Just as there’s diversity in the musical line-up of every ESC, there’s also diversity in terms of how well each song is performed live. I realise I’m telling you something you already know even if you’re a casual Eurofan (as opposed to a hardcore year-round obsessive, like me and most of the people who put up with my lengthy Eurovision ramblings). But I’m trying to segue into the topic of today’s post, dammit! And that topic is the performances from Lisbon that left a little – or a LOT, in some cases – to be desired.
Bad backdrops, inappropriate props, lacklustre lighting, catastrophic costumes, vomit-inducing vocals…for a handful of countries, things just didn’t come together (STOCKHOLM SLOGAN PUN ALERT). Following on from my way more complementary Top 10 performances of 2018 post, here’s the other end of the spectrum: the biggest mistakes made and/or overall worst performances of the year from where I was sitting (on my couch). I don’t mean any disrespect to the artists mentioned or to their delegations…but sometimes, one’s inner bitch just HAS to come out.
Croatia: (All) lights and (no) shadows
I’m starting off with something small that bothered me about a performance in Portugal. As picky as I know I can be, there are times when a tiny detail drags down staging that would otherwise have seen a country’s contest package all wrapped up with a pretty ribbon on it. Take Croatia, who positioned the beautiful Franka on stage in an equally gorgeous gown (albeit one with a pattern that drew too much attention to her pelvic area) in front of a mic stand, where she proceeded to werk the camera and sass her way through a totally competent rendition of Crazy. So far so good, right? Sure – except Crazy is a moody, sexy boudoir ballad that begged for a moody, sexy lighting scheme (think dark shadows, spotlights and a dash of red), and it did NOT get what it wanted. Without the required combo of Austria, Belgium and Latvia’s lighting, Croatia’s three minutes looked ‘meh’ – almost like Franka was rehearsing and her team still had changes to make. It seems a bit weird that a country can throw everything at their performance one year (and I mean EVERYTHING, Jacques) and then miss the mark twelve months later. Maybe 2019 will be the year Croatia finds a happy medium?
Greece: No drama = no good
Yianna Terzi: another attractive female soloist with excellent dress sense and great hair who delivered on her end of the ESC bargain this year – a.k.a. she put in an applause-worthy, almost studio-perfect performance. It was what happened around and behind her on the Altice Arena stage (by which I mean nothing) that screwed her over. Seriously, I know Greece don’t have a lot of cash to splash on their song contest presentations…but Oneiro Mou is more dramatic than Silvia Night when she didn’t qualify in Athens, and as such deserved less simplistic stage treatment. It was one song that emphasised the lack of in-built LED screens in a bad way, given that I’m guessing Greece couldn’t afford to ship in (nautical pun intended) their own á la Germany and Malta. That’s not to say that the right prop or (again) lighting scheme wouldn’t have helped boost them into the qualification zone. What I’m saying is that as patriotic as they were, Yianna’s white dress and blue hand (presumably intentional, but maybe she was just cold) were not enough. Her song needed drama served up hot, but sadly, I think it was undercooked.
Russia: A mountainous mistake
Raise your hand if you didn’t think I was going to mention this! Obviously I can’t see you guys right now (my mass spying devices are on the blink at the moment) but I don’t think I need to – nobody has their hand in the air. It was awkward, ridiculous, and I must say laughable enough when Russia waved their CGI wand over poor Yulia and turned her into a mountain for the I Won’t Break music video. But did we think they’d come up with something less WTF for the live show? I did, but that may have been wishful thinking. It turns out that disguising a wheelchair (unnecessarily) with a prop mountain live on stage looks even more ridiculous than doing it via a computer generated alp. Also, what does a mountain even symbolise in relation to this song? Probably overcoming obstacles, blah blah blah, but that was not clear (and three minutes doesn’t give viewers a lot of time to analyse potential deeper meaning). It was uncomfortable to watch and literally uncomfortable for Yulia. Add ropey vocals and some random dancers into the mix – who arguably got more screen time than she did – and it’s a) hard to believe that Sergey Lazarev and his impeccable staging = Russia’s last representative; and b) easy to work out why Russia failed to qualify for the first time with this.
