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HE’S GOT THE LOOK(S) | 13 times Koit Toome’s ESC 2016 facial expressions spoke to your soul

Well, this might be the most ridiculous post I’ve ever published (apart from this one). Clearly, nine years (!!!) of blogging have not transformed me into a generator of sophisticated content. But having fun is better than being sophisticated, unless you’re meeting the Queen (I am referring to Conchita Wurst of course, though the same applies to the one who’s pretty well-known in Commonwealth countries).

The general gist is that Koit Toome was a gift to us all at Eurovision 2016, at least from the neck up. When performing Verona with Laura by his side – albeit about ten metres away most of the time – he brought constant drama (drama that used to be romance, obviously) via his pliable face, and it proved he hasn’t overdone it with the Botox despite somehow looking as fresh-faced as he did at Eurovision 1998.

Even though Koit’s OTT soap-opera-style expressions didn’t help Estonia to qualify in Kyiv, he and Laura’s performance wouldn’t have been the same without them, and I think that deserves acknowledgement. I also think they (unintentionally) managed to convey a lot of the feels we everyday people have experienced at one time or another, making Mr. Toome everybody’s personal spirit animal (but not affiliated with the song that lost to Verona in Eesti Laul 2017). You want proof? Don’t worry, I’ve got it!

 

When you’ve done something bad and you’re not sure whether your parents are about to find out about it or not

 

When you read through an exam paper and literally nothing makes any sense

 

When another one of your friends gets engaged/promoted/announces their pregnancy/buys a house, and you have to pretend to be happy for them even though your biggest life achievement to date is eating two pizzas in one sitting

 

When someone you’re talking to says something really stupid, and you can’t figure out if they were being sarcastic or they’re actually THAT stupid

 

When you overhear an epic piece of trash talk about someone you hate

 

When you’ve been stalking someone on Instagram and accidentally liked one of their ancient photos, and you’re currently weighing up the pros and cons of entering the Witness Protection Program

 

When you see a dog in the street but circumstances will not allow you to go over and declare undying love for it (or even just pat it)

 

When it dawns on you that there’s a 99% chance you left the iron on this morning, and that you may arrive home to a smouldering pile of what used to be your house

 

When your boss publicly bitches out your really annoying coworker

 

When you’ve just had a group discussion and contributed a great idea, only to have someone else swoop in and take the credit for it

 

When you realise you have to make an appointment over the phone, and no one else is going to do it for you because you’re (supposedly) a grown-ass adult

 

When someone claims something is true with an arrogant air of authority, but you know better and you’re about to prove it

 

And, of course, when someone claims to love Eurovision but can only come up with Waterloo or Euphoria when you ask what their all-time favourite entry is

 

 

Which Koit face is your favourite? Can you believe I just asked such a ridiculous question? Do you think Estonia might have made it through to the final if he’d stayed a little more serious? If you’re as fascinated by this topic as I am and you’ve got something to say about it, say it in the comments (or on social media accompanied by #koitface…that hashtag could totally catch on if it didn’t back in May).

 

Until next time, when I’ll probably post something that restores your faith in me as a mature Eurovision professional…

 


 

 

JAZ JUDGES EUROVISION 2017 | The Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany, Lithuania, The Netherlands + Poland

Hello again, and welcome to another episode of me putting the Eurovision 2017 entries I adore up on a pedestal, and tearing the ones I hate to shreds. Fun times (unless you love the songs I can’t stand)!

Another six songs are up for some serious judging today, via me and – once again – my mum. Being the crazy lady that she is (it’s hereditary), she has voluntarily come back to have her say on The Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany, Lithuania, The Netherlands and Poland. So are you ready, Martina, Koit & Laura, Levina, Fusedmarc, O’G3NE and Kasia? Too bad if you’re not, because it’s time for you to be reviewed in 3, 2, 1….now.

