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From the start to ‘The Start’: reviewing + wrapping up JESC 2013

It’s been a week since Gaia and her poofy dress were crowned (or trophied, I should say…this isn’t Miss World) the winner of Junior Eurovision 2013, to the surprise of few. A week is like a decade in Eurovision years, so I apologise for taking so long to get all of my thoughts out on this year’s comp.

I’ll admit, despite my dislike for The Start (which grew out of straight-up hate and, shamefully, could develop into tolerance any day now) I’ve been feeling warm and fuzzy all week over the fact that Malta has finally won an ESC event. For such a small nation surrounded only by water (cross-border voting accusers are speechless right now) to triumph in such a level playing field is a big deal, even if it wasn’t in the adult ESC. Personally, I think it’s even more impressive this way, because while Malta has been successful in the senior contest (including that surprising top 10 result in Malmö) they actually have a below-average track record in Junior – up until now, they’ve only made the top 5 once and have spent most of their time outside of the top 10. So a belated but big congratulations goes to Malta from moi. My fingers and toes are crossed that they choose to host the show in 2014, so I can at least travel there spiritually, if not physically. Unless I win the lottery by then, of course.

But you don’t want to hear me rambling on about winning lotto when there’s JESC rambling to be done. I’m going to run through everything that happened last Saturday evening, including the twelve performances, painfully scripted host banter, and all 1, 254 interval acts (I give mid-voting entertainment the thumbs down).

Did Ukraine do better the second time around? How did Zlata cram her hobbit feet into those fierce stilettos for her act? Will The Start be a karaoke classic? All these questions and more may just be answered in this review and wrap-up of the JESC that was.

Let’s begin with the filling of the sandwich. The most important part. The reason we all watched in the first place (unless you watched for Ruslana and ended up sorely disappointed).

 

The performances

From #1 to #12, here they are – scrutinised and scored for your convenience.

Sweden – My heart breaks for Elias, because, well…so did his voice. And what a time for it to happen! At least Dorijan Dlaka feels his pain. Unavoidable vocal difficulties aside, I enjoyed this as an opener, as I suspected I would. Yes, it was a slow burner, but when the chorus kicked in, the audience made some serious noise. It made an impact, as did Sweden’s excellent use of the background. The staging was a little boring, but you can’t expect acrobats and costume reveals with a song like this. A final question: was up with Elias’ crazy eyes? Was he using those to try and distract us from his voice?  

Song (10); Vocals (6); Staging (8); Personality (6); Costume (7) = 7 points

 

Azerbaijan – This was the first time I’d heard Rustam sing live, and I have to say, just like last year with Azerbaijan, I was disappointed. Maybe it was nerves (he is so incredibly teeny) but he sounded like he had a throat infection, and we cannot blame that on puberty. On the plus side, his costume was as cute as a button (whatever that means) and I enjoyed the choreography. Who could resist a human bicycle? Or a giant guitar, for that matter. In some ways, Azerbaijan stepped it up for JESC this year, but in others, they remained same-same.

Song (8); Vocals (6); Staging (8); Personality (10); Costume (8) = 8 points

 

Armenia – If I had thought to mute my laptop before Monica opened her mouth, this would have been an excellent performance. The props were sweet (literally), the costumes were as elaborate as I’d expected, and Monica worked the stage quite well. Unfortunately, her vocal performance was hands-down THE worst of the night. In fact, I wouldn’t even call what she did up there singing – it was more a case of yelling out of tune. The song and act were very Georgian, and it’s kind of a shame Georgia didn’t send it, because there’s no way they would have sent a kid who had the ability to butcher their own composition. Sorry, Mon.  

Song (10); Vocals (2); Staging (8); Personality (10); Costume (8) = 8 points

A violin break meant a singing break, and that turned out to be good news for us all...

A violin break meant a singing break, and that turned out to be good news for us all…

 

San Marino – It wasn’t until this point that a decent vocalist took to the stage, in the gold-jacketed Michele. For me, this was also the first package performance, where everything came together. I loved the beginning, where Michele was sitting in the spotlight á la Dima Bilan, and the audience started singing along with the o-o-o’s (SO CUTE, especially for a country making its debut). He had great stage presence and charisma, and the choreography was enjoyable. Perhaps the Michael Jackson vibe was taken a bit too far with that costume, but this was a top 5 act. Well, it should have been.

Song (10); Vocals (10); Staging (8); Personality (12); Costume (7) = 10 points

 

FYR Macedonia – It wasn’t a complete car crash, but there were a lot of things wrong with Barbara’s performance. Number one: her voice. Sure, she sounded like Whitney Houston compared to Armenia, but she was definitely ropey. She didn’t look like she was having the best of times up there either. Her costume was business up top and party down below, and it didn’t really work. A lighter, brighter, more summery look would have suited the song more. I also think Barbara should have let her backing dancers do most of the moves so she could have focused on her voice.

Song (8); Vocals (5); Staging (6); Personality (6); Costume (5) = 6 points

 

Ukraine – If I had to use one word…PERFECTION! Sofia took a mere few seconds to relegate Michele to second-best performance so far. Perhaps I’m biased because We Are One was/is my favourite entry, but I think every aspect of the performance on the night was top notch: her voice (of course), the costume, the high-tech lighting, the camera work (which was not so good throughout the rest of the night), her emotion, and anything else I’ve forgotten to mention. This was a host entry that deserved the rapturous reception they tend to get no matter what. 