Belarus: Gothic horror goes wrong
I’ve said this a billion times before, but I don’t watch Eurovision rehearsals. If I’m getting up at 3am for something, I want it to be a surprise! But I do listen to and read every little rehearsal description from the press centre and on my Twitter feed – total abstinence is impossible. My point is, when I heard what Belarus had in store for the ESC staging of Forever, I was super psyched. On paper, the rose handover, brief game of archery and Alekseev’s gruesome prosthetics sounded OTT, but also OMG YES. If you can’t do stuff like that at Eurovision, where can you? It’s too bad then that in the end, the whole concept came off as a bit of a joke. For starters, Alekseev was shaking so much he could barely pass the rose to the camera guy (and the whole jerky rose rotation was pure cringe). The on-screen petal explosion was timely but tacky. And that bed-of-roses-on-the-back reveal was…well, I still thought it was cool in a gross, ‘WHAT IN THE NAME OF NAVIBAND AM I LOOKING AT?!?’ kind of way. But it wasn’t as effective as I think Belarus wanted it to be…and I definitely couldn’t take it seriously. Many fans might have questioned the light-up space suit Alekseev wore when he won the Belarusian NF, but in hindsight, packing that in his suitcase for Portugal might have been a smart idea.
Romania: The Humans + a bunch of dummies
It still feels strange knowing that Romania lost their 100% qualification record this year – but after the bizarre staging brought to us by The Humans, is it really that surprising? Romania has never misfired so badly before, but that’s what happens when you take a song with the potential to be elevated by an awesome stage show (which is exactly what went down with Moldova) and have it performed in the presence of creepy department store mannequins. There’s a reason horror movies have been made about those things, and since Goodbye isn’t a song that’s supposed to scare the crap out of people, I have to ask…what were they thinking? It didn’t work for Switzerland in 2007 (but at least Vampires Are Alive had a pre-existing creep factor) and I can’t imagine what possessed the Romanian delegation to give it a try. The main purpose those faceless freaks served was distracting us from the performance elements that did work – Cristina’s risqué dress and epic vocal power, for instance. They didn’t help to fill the stage (except with fear) or tell the story of the song, that’s for sure. And to think that last year, cannons that weren’t allowed to be fired and an awkward kiss were Romania’s biggest on-stage issues!
Macedonia: MY EYES!!!
If you hadn’t guessed, I’ve been working my way up to the worst of the worst staging disasters of Eurovision 2018…which is why I haven’t mentioned Macedonia until now. They are the masters of messing up live performances of great songs, and the streak of self-sabotage continued in Lisbon. Eye Cue hit the city armed with a multiple-personality song that needed clever staging – and cool costumes, of course – to pull everything together. Tragically (in a first-world-problem sense), as with Spain last year, it all went wrong in alarming fashion. The fashion, in fact, was the single most horrific thing we were forced to look at, as the otherwise stunning Marija wandered aimlessly around the stage in a bright pink, backwards tuxedo jacket with inexplicable armpit cutouts. When she whipped it off mid-song, I thought a crisis had been averted…only to witness the most unflattering half sweater/half swimsuit monstrosity the world has ever seen. The only saving grace in a performance that was as neat and tidy as the top shelves of my closet (i.e. not at all) was the vocals. Oh, and Marija’s shoes – they were dope. Just not dope enough to save Macedonia from their Barbara Dex destiny…
Which Eurovision performances disappointed/shocked/scared the s%*t out of you enough to become your personal “worsts” of the year? Let me know in the comments below…and from one overly-judgmental person to another, don’t hold back!
THE EBJ EUROVISION 2018 REVIEWS: Round 6 (Belgium, Czech Republic, Germany, Israel, Macedonia + San Marino)
I have to open this post with three letters: OMG!!! As I type this, Eurovision 2018 rehearsals are underway, with the semi 1 first halfers taking to the stage yesterday and the second halfers going through the motions right now. It still feels surreal that we’ve reached this point already. Didn’t Salvador only win in Kyiv like, three months ago?