 

 

My thoughts I’d never complain about a contest that has a lot of musical variety – after all, forty-plus ballads/dance tracks/Hard Rock Hallelujah rip-offs wouldn’t be fun to watch or listen to (or  be much fun for the producers trying to create an entertaining running order). So in terms of that, a nice little jazzy number from the Czech Republic helps with the whole ‘celebrating diversity’ motto of the 2017 comp. But that doesn’t stop My Turn from being the most boring song in the line-up by a mile. I just don’t think it has a lot to offer – the melody isn’t very catchy or exciting, there’s nothing about it that stands out and makes it memorable (I’m actually struggling to recall how the verses go right now) and I’m not a massive fan of Martina’s voice either – though I expect she’ll sound pretty much studio-perfect on the Kyiv stage. Speaking of the stage…not even an Azerbaijan 2013 level of staging genius would pimp out this entry enough to push it into the qualification zone, IMO. Dead last in the semi isn’t a dead cert, but it’s hard to imagine the juries or televoters lavishing attention on My Turn when there’s the likes of Blackbird and Amar Pelos Dois (for the former) and I Can’t Go On and City Lights (for the latter) surrounding it. Then again, I didn’t think the Czech Republic would qualify last year, so I’ll prepare to stand corrected just in case. 4 points.

My mum says… This is a bit naff. It’s got a nice chorus and seems simple to sing along to, but I get the feeling two or three run-throughs would be enough for me to get bored of hearing it! Martina has an unusual voice – I wasn’t sure if it was a female or male voice at first, and I guess that makes things interesting. But the bottom line is that I won’t be too bothered if don’t hear her song again anytime soon. 4 points.

The Czech Republic’s score 4.00

 

 

My thoughts I’ll get right to the point on this one: if Koit and Laura’s duet accurately depicts what being lost in Verona is like, then drop me off there without access to Google Maps! I LOVE this song, just as much as Koit’s 1998 entry Mere Lapsed and a million times more than the weak-as-water Let’s Get Loud by Laura’s Suntribe in 2005. Verona seems to borrow sounds from three or four different decades – mostly the 1990s and the 2000s – which doesn’t leave it feeling super fresh, but the infectiousness of all of its elements, the instant hook and the fact that it wasn’t written in the traditional A-B-A-B-C-B song structure (the song is as lost as Koit and Laura, but in a good way that keeps you wondering where it’ll end up) wins me over anyway. It’s a little dated, but in a way that works – more nostalgic than stale. The singers themselves sound great together and when they’re doing their solo duties, but their chemistry leaves a bit to be desired. It might have been the Eesti Laul staging that was a little off, but I hope there’s not a Chanée and N’evergreen situation happening behind the scenes…or a reverse scenario in which Koit and Laura are great mates IRL, but can’t channel the necessary emotions to give an authentic, appropriately-tortured performance. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt, because we haven’t (correct me if I’m wrong) seen a live version of Verona since it won the NF. It’s done well in the OGAE poll so far which makes me happy, but that’s not always a reliable indication of what will succeed in the actual show. Still, I think Estonia – after a shocking trip to Stockholm that saw Jüri Pootsmann finish last in the first semi – has the power to propel themselves into the final, and onto that sought-after left side of the scoreboard with this pairing. 10 points.

My mum says… Once I stopped wondering why ‘two silly boats in the sea’ had been considered a wise lyrical choice by Verona’s writers (after Jaz informed me that the lyric is ‘two SAILING boats’, which I must admit makes more sense) I started to enjoy Estonia’s entry. I wouldn’t say it’s fantastic, but I like the sound, the beat, and the way Koit and Laura’s voices complement each other. It’s definitely more than musical wallpaper, so I think it should do well in competition. 6 points.

Estonia’s score 8.00

 

 

My thoughts Let’s do the math: in the past two years, Germany has sent two absolute gems to Eurovision, only to f%*k up the staging of both (to different degrees) and fall utterly flat in the final. If that’s the way the universe is working, then by rights Levina’s Perfect Life should be staged flawlessly and be super-successful on the scoreboard…even though it’s a bit of a snoozefest. Of course, Deutschland could just as easily be heading for their third wooden spoon on the trot (undeserved in each case) which would mainly upset me because Levina seems like an awesome person whose (perfect) life should be filled with sunshine and rainbows and puppies. Plus, the girl can sing. It’s just too bad that the song she ended up winning Unser Song with is a non-event. It starts out as a Titanium homage – which teases you with the prospect of it turning into a proper dance banger – only to veer off into plod-along territory and stay there. It’s almost like Perfect Life doesn’t know what type of song it wants to be, so it’s ended up as a compromise between a ballad and a club track that’s too down-tempo to compete with other in-betweeners like Sweden and Macedonia. I can’t realistically see anyone picking up their phone and taking the time to vote for it, and I also don’t think it’s going to stand out as something spectacular that the juries would freak out about. That doesn’t bode well for Germany. They really need to find their groove again, or have a Belgium-style turnaround. Try it in 2018, okay? 6 points.

