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The 2017 EBJ Eurovision Excellence Awards | Part 2 (The Performances)

It’s lucky these awards aren’t being broadcast on TV, because nobody would have hung around until the ad break dividing parts 1 and 2 was over. What can I say? Life gets busy sometimes, and since nobody as yet has offered to pay me to talk about Eurovision, other things often have to be prioritised so I can continue to have a roof over my head and eat regular meals.

Hopefully this second slice of trophy-giving will be worth the wait for those of you who enjoyed the first. Back then (last week…totally vintage times), I gave numerous back-pats to the artists and songs of Kyiv 2017. This time, the spotlight’s shining on what happened when those songs were taken to the stage by those artists. Every element of the performances – from backdrops, props and dancers to costumes and vocals – has at least one award in its honour, and the winners weren’t all decided by me. Yes, that means there are more People’s Choice results below for you to feast your ESC-admiring eyes on!

So sit back, relax and do it for your lover…’it’ being checking out my performance awards and nothing more. Get your mind out of the gutter.

 

 

Honourable Mention/s Estonia Winner United Kingdom

With Lucie being a stage star and all, you’d expect her to project serious emotion via both her facial expressions and flailing limbs (i.e. arm flourishes). She did…but there were times when her inner drama switch was turned up way too high, to the point where she looked like she was in physical pain. There is a border between theatrical stage emoting and Eurovision stage emoting, and I think Lucie stayed in theatre territory when she should have crossed over to the other side. Still, I’m rewarding her here for every angtsy look and death-grip hand gesture she poured into her performance. An A for effort is all yours, Luce.

 

Honourable Mention/s Bulgaria Winner Norway

There wasn’t half as much hi-tech trickery on the stage/screen in Kyiv as there was in Stockholm – no holograms of naked Belarusians, for instance, could be seen (you can decide if that was a great loss or not). Both Bulgaria and Norway opted for on-screen graphic overlays – the TV equivalent of the little drawings you can do on your Instagram stories – to pimp their performances. But I’m putting Norway in pole position, because they had some technical trickery going on in their audio presentation as well as their visual presentation. I still can’t wrap my head around exactly how JOWST was manipulating those ‘kill, kill, kill, kill’ bits (live sampling/bending/looping/ warping?) but at least he wasn’t just standing there pretending to DJ like we’ve seen in past contests.

 

Honourable Mention/s Finland Winner Hungary

Getting emotional doesn’t always involve a box of tissues. Joci Pápai’s performance for Hungary wasn’t a sad one per se, but it was the most dynamically emotional of the year in that it featured two very different outpouring feelings. Throughout the verses and choruses of Origo, Joci portrayed the pain of forbidden love and of being a target for prejudice in a very vulnerable, mournful way – then changed gears for the rap, venting his frustration and anger over similar issues. Part of what I love about the song is the range of emotions embedded in it, as well as Joci’s talent for conveying them with authenticity.

 

Honourable Mention/s Finland Winner Portugal

This was a hard one for me to narrow down, because both Blackbird and Amar Pelos Dois DID involve me fumbling for a box of tissues. But there was a delicateness to Salvador’s rendition of his song that gave me goosebumps as well as wet eyes. The lyrics, too, have the power to destroy an old romantic like myself, despite the fact (or perhaps due to the fact) that he’s professing a love big enough to sustain a two-person relationship, when I can’t even beguile a guy into buying me flowers.

 

Honourable Mention/s Finland, Hungary Winner Moldova

When a massive part of your appeal revolves around a musical instrument – the sax played by Epic Sax Guy, obviously – you know you’re using it wisely. With both sax and violin providing serious fun for Moldova’s 2 x 3 minutes on stage, Hey Mamma’s live wouldn’t have been the same without them, even though we weren’t actually hearing the boys play (it matters less with instruments like these than when you’re watching someone rip into a solo on a clearly unplugged electric guitar).

 

Honourable Mention/s The UK’s mirror shell Winner Azerbaijan’s blackboard

You voters out there surprised me a little with this one, but majority rules! Dihaj’s blackboard was definitely a standout addition to 2017’s string of acts-with-props, and made Daz Sampson’s blackboard from 2006 look even tackier than it did at the time. Although I must say, his was more explicitly relevant to his song’s subject matter – between the board, the ladder and the horse-head man, Dihaj has a LOT of explaining to do.

This looks less like one of the daydreams that Dihaj is into and more like one of my nightmares.

 

Honourable Mention/s Hungary, Moldova Winner Sweden

For most of the backing singers and/or dancers who weren’t hidden from view, staying in tune and in time would have been the biggest challenges. Robin Bengtsson’s visible backup crew, however – feat. previous Melfest contestant and ESC backer-upper Alvaro Estrella – not only had to provide vocal support and smooth moves, but do both while walking on treadmills. And we thought Ukraine’s hamster wheel dude from 2014 had a tough job! The quartet pulled it off perfectly, though, and had a big hand in Sweden’s fourth consecutive top 5 finish.

 

Honourable Mention/s Cyprus Winner Sweden

Because treadmills. Too cool for school choreography coupled with an element of danger will win out every time. Handy Hint No. 362: Next time you’re at a party trying to impress someone, why not try moonwalking barefoot on a bed of nails?

 

Honourable Mention/s France, Portugal Winner United Kingdom

It was a shiny gold showstopper for the UK this year, and though that wouldn’t be my personal pick for best backdrop, I can see the attraction. The graphics were perfectly timed to the music and made the stage virtually disappear, as if Lucie were actually singing in space (not the sexy kind Slavko was referring to, but normal, otherworldly space). The numerous glitter explosions at pivotal moments of Never Give Up On You oozed Eurovision sophistication.

A Eurovision star + actual stars…what more could you want?

 

Honourable Mention/s Croatia Winner Israel

You’ll have to forgive me if I’ve forgotten a country in this category, because there were times when it seemed like every second act on stage had found a way to incorporate their giant face/body/boobs (oh, Malta) into their performance. The country that did it best, in my opinion, was Israel, because it wasn’t OTT or used just for flashiness. Super-sized Imri didn’t stay on the screens for the entire song – instead he was used to literally illustrate the ‘breaking me to pieces’ line of I Feel Alive’s chorus. The added bonus was that we all got to stare at not one, but two Imris for a fleeting yet fabulous amount of time.

 

Honourable Mention/s Romania Winner Croatia

I don’t know if I hate to say this or not, but the ESC isn’t as crazy as it used to be – maybe it’s the influence of recent winners having been pretty pared-back on stage. There weren’t many acts that threw everything they could think of at their staging in 2017, but we can’t say Croatia was one of them. To name a few of their staging elements: violinist, cellist, half-and-half costume, giant Jacques x2, LED lightning, an instrumental duel, pyro jets AND a pyro curtain, massive sunflowers and a rainbow. The pyro operator in particular must have needed a nap after that…I know I did!

 

Honourable Mention/s Bulgaria, Sweden Winner Moldova

This award goes to the most perfectly-wrapped package of the year – the country that brought their A-game to vocals, costumes, choreography, staging, lighting and anything else you can think of. Obviously, Portugal and Bulgaria were flawless – but Sunstroke Project managed to corral more performance bits and pieces than Salvador and Kristian had to work with into a cohesive and ridiculously fun whole. And it all seemed to come so naturally.

 

 

Honourable Mention/s France Winner Italy, United Kingdom

We have a tie! I can’t say I’m surprised that Germany and Spain didn’t even come close to winning this People’s Choice prize. Nor did I see this rush of love for the UK coming, but I do get it. As over-emotional as she got at times, Lucie’s performance was vocally perfect and looked stunning on screen. And who wouldn’t get a kick out of Francesco’s three minutes? If you didn’t raise your arms and do that dance along with Gabbani + Gorilla, I have major concerns about you.

 

Honourable Mention/s Artsvik, Tamara Gachechiladze Winner O’G3NE

This is NOT an award the Netherlands would have won back in 2015, when Trijntje Oosterhuis’ black dress (*shudder*) was replaced by the reception tent for a Goth wedding (*double shudder*). But the classic little black dresses – plus one catsuit – worn by O’G3NE this year and suitably sparklified for the occasion, were gorgeous. I’m glad they didn’t go too matchy-matchy, and were able to get the girl group look even though every Vol sister wore a different style. Where do I get my own version?

FYI, these outfits will also double as appropriate attire for Verka Serduchka’s funeral one day.

 

Honourable Mention/s Joci Pápai, Sunstroke Project Winner Robin Bengtsson

One of the minor changes made to Robin’s Melfest performance for Eurovision was a suit swap – matte blue for shiny purple. You’d think I’d be too busy admiring the man IN the suit to notice such a thing, but because it was such a cool costume choice (yes, right down to the lack of socks, which somehow makes the look more crisp) I noticed.

Freaking beautiful (HAD TO).

 

 

Honourable Mention/s Martina Bárta Winner Lindita

If you read my biggest Eurovision 2017 mistakes post, you’ll already know that my eyes felt violated by the very sight of Lindita’s Vegas bride getup. If you didn’t, then you should know that my eyeballs may never fully recover from the experience of seeing her take to the stage in something so atrocious.

 

Honourable Mention/s Ksienija Žuk Winner Artsvik

I love braids, but I’ve only mastered the basic kinds – so I’d be keen to have the contact details of whoever worked their magic on Artsvik’s mane. That was art. It should be on display in the Louvre.

 

Honourable Mention/s Kasia Mós, Lindita Winner Anja Nissen

I know some of you will want to hit me with an inflatable Israeli hammer over this one, but I’m entitled to my (many, many, ESC-related) opinions! Anja just blows me away with the sheer power of her voice every time – there’s a reason she won The Voice here in Australia. Her diva vocal is always ready for action, and it’s so forceful I wouldn’t be surprised if her fire curtain was set off by the woman herself, in a Carrie-like moment of explosive kinetic energy.

 

Honourable Mention/s Jacques Houdek, Salvador Sobral Winner Kristian Kostov

Again, remember: THIS IS SUBJECTIVE. I was torn between Salvador and Kristian, aware that Salvador’s voice is more unique…but Kristian’s silky smooth, beyond-his-years vocals won my internal battle. He looks so young (and IS so young) and then he opens his mouth and it’s all maturity and polish and confidence, and I’m sold. I’m expecting big stuff from this kid.

 

Honourable Mention/s Valentina Monetta & Jimmie Wilson Winner O’G3NE

Who else? Even if all 42 acts of 2017 had been groups, O’G3NE would have reigned supreme. Having sung together as siblings for so long, their harmonies are incomparable and absolutely perfect, always. I would happily listen to them all day long, and I’m convinced they could sing That Sounds Good To Me and make it appealing. That’s how good they are!

 

Honourable Mention/s Anja Nissen, Kasia Mós Winner Lindita

She may have worn a dress designed by the devil himself (or at least the devil’s personal seamstress), but not even that could distract from Lindita’s epic money note, one which first knocked our socks off (though not Robin Bengtsson’s, since he wasn’t wearing any) back in December 2016 when World was Botë and she won Festivali I Këngës. I have to bring back the word amazeballs just to describe it. She should become a deep sea free diver or professional balloon blower-upper with a lung capacity like that.

 

Honourable Mention/s Georgia Winner Hungary

Don’t get me wrong – Joci’s performance at A Dal was great, and a worthy winner of the NF. But I was worried Hungary would leave it be and not adapt it to fit the far bigger and grander stage of Eurovision. I also thought Joci was a little nervous and restrained back then. Fast forward to May, though, and the confidence and fire jets were out in full force. Hungary were one of only two countries to use the satellite stage too, which proved they’d really thought about how to expand on the A Dal staging. Mission accomplished!

 

 

And that concludes the second segment of the EBJEEs ceremony for 2017! Your butts must be pretty numb by now, so I’m sure that’s a relief. Still to come is the third and final part which will feature the awards for The Show: i.e. the hosts, interval acts, postcards and results. That’ll be a short one, so the only butt trouble you’ll have is if you fall asleep after reading it and then wake up with a butt on your hands (is that not the opening line of Verona?).

Between now and then, though, let me know what you thought of today’s awards. Where would your trophies go? Did the People’s Choice Awards pan out your way this time? All polite or constructively critical opinions are welcome in the comments.

 

TTYL Eurofam!

 

 

Putting The (Freaking) Beautiful Into The Mess: My five favourite performances of Eurovision 2017

Happy Hump Day, everybody! They say time flies when you’re having fun, but apparently it also flies when you’re in the torturous throes of Post-Eurovision Depression. It’s already been a week and a half since Portugal won their first ever ESC, and to me it actually feels like it’s been longer. Shouldn’t NF season have started again by now?

I just mentioned a bad bout of PED, but I have to admit that mine hasn’t been nearly as bad as usual. I’m not sure why – maybe because I’ve been pretty busy since final weekend, dealing with all the stuff I didn’t do before the shows because I had nothing but Eurovision on the brain and couldn’t concentrate on anything else. From now until about April 2018, my brain-space will only be 90% occupied by Eurovision – that leaves 10% for everything else, which IMO is plenty.