Song (12); Vocals (12); Staging (12); Personality (12); Costume (12) = 12 points

 

Belarus – Ilya was my next favourite, but I was worried about his ability to pull off the vocal in what doesn’t seem an easy song to sing. Fortunately, he nailed it, and everything else. Great entry, and great dance moves, Belarus! The knee slide that accompanied Ilya’s money note was the cherry on top of a polished, professional and entertaining cake. The only thing I would pick on is the lack of colour in the costumes, but only because I just want colour everywhere, in everything, particularly in JESC. It doesn’t really bother me.

Song (12); Vocals (12); Staging (12); Personality (12); Costume (10) = 12 points

 

Moldova – My favourites just kept on coming. As with Macedonia, I was expecting this to be an epic fail despite my love for it. Aside from an off-key first chorus, I was pleasantly surprised. The change from national final to now was obvious, and not just because there wasn’t a row of bored-looking judges yawning their way through it. Rafael emoted well, and those costumes were the bomb! The addition of the girl-in-a-bird-suit was verging on too much, but it was striking, and she did jeté out at the right moment. So well done, ladies and gents. And bird.

Song (12); Vocals (8); Staging (8); Personality (10); Costume (10) = 10 points

Forget 'grease'...bird is the word in Moldova.

Forget ‘grease’…bird is the word in Moldova.

 

Georgia – I think we all knew there was a certain Georgian-ness missing from this entry, and with the lack of colour (here I go again) and funk in the costumes, that was further emphasised. Having said that, the country continued not to put a foot wrong in the competition, with a polished, vocally together and enthusiastic performance. I liked the Birgit black-and-white effect, although it could have been executed better. It was clear that this wasn’t a winning act, so I hope we get the old Georgia back next year. The Georgia that makes us all think they could easily win.

Song (10); Vocals (10); Staging (7); Personality (10); Costume (7) = 10 points

 

Netherlands – I thought this would be an act to beat, and the performance gave me no reason to doubt that, though there were times when the twins looked uncomfortable. Maybe those cheerleader outfits were itchy. Still, they put on a great show not that different from what we saw at the Dutch final. The audience seemed to go particularly nuts over this one. This may sound odd, but I wonder if it was too childish for the tastes of the voters? Look at what they ranked first and second. 

Song (10); Vocals (8); Staging (8); Personality (7); Costume (10) = 10 points

 

Malta – Yes, I was won over by Gaia, but I haven’t completely back-tracked on the trashing I gave her song when I was reviewing all of them. It’s just that, in the spotlight and in that adorable dress, she commanded attention without the need for props or dancers, and did give a spectacular vocal performance. The ballad also provided a nice contrast with Double Me before it and Mechtay after it. As soon as Gaia belted out her final note, I was pretty certain Malta had the comp all sewn up. 

Song (8); Vocals (12); Staging (8); Personality (10); Costume (8) = 10 points

 

Russia – Dayana and her troupe of sailors (sadly, she did not arrive in Kiev flanked by the Buranovskiye Babushki) brought some colour to the stage and ended the string of performances with a bang…and a boat that still defies explanation. Generally, it was a good performance. For a song that starts at a high level and only goes up from there, it was well managed by Dayana. I would say that she could have moved around more – she seemed a bit stiff, and never really got down with her dancers, Ruslana-style, which I think would have been a better choice for such a high-energy entry. 

Song (10); Vocals (10); Staging (8); Personality (7); Costume (8) = 10 points

"The boat represents my intention to sail away with the victory."

“The boat represents my intention to sail away with the victory.”

 

These performances went by in a blur on the night, but now that I stop and think about them, and the above scoring, these are the places I believe everyone deserved:

  1. Ukraine
  2. Belarus
  3. Malta
  4. San Marino
  5. Russia
  6. Netherlands
  7. Georgia
  8. Moldova
  9. Azerbaijan
  10. Armenia
  11. Sweden
  12. FYR Macedonia

A few of these came true, or almost true. I’ll remind you of what the actual scoreboard looked like later on (in case you’ve forgotten, because, you know, it’s been THAT long). Right now, let’s talk about…

 

The interval acts

And when I say ‘acts’, I mean ‘acts’. Seriously, have you ever seen so many interludes of entertainment in your entire life? There were more pauses for IAs than there were lingering hand shots in the broadcast of Eurovision 2013 (which is saying a lot). I’m not going to cover the many random dance routines sprinkled throughout – including mid-voting which nearly killed me (just get on with it, for god’s sake!) – but there were some main events worth mentioning:

