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THE TEL AVIV REVIEWS | Round 8 feat. France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Spain + the UK

This is it! I’ve finally finished reviewing all 41 Eurovision 2019 entries, just in time for Sunday’s opening party to signal the start of ESC week…as opposed to ESC rehearsal week, which we’ve been living and breathing since last weekend.

I don’t know about you, but I’m damn ready for this contest while also not being ready at all. Maybe because it came around quicker than Kseniya Simonova can mime Moldova’s “snow art” at double speed. Still, all that’s left for me to do is hang up my flags, buy my snacks and plan my SF1 voting strategy. Oh, and publish this round of reviews, obviously.

Keep reading to find out what I think of Bilal, S!sters, Kobi, Mahmood, Miki and Michael’s songs for next Saturday night. And keep in mind that I wrote these reviews before France et cetera had hit the Expo Tel Aviv stage, so any comments I made about staging were speculative. Speculative and arguably better than what some countries actually came up with.

 

PS – If you want to catch up on any of my other 2019 reviews, you can find them all here.

 

 

France + Eurovision = c’est magnifique these days. It all started with Amir back in 2016, and the run of absolute quality continued with Alma and Madame Monsieur. Not only have their eventual entries been amazing, but the standard of songs in their NF Destination Eurovision – held during the past two selection seasons – has been sky high. Voice Kids alumnus, social media star and Conchita worshipper Bilal Hassani emerged victorious from the 2019 show, having battled some tough competition and a lot of haters. The haters didn’t disappear after his win, but his fans will give him all the support he needs as he takes on Tel Aviv in style. I’m definitely a fan, but not just of Bilal. Roi is also doing all the right things for me.

Co-written by Madame Monsieur, this song is nothing like Mercy but it does have a message. It’s all about self-empowerment, standing up for yourself, owning your individuality and wearing huge blinged-up shoulderpads. I can personally relate to all of that (don’t underestimate the power of giving shape to your shoulders, people). Anyway, those themes are wrapped up in a pop-ballad package that manages to be quintessentially French without being stereotypically French. Maybe it’s the language mix, with the lyrics flitting between Française and Anglaise faster than you can say baguette. That technique has been used a few times by France at Eurovision events, including ESC 2007 and JESC 2018 – and they know how to do it well. Madame Monsieur know how to pen a current-sounding pop song well too, and though Roi isn’t as contemporary or powerful as Mercy, it still has a lot to offer. Every bit of it is catchy and consistent in its Frenglish; it has plenty of different segments that stop it sounding repetitive or becoming boring; the chorus is strong and easy to sing along to; and the lyrics make the message clear if you speak English and/or French (and if you speak neither, Bilal’s hand-crown helps get the meaning across). I really liked this track the first time I heard it, and it’s continued to grow on me like a sophisticated French fungus ever since.

In all honesty, however, the song pales in comparison to Bilal himself. He has to be my favourite personality of the 2019 contest – he’s fun, flamboyant and friendly, with star power but the kind of down-to-earth nature that makes me want him as my celebrity BFF. And of course, he can sing, dress to impress and rock flowing blonde wigs better than anyone. What’s wrong with this picture I’ve painted? Well, not much. But sadly I can’t see France going too far with Roi. Though plenty of people will be seeing and hearing this entry for the first time during the final (or when it’s previewed during the semis), with so many other standouts bound to catch their eyes and ears, I don’t like its chances. France’s fate might depend on how the Roi staging has evolved, but I can’t imagine they’ll be a televote or jury favourite. From that 6th place in 2016 to 12th and then 13th place last year, they’ve been drifting downwards, and I suspect that will continue to be the case with Bilal…but I’m hoping to be so wrong everybody will laugh at me later.

 

In a line A powerful, appealing piece of multilingual pop fronted by an awesome human 2018 VS 2019 2019 by one of Bilal’s wig hairs Predicted result 14th-18th My score 10 points

 

 

 

 

Okay, Germany: take a seat, because it’s time we had a serious talk. But first, some context. Michael Schulte did a top job of making our jaws drop last year when he finished 4th (don’t pretend you saw that coming). As always, when a country does randomly well after years of doing the opposite, I hoped his result would be the start of another successful streak for Germany. The contents of their 2019 national final seemed to promise the same thing. Then, last-minute wildcard addition Sister won it. How that happened is still a mystery to me, though I know we’re about to enter Eurovision week and I should move on from NF drama. But I just don’t get it. What did this entry have to offer that the other German songs didn’t? It wasn’t performed better or staged better than the rest, and the song was weak by comparison. Now it’s lost the one thing that made it memorable (the giant lazy Susan, which presumably goes on the table that belongs with Leonora’s giant chair). And I suspect that’s not the only thing Germany is going to lose.

There are a few bones to pick here without even mentioning the quality of the song: the ‘!’ in S!sters (that kind of stylisation was last considered cool circa 2002); the fact that the song title is virtually the same as the group name; Carlotta and Laura not actually being related (making my last point even more irritating); and the knowledge that Sister was rejected by Switzerland before being picked up, dusted off and dropped on Germany’s doorstep. As for the song itself…well, after my first listen I pegged it as this year’s 26th placer. That’s not because it’s terrible – I wouldn’t say it was. But it is a big pile of nothingness. It’s not instant, it has no call to action, it’s not dramatic enough to be a musical theatre number but too overblown to be an appealing pop ballad…there’s just nothing to grab on to. The verses sound like they’re still in the workshopping process, with a stilted structure and questionable lyrics. The chorus isn’t bad until the girls start shouting ‘SISTER!’ repeatedly at each other. And the whole thing is too slow and plodding, with not enough going on throughout the three minutes to make it feel like three minutes instead of ten. Carlotta and Laura are lovely, I’m sure, and they do the best they can with the material they’ve been given. But that material is not up to scratch.

I think Germany’s recent last places at Eurovision have been undeserved. But this year, there is no other entry already in the final or likely to qualify from the semis that deserves to finish lower than this. Not having seen S!sters’ new and (probably not) improved staging as I type this, I can’t imagine they’ve miraculously given themselves a chance of finishing above 26th. What else can I say about this? Switzerland made the right move rejecting it. And if Germany wanted to build on their 2018 triumph, they would have been better off sending Makeda or my preferred pick Linus Bruhn (whose performance needed polishing, but who had potential) to Israel. Or you know, LITERALLY ANYONE ELSE. I’m sorry for all the negativity, and I know the same amount of time and effort has been invested in this entry as in the other 40. But I’m disappointed. And as S!sters keep saying ad nauseum, if you feel something, ‘don’t you try to hide it, SISTERRRRR.’

 

In a line A non-event with a good message but few other redeeming features 2018 VS 2019 2018, in news that will shock no one Predicted result 26th My score 4 points

 

 

 

 

   

It’s host country time! The aptly-titled Home is Israel’s first post-win entry since 1999, and I don’t think Kobi can hold a candle to Eden and Yom Huledet. But who could? The correct answer is ‘no one’. Kobi has nothing in common with the boy band anyway, though there were enough Kobis in his music video to create one (nobody show it to Simon Cowell, for god’s sake). 20 years later, Israel is sending a solo singer down the road to the arena with a dramatic operatic ballad. It’s safe to say they haven’t attempted to repeat their 2018 winning formula here. RIP chicken clucks, Pokémon references and plagiarism lawsuits from the White Stripes.

My first experience with Home was not a good one. Having been drawn in by those ethnic wails at the beginning, I was feeling it. Then the wails turned out to be false advertising for a haunting Israeli masterpiece that never materialised, and I felt cheated. What did materialise was pompous and over-pronounced and self-indulgent. But two things happened after that. One, I got to know Kobi and discovered that he’s next-level likeable, which automatically forced me to be kindlier about his song. Two, I listened to said song a few more times, and in shocking news (because this never happens *insert sarcasm here*) I came around. I realise grower songs aren’t great for a contest relying heavily on instant appeal. But regardless, Home has made progress with me. I’m not turned off by the dramatics any more, I appreciate the melody and slow burn, and I feel like Kobi can do it all justice with a voice that understandably won him The Next Star. If I compare Home to other recent (ish) male operatic entries, it comes out on top of My Heart Is Yours – Norway’s 2010 host entry – and Sognu from France in 2011. It still sits way below Grande Amore from Il Volo, but that’s the pinnacle of the genre and cannot be beaten. For me, Home is average with a tendency to be slightly above. If I had to give it a grade on a report card I’d go with a B minus, but I would have given it a D a few weeks ago.

I may not be a Home hater any more, yet the song still isn’t what I wanted from Israel this year. I was hoping for something more like their 2018 Junior Eurovision entry or The Fire In Your Eyes: something spellbinding and ethnic. Even a song feat. some Hebrew would have been nice, but they opted for a full English breakfast instead. With Madonna being shipped in as an interval act, Home seems like another missed opportunity for Israel to show off some culture. Host entries have set up camp in Struggletown lately, and while I think Kobi can do more for Israel than The Makemakes did for Austria and Cláudia Pascoal did for Portugal (not that they deserved to hit rock bottom) I would be surprised to see him on the left side of the scoreboard. But since 26th place is pretty much reserved for Germany, he’s sure to avoid the ultimate embarrassment. And with a song that’s quite powerful and a voice to match, he has the chance to nip at the heels of the top half. Even so, Israel should come to terms with a mid-table downgrade from 2018’s clucking awesome 1st place.

 

In a line A majestic number fit for musical theatre that won’t thrill Europe or embarrass Israel 2018 VS 2019 2018 – fun and inventive wins out for me Predicted result 15th-20th My score 6 points

 

 

 

 

 

Ah, Italy. A true Eurovision love of mine, second only to Sweden (I have my reasons). A country that cannot help but be classy and ultra-Italian, no matter which genre they’re dipping their leather-clad toes into. And a country that really should have won at least once since their 2011 comeback. Could 2019 finally be the year they go all the way? If it is, you’ll hear my hysterical screams all the way from deepest, darkest Siberia or wherever else you are in the world. I am head-over-heels for Soldi (I love Mahmood too, but there’s no point being head-over-heels for him when you’re a straight woman). Just when I thought Italy couldn’t impress me more than they already have during the 2010s, along comes a song so effortlessly cool, I can barely believe it’s a Eurovision entry.

Not because I don’t think Eurovision is the coolest thing ever. Clearly I do, having devoted ten years of my life to talking about it here on EBJ. It’s just that songs like Soldi don’t often pop up in the contest. Actually, we’ve never had one quite like it competing, and I never imagined that if we did it would be a contender for the win. This song is edgy, gritty and tells a tale of woe – Mahmood’s relationship with his father isn’t very Brady Bunch – but it also manages to be fun (it’s the irresistible claps), inventive and catchy. It combines the classic Italian musical traits we know and love, like lyrical wordiness and rich (from all that Soldi) instrumentals, with hypnotic urban beats, hip-hop influences and an Arabic undercurrent. Mahmood’s cultural makeup is represented by the ethnic and language fusion, while his family story is represented in the lyrics. This is deep. It has fireworks AND feelings (take that, Salvador). It’s also a very cleverly-composed song, with those wordy verses being broken up by a minimalist chorus everyone can latch on to in seconds. My absolute highlight of Soldi is the Arabic-infused bridge, which adds an extra element of interest and significance to a modern masterpiece. I also like the nonchalance of Mahmood’s performance style: his distinctive vocals are always A+, but when he’s singing this song he gives off a ‘whatever’ vibe. It’s like he’s channelling the indifference he now feels towards his father, who he’s learnt is all about the money. That’s my interpretation, anyway.

Italy is hardly trying too hard this year, and apparently that’s what it takes to be a dangerous competitor. It’s like barely bothering with an assignment only to score 95%, purely because you didn’t overthink or overwork it. That makes me wonder if Italy actually wants a Eurovision victory, or if they’re happy to carry on with strong top 10 placements. After all, they won JESC by accident in 2014 and turned down the chance to host it the following year. They might get what (I think) they’re wishing for in Tel Aviv, because the path to victory isn’t as clear for Mahmood as it is for the other big favourites. He did win the 2019 OGAE Poll, but it was a tight race and those points all came from hardcore fans. I don’t know if the general public will take to Soldi like we have. Juries should at least reward its originality, but it’s not traditionally jury-friendly on other counts. And I’m unsure if Italy can stage this in a way that gets the message across and matches the cool, contemporary feel of the song. I would love all of the above to become irrelevant and have Italy as our winner this year – they’re my personal second favourites – but I’m sensing that’s too much to ask.

 

In a line Flawless and meaningful modern Italian music with an exotic twist 2018 VS 2019 2019, but Italy always impresses me Predicted result 4th-6th My score 12 points

 

 

 

 

What happens when arguably the best song in a national final is performed by someone with no desire to go to Eurovision? Well, occasionally it still wins and we’re treated to an unenthusiastic performance that drags a great song down. Fortunately for Spain, they had a solid backup to María’s Muérdeme in the form of Miki’s La Venda. His song might not be as current and slick as hers, but he performs it with so much enthusiasm he makes it better than it would have been with a less lively artist attached to it. This guy has tough competition when it comes to being Mr. Congeniality, ESC 2019 Edition – especially from his fellow auto-finalists Bilal, Kobi and Michael. He blows them all away when it comes to charisma and personality during a performance though. And La Venda is the perfect song for him in terms of letting his fun flag fly.

It’s also a perfect party anthem. Is there a better motivator to get up and dance in this upcoming contest? I don’t think so! If you can listen to this without moving, congratulations on living Les Misérables. The song is a piñata made of music that’s been busted open and proceeds to rain happiness and effervescence over all of us for all three minutes. That’s because it starts as it means to go on – in top gear with trumpets and an insanely joyful melody. The fact that it doesn’t change much throughout means it lacks a little dynamism, but it also means the energy is constant and keeps you (literally) on your toes. The pace is almost frantic, but I for one am willing to try and keep up with it as I shout ‘LA VENDA YA CAYÓÓÓÓÓÓ!!!’ repeatedly until my neighbours beg me for mercy. Something else I really like about this is the message that lies underneath the façade of fun and frivolity, proving that you don’t need to be dead serious to make a statement. According to Miki (or his lyricist), we should all take off our metaphorical blindfolds and see all that we have and all that life has to offer us instead of looking away, Finland-style. And to that I say amen. It’s a relief to have a break from anything remotely lovey-dovey after Amaia and Alfred’s PDA display. Spain is giving us a fiesta instead of a love-fest this year, and ironically I love them for it.

I don’t know if enough Europeans or my fellow Australians will be feeling the same level of love for this. It has been popular with fans and done pretty well in pre-polls, but it’s not unusual for Spanish entries to be hyped to the point of, in hindsight, overhype. I get a kick out of the Spanish fans’ enthusiasm re: their ESC entries, and I’m on their side this time…but even so I’m thinking Miki might struggle to live up to his hype. He’s a Hulk-strong performer, but La Venda has weaknesses: it’s repetitive, it stays in the same gear all the way through (a pro and a con, as I mentioned before) and it tends to disappear like fairy floss when followed by more eventful entries. Unless Spain scores a late second-half slot in the final, I can easily see them being forgotten in the middle of a 26-song stack. Having said that, La Venda is so enjoyable, and it has the power to get an audience going like nothing else it’s up against. If the ecstatic crowd gets a starring role in the performance alongside Miki, this entry will be elevated.

