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THE 2018 EBJ EUROVISION EXCELLENCE AWARDS | The Performances

Hello there. Remember me? After the longest ad break in history (and after breaking my vow to finish these awards by the time the Eurovision 2018 DVD was released, OOPS), I’m finally back with the second EBJEE presentation segment.

This time, the trophies re: all things performance-wise will be presented, including three more People’s Choice Awards. That means everything from drama levels to dance moves, money notes and costume choices is about to be honoured by yours truly (and by you truly…I had no part in deciding the People’s Choice winners, obviously). So without any more ado than I’ve already adone, let’s get this party started!

 

 

 

Winner Denmark Honourable Mention/s Belarus, Ukraine

Okay, so you’re not going to find Rasmussen and his bearded stagefellows on Coronation Street or the Bold and the Beautiful (for starters, their acting skills are too superior). But they went beyond the small screen and straight onto the silver screen with the cinematic level of drama they served up in Lisbon. Intense smouldering stares, manly stomping and a fake snowstorm that whipped all that hair back and forth majestically…what more could you want? If a Scandinavian hipster version of Pirates of the Caribbean was ever produced, this is what it would look like.

 

 

Winner Germany Honourable Mention/s Italy

I asked you guys to vote for the most totes emosh (DID I JUST TYPE THAT?!?) three minutes of Eurovision 2018, and you delivered by crowning Michael Schulte’s tribute to his late father the winner of this tearjerking People’s Choice trophy. I’m not about to argue, even though I didn’t “feel it” with You Let Me Walk Alone until the ESC performance rolled around, feat. backdrop photos and lyrics that made the message extra clear. But hey, all the feels were present and accounted for when it mattered most.

 

 

Winner Estonia Honourable Mention/s Armenia

This gong goes to a performance that had the hairs standing up on the back of my neck, goosebumps popping up on my arms and of course, tingles shooting up and down my spine. I don’t know about the rest of you, but Elina Nechayeva’s haunting delivery of La Forza came straight to my doorstep in Chillsville and affected me from top to toe. At one point I actually thought I was having an aneurysm and considered calling an ambulance, but then I realised it was just the glass-shattering notes messing with my middle ear.

 

 

Winner Honourable Ukraine Mention/s Ireland, Norway

Who knew a piano could be so multifunctional until Mélovin gave us that stellar live demonstration? It’s handy for anyone musical who can only afford to live in a tiny studio apartment to know that there’s an instrument that can double as a bed. What a space-saver! Mélovin, of course, was using it more as a coffin (or according to the artist himself, as a uterus from which he was birthed in a matter of seconds…seriously). But each to their own.

 

 

Winner Moldova’s human storage cabinet Honourable Mention/s Estonia, Sweden, Ukraine

Here’s another People’s Choice Award I’d struggle to argue with. Moldova (or ‘Russia 2.0’, as they were known this year) clearly have no qualms about sourcing stage props at Ikea: first it was the mirrors from the Moldovan NF, then the super-sized cabinet they lugged to Lisbon. But there’s nothing wrong with that. It often happens that the simplest things are the most effective, and DoReDoS proved that spectacularly.

When one door closes, another one opens…frantically, in Moldova’s case.

 

 

Winner Moldova Honourable Mention/s Cyprus, Denmark

Speaking of Moldova…it wasn’t just the furniture they used that made My Lucky Day so successful. The DoReDoS doppelgangers played a big part in that too. What would this performance have been without them? An extra enthusiastic high five goes to the guy who had to swap his shoes for heels at one point (I’m not ashamed to admit I have still have leg envy).

 

 

Winner Sweden Honourable Mention/s Cyprus, Moldova

I gave this award to Sweden last year, and I’m doing it again for a similar reason. Both Robin Bengtsson (and his backing dancers) and Benjamin Ingrosso didn’t just bust a move on or around a stage prop, but with a stage prop – and both performances were flawless. In Benjamin’s case, he was working in harmony with lighting, and transported us to an ultra-cool nightclub where sneakers are in the dress code and slick dance moves are mandatory.

 

 

Winner Norway Honourable Mention/s Italy

The cartoon instruments, question marks and soccer balls etc scribbled on screen by Norway added an element of cute to Alexander Rybak’s performance that made it seem all the more appropriate for Junior Eurovision – but I wouldn’t have ditched them from his adult Eurovision stage show. Without that little extra something, That’s How You Write A Song live wouldn’t have been quite so memorable (marginally…it still would have had Eurovision’s biggest runaway winner ever fronting it, after all).

