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IS IT TOO LATE FOR (SOME ESC FINAL) LOVE? Looking back at Tel Aviv’s Saturday show, at long last

Hi guys! Jaz here. Before I begin this post properly, I wanted to apologise for being so AWOL since Eurovision and for taking an Alekseev-esque forever to get this final review up. The only way it could have been later is if I posted it closer to the final of Eurovision 2020 – and believe me, that could easily have been the case. Thanks to a lot of life stuff (some good, some bad and some that kept me inconveniently busy) I’ve had to prioritise other things for the past four weeks, and I couldn’t be on the ball with post-ESC discussions which I’m sincerely sorry for. I’m also sorry to announce that, since too much time has passed and because I’m still under pressure, I won’t be able to hand out any Eurovision awards this year. I’ve done so in some form every single year since 2009, so I’m pretty sad about having to abandon them – but I am planning to bring them back bigger (SO MUCH BIGGER) and better next year. By then you’ll be looking at a new and improved EBJ, because at the moment I’m also working on a complete revamp/rebrand of the blog to coincide – more or less – with its 10th birthday (!!!). I felt that an extreme makeover was due, and I thought this was the perfect time to make it happen. Please stay tuned for the unveiling (a costume reveal of sorts) and don’t give up on me if you’ve enjoyed my contest-driven content in the past. I’m still here, planning exciting Eurovisiony things for the off season, and I’m always available to chat on my socials. Follow me everywhere and/or subscribe to EBJ in the sidebar, so you know when I’m back on track and when you can check out my kickass new look and layout! Now, back to today’s post…

 

BREAKING NEWS: I’m still alive! My excuse for taking so long to get this grand final review done is that I pushed everything non-ESC in my life aside in the contest lead-up (since I couldn’t concentrate on anything else). And so, after the show I sadly had to spend some time attending to stuff like going to work, paying my bills and interacting with other human beings.

But I’m back on the blog now, with a supersized look at what went down on May 18. This was the final from top to bottom, feat. the controversial aftermath that’s left the contest with some loose ends. Are you up for attempting to read the whole thing? If so, get comfortable, brew yourself a behemoth cup of coffee, and I’ll see you on the other side of this Eurovision 2019 tsunami of typing. Catch me down in the comments where we can talk about all things Tel Aviv…if there’s anything I haven’t already mentioned by then.

 

 

That’s how you start a show! The star-studded flag parade

I don’t know about you, but I love the now-traditional ESC final flag parade/artist parade/whatever you want to call it. It gives all of the acts a pressure-free moment in the spotlight to say hey to the crowd, have a dance break or wordlessly advocate the destruction of capitalism. You know, the usual.

This year there were plenty of non-competing stars involved too, i.e. Dana International, Ilanit and Netta (of course). But the best guest was Nadav Guedj. No longer a teenager but still looking 30 like he did in Vienna at age 16, he asked us to let him show us Tel Aviv IN Tel Aviv, and it was magical. Thanks to KAN for making all of our dreams come true by bringing him back. I just wish we could have had the full three minutes of Golden Boy, since Nadav is the self-proclaimed King of Fun and all.

 

 

The automatic finalists bring their A-game

Now, on to the filling of this song contest sandwich. It’s a blessing and a curse having your spot in the final secured, and it sometimes feels like the Big 5/host country don’t have the same fight of the countries that made it through semis. I was pretty impressed this year, though…mostly. The first auto-finalist to take the stage was Germany, followed by hosts Israel, then the UK, France, Italy and last but not least, Spain. My ranking of their performances from ‘HECK YES!’ to ‘hmm’ might surprise you.

Spain Why did I love this? How did the tacky two-storey house manage to work? Why did the giant puppet not-on-a-string amuse, not confuse me? It must be the sheer power of Miki, his biceps and La Venda. This whole performance was OTT and not at all how I would have played it – but it was fun, created a party atmosphere and closed off the show in classic Eurovision style.

France Speaking of OTT, France could have taken Chanel’s advice and taken one thing off before leaving the house (or in this case, dropped one element of their staging before taking it to Tel Aviv) but again, I didn’t mind that much. Bilal has sass, stage presence and style pouring out of him. Combine that with the poignance of his two dancers and the home video slotted in at the end, and you’ve got a memorable and moving performance.

Italy For me, this live didn’t quite do justice to Soldi as a song, but that’s because the song is so good it’s better heard and not seen (not that I mind looking at Mahmood for three minutes). I would have preferred more of a ‘Sacha Jean Baptiste Does Switzerland’ approach to the visuals: edgy camera cuts, a restricted colour scheme and that screen ratio that gives things a music video look. But this is Italy and they never completely miss the mark.

Israel Say what you want about the song (and the possibility of Kobi being Sacha Baron Cohen in disguise) but this was a very classy presentation from Israel. After the bonkers-ness of Toy, it was a nice contrast to see them pull off something serious and sophisticated. There weren’t any plot twists, but a song being staged exactly as it sounds like it should be isn’t a bad thing.

Germany Call me crazy, but my opinion of Sister changed for the (slightly) better after Carlotta and Laurita had done their thing. Against the odds and my better judgment, I genuinely liked what Germany did with their staging, simple as it was. Chemistry and vocals were top-notch. This was not the definite last place performance I was expecting. Lucky I didn’t bet on it!

The UK Michael’s performance might be my least favourite of the auto-finalists, but it wasn’t bad. It just wasn’t anything special. It felt a bit half-baked as he wandered around the stage by himself for the first few minutes, and even when his backing singers materialised, it wasn’t a ‘wow’ moment.

 

 

Highlights of the first half

The honour of opening this year’s final went to Malta, which was going to be no mean feat for 18-year-old deer-in-the-headlights Michela. Chameleon was the best possible song to start with, but would being first cab off the rank scare her into underperforming? That was the question, and no way, José was the answer. Michela did an awesome job, even if she still lacked the confidence of former openers like Laura Tesoro and Imri Ziv.

Poor Albania was stuck with the cursed second slot (which was a waste of space for any country that wasn’t Germany, to be honest) but I was just happy to have Jonida in the final. As always, she looked stunning – Eurovision on Saturday night, flamenco competition on Sunday morning – and as always, she sang like an extremely impassioned songbird. Moody lighting! Fire! Writhing CGI bodies in a massive bird’s nest! This had it all.

