Blog Archives

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.

 

header

 

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!

 

2015sig

 

 

THE EBJ JUNIOR JURY REVIEWS | Albania, Belarus, Italy + Malta

I bet you didn’t see this coming. Regardless and right on schedule, round three of the EBJJJ judgments has arrived!

Today, it’s time for a few of last year’s JESC success stories; host country Malta; and Italy (who neither did brilliantly in 2015 or are hosting like they COULD HAVE in 2015) to be picked apart by me and my posse of Europop aficionados. Prepare for highs, lows and mixed emotions, people.

 

header

 

Without further ado, let’s jump in to judging Klesta, Alexander, Fiamma and Christina’s songs for Europe. And Australia. And any other country that happens to be broadcasting JESC this year.

 

 

albania

My thoughts Last year, I staunchly supported Mishela Rapo and her dibi-dibi-Dambaje as they ventured forth into the bloody musical battle that is…not JESC (blood-drawing = not so child-friendly, and probably frowned upon by the EBU). The haters did hate, but she went on to finish 5th, equaling the best-ever ranking in a Eurovision event that Albania secured with Rona Nishliu in Baku. Funnily enough, their Junior entry for 2016 reminds me of Suus, for several reasons. But am I intending to sing its praises the way I did with Dambaje (and yes, Suus, once my ears became accustomed to Rona’s tuneful but still very loud wailing)? The answer is ‘kind of’. In my opinion, there’s more to like about Klesta’s Besoj than there is NOT to like about it, but it isn’t flawless. Let’s start with the good stuff, though. A mature, sophisticated and B-I-G ballad bursting out of a precious-looking little girl (in glasses, no less) has been a secret to JESC success lately – think Gaia Cauchi’s 2013 win or Slovenia’s song from Lina Kuduzović last year. So there’s that. Then there’s the fact that this ballad features multiple moments of melodic magnificence throughout, particularly between the choruses. The choruses do have their strengths, as they’re a dynamic contrast to the softness of what surrounds them, exploding out of nowhere and allowing Klesta to reach her full vocal potential (surprising unsuspecting viewers in the process). It’s a statement song, that’s for sure. But I have to point out its flaws if I want to get all of the cattiness out of my system before these reviews reach their conclusion, and these are the most obvious: firstly, the somewhat strange use of English in amongst the Albanian – ‘believe’ popping up in that first chorus instead of ‘besoj’ is too random for my tastes. Secondly, the second half of the chorus, where most of the power is packed, is OTT enough to give me the beginnings of a headache by time the song’s over. Still, my personal ratio of like to dislike here is about 85%:15%, which ain’t bad for Albania. It just means that the more people who feel the way I do, the more likely they’ll have to settle for a less impressive result than last year’s. I’m not sure if it would be a help or hindrance if Klesta took even more cues from Rona Nishliu and appeared on stage with her hair forming part of her costume…

My score 7

The EBJ Junior Jury says…

  • Dara, Australia – 6
  • James, UK – 6
  • Joshua, Australia – 12
  • Matthew, Ireland – 7
  • Michael, Australia – 4
  • Penny, USA – 10
  • Rory, Ireland – 10

 

 

belarus

My thoughts This is old-school Junior Eurovision right here, folks! From 2003-2010 (ish), pre-teen pop was the core of the contest. Nowadays, we’re lucky to get two or three tracks per year that bring back those memories (the trio of 2016 being Belarus, The Netherlands and Serbia). Alex’s homeland came third in 2013 with something similar, and I’m guessing he’d like to do the same or better. Sadly, I’m about to burst his bubble, because Muzyka Moikh Pobed is only okay, and certainly no Poy So Mnoy (then again, what is? That was BOSS). It’s a mid-tempo, pretty well-sung and performed song with a reasonably catchy chorus, and I do get a kick out of it – just not  a hard one. More like a gentle poke with the toe, if you were after specifics. There’s nothing about it that’s memorable, even though comparing it to anything else in the competition would be like comparing Lordi and Boggie. It would make a great Sing It Away­-style opener for the show because it’s energetic and sets the mood switch to ‘Party Time!!!’, but can then promptly be forgotten about by everyone and eventually putt-putt to a halt in 13th place because it’s disposable. I don’t want it to fail – if an outcome like that would be considered a fail – but I don’t see it having the steam to climb much higher. That doesn’t mean Europe should stop sending kid pop: it can be done in a memorable way that still scores serious points. It just means that…well, you can’t take a top 5 spot every single year. Unless you’re Armenia.

