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SHINE BRIGHT! Jaz’s JESC 2017 Reviews, Round 4 (Armenia, Ireland, Russia + Serbia)

Today’s the day, everyone who’s into Junior Eurovision! You’d have to be if you’re reading this.

There are just hours until Georgia hosts their first-ever contest, with the jury final done and dusted and a big chunk of votes already in (we still have until 15.59 CET to get our pre-show votes in, so get on it if you’re yet to have your say). What makes things even more exciting is that, even after rehearsals, it’s still an open contest without a totally predictable, probable-runaway winner. So – with due thanks also going to the current method of announcing the results – we should be on the edge of our seats until the very last score is calculated (unless one of the hosts screws things up like Valerie Vella, Queen of Spoilers, did last year). I’m SO excited for this!

I do have another few jobs to do before I can sit back, not relax (TOO EXCITED) and enjoy the show later. One is to make my official predictions for the comp public, which I will be doing on Instagram this afternoon (follow me @EurovisionByJaz…the link is over there in the sidebar). The other job is to squeeze in the final round of 2017 song reviews, of course! Here’s what’s gone down so far:

  • Round 1 feat. Cyprus, Georgia, The Netherlands + Poland
  • Round 2 feat. Albania, Italy, Macedonia + Portugal
  • Round 3 feat. Australia, Belarus, Malta + Ukraine

That means Armenia, Ireland, Russia and Serbia are left – so stay tuned to see what I think of Misha’s Boomerang, Muireann McDonnell’s Súile Glasa, Polina Bogusevich’s Wings and Irina & Jana’s Ceo Svet Je Naš. It’s happening right…

 

…now!

 

Watch it here 

Last year…powerhouse duo Anahit & Mary scored Armenia’s second 2nd place in a row with Tarber – a song I am still listening to on a daily basis and refuse to hear a bad word about.

The 2017 verdict Armenia is one of the most successful JESC countries period, having only finished outside of the top 5 twice in 10 participations. They’re on a particularly impressive run at the moment with a consecutive 3rd, 2nd and 2nd on their performance record. The problem with that, of course (*morphs speedily into Negative Nancy*) is that they’ve set themselves a standard so high, they might need the aid of a professional pole-vaulter to make sure Misha can top it – or at least equal it, since the only way to truly top it would be to win. I will be talking about the rehearsals here, but when it comes to song alone I’d say that Boomerang does have ‘winner’ written all over it. I didn’t feel it at first, but something clicked on listen no. 2 and I began to believe that Misha (well, studio Misha) had everything required in that three minutes to take the new and (some would say) improved JESC trophy home. I’d describe this song Eurovisually as a hybrid of Aram Mp3’s Not Alone – a power ballad that starts off subtly and simply before exploding into a million pieces of ‘Wow! – and Lisa Angell’s N’oubliez Pas, because it’s backed by a pounding militaristic beat. What it adds to that combo is interesting rhythm changes, and a younger vibe thanks to Misha’s delicate vocals (delicate until he unleashes his inner Anahit and/or Mary towards the end). It’s an aurally arresting mixture that suggests Armenia shouldn’t be discounted from the race, as per usual. But PLOT TWIST: from what I’ve heard about their rehearsals (told you I needed to mention the R word), an out-of-character misstep might be in store instead. Live performances can build an ordinary song up or tear a great one down, and though I haven’t watched any rehearsals as normal, reports of questionable vocals, a hoverboard that may not be serving Misha all that well and things just not coming together have me worried. I was going to tip Armenia as a possible winner, but now I’m wondering if they’re going to dip below their current worst-ever result of 8th. Before seeing evidence of that though, I will stick to my guns and not write them off. After all, Armenia has never ended a Junior contest lower than 2nd when they’ve entered a song with a single-word title. COINCIDENCE? Yeah, probably.

Song score 10

Artist score 8

Final score 9

 

 


Watch it here

Last year…Ireland participated for the second time with Bríce ar Bhríce by Zena Donnelly, improving on their debut 12th place with 10th (I predicted it to come last…oops).

The 2017 verdict I have to say, Ireland hasn’t exactly set my soul (or any other part of me) on fire with their JESC entries to date. All three have been good but not great IMO – though in 2015 and now in 2017, it’s more a case of the genres not being my bowl of Irish stew. Muireann is a cool kid who’s been personality plus when interviewed in Tbilisi this week, and there’s no denying she’s got talent. But Súile Glasa just doesn’t do much for me. It’s like a bowl of porridge (what’s with all the food references? If I’m not careful I’ll be discussing the Irish Potato Famine in detail next) without any flavouring. Okay, maybe a little flavouring…it is sweet. And the chorus is the stuff of sing-along dreams even in Irish. AND – check out all of these positives I’m pulling out! – I like the breathy, earth-child sound of Muireann’s voice. But like is as far as my relationship with this song will ever go – it’s in the Friend Zone, people. I am aware that my Music That Will/Will Not Work In A Competition Based On What I Think Of It radar is in good need of a repair job – and that my apathetic attitude towards Súile Glasa isn’t shared by many other Eurofreaks Eurofans. With that in mind, Ireland could be on track to improve on their debut result even further by improving on last year’s – I’m sensing 8th place for Muireann using my virtually non-existent psychic powers. In my personal ranking, it’s a lot lower than that, but not because it’s heinous. To me, it’s another You and Me by Joan Franka (i.e. I just don’t ‘get’ it). And Ireland in JESC so far…well, let’s just say I’m happy to have them at the party, but they’re definitely not the life of it.

Song score 6

Artist score 8

Final score 7

 

 


Watch it here

Last year…The Water of Life Project’s Water of Life pulled in the third-highest kids’ jury vote which propelled them into 4th place overall.

The 2017 verdict I have ADORED Russia at Junior for the last few years. Water of Life, in fact, was my runaway favourite of 2016 and I still love it a year later. Prior to 2015, though, I found them pretty hit-and-miss. I’m telling you all this stuff you probably don’t want to hear to make you question whether or not I’m a fan of Russia’s 2017 entry Wings. The short answer is yes. The slightly longer answer is HECK YES. Now for the longest answer of all: while it’s not another hands-down fave of mine (there are a few other songs I love on a similar level) Polina’s musical bid to win JESC no. 2 for Russia is right at the top of my list (floating around with those other few). This is everything I want in a ballad and more – so much so that I don’t even care about the nonsensical areas of the English lyrics despite being a former English major and staunch advocate of correct grammar. Taking inspiration from the soaring, electronic-edged ballads Sia has made famous, Wings is polished pop perfection with a massive chorus, epic build up to that chorus, a strong story backed up well by visuals in the music video (and on stage, I’m told) and a money note that overshadows all others we’ll hear in Tbilisi. Polina is an absolute powerhouse with all the necessary facial manipulation skills to sell the song to the audience and through the camera lens. I may acknowledge that the use of English in Wings has weaknesses, but that’s purely in the lyrics themselves – I really like the way the languages switch, with the song coming to an end in Russian right where it started. Speaking of the end…how good is it with the repetition of the final chorus line? Overall, Wings packs a memorable punch that I’m praying sees Russia in the top 5 again. Sadly, they seem to have trouble winning no matter how hard they try (something Sergey Lazarev could identify with) and this package doesn’t feel quite like the winning one to me – but that’s mainly because my favourites hardly ever win JESC or ESC and I’ve become pessimistic. The almost impossible could happen, and I’ll be doing my part to help it along by voting for Russia!

Song score 12

Artist score 12

Final score 12

 

 

Watch it here

Last year…poor Dunja Jeličić was out-hoverboarded by Belarus (ouch!) and ended up at the bottom of the leaderboard in U La La Last place.

The 2017 verdict Unlike Armenia, all Serbia has to do at JESC 2017 is not lose in order to outdo their showing in 2016. Unfortunately, that may be a tall order for Irina and Jana…but you know what? They wouldn’t come last if the outcome was up to me. Ceo Svet Je Naš is a cute little throwback to Junior contests of the past – think 2003 to 2005 – with a 1920s flapper feel shoehorned in. I’ve said before that I like it when countries go classic JESC on us, and the same goes for this entry. It’s clearly a kids’ song for a kids’ contest, and wouldn’t double up as an adult Eurovision song like Belarus or Macedonia, which makes it an awesome addition to the line-up. Being so sweet and simplistic, it’s also a breath of fresh air amongst more serious, hard-hitting and dramatic stuff á la Armenia, Poland and Russia. What puts the girls in losing contention isn’t so much the lack of good material – it’s just that by comparison, most of the other 15 songs have more to offer and are more exciting. Even I, who will bop to this while wishing I was wearing some fringe and feathers, am not tempted to vote for it when there are plenty of other songs on offer that practically demand to be supported. It’d be like picking up a sugar cookie from a buffet full of layer cakes and ice-cream sundaes (here I go again with the food analogies). I’m guessing most other people – those of us at home and those on the juries – will feel the same. As a result, I can’t see Irina and Jana charming their way out of the bottom 5. If Montenegro couldn’t do it in 2014 with a throwback duo, I can’t see Serbia doing it now.

Song score 7

Artist score 8

Final score 7.5

 

 

Finally, after four rounds, I get to say it: 16 down, 0 to go! The last mini-ranking for the year looks like this: 

  1. Russia (12)
  2. Armenia (9)
  3. Serbia (7.5)
  4. Ireland (7)

Polina wings her way (HAHAHA not) straight to the top, with Misha not too far behind, and the others fairly far behind…all according to me, obviously. There’s not long at all to wait until we find out who’ll actually come out on top and who’ll be left on the bottom (because somebody has to be).

Now it’s time for The Question I Always Ask Because I’m Nosy.

 

I know I haven’t asked you yet what your overall Junior Eurovision 2017 favourite is – so make sure you do head over to my Instagram and follow me @EurovisionByJaz if you don’t already. When I post my album of rankings and predictions later on today, put yours in the comments or tag me in those you post so I can see them! We can start a social media war over our differing opinions and trade insults that are definitely not kid-friendly…all that fun stuff.

Then it’ll be show time. Give me a Y A S S S! I’ll be hanging out on Twitter during the contest and I hope to see you there too, hashtagging the heck out of #ShineBright.

Enjoy your viewing experience, no matter who wins. I mean, it actually doesn’t matter since we’re going to Minsk next year regardless. Personally, I’m Team Australia (shocking), Georgia, Poland and Russia, so I’ll be crossing my fingers for them. Waving four different flags is a bit much for me to handle at the moment (also, I do not own a Georgian or Russian flag).

 

See you on the other side of JESC!

 

 

 

SHINE BRIGHT! Jaz’s JESC 2017 Reviews, Round 3 (Australia, Belarus, Malta + Ukraine)

If you’re not ready for Junior Eurovision 2017 (which TBH I’m not, considering I’m still frantically trying to get my song reviews done on time), too bad – it’s nearly here! The countdown is in single-digit days, rehearsals have started in Tbilisi’s festively-decorated Olympic Palace, and Mariam Mamadashvili is probably wondering what to have printed on her business cards now that ‘Current JESC Champion’ is about to be void.

In fact, the contest is so close than I have zero time for a classic Jaz Introductory Euroramble™. All I’m going to say is here’s Round 3 of my annual reviews, feat. Australia, Belarus, Malta and Ukraine. Check out my verdicts and vote for your favourite of the four below! 

 

 

Watch it here

Last year…I couldn’t help being happy – though very, VERY confused – when Alexa Curtis finished 5th with We Are. I suspect the absence of a televote had something to do with it.

