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VOTE FOR THE WINNERS! Have your say in the 2018 EBJ Eurovision Excellence Awards

***UPDATE: The People’s Choice polls are now CLOSED. Thanks for voting, and stay tuned for the results!***

 

Good day to you, sir/madam! We might be slipping into the ESC off-season (when the contest landscape is bare except for an occasional tumbleweed blowing through), but for now ‘tis still the season to be jolly – I mean, we’re not done dissecting Eurovision 2018 yet. Well, I’m not. You can’t have a love affair that passionate end and then move on in a matter of weeks.

This time of year is traditionally reserved for handing out post-show accolades, so naturally my version of Eurovision awards is coming back with a vengeance. Yes, it’s EBJ Eurovision Excellence Awards time again. And as usual, I’m starting the proceedings by letting you decide the winners of a whole bunch of trophies (trophies not designed by Kosta Boda, but designed by me using MS Paint because I’m sadly lacking in PhotoShop). So flex those voting fingers and prepare to pick your favourites in the categories of The Artists, The Songs, The Show and The Results. I’m counting on you to crown some alternative Lisbon champions – after all, it makes less work for sometimes-lazy me.

Vote while you can…the People’s Choice polls are now open!

 

 

Miss Congeniality

Last year’s winner Alma

She’s friendly, she’s fun, and she’s the female singer of 2018 you’d choose to hang out with above all others. It’s about personality rather than looks for this award (though all of these ladies are beautiful on the outside AND the inside).

 

Mr. Congeniality

Last year’s winner Nathan Trent

Now it’s time for you to pick the most personable male artist who charmed both fans and the media in Lisbon. You’d take a road trip with him without hesitation, because you’d be guaranteed a great time and a lot of laughs!

 

The Young Achiever Award

Last year’s winner Kristian Kostov 

Age ain’t nothing but a number, and it definitely doesn’t stop those with a little less life experience taking on Eurovision. Which member of Portugal’s 21-and-under club impressed you the most on and/or off the stage?

 

Dancefloor Filler of the Year

Last year’s winner Hey Mamma

Whether you were in the Euroclub, at a Eurovision party or home alone in your pajamas, there had to be at least one song this year that you couldn’t resist dancing to – and will be playing again any time you need to add some life to a future party.

  

Best Music Video

Last year’s winner Belgium

We don’t get preview videos from every single country competing in the contest, but the bunch we do get often bring their A-game. 2018 was no exception, so let’s see which video you think is the best of the best! If you need a refresher, check out all of the nominees here.

 

The Salvador Sobral Award for Performance With The Most “Feelings” 

***NEW AWARD*** 

Music isn’t fireworks, it’s feelings – at least, that’s what 2017’s Eurovision winner told us. Emotion on the Eurovision stage is easy to find, whether it’s happiness, sadness, anger or something else entirely. Which artist from Lisbon’s line-up had their heart well and truly on their sleeve, and made you feel all the feels too?

 

Best Prop/Gimmick

Last year’s winner Azerbaijan

The Eurovision stage sees more stand-out props and gimmicks than any other, and they (usually) add something special to a performance. Vote for the little – or large – extra something that made you say ‘Wow!’ this year.

 

Best Performance from the Big 5

Last year’s winner United Kingdom

There are always musical hits and misses from France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK – but this award is for the country that stood out on stage when compared to their fellow automatic finalists (the hosts not included).

 

The Host With The Most

Last year’s winner Volodymyr ‘Vova’ Ostapchuk

Having not one, not two, not even three…but FOUR female hosts this year was intense. But hey, it gives us a lot of choice when choosing the one that stood out from the others. Go forth and name a name from the 2018 hostess squad!

 

OMG Moment of the Year

Last year’s winner The Ukrainian butt-flasher crashes Jamala’s performance

There were many jaw-on-the-floor occurrences this year, and not just during the performances – the rehearsals and results provided some WTF moments too. Which one saw you shocked to your very core…or compelled you to take to Twitter in total disbelief?

 

The ‘How Did THAT Happen?’ Award for Most Shocking Result

Last year’s winner Finland’s DNQ

Speaking of shocking…even the most talented predictor wouldn’t have seen some of the Eurovision 2018 scoreboard placements coming. Some countries defied expectations while others failed when we thought they’d flourish. Choose your biggest personal surprise below!

 

 

Aaaaaaaand *drumroll* your duty is done! Thanks for having your say, and stay tuned for the presentation ceremonies of the 2018 EBJ Eurovision Excellence Awards. There are plenty more trophies to be handed out in addition to the People’s Choice gongs, and you won’t want to miss out on knowing who’s taking them home to display proudly on a spotlit pedestal with a velvet rope around it (that’s not too much to ask, is it?).

 

 

 

 

RESULTS REVIEW | Facts and figures from the perplexing point-y end of Portugal’s first ESC

Well, Eurovision 2018 is over (NOOOOOOOO!!!) and we have a winner (obviously…what an anticlimax it would be if we didn’t). In case you somehow missed the entire voting sequence and haven’t been online since Italy’s final note, that winner was Israel. Netta’s Toy did what the odds had suggested she would do up until Cyprus’ Fuego overtook it last week – but she clucked her way into first place anyway, and you can’t say we don’t have the most original and unique Eurovision winner in a long while on our hands.

I’ll talk more about what I think of Israel’s win, my favourite performances and much more (and I’ll be holding the annual EBJ Awards for Eurovision Excellence) later on. The first order of business though, now that the show is done and dusted, is to check out the results. I’ve taken a look at the overall and split results from both semi finals and the grand final and pulled out some of the most interesting *she hopes* facts and figures, successes and fails and other observations for your reading pleasure *she hopes some more*.

Let me know what caught your eye, shocked you and made you cry tears of joy (or sadness…Eurovision is an emotional time) where the 2018 scoreboard is concerned in the comments!

 

 

SEMI FINAL 1  

Image credit: escxtra.com (because I couldn’t be bothered making my own when this brilliant one was already in existence).

 

THE OVERALL RESULTS

Israel won a semi final for the first time with Netta. Also qualifying more successfully than ever before were Cyprus (previous best 5th) and the Czech Republic (previous best 9th).

That second-ever qualification for the Czech Republic’s came far more comfortably than their first. In 2016, they slipped through in 9th, but Mikolas managed to fall only behind the two big bookies’ favourites, Israel and Cyprus – even without doing a backflip.

Ireland’s 6th place in the semi equals their highest qualification, achieved by Jedward 2.0 in 2012.

It was Finland who just snuck in to the top 10, out-scoring Azerbaijan by 14 points. A qualification is a qualification (and you deserved it, Saara!) but 10th is the lowest position Finland has qualified in.

In terms of my predictions (as seen on Instagram), I correctly predicted that the Czech Republic would qualify 3rd, Estonia 5th and Bulgaria 7th. Happy accidents happen, guys!

 

THE SPLIT RESULTS

Like in 2016 but unlike 2017, the televoters and jurors did NOT rank the same country first. Portugal won both votes last year, but Cyprus steamrolled the televote this year, finishing only 6th with the juries. Israel, on the other hand, won the jury vote but finished 4th with televoters – below Cyprus, the Czech Republic and Estonia (all of whom Netta obviously beat in the final).

The biggest differences between the televote and jury vote in the first semi concerned Finland (7th T/15th J), Greece (10th T/16th J) and Belgium (16th T/9th J).

Greece would have qualified under a 100% televote; Belgium and Switzerland deserved to be in the final according to the juries.

The only countries to be ranked in the same positions by both voting groups were Azerbaijan, Armenia, Macedonia and Iceland in 12th, 14th, 18th and 19th respectively. No agreeing to disagree there!

 

 

SEMI FINAL 2

Image credit: escxtra.com (again…I hope they don’t mind/notice).

 

THE OVERALL RESULTS

Alexander Rybak may not have won Eurovision again, but he is now the first person to win a semi final twice. That’s how you kick some butt! Maybe he’ll come back in another nine years and win a third SF?

The countries that qualified better than ever before this time were…well, none of them. All of this semi’s qualifiers have made it through in a higher position in the past (apart from Norway, of course).

Sweden has now qualified in the top three songs of the last six semis they’ve participated in. Of those six, five finishes – including Benjamin’s – were in the top two.

Denmark sailed into the final (pun intended) in the top five for the first time since 2013. There’s magic in them there beards, I tell ya!

As it turns out, it was Hungary who was lucky to make the final from SF2, beating out Romania by just 4 points.

I (miraculously) predicted that Norway would win this semi, Sweden would come 2nd and Moldova would come 3rd. I also thought Ukraine would finish 4th, which they did in the televote. Does that count? Am I psychic yet?

 

THE SPLIT RESULTS

Again, two different countries took the fancy of the televoters and juries – in this case, Denmark won the televote (!) and Sweden won the jury vote. Can you score points like a Scandinvian, ALL NIGHT LONG?!?!? Denmark ranked only 12th with the juries though, while Sweden dropped to 6th with televoters (not my fault – Benjamin got more than half of my 20 votes).

The most drastic differences between the televote and jury vote on Thursday night were with Denmark (as I just mentioned, 1st T/12th J), Hungary (5th T/13th J), the Netherlands (12th T/4th J), Latvia (15th T/6th J) and Malta (18th T/5th J).

Poland would have qualified under a 100% televote; Malta, Latvia and Romania, meanwhile, would have made it to Saturday if the juries had all the power.

Both parties were on the same wavelength with Slovenia, Montenegro and San Marino, whom they ranked 9th, 14th and 16th respectively.

 

 

THE FINAL   

Image credit: escxtra.com (ICYMI).

 

THE OVERALL RESULTS

Winner Israel netted 529 points in total, with 42 countries able to give them points – a little less than Ukraine’s 534 (with 41 countries available) from 2016, and a LOT less than Portugal’s 758 (with 41 countries available also). 2018’s competition was clearly more open than the two that preceded it.

Toy is Israel’s 4th winning song and first since 1998. They also won in 1978, so I guess we know who’ll be crowned champion in 2038.

Cyprus’ strut straight into 2nd place makes for their best result, having competed (mostly on, not so much off) since 1981 and only reached the heights of 5th in the BE era (Before Eleni). I have to say it: YEAH YEAH FIRE!

Four years after their epic win with Conchita Wurst, Austria pulled a bit of a (tall) dark (and handsome) horse move by finishing in 3rd. This marks the first bronze medal ranking for Austria in their ESC history. Hail Cesár indeed.

Germany surprised many of us (i.e. me) with a stunning 4th-place finish. This comes after an über-awful run of results that left them languishing in 21st, 18th, 27th, 26th and 25th from 2013-2017. Could they be the new Belgium?

Italy’s (again, surprising) top five finish adds a 6th top 10 finish to the collection they’ve amassed since their 2011 comeback. Power to the message song!

As expected – once Mikolas Josef got out of hospital – the Czech Republic outdid any contest outcome they’ve had before by a million miles. Qualifying once in 2016 and finishing last in the final was their personal best until Saturday night. A substantial televote allowed them to leapfrog into 6th place, no lie (HA HA HA), and I feel strangely like a proud mother despite having no Czech ancestry whatsoever.

Sweden found themselves in the top 10 for the fifth year running, though not in their usual style (I’ll get back to that). Estonia, meanwhile, made it after DNQs in 2016 and 2017. Moldova dropped to 10th from last year’s 3rd, but since that’s two top 10 results on the trot (Hey Mamma being their first song to hit those heights since 2007), I don’t think DoReDos will be unhappy with that.

Albania’s commendable 11th place came mostly via the jurors who clearly rewarded Eugent’s INCREDIBLE vocals. I’m fine with that – the man is a powerhouse, and I’m proud of Albania for qualifying and then grabbing a really decent spot after all was said and done.

Alexander Rybak must have come back to the ESC with the intention of winning again, but that was always going to be the toughest of tasks. What ultimately happened was that Norway became the first country to win a semi final, then finish outside of the top 10 in the final. Hey, at least it’s another milestone for Rybak…just not the kind he was hoping for.

I can’t not be a little devastated for Australia and my girl Jess Mauboy, after we ended the evening with our worst result ever. But we still qualified comfortably, and Jess did an amazing job in the final (that I think deserved a better deal, but I’m biased). She left nothing in the tank, and the crowd LOVED it.

We’re all aware of the Eurovision Curse of Number Two, but Saara Aalto’s personal curse of a similar nature struck again in Lisbon – only this time, she wasn’t just behind the winner, but just ahead of last-placed Portugal. Ouch. I’d predicted Finland to wind up mid-table, so that’s a bit of a shocker. But maybe they threw a bit too much at the staging and people didn’t know where to look (a problem shared with Malta).

 

THE SPLIT RESULTS  

We had a clear televoting winner and a nose-ahead jury winner this year. Eventual all-around champ Israel snatched the public vote preference from Cyprus by a 64-point margin, finishing third with the juries; and Austria (the most pleasant surprise of the night) pipped Sweden by 18 points with the professionals…despite ending up with the 13th-highest televote.