As you’ll know if you’ve hung out with me and my blog before, my golden rule is to NEVER watch the rehearsals. I like to keep things fresh for when I fall out of bed onto the floor at 3am for the live shows (that’s why I also haven’t listened to any of the songs in full for a good six weeks). So you won’t find any analysis of who’s nailing and failing their practice runs on the Altice Arena stage here. It’s not like there’s going to be a shortage of that stuff anyway, and I’m sure you know where to find it: my favourites are ESC Xtra, my Aussie girl Anita at Eurovision Union, and ESC Insight for the daily podcasts. But I do offer catty/complimentary comments on Twitter based on descriptions I’ve heard and photos I’ve seen – #professional. Head over there and follow me @EurovisionByJaz for many Mikolas Josef well-wishes and reaction GIFs.
What you will find here is the continuation of my 2018 reviews, as I trudge towards the finish line approximately 150 kilometres behind everyone else. I still get an ‘A’ for effort, right? There are three rounds left for me to bring to you guys, and today’s is all about Belgium, the Czech Republic, Germany, Israel, Macedonia and San Marino. Want to know what I think of the songs Sennek, Mikolas, Michael, Netta, Eye Cue and Jessika feat. Jenifer packed in their Portuguese suitcases? Then keep reading – and don’t forget to comment your thoughts on these tracks + vote in the Round 6 poll. How else am I supposed to know how much you all disagree with me?
My thoughts Pressure (whatever that is, says Laura Tesoro) on Belgium this year was sky-high, as we wondered if they would maintain the run of Eurovision magnificence that began with Loïc Nottet in 2015. The simple question is, have they done so with Sennek and A Matter of Time? And the not-so-simple answer from me is the following. The thing is, if I loved Rhythm Inside 100% (which I did), I loved What’s The Pressure 90% of that, and City Lights 90% of that. And as much as I want to say my love for A Matter of Time is at 70% or more, the reality is that I don’t love it at all. My brain says ‘This is a damn good song, Jaz, don’t you reckon?’, but my heart says ‘Nope’. It leaves me feeling absolutely nothing. We seem to have a James Bond theme at every ESC these days, and sometimes they do connect with me and give me all the feels (sorry, Renaida possessed me for a second there) but Sennek’s gives me none. No goosebumps, no heart palpitations, no need to call an ambulance due to the sheer shock of how amazing it is whatsoever. I can’t put my finger on why not. It’s polished and sophisticated; cinematic in its drama (totes appropes for a song that should accompany footage of Daniel Craig kicking the asses of fifteen assassins at once); original for what it is, with melodic twists and turns that flow well but make sure there’s no time to get bored; and it’s performed beautifully by Sennek (in studio). So what’s wrong with me? Why don’t I adore this? Why am I more excited by the prospect of Sennek’s visual merchandising work for Ikea than by the prospect of seeing this performed live for the first time? If anyone out there is an amateur or professional psychologist and can offer some insight into my severe Belgian mental block, please let me know. In the meantime, I’ll offer some insight on how I think this will do in Lisbon. Once again Belgium is competing in the first semi, which as we all know is the Semi of Death and Destruction and Weeping Eurofans Worldwide. But since Sennek was a contender FTW in the odds, I’d say she’s on the borderline between certain qualifier and a ‘most likely to’ qualifier. In other words, I won’t be splashing any cash on her to make the final, but I do expect to see her there (especially because I don’t ‘get’ this entry, which means it’ll probably do well because that happens every year). As for what will go down on the Saturday night: well, with a good vocal performance and modern, atmospheric staging, a fourth consecutive top 10 place for Belgium wouldn’t come as a surprise – but I’m thinking 11th to 15th at this point.