The 2017 verdict We’re back, bitches! Actually, scratch that, because I should be keeping my language in check when discussing JESC. We’re just…back. As an Australian, it’s hard not to be pleased that our Eurovision invitations are still being extended (even in the face of frequent backlash/mutterings from other countries, which I do understand. But at the same time, IT’S HAPPENING, SO GET OVER IT). Also pleasing is the fact that we’re yet to send a bona-fide dud to the adult or junior contest, and the seriousness of our approach is worth at least one less snide remark, right? I definitely think so when it comes to Isabella’s Speak Up, which is arguably our best JESC entry ever. It doesn’t have My Girls whiff of lyrical cheesiness, or the wishy-washiness of We Are – the lyrics are great, the chorus is catchy and easy to sing along to, the vibe is young without being too young, and it includes one of the best key changes of the year (which Isabella has already proven she can nail live). I honestly feel like I would rate this song no matter which country it was coming from or what language it was sung in. It’s not as bubblegum pop as, say, Kisses and Dancin’ from The Netherlands last year, but it has a similar charm and upbeat energy that makes you smile. All in all, there is very little to pick on re: Australia 2017 – before seeing it live, anyway (rehearsals have obviously started, but my golden rule is NEVER watch them). Isabella will be backed by some dancers, the outfits and graphics will be slick, we’re performing second-to-last…what could go wrong in a contest that’s weaker than the last few? Well, a lot. I have an unfortunate feeling that even though a) Speak Up is our best Junior track so far, way better than We Are, and b) as I just mentioned, 2017 is not the strongest field of songs, we’re not going to make it into the top 5 again. I think we deserve to with this – not necessarily reaching the podium, but 5th or 4th place, sure. I just have this gut feeling that Australia is headed for more of a 6th-8th ending á la 2015. Still, I don’t have the most reliable guts on the planet, so anything could happen. My fingers are extra crossed!

Song score 10

Artist score 10

Final score 10

 

  


Watch it here

Last year…Alexander Minyonok and Muzyka Moikh Pobed received the Christer Björkman douze points of approval, which (when combined with a usage of hoverboards that totally eclipsed Serbia’s) helped him hit the heights of 7th place.

The 2017 verdict This might not apply at adult Eurovision, but you should always keep an eye on Belarus at Junior. They’ve won it twice and done very well for themselves on most other occasions. The trend continues 110% with Helena and I Am The One, and I’m going to cut right to the chase by saying she may actually be the one (someone had to say it). This song is undeniably high-class, and I don’t think many people could call it anything less than flawless without lying a little bit. It’s not even in my personal top three for 2017 and I’m calling it perfection. Beautifully produced – right down to the music video – and big on atmosphere and drama, it does everything a dark pop song should do without being cookie-cutter predictable. Belarusian lyrics + English title = totally fine by me, as are the explosive choruses and moments of light and shade that make the Serbias and Portugals of the year sound flatter than a pancake. Helena’s voice can get a teensy bit grating in the chorus if I’m extra-critical, but as long as she has ultimate control over it and stops it from entering The Screech Zone (it’s like the Twilight Zone, but you need multiple pairs of earplugs to make it out alive) I can deal. Speaking of things that might happen live…I want this performance to be the way I’m picturing it in my head SO BAD. The mystical ball from the MV better be there at least, and dynamic, epilepsy-triggering laser lights basically go without saying. For the costume, I’m thinking boho-robot, but that’s a concept I need to write an explanatory thesis on later. For now, I don’t know what else I can say about Belarus bar the following: the other four or so songs in winning contention better watch their backs. Then again, this could be the pre-show favourite that doesn’t quite meet expectations. There’s only a few days until we find out!

Song score 12

Artist score 12

Final score 12

 

  


Watch it here

Last year…home girl Christina Magrin delivered possibly THE vocal performance of the year, and came 6th with Parachute. I still can’t stand the song…but damn, that voice!

The 2017 verdict If this was the Junior Eurovision Cuteness Contest, Malta would walk it because Gianluca is so, so cute *melts despite not being the biggest fan of kids in general*. But it’s not. Sure, being adorable and charismatic and having impressive eyebrow-waggling ability for a 10-year-old will benefit him, but he needs an A-grade song to secure Malta’s third JESC win since 2013. Does he have it in Dawra Tond? Well, it was better three years ago when Armenia sent it and called it People of the Sun. It is very similar to that bronze medalist of Betty’s, but as with movies and music, the original is usually better. Still, the infectious sunny energy of POTS is worth taking “inspiration” from, so I can’t be too harsh on Dawra Tond. The pros include: a bit of Maltese for the first time since 2010; simple lyrics and phrasing that make this sing-along friendly and a total earworm; a good combo of retro (there’s something Mambo No. 5 about it) and modern dance-pop sounds; and that energetic beat that Malta can’t stay away from for too long (though they’ve won Junior with and without it). Overall the song doesn’t show off Gianluca’s incredible vocal abilities as much as I would have liked, but it does have some big moments. Performing between female ballad-fielders Ukraine and Russia should make Malta stand out, but with Polina being a heavy hitter and a handful of other stronger songs scattered throughout the running order, I wouldn’t bet any money on Gianluca winning (but I’m still pre-predictions, so don’t hold me to that if he does!). Honestly, I don’t want him to, but I could live with a decent finish in the range of 3rd-7th. Any higher and I’ll be forced to post bitter (yet not offensive because KIDS) statuses, tweets and stories all over social media to console myself.

Song score 7

Artist score 12

Final score 9.5

  

 

Watch it here

Last year…Ukraine had something of an off year at JESC, only making it as far as 14th with Sofia Rol’s ballad Planet Craves For Love. The nonsensical Cirque du Soleil staging didn’t help.

The 2017 verdict Ukraine are a bit hit-and-miss with me at Junior, though I’ve liked all of their recent entries (I’ve got no complaints about the 2012-2016 songs on a purely musical level). And hit-and-miss is actually how I feel about Anastasiya’s Don’t Stop specifically. It has grown on me since it won the national final back when dinosaurs still walked the earth (a.k.a. ages ago). But, while there are parts of the song I love, there are other parts that really irritate me – so on the whole I can’t say I’m going to be voting for it. Getting my tick of approval are the verses – nice melody and structure, plus an acoustic-y, chilled-out vibe that gives me life – and anytime the violinist pops up even though that does remind me a bit of Jacques Houdek’s My Friend. However, my main peeve is kind of a big one: the chorus. Anastasiya seems very sweet and she has a nice voice, but whenever an ‘ay-i-ay-i-ay-i-ay’ comes out of her mouth (which is a handful of times in every chorus) the nearest mute button becomes all I can think about. Sometimes you don’t know why you’re annoyed by something…you just are. And sadly, as sweet as she is, Ana is not Gianluca-level cute in that I would forgive her if she stole all of the money out of my purse. There’s always the chance of her new and improved live version winning me over, I guess. Looking at/listening to Don’t Stop as objectively as I can, I think it has the potential to do fairly well in the contest, if not amazingly so. It’s not a winner (if Ukraine think that the key to winning Junior is sending a very small child called Anastasiya, they are wrong) but my notoriously unreliable crystal ball tells me mid to lower top 10 is attainable.

Song score 7

Artist score 8

Final score 7.5

 

 

Well, there’s another four songs I can cross off my list. And here’s the mini-ranking from this round: 

  1. Belarus (12)
  2. Australia (10) 
  3. Malta (9.5)
  4. Ukraine (7.5)

So Helena’s the one AND number one on this occasion, closely followed by Isabella *screams patriotically*. This was a pretty high-scoring round though, so on the miniscule chance that Anastasiya is reading this, she shouldn’t feel bad. That score won’t put her at the bottom of the overall ranking still to come. DRAMA!!

Is Belarus your favourite of today’s four tracks, or is Malta more your cup of tea? Perhaps Australia or Ukraine have served up your preferred kind of pop. Take your pick!

 

NEXT TIME There’s one final round of reviews for me to get through – so who’s left? Armenia, Ireland, Russia and Serbia, that’s who. Keep an eye out for that post to find out who gets douze points from me.

 

Until then,

 

 

 

SHINE BRIGHT! Jaz’s JESC 2017 Reviews, Round 1 (Cyprus, Georgia, The Netherlands + Poland)

Gamarjoba, Eurofans who do double duty as Junior Eurofans (if you don’t, then this is your warning to back away from this blog for a while). I’m 72% sure I just greeted you guys in Georgian, which is my way of getting into the spirit of Tbilisi’s first Eurovision event.

There’s less than two weeks until Junior Eurovision 2017, when adorable child/vocal powerhouse Mariam Mamadashvili will hand over the title of reigning contest champ to another pint-sized singing sensation (or four, if The Netherlands wins). That means it’s beyond time for me to start reviewing all sixteen songs competing on the 26th! So let’s breeze past the fact that I haven’t posted since the end of August (my bad…my very, VERY bad) and get this party started.

I’ve pulled four countries out of the special EBJ hat I keep in my closet for such occasions, and they are Cyprus, hosts Georgia, The Netherlands, and Poland (bet you didn’t see that coming. It’s not like I stuck them in the title or anything). Keep reading for my thoughts on Nicole Nicolaou’s I Wanna Be A Star, Grigol Kipshidze’s Voice of the Heart, Fource’s Love Me and Alicja Rega’s Mój Dom. Spoiler alert: one of them just might be my favourite entry of the year.

By the way…I didn’t have time to get an EBJ Junior Jury together this year, but I still wanted to be able to average out the score for each song based on a few factors. I’ve gone simplistic by awarding a standard EBU-regulation point score (1-8, 10 or 12 points) to both the song itself (how I rate it personally) and the artist performing it (their vocal skills, personality on stage etc). The average of those two scores will be each country’s final score. As always, I’ll post a mini ranking at the end of each review round + the full ranking alongside my pre-show predictions just before the contest. Share your own mini ranking in the comments to let me know which entries are hot and which are not in your opinion (but don’t be too mean because we are talking about kids here).

Now let’s go.

  

 

Watch it here

Last year…George Michaelides’ Dance Floor finished 16th (second last). I had a lot of blues to dance away in George’s parallel universe where the world is a dance floor after that.

The 2017 verdict Cyprus has transitioned from George’s cutting-edge but unsuccessful ethnopop to oh-so-2005 – but probably more of a point magnet – ethnopop with Nicole. Her catchy (to say the chorus of I Wanna Be A Star is an earworm would be an epic understatement), super-predictable (a blindfolded 2012-edition Donny Montell would have seen that key change coming) song comes via three-time ESC act Constantinos Christoforou – and given that he seemingly represented Cyprus with the adult version of the same song back in Kyiv in 2005, THAT MAKES SO MUCH SENSE. I guess I should stop going on about how dated IWBAS is, because that’s not a totally bad thing. After all, it means Cyprus is doing what Belarus did last year by bringing back a slice of vintage JESC for us all to feast on (although the Belarusian hoverboards would clearly have never featured in a Junior Eurovision circa 2004). I always appreciate a throwback in a contest that has grown up a lot recently, with a lot of the songs having the potential to double as ESC entries if a few lyrical changes were made. This throwback is a classic kid-spirational anthem with Cyprus stamped all over it, and the high energy + hooks = party time for three minutes. I definitely like it – while definitely not loving it – but I do wonder if Nicole has the charisma and live vocal ability to pull it off onstage. If it doesn’t look young and fun and if it doesn’t sound perfect, the result could be cringeworthy. In the end, I see I Wanna Be A Star outperforming Dance Floor, but only by a few rungs on the leaderboard ladder. I’m thinking 12th-14th, prior to making my official predictions…

Song score 7

Artist score 6

Final score 6.5

 

  

Watch it here

Last year….Mariam Mamadashvili’s Mzeo became Georgia’s third JESC winner in ten years of competing. They seriously need to start putting some effort in (#sarcasm).

The 2017 verdict Host entries – at least when they’ve become host entries via their country winning the year before, which isn’t always the case with JESC – have a lot of pressure placed on them to follow in the footsteps of a peak result…or at least not embarrass themselves by failing miserably off the back of a peak result. Whether they’re hosting or not, Georgia is always a country to keep an eye on when Eurovision’s younger sibling drops by, and they’ve proven yet again that they know how this contest works with Grigol and his Voice of the Heart. It’s a more mature song and vocalist combo than usual, and for the third time in a row the lyrics are 100% Georgian (YAASSS for having full confidence in your native language!). It’s almost like a child-friendly version of Versace On The Floor by Bruno Mars – in fact, the structure and 90s R&B sound are so similar I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that it was directly inspired by that track. As such, since I’m a mahusive fan of both Bruno Mars and 90s R&B, VOTH is parked so far up my street it’s actually on someone’s front lawn. It’s not my favourite (or even second favourite) song in the 2017 comp, but I dig everything about it. Great melody, great build into some spectacular vocal runs that I hope to heck Grigol can replicate live, and an easy-listening feel that begs for atmospheric staging feat. spotlights and LED stars. In terms of measuring up to Mzeo, I don’t expect it to, but I am hoping for a decent 5th-8th finish. And when the audience inevitably claps their butts off for this host entry, I will be doing the same thing from my sofa (while simultaneously sobbing because I’m not in Tbilisi with them *sniff*).

