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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!

 

 

 

 

 

SELECTION SEASON 2018 | The French finale + Czech-ing out the competition

Bonjour! To answer all the usual questions…yes, I’m still alive; yes, I’m still blogging; and yes, my excuse for NOT blogging since Junior Eurovision in ye olde November 2017 (!!!) is the same (annoying adult commitments such as work, etc).

Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m beyond ready to dive deep into Eurovision 2018’s selection season. Tonight is a great night to do it, with three shows – including one decider – on the calendar. Plus, we get a Romanian heat and another installment of Israel’s Next Star tomorrow night. Oh, and on Monday, something’s happening in Spain (Operación Triunfo is just a big ol’ bunch of confusion), while the Czech Republic will announce that Mikolas Josef is representing them in Lisbon which of their six shortlisted acts is heading to Lisbon. OOF. If you thought I wasn’t going to make a dramatic re-entrance into the world of Euroblogging to cover all/whatever I can manage of this NF action…

‘What I can manage’, a.k.a. what I’ve chosen to cover this weekend are the happenings in the two countries that are 110%, totally and definitely choosing their reps for Portugal now (but don’t worry, I’ll be all over the Melodifestivalen semis once they start next weekend). That’s France and the Czech Republic, hence the punny title of this post.

So, without further ado, I’m going to share with you my thoughts on the songs of their selections, and predict who’ll end up flying the blue, white and red for a) a country that’s always in the ESC final, and b) a country that’s almost never in the ESC final. Leave your opinions + predictions in the comments below!

 

First up…

  

I have to kick off the France talk by saying OOH LA LA! After heading to Eurovision all flawless for the past few years (right down to Amir’s perfect teeth and Alma’s endless legs), they’ve continued to bring it in 2018 with a super-high-standard national final: Destination Eurovision (which sounds like an awesome holiday resort on a private island that one can only gain access to if one knows all the words to Alexander Rybak’s Fairytale by heart).

After two semis of eighteen acts performing their potential ESC entries, plus a version of something else – and being scored by a jury only – eight artists remain, as do eight songs that are decent at worst and brilliant at best. C’est magnifique!

Tonight’s show looks a little like this (because it will also feature duets): 

  1. Mamma Mia, Louka
  2. Ailleurs, Max Cinnamon
  3. OK ou KO, Emmy Liyana
  4. Mercy, Madame Monsieur
  5. Rêve de Gamin, Nassi
  6. Eva, Lisandro Cuxi
  7. Lisboa Jerusalem, Igit
  8. Ciao, Malo’

A handful of great songs fell by the wayside in the lead-up to this final, but the fact that they weren’t sacrificed for inferior songs (IMO) says a lot about the effort France is putting in at the moment. I’m not saying that I absolutely adore every single song still in the running – I have some standout favourites for sure. But as you’re about to see, there’s nothing on display tonight that will have me hitting the mute button (or reaching for a pair of earplugs – whichever’s easiest in my 4am haze).

 

Thoughts + scores

Mamma Mia This was one of the first songs to grab my attention at the snippet stage, and I’m still loving it. It’s a little bit tropical-pop and edges towards the Latin pop trend too, so basically it’s pretty exotic. Oui, it’s repetitive, but the chorus is the hook and I’m biting! Louka is an attractive Frenchman, which also helps (yeah, I can be shallow. Sue me). 8.5/10.

Ailleurs I DO absolutely adore this one. It’s magical. The chorus is memorable and makes an impact without being loud and in-your-face. Overall, it’s pretty and soothing, with a nice mix of French and English lyrics. Max is kind of meek as a performer, but hopefully having made it to the final will give him a Blanche-like confidence boost. 9.5/10.

OK ou KO Emmy’s song isn’t at the top of my love list, but it’s excellent – soulful, smooth and perfectly suited to her powerful voice. I don’t connect with it as much as I do with some of the others, but that’s its only fault. 8/10.

Mercy I have the connection issue with this one too – I want to feel a rush of love for Madame Monsieur, but I just don’t. Still, I have to admit that everything is cool, contemporary and slick. I won’t jump up and down with excitement if Mercy goes to Eurovision, but I’ll be proud of France for sending something current and original. 8/10.

Rêve de Gamin Okay, so this was better in studio than on stage, but I didn’t think Nassi’s live was terrible by any means (the 2018 version of Daz Sampson’s Teenage Life staging worked for me). I will always be quick to defend this song though, because I think it’s awesome. The blend of dance-pop and ethnic music breaks is boss. 9.5/10.

Eva Honesty is the best policy (apparently) so here goes: THIS IS MY FAVOURITE (AND CAPITAL LETTERS ARE NECESSARY TO EXPRESS THIS)!!! Lisandro is the bomb dot com. He sings, he dances, he wins TV talent shows, and he was born and half-raised in Portugal. Hello! He’s also armed with a superb r & b-inspired track that may not be up everyone’s street but has its own personalised parking bay outside my house. 10/10.

Lisboa Jersualem It wouldn’t be a showcase of French music without something that could have been lifted from a Cirque du Soleil soundtrack (that’s a compliment, BTW). Listening to this transports me to a Parisian sidewalk where the scent of cigarette smoke and croissants intermingles seductively (or so I imagine, having never been to Paris). The song is my least favourite in the final, but I’m glad it’s there. 7/10.

Ciao I actually hated this at first, but it’s grown on me like a musical fungus and I’m now digging it. The chorus is tailor-made for an arena (and an arm-waving audience of thousands), although the verses are much less memorable (as in I literally can’t recall how they go right now). 7.5/10.