Sadly for our hosts Portugal, the one thing televoters and jurors agreed on during the final was that O Jardim should be ranked last. I’m not quite sure how the heck that happened – I thought Claúdia was mesmerising, and not just because her hair had reached new and extreme levels of pinkness. Whatever went wrong, Portugal can now join the unfortunate club of countries who have dropped as far down the scoreboard as possible from one contest to the next (but if it helps, at least they weren’t slapped with a big fat zero á la Austria 2015).

Inconsistencies between the televote and jury vote were all over the place in the final, and in a big way. The most notable differences, from least OMG to most OMG were re: Austria (13th T/1st J), Australia (26th T/12th J), Italy (3rd T/17th J), Denmark (5th T, 20th J), Ukraine (7th T/26th J), and Sweden (23rd T/2nd J). Australia’s televote bomb and Sweden’s whopping difference of 21 places between televote ranking and jury ranking were the revelations that had my jaw on the floor. I have no explanation for those, and I am NOT AMUSED.

 

 

Which scores and split results caught you by surprise, and which ones were exactly what you were expecting? Let me know below!

 

 

 

 

FUEGO, FASHION FREAKSHOWS AND FAILS: The good, the bad and the “other” of Eurovision 2018’s first semi final

Not only has Eurovision 2018 arrived – it’s begun with a bang, as 10 semi-finalists became bonafide finalists and 9 poor non-qualifiers (including one angry Swiss woman in a hat, so I heard) were sent packing last night in Lisbon. There’s a lot to talk about and a lot of opinions to be aired, and I’m about to talk and air mine for anyone who’s interested!

BTW, if you were wondering why my qualifier predictions didn’t pop up here on EBJ pre-semi, it’s because I posted them on my Instagram and Twitter. If you want to see how accurate I was (before I mention it later in this post) and don’t want to miss my predictions for the second semi – or the final – make sure you follow me socially @EurovisionByJaz. All the links are in the sidebar.

Now, let’s have a chat about the yays, the nays and everything else that caught my attention during yesterday’s first semi final.

 

 

THE GOOD

I’ll start with perhaps Portugal’s biggest triumph as a first-time hosting nation: the visual delivery of the 2018 theme/concept/slogan. I was already shipping a Eurovision with a nautical overtone (though those terrible puns from Daniela nearly put me off entirely) and I wasn’t disappointed with the beautiful intro/interval graphics and postcard transitions.

Also tapping into the theme was the stage – obviously. As a non-rehearsal watcher, last night was the unveiling of it in action for me, and I have to say the design and lighting setup was impressive. It looked LIT AF, in fact (pardon the pun/irritating Gen Z slang). I did end up missing the LEDs a fair bit, but I’ll get to that.

Onto the cream-of-the-crop performances now, and the first to get me on my feet was my second favourite, the Czech Republic and to think there was a chance Mikolas might have had to withdraw only a week ago! It’s a Paula and Ovi miracle (definitely not a Samra miracle) that he got off the hospital gurney and back into his braces with time to spare. You could tell he was treading carefully, but with the backing dancers providing the gymnastics and Mikolas himself compensating with backpack-loads of attitude, no enjoyment was lost for me. I would have voted the SHIZ out of this if I could have (and I’m flexing my texting fingers for the final, Mr. Josef…don’t you worry).

Israel, as I expected, did not come across as the winner we thought it would be up until recently (it’s just too motherbucking bonkers). But Netta is absolutely adorable, and I’m filing her performance under my highlights because the replication of Toy’s vocals live – without the infamous looper – was surprisingly slick and almost studio-perfect. Best hairstyle of the night by far, too: Princess Leia plus My Little Pony is a good combo.

The most impressive three minutes on that impressive stage, in my opinion (like I’d be typing out anyone else’s opinions), belonged to Estonia. Wow, wow and more wow. I didn’t think Elina needed that crazy expensive dress clashing with her undeniable vocal talent, but it turns out I would have missed it if it wasn’t there. She is stunning, the vocals were exquisite, and I think the dress projections were worth Estonia’s spending spree. It helped score them their first qualification since 2015, after all. As for a win now they’re in the final…I’m not convinced, but this certainly stands out (and Elina literally stands about six feet over everyone else).

The touching, pan-European Amar Pelos Dois do-over defrosted even my icy, unfeeling heart – but any tears that sprung up in my eyes could have come at the sight of a) Svala, after I’d just seen Our Choice be the biggest glow-down in ESC history, or b) Norma John, which triggered the memory of Finland’s shock DNQ last year. Or maybe even Kristian Kostov, because he’s so damn dope and so much cooler than I will ever be. I don’t begrudge (much).

Now, on the results…after all my see-sawing when trying to predict the SF1 qualifiers, I ended up not being shocked at all, after revising my guesses mentally once all 19 performances were through. I got 8/10 Qs correct (I’d anticipated Azerbaijan and Greece rather than Albania and Ireland) which was good news for me (I didn’t humiliate myself! YAY!!!). And I also felt that the results made sense. Albania and Ireland definitely deserved to make the final – Eugent on those powerful, flawless vocals alone. As for Azerbaijan, who have now lost their 100% qualification record – well, I saw it coming after a okay performance of an okay song from Aisel. Maybe that will teach the land of (yeah yeah yeah) fire to rely on sound-alike Swedish productions.

 

 

THE BAD

Here’s something I knew months ago: four hosts is too many. Something else I suspected that was confirmed last night: a script not written by Edward af Sillén is massively inferior to a script Sweden’s 2018 commentator did pen. Contrived, clichéd, and packed with jokes that nobody of sound mind would find funny, this script (and the people reading it…sorry, ladies) will not go down in history as one of the contest’s best. Fortunately, we’re really here for the music and results announcements that nearly push us over the edge, and Portugal has delivered on both of those fronts so far.

Belgium’s three-year run of success came to a screeching halt after Sennek turned out a reasonable but not spectacular performance of A Matter of Time. I never connected with this song on the same level as Rhythm Inside, What’s The Pressure and City Lights – I didn’t feel that it had as much to offer. It wasn’t the car crash I semi-expected live, but girl was NERVOUS and it showed (and not in a vulnerable, ‘We MUST vote for her!’ way á la Blanche). Also…WTF was she wearing? I can only assume it’s an oversized lampshade from Ikea’s upcoming collection that she borrowed from work. Yikes.

The aforementioned Kristian Kostov left Bulgaria with big shoes to fill, and I don’t think Equinox was up to the task. Sure, they qualified, but I found their performance of Bones overly cold and a little uninteresting – visually boring too, which is unusual for a Sacha Jean-Baptiste creation. Bulgaria aren’t winning Eurovision 2018, and I’ll be very surprised if Equinox come close to Kristian’s second place.

When it comes to ‘What were they thinking?’ moments, Macedonia gave us the whole enchilada.  Aimless wandering and a ridiculous costume that was then ripped off to reveal an even more ridiculous (and very distracting) one equaled staging that made a messy-sounding song look messy as well. If Marija had put her tuxedo jacket on the right way round and kept it on, some dignity would have been retained, but…oh dear.

Just because my jaw wasn’t on the floor during the results doesn’t mean I wasn’t heartbroken by a few DNQs. Armenia – my bronze favourite of the year – hit the hardest, even though I understand why the televote wouldn’t have been strong enough for Sevak. I do think we’ll see that the jury vote for Armenia was stronger, but even so there wasn’t enough going on during his performance to make it exceptional (the vocals were exceptional, though).

I was also disappointed by Switzerland not making it. Zibbz produced such a cracking performance of Stones that I expect to see them in 11th – 12th or 13th at the lowest – when all the stats come out post-final. Apparently Corinne was raging in the green room after her country’s name didn’t leave any of the hostesses’ lips, and I can’t say I blame her. You let it out, Coco.

  

 

THE “OTHER”

As impressed as I was by the overall look of the Altice Arena stage and the flexibility of the lights, I felt that the lack of LEDs was clear in the stage not looking as different for each performance as it usually would. Some countries – Austria and Cyprus, for example – transformed the stage, but for the most part it felt like 19 acts competing on the same platform with the same background, rather than 19 unique ‘looks’ being created. I appreciate what RTP was trying to do by scrapping built-in screens, but it backfired a bit. I’d like to see them back in 2019.

It’s not that often we see artists failing to mask their nerves on stage, but there were a couple of obvious shaky hands last night – and neither of the people those hands belonged to managed to make it to the final. I’m talking about Alekseev and Sennek, who I couldn’t help feeling sorry for. I’m surprised Alekseev kept his hold on that rose for as long as he had to. Maybe he listened to Hey Ya by OutKast as part of his pre-performance routine and decided to ‘shake it like a Polaroid picture’. You never know.

There were a handful of performances that I felt were missing something – something that, if heard or seen, might have elevated them to exceptional. For Belarus, I’d say it was the original version of Forever. The less dramatic piano-heavy revamp took away a big chunk of impact, and made the performance feel like it was lumbering along. For Croatia, I wanted darker, moodier lighting and a spotlight on Franka to up the glamour and sex appeal (not that she herself needs much help in those areas *fans self*). And for Austria, the only thing I’d pick on is the unseen backing singers. I think Cesár needed them to strut out onto the platform behind him for the final chorus (like he did when singing backup for Poli Genova in 2016) to make the stage feel less empty and remind us that the gospel backing wasn’t coming from some mysterious disembodied choir.

As we all know, Cyprus was the one to overtake Israel in the odds a few days ago, and while Eleni’s performance was as fiery as Fuego needed it to be (and let’s get this out of the way – she is as HOT AS HELL, and I say that as a straight woman) I’m having trouble seeing it as a winner. I don’t think we’re quite going to get to Cyprus next May, though I am willing to stand corrected if it means a second sun-and-sea contest in a row (one I might actually be attending).

 

 

That’s all I’ve got to say on Lisbon’s first semi final at this point – I’m actually amazed I word-vomited this much after a basically sleepless night (the 3am wake-ups are worth it, but they’re hard work). Let me know in the comments what you thought of the show, how your predictions panned out and how many of your favourites you’ll get to see compete on Saturday night.

One down, two to go! Eurovision 2018 is still in its early stages y’all, and I am PSYCHED! Half of the second semi’s points will be handed out tonight in the jury show: excitement. It’s an unpredictable year: excitement. Anything could still happen…MASS EXCITEMENT. Seriously, I’m in need of some tranquilisers here (and I wish I didn’t have to go to work tomorrow, because AS IF I’ll be able to concentrate on anything not related to Eurovision right now).

 

Anyway…I’ll see you after semi 2 for more post-show verdicts!

 

 

 

 

THE EBJ EUROVISION 2018 REVIEWS: Round 6 (Belgium, Czech Republic, Germany, Israel, Macedonia + San Marino)

I have to open this post with three letters: OMG!!! As I type this, Eurovision 2018 rehearsals are underway, with the semi 1 first halfers taking to the stage yesterday and the second halfers going through the motions right now. It still feels surreal that we’ve reached this point already. Didn’t Salvador only win in Kyiv like, three months ago?

As you’ll know if you’ve hung out with me and my blog before, my golden rule is to NEVER watch the rehearsals. I like to keep things fresh for when I fall out of bed onto the floor at 3am for the live shows (that’s why I also haven’t listened to any of the songs in full for a good six weeks). So you won’t find any analysis of who’s nailing and failing their practice runs on the Altice Arena stage here. It’s not like there’s going to be a shortage of that stuff anyway, and I’m sure you know where to find it: my favourites are ESC Xtra, my Aussie girl Anita at Eurovision Union, and ESC Insight for the daily podcasts. But I do offer catty/complimentary comments on Twitter based on descriptions I’ve heard and photos I’ve seen – #professional. Head over there and follow me @EurovisionByJaz for many Mikolas Josef well-wishes and reaction GIFs.

What you will find here is the continuation of my 2018 reviews, as I trudge towards the finish line approximately 150 kilometres behind everyone else. I still get an ‘A’ for effort, right? There are three rounds left for me to bring to you guys, and today’s is all about Belgium, the Czech Republic, Germany, Israel, Macedonia and San Marino. Want to know what I think of the songs Sennek, Mikolas, Michael, Netta, Eye Cue and Jessika feat. Jenifer packed in their Portuguese suitcases? Then keep reading – and don’t forget to comment your thoughts on these tracks + vote in the Round 6 poll. How else am I supposed to know how much you all disagree with me?

