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IT’S THE (GRAND) FINAL COUNTDOWN! My top 10 performances of Eurovision 2018

It’s been less than two weeks since Israel won Eurovision, but to me it actually feels like longer – which makes it even more shameful that it’s taken me all this time to pick out my favourite performances of Portugal’s contest just past.

In my defence, it wasn’t an easy decision! Competition was fiercer than Eleni Foureira’s catsuit-and-stilettos combo this year, especially due to the no-LED policy of the stage design which meant countries had to get extra creative when chasing the wow factor. Better late than never, though, I’ve made my choices (just like Ari Oláfsson told me to). And, in reverse order as always, because I like to whip up a fresh batch of suspense every time I do a top 10 countdown, here they are. Let me know what our agree/disagree ratio is in the comments below…

 

 

#10| Ukraine (Mélovin with Under The Ladder)

When Eurovision meets Ukraine, the result is usually OTT – but up until 2018, it had been a while since the country lived large in terms of their contest staging (1944 and Time didn’t exactly slap you in the face with such subtle items as hamster wheels and half-naked centurions). So it was nice to see Ukraine changing up their recent less-is-more approach for a) a vampiric-looking artist slowly rising from the hellish interior of his grand piano; b) said artist removing a layer of clothing halfway through the song, which in this case looked a lot more badass than when Alexander Rybak did it; and c) yeah yeah FIRE!!! When you think about it, Mélovin’s performance could have been even more flamboyant – but he seemed to know just when to stop to give it the specific level of drama and Gothic glamour it needed. Under The Ladder on the Lisbon stage was as confident and cohesive as we’ve come to expect from Ukraine, whether they’re keeping things simple or kicking their staging up a notch or two (hundred).

 

#9 | Israel (Netta with Toy

If it’s controversial to not have Netta right at the top of a ranking like this, then so be it. I didn’t vote for Israel this year and I can’t claim that Toy is the winning song I would have preferred (let’s just say that I was hoping to be trawling through Air BnB apartments in Limassol right about now). But I can’t argue with the punch this performance packed, thanks mostly to Netta herself and not so much to her dancers, who made the whole thing look more novelty than it actually was. Miss Barzilai, though, even without her looper, was a force to be reckoned with. Every facial expression, hand gesture and note was there; the attitude and sass were sky-high just as they should have been; and it was easy to believe that any guy stupid enough to cross her would be sorrier than Frans realising he really was sorry. Netta sold her song like her life depended on it, with her oriental outfit and backdrop adding an exotic touch to the appealingly bonkers proceedings (and not, IMO, falling into the category of cultural appropriation). The Altice Arena audience went crazy for this, and even on TV it was obvious why.

 

#8 | Austria (Cesár Sampson with Nobody But You

Starring in this year’s episode of ‘Surprising Eurovision Third-Placers’ was Austria’s Cesár, who contributed a jury vote-winning rendition of Nobody But You to the grand final line-up. While I didn’t see that overwhelming jury love coming, I did get some spine-tingles from his performance: one that proved he could more than cope with the transition from backing singer to main artist. Commanding the stage – and a spectacular hydraulic platform – completely solo, he made it hard for me to look away from him (or even blink, lest I miss a shot of his impressive arm musculature). Austria also added a mix of shadowy and golden lighting that perfectly suited the song and its soul vibes; a bit of crowd interaction in the second half to up the human connection with Cesár; and, tapping into a trend that was way overused in 2017, the sole giant selfie of the year…which was great apart from the fact that super-sized Cesár was wearing a different shirt to flesh-and-blood Cesár. But that’s a mildly irritating detail I can overlook, based on how boss every other aspect of this performance was.

 

#7 | Denmark (Rasmussen with Higher Ground)

Like Sweden (a country you should expect me to mention later on in this list) Denmark rarely changes much about their staging between their national final and Eurovision. Unlike Sweden, a lot of the time they need to but just don’t. Fortunately, 2018 was not one of those years – and some credit needs to be given to the ship-inspired Lisbon stage for that. Performing a seafaring Viking song, Rasmussen must have thanked his lucky stars when he discovered how neatly Higher Ground fit in to the concept of the ESC this year. Sure, a ship wasn’t the first thing you thought of when you looked at the stage, but just knowing how appropriate Denmark’s package would appear in the year of ‘All Aboard!’ gave them a boost. Sails, snow, stomping, blue lighting, beards, and a manufactured breeze were all Rasmussen needed to create the ideal atmosphere for Higher Ground – and what came out of the oven once all of those ingredients had been combined and baked was gobbled up by televoters. They ranked Denmark first in the second semi, and in the top five in the final. That’s definitely higher ground than the Danes managed to reach in Kyiv!