Song score 10

Artist score 10

Final score 10

 

 

 

Watch it here

Last year…Don’t pretend you’ve forgotten about Kisses and Dancin’, or that you’ve forgotten the dance moves. I know I haven’t. As irresistible as it was, it didn’t crack the top 5 in Malta – Kisses finished 8th.

The 2017 verdict Variety is the spice of life (apparently) so the Dutch bounce from girl group to boy band is worth a fist bump. We can expect Fource to be choreographed to within an inch of their pre-pubescent lives at JESC, and if their NF performances are anything to go by their vocals will be pretty tight (unless somebody’s voice breaks at the worst possible moment) – but that’s where the similarities between Kisses and Dancin’ and Love Me come to a screeching halt. Love Me, strangely enough, isn’t as instantly loveable as last year’s song, but after a few listens I’d say it’s just as high-quality. It’s more grown-up, and something you’d hear on mainstream radio if it was entirely in English. The chorus is so simple you don’t have a choice but to belt it out along with the boys (so the English that is used has been used very well) and the instrumental breaks are made for slick, crowd-pumping choreography á la the precision kind I mentioned before. Overall, the song’s energetic, modern and strikes a good balance between youthfulness and sophistication. It’s definitely in the middle on the maturity scale, but even so it reminds me of Macedonia’s too-mature-for-JESC entry last year, Love Will Lead Our Way (I guess when your song has ‘love’ in the title, maturity makes sense). I’m only talking in terms of style, but given Macedonia’s less than impressive result in 2016, that is a worry. Is Love Me dynamic enough to be in it to win it? Not quite, but I’m not discounting these guys. The Netherlands don’t always get the points they deserve at Junior, but when they’re on point anything is possible. Fource’s is a performance I’m extra psyched to see because if it’s cohesive, as the only group act in this year’s contest they’ll stand out for the right reasons.

Song score 8

Artist score 10

Final score 9

 

 

Watch it here

Last year…Poland returned to JESC for the first time since 2004, reaching 11th place (a big leap from their losing streak of 2003/2004) with Olivia Wieczorek and Nie Zapomnij.

The 2017 verdict I wasn’t sure whether to create an air of mystery around this one or just lay all of my cards on the table right away. Eventually (after .5 of a second) I decided to go for the second option, and tell you that the suit of my cards is hearts all the way because OMG I LOVE THIS!! It is stunning. From the first time I heard that tinkly piano intro, I knew I’d found something special – the one song (because my other faves will have less trouble doing well) that I’d be supporting like a woman possessed. Like Georgia, Poland has opted to leave English out of their entry in favour of exotic, unpronounceable-to-the-untrained-speaker Polish, and it’s used in a melodically spine-tingling ballad that sounds more than a little Balkan at times (scoring major love points from me). I also must mention that masterpiece of a key change which, for a split second, makes crystal-clear vocalist Alicja sound like she’s out of tune until you realise she was just transitioning to a powerful second chorus in a way that would challenge singers twice her age. Speaking of Alicja – she may need to work on her charisma and stage presence a teensy bit, but she does emote enough to give Mój Dom the feels it needs to not look like an adult’s song being sung by a teenager. If someone can give her a shot of confidence and a Cinderella-style costume makeover before she steps on the Junior stage, Poland will have achieved perfection. Unfortunately, they aren’t a sure thing for success. I’m hoping this song will be another Tu Primo Grande Amore (or at least come close) but it could just as easily fall by the wayside, a.k.a. the low side of the scoreboard. My fingers will be crossed – once I’m done voting for it – in the hope that other people get the goosebumps I do when I hear it.

Song score 12

Artist score 8

Final score 10

 

 

And Round 1 is DONE! You’ve got to love Junior Eurovision for making the review caseload way lighter than the adult contest does (reviewing 4/16 songs makes you feel much more accomplished than reviewing 4/42 songs).

With the first four JESC 2017 entries criticised (as nicely as possible) and scored by moi, here are the current standings:

  1. Poland (10)
  2. Georgia (10)
  3. The Netherlands (9)
  4. Cyprus (6.5)

So Grigol just misses out on getting a high five from me in favour of Alicja, whose song I’ve bumped ahead because it’s a little more magical. Will Poland manage to beat Georgia, The Netherlands and Cyprus in the actual contest? Probably not…but a girl can dream.

Before we find out for sure the weekend after next, I want to find out something else from you:

 

Once you’ve voted, come on down to the comments and let me know how you’d rank the rest of this random, out-of-the-EBJ-hat bunch who are prepping to shine bright in Tbilisi. You know you want to! It’ll help pass the time between now and Round 2 feat. Albania, Italy, Macedonia and Portugal J

 

Until then…

 


 

 

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

Pryvit, Europeople.

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

Azerbaijan’s score 9.00

 

 

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

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

Denmark’s score 8.5

 

 

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

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

Georgia’s score 3.5

 

 

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

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

Hungary’s score 12.00

 

 

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

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

Norway’s score 6.5

 

 

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

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

Portugal’s score 7.00

 

 

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

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

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

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

No, it doesn’t.

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

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

 

Until next time,

 

 

 

The Songs of Eurovision 2017 So Far: First impressions, 2016 vs 2017, my top five + vote for your favourite!

Happy First of February, everybody! As scary as it is that a full four weeks of 2017 have already gone by – it’s practically a permission slip for us all to Get Frighten like Lolita ZeroFebruary is an exciting month on the Eurovision calendar, so maybe we should all “get excite” instead.

January just ended with the presentation of Kyiv’s logo and slogan (‘slogo’ to those of us who don’t have time for excess syllables):

eurovision_song_contest_2017_logo-1

It isn’t the most attractive logo (or the greatest slogan) in ESC history as far as I’m concerned (the colour scheme in particular is pretty drab). However, it has the potential to look slick in show-motion, as part of the postcards, and plastered all over posters/lanyards/t-shirts/toilet paper (an untapped item of merchandise that could, ahem, wipe the floor with the rest). So shall we give it a chance to shine – or not – before we throw it in the trash via salty Twitter sessions? Yes? Okay then.

In other end-of-January news, the allocation draw for the semi-finals took place yesterday, and has divided all of the non-automatic finalists into either the Tuesday or Thursday night shows. This doesn’t mean that much at the moment. Still, I’m happy to have Sweden in the first semi alongside Australia (despite the fact that they’re obviously tough competition) because we’re pretty friendly, and unless it’s third time unlucky and Australia sends something diabolically bad to Ukraine, we’re likely to get a little boost of points from last year’s hosts. If we don’t, the entire country will have a mob of angry Aussies (or perhaps just me) to answer to.

With the theme art unveiled and the allocation draw done and dusted, we can now move on to the millions (slight exaggeration) of national finals mapped out for this month – including the magnificent Melodifestivalen, which starts this Saturday. For now, though, there are five seen-and-heard songs in the race to be the next 1944…and that’s such a neat little number, I’ve got to take advantage of it. So here, have some opinions on the fabulous (and not-so-fabulous) five songs chosen to date for the 2017 contest. And stick around to the (possibly bitter) end to vote for your favourite before five becomes…more than five. #mathsskillz.

 

ffsf

 

Bonjour, Albania, Belarus, Finland, Georgia and the United Kingdom. I’m about to criticise you like crazy.

 

 

Botë by Lindita Halimi (Albania)

When discussing Albania at the moment, we’re fully aware that the song we’re talking about now is probably not the song we’ll be talking about in a month or two. That’s because Lindita and her crew are currently revamping it and preparing for its English-language unveiling (not because the Botë writers are going to pull a Diell on us and actually force her to find a different song to sing in Kyiv). In its at-this-second state, Botë is classic Albania – a big, brassy power ballad in possession of a mysterious beauty. Even if any of that changes when the final version is presented, Lindita will still sing the absolute crap out of it without breaking a sweat. If she doesn’t qualify to the ESC final, I feel like someone’s going to get punched (not by me, but by her. The girl is fierce).

My current score 8 points.

Better than Fairytale? As one of the few living and breathing fans of Fairytale, I’m not 100% certain, but I think Lindita trumps Eneda. She’d definitely beat her in the boxing ring.

 

 

Historyja Majho Žyccia by NAVI (Belarus)

Like Finland, Belarus chose wisely from their NF line-up when they could easily have made a dreadful decision (in my opinion…which as always, is the right one). NAVI’s brand of fun folk-pop is wrapped up in a neat, cheerfully-decorated package with Historyja Majho Žyccia. Even though it will stay in Belarusian (which makes me want to do a little ethnic/highly embarrassing dance of joy) we’ll all be able to sing along to the various heys and hos that up the cute factor throughout. I’m not head-over-heels in love with this song – it could be the genre, which isn’t my favourite, or just a missing bit of pizzazz – but I like it a lot, and I’m interested to see how it performs at Eurovision.

My current score 7 points.

Better than Help You Fly? This is like comparing 1944 with Wadde Hadde Dudde Da (don’t try to tell me that Stefan Raab masterpiece isn’t stuck in your head now). Basically, it’s a tough call, but I’m saying yes.

 

 

Blackbird by Norma John (Finland)

I was holding out a little hope that this track would win UMK, but until I saw the performances, I assumed Emma had it in the bag. Or that Finland would think ‘f%#k it’ and pick Günther & D’Sanz. Fortunately, they pleasantly surprised me by doing neither of those things. Blackbird has plenty of people pretending to puke whenever it’s mentioned, but for me, it has a bit of the magic of A Monster Like Me plus the raw emotion of Silent Storm. That amounts to something special, if not spectacular. Some pre-ESC crafting of the staging concept should elevate it to semi top ten status, but it’s early days and most of Norma John’s competition is a question mark. They might blend into the background, or make a statement with their subtlety. If you ask me, it’s Option B!

My current score 10 points.

Better than Sing It Away? As a party-starter/dancefloor-filler, nope. In every other department, yep.

 

 

Keep The Faith by Tako Gachechiladze (Georgia)

Tako nearly made it to Moscow in 2009 as part of the peeps that brought us We Don’t Wanna Put In. To be honest, I’d rather listen to that disco-flavoured, thinly-veiled dig at Russia’s main man than this melodramatic, been-done ballad. When you’re watching a song being sung, and you’re thinking about how sparkly the singer’s dress is and how voluminous her hair is and where you can buy a lipstick in that exact shade because it’s gorgeous…but not about the song itself as it kind of sends you to sleep, that’s bad news. And that, my friends, was me watching Tako do her thing at the Georgian final. One person’s trash is another’s treasure, so I know Keep The Faith has its fans. I’m just not one of them at this point.

My current score 5 points.

Better than Midnight Gold? No way. Bring back the drug references and epileptic lighting sequences.

 

 

Never Give Up On You by Lucie Jones (United Kingdom)   

Was it my number one (like, the only treasure I’ll ever have) choice of the six You Decide songs? Not before the comp. But I’ve got to admit, this song has grown on me very rapidly after only a few listens and a look at Lucie’s pared-back performance from Friday night (in which she sang like a songbird, wore an amazing velvet dress and reminded me a little bit of Lena circa 2010 if Lena had taken a Valium before stepping onto the Oslo stage). It’s an almost-exceptional, well-worded minimalist ballad that Emmelie de Forest has co-created here – and may I remind the haters that every single song she’s written that has made it to the ESC has won the contest? True fact.

My current score 10 points.

Better than You’re Not Alone? Definitely. Joe + Jake were a much less hyperactive and more sensible-haired version of Jedward, which can only be a good thing – but Lucie is a step in a more successful direction.

 

 

For those of you who made it through all of the above, here’s my top five:

  1. United Kingdom
  2. Finland
  3. Albania
  4. Belarus
  5. Georgia

How long will it be before somebody, if anybody (*sneezes in a very timely fashion with a ‘SWEDEN!’ instead of an ‘AACHOO!’*) steamrolls over the UK and parks in my personal top spot?

I have no idea.

Here’s an easier question to answer:

 

If you want to justify your poll pick or say something snarky about a song you don’t like (this is not a bitchiness-free zone, so go ahead), drop by the comments below. Also, feel free to send your personal top five my way so we can compare our rankings while secretly wondering why the heck each of us has THAT song in first/last place.

 

Until Saturday, when the clouds part and a heavenly glow covers Gothenburg because it’s Melfest Semi One Day (can’t you hear the angels warming up their vocal chords in anticipation?)…

 

 

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SELECTION SEASON 2017 | Bring it on, Belarus!