  • Emmelie de Forest made an appearance with a pint-sized piper and her usual lack of footwear (does the girl own a pair of shoes?) and I have to say, I was underwhelmed. Only Teardrops never did that much for me, and it did even less without the fancy pyrotechnics and with a dress one would wear to a funeral.  
  • Miniature powerhouse Anastasiya Petryk half-reprised Nebo, sounding as frightening as ever and looking as tiny as she did a year ago. As she said in her postcard back then, she is still ‘small Ukrainian girl’. She then launched into a surprisingly fluffy (for her, the demon child) song about winning and believing and stuff. I personally would have preferred to hear the whole of Nebo again.
  • The class of Kyiv took to the stage to “perform” (a.k.a. mime) the group song Be Creative (I wonder where they got that title from?) which, if you could ignore the obvious lip-syncing, was quite nice. It makes me happy to see all the kids high-fiving and interacting with each other like that, until I get sad that they’re all going to be jetting off home and only communicating via social networks (ooh-ooh, ooh-oh-ohhh…).
  • The best was saved for almost-last when the gloriousness that is Zlata put on a show that put Emmelie’s to shame. This included a variety of costume changes involving too much cleavage for children’s television and a dress that I’m sure she stole from Kim-Lian’s host wardrobe. I enjoyed every minute of it! Normally I’d be crushing on the male co-host, but Zlata is the most perfect creature ever to have existed, and if she asked me to marry her, I would totally say yes.

 Ahem. Well, this is awkward. Let’s move on!

 

Other talking points

  • The artist parade: I always enjoy this part. I’m not sure about the whole ‘backing it with the entries’ deal though. I think keeping the songs as fresh as possible for the performances is the way to go.
  • The stage: Jigsaw-tastic! That thing was grand enough for adult Eurovision, if a little too childlike. I preferred the Amsterdam stage a bit more just to look at, but this one is still one of the best we’ve seen.
  • The hosts: I’ve already made mention of my soon-to-be fiancée Zlata, who was joined by co-compere of 2009, Timur Mirosch…Mirochs…Miroschchenkyo. Miroschnychenko! Man, Lynda Woodruff would have a field day with that one. It’s not a bad gig for him, hosting alongside stunning women like Zlata and Ani Lorak. Perhaps he was distracted by Zlata’s beauty (or her massive dress) because he wasn’t as proficient as he was last time. Together, they were competent, but the humour came across forced. I did like their outfits though – very JESC appropriate, and they matched the logo!
I assumed Zlata was representing Australia in the green and gold for a while.

I assumed Zlata was representing Australia in the green and gold for a while.

  •  The postcards: Cute, and tailored to the country and artist about to perform, which I find more enjoyable than vignette after vignette of panoramic host country shots. You can never go too far with puzzle pieces, that’s my motto. I also liked the segment that posed the question: where did the kids want to be in 10 years? If it wasn’t for that, we never would have learned that Dayana aspires to be a crazy cat lady.

Now let’s focus on the part of the show that gets everybody’s palms (and probably some other places) sweating.

 

The voting and results

Once all the performances are over, THIS is what we wait for, right? When it comes to JESC, the voting is often tense all the way through, and 2013 was no exception (the EBU didn’t even have to rig the order to make it more exciting).

There was no tension in terms of technical difficulties, however, as we had live spokespersons presenting each country’s points for the first time. I have mixed feelings about this. On one hand, it eliminates the possibility of cross-continental glitches that leave us cringing at the awkwardness of it all; on the other, it made the process run too quickly for my liking, and felt a bit wrong because we’re all so accustomed to crossing all over Europe and hearing those magical words: ‘INSERT CAPITAL HERE calling!’. I don’t think I want to see it repeated in Valletta next year (as Elias would say, that’s where we’re going. It’s a fairly safe bet).

Let’s take a quick look at some of the interesting occurrences of the swift voting sequence that saw Malta take out the top prize.

  • The first douze of the night came courtesy of the kids’ jury and went to Malta. While this foreshadowed the outcome, we couldn’t have been sure at that point that Gaia had the comp in the bag. Last year the kids’ jury ranked eventual runner-ups Georgia first.
  • Malta didn’t receive another set of douze until four more countries had voted. Sweden, Azerbaijan and Armenia gave theirs to Russia, and San Marino got a big cheer for sending theirs Ukraine’s way.
  • Macedonia only received points from six countries, out of a possible eleven plus the kids’ jury. Barbara’s highest score was the 2 she got from Armenia. 11th-placed Moldova received points from ten countries, the highest being 4 from Belarus, Georgia and Malta.
  • We had three leaders throughout the voting: Malta (duh), Ukraine and Russia.
  • Russia was the last country to vote, and they had the power to make for a very different story. Had they given their douze to Ukraine and four points or less to Malta, the host country would have won.
  • Their points did make for a few less drastic last-minute changes: San Marino moved from 11th place to 10th, and the handy douze to Belarus pushed them ahead of Russia into the bronze position. Basically, Russia scored themselves out of a trophy. Oops.
  • All up, Malta received five lots of douze, Russia and Ukraine three each, and Armenia and Belarus one apiece.

To refresh your memory (whether it needs it or not) this is what the scoreboard looked like after all of the above:

  1. Malta (130)
  2. Ukraine (121)
  3. Belarus (108)
  4. Russia (106)
  5. Georgia (91)
  6. Armenia (69)
  7. Azerbaijan (66)
  8. Netherlands (59)
  9. Sweden (46)
  10. San Marino (42)
  11. Moldova (41)
  12. FYR Macedonia (19)
If it wasn't for the picture of Rustam and Monica dancing together, THIS would be the cutest photo of 2013.