 

#6 | Estonia (Elina Nechayeva with La Forza)

I’ve said this in a previous post, but there was a time when I thought Estonia didn’t need to stick Elina in a ridiculously expensive projection dress to make a statement. La Forza and her insanely impressive operatic talents would do the trick on their own, right? Well, we’ll never know for sure – but what I now know for certain is that The Dress: Eurovision Edition (forget about some wedding guest getup that’s black and blue/white and gold) turned Estonia’s appearance at Eurovision 2018 into a showstopper. What helped to make the performance all the more dynamic were the close-up shots of Elina during the soft, mystical verses (just to hammer home how stunning she is) interspersed with wider shots and aerial shots during the explosive choruses – those showing off the dress projections to maximum advantage. If I was being ultra picky (as I enjoy being sometimes) I would have liked the lighting scheme and projections to be totally celestial – more cool colours to take us all to a galaxy far, far away. But a bit of red lighting here and there and some psychedelic dress swirls didn’t prevent me from being speechless at the end of this three minutes.

 

#5 | Australia (Jessica Mauboy with We Got Love)

Okay…before you scream at your screen that I must have walked Rasmussen’s plank and drowned in a sea of my own insanity, hear me out. Firstly, I’m Australian and am therefore totally biased when it comes to our handful of ESC entries and my unconditional defense of them. Secondly, when I name Jessica’s performance as one of my favourites of the year, I’m referring more to the stronger semi-final version than the nervy final version. And thirdly, whatever your opinion on her vocals, that dress (which we now know finished 2nd in the Barbara Dex vote) or the characteristically dark Sacha Jean Baptiste staging, you have to admit that Jess is a ray of sunshine who invested every fibre of her energy into her time on stage and brought light to those overly-moody surroundings. I felt so proud (and a little bit teary) after her Thursday night performance – and part of that was to do with the freedom, rawness and authenticity that came from the dreamtime dance moves and a vocal that was a rough diamond rather than a crystal-clear one-carat diamond. Jess did what she does best by bringing her personality on stage as a prop, and I really enjoyed watching her as a result.

 

#4 | Moldova (DoReDos with My Lucky Day)

Discarding a cool NF staging concept in the hope of wowing people at the ESC with an even cooler concept is risky. Moldova took that risk, ran with it, and ended up providing us with an impeccably-timed slapstick-chic performance that elevated an okay song to sensational status. Try and find a flaw in DoReDos’ Eurovision creation and I will dispute whatever you come up with, because it had it ALL. Eye-catching costumes (in Moldovan flag colours, of course)? Check. Boatloads of stage presence and charisma from all three band members and their backing squad? Check. An oversized Ikea cabinet put to better use than anything with doors has been before? Check! Putting paid to the stereotype that men can’t multitask – and proving that women absolutely can – the trio sang, danced and dashed in out of those doors without missing a beat or looking like it was any sort of struggle. In a day and age of the easily distracted (myself included) keeping all eyes on you for 180 seconds can be difficult – but My Lucky Day live in Lisbon was entertainment well worth the price of admission.

 

#3 | Czech Republic (Mikolas Josef with Lie To Me)

From being stuck on a hospital gurney with a neck brace on to turning out a performance like this – only to go on and top it in the final? Mikolas, I salute you. For a horrifying few days early on in rehearsal week, we weren’t sure whether the Czech Republic would even get to compete in the contest with their best entry ever. But the Eurovision gods were smiling down on us (that, and Mikolas did what doctors told him to do). He got through his semi show in more restrained style than he would have liked before pulling out all of the acrobatic stops on the Saturday night – moves that capped off a super-fun, well-choreographed, part-music video/part-live performance feat. SWAG. There is nothing I would change about the Czech staging, although I wouldn’t have complained if a hologram camel had materialised at some point. The highlight – besides Mikolas landing the flip and not ending up back in the emergency room – has to be the butt wiggle/floss/backpack combo after the second chorus. That was genius, and in keeping with the saucy subject matter. I can fully understand why plenty of these greedies want to eat Mikolas’ spaghetti (apologies if I just said something super rude…I honestly don’t know).

 

#2 | Cyprus (Eleni Foureira with Fuego)  

There’s a reason Eurofans still talk about Ani Lorak all the time, despite Shady Lady finishing as the Eurovision runner-up TEN YEARS AGO (!). Ani was a crazy-hot woman in an amazing outfit who, backed by a posse of equally attractive dancers, strutted her way through a top-notch pop song to rapturous applause from the audience. Does that sound familiar? Does it sound…fuego, perhaps? I think so. Eleni came to Portugal armed with an ethnopop banger that had all the best elements of Shady Lady in its staging, and also threw back to Secret Combination and Qele Qele (Greece and Armenia’s ’08 entries that finished 3rd and 4th respectively). I loved being reminded of those other fierce women who’d showed the ESC who was boss back in the day, while being treated to a song that was modern enough to work in 2018. Eleni looked incredible, danced like a woman possessed, and whipped her hair back and forth in amongst fake and real fire while wearing that sparkly catsuit you wouldn’t want to have to pee while sewn into. I’m not going to lie…I wanted to BE her. If we must have successful 2018 entry copycats in 2019, can they please be Fuego + Foureira copycats?