 

 

Winner Israel Honourable Mention/s Belarus, Finland

It’s often said that less is more, but at the ESC more is more just as frequently. We bounced from a bare-bones winner in 2017 to the opposite in 2018 with Netta – not the performer who threw the absolute most at their stage show, but the most successful one to make things flamboyant. Lights, lucky cats, crazy costumes, clucking backup dancers, explosions…just the basics for Israel’s three minutes.

 

 

Winner Cyprus Honourable Mention/s Denmark, Ukraine

When it comes to the most perfect package deals of this year’s contest – where vocals and visuals were so on point you could practically cut yourself – nobody was as flawless as Cyprus. Armed with a Swarovski crystal-studded catsuit, a quartet of dancers almost as fierce as herself and a slick Sacha Jean-Baptiste staging concept, Eleni did no wrong. She proved to everyone skeptical of her abilities to perform live (I used to be) that she’s worth the hype.

 

 

Winner Germany Honourable Mention/s Italy, United Kingdom

Germany’s was the highest-scoring performance of the Big 5, and you guys clearly agreed that their 4th place was earned with this People’s Choice pick. To be honest, I think all of the automatic qualifiers put their best possible foot forward this year, which didn’t pay off all round. But Germany won’t be worrying about that when they can just sit back and languish in their success.

 

 

Winner Eleni Foureira Honourable Mention/s Amaia, Saara Aalto

I’ve already mentioned Eleni’s catsuit in passing, but as ladies’ costumes in Lisbon go it’s worth an award all of its own. Leaving just enough to the imagination, combining crystals with leather and being just as hot as Fuego called for, this outfit couldn’t have been better (cat) suited for Cyprus in 2018. It should be displayed in the Louvre in close proximity to the Mona Lisa. Or at least in the Eurovision section at Stockholm’s ABBA Museum.

 

 

Winner Benjamin Ingrosso Honourable Mention/s Cesár Sampson

I have a bias towards anything and everything Scandinavian, including the fashion – so don’t be surprised by this pick. As unsure as I still am re: Benjamin’s shoe choice, he did pull the look off. Plus, the positives of his toned-down-from-Melfest jacket selection and the decision to actually wear said jacket like a normal person this time outweighed any negatives.

 

 

Winner Marija Ivanovska (Eye Cue) Honourable Mention/s Vanja Radovanović

There was no competition here, really. I’m struggling to think of another fashion disaster from the entirety of ESC history as momentous as this one from Macedonia. Neither of Marija’s outfits even sound good on paper – a shiny pink tuxedo jacket feat. armpit cutouts worn backwards, followed by a wildly unflattering knitted playsuit? NOPE. As gorgeous as she is, nobody could make those work. A Barbara Dex Award well deserved.

 

 

Winner Elina Nechayeva Honourable Mention/s Saara Aalto

There hasn’t been an ESC female vocal as consistently faultless and hauntingly beautiful as Elina’s since Jamala’s, so I had to hand this trophy her way. ‘DAMN, GIRL!’ are the words that come to my mind every time she opens her mouth. What she can do with her vocal cords is beyond belief, and I’m 50% amazed, 50% jealous (she’s two months younger than me, FFS).

 

 

Winner Eugent Bushpepa Honourable Mention/s Sevak Khanagyan, Waylon

I don’t know how you solve a problem like Maria (musical theatre reference alert) but I do know how you fill an arena like Eugent: by singing your ASS off. This guy can project his powerful voice for miles without seeming to break a sweat, and I could listen to him do it all day long. Even among the numerous other strong male voices of the year, he stood out.

 

 

Winner Amaia y Alfred Honourable Mention/s Equinox, Iriao

I’m sensing this could be a controversial choice (as controversial as I get, anyway). Alfred, I’ll admit, is the weak link in this pair, but I actually like how his raw-edged vocal blends with Amaia’s delicate, high-clarity diamond of a voice. They were never fighting each other for the spotlight (which happened a bit with Equinox), instead balancing each other out.

 

 

Winner Elina Nechayeva Honourable Mention/s Örs Siklósi (AWS), Netta

Estonia’s opera diva strikes again! You know someone’s impressive when there’s not one, not two, but a whole bunch of mind-blowing notes peppering their performance. I don’t think I need to justify this one any further.