Obviously I’m not here to talk about anything but the contest, though, and today I’m focusing on the most freaking beautiful performances of 2017, according to moi (because boy, is this a subjective topic). Staging and singing standards were high this year, but there weren’t that many acts that had every single bit of their s%#t together. Here’s my personal shortlist – from no. 5 to no. 1, for maximum soap-opera-cliffhanger suspense – of those that did.

Hit me up with your top five performances of the year in the comments, and we’ll see if we have any countries in common…

 

  

#5 | Robin Bengtsson’s performance of I Can’t Go On for Sweden

But of course! I’d be concerned for my mental health – and I’m sure you guys would be too – if I’d willingly left Sweden off this list. Just as the two certainties of life are death and taxes, the two certainties of Swedish Eurovision performances are a) they’ll be polished to perfection, and b) they’ll have been that way since we first saw the future ESC rep on stage at Melodifestivalen. There was certainly no need to change Robin Bengtsson’s risky, but super-suave and super-slick staging of I Can’t Go On between Stockholm and Kyiv – although the backdrop was revamped, two dancers were replaced, and a new suit was bestowed the privilege of being wrapped around Robin (FYI, SVT…I would have done that for free). ANYWAY, Robin’s Eurovision performances were as sharp as said suit, and just as entertaining as his first public one from the NF days. What’s to fault? I do now feel inadequate, since I can barely power-walk on a treadmill without tripping over my own feet (let alone strut on one with confidence while singing, et cetera), but that’s just me being pedantic.

 

 

#4 | Salvador Sobral’s performance of Amar Pelos Dois for Portugal

Taking an alternative approach to Sweden’s cool, calculated one paid off for Portugal. Every single time Salvador the Salvadorable took to the ESC stage, he put a slightly different spin on Amar Pelos Dois, via his vocals and unique performance style. That gave his three minute appearances an authenticity and freshness that was so endearing, it made many of us feel like proud parents watching their shy son come into his own at a school talent contest. But don’t get me wrong – his performances were world class, with an emphasis on the ‘class’. Being the only artist to use the satellite stage (Hungary’s violinist doesn’t count), he stood out without the aid of any bells and whistles (I have no problem with pimping out a performance, but we all know APD needed to be pared-back). He’s a spellbinding presence on his own, and with that stunning woodland backdrop behind him, delivered something that was impossible to ignore. There wasn’t anything else on show in 2017 that was quite so dreamy…if we don’t include Robin Bengtsson’s penetrating gaze and Imri Ziv’s biceps.

 

 

#3 | Joci Pápai’s performance of Origo for Hungary

I might be biased on this one, since as you probably know, Origo is my hands-down numero uno song of the year. But even I was worried that Joci would be too nervous on stage, or that the A Dal performance feat. dancer, violinist and suitably aggressive rap sequence wouldn’t translate well to the much bigger IEC stage. Thankfully, I had nothing to worry about. The intimacy of the performance – an important thing to cultivate considering the personal nature of the song’s story – was retained, but the use of the satellite stage and the fire jets expanded it to Eurovision-size. The colour scheme was perfect, the camera shots clever, and the emotion just as raw and real as it needed to be to not come across as phony (or over-rehearsed). Joci’s costume change for the final was the icing on the cake. The only thing I’d have done differently is toned down the smile on the violinist’s face – I feel like she needed to be more Sandra Nurmsalu and less Alexander Rybak for Origo purposes. Then again, I can’t blame her for smiling her way through a performance this good.

 

 

#2 | Kristian Kostov’s performance of Beautiful Mess for Bulgaria

I had no idea what to expect from Bulgaria this year in terms of staging, but I knew that Beautiful Mess deserved to be presented in an amazing way. What was ultimately done with it was incredible, and gave it all the visual interest it needed without taking away from the song or from Kristian’s beyond-his-years charisma and vocal talents. Geometric shapes and a bleak but totally on-trend monochromatic colour and lighting scheme went hand-in-hand with Kris’s Addams Family-esque clothing choice. Together, those elements made the performance seem so mature it was easy to forget that he’s a kid who only recently turned 17. The choreography was simple, and the shaky camera shots that kicked in halfway through (perhaps inspired by the treatment of Oscar Zia’s Human at Melfest last year) added to the atmosphere. As Kris sings in the chorus, I don’t want nothing more – i.e. I couldn’t have asked for anything better – from Bulgaria’s performance. That’s two years in a row now, and it makes me excited for what they might bring to the party in Lisbon.

 

 

#1 | Sunstroke Project’s performance of Hey Mamma for Moldova

A public service announcement: from now on, we’re all to spell ‘fun’ like this – M-O-L-D-O-V-A. If you were after a Eurovision 2017 performance that ticked every single box, then you’d undoubtedly have found it in the Sunstroke Project’s sophomore stage appearance. It took a great party song and made it a serious contender by doing everything right. The boys and their brides-to-be were entertaining, energetic and vocally solid; their dance moves were quirky, memorable and easy to copy after a few drinks gave you the courage (or was that just me?); and their background graphics were 10/10. They also threw in a handful of bits and pieces that ramped up the fun factor without turning Hey Mamma into a disposable novelty entry – think the backup singers’ costume change, and their synchronised bouquet toss into the audience. Moldova’s semi performance took me by surprise as I didn’t foresee it being my highlight of the night, but it was. And final night wouldn’t have been the same without them, that’s for sure. A third place well earned? You bet your epic sax!

 

 

Now I’ve shown you mine, you can show me yours! Which performances from Kyiv do you think were the most douze-worthy?

 

 

Next time…I hope your poll-taking skills are still sharp from voting in Barbara Dex, because the 2017 EBJ Eurovision Excellence Awards are about to kick off, and I need you to decide who and what should win the People’s Choice trophies! From the Miss and Mr. Congeniality awards to the Dancefloor Filler of the Year, Best Music Video and OMG Moment of the Year honors, it’s up to you to vote in a whole heap of categories and have your say on the best – and worst – of Eurovision 2017. Don’t miss your chance!!

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

*tumbleweed blows*

Moving on…

 

 

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

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

Belgium’s score 9.00

 

 

 

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

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

Croatia’s score 2.00

 

 

 

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

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

Greece’s score 4.00

 

 

 

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

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

Israel’s score 7.5

 

 

 

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

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

Ukraine’s score 4.5

 

 

 

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

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

The United Kingdom’s score 7.00

 

 

 

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

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

Russia’s score 1.5

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

JAZ JUDGES EUROVISION 2017 | Armenia, Austria, Finland, Moldova, San Marino + Slovenia

Good day sir/madam/whoever is reading this from wherever in the world! I’m flattered you’ve taken the time to drop by EBJ, given all of the rehearsal goodness going down at Kyiv’s International Exhibition Centre that can be enjoyed vicariously through social media (believe me, I’ve been doing my bit in an attempt to quash my ‘Last year I was in the Press Centre at Eurovision and this year I am not’ depression).

It’s hard to comprehend that it’s May already, and that the pre-show prep is in full swing. Rehearsals for the first half of the second semi are taking place as I type this, and I’m eagerly (and sweatily #nerves) awaiting the turn of a few of my favourites. If you are too and you’re after a distraction, then look no further – you’ve found it!

I have three rounds of 2017 reviews left to squeeze in before the ESC hits our TV screens, and today it’s the moment of truth for *drum roll* *realises you’ll already have seen the title of this post* *shrugs*:

  • Armenia’s Artsvik with Fly With Me
  • Austria’s Nathan Trent with Running On Air
  • Finland’s Norma John with Blackbird
  • Moldova’s Sunstroke Project with Hey Mamma
  • San Marino’s Valentina Monetta & Jimmie Wilson with Spirit of the Night
  • Slovenia’s Omar Naber with On My Way

As always, my mum has given her verdict on these six songs too…and boy, was there some serious disagreement this time. We actually haven’t spoken a word to each other since I played them for her.

So much for ‘come together’.

Anyway, keep reading to find out how we rated these entries, and feel free to share your feelings about them in the comments – love, hate or tolerate!

 

 

 

My thoughts If you remember what I said when reviewing Serbia, you can skip the next sentence because it’ll be pretty much the same criticism (not to say I hate either song. I don’t). I’d just like to reiterate my warning to all competing Eurovision countries that if you make us all wait until the very last minute before lifting the cloche off your song for the year, we’ll be expecting something phenomenal. So, even if said song is a solid 8/10, it won’t seem that good because you’ve let our expectations pile up like a Jenga tower taller than Jonatan Cerrada’s stilt dancer. Enter Armenia, who did exactly that by being the final country out of 43 to unveil their contribution to the Kyiv contest. If I’d personally heard Fly With Me in February, I might have thought more of it than I do now and wouldn’t have been at all disappointed by it. Rest assured, if you think this song is the best thing since the introduction of the semi-final system, I’m only a tiny bit disappointed. It’s just not a fantastic ethno-pop banger in my opinion, so much as a weird combination of classic Eurovision ethno-pop circa 2005 and the bass (?) guitar from Eneda Tarifa’s Fairytale. I like how exotic and interesting it is, and the ‘fly with me’ hook towards the end – when Artsvik ramps things up vocally – leaves a pretty powerful impression. This is another song, though, that doesn’t seem to have a solid identity. It’s like a coconut fell on its head while it was on holiday in Hawaii, and now it can’t remember its name, age or occupation. It offers up a bunch of different body parts that are disjointed when put together, just enough to be noticeable but not so much that the disjointedness actually becomes an intriguing gimmick (á la Icebreaker). As a result, I can’t decide exactly how I feel about it. I don’t know about you, but if I’m confused about something I’m not very likely to support it (e.g. by voting). Artsvik’s rehearsals have been very well received, so we can expect Fly With Me to be elevated when performed live – as Armenia’s entries often are – but since the song’s still a question mark for me, I still have to hand out an indecisive, ‘Do I like it or not?’ score of 6 points.

My mum says… I have mixed feelings about this too, but the biggest portion of the mix is dislike. I do get a kick out of the hypnotic beat, and I think the music is varied and very interesting to listen to…but everything else is too disjointed and old-fashioned for me. If it had become more cohesive and modern after the first thirty seconds, I’d score it better, but it carried on how it started (just getting more shouty as it went along). I don’t think I ‘get’ it. 3 points.

Armenia’s score 4.5

 

 

 

My thoughts If this was the Eurovision Adorableness Contest, Austria would be an Italy-level favourite right now. Nathan Trent is the most precious person on the planet – as far as I can tell from his press/profile videos without knowing him personally – and that’s the sort of thing that should shine through when he’s on stage, hopefully singing the shiz out of the equally sweet Running On Air. How could anyone hate this song? It’s a prime piece of feel-good inspo-pop (if that term catches on, I want full credit) that just avoids being cheesy, thanks to Nathan sounding more like a smooth R & B singer than an overly-keen finalist on The X Factor performing their potential winner’s single. The low-key, contemporary-sounding verses really show off his voice, while the catchy – if slightly passé-sounding by comparison – chorus is so easy to sing along to, it’s practically impossible to resist. Although the entry doesn’t have the same energy as Belgium’s did last year, What’s The Pressure is what it reminds me of because it’s three minutes of pure happiness that could turn any frown upside down. We need a few tracks like that to give us a break from the intensity of Poland, Bulgaria, Finland, Hungary, et cetera: all of the countries who’ve taken a more heavy-going approach (in song style, subject matter or both). Running On Air is fun without being too fluffy, full of affirmations but not in an eye-rolling way, and has its own little space in this year’s line-up that lets it stand up and shout from the top of a mountain (somewhere in the Alps, obviously) ‘I’M HERE AND I AM JUST AS LOVABLE AS LOIN D’ICI!’. Seriously, if Nathan doesn’t make it to the final it will be just as heartbreaking as when I watched a shattered Jüri Pootsmann slink out of the green room in Stockholm, followed by a borderline suicidal Stig Rästa. It cannot happen! Except…it could. I don’t have Austria down as a dead cert to qualify, as they’re on stage second after Serbia and before Macedonia (in the middle of girl power on full blast, in other words). But my fingers will be crossed for Nathan, being a guy with a mid-tempo easy listener, to make his presence felt when sandwiched between two more in-your-face female pop numbers. If he can’t, I will make myself available for post-semi comfort hugs if he’s willing to fly to Australia to receive them. 8 points.

My mum says… Austria is a lot easier for me to love than Armenia – musically, that is, as I’m sure both countries are beautiful in their own way. I really liked this song. It sounds very mainstream compared to a lot of the other entries (it could be a Maroon 5 album track) but I’m not such a snob that I’d let that deflate my enjoyment! I see this as simple, straightforward pop that I’m imagining will have bucketloads of mass appeal. 8 points.

