Sorry to start off a post with profanity, but SHIT JUST GOT REAL, GUYS. The Eurovision 2019 rehearsals have started! Somebody pinch me. But not too hard, I have a low pain threshold.
Cyprus was the first country to take to the stage on Saturday, and as I type this we’re well into the third day of run-throughs. You may or may not know that I never watch rehearsals (I like the element of surprise) but I do read and listen to rehearsal reviews so I have some idea what’s happening (total surprise is overrated). Even so, you won’t find any rehearsal commentary here on EBJ – my favourites for that are Eurovision Ireland’s live blogs and ESC Insight’s podcasts. What I do have for you today is the penultimate round of my Tel Aviv reviews, feat. Azerbaijan, Finland, Ireland, Slovenia and Sweden, most of whom have already hit the stage in Israel.
You know what to do: keep reading for my thoughts on Chingiz, Darude & Sebastian, Sarah, Zala & Gašper and John’s songs for the contest so close we can taste it – then let me know in the comments who scores what in your opinion. I’ll be waiting!
If there’s one thing about Eurovision 2019 we can be surer of than Montenegro making it no further than Tuesday night, it’s that Azerbaijan will be wanting back in the final after losing their qualification record in Lisbon. It’s practically seeping out of their pores – not that Chingiz has visible pores or any other obvious imperfections. And Azerbaijan isn’t messing around musically: they’ve turned to Bulgarian, Swedish and US songwriters with strong ESC pedigrees this year. Truth was written by, among others, Borislav Milanov (husband of Tamara Gachechiladze and co-writer of If Love Was A Crime, Beautiful Mess, Bones and Malta’s Chameleon); Joacim Persson (also co-writer of Bulgaria’s recent contest contenders plus Chameleon, and Mikolas Josef’s Me Gusta); and Trey Campbell (member of Equinox and co-writer of Bones). Name-dropping of that calibre alone doesn’t ensure a successful trip to Tel Aviv. After all, some of these songwriters were also responsible for Dance Alone and In Too Deep. But it turns out Truth is a banger, with all the equipment to qualify and do reasonably if not incredibly well for Azerbaijan.
I’d summarise it like this: it’s a faster, sci-fi-free version of Bones and a big step up from the competent but cookie-cutter X My Heart. I don’t know about you, but I can definitely hear the bones of Bones in this and would have guessed the same writers were behind it even if I hadn’t known. Truth is actually a little more enjoyable than Bones for me, purely because it’s more uplifting and infectious. The production is cutting-edge contemporary; the lyrics are sparse and simple which makes for great singalong material (like you haven’t already screamed ‘SHUT UP ABOUT IT!’ at the top of your lungs at least once); and as usual, a hint of ethnicity has been stuffed into the package to remind us that this is the Azerbaijani entry. I don’t know how they get away with that, but they do – mugham etc can seemingly be shoehorned into any genre, and in this case it makes what would have been a standard pop song above average. All in all I’m excited about this entry, and I swear that has more to do with the song than with Chingiz being ridiculously attractive.
Interestingly, in 2018 Aisel was a jazz singer trying her hand at dance music, and it didn’t seem to fit. Yet Chingiz, whose area of expertise is flamenco fusion, has taken to dance pop like a well-groomed, gym-toned duck to water. So what could possibly prevent Azerbaijan from returning to their old stomping ground of the top 5? Well, funnily enough I see Truth doing similar things to Bones rather than climbing that high. As much as I do like the song, it’s missing a certain extra something that would make it a cert for a top 10 finish, let alone top 5. But that’s my thinking based on the song alone, and Azerbaijan have always been good game-players when it comes to staging. Truth is a better song than X My Heart without a doubt, so if it’s staged even half as well as that it will be an unstoppable qualifier. From that point, if it is presented in an attention-grabbing way (using some of the excess fluoro body paint from the video perhaps) who knows where it could go. On the other hand, if they ruin it live and disaster strikes, I am ready and waiting to console you, Chingiz.
In a line A well-produced banger with bite that gives us an excuse to yell ‘SHUT UP!’ 2018 VS 2019 2019, and that’s the Truth Predicted result SF 5th-7th, GF 11th-14th My score 10 points
Finland’s national final UMK was another one-act, three-song affair this year. But instead of the delightful Saara Aalto we got notorious 90s DJ Darude plus singer/actor Sebastian – and people were EXCITED. About Darude, anyway (no offence, Sebastian). I can’t say I was over the moon personally, but that’s because Robin Packalen said thanks but no thanks to YLE before they approached Darude. How do you say ‘devastated’ in Finnish? Mr. Sandstorm was a prize pick on face value though, I’ll admit. And as someone who has enjoyed Eurovision’s recent DJ/vocalist combos, I was looking forward to what Finland would present us with.
Unfortunately that turned out to be three versions of the same song, and that song was straight out of the decade when Darude had his biggest hit. I’m all for a throwback, but in this case it was a contemporary dance track I wanted…not something that could have been released as a single straight after Sandstorm in 1999. Look Away was the best option out of UMK despite the trio of songs being pretty damn interchangeable, and believe it or not I do actually like it. I don’t think it’s a good song for a contest in the final year of the 2010s, but I would dance my ass off to it in the Euroclub were I going to Eurovision this year (if you are, please bust a move on my behalf). I don’t even know why I like it when it’s so monotonous and depressing, but I guess the melody works for me – that pre-chorus is especially catchy. Plus there’s an intense atmosphere to the song in general that gives it a je ne sais quoi. But even I have to acknowledge the issues with this. It is dated, it is forgettable, and the lyrics leave a lot to be desired. ‘How can we go to sleep at night, and lay there in our beds, when we know what’s going on with the world today’ is passable in a Boggie-style ballad, but in a dance track it just sounds wrong (not to mention cheesy). I’m sure a lot of time and effort went into producing this song and into writing the lyrics, but it all seems a bit basic.
Another problem is that the whole ‘DJ at desk accompanied by solo male singer in leather jacket and/or hat’ schtick is, at Eurovision, clearly declining in quality. Norway nailed it in 2017; Poland had a good song last year but massacred the live performance; and now we have Finland failing to tick boxes in the song and performance departments. God knows how horrendous the 2020 attempt will be, because in 2019 it’s uninspiring to listen to and to look at. Sebastian’s vocals are far from polished, and that ‘Let’s all slow-clap with our hands in the air like we’re at a music festival!’ move is painful to watch. I didn’t mind the LED box the guys had on stage with them at UMK (complete with dancer) but it wasn’t enough to elevate Look Away. I really think Finland will struggle to qualify with this, which is a shame when the Darude name-drop was so well received. It’s just that there are easily ten more memorable, more enjoyable entries in the first semi. In my opinion, this one doesn’t have the fight to get to final night.
In a line Dated dance music with a message and not much hope 2018 VS 2019 2018 Predicted result SF 12th-16th My score 7 points
Poor Ireland. They’ve been desperately clinging on to ‘We’ve won Eurovision seven times!’ since 1996, which makes me wish Sweden would get a move on and win at least once more to shut them up. Yet they’ve never got a proper grip on what makes the ESC tick in the televoting era. There have been glimmers of hope in the form of Jedward, Ryan Dolan (before he finished dead last in the 2013 final), and Ryan O’Shaughnessy. But there’s been no streak of success, no formula found and no left-hand side of the scoreboard for the Emerald Isle since 2011. Now, in 2019, could 22 possibly be the magic number that takes them back to their glory days of not being able to stop winning?
To be blunt, no. Sarah McTernan’s song is too problematic for that. But first, some positives, because I do like this song. There’s something really charming about the retro Hairspray vibe it gives off, and it gets stuck in my head a lot because it’s so easy to sing and hum along to. The lyrics are simple and cute, and they aren’t annoying despite rhyming to an excessive extent (I think every possible rhyme for ’22’ was deployed apart from the childish and inappropriate one I know you’re thinking of right now too). The song is pretty simple in general, but that also makes it accessible – and stops it from being an assault on the senses like a bunch of other attention-demanding 2019 entries. It is funny that, like Finland, the music and tempo here doesn’t seem to match the subject matter. Sarah’s missing her ex even though she tries to move on with other people, but she’s telling us that over a sunny, boppy and poppy style of music and melody. Somehow, it works better for Sarah than it does for Darude and Sebastian. Maybe that’s because she’s more personable and believable, and can sell this song as well as anybody could. She sings it capably too. I’m a fan of her voice.
There isn’t anything else like this competing in Tel Aviv, so Ireland does stand out. There’s a passing resemblance to Serbia’s 2011 entry Čaroban too that might explain my attraction to it…though 22 is obviously Čaroban’s less energetic, more introverted and very distant cousin. And it’s time to get realistic about its chances, because as sweet as it is and as much as I wish it had the legs to leap into the final, I don’t think it’s meant to be. When I said 22 was problematic, I meant mainly in terms of it not being “extra” enough. It’s one of those songs that’s enjoyable while it’s playing, but it doesn’t leave a lasting impression. Basically, it’s a non-event, at least in the context of a highly competitive song contest. I doubt many people will find it impactful enough, 16 performances later when the voting opens, to remember – let alone vote for. And on top of that, in the land of conspiracy theories, Ireland is the EBU’s SF2 sacrificial lamb: a.k.a. they’ve been positioned second in the running order, like Montenegro in SF1. After Armenia’s power and passion, this entry will seem flatter than a soda with the lid left off. It’s safe to say Irish win no. 8 isn’t en route yet.
In a line Retro-flavoured, romance-themed pop with loads of charm but no oomph 2018 VS 2019 2018, a song that deserved better Predicted result SF 13th-16th My score 7 points
There’s always one country that takes you by surprise during national final season, and Slovenia managed to surprise me not once, not twice, but three times this year. First I was shocked when Raiven didn’t win EMA; then I was thrown by the actual winner being a song I didn’t remember hearing when I previewed the Slovenian snippets (having had no time to listen to them all in full); THEN I was totally taken aback when I watched Zala and Gašper’s performance of Sebi without knowing what to expect. To be honest, any expectations I did have weren’t high based on Slovenia’s unsteady quality levels at Eurovision lately. Maybe that’s why I was absolutely blown away by this entry from my very first encounter with it.
This song is stunning. Gobsmackingly gorgeous, with a backdrop of romance far more realistic than that of 2018’s ESC ‘it’ couple Amaia and Alfred (who broke up shortly after the contest, ICYMI). Zala and Gašper are coupled-up creatives immersed in their own world on stage, performing to each other rather than to the camera or the crowd – which could be a disadvantage, but I’ll discuss that when I’ve listed the many pros of this track and duo. It takes them two seconds to build up an intimate atmosphere, but I don’t feel like I’m interrupting something because I’m too busy a) appreciating the uncommon performance style, and b) being distracted by the otherworldly beauty of Sebi. This song takes me to another place, almost putting me in a trance. It’s dreamy and ethereal and should really be backing a montage of fantastical landscapes filmed by a drone. There’s a coldness to it that isn’t the clinical, off-putting kind, and it draws me in. I’m also drawn to the monotonous, hypnotic sound, and find that it’s the lyrical structure – sparse in the verses and steady in the chorus – that gives the song life in the absence of key changes and big notes. Everything about this is authentic to the artists, in keeping with Sebi (the title line of the chorus translates to ‘stay true to yourself’). The song is in the mould of the music Zala and Gašper usually make – it’s not like they wrote it in the quest to create the ideal Eurovision song. For that, I am grateful.
In a world that’s just, Slovenia would outrank the likes of Russia (the ultimate tryhard song of the year) and I’d love to see it rewarded for its originality and all of its other goodness. But I have a horrible feeling Sebi might be my Qami of 2018: an amazing song dragged down by a performance too many people think is dull. The fact that Zala and Gašper perform to each other exclusively is unusual, and while I think that is part of what makes them unique, I also think it could be their undoing. That, plus the subdued nature of the song and the lack of explosive moments that attract televotes. My fingers are crossed that the juries, at least, see the musical merit and integrity in this. I know I’m not the only one who thinks Slovenia is sending something magical to Tel Aviv and deserves to be in the final again. If you do too and you can vote in the first semi, make sure you support Slovenia so we can both see them on the Saturday night (and don’t end our Tuesday night in tears).
In a line Three minutes of otherworldly, goosebump-inducing gorgeousness 2018 VS 2019 2019, 2019, 2019!!! Predicted result SF 7th-12th, GF 12th-18th My score 12 points
It has been PAINFUL waiting so long to review this song. If you’re wondering why, then you obviously don’t know about the massive country crush I’ve had on Sweden since I became a Eurovision fan. I support them unconditionally at the contest (2009 being the exception) and two out of my three ESC/NF experiences have been in Stockholm. I also have a lot of affection for John Lundvik, the third male soloist in a row to win Melodifestivalen after making the final the previous year. So if you were hoping for a review that stuffed, basted and roasted this year’s Swedish entry, I apologise (without much sincerity). On the other hand, if you want someone to sing Sweden’s praises with heavy-handed bias, I’m your gal.
