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THE TEL AVIV REVIEWS | Round 1 feat. Albania, Cyprus, Latvia, Montenegro + Serbia

Excuse me for cutting the ribbon on these reviews in the most predictable of ways, but I can’t believe it’s time to do this again. How can we possibly be FOUR WEEKS away from the first semi final of Eurovision 2019? Netta only won in Lisbon like, three months ago, didn’t she?

As it turns out, no, she didn’t. It was almost a YEAR ago. And with this last pre-ESC month bound to fly by faster than Salvador Sobral left the stage after handing the 2018 trophy to the singer of a song with far more fireworks than feelings, I can’t keep you in suspense any longer. It is time to take a long, hard and overly-judgemental look at all 41 (maybe 42 if I can squeeze Ukraine in somewhere) entries for Tel Aviv, in typical Jaz style. That means you’ll need energy, determination and multiple cups of coffee to get through each round of five or so songs. Are you ready for this?

Up first for critique in 2019 (after a Tribute to Ye Olde Eurovision random draw) are Albania, Cyprus, Latvia, Montenegro and Serbia. Let me know what you think of Jonida, Tamta, Carousel, D mol and Nevena’s tracks in the comments, after you’ve checked out my thoughts and scores. And remember: honesty is the best policy around here…

Let the Tel Aviv Reviews begin!

 

 

Albania’s Festivali i Këngës is THE national final of the festive season, and back in December it delivered the first Eurovision entry of 2019 direct to our doorsteps. Jonida Maliqi – with her super-cool name, razor-sharp fringe, ultra-white teeth and punch-packing vocals – is off to Tel Aviv with Ktheju Tokës, which is thankfully staying put in Albanian after Eugent Bushpepa did so well in his native tongue last year. It’s been revamped for the better and hasn’t lost its original spirit, but did I like it when it was selected and do I like it now? The answer to both of those questions is yes. This song has more mystery and intrigue than a Dan Brown novel, which is just how I like my Albanian entries. There’s often something about them that sets them apart and is just so…Albanian. Ktheju Tokës is no exception.

Everything about it is interesting: the way Jonida works her way through it with vulnerability and power; the unconventional melody of the verses; the haunting atmosphere and hypnotic beat…I mean, wow. It may not be the most radio-friendly or streamable song of the year, nor is it particularly instant and hooky – but it is original and impactful. I will say that the studio version is kind of strange (it makes Jonida sound like she’s singing slightly out of tune) whereas the live version is the one with all the impact. Here we have a singer who can belt out big notes like nobody’s business, and emotively eyeball a camera at the same time. And you just know she’s going to wear something amazing in Israel, making us forget about the possessed bride look the last Albanian female soloist went for. So for me, that’s a kickass song + a fierce vocalist + stellar styling that we’re in for from Albania.

Having said all of the above, I’m far from convinced that Jonida will sail through to the final. She’s in the second semi, which is the more competitive one – and not just because there are 18 countries competing for qualification as opposed to 17 in the first semi (thanks to Ukraine’s shenanigans). With big hitters and likely top-scorers like the Netherlands, Norway, Russia, Sweden and Switzerland also in the Thursday line-up, she has an uphill battle ahead of her. With the right staging and a solid all-round performance though, the hill shouldn’t be too steep to climb (even if she’s wearing stilettos). And there’s no other song remotely like Ktheju Tokës in the entire contest, let alone in her semi – so she’s bound to stand out. I’d love to have Albania in the final again. How about you?

 

In a line Albania doing what Albania does best: being exotic, mystical and powerful 2018 VS 2019 2019. Us ladies have to stick together! Predicted result SF 8th-12th, GF 15th-19th My score 8 points

 

 

 

 

Following up Fuego, a Eurovision entry iconic in so many ways, was always going to be a tough task for Cyprus. With thousands of keyboard warriors/amateur music critics (including myself) waiting to drag the island if they didn’t build on their 2018 success, the pressure to do so was higher than Kaliopi’s whistle tone. I feel like they have delivered, but let’s not pretend there’s no ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ mentality at (re)play here. Tamta’s song has been co-written by three of the minds behind Fuego, and it sounds like their brief was ‘Pen another banger with a beat drop and the exact same structure in order to catapult Cyprus into the top 10 again.’ But I’m not saying Fuego was the most original song to ever exist, and I do think Replay is different enough in the realm of pop music, where lots of stuff is similar, to make calling it Fuego 2.0 a bit unfair. I can’t blame Cyprus for finding a bomb formula and sticking to it.

Catchy from the second it starts, slickly produced and perfectly suited to Tamta, Replay ticks all the boxes on the ‘Is This A Banger?’ checklist, right down to the less-ethnic-than-Fuego-but-still-ridiculously-danceable instrumental hook. It’s one of those songs where each part is equally memorable, without a weak link like an anticlimactic chorus. Unfortunately the most memorable moment comes during the first verse, when Tamta apparently says she’s ‘shitting her body tonight’. Call me immature if you must (I am, to be fair) but it’s pretty off-putting and sounds nothing like the actual lyric – ‘them sheets need my body tonight’. I’ve been trying to roll with it and tell myself that Tamta’s so keen on the subject of the song, her bodily functions go haywire at the mere thought of him. Can’t say I’ve ever met a guy who had that effect on me, but that’s not a bad thing.

Misheard lyrics aside, Replay is as flawless as Tamta’s 37-year-old skin which is way more youthful than my 27-year-old skin. No, it isn’t as iconic as Fuego, and Tamta probably won’t hit the Eurovision heights Eleni did. But I’m still impressed. That extends to Cyprus recruiting Sacha Jean Baptiste to create their staging again, a sign that they mean business. Fingers crossed the look and feel of the performance doesn’t clash with Switzerland’s, given that She Got Me is in the same musical category and is also being staged by Baptiste. Neither song needs flashy, gimmicky staging to compensate for musical weaknesses, since there aren’t any – they just need something complementary (why am I suddenly reviewing Switzerland? Save it for later, Jaz). Unless a major screw-up happens somewhere along the way, I can’t see Cyprus finishing outside of the Tel Aviv top 10, though it’s safe to say they won’t be going one better than they did in Lisbon.

 

In a line Obvious joke, but here’s a song I want to replay, replay, replay, YEAH 2018 VS 2019 2018 Predicted result SF 2nd-4th, GF 5th-8th My score 10 points

 

 

 

 

Latvia has been sending epic songs to Eurovision for some time now – I’d say consistently since 2015. Yet the last few years have seen them stuck in the semis, even languishing in last place in Triana Park’s case. I’m going to get right to it and say that for me, that run of rad entries has come to a screeching halt, but I expect the DNQ trend to continue. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate That Night. In fact, it’s so innocuous and sweet, like a no-frills vanilla cookie, I don’t know how anyone could hate it…and perhaps that’s the problem. Compared to the other songs in the Latvian national final it’s a masterpiece, and I have no doubt that the country made the best choice based on what was on the buffet table. But I feel like it lacks oomph, coasting along on the same level for three minutes and making me keen for those minutes to tick away so I can listen to something more exciting.

Yes, easy-listening and subdued songs can be exciting, holding your attention and making you want more (I’m thinking of Slovenia’s Sebi specifically). This one, however, doesn’t do anything for yours truly. I don’t mind the melody or the melancholy folksy feel, and vocalist Sabīne suits that vibe for sure. It’s more the missing dynamism + the super repetitive structure of That Night that sucks the life out of me. There’s not a lot to it, and as a result nothing much to reel you in (and when I say ‘you’ I mean ‘me’, because I know there are Eurofans who adore this). I feel like this song is a less bizarre musical version of a Lars von Trier film, and if you’ve ever tried to sit through a Lars von Trier film and lost the will to live, you’ll know I’m not being complimentary.

I know I’m coming across way harsh (to quote Clueless like I do at least twice a day), but where my personal preferences are concerned, Latvia can do a lot better than this. And I honestly think Carousel will struggle to pick up votes in that crazy-competitive second semi final. There are other acoustic-y tracks in the running order, as well as other “introverted” songs that are more captivating (think Austria and Arcade). Then there are the big, bold extroverts that are sure to hoover up votes like an industrial-strength vacuum cleaner (think Sweden, Switzerland and Sergey Lazarev). If Latvia does qualify I think it will be a borderline qualification, and I can’t see them troubling the top 10 or even the left side of the scoreboard. But what do I know? I may have followed Eurovision obsessively for over a decade, but I’m still rubbish at predicting results. Riga 2020 it is!

 

In a line Nice and nothing more 2018 VS 2019 Definitely 2018 Predicted result SF 10th-14th, GF 17th-21st My score 5 points

 

 

 

 

There are a few countries that can (sadly) be relied upon to produce surefire non-qualifiers over successes. Montenegro is definitely one, no matter how hard I wish they’d suddenly unveil something sensational like next-door neighbour Serbia does on a regular basis. This year their story started out with a glimmer of hope, for me at least. I’m not saying D mol ever had a chance of making the final, but I did have Heaven down as my guilty pleasure of the year. And as a tribute to S Club 7 with undeniably striking staging, the song kind of worked. I actually enjoyed it. In a nostalgic way, sure, but enjoyment is enjoyment.

But then *insert dramatic Law & Order DUM DUM here* Heaven had a musical makeover that I would describe as an over-accessorisation. Now it’s so unlike the original, sickly-sweet-but-tolerable original version that I feel like I need to judge two different songs. But I will just judge the one with multiple personality disorder that’s actually going to Eurovision – and it is a mess. There’s nothing that hasn’t been thrown at it in the quest for a more competitive edge, but the OTT approach has backfired. The structure is all over the place and impossible to follow; the beat kicking in after the first chorus takes me back to Junior Eurovision circa 2005; the vocal gymnastics are misplaced and desperate; and the synthesisers/miscellaneous other noises in the mix sound like they were dropped in as frequently but randomly as possible by someone doing the Macarena blindfolded. Why, Montenegro, why?!?

To add on to my list of negatives, I can’t see a way for Heaven to be saved by staging. Replicating the NF presentation would look amateurish, especially now LEDs are back in action – and what kind of miracle-working, mind-blowing stage concept could cool down and tidy up such a hot mess anyway? I’m sorry for dragging D mol through the mud (more than I meant to) but I have to be honest. The group themselves are not the main problem, and as a sextet mostly made up of teenagers, they do impress me with their stage presence and camaraderie. They just deserve a better song, because this one will not do anything for them other than send them packing straight after the first semi final.

 

In a line It was never heavenly, but now it’s hellish 2018 VS 2019 2019, believe it or not Predicted result SF 15th-17th My score 5 points

 

 

 

 

She’s baaaaaaaack! Nope, that’s not the tagline of a terrifying Carrie sequel, but rather my way of saying hey to Nevena for the third time in (J)ESC history. If you’re not a Junior Eurovision fan, you might not know that she represented Serbia in 2007, finishing 3rd – years before she’d appear at Eurovision as part of Moje 3 and unfortunately fail to qualify (I could write an essay on why that was down to those ridiculous costumes, but I won’t). It seems she fares better when she strikes out on her own, and she’s done that big time in 2019. Not only is she competing in Tel Aviv as a soloist, but she also wrote the music and lyrics of Kruna on her own. What a woman! Let’s breeze past the fact that she’s also an incredible vocalist and drop-dead gorgeous before I end up with the world’s biggest inferiority complex.

Kruna is a dramatic power ballad, one that has had the power amped up even more via a revamp (Montenegro, THIS is how you give a song a good makeover). The music starts out softly and becomes more intense in sync with Nevena’s vocals, and the combo of acoustic/electric guitar work is one of my favourite things about the song. I appreciate that the big statement chorus doesn’t take too long to arrive, because it can be boring waiting for a ballad to go somewhere. And just before it does rock up (so to speak) we get those English lyrics that do double duty: they add interest without seeming like they were shoehorned in just because, and they give us non-Serbian speakers a feel for what the song is about in a very short space of time. Overall, Kruna is the musical equivalent of wearing a floral dress under a studded biker jacket. It’s feminine and classy, but it also has an edge.

Okay, okay, I’ll talk about Nevena’s talents. She’s an amazing singer, and her delivery is passionate and believable. Her ability to sing lullaby-style and the opposite without batting her lashes is impressive, and sure to elevate her jury appeal. And of course, she’s stunning and super telegenic. Is there anything wrong with this package? Well, it doesn’t have the aura of a winner, and while I feel the feelings Nevena is putting out there, others may not. Plus, even I needed a few listens to really get on board, so I can see why the song might not be instant enough to be a vote magnet. Having said that, I do think Nevena has a better shot at making the final now she’s Moje 3 Minus 2. Serbia is competing in that less scary first semi, alongside a lot of uptempo and/or divisive songs – so they’ve got a decent chance to advance as far as I see it. With atmospheric staging and a costume choice less questionable than those 2013 creations (circus hooker chic? I still can’t land on the right label for them) the gate should open wide enough to let them through.

 

In a line A sophisticated, pitch perfect power ballad 2018 VS 2019 2018, but it’s a close one and kind of hard to compare the two Predicted result SF 7th-13th, GF 14th-19th My score 8 points

 

 

 

 

That’s all for today, folks! And with the first five countries taken care of, here’s my first mini-ranking for the year: 

  1. Cyprus (10)
  2. Serbia (8)
  3. Albania (8)
  4. Montenegro (5)
  5. Latvia (5) 

Congratulations to Cyprus for winning me over…but how long will Tamta stay on top? Stay tuned for the rest of my reviews to find out. I’ll be including the running ranking at the end of each round so you can see who’s sitting where.

 

Next time I’ll be putting Australia, Georgia, Hungary, Romania and Switzerland under my (imaginary) musical microscope. But before that, leave me a comment so we can compare notes on Albania, Cyprus, Latvia, Montenegro and Serbia. Who’s your favourite of the five? Is there a winner in there or will Eurovision weekend be Eurovision-free for this bunch? Whatever’s on your mind, I want to know…especially if we happen to agree on something.

 

 

 

 

THE EBJ EUROVISION 2018 REVIEWS: Round 4 (Australia, France, Georgia, Ireland + Latvia)

Hello again, and welcome to yet another round of Eurovision 2018 reviews! With two weeks to go until semi numero uno (I STILL CAN’T BELIEVE IT), I’m slowly but surely getting there with these musical judgments. You can bet your brand new ESC board game that I will have all 43 songs covered by then. #womanonamission.

Here’s a spoiler alert for this latest round: it was a big-hitter for me, with three of the five songs currently chilling in my top 10. Who out of Jessica, Madame Monsieur, Iriao, Ryan and Laura am I talking about? Keep reading to find out. And, as always (you must be sick of me mentioning this) vote for your personal favourite in today’s poll.

Now, in true Melodifestivalen style, NU KÖR VI!!!

Yeah…probably should have saved that segue for the round with Sweden in it. My bad.

