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THE EBJ EUROVISION 2018 REVIEWS: Round 1 (Armenia, Cyprus, Hungary, Malta + the Netherlands)

Hello there! I bet you thought this day would never come – the day when I’d finally get my Euroshiz together and do what every other ESC website has been doing for a month.

REVIEWS!!!

Okay, so you might have known I’d kick things off eventually if you’re familiar with my sloth-like tendencies (never visit this blog for breaking news, because it won’t be breaking by the time I talk about it). Now that there are four weeks to go until Lisbon’s first semi final, though, you’re about to be flooded with my verdicts on all 43 songs competing in Eurovision 2018. It’s a review tsunami, so strap on your lifejackets and take a big breath!

For Round 1, my high-tech random selection process – in which I copy-pasted a list of the countries, closed my eyes and pointed at it 43 times – resulted in Armenia, Cyprus, Hungary, Malta and the Netherlands being the fortunate first group to be judged (you’ll have to wait a while for the lucky last). So if you want to see how I rate Sevak, Eleni, AWS, Christabelle and Waylon, you came to the right place.

Check out my reviews, vote for your favourite of today’s five, and share your thoughts in the comments. Pretty please?

 

 

My thoughts If you’d told me a few months ago that Tamar Kaprelian would not be representing Armenia at Eurovision this year, I would have had a very melodramatic meltdown. Poison (Ari Ari) is an ethnopop masterpiece after all (Disagree? CASH ME OUSSIDE, HOW BOW DAH?!?) and when I listened to the snippets of everything else Depi Evratesil had to offer, I didn’t hear anything as awesome. As Donny Montell knows, love is blind…but it also made me deaf to the potential of eventual winning song Qami. I honestly can’t even recall hearing a snippet of Sevak’s power ballad – the first all-Armenian language song sent to adult Eurovision – even though I definitely did. Yet all it took was one look at/listen to his national final performance for me to forget about Poison (almost – a banger is always a banger) and fall head-over-heels for Qami. ‘Wind’ as it translates to – and it’s a safe assumption that he’s talking about the force of nature, not the aftermath of a particularly spicy vindaloo – ticks every box on my mental checklist for epic ballads. It’s a slow burner that starts off subtly before exploding at the end of the second chorus (kind of like the 0-100k/ph dynamism of Aram Mp3’s Not Alone). It’s haunting and mysterious. The melody is stunning, and the repetition of the title gives us non-Armenian speakers something to latch on to. Plus, the contrast between the delicate first half and Sevak’s vocal and visual strength (there’s wearing your heart on your sleeve and then there’s wearing your abs on the outside of your shirt) makes the overall package vulnerable and powerful at the same time. I know a lot of fans aren’t as psyched about this one as I am, but every year there’s one song I adore that not many other people seem to (and it can either bomb, or kick butt in the actual contest like Origo last year). I do think there is room for Qami to do some butt-kicking in Lisbon, this not being a ballad-heavy year and Sevak having the kind of song that could be a mind-blower if it’s staged right. But that’s more of a hope and prayer than a prediction, so don’t hold me to it!

2017 VS 2018? 2018, hands down (sorry, Artsvik).

My score 12

 

 

My thoughts Speaking of ethnopop masterpieces…enter Cyprus! Strutting in wearing a catsuit and a pair of sky-high heels, of course. Last year I was pleasantly surprised by Hovig’s Gravity, which was constantly compared to Rag & Bone Man’s Human – familiarity doesn’t breed contempt with me, I guess. I’m mentioning the comparison because once again, Cyprus has delivered a great pop song that happens to fit neatly into the mould of one I’ve heard before – in this case, a bunch of songs from Helena Paparizou’s back catalogue. Is there anything wrong with that? Umm, NO. Don’t get me wrong, I applaud originality, and Lisbon is lucky to have it in the form of Israel, Ukraine etc. But even a Paparizou album filler would be welcome at Eurovision, and since we can’t have the queen herself performing one (though she did record a version), Eleni and her Fuego are the next best thing. I love this, and it was an instant love strengthened by the fact that ‘You got me pelican fly fly flying’ is legitimately one of the lyrics. That IS original! I feel like this song was engineered especially to appeal to ethnopop tragics like myself because, in that department, it does everything right. Simple, neatly-rhymed verses + a chorus made up of hooky melodies and yeahs (which can be exchanged for ohs) + a memorable riff played on a traditional instrument = this, and every other ethnopop entry ever. Basically, it’s Aphrodisiac (Greece 2012) with a 2018 magic wand waved over it. With the product placement from the music video out of the question for the live ESC performance, and Eleni sure to be looking as hot as the fire she’s singing about, my only concern is how she’ll sound. The lives of hers I’ve checked out have been fine – albeit feat. some heavy lifting from backing vocalists – but I have heard she isn’t the most reliable live performer. Still, if Jedward can sing seemingly in tune (with their backup vocalists’ mics turned way up) then anyone can. And if someone can point me in the direction of proof that Eleni is actually a top-notch singer and convince me that I shouldn’t be worried, they’ll get a gold star. I really want this to be Cyprus’ fourth finalist in a row, not their first DNQ since 2013.

2017 VS 2018? This is like choosing a favourite child. NOPE. Not happening.

My score 10

 

 

My thoughts You’ve got to give Hungary credit for never sending the same song to Eurovision twice. Their bounce-around approach has, since their 2011 comeback, given us dance pop, electro rock, an acoustic alt-ballad, EDM, a charity song, anthemic rock and an ethnopop slice of heaven (Joci Papái was my favourite last year and is still a true musical love of mine). In 2018 we’re getting something different again with hardcore(ish) rock/metal/I’m clearly not an expert on the genre of AWS’ Viszlát Nyár but it sounds intense to me. It’s certainly the most hardcore, rocky song competing in Lisbon, and while that will help it stand out, such songs don’t always go over well at the ESC (I can’t imagine juries going nuts over this). The fact is that the demographic AWS are aiming at is not found, in droves at least, in the Eurovision audience (if someone did a Venn diagram to demonstrate it, the two fan bases would have a pretty tiny overlap area). I’m definitely not the kind of person who would readily abandon their pop sensibilities for anything involving screaming to music. So you might be surprised to learn that I actually like this. Like, not love (á la Origo, which I said I’d marry in my review last year if I could) but yes, I dig it. It reminds me a little of Dead By April’s Melodifestivalen entry Mystery, which I was obsessed with back in 2012 – it features the same mixture of soft moments and intense, scream-your-lungs-out moments that a) make it dynamic, and b) stop it from totally alienating people who aren’t regular purveyors of hard rock. As always, Hungarian sounds alluring and mysterious as the language of choice (is there a genre it doesn’t work with?), especially in the verses. Overall, Viszlát Nyár might be well outside my top 10 for the year, but there are only two or three songs I dislike and this is not one of them. I’m a big supporter of Hungary in the contest and I do hope AWS give the country their 8th consecutive qualification…but I think it could be a tough task. The best comparison song would be Softengine’s Something Better, which did very well for Finland in 2014 but was a lot more accessible (and the screaming was confined to the last twenty seconds or so). I don’t expect Hungary to perform as impressively as that if they do make the final, and TBH, I’ll live if they don’t. Still, it would be nice to have some rock on hand to spice up the best Saturday night of the year.

2017 VS 2018? It’s a no-brainer – Origo all the way.

My score 7

 

 

My thoughts Not for the first time – they did it last year too – Malta is sending an artist to Eurovision who’s tried to represent them before with a better song than the one they’re actually getting to go with. In Christabelle’s case, 2015’s Rush really should have been her Eurovision song, but it finished 2nd in MESC that year (Saddy McSadface). And so, three years later, we’ve ended up with Taboo, a mostly Maltese production feat. input from Thomas g:Son (shocking). I’ve developed a bit of a love-hate relationship with this song, though now I think about it, those words are probably too strong – ‘like-dislike’ would be more accurate. Basically, there are parts of it I really like and others that I really don’t. First, the negatives: it may not be as lyrically lame as past Maltese entries, but it’s all over the place with metaphors and similes, making it fairly nonsensical and the message confusing (apparently it’s about mental health struggles, ICYMI). The chorus in particular bugs me like crazy – it seems like the songwriters wanted it to be meaningful, but it turned into a mess of words that happen to rhyme with ‘animals’ (criminals, miracle, *my brain explodes*). The dubstep break is my other main gripe with Taboo, just because it feels passé and could have been left out to no great loss. Positives-wise, there’s good energy, a hypnotic beat, a contemporary-sounding melody, and an overall approving nod for Malta choosing something like this. And I have to mention the MESC performance, which was OTT but very cool at the same time…even if it might be hard to replicate on Lisbon’s LED-less stage. To her credit, Christabelle is a likeable performer with a decent voice, providing she’s not running a marathon or doing star jumps constantly during a performance (code for ‘don’t make her move too much, Team Malta!’). I think Taboo has a better chance of qualifying to the final than Claudia’s Breathlessly did last year – that proved us all right when it went nowhere. But in semi two, where five or six countries could easily advance from the first half alone, Malta’s odds are 50-50, and the shock value will be minimal whether they qualify or not. Unfortunately they’re performing just three songs before Sweden, and Benjamin is armed with an uptempo song accompanied by a slick, impressive stage presentation – much like Malta, but better. And with Sweden being almost a dead cert to qualify, if one of the two is going to be sacrificed to the DNQ gods, it will be Malta.

2017 VS 2018? 2018 fo sho. I’d rather break the taboo than be breathless.

My score 6.5

 

 

My thoughts The first question to ask someone who’s about to hear Outlaw In ‘Em for the first time is ‘How do you feel about country music?’. If their answer is ‘Not good’, then they won’t be giving it douze points, or anything close. Waylon’s solo Eurovision entry is without a doubt the countriest country song I’ve ever come across. Every lyric, every guitar lick – even the title – is dripping in the genre, and makes me feel like an idiot (or should I say ‘good for nothin’ varmint’?) for not wearing a cowboy hat. Of course, as soon as the song’s over, normal cowboy-hatless life resumes. I have to say, I do enjoy a country song or 65, but I’m more of an easy-listening cruisy country fan, as opposed to a rip-roarin’, honky-tonkin’, gun-totin’ type. In that sense, you can understand why I much prefer Waylon feat. Ilse deLange (a.k.a. The Common Linnets) with Calm After The Storm to this entry. The fact that Outlaw is so darn country – to the point where it’s about to fall off a cliff edge into Cheesy Canyon – is a turn-off for me, even though I appreciate the go hard or go home mentality (a half-assed country-tinged track for Waylon? No sirree). It reminds me of Achy Breaky Heart too much to take seriously, only it’s too fast to boot-scoot to. I know I’m in the minority here, but I don’t want all of y’all to challenge me to a stand-off just yet. I’m not totally, 110% anti-Outlaw. On the plus side, I like the lyrics: unlike Malta, the theme here is clear and consistent; and the rhyming is beautiful, which makes the overall package sound neat. The song is unique (in this competition, anyway) and definitely memorable. And Waylon is a great performer even when he’s not locking eyes with Ilse – in Portugal he’ll be making eyes at the camera instead, and I’ll imagine he’s staring straight into my soul (in a sexy way, not a demonic way). Will he end up staring down the barrel of qualification, though? The betting odds say heck yes, but I have to wonder if this song is going to be too divisive. It does come to life more on stage than in studio, so I can see it meeting expectations on the night/s that count most. Yet the mass appeal needed for a win isn’t there, and I can’t see a Common Linnets result in Waylon’s future either.

2017 VS 2018? 2017. Girl power and incredible harmonies > full-on country extravaganza.

My score 6.5

 

 

And that, guys, is Round 1 done and dusted. Five down, 38 to go in less than four weeks.

SEND HELP.

Then, when you’ve dialed 911/000/whatever your country’s equivalent is on my behalf, you can take a look at today’s mini-ranking:

  1. Armenia (12)
  2. Cyprus (10)
  3. Hungary (7)
  4. Malta (6.5) 
  5. The Netherlands (6.5)

So it’s Sevak who takes the top spot, which is obviously not a shock to me because I already knew how I felt about these five songs (let me hear you say ‘DUH!’). Now the question is, can Qami hold on to the #1 position as the EBJ 2018 reviews continue? You’ll have to stay tuned – and subscribed, hint hint – to find out. Opt in for new post email alerts in the sidebar, or find me on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram (all @EurovisionByJaz) to make sure you don’t miss a thing!