Too Late For Love was the song John was meant to win Melfest with. Not My Turn last year, and not Bigger Than Us which was his initial choice for the comp. This was The One, and if his history-making jury scores in March weren’t proof of that then I don’t know what is. This entry is three minutes of glorious, gospel-powered joy, whether you’re listening to it in studio or watching John and his amazing group of backing vocalists bring it to life on stage. I love (because it’s definitely not too late for it) how the song ebbs and flows. It quickly builds onto the simplistic first verse with the pre-chorus/chorus, before winding things back abruptly for the second verse, which some people think takes the wind out of its sails but I think makes you pay attention. Then it’s all up from there with the bold backing vocals and John’s big money note, before that awesome ending that asks ‘Is it?’ (a rhetorical question that we’re under no obligation to answer). There are so many moments in the song and performance that beg for votes, and not in desperate way: that aforementioned whopper of a note, the lighting used to bathe John in gold just as he starts singing about the sun etc, the simple but effective “backing singer reveal”…the list goes on. The whole thing is full of life, spirit and happiness, making those sun/light/spark metaphors fit right in. And it’s much warmer and more likeable than Dance You Off, as hard as that is for me to admit (I still think that televote score was a travesty). I do feel like Sweden learned something from last year’s stumble.
Ja, I have a blind spot where Sweden is concerned, but my vision isn’t totally obscured. I’m not trying to say Too Late For Love is the greatest song ever written or that it’s performed more genuinely than anything else in the 2019 contest. That’s not true. But I believe Sweden has a fantastic package deal for us. They have a song that’s engaging, uplifting and catchy; an artist who’s ridiculously attractive, charismatic and vocally flawless; and staging (if their promised changes for the ESC aren’t too dramatic) that’s all about O’G3NE-approved lights and shadows rather than props or gimmicks. It’s definitely the most “honest” entry they’ve had since 2016, which should help them score some televotes. It still has all the boxes ticked when it comes to jury criteria, though – and I’d say it’s one of only a few entries that should rank highly with both the public and the professionals. Or is that my bias talking? I don’t know. What is certain is that John is competing against himself, since there’s no question Sweden will qualify and be up against the UK in the final. I’d bet on Swedish John outscoring UK John. Not to first place, but he hopefully won’t be too far behind.
In a line Sweden doing what Sweden does best, but on a more relatable level 2018 VS 2019 This is not a choice I’m prepared to make unless my life depends on it Predicted result SF 3rd-5th, GF 4th-8th My score 12 points
That’s all, folks. I mean, that’s all of the semi-finalists for 2019 reviewed. Holy Hatari! I have no memory of doing all 35, but apparently it’s true. I literally have it in writing.
Here’s a look at today’s leaderboard:
- Sweden (12)
- Slovenia (12)
- Azerbaijan (10)
- Ireland (7)
- Finland (7)
And here’s the usual update on my full ranking, for the one person who cares (it may or may not be me):
- Sweden (12)
- Hungary (12)
- Switzerland (12)
- Slovenia (12)
- The Netherlands (12)
- Greece (12)
- Estonia (10)
- Azerbaijan (10)
- Portugal (10)
- Norway (10)
- Cyprus (10)
- Malta (10)
- Czech Republic (10)
- Belarus (10)
- Russia (8)
- Romania (8)
- Belgium (8)
- Armenia (8)
- Iceland (8)
- Serbia (8)
- Albania (8)
- Denmark (7)
- Ireland (7)
- Lithuania (7)
- Finland (7)
- Croatia (7)
- Australia (7)
- Austria (7)
- San Marino (7)
- Moldova (6)
- Montenegro (5)
- Latvia (5)
- Poland (5)
- North Macedonia (4)
- Georgia (4)
Well, after weeks of Hungary sitting on top I have a new and unsurprising winner. Grattis Sverige! Stay tuned for the final round of reviews to find out whether France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Spain or the UK can take that top spot for themselves. I promise the verdicts will be posted by the end of this week – definitely before Eurovision Week (the greatest week of the year and the highlight of all our calendars) begins.
In the meantime, enjoy watching and/or hearing about the rehearsals as they continue, and as we get that much closer to crowning the next king/s or queen/s of Eurovision.
PS – Don’t forget to rank Azerbaijan, Finland, Ireland, Slovenia and Sweden in the comments so we can have a catfight over who has taste and who clearly doesn’t…
Good *insert time of day here*, guys. In a plot twist that everyone saw coming, I’m back with more Eurovision 2018 reviews – and with rehearsals for this year’s contest kicking off NEXT WEEKEND (how did this happen?), I have zero time for one of my traditional rambling intros. Lucky you.
Speaking of you…if you saw the title of this post and decided it was worth a look, then you’re probably wondering what I think of Eugent, Saara, Yianna, Ieva and DoReDos – plus the musical offerings they’re bringing to Lisbon’s mahusive potluck dinner. Keep reading if you want to stop wondering! Then, as always, you can pick your personal fave of the five (scroll for the poll) and share your ranking in the comments. I know you want to…
My thoughts Way back in ye olde 2017, Eugent’s Mall became the first song to be selected for Eurovision 2018 (if I remember rightly). It’s a typical move for Albania, with Festivali I Këngës always falling during the festive season. The plus side is that Albanian entries have more time to grow on us and/or be reworked; the downside is that sometimes they don’t age like a fine wine so much as like a loaf of bread. So is Mall, all those months later, a drop of something delicious or a stale loaf of sourdough? And why do I constantly compare music to food? I can’t answer that second question TBH, but I can tell you that for me, this song is somewhere in the middle of awesome and awful. I think it’s quite wallpaper-like: imagine this year’s contest as a room, with Israel being the avant-garde statement armchair and San Marino being the ugly, dated fireplace (spoiler alert for my San Marino review) and you’ll know what I mean. Mall is there and it’s competing, but there’s no fire in it as far as I’m concerned, and nothing that really grabs me – even in the chorus, which if no other part does, should be the part of a song that sticks. I definitely don’t hate it, because there’s really nothing to hate. It’s not super-current but it isn’t decades too late either; it’s well-produced and the music is richly-layered, even minus the live FiK orchestra; it’s anthemic and will probably have some arms waving in Altice Arena…basically, I don’t see/hear any major flaws. What I hear actually impresses me the most about Albania, in terms of Eugent’s vocals. They’re flawless, clearer than the crystal Eurovision trophy, and powerfully projected in a way that will fill the spacious Portuguese stage even if he’s standing on it solo (no France 2017 issues are in his future). But excellent vocals aren’t enough in a competition full of great vocalists – many of whom also have standout songs up their sleeves. Mall is not a standout song in my opinion. It’s a decent song with an Albanian essence that suitably qualified Eurofans can detect with a single sniff (which I appreciate that about their entries). And I’m glad Albania is putting faith in their own tongue for the first time since Identitet in 2013. Unfortunately, I doubt it will pay off. I cannot see this qualifying, especially from the first half of death in the semi final of death (the Grim Reaper will be busy on the Tuesday night). Even though Albania will sound brilliant coming right after Iceland (spoiler alert for my Iceland review), I’m anticipating around 16th place in the semi for Eugent.
2017 VS 2018? 2017. Call me controversial, and I’ll take it as a compliment.
My score 6.5
My thoughts An unfortunate trip to Kyiv last year ended much too soon for Norma John (and if you think I’m over it, THINK AGAIN…and read this post). And so Finland brought out the big guns for Lisbon – perennial competition bridesmaid Saara Aalto, her belter of a voice, and her bucketloads of charisma and stage presence. Let’s be real, we ALL adore this woman. She’s a precious Nordic angel who had to take a turn on The X Factor UK before Finland realised they’d better just internally select her lest she be poached by the Brits. That brings me to my main point re: Monsters. The track is being showered with love by fans and in the fan-voted OGAE poll (no surprises there) but would people be raving about it if someone other than Saara was performing it? The way I see it, the song is secondary in the overall package of the Finnish entry to Saara herself. The country is sending an artist with a song, not an artist AND a song, if you know what I mean (and Norway is in a similar position). I’m not saying Monsters isn’t good enough for her or that it’s not good at all, but it could do more for its singer than it does. Sweden’s Deb duo are the driving forces behind it, and have created a dance-pop almost-banger that isn’t exactly at the forefront of the music scene right now (Ireland sent a vaguely similar song to Malmö, Estonia to Copenhagen). It is catchy, with a strong chorus and a distinctive vocal hook – ‘I ain’t scared no more’ – plus an inspirational message passed on in a way that doesn’t make me feel nauseous (Iceland, pay attention). And you can bet your entire collection of Eurovision merchandise that I’d be burning major calories in the Euroclub with this song as my soundtrack, were I going to Lisbon. Anything that makes you want to move – and not towards the nearest exit to escape it – is good, right? But while I can easily acknowledge the merits of Monsters, I can also easily admit that it’s not one of my favourite songs of the year. I like it but I don’t love it, and I think Saara is capable of more. She’s not going to be the contest winner we thought she’d be back when her name was announced (though why we thought that when she’s finished second so many times, I don’t know). Finland should be back in the final again after sitting it out (involuntarily) for three years, but at this stage I do have them under as borderline in my predictions. Am I letting my lack of enthusiasm cloud my objectivity, or is Monsters legitimately not that amazing? We’ll find out in a few weeks.
2017 VS 2018? Blackbird moves me. Monsters (kind of) grooves me, but I can’t say no to Norma John.
My score 7
My thoughts Going full Greece didn’t do the former ESC darling any favours in 2016 – it resulted in the loss of their 100% qualification record. Demy got them back to the final last year with cookie cutter Greek-free dance though (go figure…so why have they opted for something ethnic this year? Answer: because Yianna Terzi could pay the right price. And thank Hellas for that! I love it when any country sends a song to Eurovision that couldn’t be from anywhere else, and it doesn’t happen that often these days. That’s my no. 1 reason to applaud this entry. Reason no. 2 is that Oneiro Mou features the kind of drama Koit and Laura name-dropped in Verona; my way of saying that it’s atmospheric and mysterious (when I pretend I never looked up the lyrics on Google Translate). The verses get a bit of intrigue bubbling as you wonder, when listening for the first time at least, where the song is headed. Then the chorus delivers extra drama – maybe not in the most bombastic way possible, but in a way that I get a kick out of. If this song wasn’t in Greek, it wouldn’t have half the appeal that it does, so I’m grateful for that too. And Yianna, besides having an incredible head of hair á la Tamara Gachechiladze (no need to turn that volume up, ‘cause it’s already on full blast) is also a well-established, seasoned performer. Ergo, she won’t go all deer-in-the-headlights on stage and will hopefully give us a studio-grade rendition of Oneiro Mou. I say that as someone who’s yet to check out her live vocal chops (I’ve barely had time to brush my own teeth lately, so please excuse that) but I’m assuming she’s got the goods. Greece has made it out of semi finals with weaker songs than this – ICYMI it was NOT love between me and This Is Love, and I’d class that as a weak song that squeaked through. Still, 2016 proved that they’re not infallible, and even in a nautically-themed contest, Greece is unlikely to sail though to Saturday night (HA HA). Like Albania, they’re fighting to emerge from that tough first semi, and I’d say it’s 50:50 – pre-rehearsals – as to whether they’ll make it or not. If the song is staged well (Lights! Dry ice! Wind! Give it the full salon treatment) it’ll help. If not, it might blend into the background, and that would not make for a happy Jaz. The more nationalistic music we get to hear in the final the better.
2017 VS 2018? 2018. Demy didn’t do it for me.
My score 8
My thoughts I’m going to do those of you out there who love this song a favour and spare you having to read this review: it’s not going to be a positive one. Usually I’d ramble on about what happened to Country X last year and make you wonder how I feel about them this year before releasing the kraken that is my opinion. But I want to get straight to the point with When We’re Old, because it’s part of my personal Infamous Four – a.k.a. the four 2018 entries that I just don’t like. I have a top 15 (all of which I want in my top 10), a next best 5 to 10 songs, then a sizeable ‘OK’ category…but underneath that at #40-#43 lies Lithuania and three other countries that I’m yet to talk about. Ieva is at #40 rather than right at the bottom of my ranking, but she’s in my bad books. Why? Because if Lena Meyer-Landrut was only allowed to sing in her inside voice, and starred in a musical version of The Notebook wherein the soundtrack was composed by a rhyming dictionary and a wheel of vintage cheddar cheese, When We’re Old would be the result. Like Iceland’s Ari, Ieva is lovely inside and out, but she’s singing something that is sickeningly sweet and savoury at the same time. Sugar + cheese = not a nice combo (MORE FOOD ANALOGIES JAZ WTF?!?). Sure, it’s romantic and emotive, but I’m afraid my cold, unfeeling heart refuses to be affected by it (perhaps because I’m currently the most single person on the planet and cannot relate to the sentiment). There’s no doubt the song will grow on me during the contest period, and I might be eating these words by the time May becomes June. As of right now, though, I’m not keen for Lithuania to qualify, even if they have a much better chance of making it in Lisbon than they did in Kyiv (they seem to qualify when I don’t want them to and vice versa, with a few exceptions along the way). Of my Infamous Four, When We’re Old is the only one I can visualise in the final, but it will be my toilet break song if it does (and if I don’t need to go to the toilet when Ieva’s on, I’ll go and sit in there anyway). I’m feeling generous with my scores this year, so don’t be surprised by the number you see below…just know that most of those points are for Ieva, NOT her song.