               

 

My thoughts I can’t believe this is the fourth time I’ve had the chance to review my own country’s Eurovision entry – totally objectively, of course. Okay, maybe not totally. As soon as I got the opportunity to be biased with Guy in 2015, I instantly understood how easy it is to support a song that you may not normally be crazy about, so long as it’s your country that’s sending it. Don’t Come Easy was a prime example, but Isaiah’s follow-up artist Jessica Mauboy – technically a Eurovision returnee – is packing a song in her suitcase for Portugal that I honestly like a lot. I’m psyched to see Jess back in the contest and actually competing this time, after voting for her to win Australian Idol using my Nokia 3310 (in between playing Snake) way back in 2006. And though she’s dabbled in different genres during her music career, with We Got Love she’s found a perfect fit for her voice and personality. The song is three minutes of pure happiness that radiates out of her every time she performs it. It might be a song that’s obviously trying to tick Eurovision boxes, but in this case that’s not a bad thing, because it’s a) energetic enough to be irresistible on the Euroclub dancefloor; b) armed with simple, one-size-fits-all lyrics and an often-repeated title that sticks; c) the proud owner of a dangerously catchy chorus; and d) got a money note that has ‘Vote for me in 3, 2, 1, NOW!’ written all over it. It’s the kind of song that wouldn’t be out of place at an Olympics opening ceremony (and really should have been performed at the Commonwealth Games a few weeks ago) – a.k.a. it’s ultra uplifting and unifying. Could it be any more of an ESC anthem? And am I irritating you with my gushing yet? Well, don’t worry. I know I said the song was a perfect fit for Jess, but it isn’t a perfect song. We Got Love got flaws, and the biggest of the few I can find is those ambiguous lyrics. While an asset in terms of allowing the masses to relate to them and interpret their meaning individually, they are pretty aimless and clearly weren’t written with a specific situation in mind. They don’t tell a story, so there won’t be one to tell on stage. Then again, we have story songs from the Czech Republic and France, for example, that ARE about particular situations (very different ones) so what’s wrong with a three-minute, generalised but positive mantra? I do think Australia 2018 packs a punch, and in a weaker year than 2017, when we miraculously managed to make the top 10 (I know Europe still hates us for that), Jess should be there or thereabouts. If Sacha Jean-Baptiste can stage something upbeat anywhere near as well as she stages dark, moody stuff, I don’t see why Australia can’t grab a spot in the 4th-6th range. And who knows…if all goes according to plan, then repeating our 3rd place from JESC 2017 might be a strong possibility. Or maybe I’m deluded but endearingly patriotic?

2017 VS 2018? 2018…though so far, I’ve been 100% biased and loved all of our entries.

My score 10

 

 

My thoughts Once upon a time, I thought and hoped I’d be reviewing Lisandro Cuxi’s Eva as France’s Eurovision 2018 entry. I also thought I’d NEVER move on from Eva losing out to Mercy at the last minute as it did at the Destination Eurovision final. But time heals all (NF-related) wounds, and now I’m ready to talk about Madame Monsieur’s meaningful electro alt-pop ballad as another success in the string of magnifique French songs sent to Eurovision since 2016. Mercy stood out from the early stages of Destination, even though it was a selection show full of great music, and I couldn’t say I was shocked when it went on to win. It’s one of the most cutting-edge tracks heading to Lisbon, written by Emilie and Jean-Karl themselves and oozing classic French confidence, sophistication and minimalism. I’d compare it to Italy in that it’s an effortlessly classy message song; but being way less wordy than Non Mi Avete Fatto Niente – plus more in line with what streams successfully on Spotify – makes it more accessible. As message songs go, it’s also found the balance between making a statement and avoiding doing so in a sugary, overly-sentimental way (á la Running from Hungary in 2014). Baby Mercy’s story is just that, anyway: a story rather than a controversial political statement that should be banned from the competition (ya hear that, Mercy haters and 1944 naysayers?). Subject matter aside, this is just a really cool song – the kind I’d use to try and brainwash my non-Eurovision obsessed friends into becoming fans without them even realising it. It might be down-tempo and lacking in a big, showy ‘moment’, but it makes an impact in other ways. There’s something in it for Salvador Sobral types who need their music to be meaningful, something for established ESC fans looking for style and a memorable melody, and something instant that should capture the attention of first-time listeners during the final. Then we come back to Emilie and Jean-Karl who have a backstory (they’re married!), are ridiculously good-looking, and perform this song perfectly with just the right amount of emotion – in all black with red accents, of course, because the French don’t do OTT. My sole complaint re: this as a package deal is that the ‘Merci, merci’ chant at the end is a slight waste of song time (I’d have cut it in half and squeezed in another chorus). But that’s hardly a dealbreaker. I love this song regardless, and even though it’s not in my top five at the moment, it’s firmly in my top 10 (sitting at no. 7 FYI). It would be fantastique for Madame Monsieur to at least fare as well as Alma on the Lisbon leaderboard. If they can own the stage better than she did, I don’t see why the actual top 10 (as opposed to my top 10) shouldn’t have a place for France. Either that or they’ll flop and finish 22nd. Europe/Australia, have some mercy for Mercy!

2017 VS 2018? France is constantly kicking goals these days, but for me this tops Requiem.

My score 10

 

 


My thoughts If you liked Klapa s Mora in Malmö (they represented Croatia with Mižerja, ICYMI) then you’re bound to like Iriao and Sheni Gulistvis – more than someone who wanted to slapa the Klapa boys across the face, anyway. It’s a similar brand of all-male ethnic ballad that does have its supporters, but will struggle to catch enough votes in its butterfly net to qualify. Now, I was a Mižerja fan, but that had some pop elements to it so it wasn’t alienating. Sheni is fully wedged in its niche genre pigeonhole, and as much as I respect that and am happy to have something unique and cultural in the 2018 contest, it just doesn’t do anything for me. I don’t hate it, but I don’t enjoy listening to it, and that’s why it’s drifted down to the #41 position in my current ranking. It sounds like a cover of an ancient national anthem, and doesn’t have any of the power and/or touch of bat-shit craziness that we’ve come to expect from Georgia. I do find them hit-and-miss at adult Eurovision, whereas I adore them at Junior Eurovision – a contest they completely ‘get’. And if they were sending their JESC 2017 runner-up Music of the Heart to Portugal (give Grigol Kipshidze a fake ID and rip up the EBU rulebook and they’d be good to go), I‘d be dropping a great big douze on top of Georgia right now. Sadly, I can’t do that for Iriao, and I can’t connect with what they’re bringing to the table. I’m pretty sure that Georgia will have to sit out of the final for the second year in a row…but I haven’t seen Sheni performed live, and I do think there’s a chance that the boys can create a magic moment on stage. Still, I doubt a flawless vocal performance will be enough. I don’t want a DNQ to put Georgia off sending ethnic, Georgian-language (this is their first fully-Georgian ESC entry) songs though. This particular one may not my cup of cocoa, and may not have the mass appeal it needs to make the final (in my opinion), but the next one might be more appealing – while staying true to tradition.

2017 VS 2018? 2017. When a rip-off Bond theme is done right, I dig it.

My score 5.5

 

 

My thoughts What is it with Ireland associating relationships with death? Last year we had Dying To Try, and now Ryan is lamenting that he ‘thought we’d be together ‘til we die’. RTÉ should be sourcing songs for the next Romeo & Juliet film adaptation. What they should also be doing is taking a good long look at their Eurovision approach, because they still haven’t moved on from their 1990s glory days – and holding onto that isn’t helping them find favour in the 2010s. I was a Brendan supporter last year, and despite what I just said I am a fan of Ryan’s Together. I just think Ireland needs a firework set off under their backside, but more on that later. For now, I want to chat about the pros of this year’s effort, not the cons. It’s a really nice song – easy-listening, soothing, a little bit sad…a song you’d hole yourself up in your bedroom to blast during a breakup grieving period. The lyrics are simple feat. metaphors that actually make sense (yes, it IS possible), and Ryan’s voice is made for this sort of guitar-driven, singer-songwriter ballad – which it should be, since he co-wrote it. I think the vibe and melody of the verses and pre-chorus are stunning. It’s only when the chorus arrives that things start to unravel, because it’s the musical equivalent of a deflated balloon (thankfully Ireland had a fully-inflated one in Kyiv). Again, the lyrics are good, but overall the chorus is weaker than every other part of the song when it should be the star of the show. As a result, I feel like Together goes nowhere. That’s made much more painful by the fact that a powerful, statement chorus would have made a good song great, yet what we have is a good song being dragged down by one weak spot. Even so, this song has the potential for a Tom Dice (or more likely, Paradise Oskar) result. Especially if Ryan is as enchanting (if you’ll let me get away with such flowery language) on stage as I’ve heard he is from EiC etc attendees. It’s far from a cert though, and that brings me back to my irritations over Ireland never truly fixing what’s broken. When’s the last time people were Israel 2018 excited about an Irish entry? It’s as if those responsible for choosing them think it’s only a matter of time (Sennek pun intended) before everything old is new again and songs that would have won at Eurovision in 1994 start doing it all over again. Like Denmark – but to an extreme degree – Ireland sends safe, vanilla songs that are more inside the box than Azerbaijan’s trapped alter-ego man from 2013. Year after year after year! Yeah, I’ve liked what they’ve done the past two years, but neither Dying To Try nor Together were/are potential winners or guaranteed to qualify. Where’s the spark? The x factor? Not in Ryan’s chorus, that’s for sure – but there is a glimmer of hope in the rest of his song. We’ll soon see whether that’s going to pay off or not.

2017 VS 2018? Ireland was a guilty pleasure for me last year – #TeamBalloon!

My score 7.5

 

 

My thoughts Being Aminata-short on time this NF season, I didn’t get the chance to follow Supernova – so when I cleared three minutes in my schedule to listen to show winner Laura being a Funny Girl, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Would the song be on the same level as Love Injected/Heartbeat/Line, or would it be a jokey, lighthearted (and potentially lame) entry as the title suggested? As it turned out, the title was a herring as red as Laura’s NF dress. There’s nothing funny about Funny Girl, and I mean that as a compliment. My honest first reaction was ‘Wow!’. This song is soulful, sexy and sad all at once, and Laura’s performance was too (with added hair flicks for maximum sass). The situation of not being taken seriously by a boy who Netta Barzilai would definitely call stupid is explored using simple but original lyrics, a musical style that’s both on-trend and throwback, and a dramatic chorus that begs for a seductive lighting scheme (I don’t think the emphasis on lights, not LEDs, on the Lisbon stage will affect Latvia at all). There’s also an atmosphere of tension, frustration and desperation built up throughout Funny Girl that feels raw and genuine on every listen. Basically, I’ve been impressed by Latvia for the fourth year running. Laura’s one of our annual American accents at Eurovision, and her extensive musical education in the US shows in an awesome song that she wrote and composed herself, and in her competent, confident live performances. Although there’s nothing I don’t love about her overall package, I have to admit that Latvia slipped down a little in my ranking through selection season, as songs I liked even more were chosen and already-established entries grew on me. They’ve also slipped down the scoreboard over the past few years, with Aminata’s 5th followed by a 15th from Justs…then a big drop to a DNQ and last place in 2017 with Triana Park (I’m still mad). I do have high hopes that Laura can do better than a semi wooden spoon. There’s a good six or seven countries accompanying her in the second semi that are dead certs or at least very likely to qualify – leaving three or four spots open. I think she’s capable of snatching one, but could finish 11th or 12th as easily as 9th or 10th. Will I be as heartbroken as Funny Girl Laura if it’s another DNQ for Latvia? Pretty much. Particularly if it’s revealed that she finished 11th and Russia went through in 10th…but that’s another story.

2017 VS 2018? Laura gave me goosebumps on listen no. 1, so 2018 it is.

My score 8.5

 

 

That’s all for today, folks – and the stats are now 20 down, 23 left. Told you I was getting there. It might be like an arthritic sloth completing a marathon, but that’s part of the Jaz charm, right?

Here’s this round’s leaderboard:

  1. Australia (10)
  2. France (10)
  3. Latvia (8.5)
  4. Ireland (7.5)
  5. Georgia (5.5)

Look, I’m sorry/not sorry, but I HAD to put Jess on top when it came to choosing between Australia and France. I’d probably be deported for being unpatriotic if I didn’t. If it makes you feel any better, it was like choosing between a deep-dish pizza and another deep-dish pizza – i.e. very difficult and almost too close to call.

Do you have a few favourites here that you couldn’t possibly narrow down to one? If not, and you know exactly where your loyalties lie, this question will be a lot easier for you to answer.

 

NEXT TIME It’s full steam ahead with Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Portugal and Ukraine. I have some strong feelings about all of them, so drop by again to see if they’re happy-dance kind of feelings…or the punch-a-hole-in-the-wall kind. Subscribe in the sidebar and/or follow me on social media @EurovisionByJaz to make sure you never miss a post!

 

 

 

 

 

JAZ JUDGES EUROVISION 2017 | Albania, Cyprus, Latvia, Macedonia, Malta + Switzerland

Two weeks, people. TWO WEEKS!!! That’s (roughly or exactly, depending on when you’re reading this) how long we have to wait until the first semi final of Eurovision 2017.

That’s 95% wonderful in my mind, with the remaining 5% a result of a) me freaking out because it’s almost been an entire year since I attended my first live contest, and b) me freaking out because I have five more rounds of song reviews and (hopefully) some predictions to post here on EBJ in such a short space of time. SEND HELP.

Today is judgment day for Lindita, Hovig, Triana Park, Jana Burčeska, Claudia Faniello and Timebelle. And before you ask, yes, my mum has come back again to help me review their ESC entries! So without further ado – ‘ado’, as you probably know by now, is code for ‘Jaz-rambling’ – let’s get this party started.

*moonwalks, stacks it on a stray sock and falls to near-death*

 

 

My thoughts Anything I say about an Albanian Eurovision entry usually begins with ‘Well, the Albanian version was mysterious and unique and generally great, but the English version…’ – you get my drift. And FYI, Lindita’s World (or The Song Formerly Known As Botë) will be no exception. I really liked the version of the song that won the American Idol alum Festivali I Këngës, because it was so intense and interesting. English – and I know it’s only because I can understand it – has a way of making most of that disappear, particularly if the English lyrics are lame. That’s what it’s done to World, although no change of language could make Lindita herself less of a vocal powerhouse. The melody is still nice and dramatic, and that money note she belts out for what seems like ten straight minutes is still a staggering ‘wow!’ moment. But with Albanian off the menu, the song sounds plain vanilla when it used to be covered in chocolate sprinkles. I understand countries wanting to use English to communicate with more people, but when an artist can invest emotion in their vocal performance like Lindita can, sticking with their native tongue wouldn’t hold them back. Imagine Hungary’s Origo, or even the chorus of 1944, in English. Things wouldn’t pack the same punch with those two songs, would they? I don’t think so. World, to someone who never knew it as Botë, is probably a decent enough power ballad. But even so, I hope Lindita is prepared to fight for a spot in the final, because she’ll be lucky to get there otherwise. 6 points.

My mum says… Someone has a serious set of lungs! I’m guessing you all know the particular part of this song that made me sure of that. As for the rest of (the) World…well, I wasn’t a huge fan at first. It starts off slowly and sounds sort of old-fashioned for a piano ballad. But when it turns from piano ballad to power ballad, the situation improves. I got swept up in the emotion and passion Lindita projects once she gets fired up, which made me appreciate the song more. 6 points.

