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

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

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

 

The automatic finalists bring their A-game

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Highlights of the first half

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

My favourite moments from a seriously stacked second half

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

The best and worst of the interval acts

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

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

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

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

 

 

Jaw-dropping jury results + televoting triumphs and tragedies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

Until next time,

 

 

 

 

 

THE TEL AVIV REVIEWS | Round 8 feat. France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Spain + the UK

This is it! I’ve finally finished reviewing all 41 Eurovision 2019 entries, just in time for Sunday’s opening party to signal the start of ESC week…as opposed to ESC rehearsal week, which we’ve been living and breathing since last weekend.

I don’t know about you, but I’m damn ready for this contest while also not being ready at all. Maybe because it came around quicker than Kseniya Simonova can mime Moldova’s “snow art” at double speed. Still, all that’s left for me to do is hang up my flags, buy my snacks and plan my SF1 voting strategy. Oh, and publish this round of reviews, obviously.

Keep reading to find out what I think of Bilal, S!sters, Kobi, Mahmood, Miki and Michael’s songs for next Saturday night. And keep in mind that I wrote these reviews before France et cetera had hit the Expo Tel Aviv stage, so any comments I made about staging were speculative. Speculative and arguably better than what some countries actually came up with.

 

PS – If you want to catch up on any of my other 2019 reviews, you can find them all here.

 

 

France + Eurovision = c’est magnifique these days. It all started with Amir back in 2016, and the run of absolute quality continued with Alma and Madame Monsieur. Not only have their eventual entries been amazing, but the standard of songs in their NF Destination Eurovision – held during the past two selection seasons – has been sky high. Voice Kids alumnus, social media star and Conchita worshipper Bilal Hassani emerged victorious from the 2019 show, having battled some tough competition and a lot of haters. The haters didn’t disappear after his win, but his fans will give him all the support he needs as he takes on Tel Aviv in style. I’m definitely a fan, but not just of Bilal. Roi is also doing all the right things for me.

Co-written by Madame Monsieur, this song is nothing like Mercy but it does have a message. It’s all about self-empowerment, standing up for yourself, owning your individuality and wearing huge blinged-up shoulderpads. I can personally relate to all of that (don’t underestimate the power of giving shape to your shoulders, people). Anyway, those themes are wrapped up in a pop-ballad package that manages to be quintessentially French without being stereotypically French. Maybe it’s the language mix, with the lyrics flitting between Française and Anglaise faster than you can say baguette. That technique has been used a few times by France at Eurovision events, including ESC 2007 and JESC 2018 – and they know how to do it well. Madame Monsieur know how to pen a current-sounding pop song well too, and though Roi isn’t as contemporary or powerful as Mercy, it still has a lot to offer. Every bit of it is catchy and consistent in its Frenglish; it has plenty of different segments that stop it sounding repetitive or becoming boring; the chorus is strong and easy to sing along to; and the lyrics make the message clear if you speak English and/or French (and if you speak neither, Bilal’s hand-crown helps get the meaning across). I really liked this track the first time I heard it, and it’s continued to grow on me like a sophisticated French fungus ever since.

In all honesty, however, the song pales in comparison to Bilal himself. He has to be my favourite personality of the 2019 contest – he’s fun, flamboyant and friendly, with star power but the kind of down-to-earth nature that makes me want him as my celebrity BFF. And of course, he can sing, dress to impress and rock flowing blonde wigs better than anyone. What’s wrong with this picture I’ve painted? Well, not much. But sadly I can’t see France going too far with Roi. Though plenty of people will be seeing and hearing this entry for the first time during the final (or when it’s previewed during the semis), with so many other standouts bound to catch their eyes and ears, I don’t like its chances. France’s fate might depend on how the Roi staging has evolved, but I can’t imagine they’ll be a televote or jury favourite. From that 6th place in 2016 to 12th and then 13th place last year, they’ve been drifting downwards, and I suspect that will continue to be the case with Bilal…but I’m hoping to be so wrong everybody will laugh at me later.