2017 VS 2018? I have to say Rain of Revolution, because it’s more fun and less limp.
My score 5.5
My thoughts You can’t discuss Moldova 2018 without talking about Moldova 2017 first (well, I can’t). The Sunstroke Project are a gift from the Eurovision gods, having presented the world with an iconic meme in 2010 only to outdo themselves last year by presenting their country with its best-ever result. The problem is, like Bulgaria and Portugal, they set a standard for their successors that is not easy to meet. Repeat NF offenders DoReDos have Russian powerhouse Phillip Kirkirov in their corner, and that helped snag Sergey Lazarev the bronze position in Stockholm. That’s what this trio needs to live up to – 3rd place – but I don’t think the Phillip effect is going to get them that far. There is a heap of stuff to like about My Lucky Day: the classic Moldovan trumpets and infectious tune; the enthusiasm of the band when they’re performing it (maybe they caught that from the Sunstroke boys?); the NF/probable ESC mirrors (props that fit into the Portuguese LED-less puzzle very nicely); and the overall throwback feel that transports me back to contests from 2008-2010. It’s just a fun, fluffy song. Musical fairy floss, you might say, but it’s just light and sweet enough to make you (by which I mean me) want more. Is it a masterpiece? No, in case you thought I was under the impression it was. Lyrically, the situation could be improved…and even though I’m 26 and not 12, I can’t help thinking that the words ‘number two’ should be avoided by songwriters (maturity level = dangerously low). But because it doesn’t take itself too seriously, I don’t feel like I have to take the lyrics too seriously. Moldova hasn’t quite built on their 2017 success in the way I’d hoped, and like Bulgaria did after Poli in 2016. But when I look at this song without thinking about Hey Mamma and how it compares, I can’t complain much (which is a big deal for me). Top 3 on the scoreboard? Nope. Top 10? Maybe. Final? Almost definitely. They’ve got a guaranteed douze from Romania to help them on their way, and they might get a few votes out of me too.
2017 VS 2018? Will Moldova ever top Hey Mamma? They haven’t this year.
My score 8
Okay…now that I’ve practically written a novel about each country, the stats are: 15 down, 28 to go! I suddenly feel the need to listen to Blue’s I Can to make me feel like I can get the whole Class of 2018 covered in time.
Here’s my mini-ranking for this round:
- Greece (8)
- Moldova (8)
- Finland (7)
- Albania (6.5)
- Lithuania (5.5)
So it’s Yianna – by one of her amazingly-textured hairs – who wins this five-way battle. Stay tuned to see where she fits in to my ranking of all 43 songs once the reviews are (FINALLY!) done.
Do we have love for Greece in common, or is it Aalto all the way for you? Maybe you’re reeling from my review of Lithuania because you love it so much. Vote for your favourite below, and share your thoughts/spill your tea in the comments!
NEXT TIME Coming up on my Lisbon ‘Hit or S*%t’ list (that’s a working title for next year’s reviews…what do you reckon?) are Australia, France, Georgia, Ireland and Latvia. You won’t want to miss me trying not to be biased when I review We Got Love, so make sure you come back for Round 4.
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:
- Finland (10.00)
- Austria (8.00)
- Moldova (6.00)
- Armenia (4.5)
- Slovenia (4.00)
- 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!
The Songs of Eurovision 2017 So Far: First impressions, 2016 vs 2017, my top five + vote for your favourite!
Happy First of February, everybody! As scary as it is that a full four weeks of 2017 have already gone by – it’s practically a permission slip for us all to Get Frighten like Lolita Zero – February is an exciting month on the Eurovision calendar, so maybe we should all “get excite” instead.
January just ended with the presentation of Kyiv’s logo and slogan (‘slogo’ to those of us who don’t have time for excess syllables):
It isn’t the most attractive logo (or the greatest slogan) in ESC history as far as I’m concerned (the colour scheme in particular is pretty drab). However, it has the potential to look slick in show-motion, as part of the postcards, and plastered all over posters/lanyards/t-shirts/toilet paper (an untapped item of merchandise that could, ahem, wipe the floor with the rest). So shall we give it a chance to shine – or not – before we throw it in the trash via salty Twitter sessions? Yes? Okay then.
In other end-of-January news, the allocation draw for the semi-finals took place yesterday, and has divided all of the non-automatic finalists into either the Tuesday or Thursday night shows. This doesn’t mean that much at the moment. Still, I’m happy to have Sweden in the first semi alongside Australia (despite the fact that they’re obviously tough competition) because we’re pretty friendly, and unless it’s third time unlucky and Australia sends something diabolically bad to Ukraine, we’re likely to get a little boost of points from last year’s hosts. If we don’t, the entire country will have a mob of angry Aussies (or perhaps just me) to answer to.
With the theme art unveiled and the allocation draw done and dusted, we can now move on to the millions (slight exaggeration) of national finals mapped out for this month – including the magnificent Melodifestivalen, which starts this Saturday. For now, though, there are five seen-and-heard songs in the race to be the next 1944…and that’s such a neat little number, I’ve got to take advantage of it. So here, have some opinions on the fabulous (and not-so-fabulous) five songs chosen to date for the 2017 contest. And stick around to the (possibly bitter) end to vote for your favourite before five becomes…more than five. #mathsskillz.
Bonjour, Albania, Belarus, Finland, Georgia and the United Kingdom. I’m about to criticise you like crazy.
Botë by Lindita Halimi (Albania)
When discussing Albania at the moment, we’re fully aware that the song we’re talking about now is probably not the song we’ll be talking about in a month or two. That’s because Lindita and her crew are currently revamping it and preparing for its English-language unveiling (not because the Botë writers are going to pull a Diell on us and actually force her to find a different song to sing in Kyiv). In its at-this-second state, Botë is classic Albania – a big, brassy power ballad in possession of a mysterious beauty. Even if any of that changes when the final version is presented, Lindita will still sing the absolute crap out of it without breaking a sweat. If she doesn’t qualify to the ESC final, I feel like someone’s going to get punched (not by me, but by her. The girl is fierce).
My current score 8 points.
Better than Fairytale? As one of the few living and breathing fans of Fairytale, I’m not 100% certain, but I think Lindita trumps Eneda. She’d definitely beat her in the boxing ring.
Historyja Majho Žyccia by NAVI (Belarus)
Like Finland, Belarus chose wisely from their NF line-up when they could easily have made a dreadful decision (in my opinion…which as always, is the right one). NAVI’s brand of fun folk-pop is wrapped up in a neat, cheerfully-decorated package with Historyja Majho Žyccia. Even though it will stay in Belarusian (which makes me want to do a little ethnic/highly embarrassing dance of joy) we’ll all be able to sing along to the various heys and hos that up the cute factor throughout. I’m not head-over-heels in love with this song – it could be the genre, which isn’t my favourite, or just a missing bit of pizzazz – but I like it a lot, and I’m interested to see how it performs at Eurovision.
My current score 7 points.
Better than Help You Fly? This is like comparing 1944 with Wadde Hadde Dudde Da (don’t try to tell me that Stefan Raab masterpiece isn’t stuck in your head now). Basically, it’s a tough call, but I’m saying yes.
Blackbird by Norma John (Finland)
I was holding out a little hope that this track would win UMK, but until I saw the performances, I assumed Emma had it in the bag. Or that Finland would think ‘f%#k it’ and pick Günther & D’Sanz. Fortunately, they pleasantly surprised me by doing neither of those things. Blackbird has plenty of people pretending to puke whenever it’s mentioned, but for me, it has a bit of the magic of A Monster Like Me plus the raw emotion of Silent Storm. That amounts to something special, if not spectacular. Some pre-ESC crafting of the staging concept should elevate it to semi top ten status, but it’s early days and most of Norma John’s competition is a question mark. They might blend into the background, or make a statement with their subtlety. If you ask me, it’s Option B!
My current score 10 points.
Better than Sing It Away? As a party-starter/dancefloor-filler, nope. In every other department, yep.
Keep The Faith by Tako Gachechiladze (Georgia)
Tako nearly made it to Moscow in 2009 as part of the peeps that brought us We Don’t Wanna Put In. To be honest, I’d rather listen to that disco-flavoured, thinly-veiled dig at Russia’s main man than this melodramatic, been-done ballad. When you’re watching a song being sung, and you’re thinking about how sparkly the singer’s dress is and how voluminous her hair is and where you can buy a lipstick in that exact shade because it’s gorgeous…but not about the song itself as it kind of sends you to sleep, that’s bad news. And that, my friends, was me watching Tako do her thing at the Georgian final. One person’s trash is another’s treasure, so I know Keep The Faith has its fans. I’m just not one of them at this point.
My current score 5 points.
Better than Midnight Gold? No way. Bring back the drug references and epileptic lighting sequences.
Never Give Up On You by Lucie Jones (United Kingdom)
Was it my number one (like, the only treasure I’ll ever have) choice of the six You Decide songs? Not before the comp. But I’ve got to admit, this song has grown on me very rapidly after only a few listens and a look at Lucie’s pared-back performance from Friday night (in which she sang like a songbird, wore an amazing velvet dress and reminded me a little bit of Lena circa 2010 if Lena had taken a Valium before stepping onto the Oslo stage). It’s an almost-exceptional, well-worded minimalist ballad that Emmelie de Forest has co-created here – and may I remind the haters that every single song she’s written that has made it to the ESC has won the contest? True fact.
My current score 10 points.
Better than You’re Not Alone? Definitely. Joe + Jake were a much less hyperactive and more sensible-haired version of Jedward, which can only be a good thing – but Lucie is a step in a more successful direction.
For those of you who made it through all of the above, here’s my top five:
- United Kingdom
How long will it be before somebody, if anybody (*sneezes in a very timely fashion with a ‘SWEDEN!’ instead of an ‘AACHOO!’*) steamrolls over the UK and parks in my personal top spot?
I have no idea.
Here’s an easier question to answer:
If you want to justify your poll pick or say something snarky about a song you don’t like (this is not a bitchiness-free zone, so go ahead), drop by the comments below. Also, feel free to send your personal top five my way so we can compare our rankings while secretly wondering why the heck each of us has THAT song in first/last place.
Until Saturday, when the clouds part and a heavenly glow covers Gothenburg because it’s Melfest Semi One Day (can’t you hear the angels warming up their vocal chords in anticipation?)…
Hello there, you stunning creatures! No, I haven’t dived off the deep end (yet). It’s just that, well…didn’t you know that when One Direction sang ‘that’s what makes you beautiful’, they were talking about obsessing over Eurovision? It gives us all a constant, pregnancy-esque glow, except the only thing we’re pregnant with is excitement about all the NF action of the moment.
Speaking of which, let’s get straight into discussing it. We’ll start with what’s happening this weekend:
- 27/1 The United Kingdom’s You Decide – the final (feat. Olivia Garcia + Lucie Jones)
- 28/1 Finland’s Uuden Musiikin Kilpailu – the final (feat. Alva, Emma + Norma John)
- 28/1 Hungary’s A Dal – heat two (feat. Kállay Saunders Band, Zoltán Mujahid + Ádám Szábo)
- 28/1 Lithuania’s Eurovizijos – heat four (feat. Alanas Chošnau + Audrius Janonis)
It’s not quite as crazy as some upcoming weekends will be, but there’s definitely enough to keep us happy (and/or complaining bitterly) until the same time next week. I’m going to filter my focus down to the goings-on in the UK and Finland, tonight and tomorrow respectively.
3, 2, 1, GO!
The UK’s songs for Europe: A step up or a stack down the stairs? You Decide…
See what I did there? I hope so, because without trying to be offensive, I think even Corinna May saw what I did there.
Yep, it’s You Decide that will decide this year’s UK entry, yet again. But in the meantime, all of us fans have been deciding what we think of the line-up – with a different opinion coming from anyone who’s asked. A lot of people seem to be describing the overall quality, variety and fun factor of Danyl, Holly, Lucie, Nate, Olivia and Salena (who should just form a band called ‘We All Sound Super British’ already) as beige, via Pantone colour charts. As someone who’s rather fashion-focused (i.e. I never get tired of critiquing Eurovision costumes), I’m going to try something slightly different:
That sums up my general attitude towards the tracks. I’m not peeing my pants with excitement over them (probably not a bad thing), but in my opinion, they’re not half as bland and boring as their 2016 counterparts, of which Joe and Jake were definitely the most interesting choice. Here they all are in we-have-no-running-order-yet order:
- Light Up The World by Danyl Johnson
- I Wish I Loved You More by Holly Brewer
- Never Give Up On You by Lucie Jones
- What Are We Made Of by Nate Simpson
- Freedom Hearts by Olivia Garcia
- I Don’t Wanna Fight by Salena Mastroianni
All six are semi-decent songs (some more than others) performed by perfectly good (in studio, at least) singers, all of whom have appeared on The X Factor (nothing wrong with that – TV talent shows dot the background of bajillions of ESC artists these days). I feel confident in saying that there isn’t a Eurovision winner among them, but it’s too early to predict what the UK may be capable of besides clawing their way back to the top of the scoreboard for the first time since 1997. Let’s take things, as Maria Olafs would say, one step at a time, and see who produces a live performance that scores them an automatic spot in the Eurovision 2017 final.
