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IS IT TOO LATE FOR (SOME ESC FINAL) LOVE? Looking back at Tel Aviv’s Saturday show, at long last

Hi guys! Jaz here. Before I begin this post properly, I wanted to apologise for being so AWOL since Eurovision and for taking an Alekseev-esque forever to get this final review up. The only way it could have been later is if I posted it closer to the final of Eurovision 2020 – and believe me, that could easily have been the case. Thanks to a lot of life stuff (some good, some bad and some that kept me inconveniently busy) I’ve had to prioritise other things for the past four weeks, and I couldn’t be on the ball with post-ESC discussions which I’m sincerely sorry for. I’m also sorry to announce that, since too much time has passed and because I’m still under pressure, I won’t be able to hand out any Eurovision awards this year. I’ve done so in some form every single year since 2009, so I’m pretty sad about having to abandon them – but I am planning to bring them back bigger (SO MUCH BIGGER) and better next year. By then you’ll be looking at a new and improved EBJ, because at the moment I’m also working on a complete revamp/rebrand of the blog to coincide – more or less – with its 10th birthday (!!!). I felt that an extreme makeover was due, and I thought this was the perfect time to make it happen. Please stay tuned for the unveiling (a costume reveal of sorts) and don’t give up on me if you’ve enjoyed my contest-driven content in the past. I’m still here, planning exciting Eurovisiony things for the off season, and I’m always available to chat on my socials. Follow me everywhere and/or subscribe to EBJ in the sidebar, so you know when I’m back on track and when you can check out my kickass new look and layout! Now, back to today’s post…

 

BREAKING NEWS: I’m still alive! My excuse for taking so long to get this grand final review done is that I pushed everything non-ESC in my life aside in the contest lead-up (since I couldn’t concentrate on anything else). And so, after the show I sadly had to spend some time attending to stuff like going to work, paying my bills and interacting with other human beings.

But I’m back on the blog now, with a supersized look at what went down on May 18. This was the final from top to bottom, feat. the controversial aftermath that’s left the contest with some loose ends. Are you up for attempting to read the whole thing? If so, get comfortable, brew yourself a behemoth cup of coffee, and I’ll see you on the other side of this Eurovision 2019 tsunami of typing. Catch me down in the comments where we can talk about all things Tel Aviv…if there’s anything I haven’t already mentioned by then.

 

 

That’s how you start a show! The star-studded flag parade

I don’t know about you, but I love the now-traditional ESC final flag parade/artist parade/whatever you want to call it. It gives all of the acts a pressure-free moment in the spotlight to say hey to the crowd, have a dance break or wordlessly advocate the destruction of capitalism. You know, the usual.

This year there were plenty of non-competing stars involved too, i.e. Dana International, Ilanit and Netta (of course). But the best guest was Nadav Guedj. No longer a teenager but still looking 30 like he did in Vienna at age 16, he asked us to let him show us Tel Aviv IN Tel Aviv, and it was magical. Thanks to KAN for making all of our dreams come true by bringing him back. I just wish we could have had the full three minutes of Golden Boy, since Nadav is the self-proclaimed King of Fun and all.

 

 

The automatic finalists bring their A-game

Now, on to the filling of this song contest sandwich. It’s a blessing and a curse having your spot in the final secured, and it sometimes feels like the Big 5/host country don’t have the same fight of the countries that made it through semis. I was pretty impressed this year, though…mostly. The first auto-finalist to take the stage was Germany, followed by hosts Israel, then the UK, France, Italy and last but not least, Spain. My ranking of their performances from ‘HECK YES!’ to ‘hmm’ might surprise you.

Spain Why did I love this? How did the tacky two-storey house manage to work? Why did the giant puppet not-on-a-string amuse, not confuse me? It must be the sheer power of Miki, his biceps and La Venda. This whole performance was OTT and not at all how I would have played it – but it was fun, created a party atmosphere and closed off the show in classic Eurovision style.

France Speaking of OTT, France could have taken Chanel’s advice and taken one thing off before leaving the house (or in this case, dropped one element of their staging before taking it to Tel Aviv) but again, I didn’t mind that much. Bilal has sass, stage presence and style pouring out of him. Combine that with the poignance of his two dancers and the home video slotted in at the end, and you’ve got a memorable and moving performance.

Italy For me, this live didn’t quite do justice to Soldi as a song, but that’s because the song is so good it’s better heard and not seen (not that I mind looking at Mahmood for three minutes). I would have preferred more of a ‘Sacha Jean Baptiste Does Switzerland’ approach to the visuals: edgy camera cuts, a restricted colour scheme and that screen ratio that gives things a music video look. But this is Italy and they never completely miss the mark.

Israel Say what you want about the song (and the possibility of Kobi being Sacha Baron Cohen in disguise) but this was a very classy presentation from Israel. After the bonkers-ness of Toy, it was a nice contrast to see them pull off something serious and sophisticated. There weren’t any plot twists, but a song being staged exactly as it sounds like it should be isn’t a bad thing.

Germany Call me crazy, but my opinion of Sister changed for the (slightly) better after Carlotta and Laurita had done their thing. Against the odds and my better judgment, I genuinely liked what Germany did with their staging, simple as it was. Chemistry and vocals were top-notch. This was not the definite last place performance I was expecting. Lucky I didn’t bet on it!

The UK Michael’s performance might be my least favourite of the auto-finalists, but it wasn’t bad. It just wasn’t anything special. It felt a bit half-baked as he wandered around the stage by himself for the first few minutes, and even when his backing singers materialised, it wasn’t a ‘wow’ moment.

 

 

Highlights of the first half

The honour of opening this year’s final went to Malta, which was going to be no mean feat for 18-year-old deer-in-the-headlights Michela. Chameleon was the best possible song to start with, but would being first cab off the rank scare her into underperforming? That was the question, and no way, José was the answer. Michela did an awesome job, even if she still lacked the confidence of former openers like Laura Tesoro and Imri Ziv.

Poor Albania was stuck with the cursed second slot (which was a waste of space for any country that wasn’t Germany, to be honest) but I was just happy to have Jonida in the final. As always, she looked stunning – Eurovision on Saturday night, flamenco competition on Sunday morning – and as always, she sang like an extremely impassioned songbird. Moody lighting! Fire! Writhing CGI bodies in a massive bird’s nest! This had it all.

Once again I had the pants charmed off me (not literally, but it was a close one) by the Czech Republic. Lake Malawi are fantastic live – with lead singer Albert delivering vocals almost as perfect as his teeth – and their simple-but-effective performance provided damning evidence that less is more. I couldn’t complain about any aspect of their three minutes, even if you held a confetti cannon to my head.

If you thought Sweden wasn’t going to make my shortlist of first-half highlights, do you even know me at all? Their staging was glorious, John was his usual charismatic self and The Mamas were fab. I would like some more fire from Sweden next year, and they’ll need it if they want to secure that seventh win Björkman in particular is so desperate for.

Everybody was switched on for the final, and that was extra evident with Cyprus. If you read my SF1 review you’ll have seen my Tamta roast (she wasn’t putting in any effort, her outfit was atrocious, etc) and while I stand by what I said then, I have to hand it to her – that Saturday night performance was AMAZING. Whatever was holding her back earlier in the week was no longer an issue, and she showed us all why she’s such a superstar when it mattered most. I actually came around on the crystal-encrusted bathing suit and crotch-high platform boots, so I guess I can’t stand by my initial comments on those. It’s not a great getup for grocery shopping, but for Eurovision? Sure.

The one to watch out for in this half was The Netherlands. And if there was anything amiss or missing in the semi – camera connection, descending lamps that dropped down a little too far, etc – it had been dealt with to make this a definite contender, if not the Fairytale-type runaway winner the odds were suggesting it could be. I still had the overwhelming desire to pick up that piano and throw it across the arena, but I couldn’t because a) I was at home in Australia and not inside the arena, and b) I’d have trouble lifting it, let alone making it airborne.

 

 

My favourite moments from a seriously stacked second half

Back when I reviewed Norway I said Spirit In The Sky was way too much fun to be left in the semi and miss out on the final top 10. Alexandra, Tom and Fred reminded me why with their sensational three-minute schlagerjoikfest (there’s a word I never thought I’d use, but I hope I get to use it again). I still wasn’t totally sold on the visuals, but the song is irresistible. And Alexandra is a Nordic queen who we need at Eurovision solo ASAP (no offence, boys).