Austria’s score 8.00

 

 

My thoughts When you consider that Finland could have sent a song about “loving yourself” (in the privacy of one’s own home, hopefully), a song about kissing someone else’s paradise (also in the privacy of one’s own home, PLEASE GOD) or a song featuring the lyric ‘What would the X-Men do if they came to the rescue?’ (which they very nearly did, as Zühlke’s Perfect Villain finished second), it’s nothing short of merciful that they chose Norma John’s Blackbird instead. Remove all of those questionable UMK entries from the equation, though, and Blackbird remains an absolutely beautiful song, and easily one of the best ballads – if not THE best ballad – competing in Kyiv. It reminds me so much of Norway’s A Monster Like Me from 2015, which will always hold a special place in my heart as a piano ballad so powerful, it had me reaching for something to wipe my wet eyes with every time I heard it. I’m not saying the two songs sound particularly alike, but they have the same pared-back, minimalist lyrical content; the same musical interlude which sort of needs the singer/s to do something during it, but it’s still stunning when they just stand there awkwardly; and yes, that same haunting and emotional quality that makes me want to weep. Whenever Leena (not Norma, as you might expect) launches into the chorus with her crystal-clear-plus-a-hint-of-fragility voice, unleashing that ‘Now you remind me of something I’ll never have’ line upon an unsuspecting world, I turn into a tsunami of tears (and I haven’t even been jilted recently, so I hate to think what state this song would put me in if I was freshly heartbroken). There’s a shiver down my spine and goosebumps all over my body too, and you know what the last song to have that effect on me was? 1944. Before you accuse me of being delirious in thinking that Norma John have mad Francesco Gabbani-defeating skills and will win the contest, that’s so NOT what I’m thinking. I know Finland isn’t going to do what Ukraine did last year, since lightning doesn’t strike twice – not two years in a row at Eurovision, anyway. But Blackbird’s ability to move me makes it special. It deserves to do well in the comp in a way that Sing It Away (an easy song to sacrifice) couldn’t. This song, IMO, is not disposable – it’s integral to have in the final. 10 points.

My mum says… It’s not often that music manages to choke me up, but Blackbird is so beautiful, and so beautifully melancholic, I nearly had to wipe away some tears. It’s so different to all of the other ballads I’ve heard – more subdued and less dramatic, but somehow even more emotional. Leena’s voice is just perfect for expressing all of that emotion, and she has an Adele-like way of making you feel what she’s feeling, even if you’re not experiencing it first-hand. It’s stunning. 10 points.

Finland’s score 10.00

 

 

 

My thoughts EPIC SAX GUY IS BACK!!! The man who inspired the most famous Eurovision meme in the history of memes is returning to the contest with his fellow Sunstroke Project boys, but sans guest vocalist Olia Tira this time. That’s not news to anyone reading this, I’m guessing, but I do know something you don’t know: exactly how I feel about Hey Mamma. But don’t worry, I’m about to tell you. To put it simply, I love it. It’s so different to 2010’s Run Away – i.e. very light-hearted and lots of fun, as opposed to intense and fast-paced – that it’s hard to compare the two, but I personally prefer Hey Mamma. Trying to win over one’s in-laws is a struggle that so many people can associate with, and the fact that Moldova has produced a song that brings some humour and happiness to the situation is worth a round of applause. I’ve also found myself clapping for the insanely catchy verses and chorus, plus the inclusion of not only another top-notch sax riff, but a violin riff too. Oh, AND another copy-worthy dance that accompanies the sax riff (feat. less groin thrusting this time). Clearly, this entry shares some ingredients with Run Away, as do the songs of repeat artists that came before the Sunstroke Project (Paula Seling & Ovi, for example) – I mean, when a formula proves fairly successful, why pinball in a totally different direction on your next try? But this is everything we know and love about the boys in a new and improved package. A controversial opinion? Probably, if you think this song is garbage. But the ESC needs light and shade to make it more exciting, and Moldova – not for the first time – aren’t taking things too seriously, song-wise. Instead, they’ve given us all a Euroclub banger that will also be a banger played at Club Le Jaz’s Loungeroom (and in unrelated news, if you’re currently in Kyiv for Eurovision purposes, I hate you with a passion). Everyone needs some saxual healing from time to time. We’ll have to wait and see if the results reflect that, or if Moldova will fail to get out of their semi for the fourth year running. Even if they don’t qualify, if nobody forgets to remove their accreditation badge for the broadcast it’ll be a step up from 2016. 10 points.

My mum says… Ohhhhh no. Not a fan! This sounds like a song that was written in ten minutes after the composers forgot they had a deadline for it, and it’s really obvious. It comes across so…naff. My favourite part was when it finished, and I’ll be happy to not hear it start ever again – even though the look on Jaz’s face when I told her this was a look that could kill. One person’s trash is another’s treasure, so they say. 2 points.

Moldova’s score 6.00

 

 

 

My thoughts If a genie ever appears in front of me and grants me three wishes, I’m convinced I’ll just wish for the same thing three times to make 110% sure that it happens. That thing would be for some random, Eurovision-appreciating Sammarinese resident to win the lottery, and be able to bankroll San Marino’s contest participations until Ralph Siegel has fallen off the perch and cannot physically (or spiritually, fingers crossed) do it. That has to be the explanation for his constant creation of half-baked, cringe-worthy songs that have been composed by the numbers from an instruction book called ‘How To Write A Song That Sounds Like It Was Recorded In 1978 And Yet Would Still Have Been Regarded As Bollocks Back Then.’ Obviously, Serhat took the reins in Stockholm and, with a group of other misguided music “professionals”, produced something remarkably similar to a Siegel song – but at least it had entertainment value! Spirit of the Night, performed by the artist ESC fans most associate with San Marino and an artist no one has ever associated with San Marino, has none. It’s just a big wheel of cheese feat. approximately sixteen unnecessary key changes and a lyrical “conversation” that makes me want to go one better than Vincent Van Gogh and cut both of my ears off to save me from ever having to hear it again. Valentina Monetta – and no doubt Jimmie Wilson too – is so much better than this, yet NONE of her four (!) entries have shown her musical talents off to their fullest. She’d be far more suited to singing the Czech song, or something like it, in Italian. But the Monetta-Siegel saga continues. My favourite thing about San Marino 2017 is the dynamic between ValMon and Jimmie, who seem to have a great time together and can somehow perform this horror show with genuine enthusiasm (something I’ve managed to pick up on despite the waves of secondhand embarrassment that wash over me every time I see the two in action). I’d be happy for them to qualify, if there was some way they didn’t have to take Spirit of the Night through as well. But with the rules being as they are, I give this duo full permission to stay behind in the semi final. 2 points.

My mum says… Actually, maybe Moldova isn’t so bad after all. Not when compared to this THING, anyway. All right, so the singers are enthusiastic, and do their best to get us all on board with the spirit of the night (speaking of, was this song’s writer drunk on some sort of spirit when he decided it qualified as a semi-decent song suitable for public exposure?). But apart from that, I can’t find any redeeming features here. It’s like the theme from a terrible 1970s movie that no amount of popcorn could make worth watching. Sorry, San Marino, but what an epic fail! 1 point.

San Marino’s score 1.5

 

 

 

My thoughts Omar’s one of two artists making their Eurovision comeback in Kyiv after first participating in the same city in 2005. Like Estonia’s Laura, he’s been chipping away at a second shot at representing his country between then and now, but it wasn’t his time (again) until 2017…though many would say it should have been BQL’s time this year. But that’s another story for the post-contest conversations about which countries effed up royally in retrospect. Omar’s pulled a Sunstroke Project by taking something more uplifting and less intense than his previous entry to this contest – but on this occasion, I don’t think it’s for the better. On My Way is no Stop, which I think we can all agree (and I accept no opposition to this) was ROBBED a place in the ’05 final. However, if we pretend that never existed for the sake of viewing On My Way objectively, it’s not a bad man ballad. Sure, it’s dated – Omar’s openly said that he wrote it a decade ago and has been saving it (perhaps hoping that this sort of song would come back into fashion, which sadly for him it hasn’t). But I feel far more positively about it than most other fans do. I like how symphonic and soaring it is, especially in the chorus: it’s just as big and bombastic as you’d expect. I don’t like how clichéd and overly-simplistic the lyrics are, considering they’re the mind child of someone who’s lived in London for years and speaks fluent English. But the decent melody and Omar’s flawless vocal delivery (the star attraction) distract me from that lyrical dumb-down. I feel like I can compare the whole vibe of this entry to Ott Lepland’s Kuula, though that was far superior in every way. But the grand man ballad style and stage presentation of this song are cut from the same cloth. Unfortunately, Slovenia seems to be lost without Maraaya (hence the BQL mention) and seem destined for another DNQ. At the very least, they’ll scrape into the final and end up with a right-side score after that. 7 points.

My mum says… Okay, Omar – if you want to be on your way, I’m happy to help you along. I’ll even be a temporary bellboy and carry your bags. Anything to get you moving out of hearing range! As powerful as this song might be, I wanted it to stop pretty soon after it had started, because it just goes on and on (and on some more) in an “inspirational” way that would make it fit right in on an episode of Glee featuring a performance at a high school graduation. Eurovision, not so much. Well, not in terms of fitting in enough to win voters over, anyway. 1 point.

Slovenia’s score 4.00

 

 

There go another six songs into the ‘Reviewed Like A Boss’ pile! This is where they ended up:

  1. Finland (10.00)
  2. Austria (8.00)
  3. Moldova (6.00)
  4. Armenia (4.5)
  5. Slovenia (4.00)
  6. San Marino (1.5)

I’d shed a tear over Finland winning this round, but I think I’ve used up enough boxes of tissues over Blackbird (plus I need to save some crying energy for Norma John’s performances next week). Austria follows not too far behind, and Moldova not too far behind them. Armenia and Slovenia – after being dragged down by Mrs. Jaz – finish in the lower-middle range, which I don’t think will happen for either of them in the actual contest (take from that what you will). San Marino, suitably, is as far behind here as Ralph Siegel is behind the times when it comes to writing a good pop song.

Next time, we’re zipping around Europe – and a little further afield – to bring you potentially bitchy opinions on Australia, Belarus, Iceland, Ireland, Montenegro and Spain. What do two different generations of Australians think of Isaiah? And more importantly, how will my MOTHER react to the most pornographic song in Eurovision history (which is obviously Montenegro’s, not Australia’s)? You’ll have to come back to get the answers to those questions. Keep an eye on my Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (or subscribe over there –>) to be the first to know when I’ve posted. Your feeds and inboxes are already being bombarded with Eurovision anyway, so it can’t hurt…

 

 

Happy Almost-ESC Week!

 

 

 

 

JAZ JUDGES EUROVISION 2017 | Bulgaria, France, Italy, Romania, Serbia + Sweden

Bonjour! I’m back with another round of Eurovision 2017 song reviews (what else would I be doing at this time of year?). I hope you have a spare three to five hours to read through them all.

Just kidding. It’ll take two hours, max.

This is the halfway mark, so if you’d like to catch up on the countries covered by me and my mum (who’s still here delivering verdicts from a first-impression, non-obsessive fan perspective) so far, I’ve linked them below for your convenience. Hey there, people who are just as lazy as me!

  • Round 1, feat. Azerbaijan, Denmark, Georgia, Hungary, Norway + Portugal
  • Round 2, feat. The Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany, Lithuania, The Netherlands + Poland
  • Round 3, feat. Albania, Cyprus, Latvia, Macedonia, Malta + Switzerland

Now it’s time to cross six more countries and their awesome/average/abysmal songs off the to-do list. Today’s role-call: Bulgaria’s Kristian, France’s Alma, Italy’s Francesco, Romania’s Ilinca & Alex, Serbia’s Tijana and Sweden’s Robin. It’s the ESC equivalent of the popular kids’ table in a high school cafeteria, basically (with a few of the kids absent or in detention).

Have your opinions at the ready so when you get to the end, having found at least twenty comments you disagree with, you can say what’s on your mind – we want to hear everything.

Let’s get going!

 

 

My thoughts Let’s face it, Poli Genova left Bulgaria’s 2017 artist with shoes to fill bigger than that gigantic clog every tourist makes a point of posing with in Amsterdam. Stepping up to the plate (or into the huge-ass shoe) as a 17–year-old boy and the first ESC competitor to have been born in this millennium (#ifeelold), you’d think Kristian Kostov should be scared. But not only is Bulgaria currently the second-favourite to win the whole contest, they’ve brought in the bets with an absolute stunner of a ballad. Beautiful Mess is all beautiful and no mess. It’s almost like a down-tempo, male version of If Love Was A Crime: ultra modern, melodically memorable and full of lyrical determination (and similarities, right down to ‘together we’re untouchable’ versus ‘our love is untouchable’). It’s even gone down the same route of including a strangely alluring sample as a hook. As a result, I love it for many of the same reasons that I loved – and still love – ILWAC. I wouldn’t say Bulgaria has tried to carbon copy Poli’s super-successful entry so much as build on it, since it did do so well for them. Oddly, though, despite them being higher in the betting odds than they were in 2016, I don’t think Kristian can nab them another 4th place. He’s a brilliant performer with an almost studio-perfect voice, and twice the charisma of some of his fellow teen acts (Blanche, I’m looking at you in particular) but there is something missing from Beautiful Mess that, in a year of Italys and Swedens, will stop it from climbing quite that high in my opinion. However, I’m happy to be proven wrong. Did you hear that, universe? 10 points.

My mum says… I have to agree that the only Bulgarian mess is the one mentioned in the lyrics. The song is…well, beautiful. It’s interestingly worded for a romantic ballad, and heavy on the emotion without being weepy. Kristian has a voice and an ability to convey that emotion way beyond his seventeen years! I’m impressed. 10 points.