 

 

My thoughts Pressure (whatever that is, says Laura Tesoro) on Belgium this year was sky-high, as we wondered if they would maintain the run of Eurovision magnificence that began with Loïc Nottet in 2015. The simple question is, have they done so with Sennek and A Matter of Time? And the not-so-simple answer from me is the following. The thing is, if I loved Rhythm Inside 100% (which I did), I loved What’s The Pressure 90% of that, and City Lights 90% of that. And as much as I want to say my love for A Matter of Time is at 70% or more, the reality is that I don’t love it at all. My brain says ‘This is a damn good song, Jaz, don’t you reckon?’, but my heart says ‘Nope’. It leaves me feeling absolutely nothing. We seem to have a James Bond theme at every ESC these days, and sometimes they do connect with me and give me all the feels (sorry, Renaida possessed me for a second there) but Sennek’s gives me none. No goosebumps, no heart palpitations, no need to call an ambulance due to the sheer shock of how amazing it is whatsoever. I can’t put my finger on why not. It’s polished and sophisticated; cinematic in its drama (totes appropes for a song that should accompany footage of Daniel Craig kicking the asses of fifteen assassins at once); original for what it is, with melodic twists and turns that flow well but make sure there’s no time to get bored; and it’s performed beautifully by Sennek (in studio). So what’s wrong with me? Why don’t I adore this? Why am I more excited by the prospect of Sennek’s visual merchandising work for Ikea than by the prospect of seeing this performed live for the first time? If anyone out there is an amateur or professional psychologist  and can offer some insight into my severe Belgian mental block, please let me know. In the meantime, I’ll offer some insight on how I think this will do in Lisbon. Once again Belgium is competing in the first semi, which as we all know is the Semi of Death and Destruction and Weeping Eurofans Worldwide. But since Sennek was a contender FTW in the odds, I’d say she’s on the borderline between certain qualifier and a ‘most likely to’ qualifier. In other words, I won’t be splashing any cash on her to make the final, but I do expect to see her there (especially because I don’t ‘get’ this entry, which means it’ll probably do well because that happens every year). As for what will go down on the Saturday night: well, with a good vocal performance and modern, atmospheric staging, a fourth consecutive top 10 place for Belgium wouldn’t come as a surprise – but I’m thinking 11th to 15th at this point.

2017 VS 2018? Blanche = better. I’m not sure how anyone could argue with that.

My score 7

 

 

My thoughts If I was giving out an award for the biggest Eurovision glow-up from 2017-2018, the Czech Republic would win it without even trying. I never had a major vendetta against Martina’s My Turn last year, but that’s because it was so bland – bland enough to be one of my least favourite entries of Kyiv. Fast forward twelve months, and the Czech Republic is not only right up in my top 3 for the year, they’re also in the mix to win the entire thing. WTF?!? This almost-favourite status is unprecedented for a country with a disastrous track record, feat. two semi final last places and another last place in the only final they’ve managed to make it to. But I have no hesitation in saying that Lie To Me is the Czechs best entry ever by a million miles. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat after dreaming that Mikolas wasn’t chosen to go to Portugal – that’s how much of a missed opportunity picking anything else would have been. Lie To Me is the musical love child of Problem by Ariana Grande and Talk Dirty by Jason Derülo, with ridiculously wonderful lyrics fired at us a mile a minute until the sparser, smoother, sing-along chorus drops. The trumpet riff pulls you in instantly (what a great way to start a song) and rivals Hey Mamma for catchiness. This might come across as a novelty song in some ways, but at its core it’s epic R&B-pop that’s impossible to ignore even if you don’t like it (but if you don’t, I’m afraid we can’t be friends). It’s urban, fun, a little bit NSFW even though it’s been cleaned up for the contest, and full of attitude. And let’s not forget Mikolas’ charisma and swag, both of which are on the favourable side of the ‘Am I A Douche or Not?‘ spectrum. If I had to pick on something, I’d say I’m not sure about the backpack (or the camel…it’s in the lyrics/music video, and all I can think of based on the song’s subject matter is that its presence has something to do with humps). But I firmly believe that Lie To Me can not only fly into the final, but that Mikolas can ride that camel all the way to the podium. I can’t imagine a song with lyrics like “I know you ‘bop-whop-a-lu bop’ on his wood bamboo” (the tip of the OMG lyric iceberg) actually winning, but 3rd would be a mighty fine spot for the Czech Republic to score. Beyond fine, in fact. Let’s make it happen, Team Miki (and jurors, who will hopefully not think this is offensive and mutter stuff about ‘The youth of today’ as they rank it right at the bottom).

2017 VS 2018? Do I even need to answer this? 2018!!!

My score 12

 

 

 

My thoughts Oh, Germany. What happened to you? 2010 was a turning point that ground to a screeching halt in 2013 with a great song + bad staging. That was followed by a decent but not memorable song, a nul pointer, a great song + terrible costume choice, then a song last year that was destined to do nothing on the scoreboard. This might sound harsh, but there are a lot of countries that deserve an automatic spot in the final more than Germany does at the moment. They’re certainly not making the most of their Big Five status, and I think that trend has continued with You Let Me Walk Alone. It’s supposed to be a sentimental tearjerker of a piano ballad about Michael’s late father – I say ‘supposed’ because the sentiment is lost on me, and my eyes are drier than a desert when I’m listening to it. Does that make the song artificially emotional, or am I a cold, unfeeling witch who should go and live the hermit life in an isolated mountainside cave? Maybe don’t answer that. I am sorry that I don’t feel what I “should” be feeling here (and I’m sorry for Michael’s loss) but this does even less for me than Belgium’s song. It’s musical wallpaper. I do actually like the pre-chorus, because that’s where the lyrics are least cliché and the melody is worth an approving nod. If the rest of the song was more like that part, I wouldn’t be wearing my Negative Nancy t-shirt right now. But as it is, if I do the mental test of asking myself ‘Would this qualify if it was competing in a semi?’, my personal answer is no, I don’t think so. But hey, since Germany has a talent for dragging good songs down with bad staging choices (occasionally…I don’t mean to be a bitch about this) perhaps they’ll do the opposite this year and elevate YLMWA to a place where even I can appreciate it. Then again, I have heard they’re using the old photos-in-the-background trick which doesn’t bode well – I hate that almost as much as I hate cover albums (and I really hate cover albums). Regardless of what Michael is surrounded by, standing on top of or wearing, I think his song will get lost in the 26-song grand final, unless it’s tacked on to the end of the running order (unlikely). I cannot see him faring much better than Levina, but don’t be too hard on me if I’m spectacularly wrong and Germany goes top 10. That would be kicking me while I’m already down, and while I’m confused.

2017 VS 2018? 2017, I guess. Can you feel the lack of enthusiasm?

My score 5

 

 

 

My thoughts Here it is: the bookies’ favourite and runaway winner of the OGAE Poll. This time last year I could have said the same thing about Italy, and we all know what happened to Occidentali’s Karma when the actual contest came around. Thanks to Francesco’s 6th place, we have to question whether Netta will also fall short of pre-show expectations, or if she’ll she do an Alexander Rybak right in front of Alexander Rybak. I feel like it’s one of the two, but more on that after I’ve talked about Toy itself. You might remember that I was never sold on Occidentali’s Karma as a winner, and I have similar gut feelings about Toy…only they’re more fragile feelings this time (which tells me Netta is more likely than Francesco was to steamroll her opponents into submission). Once again I’ve found myself fond of, but not crazy about the song that’s been crowned The One by masses of Eurofans. The thing I do absolutely love about this entry is how original it is, to the point of being riskily so. It’s great to see a country go out on a limb instead of playing it safe. There is no doubt that this stands out from start to finish, and not just because Netta has her vocal looper in tow. The music is inventive, the lyrics are clinically insane but iconic as heck (I don’t know exactly what ‘taking my Pikachu home’ means, but I’m on board with it) and the energy is unrelenting. This is the kind of song that makes me wish more than ever that I was going to Eurovision this year so I could mosh to it. Toy has spawned memes and merchandise, not to mention an epidemic of clucking chicken impressions (a vaccine is currently in development) and that impact can’t be ignored. However, as I said, the song is not keeping my boat especially buoyant, if you know what I mean (translation: it doesn’t float my boat as much as a lot of other entries do). I can praise its originality until the end of time, but I couldn’t honestly say I’ve fallen in love. That might be why I’m not convinced of Israel’s winning chances – I’d prefer plenty of other songs to win. Still, I genuinely see road blocks for Toy to get over that were not in the pathway of Fairytale and Heroes, for example. I said it about the Czech Republic and I’ll say it again about Israel: As much as I want a fun-filled banger of a winner, I can’t imagine a song with lyrics like Toy’s winning the whole contest. And I have to wonder if, because the majority of people going crazy over this are firmly in the Eurovision bubble, first-time listeners/viewers will react to it in the same hugely-positive way. It could be an assault on the senses live on the big stage (not that I’d advise Israel to go for tasteful and understated. That’s fine for France but a mismatch for them). If not Israel to win though, then who? My ideal situation would be for a country we haven’t focused on that much to step up their game during the rehearsal period and say ‘I have ARRIVED!’ – partly because I hate a predictable winner; partly because I want a song I love to win, not a song I like. But majority rules. If the Eurovision roadshow is meant to go to Tel Aviv or Jerusalem in 2019, that’s where it will go and I will have to live with it.

2017 VS 2018? You might question my sanity, but I honestly prefer I Feel Alive (and not just because Imri is a beautiful creature/hopefully not a stupid boy).

My score 7.5

 

 

 

My thoughts Macedonia had a similar contest experience to Italy last year in terms of being hyped and then missing the expected mark. Dance Alone was fanwank material that wouldn’t have been so highly regarded if Sweden had sent it, but because it came from Macedonia it was a pleasant surprise. Only the overwhelming love from fans (excluding me since I was never that into it) didn’t transfer into ESC success, and FYROM failed to even qualify. Is the same story being written for Macedonia as we speak? Lost and Found is a somewhat surprisingly high-quality song that has been hyped and showered with affection, but may struggle to make it out of its semi. What’s the difference, aside from the fact that, as far as I know, neither member of Eye Cue is a) pregnant, or b) about to get engaged during a global television broadcast? It is a very different song, of course – there are actually two or three different songs within this one song – and it’s probably going to be staged in a less off-putting way than Dance Alone on the basis that Lost and Found is a warmer, more fun song. Every segment of it, like a ripe orange, is delicious and appealing; but also like an orange (I hope you didn’t think I’d stopped with the food metaphors) as a whole it is messy. We’ve got infectious reggae-pop in the verses, which follows on from the soft acoustic-style opening lines repeated throughout, which in turn leak into the upbeat dance chorus (I think it’s the chorus, anyway). They’re all catchy, all lyrically blessed and all sung beautifully by vocalist Marija – I LOVE her voice, and she’s already proven it’s like honey live. On one hand, I like how Lost and Found dips in and out of different styles, packing so much into its three minutes it’s like a lunchbox overflowing with tasty snacks. On the other hand, I’m disappointed that a song with the potential to be epic had it been cohesive is anything but cohesive. I’m still not sure if it works as a whole or not. It can’t be compared to the last entry to change things up in-song to such an extent – Icebreaker by Agnete – because that changed tempo rather than genre. The changes Macedonia makes aren’t as arresting, but are more confusing. I want Eye Cue to qualify, but at this point where I’m yet to make any official, posted-on-social-media-for-the-world-to-laugh-at predictions, I’m on the fence, and it’s hurting my brain (and my backside…it’s an uncomfortable fence) trying to answer the will-they-or-won’t-they question. So I won’t answer it right now. I’ll just say that if Macedonia does get to the final, I’m foreseeing a lower left-side placing at best.

2017 VS 2018? 2018. They’ve lost their grip on genre, but found some incredible pieces of pop.

My score 8.5

 

 

My thoughts San Marino is always a fun country to review for all the wrong reasons. They’re also a country that puts me to the test in terms of not being too insulting. Don’t be shocked to hear that I’m being tested yet again in 2018 with Jessika (via Malta) and Jeni B (via Germany). Look, I really like these girls: they’re friendly, personable and seem to be enjoying their ESC journey (which will be a pretty short one) so far. I’m happy for them to have the chance to do something so cool, especially Jessika who’s been rejected as a Maltese representative about 75 000 times and was obviously desperate to get to Eurovision (can’t blame her). But the bottom line for me is that Who We Are is TERRIBLE. To think that the Loin D’ici Straubs were partially responsible for bringing it to life is horrifying. It sounds like something the winner of Popstars might have released as a winner’s single circa 2001, but it couldn’t have been called current back then. I actually have no idea which decade this song would have been fashionable in. The sound-alike Heroes chorus is the only common trait between this and a song with the calibre to win the contest, and Jeni B’s rap is the worst rap I’ve ever heard. That’s not because she’s a bad rapper but because the lyrics she’s being forced (there must have been gunpoint involved at some stage) to rap are from Cringe City. I can’t decide if the worst part is ‘If they dissin’ you on Twitter, don’t get sad don’t be bitter’, or ‘If they say so, get in the car, rev it up and be a star.’ To say ‘What is this, Junior Eurovision?’ would be doing JESC a disservice. Okay, so the anti-bullying message is worth a round of applause – I fully support that. And, believe it or not, I don’t hate this as much I used to, but that in itself is something I hate. I did NOT want this to be a grower. It hasn’t grown beyond being the 42nd song in my top 43, but there was a time when it was right at the rear, and if it can creep up once it could creep up again. Someone should make a horror movie about a situation like this. I can see the tagline now: Who We Are Is Coming To Get You, And Jeni B Won’t Stop Until She Knows YOU Know That Jess Over Here Is A Special VIP *screams bloody murder*. To sum up, the Who We Are I wanted at Eurovision 2018 was from Norway; I don’t think anyone asked for this one. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad we have San Marino in the Euro family…but good Lordi, they need to find a way to slay. Safe to say I’m confident they’re staying behind in the semi.