Albania’s score 6.00

 

 

My thoughts As hilarious as it would be to see Hovig carried out on stage by a giant and carefully positioned on a fake rock at Eurovision, it’s a different Gravity to Zlata’s that he’s packing in his suitcase: the Thomas G:son kind. And holy Rag’n’Bone Man rip-offs, it’s amazing! I like to think of it more of an homage to Human rather than a textbook case of plagiarism. It’s also an example of a song that’s better than the last one the artist tried to get to Eurovision with, which often isn’t the case (though I do dig Stone in A River too). From the second that mechanical, hypnotic beat kicks in at the start, I’m hooked. Simply-worded verses lead to the biggest earworm of a chorus in this year’s contest (one that’s instantly memorable thanks to clever rhyming), and both are perfectly suited to Hovig’s strong, slightly gravelly voice. The potential for epic staging is sky-high here, so I hope Cyprus has taken advantage of that and not left the poor guy to just stand centre stage in a spotlight. I do think the song is good enough to shine without gimmicks, but an edgy lighting scheme or some Loïc Nottet-style dancers (slash Cirque du Soleil acrobats, given the possibilities for tricks suggested in the music video) would set the scene and give Gravity the atmosphere it deserves. Either way, I don’t have much more to say about it other than this: if Minus One managed to qualify, then Hovig should too. Oh, and Gravity kicks astronaut ass. And regular, 9-to-5 worker ass. Basically, all ass. 10 points.

My mum says… I liked this straight away – there was no waiting for something exciting to happen. That beat (and the strange sounds that accompany it, which I suspect may be an alien mating call) piqued my interest instantly. There’s great energy all the way through, and the lyrics are interesting enough in their own right to prevent potential boredom. Gravity makes for a refreshing change from the usual love song style, and I wouldn’t mind hearing it again right now! 8 points.

Cyprus’ score 9.00

 

 

My thoughts Latvia has come a long, long way since Cake To Bake. Sure, that was sweet (pun intended) but you have to admit that what they’ve sent to the ESC since then has been in a whole different league of contemporary pop awesomeness. Just when we thought that was all down to Aminata’s involvement, along came Triana Park with Line, the third installment in a trilogy of fantastic Latvian tracks (and sequels are supposed to suck!). It’s just SO COOL. Everything from the silky-smooth electronic production to the minimalist, non-cliché lyrical content, bare-bones instrumental hook, and lead singer Agnese’s unique voice and constantly-changing look (the woman is a hair, makeup and clothing chameleon) is what I want to see more countries ship off to the contest. Basically, a package that even the most seasoned ‘Eurovision is crap’ troll would find appealing, or at least very hard to take the piss out of. There is something stopping Line from being one of my favourite songs of the year – maybe the fact that it is quite flat and repetitive (though that’s typical of the genre), or just the fact that I happen to enjoy other entries more. But in terms of measuring up to Love Injected and Heartbeat, it definitely does. The live performance is not as slick as the studio version, which wasn’t an issue for Aminata or Justs, so I don’t think Triana Park will be jury high-flyers. Televoters will go more gaga over Line, I think, so we’ll see if that’s enough to nab Latvia another left-side result on the Saturday night…assuming they make it that far. They sure as heck deserve to. 8 points.

My mum says… This isn’t (totally) my cup of tea. I enjoyed the catchy chorus, but I found the rest of the song monotonous and far too repetitive. It didn’t do much for me at all. The lead singer’s voice didn’t seem to have the same power and appeal as any of the other singers I’ve heard so far. If I’m not the target audience for Line, though, it’ll probably do well because it certainly sounds current. 4 points.

Latvia’s score 6.00

 

 

My thoughts Macedonia was one of two countries that really surprised me with their 2017 song, because I was expecting something totally different to what they delivered (I’ll tell you now that the other one was Belgium, but you’ll have to wait and see if I was pleasantly or not-so-pleasantly surprised by City Lights). I’ll confess that I didn’t even have the chance to have a cursory glance at Jana’s musical background/career to date before Dance Alone pirouetted into the picture, but even if I had, I doubt I would have seen such contemporary, radio-friendly pop coming. Not from her or from Mace-Dona-donia! This song is super polished; modern, as I mentioned, but brings the eighties back in a way that Ruffus would approve of; and seems to have been lifted straight from a Spotify playlist called ‘Music To Get Ready For A Night Out To’. It’s unfortunate that, after such a show of ethnicity in Stockholm with Kaliopi, there’s no trace of traditional sounds to be heard here, but given Kaliopi’s failure to even qualify for the final, I don’t blame Macedonia for pinballing in a different direction. With infectious hooks throughout, simple but effective lyrics and a charismatic performer, there’s nothing wrong with Dance Alone. Perhaps that’s my problem, because as much as I like it, I can’t force myself to fall in love with it. It’s so perfect in a plastic-package kind of way, I feel disconnected from it and can’t muster up any strong emotions when I hear it (love, hate or the irresistible urge to dance). There’s always a song competing in Eurovision that I know is a good-quality one, but it ends up in my ‘meh’ pile anyway. I guess this is the 2017 version. 6 points.

My mum says… After listening to this, I might have to make the pavement my catwalk too! It’s a cool pop song that had me moving to the music very quickly, and I can’t deny that’s a sign of something being up my alley. The whole thing is infectious (in a good way – no need for face masks) and I can’t think of anything to complain about. Well done, Macedonia. 8 points.

Macedonia’s score 7.00

 

 

My thoughts I am so horrified by Malta’s downgrade from Walk On Water to Breathlessly (albeit a downgrade from a Swedish-made song to a Maltese-made song, which is not the horrifying part) that I can’t even contain myself enough to write a suspenseful intro that keeps you wondering WTF I think of Claudia’s entry for a line or six. When I first heard it, she’d already won – MESC was one national final I had to sacrifice acquainting myself with until it was over (thanks, adult commitments). I actually couldn’t believe that Malta had willingly chosen to send such a dated, dull and overly-dramatic ballad to Eurovision, straight after serving up slayage with Ira Losco. Over time, my despise has turned to tolerance (so long as I’m in a generous mood) but Breathlessly is still right near the rear end of my overall ranking. It’s something that belongs in the credits of a mid-1990s romantic drama movie starring Kevin Costner and Julia Roberts – not a highly competitive song contest in 2017. If that’s not enough to turn you off, how about the creepy lyrical content seemingly written from an unhinged stalker’s perspective? ‘I’ll be watching you, breathlessly’? Watching me call the cops! Okay, so maybe I wouldn’t do that to Claudia, who seems like a cool person, does the song justice vocally and looks stunning in the music video. But not only does she deserve a better song to go to the ESC with, she’s had better songs to go to the ESC with. It’s too bad her time has finally come with an entry that will struggle to break free from the semi final. 4 points.

My mum says… ‘Terribly ballady’ were the words that came to mind when I was listening to Claudia go on and on and on, feeling like a psychiatrist she should be paying by the minute. The subject matter of the song doesn’t seem that sad and miserable, but it made me feel really down in the dumps which is NOT how I like music to affect me. If there was more variety in the mood or the lyrics, it’d be better, but Breathlessly flatlines. I don’t think I’ll bother firing up the defibrillator and trying to revive it. 3 points.

Malta’s score 3.5

 

 

My thoughts There’s one thing I have to get out of my system before I talk about Timebelle’s Apollo, and that is the all-important subject matter of how FREAKING BEAUTIFUL (I hope Robin Bengtsson hasn’t trademarked that phrase) lead singer Miruna is. If she just stood on stage for three minutes doing nothing but batting her eyelashes at the camera, I wouldn’t be able to look away – and I say this as a straight female. She can sing and stuff too, I know, but…hashtag hottie. Right, I’ve said it. Now, The Song! Apollo, for me, is a step up from Timebelle’s last Swiss NF entry Singing About Love (although they are once again singing about love). Sure, it could have been a minor radio hit five or ten years ago, but I don’t think this sort of ballad style dates too badly. I really like every element of it, even in 2017 – the tune, the dynamic way that softer verses build up to big, dramatic choruses, the lyrics (which are simple but not too simple, and just about cliché-free)…and how’s ‘I’ll follow you, Apollo’ for a lyrical hook? Well, you might think it sucks, but I think it makes the song even more instant. Overall, it’s memorable enough – and will be well-performed enough – to squeeze into the second semi’s top 10, but that’s not a given. ‘Enough’ isn’t always enough (if that makes any sense) in a competitive environment, and I can see why Switzerland might miss out just as easily as they could slip through to the final. Either way, they’re guaranteed to improve on Rykka’s result from last year (lest we forget the blue perm and boob-smoke). 7 points.

My mum says… Now here’s a ballad I can get on board with. It’s uplifting, easy to sing along to and just poppy enough to put some pep in your step. The steps taken when following Apollo, obviously. I think Malta should take notes during the lesson Professor Switzerland delivers in Ukraine! 8 points.

Switzerland’s score 7.5

 

 

18 down, 24 (possibly plus-one, if I decide the flame is indeed burning) to go! Here’s the ranking after today’s reviews:

  1. Cyprus (9.00)
  2. Switzerland (7.5)
  3. Macedonia (7.00)
  4. Latvia (6.00)
  5. Albania (6.00)
  6. Malta (3.5)

I’m happy to announce Hovig as the winner of this round. Will he find himself on top – or at least close to the top – of any other upcoming leaderboards? I can hardly stand the suspense. I don’t think there’s a lot of suspense in wondering what will happen to last-placed Malta, but then again, the ESC always manages to provide us with some shocks (you haven’t forgotten about Greta-gate already, have you?).

How would you rank the entries my mum and I judged this time? Let us know in the comments. I love knowing who agrees and disagrees with my opinions so I know who I’m buying a birthday present for – and who I’m so NOT – this year…

If you’re enjoying the Jaz + Mrs. Jaz Judgments so far, then stay tuned for the next installment. We’ll be taking on some big hitters in the form of Bulgaria, France, Italy, Romania, Serbia and Sweden. The bookies rate (some of) them very highly, but will we? Look out for our thoughts on Kristian, Alma, Francesco, Ilinca & Alex Florea, Tijana and Robin to go live if you want to find out!

 

Until then,

 

 

 

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

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

 

 TODAY’S EBJ JURORS

 mwm

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

 

 

Azerbaijan

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

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

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

The EBJ Jury says…

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

Azerbaijan’s EBJ Jury score is…7

 

 

Belgium

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

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

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

The EBJ Jury says…

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

Belgium’s EBJ Jury score is…7.1

 

 

Iceland

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

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

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

The EBJ Jury says…

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

Iceland’s EBJ Jury score is…8.6

 

 

Israel

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

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

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

The EBJ Jury says…

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

Israel’s EBJ Jury score is…6.5

 

 

 Latvia

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

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

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

The EBJ Jury says…

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

Latvia’s EBJ Jury score is…7.4

 

 

UK

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

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

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

The EBJ Jury says… 

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

The UK’s EBJ Jury score is…6.7

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

Until then…

 

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EBJ’s Top 10…performances of Eurovision 2015

Hej hej! Welcome to the filler post that’s supposed to make you drool with anticipation as you await the results of my 2015 Eurovision Excellence Awards.

Don’t worry; their arrival is in the offing. In the meantime, if you haven’t voted in the People’s Choice polls yet, I would la la love you to do so while you still can. The polls are sitting pretty in my previous post, where they’ll be open for another few days (UPDATE: They’ve now closed!!!). Many of the results are close at this point, so your vote could determine who wins and who goes home empty-handed. As our beloved Queen Loreen would say, you got the power.

Before you head off to use it, though (and thanks so much if you already have…douze points for you!) why not hang around here for a bit and check out today’s countdown?

The forty songs performed in Vienna over three nights have been narrowed down to ten: my top ten of the lot, based on how well they were staged and sung, how aesthetically pleasing they were, and how insignificant the shocking camerawork became in light of all of the above.

 

As taking forty down to ten is a tough task (even with a few badly-staged, badly-sung entries among that forty) I’m allowing myself some Honourable Mentions to start:

Moldova If Moldova had tried to disguise I Want Your Love as a classy, contemporary affair, there would have been a global eye-roll epidemic. Fortunately, Eduard and his team acknowledged how trashy and 2000s the song is via a heavily-choreographed, sleazy dance routine performed by “police” hot off a porn set. I don’t care what anyone says – we NEEDED this in Eurovision 2015.

Montenegro Željko Joksimović was part of Adio in spirit (and as songwriter) if not on stage, with his influence extending to the use of every Balkan ballad trope imaginable during Knez’s performance. In this case, I’m more than happy to embrace the clichés, because I’ve long been a sucker for Balkan ballads and their atmospheric ensemble-based stagings…especially when Željko’s engineered them.

Russia I can’t deny that Polina gave a win-worthy performance in the final, helped along by her all-white resemblance to Dima Bilan back in ’08 (except his neckline was even more plunging than hers). But, more so than the costumes or the backdrops, it’s the emotion and energy she put into conveying the message of A Million Voices that I applaud here. Polina clearly invested every fibre of her (pure and angelic) being into her performance, and the fact that she semi-crumbled at the end endeared her effort to me all the more. You go, girlfriend.

 

And now, let’s get to the really, really good stuff (and pretend I didn’t just say ‘You go, girlfriend’): my top ten performances of the year.

When compiling this list, I thought back to how strong my desire was to clap after each performance, rather than bury my head in my hands. I also tried to recall whether my eyes were glued to the TV screen for three minutes straight (á la Sweden) or if I was tempted to tear them out after ten seconds because I NEVER EVER WANT TO SEE ANYONE WEAR ANYTHING LIKE THAT AGAIN, TRIJNTJE!

This is the end result.

 

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#10 | Game of Thrones meets Eurovision…and it’s a perfect match

Genealogy’s performance of Face The Shadow for Armenia

Game of Thrones with a ton of (subliminal) ads for Cadbury Family Blocks thrown in, that is. Armenia’s medieval-esque and very purple outfits – which may or may not have been retrieved from the depths of Inga’s wardrobe and repurposed, based on their resemblance to her and her sister’s 2009 costume choice – added to an equally purple and well-executed performance that took my pre-show perception of Face The Shadow and completely reversed it. Once performed live, the chaos of the studio version – in which all six singers attempted to outdo each other at every opportunity – disappeared, making way for screen shots that almost literally walked us through Essaï, Mary-Jean, Stephanie, Inga, Tamar and Vahe’s solos. On top of that, the migraine-inducing melodrama of that studio version came off as more of a theatricality, and one that worked very well outside of the recording booth. I still feel like Genealogy would have been more at home in a West End production of The Phantom of the Opera than at Eurovision…but their performance made me want to retract most of the snarky comments I made when reviewing Armenia a few months ago – and that deserves praise.

 

#9 | How do you say ‘OTT’ in Spanish?

Edurne’s performance of Amanecer for Spain

After a pretty lengthy period of simplistic staging choices, it was only a matter of time before Spain regurgitated every unused costume reveal, backdrop, dance move and wind machine gust from the past five years all over the Eurovision stage. We’ll never know whether less would have been more where Amanecer is concerned, but I personally don’t mind never finding out – because Edurne’s action-packed, meme-worthy performance harked back to the ultra-gimmicky days of the contest, and I couldn’t help loving it. Si, it was OTT, but not in a tacky, trashy way (Moldova had the tackiness and trashiness all to themselves). To put it in Eurovision terms, if Silvia Night’s Congratulations performance in ’06 was a petulant child, then Edurne’s Amanecer performance was the same child nine years later – more mature, but now at the party-girl stage of life when all she wants to do is rip off the demure cloak she wore out of the house to appease her parents, revealing a flashy dress that enables her to be manhandled by a half-naked dancer up in the club. Or in this case, up on the Stadthalle stage in front of thousands of flag-waving fans. Something else I commend about Spain’s show is the fact that Edurne didn’t let the myriad of backdrops, or the machine-made wind, or any of the other stuff that was happening to/around her, outshine her. She retained her status as star of the show the entire time. I guess when you’re that stunning, it’s easy to do.