Bulgaria’s score 10.00

 

 

My thoughts Ooh la la! Speaking of countries that have ridden a wave of 2016 musical awesomeness into 2017, here’s France. Armed with Alma instead of Amir this time (á la Italy’s move from Francesca to Francesco) they’re bringing some sexy, summery tropical pop to Eurovision in a year with nothing else like that competing. I adore this song. I did have the original, all-French version at an even more heavenly status, and I’m still a little miffed by the switch to a slightly lame English chorus; but the ESC version of Requiem still ticks most of my boxes. Like the French pop I tend to favour, it’s not too predictable, but the catchy chorus sticks and stops the song from becoming inaccessible. And, I must admit, the English makes it easier for moi to sing along as I flamenco haphazardly around the house. Alma is a gorgeous girl/woman (she’s a little older than me hence IDK what to call her) and a good performer, but I have doubts about France’s ability to stage Requiem in a way that doesn’t make us all say ‘Mon dieu!‘. They did a nice job on J’ai Cherche last year, but they can’t be trusted implicitly to NOT screw things up presentation-wise, unlike Sweden or Russia (RIP) for example. They’re dealing with a song that could come across trés terrible with the wrong choreography, dodgy dancers, unsuitable costume choices, etc. However…if they pleasantly surprise me, I will sit quietly and watch them collect just enough points for a non-embarrassing, possibly excellent result. 10 points.

My mum says… I’m not sure if I like this or not, which tells me it might not be the most instantaneous entry in Eurovision this year (of course, it could just be me not feeling the amour). I like the drama it brings in its own way, and I did visualise myself walking Parisian streets with armfuls of Chanel purchases (I don’t know who’d be paying for all of that) while it was playing. But I felt it was a little disjointed, almost like two similar but not similar enough songs stuck together. Maybe it’s an acquired taste? 5 points.

France’s score 7.5

 

 

My thoughts If, just a few short months ago, you’d told me that Italy would somehow manage to present us with a dancing gorilla as part of their Eurovision act and have it be classy in that typical Italian way, I would have tossed a bowl of al dente spaghetti into your lap (the obvious reaction for someone in a state of disbelief). But, almost 100 million YouTube views and a shedload of OGAE Poll points later, we have the delightful Francesco and Occidentali’s Karma heading off to Kyiv…and he’ll probably be leaving with a Kosta Boda mic trophy in his human (not ape) hands. I’ll come right out and say that his song isn’t one of my absolute, unconditionally-loved favourites for 2017 – it’s drifting around the 6th to 10th zone in my overall ranking. But I, like 99.99% of people with functioning ears who’ve listened to it and/or seen Gabbani + gorilla in action, have succumbed to the irresistible, joyful and majorly memorable nature of the track. It’s effortlessly effervescent and sugary fun without being overly sweet, like a pint glass of pink lemonade. Every part of it is a hook to hang on to in itself, and the audience involvement created by the ‘Namaste, ale!’ is genius (although I can no longer finish off a yoga session in a peaceful way because I feel compelled to shout that every damn time). Francesco himself is personable and walks the fine line between a serious and tongue-in-cheek performance whenever he’s on stage, which should secure the affections of juries and televoters. Unless the significance of the man in the monkey suit is lost on a massive amount of people, I don’t see any stumbling blocks in the way of Italy winning their first Eurovision since 1990. And it could be a ‘fairytale’ ending for them in more ways than one, if you know what I mean. So, can I see myself happily eating gelato in Milan next May? Si.. 10 points.

My mum says… So this is the big favourite? It’s not my favourite out of the songs I’ve heard so far, but I can understand why so many fans love it en masse. I think it’s instantly likeable, unlike France, and you don’t need to speak Italian to feel Francesco’s joy and energy. The music’s very funky and happy too. I would so dance to this after a few too many glasses of Prosecco. 7 points.

Italy’s score 8.5

 

 

My thoughts Just when I thought we were never going to get a Eurovision entry that combined inspirational hip-hop with interludes of yodeling, along comes Yodel It! – the one we’ve all been waiting for. Or was that just me? Okay, so I’m being a bit sarcastic. But that doesn’t mean I’m about to reduce yodeler Ilinca and sing-shouter of uplifting lyrics Alex Florea to sobbing heaps of depression. In theory, this song should be the biggest disaster in music history, and hands-down the worst song of the 2017 contest (even with Croatia and San Marino’s offerings considered). But in practice, by some miracle (proudly presented by Paula Seling & Ovi), it works. I feel like it would take a solid six months in a science lab to figure out how, but what Ilinca and Alex are bringing to the table individually is like chocolate mousse and pickled herring – yet the combo is as complementary as peanut butter and jelly. Maybe that’s because the yodeling kicks in almost immediately, so by the time the first chorus is over, the shock has subsided – there’s no minute-long wait for the OMG moment like there was with Norway’s 2-for-1 Icebreaker last year. The fact that there’s little bursts of yodeling in amongst Alex’s catchy and urban verses/chorus – rather than a yodel marathon at any point – has to be helping too. That technique has been used at Eurovision before with varying degrees of success: Austria couldn’t qualify with it in 2005 (in Kyiv…is that a bad omen?) but Belgium finished fourth at Junior Eurovision in 2009 doing the same (though when a kid with flowers in her hair does it, it’s harder to hate). So, especially given how split-down-the-middle Yodel It! has Eurofans, there’s no telling how much better Romania’s ESC will be in 2017 than it was in 2016 – but hey, at least there’ll make it to the host city this time. I personally think it’s so ridiculously fun that the Romanian go-to of 11th-14th place isn’t out of reach…and neither is the top 10 if enough people with point-giving power ‘get’ it. Get it, love it, and yodel it. 8 points.

My mum says… If this is the closest thing to a token comedy duet in this year’s contest then I guess that’s a good thing, but I’m not a fan. Yodeling in general tends to turn me off, and that apparently isn’t affected by pairing it with another style of singing and a less traditional type of music. The whole thing sounds like it would work okay on a kids’ TV show – and I can’t say it’s not unique – but I’ll pass anyway. 3 points.

Romania’s score 5.5

 

 

My thoughts Serbia may have shot themselves in the foot by making us wait as far into March as possible (without actually being the last country to present their entry) for Tijana’s In Too Deep. Although that technique does attract attention, it means that if the song in question is anything less than sensational, it will be branded ‘not worth the wait’. Having said that, though I don’t think this one IS sensational, I’m not disappointed by it either. It may be even less “Serbian” (in an ethnic/stereotypical way) than last year’s Goodbye (Shelter), but I’m actually really keen on everything else about it. The music has variety and depth, the lyrics are just on the right side of simple (about a millimetre away from Cliché Central), the chorus is crash-boom-bang powerful, and Tijana has the vocal prowess to handle it all. I’m intrigued by the mix of styles going on here – it’s not as polar-opposite obvious as Romania’s, but there’s electropop/symphonic power ballad/dubstep elements woven together into a tapestry that I’d be happy to hang on my wall. Sure, it’s not daring or challenging or particularly original – and Serbia should thank their lucky Eurovision stars that Nano’s Hold On won’t be in Kyiv – but it’s comfortably safe, not the boring sort of safe. If I were staging In Too Deep, there would be wind machines, a floaty-yet-fierce dress for Tijana that could be blown about by said wind machines like Anggun’s in 2012, an aerial hoop artist or two (maybe Tijana herself could be swinging in a hoop as she is in the music video…) and some cool lighting, and voila – that’d be a well-wrapped package. But I’m not staging it, sadly, so it’s up to Serbia’s IRL stage director to not screw up what should be a simple equation of good song + good singer = good result in the grand final. When I say ‘good result’, I’m thinking 9th-15th, and in the final, that’s nothing to be ashamed of. 8 points.

My mum says… I’d definitely hit repeat on this one! I really like it. It’s not flawless, but the music and lyrics are both high-standard, and together they make a catchy couple. Tijana’s voice is great too. There’s something about the sound of it that reminds me ever-so-slightly of Jamala’s, though it’s not quite in the same league. Neither is the song – it’s a bit hard to follow in 1944’s footsteps, I imagine – but it gets a thumbs up from me. Oh, and 8 points.

Serbia’s score 8.00

 

 

My thoughts I was going to flick through ‘Not Being Biased For Dummies’ before reviewing Sweden, but I was too busy practicing Robin’s foot shuffle on my treadmill, and then I had to go to the emergency room and stuff…so I just didn’t get the chance. So, as I’m someone who not only supports Sverige unconditionally every year (they were my adopted country to cheer for before Australia was competing, and TBH I still prioritise them over Australia) but also traveled to Stockholm for the Melodifestivalen final and watched I Can’t Go On win it, you should prepare for a rose-coloured review. Here goes: I LOVE THIS. It wasn’t even my favourite song in the Melfest final (the aforementioned Hold On was) but as I always end up loving at least 75% of the Swedish hopefuls, that’s irrelevant. Co-written by Robin Stjernberg – his stamp is all over this track – it’s three minutes of slick, sexually implicit (as opposed to Montenegro’s sexually explicit song) funk-pop with a Justin Timberlake vibe (only way less fluffy than Can’t Stop The Feeling) and it is everything I expect from a Swedish Eurovision entry. Is it insanely catchy from go to whoa? Yes. Was it perfectly polished and contest-ready from the very beginning? Ja. Is the performer incredibly attractive? Obviously *swoons*. And to top it all off, it comes equipped with staging that will be a talking point from when it opens the first semi final (!) to whenever Sweden next manages to outdo themselves. It’s clear that one year of stripped-back production was all they could put up with. It’s also clear that The Land of Cardamom Buns (how I miss them) hasn’t lost their touch when it comes to conquering the ESC without any effort whatsoever – it just comes naturally. Conquering in a year feat. Occidentali’s Karma is a tough task, though, and I suspect Sweden will find themselves on the podium – 4th or 5th at the lowest – but not number one. Robin finishing second at Eurovision on his second attempt to get there has a nice ring to it, and I think that would be a result gladly accepted by a country hungry to take their six wins to seven, but maybe not this soon after hosting. As for me, I’m unsurprisingly giving I Can’t Go On a freaking beautiful set of DOUZE POINTS!

My mum says… Even I’m biased when it comes to this one, since I was sitting right next to Jaz in Friends Arena when Robin won Melfest. Wiktoria was my personal pick to represent Sweden, so I’ve had to come to terms with I Can’t Go On going on (will jokes like that ever get old?) instead. Still, I can’t fault Robin or his act too much. His voice isn’t the strongest, especially at the start when he’s backstage – maybe waiting in the wings keeps the nerves higher than normal. But who’s going to be thinking about that when he’s dancing with four other handsome men on travelators, while performing such a catchy, hit-material song? It’s not a song of substance, but it isn’t meant to be and I don’t think every song should be. Sometimes you just want to listen to some fun music that makes you want to move (in my case, on solid flooring) and Sweden has given Eurovision 2017 an excellent example of that. I’ll be singing along to ICGO for months in my mind, and I reckon plenty of other people will be too. 8 points.

Sweden’s score 10.00

 

 

And just like that, another six songs bite the dust. Here’s today’s overall ranking (with a tie broken by yours truly because MY BLOG, MY RULES!!!):

  1. Sweden (10.00)
  2. Bulgaria (10.00)
  3. Italy (8.5)
  4. Serbia (8.00) 
  5. France (7.5)
  6. Romania (5.5)

For once, it actually seems shocking that Sweden’s sitting on top of a Eurovision-related scoreboard, since Italy had the chance to push them out of the way. But Francesco’s topped so many polls and rankings already, he’s probably getting bored. You’re welcome for the change, Mr. Gabbani (and gorilla).

There are still 18 songs left to review here on EBJ, with just a few days until delegations arrive and rehearsals start in Kyiv. I’M SO EXCITED SLASH STRESSED! Next time, the spotlight will be on Armenia, Austria, Finland, Moldova, San Marino and Slovenia. Whether you love or hate what Artsvik, Nathan Trent, Norma John, Sunstroke Project, Valentina & Jimmie and Omar Naber are packing in their suitcases (song-wise, as their respective choices of underwear are another matter entirely) you won’t want to miss it!

Seriously. I’m guessing my mother’s reaction to Spirit of the Night will be priceless.

 

Until then,

 

 

 

JAZ JUDGES EUROVISION 2017 | The Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany, Lithuania, The Netherlands + Poland

Hello again, and welcome to another episode of me putting the Eurovision 2017 entries I adore up on a pedestal, and tearing the ones I hate to shreds. Fun times (unless you love the songs I can’t stand)!

Another six songs are up for some serious judging today, via me and – once again – my mum. Being the crazy lady that she is (it’s hereditary), she has voluntarily come back to have her say on The Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany, Lithuania, The Netherlands and Poland. So are you ready, Martina, Koit & Laura, Levina, Fusedmarc, O’G3NE and Kasia? Too bad if you’re not, because it’s time for you to be reviewed in 3, 2, 1….now.