2017 VS 2018? Blanche = better. I’m not sure how anyone could argue with that.
My score 7
My thoughts If I was giving out an award for the biggest Eurovision glow-up from 2017-2018, the Czech Republic would win it without even trying. I never had a major vendetta against Martina’s My Turn last year, but that’s because it was so bland – bland enough to be one of my least favourite entries of Kyiv. Fast forward twelve months, and the Czech Republic is not only right up in my top 3 for the year, they’re also in the mix to win the entire thing. WTF?!? This almost-favourite status is unprecedented for a country with a disastrous track record, feat. two semi final last places and another last place in the only final they’ve managed to make it to. But I have no hesitation in saying that Lie To Me is the Czechs best entry ever by a million miles. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat after dreaming that Mikolas wasn’t chosen to go to Portugal – that’s how much of a missed opportunity picking anything else would have been. Lie To Me is the musical love child of Problem by Ariana Grande and Talk Dirty by Jason Derülo, with ridiculously wonderful lyrics fired at us a mile a minute until the sparser, smoother, sing-along chorus drops. The trumpet riff pulls you in instantly (what a great way to start a song) and rivals Hey Mamma for catchiness. This might come across as a novelty song in some ways, but at its core it’s epic R&B-pop that’s impossible to ignore even if you don’t like it (but if you don’t, I’m afraid we can’t be friends). It’s urban, fun, a little bit NSFW even though it’s been cleaned up for the contest, and full of attitude. And let’s not forget Mikolas’ charisma and swag, both of which are on the favourable side of the ‘Am I A Douche or Not?‘ spectrum. If I had to pick on something, I’d say I’m not sure about the backpack (or the camel…it’s in the lyrics/music video, and all I can think of based on the song’s subject matter is that its presence has something to do with humps). But I firmly believe that Lie To Me can not only fly into the final, but that Mikolas can ride that camel all the way to the podium. I can’t imagine a song with lyrics like “I know you ‘bop-whop-a-lu bop’ on his wood bamboo” (the tip of the OMG lyric iceberg) actually winning, but 3rd would be a mighty fine spot for the Czech Republic to score. Beyond fine, in fact. Let’s make it happen, Team Miki (and jurors, who will hopefully not think this is offensive and mutter stuff about ‘The youth of today’ as they rank it right at the bottom).
2017 VS 2018? Do I even need to answer this? 2018!!!
My score 12
My thoughts Oh, Germany. What happened to you? 2010 was a turning point that ground to a screeching halt in 2013 with a great song + bad staging. That was followed by a decent but not memorable song, a nul pointer, a great song + terrible costume choice, then a song last year that was destined to do nothing on the scoreboard. This might sound harsh, but there are a lot of countries that deserve an automatic spot in the final more than Germany does at the moment. They’re certainly not making the most of their Big Five status, and I think that trend has continued with You Let Me Walk Alone. It’s supposed to be a sentimental tearjerker of a piano ballad about Michael’s late father – I say ‘supposed’ because the sentiment is lost on me, and my eyes are drier than a desert when I’m listening to it. Does that make the song artificially emotional, or am I a cold, unfeeling witch who should go and live the hermit life in an isolated mountainside cave? Maybe don’t answer that. I am sorry that I don’t feel what I “should” be feeling here (and I’m sorry for Michael’s loss) but this does even less for me than Belgium’s song. It’s musical wallpaper. I do actually like the pre-chorus, because that’s where the lyrics are least cliché and the melody is worth an approving nod. If the rest of the song was more like that part, I wouldn’t be wearing my Negative Nancy t-shirt right now. But as it is, if I do the mental test of asking myself ‘Would this qualify if it was competing in a semi?’, my personal answer is no, I don’t think so. But hey, since Germany has a talent for dragging good songs down with bad staging choices (occasionally…I don’t mean to be a bitch about this) perhaps they’ll do the opposite this year and elevate YLMWA to a place where even I can appreciate it. Then again, I have heard they’re using the old photos-in-the-background trick which doesn’t bode well – I hate that almost as much as I hate cover albums (and I really hate cover albums). Regardless of what Michael is surrounded by, standing on top of or wearing, I think his song will get lost in the 26-song grand final, unless it’s tacked on to the end of the running order (unlikely). I cannot see him faring much better than Levina, but don’t be too hard on me if I’m spectacularly wrong and Germany goes top 10. That would be kicking me while I’m already down, and while I’m confused.