2017 VS 2018? When Valentina is an option, always choose Valentina.

My score 3

 

 

31 down, 12 to go! Here are the standings now I’ve scored today’s six songs:

  1. Czech Republic (12)
  2. Macedonia (8.5)
  3. Israel (7.5)
  4. Belgium (7)
  5. Germany (5)
  6. San Marino (3)

No lie – Mikolas wins this round by a big margin. I know I’ll get some gasps for sticking Israel in the middle, but honesty is the best policy, right? Unless you’re Benjamin Ingrosso, but that’s a discussion topic for another day.

If you’re on Team Israel or you want to show your love for any of the other songs on the program today, you know what to do.

 

NEXT TIME If you’ve been keen for me to judge Denmark, Iceland, Italy, Serbia, Slovenia or the United Kingdom, then the wait is over! One is in my top 10, another is anything but, and the rest are the filling in the sandwich. Come back later this week to find out which is which.

 

 

 

 

JAZ JUDGES EUROVISION 2017 | Belgium, Croatia, Greece, Israel, Ukraine, the UK…and Russia

Happy Eurovision Eve, guys! If it’s still Eurovision Eve Eve when you’re reading this, then Happy That to you too.

As promised, I’m back with the final round of EBJ reviews for this year’s adult contest. It’s down to the wire given that Kyiv’s first semi is so close, and the jury semi even closer (timezone-ally speaking again, it may be over by the time you read this). Plus, there’s still the all-important – and in my case, hilariously inaccurate – predictions to be made, which I may end up posting on social media only (if you don’t see them here, check out my Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, all @EurovisionByJaz). So – and I’m saying this to myself – let’s have a little less conversation and a little more action, please!

Read on to find out how my guest juror/mother and I rate the entries from Belgium’s Blanche, Croatia’s Jacques, Israel’s IMRI, Ukraine’s O.Torvald, the UK’s Lucie…and yes, Russia’s Yulia. I couldn’t come this far and then leave her out, even though she’s out of the competition.

Here’s the last seven songs of 2017, according to two extremely intelligent and attractive Australian women.

*tumbleweed blows*

Moving on…

 

 

My thoughts I don’t know what’s gotten into Belgium lately, but they’ve been batting the ball right out of the field with their Eurovision entries – 2013, 2015, 2016 and now 2017 being the gold star examples (the less we say about the creepfest of 2014, the better). Blanche’s City Lights took me by surprise, because for some reason I was expecting her to be assigned some twee, folksy guitar-strummer á la Joan Franka, which is SO not up my street. I don’t know why I expected that – she must just have that look about her. Anyway, I apologise, Blanche. You/your songwriters have given us a skillfully-crafted, cutting edge alt-pop song that’s melancholy in all the right ways. If Kristen Stewart were a song, this would be it: edgy, flat and lacking in emotion, but bizarrely attractive nonetheless. There’s nothing about it I can pick on – even the repetitiveness makes it more hypnotic. Blanche’s voice is way smokier and sultrier than you’d expect from a seventeen-year-old, and it sets off the song perfectly. The contrast between Belgium last year and now (with different broadcasters behind each entry) is huge, and I love them both. The only issue is that there’s one negative difference between Laura and Blanche, and it’s to do with their on and off-stage personalities. Laura, with all of her theatre and TV experience, was a ball of energy and enthusiasm with more charisma than Triana Park’s Agnese has wigs. She charmed the press, audience and home viewers with ease. Blanche is virtually the opposite, as far as I can tell – reserved, quietly-spoken and pretty nervy on stage. Obviously she shouldn’t smile her way through performances of City Lights, since that wouldn’t make any sense. But her uncertainty and lack of emotion at times put what is a fabulous, should-be-a-surefire-hit song right into the danger zone she’s singing about being alone in. That’s why Belgium has dropped considerably in the odds since rehearsals started, and why we could be looking at a (somewhat shocking) non-qualifier here. But, not having seen any rehearsals myself and not knowing what Blanche might muster up for the jury and broadcast shows, I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt and base my score of 10 points on the song itself.

My mum says… Wow – that’s a voice with depth! I can’t believe it’s coming out of someone so young. It kind of makes Blanche the antithesis of Ireland’s Brendan. Her song is just as impressive as her voice. It doesn’t sound manufactured, and its moody in a way that kept me interested even though it was really repetitive, which is a hard thing to do. Bravo, Belgium! 8 points.

Belgium’s score 9.00

 

 

 

My thoughts There are only a few duos competing at Eurovision 2017, but Croatia’s is the most notable given that it’s a duo made up of Jacques Houdek…and Jacques Houdek. Yes, we have a man duetting with himself in the contest, via a song that isn’t so much well-blended popera as it is pop-opera with a definitive divide between the two. And it is HILARIOUS. Hilariously terrible, that is. Things don’t get off to a good start when Jacques opens with some wannabe inspirational (i.e. retch-worthy) spoken lyrics that even the most warm-hearted person would find hard to take seriously. It’s not exactly downhill from there – that, IMO, is the worst part of the song – but when cheesy lines give way to Pop Jacques and Opera Jacques fighting for attention, it’s time to laugh (because it’s absolutely mental) or cry (because it’s a Disney-fied disaster). No other song so strongly begs the question ‘What were they thinking?’ than My Friend. Yet apparently, it works well enough on stage to be in contention for qualification. Whenever I hear or see someone say that, it makes me wonder if I’ve woken up in my worst nightmare. I think the only aspect of Croatia’s entry deserving of a place in the final is Mr. Houdek himself, because he’s a top bloke with bucketloads of talent (I can’t deny that he nails both the Jekyll and Hyde vocal segments of his song). Apart from that…no. Just no. I take a little sugar in my coffee, but I don’t fill the entire cup with an unpleasant combo of white and raw, if you know what I mean. That would be way too sickly. 2 points.

My mum says… Oh my gosh. If the TV show Touched By An Angel was ever made into a musical, this would be the theme song. Not that I’d know that for sure, because I would NOT be buying tickets to see it. Is ‘abysmal’ too harsh a word to describe this song? I mean, the voices are good – great even, when you realise that they’re both coming out of the same person – but everything else is…ugh. 2 points.

Croatia’s score 2.00

 

 

 

My thoughts It’s still hard to comprehend the fact that Greece lost their 100% qualification record last year. You’d think that would be the kick in the pants they needed to reclaim their Eurovision glory days of 2004-2013, when they could hardly keep themselves out of the top 10. The announcement of Demy as their artist confirmed that, and I was excited. Then along came the three candidate songs, one of which she’d end up singing in Kyiv…and they were all utterly average and totally uninspired. This Is Love, a dance track that feels half 2000s ESC and half cookie-cutter club hit, was the best option, I’ll give them that. But all it does is satisfy the requirements for an okay pop song. It takes zero risks, feels super familiar (like it’s a Frankenstein creation of other dance songs stitched together) and doesn’t feel lyrically original. It’s not offensive, but I have no reason to fall head over heels in love with it (hence why I’ve taken to calling it This Isn’t Love in my head). It’s just there, in the line-up, not measuring up to a good 75% of the other entries. If anything can save it – and I suspect it will be saved – it’s Demy and the staging. I’m pretty confident that will get Greece back into the final, and for all I know, back into the top 10. That’s not a result I’d rejoice in, though, as much as I love Demy. She’s better than this song, and I expected something much stronger. Hashtag disappointed! 5 points.

My mum says… I have to admit, I’ve already forgotten how This Is Love goes, but when I was listening to it I was pretty bored. I feel like Greece did try to start a fire with it, but there’s just no spark. I wasn’t even moving to the music – danger alert! Demy has a nice voice, but her stage performance will have to be incredible to make up for the weaknesses in her song. 3 points.

Greece’s score 4.00

 

 

 

My thoughts It’s convenient that my random selection resulted in Israel being reviewed right after Greece, since they’re so stylistically similar. It makes it even easier for me to say that I Feel Alive is miles ahead of This Is Love in every department (in my opinion, of course). And no, that’s not because Imri has the power to melt me into a human puddle of swoonage with one brief, smoldering gaze. I’m not (quite) that shallow, guys! I just think it’s a far better and far more original song. It’s definitely more current-sounding, and I like how even though each part of the song is different, the whole thing is cohesive and the energy/intensity level never wavers. It’s also great to have a bit of ethnicity shoehorned in via the instrumental break. Overall, I find this entry very catchy and danceable, and we need some of that to break up the ballads that are a bit hard to dance to if you’re alone á la Jana Burčeska. Unfortunately, there’s a question mark over Imri’s ability to pull off a pretty tricky (if my in-shower attempts are any indication) vocal. He has enough stage presence (and muscle tone) to win people over, and as he’s sung backup for Israel the past two years in a row, he can handle the Eurovision experience in general. But can he hit those high notes? Notes that could be Jemini-level awful if he doesn’t nail them? If he wasn’t doing double duty as a singer and dancer – because I’m guessing there’s some choreography for him to work with – he’d have a better shot. But I’m worried. He has the honour of closing the second semi final, and he needs to leave a good impression behind if he wants to be the lucky charm that helped Israel make the final in 2015 and 2016. I’m not sure, but I hope that he can do it. I Feel Alive would be a cracking song to have on the Saturday night. 8 points.

My mum says… Here’s a song that had my foot tapping very quickly. That’s a good sign for me, because I react to music how I react to books: if it doesn’t grab me and make me feel something fast, I’ll give up on it. I Feel Alive is very catchy, and I love the instrumental bit that sounds a bit like an Irish jig (don’t worry, I know it isn’t). I’m keen on stuff like that! And I’m told Imri is a beautiful sight to behold, so it sounds like Israel has the total package. 7 points.

Israel’s score 7.5

 

 

 

My thoughts I know I shouldn’t be dwelling on stuff that happened during national final season, but I’m still convinced that Tayanna’s I Love You would have been one of the best host entries in Eurovision history. It’s heartbreaking that she ended up sick prior to the Ukrainian final and barely managed to sing her way through the whole song when it mattered the most. In that sense, I can see how O.Torvald won instead. Their final performance, elevated by some gruesome but awesome prosthetics that took Time literally in a jaw-dropping way, was fantastic. Sadly, that’s not the staging they’re using for the ESC (I guess it’s not that suitable for what’s considered a family show) so they’re relying more or less on song alone to get the job done. The ‘job’ being ‘host entry that scores enough points to not be an embarrassment, but doesn’t put Ukraine in danger of having to host again in 2018’. I have a feeling a right-side scoreboard finish is in the band’s future, though. Don’t get me wrong – I’m very happy to have rock in the competition. Time stands out just because of its genre, and I think it’s got a lot going for it, apart from adding variety to the grand final. But I don’t think it’s memorable enough to thrive on simplistic staging, and I can’t see it outdoing Sweden’s 2013 result with Robin Stjernberg. In fact, I’m predicting it will finish lower than that – in the 16th-20th range – in spite of the support it’ll get from the crowd, being the host entry and all. Ukraine shouldn’t suffer the indignity that Austria did on home soil in 2015, but it’s very unlikely they’ll do what Sweden did last year and finish in the top five. O.Torvald’s musical rivals are too hard to handle. 6 points.

My mum says… I don’t know why, but this reminds me of a B-side to a 1980s ballad. The music’s interesting, but I didn’t like much else. It’s quite a dramatic change from Jamala, so at least Ukraine aren’t creatures of habit. 3 points.