My top 6
- I Wish I Loved You More – I know this sort of pop power ballad has been done to death and is pretty passé in 2017…but I still enjoy it! This particular example is catchy, climactic and not too lyrically clichéd. 10 points.
- Freedom Hearts – There’s something about this that makes me feel like it needed another week or two of tweaking by the writers/producers. But it’s still good. Kind of like an updated (or sequel to) Children of the Universe. 8 points.
- Never Give Up On You – We can’t discuss this one without mentioning co-creator Emmelie de Forest. It’s not quite what I expected from her, but there’s appeal in the pared-back production and heartfelt delivery from Lucie. I still want some drums and strings to drop in and elevate the last chorus. 8 points.
- I Don’t Wanna Fight – If there were ever a movie musical starring Dua Lipa as a Miss Universe contestant demanding world peace, this would be her swan song. Miraculously, that kind of works for me (although the lyric ‘only love survives’ HAS to be a bad ESC-related omen for Salena). 7 points.
- What Are We Made Of – I hated this after my first listen, but giving it another go led to me liking it as much as I like the average John Legend piano ballad – which is a reasonable amount. 6 points.
- Light Up The World – Musically and melodically, I enjoy this. Lyrically, it makes me want to go on some sort of King Kong-like rampage. It’s 2017…when will the cheese be binned? It’s well past its use-by date. 5 points.
Now my verdicts are in, the usual questions can be answered. Firstly, this one:
Who SHOULD win Holly, Olivia or Lucie. Basically, because they’re my favourites. If Holly can deliver a vocal that even comes close to her studio version, it will be amazing – her live could really lift IWILYM to a higher level. Olivia and Lucie have the most original songs up their sleeves, and that should be rewarded.
Now for this question, which will cement my status as The Crappiest Predictor in the World™ (although I did guess Belarus correctly last week. It scared me a little).
Who WILL win Olivia or Lucie. They’re top two with the bookies (Lucie first, Olivia second) but I typed their names before I checked the You Decide odds. That’s because their songs stand head and shoulders above the rest in terms of giving off winner vibes. Freedom Hearts is a good example of a contemporary pop anthem, mature enough for the ESC but youthful enough to suit sixteen-year-old Olivia. Never Give Up On You has the de Forest advantage, which may or may not matter to the juries and voters, but it gives the song a certain calibre. It stands out as the most stripped-back and sentimental song of the six too. I’ll be surprised if it isn’t one of these ladies who gets the UK’s golden ticket.
In the interests of not fence-sitting for once, here’s my number one pick FTW.
Who’s yours? Which of these X Factor exes has got the goods to go all the way to Kyiv…and how far can they go once they get there?
As I said in a previous post, I don’t trust UMK to crown a champ who’s the best possible Eurovision rep for Finland. Sandhja herself caused an upset by beating out fan favourites Saara Aalto and Mikael Saari…and look what happened as a result. The Finns have been ESC semi final stayers for two years now, and what they’ve got going on in the UMK 2017 line-up is 50% songs that could change that, and 50% songs that will have them missing out on the final for the third time in a row. Can you guess which are which, IMO?
- Circle of Light by Emma
- Arrows by Alva
- Love Yourself by Günther & D’Sanz
- Reach Out For The Sun by Anni Saikku
- Caveman by Knucklebone Oscar & The Shangri-la Rubies
- Blackbird by Norma John
- Helppo Elämä by Lauri Yrjölä
- My Little World by Club Le Persé
- Perfect Villain by Zühlke
- Paradise by My First Band
I’ll drop some heavy hints with my ranking + mini-reviews.
My top 10
- Helppo Elämä – This is weird in a wonderful way. I love that the lyrics are native language (Finnish is so whimsical-sounding, it immediately adds interest to anything from songs to conversations about compost), and I love the overall production and sound. 10 points.
- Blackbird – Simple and beautiful. The chorus brings actual tears to my eyes. 8 points.
- Arrows – I know I’ve already mentioned Maria Olafs once in this post, but I have to do it again. This is Unbroken updated for 2017, but it far better on the grounds that it isn’t half as repetitive. 8 points.
- Reach Out For The Sun – I can’t remember how this goes, but I know I quite like it, even though it never escalates into a statement piece. 7 points.
- Paradise – I’d rate this higher if the lyrics weren’t so unnecessarily suggestive (and at times, nonsensical). I don’t want to be left alone with any of these guys. 7 points.
- Circle of Light – The final installment in the Only Teardrops trilogy (part two was Hear Them Calling) is the fan favourite, but it’s not my thing and I feel like it’s past its prime. 6 points.
- Perfect Villain – I think Eurovision has moved on from stuff like this, but I have to applaud the lyrical originality. It’s so thought-provoking. I mean, what WOULD the X-Men do? 6 points.
- Love Yourself – Nope. 3 points.
- Caveman – Double nope, and not even close to wunderbar. 2 points.
- My Little World – How many nopes have you got time for? 1 point, because the chorus isn’t totally obscene.
How does your ranking stack up to mine? Do you despise the three (!) novelty entries, or are you hoping one of them comes out on top. It wouldn’t shock me if one of them did.
Who SHOULD win Norma John or Alva. As much as I personally would love to see Lauri on the Eurovision stage, Blackbird and Arrows would make for better, more successful ESC entries. Norma John would bring the bare-bones emotion (á la Never Give Up On You from the UK) while Arrows would be a sweet sorbet for us to enjoy between bigger, louder and more serious songs.
Who WILL win Emma or My First Band. These are the acts that topped the UMK pre-vote, so I’m not game to discount either of them, even though I’m convinced that Finland could pick any of the ten possibles depending on which way the wind blows on the night (sorry to any Finns reading this – I’m not suggesting that you’re fickle, but UMK seems to be). If Circle of Light takes the prize, I suspect it will be more Hear Them Calling than Only Teardrops at the big show, but it’s too soon to say so for sure. Peer pressure – and yes, those pre-vote results – pushed me into calling My First Band as likely victors, despite THOSE LYRICS. They make the song more disturbing than Serhat’s I Didn’t Know, which is really saying something. But hey – that’s a gimmick in itself, right?
Ultimately, I’m going to side with Emma-lie de Finland Forest.
Do you think Finland will be safe in the circle of light, or heading off to paradise? Or neither? Make your predictions public now to be in with a chance of saying ‘I told you so!’.
That’s all I have to say on the UK and UMK for now, but when the shows are over, another conversation can start. When I say ‘conversation’, I of course mean an all-out war of words between those of us who love the winning songs and those of us who wouldn’t touch them with a ten-foot-pole. There’s something to look forward to!
Have fun tuning in to your NF/NFs of choice this weekend. If there’s anything you want to say about them, before, during and after, then hit up the comment box down below 🙂
I’M BACK! I guess that’s one thing I have in common with the likes of Kaliopi, Donny Montell, Poli Genova, and that one guy from Lighthouse X who played keyboard for Emma Marrone in Copenhagen.
I, however, am back in multiple senses of the word. Not only am I back at home in Australia, but I’m also back blogging after what feels like an eternity away, on the ground in Stockholm writing with the awesome ESC Insight team. In actual fact, it was only three weeks – but what an incredible blur that three weeks turned out to be! I have SO much to tell you guys, if you’re willing and able to hear it over the next few months (what can I say? It’s going to take a while for everything to come screaming back to me).
In the meantime, if you’re feeling even a hint of the Post-Eurovision Depression that I am (and I haven’t even gone back to work yet…that’ll be the true reminder that life is going back to boring *hopes my boss never sees this*) you might want to ease the pain by checking out Insight’s epic coverage of Eurovision 2016, feat. in-depth articles, thought-provoking videos and hilarious podcasts. Because this is my blog and I’m allowed to be narcissistic here, may I recommend checking out my pieces first? Like any proud mother, I want to show off my babies. In this case, quadruplets.
- I Heard It Calling Me…And This Is What It Sounds Like (an introduction to my first Eurovision in the capacity of rabid fan and professional press lady)
- Walk On Warner: First Loreen, Now Ira Losco (the result of my interview with 2002 runner-up and 2016 returnee Ira, who has Swedish career connections to continue now that the contest is complete)
- Meet The Eurovision Character That Impacts Every Song (a look at the Stockholm stage, and how it allowed each performer more flexibility than ever before)
- Applauding The Aussies: Why Europe Is Prepared To Enlist In The Dami Army (the title pretty much explains this one. Oh, and #teamdami)
Because I’m so keen on retrospective ramblings, I’ll be filling you in on what went down in and out of the Press Centre in Stockholm as time goes on (feat. such juicy gossip as the 2016 act who called me their ‘new best friend’, and the 2016 act who I witnessed being manhandled out of the Euroclub at 3am the morning after the final. SUCH JUICINESS). But for now, I’ve got some pre-ESC loose ends to tie up – a.k.a. some outstanding business to take care of, a.k.a. some very, very late reviews to make public.
My life got so crazy in the lead-up to my Eurotrip, I didn’t have a spare second to post the last part of the EBJ Jury’s 2016 reviews, or the subsequent EBJ Jury Top 43 (including the dearly departed Romania). And if I thought I’d have time to post those while I was away, I WAS WRONG. Hectic rehearsal schedules and far-too-frequent celebrity-spotting took care of that. And now, here I am – we have a wonderful new contest winner who nobody should be bloody complaining about even if 1944 ain’t their cup of coffee, and I’m yet to review it. I am definitely un-Frans-like and very sorry about this.
I won’t drag said reviews out any longer – I’ve already created the longest cliffhanger in history, after all. So, let’s make like Barei and say hey hey hey to today’s panel of Jaz-approved judges.
TODAY’S EBJ JURORS
Remember, you can meet the entire EBJ Jury properly here.
Ali, Rory and I are FINALLY about to review Austria, the Czech Republic, Finland, Macedonia, Norway, Serbia and Ukraine – a.k.a. Zoë, Gabriela, Sandhja, Kaliopi, Agnete, Sanja AND Jamala. It’s all about girl power on this occasion, but who will prevail? Jamala, the actual Eurovision champ? Zoë, the fan favourite? Or someone else? Read on to find out, and let us know which of these ladies’ songs keeps your boat most buoyant in the comments below!
Oh, and FYI…all of the following reviews except mine were written before the contest took place, so if they seem to be totally unaware of the final results, that’s why. Just pretend it’s April, and all will be well.
FYI again (this is the last one, I promise)…this is one heck of a mammoth post. You might want to prepare yourself a pot of tea and a supply of Plopp to get you through this one.
Ali So, what do we have here? If one cares to delve beyond the overt ‘sweet’ simplicity, there is much to be found: a solo guitar’s rollicking strumming conjuring a roaming minstrel; strings (in pizzicato, then sweeping legato, and later pulsing staccato) which weave the ever-evolving landscape through which we are drawn; our singer, with gentle hope and resolve in her voice, in the throes of affirming to the spirit that is leading her, how faithfully she will follow. The destination? A country far from here, where the people, in a naïve search for paradise, are singing. A rhythmic, driving repetition sets our singer’s steady, determined pace, despite the apparent distance, and the dangers of straying into futility (‘si la route nous semble sans issu’), or into the despair of the abyss (‘même si on sera perdu’). There is a poignancy and potency in the fact that our pilgrim (coincidentally, no doubt?) adopts not her native tongue, but the language of the victims of some of the more notorious of those atrocities. The path proposed here is to faithfully follow the song and the music. Indeed, the spirit to which our pilgrim addresses herself is the music itself: when it sings, she sings too; when it flies, so does she; if it soars, she follows it, unencumbered by doubt. The song’s title, and the lyrics of its chorus, are the ever-present reminder that this place we seek is indeed ‘far from here’. The revolving ‘seasons’ in the (official) video, and the ever-flowing chord progressions, reinforce that this trek may indeed be never-ending. But equally, the chorus’s hopeful, trance-like mantra also reminds us that what matters is the journey itself. Those who glibly dismiss this song as ‘cotton candy’, ‘girly’, and calculatedly faux-nostalgic have failed to see the wood for the trees. Though cloaked in ‘lightness’, what we are invited to experience here is by several country miles the most profoundly philosophical and spiritual of all of this year’s creations. It delivers a lasting, symbolic homage to that ultimate musical pilgrimage, the song contest itself. But then again, maybe it’s just another DNQ fanwank?
Rory I’m just going to put it out there: I’m not a fan of Zoë this year. Austria had some really great artists in their NF – LiZZA, Céline/Farna and Bella Wagner (to a very broad extent) – and they went with a song with a very schlager beat to it, and it’s all in French. I’m not hating on her, okay? I’m just saying that with some other very different artists in their selection, Austria had a lot of other options. I can see why they picked Loin D’ici – the staging in itself was a show, coupled with her USP of singing in a completely unofficial language of her country. However, with an über-poppy, almost tween-ish beat to it, I can’t see it appealing to non-Eurovision fans. There’s making yourself stand out and there’s taking the p***, and I think that Austria might JUST have overshot it this year…maybe it’s a bit of a reality check? We’ll have to wait and see.