If it wasn’t for the picture of Rustam and Monica dancing together, THIS would be the cutest photo of 2013.

This was not an easy contest to predict, and as I am rubbish at seeing the future, I managed to predict just one placing correctly – Georgia’s 5th. I had a few close ones though, deciding that Malta would come 2nd, Russia 3rd, Azerbaijan 6th and Moldova last. It is shameful that I couldn’t even get the bottom-ranker right (that’s usually the easiest one!) but I’m so not bothered, because Rafael didn’t lose! I love his song but was sure he’d bring up the rear, so I’m thrilled he did better than I expected.

Other surprises? San Marino so low, for starters. After the great performance he turned out, and that encouraging sing-along from the audience, I thought Michele had it in him to make the top 5. He would have deserved it. The Netherlands missing out on a top 5 placing also shocked me. I’m still not 100% sure what went wrong there.

On the ‘happy surprise’ front, Ukraine’s second-place features heavily for me. Sofia was amazing, her song is amazing, blah blah blah…you know I think it was perfect.

But my moment of the night was Belarus’ last-second leapfrog into 3rd place, which secured them a trophy and, technically, their best result since 2007. Ilya aced what I was worried could be a disaster vocal, and everything else just came together, so IMO the placing was well deserved.

My top 3 – Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova – did a whole lot better than I’d anticipated. What about you? How did your favourites go? Did any of the final scores surprise you?

 

Awarding some trophies of my own

I always hold an awards ceremony for the ESC, so here’s a suitably miniature version for JESC. I don’t actually have trophies to hand out, but the thought’s there.

Mr. Congeniality is Michele Perniola because he was positive, friendly, and super charismatic on stage, even in that questionable jacket.

Michele rests, exhausted by his own awesomeness

Michele rests, exhausted by his own awesomeness

Miss Congeniality is Mylène & Rosanne because they have double the sunny personality and double the ability to smile 24/7!

The Born Entertainer is Ilya Volkov because he’s a showman and a half, and is totes the Donny Montell of Junior Eurovision.

The Best Artist Gimmick was from the Netherlands because hello? It’s Jedward all over again.

The Artist Most Likely To End Up in the ESC is Gaia Cauchi because she sings, and she’s Maltese. It’s a given. We have two former JESC contestants in the NF for Copenhagen alone.

Remember this face (and giant hair bow)...they'll both be coming at you in the Maltese final five years from now.

Remember this face…it’ll be coming at you in the Maltese NF five years from now.

The Grower Song of the Year is from San Marino because I thought it was average at first, but now I’m o-o-o-ing along with all of y’all.

The Best Vocal came from Sofia Tarasova because whilst her voice may not be as powerhouse as Gaia’s, I know which one I’d rather listen to.

The Best Prop/Gimmick came from Russia because well, there weren’t that many to choose from, and even if the boat didn’t make sense, it was striking.

The Best Choreography was from Belarus because Ilya and his lady friends had the moves like Jagger. Kind of.

The Best Use of the Background was by Sweden because with little else to work with, the spark effect added interest to the performance, and amped up at just the right moments.

The Best Dressed Artist/s were from Moldova because Rafael looked adorable, and the graphic get-ups his backing dancers wore were very cool.

The Worst Dressed Artist/s were from FYR Macedonia because what…was that? Half dinner party and half music festival?  

Put your hands in the air like you just don't care...about what you're wearing!

Put your hands in the air like you just don’t care…about what you’re wearing!

The Most Deserved Final Result was received by Ukraine because they did as well as possible (with a brilliant act) whilst stepping back to let a new country win. Not on purpose, but you know what I mean.

The Least Deserved Final Result was received by San Marino because Michele was the first to impress me on the night, and his performance still stood up at the end of the night.

The Least Predictable Result was received by the Netherlands because most of us thought they’d do excellent, didn’t we? I never would have guessed the twins would be left to loiter so low.

 

Believe it or not, that is all I have to say about Junior Eurovision 2013 for now. You probably will believe that, since I covered everything whether it was interesting or not (my bad). Kyiv did a pretty good job of hosting the second time around, and if JESC lasts long enough to give the city a third try then I’ll welcome it. I’m sure Timur would too, because there’d be some other superhumanly attractive Ukrainian woman to follow in the footsteps of Ani and Zlata by presenting alongside him. Maybe Verka Seduchka? 

 

Bests, worsts, highlights, lowlights, shocks and surprises – if you’ve got any from last weekend, let me know down below!

 

JESC Month | Reviewing the Class of Kyiv (Moldova-Ukraine)

Bonjour, and welcome to the second half of my JESC 2013 reviews! Moldova, the Netherlands, Russia, San Marino, Sweden and hosts Ukraine have been judged like there’s no tomorrow by moi, and the verdicts are here for you to be outraged by. Trust me, you’re going to be fearing for my sanity by the time you’ve read Ukraine. As it turns out, there are two douze pointers in this group, and one is controversial. But what is Eurovision without controversy?