 

 

Winner Moldova Honourable Mention/s Germany

Every national final winner has at least two months between their crowning moment and Eurovision to pimp their performance and polish any questionable vocals. Some don’t change a thing when they really should, some don’t because they don’t need to…and then there’s countries like Moldova, who (with that Russian input) took a perfectly adequate NF stage show and transformed it into something none of us will forget in a hurry. DoReDoS said that body talk is magic, but so was their performance.

 

 

That’s all for today, peeps…but what do you think of the winners? Which Portuguese performances deserved these EBJEE trophies in your eyes? Let me know below – then prepare yourselves for the final (very late) lot of my Eurovision awards for the year, feat. The Show and The Results!

 

 

 

 

THE EBJ EUROVISION 2018 REVIEWS: Round 3 (Albania, Finland, Greece, Lithuania + Moldova)

Good *insert time of day here*, guys. In a plot twist that everyone saw coming, I’m back with more Eurovision 2018 reviews – and with rehearsals for this year’s contest kicking off NEXT WEEKEND (how did this happen?), I have zero time for one of my traditional rambling intros. Lucky you.

Speaking of you…if you saw the title of this post and decided it was worth a look, then you’re probably wondering what I think of Eugent, Saara, Yianna, Ieva and DoReDos – plus the musical offerings they’re bringing to Lisbon’s mahusive potluck dinner. Keep reading if you want to stop wondering! Then, as always, you can pick your personal fave of the five (scroll for the poll) and share your ranking in the comments. I know you want to…

 

 

My thoughts Way back in ye olde 2017, Eugent’s Mall became the first song to be selected for Eurovision 2018 (if I remember rightly). It’s a typical move for Albania, with Festivali I Këngës always falling during the festive season. The plus side is that Albanian entries have more time to grow on us and/or be reworked; the downside is that sometimes they don’t age like a fine wine so much as like a loaf of bread. So is Mall, all those months later, a drop of something delicious or a stale loaf of sourdough? And why do I constantly compare music to food? I can’t answer that second question TBH, but I can tell you that for me, this song is somewhere in the middle of awesome and awful. I think it’s quite wallpaper-like: imagine this year’s contest as a room, with Israel being the avant-garde statement armchair and San Marino being the ugly, dated fireplace (spoiler alert for my San Marino review) and you’ll know what I mean. Mall is there and it’s competing, but there’s no fire in it as far as I’m concerned, and nothing that really grabs me – even in the chorus, which if no other part does, should be the part of a song that sticks. I definitely don’t hate it, because there’s really nothing to hate. It’s not super-current but it isn’t decades too late either; it’s well-produced and the music is richly-layered, even minus the live FiK orchestra; it’s anthemic and will probably have some arms waving in Altice Arena…basically, I don’t see/hear any major flaws. What I hear actually impresses me the most about Albania, in terms of Eugent’s vocals. They’re flawless, clearer than the crystal Eurovision trophy, and powerfully projected in a way that will fill the spacious Portuguese stage even if he’s standing on it solo (no France 2017 issues are in his future). But excellent vocals aren’t enough in a competition full of great vocalists – many of whom also have standout songs up their sleeves. Mall is not a standout song in my opinion. It’s a decent song with an Albanian essence that suitably qualified Eurofans can detect with a single sniff (which I appreciate that about their entries). And I’m glad Albania is putting faith in their own tongue for the first time since Identitet in 2013. Unfortunately, I doubt it will pay off. I cannot see this qualifying, especially from the first half of death in the semi final of death (the Grim Reaper will be busy on the Tuesday night). Even though Albania will sound brilliant coming right after Iceland (spoiler alert for my Iceland review), I’m anticipating around 16th place in the semi for Eugent.

2017 VS 2018? 2017. Call me controversial, and I’ll take it as a compliment.

My score 6.5

 

 