 

In a line The ultimate Latin party in a three-minute package 2018 VS 2019 2019 Predicted result 16th-21st My score 8 points

 

 

 

 

If you thought Germany was the only country with a song rejected by someone else, you thought wrong. The UK is bringing to Tel Aviv what could have been the Swedish entry sung by John Lundvik (but probably would have drifted down to mid-table in the Melfest final while Bishara packed his bags instead). John, who co-wrote Bigger Than Us and will compete against his own composition this week, originally wanted to enter Melfest with the ballad instead of Too Late For Love. He was convinced to change his tune, and that’s how Michael ended up with (this version) of the song. I don’t know why I wasted time telling that story when you all know it already. Anyway, Michael’s certainly made Bigger Than Us his own with his big voice – and his endless repertoire of arm flourishes. It’s hard to imagine anyone else singing it now…but would I prefer it if the song hadn’t been recycled by Mr. Rice?

No I wouldn’t. Call me crazy (it’s true) but I LOVE this song, in all its repetitive, key-changing, memetastic glory. It’s a TV talent show winner song for sure, but it’s the kind that brings tears to your eyes because you’ve voted for the singer for weeks and they actually won and you’re so invested it doesn’t matter how clichéd their inspirational power ballad is. That’s a hypothetical scenario, but Michael is a TV talent show winner. And with good reason: the boy can sing. He’s the best vocalist the UK have sent to Eurovision in a long time, and his vocals make more of Bigger Than Us than a less skilled singer would have. The song follows a predictable ballad structure: verse, chorus, (alarmingly short) verse, chorus, subdued chorus, money note + key change, lots of emotional warbling, and SCENE. There are no surprises. ‘Bigger’ is repeated 50-something times throughout, and it seems like more because the second chorus comes around so soon, Occidentali’s Karma-style. The last quarter of the song is padded out with extra biggers in place of quality content. And you can pick, down to the split second, when the fire curtain switch will be flicked. I know all of this, yet I still adore this song. The melody is beautiful, the explosive moments are mighty explosive, the gospel backings are rousing and Michael is amazing. Is it a little cheesy? Sure, but I like cheese. And this is uplifting, powerful cheese. If John Lundvik’s life was a musical, Bigger Than Us would be the song signalling his newfound determination to stand tall and fight for what he believes in (which I think would come after he figures out that it isn’t too late for love). Also, if John Lundvik’s life was a musical I would buy front-row tickets. But I digress.

Back to Michael. He’s a top bloke, as we’d say here in Australia. The kind of funny, grounded guy you’d hang out with in a heartbeat. That makes him voteable, at least to people who’ve been following his pre-ESC journey, and those spectacular vocals make him attractive to jurors judging singing ability. Where he might trip up is with the song itself and his performance. Bigger Than Us is probably too passé and predictable to stand out. And if he hasn’t upped his live game since You Decide – in terms of camera connection and toning down those arm movements – I’ll be worried. I’m also concerned the UK is going to leave Bigger Than Us to its own devices staging-wise, and it really isn’t strong enough to survive bare-bones (unlike, for example, The Netherlands’ Arcade). There is a lot that can go wrong here. But at worst it will still be competent and showcase high-class vocals, and that’s not a bad position to be in. I have faith that if everything goes right with this entry, it can improve on the UK’s recent results. After all, it’s SO MUCH BIGGER.

 

In a line A by-the-numbers power ballad that’s worked its magic on me 2018 VS 2019 2019 Predicted result 15th-19th My score 12 points

 

 

 

 

If you made it through all that, thanks for sticking around. The UK was lucky last and concludes the EBJ judgments for 2019. I’m not-so-secretly relieved, and I’m guessing you feel the same! Here’s today’s mini-ranking:

  1. Italy (12)
  2. United Kingdom (12)
  3. France (10)
  4. Spain (8)
  5. Israel (6)
  6. Germany (4)

And here’s the maxi-ranking feat. the full class of 2019 (apart from that one student who didn’t make it to graduation):

  1. Sweden (12)
  2. Italy (12)
  3. Hungary (12)
  4. Switzerland (12)
  5. Slovenia (12)
  6. United Kingdom (12)
  7. The Netherlands (12)
  8. Greece (12)
  9. Estonia (10)
  10. France (10)
  11. Azerbaijan (10)
  12. Portugal (10)
  13. Norway (10)
  14. Cyprus (10)
  15. Malta (10)
  16. Czech Republic (10)
  17. Belarus (10)
  18. Spain (8)
  19. Russia (8)
  20. Romania (8)
  21. Belgium (8)
  22. Armenia (8)
  23. Iceland (8)
  24. Serbia (8)
  25. Albania (8)
  26. Denmark (7)
  27. Ireland (7)
  28. Lithuania (7)
  29. Finland (7)
  30. Croatia (7)
  31. Australia (7)
  32. Austria (7)
  33. San Marino (7)
  34. Moldova (6)
  35. Israel (6)
  36. Montenegro (5)
  37. Latvia (5)
  38. Poland (5)
  39. North Macedonia (4)
  40. Germany (4)
  41. Georgia (4)

Sweden on top is no surprise if you know me. Have I changed my mind since the first round of reviews? Not where my favourites are concerned, but if I did a full ranking again there would be some shifts in the 15th-35th range. Might be time to pay another visit to the ESC Sorter…

 

Be sure to let me know how you rate the Big 5 + Israel – or any country you like – in the comments, as we continue to watch and wait out the rehearsals. And follow me @EurovisionByJaz on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (links are in the sidebar —>) because that’s where you’ll find my predictions for Tel Aviv’s three hopefully fantastic shows. We’re so close, guys. Enjoy what’s left of the lead-up to Eurovision 2019!

 

 

 

 

SELECTION SEASON 2019 | The French final, another Hungarian heat + my thoughts on Tel Aviv’s latest additions!

Bonjour, my fellow Eurofreaks (a sarcastic thanks to the UK for making me never want to use the word ‘freaks’ ever again). Welcome to a 2019 Super Saturday preview, Jaz-style! This is my first proper NF season rundown for the year, and I may be weeks behind everyone else but I’m also excited to get into it – especially now we’re entering the end-of-January-to-early-March period where there are approximately 65 national finals of varying stages taking place every weekend, with other announcements and reveals in-between. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Tonight isn’t the busiest night we’ll have this season, but there is plenty of goodness going down. Specifically: 

  • France Destination Eurovision, the final
  • Hungary A Dal, Heat 2
  • Latvia Supernova, Heat 1
  • Lithuania Eurovizijos Atranka, Heat 3
  • Malta X Factor, final

I’m not following Latvia, Lithuania or Malta very closely at this point (either because there are other things to focus on or I’m plain disappointed in the song selection) so today I’ll be talking all things French and Hungarian exclusively…with a few thoughts on the Class of ESC 2019 so far thrown in at the end. I’ll leave you to keep reading if you want to (please do) and to comment your opinions on what’s happened re: Tel Aviv and what might happen this evening. Meanwhile I’ll be busy deciding whether to watch Destination Eurovision or A Dal, because á la Bucks Fizz I really need to make my mind up.

Let’s go!

 

FRANCE: Is the Destination Eurovision final a three-horse race?

After two semis, a few shock DNQs and one song title switch, voilà – we have arrived at our destination. Destination Eurovision, that is. In a field that isn’t as strong as last year’s (for me, at least), eight songs remain in the fight for the French ticket to Tel Aviv. 

  1. Là-Haut, Chimène Badi
  2. Allez Leur Dire, Silvàn Areg
  3. Sois Un Bon Fils, Doutson
  4. Comme Une Grande, Aysat
  5. Tous Les Deux, Seemone
  6. La Promesse, Emmanuel Moire
  7. Roi, Bilal Hassani
  8. La Voix d’Aretha, The Divaz 

If I could go back in time and get my way with the semi results, things would be different looking at this lineup (Gabriella, Lautner and Ugo would be listed, for starters). But as it stands, all of the songs are enjoyable in their own way and should make for a final worth watching. According to the odds as I type this, Bilal is the most likely winner, closely followed by Seemone and Emmanuel. But who do I think should – and will – win?

 

My favourites

His performance in the first semi wasn’t as flawless or affecting as Seemone’s in the second, but I’m happy to have Bilal in prime position with bookmakers at the moment – Roi is my no. 1 song left in the competition. If there’s anything I could learn to love as much as I loved Lisandro Cuxi’s Eva in 2018, it’s this not-totally-dissimilar track that mixes French and English as fast and fluidly as France’s JESC runner-up Jamais Sans Toi. Bilal is an iconic performer with a great personality, and if he amps things up tonight and gives 110% to his time on stage, then he could easily end up having to keep mid-May free for Eurovision.

I didn’t “get” this until I saw it performed, but La Promesse is now right behind Roi in my ranking á la Francais. It was staged simply but beautifully, and Emmanuel matched the visual beauty with Schwarzenegger-strong vocal game. This is a classic example of a song lifted by a live performance. Dark horse alert!

Seemone is the opposite of a dark horse, and while Tous Les Deux is not the song I’d prefer to see representing France in Tel Aviv, I will be able to climb on the bandwagon if it wins. All this girl has to do is stand there and sing (in sparkly shoes for an added My Little Pony + Wizard of Oz vibe) and the majority of us will buy what she’s selling. You don’t have to be fluent in French to know that this is an emotionally-charged song, and the emotions do appear authentic. I just hope that continues to be the case over time if Seemone does go to the ESC.

Doutson rounds out my favourites with the trés danceable Sous Un Bon Fils. It’s nothing mindblowing and has zero chance of winning, but it’s fun – and cute where mini-Doutson is concerned.

 

Who will win?

Much of this final is made up of a) okay songs performed very well (e.g. Là-Haut and La Voix d’Aretha) and b) good songs that could benefit from a better performance (like Comme Une Grande). The top three favourites are the best of both worlds. I think it’s asking a little too much for Emmanuel to win, unless points are so split between Bilal and Seemone that he does it almost by default. My gut feeling though – and my prediction based on her solid win in the stronger of the two semis – is that Seemone will succeed Madame Monsieur as France’s Eurovision rep. I don’t think she’ll beat Bilal by a huge margin, but by enough to get her crowned fair and square. This means that once again, my personal favourite will be pipped by a song I like, but don’t like as much…still, the pain will be practically nonexistent compared to what I felt when Eva lost to Mercy at the last second (but whatever, I’m TOTALLY OVER IT *sobs*).

 

Now, let’s fly over to Eastern Europe and stay for a while. There’s lots to talk about!

 

HUNGARY: Big hitters in A Dal’s second heat  

 

If you read my last post, you’ll know how obsessed I am with A Dal this year. It’s always a great NF to get into, but there’s a particularly huge percentage of kick-ass music on offer in 2019 (as far as my tastes go, anyway). If you read my last post you’ll also know that I was/am in love with Olivér Berkes’ Világítótorony, which failed to qualify from last Saturday’s heat and broke my heart in the process. I’m sure you’re feeling pretty unhappy about it too, Olivér, so feel free to hit me up if you want someone to share a pity party with.

Here’s hoping this week’s heat goes more my way (since I’m still trying to tape my poor heart back together). Once again there are six spots up for grabs, with these 10 songs in contention:

  • Nyári Zápor, Acoustic Planet
  • Szótlanság, Bence Vavra
  • La Mama Hotel, Dávid Heatlie
  • Little Bird, Diana
  • Kulcs, Fatal Error
  • Csak 1 Perc, Gotthy
  • You’re Gonna Rise, Klára Hajdu
  • Roses, The Middletonz
  • Ő, The Sign
  • Incomplete, yesyes

Neither of the two songs I straight up dislike are in this heat, so it’s safe to say I’m excited about it. Tonight is also a battle between five-time participant and ESC alum András Kállay-Saunders (as half of The Middletonz) and 2018 runners-up yesyes, to see if there’s room for both of them to qualify. I suspect there is…and if you want to know what else I suspect will happen in this round of A Dal, keep reading.

 

My favourites

I might be in the minority here (and I say might because I actually don’t know) but IMO yesyes has topped 2018’s almost-winner I Let You Run Away with Incomplete. I’ve already professed my love for it in the post I keep mentioning, so I won’t re-ramble here. I’ll just say that it ticks all my boxes, has a definite shot at winning the whole comp and will certainly qualify from this heat.

My next pick is Roses. Urban, original and on-trend, it’s the kind of song that would stand out in any NF. I’m a little worried it will be messy when performed live as opposed to slick and cool like it is in studio, but The Middletonz should be innocent until proven guilty. I’m not sure Roses will sail through to the semis but my fingers are crossed.

Csak 1 Perc and La Mama Hotel are the best of the rest for me. The former screams radio hit and I love it, but again I’m nervous to see whether it will be a success or a fail on stage. La Mama Hotel is rocky and intense and like basically every type of song, makes Hungarian sound so damn good. Insert prayer for these two to make tonight’s top six here!

I’m not too fussed either way about the other six songs, but if I had to pick two more to advance I’d go with Nyári Zápor and Ő.

 

Who’s going through?

I’m even rustier when it comes to predictions than usual, and I had a super hard time with this one. The Hungarian public and jury can vote in mysterious ways, and realistically, almost anything from this heat has the potential to rise or fall. I am confident that yesyes will qualify and either outright win or tie FTW. Following behind in an orderly fashion will be, I’m guessing, The Middletonz, Fatal Error, Diana, Acoustic Planet and Dávid Heatlie. Don’t be surprised if Klára’s too-Disney-for-Disney ballad sneaks through though – it wouldn’t be the first time A Dal has rewarded a song like that.

Who do you think will make the grade in this Hungarian heat? Let me know in the comments while you still can!

 

The ESC 2019 songs and singers so far

My bad – I’ve realised I’m yet to react to ANY of the recently (and some not-so-recently) selected songs and/or artists for Eurovision 2019. Let’s fix that, shall we?

Albania It’s Jonida Maliqi and her amazingly white teeth (seriously, who does her dental work? I need the inside info) who’ll be flying the Albanian flag in Israel. Ktheju Tokës is a promising track with all the grandeur and mysteriousness of a typical Albanian entry, but I’m not sure that it can hit the heights of Mall. I’ll save any further thoughts for the inevitably revamped version.

Belgium Voice graduate Eliot Vassamillet is dropping his dope surname for the ESC and will be aiming to pick up where Blanche left off rather than where Sennek did. The trend has been for RTBF’s acts to do consistently well (Roberto Bellarosa/Loïc Nottet/Blanche) – and since Eliot’s song will be penned by City Lights writer Pierre Dumoulin, I’d say watch out, everyone else. Fun fact: Eliot was born in 2000 and is somehow old enough to be out of nappies and of ESC age. My god, I feel old.

Macedonia She’s been in the background and foreground of a few contest performances in her time, and now Tamara Todevska has been selected to solo for Macedonia. Her 2008 entry is a slightly guilty pleasure of mine and I’ve liked what she entered previous Macedonian NFs with, so I’m thinking this was a good choice. Here’s hoping she can do better than her sister Tijana did back in Copenhagen.