2017 VS 2018? 2017, I guess. Can you feel the lack of enthusiasm?
My score 5
My thoughts Here it is: the bookies’ favourite and runaway winner of the OGAE Poll. This time last year I could have said the same thing about Italy, and we all know what happened to Occidentali’s Karma when the actual contest came around. Thanks to Francesco’s 6th place, we have to question whether Netta will also fall short of pre-show expectations, or if she’ll she do an Alexander Rybak right in front of Alexander Rybak. I feel like it’s one of the two, but more on that after I’ve talked about Toy itself. You might remember that I was never sold on Occidentali’s Karma as a winner, and I have similar gut feelings about Toy…only they’re more fragile feelings this time (which tells me Netta is more likely than Francesco was to steamroll her opponents into submission). Once again I’ve found myself fond of, but not crazy about the song that’s been crowned The One by masses of Eurofans. The thing I do absolutely love about this entry is how original it is, to the point of being riskily so. It’s great to see a country go out on a limb instead of playing it safe. There is no doubt that this stands out from start to finish, and not just because Netta has her vocal looper in tow. The music is inventive, the lyrics are clinically insane but iconic as heck (I don’t know exactly what ‘taking my Pikachu home’ means, but I’m on board with it) and the energy is unrelenting. This is the kind of song that makes me wish more than ever that I was going to Eurovision this year so I could mosh to it. Toy has spawned memes and merchandise, not to mention an epidemic of clucking chicken impressions (a vaccine is currently in development) and that impact can’t be ignored. However, as I said, the song is not keeping my boat especially buoyant, if you know what I mean (translation: it doesn’t float my boat as much as a lot of other entries do). I can praise its originality until the end of time, but I couldn’t honestly say I’ve fallen in love. That might be why I’m not convinced of Israel’s winning chances – I’d prefer plenty of other songs to win. Still, I genuinely see road blocks for Toy to get over that were not in the pathway of Fairytale and Heroes, for example. I said it about the Czech Republic and I’ll say it again about Israel: As much as I want a fun-filled banger of a winner, I can’t imagine a song with lyrics like Toy’s winning the whole contest. And I have to wonder if, because the majority of people going crazy over this are firmly in the Eurovision bubble, first-time listeners/viewers will react to it in the same hugely-positive way. It could be an assault on the senses live on the big stage (not that I’d advise Israel to go for tasteful and understated. That’s fine for France but a mismatch for them). If not Israel to win though, then who? My ideal situation would be for a country we haven’t focused on that much to step up their game during the rehearsal period and say ‘I have ARRIVED!’ – partly because I hate a predictable winner; partly because I want a song I love to win, not a song I like. But majority rules. If the Eurovision roadshow is meant to go to Tel Aviv or Jerusalem in 2019, that’s where it will go and I will have to live with it.
2017 VS 2018? You might question my sanity, but I honestly prefer I Feel Alive (and not just because Imri is a beautiful creature/hopefully not a stupid boy).
My score 7.5
My thoughts Macedonia had a similar contest experience to Italy last year in terms of being hyped and then missing the expected mark. Dance Alone was fanwank material that wouldn’t have been so highly regarded if Sweden had sent it, but because it came from Macedonia it was a pleasant surprise. Only the overwhelming love from fans (excluding me since I was never that into it) didn’t transfer into ESC success, and FYROM failed to even qualify. Is the same story being written for Macedonia as we speak? Lost and Found is a somewhat surprisingly high-quality song that has been hyped and showered with affection, but may struggle to make it out of its semi. What’s the difference, aside from the fact that, as far as I know, neither member of Eye Cue is a) pregnant, or b) about to get engaged during a global television broadcast? It is a very different song, of course – there are actually two or three different songs within this one song – and it’s probably going to be staged in a less off-putting way than Dance Alone on the basis that Lost and Found is a warmer, more fun song. Every segment of it, like a ripe orange, is delicious and appealing; but also like an orange (I hope you didn’t think I’d stopped with the food metaphors) as a whole it is messy. We’ve got infectious reggae-pop in the verses, which follows on from the soft acoustic-style opening lines repeated throughout, which in turn leak into the upbeat dance chorus (I think it’s the chorus, anyway). They’re all catchy, all lyrically blessed and all sung beautifully by vocalist Marija – I LOVE her voice, and she’s already proven it’s like honey live. On one hand, I like how Lost and Found dips in and out of different styles, packing so much into its three minutes it’s like a lunchbox overflowing with tasty snacks. On the other hand, I’m disappointed that a song with the potential to be epic had it been cohesive is anything but cohesive. I’m still not sure if it works as a whole or not. It can’t be compared to the last entry to change things up in-song to such an extent – Icebreaker by Agnete – because that changed tempo rather than genre. The changes Macedonia makes aren’t as arresting, but are more confusing. I want Eye Cue to qualify, but at this point where I’m yet to make any official, posted-on-social-media-for-the-world-to-laugh-at predictions, I’m on the fence, and it’s hurting my brain (and my backside…it’s an uncomfortable fence) trying to answer the will-they-or-won’t-they question. So I won’t answer it right now. I’ll just say that if Macedonia does get to the final, I’m foreseeing a lower left-side placing at best.