My mum says… This is more my style. I was mouthing the words of the chorus by the end, and when that happens without me even realising, I know I’ve found a favourite – or at least a song I wouldn’t change stations on if it came on the radio. Perfect Life is definitely radio-friendly. I like Levina’s voice and the lyrics, plus the fact that she’s obviously happy with her lot. I think many of  us could learn some lessons from her…or at least from whoever came up with the song’s concept. 7 points.

Germany’s score 6.5

 

 

My thoughts I think we know which country Georgia passed the bonkers baton on to after last year! Funnily enough, I’d probably be saying the same thing if Get Frighten had won in Lithuania. What we’ve got instead is less novelty but way more untamed, and it’s nothing like the Game of Thrones-inspired military march song I thought Fusedmarc would present me with, back before I heard Rain of Revolution for the first time (it just goes to show that you can’t judge a song by its title). I’m not even sure how to categorise this entry, which is almost a positive attribute when you consider how ‘different’ that makes it. Part electropop, part funk with a rocky edge, it’s not as offensive to me as it seems to be to most other Eurofans – I really like the beat and melody of everything leading up to the choruses, and the chorus itself has a pretty high sing-along factor. I also dug the staging of the song at Eurovizijos, and if they’ve decided to keep those visual effects for Eurovision, they’re sure to look epic on that LED-laden stage. But vocalist Viktorija lets a little too loose with her big notes, and that equals a messy listen (those screechy ‘YEAH YEAH’ bits being the main culprit). And it has to be said – by me, apparently – that she gives off some crazy vibes (in a psychotic, escaped mental patient sort of way, which ain’t ideal). The overall package is something that, once unwrapped, I wouldn’t try to return for store credit…but I can understand why other people would. So I’m safely predicting Rain of Revolution to go absolutely nowhere in its semi, which is a shame after Donny ‘Modern ESC Legend’ Montell did so well for Lithuania in 2016. 5 points.

My mum says… Lithuania’s taking us all back to the 80s whether we like it or not, by the (literal) sound of it. I’m not sure I do like it. Rain of Revolution is a song that seemed like it was going to become something better than what it began as, but it never did. I’ll give a few ticks of approval for the nostalgic feel and the energy of the beat, but that’s it. 5 points.

Lithuania’s score 5.00

 

 

My thoughts O-M-G3NE, I was excited when these ladies were announced as the Dutch reps for the year (as they’re JESC alums, I followed their Voice journey and have watched their audition for the show about 500 times). They’d been rumored before and their selection was bound to happen sooner or later, but I was happy to have it sooner. That, of course, was prior to Lights and Shadows being chosen and then released. So did I change my mind when it came out? Well, no…although I do think the trio have been saddled with a song that’s far too focused on being a vehicle for their voices rather than a current, competitive contest song. There’s a lot of emotion attached to O’G3NE’s entry because a) it was co-written by their father, and b) it was co-written by their father about their seriously ill mother. That should allow them to really feel what they’re singing rather than just parrot the lyrics pitch-perfectly, which they can do without trying anyway – their harmonies are incredible. However, heartstring-tugging aside, the song is a throwback with Wilson Phillips comparisons that won’t stop cropping up. IMO that’s not totally terrible, since I get a kick out of the rousing 90s feel of it. And even though it’s a very wordy song, I find it pretty easy to sing along to, and very catchy. It definitely stands out, and last but not least, we can bet on the performance being flawless, with the vocals being the shining beacon of jury bait. I just don’t know if it’s going to be a big success, a flop, or finish somewhere in between the two. I wanted O’G3NE to come strutting in to the contest with a surefire hit – i.e. a killer pop song circa 2017 (not 1997) that highlighted their vocal abilities without sacrificing musical fabulousness. I can’t say they’ve done that (DAMNIT!), but there’s a lot I do like about Lights and Shadows. And I’m still excited to have this girl band back in the Eurovision family. 7 points.