Before I sign off and in turn stop begging you to follow me on social media, I do have another question:

 

NEXT TIME The Lisbon reviews are just revving up…and if I want to get them finished before Eurovision happens, I need to get a move on. Drop by on the weekend when I’ll sit myself down on the EBJ judging panel to critique Azerbaijan, Estonia, Poland, Romania, and Spain!

 

Until then,

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

  

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

JAZ JUDGES EUROVISION 2017 | 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,

 

 

 

SELECTION SEASON 2017 | More Melfest magic + A Dal decision time = the tip of the NF iceberg!

It’s true – the Titanic wouldn’t have stood a chance against the massive, metaphorical chunk of ice (or ‘frozen water’ as Agnete likes to call it) that is This Weekend. Leonardo DiCaprio would still have died and Kate Winslet would still have let him go…but we’d all be partying like it’s 2017, because it is, and super-duper busy NF weekends like this one are Awesome with a capital A.

Don’t believe me re: the crazy schedule for Saturday and Sunday? Here’s the evidence:

  • 18/2 Estonia’s Eesti Laul – semi final two (feat. Daniel Levi, Koit Toome & Laura, Kerli + Liis Lemsalu)
  • 18/2 Lithuania’s Eurovizijos – heat seven (feat. Edgaras Lubys + Gabrielius Vagelis)
  • 18/2 Slovenia’s EMA – semi final two (feat. Clemens, BQL + Ina Shai)
  • 18/2 Sweden’s Melodifestivalen – semi final three (feat. Robin Bengtsson, Krista Siegfrids + FO&O)
  • 18/2 Ukraine’s Vidbir – semi final three (feat. Payushchie Trusy + Green Grey)
  • 18/2 Hungary’s A Dal – the final (feat. Gigi Radics, Joci Pápai + Kállay Saunders Band)
  • 18/2 Malta’s MESC – the final (feat. Klinsmann, Kevin Borg, Maxine Pace + Richard Edwards)
  • 18/2 Poland’s Krajowe Eliminajce – the final (feat. Martin Fitch, Kasia Mós + Carmell)
  • 19/2 Latvia’s Supernova – the semi final (feat. Lauris Valters, My Radiant You + Triana Park)
  • 19/2 Portugal’s Festival da Canção – semi final one (feat. Golden Slumbers + Rui Drumond)

There you go – CHAOS. Wonderful, wonderful chaos.

As I keep saying, I can’t discuss every single selection show without taking on an army of assistants to type at 200 words a minute for free (any takers?), so it’s time to get picky. Choosing which semis and finals to cover is like choosing a favourite child – not hard if you’re honest with yourself (that’s what my mum said, anyway, when she handed me the ‘No. 1 Kid’ sash and a bouquet of flowers. Don’t tell my brother). Ergo, this was an easy narrow-down for me.

Though three of this weekend’s shows will produce Eurovision entries, I’m only reviewing one of them – Hungary’s A Dal – and, of course, I’m going to take a good look at Melodifestivalen’s third semi too. So let’s get on with it!

 

 

SWEDEN | Hi-ho, hi-ho, it’s off to Växjö we go…for Melfest, that is!

You know what they say – another Saturday in February, another Melodifestivalen Deltävling.

This time it’s nummer tre, and I’ve got to say, it’s not a third-time-lucky sort of situation. Meaning this heat is the weakest so far, music-wise. Made up of two returnees and a record high (for 2017, at least) of five debutants, it’s probably going to be the most difficult semi to predict. Which stars will shine for the first or second time, and which will fall?

I have no effing idea.

  1. I Can’t Go On by Robin Bengtsson
  2. Snurra Min Jord by Krista Siegfrids
  3. Kiss You Goodbye by Anton Hagman
  4. Gravity by Jasmine Kara
  5. Boogieman Blues by Owe Thörnqvist
  6. Crucified by Bella & Filippa
  7. Gotta Thing About You by FO&O

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We’ve got funk pop, dance pop, acoustic pop, country pop, boy band pop and Owe. Lacklustre overall song standard aside (compared to the previous two semis) it’s certainly going to be a variety show – and hopefully one with a happy ending.

 

My top four

  • I Can’t Go On – If Constellation Prize was a romantic seduction song, and I Can’t Go On is the raunchy post-seduction sequel, then should we await the third installment in a trilogy from Robin in 2018 entitled something like It’s Over, You Evil Bitch? Yes or no, Mr. Bengtsson can do no wrong in my eyes. I did expect something better from this collab of Robins (Robin Stjernberg co-wrote the song, and he’s definitely marked his territory) but I suspect this will benefit from being heard and seen in full.
  • Snurra Min Jord – Both of Krista’s Melfest entries have been much more plain-Jane than Marry Me. As with Faller, I do really like this one, but there’s nothing particularly special about it that gives it the edge to make Andra Chansen, let alone the final. But lycka till Krista all the same.
  • Crucified – Is it just me or has this song borrowed half its lyrics from Wiktoria’s Save Me? Regardless, it’s as sweet and light as a sorbet in summertime. Repetitive (and a possible female rip-off of Darin’s Lagom) it may be, but it has an undeniable charm.
  • Gotta Thing About You – I thought I was getting too old for teen boy band fodder, but apparently the flame’s still flickering in my bitter quarter-century old body. This is not a musical masterpiece, but was anyone expecting it to be? The FOOO Conspiracy FO&O fans will eat this up, and that little light-up heart in the corner of the screen will be on the verge of a myocardial infarction.

 

The rest

  • Kiss You Goodbye – And here we have Sweden’s answer to Shawn Mendes. This song can’t hold a candle to Stitches or Mercy, but it’s cute. I like how it begins in an acoustic, alternative kind of way before launching into a more straightforward pop chorus. Also, who is Anton’s dentist?
  • Gravity – I’m not sure if I like this or not. Jasmine has a great voice, great style, and a great name (even if we’re not total name twins since she’s got that ‘e’ on the end) but Gravity seems like a mixed bag of bits and pieces that don’t, ahem, come together to form a cohesive whole. I’m keen to see her perform it live.
  • Boogieman Blues – This is EXACTLY what I thought it was going to be. For those of you who don’t like surprises and do like retro tunes from ageing popstars, this is for you. But it’s not for me.

 

Who’s going direkt? Robin Bengtsson + FO&O. Perhaps this is a predictable prediction – and I’d like things to go in a more jaw-dropping direction – but Melfest is, at times, predictable. SVT hand out the first and final performance spots to the big guns, and said big guns usually find themselves progressing as a result. Robin Bengtsson won his heat over Ace Wilder last year, and he’s got the goods to win again now, but with a weaker song and against weaker competition. FO&O’s song screams Andra Chansen, but there’s nothing else up against it (besides I Can’t Go On) that necessarily has what it takes to nab a place in the final instead. 

Who’s off to Andra Chansen? Anton Hagman + Jasmine Kara. Krista Siegfrids is also in the mix here, but as she placed last in the telling audience poll after yesterday’s rehearsals, I suspect she’ll miss out and finish fifth at the highest. Bella & Filippa are underdogs. Anton and Jasmine, I think, can make enough of an impression and gain enough momentum to score themselves a second chance each – but I’m skeptical of their chances of making it out of AC at this point.

 

What do you think? Do we have an obvious outcome on our hands in Växjö, or will there be an upset feat. some Melfest first-timers? Let me know below.

 

  

HUNGARY | Eight becomes one tonight…but who’ll be The One?   

I’ve been known to proclaim that many selection show finals are worth sacrificing for Melfest, because the music in a Melfest semi often outdoes that of other countries’ finals. But I have to say, I seriously considered ditching Sweden’s third semi in favour of tuning in to A Dal tonight.

By ‘seriously’, I mean ‘for a split second’, because I am a devout Melodifestivalist from way back. However, I will be watching the last episode of A Dal on delay just to experience its pure excellence.

After three heats and two semi finals, thirty songs have been trimmed down to just eight – and IMO, two of these are good, one is very good, and the other five are amazing. How often does that happen? About as often as Loreen releases a studio album.

Here’s the (unordered) line-up of the Hungarian final, which I realise might not seem so sensational to fans less easily-pleased than me.

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  • Hosszú Idők by Totova & Freddie Shuman feat. Begi Lotfi
  • See It Through by Gigi Radics
  • Fall Like Rain by Gina Kanizsa
  • Origo by Joci Pápai
  • Seventeen by Kállay Saunders Band
  • Élet by Leander Kills
  • Kalandor by Soulwave
  • #háttérzaj by Zävodi & Olivér Berkes

Hungary clearly has faith in their own language, as Hungarian lyrics make up more than half of what we’ll hear tonight. They should, because a) it’s a gorgeous language, and b) it hasn’t stopped them from succeeding at Eurovision (Kinek Mondjam El Vétkeimet and Kedvesem, I bow to the both of you). That’s part of what makes this final so great in my eyes, but if you want more details, keep reading for my ranking of all eight finalists.

 

My top eight

  1. Origo – I AM IN LOVE. This track had me hypnotised before I’d even reached the chorus the first time I listened to it, and though I’m trying to accept that it’s probably 2017’s Győz A Jó (the slick, edgy ethno-pop entry that won’t win and will be sadly missed at Eurovision), my hopes of a win are still alive. Infectious and exotic but still on-trend (right down – or up – to Joci’s man-bun), Origo is OMG.
  2. Hosszú Idők – Here we have another song that manages to combine mysterious ethnicity with modern pop. Basically, it’s an ethno-pop power ballad. Though Totova gets slightly screamy performing it live, I can’t deny that it makes a mark, and that I could get on board with it winning even though it’s not my favourite.
  3. See It Through – A Disney ballad straight out of the early 2000s (Christina Aguilera sang it on the Mulan soundtrack, didn’t she?) should not work in 2017. But Gigi is such a showstopping singer with more onstage emotion than an Elina Born who wasn’t woken up, she makes it work. I would advise against the huge hair for the final, without which you’ll have a perfect package, Gigi.
  4. Seventeen – Last year, András and his band destroyed the brilliant Who We Are This year, they’ve done much better lives with a more pedestrian – but still extra-enjoyable – song. The Billie Jean reference is tired, but that’s my only complaint about this polished, well-produced and non-cheesy love song.
  5. #háttérzaj – What musical style doesn’t suit Hungarian? It totally gels in this bluesy, laid-back piano ballad. The only bother I have here is the hashtag title, which begs the question WHY GOD, WHY?!?!?
  6. Élet – Hard rock isn’t often my thing, but the dynamic nature of É let is interesting in a good way. There’s a soft piano intro, subdued verses and powerful choruses, and it’s almost like riding on a slow rollercoaster. There are plenty of ups and downs, but it doesn’t make you nauseous and you’re a little sad when you have to get off.
  7. Kalandor – Eurovision already has a folksy song for the year, and I’m not sure this one has the strength to win A Dal anyway, but it’s nice easy-listening, elevated by the fact that it’s not in English.
  8. Fall Like Rain – While I can acknowledge that this is a good song, I find it quite dated (and there are times when I just want Gina to shut up). I don’t think it’s the best choice Hungary can make in terms of a Eurovision entry, but I like the haunting, spiritual feel and the originality.

 

Now, as A Dal will make one more cut before congratulating a winner, it’s time to think about who’ll make it through the jury voting round – then be paraded in front of the public, who are the ultimate decision-makers (a good way to operate an NF, isn’t it, Spain?).

  

Predicting the top four I’m thinking Totova etc, Joci Pápai, Gigi Radics + Gina Kanizsa. There’s potential bumping space for Kállay Saunders Band or Leander Kills, in which case I think Gigi or Gina will miss out on the final four. But, based on the results of the heats and semis, this should be a safe bet for the top four (not that I’m actually betting. For someone who struggles to get things 50% correct, it’s a bad idea). Totova and guests plus Pápai are shoo-ins.