Ukraine’s score 4.5

 

 

 

My thoughts I’m not as partial to Emmelie de Forest as a lot of other people. Only Teardrops is far from being one of my favourite ESC winners, and I much prefer Anja Nissen’s Where I Am to the song de Forest co-wrote for her DMGP appearance last year. My point is, when I heard she was responsible for a Eurovision: You Decide song, I wasn’t exactly jumping for joy. Never Give Up On You quickly won me over, however, because I loved how bare-bones it was at the NF, with hardly any instrumentation backing it and no beat that kicked in when it seemed obvious that a beat would kick in (when Lucie hits her big note towards the end). But apparently I’m fickle AF, as I then decided the song would benefit from some sort of driving beat to give it some oomph. When the revamp was unveiled feat. just that….you guessed it, I found myself preferring the original version. The ESC version has a bit of an identity crisis – it’s halfway between understated piano ballad and soaring power ballad, with an electronic influence creeping in that does make it contemporary, but ultimately sounds wishy-washy. The UK are in danger of becoming musical wallpaper once again – but if reports on their stage presentation are to be believed, they might have hauled themselves out of trouble at the last minute. From the photos I’ve seen, they’ve gone for a gold-heavy, art-deco theme that I wouldn’t have imagined suiting the song, but it looks like the camera will love it. If it does suit the song, then this entry could be a very well-wrapped package. The song is certainly up Lucie’s alley, as it caters for both her pop side (as an ex-X Factor contestant) and her theatrical side (as a past and future star of Legally Blonde: The Musical). I’d love to see her do well, but there are better ballads that are 99% likely to make it to the final and be in direct competition with her – think Finland and Portugal. And it is the United Kingdom we’re talking about. I’m always doubtful. But you can’t say they haven’t taken the contest seriously this year, or put in the level of effort required to succeed. 7 points.

My mum says… This is very nice. I like a ballad that’s powerful without being too loud and screamy, and this definitely falls into that category. I can imagine Lucie in a long, flowy dress with the (fake, wind machine-generated) wind in her hair as she channels all of her emotion into it. Her voice is gorgeous, and it’s not hard to picture her on the West End stage…or the Eurovision stage, for that matter. I’ll have my fingers crossed for the UK, because I don’t want to have to pretend I wasn’t born there! 7 points.

The United Kingdom’s score 7.00

 

 

 

My thoughts I don’t like the way Russia’s departure from Eurovision this year played out, on the Russian or Ukrainian ends. But try as I might, I can’t help being relieved that Flame Is Burning won’t be competing in Kyiv and won’t be taking a spot in the final away from a higher-quality song. Sorry to be so blunt, but OMG, I HATE IT. Maybe that’s partly because it came from Russia, and every time they (try) and send an “inspirational” preaching-for-peace ballad to the contest, it makes my skin crawl. That doesn’t just apply to Russia, though…see my Croatia review for proof. Anyway, just as a song, if you don’t think about its origins, it’s awful. Lame lyrics, a lacklustre melody and a style that went out of style about 25 years ago do not make for something I’d voluntarily listen to. The other problem is Yulia’s thickly-accented English, which makes it hard to understand anything she’s singing (although you could look at that as a blessing). With a better song in Russian, her talents would be put to way, way better use – which, with any luck, is what’ll happen next year if Russia re-involve themselves and send her. So, the moral of my story is, I won’t miss Flame Is Burning, just like I didn’t miss Romania’s Moment of Silence last year. I’ll just feel super sorry for their performers. 1 point.

My mum says… I don’t hate this like Jaz does (which made her jaw drop about a kilometre) but it’s nothing outstanding, that’s for sure. If it was competing, it sounds like it would be forgotten five minutes after it was performed. That’s not the key to Eurovision success, is it? And her accent is so strong, it’s distracting. 2 points.

Russia’s score 1.5

 

 

I can’t believe I get to say this, but that’s it – 43/43 reviewed! The ranking for this round looks like this:

  1. Belgium (9.00)
  2. Israel (7.5)
  3. United Kingdom (7.00)
  4. Ukraine (4.5)
  5. Greece (4.00)
  6. Croatia (2.00)
  7. Russia (1.5)

Belgium (pretty unsurprisingly) takes out the nonexistent trophy, with Israel and the UK hot-ish on their heels, and the others not even lukewarm. But did Belgium do enough to top the full EBJ Jury ranking? Watch this space to find out.

How would you rank the songs we reviewed today? Would Belgium be your number one too, or is there something else floating your boat? Let me know in the comments.

I’ll probably be making another appearance here pre-semi 1, but in case I don’t, I want to wish all of you a very merry contest experience! I’m looking forward to a low-key one myself, after a few years of not watching from my couch, but I will be on Twitter, typing away through all of the live shows. Maybe I’ll meet you there? It’s going to be freaking beautiful!

 

 

 

 

THE EBJ JUNIOR JURY REVIEWS | Australia, Israel, Macedonia, The Netherlands + Serbia

This is (almost) it – we’re just about to arrive at JESC weekend, people! With all of the 2016 acts in Valletta and rehearsing like mad, it’s still impossible to predict who will win the contest in two days’ time. But that’s what makes the countdown that much more exciting.

As there aren’t many digits left in that countdown, I need to move right along with the Typically Jaz™ pre-show ramblings. On the schedule today? The fourth and final round of the EBJ Junior Jury’s reviews, feat. Australia (can I be impartial? You’re about to find out), Israel, Macedonia, The Netherlands, and Serbia.

 

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So, Alexa, Shir & Tim, Martija, Kisses and Dunja – if you happen to be reading – let’s see what the EBJJJ thinks of the songs you guys are competing with on Sunday…

 

 

australia

My thoughts As an Australian, I try to be objective when reviewing our ESC or JESC entries, and I’m pretty sure I can do it this time. It might be unfair to assume this after only two attempts, but I don’t think Australia really ‘gets’ Junior Eurovision. Apparently we get the absolute crap out of the adult contest (and I reserve the right to brag about that at every opportunity). But our mediocre result with Bella Paige’s My Girls, and the fact that we’re sending something just as “uplifting” and pseudo-inspirational to Valletta – perhaps not learning from our mistakes – is evidence that JESC may not be our thing. Alexa’s We Are seems like the result of what a few ill-informed people considered to be the ultimate contest song for kids. I don’t know if that’s actually the case, but the cheesy and clichéd lyrics, and the been-there/heard-that pop ballad style (yes, it really is My Girls all over again) give that impression. The song coasts along, doing a semi-decent job for what it is – and Alexa definitely sings it beautifully – but it doesn’t stick, and it has pretty much zero x-factor. It isn’t terrible; I was just hoping for an improvement on 2015 rather than a carbon copy. As Einstein once said, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result…so unless Alexa can pull off a performance that ticks every box – feat. perfect graphics, costumes, props and vocals – I think Australia is destined to get bogged in the sand of the average result range. How can Tania Doko, the woman largely responsible for this 90s masterpiece, also be largely responsible for We Are? PS – Is anyone else put off by the lyric referencing driving? Alexa’s not even old enough to get her learner’s permit, let alone to use operating an automobile as a meaningful metaphor in her music.

My score 6

The EBJ Junior Jury says…

  • Dara, Australia – 4
  • James, UK – 5
  • Joshua, Australia – 3
  • Matthew, Ireland – 6
  • Michael, Australia – 7
  • Penny, USA – 6
  • Rory, Ireland – 7

 

 

israel

My thoughts In a move that has officially crowned them the Azerbaijan of JESC, Israel kept us waiting as long as possible before unveiling their second-ever Junior song, following on from 2012’s Let The Music Win. We could even call Shir & Tim mini Ell & Nikki, but that’d only be because they’re a female-male duo (not because Shir struggles to sing live, which I’m sure she doesn’t). Follow My Heart wasn’t exactly worth such a wait, but I’m a fan of it anyway. What it has working in its favour includes: a) a mystical, minimal beginning that builds into something packing a punch; b) excellent use of English that emphasises the title and makes the song more interesting; and c) two voices that work well both separately and together. I feel like this is the sort of song that will thrive on being performed live, with audience and artist interaction making it more of an audiovisual spectacle. There’s room for really interesting stuff to be done with the staging too, so I hope the Israeli delegation and the Maltese techies will do it justice. Look what atmospheric staging did for Made of Starsin Stockholm! I appreciate Israel trying a different tactic for this comeback, and I think it could pay off…but a lot needs to go right at the right time for that to happen. I’ll keep my fingers crossed for Shir & Tim though, as their song has the potential to grow on me and become one of my favourites of the year.

My score 7

The EBJ Junior Jury says…

  • Dara, Australia – 6
  • James, UK – 4
  • Joshua, Australia – 10
  • Matthew, Ireland – 3
  • Michael, Australia – 8
  • Penny, USA – 7
  • Rory, Ireland – 2

 

 

macedonia

My thoughts More so than any other country that competed in JESC 2015 and is about to compete in JESC 2016, Macedonia has proven that a lot can change in a year. They’ve completely turned the tables on last year’s Pletenka – one of those ‘Junior of Yesteryear’ kid-pop songs that was enjoyable, but inevitably finished last – and recruited a girl with a more mature look and mature voice to sing a considerably more current tropical dance track. I really, really like Love Will Lead Our Way, and will probably drop the other L-bomb on it any day now. It takes the radio-friendly nature of Ireland’s entry and combines it with the youth and fresh feel of Armenia’s song to produce something infectious and fun, while still taking the contest seriously. Like Israel, Macedonia has used English cleverly for the title of the song – a title that goes on to be repeated throughout and becomes a memorable hook to reel us all in. The phrasing of both English and Macedonian in the chorus is simple but effective, making it feel like you’re listening to one language rather than two. The icing on the cake is that on-trend riff that makes me want to hit up a beach party in the Bahamas (the intended destination may have been the Balkans, but too bad). Oh, and did I mention that Martija is super-duper pretty, and that the camera loves her? Well, she is, and it does. I will admit that LWLOW probably plateaus too much to give it a winning edge, but if it doesn’t catapult Macedonia out of the bottom five and closer (or into) the top five, I will be 110% done with 2016. Love it! *drops the big L-bomb as promised earlier*

My score 10

The EBJ Junior Jury says…

  • Dara, Australia – 1
  • James, UK – 8
  • Joshua, Australia – 10
  • Matthew, Ireland – 6
  • Michael, Australia – 12
  • Penny, USA – 7
  • Rory, Ireland – 8

 

 

netherlands

My thoughts I’m not ashamed to admit that I LOVE how The Netherlands take on JESC. They don’t always finish at the top of the scoreboard (they actually haven’t had a top five finish since 2011), but their entries are consistently competent, polished and enjoyable. They’re also usually radio-friendly teen pop – think 2014/15 – or old-school Junior musical balls of energy, á la the unforgettable Double Me from 2013. This year, the Dutch have stayed true to type with the incredibly catchy Kisses and Dancin’ by Kisses (who clearly have something in common with Water of Life by The Water of Life Project). It’s the closest thing you’ll find to fairy floss in this year’s buffet, so if you have a sweet tooth, this is probably in your personal top five. I do, and it’s definitely in mine! It reminds me so much of Belgium’s Get Up!, sent to Junior all the way back in 2010, and that was a song I was obsessed with at the time (not so much these days since it’s not exactly a timeless classic, but temporary gratification is better than none at all, right?). Both songs have a similar subject matter and call to get up and/or dance that I find irresistible, but this one is even more infectious. The mix of Dutch and English is better here too. Throw in a carefree nature, positive vibes and instant memorability, and this becomes a serious competitor without taking the contest too seriously. What we’ll get as a result (keep in mind that I haven’t watched any of the rehearsals) is a feelgood, smile-provoking performance that may not have the legs to lead the pack, but should make Shalisa’s second-last place last year a distant memory. It was the televoters who led to her downfall, while the juries bumped her up – so with only juries to win over and a song that is much more childlike than Shalisa’s, it’s hard to say how high Kisses can go. But given that we are talking about Junior Eurovision, and that we have kids juries in play, I’d like to think they have an audience in the voting population who will clap-clap along with them and send some double-digit scores their way.

My score 8

The EBJ Junior Jury says…

  • Dara, Australia – 7
  • James, UK – 6
  • Joshua, Australia – 5
  • Matthew, Ireland – 8
  • Michael, Australia – 8
  • Penny, USA – 6
  • Rory, Ireland – 4

 

 

serbia

My thoughts Serbia is another country that has pinballed in a different direction, after trying something dramatic (that could have passed as an adult Eurovision entry with an age-appropriate singer) at JESC last year. Flamboyant hand gestures and massive money notes are out; hoverboards and sassy summer sounds are in, via Dunja’s U La La La. Lightening things up was a move that’s likely to pay off – even I can see that, despite this song not being one of my favourites. Dunja is a girl with grunt in her voice and more attitude than most of the other artists combined, and the song is a perfect fit for her personality and vocal talents (in studio, at least). It’s youthful, catchy, and a good combo of contemporary pop and vintage JESC kid-pop (the kind I get a kick out of because it brings back memories of when I discovered mini –Eurovision). As I said, I’m not head-over-heels in love with it, although if I tried out Dunja’s hoverboard I would definitely end up head-over-heels. But I do think it holds its own as one of the ‘fun’ songs on offer, and that it stands out style-wise. Serbian really shines in an urban-sounding song, and I respect the fact that there’s no English awkwardly inserted at the start, in the middle or at the end – it’s that native tongue all the way through, making U La La La one of just three entries to stick with a language other than the most accessible one possible. I’m not saying that will benefit or disadvantage Dunja, but I admire it no matter how she scores. I don’t really have anything else to say about this, other than ‘I last listened to it five days ago and the chorus is STILL stuck in my head’, which has to count for something.