Let’s agree to disagree on these six songs…

 

MOLDOVA

Cum Ša Fim by Rafael Bobeica

MoldovaSounds like: It should accompany Zlata Ognevich’s Gravity on the Lion King soundtrack

The good: I feel like there’s always one song in every Eurovision event that I love, and everyone else hates (which is probably not the case…said songs must have at least one other fan on the planet). This JESC year, that song comes from Moldova. I didn’t fall instantly in love with Cum Ša Fim – hearing it for the first time via the grainy video from the national final, where bad acoustics reigned supreme and the judges looked bored out of their minds, was bound to have a negative effect. But despite the poor start á la Roberto Bellarosa’s Love Kills, I heard potential, and when I gave the studio version a spin, that’s when I fell in love. I find it so majestic and uplifting (even if the Romanian/English mish-mash makes no sense), particularly when the choir joins in with the second chorus. It has a tribal kind of vibe that really does remind me of Gravity. I love the music, the melody, the structure, and even Rafael’s glass-shattering vocal – and if I’m alone in that, then I’ll just have to cheer extra enthusiastically for him to compensate.

Everything else: I do understand why this isn’t a popular choice (the screeching! The dodgy English bits! Et cetera!). It’s a love-it-or-hate-it kind of entry, and with the consensus leaning towards ‘hate’, I’m thinking Moldova’s in for a poor showing, point-wise. Still, if Rafael can keep that voice under control and thrive in the grander setting of the contest, which is more suited to a grand song like this, then there’s hope for a little more. At the very least, then we can say he pulled a Bellarosa – a.k.a. improved dramatically from NF to Eurovision and ended up 12th!

The verdict: Everyone else’s trash is my treasure. DOUZE POINTS!

JESC chances: I am predicting this as the one to come last. Hashtag sadface.

 

THE NETHERLANDS

Double Me by Mylène & Rosanne

NetherlandsSounds like: the theme of a cartoon chronicling the lives of Jedward

The good: I thought I knew how I felt about this before re-listening for this review. It had been a while, and the last time I’d heard it, it was beginning to annoy me. But I guess it’s true that absence makes the heart grow fonder, because I’m not annoyed anymore. This song takes Mylène & Rosanne’s twin situation and runs with it, and the result is some serious fun. Yes, it is repetitive, but it’s the happiest darn thing on offer this year and I can’t help smiling as the girls shout ‘SPIEGELBEELD!’ at me for the billionth time. Every part of the song is infectious, and the chorus sticks like super glue. I even have a guilty fondness for the cheesy English parts – “Mirror, mirror, in the frame, we are just the same!” Half of me hopes the twins will stick with the cheerleader theme for JESC, because it was eye-catching with the pom-poms and lockers and stuff; the other half hopes for something new, but just as entertaining. I’m rarely not entertained by the Netherlands when it comes to Junior (the opposite applies for the ESC, unfortunately).

Everything else: Like Jedward, it’s uncertain whether this duo can actually sing, or if they’re just shouting into their mikes and the backing singers are making it listenable. I’m not sure if anyone will care that much, but 90% of the time, the winner/s of Junior Eurovision have been excellent vocalists, so to all of y’all who want the Netherlands to win, beware.

The verdict: Until I get annoyed again, 10 points.

JESC chances: I’ll be surprised if a top 5 result passes them by.

 

RUSSIA

Mechtay by Dayana Kirillova

RussiaSounds like: JESC in a neat, two-minute-something package

The good: Yeah, we’ve heard this type of song in mini-vision before. On multiple occasions, in fact. I don’t want to be sucked in so easily to something so clichéd, but I’m afraid that I am loving this entry. It goes back in time from Lerika’s very contemporary predecessor, and you know where it’s going from start to finish, but it’s so catchy I find myself ignoring both of those facts. In Monday’s running order draw, Dayana drew herself the desired performance slot of 12th (hopefully she’s not a nervous waiter) and I think Mechtay will go off as a show-closer. I can see it now – she strikes her final pose amidst fountains of pyrotechnics and various oversized props, and the crowd goes wild. Russia does pretty well in the contest, and maybe, just maybe, Dayana could win it for them for the first time.

Everything else: Then again…this might be all too ‘been there, heard that’ to be winner. Topping the scoreboard usually requires something more unique. As Russia isn’t my absolute favourite this year, I don’t mind either way. Success may also depend on Dayana’s ability to rise to what is a song that starts off in a fairly high-key, and gets higher from there. We know she can do it, but if she over-rehearses, the vocal that counts may resemble the sound of a cat being bathed against its will. Nobody wants to listen to that.

The verdict: No points for originality, but 10 for the rest.

JESC chances: Unless I’m mistaken (which is highly likely), 1st-4th.

 

SAN MARINO

O-o-O Sole Intorno A Me by Michele Perniola

San MarinoSounds like: the theme song of an Italian sitcom about bumbling police officers. Why do so many JESC entries sound like they belong on TV shows?