2017 VS 2018? 2018. They’ve lost their grip on genre, but found some incredible pieces of pop.
My score 8.5
My thoughts San Marino is always a fun country to review for all the wrong reasons. They’re also a country that puts me to the test in terms of not being too insulting. Don’t be shocked to hear that I’m being tested yet again in 2018 with Jessika (via Malta) and Jeni B (via Germany). Look, I really like these girls: they’re friendly, personable and seem to be enjoying their ESC journey (which will be a pretty short one) so far. I’m happy for them to have the chance to do something so cool, especially Jessika who’s been rejected as a Maltese representative about 75 000 times and was obviously desperate to get to Eurovision (can’t blame her). But the bottom line for me is that Who We Are is TERRIBLE. To think that the Loin D’ici Straubs were partially responsible for bringing it to life is horrifying. It sounds like something the winner of Popstars might have released as a winner’s single circa 2001, but it couldn’t have been called current back then. I actually have no idea which decade this song would have been fashionable in. The sound-alike Heroes chorus is the only common trait between this and a song with the calibre to win the contest, and Jeni B’s rap is the worst rap I’ve ever heard. That’s not because she’s a bad rapper but because the lyrics she’s being forced (there must have been gunpoint involved at some stage) to rap are from Cringe City. I can’t decide if the worst part is ‘If they dissin’ you on Twitter, don’t get sad don’t be bitter’, or ‘If they say so, get in the car, rev it up and be a star.’ To say ‘What is this, Junior Eurovision?’ would be doing JESC a disservice. Okay, so the anti-bullying message is worth a round of applause – I fully support that. And, believe it or not, I don’t hate this as much I used to, but that in itself is something I hate. I did NOT want this to be a grower. It hasn’t grown beyond being the 42nd song in my top 43, but there was a time when it was right at the rear, and if it can creep up once it could creep up again. Someone should make a horror movie about a situation like this. I can see the tagline now: Who We Are Is Coming To Get You, And Jeni B Won’t Stop Until She Knows YOU Know That Jess Over Here Is A Special VIP *screams bloody murder*. To sum up, the Who We Are I wanted at Eurovision 2018 was from Norway; I don’t think anyone asked for this one. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad we have San Marino in the Euro family…but good Lordi, they need to find a way to slay. Safe to say I’m confident they’re staying behind in the semi.
2017 VS 2018? When Valentina is an option, always choose Valentina.
My score 3
31 down, 12 to go! Here are the standings now I’ve scored today’s six songs:
- Czech Republic (12)
- Macedonia (8.5)
- Israel (7.5)
- Belgium (7)
- Germany (5)
- San Marino (3)
No lie – Mikolas wins this round by a big margin. I know I’ll get some gasps for sticking Israel in the middle, but honesty is the best policy, right? Unless you’re Benjamin Ingrosso, but that’s a discussion topic for another day.
If you’re on Team Israel or you want to show your love for any of the other songs on the program today, you know what to do.
NEXT TIME If you’ve been keen for me to judge Denmark, Iceland, Italy, Serbia, Slovenia or the United Kingdom, then the wait is over! One is in my top 10, another is anything but, and the rest are the filling in the sandwich. Come back later this week to find out which is which.