The Netherlands Fairly unknown (not complaining) Duncan Laurence will follow in Waylon’s footsteps for the Netherlands, though hopefully not to the point of wearing a leopard-print pimp coat on stage. What we do know about Duncan is that he’s easy on the eyes, and has a beautiful and distinctive voice at his disposal (thanks to a leaked demo version of a song that may or may not be his ESC entry). I’m quite excited about this guy.

San Marino Was San Marino trolling us all by letting us think the Human Ken Doll was representing them? I don’t really care, I’m so relieved that he isn’t. That left the door wide open for Serhat to come strolling through as he did in 2016, and I feel stupid for not seeing it coming. I don’t know how to feel about this news, but there’s a chance we could get a decent song out of him this time (i.e. one that isn’t the guiltiest of guilty pleasures). That’s what I’m hanging on to.

Spain In a disappointingly non-dramatic outcome, Spain chose Miki and the super-fun La Venda to go to Eurovision rather than risking a televised ‘Why me?!?’ tantrum and subsequent refusal to go from Maria. Overall, I think they made a smart choice. Miki has loads of energy and charisma, looks like Amir back in Amir’s university party days, and is armed with three minutes of Latin-flavoured happiness. I like the song and expect it to grow on me even more, but I think some fans are getting ahead of themselves with the top 5 proclamations.

PS…I’ll slip in a little word here about the freshly-revealed host quartet for 2019. First things first, I am not a fan of the four-host scenario – it puts too many cooks into the Eurovision kitchen and gets messy very easily. But on face value, the four handpicked by KAN – supermodel Bar Refaeli, and TV presenters Erez Tal, Assi Azar and Lucy Ayoub – look promising, and like they’ll have a decent dynamic. Rumour has it there’ll be a divide between Refaeli and Tal as the main hosts, and Azar and Ayoub as the green room hosts, so that should help.

 

What’s next for NF season?

  • 27/1 Romania (Selecţia Natională, SF1)
  • 28/1 Czech Republic (ESCZ winner announcement), Eurovision 2019 (allocation draw)
  • 29/1 Finland (artist announcement)
  • 31/1 Estonia (Eesti Laul, SF1)

 

I think I’ve finally said all I had to say for now, so congrats if you got through it. If you have any energy left, head down to that comment box and spill the tea on anything to do with Eurovision 2019, national finals, what you’re watching and expecting tonight and your personal problems if they’re interesting.

 

I’ll see you on the other side of this (sort of) Super Saturday!

 

 

 

THE JESC 2018 REVIEWS | Round 3 (Australia, France, Malta, Poland + Wales)

Wherever you are in the world and whatever time it is there, a) hello and b) thanks for coming back to read more of my Junior Eurovision 2018 reviews!

I’m squeezing them in at this point since the contest is happening this weekend…I know, it’s super shocking that I, Jaz, your hot mess of a Eurovision aficionado, am having issues getting things done on time. But once you’ve recovered from said shock, I’m going to shock you even more by getting straight into today’s round of reviews. Obviously this one includes the songs from Australia, France, Malta, Poland and Wales, so you might want to prepare yourself for all the girl power.

Keep scrollin’ on (Maltese wordplay intended) to see what I think of Jael, Angélina, Ela, Roksana and Manw’s JESC contributions and chances, as they take to the stage for the first time to rehearse. Could I be reviewing a potential winner here? Tell me what you think and how excited you are for Junior Eurovision (on a scale of 1 to almost peeing your pants) in the comments.

 

 

We’re back! It’s attempt no. 4 for us Aussies to win Junior Eurovision, and with our results reading better by the year (8th, 5th and 3rd so far) there’s a lot of pressure on Jael to do just that. Now, you can call me biased if you want – I won’t be able to deny it – but I really think we’re in with a shot this time. If not to go all the way, then to do pretty well for ourselves at the very least.

Champion is right there with Speak Up in terms of greatness (only as a power ballad, it’s got a different energy) and it leaves My Girls, and We Are especially, in its dust. Sounding a lot like Beyoncé’s Halo and featuring an arguably better chorus, it may be derivative for a song that’s advising us all to live like we’re original – but by-the-numbers pop is what Australia has delivered to JESC’s doorstep every time, and it’s continued to work in our favour (adult Eurovision = another story). Anyway, the lyrics are no more generic than the English verses/choruses of most of the other entries…or a lot of the lyrics in general if you Google Translate them. This is a song contest for kids we’re talking about, so uplifting messages about being yourself and shooting for the stars and stuff are always going to outnumber deep and meaningful musical ponderings re: the meaning of life and the inevitable existential crisis that hits you when you turn 13 (or was that just me?).

Besides, the real star attraction of this show is Jael herself – she’s got the vocal power of reigning Junior Champion (HA HA) Polina Bogusevich without the English pronunciation handicap. And this song is perfect for her voice. Those tones plus the majestic melody could equal a spine-tingling three minutes on the Minsk stage, assuming that Jael brings her vocal A-game when it counts and we don’t screw up, undercook or overdo her staging (I say we, but I’m taking zero responsibility if it happens). Australia hasn’t exactly been the best role model for live presentations at Junior, so I’m hoping the delegation has built on last year’s interesting-but-not-OTT production for Isabella. If they have, I don’t see how we couldn’t finish on the upper left side of the scoreboard. But like I said, I’m biased. 10 points.

 

 

Bonjour! Longtime JESC fans will remember that France had a fleeting affair with Eurovision’s younger sibling (which sounds wrong, but you know what I mean). It started in 2004 and ended in…well, 2004, when they sent the Frenchiest Song Ever™ to Lillehammer – Si En Voulait Bien by Thomas Pontier. Beginner’s luck and a generally great entry scored them 6th place, but they dropped out regardless and haven’t graced a JESC with their presence since. Until now, obviously. The question is, has that extended vacation been beneficial or has it put them out of touch with what Junior Eurovision is about these days?

For me, France was worth waiting for. Adorable Angélina and Jamais Sans Toi are EXACTLY what I want from a JESC package. She is so cute (and if her parents are inexplicably looking to put her up for adoption, I’ll take her for sure) with all the charm and confidence a kid needs to handle a big performance like the one she’ll be giving in Minsk. And the song is, like Mary Poppins, practically perfect in every way. It’s catchy, energetic and summery; the mix of languages is seamless; it’s contemporary; and it’s neither too junior nor too adult. Basically, all I can hear is the sound of boxes being ticked. France has done everything right with this whether it was on purpose or not, and I salute them for that. The only thing they could potentially mess up is the staging, and since Thomas’ song didn’t require anything but bare-bones presentation, all we can look to if we want to gauge their skills is adult Eurovision. Jamais Sans Toi is not unlike a kid version of Alma’s Requiem, with a similar energy, vibe and sound…and Alma’s staging was underwhelming. Let’s hope France learnt from it and are throwing some backing dancers Angélina’s way (not literally). At the very least they need to make sure she doesn’t get swallowed up by a big stage and/or dizzying aerial shots of Paris. I will be the prayer emoji in human form until I’ve seen this performance.

For now I’m going to wrap things up with a plot twist: in spite of everything I’ve just said, France isn’t currently right at the top of my JESC 2018 ranking. But that’s just testament to how epic this edition of the contest is. I’ve got Angélina about 7th as of right this second, and I’m still going to give her 10 points.

 

 

With two JESC trophies in their display cabinet and a bunch of other respectable results to their name, Malta shouldn’t be underestimated in this contest. Sure, I personally overestimated them last year, thinking that Dawra Tond was a possible/probable winner (when it eventually finished 9th…oops). But still, this is an island that gives Junior all they’ve got, every year. Ask me if I think they’ve done the same in 2018 and I’ll hesitate for five minutes before saying ‘I thiiiiink so?’.

Marchin’ On actually fits the mould of every Australian JESC entry ever more than it does previous Maltese songs – we Aussies are the lyrical cliché masters after all, and Ela belts out some big ones. ‘As one army we’ll give our all, fearless, not afraid to fall’? ‘Find the light that shines bright deep within’? You’d think countries with English as a main language could be more creative than that. But hey, I’m not here to criticise children (too much). Lyrics like those – and the grammatical disaster that is ‘Whether if you’re big or small’ – aside, there is something appealing about Marchin’ On overall. The melody is nice, the atmosphere is uplifting and the chorus is catchy and memorable. Ela is a great vocalist too, though she’ll be hard pressed to outdo the mind-blowing performances of Gaia Cauchi, Destiny Chukunyere and Christina Magrin in that department (I’m convinced that both Maltese and Georgian kids get deported if they can’t sing). There might be a bit of x-factor missing here, and in what has shaped up to be a super competitive contest, I don’t know if this has the steam to move ahead of six or eight other contenders. Yet I still have a sneaking suspicion Malta will do quite well in Minsk.

Assuming their staging is on point, the only obstacles to success would be a) the big bunch of contender countries I just mentioned, and b) Marchin’ On being kind of unsure of itself. It’s mid-tempo, not really a power ballad but definitely not a piano ballad, and missing a “moment” – Ela’s vocal gymnastics towards the end seem a bit desperate and tacked on just because she can pull them off. Okay, so maybe she won’t do that well – and I’ve talked myself out of a third Maltese win, I think – but there’s a possible spot for her on the lower left side of the scoreboard. Upper right at least. To clarify, my predicted range for Malta at this stage is 8th-13th, and my score for them is 7 points.

 

 

Poland is one country that’s made a cracking comeback to a Eurovision event – kind of like Bulgaria at adult Eurovision, but on a smaller scale (and with a little less success). They dropped out of JESC after two consecutive last places in 2003 and 2004, and didn’t return until 2016. Since then they’ve sent two stunning ballads and two sensational female soloists to the contest, with Alicja Rega achieving their best result ever last year (though I think Mój Dom deserved to be higher than 8th because HOLY KIELBASA, IT’S AMAZING!!!). It’s female soloist no. 3 for Poland in Minsk, but The Voice Kids winner Roksana isn’t packing a big ballad in her suitcase.

Funnily enough, when the song title was revealed I assumed Anyone I Want To Be was definitely going to be a ballad, and a cheesy one at that – but I was wrong. It’s actually hard to categorise this song (at least in one or two words) so I’m going to say it’s ‘contemporary radio-friendly pop with urban and rock influences and a whole lot of attitude’. So much attitude that Roksana’s almost too nice to pull it off, but I think she just manages to get away with it. I’m a big fan of this track in general – it’s catchy, fun and has some edge, making it totally age-appropriate but not unappealing to voters and jurors who are *ahem* a little way away from their childhood/teenage years, like myself. I especially love the pre-chorus and any of the parts that are in Polish. That leads me to my only real issue with AIWTB, which is the pretty messy mix of languages. There’s English and Polish all over the place, and it makes the whole thing feel less than cohesive. I would have preferred the entire song to be in Polish, at least up until the last chorus (a more traditional trend of shoehorning English into LOTE entries). But the song is good enough in every other way for me to ignore the bilingual elephant in the room.

It’s great to see Poland doing something different after the last few ballads they’ve sent, without reverting to dated pop or the lacklustre stuff that saw them finish dead last twice back in the early Junior Eurovision days. I just hope they can stage this in the right way, because it needs something less basic than the ‘stand there and sing in front of a pretty LED background’ formula that worked fine for Nie Zapomnij and Mój Dom. I’m thinking backing dancers, lots of colour and possibly the theft of the Netherlands’ costumes from 2016. It will be interesting to see what is done with this, but I have high hopes. We know Roksana can sing – you don’t win The Voice by wailing like we all did when Finland didn’t qualify to the ESC final last year – and she’s singing a very good song. So, if the performance is in keeping with singer and song quality, there’s no reason why Poland couldn’t potentially equal or better that 8th place from Tbilisi. I do prefer Mój Dom – that’s a douze pointer for me – but AIWTB is worth a round of applause and a top 10 result. 8 points.

 

 

After Kazakhstan, Wales’ RSVP to the JESC 2018 party was the biggest jaw-dropper of the year. There’d been rumours of participation in the past, but it was far from being a done deal that they’d compete in either JESC or the ESC…until now, when anything is possible (and I mean ANYTHING, in a world where Bulgaria can just up and withdraw from Eurovision at the top of their game). So here we are with Berta by Manw, a song that has (thankfully) been revamped and is ready to represent Wales – if not win, or even come close – for the first time.

Now, I’m all about that ‘the more the merrier’ mentality, but I was hoping Wales would make more of a splash with their debut when the day finally came. Now it’s here, I am a little disappointed (particularly when I think about what Kazakhstan is bringing to the table – i.e. a song that could win the entire contest). There’s nothing majorly wrong with Berta. It’s a nice song actually: dreamy and soothing, with a chorus that makes Welsh sound very pretty (because truth be told, it’s not the prettiest language on the planet). And Manw’s voice is perfectly suited to this type of song. But in terms of competition songs that can attract enough attention to rise above the rest, it’s missing something. Drama? A catchier hook? Variety? I’m not sure, but I know it’s not bringing its musical A-game. I can’t imagine Berta outshining the likes of L.E.V.O.N, Your Voice, Ózińe Sen, Samen, Say Love…I could carry on, but that would make Manw feel bad if she miraculously happened to read this.

In all fairness, I have been wrong about this kind of thing before – and there are always songs that do far better in JESC than expected – but I will be in a state of shock for months if Wales makes the top 5, or even the top 10. Either way, they should come back next year and give it another go, because it’s hard to understand exactly what works at Junior Eurovision on the first try. As an Australian, I can admit that we didn’t get it initially, and even now we’re still figuring it out. And Wales has to be commended for putting on a national final in their attempt to figure it out, and ending up with an entry that’s decent if not dangerous. I like Berta and I will listen to it post-show, but I won’t be voting for it. 6 points.

 

  

15 down, 5 to go! With another group of this year’s participating songs critiqued by yours truly, here’s the mini-ranking for this round:

  1. France (10)
  2. Australia (10)
  3. Poland (8)
  4. Malta (7)
  5. Wales (6)

As much as the biased fan inside me wants to put Australia on top, I have to bump Angélina above Jael by a croissant crumb because Jamais Sans Toi is just so infectious, fun and summery (and as we’re heading into summer here in Australia, I guess I’m in a sunny mood). Poland is sitting pretty in the middle with a strong 8 points, followed fairly closely by Malta and Wales. I’ve mentioned again and again how high-quality I think this competition is, and the fact that my least-liked song of the day is one I still enjoy and can give a reasonable score to is proof of that.

How about you? Is this 16th edition of Junior Eurovision floating your boat more buoyantly than ever before, or do you reckon we’ve had better contests in the past? Which of today’s reviewed entries is your personal favourite, and could any of them win the whole thing? Let me know below.

 

NEXT TIME By process of elimination, you’ll know which countries I’m yet to review – and in a few days’ time the wait will be over! Step right up Albania, Ireland, Italy, Macedonia and Ukraine, because I’m shining my spotlight on all of you…and y’all know I believe that honesty is the best policy.

 

See you then!