 

My predictions

Realistically, I think half of France’s final songs are out of winning contention – in random order, Mamma Mia, Ailleurs, Rêve de Gamin and Lisboa Jerusalem. That leaves the betting faves Eva and Mercy (also winners of their respective semis) and chasing pair OK ou KO and Ciao. It’ll be interesting to see the results from the two voting parties that haven’t come into play yet – televoters and a beefed-up international jury. The fact that the ultimate decision-makers are different this time makes predicting a winner more difficult…but I would stick with Eva and Mercy as the ones to put your money on.

Lisandro, as France’s reigning Voice champ, has proven to be a televote magnet in the past, and his performance will be one of the strongest (vocally and visually) tonight. Madame Monsieur, meanwhile, are the winners in iTunes’ eyes, and because they’re not my personal favourite they’ll probably win (when I get invested in a song it’s practically a death sentence). As I said, if they do, I won’t be thrilled…but I’ll come to terms with it.

I wouldn’t be shocked to see OK ou KO or Ciao sneak up behind those two with a strong televote, but winning on that alone (if the international jury votes go mostly elsewhere) would be a tough task. The juries, feat. the likes of Armenia, Bulgaria, Israel and Sweden, might opt for the less “Frenchy” stuff á la Eva (giving it even more of a leg up), Ailleurs or Ciao, but to be honest I have no idea how they’ll distribute their points.

Alright, alright! So you want a definitive winner prediction from me, do you? Here it is: in the hope of not jinxing my numero uno Lisandro, I’m going with Madame Monsieur for the win (while still hoping and praying for Lisandro on the DL).

 

If you’re tuning in to the Destination final, stream it from 9pm CET here, here, via YouTube, or on TV if you’re in France, of course. And before then, hit up that comment box and tell me who you think will represent France in Lisbon!

 

 

The most impressive thing about the Czech Republic’s pre-Portugal selection process is that they’re managing to have a national final while simultaneously NOT having a national final.

I.e. there’s a line-up of songs competing against one other to win over juries and televoters, but there’s no live performances and no televised competition element. The jury votes, as I’m sure you know, have already been decided, and Mikolas Josef’s Lie To Me topped the scoreboard (somewhat surprisingly as I wouldn’t have considered it jury-friendly). Here he is alongside the five other potential – but not probable – Czech entries for 2018.

  • High On Love, Debbi
  • Stand Up, Doctor Victor
  • We Rule This World, Eddie Stoilow
  • Fly, Eva Burešova
  • Lie To Me, Mikolas Josef
  • Never Forget, Pavel Callta

For me, this selection is like a buffet where the options are a) five different types of unseasoned steamed vegetables, or b) a ten-tier red velvet cake topped with a spun sugar swan. Who in their right mind wouldn’t go for the cake? The cake in this case being Lie To Me, obviously. Okay, so I can understand why the song might rub some people up the wrong way…especially those opposed to blatant sexual references raunchier than Slavko’s ‘My spaceship is ready to blow, drunk in love, I’m gonna explode’. And people who are afraid of camels.

But as far as I can see, the Czech Republic will either be stuck in the semis at Eurovision again or sail to the final, based on whether Mikolas wins the public vote or not.

I’m not that inspired to review the other five songs, but in an attempt to come across as a fair and accommodating judge, I will.

 

Thoughts + scores

High On Love The most superior of the steamed vegetables is clearly this one. Whenever I see the title I’m reminded of this 2012 banger from Norway, which isn’t good because that was way better. But Debbi does have a pretty catchy pop song up her sleeve (in spite of some seriously annoying lyrics). 7/10.

Stand Up Stand up and leave the room? No problem, Doctor Victor. Bland rock is not my cup of tea, and this is so bland I could wallpaper my house with it. 3/10.

We Rule This World Eddie Stoilow (which is seemingly a band and not just the name of one person, go figure) have also produced something beige. WRTW would probably make the super-final at Dansk MGP, but it’s nowhere near interesting enough to hold the Czech Republic’s ESC hopes on its shoulders. 4/10.

Fly Sometimes a screamy lady ballad appeals to me, if the melody is decent and the screaming lady is screaming in the right way. But I feel like Eva is more or less moaning at me very loudly for three minutes because I ruined her favourite shirt when I did her drycleaning or something. 5/10.

Lie To Me This is the love child of Talk Dirty by Jason Derülo, Problem by Ariana Grande and Strip That Down by Liam Payne (don’t ask me how that’s possible), and I am OBSESSED. It has ‘The One’ written all over it in big, crude Sharpie letters. It could be a disaster when performed live (and there will be no camels present, which is a huge disappointment) but let’s cross that bridge when we come to it. 10/10.

Never Forget The title of this song is ironic. That’s all I’m going to say. 6/10.

  

My predictions

Speaking of saying the bare minimum…I can give you guys a Czech prediction without using any words at all.

What do you think? Does Mikolas have it all sewn up, or is someone else going to miraculously swoop in to succeed Martina Bárta?

 

SELECTION SEASON CONTINUES: What’s up next?

  • Saturday 3/2: Hungary (heat 3), Latvia (semi final 1), Lithuania (heat 4), Malta, Sweden (semi final 1)
  • Sunday 4/2: Romania (heat 3), Switzerland

 

Whatever you’re watching this weekend, enjoy it…but not too much, ‘coz we’ve all got to save our energy for February and (early) March. Assuming I’ve got the energy, I’ll be on Twitter throughout the season. Follow me @EurovisionByJaz for salty comments and tea-spilling (re: songs I hate) interspersed with OTT compliments (re: songs I love). What can I say? I’m a woman of Eurovision extremes.

 

Until next time,