 

In a line A powerful, appealing piece of multilingual pop fronted by an awesome human 2018 VS 2019 2019 by one of Bilal’s wig hairs Predicted result 14th-18th My score 10 points

 

 

 

 

Okay, Germany: take a seat, because it’s time we had a serious talk. But first, some context. Michael Schulte did a top job of making our jaws drop last year when he finished 4th (don’t pretend you saw that coming). As always, when a country does randomly well after years of doing the opposite, I hoped his result would be the start of another successful streak for Germany. The contents of their 2019 national final seemed to promise the same thing. Then, last-minute wildcard addition Sister won it. How that happened is still a mystery to me, though I know we’re about to enter Eurovision week and I should move on from NF drama. But I just don’t get it. What did this entry have to offer that the other German songs didn’t? It wasn’t performed better or staged better than the rest, and the song was weak by comparison. Now it’s lost the one thing that made it memorable (the giant lazy Susan, which presumably goes on the table that belongs with Leonora’s giant chair). And I suspect that’s not the only thing Germany is going to lose.

There are a few bones to pick here without even mentioning the quality of the song: the ‘!’ in S!sters (that kind of stylisation was last considered cool circa 2002); the fact that the song title is virtually the same as the group name; Carlotta and Laura not actually being related (making my last point even more irritating); and the knowledge that Sister was rejected by Switzerland before being picked up, dusted off and dropped on Germany’s doorstep. As for the song itself…well, after my first listen I pegged it as this year’s 26th placer. That’s not because it’s terrible – I wouldn’t say it was. But it is a big pile of nothingness. It’s not instant, it has no call to action, it’s not dramatic enough to be a musical theatre number but too overblown to be an appealing pop ballad…there’s just nothing to grab on to. The verses sound like they’re still in the workshopping process, with a stilted structure and questionable lyrics. The chorus isn’t bad until the girls start shouting ‘SISTER!’ repeatedly at each other. And the whole thing is too slow and plodding, with not enough going on throughout the three minutes to make it feel like three minutes instead of ten. Carlotta and Laura are lovely, I’m sure, and they do the best they can with the material they’ve been given. But that material is not up to scratch.

I think Germany’s recent last places at Eurovision have been undeserved. But this year, there is no other entry already in the final or likely to qualify from the semis that deserves to finish lower than this. Not having seen S!sters’ new and (probably not) improved staging as I type this, I can’t imagine they’ve miraculously given themselves a chance of finishing above 26th. What else can I say about this? Switzerland made the right move rejecting it. And if Germany wanted to build on their 2018 triumph, they would have been better off sending Makeda or my preferred pick Linus Bruhn (whose performance needed polishing, but who had potential) to Israel. Or you know, LITERALLY ANYONE ELSE. I’m sorry for all the negativity, and I know the same amount of time and effort has been invested in this entry as in the other 40. But I’m disappointed. And as S!sters keep saying ad nauseum, if you feel something, ‘don’t you try to hide it, SISTERRRRR.’

 

In a line A non-event with a good message but few other redeeming features 2018 VS 2019 2018, in news that will shock no one Predicted result 26th My score 4 points

 

 

 

 

   

It’s host country time! The aptly-titled Home is Israel’s first post-win entry since 1999, and I don’t think Kobi can hold a candle to Eden and Yom Huledet. But who could? The correct answer is ‘no one’. Kobi has nothing in common with the boy band anyway, though there were enough Kobis in his music video to create one (nobody show it to Simon Cowell, for god’s sake). 20 years later, Israel is sending a solo singer down the road to the arena with a dramatic operatic ballad. It’s safe to say they haven’t attempted to repeat their 2018 winning formula here. RIP chicken clucks, Pokémon references and plagiarism lawsuits from the White Stripes.

My first experience with Home was not a good one. Having been drawn in by those ethnic wails at the beginning, I was feeling it. Then the wails turned out to be false advertising for a haunting Israeli masterpiece that never materialised, and I felt cheated. What did materialise was pompous and over-pronounced and self-indulgent. But two things happened after that. One, I got to know Kobi and discovered that he’s next-level likeable, which automatically forced me to be kindlier about his song. Two, I listened to said song a few more times, and in shocking news (because this never happens *insert sarcasm here*) I came around. I realise grower songs aren’t great for a contest relying heavily on instant appeal. But regardless, Home has made progress with me. I’m not turned off by the dramatics any more, I appreciate the melody and slow burn, and I feel like Kobi can do it all justice with a voice that understandably won him The Next Star. If I compare Home to other recent (ish) male operatic entries, it comes out on top of My Heart Is Yours – Norway’s 2010 host entry – and Sognu from France in 2011. It still sits way below Grande Amore from Il Volo, but that’s the pinnacle of the genre and cannot be beaten. For me, Home is average with a tendency to be slightly above. If I had to give it a grade on a report card I’d go with a B minus, but I would have given it a D a few weeks ago.

