma from all three band members and their backing squad? Check. An oversized Ikea cabinet put to better use than anything with doors has been before? Check! Putting paid to the stereotype that men can’t multitask – and proving that women absolutely can – the trio sang, danced and dashed in out of those doors without missing a beat or looking like it was any sort of struggle. In a day and age of the easily distracted (myself included) keeping all eyes on you for 180 seconds can be difficult – but My Lucky Day live in Lisbon was entertainment well worth the price of admission.
#3 | Czech Republic (Mikolas Josef with Lie To Me)
From being stuck on a hospital gurney with a neck brace on to turning out a performance like this – only to go on and top it in the final? Mikolas, I salute you. For a horrifying few days early on in rehearsal week, we weren’t sure whether the Czech Republic would even get to compete in the contest with their best entry ever. But the Eurovision gods were smiling down on us (that, and Mikolas did what doctors told him to do). He got through his semi show in more restrained style than he would have liked before pulling out all of the acrobatic stops on the Saturday night – moves that capped off a super-fun, well-choreographed, part-music video/part-live performance feat. SWAG. There is nothing I would change about the Czech staging, although I wouldn’t have complained if a hologram camel had materialised at some point. The highlight – besides Mikolas landing the flip and not ending up back in the emergency room – has to be the butt wiggle/floss/backpack combo after the second chorus. That was genius, and in keeping with the saucy subject matter. I can fully understand why plenty of these greedies want to eat Mikolas’ spaghetti (apologies if I just said something super rude…I honestly don’t know).
#2 | Cyprus (Eleni Foureira with Fuego)
There’s a reason Eurofans still talk about Ani Lorak all the time, despite Shady Lady finishing as the Eurovision runner-up TEN YEARS AGO (!). Ani was a crazy-hot woman in an amazing outfit who, backed by a posse of equally attractive dancers, strutted her way through a top-notch pop song to rapturous applause from the audience. Does that sound familiar? Does it sound…fuego, perhaps? I think so. Eleni came to Portugal armed with an ethnopop banger that had all the best elements of Shady Lady in its staging, and also threw back to Secret Combination and Qele Qele (Greece and Armenia’s ’08 entries that finished 3rd and 4th respectively). I loved being reminded of those other fierce women who’d showed the ESC who was boss back in the day, while being treated to a song that was modern enough to work in 2018. Eleni looked incredible, danced like a woman possessed, and whipped her hair back and forth in amongst fake and real fire while wearing that sparkly catsuit you wouldn’t want to have to pee while sewn into. I’m not going to lie…I wanted to BE her. If we must have successful 2018 entry copycats in 2019, can they please be Fuego + Foureira copycats?
#1 | Sweden (Benjamin Ingrosso with Dance You Off)
As we arrive at my no. 1 personal pick for Eurovision performance of the year, it will either be a massive plot twist (because you’re new here and were partly responsible for Sweden’s low televoting score) or a predictable ending (because you know how obsessed with Sweden and how big a fan of Benjamin’s I am). Whatever the reason for that lack of love from the public, it was not a problem for me – someone in awe of the glow-up between Benjamin’s 2017 and 2018 Melodifestivalen performances, and then continually impressed by the Dance You Off performance that was copy-pasted to the ESC (why would you mess with something that slick?). I don’t know why people have an issue with Swedish performances being the same every time, at Melfest and in every Eurovision rehearsal. When you put that much effort in to a stage show – even though Benjamin’s was relatively simple, just extremely effective – and rehearse the crap out of it, why shouldn’t it be flawless by the time it’s going to be on TV? I love this song and I love how it was staged, unconditionally. Jean Baptiste who?
I’ve showed you mine…now show me yours! Which Eurovision performances floated your boat the most this year?
Well, Eurovision 2018 is over (NOOOOOOOO!!!) and we have a winner (obviously…what an anticlimax it would be if we didn’t). In case you somehow missed the entire voting sequence and haven’t been online since Italy’s final note, that winner was Israel. Netta’s Toy did what the odds had suggested she would do up until Cyprus’ Fuego overtook it last week – but she clucked her way into first place anyway, and you can’t say we don’t have the most original and unique Eurovision winner in a long while on our hands.
I’ll talk more about what I think of Israel’s win, my favourite performances and much more (and I’ll be holding the annual EBJ Awards for Eurovision Excellence) later on. The first order of business though, now that the show is done and dusted, is to check out the results. I’ve taken a look at the overall and split results from both semi finals and the grand final and pulled out some of the most interesting *she hopes* facts and figures, successes and fails and other observations for your reading pleasure *she hopes some more*.
Let me know what caught your eye, shocked you and made you cry tears of joy (or sadness…Eurovision is an emotional time) where the 2018 scoreboard is concerned in the comments!
SEMI FINAL 1
Image credit: escxtra.com (because I couldn’t be bothered making my own when this brilliant one was already in existence).
THE OVERALL RESULTS
Israel won a semi final for the first time with Netta. Also qualifying more successfully than ever before were Cyprus (previous best 5th) and the Czech Republic (previous best 9th).
That second-ever qualification for the Czech Republic’s came far more comfortably than their first. In 2016, they slipped through in 9th, but Mikolas managed to fall only behind the two big bookies’ favourites, Israel and Cyprus – even without doing a backflip.
Ireland’s 6th place in the semi equals their highest qualification, achieved by Jedward 2.0 in 2012.
It was Finland who just snuck in to the top 10, out-scoring Azerbaijan by 14 points. A qualification is a qualification (and you deserved it, Saara!) but 10th is the lowest position Finland has qualified in.
In terms of my predictions (as seen on Instagram), I correctly predicted that the Czech Republic would qualify 3rd, Estonia 5th and Bulgaria 7th. Happy accidents happen, guys!
THE SPLIT RESULTS
Like in 2016 but unlike 2017, the televoters and jurors did NOT rank the same country first. Portugal won both votes last year, but Cyprus steamrolled the televote this year, finishing only 6th with the juries. Israel, on the other hand, won the jury vote but finished 4th with televoters – below Cyprus, the Czech Republic and Estonia (all of whom Netta obviously beat in the final).
The biggest differences between the televote and jury vote in the first semi concerned Finland (7th T/15th J), Greece (10th T/16th J) and Belgium (16th T/9th J).
Greece would have qualified under a 100% televote; Belgium and Switzerland deserved to be in the final according to the juries.
The only countries to be ranked in the same positions by both voting groups were Azerbaijan, Armenia, Macedonia and Iceland in 12th, 14th, 18th and 19th respectively. No agreeing to disagree there!
SEMI FINAL 2
Image credit: escxtra.com (again…I hope they don’t mind/notice).
THE OVERALL RESULTS
Alexander Rybak may not have won Eurovision again, but he is now the first person to win a semi final twice. That’s how you kick some butt! Maybe he’ll come back in another nine years and win a third SF?
The countries that qualified better than ever before this time were…well, none of them. All of this semi’s qualifiers have made it through in a higher position in the past (apart from Norway, of course).
Sweden has now qualified in the top three songs of the last six semis they’ve participated in. Of those six, five finishes – including Benjamin’s – were in the top two.
Denmark sailed into the final (pun intended) in the top five for the first time since 2013. There’s magic in them there beards, I tell ya!
As it turns out, it was Hungary who was lucky to make the final from SF2, beating out Romania by just 4 points.
I (miraculously) predicted that Norway would win this semi, Sweden would come 2nd and Moldova would come 3rd. I also thought Ukraine would finish 4th, which they did in the televote. Does that count? Am I psychic yet?
THE SPLIT RESULTS
Again, two different countries took the fancy of the televoters and juries – in this case, Denmark won the televote (!) and Sweden won the jury vote. Can you score points like a Scandinvian, ALL NIGHT LONG?!?!? Denmark ranked only 12th with the juries though, while Sweden dropped to 6th with televoters (not my fault – Benjamin got more than half of my 20 votes).
The most drastic differences between the televote and jury vote on Thursday night were with Denmark (as I just mentioned, 1st T/12th J), Hungary (5th T/13th J), the Netherlands (12th T/4th J), Latvia (15th T/6th J) and Malta (18th T/5th J).
Poland would have qualified under a 100% televote; Malta, Latvia and Romania, meanwhile, would have made it to Saturday if the juries had all the power.
Both parties were on the same wavelength with Slovenia, Montenegro and San Marino, whom they ranked 9th, 14th and 16th respectively.
Image credit: escxtra.com (ICYMI).
THE OVERALL RESULTS
Winner Israel netted 529 points in total, with 42 countries able to give them points – a little less than Ukraine’s 534 (with 41 countries available) from 2016, and a LOT less than Portugal’s 758 (with 41 countries available also). 2018’s competition was clearly more open than the two that preceded it.
Toy is Israel’s 4th winning song and first since 1998. They also won in 1978, so I guess we know who’ll be crowned champion in 2038.
Cyprus’ strut straight into 2nd place makes for their best result, having competed (mostly on, not so much off) since 1981 and only reached the heights of 5th in the BE era (Before Eleni). I have to say it: YEAH YEAH FIRE!
Four years after their epic win with Conchita Wurst, Austria pulled a bit of a (tall) dark (and handsome) horse move by finishing in 3rd. This marks the first bronze medal ranking for Austria in their ESC history. Hail Cesár indeed.
Germany surprised many of us (i.e. me) with a stunning 4th-place finish. This comes after an über-awful run of results that left them languishing in 21st, 18th, 27th, 26th and 25th from 2013-2017. Could they be the new Belgium?
Italy’s (again, surprising) top five finish adds a 6th top 10 finish to the collection they’ve amassed since their 2011 comeback. Power to the message song!
As expected – once Mikolas Josef got out of hospital – the Czech Republic outdid any contest outcome they’ve had before by a million miles. Qualifying once in 2016 and finishing last in the final was their personal best until Saturday night. A substantial televote allowed them to leapfrog into 6th place, no lie (HA HA HA), and I feel strangely like a proud mother despite having no Czech ancestry whatsoever.