My mum says… Sigh. I could happily listen to these girls harmonising all day long. When they’re harmonising to Lights and Shadows, I instantly get the Wilson Phillips feelings that I’ve been told loads of others have too. There’s also a bit of B*Witched in here, making the song/singer combination very 90s indeed. That girl group style is one I usually enjoy, and this is no exception. Though I’d be surprised to hear something like it on the radio, I’d willingly play it again for my own listening pleasure. 10 points.

The Netherlands’ score 8.5

 

 

My thoughts Poland has been pretty hit-and-miss with me since they came back from their Eurovision vacation in 2014 (with a bang). There actually seems to be a pattern forming with my attitude towards their entries: My Słowianie, yes; In The Name of Love, not so much; Color of Your Life, yes. Do you see where I’m going with this? If not, let me cut to the chase: I’m not a huge fan of Flashlight. I had a favourite in the Polish NF that I thought had a better chance of winning (Isabell’s Swedish-written, Kygo-esque Voiceless, FYI) so Kasia took me by surprise when she won instead, with what’s a perfectly okay, gothic and melodramatic ballad. It’s just not the sort of ballad that rubs me up the right way. I feel like it would have fit in better at Kyiv in 2005, though it also reminds me of Lithuania’s Nomads in the Night which popped up three years later in Belgrade. I wish it reminded me more of Poland’s entry that year from Isis Gee, which IS the sort of ballad I prefer. Flashlight has a reasonable chorus – I wouldn’t call it catchy, however it does have some staying power – but I honestly can’t remember how any other part of it goes, and I’ve listened to it just as often as I’ve listened to the likes of Cyprus and Montenegro – two far more instant songs. It’s not memorable or modern enough for me, and I suspect for the contest in 2017 either. I wouldn’t give it zero chance of qualifying, because it might well go through…but if so, I expect it will die in the final. On the plus side, I’m guaranteed to love whatever Poland sends to Milan the as-yet-unidentified host city of Eurovision 2018. 5 points.

My mum says… It’s funny how something so dramatic can fall so flat! This didn’t do anything much for me, and I’m having trouble thinking of the melody too. It sounds like it’s trying to be something spectacular, but it never hits the heights to make that happen. Kasia’s voice is another great one that I’d say deserves a better song to show it off. 5 points.

Poland’s score 5.00

 

 

Aaaaand we’re done for the day! The ranking for this round of reviews looks like this:

  1. The Netherlands (8.5)
  2. Estonia (8.00)
  3. Germany (6.5)
  4. Poland (5.00)
  5. Lithuania (5.00)
  6. Czech Republic (4.00)

Forget two heads being better than one – three is obviously better than two, if O’G3NE’s win over Koit and Laura is any indication (though that was mainly my mum’s influence). You’ll have to hang around until all 42/43 (will I review Russia? I’m not sure at this point) songs have been crossed off the to-do list to find out which country will top our full ranking…and which one will bring up the rear. After that, Eurovision itself will decide whether terrible taste runs in my family or not.

Next time on Jaz Judges Eurovision 2017, I’m rolling out the red carpet for Albania, Cyprus, Latvia, Macedonia, Malta and Switzerland. Drop by if you don’t want me to dance alone! And before that, as always, leave your thoughts + feelings on today’s reviews in the comments. Do you think the Netherlands will do the best out of this bunch in Kyiv, or does OGAE poll darling Estonia have the edge? Perhaps we’ll find ourselves in Prague next year and you’ll be saying ‘I told you so’. Let us know below!

 

 

 

 

 

Retro Rankings | Birmingham 1998

It’s Wednesday, in case you hadn’t noticed, and on this particular Wednesday, the countdown to the ESC 2015 submission deadline is on!

In less than one week, all forty participating countries must have their s#%t together – at least to the point of handing their entries over at the Head of Delegations meeting. Did you hear that, Russia? If you don’t want a repeat of last year when you made the deadline by a babushki’s whisker, you’d better get Polina Gagarina’s song sorted STAT.