 

#1 | Sweden (Benjamin Ingrosso with Dance You Off)

As we arrive at my no. 1 personal pick for Eurovision performance of the year, it will either be a massive plot twist (because you’re new here and were partly responsible for Sweden’s low televoting score) or a predictable ending (because you know how obsessed with Sweden and how big a fan of Benjamin’s I am). Whatever the reason for that lack of love from the public, it was not a problem for me – someone in awe of the glow-up between Benjamin’s 2017 and 2018 Melodifestivalen performances, and then continually impressed by the Dance You Off performance that was copy-pasted to the ESC (why would you mess with something that slick?). I don’t know why people have an issue with Swedish performances being the same every time, at Melfest and in every Eurovision rehearsal. When you put that much effort in to a stage show – even though Benjamin’s was relatively simple, just extremely effective – and rehearse the crap out of it, why shouldn’t it be flawless by the time it’s going to be on TV? I love this song and I love how it was staged, unconditionally. Jean Baptiste who?

 

 

I’ve showed you mine…now show me yours! Which Eurovision performances floated your boat the most this year?

 

 

 

 

FUEGO, FASHION FREAKSHOWS AND FAILS: The good, the bad and the “other” of Eurovision 2018’s first semi final

Not only has Eurovision 2018 arrived – it’s begun with a bang, as 10 semi-finalists became bonafide finalists and 9 poor non-qualifiers (including one angry Swiss woman in a hat, so I heard) were sent packing last night in Lisbon. There’s a lot to talk about and a lot of opinions to be aired, and I’m about to talk and air mine for anyone who’s interested!

BTW, if you were wondering why my qualifier predictions didn’t pop up here on EBJ pre-semi, it’s because I posted them on my Instagram and Twitter. If you want to see how accurate I was (before I mention it later in this post) and don’t want to miss my predictions for the second semi – or the final – make sure you follow me socially @EurovisionByJaz. All the links are in the sidebar.

Now, let’s have a chat about the yays, the nays and everything else that caught my attention during yesterday’s first semi final.

 

 

THE GOOD

I’ll start with perhaps Portugal’s biggest triumph as a first-time hosting nation: the visual delivery of the 2018 theme/concept/slogan. I was already shipping a Eurovision with a nautical overtone (though those terrible puns from Daniela nearly put me off entirely) and I wasn’t disappointed with the beautiful intro/interval graphics and postcard transitions.

Also tapping into the theme was the stage – obviously. As a non-rehearsal watcher, last night was the unveiling of it in action for me, and I have to say the design and lighting setup was impressive. It looked LIT AF, in fact (pardon the pun/irritating Gen Z slang). I did end up missing the LEDs a fair bit, but I’ll get to that.

Onto the cream-of-the-crop performances now, and the first to get me on my feet was my second favourite, the Czech Republic and to think there was a chance Mikolas might have had to withdraw only a week ago! It’s a Paula and Ovi miracle (definitely not a Samra miracle) that he got off the hospital gurney and back into his braces with time to spare. You could tell he was treading carefully, but with the backing dancers providing the gymnastics and Mikolas himself compensating with backpack-loads of attitude, no enjoyment was lost for me. I would have voted the SHIZ out of this if I could have (and I’m flexing my texting fingers for the final, Mr. Josef…don’t you worry).

Israel, as I expected, did not come across as the winner we thought it would be up until recently (it’s just too motherbucking bonkers). But Netta is absolutely adorable, and I’m filing her performance under my highlights because the replication of Toy’s vocals live – without the infamous looper – was surprisingly slick and almost studio-perfect. Best hairstyle of the night by far, too: Princess Leia plus My Little Pony is a good combo.

The most impressive three minutes on that impressive stage, in my opinion (like I’d be typing out anyone else’s opinions), belonged to Estonia. Wow, wow and more wow. I didn’t think Elina needed that crazy expensive dress clashing with her undeniable vocal talent, but it turns out I would have missed it if it wasn’t there. She is stunning, the vocals were exquisite, and I think the dress projections were worth Estonia’s spending spree. It helped score them their first qualification since 2015, after all. As for a win now they’re in the final…I’m not convinced, but this certainly stands out (and Elina literally stands about six feet over everyone else).