Sweden found themselves in the top 10 for the fifth year running, though not in their usual style (I’ll get back to that). Estonia, meanwhile, made it after DNQs in 2016 and 2017. Moldova dropped to 10th from last year’s 3rd, but since that’s two top 10 results on the trot (Hey Mamma being their first song to hit those heights since 2007), I don’t think DoReDos will be unhappy with that.
Albania’s commendable 11th place came mostly via the jurors who clearly rewarded Eugent’s INCREDIBLE vocals. I’m fine with that – the man is a powerhouse, and I’m proud of Albania for qualifying and then grabbing a really decent spot after all was said and done.
Alexander Rybak must have come back to the ESC with the intention of winning again, but that was always going to be the toughest of tasks. What ultimately happened was that Norway became the first country to win a semi final, then finish outside of the top 10 in the final. Hey, at least it’s another milestone for Rybak…just not the kind he was hoping for.
I can’t not be a little devastated for Australia and my girl Jess Mauboy, after we ended the evening with our worst result ever. But we still qualified comfortably, and Jess did an amazing job in the final (that I think deserved a better deal, but I’m biased). She left nothing in the tank, and the crowd LOVED it.
We’re all aware of the Eurovision Curse of Number Two, but Saara Aalto’s personal curse of a similar nature struck again in Lisbon – only this time, she wasn’t just behind the winner, but just ahead of last-placed Portugal. Ouch. I’d predicted Finland to wind up mid-table, so that’s a bit of a shocker. But maybe they threw a bit too much at the staging and people didn’t know where to look (a problem shared with Malta).
THE SPLIT RESULTS
We had a clear televoting winner and a nose-ahead jury winner this year. Eventual all-around champ Israel snatched the public vote preference from Cyprus by a 64-point margin, finishing third with the juries; and Austria (the most pleasant surprise of the night) pipped Sweden by 18 points with the professionals…despite ending up with the 13th-highest televote.
Sadly for our hosts Portugal, the one thing televoters and jurors agreed on during the final was that O Jardim should be ranked last. I’m not quite sure how the heck that happened – I thought Claúdia was mesmerising, and not just because her hair had reached new and extreme levels of pinkness. Whatever went wrong, Portugal can now join the unfortunate club of countries who have dropped as far down the scoreboard as possible from one contest to the next (but if it helps, at least they weren’t slapped with a big fat zero á la Austria 2015).
Inconsistencies between the televote and jury vote were all over the place in the final, and in a big way. The most notable differences, from least OMG to most OMG were re: Austria (13th T/1st J), Australia (26th T/12th J), Italy (3rd T/17th J), Denmark (5th T, 20th J), Ukraine (7th T/26th J), and Sweden (23rd T/2nd J). Australia’s televote bomb and Sweden’s whopping difference of 21 places between televote ranking and jury ranking were the revelations that had my jaw on the floor. I have no explanation for those, and I am NOT AMUSED.
Which scores and split results caught you by surprise, and which ones were exactly what you were expecting? Let me know below!
FUEGO, FASHION FREAKSHOWS AND FAILS: The good, the bad and the “other” of Eurovision 2018’s first semi final
Not only has Eurovision 2018 arrived – it’s begun with a bang, as 10 semi-finalists became bonafide finalists and 9 poor non-qualifiers (including one angry Swiss woman in a hat, so I heard) were sent packing last night in Lisbon. There’s a lot to talk about and a lot of opinions to be aired, and I’m about to talk and air mine for anyone who’s interested!
BTW, if you were wondering why my qualifier predictions didn’t pop up here on EBJ pre-semi, it’s because I posted them on my Instagram and Twitter. If you want to see how accurate I was (before I mention it later in this post) and don’t want to miss my predictions for the second semi – or the final – make sure you follow me socially @EurovisionByJaz. All the links are in the sidebar.
Now, let’s have a chat about the yays, the nays and everything else that caught my attention during yesterday’s first semi final.
I’ll start with perhaps Portugal’s biggest triumph as a first-time hosting nation: the visual delivery of the 2018 theme/concept/slogan. I was already shipping a Eurovision with a nautical overtone (though those terrible puns from Daniela nearly put me off entirely) and I wasn’t disappointed with the beautiful intro/interval graphics and postcard transitions.
Also tapping into the theme was the stage – obviously. As a non-rehearsal watcher, last night was the unveiling of it in action for me, and I have to say the design and lighting setup was impressive. It looked LIT AF, in fact (pardon the pun/irritating Gen Z slang). I did end up missing the LEDs a fair bit, but I’ll get to that.
Onto the cream-of-the-crop performances now, and the first to get me on my feet was my second favourite, the Czech Republic – and to think there was a chance Mikolas might have had to withdraw only a week ago! It’s a Paula and Ovi miracle (definitely not a Samra miracle) that he got off the hospital gurney and back into his braces with time to spare. You could tell he was treading carefully, but with the backing dancers providing the gymnastics and Mikolas himself compensating with backpack-loads of attitude, no enjoyment was lost for me. I would have voted the SHIZ out of this if I could have (and I’m flexing my texting fingers for the final, Mr. Josef…don’t you worry).
Israel, as I expected, did not come across as the winner we thought it would be up until recently (it’s just too motherbucking bonkers). But Netta is absolutely adorable, and I’m filing her performance under my highlights because the replication of Toy’s vocals live – without the infamous looper – was surprisingly slick and almost studio-perfect. Best hairstyle of the night by far, too: Princess Leia plus My Little Pony is a good combo.
The most impressive three minutes on that impressive stage, in my opinion (like I’d be typing out anyone else’s opinions), belonged to Estonia. Wow, wow and more wow. I didn’t think Elina needed that crazy expensive dress clashing with her undeniable vocal talent, but it turns out I would have missed it if it wasn’t there. She is stunning, the vocals were exquisite, and I think the dress projections were worth Estonia’s spending spree. It helped score them their first qualification since 2015, after all. As for a win now they’re in the final…I’m not convinced, but this certainly stands out (and Elina literally stands about six feet over everyone else).
The touching, pan-European Amar Pelos Dois do-over defrosted even my icy, unfeeling heart – but any tears that sprung up in my eyes could have come at the sight of a) Svala, after I’d just seen Our Choice be the biggest glow-down in ESC history, or b) Norma John, which triggered the memory of Finland’s shock DNQ last year. Or maybe even Kristian Kostov, because he’s so damn dope and so much cooler than I will ever be. I don’t begrudge (much).
Now, on the results…after all my see-sawing when trying to predict the SF1 qualifiers, I ended up not being shocked at all, after revising my guesses mentally once all 19 performances were through. I got 8/10 Qs correct (I’d anticipated Azerbaijan and Greece rather than Albania and Ireland) which was good news for me (I didn’t humiliate myself! YAY!!!). And I also felt that the results made sense. Albania and Ireland definitely deserved to make the final – Eugent on those powerful, flawless vocals alone. As for Azerbaijan, who have now lost their 100% qualification record – well, I saw it coming after a okay performance of an okay song from Aisel. Maybe that will teach the land of (yeah yeah yeah) fire to rely on sound-alike Swedish productions.
Here’s something I knew months ago: four hosts is too many. Something else I suspected that was confirmed last night: a script not written by Edward af Sillén is massively inferior to a script Sweden’s 2018 commentator did pen. Contrived, clichéd, and packed with jokes that nobody of sound mind would find funny, this script (and the people reading it…sorry, ladies) will not go down in history as one of the contest’s best. Fortunately, we’re really here for the music and results announcements that nearly push us over the edge, and Portugal has delivered on both of those fronts so far.
Belgium’s three-year run of success came to a screeching halt after Sennek turned out a reasonable but not spectacular performance of A Matter of Time. I never connected with this song on the same level as Rhythm Inside, What’s The Pressure and City Lights – I didn’t feel that it had as much to offer. It wasn’t the car crash I semi-expected live, but girl was NERVOUS and it showed (and not in a vulnerable, ‘We MUST vote for her!’ way á la Blanche). Also…WTF was she wearing? I can only assume it’s an oversized lampshade from Ikea’s upcoming collection that she borrowed from work. Yikes.
The aforementioned Kristian Kostov left Bulgaria with big shoes to fill, and I don’t think Equinox was up to the task. Sure, they qualified, but I found their performance of Bones overly cold and a little uninteresting – visually boring too, which is unusual for a Sacha Jean-Baptiste creation. Bulgaria aren’t winning Eurovision 2018, and I’ll be very surprised if Equinox come close to Kristian’s second place.
When it comes to ‘What were they thinking?’ moments, Macedonia gave us the whole enchilada. Aimless wandering and a ridiculous costume that was then ripped off to reveal an even more ridiculous (and very distracting) one equaled staging that made a messy-sounding song look messy as well. If Marija had put her tuxedo jacket on the right way round and kept it on, some dignity would have been retained, but…oh dear.
Just because my jaw wasn’t on the floor during the results doesn’t mean I wasn’t heartbroken by a few DNQs. Armenia – my bronze favourite of the year – hit the hardest, even though I understand why the televote wouldn’t have been strong enough for Sevak. I do think we’ll see that the jury vote for Armenia was stronger, but even so there wasn’t enough going on during his performance to make it exceptional (the vocals were exceptional, though).
I was also disappointed by Switzerland not making it. Zibbz produced such a cracking performance of Stones that I expect to see them in 11th – 12th or 13th at the lowest – when all the stats come out post-final. Apparently Corinne was raging in the green room after her country’s name didn’t leave any of the hostesses’ lips, and I can’t say I blame her. You let it out, Coco.
As impressed as I was by the overall look of the Altice Arena stage and the flexibility of the lights, I felt that the lack of LEDs was clear in the stage not looking as different for each performance as it usually would. Some countries – Austria and Cyprus, for example – transformed the stage, but for the most part it felt like 19 acts competing on the same platform with the same background, rather than 19 unique ‘looks’ being created. I appreciate what RTP was trying to do by scrapping built-in screens, but it backfired a bit. I’d like to see them back in 2019.