My score 7

The EBJ Junior Jury says…

  • Dara, Australia – 8
  • James, UK – 7
  • Joshua, Australia – 10
  • Matthew, Ireland – 6
  • Michael, Australia – 12
  • Penny, USA – 12
  • Rory, Ireland – 5

 

 

Now, with those sentences about/scores for Serbia dealt with, I finally get to say this: seventeen down, zero to go! The ranking for this round is as follows:

  1. Serbia (8.37)
  2. Macedonia (7.75)
  3. The Netherlands (6.5)
  4. Israel (5.87)
  5. Australia (5.5)

Serbia takes out the top spot this time, with fellow ex-Yugo Macedonia snapping at their heels (or hoverboards – take your pick). The Netherlands didn’t kiss or dance their way beyond the halfway point, sadly, but they’ve got a good chance of doing so in the actual show (and the actual show, I’ll admit, matters a little bit more than the EBJJJ ranking). Israel and Australia *is outraged despite not loving the song* bring up the rear.

Stay tuned, because this weekend – just before the contest kicks off – I’ll be unveiling the Junior Jury’s complete 17-song ranking for you to feast your eyes on (and probably disagree with in a major way). I’ll also be posting my predictions for upper crust, bottom crust and filling of the scoreboard sandwich – i.e. which country will end up where once all of the esteemed jury members (and Jedward) have had their say. These predictions are going to be so hilariously inaccurate, you won’t want to miss them.

While you’re waiting, let me know which of today’s reviewed entries is your favourite – or which one makes you want to invest in a very high-quality pair of earplugs. Does one of these five have what it takes to win Junior Eurovision 2016? If so, say so – I need all the help I can get in finalising those pesky predictions…

 

Get ready to #embrace, everybody!

 

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REVIEWS | The EBJ Jury Judges Eurovision 2016 (Part 5)

Understatement Time: These reviews are slightly late. Let’s just say that I’ve suddenly realised how many To-Dos I have to cross off my list before I fly to Sweden’s capital on Friday night (!). Now, I’m left with three episodes of the EBJ Jury judgments to cram in before my departure. So here’s the first of those three.

 

 TODAY’S EBJ JURORS

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Mrs. Jaz, Wolfgang and I are ready to review Azerbaijan, Belgium, Iceland, Israel, Latvia and the United Kingdom – otherwise known as Samra, Laura, Greta, Hovi, Justs and Joe & Jake (they should form a supergroup…their names sound great together). Are you ready to join us? If so, read on and find out what we have to say – and how the entire EBJ Jury scores these six songs.

 

 

Azerbaijan

Mrs. Jaz Hmm. As someone who likes songs that are a little bit quirky, I wouldn’t go into raptures over this one. It’s very commercial, and it would fit right in on the radio at the moment, but that’s because it sounds like it was plucked off a musical factory conveyor belt – in Sweden, apparently. Samra’s voice is lovely, but without any trace of an accent, I had no idea which country she was representing (since the music doesn’t give any clues away either). This could have been Australia’s entry, for all I knew! I guess I’m saying that I would have liked to hear some ethnicity in there, especially as I’m told Azerbaijan usually do throw some traditional instruments into the background of their songs. That would have added more authenticity to Miracle too, which would have allowed me to connect with it as a consumer. As it stands, I can’t.

Wolfgang This miracle, so to speak, came at the last minute in a moment when I least expected one. Sometimes there are songs that need some time until I like them much, but then there are songs that I love from the very first moment. Samra’s entry belongs in the latter category. And although it is again a song composed by Swedish songwriters, and produced by Swedish producers, Miracle really has something special to me: the song is beautiful and catchy, the lyrics are great and Samra’s voice sounds amazing in the video/studio version. I only hope she will hold that standard and do an equally amazing live performance in her semi on the ESC stage. Then maybe a ‘miracle’ could happen for Azerbaijan in Stockholm. For one of my favourites this year I give 12 points and lots of love!

Jaz  Azerbaijan, turning up at Eurovision with a song written by Swedes? MADNESS…said no one ever. When you think about it, Azerbaijan (or Azurjerbin, as I pronounce it in my head in honour of Lynda Woodruff) is the most predictable participant in the entire contest. Every year, they wait until March to drop a perfectly-polished Scandipop song on us, hoping we’ll think it’s the bomb dot com. And, against all my better judgement, Samra’s Miracle is verging on being explosive material in my book. I know I should hate the fact that it’s so derivative and one-dimensional; that it’s not risky or challenging or ethnically Azerbaijani in any way. I mean, we’ve just found out that it not only sounds like a Melodifestivalen reject – it IS a Melodifestivalen reject, for Christer Björkman’s sake! But, while those aspects of the entry do play on my mind, the song is so engineered-to-enjoy – melodically, lyrically and structurally – that I can’t fight the feelings of love that overwhelm me when I listen to it. It reminds me a lot of Lisa Ajax’s Melfest entry My Heart Wants Me Dead, which I would say was superior, but that I also love – it’s the partly middle-eastern, partly WTF computer-generated noises that run throughout, mostly. The chorus is soaring, impressive and instantly memorable, worming its way into your head when you’ve only heard it once. Samra’s vocal – in studio – is as smooth as silk and/or a baby’s bum, whichever simile you prefer…and let’s not ignore the fact that she is stunning to look at. Stick her on stage (possibly on a podium) in a spotlight and a wind-machine-friendly dress, and you have the recipe for a visually and aurally appealing package that will certainly maintain Azerbaijan’s 100% qualification record. A solid result in the final isn’t out of the question, but I’m wondering if this is too “perfect” to have the impact to push it into the top 10. Winning, I’m sure, will have to wait at least another year. Who wants to head back to Baku in 2018?

The EBJ Jury says…

  • Ali 5
  • Fraser 6
  • James 7
  • Jaz 10
  • Martin 7
  • Mrs. Jaz 6
  • Nick 5
  • Penny 8
  • Rory 4
  • Wolfgang 12

Azerbaijan’s EBJ Jury score is…7

 

 

Belgium

Mrs. Jaz Now THIS is up my street – a song that has me yelling ‘Somebody get me some roller skates and take me back to the disco era, ASAP!’. I don’t know how it would go getting radio airplay and climbing up the charts outside of Belgium, but I do know I really like it. What’s not to like? It’s catchy and high on energy, and unwaveringly uplifting. The cherry on top is the fact that the intro sounds like Another One Bites The Dust. When you’ve got Queen in your corner, you’re all set.

Wolfgang It’s not about Laura Tesoro – she surely is a nice artist and has a voice (not THE voice, in my opinion), but it’s all about her song What’s The Pressure that does not appeal to me. I normally like funky and soulful songs a lot, but in this case she seems to be too young and inexperienced for the song. In the Belgian national final, her vocals sounded so try-hard that I got the impression the song’s simply too difficult for her vocal abilities. On the other hand, Laura is a powerhouse, and knows how to perform on stage well. Maybe her performance will help to compensate for some weak vocals, or one or two wrong notes. But I guess the ‘pressure’ will be very high for her to qualify to the final this year, with so many stronger competitors. In my opinion, it will be an ‘Iris’ year for Belgium in Stockholm. I don’t see this entry going anywhere.

Jaz  I would have felt sorry for whoever succeeded Loïc Nottet as Belgium’s representative. The shoes he left behind for Laura (who turned out to be that ‘whoever’) to fill were inhumanly large – Bigfoot might have been a better choice, but he wasn’t shortlisted for Eurosong unfortunately (though can’t you just see him hip-thrusting through a Thomas G:son dance banger?). I personally would have preferred Adil Arab to be the successor in question, which you might think is setting the tone for the remainder of this review. However, I am a fan of Laura and What’s The Pressure. I was more of a fan back when she was selected, and all Eurovision 2016 had to its name was a handful of songs. As time went on and the entry forms were filled out by twenty, then thirty, then forty-plus countries, Belgium’s follow-up to Rhythm Inside wore a little thin, and sounded kind of pedestrian. But while it is pedestrian in terms of quality, it’s also pedestrian in terms of pace – as in, you can power-walk your butt off (sorry for all the bum references I’m making today) to it as it trumpets along. There’s a heap of energy on show, and a sense of fun that Laura manages to project every time she’s performing it. It does suffer from ‘Haven’t I Heard That Somewhere Before?’ Syndrome – in this case, I hear a fusion of Uptown Funk and Sax – but that recognition factor might actually work in Laura’s favour. She’s closing semi two, so if any of us are flagging by the time the end draws near, she’ll pump us up again – but that could be her only purpose. WTP can easily be compared to Finland’s Sing It Away in that it’s a pretty dispensable party track. It doesn’t really fight for a final place, so if it gets one, I suspect it will be due to a 9th or 10th place in the semi rather than a top five. I don’t think last year’s brilliant Belgian result was a fluke, but I do think they need to rediscover the formula that made such an impression on the juries and voters…because Laura will struggle to do the same.

The EBJ Jury says…

  • Ali 12
  • Fraser 8
  • James 5
  • Jaz 8
  • Martin 7
  • Mrs. Jaz 8
  • Nick 2
  • Penny 7
  • Rory 12
  • Wolfgang 2

Belgium’s EBJ Jury score is…7.1

 

 

Iceland

Mrs. Jaz *makes face that suggests I’ve just waved dog poo under her nose* *which I didn’t* After what was a promising start, this fell flat. It descended into far too many mentions of ‘hear them calling’ for my liking – jeeze, we get it, lady! Consequently, the chorus seemed to come around much faster than it actually did. The song – which I assumed was titled Hear Them Calling, on a hunch – is catchy, but in a mediocre, doesn’t-go-anywhere kind of way. Is catchy mediocrity a thing? If not, it is now. I’m sorry, but if this came on the radio and I’d already heard it on there once, I’d be quick to change stations before I suffered an acute attack of the yawns.

Wolfgang The Icelandic national final appeared to me like a Lame Lady Ballad contest this year, which I was not really impressed by. So I would say that Greta Salóme’s song was the best of a weak bunch, but is still good enough for Eurovision to leave an impression. What I like about the song is the country style, and that it’s really dynamic and up-tempo. But what makes the difference on the Eurovision stage is its amazing performance that reminds me strongly of those ‘Shadowland’ performances of the PILOBOLUS dance theatre artists. And that’s something I really enjoy watching! This could become the Mika Newton performance of 2016, from which we still remember the beautiful work of the sand artist (while we have almost forgotten Mika and her song). But remember: Mika came 4th in the grand final of Eurovision 2011 in Düsseldorf. Maybe this will be THE surprise performance of the year in Stockholm?

Jaz Yes, Greta’s back, blah blah blah…I kind of wish she’d reunited with Jónsi for her return, though, even if he’d just sat on the side of the stage looking like the chiselled descendant of a Viking god that he is. What was I talking about? Oh yeah, Greta. I’m going to cut right to the chase and say that her solo effort Hear Them Calling outdoes Never Forget – but NOT its Icelandic version. In turn, as Raddirna, this song had an extra something special that it now lacks. Plus, it seems ten times more repetitive in English (how many times does she say ‘hear them calling’ during the three minutes? It’s like the new ‘Why-ay-ay-ayyyy’). I also dislike the Mumford and Sons-style folksiness of the song – it’s been done to death. I’d say it actually died circa 2014. Let’s be honest (well, those of us who don’t think the song is all that, anyway): it’s all about the staging with this one. I have to give a curt nod to Iceland for taking the concept of projections and not just copycatting Heroes (the clear inspiration) but playing with shadows instead – there is a lot of light and shade in Greta’s performance, literally. That moment where she leans back and “smoke” billows out of her like she overdid it at an Indian curry buffet the previous evening is a golden one. Now, I know using visuals to win over your audience is exactly what Sweden did to win Eurovision 2015 – but to me, Heroes was a better and more modern standalone song than Hear Them Calling. The package was more complete. Iceland still has a decent shot at qualifying and maybe squeezing onto the left-hand side of the scoreboard with what they’ve got, but because that is a) an obvious attempt to capitalise on Sweden’s offering of last year, and b) overshadowed (so to speak) by better and edgier entries, the chances of Reykjavik 2017 are very slim.