Jaz I’m going to start by reminding you again that I’m the only person reviewing and scoring this bunch of songs AFTER Eurovision (because everyone else managed to get their act together beforehand. I’m the one who let the team down). If I’d commented on Loin D’ici back in April when I was supposed to, I’d actually have a very different take on it to the one I have now. When Austria first crowned Zoë as The Makemakes’ successor, I was pretty horrified, to be honest. As cute and whimsical as the song was/is, the tragically stale Eurodance beat that kicks in after the first chorus made me want to call on Conchita Wurst to float down from the heavens (obviously she’s still alive, but I just figure she hangs out up there being perfect most of the time) and save us all from such dated un-fabulous-ness. Upon arriving in Stockholm, it became clear that Zoë was a massive fan favourite, partly due to her song being such a tribute to stereotypical Eurovision anthems of a time gone by – I was nearly danced to death by the horde of devotees basking in her Euroclub performance on Opening Party night. And I still didn’t get it. In fact, even now, I’m not about to give Loin D’ici a douze. But after being subjected to the song more times than I would have if I’d stayed home this year, I started to…well, hate it a lot less. I don’t doubt that there is as much depth under the song’s surface as Ali states, but what I rather like about it now is the face-value sweetness and light, and the almost-irresistible melody that becomes a karaoke dream once you’ve wrapped your tongue around the French lyrics. And Zoë herself is so precious, it’s hard to insult anything she’s had a hand in. I also may want to borrow from her extensive collection of frou-frou strapless dresses one day, and if I’m mean to her, there’s zero chance of that happening.
The EBJ Jury says…
- Ali 12
- Fraser 6
- James 5
- Jaz 6
- Martin 7
- Nick 4
- Penny 7
- Rory 5
- Wolfgang 12
Austria’s EBJ Jury score is…7.11
Ali The Czech Republic’s Saturday night cherry is still unpopped, so I will try to say some encouraging things here. The intro of simple lilting piano and a slow current of low strings is very promising. The chorus’ melody is pared-back but engaging, and the pace is elegant and restrained. Gabriela has a stunning voice, and is certainly gentle enough on the eye, in a Tanya Plibersek kind of way. Plus, her floral afro in the video is the most impressive I have ever seen. Alas…the lyrics of I Stand lurch between lazily clichéd and waywardly clunky, and the narrative is befuddledly (yeah, befuddledly) circuitous, with the result that – in contrast to our songstress, who professes to ‘always care’ – I find myself quickly giving up caring about her, her various travails, and anything her song has to tell me. We can’t tell who the hero is supposed to be: on one hand, the song seems to be trying to celebrate Gabby’s own resilience; but on the other hand, it’s a ‘better half as saviour’ song. And those lyrics! ‘I’ve worn the path, I’ve hit the wall’? Did the lyricists even care what these idioms mean when they tossed them in? It jars when I hear ‘head’ attempting to rhyme with ‘cares’, ‘rain’ with ‘fall’, et cetera. Can we blame Bill Gates for the fact that the spell-checker failed to flag that the past tense of ‘to fall’ is ‘fell’, not ‘fall’? And who decided Gabby should spend the video lying down whilst saying ‘I stand’? The problems with the story and words were all easily avoidable, which makes them all the more exasperating. The unfortunate result is that I end up not giving two hoots about whether she’s standing, squatting, or doing the downward-facing dog.
Rory When I saw that the Czech Republic would be interested in taking part in Eurovision again after last year’s failure to reach the final, I thought that they must be crazy. But with I Stand, I am so grateful that they’ve continued on their quest for a Eurovision qualification – which I’m guaranteeing they’re going to get with this song. Gabriela is more used to singing rock and gothic songs, but this is a really pleasant departure from her comfort zone. The lush beats and strings really bring out the best in her vocals. The peak of the song definitely comes out at the end of the song with that screech in the lead-up to the last chorus, which just lets out so much emotion and care and you can really feel that. My one concern is how they’re going to stage the song: with Hope Never Dies, they managed to understage it, because there wasn’t really anything that made you remember the performance. With I Stand, they have to play it really carefully…maybe they can get her to be like in her music video and lie down while her hair is covered by layers of flowers? Regardless, best of luck, Czech Republic!
Jaz They may not have traveled far in the final, but congratulations must go to the Czech Republic (Czechia?) for making it to Saturday night for the first time. There were several other songs I’d have preferred to see among the last 26 standing, but it’s always nice when a struggling country finds a surprising degree of success. That said, I understand why Gabriela didn’t find any on final night. Her performance was pretty much perfect – from flawless vocals with just the right amount of emotion present, to the stunning geometric floor-and-wall patterns; from her bridal-esque outfit to the timely hair-release that thankfully didn’t end the same way as Moldova’s in 2014. But…I never found I Stand to leave much of a lasting impression, and in the final, it was up against at least twenty songs that were more memorable. That’s not to mention the fact that the Czech Republic were handed the dreaded second slot to perform in, which we all know to be legitimately cursed. Hopefully, however, this progression from the semis is a stepping stone to further success for the country in 2017. It’s got to be one of the reasons they’ve already confirmed for next year’s contest.
The EBJ Jury says…
- Ali 2
- Fraser 8
- James 12
- Jaz 5
- Martin 6
- Nick 4
- Penny 5
- Rory 12
- Wolfgang 8
The Czech Republic’s EBJ Jury score is…6.89
Ali Apart from heartily fist-bumping the underlying ‘song-as-therapy’ message, I do dig a ditty that gets me lip-syncing along with it, and wiggling my ample tuchas (apologies for the unsolicited visual!), especially in a year that’s weighed down by dollops of dirges. Throw in some snappy brass riffs, a lively percussion track, a swag of ohh-ohh-ohh-oh-oh’s, a positive ‘friend-in-need’ message, and some evocative lyrics – ‘When heavy waters try to break you, you will be singing for life’ – and, hot-diggidy, I find myself in total lock-step: ‘YEAHHH!’. If Sandhja and her team are able to extract maximum engagement, joyfulness and life by connecting sympathetically with the cameras and the audience, then why can’t this (pretty please?) at least get through to the final?
Rory I’m going to go against the grain and say that I actually enjoy Sing It Away. I’ve a big guilty pleasure for funk, and Sandhja delivers in that aspect in ways that acts like the KMGs (Belgium 2007) couldn’t. This is sleek, sophisticated, and builds up before exploding into the chorus. I do think Sandhja needs to work on her live vocals, if she plans on moving as much as she did at UMK as she will onstage, just because it might prove to be a problem. I don’t see an issue with this making a connection, but in the ferocious first half of Semi Final 1, she’ll have to make sure her performance is memorable. That being said, singing lines like ‘I WANT YOUR BALLS AWAY!’ will definitely give her that edge (it’s supposed to be ‘All my troubles away’, but I can’t bring myself to correct it every time I hear it!). Hopefully, Europe won’t listen to her and will give her their balls in the form of votes, but it’s really a 50:50 chance!
Jaz I had some ridiculous favourites in UMK this year (Thief, Shamppanjataivas, and the comparatively normal On It Goes) as well as some songs I detested (mainly just the bookies’ number one, No Fear). Sing It Away fell in neither of those categories, but I was mighty relieved when Sandhja beat Saara Aalto nonetheless. Her song did all it could do at Eurovision – it served as an excellent-but-disposable show opener, so easily sacrificed that it might be better for us to think of it as part of the first semi’s opening act than as an actual competition song. I don’t dislike it – it’s fun and funky, and Sandhja has the personality required to pull it off and convince us that she will sing ‘it’ away (it’s great how the ‘it’ is open for interpretation. Got dandruff? She’ll sing it away. Been run over by a parade float full of schlager stars? Sandhja’s got you covered). But it lacks the fire and some of the energy that saw counterpart What’s The Pressure sail into the final and squeeze into the top 10. It’s almost as if it won UMK by accident because the decision-makers couldn’t choose between Saara and Mikael – a kind of DMGP/Eurovision 2011 situation. And that doesn’t give you a contest winner…Eurovision 2011 aside. But we’re all still scratching our heads over that one, aren’t we?
The EBJ Jury says…
- Ali 10
- Fraser 5
- James 7
- Jaz 6
- Martin 5
- Nick 3
- Penny 7
- Rory 7
- Wolfgang 3
Finland’s EBJ Jury score is…5.89
Ali Unlike Nika (from Georgia) and his muddied bed partner, I don’t smoke. But I will definitely be buying myself a cigarette lighter to take along to the second semi-final, just so I can do the old ‘waving-the-ciggy-lighter-back-and-forth-to-the-slow-chorus’ thing to this big, hearty Balkan tavern ballad. Sometimes it can be satisfying when a song delivers (with aplomb) a totally ‘no-surprises’ offering. Even though I have not been overly generous with my points here, this in my book has an ample supply of plombs. Staying with a more classical structure, this builds in all the right ways, and Kaliopi’s voice, as always, intoxicates us with the smokiness of an Islay single malt. There is some loss of momentum from having an unadumbrated middle verse (in contrast to the modern trend of cutting it short, e.g. Norway this year), but it is worth the price, because it makes us savour the ‘bring-it-home’ chorus all the more. Being one of only three songs this year (count them) that are entirely in a LOTE, and therefore arguably less ‘accessible’ to the full spread of jurors and televoters, qualifying is far from a ‘gimme’, but one can live in hope. Who is Dona? I have no idea. But all in all, I’m very glad someone thought she/he/it was worth singing about.
Rory DONUT, DONUT, DONUT, DONUT, DONUT, DONUT, GLAAAAAAD I MET! Oh wow, Kaliopi is back with a bang and I’m secretly enjoying it. I must admit, I was expecting something along the lines of Crno i Belo, but with Dona, I feel like I’ve been transported back to the late 80s/early 90s, with a power ballad like this. Of course, we’ll have to see how she delivers this onstage to get a feel of how it could do in the long run, but with only half the vocal range required to sing Dona than to sing Crno i Belo, I think Kaliopi will slay BIG TIME with this. Whether it qualifies or not, however, is a completely different story. I’m very sorry, but I’ve got nothing else to say about Macedonia…unless you want to hear me sing DONUT, DONUT again!
Jaz The following sentence will tell you what I think about Dona in a nutshell: I didn’t have high expectations of Kaliopi’s second official ESC entry given that I didn’t love her first…and as expected, I like this even less. That’s not to say that I detest it – and, as with a few other 2016 songs, frequent exposure during the rehearsal period ensured that it grew on me – but it’s too dated and over-dramatic for my taste. Even Kaliopi, a singer whose power knows no bounds (she can shatter glass with a single note, so it’s a good thing she wasn’t performing in the Crystal Hall this time) seemed to struggle to give her all to the demanding Dona, just ever-so-slightly. It’s for that reason that her highest-of-high notes at the end of the song never quite measured up to the clarity and pitch-perfection of Jamala’s. There are things about this track that I like – more so the gentler verses than the big, domineering choruses. But even from the beginning, I have trouble paying attention to Kaliopi for three whole minutes, without wondering if a song I like better is coming up next in my playlist/the semi. It usually always is. I thought Macedonia would make it to the final if mainly on artist name alone, but I have no issues with the fact that they didn’t.
The EBJ Jury says…
- Ali 5
- Fraser 6
- James 12
- Jaz 3
- Martin 4
- Nick 1
- Penny 6
- Rory 6
- Wolfgang 5
FYR Macedonia’s EBJ Jury score is…5.44
Ali A lot of good, solid, ‘play-to-our-strengths’ Lapp/Nordic buttons are being pushed here, and coupling that with Agnete’s fine voice and presence, I think this may manage to sneak (break?) through to the final. Many listeners have reportedly found the tempo change for the chorus unsettling, if not disappointing, given that by all indications it was otherwise building into a Euphoria-esque up-tempo dance number. But I think, in context, it works: after all, an ice-breaker is not a particularly fast-moving vessel. And having the brakes go on the pace at that point also reinforces the arduousness of the effort our Agnete would need to put in to liberate her ‘stuck’ friend. However, the storyline here lacks traction: a lot of the song is spent cataloguing the reasons why this ex-and/or-potential partner is extremely high maintenance, if not an outright cad/cadette, so we aren’t given much of a feel for why Agnete would be so determined to save him or her. Indeed, perhaps this cad/ette would benefit from spending a bit of reflection time stuck in the ice – sorry, I mean in the ‘fro-o-o-zen water’…a.k.a. ice?
Rory I’m not really sure what to make of Icebreaker. I mean, I can see how many people could enjoy the metaphor that she’s going to be the ship to free us all from the ice we’ve been stuck in (maybe that’s why I’ve been so hypothermic), but the song just leaves me feeling…empty. There’s nothing in here for me to like or dislike. It’s just…neutral, if you get what I mean. Agnete’s vocals are exceptional and I’m sure that that will work in her favour, but the song is just very lacklustre – which is highly ironic, as I should really be enjoying this sort of genre! Norway will easily sail through to the final, just because it has a few reliable countries making its case. As for the final, I can’t exactly put my finger on their exact finishing position – it could be the bottom of the left-hand-side of the scoreboard or the top of the right-hand-side. It’s definitely a Mar(Vegi)mite song this year, a lot like I Feed You My Love – you either love it or you hate it. Suffice to say, I don’t eat Mar(Vegi)mite, so you’re better off asking someone else!