I may not be a Home hater any more, yet the song still isn’t what I wanted from Israel this year. I was hoping for something more like their 2018 Junior Eurovision entry or The Fire In Your Eyes: something spellbinding and ethnic. Even a song feat. some Hebrew would have been nice, but they opted for a full English breakfast instead. With Madonna being shipped in as an interval act, Home seems like another missed opportunity for Israel to show off some culture. Host entries have set up camp in Struggletown lately, and while I think Kobi can do more for Israel than The Makemakes did for Austria and Cláudia Pascoal did for Portugal (not that they deserved to hit rock bottom) I would be surprised to see him on the left side of the scoreboard. But since 26th place is pretty much reserved for Germany, he’s sure to avoid the ultimate embarrassment. And with a song that’s quite powerful and a voice to match, he has the chance to nip at the heels of the top half. Even so, Israel should come to terms with a mid-table downgrade from 2018’s clucking awesome 1st place.

 

In a line A majestic number fit for musical theatre that won’t thrill Europe or embarrass Israel 2018 VS 2019 2018 – fun and inventive wins out for me Predicted result 15th-20th My score 6 points

 

 

 

 

 

Ah, Italy. A true Eurovision love of mine, second only to Sweden (I have my reasons). A country that cannot help but be classy and ultra-Italian, no matter which genre they’re dipping their leather-clad toes into. And a country that really should have won at least once since their 2011 comeback. Could 2019 finally be the year they go all the way? If it is, you’ll hear my hysterical screams all the way from deepest, darkest Siberia or wherever else you are in the world. I am head-over-heels for Soldi (I love Mahmood too, but there’s no point being head-over-heels for him when you’re a straight woman). Just when I thought Italy couldn’t impress me more than they already have during the 2010s, along comes a song so effortlessly cool, I can barely believe it’s a Eurovision entry.

Not because I don’t think Eurovision is the coolest thing ever. Clearly I do, having devoted ten years of my life to talking about it here on EBJ. It’s just that songs like Soldi don’t often pop up in the contest. Actually, we’ve never had one quite like it competing, and I never imagined that if we did it would be a contender for the win. This song is edgy, gritty and tells a tale of woe – Mahmood’s relationship with his father isn’t very Brady Bunch – but it also manages to be fun (it’s the irresistible claps), inventive and catchy. It combines the classic Italian musical traits we know and love, like lyrical wordiness and rich (from all that Soldi) instrumentals, with hypnotic urban beats, hip-hop influences and an Arabic undercurrent. Mahmood’s cultural makeup is represented by the ethnic and language fusion, while his family story is represented in the lyrics. This is deep. It has fireworks AND feelings (take that, Salvador). It’s also a very cleverly-composed song, with those wordy verses being broken up by a minimalist chorus everyone can latch on to in seconds. My absolute highlight of Soldi is the Arabic-infused bridge, which adds an extra element of interest and significance to a modern masterpiece. I also like the nonchalance of Mahmood’s performance style: his distinctive vocals are always A+, but when he’s singing this song he gives off a ‘whatever’ vibe. It’s like he’s channelling the indifference he now feels towards his father, who he’s learnt is all about the money. That’s my interpretation, anyway.

Italy is hardly trying too hard this year, and apparently that’s what it takes to be a dangerous competitor. It’s like barely bothering with an assignment only to score 95%, purely because you didn’t overthink or overwork it. That makes me wonder if Italy actually wants a Eurovision victory, or if they’re happy to carry on with strong top 10 placements. After all, they won JESC by accident in 2014 and turned down the chance to host it the following year. They might get what (I think) they’re wishing for in Tel Aviv, because the path to victory isn’t as clear for Mahmood as it is for the other big favourites. He did win the 2019 OGAE Poll, but it was a tight race and those points all came from hardcore fans. I don’t know if the general public will take to Soldi like we have. Juries should at least reward its originality, but it’s not traditionally jury-friendly on other counts. And I’m unsure if Italy can stage this in a way that gets the message across and matches the cool, contemporary feel of the song. I would love all of the above to become irrelevant and have Italy as our winner this year – they’re my personal second favourites – but I’m sensing that’s too much to ask.