My thoughts An unfortunate trip to Kyiv last year ended much too soon for Norma John (and if you think I’m over it, THINK AGAIN…and read this post). And so Finland brought out the big guns for Lisbon – perennial competition bridesmaid Saara Aalto, her belter of a voice, and her bucketloads of charisma and stage presence. Let’s be real, we ALL adore this woman. She’s a precious Nordic angel who had to take a turn on The X Factor UK before Finland realised they’d better just internally select her lest she be poached by the Brits. That brings me to my main point re: Monsters. The track is being showered with love by fans and in the fan-voted OGAE poll (no surprises there) but would people be raving about it if someone other than Saara was performing it? The way I see it, the song is secondary in the overall package of the Finnish entry to Saara herself. The country is sending an artist with a song, not an artist AND a song, if you know what I mean (and Norway is in a similar position). I’m not saying Monsters isn’t good enough for her or that it’s not good at all, but it could do more for its singer than it does. Sweden’s Deb duo are the driving forces behind it, and have created a dance-pop almost-banger that isn’t exactly at the forefront of the music scene right now (Ireland sent a vaguely similar song to Malmö, Estonia to Copenhagen). It is catchy, with a strong chorus and a distinctive vocal hook – ‘I ain’t scared no more’ – plus an inspirational message passed on in a way that doesn’t make me feel nauseous (Iceland, pay attention). And you can bet your entire collection of Eurovision merchandise that I’d be burning major calories in the Euroclub with this song as my soundtrack, were I going to Lisbon. Anything that makes you want to move – and not towards the nearest exit to escape it – is good, right? But while I can easily acknowledge the merits of Monsters, I can also easily admit that it’s not one of my favourite songs of the year. I like it but I don’t love it, and I think Saara is capable of more. She’s not going to be the contest winner we thought she’d be back when her name was announced (though why we thought that when she’s finished second so many times, I don’t know). Finland should be back in the final again after sitting it out (involuntarily) for three years, but at this stage I do have them under as borderline in my predictions. Am I letting my lack of enthusiasm cloud my objectivity, or is Monsters legitimately not that amazing? We’ll find out in a few weeks.

2017 VS 2018? Blackbird moves me. Monsters (kind of) grooves me, but I can’t say no to Norma John.

My score 7

 

 

My thoughts Going full Greece didn’t do the former ESC darling any favours in 2016 – it resulted in the loss of their 100% qualification record. Demy got them back to the final last year with cookie cutter Greek-free dance though (go figure…so why have they opted for something ethnic this year? Answer: because Yianna Terzi could pay the right price. And thank Hellas for that! I love it when any country sends a song to Eurovision that couldn’t be from anywhere else, and it doesn’t happen that often these days. That’s my no. 1 reason to applaud this entry. Reason no. 2 is that Oneiro Mou features the kind of drama Koit and Laura name-dropped in Verona; my way of saying that it’s atmospheric and mysterious (when I pretend I never looked up the lyrics on Google Translate). The verses get a bit of intrigue bubbling as you wonder, when listening for the first time at least, where the song is headed. Then the chorus delivers extra drama – maybe not in the most bombastic  way possible, but in a way that I get a kick out of. If this song wasn’t in Greek, it wouldn’t have half the appeal that it does, so I’m grateful for that too. And Yianna, besides having an incredible head of hair á la Tamara Gachechiladze (no need to turn that volume up, ‘cause it’s already on full blast) is also a well-established, seasoned performer. Ergo, she won’t go all deer-in-the-headlights on stage and will hopefully give us a studio-grade rendition of Oneiro Mou. I say that as someone who’s yet to check out her live vocal chops (I’ve barely had time to brush my own teeth lately, so please excuse that) but I’m assuming she’s got the goods. Greece has made it out of semi finals with weaker songs than this – ICYMI it was NOT love between me and This Is Love, and I’d class that as a weak song that squeaked through. Still, 2016 proved that they’re not infallible, and even in a nautically-themed contest, Greece is unlikely to sail though to Saturday night (HA HA). Like Albania, they’re fighting to emerge from that tough first semi, and I’d say it’s 50:50 – pre-rehearsals – as to whether they’ll make it or not. If the song is staged well (Lights! Dry ice! Wind! Give it the full salon treatment) it’ll help. If not, it might blend into the background, and that would not make for a happy Jaz. The more nationalistic music we get to hear in the final the better.

2017 VS 2018? 2018. Demy didn’t do it for me.

My score 8

 

 