Say Fri-yayayay! Not only is it now the weekend (cause for celebration in itself), but it’s also the true start of the Eurovision 2017 national final season. What’s happened before tonight was the warm-up, and now that we’re all stretched and dying to get going…well, things are getting going. So that’s good.

In case you can’t tell, I’m not a fully functioning, able-to-string-a-decent-sentence-together human person at the moment. My working week was pretty exhausting, and my extra-curricular plate is more overloaded than the Buranovskiye Babushki’s pie tray. Still, I couldn’t bear to miss out on making some rash judgments and ridiculous predictions re: tonight’s NFs, which I’ll regret later.

Speaking of tonight’s bits and pieces (and tomorrow’s), what’s on?

  • Friday Belarus’ Eurofest (feat. Napoli, NAVI + Nuteki); Georgia’s unnamed NF
  • Saturday Hungary’s A Dal (Heat 2 feat. Gigi Radics); Lithuania’s Eurovizijos (Heat 3 feat. Vilija)

There’s something for everyone in there, even if you’re saving your girlish screams for the Scandinavian selections (like me). Let’s talk about the shows that are putting the ‘final’ into ‘national final’ by actually producing entries for Kyiv.

 

 

A very mediocre Georgian marathon (or ‘Why This Post’s Title Was Belarus-Centric’)

I’ll get straight to the point here – I’m NOT reviewing or predicting this year’s Georgian NF.

That’s partly because I’m pressed for time, but also because I was so uninspired by the stuff in it that I can’t be bothered. The impression I got from hearing all 5000 (approximately) tracks, one after the other, is that waking up at an ungodly hour to watch them be performed would be like tuning into a parallel-universe version of the ESC 2007 semi final, in which every single competing song is Time To Party by The Jet Set.

I.e. a terrible plan not worth sacrificing sleep for.

But hey – first impressions never last. I’ll give a second chance to whatever becomes the winner.

Also, I apologise for flicking my bitch switch up to max in the paragraph above. I’m just being honest, though.

 

 

Nudity + wolves = so 2016…but what’s next for Belarus?

Where do you go after the Ivan Incident? Anywhere that erases Giant CGI Babygate from our memories is fine by me.

There are 13 (ooh, lucky/ooh, unlucky – pick a side) songs battling it out tonight to represent Belarus in the not-very-far-away land of Ukraine. Among them are a few that could certainly improve on the DNQ of Help You Fly, given some polishing time. How convenient, then, that it’s January, and Eurovision’s not until May! No excuses, Belarus.

 

The line-up

After another year of excruciatingly amateur (oops, must’ve hit that bitch switch again) auditions – seemingly held in a studio with all the acoustic calibre of a shoebox – here are the finalists.

b17

  1. Children of the World by July
  2. Be Stronger by Alexandra Tkach
  3. Follow The Play by Vladislav Kurasov
  4. Historyja Majho Žyccia by NAVI
  5. On The Red Line by Isaac Nightingale
  6. Wild Wind by Kattie
  7. Take My Heart by Nuteki
  8. Let’s Come Together by NAPOLI
  9. Voices In My Head by Nikita Hodas
  10. We Should Be Together by Angelica Pushnova
  11. We’ll Be Together by Anastasiya Sheverenko
  12. Heartbeat by Lermont x Julic
  13. #mylove by PROvokatsiya

There are a few returning artists in the mix – including NAPOLI, who peddled My Universe at both Eurofest and Poland’s Krajowe Eliminacje last year. Will any of them finally get the chance to move to the next stage (literally)? I’ll tell you what I think in a minute. But first…

 

My top 13

Because compiling rankings is as natural as breathing to us Eurofans. 

  1. On The Red Line – It’s on the red line but off-the-wall, and that’s what I like about it. This doesn’t sound like anything I’ve heard before, and there’s not a cringely, clichéd lyric to be heard. I’m YAASSSing all over the place about that.
  2. Historyja Majho Žyccia – NAVI, once again, are bringing all kinds of adorable to the Belarusian NF. This is the only non-English track on offer and that instantly makes it stand out. It’s super catchy, cute, and full of happy in a folksy way.
  3. Take My Heart – I think this is my favourite musical attempt-to-make-it-to-Eurovision of Nuteki’s. It’s not going to win any awards for originality, but it’s a good example of energetic mid-tempo pop rock in the We Are The Heroes
  4. Be Stronger – There’s something about the sweet lyrics and vulnerability in Lexy’s voice and look (I don’t know how old she is, but she looks like she’s still in school) that has me reaching for the tissues when I hear this. It makes my heart hurt in a good way.
  5. Follow The Play – This sort of pop ballad is right up my street, but it’s a bit passé at Eurovision (and everywhere else) in 2017. Dima Bilan and his ’06 mullet would probably agree.
  6. Children of the World – This is a blatant rip-off of Nick Jonas’ Chains, only with much cheesier lyrics crammed in. And yet I don’t mind it. WHAT’S WRONG WITH ME?!?!?
  7. Voices In My Head – I’m torn on this one. I quite like the alternative vibe (this song is the hipster vegan café of the music world) and Nikita’s vocals, but the spoken word sections don’t speak to me.
  8. Heartbeat – I can’t tell whether this is a good song sung badly, or a bad song made worse by crappy singing. In summary, ???
  9. We Should Be Together – Dated, predictable dance-pop does not rub me up the right way…anymore (I think I can use the phrase “I’m too old for this s%#t’ and really mean it at this point in my life).
  10. Wild Wind – Donald Trump is about to be inaugurated as US President. Ergo, there’s so much depressing stuff happening in the world already that we don’t have room in it for such a melodramatic, morbid ballad about unfortunate weather conditions to go to Eurovision.
  11. We’ll Be Together – I’m pretty sure that this is a decent song…but Anastasiya’s voice is so bizarre (has she swallowed a sponge at some point?) that it’s a distraction.
  12. Let’s Come Together – Of the 75 songs competing in Belarus with the word ‘together’ in the title, this is by far the worst. It’s obvious that NAPOLI is desperate to get to Eurovision, but three solid minutes of clichés isn’t going to do the trick.
  13. #mylove – Nope. To the hashtag, the melody, the style and the words, I say ALL OF THE NOPES.

 

Who SHOULD win? This is basically the same as asking me ‘Who do you personally want to win?’, and my answer would be (based on the ranking I typed out two seconds ago) Isaac Nightingale, NAVI or Nuteki. To my tastes, these three (plus one or two others at a push) are diamonds in the rough that is this national final. Isaac has the least chance of actually winning, as I’ll admit that On The Red Line isn’t exciting enough to demand attention (which would translate into votes). I’d love NAVI to win since they’re the sole reps of their native tongue in the entire show, and to see that win out via such a sweet song would make me smile. Nuteki’s entry this time around doesn’t set the world on fire like it’s a piano belonging to The Makemakes, but it’s competent and catchy and karaoke-friendly – multiple boxes of mine are ticked by it.

Who WILL win? *drumroll* Let Jaz’s horrendously inaccurate NF predictions begin! I’m not a betting woman (mainly because I am so bad at foreseeing the future that I’d be constantly broke if I was) but NAVI, Nuteki or Napoli (yeah, I know what I said before) are the names I’d drop some dollars on.

Ask me to single one out FTW, and I’d say…

Last but not least, I’m going to throw in a random underdog, because why the heck not. It’s Lermont x Julic. Don’t ask me why; just know that, like Justin Timberlake, I got this feelin’…inside my bones.

  

SUDDEN ENDING ALERT!!! I’m going to say my goodbyes now, before I fall asleep on my keyboard and risk waking up tomorrow with ‘QWERTY’ imprinted on my forehead. Hit me up with your opinions on and predictions for this weekend’s NFs in the comments, if you have any. Don’t be shy!

If you’re settling down with some snacks and a potentially pixilated stream from somewhere in Europe, enjoy. I’ll see you on the other side when we have two more songs to welcome (with open arms or middle fingers, we’ll see) into the Eurovision family.

 

Love, love, peace, peace out!

 

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Maltese mishaps, mimes and Mariam’s Mzeo: My review + wrap-up of Junior Eurovision 2016!

WARNING: Things are about to get very honest.

Just like that, Junior Eurovision is done and dusted for another year – but none of us who tuned in are likely to forget about it that easily.

Sadly, that’s not because Malta outdid their spectacular show from 2014, but because Sunday’s contest was a bit of a shambles from start to finish (on the part of the adults in charge, not the kids competing). With the most rushed artist parade in history; painfully scripted host dialogue that Ben Camille and Valerie Vella stumbled over like they were running through a booby-trapped trail in the dark; camera operators spending more time in full view than out of it, á la Eurovision 2015; a venue that was far too intimate and therefore lacked atmosphere; AND the cherry on top, when Valerie single-handedly destroyed the tension buildup of the voting by blurting out the remaining amount of points, this was the most amateur JESC of all time. The fact that Malta has handled it with ease before makes it that much worse that things went so downhill this year.

Let’s cross our fingers for Tbilisi to take on the challenge with more finesse (which, TBH, wouldn’t be hard) if we happen to head there in 2017. Because, moving on from my endless list of complaints, my congratulations must go out to this year’s winner Georgia: the Ireland of Junior, only Georgia’s on top of their game now, and they don’t dwell on ancient victories which will soon be outnumbered by Sweden’s.

Hashtag burn.

You’d be forgiven for thinking it was JESC 2013 all over again, as a pint-sized brunette in a poofy white dress belted her way to the win with a powerful ballad. But we subbed in Mariam Mamadashvili for Gaia Cauchi this time, and watched her take the first-place trophy out by creating a truly magical moment on the Mediterranean Conference Centre stage. Hers wasn’t a triumph that everybody saw coming – particularly those of us who refrained from viewing the rehearsals – but, much like Italy’s the last time JESC met Malta, it became inevitable and was very much deserved.

Sixteen other stars shone pretty bright on Sunday, too – but not all of them could end the night on a note as in-tune as every single one that came out of Mariam’s mouth. So let’s hit rewind and review what went down from the start of the performances to THE MOST PRECIOUS REPRISE IN EUROVISION HISTORY (as seen above). I promise I’ll try to stay positive about all of it.

FYI…this is a long one, so you might want to grab a cup of tea and/or call in sick to work for the next three days. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

  

The performances

Ireland Zena’s start to the show was a nice one, but I found everything about it to be a bit messy (and not in a deliberate, that-totally-works kind of way, like her hair). I didn’t like the addition of an English chorus (clichéd lyrics never win me over). As for her dress…well, now we know what would happen if Yohanna’s Eurovision gown got together with a piñata and had a really ugly baby. So much for staying upbeat, Jaz.

Armenia The bad bits were average, but the good bits were great! Tarber is one of my personal favourites of the year, and it was just as entertaining to watch as it is to listen to. Anahit & Mary’s harmonies weren’t exactly on fleek (as Kisses would say) and I wish they’d been styled more in line with the music video (Mary’s hair in particular). If we’re talking fashion, I also think the costume-reveal outfits would have been more effective as dresses made up of both fabrics the girls started out wearing. But that’s just me being picky. Correct, but picky.

Albania Klesta is so sweet, and she can definitely sing (with more power than one would expect from such a small person). But this fell a little flat, and I think it’s because she couldn’t fill the stage with a presence like Mariam did. Besoj is a beautiful song, but it would work better at adult Eurovision, being sung by someone older and more experienced like Elhaida Dani.

Russia I was having heart palpitations in the lead-up to Sofia’s performance – Water of Life floats my boat like nobody’s business. Overall, it wasn’t as slick and powerful as I was hoping (since I wanted it to win) but I loved the girls’ outfits and choreography. Sofia was a stellar lead vocalist, too.

Malta This song, on the other hand, makes me want to rip my ears off. But I can’t deny that Christina (like everyone else residing in Malta) is one heck of a singer. She nailed every note, and unlike Klesta, had all the charisma she needed to fill the stage despite having no one else up there with her. Expect to see her at MESC the minute she’s old enough.

Bulgaria I’ve made it pretty clear already that I think Lidia is absolutely adorable, and that I plan on adopting her ASAP. Apart from one vocal slip-up, she charmed her way through her performance of Valsheben Den. The last thirty seconds really would have benefited from some backup vocalists supporting her visually instead of just aurally. On her own, she ended up looking very tiny and lonely.