Once again I had the pants charmed off me (not literally, but it was a close one) by the Czech Republic. Lake Malawi are fantastic live – with lead singer Albert delivering vocals almost as perfect as his teeth – and their simple-but-effective performance provided damning evidence that less is more. I couldn’t complain about any aspect of their three minutes, even if you held a confetti cannon to my head.

If you thought Sweden wasn’t going to make my shortlist of first-half highlights, do you even know me at all? Their staging was glorious, John was his usual charismatic self and The Mamas were fab. I would like some more fire from Sweden next year, and they’ll need it if they want to secure that seventh win Björkman in particular is so desperate for.

Everybody was switched on for the final, and that was extra evident with Cyprus. If you read my SF1 review you’ll have seen my Tamta roast (she wasn’t putting in any effort, her outfit was atrocious, etc) and while I stand by what I said then, I have to hand it to her – that Saturday night performance was AMAZING. Whatever was holding her back earlier in the week was no longer an issue, and she showed us all why she’s such a superstar when it mattered most. I actually came around on the crystal-encrusted bathing suit and crotch-high platform boots, so I guess I can’t stand by my initial comments on those. It’s not a great getup for grocery shopping, but for Eurovision? Sure.

The one to watch out for in this half was The Netherlands. And if there was anything amiss or missing in the semi – camera connection, descending lamps that dropped down a little too far, etc – it had been dealt with to make this a definite contender, if not the Fairytale-type runaway winner the odds were suggesting it could be. I still had the overwhelming desire to pick up that piano and throw it across the arena, but I couldn’t because a) I was at home in Australia and not inside the arena, and b) I’d have trouble lifting it, let alone making it airborne.

 

 

My favourite moments from a seriously stacked second half

Back when I reviewed Norway I said Spirit In The Sky was way too much fun to be left in the semi and miss out on the final top 10. Alexandra, Tom and Fred reminded me why with their sensational three-minute schlagerjoikfest (there’s a word I never thought I’d use, but I hope I get to use it again). I still wasn’t totally sold on the visuals, but the song is irresistible. And Alexandra is a Nordic queen who we need at Eurovision solo ASAP (no offence, boys).

The award for Most Improved Between SF and GF goes to…who else but Estonia? Victor’s semi performance at Eesti Laul was super ropey only for him to pull himself together for the final, and the exact same thing happened at Eurovision. Weird. Whatever the reason for the tune-up, the only thing wrong with Estonia’s performance on Saturday was that shot of a cameraman and the side of the stage that went on for a full three seconds. What is it with songs called Storm and things going wrong? Granted, a dodgy shot isn’t on the same scale as a stage crasher, but I’m starting to think this song title is cursed.

All references to how ridiculously good-looking Chingiz is aside (for the moment), Azerbaijan was well and truly back this year. If X My Heart was a half-hearted hop, Truth was a running leap across the Grand Canyon that landed safely on the other side. They may have been trying too hard with that tacky representation of Chingiz’ soul taking a quick vacay in the arena rafters…but apart from that, I have no issues. I would love to see Mr Mustafayev back at Eurovision in the future doing some of the flamenco-fusion he does so well. Preferably shirtless.

It was going to be hard for Serbia to stand out in such a competitive half of the final. In all honesty, they didn’t. But that doesn’t mean Nevena didn’t deliver absolute perfection. I love Kruna on its own, but the atmospheric staging, glamourous/edgy styling and phenomenal vocals were the salted caramel syrup and toasted coconut flakes on top (great, now I’m hungry).

I don’t know where Switzerland got that extra spark from, but it was in the air the whole time Luca and his ladies (and gentlemen) in red were dirty dancing their butts off on stage. This felt like a surefire podium finisher to me, or at least Switzerland’s most successful contest in (what feels like) forever. She Got Me was never going to be vocal jury bait, but it nailed the Eurobanger brief.

How can I not mention my homegirl Kate Miller-Heidke? With all the momentum she’d built during the week and all the talk of Australia potentially taking the trophy home, I was extra anxious during her performance. Would she deliver a knockout vocal again? Would the poles bend and not snap? Would she succumb to the pressure and accidentally fling her mic across the arena and concuss Jon Ola Sand? Thankfully, KMH sang beautifully and did not injure herself or the Executive Supervisor of the EBU. See, Australians can behave themselves when they’re overseas! Zero Gravity’s staging was and will remain iconic for a long time to come, so a big congrats to our delegation for making magic.

 

 

The best and worst of the interval acts

In hindsight, the 2019 show should have been called the Eurovision Interval Act Contest. If that were the case and we were awarding points to everyone who occupied the HOUR-LONG voting window, my douze would go to the Song Switch for sure. Conchita, Måns, Eleni and Verka practically blew the roof off Expo Tel Aviv (is that an inappropriate way of describing it?) with their respective reworkings of Heroes, Fuego, Dancing Lasha Tumbai and Toy. The most powerful rendition was Conchita’s; MZW gets the gong for Song I’ll Be Playing On Spotify Constantly; Verka by Eleni shouldn’t have worked but somehow it did (I could say the same for the strategically-placed stars on her bodysuit); and Verka herself took Toy to brilliant new levels of bonkers. I would happily watch an entire concert of Eurovision grads singing each other’s entries, especially if it culminates in a group song with yet another former winner like Gali Atari.

My other favourite interval act – which I had to YouTube later because Aussie broadcaster SBS cut it out to make room for an ad break – was The Idan Raichel Project with Bo’ee. I was already a big fan of Idan, so when I found out he was on the program it was like discovering Darin and Agnes were doing Malmö all over again (well, maybe not quite that exciting, but what is?). This guy moves me with his music like an Israeli version of Joci Pápai, and there was no chance I’d be unaffected by his Eurovision appearance. Any chance we can have him and his project represent Israel one day, KAN? You’d get most of my votes if you made it happen.

Then there was Netta, who popped up again in a subtle yellow number to perform Margaret’s In My Cabana. Or was it her new song Nana Banana? I can’t really tell the difference, but I always enjoy watching her do her thing.