 

 

My thoughts I’d never complain about a contest that has a lot of musical variety – after all, forty-plus ballads/dance tracks/Hard Rock Hallelujah rip-offs wouldn’t be fun to watch or listen to (or  be much fun for the producers trying to create an entertaining running order). So in terms of that, a nice little jazzy number from the Czech Republic helps with the whole ‘celebrating diversity’ motto of the 2017 comp. But that doesn’t stop My Turn from being the most boring song in the line-up by a mile. I just don’t think it has a lot to offer – the melody isn’t very catchy or exciting, there’s nothing about it that stands out and makes it memorable (I’m actually struggling to recall how the verses go right now) and I’m not a massive fan of Martina’s voice either – though I expect she’ll sound pretty much studio-perfect on the Kyiv stage. Speaking of the stage…not even an Azerbaijan 2013 level of staging genius would pimp out this entry enough to push it into the qualification zone, IMO. Dead last in the semi isn’t a dead cert, but it’s hard to imagine the juries or televoters lavishing attention on My Turn when there’s the likes of Blackbird and Amar Pelos Dois (for the former) and I Can’t Go On and City Lights (for the latter) surrounding it. Then again, I didn’t think the Czech Republic would qualify last year, so I’ll prepare to stand corrected just in case. 4 points.

My mum says… This is a bit naff. It’s got a nice chorus and seems simple to sing along to, but I get the feeling two or three run-throughs would be enough for me to get bored of hearing it! Martina has an unusual voice – I wasn’t sure if it was a female or male voice at first, and I guess that makes things interesting. But the bottom line is that I won’t be too bothered if don’t hear her song again anytime soon. 4 points.

The Czech Republic’s score 4.00

 

 

My thoughts I’ll get right to the point on this one: if Koit and Laura’s duet accurately depicts what being lost in Verona is like, then drop me off there without access to Google Maps! I LOVE this song, just as much as Koit’s 1998 entry Mere Lapsed and a million times more than the weak-as-water Let’s Get Loud by Laura’s Suntribe in 2005. Verona seems to borrow sounds from three or four different decades – mostly the 1990s and the 2000s – which doesn’t leave it feeling super fresh, but the infectiousness of all of its elements, the instant hook and the fact that it wasn’t written in the traditional A-B-A-B-C-B song structure (the song is as lost as Koit and Laura, but in a good way that keeps you wondering where it’ll end up) wins me over anyway. It’s a little dated, but in a way that works – more nostalgic than stale. The singers themselves sound great together and when they’re doing their solo duties, but their chemistry leaves a bit to be desired. It might have been the Eesti Laul staging that was a little off, but I hope there’s not a Chanée and N’evergreen situation happening behind the scenes…or a reverse scenario in which Koit and Laura are great mates IRL, but can’t channel the necessary emotions to give an authentic, appropriately-tortured performance. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt, because we haven’t (correct me if I’m wrong) seen a live version of Verona since it won the NF. It’s done well in the OGAE poll so far which makes me happy, but that’s not always a reliable indication of what will succeed in the actual show. Still, I think Estonia – after a shocking trip to Stockholm that saw Jüri Pootsmann finish last in the first semi – has the power to propel themselves into the final, and onto that sought-after left side of the scoreboard with this pairing. 10 points.

My mum says… Once I stopped wondering why ‘two silly boats in the sea’ had been considered a wise lyrical choice by Verona’s writers (after Jaz informed me that the lyric is ‘two SAILING boats’, which I must admit makes more sense) I started to enjoy Estonia’s entry. I wouldn’t say it’s fantastic, but I like the sound, the beat, and the way Koit and Laura’s voices complement each other. It’s definitely more than musical wallpaper, so I think it should do well in competition. 6 points.

Estonia’s score 8.00

 

 

My thoughts Let’s do the math: in the past two years, Germany has sent two absolute gems to Eurovision, only to f%*k up the staging of both (to different degrees) and fall utterly flat in the final. If that’s the way the universe is working, then by rights Levina’s Perfect Life should be staged flawlessly and be super-successful on the scoreboard…even though it’s a bit of a snoozefest. Of course, Deutschland could just as easily be heading for their third wooden spoon on the trot (undeserved in each case) which would mainly upset me because Levina seems like an awesome person whose (perfect) life should be filled with sunshine and rainbows and puppies. Plus, the girl can sing. It’s just too bad that the song she ended up winning Unser Song with is a non-event. It starts out as a Titanium homage – which teases you with the prospect of it turning into a proper dance banger – only to veer off into plod-along territory and stay there. It’s almost like Perfect Life doesn’t know what type of song it wants to be, so it’s ended up as a compromise between a ballad and a club track that’s too down-tempo to compete with other in-betweeners like Sweden and Macedonia. I can’t realistically see anyone picking up their phone and taking the time to vote for it, and I also don’t think it’s going to stand out as something spectacular that the juries would freak out about. That doesn’t bode well for Germany. They really need to find their groove again, or have a Belgium-style turnaround. Try it in 2018, okay? 6 points.

My mum says… This is more my style. I was mouthing the words of the chorus by the end, and when that happens without me even realising, I know I’ve found a favourite – or at least a song I wouldn’t change stations on if it came on the radio. Perfect Life is definitely radio-friendly. I like Levina’s voice and the lyrics, plus the fact that she’s obviously happy with her lot. I think many of  us could learn some lessons from her…or at least from whoever came up with the song’s concept. 7 points.

Germany’s score 6.5

 

 

My thoughts I think we know which country Georgia passed the bonkers baton on to after last year! Funnily enough, I’d probably be saying the same thing if Get Frighten had won in Lithuania. What we’ve got instead is less novelty but way more untamed, and it’s nothing like the Game of Thrones-inspired military march song I thought Fusedmarc would present me with, back before I heard Rain of Revolution for the first time (it just goes to show that you can’t judge a song by its title). I’m not even sure how to categorise this entry, which is almost a positive attribute when you consider how ‘different’ that makes it. Part electropop, part funk with a rocky edge, it’s not as offensive to me as it seems to be to most other Eurofans – I really like the beat and melody of everything leading up to the choruses, and the chorus itself has a pretty high sing-along factor. I also dug the staging of the song at Eurovizijos, and if they’ve decided to keep those visual effects for Eurovision, they’re sure to look epic on that LED-laden stage. But vocalist Viktorija lets a little too loose with her big notes, and that equals a messy listen (those screechy ‘YEAH YEAH’ bits being the main culprit). And it has to be said – by me, apparently – that she gives off some crazy vibes (in a psychotic, escaped mental patient sort of way, which ain’t ideal). The overall package is something that, once unwrapped, I wouldn’t try to return for store credit…but I can understand why other people would. So I’m safely predicting Rain of Revolution to go absolutely nowhere in its semi, which is a shame after Donny ‘Modern ESC Legend’ Montell did so well for Lithuania in 2016. 5 points.

My mum says… Lithuania’s taking us all back to the 80s whether we like it or not, by the (literal) sound of it. I’m not sure I do like it. Rain of Revolution is a song that seemed like it was going to become something better than what it began as, but it never did. I’ll give a few ticks of approval for the nostalgic feel and the energy of the beat, but that’s it. 5 points.

Lithuania’s score 5.00

 

 

My thoughts O-M-G3NE, I was excited when these ladies were announced as the Dutch reps for the year (as they’re JESC alums, I followed their Voice journey and have watched their audition for the show about 500 times). They’d been rumored before and their selection was bound to happen sooner or later, but I was happy to have it sooner. That, of course, was prior to Lights and Shadows being chosen and then released. So did I change my mind when it came out? Well, no…although I do think the trio have been saddled with a song that’s far too focused on being a vehicle for their voices rather than a current, competitive contest song. There’s a lot of emotion attached to O’G3NE’s entry because a) it was co-written by their father, and b) it was co-written by their father about their seriously ill mother. That should allow them to really feel what they’re singing rather than just parrot the lyrics pitch-perfectly, which they can do without trying anyway – their harmonies are incredible. However, heartstring-tugging aside, the song is a throwback with Wilson Phillips comparisons that won’t stop cropping up. IMO that’s not totally terrible, since I get a kick out of the rousing 90s feel of it. And even though it’s a very wordy song, I find it pretty easy to sing along to, and very catchy. It definitely stands out, and last but not least, we can bet on the performance being flawless, with the vocals being the shining beacon of jury bait. I just don’t know if it’s going to be a big success, a flop, or finish somewhere in between the two. I wanted O’G3NE to come strutting in to the contest with a surefire hit – i.e. a killer pop song circa 2017 (not 1997) that highlighted their vocal abilities without sacrificing musical fabulousness. I can’t say they’ve done that (DAMNIT!), but there’s a lot I do like about Lights and Shadows. And I’m still excited to have this girl band back in the Eurovision family. 7 points.

My mum says… Sigh. I could happily listen to these girls harmonising all day long. When they’re harmonising to Lights and Shadows, I instantly get the Wilson Phillips feelings that I’ve been told loads of others have too. There’s also a bit of B*Witched in here, making the song/singer combination very 90s indeed. That girl group style is one I usually enjoy, and this is no exception. Though I’d be surprised to hear something like it on the radio, I’d willingly play it again for my own listening pleasure. 10 points.

The Netherlands’ score 8.5

 

 

My thoughts Poland has been pretty hit-and-miss with me since they came back from their Eurovision vacation in 2014 (with a bang). There actually seems to be a pattern forming with my attitude towards their entries: My Słowianie, yes; In The Name of Love, not so much; Color of Your Life, yes. Do you see where I’m going with this? If not, let me cut to the chase: I’m not a huge fan of Flashlight. I had a favourite in the Polish NF that I thought had a better chance of winning (Isabell’s Swedish-written, Kygo-esque Voiceless, FYI) so Kasia took me by surprise when she won instead, with what’s a perfectly okay, gothic and melodramatic ballad. It’s just not the sort of ballad that rubs me up the right way. I feel like it would have fit in better at Kyiv in 2005, though it also reminds me of Lithuania’s Nomads in the Night which popped up three years later in Belgrade. I wish it reminded me more of Poland’s entry that year from Isis Gee, which IS the sort of ballad I prefer. Flashlight has a reasonable chorus – I wouldn’t call it catchy, however it does have some staying power – but I honestly can’t remember how any other part of it goes, and I’ve listened to it just as often as I’ve listened to the likes of Cyprus and Montenegro – two far more instant songs. It’s not memorable or modern enough for me, and I suspect for the contest in 2017 either. I wouldn’t give it zero chance of qualifying, because it might well go through…but if so, I expect it will die in the final. On the plus side, I’m guaranteed to love whatever Poland sends to Milan the as-yet-unidentified host city of Eurovision 2018. 5 points.

My mum says… It’s funny how something so dramatic can fall so flat! This didn’t do anything much for me, and I’m having trouble thinking of the melody too. It sounds like it’s trying to be something spectacular, but it never hits the heights to make that happen. Kasia’s voice is another great one that I’d say deserves a better song to show it off. 5 points.

Poland’s score 5.00

 

 

Aaaaand we’re done for the day! The ranking for this round of reviews looks like this:

  1. The Netherlands (8.5)
  2. Estonia (8.00)
  3. Germany (6.5)
  4. Poland (5.00)
  5. Lithuania (5.00)
  6. Czech Republic (4.00)

Forget two heads being better than one – three is obviously better than two, if O’G3NE’s win over Koit and Laura is any indication (though that was mainly my mum’s influence). You’ll have to hang around until all 42/43 (will I review Russia? I’m not sure at this point) songs have been crossed off the to-do list to find out which country will top our full ranking…and which one will bring up the rear. After that, Eurovision itself will decide whether terrible taste runs in my family or not.

Next time on Jaz Judges Eurovision 2017, I’m rolling out the red carpet for Albania, Cyprus, Latvia, Macedonia, Malta and Switzerland. Drop by if you don’t want me to dance alone! And before that, as always, leave your thoughts + feelings on today’s reviews in the comments. Do you think the Netherlands will do the best out of this bunch in Kyiv, or does OGAE poll darling Estonia have the edge? Perhaps we’ll find ourselves in Prague next year and you’ll be saying ‘I told you so’. Let us know below!

 

 

 

 

 

JAZ JUDGES EUROVISION 2017 | Azerbaijan, Denmark, Georgia, Hungary, Norway + Portugal

Pryvit, Europeople.

That’s right – we have to say hej då to the ‘hej!’ greetings that preceded Stockholm 2016 (at least temporarily…as someone still learning Swedish, expect me to throw around random words á la Svenska on a regular basis, no matter which country is hosting the show). It’s time to hop on board the Ukrainian bandwagon! That’s because we’re less than a month away from the first semi final of Eurovision 2017 (!!!) which, at the time of typing, will still be held in Kyiv. Sans Russia, surprise surprise.

So now I’ve said hello accordingly, there’s some important business to take care of: FINALLY kickstarting my song reviews. Sadly, I haven’t had time to pull together an EBJ Jury for 2017, having just been sightseeing, Melfesting and eating too much cake in Europe for a month (which I will be using as an excuse for not achieving stuff until approximately October). But guess who offered to help me out by listening to and passing judgment on all 43 42 competing entries?