Macedonia I applaud Macedonia for their top-notch vocals, cool choreography, and gorgeous rose gold costumes (I would quite like a catsuit like Martija’s to wear on Christmas Day, but it’s probably not that flattering after excessive amounts of turkey and pudding). Unfortunately, the whole thing would have been more at home in Kyiv next year than it was in Valletta for JESC. Still, an A+ for effort.

Poland I have one word for this: FLAWLESS. ‘Perfection’ also comes to mind. We got a stunning dress, graphics and vocals from Olivia, and in her case, I didn’t mind the last-minute addition of English. My only complaint? Why did the audience not cheer louder and longer for her?

Belarus And the Award for Most Improved Since Initial Selection goes to…Belarus, without a doubt! Alex’s breathless, shouty vocals from back then had clearly been whipped into shape. The whole three minutes was slick, entertaining, and the most Junior an entry can be without going too far. Extra kudos is deserved here for extreme multitasking – I’m not even sure I could get on a hoverboard without breaking something (on my body or someone else’s), let alone sing pitch-perfectly while riding one.

Ukraine A gigantic upside-down umbrella would have been OTT enough…but this was a Ukrainian performance, so why stop there? Throw in a couple of mimes as well. What either of these gimmicks had to do with Sofia’s song I don’t know, so they just left me very confused and distracted. Pretty dress though. She can reuse it for her future wedding.

Italy I’d say that Fiamma’s delivery of Cara Mamma was a cute overload, but it was actually just the right level of cuteness – if it were a bowl of porridge, it would be the one Golidlocks would opt for. Her costume (if you can call it that) was too casual for my liking, but even so, she had me melting into a puddle on the floor because AWWWWW. The simplicity of this after the OTT of Ukraine made it come across even better.

Serbia Whoever hit the hoverboard second was going to be unfavourably compared to the one who hit it first – too bad for Dunja. There wasn’t anything terribly wrong with her performance, though like Lidia, she could have used some backup. She also had the glitteriest case of dandruff I’d ever seen, and I’m still unsure whether I liked that look or not. All in all, Serbia didn’t get the party pumping like they should have.

Israel This was another performance in which some parts were great and others were messy, which didn’t give the best overall impression. Shir & Tim’s vocals were okay. They had decent chemistry and nice costumes (as you may be able to tell, I put a lot of stock in what people are wearing). I was hoping this would be presented in a more atmospheric way, which would have made it more memorable.

Australia We Are is weak, and there wasn’t much Alexa could do to elevate it. She sang reasonably well if not perfectly, and her engagement with the camera and the audience proved the worth of her time on The Voice Kids. But, as I expected, I wasn’t left feeling strongly about this in a positive or negative way. It was just…there.

The Netherlands I think I’ll be spelling ‘fun’ k-i-s-s-e-s from now on, because these three were the life of the party! The costumes they eventually chose were atrocious (had they just been renovating and repainting a Barbie Dream House? And why was one of the outfits beige?) but apart from that, this was Junior Eurovision in a psychedelically-patterned nutshell.. The energy was unrelenting, and the vividness of the 80s flashback was extreme (and I wasn’t even born until 1991). I loved every second.

Cyprus I’m still not convinced that George isn’t Sakis Rouvas after seven years of plastic surgery (has anyone seem him since Moscow?), but I am convinced that his performance kicked butt. There was no other pure ethno-pop – with drums! – competing in 2016, so this really stood out.

Georgia Last but not least (literally), was another heart-melter. Mariam had the dress that Fiamma didn’t, and elegantly powered her way through the classically beautiful Mzeo without missing a single note. She made serious magic on that stage, and she didn’t even have to saw someone in half to do it. At this point, the doorway to victory was wide open, and she strolled right through it.

 

If I had to filter those seventeen down to my top five, I’d go with (in random order) Russia, Macedonia, Poland, Belarus and Georgia. But all of the competing kids did themselves proud.

Speaking of the kids…I have to draw attention to the level of cute on display at this year’s contest. I’ve never wanted to adopt so many children at once in my life, so watch out, Angelina Jolie – your record may be about to be broken.

Now, before we move on from the performances to the voting and results, let’s take a look back at the entertainment between them.

  

The interval acts

Poli Genova Good golly, Miss Poli! Fiercer than ever and just as adept at doing the chicken dance without looking like a loser, she had the few people who could actually fit into the MCC on their feet.

Destiny Chukunyere Why, oh why wouldn’t they let her sing? Sing live, I mean. She was put to better use as a mime than the kids accompanying Sofia Rol on stage. Pre-recorded vocals aside, Destiny’s reprise of Not My Soul was pretty enjoyable. The other song she performed was…different. And slightly inappropriate at times.

The common song This was more of a cheesefest than a quattro formaggio pizza party for the entire population of Europe. I must be getting old and bitter, because I did not enjoy it at all. The reappearance of extreme miming didn’t help matters.

Jedward Let’s just say that, while their hair may have gotten even higher since their ESC days, the twins’ musical talents haven’t improved much. I never thought I’d say this, but stick to the expert judging, boys!

 

The voting + the results

The end of a Eurovision event is usually the most exciting part – and with the JESC 2016 voting echoing that of ESC 2016 (which nearly killed me), it was bound to be worth waiting for.

It was, but it also turned out to be confusing in the way it was presented. For starters, we had the child spokespersons reading out the adult jury votes. Then we had the expert jurors announce their scores one by one. Then came the combined points from the kids’ jury, read out by the adult hosts. Given that all of this took place at 2am my time, you can understand how it seemed to be less than straightforward. But it certainly delivered on tension, until Valerie made the slip-up that brought one heck of a crescendo to a screeching halt. After that, this is what we were left with: 

  1. Georgia 239
  2. Armenia 232
  3. Italy 209
  4. Russia 202
  5. Australia 202
  6. Malta 191
  7. Belarus 177
  8. The Netherlands 174
  9. Bulgaria 161
  10. Ireland 122
  11. Poland 60
  12. Macedonia 41
  13. Albania 38
  14. Ukraine 30
  15. Israel  27
  16. Cyprus 27
  17. Serbia 14

The scoreboard wasn’t a carbon copy of this after the adult jury points had been presented: though many countries stayed put throughout the final two voting segments, the adults ranked The Netherlands 3rd and Belarus 4th, while Italy and Russia would eventually rise up to 3rd from 6th and 4th from 9th respectively.

The adult jury gave their top points to Georgia; the kids’ jury gave theirs to Armenia; and the expert jury gave theirs to Russia. All three ranked Australia 5th, which was the only across-the-board agreement. Some of the most drastic differences of opinion? Russia (top three with the KJ and EJ, 9th with the AJ); Georgia (1st with the AJ, 8th with the EJ); and Malta (2nd with the KJ, 10th with the EJ).

Opinions also differed among the three expert jurors (a.k.a. the two expert jurors and Jedward) – Mads handed his douze to Italy, Christer gave his to Belarus, and Jedward rewarded Russia with their top score.

jescsb

The scoreboard after the adult jury votes (top left), the expert jury votes (top right), and the kids’ jury votes (bottom).

 

If we combine the twelve points from both the AJ and the KJ, it leaves us with Georgia scoring 11 sets – the same number of countries that received at least one top score.

Three countries finished in the same position they performed in. Armenia performed second and came second, Russia performed fourth and came fourth, and Cyprus performed 16th and came…you guessed it, 16th! The same thing happened twice last year. Fortunately for Georgia, Mariam bucked the trend by finishing first after performing last. This is the fourth time that has happened in JESC history – the final songs to be performed also won in 2005, 2006 and 2007.

The countries that improved on their last results were Georgia, Italy, The Netherlands, Australia, Ireland, Russia, Macedonia and Poland. The countries that did NOT improve were Serbia, Belarus, Ukraine, Malta, Albania, Israel and Cyprus. As for Armenia and Bulgaria…well, they ended up in the exact same positions as last year.

Another “interesting” fact…there were only two songs that were performed without any English lyrics. One won, and the other came last.

If you were wondering what I thought of the final results, then I’ll tell you – there were some shocks and surprises, and a few injustices, but the right entry won…even if it wasn’t my favourite. I always believe that the eventual winner is the true winner, simply because they won according to the rules of the contest. But Mariam’s Mzeo is definitely more of a Waterloo than an I Wanna – i.e. it’s a song I can get on board with, rather than a song I’ll quietly resent for years.

I can also live with my far-and-away favourite Russia finishing fourth – the same position my #1 entry reached in 2015. And as I predicted Armenia would come second, I’m not going to complain about that. Underrated IMO were Poland, Macedonia and Cyprus. Overrated was Australia (so if you hear news of me being deported to Greenland, you’ll know why). Then again, the bulk of the points were based on the performances at the jury show on Saturday – and unless you were there in the MCC at the time, you’ll never know how they differed from the televised versions.

 

So, was this the greatest Junior Eurovision ever? Umm, no. Was it up there (or down there) with the worst? Production-wise and host-wise, yes (in my honest opinion. You’re welcome to disagree). Can Malta do better? Of course, we know that. But what we did get out of the show was seventeen enjoyable performances from seventeen talented acts that must have had Jedward feeling insanely inferior; a voting sequence that had us on the edge of our seats almost until the very last second (DAMMIT, VALERIE!); and an insight into how uncomfortable Christer Björkman is when he’s not in total control of such proceedings.

Oh, and I also got my Tweet read out loud (albeit attributed to a boy named Yaz) so that was a personal highlight.

jtjesc

 

What were your overall impressions of JESC 2016? Do you think Malta nailed or failed their second attempt at hosting? And how did your favourite songs end up faring in the competition? If there’s something you want to say, I’m listening…a.k.a. monitoring the comments section below.

I’ll be back soon with a few more Junior-themed posts (sorry to those who can’t stand it, but I’m not willing to let go just yet) before launching into some Stockholm flashbacks – after all, it has been SIX MONTHS since the final. Then, it’s on to NF season we go, and this time, I really mean that (in case you hadn’t heard, I’m off to Melodifestivalen in March!).

Basically, I have all the Eurovision you need to get you through the next few months. And then the rest of your life, probably.

 

Until next time…

 

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THE EBJ JUNIOR JURY REVIEWS | Armenia, Georgia, Poland + Ukraine

Hi there, whoever you are and whichever hemisphere you’re in. Welcome to the first episode of four to feature complimentary and catty critiques targeted at children who may cry if they catch sight of the latter (I’m sorry, but I appear to have misplaced my maternal instincts).

Yes, it’s Junior Eurovision pre-party time again! For those of us who love JESC and cannot keep our opinions about it to ourselves, that means reviewing and ranking the competing entries – a solid seventeen, in 2016’s case – possibly in an attempt to figure out what will go down on judgment day. This year, that’s November 20th in Malta (take two for the tiny island), and funnily enough, that date is creeping closer rather than disappearing into the distance. So I’ve got to get reviewing and ranking, like, right this second.

Just before I do, an FYI: to help me out here, I’ve assembled a globe-spanning (a.k.a. mostly Australian with a few other nationalities thrown in ‘cause that’s just how things panned out) JESC jury to score each and every entry alongside me. Together, we’ll award an average rating that will go on to determine where each country sits in the prestigious *cough* EBJ Junior Jury Ranking. I’d like to thank all of my jurors for taking the time to do some Molly Sterling-esque playing with numbers as a favour to yours truly. Props bigger than Ukrainian hamster wheels and Montenegrin Trojan horses go to all of you!

Now, before it’s literally too late, let’s get started.

 

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It’s all about girl power today as Armenia, Georgia, Poland and Ukraine face the music. Read on to find out what me and my crew think of the songs Anahit & Mary, Mariam, Olivia and Sofia are set to perform in Valletta in ten days’ time.

If you need a musical reminder so you can deliver your own verdict, then check out the official JESC Youtube channel’s playlist here.