The award for Most Improved Between SF and GF goes to…who else but Estonia? Victor’s semi performance at Eesti Laul was super ropey only for him to pull himself together for the final, and the exact same thing happened at Eurovision. Weird. Whatever the reason for the tune-up, the only thing wrong with Estonia’s performance on Saturday was that shot of a cameraman and the side of the stage that went on for a full three seconds. What is it with songs called Storm and things going wrong? Granted, a dodgy shot isn’t on the same scale as a stage crasher, but I’m starting to think this song title is cursed.

All references to how ridiculously good-looking Chingiz is aside (for the moment), Azerbaijan was well and truly back this year. If X My Heart was a half-hearted hop, Truth was a running leap across the Grand Canyon that landed safely on the other side. They may have been trying too hard with that tacky representation of Chingiz’ soul taking a quick vacay in the arena rafters…but apart from that, I have no issues. I would love to see Mr Mustafayev back at Eurovision in the future doing some of the flamenco-fusion he does so well. Preferably shirtless.

It was going to be hard for Serbia to stand out in such a competitive half of the final. In all honesty, they didn’t. But that doesn’t mean Nevena didn’t deliver absolute perfection. I love Kruna on its own, but the atmospheric staging, glamourous/edgy styling and phenomenal vocals were the salted caramel syrup and toasted coconut flakes on top (great, now I’m hungry).

I don’t know where Switzerland got that extra spark from, but it was in the air the whole time Luca and his ladies (and gentlemen) in red were dirty dancing their butts off on stage. This felt like a surefire podium finisher to me, or at least Switzerland’s most successful contest in (what feels like) forever. She Got Me was never going to be vocal jury bait, but it nailed the Eurobanger brief.

How can I not mention my homegirl Kate Miller-Heidke? With all the momentum she’d built during the week and all the talk of Australia potentially taking the trophy home, I was extra anxious during her performance. Would she deliver a knockout vocal again? Would the poles bend and not snap? Would she succumb to the pressure and accidentally fling her mic across the arena and concuss Jon Ola Sand? Thankfully, KMH sang beautifully and did not injure herself or the Executive Supervisor of the EBU. See, Australians can behave themselves when they’re overseas! Zero Gravity’s staging was and will remain iconic for a long time to come, so a big congrats to our delegation for making magic.

 

 

The best and worst of the interval acts

In hindsight, the 2019 show should have been called the Eurovision Interval Act Contest. If that were the case and we were awarding points to everyone who occupied the HOUR-LONG voting window, my douze would go to the Song Switch for sure. Conchita, Måns, Eleni and Verka practically blew the roof off Expo Tel Aviv (is that an inappropriate way of describing it?) with their respective reworkings of Heroes, Fuego, Dancing Lasha Tumbai and Toy. The most powerful rendition was Conchita’s; MZW gets the gong for Song I’ll Be Playing On Spotify Constantly; Verka by Eleni shouldn’t have worked but somehow it did (I could say the same for the strategically-placed stars on her bodysuit); and Verka herself took Toy to brilliant new levels of bonkers. I would happily watch an entire concert of Eurovision grads singing each other’s entries, especially if it culminates in a group song with yet another former winner like Gali Atari.

My other favourite interval act – which I had to YouTube later because Aussie broadcaster SBS cut it out to make room for an ad break – was The Idan Raichel Project with Bo’ee. I was already a big fan of Idan, so when I found out he was on the program it was like discovering Darin and Agnes were doing Malmö all over again (well, maybe not quite that exciting, but what is?). This guy moves me with his music like an Israeli version of Joci Pápai, and there was no chance I’d be unaffected by his Eurovision appearance. Any chance we can have him and his project represent Israel one day, KAN? You’d get most of my votes if you made it happen.

Then there was Netta, who popped up again in a subtle yellow number to perform Margaret’s In My Cabana. Or was it her new song Nana Banana? I can’t really tell the difference, but I always enjoy watching her do her thing.

The eyepatch-wearing elephant in the room at this point is Madonna, who was sickeningly overpaid to “perform” (a.k.a. attempt to sing and then have the crap autotuned out of her voice) Like A Prayer – a song of hers I do normally enjoy – and Future – a song of hers I don’t want to enjoy but find myself singing in the shower. If we’re going to compare her to the 26 acts that performed in the competition, here’s my verdict: her staging and costuming were elaborate and on point, but her vocals were not up to scratch. If we had to have about 57 interval acts, then I’d have preferred more affordable Israeli entertainment…or an extended Song Switch with Salvador Sobral doing his best job of Hey Mamma by the Sunstroke Project. A girl can dream.

 

 

Jaw-dropping jury results + televoting triumphs and tragedies

About six months after Malta opened the show – thanks to that excessive voting window – it was finally time for the results to filter out, starting with the points from the juries. You guys know what went down, so I’m not about to rehash the whole sequence…but here are a few things that stuck out to me.

The big shock success with the juries was North Macedonia. Maybe I should have seen it coming (I had been trying to figure out who the Austria 2018 of 2019 would be, but couldn’t land on anyone) but nope, my jaw was on the floor as big points rolled in for an equally-surprised Tamara over and over again. Proud is hardly one of my favourite entries of the year, but I couldn’t help having my heart warmed by such butt-kicking from a country that hadn’t even qualified since Baku. It’s terrible that Tamara and her team were robbed of knowing North Macedonia won the jury vote during the broadcast…but more on that in a minute.

Italy and the Czech Republic also found favour with the juries to an extent I didn’t expect. Obviously Mahmood was a jury winner in Sanremo, but I wasn’t sure the professionals would warm to the urban style of Soldi at Eurovision. That 4th-place finish said otherwise, and I was damn excited about it! I’m also thrilled for Lake Malawi, who must have come across as flawlessly to the jurors as they did to common folk like myself watching the following night. I thought the Friend of a Friend lyrics, if nothing else, might turn them off – but perhaps it really hit home that sometimes, noisy neighbours sound like YOU AND ME WHEN WE’RE MAKING LOOOOOOVE.

In terms of countries I thought would fare better than they did on the jury vote, The Netherlands and Australia come to mind. Duncan’s 3rd place is nothing to scoff at of course, but I figured if he couldn’t win the jury vote he’d have to be runner-up at least. The actual result cast some brief doubt on whether his televote score would be enough for The Netherlands to win. Kate Miller-Heidke’s 6th place was also fine, but I think some jurors might have seen her performance as novelty rather than the incredible show of talent and lady-balls that it was.

Like multiple winners before him, Duncan missed out on topping the class where the juries were concerned. See how devastated he was about that?

Serbia and Israel also did worse than I’d predicted. The host country got an especially raw deal (something we’re used to seeing at this point) with 12 points and 12 points alone from the “Belarusian jury”, which we later found out should have been a big fat zero. Poor Kobi.

After all that, it was time to move on to the televote and see how the new point-presentation method would pan out. It was confusing, it was heartbreaking here and there, and it gave us moments like these:

  • The Czech Republic receiving 7 measly public points. What was that about? I’m even more shocked by this than I am by their jury score. All I can think is that Lake Malawi’s early running order position paved the way for 23 other songs (well, minus the UK and Germany) to memory-block them into almost nothingness. FOR SHAME, EUROPE (not Australia because we gave them 2 of those 7 points).
  • Norway’s spectacular three-digit, winning – as we found out later, grr – score that more than made up for the lack of jury love for Spirit in the Sky and had Alexandra crying adorable tears of joy. If only KEiiNO had been left until last á la the “old” results sequence, ramping up the tension and letting them celebrate that televote win on camera instead of later when it dawned on them what had happened.
  • That now iconic ‘I’m sorry…’ to Germany as they scored absolutely nothing. On the one hand, it’s an achievement to rack up zero points from 40 countries, especially on more than one occasion. On the other, I do feel sorry for S!sters, who delivered the best performance possible and deserved at least a handful of points for their trouble. Having said that, I didn’t have a reason to vote for them, and I guess nobody else did either.
  • Sweden and The Netherlands being set up as the last two standing when in fact, they were not. Some people got the same enjoyment out of watching John Lundvik’s soul be destroyed that they got out of Benjamin Ingrosso’s 21 points last year, but celebrating a comparative failure is pretty mean-spirited IMO – and the new system ensuring it would be fixated on quite frankly sucks.