The eyepatch-wearing elephant in the room at this point is Madonna, who was sickeningly overpaid to “perform” (a.k.a. attempt to sing and then have the crap autotuned out of her voice) Like A Prayer – a song of hers I do normally enjoy – and Future – a song of hers I don’t want to enjoy but find myself singing in the shower. If we’re going to compare her to the 26 acts that performed in the competition, here’s my verdict: her staging and costuming were elaborate and on point, but her vocals were not up to scratch. If we had to have about 57 interval acts, then I’d have preferred more affordable Israeli entertainment…or an extended Song Switch with Salvador Sobral doing his best job of Hey Mamma by the Sunstroke Project. A girl can dream.

 

 

Jaw-dropping jury results + televoting triumphs and tragedies

About six months after Malta opened the show – thanks to that excessive voting window – it was finally time for the results to filter out, starting with the points from the juries. You guys know what went down, so I’m not about to rehash the whole sequence…but here are a few things that stuck out to me.

The big shock success with the juries was North Macedonia. Maybe I should have seen it coming (I had been trying to figure out who the Austria 2018 of 2019 would be, but couldn’t land on anyone) but nope, my jaw was on the floor as big points rolled in for an equally-surprised Tamara over and over again. Proud is hardly one of my favourite entries of the year, but I couldn’t help having my heart warmed by such butt-kicking from a country that hadn’t even qualified since Baku. It’s terrible that Tamara and her team were robbed of knowing North Macedonia won the jury vote during the broadcast…but more on that in a minute.

Italy and the Czech Republic also found favour with the juries to an extent I didn’t expect. Obviously Mahmood was a jury winner in Sanremo, but I wasn’t sure the professionals would warm to the urban style of Soldi at Eurovision. That 4th-place finish said otherwise, and I was damn excited about it! I’m also thrilled for Lake Malawi, who must have come across as flawlessly to the jurors as they did to common folk like myself watching the following night. I thought the Friend of a Friend lyrics, if nothing else, might turn them off – but perhaps it really hit home that sometimes, noisy neighbours sound like YOU AND ME WHEN WE’RE MAKING LOOOOOOVE.

In terms of countries I thought would fare better than they did on the jury vote, The Netherlands and Australia come to mind. Duncan’s 3rd place is nothing to scoff at of course, but I figured if he couldn’t win the jury vote he’d have to be runner-up at least. The actual result cast some brief doubt on whether his televote score would be enough for The Netherlands to win. Kate Miller-Heidke’s 6th place was also fine, but I think some jurors might have seen her performance as novelty rather than the incredible show of talent and lady-balls that it was.

Like multiple winners before him, Duncan missed out on topping the class where the juries were concerned. See how devastated he was about that?

Serbia and Israel also did worse than I’d predicted. The host country got an especially raw deal (something we’re used to seeing at this point) with 12 points and 12 points alone from the “Belarusian jury”, which we later found out should have been a big fat zero. Poor Kobi.

After all that, it was time to move on to the televote and see how the new point-presentation method would pan out. It was confusing, it was heartbreaking here and there, and it gave us moments like these:

  • The Czech Republic receiving 7 measly public points. What was that about? I’m even more shocked by this than I am by their jury score. All I can think is that Lake Malawi’s early running order position paved the way for 23 other songs (well, minus the UK and Germany) to memory-block them into almost nothingness. FOR SHAME, EUROPE (not Australia because we gave them 2 of those 7 points).
  • Norway’s spectacular three-digit, winning – as we found out later, grr – score that more than made up for the lack of jury love for Spirit in the Sky and had Alexandra crying adorable tears of joy. If only KEiiNO had been left until last á la the “old” results sequence, ramping up the tension and letting them celebrate that televote win on camera instead of later when it dawned on them what had happened.
  • That now iconic ‘I’m sorry…’ to Germany as they scored absolutely nothing. On the one hand, it’s an achievement to rack up zero points from 40 countries, especially on more than one occasion. On the other, I do feel sorry for S!sters, who delivered the best performance possible and deserved at least a handful of points for their trouble. Having said that, I didn’t have a reason to vote for them, and I guess nobody else did either.
  • Sweden and The Netherlands being set up as the last two standing when in fact, they were not. Some people got the same enjoyment out of watching John Lundvik’s soul be destroyed that they got out of Benjamin Ingrosso’s 21 points last year, but celebrating a comparative failure is pretty mean-spirited IMO – and the new system ensuring it would be fixated on quite frankly sucks.

As a last word on this, I’m going to beg the EBU to revert back to the perfectly tense and dramatic 2016-2018 televoting sequence. It wasn’t broken, so there was no need to fix it. And that way we can avoid the on-screen devastation of cinnamon-roll Czechs, vulnerable teenagers from Malta and Swedes fooled into thinking they’re one of the two remaining contenders when they’re actually not even close. All of the above was PURE EVIL, even if it did make great TV.

 

 

Thoughts on the final scoreboard and this year’s winner…actually, wait a second!

Because which scoreboard am I supposed to discuss here? Just when we and the Eurovision acts themselves had come to terms with who finished where, mistakes became apparent. If we thought that one Danish juror ranking backwards in 2016 was bad, we were wrong.

The biggest ‘oops!’ has to be the Belarusian “jury” points – put together based on their allocation pot after the actual jurors weren’t able to, in the words of Chingiz, shut up about it – being delivered backwards. Your guess is as good as mine when it comes to how the hell that happened, but as a result, Israel ended up with 12 points when they should have received 0, and Malta was denied a douze point celebration. And that’s the tip of the iceberg in terms of what was affected by this monumental f%$k-up. You know it all by now, but Sweden moved up to 5th place, bumping Norway down to 6th; North Macedonia moved from 8th to 7th (oh, and they actually WON the jury vote); Cyprus moved from 15th to 13th; and a bunch of other countries swapped places too. WTF?!?!