The touching, pan-European Amar Pelos Dois do-over defrosted even my icy, unfeeling heart – but any tears that sprung up in my eyes could have come at the sight of a) Svala, after I’d just seen Our Choice be the biggest glow-down in ESC history, or b) Norma John, which triggered the memory of Finland’s shock DNQ last year. Or maybe even Kristian Kostov, because he’s so damn dope and so much cooler than I will ever be. I don’t begrudge (much).

Now, on the results…after all my see-sawing when trying to predict the SF1 qualifiers, I ended up not being shocked at all, after revising my guesses mentally once all 19 performances were through. I got 8/10 Qs correct (I’d anticipated Azerbaijan and Greece rather than Albania and Ireland) which was good news for me (I didn’t humiliate myself! YAY!!!). And I also felt that the results made sense. Albania and Ireland definitely deserved to make the final – Eugent on those powerful, flawless vocals alone. As for Azerbaijan, who have now lost their 100% qualification record – well, I saw it coming after a okay performance of an okay song from Aisel. Maybe that will teach the land of (yeah yeah yeah) fire to rely on sound-alike Swedish productions.

 

 

THE BAD

Here’s something I knew months ago: four hosts is too many. Something else I suspected that was confirmed last night: a script not written by Edward af Sillén is massively inferior to a script Sweden’s 2018 commentator did pen. Contrived, clichéd, and packed with jokes that nobody of sound mind would find funny, this script (and the people reading it…sorry, ladies) will not go down in history as one of the contest’s best. Fortunately, we’re really here for the music and results announcements that nearly push us over the edge, and Portugal has delivered on both of those fronts so far.

Belgium’s three-year run of success came to a screeching halt after Sennek turned out a reasonable but not spectacular performance of A Matter of Time. I never connected with this song on the same level as Rhythm Inside, What’s The Pressure and City Lights – I didn’t feel that it had as much to offer. It wasn’t the car crash I semi-expected live, but girl was NERVOUS and it showed (and not in a vulnerable, ‘We MUST vote for her!’ way á la Blanche). Also…WTF was she wearing? I can only assume it’s an oversized lampshade from Ikea’s upcoming collection that she borrowed from work. Yikes.

The aforementioned Kristian Kostov left Bulgaria with big shoes to fill, and I don’t think Equinox was up to the task. Sure, they qualified, but I found their performance of Bones overly cold and a little uninteresting – visually boring too, which is unusual for a Sacha Jean-Baptiste creation. Bulgaria aren’t winning Eurovision 2018, and I’ll be very surprised if Equinox come close to Kristian’s second place.

When it comes to ‘What were they thinking?’ moments, Macedonia gave us the whole enchilada.  Aimless wandering and a ridiculous costume that was then ripped off to reveal an even more ridiculous (and very distracting) one equaled staging that made a messy-sounding song look messy as well. If Marija had put her tuxedo jacket on the right way round and kept it on, some dignity would have been retained, but…oh dear.

Just because my jaw wasn’t on the floor during the results doesn’t mean I wasn’t heartbroken by a few DNQs. Armenia – my bronze favourite of the year – hit the hardest, even though I understand why the televote wouldn’t have been strong enough for Sevak. I do think we’ll see that the jury vote for Armenia was stronger, but even so there wasn’t enough going on during his performance to make it exceptional (the vocals were exceptional, though).

I was also disappointed by Switzerland not making it. Zibbz produced such a cracking performance of Stones that I expect to see them in 11th – 12th or 13th at the lowest – when all the stats come out post-final. Apparently Corinne was raging in the green room after her country’s name didn’t leave any of the hostesses’ lips, and I can’t say I blame her. You let it out, Coco.

  

 

THE “OTHER”

As impressed as I was by the overall look of the Altice Arena stage and the flexibility of the lights, I felt that the lack of LEDs was clear in the stage not looking as different for each performance as it usually would. Some countries – Austria and Cyprus, for example – transformed the stage, but for the most part it felt like 19 acts competing on the same platform with the same background, rather than 19 unique ‘looks’ being created. I appreciate what RTP was trying to do by scrapping built-in screens, but it backfired a bit. I’d like to see them back in 2019.

It’s not that often we see artists failing to mask their nerves on stage, but there were a couple of obvious shaky hands last night – and neither of the people those hands belonged to managed to make it to the final. I’m talking about Alekseev and Sennek, who I couldn’t help feeling sorry for. I’m surprised Alekseev kept his hold on that rose for as long as he had to. Maybe he listened to Hey Ya by OutKast as part of his pre-performance routine and decided to ‘shake it like a Polaroid picture’. You never know.