 

In a line Flawless and meaningful modern Italian music with an exotic twist 2018 VS 2019 2019, but Italy always impresses me Predicted result 4th-6th My score 12 points

 

 

 

 

What happens when arguably the best song in a national final is performed by someone with no desire to go to Eurovision? Well, occasionally it still wins and we’re treated to an unenthusiastic performance that drags a great song down. Fortunately for Spain, they had a solid backup to María’s Muérdeme in the form of Miki’s La Venda. His song might not be as current and slick as hers, but he performs it with so much enthusiasm he makes it better than it would have been with a less lively artist attached to it. This guy has tough competition when it comes to being Mr. Congeniality, ESC 2019 Edition – especially from his fellow auto-finalists Bilal, Kobi and Michael. He blows them all away when it comes to charisma and personality during a performance though. And La Venda is the perfect song for him in terms of letting his fun flag fly.

It’s also a perfect party anthem. Is there a better motivator to get up and dance in this upcoming contest? I don’t think so! If you can listen to this without moving, congratulations on living Les Misérables. The song is a piñata made of music that’s been busted open and proceeds to rain happiness and effervescence over all of us for all three minutes. That’s because it starts as it means to go on – in top gear with trumpets and an insanely joyful melody. The fact that it doesn’t change much throughout means it lacks a little dynamism, but it also means the energy is constant and keeps you (literally) on your toes. The pace is almost frantic, but I for one am willing to try and keep up with it as I shout ‘LA VENDA YA CAYÓÓÓÓÓÓ!!!’ repeatedly until my neighbours beg me for mercy. Something else I really like about this is the message that lies underneath the façade of fun and frivolity, proving that you don’t need to be dead serious to make a statement. According to Miki (or his lyricist), we should all take off our metaphorical blindfolds and see all that we have and all that life has to offer us instead of looking away, Finland-style. And to that I say amen. It’s a relief to have a break from anything remotely lovey-dovey after Amaia and Alfred’s PDA display. Spain is giving us a fiesta instead of a love-fest this year, and ironically I love them for it.

I don’t know if enough Europeans or my fellow Australians will be feeling the same level of love for this. It has been popular with fans and done pretty well in pre-polls, but it’s not unusual for Spanish entries to be hyped to the point of, in hindsight, overhype. I get a kick out of the Spanish fans’ enthusiasm re: their ESC entries, and I’m on their side this time…but even so I’m thinking Miki might struggle to live up to his hype. He’s a Hulk-strong performer, but La Venda has weaknesses: it’s repetitive, it stays in the same gear all the way through (a pro and a con, as I mentioned before) and it tends to disappear like fairy floss when followed by more eventful entries. Unless Spain scores a late second-half slot in the final, I can easily see them being forgotten in the middle of a 26-song stack. Having said that, La Venda is so enjoyable, and it has the power to get an audience going like nothing else it’s up against. If the ecstatic crowd gets a starring role in the performance alongside Miki, this entry will be elevated.

 

In a line The ultimate Latin party in a three-minute package 2018 VS 2019 2019 Predicted result 16th-21st My score 8 points

 

 

 

 

If you thought Germany was the only country with a song rejected by someone else, you thought wrong. The UK is bringing to Tel Aviv what could have been the Swedish entry sung by John Lundvik (but probably would have drifted down to mid-table in the Melfest final while Bishara packed his bags instead). John, who co-wrote Bigger Than Us and will compete against his own composition this week, originally wanted to enter Melfest with the ballad instead of Too Late For Love. He was convinced to change his tune, and that’s how Michael ended up with (this version) of the song. I don’t know why I wasted time telling that story when you all know it already. Anyway, Michael’s certainly made Bigger Than Us his own with his big voice – and his endless repertoire of arm flourishes. It’s hard to imagine anyone else singing it now…but would I prefer it if the song hadn’t been recycled by Mr. Rice?