As a last word on this, I’m going to beg the EBU to revert back to the perfectly tense and dramatic 2016-2018 televoting sequence. It wasn’t broken, so there was no need to fix it. And that way we can avoid the on-screen devastation of cinnamon-roll Czechs, vulnerable teenagers from Malta and Swedes fooled into thinking they’re one of the two remaining contenders when they’re actually not even close. All of the above was PURE EVIL, even if it did make great TV.

 

 

Thoughts on the final scoreboard and this year’s winner…actually, wait a second!

Because which scoreboard am I supposed to discuss here? Just when we and the Eurovision acts themselves had come to terms with who finished where, mistakes became apparent. If we thought that one Danish juror ranking backwards in 2016 was bad, we were wrong.

The biggest ‘oops!’ has to be the Belarusian “jury” points – put together based on their allocation pot after the actual jurors weren’t able to, in the words of Chingiz, shut up about it – being delivered backwards. Your guess is as good as mine when it comes to how the hell that happened, but as a result, Israel ended up with 12 points when they should have received 0, and Malta was denied a douze point celebration. And that’s the tip of the iceberg in terms of what was affected by this monumental f%$k-up. You know it all by now, but Sweden moved up to 5th place, bumping Norway down to 6th; North Macedonia moved from 8th to 7th (oh, and they actually WON the jury vote); Cyprus moved from 15th to 13th; and a bunch of other countries swapped places too. WTF?!?!

Then it was revealed that, thanks to the possibility of three jurors voting backwards, Poland and Lithuania could have qualified to the final over Belarus and Denmark in their respective semis. Obviously, any truth to this can’t change anything, but that just makes me feel extra bad for the implicated countries. Lithuania might have been the most severely screwed over. An issue with the Italian televotes was dismissed, one that would have put Jurij in 10th place…but if the Russian juror alleged to have ranked backwards did do so, it would also have put Jurij 10th. He then would have tied with Leonora, and on (my) countback it seems Lithuania would have been sent through to Saturday instead. My GOD. This whole situation is messier than my bedroom, and it’s going to be hard to trust the initial results next year in the Netherlands – though you’d think this reflects so badly on the EBU, they’ll do anything to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

Speaking of the Netherlands, let’s move on to happier topics (and from now on I’m talking about the altered, correct version of the scoreboard). A big belated congratulations goes to Duncan from me, for grabbing the first Dutch win in 44 years with a song that may not have been my preferred winner, but is undeniably worthy (and if you’re about to deny that, just imagine me drowning out your voice by blasting the ‘DOOOOOON’T DEEEEEEEEENYYYYYY’ part of Face the Shadow). Arcade is Amar Pelos Dois all over again for me: a beautiful ballad feat. a pitch-perfect, pared-back but still atmospheric performance that I wasn’t personally emotionally invested in, but I knew it was The One anyway and could accept that. Especially since it means I may well be off to the Netherlands next May, a place I’ve always wanted to go and a place I’m sure will host the shiz out of the ESC, if their JESC efforts are anything to go by. Also I really, really like stroopwafels – so if I do go to Amsterdam/Rotterdam/wherever, I’ll probably be eating them for every meal.

Other results that put a spring in my step in spite of the disastrous Post-Eurovision Depression were Italy finishing 2nd, their equal-highest placement since 1990 (though I was surprised they hit those heights with a good but not great performance…see below); Switzerland scoring their first top 5 finish since 1993; Sweden scoring their 7th top 5 result of the decade; Australia squeezing back into the top 10 after last year’s blip; and the Czech Republic doing pretty well for themselves even with the handicap of that disgustingly low televote score. I’m not going to dwell on the “losers” of the night, but I will say this: for the love of Jessica Garlick, PLEASE get your act together BBC. Something’s got to give and it has nothing to do with erasing Brexit from the memory of the voting public. As Leonora keeps telling us, don’t get too political…because it’s stupid.

As happy as I am with a lot of the final results, there are some that still don’t sit quite right with me. Was it just a weird contest and nothing would have made sense no matter what happened? Maybe. But I’m talking Italy’s 2nd place (which performance-wise, doesn’t feel as slick or iconic as Fuego, Beautiful Mess, Sound of Silence…I could go on); Russia’s 3rd place (which feels a little unearned, and my gut feeling is that bronze position deserved to go to Switzerland); Australia’s 9th place (call me biased, but with such a statement performance and so much pre-final momentum it seems like we should have ended up a bit higher); and a few placements further down that I’ll sit and stew about quietly because I’ve already said too much. If you’re as confused by some of the outcomes as I am, then let’s both hope 2020 brings with it a more straightforward Eurovision in every possible way.

 

 

Okay – believe it or not, I think I’ve said everything I wanted to say about this year’s dramatic, slightly disastrous (in hindsight) Eurovision final. I know it took me a few weeks longer than everyone else on the planet, but it’s better to arrive late to the party than to not turn up at all.

I still have some 2019 coverage to come here on EBJ, and then I’ll be moving on to some top-notch off-season content if I say so myself. That will include a Best of the Decade series, where we celebrate all that the ESC has gifted us throughout the 2010s…and boy, has it been generous! I hope you’ll drop by for some of that goodness. Remember to subscribe in the sidebar and/or follow me on my socials (also in the sidebar because CONVENIENCE) to make sure you don’t miss a thing.

In the meantime, hit up that comments box with your personal highlights and lowlights of Tel Aviv. Whatever you’re thinking, if it’s Eurovision-themed I want to hear it. If it isn’t, I’ll have to pass. Sorry.

 

Until next time,

 

 

 

 

 

BENDY POLES, PORTUGUESE DEATH DROPS AND NOT-SO-PERFECT STORMS | My take on Tel Aviv’s first semi-final!

Just like that, Eurovision 2019’s semi final numero uno is done and dusted and we have our first ten finalists for the year. As always, the show came and went faster than I thought possible, which wasn’t the worst thing since I was keen to get back to bed after a late night and the unfortunate 3am wake-up. The things we do for Eurovision when the time zone isn’t in our favour…

Anyway, I’m guessing you didn’t drop by to hear me complain about something that I actually don’t mind doing because EUROVISION. So instead, I’ll dive straight in to reviewing the semi from start to finish. Splash!

 

First, a few asides about the less attention-grabbing stuff that happened:

Show pros The opening vignette feat. mini Netta (cute) and the Toy reprise from grown-up Netta that followed; the dancetastic postcards (Georgia’s may have been my fave); the overall look of the stage and the lushness of the LEDs. 

Show NOs The hosts (there’s no Anke/Filomena type among the four) and their banter (pretty cringey); some residual dodgy camerawork; a couple of qualifiers I’ll name and shame later.

If only they sounded as good as they looked.

 

Now, let’s talk about the all-important bits and pieces: the performances and the results!

 

 

The performances: From not-so-good to great

I was going to run through the 17 in performance order, but then I thought ‘Why not offend as many people as possible by dragging their favourites and complimenting their most disliked entries excessively?’. Just kidding. But this is my personal scale of SF1 acts from ‘fail’ to ‘nailed it’.

Montenegro Poor D mol. They did what they could with Heaven, and if I was reviewing a high school talent comp or an episode of Glee, they’d rank higher. But it’s the biggest song contest on the planet we’re talking about, and this performance was not up to par. Questionable costumes, messy vocal moments and a song that could have been rejected by S Club 7 circa 2001 = not what it takes to make a Eurovision finalist.

Finland Icon status alone also isn’t enough to guarantee qualification, as Darude discovered last night. Look Away wasn’t statement enough to stand out in a field of 17, even though the superstar DJ and Sebastian managed to deliver a three minutes much, much better than those we saw at UMK. Finland just wasn’t meant to make it to Saturday night this year. Blame it on Sebastian’s mind-boggling jeans if it makes you feel better, Darude.

San Marino I’m going to do exactly what Serhat’s been telling me and say na na na to this massive slice of cheese. With I Didn’t Know being the Creepiest Song Ever™, it was no mean feat for him to outdo the ick factor from 2016 – but he did it. This performance was a step up from San Marino’s last year, but the whole thing gave off ‘desperate wedding singer hired out of guilt because he’s related to the bride and really needs the work’ vibes.