 

 

 

THE EBJ EUROVISION 2018 REVIEWS: Round 4 (Australia, France, Georgia, Ireland + Latvia)

Hello again, and welcome to yet another round of Eurovision 2018 reviews! With two weeks to go until semi numero uno (I STILL CAN’T BELIEVE IT), I’m slowly but surely getting there with these musical judgments. You can bet your brand new ESC board game that I will have all 43 songs covered by then. #womanonamission.

Here’s a spoiler alert for this latest round: it was a big-hitter for me, with three of the five songs currently chilling in my top 10. Who out of Jessica, Madame Monsieur, Iriao, Ryan and Laura am I talking about? Keep reading to find out. And, as always (you must be sick of me mentioning this) vote for your personal favourite in today’s poll.

Now, in true Melodifestivalen style, NU KÖR VI!!!

Yeah…probably should have saved that segue for the round with Sweden in it. My bad.

               

 

My thoughts I can’t believe this is the fourth time I’ve had the chance to review my own country’s Eurovision entry – totally objectively, of course. Okay, maybe not totally. As soon as I got the opportunity to be biased with Guy in 2015, I instantly understood how easy it is to support a song that you may not normally be crazy about, so long as it’s your country that’s sending it. Don’t Come Easy was a prime example, but Isaiah’s follow-up artist Jessica Mauboy – technically a Eurovision returnee – is packing a song in her suitcase for Portugal that I honestly like a lot. I’m psyched to see Jess back in the contest and actually competing this time, after voting for her to win Australian Idol using my Nokia 3310 (in between playing Snake) way back in 2006. And though she’s dabbled in different genres during her music career, with We Got Love she’s found a perfect fit for her voice and personality. The song is three minutes of pure happiness that radiates out of her every time she performs it. It might be a song that’s obviously trying to tick Eurovision boxes, but in this case that’s not a bad thing, because it’s a) energetic enough to be irresistible on the Euroclub dancefloor; b) armed with simple, one-size-fits-all lyrics and an often-repeated title that sticks; c) the proud owner of a dangerously catchy chorus; and d) got a money note that has ‘Vote for me in 3, 2, 1, NOW!’ written all over it. It’s the kind of song that wouldn’t be out of place at an Olympics opening ceremony (and really should have been performed at the Commonwealth Games a few weeks ago) – a.k.a. it’s ultra uplifting and unifying. Could it be any more of an ESC anthem? And am I irritating you with my gushing yet? Well, don’t worry. I know I said the song was a perfect fit for Jess, but it isn’t a perfect song. We Got Love got flaws, and the biggest of the few I can find is those ambiguous lyrics. While an asset in terms of allowing the masses to relate to them and interpret their meaning individually, they are pretty aimless and clearly weren’t written with a specific situation in mind. They don’t tell a story, so there won’t be one to tell on stage. Then again, we have story songs from the Czech Republic and France, for example, that ARE about particular situations (very different ones) so what’s wrong with a three-minute, generalised but positive mantra? I do think Australia 2018 packs a punch, and in a weaker year than 2017, when we miraculously managed to make the top 10 (I know Europe still hates us for that), Jess should be there or thereabouts. If Sacha Jean-Baptiste can stage something upbeat anywhere near as well as she stages dark, moody stuff, I don’t see why Australia can’t grab a spot in the 4th-6th range. And who knows…if all goes according to plan, then repeating our 3rd place from JESC 2017 might be a strong possibility. Or maybe I’m deluded but endearingly patriotic?

2017 VS 2018? 2018…though so far, I’ve been 100% biased and loved all of our entries.

My score 10

 

 

My thoughts Once upon a time, I thought and hoped I’d be reviewing Lisandro Cuxi’s Eva as France’s Eurovision 2018 entry. I also thought I’d NEVER move on from Eva losing out to Mercy at the last minute as it did at the Destination Eurovision final. But time heals all (NF-related) wounds, and now I’m ready to talk about Madame Monsieur’s meaningful electro alt-pop ballad as another success in the string of magnifique French songs sent to Eurovision since 2016. Mercy stood out from the early stages of Destination, even though it was a selection show full of great music, and I couldn’t say I was shocked when it went on to win. It’s one of the most cutting-edge tracks heading to Lisbon, written by Emilie and Jean-Karl themselves and oozing classic French confidence, sophistication and minimalism. I’d compare it to Italy in that it’s an effortlessly classy message song; but being way less wordy than Non Mi Avete Fatto Niente – plus more in line with what streams successfully on Spotify – makes it more accessible. As message songs go, it’s also found the balance between making a statement and avoiding doing so in a sugary, overly-sentimental way (á la Running from Hungary in 2014). Baby Mercy’s story is just that, anyway: a story rather than a controversial political statement that should be banned from the competition (ya hear that, Mercy haters and 1944 naysayers?). Subject matter aside, this is just a really cool song – the kind I’d use to try and brainwash my non-Eurovision obsessed friends into becoming fans without them even realising it. It might be down-tempo and lacking in a big, showy ‘moment’, but it makes an impact in other ways. There’s something in it for Salvador Sobral types who need their music to be meaningful, something for established ESC fans looking for style and a memorable melody, and something instant that should capture the attention of first-time listeners during the final. Then we come back to Emilie and Jean-Karl who have a backstory (they’re married!), are ridiculously good-looking, and perform this song perfectly with just the right amount of emotion – in all black with red accents, of course, because the French don’t do OTT. My sole complaint re: this as a package deal is that the ‘Merci, merci’ chant at the end is a slight waste of song time (I’d have cut it in half and squeezed in another chorus). But that’s hardly a dealbreaker. I love this song regardless, and even though it’s not in my top five at the moment, it’s firmly in my top 10 (sitting at no. 7 FYI). It would be fantastique for Madame Monsieur to at least fare as well as Alma on the Lisbon leaderboard. If they can own the stage better than she did, I don’t see why the actual top 10 (as opposed to my top 10) shouldn’t have a place for France. Either that or they’ll flop and finish 22nd. Europe/Australia, have some mercy for Mercy!

2017 VS 2018? France is constantly kicking goals these days, but for me this tops Requiem.

My score 10

 

 


My thoughts If you liked Klapa s Mora in Malmö (they represented Croatia with Mižerja, ICYMI) then you’re bound to like Iriao and Sheni Gulistvis – more than someone who wanted to slapa the Klapa boys across the face, anyway. It’s a similar brand of all-male ethnic ballad that does have its supporters, but will struggle to catch enough votes in its butterfly net to qualify. Now, I was a Mižerja fan, but that had some pop elements to it so it wasn’t alienating. Sheni is fully wedged in its niche genre pigeonhole, and as much as I respect that and am happy to have something unique and cultural in the 2018 contest, it just doesn’t do anything for me. I don’t hate it, but I don’t enjoy listening to it, and that’s why it’s drifted down to the #41 position in my current ranking. It sounds like a cover of an ancient national anthem, and doesn’t have any of the power and/or touch of bat-shit craziness that we’ve come to expect from Georgia. I do find them hit-and-miss at adult Eurovision, whereas I adore them at Junior Eurovision – a contest they completely ‘get’. And if they were sending their JESC 2017 runner-up Music of the Heart to Portugal (give Grigol Kipshidze a fake ID and rip up the EBU rulebook and they’d be good to go), I‘d be dropping a great big douze on top of Georgia right now. Sadly, I can’t do that for Iriao, and I can’t connect with what they’re bringing to the table. I’m pretty sure that Georgia will have to sit out of the final for the second year in a row…but I haven’t seen Sheni performed live, and I do think there’s a chance that the boys can create a magic moment on stage. Still, I doubt a flawless vocal performance will be enough. I don’t want a DNQ to put Georgia off sending ethnic, Georgian-language (this is their first fully-Georgian ESC entry) songs though. This particular one may not my cup of cocoa, and may not have the mass appeal it needs to make the final (in my opinion), but the next one might be more appealing – while staying true to tradition.

2017 VS 2018? 2017. When a rip-off Bond theme is done right, I dig it.

My score 5.5

 

 

My thoughts What is it with Ireland associating relationships with death? Last year we had Dying To Try, and now Ryan is lamenting that he ‘thought we’d be together ‘til we die’. RTÉ should be sourcing songs for the next Romeo & Juliet film adaptation. What they should also be doing is taking a good long look at their Eurovision approach, because they still haven’t moved on from their 1990s glory days – and holding onto that isn’t helping them find favour in the 2010s. I was a Brendan supporter last year, and despite what I just said I am a fan of Ryan’s Together. I just think Ireland needs a firework set off under their backside, but more on that later. For now, I want to chat about the pros of this year’s effort, not the cons. It’s a really nice song – easy-listening, soothing, a little bit sad…a song you’d hole yourself up in your bedroom to blast during a breakup grieving period. The lyrics are simple feat. metaphors that actually make sense (yes, it IS possible), and Ryan’s voice is made for this sort of guitar-driven, singer-songwriter ballad – which it should be, since he co-wrote it. I think the vibe and melody of the verses and pre-chorus are stunning. It’s only when the chorus arrives that things start to unravel, because it’s the musical equivalent of a deflated balloon (thankfully Ireland had a fully-inflated one in Kyiv). Again, the lyrics are good, but overall the chorus is weaker than every other part of the song when it should be the star of the show. As a result, I feel like Together goes nowhere. That’s made much more painful by the fact that a powerful, statement chorus would have made a good song great, yet what we have is a good song being dragged down by one weak spot. Even so, this song has the potential for a Tom Dice (or more likely, Paradise Oskar) result. Especially if Ryan is as enchanting (if you’ll let me get away with such flowery language) on stage as I’ve heard he is from EiC etc attendees. It’s far from a cert though, and that brings me back to my irritations over Ireland never truly fixing what’s broken. When’s the last time people were Israel 2018 excited about an Irish entry? It’s as if those responsible for choosing them think it’s only a matter of time (Sennek pun intended) before everything old is new again and songs that would have won at Eurovision in 1994 start doing it all over again. Like Denmark – but to an extreme degree – Ireland sends safe, vanilla songs that are more inside the box than Azerbaijan’s trapped alter-ego man from 2013. Year after year after year! Yeah, I’ve liked what they’ve done the past two years, but neither Dying To Try nor Together were/are potential winners or guaranteed to qualify. Where’s the spark? The x factor? Not in Ryan’s chorus, that’s for sure – but there is a glimmer of hope in the rest of his song. We’ll soon see whether that’s going to pay off or not.

2017 VS 2018? Ireland was a guilty pleasure for me last year – #TeamBalloon!

My score 7.5

 

 

My thoughts Being Aminata-short on time this NF season, I didn’t get the chance to follow Supernova – so when I cleared three minutes in my schedule to listen to show winner Laura being a Funny Girl, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Would the song be on the same level as Love Injected/Heartbeat/Line, or would it be a jokey, lighthearted (and potentially lame) entry as the title suggested? As it turned out, the title was a herring as red as Laura’s NF dress. There’s nothing funny about Funny Girl, and I mean that as a compliment. My honest first reaction was ‘Wow!’. This song is soulful, sexy and sad all at once, and Laura’s performance was too (with added hair flicks for maximum sass). The situation of not being taken seriously by a boy who Netta Barzilai would definitely call stupid is explored using simple but original lyrics, a musical style that’s both on-trend and throwback, and a dramatic chorus that begs for a seductive lighting scheme (I don’t think the emphasis on lights, not LEDs, on the Lisbon stage will affect Latvia at all). There’s also an atmosphere of tension, frustration and desperation built up throughout Funny Girl that feels raw and genuine on every listen. Basically, I’ve been impressed by Latvia for the fourth year running. Laura’s one of our annual American accents at Eurovision, and her extensive musical education in the US shows in an awesome song that she wrote and composed herself, and in her competent, confident live performances. Although there’s nothing I don’t love about her overall package, I have to admit that Latvia slipped down a little in my ranking through selection season, as songs I liked even more were chosen and already-established entries grew on me. They’ve also slipped down the scoreboard over the past few years, with Aminata’s 5th followed by a 15th from Justs…then a big drop to a DNQ and last place in 2017 with Triana Park (I’m still mad). I do have high hopes that Laura can do better than a semi wooden spoon. There’s a good six or seven countries accompanying her in the second semi that are dead certs or at least very likely to qualify – leaving three or four spots open. I think she’s capable of snatching one, but could finish 11th or 12th as easily as 9th or 10th. Will I be as heartbroken as Funny Girl Laura if it’s another DNQ for Latvia? Pretty much. Particularly if it’s revealed that she finished 11th and Russia went through in 10th…but that’s another story.

2017 VS 2018? Laura gave me goosebumps on listen no. 1, so 2018 it is.

My score 8.5

 

 

That’s all for today, folks – and the stats are now 20 down, 23 left. Told you I was getting there. It might be like an arthritic sloth completing a marathon, but that’s part of the Jaz charm, right?

Here’s this round’s leaderboard:

  1. Australia (10)
  2. France (10)
  3. Latvia (8.5)
  4. Ireland (7.5)
  5. Georgia (5.5)

Look, I’m sorry/not sorry, but I HAD to put Jess on top when it came to choosing between Australia and France. I’d probably be deported for being unpatriotic if I didn’t. If it makes you feel any better, it was like choosing between a deep-dish pizza and another deep-dish pizza – i.e. very difficult and almost too close to call.

Do you have a few favourites here that you couldn’t possibly narrow down to one? If not, and you know exactly where your loyalties lie, this question will be a lot easier for you to answer.

 

NEXT TIME It’s full steam ahead with Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Portugal and Ukraine. I have some strong feelings about all of them, so drop by again to see if they’re happy-dance kind of feelings…or the punch-a-hole-in-the-wall kind. Subscribe in the sidebar and/or follow me on social media @EurovisionByJaz to make sure you never miss a post!

 

 

 

 

 

SELECTION SEASON 2018 | The French finale + Czech-ing out the competition

Bonjour! To answer all the usual questions…yes, I’m still alive; yes, I’m still blogging; and yes, my excuse for NOT blogging since Junior Eurovision in ye olde November 2017 (!!!) is the same (annoying adult commitments such as work, etc).

Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m beyond ready to dive deep into Eurovision 2018’s selection season. Tonight is a great night to do it, with three shows – including one decider – on the calendar. Plus, we get a Romanian heat and another installment of Israel’s Next Star tomorrow night. Oh, and on Monday, something’s happening in Spain (Operación Triunfo is just a big ol’ bunch of confusion), while the Czech Republic will announce that Mikolas Josef is representing them in Lisbon which of their six shortlisted acts is heading to Lisbon. OOF. If you thought I wasn’t going to make a dramatic re-entrance into the world of Euroblogging to cover all/whatever I can manage of this NF action…

‘What I can manage’, a.k.a. what I’ve chosen to cover this weekend are the happenings in the two countries that are 110%, totally and definitely choosing their reps for Portugal now (but don’t worry, I’ll be all over the Melodifestivalen semis once they start next weekend). That’s France and the Czech Republic, hence the punny title of this post.

So, without further ado, I’m going to share with you my thoughts on the songs of their selections, and predict who’ll end up flying the blue, white and red for a) a country that’s always in the ESC final, and b) a country that’s almost never in the ESC final. Leave your opinions + predictions in the comments below!