 

#8 | Before I leave, you can definitely show me Tel Aviv!

Nadav Guedj’s performance of Golden Boy for Israel

I mean that in a ‘because you guys are the collective kings of fun’ kind of way, as opposed to an ‘I have the hots for a sixteen-year-old which, as I am in my twenties, is creepy, even though said teenager looks older than me’ kind of way (I swear I don’t). Without question, Israel was the life of the Eurovision party in Vienna, and all it took was simple but bang-on staging of the energetic floorfiller that is Golden Boy. All the song needed was a cool lighting scheme, men who could move, and – something I didn’t visualise pre-ESC but now can’t imagine sacrificing – some sweet-as-heck metallic sneakers. And Israel delivered on all three of those counts. They also gave us a teen talented beyond his years, who worked the stage like a pro and made millions of people watching at home leave the butt-shaped crater in their couches behind in order to shake the butt that made the indentation. I was doing no such thing when I was sixteen, being too busy carrying out my grand plan to win over the guy I liked by never looking at or speaking directly to him, which worked a treat. Not. ANYWAY, there was nothing not to enjoy about Nadav’s moment in the spotlight – including his literal moment in the spotlight during Golden Boy’s ballad-like intro, also perfectly staged – which is why it’s going down as one of my top ten performances. As long as I can keep pretending the cringe-tastic ‘Do you like my dancing?’ lyric doesn’t exist, I’ll be re-watching it on repeat.

 

#7 | Where there’s smoke, there’s Nina

Nina Sublatti’s performance of Warrior for Georgia

Let’s be honest: there were a lot of lady ballads in Eurovision this year. Countless women in floor-sweeping gowns were either a) wilting away at their microphones because the flame of their loins had departed, or b) demanding in a very shouty manner that we all come together and build a bridge and pray for peace and whatnot (thanks, but no thanks). So it’s a relief that Georgia gave us some grunt factor in the form of a fierce-as-F-word, gothic goddess in black leather hotpants and thigh-high boots – a.k.a. Nina Sublatti. At twenty years of age, Nina held her own on a sizeable and very smoky stage (she didn’t even bat a kohl-covered eyelid when the Dry Ice Overload Incident took place during the final). Girl eyeballed the camera, strutted around in those amazing boots (sorry to keep mentioning them, but they’re a 10 on the Maja Keuc scale of lust-worthy footwear) and generally hypnotised me into staring at her the entire time she was doing her femme fatale thing. She didn’t need anyone else accompanying her on stage, and I get the feeling the same applies to her everyday life – she’s the epitome of a strong, independent woman who don’t need no man. It’s quite possible that I’m a little bit in love with her, actually. But pushing that aside, I think that Georgia staged Warrior impeccably. A striking backdrop, a dark and sexy choice of costume, dry ice for atmosphere and Nina herself was all that the performance needed to succeed.

 

#6 | Lights! Camera! Completely unjustified nul points!

Ann Sophie’s performance of Black Smoke for Germany

From one saucy, black-clad woman to another…let’s talk about Ann Sophie and her Eurovision rendition of Black Smoke. And this time, I’m going to get straight to the point: I LOVED this performance. Fans who didn’t like the song beforehand and were still annoyed about the Andreas situation may not have felt the same way watching it, and I’ll admit that as I did rate Black Smoke quite highly in the contest lead-up – and wanted poor, downtrodden Ann Sophie to surpass expectations (which didn’t quite pan out) – I’m probably biased. But you tell me something that was über-wrong with Germany’s three minutes, and I’ll tell you that you’re crazy. Everything about it was simple, seductive and sophisticated – and no, I haven’t forgotten about the butt-centric shots that dominated the first verse. What can I say? The woman has a behind that deserves camera time, and the fact that she spent thirty seconds with her back to the audience was at least a unique and memorable approach to stage choreography. It was hardly off the charts wackiness-wise when compared to some of Belgium’s choreography (which *spoiler alert* will be discussed again shortly). Ann Sophie’s style and charisma were equally on point, and her voice wasn’t half as nasally as it had been at the German national final. On top of that, the use of the giant lights as props was inspired, and totally in keeping with the slightly retro flavour of Black Smoke. All in all, Germany’s was a slick and entertaining performance in which every visual element was nailed and the artist played their part in adding pizzazz. Neither the televoters nor the juries thought that zero points was a fair score here, so I blame the current combined voting system for a failure that will haunt my dreams for years to come.

 

#5 | Three (handsome, Italian) heads are better than one

Il Volo’s performance of Grande Amore for Italy

Il Volo, of course, had sung Grande Amore live at Sanremo in order to win the main section of the comp – but after hearing the song for the first time via the cinematically-themed video and falling in love with it, I decided not to seek out the live version. Rather, I’d wait until Eurovision time to see if the boys would blow me away as I expected them to. Obviously, since I’m talking about them on a list of my favourite Viennese performances, they did. They really, really did. All they had to do was stand on the stage in front of that majestic and oh-so-Italian backdrop in dapper suits, and nail their solo vocals and harmonies, and the power of the song would do the rest. A little partnership between the lighting/graphics and the explosive launch into the choruses added to the drama, and that wink from Gianluca down the camera cemented the sex appeal and charisma of this popera entry. Comparisons to the stuffy and straight-laced Sognu should have ended there, but people refuse to stop pitting Italy 2015 against France 2011…even now that we know Italy won the televote and finished third overall (seriously, STOP IT!). Effortless, classy and with an Italian stamp on their performance like always, Italy more than made up for Emma’s scoreboard slump of 2014. And gave me some epic goosebumps. Brr.

 

#4 | Did we pick the right Guy for the job? Too right, mate!

Guy Sebastian’s performance of Tonight Again for Australia

No list of this nature written by an Australian would be complete without our debut performance on it. In fourth place is Guy Sebastian, whose talent, personality and posse of backup dancers/singers had the whole of the arena on their feet (from what I could see on screen) and dismissing the ‘WTF?’ factor of Australia being invited to compete. Tonight Again is the kind of song that works better live, when the performer can feed off the energy of the audience – and in this case, where smooth-as-honey vocals like Guy’s sound sweetest. From his first note, the crowd made the noise that indicated they knew they were in for a fun time (fun being extremely welcome after a ton of down-tempo songs that simply could not be twerked to), and when the trumpets kicked in, there was no looking back. The 3D and 2D street lights served as an eye-catching and appropriate part of simple but effective staging – i.e. staging that was far from boarding Spain’s OTT train, but not at all boring. My absolute favourite thing about our debut was this: watching it unfold in a room full of other Aussies, all of us waving our flags and singing along to every word, while dancing in the uncoordinated kind of way one does at 4 o’ clock in the morning. For the first time, I felt the patriotic spirit that those of you in regularly-competing countries must feel when you’re supporting your entry for the year (assuming you like it and aren’t embarrassed to get behind it). If we’re not invited back, then I’ll always have that memory and feeling to hold on to (sorry for the cheese, but this was a special event, and I’m getting kind of emotional thinking about it *sniff*).

 

And now, for the top points…er, I mean, performances. Or perhaps both?

Yes.

Eight points go to…

 

#3 | Affected, detected, reflected and injected

Aminata’s performance of Love Injected for Latvia

I am proud to say I’m someone who approved of Love Injected when it won the Latvian NF. But not even I foresaw how epic Aminata’s Eurovision performance, and eventual result, would be. I mean, this is Latvia we’re talking about – their contest history includes the world’s campest pirates, Johnny Logan name-dropping and songs about cake-baking. In the post-2000 years, I’ve often had low expectations of them…but that’s changed. Watching barely-five-foot Aminata attempt to fit through backstage doorways in that giant red puffball of a dress, I was skeptical. But with that dress, and the girl in it, being the focal point of the presentation, magic was made. The colour scheme and lighting were seamlessly integrated with the theme and hypnotic beats of the song, and the camerawork here was among the best of the lot. The real drawcard, though, was Aminata herself. Like Conchita, she remained in the same spot for the entirety of her performance, but managed to belt out Love Injected with a whopping amount of power, and emote using only her facial expressions and arm movements. Note-perfect every time and totally present and absorbed in the moment, she had so much to do with Latvia providing another spine-tingler. Overa-a-a-a-all (couldn’t resist) they impressed me big time, brought up my heart rate, and achieved a result that was more Brainstorm than Beautiful Song.

 

Ten points go to…

 

#2 | Lord of the dance, and the leather pants

Måns Zelmerlöw’s performance of Heroes for Sweden

Oh, Sweden – you did it again! Á la 2012, the ESC powerhouse’s out-of-the-box thinking led to an innovatively-staged performance that was unique in the field, and deservingly took out Eurovision’s top honours. The extent to which Sweden takes Melodifestivalen and Eurovision seriously is evident in how well-packaged their entries are from the very first time you see them live – when they’re just potential Swedish representatives competing in a Melfest semi. Changes to the stick man aside, the Heroes that turned up in Vienna was shot-for-shot, move-for-move the same as the Heroes that had won Melfest in Stockholm. And there’s nothing wrong with that – why strive to improve on perfection? Sure, there were a few minor tweaks that did just that: e.g. the colour scheme becoming monochromatic, which, as Måns said, gave the visuals a crispness they didn’t have before. That was the cherry on top of a precision-iced cake. Although I’d seen Måns interacting with cartoon Måns (who’s not as handsome but is adorable nonetheless) a million times before he did so at Eurovision, I was compelled by the staging every time. MZW  was selling something I already wanted to buy, so the fact that a) his vocals were top-notch, b) his engagement with the audience and camera was as pro as always, and c) he was still rocking those leather pants *swoons pathetically* was an added bonus. Just because every element of a performance has been thought through and rehearsed to within an inch of its life doesn’t mean said performance will become stale. It can still be fresh, with the right frontman…or in this case, the right frontmåns.

 

And now, the moment you’ve waded through my ramblings for. The douze points for my personal favourite performance of the year go to…

 

#1 | Black + white + rap pap pap tonight!

Loïc Nottet’s performance of Rhythm Inside for Belgium

Belgium has been a hit-and-miss kind of contest competitor lately. After Roberto Bellarosa’s surprise success in Malmö, Axel Hirsoux’s failure to qualify in Copenhagen must have taken the wind out of their sails (while not surprising the majority of us who were creeped-out by Mother). This year, with Francophone broadcaster RTBF in charge again, Loïc Nottet was internally selected – and what a brilliant selection it was. Loïc – who we mustn’t forget is only nineteen years old – proceeded to co-write a cutting-edge pop song and choreograph a cool routine for some all-white backing singers. The rest, as they say, is history. Belgium’s best result since 2003 was thanks to a song and performance unlike anything we’d heard or seen on the Eurovision stage before, which is mainly why I voted for it. Simple shapes, bizarre but complementary dance moves and a minimalist, monochromatic colour scheme united as Loïc let rip with a killer vocal. Unusual camera shots, and an intensity from The Voice Belgique runner-up that would be hard for an artist twice his age to muster, added to the intrigue, making Belgium’s performance pretty impossible to forget. The whole thing was strange yet satisfying, and gelled in a way that some other performances didn’t. I couldn’t tear my eyes away, having been a fan of Rhythm Inside from the start and then been blindsided by a level of awesomeness in its presentation. I want to see more of this in Eurovision as we journey on into the show’s seventh decade. Maybe that would prove that the older the contest gets, the cooler it gets – you know, like your grandmother who goes bar-hopping, listens to heavy metal and takes hang-gliding lessons.

 

 

That’s my countdown concluded, peeps. I’ve said my (very long) piece, so now it’s your turn. Which ten performances of Eurovision 2015 will you be watching over and over until a distraction comes along in the form of Eurovision 2016? Let me know below. I’m as curious as always!

 

NEXT TIME Dust off your tuxedoes, fluff out those tulle skirts, and red-carpet-proof your footwear – the EBJ Awards for Eurovision Excellence have arrived! Well, the first installment has, anyway. You’re cordially invited to sit front-row as the trophies in the categories of The Artists and The Songs are handed out. Four of the People’s Choice winners will be revealed as well, so you won’t want to miss this ceremony.

 

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VIENNESE VERDICTS | The EBJ Jury Reviews (Part 8) + Our 2015 Top 40!

And then there were five. No, I’m not referring to the days left until Eurovision gets underway – although there’s about five of those left too (depending on your time zone and method of counting stuff and…stuff). In this case, though, I’m talking about the songs remaining for my esteemed EBJ Jury to review.

The lucky/unlucky last entries to be put under the musical microscope come from Portugal, Australia, Latvia, FYR Macedonia and Belarus, and once they’re done, so are my first-ever collaborative reviews. Sadface.

But it’s not all bad news. With the entire Class of 2015 ranked, I can finally reveal the jury’s Top 40, so that’s your reward if you make it to the end of the post. Good luck!

First, let’s take care of the usual business. Meet my partners in crime for the last time…

 

TODAY’S EBJ JURY

vv8Fraser McEachern: My fellow Australian Fraser returns (to rapturous applause, I’m sure) to the EBJ Jury today, having managed to fit in all of his reviewing prior to jetting off to Vienna with partner, previous EBJ Jury member and co-star of the escTMI YouTube show, Matt. You’re missing out if you haven’t taken a look at their videos, people.

Check out the escTMI channel here and like escTMI on Facebook here.

James Sayer: You met James, a nineteen-year-old creative writing student, in the previous installment of VVs. He’s British, so we can blame him for Electro Velvet. Or thank him for Electro Velvet, depending on far up the scoreboard the pair can shimmy and scat next Saturday night. Up until recently, he was one of the driving forces of the fab blog ESC Views, which remains just as fab without him (I swear that’s a compliment).

Check out ESC Views here and like the official Facebook page here.

Jasmin Bear: I won’t introduce myself yet again – you know me (though if you’re a first-time visitor to EBJ, you may not, so FYI, I’m awesome). I’m most looking forward to the first semi final on Tuesday because I’ll get to hear some ESC 2015 entries for the first time in SEVEN WEEKS. Just because my pre-show abstinence was voluntary doesn’t make it any less painful. #stillworthit.

 

Now, do me a favour and imagine really dramatic music playing as I say the following:

Leonor. Guy. Aminata. Daniel. Uzari & Maimuna. Only one act can emerge from this blog bloodbath victorious…but who will it be? And where will they factor into the EBJ Jury’s Top 40?

Read on to find out!

 

 

PORTUGAL

Há Um Mar Que Nos Separa by Leonor Andrade

Portugal

Fraser: Please don’t make me listen to this song again. It’s just…blah. Why did Portugal think that this was a good song to put into the contest? The guitar drives me crazy. 1 point.