Who’s in it to win it? It looks like another Freddie (albeit a far less attractive one than 2016’s) will be heading to Kyiv on behalf of Hungary in May, as part of Totova’s posse. Hosszu Idők is a recipe with all the right ingredients to rise to the top, and has had the jury and public support in past weeks that it needs to fly through both stages of the comp tonight. I will be surprised if it doesn’t win.

 

If you’re as hungry for Hungary this year as I am, then you’ll have something to say about A Dal – so spill! Is this ticket to Eurovision Totova’s to lose, or should she be watching her back? Is there any chance András Kállay Saunders will make it to Eurovision again this year (Seventeen for 2017)? Give up your internal gossip in the comments.

 

Of course, if you want to chat about anything else that’s happening in the ESC bubble this weekend, I’m all ears. If you want to have an intense conversation about your personal problems, I may not be the best person to talk to, so stick with Eurovision for now. You can always book an appointment later with the same therapist you saw after Objetivo Eurovisión concluded last weekend…

Enjoy all of the national final action ahead, guys – I’ll see you on the other side when we have three more songs for Ukraine!

 

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REVIEWS | The EBJ Jury Judges Eurovision 2016 (Part 4)

Welcome to the halfway point of my quest to cram 43 Eurovision 2016 reviews into a far-too-short space of time! It’s been quite a rush so far (literally), and today, six more songs are under the scrutiny of my esteemed panel of ESC experts. But first, in case you’ve forgotten which countries came before this bunch, and/or what choice comments the EBJ Jury made about them, here’s your midway reminder:

  • Part 1 Croatia, France, Greece, Poland, Romania and Russia (reviewed by Rory from Ireland and Wolfgang from Germany)
  • Part 2 Belarus, Cyprus, Georgia, Italy, Sweden and Switzerland (reviewed by Mrs. Jaz and Fraser from Australia)
  • Part 3 Albania, Estonia, Germany, Lithuania, the Netherlands, San Marino (reviewed by James and Martin from the UK)

Now we can move on to exposing the identities of Part 4’s jurors and countries, whether they like it or not. I’m sure they would, though. It is an honour AND a privilege to be associated with me, after all.

*AWKWARD SILENCE*

 

 TODAY’S EBJ JURORS

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It’s an almost all-American panel making the judgment calls this time. Nick, Penny and I are about to ramble on (and on some more, in my case) about Bosnia & Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Denmark, Hungary, Montenegro and Spain. Dalal and Deen (AND Ana Rucner, AND Jala), Poli, Lighthouse X, Freddie, Highway and Barei are undoubtedly dying to hear our verdicts – so let’s get going!

 

 

Bosnia

Nick Ah, Balkan melodrama – one of my favorite Eurovision offerings. Bosnia & Herzegovina’s returning to the contest with flair, a fair amount being brought by the ever-exuberant Deen. His 2004 entry is actually a pretty big miss with me, so I’m happy he’s brought along this troupe of supporting characters, as Ljubav Je is a decent hit with me. The song grows nicely and it all flows pretty well together, until Jala comes in to mess things up (but in a good way). If the rap wasn’t there, the song would stagnate and have no good way of developing after that. Jala drives it home into the final chorus, and his is probably my favorite part of this entry. Also worth noting is the use of full Bosnian in this song, making it one of only three to go entirely non-English this year – and it’s the best of the three (sorry not sorry, Austria and FYR Macedonia). I do worry that it’s too contrived for the ESC, and that its big downfall will be that it doesn’t go down the standard Balkan ballad route, but I’m happy they took a chance with it. Let’s see if Europe rewards them.

Penny When BHRT announced that their 2016 song was going to involve a mash-up of styles, part of me was expecting a really bad mash-up of six songs fused together. After listening to Ljubav Je for the first time, it sounded like someone crossed Zauvijek Moja (Serbia & Montenegro 2005) with Jas Ja Imam Silata (FYR Macedonia 2010). I like Ana’s cello solo paired up with the drums, the gradual build-up of the song, and how Jala’s rap part fits in with everything else. I don’t have any idea what he’s saying, but at least he starts at the right point and does a syllable count before adding in his part so it doesn’t sound as jarring as a lot of people say. So, yay – the Balkan ballad quota of the year has been filled. But at the same time, I think I might be getting tired of the formula, because I can’t find that ‘magical’ aspect in the verses, despite them being performed well. Also, I’m still trying to get over the fact that Deen’s face has morphed into an Easter Island moai head (sorry, Deen).

Jaz Eurovision without a Balkan ballad would be like Melodifestivalen without schlager (yes, even in 2016): just plain weird. So I’m very thankful to my old mates B & H – plus Dalal, In-The-Disco-Deen, Ana Rucner and Jala – for delivering us from the evil of an atmospheric powerhouse-less contest. With Ljubav Je, they have also delivered us a Balkan ballad with a difference – namely, the rap. I can’t confess to having missed that element in Montenegro’s masterpiece Adio last year, but nor am I one of those people who think ‘rap’ puts the R-A-P in ‘crap’. The combo of ethnic and urban sounds that this song serves up is an interesting one, and I do think it works – the rap toughens up the classical beauty of the cello, while Dalal and Deen stay true to the step-by-step guide I’m sure exists entitled ‘How To Perform A Balkan Ballad’ (though it is a bit sad to see Deen removing all traces of 2004 hip-thrusting from his routine). And Jala’s entrance is more of an appealing surprise than a jarring one, in my opinion. BUT…not all Balkan ballads are created equal, and this is no Adio, Lejla or Lane Moje. It’s not even close. The overall feel is by-the-numbers and slightly half-hearted, and it doesn’t give me any goosebumps as the best of the BBs do. Still, I reckon this is an entry that will thrive live on the big stage, with all bells and whistles in place. It’s likely to be far more impressive and multidimensional then, when all memories of the low-budget video clip have (hopefully) been banished from our minds.

The EBJ Jury says…

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

Bosnia & Herzegovina’s EBJ Jury score is…5.44

 

 

Bulgaria

Nick Another returning B country, Bulgaria’s also trotting out a returning artist: fandom queen and (debatably) wronged 2011 NQ Poli Genova. Her song was the last to be revealed this year, and dare I say, it was worth the agonising wait. If Love Was a Crime definitely sounds like it comes from the Balkans, but it’s got a smartly-applied layer of Swedish gloss that doesn’t distract from the intended sound (hear that, Cyprus?). The build-up into a drop using the chorus is an undeniably modern choice – especially for Eurovision – and it was even smarter to write in a Bulgarian-language hook that’ll get stuck in everyone’s heads come May. My main concern with this entry is that it’ll be really hard to stage in a way that highlights the song rather than holding it back. It’s not got that many opportunities for choreography, so it’ll be interesting to see what the Bulgarian delegation (one not known for stage direction) will do. Otherwise, I have no doubts that this will be one of the standout tracks of the year.

Penny First off, there’s a flute solo. Given what’s happened to other songs with flute solos (e.g. Lane Moje, Molitva and Only Teardrops), Poli’s probably in good company and should qualify. Throw that in with one of the most Ohrwurm-y refrains of the year, and she could get into the top half of the final. I wonder how many people will get ‘O, daj mi ljubovta’ simply by seeing the words printed on the screen or hearing Poli sing the song once. The song feels really light-hearted and fluffy in the verses, but then she gets to ‘If love was a crime, we would be criminals,’ and I can’t help but connect with the words despite them sounding really cheesy (thanks, S.O. whom I haven’t seen since November because of scheduling issues and constant technical difficulties). There’s also something really nice about the way she pronounces ‘miracles’ and ‘criminals’ in the song that I don’t know to describe…but it’s kind of like in songs that shove too many syllables into one line to show that there’s so much emotion/back story that it wouldn’t fit if it stayed in syllable count. So yes, I’ll be waving white-green-red in front of my laptop during ESC week.

Jaz All paths were leading to Poli Genova representing Bulgaria this year: her super-successful turn as 2015’s JESC host, her…ah…um…okay, so maybe there was just the one path. But it was still a logical choice for BNT to make – and a choice that was incredibly well-received by the fan community. I haven’t seen a single negative word Facebooked, Tweeted or Instagrammed about Poli, and the reaction to her second ESC entry If Love Was A Crime (the prequel to Frans’ If I Were Sorry, I presume) has been almost as positive. And why wouldn’t it be? This is a song that does pretty much everything right, ticking all boxes without being a goody two-shoes about it. Lyrically, the verses and pre-chorus are a little weak – I mean, I get that ‘If love was a crime, we would be criminals’ is a necessary evil in a song that hypothesises what would happen if love was, in fact, something you could get arrested for indulging in…but it’s such a predictable line. Still, I can’t criticise much else about this track. It’s contemporary (complete with weird non-human noise in the background), energetic, ultra catchy (particularly when Poli launches into the Bulgarian chorus, which even non-Bulgarian speakers can latch on to with ease) and memorable, mainly thanks to that hook. Factor in Poli’s proven ability as a live performer who always seems to enjoy herself on stage, and you’ve got Bulgaria’s best chance of a celebration-worthy result in a long time – perhaps EVER, given that their highest placing in history is 5th. I did say ‘perhaps’ – girl is going to have to fight for it. But, huge success in the offing or not, Bulgaria deserves a round of applause (and a round of drinks) for pulling Poli and not-Na-Inat-2.0 out of their hat.

The EBJ Jury says… 

  • Ali 6
  • Fraser 10
  • James 12
  • Jaz 10
  • Martin 5
  • Nick 7
  • Penny 10
  • Rory 12
  • Wolfgang 6

Bulgaria’s EBJ Jury score is…8.67

 

 

Denmark

Nick Once again, Denmark’s choice of a seemingly run-of-the-mill boyband entry over an annoying female fanwank proved to set the fandom alight for no reason, as the superior song was picked. With either Simone or Anja hopping across the Øresund to Sweden, Denmark would be much further down on my list (especially with the latter, who’d occupy space 43 easily), so Lighthouse X is my personal savior. That being said, Soldiers of Love is still a pretty bland song that occupies the same area of the pop landscape as the Irish song this year. However, it does it so much better than Sunlight, and it ends up that Soldiers of Love is actually the song that shines. The music is written to be catchy and punchy, the occasional riffs on piano standing out in that aspect; and there’s a nice flow to it. It’s also one of the few entries this year that stands out more live than in studio, as the group’s voices add an extra layer that’s lacking in the studio version. Hopefully Europe will hear the difference in quality and send this boyband nouveau song through from semi two.

Penny Remember last year, when Norway’s Mørland said he did something terrible in his early youth? After DMGP, a lot of people would probably say that he stole a time machine, formed a band, went to the year 2016, entered Dansk Melodi Grand Prix, and angered every fan who wanted Simone or Anja Nissen to win. I’m just kidding, but does anyone else think one of the Lighthouse X guys looks like Mørland? While this was a bit of a surprise winner at the time and a tad cheesy (somewhere around sharp cheddar), I’ve warmed up to them and found myself singing along to the refrain of Soldiers of Love every time they show up. It’s cheery, makes me smile after having to endure multiple exams, and – as proven by their DMGP performance – they can pull it off live.

Jaz I know I should leave the past in the past and move the heck on, but you say ‘Denmark 2016’ and I say ‘How DARE you remind me of the most painful heartbreak I have ever experienced during a national final season?’. The hours I spent sobbing into my pillow (and whoever else’s pillow I came across during the grieving process) weren’t due to Anja Nissen’s so-close-but-so-far DMGP defeat, but to Simone’s shockingly distant third place (which left a heart-shaped hole in my chest…if only metaphorically). I simply did not see Lighthouse X coming – or the fact that their name is pronounced ‘Lighthouse Ten’ (Roman Numerals are rarely the first thing on my mind). I suppose I should have, since they satisfy every requirement in the Danish rulebook of selecting a Eurovision entry: they’re a generically good-looking act offering a competent but not-at-all risky or exciting pop song, and that (somehow) always gets the Danes voting in droves (possibly because that’s the bulk type of song they have to choose from, thanks to DR). Usually, it works for them at the ESC – qualifications, comfortable results, and an occasional win thrown in for adequate measure – but last year, it backfired. Yet we’re still getting more of the same! Having said all of that, I do like Soldiers of Love, and how easy on the eye the Lighthouse trio is. They look pretty and sound pretty singing a song that does most of the things it should in all the right places. The chorus is melodically strong and uplifting, even if every line of it is a cliché (you might even say it’s a cliché love song. Oh, the irony!). But…does it light my fire? Nope. I want it to melt my marshmallows, but all it does is brown them ever-so-slightly. Basically, it’s perfectly fine, and therefore very vanilla. Denmark might be all for safety first, but when countries think outside the box, that’s when they’re truly competing.