 

First up…

  

I have to kick off the France talk by saying OOH LA LA! After heading to Eurovision all flawless for the past few years (right down to Amir’s perfect teeth and Alma’s endless legs), they’ve continued to bring it in 2018 with a super-high-standard national final: Destination Eurovision (which sounds like an awesome holiday resort on a private island that one can only gain access to if one knows all the words to Alexander Rybak’s Fairytale by heart).

After two semis of eighteen acts performing their potential ESC entries, plus a version of something else – and being scored by a jury only – eight artists remain, as do eight songs that are decent at worst and brilliant at best. C’est magnifique!

Tonight’s show looks a little like this (because it will also feature duets): 

  1. Mamma Mia, Louka
  2. Ailleurs, Max Cinnamon
  3. OK ou KO, Emmy Liyana
  4. Mercy, Madame Monsieur
  5. Rêve de Gamin, Nassi
  6. Eva, Lisandro Cuxi
  7. Lisboa Jerusalem, Igit
  8. Ciao, Malo’

A handful of great songs fell by the wayside in the lead-up to this final, but the fact that they weren’t sacrificed for inferior songs (IMO) says a lot about the effort France is putting in at the moment. I’m not saying that I absolutely adore every single song still in the running – I have some standout favourites for sure. But as you’re about to see, there’s nothing on display tonight that will have me hitting the mute button (or reaching for a pair of earplugs – whichever’s easiest in my 4am haze).

 

Thoughts + scores

Mamma Mia This was one of the first songs to grab my attention at the snippet stage, and I’m still loving it. It’s a little bit tropical-pop and edges towards the Latin pop trend too, so basically it’s pretty exotic. Oui, it’s repetitive, but the chorus is the hook and I’m biting! Louka is an attractive Frenchman, which also helps (yeah, I can be shallow. Sue me). 8.5/10.

Ailleurs I DO absolutely adore this one. It’s magical. The chorus is memorable and makes an impact without being loud and in-your-face. Overall, it’s pretty and soothing, with a nice mix of French and English lyrics. Max is kind of meek as a performer, but hopefully having made it to the final will give him a Blanche-like confidence boost. 9.5/10.

OK ou KO Emmy’s song isn’t at the top of my love list, but it’s excellent – soulful, smooth and perfectly suited to her powerful voice. I don’t connect with it as much as I do with some of the others, but that’s its only fault. 8/10.

Mercy I have the connection issue with this one too – I want to feel a rush of love for Madame Monsieur, but I just don’t. Still, I have to admit that everything is cool, contemporary and slick. I won’t jump up and down with excitement if Mercy goes to Eurovision, but I’ll be proud of France for sending something current and original. 8/10.

Rêve de Gamin Okay, so this was better in studio than on stage, but I didn’t think Nassi’s live was terrible by any means (the 2018 version of Daz Sampson’s Teenage Life staging worked for me). I will always be quick to defend this song though, because I think it’s awesome. The blend of dance-pop and ethnic music breaks is boss. 9.5/10.

Eva Honesty is the best policy (apparently) so here goes: THIS IS MY FAVOURITE (AND CAPITAL LETTERS ARE NECESSARY TO EXPRESS THIS)!!! Lisandro is the bomb dot com. He sings, he dances, he wins TV talent shows, and he was born and half-raised in Portugal. Hello! He’s also armed with a superb r & b-inspired track that may not be up everyone’s street but has its own personalised parking bay outside my house. 10/10.

Lisboa Jersualem It wouldn’t be a showcase of French music without something that could have been lifted from a Cirque du Soleil soundtrack (that’s a compliment, BTW). Listening to this transports me to a Parisian sidewalk where the scent of cigarette smoke and croissants intermingles seductively (or so I imagine, having never been to Paris). The song is my least favourite in the final, but I’m glad it’s there. 7/10.

Ciao I actually hated this at first, but it’s grown on me like a musical fungus and I’m now digging it. The chorus is tailor-made for an arena (and an arm-waving audience of thousands), although the verses are much less memorable (as in I literally can’t recall how they go right now). 7.5/10.

 

My predictions

Realistically, I think half of France’s final songs are out of winning contention – in random order, Mamma Mia, Ailleurs, Rêve de Gamin and Lisboa Jerusalem. That leaves the betting faves Eva and Mercy (also winners of their respective semis) and chasing pair OK ou KO and Ciao. It’ll be interesting to see the results from the two voting parties that haven’t come into play yet – televoters and a beefed-up international jury. The fact that the ultimate decision-makers are different this time makes predicting a winner more difficult…but I would stick with Eva and Mercy as the ones to put your money on.

Lisandro, as France’s reigning Voice champ, has proven to be a televote magnet in the past, and his performance will be one of the strongest (vocally and visually) tonight. Madame Monsieur, meanwhile, are the winners in iTunes’ eyes, and because they’re not my personal favourite they’ll probably win (when I get invested in a song it’s practically a death sentence). As I said, if they do, I won’t be thrilled…but I’ll come to terms with it.

I wouldn’t be shocked to see OK ou KO or Ciao sneak up behind those two with a strong televote, but winning on that alone (if the international jury votes go mostly elsewhere) would be a tough task. The juries, feat. the likes of Armenia, Bulgaria, Israel and Sweden, might opt for the less “Frenchy” stuff á la Eva (giving it even more of a leg up), Ailleurs or Ciao, but to be honest I have no idea how they’ll distribute their points.

Alright, alright! So you want a definitive winner prediction from me, do you? Here it is: in the hope of not jinxing my numero uno Lisandro, I’m going with Madame Monsieur for the win (while still hoping and praying for Lisandro on the DL).

 

If you’re tuning in to the Destination final, stream it from 9pm CET here, here, via YouTube, or on TV if you’re in France, of course. And before then, hit up that comment box and tell me who you think will represent France in Lisbon!

 

 

The most impressive thing about the Czech Republic’s pre-Portugal selection process is that they’re managing to have a national final while simultaneously NOT having a national final.

I.e. there’s a line-up of songs competing against one other to win over juries and televoters, but there’s no live performances and no televised competition element. The jury votes, as I’m sure you know, have already been decided, and Mikolas Josef’s Lie To Me topped the scoreboard (somewhat surprisingly as I wouldn’t have considered it jury-friendly). Here he is alongside the five other potential – but not probable – Czech entries for 2018.

  • High On Love, Debbi
  • Stand Up, Doctor Victor
  • We Rule This World, Eddie Stoilow
  • Fly, Eva Burešova
  • Lie To Me, Mikolas Josef
  • Never Forget, Pavel Callta

For me, this selection is like a buffet where the options are a) five different types of unseasoned steamed vegetables, or b) a ten-tier red velvet cake topped with a spun sugar swan. Who in their right mind wouldn’t go for the cake? The cake in this case being Lie To Me, obviously. Okay, so I can understand why the song might rub some people up the wrong way…especially those opposed to blatant sexual references raunchier than Slavko’s ‘My spaceship is ready to blow, drunk in love, I’m gonna explode’. And people who are afraid of camels.

But as far as I can see, the Czech Republic will either be stuck in the semis at Eurovision again or sail to the final, based on whether Mikolas wins the public vote or not.

I’m not that inspired to review the other five songs, but in an attempt to come across as a fair and accommodating judge, I will.

 

Thoughts + scores

High On Love The most superior of the steamed vegetables is clearly this one. Whenever I see the title I’m reminded of this 2012 banger from Norway, which isn’t good because that was way better. But Debbi does have a pretty catchy pop song up her sleeve (in spite of some seriously annoying lyrics). 7/10.

Stand Up Stand up and leave the room? No problem, Doctor Victor. Bland rock is not my cup of tea, and this is so bland I could wallpaper my house with it. 3/10.

We Rule This World Eddie Stoilow (which is seemingly a band and not just the name of one person, go figure) have also produced something beige. WRTW would probably make the super-final at Dansk MGP, but it’s nowhere near interesting enough to hold the Czech Republic’s ESC hopes on its shoulders. 4/10.

Fly Sometimes a screamy lady ballad appeals to me, if the melody is decent and the screaming lady is screaming in the right way. But I feel like Eva is more or less moaning at me very loudly for three minutes because I ruined her favourite shirt when I did her drycleaning or something. 5/10.

Lie To Me This is the love child of Talk Dirty by Jason Derülo, Problem by Ariana Grande and Strip That Down by Liam Payne (don’t ask me how that’s possible), and I am OBSESSED. It has ‘The One’ written all over it in big, crude Sharpie letters. It could be a disaster when performed live (and there will be no camels present, which is a huge disappointment) but let’s cross that bridge when we come to it. 10/10.

Never Forget The title of this song is ironic. That’s all I’m going to say. 6/10.

  

My predictions

Speaking of saying the bare minimum…I can give you guys a Czech prediction without using any words at all.

What do you think? Does Mikolas have it all sewn up, or is someone else going to miraculously swoop in to succeed Martina Bárta?

 

SELECTION SEASON CONTINUES: What’s up next?

  • Saturday 3/2: Hungary (heat 3), Latvia (semi final 1), Lithuania (heat 4), Malta, Sweden (semi final 1)
  • Sunday 4/2: Romania (heat 3), Switzerland

 

Whatever you’re watching this weekend, enjoy it…but not too much, ‘coz we’ve all got to save our energy for February and (early) March. Assuming I’ve got the energy, I’ll be on Twitter throughout the season. Follow me @EurovisionByJaz for salty comments and tea-spilling (re: songs I hate) interspersed with OTT compliments (re: songs I love). What can I say? I’m a woman of Eurovision extremes.

 

Until next time,

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s get going!

 

 

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

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

Bulgaria’s score 10.00

 

 

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

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

France’s score 7.5

 

 

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

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

Italy’s score 8.5

 

 

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

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

Romania’s score 5.5

 

 

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

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

Serbia’s score 8.00

 

 

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

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

Sweden’s score 10.00

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

Until then,

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Au Cœur De Moi fact files

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

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The track list

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

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

 

So, what does it sound like?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

My top five tracks

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

The verdict

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Official site

 

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

 

The 2016 EBJ Eurovision Excellence Awards: Part 1 (The Artists, The Songs and The Singing!)

Good evening Europe, and everywhere else that’s relevant!

You’ve just made the excellent decision to tune in to the super-delayed first episode of the 2016 EBJEEs: that is, the EBJ Eurovision Excellence Awards. There’s no time like way after the official, Justin Timberlake-less Eurovision DVD has been released to do something like this, right? Not when this is the earliest I’ve been able to get around to it. Better late than never, that’s my motto.

So, if you’re ready for the ceremony to begin, great. If not, too bad – it’s (finally) happening. Today/tonight, I’m presenting second-rate statuettes in the categories of The Artists, The Songs and The Singing, including many of the People’s Choice Awards voted on by you fabulous people last week. Get excited!

Please???

*Academy Award-worthy intro music plays* Välkommen till…

 
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THE ARTISTS

 

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Winner Freddie Honourable Mention/s Amir, Douwe Bob

It’s award number one (my number oooonnne) and the EBJ Express has already arrived at Objectification Station – and I’m not sorry, no. There was an array of dashing dudes on display at this year’s contest, and as I was actually there (!) I can attest to the true, in-the-flesh attractiveness of each and every one. So, to those of you who thought Serhat was SerHOT, I say this: not even he could compare to the heartthrob ex-basketball player from Hungary. I mean, even in a one-on-one battle between Freddie and Måns Zelmerlöw, Hungary would quite possibly have the edge over Sweden. They’d definitely have a height advantage.

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Winner Samra Honourable Mention/s Iveta Mukuchyan

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, rather than the ear – which is how Samra came to be awarded this trophy by yours truly. She may have suffered from some vocal issues in Stockholm (several of her rehearsals would have had Jemini reaching for earplugs) but she is a stunner, and the cameras would have had zero complaints about focusing on her for three minutes…except that perhaps, three minutes wasn’t long enough to have her in their sights. If I sound lecherous here, it’s because I have a girl crush on Samra the size of Siberia, with symptoms that include a slack jaw and plans to write a dissertation on how someone can look that incredible in a skintight metallic onesie.

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Winner Amir Honourable Mention/s Sergey Lazarev

Well, you guys are off to a good start with your picks. I couldn’t have voted better myself! He may not have won Eurovision (although 6th is a win by recent French standards) but Amir absolutely won our hearts – cheesy, but true – with his general adorableness and charm, on and off stage. If there’s one act from ESC history that would be ideal to take home to meet the parents, it’s this guy. My parents are available, Mr. Haddad, if you’re interested…

 

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Winner Poli Genova Honourable Mention/s Zoë, Laura Tesoro, Sanja Vučić

Not unpredictably, Poli out-polled a force-field of girl power to take home the Miss Congeniality trophy. Anyone who wouldn’t jump at the chance to hang out with her, and help her search for any dress of hers that might be missing at the time (Junior Eurovision in-joke alert) is not a person I’d like to associate with. That may sound harsh, but COME ON!!! Poli’s personality and pizzazz is so strong, I’m pretty sure it was responsible for powering her light-up ILWAC costume. Isn’t that what everyone looks for in an amigo?

 

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Winner Laura Tesoro Honourable Mention/s Poli Genova

This award goes to the artist whose onstage charisma and energy eclipsed that of their competition, and who should never give up their career in showbiz because that would be an absolute waste. Belgium’s Laura may still be a teenager, but she performs like a pro from way back. She lit up the Globen stage every time she stepped on it (seriously, I don’t even think the tech guys had anything plugged in during her performances, á la Poli), and was so effervescent I would have blamed it on an illicit substance if she wasn’t so darn innocent. This girl was THE one to watch this year, and she’ll be one to watch for a long time to come.

 

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Winner Ira Losco Honourable Mention/s Dami Im

A Eurovision runner-up returning to the contest will always be a talking point – especially when that runner-up remains the rightful winner in the minds of many fans. But add in the rehearsal week revelation that Ira Losco had a kanelbulle in her oven – and a costume change that, among other things, elegantly emphasised that – and you have a walking water-cooler moment on your hands (and a Walk On Water moment). This was a case of Conchita-itis, in which a country’s artist is a more prominent part of their package than their song.

 

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Winner Laura Tesoro/Zoë Honourable Mention/s Frans

It’s a tie! A tie I could have broken if I’d been bothered. But I think both Laura and Zoë – practically senior citizens compared to runner-up Frans – deserve this award for dealing with the media, performance and competition aspects of the contest like pros. Zoë, in particular, should receive a high five for managing to sing in tune at all times when she probably couldn’t even hear herself over the screaming that followed her wherever she went.

 

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Winner Belgium Honourable Mention/s Bulgaria

Belgium snapped up this award last year too – and yet, white outfits aside, Loïc’s backing brigade couldn’t have been more different from Laura’s. The latter helped elevate the energy of What’s The Pressure in a live context, meaning that what would still have been a brilliant show if Laura had been by herself on stage became THA BOMB, DOT COM. Interacting with her and with the audience, they sang and danced their way straight into the #squadgoals hall of fame.