MRS. JAZ! Yes, my mum is back on EBJ,  just after traveling with me to Melfest and then requesting a copy of the 2017 album with genuine enthusiasm (like I said in my last post, the brainwashing is going swimmingly, guys). So get ready to hear verdicts on the Class of 2017 from someone who may have seen Robin Bengtsson strut his freaking beautiful stuff in the flesh twice, but hadn’t heard any of the other competing entries before reviewing them. She’s got the fresh perspective, I’ve got the constant comparisons to last year on lock. Let’s get going!

First up…well, the title says it all. Read on to find out if Dihaj, Anja, Tamara, Joci, JOWST and Salvador managed to impress both a hardcore ESC fan and a first impression-ist.

 

 

My thoughts Say whatever you want about Azerbaijan at Eurovision (be it good or bad; be you polite or potty-mouthed) – you can’t deny that they’re dangerous. They’ve never failed to qualify for the final, and despite a dip in results recently, more than 50% of their time in the contest has been spent sitting pretty in the top five. So will it be a sky-high finish or another slump for Dihaj’s Skeletons: a song that makes a big move away from Melodifestivalen discard Miracle? If it were up to me, Azerbaijan would definitely be back on the left side of the 2017 scoreboard – and I mean WAY up on that side. This song kicks butt! It’s everything I was hoping for from the often experimental Dihaj – interesting, edgy, moody and current – but still has a Sia-esque, accessible pop sound, making it less divisive and giving it more mass appeal. The verses, pre-chorus and chorus itself blend together brilliantly; yet each one has its own distinct vibe without any weak links letting the team down. And is the whole thing catchy or what? The lyrics (particularly in the chorus) make zero sense, if you can even interpret them in the first place – my first impression was ‘I’m a skeleton…and I love my minions’ – but that doesn’t bother me at all. Factor in Dihaj’s quirky sense of style, powerful-but-raspy vocal and Azerbaijan’s tendency to make staging their bitch, and you’ve got the formula for something that, annoyingly, won’t reach the ranks of Running Scared or Always…but totally deserves a top ten finish. 10 points.

My mum says… Oh yes – I liked this straight away (so it was a good start to the marathon of listening I’ve gotten myself in for). Dihaj has a great voice with great range, and took me on a bit of a musical journey reminiscent of an exotic, mysterious Contiki tour. The song is catchy for sure, but not in a commercial ‘How many times have we heard this before?’ kind of way. It sounds like it’s going to have a heck of a stage show to go with it at Eurovision. Well, that’s what I’d be hoping for, anyway! 8 points.

Azerbaijan’s score 9.00

 

 

My thoughts For many Eurofans, The Voice Australia winner Anja was the “real” winner of DMGP 2016. With the Emmelie de Forest creation Never Alone finishing second (shockingly), I don’t think any of our jaws hit the floor when she was announced as a returnee to the comp this year. She changed genre and the all-around vibe of her performance with the all-Aussie Where I Am, which hasn’t completely paid off in the Eurovision bubble (according to some, this entry is yet another hashtag fail for Denmark). But I disagree as much as I possibly could. I LOVE THIS SONG! Love, love, love it. Sure, the pop ballad style may be slightly passé, but there’s something – and by that, I mean everything – about Where I Am that makes it my dream pop ballad. The melody is extraordinarily earwormy, the layers of instrumentation (with an ever-so-slight electronic influence) are contemporary, and Anja’s powerful delivery is unparalleled. She can sing the pants off an entire arena without even trying (so make sure you don’t go commando if you’re heading to Kyiv), and that does elevate a song that I’ll admit would be more pedestrian if sung by a lesser vocalist. And it has to be said that, as always, she looks stunning while she’s doing it (GIRL CRUSH ALERT). Can you tell the whole Danish package is parked up my street? The Australian-ness of it all is an added bonus. My only dilemma is, which flag do I wave if both Australia and Denmark make it to the final? I know I’ve got two hands, but one is reserved for the national flag of my favourite song’s country. I suppose the Aussie one covers both bases, whether Denmark likes it or not. Anyway, I digress. I’m giving Anja DOUZE POINTS!!!

My mum says… If you told me to describe how I feel about this one in two letters, I could do it. I’m not sure why you would, but my point is that the letters would be O and K. It’s no more than nice, and I feel like I’ve heard it before – which I don’t feel at all with Azerbaijan (and I like to hear something different). If I was Denmark, I’d be worried about being forgotten in the 42. As me, I’m just not too keen to listen to this one again anytime soon. It’s not horrible, but I don’t feel the love from above. 5 points.

Denmark’s score 8.5

 

 

My thoughts Let’s be honest – the standard of the Georgian NF was pretty mediocre this year. That being the UNDENIABLE TRUTH (assuming you agree with me) then it’s safe to say that Tako/Tamara, who almost made it to Moscow in 2009, was probably the optimal option to send to Kyiv. Sadly, however, that is the biggest compliment I can bestow on Keep The Faith, which ironically makes me lose faith in Georgia as a Eurovision country that can bring it on. 2016’s Midnight Gold was bat-shit crazy and I bloody loved it, but this bargain basement Bond ballad sucks the soul out of me. Lyrically, it could be lamer, given the overall concept of the song (which is like ‘Let’s take Polina Gagarina’s Million Voices and turn it into a melodramatic musical marathon fit for The Phantom of the Opera!’) but Tamara’s constant droning of ‘keep the faaaaaaith’ almost makes me wish they’d gone full cheese when writing it. It just goes on and on, and then on some more, until you’re expecting her head to explode from the pressure. Don’t get me wrong, because I don’t loathe this song with a passion (which I’m guessing sounds like a lie after all the hate I’ve let loose so far). It’s not in my bottom three. Simply put, though, I don’t like it. Like Anja, Tamara has a powerful set of pipes up her glittery sleeve, but in this case I don’t think they make the song any better. This is all my opinion, of course, which I’m entitled to as much as you’re entitled to metaphorically slap me while screaming ‘TBLISI 2018!!!’…so if you’re Team Georgia, I tip my hat to you. But I won’t be joining you on the playing field. You’ll find me sitting on the sidelines blasting Midnight Gold instead. 3 points.

My mum says… For something so dramatic, there’s a lack of x-factor and general satisfaction here. It may have been a better fit for a Broadway musical than a song contest. It promises more than it delivers, even though there’s an obvious crescendo reached…maybe Tamara’s voice isn’t quite strong enough for the song? She certainly wants it to be, and I admire her for going for it and really attacking her performance. But I don’t think her aggression is the way to win Eurovision. 4 points.

Georgia’s score 3.5

 

 

My thoughts There was a time when I thought I’d never move on from the traumatic loss of Spoon 21 at A Dal’s semi-final stage. Sure, their live performance of Deák was pants, but the song was/is peak electropop – and who’s to say the band couldn’t have made Ryan Dolan-level progress between the NF and the ESC anyway? True as that may be, it’s Joci Pápai and Origo heading off to Kyiv on Hungary’s behalf…and in hindsight, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Consider my poker face gone and my entire deck of cards on the table, folks, because this is my favourite song of the contest. I am in love with it, and would totally propose to it if that was a socially acceptable thing to do (apparently you can marry the Eiffel Tower, but not a three-minute Eurovision song). It’s haunting and hypnotic from beginning to end, with the mix of Hungarian (one of my most-loved musical languages) and Romani (which, like the song’s subject matter, highlights Joci’s heritage) making it extra-exotic, and allowing him to tell his story as authentically as possible. The rap is also a cool addition, seeming like an outlet for Joci to vent his frustrations and emotions in an unrestrained way that doesn’t happen in the lead-up. Every element of Origo flows smoothly into the next, with the slick production and ethnic riff making it current yet still one of the most original (pun intended) entries of the year. I understand that it’s a divisive song, but I think it was an adventurous choice for Hungary to make, and I love that it represents multiple facets of their music scene by marrying the old and the new. Whether that will work in their favour or not remains to be seen, but I’ll be praying that it does. DOUZE POINTS!!!

My mum says… As a disclaimer, Jaz didn’t tell me how she felt about this song before I offered up my own opinion (she doesn’t even tell me which country each one is from before she forces me to I voluntarily listen to them). As it turns out, though, I love it too! It actually gave me goosebumps. Beautiful instrumentals, great atmosphere and something I can’t put my finger on that just makes me want to hear it again – and hear more of what Joci can do. Origo gets 12 points from me!

Hungary’s score 12.00

 

 

My thoughts When it comes to the MGPs, I think Denmark had the superior line-up in 2017 (which is definitely not the norm). Norway only had a few songs that had the potential to give them the final finish at Eurovision that Agnete’s could not. Luckily, though, they picked one. Grab The Moment is an effortlessly ‘now’ pop song that takes advantage of the universe’s unquenchable thirst for music with weird noises and vocal samples in the background (which JOWST manages to pull off live). It’s familiar enough, style-wise, to feel comfortable, but original enough to not provoke any cries of ‘PLAGIARISM!’; and the chorus is so damn hooky, it could catch a great white shark without even breaking the ocean’s surface. I liked the song straight away because it’s not a challenging listen. All it asks from you is to have some fun (and not in an out-of-tune Tereza Kerndlová kind of way) and it makes that very easy to do. No, it doesn’t have what it takes to win Eurovision, and I’m not even confident it will sail to the final. But I personally am more than ready to grab the moment – and enjoy every moment JOWST and Aleksander are on stage. 8 points.

My mum says… This one’s definitely catchy, but it didn’t leave a lasting impression on me. I feel like if I listened to it two or three more times in a row, I wouldn’t like it much more – it would start to annoy me instead! I’m not a fan of the lyrics, and I don’t hear anything that makes it stand out from the crowd. It’s not terrible, but all I can say is ‘next, please’. 5 points.

Norway’s score 6.5

 

 

My thoughts Montenegro’s taking us back to 2003, San Marino to 1977 and Portugal to 1956 for Eurovision 2017 – go figure. Two of those three throwbacks I’m on board with (stay tuned to the rest of the reviews to find out which time warp I DON’T want to do again) and Salvador’s is one of them. Why Amar Pelos Dois is so high in the betting odds is a bit of a mystery to me, but I can’t bring myself to trash what is a delicate, soaring and very vintage ballad that is powerful because it isn’t, if that makes sense. We haven’t heard a song so ‘classic ESC’ compete for a long time, and as such, it’s hard to say whether it will prove the bookies right or not. I do think Salvador can win televoters over with his adorkable charms, though, and perhaps the juries with both the song and his understated, pitch-perfect delivery of it. I feel like I want Portugal to do well more than I want Amar Pelos Dois itself to succeed (because there are plenty of other songs that I prefer) but there won’t be one without the other. So, in amongst my fistfuls of Hungarian, Danish, Swedish and Australian flags, you might just find a teeny little Portuguese flag come Eurovision week. 7 points.

My mum says… I quite like this one, as old-fashioned as it is. I can imagine it being performed in a smoky jazz club (in spite of the lack of jazz) in the 1950s, with nothing but a man, a few supporting instrumentalists and some dry ice on the intimate stage. I don’t think it would win the contest in this day and age in a fit (as a layperson) but it has to make for a nice contrast against the countries coming equipped with all the bells and whistles Customs will allow into Ukraine, doesn’t it? 7 points.

Portugal’s score 7.00

 

 

That’s the six songs for today taken care of! Now, with Round One done, the leaderboard looks like this:

  1. Hungary (12.00)
  2. Azerbaijan (9.00)
  3. Denmark (8.5)
  4. Portugal (7.00)
  5. Norway (6.5)
  6. Georgia (3.5)

Congratulations (and celebrations, etc) go to Joci for his impressive win. Sure, he only had to impress two people to make the number one spot, but I was pretty convinced my mum would think Origo was oriNOOOOOOO.

Can Hungary keep a hold of the metaphorical crown with 36 countries’ songs still to be scrutinized? TBH, if I keep going with only two jurors, he probably will. Lucky the final EBJ ranking doesn’t count towards anything official. OR DOES IT?!?

No, it doesn’t.

Waiting in the wings to be reviewed in Round Two are the Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany, Lithuania, The Netherlands and Poland – i.e. lots of girl power feat. Koit Toome and that guy from Fusedmarc. Don’t forget to drop by to see if anyone ends up with a douze…or the opposite. As Koit and Laura would say, prepare for dramAAaaAA.

In the meantime, let me (and my mum) know what you think of the songs we’ve reviewed this time. Do you agree with any of our opinions, or should we be ashamed of ourselves for countless reasons? Don’t leave the comments box lonely 😦

 

Until next time,

 

 

 

THE KOUNTDOWN TO KYIV | My picks for the best and worst music + moments of the season so far

It’s almost the end of January (holy Helena Paparizou!), but it doesn’t seem like much has happened during national final season. We’ve still got forty Eurovision 2017 entries to find and/or hear (forty-one if you include Albania’s Botë undergoing an extreme makeover) and the weekend finals are drip-dropping through Safura-style – not flooding in like they will in February.

But remember, not all of the interesting stuff is related to end results. We’re at a point in time when NF participants are consistently being unveiled, music is being released, heats are being held (or postponed, in Hungary’s case – my thoughts are with everybody affected by that tragic bus crash on Saturday) and news is breaking. So it’s been a more exciting month than it might seem! There’s been highs, lows, claims of plagiarism…basically, it’s your bog standard selection season, and we wouldn’t want it any other way.