Then it was revealed that, thanks to the possibility of three jurors voting backwards, Poland and Lithuania could have qualified to the final over Belarus and Denmark in their respective semis. Obviously, any truth to this can’t change anything, but that just makes me feel extra bad for the implicated countries. Lithuania might have been the most severely screwed over. An issue with the Italian televotes was dismissed, one that would have put Jurij in 10th place…but if the Russian juror alleged to have ranked backwards did do so, it would also have put Jurij 10th. He then would have tied with Leonora, and on (my) countback it seems Lithuania would have been sent through to Saturday instead. My GOD. This whole situation is messier than my bedroom, and it’s going to be hard to trust the initial results next year in the Netherlands – though you’d think this reflects so badly on the EBU, they’ll do anything to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

Speaking of the Netherlands, let’s move on to happier topics (and from now on I’m talking about the altered, correct version of the scoreboard). A big belated congratulations goes to Duncan from me, for grabbing the first Dutch win in 44 years with a song that may not have been my preferred winner, but is undeniably worthy (and if you’re about to deny that, just imagine me drowning out your voice by blasting the ‘DOOOOOON’T DEEEEEEEEENYYYYYY’ part of Face the Shadow). Arcade is Amar Pelos Dois all over again for me: a beautiful ballad feat. a pitch-perfect, pared-back but still atmospheric performance that I wasn’t personally emotionally invested in, but I knew it was The One anyway and could accept that. Especially since it means I may well be off to the Netherlands next May, a place I’ve always wanted to go and a place I’m sure will host the shiz out of the ESC, if their JESC efforts are anything to go by. Also I really, really like stroopwafels – so if I do go to Amsterdam/Rotterdam/wherever, I’ll probably be eating them for every meal.

Other results that put a spring in my step in spite of the disastrous Post-Eurovision Depression were Italy finishing 2nd, their equal-highest placement since 1990 (though I was surprised they hit those heights with a good but not great performance…see below); Switzerland scoring their first top 5 finish since 1993; Sweden scoring their 7th top 5 result of the decade; Australia squeezing back into the top 10 after last year’s blip; and the Czech Republic doing pretty well for themselves even with the handicap of that disgustingly low televote score. I’m not going to dwell on the “losers” of the night, but I will say this: for the love of Jessica Garlick, PLEASE get your act together BBC. Something’s got to give and it has nothing to do with erasing Brexit from the memory of the voting public. As Leonora keeps telling us, don’t get too political…because it’s stupid.

As happy as I am with a lot of the final results, there are some that still don’t sit quite right with me. Was it just a weird contest and nothing would have made sense no matter what happened? Maybe. But I’m talking Italy’s 2nd place (which performance-wise, doesn’t feel as slick or iconic as Fuego, Beautiful Mess, Sound of Silence…I could go on); Russia’s 3rd place (which feels a little unearned, and my gut feeling is that bronze position deserved to go to Switzerland); Australia’s 9th place (call me biased, but with such a statement performance and so much pre-final momentum it seems like we should have ended up a bit higher); and a few placements further down that I’ll sit and stew about quietly because I’ve already said too much. If you’re as confused by some of the outcomes as I am, then let’s both hope 2020 brings with it a more straightforward Eurovision in every possible way.

 

 

Okay – believe it or not, I think I’ve said everything I wanted to say about this year’s dramatic, slightly disastrous (in hindsight) Eurovision final. I know it took me a few weeks longer than everyone else on the planet, but it’s better to arrive late to the party than to not turn up at all.

I still have some 2019 coverage to come here on EBJ, and then I’ll be moving on to some top-notch off-season content if I say so myself. That will include a Best of the Decade series, where we celebrate all that the ESC has gifted us throughout the 2010s…and boy, has it been generous! I hope you’ll drop by for some of that goodness. Remember to subscribe in the sidebar and/or follow me on my socials (also in the sidebar because CONVENIENCE) to make sure you don’t miss a thing.

In the meantime, hit up that comments box with your personal highlights and lowlights of Tel Aviv. Whatever you’re thinking, if it’s Eurovision-themed I want to hear it. If it isn’t, I’ll have to pass. Sorry.

 

Until next time,

 

 

 

 

 

LIGHTS, CAMERA, DUNCAN! | My Eurovision 2019 semi two review

Hello again, and welcome to the space between Eurovision’s second semi and the grand final, when speculation is at an all-time high and so is nervous anxiety (or is that just me now that Australia has climbed to second in the betting odds?). We have ten more qualifiers, and the final line-up is complete right down to the running order. But before I get into that, let’s have a look at the juicy bits from last night’s semi: the performances and the results.

PS – I hope you’re proud of me for producing a short, normal-person introduction for once.

 

The performances: From WTF to OMG

Once again I’ll run all the way down the list of 18 acts, but in order from my least favourite performance to the one that had me picking up my phone to vote (only to realise that I couldn’t vote in this semi…oops). Let me know how you would rank them in the comments.

Moldova For those of us who remember Ukraine 2011, this was the Walmart to Mika Newton’s Chanel. For those who don’t recall that performance, I’m assuming this still came off as soulless, substandard and at times, downright ridiculous (Kseniya trying to mime the “snow art” at double speed would have fooled no one with functioning eyesight). Anna’s vocals were solid, but her dress screamed 1996 senior prom…and Stay is even more dated than that. 

Ireland Well, wasn’t this cute? I’d happily hang out with Sarah and her gal pals at Diner 22, drinking prop milkshakes and lying unhygienically on the counter bemoaning my lost love. Unfortunately it was all a bit amateurish – the high school talent quest act of SF2 that Montenegro provided in SF1. I loved the Roy Lichtenstein-esque pop art backdrops (he happens to be my favourite artist) and I admire Ireland’s commitment to retro, but there was no question about the DNQ Sarah had coming.

Austria I was looking forward to seeing how Limits would come across live: whether it could win me over with its understated beauty, or if I’d be bored by the repetitive chorus that wears me out when I’m listening to the studio version. In the end, Paenda left me somewhere in the middle and somewhat unsatisfied. Her staging was well-executed, but she lost control of her vocals a few times and I found it distracting. This needed to be totally pitch-perfect and she just couldn’t pull it off.

Latvia That Night is another song that makes it hard to stay awake (especially as an Australian watching it performed at 3.30am) and the last minute or so drags beyond belief. That was definitely the case last night, but I have to give credit where it’s due: the staging and setup was lovely, if not engaging or exciting enough. Lead vocalist Sabine was the shining star, glowing like a goddess on camera and delivering silky-smooth vocals. Latvia did the best they could with what they chose.

Armenia Okay…there were some extreme pros and cons here. Positively speaking, Srbuk looked fierce AF and suitably, sang like a woman scorned (scorned but still very much in control of her vocal cords). But the Negative Nancy in me nearly expired when those empty arena shots were spliced in. What was Armenia THINKING? I assumed something had gone wrong and rehearsal footage had been hurriedly inserted to cover for it, when it was a calculated decision all along. WHY?!?