The EBJ Jury says… 

  • Ali 2
  • Fraser 8
  • James 3
  • Jaz 8
  • Martin 5
  • Nick 5
  • Penny 8
  • Rory 4
  • Wolfgang 4

Denmark’s EBJ Jury score is…5.22

 

 

Hungary

Nick When I came to ranking these songs, I wanted to listen to the nightcore (sped-up and pitched-up) versions of each one to ease myself into the process. Usually, I end up liking those a little more, and Pioneer was no exception. In saying that, I still wanted the song to be over less than halfway through. Moving on to the regular live performance was even worse, as the one featured on the official channel had Freddie mumbling and screaming off-key on the A Dal stage. The song is a noisy mess that has no flow and clichéd motivational lyrics. It also does that horribly annoying thing where the singer draws out a word for no reason other than to fit the rhyme: see ‘real’ in the second line of the chorus. I’d almost appreciate the brashness of the music if everything else was done tactfully enough to let it shine…but as it stands, this is an absolute mess of an entry that should see Hungary out of the final for the first time since their return. Better luck next year.

Penny I couldn’t remember what this song sounded like until listening to over forty Top 43 ranking videos. And although I can now remember what (part of) it sounds like, I don’t understand how it’s in almost everyone’s top 10. The whistling in the verses and the grit in Freddie’s voice sounds nice, but Pioneer is a plodder and doesn’t do much for me. Sorry Freddie, but I’ll probably be getting food while you’re performing so I’m not hung(a)ry. The glow sticks and swirly background do remind me that I need to visit my local science museum though.

Jaz The A Dal final was full of fabulous potential Hungarian entries. For starters, none of them reminded me of Boggie or Wars For Nothing. Then we had the quirky hipster sing-along song from Petruska, epic ethnopop from Gergő Olah, and achingly cool alt-rock from Kalláy Saunders and his band. Rising to the top of them all in the end, though, was Freddie’s Pioneer, an early favourite. For me, there was something about this song from the start – something unique and raw that I was drawn to. The rawness, I guess, was mainly emanating from Freddie himself, who is far from being a smooth operator in the vocal department (that’s a compliment re: his gravelly voice, by the way). As the performer, he adds an authentic rough edge to a song that is an anthem á la Denmark’s, but without the cheese. I love everything about it – the minimalist construction, the whistling, the extremely powerful chorus that is bound to be explosive on the Eurovision stage…and how can I fail to mention the walking, talking hunk of eye candy that is Freddie (yes, I’m shallow. Get used to it). I’ve been saying for a few years now that Hungary are likely to win the contest sometime soon, and though it’s unlikely that 2016 is ‘soon’, I stand by those comments with Pioneer in mind. Also, Freddie, if you’re reading…yes, I am single, and waiting for your call. WINKFACE EMOJI.

The EBJ Jury says… 

  • Ali 7
  • Fraser 6
  • James 5
  • Jaz 10
  • Martin 8
  • Nick 1
  • Penny 6
  • Rory 2
  • Wolfgang 12

Hungary’s EBJ Jury score is…6.33

 

 

 Montenegro

Nick Okay, can we take a minute to recognise ‘I see you inside me’ as one of the creepiest lyrics of this year? In fact, my biggest hang-up with this entry is the vaguely stalkerish imagery that’s present throughout the song. Musically, I’m a big fan of the acid rock/dubstep crossover, but the lyrics and vocals throw me off. Deep voices aren’t usually my thing to begin with, and they’re especially not when I’m being crooned at with such lyrics as ‘I’m gonna run, gonna feel good.’ Assuage me of fears that does not, and it really harms what could’ve been a strong entry. Montenegro’s track record – one that astonishingly includes a song like The Real Thing, 2013’s Most Wrong Entry™ Igranka – tells me that they’ll probably meet the same fate they did when the contest was last in Sweden. However, this time, I’ll probably be a little less bitter about losing them.

Penny Montenegro has decided: two years of Balkan ballads was nice, but there’s more to the ex-Yugo music scene. It looks like that means it’s time to send an entry closer to Who See’s than Knez’s. When I first heard The Real Thing after its presentation, all I could think was, ‘What IS this noise?’ – and that it sounded like a bunch of random people who all wanted to play their instruments as loudly as possible. As of so far, the only lyrics I can understand are still ‘Inside you’ and ‘Feel it; I’m the real thing, yeah.’ It’s not my favorite genre, and I still need to put in effort and energy to focus on the song, but it doesn’t deserve the bottom-three hate that it seems to get in YouTube rankings. Also, I’m still really confused as to what this “real thing” that Highway talk about is. Does it mean that they’re real people? Or are they just not hiding their identities?

Jaz In stark contrast to the previous two acts, Montenegro is sending a group to Stockholm who are NOT incredibly attractive (in my opinion). Why does that matter? Well, it doesn’t – I just thought I’d mention it to remind you that it’s not just what’s inside that counts, especially at Eurovision (and to remind you that I’m a judgmental jerk and proud of it). Anyway…the song! After the 2015 Montenegrin masterpiece that was Adio, we’ve been given what is allegedly The Real Thing – and though I know which one I prefer, I have to applaud Montenegro for showing variety, and Highway for staying true to their style (otherwise, they’d be performing a song called Not Exactly The Real Thing). Like Penny, I don’t agree with everyone who has Highway right at the rear end of their rankings. I’d even go so far as to say that I enjoy this track. It’s Georgia 2.0 for me: I don’t know why I like it exactly, and it’s not in the genre ballpark that I normally hang out in, but I’m on board nonetheless. If we compartmentalise it, we’ve got a) verses that are actually very well-produced and current, b) a chorus that is noisy, yes, but was made for rocking out to, and c) a guitar riff that sticks. It’s surprisingly cohesive when strung together for three minutes. I’m not seeing it through rose-coloured glasses here – I know it’s not going to go anywhere. But in spite of that, it floats my boat. No lifejacket required!

The EBJ Jury says… 

  • Ali 8
  • Fraser 1
  • James 1
  • Jaz 8
  • Martin 5
  • Nick 5
  • Penny 5
  • Rory 1
  • Wolfgang 0

Montenegro’s EBJ Jury score is…3.78

 

 

Spain

Nick It’s a sign of the times: Spain’s finally thrown off the Spanish and is going full English for the first time. Putting aside my disappointment at Eurovision’s continued slide into linguistic homogeny, I must admit that this song lends itself well to the language, although that’s just my backhanded way of saying it’s kind of anonymous. Barei’s the undoubted star of the show in this entry, as her exuberance onstage adds so much to what’s otherwise a drop in the bucket of up-tempo, feel-good songs. That’s not to say the song doesn’t have its positives – the verses are nicely orchestrated and the English lyrics aren’t as cringey as they could’ve been. But it is lacking a distinctly Spanish flair that Barei’s making up for. Whether that will deliver Spain a better result than Edurne’s shriekfest (that was overrated at 21st, if you ask me) is up for debate, but I have a suspicion this year’s result will tend more toward Pastora Soler territory.

Penny While I’m a little disappointed that there won’t be any Spanish in the contest this year, this entry is already an improvement on 2015’s, since a) Barei can hit all the notes and b) her song feels a bit more ‘honest’ (as in, she seems to be telling her own story instead of someone else’s). It’s also really nice to have the one flashmob song of the contest, given that Barei’s been doing that dance for every single performance and in almost every interview; and that Say Yay is really catchy and easy to sing along to. Then again, how hard is learning ‘Say yay, yay, yay’, or ‘Sing it, la, la, la, la’? However, while I’d definitely sing and dance along if someone else played the song, I don’t know if I’d actively search for the song since the backing music makes it sound like it’s something my dentist would play, or one of six (yes, six) songs that would play over the bakery radio at work (I will confirm that this sounds way better than dental drills or the oven buzzer though).

Jaz Like A Dal, this year’s Spanish final was packed with awesome potential ESC entries. I would say Barei was among that bunch with Say Yay!,  but she wasn’t my first, second, third or even fourth choice to represent her country. I have no problem with her – she’s a great singer with a interesting catch in her voice, and she brims with personality and energy on stage. Plus, on the whole, Say Yay! is a modern, effervescent dance number that practically prohibits you from standing still. However, there’s an aspect of it that screams ‘background music’ to me – maybe it’s the largely instrumental chorus. Whatever the source, I just don’t feel like it makes enough of a statement as a standalone song to win Eurovision. There’s no doubt it has the ability to do well for Spain, particularly when pedaled by someone who sells it like Barei does. But overall, I find it a little wallpaper-like. It’s there, and it’s nice, but I’m not going to be paying that much attention to it when there’s opulent statement furniture elsewhere in the room.

The EBJ Jury says… 

  • Ali 1
  • Fraser 12
  • James 7
  • Jaz 7
  • Martin 10
  • Nick 5
  • Penny 7
  • Rory 6
  • Wolfgang 6

Spain’s EBJ Jury score is…6.78

 

 

And we have a runaway winner! Of this round, that is. Shockingly, it isn’t Montenegro. 

  1. Bulgaria (8.67)
  2. Spain (6.78)
  3. Hungary (6.33)
  4. Bosnia & Herzegovina (5.44)
  5. Denmark (5.22)
  6. Montenegro (3.78)

Bulgaria takes this one out in impressive fashion – but will they do the same (or even remotely similar) at Eurovision itself? Are we totally off the mark relegating Spain to second place? Has my undying love for boybands influenced my decision on Denmark, or would you agree that it’s bland, but not bad? I have so many questions, and you can provide the answers in the comments below. If you don’t, the chances of Ani Lorak returning to the ESC will decrease by 33.33%.

Speaking of returnees…next time, my mother and Germany’s very own Wolfgang will be back to have their say on Azerbaijan, Belgium, Iceland, Israel, Latvia and the United Kingdom. You might be surprised by the songs that go down well with those two. Then again, you might not – it depends on how easily you’re surprised. Either way, don’t forget to drop by!

 

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SUPER SATURDAY #5 | Thoughts on the new tracks of 2016 + my top 28 + Swedish second chances!

The title of this post pretty much says it all – besides letting you know that I actually haven’t got the time to review and predict the Estonian or Polish finals. I do have time to pass judgment on the songs that have become Eurovision entries since last Saturday, however. And to unveil my first official ranking of the year. AND to put Melodifestivalen’s Andra Chansen round under the microscope to see if I can guess who’ll walk away with the four performance slots in next weekend’s final. So all of the above is what I will do – right here, right now.

Well…in a minute.

Just so you know I know what’s going on in the Eurovision bubble over the next few nights, here are my traditional bullet points.

Tonight:

  • Estonia’s Eesti Laul – the final (will there be a Stig and Elina-style runaway winner? I suspect not)
  • Lithuania’s Eurovizijos – the semi final (believe it or not, the end is in sight)
  • Poland’s Krajowe Eliminacje – the final (Edyta, Margaret, or neither to Stockholm?)
  • Sweden’s Melodifestivalen – the Andra Chansen round (eight must become four)

Sunday night:

  • Romania’s Selecția Națională – the final (Mihai Traistariu’s chance to redo Eurovision)

Monday…sometime:

  • Macedonia present their song for Kaliopi (and she’s got her own big shoes to fill)

Now, let’s talk about the select stuff I have the chance to cover.

 

The songs and artist selections of the week, summed up in a sentence

Because ain’t nobody got the freedom for a full-length analysis – not with the week we’ve had.