My score 6

The EBJ Junior Jury says… 

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

 

 

italy

My thoughts Nobody does class like Italy. It consistently ensures they get great adult Eurovision results (when they don’t, those are the exceptions, not the rule) and even won them the Junior Eurovision title on their very first try in 2014. Fiamma Boccia’s ballad, which is an ode to her mother (see, Axel Hirsoux…it CAN be done in a non-creepy way!), is nothing if not classy. Yet it still manages to be age-appropriate for the twelve-year-old, who actually looks younger than her years (she may be asked for ID upon entering the Mediterranean Conference Centre for the first time). To be honest, I thought Cara Mamma was an unfortunate sweet-and-savoury combo of sugar and cheese back when it was presented, and if it was entirely in English (against JESC rules, I know, but I’m talking hypothetically here) I probably still would. But further listens have somehow changed my mind, and I’m really digging it now. It is sweet, but the Italian, as always, adds an aspect of beauty that’s very appealing. The chorus is soaring and melodic without being overblown or melodramatic. And the softness of the verses that is echoed when the song winds down gives me a satisfying feeling that the entry has come full circle, returning to its roots and making it more meaningful. Italy also makes excellent use of the little English they’ve opted for, as it doesn’t feel like it was crammed in just to increase the song’s accessibility. Fiamma is pretty darn cute, and has an emotional presence – at least in her music video – that reminds me of Alisa Kozhikina, who represented Russia the year Italy won JESC (albeit with a ballad that was too mature and melodramatic for my liking, but still finished 5th). I think she has one of the best ballads of the year up her sleeve, but with tough competition coming from Albania, Bulgaria and Poland, she needs to pull off a top-notch performance to give herself the best shot of outdoing the others. I’d like to see her do well, and I bet her mother would too (her father, who’s probably feeling a little left out, may be less supportive).

My score 8

The EBJ Junior Jury says… 

  • Dara, Australia – 5
  • James, UK – 12
  • Joshua, Australia – 7
  • Matthew, Ireland – 10
  • Michael, Australia – 8
  • Penny, USA – 8
  • Rory, Ireland – 4

 

 

malta

My thoughts Malta has been hyped a heap at Junior Eurovision recently, and usually they live up to that hype by winning or doing very well indeed. Destiny’s Not My Soul wasn’t my favourite entry last year (far from it, in fact), but she certainly fulfilled expectations, and did deserve to win as far as I’m concerned. But if Christina Magrin does the double on home soil with the frequently-fangirled-over Parachute, I will be FURIOUS. To cut what could be a long story short, I hate this song. So much so that I’ve taken to calling it Parashite (hoping that Christina never finds out, because I’m not a monster who wants to hurt a child’s feelings). I seem to be in the minority, but to me the song is annoying, vacuous, derivative crap. And what the heck is up with that ‘Ew ew ewhew ewwwww’ part of the chorus? I mean, yes, it accurately describes my attitude towards the whole thing, but what does it add to the track? It’s like the writers couldn’t for the life of them think of any more lyrics for that section, so they decided to string out the last syllable sung instead in the most irritating manner known to man. All in all, this is bubblegum pop that should stay stuck to the underside of a school desk somewhere. Maybe this rant makes me a distant relative of Satan himself, but I have to tell the truth! I will admit that Christina is a great singer, as is everyone under the age of sixteen who calls Malta home. But her vocal gymnastics can’t somersault the song into my good graces. Worryingly, the last time I felt this strongly about a Maltese JESC entry in a negative way, it was 2013 and Gaia Cauchi’s The Start went on to win with ease. So if Parachute does the same¸ y’all can go off and celebrate and I’ll just be crying in a corner, cursing the juries under my breath.

My score 2

The EBJ Junior Jury says… 

  • Dara, Australia – 5
  • James, UK – 10
  • Joshua, Australia – 6
  • Matthew, Ireland – 12
  • Michael, Australia – 6
  • Penny, USA – 8
  • Rory, Ireland – 3

 

 

And with that controversial ending to today’s round of reviews (direct all hate mail to me and expect a falsely polite reply within six to eight months), there’s now twelve down, five to go for the EBJ Junior Jury.

Our ranking after scoring this group of four looks like this:

  1. Albania (7.75)
  2. Italy (7.75)
  3. Belarus (6.62)
  4. Malta (6.5)

It’s the ballads that have reigned supreme, with Albania and Italy equaling each other’s scores. Albania gets the top spot on countback, but the gap between the two is barely there. Belarus and Malta keep each other company in the lower half, with very little separating them as well.

How do they all fit in to the full EBJJJ ranking for 2016? Well, you’ll have to wait and see – but don’t worry, there’s not long now until I reveal all. The final five left to be reviewed are Australia, Israel, Macedonia, The Netherlands and Serbia. Maybe we’ve saved the best until last….maybe we haven’t. Either way, you won’t want to miss it.