Belgium Eliot is a precious cinnamon roll and gave Wake Up an admirable go for someone so young and relatively inexperienced. He was just missing the very fight that he was singing about. Maybe it was nerves, not that he was visibly vibrating with the shakes á la Alekseev or anything. Another handicap was the song itself, which as we all know never really takes off. It couldn’t keep my attention away from Twitter and on my TV screen, I’m afraid.

Estonia I wanted this to be the same combo of charming and slick that saw Storm…well, storm to victory in Eesti Laul (thanks to the televote). But it was very rough around the edges – not quite a hot mess, but edging into that territory. The camera loves Victor and so do I, but he was barely hitting his high notes, something he acknowledged after the show. The green-screen weather is still one heck of an eye-catching gimmick though. Better luck on Saturday.

Georgia I’d heard there was some fierce staging afoot for Georgia, and I was not disappointed. The backdrops added a heap of intensity and atmosphere to the song, and I must say that Oto’s outfit was a huge upgrade from the hand-me-down disaster he was sporting on Georgian Idol. He sang well and connected with the camera like a pro, but as I suspected, what happened on stage wasn’t enough to make Keep On Going top 10 material.

Cyprus Was Tamta’s Replay a solid opener for the semi? Kind of. I was underwhelmed by Cyprus in general, with Tamta putting on a performance worthy of that time Mariah Carey could barely be arsed to get through one televised song and put about 37% enthusiasm into it. Also, the wet-hair-don’t-care/beyond thigh-high boots/crystallised leotard look was all kinds of wrong from where I was sitting. Maybe not Barbara Dex bad, but in that neighbourhood. The song itself saved this.

Slovenia I was worried about how Zala and Gašper’s closed-off intimacy would work on a much bigger stage than that of EMA. Truth be told, I didn’t think it did. The galactical backdrop was beautiful though, and I love Sebi so unconditionally that I’m willing to convince myself that the lack of down-camera connection was different rather than dysfunctional for Eurovision. The highlight has to be Zala’s vocals, which were as hypnotic and otherworldly as ever last night.

Poland Here’s a classic case of a song I’m not a fan of impressing me when performed live. All my traumatic memories of Lukas Meijer’s 2018 vocal car crash faded away, as Tulia treated us to a studio-perfect rendition of Pali Şie feat. a striking twist on traditional Polish costumes. They weren’t the most engaging artists and their singing style would have turned people off no doubt, but they were aurally flawless and my ears will be eternally thankful.

Hungary I’M NOT GOING TO CRY, I’M NOT GOING TO CRY, I’M NOT GOING TO CRY. I won’t mention why I’m holding back tears yet, like you don’t know. Wonderful, wonderful Joci gave me everything I wanted from Az Én Apám, sinister floating man-faces and misplaced fire curtain aside. This song hits me right in the heart and with Joci’s signature performance style (emotional, authentic and quietly powerful) that was always going to be the way when I saw it in this semi.

Belarus Cyprus better be grateful that Belarus drew a different final half, because ZENA – at age sixteen – somehow managed to out-Tamta Tamta. Her vocals were so-so at times, but when the staging is so fun, the choreography is killer and the performer’s personality is bigger than us (heh) who really cares? Not me. I enjoyed everything about this, and hoped it might have done enough to qualify once ZENA had done her Spice Girl kick at the end. Spoiler alert: it did!

Greece This was not the perfect package I was praying for, but I may just be feeling extra critical today after the semi did not turn out how I’d hoped. Thumbs down to the condom-shaped prop and overly-busy staging; thumbs up to the feminine florals and colour palette, and of course to Katerine’s drop-dead gorgeous vocals. Was this the semi winner? Not quite, IMO. But Greece put the kind of effort into Better Love’s presentation that they should have put into Oniro Mou.

Serbia Speaking of gorgeous vocals…Nevena unsurprisingly nailed every single one of Kruna’s notes, big, small and in-between. Her voice is amazing, she is stunning and the whirlpool graphics gave the performance more life and emphasised how high-def this year’s LED screens are (unless they just seem to be super high-quality in the wake of no LEDs in Lisbon). Our girl has sure come a long way, especially in the fashion department, since 2013.

Iceland If you were able to push through the feeling of having all your senses assaulted by Hatari, then you would have loved this as much as I did. It was the national final performance tweaked and refined, with better vocals from Matthias and Klemens, and that was all these guys needed to bring to Tel Aviv. I couldn’t help laughing at the contrast between Iceland in last year’s first semi and Iceland this time around. This is proof that it pays to be adventurous (unless you’re Portugal).

Czech Republic It was party time from the second Lake Malawi’s Albert said ‘Can you hear it?’ and flashed his exceedingly pearly whites right at me. That’s what it felt like, anyway. I have no complaints about this fun, colourful (in a Belgian sort of way) and confident performance. Great camera effects and crystal-clear money notes too. This was like a rejuvenating vitamin B shot, which we all needed after sitting through a block of anti-party songs.

Portugal Before I even talk about last night’s results, I feel compelled to say that PORTUGAL WAS ROBBED. I could have watched Conan and his death-dropping sidekick do their thing all evening, and I really felt like it was on the right side of weird – the lack of cutlery glued to Conan’s face probably helped. Excellent colour scheme, lighting and vocals and an overall feeling of artiness that wasn’t too arty…WTF went wrong? This was dope!

Australia Yes, my favourite performance of the night was from my own country. Bloody oath, mate. You can call it bias, but Kate had me feeling prouder than I’ve ever felt before – and very nervous – as she swung to and fro five metres in the air, living out the ultimate fairy princess fantasy while delivering on-point operatic vocals. Zero Gravity has undergone a glow-up and a half since Australia Decides, and it’s now in contention for a great result this weekend *happy-cries in Australian*.

 

 

That was all of the performances, which as I said flew by in what felt like five minutes. I have a few awards to hand out to the star performers and standout visuals of the night:

Best vocals Poland

Best staging Australia

Best costume Australia

Best personality Belarus

Best overall performance Australia

Sorry/not sorry for the Aussie overload. What can I say? I’m feeling phenomenally patriotic. Let me know which performances were your personal favourites (and least favourites…go on, spill some tea!) in the comments.

 

 

The results: A lot of predictability plus a few surprises

After the recaps, previews of Israel, Spain and France, more awkward host banter and an inexplicable Bruno Mars cover by Dana International (I would pay to NOT have to hear that again), it was time for us to get some answers. Just who would make it out of this less competitive but still curiously unpredictable semi? In announcement order – which is totally random and not at all engineered to make us sweat – it was Greece, Belarus, Serbia, Cyprus, Estonia, the Czech Republic, Australia, Iceland, San Marino and Slovenia. Belgium, Finland, Georgia, Hungary, Montenegro, Poland and Portugal were sent packing.

Let’s get the bad news out of the way first: no Hungary, and no Portugal. Those were the two eventual DNQ countries that I’d been desperate to see in the final, Hungary in particular. I can understand why Joci’s performance might have been too uneventful for some, but the fact that he’s Hungary’s only non-qualifier since 2009 – after giving them such a great result in 2017 – breaks my  heart. I adore him, and Az Én Apám will be sorely missed by me on Saturday night. Portugal, on the other hand, proved too bizarre to make the cut and that makes me mad. Especially when San Marino managed to qualify, which has none of Portugal’s creativity, originality and artistic merit. I try to take the results as they come, but that is a hard pill to swallow.

On the plus side, Australia and the Czech Republic went through – and I’m thinking we may have won this semi. It’s got to be between Kate and Hatari, with Katerine hovering on the edge. Estonia’s qualification had me sighing with relief, and I’m hoping Victor can brush up his vocals for the final and prove he belongs there (it’s all very Isaiah at this point). Belarus and Slovenia were my happy shocks of the night, though ZENA’s reaction was the kind I like to see. Zala and Gašper looked like they’d been given a voucher for a free Subway sandwich or something, not a ticket to the final of the world’s most-watched song contest.

In terms of my predictions – which you’ll be able to find all week on my Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @EurovisionByJaz – I managed to embarrass myself yet again by predicting 7/10 before the show…and 6/10 after I’d seen the performances. Here’s hoping I can redeem myself when it comes to SF2. How did you do?