  • LoveWave by Iveta Mukuchyan (Armenia) I don’t know if I’m impressed or disappointed by this unstructured, ethnically-tinged vehicle for Iveta’s raspy vocals.
  • Dami Im (Australia) She’s no Delta Goodrem (sadface), but X Factor champ Dami has the talent and dress sense to stand out in Stockholm – the only missing piece is a spectacular song.
  • Sing It Away by Sandhja (Finland) This reminds me of Belgium’s entry, but I prefer Laura to Sandhja (though I am glad Finland didn’t send Saara Aalto).
  • J’ai Cherché by Amir Haddad (France) Oui, oui and OUI.
maxresdefault

He’s more than all white as far as I’m concerned.

  • Pioneer by Freddie (Hungary) Hot singer + hit song = something that could be powerful on the Eurovision stage, and very successful for Hungary on the scoreboard.
  • Made of Stars by Hovi Star (Israel) If a song could be on the soundtrack of a West End musical, but a) isn’t, and b) isn’t Bohemian Rhapsody, then I’m not particularly interested.
  • Nessun Grado Di Separazione by Francesca Michielin (Italy) Classy, effortless Italian pop is a grande amore of mine, and this song is no exception (but please, please sing in Italian, Francesca!).
  • Heartbeat by Justs (Latvia) This is just/Justs brilliant, and features one of the most latch-able choruses of the year so far – Aminata, you’ve done it again.
  • Falling Stars by Lidia Isac (Moldova) The studio version, I’m keen on; the live version…well, Lidia positions herself right in the heart of screechy territory.
  • The Real Thing by Highway (Montenegro) This scares me and kind of appeals to me at the same time, but I expect it to perform terribly in its semi final.
  • Slow Down by Douwe Bob (The Netherlands) Bob’s style isn’t my bottle of Heineken, but even I can hear that Slow Down is a good example of folk/country that will do a decent job of leaving the Walk Along incident in its dust.
  • Icebreaker by Agnete (Norway) It’s incredible how Norway is managing to send two different songs to Eurovision 2016 without breaching any rules or regulations.
  • You Are The Only One by Sergey Lazarev (Russia) Sky-high expectations not met by a song that could have been lifted straight out of Eurovision 2006.
  • Blue and Red by ManuElla (Slovenia) You’ve got to do better than a Taylor Swift: 2008 Edition impersonator to impress me, Slovenia – what a step down from Here For You.

If you were wondering where the songs I’ve summed up here would factor in to a ranking including the rest, you’ll find that just below. If you weren’t, then feel free to skip to the Swedish section.

 

It’s here, and it’s uncertain! My first ranking of the 2016 season, revealed

I did put a ranking together a few days ago (not for publication’s sake but out of curiosity) and it was considerably different to the one below. What can I say? I’m fickle. This latest and first-to-be-publicised list includes all of the songs confirmed for Stockholm AT THIS PRECISE MOMENT – so Malta, who are still deciding whether Ira Losco should be a Chameleon or something else (I like to think they’ve got a backup track entitled Komodo Dragon waiting in the wings) is not included.

And so, for anyone who cares, this is my current top 28:

  1. Ukraine
  2. Hungary
  3. Italy
  4. France
  5. Latvia
  6. Norway
  7. Belgium
  8. Germany
  9. Spain
  10. Moldova
  11. Ireland
  12. Denmark
  13. Albania
  14. Georgia
  15. Cyprus
  16. Armenia
  17. Iceland
  18. United Kingdom
  19. Switzerland
  20. Russia
  21. Montenegro
  22. Bosnia & Herzegovina
  23. Netherlands
  24. Israel
  25. Finland
  26. Belarus
  27. Austria
  28. Slovenia
top3

I have a ridiculously photogenic top three on my hands, if I say so myself…

With fifteen songs still to be premiered or picked, there’s a lot of room for movement in all of our lists. But I want to know who’s topping yours at the moment…and who’s sitting un-pretty on the bottom. Let me know in the comments, and I (might) send you a gift basket.

 

Meanwhile, in Sweden: It’s time to give out the last remaining final tickets!

 Andra Chansen, the stage of Melodifestivalen that’s as fun to pronounce as it is to watch, has arrived. And, like last year (but not the year before that), there are four places left in the Friends Arena final for tonight’s competitors to fight for.

SVT, as usual, have paired up the eight songs placed 3rd and 4th in the semi finals, ensuring that none of those who went to AC together will be up against each other again. In the process, they’ve come up with some duels that can only be described using the letters W, T and F. And that makes a few of them hard to predict. Let’s take a closer look.

 

Duel 1: Håll Om Mig Hårt by Panetoz VS Hunger by Molly Pettersson Hammar

panmol

I’ll start with a confession: I would have bet my entire trip to Stockholm on Panetoz being pit against Boris René tonight (but I’m glad I didn’t). Don’t get me wrong – I’m relieved that both acts now have a shot at progressing from AC. But if SVT wanted to ensure the Melfest final was a variety show, they shouldn’t have given up an opportunity to eliminate one of two songs in a very similar vein. But ANYWAY, back to the duel that IS about to take place…this is a tough one. There are two very different artists and styles butting heads here. Panetoz are the masters of fun, energy, and transferring all of the above to the audience. Molly’s got a hunger, but I’m not sure it’s a hunger to win – there’s something lacking in her performance package (perhaps some of the Panetoz fun and energy). It isn’t vocal ability – she’s certainly got the monopoly on that in this duel. My personal winner is Panetoz, and I think they might have Molly cornered…but it’s not a given.

Who I want to win Panetoz

 Who WILL win Panetoz

 

 

Duel 2: Rik by Albin & Mattias VS Put Your Love On Me by Boris René

albbor

Here we have two repetitive songs up against each other. As much as I adore Albin and Mattias as artists, I have to admit that Rik is repetitive in an annoying, couldn’t-they-think-of-anything-else-to-fill-three-minutes kind of way, whereas it’s purely the chorus of Put Your Love On Me that uses the five title words and basically nothing else. Boris’ song and performance have so much more to offer, and he’s the clear winner of the second duel in my opinion.

Who I want to win Boris René

 Who WILL win Boris René

 

 

Duel 3: I Will Wait by Isa VS Kizunguzungu by SaRaha

isaraha

This is perhaps the weirdest pairing of the evening (Molly PH versus Isa? No? Okay then). I’m a big fan of both songs, but I think Isa may be trying too hard to get somewhere. Vocally (and physically), she’s can’t measure up to the lofty standards I Will Wait sets for her. SaRaha, on the other hand, owns Kizunguzungu, and is clearly completely comfortable and in her zone with Afro-pop. It’s not too intense, and she’s not straining to belt it out – which is the opposite impression I get from Isa. I think SaRaha’s ease and confidence (plus her sensational Spotify stats) will see her through to the final tonight.

Who I want to win Isa…SaRaha…I DON’T KNOW!!!

 Who WILL win SaRaha

 

 

Duel 4: Rollercoaster by Dolly Style VS Bada Nakna by Samir & Viktor

dolsam

Ah, finally! A duel that makes sense. Almost-novelty against almost-novelty. We need to get rid of one of these acts/songs, and I think Rollercoaster will be the one to get the silver platform boot. The force that is Samir & Viktor shouldn’t be underestimated, despite the fact that they didn’t manage to go direkt this time around. Their fans will be out to compensate for that “injustice” by systematically destroying Dolly Style via a tsunami of televotes. I can totally live with that.

Who I want to win Samir & Viktor

 Who WILL win Samir & Viktor

 

 

Sadly (seriously, have some tissues at the ready) that’s all I’ve got time for, folks. After all, a good-quality pre-Melfest nap must take priority over not napping.

As always, leave your thoughts on any recent or imminent Eurovisual happenings down below. And – this is not optional – enjoy this second-last Saturday of national final season while it lasts!

 

Until next time…

 

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TIME-WARP TUESDAY (on a Wednesday…oops) | A sinfully successful Hungarian debut

Where Dublin, Ireland
When 1994
Who Friderika Bayer
What Kinek Mondjam El Vétkeimet?

The reasons I’ve plucked this song out of thin air for today’s Time-Warp are threefold. Firstly, Hungarian is one of my favourite musical languages (the fact that I barely understand a word of it makes it so cool and mysterious). Secondly, Hungary have thrown some great entries at us since they made their 2011 Eurovision comeback (Kedvesem is now one of my most beloved of all time) and they were responsible for a few gems prior to that too – something I wanted to celebrate. Thirdly, the country’s 1994 debut entry was both in Hungarian AND one of those pre-comeback diamonds, so I’m pretty keen to discuss it. Let’s!

Friderika Bayer was twenty-three when she stepped up to her microphone in Dublin’s Point Theatre (I’m currently the same age, so I feel very inadequate as someone yet to represent any country at Eurovision). She had more responsibility than most of the other competitors on her young shoulders, because, like Poland’s Edyta Gorniak, she was about to be the first singer from her country to appear at the contest. That carries a certain amount of weight.

Fortunately, both Edyta and Friderika debuted in style, finishing 2nd and 4th respectively. Hungary even led the voting before dropping down to that still-successful placing, and I don’t find it hard to understand why – Kinek Mondjam El Vétkeimet? (‘To Whom Can I Tell My Sins?’) is a stunning song that was accompanied by a beautifully simple and sincere performance. You can draw a few parallels between this entry and Boggie’s Wars For Nothing, despite the 20+ year time difference – both are guitar-backed, down-tempo and sentimental songs performed by vocally proficient brunettes. But Kinek… is the superior song as far as my ears and tastes are concerned. For one thing, it doesn’t send me to sleep. There’s something about the melody and the clarity-tinged-with-vulnerability sound of Friderika’s voice that draws me in, and makes me feel ALL THA FEELS.

Lyrically (yes, this non-Hungarian speaker has Googled the translation multiple times) you won’t find any pleas for peace or cheesy clichés here. Take, for example, the content of the first verse and the chorus:

Nothing is there, only the lightless night
Only the tongue-tied distress, a vain hope
No faith, no love
No one to stroke my hand

Whom can I tell my sins
To be sure that they are forgiven?
Whom can I tell my sins, my God?

Sigh.

This entry is proof that a song doesn’t have to be a) busy, layered, loud and freaking full of lyrics, or b) staged like it’s one’s last chance to use a wind machine, incorporate a costume reveal and do the Moonwalk whilst mowing the lawn and baking a batch of piskóta (so basically, Amanecer) to have an impact. The entire 1994 contest, in fact, was testament to that, with a bunch of top-scoring songs being of the subtle, slow and simple variety – including Ireland’s winner. Some say interval act Riverdance stole the show, but if you look and listen a little closer, that’s not necessarily the case (depending on your attitude towards frenetic Irish dancing).

To sum up, I love this song – and judging by the applause when Friderika was finished, the audience did too. How about you?

 

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VIENNESE VERDICTS | The EBJ Jury Reviews (Part 6)

Greetings, glitterbugs!

Ugh. Can you tell I’m running low on salutations again?

If you haven’t already defected to Wiwi Bloggs in disgust, welcome back to the Viennese Verdicts. As the first semi final of Eurovision 2015 is mere days away *hyperventilates into a brown paper bag for a second* there’s no time to waste in getting these reviews out and about (i.e. finished). This is Part 6 of 8, and today I’ve rounded up German and Australian ESC experts to help me critique Israel, Hungary, Germany, Moldova and Azerbaijan.

 

TODAY’S EBJ JURY

vv7 Wolfgang Schmidt: You met German-born-and-bred Wolfgang – a.k.a. Wolf – back in Part 3 of the Viennese Verdicts. He’s a massive ABBA fan (as is my other guest juror for today) with an impressive history as a Eurovision addict. Altogether he’s attended four contests: Birmingham 1998, Copenhagen 2001, Düsseldorf 2011 (just a hop, skip and awkward Lena dance step away from his hometown) and Malmö 2013, and the Birmingham show was his favourite. You know what they say…you’re always fondest of your first!