There were a handful of performances that I felt were missing something – something that, if heard or seen, might have elevated them to exceptional. For Belarus, I’d say it was the original version of Forever. The less dramatic piano-heavy revamp took away a big chunk of impact, and made the performance feel like it was lumbering along. For Croatia, I wanted darker, moodier lighting and a spotlight on Franka to up the glamour and sex appeal (not that she herself needs much help in those areas *fans self*). And for Austria, the only thing I’d pick on is the unseen backing singers. I think Cesár needed them to strut out onto the platform behind him for the final chorus (like he did when singing backup for Poli Genova in 2016) to make the stage feel less empty and remind us that the gospel backing wasn’t coming from some mysterious disembodied choir.

As we all know, Cyprus was the one to overtake Israel in the odds a few days ago, and while Eleni’s performance was as fiery as Fuego needed it to be (and let’s get this out of the way – she is as HOT AS HELL, and I say that as a straight woman) I’m having trouble seeing it as a winner. I don’t think we’re quite going to get to Cyprus next May, though I am willing to stand corrected if it means a second sun-and-sea contest in a row (one I might actually be attending).

 

 

That’s all I’ve got to say on Lisbon’s first semi final at this point – I’m actually amazed I word-vomited this much after a basically sleepless night (the 3am wake-ups are worth it, but they’re hard work). Let me know in the comments what you thought of the show, how your predictions panned out and how many of your favourites you’ll get to see compete on Saturday night.

One down, two to go! Eurovision 2018 is still in its early stages y’all, and I am PSYCHED! Half of the second semi’s points will be handed out tonight in the jury show: excitement. It’s an unpredictable year: excitement. Anything could still happen…MASS EXCITEMENT. Seriously, I’m in need of some tranquilisers here (and I wish I didn’t have to go to work tomorrow, because AS IF I’ll be able to concentrate on anything not related to Eurovision right now).

 

Anyway…I’ll see you after semi 2 for more post-show verdicts!

 

 

 

 

THE EBJ EUROVISION 2018 REVIEWS: Round 6 (Belgium, Czech Republic, Germany, Israel, Macedonia + San Marino)

I have to open this post with three letters: OMG!!! As I type this, Eurovision 2018 rehearsals are underway, with the semi 1 first halfers taking to the stage yesterday and the second halfers going through the motions right now. It still feels surreal that we’ve reached this point already. Didn’t Salvador only win in Kyiv like, three months ago?

As you’ll know if you’ve hung out with me and my blog before, my golden rule is to NEVER watch the rehearsals. I like to keep things fresh for when I fall out of bed onto the floor at 3am for the live shows (that’s why I also haven’t listened to any of the songs in full for a good six weeks). So you won’t find any analysis of who’s nailing and failing their practice runs on the Altice Arena stage here. It’s not like there’s going to be a shortage of that stuff anyway, and I’m sure you know where to find it: my favourites are ESC Xtra, my Aussie girl Anita at Eurovision Union, and ESC Insight for the daily podcasts. But I do offer catty/complimentary comments on Twitter based on descriptions I’ve heard and photos I’ve seen – #professional. Head over there and follow me @EurovisionByJaz for many Mikolas Josef well-wishes and reaction GIFs.

What you will find here is the continuation of my 2018 reviews, as I trudge towards the finish line approximately 150 kilometres behind everyone else. I still get an ‘A’ for effort, right? There are three rounds left for me to bring to you guys, and today’s is all about Belgium, the Czech Republic, Germany, Israel, Macedonia and San Marino. Want to know what I think of the songs Sennek, Mikolas, Michael, Netta, Eye Cue and Jessika feat. Jenifer packed in their Portuguese suitcases? Then keep reading – and don’t forget to comment your thoughts on these tracks + vote in the Round 6 poll. How else am I supposed to know how much you all disagree with me?

 

 