It’s not that often we see artists failing to mask their nerves on stage, but there were a couple of obvious shaky hands last night – and neither of the people those hands belonged to managed to make it to the final. I’m talking about Alekseev and Sennek, who I couldn’t help feeling sorry for. I’m surprised Alekseev kept his hold on that rose for as long as he had to. Maybe he listened to Hey Ya by OutKast as part of his pre-performance routine and decided to ‘shake it like a Polaroid picture’. You never know.
There were a handful of performances that I felt were missing something – something that, if heard or seen, might have elevated them to exceptional. For Belarus, I’d say it was the original version of Forever. The less dramatic piano-heavy revamp took away a big chunk of impact, and made the performance feel like it was lumbering along. For Croatia, I wanted darker, moodier lighting and a spotlight on Franka to up the glamour and sex appeal (not that she herself needs much help in those areas *fans self*). And for Austria, the only thing I’d pick on is the unseen backing singers. I think Cesár needed them to strut out onto the platform behind him for the final chorus (like he did when singing backup for Poli Genova in 2016) to make the stage feel less empty and remind us that the gospel backing wasn’t coming from some mysterious disembodied choir.
As we all know, Cyprus was the one to overtake Israel in the odds a few days ago, and while Eleni’s performance was as fiery as Fuego needed it to be (and let’s get this out of the way – she is as HOT AS HELL, and I say that as a straight woman) I’m having trouble seeing it as a winner. I don’t think we’re quite going to get to Cyprus next May, though I am willing to stand corrected if it means a second sun-and-sea contest in a row (one I might actually be attending).
That’s all I’ve got to say on Lisbon’s first semi final at this point – I’m actually amazed I word-vomited this much after a basically sleepless night (the 3am wake-ups are worth it, but they’re hard work). Let me know in the comments what you thought of the show, how your predictions panned out and how many of your favourites you’ll get to see compete on Saturday night.
One down, two to go! Eurovision 2018 is still in its early stages y’all, and I am PSYCHED! Half of the second semi’s points will be handed out tonight in the jury show: excitement. It’s an unpredictable year: excitement. Anything could still happen…MASS EXCITEMENT. Seriously, I’m in need of some tranquilisers here (and I wish I didn’t have to go to work tomorrow, because AS IF I’ll be able to concentrate on anything not related to Eurovision right now).
Anyway…I’ll see you after semi 2 for more post-show verdicts!
Hello there! I bet you thought this day would never come – the day when I’d finally get my Euroshiz together and do what every other ESC website has been doing for a month.
Okay, so you might have known I’d kick things off eventually if you’re familiar with my sloth-like tendencies (never visit this blog for breaking news, because it won’t be breaking by the time I talk about it). Now that there are four weeks to go until Lisbon’s first semi final, though, you’re about to be flooded with my verdicts on all 43 songs competing in Eurovision 2018. It’s a review tsunami, so strap on your lifejackets and take a big breath!
For Round 1, my high-tech random selection process – in which I copy-pasted a list of the countries, closed my eyes and pointed at it 43 times – resulted in Armenia, Cyprus, Hungary, Malta and the Netherlands being the fortunate first group to be judged (you’ll have to wait a while for the lucky last). So if you want to see how I rate Sevak, Eleni, AWS, Christabelle and Waylon, you came to the right place.
Check out my reviews, vote for your favourite of today’s five, and share your thoughts in the comments. Pretty please?
My thoughts If you’d told me a few months ago that Tamar Kaprelian would not be representing Armenia at Eurovision this year, I would have had a very melodramatic meltdown. Poison (Ari Ari) is an ethnopop masterpiece after all (Disagree? CASH ME OUSSIDE, HOW BOW DAH?!?) and when I listened to the snippets of everything else Depi Evratesil had to offer, I didn’t hear anything as awesome. As Donny Montell knows, love is blind…but it also made me deaf to the potential of eventual winning song Qami. I honestly can’t even recall hearing a snippet of Sevak’s power ballad – the first all-Armenian language song sent to adult Eurovision – even though I definitely did. Yet all it took was one look at/listen to his national final performance for me to forget about Poison (almost – a banger is always a banger) and fall head-over-heels for Qami. ‘Wind’ as it translates to – and it’s a safe assumption that he’s talking about the force of nature, not the aftermath of a particularly spicy vindaloo – ticks every box on my mental checklist for epic ballads. It’s a slow burner that starts off subtly before exploding at the end of the second chorus (kind of like the 0-100k/ph dynamism of Aram Mp3’s Not Alone). It’s haunting and mysterious. The melody is stunning, and the repetition of the title gives us non-Armenian speakers something to latch on to. Plus, the contrast between the delicate first half and Sevak’s vocal and visual strength (there’s wearing your heart on your sleeve and then there’s wearing your abs on the outside of your shirt) makes the overall package vulnerable and powerful at the same time. I know a lot of fans aren’t as psyched about this one as I am, but every year there’s one song I adore that not many other people seem to (and it can either bomb, or kick butt in the actual contest like Origo last year). I do think there is room for Qami to do some butt-kicking in Lisbon, this not being a ballad-heavy year and Sevak having the kind of song that could be a mind-blower if it’s staged right. But that’s more of a hope and prayer than a prediction, so don’t hold me to it!
2017 VS 2018? 2018, hands down (sorry, Artsvik).
My score 12
My thoughts Speaking of ethnopop masterpieces…enter Cyprus! Strutting in wearing a catsuit and a pair of sky-high heels, of course. Last year I was pleasantly surprised by Hovig’s Gravity, which was constantly compared to Rag & Bone Man’s Human – familiarity doesn’t breed contempt with me, I guess. I’m mentioning the comparison because once again, Cyprus has delivered a great pop song that happens to fit neatly into the mould of one I’ve heard before – in this case, a bunch of songs from Helena Paparizou’s back catalogue. Is there anything wrong with that? Umm, NO. Don’t get me wrong, I applaud originality, and Lisbon is lucky to have it in the form of Israel, Ukraine etc. But even a Paparizou album filler would be welcome at Eurovision, and since we can’t have the queen herself performing one (though she did record a version), Eleni and her Fuego are the next best thing. I love this, and it was an instant love strengthened by the fact that ‘You got me pelican fly fly flying’ is legitimately one of the lyrics. That IS original! I feel like this song was engineered especially to appeal to ethnopop tragics like myself because, in that department, it does everything right. Simple, neatly-rhymed verses + a chorus made up of hooky melodies and yeahs (which can be exchanged for ohs) + a memorable riff played on a traditional instrument = this, and every other ethnopop entry ever. Basically, it’s Aphrodisiac (Greece 2012) with a 2018 magic wand waved over it. With the product placement from the music video out of the question for the live ESC performance, and Eleni sure to be looking as hot as the fire she’s singing about, my only concern is how she’ll sound. The lives of hers I’ve checked out have been fine – albeit feat. some heavy lifting from backing vocalists – but I have heard she isn’t the most reliable live performer. Still, if Jedward can sing seemingly in tune (with their backup vocalists’ mics turned way up) then anyone can. And if someone can point me in the direction of proof that Eleni is actually a top-notch singer and convince me that I shouldn’t be worried, they’ll get a gold star. I really want this to be Cyprus’ fourth finalist in a row, not their first DNQ since 2013.
2017 VS 2018? This is like choosing a favourite child. NOPE. Not happening.
My score 10
My thoughts You’ve got to give Hungary credit for never sending the same song to Eurovision twice. Their bounce-around approach has, since their 2011 comeback, given us dance pop, electro rock, an acoustic alt-ballad, EDM, a charity song, anthemic rock and an ethnopop slice of heaven (Joci Papái was my favourite last year and is still a true musical love of mine). In 2018 we’re getting something different again with hardcore(ish) rock/metal/I’m clearly not an expert on the genre of AWS’ Viszlát Nyár but it sounds intense to me. It’s certainly the most hardcore, rocky song competing in Lisbon, and while that will help it stand out, such songs don’t always go over well at the ESC (I can’t imagine juries going nuts over this). The fact is that the demographic AWS are aiming at is not found, in droves at least, in the Eurovision audience (if someone did a Venn diagram to demonstrate it, the two fan bases would have a pretty tiny overlap area). I’m definitely not the kind of person who would readily abandon their pop sensibilities for anything involving screaming to music. So you might be surprised to learn that I actually like this. Like, not love (á la Origo, which I said I’d marry in my review last year if I could) but yes, I dig it. It reminds me a little of Dead By April’s Melodifestivalen entry Mystery, which I was obsessed with back in 2012 – it features the same mixture of soft moments and intense, scream-your-lungs-out moments that a) make it dynamic, and b) stop it from totally alienating people who aren’t regular purveyors of hard rock. As always, Hungarian sounds alluring and mysterious as the language of choice (is there a genre it doesn’t work with?), especially in the verses. Overall, Viszlát Nyár might be well outside my top 10 for the year, but there are only two or three songs I dislike and this is not one of them. I’m a big supporter of Hungary in the contest and I do hope AWS give the country their 8th consecutive qualification…but I think it could be a tough task. The best comparison song would be Softengine’s Something Better, which did very well for Finland in 2014 but was a lot more accessible (and the screaming was confined to the last twenty seconds or so). I don’t expect Hungary to perform as impressively as that if they do make the final, and TBH, I’ll live if they don’t. Still, it would be nice to have some rock on hand to spice up the best Saturday night of the year.