I for one am struggling, waiting to hear the songs still under wraps (Israel and San Marino are causing me actual, physical pain). In case you’re feeling the same way, I thought I’d offer a distraction in the form of something totally unrelated: another Retro Ranking! I recently ranked the Dublin 1997 contest for your reading pleasure (hopefully) and as I’m in a chronological mood today, I’m going to plod on with Birmingham 1998.

The last time the United Kingdom played host to Eurovision, Terry Wogan was co-emcee, Ulrika Jonsson fell victim to the noise level in the auditorium and Dana International took her sweet time changing outfits and getting back to the stage for her winning reprise. In amongst all of that were performances of 25 songs – songs that were, as is always the case in the ESC, good, bad and ugly (though being 1998, the ‘ugly’ really just refers to some of the costumes).

Watch this recap of the Birmingham entries if you need a refresher, check out my rankings below, then comment me with your favourites from the Class of ’98! You know you want to.

 

 
#1 | The Netherlands (Hemel En Aarde by Edsilia Rombley) – Before she was On Top of the World in Helsinki (until she failed to make the final, that is) Edsilia moved, grooved and flawlessly key-changed her way through this irresistibly catchy number in Birmingham. There is nothing that doesn’t work for me in her performance – 90s fashion notwithstanding – from her smooth and soulful vocals to the cute bits of choreography she does with her backing singers. Hemel En Aarde itself, though, is the pièce de résistance: three minutes of happy, funky pop that I could never get tired of.

She may have had the same haircut as most of her competitors, but Edsilia was superior in every other respect.

She may have had the same haircut as most of her competitors, but Edsilia was superior in every other respect.

#2 | United Kingdom (Where Are You? by Imaani) – Ah, remember the days when the UK couldn’t stop being a Eurovision success? No? Me neither. I was six-going-on-seven and had no idea what an ESC was when Imaani leapfrogged over Chiara into second place (at the very last moment) on home soil. Fast forward to 2015, when just getting on the left side of the scoreboard is a major achievement for the UK, and I now not only know what an ESC is (and then some) I also think Where Are You? is one of the strongest host entries ever. While very 90s in nature, it’s aged pretty well. The mixture of dance music and Imaani’s R & B-suited voice is powerful, and I don’t mind that the song is repetitive because again, it’s catchier than chicken pox.

#3 | Sweden (Kärleken Är by Jill Johnson) – I’ll admit, I thought this was a bit bland at first. But over time, I’ve grown to absolutely adore it, if I may gush without you rolling your eyes and/or retching. Written in response to the death of Princess Diana, it’s a song with emotional weight that you can feel especially in the choruses. It’s almost an anti-Diva, being so soft and understated, and I just wish Jill’s outfit had been chosen to match. The head-to-toe black and giant platform heels were more ‘castoffs from Alla Pugachova’s seemingly drunken performance at Eurovision 1997’ than ‘pretty, sentimental ballad’.

In case anyone died during her performance, Jill went all black to ensure she could go straight to their funeral afterwards (I assume).

In case anyone died during her performance, Jill went all black to ensure she could go straight to their funeral afterwards (I assume).

#4 | France (Ou Aller by Marie Line) – This entry did not fare well in the contest, and I can only put that down to the voters and jurors having extremely poor taste in music. Or, you know, people just having different tastes to my own. Oui, Marie Line says ‘ou aller’ about six hundred times in 180 seconds, and oui, the song doesn’t build up to much…but I love the sound anyway. It’s a throwback to earlier on in the decade, and makes me think of Ultra Naté and Sonique. That in turn reminds me of my primary school socials, and they were good times. Très, très bien.

#5 | Ireland (Is Always Over Now? By Dawn) – There’s not that much difference between this song and any number of the insipid love-related ballads Ireland sent to Eurovision in the 90s and early 2000s. Yet there is something about Ireland ’98 that appeals to me. Dawn isn’t a man with a questionable haircut and an ill-fitting suit, which sets her apart a bit (she’s a woman with both of those things) and Is Always Over Now? is more pop and less lame/depressing than most of those man-ballads. Random query: is it just me, or does Dawn look like Kelly Clarkson?