James: I’ve been looking forward to my first chance to write a really positive review here, just to prove to you guys that I do have it in me to be nice. Soooo yeah, here it is: OH MY GOD, PORTUGAL IS AMAZING. There’s a sentence I bet you thought you weren’t gonna hear – I know most people aren’t keen on Há Um Mar Que Nos Separa, and it probably won’t do very well and all that…but I absolutely love it. It’s all deep and dramatic and it’s incredibly beautiful. I adore the synthy backings and the haunting choral echos, and whilst I wish Leonor’s vocal was turned up a bit louder in the studio mix, that won’t be a problem live in Vienna. This song has such an amazing melody – like seriously, that register change in the ‘nos’ note is spine-tinglingly perfect. Have I used enough hyperbolic adjectives to let you know how much I love this one yet? I’m gonna go for it and give Portugal a well-deserved 12 points, because why not?

Jaz: Wow, Portugal sure divided the opinion of my fellow jurors! I’m amazed that such an innocuous song has inspired such mixed reactions. Funnily enough (if you are very easily amused) I’m sitting pretty much in the middle of 1 and douze points on this one. Portugal sent effervescent ex-air-hostess Suzy to Eurovision last year with a song that was ethnic, infectious and uptempo – but it could have been sent back in time to the 2005 contest and fit right in (not a good thing in terms of the ESC moving musically forward). This year, they’ve sent the opposite. Há Um Mar blah blah blah (one cannot bring oneself to type out that entire song title sometimes) isn’t particularly ethnic, it’s definitely not uptempo, and I wouldn’t call it catchy, exactly. But it is reasonably contemporary, at least. Sure, it wouldn’t have been ahead of its time in Kyiv, but it won’t sound stale or über of-another-Euro-era in Vienna either. I quite like the melody in the choruses, and Leonor is a nice vocalist who comes across far more mature than she is onstage (partly due to an overload of eye makeup…she must have attended the same Bump Up Your Age In Thirty Seconds class as Nina Sublatti). The problem I have with this is that I don’t find it very memorable. I literally cannot remember how the verses go. It also fails to ignite any strong reaction in me – love or hate. It just plods along, not heading anywhere exciting but not heading to purgatory either. And yet, I do enjoy it. What I remember of it, anyway. I highly doubt it will make it out of semi two, but I hope Portugal don’t take that as a sign to bow out of next year’s comp. They came so close to qualifying last year, and this is a respectable enough entry to carry on with. They just need something less lacklustre . Something that combines the fun and energy of Quero Se Tua with the somewhat-fresh and mature sound of Há Um Mar et cetera. 6 points.

EBJ Jury Score: 6.33

 

 

AUSTRALIA

Tonight Again by Guy Sebastian

Australia

Fraser: Well, it seems Guy may have cobbled together a pretty decent tune here. I do wish he would stop telling everyone that he wrote, arranged, recorded and produced it in three days. Aside from that, it’s a really fun song. It’s catchy, it sounds like a song that will chart well over a European summer, and it shows off what Guy can do with his voice without overdoing it! 10 points.

James: My first reaction to this was ‘well-timed Uptown Funk 2.0 without the sass.’ And I think I’m still somewhere in that region two months later, to be honest. It’s a pretty good song, and definitely one of the most chart-friendly offerings of the 2015 contest…but it’s not exactly to my personal taste. I do think I’ll go and check out some of his other stuff though, and I love it when Eurovision introduces me to *new* artists like this, so yay! I hope nobody complains if this one does well though – and by that, I mean a country who is theoretically denied a personal-best placing by the Australian entry, then goes and withdraws because they think it’s unfair because Australia doesn’t even go here…or something stupid like that. Side note: what the hell is Mr. Sebastian wearing on the single cover? That outfit makes him look like a two-tone IKEA curtain, please no. I hope he wears something better on the night! 5 points.

Jaz: I never thought I’d be reviewing my own country’s entry in the lead-up to Eurovision – at least, not prior to my moving to Sweden, adopting a terrible accent and assuming the identity of Sanna Nielsen’s long-lost cousin. But here we are, living in a world where Australia’s been cordially invited to fire everyone up by participating in the 60th contest, for an alleged one-time-only. We’ve all questioned the EBU’s sanity in issuing this invitation time and time again, so I’ll leave that behind now and actually discuss Guy Sebastian’s song. Tonight Again isn’t an example of Guy’s finest work, but it does stay true to the retro-flavoured, funky kind of pop music that he’s explored in the past with the likes of Like It Like That and Gold. This kind of music has a better track record at Eurovision than r & b/hip hop-influenced stuff, which is another direction Guy could have taken in the wake of his hits Oh Oh and Battle Scars. At the beginning of those infamous three days, he made a very smart decision to not create a ballad for Vienna. Whether this is because he took a listen to his competition, and the down-tempo, depressing penny dropped, we don’t know for sure, but the result is a relief. Tonight Again helps fill the void left by all the 2015 ballads, where sassy, dance-worthy, karaoke-ready anthems usually take up a lot of space. It’s also broadcasting a message perfectly suited to the Eurovision final (obviously not by coincidence) – tonight’s so good, forget tomorrow, we can do tonight again. I bet we’re all going to want a do-over of the final by the time *INSERT APPROPRIATE COUNTRY HERE* is announced as the winner. So there’s a lot to like about this entry. People favouring it to the equally-funky Cliché Love Song, however, are not people I agree with. I LOVED Denmark’s host entry last year, and that >Tonight Again, IMO. I do think the Aussie entry suffers from its whirlwind conception/gestation/birth period, in terms of originality. But it does stand out in the field, it will get the audience on their feet, and consummate pro Guy will perform it pitch-perfectly. And I can’t help being a little biased about it. This is the only chance I’ll get to possibly hear the words ‘And douze points go to…Australia!’. Make my dream come true, Europe? 7 points.

EBJ Jury Score: 7.33

 

 

LATVIA

Love Injected by Aminata

Latvia

Fraser: Your love…pierces my earssssssss (and not in a decorative way). I want to like this song, as it’s probably the best song out of Latvia in a long time, or ever. There are parts of the song that are pleasing to the ears, but others make them bleed. Sorry Latvia – it’s not your year. 2 points.

James: Experimental female-vocal electro-pop? Judging by my usual music taste, I should like this more than I actually do. Maybe it will grow on me, I don’t know. My only issue really is that the verses are far too high. I can’t work out what she’s saying a lot of the time, and there’s not much of a melody there to compensate. The chorus is fantastic though, and she really attacks it! I love the music, and I’m hoping these two things can win me over enough to overlook the weakness of the verses. I would love Latvia to qualify at some point, and I’d be happy for this to be the song that finally gets them back into the final – but I’d be less happy if it does so at the expense of better songs *cough – PORTUGAL – cough*. 6 points.

Jaz: Pardon the crappy pun, but I’ve definitely been injected with love for Aminata’s second attempt at reaching the heights of Eurovision (and the heights of her vocal range). I haven’t been this enthusiastic about a Latvian entry since about 2005 – maybe even 2000 (Brainstorm’s My Star is Latvia’s original and probably best contribution to the contest). This song is weirdly wonderful, cutting-edge and powerful in the way of Norway 2013, but it’s even more dynamic than I Feed You My Love, what with those minimalist, high-pitched verses and explosive choruses. As a package, the entry isn’t overblown or over-baked – just subtly layered and filled with attention-grabbing contrasts. Aminata herself is a performer who loses herself in the song, which is a positive; but she needs to ensure she connects with the camera and the audience on some level. That would be my only criticism of Latvia’s offering, as the rest of it – song, singer, look, interpretive hand movements – works like a charm with me. I just hope they find a balance in the staging, not distracting from the song with anything OTT, but not leaving things too bare and boring. They need something…just not too much. Sorry I can’t be any more helpful than that, Latvia, but as you’re rehearsing right this second (or thereabouts) I’m assuming you’ve got things sorted anyway. I will be voting my butt off for this song, and I give it 10 points (not the twelve you were probably expecting, but there are songs I prefer).

EBJ Jury Score: 6.00

 

 

FYR MACEDONIA

Autumn Leaves by Daniel Kajmakoski

Macedonia

Fraser: Awww Daniel, what have you done? The original version was so much better. The Eurovision English version loses a lot of the spark of the original. If we look at what will be presented at the contest, it’s nice. It’s a polite song about falling leaves with some weird sound played throughout, but I can get over that. Hopefully it makes it to the left side of the scoreboard, but I’m not convinced anymore. 5 points.

James: I really liked Lisja Esenski. I really DON’T like Autumn Leaves. Sanna, help me pls, I have a sad that needs undoing. Basically, the Macedonian entry in its national language was a pure pop anthem. I loved the fact that it had a beat to it and there was a fab backup vocal line – it really brought the melody to life. In English, it’s just dead. They have literally taken a knife and chopped out everything that was great about their song. And every time Daniel launches into that lacklustre grey chorus, I’m reminded of the energetic, angsty Macedonian equivalent which was once in its place, and I mourn the loss all over again. 4 points.

Jaz: When a country chooses their song as early on in the season as Macedonia did, it seems like a logical use of time to give said song an overhaul. In fact, I’d be disappointed if they hadn’t tweaked Lisja Esenski since Daniel and his funky footwear won their ticket to Vienna. ‘Tweaked’, however, is an understatement in this instance. Autumn Leaves is a completely different song, and I can’t say I like the changes that have been made. That’s because I LOVE them (sorry/not sorry for the trolling). I did like the song in its original incarnation – I’m always a fan of national languages, especially as they’re becoming rarer in the ESC; and I also enjoyed the anthemic quality it had, which Daniel seemed to thrive on. But it turns out the man can do pared-back emotion (and English without a heavy accent) as well. There’s something about Autumn Leaves – the heartfelt lyrics, the softness, the vulnerability…I can’t pinpoint it – that hits me right in the feels factory. It brings a tear to my eye almost to the same extent that Norway’s Monster does. I know I’m in the minority here, and that Daniel will probably struggle to qualify – Macedonia has a talent for finishing 11th in semi finals, and I can easily see that happening again – but I’ve been sucked in by this new version. It’s had an effect on me that the old one didn’t, even though I’m unsure about some of the sacrifices made during the chopping-and-changing process. Ideally, I’d love to be hearing the simpler, softer version in Macedonian at Eurovision. But I’m not complaining about what we WILL be hearing. That ‘Every moment will hurt from the last to the first’ line gets me every time *dabs eyes*. 10 points.

EBJ Jury Score: 6.33

 

 

BELARUS

Time by Uzari & Maimuna

Belarus

Fraser: This one just gets better and better with time [pun intended?]. This was one of the first songs I heard this year, and I didn’t think too much of it back then. However, the more I hear it, the more I like it. There is a lot of power in the song, and the video certainly helps it all come together as well. Uzari and Maimuna both seem like lovely people too – they are very engaging on social media, which makes me want to cheer for them even more! 8 points.

James: Belarus’ entry this year is a prime example of reworking done right. The NF version of Time did very little for me. It felt like it didn’t quite know what it wanted to be, and I didn’t know what to think of it as a result. Now what we’re dealing with is a well-sung, melodically interesting and energetic up-tempo pop song which I think will really stand out in Vienna. If they come up with some really unique staging, this one might even be knocking on the door of the top ten. They have the violin gimmick to fall back on too, as well as Uzari’s inexplicable metal elf ears, if all else fails. As far as my personal tastes go, it’s not one of my absolute favourites, but I’m enjoying it all the same. 6 points.

Jaz: Okay…I am steeling myself not to be biased regarding this entry. No, I am not part-Belarusian (that I know of). I just have a history of worshipping both Uzari and Maimuna as separate artists, and now together as the Eurovision duet of my dreams (until Darin and Agnes transform their interval act from Malmö into the true Eurovision duet of my dreams). I did also have the chance to interview the pair recently, which has clouded my judgment a bit. But I’ll try to keep myself honest here. Time is another song that has undergone reconstructive surgery since winning its national final, and at first, I wasn’t sure that it was for the better. The revamped version felt like a remix of the original that didn’t quite suit the dance beat behind it. Then the official video was released, and somewhere among the fire, snakes and gigantic hourglasses, I realised that it all fit together. Uzari busting his butt to reach Maimuna in that huge hourglass mirrored the energy that had been added in the rework. Time has been given the punch it needed to have arena-worthy impact – kind of like Kedvesem received thanks to the Zoohacker remix. It also now possesses the pop sensibility that gives it a more solid identity as classical crossover music. It’s an intriguing track that doesn’t follow a clichéd path, and it’s fronted by a great pair. Uzari has an amazing voice, and Maimuna is stunning whether she’s standing still doing nothing, or ripping into a solo on the violin. I’d really like this to qualify, but without that hourglass (yes, I’m a little obsessed with that thing) I’m concerned the staging could fall flat and take the song with it. Time will tell. I give Belarus a strong 7 points.

EBJ Jury Score: 7.00

 

 

That’s it, folks! Forty down, zero to go. The standings for this final round of reviews look like this:

  1. Australia (7.33)
  2. Belarus (7.00)
  3. Portugal (6.33)
  4. FYR Macedonia (6.33)  
  5. Latvia (6.00)

What could I possibly say in response to this other than GO STRAYA! It’s nice to see Guy on top of at least one leader board, despite the fact that I do prefer the Macedonian and Latvian entries to his. Belarus wasn’t far behind, but I guess it just wasn’t their Time. Daniel K fell like the autumn leaves into fourth place, and…oh, stop it.

Now it’s finally time to reveal that semi-important Top 40, as decided by the ten EBJ Jury members hailing from Australia, Ireland, Germany, the UK and the USA – all of whom I’d like to thank profusely for coming on board. As the late, great Udo Jürgens might have said, merci, chéris.

I’ve calculated an average score for each country based on the points we gave them, and compiled the full list from there. In the event of a tie (of which there were many) I’ve ranked countries using the Eurovision count-back method (i.e. which country received the greater amount of higher points). Without further ado, here’s the result!

topfzCongratulations to man’s man Måns (???) who takes the #1 spot from Loïc Nottet by a whisker of carefully cultivated stubble. All in all, we have a top five here that sits very well with me. The group of countries in the top 10 is a group I’d be happy to see in the Eurovision top 10, too, but I’m not sure the jury has predicted next weekend’s outcome too accurately here. That’s fine, because making accurate predictions was not the object of the exercise.

That’s what I’ll be attempting to do in my next post, as I take a look at the line-up for semi final one; make my guesses as to which acts will be heading to the final and which acts will be heading home; and let you know who I plan to vote for now that Australia has the opportunity. Exciting times are just ahead, guys!

In the meantime, feel free to revisit all of this year’s Viennese Verdicts:

  • Part 1, feat. Russia, Austria, France, Ireland and Serbia
  • Part 2, feat. the Netherlands, Norway, Slovenia, Iceland and Switzerland
  • Part 3, feat. Cyprus, Poland, Italy, Montenegro and Armenia
  • Part 4, feat. Sweden, the UK, Belgium, the Czech Republic and Romania
  • Part 5, feat. Malta, Georgia, Albania, Lithuania and Spain
  • Part 6, feat. Israel, Hungary, Germany, Moldova and Azerbaijan
  • Part 7, feat. Finland, San Marino, Denmark, Estonia and Greece
  • Part 8, feat. Portugal, Australia, Latvia, FYR Macedonia and Belarus…which you’re reading right now.

Don’t forget to let me know below how you’d rank today’s reviewed entries, and what you think of the EBJ Jury’s Top 40. Whether you’re enraged that Sweden topped the list or hysterically happy; confused as to why Boggie’s stuck on the bottom or nodding vigorously in agreement, I want to know. I’m a very nosy person, so humour me, won’t you?