2017 VS 2018? It’s a no-brainer – Origo all the way.
My score 7
My thoughts Not for the first time – they did it last year too – Malta is sending an artist to Eurovision who’s tried to represent them before with a better song than the one they’re actually getting to go with. In Christabelle’s case, 2015’s Rush really should have been her Eurovision song, but it finished 2nd in MESC that year (Saddy McSadface). And so, three years later, we’ve ended up with Taboo, a mostly Maltese production feat. input from Thomas g:Son (shocking). I’ve developed a bit of a love-hate relationship with this song, though now I think about it, those words are probably too strong – ‘like-dislike’ would be more accurate. Basically, there are parts of it I really like and others that I really don’t. First, the negatives: it may not be as lyrically lame as past Maltese entries, but it’s all over the place with metaphors and similes, making it fairly nonsensical and the message confusing (apparently it’s about mental health struggles, ICYMI). The chorus in particular bugs me like crazy – it seems like the songwriters wanted it to be meaningful, but it turned into a mess of words that happen to rhyme with ‘animals’ (criminals, miracle, *my brain explodes*). The dubstep break is my other main gripe with Taboo, just because it feels passé and could have been left out to no great loss. Positives-wise, there’s good energy, a hypnotic beat, a contemporary-sounding melody, and an overall approving nod for Malta choosing something like this. And I have to mention the MESC performance, which was OTT but very cool at the same time…even if it might be hard to replicate on Lisbon’s LED-less stage. To her credit, Christabelle is a likeable performer with a decent voice, providing she’s not running a marathon or doing star jumps constantly during a performance (code for ‘don’t make her move too much, Team Malta!’). I think Taboo has a better chance of qualifying to the final than Claudia’s Breathlessly did last year – that proved us all right when it went nowhere. But in semi two, where five or six countries could easily advance from the first half alone, Malta’s odds are 50-50, and the shock value will be minimal whether they qualify or not. Unfortunately they’re performing just three songs before Sweden, and Benjamin is armed with an uptempo song accompanied by a slick, impressive stage presentation – much like Malta, but better. And with Sweden being almost a dead cert to qualify, if one of the two is going to be sacrificed to the DNQ gods, it will be Malta.
2017 VS 2018? 2018 fo sho. I’d rather break the taboo than be breathless.
My score 6.5
My thoughts The first question to ask someone who’s about to hear Outlaw In ‘Em for the first time is ‘How do you feel about country music?’. If their answer is ‘Not good’, then they won’t be giving it douze points, or anything close. Waylon’s solo Eurovision entry is without a doubt the countriest country song I’ve ever come across. Every lyric, every guitar lick – even the title – is dripping in the genre, and makes me feel like an idiot (or should I say ‘good for nothin’ varmint’?) for not wearing a cowboy hat. Of course, as soon as the song’s over, normal cowboy-hatless life resumes. I have to say, I do enjoy a country song or 65, but I’m more of an easy-listening cruisy country fan, as opposed to a rip-roarin’, honky-tonkin’, gun-totin’ type. In that sense, you can understand why I much prefer Waylon feat. Ilse deLange (a.k.a. The Common Linnets) with Calm After The Storm to this entry. The fact that Outlaw is so darn country – to the point where it’s about to fall off a cliff edge into Cheesy Canyon – is a turn-off for me, even though I appreciate the go hard or go home mentality (a half-assed country-tinged track for Waylon? No sirree). It reminds me of Achy Breaky Heart too much to take seriously, only it’s too fast to boot-scoot to. I know I’m in the minority here, but I don’t want all of y’all to challenge me to a stand-off just yet. I’m not totally, 110% anti-Outlaw. On the plus side, I like the lyrics: unlike Malta, the theme here is clear and consistent; and the rhyming is beautiful, which makes the overall package sound neat. The song is unique (in this competition, anyway) and definitely memorable. And Waylon is a great performer even when he’s not locking eyes with Ilse – in Portugal he’ll be making eyes at the camera instead, and I’ll imagine he’s staring straight into my soul (in a sexy way, not a demonic way). Will he end up staring down the barrel of qualification, though? The betting odds say heck yes, but I have to wonder if this song is going to be too divisive. It does come to life more on stage than in studio, so I can see it meeting expectations on the night/s that count most. Yet the mass appeal needed for a win isn’t there, and I can’t see a Common Linnets result in Waylon’s future either.
2017 VS 2018? 2017. Girl power and incredible harmonies > full-on country extravaganza.
My score 6.5
And that, guys, is Round 1 done and dusted. Five down, 38 to go in less than four weeks.
Then, when you’ve dialed 911/000/whatever your country’s equivalent is on my behalf, you can take a look at today’s mini-ranking:
- Armenia (12)
- Cyprus (10)
- Hungary (7)
- Malta (6.5)
- The Netherlands (6.5)
So it’s Sevak who takes the top spot, which is obviously not a shock to me because I already knew how I felt about these five songs (let me hear you say ‘DUH!’). Now the question is, can Qami hold on to the #1 position as the EBJ 2018 reviews continue? You’ll have to stay tuned – and subscribed, hint hint – to find out. Opt in for new post email alerts in the sidebar, or find me on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram (all @EurovisionByJaz) to make sure you don’t miss a thing!
Before I sign off and in turn stop begging you to follow me on social media, I do have another question:
NEXT TIME The Lisbon reviews are just revving up…and if I want to get them finished before Eurovision happens, I need to get a move on. Drop by on the weekend when I’ll sit myself down on the EBJ judging panel to critique Azerbaijan, Estonia, Poland, Romania, and Spain!
Gamarjoba, Eurofans who do double duty as Junior Eurofans (if you don’t, then this is your warning to back away from this blog for a while). I’m 72% sure I just greeted you guys in Georgian, which is my way of getting into the spirit of Tbilisi’s first Eurovision event.
There’s less than two weeks until Junior Eurovision 2017, when adorable child/vocal powerhouse Mariam Mamadashvili will hand over the title of reigning contest champ to another pint-sized singing sensation (or four, if The Netherlands wins). That means it’s beyond time for me to start reviewing all sixteen songs competing on the 26th! So let’s breeze past the fact that I haven’t posted since the end of August (my bad…my very, VERY bad) and get this party started.
I’ve pulled four countries out of the special EBJ hat I keep in my closet for such occasions, and they are Cyprus, hosts Georgia, The Netherlands, and Poland (bet you didn’t see that coming. It’s not like I stuck them in the title or anything). Keep reading for my thoughts on Nicole Nicolaou’s I Wanna Be A Star, Grigol Kipshidze’s Voice of the Heart, Fource’s Love Me and Alicja Rega’s Mój Dom. Spoiler alert: one of them just might be my favourite entry of the year.
By the way…I didn’t have time to get an EBJ Junior Jury together this year, but I still wanted to be able to average out the score for each song based on a few factors. I’ve gone simplistic by awarding a standard EBU-regulation point score (1-8, 10 or 12 points) to both the song itself (how I rate it personally) and the artist performing it (their vocal skills, personality on stage etc). The average of those two scores will be each country’s final score. As always, I’ll post a mini ranking at the end of each review round + the full ranking alongside my pre-show predictions just before the contest. Share your own mini ranking in the comments to let me know which entries are hot and which are not in your opinion (but don’t be too mean because we are talking about kids here).
Now let’s go.
Watch it here
Last year…George Michaelides’ Dance Floor finished 16th (second last). I had a lot of blues to dance away in George’s parallel universe where the world is a dance floor after that.
The 2017 verdict Cyprus has transitioned from George’s cutting-edge but unsuccessful ethnopop to oh-so-2005 – but probably more of a point magnet – ethnopop with Nicole. Her catchy (to say the chorus of I Wanna Be A Star is an earworm would be an epic understatement), super-predictable (a blindfolded 2012-edition Donny Montell would have seen that key change coming) song comes via three-time ESC act Constantinos Christoforou – and given that he seemingly represented Cyprus with the adult version of the same song back in Kyiv in 2005, THAT MAKES SO MUCH SENSE. I guess I should stop going on about how dated IWBAS is, because that’s not a totally bad thing. After all, it means Cyprus is doing what Belarus did last year by bringing back a slice of vintage JESC for us all to feast on (although the Belarusian hoverboards would clearly have never featured in a Junior Eurovision circa 2004). I always appreciate a throwback in a contest that has grown up a lot recently, with a lot of the songs having the potential to double as ESC entries if a few lyrical changes were made. This throwback is a classic kid-spirational anthem with Cyprus stamped all over it, and the high energy + hooks = party time for three minutes. I definitely like it – while definitely not loving it – but I do wonder if Nicole has the charisma and live vocal ability to pull it off onstage. If it doesn’t look young and fun and if it doesn’t sound perfect, the result could be cringeworthy. In the end, I see I Wanna Be A Star outperforming Dance Floor, but only by a few rungs on the leaderboard ladder. I’m thinking 12th-14th, prior to making my official predictions…
Song score 7
Artist score 6
Final score 6.5
Watch it here
Last year….Mariam Mamadashvili’s Mzeo became Georgia’s third JESC winner in ten years of competing. They seriously need to start putting some effort in (#sarcasm).
The 2017 verdict Host entries – at least when they’ve become host entries via their country winning the year before, which isn’t always the case with JESC – have a lot of pressure placed on them to follow in the footsteps of a peak result…or at least not embarrass themselves by failing miserably off the back of a peak result. Whether they’re hosting or not, Georgia is always a country to keep an eye on when Eurovision’s younger sibling drops by, and they’ve proven yet again that they know how this contest works with Grigol and his Voice of the Heart. It’s a more mature song and vocalist combo than usual, and for the third time in a row the lyrics are 100% Georgian (YAASSS for having full confidence in your native language!). It’s almost like a child-friendly version of Versace On The Floor by Bruno Mars – in fact, the structure and 90s R&B sound are so similar I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that it was directly inspired by that track. As such, since I’m a mahusive fan of both Bruno Mars and 90s R&B, VOTH is parked so far up my street it’s actually on someone’s front lawn. It’s not my favourite (or even second favourite) song in the 2017 comp, but I dig everything about it. Great melody, great build into some spectacular vocal runs that I hope to heck Grigol can replicate live, and an easy-listening feel that begs for atmospheric staging feat. spotlights and LED stars. In terms of measuring up to Mzeo, I don’t expect it to, but I am hoping for a decent 5th-8th finish. And when the audience inevitably claps their butts off for this host entry, I will be doing the same thing from my sofa (while simultaneously sobbing because I’m not in Tbilisi with them *sniff*).