I’m going to celebrate that today by singling out some of my favourite and least favourite parts of the glittery pathway to Kyiv to date. Anything NF-related was up for grabs, so read on to find out who/what has made me shed sneaky tears of both happiness and sadness as I bow before the Eurovision shrine I have in my bedroom (am I joking? You’ll never know MWAHAHAHA). Be sure to share your personal highlights and lowlights with me when you’re done!

 

 

The blonde bombshell is back! Anja Nissen’s return to DMGP

About a year ago, when The Voice Australia winner Anja Nissen was announced as a participant in Dansk Melodi Grand Prix 2016, I was over the moon thinking that I might be able to cheer for not one, but TWO Aussies while in Stockholm. That would have given my ‘Strayan flag a workout. But it wasn’t meant to be, despite Anja producing a flawless performance of Never Alone on the night (to be honest, Simone and her Heart Shaped Hole ended up being what I was crossing my fingers for anyway…so I was still devastated by the outcome). But our girl must have been buoyed by her second-place finish, because she’s back – hopefully with a) a bang, and b) the big guns! I’ve been so down in the dumps over Oscar Zia – Melodifestivalen’s most recent runner-up – saving himself for a beyond-2017 comeback, I didn’t stop to consider who else around Europe might give Eurovision glory another go. Now, ‘Danish Star Wars Episode II: Anja’s Return’ is a sequel I’m going to be first in line to see, and I really want it to be better than the original. In other words, without knowing how Anja’s competition measures up, I WANT HER TO WIN. She’ll be belting out Where I Am, a song co-written by X Factor Australia alumnus Angel Tupai, on February 25th at the Jyske Bank Boxen in Herning. I cannot wait.

 

First-time native tongue: Belarus’ golden ticket goes to a Belarusian song

It sounds strange to say it, but we’ve never had the Belarusian language on the adult Eurovision stage before. We’ve heard Crimean Tatar once and made-up stuff THREE times (Belgium’s a big fan) but between 2004 and 2016, it was heavily-accented English all the way for Belarus. Those of us who are Junior Eurovision fans might feel like that’s even less true, as all the Belarusian we’ve been exposed to there blends in with the country’s thirteen past ESC entries. And I have to mention their debut My Galileo, which, as a friend and I were joking about bitchily on Twitter the other day, may as well have been in a LOTE. But the freshly-crowned winners of a ticket to Kyiv known as NAVI will become the first act to head into our favourite musical battle armed with a song in Belarusian. That’s assuming the duo don’t do an English re-write of Historyja Majho Žyccia – but, as they’re famed for their folksy, 100% foreign-language back catalogue, it’s unlikely. As much as they might benefit from throwing a token English chorus in at the end, I’d encourage them not to. With English taking over at the ESC these days, singing in something else makes you stand out and diminishes the same-same effect of one non-ethnic, all-English song after another. Keep us happy by staying true to your style, NAVI. Pretty please?

 

A Dal delivers the goods once again: My discovery of Deák

You guys know that I’m hopelessly devoted to Melodifestivalen – but that doesn’t mean I don’t have any vacancies in the hotel of my heart for other national finals. I love both MGPs, I love MESC, I love Eesti Laul…and I absolutely adore Hungary’s A Dal. Like Estonia, Hungary always offers a handful of songs that are interesting and experimental, and don’t sound like anything you’ve heard anywhere else. The song I want to draw attention to right now popped up early in the first heat of A Dal, and though it does remind me of various K-pop songs I’ve listened to in the past (stylistically) it’s not a cookie-cutter copy of something else…and I have to admit, I don’t think we’d ever hear anything quite like it in Melfest. It’s called Deák, it’s by Spoon 21 (who competed in A Dal a few years ago with a totally different track) and though I know I’m calling it early, it may end up being my gem of this selection season. This sort of silky-smooth, anthemic synth-pop  is so far up my street, one more millimetre and it’d be in the next neighbourhood. It had me at hello (a.k.a. the initial snippet of that hypnotic chorus) and I’ve been obsessed ever since. Okay, so Spoon’s live performance was questionable (not visually, but vocally). And, as they squeezed through to the semi stages in equal second place, they’re not going to win the whole thing even if they manage to make the final. But who cares? One of the things I love about NF season is how it allows us to discover truckloads of awesome new music from all over the continent that we can enjoy for the rest of our lives (or until we’re tired of it thanks to overplayage). Onto my ‘Best of the 2017 NFs’ playlist you go, Deák.

 

No more Mr. Nice Guys: Denmark’s ban on boy bands

If you’re confused right now, I understand. Not only have I made my unconditional love of boy bands (or man bands…the only differences between the two are time, voice depth and facial hair) as clear as Petra Mede’s now-infamous ‘let’s come together’ joke – I also just mentioned that I’ve fallen head-over-heels for an NF entry performed by a boy band. Yet I’m thrilled that Denmark is treating singing groups made up of males like vampires and refusing to invite them in? What the Emmelie de Forest is going on? Well, I’ll tell you. I’ve been desperate for a change in Denmark after two ESC non-qualifications in a row – and what’s the obvious alteration, given that the common chain-link between The Way You Are and Soldiers of Love is the amount and gender of their performers? Dictate that DMGP 2017 will be a boy/man band-free zone, of course. Yes, Denmark did very well with A Friend In London back in 2011; but it seems like they were the exception rather than the rule. A self-imposed vacation from groups lacking in ladies (and, as a matter of fact, groups WITH girl power) will ensure they’re sending something different – artist-wise, at least – to Kyiv. Maybe we’ll see them back in the top ten as a result.

 

And finally, the one that transformed us all into living, sobbing sadface emojis…

 

Gone girl: Amaya’s withdrawal from Evrovizijska Melodija 😦

Besides Ace Wilder and Anja Nissen, there was another female singer starting with A who I was super-excited to see potentially win her chosen national final. Well, her new and improved stage name starts with A, anyway. We knew her as Maja Keuc when she slayed on the ESC stage in 2011 (in one of my most lusted-after contest costumes of all time) and six years later, the time was supposed to be right for Amaya to make a comeback in Slovenia. Unfortunately, she’s decided that a different career opportunity that clashes with EMA must take priority (DAMN HER) and so, is out of the running on her own terms (DOUBLE DAMN HER). Just when my brain had established that she’d win by a landslide, flit off to Eurovision and secure Slovenia’s first ESC trophy, or at least a place on the podium! And do it all in another spectacular outfit. Talk about leaving us all with one-way tickets to What-ifs-ville USA. As someone who believes that everything – or almost everything – happens for a reason, I’m going to assume that Amaya: 2017 Edition just ain’t meant to be because something better is in her future. Meaning she’ll be back again (re-back? Alexander Re-back?) with something even more epic up her stylish sleeve than she had prepared this time. That attitude, of course, doesn’t stop me from mourning the loss of her from this year’s EMA line-up…hence why I’m complaining about it to you now. Join me, won’t you?

 

 

What have you enjoyed most about the Eurovision 2017 selection season so far? Which songs, acts and results have had you jumping for joy – or doing the opposite (whatever that is)? Let me know in the comments below!

 

 

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RANDOM REVIEW | Magnifique or a massive musical mistake? Amir’s ‘Au Cœur De Moi’

As we all know, France took Stockholm by storm with the adorable Amir and J’ai Cherché (though their sixth place – the country’s best result since 2002 – didn’t quite stack up to their win in the OGAE poll). Eurovision 2016 saw the man manage to haul France from the murky depths of the bottom five for the first time in four years, and that’s one of the million reasons why those of us who love him…well, love him.

I personally became so infatuated during my time in Sweden, I knew the first thing I did when I arrived back in Australia – before I’d even unpacked my substantial supply of Plopp bars – would be to grab a copy of his latest album Au Cœur De Moi, which was released just pre-ESC. And yes, I mean an actual, physical, flesh-and-blood (a.k.a. paper and plastic) copy to squeeze onto my Eurovision shrine shelf. I’m old-fashioned like that.

Even being as blinded by Amir amour as I was, this purchase could have been an unfortunate one if the album as a whole didn’t echo any of the awesomeness of J’ai Cherché. You’re about to find out if I think it does, and discover whether I’d recommend it to you if you haven’t heard it yet. If you follow me on social media (HINT HINT), you’ll know how I feel about it already, since, like Selena Gomez and her hands, I have trouble keeping my feelings to myself. But here’s a more detailed lowdown on/rating of the album anyway.

Enjoy, and let me know which pre or post-contest releases from ESC 2016 artists you’ve been listening to lately in the comments!

PSBWS (PS Before We Start): You can listen to the entire album here if you need to decide whether you agree with what I’m about to say…or not.

 

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Au Cœur De Moi fact files

    • The album was released in April 2016 and is Amir’s second, following the all-Hebrew Veyehi from his pre­-Voice days in 2011
    • The title translates to ‘At the Heart of Me’
    • It peaked at no. 6 on the French Albums chart and has charted in Belgium and Switzerland
    • Amir co-wrote nine of the twelve tracks, including his Eurovision entry J’ai Cherché
    • The bulk of the album is French-language, with one song entirely in English and another three a mix of both
    • So far, three singles have been released from the album: Oasis in June 2015, J’ai Cherché in January 2016 and On Dirait in August 2016

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The track list

  1. J’ai Cherché (I Searched)
  2. On Dirait (It Looks)
  3. Au Cœur De Moi (At The Heart of Me)
  4. Ma Vie, Ma Ville, Mon Monde (My Life, My City, My World)
  5. A Ta Manière (In Your Way)
  6. I Know
  7. Très Haut (Very High)
  8. Je Reviendrai (I’ll Be Back)
  9. Lost
  10. Oasis
  11. Broken Heart feat. ABI
  12. Il Est Temps Qu’on M’aime (It’s Time To Be Loved)

Anyone horrified by those translations should blame Google, and/or the fact that I haven’t studied French since I was twelve.

 

So, what does it sound like?

Planning on taking a summertime road trip feat. copious amounts of karaoke interspersed with re-energising naps? If so, then this is the soundtrack you’ll want to back it. It’s forty-two minutes of music that may not be on the knife edge of the French pop scene (emphasis on ‘may not’, because I actually have no idea what current, trendy French pop sounds like) but is full of feel-good vibes as well as some heartbreak-iness for good measure. Those mood swings allow Amir to showcase his versatility as an artist, as a singer, and as a songwriter.

That’s right: Au Coeur De Moi isn’t an album comprised of one J’ai Cherché after another (which I wouldn’t have minded, to be honest). That means that whether J’ai made you jump for joy or not, you’re still likely to find something to enjoy if you give this album a go.

Not convinced? Well, it’s positively packed with Eurovision 2016 reference points. On Dirait is more in the mould of J’ai Cherché than anything else on the album, and Oasis is like a more sedate, less folksy remix. The trumpet-drenched disco flavour of I Know (the most upbeat and energetic song in the mix by far) shares genre shelf space with Laura Tesoro’s What’s The Pressure and Sandhja’s Sing It Away (though I like to think it would have been more Belgium than Finland had it been an ESC entry). Given the title and the fact that is isn’t sleazy in the slightest, it’s almost the antithesis of Serhat’s I Didn’t Know – and in a battle between the two songs, I’d much rather be in the know. You know?

Amir certainly knows he’s a rung above Serhat on the ladder of musical integrity. And boy, is he happy about it.

Amir certainly knows he’s a rung above Serhat on the ladder of musical integrity. And boy, is he happy about it.

Meanwhile, title track Au Coeur De Moi and closer Il Est Temps Qu’on M’aime have the hypnotic beat and edge of Justs’ Heartbeat, though they’re a little less bare-bones (which doesn’t make them superior or inferior, given that all three songs kick derriere). If the music I’ve already mentioned brings out Amir’s fun side, then these examples give him the chance to get serious. Light-hearted or intense, they’re equally enjoyable tracks.

But wait! The Eurovision just past isn’t the only one that I’m reminded of as I listen to Au Cœur for the fiftieth time (today). Take Trés Haut, which is almost like the love child of Jessy Matador’s Allez Ola Olé and any of the dance anthems to have made it to the ESC stage recently – think Stay by Tooji or Only Love Survives by Ryan Dolan, with a generous helping of fabulous Frenchiness that makes it slightly quirkier than those songs. As for Broken Heart, a surprisingly uptempo duet with ABI…well, let’s just say it’s something Monika and Vaidas might sing at a later, non-sugar-coated stage of their This Time relationship.

Another aspect of the album I really appreciate is this: if you pay attention, you can hear the Israeli influence more than once. Most noticeable in A Ta Manière and Oasis, this adds another layer of depth to the record and increases the interest factor.

Overall, Au Cœur De Moi  is pretty darn dynamic. It manages to be energetic and easy-listening while still feeling complete and cohesive. It’s slick, as you might expect from the eternally-classy French (even when they’re gallivanting around a glammed-up shipyard in Copenhagen wearing zany hotpants and repeating the word ‘moustache’ over and over again), but it’s not TOO slick. It still feels authentic, and very Amir.