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 THE SONGS AND THE SINGING

 

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Winner If I Were Sorry Honourable Mention/s Alter Ego

Songs that sound the same as other songs have not (necessarily) been plagiarized. I’m a firm believer in a grey area existing where musical resemblances are concerned. As such, I’m not saying that Sweden’s 2016 ESC entry was partly stolen from some other random song I never knew existed until someone decided IIWS was a rip-off of it. But there is some aural twinning going on here, and I don’t think that can be denied. Here’s proof.

 

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Winner Hear Them Calling Honourable Mention/s Loin D’ici, Say Yay!

Everyone’s definition of a ‘fanwank’ is probably different – which explains why my decision not to include Italy as a nominee here was met with a little criticism. I do agree with this winner though, on the basis of a fanwank being a song that is drooled over and put up on a pedestal by the Eurovision community, only to crash and burn once it emerges from the pre-show bubble and enters the competition. Austria may have had a happy ending, but Iceland? Not so much.

 

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Winner Sound of Silence Honourable Mention/s Ghost, Play

2016 was a strong year for lyrics that weren’t…well, crap. For lyrics that could actually be enjoyed by a former English major who adores symbolism and detests clichés. The best set of words put to song in my opinion was Australia’s. And no, I’m not letting nationality overtake objectivity right now. There was something simple yet so inventive about the Sound of Silence lyrics, particularly in the verses. My favourite line of the lot would have to be ‘Tidal waves of tears are crashing, no one here to save me drowning.’ The imagery! The metaphors! The non-cheesy rhyme! SO MUCH YES. And, okay…maybe a little bit of bias.

 

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Winner I Didn’t Know Honourable Mention/s Soldiers of Love

Now we travel from the good to the gouda – by which I mean check out the cheese! Not to mention the inconsistencies in tense and a distinct lack of sanity. San Marino/Turkey, what were you thinking allowing lines like ‘I got to be inside your mind and hide into your arms’ (ouch) to represent you on a global platform, in 2016?

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Winner If Love Was A Crime Honourable Mention/s What’s The Pressure

Poli’s performance of ILWAC at the Euroclub on Opening Party night (though technically, it was the morning after Opening Party night) was one of my ESC trip highlights, so I’m thrilled to be able to metaphorically present her with this award on behalf of all of y’all. I can confirm that the dancefloor couldn’t have been fuller during her three minutes that evening/morning – though I probably don’t have to, because even if you were in Antarctica at the time, you’d have heard the chants of ‘Oh, day mi lyubovta!’. Epic times. Prepare yourself, future fiancé, because the DJ will be playing this on repeat at our wedding.

 

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Winner Loin D’ici Honourable Mention/s Color of Your Life

In terms of the songs that grew on me ‘more and more each day’ as Serhat would croak from the window of his favourite hangout Sleaze Palace: The Disco, Austria made the most impressive transition. The throwback to a time long gone by that is Loin D’ici irritated the strudel out of me initially, especially when I compared it to the contemporary offerings from Armenia, Latvia and Ukraine. But I was won over by a) its charm as an homage to twee French pop, b) Zoë’s general loveliness, and c) the reaction both she and the song received in the Euroclub and in Globen (it was too cute to resist).

 

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Winner Made of Stars Honourable Mention/s What’s The Pressure

As much as Eurovision these days is about presenting audiences with a live music video rather than a live, concert-style performance (if you want to succeed, that is), there are some songs that feed off a flesh-and-blood crowd and come to life as a result. Made of Stars is one of them. There is a passion in the delivery of the song via Hovi that is lacking when you listen to the studio version, or when you watch the official, drone-dominated video. Those are my thoughts, anyhow. Perhaps it’s the theatricality of song and artist that needs to be seen and heard outside of a box to be appreciated.

 

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Winner Ghost Honourable Mention/s The Last of Our Kind

 And then, there’s the other end of the Swarovski-encrusted microphone stand. I personally believe that Germany’s Ghost was one of the best songs in the competition this year, but the mismatched live performance destroyed and detracted from it. Listening to it in studio, without the distraction of Jamie-Lee’s Halloween costume test-run (I think she was supposed to be a cocktail umbrella) is a totally different experience – for the better.

 

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Winner No Degree of Separation Honourable Mention/s You Are The Only One

What is the significance of Francesca’s music video happenings? Who knows. Does anyone care? Nope. It’s beautifully shot and interesting to watch, and there was actual effort put into the making of it. Much better than a budget video or *gasp* no video bar a national final performance. Not that I’m demanding or anything…

 

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Winner Bulgaria Honourable Mention/s Australia, Norway

If I had a gripe about anything to do with Eurovision 2016, it’s the postcards – not because they sucked (they didn’t), but because they just weren’t very memorable. They were beautifully shot, but none of the artists were handcrafting their country’s flag out of foodstuffs, or participating in risky extra-curricular activities in the host city. I’m bestowing the trophy for best of the bunch to Bulgaria though, because watching Poli Genova go about her daily business (albeit a glossy version that includes getting ink done) could never fail to be fascinating.

 

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Winner Michał Szpak Honourable Mention/s Hovi Star, Sergey Lazarev

What do you get when you cross Captain Hook with someone who can carry a song single-handedly without the support of any detectable backing vocalists? Michał Szpak, that’s who. Hovi Star had the emotion and Sergey Lazarev had the singing/dancing combo down pat, but Michał powered through each of his performances of Color of Your Life with ease – and, as I said, without any contribution (as far as I could hear and see) from another singer who’d been stuffed in the wings. The Jedward syndrome-suffering Azerbaijani delegation must have been very jealous indeed.

 

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Winner Dami Im Honourable Mention/s Jamala

There were two ladies who stood head and shoulders above the rest when it came to singing the pants off their respective songs (though not the pants off themselves. That would have been unfortunate for Jamala). Honestly, my vote would have headed in a Ukrainian direction, but Australia topping this poll is obviously reason for a happy dance from me. You can’t argue that Dami is an incredible vocalist, and she managed to give her all for the entire Eurovision fortnight without dropping a single note. You keep doing you, Dami, ‘cause it’s awesome to witness.

 

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Winner Nika Kocharov & Young Georgian Lolitaz

Honourable Mention/s Joe & Jake, Minus One

This one’s a bit of a surprise to me, even though there were no Il Volos to speak of in 2016 and so the bar was set a little lower. Don’t get me wrong – I’m totally pro-Georgia, and Nika and his Lolitaz sounded more or less studio-perfect during their performances. I’m just shocked that the majority of you guys thought so too.

 

 

And now, some good news for those of you with numb bums: this evening’s (if it isn’t night time where you are, just pretend) ceremony has reached its conclusion! The EBJEEs will continue in a few days as I present my personal – as well as the remaining People’s Choice – awards in the categories of The Performances, The Costumes and The Results. So don’t return those fancy outfits you undoubtedly hired for the occasion just yet. There’s still a whole lot of Eurovision 2016 left to talk about!

 

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An Alternate Stockholm Scoreboard: The EBJ Jury’s Top 43 for 2016 (and how it stacks up to the actual results!)

If you’re reading this, bonjour! If not, then there’s no bon or jour for you whatsoever.

Question: do you remember when I posted the final round of EBJ Jury reviews, approximately seventeen years after they were relevant, some amount of time ago?

Me neither. Regardless, I’m going to go ahead and wrap them up once and for all today. Yes, that’s right: at long, long, long last, I’m ready to unveil my jury’s full ranking, from numero uno all the way down to the unfortunate four-three (because, in case you weren’t aware, Romania remains a player in our game. I’m not saying Ovidiu is ranked 43rd, but without him, I’d obviously be posting a top 42. Förstår du?).

This ranking will be accompanied by the highest and lowest scores each country received from the EBJJ, plus a comment from ye olde reviews that justifies their position in the list. Also, since we have actual, official results now (and have had for like, a MONTH) I’m also going to finish off with a quick analysis of the jury’s ranking VS the one compiled by the televoters and jurors of Europe/Australia back in May.

PS – For the last time, I’d like to remind you that all the info on the 2016 EBJ Jury members is available here. Go bask in their awesomeness whether you need to or not!

Let’s get this party started.

 

 

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#1. France (10)

Highest score: 12 (Jaz, Wolfgang)

Lowest score: 8 (James, Nick)

‘I truly believe that if this doesn’t hit the heights of the top 10 in Stockholm, there will officially be something very wrong with the world…or some possible irregularities in the jury/televoting figures.’ (Jaz)

 

#2. Ukraine (9.78)

Highest score: 12 (James, Jaz, Rory, Wolfgang)

Lowest score: 6 (Nick)

‘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.’ (Ali)

 

#3. Italy (9)

Highest score: 12 (Ali, James, Jaz)

Lowest score: 5 (Martin, Nick)

This is gorgeous, and makes me want to get married again just so I can use it as my wedding song.’ (Mrs. Jaz)

 

#4. Bulgaria (8.67)*

Highest score: 12 (James, Rory)

Lowest score: 5 (Martin)

‘If Love Was a Crime definitely sounds like it comes from the Balkans, but it’s got a smartly-applied layer of Swedish gloss that doesn’t distract from the intended sound (hear that, Cyprus?).’ (Nick)

 

#5. Croatia (8.67)*

Highest score: 12 (Ali, Penny, Rory)

Lowest score: 4 (Fraser, Nick)

‘It’s a strong Balkan song that, for once, didn’t come from the nostril of Željko Joksimović!’ (Rory)

 

#6. Iceland (8.6)

Highest score: 12 (James, Martin)

Lowest score: 5 (Mrs. Jaz)

‘What I like about the song is the country style, and that it’s really dynamic and up-tempo. But what makes the difference on the Eurovision stage is its amazing performance.’ (Wolfgang)

 

#7. Germany (7.78)

Highest score: 12 (Nick)

Lowest score: 4 (Rory)

‘Melancholic lyrics, an atmospheric score and hauntingly powerful vocals were all at odds with the visual package of an 18-year-old girl obsessed with manga outfits!’ (Martin)

 

#8. Russia (7.44)

Highest score: 12 (Fraser)

Lowest score: 4 (Rory)

‘This is precisely thought-out, clinical and slickly-produced schlager dance, and it is dangerous.’ (Jaz)

 

#9. Latvia (7.4)

Highest score: 12 (Jaz)

Lowest score: 3 (Rory)

‘I must admit that I like this year’s Latvian song and artist much more than last year’s. Justs really is a great vocal performer, and his song is by far catchier than last year’s injected love.’ (Wolfgang)

 

#10. Sweden (7.3)

Highest score: 12 (Fraser)

Lowest score: 1 (Rory)

‘If I Were Sorry is in the mould of Sweden’s recent host entries, in that it’s more organic, less precise, and simplified in comparison to the stuff they send when they’re competing on foreign ground.’ (Jaz)

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Frans, upon hearing he ranked so highly with the EBJ Jury, smiles for the first time since 2003.

 

 

#11. Malta (7.22)

Highest score: 10 (Fraser, James, Martin, Wolfgang)

Lowest score: 3 (Nick, Rory)

‘It was definitely the right decision to change songs for Malta! Walk On Water makes full use of Ira’s amazing vocal ability and range, combining it with a much more contemporary sound that is radio-friendly enough to stay in voter’s memories far past Eurovision.’ (Martin)

 

#12. Austria (7.11)

Highest score: 12 (Ali, Wolfgang)

Lowest score: 4 (Nick)

‘Those who glibly dismiss this song as ‘cotton candy’, ‘girly’, and calculatedly faux-nostalgic have failed to see the wood for the trees.’ (Ali)

 

#13. Belgium (7.1)

Highest score: 12 (Ali, Rory)

Lowest score: 2 (Nick, Wolfgang)

This is right up my street – a song that has me yelling ‘Somebody get me some roller skates and take me back to the disco era, ASAP!’. (Mrs. Jaz)

 

#14. Estonia (7)*

Highest score: 12 (Ali)

Lowest score: 4 (Nick)

‘It’s definitely one of the most original songs in this year’s line-up, and it’s fresh and relevant whilst oozing the kind of timeless classiness that Estonia are so good at of late.’ (James)

 

#15. Azerbaijan (7)*

Highest score: 12 (Wolfgang)

Lowest score: 4 (Rory)

‘Sometimes there are songs that need some time until I like them much, but then there are songs that I love from the very first moment. Samra’s entry belongs in the latter category.’ (Wolfgang)

 

#16. Czech Republic (6.89)

Highest score: 12 (James, Rory)

Lowest score: 2 (Ali)

‘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.’ (Rory)

 

#17. Switzerland (6.8)

Highest score: 12 (Wolfgang)

Lowest score: 1 (Rory)

‘I’m a ballad fan if said ballad fits my definition of ‘decent’, and Last of Our Kind definitely does.’ (Mrs. Jaz)

 

#18. Spain (6.78)

Highest score: 12 (Fraser)

Lowest score: 1 (Ali)

‘Overall, I find this a little wallpaper-like. It’s there and it’s nice, but I’m not going to be paying that much attention to it when there’s opulent statement furniture elsewhere in the room.’ (Jaz)

 

#19. United Kingdom (6.7)

Highest score: 10 (Rory)

Lowest score: 3 (James)

‘It’s pleasant to listen to, but reeks of the kind of song that backs a movie trailer or montage of some kind. If the Rio Olympic organisers are after a song that can soundtrack ‘The Top 10 Team Efforts of the XX-whatever Olympiad’, then they should look no further than Joe & Jake’s.’ (Jaz)

 

#20. Serbia (6.55)*

Highest score: 12 (Martin, Penny)

Lowest score: 3 (Ali)

‘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.’ (Rory)

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I’m hoping Sanja doesn’t murder me in my sleep for having something to do with her mediocre ranking…

 

#21. Lithuania (6.55)*

Highest score: 10 (Fraser, Wolfgang)

Lowest score: 3 (Ali, Rory)

‘Yes, this has ‘Melfest Reject’ written all over it, but you know what? I don’t mind at all.’ (James)

 

#22. Israel (6.5)

Highest score: 10 (Jaz)

Lowest score: 2 (James)

‘The build of the song resembles somehow the ‘drama queen’ ballad by Conchita from 2014, only this one goes nowhere and suddenly ends when you expect more to come.’ (Wolfgang)

 

#23. Australia (6.44)*

Highest score: 10 (Fraser)

Lowest score: 2 (Nick)

‘Dami is definitely destined to get at least a respectable placing in Stockholm, but there’s something missing that means she will not win Eurovision.’ (Martin)

 

#24. Armenia (6.44)*

Highest score: 12 (Penny, Rory)

Lowest score: 2 (Nick)

‘LoveWave has a lot of interesting parts – mainly the music and the structure – but it never coalesces like it should.’ (Nick)

 

#25. Hungary (6.33)

Highest score: 12 (Wolfgang)

Lowest score: 1 (Nick)

‘I couldn’t remember what this song sounded like until listening to over forty ranking videos. And although I can now remember what (part of) it sounds like, I don’t understand how it’s in almost everyone’s top 10.’ (Penny)

 

#26. Poland (6.22)

Highest score: 10 (Wolfgang)

Lowest score: 2 (Nick)

‘It is a beautiful and timeless classic entry that easily could have been in any other ESC in the past. Every time I listen to Color of Your Life it grows on me and gives me goosebumps.’ (Wolfgang)

 

#27. Finland (5.89)

Highest score: 10 (Ali)

Lowest score: 3 (Nick, Wolfgang)

‘Sandhja’s 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.’ (Jaz)

 

#28. Slovenia (5.78)

Highest score: 10 (Ali, Fraser)

Lowest score: 2 (Jaz, Wolfgang)

‘A lyric like “blue is blue, and red is red” definitely isn’t winning any songwriting awards, but it fits the air of naïveté that the song so beautifully creates.’ (Nick)

 

#29. Cyprus (5.7)

Highest score: 7 (Ali, James, Martin, Penny, Rory)

Lowest score: 2 (Fraser)

‘I think I’d need further listens to appreciate this, but as I got bored halfway through this one (I zoned out and did some online shopping during the last 90 seconds) I’m not too keen to hear it again.’ (Mrs. Jaz)

 

#30. Greece (5.67)

Highest score: 10 (Rory)

Lowest score: 3 (Fraser, James)

‘Overall, it’s a non-dynamic, non-event kind of entry, with lame English lyrics and far too much repetition.’ (Jaz)

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Greece: all white, but nothing special.