The EBJ Jury says…

  • Ali 7
  • Fraser 10
  • James 12
  • Jaz 7
  • Martin 12
  • Mrs. Jaz 5
  • Nick 10
  • Penny 8
  • Rory 8
  • Wolfgang 7

Iceland’s EBJ Jury score is…8.6

 

 

Israel

Mrs. Jaz Aah…the beauty of simplicity. So much modern music is so noisy, full of stupid noises and vocal manipulations. This, on the other hand, is a pure and simple piano ballad that managed to be anthemic without being in-your-face about it. The music doesn’t overshadow the vocals, meaning I could understand what Hovi was saying (and though some of it was silly, I liked it). I can imagine couples all over Israel and beyond using this song as their ‘first dance’ wedding song, assuming Ed Sheeran becomes passé in the near future. It’s very nice indeed.

Wolfgang It seems to me that sun, moon and star metaphors are booming this year in the Eurovision lyrics. The Israeli entry is a classic example of a lame lady ballad that wants to ‘shine’ (a little light?) – only done by a male artist. As with Belgium, there is nothing wrong with Hovi Star: he has a great voice and a wide vocal range that is a bit comparable to Adam Lambert, IMO. So the only thing he needs for Eurovision would be a better song. Made of Stars to me is so cliché in an awful way, and it sounds dated, not contemporary. The build of the song resembles somehow the ‘drama queen’ ballad by Conchita from 2014, only this one goes nowhere and suddenly ends when you expect more to come. But what I find really cheesy and annoying are the lyrics: ‘A million faces tied in chains, you ride a black horse in the rain.’ Honestly, did they let the songwriters of the last three Russian entries write these lines? To sum it up, the song’s very cliché, the lyrics are terrible, and I don’t see a qualification for Israel this year. Not with that song!

Jaz If ever there was a shoo-in to win the prestigious EBJ Eurovision Excellence Award in the category of Mr Congeniality, Hovi Star is it (and a bit). I don’t even know this guy, and I LOVE him. He is, to me, the Tooji of 2016 – so personable and fabulous, you want to be his BFF after watching a thirty-second vox pop. And damn, he’s got great hair! My main mission in Stockholm is to touch it so I can then relay back to you guys what it feels like (Schwarzkopf-misted silk, I’m sure). I could go on forever about how much I want to hang out with Hovi, but I suppose I should devote some page space to Made of Stars. It’s not as fabulous as he is, but I think it’s beautiful in its simplicity. Initially, Israel were sending a big, brash, theatrical production that had Adam Lambert written all over it – and if you read my review of the now (sadly) disqualified Romania, you’ll know I detest OTT drama at Eurovision. Granted, that version of Made of Stars had a strong identity; but the revamp/reshape has toned down the drama and allowed the spotlight to shine on Hovi’s vocals. The lyrics, nonsensical as they can be, are lovely to listen to – ‘thunder and lightning, it’s getting exciting’, they are not – and the pared-back piano backing is equally so. Overall, though it’s not as powerful as it could have been, I’m very fond of this. I think, given Hovi’s performance skills and the star-related possibilities of his staging (the drones from the music video probably won’t be making an appearance, but still) Israel could do better than many expect, but I’m not convinced they even have the legs to qualify. Nonetheless, I will be watching on in rapt fascination when Hovi’s time comes…while fashioning a long-distance hair-stroking device out of toothpicks.

The EBJ Jury says…

  • Ali 8
  • Fraser 8
  • James 2
  • Jaz 10
  • Martin 7
  • Mrs. Jaz 7
  • Nick 7
  • Penny 6
  • Rory 6
  • Wolfgang 4

Israel’s EBJ Jury score is…6.5

 

 

 Latvia

Mrs. Jaz  I think I liked this. That’s probably a strange thing to say, but I honestly couldn’t make up my mind about it. Pros: Great music. A nice voice to accompany that music. A beat that mimics a pulse (totally by coincidence, right?). Generally of a better standard than the Icelandic song. Cons: It didn’t jazz up in the way that I thought it was going to (you could say the Heartbeat flatlined). It might prove to be a bit forgettable seeing as it’s opening its semi. Other observations: I reckon I need repeat listens to learn to love Latvia.

Wolfgang Here we have the ‘Aminata’ song #2, following on from the very successful Latvian entry of 2015 by going for the same success package again in 2016. I must admit that I like this year’s Latvian song and artist much more than last year’s. Justs really is a great vocal performer, and his song is by far catchier than last year’s injected love. What I like most about the song is its up-tempo beat that gives me good vibes and really works well with Justs’ strong, slightly scratchy voice. The only thing I would criticise is the performance, where nothing much happens on stage (at least not in the NF performance). At the moment it all looks like Andrius Pojavis for Lithuania in 2013. So, if the stage performance is improved, including lots of heartbeats, then it will be another top 10 result for Latvia this year. I’m sure this song will leave a great impression on a lot of televoters. Or will we head to Riga again next year?

Jaz Latvia made an excellent decision when they opted to send a song to Eurovision 2016 that was written by their very successful 2015 representative. Aminata knows how to create a song that’s less cookie-cutter and more cutting-edge, cool and contemporary – the kind of thing that makes skeptical, non-ESC-obsessed viewers think ‘Hey, this is actually pretty awesome!’. And for that, I salute you, Miss Savadogo. Justs and his Heartbeat are everything I want to see competing in the contest in 2016. The song is a little alternative in sound and makes me feel like a much more epic person just(s) listening to it, but it’s still hugely accessible for mainstream pop lovers. The chorus, like Azerbaijan’s, is incredibly hooky, and though it does feel like the titular word has been said a few too many times by the end, it is the core of the song – that plus the pulsing beat that drives it. The verses are minimalist in the most appealing of ways, and the synthy string of notes that punctuates them adds an extra piece of ear candy to the concoction. Something else I love about this entry is the contrast between how Justs looks, and how he sounds. He looks like he could be cast as Edward Cullen in a Twilight reboot, but he sounds like…well, Hungary’s Freddie, if Freddie wasn’t as throaty. That ultra-innocent face clashes beautifully with the grunt in his voice. All in all, there is nothing I dislike about Latvia – again – and so much that I love. As a result, I’m hoping for an Aminata-level finish at least. But they’ll have to both pimp and nail their staging to increase their chances. Hey, even if they don’t…wow. I can’t believe we’ve gone from Cake To Bake to THIS in two years.

The EBJ Jury says…

  • Ali 5
  • Fraser 7
  • James 6
  • Jaz 12
  • Martin 8
  • Mrs. Jaz 7
  • Nick 10
  • Penny 8
  • Rory 3
  • Wolfgang 8

Latvia’s EBJ Jury score is…7.4

 

 

UK

Mrs. Jaz  I like this! Yes, the UK is my homeland, but before you call me biased, know that Jaz didn’t tell me this was the UK song until after I’d given my verdict. And if I’d had to guess its origin, I probably wouldn’t have opted for the UK based on my past listening experiences anyway (Bonnie Tyler…Engelbert…the 1920s schtick from last year). You’re Not Alone is a little 80s-inspired, so we have skipped forward a few decades. Still, it’s radio-ready for the 00s too. It instantly got into my head and had me singing along, which has to be helpful for both Eurovision and karaoke nights. I feel quite proud of this, actually. I hope it does well – or at least that it doesn’t do too badly. It deserves a decent result.

Wolfgang This year the BBC started their biggest competition EVER to find the right song and artist(s) for Eurovision 2016, including almost every organisation in the British music industry that is of importance. And the result for their national final was six not-too-overwhelming songs sung by no-names. So that was all ‘Big Mouth’, and then baking only little bread again. But, among the songs there was light and shadow, and I’m glad that one of the better ones won the NF. Joe & Jake are fresh, cool guys who match well together on stage. They have a contemporary song that is a strong grower to me, and both of their voices have a very good live quality. So even if the song’s not too impressive, the guys are charming and good-looking, and they could spread some energy and fun to the Eurovision audience. I guess it won’t be enough for a top 10 placement for the UK in Sweden, but I expect a better result than last year – somewhere in the top 20. This year I’ll keep my fingers crossed for a good UK result.

Jaz I don’t know what I should have expected to hear from the UK after the bonkers-ness of Still In Love With You, but I am relieved it’s something less laughable (and bonus, there’s no mention of disease in the lyrics this time!). Two good-looking lads whose names conveniently both begin with ‘J’ (the superior initial for first names, obviously) sporting an anthem that it’s impossible to do the Charleston to? That’s got to be good, right? It is good – but I wouldn’t describe You’re Not Alone as ‘great’. It’s pleasant to listen to, but it reeks of the kind of song that backs a movie trailer or montage of some kind. If the Rio Olympic organisers are after a song that can soundtrack ‘The Top 10 Team Efforts of the XX-whatever Olympiad’, then they should look no further than Joe & Jake’s. My problem with this entry as a whole is that, while there’s nothing to complain about, there’s nothing to get excited about either. I don’t feel anything when I listen to it. Belgium brings a smile to my face; Latvia gives me goosebumps; this gives me nul points. And yet, I cannot physically fault it, because I wouldn’t describe it as ‘boring’ either! HELP ME. I am looking forward to ogling Joe when he’s on stage, and then pretending I wasn’t when accused shortly thereafter because he’s younger than me and I’m not ready to be classified as a cougar yet. So there’s that. If too many people are feeling the way I’m feeling (about the UK’s song, not about the big box of cutesicles that is Joe), then I can’t see this escaping the 15th-20th zone in the final. That makes me a little sad for the boys, but the Eurovision experience will be a brilliant one for them at this stage of their careers anyway.

The EBJ Jury says… 

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

The UK’s EBJ Jury score is…6.7

 

 

And, as usual, we have a winner! And a loser. Things did NOT go my way this time… 

  1. Iceland (8.6)
  2. Latvia (7.4)
  3. Belgium (7.1)
  4. Azerbaijan (7)
  5. United Kingdom (6.7)
  6. Israel (6.5)

Congratulations to Greta, who can take the nonexistent trophy for this round of reviews back to Reykjavik and display it oh-so-proudly on her mantelpiece. Commiserations to Hovi, who would have finished much higher if I had all the power here (who’s stupid idea was it to recruit a jury, therefore relinquishing the majority of my precious power?). Remember, all of this score-giving and number-crunching is going towards the compilation of the EBJ Top 43*, which I’ll be publishing from Stockholm (which means it’ll be an exotic Top 43).

Yes, I said 43. We took the time to review Romania a few weeks ago, and I think we owe it to Ovidiu to keep him in our ranking. Even if he is rather low in it.

In a few days, the penultimate part of this series will see Armenia, Australia, Ireland, Malta, Moldova and Slovenia critiqued by an American, an Englishman and moi. Check in then to find out how high or low my patriotism level is running at the moment (i.e. what I think of Dami’s Sound of Silence).

 

Until then…

 

2015sig

 

 

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

 

Junior Eurovision 2012: The Reviews (Part 2)

Unbelievably, it’s nearly JESC time again. The 12 delegations have arrived in Amsterdam (it took Fabian nearly two hours on a bus to get there!), the opening party has been had (where all the kids would have been sizing each other up on the pretense of making friends), the postcards have been shot (the contestants are back in!) and rehearsals have begun (I have nothing to put in these brackets!) and it all comes down to this weekend. You’ll be pleased to learn that I have purchased my show snacks and brought my flags out of retirement, and those items are now crossed off my list. To get to the point of this intro, also crossed off is part II of my 2012 reviews, featuring Israel, Moldova, the Netherlands, Russia, Sweden and Ukraine…because you’re reading it right now.

 

ISRAEL

Kids.il | Let The Music Win  

Sounds like: Diva by Dana International, if you’re hard of hearing.

The good: In the competition entitled ‘Best of the Newbies’ that’s currently running in my head, Israel is kicking Albania to the curb and firmly elbowing Azerbaijan out of the way. Basically, they’re winning, so I guess the music really does win it all (although whether it wins JESC remains to be seen). It’s so good to have Israel in the mix, not only with a bunch of rather talented kids but with a rousing, anthemic song that seems to take inspiration from the current and the retro. With decent staging and a great vocal performance – which I’m expecting – this could be a dark horse (keeping in mind that any country that isn’t Russia is a dark horse).

Everything else: If this song were a sandwich, not only would Junior Eurovision be less entertaining, but it would be a sandwich with a layer of cheese (albeit very finely sliced). Don’t get me wrong; it’s not in the same league of cheesiness as, say, If We All Give A Little by Six4One, which it keeps getting compared to – but after super-now Lerika (why does her name come up in all my reviews?) Kids.il may look a bit behind the times. Then again, the similarities between the two songs – e.g. the high energy and language switching – may lead to them canceling each other out.

The verdict: I’d say douze points but it’s just under, which in Eurovision-land equates to 10.

How it will do: 2nd-4th

 

MOLDOVA

Denis Midone | Toate Vor Fi

Sounds like: Moldova’s sent yet another 1980s sitcom theme song

The good: There’s something endearing about this that I can’t put my finger on. Maybe it’s the fact that it’s kind of cutesy and grown-up at the same time, or that Denis tries so so hard in the video to get those kids in the classroom aiming for the stars and believing in themselves. I don’t know, but that mysterious charm makes it impossible to be mean about this entry in any way. It’s harmless more than anything – not too sweet, quite catchy, and performed pretty well. That won’t get him the Plexiglas trophy, but it should save him from the dreaded 12th position.