 

 

That’s a wrap on my semi final one review, guys. If there’s anything you want to say about what went down last night, slide into my DMs comment box and get it off your chest. Were you happy with the results? What were your personal highs and lows? Do you think we saw the 2019 winner in this semi? Like John Lundvik, I wanna know.

I’ll see you on the other side of the second semi, for another post-show discussion. In the meantime, enjoy your Eurovision week as it continues, and as we get one step closer to crowning our next contest champion!

 

 

 

 

THE TEL AVIV REVIEWS | Round 2 feat. Australia, Georgia, Hungary, Romania + Switzerland

Hey there, sweet people/children of the universe/other ESC-themed pet names for you guys that I can’t think of right now. Last time I attempted to introduce a post, we were four weeks away from Eurovision 2019’s semi numero uno. Now we’re four weeks away from the second semi, and before you know it we’ll be four weeks away from the final. It’s creeping closer and closer, and I am SO READY.

Unless you consider still having 36/41 reviews to take care of not being all that ready, in which case I need to make my motto less talk, more action. Without further ado, it’s time for round two!

Today is Judgment-by-Jaz Day for Australia, Georgia, Hungary, Romania and Switzerland. I definitely have some favourites out of Kate, Oto, Joci, Ester and Luca’s songs, and if you do too – or if you don’t – let me know in the comments. And stay tuned ‘til the end to see where these countries slot into my overall ranking so far…

 

 

Okay…the time has come for me to try and separate my patriotic attachment to this song from my actual opinion of it. Wish me luck! There are two things you should know about me if you don’t already: one, I’m a born-and-bred Australian; and two, I was in the Australia Decides audience when KMH became our fifth Eurovision representative. Like Lordi’s Hard Rock Hallelujah (winner of the first contest I watched) and Robin Bengtsson’s I Can’t Go On (the Melodifestivalen winner the year I made it to Friends Arena) this song is automatically special to me and associated with tons of good times. However, I do pride myself on my ability to support Australia’s Eurovision journey from go to whoa AND be honest in terms of how highly I rate the entry in question. And so, I can’t say my love for Zero Gravity is as sky-high as Kate’s glass-shattering operatic notes – and to tell the truth, it is my least favourite Aussie entry to date – but I still think it’s worthy.

For starters, it’s a relief that we’re sending something outside of our usual box – something far less generic than before and not written by DNA (we seriously needed to change up our recipe). Theatrical, dynamic and more popera than any other ESC entry before it, Zero Gravity is as much of a statement piece as Kate’s dangerously spiky silver fascinator. There’s an authentic feel about it that’s been missing from the Aussie package for a few years now. Kate isn’t just a singer who’s been paired with a song and told to give it her best go – rather, this track has her name written all over it (and in the writing credits, obviously). Combining her classical music background and pop sensibilities is what she does best. Zero Gravity’s verses are for Pop Kate and the choruses are for Classical Kate, yet the mish-mash of styles somehow makes sense and doesn’t sound like a stitched-together Frankenstein’s monster song. My favourite thing about ZG is the surprising substance it has in telling the story of Kate’s postnatal depression and the freedom she felt in her recovery. And of course, I love the last thirty seconds when she really lets rip with her high notes, and then never fails to nail that bombastic finale.

Even so, I’m not totally sold on this entry. Sure, I dished out a fair few compliments just then, but that was Biased Jaz talking. Truth-Be-Told Jaz actually wishes that Electric Fields were going to Tel Aviv, and thinks that 2000 and Whatever was a potential Eurovision winner whereas she’s super uncertain of how Zero Gravity will do. I (still talking as truthful Jaz) do think it’s a solid, unique entry deserving of qualification and a left-side scoreboard spot. But as someone who thought it was WTF at first, I can understand why many fans haven’t warmed to it. The Elina Nechayeva copycat claims are unwarranted, but the big dress needed to be ditched, so I was happy to hear that’s likely the case. Also re: the original staging, it was OTT for a song that has a lot going on by itself, so I’m hoping for a stage show that is less action-packed (or dare I say ‘gimmicky’) and more refined in May. There’s no doubt that I’ll be cheering Kate on with embarrassing enthusiasm then, but I’ll be nervous about her chances…and if she doesn’t make it out of the semi or screeches to a halt in the final, my thoughts will again turn to Electric Fields and what could have been.

 

In a line Action-packed popera that will divide but not necessarily conquer 2018 VS 2019 2018. I’ve still got love for We Got Love Predicted result SF 7th-10th, GF 11th-17th My score 7 points

 

 

 

 

Georgia isn’t a country I think of in super positive terms when it comes to Eurovision. Junior Eurovision, yes – but there have been very few Georgian adult contest entries that I’ve been crazy about (and in 2016, part of that craziness was due to the Lolitaz’ light show which singed my retinas and had me hallucinating for hours afterwards). It seems like I’m not alone, since the past two years have seen Georgia continue to kick goals at JESC while failing to qualify to the ESC final. I want them to find a successful formula again, complete with that special brand of Georgian quirk we’ve come to love…but that will have to wait until at least 2020. Keep On Going is not going to be their saving grace.

This song is 41st in my personal ranking, and has been there or thereabouts in every single top I’ve watched on YouTube or seen on social media. It’s not bringing up the rear of my ranking because I hate it with a passion. I actually don’t. I just happen to like the 40 other songs better and think they have more to offer. The good I see in this song is that Georgia is adding to the variety in Tel Aviv with the only straight-up rock song in the lineup; and that the song is perfectly suited to Oto’s powerful, rough-edged vocals. I also want to give credit to the revamp, which created more atmosphere and a bit more build. But I don’t think the most exhaustive musical makeover possible would have given Georgia a chance of competing in the final. It’s just not meant to be, as far as I’m concerned. I wouldn’t have wanted Oto to be stuck with a song that didn’t fit him, and of course there are rock songs that have triumphed at Eurovision (Hard Rock Hallelujah, We Could Be The Same and Deli, for example). Georgia themselves even took the genre into the top 10 back in 2011 with One More Day. But this particular rock track is a plateau of three long, dragging minutes in which waiting for something exciting to happen turns out to be pointless.

As I said, I don’t mind it myself…until I think about it as the competitive song it’s supposed to be. Even in the non-bloodbath SF that is Tuesday’s, there are easily ten other entries that have more appeal for both jurors and televoters. I’d go so far as to say that there are only one or two songs that have LESS voting appeal than Keep On Going. That’s not the sort of thing I’ve ever said about a song that went on to qualify. If we could break about eight rules and enter Your Voice by Tamar Edilashvili (Georgia’s 2018 JESC entry, for those who avoid the kids’ contest at all costs) then I’d be much more hopeful right now. But as it is, I highly doubt Oto’s offering is dynamic or interesting enough to even be a borderline qualifier. If he does miraculously make it through I’ll look pretty stupid, but I’ll be too shocked to care.

 

In a line Solid rock destined to stay put in the semi finals 2018 VS 2019 2018 Predicted result SF 15th-17th My score 4 points

 

 

 

 

You guys would have enjoyed the comic relief that was me finding out Joci was back attempting to represent Hungary again. I quite literally fell off my chair and may have shed a tear or 2500. THAT’S JUST HOW MUCH I LOVE ME SOME PÁPAI, OKAY?!? You don’t even want to know what I did when he went on to win A Dal again, but it would have gone viral if captured on camera. Anyway, my point is that I couldn’t be happier to have Joci back. If you’ve been reading EBJ since 2017, you’ll know Origo was my favourite entry that year, and that it became one of my all-time faves faster than I could listen to Joci’s beautiful back catalogue. He’s really found his sound lately, with every folk/ethnic infusion he comes out with giving me goosebumps.

Naturally, that means you’re about to be hit with one heck of a biased review. Joci’s music speaks to me and Az Én Apam is no exception – I absolutely adore this song. It’s emotional and heartfelt without a hint of fakery; it blends that trademark ethnic folksiness with an easy-listening guitar-based ballad to create something spellbinding; it sounds stunning in Hungarian, as every genre of music tends to; and Joci performs it with the same honesty and raw talent we had the privilege to be introduced to in 2017. Same man, same manbun…he’s just been hitting the gym, which you’ll have noticed if you paid the same obsessive attention to A Dal as I did this year. I have to add that the reworking of this song did wonders, filling in the few gaps of build and drama from the original version. Now it’s a track that’s ready to compete, despite what a lot of (less biased) fans think.