Andrew Pentecost: Andrew is from Sydney, Australia. He doesn’t know how long he’s been aware of Eurovision, but it probably started not long after ABBA’s win with Waterloo. Andrew was a huge ABBA fan from about 1975, and they’re still his favourite pop group forty years later. After ABBA introduced Andrew to Eurovision, he discovered that, along with pop music, Eurovision also offers Balkan rhythms, popera, a smörgåsbord of languages and dodgy accents, costumes and frocks, choreography and all sorts of other delights. Some of his favourite songs come from the ‘golden age’ – Poupée de Cire, Poupée de Son  by France Gall, Eres Tú by Mocedades, L’Oiseau et L’Enfant by Marie Myriam, Boom Bang-A-Bang by Lulu, and Un Jour, Un Enfant by Frida Boccara. More recent favourites include Fairytale by Alexander Rybak, Energy by Nuša Derenda, and Invincible by Carola. And let’s not forget the show’s hosts – Andrew’s all-time favourite was the stupendous Petra Mede from 2013, who managed to combine Nordic humour, elegance and flawless English language skills into the ultimate package. Andrew and his partner Richard believe they’ve been watching the contest on Australia’s SBS together for more than twenty years – it’s bigger than Christmas and birthdays in their household. Last year they attended Eurovision in Copenhagen, and in 2015 they’re off to Vienna. A highlight of the last two years has been making all sorts of friends – people from every corner of the world who are equally mad about Eurovision!

Jasmin Bear: Surprise, surprise – it’s me again! I bet you’re about as shocked right now as you were when you found out Australia was participating in Eurovision 2015. That’s assuming you’re very easily shocked.

 

 

Nadav, Boggie, Ann Sophie, Eduard and Elnur are no doubt on the edge of their seats, waiting to hear our verdicts. So I won’t make them sweat onto the upholstery any longer! I must warn them, and you, however, that one of today’s judges was difficult to impress…

 

 

ISRAEL

Golden Boy by Nadav Guedj

Israel

Wolfgang: The Israeli entry this year sounds more Turkish than a lot of Turkish entries of the past ten years. It is a very ethnic and catchy song that seems like an ear-worm summer smash to me. And hey, who would have thought that the guy singing this song is only sixteen years old? He already has the voice and appearance of at least a 23-year-old, doesn’t he? I hope Israel will qualify in Vienna with this ‘golden boy’ after their 2011-2014 disasters. They really deserve a qualification this year. And with this song, I also see a good placement in the final – let’s say 10th to 14th on the scoreboard. 7 points.

Andrew: Nadav is handsome beyond his years. Like many young people, he tries to do too many vocal runs for my taste, but he is a strong singer with a distinctive vocal quality that’s a bit like Guy Sebastian’s. The song itself is an odd mix of styles. The verses do absolutely nothing for me but I quite like the Eastern feel of the chorus. Pop music for me is all about vocal quality, melody, emotion and rhythm, which means I rarely listen to the lyrics…but the lyrics to this song are so atrociously corny that I cringe when I hear them. 1 point.

Jaz: Poor Israel hasn’t had the best run over the last few years (although only one of their DNQs really puzzled me – Moran Mazor’s, whose choice of outfit also puzzled me). Via their Next Star competition, they’ve selected an artist who undoubtedly has star quality, plus the potential to undo their semi-final-related-sad (excuse my tendency to drag any topic into Sanna Nielsen territory). Nadav, as we’ve all acknowledged, is clearly a man in his mid-twenties masquerading as a teenager for some reason (at least, that’s what I’ll believe until I’ve seen his birth certificate). This “kid” is a great fit for the fusion of urban and traditional sounds that is Golden Boy. Whether those sounds fit together or not, I’m not so sure. I love the Justin Timberlake vibe of the verses, and the unashamedly ethnic chorus, but the flow from one to the other isn’t so smooth. And I have to agree with Andrew on the lyrics – some of them are awful. Still, I don’t think that will hold Israel back too much. The song is instant, modern (for the most part) and, crucially in a contest bursting with ballads, a dancefloor filler (I defy anyone in the Stadthalle or at home to stay seated when Nadav hits the stage). The lack of ethnicity among his rivals’ entries makes him stand out too. I’m not putting any money on Golden Boy breaking Israel’s streak of bad luck, but I really hope it does. 7 points.

EBJ Jury Score: 5.00

 

 

HUNGARY

Wars For Nothing by Boggie

Hungary

Wolfgang: This song really says nothing to me! It sounds like it was from ‘before yesterday’ and it is absolutely non-catchy. To me, it is one of the most boring entries this year. And lyrically speaking, it is the other side of the A Little Peace medal – I am sure that the Ukraine would give their douze to this song this year, but unfortunately they are not competing. I already see a Dina Garipova performance straight from the IKEA lamp department coming up, with the backing singers joining Boggie hand-in-hand at the last minute. Oh, how sweet…not! One point for the beautiful blue dress + one for her voice + no points for the song = 2 points!

Andrew: I rarely enjoy the songs and artists sent to Eurovision by Hungary, and sadly, 2015 is no exception. A pleasant guitar instrumental leads into a very low-key, repetitive ballad that simply doesn’t build to anything. The main vocal is weak and often off-key and the harmonies are also poor. This is an utter nul-pointer in my opinion.

Jaz: Up until Hungary opted for Boggie this year, I was convinced that they were on track to win Eurovision within the next couple of years. Ever since their comeback in 2011, they’ve impressed me – their 2013 and 2014 entries were especially epic by my standards. But when your least favourite song of an entire national final lineup ends up winning that national final, you start to lose faith…and boy, have I lost my faith. I’m not saying that if Kati Wolf (whose A Dal entry remains on top of my could-have-been list for 2015) had been representing Hungary instead, they would have won in Vienna, or anything. I’m just saying that an up-and-coming country has let itself down here. In Copenhagen, Hungary gave us a powerful message song that was moody, gritty and contemporary. Wars For Nothing is a message song, but that’s about all it has in common with Running. I don’t find it powerful or particularly contemporary – lame and limp are the words I’d use to describe it. There are rare moments when I think I’m warming to it, but then I think about the likes of Sweden, Italy and Norway, and things are swiftly put into perspective. Boggie is a nice vocalist and a lovely person inside and out, but I’m just not interested in buying what she’s selling. 3 points.

EBJ Jury Score: 1.67

 

 

GERMANY

Black Smoke by Ann Sophie

Germany

Wolfgang: I feel like I should say something nice now, but unfortunately I can’t! It is no secret that I am not a big fan of Ann Sophie. I belonged to Team Andreas, which means I voted (more than once) for Heart of Stone, which was the best song in the German national final, IMO. I also like that he is not the polished superstar on stage, who plays perfectly with the camera and does an impressive show. But when you hear him sing, you understand why he won The Voice of Germany. Coming back to Ann Sophie, I must admit that I like Black Smoke a lot more than Jump The Gun (her second USFÖ entry). What can save us in the contest is that we don’t have a lame lady ballad like a lot of other countries, but a song that is much catchier. Also, Ann Sophie is a ‘Rampensau’ when she performs, meaning she kicks ass and rocks the stage. Maybe she can keep us awake after the sixth lame ballad in a row. I don’t have high expectations concerning the scoreboard this year – I think we can be very satisfied with a result between 15th and 20th place in the final, same as Elaiza last year. 5 points.

Andrew: After the cringe-worthy drama of the televised final, Germany is sending Ann Sophie to Vienna as their plan B. I really like this song, and Ann Sophie’s interesting, quirky voice. I plan to support her by cheering loudly in the Stadthalle, and I hope she’ll end up in the middle of the scoreboard. 3 points.

Jaz: If ever there was a prime example of a happy accident, THIS is it. If not to all of us fans (sorry, Wolfgang) then to me. There was nothing wrong with Andreas Kümmert and his Heart of Stone, aside from the fact that the song could have been lifted from a Phil Collins album released twenty-five years ago…but did I love it? Nope. Do I love Black Smoke? Yes I do! There was something about the song that captured me from my very first listen. It’s radio-friendly pop without being generic and cliché, it’s got a hint of retro funkiness to it that adds appeal, and both the verses and the chorus are equally catchy. The lyrics may not be genius (unless you compare them to Israel’s) but I really like those too – they’re simple but effective. I even covet the black-and-white ensemble and giant gold Pac-Man earrings Ann Sophie was wearing the night she “won” the right to represent Germany. It’s all good in my opinion, sans the bad that is the awkward position this girl has been put in as Germany’s choice by default. But, if she can carry the class and conviction she put into her reprise directly after the Andreas Incident (that’s got to win some kind of award for Best TV Drama) through to Eurovision, she’ll be fine. As much as I enjoy Black Smoke, I can’t see it scoring über-well in the final, but let’s hope Ann Sophie can claw her way a little closer to the top 10 than Elaiza managed to last year. Perhaps some of my one-off Australian votes will help her get there. 10 points.

EBJ Jury Score: 6.00

 

 

MOLDOVA

I Want Your Love by Eduard Romanyuta

Moldova

Wolfgang: My first impression was ‘What was that???’. The second time I watched it, I thought it was a fun entry. On the third play, I laughed my guts out. Sorry, but I can’t take this song and this little boy seriously. His name sounds like a ridiculous stage name and him singing ‘I want your love’ simply sounds so funny that I always have to laugh about it. Not that I’m a great fan of Moldovan entries anyway, but this year I’d wish Aliona Moon or Natalia Barbu back on stage. Can we change that, please? This entry is just not good enough to qualify – I’ll scream aloud if that happens. DNQ!!! One very gentle and polite point.

Andrew: Well, Ukraine did manage to send a singer to Vienna after all – except Eduard will be representing tiny Moldova rather than his homeland. When his hair is not long and lank, he’s quite a cute young man, but his live vocals are nothing to write home about, and he has a strong accent when he sings in English. I find the chorus to this song reasonably catchy in a predictable, boy band kind of way. The lyrics are corny and the video clip is horrendously juvenile. Another nul-pointer.

Jaz: Somebody please tell me where to buy a t-shirt with ‘GUILTY PLEASURE’ emblazoned on it, because I’m going to need one to wear while Eduard is doing his best Eric Saade impression (i.e. putting 95% of his energy into his dance moves, 4% into smoothing his hair and that measly leftover 1% into his vocals) as the opening act of semi final one. This song is total trash, and I LOVE it. Yes, it’s something I would expect to find on my Greatest Hits of N*SYNC album, but the reason I own that album is because I am a boy band tragic from way back who will never stop listening to the Backstreet Boys’ back catalogue. I Want Your Love is the kind of song I was waiting for as the Viennese ballads kept on coming. The performance, on the other hand…well, let’s just say that if it was someone’s face, it would need serious plastic surgery. If Eduard can pull a Ruslana and find the balance between singing and dancing, then do both to the best of his ability; and if the presentation is less 2000s street and more cutting-edge, then Moldova could surprise everyone who isn’t me by qualifying. Another pleasant surprise would be if Eduard chopped his hair off for ESC purposes. At least that way, the Viennese paparazzi wouldn’t mistake him for Edurne. Either way, I’m giving him 10 points.

EBJ Jury Score: 3.67

 

 

AZERBAIJAN

Hour of the Wolf by Elnur Huseynov

Azerbaijan

Wolfgang: Yes, you have read right: it’s the hour of MOI! How can I not love this song, just by its title? I must admit, my expectations of Elnur were very low after hearing he would be going to Eurovision for the second time this year, because I am a hater of his first “heaven and hell” opera, Day After Day. That was so awful that it still belongs on my list of worst-ever Eurovision entries. But this year it’s all totally different! The first time I heard this song it gave me goosebumps, and it is a song that gets better with each and every listen. In the meantime, I really love it! But on the other hand, Azerbaijan has gone for another secure number here by again choosing a song from Swedish songwriters and producers, which is a bit boring now. Nevertheless, this song is material that winning songs were made of in the past, and maybe if he comes barefoot in a white suit, anything can happen! This is my favorite of all the songs I’ve reviewed. 10 points.