Song score 10
Artist score 10
Final score 10
Watch it here
Last year…Don’t pretend you’ve forgotten about Kisses and Dancin’, or that you’ve forgotten the dance moves. I know I haven’t. As irresistible as it was, it didn’t crack the top 5 in Malta – Kisses finished 8th.
The 2017 verdict Variety is the spice of life (apparently) so the Dutch bounce from girl group to boy band is worth a fist bump. We can expect Fource to be choreographed to within an inch of their pre-pubescent lives at JESC, and if their NF performances are anything to go by their vocals will be pretty tight (unless somebody’s voice breaks at the worst possible moment) – but that’s where the similarities between Kisses and Dancin’ and Love Me come to a screeching halt. Love Me, strangely enough, isn’t as instantly loveable as last year’s song, but after a few listens I’d say it’s just as high-quality. It’s more grown-up, and something you’d hear on mainstream radio if it was entirely in English. The chorus is so simple you don’t have a choice but to belt it out along with the boys (so the English that is used has been used very well) and the instrumental breaks are made for slick, crowd-pumping choreography á la the precision kind I mentioned before. Overall, the song’s energetic, modern and strikes a good balance between youthfulness and sophistication. It’s definitely in the middle on the maturity scale, but even so it reminds me of Macedonia’s too-mature-for-JESC entry last year, Love Will Lead Our Way (I guess when your song has ‘love’ in the title, maturity makes sense). I’m only talking in terms of style, but given Macedonia’s less than impressive result in 2016, that is a worry. Is Love Me dynamic enough to be in it to win it? Not quite, but I’m not discounting these guys. The Netherlands don’t always get the points they deserve at Junior, but when they’re on point anything is possible. Fource’s is a performance I’m extra psyched to see because if it’s cohesive, as the only group act in this year’s contest they’ll stand out for the right reasons.
Song score 8
Artist score 10
Final score 9
Watch it here
Last year…Poland returned to JESC for the first time since 2004, reaching 11th place (a big leap from their losing streak of 2003/2004) with Olivia Wieczorek and Nie Zapomnij.
The 2017 verdict I wasn’t sure whether to create an air of mystery around this one or just lay all of my cards on the table right away. Eventually (after .5 of a second) I decided to go for the second option, and tell you that the suit of my cards is hearts all the way because OMG I LOVE THIS!! It is stunning. From the first time I heard that tinkly piano intro, I knew I’d found something special – the one song (because my other faves will have less trouble doing well) that I’d be supporting like a woman possessed. Like Georgia, Poland has opted to leave English out of their entry in favour of exotic, unpronounceable-to-the-untrained-speaker Polish, and it’s used in a melodically spine-tingling ballad that sounds more than a little Balkan at times (scoring major love points from me). I also must mention that masterpiece of a key change which, for a split second, makes crystal-clear vocalist Alicja sound like she’s out of tune until you realise she was just transitioning to a powerful second chorus in a way that would challenge singers twice her age. Speaking of Alicja – she may need to work on her charisma and stage presence a teensy bit, but she does emote enough to give Mój Dom the feels it needs to not look like an adult’s song being sung by a teenager. If someone can give her a shot of confidence and a Cinderella-style costume makeover before she steps on the Junior stage, Poland will have achieved perfection. Unfortunately, they aren’t a sure thing for success. I’m hoping this song will be another Tu Primo Grande Amore (or at least come close) but it could just as easily fall by the wayside, a.k.a. the low side of the scoreboard. My fingers will be crossed – once I’m done voting for it – in the hope that other people get the goosebumps I do when I hear it.
Song score 12
Artist score 8
Final score 10
And Round 1 is DONE! You’ve got to love Junior Eurovision for making the review caseload way lighter than the adult contest does (reviewing 4/16 songs makes you feel much more accomplished than reviewing 4/42 songs).
With the first four JESC 2017 entries criticised (as nicely as possible) and scored by moi, here are the current standings:
- Poland (10)
- Georgia (10)
- The Netherlands (9)
- Cyprus (6.5)
So Grigol just misses out on getting a high five from me in favour of Alicja, whose song I’ve bumped ahead because it’s a little more magical. Will Poland manage to beat Georgia, The Netherlands and Cyprus in the actual contest? Probably not…but a girl can dream.
Before we find out for sure the weekend after next, I want to find out something else from you:
Once you’ve voted, come on down to the comments and let me know how you’d rank the rest of this random, out-of-the-EBJ-hat bunch who are prepping to shine bright in Tbilisi. You know you want to! It’ll help pass the time between now and Round 2 feat. Albania, Italy, Macedonia and Portugal J
Two weeks, people. TWO WEEKS!!! That’s (roughly or exactly, depending on when you’re reading this) how long we have to wait until the first semi final of Eurovision 2017.
That’s 95% wonderful in my mind, with the remaining 5% a result of a) me freaking out because it’s almost been an entire year since I attended my first live contest, and b) me freaking out because I have five more rounds of song reviews and (hopefully) some predictions to post here on EBJ in such a short space of time. SEND HELP.
Today is judgment day for Lindita, Hovig, Triana Park, Jana Burčeska, Claudia Faniello and Timebelle. And before you ask, yes, my mum has come back again to help me review their ESC entries! So without further ado – ‘ado’, as you probably know by now, is code for ‘Jaz-rambling’ – let’s get this party started.
*moonwalks, stacks it on a stray sock and falls to near-death*
My thoughts Anything I say about an Albanian Eurovision entry usually begins with ‘Well, the Albanian version was mysterious and unique and generally great, but the English version…’ – you get my drift. And FYI, Lindita’s World (or The Song Formerly Known As Botë) will be no exception. I really liked the version of the song that won the American Idol alum Festivali I Këngës, because it was so intense and interesting. English – and I know it’s only because I can understand it – has a way of making most of that disappear, particularly if the English lyrics are lame. That’s what it’s done to World, although no change of language could make Lindita herself less of a vocal powerhouse. The melody is still nice and dramatic, and that money note she belts out for what seems like ten straight minutes is still a staggering ‘wow!’ moment. But with Albanian off the menu, the song sounds plain vanilla when it used to be covered in chocolate sprinkles. I understand countries wanting to use English to communicate with more people, but when an artist can invest emotion in their vocal performance like Lindita can, sticking with their native tongue wouldn’t hold them back. Imagine Hungary’s Origo, or even the chorus of 1944, in English. Things wouldn’t pack the same punch with those two songs, would they? I don’t think so. World, to someone who never knew it as Botë, is probably a decent enough power ballad. But even so, I hope Lindita is prepared to fight for a spot in the final, because she’ll be lucky to get there otherwise. 6 points.
My mum says… Someone has a serious set of lungs! I’m guessing you all know the particular part of this song that made me sure of that. As for the rest of (the) World…well, I wasn’t a huge fan at first. It starts off slowly and sounds sort of old-fashioned for a piano ballad. But when it turns from piano ballad to power ballad, the situation improves. I got swept up in the emotion and passion Lindita projects once she gets fired up, which made me appreciate the song more. 6 points.
Albania’s score 6.00
My thoughts As hilarious as it would be to see Hovig carried out on stage by a giant and carefully positioned on a fake rock at Eurovision, it’s a different Gravity to Zlata’s that he’s packing in his suitcase: the Thomas G:son kind. And holy Rag’n’Bone Man rip-offs, it’s amazing! I like to think of it more of an homage to Human rather than a textbook case of plagiarism. It’s also an example of a song that’s better than the last one the artist tried to get to Eurovision with, which often isn’t the case (though I do dig Stone in A River too). From the second that mechanical, hypnotic beat kicks in at the start, I’m hooked. Simply-worded verses lead to the biggest earworm of a chorus in this year’s contest (one that’s instantly memorable thanks to clever rhyming), and both are perfectly suited to Hovig’s strong, slightly gravelly voice. The potential for epic staging is sky-high here, so I hope Cyprus has taken advantage of that and not left the poor guy to just stand centre stage in a spotlight. I do think the song is good enough to shine without gimmicks, but an edgy lighting scheme or some Loïc Nottet-style dancers (slash Cirque du Soleil acrobats, given the possibilities for tricks suggested in the music video) would set the scene and give Gravity the atmosphere it deserves. Either way, I don’t have much more to say about it other than this: if Minus One managed to qualify, then Hovig should too. Oh, and Gravity kicks astronaut ass. And regular, 9-to-5 worker ass. Basically, all ass. 10 points.
My mum says… I liked this straight away – there was no waiting for something exciting to happen. That beat (and the strange sounds that accompany it, which I suspect may be an alien mating call) piqued my interest instantly. There’s great energy all the way through, and the lyrics are interesting enough in their own right to prevent potential boredom. Gravity makes for a refreshing change from the usual love song style, and I wouldn’t mind hearing it again right now! 8 points.
Cyprus’ score 9.00
My thoughts Latvia has come a long, long way since Cake To Bake. Sure, that was sweet (pun intended) but you have to admit that what they’ve sent to the ESC since then has been in a whole different league of contemporary pop awesomeness. Just when we thought that was all down to Aminata’s involvement, along came Triana Park with Line, the third installment in a trilogy of fantastic Latvian tracks (and sequels are supposed to suck!). It’s just SO COOL. Everything from the silky-smooth electronic production to the minimalist, non-cliché lyrical content, bare-bones instrumental hook, and lead singer Agnese’s unique voice and constantly-changing look (the woman is a hair, makeup and clothing chameleon) is what I want to see more countries ship off to the contest. Basically, a package that even the most seasoned ‘Eurovision is crap’ troll would find appealing, or at least very hard to take the piss out of. There is something stopping Line from being one of my favourite songs of the year – maybe the fact that it is quite flat and repetitive (though that’s typical of the genre), or just the fact that I happen to enjoy other entries more. But in terms of measuring up to Love Injected and Heartbeat, it definitely does. The live performance is not as slick as the studio version, which wasn’t an issue for Aminata or Justs, so I don’t think Triana Park will be jury high-flyers. Televoters will go more gaga over Line, I think, so we’ll see if that’s enough to nab Latvia another left-side result on the Saturday night…assuming they make it that far. They sure as heck deserve to. 8 points.