 

armenia

My thoughts Armenia is one of a handful of countries that just “get” JESC. Year after year, whether they’ve nailed or failed adult Eurovision, they serve up something fun and infectious at Junior that always ends up being in the mix to win the whole contest. So have they done the same in 2016, according to moi? You bet they have! Tarber is a song with the distinction of being both upbeat pop fluff (I use the word ‘fluff’ here positively) and a song that’s likely to tick multiple boxes on the jury’s criteria list – critical for the win considering there’s no televoting this year. The latter is obvious from the second it starts, with Anahit and Mary belting out an intro worthy of a Christina Aguilera/Mariah Carey duet (which they will need to pull off live, or Armenia could suffer a serious scoreboard slump for the first time in forever). That soon gives way to a funk-inspired main event, complete with an incredibly catchy chorus and enough repetition to make the three minutes cohesive, but not boring. The fairly well-written English lyrics squeezed in towards the end (a tactic also used by the likes of Bulgaria, Italy and Russia) are the cherry on top of a cake that I suspect the jury will find pretty appetising – if not the most appetising of the competing seventeen. Overall, I’m a big fan of this song, having enjoyed it more on my first listen than I did last year’s runner-up Love. If the girls have staging up to usual Armenian standards to present in Valletta – and if they can sing close to studio-perfect live – then I think they’re on track to get Armenia inside the top five for the eighth time out of ten participations. That’s what I’ll have my fingers crossed for, anyway!

My score 10

The EBJ Junior Jury says…

  • Dara, Australia – 6
  • James, UK – 4
  • Joshua, Australia – 6
  • Matthew, Ireland – 12
  • Michael, Australia – 12
  • Penny, USA – 10
  • Rory, Ireland – 12

 

 georgia 

My thoughts Here’s another country that could do Junior Eurovision blindfolded, and do it well (they have had unimpressive results for the past few years, but Georgia still has a stellar record to look back on). Only this time, I’m not so sold on their contribution to the potluck dinner of JESC 2016. I don’t hate Mariam’s Mzeo so much as I have extra-mixed feelings about it. On one hand, I think it has a nice melody and builds beautifully. Then there’s the lushly layered orchestration, which gives it a depth that you don’t find in stuff like the Netherlands’ Kisses and Dancin’ (more on that in another post). Really, it’s an IRL Disney ballad, and Mariam’s the princess with a heap of pent-up emotions to purge on stage. However, there are aspects of this song that turn me off in a big way. It’s almost too dramatic, and gets very shouty towards the end (which, seems to take a looooong time to arrive). It doesn’t capture my attention enough to keep my mind from wandering/wondering (what’s next, song-wise). I also think it’s verging on being too mature for JESC thanks to the old-fashioned, Hollywood musical sound. I know the last three or four winners haven’t exactly put the ‘Junior’ into Junior Eurovision, but they’ve all retained a sense of youth somehow. I’m not sure this song does, Mariam’s slightly squeaky voice aside (something else that stops me from enjoying Mzeo too much). To tell the truth, I prefer the weird, off-the-wall JESC Georgia. The Georgia that has won the comp twice thanks to kids in wasp costumes and kids who really, really like candy. Can we please have that Georgia back next year?

My score 6

The EBJ Junior Jury says…

  • Dara, Australia – 1
  • James, UK – 2
  • Joshua, Australia – 3
  • Matthew, Ireland – 5
  • Michael, Australia – 1
  • Penny, USA – 8
  • Rory, Ireland – 5

 

poland

My thoughts First things first: POLAND IS BACK IN JESC, AND I AM JUMPING FOR JOY! It’s always great to have somebody rejoin the party, but Poland’s comeback is particularly noteworthy due to the mahusive gap between their last participation (2004, in case you were unsure) and this one. Their entries in ’03 and ’04 scored six points between them, so it would be mighty fine if Poland could improve on that unfortunate record enough to make them want to embrace (HAHAHA, see what I did there?!?!?) Junior Eurovision in 2017 too. Although it’s not the tallest of orders, I think Olivia + Nie Zapomnij = a good chance. The song is a pretty, hopeful ballad, but it’s got some guts courtesy of the beat that kicks in, driving it home; and thanks to Olivia’s powerful, dynamic vocal, which is in keeping with the power and dynamism present in most other aspects of the package. The fact that it’s totally in Polish may make it a little inaccessible to those of us whose brain-boxes can’t comprehend a word of the language (TBH, I have no idea how born-and-bred Poles can wrap their head around it) but it also gives it a mysterious allure – kind of like the one Festivali I Këngës winners have prior to the inevitable unveiling of their mediocre English versions. The thing I like most about this song is that you’re not always sure where it’s going. It almost seems like a couple of songs rolled into one, without being messy. Having said that, I don’t think Nie Zapomnij is the most memorable ballad competing in Valletta, and I worry that it will pale in comparison to much of what follows it if it’s placed early on in the running order. Then again, I could be wrong and it could walk the whole thing (I have been known to make a “few” mistakes when making Eurovisual predictions). I guess we’ll have to sit tight and see what happens…

My score 8

The EBJ Junior Jury says…

  • Dara, Australia – 5
  • James, UK – 7
  • Joshua, Australia – 8
  • Matthew, Ireland – 7
  • Michael, Australia – 7
  • Penny, USA – 7
  • Rory, Ireland – 7

 

ukraine

My thoughts Next year’s adult Eurovision hosts are also one of my favourite JESC countries. It’s been a long time since I haven’t fangirled over the song they’ve sent to Junior, so I was pretty keen to find out what they’d choose in the wake of Jamala’s victory. Planet Craves For Love (AWKWARD ENGLISH TITLE ALERT!!!) was their pick, and – even sweeping any potential biases under the shagpile rug for the sake of objectiveness – I absolutely adore it (imagine me saying that in a very posh British accent, if you don’t mind). To me, it’s Anna Trincher’s Pochny z Sebe with the rock elements removed and the traditional Ukrainian sounds ramped up. The two songs are even thematically similar (though Anna’s was more intense in lyrical content as well as in the number of guitars being thrashed in the background). It remains to be seen whether Sofia will emerge from a giant lotus flower á la Anna, but even if the comparison stops when she steps on stage, it’ll still have a lot to do with the way I feel about her song. Excluding the title, there’s nothing I don’t like about it. Melodically, the verses, bridges and chorus are stunning; there’s multiple money moments throughout that make it memorable; the music is as organic and sweet as the fruit at a farmer’s market (if that makes any sense); and the tempo ensures it’s a sleepy ballad that won’t actually send you to sleep. Quietly powerful, it’s a song I intend to support via ultra-enthusiastic flag-waving on the day. I do have some reservations about Sofia’s live vocal abilities, but if she and her peeps have spent the last few months shaping and tightening up both sound and staging, well…I, for one, will be happy about it. I’m not sure how Ukraine will score in 2016 given Anna’s middling result in Sofia (that’s Sofia the city), but I’d love the jury to respond to them like they did in Stockholm.

My score 12

The EBJ Junior Jury says…

  • Dara, Australia – 0
  • James, UK – 10
  • Joshua, Australia – 2
  • Matthew, Ireland – 4
  • Michael, Australia – 12
  • Penny, USA – 10
  • Rory, Ireland – 6

 

Four down, thirteen to go! And with that, we arrive at the exciting part of this post – if the reviews themselves weren’t exciting enough in your opinion (in which case, whatever. I don’t even care. *weeps silently*). It’s the EBJ Junior Jury ranking for this round, and it looks a little something like this: 

  1. Armenia (9)
  2. Ukraine (7)
  3. Poland (7)
  4. Georgia (3.87)

Georgia hasn’t offered up the level of quirky fun this year that we’re used to, and the EBJJJ didn’t reward them for it. Ukraine and Poland end this episode neck and neck, but I’ve broken the tie on countback (ESC-style, of course) and ranked Sofia above Olivia. That leaves Armenia as today’s champ. I don’t know about you, but that makes me want to pull a Barei and say ‘YAY YAY YAY!’.

Next time, the EBJ Junior Jury and I will cast our eyes and ears over Bulgaria, Cyprus, Ireland and Russia. Does one of those countries have the power to eject Armenia from the top spot? Drop by in a few days to find out!

In the meantime, let me know which is your favourite entry of today’s four. And while you’re at it, which of the juror’s scores do you agree with, and whose have you questioning their sanity? Naming and shaming (in a nice, respectful way) is totally cool in my comments section.

 

Until next time…

 

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JESC 2015 Judgments feat. the EBJ Junior Jury | Australia, Belarus, Georgia and Ukraine

Hello, and Happy Weekend, guys! You’ve just made the excellent decision to read the third installment of the JESC 2015 Judgments, and for that, you’re back on my Christmas card list (I’m not sure why you were taken off it, but let’s not focus on that).

I feel a little guilty for being peppy/excited in the wake of the horrifying things that took place in Paris on Friday. However, though my thoughts are with everybody affected, I don’t believe that hiding away all happiness – or putting a tricolour filter over my Facebook profile picture – is going to make anything better. What I do believe is that when something terrible has happened, it can be beneficial to think about something else for a while. Not to belittle or ignore the tragedy in question, but simply to remind yourself that the world has not been turned completely upside down, and to take shelter in some normality in the face of terrifying abnormality.

On that note, let’s remind ourselves that there’s a display of international unity and young talent taking place in Sofia in less than a week’s time. Junior Eurovision is so close that the competing acts have set foot on Bulgarian soil and are swapping email addresses (or, to be more ‘down with the kids’, Twitter handles and Snapchat names) as we speak. I still have nine reviews and a prediction post to cram in before the show starts, so I’d better cut this intro short (well, short by my standards) and get cracking!

 

TODAY’S EBJ JUNIOR JURY

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Lukman Andi Uleng Lukman’s back for another round of reviews, having had his say on Armenia, Montenegro, the Netherlands and Serbia in the first installment. The highest number of points he parted with last time was seven, so will he ramp things up today by giving Australia, Belarus, Georgia or Ukraine the big douze…or even an eight or ten? Spoiler alert: yes, he will!

Penny K ‘Hi, I’m Penny *waves from other side of laptop*, a uni student from Michigan in the USA (the land where the ESC only shows up on the last page of the paper every 5-10 years, and never on the radio). I’m kind of late to the club since I started watching Eurovision in 2010, and Junior three years later since there wasn’t anything to do during off-season and I had nothing to blog-rant about. As of so far, my favorite JESC entries are Sokal (Belarus 2014), Mama (Armenia 2010), and Det Är Dit Vi Ska (Sweden 2013).’

Check out Penny’s Eurovision blog here, and/or follow her on Twitter here.

Jaz ‘Hello, yet again. This time on Jaz Tries To Write An Original Bio Instead of Repeating Herself and Boring You All To Tears, I’m going to rank all editions of JESC by overall strength of the entries, from best to worst (though at it’s worst, Junior remains awesome, in my opinion. So here goes: 2014, 2011, 2005, 2013, 2009, 2010, 2003, 2006, 2012, 2007, 2004 and 2008. Got it? Because I’m going to test you on the precise order later. Not. There’s too much reviewing to be done!’

 

The Junior Jury is ready to rumble – and Bella, Ruslan, The Virus and Anna are presumably waiting to hear our verdict (even though they’re on the ground in Bulgaria and have far more exciting things to do and think about). So let’s put them out of their misery in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1…now, basically.

 

 

Australia15

Lukman It’s wonderful to see Australia represented at this year’s event – especially by a girl as talented as Bella Paige. My Girls is a really high-quality song, and even beats many adult Eurovision songs in terms of quality. As much as I appreciate the song and recognise the positives, at the end of the day, it isn’t the type of music I normally listen to. But it does have some amazing hooks in there that make it interesting. All the best to Australia! 8 points.

Penny If no one told me that this was a Junior Eurovision song performed by a 14-year-old, then I would have thought it was your standard hit ballad on the radio. It’s definitely well-sung, well-produced, and a good Ohrwurm. Judging by her performances, I’ve no doubt that Bella’s able to pull this off live. It’s uplifting, which is really nice when trying to get through a meltdown. At the same time, it sounds like a hit because it also sounds super generic, like I’ve heard the tune somewhere else before. Part of me is also thinking that a major reason it’s so catchy is simply because it’s in English, so the words are predictable and flow easily, like a Swedish schlager entry. Either way, it’s definitely a solid entry to wave the Australian flag. 8 points.