 

#31. The Netherlands (5.55)

Highest score: 10 (Penny)

Lowest score: 3 (James, Rory, Wolfgang)

‘It’s supposed to make you feel happy, but by the third line I just want to Sellotape Bob’s smug little mouth shut so he actually “can’t go on”.’ (James)

 

#32. FYR Macedonia (5.44)*

Highest score: 12 (James)

Lowest score: 1 (Nick)

‘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.’ (Jaz)

 

#33. Bosnia & Herzegovina (5.44)*

Highest score: 8 (Wolfgang)

Lowest score: 4 (Ali, Fraser, James)

‘I think I might be getting tired of the Balkan ballad formula, because I can’t find that ‘magical’ aspect in the verses, despite them being performed well. Also, I’m still trying to get over the fact that Deen’s face has morphed into an Easter Island moai head…’ (Penny)

 

#34. Albania (5.33)

Highest score: 8 (Rory)

Lowest score: 2 (Nick)

‘What was a powerful and passionate emotional rollercoaster, with lots of interesting nuances in Tirana, has now become a repetitive low-key ballad that no longer holds my attention.’ (Martin)

 

#35. Georgia (5.3)

Highest score: 10 (Ali)

Lowest score: 1 (Fraser, Wolfgang)

‘Immediately this sounds like some average 90s Brit-pop band is making a comeback. There is nothing that sounds remotely Eurovision about it.’ (Fraser)

 

#36. Ireland (5.22)*

Highest score: 10 (Martin)

Lowest score: 1 (Nick)

‘Everything about this screams desperate, from the wannabe 2013 Avicii composition to the recycling of 90s “heart-throb” Nicky Byrne to screech-er, I mean, sing it.’ (Nick)

 

#37. Denmark (5.22)*

Highest score: 8 (Fraser, Jaz, Penny)

Lowest score: 2 (Ali)

‘I want this to melt my marshmallows, but all it does is brown them ever-so-slightly. Basically, it’s perfectly fine, and therefore very vanilla.’ (Jaz)

 

#38. Moldova (5.11)

Highest score: 8 (James, Wolfgang)

Lowest score: 2 (Fraser)

‘Falling Stars is the sort of song that a DJ might put on as filler before a killer tune is played.’ (Martin)

 

#39. Norway (4.89)

Highest score: 10 (Jaz)

Lowest score: 1 (Nick)

‘I can see how many people could enjoy the metaphor that Agnete’s going to be the ship to free us all from the ice we’ve been stuck in…but the song just leaves me feeling empty.’ (Rory)

 

#40. Belarus (4.8)

Highest score: 7 (Jaz, Mrs. Jaz, Penny)

Lowest score: 1 (Nick, Wolfgang)

‘This song is easy to sing along to, and not bad as a bit of background music. I’m struggling to see how it has anything to do with wolves…but hey, this is Eurovision, so who cares!’ (Fraser)

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Not even the wolves knew what Ivan’s wolf obsession was all about.

 

#41. Montenegro (3.78)

Highest score: 8 (Ali, Jaz)

Lowest score: 0 (Wolfgang)

‘Deep voices aren’t usually my thing to begin with, and especially not when I’m being crooned at with such lyrics as ‘I’m gonna run, gonna feel good.’ Assuage me of fears that does not, and it really harms what could’ve been a strong entry.’ (Nick)

 

#42. Romania (3.22)

Highest score: 7 (Martin, Penny)

Lowest score: 0 (James, Wolfgang)

‘To get straight to the point with Romania in one word: HORRIBLE! Just horrible!’ (Wolfgang)

 

#43. San Marino (2.44)

Highest score: 8 (Ali)

Lowest score: 0 (James, Wolfgang)

‘I had hoped for a trumpet-backed, updated version of Mambo No. 5 from Serhat, which would have been a bit of fun. But what we got instead more closely resembles something you’d step in by mistake at the local dog park.’ (Jaz)

 

*Tie broken via Twitter poll.

 

Sadly, as we know, France couldn’t translate their OGAE poll win into a Eurovision win (although given that Amir’s sixth is their best result since 2002, we can probably loosen the definition of ‘win’ a little). However, they steamrolled ahead of actual champ Ukraine to claim another prestigious prize here. In fact, who needs OGAE poll results when you’ve got the hugely-delayed results of some random blog’s jury voting in your favour? Not France, that’s (not at all) for sure.

That was my long-winded and delusional way of congratulating Amir for taking out the top spot in the EBJJ vote for 2016. As aforementioned, Jamala was hot on his heels, and creeping up on her in turn were Francesca from Italy and Poli from Bulgaria. Rounding out our top 5 (though this one had nothing to do with me) was Croatia’s Nina, who didn’t need to win here as she recently won the most coveted prize of them all: the Barbara Dex Award. Reaching the latter heights of the top ten = Iceland, Germany, Russia, Latvia and Sweden. High fives and metaphorical gift baskets go out to those guys too!

I would like to point out that my kick-ass jury, while not psychic, managed to predict Bulgaria’s future by ranking Poli 4th. We also got pretty darn close with our positioning of Austria in 12th (Zoë came 13th). Overall, as you’ll see in a second when I compare our ranking to the official outcome/s, we did very well when it came to predicting who’d end up in the final, even if we weren’t too top-notch on the specifics. A correct guess wasn’t what we were aiming for anyway – our reviews and scores were based on personal opinions, not which entries we thought would triumph or crash and burn.

 

EBJ versus ESC: Let’s compare the pair!

23 of the countries in our top 26 appeared in the actual final. Six were already there (the automatic finalists and hosts Sweden, of course), but the remaining seventeen were correctly, collectively predicted by the EBJ jury. If I could pat my entire team of Eurovision experts on the back right now, I would.

Estonia, who were awarded the dishonour of placing 42nd out of 42, were ranked 14th with us – and I personally think they deserved to be closer to 14th than 42nd. But I’m totally over it. Whatever.

#JUSTICEFORJÜRI.

Our highest-ranked non-qualifier was Iceland in 6th place. As we all know now, Greta Salóme missed out on a Saturday night spot by a mile rather than a millimeter – she placed 14th in her semi.

13 of the countries we considered non-final material turned out to be exactly that. We did underestimate the Cypriot, Dutch and Georgian abilities to advance, but 13 out of 16 is pretty impressive regardless. A lot more impressive than the 6 out of 10 that I personally rightly predicted before semi final 1. But the less people who know about that, the better. Don’t expect me to confess that online any time soon.

Oops…too late.

The EBJ Jury’s lowest-ranked qualifier of the abovementioned three was Georgia, in 35th place. I’m going to take most of the credit for seeing something in Nika and his not-actually-that-young Lolitaz that few others did.

Georgia_eurovision-large_trans++qVzuuqpFlyLIwiB6NTmJwfSVWeZ_vEN7c6bHu2jJnT8

Seeing something, and seeing double…

Looking down the list, you can see that the EBJ Jury greatly underrated the likes of Australia, Armenia and Poland. Conversely, we overrated Italy, the Czech Republic and Switzerland. We also placed Germany in our top 10, and therein lies the difference between voting mainly on the merit of a song, and voting based on a manga-marinated visual version of that song.

 

And now, because this post has gone on way too long in traditional Jaz style, I’m going to stop observing and start winding things up. If you have any further observations re: the EBJJ or actual top 43/42, though, you know my comments section is always open for business!

In a few days’ time (I swear to Mr. God) I’ll be asking you for even more opinions – only all you’ll need to do then is click a bunch of times. Translated, that means the EBJ Awards for Eurovision Excellence – 2016 edition – are imminent, and that the People’s Choice polls are just about ready for public viewing and voting. Say yay yay yay!

What? Barei would. Be like Barei.

 

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REVIEWS | The EBJ Jury Judges Eurovision 2016 (Part 1)

Hello! Or, if you don’t mind me greeting you in the languages of the countries being reviewed today: zdravo, bonjour, xαίρετε, cześć, buna and Привет!

Don’t worry…I won’t do that every time.

Yes, it’s finally ESC 2016 review time here on EBJ (they’ve arrived just as unfashionably late as I do to all professional and social events). If you haven’t met the jury members who will be joining me on the quest to critique and compile a full ranking of all 43 entries, head to the ‘Välkommen Aboard!’ page above, or click here if you’re too lazy to look for it. You may as well get to know the people about to rip your favourite songs to shreds a little better.

Although all of the jurors will be scoring all of the entries this year, only three of us will actually be reviewing each time (if you’re hopping off the train at Complication Station right now, I apologise). And so…

 

TODAY’S EBJ JURORS
Jurors1

In this first installment of reviews, Rory, Wolfgang and I will be taking a look at/listen to Croatia, France, Greece, Poland, Romania and Russia – a.k.a. Nina, Amir, Argo, Michał, Ovidiu and Sergey. There are some hyperbolic highs and some low, low lows among the songs of these countries and artists – but which is which, and according to whom? Well, you’ll have to read on to find out.

Let’s get started!

 

 Croatia

Rory Croatia, you’ve sent some beautiful acts to Eurovision – Doris Dragović and Daniela to name but a couple – but in recent years, you’ve given us some of the most…”interesting” songs around, with a rapping granddad, ‘SALIBRAYYYYY’, and Nina Badrić dressed in an assortment of bin bags! So where have you been hiding potential like this? I am so smitten with Lighthouse, it’s unbelievable. Nina is a proven live singer, what with her experience on The Voice of Croatia, and although her look doesn’t exactly fit the typical Eurovision style, the song is easily going to make up for that. When I listen to the song, I can immediately think of the staging and how it’s going to look, with the cameras and everything. It’s a strong, Balkan song that for once didn’t come from the nostril of Željko Joksimović! This should easily sail through to the final (get it? I’m keeping up with the nautical theme!) and make it into the top 10 – and maybe it’ll give HRT the incentive to make The Voice into a national selection, so they can keep sending individual and adaptable artists to Eurovision.

Wolfgang I’m very happy that Croatia is back in Eurovision again this year, with an outstanding voice and a wonderful song. Nina’s voice is hauntingly brilliant, and the music reminds me of some of the good Irish entries of the 90s. It sounds original, a little Celtic and folky, and it is quite different to a lot of the other female electronic ballads we have this year. In addition to this, Lighthouse gives me the same vibes that some of Enya’s songs give me every time. Plus, it is a contemporary song in the likes of Faded by Alan Walker, which is a huge hit all over Europe this spring. I’m very excited about the staged “lighthouse” that we will hopefully see during her performance. Croatian ladies are the best at Eurovision…well, mostly (Severina not included). Great choice this year, Croatia, and lots of luck from Germany!

Jaz I’ve been through quite the thought process where this comeback track from Croatia is concerned. The first time I heard it, I detected traces of Emmelie de Forest, and that turned me right off (I’m not Only Teardrops’ biggest fan). On my second listen, I suddenly warmed to the Cranberries-meets-Corrs Celtic pop sound, because it’s a nostalgic throwback to the 90s while still feeling contemporary. The third time around, I realised just how much the chorus of Lighthouse mimics the chorus of Swedish superstar Zara Larsson’s Uncover (which I love) and mused to myself, ‘Is THAT what’s making this “now”?’. I won’t go on to tell you how I felt after every single subsequent play of the song, but I will tell you what I think of it at this point (since that’s the whole purpose of these reviews). As much as I’m irritated by the frail, ethereal sound of Nina’s voice, and as much as I detest songs that use lighthouses as metaphors in their lyrics (all the talk about light guiding people safely home and whatnot makes me want to deliberately steer my metaphorical ship into a cliff face so I don’t have to hear it any more), I do like this. The lyrics aren’t as lame as they could be; the pounding beat is hypnotic; the key change is impressive; and Nina does have the kind of vocal chops that suit a song of this genre. So, while Croatia may not be fielding my favourite song of the year (why they’re so high in the betting odds is a mystery to me) I am quite keen on Lighthouse.

The EBJ Jury says… 

  • Ali 12
  • Fraser 4
  • James 10
  • Jaz 7
  • Martin 7
  • Nick 4
  • Penny 12
  • Rory 12
  • Wolfgang 10

Croatia’s EBJ Jury score is…8.67

 

 France

Rory I’ve enjoyed the majority of French songs from the past few years (the exception being Sognu – what was that utter mess?!?) and this year is no different! Unhappy with their constant string of undeservedly low results, France has finally sent something that can actually be seen as radio-friendly! I enjoy the indie tones of J’ai Cherché, and the bilingual aspect of it means it will be a lot easier for the song to make a connection with a wider audience. However, this could end up being a double-edged sword, as the wrong sort of staging could ruin their chances. It’s been done before (Anggun, I’m looking at you…why GYMNASTS, of all things?). I’m not sure how it’s going to be on stage, as previous performances have been very bare and stripped back, but I’m open to being surprised. As long as Amir gives a strong performance, France will definitely be out of the bottom five!

Wolfgang I am a big fan of la France and their musical genre Variété Francaise-loving artists, like Patrick Fiori, Garou and Mickaël Miro. The French Eurovision artist for 2016, a.k.a. Amir, belongs in this category too, and he has got an excellent song in his luggage for Stockholm. J’ai Cherché is very catchy and contemporary, and it could be THE Eurovision summer hit of this year (at least I would love to hear it more often). As with Croatia, I am really happy that France has come again with a great song after four years of suffering over a ‘lowlight’ vocal performance, a horrible alternative song, a crazy fun entry and a boring lame lady ballad last year. But this year, France is back in the game, and it could become their Eurovision year. No other city in Europe can use such a big event like the ESC than Paris at the moment. Hopefully they go all the way with Amir – that would make me happy. Douze points d’Allemagne!