The good: First of all, San Marino in Junior Eurovision? *fist pump* I was surprised when they were announced as country number twelve (I had been expecting a return from Lithuania or Latvia) but I love debuts, and it’s going to be great to hear Italian on the JESC stage again. Ladies-man-in-the-making Michele is bringing his brand of sunny pop-rock to Kyiv, and despite its flaws, it’s a pretty strong starting point. I like how it begins all humble with the softer vocal, before the drums kick in and Michele ramps up the o-o-o’s. Those three syllables are very catchy, adding to a chorus that’s already sing-along paradise. The verses are quite nice too, and the Italian throughout (with no deviation into English just for the sake of it) makes the whole thing more sophisticated. All in all, Sole Intorno is a pleasant listen, and I think it strikes a good balance between being young and being mature.

Everything else: My main problem here is that the song takes so long to get going and offer us anything more than the o’s, that there isn’t enough time left at the end for it to build into something. It almost seems to be over before it’s begun. That doesn’t bother me a huge amount, but I think the song could have used that humbleàhigh energy structure in a more time-effective way, as we’ve heard before with entries like Ti Si Moja Prva Ljubav and Zo Verliefd. Also, it is far from current in sound – but I suspect that won’t affect it either way, because it isn’t being belted out by a middle-aged guy with a mullet. Kids can get away with dated stuff.

The verdict: It’s not amazing, but it’s a little irresistible. 8 points.

JESC chances: I’m uncertain, but I’d love San Marino to succeed. 5th-9th.

 

SWEDEN

Det Är Dit Vi Ska by Elias Elffors Elfström

SwedenSounds like: Tell The World I’m Here by Ulrik Munther

The good: Alexander Rybak, for some unknown reason, has decided to ditch the violin and disguise himself (not very well) as a 13-year-old boy to represent Sweden in JESC. He may as well have, anyway. Elias here bears an uncanny resemblance to Eurovision’s champion of champions, and he’s given me another reason to love his country in the contest (as if I needed one…SVERIGE FTW!). Det Är Dit Vi Ska is grown-up in the tradition of Swedish JESC songs, and has a similar kind of depth behind it as Lova’s song did last year. Also like Mitt Mod, this song isn’t an instant hit, but rather a slow burner, and took me a couple of listens to appreciate. It’s opening the show on Saturday, and I think it’ll make an excellent opener in its own way. Maybe it won’t get the audience hyped up like the Netherlands or Macedonia would do, but it will work. For me, this isn’t Sweden’s absolute best work, but it’s strong, and the music and melody are beautiful.

Everything else: There’s an elephant in the room, and it can’t sing for peanuts. Elias is a weak vocalist based on his Lilla Melodifestivalen outing, and this is not a song that requires a ‘just good enough’ vocal to be pulled off. I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt and hope that he can emulate Ryan Dolan by pleasantly surprising us all. Or at least emulate Jedward by recruiting some backing singers willing to do most of the heavy lifting.

The verdict: Solid, anthemic and meaningful. 10 points.

JESC chances: I can’t imagine a stellar result, or a dreadful one. 6th-10th.

 

UKRAINE

We Are One by Sofia Tarasova                        

UkraineSounds like: Ukraine aren’t trying too hard not to win again!

The good: Because the cost of hosting JESC doesn’t necessarily fall on the winning country (though it has in recent years) you don’t often see the hosts running on 50% in order to spare themselves another expense. IMO, Ukraine wouldn’t mind terribly topping the scoreboard again with this dance track, which manages to stand out from the sea of songs in the same genre thanks to a few interesting features. I’ve been a big fan of it from the beginning. I think the production level is high, and that it’s super catchy and on-trend. Strangely enough for a Ukrainian artist (not) Sofia is a child singing prodigy, and the song shows off her voice even without the a cappella break. I’m expecting big things from the staging – lights, sparks, dry ice, and a Gaitana-brand flower crown to name a few. Still, I think Sofia could rock this without all of those embellishments.

Everything else: What can I say? I don’t really see any negatives here. I’m not saying Ukraine will win again (in fact, it’s unlikely) but personally, I think they’ve made an excellent choice. I hope it gets a home ground cheer worth discussing the next day. What I don’t want to happen is for the crowd to boo every time a country gives less than five points to Ukraine, which is what went down in Amsterdam with the Netherlands. Talk about poor sports!

The verdict: Slick, catchy and contemporary. DOUZE POINTS!

JESC chances: It could do really well. 3rd-6th.

 

Twelve reviews down, none to go! I’m not going to do a full ranking just yet, but here’s the standings of the above six. This was a much stronger group, and there’s not a whole lot between them.

  1. Moldova
  2. Ukraine
  3. Russia
  4. Sweden
  5. Netherlands
  6. San Marino

I’ll be back on Saturday with some last-minute hopes, expectations and predictions for JESC 2013, and in the meantime, I’ll be reading about the rehearsals whilst going out of my way to avoid seeing them. Prepare your predictions and get ready to compare notes, people!

 

What do you think of Moldova, Ukraine, and everything in-between? How would you rank them?

 

JESC Month | Reviewing the Class of Kyiv (Armenia-Malta)

We’ve passed the one-week-to-go mark, people! JESC 2013 has begun, if you count the artist arrivals and rehearsals and all that jazz, which I totally do. That being the case, it’s about time I caught up with the rest of the world and did some reviewing of what’s to come.