 

Until the predictions begin (have yours at the ready!)…

 

nsig

 

Copenhagen Reviews: Part 3 (Latvia-Portugal)

Hello again, all of y’all who aren’t too busy living it up in Copenhagen and having in-depth conversations with your new BFF Sanna Nielsen to read blog posts written by an extremely jealous Australian who wants Sanna to be her BFF. Writing about Eurovision is somehow a good coping mechanism to help deal with the burning envy I am feeling seeing Facebook and Twitter bursting with photos from Denmark, so I present to you the second-last part of my 2014 reviews. Every word about Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Malta, Moldova, Montenegro, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland and Portugal was written with love and in between pathetic sobs of ‘I want to be in the Hallerne! Why aren’t I in the Hallerne?!?’. While I muse over the answer to that question, check out my thoughts on these entries.

 

LATVIA

Cake To Bake by Aarzemnieki

latviaBest lyric: ‘I talked to a unicorn the other night, he took me up on a lonely star.’

Better than 2013: Yes

Top 10 material: No

IMO: Latvia has a less-than-impressive Eurovision success rate. They may have begun with a 3rd place back in 2000 and won two years later, but it’s been pretty much downhill from there, with their last five entries failing to qualify to the final. Ouch. I wonder if that’s a painful stat for Aarzemnieki to note. It’s up to them to break the drought, after all. I’ll save my thoughts on their chances for later and focus for now on how I like their song, because I do. It’s so cute, and lead singer Jöran is so smiley, that insulting it would be up there with hurling abuse at a precious little old lady who’s just presented you with a tray of freshly-baked scones. Or cakes, which would be more appropriate in this instance. You can easily make fun of the lyrics, but like quite a few songs this year which seem to be about one thing and are actually about another, Cake To Bake isn’t exactly about kitchen troubles. When you know that, you can see how this song strikes a nice balance between novelty and serious. Like Joan Franka’s You And Me, it’s a track made for singing round the campfire, and those kinds of songs can either be nailed or be fails at Eurovision (we all know how things went for Joan). I find this very infectious, and find the chemistry between the band members genuine, so I’m inclined to think it will work – but in a semi final with many a strong contender, and this being Latvia, that doesn’t necessarily translate to qualification. I can’t imagine the juries loving this, so it’s up to Jöran to beam that megawatt smile of his down the cameras and connect with all the televoters. If he and the gang can make them ‘aww!’ then anything is possible. I would really like to see this on Saturday night, because Aarzemnieki = adorable puppy, and a DNQ = slamming the door in its face. DON’T DO THAT TO THE PUPPY, EUROPE!

Winner, loser or grower: Winner. 7 points.

 

LITHUANIA

Attention by Vilija 

lithuaniaBest lyric: ‘Do you dream about me in your bed? Keep on dreaming…’

Better than 2013: Yes 

Top 10 material: No

IMO: Lithuania selected their song/artist combo this year through what can only be described as a marathon, and the outcome needed to be amazing to make it worth their while. I wouldn’t say they totally succeeded in that, but this song has a fan in me. The problem is everything but the song. Positives first: I think Attention rocks in so many ways. It’s original, it doesn’t rhyme all the bloody time which is refreshing, it’s modern, it’s catchy (someone please take that word away from me!) and it’s memorable. Pardon the pun, but it definitely captures one’s attention. Lithuania have more often than not sent entries in recent years that either make me go ‘meh’ or make me scream ‘OH DEAR GOD, MY EARS! MAKE IT STOP!’. So I’m thrilled that I can support them based on song choice for once. Now, the negatives that have to be addressed: Vilija. Her stage presence. Her dance moves (or at least the ones she’s been given). Her choice of costume both at the national final (you know, that end part about six months after it started) and Eurovision In Concert…the list goes on, and that’s not good. I can’t comment on her live vocal as I restricted myself to the radio edit, but I’ve heard mixed reviews on that too. This is what I meant when I said that Lithuania hadn’t 100% succeeded in giving us an entry worth the epic journey to select it. I’m sure Vilija is a lovely person, but she needs sorting out in so many areas that I can’t imagine she’ll be contest-ready in a week. However, I’m willing to be proven wrong on this occasion. My fingers are crossed that Lithuania end up grabbing attention in all the right ways. 

Winner, loser or grower: Winner. 8 points.

 

MACEDONIA

To The Sky by Tijana Dapčević 

macedoniaSounds like: the background song after a contestant with a sob story has successfully auditioned for American Idol 

Better than 2013: Definitely less of a car crash, so, yeah!

Top 10 material: No

IMO: FYROM were a guilty pleasure for me last year (though I’ll never forgive them for taking away Imperija, which would have been an actual pleasure) because they were so bad on stage it was frightening, yet somehow entertaining. I’m not convinced Tijana’s performance will be frightening OR entertaining if it complements her song. There’s nothing wrong with it, per se – in fact, I’ve been defending it from anyone saying it’s super dated because I only consider it mildly so. It’s radio-friendly rock feel makes it accessible and inoffensive, and Tijana’s, shall we say, rugged voice takes command and owns the three minutes. But ‘nothing wrong’ and ‘inoffensive’ makes a winner not, and this is kind of blah on the whole. It doesn’t sound remotely Macedonian, so there’s no ethnicity to latch on to. Lyrically, it feels contrived, and whilst Tijana does a good job of wrapping her manly (let’s no longer pretend it sounds otherwise) tone around the words, I’m not sure she really believes what she’s singing. With all that in mind, and despite the fact that vanilla songs can and do qualify thanks to the juries, I reckon it’ll take one hell of a prop and/or costume reveal to elevate this to qualifying territory. I’m talking some hybrid of Svetlana Loboda’s Hell Machine, Farid’s glass box and Rambo Amadeus’ donkey here, that belches out wind, dry ice and multicoloured confetti simultaneously. Did Tijana happen to pack one of those? If not, I suspect what she’ll be packing is her bags as soon as semi 2 is over. 

Winner, loser or grower: Grower. 5 points.

 

MALTA

Coming Home by Firelight 

maltaSounds like: I Will Wait by Mumford & Sons; Coming Home by Philip Phillips

Better than 2013: A little bit

Top 10 material: Yes 

IMO: Every year, the same thing tends to happen with Malta and myself. They pick a song that I liked going in to their final, but that wasn’t my favourite. Then, shortly after the victory, I suddenly realise that they’ve picked the best possible option – the ‘right’ entry (even if I still like a couple of the losing songs better). You can see where I’m going with this. Firelight stood out to me from MESC 2014 as an act with a decent song and as possible winners, but I was concentrating all my energy on JESC alumni Daniel Testa FTW. He was my top pick. But lo and behold, Coming Home took the crown, and about five minutes later I had accepted this as what was meant to be. This song may be as derivative as they come, and tug at the heartstrings a little too obviously (if the song alone doesn’t tear you up good the video should do it) but damn, it’s got me. Not to the point where I’m going to rave about it, as there are other styles of music and other songs in the contest that I prefer. But I can’t help feeling warm and fuzzy when I hear it, and strangely calm too. Anything with a country vibe does that to me. The key for Firelight will be to keep that sentiment genuine and their onstage camaraderie fresh – i.e. make it look and sound like they’re singing the song for the first time, not the hundredth. Because if they don’t believe it, neither will we. I would expect Malta to sail into the final regardless, but once there they could either be forgotten about, or capture the feeling in the moment and do very well. Let’s just say it wouldn’t be impossible, under the right circumstances, for the tiny Mediterranean island to host two Eurovision events within six months. 

Winner, loser or grower: Grower. 7 points.

 

MOLDOVA

Wild Soul by Cristina Scarlat 

moldovaBest lyric: ‘The world can throw a dice for each of us, any time.’

Better than 2013: No

Top 10 material: No

IMO: In my mind, Aliona Moon was a perfect angel with a voice that makes flowers unfurl and heals wounded animals. If she was the angel on the shoulder of Moldova, then Cristina Scarlat is the devil on the other side. I’m not saying she’s evil and/or untalented – but she’s bringing something quite dark and intense to the table which is a contrast to last year’s offering. Wild Soul is just as powerful as O Mie, but rather than lamenting lost love via a stunning piano ballad, it does…something else, in a dark dubsteppy fashion. Okay, so the lyrics are a little confusing and open to interpretation. I think we can all agree, however, that Cristina’s telling us she has a wild soul in a cruel world, and if you try to argue with her SHE WILL STRANGLE YOU. Because, you know, she has no feelings of mercy. I prefer the lighter, brighter Moldova authorised by Pasha Parfeny that we’ve had the pleasure of experiencing for the past two years, but there is a lot I like about this Moldova too. The dubstep is good (though Cristina should be grateful she’s not singing right after Aram Mp3, ‘cause Armenia’s done it better); I enjoy the way the song unfolds over the three minutes, in particular the transitions between verses and chorus; and her voice is ultra commanding. It needs to be to handle a song like this. I’m actually really interested to see how this is staged and costumed in comparison to how it was in the NF. It has the potential to be really effective on stage if done right. If they throw everything including the kitchen sink (albeit adorned with Swarovski crystals and placed on a solid gold pillar) at the presentation like last year, in a way that makes too much look like just enough, that would be fine by me. I have no feelings of mercy either. Not when it comes to being OTT.

Winner, loser or grower: Winner. 8 points.

 

MONTENEGRO

Moj Svijet by Sergej Četković

montenegroSounds like: the spirit of Željko Joksimović will be present in Copenhagen

Better than 2013: Is chocolate better than ice cream? I can’t choose!

Top 10 material: No

IMO: Montenegro has gone from divisive and quite frankly, badass (well, as badass as you can get when astronauts and sexy cyborgs unite) to majestic balladry in one short year, and I’m in love. Just when I thought the lack of Balkan countries in the contest atm would make things unbearable, the country that brought us Igranka (igranku, ku ku, irgranku) of all countries has saved the day with a beautiful Balkan ballad that brings to mind gems like Lejla and Nije Ljubav Stvar. Gorgeous. That’s also an adjective I’d use to describe the music video, which is basically a long advert for Montenegrin tourism with all its sweeping shots of clifftops and crashing waves. When I’m not gazing starry-eyed into the distance as the song transports me to one of those clifftops, I’m thinking ‘I wish this song would literally transport me to one of those clifftops.’ I just love this song to pieces. Thankfully the English version isn’t the ESC version, because the native tongue makes a lovely song even lovelier. It’s soaring and sentimental (but not overly so) and goes somewhere, even ending while it’s still in that big, climactic place. By all accounts Sergej is a top bloke and a great vocalist, but by rehearsal-based account he’s a bit stiff, so loosen up, man, for possible qualification’s sake! I desperately want Montenegro to make the final for the first time with this, still believing Who See should have gone through. Unfortunately, I have this feeling Moj Svijet is just going to miss out thanks to songs that perhaps deserve it less from countries that always go through (I’m referring to Russia). I know not everyone feels the same way about this as I do, but…come on! We’re talking pure class, here, people. You’ve got to award points for that.

Winner, loser or grower: Winner. 10 points.

 

THE NETHERLANDS

Calm After The Storm by The Common Linnets

netherlandsSounds like: it was made for road trippin’ through America (with the possibility of falling asleep at the wheel)

Better than 2013: Yes

Top 10 material: No

IMO: Just a brief aside to defend myself – yes, I am Team Common Linnets over Team Anouk, but I never got Anouk, and as I said re: Malta, country music soothes me. This song is a palate cleanser and a half, so humble it’s verging on comatose. It will put many a flag-waver to sleep, but I find it a rather enjoyable listen. Ilse and Waylon’s voices blend nicely together, at least in studio, and the song cruises along at the same altitude which doesn’t bother me because this is not meant to be a big, brash drama-fest. Although I am running out of things to say about it already, and that ironically says a lot. I like it, I like that it’s less depressing than Birds, the performance will be competent if not mind-blowing, I’ll be surprised if it qualifies…what else is there to come up with? Unless they manage to catch some wave of momentum from last year’s ‘at last!’ qualification, I suspect The Common Linnets will be nothing more than a pleasant break between more exciting entries.

Winner, loser or grower: Grower. 7 points.

 

NORWAY

Silent Storm by Carl Espen

norwayBest lyric: ‘I’m here to use my heart and my hands. Somehow the bruises changed my plans.’

Better than 2013: No

Top 10 material: Yes

IMO: It’s been a while since we’ve had a Norwegian ballad in the contest, and since the last one was the melodramatic My Heart Is Yours, it’s like having a whole new Norway with the much calmer and restrained Silent Storm in the running. I didn’t follow MGP too closely this year, listening to a snippet of this song when I heard it was the favourite out of curiosity and only hearing the full version post-victory. The snippet had me questioning why it was the favourite – that thirty seconds was okay, but nothing more. It was the song in its entirety that gave me some serious feels, more serious than Carl himself (someone give the man some laughing gas stat, or at least tell him a joke!). It was the simple but effective piano intro that kick-started said feels, followed by the lyrically sparse verses in which few words say so much, then the chorus (in case you weren’t sure what usually comes after a verse) which is pretty in a haunting, sad kind of way – that being a compliment, guys. Basically, I find this whole song hauntingly beautiful, and the fact that Carl puts the required emotion into his performance without letting it spill over – there’s that restraint again – holds my interest the whole time. To say that this song is calmer than others is not to say that it doesn’t go anywhere. It certainly does ramp up towards the end, which is where Carl has been heard to lose his control on the higher notes, and also where they really need to be at their best. Because this is a bare-bones sort of ballad, he’s very exposed. I hope he’s not reading this and is now totally offended and terrified of screwing up. If you are, Carl, I’m sorry. I’m really fond of your song, and if you can just pull off that last thirty seconds (backup singers may come in handy to mask any cracks) yours could be a magic moment.

Winner, loser or grower: Winner. 10 points.

 

POLAND

My Słowianie – Slavic Girls by Donatan & Cleo

polandSounds like: the Igranka of 2014

Better than 2013: Technically, yeah. Better than Poland’s last entry in 2011? Also yeah.

Top 10 material: No

IMO: This song was a web phenomenon back when it was first released, with Youtube views of the video currently in the double-digit millions (which I’m sure has nothing to do with the amount of cleavage on display in it) and people have been getting down to it all over the world. As a fan of Igranka, which this reminds me of a bit in style terms and a lot on pure weirdness and divisiveness, I took to it instantly, and a part of me does now want to be a Slavic girl. But I can’t shake the feeling that I should be ashamed of loving this. Even if you subtract the endless parade of boobs from the equation, I still class this as a guilty pleasure even though I don’t want to. I think as a song, it’s got truckloads of appeal. It’s ethnic, but not your standard ethno-pop that we’ve all heard countless times before (for more on that, see the next review on Portugal!). It’s got way more attitude than those kinds of songs, especially during the Polish parts which are the best parts. I’m glad they’ve gone for the bilingual version over just English, because three whole minutes of lines like ‘cream and butter taste so good’ would be hard to take (although Cleo has a point there). I hate to use this word yet again, but this is catchy, darn it, and there’s nothing else like it in the contest. My one complaint is that Cleo feels the need to announce hers and Donatan’s names at the beginning, Jason Derülo-style, like we’d have no idea who was singing the song otherwise. But that’s just one of my pet peeves. As with Montenegro, I’ll be devastated if this doesn’t qualify, but it is on the tipping point. I can imagine it being even more divisive than Igranka, and since that failed I think Poland’s chances are on the slim side. No doubt Cleo, who has a PHD in Swag and proves the theory that Slavic girls are stunning, and Donatan, who…well, I’m still not sure what he contributes to the duo in terms of stage performance (will he even turn up?) will give success their best shot.