Lithuania There was nothing wrong with Jurij’s performance per se. He looked mighty fine if I may say so, and you’d be hard pressed to nitpick at his vocals. But there was nothing to speak of in the way of staging, and Run With The Lions isn’t an Arcade or a Too Late For Love – a.k.a. a song that can not only survive but thrive with pared-back, lighting-centric staging. The only zing I felt from this was a little one every time Jurij shot one of his alluring looks down the lens. I’m only human!

North Macedonia North Macedonia not stuffing up their staging was proof that miracles can and do happen. Tamara’s vocals weren’t as flawless as I was hoping, but they still had power and passion, and her whole performance was classy and elegant. I’m not one for gigantic faces plastered on backdrops (when will that go out of fashion, FFS?) but I’ll make an exception for the black-and-white photography used here. The pic of Tamara and her daughter at the end was the clincher.

Norway Something was weird about this. It was too dark and not joyful enough, and the stage felt super empty both when KEiiNO were apart at the start and when they joined forces later. Why then, you might ask, don’t I have Norway lower down in my ranking of the 18? The answer is, because I f*%!ing love Spirit In The Sky as a song and it was still enough to satisfy me. I also love the chemistry this trio has, and Alexandra’s overall perfection sight-wise and sound-wise. She’s a queen.

Romania How do you say ‘OTT’ in Romanian? The On A Sunday music video came to life on stage last night and although it was a lot to process, I wasn’t mad about it. And no matter how many kitchen sinks were thrown at this, I couldn’t be distracted from Ester’s crazy-good vocals – she’d never sounded better. She also played her part of the jilted and slightly crazed ex to an Academy Award-winning standard, which may have put some people off but to me was a highlight.

Russia I don’t really know how to feel about this. Sergey is a great guy with superstar stage presence, and he can SING (imagine how fantastic Scream would have sounded if he’d sung it in Russian). But this staging left me cold. I felt like I was supposed to be impressed, but the wow factor of You Are The Only One was nowhere to be found. It’s a strong package, but not a winning one the way I see it. Showering on stage fully clothed can only get you so far.

Denmark Some call this creepy, some call it cute…I call it both at the same time. There was a slight twist on the DMGP performance at play (and either the chair had shrunk a bit or just looked like it had) but mostly it was a carbon copy, including the top-notch vocals and unblinking stare of death from Leonora. I can’t fault this on a small scale, let alone a massive one. Denmark looked extra sweet and light after Romania, and it seemed that worked in their favour.

Croatia Melodramatic, flamboyant and just the kind of thing media outlets will pick up on so they can say ‘That’s SO Eurovision!’, Croatia put on a serious show (that couldn’t be taken too seriously). The story they told was loud and clear, and when the sexy golden angels awarded Roko his wings, I felt the strongest rush of guilty pleasure a person could possibly feel. And I know I’ve banged on about vocals a lot so far, but damn – Roko is a talented teenager. He owned his three minutes.

Albania Personally, I’d have factored more lights, shadows and fire into Albania’s performance. But that aside, HOLY HECK. Jonida is an incredible woman with a powerful, haunting voice that could cut through cement, and a striking sense of style that was on show via that glorious back and gold (or was it blue and white?) dress. I could not love her more, and she poured Jamala-level emotion into Ktheju Tokës. Kudos to her kick-ass backing singers too.

Switzerland To keep talking like the staging expert I am not, I envisioned something different for She Got Me. I was also a little disappointed in the dance break, which wasn’t half as dynamic or energetic as Luca’s dance moves throughout the rest of the song. But whatever – this remains one of my favourites in the contest, and it’s only partly to do with Luca’s biceps. Hearing the audience respond to the choruses made me so excited for Switzerland. Man Fuego is more than fine by me.

The Netherlands The big favourite did not (totally) disappoint. I have reservations about the staging, in particular the piano – and the fact that it takes ages for a close-up shot of Duncan to appear and allow him to connect with us down the camera. But Arcade is a stunning song, and Duncan’s vocals (here she goes again with the vocals!) were gorgeous. I’m not sold on this as a winner – I don’t get The Vibes – but since I said that about Israel this time last year, bring on Amsterdam 2020.

Malta This little island has done big things in Tel Aviv. Chameleon is such a cool song, and the youthful, colourful staging did it justice. Michela didn’t quite exude the confidence of fellow teen Roko before her, but she sang well and looked more and more comfortable as the song went on. While I expected to be impressed by Russia and wasn’t, I didn’t have huge expectations of Malta only to be blown away. Great stuff.

Azerbaijan Sure, Chingiz could have stood on the stage and flossed his teeth for three minutes and I’d still have swooned. But he did much more than that. This was a slick, high-tech performance, elevated by the ethnic bridge and dragged down by that tacky gimmick towards the end. Then again, was it any tackier than supersized CGI Cesár Sampson? Austria didn’t suffer for that, so I suspect Chingiz ascending in a blaze of bargain basement fire won’t impact Azerbaijan’s success.

Sweden If you’re shocked by Sweden’s performance being my fave of the night, you must be new around here. Was it absolutely perfect? I’m going to say no, mainly based on us not getting a good view of The Mamas’ strobe-lighting reveal. But was it joyful and uplifting and expertly-engineered nonetheless? Oh yeah. I just need John to give even more oomph and sparkle in the final, where he rightfully deserves to do very well for himself.

 

After all that, we were treated to another awesome mash-up of ESC entries; a performance from Shalva Band that warmed even my cold, cynical heart; and previews of Germany, Italy and the UK on the Expo stage (which didn’t change my mind about Germany). Then it was time to find out who would be staying in Tel Aviv for the weekend, and who…well, wouldn’t.

 

 

The results: As expected…for the most part

Despite being the more competitive semi, this was the easier of the two shows to predict – for me, anyway. Correct me if I’m wrong! Ultimately North Macedonia, The Netherlands, Albania, Sweden, Russia, Azerbaijan, Denmark, Norway, Switzerland and Malta made it through. The unlucky eight were Armenia, Ireland, Moldova, Latvia, Romania, Austria, Croatia and Lithuania.

New name, new stroke of luck? That might hold true for North Macedonia, who find themselves facing their first final since 2012 on Saturday. I can’t say I’m too surprised, even though Proud isn’t one of my preferred picks of the year and I wouldn’t have voted for it had I been able to vote. Albania was the one I didn’t see coming, but I’m stoked to see them qualify again with a song they didn’t feel compelled to switch into English.