My thoughts I’m going to do those of you out there who love this song a favour and spare you having to read this review: it’s not going to be a positive one. Usually I’d ramble on about what happened to Country X last year and make you wonder how I feel about them this year before releasing the kraken that is my opinion. But I want to get straight to the point with When We’re Old, because it’s part of my personal Infamous Four – a.k.a. the four 2018 entries that I just don’t like. I have a top 15 (all of which I want in my top 10), a next best 5 to 10 songs, then a sizeable ‘OK’ category…but underneath that at #40-#43 lies Lithuania and three other countries that I’m yet to talk about. Ieva is at #40 rather than right at the bottom of my ranking, but she’s in my bad books. Why? Because if Lena Meyer-Landrut was only allowed to sing in her inside voice, and starred in a musical version of The Notebook wherein the soundtrack was composed by a rhyming dictionary and a wheel of vintage cheddar cheese, When We’re Old would be the result. Like Iceland’s Ari, Ieva is lovely inside and out, but she’s singing something that is sickeningly sweet and savoury at the same time. Sugar + cheese = not a nice combo (MORE FOOD ANALOGIES JAZ WTF?!?). Sure, it’s romantic and emotive, but I’m afraid my cold, unfeeling heart refuses to be affected by it (perhaps because I’m currently the most single person on the planet and cannot relate to the sentiment). There’s no doubt the song will grow on me during the contest period, and I might be eating these words by the time May becomes June. As of right now, though, I’m not keen for Lithuania to qualify, even if they have a much better chance of making it in Lisbon than they did in Kyiv (they seem to qualify when I don’t want them to and vice versa, with a few exceptions along the way). Of my Infamous Four, When We’re Old is the only one I can visualise in the final, but it will be my toilet break song if it does (and if I don’t need to go to the toilet when Ieva’s on, I’ll go and sit in there anyway). I’m feeling generous with my scores this year, so don’t be surprised by the number you see below…just know that most of those points are for Ieva, NOT her song.

2017 VS 2018? I have to say Rain of Revolution, because it’s more fun and less limp.

My score 5.5

 

 

My thoughts You can’t discuss Moldova 2018 without talking about Moldova 2017 first (well, I can’t). The Sunstroke Project are a gift from the Eurovision gods, having presented the world with an iconic meme in 2010 only to outdo themselves last year by presenting their country with its best-ever result. The problem is, like Bulgaria and Portugal, they set a standard for their successors that is not easy to meet. Repeat NF offenders DoReDos have Russian powerhouse Phillip Kirkirov in their corner, and that helped snag Sergey Lazarev the bronze position in Stockholm. That’s what this trio needs to live up to – 3rd place – but I don’t think the Phillip effect is going to get them that far. There is a heap of stuff to like about My Lucky Day: the classic Moldovan trumpets and infectious tune; the enthusiasm of the band when they’re performing it (maybe they caught that from the Sunstroke boys?); the NF/probable ESC mirrors (props that fit into the Portuguese LED-less puzzle very nicely); and the overall throwback feel that transports me back to contests from 2008-2010. It’s just a fun, fluffy song. Musical fairy floss, you might say, but it’s just light and sweet enough to make you (by which I mean me) want more. Is it a masterpiece? No, in case you thought I was under the impression it was. Lyrically, the situation could be improved…and even though I’m 26 and not 12, I can’t help thinking that the words ‘number two’ should be avoided by songwriters (maturity level = dangerously low). But because it doesn’t take itself too seriously, I don’t feel like I have to take the lyrics too seriously. Moldova hasn’t quite built on their 2017 success in the way I’d hoped, and like Bulgaria did after Poli in 2016. But when I look at this song without thinking about Hey Mamma and how it compares, I can’t complain much (which is a big deal for me). Top 3 on the scoreboard? Nope. Top 10? Maybe. Final? Almost definitely. They’ve got a guaranteed douze from Romania to help them on their way, and they might get a few votes out of me too.

2017 VS 2018? Will Moldova ever top Hey Mamma? They haven’t this year.

My score 8

 

 

Okay…now that I’ve practically written a novel about each country, the stats are: 15 down, 28 to go! I suddenly feel the need to listen to Blue’s I Can to make me feel like I can get the whole Class of 2018 covered in time.

Here’s my mini-ranking for this round:

  1. Greece (8)
  2. Moldova (8)
  3. Finland (7)
  4. Albania (6.5)
  5. Lithuania (5.5)

So it’s Yianna – by one of her amazingly-textured hairs – who wins this five-way battle. Stay tuned to see where she fits in to my ranking of all 43 songs once the reviews are (FINALLY!) done.

Do we have love for Greece in common, or is it Aalto all the way for you? Maybe you’re reeling from my review of Lithuania because you love it so much. Vote for your favourite below, and share your thoughts/spill your tea in the comments!

 

NEXT TIME Coming up on my Lisbon ‘Hit or S*%t’ list (that’s a working title for next year’s reviews…what do you reckon?) are Australia, France, Georgia, Ireland and Latvia. You won’t want to miss me trying not to be biased when I review We Got Love, so make sure you come back for Round 4.