My thoughts Pressure (whatever that is, says Laura Tesoro) on Belgium this year was sky-high, as we wondered if they would maintain the run of Eurovision magnificence that began with Loïc Nottet in 2015. The simple question is, have they done so with Sennek and A Matter of Time? And the not-so-simple answer from me is the following. The thing is, if I loved Rhythm Inside 100% (which I did), I loved What’s The Pressure 90% of that, and City Lights 90% of that. And as much as I want to say my love for A Matter of Time is at 70% or more, the reality is that I don’t love it at all. My brain says ‘This is a damn good song, Jaz, don’t you reckon?’, but my heart says ‘Nope’. It leaves me feeling absolutely nothing. We seem to have a James Bond theme at every ESC these days, and sometimes they do connect with me and give me all the feels (sorry, Renaida possessed me for a second there) but Sennek’s gives me none. No goosebumps, no heart palpitations, no need to call an ambulance due to the sheer shock of how amazing it is whatsoever. I can’t put my finger on why not. It’s polished and sophisticated; cinematic in its drama (totes appropes for a song that should accompany footage of Daniel Craig kicking the asses of fifteen assassins at once); original for what it is, with melodic twists and turns that flow well but make sure there’s no time to get bored; and it’s performed beautifully by Sennek (in studio). So what’s wrong with me? Why don’t I adore this? Why am I more excited by the prospect of Sennek’s visual merchandising work for Ikea than by the prospect of seeing this performed live for the first time? If anyone out there is an amateur or professional psychologist  and can offer some insight into my severe Belgian mental block, please let me know. In the meantime, I’ll offer some insight on how I think this will do in Lisbon. Once again Belgium is competing in the first semi, which as we all know is the Semi of Death and Destruction and Weeping Eurofans Worldwide. But since Sennek was a contender FTW in the odds, I’d say she’s on the borderline between certain qualifier and a ‘most likely to’ qualifier. In other words, I won’t be splashing any cash on her to make the final, but I do expect to see her there (especially because I don’t ‘get’ this entry, which means it’ll probably do well because that happens every year). As for what will go down on the Saturday night: well, with a good vocal performance and modern, atmospheric staging, a fourth consecutive top 10 place for Belgium wouldn’t come as a surprise – but I’m thinking 11th to 15th at this point.

2017 VS 2018? Blanche = better. I’m not sure how anyone could argue with that.

My score 7

 

 

My thoughts If I was giving out an award for the biggest Eurovision glow-up from 2017-2018, the Czech Republic would win it without even trying. I never had a major vendetta against Martina’s My Turn last year, but that’s because it was so bland – bland enough to be one of my least favourite entries of Kyiv. Fast forward twelve months, and the Czech Republic is not only right up in my top 3 for the year, they’re also in the mix to win the entire thing. WTF?!? This almost-favourite status is unprecedented for a country with a disastrous track record, feat. two semi final last places and another last place in the only final they’ve managed to make it to. But I have no hesitation in saying that Lie To Me is the Czechs best entry ever by a million miles. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat after dreaming that Mikolas wasn’t chosen to go to Portugal – that’s how much of a missed opportunity picking anything else would have been. Lie To Me is the musical love child of Problem by Ariana Grande and Talk Dirty by Jason Derülo, with ridiculously wonderful lyrics fired at us a mile a minute until the sparser, smoother, sing-along chorus drops. The trumpet riff pulls you in instantly (what a great way to start a song) and rivals Hey Mamma for catchiness. This might come across as a novelty song in some ways, but at its core it’s epic R&B-pop that’s impossible to ignore even if you don’t like it (but if you don’t, I’m afraid we can’t be friends). It’s urban, fun, a little bit NSFW even though it’s been cleaned up for the contest, and full of attitude. And let’s not forget Mikolas’ charisma and swag, both of which are on the favourable side of the ‘Am I A Douche or Not?‘ spectrum. If I had to pick on something, I’d say I’m not sure about the backpack (or the camel…it’s in the lyrics/music video, and all I can think of based on the song’s subject matter is that its presence has something to do with humps). But I firmly believe that Lie To Me can not only fly into the final, but that Mikolas can ride that camel all the way to the podium. I can’t imagine a song with lyrics like “I know you ‘bop-whop-a-lu bop’ on his wood bamboo” (the tip of the OMG lyric iceberg) actually winning, but 3rd would be a mighty fine spot for the Czech Republic to score. Beyond fine, in fact. Let’s make it happen, Team Miki (and jurors, who will hopefully not think this is offensive and mutter stuff about ‘The youth of today’ as they rank it right at the bottom).

2017 VS 2018? Do I even need to answer this? 2018!!!

My score 12

 

 

 

My thoughts Oh, Germany. What happened to you? 2010 was a turning point that ground to a screeching halt in 2013 with a great song + bad staging. That was followed by a decent but not memorable song, a nul pointer, a great song + terrible costume choice, then a song last year that was destined to do nothing on the scoreboard. This might sound harsh, but there are a lot of countries that deserve an automatic spot in the final more than Germany does at the moment. They’re certainly not making the most of their Big Five status, and I think that trend has continued with You Let Me Walk Alone. It’s supposed to be a sentimental tearjerker of a piano ballad about Michael’s late father – I say ‘supposed’ because the sentiment is lost on me, and my eyes are drier than a desert when I’m listening to it. Does that make the song artificially emotional, or am I a cold, unfeeling witch who should go and live the hermit life in an isolated mountainside cave? Maybe don’t answer that. I am sorry that I don’t feel what I “should” be feeling here (and I’m sorry for Michael’s loss) but this does even less for me than Belgium’s song. It’s musical wallpaper. I do actually like the pre-chorus, because that’s where the lyrics are least cliché and the melody is worth an approving nod. If the rest of the song was more like that part, I wouldn’t be wearing my Negative Nancy t-shirt right now. But as it is, if I do the mental test of asking myself ‘Would this qualify if it was competing in a semi?’, my personal answer is no, I don’t think so. But hey, since Germany has a talent for dragging good songs down with bad staging choices (occasionally…I don’t mean to be a bitch about this) perhaps they’ll do the opposite this year and elevate YLMWA to a place where even I can appreciate it. Then again, I have heard they’re using the old photos-in-the-background trick which doesn’t bode well – I hate that almost as much as I hate cover albums (and I really hate cover albums). Regardless of what Michael is surrounded by, standing on top of or wearing, I think his song will get lost in the 26-song grand final, unless it’s tacked on to the end of the running order (unlikely). I cannot see him faring much better than Levina, but don’t be too hard on me if I’m spectacularly wrong and Germany goes top 10. That would be kicking me while I’m already down, and while I’m confused.