Jaz Love, hate or feel indifferently towards Icebreaker, you have to applaud Norway for managing to send two entries to Eurovision this year without breaking any rules: the first, an atmospheric Euphoria-esque dance banger; the second, an intense I Feed You My Love-style anthem that I do not recommend listening to if you have a headache coming on. The stark tempo and genre changes in Agnete’s song were initially arresting in all the wrong ways for me, back when I was still bitter that Afterglow didn’t win NMGP. But as I’ve gotten more accustomed to them, I actually think the track takes a risk that could have paid off under better circumstances. It’s adventurous in a way that we hadn’t heard at Eurovision before, and the overall effect is edgy, dramatic and powerful. It’s just a shame that Agnete was too poorly pre-ESC to trek the promotional trail (i.e. attend any pre-parties, or press conferences on the ground in Stockholm) or reshape her performance much from the national final stage. I always expected Icebreaker to have a 50:50 shot at qualifying, but if Agnete’s path to the contest had been as smooth as everyone else’s, I think she might have slotted in to Saturday night. I would have loved to see her there as I actually get multiple kicks out of this song now – but just making it through rehearsals and the broadcast was a win for her, at the end of the day.
The EBJ Jury says…
- Ali 4
- Fraser 2
- James 4
- Jaz 10
- Martin 5
- Nick 1
- Penny 6
- Rory 5
- Wolfgang 7
Norway’s EBJ Jury score is…4.89
Ali This has huge potential, and I really want to like it. But ZAA’s stage performance will be the decisive factor. In the official video, her melodramatic gestures and facial expressions are a bit OTT, and borderline comical. This obviously tends to detract from the real potency of the song’s conflict-laden atmosphere. A more constrained presentation would more powerfully convey the inner struggle inherent in the theme. She also has to get the audience on side. One way to help do this would have been to have ZAA herself singing (with backing vocalist accompaniment) the sympathetic ‘whoa-oh-oh-ohhs’ that follow the chorus — but admittedly, that would leave her without a decent breather, so may have sapped her energy for the big finish. In terms of the song itself, I know the temptation would naturally have been to give ZAA opportunities to demonstrate her undoubted virtuosity, but I do find it a bit off-putting how, in each half of the chorus — in contrast to the controlled tension of the notes and dynamics in the verses — the notes at the end of the first two lines wobble round like a learner driver trying to work out which gear to use: ‘Every time I say goodby-Y-y-Y-yyye …’. Anyway, the ingredients are all there for ZAA to make this either a Eurovision classic or a Eurovision calamity. Hey, Laura T – you need to have a chat to ZAA about pressure, STAT!
Rory This year, Serbia has me questioning a lot of things. First off, I very much appreciate sending an unknown singer to Eurovision, but why give her two names? ZAA Sanja Vučić? Could it not just be her? The song is pleasant enough to listen to, but when it comes to the subject matter – domestic violence – I just feel like it’s ripping off András Kallay-Saunders, but with a more mature vibe to it. Secondly, Sanja is a singer who – with ZAA – normally plays ethnic-indie music (see her video for Irie&Kool for a proper reference), so why get her to sing a ballad that is so pop, it oozes Charlie Mason? Finally, why does she make so many facial expressions and jagged movements, some of which don’t even work in time with the music? I just feel like this has been very forced and I think that had she been given a more alternative song, or a song in a genre she’s more experienced in, she’d give a more convincing performance. Nevertheless, her vocals are amazing, and the versatility and flexibility of her music makes her incredibly adaptable. But I feel RTS just took a shot in the dark, and that it might not pay off.
Jaz When it comes to controversial song subject matter at Eurovision, I’m an advocate. I think it’s important for music to be used to address issues other than love and fairytales and happy endings and falling stars and donuts (say whatever you want, Kaliopi…we all know your entry is an ode to Krispy Kremes). Not all the time, but sometimes. That’s partly why I hold Hungary’s Running and Ukraine’s 1944 (which I’ll be gushing over in a minute) in such high regard. Serbia’s Goodbye (Shelter) has the kind of ambiguous lyrics that could refer to a verbally-abusive or extremely strained relationship, as much as to a physically-abusive one. That makes it less uncomfortable to listen to, but it also gives it less of an identity and less strength, message-wise. Having said that, I still believe it’s a powerful song – a rocky Balkan ballad delivered with a maturity you might not expect from a normally happy-go-lucky 22-year-old like Sanja. Given that she reined in the jerky performance style we saw when Goodbye was presented on Serbian TV, there was nothing vocally or visually wrong with her performance. Perfect colour scheme, perfect graphics, perfect costumes, perfect choreography…every piece was in place. But I still didn’t love the song enough to back it as a potential winner. It certainly deserved its place in the final, but it didn’t move me, and I understand why it didn’t bother the top 10.
The EBJ Jury says…
- Ali 3
- Fraser 6
- James 4
- Jaz 7
- Martin 12
- Nick 5
- Penny 12
- Rory 4
- Wolfgang 6
Serbia’s EBJ Jury score is…6.55
Ali Never has there been a more soulful song about the swallowing of souls! I can report that, on more than one occasion, in the course of listening to 1944, I have detected on my upper cheeks the inexplicable presence of salt water. Jamala will indeed win many a heart with her ‘Negro-spiritual’-like timbre, and prodigious vocal range. Whether a largely uninitiated TV audience will be able to pick up on the full gamut of what is being laid out before them here is very doubtful. It may, for example, be vulnerable to the predictable Norton-esque derision for being too ‘dreary’, ‘serious’, etc. We shall see. The lyrics may have benefited in some places from having their nuances honed, to ease them back from the brink of what might be perceived as hyperbole, but that is a very minor quibble, in the context of the subject matter. If this is not in the final, the universe will be very much the poorer for it.
Rory There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that I’ll sound biased on this, but 1944 is my favourite song of the 2016 contest by millions and millions of miles. When I first heard the song on February 5th, the day before it was due to be performed at the national selection in Ukraine, it LITERALLY reduced me to tears – I’m not even exaggerating. The song is just so beautiful and emotive, it gives me goosebumps every single time I listen to it – you know that every note Jamala sings is one that she feels for both herself and her fellow Crimean Tatars. Turning to the dark side of the song, I am clearly stating that there’s no political intent in 1944 whatsoever. Jamala has said in an interview that politics aren’t her cup of tea (sorry Valentina Monetta – Jamala doesn’t get you!), and that there was no political motive behind the song. The fact that some people see a political aspect to it is just a coincidence. 1944, with its breaking-beats, Crimean Tatar lyrics and climax with the final chorus (along with that scream that just gives me the shakes every time – it’s like she’s releasing her soul whenever she reaches that note) give it that edge to stand out a mile in the semi final, and all skeptics will be proven wrong when it easily qualifies – it might even win the semi! Personally, Jamala is my winner of the whole contest, but will she actually win? She’s definitely top 10 or top 5 material. I could go on all day about her, and about 1944 and her other songs, but I won’t bore you to death. I will let you know that Ukraine is my #1 for this year’s Eurovision, in case that wasn’t already clear. DAVAI UKRAÏNA!
Jaz I’m not quite sure how to articulate my affection for 1944. ‘Affection’ is an understatement, really. This song had me hypnotised from the first few seconds of my first listen, partly because it was so different to what I was expecting – Jamala’s previous entry in a Ukrainian NF, Smile, was way too cheesy and repetitive for me, and I figured she’d be offering up something similar this time. FACEPALM!! I’ll admit, I didn’t realise how versatile she was as an artist. I did realise that her vocal range is beyond incredible, and 1944 shows that off to the fullest, while simultaneously allowing her to tap in to her emotions. I don’t think it’s just her acting abilities that give Jamala the skill to make past pain feel fresh every time she performs this song – it’s also the fact that this song is about a specific experience, even though she wasn’t around to live it. It’s the most substantial song that competed in Stockholm, and the most experimental, and I’m still over the moon that it managed to win the whole contest when its divisiveness could have dragged it down. It’s everything a winning song should be made of, in my opinion – it’s unique, contemporary, brilliantly performed (without the staging overshadowing the sound), and has something real to say. To some, it might be a vehicle for a wailing Eastern European woman; to me, it’s a victory for inventiveness and significance in a contest where the appeal of the last few winners has been in the artist’s persona (Austria 2014) and the high-tech trickery of their performance (Sweden 2015)…not to take anything away from Conchita or Måns (you guys know I love them both). Let’s also not forget that, with so few songs that weren’t entirely in English competing in 2016, not only did one of those win, but it was the one featuring a language new to the Eurovision stage. As Petra and MZW declared during ‘That’s Eurovision!’, music is a language that we all know how to speak, and Jamala’s Crimean Tatar transcended tongue barriers to entrance jurors and televoters everywhere (and make me cry in front of thousands of strangers). That’s one heck of an artist, and one heck of a song.
The EBJ Jury says…
- Ali 10
- Fraser 8
- James 12
- Jaz 12
- Martin 8
- Nick 6
- Penny 8
- Rory 12
- Wolfgang 12
Ukraine’s EBJ Jury score is…9.78
And with judgment passed on Jamala, I finally get to say this…we’re done! It took ever-so-slightly longer than I’d intended, as I said at the start – and involved me deviating to a different hemisphere for a few weeks – but the EBJ Jury has officially reviewed all 42/43 entries of Eurovision 2016. I think a round of applause and some hysterical screaming is warranted here.
Applause and screaming should also be directed at our winner for this round, who also won the actual contest and therefore gets to be the reigning champ until Sweden wins again next year: Ukraine!
- Ukraine (9.78)
- Austria (7.11)
- Czech Republic (6.89)
- Serbia (6.55)
- Finland (5.89)
- FYR Macedonia (5.44)
- Norway (4.89)
Austria finishes surprisingly strongly (as they did IRL) in second place, with the Czech Republic and Serbia not too far behind. Finland and FYR Macedonia could only muster up mediocre scores, and it looks like I was basically the sole supporter of Norway in the EBJJ. Today’s top 4 qualified in Stockholm, while the bottom 3 didn’t – so I guess as a group, we’re pretty perceptive. Or psychic.
Of course, there’s still one loose end left to tie up, and it’s the EBJ Jury Top 43. Each round of reviews has featured its own mini-ranking, but meanwhile, I’ve been busy combining and tie-breaking until I’ve been left with one big list of favourites, and…not-so-favourites. Next time, that ranking will be revealed – and since the 2016 comp has taken place, I’ll be comparing it to the actual Top 42 to see if my elite assembly of Eurovision freaks (I mean that in the most affectionate of ways) managed to predict any of the results correctly. Hint: we actually did!
I’ll (hopefully) see you then, as I continue to play catch-up and fill you in on all the details of my first, fabulous ESC experience. Over the next month or so, you can expect some belated national finalist playlists; my extensive gallery of 2016 doppelgangers; a series of Stockholm photo albums that will send you to sleep; and the annual EBJ Awards for Eurovision Excellence, in which you get to play a bigger part than ever (if you want to). Watch out for all of that – it’s on the way to help ease your PED. And mine, of course. I don’t do anything unless there’s something in it for me.
Hey hey, ladies and gents. Now it’s December (gasp!) a month in which the 2015 NF season officially kicks off, it’s officially acceptable to think of nothing but national finals. Did you hear that, all the people I’ve cancelled plans with because Melodifestivalen’s approaching? Speaking of which, the list of Melfest’s competitors for the upcoming edition is out/was out days and days and days ago. As I was busy and couldn’t shove my excitement down your throat at the time, I’ll do it now, albeit more briefly than I’d like to. These are the names that had me hyperventilating into my sequined knapsack!
- Eric Saade: The Danny Saucedo rumours were just rumours, but that’s one less powerhouse for returning powerhouse (if not in the vocal department) Saade to contend with. Mr. ‘Popular’ is making his comeback with a ‘Sting’ in his tail, and a determination to take out Melfest AND Eurovision next year. He’s cocky, sure, but I’m going to be shallow and say dat ass is more than welcome to grace Vienna with its presence.
- Linus Svenning: He did surprisingly well for himself last year with ‘Bröder’, a song I still listen to on a regular basis when I want to get all screamy and emotional (so basically most of the time) so I’m very happy to see he’s giving it another crack. Expect less heartstring-tugging from Linus this time around.
- JTR: Fresh from their turn on The X Factor Australia in 2013 (when I fangirled over them like no self-respecting twenty-something should) I inquired via Facebook as to whether these three Swedes would consider competing in Melfest. I didn’t get an answer, but I still reckon my question inspired them to go for it (#notdelusionalatall). I AM SO EXCITED. I cannot wait until Heat 4. Except I have to, because it’s Heat 4.
- Måns Zelmerlöw: Perhaps seeing Sanna finally triumph got MZ thinking it was time to get back in on the action? It could be third time lucky for the one-time co-host. After the lack of eye candy on display in Copenhagen, I say MÅNS FOR PRESIDENT!! I mean, for VICTORY!!
Of course, there are always gems to be discovered in the Melfest lineup. Based on Scandipop’s in-depth insight into all of the entries and artists, I’m also über keen to expose my earholes to Samir & Viktor, Jon Henrik Fjällgren and a reinvented Ellen Benediktson.