My mum says… This isn’t (totally) my cup of tea. I enjoyed the catchy chorus, but I found the rest of the song monotonous and far too repetitive. It didn’t do much for me at all. The lead singer’s voice didn’t seem to have the same power and appeal as any of the other singers I’ve heard so far. If I’m not the target audience for Line, though, it’ll probably do well because it certainly sounds current. 4 points.
Latvia’s score 6.00
My thoughts Macedonia was one of two countries that really surprised me with their 2017 song, because I was expecting something totally different to what they delivered (I’ll tell you now that the other one was Belgium, but you’ll have to wait and see if I was pleasantly or not-so-pleasantly surprised by City Lights). I’ll confess that I didn’t even have the chance to have a cursory glance at Jana’s musical background/career to date before Dance Alone pirouetted into the picture, but even if I had, I doubt I would have seen such contemporary, radio-friendly pop coming. Not from her or from Mace-Dona-donia! This song is super polished; modern, as I mentioned, but brings the eighties back in a way that Ruffus would approve of; and seems to have been lifted straight from a Spotify playlist called ‘Music To Get Ready For A Night Out To’. It’s unfortunate that, after such a show of ethnicity in Stockholm with Kaliopi, there’s no trace of traditional sounds to be heard here, but given Kaliopi’s failure to even qualify for the final, I don’t blame Macedonia for pinballing in a different direction. With infectious hooks throughout, simple but effective lyrics and a charismatic performer, there’s nothing wrong with Dance Alone. Perhaps that’s my problem, because as much as I like it, I can’t force myself to fall in love with it. It’s so perfect in a plastic-package kind of way, I feel disconnected from it and can’t muster up any strong emotions when I hear it (love, hate or the irresistible urge to dance). There’s always a song competing in Eurovision that I know is a good-quality one, but it ends up in my ‘meh’ pile anyway. I guess this is the 2017 version. 6 points.
My mum says… After listening to this, I might have to make the pavement my catwalk too! It’s a cool pop song that had me moving to the music very quickly, and I can’t deny that’s a sign of something being up my alley. The whole thing is infectious (in a good way – no need for face masks) and I can’t think of anything to complain about. Well done, Macedonia. 8 points.
Macedonia’s score 7.00
My thoughts I am so horrified by Malta’s downgrade from Walk On Water to Breathlessly (albeit a downgrade from a Swedish-made song to a Maltese-made song, which is not the horrifying part) that I can’t even contain myself enough to write a suspenseful intro that keeps you wondering WTF I think of Claudia’s entry for a line or six. When I first heard it, she’d already won – MESC was one national final I had to sacrifice acquainting myself with until it was over (thanks, adult commitments). I actually couldn’t believe that Malta had willingly chosen to send such a dated, dull and overly-dramatic ballad to Eurovision, straight after serving up slayage with Ira Losco. Over time, my despise has turned to tolerance (so long as I’m in a generous mood) but Breathlessly is still right near the rear end of my overall ranking. It’s something that belongs in the credits of a mid-1990s romantic drama movie starring Kevin Costner and Julia Roberts – not a highly competitive song contest in 2017. If that’s not enough to turn you off, how about the creepy lyrical content seemingly written from an unhinged stalker’s perspective? ‘I’ll be watching you, breathlessly’? Watching me call the cops! Okay, so maybe I wouldn’t do that to Claudia, who seems like a cool person, does the song justice vocally and looks stunning in the music video. But not only does she deserve a better song to go to the ESC with, she’s had better songs to go to the ESC with. It’s too bad her time has finally come with an entry that will struggle to break free from the semi final. 4 points.
My mum says… ‘Terribly ballady’ were the words that came to mind when I was listening to Claudia go on and on and on, feeling like a psychiatrist she should be paying by the minute. The subject matter of the song doesn’t seem that sad and miserable, but it made me feel really down in the dumps which is NOT how I like music to affect me. If there was more variety in the mood or the lyrics, it’d be better, but Breathlessly flatlines. I don’t think I’ll bother firing up the defibrillator and trying to revive it. 3 points.
Malta’s score 3.5
My thoughts There’s one thing I have to get out of my system before I talk about Timebelle’s Apollo, and that is the all-important subject matter of how FREAKING BEAUTIFUL (I hope Robin Bengtsson hasn’t trademarked that phrase) lead singer Miruna is. If she just stood on stage for three minutes doing nothing but batting her eyelashes at the camera, I wouldn’t be able to look away – and I say this as a straight female. She can sing and stuff too, I know, but…hashtag hottie. Right, I’ve said it. Now, The Song! Apollo, for me, is a step up from Timebelle’s last Swiss NF entry Singing About Love (although they are once again singing about love). Sure, it could have been a minor radio hit five or ten years ago, but I don’t think this sort of ballad style dates too badly. I really like every element of it, even in 2017 – the tune, the dynamic way that softer verses build up to big, dramatic choruses, the lyrics (which are simple but not too simple, and just about cliché-free)…and how’s ‘I’ll follow you, Apollo’ for a lyrical hook? Well, you might think it sucks, but I think it makes the song even more instant. Overall, it’s memorable enough – and will be well-performed enough – to squeeze into the second semi’s top 10, but that’s not a given. ‘Enough’ isn’t always enough (if that makes any sense) in a competitive environment, and I can see why Switzerland might miss out just as easily as they could slip through to the final. Either way, they’re guaranteed to improve on Rykka’s result from last year (lest we forget the blue perm and boob-smoke). 7 points.
My mum says… Now here’s a ballad I can get on board with. It’s uplifting, easy to sing along to and just poppy enough to put some pep in your step. The steps taken when following Apollo, obviously. I think Malta should take notes during the lesson Professor Switzerland delivers in Ukraine! 8 points.
Switzerland’s score 7.5
18 down, 24 (possibly plus-one, if I decide the flame is indeed burning) to go! Here’s the ranking after today’s reviews:
- Cyprus (9.00)
- Switzerland (7.5)
- Macedonia (7.00)
- Latvia (6.00)
- Albania (6.00)
- Malta (3.5)
I’m happy to announce Hovig as the winner of this round. Will he find himself on top – or at least close to the top – of any other upcoming leaderboards? I can hardly stand the suspense. I don’t think there’s a lot of suspense in wondering what will happen to last-placed Malta, but then again, the ESC always manages to provide us with some shocks (you haven’t forgotten about Greta-gate already, have you?).
How would you rank the entries my mum and I judged this time? Let us know in the comments. I love knowing who agrees and disagrees with my opinions so I know who I’m buying a birthday present for – and who I’m so NOT – this year…
If you’re enjoying the Jaz + Mrs. Jaz Judgments so far, then stay tuned for the next installment. We’ll be taking on some big hitters in the form of Bulgaria, France, Italy, Romania, Serbia and Sweden. The bookies rate (some of) them very highly, but will we? Look out for our thoughts on Kristian, Alma, Francesco, Ilinca & Alex Florea, Tijana and Robin to go live if you want to find out!
Junior Eurovision isn’t for everyone. I totally get that.
But attention, anti-fans: did you know that your aversion to watching tweenagers/teenagers do pretty much what the grown-ups do in May each November (only on a smaller scale and with the occasional mid-song onset of puberty) is depriving you of terrific tunes that could be added to your ESC and NF season playlists?
If your answer to that is ‘No! Please fix that for me immediately if not sooner, Jaz!’, then fear not – I’ve got you covered.
As a starting point, I’ve sifted through the seventeen songs that competed in Junior Eurovision 2016 last Sunday, and singled out the most mature, non-stereotypically JESC entries of the year. The following five songs are the ones I’d recommend you have a listen to if you’ve found mini-Eurovision too young to warm to in the past, but have a reasonably open mind and wouldn’t recoil in horror at the prospect of giving a few participants a chance to win you over.
Those of you who are JESC fans should feel free to scan this list too, and make your own recommendations from contests past and present in the comments. Together, we can brainwash bring people around to our super-cool way of thinking…
CYPRUS | Dance Floor by George Michaelides
Could be a Eurovision entry from…Sakis Rouvas, Loukas Giorkas & Stereo Mike
Why you should press play Just in case the title of this track didn’t clue you in, it’s the sort of song that will have your butt moving to the energetic, ethno-dance beat before your brain has even processed what’s happening. Because Sakis Rouvas himself is probably too stiff in the joints these days to return to Eurovision – with a banger like Dance Floor, anyway – you might want to familiarise yourself with the sound of his likely successor.
MACEDONIA | Love Will Lead Our Way by Martija Stanojković
Could be a Eurovision entry from…Elena Risteska, Poli Genova
Why you should press play There are always songs competing at JESC that really put the word ‘Junior’ into Junior Eurovision. Martija’s is the opposite of that. What you hear and what you see (should you watch her performance from last weekend) are both far more suited to the adult contest. If you tend to shy away from young-sounding voices and songs, and/or if you’re a fan of on-trend, radio-friendly tropical pop, then Love Will Lead Our Way is the way to go!
POLAND | Nie Zapomnij by Olivia Wieczorek
Could be a Eurovision entry from… Eva Boto, Pastora Soler, Polina Gagarina
Why you should press play Who doesn’t love a classic, money-note-filled power ballad when it’s done right? Poland’s return to JESC after over a decade away brought with it a beautifully written and executed effort (emanating national anthem-esque, military-march vibes) that struck a perfect balance between youthful innocence and mature sophistication. Nie Zapomnij beats a whole bunch of ballads that have made it to the ESC recently, so I highly recommend it.