I’m not saying Joci is invincible. Even with rose-coloured glasses glued to my face, I can see that Az Én Apám isn’t as instant as Origo. Some might say it’s too understated, though I think Slovenia will have the biggest battle in that department. I’m more worried about one of Hungary’s main selling points – the emotion of the father/son relationship depicted by the lyrics – being lost in translation. Italy managed to convey their message in Lisbon (and funnily enough, will be trying to do the same thing in Tel Aviv with another father-inspired song) but other countries have failed before. Still, the call has been put out for photos of people’s dads á la the photographic backgrounds of Malta 2014/UK 2016, which should help. No matter what happens, I don’t expect Az Én Apám to outdo Origo – but that won’t mean failure for Joci. He’s bringing something meaningful and full of feeling (Salvador Sobral stamp of approval incoming) to the contest yet again, and has another chance to tell part of his life story on the stage. That’s just as important as numbers on a scoreboard. Having said that, if Hungary doesn’t at least qualify with this, I will throw a very undignified tantrum. Thank heavens Australia is in the same semi so I can steal the phones of everyone I know and vote en masse.

 

In a line Majestic Magyarorság magic feat. manbun 2018 VS 2019 2019. Sorry AWS, but I know where my loyalties lie Predicted result SF 6th-8th, GF 12th-17th My score 12 points

 

 

 

 

2018 was not the best Eurovision for Romania. They missed out on a spot in the final and lost their 100% qualification record in the process, something that once upon a time would have seemed impossible (but after Greece bombed out in 2016, nobody was safe). Their trip to the contest this year involves a song that wasn’t preferred by the Romanian public but singled out by the jury, and managed to outrank two big favourites to win. On A Sunday, from Canadian-Romanian Ester Peony, is also a song that stood out to me when I was previewing the Selecţia Naţională entries – mainly, I have to say, because I was so shocked to hear something like it pop up where it did.

On A Sunday fits the Eesti Laul or A Dal mould more than anything else. There’s grit to it and a vintage sexiness (if that makes any sense) that just doesn’t sound like the Romania we know. Consider this being the same country that sent Zaleilah, It’s My Life, Miracle and Yodel It and you’ll see what I mean. None of those songs could have made the cut for the Fifty Shades of Grey soundtrack, but if Ester’s subject matter was a little less breakup and a little more bondage (maybe she should collab with Hatari?) then she’d be a shoo-in with this. I’ve been thinking of her song as a musical mashup of Black Velvet by Alannah Myles, Ann Sophie’s Black Smoke and Croatia’s entry from Lisbon, Crazy. I like all of those songs, and I really like On A Sunday too. In fact, when it did catch my ear before the Romanian NF, it immediately became The One for me – but I never thought it would beat Army of Love and Dear Father. It didn’t seem like something Romania would ever choose, and technically, I guess they didn’t. But however the victory came about, I can’t help being happy about it.

I love the whole vibe of this song: smoky and sultry but mournful at the same time. I love the lyrics, which are pretty sparse but cliché free (unlike neighbouring Moldova’s lyrics, but I’ll get to those later). I love the hypnotic beat that draws you in as the song progresses. I love the melody. And, last but not least, I love Ester’s voice, especially when she works her way into those high notes towards the end. Her vocals at the NF were ropey at times, but no doubt they’ll be polished up by May. All in all I’m into this in a big way, and I’m seeing all sorts of staging possibilities in the hope the Romanian delegation can read my mind. I’m not totally confident Ester will take Romania back to the final – not many people are this fond of her song, and a top 10 place in that second semi won’t be easy to come by. But my fingers will be crossed for this Canadian to be closer to Celine Dion than Rykka, results-wise.

 

In a line Being dumped never sounded so good 2018 VS 2019 2019, though I am sad to say goodbye to Goodbye Predicted result SF 9th-14th, GF 16th-21st My score 8 points

 

 

 

 

Remember how flabbergasted (I don’t get to use that word enough) we all were when Mikolas Josef came out of nowhere with an absolute banger and gave his country their best result ever by a million miles? It was only a year ago, so you should remember. Now, I’m not saying Luca Hänni is going to give the Swiss their best-ever placing, since he’d have to win to even equal it. I just think that in many ways, Luca is and will continue to be the Mikolas of 2019. I first got familiar with him (though not as familiar as I’d like to, WINK WINK) late last year when the rumour mill was turning at warp speed in his favour, and I thought I’d better do some research in case the rumours became reality. Within minutes I was in deep and knew I’d be devastated if he was a red herring and Switzerland was actually sending Sebalter again. So danke schön, my conflict-neutral, chocolate-producing friends, for making my dreams come true. What’s not dreamy about a ridiculously good-looking singer/dancer/model armed with a crazy-catchy party anthem?

NOTHING. She Got Me is the best Swiss entry in years, with the country’s bittersweet leapfrog over Sweden in the odds (my loyalties have never been so divided) testament to that. They’re currently sitting pretty in third place, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they finished that high in the actual contest. Given that Luca can sing AND dance, when it comes to his last few releases I was hoping for his Eurovision song to be more like Signs than Powder, as much as I love the latter. My wish was granted. One of the ESC 2019 songs that can be compared to Fuego (basically, it’s got a beat drop) this has quickly become more talked about than Replay and Chameleon, and I’m a willing participant in the conversation. The song is iconic and infectious from the moment it starts, with a chorus so instant it should be illegal. There’s an exotic Middle-Eastern flavour found in the memorable musical hook. The whole thing is densely packed and has been produced by someone who knows what they’re doing (always good). And it strikes the right balance between ‘not repetitive enough to follow’ and ‘so repetitive I want to rip my ears off.’ Even though the chorus is repeated as a way of transitioning to the explosive last 30 seconds, the instrumental break in-between keeps things fresh and leaves room for a kickass choreographed sequence on stage.

Speaking of on stage, Switzerland have recruited Sacha Jean-Baptiste to give them a grade-A presentation…which she’d better, because She Got Me deserves the best. Dodgy staging is the only thing that could drag this entry down as far as I see it (those Amsterdam vocals will be dealt with, trust me) and Baptiste has been questionable in her choices on occasion. But at the least, her involvement shows that Switzerland is super serious about Eurovision this year. Their song alone will whip the crowd into a frenzy á la Golden Boy, and I cannot see a scenario in which it fails to qualify (unlike their last four entries). I also can’t imagine anything other than a left-side scoreboard finish for Luca. She Got Me stands out from the crowd both in terms of man-bangers (including Estonia and Finland) and in general. For me, it’s the best of the Fuego follow-ups, which is high praise. I love everything about it and can’t wait for Switzerland to have a major change of Eurovision fortune.

 

In a line The surprise package of the year that makes sure you can’t sit still 2018 VS 2019 2019, duh! Predicted result SF 2nd-4th, GF 4th-6th My score 12 points

 

 

 

 

From zero gravity to dirty dancing, this round is over. ‘Already?’ I can hear you saying (even though you’re actually saying ‘At last!’). Yep, that’s it. But before I go, let’s have a look at the standings:

  1. Hungary (12)
  2. Switzerland (12)
  3. Romania (8)
  4. Australia (7)
  5. Georgia (4)

And after Round 1, I now have a top 10 that looks like this:

  1. Hungary (12)
  2. Switzerland (12)
  3. Cyprus (10)
  4. Romania (8)
  5. Serbia (8)
  6. Albania (8)
  7. Australia (7)
  8. Montenegro (5)
  9. Latvia (5)
  10. Georgia (4)

So Hungary takes the top spot from Cyprus, and Switzerland overtakes them too. Sorry Tamta.

 

Next time we’ll see where Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Lithuania and North Macedonia factor in as far as I see it. Be there or…well, nothing will happen if you’re not there, but I’d love you to come back and check out the rest of my 2019 reviews. Follow me on my socials (all the usuals @EurovisionByJaz) to make sure you don’t miss a thing. And once you’ve done that, share your thoughts on today’s tracks down below – but be warned, if you badmouth Joci, it might be the last thing you ever do.

What a nice note to end this post on.

 

< Four weeks and counting!