You may have noticed I’ve finally got this blog festive, Junior-style, so to keep the momentum going, I present this: the first half of my musings on the Class of Kyiv! Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Macedonia and Malta have all been under my musical microscope (figuratively. I don’t actually own one, or know what the heck it would be/do) and here are the results. There’s a douze pointer among them, but which country is it? Place your bets and read on to see if you’re right.

Please?

 

ARMENIA

Choco Factory by Monica Avanesyan

ArmeniaSounds like: CANDY music is back in business

The good: It seems to me that Georgia and Armenia have swapped JESC tactics this year – Georgia’s gone for something more conventional than usual, whilst Armenia has upped the crazy and selected a more inventive entry than most of their previous ones. I don’t know how much this has to do with Monica being inspired by Candy (maybe kids just can’t get enough of confectionary-themed lyrics) but I’m enjoying the results. Choco Factory is less retro than Candy Music, and where that was fluffy and fun, this is interesting, but almost as infectious. It avoids over-repetition of the ‘choco’ by changing up the rhythm every chance it gets, but when that chorus comes around, its simplicity and age-old use of ‘la-la-la-la-la-la’ gets you. Well, it gets me, anyway. The violin interlude seems kind of random, but I think it adds to the interest, and I loved the way it was presented at the national final. All in all, I’m very pleased with Armenia’s choice. Not that I have any clue of what else was on offer…

Everything else: I’ll admit here that I didn’t like this as much the first time I heard it as I do now, possibly because it is more complex than your average ear-worm. That could be a slight danger to its chances of success on Saturday night. Having said that, I’m expecting a colourful and entertaining stage show from Monica and her troupe of pastry chefs-in-the-making, and if that expectation is met, it should eclipse any issues with the song not being instant enough.

The verdict: The Georgia in Armenia works for me. 10 points.

JESC chances: I can’t imagine it crashing and burning by any means. 2nd-6th.

 

AZERBAIJAN

Me and My Guitar by Rustam Karimov 

AzerbaijanSounds like: Azerbaijan has taken over from Moldova as the sender of 1980s TV show theme tunes

The good: Is this kid not the boy version of Anastasiya Petryk? As in, the most adorable 10-year-old in the world? He is just so PRECIOUS! I don’t know if that will help him at all, since his song ain’t quite so precious. It’s not terrible (and even if it were I don’t think I’d have the heart to say so in case it made Rustam cry). In fact, it’s an enjoyable listen, partly because of the Azerbaijani, which is a lovely language we don’t get to hear often enough in Eurovision. It keeps up a good momentum, and the chorus is nice, if not particularly punchy. It’s hard to say whether his voice will be as good live as it is in studio, since one again we haven’t had a live preview from Azerbaijan. I really hope it is. I also hope he brings a guitar onstage so that the song title actually makes sense. There isn’t a string or pick to be seen in the music video.

Everything else: Like I said, I couldn’t bring myself to be mean about this. What I will say is, it’s clear that Azerbaijan hasn’t taken to JESC like they did ESC. In the adult contest, they chalk up success after success with polished, appealing songs, seemingly without effort, and they have done from the beginning. But Junior is so far proving to be a harder nut to crack. I figured they’d come back with a vengeance after they tasted failure last year, but Me and My Guitar seems like a different song on the same level. It’s sweet, but not that exciting and not very distinctive.

The verdict: Too cute to trash. 7 points.

JESC chances: He may do better than Omar & Suada, but not by a heap. 8th-10th.

 

BELARUS

Poy So Mnoy by Ilya Volkov

BelarusSounds like: The good old JESC songs of yore (as in, the good old JESC songs of five or six years ago)

The good: I may as well lay all my cards on the table straight away. *slow claps* Well. Done. Belarus! I LOVE this song, and I don’t care who knows it – especially if ‘who knows it’ turns out to be some rich JESC-obsessed Belarusian who wants to fly me out to Kyiv just so I can wave a flag for Ilya next weekend. Speaking of the man behind the music…Ilya did some fancy backup dancing for Egor Zheshko in Amsterdam last year, and now he’s elbowed Egor out of the way in order to be the main attraction. Good move. Poy So Mnoy is miles better than A More-More. It is the catchiest song of the year IMO, and it’s got those irresistible hey-heys going on that complement verses and choruses made up of actual words (shocking, right?). I love the melody, I love the electronic feel, I love the tricky notes that are thrown in…just…douze points all round! I’m hoping for slick, dance-heavy staging on this one, with a lot of light effects. PS – Ilya is almost as adorable as Rustam. There is much cuteness to be had in 2013!

Everything else: There is something in the way of this that takes me back to earlier years of Junior, and songs like Noviy Den by Andrey Kunets (also from Belarus) and Prati Mi SMS by Bobi Andonov (a favourite from FYROM). I realise those are two very different songs, but it’s stuff like that I’m reminded of when I hear Poy So Mnoy. For me, that’s not a bad thing – I like to get nostalgic whenever I can – but perhaps the voting public/juries are looking for something more ‘now’ than ‘then’. Of course, if nobody else sees this song as harking back to a time gone by, then we have no problem.

The verdict: Yes, Ilya, I WILL sing with you. DOUZE POINTS!

JESC chances: Hopefully a decent placing is on the cards. My guess is 4th-6th.