RUSSIA | Water of Life by The Water of Life Project
Could be a Eurovision entry from…Tinkara Kovač, Zlata Ognevich
Why you should press play Because I’m biased, and since I absolutely adore this song, YOU SHOULD TOO! Seriously though, it’s a humdinger feat. everything one could possibly want in an adult Eurovision entry. It’s ethnic and modern; builds gradually and powerfully; mixes soft moments with explosive moments, making it exciting; and features a few run-throughs of the chorus in English, so those of us whose tongues won’t wrap around Russian can still sing along.
UKRAINE | Planet Craves For Love by Sofia Rol
Could be a Eurovision entry from…Mika Newton
Why you should press play Hanging onto Macedonia’s heels in the ‘maybe this should have been submitted for Kyiv?’ stakes is Ukraine, with this dreamy mid-tempo ballad. It’s an interesting (some would say boring, but decide for yourself) composition that doesn’t follow a bog-standard formula, and it has the ability to transport you to another place – the set of The Lord of the Rings, for example. It’s not for everyone, but it is more geared towards grown-ups than kids.
And that’s my chosen five. If you braved a viewing/listening session on any of the above entries for the first time, let me know what you thought of them. If you’re JESC 2016-savvy already, let me know how I went selecting the songs that might just convince the haters that Junior is worth watching. And of course, if there’s anything else you want to say about the contest we’ve just witnessed – won for the third time by Georgia – go for it. I’m not ready to stop talking about it yet!
Until next time…
Welcome to the day all of us Junior Eurovision fans have been waiting for since the conclusion of the adult contest in Stockholm: show day!
In a matter of hours, the 2016 edition kicks off in Valletta, and I couldn’t be more excited if I tried (and I have). I hope you are too – I don’t want to be the only one on the planet who’s pretty close to peeing their pants.
Let’s leap straight in to the stuff I promised to cover in the title of this post, because a) I don’t want the show to start before I’ve even made my predictions, and b) I want to distract you from the fact that I just admitted to being close to wetting myself (I must have temporarily mistaken the slogan of JESC 2016 for #embarrass). So here are some rankings and predictions for your reading pleasure (fingers crossed).
Calculated and complete: The EBJ Junior Jury’s Top 17 for 2016 (plus my personal pre-show ranking, just because)
Just as the countdown to the contest itself was on this week, so too was the countdown to the unveiling of the EBJJJ’s post-review ranking (well, it was in my mind, anyway). After four rounds of reviews and mini-rankings, it’s time for me to pull the Cloth of Intrigue away with a magician-like flourish, and let you see who ended up where. Voila!
So there you have it. Russia, after scoring more sets of douze than any other country, takes first place, followed by Armenia, Serbia, Bulgaria and Macedonia. Poor Cyprus (and I am a little outraged by this) were relegated to rock bottom, which I hope will not be the case after the actual show is over. I’ll probably do a quick analysis this week of how the actual results compared to the EBJJJ version, so keep an eye out for that – the differences are sure to be drastic!
In case you were curious, here’s my personal ranking as of right this second. I got my way a few times, and I didn’t even have to rig anything. Woohoo!
- The Netherlands
How does yours compare, and what do you think of the EBJJJ’s collective Top 17? Let us know in the comments below.
Bets on (but not literally): Predicting the winner, loser and all of the results in-between
I say ‘not literally’ because I’ve never been confident enough in my predicting powers to gamble any of my savings on them. Removing money from the equation takes some of the pressure off, but I’ve got to say – I thought the absence of televoting would make trying to foresee the results easier, but it really makes it harder!
The outcome of JESC has never been decided by 100% jury voting before, so it’s impossible to say with certainty (unless you’re psychic) what will happen in a few hours’ time, and what happened as a result of yesterday’s jury final. Who knows how each jury will react/reacted to each performance? Not me, that’s for sure. But when it comes to the following questions, I have made the effort to come up with some answers…
FTW? Bulgaria. Yes, ladies and gents – for the first time in my history of being a Eurovision fan, I am calling this one outright (instead of super-gluing the seat of my pants to the fence by predicting at least three countries to win). I’ve only very recently had the feeling, especially after hearing reports on the rehearsals, that Bulgaria may be about to win their first ever Eurovision event – just six months after Poli Genova achieved their best result yet. My reasoning behind this is pretty simple: I think Valsheben Den is one of the few competing songs (if not the only one) that offers something to all three juries. I can also clearly see the credits rolling over a reprise from Lidia, which is often a good indication of a song’s potential to win (as stupid as it sounds). She’s adorable and engaging, her vocals and her costume (from the little I’ve heard and seen) are on point/fleek, and the song is catchy, memorable and uplifting. WHOLE PACKAGE ALERT! They may not be boasting my absolute favourite entry of JESC 2016, but I would be perfectly happy to witness Bulgaria win with what they do have.
Dark horse FTW? Poland. It’s time for a beautifully-sung ballad to win again, basically, and if it isn’t the up-tempo, inspirational, almost tribal ballad from Bulgaria, I have a sneaking suspicion that it could be Poland’s more traditional number. There was something magical about Nie Zapomnij from the start, and it has continued to grow on me and give me THE FEELING ever since. The pathway to victory is more mountainous for Poland than for Bulgaria, so that’s why I see Olivia as the dark horse to Lidia’s bright, white prancing pony. But watch out for this one, guys. If it doesn’t go all the way, it’ll at least outrank both of Poland’s previous results – and outscore both of their existing point totals.
The rest of the top five? Armenia, Russia, Macedonia. Armenia are better at being the bridesmaid than they are at being the bride, which is nothing to be ashamed of. Last year, I was convinced Mika would come second despite having everything required for a win, and I was right (for once). I have a similar feeling about Anahit & Mary – though really, anywhere in the 2nd-5th range of positions could come easily to them. Russia would be my ideal pick to emerge on top as Water of Life is my absolute favourite entry…but nobody’s talking about them as a potential winner anymore, and something is crooked enough about the chemistry and all-around appeal of the group and song on the JESC stage to convince me that it’s just not to be *wails like Rona Nishliu at a funeral*. Predicting Macedonia to make the top five may be a bit ambitious on my part (as I’m not sure the older jurors will go for it) but it deserves to be towards the top. If Martija doesn’t even grace the top ten with her presence, I will personally take it upon myself to beat up Jedward with an oversized can of hairspray (even if it wasn’t their fault).
The lower left-hand side of the scoreboard? Georgia, Malta, Belarus, Italy. We’re talking 6th-9th places here, so just out of the top-ten-in-adult-Eurovision equivalent that is the top five. Georgia, if I’m honest and all of a sudden, could actually win (as it turns out, Mzeo is kind of epic and has been getting the round of applause to end all rounds of applause during rehearsals), but if they don’t, I think they’ll drop down to about 6th. Malta (my least favourite) will no doubt get a boost as the home country, but I just don’t think Parachute has the substance to squeeze into the top five á la Federica’s Diamonds in 2014. Belarus would be in with a better chance if televoting was happening (hello, hoverboards!) but as the situation stands, they may have to settle for less. I think Italy’s class will win over the adult juries to an extent, and perhaps the expert juries too, unless Cara Mamma is completely overshadowed by other ballads.
The upper right-hand side of the scoreboard? Israel, The Netherlands, Cyprus, Australia, Serbia. Each of these countries has something that’s likely to stop them from steamrolling over a lot of their rivals. For Israel, it’s going up against arguably stronger and more memorable ballads. For The Netherlands, it’s racking up the points when their song is geared more towards the kids’ jury than any of the others. For Cyprus, it’s bypassing the potential jury opinion that Dance Floor lacks the technicality of a worthy winner. For Australia, it’s the same issue Israel will have, as well as a general lack of ‘wow’ factor. And for Serbia, it’s an underwhelming presentation that has been closely compared to the superior one from Belarus. Together, they’ve got about 99 problems, and making it over to the left side of the scoreboard is definitely one.
Right at rock bottom? Albania, Ukraine, Ireland. It causes me physical pain to predict such low places for two of these countries, but I really do think they’ll all have trouble capturing substantial votes from any of the juries – Ukraine and Ireland in particular. I’d love to be proven wrong and see Albania and Ukraine perform better, but I’m preparing myself for the worst.
These predictions – plus some highly scientific calculations which involved guessing which entries would appeal to which jury (kids, adults and/or expert) – come together to create a leaderboard that looks like this:
- The Netherlands
I reserve the right to delete this and pretend I never produced it if the real results are vastly different.
Do you agree or disagree with my guesses? Is there an obvious, in-the-bag winner in your opinion, or are we in for a shock that has all of our jaws on the floor?
Finally – the five things I’m most looking forward to seeing when JESC meets Malta again!
Because ten’s too many, and one would just be lazy.
- Finding out how Malta has approached JESC in 2016 versus how they approached it in 2014. Will it be similar, yet somehow very different – and in many ways, so much better – as with the ESC in Malmö VS in Stockholm?
- Finally checking out the performances from my favourites – and some of my non-favourites – after not watching any of the rehearsals in order to maintain an element of surprise. Russia, Poland, Macedonia, Cyprus and Australia (obviously) are among the countries I can’t wait to see on the stage for the first time.
- Werking it when Poli Genova does her duty as an interval act. There’s no doubt she’ll bring back fond memories of the awkward white girl dancing I did during her opening party set at the Euroclub in May. SUCH GOOD TIMES.
- Seeing some familiar faces back on the JESC stage – albeit as spokespersons when the adult jury points are announced. The 2015 artists who have been chosen to make a comeback of sorts are Mika from Armenia, Misha Smirnov from Russia, Ruslan Aslanov from Belarus (my winner of last year) and Anna Trincher from Ukraine. Reigning JESC champ Destiny Chukunyere will also be there to announce the kids jury results (after joining Poli as an interval act) and it’s always great to see her smiling face.