The rest of the top 10 were more or less expected to progress, though Denmark and even Norway were borderline – but Finland aside, we now have a full Nordic house for the final. I had a mini heart attack waiting for Switzerland to be announced, which was no doubt the intention of whoever decided on the “random order” this time round. But my pounding chest would have been nothing compared to what Malta’s Michela was feeling, as she sat through nine countries’ namedrops hoping and praying for her own to be spoken. It was borderline psychopathic making her wait so long, but worth it for what is now an all-time favourite reaction of mine.

Who won this semi? It has to be The Netherlands, though I’m not so sure Duncan would have won both the jury and televote (and I don’t think he’ll do that in the final either). The other end of the spectrum includes Armenia, who have now missed out two years running; Moldova, whose run of fun-driven fortune has screeched to a halt; Romania, also missing out again after their first ever DNQ in Lisbon; and Austria, who will be absent from the final for the first time since 2013. It really was a raw deal sacrificing eight songs in this semi, but those are the rules of the game…and if you’re not good enough, you’ve got to go.

 

Now for a quick word on the running order for the final, which was released pretty rapidly after last night’s qualifiers drew their halves. Opening was realistically between the Czech Republic and Malta (Björkman wouldn’t put Sweden first on a Saturday, nor would he want a replay of Replay being first on stage) and we’re really getting the party started with Chameleon. Albania scores the cursed second slot – a lucky escape for Germany. Russia won’t be thrilled with fifth position, and it looks like we can count them out for the victory they were desperate for. Sweden gets a decent, relatively late first-half spot between North Macedonia and Slovenia, while winner-in-waiting The Netherlands sits pretty in 12th – though that Cyprus/Netherlands/Greece run is intense.

Israel, as we already knew, will kick off the stacked second half which includes Norway, Iceland, Azerbaijan, France, Italy, Switzerland and Australia. My flying fairy queen Kate performs in 25th, the penultimate position previously occupied by Kristian Kostov and Eleni Foureira. And finally, we’ll end the show as we started it: in party mode, this time thanks to Spain.

With all that to contend with, plus about fifty interval acts (Madonna is the tip of the iceberg), it’s going to be a long night – or morning, for me and my fellow Aussies. But it looks like it will be a final worth getting next to no sleep for. The winner may be expected, but 2nd through 25th places (because you know who I think will come last) are up for grabs, and there’s sure to be some shocks when all is said and done.

 

 

That’s all I have to say for now, as we count down the hours to Eurovision 2019’s night of nights. You’ll be able to find my predictions for the show on all of my socials @EurovisionByJaz – so please follow and/or like if you don’t want to miss them (links are in the sidebar).

If you do want to miss them, fair enough. I’m keen to hear yours though, so leave me a comment here, there or anywhere and tell me where you think we’ll be going in 2020. Is Amsterdam inevitable, or is Milan still a possibility? Could Australia be choosing a European country to host on our behalf, or will be back in Sweden next year? Maybe I’m way off the mark and Berlin will be our next destination. Whatever you’re thinking, let me know below.

 

 

Merry Eurovision weekend!

 

 

 

 

THE TEL AVIV REVIEWS | Round 4 feat. Armenia, Belarus, the Netherlands, Norway + Russia

Hello again, if you’ve been here before…and welcome if this is your first time dropping by! I’m Jaz, and these are my Eurovision 2019 reviews. If you’d like to catch up or need a refresh on the countries I’ve covered so far, check out Rounds 1-3, ASAP:

  • Round 1  Albania, Cyprus, Latvia, Montenegro + Serbia
  • Round 2  Australia, Georgia, Hungary, Romania + Switzerland
  • Round 3  Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Lithuania + North Macedonia

All up-to-date? Awesome. I’ll get going with Round 4 then, featuring Armenia, Belarus, the Netherlands, Norway and Russia. In this bunch is the bookies’ favourite, the bookies’ second favourite, a former Junior Eurovision co-host, a powerhouse vocalist and KEiiNO (look, they’re hard to describe in just a few words). It’s a mixed bag, but I was feeling generous when I reviewed them and may have handed out some very high scores. Want to know who got what? Well, there’s only one way for you to find out!

See what I think of Srbuk, Zena, Duncan, KEiiNO and Sergey’s songs for Europe (slash Australia slash the rest of the world) and share your thoughts in the comments.

 

 

Armenia + Eurovision = a bit of a sore point for me after my precious Qami did a DNQ in Lisbon. I do understand how it happened (though I will argue that it’s an amazing song until the day I die). But that was the first time ever a song in my top three hasn’t made the final. I’m used to songs I love finishing last in the final, but the Sevak situation was a fresh kind of hell I’d prefer not to experience again. Fortunately it isn’t going to happen with Armenia this year since a) Walking Out has a way better chance of qualifying, and b) I’m not super-duper invested in it to start with.

Don’t get me wrong, I do like it. I didn’t know what we were going to get from Srbuk once we finally got it, besides something along the lines of Half A Goddess. The ESC entry didn’t end up sounding like that at all, but that’s testament to this lady’s versatility. Walking Out is more of a soulful power ballad with an edge, but almost all of its attitude comes from Srbuk herself and her cracking vocal performance (literally…watch your windows towards the end). She tells a story with her voice as she swaggers through the song, letting frustration and anger build during the verses and then venting it in the chorus. Speaking of the chorus – with a few anticlimactic ones in the 2019 contest, it’s great to have something explosive from Armenia that’s bound to be sung along to by everyone who’s ever wanted out of a relationship (or anyone who’s just feeling angsty). It’s the centrepiece of the song, as it should be. But Walking Out doesn’t reach its climax with the chorus. That happens in the last thirty seconds thanks to Srbuk’s screeching. Impressive, in-tune screeching which makes the song a lot more memorable. You know what they say: go hard or go home.

As Armenia has gone hard, I don’t think they’ll be going home early this year. Qami’s staging must have been a misstep because I do trust them to stage the heck out of a song like this. Based on the music video, I’m expecting something powerful and artistic with an emphasis on strong choreography. And of course, a troupe of attractive men wearing tuxedo jackets over their bare torsos would be a welcome addition. Shirtless men involved or not, there’s no doubt Srbuk will start the SF2 party off with a bang (too bad Maruv can’t provide the bang for SF1). And assuming she nails her vocals for the jury shows and the broadcasts, this will have major woman power. I know I said I wasn’t obsessed with Walking Out, but I still think it kicks butt. You go, girlfriend.