Andrew: Azerbaijan seem to have developed a formula of using songs that have been written by composers and lyricists from countries like Sweden and Greece. This year they continue on that well-worn path. Some may enjoy this song, but I am tired of Azerbaijan’s formulaic approach and I wish they would send us some music with genuinely local melodies and rhythms. Hour of the Wolf is pleasant but rather bland. It is sung in heavily-accented English, but the vocal performance is excellent, as I would expect of Elnur. 1 point.

Jaz: Dilara’s Start A Fire sparked absolutely no flame in me last year (see what I did there?). In fact, just thinking about it now is making me drowsy, so I’ll get right on to how much of an improvement Hour of the Wolf is on that borefest. Sure, it’s another ballad with marginal Azerbaijani input, but that’s where the resemblance ends for me. This song is beautiful – almost Sam Smith-like – and although I’m yet to see a live performance (on purpose) I believe it will be a stunner in that context. The verses are well-constructed and the choruses are big without being too shouty. As a whole, this is a song that builds up to something explosive and perfectly complements Elnur’s impressive vocal range. Speaking of the man who really sells this song: Elnur is not the same person who was half of his country’s debut duo back in 2008. The angel wings and copious amounts of body glitter are gone, and a mature, even more powerful vocalist who is now The Voice of Turkey has taken his place. Song and singer have merged into something special here – something that has made me more willing to support Azerbaijan than ever before. I know I should be more critical of their tendency to turn to other countries for musical aid, but in this case, I just can’t. I never said I had principles. 10 points.

EBJ Jury Score: 7.00

 

 

And there you have it! That’s five more down, and ten to go – with ten days until Eduard and his long blonde locks step onto that rather sexy Austrian stage (the finished product is, as Cascada would say, glorious) and hopefully start this year’s contest off with a fiery bang rather than a pathetic puff of smoke.

Let’s take a look at today’s rankings:

  1. Azerbaijan (7.00)
  2. Germany (6.00)
  3. Israel (5.00)
  4. Moldova (3.67)
  5. Hungary (1.67)

So the Land of Fire is in the lead here and now…but where will Elnur end up in the EBJ Jury Top 40? Within the next week, you’ll find out. First, though, there are a quarter of this year’s entries left to review.

Next time, the stars and stripes, the Union Jack and the Blue Ensign – that’s the American, British and Australian flags, in case you were wondering – will be waving in the wind as the jury judges Finland, San Marino, Denmark, Estonia and Greece. You know you won’t want to miss what we say about the year’s most controversial entry (she says, hoping you’ll find that tempting enough to make a return visit).

While you’re waiting, let us know how you rate Azerbaijan, Germany, Israel, Moldova and Hungary, and how you’d rank them. If you don’t, well…nothing much will happen. But if you do, you’ll get a virtual high-five.

*smack*

 

nsig

 

Copenhagen Reviews: Part 2 (Georgia-Italy)

Ermahgerd, people. The time has come. Aram Mp3, Sanna Nielsen and the rest of the gang have or are about to touch down on Danish soil (Basim, I assume, was already on Danish soil) and REHEARSALS HAVE BEGUN! *Insert endless string of exclamation marks here*

It’s all becoming real now, isn’t it? I’m getting to the excitement level where I’m too pumped up to fall asleep at night, so I should be in great shape by the end of next week when the TV broadcasts kick off in Australia. I’m thinking I’d better go and fashion some sort of scaffolding device for propping my sleep-deprived eyes open, so while I’m doing that, you can do what you came here to do: check out Part 2 of my Copenhagen Reviews. Here’s how I rate Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel and Italy.

 

GEORGIA

Three Minutes To Earth by The Shin & Mariko 

georgiaSounds like: it was written under the influence of a little somethin’ somethin’…

Better than 2013: No

Top 10 material: No

IMO: Last year, Georgia did their best impression of Azerbaijan when they purchased a Swedish-made ballad for Eurovision purposes. It didn’t get them as far as they were hoping, so it’s no wonder they’ve headed off in a totally different direction for 2014. Now, how to describe this direction…well, it’s Georgian, for one thing, and that I can appreciate after last year. But it is also completely bonkers. The first time I heard Three Minutes To Earth, I literally had no words. After a few hours minutes I managed to come up with something like ‘What…I…what..even…IS it?’. I couldn’t fathom how The Shin & Mariko had come up with such a ridiculous mish-mash of folk and rock and jazz and notes that sound like they’re out of tune even though that’s how they’re supposed to be, and considered it worthy of taking to a continental song contest. I put Georgia straight at the bottom of my rankings and refused to listen to the song again for weeks. Then, I braved it so I could review it fairly, and suddenly found myself more intrigued than horrified and confused. Don’t get me wrong; I’m still slightly bewildered, and I’m under no illusions of how this is going to fare in the comp. But – and call me crazy if you must – the second listen proved fruitful in making me see that this is an actual song, albeit a bizarre one. Those ‘skydivers, space jumpers’ parts (or whatever the line is) are quite infectious. The other main drawcard for me is Mariko’s voice, assuming she sounds the same live as she does in studio. It’s an unusual voice reminiscent of Platin’s (Slovenia ’04) Diana, but I like it. That’s not a lot of appeal to go on, but I have to congratulate Georgia on sending an entry that represents their country, not another statistic that can be added to Thomas G:son’s biography. 

Winner, loser or grower: Grower. 5 points.

 

GERMANY

Is It Right by Elaiza 

germanyBest lyric: ‘The time is ticking in his ear, the holy silence disappears.’

Better than 2013: No

Top 10 material: No

IMO: Who doesn’t love an underdog story? Robin Stjernberg coming from Andra Chansen to win Melodifestivalen 2013 wasn’t the highlight of my year for nothing. Elaiza’s underdog tale began when they beat out hefty competition to win the wildcard round of the German national final earlier this year. They then joined another truckload of artists in the televised rounds, most of whom were as well-known as they were not, only to progress to the final stage and pip perhaps the most established artist of the lot at the post. That deserves a round of applause *claps enthusiastically*. But I suppose the question is, does the trio’s winning song? My answer would be yes – to a certain degree. What I mean is, whilst I don’t LOVE Is It Right (nor do I love the lack of question mark in the title) there is something about it that I do rather like. It’s pop with a country feel, which wouldn’t go astray as the latest Taylor Swift single making radio rounds all over the place, and it plods along with a charm that I can’t pinpoint. It’s a bit repetitive and doesn’t have a huge amount of impact in comparison to other entries on offer, but it is catchy and karaoke-friendly, and the instrumentation is great. I really feel like this is a song true to its artists, and that they feel comfortable performing it. It’s not so much an arena-ready number as a lounge café gig track, kind of like Soluna Samay’s Should’ve Known Better or Anna Rossinelli’s In Love For A While. In that sense, the more at home Elaiza is when performing it, the better, because it wouldn’t work trying to be something it’s not. Stay true, ladies. 

Winner, loser or grower: Grower. 7 points.

 

GREECE

Rise Up by Freaky Fortune feat. Riskykidd 

greeceSounds like: Bom Bom by Sam & the Womp

Better than 2013: Can’t…answer that…Too…hard!

Top 10 material: Yes

IMO: I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this before, but I’m a sucker for a trumpet riff. Such instrumental inclusions into songs are the main reason I still go crazy for Ovo Je Balkan and Be My Guest, to name just a few examples. Greece, doing Eurovision in their normal effortless style, have put rap and some smooth verses to a dance beat and thrown in one of those trumpet riffs for Copenhagen, and the result is right up my street. Yes, I know this isn’t the height of originality, but how many songs are these days? All I know is that it makes me happy and makes me want to dance, and so I’ll be going for the Greeks this year despite the lack of free alcohol. Of course, my opinion on Rise Up has not at all been swayed by the through-the-roof hotness level of the three guys fronting it. Both Freaky Fortune and Riskykidd are welcome to turn up at my door and propose to me any day. But like I said, my love for them has nothing to do with my love for their song. It’s my personal dance anthem of the year, and I think it has the potential to work brilliantly in the Hallerne. On that note, however, I haven’t seen/heard a live performance of what is a tricky song to nail outside of the studio. Apparently their national final performance was a little cringe-worthy, so I couldn’t bring myself to watch it. But by all accounts, the boys had improved a ton by Eurovision In Concert and were on lists of the evening’s highlights everywhere. I just hope they’ve improved even more since then, and have figured out how to translate the performance successfully from poky TV studio to gigantic, flashy stage. This is Greece, so we can expect to see them in the final – but I want them to really deserve their place there. THEN I’ll decide which one of the three I’m going to marry. 

Winner, loser or grower: Winner. 10 points.

 

HUNGARY

Running by Kalláy-Saunders 

hungarySounds like: a much less annoying version of Waiting All Night by Rudimental

Better than 2013: No

Top 10 material: Yes 

IMO: After three years of being pretty awesome (2013 actually being totally awesome…KEDVESEM FTW WOOHOO et cetera) Hungary have brought something very good to Eurovision once again. Who do they think they are, Italy? Impressing has become almost routine since they made their comeback with Kati Wolf. Kalláy-Saunders has tried to represent Hungary in the past, and it’s with his best song that he’s finally won through, in my opinion. Running has so much going for it – it’s current and catchy, the tempo’s always changing to great effect, and it’s as far from contrived fluff about peace and love as you can get. That last point is proving a sore one with a lot of fans, I’ve noticed. People are having issues with the sensitive subject matter being raised in a forum like Eurovision, some going so far as to say it isn’t ‘right’. I don’t understand that mentality. A song about child abuse is just as suitable for a song contest as one about baking a cake, especially if you classify a ‘song’ as something with meaning. The subject isn’t being trivialised or used just to pull in votes. Who are we to say that it doesn’t have a greater purpose, and that it’s not important to András? As long as the entry continues to be treated as tastefully as it has been so far, I have no problem with it. It’s a damn good song, pure and simple. Subject aside, my fingers are crossed that Kalláy can nail his vocal when it counts. I don’t recall his NF performance being terrible, but the chorus of this song in particular is demanding. If all else fails, some overly-tight underwear should take care of those high notes. 

Winner, loser or grower: Winner. 10 points.

 

ICELAND

No Prejudice by Pollapönk 

icelandBest lyric: ‘I may stutter when I speak, but you don’t need to call me a freak. It’s not trigonometry…’

Better than 2013: Yes

Top 10 material: No

IMO: I’m not going to go on and on about how it was a mistake for Iceland to switch to English as they have so many times in the past, and that I now like their song less as a result…partly because you’ve all heard that rant a million times, and partly because I am enjoying the English version having grown accustomed to it. Pollapönk and No Prejudice signal the return of fun Iceland, and I missed fun Iceland. In addition to fun, this entry is retro and so deliberately uncool it is cool. It reminds me of something us Australians would hear on Triple J (a radio station that prides itself on playing home-grown and alternative music, rather than Rihanna then Avicii then Rihanna then Avicii then…) which wouldn’t always be a positive thing as I’m not the biggest fan of indie stuff (Europop and K-pop are my main areas of interest) but in this case, I’m all like YAY! I welcome the tracksuits and beards and sing-along chorus to Copenhagen, even if nobody else does. How the guys will go in the show is up for debate – I’m not convinced they’ll qualify, but it’s been a while since Iceland hasn’t, and in that time there has been 50/50 chances. Will they go through unexpectedly Lithuanian-style, or will they be too vintage and too purposely naff for European tastes? Time will tell. If I were on the jury or within voting range, I’d have to give this the thumbs up. 

Winner, loser or grower: Winner. 8 points.