 

GEORGIA

Give Me Your Smile by The Smile Shop

GeorgiaSounds like: Georgia on 75%…

The good: We’ve become accustomed to getting quirky, creative entries from Georgia that always work, even if it seems like they couldn’t possibly. This year is one of their more conservative (a.k.a. safe) songs, but having come out of Bzikebi Studio (manufacturers of CANDY, the Funkids and obviously, Bzikebi) The Smile Shop’s Give Me Your Smile – a title I assume was inspired by that creepy line from Compass Band – is still pretty good. It’s retro through-and-through with a decent mixed-language hook (luckily, as there’s not that much to latch on to elsewhere). Even though it’s not as standout as usual, I’ll be surprised if the Georgian level of costuming, staging, dancing and vocals isn’t maintained. Generally, I’m not finding myself thinking ‘Damn, they’ve done it again!’; but I still think the song is proof that Georgia knows how to tackle JESC.

Everything else: As you can see up there ↑, I feel like Georgia has come into the contest this year without the hunger to win. Can you blame them? They won in 2011 and scored silver in Amsterdam, and no matter how they do on Saturday, there’s a good chance they’ll get to host the show if it continues (fingers and toes crossed). Even running on a semi-full tank, they’re by no means the weakest competitors as far as I’m concerned.

The verdict: I’m not in love, but I do like it a lot. 8 points.

JESC chances: I can’t imagine a fail, but there’s a first time for everything. 3rd-7th.

 

FYR MACEDONIA

Ohrid I Muzika by Barbara Popović

MacedoniaSounds like: 1990s trance, Balkan-style. Also, a little like Vodka (Malta’s ESC entry of 2008)

The good: First and foremost, it’s great to have FYROM back in Junior after a year’s break. What they’ve come back with is a catchy, speedy and summery song that’s pretty well performed by Barbara. It doesn’t blow me away, but considering I was hoping for some straightforward ethno-pop and was let down, I’ve come around. The chorus is quite memorable, with the potential to get stuck in people’s heads. You can’t fault the energy levels either, with the pace starting at maximum and ending the same, only slowing for a brief moment before the final chorus. If Barbara can get through to the live final without having collapsed from exhaustion, I will be impressed. She seems to be capable of delivering a decent vocal and dance moves at the same time, so she should turn out an entertaining performance.

Everything else: The full-on pace of this song has its pros and cons. Negatively speaking, it is intense, and even though the length is the same as all of the other entries, it goes by in a flash and leaves me thinking ‘what the fudge just happened?’. It won’t have the luxury of multiple outings to let people absorb its good qualities on the night, and many first-time listeners (apparently they make up a big part of the voting community) may be left dazed and confused when its over. I’d love FYROM to win, but this is not the song they’re going to do it with.

The verdict: If I’m feeling on edge, 7 points. Otherwise, 8.

JESC chances: Middling. 6th-8th.

 

MALTA

The Start by Gaia Cauchi

MaltaSounds like: it should be called The End and be played at funerals

The good: Malta has been absent from JESC for two years now, so it’s good to have them back as well. Unfortunately that sums up all the positive stuff I have to say about their comeback, and as Gaia’s a fan favourite I fully expect abuse for even daring to say that.

Everything else: And the award for Song Most Resembling a Cheesy Talent Show Winner’s Single goes to…Malta! They also get the award for Jaz’s Bottom-Ranker 2013, FYI. I’m sorry, because I know a lot of people are backing this, but…I don’t get it. Yes, Gaia has a big voice and the song is full of show-stopping notes, but that big voice has a strange nasally thing going on that irritates me, and those show-stopping notes (that sound like they were written out of key with the music) follow suit. Adding to my thumbs-down mentality is the depressing ‘wailing’ vibe it gives off, and those clichéd lyrics about believing and achieving from the start in your heart. It’s all too much! Listening to this makes me feel overwhelmed and annoyed, and I don’t think a JESC song has ever given me that combo of emotions before. I really am sorry for the trash talk and I’m sure Gaia’s a lovely girl, but I get paid to be honest. Well, I don’t get paid to blog (unfortunately) but honesty is the best policy, right?

The verdict: No thanks. 3 points.

JESC chances: I don’t think this is the winner (at least I hope it’s not) but because I dislike it it’s sure to do well. 3rd-6th.

 

 

So that’s what I’m thinking at this point in time, but please don’t hold me to these opinions or predictions forever, because a) I change my mind all the time, and b) I am the world’s crappiest predictor…especially when it comes to JESC. What is certain is that right now, for these six songs, my rankings look like this:

  1. Belarus
  2. Armenia
  3. Georgia
  4. Macedonia
  5. Azerbaijan
  6. Malta

 

What about you? What do you think of these six songs, and how do they stack up against each other?

 

NEXT TIME: It’s the turn of Moldova, the Netherlands, Russia, San Marino, Sweden and the host country Ukraine to be reviewed under my imaginary musical microscope (I’ve decided it’s a regular one that plays music…an iScope?). Again, there’s a douze pointer, but it might not be who you’d expect. I hope you’ll drop by to check out the other half of the Class if Kyiv and let me know what you think of them.