Winner, loser or grower: Winner. 10 points.

 

PORTUGAL

Quero Se Tua by Suzy

portugalSounds like: Eurovision 2004 is back with a vengeance

Better than 2013: Again, this doesn’t apply, but I do like it more than Vida Minha.

Top 10 material: No

IMO: I say Eurovision 2004 with regards to this entry because it reminds me of Xandee’s 1 Life, but Quero Se Tua could just as easily have been drawn from the archives of the 90s. It’s not like Gina G was that far off this. Having said that AND made that disparaging reference above (ethno-pop we’ve all heard before, blah blah blah) you’ll be surprised to learn that I’m actually pro-Portugal this year. It’s those very ethno-pop cliché numbers that, as predictable as they are, suck people in by the droves, and I am not ashamed to announce that I think this is gold. Not douze-level gold, but worth a decent chunk of imaginary points, if not real live ESC points. I have the feeling I would detest it if it were in English, but the Portuguese makes it both a) mysterious – the lyrics could be genius for all I know as I’m yet to Google a translation – and b) exotic and even more representative of its country than the music. Throw in a dance beat with those qualities and you’ve got an irresistible Portuguese version of at least three entries from each year between 2000 and 2008. So it won’t win any awards for being current…so what? Who doesn’t enjoy a bit of Eurovision nostalgia every now and then, or in my case, 24/7? Kati Wolf look-alike Suzy is a confident performer armed with the ability to dance and sing fairly well at the same time, and a shirtless backup drummer who adds energy to the proceedings. I’m assuming she’s brought him to Copenhagen with her. He won’t help her win or come anywhere near contention, but I for one will enjoy his presence. And Portugal’s, for that matter. Let’s hope they don’t take Suzy’s likely non-qualification as a sign to withdraw again.

Winner, loser or grower: Winner. 8 points.

 

Believe it or not (depending on how much time you think passed while you were reading this) that’s another lot of reviews completed. With one more group to go, here’s my penultimate mini-ranking based on the points I’ve handed out this time.

  1. Poland
  2. Montenegro
  3. Norway
  4. Lithuania
  5. Moldova
  6. Portugal
  7. The Netherlands
  8. Malta
  9. Latvia
  10. Macedonia

Stay tuned for the last installment, up this weekend when there’ll be a week to go until the grand final. That’s Saturday, in case you weren’t sure. Then and there I’ll be rating and hating on Romania, Russia, San Marino, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine and the United Kingdom. There’s definitely both rating and hating to be done over that bunch.

I shall see you then. In the meantime, answer me this:

 

As always, what do you think of the songs from Latvia through Portugal? How would you rank them?

 

Copenhagen Chat | The chosen ones from the weekend, Melfest musings and my top 13

Hello, if you’re reading this! And if you’re not, then how the heck do you know what I’m saying?

It’s the middle of the week and I’m avoiding study at all costs, so what better time to review and complain about the latest developments of NF season? Let’s get straight on it.

 

The weekend’s action – Running from all the cake, and then some 

  • Latvia: We all joked about Cake To Bake joining Cheesecake in Copenhagen in what would be a very JESC pair of song selections (kid Eurovision is usually the forum for food-themed entries). Well, it’s happened, and May’s contest looks to be the biggest bake-fest since the Buranovskiye Babushki took to the stage with their wood fire oven. Seeing as I’m Team TEO, and Aarzemnieki’s song is sweet (pardon the pun) in an offbeat, lyrically questionable kind of way, that’s fine by me. Although I haven’t listened to the Latvian runner-ups which, by all accounts, were “actual songs”. I’ll leave that utter disappointment for later.
  • Hungary: It was third time lucky for Kállay-Saunders on Saturday night, when he took out A Dal with Running, which deals with a slightly heavier subject matter than dessert. He was a favourite in the strong selection, and I’m pretty pleased he won with a contemporary, catchy, non-novelty pop song. I do feel that Fool Moon had more of the magic I found in Kedvesem last year (and that chair choreography thing would have been cool if they’d taken it to Denmark) but KS still makes it 4/4 great entries for Hungary since they made their comeback in 2011. It remains to be seen whether it’ll be 4/4 qualifications also.
These two may look a bit like Ell & Nikki, but they're not running scared...just running.

These two may look a bit like Ell & Nikki, but they’re not running scared…just running.

  • Macedonia: Tijana and her surprisingly husky voice have premiered To The Sky, and it’s not bad at all. The biggest drawcard is it can’t possibly be the train wreck that was the Esma & Lozano incident. I do suspect it’ll be a grower for most people as opposed to an instant hit, and I can’t help wondering how the originally chosen entry Pobeda would have compared. The way it was described had me excited. Changing the song was a terrible move for FYROM last year, but we may never know what could have been in this case.
  • Spain: In the battle between Brequette and Ruth Lorenzo, it was Ruth who triumphed by the hem of her fancy gown in Mira Quien Va A Eurovisión. There were three songs of the Spanish five that I thought would be great choices (the other one being Jorge’s) so I can’t complain, despite Brequette being my winner. Strangely, she’s been rumoured as a UK entry (hasn’t everyone? I’m expecting to hear my name any day now) with a source alleging the BBC have poached her to sing an English version of Más. As much as I love the song, FOR GOD’S SAKE, BBC, DON’T DO IT!

 

Bits and pieces hot (ish) off the press

  • Poland: Speaking of rumours…one that turned out to be very true was that of Donatan & Cleo taking My, Słowianie to Eurovision. The Polish broadcaster confirmed the duo’s participation last night to the shock of nobody, but to the über-divided opinions of the masses. I listened to the song for the first time after the announcement (I didn’t want to love it/hate it until I knew it was going) and apart from ‘why all the boobs?’ all I could think was ‘Igranka!’. The resemblance is good because I loved/still love Igranka, but bad because that song was just as divisive, and not even a perfect performance could get it into the final. I’m afraid if Poland doesn’t at least qualify this year, they’ll opt out of the comp for good. The ESC doesn’t need to get any smaller at this point.
  • Estonia: I’ve been anxiously awaiting the Eesti Laul final for weeks, and now it’s almost upon us, with the running order draw recently revealed. I’ve only exposed my ears to three entries, all of which happened to make it into the final, and there’s one you’ll probably know I want to win above anything else – Sandra’s. Tanja’s is generic, Lenna’s is too bland, and I don’t know about the rest, but I do know that Kui Tuuled Pöörduvad is FREAKING PERFECTION (like Sandra herself) and if it wins, it will rocket straight to the top of my rankings so far. With such a great song, previous ESC experience behind her and now a plum draw in the running order (last but not least) I feel like it’s meant to be. Please, please let Estonia feel the same way!
How could anyone not vote for this face, or that awesome haircut?

How could anyone not vote for this face, or that awesome haircut?

 

Melodifestivalen: two weeks to go!

And that means we’ve heard the Swedish entry for 2014 – I just have no clue what it is. With only the second chance round left before the final, the list of songs already in is reading unpredictable. Will YOHIO manage to make it with a worse song than he had last year (in my opinion…don’t kill me, super fans) or will the international juries turn on him again? Can Sanna finally go all the way with her beautiful ballad? Or, will we see an Andra Chansen song win for the second time in a row? It’s unlikely, but after last year, I for one would never say never.

In case you’ve forgotten, here are the eight songs in it to win it at the moment:

  • To The End by YOHIO
  • Songbird by Ellen Benediktson
  • Undo by Sanna Nielsen
  • Efter Solsken by Panetoz
  • Yes We Can by Oscar Zia
  • Busy Doin’ Nothin’ by Ace Wilder
  • Blame It On The Disco by Alcazar
  • Natural by Anton Ewald

There are only a couple I wouldn’t want to see go to Eurovision, but I feel like you can’t write anyone off at this stage. It’s hard to pick a frontrunner, and even harder to imagine where the Swedish and international points might go. That will hopefully make for a nail-gnawing voting sequence that will keep me from dozing off when it takes place at 5am my time.

As I mentioned and as we all now know, you can’t discount whichever two songs emerge from Andra Chansen from the race either. I’ll be having a guess at the identity of those two on Saturday, so drop by if you want my thoughts. Otherwise, I’ll drop by your house and force you to listen to my thoughts with the threat of duct-taping you to a chair and blasting Cry Baby through your sound system for twelve hours straight. In the meantime, who do you think should get that all-important second shot?

 

Time for a top 13…

…because nobody got the chance to do a top 10. There have been six or so new additions to the class of ’14 since I last went a-ranking, so there was a lot to consider. It took me a good few minutes of blood, sweat and tears to put this together. I present to you the results, a.k.a. my personal top 13:

  1. Belarus
  2. Hungary
  3. Poland
  4. Albania
  5. Iceland
  6. Ukraine
  7. Malta
  8. Spain
  9. Latvia
  10. Finland  
  11. Italy
  12. Switzerland
  13. FYR Macedonia

I apologise, but it’s going to take nothing short of Sandra Nurmsalu to push the Cheesecake aside. What can I say? I’m easily pleased. So much so that I can’t confess to hating anything so far. There’s the meh/yet to grow category, and that’s as low as it goes.

Let me know how your top 13 is looking down below, so long as you’re in the mood for intense arguments over other people’s horrifying musical taste.

 

Coming up this weekend are seven national finals of sorts, kicking off on Friday with Ireland and concluding on Sunday with Azerbaijan, and France’s announcement that TwinTwin are going to Copenhagen (hopefully). It’s a busy one, so put aside all other responsibilities such as bill paying or school work or that knee reconstruction you’ve been waiting to have for eighteen months, and get your streams ready. I’ll be here on Saturday to discuss the chaos. #JoinUs?

EBJ Signature

 

Malmö Reviews | Part 3 (Latvia-Russia)

The artists and the press have descended on Malmö like vultures…only nothing like vultures. Basically, the majority of them are now on Swedish soil, and that means Eurovision is excitingly close. That also means that I have a heap of reviews and predictions to cram in before Tuesday the 14th. So without further rambling, I present to you the third installment of my 2013 reviews (where I get a bit nasty for the first time in relation to a certain ballad). I’m kicking things off with Latvia. Here we go…

 

LATVIA

Here We Go by PeR

Latvia13Better than 2012: No

IMO: Is there anyone who’d name Latvia as one of their favourite Eurovision countries? Really? Aside from epic debutants Brainstorm and a few other saving graces, they have not impressed me much over the last decade-and-a-bit. This year the trend continues, but I do hear a glimmer of hope in PeR’s Here We Go. It was one of the few passable songs in the dreadful Latvian final, so it’s a plus in that respect. The three boys (two pieces of guy candy, one not so much) put a lot of energy into their performance from what I’ve seen, although they could put more into perfecting their vocals which are ropey at best. But this is a repetitive song – an almost-decent chorus interspersed with brief episodes of rap (which very rarely goes down well at the contest, right Trackshittaz?) with some trumpeting thrown in for good measure. That trumpeting is the best part. I’m not in the mood to be too cruel to Latvia though, so I’ll finish with a positive. The more I think about it, this will be a suitable opener for the second semi, especially if the group manage to pull off a show just as enthusiastic but more polished than what we’ve seen so far. If they incorporate the audience participation, that too should be well received. I’m not excited to see it up first, but I’m not completely repulsed by the thought either.

Winner, loser or grower: Grower. 6 points.

 

LITHUANIA

Something by Andrius Pojavis

Lithuania13Sounds like: Human by Killers

IMO: This was one of the earliest picks of NF season, and while some of those initial selections get boring by May, this one has grown on me. It’s a strange song, mainly in terms of the verses, but the chorus is rockin’ (and I, having used the term ‘rockin’’ am apparently a fifty-year-old man going through a midlife crisis). It reminds me so much of the Killers’ back catalogue, which may also be latched on to by voters. Lithuania does have a way of qualifying against all the odds, as proven in 2011 and 2012. I do feel that the odds are out of their favour again in 2013, even though I have a sneaking regard for Something. It’s got a bit of quirk, but probably not enough to be considered memorable, unless everybody keeps talking about ‘that weird dude wearing a top hat’, should that weird dude wear his top hat. Speaking of which, Andrius is one gentlemanly gentleman, dressing up in his finery to sing a rock song and asking us all if we mind that he’s in love with us. They just don’t make guys like that anymore, do they?

Winner, loser or grower: Winner. 7 points.

 

MACEDONIA

Pred Da Se Razdeni by Lozano & Esma

Macedonia13Top 10 material: No

IMO: Thanks to a few negative Tweets (or something like that) Macedonia tossed the amazing Imperija in the trash, and cobbled together another entry for Lozano and Esma (the loveable older lady of this year’s comp) in the space of about five minutes. You know, like Belarus did for Anastasia Vinnkova a few years ago (except that was thanks to a rule violation). The difference here is that I like this second song almost as much as the first one, even though it’s such a mish-mash of styles that I know I should be saying ‘WTF is this circus of a song?’. Pred Da Se Razdeni is more ‘by Lozano, featuring Esma’, and has the shortest opening verse I’ve ever heard on a song in Eurovision or elsewhere. True fact. But why waste time getting to the chorus when the chorus is so awesome, in my opinion? And what little airtime Esma has is taken advantage of – I LOVE her parts. I can’t wait for her to strut out with her grandson…er, I mean, singing partner, and get the crowd clasping their hands and whispering about how adorable she is. Lozano, meanwhile, will be doing most of the legwork and doing it very well – he has a great voice (and trendy eyewear collection). He, his chaperone and this song are a jigsaw puzzle that shouldn’t fit together, but together they work for me.

Winner, loser or grower: Winner. 10 points.

 

MALTA

Tomorrow by Gianluca Bezzina

Malta13Best lyric: ‘Risk assessment is his investment in a life of no surprise/ she threw affection his direction, a collection of her smiles.’

IMO: Here’s an entry that, I’m afraid to say because it is so delightful (as is Dr. Bezzina), has started to bore slightly. But at the same time, there are so many things I like about it that I am mentally unable to stop wishing it into the final. The first time I heard it, it put a smile on my face. I loved the lyrics that told a story using language we don’t often hear at Eurovision – see the above example for proof – and within seconds I was shipping IT man Jeremy and the nameless woman who keeps running off on him. The song itself has been heard plenty of times in the past, but cruisy, inoffensive little ditties always have their place; in fact, one of them secured the Swiss a place in the final two years ago. If “the people” and juries alike are ready to have their hearts warmed and can be won over by a song that more or less forces a smile onto their face, then I officially declare Malta a front runner to make it through to Saturday night. I think it would help if they really played up the cuteness – bringing in the bench seat from the video, or introducing a bunch of balloons somehow (not that relevant, but cute. And I like balloons). After all, how often do you get to be surrounded by whimsical props when you’re a medical doctor?  

Winner, loser or grower: Grower. 7 points.