2017 VS 2018? 2017, I guess. Can you feel the lack of enthusiasm?

My score 5

 

 

 

My thoughts Here it is: the bookies’ favourite and runaway winner of the OGAE Poll. This time last year I could have said the same thing about Italy, and we all know what happened to Occidentali’s Karma when the actual contest came around. Thanks to Francesco’s 6th place, we have to question whether Netta will also fall short of pre-show expectations, or if she’ll she do an Alexander Rybak right in front of Alexander Rybak. I feel like it’s one of the two, but more on that after I’ve talked about Toy itself. You might remember that I was never sold on Occidentali’s Karma as a winner, and I have similar gut feelings about Toy…only they’re more fragile feelings this time (which tells me Netta is more likely than Francesco was to steamroll her opponents into submission). Once again I’ve found myself fond of, but not crazy about the song that’s been crowned The One by masses of Eurofans. The thing I do absolutely love about this entry is how original it is, to the point of being riskily so. It’s great to see a country go out on a limb instead of playing it safe. There is no doubt that this stands out from start to finish, and not just because Netta has her vocal looper in tow. The music is inventive, the lyrics are clinically insane but iconic as heck (I don’t know exactly what ‘taking my Pikachu home’ means, but I’m on board with it) and the energy is unrelenting. This is the kind of song that makes me wish more than ever that I was going to Eurovision this year so I could mosh to it. Toy has spawned memes and merchandise, not to mention an epidemic of clucking chicken impressions (a vaccine is currently in development) and that impact can’t be ignored. However, as I said, the song is not keeping my boat especially buoyant, if you know what I mean (translation: it doesn’t float my boat as much as a lot of other entries do). I can praise its originality until the end of time, but I couldn’t honestly say I’ve fallen in love. That might be why I’m not convinced of Israel’s winning chances – I’d prefer plenty of other songs to win. Still, I genuinely see road blocks for Toy to get over that were not in the pathway of Fairytale and Heroes, for example. I said it about the Czech Republic and I’ll say it again about Israel: As much as I want a fun-filled banger of a winner, I can’t imagine a song with lyrics like Toy’s winning the whole contest. And I have to wonder if, because the majority of people going crazy over this are firmly in the Eurovision bubble, first-time listeners/viewers will react to it in the same hugely-positive way. It could be an assault on the senses live on the big stage (not that I’d advise Israel to go for tasteful and understated. That’s fine for France but a mismatch for them). If not Israel to win though, then who? My ideal situation would be for a country we haven’t focused on that much to step up their game during the rehearsal period and say ‘I have ARRIVED!’ – partly because I hate a predictable winner; partly because I want a song I love to win, not a song I like. But majority rules. If the Eurovision roadshow is meant to go to Tel Aviv or Jerusalem in 2019, that’s where it will go and I will have to live with it.

2017 VS 2018? You might question my sanity, but I honestly prefer I Feel Alive (and not just because Imri is a beautiful creature/hopefully not a stupid boy).

My score 7.5

 

 

 