 

IRELAND

Heartbeat by Can-linn feat Kasey Smith 

irelandBest lyric: ‘White lightning upon us again…’

Better than 2013: No

Top 10 material: No

IMO: And welcome to the first installment of Here’s A Perfectly Good Song That I Just Can’t Get Into! I’m your host Jaz, and tonight I’ll be telling you all about how…well, all about how this year’s Irish entry is not exactly speaking to me. I don’t really need to say anything else, but I will. Ireland’s national final (such as it was) was rather dull – you know that’s the case when all anyone can talk about is Linda Martin’s sharp tongue and death glare. Only two of the songs on offer were halfway reasonable as far as I’m concerned, and one of them was the eventual winner Heartbeat. The problem is that ‘halfway reasonable’ doesn’t cut it when compared with such classifications as ‘freaking amazing’. There isn’t anything particularly wrong with this. The Celtic flavour is pleasant, the chorus is well-written, Kasey’s a good vocalist and lovely to look at…but it’s missing something. Something that would give it punch, impact, elevate it to a level that makes me go ‘THAT is in the final for sure.’ At this point, I’m not sure at all. And to be honest, I’m not that bothered whether it qualifies or not. I do like it, and I want to get excited about it but I just can’t. Hey, that reminds me of another Celtic-flavoured song from recent history that I knew was good but could never connect with! What was it called? Oh yeah – Only Teardrops. Does that mean Ireland is going to elbow the competition out of the way and claim the top prize a la Emmelie? Stranger things have happened. Then again, Ireland isn’t even close to being a favourite in the odds, so that would be a very strange turn of events.

Winner, loser or grower: Grower. 6 points.

 

ISRAEL

Same Heart by Mei Finegold 

israelBest lyric: ‘I’m skinning you out.’ (Also the scariest lyric, for anyone wondering.)

Better than 2013: No

Top 10 material: Yes

IMO: A lot of tears have been shed since Israel failed to make the final in Malmö, 99% of which came from Moran Mazor as soon as the realisation of failure dawned. Like other countries that didn’t do as well as they’d hoped back then, Israel have taken a different approach now, choosing Mei internally and putting three of her songs to a vote. Same Heart came out on top, and it’s faring well with fans and in the just-about-concluded OGAE vote. With me…well, I hate to repeat myself, but yet again, this is a good song I don’t get. I prefer it over Heartbeat because it has more impact and drama, and more of a hook. I also enjoy the mix of English and Hebrew since the Hebrew hasn’t been thrown in as an afterthought. But the overflow of adoration for the song surprised and continues to surprise me, and now I’m wondering if Mei has a chance to make Jerusalem the hosts of the 60th ESC. That’s something I never considered purely based on my own opinion. Though it wouldn’t be my favourite winning song by any means, I would be interested to see how Israel would handle the contest sixteen years after they last had the honour. I’m also quite keen to see the live performance of Same Heart for the first time come semi final 2. Judging by how strongly Mei’s intensity and lyrical attack comes across through the music video, I’d expect her to be a powerful presence on the stage. Her TV talent show pedigree could indicate that her live vocal will be top notch too, but it’s not a certainty – the likes of Jedward and Ivi Adamou put paid to the myth that you have to be able to sing to have participated in a singing competition. More than anything, I hope Mei’s performance wins me over and makes me see what all the fuss is about. Just in case it is Jerusalem for 2015.

Winner, loser or grower: Grower. 6 points.

 

ITALY

La Mia Cittá by Emma 

italySounds like: My Life Would Suck Without You by Kelly Clarkson

Better than 2013: No

Top 10 material: Yes

IMO: No matter what Italy sends these days, whether I love it straight away or not, I always consider it high class. You can guarantee you’ll never see anything tacky or, to be blunt, crap, tarnishing the Italian brand at Eurovision. Emma’s La Mia Cittá continues the trend, smacking of the same-but-different magic that’s sent all of Italy’s entries since their 2011 comeback rocketing into the top 10. It wasn’t love at first listen for me and this song, so for a while I was wishing Emma could somehow sing her SanRemo winner of 2012, Non è L’inferno, in Copenhagen, because that had the same spellbinding quality of my beloved L’Essenziale. What she is actually singing sounded like an album filler track. But a few listens later, and voila! I was sold. I already loved everything about Emma herself – her attitude, raw voice and daring haircut high on the list – and I was always super excited that she was going to Eurovision, but now I think her entry is worth a fist pump too. It’s a solid one, catchy and energetic, and bound for glory of some sort. The woman can do ballads and rock equally well, but I think the rock really suits that catch in her voice (and that haircut). The outfits that she models in her video clip are crazy wonderful, and if she doesn’t wear something similarly ridic for the final I will be very disappointed. Even if she wears pajamas, you’d have to expect another top 10 result for Italy on the night. I’m not saying it’s a done deal, but like Azerbaijan, they just seem to do it with ease. Rock on, amici.

Winner, loser or grower: Winner. 8 points.

 

Another eight down, some number I don’t even want to consider left to go! Now it’s time for the traditional mini-ranking of all the countries I’ve just critiqued.

  1. Greece
  2. Hungary
  3. Italy
  4. Iceland
  5. Germany
  6. Israel
  7. Ireland
  8. Georgia

I didn’t give out any douzes this time, but there’s at least one more set to come before I type the last word on my review of the UK and all 37 are done. If we’ve ever crossed paths before you’ll probably know who’s definitely getting a 12, but in case we haven’t, I’ll give you a clue. Actually, no I won’t because I have to go and pick up some stuff from IKEA.

The rehearsals will continue in the Hallerne over on Eurovision Island, and I’ll be back later this week with Part 3 of the Copenhagen Reviews, feat. Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Malta, Moldova, Montenegro, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland and Portugal. Until then…

 

What do you think of the entries from Georgia-Italy? Name your personal winners, losers and growers below!

 

Copenhagen Chat | The chosen ones from the weekend, Melfest musings and my top 13

Hello, if you’re reading this! And if you’re not, then how the heck do you know what I’m saying?

It’s the middle of the week and I’m avoiding study at all costs, so what better time to review and complain about the latest developments of NF season? Let’s get straight on it.

 

The weekend’s action – Running from all the cake, and then some 

  • Latvia: We all joked about Cake To Bake joining Cheesecake in Copenhagen in what would be a very JESC pair of song selections (kid Eurovision is usually the forum for food-themed entries). Well, it’s happened, and May’s contest looks to be the biggest bake-fest since the Buranovskiye Babushki took to the stage with their wood fire oven. Seeing as I’m Team TEO, and Aarzemnieki’s song is sweet (pardon the pun) in an offbeat, lyrically questionable kind of way, that’s fine by me. Although I haven’t listened to the Latvian runner-ups which, by all accounts, were “actual songs”. I’ll leave that utter disappointment for later.
  • Hungary: It was third time lucky for Kállay-Saunders on Saturday night, when he took out A Dal with Running, which deals with a slightly heavier subject matter than dessert. He was a favourite in the strong selection, and I’m pretty pleased he won with a contemporary, catchy, non-novelty pop song. I do feel that Fool Moon had more of the magic I found in Kedvesem last year (and that chair choreography thing would have been cool if they’d taken it to Denmark) but KS still makes it 4/4 great entries for Hungary since they made their comeback in 2011. It remains to be seen whether it’ll be 4/4 qualifications also.
These two may look a bit like Ell & Nikki, but they're not running scared...just running.

These two may look a bit like Ell & Nikki, but they’re not running scared…just running.

  • Macedonia: Tijana and her surprisingly husky voice have premiered To The Sky, and it’s not bad at all. The biggest drawcard is it can’t possibly be the train wreck that was the Esma & Lozano incident. I do suspect it’ll be a grower for most people as opposed to an instant hit, and I can’t help wondering how the originally chosen entry Pobeda would have compared. The way it was described had me excited. Changing the song was a terrible move for FYROM last year, but we may never know what could have been in this case.
  • Spain: In the battle between Brequette and Ruth Lorenzo, it was Ruth who triumphed by the hem of her fancy gown in Mira Quien Va A Eurovisión. There were three songs of the Spanish five that I thought would be great choices (the other one being Jorge’s) so I can’t complain, despite Brequette being my winner. Strangely, she’s been rumoured as a UK entry (hasn’t everyone? I’m expecting to hear my name any day now) with a source alleging the BBC have poached her to sing an English version of Más. As much as I love the song, FOR GOD’S SAKE, BBC, DON’T DO IT!

 

Bits and pieces hot (ish) off the press

  • Poland: Speaking of rumours…one that turned out to be very true was that of Donatan & Cleo taking My, Słowianie to Eurovision. The Polish broadcaster confirmed the duo’s participation last night to the shock of nobody, but to the über-divided opinions of the masses. I listened to the song for the first time after the announcement (I didn’t want to love it/hate it until I knew it was going) and apart from ‘why all the boobs?’ all I could think was ‘Igranka!’. The resemblance is good because I loved/still love Igranka, but bad because that song was just as divisive, and not even a perfect performance could get it into the final. I’m afraid if Poland doesn’t at least qualify this year, they’ll opt out of the comp for good. The ESC doesn’t need to get any smaller at this point.
  • Estonia: I’ve been anxiously awaiting the Eesti Laul final for weeks, and now it’s almost upon us, with the running order draw recently revealed. I’ve only exposed my ears to three entries, all of which happened to make it into the final, and there’s one you’ll probably know I want to win above anything else – Sandra’s. Tanja’s is generic, Lenna’s is too bland, and I don’t know about the rest, but I do know that Kui Tuuled Pöörduvad is FREAKING PERFECTION (like Sandra herself) and if it wins, it will rocket straight to the top of my rankings so far. With such a great song, previous ESC experience behind her and now a plum draw in the running order (last but not least) I feel like it’s meant to be. Please, please let Estonia feel the same way!
How could anyone not vote for this face, or that awesome haircut?

How could anyone not vote for this face, or that awesome haircut?

 

Melodifestivalen: two weeks to go!

And that means we’ve heard the Swedish entry for 2014 – I just have no clue what it is. With only the second chance round left before the final, the list of songs already in is reading unpredictable. Will YOHIO manage to make it with a worse song than he had last year (in my opinion…don’t kill me, super fans) or will the international juries turn on him again? Can Sanna finally go all the way with her beautiful ballad? Or, will we see an Andra Chansen song win for the second time in a row? It’s unlikely, but after last year, I for one would never say never.

In case you’ve forgotten, here are the eight songs in it to win it at the moment:

  • To The End by YOHIO
  • Songbird by Ellen Benediktson
  • Undo by Sanna Nielsen
  • Efter Solsken by Panetoz
  • Yes We Can by Oscar Zia
  • Busy Doin’ Nothin’ by Ace Wilder
  • Blame It On The Disco by Alcazar
  • Natural by Anton Ewald

There are only a couple I wouldn’t want to see go to Eurovision, but I feel like you can’t write anyone off at this stage. It’s hard to pick a frontrunner, and even harder to imagine where the Swedish and international points might go. That will hopefully make for a nail-gnawing voting sequence that will keep me from dozing off when it takes place at 5am my time.

As I mentioned and as we all now know, you can’t discount whichever two songs emerge from Andra Chansen from the race either. I’ll be having a guess at the identity of those two on Saturday, so drop by if you want my thoughts. Otherwise, I’ll drop by your house and force you to listen to my thoughts with the threat of duct-taping you to a chair and blasting Cry Baby through your sound system for twelve hours straight. In the meantime, who do you think should get that all-important second shot?

 

Time for a top 13…

…because nobody got the chance to do a top 10. There have been six or so new additions to the class of ’14 since I last went a-ranking, so there was a lot to consider. It took me a good few minutes of blood, sweat and tears to put this together. I present to you the results, a.k.a. my personal top 13:

  1. Belarus
  2. Hungary
  3. Poland
  4. Albania
  5. Iceland
  6. Ukraine
  7. Malta
  8. Spain
  9. Latvia
  10. Finland  
  11. Italy
  12. Switzerland
  13. FYR Macedonia

I apologise, but it’s going to take nothing short of Sandra Nurmsalu to push the Cheesecake aside. What can I say? I’m easily pleased. So much so that I can’t confess to hating anything so far. There’s the meh/yet to grow category, and that’s as low as it goes.

Let me know how your top 13 is looking down below, so long as you’re in the mood for intense arguments over other people’s horrifying musical taste.

 

Coming up this weekend are seven national finals of sorts, kicking off on Friday with Ireland and concluding on Sunday with Azerbaijan, and France’s announcement that TwinTwin are going to Copenhagen (hopefully). It’s a busy one, so put aside all other responsibilities such as bill paying or school work or that knee reconstruction you’ve been waiting to have for eighteen months, and get your streams ready. I’ll be here on Saturday to discuss the chaos. #JoinUs?

EBJ Signature