 

MOLDOVA

O Mie by Aliona Moon

Moldova13Better than 2012: No

IMO: Can we all just take a moment to mourn the English version of this song? The version that tackled such subjects as the ‘men are from Mars, women are from Venus’ theory, and the possible legitimacy of the Mayan calendar? Oh god, I’m getting all misty-eyed just talking about it. I miss A Million, and not because I’m some lazy listener who wants everything in English so I can understand it (how dare you accuse me of that!). I think it was because the English version was the one originally chosen to represent Moldova, and I fell in love with that (and it was unsettling for that language switch to even happen – it usually goes the other way round). Take that moment to mourn with me, won’t you? Okay, moment over. I still really like this song as Romanian O Mie. It’s a pretty and well-constructed ballad that was – unbelievably – composed by Pasha Parfeny (how weird was it seeing him at the NF, sitting stiffly at the piano in a dinner suit, after all of that gallivanting he did in a leather apron in Baku?). It is repetitive, I’ll admit, but so are other ballads from the likes of Israel, for example, and I think Moldova has the better song. Unfortunately they aren’t in the same semi final, so Israel can’t make Moldova look good. But Aliona should be able to do that on her own. She already has ESC experience up her sleeve from last year, and with her voice and the architectural hairdo/dress combo she’s likely to be sporting, she’ll put on a show. Whether that show gets her to the final or not is a matter for later discussion.

Winner, loser or grower: Winner. 8 points.

 

MONTENEGRO

Igranka by Who See

Montenegro13Top 10 material: No

IMO: It would be a fair call to say this is Montenegro’s best entry ever, simply because it’s not verging on lame (like Zauvijek Volim Te), totally cliché (like Just Get Out of My Life) or anything to do with Rambo Amadeus (need I say more?). Such a fair call that I’m going to go ahead and say it: this IS Montenegro’s best entry ever. That’s from a girl who had high hopes after the song title and description were released, had her hopes dashed and labeled the song a ‘hot mess’ once she’d heard it, then finally grew to love the hot mess after another listen or two. Igranka is far from being a typical Eurovision song. It’s essentially a rap song with badass-female-soloist intervals, and features some hardcore dubstep that gives Slovenia’s all the impact of a soggy tissue. It’s a very interesting song that makes you want to know where it’s going. I love badass-female Nina’s opening part, and the little riff/melody (whatever, I’m not up with musical terminology) underneath the rap verses. The chorus is where things get messy and noisy, but for those expecting to hear the opening lines again, it’ll be a surprise. And if Nina is in tune and attempts to sing with power more than shout, the live effect will be impressive. I’d love Montenegro to do well at last, especially since they have a song that’s more complex and original than Serbia’s, but speaking of the live, this could be a disaster come show time. Igranka in studio is great, but the slick production and that air of messiness could come across a shambles when put to the test in Malmö Arena. As I write this, the trio have completed their first rehearsal, but I’m steering clear of pre-ESC video footage as usual, so I can’t say what went down.  

Winner, loser or grower: Winner. 10 points.

 

NETHERLANDS

Birds by Anouk 

Netherlands13Sounds like: Mary Poppins needs anti-depression pills

IMO: Do you remember this time last year, when Joan Franka’s You And Me had been tipped as an almost-certain qualifier and potential winner by a ton of fans and bookmakers? Do you remember how those predictions panned out? Mmm-hmm. Well, it’s happened all over again with Anouk’s haunting ballad Birds, only this time, I’m one of the people hoping the Netherlands meet those high expectations (and suspecting they might). Well, maybe not the winning expectations, but the qualifying ones. I want this to go through, damnit! I didn’t think much of it initially, but a second or third listen can be crucial, and in this case I’ve really grown to appreciate the merit and sadness in the song. There’s nothing contrived or cheesy about it, unlike one of the ballads that comes before it in the running order (more on that in a bit) and I hope that works in its favour. Anouk is a big star and a reliable performer, and her rehearsal yesterday was, by all accounts, excellent. She won’t get in the way of her own success, but voters who want something less depressing and more instant may do. It’s been almost a decade since the Dutch song made a final, and I think if it happened this year, the looks on the delegation’s faces would be priceless. Like, Robin Stjernberg, ‘I won Melodifestivalen?’ level priceless. Who’s up for making that epic-ness a reality?

Winner, loser or grower: Grower. 8 points.

 

NORWAY

I Feed You My Love by Margaret Berger

Norway13Best lyric: ‘You put a knife against my back and you dare me to face the attack.’

IMO: A lot of people love this, and a minority do not. The former group would willingly let Margaret feed them her love; the latter would spit it out and tell her she’s a terrible cook. So which group do you belong to? I hear you ask (and if you didn’t ask and don’t care, why are you reading opinion reviews in the first place?). Well, my friends…aagh, no more stalling. I love it, alright! Bravo, Norway, bravo. This country had two excellent Eurovision prospects, and they chose the less fun, less summery, but edgier and more reliable of those two. There aren’t many other words I can think of to describe it – industrial? Electro-rock-ish, perhaps? Different, definitely. Different from anything else on offer in 2013. I love the sound and I love the lyrics, and the contrast between such a dark song (with complimentary lighting) and the blonde-in-a-white-dress look (as Margaret modeled at NMGP) is really interesting. I would prefer this to win over Denmark, but I realise that’s unlikely. A top 10 result is more achievable, unless there’s another inexplicable lack of points for the Norwegian song that confuses me for months to come. Because I Feed You My Love can’t be compared to anything else it’s up against, unlike Stay, that too is unlikely.

Winner, loser or grower: Winner. 10 points.

 

ROMANIA

It’s My Life by Cezar

Romania13Sounds like: Illusion by Krassimir Avramov

IMO: Romania had bamboozled me this year, and as fun as it is to use the word ‘bamboozled’ in a Eurovision review (or at any time) I’m not pleased about it. The tropical party thrown by Mandinga is over, and now we’ve been invited to one where the background music is Beethoven’s Fifth and the punch bowl is full of pumpkin soup, and we’re all like ‘are we supposed to take this seriously?’. Let me tell you how I feel about It’s My Life in a way that makes more sense: as much as it reminds me of Bulgaria ’09 for obvious reasons, it also makes me think of Israel’s entry into the 2004 contest – To Believe, by David d’Or. In both cases, the song I like, but the crazy-high vocal the singer ascends to, I can’t help finding comical. I realise that Cezar is very talented, and the song certainly shows off his range. But I just can’t take this seriously; not when the voice of Alenka Gotar on helium is coming out of an imposing, suited-up dude with a beard. That dude scored the sought-after performance position of last in the second semi, following Switzerland. He will appear, and three minutes later, nobody will remember that Switzerland even existed. Whether or not that will help maintain Romania’s 100% qualification record, I don’t know. Like I said, this entry has me generally bamboozled. God, I love that word.

Winner, loser or grower: Grower. 6 points.

 

RUSSIA

What If by Dina Garipova

Russia13Better than 2012: No

IMO: This song makes me want to do so many things, and none of them are enjoyable – things like jumping off a cliff, and/or vomiting come to mind. Well, maybe it’s not everything about What If that makes me want to do that stuff. Now that I think of it, I find the song part of the song (i.e. the music and the melody) perfectly listenable. What makes my skin crawl is the sickeningly sentimental, cheesy, clichéd, anti-war, ‘let’s put away our firearms and embrace each other’ LYRICS. Oh. My. Gosh. And don’t even get me started on the music video, which only serves to bring the nauseating sentiment to life, as a theatre-load of strangers become so overcome by the message of Dina’s song that they are unable to resist joining hands and swaying as one. Pass me a sick bag, somebody. Russia sent a novelty act of sorts to Eurovision in 2012, and they were adorable. Give me that over this schmaltz any day of the week. I am horrified at the prospect of this qualifying with ease and possibly cracking the final top 10. Dina’s voice wouldn’t be out of place there, but…nyet. Just nyet.

Winner, loser or grower: Loser. 3 points.

 

That’s another ten songs that can be crossed off my review list. But just before I go do that, here’s an overview of my rankings this time around. Although I think I’ll call them ‘igrankings’.

  1. Norway 10
  2. Macedonia 10
  3. Montenegro 10
  4. Moldova 8
  5. Netherlands 8
  6. Malta 7
  7. Lithuania 7
  8. Latvia 6
  9. Romania 6
  10. Russia 3

 

How do you rate the above entries? Let me know where we’re thinking alike, and where we’re really, really not.

 

NEXT TIME: In my second-last post before the main event, I’ll be critiquing the entries from San Marino, Serbia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine and the UK. Eight songs, one more set of reviews. Who will come out on top, and will one of you FINALLY agree with me on everything? I doubt it, but why don’t you drop by just in case?

 

Selection Season Day 6: A little Latvia and more of Melfest

Happy Saturday, ladies and gents. It’s that magical day of the week yet again, when if Europe was a suitcase and national finals were items of clothing, you’d have to sit on that suitcase just to zip it up. There are bits and pieces happening all over the continent tonight, from Hungary to Estonia to Italy, where the Italian representative is about to be tapped on the shoulder. And those are just the countries I’m not covering in this post! Read on to see what I did bother to discuss, and let me know what you want to happen this weekend.

 

The last few days of Eurovision, in brief

–  Not one, not two, not even three, but FOUR more 2013 entries have been premiered/chosen in the last few days, and annoyingly, since I did that poll on who would win at this point (but more on that in a minute). The first to come out was Straight Into Love from Slovenia, which actually went straight into my pile of entries that aren’t bad, but aren’t great. We’ll see if it’s a grower.

–  Cyprus’ entry for Despina Olympiou came next, and I must say that An Me Thimase (‘If you remember me’) is a very appropriate title. I have loved what Cyprus have sent to Eurovision the last four years (they were robbed of a place in the final for two of them) but it seems for 2013, it’s bye-bye brilliance and hello snoozefest. Hashtag shame.

–  Germany came to the rescue by not-so-surprisingly choosing Cascada and Glorious to go to Malmö. That song is ridiculously catchy, and goes off when it’s performed live (handy for an ESC song, I find). With a few vocal tune-ups from lead singer Natalie, and the immediate sacking of whoever made her wear those pathetic strips of material, there could easily be another top 10 result on the cards for Germany. That is if Glorious doesn’t reek so much of Euphoria that nobody votes for it, apart from the UK who will undoubtedly give it their douze. It doesn’t bode too well that when I sing it in my head, it goes ‘tonight we can be…euphoooooooria’. 

Unlike Beyonce, Natalie has not demanded that this photo be removed from the internet

Unlike Beyonce, Natalie has not demanded that this photo be removed from the internet

–  Last but not least was Shine by Natália Kelly, the winner of last night’s Österreich Rockt Den Song Contest, a.k.a. the Austrian final. She beat out four average contenders with her own average albeit sweet song, which was performed well, but the whole feeling was underwhelming. There’s got to be some changes made before Nat and her delegation pack their bags for Sweden, particularly in the costume and key change departments.

–  On to ‘that’ poll. Minus Cyprus, Germany and Austria (one of which would definitely have affected the results had it been there) you guys decided that if Eurovision was held right now, we’d be looking ahead to Oslo 2014, or possibly Some Other Random Norwegian City 2014. I Feed You My Love topped the list with 45% of your votes, followed by Denmark’s Only Teardrops on 35% and Malta and Switzerland on 10%. There are still a lot of songs to come, but who knows; you may be right about Margaret.

 

Eirodziesma comes to an end

Who’s been following the Latvian NF  this year? Not me, that’s who. With other things happening at the same time, such as Melfest and life, it’s been impossible. But I have listened to snippets of the 12 songs competing in tonight’s final, and as a result I’m not really wishing I had tried harder.

There were only one or two (three at a push) that grabbed me. The main worry is that none of those sounded better to my ears than Beautiful Song (!) but then again, you can’t compare a song you’ve been listening to in full for the last year with twenty seconds of one you’ve never heard before. So you probably shouldn’t take notice of anything I’m saying right now. Or possibly ever.

Anyway, these are the Latvian finalists:

  1. One by Niko
  2. Fool In Love by Dāvids Kalandija & Dināra
  3. When You Are With Me by Antra Stafecka
  4. Sad Trumpet by PER
  5. The One by Pieneņu Vīns
  6. I Am Who I Am by Marta Ritova
  7. Higher and Higher by Liene Candy
  8. I Need A Hero by Samanta Tīna
  9. Cold Heart by Ieva Sutugova
  10. Love by Headline
  11. Upside Down by Sabīne Berezina
  12. Here We Go by PER

My favourite excerpts were from One, Sad Trumpet (what happened to that poor trumpet?), I Need A Hero, Love and Here We Go. PER, who have a greater chance of winning than anybody else with double the amount of competing songs, also have two of the best songs on offer. But Niko’s One is the one – pardon the pun and the rhyming – that caught my attention most of all. Coincidentally performing in slot 1, he’ll hopefully make enough of an impression so that he’s not forgotten about when the time comes to vote.

Like most other NFs, Latvia’s will be decided by a 50/50 jury and public vote blend. Even if I can figure which way the jury will go, I can rarely figure out the public, so your uneducated guess is as good as mine when it comes to who’s going to win. If you happen to be educated (i.e. have been keeping up with Dziesma and know who the favourites are) feel free to predict the outcome for me.

 

Now, onto a show I do know something about…

 

Melodifestivalen – lucky (semi) number three?

I don’t think I need to reiterate how average Melfest has been so far. It’s been easy for middling songs to get to the final purely because they were less crap than the others. If something doesn’t give and one of the songs already in the final represents Sweden in May, it could be an embarrassing evening on home ground. Just because they don’t want to win again doesn’t mean they shouldn’t try at all!

At the moment, we’re halfway through the semi finals, and I was certain things would start looking up with a line-up like this:

  1. Alibi by Eddie Razaz
  2. Island by Elin Petersson
  3. En Riktig Jävla Schlager by Ravaillacz
  4. Dumb by Amanda Fondell
  5. In And Out of Love by Martin Rolinski
  6. Hon Har Inte by Caroline af Ugglas
  7. Falling by State of Drama
  8. Heartstrings by Janet Leon
Did this week's group deliver?

Did this week’s group deliver?

Thankfully, this semi is stronger – not by a mile, but by enough to give me hope that the last one will knock all of our socks off. These are my picks:

Alibi this is one of about 189473829 entries in this year’s competition written by the Euphoria team of G:son and Boström, and I think it’s the best so far. The chorus is predictable but still decent, and the verses have bite.

Dumb I love Amanda Fondell, and was so excited when she was announced as one of the Swedish 32. Granted, this is the weakest song I’ve heard from her, but I quite like the dark, almost Western vibe it gives off.

In And Out Of Love it’s sad to think that Sweden is probably past voting for songs like this…that is, songs like the ones entered by BWO with Martin as frontman. It’s schlager-y (but not in a horrifyingly dated way) and it’s catchy, so I like it. I’m easily pleased.

Falling generic pop-rock about the usual stuff, but it’s good enough for me. Did I mention I am easily pleased?

So, the time has arrived to humiliate myself by predicting the opposite of what will actually happen re: advancement to the final and to Andra Chansen. Based on my opinion of the songs as well as what people have been saying (what? Everyone needs a bit of guidance sometimes!) I’m going to say…

…Caroline and Janet to the final, and Eddie and Amanda to AC. Knowing I’m oh-so-wrong just typing it.

What do you think? Who on Earth is going where?

 

One thing I can correctly predict is that we’ll find out for sure in a few hours’ time. Until then, merry guessing and streaming, y’all. May the best songs win their heats and finals!

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