Everything else: The English translation of this makes me very glad of the JESC language stipulations. For all I know, the lyrics are just as cliché in Romanian, but ignorance is bliss (ironic cliché intended), so I can deal with a quick burst of questionable English in the last twenty seconds. Also, I know I said Denis was pretty much guaranteed 11th place or higher, but if he’s gone and brought the backing singer from his original video to Amsterdam, that may change. I’m sorry, but that girl is the worst vocal supporter I’ve ever heard.

The verdict: It couldn’t be less than 6 points from me.

How it will do: 9th-11th

 

NETHERLANDS

Femke Meines | Tik Tak Tik

Sounds like: 1 Dag by Marissa

The good: The Netherlands, like Belgium, rarely fail to impress me in Junior Eurovision. This latest effort isn’t the best they’ve ever sent, but they should be proud to have it represent them on home soil. For the second year in a row there’s a Femke performing last, and like Een Kusje Meer, Tik Tak Tik is in the retro mould favoured by Dutch and Belgian JESC entrants. What I like about it is that none of it is a letdown, the verses being as punchy as the choruses. I also really like Femke’s NF jacket and hope she’ll be wearing it on Saturday night/posting it to me to wear on Saturday night.

Everything else: This girl as a singer = one who tends to yell more than actually produce notes if she’s not careful. So I’ll be crossing my fingers for her to rein that in, because nobody likes to be yelled at for three minutes straight. There’s no doubt the Netherlands will end the show with a bang (the home crowd will be in a frenzy by song 12, so they’ll go off) but I do think this song lacks that extra something which would put it into winning contention – that ‘oomph’ that’s hard to label but was seen in entries like the similar Click Clack.

The verdict: Not amazing, but a solid effort from the reliable host country. 7 points.

How it will do: 3rd-5th

 

RUSSIA

Lerika | Sensatsiya

Sounds like: the musical love child of Be My Guest by Gaitana and When Love Takes Over by David Guetta

The good: Lerika’s back with a new sound and a new country backing her, and it’s safe to say she really wants the win this time. She was one of the best live performers in Yerevan – her voice and stage presence were faultless – and now she’s got the bookies’ favourite song to her name, she could be unstoppable. Sensatsiya isn’t groundbreaking, and it’s oh-so-repetitive, but let’s be honest: it’s a dancefloor anthem, and the only requirements a song needs to fulfill to make that grade is to be supremely catchy and high-energy. Tick and tick. And thank you, Russia, for pilfering this girl back from Moldova. If you hadn’t, we may not have seen her this year.

Everything else: I say Lerika ‘could’ be unstoppable because she ‘could’ also be to this year’s contest what the Netherlands’ Rachel was to last year’s. 12 months ago I was bopping along to Ik Ben Een Teenager, confident in Rachel’s ability to wipe the floor with the competition because her song was SOOOOO awesome. And what happened? She lost by a mere handful of points to a country I hadn’t even factored in as a winning possibility (d’oh!). Will we see an Armenian or Albanian victory with runner-up Lerika sobbing into her skater skirt?  

The verdict: Douze points, by a glitter-coated whisker.  

How it will do: 1st-3rd

 

SWEDEN

Lova Sönnerbo | Mitt Mod

Sounds like: Look What You’ve Done by Jet

The good: I feel about this song how I felt about Finland’s entry for Baku – it’s a really beautiful, humble song with real meaning that’s unfortunately destined to go nowhere. I’ll admit, I didn’t love it this much the first time I heard it (and I may or may not have left a disparaging comment on Youtube about the ‘elusive chorus’) but it was the Grower of the Year. Lova’s voice is almost haunting – in a non-Halloween kind of way – and her falsetto in the last bit of the song gives it much–needed variety. The whole subdued, emotional feel of Sweden should contrast well against Belarus before and Azerbaijan after.

Everything else: The fact that Mitt Mod is a grower is bad for its chances at JESC. All of the people hearing it for the first or even second time on the night aren’t likely to vote for it, and who’s to say the kids’ jury will go for Lova? That, coupled with her performance position (both in terms of being early on and being tainted by the Curse of Number Two) means she could well follow in the footsteps of last year’s second performer, Amanda from Latvia. That would be a shame (especially if Sweden were beaten by Albania) but it could easily happen.

The verdict: I’ll give Lova 10 points, even if no one else does!  

How it will do: 9th-12th

 

UKRAINE

Anastasiya Petryk | Nebo

Sounds like: the aliens have landed 

The good: I reckon if you played this to a Eurovision dunce and told them it was Ukraine’s entry for Junior, they wouldn’t believe you. I enjoy it when one of these out-there songs (e.g. Belarus 2009) makes it to the mini contest and shakes up the happy-clappy numbers that usually dominate. Strangely enough, Anastasiya ‘It’s My Turn To Bring The Crazy’ Petryk is the little sister of Victoria Petryk, who took a happy-clappy number to second place in 2008. This girl is so teeny but has the vocal chops of Christina Aguilera, so she doesn’t so much sing the song as attack it and throttle it to death, which suits the gritty intensity of the dubstep arrangement. This is by far the most original song of the Class of 2012, and for that I salute it.

Everything else: Going back to the miniscule, cutesy girl belting out an intense dubstep song thing, who knew kids could be so scary? I can say that because I haven’t seen Children of the Corn. I get the impression that one look from Anastasiya could turn you into a granite sculpture if you got on her bad side (so watch out if you out-score her, boys and girls) which perhaps is not what people want to pick up the phone for. Then again, she may also have Carrie-like telepathic powers which enable her to sense the foolish souls who fail to dial her number and enact long-distance revenge on them…oh God, save yourselves, my European friends! VOTE FOR YOUR LIVES! Whew, looks like I’m the intense one at the moment.

The verdict: 10 points, and not because I’m scared to give her any less.

How it will do: 6th-8th

 

Well, that’s that! With all 12 songs reviewed, my final pre-show ranking looks like this:  

  1. Russia
  2. Israel
  3. Sweden
  4. Belgium
  5. Ukraine
  6. Armenia
  7. Georgia
  8. Azerbaijan
  9. Netherlands
  10. Moldova
  11. Belarus
  12. Albania

How does yours stack up? Will Russia storm to victory, or should Lerika start practicing her gracious loser face in the mirror? Let me know your thoughts below.

By the way, thanks for reading my reviews. Maybe I’ll see you in a few days for my 2011 recap and prediction special?

 

 

 

Baku Reviews: Part 3 (Greece-Latvia)

Greece

Aphrodisiac/ Eleftheria Eleftheriou

Top 10 material: Yes

The good stuff: After three years of sending middle-aged men, giant staplers and a university lecturer in a baseball cap to Eurovision (though not at the same time) Greece has reverted back to the tried-and-tested formula of a (most-likely) scantily clad young woman singing a generic but infuriatingly catchy pop song with a bit of bouzouki thrown in for adequate measure. This decision is fine by me! I’ve really missed the Helena Paparizou/Sarbel/Kalomira-esque entries that Aphrodisiac is clearly modeled after, even though in 2012 they may sound passé. Every time I hear this song, I can picture an awesome stage show that features traditional line dancing and slick choreography, and maybe a costume reveal. Then again, with the Greek economy in such a shocking state, Eleftheria may be forced to run around the stage in a hessian sack whilst her lone backing singer makes shadow puppets.

Everything else: My one major bone to pick with this has to do with the lyrics. It is three minutes of cliché after cliché about minds and times and dancing and falling and all that tired old jazz. Don’t get me wrong, I’d never expect a song like this to be all poetic and deep. I just think another half-hour or so at the writing desk could have produced some slightly more original lyrics for us all to sing along to.

Winner, loser or grower: Winner – 8 points.

 

Hungary

Sound of Our Hearts/ Compact Disco

[You’ll have to imagine a photo of Compact Disco being here, because my PC has another case of Irefusetouploadthispictureitis]

Best lyric: ‘Harmony can be achieved, just find some way to get connected…’

The good stuff: Firstly, claps for Hungary for coming back after failing to meet expectations last year (although Kati Wolf’s hairdo defied all expectations, and the laws of gravity). This year, they’ve made an interesting choice which could get them a decent result or go absolutely nowhere. Personally, I’m a fan, and I hope it at least gets them out of their semi. It’s a nice, solid pop-rock number with a well-executed chorus which screams “SING ALONG TO ME!”

Everything else: There’s not a lot to do to it – I mean, you can’t really dance to it, and waving a flag/glowstick/pair of underpants would get tedious with that tempo. Because of that, I don’t know how well it will go down in the arena.

Winner, loser or grower: Winner – 8 points.

 

Iceland

Never Forget/ Greta Salomé & Jónsi

Reminds me of: Scarborough Fair, for some reason.

The good stuff: I feel like Iceland want to win bad this year, and I’m wishing them the best of luck (how amazing would a Reykjavik Eurovsion be?) Greta and Jónsi – a.k.a. His Royal Hotness, who has already stepped on the ESC stage, back in 2004 – could well make it happen with this epic effort that makes the best use of violins since Rybak’s Fairytale. Plus, it has one of the best videos of this year’s contest. If they don’t bring the aurora borealis with them to Baku I’ll be crushed.

Everything else: I knew it was coming. After the Icelandic final, the winning song is always put back into English (if that was the original language) or is translated into it for whatever reason. But that doesn’t stop me from missing Mundu Eftir Mér, which had a little extra magic, just like Aftur Heim (which became Coming Home) in 2011, and many previous Icelandic entries. The English version in this case is at the better end of the scale, but I just don’t feel quite as strongly about it.  

Winner, loser or grower: Winner – 10 points.

 

Ireland

Waterline/ Jedward

Top 10 material: No

The good stuff: This isn’t that bad considering it has been passed over more than once, allegedly, by other artists, including Eric Saade (if he’d gone to Düsseldorf with it, he wouldn’t have proved quite as Popular. Get me?). Can Jedward improve on last year’s 8th place with it, though? I’m not so sure. It’s an inoffensive poppy number that the twosome will undoubtedly throw all their energy (which is about 100x the amount that us regular folk possess) into performing, while their hard-working backing singers throw all their energy into making John and Edward sound like their vocals are up to scratch. I like the whole watery metaphor going on in this too, although I don’t think any woman would like to go down as ‘the big one’.

Everything else: It’s both tiring and tired to have the twins back in Eurovision with no respite. At least Zdob şi Zdub gave us a break! Since they’re back with an entry that’s more album-filler than contest winner (especially in comparison to Lipstick) I think they’ll struggle to make the top 10. Europe might be over seeing double.

Winner, loser or grower: Grower – 6 points.

 

Israel

Time/ Izabo

Better than 2011: No

The good stuff: This is such a charming little ditty. I realise that using the word ‘ditty’ ages me about fifty years, but it fits Time so nicely. It’s a strange choice of song for Eurovision, but it definitely stands out from the rest in the way Malcolm Lincoln’s song did inOslo. First-time listeners will hang around to hear where it goes. The mix of Hebrew and English works well. All in all, the song wouldn’t be out of place on [Australian indie radio station] Triple J.

Everything else: With a preview video reminiscent of Daniel Diges’ for Algo Pequenito, let’s hope the Israeli Jimmy Jump doesn’t get any stage-invading ideas. Then again,Ukraine’s 2011 video was also set at the circus, so perhaps Izabo will hire a sand artist to accompany them.

Winner, loser or grower: Grower – 7 points.

 

Latvia

Beautiful Song/ Anmary

Better than 2011: No

The good stuff: Songs that tell you something usually tell you wrong – think We Are The Winners (yeah, not quite) or That Sounds Good To Me (which sounded good to nobody). But I’ve got to admit, lyrics aside, Anmary’s Beautiful Song doesn’t fall too short of being just that. It’s almost like a slower, more melodious version of Alejandro by Lady Gaga, only this songstress is too sensible to wear those ridiculous lobster claw shoes (which says a lot). I really like the way the song develops. If the lyrics were different and not acted out just so it’s clear how silly they are, I’d say Latvia made a great choice.

Everything else: Unfortunately, Anmary was born in distant 1980 when Irish Johnny Logan won, so the lyrics tell us. If only she’d been born in 1979, because ‘Milk & Honey with Gali Atari’ is much harder to fit into a song. Also, what is up with that wide-eyed look this women adopts when she’s singing (at least in the NF performance I saw)? I can only assume she was engaged in a staring contest with somebody in the audience. It’s safe to say you won, Anmary…you can blink again.

Winner, loser or grower: Winner – 8 points.

 

NEXT TIME: Lithuania, Macedonia, Malta, Moldova, Montenegro and the Netherlands – it’s your time to be criticised and/or praised!