Now, to get to the point of today’s post, at long last: I think we all have a wishlist of artists we’d love to see go to Eurovision, be that list in our minds or on actual paper and categorised alphabetically by country. Some of my personal hopes for 2015 have already been dashed (no Valentina Monetta for San Marino? What the hell is going on? I’M KIDDINGNOMOREVALENTINAEVERPLEASE) but there are plenty of countries whose artists remain up for speculation.
With that in mind, I’m going to begin revealing my wishlist for Vienna by profiling one of my favourite Finns. I’d kill to see this guy taking part in UMK 2015 (though I’ll try not to) so on the off chance he did submit a song, you better pick it, Finland! His name may or may not be familiar to you, based on how susceptible you are to the charms of teen pop singers, but I can assure you that he is awesome and totally ESC-ready.
So, can we PLEASE have…
WHO? WHERE? WHAT?
Robin Packalen, 16, from Turku, Finland. Robin started his singing career in 2008 as a ten-year-old entrant in Finnish contest Staraskaba. The following year he represented his country in New Wave Junior in Moscow, so he knows how to handle competition. Three years after that one, he released his debut album Koodi, featuring the hugely successful single ‘Frontside Ollie’, and quickly became known as the Justin Bieber of Finland (unfortunately for him).
Robin’s first album didn’t chart, but his following two efforts in 2012 and 2013 went straight to the top in Finland. So did Boombox, a remixed version of 2013’s Boom Kah album. You know you’ve made when people are even willing to fork out for an hour’s worth of remixes!
In September this year, at the ripe old age of sixteen, Robin released 16, which became his third #1 album. All up, 16 included, he’s had three #1 singles, five top 10 hits, sold almost 400 000 records, and collaborated with some big names in Finnish music, including Mikael Gabriel and Nikke Ankara. Not bad for someone still very much a teenager. *instantly feels inadequate and unsuccessful*.
The standard pop to pop-rock sound of Robin’s earlier music makes those Bieber comparisons easier to believe. You can also imagine his first few singles fitting in nicely in the Netherlands’ Junior Songfestivaal (with a Dutch-language rewrite) in the quest to make it to JESC.
These days, Robin’s sound is more diverse, his pop songs interwoven with elements of electro, r & b and hip-hop. He ain’t thirteen any more, and thankfully, his music has matured with him – the production standard is high and everything’s very current. Toss the adjectives ‘slick’, ‘versatile’ and ‘catchy’ into the ring when discussing his latest album, and you’ll (probably) be met with agreement (though I can’t promise there won’t be someone who’ll throw a piece of rotten fruit at your head). Quite simply, Robin’s a purveyor of DAMN GOOD pop music. So DAMN GOOD I couldn’t possibly type ‘DAMN GOOD’ without using capitals.
- Koodi (2012) feat. ‘Frontside Ollie’ (#1), ‘Faija Skitsoo’, ‘Hiljainen Tyttö’
- Chillaa (2012) feat. ‘Puuttuva Palanen’ (#4), ‘Luupilla Mun Korvissa’, ‘Haluan Sun Pulaavan’
- Boom Kah (2013) feat. ‘Boom Kah’ (#4), ‘Erilaiset’ (#1), ‘Onnellinen’
- Boombox (2014) feat. ‘Tilttaamaan’
- 16 (2014) feat. ‘Kesärenkaat’ (#1), ‘Parasta Just Nyt’ (#13), ‘Paperilennokki’
THE HIT LIST
He’s come a long way in a short span of time, and these days, Robin can do no wrong…at least in my opinion. Here are my top picks from his repertoire of pop masterpieces.
‘Boom Kah’ feat. Mikael Gabriel & Uniikki. Fast-paced electro-inspired fun with plenty of fist-pumping opportunities. This is the track that got me hooked.
‘Erilaiset’. An up-tempo, feel-good builder recorded for Red Nose Day in Finland.
‘Onnellinen’. He can do piano ballads too, people!
‘Parasta Just Nyt’ feat. Nikke Ankara. An aggressive hip-pop fusion that shows Robin’s got bite.
‘Paperilennokki’. This latest offering is zero Justin Bieber and about 80% Justin Timberlake. It’s my favourite song of the moment, and ‘paperilennokki’ (i.e. ‘paper airplane’) is my favourite Finnish word of ALL TIME.
Well, if San Marino can select two sixteen-year-olds who’ve failed in Junior Eurovision to represent them in the adult contest (don’t get me wrong, I’m excited about it and I love the duo of Anita and Michele, but their combined results don’t bode well for grown-up success) then Finland could, should and would (if I had my way) pick a sixteen-year-old who’s participated in competitions before, but has spent most of his career going from strength to strength in his homeland and building up a catalogue of chart-toppers instead of competing.
Robin’s transformation from JESC-appropriate teen act to the still young and fresh, but more mature, experimental artist he is today, proves that there’d be no need for him to wait any longer to give Eurovision a try – unless, of course, he wants to wait until he’s about to release his next album in an attempt to use the exposure to plug it outside of Finland.
In terms of bringing his country a result as good as or better than Softengine’s in Copenhagen, could he do it? I don’t see why not. ‘Something Better’ was a contemporary rock song on the more indie side of what Eurovision is stereotypically accustomed to, and a simple but effective performance – and most likely, its uniqueness in the 2014 field – was all it took to secure the boys a placing to be proud of. So it’s not far-fetched to imagine that a more talented, less schlager and more cutting-edge version of Eric Saade (sorry, my Swedish meatball, but you know it’s the truth) could do the same, especially when you consider that Robin’s the right age and has the right sound to have mass appeal, at least among the televoting community. Perhaps my bias is creeping (i.e. elbowing forcefully) in here, but I reckon this kid has as good a chance as anyone to show Eurovision who’s boss. And even if he ended up last in the final (because I have NO doubt he’d make it to that stage) I’d have gotten to fangirl over his appearance in the contest, and that’s what matters to me.
Clearly I have no regard for all of your opinions and tastes as I have been gushing about one of my personal favourite artists for quite a lot of page space. JK, JK – I AM interested in your opinions and tastes, I swear. So let me know down below how you think Robin would fare in the ESC, who you’d like to represent Finland in Vienna, and/or who your dream contestant for any country in 2015 would be. If it’s Eric Saade for Sweden, lucky you…your dream may just come true.
Until next time,
PS – Want more Robin? You’ve got it!
Hello hello! There are just two weeks until the first semi final of Eurovision 2014, and you can guarantee that they’ll be some of the longest weeks of your life. I will be attempting to make the time fly here at EBJ, with reviews, predictions and today, a top 10 I’m pretty excited about.
It’s been a while since national final season ended, but that doesn’t mean we’ve all stopped analysing the results and complaining that so-and-so definitely should have won, and generally spending far too much time listening to every NF entry Europe-wide. One of my favourite times of year is corralling all the great new music I discover through the preselections into a playlist to freshen up my iPod – and then deciding which ones are the best of the best, so I can deliver them to you and we can commence debating.
I’ve finally done that for the latest NF season, and ten songs remain. It’s those ten songs, my personal favourites from Albania to Ukraine and quite a few places in-between, that I’m counting down right now. In addition I’ve put together a list of other songs I’ve loved this year that didn’t make the final cut, because I couldn’t resist. Have a look (and a listen if you want to) and let me know if we have any common musical ground whatsoever.
First up, my top 10 national finalists of season ’14:
#10 | Breathe by Stefan Stan feat. Teddy K (Romania, 5th)
How often have we seen a great song let down by a weak performance in Eurovision? I haven’t got enough fingers to keep count. Naturally, it happens in national finals too, and a prime example is this song from Romania that fell a little flat live – so much so that I’m posting the video clip so as not to affect anyone’s judgment of the song itself. I have so many feels for it in studio. It’s been constructed in such a way that, whilst Stefan and Teddy have their clearly defined parts to take care of, they come together beautifully, kind of like Nico and Vlad did for Romania in Belgrade. The result is emotional and dramatic, without tipping over the edge of either.
#9 | I’m Alive by Ilaria (Ukraine, 5th)
She may have had the best Eurovision-related light-up dress since Safura (in fact, I’d argue this one’s better) but it’s Ilaria’s weird and wonderful entry into the Ukrainian NF this year that really got me. I’m Alive is a unique song in that I don’t know how to describe it. Is it a ballad? Is it pop? Does it sample the tinny tune of a jewellry box? I’m not sure, but I can say it is quirky in the way of backing music for a gritty film adaptation of a fairy tale (Hansel and Gretel would totally freak out in the middle of creepy woods to this track). If you’re now wondering why the heck I like it so much based on that description, know this: I’m a girl who likes to be scared, as my horror movie collection is testament to.
#8 | Kthehu by Luiz Ejilli (Albania, 10th)
He represented Albania in 2006, in a questionable white suit with Zjarr E Ftohtë (which was much less questionable) and attempted to return to Eurovision eight years later with this stunner of a ballad that should have finished higher in a mediocre field. Luiz Ejilli’s entry into Albania’s Festivali I Këngës 2013 reminded me of some of the great Balkan ballads that have graced the ESC stage over the last decade or so, only it’s slightly less ethnic, the native tongue giving it an edge. I really like the way it develops over the three minutes, but from the beginning it’s mature, sophisticated and kind of mysterious. Some dry ice wouldn’t have gone astray for the performance.
#7 | Kertakäyttösydän by Jasmin Michaela (Finland, unplaced in semi)
Finland, Finland, FINLAND! What were you thinking sending this girl home so early? I’m not saying that because she and I have the same first name and I have some sort of compulsive need to defend her as a result. I’m saying it because her song was fresh pop perfection, performed with talent, charisma and an arsenal of sassy dance moves. All in all, it was terrific, and I can’t believe it missed the final. I’m reminded of Iceland here, who often neglect to send at least one adorable pop song to the ESC in favour of something less fun. Still, Iceland do generally see those songs through to the final, so again I say…Finland, Finland, FINLAND *shakes head despairingly*.
#6 | Für Elise by Traffic (Estonia, 3rd)
Of all the Mumford & Sons soundalikes we’ve heard in recent history, this is my favourite. It’s so ridiculously catchy, and well-performed in a way that makes you feel right at home with Traffic and totally up for singing along (even if you just end up butchering the Estonian language). Speaking of Estonian, it lends itself surprisingly well to this type of music – so much so that I don’t think I’d be as keen on the song if it were in English. I hope the titular Elise is hugely flattered by having such a great song written for her. I’m still in disbelief that it was beaten by not so much Amazing, but by that dreadful other song that I refuse to name the title or performers of.
#5 | Lootus by Lauri Pihlap (Estonia, 8th in semi)
Judging by his styling choices, Lauri fancies himself as Estonia’s answer to Danny Saucedo. In reality, he’s a former Eurovision winner (i.e. a member of 2XL, who took to the stage with Tanel and Dave in 2001) who, if Lootus is any indication, could be Estonia’s answer to Justin Timberlake. This is smooooooooooth stuff, y’all. It’s a bit of a throwback to late 90s/early 00s r & b, which a lot of people may not like about it, but I’m very fond of that time period AND its music. Once again, Estonian adds a touch of beauty to a song that could have been a lot plainer in English.
#4 | Ma Liberté by Joanna (France, 2nd)
I have to admit, I didn’t get this straight away. I was too busy insinuating myself into Team Moustache to notice anything but Joanna’s awesome hairdo, and what I then considered an ‘okay’ ballad. But listening to Ma Liberté after Moustache had safely won the French vote, and then again…and a few more times after that, I developed a real appreciation for it. Like many ballads, it starts off slowly and quietly, before ramping up with one heck of a chorus. What makes this one different is a) the French language, which classes up anything that comes remotely near it; and b) the simple but effective piano riff that adds another layer to the second verse and beyond. This is power and passion, à la Française.
#3 | Hela Natten by Josef Johansson (Sweden, 7th in semi)
Melodifestivalen was back in top form this year IMO, which meant a lot of casualties during the semi finals. It’s Josef whose loss I’m still mourning way after the fact. His electronically-tinged stadium ballad caught me off guard with how awesome it was. It’s right up my street because it reminded me of something that Darin, another Swedish singer who happens to be my favourite solo artist, like, ever (as mentioned multiple previous posts) would produce. His album Lovekiller was full of tracks like this – soaring power ballads with ‘anthem’ written all over them. Josef combined those musical stylings with a unique look and some nifty Molly Sandén camera effects for Melfest, and though his voice wasn’t as strong live as it is in studio, the result was super cool. The final missed this for sure.
#2 | Sängyn Reunalla by Mikko Pohjola (Finland, 2nd)
If I could wind back the clock and make any country choose a different entry to send to Copenhagen, I’d choose Finland – and it wouldn’t be the delightful Jasmin Michaela I’d be swapping Softengine with. Instead, it’d be Mikko ‘I Can Cut Glass With These Cheekbones’ Pohjola, and the spellbinding Sängyn. This song gives me goosebumps from start to finish, complete with every hair on my body standing to attention. That gives me the overall appearance of a cold porcupine, but I don’t care because I’m so wrapped up in the magic of what I’m listening to. If you feel the same way, the song should speak for itself, and everything I’ve said about it was a waste of words.