 

My top five tracks

J’ai Cherché This goes without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway. This song is and always will be an absolute gem, and has me looking like the smiliest of smiley emojis whenever I hear it. It’s a great opener for the album because it starts things off on a positive note, and makes you want to hear more should the folk-pop style be up your street (though, as I said before, you should stick around to hear what else Amir has to offer even if you can’t stand that style of music).

 

On Dirait This one isn’t as much of a statement piece as J’ai Cherché, but it is just as much fun, just as easy to clap along to, and possibly even more summery in sound. French seems to suit this type of song extremely well, and when combined with those summer vibes, makes me want to fly to the French equivalent of Ibiza and crash the first beach party I can find.

 

Au Cœur De Moi I don’t know if the title of this song was chosen for the album because it was supposed to be the star attraction (despite no single release) or if it just encapsulated Amir’s attitude towards the whole thing. Whatever the case, it’s an excellent title track. It’s the most contemporary song on the record and takes advantage of electronic production. The pounding beat makes it hard to skip when it comes on shuffle.

 

Oasis This song is a stunner, but not in a showy way. Again, the French language is ovary-meltingly beautiful here (though that may be because I know it’s coming out of Amir’s mouth); the verses are super-soothing (who needs to pay $100 an hour to a therapist when you’ve got this?); and the chorus is simple but effective. The only thing I dislike about the guitar-backed ballad is that the instrumental bit right at the end is too short (and it’s so pretty I want it to go on forever…or at least for a few more bars).

 

Broken Heart The addition of a duet to Au Cœur De Moi was a stroke of genius – something I’d also say about the sole duet on Måns Zelmerlöw’s Perfectly Damaged. Amir’s vocals shine alongside ABI’s (I’d never heard of her before, and she seems to be hard to track down even using that internet thing all the kids are into these days). It’s a sweet collaboration that’s catchier than the common cold.

 

The verdict

By now, my opinion of this album will be obvious. There’s nothing on it that I don’t like, and most of it I love. I wouldn’t say it’s all killer and no filler, but there aren’t any weak tracks that make you think ‘Why did they bother?’. There’s actually a handful that would have made respectable Eurovision entries in a parallel universe devoid of J’ai Cherché – and that says a lot, since not every song on the planet is fit to be a competition song.

What also says a lot is me writing this review in the first place. There’s only been one previous occasion on which I’ve felt passionate enough about a release from an ESC alum to ramble on about it for far too much page space. That was five years ago, almost to the day (creepy, right? Maybe you should revisit that review of Dima Bilan’s Mechtatel to calm yourself down). So congratulations, Amir, on prompting my second album review in seven years!

Ultimately, I’d recommend Au Cœur De Moi to any pop fan, because it’s far from being a one-trick pony. Like someone who didn’t have breakfast heading to an all-you-can-eat, 150-dish buffet for lunch, you’re sure to find something here that you like, and would like to sample again in the future.

Don’t hold me to that, though. As a Eurovision fan, you’ll be well aware that ‘each to their own’ is a phrase you have to employ frequently.

Now, as every review ends with a score of some kind, it’s rating time. In Eurovision terms – because I try to put everything in my life in Eurovision terms – it’s a douze-pointer. In standard album review terms, I give it five stars.

 

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If you’re after even more Amir (and who wouldn’t be, really), you can find him in all the usual online places.

Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Official site

 

What are your thoughts on Amir’s Au Cœur De Moi? Which Eurovision 2016 act has blown your mind with their non-contest music? Let me know below!

 

EBJ’s Top 10…podium-placed trios from Eurovision’s past and present!

‘The top three is the place to be’ – Jaz, 2016. That’s a quote that that must hold truth because it rhymes. And because it just does. I mean, if you entered a contest and neither first nor second was on the cards, third wouldn’t be a bad consolation prize (and there’d probably be an actual consolation prize involved too. Bonus!).

What I’m trying to say is that the upper echelons of the Eurovision scoreboard are the spaces every act wants to be occupying by the end of final night. Making the top 10 is awesome; the top 5, even better. But it’s the bronze, silver and gold positions that everyone aims for, and that have been secured by countless douze-attracting songs since the ESC’s early days.

As such, I thought it was about time to shine the spotlight on the best of the best in that department – at least as far as I’m concerned (as always, you’ll get your chance to disagree with me afterwards). So, with that in mind, here’s a countdown of my favourite top three trios from the entirety of Eurovision history *insert trumpet fanfare feat. dubstep breakdown here*.

By the way, this post was inspired by the Rio Olympics (gold, silver and bronze medals, reaching the “podium”…you get the idea), and yes, it was supposed to be published in August. Oops. Well, if orange is the new black and forty is the new thirty, then I guess October can be the new September. So it’s not even that late, really.

Let’s get into it!

 

 

#10 | Harrogate 1982

Ein Bißchen Frieden by Nicole (Germany), Hora by Avi Toledano (Israel), Amour On T’Aime by Arlette Zola (Switzerland)

pp1A little peace, a little dance and a little love kick off my countdown based on their collective strength. Sometimes less is more (yes, even at Eurovision), and that was extra evident in 1982 when the Bucks Fizz Skirt-Ripping Schtick™ was succeeded by Nicole’s sentimental ballad. That’s not to say that an in-your-face, high energy piece of pop didn’t have its place – it snapped up second, as a matter of fact. Hurray for Hora! Subtlety sandwiched Israel, however, with Germany on top and Switzerland’s Arlette in third. The ranking was right, I reckon.

My personal top pick Ein Bißchen Frieden

 

#9 | Brighton 1974

Waterloo by ABBA (Sweden), Si by Gigliola Cinquetti (Italy), I See A Star by Mouth & MacNeal (The Netherlands)

pp2I don’t doubt that the right song and act won Eurovision in Brighton. Anyone who does deserves to be decapitated with a vinyl copy of Arrival, to be honest. But ABBA had some stiff competition snapping at their platform heels back then, in the form of some great songs that have stood the test of time. Gigliola’s comeback Si nearly secured her a second contest win, with its grandiose sophistication proving she wasn’t ‘too young’ anymore. I See A Star is serious fun that didn’t have quite the same earworming ability as Waterloo, but made a wonderful impression nonetheless. All three songs are Seventies gold (ABBA pun possibly intended).

My personal top pick Waterloo

 

#8 | Dublin 1995

Nocturne by Secret Garden (Norway), Vuelve Conmigo by Anabel Conde (Spain), Se På Mig by Jan Johansen (Sweden)

pp3Mystery and drama were the buzz words of the ’95 top three, with Sweden and Spain having one apiece up their respective sleeves and Norway boasting both (massive sleeves were clearly the go back then). I must admit that Vuelve Conmigo, the fan favourite, pales in comparison to the songs that surrounded it on the scoreboard, in my opinion. But that’s not an indication of how inferior I think it is. It’s actually an indication of how deep my love is for Nocturne, and in particular, Se På Mig. Ja, my Swedish bias is still alive and kicking.

My personal top pick Se På Mig

 

#7 | Copenhagen 2014

Rise Like A Phoenix by Conchita Wurst (Austria), Calm After The Storm by The Common Linnets (The Netherlands), Undo by Sanna Nielsen (Sweden)

pp4Once again, two broadly similar songs were divided by something totally different with Copenhagen’s highest-scoring trio. Austria = a big, Bond-type ballad performed to perfection by a hot woman in a stunning dress. Sweden = a big, electro-tinged ballad performed to perfection by a hot woman in a stunning dress. The Netherlands = the sleeper hit that few of us saw coming until we saw it on the Hallerne stage. To sum up, that’s three awesome songs with charismatic artists and impressive staging elevating them even higher. 

My personal top pick Undo

 

#6 | Rome 1991

Fångad Av En Stormvind by Carola (Sweden), C’est le Dernier Qui a Parlé Qui a Raison by Amina (France), Kan by Duo Datz (Israel)

pp5If I must momentarily hop off the top-three train at Justification Station for this one, then I’ll do so in numbers. 1 – Carola. 2 – Dreamy, ethnic pop from France with an exotically long title. 3 – Carola. 4 – Duo Datz upping the fun and the size of their shoulder pads. And 5 – CAROLA! Let’s face it (if you’re reading this as a fellow Carola enthusiast, you’ll agree): the entries below hers could be utter crap and she’d still drag up the quality because she’s so fabulous. However, they weren’t. In fact, France’s was so magnifique, it lost to Sweden’s entry on countback rather than by points.

My personal top pick Fångad Av En Stormvind 

 

#5 | Istanbul 2004

Wild Dances by Ruslana (Ukraine), Lane Moje by Željko Joksimović & Ad-Hoc Orchestra (Serbia & Montenegro), Shake It by Sakis Rouvas (Greece)

pp6There’s a clear weak link in this top three for me, and I can’t just Shake It off (#seewhatIdidthere). But the mind-blowing brilliance of the other two entries more or less cancels that out. Ukraine’s first winner (I’m so happy we can say that now) is iconic on Planet ESC for being whip-cracking ethno-pop perfection that stood head, shoulders and skimpy leather outfits above the rest. Apart, of course, from a little thing I like to call MY ALL-TIME FAVOURITE EUROVISION SONG WITHOUT QUESTION. Sometimes, I even call it Lane Moje. It’s the pinnacle of Balkan ballads, and I refuse to hear otherwise.

My personal top pick Lane Moje

 

#4 | Riga 2003

Every Way That I Can by Sertab Erener (Turkey), Sanomi by Urban Trad (Belgium), Ne Ver, Ne Bojsia by tATu (Russia)

pp7One of the most tense voting sequences ever – possibly the most nail-biting in the era of random point-giving orders – took place in 2003, if you can remember that far back in time (I know it seems like five years ago, but it was actually THIRTEEN). Favourites Russia had the least impressive entry of the three fighting for first place, but even when they’re not brilliant, they’re far from bad. In a turn of events echoed in 2016, Russia finished third. Ahead of Ne Ver were the epic Sanomi and the oh-so-Eurovision ethnopop of Every Way That I Can, both of which helped make this a tremendous top three.

My personal top pick Every Way That I Can  

 

#3 | Brussels 1987

Hold Me Now by Johnny Logan (Ireland), Lass Die Sonne in Dein Herz by Wind (Germany), Gente Di Mare by Umberto Tozzi & Raf (Italy)

pp8I’m not about to dispute a win by Mr. Eurovision himself (not to be confused with Mr. Lordi, who prefers distressed leather and hard rock to white suits and power ballads). Hold Me Now is my number one – the only treasure I’ll ever haaaaave – of Johnny Logan’s three ESC winners, no doubt. Still, there was some great stuff mere points behind it. German reggae totally works when Wind are responsible for it, and LDSIDH always has me searching for sunshine and craving piña coladas. Gente Di Mare just makes me admire the effortless class of Italian music.

My personal top pick Hold Me Now

 

#2 | Vienna 2015

Heroes by Måns Zelmerlöw (Sweden), A Million Voices by Polina Gagarina (Russia), Grande Amore by Il Volo (Italy)

pp9Last year’s gold, silver and bronze-winning musical masterpieces were another example of vastly different songs fighting for first place. It was dance-pop with an Avicii-esque country twang (SHRN…or at least SHAYA, meaning so hot a year ago) that topped the table, followed by a peace ballad feat. the traditional Eurovision key change, which in turn was followed by the sexiest Italian opera I ever did see. That’s variety, my friends, and I for one LOVED it.

 My personal top pick Heroes

 

#1 | Athens 2006

Hard Rock Hallelujah by Lordi (Finland), Never Let You Go by Dima Bilan (Russia), Lejla by Hari Mata Hari (Bosnia & Herzegovina)

pp91None of these three entries are my favourite of all time, but their overall awesomeness sent them shimmying straight to the top of my list (Lejla is up there with my most beloved Balkan ballads, anyway). Hard Rock Hallelujah was a winner that opened the minds of non-rock lovers and surprised those who didn’t think something so heavy could succeed in the contest. Dima Bilan’s first ESC trip displayed Russia’s talent for fusing R&B with pop (and their talent for stuffing people into pianos). And Lejla…well, let’s just say that Željko Joksimović is capable of working his magic (in a way that would have impressed Koldun) for countries other than just Serbia and/or Montenegro.

My personal top pick Lejla

 

 

That brings me to the conclusion of this countdown – and let me tell you, it’s reminded me in a big way of what it takes to enter top three territory at Eurovision (I was asking for a friend). In case you didn’t get the memo, ‘it’ = stuff like lots of white, whips, horns (the musical and monster kind)…basically, anything lifted from the lyrics of Love Love, Peace Peace. Who would have thought?

Now, since I’ve showed you mine, it’s time for you to show me yours. Which top three entries from ESC history have impressed you the most – a collection of classic chansons, or a more modern first, second and third? Let me know in the comments so I can judge your poor taste as much as you’ve judged mine. It’s more fun if we all get to bring out our inner bitches so they can party together!

 

Until next time,

 

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PS – If you suspected that Stockholm 2016 might make it on to my list, then you should know that I purposefully omitted it. That’s because I didn’t think enough time had passed since Ukraine, Australia (!) and Russia topped the table to determine whether they make up a classic top three; one that holds its own against the rest and will do for years to come. For the record though, it would have made my personal top 5.