Jaz I can’t believe I’m about to review an Australian JESC entry. The fact that I said something similar six months ago when reviewing Guy Sebastian’s Tonight Again makes me wonder what could possibly happen in the next chapter of the Aussie Eurovision story (which European event will we wangle an invitation to next?). But those wonderings can wait for another time and another post. Onto My Girls! This track is perfectly suited to JESC, which is odd given that it wasn’t written with the contest in mind – but a big belter of a ballad feat. empowering (though rather cliché) lyrics, performed by a small child with a massive voice, is the kind of thing Junior dreams are made of. I’d describe it as Ell & Nikki’s Running Scared with more oomph (it’s the oh-oh-oh bits that give me that vibe), or as a less annoying version of Girl On Fire by Alicia Keys. ‘Less annoying’ is not a description that extends to the lyrics, though…the cheesy predictability of lines like ‘I know she has wings to soar’ is nauseating *gags*. Still, I’d consider myself a member of Team Bella – albeit partly because I have to. My country is being represented in a Eurovision event again, and what kind of Aussie would I be if I refused to support that? I don’t like Vegemite or cricket, so there’s already a few strikes against me. Sitting on my patriotism and squashing it for a second, I’ll confess that My Girls is far from being my favourite entry of the year – but neither was Tonight Again, and look how that went down in Vienna. Bella’s song is strong and has a catchy chorus, and she is a vocal force to be reckoned with. Both song and singer prove that once again, Australia is taking participation seriously, and that’s something I’m proud of. If we were to win in Sofia (though I suspect we won’t) rest assured you’ll be able to hear my hysterical screams wherever you’re watching from. 8 points.

EBJ Junior Jury Score 8.00

 

 

 Belarus15

Lukman Why is it that Belarus seem to send stronger songs to Junior Eurovision compared to their adult counterparts? Ruslan’s dramatic ballad is one such masterpiece that has everything going for it to be the winner. Maybe I’m declaring that a bit too soon, but I just love this song! First of all, Ruslan is pretty charismatic, has awesome stage presence, and has been gifted with a strong voice. I reckon he got a few tips studying the ESC, as he definitely seems ready for the adult contest. I quite like the tune of his song, which slowly builds in an emotional and interesting way, and the music is dramatic, suitable, and easy on the ears. The special effects at the national final weren’t essential (especially the getting “rained” on…I initially thought Ruslan was so nervous he’d sweated!) even though they were cool. I don’t think Belarus needs them, as they have a strong song in the first place. I really can’t fault their act – it’s one of the saving graces of this contest. Good luck, Ruslan! 10 points.

Penny Is it just me, or does Belarus put a lot more effort into choosing their Junior entries than their senior entries? They send a song that’s going to work on the radio, yet they also manage to say through the song, ‘Hey, this is a kid singing!’. Anyways, they’re going with ‘person stands on a platform singing while the magic happens around them’. It took me a few listens to pay attention to the entire song, and another listen to get the tune down, but once that happened, the spell was complete. While I haven’t paid much attention to the on-screen special effects during Ruslan’s national final performance, the song itself is already snowfooting-in-the-woods magical if I close my eyes, and it would be really cool if it ended up playing at the planetarium with all the images of galaxies swirling around the screen. Now just add on the performance where the screen and real world collide with vocal drama…douze points, anyone?

Jaz I don’t know why Belarus nails JESC and (so often) fails ESC, but it’s certainly a truth. Nor do I know if they actually put more effort in to choosing what to send to Junior, or if it’s by accident that they continually select stunners. Either way, a stunner is once again what they’ve got to offer us. I’m not going to beat around the bush with Ruslan and Volshebstvo/Magic: this is my favourite entry of 2015. From my very first listen, I was spellbound by the mysterious and dramatic atmosphere it conjures up, the incredible melody that brings a tear to my eye every time (I’m very pathetic, I know) and Ruslan’s spectacular vocal performance. I was also struck by how much Belarus 2015 echoes a certain other country’s very successful debut last year: Italy’s. Volshebstvo and Ruslan give me the same feeling that Tu Il Primo Grande Amore and Vincenzo did twelve months ago – not necessarily the feeling that it’s a winner, but the feeling that it’s something special that’s going to make an impression on the night. I just love it. The whole package is powerful, classy, and perhaps more contemporary than Italy’s winning one, and if the Belarusian delegation has taken those NF effects and polished them, then it’s not out of the question for Minsk to be the host city of JESC 2016. With a young male version of Zlata Ognevich singing the s%!t out of a brilliant ballad whilst elevated on a pedestal (without having been dumped there by a giant Game of Thrones extra), anything is possible. There’s nothing left for me to say except DOUZE POINTS!

EBJ Junior Jury Score 11.33

 

 

Georgia15 

Lukman I admire Georgia, as they always send something really crazy, suitable for Junior audiences, and highly original. Alongside Armenia, I reckon Georgia will give us one of the most highly-entertaining routines in Sofia. I have no doubt that The Virus will perform excellently live, as have all previous Georgian singers. Now, back to the song: the first verse is the best-sounding to my ears, while the chorus would probably appeal more to younger listeners. I think the group is going for funny, fun and cheeky! Good luck to The Virus! 7 points.

Penny ‘Ets’ade gaaaaabedo! Sanam gadaaaaagedo…’. I’m pretty sure The Virus has infected me with a 15-second Ohrwurm, because I can’t get Gabede out of my head. It’s not my favourite song in the mix, but considering how many times it has appeared in last place in YouTube rankings, I don’t think it deserves that much hate. I like this entry more than some of Georgia’s recent entries, and it looks like the group’s genuinely having fun. They’ll probably be comfy on stage with instruments in hand, rocking out in their pajamas The only major issue I can see is that there’s no warning that the song (and music video) are approximately twice as loud as the other sixteen music videos. Otherwise (as everyone’s probably asking), WHAT HAPPENS AFTER THE PARENTS ARRIVE?!? 6 points.

Jaz Will the not-at-all disgustingly named The Virus (seriously, WTF is with that?) really wear their PJs and towel turbans on stage? Georgia has lost the JESC plot a bit lately, so I wouldn’t put it past them. Of course, when I say that, I mainly mean results-wise – their costumes are always on course, but Lizi Pop’s 11th place in 2014 was their worst result ever. Happy Day didn’t float my boat in a big way, and while I do think Gabede more closely resembles the quirky, carefree Georgia we know and love within the Junior community, it’s still not right up there in the realms of top five-worthy stuff like Odelia Ranuni, Candy Music and Funky Lemonade (from 2007, 2011 and 2012 respectively). It’s rocky, for starters, which is unusual for the retro-pop enthusiasts, and it’s a tad too repetitive for my taste. Previous Georgian entries have made the most of their allotted minutes, but it’s a more a case of a little in a lot here – like the ‘why-ay-ay-ay’ bits in Trijntje Oosterhuis’ Walk Along, the ‘gabedo’ bits in this song’s chorus come around all too quickly, again and again (and again). However, repetitiveness isn’t a cardinal sin for a song to commit, and if we all thought it was inexcusable, there’s no way we’d be ESC or JESC fans! My point is, I’ll forgive Georgia for all their gabedos, because as they always do, they have selected a cute and charismatic act fielding a fun song. It may not be their best ever, but it does tick a bunch of boxes – meaning it won’t finish first, but definitely won’t finish last either. 7 points.

EBJ Junior Jury Score 6.67

 

 

Ukraine15

Lukman Ukraine is one of the powerhouses in both the Eurovision Song Contest and Junior Eurovision Song Contest, and they never fail to deliver a high-quality song. Anna’s Pochny z Sebe has a strong Slavic melancholic feel to it, but at the same time, it’s uplifting. She’s a great singer, she just needs a little work on her stage presence and routine. Hopefully she gets an even more epic outfit than the one worn at the national final for JESC. I really can’t fault the song. I really like it – it has a unique and awesome verse, and the chorus is pretty uplifting. 8 points.

Penny If you watch Anna’s performance with the sound off, it looks like the (not toilet paper) dress and wind machine are controlling her, rather than the other way around. Considering how similar Ukraine’s national final performances are to those on the JESC stage, I’m going to guess that it’ll be the same situation in Sofia, except the cameras won’t zoom in on the machines as much. With the sound on, the verses of Pochny z Sebe remind me a lot of Portugal’s ESC entry this year, as if the song’s cruising down a smooth, non-Michigan highway. And then it picks up with the refrain to a road more hilly, where you can hear the emotions. However, I think the audience is going to remember the dress more than the song, which is somewhat forgettable. 5 points.

Jaz Ukraine is one country you should never ignore in the JESC – or ESC – race. They have a knack for taking the song they select, revamping it (tossing any dodgy bits in the trash as they go), and devising a stellar stage performance to accompany it – one that at least ensures they’re fierce competition. It remains to be seen and heard whether they’ve done the same with Anna’s Pochny z Sebe…but does it need polishing at all? Back in the day of ye olde Ukrainian NF, it was already a) a well-produced song with no cheese and quite a bit of grit (á la Ukraine’s Junior winner of 2012), and was b) performed by a competent, attention-commanding vocalist in a dress made expressly to be worn in conjunction with extreme wind machine use (woohoo!). There’s no doubt it was a strong package from the start. But…I do think Pochny z Sebe is too much of a plodder to place Anna in winning contention (though I reserve the right to change my mind about that ten times before I make my official predictions). Personally, I really like it – like Penny, I’m going to use Portugal’s Eurovision entry from earlier in the year as a sound-alike (with good intentions, as I liked that too). The fact that it’s mature shouldn’t be a hindrance, as JESC is far less focused on the childlike than it once was. And I love the melody of the choruses (the verses are more forgettable, and at times sound like they’re in a different key to the music). I’m just not convinced that the song is instant enough, given that I’m still having trouble humming it to myself, to do much damage to, say, six to ten of the other competing countries. Then again, this is Ukraine we’re talking about. Let’s get the wind machine going and see how Anna performs, both on the stage and on the scoreboard. 8 points.

EBJ Junior Jury Score 7.00

 

There’s another four JESC 2015 hopefuls taken care of! Now, there are just five countries left for the EBJ Junior Jury to review. Let’s take a quick look at today’s leaderboard, before I remind you of just who’s left.

  1. Belarus (11.33)
  2. Australia (8.00)
  3. Ukraine (7.00)
  4. Georgia (6.67)

That’s an impressive score for Belarus – my numero uno. I promise I didn’t rig it in any way; I just happened to assign two like-minded jurors to the post featuring Volshebstvo. Honest.

Georgia, on the other hand, came off worst in this round, but they aren’t the lowest-scoring country to date. You’ll have to hang around for the complete EBJJJ ranking to find out who does finish in spot seventeen.

Clamouring for the precious douze points next time will be Albania, Bulgaria, FYR Macedonia, Ireland and San Marino. If finding out what two Aussies and an Irishman think of their entries is your idea of fun (which it totally should be), you won’t want to miss it!

In the meantime, hit me up with your comments on Australia, Belarus, Georgia and Ukraine. How would you rank this fab (or not-so-fab) four? And, on a scale of one to Roberto Bellarosa when he qualified to the final of Eurovision 2013, how excited are you for next weekend’s show?

I’m 110% Roberto Bellarosa-level excited, in case you were wondering.

 

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VIENNESE VERDICTS | The EBJ Jury Reviews (Part 5)

There are just three weeks until the final of Eurovision 2015, people. THREE WEEKS! We do, of course, have the equally important/exciting semi finals to look forward to prior to that, which doesn’t give me much time to devise a detailed schedule and allocation chart that dictates the destinations of my precious votes. I’d better get on that ASAP.

With this rapidly diminishing amount of pre-ESC days, I don’t have any time to waste when it comes to churning out the rest of the Viennese Verdicts. The past few days have been momentous ones, what with Loïc Nottet’s message for EBJ (check it out, if you haven’t yet – it’s short but sweet) and the royal baby birth and stuff, but none of that compares to the momentousness of this fifth installment of reviews. This time (Lithuanian pun 100% intended) it’s the turn of Malta, Georgia, Albania, Lithuania and Spain to be judged by a few familiar faces.

 

TODAY’S EBJ JURY

vv1Rory Gannon: You met Ireland’s own Rory (if you hadn’t already met him) waaaaay back in Part 1. He’s the beauty and brains behind a Eurovision blog that is just as fabulous as he is – and I say that of my own volition, not because he paid me to. You can find said blog ESC Views here, and/or like the ESC Views Facebook page here.

Matt Kelly: Aussie Matt, hailing from Adelaide (or Radelaide, as it’s often known) also laid his Eurovision-branded cards on the table in Part 1. He’s one of the stars of YouTube’s escTMI review show, so he’s well-schooled in doling out compliments and criticisms to Eurovision participants. You can subscribe to escTMI’s YouTube channel here and/or like their Facebook page here.

Jasmin Bear: As they say, I’m here all week…if by ‘week’, one means FOR THE REST OF ETERNITY, MWAHAHAHAHA!!! Even though my links are blatantly promoted over in the sidebar, I have no qualms about promoting them even more blatantly here. So, that being said, feel free to like the EBJ Facebook page here, follow me on Twitter here, and/or follow me on Instagram here.