Never mind...I just answered my own question.

Never mind…I just answered my own question.

#6 | Portugal (Se Eu Te Pudesse Abraçar by Alma Lusa)
#7 | Estonia (Mere Lapsed by Koit Toome) – They did reasonably well with a sleepy ballad the year before, so I guess Estonia’s thinking here was ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t send a dance banger.’ Mere Lapsed could easily put you to sleep, which to some would be a blaring indicator of boringness. To me, it’s melodically nice enough to set up camp outside of vanilla territory. Cruisy, easy listening like this can be a welcome vacation from the Dancing Lasha Tumbais of the world.

#8 | Cyprus (Genesis by Michael Hajiyanni)
#9 | Malta (The One That I Love by Chiara) – Chiara reached the bronze medal position for Malta in her first of three Eurovision attempts (and don’t think she won’t be back for more!). She did so with what I think is her best entry…on those days where I’m not leaning towards Angel. It’s always her voice that’s the star of the show, so much so on this occasion that you hardly even notice how hideous her snot-coloured suit-dress-thing is until she’s stopped singing.

#10 | Poland (To Takie Proste by Sixteen)
#11 | Israel (Diva by Dana International) – I believe there were stronger songs – and definitely stronger vocal performances – in Birmingham than what Israel provided. Diva is a decent track and a high-energy winner, but I it’s worn thin with me over the years thanks to self-inflicted overexposure. Dana herself, however, is fabulous personified and will never be passé.

The flamboyance of the feathers or this spangled silver number? No wonder Dana had a hard time deciding.

The flamboyance of the feathers or this spangled silver number? No wonder Dana had a hard time deciding.

#12 | Croatia (Neka Mi Ne Svane by Danijela)
#13 | Switzerland (Lass’ Ihn by Gunvor)
#14 | Germany (Guildo Hat Euch Lieb by Guildo Horn) – Never trust anyone who voluntarily wears crushed velvet. If they’ll do that, they’ll do anything, including scale the Eurovision stage as part of their act. I suppose that’s just gravy on top of an already ridiculous package feat. a wild mane of hair, the world’s thickest eyebrows, and Guildo (owner of said mane and brows) getting up close and personal with some (un) lucky audience members. The man could barely be called a singer, but you have to admire his showman qualities. He got the crowd going like nobody else.

#15 | Greece (Mia Krifi Evesthisia by Thalassa)
#16 | Finland (Aava by Edea) – Instead of using the Secret Garden approach of taking a few words and repeating them twice, Finland took a few words and repeated them for more or less the entirety of their allotted three minutes. It didn’t do them many favours. Still, there’s appeal in the mystical, folky vibes of Aava.

#17 | Norway (Alltid Sommer by Lars Fredriksen)
#18 | Spain (¿Qué Voy a Hacer Sin Ti? by Mikel Herzog) – ‘Mikel Herzog’ is clearly a stage name, because, unless I am much mistaken, this was Harry Potter representing Spain. It’s a shame Ron and Hermione didn’t help him pick out a more interesting song.

‘Accio Eurovision victory!’

‘Accio Eurovision victory!’

#19 | Turkey (Unutamazsın by Tüzmen)
#20 | FYR Macedonia (Ne Zori, Zoro by Vlado Janevski)
#21 | Slovenia (Naj Bogovi Slišijo by Vili Resnik) – There were so many overly-dramatic ballads like this in 1990s contests, it’s hard for any in particular to stand out. This one’s not terrible, but it’s certainly not my cup of tea.

#22 | Romania (Eu Cred by Mălina Olinescu)
#23 | Slovakia (Modlitba by Katarína Hasprová)
#24 | Belgium (Dis Oui by Mélanie Cohl) – How on earth this made the top 10 is a mystery to me. I find it unbelievably irritating, in large part thanks to Mélanie’s grating vocals. You want me to say yes? I don’t think so. Quelle horreur!

#25 | Hungary (A Holnap Már Nem Lesz Szomorú by Charlie)

 

Now my #1 through #25 is out in the open, you know what to do…tell me how you’d rank Eurovision 1998!

 

nsig