 

In a line An attitude-packed theme song for pissed-off spouses and other angry people 2018 VS 2019 2018 – you know I’m qrazy for Qami Predicted result SF 5th-9th, GF 8th-14th My score 8 points

 

 

 

 

Like Armenia, Belarus will be looking to recover from a somewhat surprising (until we’d witnessed the performance) DNQ in Tel Aviv. The only similarity between ZENA and Alekseev, since she doesn’t have flowering plants penetrating parts of her body and won’t shake like a leaf on stage, is the scent of national final rigging they share. I know there may be no truth in the rumours, but like last year it seems only one act had a chance of winning the 2019 Belarusian NF. And that was ZENA, whose name I apparently have to type in capitals even though it looks like yelling. Junior Eurovision fans will recognise her as one of 2018’s co-hosts, and her experience presenting such a big show on such a big stage – in English – has helped a heap with her ESC journey.

Oh god…did I just use the term ‘journey’? Forget that, please. At sixteen, ZENA is confident performing to a crowd and to cameras; she can sing and dance at the same time (not flawlessly on both counts, but I’ll come to that); and she has no trouble with English pronunciation, which is a bonus when you’re singing a song as wordy as Like It. I thought Italy was supposed to be master and commander when it comes to maximum words per minute, but Belarus takes the title this year. The wordiness is one of the things I really like about Like It. This is such a fun song, and an underrated one in the fandom as far as I can see (which is about as far as my Twitter timeline). It’s catchy, energetic and age-appropriate without being too youthful to have adult appeal. The frantic verses are thankfully broken up by the more minimalist pre-chorus and chorus, the latter being so simple you could lip-sync it in your sleep…which isn’t a bad thing. And the whole song is catchy as heck. I wouldn’t be shocked if Zara Larsson came out with something like it (title pun intended).

On the downside, it’s a better studio song than it is a live song, but ZENA’s performances so far have been far from disastrous and just need polishing. She is one of those vocalists who can struggle until they get to belt out a big note. She handles those better, but who could blame her when there’s barely time to breathe during those verses? Apart from some vocal coaching, I’d also like to see some development in the staging come Eurovision rehearsals. It wasn’t bad at Eurofest, but kind of basic and could easily be amplified to match the much bigger event/stage space in Tel Aviv. All in all I see potential in this package, and I’d love to see it qualify. Sadly, though, I don’t think I’ll have any spare votes for Belarus by the time I’ve voted for my other first-semi favourites.

 

In a line Yes I’m gonna like it, yes I’m gonna like it 2018 VS 2019 This is a tricky one, but 2018…I think Predicted result SF 9th-13th, GF 16th-20th My score 10 points

 

 

 

 

The Netherlands have been pretty hot Eurovision property since 2013, when Birds (inexplicably) gave them their first top ten result in years – and paved the way for a string of successes including Calm After The Storm’s second place. Sure, Trijntje Oosterhuis-gate was an exception, but the less we mention that the more we can pretend it never happened. After a solid if divisive showing last year in Lisbon, the Dutch are back on form in 2019…and then some. We’re talking about the current and longstanding odds leader here: The Voice of Holland alumnus Duncan Laurence (who was coached on the show by none other than Ilse DeLange) and Arcade. To cut a long story short, this song is so good I didn’t even notice Duncan was butt naked in the music video at first – which for me, a straight woman with an eye for a sculpted male behind, says a lot.

To NOT cut a long story short, here’s the specifics of why I think Arcade is amazing. Starting out sparsely but creating an atmosphere fast is musically uncommon, but this song does it with ease. It’s arresting from the beginning, with the first line alone enough to send shivers down my spine. Then Duncan drops in with his delicate vocals – lighter than air but carrying the weight of loss and hopelessness at the same time – and tells us an emotional tale without a trace of the contrived, cheesy lyrics Waylon crammed into Outlaw In ‘Em. Everything that leads up to the chorus is fragile and beautiful, and then the chorus comes along and Duncan gets to let the pain loose while packing a punch of his own. It’s all ethereal and floaty and full of feelings, and stops you in your tracks (unless you’re a soulless cyborg). And on top of that, the metaphor that runs through the song actually makes sense. An arcade à addictive games à pennies in slots à winners and losers…well, it makes sense when you listen to the song. Unlike, for example, Malta’s cannibal/animal/miracle mish-mash of WTF from 2018.

We will have to wait until rehearsals start to know whether The Netherlands can win Eurovision 2019, but so far so good. That includes Duncan’s live performances, when he’s delivered a falsetto that has had me falling to the floor. There are certainly less obstacles on his way to the win than there are for the other favourites: Italy might not have the mass/jury appeal they need, the Swiss EiC performance raised doubts, and Russia is trying way too hard to their detriment. All of those countries are more likely to rank highly with juries OR televoters, not both – whereas the Netherlands has televoting appeal and jury boxes ticked. That’s thanks to a stunning song, an attractive and likeable performer (who we know has been blessed in the butt department) and the chance to use Arcade’s atmosphere to create a spellbinding stage show. Given that the man behind both CATS and Walk Along – who is somehow the same man – is in charge of this entry’s presentation, there’s a hit-or-miss risk. But with all the hype and Duncan’s status as favourite, I can’t imagine the delegation stuffing this one up. Amsterdam 2020 is a definite possibility.

 

In a line A ballad so beautiful, I could cry 2018 VS 2019 As much as I adore leopard print, it’s got to be 2019 Predicted result SF 1st-3rd, GF 1st-3rd My score 12 points

 

 

 

 

The 2019 selection season was full of surprises, and it often wasn’t the favourite act who took home ESC representation rights. In Norway, however, KEiiNO – made up of MGP returnees Tom Hugo and Alexandra Rotan, feat. the Norwegian Jon Henrik Fjällgren – won to the shock of nobody. Only Alexander Rybak could have beaten them (even if he’d taken part with a song called ‘That’s How You Play A Recorder Really Badly’ that lived up to its title). Spirit In The Sky is another light-and-fluffy entry from Norway, but it arguably has a bigger fanbase than That’s How You Write A Song did. I like both songs a lot, but while Rybak’s was a guilty pleasure I’m happy to own my enjoyment of KEiiNO’s.