Aaaaaaand my #1 song of the season is…
#1 | Kui Tuuled Pöörduvad by Sandra Nurmsalu (Estonia, 5th)
I love everything that Sandra Nurmsalu has ever been associated with – her music with and without Urban Symphony is amazing. I expected to be biased when judging her contribution to Eesti Laul this year, but I honestly believe that this song would be much loved by moi no matter who was singing it. It’s an effortless ray of sunshine that gets stuck in your head instantly, and it has the same tribal, Lion King soundtrack feel of Zlata’s Gravity, only in folksy packaging. Every part of it is infectious (in a good way) and if it doesn’t put some pep in your step, I’d be worried. Is there any chance the EBU can bend the rules and have this represent Estonia in 2015?
Well, you can’t say I didn’t like what Estonia had to offer this year! Entries from Eesti Laul made up 30% of a top 10 that was incredibly hard to put together. So hard that I must now present you with that promised playlist of other NF entries that impressed me, with a few comments thrown in.
- Natë E Pare by Venera Lumani & Lindi Islami (Albania, 4th) – another lovely ballad from Festivali I Këngës, this one faring much better results-wise.
- Stay With Me by NAPOLI (Belarus, 8th)
- Rapsodiya #1 by Artem Mikhalenko (Belarus, 13th)
- Wanna Be Loved by Michael Rune feat. Natascha Bessez (Denmark, 2nd)
- Vi Finder Hjem by Emilie Moldow (Denmark, unplaced)
- Error by Madeline Juno (Germany, unplaced) – Madeline didn’t actually get to perform this thanks to the German NF’s strange new system, which was a serious loss.
- Petalouda Stin Athina by Crystallia (Greece, 3rd)
- Catch Me by Gigi Radics (Hungary, 6th in semi)
- It Can’t Be Over by Fool Moon (Hungary, 2nd)
- Running Out of Time by Victor Király (Hungary, 3rd)
- A Legnagyobb Hős by Honeybeast (Hungary, unplaced) – this song is adorable. It has the same kind of offbeat charm that made me fall in love with Kedvesem.
- Þangað Til ég Dey by F.U.N.K (Iceland, unplaced)
- The Movie Song by Eoghan Quigg (Ireland, 2nd)
- One Last Ride by Daniel Testa (Malta, 3rd)
- Heal by Mo (Norway, 3rd) – catchy and current are the keywords here. I will be listening to this on repeat for a long time to come.
- Más (Run) by Brequette (Spain, 2nd)
- Bedroom by Alvaro Estrella (Sweden, 6th in semi)
- Red by EKO (Sweden, 8th in semi)
- Echo by Outtrigger (Sweden, 3rd in second chance round) – I am not a rock fan as a rule, but here’s an exception with a head-bangingly epic chorus.
- Busy Doin’ Nothin’ by Ace Wilder (Sweden, 2nd)
- Survivor by Helena Paparizou (Sweden, 4th)
- Bröder by Linus Svenning (Sweden, 5th)
- Yes We Can by Oscar Zia (Sweden, 8th) – if Eric Saade starred in High School Musical, this would be his solo. Love. It.
- Efter Solsken by Panetoz (Sweden, 9th)
- Love Is Lord by Viktoria Petryk (Ukraine, 2nd)
- Courageous by NeAngely (Ukraine, 5th)
- Tsvetok by Uli Rud (Ukraine, 20th) – Ukraine had no shortage of creepy songs in their NF. This one is bizarre but brilliant in studio. Not so much live.
That’s it! I’m done. It’ll take me another six months to actually download all of these songs, of course, but it’ll be worth the wait. Once I’ve done that, I will be revisiting the songs that just missed out on representing their countries and deciding whether they ultimately would have done better. Until we find out how the actual winners go, there’s not much point getting into that side of things.
Now I’m curious. Did you see/hear anything you liked up above? If not, which NF songs that could have been will you be playing to death this year?
NEXT TIME: Better late than never, I’m getting my reviews on. In the first installment, Albania, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Finland and France had better watch out, ‘cause it’s judgin’ time!
Madonna once said “Time. Goes. By. So. Slowly.” You can hear it for yourself on that dodgy yet somehow appealing song she did a few years ago that sampled ABBA. But let me tell you, she was a lying harlot, because literally one minute ago it was New Year’s Eve (well, not literally…but bear with my exaggeration) and now, it’s freaking February! I’ve had to change my calendar already, and that is not what I call a leisurely passing of time.
On the plus side, February is going to make up for the pathetic showing January put on, national final-wise. The next four weeks are packed with preselections, beginning with this Super Saturday we’re about to experience. That means I won’t be posting the retro ranking I promised at the end of my last post just yet, but I plan to squeeze it in amongst all of the NF reviews and predictions that are coming your way via moi this month.
Firstly, it’s time to check out the main events of this evening, direct from Finland, Switzerland, and (saving the best for last) Sweden. Get excited, guys!
Who will Finnish first in the Finnish final?
During its warm-up period of advancements and eliminations, Finland’s UMK has sent a whopping FOUR WHOLE SONGS packing. Eight remain in with a chance to succeed Team Ding Dong in Copenhagen.
- Something Better by Softengine
- Hope by Hanna Sky
- God/Drug by MIAU
- Going Down by Lauri Mikkola
- Shining Bright by MadCraft
- Sängyn Reunalla by Mikko Pohjola
- Top of the World by Clarissa feat. Josh Standing
- Selja by Hukka Ja Mama
Up until yesterday, I hadn’t listened to any of the Finnish songs, wanting to make the result a brand-new discovery. But having heard only good things about the finalists (bar the odd snarky comment) I couldn’t resist stopping by Youtube and feasting my ears on one of those handy recap videos made up of thirty-second snippets.
My verdict? Well, any seasoned ESC fan knows you can’t judge a song by one listen of an excerpt. That’s why I’m still holding out hope that I’m more impressed by the full song that wins than I was by any of the snippets. Don’t get me wrong, there was some promising stuff in there – but you UMK followers out there had me thinking I was going to be blown away by each and every one, darn you.
The songs that did appeal to me on snippet alone: God/Drug, Sängyn Reunalla and Top of the World. I’ve seen some of these crop up in the fandom (i.e. on social media/in blog comment sections) as favourites, and there’s a 50% chance one of them will win, so…happy face?
Truth is, I don’t have the authority to predict UMK 2014. But since I distinctly remember saying ‘meh’ to a snippet of Marry Me this time last year, that may be irrelevant.
Those in the know – what do you think? Who’s got the goods to represent Finland in Denmark?
Swiss-appointment in Die Grosse Entscheidungsshow
Moving on to tonight’s second final, I must give you a warning: prepare yourself for a rather bitchy Jaz.
In all my history as an NF follower, I have never been impressed by the Swiss line-up, but I’ve always been able to console myself with the few musical gems present. Unfortunately, things have taken a turn for the even worse this year, because Switzerland is bringing us what I believe to be the worst national final line-up of ALL. TIME. I don’t even think Kanye West would interrupt me to disagree.
For years I’ve been wondering what Switzerland’s problem is. Why have we been getting stuff on a par with The Wiggles’ Big Red Car year after year, save a couple of brief, shining examples of semi-decent music? This year, each Swiss broadcaster even had to go through an ‘Expert Check’ stage to whittle down their submitted list of songs to the best of the best (or so we were led to believe) and yet, the six songs remaining are a woeful bunch, IMHO. Perhaps the ‘experts’ in question thought their role was to sniff out any signs of potential Eurovision success and destroy them. If so, that misinterpretation has left us with these:
- Au Paradis by Christian Tschanz – gravelly-sung, inoffensive (read: boring) guitar pop. The only saving grace is that, since it’s in French and I hardly know any, I have no idea if the lyrics are up to the cringe-worthy standard of the English-language entries.
- Together Forever by 3 For All – okay, so the accordion riff is catchy, but everything else, title and group name included, is pure Swiss cheese. It makes me sicker than the thought of Engelbert Humperdinck in a mankini.
- La Luce Del Cuore by Nino Colonna – not awful, but forgettable. The kind of song that wouldn’t make it past the first evening of San Remo.
- I Still Believe by Yasmina Hunzinger – I hope you’re hungry, ‘cause here’s another hunk of Swiss cheese! This is 2014, and I think it’s beyond time for the rubbish ballads about believing and achieving and having faith and uniting as one to be shelved. Or preferably, binned.
- Une Terre Sans Vous by Natacha & Stéphanie – this actually borders on being nice, but that doesn’t stop it from being bland. If it goes to Copenhagen, expect it to be everybody’s toilet break song.
- Hunter of Stars by Sebalter – last but not least, a more alternative version of boring guitar pop. Some of the lyrics make no sense, which I happen to prefer over lyrics that encourage us to join hands and all that crap. Send this, Switzerland. Why not?
So yeah, you could say I’m disappointed in the Swiss. Last year’s Grosse Show at least had the likes of Carrousel, Jesse Ritch and Melissa raising the bar. This year, I can’t express enthusiasm for any particular song to win, and that makes me sad.
I can say who I think will win, and that’s 3 For All, Yasmina or Sebalter. Do you agree? Am I being too negative, or do you think Switzerland should just stay home and think things over this year?
Saturday’s saving grace, straight from Sweden
My Swiss rant is out of the way, so let’s get on to the good stuff. Melodifestivalen has arrived!
Call it a cliché, but Melfest has long been my favourite NF. The standard is always high (unless they’ve won Eurovision the year before) and it always attracts a great mixture of big names and relative unknowns. Last year Melfest provided my top ESC-related moment of the year when Robin Stjernberg emerged from Andra Chansen and won. I’ll never forget the look on his face when it dawned on him what had happened.
Winning saw him represent Sweden in Malmö Arena last May, and fittingly, that’s the location of tonight’s first semi final, which will begin and end with two of the aforementioned big names.
The eight competing songs were released earlier this evening. Here’s the running order.
- To The End by YOHIO
- Aleo by Mahan Moin
- Bröder by Linus Svenning
- Casanova by Elisa Lindström
- Bedroom by Alvaro Estrella
- Songbird by Ellen Benediktson
- Bygdens Son by Sylvester Schlegel
- Survivor by Helena Paparizou
It’s all about the soloists tonight, but – let’s not kid ourselves – mainly YOHIO and Helena. They may be getting a lot of love, but they’ll also be judged harshly on their previous efforts, YOHIO for Melfest 2013 and Helena for Eurovision 2001 and 2005. Did To The End and Survivor impress, or did the newer-comers leave the old-timers in their dust? Well, here’s my top 4.
Aleo – this ain’t no cookie-cutter ethno-dance track, which means it’s not as instant as the Allez Ola Olés of the world, but I like that it keeps veering into unexpected places.
Bröder – I expected heavy metal and death growls from the pierced and tattooed Linus (yes, I know what they say about books and covers and judging and whatnot) but this is actually really nice. There are heavier parts that allow him to get rough, but generally it’s quite nice. There’s some emotion in there that got me.
Bedroom – hands down my favourite of the semi, this is a ridiculously catchy dance track that wouldn’t be out of place on the radio anywhere, if it weren’t for the risqué subject matter. I really hope this goes through, but that depends a lot on whether Alvaro can pull off a decent live vocal. If he can’t, it could be a train wreck.
Survivor – how could I say no to Helena? Again, I had expectations that were defied, because this is not a schlager-scented club banger. It’s more of a pop ballad, with a strong chorus and verses. It doesn’t scream “WINNER!” but it should do her well.
Now, for prediction time…half of these semi-finalists will advance in some way as normal – the top two to the final, and the third and fourth-placers to Andra Chansen (which, as we now know, is not at all a sign they can’t possibly go on and win). This seems like an easy semi to predict as far as the finalists go, but we’ll see how what happens. This is what my gut is telling me:
To the final: YOHIO and Helena.
To Andra Chansen: Linus and Alvaro.
I wouldn’t be surprised if one of the favourites got bumped to Andra. Melodifestivalen has been both incredibly predictable and shockingly random in the past. Either way, it’s good to hear the show back at the usual standard, as indicated by this first lot of entries. I don’t think SVT will be in it (a.k.a. Eurovision) to win it again just yet, but it seems they’d like a stronger result than last year’s.
The tasty leftovers: what else is happening tonight?
This is a Super Saturday and a half, folks. Finland, Switzerland and Sweden aside, here’s what you can be watching while your non-Eurovision fan friends go out and socialise.
Heat 1 of Iceland’s Söngvakeppnin
Heat 2 of Hungary’s A Dal
Semi 1 of Latvia’s Dziesma
Show 8 of Lithuania’s Eurovizijos Dainu Konkursa
For a comprehensive list of what’s on, when, and where you can tune in, visit the guide over at Wiwi Bloggs.
No matter what you choose as your Saturday night viewing, I hope you enjoy it. And don’t go too hard – the rest of February’s weekends will be just as busy, so you’ll need some energy for those. I know I’ll have a great time posting this ASAP then going to bed because I can’t be bothered getting up at 3am to watch a wonderful but highly predictable Melfest semi (which would be my NF of choice, obvs). Maybe I’ll dream of the day Switzerland becomes an ESC force to be reckoned with?
What are you watching tonight? Who should win where? And, if you’re reading this post-Saturday night…OMG, what was up with that result?