My thoughts Macedonia had a similar contest experience to Italy last year in terms of being hyped and then missing the expected mark. Dance Alone was fanwank material that wouldn’t have been so highly regarded if Sweden had sent it, but because it came from Macedonia it was a pleasant surprise. Only the overwhelming love from fans (excluding me since I was never that into it) didn’t transfer into ESC success, and FYROM failed to even qualify. Is the same story being written for Macedonia as we speak? Lost and Found is a somewhat surprisingly high-quality song that has been hyped and showered with affection, but may struggle to make it out of its semi. What’s the difference, aside from the fact that, as far as I know, neither member of Eye Cue is a) pregnant, or b) about to get engaged during a global television broadcast? It is a very different song, of course – there are actually two or three different songs within this one song – and it’s probably going to be staged in a less off-putting way than Dance Alone on the basis that Lost and Found is a warmer, more fun song. Every segment of it, like a ripe orange, is delicious and appealing; but also like an orange (I hope you didn’t think I’d stopped with the food metaphors) as a whole it is messy. We’ve got infectious reggae-pop in the verses, which follows on from the soft acoustic-style opening lines repeated throughout, which in turn leak into the upbeat dance chorus (I think it’s the chorus, anyway). They’re all catchy, all lyrically blessed and all sung beautifully by vocalist Marija – I LOVE her voice, and she’s already proven it’s like honey live. On one hand, I like how Lost and Found dips in and out of different styles, packing so much into its three minutes it’s like a lunchbox overflowing with tasty snacks. On the other hand, I’m disappointed that a song with the potential to be epic had it been cohesive is anything but cohesive. I’m still not sure if it works as a whole or not. It can’t be compared to the last entry to change things up in-song to such an extent – Icebreaker by Agnete – because that changed tempo rather than genre. The changes Macedonia makes aren’t as arresting, but are more confusing. I want Eye Cue to qualify, but at this point where I’m yet to make any official, posted-on-social-media-for-the-world-to-laugh-at predictions, I’m on the fence, and it’s hurting my brain (and my backside…it’s an uncomfortable fence) trying to answer the will-they-or-won’t-they question. So I won’t answer it right now. I’ll just say that if Macedonia does get to the final, I’m foreseeing a lower left-side placing at best.

2017 VS 2018? 2018. They’ve lost their grip on genre, but found some incredible pieces of pop.

My score 8.5

 

 

My thoughts San Marino is always a fun country to review for all the wrong reasons. They’re also a country that puts me to the test in terms of not being too insulting. Don’t be shocked to hear that I’m being tested yet again in 2018 with Jessika (via Malta) and Jeni B (via Germany). Look, I really like these girls: they’re friendly, personable and seem to be enjoying their ESC journey (which will be a pretty short one) so far. I’m happy for them to have the chance to do something so cool, especially Jessika who’s been rejected as a Maltese representative about 75 000 times and was obviously desperate to get to Eurovision (can’t blame her). But the bottom line for me is that Who We Are is TERRIBLE. To think that the Loin D’ici Straubs were partially responsible for bringing it to life is horrifying. It sounds like something the winner of Popstars might have released as a winner’s single circa 2001, but it couldn’t have been called current back then. I actually have no idea which decade this song would have been fashionable in. The sound-alike Heroes chorus is the only common trait between this and a song with the calibre to win the contest, and Jeni B’s rap is the worst rap I’ve ever heard. That’s not because she’s a bad rapper but because the lyrics she’s being forced (there must have been gunpoint involved at some stage) to rap are from Cringe City. I can’t decide if the worst part is ‘If they dissin’ you on Twitter, don’t get sad don’t be bitter’, or ‘If they say so, get in the car, rev it up and be a star.’ To say ‘What is this, Junior Eurovision?’ would be doing JESC a disservice. Okay, so the anti-bullying message is worth a round of applause – I fully support that. And, believe it or not, I don’t hate this as much I used to, but that in itself is something I hate. I did NOT want this to be a grower. It hasn’t grown beyond being the 42nd song in my top 43, but there was a time when it was right at the rear, and if it can creep up once it could creep up again. Someone should make a horror movie about a situation like this. I can see the tagline now: Who We Are Is Coming To Get You, And Jeni B Won’t Stop Until She Knows YOU Know That Jess Over Here Is A Special VIP *screams bloody murder*. To sum up, the Who We Are I wanted at Eurovision 2018 was from Norway; I don’t think anyone asked for this one. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad we have San Marino in the Euro family…but good Lordi, they need to find a way to slay. Safe to say I’m confident they’re staying behind in the semi.

2017 VS 2018? When Valentina is an option, always choose Valentina.

My score 3

 

 

31 down, 12 to go! Here are the standings now I’ve scored today’s six songs:

  1. Czech Republic (12)
  2. Macedonia (8.5)
  3. Israel (7.5)
  4. Belgium (7)
  5. Germany (5)
  6. San Marino (3)

No lie – Mikolas wins this round by a big margin. I know I’ll get some gasps for sticking Israel in the middle, but honesty is the best policy, right? Unless you’re Benjamin Ingrosso, but that’s a discussion topic for another day.

If you’re on Team Israel or you want to show your love for any of the other songs on the program today, you know what to do.

 

NEXT TIME If you’ve been keen for me to judge Denmark, Iceland, Italy, Serbia, Slovenia or the United Kingdom, then the wait is over! One is in my top 10, another is anything but, and the rest are the filling in the sandwich. Come back later this week to find out which is which.

 

 

 

 

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,