 

 

 

 

ZERO GRAVITY ON THE GOLD COAST | The Australia Decides Diaries

Hey you…it’s me again. Yes, that’s a Kate Miller-Heidke reference – it seemed like the perfect way to introduce this post, one that’s coming to you from Past Jaz. She recently arrived back from her trip to the Gold Coast for Australia’s first-ever national final, and she kept a diary while she was there that she wants to share with you now. Present Jaz figures you won’t mind reading about something that’s already happened, since it’s Eurovision-related. And so, without further ado – because this is a loooooooong read and you guys are going to need stamina to get through it – let’s rewind a week to the day I got to the GC and the magic started to happen.

 

 

Thursday February 7, 6.15pm

Somewhere between Sydney and the Gold Coast

Bonjour!

Okay, so that was the worst opening for an Australian-themed post ever. I apologise. I just couldn’t bring myself to say ‘G’day, mate!’ – it’s not in my nature to go Full Australian™.

I will be doing my best to be Miss Patriotic for the next two nights though, as I scream hysterically in the audience of the Australia Decides jury show and televised final. I’m on the last leg of my cross-country trip as we speak (because even attending an Aussie NF requires me to travel a minimum of seven hours) and at the moment, things feel pretty surreal…and not just due to my altitude-induced air-headedness. Sure, I’ve made the pilgrimage to Stockholm for Eurovision and for Melodifestivalen (not-so-humble brag alert). But an Aussie NF is a different story. If you’d told me a year ago that Australia would be selecting their entry for Eurovision 2019 via a national final — and that I’d be there in person to see it happen — I’d probably have laughed in your face.

But here we are. And since it’s a special occasion, I thought I’d document it with this diary-style post so that those of you outside of Australia/unable to attend this weekend’s shows can live vicariously through me (or get bored by my ramblings, one of the two). There’s not much to say right now except something about the competing songs, considering I haven’t actually done that yet. I want to give you guys my first impressions before I give you a rundown of who nailed it/failed it in the jury show, and prior to me predicting a winner.

So, The Songs…*insert dramatic Law and Order DUM DUM here*. Well, if you follow me on Twitter – which you should, I’m hilarious – you’ll know that I am happier than Nathan Trent on Christmas morning with the line-up for this NF. I always thought that if we had one, it would have the cringe factor of its almost-namesake You Decide (sorry, UK). But SBS has come through and delivered some serious musical goods. As people born after 2000 and who don’t have dark circles under their eyes yet would say, it snaps and I stan.

 

Friday February 8, 11.15am

No Name Lane Café, Broadbeach

Sorry for that short break that lasted an entire night, but I had to stop typing so my plane could land. How inconvenient. To pick up where I left off, it’s time to review the Australia Decides songs in as few words as possible, and in terms of song quality/any artist biases that I may or may not have.

In alphabetical order by performer, let’s do this thing.

To Myself I didn’t watch Alfie’s season of The Voice, so listening to this song for the first time was also the first time I’d heard him sing. Clearly, he’s pretty good at it. And suitably, this song sounds like it could have been a winning TV talent show song, only it’s got more edge and less cringe than a typical track of that variety. It’s anthemic, goosebumpy in parts, and underrated, I reckon.

Dust I did watch Aydan’s season of The Voice, and my inner 14–year-old totally voted for him (and would have had a poster of him on her bedroom wall if she wasn’t actually 27). I LOVE his voice, and this song suits his smooth tones and Benjamin Ingrosso-esque falsetto perfectly. Great lyrics, slick production and a kickass chorus = excellence, IMO.

Fight For Love Frivolous? Yes. But fun and fabulous at the same time? Absolutely. Courtney is a pro with the perfect amount of theatricality, personality and actual talent, and this song is so her. I don’t really want it to go to Eurovision on Australia’s behalf, but I am dying to dance to it in the mosh pit (such as it is) on Saturday night.

2000 and Whatever Cards on the table, this is my favourite Aus Decides entry and exactly what I want to see in Tel Aviv. It’s everything I’d hoped we’d send to the ESC since our story started, but never thought we would. It ticks box after box despite being outside of the box, if you know what I mean: it’s original, high-energy, dynamic, hook-laden and features an Indigenous-language bridge that’s uniquely Aussie. Electric Fields, you have yourself a new and very devoted fangirl!

Data Dust In the battle of the dusts, Aydan is my pick by far. Still, Ella’s song fills a genre spot in this line-up, and gives us all the chance to have a mild headbang while watching the show. It’s catchy, got a good beat and seems like something she’ll enjoy performing, and that enjoyment should transmit to viewers at home. The chorus is pretty sticky too. It’s a good one to shampoo your hair to in the shower, trust me.

Zero Gravity KMH is a big favourite, and after an adjustment period I can see why. My first listen of this song ended with a WTF face because it was such an assault on the senses. But after a few more run-throughs, I realised what’s special about this – everything. It grabs your attention from the beginning whether you like it or not, and doesn’t let go. Reminiscent of Alenka Gotar’s Cvet Z Juga but with a stronger pop sensibility, it combines Kate’s classical and contemporary talents into one distinctive package. No wonder it’s a contender.

Set Me Free Anyone who predicted that an unknown 16–year-old would produce a song as killer as this must have super-psychic powers. I sure didn’t see it coming, but I’m glad it did. Leea’s moody, Scandinavian NF-worthy pop ballad is right up my street (I’ve saved her a space in my garage with an engraved plaque). The verses set up a beautiful, fragile atmosphere that flows into a punch-packing chorus, taking Leea from a place of vulnerability to a place where she’s not going to take crap from this mystery jerk of a guy any more. You go, girlfriend.

This Is Not The End We were spoilt by Il Volo back in 2015, because no male operatic song will ever measure up to Grande Amore (including Il Volo’s own song in SanRemo this year). I don’t mind this one, and there’s nothing that would have shown off Mark’s amazing vocals better. I just prefer almost every other song competing.

On My Way This has Sheppard written all over it with a big fat Sharpie. It’s anthemic, danceable and light-hearted without being cheesy (just) and as always, the O’G3NE-ish camaraderie between the siblings is appealing and sure to give them brotherly and sisterly chemistry on stage. I won’t lie, this song doesn’t blow my mind…but it’s what I expected from the band, and it’s a solid effort.

Piece of Me This was the last AD song to be released and sadly, it wasn’t a case of leaving the best until last. For someone who’s spent a decade living in Sweden, the home of successful songwriters of cutting-edge pop, Tania has thrown it back with this 2000s example of elevator music. Granted, it’s GOOD elevator music, but a little uninspired and dated. Also, the verses are stronger than the choruses which is a worry. Can’t she just perform Bachelor Girl’s Buses and Trains instead?

 

Friday February 8, 6.30pm

Casa de Jaz (a.k.a. My Air BnB)

That was another abrupt ending – maybe get used to those, guys. And now you know who I will and won’t be backing FTW, I’ve got to say goodbye already. It’s for a legit reason – it’s time to head down the road (literally…I can see the Convention Centre from my apartment) and see what the Australia Decides jury show has to offer. I’m meeting up with Anita from Eurovision Union (if you missed our recent Melfest collab, you can check it out here) and we’ll keep you informed on our socials as the show unfolds. Of course, you’ll be reading this after the fact, so if you weren’t following us on Twitter etc then, do it now and see what we thought in the past. Be overcome by our incredible observations and precise foresight and bitchy comments because sometimes they’re just called for. I’ll see you on the other side!

 

Friday February 8, 10.55pm

My Air BnB again

And I’m back, after one seriously impressive jury show – albeit one that could do with some trimming to make it less of a marathon. Still, SBS has done an incredible job transforming the Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre into an ESC-worthy space, complete with a stage that looks stunning on and off camera.

I can’t say the entire run-through was as flawless tonight, but the performances aside – which were obviously being judged – it didn’t matter that there were some technical difficulties. That basically extended to Aydan having to restart his performance after his mic failed á la Estonia at Eurovision 2017, and hosts Myf and Joel visiting Struggletown for a few seconds when the autocue decided to have a breakdown. Fingers crossed these are kinks that will be ironed out before we go live.

Regardless, Australia Decides looks like it’s going to be an awesome debut NF, with (lots of) great interval acts – including two songs from Dami Im – plus Eurovision vignettes and host scripting that’s closer to Petra and Måns than the Portuguese quartet on the humour scale. To touch on the most important stuff, here’s my quick take on the 10 acts’ jury performances:

Who impressed Electric Fields, Mark Vincent, Aydan, Courtney Act and Kate Miller-Heidke. EF raised the roof and Zaachariaha’s flamboyance filled the room. Mark’s vocal power was undeniable. Aydan’s vocals were more understated but smooth as silk, and there was an intimate stage setup at the start that made him stand out. Courtney delivered the exact level of pizzazz feat. props we all hoped for, and Kate? Well, more on her in a minute.