 

The three of us are ready to marvel over and moan about what Amber, Nina, Elhaida, Vaidas & Monika and Edurne are taking to the Austrian capital. Are you?

 

 

MALTA

Warrior by Amber

Malta

Rory: Umm…Malta? We just don’t really get on, do we? I wanna break up. It’s not you, it’s me…actually no, it is you. I’m sorry, but I am not a fan of your song. Can anyone actually understand what Amber sings in the live version of Warrior? If you can’t be understood, what’s the point in even sending the song? At least they’ve worked on the pronunciation aspect of it – the fact that she kept calling the past ‘the pest’ really did p**s me off! 4 points.

Matt: The original Warrior, Amber’s has all the elements of a modern Eurovision song – violins, big drums, powerful vocals, and a positive message of hope. I personally feel that this song is old hat now, as it was one of the first songs chosen all the way back in November. But I’m sure Amber will bring it to life again in Vienna. 10 points.

Jaz: Amber was approximately two attempts at representing Malta away from becoming the Sanna Nielsen of the island (though that’s the situation for most Maltese artists, let’s face it) when she finally won MESC last year. When she steps onto the Stadthalle stage in a few weeks’ time, she’ll be in the unusual position of having performed on the Junior and adult Eurovision stages within six months – not because she’s in the same boat as San Marino’s Anita Simoncini, but because Malta understandably repurposed the JESC stage for their national final use. None of this has anything to do with Amber’s Warrior, of course – I just like going off on tangents. I’m constantly changing my mind when it comes to my personal winner of the Warrior face-off, as I like both. I have to say, though, Malta has impressed me with their choice of representative for the third year in row. Granted, MESC 2014 wasn’t an NF to end all NFs, but Amber stood out to me from my first listen of the line-up. There’s something about the style of Warrior that I get a kick out of, even though it isn’t the most finely-crafted, cohesive power ballad I’ve ever heard. And speaking of power – Amber has it in spades when she launches into that big chorus. She just needs to ensure she’s in key to make it explosive in a good way. I did actually prefer the song before it was reworked, and I’m still irritated by the ‘con-quer-er-errrr’ bit (it almost puts ‘uh-uh-uh-un-dooooooo’ to shame) but that’s the majority of what I’d pick on re: Malta 2015. There are plenty of songs that are superior, but I like this enough to give it 8 points.

EBJ Jury Score: 7.33

 

 

GEORGIA

Warrior by Nina Sublatti

Georgia

Rory: So I told you that I wasn’t a fan of Malta, but to be honest, Georgia wins the Warrior battle hands-down. I mean, the song beforehand was strong, but it’s really packing a punch now. Seeing as they’ll be closing the first semi, I see no reason why Nina won’t do incredibly well. It’s crazy, addictive, hypnotic…if only Georgia (plus Belgium….and the Netherlands) was in the second semi!! 10 points.

Matt: The other Warrior, Nina’s song is the ESL emo version. I wanted to like it – it’s dark and unusual. But the lyrics are so bad. Did she use Google Translate to write them? I can’t sing along to a chorus that has ‘still stucked in my mind’ as one of its lines. And I still don’t know what ‘oximated’ means, but it’s good to know that Nina’s ‘not a shabby’. It’s hard to believe this song was reworked by the Eurovision legend Thomas G:son. Surely he should’ve fixed the mistakes…but no, this song is going to Vienna with all of the original, bad lines. I feel like it’s a missed opportunity, and that’s just frustrating. 5 points.

Jaz: This was the standout song in the Georgian final, and it’s also the best song Georgia has sent to Eurovision in a long time. That doesn’t mean I’m about to lavish it with douze points (spoiler alert: I’m not) but it does mean I find a lot of positives in it. The lyrics, in terms of that little thing called ‘making sense’, are not one of those positives (like Matt, I am appalled by the use of ‘stucked’…subtract two letters, and it would be fine) but honestly, I’d rather listen to interesting lyrics like these than lame, cheesy ones that rhyme ‘love’ with ‘above’ or ‘dove’, or even worse, ‘love’. This song is edgy and hip (no matter how uncool my use of ‘hip’ might make it) and rather alternative by Eurovision standards. There are a few songs in that vein competing in Vienna – Belgium, Latvia, etc – and I’m digging them all. When it comes to originality, this Warrior has the battle in the bag, and the juries should reward it for that at the least. Nina’s an intense performer for a nineteen-year-old, which I blame on the heavy makeup that makes her look at least twenty-five. Her experience participating in and winning Georgian Idol will be beneficial as she rides the Eurovision merry-go-round – probably not all the way to the top, but hopefully to the upper mid-table of the final scoreboard. PS – For everyone still wondering, ‘oximated’ means ‘reaction with, or conversion into an oxime.’ So I guess we’ll continue to wonder, then. 8 points.

EBJ Jury Score: 7.67

 

 

ALBANIA

I’m Alive by Elhaida Dani

Albania

Rory: Ohhhhhh Albania, you always have the best sense. Well, most of the time (we still have to talk about Rona’s hair). I am incredibly happy that they actually ditched Diell in favour of I’m Alive. This song actually shows off Elhaida’s versatile vocal range – and my god, it is an UP-TEMPO SONG! This calls for a celebratory Verka Serduchka dance around the stage. Well done, Albania. You’ve learned from your mistakes! 8 points.

Matt: I’m Alive is a really contemporary ballad, and it’s a million light years away from the awful, outdated song Elhaida was originally going to sing. Talk about dodging a bullet. I could imagine Beyoncé or the like singing this, and it doing well on mainstream radio. A seasoned talent show veteran, Elhaida will deliver amazing vocals on stage, and has the stage presence that will sell the song to the audience. I think this will do well. 8 points.

Jaz: So I guess I’m alone in preferring Diell, then (I got the raw deal in Albania’s surprise song exchange). The composers of Elhaida’s Festivali I Këngës winner deciding to withdraw the song from Eurovision is almost as inexplicable a move as Andreas Kümmert saying danke, but nein danke, to representing Germany. But while in Germany’s case, the unexpected turn of events worked in my favour, in Albania’s…it really didn’t. There is nothing horrendously wrong with I’m Alive. In fact, it’s a darn good eleventh-hour song (something you could also say about Australia’s). It’s more contemporary and uplifting than Diell, not to mention more energetic. Plus, it allows Elhaida to be a bit more playful with her undoubtedly impressive vocals. All of that makes it a welcome addition to the contest. But I just don’t get the hype. I find the repetition in the chorus quite irritating, and despite the inclusion of that big belter of a note towards the end (which is very Jessie J-esque) the song doesn’t travel to as epic of a place as I’d like it to. I haven’t seen Elhaida perform this live, but I did watch her winning FiK performance – and based on the way she sung the pants off Diell, her Eurovision performance has the potential to change my mind. But until then, I’m not 100% sold. 6 points.

EBJ Jury Score: 7.33

 

 

LITHUANIA

This Time by Vaidas & Monika

Lithuania

Rory: Ehhhh…I’m not really sure what to say about Lithuania this year. I’m happy that they’re finally sending something that will appeal to the masses, but performing first on the night might be a little bit of a hindrance to them, to say the least! As a sidenote, how nice is their video, though!!? Vaidas…phwoar! 6 points.

Matt: When I was a kid I always assumed that Grease’s John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John were a couple, due to their fantastic on-screen chemistry. I feel the same about Monika and Vaidas. They are so cute together, and I believe that their song of love comes from the heart (to avoid another disappointment, I’m not going to research whether they are a couple or not). The song itself is simple and catchy, but nothing too amazing. My prediction is that the audience will feel some love for this, but not enough to get them to the top. I think they’ll probably end up in the middle of the pack. 7 points.

Jaz: If you’re hoping I’m going to say ‘Aww, isn’t this cute!’, well, I’m not. Nor am I going to say ‘Ugh, isn’t this revolting!’. I’m somewhere in the middle, as it happens. I’m not totally feeling Vaidas and Monika’s love, but I’m not totally averse to it either. This Time, for me, is a poor man’s version (or more accurately, a poor but very peppy man’s version) of Firelight’s Coming Home, which in turn wasn’t going to win any awards for Best Original Song. It’s formulaic and verging on being sickly sweet (that “impromptu” kiss has already worn thin with me) but I don’t feel like it’s a song you can hate with a passion. It’s extremely catchy, after all, and the chemistry between Vaidas and Monika is up there with the most genuine of the year. They always appear to be enjoying themselves on stage, and enjoying performing with each other – in spite of the fact that they aren’t a couple (sorry to burst that bubble, Matt, but who knows…they might be by the time Eurovision’s over!). I guess I’m more of a fan of Lithuania’s performers than Lithuania’s song. This Time is serviceable pop, but it doesn’t excite me enough to consider voting for it. 5 points.

EBJ Jury Score: 6.00

 

 

SPAIN

Amanecer by Edurne

Spain

Rory: I’m afraid I’m going to have to go against the grain here and say that I don’t like Amanecer. Sure, it’s really catchy in the chorus (that e-e-e-o-o is addictive), but for me that’s all it is – just a bit of repetition. I feel like RTVE really overhyped the promotion of the song, and it’s just a bit of a letdown (I have a feeling that Kit Kat won’t have to give a free bar to everyone who retweeted that Tweet back in January!). *opens arms and braces self for the onslaught of tomatoes*. 3 points.

Matt: I think I have ballad fatigue. Amanecer was written by the same team who wrote 2012’s winning song Euphoria, so I was expecting a lot. While it’s a nice song, it’s no Euphoria, or Quédate Conmigo. It drifts along pleasantly for three minutes and then finishes. That’s it. Edurne is an amazing performer, though, and I’m sure she’ll bring it to life when she takes to the stage in May. 7 points.

Jaz: I’d like to journey back in time to Copenhagen 2014, and remind you that my opinion of Ruth Lorenzo’s Dancing In The Rain was as follows: I knew it was good, but I felt very little attachment to it. I didn’t love it, and it definitely didn’t give me the energy required to wave a flag for it (although I was happy to see Spain back in the top 10). Leaping back through the space/time  continuum to 2015, and enter Edurne. Amanecer is not only my new favourite word of all the words, but also a song that I do feel a connection with. That may have something to do with the girl crush I have developed on Edurne, but I genuinely do like her song a lot. I agree that it was overhyped – after the pre-release fervour, it could have been a masterpiece and still failed to meet expectation. But for me, it has the drama and atmosphere and Spanish-ness that I didn’t find in Dancing In The Rain. If Edurne is anything like her fellow countrywoman Pastora Soler, she will help Amanecer hit new heights when she gets to Eurovision by delivering a blistering vocal performance. Hopefully she’ll also bring us a hint of the wildness from the music video. Unfortunately that can not entail a live tiger being onstage, so a faux tigerskin cape that Edurne can whirl around everywhere might be called for. Cape or no cape, I think Spain’s entry has as much potential to make the top 10 as it does to end up mid-table, strangely enough. So much will depend on how this goes down in the jury and televised finals. I would be satisfied with Amanecer outdoing Dancing In The Rain, but I won’t be betting on that happening. 10 points.

EBJ Jury Score: 6.67

 

 

And there you have it! Another five reviews are done and dusted, and not without disagreement. Ultimately, the two Warriors won the day. Well, one of them did, but there wasn’t much between Nina and Amber.

  1. Georgia (7.67)
  2. Malta (7.33)
  3. Albania (7.33)
  4. Spain (6.67)
  5. Lithuania (6.00)

Despite our differing opinions, on average, the EBJ Jury ranked these countries fairly closely together. I suspect that’s a trend that won’t continue in Part 6 of the Viennese Verdicts, when I ask an American and an Englishman to help me review Finland, San Marino, Denmark, Estonia and Greece. You won’t want to miss the fireworks that combination could cause.

In the meantime, let me know how you’d rank today’s songs. Do you believe Rory’s right, and that Georgia wins the Warrior-off without question? Or do you think Matt’s on the money and Amber will definitely resurrect her Warrior at Eurovision? Maybe you actually agreed with something I said *gasp*. Whatever you’re thinking, we want to hear it!*

 

*To a point…I mean, don’t hurl abuse at us or anything. Save your curse words up in case the EBJ Jury gives a unanimous douze points to Finland.

 

nsig