Jaz If there’s a Team ‘France Has Totally Been Robbed of Higher Rankings in Recent Eurovision Years’, then I’m on it. L’Amour Á La Française, Divine, Allez Ola Olé and Moustache all should have had more success than they did in my opinion (although in some cases, I get why they didn’t). I don’t want that same fate to befall J’ai Cherché, because I truly believe that if it doesn’t hit the heights of the top 10 in Stockholm, there will officially be something very wrong with the world (or some possible irregularities in the jury and/or televoting figures). Amir’s ESC effort is everything I appreciate about French pop wrapped up securely in a three-minute package, without being stereotypical (though that doesn’t give him the space to appear onstage sporting a Breton t-shirt and beret). It’s folk-inspired, but not stale like an old baguette; it’s fun, but takes itself seriously at the same time; it blends French and English seamlessly, making it the poster song for bilingual success at this year’s contest; and it’s irresistibly catchy (karaoke, anyone?). And then there’s Amir’s rugged French handsomeness, which is far removed from my beloved Måns Zelmerlöw’s clean-cut and beautifully buff exterior, but is somehow (almost) equally appealing. Basically, what hasn’t this entry got going for it? C’est magnifique, Mesdames et Messieurs…just don’t eff up the staging, France.

The EBJ Jury says… 

  • Ali 10
  • Fraser 10
  • James 8
  • Jaz 12
  • Martin 10
  • Nick 8
  • Penny 10
  • Rory 10
  • Wolfgang 12

France’s EBJ Jury score is…10

 

Greece

Rory Believe it or not, this is first Greek Eurovision entry since Secret Combination that I’ve actually enjoyed *braces for the onslaught of ‘WHY DIDN’T YOU LIKE OPA?!’ comments*. Of course, I’m definitely partial to a bit of ethnicity, but if there’s a lack of authenticity, then you’re just as well to be Rodolfo Chikilicuatre! Argo has created a song that on first listen is quite…odd, but as it goes on, you start to get drawn into it, and by the end, you do feel yourself swaying with the off-beat rhythms. When I listen to Utopian Land, I get echoes of Björk’s Náttúra, which in itself is four minutes of off-beat rhythms and headbanging. I love the ethnicity of this song, and I think it’s a perfect way of describing Greek traditional-pop music. However, with the negative reception the song has received, I feel like people might not get on board with it, and Argo’s Utopian Land may become a DYStopia! I really hope not though.

Wolfgang Now we come to the “Land of Utopia” a.k.a. this year’s Greek entry. I am really biased about this song. On the one hand, I like the instruments used, and the sound is quite catchy, ethnic and original. But on the other hand, I don’t like the rap/spoken parts in the verses much, and the chorus is too repetitive for my ears. The next thing that strikes me is the terrible English the entry is sung in. Why don’t the artists sing in Greek instead of bad English? I’m absolutely not sure if Greece is able to qualify this year in their semi, since the quality of the songs is generally much higher compared to Vienna. I still like Argo’s artful video clip that reminds me a bit of Run, Boy, Run by Woodkid, which is amazing. And the song’s obviously better than the Dion-esque LLB from last year!

Jaz The last time Greece sent a group to Eurovision, everything about it was epic (and that’s if we’re talking about Koza Mostra, OR if you’d define Freaky Fortune feat. Riskykidd as a group). But the standard of their songs and their success on the scoreboard have both taken a hit lately, and I have to admit, I’m very ‘hmm…’ about Utopian Land. As with a whole bunch of 2016 songs, there are things I like and dislike about this one. I don’t mind the rap, since it tends to sound particularly badass in Greek; the chorus is somewhat catchy; and the ethnicity Argo is bringing to the table is appealing, given how little national identity can be heard among their fellow competitors. But overall, it’s a non-dynamic, non-event kind of entry, with lame English lyrics and far too much repetition. So I’m leaning towards a thumbs-down more than a thumbs-up, and I really think Greece will struggle to qualify with it (i.e. they’ll probably squeeze through in 10th place). You never know – it could be staged in such a way that it stuns us all into silence (and then we’d hear that sound that Dami Im’s on about). But I don’t think Greece can afford the amount of trampolines, confetti cannons and state-of-the-art projections required to make THAT happen.

The EBJ Jury says… 

  • Ali 6
  • Fraser 3
  • James 3
  • Jaz 5
  • Martin 7
  • Nick 8
  • Penny 5
  • Rory 10
  • Wolfgang 4

Greece’s EBJ Jury score is…5.67

 

Poland

Rory SHOCK HORROR! MARGARET’S NOT GOING TO EUROVISION! It came as a shock to most Eurovision fans that Conchita’s Polish second-cousin-twice-removed Michał Szpak managed to triumph over Margaret – and Edyta Górniak – to win Krajowe Eliminacje. I have to say, I was expecting Margaret to win as she CLEARLY had the best song of the nine. But with Michał going instead, I’m not as disappointed as I thought I would be. His live vocals have shown that he can actually sing, and his look will easily make him stand out from the crowd. My one problem is that Color of Your Life is a ballad. A ballad in the first half of a semi that’s filled with other ballads. If it was more like Cool Me Down, it would help him be more individual and outstanding. I feel like this will bomb on the night, because it’ll get lost. If it does end up qualifying, we’ll probably see it in the same realms as Monika the year before. Poland, you should have sent Margaret.

Wolfgang To be honest, I wanted Poland’s greatest living singer – Edyta Górniak – for Eurovision 2016, and Margaret was my number two from the Polish national final. And it looked like there was a fight between those two female artists. But in the end, Michał Szpak won the ticket to Stockholm, to my surprise I must admit! But after just a few listens I am now totally won over by this song. It is a beautiful and timeless classic entry that easily could have been in any other ESC in the past. Every time I listen to Color of Your Life it grows on me and gives me goosebumps. The only thing I would change is Michał’s jacket – he looks like a circus ringmaster in it. He needs something cooler for his stage performance, but everything else is awesome, including his HAIR! I love it! I hope Poland will qualify. BTW, the “color(s) of my life” are midnight blue and orange. Man, I feel so Dutch this year.

Jaz Honestly, I’m more upset that Poland didn’t bring us My Słowianie the sequel for 2016 than upset that Margaret didn’t win their national final. Michał and his majestic mane can’t be compared to Cleo and Donatan (well, mainly just Cleo), but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Instead of butter-churning and heaving bosoms, he’s wearing his heart on his sleeve by offering us the sentimental (but not sickly-sweet), sing-along friendly semi-power ballad that is Color of Your Life. I’d say the same thing about this song’s lyrics as I did about Greece’s – they’re cringingly cliché at times (‘…ask your heart who you really are’…seriously? No originality points for you, Mr. Szpak). But that’s where I stop complaining on this one. I actually like it a lot, when I’m listening to it (when I’m not, I forget how much I enjoy it). There’s something about the chorus that speaks to me, saying ‘DAYUM, girl, that melody is super-smooth!’. And I take those words on board. I am concerned that Michał only gives us two choices when it comes to informing him what color/colour our lives are (neither of which are technically colours anyway), but I guess going through every hue in the Pantone range would have taken far longer than three minutes. So, will he bomb or be THE bomb in Stockholm? Fail or succeed, black or white? Given that I assumed Poland wouldn’t qualify last year, I’ll wait for the ESC version of his live performance prior to predicting that. But I’d happily see the country make their third consecutive final with this.

The EBJ Jury says… 

  • Ali 8
  • Fraser 7
  • James 3
  • Jaz 7
  • Martin 8
  • Nick 2
  • Penny 6
  • Rory 5
  • Wolfgang 10

Poland’s EBJ Jury score is…6.22

 

Romania

Rory And so, from the songs I love/don’t mind to one I loathe. I didn’t really pay attention to the Romanian national selection, but what I gathered from it was two things: that Mihai will never do Eurovision again, and that Ovidiu Anton won…and I have to say, why this? It’s rock for starters, which is something I don’t listen to in the first place. Secondly, in the chorus, when he shouts ‘take a moment of SIIIILEEENCE’, he goes so off-key that dogs could probably hear his screams! I’m sorry Romania, but in the last few years you’ve given me no joy whatsoever in the songs you’ve picked. It’s just…..bleugh, for me. I’m sure it’ll qualify, just because it’s Romania and they have that 100% qualification record, but it’s gonna be like Miracle and finish nowhere near where people expect it to. Sorry! Maybe you should have a Moment of Silence for the places that Romania will never reach with this.

Wolfgang To get straight to the point with Romania in one word: HORRIBLE! Just horrible! I hate everything about the song and its stage performance. And I’m still not over Florena or Mihai not winning the Romanian national final. There was such a great line-up in Selecția Națională. I liked 6 of the 12 entries from their semi final much, and two others were quite good. But Romania took the decision out of the remaining entries I did not like. To me, that was the ‘supergau’ of this year’s national final season, even worse than Denmark. The song sounds completely dated to me like something that Belarus, Georgia or Russia would have sent in the early 2000s. And that theatrical performance à la ‘Lord of the Rings’ joined by a “Lord of the Dance” is so awful, I did not enjoy watching it. And why did they call it Moment of Silence? It’s so loud, there won’t be a single moment of silence for the whole three minutes (unless you push the mute button). To me, it looks and sounds like a formulaic Meat Loaf tribute. Normally I like Romanian entries at Eurovision much, but this year they belong to my bottom five songs, and I instantly hope they won’t qualify with this terrible song. For me, it’s one of the clear non-qualifiers of 2016 and a BIG ZERO from me. That’s absolutely not what I want to see on Eurovision stage.

Jaz The minute I discovered Moment of Silence was representing Romania, I asked myself ‘Would I like this if it was the closing song of the first act of a Phantom of the Opera-type musical with a residency on the West End?’. The answer is no, but at least it would belong in that environment. As a Eurovision entry, I like it even less. Pompous, melodramatic and dated dirge performed by a gaggle of Game of Thrones extras is not the kind of thing I wave a flag for. I adored De La Capăt, so this is a real step south for Romania as far as I’m concerned. I’d even rather have Paula and Ovi (plus cameo from computer-generated Paula) back for a third try than sit through Ovidiu’s “moment of silence” (as Wolfgang pointed out, that’s hardly am accurate description of the song). In spite of all of the above, I’m a generous judge and I wouldn’t give Romania nothing, points-wise. But if we were handing out fruit baskets or gift vouchers, it’d be a different story.

The EBJ Jury says… 

  • Ali 5
  • Fraser 2
  • James 0
  • Jaz 2
  • Martin 7
  • Nick 3
  • Penny 7
  • Rory 3
  • Wolfgang 0

Romania’s EBJ Jury score is…3.22

 

Russia

Rory *BRACE YOURSELVES FOR A RANT!!* And so we come to the worst one of the lot for me (though not in the whole group of songs – that’s reserved for Rykka and Serhat!). I feel incredibly let down by Sergey Lazarev’s Eurovision effort. In the teaser he published a couple of days before the public release of You Are The Only One, I was impressed by the video production, the high-tech studio, and most of all, the intro to the song, which hinted at it being an alternative, emphatic, atmospheric song (which is right up my alley). Then the song was released…and it was schlager. SCHLAGER. WHY SCHLAGER!?!?! I was left cringing for three minutes, and at the end, I was like ‘Ehh…just eh…I don’t…WHAT!?”. I loathe this sort of 90s Eurodance beat; it’s so outdated, and though people can hate me for all eternity, I’m going to agree with Christer Björkman and say that schlager should be left in the 90s/00s where it belongs. Music has changed, Russia. So should you. And yes, Sergey is very good-looking, but that doesn’t make up for the song, OKAY?! *sigh…rant over*.

Wolfgang I can’t say that I’m disappointed with the Russian entry this year, because Russia meets my expectations exactly with Sergey Lazarev, sending one of their biggest national stars again. Of course, it all smells like the (formulaic) ‘Dima Bilan’ winning package from 2008. The ingredients here are almost the same: you take a big national star, some internationally-recognised songwriters and producers, a hit-like song that sounds so Swedish (more than any song from Melodifestivalen this year) and a performance that almost looks like a Måns Production (but isn’t!). And ready is the Eurovision soup! Let’s face it: Russia are trying very hard this year. They want to win again, under all circumstances and no matter what the cost. But do I want them to win? The answer is ‘No’! The good thing about Russia’s entry this year is that they don’t annoy me again with another ‘love, peace and understanding’ message song (lesson learned?) and Sergey’s video clip is really stunning to watch. If he manages to stage only about 30% of what we see in his video with his acting and live singing abilities, then it can easily be the winning performance of the grand final. On the other hand, the song lacks any kind of emotion for me. It’s formulaic, radio-friendly, sterile and very stereotypical, and it does not touch me at all. Obviously it will be a clear qualifier and yet another top five placement, but here I would go for 3rd or 4th place and hopefully not the no. 1! And another last thing that strikes me: the running gag in Germany about the Russian entry is that the performance will be “sehr gay” this year, and I would add “faux gay” to it. Well, that is what Russians are probably known for at the Eurovision, but it always means a lack of authenticity, and that’s not win-worthy in my opinion.

Jaz If you’d asked me to review You Are The Only One right after my first listen, I would have let rip (kind of like Rory did). After all, I had been expecting something that sounded as cutting-edge as Sergey’s video clip looks, rather than a stale throwback to Eurovision circa 2006 (and let me remind you that a man with a mullet, also from Russia, managed to come second that year). Meanwhile, everyone else was drooling over the song and/or Sergey’s various shirtless shots, which made me wonder whether there was something wrong with me, or with them. The solution? Taking another listen to the song – a.k.a. giving it an andra chansen. And, well…I suddenly saw the light. Or at least, why the bookies universally had and still have Russia in their top spot. I’m not denying that YATOO is dated, and that the songwriters could have written it more into 2016 if they wanted to keep up with the Latvias of the contest. But damn, did they know what they were doing anyway. This is precisely thought-out, clinical and slickly-produced schlager dance, and it is dangerous. If Sergey’s vocals are shipshape, and his staging is as eye-catching as that video (and we know that Russia always have their staging under control), he will certainly be the ‘only one’ to beat. There’s a power in the unrelenting energy and instant chorus of the song that makes it memorable, even in studio – and when paired with visuals that give it a perfectly-packaged kind of feel (á la Heroes) it becomes one step of a winning recipe. Oh, and thank the Lordi it’s not another preachy peace ballad!

The EBJ Jury says… 

  • Ali 7
  • Fraser 12
  • James 6
  • Jaz 10
  • Martin 8
  • Nick 6
  • Penny 7
  • Rory 4
  • Wolfgang 7

Russia’s EBJ Jury score is…7.44

 

And just like that – after several hours of feverish reading on your part – we’re done for the day. And, with all of the above said and done, the leaderboard currently looks like this:

  1. France (10)
  2. Croatia (8.67)
  3. Russia (7.44)
  4. Poland (6.22)
  5. Greece (5.67)
  6. Romania (3.22)

That makes France the très convincing champion of this round…but it’s early days. Can Amir hold on to the top spot? Only time, plus 37 more reviews, will tell!

What do you think of the Part 1 reviews and rankings? Who took the words right out of your mouth, and who should wash theirs out with soap for daring to defile an amazing song? Which of today’s six countries deserves douze points in your opinion? Let us know below.

In the next episode of EBJ Jury judgments, a trio of Aussies (#accident) – including none other than my mother – will have their say on Belarus, Cyprus, Georgia, Italy, Sweden and Switzerland. It’s going to be interesting, to say the least! Come together and join us because we are one?

 

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