 

Did Albania deserve to take out today’s top honours, or should Malta have been the cream of the crop á la Destiny? Perhaps Italy or Belarus have won you over instead. Let me know what you’re thinking in the comments!

 

 2015sig

 

 

THE EBJ JUNIOR JURY REVIEWS | Bulgaria, Cyprus, Ireland + Russia

Bonjour, people who don’t hate song contests for kids aged 10-14! I’m back, and so is the EBJ Junior Jury. We’re just over a week away from setting foot on Maltese soil (metaphorically…most of the people actually attending who I hate with a passion will be touching down well before then) and finding the fourteenth winner of the Junior Eurovision Song Contest. Will it be one of the countries the EBJJJ and I are reviewing and ranking today?

 

header

 

The countries in question are Bulgaria, Cyprus, Ireland and Russia. That’s a mixed bag of competitors who’ve often dominated the contest, have recently proved to be worth watching, or who’ve just joined the party and are still finding their feet. Read on to find out what me and my slaves – I mean, scoring buddies – think of what’s on offer from Lidia, George, Zena and Sofia, and whether any of them have a chance of taking the most precious trophy on the planet back home to their parents’ display cabinet.

 

 

bulgaria

My thoughts I’m not sure how Bulgaria stumbled across the formula for JESC success, but they’ve definitely done it. I actually reckon they’ve always had it up their sleeve, despite that not being reflected in their results 100% of the time. Since their second comeback in 2014, they’ve put extra effort into their entries, and it’s easy to forget that they didn’t actually win with Krisia, Hasan & Ibrahim last time Junior traveled to Malta. So can they replicate Planet of the Children’s stellar second place with the more upbeat – and in a lot of ways, just as impressive – Magical Day? Let’s just say I wouldn’t complain if they did. And then say more stuff, because that hardly constitutes a comprehensive song review. This song is absolutely adorable, and so is Lidia (so say dobŭr den to a cuteness overload). It’s so happy and heartwarming, nobody could hate it (unfeeling, soulless psychopaths aside), and with that Gravity-like tribal beat helping it strike a balance between youthful and mature, it never feels too sugary even though it is very sweet. As with Armenia’s song, the English lyrics that finish this off are thematically predictable, but well-written enough to make them a benefit rather than a detriment to the entry. The verses are pretty and the chorus is catchier than a beach ball covered in super glue. Basically, Bulgaria has kicked butt once again, and I hope the juries reward them for it (assuming that all of the other elements of the entry are up to par when it counts). Surely even Christer Björkman will defrost during Lidia’s performance?

My score 10

The EBJ Junior Jury says… 

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

 

 

 cyprus

My thoughts Cyprus has been doing the hokey-pokey with JESC lately: one year they’re in, the next they’re out. They made a cracking comeback in 2014 only to be robbed of the top five placing they undoubtedly deserved (don’t try to argue with me on this. I have claws and I’m not afraid to use them!). Then they opted to stay home rather than send someone to Sofia in 2015. Now, in 2016, they’re back again, and I’d like to say it’s with a bang…but I just can’t. Don’t get me wrong – there’s a lot to like about George’s Dance Floor. The title certainly vouches for its unflagging energy, which is a welcome relief from all of the ballads in the comp. It even helps the song stand out next to the likes of Armenia, The Netherlands and Malta, thanks to the intensity of the beat and an ethnopop aura that Sakis Rouvas would be proud of. The verses are also a strong point, with their melody promising good things. Unfortunately, those promises are swiftly snapped in half by a chorus that can best be described as a non-event. It is cool to hear something so minimalist in JESC, but there’s probably a reason why that kind of approach is rarely taken in this context. Plus, this particular bare-bones, mostly musical chorus is the weakest, least memorable part of the song when it should be the opposite. Based on how catchy and unique the verses are, it’s disappointing to have the rest not measure up to the same standard. I won’t write Cyprus off as total failures yet, since a sensational live performance – feat. the difficult combo of excellent vocals and dance moves from George – could secure them a better result than the song alone would. But, prior to seeing how Mr. Michaelides will tackle his JESC trip and discovering where he’s sandwiched in the running order, I’m thinking they’re in trouble.