It’s a banger, folks. A banger with JOIKING. It’s as if the aforementioned Jon Henrik Fjällgren teamed up with Jessica Andersson and Martin Rolinski for Melodifestivalen. Only this is Norway, and believe it or not, I can stop talking about Sweden for long enough to discuss a different country. So, Spirit in the Sky: what an epic combo of modern and traditional sounds it is! Tom kicks things off with a mysterious pre-verse verse (if that’s a thing) before Alexandra takes the lead and brews up the dancefloor filler chorus we just know is coming. Then Jon Henrik Fred gets joiking and makes Norway’s mark on Eurovision 2019 tattoo permanent. There are a handful of musical styles at play here – pop, dance, a touch of schlager and those ethnic elements – but they all work together as well as Tom, Alexandra and Fred. In this trio, nobody in particular carries the performance or outshines the rest of the group. Kind of like O’G3NE, but without the mind-boggling harmonies and sisterly synchronicity.

Lack of harmonies and blood relations isn’t going to stop KEiiNO from outdoing O’G3NE in the Eurovision final, I suspect. Their song is too catchy and iconic to finish outside of the top 10. I realise that the second semi has Norway performing between the deadly serious, straight-faced drama of Albania and the delicate, moving Netherlands…and some fans understandably think Spirit in the Sky will taste cheap and tacky in that sandwich. Personally I think it’ll be a breath of fresh air after a run of intense, down-tempo ballads, and it will stand out. I don’t expect another semi winner from Norway this year (and TBH I’m still not sure how it happened last year) but I am expecting a comfortable, deserved qualification and a result on par with Grab The Moment or Monster Like Me.

 

In a line Sensationally Scandinavian ethno-dance-pop 2018 VS 2019 2019. This is how you write a song Predicted result SF 4th-6th, GF 7th-10th My score 10 points

 

 

 

 

I think we all knew that this day would come: the day Sergey would return to Eurovision to avenge himself after 2016, The Year Russia Should Have Won According To Russia (and the televote). On the plus side, 2019 isn’t looking too much like 2016: Ukraine is no longer competing, Australia is at risk of a DNQ and sadly, Måns and Petra are nowhere to be seen. On the other hand, once again there are songs that might squeeze into the winner queue ahead of Russia based on Russia showboating and trying desperately hard to win. God knows – though he might have told Philip Kirkirov – what Sergey is going to have to do on stage this time to eclipse everybody else’s staging, but we certainly need to brace ourselves.

About the song…well, great expectations were heaped on Russia, I know. We all figured Sergey wouldn’t make a comeback with any old entry and would want to win, and with great expectations come inevitable tweets from Eurofans complaining about how underwhelmed they are. But really, a dated but dramatic and earwormy song elevated by impressive staging was Sergey’s M.O. in Stockholm, so we should have seen Scream and Kirkirov’s promise to knock our socks off coming. I’m glad the song isn’t a stylistic carbon copy of You Are The Only One. Instead it’s a big, theatrical ballad that belongs in a Broadway musical, and it’s bound to let Lazarev show off his spectacular set of pipes (because the man can sing) rather than keep him busy dancing and climbing up/falling off unclimbable walls. The instrumentation is grand and beautiful and makes me wish we could have a forty-piece live orchestra just for the occasion. I like the chorus, especially that ‘OH OH OHHHHHHHHH’ bit, which gives me goosebumps. And I appreciate the message of the song and how it more or less advocates men being allowed to cry. I totally support that.

But there are cons to those pros. Sergey may be in tears on May 18th, but not trophy-lifting tears. Behind all the drama of this track is little substance. It’s much ado about nothing. And I have trouble getting past the lyrics, which are so clichéd and excessively rhymey they sound like a poem I might have written in my diary when I was a pre-teen. I still see Scream as a possible winner, but I’d be disappointed if it did take the prize (let’s pretend Russia hasn’t won before with a returning male artist whose victorious song wasn’t as strong as their previous top three entry). Considering how statement the song is, Sergey’s talents and how impactful the stage show will be, Russia may be there or thereabouts, but the whole thing screams (HA) 2nd place max to me. There are plenty of better, more contemporary and less desperate-FTW songs competing, and if Russia did win it would be like it only happened because Sergey had an IOU. Should they do it, I’ll be happy for the man himself since I fell in love with him a little in 2016 (I went to his press conference where he was super sweet and humble and tripped up the stairs when he came in which was too cute). But Scream as a winning song? Net.

 

In a line A big, bold comeback that shouldn’t win by default 2018 VS 2019 2019, unless Sergey also gets an ill-advised mountain prop to sing on top of (or would that actually work for this?) Predicted result SF 2nd-5th, GF 2nd-4th My score 8 points

 

 

 

 

And that’s my five for today judged and scored! Stand by for me to change my mind on said scores at least three times before the contest arrives. At the moment, they look like this:

  1. The Netherlands (12)
  2. Norway (10)
  3. Belarus (10)
  4. Russia (8)
  5. Armenia (8)

Surprise, surprise – the favourite to win is also my favourite of these five. Sorry for being so predictable.

Now, an update on my overall ranking for anyone who’s interested (if you’re not, just make like Finland and look away):

  1. Hungary (12)
  2. Switzerland (12)
  3. The Netherlands (12)
  4. Estonia (10)
  5. Norway (10)
  6. Cyprus (10)
  7. Czech Republic (10)
  8. Belarus (10)
  9. Russia (8)
  10. Romania (8)
  11. Armenia (8)
  12. Serbia (8)
  13. Albania (8)
  14. Lithuania (7)
  15. Croatia (7)
  16. Australia (7)
  17. Montenegro (5)
  18. Latvia (5)
  19. North Macedonia (4)
  20. Georgia (4)

Hungary is holding on to my top spot, but how much longer will that last? Can Belgium, Greece, Iceland, Poland or San Marino take them down a place…or five? Will I ever stop asking annoying rhetorical questions? Find out during my next round of reviews.

Make sure you don’t miss a thing by following me @EurovisionByJaz across all the usual socials. And don’t forget to let me know how you’d rank today’s ESC 2019 entries in the comments.

 

 

Love love, peace peace!