No I wouldn’t. Call me crazy (it’s true) but I LOVE this song, in all its repetitive, key-changing, memetastic glory. It’s a TV talent show winner song for sure, but it’s the kind that brings tears to your eyes because you’ve voted for the singer for weeks and they actually won and you’re so invested it doesn’t matter how clichéd their inspirational power ballad is. That’s a hypothetical scenario, but Michael is a TV talent show winner. And with good reason: the boy can sing. He’s the best vocalist the UK have sent to Eurovision in a long time, and his vocals make more of Bigger Than Us than a less skilled singer would have. The song follows a predictable ballad structure: verse, chorus, (alarmingly short) verse, chorus, subdued chorus, money note + key change, lots of emotional warbling, and SCENE. There are no surprises. ‘Bigger’ is repeated 50-something times throughout, and it seems like more because the second chorus comes around so soon, Occidentali’s Karma-style. The last quarter of the song is padded out with extra biggers in place of quality content. And you can pick, down to the split second, when the fire curtain switch will be flicked. I know all of this, yet I still adore this song. The melody is beautiful, the explosive moments are mighty explosive, the gospel backings are rousing and Michael is amazing. Is it a little cheesy? Sure, but I like cheese. And this is uplifting, powerful cheese. If John Lundvik’s life was a musical, Bigger Than Us would be the song signalling his newfound determination to stand tall and fight for what he believes in (which I think would come after he figures out that it isn’t too late for love). Also, if John Lundvik’s life was a musical I would buy front-row tickets. But I digress.

Back to Michael. He’s a top bloke, as we’d say here in Australia. The kind of funny, grounded guy you’d hang out with in a heartbeat. That makes him voteable, at least to people who’ve been following his pre-ESC journey, and those spectacular vocals make him attractive to jurors judging singing ability. Where he might trip up is with the song itself and his performance. Bigger Than Us is probably too passé and predictable to stand out. And if he hasn’t upped his live game since You Decide – in terms of camera connection and toning down those arm movements – I’ll be worried. I’m also concerned the UK is going to leave Bigger Than Us to its own devices staging-wise, and it really isn’t strong enough to survive bare-bones (unlike, for example, The Netherlands’ Arcade). There is a lot that can go wrong here. But at worst it will still be competent and showcase high-class vocals, and that’s not a bad position to be in. I have faith that if everything goes right with this entry, it can improve on the UK’s recent results. After all, it’s SO MUCH BIGGER.

 

In a line A by-the-numbers power ballad that’s worked its magic on me 2018 VS 2019 2019 Predicted result 15th-19th My score 12 points

 

 

 

 

If you made it through all that, thanks for sticking around. The UK was lucky last and concludes the EBJ judgments for 2019. I’m not-so-secretly relieved, and I’m guessing you feel the same! Here’s today’s mini-ranking:

  1. Italy (12)
  2. United Kingdom (12)
  3. France (10)
  4. Spain (8)
  5. Israel (6)
  6. Germany (4)

And here’s the maxi-ranking feat. the full class of 2019 (apart from that one student who didn’t make it to graduation):

  1. Sweden (12)
  2. Italy (12)
  3. Hungary (12)
  4. Switzerland (12)
  5. Slovenia (12)
  6. United Kingdom (12)
  7. The Netherlands (12)
  8. Greece (12)
  9. Estonia (10)
  10. France (10)
  11. Azerbaijan (10)
  12. Portugal (10)
  13. Norway (10)
  14. Cyprus (10)
  15. Malta (10)
  16. Czech Republic (10)
  17. Belarus (10)
  18. Spain (8)
  19. Russia (8)
  20. Romania (8)
  21. Belgium (8)
  22. Armenia (8)
  23. Iceland (8)
  24. Serbia (8)
  25. Albania (8)
  26. Denmark (7)
  27. Ireland (7)
  28. Lithuania (7)
  29. Finland (7)
  30. Croatia (7)
  31. Australia (7)
  32. Austria (7)
  33. San Marino (7)
  34. Moldova (6)
  35. Israel (6)
  36. Montenegro (5)
  37. Latvia (5)
  38. Poland (5)
  39. North Macedonia (4)
  40. Germany (4)
  41. Georgia (4)

Sweden on top is no surprise if you know me. Have I changed my mind since the first round of reviews? Not where my favourites are concerned, but if I did a full ranking again there would be some shifts in the 15th-35th range. Might be time to pay another visit to the ESC Sorter…

 

Be sure to let me know how you rate the Big 5 + Israel – or any country you like – in the comments, as we continue to watch and wait out the rehearsals. And follow me @EurovisionByJaz on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (links are in the sidebar —>) because that’s where you’ll find my predictions for Tel Aviv’s three hopefully fantastic shows. We’re so close, guys. Enjoy what’s left of the lead-up to Eurovision 2019!