My score 6

The EBJ Junior Jury says… 

  • Dara, Australia – 3
  • James, UK – 4
  • Joshua, Australia – 1
  • Matthew, Ireland – 4
  • Michael, Australia – 3
  • Penny, USA – 6
  • Rory, Ireland – 3

 

 

ireland

My thoughts It’s fantastic to have Ireland – a country I never thought we’d see in JESC once upon a time – back for attempt number two at finding a kid who can outshine a bunch of other kids from across the continent (and Australia). As they did for their debut, Ireland put actual, televised effort into choosing their entry this year, via a national final of Melodifestivalen proportions (at least in terms of its length). The fruit of their labour was Zena Donnelly and Bríce Ar Bhrice, and together, singer and song have potential…to not finish last. In a departure from Aimee Banks’ classical stylings, this song is pure and simple pop (feat. a tinge of folksiness), and it’s nice enough to listen to. But it never explodes into something spectacular. There’s always a song or two like this participating in JESC (not to mention the handful that appear at adult Eurovision) but they don’t tend to compete very well – they don’t have the spark required to really fight for a good finish. I think Zena’s song is lacking that x factor. Remember The Netherlands’ entry from last year, Shalisa’s Million Lights? That was the same sort of radio-friendly, inoffensive, contemporary-but-not-cutting-edge pop song that is enjoyable, but wasn’t expected to set the scoreboard alight. As such, I could easily make a case for Ireland slotting into the 14th-16th results range next weekend. Personally, I do like this track, but I don’t love it – and if the jury members feel the same way, then Ireland will miss out on hearing their country’s name and ‘twelve points!’ called out in the same sentence. Unless that sentence is ‘Our twelve points go to…someone other than Ireland’.  But good luck to the Emerald Isle anyway. I invite them to prove me wrong!

My score 6

The EBJ Junior Jury says… 

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

 

 

russia

My thoughts I could harp on about Russia’s JESC history, and how they came to be sending Sofia and Team Water of Life (that’s #teamwateroflife on social media, because if it can’t be hashtagged, does it even exist?) to Malta, et cetera, all in order to maintain a sense of mystery before I actually unveil my verdict on Water of Life. But I won’t. Not when I can get straight to the point by saying that I am completely, utterly, 110% head-over-heels in love with this song. It’s my favourite this year by a mile, and I’ll be cheering Russia on to win the whole contest without doubt. The package of this entry is the most well-wrapped, delightfully-decorated one in the pile, and it contains everything I’m looking for in a competition song. It’s exotic without being inaccessible, as a pop-power ballad punctuated by that ethnic riff; it’s melodic, with the verses melting into the pre-chorus and then into the chorus itself effortlessly; it’s powerful and dynamic, especially now Sofia’s being vocally and visually supported by other singers; it’s memorable, with a chorus that sticks in your mind even in Russian….I mean, I need to be forcibly restrained from complimenting it any further! But since nobody’s here to do that, I’ll carry on. The revamp that added the other girls to the line-up, mixed up the language and switched the title from Zhivaya Voda to Water of Life improved on perfection, retaining the essence of what led the song to win the Russian selection in the first place. And I’m pretty sure it’s going to look great on the JESC stage: it’s a song big enough to fill the space, and would have been even if Sofia had gone solo. I’m only worried about what it might sound like live, as four voices are harder to whip into shape than one, and we’re yet to hear Sofia AND The Water of Life Project in action outside of a recording studio. But I’m so biased at this point, I’m going to pretend that a dodgy vocal performance isn’t even a possibility. Water of Life is Belarus’ Sokal from 2014 – a song I also loved – but even better, with a greater chance of winning. As you’ll have figured out by now (both because I implied it and actually said so), I hope it does. At the very least, a repeat result from one Eurovision event to the next should be in store for Russia. But their bronze from Stockholm really deserves to become gold in Valletta.

My score 12

The EBJ Junior Jury says… 

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

 

 

Eight down, nine to go! Time flies when you’re being too harsh on children and their musical talents (or lack thereof). Let’s have a look at the ranking for this round of reviews, shall we?

  1. Russia (10.87)
  2. Bulgaria (8)
  3. Ireland (7.37)  
  4. Cyprus (3.75)

Clearly the best was saved for last today, with Russia steamrolling straight into the top spot. Last year’s host country Bulgaria snap up second place, not too far ahead of second-timers Ireland. Poor Cyprus falls far behind in what could be an unfortunate foreshadowing of their actual result.

Stay tuned to find out how these figures fit in to the EBJJJ’s full ranking, which will be revealed alongside my predictions for the show next Sunday. Before that time comes, there’s more critiquing to be done – and next time, it’s Albania, Belarus, Italy and Malta’s turn to be judged. You won’t want to miss it, because it’s obviously going to be an irresistible hybrid of hilarious witticisms and high-class journalism.

 

*cricket chirps/throat-clearing/clusters of tumbleweed a’ tumbling*

 

2015sig

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

header

 

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

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

 

armenia

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

My score 10

The EBJ Junior Jury says…

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

 

 georgia 

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

My score 6

The EBJ Junior Jury says…

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

 

poland

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

My score 8

The EBJ Junior Jury says…

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

 

ukraine

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

My score 12

The EBJ Junior Jury says…

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

Until next time…

 

2015sig