- Watching the results unfold in a year with no precedent for what will take place. Honestly, I’ve based a big chunk of this post on wild guesses because I have no clue what the ending to the JESC 2016 story will be. It could be a happy one, if Russia, Bulgaria, Armenia or Poland take the win (to name a few); or an unhappy one, if Malta manage to do the double with a song that would be the Running Scared to Not My Soul’s Euphoria, if you know what I mean. I’m practically dying of curiosity at this point, so bring it on, Valletta!
What are you most looking forward to this afternoon/tonight/tomorrow morning/whenever? As long as it’s Junior Eurovision-related, I want to know. Although if it’s about your dog, I’m happy to have a conversation about that too.
Wherever you are and however you’re tuning in, I hope you have a very merry JESC, and get the results of your dreams (unless they’re different to the results of my dreams, in which case SCREW YOU I WANT IT TO GO MY WAY OR THE HIGHWAY!!!).
Enjoy the show.
Bonjour, people who don’t hate song contests for kids aged 10-14! I’m back, and so is the EBJ Junior Jury. We’re just over a week away from setting foot on Maltese soil (metaphorically…most of the people actually attending who I hate with a passion will be touching down well before then) and finding the fourteenth winner of the Junior Eurovision Song Contest. Will it be one of the countries the EBJJJ and I are reviewing and ranking today?
The countries in question are Bulgaria, Cyprus, Ireland and Russia. That’s a mixed bag of competitors who’ve often dominated the contest, have recently proved to be worth watching, or who’ve just joined the party and are still finding their feet. Read on to find out what me and my slaves – I mean, scoring buddies – think of what’s on offer from Lidia, George, Zena and Sofia, and whether any of them have a chance of taking the most precious trophy on the planet back home to their parents’ display cabinet.
My thoughts I’m not sure how Bulgaria stumbled across the formula for JESC success, but they’ve definitely done it. I actually reckon they’ve always had it up their sleeve, despite that not being reflected in their results 100% of the time. Since their second comeback in 2014, they’ve put extra effort into their entries, and it’s easy to forget that they didn’t actually win with Krisia, Hasan & Ibrahim last time Junior traveled to Malta. So can they replicate Planet of the Children’s stellar second place with the more upbeat – and in a lot of ways, just as impressive – Magical Day? Let’s just say I wouldn’t complain if they did. And then say more stuff, because that hardly constitutes a comprehensive song review. This song is absolutely adorable, and so is Lidia (so say dobŭr den to a cuteness overload). It’s so happy and heartwarming, nobody could hate it (unfeeling, soulless psychopaths aside), and with that Gravity-like tribal beat helping it strike a balance between youthful and mature, it never feels too sugary even though it is very sweet. As with Armenia’s song, the English lyrics that finish this off are thematically predictable, but well-written enough to make them a benefit rather than a detriment to the entry. The verses are pretty and the chorus is catchier than a beach ball covered in super glue. Basically, Bulgaria has kicked butt once again, and I hope the juries reward them for it (assuming that all of the other elements of the entry are up to par when it counts). Surely even Christer Björkman will defrost during Lidia’s performance?
My score 10
The EBJ Junior Jury says…
- Dara, Australia – 6
- James, UK – 8
- Joshua, Australia – 5
- Matthew, Ireland – 7
- Michael, Australia – 8
- Penny, USA – 8
- Rory, Ireland – 12
My thoughts Cyprus has been doing the hokey-pokey with JESC lately: one year they’re in, the next they’re out. They made a cracking comeback in 2014 only to be robbed of the top five placing they undoubtedly deserved (don’t try to argue with me on this. I have claws and I’m not afraid to use them!). Then they opted to stay home rather than send someone to Sofia in 2015. Now, in 2016, they’re back again, and I’d like to say it’s with a bang…but I just can’t. Don’t get me wrong – there’s a lot to like about George’s Dance Floor. The title certainly vouches for its unflagging energy, which is a welcome relief from all of the ballads in the comp. It even helps the song stand out next to the likes of Armenia, The Netherlands and Malta, thanks to the intensity of the beat and an ethnopop aura that Sakis Rouvas would be proud of. The verses are also a strong point, with their melody promising good things. Unfortunately, those promises are swiftly snapped in half by a chorus that can best be described as a non-event. It is cool to hear something so minimalist in JESC, but there’s probably a reason why that kind of approach is rarely taken in this context. Plus, this particular bare-bones, mostly musical chorus is the weakest, least memorable part of the song when it should be the opposite. Based on how catchy and unique the verses are, it’s disappointing to have the rest not measure up to the same standard. I won’t write Cyprus off as total failures yet, since a sensational live performance – feat. the difficult combo of excellent vocals and dance moves from George – could secure them a better result than the song alone would. But, prior to seeing how Mr. Michaelides will tackle his JESC trip and discovering where he’s sandwiched in the running order, I’m thinking they’re in trouble.
My score 6
The EBJ Junior Jury says…
- Dara, Australia – 3
- James, UK – 4
- Joshua, Australia – 1
- Matthew, Ireland – 4
- Michael, Australia – 3
- Penny, USA – 6
- Rory, Ireland – 3
My thoughts It’s fantastic to have Ireland – a country I never thought we’d see in JESC once upon a time – back for attempt number two at finding a kid who can outshine a bunch of other kids from across the continent (and Australia). As they did for their debut, Ireland put actual, televised effort into choosing their entry this year, via a national final of Melodifestivalen proportions (at least in terms of its length). The fruit of their labour was Zena Donnelly and Bríce Ar Bhrice, and together, singer and song have potential…to not finish last. In a departure from Aimee Banks’ classical stylings, this song is pure and simple pop (feat. a tinge of folksiness), and it’s nice enough to listen to. But it never explodes into something spectacular. There’s always a song or two like this participating in JESC (not to mention the handful that appear at adult Eurovision) but they don’t tend to compete very well – they don’t have the spark required to really fight for a good finish. I think Zena’s song is lacking that x factor. Remember The Netherlands’ entry from last year, Shalisa’s Million Lights? That was the same sort of radio-friendly, inoffensive, contemporary-but-not-cutting-edge pop song that is enjoyable, but wasn’t expected to set the scoreboard alight. As such, I could easily make a case for Ireland slotting into the 14th-16th results range next weekend. Personally, I do like this track, but I don’t love it – and if the jury members feel the same way, then Ireland will miss out on hearing their country’s name and ‘twelve points!’ called out in the same sentence. Unless that sentence is ‘Our twelve points go to…someone other than Ireland’. But good luck to the Emerald Isle anyway. I invite them to prove me wrong!
My score 6
The EBJ Junior Jury says…
- Dara, Australia – 7
- James, UK – 8
- Joshua, Australia – 7
- Matthew, Ireland – 7
- Michael, Australia – 10
- Penny, USA – 8
- Rory, Ireland – 6
My thoughts I could harp on about Russia’s JESC history, and how they came to be sending Sofia and Team Water of Life (that’s #teamwateroflife on social media, because if it can’t be hashtagged, does it even exist?) to Malta, et cetera, all in order to maintain a sense of mystery before I actually unveil my verdict on Water of Life. But I won’t. Not when I can get straight to the point by saying that I am completely, utterly, 110% head-over-heels in love with this song. It’s my favourite this year by a mile, and I’ll be cheering Russia on to win the whole contest without doubt. The package of this entry is the most well-wrapped, delightfully-decorated one in the pile, and it contains everything I’m looking for in a competition song. It’s exotic without being inaccessible, as a pop-power ballad punctuated by that ethnic riff; it’s melodic, with the verses melting into the pre-chorus and then into the chorus itself effortlessly; it’s powerful and dynamic, especially now Sofia’s being vocally and visually supported by other singers; it’s memorable, with a chorus that sticks in your mind even in Russian….I mean, I need to be forcibly restrained from complimenting it any further! But since nobody’s here to do that, I’ll carry on. The revamp that added the other girls to the line-up, mixed up the language and switched the title from Zhivaya Voda to Water of Life improved on perfection, retaining the essence of what led the song to win the Russian selection in the first place. And I’m pretty sure it’s going to look great on the JESC stage: it’s a song big enough to fill the space, and would have been even if Sofia had gone solo. I’m only worried about what it might sound like live, as four voices are harder to whip into shape than one, and we’re yet to hear Sofia AND The Water of Life Project in action outside of a recording studio. But I’m so biased at this point, I’m going to pretend that a dodgy vocal performance isn’t even a possibility. Water of Life is Belarus’ Sokal from 2014 – a song I also loved – but even better, with a greater chance of winning. As you’ll have figured out by now (both because I implied it and actually said so), I hope it does. At the very least, a repeat result from one Eurovision event to the next should be in store for Russia. But their bronze from Stockholm really deserves to become gold in Valletta.
My score 12
The EBJ Junior Jury says…
- Dara, Australia – 12
- James, UK – 12
- Joshua, Australia – 12
- Matthew, Ireland – 12
- Michael, Australia – 12
- Penny, USA – 10
- Rory, Ireland – 5
Eight down, nine to go! Time flies when you’re being too harsh on children and their musical talents (or lack thereof). Let’s have a look at the ranking for this round of reviews, shall we?
- Russia (10.87)
- Bulgaria (8)
- Ireland (7.37)
- Cyprus (3.75)
Clearly the best was saved for last today, with Russia steamrolling straight into the top spot. Last year’s host country Bulgaria snap up second place, not too far ahead of second-timers Ireland. Poor Cyprus falls far behind in what could be an unfortunate foreshadowing of their actual result.
Stay tuned to find out how these figures fit in to the EBJJJ’s full ranking, which will be revealed alongside my predictions for the show next Sunday. Before that time comes, there’s more critiquing to be done – and next time, it’s Albania, Belarus, Italy and Malta’s turn to be judged. You won’t want to miss it, because it’s obviously going to be an irresistible hybrid of hilarious witticisms and high-class journalism.
*cricket chirps/throat-clearing/clusters of tumbleweed a’ tumbling*