Who disappointed Sheppard and Tania Doko. Sheppard might have suffered from expectations being too high – they were okay, but rough around the edges and looked messy on stage. Tania’s vocals were on point but her choreography was so bizarre I couldn’t take it seriously. Trying to make Piece of Me more interesting backfired a bit.

Who did neither Ella, Leea Nanos and Alfie Arcuri. They all turned out good but not great performances. Ella provided an energetic opener and an eye-wateringly tight jumpsuit, Leea showed maturity and sophistication beyond her years and Alfie sang like the champion he is (and flashed some welcome flesh in a shirt open enough to appeal to Sakis Rouvas). But none of them went above and beyond to come forward as contenders.

In terms of who would have scored big with the jury tonight, there’s one person who stood head and shoulders above everyone else…literally. Kate Miller-Heidke was in another league, and between her world-class vocals, elaborate costume and action-packed staging (it looked like there was more money thrown at her than at the other nine artists combined) it was a winning package. As much as I love Electric Fields and will be praying for a 2000 and Whatever win instead, I suspect KMH has just booked herself a ticket to Tel Aviv. If so, that might shock a lot of ESC fans who’ve accused Australia of playing it too safe recently (something I haven’t been able to argue with). At this point, I’m all for divisive – it’s much better than dull.

If there is a challenger to Kate apart from Electric Fields, I’d say it was Sheppard despite an underwhelming performance. And if I was taking a major punt, I’d say don’t rule out Courtney completely. Not only did she give her all to an intense three minutes in a latex outfit without breaking a sweat, she also did things in stilettos that I couldn’t do in sneakers.

My tip for the final top 3 based on the jury show is:

  1. Kate
  2. Electric Fields
  3. Courtney/Sheppard (Australia might be about to decide, but I can’t.)

As I said, my personal favourite is Electric Fields. I think if I hated 2000 and Whatever it would actually stand a better shot at winning, so that’s a shame.

Anyway, that’s enough rambling from me (for now, MWAHAHAHAHAHA) because based on the length of tonight’s show and the energy I know I’ll need to get through it – and dance through it – in the “mosh pit” tomorrow night, I’ve got to get a good night’s sleep. It will probably involve dreams of giant silver caterpillar cocoons, fire-engine-red latex and Joel Creasey dressed as Dami Im. You know, the usual. Good night!

 

Saturday February 9, 5.43pm

My Air BnB yet again  

This is it, guys! The day Australia’s entire Eurovision-obsessed population – and a lot of non-Aussies – have been waiting for. I’ve just eaten a bowl of cereal as my pre-show fuel, which is pathetic but I’m way too excited to eat something substantial. I’ve also just spent 20 minutes writing ‘2000 and’ on one cheek and ‘Whatever’ on the other cheek in eyeliner, and it was time well spent.

I’ve been thinking about the likely outcome of this inaugural NF since last night, and I stand by what I said then – if Kate Miller-Heidke doesn’t have it in the bag, I’ll be SHOCKED TO MY VERY CORE. That wouldn’t be my ideal result, but I think I’ll be so grateful for Australia to have chosen something non-vanilla, I will happily stand behind Kate as our representative (not that you’ll be able to see me). After four years of mostly-successful but always safe entries, it’s time for us to be daring and show Europe that we’re more creative than we get credit for.

Speaking of time to do stuff, it’s time for me to get going. Hysterical screaming, awkward white girl dancing and other typical Saturday night activities await. Let’s do this!

 

Sunday February 10, 12.10pm

Between the sheets (in a very non-sexy way, believe me)

Okay, so I may have just woken up…but if a super late night followed by a 5am wakeup to watch Melodifestivalen (makes a nice change from 3am) isn’t a good excuse to sleep in until midday, then I don’t know what is.

I didn’t party after the show last night, unless you consider stumbling back to my apartment complex in the rain and falling face down on the bed to lie in wait for the midnight snack (a.k.a. pizza) I’d just ordered a party…which I definitely do. I did have an event invitation courtesy of OGAE Australia, but to be honest I was in PAIN after all that standing. Sounding more like a 77-year-old than a 27-year-old, my groans of ‘My back! My feet!’ were heard across the Gold Coast, and the concept of bed was too desirable to resist. I did pull an all-nighter after the Eurovision final in 2016, so there is a party animal inside me somewhere.

Anyway, on to more important info: we have an Australia Decides winner, and as predicted by moi and most other people with functioning eyes who watched the jury show, it’s Kate Miller-Heidke with Zero Gravity. Topping the jury and public vote meant a win you can’t really argue with (though I have tried a few times in my head) and her performance tonight was breathtaking.

But…AAGH, Electric Fields came so close! They were just 4 points behind KMH after the jury scores had come in, and not much further away after all was said and done. I almost wish they’d finished lower so that all the ‘What if?’ scenarios in my head were useless. On the other hand, 2000 and Whatever being the banger that it is = a probable OGAE Second Chance Contest entry and possible winner. I just hope we didn’t throw away a Eurovision winner, that’s all.

You could have predicted last night’s results by audience volume, which made it quite clear that the original three-horse race (between Kate, Electric Fields and Sheppard) had become a two-horse race between the quirkiest songs/acts on offer. That makes me proud to be an Aussie Eurofan, since clearly we’re not scared to take a risk. A risk I don’t think I want us to take is keeping Kate’s performance so similar to a bunch of Eurovision stage setups that have come before her (which I don’t think I need to mention). There are many ways to get her up off the ground that won’t cause cries of ‘copycat!’ come May – think trapezes, floating platforms or mechanical swings. Just not all three at once please…this isn’t Cirque Du Soleil, SBS, and we want Kate to live to a ripe old age.

All 10 acts upped their game tonight, and though somebody had to come last nobody deserved to. This has been such a strong start for us in NF terms, and Australia Decides has made a great addition to selection season. There were mistakes we can learn from – mainly re: show length and unnecessary padding – but the pros outweighed the cons by far. I don’t have to, but if I did need to wake up at 3am to tune into an NF like this, I’d do it in a heartbeat.

All in all, I’d call Australian NF no. 1 a big success that definitely warrants a sequel in 2020. And if that is the case, you can guarantee I’ll be there.

 

Monday February 11, 9.30am

Gold Coast Airport

And just like that, my whirlwind trip to the other side of Australia is over. I’m sitting in a café at the airport waiting on a flight that’s been delayed, and feeling that inevitable comedown that we call PED in May and I’m calling PADD at the moment. The niggling feeling I have that Electric Fields would have been a better way to go is actually getting more insistent rather than less so, but I think it’s being fuelled by some super critical Twitter types who think they know exactly what’s going to go down in Tel Aviv even though it’s February and we have 8 songs out of 42. Oh, and they’ve all got hate to spare for Kate, BTW. Hopefully she’ll prove them wrong in a few months’ time on a bigger stage, but if she doesn’t, I’m still happy that Australia opted for something adventurous given the chance.

I caught the show on TV last night on replay, and obviously it was my first time seeing it on screen. The first thing I noticed was my back popping up four times in the first 30 seconds, so it is now more famous than my face will ever be. I expect it to have its own Wikipedia page any day now.

Something else I noticed was that the bulk of vocals didn’t sound as good on TV as they did from inside the Convention Centre, but I found that at Eurovision too. It was still an excellent show feat. great songs, and an event I’ll be reliving a lot in the lead-up to Eurovision. I hope you guys enjoyed it too from wherever you are in the world (and if you were in the live audience, how RUDE of you to not come and say hi! JK, you can do it next year).

At the end of the day this NF was called Australia Decides, and you know what? Australia decided. Now it’s entirely up to Europe to choose our fate. In the meantime, Down Under we’ll be bowing down to our newly-crowned queen of Eurovision: Glinda the Good Witch, a.k.a. Kate Miller-Heidke.

I’m off to start winging my way home (finally). I’ll be back in a few days to resume normal NF reviews and predictions, as the season continues and we wonder which song will be The One for 2019. Who knows…we might have heard it already.